Xander drew and fired a pistol crossbow in a single motion, the vampire to the left laughing cockily as it snatched the bolt out of the air. Its laugh died on its lips as he drew and fired a second crossbow before it had time to fling the bolt away, dropping with a scream as the bolt punched through its right eye, blood spurting everywhere as it dropped to the ground.
The other demon let out an enraged screech and leapt over its companion’s thrashing body to crash into him. Xander grunted as he stumbled backwards, grabbing a hold of his rival’s elbows and twisting at the waist so that their momentum ensured the demon thumped into the wall before he did. The vampire let out an angry howl and bounded off the wall and at him, Xander sidestepping and pushing a K-Bar up and through the bottom of the creature’s jaw and into its brain stem in a single motion. The vampire’s eyes widened in surprise as its legs buckled under it, knocking it to the floor.
Xander drew a stake and strode from vampire to vampire, ending them before they had chance to heal. “Xan,” Faith’s husky voice floated through the brightly lit storage room, “what the hell do we do now?”
“You assume the position, honey, ‘cause you and your asshole friend are going in for murder courtesy of Freelance Restorations.”
1100 AD, Paris
“A Gem of my very own?”
Amara smiled at Donnal, the burly Scotsman a clansman he’d turned some two centuries previously. “Aye lad,” he fought to hide his trepidation, conscious of his two Slayer vampires watching eagerly. If this worked, then this Gem would be Luica’s, and he would be able to start work on Esther’s immediately.
As for Donnal, well he’d killed childes before, he wouldn’t be a problem.
Amara flung the house’s door open, forcing himself not to flinch at the daylight that blazed in, then grabbed a suddenly reluctant Donnal by his elbow and pushed him out of the door. “AHHHH!” Amara blinked as his childe burst into flames, smoke whafting off him as he rocked back and forth. “AHHH!” Smoke filled Amara’s lungs as the Scotsman burst into ash.
“Damn it!” Amara slammed the door shut behind him as he strode back inside, eyes fixed on the gem in his ring. Everything had been the same except the precious stone, without that stone or one of the same colour, cut, clarity, and carat the spell was useless. “I’m sorry lasses,” he forced a smile for the pouting girls. “You’ll have to wait for gems of your own.”
“But some day?” wheedled Esther.
”Aye,” he tousled her mane, “some day.”
* * *
Faith’s eyes widened as she and Xander spun to face the newcomers blocking the doorway. They were a group of four led by a six six muscleman with a handlebar moustache and dark, flashing eyes. “Chinaman,” the giant’s voice rumbled out of his vault-like chest like a growing tsunami, “you deal with the chap, we’ll handle the lass.”
The Oriental in question, a tanned athletic looking dude with shoulder-length dark hair nodded then cast her a look. “Do not be deceived by her looks, she is quite the danger in herself.”
“Don’t worry about us, boyo,” the Englishman grunted. “We’ll handle the lassie just fine.”
“Wouldn’t be too sure ‘bout that.” Faith smirked. The Englishman’s remaining companions were a bewitching Oriental babe in a white figure-clinging catsuit, the handles of a pair of matching blades peeking over her slender shoulders and a refined yet simultaneously tough-looking Brit.
The giant returned her smirk with one of his own then lunged forward, his companions separating in an attempted out-flanking. Faith feinted lunging to meet the gargantuan then slinked right, her elbow shooting up to crack like colliding billiard balls against the second Englishman’s jaw. The Englishman’s eyes crossed and his legs wobbled, but to his credit, he attempted to catch her with a body shot that she sidestepped en-route to planting a knee hard in his groin.
The man let out a croak, his face greying as he fell away. Faith’s eyes widened as the bigger of the Englishmen wrapped a tree-trunk thick arm around her neck and cinched in tight. Faith gulped, filling her lungs with as much air as possible as she jabbed up, driving her thumbs into the giant’s eyes. “Ahhh!” Faith broke loose the moment the grip began to loosen, twisting around until she was side-on to the huge man then drove a side-kick into his mid-section, folding him into two, and propelling him across the hall and into the far wall, then flowed into a roundhouse elbow that slammed into the first man’s jaw, knocking him back down as he rose.
Faith spun around to face the Oriental babe, hands slapping together to trap the girl’s descending blade between her palms, then twist her hands right, wrenching the blade from the surprised girl’s gasp.
Shocked she might be, but the babe still managed to block Faith’s straight right on her elbow then shoot out a thrust kick that slammed into Faith’s chest, knocking her back a step. Faith feinted right then went left with a leaping knee. Her eyes widened as the Oriental ducked under her knee, then changed her attack to a two-footed stomp that crashed into the Oriental’s chest, knocking her on her ass.
* * *
Xander watched warily as the young Oriental moved into position opposite him. The man was big for an Oriental, but still two or three inches shorter than him and perhaps thirty pounds lighter. Still, the gi-wearing man moved with the easy grace and effortless athleticism of a supremely trained fighter. “Listen,” Xander raised his hands in supplication, “you’ve got this all wrong, we’re the good guys-.”
“Many are those evil who considered themselves good.”
Xander rolled his eyes. Oh goody, he felt like he was cameoing in a re-run of ‘Kung Fu’. “Look-.” Xander jerked his head right as his rival shot out a blistering right cross, the blow missing his ear by half an inch, Xander twisted away from the Oriental, barely managing to avoid a knee to the side.
The Oriental sprang back, respect glittering in his narrowed black eyes. “A rare talent.” The Oriental shook his head. “All the more reason you should be stopped!”
His adversary’s slightly bending knees were the only clue he got his opponent was going to attack before the Oriental launched himself into a leaping karate chop. Xander sprang to meet his adversary, ignoring the left hook that exploded against his cheek as he reached up with both hands and grabbed the descending forearm, twisted at the waist, and flung his rival over his shoulder and at the wall, racing in fast behind to take advantage of his rival’s surprised state.
Instead it was his own eyes that widened in shock when the Oriental landed in an effortlessly balanced crouch and shot out a rear thrust kick that Xander barely managed to sidestep. From there the Oriental flowed into a reverse butterfly kick to the head that Xander barely managed to duck under, reaching up as the Oriental flew over head to grab his gi at the collar and pants, and launch him headfirst into the wall.
“Oh come on!” Xander gasped as his adversary somehow managed to flip around so his feet hit the wall first, then rebound into a flip over Xander’s head. Xander grunted as the Oriental’s heels crashed into his upper back, knocking him into the wall. Xander spun to face his rival, barely in time to block a roundhouse kick to the face on his forearm, the blow’s bruising impact racing up and down his arm even as the Oriental glided up alongside of him and drove his elbow’s point into his side.
Teeth gritted against the pain, Xander threw a retaliatory left hook only for his rival to slide under the blow then leap back up with a palm strike over Xander’s hooking arm and square into his mouth. Xander grunted as he fell back, blood bursting from his lips.
The Oriental started remorselessly forward, but then suddenly a thickly-muscled figure was between them, dark eyes gleaming. “Back off boogaloo, there’s been a misunderstanding here, you’re fighting the wrong guys.”
1400 AD, Lisbon
Amara stiffened as he sensed a powerful presence encroaching on his domain. His brow furrowing, he rose from his chair and placed the book he’d been reading on the table at his side. Motioning his childes to stillness, he strode towards the courtyard of his small mansion house.
He stopped as he reached the walled courtyard, dark shadows stretching over the cobbles. Despite the darkness, he could easily pick up the figure stood at the courtyard’s entrance some eighty metres away. He was a short but thick-set figure, with wide shoulders and a barrel chest, in life the figure had clearly been a human of not only physical power for he carried himself with an aristocratic arrogance. However the passing of the centuries had twisted this vampire’s face so that it resembled a bat and lengthened and webbed its fingers as well as bending them into claws.
“Aurelius,” Amara smiled pleasantly, as if having a vampire of Aurelius’ many centuries stride uninvited into his domain wasn’t worse than an insult, tantamount in fact to a declaration of war. “So many years since I last saw you, it was Vienna fifty years ago wasn’t it?”
“Vienna, but it was seventy,” the thick-necked vampire corrected in a rattling growl.
“Ahhh.” Amara nodded then let the smile slide from his face. “I didn’t know you were planning on visiting.”
“Be grateful it’s me and not Lothos or Kakistos or Prince Of Lies here in my place,” his unwanted guest growled, malign intentions glittering in his eyes. “They’d have come in numbers and torn this place down around you.”
Amara smiled. Given the powers of his childes, he highly doubted that. “Then I am grateful it is you, rather than them who has come,” he smoothly replied. “And why is that exactly?”
“You have many tools that could help the vampires establish their dominance over the Council, the Covens, and anybody else who wish to stand in our way!” the German vampire hissed. “But instead you keep these riches hidden and exclusive to yourself!”
”I have?” Amara spread his hands in supplication and affected confusion. “I am but a simple vampire, just like you!”
“Ha!” Derision and not humour radiated from the younger vampire’s laugh. “Then you haven’t created a necklace that hides your true face, your true age, a ring that allows you to walk in the day, and become the only vampire in history to turn not just one but two Slayers?”
“I am but a humble scientist.” Amara shrugged.
“I have been sent by our peers to request you share these riches with us all.”
Amara smiled tightly at the word ‘request’ even as he readied himself for the inevitable violence that would follow his reply. “I’m afraid that will be impossible.”
* * *
Minka stalked through the shadows cast by Krakow’s many historic buildings, her heart fluttering nervously within her chest. For months now she’d been compelled by some strange force to stalk the nights, clinging to the clumsily carved stake in her hand, looking for god only knew what. And she felt different too, more energy than she’d ever had before, her senses sharper, and her balance and co-ordination improved beyond her comprehension.
But tonight’s ‘patrol’ as she’d begun calling her midnight forays felt somehow more serious\purposeful than her normal uneventful walks. Minka slowed to a halt, the hairs on the back of her neck fluttering as her senses rang warning bells.
She blinked as a Mediterranean-looking beauty flowed out of the shadows just ahead of her, at the other side of the courtyard she was hurrying through. Minka’s breath caught as she noticed over the near-by fountain’s bubble a complete absence of the other girl’s heart-beat. And yet, there was something familiar, almost sisterly about the other teen.
A footfall to her rear had Minka spinning around to face another taller, bustier girl, this one a blonde. This one also lacked a heartbeat and yet felt somehow familiar.
Suddenly uneasy, Minka began backing away from their pair, her eyes flickering from one to the other. “Who are you?”
Both girls let out low, mocking laughs. “Oh little sister,” cooed the pair’s brunette, her eyes briefly seeming to flicker gold, “do you not recognise family?”
Minka’s blood chilled, the dreams she’d been having over the past few months finally making sense. “Vampyr,” she only croaked one word before the duo leapt at her in a pincher motion.
Minka swayed left, barely avoiding a kick to the face from the blonde. She grunted as the brunette slammed a right home, air gusting from her punished lungs. “Master wants you alive!” the brunette hissed as Minka leaned away from a rake to the face. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun!”
A knee from the blonde slammed into her back even as she swung an elbow back into her rival’s face. Pain exploded into her back, forcing her to stumble forward and pull her head down and under a swinging haymaker aimed at her face, kicking out into the brunette’s stomach.
Minka lunged forward the moment dark-haired undead doubled up. “Ahhh!” She gasped as a hand from behind snatched at her hair and pulled hard, yanking her off her feet and sending her crashing to the cobbles. Then before she could move feet were kicking at her again and again, pummelling her into unconsciousness.
1400 AD, Lisbon
Aurelius sprang into action at Amara’s negative reply, shoving his robe aside to reach for and draw the broadsword scabbarded at his side, the air hissing as it escaped its sheath, the weapon slicing through the air and at Amara’s face, forcing him to retreat. Aurelius covered the space between them in a single bound, his blade reversing its trajectory the moment it reached the apex of its swing.
Amara sidestepped the cleaving blow, blade lashing past his left shoulder as he struggled to draw his own blade then back-handing a slash at his adversary’s ribs. Impact reverberated through his arm as Aurelius slashed down and into his blade, knocking it away.
The pair of them sprang apart, in their hands were blades that mortals would need both hands to hold, but such was their power, each of them held their weapons in easy, one-handed grips. And then Aurelius sprang back into the attack, backhanding from left to right at shoulder height.
Amara squatted beneath the attack, the blade passing close enough to ruffle his hair. Amara burst up the moment his rival’s blade had passed over, leaping forward to catch his rival with a hook to the face.
Surprise creased his rival’s face as the punch connected, snapping his head to the side and sending the younger vampire staggering back a step, his blade slashing up so fast as to cause Amara to spring back. Amara dropped into a crouch opposite his rival, he already knew that all things being equal he should win this battle. Aurelius had fallen into the trap that so many of their brethren did, forsaking all other targets to concentrate on the beheading strike.
Amara smiled. While Aurelius was head-hunting, he’d be slicing his limbs off. Amara sprang to meet his brother master vampire, glided outside of the expected head cleaving strike then lashed right, slicing down and through the hamstring of his rival’s lead leg.
Aurelius let out a strangled cry, pain pinching his face as he hobbled around to face Amara. Amara smirked then ducked right then went left, forcing his injured adversary to twist and adjust to meet him. Then he went right again, stepping up to his adversary’s side, ignoring his rival’s hastily attempted block to thrust up and through his fellow demon’s shoulder.
Aurelius stumbled, panic filling his eyes as Amara dragged the blade free, Aurelius taking a two-handed stance and beginning to back away. Conscious of his rival’s age meaning he’d heal quickly, Amara decided to press his advantage while he still had it.
Amara lunged right and feinted high, then the moment his rival stumbled into a defensive stance to face him, drove the blade down hard and into his fellow demon’s left thigh. Aurelius’ mouth opened in a scream as Amara yanked the blade loose, muscle ripping away from bone as the master vampire toppled forward, pitching to the courtyard’s ground.
To give him credit, Aurelius immediately tried to rise, but Amara’s blade jammed through his spine stopped his struggling. “Others will come,” Aurelius hissed defiantly. “You have bought yourself nothing but time!”
“I know,” Amara worked his blade out of his rival’s back then took his head with a single strike through the back of his neck. “Such a pity, I enjoyed it here.”
* * *
Xander didn’t take his eyes of his adversary or drop his hands as he let out a demanding growl. “And how the hell did you get here?”
“I figured the witch had enough cover with the Slayer and Moon Knight, so I hopped on a plane over here to see if I could help.” Blade’s teeth gleamed in a humourless grin. “And aren’t you happy I did?”
This time Xander risked looking away from his opponent. “And who the hell is this Bruce Lee wannabe?”
“Chinaman goes by the name of Shang-Chi,” offered the towering Englishman busy pulling himself off the ground. “I go by the handle of Black Jack Tarr, and together we run Freelance Restorations, a security agency around these parts.”
“Right,” Xander nodded warily. “And I’m right in assuming we’re going to be able to leave here?”
Black Jack Tarr glanced at Blade and then him, then nodded. “Sure, Blade says you’re okay, you’re okay.”
”Great.” Xander gave the Oriental a respectful nod. There were plenty of supernatural nasties that could resoundingly kick his ass, but it was rare that he faced a mere normal that could hang with him. “In that case we better get out of here.”
Tarr grunted. “Your girl’s got a hell of a kick to her, she meta?”
Xander nodded as they hurried from the building. “It’s complicated, but she’s something called a Vampire Slayer.”
Tarr’s gaze snapped to him, eyes widening. “Heard of them. You wouldn’t be that Mithras fella?”
“Yeah,” Xander flushed at being recognised. Try as he might, he never got used to notoriety.
”You interested in having a team in this area?” Tarr queried.
Xander looked to Blade for guidance. The vampire hunter nodded. Xander looked towards Freelance Restorations’ head and nodded. “Sure, why not.”
“I’m afraid the government has already spoken sir, those Injuns have prior claim to the land.”
“Yes, yes, Major Clarkson,” Amara forced a smile as he sat opposite the cavalry officer in his fort’s mess. “Of course they do. However I have certain concerns.” Amara paused as he thought over the past few centuries. To have travelled so far in a desperate search for the active Hellmouth and then to find a tribe of savages, their numbers such that not even he and his undead entourage could handle on their own, settled on the very land he’d hunted for was beyond frustrating.
“Concerns?” Major Clarkson queried.
”Yes,” Amara slid a thousand dollars in newly-minted gold coins across the rough-hewn table. “I find myself feeling sure that the white man cannot be truly safe with these savages on the loose. It’s the US. Army’s job to keep us safe from these brutes is it not???”
The cavalry officer was a magnificent looking man, tall with full-golden hair and matching bushy beard, keen blue eyes, and a bustling, powerful physique barely contained by buckskin-tasselled outfit. He was in short the outward personification of a hero, but in truth a vainglorious glory-hunter. So it was no surprise at all when the man scooped up the coins and nodded. “I couldn’t agree more,” he nodded as he rose. “I’ll alert my men we ride at dawn, the Chumash tribe will be dealt with by the end of tomorrow. My compliments to your daughters sir.”
“Why thank you Major,” Amara hid a smile at the thought of just how quickly either of his ‘daughters’ would snap this man’s neck. “And thank you for your timely assistance in this matter.”
“A pleasure, sir.”
* * *
“So you’re saying there’s three teams of eight vamp hunters in Hong Kong?” Black Jack Tarr snorted at Xander’s nod. “Well shit kid, I knew vamps existed, but I never figured there’d be so many of them in a place the size of Hong Kong?”
“Dense population,” Blade growled. “Makes the killing easy.”
Xander picked up his ringing phone. “Yeah?”
“Xander, it’s going to be Argentina!” Tara excitedly greeted. “I had to study a few texts and check out a few obscure references, but it’s definitely Argentina.”
“Why’s that?” Xander queried.
”It’s where the Blood God created the first vampire and therefore the place on earth his influence is still felt the most,” the witch explained.
”Okay,” Xander thought quickly. “Well we don’t want to arrive in Argentina separately. “Get yourself on the first flight to New York, Faith, Blade, and I will meet you there.”
“I would be honoured if I could come along with you and fight this threat by your side.”
Xander glanced towards the lithely-built Chinaman sat beside him. “Huh, sure. Sounds good.”
“If we arrange to meet in New York, I know a couple of women who could be handy in a scrap of this size,” Blade suggested.
”You know a couple of women. Huh.” Blade turned to the eyebrow-raised Slayer. “It can’t be biblically, ‘cause the amount of times I made a pass at you and no response, you have to be a Ken-doll.”
“Faith Spenser,” Xander shook his head and sighed. “Adversely influencing people and making enemies globally since ’99.”
* * *
Amara looked up for his examination of his company’s papers to inspect the thirty-something looking Hispanic vampire stood in front of him. “Yes Carlos?”
“We’ve been informed that the witch has made a booking for herself, the younger Slayer, and a third unknown party to New York.”
“Then we can assume that’s where they’ll be meeting up with Harris,” Amara mused. “Contact our assets in the US., organise an execution for the entire Mithras Quartet.”
“At once sir,” the vampire hurried into the cockpit to the make the call.
* * *
Ruben Santingo sat in his office, feet on desk as he puffed contentedly on his Havana, cloud rings puffing out of his stoogie. A bushy eyebrow raised as his door crashed open and his model-beautiful personal assistant stumbled in, rosy lips parted in what looked to be an exclamation of shock, dark eyes slightly wider than normal, and usually alabaster cheeks flushed. “Eva!” he grunted. “Didn’t I say I wasn’t to be disturbed?”
”Yes!” Eva nodded as she screeched to a halt at the other side of the desk. “But as Director of Special Projects Division, this is in your purview.”
“Oh?” Ruben stiffened. And it had started off such a good day. “What is?”
“The seer division, it’s chaos!” Eva babbled. “Their viewing is so foul several have fainted, two have even died!”
“WHAT VIEWING!” Ruben’s temper spectacularly snapped.
Eva flinched at his roar. “It’s the ancient vampire, Amara, he’s coming here-.”
“Shit,” Ruben whispered, his jowls dropping and stomach hollowing, twisting. The last decade of the 20th and 1st decade of the 21st century had taken a terrible toll on Master Vampires with Kaiktosis, the Master, Dracula, Lothos, Bathory, and De Rais being slain to name but a few. And of those demons that remained, Amara was the oldest and most feared, his steel-trap mind a far more dangerous weapon than his supernaturally-powered body.
And then of course there was the no small matter of his two Vamped Slayers accompanying him, the only two Slayers ever turned.
Ruben forced his hands to stop shaking, although he could do nothing to quell the sweat dripping down his forehead. Disasters like this were exactly why they gave him the big bucks, the fat expense account, and the luxury housing allowance. “Alert Special Operations, call everyone in. I want a team intercepting Amara as soon as he gets here.”
“Yes sir.” Eva glanced up from her pad. “Which team, sir?”
“Which team?” Ruben stared at his beautiful assistant as if she was a complete idiot. “Why all of them of course!”
Amara stared at the ring on his finger, eyes burning into the gleaming gem. Then after a long breath, he crouched down by the recently dug hole, pulled off the ring, and dropped it in the hole then quickly filled it in.
“Master,” Lucia queried, “why are you removing your ring?”
Amara scowled. “This newcomer to town, this Richard Wilkins is a dark arts mage of considerable power, if I wear the ring or any of my other inventions while attempting an attack, he’d sense me coming miles away. But if I go without the rings, I should be able to get close enough to surprise him.”
“Should we come with you, master?” Esther queried.
Amara nodded. “He is a considerable power and a number of minor demons as his escort. I can’t afford to risk going on my own.” Amara cast a longing gaze around the house that was his home. They’d lived in this simple log cabin since he’d had the land cleared of Chumash three decades ago. In centuries he’d never stayed in one place as long. And now this human thought to usurp him.
Amara shook his head. Master Vampires had died at his hand, he’d slain no less than four Slayers, and now a mere human thought to threaten him. Amara scowled as he strode from the house, the darkness cloaking him and his two Slayers as he made his way through the -.
Amara spun around, shock etching itself across his vamped out features, when after about eight hundred metres the ground began to shake under him, the earth beneath his feet creaking mightily in protest. “No!” he hissed, a cold terror unlike anything he’d felt in centuries twisting his guts, as a sickening realisation took hold. An earthquake, the darkness-shrouded houses on the street where he lived began to shake and dip, the screams of his neighbours filling his ears.
The girls were snapping at his heels as he raced towards his house, everything seeming to blur as he charged through the night. But as fast as he ran, faster than he’d ever run before, he’d barely covered half the distance when a huge twenty foot chasm erupted before him, and he saw the houses of the street he’d lived on collapse underground with a mighty crunch, almost as if a giant invisible hand had reached up and dragged them under.
”NOOO!” Amara screamed and fell to his knees, desperation filling him as he realised his ring and all of his other most precious inventions were now buried under thousands of tons of earth. “NOOOO!”
His rage abating to replaced by an empty, unquenchable despair, he turned to the girls, strangely oblivious to the chaos still gripping his surroundings. “Come,” he growled, voice shaking with defeated rage. “I’ve lost any appetite for this fight or this place. Let Wilkins have it for all the good it will bring him!”
* * *
Faith’s brow furrowed as she followed Blade’s burly figure through Harlem’s maze of streets, the intimidating presence of her three companions ensuring none of the loitering street-gangs they passed by did anything more than silently watch their passing. “Where we goin’ dude?”
“A private investigation agency I know,” Blade came to a stop by the side of a building and pointed up at the faded sign hanging above the door, “Knightwing Restorations.” He pressed on the intercom and spoke into it. “Hey, how about openin’ this door.”
“Why sure,” came a replying purr, “always glad to see you, Blade.”
The door clicked and swung open, allowing them into a dimly lit lobby with a stairwell heading upstairs. The group followed Blade upstairs and into a simple but tidily efficient office with two desks in it, a bulletproof window on the north wall, and a door in the wall opposite the one they’d just entered through. Behind the desks sat an Oriental babe in a daringly low-cut white jumpsuit and a black honey with a flaring afro in cargo pants and a zipped up leather jacket. “Well hi sugah.”
“Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, you know Shang-Chi,” Blade nodded towards their companion before looking towards her and Xander. “This is Faith Spenser and Xander Harris of The Mithras Brotherhood.”
“You don’t say sugah,” the black woman shot them both interested glances. “Heard a lot ‘bout you.”
Faith smirked back at the older woman. “Well we know next to nuthin’ ‘bout you?”
Blade looked towards the Oriental woman. “This is Colleen Wing, a female samurai.” His gaze moved towards Misty Knight. “Misty Knight is a former demolitions expert with the police force who after losing an arm in the call of duty had it replaced by Tony Stark with a cybernetic limb that offered enhanced punching power and grip, in addition to various other nasty tricks like a concussive blast, magnetism, force field, and limited technopathic abilities. Together they run KnightWing Restorations Ltd., one of New York’s foremost private detective agencies.”
“Cool,” Faith nodded. From the sound of things, these two could be handy in the fight.
“You guys ever fought vamps ‘fore?”
“Oh we’ve had the occasional run-in,” Misty replied with a nod that got her afro swaying. “Crimelords, the Hand, that sorta thing as well.”
“Cool,” Faith repeated.
Everyone turned at the buzzing intercom on Colleen’s desk. The Oriental smiled apologetically at them before answering. “Hello?”
“Hello,” Faith instantly recognised Moon Knight’s deep voice, “Moon Knight here.”
“Buzzing you in,” Colleen pressed a control on her desk. “See you in a minute.”
In seconds, the other members of their group were there, hasty introductions made. Then Xander spoke up. “Okay, I think we need to get moving, we don’t know how much of a lead Amara-.”
”Too late Harris,” Blade’s eyes shot up to the office’s ceiling. “Seems like we got visitors of the night-prowling variety!”
Misty Knight shot Blade a glower. They’d only just finished getting the office fixed up after last month’s riot, and now Blade was going to get it wrecked all over again. Great, just great.
The insurance premiums were getting to be a stone-cold bitch.
Collecting herself, Misty started barking orders. “Colleen, you and I will take the rear exit. Blade, you, Shang-Chi, and Moon Knight need to head outta the window, onto the fire escape, and onto the roof. Mithras Quartet take the front of the building.”
* * *
“Sounds like a plan,” Faith agreed as she spun to the entrance, catching the weaponry Xander pulled out of the Always Pocket and threw her en-route to kicking the door open and starting down the threadbare carpeted landing.
Faith twisted at the waist and shot a fist-sized hole in the face of a vampire scrambling over the hallway’s banister, the shot’s concussive momentum enough to lift the beast from its feet and fling it back over the railing. Out of the corner of her eye she saw two more demons race over the last step and onto the landing, but Xander was on them before she had time to turn, sabre slashing left and right taking heads even as he distracted them with bone-shattering rounds to the knees.
Another vampire leapt over the railing only to be met by a Tara-flung fireball, his screams ringing in Faith’s ears as he burst into dust. Another demon dove headfirst at her, taloned hands slashing viciously.
Faith glided away from the attack, leaving her stake swinging up to catch the demon square in his heart while swinging her foot up and into another vampire’s crotch, doubling it up for Kennedy to back-hand slash through the back of its throat. “Thanks Faith!”
“Pleasure, brat,” Faith drawled as she searched eagerly for another target.
* * *
Blade had barely taken a couple of steps towards the window, Moon Knight and Shang-Chi a heartbeat behind him, when he noticed a trio, no make that a quartet, of shapes swinging towards the window.
Instinct took over as he grabbed the nearest desk and flipped it over onto its side before diving behind it, printer and water cooler spilling to the floor. “Get down!” he roared as his companions went left and flipped the other desk over.
The window imploded as a quartet of heavily armed vamps swung through on ropes. Blade’s first thought as he raised his gun over the edge and started firing, was that Amara spared no expense when it came to resources. His gleaming automatic bucked powerfully in his hand, and the flare from his weapons’ discharges briefly illuminated the dimly lit office.
His first two shots caught the first demon before he could disengage from his rappelling gear, his head briefly snapping back before he dusted. The second had hit the ground in a crouch before his bullets crashed into his head, spinning him like a top en-route to him exploding into ash.
Then Blade was forced to duck behind his desk as the two surviving vampires unleashed their mini-uzis in his direction, hot lead tearing through the air just above his head. After sucking in a long breath, he started to roll out into the exposed centre between the two turned over tables.
His roll was in time to see a pair of Moon Knight’s sharp-edged crescent darts spin out of the night to slice through the remaining gunmen’s necks. Even as Blade nodded his thanks to the Egyptian-themed super-hero, another pair of vampires glided in through the left side of the window. Blade rolled onto his side and raised his automatics in time to see the Oriental glide to his feet, karate chop a wooden leg off the desk he had been crouched behind and charge to confront the duo.
Shang-Chi flowed like a river to the first’s left, head-butted the second in the face while side-heel kicking the first in his side. The second stumbled back, his face a shattered mask of blood even as the first leapt at Shang-Chi. Once again the snarling vampire’s claws tore nothing but air as Shang-Chi ducked beneath its attack and front-heel kicked the demon in the side, hitting what looked to be the exact same spot as before, doubling it up, easy prey to a stake through the back.
The second lunged at the Oriental, only to be met by a side-on karate chop square in the neck, the blow’s force knocking it off balance. Before the demon had regained its equilibrium, Shang-Chi glided into a crouching leg-sweep, taking its legs out from under it, then leaping up and driving his stake down and through its chest as it crashed to the ground.
* * *
Colleen opened the far door with a kick, then leapt to the left, pressing herself against the wall as Misty lifted her cybernetic arm and sent a concussive blast down the narrow passageway, tearing into the trio of vampires charging towards them, and flinging them into the far wall.
A gleeful look on her face, Colleen swept forward, katana gleaming in her hands as she advanced on the trio still struggling to their feet, then glided in and out of their attempted attacks while delivering perfect slashes of her own, every strike taking a head. The third was just exploding into dust when the rear door crashed open and a pair of demons charged out, forcing Colleen into a retreat.
Misty rushed up to meet her, blocked and caught a fist in the palm of her cybernetic arm and squeezed. Pain and disbelief filled the demon’s face as the bones of its hand shattered and then her gun was in its face, her finger tugging on the trigger as she turned it to dust, the echo in the narrow corridor deafening her.
Turning to her companion, she nodded, stepped through the doorway and glanced left and right. Seeing no more demons, she backed back into the passageway, locked the door, and backed back into her office.
Dismay filled her at the condition of her only recently restored office, dust shattered glass covering the floor, her photocopier and water-cooler lying across the soaked carpet, and one of their over-turned tables missing a leg. “Great!” Misty Knight snapped as she glared at Harris. “Another ruined office, you better pay real well!”
The blazing sun caused moisture that not unfancifully could be described as sweat dripping off the surrounding foliage, and yet Colonel Javier Bacchus, formerly of Secretaría de Inteligencia, couldn’t help but feel a chill resting in his gut and running up and down his spine as he clung to his Mac-10 and peered through the shadows.
He and the troops under his command had been here for hours, patiently watching the narrow road that led up to the ancient temple that their intelligence believed was essential for the enemy’s spell. Because of their lead and their enemies’ problem with daylight, this information had enabled them to get into position ahead of their opponent, picking the perfect position for an ambush, a valley half-way up a steep hill.
A dozen of his men were crouched in the left side of the valley opening, another dozen thirty paces behind them on the right side to avoid the possibility of friendly fire, but still close enough to catch their enemy in a crossfire. If by some fluke Amara won through his initial ambush, then just around the valley’s bend, a final dozen men had set up barricades across the middle of the road. It was such an obvious place for an ambush, anyone with half a brain would avoid it, except their adversary was in too much of a hurry to do so, and worse for him, this was the possible only route up the steep hill.
Excitement and trepidation filled him as the ground began to tremble, signifying the enemy convoy’s ponderous approach. After a moment to gather himself, the Colonel muttered into his mouthpiece. “Beta team in position.” His brow furrowed when his query was only answered with static. “Beta team in position?” he hissed through a tightening throat, lips drying when silence was his reply once again. “Delta team?” he hissed as he desperately hoped against hope for an equipment malfunction, the alternative too terrible to comprehend.
Once again his answer was just static.
Sweat dripped down his neck as his head snapped up, eyes searching the thickly-treed hillside, every shadow of the steep slope seeming to menace him. His eyes searched vainly through the darkness, the tremble underfoot increasing in its velocity. And then a shadow to his right moved-.
Lips opening in a scream, he twisted at the waist to confront his attacker, his gun swinging up only for a hand to shoot out of the darkness, grab the weapon by its muzzle, and effortlessly snatch it away. His eyes widened as another hand lashed out of the shadows, its talons tearing through his throat as easily as it tore through the darkness.
Blood bubbled out of his mouth as his legs suddenly collapsed beneath him, pitching him down on the dewy grass, eyes staring lifelessly at the towering treetops.
* * *
“Yes, yes, that’s excellent news.” Lupo slid his cell back into his jacket pocket before looking over his shoulder. “Our troops have cleared the way sir.”
“That’s excellent,” Amara beamed at his subordinate as he sat in the plushly furnished limo’s rear, his Slayer Vampires curled up on either side. “Then if you’d be so good, I have an appointment to get to.”
“Of course,” Lupo turned to the driver and snapped out an order in Spanish, the car smoothly moving off, its precision-engineered engine purring as it made its way up the hill.
Amara smiled as he sat back in the car, not a drop of sweat on his Brook Brothers pinstriped suit. Today was a very good day for him, today was a day he changed the world, and became the sort of player his talents had always deserved. He looked towards the still closed window. Just a few hours now.
He could almost taste it. Nothing would stop him now.
* * *
“Where’s the temple we’re heading to? Some sorta demonic power spot or somethin’?”
Faith had to shout to make herself heard over the whirl of the chopper’s rotors but from his shaking head Xander heard her well enough. “No,” her boy-friend leaned towards her so she could read his lips in addition to actually hear the words, “the opposite actually.” Xander flushed.
”Go on!” Kennedy prompted, the two Slayers exchanging grins as they sensed some sort of embarrassment.
“It was the decades just following the Demon Wars, the greatest most destructive war the world has ever seen,” Xander’s face briefly shadowed then hardened. “Because of the population’s gratitude and some of the amazing feats by Mithras and his companions, some cults sprang up worshipping them.”
“Yeah, Xan always likes it when on my knees,” Faith drawled then laughed at Xander’s reddening.
“We’re where heading is a temple consecrated to Mithras, it was there as a final act of defiance the blood god created the first vampire before fleeing this dimension.”
Faith whistled through her teeth. “One question?”
Xander looked up into her suddenly grim eyes. “Sure.”
Faith’s dimples deepened as she flashed him a shit-eating smirk. “You not gonna be puttin’ on airs, not now we’re visiting one of your temples are ya?”
Xander sighed long-sufferingly and shook his head. “With you around how could that ever happen?”
Beside Faith Kennedy nodded. “Good, ‘cause it’s a serious concern.”
”Why the helicopter instead of a plane?” Faith steered the conversation back onto a more serious path.
Xander looked towards the re-customised gunship’s floor. “Look down, this entire area is all hills and trees, there’s no where we could use even as a makeshift runway. This chopper can get us just a few miles away from the temple, then we can sneak in from the rear, stop the ceremony, kill the vampires, and signal the chopper to come in from the airfield in the morning to pick us up.”
“If we make it out,” Faith gloomily muttered. A vampire as ancient as Amara, plus two turned Slayer Vampires, and god knows how many minions? This did not sound like an easy battle.
If he had any breath at all it would have raced from Amara’s body as he stared around the sweltering forest. Great trees perhaps so old that they had been saplings when he had been turned towered over him and his party, while in the shadowy clearing just ahead stood the worn by time ruins of an once mighty temple, now nothing more than a few crumbling stone slabs and central to the remaining vestiges standing a defiant against time altar.
Suddenly rage replaced awe within Amara. It was not him that should quail before the world, but the world should shudder before him. Casting an eye around his remaining minions, he let out a commanding snarl. “You all know your roles. Those who are on perimeter guard, spread out. Those involved in readying the ritual, spread the dust rings out so that the Masters will rise again. Girls,” he looked towards his favoured daughters, “stay close, guard the Slayer well.” He paused, gathering his strength for the ritual ahead. “Hurry, the moon will be at its apex in a few hours!”
* * *
Faith licked her lips as she stalked down the thickly wooded hill leading to the ritual site, careful to avoid stamping on any twigs or rustling any bushes on her way down so not to alert the unseen demons she sensed patrolling the shadows.
Speaking of which, Faith dropped into a nimble crouch as she saw a silhouette shift just ahead of her, the vampire taking up position slouched against a tree, his back to her. Faith squinted, the distance between the vamp and her was maybe twenty feet. Against a human she could easily make it at full-run before he reacted, but against a vamp with their enhanced hearing and reactions was a different matter.
Faith grimaced as she pulled a silver garrotte out of her belt, she’d have to be sneaky. Faith’s heart pounded as she dropped on her belly and began crawling under the bush and towards her target, groaning inwardly at every leaf rustle as she slithered towards her unaware prey, eyes fixed on his back as she prayed he didn’t move.
Against all expectations her target remained oblivious as Faith crawled on her belly until she was directly behind the tree. After taking a nervous breath and taking a moment to centre herself, she kipped up to her feet. Too late the demon sensed her and began to move, but by then her garrotte had looped around his neck, pulling him back against the tree, leaves shaking in the collision’s aftermath. Faith gritted her teeth and leaned back, pulling back on the garrotte, forcing it to slice through the demon’s throat even as it gurgled and its hands snatched up and reached for her wrists. Faith ignored her rival’s desperate struggles, lithe biceps writhing as she jerked back on her garrotte, the sharpened silver slicing through his neck until he burst into dust.
Faith wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her arm, the sweat caused more by the tension of the seemingly endless crawl to the vampire than the following brief struggle. Now all she had to do was, Faith crouched down, eyes moving to the ruins to her right, wait for the signal.
* * *
Moon Knight glided through the night, his bulk no impediment to shadow-like passing, the two vampires he’d come across dispatched before they even knew he was there, Shang-Chi clinging to his heels like an early-morning mist.
* * *
Colleen’s katana hissed through the night, blood jetting through her target’s neck as it exploded into dust. Misty nodded approvingly as she signalled her friend to join her crouching behind a huge boulder. This was quite close enough before the real action started.
* * *
Tara nodded at her girl-friend, Kennedy taking it as all the inducement she needed to burst forward and slam her stake into the chest of the vampire, an easy kill considering how distracted he was by the mystical gag binding his mouth shut. Then she melted behind the thick bush and joined her girl-friend in waiting, eyes fixed on the ruins to her left.
* * *
“Από το αίμα.” Amara’s voice reverberated around the ruins, almost shaking the worn stones, as he stared down on the Slayer held down across the altar by his two favoured childes, one holding her wrists, the other clinging to her ankles. For her part the Slayer lay drugged, completely unaware of her role as vessel to a new far more frightening world. “θα ροής ισχύος μου.”
“Man,” suddenly a tall figure stepped out of the shadows towards the ruins’ rear, the altar between him and the interloper, a thick-set black with a shaven head by the man’s side, “you really are a pompous windbag aren’t you?”
Amara glared impotently at the man, fury threatening to burn his veins away. “Who are you?” he demanded through gritted teeth.
The young man by contrast seemed completely at ease. “Some call me Harris. Others call me call me Xander.” The young man’s face suddenly darkened. “You can get used to calling me you your worst nightmare, you stupid fat ass.”
Amara let out a roar then lunged forward, but Xander was already moving sideways, catching the Slayer Vampire stood there with a pair of shotgun blasts to the chest, the rounds’ concussive impact enough to stagger but not to drop the beast. And then he was by the altar, bundling the drugged teen off it as Blade reached Amara.
The ancient vampire leaned away from Blade’s gunfire without missing a step, then crashed into the dark-skinned vampire hunter with a crunching shoulder-tackle, flinging him over twenty feet into the undergrowth.
* * *
Faith was moving the moment Amara let out a roar, charging towards the olive-skinned vampire. The demon spun to confront her, segueing into a spin kick that would have taken her head off if Faith hadn’t dropped into a baseball slide and slid the last ten feet to her adversary, hands shooting up to grab her grounded leg and yank.
The vampire let out a surprised howl as it left the ground, but morphed its fall into an impossibly graceful cartwheel that ended with it landing in a crouch some ten feet away, just as Faith kipped up.
The two of them jumped at one another like a pair of colliding rams, Faith going left at the last second, her elbow shooting up to crash into the side of the demon’s head only for the demon to pull its head down out of the attack, twist, and slam a knee into her lower back. “Fuck!” Faith grunted as she stumbled, pain exploding in her back and her legs briefly turning to rubber.
Shaking it off, Faith spun to face her rival, lights exploding in her eyes as she caught a looping right to the forehead, only instinct managing to carry her around and outside the demon’s follow-up hook to the body. “Ahhh!” The vampire reared back, shock flooding its features as Faith went old-school with a rake to the eyes.
Triumph filling her, Faith reached inside her jacket for her stake. “SHIT!” Faith stumbled backwards, blood filling her mouth when the demonic Slayer head-butted her in the face.
* * *
Kennedy flew out of the trees, ducking under a straight right as the blonde vampire spun to face her, her own fist swinging up in an uppercut that caught the blonde demon on her jaw, knocking her back a step. Kennedy flowed into a crouching leg sweep that the demon leapt over, her feet shooting out at Kennedy’s face, forcing her to block the attack on her forearms, her rival snarling as she pulled her legs back and landed in a feet-apart crouch.
Kennedy rose, grinned at the taller Slayer, then sprang forward, leading with a swinging right that she pulled back at the last second, flowing into a left hook to her rival’s gut. The other Slayer’s leg swung up, blocking her attack on her hip while retaliating while a straight right that Kennedy glided under, coming up on the outside of and slamming a second, this time successful, left into her adversary’s mid-section.
The other Slayer responded with a grunt but continued moving relentlessly forward, parrying Kennedy’s attempting side-kick on her forearm before shooting out a straight right Kennedy barely managed to duck under. Heart pounding, Kennedy continued her squat until her ass was brushing grass then powered forward, leading with her head.
The vampire let out a shocked roar as the top of Kennedy’s head smashed into its jaw, knocking its face up, and giving the Slayer an opportunity to ram her stake into its heart. “Ahhh!” Kennedy screamed as the demon grabbed her hand scant inches from her target and twisted, pain roaring through the wrist joint as her stake fell to the grass.
Seeing the vampire’s mouth opening to reveal its flashing fangs, Kennedy jammed her free fist up into its mouth and pulled back, falling to the ground.
* * *
Tara’s heart leapt into her mouth as she saw the demon loom over her fallen girl-friend, focusing, she raised her hand and sent a fireball flying towards the demon. The vampire ducked low, the fireball flying over its shoulder, but was distracted enough not to notice Kennedy’s foot until its heel smashed into her face, the blow’s force knocking her on her ass.
Tara allowed herself a proud smile. “That’s my girl,” she muttered as she turned her attention back to the battle in general.
Blocking off any reinforcements to the temple were Shang-Chi and Moon Knight, the Oriental far more graceful and far less brutal in his attacks on the undead than the Knight, but just as effective while Colleen Wing and Misty Knight prevented the demons from fleeing, with Misty stunning them with the concussive blast from her cybernetic attachment and Colleen gliding in for the kill immediately afterwards.
But, desperation and despair filled Tara, there were so many of them.
Xander soared up from crouching over the still barely moving girl, hand sweeping up to fire a trio of rounds at the charging vampire. The bullets crashed home, but had little apparent effect, the demon thudding into him with enough force to lift him from his feet and fling him away from the stunned girl. “This is not gonna end well,” Xander grunted as he crashed backfirst into a tree, impact shaking through his battered body and his eyes fixed on the demon as it leapt over the crumpled girl and blurred towards him.
* * *
Amara snarled as something crashed into him, knocking him off balance and away from his planned target. Spinning around to face his attacker, he shot out a haymaker that the notorious Blade ducked under, coming up with a side thrust kick to the chest.
Amara grunted and stumbled backwards, astonished at the amount of pain that thundered through his system. No-one had managed to hurt him in centuries.
Collecting himself, he thundered forward with a flurry of punches, eyes widening as the dark-skinned warrior skipped nimbly in and out of them, then ended the attack with a knee to the gut. Once again Amara grunted, but this time forced himself to lunge forward with a left hook, his knuckles bouncing off the side of the feared vampire hunter’s head.
Blade swayed from side to side, his eyes momentarily glassy, but caught his follow-up straight kick at the ankle, Blade holding it steady as he stamped down hard on Amara’s grounded shin. Amara let out a shocked howl as his leg folded beneath him, dropping him to the ground, the vampire hunter landing on top of him in a straddling position, handgun blurring out of his shoulder holster. Amara shuddered as the bullets tore through his shoulders, his age and power meaning they hurt but failed to kill him. His eyes widened as he saw the demon-hunter draw a silver-tipped dagger, he tried to lift his arms, but found his shattered clavicles failed to mend in time, and then the dagger was tearing through his throat, be-heading him.
* * *
Faith knocked aside the dark-haired Slayer vampire’s straight right as she scrambled to regain her bearings. Shutting aside the pain, she closed the distance between the pair of them and drove her knee up and at her adversary’s crotch.
The demon knocked her attack away, but it doing so gave Faith a chance to leap in with a stake to the heart. “Damn it!” White hot pain exploded as the demon caught her with another headbutt, this one across the bridge of the nose. Faith stumbled backwards, tears blurring her vision.
A hard fist crashed deep into her stomach, doubling her up. Instinct took over as a shape lunged at her, Faith going low and hard, hands shooting out to grab at the back of the demon’s legs and pull.
The vampire let out a frustrated roar as it fell backwards, Faith ignoring the knees crashing into her chest to scramble up the vampire and drive a hard right into its jaw. Faith grunted as the demon’s legs clamped python-like around her waist, the vampire returning her grunt with interest when Faith jammed her stake deep into her right thigh, the demon twisting at the waist to fling Faith off her.
Faith bounced across the leafy ground and up into a crouch in time to duck under a swinging haymaker, then dive in fast, aiming a stamp at the stake still protruding from the vampire’s leg. “AHHHH!” The demon’s mouth opened in a scream as Faith connected, driving the stake still deeper into her leg, Faith leaping on the demon as it fell backwards, pummelling it with blows, its head bouncing with every blow, softening the demon up for a stake through the chest.
* * *
Kennedy pulled her head up, tucking her chin into her chest to protect it from the shuddering impact of collision with the ground. The moment her shoulder-blades touched soil, she was moving, gracefully kipping up.
And straight into a clothesline to the chest.
Air gusted from her lungs as she fell back down, a kick to her side as she attempted to roll away cracking something. Kennedy bit back a moan as she grabbed a hold of a near-by tree and pulled herself up to feet in time to dodge behind the trunk, the vampire’s fist crashing uselessly against bark, the demon letting out a frustrated grunt as its knuckles broke.
Kennedy took advantage of the monster’s shock to leap around the tree and catch it with a side-thrust kick that sent the demon stumbling backwards. After ducking beneath its retaliatory attempted roundhouse kick to the head, Kennedy jumped in close, driving her head up and into the blonde vampire’s jaw, her stake streaking in to strike at the demon’s chest.
She was a couple of inches from her target when the demon thudded a knee into her injured side, knocking her off-balance and off-target, her stake catching the demon just below rather than in its left breast. Kennedy cursed under her breath as she twisted away from the remorseless demon, taking a blow to the face rather than exposing her wounded side to further abuse.
And then she was gliding beneath a straight right, hope flaring in her chest as she noted that the monster had over-stretched itself in its near-rabid eagerness to attack. Her stake flew up and crashed into the demon’s chest.
* * *
Minka stared up at the man standing over her, mind slowly clearing of the sedatives she’d been fed. “Who?” she rasped in English, sensing the man was an American, like John Wayne or James Stewart in the old movies her father loved so much.
A smile creased the man’s face as he ran a hand through his wavy hair. “That’s a more complicated question than you might think.” Minka blinked as the man passed her a pair of pants and shirt from apparently nowhere. “You might wanna dress, then we can talk about getting you home.”