Faith fought back a yawn as Wild talked into his cell. This wasn’t exactly what she’d figured when Xander had talked about going after Draco. Instead of kicking open doors and beating up low-life informants for information, they were waiting for Wild’s team to find where Draco was staying.
“Right,” Wild nodded, “great thanks. Now get your tails back here and make sure you’re not seen.” Wild turned to face them, a smirk on his face. “An armourer we use who lives on Roosevelt Road reports delivering a quartet of swords to a man answering Draco’s description at the Four Seasons.”
“That’s more like it!” Faith beamed.
“Good,” Xander looked more sober. “Thanks for your help, Wild. Faith and I will take it from here.”
Wild shook his head. “Damn it, Xander. I can have twenty men there in less than an hour.”
”This one’s kinda personal,” Xander rose, a grim look on his face. Wild’s mouth opened even as his eyes narrowed. “I want you to ready your men, if something comes up with Lilly’s scanner, I want them ready. Come on,” Xander looked at her, “this bastard tried to break us up, he tried to ruin us. I want to make him pay.”
“Holy shit,” Faith craned her neck as she peered up at the looming skyscraper, implacable in the Chicago skyline. “This place is tall.”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded as he looked around. “This is the Magnificent Mile. It contains a mixture of upscale stores, resteraunts, financial services companies and hotels catering almost exclusively to affulent tourists and locals. And as for this,” Xander joined her in looking up, “this is 90 North Michigan Avenue, the hotel is on the 30th to 46th floors.”
“Fuck,” Faith shook her head. “If the elevator is out I’m going to be seriously pissed.”
Xander grinned at her. “You’re forgetting that when people are this rich, they tend not to have walk stairs.”
”Yeah,” Faith nodded. “And the damn things won’t break down for the rich.”
“Come on,” Xander started through the skyscraper’s entrance. “If anyone asks, I’ll just tell them I bought you from an Arab sheik.”
“Heh,” Faith glared at her boyfriend, “I was figuring my cover story would be you’re my bit of rough gigolo.” Faith grimaced as she noticed something. “There’s a lot of CCTVs here, Xan.”
Xander nodded. “I see them, but it can’t be helped. We know Draco is here, so we have to hit him now.”
”Five by five,” Faith affected a casual swagger as they strolled across the lobby and towards the sweeping stairs at the back. All around was gleaming French deco in a creamy finish with gleaming chandeliers dangling from the arched ceiling and palm trees lining the walls. “Like I said, better be a lift.”
“Lazy little Slayer aren’t you?” sniped Xander.
Faith raised an eyebrow. “Hey ya wanna fight after walking up forty flights of steps?”
“Point,” Xander conceded before nodding towards the left of the stairs. “They’re over there.”
* * *
The moment they were in the elevator, Faith took her leather jacket and threw it over the CCTV camera. Xander looked towards her and licked his lips. “I kinda think we should concentrate on the job in hand, but okay.”
“Mind out of the gutter, Harris.” Faith shook her head. “Jeez, talk ‘bout one track. I wanna Berretta and a sword.”
“Oh,” Faith chuckled at her boy-friend’s flush. “Good idea.” Xander hurriedly passed her the requested weapons. “There you go.”
“Thanks.” Faith grabbed her leather jacket and hurriedly put it on as the elevator came to a halt. She peeked out as the elevator’s doors glided soundlessly open. “Rooms eight and ten right?”
“Yeah,” Xander started down the corridor, eyes shooting left and right.
“I’ll take room eight,” Faith said.
“Cool,” Xander took a breath. “They had better have got the rooms right.”
“This could get embarrassing otherwise,” Faith commented.
”Oh yeah,” Xander agreed.
”Like more embarrassing when you cast a love spell. Or when we first had sex. Or-.”
“Faith,” Xander shook his head. “Shut up.”
“Jeez, you just know how to make me moist with your sweet-talkin’,” Faith stopped. “These are the rooms.”
“Yeah,” Xander stepped in front of his door. “On three.”
“One, two, three!” Faith’s foot splintered into the door, the door crashing to the floor.
The two men laid on the room’s pair of beds began to leap up, their swords seemingly jumping into their hands. The silenced phuft of her Berretta echoed twice, her two rounds splattering into the nearest swordsman’s chest, blood blossoming as he slumped back on the bed.
And then the other man was charging her, teeth bared in a grimace as his sword slashed the air. Faith quickly holstered her gun while pulling her short sword up. Their swords clanged together as Faith pushed forward on her front foot, muscles writhing as she forced the man back.
The man responded with a counter-lunge that Faith slid inside before slashing at her rival with a back-handed swipe that her enemy ducked under. Faith swayed away from an up-swinging thrust, her knee coming up into the man’s crotch.
The swordsman grunted as he started to double up, Faith’s sword flashed down to rip through the back of his neck and take his head off his shoulders. Blood showered out of the man’s neck, spraying the wall opposite. Faith climbed over the twitching corpse as she headed back through the door. “Shit!” Faith cursed at the sound of the sirens going off.
* * *
The moment he was through the door, Xander shot the first of the two men square in the head, the shot blowing the back of the man’s head off, splattering his brains against the wall. Even as the man slumped against the wall, Draco was on him, sword flashing at his head while his hook uppercutted at his jaw. Xander leaned away from both while simultaneously kicking at the Immortal’s legs. The Immortal stumbled backwards then came back in, Xander catching him with a half-leap kick that knocked the centuries-old warrior back and over a table before rolling back up in time to block Xander’s attempt at a decapitation.
Draco leapt up, crashing a shoulder into Xander, the slighter man spinning off him and attempting a cross-body swing that Xander parried while delivered a stunning hook to the jaw. Draco stumbled backwards, eyes glazing slightly as he instinctively leaned away and under another sword slash.
“Ahh!” Xander grunted as pain blazed across his chest as Draco slashed his hook across his belly. Ignoring the hurt, Xander crashed into the man, knocking him into the wall before grabbing the man’s hair and shoving him to the ground.
The immortal rolled away from Xander, flashing his sword as he blocked Xander’s attack. The immortal grunted as he caught a kick in the belly, doubling him up.
And then Xander’s blade flashed down, taking the immortal assassin’s head off through the back of his neck Lightning flashed out of the decapitated corpse’s severed neck, energy crackling in the air. Xander spun around as the door swung open, relaxing slightly until he noticed the worry in Faith’s dark eyes. “What’s up?”
”Can’t you hear those goddamn alarms?” Faith growled. “The pigs are on their way!”
“Damn,” Xander looked around, a wild idea striking me. “Help me tie the bedsheets together, we’ll swing down-.”
”Do I look like maid service?” Faith snapped.
”There’s an image-,” Xander muttered.
”Focus Harris!” His girl-friend snapped. ”Get one of your grappling hooks and tie it around the bed’s leg.”
“Oh,” Xander pulled out a hook, feeling foolish for having forgotten about the Always Pocket. “Good point.”
Faith paused, worry filling her eyes. “No way that’s gonna get us to the ground.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Xander winked. “Just four floors down.”
“Four floors?” Faith stared at Xander. “Are you fuckin’ crazy?”
“Probably,” Faith didn’t like Xander’s grin at all. “Tie this for me.” Xander threw her his grappling hook. Faith crouched down by the side of the bed nearest the window and quickly tied the grappling hook around one of the bed legs.
While she was doing that, her boyfriend shot at the window, the toughened glass cracking but not breaking. Then he shot again, the window exploding outwards.
”Jesus!” Faith gasped as the wind grabbed her, its howling deafening and its gusting force almost dragging her from her feet.
”Here,” Xander beckoned to her as he tied the rope around his waist. “Grab a hold.”
“Anywhere in particular?” Faith queried as she hurried over, grabbing Xander around the waist in a bear hug. “For the record this is not a good ideaaaaaaaaa!”
Faith’s comment was lost in her scream as Xander leapt out of the window. The wind gusted around them as they plummeted, then the rope pulled tight, pulling them back up like puppets. Then they crashed into a hotel window, Xander kicking off as he pulled out his gun and fired.
BANG! The window cracked but didn’t break, even when they crashed back into it, Faith kicking hard at it. The moment they were the maximum distance from the window, Xander fired again.
The window imploded in a shower of glass, leaving them free to swing in and land on their knees in the thirty-sixth floor hotel room. Faith immediately released her grip on Xander’s waist. ”Now we’re inside, now what?”
Xander grinned at her. “Now we’re four floors lower than we were.”
Faith shook her head, Xander’s logic was unassailable. And then her boy-friend let out a gasp and suddenly started sliding towards the window. “What the fuck!”
* * *
“The bed!” Xander gasped as the rope pulled tight around his waist, threatening to crack his ribs. “It’s fallen out of the window!” He braced his feet on the window sill, arm muscles writhing and sweat beading down his forehead as he clung to the rope and fought to stay in the skyscraper. The rope burnt like acid poured onto his fingers as he clung to it, but he didn’t dare to ease his grip. “You need to cut the rope!” he gasped, breath coming in desperate pants like an almost finished marathon runner.
”Fuck!” Faith exclaimed, his girl-friend’s husky voice as close to panic as he’d ever heard it. “Cut it with what, Xan?”
Xander felt dots appear in front of his eyes as he pulled a K-Bar out of the Always Pocket. “This.”
“Thanks,” Faith scooped the knife up as it fell to the carpet, one effortless swing slicing the rope in two.
“Oh god!” Xander grunted as he hit the ground, taking his first breath in an apparent eternity. “I really need to think my plans out more,” he muttered as he unfastened what remained of the constraining rope that he was sure would have either sent him falling to his death or cut him in two in just a few more seconds.
“Tell me about it.” Faith peered out of the window and shook her head. “Jesus,” his girl-friend laconically commented. “That’s gonna make a mess of some poor bastard’s Merc.” Faith turned to him and helped him to his feet. “What next, oh sage leader?”
“Women,” Xander muttered, “isn’t there one of them who isn’t sarcastic?”
“Men, isn’t there one of them who’s incompetent?” Faith retorted. “Well?”
We’re four floors lower than where every one will be heading,” Xander replied. “We’ll just walk out.”
”Easy as that?” Faith commented as she strode to the door and peeked out.
”Well maybe not-.”
“Ah screw your plan,” Faith interrupted. “I gotta new one.”
* * *
“Where’s my room!” Xander weaved down the corridor, knocking over a table pressed against the wall. “I want my room!” Xander stopped in front of the barrel-chested cop and his shorter, slimmer partner before burping and leaning against the wall. “I wanna ask you a question!”
“I’m sorry sir,” the biggest cop couldn’t help but smirk. “But we don’t know where your room is. And you have to leave the hotel right now.”
”That wasn’t the question,” Xander grinned suddenly as his girl-friend appeared around the back of the distracted cops. “My question was,” he winced when Faith grabbed and cracked the pair’s heads together, the two cops slumping into his girl-friend’s arms, “Ibuprofen or Asprin?”
“Quit with the quips, asshat.” Faith shot him a world-weary look. “Help me get them in the closet across the corridor.”
“Sure,” Xander hurried across the passageway, kicked the door open, and hurried back, grabbing the two unconscious patrolmen by their legs and helped his girl-friend carry them into the closet, slamming the door shut behind them. “This idea was pretty good Faith,” Xander complimented his girl-friend. “No-one’s going to check two police officers walking out of the hotel.”
“Thanks,” Faith grinned at his praise before winking. “Hey just ‘cause we’re in a closet don’t mean ya’ve got licence to let your hands roam, I ain’t Queen C,” Faith snarked as she began changing into the smaller cop’s outfit. “’Spite rumours to contrary, this gal’s got some standards.”
”You know,” Xander flushed red, “whoever told you that you’re funny was lying.”
“Xan?” Faith looked at him and smirked.
”Yeah?” Xander hurriedly fastened the outfit.
“Let’s keep the outfits for later.”
“Late-.” Xander’s blush deepened as realisation hit. “Yeah, good idea.”
“But first,” Faith took a breath before peeking out, relieved that although the corridors was now awash with people, they were all too panicked to notice them exiting the closet. “We gotta get out of here.”
”We’ll have to take the stairs.” Faith groaned. “You know for a Slayer you’re surprisingly lazy.”
“Screw you Harris,” she retorted.
”Later and in that outfit definitely.” Xander continued without missing a beat. “But if we get in the elevator and turn off the power, we’re screwed.”
“Point,” Faith groaned again before sighing and putting on her aviators. “Come on.”
Tara rose as Xander and Faith hurried in through the base’s front entrance. “You’re all over the TV!”
“Did they get my best side?” Faith cockily queried as she and Xander sunk into two of the lounge’s comfy seats, the Brotherhood’s local members staring at the duo with predictable awe.
”Ha,” Kennedy taunted even as she rose and made her way over to the coffee machine to make the newly-arrived duo a drink, “in your case it’s not your best side, it’s your least offensive side.”
”Bite me, brat,” Faith flipped Tara’s girl-friend the bird.
“Good to see you made it,” Wild greeted as he walked in, “but you’d have had a lot harder time getting out of there if someone like myself had been running the crackdown.”
Faith smirked at the cop. “If it makes you sleep better at night, keep tellin’ yourself that.”
Wild’s mouth opened as a naggingly persistent beeping began. Everyone looked towards a paling Lilly. “It’s the Malus, something must be happening.”
Xander rose, ignoring his still aching ribs. “Let’s see where…”
* * *
“Ah!” Lilly exclaimed as she sat down and peered at the screen. “It appears the centre of the disturbance is at Lincoln Park.”
“Oh no, oh no.” Everyone turned to a suddenly pale Tara.
Xander groaned. “That expression and a double ‘oh no’, is never good, let’s hear it, Tara?”
Tara looked around the crowded room before looking back at him. “I was reading a travel guide on the plane over here. It said before Lincoln Park was built, it was the burial place for around four thousand Confederate prisoners of war who died at Camp Douglas, near the stockyards. The prisoners held there in 1862-65 died largely as a result of the terrible conditions of hunger, disease and privation existing at the camp.” The witch finished and stared expectantly at him.
Xander shrugged, not understanding the point the witch was driving at. “So?”
“So,” Tara looked impatient at him for not following her train of thought, but hey he was employed to do the heavy lifting, she was the thinker, “such a place where so many people who died in such a terrible way were buried is likely to be a dam of physic pain and anger-.”
“Just the sorta stuff dark art mages could use to power such a complex spell.” Faith winked at his surprised look. “Hey, I read too, and not just the funny pages.”
“Leaving aside that disturbing revelation,” he looked at his girl-friend and grinned, “actually both of them, let’s look at the map.”
“The disturbance appears to be dead centre,” Lilly reported as she stared at the screen.
”Yeah,” Xander mused. “Okay, there’s some sort of river about one hundred and fifty metres to the north,” he looked towards Wild, “Jack, how many men have you got here?”
The former cop grimaced. “My fifteen, and six have come in from the outpost units, I’ve left the others fast in case of fall-out.”
Twenty-one then. Xander nodded as he formulated a plan. “Okay, then let’s use the water to our advantage. Tara’s you’re our mage, whatever it takes we want you to disrupt the spell or ritual for as long as possible, you’ll be on the north at the far side of the river.” Xander looked towards Kennedy. “You’ll be with her, together with Wild’s five best archers, keep demons off Tara. Having the water between you and the demons should make it harder for them to get to you.”
“Unless there’s demons in the water.”
Xander grimaced at Kennedy’s comment. “Faith’s right, you are depressing.” Xander ignored the potential’s muttered protest to look towards Wild. “I want you and your second to split the rest of your men into two groups of eight and come in from the east and west, just melee weapons, no guns or bows, Faith and I are going to be coming in from the south, so I’d prefer not to be shot.”
”Me too,” Faith drawled, “girl gets wicked pissed when that happens. Friendly fire my ass.”
An amused murmur rippled through the previously tense room. Xander shot his girl-friend an appreciative look, receiving a wink in return. “Your job is to just occupy the demons, pull them away from the mages, Faith and I will kill them.”
“We haven’t any idea what demons we’ll be facing?”
Xander shook his head at one of the locals’ query. “’Fraid not,” he replied, “nor what they’re doing.” He paused. “Any more questions?”
When no-one spoke, Wild rose. “Okay everyone, grab your weapons, we’re leaving in ten.”
“We’ll come at the enemy from four different directions, so everyone travel in their assigned groups.” Xander paused. “When Tara’s in position, she’ll signal us. And then I’ll give the word for the attack to begin. Let’s move people!”
* * *
“Oh no,” he groaned as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Calming himself, he cast a scrying spell, his heart jumping at the almost immediate results he got. He had hoped that the spell would show him he was mistaken, instead it showed that the problem was even worse than he’d thought.
“Do you sense it?” he asked as he began picking up selecting items from his desk and shoving them into his sports bags, his question echoing around the apparently deserted office.
“Of course I do,” the cluttered office’s only other inhabitant replied as he materialised through the wall, eyes widening at what he saw. “What’s the plan-, oh you can’t be serious?”
He smirked up at his best friend and former childhood tutor. “When am I not?”
The white-haired, blue-eyed ghost was of medium height and build with a wrinkled face. The middle-aged spirit sniffed, his flowery cravat tied neatly around his wrinkled neck and hanky in his suit’s pinstriped chest pocket adding to his general air of prissiness. “Oh yes, let’s not flee to Cancun or somewhere exotic, let’s stay here and die horribly. How wise.” The ghost shook his head. “Well you don’t need to think I’m coming with you!”
“Wanna bet?” His ghost uttered an inarticulate protest as he snatched up his sigiled, glowing skull and dropped it into his sports bag before pulling on his duster, snatching up his hockey stick, and heading towards the door.
“Well you needn’t be so rough about it!” huffed the ghost.
The car journey through the city was hushed and tension-filled, neither of them speaking as Xander negotiated through the Windy City’s streets. Parking up outside the park, Xander looked around, heart thumping.
“It’s about three quarters of a mile walk to where the ceremony is ain’t it?”
“Yeah.” Faith groaned at Xander’s reply. “You know for a healthy Slayer in the prime of her life, you’re surprisingly lazy sometimes.”
Faith contented herself with flipping him the bird as they strode through the cloaked in darkness park. The park was surprisingly empty, almost as if the thuggish gangs that usually congregated in such a place had somehow sensed what was occurring and wisely decided somewhere else was the place to be.
If only they had the option.
The park had a lot of amenities, as evidenced by the two baseball courts, three tennis courts, golf course, and harbour they passed by. In the distance he even briefly picked up the growling of a lion that he profoundly hoped was locked up in the park zoo.
However touristy the rest of the park was, its least effective selling point was definitely the demonic convention they found beside a medium-sized river. The demons were surrounding a quintet of cowled mages standing at the points of a pentagram and chanting at the sizable sphere of greenish-light glowing in the pentangle’s centre. The demons were many and varied, a number of the Shadow-like creatures as well as half a dozen or so vamped-out vamps, some Lubbers, some Carnyss demons, a few Fyarls, and even a couple of trolls.
”Okay,” Xander licked his lips as he peered over a bush and inspected their foes, “what weaponry do you want?”
“Looking at all those SOBs, I wanna the biggest fuckin’ canon you’ve got,” Faith commented, “but seeing as you said no guns, my double-bladed axe, sword, and bandolier of stakes will do.”
Xander nodded as he passed out the weapons, his girl-friend immediately placing them around her svelte person. At the same time, Xander dialled Wild up. “Are your men in position?”
“Yeah,” the cop whispered back.
”Great, then attack, we’ll follow you in in a minute.”
“Okay.” The phone clicked off, there was a momentary silence, and then Wild’s troops erupted out of the undergrowth about one hundred and fifty metres to the demons’ east, his second’s men doing the same from the other side. There was a moment of shocked silence, and then most of the demons split and charged to meet the onrushing humans.
“So far, so good.” Xander looked towards his girl-friend. “Remember, we have to-.”
“Kill at least one of the mages,” Faith waspishly interrupted. “I know, I know. Jeez, not a ‘tard!”
“On that note,” Xander rose, filling his hands with a short sword and a buckler, “let’s go.”
* * *
“Thought you’d never say the word!” Faith snarled as she leapt up, hurdling the chest-high bush they’d been hiding behind in an effortless bound, then landing and charging into battle.
A troll came at her, its huge stone hammer swinging down in an attempt to flatten her head. Faith slid outside the blow, her hair jumping as the hammer whafted past. And then she was driving her elbow into the creature’s hip, knocking the hulking Troll off balance, forcing him to twist at the waist to face her, swinging his mighty weapon as he did so.
Faith dropped into a squat, allowing the huge hammer to swing harmlessly overhead as she hacked at the monster’s left leg. “Haaaaa!” the troll’s snaggle-toothed mouth opened in a shocked roar as her axe sliced deep into its leg. “Little girl bite!”
”Fuck no!” Faith side-stepped another downward swing, her sword this time swinging out to slice open the beast’s right leg. “Wouldn’t want to risk the rabies!” Both his legs gone, the monster let out a pained bellow and toppled like a giant redwood, Faith stepping past it and slicing down with her sword, taking the demon’s head in a spray of blood. “Next please.”
* * *
Xander groaned as one of the Shadow-like demons skittered towards him, just watching it move made his slightly queasy, the way it seemed to half-crawl, half-run. And then it leapt into the air, talons pointing towards him. Xander lunged between its legs, sword thrusting up to impale its belly, twisting the blade as it slid through its ebony skin.
“Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” the beast’s shrill scream was almost enough to make his ears bleed.
”Ohhh gross!” Xander almost gagged as the demon’s foul stench filled his nostrils, his shield only just brought in time to prevent the demon’s blood from soaking him as he stepped out behind the beast, its body crashing lifelessly to the ground behind him.
A snarling, growling vampire lunged at him from his right, Xander swung his shield across his body at shoulder height, the vampire crashing face-first into it, its head knocked back just as Xander’s sword swept in front of his shield, slicing through its neck. “How do you like that, overbite?” Xander muttered as he continued on his way, every footstep taking him closer to his ultimate goal.
* * *
“Okay, I want a triangle around Tara, anything vaguely inhuman-looking comes at us, turn it into a pin-cushion. Remember, we need to stall for enough time to give Xander and Faith a chance to permanently end this ritual before it sucks the entire world into hell.”
Tara tuned out her sometimes strident-sounding girl-friend as she steeled herself to engage in battle with the mages fuelling the evil spell. She reached out, forcing away the tentativeness that was her instinct, striking with confidence. Tara’s mind reeled as she came into contact and struggled for control of the ritual. It wasn’t the ritual’s power that almost sent her to her knees, although that was almost enough to crack her like a nut. It was the darker than black dripping from the ritual like an angry poison, soiling every thought and emotion she’d ever had. “I…I can’t fight it,” she whispered, her heart quailing at the thought of failing those she loved but unable to face the monstrous evil alone.
”Then let me help.”
Tara gasped at the sudden voice. She had a sense of a tall, lanky man with two day old stubble and wearing a knee-length duster. His eyes were strong yet kind and his brown hair receding into a widow’s peak. The man looked to be in his early forties and for some reason was carrying a hockey stick in one hand and a battered brown sports bag in the other. “Who are you?”
The man flashed her a smile that was filled with warmth. “I think we’re too busy saving the world to bother with introductions right now?”
Tara coloured slightly. “Yeah, of course.”
* * *
Wild gasped as he crashed to the ground, rolling away from a horned demon’s stomp, his own kick to the knees hard enough to shatter a human’s kneecaps, but only staggering his adversary.
Still, that at least gave him the chance to leap up, duck under an axe-swing and deliver a kick to the gut that discouragingly bounced off the creature’s tough hide. And then he was back-pedalling again, his rival’s axe hewing the air between them.
Then he darted forward, years of martial arts training allowing him to see an opening someone else might well have missed, his sword lancing up and through the beast’s left eye, a greasy ichor bursting everywhere as the creature let out a piteous roar and fell to the ground.
Wild took a second to inspect the battlefield, what he saw taking his breath away.
Harris was indomitable, moving through the massed ranks of the enemy with a sort of brutal efficiency. The Slayer though was something else entirely, impossibly beautiful yet terrifyingly deadly, she glided with an effortless grace that would make the world’s finest acrobats and gymnasts feel clumsy by comparison.
* * *
“Shit!” Faith howled as pain lanced through her forearm, blood streaking from a slash from her hulking six foot odd crew-cutted opponent.
The black vampire flashed her a malicious grin before leaping at her. Faith grunted as he caught her with a fast overhand right to the forehead, the blow snapping her head back. Then air gusted out of her as her adversary hooked to her ribs.
The demon grinned down at her. “Mid-West and Chicago Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion from ’55 – ’57,” the vampire grinned.
”Good for ya,” Faith smirked suddenly, “Slayer ’98 to long after I’ve dusted your ass.”
The demon’s smirk changed to a scowl as he vamped out and lunged at her, leading with a left jab that Faith ducked under. Only to grunt as a right hook bounced off her head. Ignoring the pain, she turned her slight stagger into a stomp to the demon’s left knee.
“Oww!” The vampire stumbled forward a step, a pain looked in his eyes, then fell backwards when Faith leapt up and planted both knees in his thick chest, the sudden reversal of momentum sending him crashing to his knees. As Faith landed she shot off a spin-kick to the skull that landed a half-second before the demon managed to get his hands up in a boxer’s guard, the force of her assault knocking him on his ass.
“Told ya.” A grin on her face, Faith stepped towards the vampire. “Shit!” she cursed as she was forced to twist at the waist to meet another attacker, snatching the vampire by its elbows, then twisting and bending, depositing the demon back to the ground. Ignoring the demon’s retaliatory knee to the chest as she bent over him, she drove a stake into its heart.
She sensed the boxer’s approach a split-second before his right crashed into her temple, her pulling her head back only slightly negating the blow’s impact and the number of stars she saw. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she straightened, blocking a left on her right arm and bending her head out of the way of another right. Then the demon grabbed her hair and began yanking her head back, revealing her vulnerable neck.
So she punted his balls up from between his legs to somewhere in his throat. “Shit!” the demon croaked as he doubled up, easy prey for a stake to the back.
“Pulling my hair?” Faith shook her head in disgust. “What are ya, creature of the night or a ten year old girl?”
* * *
A Fyral grabbed Xander by the shoulder, its fingers digging deep into his muscle as it began lifting him off the ground. Xander’s boot flashed out, kicking the demon in the gut even as his axe came up, his sword still stuck in the second of the shadows he’d slain, and tearing through the top half of the demon’s head. “Aaaaah!” the demon let out a scream and threw Xander into the air before slumping to the ground.
“Owww,” Xander grunted as he hit the ground and rolled up, his already bruised and taped ribs protesting. Xander smirked as he realised that at least the throw had gotten him considerably nearer to the mages.
The moment he looked towards the mages, the nearest spun to face him, its features hidden under its shadowy cowl. And then the world’s evil crashed over Xander, a thousand images sending him to his knees, vomit rising in his throat and tears misting in his eyes.
A corrupt politician getting a kickback from a special interest group. A greedy businessman hiring leg-breakers to break a strike. A slumlord hiring thugs to make sure residents kept their mouths shut. Crimelords planning the import and export of millions of dollars worth of drugs.
And the petty evils crashed over him too. A wife quaking at the sound of her husband’s key in the door. A school bully asserting his muscular authority. A chauvinistic boss promoting his cronies over those more deserving.
So much evil pouring into him that he felt his insides shrivel and his grasp on sanity falter. And then Faith leapt between him and the attacking mage, her right arm wrapping around the sorcerer’s neck as she drove the wizard backwards and towards the glowing light he’d been protecting even as she flew past him to land on the other side of the pentagram.
“Aaaaaah!” The mage who’d fallen into the light began screaming even as four tendrils of light shot out from the sphere to impale the other four wizards, their bodies shaking as if electrocuted before crumpling, smoke rising from the five burnt corpses, the spell’s light dissipating.
“Damn,” Faith looked around at the carnage she’d caused, the remaining demons fleeing, “there’s five crispy critters.”
“Yeah,” Xander took a much needed breath as he rose on slightly shaky legs, “thanks for the-.”
“Don’t mention it stud.” Faith shot him a dimpled smile before darting to his side and allowing him to lean on her, her arm comfortingly wrapping around his waist as she steadied him. “Just pay me back in wild-monkey sex later.”
“It’ll have to be much later,” Xander bargained, “I’m beat.”
“Been a long day,” Faith’s luminous eyes hardened, “let’s see who the mystery man is with sis.”
In minutes, Faith and Xander were striding through the battle-ground, the other members of the Illinois Branch following behind. “Yo,” Faith glared at her strange companion, “who the hell are ya?”
“Faith!” Tara gasped. “He just helped me stall the ritual, don’t be rude!”
“Yeah,” Faith looked characteristically unabashed, “sorry ‘bout that- Jesus!” Faith jumped and fell on her ass, dark eyes bulging when a spirit suddenly appeared by the wizard’s shoulder, “who the fuck are you!”
“I’m Hrothbert of Bainbridge,” the ghost appeared to be trying to crane his neck so he could peer down Faith’s top, “and I’m delighted to make your acquitance, young lady.” The ghost leered down at the buxom Slayer. “Very delighted.”
Xander rubbed at his throbbing head as he stared pleadingly at the stranger. If he didn’t start getting some answers soon, he’d have to shoot someone. Probably himself, a .44 was a hell of a headache-remover. “My name’s Harry,” the man smiled, “Harry Dresden, wizard at large.” The wizard leaned on his hockey stick as he peered around. “And I assume you’re the Mithras Brotherhood?”
“Yeah we are. Thanks for the help, Harry.” Xander looked at the drawn-looking wizard and then at Tara who nodded. “I was wondering if you’d be interested in joining our Illinois team?”
“Oh yes,” squawked Dresden’s ghost, his attention switching from Faith’s cleavage to Dresden. “That’s such a good idea. Endanger yourself even more. Not even these delightful young women,” Bob looked towards Faith and Kennedy, although he was careful not to look towards Tara, probably fearful of her ability, “are worth that risk!”
“Shut up Bob.” Dresden continued to stare at Xander.
”Oh,” Bob sniffed. “Ever so charmed, I’m sure. That’s right, ignore the voice of reason!”
Faith stared warily at the ghost. “Is he always like this?”
“Oh no,” Dresden shook his head and grinned, “sometimes-.”
“He’s worse,” Xander finished for the mage. “Well?”
Dresden shrugged. “I’m more of a loner-.”
“Maybe ya shouldn’t be,” Faith interrupted. “Being on yar own when there’s people who are willing to help and share the load is nothing but a fool’s game.”
Dresden stared steadily at the east coast beauty before looking back towards Xander. “How about this, I consult with the Chicago branch on any magical matters they need on a case by case basis, help them with research, but stay independent?”
“If that’s what you want.” Xander hid his disappointment behind a non-commital mask. To judge from what he’d just done Harry Dresden was clearly a powerful wizard and would be a powerful asset to the Brotherhood IF he agreed to join, but the Brotherhood wasn’t compulsory, volunteers only.
Dresden stared at him for a second before nodding. “It is.”
”Well thank you for your assistance,” Xander forced a smile, there was no need to be discourteous to someone who’d helped them so significantly.
Dresden nodded, a slight smile tugging at his lips. “A pleasure I’m sure.”
* * *
Dresden shook his head as he re-entered the comforting environs of his home and office at a good deal slower rate he’d exited. “It’s been a hell of a day,” he muttered.
“Your actions have angered the White Council.”
Dresden turned to face the dark-skinned, immaculately-dressed man stood behind him, a disapproving look on the black’s face. Of course, around him the White Council’s Warden seldom had any other expression.
“Oh really?” Dresden shook his head. He decided to forgo pointing out the rather obvious fact that his breathing angered the White Council for fear saying that would only encourage Donald Morgan attempting to remedy that irritation. “I suppose the world ending would have better suited them?”
“Don’t be dense.” Morgan shot him an irritated look. “You know full well the White Council’s position on ‘us’ intervening in the affairs of mortals. If through your actions the White Council’s existence is discovered by mortals, then your life could very well be forefit.”
“Oh it will be it?” Both he and the Warden turned to face a grinning Bob. “And how do you suppose the very dangerous Brotherhood will react to the death of somebody who they consider an ally? Do you think they’ll tear Chicago apart looking for you?”
”You know,” Harry mused aloud. “He’s got a point.”
Morgan shook his head as he backed out of Dresden’s office. “This isn’t over,” the Warden warned.
“Do me a favour and put the sign to closed on your way out,” Harry asked. Yeah, a smile pulling his lips up, like he’d thought, a hell of a day.
* * *
3 Days Later
Nathan Stark watched as the two guests entered, his analytical eyes missing nothing.
The boy was tall with floppy black hair. His black denim jeans, t-shirt, and trenchcoat failed to hide his mucular build, not body-builder or powerlifter thick, but with a gymnast’s functionality. He moved well like a special forces veteran, and his brown eyes were a contradiction, both friendly yet coldly determined at the same time.
Nathan had to admit he spent rather more time examining the woman accompanying the boy. She was a smigdin under five foot six with an alluring body that was somehow something between a prize-winning centrefold’s and a world-class athlete’s. A full black mane cascaded onto the shoulders of her denim jacket while a man needed live-preservers to wade through her dark, pool-like eyes. Cavern-deep dimples flanked the temptress’ full, curved lips as she flashed an easy, assured smile. The brunette bombshell’s black gym-vest struggled to her pert, rounded chest while revealing several inches of hypnotic cleavage. The shirt was tucked into a pair of black leathers that clung to her high, bounce a quarter off it, ass and long, muscular legs.
Yeah, all things considered, he might be a man of science, but he could stare and dribble like a simpleton at her for hours.
His own companions were rather more scholarly than their guests. Not that Temperance Brennan wasn’t beautiful in her own way, but the genius anthropologist was rather more interested in her collection of bones than in collecting bedstead notches.
Larry Fleinhardt was something else entirely. A short, middle-aged man with receding brown hair and studious eyes, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist was amongst the very best in his fields.
Together the three of them made up the Trimuative, the Order Of Empedocles’ ruling board, and they were here to discuss a proposal for an alliance with the Brotherhood with its leaders “Please,” Nathan smiled welcomingly at the two young legends, “take a seat.” Once the two had sat, he looked towards his two companions before speaing. “Dr. Sinclair passed your offer along and I have to say it’s on the surface intriguing, however it was a little sparse on details.”
“We’re not exactly fighters,” Larry unneccesarily added.
“We wouldn’t expect you to be,” Xander replied. “We’re thinking back-up support.”
“You have a lot of enemies,” Larry mused. “This could end up very dangerous for us.”
“I wouldn’t worry ‘bout it.” Faith’s full lips parted in a smirk. “Our enemies tend to end up dead.”
“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” Xander drawled with a grin.
”I don’t what that means?” Temperance queried, a quizzical look in her eyes.
Xander stared at the anthropologist. “You don’t know ‘The Duke’!”
Temperance shot the man a frustrated smile. “You’ll find your pop culture references are lost on me.” Temperance paused before continuing. “However Larry makes a good point, we know you’ve defeated a number of formidable enemies - Order of Taraka, the Watchers’ Council, Il Lumison Legatus, and others.”
“Wow,” Faith glanced at Xander, “they know a lot ‘bout us.”
“I always wondered what it would be like to have groupies,” Xander ruminated.
”Heh,” Faith chortled, “I’ve known what it was like since puberty.”
“Faith,” Xander groaned, “it’s not a contest.”
”You’re just sayin’ that ‘cause you lost.” The Slayer paused. “Again.”
Temperance looked momentarily nonplussed by the duo’s banter before continuing. “Still there are other dangerous enemies still out there, the last of the Chaos Lords, and Wolfram & Hart, and who knows what else. Who knows what dangers we might be putting ourselves in by allying ourselves with you?”
”We’ve got pretty tough allies already,” Xander pointed out. “Blade, Doctor Strange, and the Charmed Ones for just a few. Your addition will only strengthen us.”
The Trimuative exchnaged glances before looking back at the waiting duo. “And how exactly would this deal work?” Nathan queried. “What would you want from us? And what would we get from you?”
“First of all, we’d offer protection to any of your members threatened by a supernatural enemy,” Xander began.
”Ask Lil how effective we are,” Faith winked.
”Secondly, you get my people to call on any time you need help stopping an apoclaypse,” Xander added before continuing. “I might even be able to fund research into projects that aid us in fighting demons.”
“And what do you want from us?” Nathan queried.
“First of all, help with translations when needed. Second, scientific aid with any problems we run into,” Xander paused. “And access to any technology you invent.”
“We’re not in this to make money for you,” Larry objected.
“I’ve got enough money.” Harris’ eyes flashed dangerously as he growled out a reply. “I’m talking about demon-fighting weaponry and the like so I can mass-produce it for my teams.”
Nathan noted how the temperature had plummeted despite the sudden sweat beading on his forehead. “Your offer is very tempting. Perhaps, we can draw up a contract to formalise our agreement?”
The flash dimmed in Harris’ eyes, leaving the surface image of a friendly kid in its place. Not that he was fooled, not even slightly. “Sounds good to me.”