“Damn,” Faith whistled as they strode through the Sam Houston Historical Park, eyes peering eagerly at all the restored properties positioned picturesquely around the green landscape, the sun bathing them. “Ain’t this a-.” Faith groaned as her Slayer sense went off. “Fuck,” she sidled next to Xander, “Slayer sense tingling something’s-.”
”Grrr!” Suddenly a man, no not a man dropped out of a tree just ahead of her and talking got real complicated, real quick. “Grr!”
“Hey!” Faith slammed an elbow into the ‘man’s’ mouth and a knee into his side as he crashed down on top of her, neither blow having its expected effect. “Not without dinner and a movie first!”
Her attacker’s thudding right to the head knocked most of the sass out of her in addition to having her see stars. Blind instinct took over as she brought her head up and butted her assailant in the bridge of his nose.
“Grrrr!” The moment the man’s head reared up, blood pumping down his face, she jabbed her left fingers into his throat.
“Grrr!” The ‘man’ growled as fell off her, giving her the quickly taken opportunity to spring to her feet. Faith realised the man was big despite his apparent agility, only six foot at the most but close to two hundred and fifty pounds, all of it strong, functional muscle, nothing for show. His blond locks fell down over the collar of his plaid flannel shirt, long sleeves rolled up to his elbows, to show his thick, hairy forearms. The man looked like he hadn’t shaved in two or three days, but it was his golden eyes that gave her pause. Golden just like a vampire, except it was the middle of the day.
For the briefest moment she stared into the snarling man’s eyes, seeing nothing there but bestial rage. And then the man leapt at her, covering the two or three yards between them in a blink.
But not quick enough to stop her getting an elbow up and sticking it into his already broken nose. The man’s head snapped back then Faith gasped as he grabbed her around the waist, yanking her towards him and into a rib-cracking bear hug, his awesomely-powerful arms wrapped like pythons around her mid-back . “Grrrr, grrrrr.”
”Jesus,” Faith gasped as she karate chopped the man in the sides of his bulging neck, “thesaurus, look into it.” The man failed to respond either to her insults or her attack, his grip tightening until Faith began to see stars again, the air forced from her.
“Fuck this!” Desperation filling her, Faith grabbed the man’s chin and pushed his head back before taking a breath and biting him in his already-mangled nose.
”Aggggh!” the man let out a shocked roar as his blood bubbled over her lips, making her almost gag, she was fucked if she knew how vamps could do it. Her assailant dropped her and staggered back a step, a look of disbelief on his face.
And then he leapt back at her, hands outstretched. Faith’s hands snapped up, grabbing the man at the wrists, her tiny hands not coming close to encircling his beefy wrists, and dropping onto her back, her feet swinging up to crash into the man’s well-muscled belly even as she flung him over her and rolled back up to her feet.
Spinning around to face her crouching adversary, she caught him with a kick to the back of his calf, knocking him onto all fours. The man started to look up only for her downward aimed right to knock his head back down. Faith leapt up into an axe kick.
“Oh fuck!” she cursed as the man leapt up, grabbed her lead leg under the ankle and knee and threw her backwards, attempting to dump her on her head. Faith’s hands shot out behind her, the moment her fingers made contact with the ground she pushed up through them, reserving her descent so that she flew back over the stunned man, her arm looping around the man’s neck and pulling tight on landing, her knee pushing into his back, forcing him off balance as she placed her free hand on his head and twisted.
“Son of a bitch was strong and fast,” Faith commented as she dropped the dead man onto the floor, relieved that Tara and Xander between them had dealt with the others. Whatever they were, they sure as hell weren’t bullet or flame proof. “But he was human-.”
“They were primals,” Xander interrupted, a haunted look in her boy-toy’s eyes. “The hyena could sense it.” Xander shook himself. “We need to get out of here before anyone comes.”
“But I wanted to see-.” Faith sighed as she saw the look in Xander’s eyes. “ Fine. But we’re comin’ back some day.”
* * *
“What’s on the menu today?” Grand Marshal Alvor of the Texan Legions queried as he looked around the plushly decorated banquet hall, several glittering chandeliers dangling from its curved ceiling, its pastel walls adorned with a number of paintings considered ‘stolen’ and ‘missing’ by the legitimate art world, sweeping velvet drapes hiding the double doors, and its floor was covered by a thick fluffy cream-coloured carpet.
“The menu’s specials are an Indian holy man,” the waiter replied, “or two virgin twins. We also have a seer.”
“A seer?” Alvor smiled. “Well that sounds delightful. I’ll have their eyes in a cream of human blood and their tongue for desert with some ice cream.”
”Yes sir,” the lizard biped nodded. “I’ll pass on your instructions to the chef.”
“Excellent.” Alvor smiled again. His contact at the local W&H office was unfortunately human, so his tastes didn’t run to the same foods as Alvor’s which was unfortunate, but never mind. It was good to have a meal -.
Alvor looked up as the skylight exploded inwards, glass showering down and three figures dropped through it. “Who dares!” he thundered as he rose.
* * *
”That’d be us.” Faith drawled as Xander and Kennedy rushed in to deal with the guards flanking the door and Tara sent fireballs crashing into the tables from above, obliterating anyone unfortunate enough to be sat there. ‘Acquired Tastes’ was a bad place, one of the worst, a place where you could eat anything you want, no matter the legality or morality, just as long as you had the green.
Speaking of green, the demon who’d spoken was a green-skinned motherfucker standing about seven and a half feet tall with a crocodile’s head, its mouth all full of dangerously sharp teeth, and blood-red slanted eyes peering down at her from its two feet advantage, secure in its thick green hide. “Mithras.” The demon hissed.
“Nah, that’d be boy-toy,” Faith shrugged. “I’m just the bitch who’s gonna clean your clock.”
“Ha!” Suddenly the demon’s spiked tail was swinging out from behind his body, heading directly towards her head.
”Ahhh!” The demon screamed as her axe swung down, slicing half-way through its thick tendril just above the spike.
Faith swayed out of the way of the demon’s retaliatory haymaker. “Dumb, slow, and clumsy,” she taunted. “Sure you ain’t got any relatives in Sunnydale?”
”Ahhh!” The bleeding demon roared as it snatched her by the shoulders and lifted it off the ground, either preparing to hurl her off across the embattled dining area or planning to bite her pretty little head off.
A plan that Faith disrupted by thrusting her sword through the demon’s lower jaw and all the way through its upper-jaw, the blood spraying out only increasing when she twisted the blade before yanking it out. “Ahhh!” the pained demon threw her from him and into the nearest table, the table collapsing under the impact and certainly not her svelte weight.
‘Least ways that was what she told herself as she rolled away from a stomp and thrust her blade in-between the demon’s legs. “Ugggh!” The malignant light left the demon’s eyes as he toppled over, crashing down on two more tables in the process.
Faith leapt up with a smirk, seeing her buds had done a great job of wrecking the place. The drapes had been ripped down on one side, most of the furniture was wrecked, burnt or blown-apart corpses littered the floor, and blood, bullet-holes, and scorch-marks decorated the previously pristine walls. “Onto the next target Xan?”
“Onto the next target,” her boy-toy confirmed. “Just in case anyone’s wondering,” Xander commented as they backed out of the top-floor penthouse, “Acquired Tastes is out of business.”
”Permanently,” the brat unnecessarily added.
“Whoa,” Faith peered out of the van window as they sped past the White House. “Maybe we could drop in there, I know the president, maybe he could get me a job as an intern.”
Faith hid a smirk at Xander’s glare. “In bad taste?” she asked with sugary innocence.
“Very bad,” Xander replied with a nod.
”Wicked,” Faith nodded smugly as she leaned back in her seat. That was how she liked her puns.
* * *
The door burst open with what was becoming depressing familiarity as Xander strode down the six steps that led into a bar that looked like something out of a John Wayne western, complete with sawdusted floor, Faith and Kennedy covering him with shotguns and Tara holding a fireball ready.
Except he was pretty sure The Duke never went riding the range with a scaled or feathered cowhand by his side, much less one that could only ride the range at night. Still, Xander’s shotgun exploded through the shocked silence that followed his entrance, they’d had guns back then too. “In case any one was wondering, we’re the Mithras Brotherhood-.” Xander’s Mossberg flew up, a single squeeze of the trigger taking the head off the Fyral leaping to his feet, knocking the now faceless demon back into his chair with enough force to tip the chair and its deceased occupant to the saw-dusted floor. “As I was saying, we’re the Mithras Brotherhood, and just because this city doesn’t have a Branch here, doesn’t mean we won’t notice you.” A number of chairs scraped back as their occupants started to rise. “Girls.”
Tara’s fireball smashed into the dirty drinks cabinet behind the bar, the bartender diving out of the way, the fireball incinerating a pair of vampires en-route to its final destination.
For her part Kennedy dropped an UV grenade on the table beside the gaudy jukebox pressed against the left wall, a blaze of light dusting the trio of vampires sat there while Faith put armour piercing rounds into the faces of a trio of wanna-be tough guy Kaliffs demons as they charged the steps while also dropping an UV on a table of vampires.
For his part, Xander kicked the legs out from beneath a Vinji, shot it in the face before bringing his shotgun up and disembowelling the other Vinji climbing over the table at him.
Xander looked around the hushed bar, the only sound the dying Vinji’s gasps, the demons staring fearfully at him and his companions. “I think you’ve got the message, bye now.”
“Anyone still standing,” Faith intoned as he backed up the steps, “consider yourself having won the lottery. And ask yourselves how likely that is to happen twice.”
* * *
Business at ‘Bloody Laughs’, Washington’s most notorious vampire bar, was as brisk as always, smoke filling the air and death metal powering out of the crackling speakers, the vamps drinking, reminiscing, fighting, and fucking with roughly equal abandon. It was never a place where hygiene or etiquette had ever been a concern. For the past seventy years the bar had been the property of Gedeon Ital, a two hundred year old childe of the feared Elizabeth Bathory, by virtue of him slaying the previous owner.
Then Hell came to Bloody Laughs.
A few heads stated to turn towards the blackened windows, as if sensing something, but no-one moved, not suspecting any one would be foolish enough to attack the notorious, centuries-old ‘Bloody Laughs’. By the time they did move, it was already too late.
* * *
“Whoooo!” Faith screamed as Xander drove the grille-fronted van straight through the bar’s window. This mission wasn’t about sending a message, this was about wiping out some vamps and she was down with that. “Fuckin’ A!” she screamed as the already braking van sent glass, tables, and vamps flying as it careered to a halt.
Faith swung her sliding door open as Tara and Ken did the same at their side, flinging out UV grenades to see to the first of the vamps to move, and Xander started blasting from up front.
The first vamp to stick its snarling face into the van got it blown off, the next the same. A third at least got to throw a right before it also got a face-full of buckshot. A hand snatched at her gun. “Try and shoot me-, aaaaah!”
“Two guns dumbass,” Faith laconically commented as she twisted her right shotgun across her body and blew the demon away. “Shit!” Faith cursed as her legs were yanked from under her. After yanking her feet free she pulled her knees up and kicked off, her feet knocking her assailant back as she sat up and unloaded the remainder if her rounds into the onrushing demons, the guns bucking repeatedly in her hands.
The moment her shotguns clicked empty, she dropped them and kipped up, drawing her Beretta with a speed that would have made Bad Bill Longley giddy with jealousy. Leaping from the van, she shot and shot, every incendiary round dusting a vampire no matter where it hit.
Faith grunted as a hard fist crashed into the left side of her head. Realising her gun had run empty, she dropped it, kicked the vampire to her right in the gut, knocking him into the plaster-cracked wall, and spun to face her last remaining adversary.
Another fist crashed into her nose, blood flooding down her nostrils. Faith grinned as she recognised the vampire from the briefing as the bar’s owner. Looked like she got to make her bones on a Master Vampire.
Again. Fuck she loved a good dust-up.
The vamp was a big fucker, a foot taller than her with broad shoulders and tree-trunk arms and a big gut, his head shaven and gleaming in the club’s ceiling light, his lantern jaw sticking out pugnaciously. Faith feinted with a right, the Hungarian-born vampire caught it on his elbow before swinging a haymaker that Faith ducked under before darting in, landing a pair of jabs to his gut and darting out again.
At least that was the plan. “Shit!” Faith grunted when the demon snatched a hold of her free-flowing locks and pulled her back in and into a punch to the gut. The air gusting from her lungs, Faith nevertheless managed a knee to the crotch that the two centuries old vampire just about blocked on his thigh but still hurt enough to force him to release his grip.
Finding herself on the inside, Faith decided to take advantage of her closeness to their demon by grabbing him around his waist, her hands barely gripping, and bending back at the waist and releasing, flinging her opponent into and through the nearest table.
Faith spun to face her rival, the vampire she’d earlier kicked charging her only to disappear in a cloud of dust when Faith sidestepped him to give Xan a free shot at it. “Thanks hon.” Faith drawled as she ducked a swinging right from the demon, blocked a knee to her bent face on her forearm and uppercutted him in the crotch.
”Oooof,” the demon grunted, doubling up and into a front facelock, Faith securing its head against her body. The blood-sucker’s hands came up to grab her and then fell away as she twisted, breaking his neck. Releasing her grip, Faith allowed the vampire to fall limply to the ground, scooped up a table leg and drove it through the back of her rival’s back.
And that was it. Faith looked around to find the bar’s walls, floor, and air were covered with dust, broken chairs, tables, and glasses
”Now what?” Kennedy asked, brat looked almost as eager for violence as she was. They must, Faith decided, breed that into potentials.
“Now,” Xander shot the brat a wry look, “we get back to the back-up car and go to the hotel.”
* * *
Tara leaned against the car window, grateful that another night of violence was over, and, she grinned inwardly, that she could get back to the hotel for some ‘hot lesbian action’ as Faith teasingly put it. She gasped as she saw something and sat up. “We need to pull over!” Xander glanced at her in the rear window. “I just saw a vampire grab someone, pull over.”
“Awh crap,” Faith groused. “A Slayer’s work is never done.”
* * *
Charlie Young sighed as he strode through the darkened streets. He might be the President’s Personal Aide, but the salary that came with the prestige was hardly astronomical, and Washington was an expensive city to live in, and as he had a sister to look after, he couldn’t afford a plush bachelor apartment. As a result he’d continued to commute to work from the home their mother had bought in a working-class but far from rundown neighbourhood. It made the journeys to and from work a killer though.
Charlie stopped and turned when he heard a footstep behind him. “Oh look honey,” purred a tall, willowy brunette. “ Dinner.”
“Look,” Charlie stared nervously at the woman, “I don’t want any -.”
“Trouble,” he gasped when the woman tilted her head to the side and her eyes flashed an impossible golden. “You won’t be any trouble at all.”
Suddenly a hand grabbed him from behind and yanked him into a near-by alley. Charlie gasped as he crashed into the wall, the two women who’d accosted him before now replaced by strange demonic-looking creatures. “What a pretty boy,” trilled the brunette. “Let’s keep him.”
”Finders keepers,” a husky drawl commented, “losers are fucked.”
His two attackers began to turn even as Charlie looked towards the apparently battle-suited beauty with a killer body stood leaning against the alley’s mouth. “Slayer,” snarled the red-head.
”Dust,” commented the mystery woman as a globe dropped to the ground at their feet.
Charlie blinked as day-light suddenly interrupted the gloomy night, the entire alley blazeing When his eyes cleared his two attackers were gone, leaving only the mystery woman. “Dangerous streets to be out on your own at night,” she greeted. “My buds are in a car if ya wanna lift. What’s your address?”
Charlie nodded dazedly as he told the mystery beauty, the brunette taking his arm and leading him out of the alley. “Thanks, what just happened?” he asked bemusedly as they reached a tinted-windowed SUV.
”Xan,” the mystery woman nodded to the man sat behind the SUV’s wheel. “Do the talk.”
Charlie listened as the man first introduced them and then told an utterly fantastic yet undeniably true tale based on what he’d just seen. “Hey!” the shorter of the two brunettes gasped. “I recognise you, you’re Charlie Young! The President’s Personal Aide! I saw you on that cover of ‘Minority Now’ .”
“Oh wow,” snarked Faith, “a celeb.”
“This doesn’t seem the sort of area a White House staffer would live in,” Xander commented.
Charlie shrugged. “They don’t pay as much as you think.”
“Surely you can afford a bachelor apartment,” commented Kennedy.
“It’s not just me, it’s my sister,” Charlie stared dazedly at the beautiful women and their purposeful companion. “My mother was a cop who got shot on duty,” his throat tightened at the memory, “I look after my sister here.”
“Right,” Xander passed him a plastic bag. Charlie gasped as he looked inside to find it was stuffed full of notes. “Your sister and you shouldn’t have to live here, there’s sixty thousand. Should be enough for a deposit on a decent place.”
“Why?” Charlie gasped as they pulled up outside his place.
“Because we don’t just kill demons,” the witch who’d introduced herself as Tara softly replied, “we help people too.”
“Yeah,” the brunette bombshell who’d identified herself as Faith rolled her eyes theatrically, “only don’t go expecting any of that lovey dovey crap from the babe, our PR. side is strictly Tar’s bag.”
“I…I’ll bear that in m….mind,” Charlie stuttered as he climbed dazedly out of the car before turning to face his rescuers. “And thank you.”
”No problem,” Faith’s sudden wink suggested she was a good deal friendlier than her caustic words. “Tell the Man, I said hi.”
Charlie blinked, there was he suspected more than a blasé familiarity behind those words. “You know the President?”
Faith winked. “Ah, I’d tell ya, but it’s classified.” And then the car was roaring off into the distance, leaving Charlie only with his bag of money as proof the entire night had happened.
The city sprawled across the wide shallow valley of the Rio Grande River
way above sea level. To the east, the Sandia Mountains formed an imposing wall reaching high into the turquoise sky. On the horizon in every other direction, distant hills and mesas punctuated the vast upland plateau. On the western edge of the city, the Rio Grande River was hidden in its shallow channel at the foot of the low bluffs overlooking the city.
Two major interstate highways neatly divided New Mexico. Route 25 swept across the state’s northern border from Colorado, wending its way through the north central mountains, following the Rio Grande Valley south to El Paso at the Texas border and Mexico. Route 40 bisected New Mexico from the Texas border to the east to the Arizona border to the west. The two major traffic arteries intersected in downtown Albuquerque, with its small cluster of new high-rise building Commercial buildings, shopping malls and hotels cluster along these major highways in all directions. The old town section of Albuquerque lies just a few blocks southwest of this crossing of roads.
The climate at Albuquerque was surprisingly mild. Although located in a near desert environment, it is spared from intense heat due to its higher elevation and spared from bitter winter cold due to its southern latitudes.
Yeah, Faith decided, the city was real pretty, but lookin’ around at the rough surrounding environment and remembering what she’d raid of the Indi-, sorry gotta be PC these says – Native Americans, not to mention gun-totin’ outlaws, the early settlers had to have had some stones to move here in the hope of a better life.
They’d arrived two hours ago and just done the tour of the ten square blocks of the old town district that had been carefully restored to its original Spanish colonial era atmosphere. Low adobe structures with protruding wooden Vigas and shaded promenades surrounded the main plaza which itself was dominated by the imposing adobe structure of the San Felipe de Neri church. The district was a maze of narrow passageways leading to shaded inner courtyards and hidden fountains. About a hundred shops, restaurants and galleries were located in the area, with Native American crafts sold at an open-air market under the eastern portico of the main plaza.
It had been a real nice afternoon off, but in the end a girl got an itch either for some sex or for some action, and in her case, it was a yearning for a serious brawl. “So,” she asked as they returned to the car, the mid-afternoon sun bathing them, “what we hittin’ first?”
Xander looked towards her, the joviality draining from her honey’s eyes to be replaced by a rough grimness. “Wanton Wickedness, a S&M club.”
“With a name like that, I didn’t think it was a toy store,” Faith replied.
“Don’t you think that is a place you should visit as a couple?” Tara suggested.
Faith smirked. “Funny, sis. A real laugh riot.”
“This isn’t a joke,” Xander wanted. “Plenty of the people we rescued the other night from the slave auction would have ended up at Wanton Wickedness or other demonic S&M clubs across the nation.”
Faith felt her insides twist. “Sons of bitches,” she grated.
* * *
The two vampires smirked as Faith and Kennedy strode towards for the club entrance, their full length leather jackets swishing in the cold night wind, a black wooden double door beneath a green neon sign proclaiming the club’s name. The bouncers were both of a sort, well over six foot, no-necks, and arms the size of most men’s legs.
The more Faith thought about it, they’d probably been bouncers before death too.
“Hey girls,” the marginally taller of the two bullet-headed vamps leered as he looked her and Kennedy up and down, “we don’t normally have sweet gals like you coming in voluntarily.”
“Mind you,” the second laughed, “they like it so much, they never leave.”
Faith smirked up at the dumb as dirt duo. “Bet they’ve never got these either,” she retorted as her leather trenchcoat flew open and her crossbow came up, her bolt catching her vamp in the chest a quarter-second before Kennedy killed hers. “Easy as.” Faith raised her cell. “Doorway’s clear.”
“Open it then,” Xander’s voice crackled through the connection.
“Five by five!” Faith’s heel-kick splintered the door. “Jesus,” Faith’s stomach curled, her Slayer instincts revolting as she walked into the strobe-lit hell, the death metal shaking the jet black walls, and the stench of pain and blood clogging the back of her throat. “Jesus.”
Naked and bloodied humans were restrained all around the club. Fastened to x crosses against the wall, blood running down the flesh, tied across spanking benches, and secured in stocks. Not the demons though, they were all free and walking around, carrying knives, hammers, whips, pliers, anything they could think of that would cause pain. To the far end of the twisted action there stood a busy bar manned by a trio of Asphyx demons.
Faith flinched as Xander’s shotguns rang out, her boy-friend and Tara having walked in from the back, her boy-toy’s guns bucking in his hands as he blew the heads of the demons standing behind the bar, their blood spraying out all over the previously pristine glass drink cabinet. “Sorry you had to see this,” her boy-friend apologised with a look that encompassed all of them in turn before looking at the entire bar. “In case you were wondering this shithole is closed. And just in case any of you haven’t got the message, just because this state doesn’t have a Brotherhood unit.” Xander paused. “Doesn’t have one. Yet.” The young man smirked. “That doesn’t mean you have free run. This,” Xander’s smirk turned to a thunderous scowl, “business starts up again and I’ll burn it to the ground with you all in it.” A vampire started out of its chair and over it at Xander, his shotgun blasting into its face. “Now we’re going to let all these humans go. Any of you feeling the urge to do something stupid, please try I’m begging you.”
“Release!” Tara barked.
Faith blinked when all the locks sprang open, the previously restrained humans scurrying or crawling away from the frozen with fear demons. “Hey,” she remarked, “that could come in handy when I lose the key to your cuffs Xan.”
Tara and Kennedy looked towards a reddening Xander whose only response was to raise his shotgun and blow the face off the nearest vampire. “Consider that a warning just in case any of you were even thinking of sniggering.”
* * *
Faith ducked the vampire’s wild swing while driving her stake up and into the demon’s chest, her sword slashing left to decapitate the other vampire running up on her from the side, her back-heel kick catching a third demon in the nuts, doubling him up and making him easy prey for her spinning back-handed downward slash to the neck.
A hard right caught her in the jaw, snapping her head to one side as she side-kicked her new rival to the knee. The demon stumbled backwards as she launched into the air into a spinning kick that crashed into the side of the vampire’s head, knocking her assailant onto his back. Faith threw her head back as she stepped towards the vampire, stake rising.
And then her arms were grabbed and pinned behind her. “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!”
“Oh really?” Faith laughed as she swung her legs up, placing her feet on the rim of the nearest table and kicking off, the demon holding onto her stumbling backwards as she pulled her arms free of his loosening grip and landed in a crouch.
“Shit,” Faith grunted as she spun around to face her attacker, ducking under an overhand right as she did so. Her opponent was a big one, a hulking Kaliff who looked capable of lifting a van.
Faith darted in under a left hook only to be grabbed around the throat, the demon’s fingers digging deep into her flesh. Faith reached up to grab her attacker’s wrist only to be flung into the air.
The moment her feet left the floor, Faith brought her knees up into her chest and kicked off, planting her feet in the demon’s belly. The demon folded up like a cheap deck-chair, flying backwards to crash into the still-playing jukebox, the brightly-coloured machine showering glass everywhere.
Faith’s feet had only just touched the ground when an arm grabbed her around her neck. Faith’s hands shot up to grab the side of her attacker’s hands even as she snapped forward at the waist and pulled.
The vampire screamed as it flew through the air, exploding into dust as it crossed the path of one of Tara’s fireballs. “Owwww!” Faith grunted as another vampire slammed a fist into her kidneys.
“Shit!” Shaking off the pain, Faith spun around to slam an elbow into the side of her assailant’s head. The vampire’s head snapped back but he responded with a forearm to the mouth, her head cracking back even as she twisted into a knee to the gut that the vampire slapped down with his right hand while throwing a left hook that Faith blocked on her forearm. Shaking off the pain running up her right arm, Faith attempted a leg sweep that the demon leapt over while back-handing her across the face and shooting out a heel-kick that Faith twisted out of the way of before hooking the demon’s ankle against her body and driving her free palm down on its locked knee while as the same time stamping on her rival’s instep.
“Ahhhh!” Both bones snapped at the same time, the crippled demon crashing to the ground, easy prey to a hastily picked up table leg to the heart.
“Jeez.” Faith smirked as she looked around the bar. They’d done a serious wrecking crew number on the bar, demon entrails and dust coated the previously threadbare carpet, scorches from Tara’s fireballs marked the walls, and the broken bodies of the demons that didn’t just dissolve lay amongst the wrecked furniture and shattered glasses and bottles. “We really did a number on these mothers.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy agreed as she put a shotgun blast into a still weakly moving Strom demon, “they shouldn’t have tried to ambush us then.”
“Leave some of them alive,” Xander ordered. “It’s not much of a message if there’s no-one to pass it on.”
* * *
“I wanna an ipod, one with jazz music if you’ve-.”
Xander’s shotgun took out the back of the demon’s head as it crashed to the dusty floor, its body twitching spasmodically. Xander raised his gun and without speaking blew the vampire’s head off before looking around, distaste curdling in his belly.
The darkened warehouse was filled with all manner of goods, wide-screen TVs stood next to hi-fi players. Stacks of CDs were racked next to DVDs and books. Chairs stood next to tables. Computers stood next to printers and scanners. Garden tools next to car tools, barely a foot of the warehouse wasn’t stuffed full of stuff.
Xander’s scowl deepened. Often when vampires gained access to a house in addition to butchering its occupants in a variety of messy ways, they stripped the house of anything valuable and either kept it for themselves or sold it on to one of several hundred demonic fences throughout the nation. Making money off the blood of innocents.
This one though was definitely out of business and was going to stay that way.
Xander backed out of the second-hand shop, Kennedy covering his retreat before flinging two WP grenades towards the back of the warehouse. The grenades bounced off a battered table and then exploded, flames illuminating the previously darkened warehouse and licking up at its high ceiling, arid smoke catching the back of his throat. Eyes fixed on the inferno, he pulled out his suddenly ringing cell. “Hey, Faith,” he greeted. “Have you blown up the car lot yet?”
“Man,” his girl-friend giggled into the phone, “that B-300 is the bomb, I was two hundred and fifty yards away, half a dozen family sedans, couple of Mercs, and a couple of motor bikes, together with three vamps, and boom.”
”Vamps?” Xander’s brow furrowed as he watched the warehouse burn. God, he hoped his girl-friend hadn’t hit the wrong place by mistake. “You’re sure they were vamps?”
“Checked through the infra-red glasses first,” his girl-friend equably replied. “No heat signatures.”
“Good.” Xander nodded. That was another business, this one selling off murder victims’ cars. Another business soaked in blood now kaput. All in all this was turning out to be a very successful night. “Meet you at the car.”
“Five by five.”
* * *
The Sathari crashed through the door and bounced three times before coming to an undignified halt. “Three times, you own me a million bucks, Kennedy,” Faith announced as she and her fellow brunette strode into the darkened bar, a shocked hush falling over it. Faith’s smirk widened as she noticed the bar’s occupants pulling back against the walls, what she recognised as horror on the vaguely humanoid and human faces. It was wicked cool to be recognised. “Hey, you heard we were coming.” Faith glanced down at the demon security’s broken body and then at the trembling demon stood behind the bar. “You might need to hire new bouncers, sorry about that.”
“The other’s still wrapped around the lamp-post,” Kennedy added.
Faith strutted over to the bar and scowled, the barman cowering as she peered at the drinks cabinet. “Jesus, look at this crap!” she spat. “I’m fuckin’ parched but there’s limits! There’s nothing good to drink here. And normally I’ll put anything in my mouth!”
“Do you think she realises what she said?” Kennedy muttered before shaking her head in disgust. “Yeah, probably.”
“You know the message,” half the demons jumped when Xander walked in from the back, Tara trailing behind him, “but I’ll repeat it anyway, just so you don’t think I’ve forgotten you. This state might not have a Mithras branch, but that doesn’t mean WE won’t come for you. Remember us and quake.”
Manners sighed as he closed his eyes and poured himself a glass of single malt, the sound of liquid splashing against finely-cut glass not relaxing him as it usually did. Opening his eyes, he turned on his desk lamp, his office otherwise darkened, and stared at the papers before him, the distant sounds of what staff remained in the office reminding him of the lateness in the hour.
Before him sat the details of the Mithras Quartet’s latest actions. No, rampage was a better word, it was almost as if they’d gone insane. Half a dozen cities decimated in a single week. He didn’t think anything could further intimidate the demon world as regards the Mithras Quartet, but he’d been wrong. As well as naming the rampage ‘Six-Day Slaughter’, Faith now had the hushed nickname of ‘Dark-eyed Death’ and Harris ‘Wrath’s Hammer’.
Fortunately, none of the businesses destroyed had been W&H concerns. A few of the dead were Wolfram & Hart clients, but only minor ones. However the knock-on effect was cataclysmic. While Black Thorn business continued more or less unabated, although even they were looking over their shoulders, only the wild cards with true power were still going on with their various schemes. Most of Wolfram & Hart’s client-base were hiding until they were sure the bogeyman wouldn’t come to their door. Which was a major case of role-reversal if he’d ever heard one.
While their plans for the eventual apocalypse continued apace, things in Sunnydale were running along nicely, their clients’ inaction meant their services weren’t had been utilised as often, which meant the bottom line was suffering.
Something would have to be done.
However, the question was what? Draco had been their office’s best asset, and Harris had summarily dispatched him. He’d considered raiding their bank accounts, that would at least cripple them financially, but they were allied to a number of wizards, financial and magical, and if the ‘re-acquisition’ was tracked back to them, Harris would bring the office crashing down around them.
Not a welcome prospect, not at all.
* * *
Simmons shuddered as he completed reading the report. The horribly detailed report. He shuddered again. And the board wanted him to take this group on?
He shook his head. Given the choice, he’d take their losses as an unfortunate side effect of being in the clandestine business and keep on working under the radar. If he’d learnt anything in the intelligence and political games, it was pick the fights you can win or at least come away relatively unscathed from.
And yet, he’d had a phone call just this morning from one of his political backers demanding when they going to do something about ‘these kids who think they can interfere in their business’. Simmons shuddered again. He hated being pushed into an action he knew to be inadvisable, no scratch that, near-suicidal, but he had little choice in the matter. Either he obeyed, or one night he disappeared.
On the other hand, god only knew what the Mithras Quartet would do to him if he failed in an attempt to kill them and they found out about him.
Simmons winced. It was for just this sort of situation he’d sought power, so he’d be able to avoid having to make these choices, and now he was being forced into making one of the worst choices of his life.
Of course there was the upside, slight as it was. If against the odds his attempt to get rid of Harris did work, he’d expect his rewards would be great. If he failed, it was his third shudder but he didn’t think he was over-doing them, if he failed it would between Harris and his own comrades to get to him first.
High stakes indeed. Yes, his next move had to be very thoroughly thought out indeed.
* * *
Giles looked up in surprise, wondering who’d spoken. He flushed slightly as he realised it had been him. He looked back down at the papers before him and grimaced, the beginnings of a throbbing headache affecting him.
And it had rather more to do with the report than the three shots of whiskey on the rocks he’d consumed.
With the fall of the Council, he as senior surviving Watcher had inherited the Council’s intelligence sources throughout the world. This week’s reports were disturbing. No, he barked a bitter laugh, bloody terrifying. It appeared the Mithras Quartet had once again run amok, displaying a horrifying ruthlessness.
His eyes closed as he remembered the burning rage in Xander’s eyes the last time they’d met. Even worse than his assault on him was the thought that Xander thought he could ever be involved in the torture of a young girl. Even more than that, his actions that day had illustrated in a way all the reports in the world couldn’t hope to, just how dangerous Xander Harris was truly becoming.
He shook his head. And what these reports and the others he’d received in the intervening reports all indicated was, that as Xander’s power-base grew, so did his and Faith’s abilities.
Some of their methods were questionable, but their motivations and effectiveness were undeniable. Giles swallowed. It had seemed impossible at first, but as the months went on more and more horribly plausible. Xander was the one mentioned in ‘The End Of Times Scrolls’ and ‘Il Terminus Scriputa’.
Giles sighed. The Council had forgotten its own prophecies and in doing so, created an implacable enemy. “'Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it,” Giles shook his head. The Mithras Brotherhood would make a powerful ally, except Buffy had never forgiven Faith for leaving, although given the revelation of the Cruicatmen, he could certainly understand her reasons. Moreover, she would never accept Xander usurping her as the demon world’s most feared enemy, nor would he accept a subordinate role to her. And as for Faith, the young girl had frequently bristled under Buffy’s sometimes off-handed leadership. Now that the Council were no longer a factor, there was more chance of him walking on the moon than there was getting the brunette beauty to obey Buffy.
Any meeting between the two of them would end up being explosive. No, he chuckled painfully, thermo-nuclear.
No, he decided Buffy could never find out. He’d managed to cover up Rona and the other Potentials’ arrival by swearing the girls to secrecy and explaining a fellow Watcher had found and sent them. As for the papers, he picked them up and crouched down by the safe hidden behind the window curtain. Unlocking it with the date of his arrival, he pulled the door open and looked inside, reaching down to pull a hidden lever that slid the false bottom where he’d hidden all the papers relating to the Brotherhood and dropped them in before re-securing the safe.
* * *
The White House Situation Room was hushed as President Palmer completed the ultra-secret report. Once he had done, he looked up and addressed his inner circle. “Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see the problem,” he glanced down at his notes before looking up again, his gaze sweeping the room’s inhabitants, meeting their eyes one after another, “the Mithras Brotherhood are supposed to hunt vampires and demons, that’s what they did.”
“Mr. President, over twenty humans died too,” Lewis Berryhill commented, the crumpled, lined man whose personal charm and insightful mind had ensured him the post of Secretary Of State.
“I’m aware of that Lewis,” Palmer replied. “But these were mostly black arts mages and in one case, a family of cannibals. Hardly any party’s chosen constituents.” A chuckle ran through the room at his comment. Encouraged, he continued. “This report also makes mention of six runaways rescued from one bar, over thirty people rescued from a slavery ring, and two dozen from a,” he grimaced, “torture club.” His eyes widened slightly as he noticed something on the last page. “Had Charles reported his attack and rescue?”
“No, sir,” it was Sean Archer replied.
“Um,” Palmer’s lips pursed. He’d often worried about Charlie Young’s less than ideal neighbourhood and circumstances. Deciding he’d have to do something about that, he mentally filed the subject under ‘pressing’ before returning to the subject in hand. “So, to sum up, the Brotherhood massacred demons and saved over fifty people, I fail to see the problem.”
“There’s several sir,” this time it was his rugged, shoulders-back Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, who spoke. “In less than a week they also did several million dollars worth of damage, spread across the nation and Canada. These are very dangerous people.”
“Given who they deal with, I imagine they have to be.”
Palmer forced a smile at the comment from the inner circle’s solitary woman. Kathryn Bennett was an immaculately turned out platinum blonde with a gleaming smile and an easy manner. Palmer was in at least one way a fortunate President. Many Presidents ended up with Vice-Presidents forced on them because of voting strategies and backroom party bargains, but with Kathryn he never needed to worry about a knife in the back. Indeed, although they didn’t agree on some of the issues, he at least admired her integrity, loyalty, and honesty, while marvelling at her poise and drive. “Yes,” he agreed, “I imagine Sunday School teachers don’t get a lot of joy with or from demons.” He paused, brow furrowing as he realised something that had been missing from the report. “Have we any idea what motivated this sudden rampage and why these particular cities were chosen?”
“No firm proof, but we do have a theory based on a number of facts, sir.”
Palmer nodded towards Falco. “Please, continue.”
“Thank you sir,” his NSA head nodded. “We know that demons have been fleeing areas where the Mithras Brotherhood have units and that the Brotherhood doesn’t have units in any of the areas hit by the Quartet in the last few days. We suspect demonic activity had become noticeably higher than normal in these non-Brotherhood patrolled cities and the Quartet attacked to reduce this activity.”
”The demonic underworld have dubbed it ‘The Six-Day Slaughter’,” Archer added. “They’re supposedly in uproar about it.”
”A sort of flexing of muscles,” Palmer nodded approvingly. “As far as I can see, the Mithras Brotherhood have done what they set out to do, protect innocent humans.”
“Sir,” it was predictably Archer, his eyes worried, “they’ve broken any number of laws doing so. And this job is after all the government to protect its citizens.”
“In an ideal world, yes.” Palmer conceded. “However we live in a less than ideal world.” Seeing Archer’s mouth open he raised a hand. “Please, let me finish. There are how many Mithras Units currently operating in the US.?”
“Twenty-two units sir,” Archer reluctantly replied.
“All with somewhere between twenty – thirty members in them, and costing an overall total around three billion dollars to run, three billion dollars.” Palmer paused. “But for all that, under a half of our country’s states have been covered by the Brotherhood. It would be considered a national scandal if any government only protected a half of its nation.” Palmer paused again. “So what we actually need is something in the region of ten billion dollars a year to completely protect the nation from the supernatural menace, although of course, given the cost of government bureaucracy, we’d have to probably double that number.”
“At least,” snorted General Grey. “All those buzzards wanting their slice of the pie.”
Palmer chose not to comment on his Chairman’s undiplomatic although largely accurate comment. “And that’s without considering the groups they also run in Russia, France, Greece, India, and England.” Palmer took a breath. “So, fifty groups around thirty strong.” Palmer looked around the situation room. “Where exactly will we get 1,500 personnel from? From the FBI? CIA perhaps? The Armed Forces? Could any of those already over-stretched services spare that number of personnel? Or is the American people supposed to wait the two to three years it takes to train these people? Do any of these branches also employ experienced demon hunters and witches? And that’s without taking into account the fact we’d doubtless lose the Mithras Quartet themselves and their very powerful allies.”
A long silence followed his words. Berryhill spoke up. “I’d also add that unexplained deaths in the states with Mithras coverage are down considerably.”
“They save thousands of lives a year,” General Grey commented. “Not to mention the world on several occasions. Who in this room can say that? They’re not criminals, they’re patriots, hell heroes.” The brusque general coloured slightly. “Sir.”
Palmer chuckled slightly. “At the very least,” he turned his attention back to Horrigan, the head of his Secret Service glaring back at him in that uniquely pugnacious way of his, “Warrior-God, Slayer, and Witch need their status reassigning, sir.”
Palmer forced a snort and shook his head. “You can’t be serious.” The US. Government had a five level ranking system for rating individuals both native and foreign who could be considered either a threat or an asset to America’s interests. Bronze was for inexperienced or unremarkable agents, Silver for those considered experienced, Gold for those considered exceptional, Platinum for those considered elite, and finally Uranium, a class with just over a thousand names in it, and reserved for the most dangerous of the meta-human class. “Omega Red, Wolverine, Sabretooth, or Deadpool would kill any one of them.”
“Perhaps, but there’s others that either the Slayer or the Witch could walk through without noticing – Captain America, Hawkeye, or Bullseye to name three,” Horrigan countered. “Warrior-God himself could probably fight any of those three to a standstill,”
”And that’s without taking into account the members of the Uranium Class they employ, sir,” added Archer. “Witchblade and The Crow in this country, Monsoon, Elektra, and Ursa Major abroad. They have a very formidable group of allies.”
Palmer managed to force back a snarl. It was rare times like this he envied The Supreme Leader of Iran or the North Korean president for their totalitarian dictatorships and lack of accountability. “Very well,” he grimaced as he swallowed the particularly bitter pill. He couldn’t help but feel like he was betraying the heroic youngsters who’d saved his life. “Re-classify all three of them as Uranium. But their affiliation designation remains unchanged. ‘Ally’.”