Title: March to Vengeance
Disclaimer: The concepts of the following are not mine. BtVS belongs to Mutant Enemy, Highlander belongs to Rysher Entertainment. The March to- series is written by David Weber and John Ringo- published by Baen books
Summary: Sigh. This one’s a toughie: Completely A/U- Faith/Xander eventually. Highlander/BtVS/ and based around the 'March to' series written by David Weber and John Ringo.Set about a millennia in the future. Faith is NOT a Slayer- not in the beginning of this anyways. Heh. Boy, is she in for a shock. And Xander is a long way from home, and much more mature. If he seems a little off at the start think of this as a slow peeling away of sophistication back to the bare but every hard bones of a character I love.
Note: I fully admit to quoting certain aspects heavily on the technical info from ‘The March to’ series. I sure as hell don’t have the brains to think up this stuff. I’ve tried to adapt as much as possible, but sometimes the explanations just eluded me.
No one expected The Lord’s pet to suddenly up and leave, he’d been enslaved for over a century.
My Lord was most displeased at the loss of his toy. And thick was the ash underneath my boots.
We tracked them to the mountains, then over and into the grassy plains of Cho-an.
We wished them a long, painful death, and followed not.
Four hundred slaves burdened by women and children. The beasts will eat well this night we said, and laughed while feasting on blood-apples.
My Lord did not share our amusement.
(From the journal of Ian-Guard of Lord Angelus. 115 AO- After Opening)
"They’re here, my lord."
"On my way." His Lordship Avron de Grauw, 26th Earl of Bridgeton, acknowledges the com and thankfully disengages from a boring conversation with a rather persistent under-secretary. His two personal bodyguards snap to attention and take up flanking positions as they follow him across the crowded ballroom.
The Earl is a short man; some would say stocky. His black curly hair running to grey and his features were course. In truth, his physical appearance is more that of a tavern keeper, not exactly what one expects of Chief Counsel to the Empires reigning monarch. Physically imposing he was not, yet enemies fear his intelligence and brilliantly astute political mind.
A man whose every word was dissected by news coms’ in over thirty star systems; his actions even more so.
Despite the gravity of the situation he could not suppress a chuckle, I’d dearly love to see their faces if they knew who I was meeting. A childish thought he knows; yet it somehow manages to keep him amused until he reaches the royal apartments.
His bodyguards having detached at the entrance to the royal apartments, the Earl makes his way now flanked by two rather formidable looking marines of the Palace Guard, their silver-and-black uniform distinguishing them as part of House MacClintock.
They accompany him along an impressively long hallway to a set of oak doors imported all the way from Earth, guarded of course, by two more marines from Gold Battalion, personal bodyguards to the Empress.
"Her Majesty is expecting you, my lord. Please go in."
"Thank you, Captain."
Once he has entered and the doors have closed behind him, Avron bows deeply. "Your Majesty."
Empress of Man, Octavia Elizabeth Maria Sanchez MacClintock, forty-first of her line to rule and reigning monarch to over one hundred and sixty four planets, smiled in genuine pleasure. "Avron, I’m glad you were able to come so quickly. How goes the ball?"
"The usual back stabbing and political manoeuvring. I look forward to your appearance," he says ith an impish grin.
Octavia laughs, "So you can have someone else share to your misery?"
"But of course. Speaking of blood sports," he frowns at the otherwise empty room. "I understood that our ‘guests’ had arrived? Is something wrong?"
"Apparently they were hungry and stopped off for a bite to eat...in my kitchen," the Empress concludes dryly.
Avron’s eyes widen in alarm. "Good God, the Palace Guard must be having fits."
The Empress agrees, "When last I heard from Captain Pusaliv he was pleading with me to at allow him to at least maim one of them."
"I’ll speak to them," the Earl says darkly. They were his responsibility after all; such behaviour could not be tolerated.
"I wish you wouldn’t, Avri."
Her casual use of his name makes the Earl pause, she did so only when extremely stressed. "If you so wish, Your Majesty."
"I wish it."
Further conversation was precluded by a knock on the door. At the Earl’s barked "Enter," the rather formidable frame of Cpt. Pusaliv strode into the room and bowed.
Octavia winces at his tightly thinned lips and stoic face. Oh dear. "Have you found our errant guests, Captain?"
"Yes, Your Majesty. I have...persuaded them to forgo any further culinary adventures at this time. They are waiting outside."
Octavia and Avron share a glance.
"If you don’t mind me asking," the Earl questions. "Exactly how did you achieve this miracle?"
Captain Pusaliv’s smile is particularly viscous, "I merely pointed out that should they miss this opportunity for a private audience they would be forced to attend the ball to see to Her Majesty. And must therefore be prepared to dress appropriately. In addition, I promised to sit them as close to Her Majesty as possible, therefore ensuring that they would be the target of every toady, socially vapid matron and intrusive news-com reporter for the rest of the night."
"Thank you, Captain. You may send them in." And when they were alone, Avron turns to Octavia "What a wonderful man. Dirty tricks and not afraid to use them, can I borrow him for my next meeting with the Confederation?"
The Empress rolls her eyes.
"You may enter."
Xander eyes the stony countenance of Cpt Pusaliv with something akin to respect. "It’s been a pleasure, Captain."
"Then I obviously didn’t hit you hard enough."
Faith’s rich laugh echoes off the walls, "Mean and no holds barred," she blows him a kiss as she walks past. "I love a man in uniform."
"You love every man in uniform," Xander drawls hot on her heels. "Which isn’t that impressive if you count all the janitors and waiters you’ve known."
For all their jocularity, Xander and Faith’s demeanour alters drastically once through the door. Backs straighten, faces slide into impassive masks, upon spying their Empress they bow deeply. "Your Majesty."
That their gesture is truly genuine the Earl doesn’t doubt, yet he’s still taken by surprise. Especially since the best he’s ever received is what could only be described as polite nod.
"You may rise," Octavia says.
Xander slips into standard at ease, feet apart, both arms behind his back, and spoils it completely by cocking his head sideways and saying most inappropriately, "You look beautiful, as always. New dress?"
Her long blond hair curled in some elaborate manner, frames a face that com channels rave about....something about perfect symmetry. Whatever the hell *that* means. Her eyes are brown, and he knows he’s got it bad because he’s about to leap into ‘autumn leaves’ territory, but he swears they change colour just as rapidly. Her skin is flawless; the Empress is fifty-two years old but looks no more than twenty-five. No doubt the result of a little genetic tinkering long ago back in the Dagger Years and the best anti-ageing nanites an Empire can produce.
By sheer force of personality he’s seen her light up a room or alternatively, leave grown men white with fear. Her switches in mood remind him of her great-grandfather Roger.
It pisses him off she’s off limits. His own personal choice and one he regrets from time to time. "Your mother would be proud and your father reaching for the nearest blaster if they could see you now. How’s that husband of yours by the way? Still breathing?"
Octavia laughs with delight, "Yes, Alexander. I believe he’s still on Osin."
"Pity. I keep hoping he’ll do something foolish and try to come back."
Faith snickers; Xander’s confrontation with the handsome and morally bankrupt Prince was legend within the Palace. After all, it isn’t every day one sees a member of the Royal Family dragged to the spaceport naked with a blaster held against his head and told rather coldly that if he ‘Ever showed his traitorous, double crossing face this side of the Semili sector again, then said face was going to be blown clean off!’
Interestingly enough, the Captain in charge of the Palace Guard had coincidentally called a snap inspection that day and there was no one around to hear the Prince Royal bleat for help like a shorn lamb.
The Empress drags Faith back into the present by an enthusiastic hug, "Faith, have you been keeping him out of trouble?"
"Not if tonight’s little episode is anything to go by," the Earl mutters.
"Hey!" Faith protests. "If you hadn’t asked us to haul ass back to the Palace we wouldn’t have had to raid the kitchen."
Her leap of logic eludes him, "I’m assured that the galley on the Matsugae is amply provided, it is after all the newest battleship in the Fleet. That you starved while they managed to feed sixteen hundred marines astounds me."
"He," Faith jerks a thumb at Xander. "Got all misty eyed when he found out what you’d called her, I spent most of the trip trapped inside my cabin listing to days of long ago with that lunatic Emperor Roger."
Unbidden, all eyes turn to the portrait of Roger, painted by Vensai shortly after the Emperor was crowned if Octavia recalls correctly.
Roger MacClintock was a throwback to old days of Empire, a soldier, and a leader whose men would have followed him into Hell. Which, according to the stories, Roger would have happily leapt into without a backward glance if he had ever come across the place.
The Emperor’s long blond hair is tied back in his famous plait, battle armour singed and dented, his right hand carries a hunting rifle and at his feet is curled a huge lizard like beast, Roger’s pet, Dogzard. Those striking cobalt blue eyes are what dominate though, they display a sort of triumphant rage at having defeated the Empires enemies and said ‘the rest of you can go to pockin’ hell.’
"I still miss him."
And there’s not much Octavia can say as she watches Xander silently mourn his long dead friend. Moments such as this serve as a chilling reminder at the price of Immortality. The price that Xander and Faith pay and will keep paying until their heads are permanently severed from their bodies.
Both have served her family for centuries now, not because they were ordered, not because they had something to gain. They serve out of loyalty and friendship, which makes her news all that much harder to tell. She will lose one, perhaps both, either way the Empire of Man will be poorer for it, and her House will grieve as if it had lost one of its own.
"Come, let’s sit down. Would you either of you like a brandy?"
Xander returns to the present with an almighty thud, "The last time you offered me brandy I spent five years at the arse end of the Empire putting down that rebellion while Faith sunbaked back on New Madrid."
"I did not sunbake, much."
At the Empress’ sad half smile, Xander feels an itch at the back of his neck and finds his jocularity fading. "What’s wrong?"
"Perhaps you should take Her Majesty up on the offer," Avron heads towards the bar.
"That bad, huh?"
The Earl doesn’t believe in sugar coating, "Yes."
Octavia settles into her float chair, perfect white teeth worrying her bottom lip as she stares solemnly at her guests as they settle into two float chairs of their own. Outside of the Palace very few know what they are, even now Immortals guard themselves with almost psychopathic secrecy.
Rumour about the Empire is that Xander and Faith are clones, a forbidden procedure since the Dagger years which only makes said rumour that much more salacious. And whilst those of power know their names perhaps the rumour also accounts why they are more universally referred to as The Empires Sword and Dagger.
Considering what they are both immortals found it highly amusing, if not indeed appropriate.
"Here, the best Edibor VI has to offer," Avron places a tray laden with brandy balloons on the Empress’ desk.
Only after the Empress takes her glass do the others, Xander brings his own up to his nose and inhales deeply, his eyes closing in pleasure. "Hmmm, The House of Man’s own private stock," then recalls whom he’s drinking with. "Oh God, Faith! I can’t look," he turns his chair away and shudders.
Faith smacks her lips with relish, her glass now empty, drained in one single impressive gulp. "Damn, that’s some great stuff you’ve got there."
His own private communion brutally interrupted, Avron is aghast. A single bottle is worth more than some starships
"Men!" Octavia chides them both, and promptly copies Faith.
Xander actually groans out loud, "Aaaargh! I can’t believe you two, two...."
"Philistines?" The Empress offers up helpfully.
He’s never going to win this one, Xander hides behind a sip of brandy, savouring the bite of fiery liquid as it glides down his throat. His first death at the age of twenty-three has forever locked him in a body and face that has disarmed many by its youthfulness.
He’ll admit to using this advantage brutally when required to defend those he loves. Mostly though his wit and charm have served him better. His clothes of black trousers and grey shirt give no indication to his own considerable personal wealth, working for the Royal Family has some advantages after all.
Throughout his lifetime he has been slave, warrior, diplomat, a spy and a thief. No one who met him in these guises knew his happiest and most fond memories were of when he’d been nothing but a mere mortal, who didn’t know one end of a bead pistol from the other. Oh, right. He forgot; bead pistols weren’t even around then!
The innocence of youth long lost and never to be recovered.
Christ! He’s becoming melancholy in his old age.
"Avron," Octavia murmurs. "Would you begin, please?"
The Earl nods, they had agreed on this before hand. The Empress stating she found the matter too distressing to maintain her composure. "Of course, Your Majesty."
Faith straightens in her seat, she’s never seen either so disturbed before, and the looks they keep shooting at Xander leave her in no doubt as to whom it concerns.
"Three years ago the long range exploration cruiser Da Gamma was sent to map the Iaden sector," Avron paused to gauge their reaction.
"That’s right on the edge of known space," Xander says with a frown. "Heck, aren’t we still at diplomatic loggerheads with the Confederation as to who actually has claim?"
"Yes, which is why it took so long for news to reach us." Avron almost feels like he’s apologising. "The captain felt it better to withhold all information until he was sure he was safely back within the Empire. You see, Da Gamma found something. They made it back with barely enough crew to keep the ship going, and the ones who made it are still undergoing psych."
"She was only an exploration ship though, wasn’t she?" Faith didn’t mean to impugn the Da Gamma’s crew, but everyone knows that scientists and Fleet are very different kettles of fish.
"Yes, but our problem is we can’t afford to send an overt military presence to investigate, if the Confederation find out..."
"The negotiations fall over and the Empire could end up in a nasty little conflict," Xander concludes with a grimace. Well, at least he knows why he and Faith are here. "What exactly happened?"
"They had lost control of the crew as well as the squad of Marines stationed aboard."
"The Empire hasn’t experienced a mutiny since Roger rescued his mother," Xander exclaims in alarm. "But that was in an undeclared civil war and under very different circumstances. What the hell happened?"
Avron very precisely corrects him. "I never said it was a mutiny, I said that they had lost control."
Both immortals pale at the implication, Faith growls "Toombies? One or maybe two I could believe, but a whole pockin’ ship? I didn’t think it was possible."
Almost a millennia after the first computer, science finally found a way to implant processors that interfaced completely with the human neural system without horrible side-effects. The "toot" is an incredible example of engineering and science. However, nothing is perfect.
Like all computers, the ‘toot’ is programmable. Which means with that someone with the right knowledge for the wrong reasons, can insert an illegal programme and the wearer could be literally ‘taken over’ unable to control their actions.
Anyone so controlled, were called "Toombies."
Worse yet, it could be done so damned easily. As the toot is designed for external data input, all you need to do is get your programme close enough to be downloaded. Security exists to prevent this from occurring, and the Empires Marines have some of the best, but any hacker with enough skill, determination and time could find a way.
Immortals loathe toots. Natural paranoia coupled with the effects of a Quickening make it next to impossible for them to wear, and newbies are quickly and very painfully made aware of the fact.
The Earl watches the horror of their expression, and once again has to correct them. "No. Not Toombies, or at least if it was, we could not determine the nature of it."
Xander turns to Faith, "Are you confused? I’m confused," he rounds on de Grauw. "And you, are beginning to grate on my nerves. Will you stop circling around the issue and tell us what’s going on?"
"Would it help to know that the only way the Captain was able to regain control of his ship was by converting all lights within the ship to the U.V spectrum?"
"Some sort of light sensitive virus?" Faith speculates out loud, unaware of Xander’s almost frozen state until the Earl’s gaze draws her attention to it.
His face tightly drawn, Xander asks way too calmly for Faith’s liking, "You didn’t mention if they made planet fall or if they came across something in space."
"Planet fall," Avron’s face is stone. This is by far one of the most difficult things he’s had to do for a long time. "It was the planet’s electro-magnetic field that drew them to it at first. Extremely high emissions and on further investigation, evidence of large pockets of population around the coastal regions."
When Xander flinches, Faith can’t contain herself any longer. "You’ve heard of this place?"
She’s always known he was older, by her estimates a little over three hundred compared to her relatively much younger one twenty. Now? She’s beginning to think her estimates were way off.
Xander finds himself staring at the sympathetic and concerned face of his monarch. "Shall I take a guess at what happened when they landed?"
"First off, I’d say that the beam pistols and toots starting failing," his tone is clipped, almost mechanical. "Next, they probably noticed how the power packs were being drained at an alarming rate by said electro-magnetic field." He switches his attention to the Earl. "How am I doing so far?"
"Spot on," Avron sighs wearily.
"And somewhere along the line, they came across the locals," the immortal said grimly. "I assume they landed near the coast?"
Such language in front of his monarch has the Earl bristling. "Must I remind you who you are in the presence of? I understand you’re upset, but there is no call..."
"Of course," Xander inclines his head. "My sincere apologies, Your Majesty."
"There is no need, Alexander. I too understand how difficult this must be for you."
"You do?" Faith pipes up in confusion. "So why the hell am I the only one who has no friggin’ idea what you’re all on about!"
Octavia feels almost guilty, "Forgive us, Faith. Some secrets are best kept that way until necessity dictates otherwise," she glances towards Xander. "With your permission?"
Off his almost absent nod, the Empress explains. "Are you aware of how Alexander first came to the attention of House MacClintock?"
"Sure," Faith brightens. At last, something she knew. "Roger was still a Prince trying to figure out a way to rescue Empress Alexandra when he came across Xander’s ship floating dead in space. If they hadn’t been so desperate for parts they would never have boarded her. Everyone was dead but Roger saw Xander lying there in a cracked stasis pod with his sword clutched to his chest, he took a guess at what Xander was. Roger brought Xander back to his ship and sure enough, Xander wakes up and it’s fun and games all round."
Despite the situation, Xander finds himself smiling at Faith’s interpretation of his first meeting with Roger. Fun and games indeed.
"Faith, you’ve seen Alexander fight," Octavia spares Xander another glance, to ensure she has his permission. Again she receives a brief nod.
"Hell, yes!" And been awed.
"And you know that he never had a teacher. Did you ever wonder where and how he learnt? How he became so good with reflexes that almost defy description?"
Faith scowls, "He never got too specific, just said his planet was pretty tough." Her eyes widen abruptly, "And he’s never ever said which planet, either."
"We called it Calif," Xander says gruffly. "Population of about five billion, pretty high tech but no space travel." And off Faith’s look he shrugs, "Oh, we obviously had it once, but sometime back in the Dagger years we must have lost that ability, together with any contact with the rest of the universe. It was a good place," he finishes off sadly.
God, she’s almost afraid to ask. "What happened?"
"Hell came knockin’ and we opened the friggin’ door."
"Calif turned into the doorway to Hell."
"You had a disaster?"
"No," Xander understands her misconception. "I mean some type of dimensional fold opened up and Hell came with it."
"You gotta be shitting me! Like....the real Hell? Hell and is opposed to Heaven? That type of Hell?"
It’s hard to tell someone you’ve grown to respect that they’re a stark raving loony. So, Faith turns to her Empress. "Is he nuts?"
Xander barks out a laugh, "God! I wish I was, sure as hell felt like it at times."
"And if he is, then the rest of us are right there with him," Avron drawls. "You see, the Da Gamma was taken over by vampires."
Faith blinks as the word vampire filters through, eventually all she can say is. "Can I have another brandy?"