“So is this, like, a Council Of War?” Sitting on a battered looking chair, and feeling unusually tired, Buffy stretched her legs out and accepted a cup of coffee. “Thanks.”
“I s-suppose you c-could call it that, yes.” Giles smiled. “Does anybody have anything to offer?”
“In the way of suggestions, no. In the way of deep concerns, worry and abject terror, yes.” Buffy smiled at him. “We don’t seem to have many of the useful sort of things, really, do we.”
“We so rarely do.” The librarian leaned back in his chair, frowning. “Okay, so does anybody have an accurate figure on vampire numbers around here?”
“It’s kind of difficult to count,” Edgar told him, a sharp edge of sarcasm to his voice. “I mean, taking a roll call every night at dusk really doesn’t work.”
“Any estimates?” Giles looked hopefully around at the little group. “What’s the population of Santa Carla?”
“It’s rather subject to sudden change.” Michael smiled. “I’d guess about twenty thousand. We’re probably looking at about five thousand vampires in total. The vast majority of them are teenagers.”
“How many of the, like, totally powerful and more unpleasant than usual kind?” piped up Buffy from her chair.
Michael shrugged. “I reckon there’s about ten clans in total. Each one has branches though, sort of like fraternity things. The heads of the clans are the really uncool, okay-with-daylight sort of vampires, and then there’s the deputies. They’re the ones who are into power of suggestion tricks, and mind-bending and stuff.”
“Then they’re the ones we want. The leaders.” Giles nodded to himself. “When we k-killed the Master, b-back in Sunnydale, it, it confused the local vampires somewhat. Th-they were un-un-f-focused for some time. That could give us the, the time we need, so that the, the gate will close, and they’ll be stuck here.”
“And what about you? How will you get back to your time?” Michael had successfully put voice to an issue that Giles had been avoiding thus far, and the Watcher smiled nervously.
“Y-yes, well, well obviously th-that’s an issue that, that we’ll er… er… have to, to consider eventually…” He caught Buffy’s eye. “Well, I-I mean, Sunnydale isn’t p-paradise exactly. We w-wouldn’t b-be missing anything much.”
“Speak for yourself, Giles. I have friends in Sunnydale. And a mother, remember? That’s sort of important to me.” Buffy frowned. “Of course, me being a vampire might confuse things back there a little. Sort of likely to gross everybody out just a bit, wouldn’t you say?”
“Possibly, yes.” The Watcher sighed. “Okay, so, so ideally we would have enough time to get through the gate ourselves before, before it closes, because it-it’s likely to b-be a th-thousand years before it, er, o-opens again, and, er, that’s, er-”
“Sort of awkward in a, like, totally major way,” Buffy interjected. Giles nodded.
“Fine. This isn’t complicating the matter at all.” Sam sat down on the arm of Michael’s chair. “Stop me if I miss anything out here, but we have to a) kill the vampire leaders, b) stop the other vampires jumping ship, c) get Buffy and Giles home, and d) make sure that Buffy gets to be human again. All in, what, eighteen hours?”
“About that.” Buffy stood up, wobbling slightly, and made her way to the window. “Ouch. Somebody tell me that the Sun is totally, totally way brighter than usual.”
“I-I think it’s your vampire half reacting against the light.” Giles joined her at the window, and glanced out at the dim glow of the early Sun. Buffy gave him a sidelong glance.
“Thanks Giles. That is so totally not what I wanted to hear.”
“Sorry.” He gave her an apologetic smile, and turned back to the others. “We’re going to need stakes, and crosses and stuff. W-w-were you s-serious about h-having a supply of Holy water?”
“Completely.” Michael stood up, looking purposeful. “We grabbed an industrial tanker and got a priest from out of town to bless it. Kinda unconventional, but it worked.”
“Fine. And garlic?”
“As much as you want. We eat it with everything.” Sam grinned. “We figure, vampires have bad breath, right? So it can’t hurt if we do too. And it’s helpful.”
“Good.” The Watcher frowned. “Okay, I-I think what we have to do is thin the numbers out a little. We, we can’t handle all th-those, thousands of, of vampires at once. If we can k-k-kill as many as, as possible before tonight, we may have a chance to s-st-stop them when they try to make use of the gate. We need to share the weapons out, and then split into teams. Shall we say, three t-teams of two, or, or, two t-teams of three?”
“Sure. I vote me, you and Vampire Girl make up one team.” Edgar drew a stake from his belt, toying with it idly. Giles smiled.
“Pity. I, er, was th-thinking more along the lines of Michael, Buffy and me in one team, and you others together. I-I’m touched that, that you want to spend time with us, though.” Giles put a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Will you be okay?”
“Yes, fine. I’ve never felt better.” Buffy grinned. “Well, that’s obviously a complete lie, but I felt the situation warranted an abandonment-of-truth moment. Was I right?”
“Yes.” He glanced round at the others. “Shall we say, meet back here at noon?”
“If we’re still here at noon.” Michael smiled. “Here, Buffy, I’ve got some spare shades you can use. They’re kind of like, necessary half-vampire fashion accessories. Ex-half-vampire fashion accessories too.”
“Thanks, Michael. The reminder that I might never totally recover was completely reassuring.” She took the proffered sunglasses. “Okay, Giles. How do I look?”
“Like you have a hangover.” He smiled. “Are you going to be okay, d-doing the, the staking thing?”
“Staking thing, yes. Holy water, crosses and garlic are out in a big way.” She smiled. “Reminding me majorly that I would really like you to take the cross off from round my neck before it touches my skin, and starts up the whole burning pain thing.”
“Of course.” He removed the cross and put into his pocket. “W-well, I’m as ready as, as I’ll ever be. I would suggest that we get moving. Do, do you have any way of, of delivering the Holy water?”
“Water guns.” Sam flashed him a childish grin, revealing the face of the fourteen year old which dwelt within the prematurely old vampire killer. “We squirt ‘em, they burn. It’s kinda cool, in a gruesome sort of way.”
“Sounds it.” Giles wondered for approximately the three thousand and eighty-first time what it was about teenagers that they enjoyed killing vampires so much. Additives in food, probably. “So, er, where do these vampires go, er, in the day?”
“The pier.” Edgar went to a chest in the corner of the room and began to unload water pistols and stakes. “That’s, like, some kind of focal point for the whole blood thing. They go there to talk shop, you know? Time was, a guy could hang out there with a fairly good chance of surviving the night. These days it’s all pretty touch and go.”
“Fine, then we-we’ll take the pier.” Giles took a water pistol, examining it as though he had never held one before. “You, er, you others go around the town. See what you can find. Remember we want the head vampires first.”
“Yeah, right. To confuse the others.” Edgar smirked, and began to hand the stakes around. “It’s got nothing to with maybe fixing Buffy.”
“Of course not.” The librarian watched as the others began to fill their guns from a tank in the corner, and did likewise. “Ready Buffy?”
“Not even slightly.” She smiled, following him to the door. “Do we get to take the car? ‘Cause I really don’t think I can do any serious walking.”
“Sure, no problem.” Michael joined them. Edgar watched them go, his expression showing his unease.
“Keep a watch on ‘em, Mike,” he called out as the threesome left. “I don’t trust ‘em.” Michael glanced back.
“Just go and kill some vampires, Edgar,” he told his colleague. “We should have done this a month back, when they started to get out of control.”
“Hey, can you blame us for being, like, a little unwilling to die in a horrible way?” Edgar checked the level in his pistol. “They are not going to give in quietly. Remember last time?”
“Yeah, like I’m going to forget.” Michael glanced down at the stake in his hands. “Try not to kill anybody else, okay? We might be able to save some of them, if we get the leaders.”
“Oh yeah, I completely believe that. I have such total faith in our chances of success. Just don’t rely too much on the stuttering geek and his pointy toothed friend.”
“Goodbye, Edgar.” Michael hurried out, climbing behind the wheel of the car. “You okay, Buffy?”
“Totally.” She smiled at him. “Drained, weak, tired and beginning to hallucinate again, but I think I can handle that. Actually I kind of hope that they are hallucinations. Otherwise the monkeys wearing trousers could become a little more disturbing. At least there’s no hippos.”
“She’s sounding confused.” Giles smiled. “She must be feeling better.”
“Very funny Giles.” Buffy leaned back, closing her eyes against the glare of the Sun, which was disturbing even through the dark lenses of the glasses. “I have reached the conclusion that I am not a day person right now.”
“Look on the bright side. You might get to do some flying tonight.” Michael flashed her a grin as he started the engine up and began to drive away. “It’s kind of cool, so long as you’re expecting it. Otherwise it’s a little freaky. When I was going through the whole vampire transformation thing, I floated out of my bedroom window and wound up hanging on to the telephone cable outside my brother’s window, scaring the hell out of him.” He shook his head. “That was one weird summer.”
“This is one weird town.” Buffy fingered one of the stakes, thinking oddly pleasant thoughts about Sunnydale. “I never thought I’d find a town that was more screwy than it is back home.”
“Get used to it here, Buffy.” Giles, his face displaying none of the concern that he was feeling, gave her a small smile. “We, we might just have t-t-to stay here, if it’s what it takes to stop the vampires u-using the gate.”
“Oh good…” She sighed. “But won’t that confuse things a little? I mean, surely there’s already a Slayer in 1987?”
“You’re not exactly in full form at the moment, Buffy. I don’t think you’re disturbing any sort of delicate Slayer balance right now.” He turned his head to watch the scenery go by. “Maybe we should stay here anyway.”
“Huh?” She turned to look at him, face showing confusion. “Just how is it a good idea to stay in Seriously Gory Town?”
“I-I w-was just thinking about, about what sort of, of explanation we can give your mother. And Snyder. About missing d-days off school.”
“And vanishing totally and completely for several days. Good point.” Buffy made a face. “That’s your problem, Giles. You’re the brains around here.”
“Thankyou.” He turned to watch the Sun as it lifted itself higher into the sky. “Th-there’s this minor issue with the police, a-and with, er, with Willow and Xander’s parents. You might want to, er, to sort of h-help us out there.”
“I don’t think I want to ask.” She followed his gaze towards the Sun, and tried to ignore the pain it caused in her eyes. This was all so very weird, so completely lacking in all the basic, enjoyable things of life, that she could almost hear the Master laughing, echoing through the dimensions. Damn vampires.
The streets were surprisingly less than empty. People walked about the pier, disappearing into shops and walking arm in arm along the sea-front. Children chased each other about on the beach, and dogs barked at each other. There was a distinct air of normality, which was strikingly odd. Buffy walked through it all, leaning on Giles for support, scanning the faces of the people around her in a vain attempt to see if her senses still worked. Everything in her head was in turmoil. Somehow, her entire consciousness seemed to be filled with images of dancing bears and vampires with clown faces, all laughing at each other. Not helpful.
“Anything?” She shook her head in answer to Giles’ question, as they walked down the pier yet again. They had been at this for what seemed like hours, and she tried desperately to pull things into focus. There was something, scratching away in the back of her mind. An image, of, of… treacle. Well that was perfectly clear and totally useful.
“Concentrate Buffy.” Giles glanced about as well, as if he could somehow use the power of his own mind to assist her. She frowned.
“I am concentrating. There’s something… Is there a bakery on the pier, Michael?”
“A bakery? No, but there’s the coffee shop I took you to.” He pointed towards it. “Are you getting something?”
“I think I might be.” She frowned. “Er… Something about doughnuts and pancakes with treacle. That is so very un-vampire.”
“Maybe they don’t always drink blood.” Michael shrugged. “Do we go straight in the front and start blasting, or what?”
“I tend to like the forward approach.” Buffy tried to stand unsupported, and groaned. “Ugh. Maybe now would be a good time to start trying to reason with them. Appeal to the good side of the demon.”
“Maybe you’d better wait in the car.” Concerned, Giles looked her up and down. “You’re looking somewhat pale.”
“Giles, I’ve just been turned into an undead creature of the night. Pale is not a concern.” She reached for his water pistol. “You do the staking, and all that energetic stuff, and I’ll shoot them with this.”
“Be careful not to spill any on yourself.” He glanced at Michael. “Are you ready?”
“Do I have to answer that?” He walked to the door, and pushed it open. “I can’t see anyone.”
“Good start.” Giles followed his associate into the room, and deposited Buffy into a chair. “Where’s the kitchen?”
“At the back.” Michael pointed. “You want to check that out, and I’ll look upstairs.”
“I’ll, er, sit here and look ill.” Buffy tried to straighten her back. “Don’t try anything too heroic, Giles. You’re the Watcher.”
“Today I think I’m the Slayer by default.” He grinned at her and vanished, wandering through the door behind the counter. Michael smiled at Buffy as well.
“Are you going to tell me to be careful too?” he asked. She shrugged.
“Sure. Don’t get killed, and don’t get turned into a vampire again. I can see very little to recommend either.”
“Thanks.” He headed off after Giles, catching a glimpse of the older man as he went towards the kitchen. Michael climbed the stairs, feeling distinctly unsure whether splitting up had been a very good idea. The steps creaked alarmingly beneath his feet, and he willed them to be quiet, certain that some angry creature of the night was about to leap out at him and demand a free meal. He glanced about at the top of the stairs. There were three doors. One led to a room full of flour sacks and large tins of coffee powder. The other two led to empty rooms thick with dust, and covered in cobwebs. Odd. Why abandon the upstairs of the house except as a storage place, when there was a perfectly good cellar downstairs? A thought struck him, and he gulped. Giles. He had to warn Giles. He swung about, and headed down the stairs at a run.
Giles wandered into the kitchen and glanced around. It was empty, with no sign that anybody had been in it recently. A door stood in the wall opposite him, and he headed towards it. It looked as though it might lead to a cellar, and that was as good a place as any to begin a search for vampires. The door opened easily, and he glanced down at the long, dark flight of stairs which led down into goodness knew what. Surely cellars weren’t usually that far beneath the ground?
He began to walk down the stairs, looking about nervously. There was something about dark, deep places that was particularly unattractive, especially when thoughts of vampires were uppermost in your mind. He tried not to think about how dank and cold the place was, but somehow that didn’t seem to work. There really were days when being a Watcher was not much fun.
The bottom of the flight of stairs came eventually, and he wandered into the large, silent room. The walls were rocky and uneven, as though fashioned by inexperienced hands, and they stretched way, way up above him. The hair on the back of his neck prickled and he looked up, knowing what he would see. Forty of them at least, hanging upside down from the ceiling, their hands crossed on their chests in sleep. He gulped, running through a mental check of his weaponry. Two crosses, six stakes and a penknife. There was certainly some glory to be found in retreat. He took a step back towards the stairs, and heard a noise behind him which made him whirl about in shock. A man stood by a table, hidden previously by the staircase. He was about sixty at a guess, with white hair and old fashioned clothing. Giles tried not to notice the unnaturally bright eyes, and the pointed teeth which glinted at him when the man smiled.
“Hello.” Stepping forwards, the man held out a bottle. “Fancy a drink?”
“Not really, no.” Giles closed his fingers tightly about the stake in his hand. “I, er, don’t really like blood very much.”
“Really? Shame. All that iron is good for you.” The man shrugged. “Still, some people aren’t interested in their health, I suppose.”
“I s-suppose not.” Giles squared his shoulders, taking a few steps forward. “You’re the lead vampire, aren’t you.”
“The direct approach, I like that. Yes sir, I am the lead vampire. Of this clan anyway.” He grinned. “I hear you’re looking for one particular lead vampire though. Got your Slayer, didn’t they. Now that was a good move.”
“You, you know about us?” Giles was confused. “How?”
“We rule this town. We know everything that goes on in it. We waited for the gate to open, and through it came two people. Who could they have been but the Slayer and her Watcher? Except for someone extremely unfortunate and unsuspecting, but they wouldn’t be likely to start running around town with crosses and stakes, now, would they? Most impolite, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Sorry.” Giles frowned. “So, er, you’re not the leader of the clan that changed Buffy?”
“Nope. Sad to say that I am not.” The vampire grinned again. “I fed on a Watcher once, if you don’t mind me changing the subject just a little. A woman, about… a hundred and fifty years ago. Really tasty. She screamed a lot though. You’re not given to screaming, are you?”
“Er, no, no. Not usually.” Giles glanced about, considering what his chances were on making a quick dash up the stairs.
“Don’t try it my boy. I’m so very much faster than you are.” The vampire smiled, and extended his hand. “The name is Walter, by the way. Walter The Black Hearted, they used to call me. We went in for those showy names in the old days.”
“Giles. Er, Ru-Rupert Giles.” He wondered if he was honestly expected to shake hands, then stepped forward. What the hell. Just because a man was a demon was no reason to be impolite. A plan came to him, and he smiled and reached out, gripping the other man firmly by the hand.
With a yell that shook the room, the vampire sunk to his knees, eyes bulging out. Giles squeezed his hand tighter, Buffy’s cross pressed hard into his palm. He smiled grimly, staring down at the agonised vampire.
“You’re making a big mistake.” Spitting the words out, the vampire tore free with a sudden and surprising burst of strength. “You’re a dead man.”
Giles heard a fluttering noise, and turned slightly. The sleeping vampires had awoken, and he smiled nervously around at them.
“Er, I-I suppose that forgiveness and understanding are out of the question then?” he asked. Walter laughed.
“How right you are. We’re a territorial bunch here, Giles. We don’t like outsiders coming into our town. We like to… convince them to leave. For other, less lively parts… if you get my drift.”
“I-I see. Yes.” Giles nodded, and backed away, only half conscious of the fact that backing away from some of the vampires took him closer to the others. “So, er, what h-happens now?”
“Well revenge and general dislike aside, we are prepared to give you two choices.” Walter flashed him a pleasant smile, only slightly marred by the fangs. “We tear you apart in true Santa Carlan style, or you drink something from out of this bottle, and join us. Eternal youth, Giles. Eternal life.”
“Thanks, but I-I said goodbye to, to my youth a long time ago. I think I was about ten at the time. I’m not interested.”
“You’re not scared of dying, Giles? Then you’re the first I’ve met who isn’t.” Walter picked up the bottle from the table and held it out. “Just a quick drink. Tastes good. Dispenses with all that mutual sucking vampires have to do in other places. I think you’d look quite sweet with fangs.”
“Thanks.” Giles eyed the bottle, wondering how much it hurt to be ripped apart by hungry vampires. On a scale of one to ten, where one was small pain, and ten was extreme agony, it probably rated somewhere about a twelve. One of the things that he felt needed listing in the Watcher’s Guide To Things Never To Try. “Er, I, er, don’t suppose you’d include a third option?”
“Such as you agreeing to stand still while I stake you? Or I could always go and get my friends to help.”
Walter nodded. “It’s certainly an interesting proposal. Not one I can really see myself agreeing to, though. I mean, what’s in it for me?”
“Death. Er, well that’s about it.”
“Mmm. Not terribly inviting.” Walter raised the bottle. “I like you, Giles. Now ordinarily, a Watcher is not a vampire’s favourite person, but in your case I’m prepared to give you another chance to think it over. What’ll it be; agonising death or eternal life?”
Giles took a step towards him, his eyes fixed on the bottle. “Er, well, um, since you p-put it that way, I am a tad thirsty.”
“Glad to hear it.” Walter held out the bottle. “Just knock it back. Pretend it’s lemonade.”
“Right, er, okay.” He reached out for the bottle, and with a sudden sideways sweep knocked it aside, jerking Walter off balance. He raised his stake into the air, and in the same instant felt himself being lifted off his feet from behind. He glanced back. Two vampires were holding his arms, their toothy mouths curled into evil sneers. It was interesting, actually, now that he came to think about it, how the vampires in Santa Carla appeared as basically ordinary people, except for the teeth thing. Not like in Sunnydale, where the demon in them was so visible. He looked back at Walter, and realised with an unpleasant lurching sensation that the ground, to say nothing of Walter, was far beneath him. He was floating a good fifteen feet above the floor.
“Bad move, Giles.” Walter was shouting at him from what seemed like far below. “Now I really don’t like you anymore. You know what that means?”
“Feeding time.” The voice was gruff, and came from directly behind Giles. He glanced back at the vampire which had spoken, and smiled uncertainly at it.
“Wouldn’t happen to be a vegetarian, I suppose?” He felt the grip on his arms loosen, and shrugged mentally. Oh well…
“It’s shootin’ time!” With a wild whoop the door at the top of the stairs burst open, and Michael, his water gun held tightly in one hand, leapt into view, shooting madly in all directions. As he hit the ground with a painful jolt, Giles felt a spray of water touch his face, and heard Walter scream in pain and rage. He smiled a little breathlessly, and dashed for cover, away from the crowd of screeching vampires. There was a distinct air of hostility about the place.
“Run for it Giles!” Reaching inside his shirt, Michael pulled loose a few handfuls of something, and hurled them down the stairs. “Come on, man!” Whatever he had thrown tinkled softly as they hit the floor, and Giles instinctively caught one. It was a tiny silver cross. Pure genius, really. The vampires lurched about, trying to avoid the tiny symbols which were causing them so much pain.
Dodging the snatching hands, Giles ran for the stairs, running up them backwards with Buffy’s cross held in his hand. He thrust it out at the vampires who tried to attack him, watching them fall back, shouting as the jet of water from the powerful toy gun soaked them. They tugged at their clothing, desperate to get away from the burning liquid, enraged at the assault.
“Behind you, Giles!” Giles swung round, and saw a row of vampires flying above him, beginning to swoop for an attack. He put on an extra burst of speed, and reached the top of the stairs just as one of the vampires made a grab for him. He heard his jacket rip, and then saw Michael point his gun at the airborne foursome, sending a stream of Holy water towards them. The leader of the four let out an ear-piercing yell and dropped to the floor, crashing into a heap of fountaining green slime. Blood bubbled out of the ground from around his body, and Giles stared at the scene in amazement. So that was how they died around here. Messy.
“Come on!” Michael grabbed the older man by the collar, pulling him through the door. They slammed it shut, leaning on it with all their weight. It bucked and rattled behind them as the vampires fought to get loose.
“N-now what?” Breathless, Giles shot a glance at Michael, who shrugged.
“Run very fast?” he suggested. “If we make it to the front of the shop before they reach us, we’ll be safe in the daylight. Except from the lead guy of course. He can probably withstand daylight.”
“Jolly good.” Giles sucked in a deep breath. “Ready when you are.”
“Now!” Michael took off for the kitchen door, and Giles followed him. They heard the door slam open, and all but threw themselves into the coffee shop. Buffy sat slumped at her table, fast asleep. She glanced up as they came in, and frowned. Giles looked distinctly ruffled, and Michael seemed even more wild than usual.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“A retreat.” Giles grabbed her hand, and pulled her towards the door. “Come on!”