Chapter Three: Prophecy Girl
School really was about the most boring thing on the face of the Earth, I decided, as I walked home after one particularly awful day. If it wasn't bad enough that I had to suffer the indignity of being a high-school student, I had to be the one with the reputation that caused all the local morons to try it on with me. It wasn't as if I was in any danger - I'm Immortal! - but it's irritating. Dealing with punk kids who think they're hot shit because they carry knifes is not my idea of a good time. They have knifes, I have a short sword. It's just unutterably stupid. But that's Sunnydale for you.
The latest moron to try me had been that short-arse psycho O'Toole. How he hadn't been locked in a cell somewhere by then is beyond me. The guy generally spent his spare time breaking and entering, maiming people who got on his wrong side (generally by breathing funny or something similar), and just generally causing mayhem. How could the police not have enough evidence to put him away for something approximating forever? Well, he'd started on me, and I'd had to take him into the nearest alley and give him a thrashing just on general principles. I might not remember my mother all that well - thousands of years and hundreds of quickenings will do that - but I wasn't having with some young punk calling her those names.
Well, he'd think twice before crossing me again when he got out of hospital.
Anyway, it was a clear night as far as I could remember. Nothing on the schedule, no demons in the internet, no giant preying mantis demons hanging around, no little boys warping the fabric of reality, no invisible teenagers with murderous tendancies, and most of all no god-damned puppets wandering around with butcher's knives. That last one had just been freaky. Puppets are not meant to be able to talk back to you. Period. Then again he hadn't said much to me after I singed him with a lightning bolt. His own fault, shouldn't have surprised me. First clear night I'd had in a long time. With a nod to myself, I resolved to phone home and see how things were going back in LA.
"Smith residence," said the familiar voice on the other end of the phone.
"Hello, Peter," I said. "It's Xander."
"Boss! How are you?" he asked, pausing before continuing in a rather chiding tone of voice. "We haven't heard from you in months."
"Thing have been . . . hectic," I replied, a little defensively. "It turns out that chucking molotov cocktails into vampire lairs just stirs up more trouble than it's worth. And there's the usual hellmouth nonsense."
"I'm not the one you need to explain yourself to," said Peter dryly and I felt my stomach drop. "Faith has not been happy with your lack of contact."
"I sent letters!"
"Not quite what I'm talking about," he said. "Is it really so difficult to pick up the telephone and make a call?"
"You know I don't like using the phone," I said. "And stuck here with some inbred alcoholic twits as my foster-parents? Yeah, it is kinda difficult to get privacy."
"You seem to have managed it today," said Peter.
"I, uh, may have drugged them insensate," I said. Then I frowned, "thinking about it - not such a great idea with the amount they drink. I do hope that I haven't poisoned them."
"Going soft, boss?"
"It would get messy," I said. "Another murder trial is the last thing I need right now. I'd be obliged to break out and that's never something to be done lightly."
"Should have guessed," he said with a laugh. "You know you could always get a computer and use e-mail. That would work."
"No it would not," I said quickly. "You know what I think of those damned machines."
"You're just an old technophobe," said Peter. "You'll have to get used to using them eventually, you know, unless you intend to lose your head?"
"Bite your tongue, man!" I said. "My head's staying firmly attached and firmly away from computers if I can help it."
I could almost see Peter shaking his head at me on the other end of the phoneline. I'd known the man a long time - almost as long as he'd been alive - and I could easily predict his mannerisms. Then the conversation turned serious. "Well, you have to do something, Xander. You can't just disappear for months on end, not when you have Faith to take into account."
Yeah, I knew him well, and he knew me well. Made it way too easy to guilt trip me. It was even worse when he was right. "I know, Peter. I know, okay? I'm just no good at this stuff."
"You're not so terrible," said Peter, "as long as you have someone to remind you when you're doing something stupid."
"Thanks for the overwhelming vote of confidence," I grumbled.
"Well, someone has to keep you in check," said Peter. "And now I really think you should speak to Faith. Oh, and do talk to her about her behaviour at school. She might actually listen to you."
"Yeah, put her on," I said.
The line fell silent for several moment before I heard the sound of muffled conversation and then a voice on the line. "Hey, pop," said Faith.
"Hey, Faith," I said. "How's things?"
"Uh, pretty good," she said. "Been pretty quiet without you around though. When you coming back?"
"I'd be in a car and heading back right now if I could, Faith," I said with a heartfelt sigh. "I hate this town and I miss you. But I can't. The law has me by the balls here, Faith. If I disappear, they'll come looking. If I fake my death, they'll still come looking when the body disappears. We'd have to disappear and I am not taking you on the run."
"But . . . "
"No, Faith," I said sternly. "You deserve better than that. Couple more years and I'll be free to come back home. It really isn't that long. Once you get to my age, you'll realise that."
"Yeah, like any normal person could ever last as long as you," said Faith sulkily.
"It's still a long life anyway," I said. "Even if you only manage the mortal life of about seventy, eighty years or so. A couple of years waiting isn't all that much and it's not like I'm totally gone. And Peter's still there. Anyway, have you been keeping up with your sword practice?"
"Yeah," said Faith. "Don't see much point in it though. What do I need to know how to use a sword for?"
"You have exceptional talent, Faith," I said. "It would be a terrible shame to waste that, even in a world where few see the utility of such weapons."
"You're weird, pop," said Faith. "Most parents worry about how their kids are doing in school, not how good they are at fighting with a sword, you know?"
"True enough," I said. "But normal people are boring. Anyway, how are you doing in school?"
"Uh . . . "
"Faith," I said warningly. "You'd best not be goofing off in class again. You need that education."
"Look, I don't start the trouble," she said. I could almost see the defiant expression on her face as she spoke. "I just finish it."
"I can appreciate that," I said. "But do try to avoid fighting wherever you can. I didn't teach you how to defend yourself so you could beat up schoolboy idiots."
I almost winced at the hypocrisy of that as I said it. Do as I say and not as I do, indeed. Perhaps it was time to improve my own behaviour.
"Faith, I don't mind you defending yourself," I said. "But you have to be smart about it. Don't let them get your blood up; you get yourself into enough trouble that way."
"Sure, pop," said Faith sarcastically. "I'll make sure to only have idiots start fights with me away from school."
"Well, that would be a start," I said. "But why are people picking fights with you anyway? I don't remember you having that much trouble before."
"Mostly just stupid cheerleader types getting jealous cause their boys keep looking at me," said Faith. "Like I'm interested in those idiots."
Hmm. From nought to killing rage in the time she took to finish a sentence. That was a new one for me. The idea of teenage boys pawing at little Faith was more than a little repulsive to me.
"Hmm," I said, forcing my desire to head back to LA and cut these boys' penises off. "I suggest adding bromide to the school's water supply."
"It doesn't really matter," I said. "Now you be careful. None of those boys are good enough for you. End of story. Remember that."
"Well, it's true," I said. "Teenage boys are only after one thing and I highly recommend using your knees to deal with them if they try that with you. That'll stop 'em in their tracks right quick."
"I can look after myself, pop," said Faith. "They won't be getting nothing from me that I don't want to give."
I'm not quite sure how long I spent sputtering after she said that, but it was a fair while. Damn children.
"Still alive over there?" asked Faith a few moments later as I regained my equilibrium.
"Yes," I grouched. "No thanks to you, you cheeky little brat."
The conversation wondered across many topics from that point. I was in no rush to end the conversation and neither was Faith as far as I could tell. It really was good to be able to have real contact with her again. Eventually, though, the conversation was cut short when the ground began to shake underneath my feet.
"I'll have to go now, Faith," I said. "We appear to be having an earthquake."
"Rather inconsiderate really," I said. "Anyway, I'll be sure to get in touch a little more regularly from now on."
The quake proved to be a rather unimpressive one. The house sustained no structural damage whatsoever, though I did have to pull some acrobatics to stop things falling on my comatose guardians' heads. Why I bothered to do that shall forever be a mystery to me because they really aren't worth the effort.
The next day dawned bright and altogether too early for the tastes of my foster parents considering the moaning that came from their room when the sunlight woke them. Perhaps I had been a little over-enthusiastic with my application of the drugs I'd used. Hmm. Nah. They deserved it, those work-shy, alcoholic parasites. I'll never be able to understand why modern society allows that sort to leach off them. It would never have been permitted in my day. They'd have been set to work in the field whether they liked it or not and they wouldn't have liked the consequences if they'd tried to shirk that duty.
It wasn't till I reached the school that I realised that perhaps the quake had been a little more impressive than I'd initially given it credit for. The library was in quite a state indeed and didn't look to be too far from actual structural damage.
"Well now," I said. "Did you get gypped on the construction or what, G-man? Even my welfare bum guardians' house didn't fall apart like this."
"Oh very funny," said a harassed-looking Giles. "Are you going to help me, or are you just here to have fun at my expense."
"Well . . . " I said, before sobering up at seeing Giles's expression. "What? What's with the serious face? It's just a bloody earthquake; not like you have to pay for the repairs or anything."
"Don't be stupid," snapped Giles. "I couldn't care less about this bloody place. It's Buffy I'm worried about."
And that got me serious right quick. "What's going on?" I asked. "Has she been injured? Come on, man, out with it!"
"Morning!" said a rather cheerful sounding female voice, a voice that I immediately turned on my heel to face. It was Buffy. Huh?
"Wow. The damage looks fairly structural," said Buffy. "Are we safe in here?"
"Buffy!" said Giles, looking like he'd just seen a ghost. I was just as baffled.
"What?" asked Buffy, patting at her face. "Do I have something on my face?"
"No! Uh, and, and yes, we're, we're safe," said Giles before waving in the general direction of the stacks. "Uh, but probably best not to go up there".
"How're you doin' there, Giles?" asked Buffy. "Get much sleep last night?"
"Um . . . I-I-I've been working," stammered Giles.
"Me, too," said Buffy. "I went hunting last night, and it is awfully sweet of you to ask. It's getting hairy out there, Giles. I killed three vampires last night, and one of them was practically on school grounds."
"Their numbers are increasing," noted Giles, still not looking quite with it.
"Three vampires isn't that bad really," I interjected. "Bet you handled them well enough."
"That's so not the point," said Buffy. "Three's more than normal and I want to know why. Last night I got surprised. I don't want that to happen again. And what about you, Xander? Run into any vampires."
"A few," I said with a shrug. "Not much that different from normal where I go hunting."
"Hmm," said Giles, his voice and body language showing little other than distraction.
"Giles, care?" asked Buffy. "I'm putting my life on the line battling the undead. Look, I broke a nail, okay? I'm wearing a press-on. The least you could do is exhibit some casual interest. You could go, 'hmm'."
"Hmm?" asked Giles, still distracted. "Oh, sorry. Um, yes, I'm very glad that you're alright. Uh, I-I need to verify, um . . . I just can't really talk right now."
"Fine. That's okay," said Buffy. "I can't put it off any longer. I have to meet my terrible fate."
"What?!" barked Giles.
And then she grabbed me by my arm and dragged me off to Biology class. To be frank, I was quite baffled. What was that all about? I wasn't quite sure who to curse, Americans or Watchers - they're both bizarre breeds.
After class was over, I made tracks immediately, and headed to the library. Bugger classes, I wanted to know what was going on. What could they do anyway? Give me detention? Expel me? Feel my fear. I would've been quite happy to never sully myself ever again by associating with the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Sunnydale High. But I'd be so lucky. American authorities are not quick to let you go once you've gotten yourself caught up in their infernal systems.
"So, Giles," I said as I set foot into his office. "What was that little display earlier all about?"
Giles started slightly as I set foot into his office and gave me quite the fearsome little glare - I do sometimes wonder if there's more to this Watcher than the stuffy self he generally shows to the world - before he said, "I truly doubt that you can help me with this problem, Xander."
"Oh really?" I asked, sitting in a chair opposite his desk, not allowing my irritation at his dismissive tone of voice show. "Why don't you try me?"
"Well, can you speak Latin?" he asked.
"Like a native," I said, in Latin, allowing my native accent to show.
Giles looked slightly baffled for a moment before it clicked. "How on Earth . . . Actually, I don't care," said Giles before shoving a dozen books into my arms. "Look for references to the rise of the Master and the death of the Slayer. And be quick about it."
I raised an eyebrow at that. "You know, it wouldn't hurt to actually tell me what's going on," I said. "Really, it wouldn't. I'm not exactly going to go announce it on CNN, you know."
And there's that glare again. "I found a prophecy in the Pergamum Codex," he bit out. "If it is correct, then Buffy is going to die and the Master will rise. I am attempting to verify the prophecy."
I grimaced and got to work. It'll forever be a puzzle to me why people don't convert these old books to something a little more modern. I mean, it's been how many centuries since they invented the printing press? Even Methos, a legendary Immortal who was supposedly pushing on for five thousand years old, would adapt quicker than some of these people. Some of these books had been written centuries after Gutenberg, and they were still hand-written.
Hours passed and very little of note was accomplished. The books Giles sent my way were all very vague and full of the sort of meaningless double-talk that seers had specialised in since Adam was a lad. It was all very dull and very pointless. If Buffy was going to be in trouble, then they'd be better off finding the source of that trouble and dropping a few pounds of napalm on its head than sticking with this nonsense. And I said as much.
Giles looked at me as if I was the biggest bastard on the face of the Earth. "For God's sake, man," he said, "Buffy's going to die and you can't even take it seriously?"
I shrugged. "Everyone dies eventually," I said. "But prophecy's a load of bollocks. Buffy's beaten dangerous vampires before and I'm not going to play headless chicken because she's going to have to take on another one."
"The Master is more than a bloody vampire," snarled Giles. "He's the oldest on record and he's killed more Slayers than you've had hot dinners, so forgive me for being just a little concerned."
"Since when did Watchers get all maudlin over their Slayers getting sliced and diced?" I asked, genuinely curious. "That's a new one on me."
"What the bloody fuck would you know, you insolent brat?"
"I've had the misfortune of dealing with Watchers in the past. Never met one I didn't want to throttle afterwards."
Before Giles could really work up a head of steam, the vampire-with-a-soul appeared in the doorway and started making conciliatory noises. I just rolled my eyes and tuned the pair of them out as I went back to the book I'd been reading. I had no desire to play nicey-nice with a Watcher and a vampire. It just wasn't on my list of things to do before I died. Slightly ahead of sleeping with a vampire, but that's the sort of thing you end up doing when you allow yourself to get into a drinking contest with an old Immortal that's been practising alcoholism virtually since they figured out how to distill it into a drink. And I really didn't want to remember that in any detail, so I redoubled my focus on the book I was reading. Eventually the large-browed one disappeared.
Ms. Calender, who was rather attractive, I thought, stopped by not much later than that and Giles managed to talk her into using her techno-pagan mumbo- jumbo to find out about what was going on. I couldn't help but roll my eyes when I heard that. Honestly, why would a computer, of all things, be able to help deal with a vampire who was probably old enough to remember Jesus Christ from back when he was just some guy that most people wrote off as a crackpot? Didn't seem all that likely to me. Probably a good thing my disdain went unnoticed though. Youngsters tend to get stroppy when you question their modern peccadilloes.
More time passed; more books were read and discarded as useless. Really, the Master is just such a generic title. I kept expecting a Time Lord to pop in and claim that he was the real Master or some such. Would have broken the tedium, if nothing else. I can only spend so much time reading before I want to go and do something that involves actual physical activity and I was very quickly approaching that threshold point.
Eventually the walking corpse returned. "I've got the book you wanted here," he said. "Have you found anything new?"
Giles lowered the book he'd been reading and leaned back in his chair, looking very tired indeed. "No," he said. "Nothing. It appears to be as I feared."
"There has to be something," said Angel. "Anything!"
"Take a look for yourself," said Giles, waving his hand at the table. "The Codex is most clear on what is to happen. It's clear. It's what's going to happen. It's what's happening now."
"Look, it's prophecy," I weighed in as Angel picked the Codex up from the desk and started to read through it for himself. "Even if you believe in it, it's clear as mud. Half the time these things don't even make sense till they've come to pass."
Angel looked up from the Codex. "It can't be," he said. "You have to be wrong, Giles."
"I've checked it against all my other volumes," said Giles. "Double-checked even, and had Xander here triple-check for good. I doubt we'll find anything new in these books you've brought."
"We have to try!"
"What's the point?" asked Giles, looking older and more utterly wretched than I'd ever seen him look before. "The Codex isn't some third rate village seer. It's solid."
"Well, there's gotta be some way around it."
For once, I found myself in agreement with an animated corpse. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves, not just a line from a popular movie.
"Listen," said Giles. "Some prophecies are, are a bit dodgy. They're, they're mutable. Buffy herself has thwarted them time and time again, but this is the Codex. There's nothing in it that does not come to pass."
"Then you're reading it wrong!"
For some reason, I was getting a very bad feeling at that moment. My 'something's about to go to shit' sense, finely tuned through many centuries of dodging final death, was blaring at me and I had no idea why.
"I wish to God I were!" said Giles, suddenly looking angry instead of defeated, his voice growing progressively louder as he spoke. "But it's very plain! Tomorrow night Buffy will face the Master, and she will die!"
Giles opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by the sound of female laughter from just outside the office, laughter that held no real mirth. I knew who it had to be from the sound, but I so very much wanted to be proved wrong as I turned my head to take a look. I wasn't; it was Buffy, her eyes wild with emotions I'd never seen there before. Giles and Angel exchanged a look and began to move out of the office as Buffy slowly backed away from them. I was rooted in position. So much life experience, and I still had no idea how to deal with a child who'd just been given a death sentence.
"So that's it, huh?" asked Buffy, her eyes gleaming. "I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one's called. Wonder who she is."
I wanted to say something, anything, right then to help her, but my mind was empty. It was just so wrong. This was why I hated the concept of the Slayer and the Council. For all I'd said before then, Slayers really were children, more so now than at any other point in history, and they were just too damn young. Adults fight, adults die. Not children. Never children. History had taught me how wrong that was.
"Will you train her?" Buffy asked Giles, tears beginning to fall. "Or will they send someone else?"
A sarcastic comment, some mindless quip, anything to relieve the tension, might have helped, but I was still paralysed by the look on her face. Maybe I was getting soft in my old age, but it tore at me to see Buffy like that.
"Buffy, I . . . " said Giles, sounding much like I felt.
"They say how he's gonna kill me?" asked Buffy, the tears flowing freely now. "Do you think it'll hurt?"
I was on my feet as she finished, though I couldn't tell you when I stood up. What to do? There had to be something that would help. Angel moved to offer her comfort, for what that would be worth, but she quickly moved away.
"Don't touch me!" she cried. And then she address Giles again, "were you even gonna tell me?"
"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to," said Giles automatically. "That there was some way around it. I . . . "
"I've got a way around it," declared Buffy. "I quit!"
"It's not that simple," said Angel.
"I'm making it that simple! I quit! I resign, I-I'm fired, you can find someone else to stop the Master taking over."
"I'm not sure that anyone else can," said Giles. "All the signs indicate . . . "
Buffy's expression took an unpleasant turn at that and she picked up a book from the table as she spoke. "The signs?" she asked. And then she threw the book at Giles, though thankfully she moderated her strength. "READ ME THE SIGNS!" Another book thrown. "TELL ME MY FORTUNE! YOU'RE SO USEFUL SITTING HERE WITH ALL YOUR BOOKS! YOU'RE REALLY A LOTTA HELP!"
As much as I will always despise the Watcher's Council, and as much as my relationship with Giles is antagonistic at the best of times, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him seeing the look on his face. Gods above, this whole situation was just wrong.
"No, I don't suppose I am," said Giles quietly. I'd been wrong earlier: this was the most defeated I'd ever seen him look.
"I know this is hard," said Angel, making a faltering movement towards Buffy, but before he could say anything else she cut him off.
"What do you know about this?" asked Buffy. "You're never gonna die!"
"Buffy, please," I said. "Try to calm down. This . . . "
"Calm down?" she screeched. "Do you even . . . no I don't suppose you do understand, because you're no more human than Angel is!"
Angel didn't react to that, he already knew that something wasn't normal about me, but Giles started.
"Buffy . . . "
"Can you even die?" she asked, her voice still containing that hysterical edge. "Seriously? I'm not stupid, you know. I've seen the hits you take without even flinching. You're not even close to human."
"Of course I can die," I snapped. "Everything dies. Me, you, Giles, Angel, everything. It's just a matter of time."
"Well, my time isn't now!"
"Buffy, if the Master rises . . . " said Giles.
Buffy yanked the cross from her neck. "I don't care!" she screamed. Then she calmed down. Very slightly, but she calmed. Honestly, I was half expecting her to attack someone as close to the edge as she was getting. "I don't care, Giles," she said more quietly. "I'm sixteen years old. I don't wanna die."
"Then don't," I said quickly. "I'll come with you! Together, we can beat this bastard and neither of us will die!"
She just shook her head, her expression heart-breakingly sad, and slapped the cross down on the library table before taking off. A few moments later I moved to follow but she was already out of sight and beyond my ability to track. A Slayer that doesn't want to be found won't be when she has that sort of head- start. That simple. I stood and stared in the general direction I thought she'd gone in for a few seconds before turning on my heel and returning to the library.
Angel was gone. Fucking bastard that he was, I wasn't surprised. Giles was just stood where he'd been when Buffy left staring at the library doors. My entrance didn't even seem to faze him. For a moment, I let watched him, the man looked utterly bereft, and then I spoke.
"Giles," I said. "Earth to Watcher. Come in. We need to talk."
He immediately turned a razor-sharp glare on me. "Yes, we do," he said. "We have a great many things to discuss it seems, Xander, if that's your real name."
"Not now, Giles," I said. "Just not now. It's not the time."
"Oh, I think it's just the time," he said. "The Master's rising and I find out that someone close to the Slayer has been hiding their true nature. I think it's a perfect time to discuss that."
"Fuck off, Giles," I said. "Seriously, just fuck off. I'm not some stupid fucking teenager that will fall in line whenever you start acting like a hardass. I was killing vampires when your ancestors were running around with shit smeared on their faces spearing each other over who got to fuck the village bike. Just tell me where the fucking Master is and we can part company."
If looks could kill, I'd have been incinerated on the spot. Most likely my ancestors would have felt it.
"You need some sort of proof that I'm trustworthy?" I asked. "Sorry, I'm all out of that. But maybe this will ring a bell: In the name of God, impure souls of the living dead shall be banished into eternal damnation. Amen."
I've never seen anyone's skin pale as quickly as Giles's did right then. I'm not even sure why, to be honest, it wasn't that scary a bit of news for an old hand like him, but maybe he made a connection that went off the path I expected. "Hellsing," he breathed.
I simply nodded by way of reply, the sort of nod that only a contemptuous toff could manage, something I hadn't done since, oh, the First World War? Before? Most likely before. It was difficult to remember at times. That part of my life was very blurry; getting half your brains spattered over the Somme by machine fun fire will do that. It had been a damned miracle I hadn't released my quickening all over the battlefield and what a mess that would have been.
"I don't really know," admitted Giles eventually. "Underground somewhere, I know that much, but nothing exact. Angel knows more, I think."
"Well, he'll be lurking around town sulking all day now," I said. "I'll never find him. He's too good at hiding. Time to go search, I suppose."
"You'll never find him," said Giles. "It's the proverbial needle in the haystack with this town's sewer system."
"I have to try. A quick assassination will end this right here, right now."
"And you think you can handle him alone?"
"I've dealt with worse."
"I suppose you have but there's no pet monster for you here."
I left at that. The conversation was taking a turn I didn't want to deal with.
Giles was right. I searched through that day, the night, and the day after with zero success on the finding-the-Master front. The sewers were as dank and disgusting as only sewers can be and they were like a fucking labyrinth, a demon-infested labyrinth. By the time I gave up, I was riding the ragged edge of exhaustion and had faced off with more mobs of blood-thirsty monsters than I'd seen since the sack of Rome. It was a miracle that I hadn't gotten myself killed but the fact that none of the things I ran into knew how to finish me off was probably as much to do with that as anything.
I knew that I looked a right mess as I clambered up the ladder and exited the sewer. My clothes were both tattered and stained with blood, both mine and that of various demons, and I was absolutely filthy. Add to that the inevitable stench that comes from wandering through a sewer - inescapable, that - and I'd have bet good money that people would cross the road to avoid me.
But anyway, the streets were empty. Absolutely devoid of activity. I'd felt something evil growing before I'd left the sewers, why I'd quit the search, but I hadn't expected that the wilfully blind population of Sunnydale would take the hint. It displayed a level of intelligence that I hadn't expected to find in the population of the town. Strange, really, considering the way they almost deliberately ignored the presence of the supernatural around them. Not that I'm one to complain about that: such idiocy is part of what allows those of my kind to keep our existence quiet.
I quickly made my way to the library. Whatever was going on, the Watcher would probably have the 411 on the situation and I wanted to know sharpish. I might have failed on one front when it came to keeping Buffy alive but that didn't mean I couldn't regroup and approach from another, less futile, angle. You don't just give up and mosey on home after one setback, not in a situation like we were facing.
When I entered the library I saw Ms. Calender and the Watcher sat at the table poring over books while Willow beavered away at the computer terminal Giles had on his desk yet never, ever touched.
"What is that . . . oh, you," said Giles. "I don't suppose you had any success?"
"I'd be so lucky," I said. "Did clean out a few demon nests, if nothing else, though. What's the situation?"
"Buffy's gone to fight the Master," said Willow, not looking up from the computer. I could see her chewing at her lip, though, so she was worried enough. "Jesse thinks he knows a way to help her and ran off a while back."
"What?" I hollered before turning on Giles. "You let her go? You bloody Watcher."
"And, again, I did not let her go," said Giles. And then I noticed the bruise on his jaw. Ah. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.
"And Jesse?" I asked.
"I don't have any authority over the boy," said Giles. "He does what he will. And you have been teaching him how to fight."
"Six months of mixed martial arts lessons do not a Slayer make," I exploded. "The kid has a good heart, but he's nowhere near up to this."
"Kid?" asked Willow, to be ignored by all.
"He'll be a vampire-snack in ten seconds flat going up against someone like the Master," I finished.
Willow immediately broke into babble. Not one of her more endearing habits in my opinion. Quite infuriating actually. I rolled my eyes and headed over to the table. "So, where did he go?" I asked.
"We don't know," said Giles. "He ran off before I could ask."
"Well, shit," I said. "Not even a general idea?"
"No," he said. "He just said that he knew a way to help Buffy and then ran off into the night."
"Typical," I sighed. "Well, there's nothing to be done about it now, I suppose. What's the script here?"
"We're trying to puzzle out where the Master will rise," said Giles.
"Not yet. Well, let's think about it. The vampires have been gathering, they know he's coming, they will be his army."
"I can testify to that," I said. "Believe me, no shortage of bloodsuckers in the sewers."
"Do you think they'll gather at the hellmouth?" asked Ms. Calender.
"Well, the last time the Master tried to rise was the Harvest," said Willow. "He sent a bunch of vampires to get him fresh blood."
"Well, where did that go down?" asked Ms. Calender.
"The Bronze," said Giles.
"The Prom!" said Willow and I at the same time. Good thing I didn't bother to arrange a date for that. Not really in any state to go.
Giles stood up sharply. "We have to warn them!"
"No!" said Ms. Calender. "We'll go. You have to concentrate on demon killing. My car's in the lot." I started to follow them but Ms. Calender cut me off with a pointed finger. "And you can stay here too. No way I'm having you in my car like that. I can't afford that sort of cleaning bill on the wage I get here."
Well, what can you say to that? I backed off and returned to the table, though I didn't take a seat or touch anything. Touching a book in the state I was in would equal one lost head at the hands of the Watcher, no doubt.
"So, what are we to do, then?" I asked.
"We need to uncover the exact location of the hellmouth," said Giles. "That's where the main threat will originate from."
I nodded. "I'll go find a sink and wash my hands," I said. "Then I'll come back and see about helping with that."
It didn't take long to find the boys' bathroom, but it did take a while to find a sink that was pumping out water and not blood. Seriously, that's just wrong. I've seen some seriously nasty things in my time, but that disturbed me. I mean, if the taps are running blood, does that mean the reservoirs are full of blood? That's an awful lot of bodies right there. More than I'd seen in one place since the Somme or maybe some of the battles in the Pacific. Either way, I sure as hell didn't want to think about it too much.
When I got back to the library, I opened my mouth to speak but was cut off by a sound I truly was not expecting. A car. In the school. Driving. Inside the corridors. What the fuck? I was about to ask Giles if he had a clue when I realised that the car was moving towards the library and made a snap decision to get the hell away from the doors before I went splat. Being hit by a car is no fun at all no matter how big or small they are. Flesh and bone just doesn't stand up well to steel.
Fortunately the car came to a skidding halt, at least that's what I heard, before it smashed through the library doors. A moment later, Willow and Ms. Calender came belting through the library doors with Cordelia, making a whole lot of racket all the while with their infernal screaming.
"Uh?" I managed.
"What's happening?" asked Giles.
"Guess!" snapped Ms. Calender by way of response.
And at that precise moment, a fist smashed through one of the circular windows on the library doors and started to grab at the girls, who were leaning on the doors in an effort to keep them closed. It didn't take a genius to work out what that fist belonged to; humans do not punch their way through windows as a rule, not sane ones anyway.
Willow started slapping at the hand with a sign and I went with Giles to get the library table. The damn thing weighed a ton and took some serious effort to lift and move but once we'd plonked it in front of the door, it would hold them for a while.
"Jesus," I said. "There must be an army of the damn things out there."
"Less talking, more barricading," said Ms. Calender.
And so we continued to pile more and more in front of the door. Book-cases, computers, photocopiers, everything we could get our hands on. The library had plenty of nice, heavy objects to pile up.
Eventually we interrupted by Giles's cry. "They're coming in through the stacks!"
That had Ms. Calender and Willow haring off to pile up bookcases in front of the French doors that led to the stacks while I continued to work with Giles and Cordelia at the main entrance. Barely a minute later, Giles himself ran off to secure his office leaving me alone with the cheerleader. Joy.
"What is that smell, dork?" she asked.
I just looked at her as if she was insane. We were about to be swarmed by an army of demonic killers and she was worried about my body odour? Bloody cheerleaders! Before I could make a suitably cutting reply a hand snaked through the already smashed window and grabbed onto Cordelia's arm. She screamed and looked panicked for a moment but before I could act her expression took a ferocious turn and she bit down hard on the vampire's hand. The vampire screamed and let go.
"See how you like it!" she shouted through the window.
"You surprise me," I said.
"What, did you expect me to wait for a big, strong man to save me?" she asked. "Don't be so lame."
I was distracted at that point by the sound of Willow screaming. And then a vision out of my worst nightmares burst up through the floorboards, a giant, tentacled monster that filled me with an incomprehensible, endless dread.
"No," I said, crossing myself. "No, no, no. This isn't possible."
"The hellmouth!" shouted Giles, sounding pretty damn scared himself.
"What the hell is that thing?" asked Cordelia, her voice taking on a shrill edge. I was quite impressed that she was still functional, to be honest.
I didn't reply. I was too busy running through a list of demons in my head trying to find an alternative to what I thought it was and coming up dry. It just wasn't possible. Those things were supposed to be dead, or as close to dead as things that aren't even faintly mortal can get, but now there was one right in front of me in the flesh. I'm not too proud to admit that I was about five seconds from dropping all of my carefully constructed shields and barriers and summoning Alucard right there. If I was going to have to face a Great Old One, then I didn't see much reason to not bring out the biggest guns I had no matter the consequences.
But everything went to hell before I had time to pull down those centuries old defences and call my weapon to action. The beast had hold of Willow with one of its tentacles and began to drag her towards itself, drawing an absolutely terrified scream from her. Giles pulled an axe from somewhere and charged the monster at the same time as I drew my gladius and charged myself. There was no point to trying magic against this thing; it was far more powerful than I would ever be.
Giles got there a moment before me, he was impressively fast for an ageing mortal, and managed to land a blow with his axe that drew a screech of pain from the creature and made it reflexively release Willow. Unfortunately, for me, the creature instinctively lashed out with its other tentacles and struck me a blow that sent me hurtling across the library before I smashed into and through the wooden railing that surrounded the mezzanine and when I landed I felt a terrible pain in my mid-section and heard the sound of Willow screaming.
When I raised my head and looked down, I saw the jagged remains of a wooden fence pole protruding from my middle. And when I saw it, I began to feel it. It's been a long time since I experience pain of that level, and I almost bit through my lip in an effort, barely successful, not to scream. It took a lot to ride out the initial agony, but I managed it, and then came time to try and lever myself free. That effort died a premature death when I found that couldn't feel anything below roughly the bottom of my rib-cage and I slumped back down, bringing another wave of pain down upon me. I'm pretty sure I blacked out for a while there.
The next thing I knew, there was a skeleton attached to the similarly-jagged railing next to me and Buffy was looking down at me with sad eyes.
"Not dead yet," I managed, though it was a struggle. I just wanted to sleep. Not a good sign, really, even if I couldn't actually die from this.
Buffy blinked. "How?" she asked. Then she shook her head. "What do I have to do?"
"Get me off this," I said in a croaking voice. "And then dump me in a corner to heal. No hospitals. No drugs."
I nodded. And then she lifted me. I blacked out again and came to when she lowered me to the ground in the corner of the library.
"How long?" she asked then.
I closed my eyes and thought about it. "Sunrise," I said finally. "I should be mobile by sunrise."
"We'll have to move him elsewhere," said Giles. "We've made too much noise; someone will investigate."
"Yes, I heard," said Giles. "We'll have to take him to my flat. He'll be safe there. Cordelia, can we use your car?"
"Cordelia," he said warningly.
"Okay," she said with a sigh. "I'll just have to nag daddy to get it steam cleaned."
I quite gratefully blacked out again when Buffy picked me up. And this time I stayed out; less painful that way, really.
When I came to again I was laid on a settee in what I assumed to be Giles's apartment. I still felt like shit, but I felt a lot better than I had before I lost consciousness the last time, that much was for damned sure.
"So, you're awake," said Giles.
"I am at that," I said. "Can't say I'm happy about it, but I'm awake."
"Your constitution is remarkable," he said. "You must have went at least thirty-six hours without sleep before you were ran through and less than eight hours on you are awake and seemingly functional."
"Comes with the territory," I said. "But I think explanations can wait till the others can hear them too. I don't fancy telling this story twice."
"Of course, of course," said Giles.
I propped myself up on my elbows and was about to swing my now functional legs off the settee when I suddenly found my own sword at my throat. I froze. Bad situation. Bad, bad, bad.
"Of course, what I'm really interested in is whether you're dangerous to us or not," said Giles cheerfully. "And I want an answer to that before you go anywhere."
"I have a soul."
"I know that," said Giles. "Pretty simple test for that, really, but we both know that you don't need to be soulless to be a monster. Your lot's pet monster is testimony to that, isn't it?"
"You have some balls," I said. "Killing a Hellsing is a quick route to an early grave, you must know that."
"Sir Integral Wingates Hellsing is the only living Hellsing," said Giles. "I know that for a fact. Of course, the forces that that family plays with? There's no knowing what tricks one could use to escape death. I want assurances."
"And what would stop me lying?"
"The truth spell around you."
"You start channelling magic, and your head comes off."
"And how do you know that will kill me?" I bluffed. "You've already seen how hard to kill I am."
"Not much can survive without its head," said Giles. "And even if you can, it would buy me the time to do something more, ah, final."
"You have me there," I said. "I'm not a vampire."
"I know that much," said Giles. "You've been out in sunlight often enough to prove that you're not demonic and you lack the fangs of the nosferatu. But there're plenty of other monsters."
"And I'm not a demon of any sort," I said. "Not a drop of demonic taint about me."
"You keep telling me what you aren't," he said. "But I'm interested in what you are, because you're clearly not human."
I clearly didn't have much choice. As much as I would spitefully destroy Giles and his apartment in death, I'd much rather survive.
"I am Immortal."
"And that tells me very little. I had already guessed as much. But many creatures are immortal; I would prefer something a little more specific."
"You are a bloody fool," I said, my temper wearing thin. "I am Immortal. Beginning, middle, and end of the story. It's not my fault that you and your masters don't know of my kind and if you don't take that sword away from my throat I will do something deeply unpleasant to you."
"You are in no position to make threats."
"You'd be surprised. You have what you wanted; release me."
Giles frowned down at me. He seemed to be genuinely confused by my belligerence, as if fear of death would override my anger at the situation for long. A long moment passed and then the sword was removed from my throat. I was on my feet a second later and glaring at the Watcher.
"My sword," I said, holding my hand out. "Give it to me."
Giles looked down at the weapon for a moment before looking up at me. "This is a genuine Roman gladius," he said. "I can't age it exactly, but it appears to be a Gladius Hispaniensis. This sword is two thousand years old."
"You are correct," I said with a nod.
"It belongs in a museum."
"It belongs in the hands of its owner," I said. "There'll be plenty of time for it to be on display when I'm dead. Give it to me."
"It's not even a terribly good weapon by any vaguely modern standard," said Giles. "But it is yours."
And then he flipped the blade over and handed it to me hilt-first. That took some trust. It would have been very easy for me to take the hilt and just push the blade forward to run hum through. A single, short motion. I doubted his reflexes would be quick enough to dodge. I took the sword and eyed the blade.
"Needs fixing up again," I said. "Damn demon blood is corrosive."
"I can't believe you use it against demons," said Giles. "It's such a waste."
"It's what the sword was meant for," I said. "It belongs on the battlefield, not in a museum somewhere being eyed by snotty kids on school trips and arrogant old men. That would be the waste."
"Such is your opinion," said Giles. "Now, I believe you owe the children an explanation. Willow, for one, was quite traumatised by what happened."
"I suppose I can deal with that."
Famous last words, those. Willow had just about crushed his ribs when she saw him and then Buffy had worked on finishing the job.
"Hey, ease up," I said eventually. "I heal first, but I get hurt same as a human."
Buffy released me. And then she socked me on the arm. "Don't do that again," she said.
"Not planning to. Believe me, it wasn't pleasant."
"So what's the script, big guy?" asked Jesse. Ridiculous name that considering that Jesse was at least four inches taller than me, but whatever. He was a lanky streak of piss anyway and my training would have to go a very long way before that changed. "Got me curious."
"That's a fairly long story," I said with a sigh. "Longer than I want to be telling, that's for sure. In short, I'm Immortal. I don't age, I heal stupidly fast, and there's a bit of mystical crap in there as well but nothing worth much discussion. I can be killed, but it takes a lot to pull it off, and I'm not inclined to give away the secret."
"You don't trust us?" asked Willow, her eyes big and wet.
"You don't last as long as I have without picking up some paranoia," I said. "And what you don't know can't be tortured out of you by enemies."
Willow gulped, so naive she was, and was quiet.
"I've seen you do things no human can," said Buffy. "A little too much strength, a little too fast. There's more than you said."
"You'd be surprised what a well-trained human can do," I said. "But I am magically-inclined and can use that for all the things you'd expect. Slayers were created by powerful magic, after all."
"You know about that?" asked Giles, his eyes shining with eagerness.
"Not that old," I said. "No-one's that old. I know as much as you do. Probably less; your lot always kept that sort of thing close to your chests."
"We don't know all that much about it either," said Giles grumpily. "It's been lost in the mists of time."
"Lot of stuff ends up like that," I said with a nod. "Like the fact that the American Revolution was really because they didn't want to pay taxes. Interesting how that happens."
"And I say, hey!" said Jesse. "Defending the honour of our forefathers and all that."
"Your forefathers," I said. "I'm not really American. Or any modern nationality really. I'm quite happy to take the piss out of the lot of you equally."
"So what about the Brits then?" asked Jesse.
"Insular little island nation that drinks far too much tea and has terrible teeth," I said. "Though the teeth thing? Not so much these days. You should have seen them back in the Elizabethan times. They liked their sugar alright but without modern hygiene? Not a good idea. Not a good idea with it, really, but at least we have toothpaste these days."
"You can never have too much tea," said Giles dryly.
"Oh yes you can," I said. "Believe me, I know. I spent far too many years on that god-forsaken island before I headed for the New World and I had to drink far too much tea while I was there to be polite."
"You know, your family would probably be quite happy to see you again," he said, completely out of the blue.
I shook my head. "Never go back," I said. "First principle of staying hidden for my kind. That and they'd assume the worst. I don't need the hassle. I have other responsibilities now and they're making their own way well enough."
"Well, it's your decision," said Giles. "But she strikes me as being rather young for the position she was forced into."
"She was," I said. "But she can handle it."
"Is it just me or are they talking in code?" asked Buffy.
"Personal things," I said while glaring at Giles. "Things best left unsaid really."
Giles nodded. He wouldn't bring it up again, hopefully. Now I just had to hope this wouldn't make its way into his report to the Council, but I didn't think it would.