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Mithras Chronicles

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Summary: Faith and Xander flee Sunnydale after the end of Season 3. AU, not Buffy-friendly.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Xander-Centered > Theme: Heroic Xander(Current Donor)KCollFR181481,165,86219351321,9484 Jul 1217 Oct 14No

Atlantis Of The Sands

FIC: MC 50. Feb ’02 – Atlantis Of The Sands

Title: Atlantis Of The Sands
Rating: R (For Language later)
Relationships: X\F, K\T
Story: Action\Adventure
Feedback: In lieu of a Faithbot yeah.
E-Mail: KeithColl@gmail.com.
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.
Colonel Simmons belongs to Stargate Francise.
Hannibal Lectar belongs to Richard Harris.
Winter Soldier belongs to Marvel.

An Undisclosed Location, Nov ‘01

Sweat slicked Colonel Simmons’ neck as he made his way down the steps that led to their captive’s underground cell. He paused at the door at the bottom, nervously licking his lips as he input the four digit code that unlocked the door. Once the key was input, the door slid soundlessly open and he stepped inside. After nodding to the marine sat behind the desk by the door, he stepped up to the soundproofed cell and turned the intercom on.

The man inside was thin and of medium-height yet an aura of savage power surrounded him. “Why hello, Colonel,” his perfectly polite guest greeted, not bothering to rise from his seat, slicked back black hair gleaming in his cell’s fluorescent light. A cold smile stretched the man’s mouth, utterly failing to reach his maroon eyes. The wiry man sniffed. “Have you been exercising this morning?”

”Exercising?” Simmons queried without thinking.

Simmons realised his mistake the moment his captive’s smile began to widen. “Oh you must have been exercising,” purred the man. “You couldn’t be frightened of me, not I. Not trapped behind this bullet-proof glass.” The man knocked on the glass for emphasis. “What is there to be scared of?”

Simmons looked around the cell, reassuring the monster in human form was held. A highly trained and heavily armed marine was outside the door, another just inside the door. The basement only had the one cell and one occupant, its glass bullet-proof, and his cell easily floodable with nerve gas.

And yet he couldn’t help feel nervous, especially when confronted with his victim’s ghastly grinning visage.

Of all the operations NID had undertaken, this was the blackest.

Their prisoner was as far from the run of the mill criminal as one could get. A man of rare genius and an enjoyer of high culture, he’d been toasted in the highest society circles, none of his many friends and associates dreaming just what sort of man he truly was. And then the news of his crimes had broken, and those same friends had pulled away in revulsion, terrified by the cannibalistic serial killer’s exploits, crimes of almost unequalled brutality.

He’d been incarcerated in a mental institution for life, the diagnosis of sociopath unquestioned. Yet, as reviled as he was for his deeds, his genius as a psychiatrist was also unquestioned. As such, he had to be the man for their job, and so they’d liberated him from his previous cell in exchange for their own.

Simmons reluctantly returned his eyes to the man sat before him. “I understand you’ve had a breakthrough with our patient?”

“Our patient,” Lecter chuckled. “What a cold, impersonal manner to refer to a man, no a patriot such as James Buchanan.” The esteemed doctor paused. “You realise of course James Buchanan is the name of a former president?”

Simmons gritted his teeth. Much as he was inclined to push the doctor, he knew Lecter did not react well to pushing and there was little he feared. “I know, the fifteenth,” he replied.

”Yes,” Lecter’s brow furrowed. “A strange choice.”

”How so?” Simmons decided to play along. The quicker Lecter got said what he wanted to say, the quicker they could move onto real business.

“To name one’s child after someone who achieved such high office, the highest our country has to offer, but then to choose one of the most miserable failures in that position,” Lecter shook his head. “There were far less choices then there is now, seventy years on, but even so. It is almost as if his parents were undecided as to whether his birth was a blessing or a burden. Perhaps that’s what spurred him on to such heroics.”

”Fascinating,” Simmons lied. To him it was anything but.

Lectar chuckled, not fooled by his response. “Actually it is, the very key to breaking his programming.” Lecter’s chuckles intensified at his impatient. “Ah now, I have your interest.”

“You’ve broken his programming?”

Lecter looked around his cell as if suddenly bored by the conversation. Which given the madman’s assorted mental illnesses and phenomenally high IQ probably wasn’t too far from the truth, but Simmons sensed this was nothing more than bargaining tactics. “After a hard day’s work I always liked to relax by spending a couple of hours listening to the classics, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven,” Lecter mused his eyes returning to him. “I don’t suppose you could organise some CDs for me?”

In the hands of this man a CD could easily be made into a weapon. “I’m afraid not,” Simmons hid his impatience behind a genial smile. “You know the rules, nothing inside your cell that could be used as a weapon. However I could organise some piped music. Once we’ve finished you could speak to the guard and we’ll see what we have in our library.”

After a second Lecter nodded. “Very well.” The doctor paused. “It was quite simple to do really. All I needed to do was make James Buchanan remember his past, remember the boy he was. Then I held up a mirror,” the doctor laughed as he opened his mouth, “a figurative mirror, Colonel. One that displayed his darker actions, the ones done under Russian control. That broke him, allowed the heroic child out.”

Simmons’ heart quickened. “And how do you intend to program him to work for us?”

“Ah,” Lecter smiled. “I had found the key to the boy’s psyche. All I have to do is turn it.” Simmons stared blankly at his prisoner. Lecter giggled. “I intend to use the memory of the idealistic boy he was, the patriot. I intend to use that to ensure his obedience to your organisation.”

Simmons smiled. “You’ve done well Dr. Lecter, I’ll send the guard to get your order on my way out.”

***

“Ah heck!”

Faith climbed out of the steamy shower, wrapping a towel around her before striding out of the bathroom to stare at her scowling boyfriend pacing the hotel floor. “What’s the sitch, studly?”

Xander glanced towards her. “You’re dripping water on the floor.”

”I’m stood here, soaking wet, with nothing but a towel around me and all ya notice is the water dripping on the floor?” Faith pouted, lower lip jutting out. Damn, she was losing her touch. “Anyhow,” she re-grouped. “What’s the sitch?”

Xander slumped down on their bed. “Have you ever heard of Iram?”

Faith snorted. “Do you seriously expect a yes answer?”

“Fair point,” Xander half-smiled. “According to the Eternal Archive,” Xander held up the leather bound tome, “it was a city fifty thousand years on the Arabian Peninsula, a real den of iniquity.”

“Oh, I love those sort of places!” Faith smirked.

“You wouldn’t have liked this one,” Xander returned her smirk with a grin. “It was a real foul place, somewhere where money bought anything-.”

”Damn, now it sounds like Hollywood,” Faith wisecracked.

”Here demons walked freely through the states, took what they wanted, as long as they had the money to pay for it. It became a base for the foulest demons, the most debauched criminals, and the most powerful mages. Its rulers carelessly allowed anyone in, not caring about their morals or powers, just as long as they agreed to defend its walls from its rivals. There were several attempts to overthrow Iram by neighbours either jealous of its riches or fearing that the debauchery and decadence went on there would spread to their cities. None of these attempts succeeded.”

“So how did it fall then?” Faith asked, caught up in the story despite herself.

“No-one knows for sure,” Xander replied. “At least not according to the research I’ve been able to find. There’s theories, like the mages inside its walls went to war with one another and in the process destroyed the place, or the demons massacred the people, or a magical experiment went wrong, destroying the city, or that it finally fell to one of its neighbours.”

”Right.” Faith’s brow furrowed. “But why’s this Iram a problem now?”

“Because according to Angela’s daily report, a satellite has picked up a city in the Rub al Khali desert where there wasn’t one,” Xander explained. Faith stared blankly at her boy-friend. “It’s probably Iram, and there’ll be a lot of magical artefacts there that we can’t risk falling into the hands of W&H for example.”

“Shit that’s a problem.” Faith tugged on her towel, allowing it to fall, pooling at her feet. “Let me take your mind off it for a moment.” Her hips swung as she slinked over to Xander and straddled his lap, legs wrapped around him. “Oh, look I’m gettin’ your clothes all wet,” she shot her boyfriend a coy look as she wrapped her arms around his neck, “ya best take ‘em off.”

* * *

Cairo W&H

Nadim Rafi smiled as his subordinate entered his office. “Glorious news, Daim Laith, glorious news!” His subordinate looked inquiringly first at him and then the empty seat at the other side of his polished desk. “Please, Captain, sit.”

“Thank you sir.”

Nadim smiled at the man sat opposite him. As Director of Special Projects, W&H Cairo Division, he met a lot of dangerous people in his job, but none were quite the match of his guest.

His guest was a lithe man, dusky skinned with a hooked nose between a pair of burning brown eyes, although his hair was greying at the edges, his vitality and power was beyond question, nor did his neatly pressed suit do much to conceal his true status as a warrior born. Laith was a former major in the Takavar, an elite unit of the Iranian military, as such he’d earned a reputation for both bravery and cold-blooded ruthlessness with an uniform filled with medals to prove it. As such, he was the perfect man to run W&H’s middle east enforcement unit

“Yes,” Nadim nodded. “I assume you are aware of the myth of Iram?”

His guest flashed him a dangerous half-smile. “I remember the tales as bed-time stories. When I first came here I checked all the files.”

A thorough man, brains, courage, and merciless, a most dangerous package. “Excellent,” Nadim approved. “What you won’t be aware of is a satellite found Iram’s whereabouts last night.” Daim raised a bushy eyebrow. “The spell books, the artefacts, our firm wants it all. And I think you’re the man to secure the city for us.”

Daim nodded. “I expect I’ll be getting a thorough briefing,” from his tone Daim demanded no less. “My men won’t be able to leave until the day after tomorrow, they’re currently dealing with a problem in Tripoli. But one thing I need to know, what opposition will we be facing?”

“Ah,” Nadim nodded. “We believe that the Vatican and the Illuminati will be sending groups.”

Daim bit his bottom lip. “What of the US. Government? Surely they’ll be sending an operative?”

“Ha!” Nadim chuckled. “We doubt it, we don’t believe that the Americans even realise the significance of what their satellite uncovered.”

“What of the Mithras Quartet?” Was Daim’s next query.

Nadim sucked in his lip. “We’re uncertain,” he finally admitted.

”Make certain,” Daim ordered. “The Slayer is a distinctive beauty, have men placed at every airport into Oman watching for her and her companions. Stop them even becoming an issue.”

* * *

Colonel Simmons looked around the darkened boardroom’s occupants, its grey walls and minimal furnishings only adding to its bleakness. Each of the people in it were high-ranking operatives in government agencies – CIA, DIA, DOD, NSA, Secret Service, FBI, Customs, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives. They were drawn together by a single purpose and goal, to protect the United States no matter the cost or method. Between them they had access to every bit of sensitive intelligence and could therefore warn NID of any threat to them or alternatively fill them in to anything that could be of interest. Such information had saved them from interfering congressmen and intelligence do-gooders without the spine to do what was required on a number of occasions.

It was rare for them to meet like this. Rare and dangerous, the risk of exposure was slim, but it was there. But this was the sort of thing the entire ‘board’ had to be in on. “This information NSA has given me,” he nodded to the agency’s representative. “Of the hidden city in the Arabian Peninsula. Our researchers have been hard at work and we believe it is the believed mythical city of Iram.”

“Is this city important?” FBI asked.

“Legend has it,” this came from CIA, a former Middle East Station Head and so expert in the culture, “that Iram was a city of great magic.” CIA looked at him. “There could be weapons there, the sort of thing we don’t want falling into an unfriendly Arabic state’s hands.”

“And conversely could be very useful to America,” DOD added.

“So we’re agreed?” he pressed. “This lead needs to be followed up on?”

“Who do you intend to send?” FBI asked.

Simmons hesitated. “James Buchanan.”

A shocked murmur ran through the room. “Is he ready?” FBI asked, a sceptical note in his tone.

”The only way to find out is by using him,” he evaded.

“That’s not an answer,” commented NSA. “If this is as big as you think it is-.”

“He’s the best agent we have, none of our teams could match him, never mind any of our men on an one-to-one basis.” Simmons paused. “And he’s perfect, a brain-washed drone who has no idea who he works for. He can get the best objects, hide them and get out. We can send another team to pick them up later. Even if he does go rogue, he can’t be traced back to us.”

CIA growled. “Of all the things we’ve done, this sits the least well. The boy was a hero.”

”And we’re giving him a chance to be a hero again,” Simmons argued.

Finally CIA joined the others in nodding. “Send him in.”

***

Xander licked his lips as he finished his briefing, the beautifully furnished private place with its suede sofas, five star cuisine, and model-like stewardesses making it difficult to concentrate. But he persevered, ‘cause he was good like that. “That’s about it,” Xander finished. “Any questions?”

”A couple,” it was predictably Kennedy who spoke up. She’d never be mistaken for a shrinking violet. Xander stared inquiringly at the brunette potential. “Why has this city reappeared after fifty thousand years?”

As questions went it was a good one. Xander shrugged. “I don’t know,” he candidly admitted. “My best guess is that it’s a spell, either one that caused the city’s destruction or banishment has waned, or the one used on the city to make it disappear has somehow warped into a spell making it reappear.”

“Is that feasible, Tar?” Faith queried.

The witch started at the question. “Over time spells can lose their potency, so sure.” The New Mexican looked at the potential. “What was your other question, sweetie?”

“Okay, how are we supposed to get all the magical stuff out of Iram?” queried the potential. “I know you’ve got The Always Pocket, but there might be objects too dangerous to touch, or we might miss something.”

“Yeah, I thought of that.” Xander hid a grimace as he shot a furtive look at Tara. She wasn’t going to like this at all. “I’ve still got that Wrathful Energy we took off Fathi Burhan. I figure that’ll blow the city back to hell.”

”No!” Tara hissed. “It’s black magic you can’t!”

“Better than letting some megalomaniac with ideas of world domination get his hands on Iram’s goodies,” Xander defended.

”Using the black arts never ends well,” Tara scolded.

“It’s not an ideal solution,” Xander admitted. “Unfortunately the alternatives are worse.”

”Whoa,” Faith broke in, eyes hard. “Ya said that things blows up everything for miles. No-way am I lettin’ ya doin’ somethin’ as dumb as that!”

”I’ve no intention of committing suicide,” Xander chuckled. “No, ever since I got my hands on it I’ve been working on a device to open the Wrathful Energy remotely.”

Faith shot him a distrustful look before slowly nodding. “Five by five, any idea who we might be facing off against for this city?”

“No idea,” Xander admitted. “Wolfram & Hart,” he grinned at Faith’s groan, “have an Egyptian office, the Oman government might be interested if they know, the Vatican, others.”

”You’re a real fountain of misinformation,” Faith groused. “What about what’ll be in the city itself?”

Xander shrugged. “The history books are sorta of vague on that.”

“Jesus!” Faith threw her hands up, a frustrated expression on the sultry beauty’s face. “But I assume you’ve got a plan?”

“Yeah, be very careful.” Xander nodded. “We should be landing in about,” he glanced at his watch, “thirty minutes. Because Iram is four hundred miles in-land and in desert, I’ve ordered us a hummer-.”

”Wicked!” Faith exulted. His girl-friend smirked as her companions turned to her. “What? Don’t tell me ya all don’t think the car is cool as fuck?”

“Unfortunately it won’t be here until tomorrow,” Xander continued with a shake of his head. “So we’ll head to Muscat’s biggest and best hotel, have a sleep and head out in the morning. I’ve gotten GPS so we’ll head straight there.” Xander smiled. “Faith, don’t forget no tight or revealing clothes until we leave town.” His smile widened at his girl-friend’s glower.

“What about all these possible rivals?” Kennedy queried. “They could have already started for the city?”

Xander scowled. “That’s a worry but we have to have that hummer, besides, Angela’s email came in before the report would have even been passed around the departments, we have something of a lead.”

* * *

Muscat International Airport

“Shit,” Faith groaned as she stepped off the plane, the city’s searing heat threatening to drive her to her knees. “That’s what I hate about Muslim countries.” Xander looked at her. “Nope, none of that xenophobia or sex politics bullshit. What I hate is, all this freakin’ heat, all these sandy beaches, and I can’t wear this tinsy wheeny sequined bikini I picked up last week!”

“Yeah,” her boyfriend nodded mournfully, “when you put it like that I hate it too.”

“Me three,” Kennedy added. Both her and Xander looked towards the potential. Kennedy shrugged. “Hey I’m a perv.”

“Have you ordered us a car?” a blushing Tara asked.

”Yeah,” Xander nodded. “And two suites at The Grand Hyatt Muscat.” Faith’s mouth opened. “Yes dear,” Xander sighed, “it’s the best hotel in the city. Jeez, materialistic much?”

“I did you warn you,” Kennedy put in. “She’s only after your money.”

”Sometimes I wonder.”

“Hey!”

* * *

“That is the one, the Slayer.”

”I know, follow them. When we have a location, we shall report.”

* * *

Xander enjoyed the sights as he drove through the city. It had a strange appearance, a collection of generally low white buildings with hardly a landscaper to be seen and architecture frequently homaging historic regional styles. For a city at the edge of the Arabian peninsula and in Oman's sometimes fierce climate, Muscat was remarkably green, with many of its main streets lined with leafy trees, in addition to several sizeable public parks, and grass, shrubs, and flowers decorating many traffic circles and other public areas. But what gave Muscat its unqiue flavour was its people. Omanis in their cashmere turbans, the Sudanese blanketed in cotton, Krelan women in multi-coloured saris and the occasional european who’d gone native, fallen in love with the city’s laid-back life, low crime, and pristine streets.

“Thanks honey,” he glanced at his companion sat beside him, the other two in the back. “I know I rag on ya sometimes, but without ya, I’d have never got to leave the US., go anywhere.” Faith smiled wanly. “So the London trip wasn’t a highlight, but other than that….”

”You’re welcome,” Xander smiled as he tousled his girl’s raven locks. He looked up as he pulled into their parking lot. “We’re here. Does it meet with madam’s approval?”

“Holy shit,” Faith breathed.

“That’d be a yes then.”

The multi-storey building was built in a U, backing onto a beach. The front was a thing of legend, four floors of exquisite Arabian architecture, its stone a sunny yellow, while on an innocuous neon sign flashed on its flat roof.

The only way across the running stream at the hotel’s front was over a small, humped bridge flanked by two bulky hedgerows while the glass lobby entrance was flanked by a pair of railing-less steps. “Holy moley,” Tara whispered as they entered.

”Yeah,” Faith nodded, “’bout sums it up.”

The centre of the lobby was dominated by a revolving metal statue of a mounted Arabian with a palm tree on either corner. The marble floor was filled with green velvet covered chairs while light blazed in through the lobby’s glass wall, shining in from the illuminated swimming pool at the hotel’s rear. “Why don’t you three have a seat while I go and see about our reservations,” Xander suggested. “Then we’ll go to the Tuscany, it’s reputed to be Muscat’s best Italian restaurant.” Xander grinned as the three women sat down. Tomorrow would be damn hard, but tonight they could relax.

* * *

Daim Laith scowled as his subordinate’s report came in. It couldn’t have been a lot worse, they wouldn’t be in Muscat for another fifteen hours, his team wouldn’t be in Cairo for another four hours, and the Mithras Quartet were already there. “The Grand Hyatt you say?” He pursed his lips. An attack on Muscat’s most prestigious hotel would be unfortunate, but he had little choice. “How many men do you have?”

“Fourteen including myself,” his subordinate replied, the phone line crackling.

Daim pursed his lips. Fourteen was hardly enough to complete the job. But on the other hand, they might get lucky and injure or kill one of them, and that would derail the mission. Even if his subordinate got caught, he thought he was working for a member of Iraqi Intelligence, nothing could be tracked back to Wolfram & Hart. Finally he smiled. “Kill them tonight.”

***

The receptionist looked up as the lobby’s doors swung soundlessly open, the night’s chill draft alerting him. His professional interest turned to terror as a group of armed men strode into his reception.

Even as his treacherously slow-to-react mouth opened in horror, colour draining from his otherwise dusky-skinned face, one of them raised a silenced pistol and pulled the trigger.

* * *

A soft phuft rang out as the bullet crashed into the receptionist’s head. The hotel worker’s head snapped back, blood spurting out from the back of his head as he fell soundlessly behind the desk. “Our agent has already supplied the infidels’ room numbers,” hissed Kabir as he looked around. “The four men assigned to the lobby take your places. Allow guests in and out, you should only act if someone discovers our action of if one of the targeted infidels escapes down here.” He looked around as one of his men headed behind the reception desk, pristine in his purloined hotel uniform while three others took up flanking positions in the lobby’s seats. “The rest of you know your assignments.”

* * *

Faith yawned, something indefinable waking her. She looked around the shadowy bedroom wondering what had awakened her. She looked down at her naked boy-toy, grinning slightly at his snoring. “Man, warthog much?” Her head snapped to the door as a floorboard creaked and she realised what had woken her. “Xan! Trouble!”

Even as she yelled, Faith was moving, surging out of the bed as the door crashed open. The six who burst through stopped, jaws dropping and guns pausing in their rising as their eyes alighted on her uncovered goodies.

Faith took full advantage of the intruders’ astonishment, snatching a hold of the vase on the dressing table and flinging it head first into the first of the intruders. The man yelled what Faith assumed was an Arabic curse, stumbling back as the vase exploded against his head.

Faith guessed they’d be billed for that.

Snatching hold of the table itself, she flipped it onto its side and shoved it at the men, two crashing to the ground beneath it.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xander leaping up, guns magically leaping into his hands. “’Bout fuckin’ time,” she muttered as she dived behind a chair as the firing started, “guy’s harder to wake than a fuckin’ zombie!”

* * *

Xander grunted and rolled over as Faith yelled something indistinct. First a long flight, then a drive in the baking heat, and finally satisfying his girl’s ‘demands’. A man only had so much energy-. He blinked at the sound of something shattering, eyes reluctantly opening. “Shit!” he cursed as he saw his naked girl-friend flinging the room’s dressing table across the room at a bunch of gun-men. “That’s expensive!”

Leaping out of bed, the sheets pooling to the ground at his feet, he swung his Desert Eagles up and started firing at the distracted men. His ears pounded to the sound of his automatics and his wrists reverberated as he took down three of the men before they had chance to respond.

Then the last of the group spun towards him, desperation glinting in their eyes as they aimed their uzis. “Shit!” Xander flopped backwards, throwing himself over the bed . He grunted as he crashed shoulder-first to the carpet, bullet after bullet smashing into his mattress, feathers flying into the air.

And then Faith threw a chair at the men, her shot smashing into the first, knocking him to the ground with a bone-breaking crack, the second’s attention diverted long enough for Xander to rise and get a shot off that smashed into the man’s face, turning it to a bloody mask as he crashed to the ground. “Wow,” Xander looked around the devastated hotel room, gunsmoke and bullet-holes marking the walls as well as half the furniture and the mattress being completely wrecked, their attackers’ blood already soaking into the carpet. “We make a real mess.”

“Guess we’re screwed on the depos-.” Faith’s eyes shot to him, hardening. “Fuck! Sis!” With Faith to think was to act, in half a second she was almost by the door.

“Faith, wait!” The Slayer beauty’s eyes shot back to him, impatient. “We need to get some clothes on before we can go anywhere.”

“Oh shit, yeah,” Faith scowled as she caught the jeans he’d thrown her. “Hurry!”

* * *

Tara’s eyes fluttered open, groaning slightly as something disturbed the magical alarms she’d set on their hotel room. “Kennedy,” she whispered in her girl-friend’s ear. “We need to get down, now.” Before the potential could more than sleepily protest, Tara was shoving her out of the far side of the bed, head and free hand turning the other way as the door crashed open.

* * *

“Shit!” Faith dropped to one knee, Mini-Uzi swinging up as the men breaking into Sis’ room were flung back out of it. “Sis, has got some mojo!”

The men crashed to the corridor’s floor, guns swinging up as they attempted to turn to face her and Xander. Shots rang out, the air filling with arid gunsmoke as she and Xander unloaded into the unprepared gunmen, those who’d managed to regain their feet dancing like puppets who’d had their strings cut before flopping to the floor.

Sensing someone coming up behind her, Faith swung around. “Jesus!” she snapped at the portly, balding man stood there in a dressing-gown. “Way to get yaself shot! Back in your room!” Faith looked around to see a number of doors creaking open. “Everyone inside!” she barked. “Trouble’s over.” Faith looked towards Xander. “We need to-.”

“Get out of here, yeah I’m on it.” Xander hurried over to the doorway of the two lesbians’ doorway. “Are you two-,” Faith laughed as Xander reddened and turned away from the door. “Get some clothes on, we need to leave fast.”

Faith stepped over the bodies, grimacing as she did so, hurriedly fastening her denim shirt’s buttons. “I suppose we’ll be taking the stairs?”

“Yep.”

Faith nodded at Xander’s reply, before hurrying to the stairwell and peering down. Taking not getting her head shot off as a good sign, she looked over her shoulder to see Sis and the brat coming out of their bedroom. “Coast’s clear!” she called.

”Someone’s bound to have called the police by now,” Xander worried. “I figure we’ve five minutes tops to get to the car and out of here.”

”Lucky we’re only four floors up then,” Faith tersely responded as she started down, feet slapping on the steps as she descended, her considerably less fitter companions huffing and puffing behind her.

They spilled out into the hotel lobby, feet tapping on the polished marble floor. “Three and a half minutes left, people,” Xander worried.

”Jeez,” Faith groused as she started across the lobby. “We all got dressed in less than two minutes, most guys would be grateful with that.”

“Blood on the reception desk, get down!” Kennedy screamed.

***

“Fuck!” Faith twisted and leapt for the marbled floor, her uzi swinging up as the ‘receptionist’ brought up a sawn-off shotgun. Her finger squeezed the gun’s trigger, the sub-machine gun bucking slightly as hot lead spewed out to rip the man apart, his body shuddering as her gunfire connected with his chest and face, ripping flesh apart.

“Oh hell,” Faith glanced over her shoulder to see Xander diving behind and under the statue of the Arabian horsemen, bullets from a pair of gunmen hidden behind a pair of overturned chairs ricocheting off the statue. “Screw this,” Faith’s Slayer hearing heard her honey’s curse as he drew a grenade and underhand threw it at the men.

The grenade exploded in a storm of flames, flinging the two men and their makeshift furniture into the air. “Glad that’s over with,” Faith muttered as she leapt up and grabbed Tara and Kennedy, pulling them both to their feet, “good call on the blood. Now move!”

* * *

Xander jumped in their rental, tyres screeching as he reversed out of their parking spot. “Just over a minute before the police get here,” he muttered.

”Then stop watching the time and drive!” Faith snapped.

”Yes dear,” Xander murmured. His girl-friend sure got tetchy when people shot at her. Dust was spinning off his wheels as he speeded out of the car lot, yanking the wheel to the left as their rental speeded off down the road, the sound of fast approaching sirens ringing in their ears.

“Night in the car?”

Xander grimaced as he nodded at Kennedy’s query. “Yeah,” he turned left into an underground garage a dozen or so streets away from the hotel. “I’ll keep first watch,” he said as he pulled up into the darkened lot.

“Nah,” Faith shook her head. “I’ll take it.” Xander’s mouth opened. “Face it hon, you’ll be doin’ the driving tomorrow. Me, I don’t need as much sleep as any of ya.”

Xander nodded reluctantly. “When did you get all logical?”

Faith snorted. “I always was lover, ya were just too busy staring at my assets to notice. Now, sleep.”

Xander groaned as he awoke, eyes reluctantly opening. Those self-same eyes widened when they fell upon his watch. “Faith!” he looked towards his girl-friend. “I’ve been asleep for six hours, you could have wakened me!”

“Could have.” His girl-friend shrugged unrepentantly. “But I didn’t, ya needed the sleep, I didn’t. I’ll snooze in the back on the humvee. ‘Sides,” Faith winked teasingly, “who’s the cutest little boy when he’s sleepin’?”

Xander coughed, cheeks reddening as he fled the argument. “Okay,” he looked over his shoulder to the two wakening girls. “We should head off to my contact.”

“Screw that!” Xander looked towards Faith. “Hey, I don’t need sleep, but I do need food!”

“Fine,” Xander pulled out some family sized bags of Doritos and started passing them around while also pushing the keys into the ignition.

“Junk food?” Faith groaned. “Last night we were eating at the best Italian restaurant in the city, and now we’re eatin’ processed crap?”

“Sorry but stopping at a gourmet chef isn’t exactly feasible,” he retorted.

”Can’t you keep one in the Always Pocket?” Kennedy queried.

“There’s that all needing to breathe thing is a problem,” Xander tartly replied as he drove the car out, eyes blinking slightly at the unaccustomed light, “that and you know, keeping prisoners.”

“Tsk,” Faith shook her head. “He’d be honoured to serve a trio of banging babes and their crony.”

”Wait, I’m your crony?”

“What hadn’t you noticed?” Faith winked at him before sobering. “This guy we’re getting the hummer from how do ya know him?”

“I don’t,” Xander replied, “but I’ve had Elektra, Quick, Lennox, Hunt, and Lyle working on a list of contacts who did work for them in their days abroad, so if we’re in a foreign country and need something, we have a contact. This man is supposed to a wizard at getting hold of stuff.” Xander grimaced. “For the money I’m paying he better be.”

* * *

The door to the warehouse swung open at Xander’s third knock. The man stood there was short and thin, with nervous eyes and tightly curled black hair. “Who are you?” The man’s eyes seemed to be constantly moving.

Xander looked towards the man. “Chris Randle sent me,” using the name Preston Lennox had given him.

“Ah,” the man smiled nervously. “Then you best come in.” The Arab’s eyes widened as Faith and the others followed him. “Oh my.”

“You’ve got my hummer and GPS?”

Gabir Neebeh nodded tightly, eyes shooting from each of Xander’s companions. “You have my money?”

Xander produced and opened a briefcase. “Four hundred thousand American dollars.”

“H…..here are your keys.”

“Thanks,” Xander caught the keys flung to him. “I assume you understand the need for -.”

“Secrecy?” the man nodded. “My business would die without it.”

“Good.” Xander stared at the polished black car. What he wanted most of all was a shower and a set of clean clothes, especially after the previous night’s carnage and before a journey through a mercilessly sunny desert. But last night’s attack probably meant there were other players in the game and meant there was no time to waste. He looked back towards the man. “The fuel cans?”

“Four in the back,” Gabir replied, “as you asked.”

“Good.” He wouldn’t actually need them, not with The Always Pocket, but he didn’t need to raise questions of just how far he’d travelled without any petrol. “We’ll be off then.”

***

“Whoa!” gasped Tara.

”Wow!” whispered Kennedy.

”Holy shit,” came from the infinitely more earthy Faith.

“Yeah,” Xander stared at the city. It had been hours in the baking sun, doggedly following their GPS to Iram’s location. But now they were here and it was definitely looked to be worth the effort.

In many places, the once-mighty wall encircling the city had been pulled down by the vines that had had grown unhindered in the eons since the metropolis’ mysterious disappearance. Even the previously stout watchtowers were in poor repair, roofs sagging under the weight of the ages, huge holes gaping in decaying battlements, and the once-lofty spires leaning drunkenly. The city’s gates had fallen, instead a gap wide enough for a score of men to march through stood in their place.

Xander swallowed his trepidation down deep, heart thumping as he pulled the car to a halt just by the gate. “Tara, is there anyway you can hide the car from view?”

The witch nodded. “I’ll do a glamour, but park it away from the gate so no-one’s likely to bump into it.”

”Cool,” Xander looked towards Faith. “You take over the wheel, I’ve got to set something up.”

”Somethin’ like what?” demanded his always nosy girl-friend. Xander just winked as he slid out of the car and hurried up the dunes they’d just driven down. “XANDER!”

Upon his return he was hit by a bombardment of questions which he ignored while turning to the city. “I can’t wait to see what’s in there, what about you?” Faith reluctantly clammed up when faced with the age-old mystery of Iram. “Come on then.” He pulled out a shotgun for himself and threw Kennedy a pair of Berettas, and Faith the same. “I’ll go first, Faith you take the rear. I figure we’ll head to the centre, place the Wrathful Energy there then get out.”

Broken and chipped paving stones crunched underfoot as they crept through the deathly silent city, evil-looking weeds sprouting out through the road tiles’ cracks. The hairs on the back of Xander’s neck prickled as he felt a cold finger run up and down his spine. Not even a wind could be heard whistling through the grand stone columns lining the nameless metropolis’ main road. The metropolis was broken as if a giant foot had attempted to stamp it out of existence. A chill ran down his spine as he realised that not so much as a bird moved in the ruins.

Resisting the urge to shudder, he continued his inspection of the city. Long-dead weeds hung from cracks in the wall and pavement. Most of the buildings looked to have caved-in roofs, while piles of rubble from the city’s walls and buildings spilled out onto the streets, sometimes entirely blocking the road. Yet despite the surrounding destruction, any of lingering doubts about the city’s history and former greatness died when he looked around. There was a rusted bronze fountain at every intersection, still magnificent despite the many years since they’d had spouted water and the dead weeds littering the ground around them. Daunting stone columns lined the road, although they’d frequently crumbled and fallen across the road. The cracked pavement tiles were some of the finest workmanship Xander had ever seen. Most breath-taking of all however, were the multi-coloured domes of the city’s seven palaces. “What sort of city needs seven palaces?” Faith asked.

Xander cast his girl-friend a wry glance before replying. “From all I’ve read, Iram was the time’s foremost magical centre. And as we all know mages,” he winked at Tara, “have massive egos, the bigger the more power they have.”

“Hey!”

“I was talking about Doc Strange,” Xander grinned at the witch. Tara glared suspiciously at him. “When Iram’s king created an open house for mages, the six most powerful all insisted on equal status with one another and the king. Each sorcerer would not allow himself to be upstaged by another in any part of their life, be it women, spells, or riches. If one wizard had a mansion, another would have a castle, if one had a castle, another had a palace. One of the palaces you see belongs to the king, the others to the most powerful of the competing mages.”

“Geez,” Faith said without a note of sarcasm, “imagine having an ego like that?”

“Yeah,” Kennedy snorted. “Imagine.”

“Any idea on what sort of dangers we’re gonna face?” Faith queried.

”There’s rumours but nothing concrete past the fall,” Xander replied as they passed over a rounded bridge over a long dried-up river.

“You must know somethin’?” Faith pressed.

“I’ve done some reading,” Tara put in. “It’s rumoured that Iram’s wizards broke the laws of magic, summonsing demons. Then there were the sorcerers’ creations, some the melding of criminals with animals. Yet still other beasts were the creations of truly warped imaginations, like the sewer rats that were mutated to the size of dogs and trained to attack any intruding army unfortunate enough to breach the other defences.”

“Man,” Faith cast a furtive glance left and right, “cheery.”

Xander looked around. In what must once have been a bustling market-place, there stood a gold statue of a helmeted warrior horseman while they’d just passed the entrance of what must have been a theatre where there stood a silver statue of a winged horse.

“There were other magics too. Magical traps to ensnare invaders.” Tara continued as they climbed over a fallen column. “It’s rumoured they created a battle-fury which they used to make Iram’s mortal warriors feared across the region. One of the most terrifying successes was The Shadow Of UnReason.”

“Like I said, cheery.” Faith looked towards the witch. “The Shadow Of UnReason?”

“A spell created so that the merest touch of its shadowy being would drive the person touched by it utterly, irretrievably insane. It was created by a mage by the name of Gausto Rublo to send against an invading force before they even reached the city’s walls. Since Iram’s collapse, it lumbers unseen in the shadows waiting for night when it comes out to roam the streets seeking more victims. Even demons avoid The Shadow.”

“Lovely,” Kennedy muttered.

“Hey, you chose to date one of these nut-jobs,” Faith winked at Tara. “You can protect us from this though?”

Tara shrugged. “I think it’d be smarter to be out of here by night.”

Xander looked up at the darkening sky. “We don’t have much more than a couple of hours.”

”Give it an hour, drop the Wrathful Energy and then hustle back to the car then?” Faith suggested.

Xander nodded slowly. An hour would have them just out of the city by dusk. “That make-.”

“Shit!” Faith’s panicked shout had him spinning to face his girl.


***

Faith’s eyes shot left and right as they crept through the darkened city, the unearthly stillness lying heavy on her chest. This place was wicked creep-.”

”Shit!” Faith let out a shocked cry when a door to her left exploded open, a myriad of oily black tentacles erupting from it. Faith gasped as two grabbed her ankles and yanked her from her feet.

Faith hit the unyielding tiles with a grunt, briefly seeing stars as her head bounced off the ground. And then she was being dragged towards the monster’s mammoth head, a monstrous green-scaled thing that came up to her shoulder and was dominated by a solitary glowing eye situated beneath a curved upwards horn and above a doorway-sized mouth filled with finger-length teeth.

It definitely looked like she was dinner.

”Fuck that!” Heart pounding, Faith sat up and started unloading her two automatics into the beast even as it dragged her towards it.

Her stomach hollowed and twisted as round after round bounced off the monster’s shell-plated head. She looked towards Xander in time to see another one of the beast’s tentacles smash into his chest and knock him on his ass as he rushed towards her. Like he had problems, she was first course. “XAN!” she yelled as she reached the house’s doorway, dropping her automatics in favour of grabbing hold of the door-frame. “Shotgun with explosive shells now!”

Sweat formed on her brow as she struggled to hold onto the doorframe, teeth clenched with effort and arms feeling as if they were being pulled out of the socket as the monster slobbered and squirmed, her nostrils filling with its depths of hell stench, its gaping maw less than a foot away from her feet. And then the wood she was clinging so desperately to began to splinter. “Oh fuck me!”

“Catch!”

Her right hand swung up at Xander’s bellow, snatching the flung weapon out of air, sitting up and tugging on the trigger. The Mossberg bucked in her hand and then the shell hit the monster square in the eye.

“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

The monster’s eye exploded outwards, showering her in slime as its tentacles thrashed wildly around, flinging her into the air. “Fuck!” Faith grunted as she crashed into the wall opposite and slid down it to the ground, the beast’s wild thrashings dying as she put another couple of rounds into it.

“Jesus,” Faith clambered to her feet, the monster’s dying screeches ringing in her ears, “only my laundry-man will know just how scared I was.” Faith looked towards Tara. “Hey, sis where’s the love? Why didn’t you mojo it?”

“I tried,” Tara replied, “the creature was too crazed with hunger to notice.”

“Jesus,” Faith shook her head. “Anyway, I need a change of clothes, Xan?”

* * *
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