Joyce Summers is dead. Spike has been slain and Faith, rogue Slayer, is gone as well. Southern California has fallen under vampire rule.
And Rupert Giles is Vampire King.
Buffy can hold no one but herself responsible for this grim possible future; her own insecurities and petty jealousies led to this moment. She must now gather her inner strength and combat the demon that inhabits the corpse of her most trusted mentor. With the help of Willow and the Slayerettes, Buffy must invoke the elements, stave off a vampire stronghold, and return to her real-time body -- but not before identifying and preventing the misstep that brought about the oppression of those she holds closest....
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"All right. Let's go."
Buffy led the way down the corridor toward the stairwell that would take them to the basement of City Hall. She quivered with an electric awareness of her surroundings. Of all the horrors she had faced in her time as Slayer, it was possible that as a vampire Rupert Giles was the deadliest, not due merely to his cunning, but because Buffy loved him.
It was broad daylight outside, the midmorning sun glaring down upon the town as squads of Council operatives attacked nests of Kakchiquels, the vampires who were loyal to Giles. Communications had been silent with other units for several minutes as the operation unfolded in earnest. Buffy had helped to formulate the plan, so she knew that the nests would be burned where possible and the vampires attacked one-on-one only where necessary. The numbers were against the Council, but the sun gave them the edge they needed.
Or at least that was the hope. Buffy had a feeling that it was going to be a closer fight than any of them had admitted. If she could dust Giles, however, that would be the end of things. Without the vampire they looked to as a king, the Kakchiquels would lose their cohesion and it would be every leech for himself, the way it always was before Giles came along.
When they had stormed City Hall, Willow had used magick to burn some of the Kakchiquels. The flames set off the sprinkler systems on the first floor of the building and Father Christopher Lonergan -- who was both a Council operative and a Roman Catholic priest -- had spoken the words to the penitential rite, turning the spray into holy water. Vampires had screamed and run but the water was everywhere and it made their fleshbubble and steam and finally disintegrate.
Lonergan was a psi-operative who had a specialized ability to psychically sense the presence of vampires. Now, upstairs, he led the rest of the unit through City Hall in a room by room search, exterminating vampires as they went. They would work their way up, and inform Buffy immediately if Giles was located.
It was just the four of them -- Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Oz -- but that was okay. Once upon a time, she could remember having thought that in order for her to be an effective Slayer, she had to learn to operate on her own. Now she realized how foolish that was. This was the way it was supposed to be. This was right.
With the fire alarms blaring and the sprinkler system on, they passed right by the elevator banks. A red EXIT sign ahead marked the door that led to the basement. Buffy didn't even bother trying the knob. She popped a side kick at the metal door, right beside the knob. Metal shrieked and tore and it banged open.
With a quick glance upward, Buffy started down toward the basement. Oz followed right after her; the werewolf sniffed the air and the stairs as they went. Willow was behind him, and Xander covered their flank. He had the crossbow dangling from a leather strap around his shoulder, but he let it hang there as he pulled a nine-millimeter Glock from its holster at his side.
At the bottom of the stairs was another door. A huge letter B was painted on the wall, but other than that there were no markings. No guards. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Buffy paused on the last step, feeling the damp heat of the werewolf's panting breath on her back. Oz sniffed several times in quick succession and began to growl low.
Buffy nodded. "I smell it too," she said.
"What?" Willow asked.
"Don't even know what to call it," Buffy told her. "Static. Like the bug zapper in Xander's backyard."
"Electricity," Willow said, her voice a sort of hush.
Willow stepped past Oz, studied the door for a moment, then glanced over her shoulder at Xander.
"I'm a little tired already," she told him. "Catch me if I fall."
"Always," Xander replied without emotion. It was a simple statement of fact.
"Hey," Buffy said. "I can do it if it's too much -- "
"No," Willow said quickly. "We need you in front. Just be ready."
A small smile flickered on Buffy's features. "No such thing. But let's do it anyway."
Willow took a deep breath, sketched in the air with her hands, and muttered perhaps four words in what sounded like Greek. Buffy felt a wave of absolute, bone-chilling cold push past her, and she shivered.
The door turned to ice and there was a crackle and pop as the electricity running into and around it shorted out. Willow swayed slightly, but her arm shot out and she leaned against the wall. Buffy and Xander both moved to steady her, but she shook it off. Oz moved around them, closer to the door. The werewolf's growling grew louder and more menacing.
"Oz," Buffy said.
The wolf turned, black lips curled back from gleaming teeth. She saw no human intelligence in his eyes, but she knew that he at least partially understood what went on around him.
"Giles is mine," she said.
Then Buffy took a deep breath, faced the frozen door again, and leaped at it in a high drop kick. The ice shattered into a million shards. The door was gone. They were in.
The basement was dark save for the amber glow of emergency lights on the walls. Clearly this was not Giles's lair. There were other corridors that led to this place, doors on the other side of the vast chamber in the basement, but this was the main room. Once it had undoubtedly been a massive storage area of some kind.
In some ways, it still was.
Half a dozen Kakchiquel sentries, their eyes blazing orange in the darkened room, looked up and snarled in alarm as they entered. But the sentries could not keep them from seeing what lay in the basement.
Bats hung from the pipes that ran all across the ceiling. On the floor beneath them, shackled and chained to iron rungs sunk deep in the concrete, was the god of bats, the demon Camazotz. His green, pocked flesh was obscenely bloated, like a leech that had feasted until it was ready to explode. The demon-god's withered wings were barely visible underneath its grotesque bulk. Around the swollen, distended demon, seven vampires were latched onto his putrid flesh, sucking at him like newborn kittens, crackling with the energy they siphoned from the captive demon's blood.
Buffy shuddered, stomach convulsing at the sight. "Now that is really gross."
At the sound of her voice, the suckling vampires glanced up, mouths smeared with demon blood. The sentries surrounded them. Camazotz began to cry out in a high, keening, lonely wail that sent a chill through her. The god of bats, she realized, had gone insane.
Xander stepped up beside her. "Giles isn't down here. Let's make this quick."
The vampire sentries rushed at them, eyes blazing, fangs bared.
"You read my mind," Buffy told Xander. A part of her wanted to warn him, to warn all of them, that the demon energy coursing through the Kakchiquels made them stronger and quicker than average vampires, but she thought better of it. They knew, after all. They had been fighting Giles's minions for years.
"You dare?" one of the sentries snarled, fangs bared as he lunged for her.
"Yeah," Buffy replied curtly. "We dare."
She had her sword in a scabbard slung across her back, but did not bother to reach for it. Once she had used that same sword to draw Angel's blood. Only recently, Giles had slipped into the Council headquarters and brought her the sword as a gift, as though daring her to kill him with it. Buffy would use the sword when she had to.
But she did not have to just yet.
She ducked under the vampire's outstretched arms and shot a kick up at his chin. Her heel connected and the impact shook her bones. He staggered, but only barely, and his eyes blazed and sparked even brighter. In an elegant, murderous ballet, Buffy took one step out from in front of him, then whipped her leg around again in another kick that cracked the back of his skull, knocking him forward. She slammed her stake through his back with enough force to separate the bones and push through to the heart. He exploded in a cloud of dust.
"We dare," she whispered to herself.
All around Buffy, her friends moved into action with a fluidity that exhilarated her and shamed her all at once. The four of them moved so well together, and yet she could not help but recall the days when she had attempted to push them out of her life as the Slayer, as if she had suffered from multiple personalities of a sort; as though she could truly separate Buffy from the Slayer. Ironically, it was that very attitude that had led to her present predicament, with the soul of her nineteen-year-old self thrust into the future and now sharing the body of a Buffy who was five years older.
They made her proud now, her friends, so that she could barely imagine going into a major conflict without them at her side.
Willow sketched sigils in the air and snapped off shorthand incantations in ancient tongues with an air of confidence Buffy herself envied. Her red hair was tied back in a long ponytail that swung with every graceful movement. A wave of cold slivered across the room as one of the sentries turned to ice. Another burst into flame, the blaze hungrily licking at his clothes with a low roar of fiery consumption.
The seven vampires who had been suckling at Camazotz's flailing, pustulent body had begun to come out of the daze of contentment they were in. They seemed almost bloated themselves now by the power they had leeched from their former master, now simply their battery. Buffy had always wondered where the demonic energy came from that had enhanced the Kakchiquels, gave them their additional speed and strength and the electric fire in their eyes. Now she had seen firsthand.
The feeders, surfeited upon the power of the god of bats, thrumming with that dark might, moved to join the sentries in battle against these intruders.
Gunshots punched the air in the basement, and Buffy could feel the subtle changes in air pressure against her skin and her eardrums. The bats hanging from the pipes all along the ceiling shrieked at the loud noise and some of them took flight, but settled again seconds later.
Buffy spun to see Xander firing again and again into a pair of sentries with his Glock. The bullets wouldn't kill them; he was using the gunfire to hurt them, to set them off guard. Then he slid the gun into the oiled leather holster and snatched up the crossbow that hung from the strap across his shoulder.
There was a roar off to Buffy's left and she whipped her head around quickly, expecting an attack. But it was not one of the remaining vampires who thundered with such savagery. It was Oz. He tore the head off a sentry as Buffy watched, bone and flesh ripping with a sickening noise, and then the vampire crumbled into gray soot. The werewolf moved on to the vampires who had been feasting on Camazotz, claws flashing and tearing.
Two of the feeders leaped across the air at her and Buffy dodged. In her life, she had never been in better physical condition. Her muscles rippled as she moved with the deadly precision of a scalpel. With a flurry of blows, she kept them both off-balance for several vital seconds. One of them, a pale blond female, became so enraged that she simply reached out for Buffy's throat.
The Slayer let her come, felt the vampire's grip on her throat, cutting off her air. Buffy smiled as she slid the stake between the Kakchiquel's ribs, its glowing eyes going wide as it felt the penetration. Then it was dust.
The other, a copper-skinned bald man, got a handful of her hair and yanked. Buffy did not fight his strength, but used the momentum. As he hauled her backward and down, she bent farther and flipped into an aerial somersault. In his surprise, he let go, but not before his hold on her hair tugged painfully at her scalp and it began to bleed. He held strands of her hair in his hand as Buffy landed on the concrete floor behind him.
The bald vampire turned toward her, a bewildered expression on his face, and Buffy struck him twice in the face in quick succession, batted his arms out of the way, and then rammed the stake through his rib cage and into his heart. When he burst into a tiny whirlwind of cinder and ash, there was an audible pop, as though all the energy he had sucked from Camazotz had suddenly been released.
When she turned again, crouched in a battle stance, she saw Xander fire a bolt from the crossbow. It struck home and the leech was dusted. The other was nowhere in sight, and Buffy had to assume Xander had gotten them both.
The sounds of their combat seemed to resonate there in the basement, but they were like an echo now. Buffy sensed that it was almost over. Prepared to slay the remaining few vampires opposing them, she turned to see that Oz and Willow had cornered two Kakchiquels who cowered behind the corpulent, writhing form of Camazotz. The demon-god was chained to the floor and he
alternated between a catlike mewling and a sinister snicker that made Buffy wonder if he was not quite so unhinged as she had imagined.
Oz leaped over the captive demon and upon one of the Kakchiquels, a huge claw slashing right through the bat-shaped brand on its face as the werewolf drove it to the ground.
Willow faced the other, lifting her hands, her clothes rustled by an invisible wind that often accompanied her sorcery these days.
Buffy began to relax and to think ahead to their next step, linking up with Lonergan and the others again in the continued search for Giles. She began to turn toward Xander to tell him to contact Lonergan on the headset he wore.
An alarm went off in her head, spurring her to glance quickly back at Willow. The final Kakchiquel feeder ran along beside Camazotz, probably hoping to use him as cover from the sorceress's magick. Willow seemed to carve the air with her fingers, beginning an incantation.
Buffy saw what was about to happen and cried out, but too late.
The vampire leaped over Camazotz's massive arm.
Willow cast her spell.
It missed the Kakchiquel and instead struck the huge, iron chain that bound Camazotz's right arm to the concrete floor. The heavy chain turned to ice and the demon-god uttered a wet, soul-searing laugh as the ice shattered. With one hand unleashed, the demon began to sit up, tearing at the chains, struggling to free himself.
"Damn it," Buffy muttered. "We so do not have time for this."
The Bronze was in ruins. Explosives had blown in the entire outer wall, scattering debris and concrete dust all over the floor and crushing one end of the stage. With the wall shattered, the sunlight had streamed in and incinerated seven or eight vampires quickly enough that Anna Kuei, the Slayer, had not been able to get an accurate head count. It was a comparatively small nest, but there were other Kakchiquels scattered throughout the building, in the kitchen and in storage and office areas.
Or there had been.
Now she crawled out from beneath the shabbily constructed stage and wiped blood from her eyes. When she glanced up, she saw Wesley moving across the floor with his old repeating crossbow in his hands. Other Council operatives moved about the wreckage, searching behind the bar and under toppled tables. Wesley spotted her and an expression of intense relief washed across his bearded features.
"Oh, Anna," Wesley said, hurrying toward her. "When I didn't see you out here..." His words trailed off as he focused on the cut across her forehead.
"You thought I was dead?"
He cast a sheepish glance at his feet. "I confess I feared the worst."
A shudder went through the young Slayer. Does that mean you have no faith in me? she thought, but she did not dare to ask aloud. Anna dreaded the answer. For all his sometimes amusing mannerisms, Wesley was a skilled combatant and a brilliant strategist with a knowledge of the supernatural that was nothing short of extraordinary. He was not merely the Watcher, but had briefly been Watcher to both the Lost Slayer, Buffy Summers, and to Faith, the Prodigal.
Faith. Just the thought of her caused a tumult of emotions to swirl in Anna's heart; warm memories, grim dignity, and despair. The older Slayer had never hidden her past. But when Sunnydale had fallen the Prodigal had returned to the fold and selflessly thrown herself into the effort against the Kakchiquels. Faith had been the bravest person Anna had ever
met, and though she had teased him, it had always been obvious that Faith had respected Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.
"Anna?" Wesley prodded now, brow furrowed with concern. He touched at the cut on her forehead and she hissed. "Are you sure you're all right? Do you feel at all disoriented?"
"No," she said quickly. "Sorry. I'm all right. I just" she gestured toward the stage. "I heard something moving in the dark beneath the stage. Once I was down under there, it was easy... well, their eyes gave them away. But there wasn't a lot of room and for a second I thought they had me."
Wesley did not smile or try to comfort her with platitudes. That was not his way. Instead, he gave an approving nod and clapped her on the shoulder. "But you're standing right here. Well done, Anna."
The young Slayer slid her stake into the leather sheath on her hip. The other operatives in their unit were still exploring every dark corner and shadow of the remains of the club and she picked her way toward the back to offer what help she could. It helped to turn her mind to things other than death and combat and evil.
For all her training, Anna had almost no experience in the field. The four vampires she had dusted in the past five minutes were more than she had ever previously seen in one place at one time, and here she found herself smack in the center of what some of the Council operatives had referred to as the biggest anti-vampire operation in centuries. Though she would never let Wesley see it in her, Anna was frightened.
But Faith had believed in her. Wesley believed in her.
And Anna Kuei was not going to let them down.
In the balcony that overlooked the main floor of the club, something rustled in the dark. A pair of operatives had already been up there, but Anna knew what she had heard. The hush of clothes moving, someone shifting in a hiding place, the belly of a snake across hard-packed desert.
Her body tensed, muscles coiling. Her gaze ticked toward the stairs and she slipped her stake out of its sheath again. Quiet descended upon the Bronze as the Watcher and the Council operatives noticed her stealthy movements.
"Anna?" Wesley said.
The Slayer went to the bottom of the stairs. She heard the sound again, some dark creature huddling beneath a table perhaps, clinging to the remaining shadows, the threat of the sun far too close.
"Come down," Anna said, her voice hard and cold, though her every nerve seemed to prickle with a combination of fear and exhilaration.
With a bang, a table up on the balcony seating area toppled over. A dark figure rose, whipped a dusty tablecloth around its shoulders, stepped onto a chair and then the balcony railing, and leaped out over the concrete
debris-strewn floor of the Bronze.
The vampire, tablecloth over his head, landed in a crouch in the sunlight. Wesley fired a bolt from his repeater crossbow but it went wide. The target was in motion. A Council operative took a few shots at it with a pistol and the vampire grunted in pain as one of the bullets tore through its shoulder. But all the gunshot really did was add to the vampire's momentum as it careened across the rubble for the outside, trying desperately to get away from them.
Anna sprinted across the floor, leaped onto a table and then jumped up into a flying drop kick that cracked into the back of the runner's skull. The Kakchiquel was driven forward, lost his balance and sprawled through the huge opening that had been blown in the wall to land on the sidewalk in front of the Bronze.
In the sun.
The vampire tried to curl up under the tablecloth but one of his legs was already on fire. Groaning, the creature struggled to rise.
Anna tore the tablecloth from its head. The vampire snarled, fangs bared in blind fear and rage, the sun gleaming off the perfect black of the bat-shaped brand around his eyes. He burst into flame, fire rushing all over his clothes, his hair roaring like an oil-soaked torch. The fire consumed him, and the vampire burst into a small explosion of cinder and ash, like confetti raining down on New Year's Eve.
For a moment she stared at the ash that fell, there in the sun, with the wind swirling it along the sidewalk, carrying the remains of the creature away. Anna shivered. This was her sole purpose, the slaying of vampires and other creatures of the night. But it was a hideous thing to see.
Footsteps crunched the rubble and she turned to see Wesley approaching. He had donned a communications headset.
"Yes, Ms. Haversham. We'll be right along," he was saying. Then he glanced up at her. "I think we're through here, Anna, don't you?"
The other operatives had begun to spread out to the buildings on either side of the Bronze. The mission parameters called for them to check adjunct buildings for any annexes to the main nest. But she had a feeling they'd taken care of the real trouble, so she nodded at Wesley.
"Ms. Haversham has informed me that the unit at the Hotel Pacifica has run into some difficulty. The rest of our squad is to continue on to their next objective, but the group at the Pacifica would appreciate our aid."
Anna's heart was still racing from the thrill and chaos and utter terror of what she had just been through. But she had to confess to herself that, in a way, she liked that feeling.
"Let's go," she said.
Together they climbed into one of the Humvees the unit had at its disposal. Its engine rumbled and the vehicle shook her so that she could feel its power in her bones. On the way to the industrial park north of town, Wesley updated her on communications that were coming over his headset. It seemed that of the five units deployed, two had already moved on to their second targets. Their own unit was soon to do the same. But there were two -- one at the new high school, and the one at the Hotel Pacifica -- that had encountered great resistance at their initial target locations.
Just words, until they pulled into the parking lot at the Pacifica. The property around the hotel was all lawn, with a broad parking lot in front. The structure itself had a Spanish influence like so many older buildings in
the area, but this was a five-story stucco monstrosity painted a pastel tangerine. By all rights, it ought to have been abandoned ages ago, but according to Wesley, it had been in operation right up until the vampires had occupied Sunnydale. From Anna's perspective, it was the sort of place frequented by tourists who could not afford a place right on the ocean, two-bit sci-fi conventions, and real estate salesmen who snuck off for a few hours twice a week with their secretaries.
Now the only guests at the hotel were vampires.
An enormous hole had been blown around its main entrance, a gray Humvee jammed half in and half out of that hole, its body a burned out husk, still smoking. Several of the white sunsuits the vampires wore during the day lay on the pavement, fluttering empty in the breeze, their owners dusted.
The unit of Council operatives was nowhere to be seen, save for a man and woman who stood behind a green troop carrier, shouting into their headsets.
Wesley drove toward them, and they looked up gratefully as the Humvee came to a lumbering stop nearby. Anna jumped out, Wesley only steps behind her, and ran to the pair. The woman was Terri Blum, but Anna did not recognize the man.
"What happened?" Anna asked quickly.
The man glanced at her and Terri turned to him. "The Slayer," she said.
"Thank God." He heaved a sigh of relief as he studied Anna and Wesley. "Here's our situation. The population of the nest was much higher than estimated and it looks like they were expecting us. They're spread out all through the hotel, but their numbers are much greater than ours. My unit is in there but we've already suffered at least three fatalities, possibly more."
All three of them stared at her. After a moment, Anna met Wesley's gaze. The last thing she wanted to do was go into that building; she did not even want to look at it. But in the back of her mind she envisioned the men
and women who were searching the darkness within
for vampires, imagined the glowing eyes of the two Kakchiquels under the stage at the Bronze, and she knew she had to go.
"All right," she said. Then she spun and started for the front of the garishly painted hotel. After a moment, she glanced back at Wesley. "You coming?"
He smiled. "Wouldn't miss it."
Copyright © 2001 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation