Yeah, what? Yes, that's my kid, you know where the little brat is? Oh. Shit. Yes. Thankyou. I'll just... call a few of his friends, and I'll be... right over. Yes. Thankyou. Goodbye.
Hello, Willow Rosenberg speaking. Oh, hi, Mrs Harris! What's up? What? No. No way. That's... that's horrible! Will he be all right? Okay. Thanks. Bye.
Hello, Rupert Giles speaking. Good morning, Willow. What's the problem? Oh. My God. Are you certain? No, you can't just catch anaemia... Does Buffy know? Of course. I'll be there as soon as possible.
"Well, he came in about eleven last night. God only knows what happened... had a couple of gashes here and there, couple of marks on his neck, and not enough blood left to survive more than half an hour. It's lucky he got in when he did."
"Ah... do you know who brought him in here?
"The attendant said it was a couple of 'nice-looking young men.' They didn't stay to give any details, though."
Willow comes in.
"How is he?"
"Well, they were going to take me out back and do the merciful thing, but they couldn't afford to waste the bullet."
"Xander! You're okay?"
"The doctor said that he got off remarkably lightly. Once they had the transfusion in, he was more or less all right. They still want him to stay for a couple of days, for observation, but his jokes are down to their usual standard, so I don't think we have too much to worry about."
"Hey! I'm the injured party here! Have some sympathy, dammit!"
"And since we so obviously don't have anything to worry about, you can tell us exactly what happened, please, Xander."
"I don't know... I was just sitting there, first customer in an hour or so came in, grew fangs, and bit me. It's kind of hard to remember anything more, having been unconscious and all."
"Male or female?"
"Not our friend at the warehouse, then."
"Long story... which we'll tell later. What did this vampire look like?"
"Well, I only saw his game face, so... Dark brown hair, black jacket, tall, easily six foot, and a bit on the thin side. Heard... some kind of loud music coming from his car. Another black thing."
"Did he say anything?"
"No, just walked up to the counter, growled, dragged me over and sank his teeth in. Not the talkative type."
"And that's all you can remember?"
"Well, at least we know he probably picked you because you were convenient, and not because you're a friend of the Slayer. Nevertheless, I'll tell Buffy and Spike to keep an eye out for him on patrol."
"Buffy and Spike?"
"So, tall, thin, dark brown hair, shiny new black car, and a black jacket... like every soddin' male vampire known to man."
"That'd be the bloke I ran into last night, then."
"And you did what?"
"Had a nice chat. Dropped the hint that he might want to leave town."
"He drove off. Don't know how far."
"May I enquire as to why you didn't attack him?"
"Look, Watcher -- ex-Watcher -- I haven't had a proper fight in more than three bloody weeks. I'm out of form. I could've taken out a fledgling or two, but not that bastard."
Buffy pulls out a sharpened wooden crucifix.
"Can I go 'train' with him, Giles?"
"Very funny, Buffy. We want him available for the meeting tonight."
"Awww... can't I just stake him a little?"
The building is huge. And now has more crosses in it than the Sistine Chapel, hung with wreaths so you can hardly see the cloves of garlic.
"This is why I hate Christmas. That and all the bloody happy-joy elves. Mind you, it's not a bad decorating job for twenty minutes' work."
"It might be twenty minutes for you, Spike, but the rest of us have been at it for an hour, and we're getting tired."
"Not my fault I burn easily."
The Slayer tries to stifle a giggle and fails miserably.
"Yes, but you'd think in that outfit you'd be just too cool to worry!"
He's dressed in his usual jacket and trousers, plus heavy welding gloves, large heavy boots, a hood, a cap, and sunglasses, all in black.
"Oh, c'mon, it's not that bad."
It hadn't helped much, and he'd had to be careful where he put his face until sunset came anyway.
"You look like the guy from U2 would after getting dipped in a tar pit!"
The door opens.
"Really? I was thinking more Brian Molko myself."
Slayerettes pause as one and take stock of the new arrival. And her fangs.
"And you would be...?"
"You can call me Naomi." Goes back to human. "Nice to see you're here so early. If you hadn't been, I'd have waited here for you with this."
And "Naomi" produces a large, impressive-looking rifle, puts it down and kicks it across the floor.
"I've got no time for idiots."
"Very well. Put down any other weaponry you may have and come in."
Out comes a stake and a few ammo clips.
"Let's see... you've already cancelled my invite -- quite a difficult trick for an abandoned building, especially since you didn't know my name. And there's some kind of vampire containment spell, judging by those garlic wreaths you've got hanging up. I'd love to find out how you managed to exempt Billy here. And... is that motherwort? A truth spell! Very nice. I wouldn't expect anything less from the people I intend to work with."
"We'll see about that. Since you know so much about the black arts, I'm sure you know what we want you to do."
"Yeah yeah, yada yada, I swear it's truth, on my mother. That should do, gimme the sage."
"Actually, that little rhyme was unnecessary. We've done all the required... ceremony, and all you need to do is wear this."
Buffy gets up and ties a pendant around Naomi's neck. Smells of lavender.
"Now. The Rites of Rachull. As you said on the phone, the whos, whats, wheres, whys and wherefores. Take your time."
Pulls out a tape recorder and presses a button.
"All right. Sit down, 'cause this is a long story. I went to Seattle around '95, and joined up with one of the local Masters because he seemed to be a fairly intelligent guy. Then he took a walk in the sun, and one of his minions took over. Bloke named Patrick O'Meara. Heard of him?"
Chorus of shaken heads.
"Complete dickhead. Decided that having hell on earth would be a good idea, you know, kill half the humans and leave the rest in eternal torment. Found the ideal way to get it, too. The Rites of Rachull. See, after that goes down, all the vampires get proper demon bodies and don't need human blood anymore. And whoever leads the ritual gets to be king of it all. Rachull knew what he was doing when he wrote it up."
She pauses. Giles nods.
"He wanted the world to collapse into a... diabolical heap, and was smart enough to try and make sure he'd finish on top of it. But that meant the requirements for the spell, were, basically, hellish. You need eighty minor demons in the real world chanting in about six different languages at the same time in a church or whatever still in active use, near a Hellmouth. It has to be on the twelfth night after the Blooding of some bigwig demon, and you only get one of those every decade if you're lucky. Only a dozen actual human sacrifices, though, and only in the days beforeha--"
"Only twelve. I am a vampire, remember, and besides, a lot of less powerful rituals need twenty or more."
"And when exactly is this Twelfth Night?"
"Didn't Rupert say, Slayer? I could have sworn I told him on the phone. Midnight Saturday. They're almost as original as I am."
"Mr Giles, thank you... Naomi. Will you go on?"
"It all goes down in St Jude's on Davidson Terrace. Fitting -- the patron saint of hopeless causes. They're already down to eighty-five vampires, eighty-four now I've defected."
"Well, either you guys take me in, or I get out of town. They're probably out there looking for me as we speak. They find, and well, I don't think I need to tell you."
"So why're you taking this risk... Naomi?"
"Like I told you before, I don't have time for idiots. The thought of Pat O'Meara ruling hell for all eternity lacks appeal. So does the thought of any other vampire. I don't really like watching humans get tortured. I don't dislike it, but there's other things I'd rather do with my time. And then I heard a rumour about Spikey here switching sides over Acathla..."
If this scene had occurred in a diner of any kind, Spike would have been having a drink (possibly a milkshake) at this point, and would have spluttered said drink all over the table when the speaker made his or her point. If he didn't have a drink, he would have made some ridiculous-sounding snort. However, Spike, being a vampire, had no desire to drink frothy flavoured milk, and didn't even have the breath to do a decent snort. Nevertheless, the sound he made, a kind of low-pitched squeal, was appropriately ridiculous, and everyone else in the room reacted accordingly.
After the laughter died down, Naomi attempted to continue.
"Anyway, I got sent out with a couple of fledges to get more food. Perfect targets for the Slayer here. I sensed you coming, hid, watched you take them out -- a little too fancy, by the way, if they'd been any older you might've had some trouble -- and noticed you'd left your jacket there. Went down, had a look, and Buffy's probably the only girl in the country with her ex-librarian's home phone number in her address book. So I dialled it. Rest is history. Questions? Comments? Death threats?"
"Sensed me coming?"
"For 'sensed' read 'got a fucking great splitting headache.' Whenever a Slayer comes within half a mile of me, I can barely stand up straight. Happened when I was human, too, I used to go to school with one. Didn't find out what she was 'til it was too late, of course --"
"Please... don't." The current incumbent's uncomfortable at the mention of other Slayers, and who could blame her?
"-- sorry, Buffy. Anyway, Pat called it a gift, I call it a pain in the, well, head. Thankfully, a straight Panadol gets rid of the worst of it."
"Any ideas on stopping them?"
"That's your job. I wouldn't mind seeing a large quantity of holy water between the eyes of Patrick O'Meara, but that's got nothing to do with the Rites."
"If it's not too obvious an idea, maybe we could take a look at the church? St Judas, you said?"
"St Jude's -- Judas would make a funny saint -- and yes, it is too obvious. They have guards posted, twenty-four hours. In balaclavas as well as bodysuits. With mobile phones. If they don't make it back to the Ranch, well, there are other churches in Sunnydale."
"I thought this O'Meara guy was stupid."
"He is. One of his childer's childer came up with the idea. Disappeared out hunting Monday night."
"News to me."
"Presumably the commando group got him. Is this really relevant? Naomi, is there any way we can stop the ritual with magic?"
"Not that I know of."
"So do you have any ideas?"
"Well, running won't do you any good, so..."
"How many guards and how long are their shifts?"
"All clear, master. Call you back in half an hour."
Vampires tend to get tired during the day, apparently out of respect for tradition more than anything else. It takes an experienced vampire and a lot of caffeinated blood to get around it. And of course Master O'Meara didn't have that kind of blood or that kind of experienced vampire to waste. So a pair of underfed fledglings were on guard duty, as a token measure to comfort the other minions and as a warning in case of major attack. They certainly didn't stand a chance of fighting one off. Especially during the day.
And they were already half-asleep when the tranquillisers hit.
"Success." Looks at his watch. "The guards should be waking up in about... ten minutes."
"Right around sunset."
"Guess I should wake up Spike and patrol."
Walk round the corner. The bombs have been placed. Twenty minutes to midnight on Saturday, eighty vampires get fatal or debilitating sore throats. Garlic bombs... immature but effective.
"I heard about those commando guys using tasers and electrified walls and things to keep demons in, and I looked up some stuff. They... used to wear these in thunder rituals, and apparently they actually got struck by lightning and survived!"
A thin bracelet with a large, dull-looking gemstone... smelling heavily of lavender. Buffy puts it on.
"Really? Thanks, Will. Just hope I won't need to find out if it works."
"Same. Anyway... bye, Buffy... Have fun!"
Another joyless night of slaying... until I see a familiar-looking van. With four unconscious humans dumped inside. And, down the street, the things that knocked them out. Only two this time -- they really are running out of extras. Run up and say hi.
"Hey, guys, you getting some food for the party Saturday night?"
Vampire on the left decides to show his appreciation by growing fangs. Shrug my shoulders, pull out a stake, and all of a sudden there's ash on my jacket. Vampire on the right gets angry and kicks the weapon out of my hand. Catch it with the other and move on. Punch at my head, duck, punch his stomach, he dodges. Recover, exchange roundhouse kicks --
"Do you bloodsuckers get martial arts training in the coffin or something?"
-- headbutt, duck, punch, block, kick, roll, knock the vampire's legs out from under him, recover, pin him to the ground. Decide to check on that Naomi girl.
"I hear your bosses are putting on a light show on Saturday night. Care to tell me about it?"
He growls. Obviously not. Shove stake in his face, emphasizing pointy woodenness. Vampires can be so dense sometimes.
"You sure you haven't got anything to say?"
Growls again. Well, more of a snarl this time.
"Oh well. Your loss."
Pull up slightly, aim stake, dust in the grass. Too easy. Wander off wondering what happens if they do run low enough on vampires, when there's a thud against my lower back, a slight ache and that 'pip' sound you get when you take off nylon. Pull the thing out -- now there's pain -- rack my brains, then realize. So this is what a taser dart looks like. Turn to the source. Not much to see.
"Well, hello to you guys, too! That really wasn't polite, you know? Now, if you want to talk like good little boys, there's this really nice all-night diner a few blocks that way..."
Someone shows himself. Usual khaki and kevlar. Walks up, stops all of twenty-five yards away, and fires one of two guns at me. I sidestep without flinching. While he's busy acting shocked, I close the gap. "How can I put this?"
Grab his other gun -- looks impressively evil, but I'm fairly sure it's just tranquillisers -- find a suitable place on the barrel, grip with both hands.
Throw the two useless halves away.
"Any comments, or are you just going to stand there looking like an idiot? All kevlarred up and no place to go, it's tragic! Like I said, if you want to talk, there's this nice diner up the road. If not, I'll knock you out and leave a sharp note for your bosses. I don't kill humans--"
Another thud into my side. Suddenly get sleepy. Remember that his other gun held tranqs. Damn. At least I know where I'll wake up.
Open eyes quickly. Flash of white, probably a wall. No surprises. Close my eyes again, decide what to do. I don't think a person of my... abilities isn't going to get too much time alone after being confirmed awake. An idea forms.
Wake up and stretch, exaggerating the morning ritual. Idly wonder what kind of coffee you'd get here. See the one transparent wall, check to see if it's the same kind of "glass" as Spike said. It is, but I guess that bracelet of Willow's is working better than she thought. Jump a little to show willing. See if anybody's listening.
"Hello? Anyone there?"
Wonder what they think of the voice of the freak. Give them another sample.
Guess they aren't playing. Stand back, do my best to look nonchalant, shrug my shoulders. Charge the electric wall. It breaks with a pretty tinkling noise. I don't get cut at all but there's no time to thank anyone for lucky breaks like that, with the hall guard raising his gun. Duck and roll, use the same move I did on the vampire earlier. Has the same result. Grab his gun, snap it, and run on. Around a corner, another guard. Firing tasers. Giles is right, all this hi-techiness is killing off basic human communication -- he doesn't know I don't conduct electricity and doesn't have any other guns.
Run past him, the occasional dull "thuck" and "pip" letting me know he's wasted another dart. Into another hall -- this one's as big as a hangar -- with guards pouring in, but still using tasers. Dash for the rapidly closing security door and drop to a roll for that classic Indiana Jones moment. Works great until my back hits something solid... apparently it was closing more rapidly than I thought. Look up at the commandos approaching. One of them lifts his gun. It's not a taser this time.