"Lookin’ good, stud." Faith wolf-whistled as her man came out of the bathroom wearing a new pair of black levis, matching denim shirt, and mid-thigh length leather jacket.
"Thanks." Xander grinned self-consciously before raising an eyebrow. "Could those pants be any tighter?"
Faith glanced down at her black leathers that hugged every curve of her behind and legs before looking up and smirking. "Only if I was a vampire and didn’t need to breathe, you like?"
"Well the males of the Pacific Northwest won’t be needing their imagination, that’s all I can say."
"I see myself as providing a public service," Faith smirked.
"I’m not touching that one," Xander threw up his hands and laughed.
"Not what you were saying an hour ago," she retorted before sobering. "Are we gonna go out, do some hunting?"
"Want to get your Slay on?" Xander queried.
"Well baby," she purred, "you know how ‘excited’ I get afterwards."
Xander gulped. "In that case we’ll be real quick."
"Words every girl longs to hear," she riposted.
* * *
Downtown Portland’s streets were well-lit, the city’s many skyscrapers beaming down on the foursome as they made their way through the bustling city. As night fall approached people hurried home after work while others hurried out, eager to party or drink their troubles away. Xander scowled, there was too much unfamiliar territory for them to easily cover. "Kennedy," Xander looked towards the potential, "you stick with me, Faith, you and Tara go to the east. You know the drill, look for bars with vampires, get them outside, slay them. You see any demon-hunting teams or get into anything serious, get in touch on the cells."
"Ya wanna go with her rather than me? Swing both ways do ya Ken?" Faith leered mockingly at the potential.
"Bite me, Faith," retorted the ebony-eyed potential.
"You wish, kid." Faith linked arms with Tara. "Come on sis, drinks are on you."
"Try and stay out of trouble!" Xander shouted after the departing duo.
Kennedy chortled. "Not much chance of that."
"Yeah," Xander reluctantly agreed.
* * *
Faith shivered as she left the fourth bar. The weather wasn’t what made her shiver, although the night’s chill was a hell of a contrast to the muggy closeness in the bars. Yeah, closeness, she shivered again. It was nights like this, when they split up and started trawling bars for demons, she got caught up in what might have been if she hadn’t got her powers or met Xander.
The course she’d been heading before all this, she’d been fighting it like hell, not wantin’ to become her mom, but the way she treated herself, she was headin’ that way. Every bar she went in without Xan, she saw herself in the girls sprawling over men desperate for their approval, their touch, their money. Someone powerless, with no self-worth or purpose, nothing to trade on but their body.
Faith took in a breath, grateful for the fresh air. Yeah, thank god for Xan. ‘Course, she smirked inwardly, her usually buoyant spirit returning, she couldn’t tell him that, boy had enough of an ego as it was.
"Faith," Tara grabbed her wrist and spoke in a murmur. "Those four men heading into the alley leading to the strip club, they don’t have auras."
Faith glanced towards the quartet of thickly-built dudes and nodded. "They ain’t just johns, they’re vamps." Faith rolled her neck as she started after the guys, hand reaching into her jacket. "Come on, sis."
"There’s four of them-," Tara began.
"I know, barely a warm-up," Faith sighed. "But we gotta make do."
"I was thinking we should call Xand-."
"You’re such a worry-wart," Faith scolded as she entered the alley. "Yo, boys!" The four demons turned to face her. "Forget about the club," she tossed her head back, full locks bouncing, "how about a private show." She grinned as the four demons began strutting towards her. "But first some fore-play."
The demons gasped as she pulled out a stake, but before they could react, her foot was crashing into the chin of the biggest demon, a six foot five muscleman with stony grey eyes. Even as the demon’s head snapped back, Faith was slamming her stake home.
The demon had barely begun to dust when her arms were grabbed by two of the remaining vamps and she was flung at the dusty wall. Faith laughed as she twisted into the wall, hitting feet first before spring-boarding back at the demons. "Come on boys!" she taunted. "At least try!"
She cross-body checked a burly chested six footer almost as wide as he was tall, the force of her impact knocking the two of them to the muddy ground. Faith grunted as one of the other demons yanked her up by her hair. Her elbow flew back, smashing into the demon’s jaw with jarring force.
The demon grunted, hand loosening on her hair. Faith took the opportunity to reverse leg-sweep his legs from under him, the demon hitting the alley’s trash cans with a satisfying crash.
The demon she had knocked to the ground was already up and throwing furious lefts and rights, face contorted in desperate rage. Faith ducked seamlessly between the blows before sinking her stake into the demon’s chest.
She’d barely a half-second to savour the victory when a trash can smashed into the back of her head, the steel denting with the impact, but still driving her to her knees. Faith rolled out of the way of a second swing, foot kicking up to crash into her attacker’s left knee.
The demon staggered away, face twisted in rage. Faith leapt up and charged the demon only to leap to her left to avoid the flung can. The demon anticipated the manoeuvre and caught her with a right that she barely managed to block on her shoulder. Ignoring the pain, she leapt into the air, grabbing an overhanging fire ladder, bringing it down hard so the bottom steel rung smashed into her opponent’s forehead. The demon slumped against the wall, a dazed expression on his rugged face. Faith grinned as she crashed her stake home.
"We should have called for help," Tara said disapprovingly as she wiped the dust of the fourth vampire off her blouse.
"Ah, they’d have had time to chow down on a four course meal of strippers and bouncers by the time Xan got here," Faith smirked unrepentantly. "’Sides it was fun."
* * *
"Impressive," Windsor murmured as he sidled back into the shadows, confident that the Slayer hadn’t seen him. Finding her had been simple, Travers had simply hacked into one of those computers and discovered where she and her companions were staying, tracking her had been rather more complicated. The Slayer had the usual enhanced spatial awareness and instinctive skills of her Calling, but some subtle cloaking skills had helped. Doubtless her wicca companion would have noticed them if she’d been looking for them, but she’d been too engrossed in her hunt to even consider they’d been followed.
Yes, the Slayer was impressive. Even more striking in person than in her photo, but more importantly, a formidable warrior, far better than the two Slayers he’d had the honour to see work in his time.
They’d need help.
He looked towards his companion. "Back to the hotel." He spun on his heel and started away, certain in the knowledge his companion would slavishly follow.
He knew a mindless sheep when he met one. Still, Travers would be useful until he was familiar with this world. And then he could send him screaming to meet his ancestors. A fitting end to a treacherous, untrustworthy bloodline.
And then he could start his work again. In this godless time there were so many unclean hussies that needed sending to judgement.
"We can’t take them on just yet," Windsor mused.
"My family must be avenged!" Travers raged. "That treacherous bitch and her friends have to die!"
"And they will," Windsor soothed. "But a frontal assault against such an enemy will be foolish."
"We know where they are!" Travers snapped. "A bomb would-."
"Do you know how to handle explosives?" Windsor demanded. After a second Windsor reluctantly shook his head. "Well, I’m a man out of time, I barely manage to operate those wondrous machines," he pointed towards the laptop, "much less explosives. We need to hire -."
"No," Travers shook his head. "I must do this myself, honour demands it!"
Honour? Windsor raised an eyebrow. What would a Travers know about honour? Shaking his head, he rose.
And caught the man sat opposite with a right cross to the mouth. Blood flew out of Travers mouth as he fell off the chair. "You idiot!" Windsor kicked Travers in his over-stuffed gut. He enjoyed the man’s wheezing for a moment before crouching down and placing his knee in the back of the Watcher’s neck, grabbing a handful of Travers’ waning locks and lifting his head up of the carpet. He savoured the terror in his weak-spined countryman’s eyes before speaking, his voice held dangerously low for barely needed effect. "What sort of Watchers are being bred today anyway?" he taunted. "The mission is all, do not worry about the pretties of how it is completed, only that it is. We do not have the ability to do take this group on our own. Just as the Slayer herself was always our tool," in his day, wenches knew their place," so now we need to find ourselves some tools. Understood?"
"Understood," bleated Travers, the fear in his eyes dulling and mixing with hate.
Not that he cared, hatred from such an insignificant man was well insignificant. "Good, then use that internet and find us some."
* * *
Faith giggled as she watched the chimps have a tea party. "And yet," commented Kennedy, "they have better table manners than some I could mention."
Faith shot the potential an innocent look. "Well we’re so glad you’ve noticed," she purred, "Xander and I have been at Tara to do something about your eating habits, but you know Tar, she’s shy. But I say, you have a pet you really should house-train them." Kennedy’s mouth opened and shut, her cheeks and eyes blazing. Faith turned back to him. "Damn that felt good."
"I can only imagine," Xander chuckled. "Where do you want to go next?"
Tara spoke up before either of the two could, her voice eager. "The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry looks really interesting."
"That’s one word for it," Faith winked at her sister before looping arms with him. "What we gonna do about the demon hunters in these parts?"
"I don’t know," Xander scowled. "I’ve read Tony’s discs four times so far but I just don’t see anyone in the files that I’d be happy leaving in charge of a large group. No one has the experience, skills, or the training."
"Ah," catching her boy-friend’s worried tone, Faith peered at Xander from over her Aviators. "No hurry, we’ve got plenty of time," she soothed.
"Except, we sorta don’t." Faith glanced up at his tight tone. Xander shrugged self-consciously. "I’m building an army for a war, Faith. I don’t know when or where, but I need to recruit and train as many people and as fast as I can. I can’t afford to make any mistakes."
* * *
Windsor followed the former Watcher into a dimly-lit room, experienced eye running over the quintet of hatchet-faced men sat on the room’s only stools. Somehow, Windsor guessed these weren’t the sort of men to politely offer their seats to strangers.
After a querulous sideways look at him, Travers began to talk. Windsor stepped back and examined the hard-looking thugs. Ruffians the lot of them, he decided. But they fit the purpose he’d selected them for, another test for the Mithras Quartet before his grand finale.
"Oh I don’t know." Xander stared up doubtfully at the club, the entertainment centre’s front a kaleidoscope of flashing strobe lighting reflecting upon a see-through Perspex structure spelling out ‘Decadence & Delight’ built over the double doors. As gaudily bad as that was, the death metal coming out from the brownstone behind the sign was going to make his ears bleed. "I mean," he nodded towards the people bewilderingly queuing to get through the club’s entrance, a trio of tree trunk-limbed, shaven-headed bouncers, "look at the queue to get in!"
Queuing to get out of there he could understand, but in? Sheer madness.
"Ah, you’re with me babe," Faith pouted before fluttering her eye-lashes and expertly flipping open the top two fastened buttons on her silk blouse, meaning the damn thing was leaving far too much of lacy bra dangling out there. And that was without taking into account Faith’s too tight to breathe black leather pants that clung to every inch of her gravity-defying behind and perfectly muscled legs. "For me, queues don’t exist."
"Can’t imagine why," Xander murmured.
"Come on!" Faith grabbed his hand and dragged him across the street, his mule-headed girl-friend impervious to the queuing patrons’ glares and bellows. "Thanks boys," Faith winked at the bouncers as they parted like the Red Sea for Moses, "you’re all stars!" Faith crushed her lips to his as they entered, hands exploring his body in ways he really wished she wouldn’t in public. "Gals like me," Faith chuckled in his ear, "we’re the magnets that draw guys inside to spend their green, they wouldn’t keep me waitin’."
"Yeah," Xander looked around. The black plastic bar took up the entire far wall, the yellow fluorescent lights above it making, it gleam and the stuffed full drinks cabinet glitter as the buxom bar-girls clad in spandex shorts and cotton crop tops strained both to stay in their skimpy outfits and keep pace with their waiting customers’ demands, the patrons once served their beverages rushing up the stairwell nearest the entrance to the 1st floor drinking balcony. Flashing lights of red, white, and blue occasionally illuminated the centre of the club, spot-lighting the wildly-dancing, long-haired youths of both sexes packing the crammed dance floor. The building’s walls shook to the music blasting through the night-spot’s strategically placed speakers, music that made him want to rip his ears off, and the establishment’s poor ventilation meant the stale air was filled with a sickly mixture of sweat, drugs and alcohol. "Lucky us."
Xander knew he’d made a mistake when his girl-friend’s eyes narrowed. "I thought it would be nice to have some alone-time, ‘way from sis and the brat," Faith’s full lips twisted in a scowl. "Was I wrong?"
Xander’s shoulders slumped. He better get the right answer or he’d be back sleeping on the couch again. "No dear."
"Good," his mercurial girl-friend beamed at him, before tugging on his hand. "In that case, time to dance."
‘Course, Xander smiled to himself, there were always compensations, he did enjoy being the pole Faith danced on.
* * *
Faith winked lewdly at her man as she ground herself against him, sweat plastering her clothes even tighter to her as she moved in perfect rhythm to the music’s urgently sexy beat.
And then her foot was shooting out behind to catch the man her instincts had just warned her was sneaking up full in the face, lifting him from his feet and dropping him a dozen feet away. Faith spun around, back to back with Xander, the crowd scattering to leave them surrounded by a quartet of knife-wielding thugs, the fifth just flopping about in the wake of her attack. Faith’s grin widened as she charged into battle. Now this was fun!
She fought to the still-playing music, sliding under the left’s one’s left to right slash to deliver a kick aimed at his knee but that caught him on his upper thigh while shooting out a right hand to grab the other’s wrist as he slashed down at the back of her neck, swing her foot around and kick him in the gut. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the other knife stabbing at her and, still gripping her other attacker’s wrist, she leaned back at the waist, allowing the dagger to stab the air where her chest had been before judo throwing her other attacker over her and into the knifeman.
Faith charged over to where the third man was clambering to his feet, his face a gory mess, and made his night a whole lot worse by leaping into the air above him and bringing her left foot down in a brutal ax-kick on the back of his neck. The man’s eyes went glassy with pain as he slumped to the ground, head bouncing off the wood-pannelled floor.
And then she was charging the other two knifemen. The duo charged her, Faith took a split-second to decide which of the two was slightly ahead of the other before launching into the air and into a flawless spin-kick that caught the left thug unawares, and sent him cart-wheeling into the air. Faith grinned as she landed beside the last of the trio, savouring his shocked eyes. "Who did you wanna-bes think you were takin’ on, Joanie and Chachi?" Before the man had chance to speak or react, she drove her fingers into his throat, doubling the man up and leaving him easy prey to a leaping kick to the jaw that flipped him onto his back.
Spinning around, Faith grinned as she saw Xander standing over the other two knifemen and sauntered over. "That was like a light workout hon-," Faith’s brow furrowed as she noticed how worried Xander looked. "What’s the sitch, stud?" Faith cast her boy-friend a concerned look, she couldn’t see any wounds, but-.
"I’ve tried to ring Tara," Xander said. "I can’t get through."
"Oh shit!" Faith’s heart dropped. "Let’s hustle, babe."
* * *
Her heart was still thumping as she and Xander charged into the hotel’s perfectly pristine lobby. Seeing Xander head towards the gleaming golden-doored elevators, she grabbed his arm and pulled him away. "Screw that!" she snapped with a shake of the head. "No time, up the stairs."
Xander groaned before gamely nodding. "Okay." The next few minutes were spent frantically racing up the hotel’s deserted stairs, until they crashed out onto their floor. Faith charged to the room and kicked the door open to find an empty room. "Faith!" Faith spun to face her boyfriend stood a door down. "That’s our room woman, this is theirs!"
"Oh right," Faith ran back and kicked the door open.
"Oh my god." Xander’s eyes bulged.
Faith quickly slammed the door shut. "What they were doing in there-," Xander looked like he’d just seen paradise.
Although for a guy, she guessed he probably had, near as anyway. "Well I’m practically a nun these days, but I’m guessin’ that was a number somewhere under seventy. No!" Faith slapped Xander’s hand away from the door handle. "Give them time to dress. Let them dress, back to our room now."
"No, Xander, I’m not gonna let ya drill a hole in the walls separating us." Faith interrupted as she dragged Xander back to their hotel room. "And if your next suggestion is I find myself a gal-pal, we’re done."
"You have no idea what real fun is," Xander mumbled.
"Slayer Hearing, Harris," she warned. "Thin ice if ya ever want to see the perkies again. That’s all I’m sayin’, thin ice."
Their hotel room door crashed open a minute or so later, an indignant Kennedy leading the way and a blushing Tara following. "More clothes than before," Faith greeted. "And hey, who’d have guessed Tara would be on top."
"Have you heard of knocking!" screamed the potential.
"Have you heard of cells?" Xander hurriedly cut in, her boy-friend’s cheeks blazing. "Only we were attacked at the club we were at and when we couldn’t get in touch, we hurried back to see how you were."
"Attacked by who?" Tara asked.
Faith shrugged. "Didn’t get their names, they seemed minor league though and seeing as you weren’t attacked, could be a coincidence, but when you didn’t answer, we rushed over to see how ya were." She grinned. "And saw way more than we figured."
"I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at either of you in the same way again," Tara muttered.
"Give us five and you can come back, me and X’ll be on the job for you to watch, stay as long as you want, bring refreshments if ya like?" Faith blithely offered.
"Nooo!" Tara reddened.
"Ugggh, gross!" Kennedy looked close to vomiting.
"Don’t I get a say in this?" Xander glanced at her before directing his gaze at Kennedy. "And what do you mean, gross?"
Faith shook her head. "Ya try and be helpful."
* * *
"They’re very formidable, very formidable indeed," Travers paced the floor of their rented house, face pale, brow furrowed with worry. "I can’t see anyone mortal in our price range being able to deal with them." The Watcher looked towards him, hope gleaming in his watery eyes. "Perhaps a spell would suffice?"
Windsor shook his head. "Your files seem to indicate that Ms. Maclay is one of this time’s premier mages, I doubt anything we could muster would severely trouble her."
"If we caught her by surprise though?" suggested his companion. "Working together?"
Windsor hid a grimace at the thought of casting a joint-spell with this insect. He’d found magic was one part knowledge, one part innate skill, and one part will\stamina. He’d hate to have to rely on this one’s backbone in any circumstances. "No, no," he shook his head. "I think it would take an entire coven to take her on with any hope of success. What we need is a demon."
"A demon?" Travers’ brow furrows deepened. "Hiring a demon is an expensi-."
"Not hiring," Windsor smirked. "Summonsing." His smirk widened as his companion’s gasp. "Come now, Travers. You clearly researched my activities, you must know I specialised in demon-summonsing despite many of the Watchers’ disapproval." Small-minded bastards.
Travers licked his corpulent lips. "What demon do you propose to summons?"
Windsor smiled. This would be the summonsing of a lifetime, something that would undoubtedly drain him, but at the same time be his crowning achievement. "A Teramalus." His companion paled. But then, one didn’t lightly call on the demon known in the Darklight Dimension as ‘The Shatterer of Hope’.
Sweat beaded on his fellow country-man’s head. "C..can you do this?"
"It will be difficult," he admitted, "but not impossible."
"Then we should start work immediately."
The next day was spent in a flurry of activity, researching, meditating, buying items for the ritual, painting pentagrams on the floor and writing the sigils on the walls of the apartment they’d hired. Finally though it was time. Windsor sat cross-legged in the centre of the pentagram, eyes closed as he began to recite a language rarely heard since the fall of Atlantis.
The moment he finished his recital, a cold, dusty wind swept through the room, drying his throat and making him shiver. The stench of smoking flesh in his nostrils, he opened his eyes to find a gigantic, barrel-chested beast with skin the colour and texture of dried blood standing over him. It was a massive monster, standing on a pair of legs thicker than a normal man’s waist and three pairs of arms that dangled to the ground, each thicker than a young tree trunk, its three-pronged claws looking capable of decapitating someone with a single swipe. A horn curved up out of the monster’s forehead while a pair of unblinking orange eyes flanked its snout-like nose, its mouth filled with fangs capable of ripping a limb off. Windsor licked his lips before speaking. "By the summonsing rite of Dalkar Of Lemuria, I call you to my service."
The Teramalus stared at him, orange eyes unblinking. "There is a blood-price to pay," its voice bubbled with heat as cold as ice. "Pay the price or there will be no service."
"Oh," Windsor slapped his forehead in feigned forgetfulness. "Of course there is." His eyes chilled as he looked towards the now violently shaking Travers. Did this inbred idiot seriously expect him to serve as his unwitting lackey? "Have him." The next two minutes or so were a stomach-chilling, scream-filled massacre, Windsor watching dispassionately as the Tremalus first playfully beat Travers around the room, then tore him apart and devoured him, until only a pile of sucked-clean bones remained on the floor. "So ends the Travers line."
Portland International Airport
"That’s everything sir, hope you have a good stay."
"I’m sure I will," Riley Hale smiled winningly at the pretty check-in clerk, his smile hiding the very private hurt that he’d lived with for four years. Initially after his adventure against Deak and his terrorist gang he’d been feted as a hero for preventing nuclear armageddon, even got to meet the president and had been awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honour. But in ’98 reality had come through crashing through the ceiling when he’d attempted to apply for the space program and had been brusquely told by his XO that he was ‘too high-profile and if he was in the astronaut program some press hound-dog would find out what really happened in Missouri’.
Hale shook his head as he turned from the counter and started through the semi-empty airport, a sure hang-over from last year’s terrorist attacks. From that moment on he’d known his career as a flier was over and had impatiently waited the ten months until his period of enlistment was up before resigning his commission, taking his savings, and spending the next eighteen months travelling the world, and looking for a cause to take the place of his dream of the stars. He hadn’t found it yet, but maybe in Portland….
* * *
"So, Tar, Ken’s technique, marks out of ten?" Faith snorted and danced nimbly out of the way of the potential’s lunge. "Some people have no sense of humour."
"Kay." Faith threw her hands up and pouted at Xander’s sigh. Jesus, it was cruel for Tar and Ken to supply her with choice ammo like this and not let her use it. Mind returning to business, she looked around Portland’s night-time streets.
They were striding through the busy Hawthorne Boulevard, the darkness kept at bay by the street lights that also illuminated the southeast suburb’s many restaurants, roadside cafes, bars, and shops. Returning her eyes to her man, she bumped him with a hip. "What ya thinkin’ boss man?"
"Boss man?" Xander gave her one of his goofy grins that secretly made her go mushy inside. "If only."
"Hey," she winked. "You’d be lost without me to keep ya on the straight and narrow and ya know it." Faith sobered. "So don’t dodge the question."
"Okay," Xander stepped around an expensively-dressed woman leading four poodles, and man did they look like their owner, before continuing. "Tara and I have been doing research on the number of ‘PCP deaths’ in Oregon. It’s too high, far too high. I was right, the Brotherhood’s made California too hot for the vamps and they’re migrating north. Unless we organise the groups, they’re going to be massacred.
"That ain’t yar fault, X," Faith winced inwardly at the guilt in Xander’s voice.
Xander looked towards her, a neon bar sign just behind her man illuminating just how drawn he is. "That doesn’t really matter does it?" her boy-friend turned left into a slightly less illuminated and busy street. "Just fixing it."
"And the plan?" Faith queried.
"I’ve organised a meeting of the main groups tomorrow night to discuss an amalgamation and merging into the Brotherhood," Tara replied.
"How did ya get them to agree to come?" Faith asked. "Tell them there was going to be a repeat of what we saw last night?"
"Hey!" Kennedy snapped as Tara blushed.
"Faith!" Xander reddened.
"Sorry, last one, I promise," Faith sniggered. Last one until she thought of another, any way.
* * *
"The mousey-brown girl is the most dangerous, you’ll want to take her out before turning to the others," Windsor briefed his unnerving companion. "You’ll be able to tell the Slayer from the way she moves." The demon nodded. "I’ve told you all about the Mithras one, and the potential isn’t much of a concern."
The Teramalus nodded, narrowed eyes fixed on the quartet walking into an increasingly dark area of Portland. Doubtless looking for trouble. Trouble, Windsor chuckled to himself; he’d give them that in spades. "I will kill these children for you," it confirmed. "Then my odious service to you will be done and I will leave."
"But of course," Windsor nodded in acquiescence. "That is the deal."
* * *
Xander tried but failed to tune out his companions’ bickering. Damn it, he loved his girl, but if you gave her the slightest opening, she was unmerciful, and if he knew her, she’d get plenty more mileage out of last night’s escapade-.
He stopped, turning slightly as he noticed Tara had gone ominously quiet. Tara was usually silent in the company of strangers or people they didn’t know that well, but these days it took something for her to fall silent when it was just the four of them, especially when Faith was in full tease mode.
"Tara -." Xander gasped as a six-armed beast dropped off the roof behind them, backhanding the witch into the side of a battered-grey dumpster behind her, the witch bouncing off it and to the ground.
"Sis!" All at once the banter left Faith’s voice, leaving behind a hoarse, primeval growl. Before he had chance to even open his mouth, Faith was charging the beast, short sword drawn from within her free-swinging leather jacket.
"Oh hell," Xander muttered as he ran forward, an enraged-looking Kennedy darting to Tara’s side to stand astride the downed witch. Faith somehow wriggled between two of the taloned arms only to catch a third fist square in the nose. Blood spurted from the Slayer’s nose as she stumbled backwards, a stunned look on her face.
Xander’s eyes widened as the demon’s claw swung up and pinched at Faith’s neck, the dazed Slayer only leaning away from the blow at the last second, the claws still managing to slice a lash down the right side of her neck. "Jesus!"
And then he was in the melee, swinging his broadsword down from over his head in a cleaving action. "Damn!" He jumped back when the beast lashed at him, one claw coming at knee level, the other at chest. He’d have to change weapons.
The demon’s mouth opened, its impossibly long and hard tongue shooting out to crash into his forehead, driving him to his knees with the force of its attack, hitting him with a crowbar’s impact. Before he had chance to do anything, the creature’s scaled tongue smashed back into his forehead, knocking him on his ass.
* * *
Faith licked her lips, eyes fixed on the six-armed monster lumbering towards her, leaning left and right as she attempted to evade its hideously effective tongue. Xan and Tar out of the fight, this thing having six arms to her two, things didn’t look good at all.
Faith scowled, no things weren’t gonna end like this, not for her people, she’d fought too hard to get a family to die now, in some unremarkable alley. Muscles writhing, she thrust her sword up, driving the point through the creature’s tongue and yanking the blade back towards her. Blood spurted out of the wound as the tongue split in two, the beast’s howls music to her warrior soul.
Blood streaming unbidden down her neck, Faith charged forward, ducking left then right as the enraged demon threw punch after punch, she dropped to one knee, another punch sailing overhead. A fiery pain erupted across her chest before she could leap up. A glance down confirmed the demon had clawed across her chest, crimson soaking her once-grey gym vest. Forcing the pain down deep, she exploded up, sword flashing down.
Faith grinned as her blade sliced through one of the demon’s claws, taking it off at the wrist. She kicked out, aiming to plant one in the thing’s mammoth chest. And then gasped when it swatted her out of the air, sending her crashing head-first into the wall behind before sliding to the ground in a dazed pile.
Looks like they lost after all.
"I can navigate my way across the world going at several hundred miles an hour, so how come I can’t read a Portland street map?" Hale mused as he peered by torchlight at the map spread out on his passenger seat. "Whoa!" His head snapped up and foot slammed on the brake as he stared through the passenger window to see a lithe beauty being beaten by a multi-armed giant of a monster, various bodies crumpled up against the sides of the alley.
"It has to be a movie," he muttered as he looked up, craning his neck in a futile attempt to see just where the cameras were.
"Ah," he shook his head. It was impossible, but it was happening in front of him. He put the car into reverse. "To hell with it."
* * *
The Teramalus kicked the human, smiling slightly as her body crashed back into the wall, a rib cracking on the impact. The brunette yelped when he reached down, took a hold of her chestnut locks and yanked her to her feet, easily grabbing her weakly swinging arms in his remaining claws. "You have caused me great pain," the Slayer’s eyes still burnt with spirit, he’d have to pluck them out before he killed her, "but now its my turn." His pronouncement finished, he swung the helpless warrior overhead before releasing and flinging her into the far wall.
As he turned towards the Slayer, she somehow twisted in mid-air, managing to kick-off the wall and fly back at him. He sidestepped the defiant girl’s attempted dropkick, catching her across the torso with a triple-armed clothesline that folded her up and dumped her on the ground, her breath coming in desperate wheezes. He smirked as he stood over the dazed girl and readied his aching tongue, he’d send it through her throat, leaving her to choke in her own blood. After what she’d done to him there was a symmetry to that.
* * *
Kennedy’s horrified eyes were fixed on the demon currently pulverising Faith, her hands shaking Tara. "Tara," she whispered urgently, "Faith needs your help-."
Her voice trailed off when the alley was suddenly filled with light and the roar of a car engine. The monster began to turn towards the illumination and then a car roared into the far end of the alley, crashing into the monster with enough force to take the demon from its feet and bend the SUV’s grille in two, steam coming out of its protesting radiator.
Kennedy gasped as the car screeched to a halt, its driver a man in his early thirties climbing out to stare wild-eyed at the carnage. "What is going on here?"
"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" The man reared back when the demon leapt up and threw its head back in a roar.
A head that a blood-streaked and dazed-looking Xander blew off with three blasts from his shotgun before sliding back down the wall to sit slumped against the bricks, an egg-sized bruise above his left eye. "Kennedy," the injured man rasped, "see that Faith’s okay."
* * *
Windsor stared incredulously at the devastated scene just before him. A few seconds ago and the Slayer and her companions’ demise had appeared inevitable, and then this stranger had appeared, combining with a recovering Harris to slay the previously seemingly invincible monster.
Windsor chuckled suddenly. Not that it mattered any way, he’d been fulfilling Travers’ grudge not his own. True, the Slayer was an abomination, a creature that contradicted nature’s true plan by making a woman stronger than men, but he had nothing personal against the girl, not when there were so many wicked harlots that needed to be guided into god’s hands.
He further comforted himself with the thought that the Slayer and her companions would have no idea who’d been behind the demon’s summonsing anyway, the summonsed demon and its only witness were both dead. Yes, he decided as he edged backwards, it would be wise to leave the state before starting his work again.
He smiled wryly before melting into the shadows. Not just Slayers had callings.
He gasped as a pair of strong hands grabbed his shoulders. Heart hammering he twisted his head in time to see a pair of golden eyes gleaming down at him. His mouth opened in a scream that turned into a croak as a set of impossibly sharp teeth sunk into his throat, the whole world ebbing away to darkness.
* * *
"What is going on here?" Riley demanded, his eyes were constantly moving from the thing that lay in front of the car, to the boy who had pulled a shotgun out of nowhere, to the dark-haired beauty being helped to her feet. "What is that?"
"Tara!" In an instant the girl aiding the brunette to her feet dropped her charge to rush over to the awakening girl sprawled by the foot of the dumpster.
"Jesus!" growled the apparent east coast native left slumped on a steel trash can, somehow still gorgeous despite looking like she’d gone ten rounds with Tyson. "Just drop me why don’t ya!"
"I think she just did," the young man wryly pointed out before limping over to him and sticking his hand out. "Thanks for the help."
After a second Riley took the younger man’s hand. "You can show me how grateful you are by explaining what’s going on?"
The youth’s eyes flickered hard for a second before glancing towards the dumpster. "Tara?"
The newly awakened girl, a pretty, new-age looking blonde, nodded weakly, hand pressed to the side of her head. "He’s okay, Xander."
"Okay," the youth limped past him and over to the curvy beauty, "I thought you were meant to be the Slayer, Faith."
"Fuck off, Harris," the east cost bombshell smirked at her companion as he gently helped her up, "the bastard had six arms and the sort of tongue not even this girl wants near her."
"Excuses, excuses, excuses," the youth variously identified as ‘Xander’ and ‘Harris’ looked towards him. "If you want an explanation, I don’t suppose you’d give us a lift?"
Hale looked at the downed monster before nodding and licking his lips, curiosity perhaps over-whelming his common sense. "Sure," he agreed.
* * *
Hale’s head swum as he listened to the end of Xander’s explanation, cocooned as they were in a PVC-upholstered booth in the first café they’d passed, his companions’ condition getting more than an occasional look from the café’s customers and staff. Demons, Slayers, vampires, and apocalypses, it all made for an incredible, reality-stretching story.
Except he’d seen a demon with his own eyes. The dent in his car a hell of reminder, as if he needed it.
"Tara?" Xander looked towards the witch. "Have you checked our friend out?"
The witch passed her laptop over. "And he reads alright."
Hale had barely begun to turn towards the witch, wondering what exactly her words meant when Xander spoke. "Wow, a Desert Storm veteran, a Captain in the air force, and a Congressional Medal owner?" The young man licked his lips. "I wonder, would you be interested in running my Pacific Northwest team?"
Hale stared at the younger man, shocked by the offer. His first instinct was to reject, he’d just left one army and didn’t fancy joining another. Except, this was different, this wasn’t running countless drill after drill, this was actual action, actually helping people, the purpose he’d been seeking for so long. Finally he nodded. "I’ll do it."
"Great," the youth beamed before sobering, "this is what we’ll give you-."
* * *
"Tara!" Her girl-friend pounded on the bathroom door. "The others will be leaving for the meeting in a minute!"
"I’ll be there in a minute," Tara said, "I’m just finishing my make-up. I’ll meet you downstairs."
Tara continued to check her mascara.
"Tara, you have been summonsed."
"Summonsed?" Tara stared at her mentor, the severe-faced man smiling with the usual kindness he seemed to direct only at her. "If there’s troub-."
"Peace, Tara." Her voice trailed off when her mentor’s smile broadened and he raised a calming hand. "There’s no trouble. I just need to take you somewhere."
"Take me somewhere?" Tara shook her head. "I c…can’t. We’re just about to check out."
"Don’t worry," Doctor Strange’s eyes were positively sparkling. "The place I’m intending to take you is outside of the normal time-stream and dimension." Tara felt her eyes widen. "We’ll only be gone a second."
"W…what is this place?" Tara stuttered.
"The Pax," Strange replied. "A bar that is only accessible to those with magical powers. A place where magical powers are nullified and where strict laws of neutrality and non-violence are enforced."
"Like Caritas?" queried a by now wide-eyed Tara.
"A similar but far more powerful version," the sorcerer supreme replied. "The Pax is a bar given life by the sacrifice of an incredibly powerful being at the dawn of time. The defender of neutrality gave his life so that creatures from all dimensions would have a place to meet and relax without worrying about their safety. Only beings either of mystical origin or possessing great magical power previously invited there by a guest can visit it. You can stay for as long as you want, and then when you wish to return, you’re returned to the exact place you left from and at the exact same time. Within its walls no supernatural violence can occur, and the bouncers are a most formidable lot." The former physician stared down at her, hand out-stretched. "The question is do you want to?"
Tara stared up at the magician, her heart firmly wedged in her throat. On the one hand she was terrified by this offer, unsure if she wanted to go somewhere without her friends. On the other…..
She never got to have any adventures, however minor, on her own.
Finally she nodded. "I..I’ll do it," she confirmed as she took the master sorcerer’s hand and looked around. "W….where’s the door?"
Strange nodded towards the bathroom mirror. "Wherever there’s a mirror, there is a doorway to The Pax. One only has to know the way. Shall we?" Now too frightened to talk, Tara nodded. "Excellent." Tara gasped as the magician pulled her towards the mirror, its glass surface rippling like a lake you’d just dropped a stone into.
And then they were stepping through it, the fierce wind pushing their hair back as it screeched in their ears, the impossibly bright light blinding her as they began to fall.
* * *
Tara blinked, surprised when her eyes instantly cleared. "Oh wow," she whispered as she looked around. The arched-doorway she’d just stepped through was flanked by a trio of eight foot tall, hulking, rock-skinned demons with cool orange eyes and massive horns curving out of the side of their heads. "I s…see what you mean about the security," she whispered.
"Quite," Strange gently guided her into the bar.
Another gasp escaped her lips as she looked around. Works of fine art adorned the inn’s walls, some painted by human hands, other by other-worldly creatures. The inn itself was an amalgamation of several times, cultures, and dimensions pulled together to somehow create a bewilderingly comfortable ambience.
"What’ll it be?" Tara turned at the voice, blank eyes meeting the twenty-tentacled demon who appeared to be nothing more than a human face attached to two legs stood behind the bar. "I’m Salve Xeina, bartender of this establishment."
The demon looked at her even as several of his tentacles continued to serve waiting customers of many different species. "Oh a newbie, Tara Maclay," the demon grinned at her gasp. "The Pax tells me all about a newcomer, pleasure to meet you. You’re as pretty as the stories say. Drinks from a hundred dimensions," the demon blithely continued, "what’s your poison?"
"H…have you worked here long?" Tara gaped as she watched the demon continue to serve drinks to half a dozen other customers.
Salve stared at her for a second before replying. "Long? Five thousand years." The multi-limbed demon chuckled at her gasp. "My people normally live a few hundred years, but The Pax powers me now, for as long as this body will hold. Now, your order Miss?"
Tara smiled as a bitter-sweet reminiscence hit her. Before her mom had died\been murdered, she was never quite sure which was correct but had her suspicions, her mother had occasionally, not often as it was difficult to escape her father’s grasping clutches, taken her into town. They didn’t have much cash so they invariably ended up in the local ice cream parlour, spending a couple of precious hours over a ice-cream sundae. "A hot fudge sundae, please."
Salve smiled at her. "Coming right up."
Tara shook her head in disbelief when the demon didn’t even have to turn away to present her with a delicious-looking, chocolate sauce and nut topped strawberry ice-cream sundae. "But that’s how," she took a greedy bite to confirm her suspicions, "they made them back home!"
"I told you," Salve chuckled. "Things work differently in the Pax." Salve nodded. "Be seeing you, Tara, customers to serve."
"But I haven’t-."
"Paid?" Salve shook his head as he turned away. "The Pax isn’t run for profit, my dear."
Tara couldn’t stop grinning as she hungrily dived into the ice cream, hungrily eating it up.
"Well hello dear," Tara looked up at the purr of a good old boy, "I’m sure I’ll have remembered seeing a sweetie like you here before."
The speaker was ruggedly handsome and tanned man in his early forties with genial eyes. A chill ran through Tara despite the stranger’s amiable manner. "Back off, Buck," suddenly Strange was beside her, an imperious look in his eyes as he glared at the interloper.
The stranger seemed unaffected by Strange’s disdain. "My dear Stephen, I only wish to make the acquaintance of this young beauty," the man smiled at her. "You can’t be so selfish as to keep her to yourself can you?"
"What sort of friend would I be to introduce her to you?" The Sorcerer Supreme retorted.
"So unfriendly," the man sighed, bowed half at the waist, and strode away.
"Who was that?" Tara whispered.
"Lucas Buck," Strange glared after the departing man. "Sheriff of a town called Trinity, I suspect he is one of Satan’s avatars on earth. At the very least, he is a powerful black arts mage."
"And they allow him in here?" Tara gasped, eyes widening in horror.
"I told you," Strange glanced towards her, "The Pax makes no distinctions."
"Yeah," Tara nodded, sinking back in her bar stool as she glanced around the tables.
There were many a creature she only recognised from books – centaurs, thick-limbed dwarves, and pointy-eared elves, and a few she didn’t recognise at all. "Who’s that?" Tara looked towards a muscular, white-haired man with sharp features, dressed entirely in red.
"Ah," Strange smiled. "Dante Sparda, demon-hunter and son of a demon knight. Formidable warrior."
Tara glanced around the room. Most of its inhabitants were human, but doubtless were incredibly powerful magic-users, but two in particular stood out. "W…what’s that?" she whispered.
Strange’s nose wrinkled as he looked in the direction she was looking and towards a ‘man’ with a hideously burnt face, wearing a brown fedora and a green and red striped sweater, and most disturbingly a pair of steel claw gloves. "Freddy Krueger," Strange’s voice was filled with disgust, "an animal in human form who hunts children in their dreams. Not really his fault given his past, but still. Others," Strange looked towards her, "have risen above their pasts to make a difference for good, so I don’t especially feel much pity for him."
"And that?" Tara looked towards the most outrageous looking of all the bar’s inhabitants, a monstrous-looking beast apparently made up of sewage and plant-life with two glazed eyes staring out of the head of its man-shaped frame.
"Don’t be too quick to judge, judge not by appearances is the lesson there," Strange reprimanded. "Ted Sallis was an engineer who accidentally got infected with the very serum he created, and as a result became Man-Thing. Since then, he’s been a warrior for the forces of good, and a formidable enemy of evil." Strange smiled at her. "Have you finished your sundae?" Tara nodded. "Then I think it is perhaps time we returned home. Remember you can come back any time you wish, all you need is a mirror."