Besides, there's plenty of evil afoot as it is. A unified troop of vampires has descended upon Sunnydale, operating with a cohesion unusual to most bloodsuckers. Giles thinks a spell will help the gang combat these foes, but tension between Buffy and Willow gets in the way of demon hunting.
Before long, a single moment of bad judgment catapults Buffy into an alternate future dimension where vampires reign supreme. Imprisoned in the body of her 24-tear-old self, the Slayer must uncover her past misstep and correct it -- or risk facing a terrifying monster that she herself has created...
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All dressed up and no one to slay.
A chill wind blew off the Pacific Ocean. Buffy Summers zipped her navy blue sweatshirt up to her throat and shivered, just a little. All right, it was November, but still, Southern California in November was not usually quite so brisk. She was tempted to pull her hood up but there was something just a little too gangbanger about that look for Buffy's tastes.
As Buffy walked along the waterfront, she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her sweatshirt and grumbled softly to herself. Her gaze darted around the wharf and the canneries and the large shipping vessels out on the water. Sunnydale had its share of gorgeous California beaches, but this wasn't one. This was Docktown, the part of town the Chamber of Commerce desperately tried to divert tourists from. In a way it was surprising these streets were still on the map.
Patrol had been completely uneventful thus far, and it was growing late. Midnight had come and gone and by all rights Buffy should have long since returned to her dorm. She had class at ten minutes to nine the next morning and she was determined not to oversleep. Now that college had started, she was turning over a new leaf. The Watchers Council held as conventional wisdom that a Slayer could not carry on a personal life and be effective in the war against the forces of darkness.
Come hell or high water, Buffy intended to prove them wrong. She would be the most efficient, most effective Slayer who ever lived. But she would also immerse herself in the college experience, both socially and academically. In high school, she'd failed to balance the two, had really made a mess ofthings a few times. But college was going to be different. Maybe she'd never be normal, but with the enhanced physical capacity that came with being the Slayer, she believed she could juggle it all.
If she managed to get to class in time in the morning.
What the hell am I doing all the way out here? she thought.
The answer came back quickly, and what a simple one it was: the job.
She was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing. Buffy was the Slayer, the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world with the power to combat the forces of darkness.
Tonight, though, things had been quiet. Patrolling Sunnydale was a vital part of her work as the Slayer. But when patrol was slow, that was when a bit of doubt might creep in; doubt that she would actually be able to pull off the balancing act she was attempting with school, her mom, her friends, and slaying.
What she needed now were action, adrenaline, and a nice, juicy monster or two. See Buffy. See monster. See Buffy kick monster's ass. It was what she needed to keep her focus.
A scream rent the night air with the blunt brutality of a gunshot. A quick and violent instant that caused Buffy to flinch even as its echo died above the waves.
Despite the ominous quality of that scream and what it might mean, she could not hold back the ghost of a smile that flickered across her face. Heart pounding in her chest, Buffy sprinted along the wharf. Her legs pumped as she ran past the harbor- master's quarters on one side and a long, ugly concrete building that housed several shipping companies' offices. She waited for another scream but none came. At Dock Street she instinctively turned toward town and ran alongside a liquor store and half a dozen run-down multifamily homes mostly utilized as boardinghouses, renting rooms to fishermen and merchant sailors.
Halfway along the next short block she saw the cracked and flickering neon sign that hung in front of The Fish Tank. Experience told her that was her destination. There was no activity out front so Buffy stopped short at the entrance to the stinking alley beside the bar, a place so sleazy calling it a dive would be an insult to dives everywhere.
No scuffle in the alley.
Buffy frowned. Her instincts could have been wrong. She looked around, alert for any sign that might lead her to the screamer. Patrol had taken her here before; The Fish Tank was just the kind of place that bottom-feeding vamps afraid to draw the attention of the Slayer liked to hunt, thinking it beneath Buffy's notice. It wasn't.
A muffled laugh came from farther along the alley, deeper in the shadows.
Something was going on there in the darkness, where things let out small giggles weighed down with sinister intent and gleeful perversity. It was amazing all the evil a laugh could contain.
Buffy ran the length of that darkened alley between buildings, then paused just at the corner of a building, her back to the brick wall. To her left there was a small paved area behind The Fish Tank lit by a single bulb above the back door. In its sickly yellow glow she could see an open Dumpster filled to overflowing with shattered beer bottles and the remains of what the place mockingly called food.
It was a narrow drive that ran behind a number of the small businesses on the block, and Buffy was amazed that somehow a garbage truck fit itself back there at least once a week.
It stank, sure. But more important, it was remote and dangerous, with the buildings on one side and a chain link fence on the other. It wasn't a place anyone would go by choice.
Yet somehow they'd gotten the woman back there -- a woman all by herself.
Three of them crowded around the woman, who had screamed once and then had been unable to scream again. They were locked onto her as though they were entranced, one with his mouth on her throat, fangs piercing the soft flesh and a small rivulet of blood dribbling down to stain the collar of her Aerosmith T-shirt, and the other two at her arms, also suckling her blood but not quite as sloppily as the first. On their exposed skin Buffy could see markings, unfamiliar symbols she could only assume had some arcane meaning. The rest of their bodies was covered in leather.
The woman was maybe forty and had no business in the Aerosmith T-shirt and cutoff denim shorts she wore -- unless she was a regular at The Fish Tank, where head-banging rock and hard drinking were the order of the day and a woman could be twenty-four and look forty, and still the guys would get all crazy around her.
What a life. Buffy didn't understand places like The Fish Tank or the people who went into them.
But she didn't have to understand to care. To act. To take vengeance. Given that there were three vamps feeding off her, and the way she hung in their arms, completely limp, eyes without any spark, Buffy knew the woman was beyond her help.
Too late, Buffy thought bitterly.
From a sheath at the small of her back she withdrew a long stake with a smooth grip and a sharp, tapered end. She liked to feel its weight in her hand. With a single breath Buffy stepped out of the alley and into the dimly illuminated drive in front of the huge blue Dumpster.
The vampire whose fangs were buried in the woman's neck grunted and looked up at her. He had a black tattoo across his face, a bat with its wings spread, eyes peering out from inside each wing. A gnarled symbol shaped like a bonsai tree was carved into his face at the jawline. Bonsai's eyes narrowed.
At first Buffy thought it was just a trick of the jaundiced light, but then she realized it was no illusion. The vampire's eyes glowed a faint orange; a kind of energy seemed almost to radiate from him, to crackle around his entire body.
This wasn't like any other vampire she'd ever seen.
For a moment it threw her off. Then she chuckled and shook her head as she thought about how badly she had been itching for a fight. Careful what you wish for, she thought.
"I can't decide," the Slayer declared, her voice sharp and clear in the brisk night air. "Could be you're in a gang. Sunnydale Flying Rodents. Something like that," Buffy said, ticking off possibilities on the fingers of her left hand while still clutching the stake. "Could be you got lost on your way to some comic book convention. Or, possibly, you've just gone all freaky-geek over The Matrix and now have no life outside the film."
The vampires let the woman's lifeless form slump to the filthy pavement and she saw that the eyes of the others also sparked with that unnerving orange glow and exuded an aura of energy so different from other vampires she had fought. All three of them, it turned out, had bat tattoos across their faces, around their eyes. The overall effect was profoundly disturbing. They moved slowly toward Buffy, forming a half-circle around her, as if to prevent her from running away. Of course, she had no intention of running.
"Then there's always D," she said idly. "All of the above."
All three of the vampires snarled at her, their fangs glistening in the dim light, eyes blazing. When they moved it was as one, a savage onslaught that would have made her think them barbarically stupid if not for the air of dark intelligence each of them had. Yet they were silent.
Buffy didn't like them silent. The ones who were cocky and boastful were easy kills. The silent ones were usually more dangerous.
With a single hiss they lunged for her. Buffy backed herself up against the metal Dumpster as if they had her cornered. Her lip curled with disgust from the stench and from the company.
She waded into them. The one on her right was inches ahead. She ducked past him, under his reach, then came up fast with her elbow and rammed it into the back of his head, cracking his skull between her bone and the Dumpster without ever looking at him.
Bonsai reached her more quickly than she had anticipated. Even as she turned to thrust her stake at him, he was on her. Powerful hands wrapped around her throat and he lifted her off her feet with a strength that surprised her. All vampires were strong, but this was something more. The creature thrust her against the Dumpster hard and her head clanged on the metal. Had she been a normal human, it likely would have been over for her then.
But she was not a normal human being. She was the Slayer.
Fireworks went off in her head and black circles appeared before her eyes. The beast choked her harder, and Buffy could not get even a single breath of air. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment and she felt a kind of terrible exhaustion, a dark fatigue, sweep over her. Though she beat at his face and chest with her hands, pulled at his fingers, she could not break his grip. She wondered if it was the vampire's somehow draining her of energy, or just the lack of air.
Not that it mattered which. The key was breaking Bonsai's grip on her throat. Over his shoulder she saw the other two, the one recovered now, just hanging back and waiting with hyena grins.
Those grins pissed her off.
From a primal place deep within her she summoned all the strength of the Slayer. With the Dumpster at her back, she hauled up her legs, planted her feet on his chest, and shoved him away. Her hands thrust up and her fingers clung to the top of the Dumpster. The other two ran at her and she swung her feet up and kicked them both away, then dropped to the pavement in a crouch.
While trying to break free, she had dropped her stake. Now she snatched it up as the trio ran at her again. Bonsai was in the lead. He came at her, barely defending himself, as though confident her escape was merely a fluke, that his power was superior. She thrust her stake into his chest and its tip punched through his heart. The vampire's eyes went comically wide, outlined by the black bat tattooed across his face, and then he exploded into cinder and ash with a muffled thud.
The Slayer was determined not to be surprised by them again, and not to let any of them get their hands on her. Whatever had supercharged them, whatever made their eyes burn with that dark orange glow, she thought it might also allow them to leech energy from a person the same way their fangs could leech blood.
The other two came at her fast. Buffy landed a high, spinning kick that knocked one away, but the other, whose body was the most heavily tattooed with arcane symbols, kicked the stake out of Buffy's hand. It went skittering along the pavement into the shadows. The vampire grabbed her by the hair and she felt some of it give way, her scalp beginning to bleed, as he hauled her backward to expose her throat. The face of the beast stared down at her, those orange, blazing eyes almost mesmerizing, and the vampire dipped his fangs toward her neck.
Buffy frowned deeply. Can't let him weaken me any more. She slammed her head up into his face, splintering his nose and causing him to stagger backward.
"What, are you kidding? You go up against me, you go for the kill, moron. That Nosferatu intimidation crap doesn't work on me."
Even as she spoke she moved in, fists flying. He tried to defend himself but the vampire had no hope. He had lost the upper hand and would not be allowed to get it back. Buffy spun and kicked him, bones in his chest cracking as he flew backward and slammed against the chain link fence that ran along the back of the narrow drive.
Buffy found the stake.
The two vampires rushed her again, and it occurred to her that these monsters were not only somehow enhanced, but also a savage but regimented breed. The tattoos showed organization, and organization among vampires was not only rare, it was a very bad sign.
Buffy snapped a side kick at the one on her right, then spun and shattered the other's jaw with another swift kick. He went down. She dropped down with him, stake in her hand, and then he was dust. The breeze off the ocean swept him away with the stink of rotting fish and stale beer.
On his knees, the survivor moaned.
Buffy kicked him over. He slammed into the Dumpster again. She grabbed him firmly by the throat and held the stake to his chest, just above his heart.
"The tattoos. What are they?" she demanded.
The vampire grinned, licked his own blood off his lips and red-stained teeth. The skin on his forehead was split, a wound in the image of the bat.
"I don't like that you guys are all marked the same. I don't like that you're so quiet. I don't like that someone's embellished the vampire formula here. I want answers. You can tell me what I want to know and die easy, or I'll stake you out buck naked on the roof of one of those concrete bunkers that pass for offices down the street and you'll burn inch by inch as the sun comes up. New and improved model or not, I have a feeling you'll still torch."
The vampire flinched, the thick ridges of its monstrous brow deepening, and a growl built low in his chest.
Buffy pressed the point of the stake hard enough so that it punctured the skin, put all the weight of her body on the injured vampire, and returned the same snarl the creature had been giving her. She kept an eye on his hands, just in case he tried to sap her strength as Bonsai had.
"This kind of marking, the way you guys move together. There are more than three of you. How many? Who's in charge? Where can I find them?"
"You won't need to find him," the thing growled, his voice raspy and thick with an accent Buffy did not recognize. "Camazotz will find you. And his followers are legion."
"Where?" she demanded.
He laughed at her, a throaty, knowing, evil sound. Buffy stood up, kicked the vampire in the chest, then hauled him to his feet and slammed him against the Dumpster again.
"Here comes the sun," she said with forced levity. "You're toast."
In the distance sirens began to wail. Buffy glanced over at the back door of The Fish Tank and saw eyes -- human eyes -- watching from within. The door was open four or five inches, but when she looked over it was slammed shut.
The sirens grew closer.
The last thing she wanted was to have to answer questions. There was no time to haul the vampire down the street and hoist him on to a roof. Buffy felt a dark anger rising inside her, but she shook it off. Nothing to be done about it. Plus it wasn't like she could baby-sit the thing all night and still make it to class in the morning.
"Last chance," she told the vampire. "Final Jeopardy. Can't ya just hear that theme in the background?"
His orange, feral eyes sparkled with cold fire, unafraid.
Buffy dusted him.
"So much for saving Giles some research," she muttered.
The corpse of the vampires' victim was sprawled against the back of The Fish Tank with her Aerosmith T-shirt rucked up under her arms. Buffy knew she was dead but she knelt down beside her and felt for a pulse. She couldn't walk away without checking. But there was nothing, of course.
The sirens screamed closer.
Buffy got up and began to sprint away from the scene, along the backs of the buildings where other trash bins awaited pickup. At the end of the block she paused and glanced back. Blue lights swirled in the drive. Police cars roared up the narrow way usually reserved for garbage trucks. Buffy rounded the corner and the lights disappeared behind her.
She slipped her stake back into its sheath. Earlier she had been cold, but now she was too warm, so she unzipped her sweatshirt and tied it around her waist. A bell rang on a buoy out on the ocean and the salt air felt good, invigorating.
When Buffy at last lay her head upon her pillow, sleep would not come. Every time she closed her eyes she could see those burning orange eyes and feel powerful hands upon her throat, the drain of the life force within her. Her mind whirled as she thought about this new breed of vampires. Their tattoos and attributes unified them. They were a single unit, not a group of individual scavengers. She would have to talk to Giles the next day, get to work on figuring out what she was up against.
At last, exhausted, Buffy drifted off to sleep, and she dreamed.
She dreamed she was back in Docktown...
Orange eyes blazed in the shadow of every alley. Buoy bells echoed up from the wharf, where the surf rattled wooden timbers and crashed against the sea wall. A chill breeze whistled through cracked windows in a darkened storefront off to her left and whipped bits of trash along the street. An empty beer bottle rolled along the pavement with a tinkling of glass like mournful wind chimes.
Buffy quickened her pace. They were not attacking, the beasts in the shadows, but she did not like their eyes upon her. They made her feel weak, skittish, like an animal about to bolt into traffic...
When she looked up, her path was blocked by a ghost.
Buffy recoiled, prepared to defend herself, her heart beating wildly. But in a single eyeblink, she relaxed again. It was a ghost in front of her, that much was true. But this particular phantom bore her no ill will. In fact, the dead woman whose spirit drifted intangible and translucent before her had been a Slayer herself centuries before.
"Lucy?" Buffy stared at her, stunned.
The spirit of Lucy Hanover now walked the ghost roads, the pathways between the world of the flesh and the hereafter, helping lost souls find their way to their ultimate destinations. She had aided Buffy several times, but usually appeared to Willow, apparently somehow in tune with Willow's magick.
"I come with a warning, Buffy Summers," the ghost said, her voice a wisp, like dry leaves rustling in the breeze. "In my journeys I have come upon the soul of an ancient seer. The Prophet tells of horrible events about to take place."
Through the ghost's shimmering form Buffy could see the street beyond, a Dodge up on blocks, a dog on a rusted chain that ran toward the street and began to bark. At the dog's alarm, Buffy glanced around, hoping the police would not hear and come to investigate.
But she knew there would be no police. She knew this was a dream. With the Slayer, however, a dream was rarely just a dream. Though it took place upon the dreamscape, Lucy's visitation was all too real.
The sound of the surf crashing beneath the docks nearby almost drowned out Lucy's words, so soft were they.
"It will be your fault," the ghost said.
"What's that mean?" Buffy asked. "What will be?"
"I cannot be more specific as yet. I will search for The Prophet again and see if her vision has grown clearer. Until then, I can only say be wary of all that you do and of all the dark forces gathering around you."
The ghostly Slayer shimmered again and then dissipated altogether, first into what looked like static on a television or spatters of rain on the windshield, and then Lucy was simply gone.
Buffy stared at the space where she'd been. The dog kept barking.
Her eyes fluttered open, but only for a moment. An abiding sense of dread had been planted within her, and it lingered in the back of her mind even as she fell back to sleep.
"Great. Thanks," she muttered as she drifted off again. "That was very helpful."
Yet it was not the last dream she would have that night.
Nor the worst.
& © 2001 by 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.