TWO WEEKS EARLIER

As the faded and slightly dented olive '81 Toyota Land Cruiser rambled over the crest, the driver elicited another involuntary sharp hiss of discomfort. A discomfort that had remained a consistent nuance for the last three-hours. Ever since lunch he seemed, almost as though he had been magnetically drawn to them, driven into just about every dip, ditch and pot-hole there seemed to be in all of Bangalla. One hour of such abuse could be considered by some recreational 4x4 driver's as fun, and two hours of such was perhaps manageable. But three? He wasn't that much of a sadist. A logical man probably would have stopped long ago and taken a rest. But logical men would not be chasing the clock like he presently was. And according to the sun sinking on the distance he now figured that he probably had no more then a half-hour, probably in a pinch 45-minutes, of daylight left before complete and total darkness consumed both him and Slayer.

As his diesel engine fought to keep all four wheels underneath him turning, he looked to the compass affixed to the sun-cracked dashboard. Taking a hasty estimate to his bearings. He had heard that there was a village nearby, some 30-miles to the East, in the Wambesi Territory. The largest of several smaller Wambesi Tribal Village's scattered in the region that often took in wayward travellers for the night. On the condition of course that you swore you wouldn't cause any trouble, that you follow the rules, stay in your designated area and not try to take advantage of the women-folk.

The Wambesi's had a good reputation in the territory. A reputation for being both fierce and honourable to their word. They were also very 'old school' when it came to living in the 21st Century. Most of their young men, according to the rumour-mill, still walked around in loin cloths, carrying spears and shields. With the Wambesi, 'Tribal Law' was placed higher on the totem then judicial. And as far as he was concerned this was cool, he always considered himself more an eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth kinda guy anyway. But still, it was hard to keep a straight face when everyone walked around like they were an extra in an old Johnny Weissmuller Movie.

These days a majority of South Africa embraced the modern life. A life of cell-phones, internet and soccer. But there were still a few small pocket's of resistance where the 'old-ways' were judged by many as the 'best-ways'. And in such places … like this Wambesi Village, a place where he had been told they *did* embrace the 'old ways', it was not considered polite to go out of your way to point out what so-called luxuries they were all missing out on. They liked their lifestyle, as simple as it might have been, and that for them was the end of the argument.

Usually the accommodation offered to 'visitors' in these Villages were very Spartan, certainly not the kind of place they would put mints on your pillows. But then again if it was 5-star service you were looking for then you wouldn't be out in the middle of no-where, would you? No, the true reason why you would seek out such places as this one for a night's refuge was for the protection. The high fences and walls that surrounded such villages offered traveller's the security of not having wild animals prowl through your makeshift camp site looking for a bite to eat or an arm or leg to naw on. Unfortunately, with these assorted peaceful trespasses you had to hand over all weaponry as a condition of that entry and occasionally had to make a reasonable and respectful donation. And yet at the same time not make the offering of money look as either charity or 'payment'. It had to look like a 'gift'. A fiscal gesture towards your host's willingness to put up with you and your 'strange ways' for a night. Xander had seen more then one tourist group, he was embarrassed to admit it: Fellow Countrymen, forget the importance of discretion as they started to wave their US Currency about. And by doing so they would inadvertently offend the very people they thought they were helping.

Generally in most of the places he travelled, Xander Harris, never had to endure such protocols. He was now known quite broadly as being the 'trustworthy' type, even if he did say so himself. And he was readily accepted in such refuges now without even having to surrender his weaponry, but he still paid them. Probably not so much in cash as more in doing a bit of carpentry work here and there around their enclosure. For some Village's, this type of expertise was judged as being more valuable to them then 'paper-money'.

Man, he never thought all those years of slinging a hammer and sporting a Level would pay off, but it had. His trade out here was sometimes a better fall back then actually having dollars in his hip pocket. Some of the usual villages he stayed at would actually, over time, put work aside just for him to fix. All with the expectation of him eventually rolling through their front gates one-day soon. It now amazed him how much he had learned over the past few years. Before he left America all those years ago, he was a licensed Carpenter. Now he could repair a faulty generator and was a half-decent bush-mechanic. And it was this growing skill-set had gotten him, and others, out of trouble more then once.

But Bangalla was for him a new territory. New and exciting. And even though for the past two years he had wanted to visit and establish fresh allegiances with some of the supernatural tribes that existed out here, one thing or another always seemed to get in his way. Usually that 'thing' involved a couple of adventures with the woman who now had complete and total control over his heart and life. And truth be known, he didn't mind that one bit.

To his left, Slayer, barked out. Shattering all his pleasant thoughts towards the upcoming visit of his wife.

Something had caught her eyes.

'Slayer' was a gift of the Mar'ka'aski Tribe from the country of Namibia. She was a year old purebred Rhodesian Ridgeback, and a dog that he had been specifically bonded to by the errant Were-Tribe. And no, that wasn't as creepy … or as illegal, as it had sounded. During his visit they had done a Vulcan-Type-Mind-Meld thing between him and Man's Best Friend without him knowing, or even consenting to it. The result, Slayer, was able to anticipate his needs without having to be instructed or 'commanded' to do so. And though there was no direct communication, Slayer demonstrated a familiarity with her Master that went beyond all other Dog-Master relationships.

Usually, in the past, when he had been offered gift's he would politely turn them down. And with assorted knick-knacks like necklaces and ornamental hat's he could diplomatically refuse. Claiming he did not wish to display any favouritism of one Demon Tribe over another. But alas, Slayer was a living, breathing creature. One that had been bonded to him before he … or she … even knew what was happening. If he had rejected her, as he had successfully done so many times in the past with other gifts, it would have left the little puppy without any sense of purpose and probably even given her 'abandonment-issues', forcing upon her a life time of depression. Besides, one look into her caramel-doggie-eyes and he was well and truly hooked. Of coarse it didn't help that the 'little woman' was with him at the time and she was cooing and ahhing at the four legged puggy ball of fluff like it was her first born child.

Xander had always wanted to have a dog, ever since he was little, but his Mom and Pop had always refused this childhood wish. Claiming that he was too irresponsible to care for a pet. Irresponsible … Ha! He helped save the World how many times now? As far as he was concerned he was well and truly due. And not once since Slayer's 'adoption' had he regretted accepting her as his. Intelligent, resourceful, courageous, loyal and excellent doggie company during the quiet lonely nights. A perfect companion. Not only for sitting around a fire, but also getting into the thick of it as well. Slayer loved to fight just as must as her namesake implied. So whatever, Slayer, had presently detected off in the distance it was enough to earn from her a repeated flurry of deeply toned barks to try and earn his attention as well.

Straining his eye through the approaching decent of light, the American angled his head to follow 'Mans-best-friend' line of sight. Crawling over the ridge, just 30-yards away, he saw what she had spied. Two children with blonde hair. A boy and a girl. Both dressed the same, both about 8-9 years of age. What then drew his interest to this surprising scene was that the boy's arm was dark red. It didn't take an Einstein to recognise it as blood; he had seen this colour far too many times in the past to be fooled by another red-shade.

Without considering his kidney's for thousandth time that afternoon, Xander, sped up his vehicle and angled it towards the pair so that he could meet them as they both slid down the slope. He hastily put the cruiser in neutral, applied the handbrake whilst twisting around to disconnect his seatbelt. Then with practiced ease he slid his hand to the backseat to grab his double barrel shotgun.

To strangers such precautions, such as grabbing a loaded weapon in order to make contact with a couple of pre-teens may be thought as overkill. But he had been ambushed several times in the past and the bait was generally the same. It was often an injured or teary child putting out their thumb for a lift, or seeking aid. Seven out of ten times such things were a trap. The Good Samaritan naively steps out of their vehicle, prepared to offer assistance and suddenly they have 4-5 people jumping out of no-where wanting to say 'Hello'. With them being the only ones holding any weapons. Generally, if you were lucky, after they had offered you their so-called-greetings they would start grabbing all the free-standing gear you have. Only rarely had they ever actually taken his vehicle, and when they did they were usually polite enough to leave him stranded with a couple of litres of water to help keep him hydrated until someone else came along. Car Jacking's in Africa was a common crime, earning a light sentence if caught. But murder? That was life. And in Africa, life means just that: LIFE! No, being let out after 15-years with good behaviour. You kill someone, and get caught, not having a good enough excuse backing the murder up, and that would be all she wrote. Four Concrete Wall's and Gruel for the rest of your days.

In the past three years he had two trucks stolen at the point of a blade and a semi-automatic before he started to wise-up and play it safe by bringing his own gun to the party. In his experience it was now far better to have a gun and not need it then to need one and not have it. Surprisingly enough, as soon as he would exit his vehicle with shotgun in hand, all ready for action, the in genuine people would suddenly feel as though they didn't need a lift anywhere anymore and then eagerly wave him on.

As he released his door catch he couldn't help but think that this whole macho scene would have been a major turn-on for Lara if she was around. If only Slayer, in her eagerness to exit the vehicle before him and take protective-point hadn't, as she crossed his lap to leap out of his now opened door, trotted on his family jewels as she did so.

Small pin-prick of tears met his eye as he tried to refrain from bursting out in hushed expletives.

Every time.

Every-damn-freakin'-time.

Taking a quick inhale of air to help compose himself, and focus away from the stabbing pain in his groin, Xander swung out of his seat, shotgun in hand. The imposing figure he tried to represent, however, did very little to intimidate the pre-teen boy as he charged up to him with a small knife in his hand. Ready to defend both himself as well as the girl. Slayer, who had now positioned herself between her Master and the would-be assailant, barked out a snarling threat that caused the young male to stop his feet from moving further onwards.

The boy's eyes quickly darted over to the dog to his left, taking an estimate to his success of overpowering a fully grown man with a shotgun as well as a defensive dog with only a 12-inch knife, all awhile sporting an injured arm.

Watching the blonde-males body language judgementally, Slayer ceased her warning growl. But did not take her eyes off the weapon in the youth's hands. The fact that the boy had not surrendered his knife when it was clear he was both out-matched and out-manned, earned from Xander his respect. And the fact that he was also able to quickly govern his actions by not proceeding to attack him also told Xander that the kid also had a quick mind. A mind fast enough to balance the variables of success in a fraction of an instant. The boy was also not intimidated by Slayer's growl, unlike most boy's his age would be … Hell, Xander had seen fully grown men wet themselves when Slayer was trying to assert herself. So this boy, who ever he was, was probably used to dealing with big scary dogs as well. These small facts probably would not have been noticed by too many people, but for Xander, who always prided himself as being pretty observant, for him it spoke more then he wanted it too. This kid was a scrapper. That made this little blonde-cherub both unpredictable and dangerous.

Realising that one of the two of them would have to make the first trusting-gesture, and him being the only adult for what could be fifty-miles, Xander placed his shotgun on the barren ground between them. After which he raised both his hands up in 'mock surrender'. He then cleared his throat in an effort to draw the boy's attention back from Slayer. This was not the time for 'friendly-Uncle-Xander', whatever was going down he had to be 'Mr Serious' if he was to get the answers he wanted.

"Okay, Junior. I've lowered my boom-boom stick. How about you do the same? You don't have to put it on the ground, but maybe just slide it into your waist band. Because if you don't do something with it real soon, my Dog might take it personally. Without bragging, she could tear you to bits before you could blink. And even if you could deliver her a killing strike, it would take me all of 2-seconds to pick up my gun once more and send you to whatever God you cherish. I don't want to do that, we're all friend's here. I promise. Just put the knife away and we can all breath easier."

Reluctantly the youth complied, sliding the blade into one of his belt loops. His eyes never leaving Xander as he performed this action.

Hoping to break the ice and get a dialogue started, the one-eyed man decided to speak the obvious. "You're hurt. I've got a First Aide Kit in the back of my Cruiser. I can treat you … or maybe, you can treat yourself. No funny business. You have my word."

The boy nodded his preference towards addressing his own wound then to rely on another to do it for him. Xander stepped to the back of his truck and opened the rear door. His hand fishing through covered up battle axes, swords, a crossbow and his birthday gift from the Ball-and-Chain, an Accuracy International AWM Sniper Rifle snugly packed in a leather jacket. After several seconds he found the Kit with a bright green cross on the top and front.

Without wishing to startle the boy further with any aggressive gesture, Xander, offered the pack to the male mute. Placing it down on the ground between them both. The child took two steps forward and accepted it and with his left hand, unfastening the container, again, never allowing his eyes to leave the adult.

Xander stepped back, leaning against his Cruiser in an effort to sound casual. "Do you speak English? I only ask because that's really the only language I'm fluent in, I know some Swahili but …"

"I can speak English just fine."

"What about her?" Xander said, gesturing to the silent girl behind him. "Is she okay? She looks as though she's in shock."

"She'll be fine once we get home. Until then, don't talk to her … don't even look at her!"

The adult didn't appreciate the boy's tone; there was an edge to it. An edge that carried a chill in the words. A chill that genuinely made Xander take notice of the underlying threat being implied. But as surprisingly intimidated as he was he couldn't help notice that the top three-buttons of the young girl's blouse were missing and that she was hugging the cloth of her top tightly to her body. Her eyes offering a far away and haunted look. A look Xander had sadly seen far too many times on other little girl's faces on this continent.

Not wishing to start something that could only get worse, the one-eyed carpenter nodded his acquiescence and decided to focus his conversation upon the male. There were a lot of things wrong with this scenario. And he didn't like what he was seeing, what he was hearing and what he was now guessing must have happened to both children.

"Fine, kid. She's your business. I'm just trying to help, that's all."

The boy, realising the harshness of his earlier words looked momentarily ashamed and humbly nodded. "I'm sorry. You're right. My name is … my name is Kit and her name is Heloise, she's my sister."

"Yeah. Kinda guessed that already, Kit. What happened to you two?"

Kit looked over his shoulder to the still silent Heloise, the boy's hard expression softening to one of sorrow and guilt. "We were out riding. We saw a Camp and decided to warn them that they were a little too close to the Deep Woods."

The adventurer nodded. "Yeah, I've heard of that place. It's pretty much a no-go area, right? People go in, people rarely come out."

The boy offered a small and genuine smile, one that implied of a private joke or secret. "That's what they say. We didn't want them trespassing on the Bandar People's Territory by accident. They seemed very hospitable and grateful for the warning … we … we … let them get too close. The next thing we knew, seven of them grabbed us from our horses. They were Slavers. Slavers who were down on the Low Lands from the Misty Mountains."

Xander again nodded. Before coming to Bengalla he tried to familiarize himself as much as possible with the various factions and tribes. The 'Misty Mountains' were a group of Mineral Rich Mountains. Each mountain had its own kingdom and its own monarch. Christ, most of them were still living in the middle ages. Times of public executions, law's that changed with the mood of their Ruler's, Harem's and slaves. Two white-blonde-healthy-looking children could be sold for a mint to the right buyer. The girl especially. Xander casually cast his eye in the direction of Heloise, trying not to be obvious to it. For a nine year old girl she was very pretty. Her complexion, cheek bones, face and body definition was enough to tell him that in the years to come she would grow up into being a genuine beauty. Undoubtedly, she would have been the true prize out of the pair.

"They took us into one of their tents. Usually in these situations we just wait … patiently."

"Usually? This kind of thing happens to you two a lot?" By this stage Xander had established enough trust from the boy so that he could offer an extra hand rolling a bandage over his wound. A task, Kit, was finding difficult with only one available hand.

"Not like this, but yes, we have had some experience in being held captive. Our horses have been trained to return straight back to the cave if something happened to us …"

Cave?!

"… Our father would know something was wrong and then be able retrace their tracks. Coming to our rescue."

Xander taped the slip-shot bandaging together and closed the First Aide Case. "If that's what usually happens, why didn't you just wait?"

Kit looked over his shoulder once more at his sister. "They didn't give me a choice. The one in charge, he was saying things … things about Heloise. And we were proving … difficult. Not as docile and as obedient … or as scared as the other children they had kidnapped in the past. He didn't like it. He especially didn't like that Heloise was not being … co-operative. He … grabbed her. He started to … to touch her. He said that a girl as spirited as her needed to be broken first before she reached the auction block. I grabbed his knife from his belt and stabbed him. Not a killing blow, just enough of an injury to know he would be paying for touching my sister for the rest of his life. He screamed out. One of his men came in just as I was grabbing Heloise to run. He … he tried to kill me with his knife. All I could do was raise my arm up to defend and shield myself. As you can see, he stabbed me as well. In the chaos of those second's I was able to get the better of them, and we fled. I dragged my sister, who as you can see, was … well … she isn't dealing with what nearly happened to her well. For the last 20-minutes we've been making a bee-line to the Wood's."

With each sentence, Kit's voice became more strained, his body beginning to shake in anger. Xander didn't need to hear anymore. He had heard enough. This … Animal, whoever he was, was about to rape Kit's sister and Kit did what every brother would have done in those circumstances. He tried to protect her. He attacked this monster and the two of them then fled. This meant ….

As though on queue, the sound of dirt bikes could be heard in the distance. Kit's eyes widen in terror. Xander and the boy then rushed up the slope the twin's had slid down just four-minutes earlier. Peering over the horizon, allowing the brown stalks of grass to help conceal their heads, the two males saw four bikes riding in formation.

"I'm guessing they're looking for you?"

"I don't know how, I was very careful."

Xander pointed to the now bandaged arm. "I'm guessing they're following your blood trail."

Kit looked down at his arm then over to his sister, she had not moved an inch. "Father would have only now realised that something had happened to us. It would take him at least an hour ... maybe less ... to find and follow Thunder and Cloud's trail back to their Camp."

"Look, kid, I don't know who your Pop is, but he ain't ... well... he's not Batman."

"Bat … who?"

"Forget it. What I'm saying is that no one is coming, at least not at the moment. Not even the Jungle Patrol. And my old girl, as fast and as nimble as she is, she won't be able to out race a bike designed specifically for this terrain."

Kit closed his eyes tightly, wishing that there was another option. "Then you go. They're looking for us. The worst that will happen is that they'll re-capture us. They wouldn't dare cause me or Heloise any physical injury, especially anything that will scar us. The more marks on us, the more their profit margin slides. I'm sure we can wait them out until my father comes to get us."

Xander looked at this boy … this young man with stunned awe. "You've got big ones, Kit. I'll give you that."

Trying to ignore the growing sound of the oncoming bikes, Kit offered a smirking smile. "Thanks … I think."

The one-eyed carpenter returned the smirk. "But you're an idiot just the same."

Xander stood up and ran back down the slope to his truck. He opened his rear door again and removed his rifle case from the backseat. With fluid speed he unzipped the case and pulled out the sniper rifle and a full magazine.

"My wife would never forgive me if I just drove off leaving a couple of adorable urchin's like you two to a fate worse then death. Christ, I wouldn't be able to forgive myself either."

Xander then slid into place a scope and began climbing back up the small hill. When he got to the top he folded out the rifle's pronged legs, planting them firmly in the earth to help avoid recoil and to steady the barrel. He then flipped open the front and rear lens cap of his sight, stripped the tips off a few dry stalks and threw them lightly into the air before him. A light breeze catching what he had thrown and causing the remnants to float passively to the north. With nimble finger's he made a slight adjustment to his sight.

Kit looked at all this with his mouth slightly opened, the co-ordination and speed this stranger had taken to prepare and position himself was more then a surprise to him. He had only seen one man move as purposefully when handling a weapon like that, and that person was his father.

Wedging his shoulder into the rest and fixing his one good eye in line with the scope, Xander, started to take some deep and calming breaths. On the fifth he spoke to the boy, his eye never leaving the scope. "Kit, stand up on the ridge. Let them see you. My depth perception hasn't been the best for the last few-years and I need these clowns's to either slow down or stop before I can take a shot."

"You're going to kill them?"

At first, Xander, was startled at the concern lacing the boy's voice. After what these monsters's tried to do he would have thought such charity would be beyond him.

"They wouldn't be the first animal's I've had to put down, Kit. But no, I'm not planning on killing them. Not unless they give me a choice. I don't kill if I can avoid it. But still, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it if that's what I end up having to do."

Kit felt as though he should say something, he just nodded his understanding to the stranger's sentiment. But then he remembered something his father once told him. "We have to be better then the ones we oppose, Xander. If we sink to their level, then we are no better then them."

"Kid, the stuff my dog leaves behind after he's had my wife's stew is ten-times better then these guys on their best day as far as I'm concerned. It wouldn't take much to be better then them as far as I'm concern. But trust me; I won't shoot to kill unless they give me no choice."

Kit looked back down to his sister; she was gently rocking to the on-coming sound of the trail bikes. He could not imagine what thoughts were now going through her mind. She was always so confident and generous. He was the cautious and determined one. Now … now he couldn't recognise her as the sister she once was. He was even now left wondering if letting this stranger kill the ones responsible for her current state would not be a bad thing. He was certain that their father, if he was here and knew what they nearly did to him and his sister … his own daughter … their father had on rare occasions 'accidentally' killed evil-doer's. And Heloise was his daughter … NO! They were *better*. And now was the time they proved it!

Without fear, the blonde boy scrambled over the ridge and made himself visible to the four 'hunters'. As Xander had expected, the quartet, all slowed or stopped their bikes. The one in a red tee-shirt shouted out an address to the child. "You, Boy. You big trouble for us. You be smart. Not make more trouble."

Kit looked down to Xander and whispered. "Now what? Aren't you going to shoot?"

With a snarl, directed more to the target's then the child he was addressing, Xander answered. "Warn them."

"What?"

"Warn them. Always give them the choice. That way if this ends up getting messy with the authorities you can claim that they provoked the issue. Tell them that this is their only chance to live to see another day. Let them know you're not afraid and that you have their collective lives in your hands."

"But…"

"Tell them, Kit. Especially about you not being afraid. If you don't do this now. If you don't tell them. Show them how brave you are. It will haunt you. You understand me? You gotta stare them down, and do it now, or they'll 'own' you for the rest of your life."

Kit again looked down at his sister. His trembling sister. This stranger was right. He was to one-day be the 22nd Phantom. He could not allow some childhood memory and trauma govern his life. Taking a deep breath, he shouted out across the expanse. "YOU LEAVE NOW AND I PROMISE YOU, NO ONE WILL HAVE TO DIE BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN!"

The 'makeshift leader' of this small gathering looked to his companions and bellowed out an exaggerated laugh. "How about you and that sweet-tiny ass sister of yours come over to us now and *we* promise that you will be the one not dying tonight? Your sis? Her, we have plan's for. You? If you be good, not cause more trouble for our boss, you might live to be sold. You cause more trouble for us and then we don't care what happens to you. An' neither will the God's."

This was more then enough for Xander to know the calibre of the beast's he was about to fire upon. Offering himself a small prayer that his ammunition flew true and straight. He tightened his finger around the trigger. A sharp jolt into his shoulder was met with a dull crack of the bullet leaving the chamber of his rifle. The front light of the lead bike shattered into a thousand shards.

Instinctively, the Slaver's all ducked. A couple taking shelter behind the very bikes, Xander, had been aiming at.

The Adventurer freed the spent shell and drew back the bolt on the side to allow a fresh shell to enter the chamber. The second shot flew truer then the first, as now Xander had a chance to adjust his aim. His original target was met with spectacular explosion of rubber. The front tyre of the lead bike and its rim damaged beyond all salvation.

Taking his eye away from the sight, Xander, whispered up to Kit. "Tell them the next shot will ensure one of them won't be walking away from here if they don't flee now."

"IF YOU DON'T LEAVE NOW, THE NEXT SHOT YOU HEAR WILL BE MET WITH SOMEONE'S BRAIN SPRAYING OUT ONTO THE EARTH."

If Kit was expecting this show of bravado to have been enough to scare them off, he was mistaken. Two pounced out from cover and a spray of rapid fire was made in the boy's direction. Kit's first impulse was to jump down or try and dodge, but he felt the adult's hand grasp his ankle and hold it tight.

"Don't move. You're safe. Those are short range. Scary, sure. But useless at this distance. Nothing but show and noise. Anything more then 50-yards and they lose both their accuracy and power. Don't let them see you sweat, Kit. I've stared down some pretty … well … some pretty scary things in my life. Never underestimate the power of the Bluff. The only reason I'm alive still is because I have a good poker-face and can smile and laugh when death is staring right back at me." Xander then shifted his head once more back in order to align with his sight. He took another deep breath and the barrel of his rifle again released a deep crack of sound.

Kit's head immediately turned to face the small group of evil doer's in the distance. The one in the red tee shirt, the self-designated 'leader' of the group, leg buckled and a howl of pain crossed over the expanse. He fell to his left, knocking over one of the undamaged bikes that two of his 'men' were cowering behind. His hands wrapped around his mid-thigh, as he began screaming out obscenities.

The boy looked down at Xander, just as he finished drawing his bolt back and freeing the empty shell from his weapon. "I … I thought you were going to kill one of them?"

"I said I never kill unless I have a choice. I also told you that one of them would not be walking away from here, and I kept my word on that. You're the one who adlibbed with the whole brain's thing."

Kit turned his head back in the direction of the group. The three of them were scrambling, all looking from where the shot's may have been fired and wondering if they would be next.

Taking advantage of the chaos, the pre-teen male, pressed his advantage. "YOU ALL HAVE ONE MINUTE TO LEAVE HERE PEACEFULLY. IF YOU ARE STILL HERE IN 61-SECONDS, YOU WILL ALL LIVE TO REGRET THAT CHOICE."

The small group of men looked at one another and shared some private words, without speaking out aloud their intent, they then quickly began to organise themselves. Two of them assisting the third as they placed 'Red-Shirt' on the rear half of the third-surviving bike. His hollering still eagerly being heard by Xander and the boy. Moment's later, all remaining three-bikes, departed. Leaving the fourth, lying lonely on the makeshift field of battle.

Kit looked down at his and Heloise's champion, smiling. "Their leaving!"

Xander continued to look through his scope, speaking from the side of his mouth, watching them disappear into the distance. "No kid, they're regrouping. I count four. Didn't you say that that there were several who jumped you and your sister? Not counting the one who probably stayed behind at their camp. Who I'm guessing is their real Leader, not this bozo.

"I'm also guessing that after you 'stung' him, he'd want you two back in a mighty big way. And if they can't have you, then they'll want you dead and silenced. The last thing they will need is witnesses. Someone who can make a report and identification to the Jungle Patrol.

"With the spray of machine gun fire and my own three shot's, we're probably looking at maybe 5-minutes before they all catch-up with one another and start making their way back in this direction. And this time I don't think they'll be kind enough, or stupid enough, to stop and get off their bikes for me to take pot-shots at."

Xander proceeded to flip down both his front and rear lens-cap and retract the two legs from the front of the rifle. He then looked over in the direction of the setting sun, shielding his eye. "We've lost 10-minutes. We got at best, maybe 30-minutes, to put some serious distance between us and here. If the others are on bikes too, then they'll be on us like a pack of Jackal's in no time unless we get somewhere say or hidden."

Xander, crocking the butt of the rifle under his arm, with the nozzle pointing downwards, he began to slide down the dirty slope to his faithful Slayer, who was patiently waiting at the base of the slope for his return to her. Slayer's tail wagging happily that all, from her K-9 perspective, appeared well.

Kit dutifully followed behind the Carpenter, watching him quickly draw out the magazine cartridge and go over the rifle with an oil cloth before sliding the weapon back into its leather jacket. On the butt of the rifle, the boy saw that an unusual engraving in cursive was made. The engraving was: 'The Other Woman'.

Without looking over his shoulder to address the boy, Xander, made an announcement. "We're out of here! Grab your sister and get in the front seat. 'Rhino' … well … she may not be pretty. But she's got character and she's gotten me and mine out of tougher scrapes. She'll do the same now, or die trying."

"But our father *"

"* KIT, I DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOUR OLD MAN. I *DO* HOWEVER GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOU AND YOUR SISTER. NOW GET IN MY FUCKEN' TRUCK OR I WILL THROW YOU BOTH IN BY FORCE IF I HAVE TOO."

Kit looked over his shoulder to his still trembling sister, then up to the sun. Xander, was right. Which he found annoying. That posse would be back here in another five-minutes, maybe even sooner and they were burning valuable daylight with his arguing. They didn't have time to bicker and to delay.

Ten minutes ago they were stranger's, and now this man was about to risk his life so that he and his sister might not only live to see another day, but to also keep their freedom. Kit silently swore to himself that if by some miracle he and his sister survived this then he would make sure his father would know of his courage and selflessness. Rewarding him accordingly.

The Phantom Line would forever owe him a debt, a debt he doubted that they would ever be able to repay.

But … only if they survive.

Kit ran to his sister and yanked her arm in an effort to make her follow him, he then partly dragged her around the truck to the passenger-side front door and shoved her in the middle as Xander opened the driver side door, folding the front seat down and then urging the Ridgeback to jump. As she began to make herself comfortable in her new seat, Xander went to pick up his shotgun from the ground, carefully wedging it on the back seat beside her. He then folded his seat back up. Within 15-seconds, the owner of the vehicle was again behind the wheel. Without saying another word he turned the key, placed the Cruiser in gear and hit the gas.

The four of them were now in for the ride of their lives. In more ways then one.

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I hope you enjoyed the Intermission (Part One). And that people were happy with the Xander action. We next go back to Buffy ….

As always, I am a fool for Reviews. I love them. The more the merrier. Please let me know your thoughts. But no flames, please. I am sensitive

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