“Hey,” Faith hurried into their bedroom. “We got here as soon-.” SMACK! Faith stepped when Tara leapt up and slapped her across the face. “Jesus, sis!”
“How could you!” Tara screamed, tears glistening in her eyes as she stuck her face in Faith’s. “You always have to push her don’t you? Are you happy now! Is this what you wanted?”
”Whoa, whoa,” Faith stepped away from the angry witch, hands raised in supplication and blood burning. The slap hadn’t hurt, but still, Tar had no right to lay one on her. “Just chill-.”
”Chill!” Tara advanced on her. “Kennedy could be dead now! And I love her! But you didn’t like her, so you just had to-.”
”Hey!” Faith snapped, her own temper going from barely under control to thermo-nuclear in just a few seconds. “So I don’t like her, don’t mean I wanna have her dead! And ‘nother thing-.”
“Faith, Tara,” Xander took his life into his own hands by stepping between the two of them, “all this screaming isn’t achieving anything but giving me a headache. If we’re to help Kennedy, we need a plan.”
“I’ve an idea,” Faith broke off from glaring at Tara to look towards Xander.
“Oh great,” Tara grunted, “another one. The last one worked out so well.”
”Listen!” Faith snapped, eyes glittering, “do ya wanna hear this or not?”
“I do,” Xander quickly interjected.
”You mentioned Lorne read some sort of demon that told him all about this shit,” Faith suggested. “Maybe they have more information to give if asked nicely.” Faith smirked. “Or asked nastily, whatever it takes.”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded, her lover’s brow creasing in thought. “Tara,” Xander passed the witch a laptop. “Research Deklas. I’ll phone Lorne ask him if he knows where the clan hides out. And Contessa, can you ask your contacts?”
”What do I do?” Faith queried.
Tara scowled at her as she sat back, the steel-grey laptop already opened. “Haven’t you done enough?”
Faith’s mouth opened then clamped back down, lips arranging themselves into a forced smile. Sis was just upset, was all.
* * *
Kennedy groaned, her head swimming as she raised it off the cold damp floor. “She’s awake!” gasped a voice.
”I’ve got eyes Amanda,” snapped another voice, its loudness grating on her like distortion off hi-fi speakers.
“Please,” Kennedy winced as she forced herself up into a seating position, eyes blinking as she forced them to focus, “don’t shout.”
The first thing she noticed, was her uniform, a black and grey jumpsuit, the second was her companions, a dozen or so girls of around the same age and wearing the same outfit as her, the third was their surroundings, a dank and dark stone-walled cell. Kennedy grimaced as she looked around and recalled losing her locket. “Looks like it’s up to me to get us out of here,” she muttered.
“Escape?” A black girl with dreadlocks shook her head. “We can’t escape, there’s no escape!”
“Yeah?” Kennedy rose and eyeballed the dreadlocked girl. “That was before, but now I’m here!”
* * *
“Okay, thanks, Lorne,” Xander hung up his cell and looked around, “we’ve got an address. Tara, any information?”
“Deklas,” Faith noted how Tara was studiously avoiding meeting her gaze, “are largely sedentary and nocturnal demons without much fighting skill. They do have one power though that they use to defend themselves against an attacker. They secrete a scent that can cause a variety of emotions in their attacker including fear, nausea, lethargy, and others.”
“How we gonna grab one without getting zapped?” Faith queried.
Xander smiled tightly. “We pull an Odysseus.”
“A what now?” Faith queried with a furrowed brow.
“Um, in Homer’s Odyssey he relates that the Greek sailor and hero, Odysseus was curious just what the Sirens sounded like, so, on Cicre’s advice, he had his sailors plug their ears with besswax before tying him to the mast and ordering his men to leave him tied to the mast, no matter how much he would beg. When Odysseus heard the sirens’ song he ordered the sailors to untie him but they stuck to their orders. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus demonstrated with his frowns to be released.” Xander explained. “If we still beeswax up our noses, that should stop the Deklas from infecting us.”
“I didn’t know you’d read the classics,” Tara softly commented.
“Eh, no,” Xander flushed slightly, “I watched a HBO TV-movie a few years ago.” Faith snorted.
”It might work,” the Contessa commented. “And while we’re there, we should ask why they’re involved in this scheme.”
”Sounds like a plan,” Faith agreed. “Let’s get a move on.”
* * *
“You want to do the ‘she’s ill gag’?” The girl who’d identified herself as Rona shook her head. “That’s really cliché!”
“It’s cliché for one very good reason,” Kennedy hissed. “Because it works!” Kennedy laid down on her side. “Tell them I’m choking!”
Rona shook her head as she stood. “If only,” the African-American muttered.
”Hey!” Kennedy hissed. “I heard that.”
“Shut up,” Rona warned. “I’m knocking.” The black’s fist slammed repeatedly into the stout door. “Help! Help! The new girl, she’s choking!”
After a few seconds a panel slid open in the door. “What’s the noise?” grunted a deep bass voice.
Rona blanched at the gruff voice but recovered quickly. ”The new girl, she’s having some sort of reaction to the drug, she’s convulsing,” Rona looked over her shoulder towards her and gasped, “she’s making gurgling noises.”
”Damn,” Kennedy heard the sound of a bolt being pulled back and then the door swung open, light from the outer corridor spilling in, “you girls back against the wall.”
Kennedy thrashed on the floor, dust billowing up from beneath her as the hefty six footer with a mini-uzi entered, dark eyes shooting left and right as he approached her. “Against the walls or I’ll put a cap in your ass-, ugh!” The man gasped when Kennedy locked her ankles around his left ankle and twisted, bone shattering with a sickening crack, the man pitching forward. “Fuck! My leg!” Kennedy rolled out of the way of the falling man, and then back towards the guard, driving a vicious elbow into the side of his head. The man grunted as she connected, her second assault giving her time on top of the dazed man. Before he’d chance to react she’d planted her knees in his upper back and wrapped an arm around his neck, pulling her arm up with her other hand. Kennedy grimaced as the man tensed and tried to push up, only to gasp when his injured leg forced him back down, the man’s struggles weakening as she choked him out.
“Wow,” gasped the red-head, “that was so cool!”
“Like watching Cynthia Rothrock,” agreed the tiny brunette know as Colleen.
Kennedy beamed inwardly at the praise as she rose, Rona rushing forward to help her search the man for keys. You didn’t train with the Slayer and the world’s most dangerous human warrior and not learn a few things. “Come on,” she exhorted. “We have to get out of here.”
“Come on, come on,” Kennedy exhorted as she led her companions out into the outer corridor, the corridor lit by flickering fluorescent lighting. “Damn,” Kennedy groaned as she noticed the ceiling’s CCTV cameras. “Come on, hurry before they see us!”
The group continued down the narrow passageway, their bare feet slapping against the hard cold floor. Kennedy’s heart dropped when a door ahead spun open and a trio of heavily-built men started out. “Back the other way!”
“There’s others behind us!” Amanda squeaked from the rear of their group.
”Great,” Kennedy muttered before looking towards Rona, “charge the first one.” The black looked at her as if she was nuts. “Just do it!” she hissed, “do you want to get out of here or not?”
”I really, really, hate you!” the black yelled before leaping forward, the head guard’s hand sweeping up to backhand her into the wall.
”Yeah,” Kennedy muttered as she darted forward the moment the man’s arm swung out, leaping shoulder-first into the man’s chest, “I get that a lot!” The man grunted and stumbled backwards then fell when she stuck her foot between and behind his legs. Kennedy leapt over the man the moment he crashed to the ground, then gasped when one of the two remaining guards pressed a taser into her belly. “Aaaaaah!” she screeched as electricity coursed through her, rattling her teeth and pitching her still shaking body to the ground.
“The rest of you, back to your cells. And there’ll be no supper for you tonight. Not her though,” the chief guard pointed his taser at her, “take her to the Nightmare Room.”
* * *
“Is that the Dekla?” Xander pointed at a short chubby demon a grey skin and three yellow eyes, the gills on both sides of its neck where it unleashed its various defensive scents from.
Tara nodded. “See the ridge of bone running across its forehead?” the witch continued before he had chance to speak. “That means it’s the tribe’s henchman.”
“Better and better,” Xander muttered before looking around. They were in an isolated part of Rome, a deceptively ordinary looking suburb relatively cut-off from the rest of the busy city. “Faith, I want you on sweep-up duty, make sure we’re not interrupted by anyone else,” Xander looked towards the Contessa, “Contessa, come with me. Tara, you’re on communications. Come on.”
* * *
Kennedy lay limply in her captors’ grips as they dragged her through their underground base’s tight passageways, her barely conscious body unable to resist thanks to the shock her nervous system had received, every inch of her cramping. “How long did the boss say she had to go into the hole?”
“Full day.” The duo stopped at a door, one of them releasing his grip on Kennedy’s limp body as he unlocked the door before grabbing her shoulder again, and pulling her inside, dumping her on the floor.
”Whoa, a full day?” the other commented as they backed to the door. “That’ll fuck her up bad, none of them have done more than a couple of hours before.”
”She shouldn’t have tried to lead an escape then,” the second man replied as they stepped outside, the door slamming shut behind them.
Kennedy stared up blankly at the ceiling, still unable even to turn her head. Then her neck began to loosen and she began to look around. And then started to scream and scream, and scream.
* * *
Geruch backed into the darkened alley’s shadows as two humans entered the alley exit ahead of him, their arms wrapped around each other in easy familiarity. To further ensure they didn’t sense him, he sent out a lustful scent from his gills.
He gasped as the young man spun away from the woman, strode across the dirty alley and kicked his legs from underneath him. Geruch grunted as he hit the unforgiving concrete on his side, the young man’s foot slamming down hard on his neck before he had chance to even try recovering his senses. “My name’s Xander Harris,” the young man introduced himself, “but you probably know me better as Mithras.” Geruch let out a piteous moan as the young man of fast-becoming legend drew and pointed a sizable automatic at his head. “So with that in mind, you better answer my questions and fast.” Geruch let out some fear scent only for the young man to smile. “Where have you been taking the scents that you’ve been selling to the Immortal?”
Geruch swallowed at the mention of the mysterious Italian whose network had tendrils in every aspect of Italian society, mundane or otherwise. Telling himself that however fearsome Mithras was, he’d only be here temporarily, the Immortal’s presence was, well eternal, Geruch prepared himself to lie. “I…I don’t know-, aaaaah!” Blood spewed from his mouth when the youth crashed the gun butt into his jaw.
”Would it help,” the young man crouched before him, a cold look in his eyes, “if I told you that the Immortal has only recently kidnapped a friend of mine, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do, any length I wouldn’t go to to ensure her safety. And seeing as I know you’re involved, let me tell you I have no compunction about blowing a few holes in you.”
“I…if you kill me, you’ll never find out anything,” Geruch stuttered.
The young man smiled before pressing the automatic’s muzzle to Geruch’s knee. “Who said anything about killing you?”
“Wait! Wait!” Geruch squealed. “We take them to a place in the Appian Catacombs.”
“I’m waiting?” Xander nodded as he listened to Geruch clumsily give directions. “Good. And why are your scents so important to the Immortal?”
”I don’t know,” Geruch sobbed as the young man took the safety off. “I’m telling the truth! We take the scents to the Immortal’s men in jars, they’re using them to brain-wash their prisoners in some way.”
“Makes sense,” the slender woman spoke for the first time. “Maybe by stock-piling potentials, they’re hoping to increase their chances of having a trained Slayer should,” the woman hesitated, “should anything happen to Faith?”
”And maybe, they’re planning on making a play for my girl themselves.” Geruch wouldn’t have thought it possible for the young man’s face to darken still further but it did. “I’ll have to teach the Immortal the error of his ways.” Xander looked down at him. “If I ever see or hear of your people doing something like this again, I’ll hunt down every last one of you.” Xander looked towards his companion. “Let’s get out of here.”
Kennedy thrashed and writhed on the cold cell floor, her body jerking as the monsters ripped and tore at her, blood spraying everywhere as their mighty claws and vicious teeth ripped at her, shredding her. Then the wounds healed and the butchery began again. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
* * *
Faith’s skin crawled as she clambered into the darkened catacombs, her pencil torch illuminating the dusty mausoleums silently surrounding them. “It’s interesting how you find both pagan and Christian tombs together,” mused the Contessa in a whisper as they crept through the creepy underground, “it suggest a tolerance that we do not have today.”
”Yeah,” Faith shot the Italian jet-setter a sardonic look, “I bet the Christians thanked them a whole lot for their tolerance when they fed ‘em to the lions.”
”Will you two shut up!” snapped Tara, eyes shooting left and right, “we need to be quiet, we don’t want to alert the guards!”
Faith’s eyes narrowed. She knew the brat’s absence was worrying her sis, and she’d given her some slack, but that was fast running out. Xander nudged her as she opened her mouth to retort. She looked up to see her boy-friend shaking his head and clamped her mouth shut.
The group continued on in a hushed silence, passing between centuries-old tombs before coming to a halt at the edge of the last tomb, a stretch of twenty or so feet separating them from the two machine-gun wielding guards stood at the mouth of an arched-entrance. “That’s the passageway, just where the demon said,” the Contessa commented.
“Kinda pointing out the obvious aren’t you?” Faith looked towards Xander. “We could take them out from here, but that’d risk an alarm being set off.”
Xander nodded. “Tara, fade us out.”
The witch nodded, her brow furrowing. “You can go. But be stealthy, they can’t see you, but they will be able to hear you.”
“’Kay,” Faith stared doubtfully at the witch. She didn’t feel any different, but if Tar said she’d done it, she’d done it. “I’ll take the one on the left.”
“Sure.” Xander nodded before sinking into the darkness.
Faith took a breath when she stepped out beyond the tomb. When neither guard straightened from his slouch against the wall, she continued on her way, the tension easing from her frame, Xander sauntering alongside her. Suddenly she had the mad urge to stick her tongue out and flash the men opposite, but somehow she managed to resist it.
Xander reached the men just seconds before her, kneeing his man in the gut and karate chopping him to the back of his neck as he doubled up. Faith grabbed hers as he started to turn to face his fallen companion, wrapping her arm around his neck and choking him out in a few brutal seconds. “Spell’s gone.”
Faith spun to face Tara, brow furrowing. “How come I could see Xander and he, me?” Faith asked as they hurried through the tunnels’ entrance, grimacing slightly at the CCTV cameras there.
Tara shot her a disgusted look. “You were working together, of course you had to be able to see one another.”
“Oh yeah,” Faith nodded thoughtfully, “hadn’t thought of it like that.”
”Of course you hadn’t,” Tara snapped.
Xander’s hand clamping over her mouth prevented her angry retort. “Let’s get moving before help comes.”
* * *
“Yes my dear,” the Immortal murmured to the entranced beauty, his hand gently tousling her auburn locks as they spilled out onto her creamy-white shoulders, “I have never met such-.” He looked away at the distracting ring of his mobile. Smothering an unuttered curse beneath a smile, he picked his cell off his bedside. “Hello.”
“Sir,” the man at the other end appeared to verbally start at his snap. “The tunnels are under attack! Three women and a man!”
“Three women and a man,” Eterno’s heart chilled. It couldn’t be, the Mithras Quartet? “I’m on my way.”
* * *
Xander ducked his head around the corner. A trio of guards were stood by the prisoners’ cell, their hands stuffed in their pockets. This should be -.
“Spoke too soon.” Xander groaned as a pair of guards rushed around the corner at the far end of the corridor, the others straightening at their arrival.
”I throw in a couple of flash-bangs, you slaughter them with a mini-gun?” his increasingly cold-blooded girl-friend suggested.
”Yeah,” Xander muttered as he passed the flash-bangs over. This wasn’t the time to get fancy, in the corridor’s tight confines, the men wouldn’t have a chance, but they’d picked their job, the kidnapping and imprisonment of innocent girls. It was an ugly world made even uglier by their actions. “On three. One, two, three!”
As he shouted the ‘three’, Faith flung the grenades down the corridor, falling to the ground by the quintet’s feet. There was a split-second as the quintet looked down at the cone-shaped projectiles. And then the grenades exploded, filling the narrow passageway with light and sound. His own ears thumping and eyes watering slightly even at a distance of twenty feet, Xander pulled out and pointed his mini-gun, finger pressing on the trigger, the gun jumping in his grip, shoulder reverberating with the rapidly-repeated blowback.
By the time the flash and noise had dissipated, all five men were lying on the ground, the ground beneath them slicked with blood, their bodies torn apart, and their eyes staring lifelessly up at the ceiling. Xander felt bile rise in his throat at the carnage he’d inflicted. Sometimes, his world was a very merciless place.
“Come on,” Faith hurried down the corridor, a single kick from his girl-friend flinging the door open. “Shit!” Faith cursed as she peered inside the inky room. “No brat.” Faith gestured towards the girls. “Move!” Faith grabbed the first girl out of the cell, a dreadlocked black. “Where’s Ken?”
The girl blanched at Faith’s tone. “They took her to the Nightmare Room.”
“Sounds cosy,” Faith growled. “You take me there.”
”N…no,” the black shook her head.
”Weren’t a request,” Faith snapped before looking at him. “I’ll get the brat, you get the rest out.”
Xander hesitated then nodded, now wasn’t the time to be arguing. “Good luck.” He threw his girl-friend a Berretta.
Faith winked. “Right back at ya.”
* * *
“Is that is?” Faith nodded at the black girl’s frightened nod. “So you go in there and you have like nightmares?” Rona nodded again. “’Kay.” She looked at the guard sat in the chair beside the door and shook her head. After the slaughter at the other prison she didn’t have the heart for another massacre right now. “Here, take this.” She passed the gun to her companion. “Anything goes wrong, put a cap in his ass.”
“I don’t know how to shoot,” Rona whispered as she stared with horror at the gun.
”Just point and squeeze, ain’t brain surgery.” Faith burst from the shadows, legs flowing and arms spinning as she sprinted towards the man. She’d covered ten metres, a third of the way, before he registered her presence, another ten by the time he’d stood, the moment he reached for his gun she left her feet and dived head-first at him. The top of her head cracked into his face, shattering his jaw, and sending teeth and blood flying, the man falling back into his seat, the wooden chair collapsing beneath him as he hit the
“Oww,” Faith rubbed her head as she stood. That hurt more than she’d imagined, but it had had the expected effect. A single kick sent the door flying. Faith wrinkled as she peered in to find Kennedy lying at the far end of the darkened room, tears streaking her cheeks, eyes wild and unfocussed, and drool running down her mouth as she screamed continually. “Wow, are you having a bad make-up day.”
Faith started into the room. And then it hit her, a wave of unadulterated terror that took her legs from under, the swarthy face of her mom’s pimp appearing before her, laughing as he discussed with Kaktosis and Roger Whyndham-Pryce to break her. “Noooooo!”
* * *
Xander ignored his worry about his girl-friend as he pushed his companions out of the tunnels, they’d left the Immortal’s compound behind but were still in the eerie catacombs. “Mr. Harris,” a voice purred out of the darkness. “Your actions here have cost me a considerable amount of money, but there is a considerable fortune on your head, ten million at last count.”
“The Immortal?” Xander queried as he turned to face the speaker, conscious that Tara and the Contessa were getting the girls further and further away. The sharp-featured man smiled and nodded. “You want to collect, all you have to do is take my head.”
Faith stared down fearfully at the three men surrounding her as she hung naked from the ceiling, her body lathered in sweat and filled with a sickening combination of fear and pain. Her eyes were unable to pull away from the poker that Marco was currently heating up in the furnace.
“Thank you my good man,” the air sizzled as Roger took the poker from her mom’s old pimp, held it up in the air and stepped towards her, a vicious grin on his bearded face. “This is going to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me.” The Englishman thrust the poker at her, ramming its heated point through her left hip, soft flesh ripping before it.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” She screamed as pain blazed through her leg, her limb weakly thrashing, the chains jangling with her swinging. The wound cauterised the moment the red-hot poker was pulled out, her nose filling with the sick stench of her own burning flesh. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”
“She seems to have little pain tolerance.”
“Yes,” Roger Whyndhm-Pryce nodded at Kaktosis’ boomed comment, “she’s quite pathetic for a Slayer. Now, pass me that bike chain, I’ll see what I can do to her ribs.”
Slayer? Faith’s eyes slowly opened, something pulling her away from her torturous ordeal. That’s right, she wasn’t a victim, she was the Slayer, and this wasn’t real.
Faith took a shuddering breath as she realised she was still clothed, but lying in a foetal ball in the middle of the cell. Looking around, she saw Kennedy hadn’t moved from the position when she’d last seen her. “Crap,” Faith muttered as she forced herself up to her feet, head reeling as she forced the hallucinatory images away. More than anything she wanted to run, but she had to get to Kennedy.
* * *
“So you’re the Immortal?” Xander stared at the immaculately suited man. “I assume you’re not a vampire?”
“No, nothing so mundane,” the brilliance of the man’s smile cut through the darkness. “I was a nobleman in the early thirteenth century and as was my right I squired a young lady. Unfortunately her father was a rather powerful mage who protested the deflowering of his daughter and cursed me to immortality.”
”You seem to be doing alright off it,” Xander commented as he drew his own short sword, a twin to the one the Immortal carried.
“I’ve lived for centuries, won and lost half a dozen fortunes, studied the fighting arts of Africa, Europe, and the Orient,” the Immortal obliquely replied. “I’ve studied the mystic arts with the druids of England, the Voodoo witch-doctors, the North American shamen, and the Romany gypsies. I’ve made and broken kings-.”
“Yeah,” Xander continued to circle the man, “and what were your plans for the potentials?”
”I assume because you’re here you’ve found about the Delkas’ involvement?” The Immortal preened at his curt nod. “I was given a contract to tame these potentials. It was simple system, built on three rooms. The normal room where they were usually kept which constantly had scents pumped into it that sapped their willpower. The Nightmare Room is where I sent any girl who disobeyed me, the scents of fear and pain were pumped into that room. Any girl who showed signs of becoming more obedient was placed in The Pleasure Palace for a few hours to encourage further good behaviour.”
Xander struggled to hold onto his temper. Not only had this bastard done this monstrously vile thing, he was actually smug about it. “So you’re immortal.” Xander affected a yawn. “Did you win all your fights by talking until your opponents died of old age?”
“No,” the Immortal shook his head, his spare hand coming up and throwing something in Xander’s face, “I cheat!”
* * *
Sweat streaked down Faith’s face, stinging her eyes as she swayed towards Kennedy’s convulsing body, forcing away the terror clawing at her. She was the mother-fuckin’ Slayer, she didn’t give into shit like that.
An angry snarl escaped her lips as she took hold of the trembling girl’s shoulder, receiving a backhand across the mouth for her trouble. “Fuck,” she grunted as blood’s salty taste filled her mouth. Telling herself the anger she felt was caused by the drugs being pumped into the room, she roughly grabbed the struggling potential and flung her over her shoulder.
The walk out was even harder than the walk in, her shaking legs almost buckling under on a number of occasions, but finally she made it, slumping against the outer wall as she gulped in air. “Jesus,” she looked towards Rona, Kennedy sobbing and mewling over her shoulder, “let’s get out of this fuckin’ madhouse.”
* * *
”Haaaa!” Xander wailed as his eyes seemed to erupt in fire, water streaming from them. Blind instinct saw him fling himself to the ground, the sound of the Immortal’s sword swishing through the air above telling him he’d made the right move. Xander blinked furiously, trying to clear his eyes of whatever had been thrown in them.
”A simple potion, taught to me by a Japanese mage.” Xander grunted as the Immortal crashed a foot into his ribs, knocking him on his back. “A trick they taught to the Ninjas,” Xander hissed as pain blazed through his scalp, the Immortal dragging him up to his knees. “Most disappointing,” the Immortal commented, Xander ignoring his pain as he tried to focus on his assailant’s voice. “I was led to believe you were far more formid-, ugh!”
“Didn’t I just tell you,” Xander thrust up with a dagger he’d just pulled out of the Always Pocket, “you talk too much?” He grimaced slightly as he felt the dagger shudder home, heard the man’s shocked gurgle, and felt something he knew to be blood splatter his face. Swallowing his queasiness down deep, he dragged his dagger across the shaking man’s throat, shuddering slightly at the knife slid out of flesh and sliced nothing but dank air.
“Ahhhhhh,” the Italian gurgled and then there was a thud as his corpse hit the ground.
Xander gritted his teeth as he looked around, his vision nothing but a swirling blur. He forced his terror under control. He’d just have to wait for Faith to turn up.
But what if she-. A low moan escaped him at the thought of his girl-friend being hurt and his own helplessness. Oh god, this was a mess. The seconds ticked by, Xander clawing around as he struggled to find the nearest tomb to pull himself up on, fear plastering him in sweat.
“What the fuck happened to ya?”
Xander grinned as he looked over his shoulder in the direction of his girl’s voice. “The Immortal threw something in my eyes that blinded me.”
”Bastard,” Xander heard the sound of his girl kicking something, he presumed it was the Italian’s severed head against one of the crypts, “Immortal, but not invulnerable hey? Fuck you! Hey Ron, ya help Xan up and guide him out, I’m kinda got my hands full with Ken.”
”What?” Xander looked around, cursing his eyes again. “What’s wrong with her?”
”Let’s just say the Nightmare Room is a real trip,” Faith let out a ragged chuckle. “She’ll be five by five though. And so will you once Tara’s seen ya.”
“What we gonna do about the gals?” Faith muttered as Tara rubbed some lotion in his eyes to make him see again. “And if you say take them with us, I’m getting’ ya one of those tags so I know where ya are at all times.”
Xander grinned at his girl-friend. “Feeling insecure are you?”
“I’ll be feelin’ yar balls rip off from yar body,” Faith briefly glared at him before turning serious. “Seriously?”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded. “I’ve thought of it.” Xander turned to the potentials, the girls coming to a stuttered halt, awe in their eyes. Xander coughed, uncomfortable with their admiration. “Do any of you girls have families to go home to?” Eight of the girls tentatively raised hands. “Good, we’ll organise some plane tickets home for you,” Xander smiled, “anyone ever flown first-class before?” He grinned at the girls’ faces before looking towards the others. “You’ve nowhere to go?”
Rona looked at her companions before shaking her head. “No.”
“Okay,” Xander groaned inwardly. He didn’t like to do this, it left them way too exposed, but neither could they handle a bunch of under-age teens trailing behind them. “I’ll send you all to the head Watcher in California-.”
“Hey!” Faith spoke up from behind him. “Can we send Ken with them?”
“No!” Tara snapped.
”Never mind,” Faith sighed, ”just a thought.”
* * *
“I trust the youngsters have been dealt with?”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded as he looked around the extravagantly decorated and furnished restaurant, because it was a lot less distracting than looking at the leather cat-suited beauty reclining cat-like on the sofa opposite them. The restaurant was supposedly the most exclusive place in the city, but the contessa had got them a reservation no problem. Perks of being old royalty he supposed.
Not that there was anything old about her.
“Excellent, please order, anything’s magnificent,” the contessa smiled.
“It certainly smells it,” Kennedy agreed as she snatched up one of the leather-bound menu.
“I’ll have pizza,” Faith shrugged.
Xander licked his lips. “Contessa-.”
“Please,” the Italian’s full lips parted in a smile, “Xander, please call me Val. After all we’re all friends here aren’t we?”
“Sure,” Faith did one of those barely tamed growls that always had him looking for the nearest exit.
Val by contrast appeared not to have noticed it. “But I apologise for interrupting, please go on.”
“Yeah,” Xander was as usual flustered in the presence of beauty. His girls didn’t count, well not really, he’d gotten used to them years ago. Wait, he winced inwardly, if Faith ever knew he’d just thought that…. Xander shuddered again. Realising his companions were staring strangely at him, he cleared his throat. “You’re a woman of great skill-.”
”Why Xander,” the Italian’s smile widened as she purred, “how nice of you to notice.”
Xander shrank deeper in his seat at Faith’s growl. His life and women were an endless nightmare. Nevertheless he persevered. “As a former SHIELD agent of high-ranking-.”
“My,” the Contessa’s smile was more appraising, “you have done your homework.”
“You’ve got a lot of experience in fields that are valuable to the Brotherhood – combat, tactics, strategy, leadership, and espionage,” Xander continued gamely on. “I was wondering if you’d be interested in leading a team. In addition to a one hundred and fifty million dollar trust fund, we offer back-up, arms and tech support, as well as intel.”
”Why,” the Contessa chuckled, “I thought you’d never ask. If Italy’s available, I’ll take it.”
“Well if I’d have gotten a word in edgeways, I’d have offered it,” Xander muttered before raising his voice. “Tara?”
Tara looked at her lap-top. “There’s two teams of eight in the Campaina region, three teams of seven in the Lazio region, three groups of ten in Lombardy, two teams of seven in Piedmont, and Apulia and Tuscany each have two groups of eight.”
“Thank you dear,” the contessa took the printouts as she supped thoughtfully at her wine. “That’s more than enough for a start.” The Italian looked up. “Now, to eat. I recommend-.”
* * *
Giles looked up at a knock at the door. After a quick glance through the window to check it was still sunlight, he hurried to the door, opening it to find a quintet of young girls stood on his doorstep. “Hello,” he politely greeted, “can I help you?”
“Yeah,” the group’s apparent leader, a dread-locked black aged around sixteen, glanced at a piece of paper and then at him, “are you Rupert Giles?”
“I am,” he confirmed, “and you are?”
“We’re potentials,” the African-American said, “we were kidnapped and being imprisoned by an Italian occultist.” Giles’ mouth opened and shut but no sound came out. “We were rescued by The Mithras Quartet, Mr. Harris paid for our tickets over here.”
Oh dear lord, his life had gotten somewhat more complicated. Giles took a moment to steady himself before speaking. “Very well,” he forced a welcoming smile. “Please, come in.”
* * *
“So that concludes the demonstration,” Brill said. “The suit has chips running through it that ‘see’ its surroundings and adjust its colouring accordingly. In addition, the suit can take a blast from a shotgun at a range of ten feet and is very resistant to both heat and cold. However too much damage to the suit will cause some or all of the camouflage chips to stop working, still it’s the lightest and most effective body armour in existence today. There were other features we were trying to incorporate into it, but they were either too costly or would add too much to the bulk.”
Xander looked at the suit laid out on the desk before him. “How much is it?”
“It costs two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars an unit to make, that’s why the government walked away,” Brill replied.
“Start mass-producing them,” Xander decided. The inventor looked at him, surprised. “I’ll pay three hundred thousand dollars per unit.”
“How many do you want making?” queried Brill.
Xander took a breath. “Enough so we can suit up every member of the Brotherhood.” Nothing was too good, too expensive, for his people.
* * *
Illona gasped as a portal opened in her office. She’d been dreading this for the past few days. “Sir,” sweat beaded at the demon’s forbidding expression, “I’m sorry-, ugh.”
“No excuses.” Suddenly Izzerial had his hand around her neck, the feel of his leathery skin almost as terrifying as the look in his eyes. “We needed those girls, they were essential to our plans.” The demon lifted her out of her seat and started to drag her towards the simmering portal, its blackness somehow darker than midnight. “But we’ll have an eternity to discuss your failings.”
Community General Hospital
“Who’s this officer you want us to meet?” Xander asked as their group strode through the hospital’s automated glass door.
“He’s a friend,” Kate flushed slightly, “well ex boy-friend actually. He’s really capable, ex marine Recon, detective lieutenant of homicide, a ton of commendations and citations. He’ll be a great fit for the group.”
Faith kept her mouth shut and her hands in her pockets as she slouched into the brightly lit hospital. Her nose wrinkled, a chill hand sliding up her back at the familiar antiseptic stench and the memories it brought back. She’d had plenty of hospital visits as a kid, dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs, that sorta thing.
Yeah, she’d been a real ‘clumsy’ child.
“Why do you think he’ll want to work for us?” Tara queried inbetween shooting her worried looks.
“We helped him with a case recently, it was a black arts mage committing murders to fuel a blood ritual, Steve thought he was a loon of course until we filled him in,” Kate paused. “He said he’d be interested in being his own boss but still being able to help people. He hates red tape.”
The quintet entered an elevator, Faith uncomfortably close to the cop. You didn’t grow up in her neighbourhood or spend time on the streets without gaining a real disdain for the 5-0. When the doors opened, she hurried out of the elevator.
Only to leap back when a white-coated, white moustached man flew past on a foot-scooter. “Sorry!” The man looked over his shoulder and beamed at her. “Must dash!”
Faith stared disbelievingly after the geriatric madman. “Who was that crazy fucker?”
“My father,” Faith looked up at the amused voice. Its owner was a tall, sandy-haired man with his hair parted down the middle, a lantern jaw, and a solid physique that belied his pushing fifty age. “I assume from Kate’s description you’re Faith.”
“Yeah,” Faith dazedly took the man’s hand and shook it. “Ya better get your pop before they catch up with him. I figure they don’t like people impersonating doctors.”
“They don’t.” The man chuckled. “Actually he’s Chief Of Internal Medicine.”
“Ya don’t say,” Faith replied. “Those medical degrees must be easier to get than I thought.”
Xander slapped his head and groaned while the man chuckled. “I’m Steve Sloan,” the man looked towards the rest of her group. “It’s good to see you again Kate.”
“And you,” the blonde replied.
Steve nodded. “If you come with me, I’ll take you to the doctor’s lounge.”
Faith looked to her right when she heard a crash in the distance. “Was that-?”
“My dad, yes.”
”Ah,” Faith nodded. “If he’s chief of internal medicine he must be eccentric.” Sloan stared at her. “Well if you’re like that and rich, you’re eccentric. If you’re like that and poor, bat-shit loco.”
“Oh,” Xander groaned, his smile becoming strained, “this lounge?”
* * *
Steve smiled as he led his friend and her young companions into the doctor’s lounge. This Faith was an undeniably beautiful young woman, but he also saw a lot in her that he’d seen in a lot of street kids, plenty of attitude to hide the fear and lack of love. Good kids really, but lacking that something, the guidance, to keep themselves on the straight and narrow.
Except this girl had somehow managed to not only escape that fate, but become a hero. It gave him hope for the rest, it really did.
“You understand,” he looked towards Xander who was talking, “while we appreciate you wanting to join the Brotherhood, there’s already a team in LA and Frisco. Unless you’re willing to move there’s nothing for you.”
“Kate,” Steve looked towards his ex, “explained about this Hellmouth thing, how it’s a magnet for demons, vampires, and black arts mages. If that’s so, surely California, considering both its size and the attraction to creatures of the night should have as much of protection as possible.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Xander replied. “But Gunn has L.A. pretty much under control and Burton’s got Frisco chained down.” Xander grinned and looked at Kate. “Unless they’re both exaggerating on their reports for brownie points with the boss!”
“What about San Diego?” Steve queried. “There’s over two and half million people in San Diego County. I think they would appreciate some help.”
Xander raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure they would, but you’d have to move down there.”
Steve licked his lips, momentarily hesitating. Telling himself it wasn’t that far from his dad, he nodded. “That’s alright, I need a fresh start.”
Xander glanced towards Tara who nodded slightly. “Okay then,” the youth turned back to him, “what resources do we have in -.”
The door crashed open and his father rushed in. “Sorry Steve!” his father called as he rushed over to the lockers at the far side of the room, “I’ll only be a minute, then I’ll leave you in peace.”
“That’s fine, dad,” Steve wryly replied. “What’s the problem?”
“Jesse couldn’t make it today, rounds,” his father spun around, a feather boa around his neck, a red nose on his nose, and a very suspicious daffodil, it had to shoot water, in his jacket pocket, “and the children always like me to have an assistant while I do my tricks.” His father looked at Steve’s companions. “I’m sure one of you young ladies would love to help some children?”
“What?” Faith gasped as the doctor grabbed her as the one sat nearest and started pulling her to her feet. “You’ve got to be-.” The Slayer shook her head, eyes bemused. “Like I said,” Faith muttered as his father started dragging her to the door, “’eccentric’.”
* * *
Simmons licked his lips as he entered the darkened conference room, conscious of the tension in the air. He’d barely sat when FBI spoke. “You lost the Chameleon suit. We’d expended a considerable amount of money, resources, effort, and time trying to get a hold of that.”
Simmons hid a grimace at the reproach in the board member’s voice. “We’re fully covered, we used double-blinds, independent contractors, there’s no way to trace this back to us.”
“That’s not what he asked.” No reproach in DOD’s voice, just sheer anger. “He wants to know what you’re going to do about this botch of an operation?”
“Going to do?” Simmons did so hope that didn’t mean what he thought it meant.
“About the Mithras Brotherhood!” Simmons’ heart sank at CIA’s bark. Oh the bloody fools. “This is twice they’ve gotten in our way!”
Simmons shook his head. “We should be just grateful they haven’t realised that we exist, they’re a sleeping tiger we do not want to awaken!”
“You forget who we are,” scolded DOD. “We’re in charge of all this country’s unconventional warfare, the weapons that the government is too lofty to use!”
Simmons nodded slowly. That at least was true. The NID had been secretly set up in the late 30s when Hitler’s research into the occult had been discovered. Since then they’d been running black ops in the fields of the paranormal, magical, cybernetic, biological, and extra-terrestrial (although Roswell aside, that’d been a complete disaster). All told, they ran and provided funding for the Millennium Group, Unisol, the Initiative, Weapon X, and The Shop amongst other projects from behind the scenes. Not even the people ‘running’ these projects knew who they really worked for. “I suppose that’s a possibility.”
“Look into it,” DOD ordered.