Professor Walsh was a remarkably good shot for an educator, but then again, not every educator actively seeks out demons for a hobby.
Then again, this being Sunnydale, these people were formed such a large minority group that they could wield considerable political power in Sunnydale if only they could (first) get together, and (second) not live in a town still governed by the minions of a man who had auctioned off his soul to the highest-bidding demon. They certainly wouldn't stand a chance of ever getting anyone elected if one of the most powerful group of hunters killed the one of the second-most powerful, as was about to happen here.
Walsh aimed, started to squeeze the trigger, paused, undid the safety catch, and then fired.
If such a fact could be advertised, making the gun that killed a Slayer would be quite an income boost for the manufacturer. Unfortunately, this weapon didn't kill the Slayer, although any weapon that could be fired with the end of the barrel bent parallel to the grip without self-destructing certainly deserved all the sales it could get.
Buffy pulled on the still scalding-hot gun barrel, roundarmed it into a convenient nearby bin and walked on.
"You're telling me we have sixty-seven vampires left."
"Well then. What time's sunset?"
Sit down, order coffees, and... sit down. Caffeine arrives. Nobody speaks until it's half gone. This is getting boring. I'm getting worried. Remember what Giles said, it'll be easier to try on Walsh anyway.
"You want to go first?"
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you. Are you going to hurt me?"
"I'm sorry about your gun."
"What are you?"
"Human, last time I checked, anyway. Got the hospital records and birth certificate to prove it."
"Really? When was the last time you checked?"
"Every morning. Can't be too careful in this town. Whole lotta strange stuff out there. I mean, there's these weird army guys, go out every night dressed like storm troopers, and sometimes you find one in the street the next morning with nary a drop of blood left in their bodies. And then the professor who they're supposed to be TAing for takes a few hours to 'check their condition', even though she barely noticed when one of her other assistants had cancer treatment. Oh, and the nurse makes a comment about the Men In Black when she sees your badge. What are you?"
"A psychology professor. You haven't got enough evidence to sway a jury otherwise."
"No, professor, you don't. Oh wait, you do, but if you go public about me you'll give me even more evidence to go public about you. I don't think all that talk about people... trouble... damage earlier was about global overpopulation. And I doubt that gun of yours was for skeet shooting. Of course, your second job doesn't really let you go public, does it?"
Walsh looks resigned.
"How much do you know about my second job?"
"I know that you're out there hunting whatever weirdness appears in this town with enough technology to make ET run home. And you don't seem to like competition. But, since you're not actively trying to destroy the world, I think I can forgive you for the whole knocking-me-out-and-locking-me-up thing. Speaking of which, there's a group of vamps out trying to do the destroy-the-world thing tonight, and some help'd be nice in case the garlic bombs don't work."
"Help? How do I know you're not leading us into a trap? How do I know what you are?"
"Professor Walsh, I was out for a good eight hours and at least two of your guys saw me in action before that. Don't tell me you didn't run any tests."
"Yes, and they told us you were a human who worked out a lot. No drugs, no sub-terrestrial, no evidence of you doing anything any normal health-conscious freshman wouldn't do. But apparent immunity to taser darts and the ability to break the gun that fired them in two with minimal effort hardly supports that, does it?"
"Well, when you started this whole demon hunting business, what did you do for reference?"
"What do you mean?"
"How do you know which demon you've just captured? How do you know it, I dunno, can't turn into a puddle of battery acid and melt the guard? Or," I smirk, "just be strong enough to smash the glass and run for it?"
"We have tests for virtually everything, and if we don't we're working on them. For example -- you may not have noticed it -- we predicted some kind of occult explosion at the high school around Graduation last year. I would assume that's what the explosion in the library was -- the one that killed the old mayor?"
"Really? No, I didn't notice it. I guess I was too busy helping the rest of the school fight off the sixty-foot-long demonic snake that mayor had turned into!"
I can't believe they didn't pick that. Or maybe they did and want to find out how much I know... shake myself out of it.
"So, anything else you might have spotted? A slight change in temperature when the fire demons' old nest blew up in summer? A bit of a shake during the '97 earthquake?"
"We weren't here in '97."
"Whatever. In all this time, what is the worst thing you've seen? The worst thing you had to stop?"
"There was a lairful of about two dozen vampires, over the summer... You don't look impressed."
"Try four apocalypses and one Ascension."
"Apocalypses? Four? Ascension?"
"Human turns into demon. About three people in town left alive afterwards unless a volcano erupts at the right time. Or about a ton of assorted explosives... There's your occult explosion, bits of roast mayor raining down on the assembled twelfth graders."
"Very funny. But you still haven't answered the question."
Do my worst Giles imitation.
"Honestly, kids today. Too much time in front of a computer screen and not nearly enough with their nose in a good book. Ever heard of a Vampire Slayer?"
Normally, Walsh's cup would now be a sorry pile of shattered china swimming in milky coffee on the floor. Fortunately, spending even the briefest of periods in what you might call the "real" Sunnydale meant you didn't startle easily, and in any case the coffee was still on the table where Walsh had put it down partway through "occult explosion". But she was surprised. She did read the occasional piece of demonic literature -- for entertainment. Like the texts from the destroyed lair's small library, which had contained some oblique references to something called a Slayer, but...
"... in 1594! When's your 400th birthday, Buffy?"
"In 400 years. Well, actually not that many, but you get the idea... a Slayer is just a normal human being until the last one dies. Only then does she gain the ability to refashion shotguns at will."
"And I'm sure Sam Colt would have been fascinated, but what use is all this?"
"A weak vampire's, what, three times as strong as a human? No point fighting them if you can't hold them off."
"So, it's all for hunting vampires. But why? How long? Who's responsible?"
"You know what? I can't explain this that well, I'll take you to a guy who can later. What about you? What's your excuse?"
"I can't just let this drop. You've just told me you've stopped the world from ending four times over the last few years. I need to know about you before you can know about me."
"Look, professor. If I wanted to shoot you, kill you, capture you, whatever, I could have done it when you tried to. If it was safe for you to do it, why wouldn't it be safe for me? Besides, if your agents have functioning eyes they should know that I was killing vampires. I'm guessing that's what you do too. We should be working together, so the least we can do is trust each other."
"All right, but I can't tell you everything."
"Just tell me enough."
"I work for an organization dedicated, if you'd forgive me the cliche, to saving the world. Saving it from anything hostile that the... conventional armed forces would be unable to deal with..."
"Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires... What? I'm quite aware of what it sounds like, but you really must take it seriously, professor."
"Hello, Cathy... or is it Naomi you'll be calling yourself now? Interesting new ID."
"You think? Photographer did such a good job I let him live."
"Nice job with the bombs last night, too. Ironic that you should run into a few of my men so soon after going to so much trouble to kill them. And what an explosion it was. Whatever happened to this subtlety you always insisted on? You see, I seem to have forgotten about it as well."
The tactic was crude, but it was basically the only one left to them. And it took advantage of what had been their main weakness -- their huge numbers. After all, if the world's going to end in six hours, who cares if a few people get to leave before the rush?
Essentially, every vampire was out on the town, hunting, and every unfortunate person who was in the way of one of them was forced to exchange blood. Thankfully, the amount of people on the streets was relatively small for a town of its size -- most people were still terrified of the barbecue-fork-wielding anaemia-spreading PCP addicts. And "The Ranch" was a fair distance from the university campus, the Bronze, the larger bars and pretty much anywhere else in town where there might have been a substantial night life. A few suitable rituals and they rose less than an hour after dying in the first place, and got told to recruit more, then go to a certain church on Davidson Terrace.
The body count was huge, especially when the bodies got back up and bit you when you were trying to count them. And those out trying to destroy the bodies were having a bad night...
"Carver to base, Carver to base. Agent Lee has been drained and his body been taken by a large group of hostiles, repeat, Agent Lee has been drained..."
Drive along, still reminiscing about last night's stormtrooper. Military training in a victim always makes torture just that little better. More conscience for them to wrestle with, and the squirming usually becomes visual. Speaking of stormtroopers, one of them looks to have gotten a little too close to the things they're supposed to kill. An X-Files fledgling... why didn't I think of that? Apart from what my tools do to the blood, anyway... Another vampire -- and shit, there are a lot out hunting tonight -- is walking a step or two ahead. Obviously sired commando boy, or sired someone in the last night or two as their first minion. You can tell by the look on his face. Smug as fuck. Pull over for a chat.
"Hey. What are you doing?"
"Could ask the same question, but that's boring, so here's something else: why're so many of us out tonight?"
"What, you don't know about the Rites?"
"Base to all teams. Base to all teams. Agent Lee has been turned, repeat, Agent Lee has been turned. Last seen with known unrestrained hostile 24 outside Jefferson Road. If sighted, attempt to follow hostiles keeping maximum reliable tracking distance at all times. First sign of trouble, pull out immediately."
"Fuck. Tonight? You serious?"
"Dravien's Blooding. Eighty vampires chanting at St Jude's, 'cept O'Meara only had sixty-seven. You wanna come?"
"O'Meara? You mean Patrick? Used to live in Seattle?"
That fucking stupid, domineering idiot. Reason why I left the place. Well, him and the weather.
"You bet. You joining us," he snarls, going game, "or are you gonna go to hell with the humans?"
"Ewell to base. Ewell to base. Turned agent has been sighted, with KU 24. Hostiles have stopped to talk with third unknown vampire in a large black sports car, pulled over on Westerburg Lane. Model unknown, license plate UAQ-457. Awaiting further instructio-- What in the hell...?"
Hold gaze with the angry young vampire. Look at my options. Serve under O'Meara in the new hell, or slowly dissolve under whatever new tricks Satan's torturers have come up with? Like there's a choice.
Two throwing knives come out of my belt, into my hand and through the chests of the two vampires. Sift through the piles of dust until I find the wooden weapons, get back in the car, and drive off. Where was that church again? No-one's ending the world unless I get a piece.
"Oh, Willow. Sorry... I didn't mean to wake you."
"Nah, it's OK."
"I couldn't sleep. Think I'll go patrol, check on that church."
"But Professor Walsh..."
"Gave me some papers to say I'm a good little girl. Don't worry, Wills. I'll be fine. And I'll be wearing that bracelet of yours."
"Master, will we have... enough?"
"We have seventy-eight already, and the night, as they say, is young. The Rites will proceed on schedule. Have you had any luck with... what's she calling herself now? Nomie?"
"Naomi, and no. She swears she 'just had to get away for a few days.'"
"A pity. Bring her along, will you? Oh, and I shall have to visit her sometime tomorrow. See how she's settling into her lakeside resort. On the lake of fire!"
The minion laughed with his master. O'Meara thought his jokes were hilarious and had a tendency to torture those who didn't agree.
Besides, you don't anger someone who's likely to be more powerful than Satan in a few hours.
Okay, so there are a lot of vampires in town tonight. Probably having one last hunt for old time's sake. If this keeps up, I might need those Initiative guys' help.
There are a lot of them out here too, come to think of it. Grin, tap one (alone, that's odd) on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but I... oh, shit."
"Don't worry, I'm a good guy. Well, person. Here, look at these."
Hand him the papers Walsh gave me.
"Oh. I see. Interesting. Is it fun?"
Ignore the question.
"Wanna tell me what's going on?"
"For some reason there's a hell of a lot more vamps--"
"I know that. Wanna tell me why? There a pattern or something?"
"Uh... they all seem to be heading toward the one area... on Williams Drive, or possibly the intersection of Williams and--"
"Yeah. How'd you guess?"
"They're demons, they've decided to live out the unreliable prophecy of some Ancient Roman guy who spent too much time on the funny red mushrooms. You know, bring on Armageddon, hell on earth, lakes of fire..."
"So what's so special about Davidson Terrace?"
"The Church of St Jude."
"St Jude's? I knew there was something funny about that place. My brother works for the town council, had to clear it out. Apparently someone had broke in and put garlic bombs in there."