67. Kali's Crown
FIC MC 49 Jan’02 Kali’s Crown
Title: Kali’s Crown
Rating: R (For Language later)
Relationships: X\F, K\T
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, Kennedy, and Tara belong to Mutant Enemy.
John Creasy belongs to Man On Fire.
Sydney Fox & Nigel Bailey belong to Relic Hunter.
Lara Croft & Hillary belong to Tomb Raider.
Monsoon belongs to Marvel.
“It’s over, you’ve run out of places to hide.”
“Not surprising,” his prey grinned at him. “Sixteen bodyguards, and you slaughtered them all like they were lambs bothering the wolf. People are a little reluctant to help me now.”
Mithras’ eyes flashed as he regarded his enemy. “What did you expect?” he demanded, jaw setting itself into a firm line and hand clenching around his sword. “It might have been five years ago, but did you think I’d forget about you? Let you walk away from this? After you betrayed us all!”
Dev shrugged, the nervous gleam in the slighter man’s dark eyes belying his casual manner. “I backed the wrong horse,” he admitted.
“Backed the wrong horse?” Mithras growled, temper rising. “Your actions cost Morrigan, Maru, Vidar, and countless other thousands their lives!”
“No,” Dev shook his head. “Following you cost them their lives.”
“Enough,” Mithras snapped, he was here to punish Dev not bandy words with him. “It’s time to end this.”
“Very well,” Dev beckoned him on, sword held ready in the other hand. “Let’s see if you can defeat me oh mighty one.”
“Kill you?” Mithras smiled coolly. “That would be too quick.” He opened a pouch on his belt and threw a small wooden box to the feet of his friend turned bitterest enemy. He spoke as Dev glanced down. “Marduk made me that, he called it ‘A Confinement Crate’. It holds its unfortunate prisoner for an eternity, always awake and never aging, but completely unable to move.” He smirked as his companion looked up, an expression of mounting horror written across his tanned face. “You’ll have plenty,” he paused as Dev turned to run but was grabbed by invisible bands that dragged the screaming traitor inexorably to his cage, “of time to reflect on your crimes.”
* * *
Shakra Yamini stared impatiently at his underlings. It had taken him close to a decade to get into a position where he could finally murder his way to a position in charge of the Thugee. All this hard work undone because of his people’s incompetence. It was most galling. “Then,” he spoke slowly as if enunciating for an especially stupid or infantile child, “if you can’t find it, we’ll have to find someone who does.”
He ignored the interruption to continue. “I’m sure one of our followers works at one of India’s finest museums. And if not, we can find someone to pressure?”
”Sir!” One of the cowled men sat at his feet raised a tentative hand. “A board member of the Indian museum follows our creed!”
”Excellent,” Shakra nodded. It was tiring, watching and dealing with these insects of people, and not breaking, snapping every one of their spindly necks. Yet as much as he yearned to, he needed them to gain enough power to become a real player in the world of politics. Every leader needed minions, even ones as useless as these abject failures. “In that case I want him instructed to employ the world’s foremost relic hunters and tomb raiders to search for it.” He paused. “And as for that other matter?”
“We have an Intelligence Bureau chief inspector under surveillance who we think is responsible for their security-.”
“Under surveillance?” Shakra snorted. “Under surveillance? If he’s been entrusted with their security he’ll be smart enough not to lead you to them. No,” he shook his head, “have him brought in.”
“Sir!” cried one of the men. “He’s a chief inspect-.”
“I heard you the first time,” Shakra grated the words out. “And as we don’t allow deficients, I assume you heard me. Now bring him in.” He smiled suddenly. “Fake a death, have his car crash with an unidentifiably charred corpse in it.”
His followers bowed their heads as one. “Your will be done.”
Shakra smiled thinly. This worship was quite gratifying, he could almost see why Mithras had gotten so into it.
* * *
“What can you tell me about Kali?”
Nigel Bailey looked up as his exotically beautiful employer walked in from the inner office, as always having to catch his breath when she first entered a room. “Ah, Kali,” Nigel took a second to push his glasses up his face as he collected himself before continuing, “a four-armed Hindu goddess with a terrifyingly violent history.”
“That’s right,” Sydney’s almond eyes sparkled with wit, perfect mouth pulling up into a gleaming smile, the sleekly-muscled archaeologist dropping into the empty chair opposite him. “Now here’s the toughie, have you ever heard of Kali’s Crown?”
“Kali’s Crown?” Nigel’s brow furrowed as he struggled through his memory. Finally he shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not.”
Sydney chuckled. “Your education’s lacking Nigel. It’s a dark rumour, one of those urban legends. I’ll brief you on the way.”
“On the way?” Nigel rose from his seat.
“Oh,” the brunette leapt up with a grin, “did I not say? We’ve just been hired to hunt down Kali’s Crown.”
“And I suppose,” he reached in his desk drawer for his passport, “it’s in India?”
Sydney laughed. ”Where else?”
* * *
Lara Croft strode back into her office, towel from her work-out over her shoulder. “Did I hear the phone, Hillary?”
Her best friend and butler looked up from the desk, an almost guilty look on his face. As if she bloody cared if he sat there. “It was a professor from the Indian Museum, he wants to hire you to track down something called 'Kali’s Crown’. I’ve been looking for references-.”
”Don’t bother,” Lara felt a cold hand firmly grasp and twist her heart. “I’m familiar with the piece.” She bit her bottom lip. “Book us the first tickets to Calcutta. And then get on the phone to Xander Harris. Ask him to meet us there.”
Chief Inspector Farez Raja wiped at his forehead, his sports jacket’s sleeve coming away soaked with sweat. He grunted in disdain when he turned a corner and was forced to hit the brakes because of a dullish-blue truck barring the narrow road. He looked at his watch, seven-thirty, and he’d promised his wife he’d be home early.
His consternation grew when he realised the truck’s cab appeared deserted. He looked left and right, not unlike this street-, no he saw headlights in his rear mirror. Shaking his head, he climbed out of his car and turned to the driver of the battered pick-up behind him, a thick-set man with a broken nose and slightly droopy eyes. “The driver is gone,” he threw his hands up in disgust, “I’m going to-, ahhhhhhh!” His body shook and bowels and bladder loosened when a massive electric shock hit him. Legs no longer under his control, he fell like a stone, crashing to the ground, his body still convulsing, spasming nerve endings causing him unimaginable discomfort.
“Ha,” he heard a voice behind him laugh, “these tasers do their job, look at him.”
He opened his mouth to retort, to warn the men just who he was dealing with, but only drool spooled out. “He’s still awake,” reprimanded another voice.
”I can deal with that.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw the car’s driver approach, syringe in hand. He felt a stabbing pain in his neck and then nothing.
* * *
“Oooooooh,” Farez groaned as cold water hit his face, eyes weakly fluttering open. His chest tightened in terror as he realised he couldn’t see only to relax slightly when he realised he was blindfolded. He tried to reach for the blindfold only to be rewarded by the rattling of chains. “Whoever’s there,” he looked blindly around, not caring his voice was hoarse with terror. “You don’t know what a big mistake you’re making. I’m Chief Inspector Raja of the Intelligence Bureau-.”
“Yes,” a coolly impatient voice interrupted him. “We know, a very important man.” There was a pause. “A man who provides security for nine very important men. We’d like their names and security details.”
Raja felt his breath quicken, sweat streaking down his face. “I…I have no idea who you’re talking about,” he bluffed.
“That’s a shame,” the voice sounded further away, as if its owner was backing out of the room, “in that case your death will be very painful indeed.”
* * *
“Who was that hon?” Faith strode in from the bathroom, clad only in a towel. Xander stared agape at his girl-friend complete with her just cleaned gleam. “Xander,” Faith waved at him, “who was that on the phone?”
“Lara Croft’s butler,” Xander hurried on over Faith’s groan, “she’s got a problem in India she needs our help with.”
“I hate that limey bitch,” Faith scowled.
“She helped us out when the Council snatched you,” Xander defended the absent English-woman.
But Faith was like a runaway juggernaut speeding on to flatten anything too slow to get out of its way. “And you, mister!” Faith’s pointed finger left him in no doubt he was the ‘mister’ referred to. “You can’t get your eyes above her fuckin’ tits!”
Xander grinned at his girl-friend, amused by her jealousy. Like there’d ever be a girl other than her for him, she was his world, and he just orbited around her. “Yours is the only cleavage I leer down,” he replied.
“Ah,” Faith purred, a mirthfully predatory gleam entering her ebony orbs, “ya say the sweetest things.”
”I do do I?” Xander grinned.
“Yeah,” Faith pushed him down on the bed. “Now, let me thank ya.” The towel dropped away to the floor. “Now how does this go?” Faith grinned before straddling him. “Oh yeah, I remember.”
* * *
“We have the names, sir.”
Shakra Yamini opened his eyes at his accomplice’s breathless report. “All nine?” The man nodded. “And the chief inspector?”
The subordinate licked his lips, eyes flickering nervous. “He still lives, we were unsure-.”
“Most wise,” Shakra nodded approvingly. “He might have given us some false names to knock us off path. Keep him alive until the veracity of these names is beyond doubt.” He glanced down at the names. “Although these seem to be the sort of names one wouldn’t dare give out unless they were true – a major Hindu cleric, a Supreme Court judge, two ministers, and a general as well as four esteemed scientists. Have watches put on them until we have the object in our possession.”
“Your will be done sir,” the man bowed before backing out.
* * *
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport
“Whoa.” Xander almost staggered as he stepped out of the plane and onto the tarmac of the two-runway airport, the heat hitting him like a boxer’s Sunday punch. Except he realised it wasn’t just the heat, it was the humidity too.
And then there was Calcutta. Forty-five minutes later and Xander was struggling to guide their rental through the bewildering labyrinth of a city. The streets were incredibly tight and poorly constructed, while the native drivers would give stock car drivers heart attacks. Even so, Xander found that while apparently covered in grime and seemingly pulsing with its own unique sound, there were many treasures to be found hidden in the decaying slums and modern skyscrapers. Ornate Raj-era balconies, old colonial buildings reeking with echoes of the empire, colourful markets alive with noisy hawkers, and filled with a hundred indefinable smells, elegant gardens, and beautiful churches and temples of several differing faiths made for a distinct mish-mash of a metropolis, unique across the globe.
“Hey, Xan!” Faith let out a yell. “’Cross the road, that’s our hotel!”
“Holy moley!” Tara yelped.
”Yep.” Xander felt his eyes widen as he stared at the stately building. It was located behind a row of purpose-grown and beautifully cared for palm trees, but there was no hiding its golden grandeur, Xander mused as he guided his vehicle under the archway at the front of the hotel.
“Never guess Lady Muck would stay here.”
Xander stiffened at Faith’s words, suddenly reminded of just why they were here. Well, the why they didn’t exactly know, but it wasn’t for a vacation, it was business, and their business always got hectic.
The Oberoi Grand
“Whoa,” Faith blinked as she looked around the hotel’s spacious lobby, “this is-.”
Faith shot Kennedy an irritated look. “That’s what I was gonna say, loud-mouth.” The hell of it was though, Faith glanced around, the potential was definitely right. The walls, rugs, and furniture were mostly yellow, a yellow accentuated by the reception’s gleaming chandeliers which also managed to reflect off the floor’s glass covered surface. “Decorator had a banana fetish.”
Xander coughed. “I’m gonna sign in before we all go blind.”
”Yeah,” Faith shuddered, “I just hope the same decorator didn’t do the freakin’ rooms-.”
”Ah, Mr. Harris, Ms. Spenser,” Faith turned to see Hillary approaching them. “A pleasure to see you both again. There’s no need to book in, Lady Croft has already made you reservations. In fact, she booked herself and your group into the hotel’s three luxury suites.”
“Hillary old bean!” Faith tried out her English accent as she flashed the servant a dimpled smile. “Have you missed me?”
The butler smiled slightly and half-bowed. “Always, Ms. Spenser.”
“Hey Xan,” Faith looked towards her boy-friend. “When we get our place, can we have a Hillary?”
“Faith he’s not a pet,” Xander sighed.
“Why not?” Faith smirked at the Englishman. “He’s already house-trained.”
”Yeah,” Kennedy muttered. “Shame you’re not.”
* * *
“Ah,” Lara rose as her guests arrived, shepherded in by her friend and butler, “thank you for coming so promptly, it is most appreciated and of course, a pleasure to see you all again.” She glanced towards the long couch. “Please sit down.” She looked towards her butler. “Hillary, could you get them some iced sodas.”
Her friend nodded. “Of course, Lady Croft.”
”Yo, Lady Muck, what ya called us here for?”
Lady Croft forced a smile at the Slayer’s caustically delivered question, reminding herself that the child’s true worth was in her actions and not her words. Besides, someone with her lack of breeding couldn’t be expected to behave in a ‘tea and crumpets’ way. “I assume you’ve heard of the Indian goddess Kali-.”
“Kali wasn’t a goddess,” Xander interrupted, tone flat but eyes far away as if recalling events long past. “She, it, was a demon of awesome power, a mindless beast but very powerful, it killed hundreds before Ashur, Thor, and Maru cornered and destroyed it.”
“Here you are,” Hillary put a tray of cans on the table between her and the youngsters.
”How-,” Lara shook her head. Of course the answer was obvious, if a little mind-boggling. “Well, legend has it, Kali had a crown-.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Xander shook his head. “It was just a demon, not a king, heck it didn’t even lead a pack of the monsters, it was just a solitary beast.”
“Oh,” Lara was completely nonplussed. “That is a little problematic.” She paused. “The thing is, there’s a legend attached to this ‘Crown’, that its possessor can control the dead.” Lara chuckled. “Now, before meeting you four I wouldn’t necessarily believe that nonsense, but now, now I can’t help but worry.”
Xander exchanged looks with Faith, but it was Tara who spoke. “Why call us about it now?”
“Ah, yes of course.” Lara smiled in embarrassment. “I was approached by a curator at the Indian Museum, informing us a board member had issued funds for a search for Kali’s Crown, and that they wished to employ for such a search. Hillary did a little research, and discovered that several of my fellow tomb-raiders had also been contacted in relation for this job.”
“Who?” asked Tara.
”That hasn’t been determined yet,” Lara admitted, her lack of knowledge a considerable sore point for her.
Xander drummed his fingers on the coffee table separating them. “Any idea who might have really ordered this search?”
Lara shook her head. “Even if we stick locally, there are any number of suspects. Terrorist groups such as Anand Marg, Nagaland Rebels, National Democratic Front of Bodoland, Babbar Khalsa, or United Liberation Front of Assam, or criminals such as the Mumbai Mafia, or an ambitious, well-funded politician.” Lara paused, expression grave. “And that’s without considering a supernatural culprit – a mage, demon, or necromancer.”
“No idea then,” Xander’s brow furrowed.
“The obvious solution would be to question the curator,” Tara commented.
Xander shot the witch an amused look. “So obvious even I’d worked it out.” Xander chuckled at the witch’s blush. “Just teasin’ Tara. I was more thinking about a two-pronged approach to this problem.”
“Two pronged?” Lara prompted.
“First, a group of us should go and see this curator who hired you-.”
This time it was her turn to interrupt. “He’s a good man, honest and trust-worthy, he wouldn’t knowingly have anything to do with this.”
“Perhaps not, but he’ll know who’s funding this bid for Kali’s Crown, and that’ll get us a step closer. So, Lara, I want you to take Faith as muscle and Tara as our very own polygraph to see your friend, and while you’re doing that,” Xander looked towards Hillary, “I assume you’re familiar with Calcutta?”
”Very familiar sir.”
“Sir,” Xander shuddered and shook his head. “Just Xander is fine. Hillary will take Kennedy and I on a search for this Crown and any leads to who wants in it Calcutta’s back streets.”
“Calcutta’s back streets can be rather rough,” Lara warned.
”That’s alright.” Xander’s sudden grin reminded her just how foolish her warning was. “I can be quite rough myself.”
“Wow,” Faith looked around the Indian Museum’s multi-archway whitewashed courtyard and its lushly looked-after garden, a thousand plants in full glorious bloom, four tiled paths cirss-crossing and leading to a fountain in the middle. “They spent some money here.”
“The Indian Museum was set up in 1814, the first museum on the continent. It was transferred to the present building in 1878 with two galleries, the Museum has now over sixty galleries of Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Botany sections, spreading over ten thousand square feet area.”
Faith raised an eyebrow at the Englishwoman’s tour guide-like introduction. “Yeah, it’s big, I got that.” Faith looked towards Lara, enjoying the warm sun beating down on them. “Your friend will see us?”
“Oh yes,” the English explorer nodded, “Ramdev is quite convinced I’m here to ask for more information about Kali’s Crown, perhaps to bargain it for a more open access to the museum’s artefacts.” The English woman smiled suddenly. “And you and Tara are my enthusiastic but less than knowledgeable research assistants.”
”You’re really enjoying this aren’t ya?” Faith grunted.
The noble-woman shot her a gleaming smile. “Intensely.”
* * *
The air echoed with the sound of bellowing vendors competing with one another as Xander doggedly followed Hillary through the market, ducking between jostling customers and stalls that sold all manner of items. Grubby children chased yapping dogs, darting between the booths and incurring the stall-owners’ curses. Xander’s nose wrinkled as his nostrils filled with the smells of unfamiliar perfumes and foreign, spicy food.
Suddenly the English gentleman stopped, glanced over his shoulder to check they were still following then ducked between a rug and a souvenir stall. Xander shook his head at the souvenir stall’s vendor when the beak-nosed man offered him a miniature Taj Mahal before following the Englishman into a crumbling alley. “Where are we heading?” he asked as the sound of the market had begun to dwindle in the background.
“Neelam Ahmed is quite unique,” Hillary glanced over his shoulder to both him and Kennedy in turn before continuing on his way. “As a woman, she owns several opium dens, brothels, and bars.”
“Nice company,” Kennedy commented.
“You have no idea,” the Englishman turned left into a yet narrower alley and down a set of careworn steps. “She’s the only female to be in a position of power in the criminal hierarchy.”
”Sounds lovely,” Xander muttered.
”Lara went to college with her, so they're friends. That doesn’t mean she’ll be easy to deal with though,” the Englishman paused, “they’re very competitive. But if anyone knows whose looking for Kali’s Crown, it’ll be her.” The butler paused as they spilled out onto a busy intersection, bikes, cars, and buses screeching by, looked left and right and started across the road.
”Female gangsters now,” Kennedy shook her head as she joined him in following Hillary, “you take me to meet the weirdest people. Tara gets rarefied academics, I get gun-runners and madams!”
“Ah, you’d only be bored in an university,” Xander defended.
* * *
“Ah, here’s Ramdev’s office.” Lara smiled as she knocked on the door, peering through its glass panel.
A few seconds passed before the door swung open and a portly Indian guy in his mid-forties wearing a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses stumbled out. “Lara, Lara,” the Indian kissed the noble-woman’s proffered hand. “My pleasure as always to see you. And,” the professor looked towards her and Tara, eyes sparkling, “my pleasure is tripled! Such beautiful company!”
“Faith and Tara are my research assistants,” Lara introduced.
“You’re both very lucky,” Ramdev herded them into his office, a simple place with just a desk, a bookcase and a couch. “Lara is one of the pre-eminent archaeologists, explorers, and historians in the world.”
“You’re too kind,” Lara smiled.
”What else can I be to a woman of such beauty, intelligence, and nerve?”
Faith raised an eyebrow at the professor’s gushing. If Lara let him into her pants, she had even lower standards than she guessed. “Thank you, Ramdev,” Lara practically cooed. Woman could flirt if nothing else. “Now, about Kali’s Crown. If I should be able to get my hands on it, it would be a significant prize.”
”Oh,” Ramdev waved a dismissive hand at the English woman. “Money is not an issue, a benefactor has approached one of the trustees with a sizable fund.”
“Oh really?” Lara beamed at the professor. “That’s most reassuring. However, I wonder if it would be possible to speak to the benefactor in person?”
“Ah,” Ramdev looked embarrassed. “I’m afraid the benefactor wishes to remain anonymous.”
Faith concealed a scowl. ‘Course he did. Most mages who were planning an army of flesh-eating zombies liked to keep that sorta thing under wraps.
“Very well,” Lara sighed theatrically. “Perhaps we could meet with the trustee, discuss our worries with him?”
Discuss their worries? Faith almost snorted. If that wasn’t an euphemism or whatever the hell the word was for scaring the truth out of someone she didn’t know what was. “I suppose that’s acceptable, seeing as it’s you,” Ramdev glanced at his watch and rose. “Mr. Chaudry will still be in his office, if you’ll follow me.”
Lara smiled. “Thank you, Ramdev.”
The curator led them down corridors filled with a bewildering variety of artefacts and works of arts until they reached a rather more drab looking office, passing by a trio of hard-looking men that the professor wrote off as security. “Mr. Chaudry is a very busy man,” Ramdev warned as he went to open the door. “He probably won’t be able to spare much time.”
“Oh good lord,” Lara gasped as the door swung open to reveal a scrawny man hanging from the room’s swinging lampshade.
”Busy,” Faith muttered, “I’d say he’s just hangin’-.” Faith clamped her mouth shut. “Shit! Those guys we passed didn’t have any uniform or shit!” she pulled out her Beretta, ignoring Ramdev’s choked gasps. “Tar, Lar, stay here!”
* * *
The bar they entered was dimly lit, every eye turning to them. “Stay close to me,” Xander instructed.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Kennedy muttered.
”I was talking to Hillary,” Xander snarked, “this place is scary.” In truth, his remark was only half-snark. A thin veil of opium hung in the air, together with the crackling jukebox that seemed permanently stuck in the sixties. The floorboards were dust-covered and creaked underfoot, and from the dirtiness of the glasses Xander guessed environmental health didn’t come around often. Although the glasses looked positively spotless next to some of the filthy customers playing a variety of card games while crouched around the tables.
Hillary turned to them. “We’ll need to go to the bar.” Xander raised an eyebrow. “Not to drink, I need to speak to the barman.”
“Okay.” Xander followed the Englishman over, listening to the conversation with one ear while glancing around the bar, ready for any sign of danger.
“Come on,” Xander turned back to Hillary to see the barman had opened up the bar, “we can go upstairs.”
“Are you sure the steps in here will take us?”
Xander ignored Kennedy’s sarcastic comment to follow Hillary up the stairs by the bar’s drink cabinet and past the two knife-brandishing guards, one at the bottom and one at the top. Finally they reached a resplendently furnished room in shocking contrast to the downstairs squalor.
“Ah, Hillary, a pleasure as always.” The woman sprawled on the room’s only couch was doe-eyed with a creamy chocolate skin, long, lustrously black hair and a gleaming smile. “And,” she directed her gaze towards him, “you brought a treat!”
“Why do women look at me like I’m a pot roast?” Xander queried in a mutter.
“You’ve got me,” Kennedy murmured.
“Please,” the woman kept her eyes on him as she pointed towards the pillows arrayed on the floor, “sit down.”
Xander swallowed, the woman’s avid ‘interest’ making him more than a little nervous. She practically made Faith seem shy. “Xander, Kennedy,” Hillary looked at both of them in turn, “I’d like to introduce you to Neelam Ahmed. Neelam, Lady Croft sends her regards.”
“Ah, she accepted her invite did she?” Neelam smiled at their surprise. “Very little happens in Calcutta that I’m unaware of.”
”Then perhaps you could tell us who her competitors are?” Hillary carefully asked. “And perhaps who the true organiser of this search is?”
“I assume payment will be in the usual manner?” Neelam’s eyes suddenly hardened. Hillary nodded. “Well, I can help you with the first part of your query but not the second. Benjamin Franklin Gates, Dr. Solomon Zond, Robert Langdon, and Sydney Fox all arrived in Calcutta in the last forty-eight-.”
Xander rose, cutting off the Indian’s spiel. “I heard something,” he reported before striding to the door and opening it a crack. “Oh hell,” he cursed as the faint sound of gunfire reached his ears. “We’re in trouble!”
“Lady Croft, what is your-.”
“Ramdev,” Lara tore her gaze from the rapidly departing Slayer to the flustered professor, “we need to check his offices.”
“No! No!” Ramdev shook his head. “We need to inform the police!”
“Trust me,” Lara forced a smile. “This is crucial, perhaps to India or even the entire sub-continent.”
”V…very well,” the professor nodded nervously. “But afterwards-.”
”Of course,” Tara shot her a worried look.
Lara smiled. “Faith will be fine,” she soothed
* * *
Faith spun around a corner into an apparently empty corridor, its beige walls filled with paintings. Her eyes narrowed as they noted a still closing stairwell door. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered as she headed towards the door. She knew the trio had headed this way, so they had to have gone through the doorway, question was up or down.
“Son of a bitch!” Faith flung herself backwards when she opened the door and stepped into the shadowy stairwell only for a hail of gunfire shooting up sending her leaping back through the door and crashing down onto the corridor’s polished floor. “Guess that answers that.”
Faith leapt back up and dived feet-first through the door, sliding on the polished floor as she did so, launching herself up into a headfirst dive down the first flight of steps. Hitting the first landing hands-first, she hand-spung back up and leapt into the nearest shadow.
Her caution was unneeded, the gunmen having already moved on. “Oh I just love chases,” she peered over the handrail to see the three gunmen two flights beneath her. “Screw this.”
Faith leapt up onto the handrail, launching off it into the air. One of the gunmen looked up instinctively as she fell, his eyes widening and gun beginning to rise.
She snatched the weapon out of his hand before he had chance to use it, her elbow swinging back to crunch his nose while she kicked another of the trio over the railing. The moment she landed on the steps, the remaining still armed gunman started to raise his gun towards her, eyes bulging in a combination of hate and shock.
”Fuck that!” she spat before kicking out, her foot catching him under his chin and snapping his head back, neck cracking in a final snap. She saw the glint of steel out of the corner of her eye and ducked, the last killer’s knife slicing the air above her. Faith was up before the thug could reverse the swing, one hand shooting out to grab his wrist and twist.
Bone cracking resonated in her ears as she punched the killer in his already ruined nose. The man stumbled backwards as she released her grip on his now knifeless arm. Then leapt forward, Faith twisted instinctively, then gasped as the man flew past her and over the railing. “Crazy fucker.”
* * *
“Follow me.” Xander’s eyes widened as he turned back to the serenely calm Neelam to find a panel had slid open in the wall, revealing a staircase.
”This is hardly the first time this has happened,” Neelam stepped towards the hidden passage by the window.
“No!” Xander’s eyes widened as he saw a red dot appear on Neelam’s chest. The Indian started to half turn towards him as the window exploded, blood spurting everywhere as the Indian flew across the room.
“Hit the ground!” Xander drew a pair of Berettas and threw them to Hillary and Kennedy as bullets began to rain through the window, tearing through the deceased gang-leader’s luxurious den. Conscious there wasn’t much they could do about the sniper with the other men behind them, Xander flung himself at the door, crashing through it to end up rolling across the landing, fire blazing from his hastily drawn Desert Eagles.
The trio of machine-gun wielding thugs danced like puppets who’d had their strings cut as his bullets blew holes in them, the automatics bucking mightily in his hands. The moment the third of the men hit the ground, the air now arid and thick with gunsmoke, he let out a yell, ears still ringing. “Hillary! Ken! Get out here!”
He was relieved when the door swung open and Hillary and Kennedy crawled out. “He’s continuing to fire, but we dived under the desk,” Hillary reported.
”Any idea where he’s shooting from?” Xander queried.
“Oh yes,” Hillary nodded. “The top floor of the supposedly empty five-storey building behind the mansion opposite.”
“Okay.” Hillary gasped as he pulled out a grenade launcher, loaded it, and brought it to his shoulder. “Back in a second.” Standing, he kicked the door open, stepped through, sighted and pulled the trigger, a grenade shooting out of his launcher.
A second later, the grenade smashed through the gunman’s window, the flat briefly illuminating in a sudden flash as glass erupted from its windows, building shaking. “That’ll be hell on the decorating bill.”
* * *
“So you killed all three?”
“I told you.” Faith shook her head. “No, I killed two of them, the third committed suicide.”
“How is this possible?” Ramdev looked from her to Lara.
Lara stopped glaring at her long enough to look towards the Indian. “She’s the Slayer.”
“The Slayer!” Ramdev shook his head. “But that’s a legend.”
”That’s what I tell people, I’m legendary!” Faith shook her head. “But do they listen? No!”
“Nevertheless, the Slayer legend is true,” Lara said.
”Really?” Ramdev stared at her. “If anyone else but you told me this Lara. Fascinating. I have so many questions.”
Faith groaned again. Before the professor had looked at her like she was a hot mamma, which she was wicked used to. But now he was looking at her like she was a lab rat, and that was a little unnerving.
Shit, make that scary as hell.
Aloba stared at the door before him, a sudden uneasiness sweeping over him. He was not a people person, his uniqueness making it difficult to relate to every-day people. Reminding himself the woman had called asking for his help was the wife of one of the very few normals he called friends, he raised his hand to knock.
The door swung open before his knuckles made contact with wood. In the open doorway there stood a teary-eyed woman dressed in traditional Hindu dress. “Greetings,” his tongue seemed ill at ease in his mouth, “I am Aloba-.”
“Aloba Dastoor,” the woman forced a smile. “Of course, I’m Gaya. Farez was always talking about you, please come in.”
“Thank you, Gaya,” he nodded briefly before following her inside, into a sparkingly-modern kitchen.
”Please,” his friend’s wife stared uncertainly at him, “take a seat.”
“Thank you,” he nodded and sat on one of the stools surrounding the kitchen table.
“W..would you like a tea?” Gaya asked, voice trembling.
“Thank you no, I’d rather hear what’s wrong?”
Gaya smiled nervously at him, whether through fear of his reputation or through worry about her disappeared husband he couldn’t tell. “Yes, Farez said you were his friend, that Aloba doesn’t say much, he said, but what he says, he means,” the woman’s smile withered as she reached across the table taking his hand in her two smaller ones. “There’s no one else I can go to you, you’re mine and Farez’s only chance!”
“And he’s been gone how long?” he asked.
”F…four days, the longest four days of my life,” Gaya replied with a choked sob.
Aloba forced himself to remain calm in the face of the woman’s near hysteria. “What of the police, won’t they help?”
His host shook her head. “I….I don’t understand, my Farez is an important man, but they just came once to see me and that was it. T….they don’t seem to care.”
Aloba’s eyes narrowed. That didn’t sound right. Farez was an important man in the intelligence agency, very high ranking. If the police weren’t interested…. Of course it could be the over-wrought imagination of a frightened wife, but his instincts told him otherwise. He managed his most soothing smile. “Why don’t you tell me everything you know?”