Disclaimer: Please see Part 1 Chapter 1.

SHADOWED SOULS Part 3

Chapter 1

Terri slipped and went down on one knee, but Aliesha sprang forward, deflecting the arm with a swift slice of the axe that bit deep and caused yellow blood to spurt from the injured limb.

The Gra'ak shrieked in fury, trying futilely to monitor all its attackers at once, recognising Faith as the leader, but unable to get to her with the other attackers harrying it. The death of Fallon Mady and the inevitability of another attack had prompted the apprentice Slayers' trainers to revise their pupils' battle tactics with Buffy Summers' full approval; rigid adherence to outdated traditions simply for tradition's sake had been a characteristic of the original, discredited and now mostly dead Watchers' Council.

The Gospel according to St. Xander was simple: Buffy, and Faith, had had to fight such monsters as the Gra'ak alone, so why should the Slayers gloat about victories when they were merely part of the crowd? Each Slayer patrol had been generally accompanied by a member of the Scooby Gang to direct proceedings and this would now become a rule not a 'if we can take the time' deal. Slayers would patrol in small groups, a minimum of four to a maximum of eight, but at all times one or preferably two would not engage in the battle unless they needed to help an injured or tiring Slayer. In this way, if the fight became protracted, their side would always have at least one reasonably fresh, rested combatant whereas the evil wouldn't.

Faith, Robin and Xander were out tonight on three separate patrols; Faith's group had totally unexpectedly come across this Gra'ak, a huge sort of cross between the Incredible Hulk on steroids and an ogre, but the Dark Slayer witnessed with pride how her charges had clearly been paying attention to her training techniques. With Faith and Danielle staying back as reserves, the other four had engaged the Gra'ak with skill and confidence – but not arrogance – and were wearing it down, like a lion being bested by angry wasps.

Faith dived forward in a smooth lunge as Terri, her ankle having twisted when she slipped, remembered her combat survival training and simply tucked and rolled herself out of the way of her fellow Slayers instead of panicking because she couldn't put weight on her leg. Without a hitch, four Slayers continued to attack the Gra'ak as if the change in personnel had been planned weeks in advance, Faith having the advantage of being fresh to the fight.

It roared, a wave of stinking, fetid breath making their eyes water, unable to break through the encircling cordon of girls and with the only possible vulnerability, Terri, having got herself well clear and out of the way. Faith noted Aliesha's intent expression as she whirled her scimitar and made a mental note to recommend to Buffy more responsibility for the Haarlem-born Slayer. Aliesha was smart without thinking she knew it all, a savage fighter who nevertheless didn't let the rage cloud her thinking, confident without being conceited. They needed as many new teachers and Slayer Group Leaders as they could to come through the ranks to teach the newbie Slayers still making contact, either by turning up on the doorstep or via phone call, mail or email.

Abruptly Faith felt as if an invisible hand had grabbed her and turned her upside down on her head before spinning her the right way up again a second later, like a child playing with an egg-timer by twisting it in its hands. She collapsed on the spongy grass of the hill like a pricked balloon so suddenly not even the Gra'ak realised what had happened for a moment.

"Danielle!" Faith's intended bark of command came out instead as a harsh, gasping exhalation of air as her limbs suddenly felt as heavy as lead and she experienced an intense compression against every inch of her skin, as if invisible elephants were trying to sit on top of her, closing her eyes as her stomach churned with nausea caused by the way the ground seemed to be undulating in waves before her sight.

The youngest of the six Slayers was there in position before Faith had finished calling her name, as well as Terri surging up and balancing one leg, ready just in case. The Gra'ak screeched again as it recognised a weak point in the corral though it didn't understand what had just happened, and it charged directly at Danielle. Having no choice, the Slayer waited to the last possible second and then somersaulted left, slicing out with the sword and scoring the Gra'ak's torso. It checked and howled, lashing out in a motion that caught Danielle a glancing blow – which nevertheless threw her a clear ten feet away to land in a winded heap.

Bellowing in pain, the Gra'ak vacillated momentarily as it fixed on Danielle's hard landing, but then it went for escape over revenge. It lumbered forward into the small gap to eviscerate the dark haired girl en route to freedom. With a desperate cry, Aliesha threw her axe at its armoured back, but the blade bounced off and only distracted it for a split-second.

Every single hair on Faith's body stood up rigidly on end, as if each individual follicle had just been plugged straight into an electric socket. Her fingers closed around the hilt of her sword and as the Gra'ak loomed, Faith powered straight up from her crouch, driving the blade up through the Gra'ak's face into its brain, killing it instantly. Rocking back, the Gra'ak teetered momentarily and then toppled backwards stone-dead with ground-shaking impact.

Followed by Faith.

The other five Slayers hastened around her. "Get. Robin." Faith ordered harshly, concentrating on keeping her laboured breathing going.

Danielle took off like a startled gazelle as Wanda, built like a linebacker, scooped the Dark Slayer up in her arms like she was a toddler, while Terri awkwardly hopped on Aliesha's back for a piggy-back ride.

"Babe!" Robin Wood strode out of the night with his group of Slayers, taking Faith into his own arms with a similar ease that Wanda had shown. A few moments later Xander and his group also arrived.

"What happened?" demanded Xander.

"It was another attack, it had to be!" Aliesha claimed.

Part of Faith was loudly declaring that the Dark Slayer did not let anyone, least of all a guy, carry her in his arms like some Victorian Melodrama heroine, but the majority of her was feeling very peculiar, so this once she let it slide. "I went from Slayer to newborn kitten on the muscle front in about a second flat. Anyone else get whammied by the bad mojo?"

There was a chorus of negatives. "Everyone back home now," ordered Xander. "We need to let the others know."

Ten minutes into the return march, Faith felt a warm tingling in her toes that swept up her body as if she'd just downed a couple of uppers or a stiff shot of bourbon, re-energizing and revitalising her every cell. "Let me down," she urged Robin, who reluctantly let his lover go, ready to grab her if she fell, but she strode out confidently, giving everyone a helpless shrug at her abrupt return to feeling fine.

"Faith?" Buffy and Dawn hurried out from the doorway towards the Dark Slayer, who felt a curl of warmth in her stomach again at their expressions of concern.

"What happened?" Rupert Giles demanded generically of the mass of people.

Everyone gathered in the old mansion's garden courtyard as Faith, Aliesha and the others related what went down. When they finished, Giles took of his spectacles and rubbed them vigorously, nodding agreement to Aliesha: "Definitely another attack."

"Why was it just Faith?" Asked Kennedy.

"Maybe they've decided to try the 'one step at a time' approach." commented Xander, "They tried to drain six Slayers of their power at once but that failed spectacularly after only a few seconds. They've realised that maybe they were a bit over-ambitious so they've gone for the First Evil's M.O. of trying to steal each Slayer's power one by one?"

Giles nodded agreement again. "That would be the most logical scenario."

"I think so." Willow lent her concurrence to Xander's notion. "These sorts of mystical arts are complex, and if something does go wrong, you don't just go 'oops'; there's a rebounding shockwave that can knock you off your feet or even kill you. My bet is that when their attempt to drain the original six Slayers failed, they were all hit by a sort of mystical backlash shockwave that probably knocked them clear across the room they were in and broke bones…assuming they have bones."

"Good." Faith muttered, "I still feel like I've been through the spin cycle a couple of times."

"We were damn lucky the effect only lasted a few seconds again, though." Aliesha worried, showing perception, "What if these scumbags get so they're able to knock out a Slayer's whammy for ten or fifteen minutes at a time?"

"Uh-oh." Faith stood up abruptly.

"What is it?" Buffy moved anxiously to support her.

"My Slayer power didn't come back to me for a good twenty minutes after the attack." Faith confessed. "We were almost home when I felt it suddenly pour back into me."

"But you came back up like you were rocket-propelled." Aliesha objected. "You looked like that actor Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein with his hair all electrified, and you skewered the Gra'ak like a shish-kebab and didn't even break a sweat."

"And she collapsed straight away again afterwards." Terri reminded them.

"Are you sure what you felt was your Slayer power returning?" Giles pressed Faith.

The Dark Slayer's eyes darkened with the shadows that those in the know recognised as Faith approaching a painful subject. "I'm sure."

"It was…" Buffy began softly, laying a hand on Faith's arm.

"Identical to what I experienced in the instant that Kendra died." Faith said flatly, her tone warning off further discussion of the topic.

Turning to look at Giles, Buffy said, "You suddenly get pins and needles in your toes, then this –"

"- whole warmth just surges up your legs –"

"- into your stomach and your chest –"

" -right up until you can feel every follicle in your scalp –"

" – and you feel so full of energy and light that you just know - "

"- you could run and dance and fight forever – "

"- and yet never, ever get tired enough to stop."

For a moment there was a respectful silence as the Slayers looked at each other with embarrassed recollection of the Moment of Their Calling.

Dawn looked at Faith, "So if you weren't a Slayer again for another twenty minutes, what was it that enabled you to skewer the Gra'ak?"

To be continued in Chapter 2…

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