Chapter Five B – Whistlers, Gargoyles And Wolverines, Oh My

Czech Border, Carpathian Mountains.

"If we're going where I think we are, aren't we going to be in for a long drive?" Daniel asked.

Xander, Daniel and Leo were in a beat up, but functional, Land Rover, making their way through the Carpathian Mountains to a castle that few knew existed, at least not officially. That in itself wouldn't be that much of a problem, if it weren't for the fact that they were the opposite side of the mountain range than they wanted to be, and it would take a couple of days to get there.

"Well, yeah," Xander admitted after a moment, "but given that I don't have my passport on me, and I'm guessing neither do you or Leo, not to mention that Blade's face is on every corkboard in every police station in the northern hemisphere, this is our best option."

"Aren't we going to have the same problem as we cross the boundaries between countries on the way through?" Leo asked, knowing that while it might not be as stringent a security on the border roads as there would be at an airport, there would still be security.

"If we were talking about anywhere else, I'd agree with you, but most people believe that anyone stupid enough to drive through those mountains deserve whatever happens to them, and anyone who actually gets out again is more trouble than they want to deal with," Xander explained. "There's the occasional tourist group that goes through, wanting to see a Bela Legosi lookalike and say they saw Dracula's castle, but the governments that share the 'honour' of having the mountain range as part of their country ensure that those tours get ghosted by a few independents for their own safety. Any check points or security, basically anything official they see, are purely for show."

"If that's the case, why isn't it used more often?" Daniel asked, thinking that it would be the perfect avenue for people, either criminals or people who just want to run away, to move from one country to the next without fear of capture.

"As I said, most people believe you have to be either stupid or suicidal to go in, so most don't see it as an option," he told them.

It was true what Xander said, as apart from the mentioned tourists, it was rare for the people who entered the mountains to be seen again. The tourists generally got out unscathed, although there was the occasional incident where one would get hurt 'in an animal attack', but the independents normally ensured that there were no fatalities, helped in part by the demons themselves. They knew that their free reign in the mountain region would be jeopardised if too much attention was brought to the area, and were careful to leave the tourists alone, unless it had been a while since they'd fed.

It was a different story for anyone else. For those that tried to use the mountains as a way to escape, either from the law or just from their seemingly lives, do not get provided the same protection, and are seen by the nocturnal fraternity as free game. There are rarely investigations into their disappearances, and even if there were, their last known locations would not be the mountains so they wouldn't be any reason to search.

"Which are we then?" Daniel asked with a small smile.

Xander flicked his eyes over to the other two men, a similar smile on his own face. "Both."

"This car sounds like shit; I should have killed that snot nosed punk when I had the chance," Whistler groused from the passenger seat of the car, Blade doing his best not to listen. The older man had been complaining about what Scud had done to the car, amongst other things, non-stop, and it was starting to drive him mad.

Scud had been annoying, and that was not including his status as a familiar, but he knew cars better than almost anyone Blade knew aside from Whistler himself, and he'd needed someone to ensure the car and his other gadgets stayed in working order. Blade had never picked up much in the mechanical side of things, he just knew how to drive them very fast, so he'd have been up shit creek without a paddle without the pothead, but had never allowed himself to forget Scud's true loyalties.

"You know you won't get another chance," Blade told him, hoping that he'd stop his bellyaching, "Damaskinos would have had him killed the moment they found him."

"He was a familiar of Damaskinos?" Whistler said incredulously, knowing the ancient vampire's reputation. "Shit, Blade, you're going up in the world if a bloodsucker like that takes an interest."

"Ohh, exciting," Blade said sarcastically, not caring whether some ageing suckhead took notice of him or not, as their opinion of him good or bad meant nothing to him.

"You still alright about helping a lycan?" Whistler wondered, his tone indicating that he wasn't too thrilled about it himself.

"No," Blade admitted honestly, "but I'm giving Harris a chance to prove me wrong. Anyway," he went on after a moment, "I haven't been up against a werewolf in a while, and they're always more of a challenge than a suckhead."

"Just keep your head in the game," Whistler warned him, "we might not meet the big D here, but we both know that some of the most powerful vampires came from this region, and our luck is almost guaranteeing that we meet up with a few."

Blade's smile would have been unnerving to Whistler had he not gotten used to it. "Good."

Four hours later, the mini convoy was well within the mountains, and the sun was starting to set, not that it was very easy to tell. There was almost complete cloud cover in the sky, which made it difficult to tell what time of day it was, and it also meant that vampires and other creatures that were generally seen as nocturnal could come out and play a lot earlier than normal, at least those old enough or powerful enough to withstand the diffused sunlight that did get through the clouds. They hadn't seen anything as yet, but they knew that now the sun was setting, the chances of meeting the welcome wagon went up.

Most of their journey so far had been slow going, as while the 4x4 Xander, Daniel and Leo were in could handle the less than smooth terrain, Blade's Charger certainly couldn't, so they had to keep to their pace. They had suggested that they leave the Charger behind, and collect it later, but both Blade and Whistler had been adamant that wherever they go, it goes too. Xander had then dubbed the car Christine, given the way the two seemed obsessed with it, which got a laugh out of Leo and Daniel, a snort from Whistler, and a decidedly unamused glare from Blade, coupled with a single finger salute.

The road ahead of them was narrow, and quite obviously not well travelled, and throughout the journey they'd had trees, rock faces or sheer drops either side of them, meaning that there wasn't anywhere they could stop. If the cloud cover was less dense, and if the sun were higher in the sky, Xander was sure he would consider the passing scenery to be beautiful, but aesthetics aside, their current position made them very vulnerable if they were ambushed right now.

Eventually, they came to a sort of clearing, and the road widened considerably. Given that driving throughout the night would not be wise, even though all but one of the quintet had no problems with seeing in the dark, Xander realised that this was as good a place as any to set up camp for the night.

He parked the Land Rover off to one side, and waited for Blade to follow suit before explaining what was going on. "Alright, now that I'm inside the wards I've been able to track Oz down to a more specific location, and he's currently in Transylvania, more specifically Bran Castle."

"Bran Castle, isn't that otherwise known as Castle Dracula?" Daniel asked, his knowledge on the subject not what he'd like given the circumstances.

"Yep, although that's pretty much a misconception," he replied, his knowledge of the history of this area pretty extensive. "Vladislav III the Impaler, the son of Vladislav II Dracul, who was the guy that had the wards put in place, never actually lived there, although he did spend a couple of months there as a prisoner." When he saw that the only one who was showing much interest in his explanation was Daniel, who was always interested in learning something new, Xander decided to cut to the chase. "Most vampires that have been created here within the boundaries of the wards have been the worst of the worst, despite what Kakistos' fanboys would tell you. That's because only the most powerful demons could pass through the wards successfully to possess the corpses."

"That's all fine and dandy, but what does this have to do with your lycan friend?" Whistler asked impatiently.

"What it has to do with Oz, is that only a powerful vampire could overcome a werewolf," Xander replied, a little heatedly, "especially one who had learnt how to control the change as he had."

"We're not even sure that Oz is being held by a vampire," Daniel reminded him, deciding to play Devil's Advocate for a moment.

"You're right, we don't," Xander conceded, "but I can sense at least five vampires of comparable power to the real Dracula within close proximity to Oz. There is no way they would be there unless they were at least involved in whatever was happening to him. I am also almost certain that one of them will be Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who by all accounts is considered to be more powerful than even Dracula himself."

"The Blood Countess?" Daniel said in surprise, somewhat aware of the infamous woman's exploits. "It's been theorised that she killed up to 600 women during her mortal life, and had at least minor cannibalistic tendencies."

"Yeah, Liz made Hannibal Lector look like a saint in comparison," Xander commented dryly. "She actually requested that she to be turned, and had been rescued from her prison and brought within the wards to ensure that she had a powerful demon possess her. After she was turned, she moved to the Transylvanian mountains and hadn't been seen outside of it since. Unlike many demons of her stature, she has no desire for world domination or destruction, unless of course she got to kill every last human with her own bare hands. I do know that she rules over the town and villages within the mountains with an iron fist, but ensures that she doesn't overdo the bloodshed, so that it maintains her 'livestock' as she puts it."

"I look forward to sending her back to Hell," Blade growled, silently pledging to himself that he would not leave the area until he knew she was no longer a threat. As he looked over to Whistler, he received a nod, which meant that he was thinking much the same thing.

"You'll get your chance, don't worry about that, as I'm sure that she or one of the others would have felt our, or well at least my, presence by now. Be warned; she and the others are nothing like the vampires you have encountered before. While not immune, they are much more resilient against holy symbols, holy water, even sunlight. It will weaken them, but it will not kill them. They're also faster and stronger than normal vampires, and are more like the Bram Stoker novel than I'd like. A stake to the heart will only put them in a state of suspended animation, but decapitation after that will finish them off."

"I like a challenge," Blade told him with a smile.

In actual fact the news had actually made Blade feel a little nervous, but what would surprise those that knew him was that he was glad of that. He had started to find vampires almost absurdly easy to kill, easily taking on dozens at a time without feeling that his own life was in jeopardy.

He knew that he would start to get complacent, even lazy, if things continued as they had been, and would make him less prepared for the lucky shot that would inevitably come and kill him. For better or worse, Blade needed this, a battle where the outcome was in no way certain, to keep him sharp.

"I don't doubt that," Xander said with a grim smile, "but until we're ready, we're going to need to take precautions. I stopped here as this is as good a place as any to set up camp for the night."

"It's a little too open for my liking," Whistler grumbled, "not to mention the fact we could easily get penned in."

"I know that, but we're not going to find anywhere better from the looks of things, and to ensure we don't get broadsided, we're going to need to set up some defences. The vampires that were turned in these parts also have stronger psionic abilities than most other vampires, so the threat of psychic attack is very real, at least for you and Blade."

"What about you three?" Whistler asked.

"Leo and I will be safe, as our angelic nature, coupled with the fact that we're technically dead, prevents vampires from gaining access to our minds, at least not without our permission. The downside of our resistance, as I stated before, is that there will be little chance of either of us getting close without their knowing, although Leo will be able to get closer than myself."

"That rules out a sneak attack," Whistler noted, "but I never did like having too much of an advantage."

"Sneak attacks are for people who don't think they'd win against the enemy if caught," Xander went on, although he didn't entirely believe his own words. "Personally, I've always preferred the direct approach."

That much was true, as Xander had never met anyone, before Glory that is, that could take him on in a one on one situation and cause him too much trouble. However, he knew just how effective sneak attacks could be, especially when going up against greater numbers, and had to do that quite a lot when on patrol with Buffy and the others before he let them in on his little secret. If he were being honest with himself, Xander had missed being in the thick of things, and the prospect of flexing his slaying muscles, especially against demons of Bathory's calibre, was just too tempting to resist and the macho man inside him was influencing him slightly.

"What about me?" Daniel queried.

"You'll have a better resistance to them," Xander replied, "but while in human form you still run the risk of them at least entering your mind."

"It wouldn't be the first time I've had someone do that, and they didn't get very far," Daniel told him, and smiled slightly as he remembered Jack once saying that he was simply too stubborn to be affected by something like that, "but I'm guessing that you'd prefer me to revert to my ascended form when I want to rest."

"It would be safer," Xander told him, aware that Daniel still had negative connotations over that particular form, but his concern for his friend's safety was his primary concern. "You should be okay while awake, but it would be when you're asleep that you would be most susceptible, so reverting to your ascended form would be best when you want to rest up."

"So, we're just going to rest up here til daybreak?" Blade asked, his tone clearly indicating he did not like that plan. "I don't like sitting around on my ass."

"I'm not surprised, given how bony it is," Xander retorted, forcing a bark of laughter out of Whistler, "but I don't remember saying anything about just sitting around. I want to take a look around the immediate area, just to make sure there aren't any nasty surprises waiting for us, but before we do that, we need to set up camp, so lets get started."

Setting up the tents and other equipment didn't take long with four mystically enhanced people on hand, and while it wasn't exactly the Ritz, it would certainly do for the 2-3 days Xander expected their mission would take. Of course, it didn't hurt that Xander had been able to 'modify' the tents to be far more spacious and sturdy than they would otherwise be, as while he, Leo and Daniel had experience of living rough, neither Blade nor Whistler looked the type to enjoy the great outdoors that much.

The next thing on the agenda had been to place wards around the tents, vehicles, and the surrounding area to ensure that nothing got in without their say so. Xander found it ironic that he would be using the same type of wards to keep Bathory and the other demons out of their little encampment that they relied on to keep themselves protected, although he modified his so that they wouldn't be able to enter through any means without consent.

Once Xander was satisfied the camp was secure, it was decided between the quintet that they would patrol in four sectors, leaving Whistler behind to act as the communications centre. He had grumbled about it, moaning that he was being left behind, but Xander assured him that there would be plenty enough vampires and other demons around when they reached Bran Castle to go around, and that he still needed another day to fully get over the effects of being at the tender mercies of the vamps for the last two years.

Yes, Daniel had fixed the physical signs of his captivity, but Whistler was still getting to grips with the mental and emotional aftermath of existing as something he loathed with a passion. There was no need to force him back onto the front lines, especially as the next couple of nights would be eventful to say the least.

What had ended the conversation was Xander's presentation to Whistler of a heavy duty solution to the demons that could rear their ugly heads; a modified M79 grenade launcher that, instead of being a single shot, took cartridges containing six explosive rounds blessed by Xander himself. It would be overkill for regular vamps, and due to it's power it had to be mounted on a frame for Whistler to use so he wouldn't get thrown back by the recoil, but it would certainly make the nasties roaming around these mountains think twice before attempting to attack him.

Whistler's eyes had positively glowed when he'd seen the weapon, and any protests he'd been making about being left behind died on his lips the moment the deceptively light weapon was in his hands. Before Xander left, he'd warned Whistler about the kickback it would have when fired, even with it was mounted on the frame, and had asked him to only use it if he had to, as the noise it would make would definitely draw the attention of the local wildlife and there was no need to broadcast their location unless necessary.

Of the four remaining warriors, it was decided that they would each head in a different direction and meet back at camp in an hour. Both Xander and Leo knew that Piper would have their balls for breakfast if she ever found out what her husband was going to be doing, despite the fact he was more than capable of fending for himself, so it had been agreed to keep it to themselves, although with the whipping sounds Blade made when they'd talked about it he would be having some fun at the Whitelighter's expense.

Piper seemed to forget that Leo had actually been a soldier in the army during World War II, and had been a Whitelighter longer than she had been alive. He might not be as skilled a fighter as Xander or Blade, but he was more than capable of holding his own in battle. He was even better equipped now that Xander was his boss, as the Elders always frowned upon Whitelighters taking an active role in the fight, even when protecting their charges. It had infuriated Leo on more than one occasion when he'd had to hold back from helping Piper and the others more when they were up against the demon of the week, knowing that he would be punished for it.

Leo had gone North, Daniel South, Blade East, which left Xander with West. That had suited Xander quite well, as he had a feeling that one of the other people he was on the lookout for was close by, and in that general direction.

James had been on the Powers radar for some time now, far longer than many would expect. There weren't many people, at least on Earth, that knew just how old Mr Howlett was, although Marvel got it close, give or take a century or two. There were a couple of Powers that had been annoyed when the comic firm had used him as the basis of one of their characters, as it had alienated James enough to keep him out of the Champion business right at the time they thought he was finally ready.

Personally Xander was glad of it, as that character had been one of his favourite X-Men, and had felt fer more real to him than many of the others. He did know however that mentioning the comics would not get himself into James' good books, as he wasn't entirely happy with how they made him look. Not that Xander blamed James for that opinion, given that he was a good foot taller than his comic book counterpart, would make Mr. Universe feel inadequate, and would rather walk around buck naked than wear the yellow and blue Spandex costume they had Wolverine in.

After bidding his farewell to the others, they all went their separate ways.

Leo was bored, which surprised him a little, given the way his life had been the past few years. He was also feeling a little nostalgic, as it had been a long time since he had been on patrol with a rifle in his hands. Normally, firearms were next to useless when dealing with demons, but as a Whitelighter any weapon he wielded became blessed, and therefore was more effective against them.

He had on more than one occasion thought about using them when helping Piper and the others out, in spite of what the Elders would have done to him afterwards, but knew that the sisters would not be best pleased with him, and despite the fact it would be his decision not theirs, he didn't need the constant arguments and comments that would come from doing so.

It was a shame really, as even after fifty years, the feel of a rifle in his hands was a comfort to him. Of course, the P90 he was carrying now was a far cry from his trusty M1 he'd used during the war, but the feeling was the same. While he had been a medic during the war and not on the front lines so to speak, he had learned just like every other serviceman that his rifle wasn't just a weapon, it was also his friend.

The feeling had diminished in the half century since his death, but even now the feel of a rifle in his hands still gave him a sense of reassurance that had gotten him through more than one life and death experience. Leo chuckled as he imagined Piper's retort to that; 'it didn't help you through every life and death experience.'

A sudden whoosh of sound, coupled with a 'ping' on his senses, caused Leo to snap out of his thoughts, and he stopped in his tracks and looked up. Two winged... creatures, which to him looked remarkably like the gargoyles from the Disney cartoon, flew overhead in a circle, and Leo knew that they had already spotted him. From the way they felt on his senses, he knew that they were definitely not on the same side, and could tell that they were working out a mode of attack. The trees were close together, making it difficult for them to manoeuvre below the tree line, at least while they were in the air, and that was proven a moment later as he watched them swoop down through a gap in the trees and land about thirty feet away from him.

By that point, Leo had already started to move away from the two gargoyle like demons, biding himself some time to work out how, or even if, he would be able to deal with them. His experience with these types of demons was not that good, as most demons that went after his charges, particularly those that targeted the Charmed ones, all looked human unless they allowed their demonic visage to come through. Also, most demons in the service of The Source preferred to attack from a distance, using energy attacks instead of physical ones.

The fact that they hadn't fired at him from the sky showed him they didn't have that ability, and from their build he guessed they probably ripped their enemies apart. Leo was kind of attached to his body, and would prefer it to remain the way it was, so if possible he'd prefer to make sure they didn't get close enough to find out whether his theory was correct or not.

Leo wasn't overly concerned about his situation, it was just that he was out of practise in the down and dirty fighting he was going to need to employ, which caused him to be a little more cautious than he probably should. One thing he didn't want to do was call on the others for assistance, at least not yet, as he wanted to prove to them, and to himself, that he could handle himself in a combat situation. That wasn't to say he was too proud to ask for help if he needed it, but he but he would only do so if he actually needed it, not just because it would make things easier.

Leo could sense that his pursuers were gaining on him quite rapidly, despite his rapid pace; one was on the ground following him on foot, and the other one was jumping from tree to tree. Leo knew his best chance was to ensure they couldn't gang up on him and decided that now was as good a time as any to show them just who they were dealing with. Trusting his senses to guide him, Leo span round suddenly and fired a quick burst at the demon in the trees, hearing a scream of agony for his efforts to prove that he had at least slowed it down, and was then only just able to duck under the lunge the other made for him.

As he could still sense both of them, Leo knew he hadn't been lucky enough to kill the gargoyle, which meant that he would need to at least incapacitate the one attacking him now quickly before the other one could join in. To that end, Leo decided to forego the P90, the gargoyle being too close for it to be effective anyway, and would instead rely on his personal abilities, and knew that for this to work he would not be able to hold back like he would normally do. It helped that they were well away from innocents, and that collateral damage would be minimal, as it meant didn't have that niggling voice at the back of his head telling him to be careful.

As he began to stop just evading or blocking the blows the gargoyle was sending his way and actively fight back, Leo started to allow his power to flow through him, and his body soon began to glow, a glow that steadily increased as he continued to battle the gargoyle. The two were soon trading blows at an incredible rate, and while Leo didn't have the martial arts background that many fighters utilised, he was still able to hold his own, which was helped by the gargoyle using a similar smashmouth style. As the glow emanating from Leo increased in intensity, the demon began to growl in pain at it came into contact with him, and soon found it harder and harder to even remain close enough to attack the Whitelighter.

Leo quickly turned that to his advantage, as the few blows that the gargoyle had managed to get through his defence quite frankly hurt like hell, and he wanted to end the battle before the demon did too much, or when it realised what he was doing, turn and run. He unsheathed the combat sword he'd brought with him, at Xander's insistence, and went to decapitate the gargoyle, but instead only managed removed one of its arms at the elbow, as it managed to twist its body at the last moment. The blow had jarred Leo quite a lot, as the gargoyle felt like it was actually made of stone, and from the way the sword looked, it might not last as long as he would have liked.

Luckily for him, the gargoyle didn't manage the feat a second time, and Leo was reminded why having the demons vanquished at a distance had its advantages, when he was covered in its remains as it exploded, and was surprised when he was actually blown back a couple of steps from the ferocity of the blast.

Leo didn't have time to bemoan his current state, as the second gargoyle had chosen that very moment to blind-side him, and landed a thunderous blow to his head that sent him sailing through the air and crash into a tree fifteen feet away with enough force to crack it. Before he had a chance to recover, the gargoyle landed a second blow to Leo's stomach, which then forced him through the tree, where he then bounced and tumbled along the ground.

Leo cursed himself for letting his guard down, especially against something as deadly as the demon he was facing, and it was more luck than judgement that allowed him to dodge a third blow, as he had rolled onto his front just as the gargoyle had brought its foot down where his head had been.

Luckily, Leo was made of sterner stuff than most, otherwise he was sure he wouldn't be alive right now to make any sort of comeback, and as he got back to his feet, having dodged and/or blocked several more blows in the process, he decided that he wouldn't allow the gargoyle time to find out just how much punishment he could actually take. Leo wasn't unscathed, far from it in fact; he could feel the blood dripping down his face from the gash he'd received from the initial blow, three more gashes ran across his abdomen from its claws, and he was sure that more than one of his ribs were either cracked or broken, but if he had been 'just' human he'd now be the demon's midnight snack.

Leo quickly rescinded the glow that he'd been emitting, and then began to focus that energy into a single point in the palm of his right hand. It wasn't something the he'd done before, but his P90 had been mangled when he'd crashed into the tree and was now better used as a set square, and his sword was nowhere to be seen, having lost it during his unscheduled flight, so he had little option. Leo waited until the gargoyle was within striking range and then released the energy at it; instead of it hitting the demon, it was instead absorbed into its body.

After a moment, the demon began to scream in unparalleled agony as the heavenly energy Leo had transferred to him reacted with it and began to literally rip it apart at the cellular level. It wasn't the way Leo would ever want to kill another being, not only because of the prolonged and painful way it did it, but also because it felt wrong to use his power in such a destructive way, but he'd little other option given the circumstances. after about ten seconds, cracks of light appeared in its skin, and after one last blood curdling scream, the gargoyle followed its friend and exploded.

Leo couldn't sense any other dangers in the area, something he was more than glad about, so he decided to deal with his injuries before heading back and letting the others know what had happened. Like with Daniel, Leo always found it harder to heal himself than it was to heal others, but he eventually managed to fix what had been broken during the battle and, after retrieving his mangled rifle and sword, returned to base.

He also made a mental note to never complain about being bored again.

Xander had been going at a fair clip since leaving the camp, following his instincts that James was in the general direction he was travelling, and had been so focussed on his search that he had despatched the three vampires stupid enough to try and ambush him without even pausing his stride. He did, however, take note that those vampires seemed to have leathery wings, and were far less humanoid in appearance than a regular bloodsucker.

As the feeling grew stronger, Xander slowed his pace down, but still made no attempt to try and hide his presence, at least not physically. He still kept a tight reign on his power signature, which was becoming more than a little tiresome, especially as it wasn't something he was used to. He'd never had to hold back before his death, one of the perks of being a Savox demon, and hadn't realised just how taxing it would be to keep himself off of the radar.

It was like pretending not to have the use of one of his arms, and then stepping into the ring against Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson when they were all at their best. You might be able to resist using that other arm for a while, but the temptation would grow with ever passing second and with every blow your opponents landed.

Xander knew that he might in fact be holding back more than he needed to, but until things were a little more organised he couldn't chance finding out. He just hoped that it wouldn't take too much longer to set things in motion.

As Xander came to a small clearing, no larger than his adoptive parents back yard, Xander stopped in the centre and then slowly turned around in a circle once, his arms outstretched, as though he were displaying himself to someone.

"Good evening, Mr Howlett, my name is Xander Harris," he greeted the forest calmly, knowing that he was being watched by the man in question, and had been for a while.

A shape, almost completely obscured by shadow, dropped down about five feet beside him, a low menacing growl coming from it. "How do you know my name, bub, and why shouldn't I skewer you like a kebab?" he asked, and Xander then heard the distinctive sound of James' bone claws popping out from between his knuckles.

Popping wasn't the best word to describe it; it didn't sound like the clean sound depicted in the comic books or films, instead it was the sound of flesh being torn as the bony protrusions forced their way out from his forearms through his hands, and Xander could smell the blood that had flowed like a river from the six wounds for a moment or two before James' healing ability took care of it.

"Well, the second part is easy to answer; I have done nothing to warrant such a response from you," Xander replied, his tone unwavering. He had nothing to fear from James, even if he decided to try anything, but he saw no reason to antagonise the man without cause, he'd learned his lesson with Blade. "I am well aware that you would have no qualms in following up on your threat, although I cannot say you'd be very successful," Xander went on with a small smile, "but you are not in the habit of taking such actions without cause. As for the first part of your question, I know your name because it is my job to know the names of the Champions of Earth, of which you are one whether you like it or not."

"If you work for those feathery faggots," he growled, his tone and words letting Xander know he was not enamoured with his fellow Powers, "I'll tell you the same I told the last guy they sent; I take orders from no one."

"That's not entirely true, as you have been a soldier in almost every war America has been involved in, including the War of Independence, but I don't blame you for not wanting to work for, or with, the people that came to 'talk' with you represented, even though I am now a member," Xander replied, and James had little option but to nod in acceptance of that.

As Xander had said, James had been a soldier many times, and a good one at that, and knew there were times when following the orders of a superior officer was necessary, but he had never been conscripted, having always volunteered, and didn't like his choices being taken away.

"There's been a shake up of sorts upstairs," Xander told him when it was clear James wasn't going to speak, "and they've all been told that the people who put their lives on the line to keep this world turning should be treated with respect not disdain."

"My answer's the same," James growled.

"That's fine with me, as I'm not here to order you around, but I would like to request your help," Xander told him, knowing that his assistance would be useful, if not invaluable, the next couple of days.

James looked at Xander for several long moments, using his instincts honed over the last few centuries to detect whether the man, if he was a man at all, was on the up and up. So far he hadn't been able to detect any deceit, something that had been coming off the people that had come to see him before in waves, so he decided to at least hear him out.

"You got sixty seconds," James told him after a moment or two, and then retracted his claws.

"I have a friend who's in trouble, and I'm here to get him out. You've been in these mountains for months, so you know the area far better than my friends and I do, so I would be grateful if you would help me, if not in the actual rescue, then at least in information on the lay of the land."

"I'm surprised you need any help," James said, "You and yours always made yourselves seem infallible."

"The only infallible one in the Big Boss, although I'm in the minority when it comes to admitting that," Xander replied, a smile tugging at his lips at the massive understatement of his last statement. "My knowledge of this region is older than you are," he went on, "and even I'm smart enough to know that things change after almost six hundred years. Also, I'm sure you're more aware of who, and what, we'll be facing, and could provide invaluable information on their strengths and weaknesses, beyond the obvious."

To be honest, Xander was buttering up James a little there, as whether he knew all the information they required or not, only Bathory could be a problem to him, and even then not much of one when push came to shove. That's not to say that he was lying to James, as his information would be invaluable, if only to ensure that there would be less need for a direct confrontation, but he doubted that Blade could pass up the opportunity to test his skills against what was awaiting them even if they found a way to do so.

His main aim was to get James to understand what was going to happen to the world, and hopefully stoke his curiosity up enough to come with them. His battle experience, both conventional and demonic, would be a tremendous asset to their cause, not to mention that having another heavy hitter in the group would only help in the coming days and weeks.

James for his part was leaning towards agreeing to help Xander, if only to find out a little more about the man. Xander had acted very differently to the others that had tried to recruit him, and he knew that would be Xander's ultimate goal, despite what he'd told him. It seemed that Xander was at least giving him a choice over the whole thing, which was a tick in the plus column, but James was nowhere near ready to make a final decision on whether he was on the up and up or not.

Another factor was that he'd recently had a run in with the vamps that had probably captured his friend and had come off worse, which a five on one situation would do to someone. Things would have gotten a lot worse had he not had a spot of luck when the cloud cover lightened considerably for a few minutes, giving him the opportunity to make his 'tactical withdrawal'. James had been thinking of ways to garner a little payback, and it seemed that he'd just been given the chance to do just that.

"Alright," James began, retracting his claws, "I'll help you."

"Thank you," Xander said sincerely, knowing that the biggest hurdle regarding James was now over. He wouldn't have agreed to help if he thought Xander to be untrustworthy, which meant he would be more amenable to helping further down the line as well. "I don't know about your accommodations," he went on, "but you're more than free to join us at our camp."

"I said I'd help, I didn't say I trusted you yet," James replied. "I'll be at your camp at sun up."

With that, James turned and walked off, disappearing into the night. Xander was impressed, as if it weren't for his ability giving what many would see as an unfair advantage, he doubted he'd be able to spot him at all, at least not without a performing a locator spell first.

The meeting had gone better than Xander had hoped, as they hadn't come to blows, and with James' agreement to help rescue Oz, it gave Xander the opportunity to persuade him to join the fight. James would have eventually joined in anyway no doubt, if his track record was anything to go by, but by the time everything became public knowledge, it would probably be too late for him to be in a place where he could truly make a difference. This way, he would be at ground zero, where his contribution could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Xander glanced at his watch and realised that the hour was almost up, so he turned and began making his way back to camp, not wanting to worry the others, well Leo and Daniel at least.

Xander was under no illusion about Blade or Whistler's opinion of him, and was well aware that neither one would shed a tear at his passing, and knew that was his own fault. That was something else he hoped would improve the next day or so, as he'd found that life and death situations seemed to condense down the bonding process quite considerably.

He had a feeling that tomorrow would be an eventful day, he just wasn't sure whether those events would be in his favour or not.

'Damn, I missed this,' he thought to himself with a small smile, before breaking into a run to get back to camp before his hour was up.