Chapter Two: Angel
It truly was a perverse person who named this town Sunnydale. Honestly, even I couldn't come up with a sicker joke than that, and I have a couple thousand years of morbid humour under my belt. Whoever founded this oh so charming little town must have known what sort of a place they were building on. It's kinda hard to not notice when the dead start crawling out of their graves and chowing down on the locals. Well, you'd think so anyway. Maybe I'm being too optimistic about people and their capacity for rational observation and thought.
Coming from someone who was burnt at the stake for not dying of a horrible disease, that's saying something.
Anyway, it's suffice to say that this is not my favourite place in the world. Really, the only people who could enjoy living in this place are demons, dark wizards, and people who are completely blind to the supernatural. Thinking about it, that's probably a fair chunk of the world's population right there - the capacity to understand and deal with the supernatural has been getting less and less common as humanity grows and advances. For someone like me, who's senses are wide open to the supernatural forces, it feels like I'm living on top of an open sewer. Needless to say: Not Pleasant.
On the plus side, I'll be able to do some kickass dark magic with the hellmouth to draw on. Maybe I'll even be able to cast a Dragon Slave without knocking myself flat out for once. It would probably make the watcher get all pissy though, and as fun as jerking those idiots around can be I don't need a wetworks team after me. It's not so much that they could actually take me out, but being shot hurts. That and I really don't need that sort of attention. Last time I started tossing around that sort of power I ended up having to leave a very nice setup I had going with my faking my death every few decades and posing as my own son. You could get away with a lot in the British Empire as long as you had plenty of money to throw around but that was just too much attention to keep it going any longer.
Well, anyway, it makes meditating to rebuild my connection to the various sources of power I used to call on when I was a regularly practising sorcerer less than pleasant and a great deal less effective than I'd like. It's times like this that I really envy the wand wavers, they just wave that stupid bit of wood around and yell a few latin words and they're sorted. Magic's about as difficult as tying your shoelaces for them. Obnoxious bastards really don't have a clue how good they have it. Or could have it. Their society's so messed up that they'll probably die off in a couple of centuries from inbreeding, the idiots. Not that I won't have a great time poking fun at the fifteen fingered spawn of the wizarding world's finest families when the time comes.
I gave up the day's meditations as a waste of time at that point and started getting ready for a spot of demon hunting. The daggers and the calf holsters that go with them were the first pieces of equipment I strapped on. Can 't go wrong with a good blessed dagger when it comes to backup weapons. Then I pulled on my bracers. Those are some expensive pieces of kit, I had them made out of the toughest materials modern science could provide for me and the result is was a pair of bracers that were strong enough to deflect a sword strike but were still fairly lightweight.
After the bracers are on comes the cross, blessed silver kept from my days in England. Very nice. I'm not actually Christian but it makes a convenient religious symbol to tote around and they all work against vampires. To finish off my secondary equipment there's a Colt 1911 tucked into a shoulder holster with a couple of extra clips. The ammo is, of course, blessed silver. Nothing else is worth carrying in this line of work. I sometimes carry more ammo or a bigger gun but if I need that sort of firepower in this district then I'm probably screwed already. The sort of bad guys that need that much to put down would be a distinctly bad thing to have in the vicinity of a portal to Hell.
For my primary weapon I'm favouring a bastard sword put together with all the advantages modern technology can give it these days. No real reason for that beyond the fact that the size of the blade and grip goes well well with my physical dimensions. Immortals normally favour weapons from their era of birth but I'm practical enough to realise that a short sword won't really cut it these days when most people who still use swords use two handed versions. My gladius still makes a nice backup though. Some would probably wonder why I don't use a katana - they are widely seen as being the best swords, after all - but anyone daft enough to use a katana when they're a regular demon hunter deserves all they get. Katanas are nice weapons but they do not do well against armour and many demons have tough enough skin that it might as well be armour.
Anyone watching me get ready would probably think I was paranoid and they'd be right. Paranoia keeps you alive and they really are out to get me. Even discounting the normal head-hunters an Immortal faces, I have a lot of enemies. Most, thankfully, think I'm already dead with the way I jump from identity to identity but all it takes is for one old minion to spot me and all hell will break lose. I don't even want to contemplate the shitstorm that would be raised if Dracula's old mates came calling on the hellmouth. Nosferatu are not nice things to fight against at the best of times.
The worst thing about the hellmouth is probably the way it dulls your supernatural senses. Normally I feel a demon coming a mile off with the amount of time I've been practising magic but here on the hellmouth everything feels demonic and they're pretty much worthless. Even worse, it works that way for fellow Immortals too. That has its up-sides but I'd much rather get some warning a hunter was coming than be better concealed from them. In the past I've wondered if it affected a Slayer as badly but asking Buffy didn't help. It seems that the Slayer senses are one part of the package she didn't get much of. Shame because they're damn useful.
That dulling of my senses means that I'm reduced to stalking vampires to try and find their nests. Truly not a dignified way to go about things, but it's the best I can do under these circumstances. That ninjitsu training I had back in the sixteenth century comes in useful but the fact that most vampires are complete morons is much more helpful. Honestly, with the enhanced senses vampires have, it shouldn't be possible to stalk them like this, but there you are. They think that, because they're a little stronger and faster than normal people, they're invulnerable and they get sloppy.
The guy I'm following is a prime example of that. I've popped up and scared him off a couple of potential victims already tonight but he doesn't seem to realise that he's being followed. It is absolutely pathetic. I suppose the really intelligent ones are the ones who aren't stupid enough to get turned but what sort of self-respecting vampire would turn an idiot like this? Alucard would have someone's head for even suggesting he turn a specimen like this. Anyway after a few hours of him failing miserably to find a victim to feed on it looks like he's getting bored enough to head on home. Finally.
After a few more minutes following the moron vampire I find myself outside a bar. A bar! This is not my night. I wait across the street from the bar for a while, cursing my luck and this damned vampire, before I cross over and take a look to see what's going on. At that point I'm just about ready to give up and go home. A frigging demon bar. What did I do to deserve this? He'll be in there for hours and those places normally have sewer exits so I probably won't even be able to follow him to his lair and catch whatever group he's hanging around with. The temptation to just say screw it and drop a Dragon Slave on the place was strong.
And then I felt it, the distinct feeling of pressure that only comes when another Immortal is in the vicinity. Wonderful. I immediately slid my hand into my coat and rested it on the hilt of my sword. I really didn't need this right now but maybe I could work out some frustrations on some passing headhunter. Most of them can't do shit against me anyway. I'm too old and have too many heads to my name to fall to Mr. Random Hunter and even the ones with enough power to their name to have a chance against me don't have the skill normally. And then the ones that have the skill normally end up losing when I fight dirty. They never expect that for some reason. As if hunters are the only ones allowed to cheat!
A visual inspection of the surrounding area revealed nothing to me and the pressure didn't feel like it was coming from inside the bar - and thank God for that, hunters with demon lackeys are a serious pain in the arse at the best of times - so I decided to go on a little patrol of the surrounding area after putting a little chameleon charm on myself along with a notice-me-not charm. Those would buy me enough time to escape if it was a gang. Gangs of hunters are always nasty. I have to pull the Batman act when a gang shows up and even then it's risky as all hell. Taking a whole mess of hunters down so you can take their heads one after the other before the quickening starts is not easy.
The quick patrol revealed nothing but I could still feel the pressure of an Immortal's presence and it was very close. The number of people who could hide from me like this was pretty damned low and the number of them who were both Immortal and still had their heads attached was even lower. Really, there was only one person it could.
"Amanda?" I said. "Is that you?"
I still kept my hand on the hilt of my sword. There were no guarantees that I was right and I didn't really trust the woman even if was her. Trusting a fellow Immortal is a quick way to get shortened by a head in my book and trusting a thief isn't much better. Both at the same time? Don't be daft.
A few moments later I heard a quiet rustling behind me and then the light sounds of a woman's footsteps. I swivelled around and there she was: Attractive as ever with short, dark hair, but with a distinctly haggard cast to her features. Suddenly, I had a very bad feeling. Amanda could find trouble - and probably something to steal causing that trouble - in an empty room but it would have to be something bad to make her look this worried.
"Abraham? What are you doing here?" she said, her eyes darting to and fro all the time, looking for danger. "That creepy guy with the fangs isn't here, is he?"
"I live here, Amanda," I said. "And Alucard is in Britain with my heir as far as I know."
"Family business," I replied. "I was drawing too much attention to stay there myself. Name's Alexander now, by the way."
"What's going on, Amanda? After my head?"
"God, no. I make a policy of not going after people who are older, more powerful, and more skilled than I am."
"Smart girl. Got a headhunter after you then?"
Please, oh please, let it just be a hunter. I've heard all about the messes she gets MacLeod mixed up in and I really don't need that sort of crap dumping on me.
"I wish," she said. Oh well, the quiet life was getting a little boring. A praying mantis demon or Hyena possessed student gang doesn't really rate compared to some of the stuff in my past after all. "I've got a whole gang of them after me."
"And you brought them to me. Thank you so very much, Amanda. It's such a pleasure to know you," I drawled.
"Hey, it's not like I knew you'd be here. I thought I could just ditch them here and double back to LA and catch a flight to somewhere far, far away where they'd never find me," she snapped.
I just sighed, a deep, heart-felt sigh. I really wish I'd stuck to my teacher's policy of taking heads on sight when he ran into other Immortals sometimes, but no I had to get soft and decide to only kill them if they attacked me. And damn my weakness for attractive women. This one had definitely done enough to justify a challenge when she robbed my house but I just had to cave in.
"I'd be so lucky. They'll be all over me like flies on shit when they feel how strong my quickening is," I said. "And don't you dare leave them to me."
Would I do that?" she asked, though she didn't bother with the mock innocent look she does so well. "I don't suppose you have somewhere I could stay? Strength in numbers and all that."
And suddenly I felt rather embarrassed. The last time we'd met I was living in a large mansion set in its own grounds in London, a flagrant display of staggering wealth if there's ever been one. Now I was living in a tip of a house with a pair of alcoholic foster parents who had only been dissuaded from taking a swing at me every time their delusions of adequacy were broken after I'd beaten them unconscious that one time. Beaten may be overstating it actually. It had only taken one punch each. Wimps.
"Ah, that's really not a good idea," I said, dismayed at the defensive tone that had suddenly appeared in my voice. "My current living conditions aren't up to my old standards."
"You've fallen on hard times? I find that hard to believe," she said, looking even less convinced than her words showed if that was possible.
"I've had legal problems," I said. I looked around the alley we were in. "This isn't really the place to discuss things. There's a bar I know of not too far from here that would be much more private."
"You don't look old enough to be served in a bar, Alexander."
I rolled my eyes at her. With a moment's concentration I put up an illusion that made me look ten years older. "Better?"
Amanda's jaw dropped. "Wha? How?"
"Magic, my dear," I said playfully. Oh but it is fun to surprise people like that. I'd almost forgotten how funny their reactions could be. "Come on, follow me," I said, turning serious. "Best to get somewhere public if you have a gang of hunters after you."
The bar I took Amanda to was a fairly small one tucked away in a corner of what passed for the town centre that was, as far as I could tell, about the only place in town for adults to spend their nights. Despite that, it was still far from packed. I suppose that people aren't quite as stupid as they seem. The bar had a fairly old-fashioned, traditional atmosphere, like the pubs I used to visit on occasion back in England when I lived there. I sent Amanda off to a table in the corner, facing towards the door, and ordered a pint of some random American beer for myself and a glass of wine for Amanda.
Unsurprisingly, the beer was awful. How could I forget the horrors of American beer so quickly?
"So what's the deal, Amanda?" I asked, grimacing from the less than adequate taste of the beer and pushing it away.
"I don't know that much about the people after me," she said. "I've never met any of them before and the only reason I can think of for them following me is so that I don't want anyone about them."
I sighed. "Wonderful. Are you sure you didn't steal anything from them?"
The mock-hurt look she shot me wasn't even vaguely convincing. She soon gave it up under my unflinching gaze. "These guys don't have enough between them to interest someone like me," she said. "They just ran into me at random and decided to kill me as far as I can tell."
"Ah. More victims of your uniquely charming personality then," I jibed before turning serious. "How many and how old are we talking here? I can't call in a lot of help, not like the old days."
"I've seen six but never all at once. They normally seem to go around in twos or threes and I don't think any of them are more than a century or two old."
I leaned back in my chair and thought about it for a moment. "This is going to be a problem," I said. "If we take out one group of them then they'll start going out as one large group and we probably wouldn't be able to take four at once if they were smart about things."
"So we need to take out a group of three then," replied Amanda. "Doesn't sound that bad if I have you on my team. Maybe you can use some of that magic of yours to get rid of them."
"Even with magic the rules about killing an Immortal stand. While the head's attached to the body, the Immortal fights on. I could disintegrate one of them I suppose but there'd be no quickening released and I wouldn't be good for much for a while afterwards."
Not strictly true but I didn't really want to go into the more, ah, exotic magics I know. The collateral damage tends to make them less than useful in this day and age anyway. They just draw too much attention.
Amanda shook her head. "Damn. Well, we'll just have to do it the hard way then."
"Can't you get MacLeod to help you? I'm not really big on the boy scout thing, you know, especially when I'm outnumbered like this."
"Ah, he's not very happy with me right now," she said with a pout. "I'm not sure he'd come all this way just to help me."
"And he doesn't know me from Adam so we're on our own. Wonderful," I said with a sigh. Times like this, getting pissed out of my mind begins to look real tempting. Six head-hunters in town and my only ally is a thief whose combat skills are dubious unless I blow my cover completely and beg the Slayer for help. And she hasn't had any real training to draw out the Slayer instincts when it comes to using a sword anyway. Wonderful.
"Don't you know any Immortals who could help us? You must have at least taught some at your age," she said.
I snorted. "Like I said, not big on the boy scout act. When I run into a new Immortal I give them the run down on what they are and tell them to go learn how to fight with a sword. It's what I got and it didn't hurt me any."
Well, there is one exception, but there's no way I'm pulling her into this mess. Her immortality isn't even active yet.
Now it was Amanda's turn to snort. "That's you. I doubt anything short of a nuclear bomb will get rid of you. Even then you'd probably find a way to survive, you and the cockroaches."
That drew a lazy grin from me. "Well you don't last as long as I have without learning a few tricks. You're not exactly short on survival instinct yourself."
"True," she acknowledged. "Now what's got you so hard-up you can't even put up an old friend for the night?"
"Friend?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. When she didn't rise to the bait - darnn it - I decided that I might as well tell her. "I did something stupid. First, I decided to start a new identity out young and went back to school. Second, I got challenged in broad daylight and ended up taking a head in full view of a few dozen students. The only reason I'm not rotting in prison right now is that I'm rich as sin and my lawyers make demons look friendly."
"So? You're out now, aren't you?"
Yeah and what do you think they do with sixteen year old convicts? I'm stuck with foster parents here and I'm pretty much cut off from all my resources unless I want to draw attention that I can't deal with right now."
"I just can't imagine you without your money," drawled Amanda. "It just doesn't work for me. You were probably born rich."
"I have a good setup but I get too much attention from the law and it'll all fall apart, Amanda. You can only inherit from yourself so many times before it gets dangerous, you know that."
"I know. So there's no chance you can put me up?"
"Unless you want to play the naughty teenager sneaking into a boy's room at the dead of night, no."
"It might be worth it. A little embarrassment is worth keeping my head."
And so I ended up sleeping on the floor with my sword under my pillow while Amanda took the bed. How I ended up doing something so, yuck, chivalrous is beyond me. I must be getting soft in my old age. Either that or the discomfort was considerably less irritating than the prospect of having to listen to that woman's bitching about it the next day. Amanda's certainly not the suffer in silence type. I'd had a lot worse in the past anyway. The real problem was that Amanda was in the same room as me. I just didn't bloody trust her and there she was in my bed. Suffice to say, I didn't really sleep all that much or all that deeply that night.
The weight of my gladius in the sheathe I'd had sewn into the lining of my long coat was of great comfort to me as I walked to school the next morning. There's just something about knowing there's a bunch of lunatics in town who are definitely going to try and kill you to make you appreciate the benefits of carrying well-crafted weaponry. Of course there's the downside that the law would probably get more than a little pissed off if I was caught carrying such a weapon but that's just one of the strange things you get used to living in the modern world.
Being accompanied by someone who looks like Amanda got me some strange looks on the way to school. I know that I'm not exactly ugly or anything but being an eternal teenager has gotten me very used to the fact that people will look twice if they see me with a beautiful woman, unless I use an illusion to age my appearance to a more reasonable level. Of course, Amanda being Amanda, she had to ham it up and drive the gossipers to distraction. The woman is trouble personified.
Not that I didn't find the guy who walked into a lamppost when Amanda kissed me on the cheek and rubbed herself against my side amusing.
Soon enough we reached the school and Amanda was on her way to sneak around the town and see if she could find out where the head-hunters were hiding out. Strangely enough people are more likely to tell an attractive woman stuff than they are a guy like me. Go figure. Anyway, I made sure she had the mobile phone I'd given her and it was programmed with my number, and then she was gone leaving me to another joyous day of sitting around being taught things I've known since before this country even existed by teachers who blatantly couldn't give a damn. One thing's for sure: Next identity I take will not be of school age.
"He spent the night? In your room? In your bed?" I heard Jesse say as I walked into the library. Oh it gets better. Now he's off on one because of his crush on Buffy. Wonderful. As if the whole Hyena thing hadn't made him look like enough of an idiot for one lifetime already.
"Not in my bed, by my bed," retorted Buffy quickly, looking a little embarrassed.
"That is so romantic! Did you, uh . . . I mean, did he, uh . . . " said Willow, trailing off in embarrassment. Really, if it wasn't for that girl I probably wouldn't be so gung-ho about helping this little group. She just reminded me of my little sister and it's been so long since I lost her to that bastard of a patrician that I can't help but have a little soft spot for the girl that reminds me of her. Otherwise? I've done my time fighting the forces of evil, thank you very much.
Buffy smiled, "Perfect gentleman," and Willow returned that smile.
"Buffy, c'mon, wake up and smell the seduction. It's the oldest trick in the book," moaned Jesse.
"And here's me thinking the oldest trick in the book was getting the girl drunk," I said as I ghosted up behind Buffy, who promptly jumped out of her skin.
"Don't do that!" she said, aiming a not so light slap at my chest as she said it.
"Stop being so sloppy that I can sneak up on you and I won't," I said, totally serious, as I rubbed the slightly bruised spot where her slap had landed.
Buffy just growled at me. Ah, she'll get it eventually. Probably not until something nasty happens because she's not paying attention but she'll get it. Kids. I just don't understand them, not these days.
"Can we steer this riveting conversation back to the events that happened earlier in the evening?" said Giles, sounding vaguely irritated in that very proper English way of his. Buffy sat down and started to pay attention at least and sat back down at the table. "You left the Bronze and were set upon by three unusually virile vampires," he said, before placing an open book in front of her. "Did they look like this?"
"Yeah. What's with the uniforms?"
"It seems you encountered the Three. Warrior vampires, very proud and very strong," said Giles. I barely repressed a snort remembering what Alucard thought of demonic vampires and how easily he'd slaughtered them when they were stupid enough to show up around him.
"How is it you always know this stuff?" asked Willow. "You always know what's going on. I never know what's going on."
"Well, you weren't here from midnight until six researching it," replied Giles.
"No, I was sleeping."
Giles turned to face Buffy once more as he spoke again, "Uh, o-obviously you're hurting the Master very much. He, he wouldn't send the, the Three for just anyone. We must step up our training with weapons."
"Swords?" I asked, hopefully.
"Not yet," said Giles, immediately. You'd think he was uncomfortable with the idea of me being near sharp, pointy objects around him or something. Just because I'd lopped that old witch's head off without a second thought and hadn't bothered to pretend to feel any guilt. Wuss. You'd think that a watcher would be made of sterner stuff than that.
"Buffy, you should stay at my house until these Three guys are history," said Jesse.
"What?" asked a very confused looking Buffy.
"Ah-ah-ah, don't worry about Angel, Willow can run to your house and tell him to get out of town fast," followed up Jesse, looking altogether too happy with the idea.
"Angel and Buffy are, are not in any immediate jeopardy," said Giles. "Eventually the Master will send someone else, but in the mean time the Three, having failed, will offer their own lives in penance."
"Yeah, and, on that cheery note, I'll be off. I just stopped by to tell you guys that I'll be busy the next few days and probably won't be able to help you if anything happens," I said. "I'm sure you'll all be devastated at not having me here to carry you," I followed up, tongue firmly in cheek. And for my troubles I got another slap to the chest, which landed at exactly the same spot as the last, and which hurt like hell. Bloody Slayer doesn't know her own strength.
After spending a couple of hours gaining great amusement from watching Buffy smack Giles around the library in the guise of training and a few more hours in mind-numbingly tedious classes the school day was over and done with. To say that I didn't hang around once the final bell had rang would be the understatement of the decade - understatement of the century goes to my dear old friend John who said, "this is going to be bad," when we ran into Dracula after pissing him off badly - and honestly the only thing stopping me from teleporting out was the fact that it takes way too much power for me to do if I want to do anything else the same day.
A quick phone call once I'd gotten far enough away from school later and I was meeting Amanda in a small greasy spoon cafe not far away from where I'd first ran into her this time around over a cup of tepid coffee.
"So, any success?" I asked.
"I have a lead to follow up on," she said. "But I didn't really want to get too close to them on my own."
I nodded my head. It was understandable. "So what is it?"
"Supposedly there have been some men who look like the ones that've been following me hanging around one of the buildings in the warehouse district of town," she said. "Sounds worth a look to me."
I grimaced. "The warehouse district of this town is not a good place to be after dark," I said, thinking of the vampires that hung out there. "Best to go now and get it out of the way and get back before dark if we can."
Amanda raised an eyebrow at that. "It's not like you to be so nervous over facing the local crooks, Alexander," she said.
"There's more to it than that, Amanda," I replied. "Just trust my judgement and go for the decapitation if we're attacked."
She looked puzzled but after a moment she nodded.
By the time we got to the warehouse district and had eyeballed the right building, we were running out of sunlight and it made me distinctly twitchy. It was a known fact that some of the local vampire gangs made their nests in this area of town and I didn't fancy the prospect of being on their menu tonight if I could help it. While being drained by a vampire wasn't a fatal experience for one of my kind, it still wasn't exactly pleasant and dealing with a vampire hopped up on Immortal blood can be bloody dangerous if they realise they've been enhanced. You see, it's not as obvious as it is with Slayer blood. With Slayer blood they get way faster and stronger and they know that happens. With Immortal blood they just heal ridiculously fast. It's like combining their vampiric healing with whatever the Immortal they drained had. God only knows what they could heal from with the blood from an Immortal as old as me in their veins.
I was beginning to wonder how I was going to explain vampires and demons to Amanda without sounding like a complete lunatic. She might not be as old or have as many heads to her name as I do, but she's still strong enough for it to be a real problem if a vampire got her blood in them. I also imagine that the bitching out I would get for not warning her would be the stuff of legends. I had to weight it up: potential wasting of time being called a lunatic Vs. potential bitching. In the end I chose the second. Call me cold- blooded but we couldn't afford to waste time and there was very little chance one of the vampires would actually do anything truly fatal to her.
"This is the one," she said, pointing at the warehouse at the other end of the wide road we were walking along and drawing me out of my thoughts.
"Right," I said, while eyeing up the surrounding buildings. We needed one that we'd be able to observe the target from but it couldn't be too high or I'd never be able to reach the roof even with my magic reinforcing my jump. Soon enough I'd found one and I promptly yanked Amanda into the accompanying alley. "Don't scream," I said, before scooping her up into my arms and making a rather prodigious leap up onto the warehouse's roof.
"I don't know why I'm surprised by anything you do anymore," she said coolly while brushing her clothing back into order. Not that I could see anything wrong with it as it was.
I just shrugged my shoulders and settled down onto my belly to watch the target location. A few moments later Amanda settled down next to me on crossed legs.
"So any plans?" she asked.
"Sit and wait," I said. "Not much else we can do and we should be safe up here from any roaming nasties."
"I'd have thought so right up to the point where you jumped onto the roof!" she said, her voice growing shrill and rather unpleasant by the time she finished speaking.
"Calm yourself," I said. "It's no worse than meeting people who can survive being disembowelled surely?"
"I got used to that! That was normal! This? This is anything but!"
"Deep breaths, Amanda. Remember that we're supposed to be trying to avoid being noticed here."
"You should have thought of that before you jumped twenty feet in the air carrying me like it was nothing!"
I sighed. "It was just a little bit of magic, Amanda. A temporary physical boost. Nothing special."
"Nothing special!" she said before dissolving into muttering about something or other. It was quite irritating really.
Roughly an hour of sitting on the roof and my coming progressively closer to shortening Amanda by a head just to get the woman to shut her mouth later there was finally some signs of movement from the warehouse we were watching. Not much at first, just some shadows moving near the back entrance, but they soon resolved into two seedy looking men leaving the building. The long coats were a dead give-away. No-one wears that sort of thing in California at that time of year unless they're either vampires (who simply don't care) or hiding weapons. I was betting on the weapons but either way they were going to die.
"Keep an eye on the building. Any more signs of movement and you call my phone immediately," I ordered, slipping into command mode instinctively, keeping an eye on the two hunters as they moved away from the warehouse. "And hide your quickening as best you can."
I took a moment to flick my phone over to vibrate and tucked it into my trouser pocket before leaping to the next roof to get behind the hunters. I took a deep breath after I landed on the roof to steady my nerves and bled my humanity away into the box I kept it when I was going into battle. Guilt, empathy, mercy - the capacity to feel such soft emotions was bled away and replaced by someone who was as cold as ice. And then I drew my Colt 1911 with my left arm and jumped down to the ground behind the two hunters with barely a sound upon impact.
I shot the shorter of the two hunters through the back of his neck before he knew anything was wrong and he went down twitching and spasming as his spinal cord was severed. That would take some time to heal. The second reacted immediately, throwing himself to the side and twisting to face me. I winged him with two quick shots before drawing my sword with my right arm and entering melee combat range.
I immediately had to parry an overhead strike that would have cleaved my head in two before lashing out with a rigid hand, striking the throat of the hunter. As he staggered back, gagging, I swung my gladius around in a decapitating strike that he barely managed to knock aside enough to cut into his left arm instead of his throat - leaving it hanging uselessly at his side - before slamming a side kick into his chest knocking him off his feet and down onto his back.
Before I could advance forwards and shorten the fool by a head I instinctively ducked away and to the side, narrowly avoiding the attack that would have cut my sword arm clean off. Before I could react properly the shorter hunter was on me with a rapid series of sword strikes that prevented me from mounting any organised offence and kept me backing off. He had some moderate skill and it was enough for him to keep me on the defensive and prevent me from taking the few seconds to line up a good shot with my gun arm and put him on his arse.
As I continued to defend I saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye and instinctively twisted and altered the angle of my retreat to face that movement as well. Seeing the other hunter back on his feet and coming at me I reflexively raised my gun arm and put a bullet between his eyes. He dropped to the ground like a puppet that'd had its strings cut. He won't be getting up from that any time soon. Bullets in the brain take ages to heal unless you've got an extremely powerful quickening.
Twisting again to fully face the still standing hunter, I parried aside a particularly vicious lunge at my chest and launched a one-two slicing attack at his arms that was parried both sides but allowed me time to solidify my stance and get time to gather my thoughts and back into the fight proper. With that second's grace taken I launched forward into a rapid series of probing strikes to test the hunter's defences. He manages to keep everything attached but he's obviously at the limits of his skill just dealing with these probing attacks.
He lunged forward in a desperate attempt to regain control of the bout but I deftly parried his strikes keeping my face impassive all the while. The look of slowly rising panic in his eyes was all I needed to see to get me to go on a full offensive, striking with a speed and precision that this comparatively young Immortal cannot match and I soon had him backed against the alley wall, desperately fending off the attacks that were coming far too quickly for him to mount any kind of real offensive.
The look of slowly rising panic was replaced by absolute terror as I pressed the advantage and it didn't take long for the fool to do something stupid. He lunged forward in a vain attempt to skewer me but I disarmed him with a flick of my wrist and then brought my sword around in an arc and lopped his head off before he could do much more than look terrified. Before the quickening was released I strolled over to the desperately twitching body of the other hunter and shortened him by a head too. Two for the price of one - a good day's hunting, really.
A moment later the world exploded into pain and the alleyway started to fall apart around me as the first quickening was transferred. It's all I can do not to scream as I feel the new power forcibly enter my system and when the second quickening joins the first I couldn't help myself as I was forcibly lifted into the air and thrown around the alleyway like a rag-doll caught in a tornado. There really is nothing in the world like receiving a quickening, nothing you can compare it to. The feeling of pain and violation as someone else's memories and power is forced into you . . . it isn't pleasant.
It ended soon enough - though it felt like it took hours - and I dropped to the ground gasping for air and feeling every minute of my two thousand plus years. I'll never be able to understand why people go looking for this, how they can enjoy it. It just leaves me feeling tired and achy and altogether too much like the old man I really am. Head-hunters really are a perverse breed. After a few seconds I feel the strength return to my limbs and lever myself back onto my feet. Already hearing people moving towards me in the distance, I use my magic to wrap the shadows around me and retreat to safety.
"Don't you care at all about avoiding police attention?" asked an exasperated Amanda as we beat our retreat from the warehouse district.
"WHAT!? Do you want to go back to prison?"
"This is Sunnydale, Amanda. Nothing short of detonating a thermonuclear device will attract any attention I can't deal with."
"I don't get it."
"You don't want to either. Just take my advice and get out of this town as soon as this mess is finished and don't come back. Ever."
With two of the six hunters taken out without too much difficulty I was beginning to feel optimistic about things as I headed into school the next day. Boy was that ever a bad idea. I should have remembered that feeling optimistic is like planting a cosmic kick-me sign on my back.
"Angel's a vampire?" I heard Willow ask as I ran into the group outside the front of the school.
Oh yeah, God hates me. It's the only explanation.
"I can't believe this is happening. One minute we were kissing, and the next minute . . . " said Buffy. "Can a vampire ever be a good person? Couldn't it happen?"
I had to restrain my laughter. A vampire a good person? That's a good one! What's next? God and Lucifer getting together for a tea party?
"A vampire isn't a person at all," Giles, before clearing his throat. "It may have the movements, the, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but i-it's still a demon at the core, there is no halfway."
"So that'd be a no, huh?" said Willow.
It was at this point that I made the connection. Vampire. Angel. Angelus. This was not good. I'd seen the aftermath of that creature's idea of fun back in my Van Helsing days and the only reason I hadn't hunted him and his lackeys to the ends of the Earth was because Dracula was even worse and much more powerful.
"Well, then what was he doing? Why was he good to me? Was it all some part of the Master's plan? It doesn't make sense!" said Buffy, sitting down on a nearby bench with Willow.
"Who knows?" I said. "It's not human and you can't expect it to think like one. Angelus, and that's who I this is, was always one for playing with his food too."
"Angelus? Are you sure?" asked Giles.
"Who else could it be? He's a male vampire calling himself Angel and he's hanging around in the same town as the Master's group. It has to be him," I said.
"Bad, huh?" asked Jesse.
"He hasn't got a scrap of humanity in him if he is Angelus. The only good point is that he was never much of a fighter really and Buffy should be able to take him out without too much risk."
"If he's such a bad fighter then why do you look so worried?" asked Willow.
"Because he's an evil son-of-a-bitch even compared to other vampires. He might not be able to beat Buffy in a fight but he'd work his way through everyone she cares about and leave their bodies for her to find to wear her down."
"Oh," said Willow, looking utterly disgusted.
"He's a vampire, you're the Slayer. I think it's obvious what you have to do here," said Jesse, looking a little green around the gills himself.
"Uh, it is a Slayer's duty . . . " said Giles.
I tuned them out at that point. Buffy's angsting over what to do held absolutely zero interest for me. If she killed him, great. If she didn't, I'd deal with the creature. Easy. He was just another demonic sewer rat anyway even if he was a particularly bloodthirsty and sadistic one. No threat to me unless I did something deeply stupid. I was much more worried about the four pissed off head-hunters that would be after me. With Angelus around stirring up trouble, that situation looked a whole lot grimmer. They'd have to be eliminated immediately before Angelus could cause too much distraction.
I really should have stayed in England.
"So what's the plan now?" asked Amanda when we met up after school. "The hunters were still operating out of the same warehouse so we still have that at least."
"They'll be more cautious now," I said, thinking out loud. "If we had more numbers I'd say we storm the warehouse but with just the two of us . . . I'm not so sure."
"Don't you have anything that could even the odds?" she said, grimacing as she took a sip of the absolutely terrible coffee this place served.
"Not really. A few handguns and ammunition is about it. I wasn't expecting to need anything more than that here," I said. "I don't exactly keep heavy weapons and explosives at hand as a matter of course and certainly not when I'm stuck living with other people."
"Shame. So what are we going to do? They're going to be waiting for us now, you know."
I pondered it for a moment. We weren't going to be able to jump any more of their patrols, that much was for certain, but the warehouse was their territory and openly attacking it was asking for trouble. But . . . we could burn them out and take them when we got them in open combat.
"I have an idea," I said, with a predatory grin growing on my face. "Burn them out of the warehouse and then attack them in open combat. Two on one odds aren't great but we're older and stronger than they are so it should balance out mostly. They can't be all that skilled if they hunt in packs."
"Two on one odds suck when they're other Immortals, Alexander. When we take one's head the other can get us when we're receiving the quickening."
"I know. That's why there's going to be two of us there. That way there'll only be one of us down with a quickening at a time."
"I still don't like it," she said, grimacing. "That still leaves one person to hold off all the hunters left standing till the other's back on their feet."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Not much we can do about that. We could try luring them into a trap but that'll take time to set up and the longer this goes on the more chance of even more head-hunters showing up."
Amanda shuddered. "I think we've got quite enough of them on our plate for now thank you very much. You have a plan, I assume?"
"Torch the warehouse, shoot the bastards as they leave, take as many heads as we can before they regroup, and then deal with whatever is left over."
"Efficient and bloodthirsty. Very you, I think."
"So what now?" asked Amanda, eyeing the surroundings as we stood near the warehouse that been doubling as a base for the hunters. She looked a little nervous to be hanging around in front of a warehouse with a gun in one hand and a sword in another.
"Now I torch the place," I said, beginning to focus my power for the large- scale attack that would be necessary.
I felt the power beginning to rush into me as I channelled from almost every source I'd ever tapped in the past. This was the biggest spell I'd attempted in nearly a hundred years and the amount of power I was channelling honestly took my breath away. I'd forgotten how the world seems to come alive around you when you really begin to tap into the more powerful magical forces in the world and the way the power seems to rush through you. It's quite addictive really.
Soon enough the power had built up enough for me to call on the elemental force of fire on the scale needed. Fire is a particular talent of mine. If it had been ice or earth or one of the other elements then it would have taken a lot longer. I raised my hands into the air and pointed them at the roof of the warehouse I was targeting. "Ignite!" I cried out and flames began to dance across the roof of the warehouse. "Ignite!" I cried again and flames to appear across the walls. "Ignite!" I cried once more and the flames grew in both size and intensity. "IGNITE!" I cried a final time and the flames became a towering inferno.
Not a good day really. Four applications of my magic to set one building alight. I was really out of practice. It's a hell of a lot harder to do something so large-scale than it is to chuck a relatively small fireball around. Then again, judging from the look on Amanda's face, it was impressive enough as it was.
"Bloody hell," she said breathlessly. "I have got to learn how to do that!"
I just shook my head and mentally prepared myself for battle, once again draining off the softer emotions so that they wouldn't get in the way of what had to be done. Focussing on the heavy weight of the Colt 1911 in my hand, I waited for the hunters to flee the building into the little ambush we had set up. It didn't take long. I guess there's just something about being in a burning building that makes you throw caution to the wind. I know I wouldn't hang around in one after experiencing what it was like to burn to death - or as close to it as someone like me can come while the head's still attached to the body.
As the fourth hunter spilled out, I opened fire along with Amanda. Most of her shots missed completely but I landed five out of the seven shots I got from my clip and using jacketed hollow points that's a lot of damage inflicted. With that done I tossed my gun aside and lifted my bastard sword into a two-handed grip and went into melee combat with Amanda. With two of the hunters down healing and the other two healing this was the best chance we were going to get.
The one I attacked never really stood a chance to be honest. With his leg bleeding from an awful thigh wound and his lungs full of smoke, his mobility was limited as all hell and I had him completely at my mercy. He tried hard, I'll give him that, but he was shortened by a head in short order and I was soon taking a less than spectacular quickening. When I recovered from the quickening - only taking a moment to steady my nerves - I saw Amanda desperately fending off two singed looking thuggish types while another hunter - who looked a bit more reputable - twitched on the ground looking like his healing would have him moving again soon.
My decision was clear. If Amanda couldn't handle a couple of grunts, well, that was just too bad. With the easy takings out of the game then it'd be down to two on two and we could win that easily. Worst case, Amanda lost her head and I had to deal with a couple of grunts. Considering they were cheats of the worst kind I could just fry 'em with a fireball if it got too bad. And with that in mind, I took my second quickening of the night. Not bad going - four quickenings in two days, it's the most I've ever had so close together. This one was a pretty good one too for someone who couldn't have been more than three or four hundred years old.
Looking up from my quickening I saw Amanda in an awful position: her sword arm battered to the side and her opponent bringing his sword around for the decapitating strike. Instinctually, I hefted my bastard sword and hurled it through the guy's back like a spear. The scream of pain and frustration was something worthy of legend though it was cut short after a few seconds when Amanda took his head. I drew my backup weapon - my trusty old gladius - and immediately lunged to defend Amanda from the attack of the last hunter.
We went back and forth for a couple of minutes, mostly with me parrying his attacks as I couldn't get in close enough with my much shorter weapon against his over-sized longsword. Soon enough Amanda lopped the fool's head off from behind for her second quickening of the day and it was done.
After the battle was done we quickly vacated the area and headed to the nearby ice cream parlour to recuperate from the battle. Or, more correctly, we went there because Amanda needed a sugar infusion to recover from coming within three inches of losing her head and taking two quickenings in quick succession.
"I can't believe you just left me to fight those two on my own like that!" she said, eventually, waving her spoon at me in a vaguely threatening manner.
"It worked out didn't it? We've both got our heads attached still and the hunters are dealt with. It's all good," I said, with a negligent shrug of my shoulders.
"I was about five seconds from being dead. It is not all good," said Amanda, looking more than a little frazzled with how close she'd been to death.
"Hey, I saved your neck in the end, didn't I?"
"I suppose so but you could have done it a little quicker," she grumbled.
"Ah quit your complaining. Six enemies dead and not a scratch on us. It's a good day."
A lull in the conversation followed which I eventually broke.
"No offence, Amanda, but I don't want to see you again anytime soon if this is what your visits are going to be like."
"You're not exactly my first choice for a visit, either, Alexander. I don't even know your real name."
"Does it really matter? I haven't gone by that name in over two thousand years."
"I suppose not."
Finding out that for some reason Buffy had spared Angelus did not make my night. Finding out that he had been cursed with a human soul just amused me. A fitting punishment for the demon but a truly lousy way for someone to spend their eternity in the afterlife. I personally would brutally slaughter whoever was responsible if my body was turned and they shoved my soul back into the body, not that it's a concern for one of my kind - our bodies reject vampirism entirely. You have to be dying a lingering death for vampirism to take hold, either kind of vampirism, and that just doesn't happen to an Immortal. Best thing about being one of us really if you run into that sort of creature regularly.
So that was why I was out searching for the vampire's lair. If we were going to leave him alive then I was damn well going to make sure that he knew that he was on a damn tight leash. Any signs of going back to his demonic ways and I'd burn the fucker down on the spot without a second thought. It didn't take that long to find. He had no magical protections up to prevent scrying spells of any kind and as such a simple tracking spell found him and I just followed it to his door.
I could have done the polite thing and knocked but really I don't give walking corpses that sort of consideration so I blew the door off its hinges with an exploding hex and just walked on in.
"What the hell?" said the corpse before I knocked him onto his arse with a kick to the chest.
"Hello, Angelus," I said. "Remember me?"
"Never seen you before in my life," he replied, rubbing at his eyes, probably because of the light show my little spell had given off.
"Oh you have. You just don't recognise me," I said. "Perhaps this looks more familiar?"
And then I used a glamour to assume the aged appearance I'd had the one time our paths had crossed in London back in the nineteenth century. His hiss of surprise said it all.
"Van Helsing," he said. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm giving you a warning. The Slayer might have a head almost as soft as her heart but I'm not so easily swayed. Give me any reason to think you're going back to your old ways and I'll kill you. Slowly."
"Right," he said. "That's fair, I suppose. Why are you so pissed at me anyway? I don't remember ever going against your crowd."
"If you had, you'd have been filling an ashtray long ago. Remember the church? London, 1860, you slaughtered them like animals and desecrated the place for kicks while you were there. I was the person called in after you were finished, the monster expert. I had to put the ones you left alive out of their misery."
"If they called you in why didn't you come after me?"
"I had bigger fish to fry. As bad as you were there was a hell of a lot worse I had to deal with before I could after you and by the time I was ready you'd disappeared presumed dusted. Someone must have been hiding you because there's no way you could have blocked my scrying." I shook my head. "That isn't important. Just know that I'm going to be watching you very closely, vampire, and any excuse to dispose of you will be taken. I'm not the Slayer and I couldn't give a shit about your soul. The only good vampire is a dead vampire."
"So why am I still in one piece?"
"Killing you now would be more trouble than it's worth. I have at least another two years living here in front of me and if I kill you Buffy will become troublesome. I can deal with that but I don't really want to."
"So I survive because you're too lazy to deal with the consequences of killing me."
"I know you, Angelus. You're too damn cowardly to stick around here and cause trouble now you know who I am. You'll either fight on our side or you'll quietly leave and take the problem somewhere else. It works for me. I can always hunt you down later if I need to."
He looked vaguely offended that I'd called him a coward but he proved me right when he didn't argue it. Pathetic. He'd better show more spine when it came to fighting the vampires or I'd have to get creative in motivating him.