Keeping the Faith part 1
The dark winds of the summer night swirled and twisted the leaves of the trees as they walked down an alley in the grungy streets of Vancouver.
Four students, fresh out of high school, each and every one of them hammered out of their minds. Three girls and a guy struggled to keep their balance as they lurched down the darkened alley to the rave being held in a warehouse that was there.
"Dude, I'm so hammered," slurred the guy. He tossed back a shot of vodka from the bottle he was carrying. "Feel like I'm gonna hurl."
"Hey," one of the girls, Kristen, pushed him away from her. "Not on my new jacket!"
A moan came from behind a Dumpster a few yards ahead. The four stopped short and looked around.
"What the hell was that?" asked Kristen. She lurched forward and stumbled across something, falling heavily to the ground. She swore with the pain.
One of the other girls, Trish, screamed with horror. Kristen had tripped across a human leg. Just a leg, for it ended in a bloody stump a few inches above the kneecap.
"Oh Christ!" screamed Trish. Something beside her growled and she caught a glimpse of flashing claws and teeth before her life ended in a splatter of blood that coated the grimy alley.
A monster, for that was how Kristen termed it, leapt out from behind the garbage bin and slashed the other girl and her boyfriend. Its long claws went through the tender flesh of her friends as if it weren't even there. The bodies toppled to the ground and the thing turned to appraise her. It had massive claws and jaws that imprinted on her mind along with the blazing red eyes that burned with ethereal fires. It rose to its full height of over eight feet and screamed/roared a hideous cry that made her slap her hands to her head.
The thing's back was covered with razor looking spines and it walked on two legs with knees that bent the wrong way. It was pure black except for a red pattern blazed across its shoulders. The thing was a mass of muscle and spines and death.
It stalked towards her, feeding on her fear. She cringed and prepared to receive death.
"Dammit!" A voice called out from behind the demon. "Sector two! Code Blue! Lead to Direguards, sector two! Drop point was in sector two!"
The demon whipped around and charged at someone behind it. A gun shot rang out across the alley and the demon staggered back, bellowing in rage.
"I need help! It's class ten with full body armor," the voice said. "Repeat, sector two, code blue. Deltacostran with body armor! Three civilians down."
The demon charged at someone only to stagger back with a shotgun blast ringing again. Kristen heard boots hitting the pavement and turned in time to be pushed roughly out of the way. Three new figures, dressed entirely in black with dark cloaks billowing as they ran, and bearing really big guns and bladed weapons came charging at the demon's back.
One of the guys, tall and broad shouldered threw a massive steel spear that cut into the thing below the neck. It turned with a growled in time to receive a heavy burst of machine gun fire from one of the new arrivals. The third, a girl, hurled some sort of liquid in a vial at the beast. The vial smashed against a spine and a white coating covered one of the demon's arms. It screamed in pain and rage as a bullet struck the glistening arm, shattering the limb into a million crystal shards.
The one who'd summoned the others jumped and pulled himself up on the things back, his cloak stained with hissing blood from the beast. He landed between a set of spines and lowered a pistol down at the thing. "Go to hell. And tell him we're still up here."
The guy pulled the trigger and blasted a portion of the demon's face off. It staggered for a second, spewing blood and he pulled the trigger once more. The beast slumped to the ground with one last hiss and began to melt into a pile of bubbling flesh.
"Hey, we've got a live one," one of them said. "Guess it didn't have time to kill her."
"That's a first." A foot prodded her ribs.
"Hammered out of her mind, though."
Kristen rolled over onto her stomach and threw up before passing out.
When she awoke she was alone in the alley. She had a headache, her head was pounding like a million bombs were going off inside. Her friends were no where to be seen. Last thing she remembered was picking up a bottle of scotch at Trish's place.
"Screw them, I'm going home." Kristen staggered to her feet and began to wander home, blissfully unaware of the four pairs of eyes trained on her from across the street.
"The new version of M.E.L. works better than I expected, Jal." The speaker was a human female, approximately twenty years old. Her hair was black, held with a shiny band in a braid behind her head. She was short, about five foot five and reasonably attractive as humans went. Her eyes were too cold, however, to allow the promise any foothold. "No sluggishness at all."
"Ha." Jallin Durell said with a grin. "We have it easy, Arctic. When I was just starting up with the Society we had to use mind control techniques. Took days to erase something like that from a victim. These days you get your magic enhancements and nitrogen capsules. Not to mention automatic weapons and satellite feeds. We had wooden stakes and swords. If we were lucky, that is. Used to be a cross, bottle of holy water and a shove out the door with a pat on the back."
"Yeah and you had to walk forty miles through snow before you got your next target, right old man?" That was Tech. Not his real name, but his designation. Twenty seven year old Tech handled the computers and general technical stuff. In his pre-team days he'd graduated from M.I.T. with a triple major at the age of nineteen. Had the Society not grabbed him there was no doubt he'd be plugging numbers for NASA or Microsoft. But something inside of the man had answered the call. Fresh out of school he'd joined up with the military and had been drafted out of that. A large man with thick hair and the form of a bodybuilder, Tech didn't fit in with normal lab rats. He was a throwback to the days of yore and the Society gave him a chance that no one else could.
"Uphill there and back." They were teasing him again. It was a joke, a way to prod his defenses for a reaction. Jallin appreciated the attempt but his heart was really in it. "Old man" was a term for anyone who'd made it in the field for more than three years. The number of "Old men" in the service was low. Far too low. "The times changed Tech. Changed far too fast for some of these guys to adapt. That's our real advantage. Things that don't die naturally don't adapt much. Humans change. A thousand years ago the earth was flat. Now we put men in space on a daily basis. Demons don't comprehend that. They're still reliving the glory of the ancient days. Back when there were millions of acres of forest around every town for them to hide in. God save us the day they finally realize things aren't the same."
Jallin shuddered to himself and pulled his cloak tighter about him. It was the fear of everyone who was high enough in the Society. Demons with automatic weapons and tanks, demons infecting computers or controlling massive industries.
Tech smiled and raised his hands. "Hey, preaching to the choir, Jal. 'Cept for vamps. These days you don't often find them older than a hundred."
"And even the young ones haven't caught on yet." Arctic amended.
Jallin Durell was still a young man. At twenty one years he was easily dismissed as young and rash but anyone who'd known him for a while brushed past his age. Those who fought him understood just how dangerous he was. A fully trained Master Slayer at age fifteen, Jallin had been with the Society for five years, earning leadership of his own team, the Direguards, in his third year.
Tall, but not overly so, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes he was an easy man to forget. He was good looking, but not handsome. His eyes were sharp, but not piercing and a silver hoop hung in his left ear. His face was thin, but not gaunt. The only facial feature that stuck in someone's mind was a faint scar across his left eye from brow to cheek. That and the black clothing. Hopefully only the black clothes. A lesson learned during his first days in the groups. Accessories stick out like a dragon in downtown Chicago.
"I'll get on a cover story," the last member of the team spoke up, "Car wreck? D.U.I.?"
"I doubt there's a better fit. Thanks Flyght." Jallin regarded the last member of his team. Alex Flyght, the oldest of them at twenty five and one of the few non-human members of the Society. Taller than Durell and built like a twig, Alex seemed incredibly fragile for someone who was five inches over six feet. Dark hair and eyes accented his hawk-like features. He was the group's probe, a psychic of tremendous power who could "taste" the supernatural and track them down with his mind.
He was also half-dragon. His father was one of the great wyrms with a taste for human virgins. Though he could willfully change, when angered Flyght was unable to resist becoming very much like a smaller version of his father, sprouting leathery wings and becoming covered with scale and horn while possessing a fully functional tail. Theoretically he could even breathe fire but Jallin had never pushed on that detail. Flyght seemed uncomfortable about it for some reason.
"What's next?" Arctic asked. She pulled another ice-capsule from inside her leather jacket and tossed it. "More bad guys?"
"Not tonight," Jallin said. "We head back to base. Nothing major out here anymore anyway. The Society has new orders for us, or so I'm told. I had to ask very nicely just to get permission to grab this last demon before they moved us out."
"Where're we headed?" Tech questioned. "Not Nebraska again, I hope. I told you I'm not going back there after that Natasha incident."
"C'mon, Tech," Arctic teased, "you can't still be mad because that whore-demon almost stole your soul."
Jallin raised his hand and moved between the two. "Break it up 'guards. Let's go pack our bags. Word on the street is we're headed to California. Fun and sun. Massive demon outbreak supposed to happen in one of the smaller towns, apparently there's another Hellmouth that needs containment."
"Back up crews?" Flyght put in, breaking his usual brooding silence.
"Probably not. Things are tight in Moscow and they probably won't be able to spare anyone, let alone a crew. C'mon people, back to the hotel. When I learn more I'll talk. You know that. Last one back buys the beer."
The four smiled and bolted from their position racing with all their might, each knowing there was a cold beverage waiting for them back at base camp.
Jallin Durell sat down in a board room style office with fine wooden furniture and three other men in it. One of the men was William Hennle, the Society's head for the area. The other two were his aides. A view-screen on the far wall was lit up with the face of a man dressed as a Cardinal, for that was what he was. In addition to being a high ranking member of the Society of course.
Hennle occupied the Cardinal for a short while, giving words about the current religious and demonic situation in his territories. After a few minutes he concluded his presentation to the religious leader and motioned for his aides to leave. The Cardinal turned and smiled at Jallin.
"Master Slayer Durell," he said. "My congratulations on the job you did last week. The Direguards have proven themselves once more. Global Team Three is earning its reputation quite nicely. The French ambassador personally sends his thanks for your help in his niece's rescue."
Jallin shrugged. "We hit them where they drop. That's all that matters. Saving the kid was a bonus. Averting the political assassination was the point of the mission."
"What of the child you saved last night?" The Cardinal asked. Trip tapped the table for attention.
"She's back in her normal routine and we've got a local shadow watching her for signs of regression." He pulled a file out of a folder on the table. "She'll be okay but we've got a problem with the rest of the town."
"And that is?" The Cardinal frowned. Problems multiplied quite easily.
"I spoke to Flyght a half hour ago and he's getting another drop point forming in this city." Trip looked up once and continued at the Cardinals blank look. "He says there'll be another demon tomorrow or the day after. High class, probably five or six."
"It can't be helped," the Cardinal said. "I have orders from our American agencies to get the Direguards to California as soon as possible."
"Are we just going to abandon this?" Anger flared in Jallin's eyes. "When we have a drop point forming? We could contain this thing with no loss of life if we stay three more days!"
The Cardinal raised his hands. "Durell, be calm in this. Mr. Hennle will get another team, permanent this time, by Friday to help him out."
Jallin shook his head. "Not good enough. The demon will definitely be on earth by then."
"Then it will be a shame for those families who lose members to the beast. But California is the pressing concern. There are politics at work."
Jallin sniffed his disapproval but motioned for the man to continue. "I've never let you down yet, Cardinal, I won't disobey now. I'll take my team out on the next flight."
The Cardinal smiled. "You're a step ahead of me, Durell, I've got good news."
"What?" Durell was vaguely curious. Usually that meant an extra day off when they killed a demon.
"First off, that private jet you wanted has been assigned to your team and sent to take you to California. Two more just became available and we're giving you one on a temporary loan. Second, there's going to be something important about this task. I'm sending an image now."
The view screen cut in half and a picture of a teenage girl appeared on the screen beside the Cardinal. She was a pretty one, with blonde hair and green eyes. She was shown frowning. Jallin frowned too, there was something familiar about her. He said as much. "I've seen this girl before."
"We have her listed as dead in the archives but the recent update from the Watchers Council revised that. Apparently the prophecy was wrong and they neglected to inform us." The Cardinal's face showed his true feelings towards the Watchers as he made a motion off-screen and a file was downloaded to the computer. "Her name is Buffy Anne Summers. She's also a slayer. I say 'a' slayer, not 'the.' According to a text she was supposed to have died a few years ago. The existence of new slayers seemed to confirm that but apparently the ancient texts didn't take CPR into account. The Watcher's Council in England had disowned her but recently took her back into the fold as a probationary agent. Contact her if possible and get her help and insights."
Jallin frowned as memories stirred within him. "I don't like it. Rogue slayers are never trustworthy. You've heard about the other?"
"What do you mean?" The cardinal perked up.
"Apparently the 'official' slayer is rogue. I don't know her name but the grapevine has her serving a prison term in Los Angeles."
"Interesting, I hadn't known that myself. But then I suppose the Watcher's Council wouldn't want that tossed about," The Cardinal smiled and motioned off screen. "Ah, here it is. True Slayer Faith Wilkins … yes, she's in here as well. I'm sending you all the info on slayers and the two girls that our database has. The first file also contains all the info on your targets and a mission objectives list. Good luck, Agent Durell. May his blessing be upon you."
Jallin crossed himself and then frowned. Underneath his jacked he rested his hands upon the swords he'd used for over five years. He had his faith and he had his prayers, but if push came to shove he had a little something extra.
Jallin Durell walked into the bar of the hotel they were staying at. It was three in the morning, after hours for everyone but his team. He chuckled to himself. They were special. Ha.
It was almost tragic, he thought, that such a feeble joke amused him. Still, in his line of work a laugh was almost as valuable as a clip of silver bullets.
"Hey, Old man, c'mon and have a beer or two," Tech waved him over.
"Sorry, not tonight," Jallin waved away the offered drinks. "Much as I'd like too, I don't want a hangover when we ship out tomorrow. Noon flight, the Cardinal says."
"California, Jallin?" Arctic asked. She was still reasonably sober and he was pretty sure she'd remember this the next morning. "I could use some sunlight. The last three countries have been in full winter."
"Yes, warm sunlight for us all. We're back in the US, a town called Sunnydale, south of LA." He pulled out his laptop and tapped it. "Got a mess of files for you all to read tomorrow. Slayer too, really nice case."
"No kiddin'? A slayer chick huh?" Tech smiled at something he remembered. "Only slayer I ever met slapped me after I asked her out. Broke my jaw."
Arctic slapped him on the back of the shoulder. "First off, you said, and I quote, "Hey baby, let's go back to my room and you can work on plunging with my stake." Second, you asked her while on an operation. Third, you tried to fondle her as you said it."
"Yeah, those were the days…" Tech sighed and rubbed his cheek. Jallin just laughed quietly and left them to their drinks.
His quiet smile dropped away as soon as he reached the solitary comfort of his room.
"Faith …" he whispered to himself, sitting down on the bed and running his hands through his hair. "So … the angel of night has a name."
He lay down and stared at the stucco ceiling, recalling that night a year and a half ago when he'd met a dark and deeply beautiful girl. Long hair that rippled with brown and black strands, eyes deep enough to drown in … he'd almost dropped to his knees when he saw her rising above the mission turned brawl to slay a vampire.
His team occupied with several locals to contain the demons, he alone had been able to fight his way to her side. For two brief minutes they had flowed together to deal death to those who rose up against them. And as they finished she turned to him, each recognizing the other for what they were. She saw just another Watcher and he saw a rogue slayer.
A long moment had passed and he'd looked around him at the piles of dust or bleeding corpses of demons. Rogue or not she'd done nothing wrong here tonight. He turned to her and nodded.
And she had, dropping her weapon and leaping past two watchers who'd moved up to grab at her, easily evading their fumbling grasp.
That was the last he'd seen of her. Long hair flowing behind her as she dodged past Agents and Watchers alike. He thought she'd run right out of his life.
And now she … Faith… was making another appearance. Jallin sighed and rubbed his eyes, thinking of all he had yet to do that night.
As a raven in the nights sky the matte black jet pierced the clouds and enveloped itself in the surrounding mists. The latest technology and a new innovation for the Society, these jets were being built and assigned to their Global teams as fast as they could be custom made. Flying at twenty thousand feet the Society's jet would have the team in LA within three hours of their departure from Moscow.
On board his team was reviewing the notes the Cardinal had passed on about the town, current demon status and local infrastructure. Further notes on the slayer and her former watcher were also included. Capping off the bundle was a review of the Society's knowledge of Hellmouth data.
Jallin thumbed through the paper printouts and then tossed them aside. He knew all he needed to know for now. As soon as the jet landed in LA he was to send the other Direguards on to set up a base camp in Sunnydale. His task was more difficult. The Cardinal had ended off the file with a private note to Jallin:
Having contacted the Watchers Council located in England it has been decided that the Rogue Slayer Faith Wilkins cannot be allowed to remain complacent in her current position. You have approximately three weeks for this assignment. By the completion of your task the slayer must be either
a) working for the Society
You and your team are granted a level five status for the procedures required.
Level five… he stared at the words for a long while and pondered that. Could he do that? A slayer was no demon, not even a helpless wretch in need of mercy. Level five was the authorization to kill persons of any status. With level five he could walk up to the president of the United States and put a bullet in his head without having to explain his actions to the Society. Either turn the slayer into an agent or execute her. Quite the choice.
"Christ, I shouldn't have gotten up this morning."
"I could have told you that. You should have asked," Flyght interrupted from across the aisle. Jallin turned and looked. Flyght's eyes were locked on the steel sphere in his lap. As he watched, his psychic began to sweat with unknown effort. The steel ball twisted slightly and began to lift upwards. It rose a few inches and then dropped back to Flyght's lap. The half-dragon dropped back into his seat, exhausted.
"Nice try, Alex," Jallin said with a touch of concern. "You've almost got it."
Alex Flyght nodded back to his C.O. "It's strange, Jal. I know psychics who are half my strength and they can lift cars with their minds and juggle them for hours. I nearly faint after moving this little ball a few inches."
"But they can't sense things, Flyght, that's your strength," Jallin tried to boost his friends morale. He remembered going through the Society's files, discarding candidate after candidate. "That's why I chose you. Have more faith in yourself."
"I'll have more faith in myself if you get more sleep." Alex checked his watch. "You didn't catch more than three hours last night. Rest now, you'll need it."
"Listen, just because I'm human doesn't mean-"
"Because you're human you need sleep. I need to sleep an hour a day. You theoretically sleep eight. I've been doing the math and you're about a week behind on REM since your last vacation. And I doubt you even slept in then. Now get to sleep."
"But I have to-"
Flyght raised a finger in warning. "It can wait until morning. Don't argue or I'll eat you."
Jallin grinned at him. "Yes mother."
The streets of LA. Supposedly one of the worst places on the Northern Hemisphere. Jallin snorted. Drop him anywhere on the planet and he was the nastiest thing for miles around. That was a good feeling.
Rather than follow the Societies instructions he'd sent his team to a local hotel to set up a temporary base camp. If he succeeded in bringing Faith into the organization he didn't want to have to bring her back to Sunnydale right off. Since they were granted a level five status for this operation he doubted the Society would quibble about the little details.
Faith, a rogue slayer. A true slayer, not a trained master like he was. His mind was whirring with possibilities. Walking out to the sidewalk he hailed a cab and ordered the man to take him to the prison five miles past the city limits. The cabby looked at him oddly but complied.
The city lights passed him by as they took a freeway north. Perhaps he could turn the slayer into a member of the Society. Buffy Summers was almost one, tied into the Watchers council as she was. But a slayer in the Society? The possibilities were limitless… They were powerful fighters, skilled and strong beyond human boundaries. What potential they had. His team needed another member. In fact, compared to other teams he was extremely short staffed. And while there were dozens of hopeful applicants he'd been saving the spot for someone who struck him as being special. Perhaps the time had come for another Direguard to be taken into the fold.
Los Angeles Federal Penitentiary for Women. A tall, imposing structure, with a sturdy perimeter fence and several guards towers. Impressive in a fortress sort of way. It needed a moat, he decided, possibly with man eating fish in the waters. Maybe they could get some alligators up from Florida.
At the gate, Jallin flashed his badge at the guard. It was a FBI badge, modified slightly in design for use in the Society. It had come with the files for the assignment and granted him access to any government building in the United States. Hopefully. Otherwise he would have to do something not subtle to get his way.
The cabby drove through the fence and into the visitors parking area. Jallin exited the car and reached in to hand the man his fare plus the same amount again in tip. The Society was paying for the ride so he might as well be the nice guy. "Wait for me."
"Sure thing, Mister," the cabby said with enthusiasm. Jallin reached into the backseat and dropped a tracer into the cushions just in case the cabby took off on him anyway with his luggage still in the trunk. He pulled out his black attaché case.
At the door he was greeted by a smiling secretary who wore too much make-up. "Can I help you, sir?"
"Agent Revan, FBI, International Security Division," he lied to her. "I'm here to see a prisoner. Let the warden know I'm here."
"Yes, sir," the secretary said, picking up a phone. "His office is just down the hall, last door on the right. Knock and walk in."
"Thank you," Durell started walking down a pleasantly clean hallway towards a row of oak doors with nameplates on them. The very last one on the right hands side had the name "Warden Trien" etched onto it. Durell knocked a single sharp rap and opened the door.
A balding man with thick spectacles and a comb-over was sitting behind a desk pouring through papers. He looked up at Jallin's approach. "Yes, young man?"
Durell flashed his badge once more. "Agent Revan, FBI, International Security Division. You're the Head Warden for this institute?"
"I am," the man stood and shook his hand. "What can I do for the FBI, Agent Revan?"
Durell reached into his black attaché case and pulled a sheaf of papers out of the inner pocket. "I need to interview prisoner 43100. It's a matter of national security."
"43100?" the warden wondered aloud. "Wilkins? A model prisoner, serving a term for multiple counts of vandalism and assault with a deadly weapon. I just saw her yesterday in the prison library reading a book for her distance education course. What does she have to do with the nations security?"
"Sir, just show me the prisoner and I'll pretend you're not questioning the government and it's methods." Jallin laughed inside while keeping the stern face. He always enjoyed playing "bad cop."
The warden nodded and walked out from behind his desk. "You'll require a private room?"
"Of course," Jallin nodded. What he had to say couldn't be overheard by anyone. Even a real FBI agent. The Warden led him out of the room and further down the hallway with the doors. Things started to change from polish and oak to concrete and iron. It was slow, but Jallin could distinguish the levels of comfort as they reduced. Just before the carpet stopped the warden motioned to a side door.
Durell stepped through and looked around. A solid looking room, it was square and partially lit by a single overhead lamp. In the center was a rectangular table with four chairs. One was a simple wooden chair and the other three well padded metal chairs with rolling wheels. A pitcher of water and several glasses sat on the table. A single security camera and a large mirror on one wall were the only decorations the room possessed.
"I'll need to have complete privacy, make sure no one is in the viewing room," Jallin Durell said, glancing at the plain mirror. "Then show her in."
The warden nodded and left. Jallin walked around the table twice then sat down in the soft, comfortable chair. Then, as an after thought, he stood and moved to the uncomfortable chair obviously intended for the prisoners. He picked it up and put it in the far corner, placing a comfortable chair in its place at the table. Then he sat down in the chair once more and pondered what he was going to say. How much he could say. He noticed that his finger was tracing the length of his gun nervously.
"No, there'll be another way. I can't … can I?" he whispered to himself. He'd gunned down civilians before but those had been mercy killings. And he still remembered each of them. The woman in Florida, seconds away from being eaten alive by a demon. She'd pleaded with him to save her but there was no way to stop the demon in time. A single shot in the forehead had ended her life. The look of relief she gave him cleansed his soul of guilt. But this was something else entirely. A beautiful angel of the night who slew the darkness …
The door to the room opened and the warden peaked in. Jallin nodded and the warden ushered a young girl into the room. She was dressed in a plain, baggy blue shirt and ugly navy pants in the prison style. Young? he wondered in his mind, Hell she's my age, maybe even a year older. When did I get so ancient?
If the warden noticed the change of chairs he gave no sign. Jallin waved him away and motioned for the girl to take the chair across from him. She sat down, watching him all the time.
Jallin smiled slowly, eyeing the defensive slayer. "Do you know who I am?"
" You… you were in that bar last year." Her eyes widened briefly and then narrowed dangerously as she realized where she knew him from. "A Watcher."
"I'm not a Watcher," Jallin laughed softly and shook his head at the notion. "But I do work with them from time to time."
"So they've sent you here to take me back, huh?" Faith guessed, scowling at him as she clenched and released her fingers into a fist. "Locked up here or locked up there … why do they care so much?"
He poured himself a glass of water and raised an eyebrow at her, indicating the glass. She glared at him and he poured one for her as well, passing it across to her.
"Just one second," He stood and moved to the security camera. Reaching up, he unplugged the video feed. Then he moved to the mirror and reached into his coat pocket, pulling out an eyepiece similar to a jewelers monocle. Placing it against the glass, he looked through and saw that the viewing room was indeed empty.
Nodding to himself, pleased by the wardens actions, he sat back down at the table. No doubt the man was distrustful of such a young man seeming so important but at least he was obeying. "This little piece of technology let's me look the wrong way through those mirrors. Nifty, isn't it?"
"I'm so happy for you," she said with a touch of sarcasm. She was on her guard he knew. She'd been betrayed too often and didn't trust him as far as a normal person could throw him. "Back to questions. You are?"
"You are forceful," Durell said. But he was smiling. "Good. I told those people I was Federal Agent Revan. But I lied. My name is Jallin Durell. I'm a Master Slayer in a Society dedicated to fighting the demons from the nether realms. That's what we were doing in that horrible bar with all the vampires. Watchers had a problem with the demon hangout and since the Watchers Council works for us it had to be cleaned out. And now we … well, I have a proposition for you."
"The past really never lets go of you, does it?" she said, scowling at him. "I don't slay anymore. No more fighting. I'm in jail, serving my term. A normal life after that. Why can't you guys leave me alone?"
"Because in all the world there is one true slayer. One fighter chosen by the heavens to lead us in the battle against hell. A pretty speech, isn't it? But it's true. I lead a team of demon hunters that travels around the world protecting the innocent. And we need you. Something big is coming and the slayer can't sit this one out."
Jallin leaned back and stared at her. God, she was beautiful, even without the makeup and dressed in the plain prison outfit. Now that he had a chance to look at her without the sweat and blood of battle he could see her more clearly. Of course, all slayers had been beautiful. Still ... He hoped she wasn't getting to him so much that he was slipping up.
"You look a little young to be all that," she said to him, "why should I listen to you. Maybe this is a trick to get me outside and kill me. Jump the unsuspecting slayer and take her head for a trophy. Quite a few demons would love a slayer's skull on their mantle. I know, I use to keep theirs on my mine."
Jallin sighed and reached into his coat, pulling out his gun. He pulled out the clip and placed both on the table. "I could have killed you already. In that bar and right here. We both know I could get away with it. Prisoner resisting, forced to fire to preserve myself. Crap like that. My position within the Society gives me quite a bit of power. Enough to get you out of here, anyway. And I may be young, but I've got five years worth of field work under my metaphorical belt. That's good, by the way."
"All right. So your "Society" want's me in the squad. What do I get out of it?"
Jallin sighed again. "You get to make a difference in the world. Don't tell me the slayer in you isn't screaming for you to go do your thing. It's instinct, not something you can change. As long as you live you'll always be the slayer. But that's not the answer to your question. What'll we do for you? For starters, get you out of prison. Wipe the slate clean, as it were. The Society pays for room and board as well as whatever other little trinkets you might want. And if you make it ten years you get a choice. You can retire with about two million dollars of accumulated pay and a three hundred thousand dollar a year pension to a private island in the Caribbean. Or you can stay on, with the option to back out at the end of every mission with the same deal."
Faith stared at him, studying his face. Her mind was working on it, he knew, analyzing the deal. "Too good. The catch?"
"In the last hundred years only thirty members of the Society have lived to retirement, though it should be said that many made it past their terms and decided to stick with their teams until their deaths. Two thousand and some have been buried with full fanfare in the cemetery of their predetermined choice within the last two decades. You have no life outside the Society. No vacation time and you're sworn to secrecy about your line of work while you're talking with anyone on the outside. It takes a certain type of person to do this job. But I think as a slayer you'll fit right in."
She watched him and he knew she was going to test him now. "How many, umm… members have you seen bite it? Fifty? A hundred?"
Jallin swore softly and blinked back a horde of tears. "If you want my help never ask me that again. For the last two years I've led a team called the Direguards. No one from that team has died. But for three years I jumped from team to team as they were slaughtered around me. I lost a lot of friends, Faith, and I can name them all. Over thirty people who I can never forget. When the time came for my own team to form I took the best they had and made them better, swearing never to lose a Direguard. And I haven't."
"You sound full of something. It might be yourself," Faith said to him. She sipped her water and looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it like that. I wasn't thinking. So, am I some kinda trophy? Hey, we've got the slayer on our side now! Fear us! Cuz I'm not a figurehead. I fight. Or at least I used to."
Jallin shook his head. "I've got open spots in my squad and I want you to fill it. The Dark Council has already given me, and only me, permission to draft you as a Direguard. If you accept, you'll work with me and my team. I'll be the only one you'll report to. And believe me, Faith, the 'guards are here for the fight."
She looked at him. "How do you know I won't break and run when I get the chance?"
"Because I think I know you, or at least I know who you want to be inside. So will you do it? Get back on the horse?"
Faith bowed her head and then nodded. "Yeah. I'll do it. A slayer has to slay, doesn't she? But what if I loose control again? What if the fighting brings out the demon in me and I can't lock her away?"
Jallin stared at her. There was something in her eyes, she was really afraid of loosing it again now that she'd found herself. He placed his hands on the table. "Faith, we all have our demons. You learn to conquer them or use them to fight at an even higher level. I swear to you that I will do everything in my power to prevent you from harming an innocent. What can I do to reassure you?"
She reached across the table and grabbed his hand. "I get out of control, I need you to stop me. If it means blowing my brains out to protect somebody then don't hesitate. That's my condition. I want a leash, someone who'll keep me from hurting others."
Jallin stared straight into her eyes. "I think you're underestimating yourself, Faith. But you should know that I can make the judgement call between a member of my team and a civilian. If anyone on my team thinks you're going out of bounds we'll knock your feet out from under you faster than you can curse."
She paused and released his hand. "I can deal with that. I'm in."
"Then let's go. My team is waiting at the hotel. But I think a change of clothes is in order. Here," he opened his attaché case and pulled out a small black bag and a folded black cloak. "Official team casual uniform. Some variations in dress are allowed but that can be discussed later. I'm going to go see about getting you out of here. And if you're worried about anyone watching from the side room …"
He tossed her the monocle and closed his attaché case. She took the bag and the cloak and pulled the items of clothing free. Tight black shirt with long sleeves, black khaki pants with excessive pockets, black vest with even more pockets. "Gothic?"
"You should know that shadows are more dangerous than anything else in the night." He smiled at her. "I'd leave the cloak off, it's warm outside. I'll be back in a few minutes, Direguard."
"Yes, Sir," she smirked slightly at the title.
"Are you kidding me?" the warden bellowed at him. "You're just going to waltz in here and take a prisoner without some sort of official request? Only the governor can do that! And Son, you ain't him!"
Jallin reached down and turned the warden's phone towards him. He picked up the receiver and dialed a number he'd obtained earlier that night. After a few rings it was picked up. Jallin put the phone on speaker.
"What the hell? It's the middle of the night! This had better be good!" the voice muttered over the speaker.
"Governor Andrews?" Jallin said to the phone. "I apologize for calling you at home at this hour. This is Agent Durell. We met once before when you're wife had her … problem with the Church. Do you remember?"
"Durell? I … Oh, yes, the young man in dark clothing," The voice was suddenly much clearer and alert. "Of course, I remember. What can I do for you?"
"You said you were Agent Revan!" the warden eyed him suspiciously.
"Shut up and listen," Jallin said to the man. "You have no idea who you're dealing with. Governor, I'm with the warden of the Los Angeles Federal Penitentiary for Women. The good Warden is telling me I have to get your permission to take custody of a prisoner."
"I take it this is … umm … related to your line of work?" the governor said.
"Yes, sir," Jallin replied in a casual tone.
A quick pause from the phone speaker. "Well, Agent Durell, I'm going to trust you enough to not ask questions and hope this doesn't come back to haunt me. Warden, give the man whatever he wants."
The Warden, who had been steaming throughout the conversation frowned but knew he was beaten. "Yes sir, I'll get right on it."
"Thank you, Warden Trien. I know you'll be very helpful. Is that all, Agent Durell?" the governor asked over the phone.
"Yes, I believe that's just fine, Governor Andrews. Thank you for your help and, no offense intended, I hope I never have to speak to you again," Jallin smiled at the memory of the man. A good hearted politician whose wife had messed up a Faustian deal without telling him. Durell and his team had been in the area and had taken care of the demon without loss of life. Plus no erasure techniques had been needed as the Governor was already aware of the Society and it's agents.
The governor laughed over the phone. "Well, I'll take that in the spirit of which it was meant, I suppose. Goodnight, Agent Durell. Best of luck to you."
The phone clicked off and Jallin stared at the Warden. The man shook his head and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I don't know who you are, Agent Whoever. But I know when not to ask questions. I have a feeling, though, if I look you up at the FBI they'll have no clue who you are. And that means something to me. I'll draw up the papers right away. I'll let the guards know you're free to take the prisoner into custody."
"Thank you Warden," Jallin turned to leave, then added a last thought. "And I hope that you won't take it wrong if I say I hope I never have to see you again."
"Son, you and me both …"
Laughing quietly Jallin exited the room and went to see his new team member.
Faith was dressed in the black clothing he'd given her and had tied her hair back into a ponytail. The pants were a little too long for her legs but the bulges at the bottom of the cuff where it scraped the floor seemed fitting for the young woman. Almost in style with the current trends.
She turned to look at him when he walked in, hands on her hips. She twirled around, the cloak billowing outwards as she twisted. "How do I look?"
"Like a human being," he smiled. She was going to fit in with his crew just fine. He raised a military style clothing bag that contained her clothing and small goods. "Black is your color. But enough flattery, I've got your stuff and it's time for you to go meet the outside world again. Faith … Direguard."
She considered the title for second and then nodded. Faith followed him out the door, pulling the cloak off and folding it over her arm, ignoring the looks the two escorting guards gave her. They walked towards the parking lot, watching at the walls switched from concrete to drywall until they both emerged in the main room with the secretary.
The girl behind the desk smiled and waved goodbye. Jallin smiled back and pushed the door open. The two guards made as if to follow them outside and he scowled at them. "Don't you two have something else to do?"
They blushed and turned back, heading down the hallway once more. Jallin held the door for Faith as she hesitantly pressed a hand on the glass.
"Are you ready?" he asked her, aware that this could be an important moment.
"Yeah, just wondering if I should be feeling something important," she said, staring at the stars through the glass door. She thrust her shoulders back and stepped through the open door.
Jallin stepped out behind her. "How do you feel?"
Faith was staring up at the stars. "Kinda small. But oddly content. All full of purpose and stuff."
"I know the feeling. I get it every time I rejoin the 'guards. C'mon, the cab's over here." He led her to the still waiting cab. The Cabby knew better than to raise his eyebrows at the appearance of the new passenger.
"Where to, mister?" the Cabby asked, looking back through the tiny window.
"Essell Inn," he said with a smile. "Back in LA. Know it?"
"Two blocks off of Harvest street," the cabby said. "I know it. Sit back, folks, it'll be a half hour or so."
The cabby closed the window to give them privacy. Faith looked up at Jallin and laughed. "I don't know if I can wait that long to sleep in a real bed again."
He chuckled and opened his attaché case between them. "Since you're in good spirits we can get on with the intros. Well, at least I can brief you quickly on some minor things. Like the oath. Every Society agent takes the oath. It's just a few words, nothing to worry over but … well, you'll see."
She waited for him to continue. Jallin reached into the case and pulled out a leather billfold dyed black which he handed to her. "This is a standard issue wallet. It contains your ID card. That's rank, serial number and various made up numbers for your statistics. It's going to be updated as soon as we get back to the hotel so don't get too attached to this one. These are your company credit cards. Visa and MasterCard, should work anywhere in the world. Any purchase over a hundred and fifty dollars must be cleared with me. Preferably before purchase. Which means no diamond earrings unless you pick me up a set. Oh, yes-"
He reached into the attaché case and pulled out a small silver hoop, which he hung in his left ear. Jallin turned and smiled. "Not Federal Agent attire. You're clothing and accessories are limited during field hours. Earrings may be worn, but only simple designs. This hoop or a stud is about as fancy as you really want to go. Diamonds or other gems are prohibited for reasons we'll get into later. Rings may be worn but only if you have gloves on your hands to cover them."
"Slaves of fashion we aren't," Faith quipped. She patted her stomach. "No more dieting."
"Ah, you're a witty one," Jallin observed. "Meals are paid for by the Society up to a point. End of the month we take a health check-up and if you've been eating only burgers we're going to yell at you. And we yell rather loudly."
"An apple a day, got it." Faith patted her stomach once more and grinned.
"Right. Weapons," he went on, reaching into his coat and pulling out his pistol. He kept it low, shielding it from the cabby's view. "Firearms are basic, we use automatic weapons on occasion. Bladed weapons are also common. Tech, you'll meet him tomorrow morning, is fond of spears. He does custom work for the team if it's needed but mostly we're supplied by the Society armories."
"We have a more … advanced version," Jallin opened the attaché case and pulled out a cylindrical tube. He unscrewed the cap and let a metal spike fall into his hand. "This is ours. I figured you'd be interested so I borrowed one from the Society's stash in town. Pure silver with a willow shaft down the center. Instant vampire dust. Also, see this opening here? A vial of holy water can be stored so it injects upon puncture, making it useful on demons as well."
He flipped the spike over and showed the opening. Jallin handed the stake to Faith and watched her examine it. "Maybe I should have gone to church more often."
"Good advice," he said. He watched the question form on her lips and answered it before she could ask. "No, we don't require you to go to services. Church is completely optional. But some team members prefer to go to a chapel on Sunday if the mission isn't at stake."
"That a pun?" she asked, holding up the weapon.
"No, but I'll take credit for one," he smiled. "All right, questions?"
"Do I call you sir?" she raised an eyebrow.
"I'm only twenty one. Someone calling me sir makes me uncomfortable," he shook his head. "Officially I'm your boss. If I asked you to do something you could say, "sure thing, Boss." Some other team leaders prefer the formal "yes, sir" I can't stand it. Jallin or even Durell will be just fine. Ask me again in five years and I'll probably have changed my mind but until then life's too short."
Faith leaned back into her seat with a sigh. "I think I've got a lot to learn."
"You're a slayer. You'll pick it up quick enough," Jallin assured her. "Oh, and don't let Tech convince you that you have to do something incredibly stupid to become a part of the team. He's been trying it on every new member but I keep telling them ahead of time so he's very frustrated."
"Why would he want to do something to new girl?"
Jallin smirked and turned away. "When he joined up I made him run naked through half of Cairo. I told him it was tradition. So far he's the only one who's done it."
She stared at him for a moment. "I don't think I want to learn all I've got to learn."
The figures moved about the darkened room deep within the secured facility. Five men and two women, they were the Watchers Council, the group dedicated to training watchers and slayers to battle the dark forces of the world.
In one motion the seven sat down at a long, rectangular table, each placing a few papers in front of them and nodding to the others in greeting.
"I have news of Slayer Eff three nine," one of them said as the group sat, holding up a sheaf of papers with one hand. He was middle aged and possessed a heavy British accent, almost traditional for the council members. "I must insist on presenting first."
"Agreed," the woman at the head of the table said, bowing her head to indicate that he should continue.
The one who had spoken first rose to his feet, sliding the folder around so that all might take a copy from within. "Our American agencies fed me an interesting bit of information this morning. Apparently a Society team has managed to extradite our rogue slayer from her self imposed prison cell. She's been made a member of … Let's see here, where was it … Ah, yes, Global Team Three."
"I know them. The only Master Slayer assigned for field work leads them," The woman at the head of the table scowled. "Direguards indeed. Mayhaps this Master Slayer is taking our true slayer under his wing for training. This violates the agreement signed under the Dark Council. The slayer is ours."
"I thought the matter urgent," the man spoke up again. "What shall I tell our own agents to do about this … inconvenience?"
"Send in Travers," one suggested. "Let him handle this."
Others nodded and one spoke up. "A new slayer could be summoned. The spirits are almost ready to be bound to a soul once more. It would also be a convenient time to further bind ourselves to the Icarri … they have been expressing their interest in the slayer for some time as you no doubt know."
The woman at the head motioned to be heard. "Perhaps … but before we exhaust the energies to summon a new slayer we should examine the old. It's possible she can still be of use to us."
"Send Travers with orders to capture her, he's the only one with enough experience to be … Oh sod it, he's in Africa right now setting up that network. Send Farrol, he can be entrusted with this as well." She raised her own sheaf of papers. "If that's settled, we have more pressing matters to attend to. His return has been confirmed. Within the year."
"So soon?" one questioned. "Will we be ready for him?"
"We shall be. Or else we are doomed."
It was quiet, gloomy and dark inside the walls. The stars overhead shone brightly and the moon was a piercing shade of silver, as no clouds spoiled her view. A light breeze wafted across the clearing.
"Where are we?" Faith asked, pointing around her at the trees.
Jallin smiled and shrugged. "Ah, now there's a question. A crossroads, I think."
He'd led her here, to a small church a block from the hotel. It had high stone walls that shielded it from the outside world and the evils of man. The church itself was a tiny building with wooden shingles and a single spire.
Yet when she'd stepped inside Faith had found herself inside a small forest, oaks and poplar and birch trees extending at least a mile in either direction. Jallin had led her straight into the heart of the woods, guiding her down a trail that seemed to appear as they walked.
After five minutes or so they had reached a clearing, a haven amidst the trees that contained a small pool of black water. As she looked up Faith realized that the roof of the church was gone as well.
"Again. Where are we?" She put her hands on her hips and turned to the agent, her face suggesting the slightest bit of a scowl.
"I'm not really sure," Jallin admitted with a shrug, his eyes taking in the trees around them. "It's a place … I think it's another dimension. Maybe it's all dimensions. The Society has several entrances hidden in places like that church. This is a sacred location, Faith. The eyes of the gods are upon us. This is where every single member of the Society comes to take their oath."
"The oath," she repeated. "You hinted earlier. What do I have to say to join the club?"
Jallin smiled and touched his heart. "Words that have been repeated from brother to brother for the last three thousand years but said with inspiration from your own heart. Listen and learn slayer."
The Master Slayer walked calmly towards the black pool and knelt before it, bowing his head and breathing deeply. Faith watched with more than a little curiosity as the wind stilled and the trees stopped rustling.
"I kneel before these waters as a man, imperfect of body and sinful of soul," Jallin said in a strong voice. "A task is laid before me and a path I must follow. Night falls and the shadows hold more than darkness. I am the beacon in the shadows, I am the sword raised high. I am the shield of man and servant of the cause. I, Jallin Du Rell, bare my soul to those who watch and swear before my god that I shall serve the cause with my dying breath. My life for theirs …"
It was then that Faith noticed the humming sound. All around her the trees and the waters of the pond, even the grass underfoot, was emitting a low humming sound. The stars over head were shining harshly enough to hurt her eyes.
As she watched, Jallin reached down into the pool and cupped the water with a hand, raising the black waters to his mouth and drinking it slowly as if savoring the taste. As the liquids trickled down his throat the air grew thicker about her, the humming more intense.
She couldn't see when he finished, his back was still to her, but she knew. As the last drops of the liquid were swallowed the humming and the air climaxed with a great crackle as the stars released a burst of light that momentarily blinded her.
Faith blinked several times, clearing the spots from her eyes. Squeezing her eyelids tight for a moment she opened them again and was relieved to see the blur was gone. Jallin was standing before her.
"That was my oath. I spoke it five years ago …" His mind drifted for a second in memory. "Soon you shall have to write an oath and take it here if you wish to be a true Agent. I just wanted you to get an idea of what you were in for."
She raised an eyebrow. "And that's what I'm in for?"
"No," he smiled and started walking back down the path to small church. "You're in for one messed up ride."
Having settled Faith in with Arctic for the evening Jallin managed to grab a few hours sleep before he awoke to face the new day. Following a light breakfast of fruit and a slice of toast he moved down to the hotel's gym for a workout. It had been a few days since he'd been able to do his exercises and he vowed to double everything to make up for the lack.
Jallin pushed open the door to the reasonable equipped gym and walked in. He wore a black T-shirt and a pair of loose sweat pants plus a pair of well worn sneakers.
He noticed Arctic was leaning against the far wall speaking to Faith, both wearing similar outfits to him with their hair tied back and up. Interesting. He hoped a friendship could develop between the two. Arctic was a stable woman yet fun loving and perhaps she could do much to alleviate Faith's fears.
Jallin picked up a towel from a box on the far wall and moved out to the rowing machine. He'd just set the towel down when Arctic spotted him. "Hey, Jal!"
Sighing to himself the team leader looked forlornly at the machine and walked away towards Arctic. "What?"
"I was telling Faith about the time we fought a mecha-demon in Cuba," she said, shadow punching the wall. "The half robot half Garacostran? Faith doesn't believe me when I said you took it out in hand to hand."
Jallin shook his head. "It was just a little one and we'd already pumped it full of nasty sharp things."
Arctic gave him a little push away. "Go on, you know you could have taken it at full strength. I know it, anyway. So I was wondering if our Master Slayer is a match for the slayer, here."
Faith started to protest but Arctic cut her off.
"How about it, Mr. Team Leader. Take the new kid out for a spin," she pointed to the practice mats. "C'mon, I want to see you two duke it out."
Arctic moved behind Jallin and pushed them both forwards onto the mat. As she did so a little voice came into Jallin's head. Test her. He looked back at Arctic. She nodded. He glared and lowered his voice. "Stay out of my mind."
Resigned, Jallin moved to the far end of the mats and bowed to Faith, getting a feeling for the floor and the general layout of the room. "All right, slayer girl, anything goes but no broken bones or stuff that'll keep one of us out of action."
She looked a little frightened but nodded. Jallin knew she was worried about loosing control and he intended to try and make her do just that. Arctic was right, a test was needed. To reassure both Faith and the rest of the team that she was in control of herself.
He waded into the fight, feet moving with the skill of seven years of training and five years fighting for his life. He knew Faith was stronger but her moves were going to be instinctive rather than thought out.
As he approached she dropped back into a fighters crouch. It looked impressive but he could spot several weaknesses in the stance. She had too much weight on her back foot and her hands were positioned too high for a defensive position. She'd probably picked it up from copying a television show or a movie.
He snapped a slow left out at her face and she blocked it easily, countering with a jab of her own. He blocked the jab with an open arm and then grasped the extended limb. Ducking, he went under her blocking arm and slid a foot between her legs. An elbow slammed into his back but the angle was off and it just slid off his side, leaving her leaning slightly behind him. A quick pull on the extended arm had her twisting and tripping on his leg between hers.
With a loud thud she fell to the floor, a shocked look on her face as he stood over her. Faith got to her feet with a groan, realizing now that her superior strength wouldn't ensure her the win.
"Ready to go again, Slayer?" he teased. "Guess I'm not as helpless as you thought."
She looked at him oddly and advanced with a running jump. She flew at him, faster than he thought she could but the distance still allowed him to move to the side. Faith landed and whirled, planting a fist in his chest with a solid thump.
"Right for the heart, huh?" Jallin teased again, dropping back on guard as he retreated a few feet. "Won't work, I'm human."
"It'll kill a-" Her eyes flared as she realized what he was implying. "Damn you."
She started to walk away but he put a hand on her shoulder. "We're not done, Slayer."
She twisted away from his hand and came around with a whip kick that probably would have broken his hip if he'd not dropped to the ground and blocked with both his forearms. A hearty push upwards had Faith falling backwards but in a show of great agility she used his push to back flip and give him a solid double kick in the torso as she came down again.
Jallin fell backwards, cursing. She was stronger than he'd imagined. His chest felt like it was on fire. Faith landed on her back and jumped up into her fighting stance again.
"Not bad, Slayer girl," he said with a smirk. "Now try this."
Jallin lunged forward, feinting with his right hand held high. Her eyes stayed locked on his torso but at the last second flicked to the hand coming at her. Jallin slid his left hand past her defenses and jabbed her under the ribs with stiffened fingers. He knew it would be extremely painful even before she cried out in agony.
Stepping back, he allowed her to rush him, blocking a fist and sliding forward into her charge. She flailed her arms at him, seeking a hole in his defenses but he allowed her none. His forearms were aching and would probably be covered with bruises within an hour but he kept up the defense, allowing Faith to tire herself out. She was angry, he knew, at his words and her inability to get past and hurt him.
"If this is all you've got, slayer, maybe I shouldn't have bothered getting you out of that prison," he made his face harden even though he was becoming disgusted with himself. "You probably enjoyed it there, right? Became someone's little plaything, didn't you? Am I right?"
Her eyes flared to a new level and he knew he'd hit a soft spot with the prison remarks. Her blows became stronger despite how long the fight had gone on and he knew he had to test his theory soon or risk breaking both his arms.
So he dropped back out of range of one of her blows, watched her overbalance from the effort she was putting into them. At the right moment he snaked forward and shot his hand forward. He stopped it an inch before her face and snapped a finger out to flick her nose. It was terribly humiliating as well as painful.
Faith growled, a literal growl that convinced Jallin beyond a doubt that she was in full slayer mindset. It was time. He stepped back once more and allowed her the attack. Only he raised his hands far to high for his regular defense and put all his weight on his back foot.
Down she dropped, twisting around and lashing out with her leg to impact his ankle and send him toppling to the floor. He hit with a thud and she was on him in a second. She got a solid punch into his torso before he could begin blocking again. He definitely heard his ribs groan but he didn't hear the familiar snap of breaking bone.
He let his guard slip, dropping his forearm far to low to be able to block her next blow. It came in the form of a right cross, sailing in like a hammer. Ignoring the hand, he caught her gaze with his own and sent her a steady look before closing his eyes.
The fist tapped lightly on his cheek and he opened his eyes once more. She was looking at him with a mixture of rage and relief. "You bastard," she said quietly. "You were testing me."
He nodded. "And you passed, Faith. You proved that you're in control."
Arctic stepped forward from where she'd been watching and helped Faith off of Jallin. He rolled to his feet and stared at the two of them. Faith was looking back and forth, slightly confused and hurt. Jallin knew he had to say something or risk loosing her trust forever.
"Faith, I-" he faltered for a moment. "I'm sorry I had to do that to you. But we had to prove to ourselves and especially to you that you can control yourself. And you can. I'm so very proud right now and all I can do is hope you forgive me for putting you through that."
Faith stepped forward and stared at him trying to figure something out. "I don't forgive you, Agent Durell. But I understand why you did it. Excuse me."
She turned and walked out of the gym, not looking back. Arctic started to follow but turned back to Jallin for a moment. "Is she good?"
He nodded. "With proper training she could take my sorry butt and beat it up and down the block. She's good now, probably above the average demon but she never learned the techniques I did, never had the hardcore training. When she does…"
"Let evil beware," Arctic nodded. "I'd better follow her. You go pack yourself in ice, Jal. You look pretty beat up."
"Inside and out," he agreed, walking over and picking up his towel. Sweat was running freely down his face and his body ached. A quick look at his arms revealed purple marks starting to show. "Damn."
Arctic left him to his thoughts and went to find Faith.
They sat casually attired in Jallin's hotel suite on couches or in chairs a full day after Faith and Jallin had dueled. The entire team had assembled at eight in the morning for a briefing over a light breakfast. The purpose of the briefing had as much to do with the appearance of Faith as with their mission in California. So far Arctic and Jallin were the only team members to have met the girl and the two males in the group were curious to say the least.
Jallin sat slouched sideways in a gray easy chair, legs over the side as he read from a folder and chewed on a piece of toast. With a tired sigh he tossed the folder on the coffee table central to the group. Tech and Alex were in similar chairs and the two females sat on a white sofa. Faith wasn't looking at him.
"All right, people, time to listen up," he said, turning to face his four team members. "We've been sent here to stop a sect of priests from opening up a portal to an unknown level of the Hell dimensions. These priests are called the Orda Du'Nocturna, roughly translated from a somewhat ancient version of Latin as the Order of Night. They worship a specific demon called Estra … ummm, Estralla'aesk? Don't tell me if I pronounced that wrong."
Jallin craned his neck until he heard the crack of tendons and joints rearranging. Inwardly he was screaming for sleep. Settling Faith in to the hotel with Arctic had lasted until two in the morning as items kept popping up that needed to be purchased and Faith further familiarized with their standard items as they were requisitioned from the Los Angeles Base Camp. Last night he'd been so sore that shifting in bed caused him to wake up for hours at a time. In all he'd gotten and hour and a half's worth of sleep before Tech and Alex had knocked on his door.
"Apparently Estralla'aesk is indeed a demon, a level fifteen who was banished over three thousand years ago," Jallin's voice betrayed his amount of sleep. He tapped his folder. "Society thinks he could have moved up two levels at most during his stay in Hell. Four days from now on Sunday at approximately ten fifteen at night will mark the two thousandth, six hundredth and sixty sixth day since he was banished. Two six six six. Very omen-esque to the religious priests. As you can see, there's very little info about him in the Society's database. Tech, I want you to get online and find out more info or find someone who knows more. We need more information on this demon and his powers in case he drops."
Tech sighed and flexed his fingers. "More hacking and code cracking. How long are we in the hotel, Boss?"
Jallin flipped a page in a folder and decided. "We can spend another day here. The town is small and even if we search the surrounding woodland we can probably find these priests before they begin the ceremony."
Tech nodded and leaned back into his chair. Jallin looked around at his team, particularly at Faith. "Faith? How are you with this whole assignment, is Sunnydale going to be too much for you?"
A shadow crossed her features for a second but she shrugged it off. "I know I'm a different person now. You know I'm a different person now. The blonde cheerleader? She might want to kick my ass."
Alex gave a quiet laugh. "Good choice, she's going to fit right in, Jallin. But seriously, is Miss Summers going to be a problem?"
Jallin shook his head. "I haven't a clue. All I know is she's working for the watchers council. But I don't think she'll have any idea who we are. Faith, insights?"
The slayer pondered a moment. "Buffy won't be the bad guy. She had a heart and if she's not the council's favorite pet it's gotta be because they pissed her off. Hell, they almost shot her when they tried to kidnap me ... though I was out of control then and deserved it."
"Right, so slayer is a wild card in the worst case scenario," Jallin said in a neutral tone. "Best case she gets drafted into the actual Society instead of staying within the Watchers."
Faith narrowed her eyebrows at him. "Collecting slayers, Agent Durell?"
He looked up with alarm at her tone. "Faith, I don't want Summers on my team, if that's what you're worried about. I chose you. As far as I'm concerned you're the only real slayer out there. But if the Society can make Miss Summers an agent and keep track of her so much the better. Is it an issue for you?"
Faith faltered for a moment. "N-no. It's not. Just, old feelings flaring up. You guys have offered me something here, and I guess it's making me feel special. I guess I just … well, Buffy always seemed to have everything. The mom, the home, the school life. I didn't want to loose this to her too."
Arctic leaned over and gave her a quick hug and pointed to the cross on their chests. "You're on our team now, Faith. Best of the Best of the Best of the Best. You belong here now and no one's going to take your place."
"Besides," Tech spoke up, "I hate blondes."
The tension was broken and the group laughed. When they had quieted Jallin spoke up once more.
"All right, Alex and I will head into Sunnydale and prepare for our arrival tomorrow. Tech, you know better than I what you have to do. Arctic, Faith needs some clothes and other goodies to fit in with the rest of us. Keep showing her the ropes and don't melt the cards."
"Yay, shopping!" Arctic cheered and clapped again.
Jallin frowned. "There's no way I can keep you two from buying several dresses that will only be worn once and then packed in storage is there?"
Arctic grabbed Faith by the wrist and made a dash for the door. "You could try and kill us?" She suggested as they ran. The door closed behind them as Jallin sighed and massaged his temples.
"The burdens of leadership getting to you Jal?" Alex asked from his chair. "Is it the late hours or is the new girl reawakening those long suppressed feelings we know you have. Hey, being raised by the church and all, did you ever get that talk about birds and bees? You know, did they tell you what it meant when-"
"All right, all right, shut up," Jallin tossed a crust from his toast at the man. "Maybe she is getting to me a little. You know, beautiful woman, hard luck story … I dunno. I don't have to tell you guys how hard it is to have a stable relationship working for the Society."
"Amen," Tech muttered loudly. "It's a sad day for men everywhere when I want more than a one night stand."
"Sigh," Jallin said. He pulled his folders together and made a tidier pile of them. "Alex, let's go see this Hellmouth and get some rooms set up, maybe scout for the slayer. Tech, I'll let you go do that thing you do."
"All right, Boss," Tech stood and moved for the door. Alex turned and looked at Jallin.
"I'm driving. You're sleeping. End of discussion," the half-dragon said. He pointed to the darkness under Jallin's eyes. "An hour? Two?"
Jallin nodded sheepishly. "Hour and a half. Had to settle Faith in with Arctic and they kept asking for permission to custom order stuff. Then my kicked ass had some complaints of it's own."
"Excuses are nice but no good at all when you fall asleep in front of a demon," he said, hauling the tired Durell off the easy chair. "We'll pick up some warm milk on the way."
"Stop calling me that."
"So, care to talk about the past?" Arctic asked hesitantly. The two female team members were sitting on the patio of a café, shopping bags piled beside them.
Faith looked up from her meal and eyed the woman. "Depends on what you want to know."
"Just curious if there's anything you want to tell me," she replied, forking a piece of lettuce into her mouth from a garden salad. "Deep emotional turmoil that needs to be released or anything like that."
Faith sipped her drink and leaned back. "Everyone wants me to talk about how screwed up I was. I know bringing it out is supposed to make it all less painful and stuff but I don't know if I want to hold a share-fest just yet."
"It's cool," Arctic assured her. "Some thing's you don't talk about. I've got it, Faith. I'm just letting you know my door is open. You're not alone anymore. It's a big step. I glanced at your file before we arrived in LA. Tragic home life, no immediate family. You're probably used to carrying your burdens yourself, right?"
Faith shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, something like that. It's been since forever that I've had someone I could really count on. I had Buffy and I screwed her over. Then Angel helped me get my life together but that was only for a day or two before we separated. My watcher was kind of like you're being right now. But when he died I think she took my faith in the world with him."
Arctic laughed and then looked extremely sorry. "Oh, I didn't mean to be rude. It's just … Faith, loosing faith? Am I the only one who finds that funny?"
"Ha, ha," Faith said. Then she thought about it for a second and was forced to grin. "All right, it's a little funny."
Arctic smiled and reached around to pat herself on the back. "I know, I'm wonderful. No one needs to tell me."
Laughing quietly, Faith finished her drink and stood. "What's next?"
"You, by which I mean me, need a new pair of gloves," Arctic suggested. "Up for more shopping?"
"Planning to hire a truck to get this all back?"
Arctic just looked at her. "Don't slayers have super strength? What are you worried about? It's my arms that are going to be killing me."
Sunnydale was fiendishly suburban. Rows of quaint little houses lined the streets of the urban areas, many with well manicured lawns and the white picket fences. The rental car, a black jeep, rolled through the winding streets, its passengers watching the houses pass by.
"Nice little town," Alex observed. "Shame it was built on a Hellmouth."
"Yeah, I wonder what that does to the property values," Jallin shook his head. "Can the real estate guys sell it as a pro or con?"
"Don't ask," Alex said. "Real estate agents are the worst kinds of demons. Believe me, I used to own a house."
"Really, I didn't know that," Jallin looked up with interest. "Where?"
"Small town like this on the East Coast," Alex said, pointing around him, "Mom ran a salon. When she died I inherited the family house. I sold it before joining up and the real estate agent put me through Hell and back before settling on his cut."
Jallin laughed quietly. "Talk like this makes me want to retire and settle down."
"Speaking of," Alex raised an eyebrow. "Settling down, that is, what's the official deal with Faith. Are you interested? I'm psychic remember, lie at your own risk."
"How could I ever forget," Jallin avoided his friends gaze. "Truth is, I'm not sure how I feel. I mean, she's attractive and all that. I would like to know her better but she has just had a major life change. Three days ago she was in prison, serving a five year term. Now she's out in the real world with a crazy outfit like us. I don't want to rush. Besides, I probably blew it yesterday when I tested her in the gym. The things I said would make even a priest hate me. I think I'll stay clear for a while… Besides, that whole Bliss issue is still on my mind."
Alex turned the jeep left at a stop sign and nodded. "Probably a good idea. Emotional turmoil and all that. Let her settle in and then seduce the living daylights out of her. Good plan."
"I didn't mean it like that," Jallin said, giving Alex a half-hearted slap on the shoulder. "It's just that the chance of finally being able to have a relationship with someone. It's pretty damn tempting. You don't know what you're missing."
"Bah, I'll feel the urge to mate in three years or so," Alex leaned back in the drivers seat and stared at a woman walking by. "Maybe then I'll see women in a different light. I'm not complaining, I've seen Tech on his hormones and even Arctic when she has an itch. Sex just complicates everything."
Jallin stared at his friend. "You know, I think a half-human half-dragon demon hunter has just solved one of the mysteries of life."
"Make a note, I'm full of all kinds of wisdom."
"Is that the high school?"
The jeep pulled into the visitors parking area and the two men got out. Jallin was dressed in the same outfit he'd worn during his trip to the prison and Alex had a similar version of clothing on.
"Hey, Jal," Alex said, putting a hand to his friends shoulder, "I know how she feels. You had to do the same thing to me when I joined the Direguards. I hated you for it but after a few days I understood. A week later I was ready to forgive you. Now I consider us friends. Faith will understand too. She has to."
"Thanks, man," Jallin said. He grabbed a pen and paper from the dash and stuffed it in his pocket.
"Shades?" Alex asked, reaching into his own pocket and pulling out the sunglasses.
Jallin looked him over. "You know, for someone who supposedly has no interest in mating you seem awfully concerned about relationships and looking cool."
Alex slipped his black ray bans on and smiled. "Just practicing, Jal."
Jallin slid his own set over his eyes and closed the jeep door. The school was bustling already as students ended classes and went to others. Several students stopped and stared at the two agents as they strolled towards the ruined library building but the looks were ignored.
"Wow, someone did a nice job on this one," Alex observed, pointing to the ruined building. They slid in through a very large crack in the side wall rather than use the locked main door. Inside it was dusty and charcoal remains littered the ground everywhere.
"Hellmouth should be near the center of the main room." Jallin ducked under a slanted beam as he spoke.
Alex nodded as he closed his eyes. "I know. I can feel it. I felt it when we were driving actually but I didn't think it could be this powerful. Jal, this thing could let a level fifty through. It's big. Dark Prince himself could walk through and not have to duck. No wonder the place has such undead problems."
He shifted slightly and pointed. "Dead center of the room. They built the library square on it."
They walked forward, picking their way past the rubble and into a large circular room. With a large hole in the middle.
"Alex, is that active?" Jallin dropped back and nervously drew his pistol.
Alex walked around the hole in the ground, even dropping down to trace the lip with his fingers. He shook his head. "It's been opened before, several times I think. But it's not active right now. Do we have a motion detector in the jeep?"
Jallin shook his head. "No, I wasn't thinking. Can you set up a field or something?"
The half-dragon pondered for a second. "There's a lot of psychic energy bouncing around even though this thing isn't open. I can try but I don't know how many false alarms I'm going to get."
"Do it," Jallin assured him. "False alarms are the best kind."
Alex put his hands to his temples and then held them out over the center of the shaft. He motioned outwards and down until each hand touched a side of the hole. "It's done. Anything comes up through here I'll know it. Of course, any living thing walks by and I'll probably think a level ten demon is coming up. This hellmouth is amplifying all the signals. Never seen anything like it before."
"Not very reassuring," Jallin quipped. He glanced around the room and at the burn marks on the walls. "Hey, Alex, what do you make of these burn marks?"
"Looks like something burned, Jal," Alex replied in a sarcastic tone. "Why?"
"Well, the stone's not melted at all. Demon fire melts stone," Jallin pointed to the black walls. "Should be runny like candle wax. But it just looks like someone blew something up. It's odd."
"This whole place is odd." Alex stood away from the hole in the center. "I can't even guess how deep the mouth is underground. Gotta be more than a hundred meters."
"Really?" Jallin raised his eye brows in appreciation as he leaned out over the edge of the pit. "Yeah, at least that. Deepest I've seen is forty meters. Took us three days to seal it off."
"You think we have a prayer of doing the same to this one?" Alex asked. "Even with Arctic being as strong as she is the two of us are going to have to ask for some pretty big miracles to get this one closed off. Do you think we could get another team down here?"
Jallin shook his head. "The whole eastern continent is on alert and the North American teams have taken some serious hits lately. I think we're alone."
"Damn." Alex sat down beside the hole. "We're in trouble here, Durell."
A cough sounded behind them and a new voice called out, "I'd say so."
A crossbow was leveled at them. It was old style, wooden with a steel headed shaft. The person holding the crossbow wore a dark leather jacket, with a white tank top and black pants. She had green eyes and blonde hair and …
"Alex it's her!" Jallin said, rolling to the side and causing the slayer to react by loosing her bolt. He whipped his pistol out and leveled it at the slayer in time to hear a roar of pain. A roar?
A crossbow bolt sticking out of his shoulder, Alex was convulsing with internal agony. One second the human being was writhing in pain on the ground. The next, a ten foot lizard was rearing back to attack. Shiny scales and ridged spines met with leathery wings, all heading towards cold eyes and a fearsome jaw.
"Alex no!" Jallin thought of leaping to intercept the draconic Alex but instead made a jump towards the slayer. Fortunately she was too startled to knock him aside and let him tackle her to the ground. Just as her body hit the dirt below him a winged rush flapped overtop and a pair of raking claws hooked into his coat.
Somewhere deep in the dragon mind Alex was still there and that part of him resisted the urge to go through the puny human and rend the slayer to pieces. That part gradually took hold and the Alex-Dragon released his hold on Jallin, flapping to the far side of room.
Hearing him retreat Jallin rolled off the shocked slayer. She was staring up at the ceiling with wide eyes.
"You okay, Summers?" Jallin asked, gently tapping a shoulder.
She turned and looked at him. "Seen a lot of things, never seen that."
He stood and helped her to her feet. She suddenly turned on him, taking the offered hand and twisting, bringing it up behind his back. He nearly cried out in pain but caught himself in time.
"Who are you and how do you know my name?" Buffy asked, pushing upwards slightly. "I suggest talking."
Jallin groaned as he shifted slightly. "I have this odd condition where my vocal cords are tied into my arm."
"You're doing just fine," she assured him. "Name?"
He gave in. "Jallin Durell, Head of Global Team Three. You want a serial number with that, Buffy Anne Summers, aged twenty years, mother Joyce, sister Dawn."
The arm twisted painfully up. "You know a lot for someone I've never seen before. Who are you working for?"
Dirt crunched behind them. "I don't believe he has to tell you that, Miss Summers."
Pressure on his arm eased and Jallin twisted around. Alex was standing behind the slayer holding Jallin's fallen pistol to the back of her neck. He was also quite naked, his clothing lying in tatters where he'd changed. Blood was ebbing from a shoulder wound.
"Ease up, Alex, we don't want a body here," Jallin reminded him.
The half dragon gave him a shocked glare. "She shot me Jal. I can take being slapped around, run down by a car or thrown off a cliff. But she shot me. With an arrow. That's personal."
"I'm really sorry if it helps," Buffy spoke up, raising her hands.
"She's the slayer, Alex, she shoots things with arrows. It's her deal," he said. Jallin slipped out of his trench coat so that he was wearing only his black clothing of the casual uniform. "Here, I'll trade you. Gun for coat. Miss Summers won't make any sudden moves, will she?"
Buffy shook her head. "Not a move."
"Dammit," Alex swore. He stepped back and flipped the gun over, then tossed it to Jallin. Jal caught it and holstered it. "A show of faith."
Jallin tossed his coat to Alex and faced the slayer. "Well, Miss Summers perhaps we could put off killing each other long enough to talk. What do you think?"
"I could go with that," Buffy nodded. "But not here. People might show."
"You're going to let her get away with shooting me aren't you?" Alex asked, sliding on the coat. He buckled up the front of the coat and glared at Jallin.
The team leader sighed. "You're healed already aren't you? And it's not your favorite jacket that's getting blood all over it."
Alex huffed and tightened the jacket. "I still don't like it."
Jallin nodded and turned to the slayer. "How far away?"
"Not far," the slayer assured him. "Two blocks."
Jallin turned back to the half-dragon. "Alex, I want you to head back to the hotel in LA and get cleaned up. Tell the team I'll get the hotel rooms ready at that place we drove by earlier. Meet me there tomorrow morning at nine with the rest of the team."
"No way in hell, Jallin," Alex said loudly. "I'm not letting you walk off with this little blonde cheerleader after she's shot me."
"Then you're going to half to spend the rest of the day walking around naked." Jallin made a cutting motion. "I can handle myself, the slayer won't jump me and it's not your decision. Go."
Swallowing a lot of useless words, Alex turned and stalked away, swearing about stupid humans in general and team leaders in specific. Jallin turned to the slayer. "Lead on, Miss Summers."
"He seems a little temperamental," Buffy observed, pointing in the opposite direction and beginning to walk.
"Alex is half dragon, Miss Summers," Jallin pointed out dropping in beside her. "And he has a right to be cranky after someone shoots him."
They exited the burned out library on the far side and started walking away from the school. It was still before noon and the students hadn't started out for lunch breaks yet. Jallin broke the silence first.
"Care to tell me how you knew we were there?"
Buffy didn't turn around but she did answer. "I have a witch friend who did a spell to let me know about changes in the hell mouth. An orb in my room blinks. What did you guys do to it?"
Jallin ah'ed and replied. "Alex is psychic, part of the dragon thing. He put up a sensor around the mouth so we'd know if anything came through."
Buffy led the way with a nod. After a few blocks they turned into a driveway of a traditional suburban house. Buffy led him right up the walkway and through the door. Inside the house she pointed towards the living room to the left of the door. "Take and seat and start explaining."
Sighing, Jallin moved into the living room and dropped to a couch. He leaned back and massaged his temples. "All right, Slayer, let's talk straight out. I'll give you the goods on why I'm in town and then you answer questions I've got. Deal?"
Buffy nodded and took a seat across from him. "Deal."
"All right," He said. "I'm with the Society. It controls the Watchers Council and several smaller groups around the world. The Society funds approximately twenty five teams placed across the globe plus four teams that rove and deal with threats that pop up. I head a team of four, sorry, five members and we travel where sent to deal with forming threats."
"Forming threats?" Buffy asked, raising her eyebrow.
"Demons are sent to hell when they die," Jallin explained, motioning downward with his hands. "After a couple hundred years or so they get to come back through hell mouths or random portals. These are your full fledged demons not vampires."
Buffy nodded. "So why are you in my town?"
"The Society had reports of an order of evil priests getting ready to summon and really, really powerful demon. We're here to stop the priests or take out the demon. That's why we were at the hellmouth."
The slayer looked thoughtful. "All right, I'll share. Word on the street is a bunch of guys in robes have been working out of a warehouse in south end of town. I was going out tonight to check it."
"I'm not supposed to meet my team until tomorrow," Jallin said. "Mind if I tag?"
"Can I stop you?" she asked in return.
He gave a quiet little laugh. "You'd have to break my legs. And I don't think I'd let you."
"Right, anyway," Buffy went on, "so I'm going to get some help on this catastrophe. Nice. Normally the new guy in town tries to eat me or steal my soul."
"Alex might want to eat you," Jallin admitted. He pointed to his shoulder. "He's really hates being shot. It's a cheap shot to him."
Buffy lowered her head. "I should have apologized sooner for shooting him."
"Not a big worry, we bolted and you shot," Jallin waved it away. "He'll cool down. Besides, we're headed out of town as soon as the demon's dealt with."
"This is just what I need right now," Buffy said, staring up at the ceiling. "I've already got a gang of vampires causing trouble."
"I'm sure the Society wouldn't mind if my team helped out with them," he suggested. "You help with demon backslash priests, we'll help with vampires."
"Sounds fair enough," Buffy said. "When can this team of yours show."
"I'll push up the schedule to bring them in tonight," he said. "Should stir them up a bit."
He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and entered the number for the teams message lines. After a few seconds of dialing the automatic message kicked in and he entered 4 for all of them.
"This is Jallin. I'm in Sunnydale with Summers and things are worse than we thought," he spoke into the phone. "I need you guys down here yesterday so pack up and get down here, Alex knows where I'll be until dusk tonight. We're helping the slayer with a bad nest before we head out after the priests, so hurry. And Tech, don't forget my blades, I didn't bring them in the jeep."
He hung up and turned back to the slayer. "My team should be here by seven tonight all things considered. I've got to go get rooms set up, we can talk on the way."
"Then I'm taking you to Giles," she told him. "He's my-"
"Watcher," Jallin broke in. "We know all about Mr. Giles, Miss. Summers. I … If you call me Jallin can I call you Buffy?"
The slayer nodded. "I was hoping to avoid saying Mr. over and over again. Jallin Durell. Agent of the Society."
"Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer," he said with a smirk. "There, introductions are complete. Let's go."
Arctic and Faith returned from their shopping to find Tech and Alex in chaos, running from room to room and throwing stuff into boxes. "Man we just got this unpacked!"
"Suck it up, Jal says it's bad and we've got to move."
"How bad is bad?"
"If he's moving up the schedule it's really bad, Tech, you know that."
"Yeah I just wanted someone to say it out loud."
Arctic coughed and they turned to stare at the two girls. "What's going on?"
Tech continued packing while Alex explained. "Jal and I ran into the slayer while looking over the hell mouth. She shot me, we talked, I was naked so Jallin had to go off alone with her. Now I come back to find Tech running around packing up and Jal's left a message saying we need to get down there now. Pack up your stuff were moving out eh sap."
"You left him?" Arctic was outraged. "What were you thinking?"
"Why were you naked?" Faith asked. The three team members stared at her and then turned to each other with a disgusted look in their eyes.
"Rookie," they said in unison.
Three members of the team exited the hotel with bags on their shoulders or in their hands. Two black vans and the jeep were partially packed and waiting out front.
With people in them.
"What the hell?" Tech growled, setting his bag on the ground. He looked around for Arctic. She'd stayed with the vehicles to shuffle stuff while the others made one last trip.
The door to the furthest van slid open. A rifle barrel slid out and a sharp crack sounded. Before anyone could dodge Faith cried out with surprise and pain as a dart blossomed from her chest.
The other van door slid open and men dressed in society black poured out. Tech snarled and drew a knife while Alex raised his hands as if they were claws. Faith looked at both with a sorry expression as she slid to the sidewalk and lost consciousness.
Twelve men dressed in black attire held pistols in their hands. Another pair were dressed in casual clothes and one of them carried the rifle that had shot Faith.
With a start Tech realized that he recognized one of the men in black. A man he'd worked with on a previous team. "Rip, what the hell is going on?"
The man shuffled nervously. "Sorry, Tech, this is a crap assignment for all of us. Society says we've got to hand over the slayer to the watchers council."
Alex actually growled at them. "The rules that bind. Only death or the leader can break up a team. She's a Direguard, one of us. And Jallin isn't here to stop these guys."
One of the men in casual clothes stepped forward. "I'm Watcher Farrol, of the England council. The Society has assured us that Mr. Durell would cooperate. We expect the same of his team."
Alex growled again. "Where's Arctic?"
The man in casual clothes shook his head. "I'm afraid Miss Arctic wasn't cooperating. We had to use force but I assure you-"
Hissing and roaring Alex leapt at the man, batting him to the ground as if he were a paper mock up. Twelve guns lined him in their sights and he paused over the fallen watcher.
"Just step back, Agent Flyght," Rip warned. "Tech, tell him to back off."
"They're right, Alex," Tech said. "Calm down. Jallin will sort this all out when he hears about it."
"Tech, by the time he hears about it Faith will probably be on a plane to England," Alex pointed out. He did, however move back from the downed man. "We can't let that happen. She's new but she's still a Direguard."
The standing watcher raised an eyebrow. "I don't see how you can stop us."
Alex snarled and looked at Tech. He nodded back. "Go for it!"
Tech tossed a bag from the ground to Alex and threw himself forward in front of his team mate, waving his knife wildly.
All eyes turned to Tech and then it was too late. With an explosion of cloth Alex ruined another change of clothing and was bunching his leg muscles, springing upward and flapping leathery wings to catch the air.
"Aww crap," one of the black clothed society men swore as they watched the half-dragon take to the sky with a duffel bag stashed under a forearm. "Three guesses where he's headed."
"Dammit," the Watcher Farrol swore, helping his companion to his feet. "Get the girl into the van. Mr. Tech, I assume you're done with your little show?"
Tech smiled and put his hands behind his head, allowing himself to be cuffed and placed inside the second van beside an unconscious Arctic. He looked over and noted that she was breathing steadily. She did have a large bruise on her cheek that made him swear softly. He'd make them pay for that.
Rip looked back at Tech from the front passengers seat. Tech noted that both watchers were in the first van. "I'm sorry Tech. No one wanted this job. The Direguards have friends but it wasn't enough. We had orders."
Tech scowled. "I thought we were tight, Rip, like brothers."
"It's because we're friends that I had to do this myself, Tech," Rip lowered his head. "I'm truly sorry."
"Forgiven but not forgotten."
The vans rolled out from the hotel front, heading towards what Tech considered to be a bad future for the Direguards.
The shop was small but well stocked compared to most magic stores he'd been in. An attractive young girl with strawberry blonde hair was behind the counter counting money and a middle aged man with glasses was taking an inventory count. When the door swung open both looked up.
"Giles, meet Agent Jallin Durell," Buffy introduced. "Jallin, Rupert Giles."
Jallin walked forward and took the offered hand. "A pleasure to meet you at last, Mr. Giles."
"And you, Agent Durell?" It was a question and a sentence in one.
Jallin smiled. "You should know about the Society. I've read your file extensively. The Society has been keeping track of you even if the Watcher's Council let's you roam."
Giles paused and stared at the young man in a new light. "You work for the Society? The Dark Council?"
"Five years in the field," Jallin acknowledged with a slight bow. "I lead the Direguards, Global team three. We're here to stop a band of priests from summoning a demon but apparently you're having heavy vampire troubles."
The watcher rolled his eyes and nodded. "Trouble is a very unsuitable word to use."
A phone rang. Looking at his own with surprise, Jallin reached down and opened it up. He placed the receiver against his ear.
"Durell," he said, looking at his watch. Ten to six. Who could be calling?
"Jal, it's Alex," the voice came over the phone. "I'm in the woods about a half mile out of town getting dressed. Bad news, the Society screwed us and gave Faith to the watchers. I went dragon and took off. Cloud cover, no one saw me. Managed to grab a bag of your stuff while I was at it. They've got Tech and Arctic."
"Hold on," Jallin said. Then he swore and turned to the group. "Excuse me a moment."
He stepped behind some bookshelves and spoke quietly into the phone. "Did you just say they screwed us?"
Jallin closed his eyes. "Great gleeping hell, Alex. What happened?"
"They jumped us coming out of the hotel, tranqued Faith and outgunned us. They're taking her off the team, Jal. Society's orders. What's the plan?"
He thought for a moment. "Meet me at the edge of town in ten minutes. I'll bring a vehicle."
"Don't steal it from anyone important."
"I'll try," he promised. He looked around the room.
"Giles I need to borrow a knife," he said, stepping into the main room of the magic shop once more. "One foot in length, approximately one half inch at the base and narrowing to a point."
"Whatever for?" the former watcher asked, moving into the training room behind the shop with Jallin.
"Society screwed my team. Keep a secret?" he asked the man in a lowered voice. "Buffy can't know."
Giles nodded and looked back. Buffy was reading a book about Glory at the table and seemed to be ignoring them for the moment.
"Faith is back," he said. Giles paused and turned to face him. "I put her on my team and she was fitting in, a total reformation. But apparently the Society sold me out to your buddies on the council and I've got to go get back to my team and keep them from brainwashing or killing her."
"Good lord," Giles exclaimed. He braced himself against the wall. "That is rather startling. Faith, out of prison?"
Jallin smiled. "The bitch is back. Only less bitch-like and more repenting. She can be trusted, I know, I tested her. She's in control."
"All right," Giles agreed. "I'll trust enough to keep this from Buffy for now. But whatever is the knife for?"
Jallin stared at him as if he was a three year old. "I'm going to use it to hotwire your car."
A groan sounded in the room and Tech looked up. Arctic was awake and looking about with blurred eyes.
She put a hand to her head and hissed with pain. "Dammit."
Tech moved over to sit beside her. "How you feeling?"
"Like I got the crap kicked out of me," she said with a half smile. "Where are we?"
"Some warehouse a mile from the airport I think," Tech examined her as he spoke, "I got a bit of the look as they took us in."
Tech shook his head. "She's in another room, with the Watchers. I think she's still out from the dart they hit her with. Or the walls are too thick to hear her throwing people around."
"Jallin's going to be pissed," Arctic said, rubbing her bruised cheek. "Where's Alex?"
"Hopefully bringing Jal here right now," Tech said in an even tone. "Alex knows us both well enough to find us, right?"
"Yeah, I think so," Arctic agreed. "So it's just a matter of time."
Tech sighed and settled down against the wall. "Unfortunately time isn't on our side."
Gile's car pulled over on the freeway a half mile out of town. Jallin hopped out and whistled loudly. A whistle answered him and Alex stepped out of the bushes. He was wearing one of Jallin's uniforms from the bag and he had a pair of pistols at his waist. Alex stared at the car.
"What the hell are they doing here, Jal?"
Jallin shifted nervously and looked back at the vehicle. Buffy and Giles sat in the front seat staring at them. "Giles here wouldn't let me steal his car and I didn't take time to argue. Then she asked where we were going and the Brit is a terrible liar."
Alex stared at the blonde slayer. "She wants Faith, Jal. I can feel it in her. A burning hatred. Damn, it's really strong, almost radiating out. Are you sure you want her along?"
"No I don't want her along but I don't want to have to kill her either," Jallin protested. He pondered for a moment. "Things are messed up enough. Besides, if we can get all the slayers together than maybe we can work something out with the council."
"You're an optimist," Alex observed. "Here, I brought you a little present just in case."
He raised a black duffel and passed it to Jallin. He looked inside and was disappointed. A pair of sai and a single pistol. It wasn't even one of his. Oh well. "All right, hop in. We’re going to have to do this old school."
Alex smiled. "Is there any better way?"
"Are you wearing my clothes?"
"Would you rather I was naked? Again?"
They arrived in LA approximately an hour later. As the car hit the perimeter of the city Alex began to search the area with his mind for both Tech and Arctic. After a few tense minutes he smiled and turned to Jallin.
"I've got them," he said with pleasure. Alex turned to Giles and pointed. "That way, about four miles. A stone room, probably a warehouse."
Giles obediently pulled onto a side street and began driving towards the east where Alex had pointed.
"Is Faith still with them?" Jallin asked, extremely worried for the girl.
Alex shrugged. "Sorry Jal, I don't know her well enough to get a fix on her. Maybe in a month or so but not now."
Jallin nodded and did his best to hide his disappointment. He patted his friend awkwardly on the shoulder. "I know you tried, Alex. I'm just worried about her."
Buffy turned back from the front seat to face them both. She didn't look happy. "What's the big problem if they do take her? Let the Watchers take care of their mess. I'm here to make sure she gets what she deserves. Why are you so worried about that slut?"
Jallin's eyes hardened. "I'm worried because she's in danger and just because you're a slayer doesn't mean I have to listen to you insult a member of my team or make me forget that you're an unforgiving, over-emotional bitch."
The look on Buffy's face promised a very painful future for Jallin. "Say something like that again and I'll break you in half."
He returned the look with a very serious gaze. "Insult Faith again and I'll give you the chance."
Alex coughed loudly and Giles shifted nervously. The watcher turned away from the road for a moment. "I really don't believe this is helping right now, Buffy. Mr. Durell."
Jallin leaned back and looked away. "How far Alex?"
"Another minute at most."
"It's time," Watcher Farrol said. "We should get her to the plane."
The other watcher nodded and turned to Rip. "Tell your men to load her aboard the jet."
Rip looked pained but he gave to the orders to his team. "Teller, Standard, take her to the plane and stay with her. We'll rendezvous back at the Isle."
The two men tucked themselves under the unconscious Faith's arms and lifted her to her feet from the couch she'd been laid down on.
A private runway sat there. An empty private runway. In the distance Jallin could see the plane wheeling in the air and turning towards the Atlantic. He dropped to his knees and began swearing.
"I'm sorry, Jal," Tech started to apologize but Jallin waved it away.
"Not your fault, Tech," Jallin said in a tired tone. "I trusted them and they betrayed me. Agent Rip, I know you were following orders and now I need you to follow mine. Take your team to Sunnydale and help Buffy out with her problems and take care of the demon."
"Sure Jal," Rip said, placing a hand on Jallin shoulder. "My team will take care of it."
"I know you will," Jallin responded. He hung his head with the weight of his failure.
Tech coughed loudly and everyone turned. "Umm, am I the only one who realizes that we should be running for our own plane?"
Jallin stared at him blankly. "What was that?"
"Jal, those guys took off in a standard seven forty seven." Tech pointed to the sky where the plane was still visible. "We've still got the jet assigned to us stored at the airport. We can be in England before they finish refueling in Washington."
Jallin's jaw dropped and he wondered how he'd forgotten about the jet still waiting for his team. "Tech, I could kiss you. But, you know, the awkwardness would be too much."
"Agreed. Let's move."
The Watchers stepped off the plane, looking around in the darkness. The two team members, on loan from Rips team, held Faith supported between them, sharing a scowl at their situation. The weather in England was dreary at best, rain pouring down under the overcast sky.
Two team members supported Faith as she struggled down the stairs, trying to keep her footing. The watchers had put something in her bloodstream that was messing with her slayer abilities.
The four plus Faith got to the bottom of the ramp and spotted the waiting vehicles. A pair of cars and a moving style van.
"Take her to the van." The second watcher ordered, pointing to the waiting vehicle. The two team members, Teller and Standard, scowled at him but complied, helping Faith forward to the vehicle.
A man stepped out of the van and walked up to Farrol. He was dressed in a black trench coat and had the collar pulled up to hide his face from the weather. "Watcher Farrol?"
"Of course," Farrol said, staring at the man. "Were you expecting someone else?"
"No," the man pulled the coat away from his face and allowed the rain to splatter on his skin. Jallin Durell stared at the watcher and pulled a pistol out of his coat, leveling it at Farrol. "I just had to make sure. Now do me a favor and make a run for. I'd enjoy shooting you in the knee."
The back of the van opened up as the two team members approached with Faith. Smiling widely, Tech and Alex leveled pistols as the other Society members with them reached out to take Faith from Teller and Standard.
The two Society members shrugged and smiled, helping Faith into the back of the van.
Farrol scowled. "What the hell is going on here?"
"On behalf of the Society and acting as an Agent of the Fifth Tier I'm placing you under confinement until a council session can be called to deal with the situation. Get in the car and shut up."
Jallin led the man to the car and ushered him in, the went back to the van where his team was waiting.
Tech helped him into the back of the moving van with a smile. "Well, we did it, Boss, the hard parts over."
Jallin scowled at him. "Tech, if I know anything in this world it's that the hard part is just beginning."
Everyone in the van became really quiet as Jallin stared at them. Each met his stare and nodded, pledging alliance to the cause. Finally, he turned to look at Faith. She was looking at him through groggy eyes.
Jallin reached down and exchanged a handclasp with her. "Direguards don't let go. We'll sort this out Faith. I promise."
She tightened her grip on his hand and swayed with effort to stay upright. Faith looked around, seeing people who had literally traveled halfway around the world to come and save her. She knew she wasn't alone anymore. No matter what happened in the next few days she knew that there would always be someone for her to fall back on.
She would always be a Direguard. And woe to any who stood in their way.
End Part 1