(Tuesday, Giles's Apartment)

"So, Giles! What's the latest threat to life as we know it? It had better be big, and we're talking end-of-the-world here, 'cause there's this big party on in --"

"'Ello, Slayer. 'Ello, Willow."

"'Ello yourself, Spike. Where's Giles? He called us about patrol, kinda insistent on the 'hurry' part now that Xander's got that job at the gas station."

"Ah, Buffy, Willow, there you are... You know that vampire activity is, er... increasing again, despite the, er... best efforts of our, er... stormtrooper friends, and, er..."

"Spit it out, Giles. Do we get to go to the party with the frat boys, or the party with the undead? Not that there's much difference..." She pauses. "You're sending out Spike instead of me? I know those 'Kiss the Librarian' mugs do wonders for the vampire circulation, but..."

"Not... exactly, Buffy..."

"Try 'with' rather than 'instead', luv."

"Explain, Giles. I know you like British punk, but do you have to send me out with one? Besides, hasn't he been de-clawed? And those commando guys will be after him..."

"And we can't trust him! You remember what happened last time you untied him? He ran off to the college and hit Buffy and asked her to marry him and then I... ooh."

Considering how pale she is, it's amazing how Willow can go so red so quickly.

"First of all, he can't harm living things. That definition doesn't extend to other vampires, apparently... and it certainly doesn't include my living room floor. As for the other risks, I'm afraid that circumstances are serious enough for me to consider it."

Pulls a piece of paper from under a book on his desk, begins to read from it.

"'And on the twelfth night of Dravien's Blooding, the Mouth of Hell will be as--'"

"A prophecy? Impending doom for all mankind? Why, Giles, you shouldn't have! We haven't had one of those in two years! Why couldn't those idiots ever stay off the mushrooms?!"

"Buffy, please, this is serious. 'The Mouth of Hell will be as dust--'"

"As dust? Doesn't that mean nothing? Doesn't that mean it's destroyed? Doesn't that mean that Sunnydale isn't demon paradise anymore? Isn't that a good thing?"

"As I was saying, Willow, 'The Mouth of Hell will be as dust when compared to the horror of that which will be called...'"

"Will be called what?"

"I don't know. Apparently Prachetius, the man who came up with all of this, only foresaw the name written down. There's a colour plate of the writing in here," he said, grabbing the book and opening it in front of Willow, "but I've compared it with every ancient or mystical text known to man, and I haven't been able to find anything that remotely resembles i--"

"That's Cyrillic."

"Excuse me?"

"It's Cyrillic. It's written in Cyrillic script. If you allow for a little... Okay, okay, don't look at me like that. It should be easy enough to transliterate, I know a few sites."

"Willow, you do know we're at Giles's, don't you? Notable lack of 'dread machines'?"

"I know, but a decent encyclopaedia'll have it."

"Great! Research Girl saves the day yet again!" Turns to Giles. "Can we go party now?"

"Well, no. You see, the other seventy-five lines of the prophecy I've translated dealt with the means of bringing about this... horror. In rather more detail than was necessary."

Maybe it's just the starting point, but Giles can do a far better imitation of a beetroot than Willow can. Buffy tries unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle.

"OK, Giles. What's the tagline to Worse than the Hellmouth: The Movie?"

"What? Oh. Well... here we are... 'Two score hellions to drink the blood, two score hellions to make it flow.' Before you ask, that means -- I think -- that they need forty vampires or other small demons to participate in the ritual, and forty more to stand guard."

"I've never been able to figure out what it is with us demons and our rituals. It just gives the local White Hats more time to turn up and ruin the party."

"Thank you, Spike. When I want your opinion I'll ask for it."

"What's this big ritual horror Hell thingy supposed to do, anyway?"

"I've no idea. I'm only halfway through translating this damn prophecy, and I only have a rough idea when this Twelfth Night is supposed to occur -- sometime between yesterday and two weeks from tomorrow, as far as I can tell. But the threat of eighty vampires converging on a town this size is terrifying enough. If even half go hunting..."

"So obviously either you're counting wrong or this Cyrillic terror of yours is a dud. Eighty vamps are a hard thing not to notice, Giles. A few of them can lie low, but that just means the rest need to bring more food home. I've been patrolling every morning and night for the last week! A lot of guys have asked me to move on, but none of them have had fangs. Hell, no trace of those Area 51 types either."

"First, we probably aren't just talking vampires here. They're just the most common breed of demon, and the easiest to press into service. Second, look at this."

The Missing Persons section. Sunnydale was probably the only small town in the world to have a double-page tabloid spread in the local paper dedicated to "Have you seen this lost boy/girl/drummer/army battalion" ads. Most of these were followed up a month or so later in the even larger Obituaries section, but the important part was to never give up hope that someone in the town would start a gang and get it addicted to PCP so that there would be some tiny chance that the coroner's report was true.

Even so, it had been cut in half in recent weeks as the Ascension fiasco, the Scooby Gang, and rumours of the Initiative (all that worry about the one escapee and it never occurred to them that they might have captured a telepathic demon) combined to virtually wipe out the appeal of the Hellmouth to your average off-the-street bloodsucker, almost nullifying the body count.

This week's count was somewhat overshadowed by the two large articles screaming out the "tragic and mysterious disappearance" of three unusually large buses -- one containing a small jamboree's worth of scout groups and the other two minor-league baseball teams -- within two days of each other.

"Look -- the same bus company. All they'd have to do is misinform a couple of drivers. If they eat as much as we give Spike, and don't mind a few rats between meals, there'll be enough to keep a hundred vampires going, at full strength, for a fortnight."


The fucking idiots.

The stupid, clueless, muscles-where-the-brain-should-be idiots. To think I first joined them thinking that they were the only vampires in the world to have two brain cells to bash together. How naive. The moment the local do-gooders find out where we're going to hold this goddamn ritual we're all history. If they don't notice the missing busloads first.

I have to admit that pulling this one off was always going to be a tough ask, considering the requirements -- one night of the decade, a holy place still in active use by humans, eighty vampires in the one area, all on the Hellmouth. The secret red-eye flight to get all the necessary bloodsuckers in was an absolute masterstroke. The extra twenty vampires are a necessary evil in a town with one of the strongest and longest-lived Slayers on record and some mysterious X-Files-meets-cosmetics-company demon hunters trying to make up in technology and attitude for what they lack in common sense. But they wouldn't need any of this effort and risk if they'd just chosen a different fucking ritual.

And you can't food-and-shelter a hundred demons without somebody picking up on it. The only way to take care of the former is to misdirect a few buses and hope that no-one notices, and the latter has its own problems. Sure, "The Ranch" is physically big enough to host a hundred vampires and their food supplies, but vamps are naturally about as co-operative as Coyote and Road Runner during a dynamite shortage. It's impossible to stop your minions from fighting and stealing without the immediate threat of death, and the failure to enforce said threat had taken out fifteen or so of the reserves.

And then some of the food disappeared. No-one owned up to it, of course, and no-one looks any better fed than usual, but no-one wants to face up to the very real possibility that they may have escaped. Another thing about these idiots -- they can't seem to see humans as anything more than circus animals, anything more than entertainment and food, when they're frequently a lot smarter than their captors. Then again, there are things growing on old dead tree stumps that are smarter than your average vampire. Unfortunately, these tree stumps have big weapons, so I have to follow their orders, at least for the time being.

The idea was simple: knock out a few humans, dump the bodies in the van provided, come back when you've got a dozen or so. Three alcoholics later, I'm left standing near the middle of what passes for a bad part of this town holding a tranq gun with two even-stupider-than-usual fledglings, and incidentally am perfect Slayer bait. And I've got a bastard of a headache that only gets worse as we go further into town. I try to remember the last time I had one this bad, suppress a scream when I do, and then excuse myself from the dumb-as-hell duo to the top of a nearby building with some binoculars. Watching them lounge around with all the subtlety of a nuclear war, I think about using my tranqs on them and saving the Slayer some effort. Then I swing my field of vision to the right, see an unmistakable -- even from legend -- blonde head, and decide not to waste my ammo.

The blonde head strides up to the two fledges, briefly exchanges some no-doubt-witty repartee I'm glad I can't hear, removes her jacket, makes short but showy work of the duo, and moves on. Without her jacket. I follow her with the binoculars well over the horizon, pull on some leather gloves, and decide to have a look at the Slayer's taste in fashion.

A few stakes, a few crosses (hence the gloves), and a purse containing more stakes, makeup and a compact mirror, and an address book. Have a quick flick through, see a few names you wouldn't expect a teenager to want to remember. Pause. Well, why shouldn't I? Get in the van, drive to a payphone, dial a number.

"Hello, Rupert Giles speaking."


Damn, I love this car. Well-sealed and shaded windows, air conditioning, cigarette lighter, and a sound system so good I can hardly hear myself sing along. Which is all good, particularly that last part.

Oh won't you please take me home?

Synth break, then Axl fires up a riff... what I'd give to play a gig with him. Sure, I can't play an instrument to save my unlife, but... damn!

I'm just a' urchin, livin' under the street

Mexico was getting boring. Trouble with the locals is, half an hour after eating you can do with another one, and after a week of that there's no-one left to eviscerate and you have to go on to the next town.

I'm a hard case, that's tough to beat

So I figured I'd go check out the City of Angels.

I'm your charity case, so buy me somethin' to eat

Maybe try find the Slayer's ex, see if he's everything the grapevine makes him out to be.

I'll pay you at another time...

Besides, border guards make a good midday snack.

... take it to the end of the line

Slam on the brakes with the break, and get out the map. I don't know any Sunnydale.

Rags to riches or so they say

Oh, wait, that Hellmouth thing. Freak called Luke invited me down for some Harvest a few years back. I told him thanks, but it's not my style.

Ya gotta keep pushin' for the fortune and the fame

Guess it didn't work, either, if the amount of town left's anything to go by. Roll back, take another look at the sign.

It's all a gamble, when it's just a game

Grin, move the car just right, pull out and twist the cigarette lighter.

Ya treat it like a capital crime...

The right headlamp pulls down, and a jet of flame bursts out, slowly moving from left to right, incinerating the sign. Not that they'll miss something that hideous. Just doing my duty to the community. Sure, it reeks of James Bond, but who cares when it's so much damn fun?

... everybody's doin' their time!

Drive on, to an all-night gas station, grab a bite to eat. Cute kid. I like this one. Leave him not quite dead outside the hospital. Y'know, let the Slayer know I'm here.

Take me down to the Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty...

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