"They didn't."

"They did. I mean, garlic stinkbombs, what kind of idiot would put those in?"

"The kind of idiot that's trying to avert the apocalypse. Vampires, garlic, get it?"

"Oh... Oh shit..."



"A beautiful sight."

And indeed it is. There are more than one hundred vampires out there, over thirty newly-sired, and despite the wide range of ages and... er... weights available on Sunnydale streets even at night, most of the females present are young and excessively thin, to the extent that young and excessively thin (or fat) males tend to think of them when... never mind. The fact of the matter is that it goes against the very grain of a vampire's unbeing to turn someone that would look out of place on the cover of a dodgy British men's magazine.

"Now, my servants, the chants you will... chant are written on the walls. Anyone who gets them wrong will be dipped in a vat of crushed garlic."

"You got a cellphone?"

"Yeah, but I can only--"

"What are you waiting for?"

"I can only call for backup on my radio."

"Great! I get phone, I call my help, you get radio, you call your help."

"I can't let civilians--"

"I'm not a civilian."


Wooden walls are covered in eldritch graffiti which looked impressively evil and terrifying but actually translated to the diabolical equivalent of a Lost Cat poster. One large pentagram is painted on the floor in black. Seven smaller ones surround it, in goat's blood fresh from the Sunnydale slaughterhouse -- probably the only one in the country to make more out of sales of the animals' bodily fluids (to both demons and humans who merely want to be demons) than their actual meat. Forty marks encircle it all, places for the "guard vampires" to look on.

The pews which used to be here are either piled up outside or piles of kindling in the middle of the smaller pentagrams, ready for burning in the ritual. And in pride of place in the central star, there is the church's normal pulpit, hastily removed from the stage, with demonic sigils mortal man is not meant to wot of (so they how, why, when and where them instead) carved roughly on every visible part. The standard Bible is replaced with a spell book decorated similarly but with far more ancient and less stylised symbols.

O'Meara, of course, had his entire part of the ritual memorised, making the book useless except for show. It's currently open to an obscure and specific incantation designed to prevent a minor German sub-species of aurochs from interrupting ritual bonfires.


Not every Initiative agent was at the corner. Their bosses, contrary to popular belief, weren't stupid and had their normal numbers guarding the main base, as well as a few plain-clothes agents scouting out the church. But it was a sight to strike paranoia in the hearts of X-Files fans everywhere anyway.

Serious-looking men in black suits and sunglasses talked in low tones on mobile phones until they realized they were standing a metre away from each other, and switched to two-way radio. Guns were unloaded off the backs of trucks to khaki-uniformed footsoldiers wearing dodgy night vision goggles, who tried their best to keep their abused eyes away from the street lights. Hum-vees rumbled up and down the street, without ever actually stopping, slowing down, or otherwise indicating they were of any use whatsoever to the congregation waiting to attack the church.

Meanwhile, the townspeople woke up and staggered to their windows to see what all the fuss was about. They sighed in relief when they realized it was only a military presence large enough to put the entire state under martial law, rather than something worrying, like a teenager.

Such a teenager was currently loading a crossbow, praying that Giles, Willow and Spike back at the former's apartment could research their way out of yet another apocalypse. She was leaning back against a truck full of standard-issue M16s and ordinary lead ammunition -- used on the grounds that while bullets indeed couldn't kill vampires, not many could complete a complex ritual with their left thighbone in several hundred pieces. Of course, that crossbow, used wisely, would be just as effective as a chorus of the automatics.


The Vampire Master and soon-to-be Supreme Ruler of All Hell Patrick O'Meara swore as h missed the nail with the magically-enhanced hammer yet again and hit his thumb, any advantage vampire healing may have presented being compensated for by vampire strength. He couldn't believe it -- of the twenty-five or so mostly newly-sired minions he had that weren't preparing for the Rites, not one had the faintest idea of basic handymanning. No matter how powerful you became, if you wanted something done properly, or in this case, done at all, you still had to do it yourself.

And it had been done properly, or at least impressively, which, when it came to keeping minions under control, was the important thing. And O'Meara had so much practice keeping minions under control that the habits had became deeply ingrained.

You can just tell it's going to backfire, can't you?


The Initiative troops got into position and waited. And waited. And waited. Buffy marched up to Professor Walsh, frustrated, and asked what the hell were they waiting for, the world was ending in fifteen minutes. Walsh replied that the doors were sealed with something which bullets couldn't pierce, and Colonel Newsome wouldn't let them borrow the rocket launcher after what had happened last time (involving a slime demon, a small quantity of explosives and a pack of cards). The Slayer nodded, smirked, ran over to the doorway like an eager schoolgirl and pulled the handle.

The entire doorframe was torn from the wall in a cascade of splinters and rot. Using the momentum to do a few unsteady pirouettes away from the gaping hole, she flung the doors toward the road, where they smashed into the gutter, flipped up around the kerb, and crushed a picket fence.

Inside, Master O'Meara looked out at the countless glittering gun barrels pointing at him and his servants, and smiled.

A voice shouted "Fire!"

The roar of the gunfire lasted about three seconds, the time it took for the people causing it to realize that something was going wrong. Essentially, the bullets weren't actually hitting the targets, or even the far wall, but stopping and floating in the air, completely motionless, at the threshold.

"You like? One of Rachull's little tricks. Stops unwanted interruptions to his rituals. No human or projectile fired by one can get in, much like a vampire without an invitation." Pauses to take stock of the attackers. "So these are the few... score good men protecting the mortal plane from all that is unholy? A pity. All this technology and you can't stop Armageddon... I remember the old days back when all it took was an angry Slayer and a crossbow or two to save the world. And people complain about progress..." Pauses again. "Isn't anyone going to say 'you'll never get away with this'?"

Someone did, an Initiative agent at that, but he did it very quietly and in any case he wasn't talking to O'Meara. He was talking to the vampire who'd just got out of some flashy black sports car and put tranquilliser darts into him and his two companions. This wasn't what he'd expected when he'd been ordered to guard the church's back entrance. The vampire slipped in and prepared himself.


The Rites were ready to start. Each vampire was in position, one on each point of the pentagrams, forty on the guarding positions marked in a circle surrounding it all, and the remaining twenty-five or so lounging around waiting for the show -- nearly all between the circle and the stage, since the cloud of bullets and hole in the wall on the other side was unsettling even to a vampire.

O'Meara stepped up to the pulpit, raised his hands to curse the heavens, drew in a breath, and spoke the first syllable. The sound resonated clearly and suitably terribly, throughout the church and the street. As he reached the second line, the first pentagram lit its fire, and began to chant. He continued, the pentagrams lighting up like cigarettes, one for each new line of verse. Three, four, five, six, seven... As the final fire was lit, pistol fire filled the air along with the screams of seven of the vampires sitting near the stage slowly turning to dust.

The bloodsucker in the black jacket (not made of leather -- what's the point of wearing something that's both black and shiny?) stepped off the stage, put a new clip in his gun, smiled, and put on his worst Irish accent.

"Hi, Pat. Amazing what happens if you soak a bullet in holy water for long enough, eh?"

O'Meara just roared in impotent fury.

"Nice choice of ritual. Rachull was really smart for a sorcerer. Apart from the surprising lack of geological issues for a world-ending ritual, the beauty of his stuff is, you can stop the chanting for a minute or so and start where you left off without making any difference. Bring in another guy to lead the ritual in tandem, if you want. And if you don't want to do that with me, I'll kill you. Still got about, oh, thirty seconds to decide."

A grimace and a reluctant "come here" gesture.

"What I like to hear."

And the new vampire strode through a gap between pentagrams, aimed his gun at O'Meara's lower back and fired.

The agents waited outside, not really believing that the world was about to come to an end, what with the lack of earthquakes and rains of fire and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It didn't help that they had trouble seeing the action through the cloud of lead at the door. But they heard the gun shots all right, and managed to spot the leading vampire turn to dust. A cheer erupted, dying down the moment a new vampire stepped up to the pulpit and recommenced the chant. Unsurprisingly, none of them had any magical training whatsoever, and so had no idea of the multidimensional turmoil inside the church.

The usurper had studied Rachull hard, first in university demonology and then as a fledgling under a breakaway group from the Order of Aurelius. He'd hated every minute, and, like anything he felt so passionate about, still remembered most of the details. And Rachull's penchant for long, complex, demanding, but above all powerful rites and spells had only been exceeded by one for ensuring that those rites could be completed no matter what may happen to the casters. So it was possible to stop the chanting for sixty seconds or more, add a second leader or even replace the original one without affecting the outcome. In theory.

Unfortunately, another little-documented effect of his work was that if a caster got killed at any time, any and all effects of his casting would gradually vanish. So the bloody pentagrams so deeply and magically emblazoned on the floor began to get scuffed; the mystically-lit fires in the middle of the stars flickered and died; and the anti-invitation spell gradually depleted.

In other words, the force preventing the cloud of bullets at the door from moving forward faded away.

They moved forward.

A few minutes later, the humans massed outside cautiously set foot in the church.

Even allowing for the fact that the things in here were, without exception, malevolent bloodsucking demons, it's still anything but a pretty sight. Bullets can't kill vampires, but they can do one hell of a lot of damage. If one goes through a vital organ, it takes months to fully heal. Thankfully, not many of the vampires would have to worry about this, since the soldiers are following Buffy's lead in grabbing the nearest unburnt piece of kindling and staking the nearest undead, even if it does take two agents to hold one down and the third three or four tries to find the heart.

One of them decides to comment.

"Hey, look, they've got one chained up."

The Slayer looks up from the plume of dusty ash behind the pulpit. Sees a female with her legs locked together and to the wall, unconscious and badly wounded -- and not one caused by bullets.

"Oh, shit... Naomi..."

"You know her name?"

"How do you think I knew where to go? She wanted to defect... I guess they found out."

"You sound awful sympathetic..."

"Look, if it wasn't for her we'd all be boiling in O'Meara's special version of Hell right now. You don't just kill someone like that. Don't let her go, but, I dunno, sedate her, V-chip her if you want, wake her up sometime tomorrow and let us talk to her."


"Didn't Walsh say? I do have people helping me out."


Moves onto the next vamp and stakes it rhythmically.


"Riley. Are you all right?"

"I think I'll survive."

"Has Walsh told you..."

"Told me what?"

"Well, put it this way. She's told me."

"Oh. About..."

"Yeah. I was kinda hoping for a normal guy, but I've lived in this town for three years. Should know better by now."

[the vampire smiles]

"I am a normal guy."

[pulls out a screwdriver]

"Who hunts demons? Not that I can talk..."

[leans over]

She leans over for a kiss.

[aiming for Riley's left eyeball]

He screams.

"I'm sorry about the shock, miss. I'm not sure you should have been let in at all, but..."

"Spare me, doctor. What's going on?"

"Sorry. He's been through a lot of pain, physical trauma, and judging from his behaviour he may have been subjected to some kind of--"

"OK, great, what can I do?"

"If you'd just let me finish -- this behaviour is consistent with a recent period of serious trauma or abuse."

"Oh, shit... all... Friday night... the-- the torture... That's... probably..."

"In that case, it's a miracle he was even coherent."


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