Even as she raced into the attack, Faith was thinking fast. The way the demon had mowed down Xan and Tar wasn’t good, wasn’t good at all.
At the last moment she feinted to the right, thrusting her sword at the demon’s chest. “Damn!” she grunted as pain reverberated down her sword arm, the weapon’s blade warping as it thudded against her opponent’s chest.
Shock dulled her reflexes long enough for an elbow to crash into the back of her head, almost buckling her knees. “Such profanity from a servant of the Lord,” the demon mused as she blinked her eyes clear, the monster thankfully not pressing his advantage, “and such lewd beauty. How strange.”
Lewd beauty? Half the time these days she wasn’t sure if she was being complimented or insulted. Faith forced her vision to focus and rolled her neck from side to side as she took a boxing stance, the still silence of her two companions telling her they were both out cold at the very least.
At the very least? Faith forced away the fear gnawing at her as she managed a cocksure smirk and beckoned her opponent on. “Bring it.”
“Oh I will,” the demon purred before diving towards her, arms hooking down in what appeared to be an attempted takedown. Her knee came up, catching the demon on his jaw with enough force to snap a normal man’s neck. Unfortunately her attack seemed to have as much effect on Asbeel as a gnat biting an elephant on the ass.
Faith gasped as the demon grabbed her around the waist and rather than wrestling her to the ground, flung her head-first at the wall. “Shit!” Faith twisted in mid-air, contorting herself so that her feet hit the wall first, her knees bending as she reversed her momentum and flew back at her opponent. Asbeel laughed as he grabbed her cowboy boot and flung her at the stone font towards the back of the church.
”Oh for fuck’s sake!” Faith cursed as she snatched hold of one of the font’s brass handles to arrest her flight, her shoulder straining with the effort as she dropped in a crouch.
”Impressive acrobatics,” Asbeel purred as he strode towards her, boots clicking on the polished wooden floor. “I assume you’re the Slayer I’ve been hearing so much about.”
“Yeah.” Faith waited until the demon was near enough, then scooped her hand into the font and splashed holy water at the demon. “I got plenty of tricks.”
”Ha!” the demon smiled as the water hit his face. “A nice thought, but your religions have no effect on me.”
”Great,” Faith muttered as she ducked beneath a swinging right, relieved that the demon didn’t appear to have much in the way of fighting skill. “Shit!” Blood burst from her right eye when the demon caught her with a jarring left hook that almost had her knees buckling.
Faith reeled backwards, just away from another right. Course you didn’t exactly have to know how to fight when your punches made Kakistos look like a pussy. Faith leaned away from the demon’s attempted thrust kick, grabbed his ankle, and drove her palm down at its unprotected knee, even as she pulled her head down and under a left hook to the jaw.
The demon grunted as her blow connected, the impact jarring her wrist and elbow as Asbeel pulled his leg loose and stumbled backwards. Faith leapt forward, eager to press her advantage.
And then the world exploded in pain, blood roaring in her ears, when Asbeel drove his ‘injured’ leg up into her crotch. Suddenly breathing was impossible, Faith fell backwards and against the font, barely able to move, sheer willpower keeping her upright. She blocked a left on her forearm, even slammed a futile hook into the demon’s torso, then crumpled under a backhand to the jaw that took her from her feet, and flung her into a trio of chairs set to the font’s left. Her head reeling, Faith grabbed one of the chairs and flung it at the demon, the chair hitting the demon on the head, splintering to firewood, but having literally no effect on him.
“Now,” Asbeel smiled as he strode over to her, Faith gasping as she tried and failed to get her legs to work, “let us renew your acquaintance with pain.”
“Here’s our last one!” Kennedy reported as she shoved the weakly-protesting Baptist preacher into the back of the car together with the Catholic Father and the Hindu priest. “You!” she glared at the Catholic Father as she climbed back into the car beside Lara Croft. “Explain everything and get him to say the prayer, then do the group one together.”
“Back to the church?” Lara asked as she pulled the car away from the kerb.
Kennedy nodded before closing her eyes and muttering a silent prayer. God, Tara had to be alright.
* * *
“Jesus,” Faith groaned as she tried to crawl away on her elbows, her leather-panted ass squeaking on the polished wooden floor beneath her as she watched the advancing demon, the pain in her crotch making her blood pound and her stomach constantly shake as if readying her to puke.
“Your false prophet will not help you.”
”Maybe I can.” Faith blinked as shotgun blasts roared through the air, punishing her ears, the advancing demon staggering but staying upright.
The demon looked to his left, to a man she couldn’t see thanks to the wall blocking her view. “You are quite the irritant.” And then suddenly the demon was moving, past her and onto the attacker. Then the pain became too much, and she passed out, gratefully sinking into darkness.
* * *
Caine’s eyes bulged as the ‘thing’ turned his attention from his unseen victim and to him, his shells apparently have literally no effect. He pulled the trigger again the blast catching the ‘man’ full in the face as he charged in, then his adversary’s impossibly strong fingers were around the gun barrel, wrenching it from his hands with humiliating ease. Even as the man flung the shotgun to the left, he ignored Caine’s kick to his knee with a chortle, grabbed him around the throat, steel cable-like fingers instantly cutting off his air. The man smirked as he flung him into the opposite wall, head cracking hard on the unforgiving concrete, his body bouncing off the wall and onto a rickety wooden table filled with prayer books and bibles, the table predictably splintering under his weight and pitching him to the floor.
“Ohhhh,” Caine groaned as he pulled himself up to a seated position, propped against the wall, the table’s debris surrounding and covering him. He blinked and shook his head, ignoring the pain as he waited for his vision to clear. He didn’t know how long he’d been out, but the thing was long gone.
Pulling himself up to his feet took a lot more effort than he was used to, covering him in a coat of sweat. Then he staggered through into the church to investigate just what his attacker had been after.
Caine gasped at the bedlam he found in the church. A man lay motionless against the left wall, while a woman lay at the front, by the altar, and another woman, a devastatingly-beautiful but battered brunette dressed like a biker babe was sat crumpled against the back wall, pews and chairs scattered everywhere. Caine grimaced, maybe one of these people could answer some questions about just what his attacker was. That thought uppermost in his mind, he stepped towards the biker babe, hand reaching down for his cuffs.
“You don’t really want to pull out those cuffs do you?” He stiffened at the gun in his lower back, eyebrow raising at the woman’s voice. “I’m sure Faith would appreciate the bondage, but she usually likes Xander to do the cuffing.”
“What is going on here?” he demanded in a frustrated growl, hands reluctantly rising.
”You’re the cop aren’t you?” the voice queried. After a second he nodded. “You might as well just leave, leave this to the experts.”
“Your friends don’t look that expert to me,” he commented, his foot firmly entering his mouth.
”Yeah, but I wasn’t with them,” the girl cockily replied.
Despite himself he couldn’t help but smile slightly at her comment. “Jesus,” Caine glanced towards the wakening girl in front of him, noting her ashen features and haggard look, “that bastard-.” Suddenly her dark eyes focused on him. “Hey Ken, if you’re tryin’ out for the hetro Olympics, here’s a tip, usually guys don’t like it if you hold a gun on them.” The girl’s full lips pulled up into a dimpled smile. “Course if they’re really kinky….”
“Funny Faith,” ‘Ken’ replied. “Can you hold this gun on this guy and do an explanation while I waken Xander and Tara?”
“Sure,” Faith’s smile turned to a grimace accompanied with a hiss. “I’m gonna need Tar’s help, Ken. I think that bastard busted me up inside.”
”Okay,” a tiny brunette twisted around him and passed a .32 to the taller brunette. For a moment Caine considered using the opportunity to take the gun, but resisted, the two women didn’t seem hostile just cautious. This could be one of the times where you got more with sugar than with shit.
”Where the hell did you go anyway?” Faith asked as she pointed the gun at him.
“Replacing the ‘weapon of god’.”
”Ah,” Faith nodded, “good idea. Only,” he noted a slight glassiness to the brunette’s eyes, “get Tar before I pass out again.”
Caine watched the other brunette rush to the front of the church before turning back to Faith. “So you were going to explain what is happening here?”
The beauty shot him a tired smirk before wiping at the sweat on her forehead. “Kay, I get stuck with the Watcher bs. The world is far, far older than people believe and it wasn’t originally a paradise….”
Caine listened dazedly as Faith gave him her explanation. “You’ve mad!”
“Yeah, ‘cause people who can take shotguns in the face and keep motoring are every day-,” Faith winced then groaned. “Oh Jesus, fuck that hurts.”
”Xander,” a battered looking blonde walked up to them, her face worried, “Faith’s going to need some privacy, you and this detective carry her through into the room by the left of the front entrance.”
”Jeez, I can walk-,” the ‘Slayer’ gulped at the blonde’s fierce stare. “Or maybe I can’t.”
“If you don’t mind,” a dark-haired, solidly-built youth maybe twenty years his junior stepped up to the curvy brunette’s right.
After a second Caine nodded. Whatever the truth of the Slayer’s words, she and the others didn’t set off his cop instincts as the wrong-doers in this matter. “Sure.” The two of them squatted either side of the leather-clad beauty, slid their arms under her shoulders and knees, and lifted.
“Fuck,” the Slayer arched in their arms, eyes screwing shut. “Delicate cargo here, boys.”
“A moment ago you could walk,” the blonde scolded. “Kennedy get the door.”
In moments they were in a dimly lit room with a desk, chair, and a couch, its walls filled with books on theology and ethics. After they’d lowered the surprisingly tiny Slayer down onto the couch, the witch spoke. “Thanks guys,” Tara said, “now if you’ll just give us some privacy.”
“Sure,” Xander shot the injured brunette a look that said it all about the pair’s closeness, “you’ll be alright?”
”You know me,” the Slayer smiled wearily, “I’ll be five by five.”
* * *
Tara spoke the moment the door shut behind the others. “Get those pants off so I can look at the damage.”
Faith smirked despite the throbbing pain that had spread from her crotch to her belly. “You’ve wanted to say that for so looooong.”
“Not funny,” Tara scolded.
“I thought it was.” Faith muttered as she unbuckled her pants and started pulling them off. At least that was the idea, the moment she lifted her left leg, the throbbing pain turned into a volcano engulfing both her lower limbs. “OH FUCK! OH FUCK!” She bit down on her bottom lip with enough force to draw blood.
“Okay,” Tara closed her eyes, “let me take care of them.”
Faith gasped as her pants disappeared and then re-appeared folded on the cluttered desk. “Jeez, I bet Kennedy loves that trick.”
“Not funny,” Tara repeated as she stared down at Faith’s crotch. “Oh not good.”
“What?” Faith queried, her chest tight even as she joked. “I’m not lookin’ fat or anythin’?”
“You have a pelvis broken in three places, a tear to the uterus ligament, dislocated left hip, and internal bleeding and injuries to your womb.” Tara pulled out her cell. “I’ll have to call Leo.”
* * *
Caine glanced towards the door at the girl’s screams and then back at his companions. “You’re going to have to do better than this to convince me about all this.”
“No,” Xander shook his head, his face tense. “I don’t have to convince you of anything. You can either believe us or not, I haven’t the time or inclination to care.”
Caine’s hands balled into fists. “Maybe I should just arrest you all right now?”
The look Xander shot him made him feel as if someone had just walked over his grave. “Maybe you should try,” the ‘boy’ said. “I’ve got a few issues I need to work out.”
”Oh boy,” Kennedy stepped between the two of them, the diminutive brunette shaking her head disapprovingly, “all the testosterone in the air would turn me gay if I wasn’t a lesbian already!” The brunette looked up at Xander. “Show him the Always Pocket, maybe that’ll convince him.”
The young man bared his teeth then started pulling a variety of guns, tools, and clothes out of mid-air, until soon there was a waist-high pile of equipment in front of him.
“Okay,” Caine nodded slowly. “Let’s say I’m convinced.”
”Well I know I’ll sleep better tonight,” Xander snarked.
Even as his jaw clenched at the youth’s surliness, Kennedy spoke. “Cool it Xander, it’s not the detective’s fault Faith got hurt, and Tara will soon have her fixed up.”
“Yeah,” Xander half-nodded, “sorry.”
* * *
“Right,” Faith swallowed her fear down deep. Leo would heal her in a -. “Jeez!” She started when the WhiteLighter orbed in. “Give a girl a chance to put some pants on!” She joked as the angel coloured and turned away.
”I need your help,” Tara hurriedly said. “Asbeel-.”
“The Old One?” Leo paled, his eyes shooting from her to Tara. “He’s here!”
“I won’t be if you don’t heal me!” Faith growled.
“He’s enclosed in a human body so he’s far from his full power-.”
“Could have fooled me,” Faith grunted. “Kicks like an elephant on roids.”
“And we do have a weapon of god to deal with him,” Tara added.
”We do?” Faith looked towards her friend, her pain momentarily if not forgotten at least ebbing under a wave of interest.
Tara beamed proudly. “Kennedy rounded up a trio of priests and had them bless a knife.”
“Go the brat,” Faith looked at the angel. “Now how about some healing hands?” she winked saucily. “And if there’s any inappropriate touchin’, I won’t mind. You should have seen how quickly Tar got my pants off.”
“Ha, ha,” Tara grunted as the reddening angel crouched down in between her legs and held his hands about eight inches over her crotch.
Faith moaned as a golden light seeped out from the angel’s hands, a healing warmth filling her. After a minute or so the angel rose. “You’re healed now,” he told her.
”Man, that felt so good, bet Piper has you on speed-dial.” Faith grinned at the angel’s returning blush. “Yeah,” Faith nodded agreeably. “I can tell. You do good work, Wings. Thanks.” Faith nodded at Tara as her sis passed her leather pants. By the time she’d dragged them on, Leo had disappeared. “Let’s go for round two with that bastard.” Faith’s forehead creased at Tara’s wince. “You hurt too? You should have asked Leo to-.”
”We’re in a house of worship, Faith,” Tara reprimanded. “Please, try and stop the swearing.”
“Me with a clean mouth?” Faith winked. “Now that wouldn’t be me would it?”
The beauty who slinked out of the vestry moved with a predatory grace that seemed almost primal in its nature. “Are you alright Faith?”
The brunette’s face lit up at Xander’s concern. “Leo fixed me right up, stud,” she replied as she threw her arms around the young man’s shoulders and kissed him on the cheek before looking curiously towards him. “What’s the heat still doin’ here?”
“I want to help,” Caine replied for himself.
”Huh, huh,” the brunette’s eyes turned sceptical before turning back to her boy-friend and muttering something in his ear.
”Thought about it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” the youth cryptically replied.
”Wicked,” Faith looked towards Kennedy, “Tar said you have somethin’ for me?”
”Yeah,” the smaller brunette handed the Slayer a carving knife.
Faith looked down at the knife and then at the Potential. ”I was gonna say kudos for creatin’ one, but a carving knife, seriously?”
“Hey!” the smaller brunette glanced at him and then back at the Slayer. “I couldn’t use any of ours, it had to be new! I had to break into a hardware store to get that!”
“Fair nuff,” the Slayer conceded with a nod before glancing towards Xander. “So how we gonna do this?”
“Tracking Asbeel down won’t be a problem, we’ve got his priest and now another weapon, he’ll come looking for us,” Xander commented. “Tara I want use to utilise long-range attacks on him, give Faith a chance to get in close. Kennedy, Caine,” Caine caught the mini-uzi Xander threw him, “you’re with me on guard duty of the priests.”
Caine nodded numbly, surprised by which the ease the youth appeared to throw orders around. In seconds they were marching out of the church and down its steps to meet a pneumatically beautiful brunette with an air of class about her. “Well Faith,” the woman purred, her clipped accent identifying her as upper-class English, as she looked towards him, “you do seem to collect the strapping ones.”
”It’s a skill,” the Slayer lazily drawled before looking towards the car’s backseat, “your talent seems to be more towards collecting the wrinkly ones.”
“Ha, ha,” there was a flash of teeth and then the brunette sobered. “What’s the plan?”
Xander’s mouth opened. “Oh no!” Kennedy interrupted him before he had chance to speak. “Asbeel must have sensed the weapon and doubled back!” The potential pointed to the road’s near-end. “He’s back!”
Caine’s blood chilled, but Xander appeared calm itself. “Change of plan,” the youth announced before looking towards the apparent Englishwoman, “Lara, we need to get your holy men into the church and fast. Faith, you and Tara are up.”
* * *
Her eyes fixed on the approaching figure, Faith swallowed the fear down deep. She doubted she’d ever been hit close to as heavy as Asbeel hit before, but the difference this time was the knife. She glanced down at the carving knife, a spark igniting in her head. ”Give me a shotgun and sword.” Xander looked towards her. “Decoys, I’m betting he won’t be able to tell exactly how close the weapon is.”
“Okay,” Faith took the passed over weapons, “good luck.”
”See you in a minute,” she replied before glancing to a taut-faced Tara. “Stay behind me and get his attention.”
“How about this.”
Faith blinked as a multi-coloured firework display of angels exploded before the Old One’s eyes, forcing him to rear back, teeth bared in surprise. “It’ll do for a start, keep hitting him until it’s hand to hand, then come in to check on me after it’s all done. I go down, you high-tail into the church-.”
”Like that’s gonna happen.”
Faith smirked at her best friend’s mutter before starting into the road, sneakers slapping against the tarmac. “It’s times like this, I realise Xander has a point ‘bout what a pain in the ass you are,” she snarked before sobering, raising her shotgun and starting to fire, its boom shattering the silent night.
Each of her shots hit home, causing the demon to stagger before righting. But despite her bullets it came on, shoulders bunching and jaw clenched. The moment her shotgun emptied, she threw it aside and leapt forward, dancing under a straight right to kick the demon in its gut and dance back out again.
The thing seemed worriedly untroubled by her attack. “I’ll gut you like a fish!”
“Money talks,” she pulled her head down under a swinging left, blocked a kick to her belly on her crossed forearms, then danced out again, “bullshit walks!”
“Insolent bitch!” The demon snarled before throwing a hook she blocked on her already aching forearm. “Your words mean nothing!”
“You like that?” she cockily queried as she leapt up into the air, brought her knees up into her gut and kicked out, her feet cannoning into the demon’s chest as she backflipped into her crouch. “I gotta a ton of them.”
“Such as?” The demon growled as he tried a roundhouse kick she ducked under.
“Don’t hunt,” Faith shot out a right that connected with the demon’s crotch with depressingly little effect before springing out of her crotch, “what you can’t kill!” She sidestepped the demon’s headlong charge, dropping to one knee as she thrust her knife up and into the monster’s left armpit, even as his elbow cracked into the side of her head, knocking her face-down into the tarmac.
”Shit,” Faith grunted as she hit tarmac, her top lip and forehead above her right eye splitting on impact. “Shit.” She rolled over onto her side then grinned, her pain forgotten next to the sight of Asbeel’s unmoving corpse, the knife jutting out of its armpit. She kipped up as Tara rushed over. “Score another one for the good guys.”
Now there was only a question of what to do with the corpse.
* * *
Two hours later she found herself and the others on a boat of a friend of Caine, the cop having taken over as skipper as dawn threatened to break over the Houston Channel. Asbeel had been stuffed into a safe, the safe locked with a combination Xander had made while blindfolded, then the iron-grey safe had been further secured with half a dozen padlocked chains, then put into a still larger safe weighed down with rocks.
As solutions went, it was an imperfect one, but it was an imperfect world. “Everyone stand back,” Faith warned as she muscled the safe up to the boat’s edge, sweat beading down her brow, every sinew straining as she wedged the wheelbarrow against the boat’s side and started leveraging the safe over the edge. Finally the safe was wobbling, and then falling, an almighty splash soaking her. Faith grinned at Xander as she threw her head back and shook her hair, water flying off her drenched mane. “As usual you lose the wet T-shirt competition, stud.”
”When you get drenched, I always win,” Xander grinned back at her before hurrying over to Caine. “Look, you’ve got nerve if you went after Asbeel twice, and well Tara checked you out on our computer. Do you want to join us?”
Caine shot them all a considering look before answering. “Where are you staying?”
Xander hesitated before answering. “Hotel Derek.”
“I know it,” Caine replied as he turned the boat back to the port, the engine’s purring motor filling the air. “I’ll meet you there at nine tonight in the dining room.”
Faith glanced impatiently at her watch before looking across the table at him. “I got ten past, what time ya got?”
Xander forced a patient smile. “Give him time, he’ll be here.”
Faith shook her head and scowled, arms crossing. “Can’t remember the last time a guy was late to meet with me.”
Kennedy shot him a sadistic smirk that had him readying for a dive for cover. ”Don’t you remember that time in Detroit when Xand-,” the potential’s expression changed as she peered over his left shoulder, “oh boy maybe we should have gotten a bigger table.”
“What?” Xander peered over his shoulder to see Caine striding into the brightly-lit dining room at the head of nine strangers aged between the mid-twenties to their early-thirties, the one exception being in his early forties.
“Shit,” Faith growled out. “Figure it’s a trap?”
“No,” Xander answered slowly as he readied the Always Pocket, just in case. “Not after last night, Caine knows what we’re into. If he was trying to arrest us, there’d be SWAT all over this place.”
“Cool,” he sensed Faith half-relaxing.
Caine stopped before their table. “Sorry I’m late, I had to make a few phone calls.”
“And you brought friends, how nice.” Xander sarcastically commented.
Caine smiled slightly as he glanced at the chair they’d left empty for him. “May I?” Xander nodded. “Thanks.” The cop sat down. “I’ve been a policeman for over twenty years, I can’t just turn away from that, but a state the size of Texas needs an unit.” He glanced towards his cowboy regalia wearing companions who’d just taken the table next to them. “These are the Lone Star Loyalists,” Xander raised an eyebrow and heard Faith snort at the name. “Yeah, I know,” Caine smirked slightly before continuing. “But they’re Texas’ premiere bounty hunters. Just the sort of people whose skills and experiences make them perfect for this job.”
“And the name?” Kennedy queried.
“It comes from the fact we’re all descendants of notorious Texas gunmen,” replied the oldest of the group, a craggy-featured man with plenty of stubble and a lazy left eye, “I’m Lou Vermillion, great-grandson of Texas Jack Vermillion.”
“I’m Slick Thompson,” a sharp-featured youth with sandy-brown hair parted down the middle and confident blue eyes spoke up, “descendant of Ben Thompson.”
“Tyrone and Tyrell Allison,” commented one of a pair of hulking identical twins, “descendants of Clay Allison.”
“Camille Fisher,” added a sun-kissed athletic woman with curly brown hair, “great-great-grand-daughter of King Fisher.”
”King Fisher? Seriously?” Faith muttered.
”Quite a famous gun-fighter,” Tara muttered back.
“Brad Longley,” said a tall, wide-shouldered man with intense black eyes, “Bill Longley’s descendant.”
“I’m Cheryl McMasters,” a curvy short brunette looked towards the short man sat beside him, “this is my brother Chuck, we’re related to Marshal Sherman McMasters.”
“I’m Kerry Short,” said another brunette, this one taller with passionate grey eyes, “relative of Luke Short.”
Lou Vermillion continued. “Some of us started off as a Wild West revival outfit about twelve years ago, but when our overheads got too much, we moved into the bounty hunting business here in Texas and the neighbouring states.”
“And who leads this unit?” Xander queried.
Caine glanced over his shoulder and towards the dining room’s entrance. “That’d be the man.”
The man who entered was huge, not tall, about his height actually, but easily packing an extra forty fat-free pounds on his frame, his biceps bulging like basketballs under his XXXL T-shirt and his neck disappearing into his shoulders. The man himself was blue-eyed and square-jawed, what little hair there was on his face all cut into a triangle-shaped beard and none of it on his head. All in all, an intimidating man. “Pleased to meet you son,” the man growled in a voice so deep as to give Barry White an inferiority complex before grabbing his head and pumping it in a grip that had him worrying for his fingers.
“This is Jack Conrad,” Caine started to introduce. “A friend of mine-.”
”That’s a lie,” Tara interrupted. “What is your name?”
Everyone looked at the bald-headed powerhouse who shrugged. “Jack Riley, former Delta Force.”
”Whoa,” Xander looked towards Tara. The witch nodded. Xander had to admit he was impressed, as elite forces went you didn’t get much more elite than Delta Force. “So you’re interested in doing this?”
”Let’s just say,” the man dropped into a chair, the furniture creaking under his weight, “I’m tired of taking the government’s money, my contract’s up but I don’t fancy signing up again. Ain’t the action, it’s-,” the soldier shrugged, “a man gets tired of travelling you know?”
”Oh hell yes,” Faith muttered.
“But I want to know what I’m setting up and getting into,” the Delta Force operative continued after a smirk at Faith.
“Okay then,” Xander looked towards Tara who was busy receiving a remote hack from Angela. After a minute his friend nodded. ““You get the interest off a hundred and fifty million dollar trust fund to spend as you wish – wages, health insurance, arms and ammunition, equipment, a base, whatever you deem necessary. You can access our intelligence network, arms, communications, and equipment suppliers. In return we supply protocols that any group that works for us adheres to. A set of rules, no harming innocents, no charging for your help, that sorta thing. But the big thing is there’s an apocalypse coming, a potential world-ender, and I want all units to be there.”
“Can I see these protocols?” The man blinked when he pulled a print-out of the Always Pocket. “Magic?”
”Of a sort,” he replied.
”Neat trick,” Jack glanced down at the information, eyes skirting over the print, then he turned over the second page, and then the third before looking up. “I can work with this.”
”Great!” Xander beamed.
”What are my resources?” Jack queried.
Xander looked towards Tara. “Tara, you’re record-gal.”
“One day, you’re going to have to learn how to use a computer,” Tara reprimanded with a smile before opening up the CD drive and putting a CD in the computer. After a minute she started tapping at the laptop’s keyboard then looked up at the imposing man. “Houston has three teams of eight demon hunters, Dallas has two teams of ten, San Antonio has three teams of six demon hunters, Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, and Arlington each have a team of seven. Dallas and Houston both have sizable white magic covens.”
”Right,” Jack nodded before looking towards him. “Size Texas is, we’re gonna have to split our group into two, one doin’ east, one doin’ west.”
”It’s up to you,” Xander replied. “You’re the boss now.”
“Damn straight.” Jack smirked and stuck out his hand. Xander winced as he took the man-mountain’s hand again and prayed for the use of his fingers afterwards, the things he did to save the world.
Faith turned to Xander the moment she closed the door of their suite behind them. “You figure Jack Riley’s gonna turn out okay?”
Xander shrugged. “We’ll have to see I suppose, Tara read him as okay, so there’s that.” Xander’s brow furrowed as he pouted thoughtfully. “The question is where to go next to try and get some recruits? I’ve been looking at plugging some holes in the Middle East or South America, maybe bolstering our Asian presence-.”
“No here’s the real question,” Faith placed her hand in the centre of Xander’s chest and pushed him into the wall. “Are you gonna shut up about the Mithras Brotherhood and get down to,” Faith grinned, “servicing my needs?”
Xander half-grinned right back at her. “You’re the one who wanted to talk ‘bout the Brotherhood.”
”Yeah, but that was ‘fore I remembered how borin’ you are when you start off ‘bout it.” Faith grabbed the back of Xander’s head and pulled him down towards her as she stepped on tip-toes. “Now shut up and kiss me.”
* * *
Faith’s eyes shot open, Slayer instinct awakening her for some unknown reason. The hairs on the back of her neck sprang upright as she peered uncertainly around their darkened bedroom, the only sound, Xander’s admittedly avalanche-like snore. Faith raised her head off her man’s chest and knelt upright, uncertainty clouding her eyes as she reached out to shake Xander awake.
A feat that was only marginally easier than wakening the non-vampiriac dead.
Her head snapped to the door when it burst open, and a towering, square-jawed, buzz-cat muscleman in fatigues charged in. Instinct took over as she powered up from the bed and into a leaping thrust kick. “Man,” she growled, “did you pick the wrong hotel room to rob!”
Her heel crashed into the man’s vault-sized chest, yet despite the impact he didn’t fall, only stumbled back a step, and still managed to swing a hammering haymaker into her lower thigh that knocked her into the wall. Faith landed in a crouch, ducked another haymaker that chipped the plaster of the wall behind her, then leapt up into a second leaping thrust-kick, this one to the man’s face that snapped his head to the side, but still didn’t down him.
“Jesus!” Faith grunted while she blocked another left hook on her right forearm and a knee aimed at her crotch on her left forearm, the impact of both blocks resounding through her limbs. Shrugging off both blows, Faith swung a karate chop up and into the soldier’s neck.
The soldier grunted, then snatched a hold of her flowing locks, and yanked her forward, and into a forearm to the face. Stars exploded in front of her eyes as she slammed her fist up and into the wrist of the hand grasping her hair, forcing it to release and allowing her to duck under a follow-up forearm while slamming a heel into the soldier’s left shin.
“Faith, get out of the way!”
Faith leapt into a cartwheel at Xander’s roar. “Shit!” She gasped when the man grabbed her ankle in his steel-cable like fingers and flung her to the ground. Faith looked up with wide eyes as the man raised his foot and came down in a stomp, unable to roll away thanks to the entrance passageway’s narrowness. Instead her hands shot up, grabbed the man boot and shoved up, muscles writhing with the effort. The man flew backwards, crashing into the canary yellow wall behind him with enough force to crack it, then Xander’s shotgun roared.
The man’s head exploded in a mist of wires, blood, and brain, toppling forward in a fall that Faith had to back-flip out of the way of.
* * *
“I wonder who sent it?” Xander ruminated as he crouched over the decapitated cyborg, its blood spilling out onto the carpet, darkening the grey fabric, and the circuits in its head sparking then dying.
“Heh, it could really be anyone, the Vatican, Wolfram & Hart, G-Man, a terrorist group you pissed off.” Faith tilted her head to one side, a teasing smile flickering on her ruby red lips. “You really suck at makin’ friends you know, you should leave the diplomacy to me. I got like the personal touch.”
Xander glared up at his partner. ”You suck, you know that don’t you?”
“Yeah, but you weren’t complainin’ ‘bout me suck-,” Faith spun to the door as it burst open, then relaxed as Tara and Kennedy ran in. “Jeez, took you long enough. I don’t think they care, Xan.”
“Well, maybe not about you,” barbed Kennedy.
“What is that-,” gasped Tara.
”Cyborg,” Xander shook his head at the witch’s opening mouth, “no not a Terminator unit, far less advanced than that. Anyway, we haven’t time for this, we need to get out of here now.”
“Back-up hotel better be five star as well,” Faith darkly warned.
Xander sighed, his head dropping. “Yes dear.”
Tara looked around as she entered the busy bar, a tentative smile playing on her lips as she ducked through its arched entrance, nodding slightly as she recognised several patrons from her previous visits to The Pax, and avoiding several others she’d been warned about. She hadn’t been here often, but when she got the time, it was always an adventure.
“Tara!” Salve Xeina waved a tentacle at her as she weaved her way through the crowd. “Your usual?”
Even as Tara began to nod a hot fudge sundae appeared on the bar before her. “Thanks.” She picked it up and supped greedily at it.
”You’re welcome,” Salve leaned in with a conspiratorial smile. “Now who do you want to know a little about this time?”
Tara smiled at the demon who despite her initial reservations had become her friend and guide to this unique bar. “Is that,” she nodded towards a hulking creature she recognised from photos in the more scurrilous type of newspapers, “Hellboy?”
Salve nodded as he glanced towards the half-demon in question. Hellboy was a tall demon made to seem squat by his immensely powerful physique. However that was rendered unremarkable next to his red-skin, planed-down pair of horns on his head, long tail, and club-like right hand. “That’s him alright.”
”Wow,” Tara gasped before looking towards her friend again, “do you think he’d mind if I spoke to him?”
”A celebrity like you?” Salve smiled. “He should be honoured!”
“I think I’ll finish my drink first.” Tara reddened at her friend’s words before looking around the bar, searching for any other novelty. “Who’s that?” she half-nodded towards a friendly-looking man strangely sat on his own towards the back of the bar.
”You want to stay away from him, Tara,” Salve’s normally face darkened. ”He’s bad news, if I could ban anyone, he’d be in my top five. He’s The Trickster, one of those Chaos Lords. Bad news, but you don’t need telling that.”
”Oh,” Tara felt her stomach lurch at the name of one of their toughest enemies. Even if the bar did have some of the best spell protection in the known worlds, she wouldn’t be going anywhere near him. “And how’s business?”
”As you can see, we’re as busy as always,” Salve beamed at her.
“Good,” Tara smiled then stiffened when a hulking black dressed in a grey duster walked past her, growling something in a gravely voice. He looked human but didn’t feel it. “Who was that?”
”That’s Raze, a werewolf,” Salve replied in a mutter as he replaced her empty glass with a fresh one, “and an old one at that. He was the son of an African Sultan who was taken as a prisoner and then a slave by vampires who forced him to take a Lycan’s bite.” Salve shook his head. “A bad business.”
“Rig-,” Tara’s voice trailed off, her eyes widening as a towering, bandaged from head to toe Mummy sat down, not six seats away from her. “Who’s that?” she hissed.
“That’s N'Kantu.” Salve replied even as his tentacles deftly served several clamouring costumers before continuing with his story. “He was a tribal chief in Africa about three thousand years ago. When his people were conquered by Egyptians, he led them in a failed rebellion that ended up with him being embalmed. After three thousand years the fluid that had paralyzed him, allowing the Egyptians to mummify him while alive, wore off, restoring him to life like this.“ Salve sighed. “When he comes here, he always asks for a drink of his people, something not drunk in thousands of years. Most sad.”
* * *
Faith blinked, the sudden end to the car’s motion, suddenly wakening her. She looked around, bemused by her new surroundings, then glanced at her watch. “Shit,” she grunted in surprise as she realised it was two and a half hours since Xander had dragged her out of her very warm, very comfy hotel bed, bare minutes after dawn while smirking evilly at her impatient questions.
To bring her where exactly?
Faith’s nose wrinkled as she looked around the sweeping meadows, glittering ponds, and blooming copses under a brightening sky. “Come on,” Xander said before opening the door and leaping out.
”Yeah sure,” Faith opened her door and dropped out of the SUV and onto the slightly dewy grass underfoot, the wild grass up to the knees of her cargo-pants. “What is all this, Xan?”
Xander grinned at her, whatever the hell was happenin’, her toy-boy was getting’ way too much enjoyment out of it. “What do you think of this place?”
Faith wrinkled her nose as she looked around, somehow sensing that despite the casual way the question was asked, the answer was real important to her lover. Finally she shrugged. “It’s real pretty, kinda quiet,” she smiled softly as a deer poked its head out of the woods, stared at the unexpected visitors and then pulled back in.
“But you like it?” Xander pressed.
”What’s not to like?” Faith shrugged. “Place is clean, pretty.”
“Good, ‘cause I know it’s six months early,” Faith’s brow furrowed as she glanced at her babbling boy-friend, “but happy 21st. I bought this for you.”
“Yeah?” Faith looked around in confusion, not gettin’ her stud’s beaming excitement. “Bought what? The car?”
“No,” Xander sighed and stared patiently at her. “The land.”
”The land?” Faith thought she was startin’ to catch on, but wasn’t quite getting’ just yet.
“Yeah,” Xander nodded, “five thousand square acres of Texas for twelve million dollars. And there’s this.”
Faith blinked at the cheque that Xander shoved into her hand. “Sixty million dollars?” Faith stared blankly at her man. “What’s this for?”
Xander stuck his hands in his pockets and his head bobbed down, chin touching his chest as his cheeks reddening. “I don’t know how long we’ve got until this big battle gets here, but I sense it’ll be soon. After that’s over, we’ll still be busy, but we won’t need to fly around quite as much as we do now, getting recruits. We’ll need a base.” Xander gulped. “We’ll need a home.”
“A….a home,” Faith’s world tilted. She’d sorta gotten used to the idea that Xan loved her, but to hear him planning a life with her sorta still shook her. Why would a great guy like him wanna a street rat like -.
“I know that’s what you want, at least I think-.”
”Only thing I want more is you,” Faith stared at her boy-friend. Blinking away the tears forming in her eyes. “We’ll need to fly over the entire place, decide where we-.”
“You,” Xander corrected. “This is your project.”
“I wanna build our home.”
”That’s booked for this afternoon, a private plane so we can take the others with us, show off.”
“’Course it is,” Faith’s dimples deepened at her boy-friend’s continued thoughtfulness. Already her head was whirling with plans. There’d have to be a basement gym, complete with indoor swimming pool, sauna, and tanning beds, a games room for Xan, its walls covered with framed copies of those rare DC comics of his and filled with vintage and modern arcade games. There’d be a cinema room, a bowling alley, and an office for Xan. A whole load of guest bed rooms for all their friends to come and stay with them, a huge function room capable of holding a hundred minimum. And there’d have to be stuff for the kids, she decided with a sudden rush there’d have to be kids at some time in her future, they’d have the biggest nursery complete with a whole load of toys, all the ones she wanted as a kid, a petting zoon, an aquarium, and an aviary.
Faith grinned as she turned back to Xander. “Thanks hon.” She reached up, took his head in her hands and pulled him down into a passionate kiss even as happy tears streaked down her high cheeks.
* * *
Holland Manners chuckled and shook his head as he finished the neatly-typed report into the Mexico debacle. However beautiful the penmanship, it couldn’t conceal the fact that the attempt to blacken the Mithras Brotherhood’s name by running a fake unit had descended into disaster. Not only was the fake unit destroyed, another real one was being built in its place.
Holland chucked again. “That boy, he has the gift for turning chicken-shit into chicken salad.” He shook his head again. “It would be admirable if it wasn’t so annoying.”
* * *
“I see your attempt to take care of Harris ended in disaster.”
Simmons looked up at the unfamiliar voice and the haggard-faced stranger stood in the doorway. “And you are?” he challenged.
His demand was met with a thin smile. “Dennis Ryland, formerly of NTAC and NSA,” he explained. “I’m back from an extended tour of the Antarctic thanks to Harris.”
“He has that effect on people,” Simmons dryly replied.
”I feel I must warn you,” the man sat on the seat opposite Simmons, “Harris’ little group has deep hooks in the current administration,” the man smiled wryly, “as I found out to my cost.” The man paused. “However, killing Harris is short-sighted.”
”Short-sighted how?” Simmons queried when the man paused rather than clarified.
“Harris has enormous gifts, both he and the Slayer do actually, but he’s the key to the money, with him in hand the NID would have far more funds than it currently does,” Ryland paused again. “We don’t need to kill Harris, we need to take him alive.”