Death Won't Wait
FIC MC 43. Oct ’01 – Death Won’t Wait
Title: Death Won’t Wait
Rating: R (For Language later)
Feedback: In lieu of a Faithbot yeah.
Disclaimer: If I own the chars, why don't Faith and Cordy do as
their master tells them? Woe is me.
Xander, Faith, Tara, and Kennedy belong to Mutant Enemy.
Angela Bennett belongs to the Net.
Ginger Knowles & Gabriel Shear belongs to Swordfish.
Preston Lennox belongs to Species.
Previously on The Mithras Chronicles:-
“Thanks Xander.” Brill nodded. “How do you want to do this?”
He smiled. “We’ll set up a umbrella company called A-Team Industries, set up a company dealing with your inventions called,” he smiled secretly, the memories warming him, “White Knight Innovations, and one dealing with Angela’s programs called Zeppo Computing . Move Slaynet under the same umbrella. I’ll organise a money-trail through the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein. Have you any idea how much this might make us?”
Previously on The Mithras Chronicles:-
“Three actually,” the genius hacker replied. “The first is a Kentuckian by the name of Theo Roundwood. I know you won’t like setting anyone up, but this guy is a real piece of work. He’s a genius, no doubt about it, but has no sense of responsibility. In ’98, he briefly crashed the air control in Miami, almost causing multiple mid-air crashes, and wiped the FBI’s paedophile database, just for a laugh. In ’99, he briefly turned off all the ICU machines in a Tennessee hospital, five people died. He’s just the sort to try ripping off these people without a thought of what they would do to him if they caught up. Roundwood’s trail will look like it was set up by a cyber-mercenary by the name of Duscan Porbosky who works for any multi-national willing to pay his fee, stealing secrets or sabotaging the opposition. Porbosky’s trail though leads to, for anyone smart enough to follow the deliberate mistakes, Lee Ching. Ching’s the no 1. China’s computer genius, he frequently hacks western manufacturing businesses for his government, stealing designs so they can flood their own markets before the west can. I figure the amount of damage that we’ll have done to these organisations, they won’t have the resources or nerve to go after a high-up man in the Chinese government, and most people won’t be able to spot the clues leading from Probosky to Ching anyway.”
Xander bit down on his bottom lip. From the sound of things he’d be at the very least condemning Roundwood to a terrible death. But then did someone who contributed to the freedom of child abusers and the deaths of the frail deserve to live? Xander licked the lips, and the money, that almost doubled what he had at his disposal, the resources he could call upon, the number of teams he could set up, the people he could help protect. “Do it.”
Even as he spoke, he heard the sound of a guillotine screeching down.
* * *
Xander rubbed wearily at his forehead. Forget battling demons, clandestine organisations, and dark arts mages, double-entry book-keeping was far more difficult. According to his calculations A-Team Industries had exceeded all their expectations, making him forty million in the past six months alone.
He supposed he should be pleased, but in truth he was just tired. Forget about A-Team Industries, his own money made him a couple of billion a year. Money however was unimportant, Xander chuckled as he vaguely remembered there being a saying about only the rich thought money wasn’t unimportant.
In this case though, he was right. Next to saving the world money was insignificant. The ideas that Faith and the others had helped him come up with had made their teams more efficient, they really had. October had been a complete bust recruitment wise though.
Xander shook his head. They’d spent most of it in Australia, South Africa, and Turkey but nothing. In each country they’d been met by hostility. “What a complete waste.” Xander muttered under his breath. The apocalypse to end all apocalypses and possibly the world was coming, and some people wanted to be territorial. Some heroes they were.
Xander glared at the screen again. It didn’t matter how many figures he had in his accounts, what mattered was how many he could call on at the final battle. He pressed a button on his laptop. An atlas replaced his accounts on the screen.
“I’ve got some leads in Peru,” Xander murmured. “Maybe Israel. There’s Argentina. I’m not taking the girls to China, we’d never get out. Japan’s risky, but maybe. We haven’t got any coverage in Asia. Maybe South Korea and India too. And Africa,” Xander shook his head. “There’s some prospects in Kenya and Egypt. No,” he shook his head again. “I need more than just bodies, I need allies. People like the X-Men.” He slid in a disk that Mr. Stark had given them on super-beings. “Big Hero Six sound promising, yeah I’ll definitely have to make a move to Japan. Alpha Flight in Canada could be a help. Then there’s this Heroes For Hire mob in New York.” He rubbed at his head. So little time, so much to do. He needed to build an army. “Heck, I need to learn how to lead an army.”
Xander’s musings were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. “Thank god.” Picking up the phone, he checked the caller id before speaking. “Hey, Angela.”
“Hey,” Xander’s eyes narrowed at the strain in the crack hacker’s voice. “I’ve got news.”
“Yeah,” Xander sighed. More bad news to add to the pile. “Hit me with it.”
“Theo Roundwood is dead. They found his dismembered charred remains in a dumpster. They’d tortured him for days, because of us.”
“Theo?” Xander knew he should know the name, but he didn’t.
“You remember,” Angela sounded weary beyond measure, ”when we ripped off those organisations we laid a false trail. They followed it and tortured Roundwood for information he didn’t have.”
Xander winced. “He was a scumbag Angela,” he reminded.
“That’s not the point,” Angela protested. “He died because of us.”
“No,” Xander shook his head. “He died because of me. He was a low-life, and if his death means I can fund one more team that’ll save one innocent it was worth it. But his death doesn’t mean that. It means I’ll be able to fund a hundred teams and save god knows how many innocents. That’s what I’m going to tell myself and that’s what you should. Bye Angela.”
“Okay, bye Xander.”
Xander grimaced as he hung up the cell. That’s what being a leader meant. Making the hard decisions and living with their consequences.
The demon’s feet splattered on the wet tarmac as it raced away from its pursuers, the street shrouded in shadows a thousand miles or a few hundred metres away from the neon city of fun. Suddenly a shadow lunged at him out of the darkness, wooden stave arching downwards. Without breaking stride he shouldered the attacker back into the darkness, the human grunting as they crashed into the wall.
A grin on his face, he was going to make it, he raced around the corner.
And gasped as two bullets crashed into his chest, knocking him onto his back. Growling with pain, he rose up onto his left knee and looked up. The shooter stepped out of the shadows, the cold look in the human’s eyes somehow managing to scare him. Before he had chance to react another bullet crashed into his head, knocking him onto his side. His body quivered helplessly as the killer walked over and drove a stake into his chest.
* * *
“Game over.” Preston Lennox stared down at the ashes. This vampire had taken down five tourists that they knew of in the last fortnight, and that wasn’t even taking into account the faceless locals that a city like Vegas swallowed up without noticing every single day.
At least this demon wouldn’t be getting any more bodies.
“Preston!” he looked up at a shout from the other side of the corner the vampire had just raced around. “Skippy’s been hurt!”
”Damn it,” Preston cursed under his breath before rushing towards the voice. That was the downside of having a team. Yeah, you got the companionship, you got people, but you also got that gut-wrenching feeling when one of them got hurt.
Sprinting around the corner, he found the other four members of his patrol crowded around Skippy, a street-kid who’d had the annoying habit of making himself so indispensable with his information on Vegas’ seedy under-belly that he’d managed to force his way onto Preston’s team despite his lack of experience and training.
Well the kid was paying the price now. ”Damn it, Skippy,” the ring parted for him, allowing to make his way through and crouch beside the floored youth, relieved to see that apart from an egg-shaped and sized bruise over his left eye, the boy seemed okay, “when are you going to start listening?”
“You know me, bossman,” the African-American kid smiled weakly then winced, hand half rising then flopping back down to the wet tarmac, “hard of hearing.”
”I swear,” Preston shook his head before glancing across at the portly latino. “How’s he’s looking Doc?”
‘Doc’, in fact an EMT with over two decades of experience on Vegas’ sometimes less than glamorous streets who’d known about the city’s ‘nightlife’ long before Preston’s arrival scowled at both of them in turn before speaking. “Kid might have a concussion,” the burly Latino replied. “But he should-.”
“Aaaaaah!” The teen suddenly spasmed, eyes going wild and body thrashing, water he was slumped in splashing everywhere.
“Cool it, kid!” Preston reached for the youth’s slight shoulders, but despite his fifty pounds weight advantage, he couldn’t even slow, much less stop the boy’s convulsions. Preston looked across at Doc. “What the hell’s happening?” he demanded, voice hoarse with trembling fear.
“I don’t know!” Doc’s wide eyes stared back at him. “He’s just got a bang on the head. He shouldn’t be-.” The Latino’s voice trailed off when the boy stiffened, jaw dropping open and lifeless eyes staring up at the dark sky. “NOOOOO!”
“That mark,” Preston heard the whisper from behind him, he glanced his shoulders, looking towards the speaker. The fierceness of his gaze made its diminutive subject take a back-step, but after a second the patroller spoke. “It’s the same one Martha had on her neck.”
Martha West, a pretty blonde who’d died from a dislocated shoulder three days earlier. “That isn’t,” Preston’s voice trailed off as he saw the sigil of two crossed swords positioned over a shield, all within a thorny circle on the kid’s neck, “possible.” Preston looked towards the others. “I need you to get Skippy back for burial.”
“W..what are we gonna do?” stuttered one of his men. “Martha didn’t have but a mark on her, same with Skippy, they shouldn’t have died.”
“First I’m going to call Mithras,” Preston took a photo of the sigil with his phone. An excited mutter ran through the crowd, they’d never actually met the ‘legendary’ Xander Harris. “Then we’re going to bury Skippy. And then I’m standing down all patrols until we know what is causing this.”
* * *
“Here, kitty, kitty.” Don French glanced down from his ladder lent against the ladder to the tall grey-haired woman stood looking up. “Say ma’am, what did you say its name was?”
“That’s Oscar, young man!” the woman tartly replied.
“Yes ma’am,” Don sighed. Last year he’d been commended three times by the Mayor, now here he was, rescuing some damn cat with enough sense to flee his harridan of an owner. Don reached out a hand. “Here, Oscar. Come here.” The cat hissed before striking, raking him down the back of his hand. Clenching his teeth, Don grabbed the cat around the neck and climbed down ladder, gingerly hanging the hissing feline over to his owner.
”Did the nasty man hurt you Oscar?” the owner shot him a baleful look before hurrying inside.
“I love it when they’re grateful like that,” his partner commented as he headed back to the truck.
”Makes you warm all over.” Don agreed. Feeling suddenly cold and hot at the same time, he raised his hand to his forehead.
“Are you alright, man?” his partner asked.
“That cat’s scratch stings a little but I’ll be-.” Suddenly Don’s knees buckled under him, sending him crashing to the gravel. The last thing Firefighter Don French saw was a tall, blonde haired woman with ice-cold blue eyes and dressed in Xena-like clothes stalking towards him, sword in one hand, round shield in the other.
And then all there was was darkness.
Kennedy looked left and right, eyes widening at all of the garish sights, struggling to take it all in. The towering hotels, the brightly shining casinos, the wonderfully tacky wedding chapels, and even the seedy, yet somehow glossy-looking strip joints.
”Believe or not,” Tara whispered in her ear. “Last time we came to Vegas, Faith stood up in the car, singing ‘Viva Las Vegas’, while wearing these tiny black shorts.”
”I wouldn’t have minding seeing that!” Kennedy declared.
“Really?” Tara stared doubtfully at her.
“Hey,” Kennedy grinned at her girl-friend. “Faith might be an ass, but she’s got quite an ass.”
”But mine’s better?” Tara asked.
”Of course,” Kenendy grinned.
Faith snorted from the front. ”You’re either lyin’ or trippin’.” The sultry Slayer glanced at her boyfriend. “Ain’t no ass better than my ass, right Xan?”
“Three women arguing about whose got the best ass?” Xander shook his head. “Sun Tzu had a saying about this. How did it go? Oh yeah, ‘leave me out of it’.”
Faith snorted. “Chickenshit.”
“Thanks,” Xander calmly replied. “I prefer to call it smarts, but thanks.”
“Which hotel are we staying at?” Tara asked, thus probably staving off an argument with Faith. God, she loved Tar, but she could be such a kill-joy sometimes, arguing with Faith was fun!
“The Plaza.” Kennedy couldn’t see Xander’s face, but she guessed he was grinning.
”Really!” Kennedy gasped. “Wow! I was reading about that in a tourist guide last night! They have 80,000 sq foot of casino, rows and rows of slot machines, a rooftop pool, the Centre Stage restaurant looks unreal, and they have over 1,000 rooms!”
“We’re here on a job, Kennedy, not to party. See,” Faith turned to her boy-friend, “I can be the responsible one.”
“What’s worrying me is how she mentioned the casino before anything else,” Xander replied as he pulled into the floodlit parking lot. “I’m thinking Gamblers’ Anonymous might be getting a call.”
Kennedy ignored all their jibes as she climbed out of the car and peered up at the building. It was blue and gleaming in the night, stretching up into the heavens. “Wow, it’s so huge!” she gasped.
“Well sure, to a titch like you!”
Kennedy glared at Faith. “You’re only four inches taller than me!”
”Only four inches?” Faith smirked at her. “Four inches can be a real big deal, right Xander?”
“There’s no way I’m answering that question,” the young man reddened.
* * *
Xander hurried into the warm lobby, the girls’ taunting laughter following him. He stopped at the reception desk, smiling uncertainly at the model-beautiful receptionist. It was weird how beautiful women still managed to get him tongue-tied even though he hung around with three of the most gorgeous women he’d ever seen.
Talking about sexy women. His breath caught at the sight of the ginger-haired African-American amazon dressed in a glittering evening dress gliding into the lobby on the arm of a suited man in his mid-forties with a dimpled chin, black hair parted down the middle, and cool blue eyes. The man missed a step, looked hard at Faith, men often did that, then smiled and walked past them into the cold night.
* * *
“Gabriel!” Ginger protested as they started across the car lot, her high heels clicking on the tarmac. “Why are we leaving?” she hissed. “I thought we were scoping the hotel out for the multiple hits.”
”Did you notice the leather-clad brunette?” Gabriel Shear asked.
”I noticed you noticing her. And why was that? Because of her ass? Her chest? Her legs? Her eyes? Mouth?” She wryly suggested.
“All of the above.” The look Gabriel shot her was anything but amused. “I recognised them. Well I recognised her first, she’s hard to forget.”
“Well who are they?” Ginger impatiently asked.
“The boy’s a Platinum-Level operative, codename ‘Warrior God’, ditto with the heart-breaking brunette, codename ‘Slayer’,” Gabriel explained
“They’re too young to be Platinum-Level!” she protested. “I doubt they’re out of their teens. Heck they won’t even have finished basic training yet!”
“I know,” Gabriel agreed. “And yet they’re considered amongst the dangerous people not only in the intelligence community but in the world.”
“Impossible!” Ginger shook her head.
“Most of the files on them are so encrypted not even my hackers have been able to get into, but nobody messes with those two, not if they want to keep their heads. If they’re staying at the same hotel I am, I’m leaving there fast, and the state straight after.”
“But the operation?” Ginger protested.
”Screw the operation,” Gabriel replied. “There’ll be other operations. We’ve still got plenty of money left from Swordfish. Let’s concentrate on keeping breathing.”
“Okay, Tara,” Xander smiled at the nervous witch as they sat in his and Faith’s suite, “what can you tell us about the sigil?”
“Yes,” the wicca nodded. “I checked on the ‘arcane symbols’ cd and found a reference to the sigil belonging to one of the Valkyries.”
“Valkyries? What are they?” Faith interrupted.
”Did you ever listen to your Watcher?” Kennedy snarked.
Seeing the unaccustomed look of fury on his girl-friend’s sultry face, Xander spoke before she had chance. “Cool it, both of you.” Guessing Faith’s anger had rather more to do with her feelings over the loss of her much loved Watcher than her usual banter with Kennedy, he shot the lesbian a warning look before turning back to Tara. “Please, continue.”
Tara glanced uncertainly from the glowering Bostonian to her girl-friend and back again before continuing. “In Norse mythology, Valkyries were dsir, minor female deities, who served Odin. They were depicted as shield-maidens who rode on the back of giant wolves. Their purpose was to choose the most heroic of those who had died in battle and to carry them off to Valhalla, the Norse version of paradise, to wait for the preordained battle at the end of the world, Ragnarök."
Xander swallowed as he noticed Faith was staring at him, strangely. “That don’t make sense-.”
”Yeah,” Kennedy cut in, “you said that Preston said the two who’d died had barely been hurt.”
Faith shot the potential a volcanic glare, clearly Kennedy’s earlier comment had stung. “That ain’t what I meant,” Faith continued. “You said Othin was one of Mithras’ posse, a human who just ascended. Where did this myth come from?”
“I can answer that,” Xander replied. “Othin was one of Mithras’ friends, or rather he was the father of Thor, Balder, and Loki, who served with Mithras.” Xander scowled. “Or at least all three did until Loki betrayed everyone.” Xander shook his head, having a warrior god’s memories rattling around in his head could be confusing. “The Valkyrie were something completely different, a creation of the Old Ones that Othin defeated and forced into servitude on his homeland in one of The Demon Wars’ great battles. After binding them, he gave them a task.” Xander shook his head. “When Mithras found out about it, he was furious, but by then it was too late.”
Xander started slightly at Faith’s husky voice beside him. He’d been so caught up in memories that weren’t even his, he’d forgotten about his companions. He glanced at his lover, smiled weakly and continued. “By then, a mage in Mithras’ armies’ ranks, and they were vast armies, numbering in the millions, had learnt how to walk ‘The Memories Of Times Not Yet Spent’.”
“Huh?” Faith grunted.
“He could see into the future?”
Xander nodded at Tara’s guess. “But he was a prophet that the world has never seen the like of before or after. Merlin, Nostradamus, or St. Malachy couldn’t compare to him. He foretold Wolfram & Hart’s arrival in this dimension, the Calling of the First Slayer, the building of the pryamids, the rise and fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the British Empire, the discovery of the New World, the man on the moon, the First, Second, and Third World Wars-.”
”The Third World War!” shrieked Kennedy.
”Don’t worry,” Xander shook his head. “That doesn’t happen for another two centuries. But it’s indirectly why Othin decided to do what he did.”
“Oh,” Kennedy muttered, “two centuries? That’s alright then I guess.”
“Jesus, Xand,” Faith sounded more irritated with him than she had been with Kennedy, “stop dancing around the fucking houses and tell us what Othin did!”
“The third world war will be fought with weapons beyond our comprehension,” Xander began. “Imagine a first world war pilot seeing one of today’s planes, that’s the sort of jump I’m talking about. After the war’s finished, the planet will be completely and utterly devastated, perhaps a tenth of the population still living. And those who live will be scared into a new way of life. There’ll be no violence in this new world, no crime, they’ll dedicate themselves to meditation, science, and the arts.”
Xander’s lips quirked up at Faith’s mutter. “But this new utopia will have a huge problem. After centuries, the people will have no armies or weaponry left to protect them when the enemy comes.”
“The enemy?” Tara asked.
”That part of the prophecy is unclear,” Xander replied. “The mage didn’t have the words to describe them, which suggests they’re either other-dimension or from another planet. But they’ll be a swarm of them, ‘like grains in the sand’, not interested in talk, not interested in truce, only in the total obliteration of this planet. So Othin decided to task the Valkyries with collecting the souls of warriors who fell in battle to defend the planet for when it doesn’t have any warriors.” Xander paused. “Mithras was not happy about Othin’s plan.”
“He figured that the warriors had done their bit?” Faith guessed.
“Yeah,” Xander nodded. “I can’t answer Kennedy’s question though,” he admitted. “I’ve no idea why one of the Valkyries took someone who wasn’t dead, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way.”
“I can answer that,” Tara quietly put in. Xander looked towards the witch. “The sigil belongs to a specific Valkyire, Svafa. There’s a story about her I pulled out of The Eternal Archive, she’s a renegade, driven mad by various failures to save warriors on the point of death, getting there too late that sort of thing. Now, when warriors get the slightest injuries, she doesn’t take the chance that they might die before she can take them.”
“Okay, so how do we stop her?” Faith queried.
Xander hid a grimace. He had an idea, but when Faith heard it she was going to kick his ass all around Las Vegas. “Let’s go down to Lennox’s camp,” he evaded as he rose, “let’s see how they’re doing.”
Faith stared doubtfully at the drab single-storied warehouse in Vegas’ industrial area. “You sure this is the place?” she asked. “I mean usually our people live in estates outside of the towns.”
”I know,” Faith glanced at Xander. She really, really didn’t like it when he started spouting off about times before recorded history. She hated to admit it but she was freaked about how much of Mithras’ memories were in her man, but what really worried her was just how much of the god’s personality were imprinted on him. “But this is the address. Besides,” Xander pointed up, “see the surveillance cameras and bullet-proof windows? This is one of our places.”
Shoving aside her worries as for another day, Faith joined the others in exiting the tinted-windowed 4 * 4 and starting across the busy road. Xander rapped on the steel-grey double doors, the sound audible even over the traffic behind them.
Ten seconds passed before a panel slid aside in the door. A pair of black eyes stared back at them, widening after a momentary pause. “It’s you! The Mithras one! The boss said you were comin’!” Faith heard the tell-tale screech of two deadbolts being pulled back and then the door was dragged to one side.
Faith hid a grin at the awed look on the huge black doorman. “C…come in sir,” the man at least ten years Xander’s senior stuttered. If there was one place in the world Faith could be safe from guys it was in a Mithras Brotherhood base. The men worshipped Xander so much that they practically didn’t notice her, much less tried to make a move on the main man’s piece of ass.
As for Xand, that was the weird thing, guys she knew back in the day would have strutted around, basking in the attention. Xander tho’, he seemed almost embarrassed by it, shrinking in on himself until Tara had once pointed out he was their leader, he needed show them how much he appreciated their regard. Since then Xander tried, but it was hard for him, being the centre of attention.
Tho’ she didn’t get why. Not only was he carrying the skills of a warrior god just prior to ascension, he was the world’s richest man, head of a international demon-fighting army, and dating the world’s number one babe, namely her.
No, he didn’t haven’t a lot to be modest about.
“Hello everyone,” Preston Lennox hurried into view as they entered the fluorescent light illuminated warehouse, coming out of a door to their left. “I’m glad you came.”
”Even me?” Faith queried with a smirk, remembering their tense first meeting.
The former assassin’s lips tugged up in a half-smile. “Even you, believe it or not.”
Xander glanced behind him to the door being shut before looking back towards the assassin and smiling weakly. “I normally take Faith everywhere just twice, the second time to apol-.” Her boy-friend darted out of the way of her kick at his ass. “Too slow, Slayer.”
“Please, if I wanted to,” she left the threat hanging in mid-air.
“Please, don’t,” the assassin stepped forward, with what she guessed was a nervous look in his eyes. “The slightest injury can cause-.”
”Yeah,” Xander shot her a chagrined look, “sorry.” Xander swallowed as he looked around, the corridor now filling with all of the team’s members. “I see you got your pins.”
”Yes,” Preston nodded at first him and then Tara, “great idea, very useful, and the magic works great too.” Preston looked around. “Do you want to do the tour?” Xander nodded. “People, back to work.”
Once the group had dispersed, Preston glanced towards the door he’d just entered through. ”That’s my office, we’re using that software you sent us two months ago to plot strange deaths to help us patrol more efficiently, find demon nests, and predict attacks. It’s great, give my compliments to your software team.”
Xander nodded. “I will do. Any problems with the arms or tech support?”
“No,” Preston shook his head as he lead them into a very well-equipped but eerily empty gym\dojo, “deliveries are always on time and top quality. Through that far door are the changing rooms, the door to the left leads into the dorms, and through the right-hand door is the eating area and rec room. As for security measures, there’s surveillance cameras outside, we always have someone watching the screen in my office at night, the sprinklers are filled with holy water, all the windows are bullet-proofed with infra-red sensors built into both doors, there’s an underground bunker with three months’ worth of supplies in it in case of attack.”
“I’ve got a question,” Faith put in. “Most teams have set up places outside of towns in close proximity to the major population cities, only places like this are those who look after just one city. How come you went this route?”
“With it being such a small state I decided not to have a mobile patrol, and just concentrate on Vegas, Henderson, and Reno, the state’s three major population centre. To that end, I bought up and refurbished a warehouse in each of the three cities. I have teams of eight in Henderson and Reno, and a dozen,” Preston’s eyes darkened, “sorry ten-strong crew in Vegas.”
”Sounds like a plan,” Xander took a deep sigh before glancing towards the office. “Maybe we should come in here and talk.”
* * *
Preston managed not to look relieved as he sat back down behind his desk, the kids sitting in the chairs opposite. He hated to admit it, he was a man who’d always been able to handle anything life threw at him, but with these mysterious not to mention inexplicable deaths he was way out of his depth and grateful that the kids were here. “I haven’t been able to find out what’s causing the deaths,” he began, “but I’ve got some more information.”
Xander looked towards his three companions before returning his gaze to him. “Do tell?”
“There’s been three more deaths of people who got minor injuries. A Gulf War vet who volunteers with kids turned an ankle playing soccer, died five minutes later, a commended fire-fighter died rescuing a cat, and a paramedic who also served in the gulf after trapping his hand in a gurney. All in the last month, I’ve been searching the city’s obits.”
“It fits,” Tara whispered.
Preston looked towards the witch. He listened in silence as she explained the significance of the sigil on Skippy’s neck. Once she’d finished, Preston stared in silence at her. He had thought learning what was causing his people to die would somehow make it easier. It didn’t, it only deepened the horror. Finally he spoke. “How do we stop this Valkyrie?”
“We’re going to offer this Valkyrie an irresistible bait,” Xander paused. “Me.”
Faith’s face shot towards him, pool-like eyes widening in horror. “What the hell!” Her long mane swung violently as she shook her head. “No fuckin’ way!”
Xander stayed calm in the face of his girl-friend’s rage. “This Valkyrie-.” He glanced towards Tara.
After a second the suddenly pale witch answered. “Svafa.”
“Thanks,” he nodded before continuing. “Svafa’s attracted to the deaths of heroic warriors, correct?” He reddened at he was about to say. “I’ve done the odd heroic thing, maybe if you injected me with a neurotoxin from a snake, brought me close to death it would attract her and Faith can kill her.”
”Screw the venom, I might just beat you into a coma.”
It was an effort, but Xander managed to ignore Faith’s mutterings.
“T..there’s a problem,” Tara stuttered.
”Just one ‘cause I can see a whole bunch!” Faith scowled.
Tara glanced at Faith before looking towards him. “They’re invisible and incorporeal to everyone except the dying.”
“Incorporeal?” Kennedy asked.
”Without substance,” everyone stared blankly at Tara. The witch sighed. “Only the dying person will be able to touch them.”
“Looks like this idea’s in the shitter then,” Faith’s voice sounded way too smug.
”But you could do a spell so she could be seen and touched couldn’t you?” Xander looked at Tara.
”Maybe,” Faith shot the witch a furious look. The lesbian flinched but then continued. “But there’s risks to the person who sees her.”
”’Course there is!” Faith snapped as she shook her head again. All this head-shaking, Xander idly wondered if anyone had ever told her she had a negative personality.
Although she’d probably only say ‘no’ she hadn’t.
“To do it, I’d have to link the dying person’s essence to Faith. That way, she could see and touch whatever the dying person can, but,” Tara glanced at Faith before continuing, “should either linked party die, the other one would do too.” Tara paused. “Even if the valkyrie didn’t do it, if Xander’s heart gave out from the venom before the Valkyrie got to him that would still kill the linked person.”
“Well shit,” Faith groaned and shook her head. “This plan goes from bad to fucking crazed at lightning speeds.”
“Can one of these Valkyries even be killed?” Preston asked.
“Oh yes,” Tara nodded. “If you take away their incorporeality and invisibility, they’re just exceptional warriors who happen to be immortal but not invincible.”
“Oh,” Faith snorted. “’Just exceptional warriors’ from the woman who won’t have to kill the freakin’ thing!”
Xander ignored that comment. “We need a snake venom with a really good antidote-.”
“You really don’t need to worry about brain damage ‘tho,” Faith scoffed. “Way too fucking late for that.”
Again, Xander ignored the comments. “But can be used to mimic death.”
“Does it need to be this drastic?” Preston asked.
”Tara said Svafa does this because she’s scared of losing great warriors,” Xander replied. “The nearer I am to death, the more likely she is to come a running.” Faith shook her head. “You know it’s going to be your job to kill her?”
“Great,” Faith spat, “can’t fuckin’ wait!”
Xander ignored Faith’s comments to look towards the others. “Preston, we’ll need an empty room for the spell. Just me and Faith, no-one else, nobody else in it.”
“I’ll have the others clear out one of our store-rooms,” Preston rose and walked out.
“Thanks.” Xander nodded. “Kennedy, you research snake venoms. Tara do whatever research you need to make the spell work.” He stared at the witch and forced a smile. “I’m relying on you, but that’s okay because I know you can do this.”
* * *
“It’s a pentagram covering the entire room. As long as no-one else enters the room, you and Faith are linked, but the spell is broken if either of you leave.”
Xander nodded distractedly at Tara’s explanation. “And how long will I have after I’ve injected?”
“Four – six hours before you actually die, but if you don’t get the antidote in three you’ll probably suffer permanent damage,” Kennedy reported.
“I’ve got a stopwatch, at 2:50 I inject the antidote.”
Xander nodded reluctantly at the compromise Faith had steadfastly insisted on as a condition for going along with his plan before looking towards the others. “See you later.” He was surprised when both Tara and Kennedy ran over and kissed him on the cheeks. “Hey,” he forced a smile, “I’d do this near-death thing more often if I knew this was the sort of attention I got.”
”Like hell,” Faith growled as she shut the door behind the others. “I’m starting the stop-watch now.”
Xander nodded before sitting on the camp-bed they’d shoved against the far wall and staring at his arm for a few seconds before raising the syringe and pushing it in For a few moments he felt nothing except the clamminess of his palms and his heart pounding hard against his ribcage. And then his eye-lids started to get really heavy.
* * *
Faith stared helplessly at her man laid on the bed behind her, breath catching and eyes misting at the stupidly noble thing he’d done. “Don’t you dare die on me,” she whispered, voice hoarse with fear.
The minutes passed by like days, sweat beading down Faith’s forehead as she impatiently waited. Her breath caught as the room suddenly chilled and a woman, her golden hair resting on the shoulders of her leather cuirass over a chain-mail shirt, materialised, buckler in her left hand and gladius in her right, her forearms covered in leather vambraces. Faith quickly sized her opposition up, hard-faced, perhaps five inches taller so she probably had a greater reach yet despite her more muscular build, she still managed to stalk into the room. The blonde’s eyes flickered with shock before regaining their cool poise.
“That’s right, I can see you. Touch you too. You want my man?” Faith cracked her neck and smirked. “All you have to do is get past me, bitch.”
The blonde, and fuck but that hair colour was enough reason to hate her, never mind she was tryin’ to hurt her man, stared at her for a second before gliding effortlessly into a lunge, her sword leading the way. Faith parried the attack down with her own short sword before punching the demon full in the face.
The female warrior’s head snapped back, blood gushing and teeth flying from the attack, but she didn’t take a back-step, slashing at Faith’s legs with her sword. Faith leapt over the blade, tucking her legs into her stomach before kicking off.
Her sneakers crashed into the creature’s full chest with enough force to send her crashing into the wall behind. Faith had barely landed when the female charged her, sword slashing in a back-handed grip.
Faith tucked her head into her shoulders, her rival’s blade slicing through the air just over her head. A grin on her face, she straightened and thrust at her opponent, aiming for the unarmoured armpit. The Valkyrie wriggled eel-like away from her attack and thrust at her again.
Faith leaned back at the waist, the blade once again just missing its target. Reaching up with her free hand, Faith grabbed the Valkyrie’s sword-arm at the wrist and twisted as she straightened.
”Ahhh!” The Valkyrie flew through the air, crashing to the ground on her side. Faith went for a field goal with the bitch’s head only for her opponent to roll away and into a crouch.
Faith stared down fiercely at her opponent. “Just so you know,” she smiled humourlessly, “you ain’t gonna get him.”
“His spirit cries out to me,” Svafa replied, eyes glinting manically. “He will be a great general at Ragnarök!”
”Ain’t sayin’ you’re wrong,” Faith replied, “only you’re not gonna be doin’ the one the harvesting. See,” Faith parried a thrust across her body, “human life is precious, and someone like my guy clings to every breath, I ain’t gonna let some bitch like you cheat him.”
“We will see,” Svafa smiled despite the mangled mess Faith had made of her mouth. “I will take your spirit too.”
“Like a good fight,” Faith smirked. “And that’s what you’ve got, bring it on!” Faith bounded forward, leading with her blade. “Shit!” she grunted as Svafa spun away ballerina-like from her attack and drove her buckler into the side of Faith’s head.
Dazed, she dropped to one knee, her sword coming up instinctively to stop the Valkyrie’s downward strike as the back of her neck. Leaping back up, she spun to face her assailant, beating her back with a furious array of thrusts and swings.
“Ahhh!” Faith hissed as the blonde’s blade penetrated her wall of steel to tear open a cut on her left thigh. Blood leaking down her leg, Faith spun away from the female demon’s onslaught, slashing at the demon’s own rear leg as she did so.
Unfortunately the demon bounded forward, using her greater weight to crash shoulder-first into Faith. Winded by the collision, Faith stumbled backwards.
Her heart dropped as the Valkyrie turned towards her slumped boyfriend. “NOOOO!” she screamed as she launched herself into the air, crashing full-on into the bitch.
The two of them thudded to the ground, Faith on top but catching an elbow in the throat. She choked and gasped as the Valkyrie shoved her off, head bouncing off the tiled floor. The Valkyrie rose with an easy, supple grace and started to advance on her, sword raised menacingly.
Faith kicked around the back of the demon, her foot slamming into the demon’s hamstring. The valkyrie grunted with surprise as she stumbled into the wall.
Faith took advantage of the respite to leap to her feet. Ducking under the demon’s sword’s slash, she charged forward, catching the blonde with a leaping thrust kick to the mid-section.
Her blow folded the demon in two, flinging her across the room to crash into the far wall. A grin on her face, Faith started across the room.
“Well that ain’t good!” Her eyes widened when the Valkyrie surged back up, sword flashing from left to right. Ignoring the pain in her injured leg, Faith leapt into the air, tucking herself into a ball as she flew into the air, landed behind the demon and glided into a decapitating slash.
”Well damn!” Faith cursed as the Valkyrie spun around in time to block her slash on her buckler and retaliate with a thrust at her heart. Faith dropped her shoulder, in time to evade the strike at her heart, but not in time to avoid the sword ripping a cut across her shoulder.
“FUCCCK!” Teeth grimaced against the pain raging through her shoulder, Faith allowed her arm to flop uselessly down by the side. Experience told her that the wound wasn’t that serious, wouldn’t cause any permanent debilitating injury. Her only problem was living through this fight long enough to get it healed.
“Easier said than done,” Faith muttered as she ducked under a slash at her head and caught a shield to the face, loosening a couple of teeth. She stumbled backwards, dropping to one knee, the sword clattering to the ground.
“Your spirit is mine!” Svafa raised her blade.
”No it ain’t,” Faith scooped up her sword, thrust it under Svafa’s buckler, deep into her gut, and twisted. She savoured the shock in the Valkyrie’s blue eyes before yanking the blade out and diving to the side, Svafa’s downward cleave missing her by a hairsbreadth. The demon fell to her knees, to the left of Faith, before she had chance to recover, Faith’s sword was slicing through her neck, blood spewing into the air, showering Faith with viscera.
Groaning with the effort, Faith struggled to her feet, eyes fixed on Xander, she had to get him the antidote.
She just hoped it wasn’t too late.
“Are you ready to go, Faith?”
Faith looked in the mirror, quickly checking her make-up before looking towards the witch and potential. “Ready to roll,” she confirmed, “don’t know where Harris has go to though. Come in, I’ll just check on him.” Faith didn’t bother to wait to see if her invitation was taken up, choosing instead to hurdle over the kingsize bed and stride into the bathroom. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of her boyfriend stood in front of the mirror staring intently into it, his body as stock-still as a statue’s. “Yo, Harris!”
Xander seemed to start at her shout, as if awakening from a trance. Her boyfriend turned to her and smiled vaguely. “Hey, Faith.”
Faith was rocked by the weary desolation in her world’s brown eyes. “Hey.” Faith hurried into the bathroom, sneakers slapping on the tiled floor, took Xander’s hands in hers, and guided him back into the bedroom, sitting back on the bed.
Tara shot her a worried look from her seat on the couch. “W..what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Faith crouched down before her boy-friend and cupped his face in her hands. “Xan.” It was a struggle but she managed to keep the worry out of her voice. “What’s up, stud?”
“What if we die?”
Faith hid her surge of protective anger at her boyfriend’s words. “Hey, nothing’s gonna happen to any of us,” she soothed. “I ain’t gonna let that happen, ya hear me Harris?”
“I hear you,” there was nothing humorous about Xander’s answering smile. “But you look at the world we live in. Master vampires. Dark arts mages. The Council. Wolfram & Hart. Gangsters. Terrorists. Demons. The Vatican. We’re not exactly short of enemies.”
“You’re not saying we should stop, ‘cause my guy ain’t a quitter,” Faith heard but no longer cared about the low, dangerous anger in her voice.
“No,” Xander shook his head. “Only I’ve been thinking.”
”What have I told ya?” Faith forced a note of levity into her voice. “That’s when things go wrong, when ya don’t leave the complicated stuff up to us girls. Well, me and sis, anyhow,” she amended.
“Hey!” Kennedy protested.
Xander smiled weakly at her comment. “We’ve got to look at this realistically,” her boy-friend informed her. “Some of the forces we face are incredibly old-.”
“See that’s the problem, I don’t see any creaking sack of old bones kicking my sweet ass,” Faith retorted.
”Seeped in power and utterly ruthless,” Xander continued without missing a beat. “We have to make contingency plans for if something happens to us.”
”Contingency plans?” asked Tara.
Xander looked for her to Tara, Kennedy, and back again. “We have to decide who takes over if something happens to us.”
Faith’s temper snapped even as a cold hand gripped her throat, choking her. After a lifetime filled with pain and degradation, she’d finally found two people she loved and a whole bunch she cared about, and Xander was saying they could lose it all? “Screw this!” Faith spat as she straightened and spun to flee her boy-friend’s words. “I ain’t listening-.”
“Wait.” Xander grabbed her arm, pulling her to a stop. “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”
“Say what?” Faith stared at Xander. “Talk in English, damn ya!”
Her boy-friend flushed. “It sounds a little pompous didn’t it?”
”A little?” queried Kennedy.
“I’ve been reading books on great leaders, trying to get a handle on this generalship thing,” Xander explained. “It’s something Benjamin Disraeli, a former British prime minister said. But we have a chance to build an even greater legacy, The Mithras Brotherhood defending not just a Hellmouth or a country but the whole world. I don’t want that to fall apart if anything happens to us. We need to build a clear chain in command beneath us-.”
“I told you,” Faith began through gritted teeth, “nothing’s gonna-.”
“Who do you have in mind?” Faith’s gaze snapped to Tara, glaring at her sister’s betrayal at admitting there was even a possibility that something could happen to Xander or her. The witch swallowed but held her ground. “You must have some people in mind. Maybe we should at least discuss them.”
Faith pulled loose of Xander. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Head shaking furiously Faith started for the door. “I’m out of here.”
”Please, Faith we need to do this.”
Faith stopped, unwillingly halted by the weariness in her lover’s voice. “Fine,” she snapped before stalking over to join Tara and Kennedy on the couch. Once she’d sat, she glared at her boy-friend, her arms angrily crossed. “Let’s hear it then.”
“Okay.” After a second the Sunnydaler smiled painfully and began. “My first thought was Gunn. After all, he’s been in the vampire hunting business longer than any of us, and has plenty of experience organising demon hunter groups.”
“You’ve got plenty of former soldiers, cops, and secret agents working for you,” Kennedy pointed out. “It’s not like Gunn’s got any formal training.”
“Neither have we,” Tara put in.
”True but we’re like Slayer, Witch, and resurrected warrior god,” Kennedy replied, “I’m thinking that kinda trumps cop, soldier, and secret agent.”
“Okay, what about Brill Lyle?” Xander asked. “He already runs our intelligence network. No-one knows our organisation and how it works better than him. And that includes us.”
”Yeah,” Kennedy leaned forward, eyes intent. “But he’s never even been on a patrol, he’s not exactly experienced on the bloody end is he?”
”It’s not like he hasn’t got experience,” Tara countered.
“Not of demon-hunting,” Kennedy retorted.
”Okay, Jack Crow then. He’s got decades of experience hunting vamps,” Xander suggested.
Again Kennedy shook her head. Damn that girl was negative. “What about his Vatican ties? Who is he really loyal to?”
“I read him,” Tara’s eyes flashed. “He’s loyal!”
Xander rubbed at his forehead and looked towards her. Faith stayed stubbornly quiet. She might have to be here, but she sure as hell wasn’t gonna help pick their successors. “Okay,” Xander sighed, almost like this was HER fault. “How about Oz? He’s a school friend of mine as well as a team-leader and really experienced at demon-hunting.”
“I don’t know Xander,” Tara stared doubtfully at her. The witch sighed and turned her gaze on Xander when Faith didn’t respond. “Oz seemed like a nice guy, but he didn’t seem the leader type.”
”Then what about Eric Draven? He’s got more power than any of us.”
“He also struggles to relate to people,” Tara countered. “He doesn’t seem the leadership type either.”
”I’ve got a name to throw into the hat,” Kennedy suddenly interrupted. “It’s a little left field-.”
”Go on,” Xander encouraged. “I’m grateful for any,” Xan glanced at her and then away, “input.”
“How about Tony Stark?” Kennedy suggested.
”He’s not even a part of the Brotherhood,” Xander shook his head. “He’s just an advisor.”
“Yeah, and a damn good one,” Kennedy countered. “Tara’s read him, you know you can trust him. He’s a genius organiser, strategist and tactician.”
Xander sighed. “I wouldn’t have a problem with him, but I can’t see the rank and file being over-joyed with a non-fighter getting such a position. I mean he last saw any action in the first Gulf War!”
Screw this, Faith’s temper snapped. “Uncle Spense,” she growled. Three sets of eyes turned to her. “He’s got a blood-link to the current leadership, he’s a former cop, special investigator for the DA, and P.I.. He’s got a ton of experience and a wicked rep. If it’s gotta be someone, it should be him.”
After a second, Xander nodded. “Okay, we’ll go and see him and ask. Tara,” Xander looked towards the witch, “I’ll need you to write up a memo to send all the groups about this.” Xander paused. “Also, we’ll have to have a back-up. I pick Gunn.” Xander’s eyes turned back to her. “Do you want to ring your uncle and ask him if we can come over?”