*looks at previous post*
*lets out vaguely crazed gasp of surprise*
[Knew I should've done the "ask me about any fic I've written that you want" meme because I'm very much better at talking about writing than I am personal stuff.]
So, yeah, I'll be busy writing tonight. *weak grin* Right on the heels of writing about cardiovascular disease. It's been quite the week.
Can I write about bacteria that kills you again? That's a lot more fun.
Apologies for the Living History Faith icon. I actually don't have a Faith icon for this story.
Continued from Part 7.
The meeting was set for one of Cleveland’s many abandoned steel mills. Considering there were seemingly acres of such blighted factories around the city, the kidnappers thoughtfully drew them a crude map to a waterfront property. Their guide would supposedly meet them inside the front gates.
This is a perfect place for a trap and I should know, Faith thought as she huddled in her thick coat. She constantly scanned the broken landscape for signs of their guide.
With her were Buffy, Willow, the disguised Dawn, Giles, Vi, and Rona. Since she was the only one who was used to the overwhelming monstrosity that was industrial hell, she was just about the only one who wasn’t jumping at every little sound.
The newbie Slayers led by Kennedy were hidden in the darkness beyond the gates. Their job was to quietly follow when the contact showed and get into position when they landed at the negotiation table. If things got ugly, their kidnappers were in for a big surprise in the form of approximately two-dozen furious and armed Slayers out for blood.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Buffy whispered. She winced as the wind off the lake picked up the statement and bounced it from brick walls to corrugated steel roofs.
“Don’t bother keeping your voice down,” Faith said. “Places like this pick up every little sound. You so much as fart it’s gonna echo. Besides, they know we’re coming.”
“Sunnydale had abandoned factories, but nothing like this.” Buffy sounded awed, like she was standing in the middle of a church.
“Sunnydale never was what you’d call a manufacturing town,” Faith said. “Back in the day before I even knew about vampires and things that go bump, I used to party down in places like this. These complexes are so huge that there ain’t no way a rent-a-cop can sniff you out if you pick the right spot.”
“How much you wanna bet there’s a vamp nest here?” Rona chattered through her teeth.
“Ain’t a bet,” Faith said, her eyes constantly scanning. “It’s a guarantee. Plenty of homeless people probably use the joint. So what you’re looking at is an all-you-can-eat situation.”
“Yikes,” Dawn quietly said.
“So why aren’t we patrolling down here?” Vi asked. “Not that I’m in a rush to visit again.”
“Vi, I’d think twice before coming down here, even with every Slayer on the planet watching my back,” Faith said. “You’re not just talking broken glass and trash, you’re talking pitch black, collapsed floors, crumbling walls, random metal sticking out just waiting to cut you, confusing stairs and hallways, drums full of stuff that may or may not kill you if you land in it, and that’s just for starters. Plus, like I said, every little sound carries.”
“You’re scared,” Buffy stated.
“Not scared,” Faith insisted. “Just not stupid. I don’t like the idea of just letting ’em feed off people down on their luck, but we could spend years down here and probably not even make a dent in the vamp population. Besides, even if—and that’s a big if—we clear out one these places, the second we’re gone there’ll be a new crew moving in.”
“Sounds like you’ve tried it.” Willow sounded surprised.
Faith clenched her jaw against the memory. “Kakistos set up shop in a place like this outside Boston,” she said tersely.
“Think I can see why you’d be nervous,” Buffy said.
“B? One question. Can you even imagine what place like this can be like when you’re fighting for your life?”
Buffy looked around her. “Probably not,” she admitted.
“So trust me when I tell you that once you get a good look you’ll be thinkin’ the same thing as me.”
There was a sound of scurrying claws against pavement and Faith tensed. It sounded too big to be a rat, but too small to be something demon. A dog—the same scabby, ugly, moose of dog she had seen earlier in the day—emerged from the shadows and waited until the group chose to notice it.
“What the…” Willow began.
The dog cautiously approached them until it stood no more than two feet away. It shivered as its body tensed to flee if it had to.
“Son of a bitch,” Faith breathed. “I’m thinking that asking the dog wasn’t such a stupid idea.”
“You’re kidding, right? A dog?” Dawn asked.
Buffy poked Willow in the back. “Think you can Dr. Doolittle the dog?”
“If I had the right spell with ingredients, I guess,” the witch said. “Not something I even thought about ever doing.”
The dog let out a sharp bark.
“I think we’ve got ourselves a regular evil Lassie,” Faith commented.
The dog’s floppy ears pricked up at that. It skittered away before turning around and trotting back to them.
“Well, this is quite the turn up,” Giles said. “I suppose we follow the dog.”
The dog barked, turned, and trotted a slight distance away. It stopped and looked back at them.
“I’d almost swear that dog understands English. Ladies, shall we?” Giles asked as he took the lead.
Buffy and Willow fell in just behind the Watcher and Rona and Vi fell in line behind them. Faith stayed in the rear to make sure they wouldn’t be attacked from behind and prayed like hell to a god she wasn’t sure existed that the unseen Slayers wouldn’t be spotted.
As they moved deeper into the complex, Faith fished out her flashlight and clicked it on. She was half-tempted to shut it right back off and rely on the lights from the others’ flashlights. Lit up the way they were was a sure-fire way to draw the wrong kind of attention, she figured. Going without a personal light meant she could more easily blend in with the shadows if the local fang crowd attacked and fight a more effective rearguard action while the vamps were focused on the people with the flashlights.
The only reason why she kept it on was because she liked the idea of going without even less.
She could feel her heart pound an ever faster beat in her chest as the dog turned left and took them out of sight of the front gate. She swapped the light over to her left hand and stuck her right hand in her jacket pocket so she could get a good hold on her stake. The feel of wood in her palm calmed her somewhat, but she had to concentrate on not clutching it too hard. She didn’t want to be left with splinters before they even got to the negotiation site.
The dog stopped in front of a set of cement stairs and waited for the Cleveland Slayers to catch up. Faith could see that something had ripped the heavy fire door off its hinges, leaving everyone a way in.
Inside? They want us inside? Faith resisted turning around and looking for their backup. Truth to tell, she was hoping the meeting would take place on a loading dock. While it would’ve made it tough for the following Slayers to get into position without being seen, it would’ve given the negotiation party more room to maneuver.
The dog scrabbled up the steps and into the building. No one even so much as exchanged a worried glance as they followed without comment.
As for Faith, she had to force herself to keep breathing when they stepped inside. Get a grip girl. You’ve been in abandoned factories in Sunnydale, right? What about in L.A. when you and Angelus went toe-to-toe? Same diff. Just bigger.
Except she knew it wasn’t the same thing. Comparing an abandoned Sunnydale factory—hell, even comparing an L.A. abandoned factory—to a hardcore city of the dead in the Rust Belt was like saying that Bangor and Boston were a lot a like.
Plus, she didn’t feel all that calm the few times she had to fight in Sunnydale and L.A. factories, either.
The dog jogged off to the right, following a reasonably clear path.
Faith narrowed her eyes, partly to help her focus on the path, partly out of surprise. Seemed to her that their kidnappers weren’t so hot on running around the crumbling building. That could only mean one thing: the bad guys weren’t overly familiar with the layout. If they were, that dog would’ve been leading them up and down different stairwells and across catwalks to different buildings so they’d all get good and lost.
While things weren’t looking great, they were most definitely looking up.
The dog stuck to the path and Faith could soon see the flickering light that signaled a fire. She froze a moment and swallowed hard. These places may not look easy to burn, but when they blew, they blew hard. She remembered as a kid seeing one of these places go up. They had to evacuate the neighborhood on account of the acrid smoke, worries that the flames would spread, and series of explosions that shook the ground and made everyone deaf. When it was all over those solid brick buildings were nothing more than rubble.
If there was a fight and that fire got kicked around not one of them would get out of here alive. The entire Cleveland household would be reduced to Andrew, who got stuck manning the phone back at the Mother House.
She forced herself forward and tried not to think about it.
When they finally stopped, they were in a reasonably open floor space where the debris had been pushed aside. A barrel with a fire burning merrily way inside it seemed to dominate the room, if only because it was the only bright spot in the immediate vicinity.
Faith’s eyes raked the shadows for any suspicious movement. As set ups went, their kidnappers had the advantage. It was reasonably open, which meant their backup wasn’t going to be able to sneak up on their perps, and it was inside, which meant the negotiation team could easily be trapped.
If there was any good in this, it was that their targets needed light as much as they did to see. That eliminated vampires and probably more than a few demons.
The dog dropped to its haunches and let out a single bark that sounded almost formal.
Faith squinted through the fire’s glare as shadows detached themselves from their various hiding spots and moved into the flickering light. First emerging from the gloom was a creature so large and roiled with rolls of flab that it would’ve given the tub-bound Balthazar a run for his money.
When the mountainous thing stopped, a zombie, complete with rotting flesh and smell, moved forward and stood to its left. Faith swore she saw a large rat sitting on the zombie’s shoulders. The probably-rat’s eyes glinted a disturbing red that reflected the flames. A large snake with what appeared to be a scaled, bald human head completed the set as it slithered forward and coiled at the large creature’s right.
They stayed on their side of the fire as the dog got off its haunches and trotted over to its compatriots.
Faith ghosted forward until she was right behind Willow. “Can you do that flashlight thing where your whole body lights up?” she asked in low voice.
Willow didn’t make any physical movement, but she did answer in a similar low tone. “Yeah. Didn’t want to do it on the way in. They might not…”
“Know what you can do,” Faith finished for her. She nervously liked her lips as she watched the flames flicker. “Can you smother the fire if you gotta?”
Willow twitched her head in response. “Probably. Why?”
“Worried about it getting knocked over,” Faith said.
Willow looked around. “Nothing near it that can burn.”
“You’d be shocked,” Faith replied.
“Anyanka,” the mountain creature said in a booming voice, “we meet again at last.”
The Slayers exchanged confused looks. Faith noticed that Dawn was standing straight and looking straight ahead.
“How long has it been, Anyanka?” the leader asked.
“Not long enough,” Dawn said.
“We’ve searched everywhere for you,” the creature continued. “We were certain that the great Anyanka would by living in much better circumstances, yet here you are in Cleveland. That was your final mistake.”
“Oh, yeah!” Dawn shouted. Her mouth hung open a bit like she was trying to think of something clever. “Well, you’re here, so, ummm, mistakes all around!”
As comebacks went, that was painful.
“He’s become a real Achilles’ heel for you, hasn’t he Anyanka.” The creature jiggled as it clutched its hands in front of its chest, but the palms couldn’t quite reach each other. “Who would’ve ever thought the legendary Anyanka would be brought so low by a mere mortal man.”
Dawn’s fists clenched by her sides and she looked like she was about to burst into tears from fury.
“What I’m seeing here is a lot of talky meat,” Faith said.
“He’s very gloat-y. You know, I think gloating gloaters should be less gloat-y because, you know, Slayers,” Willow agreed.
The blubbery creature drew itself up to its full height, which caused a visible ripple of wobbling fat under its toga-like clothes. “Are you threatening us, witch?”
“Ummm, no. Just pointing out that, Slayers? Not much with the patient,” Willow said.
Giles stepped forward, taking point for the Cleveland group. “Before this does go too far a field of our purpose, we are here for a trade.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Faith could see Buffy tense.
“Ahhh, yes. Anyanka’s boy,” the opposition leader said.
“He’s not a boy!” Dawn protested.
“Come now, Anyanka,” the creature waved its hand in a languid manner. “He belongs to you, does he not? Given your psychological profile, I highly doubt that you’d ever truly want him to be his own man.”
“Any…I mean me…I mean…I was always telling him to grow up! So that’s a lie!” Dawn shouted.
Tone it down, girlfriend. You’re slipping, Faith thought.
“You are driven by the need for control,” the mountain thing was moving into the clinical tone that Faith recognized all-too-well from her experiences with prison shrinks. “You merely wished him to advance beyond the need for approval from anyone but yourself. Hardly the same thing as ‘growing up.’”
“Why you…” Dawn began.
“That’s enough!” Buffy shouted. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you don’t know us at all.”
“Thatsssss what youuuuuussss thinksssssss,” the snake sneered.
“Buffy is quite right,” Giles fought to regain control of the situation. “Whatever you believe you know about us, I am fully prepared to say that you are erroneous on several points. We are here for a trade, not to receive a lecture. So, if you would produce Mr. Harris so we can be certain that you haven’t hurt him, we will proceed.”
“Annyankah firs’,” the zombie said as the dog barked an agreement.
“Then we have quite the conundrum,” Giles’s voice got hard, “since we have no intentions of giving you what you want without some assurances that you will hold up your end of the bargain.”
“You’ll have to take our word for it,” the large creature said.
“The words of kidnappers? I hardly think so.” Giles was standing with his feet apart looking more angry than Faith ever remembered seeing him.
“Then this negotiation is at an impasse. You will see Young Master Harris again when you are more cooperative,” the leader said.
“NOW!” Kennedy’s voice rang out.
Faith startled at the unexpected interruption. It took her a few moments to realize that Slayers were boiling into the room with axes and swords at the ready. Instinct more than anything else prompted her to grab Willow and run right for the fire barrel.
“Hey! What! Faith!” Willow protested.
“Make sure no one lands into it,” Faith ordered.
Willow mumbled something and held up her hand in the approximation of a claw. There was an electric spark in the air that left the impression that the fire barrel, Willow, and Faith were encased in a protective shield.
“Nice fucking job. You locked me in here with you,” Faith growled.
“Who told you to stand so close?” Willow snapped back.
Buffy was already at Dawn’s side to protect her in case any of the kidnappers made a grab for her sister. She needn’t have bothered. The Slayers had already taken down the kidnappers and had them locked various holds.
Kennedy, along with two other Slayers, held down the dog as it snapped and growled. Several more, along with Rona and Vi, had the large creature on the ground and were sitting on top of it as it wailed and yelled to be let up. Lisa was holding the very large rat by its tail with a look of disgust on her face as the hapless animal struggled. Several more Slayers were wrestling with the snake and actually managing to win. Sally and Barbara gagged as they closed in on the zombie. Sally reached out and grabbed its hand. The zombie jerked away, leaving Sally with just the hand. She dropped it and began throwing up right on the spot. Barbara dove and grabbed the zombie around the waist, although given the way she was gagging Faith had doubts she’d be able to hold on for long.
“Guess it’s safe to bring down the shields,” Faith said. “I was expecting more of a fight.”
“Yeah, me too,” Willow agreed as she dismissed her spell.
“You’ll never see him! Do you hear me?” the leader was howling. “Anyanka you’ll rue the day!”
“Somehow I doubt it,” Dawn said.
Willow mumbled a string of words, and the Anya shell melted away revealing the Dawn underneath.
Mountain creature’s eyes widened. “Betrayed! We’ve been betrayed!”
“Think you would’ve gotten the memo what with us pinning you guys,” Faith said as she strolled forward. She let herself relax a little. They were up against paper tigers and there were enough Slayers around to give even the most hardcore vampire a little pause.
“We want Xander. Now,” Vi growled. She thwacked the downed blubbery leader across the back of its head for good measure.
“Enough of that nonsense!” Giles snapped.
“Giles is right. We kill them, we’re out of luck,” Buffy added.
“Sorry,” Vi said.
“He said don’t kill them, nothin’ about makin’ them scream, right B?” Faith asked as she hooked her fingers in her belt loops. “Now me? I’m kinda hoping they make it hard for us.”
“Faith, if you please,” Giles said. He turned to the kidnappers. “The reason why Anya is not present is simply because she’s dead.”
“You expect us to believe that Anyanka is dead?” the leader asked.
“Liarrrrsssssss,” the snake hissed.
Sally, who had managed to grab hold of the snake by encircling the area just behind its human-like head with her hands, gave snake-boy a squeeze. The snake actually choked.
“We expect you to believe it because it’s true,” Giles said mildly. “Considering that you appear to have done some homework, I am rather surprised that you are unaware of Anya’s status.”
“You’ll never see him,” the large creature said.
“So you keep saying.” Rona accentuated her statement by poking her captive in its flabby back with her stake.
The creature began to giggle. The Slayers on his back looked like they were riding an undulating waterbed. “Without Anyanka,” it said, “there is no way to get Young Master Harris back. So, I highly recommend that you produce her, otherwise, you must give him up as lost.”
“Oh no,” Willow whispered.
“Oh no? That doesn’t sound good,” Buffy said.
“If I’m guessing right, you need Anya to perform the spell to get him back,” Willow said.
“You bloody bastard,” Giles growled.
“Anyanka. Or he stays lost.”
“We can’t give her to you because she’s dead!” Buffy shouted.
“We have a witness!” Dawn shouted.
”Wi’ness,” the zombie asked. “Proooooof?”
“You mean you would’ve taken police reports as proof we were legit?” Faith asked disbelieving.
“Willllllll?” the zombie moaned.
Giles blinked. “Will? Oh. I see. Anya’s will. As far as I am aware, she didn’t have one, or rather, there is no such document that survives. For now, all her monetary assets are being held in escrow for a period of time until she can be legally declared dead.”
“Oh dear. She may really be dead,” the leader said. “According to my psychological profile, Anyanka would not let her assets fall out of her control unless she had no choice.”
“Hiiiiiidessssss,” the snake hissed.
“Yes. She could be in hiding from us,” the leader agreed.
“No hiding. Dead. I can beat it into your heads if you’re having a hard time understanding that,” Faith growled.
“And why would she be hiding from you?” Dawn asked. “None of us ever even heard of you before your stupid ransom note.”
The kidnappers exchanged glances.
At last, the large creature let out a heaving sigh, which once more highlighted the waterbed effect its movements had on the Slayers. “Dead. Alive. Still changes nothing. Without her we cannot retrieve Young Master Harris.”
“I have an idea,” Willow said with sickly sweetness. “You tell me the spell you used, and maybe I won’t be forced to stick my fingers in your brain and wiggle around until I suck all the information out of your mind.”
The kidnappers’ eyes, including the rat’s, got as large as saucers. More than a few Slayers looked somewhat wide-eyed themselves at the threat.
“We want proof she’s dead first,” the leader finally said.
“We are more than happy to produce our eyewitness as well as any paperwork we can provide,” Giles said.
“Done and done,” the leader agreed.
Willow, Buffy, Faith, and Dawn exchanged uneasy glances over the leader’s ready capitulation. They weren’t facing paper tigers. They were facing just paper, period. Without a doubt, they’d have to be watched closely because none of the four women—or Giles from the look of things—were quite ready to believe the swift and easy victory.
As Giles negotiated with the kidnappers over transportation back to the Mother House and the conditions under which they would be allowed entry, Faith sidled closer to Willow. “That finger wiggle thing. You can’t really do that, can you?”
Willow hunched and gave an embarrassed smile. “Unh, no,” she said in a near whisper. “It’s something I saw a hell goddess do once, so I figured it might get them all scared and make them more willing to cooperate.”
“Hell goddess? Damn, girl. Lots of shit went down in SunnyD while I was locked up. That sounds major league.”
“I know it terrified me when I saw it, especially since I saw her do it to Tara,” Willow mumbled. She looked over her shoulder. “You don’t think I overdid it, right?”
Faith saw that the kidnappers and a few Slayers were sneaking worried peeks at the witch. “Maybe just a little over the top,” Faith admitted.
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