Chapter Four: When She Was Bad
I'd thought Sunnydale was a boring little town before the summer, but that was nothing compared to what it was like when the monsters went into hibernation. A pokey little one-Starbucks town does not do much to occupy the mind. There just wasn't anything there to do. Not that I was legally old enough to participate in most interesting activities. Seventeen years old again. What had I been thinking when I created this identity? A modern education and a little more security in the fake identity were not worth the boredom.
It wouldn't have been so bad if there'd still been some demons to have a scrap with. Mortal combat was never boring at least. But there was none to be had. I'd only seen a couple of vampires all summer and neither of them had been capable of giving me anything remotely resembling a challenge. They'd been kinda pathetic to be honest. Stupid and drunk on their new-found power. Neither confrontation had been all that satisfying.
Disturbingly enough, I had grown so bored that I would have welcomed another visit from Amanda. She always brought a good bit of trouble along with her, even if it tended to be a bit more, ah, potentially fatal than I generally preferred. It's at the point when you'd welcome a visit from someone who is little more than a perennial pain in the neck that you begin to grow concerned. It hadn't been that long since there was a 50/50 chance of violence when Amanda showed up in my life.
Even spending time back in LA with Faith hadn't really solved the issue of my utter boredom. Sure, it had been nice - very nice - to see her again, but I'd only been able to stay a week and then I was back to square one and no better off with it. Worse, even, because I knew there was something so much better, somewhere I desperately wanted to spend time, only a few miles up the road but barred to me because of those god-damned stupid laws.
And I really did want to be back in LA. It had been a ridiculously long time since I'd had a real family - Hellsing didn't really count, I'd never allowed myself to become emotionally invested in my heir for various reasons - and I missed it now that it was barred to me. There was so much that I needed to teach my daughter, so much that I wanted to teach her, and I couldn't. It was maddening. And what if she needed protecting? The girl was capable, for her age, but if a head-hunter got her in their sights . . . I wouldn't be able to get there in time.
I shook my head and stepped up the pace of my pointless patrol. There was no point in torturing myself with thoughts of someone murdering Faith. It was unlikely, and there was nothing I could do anyway. But still the image persisted in my mind of her body slumped on the ground missing its head. I'd seen more than enough corpses in my time to paint quite the vivid mental picture.
And then I felt it in the back of my mind, that painful buzzing feel that can only come from another Immortal being in the vicinity. Perhaps I had spoke too soon. It looked like I was going to have to face something more interesting than an idiot fledgling after all. My hand immediately gravitated into my long coat and grasped the hilt of the sword I was carrying. My gladius was not an ideal duelling weapon, but it would have to do. Carrying a longer blade would have attracted too much attention. Too hard to conceal.
A quick scan of the area revealed nothing. The night was dark and the many warehouses that surrounded me cast many shadows that could conceal a man from my sight if they were careful. I knew I was frowning as I cast my eyes around again. Whoever it was, they were better at hiding than I was at finding. An unfortunate situation.
"I know you're out there," I shouted. "There's no point hiding. You won't catch me unaware."
There was no response, but I hadn't really been expecting one. If I was being stalked by a hunter, then the first I'd see of them would be their blade making for my neck if they had any sense at all. It was a weak way to fight, but it was a most practical one considering my skill level compared to that of most hunters. As much as it irritated me, I could appreciate that.
The moments that followed were tense, but no attack came. Eventually the feeling faded and I found myself stood in the middle of an empty street surrounded by abandoned buildings with no indication that what I had sensed had been anything more than an over-active imagination. It was most vexing. If there was a hunter in the area, I wanted to get it dealt with quickly. Winter was coming and with it would come the demons. The last thing I needed was to have people hunting my head when the demons were out and about again causing their own particular brand of trouble.
I didn't feel like continuing patrol after that. There was nothing to be found and having someone after my head drained all the entertainment out of things anyway. Being the prey wasn't half as much fun as being the predator. I'd almost rather spend another night being interrogated by the resident geek squad about ancient history than continue my patrol at that point. Almost.
I approached the school with all the enthusiasm of a man walking the green mile the next day. The prospect of spending another two years in the hormone soaked hellhole known as Sunnydale High School did not fill me with joy. I was never, ever, ever going to create a new identity at such a young age again. The entire thing was just a very bad joke. It would have been hard enough to put up with the stupidity of high school cliques when I was a child, but when I was an old man it was a nightmare. Cheerleaders, football players, swimmers, whatever - they were all idiots.
Still, I had no choice. I'd made my decision, as bad a choice as it had proven to be, and then events had conspired to make it impossible for me to back out and find a new way to approach things. The system had gotten its hooks into me courtesy of an idiot head-hunter challenging me in broad daylight and it had no intention of removing them till I was a legal adult and hence beyond their reach. If I attempted to disappear and escape school, I'd have to spend the next several years dodging the police. Not that difficult for one with my skills, but also not a situation I wanted to find myself in.
On the up-side, I'd yet to be pulled into any ridiculous teenage mating dances. Being convicted of manslaughter as a teenager did have its upsides, after all, it seemed. It would have been nightmarish if I'd been pulled into the ridiculous games that teenagers play in order to attract a mate. All those hormones and urges and no idea how to deal with them, they are a true pain in the neck at that age.
As the school gates came into sight, I spied Jesse and Willow approaching the school with Buffy trailing along behind. An odd sight, that. It certainly didn't match up with the perky cheerleader Buffy I had grown used to who seemingly always had a smile and a quip ready to go.
Well, whatever. I'm no agony aunt; she'd get over whatever problems she had in her own time. With that in mind, I made my way over and greeted them. "Hey, guys," I said. "Nice to see you back in town, Buffy."
Buffy sent a somewhat half-hearted wave my way as the other two uttered their own greetings.
"So, ready for another exciting year of school, Xan?" asked Jesse. "I know I can't wait to begin."
"Be still my beating heart," I said flatly. "I don't know if I can cope with the excitement of it all."
"Oh, but we get to do advanced calculus this year," said Willow. "And medieval history. And-"
"We get the picture, Will," said Jesse. "You like school."
Willow nodded enthusiastically. "School's great," she said. And then she frowned. "Except for Cordelia. And Snyder."
"You don't like our beloved benevolent leader?" asked Jesse. "I'm shocked! Shocked, I say!
"Snyder's the sort of man that no-one, not even his own mother, could like," I said. "He's one of the few people who would be rendered less unpleasant if they were turned."
Not that I was still bitter about being forced to take part in some stupid talent show. No, sir, not a bit. I just thanked the gods on a nightly basis that no-one who knew me had been there.
The scowl that appeared on Buffy's face when she registered what I'd said was truly a thing of legend. "Don't be stupid," she said. "Vampires are evil."
I raised an eyebrow at that. Bitchy. "Any more insightful observations?" I asked. "Like, you know, the sky's blue, grass is green, teenagers are stupid, the Slayer needs to get that bug out of her ass, that sort of thing."
"Hey, hey," said Jesse. "We're all friends here. Let's save the venom for more deserving targets. Like Harmony. Just for example."
Willow made a supportive sort of noise in the back of her throat and that was the end of that. The talking ceased until they entered the school proper and ran into Giles and Ms. Calender on a flight of stairs
"Giles!" exclaimed Willow.
"Yo!" said Jesse. "G-man! What's up?"
"Nice to see you," said Giles. "And never call me that again."
I, of course, immediately filed that away. Giles wasn't so bad as far as Watchers went, but bugging him was still far too fun to be legal. Hey, what can I say? It's the small pleasures that make life worth living.
"Hi, kids," said Ms. Calender. I didn't like being called a kid much, but I don't suppose she could exactly call me anything else in a public place.
"Hi!" said Willow.
Giles quickly moved over to Buffy. "How are you?" he asked.
"Live and kicking," replied Buffy.
"Buffy killed a vampire last night," interjected Willow in an uncomfortably loud voice that had the whole group doing a quick recce of the area to see if anyone had overheard.
"I think you can get more volume if you speak from the diaphragm," said Buffy.
"We've got vampires?" asked Jenny quietly. "I thought the hellmouth was closed?"
"Well, it's closed, but not gone," said Giles. "The mystical energy that emanates from it is still focussed in this town."
"Hellmouths never really go away," I said. "Not that I've ever heard of. Best anyone's ever managed is to lessen the strength of one by messing with the leylines and that took human sacrifices."
"Ah, yes, the Pavia hellmouth," said Giles perking up suddenly in curiosity. "The records on that are rather sketchy."
"And for good reason," I said. "Not many survived that effort and none of us wanted it to ever happen again. The whole thing was a disaster from beginning to end. We came within inches of causing an apocalypse that day."
"Well, you did accomplish your goal."
"No, we didn't," I said. "We wanted to eliminate it entirely. Our approach was based on obsolete magical theories and was fundamentally flawed. It's a miracle we didn't cause a disaster so terrible that it made Pompeii look tame."
"Hmm, well, I wonder if this vampire was here for any particular purpose," said Giles finally, looking somewhat disappointed that I wasn't filling him in on the gossip.
"You're the Watcher," said Buffy. "I just work here."
"Yes. I-I must consult my books."
"Eleven minutes, mister," said Willow. "That's a dollar for me. I called more than ten minutes before he went for the books."
Jesse handed over the dollar. And then the bell rang for class.
"Time to go," I said.
We started to make out way to class, but before we got far Giles spoke up. "Oh, uh, Buffy!" he exclaimed. "I realise that you've just returned, but when you're ready I think we should start your training again."
"I'm ready," she said. "I'll see you after school."
"Well, I . . . I understand if you want to take a few days-"
"I'm ready," said Buffy, before turning on her heel and marching off to class.
"Hey, are we still on for my training tonight?" asked Jesse.
"Of course," I replied.
I quietly detached myself from the group when lunchtime came and headed outside to get some air. The gang might have been much more tolerable than the average teenager, but I could still only talk so much before I needed to get away. That day, it was Buffy getting on my nerves. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on with her - something to do with her near-death experience, I expected, though I wasn't sure; teenagers can always find so many reasons to turn pissy - but it didn't take much snippiness to exceed my tolerance.
It was, if nothing else, a pleasant day. The sun was providing plenty of warmth and the skies were nice and clear, and it was so much better than when I had lived in England. There's really nothing like spending a good run of time in the land of grey skies and rain to give you an appreciation for decent weather. It was probably the worst thing about that country; that and the smog, though I'd heard that was a solved problem by then. Then again, Victorian morals had been a real pain too. Hard to choose between those points of irritation.
I didn't get far in trying to decide which point irritated me more before I felt that painful buzz again. My hand immediately shot inside my coat and grasped the hilt of my gladius. It was unbelievable. Someone was coming after me in broad daylight again! I scanned back and forth, trying to find the hunter. My eyes passed over an endless horde of non-script teenagers before they settled on someone I recognised, a tall, bearded man wearing a brown trenchcoat.
"Kyros," I said.
"It's been a long time, Adrian," he said by way or reply. "You'd almost think that you were avoiding me."
"Names Alexander these days," I said. "And you did try to kill me the last time we met, if you recall."
"Ah, yes," he said. "That. Well, you did sleep with my wife, you know."
"I was drunk!" I said. "And she got me drunk! You know I do stupid things when I'm drunk; you thought it was funny once."
"Funny?" he snarled. "Not with my wife!"
"I still think that trying to kill me - repeatedly - was a bit excessive."
Really. It hadn't been my fault. The woman had got my drunk and then, well, you can guess the rest. Not my finest hour, to say the least, but not my worst either. At least she'd had a pulse and hadn't promptly made a good attempt at murdering me when she was done with the fun part. No, she'd left that to her husband. Her very angry, very unforgiving, much larger than me husband. Bitch. At least she'd been attractive. Sorta like an older, more mature version of Buffy with larger breasts. Very nice.
"I don't," snarled Kyros. "You deserved that and more. I doubt you've ever cared about anyone other than yourself in your entire worthless life, but I loved her, you bastard. I loved her."
"Well, that's a little harsh," I said easily. "I wasn't at my best when you knew me. Going through a cynical stage."
"Do you think I care?"
"Probably not," I said. "But I doubt she'd have wanted you to turn into some sort of vengeance-obsessed stalker. You say you loved her, but you're quick to disregard what she would have wanted."
"As she disregarded what I wanted when she spread her legs for you," he hissed. "I will have my vengeance. You of all people should understand that desire."
"I always was a vindictive sort," I agreed. "Not my finest personality trait, that. You really sure you want to follow in those footsteps, though? Believe me, revenge doesn't make you feel any better. Worse if anything."
"And yet you continue."
"Well, what can I say? It's hard to change," I said. "And unlike you, I have the skills to back it up. Do you really think you can take me, child? I was taking heads when your ancestors were walking on all fours and swinging from tree to tree."
Oh, that pissed him off. If looks could kill, my head would have been going one way and my body the other right there on the spot. "Do you think me a fool, betrayer? Not in public."
"I don't think; I know. You wouldn't be here otherwise," I said. "Honestly, you've just blown any element of surprise you might have had."
"It doesn't matter. You will die at my hand, surprise or not; I just wanted to make sure that you knew whose hand was setting the noose."
"I've heard it all before, kid, and from much scarier people than you'll ever be. I'm still here and I'll still be here when I'm finished with whatever scheme you're running."
"Your arrogance will be your undoing."
"I'm not the one who thinks their plan is infallible. You were a friend of a sort once, so I'll give you one last chance. Leave. Leave Sunnydale now, and I'll let you live."
Kyros laughed. "Enjoy your last days, Alexander. Your last moments will be anything but."
And with that he left. Idiot. His lust for vengeance had blinded him utterly. He had known better than to play with his foes like that once upon a time. I'd tolerated his bungling attempts to kill me for many a year because, really, I deserved a bit of pain but for what I'd done. Enough was enough, though. If it was going to be me or him, then I'd be the one taking the head. That simple.
"You're over-extending," I shouted, as I batted Jesse's wooden practice sword out of his hands and gave him a smart rap across the knuckles to go with it. "Keep the blade under control."
Jesse nodded and picked the sword back up from where it had landed. The boy had determination if nothing else. He quickly assumed a defensive posture and stood waiting for me to make my move. Well, if he wanted me to attack him, who was I to disappoint? I feinted to attack left and then came in from the right as he moved to defend that angle. Ah, he still couldn't read body language all that well. I didn't come in at full speed though and he managed to parry the strike and launch an easily avoided riposte.
Jesse then came at me with an overhand strike that I simply blocked. And then I kicked him in the gut before he could bring his defences into place. Silly boy needed to learn to think ahead. Before he could recover from that I moved forward, inside his guard, stabbed him in the ribs with the tip of the wooden sword I was wielding. It'd leave a bruise, that, but bruises taught lessons better than any amount of coddling.
"This isn't Rocky, kid," I said. "It only takes one good hit with a sword to do permanent damage."
He stepped back and took a deep breath before assuming a ready posture. This time I waited for him to attack. He didn't disappoint. The attack came in fast and wide, sweeping in at my waist, and I parried it high on my blade before riposting with a thrust aimed at Jesse's shoulder that he leaned away from in good time. He then aimed a thrust of his own at my neck which I quickly knocked aside before aiming a kick at his balls that he barely dodged out of the way of in time. If he was going to play hard, so was I. Being stabbed in the neck hurts.
At that point I stepped it up and aimed a rising slash at his right side which he blocked with a grunt of exertion before aiming a weak punch that I took on my forehead before pushing forward and slamming a knee into his gut and then dropping an elbow strike down on the back of his neck.
"Careful," I said. "You get hit in the neck like that for real and you won't be getting back up."
"Dammit," he said, drawing deep breaths to regain his wind as he gingerly stood back up straight. "Am I even getting anywhere with this stuff?"
"You must have noticed that you're getting stronger and faster," I said with a frown. "This isn't some crazy martial arts film, Jesse. I have a lot of years experience on you and an equally young body. You can't overcome that with a few scenes of hard training and then run off to save the girl. It doesn't work like that."
"So what? You're saying I'll never be as good as you?"
"I have advantages that no mortal enjoys," I said. "It's not fair, but that's life. Deal with it. You'll never be anything near as strong or as fast as Buffy either. Deal with it."
"So what's the point?"
"The world needs more than a single Slayer to do all the fighting. There's nothing wrong with playing a support role," I said. "Enough talking. Assume your guard."
And after giving him a moment to do so, I assumed the offensive. I came in a high sweeping strike that Jesse instinctively parried but before he could launch any sort of counter I attacked again, this time with a low swipe aimed at his thighs that he blocked awkwardly. I then proceeded to snake my blade around his and disarmed him with a flick of my wrist. He then aimed a punch at my head but I swept my practice sword up and rapped the edge of the wooden blade across his wrist.
"That's a hand gone," I said. "Start again."
Things proceeded along those lines for the rest of the time I spent with him. The boy was determined, but he wasn't the swiftest of learners or the most brilliantly talented swordsman I'd ever ran across. As far as his skills went, his form was sloppy and his speed was inadequate. But despite all of that he was improving. Not at the sort of exaggerated rate that an Immortal or a Slayer can manage, but certainly at an acceptable rate for a mortal.
Eventually, the sun began to set, and the training session came to and end. I wasn't foolish enough to be caught after dark in the middle of a training session in Sunnydale, not when I had a hunter after me. I was already pushing it by training Jesse at all when Kyros was in the area. Targeting friends and family is, after all, a time-honoured tactic for bastards looking to take heads. I was banking on him thinking to try such an approach with me and I think I had good reason to believe that. He'd said himself that he didn't think I'd ever cared about anyone, so why would he go after Jesse? It seemed unlikely.
Still, I warned him to keep an eye out for any dodgy types. And he seemed to listen. Not surprising really. Living in Sunnydale, you'd get used to having to watch your back, I suppose.
It took a couple of days before anything significant happened, a couple of days of utter dross. Buffy continued to be distant and snappish and it made attending school even more of a pain than it normally was. Admittedly, there was some humour in watching her verbally eviscerate Cordelia - humour that I appreciated, believe me - but the rest was considerably less amusing. Having her pull a cock-tease dance on Jesse as 'reward' for his saving her life was in very poor taste, in my opinion, and it certainly strained friendships. Honestly, why she'd bother with a vampire of all things was beyond me to start with, but to use a living, breathing friend like that to make the worthless creature jealous? Pathetic. Between that particular source of irritation and having someone wandering around town planning on taking my head, it wasn't the best couple of days I've ever had.
They weren't the worst ever, either, to be fair. The time Rome had been sacked by a horde of barbarians led by The Kurgan took that title, and a teenage angstfest paled by comparison, but it still wasn't much fun at all.
Still, it was almost a relief when Buffy interrupted a conversation about how much of a bitch she was being with her pronouncement of the Master's bones being gone. At least something was happening.
"What would somebody want with the Master's bones?" asked Willow.
"Materials for making some sort of truly horrible furniture?" suggested Jesse. "I've heard of that sort of thing . . . "
"They're gonna bring him back," said Buffy, staring at Giles intensely and ignoring all others present. "They're gonna bring him back, and I seem to recall you telling me he was history."
"Buffy, I-I've never heard of a revivification ceremony being successful," said Giles, looking distinctly disturbed despite his words.
"But you've heard of them?" asked Buffy, though she needed no answer. "Thanks for the warning."
"Well, Buffy, Giles did bury him and-"
"Look, this is Slayer stuff, okay?" said Buffy. "Could we have just a little less from the civilians?"
"Okay, that's it!" half-shouted Jesse. "I've had enough. Quit it with the bitch-queen from hell act, okay? No-one's impressed."
Buffy's glare could have stripped paint. There was some real venom behind it, though I was last as to why she'd be angry with Jesse of all people.
"He's right," I weighed in. "You're getting on my last nerve as well."
It was at that point when Snyder showed his pug-ugly face. "I believe some of us have class?" he asked. "And some of us have jobs."
"Y-yes, well, I'll, uh, I'll see you all, uh, in the library later," said Giles. "We'll continue this discussion."
"About trout," said Willow. Worst attempt at deception ever. And then we quickly left. No-one said a word to each other for the rest of the school day. It was all very uncomfortable. Well, for the others. I enjoyed the quiet.
And so we met in the library when classes were finished and we hit the books. I really didn't need to be worrying about the Master's bones when I had a pissed-off Immortal gunning for my head, but I couldn't exactly blow them off, could I? The Master was dangerous and he'd already came within a couple of inches of killing Buffy and opening the hellmouth. His being brought back to life would be a seriously troublesome situation to be dealing with when I had someone gunning for me. It really was a lose-lose proposition as far as I could see.
It took a couple of hours but eventually Giles stood up from where he'd been sat and started pacing around the library, book in hand. "Alright, alright, I-I've got something," he said. "Uh, to revive this vampire they need his bones - uh, which they have - and, um, the blood . . . this is very unclear, of the closest person . . . uh, someone connected to the vampire."
I frowned. Blood magic. That was always a dodgy proposition. It took some serious preparation, and you still weren't quite sure what you'd get half the time. There was power in blood though; maybe even enough to resurrect a demon if they weren't too long dead and you had the right reagents and circumstances.
"That'd be me," said Buffy.
"Perhaps," replied Giles.
"We were close," snapped Buffy. "We killed each other. It really promotes togetherness."
"No," I said. "That's not right. You didn't actually die. Your soul shouldn't have left your body until you were braindead and beyond CPR."
Buffy waved me off. "Rule-lawyering doesn't change things," she said.
I just rolled my eyes. Children. And then a rock came flying through one of the library windows with an almighty smash. "Well, that's gonna piss Snyder off," I commented as Buffy caught the rock. It had a note wrapped around it and that note was kept in place by a bracelet. This was no random act of violence.
"This is Cordelia's," said Buffy, eyeing the bracelet. Well, trust a woman to recognise a random piece of jewellery. She unwrapped the package and dropped the rock to the ground before reading the note out loud. "Come to the Bronze before it opens or we make her a meal."
I was tempted to sic Alucard onto them for writing such an awful ransom note. Honestly, did they have no standards?
"We've gotta save her," shouted Jesse. Ah, young love. Or lust. It certainly couldn't be love when it involved someone as unpleasant as Cordelia.
"What do we do?" asked Willow.
"We ignore the very obvious trap," I said. "Short of flashing neon signs, it couldn't be any more blatant than this. She's dead already."
"I can't do that," said Buffy. "I'm going to the Bronze and I'm going to save her."
"You can't save a corpse," I said. "If she's there, she's dead. If she's not, you're not going to accomplish a damn thing."
"I really don't like this," said Jesse.
"Nor I!" said Giles.
"Yeah?" asked Buffy. "Well, you guys aren't coming."
"What do you mean?" asked Willow.
"I can't do it anymore," she said by way of reply. "I can't look after you guys while I'm fighting."
"Because I'm so defenceless," I said. "I mean, I haven't been hunting demons since before this nation existed or anything like that, have I?"
And with that she swept out of the library doors. Brat. Get yourself killed then. See if I care. No skin off my nose.
"Tsk," I said. "Children of today. No respect for their elders, that's their problem."
"Aren't you going to go after her?" asked Willow.
"Why? So she can bite my head off again," I asked. "I don't think so. I can see where I'm not wanted. She can look after herself."
"This coming from the man who turned Sunnydale upside down looking for a way to save her from the prophecy," said Giles.
"Yeah, well, there's none of that here," I said. "Just one girl being stupid. There are no Masters here. She'll be fine."
"I dunno," said Jesse. "She's been acting pretty weird."
"Teenage girls do that," I said. "She's still the Slayer."
And beyond that she's the Slayer that killed Lothos and the Master. That's quite the pair of scalps to have to your credit when you're playing in the demonic leagues. They were the Alucard of the demonic division of things and for her to have knocked them both off inside a year was quite the feat. The fact that she'd survived it was even more impressive. She was already gunning for the top ten Slayers ever.
"I think we should do some more research," said Giles. "We need to know more about this ritual."
"Indeed," I said. "Let me see. I have a talent for ancient languages."
Giles passed the book over and I quickly scanned it. And then I stopped in horror and read in more detail, confirming what I saw.
"Jesse!" I barked. "Weapons!"
"What?" he questioned, but he was heading for the cage as he said it.
"The trap's not for Buffy!"
The blood drained from Giles's face as he computed the possibilities. "Physical closeness," he said. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear indeed, Watcher. We are in some serious trouble and our forces are split."
Vampires. The mezzanine was crawling with them. And I felt the buzz again. Yup, we were fucked. Badly outnumbered and with our forces split, we didn't stand a chance. I must have been getting old and stupid to fall for such a blatant trap. Belisarius would have never been so easily caught and certainly not by demons of all creatures.
"I believe this is where I say 'I told you so'," said Kyros smugly.
By way of reply, I drew my sword. They wouldn't take me without a fight.
Waking up to find yourself hung by your ankles could never be called a pleasant experience, but it was a new one for me. I'd been hung by by neck once or twice - and that extraordinarily unpleasant, let me tell you - but this was a new one. Quite painful, too, I'll tell you for free. From the weight of my coat, it seemed that all my weapons had been taken. No surprise there, really. Vampires had a bit of thing about people having blessed weapons for some reason.
"I told you that you couldn't win," said Kyros. "But you wouldn't listen. Ah, victory. It is sweet beyond description."
"Don't count your chickens before you eggs have hatched," I warned. "I'm not dead yet."
"Oh, not long now," he said. "And you won't be getting out of the chains between now and me taking your head, so it's a moot point. Even you can't escape this."
"We'll see," I said. "But vampires? I thought you were better than that, Kyros. They're monsters."
"I use monsters to defeat a monster. It seems somewhat poetic, does it not?"
"A monster? This is coming from a man consorting with literal hellspawn. You are a hypocrite."
I would have said more but getting kicked in the diaphragm will shut even the most hardy of people up quite quickly.
"You will be bled to resurrect their Master, and then I will take your head. Your failure will be as complete as it can be."
"Oh, it gets better," I said. "Do you realise what you're doing? The Master will open the hellmouth as soon as he is reborn. You're going to bring about the End of Days for a bit of petty revenge."
"There is nothing petty about my revenge, betrayer."
And then he turned away and headed over to the vampires. Dammit, I had to escape, and I had to do it yesterday. Okay, inventory time. My hands were bound, my legs were chained to a rail on the ceiling, and I had no weapons. Well, it was a quick inventory if nothing else. I couldn't even work any useful magic without my hands free. I was fucked. Absolutely fucked. Dammit, I was too young to die!
"You sure do have a lot of enemies," said Cordelia from somewhere behind me. "Ever thought it might say something about you as a person?"
I groaned. Of all the people to be conscious, it had to be her. "Do you have anything useful to add?"
"Other than the fact that I'm far too young and pretty to die? Not really."
"Then shut up."
At that point the rail I was attached to started to move. They were starting the ritual. Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed at all.
"Behold these four mortals," intoned a black vampire. "And behold this lone Immortal."
"I'd really rather you didn't," I quipped. "I'm no-one important."
I was ignored.
"Witnesses to our Master's wretched demise," continued the vampire. "They will breathe their last this night The blood that pours from their throat will bring new life to the old one! We gather for his resurrection. For the dawn of this new hell."
There really aren't words to describe just how utterly pissed off I was with the whole situation. A few moments of pissy attitude and a lack of awareness and now I was going to die. A real, final death at that. What a way to go. Everything I'd done and it would come to nothing. I wouldn't even get to see Faith grow up.
The black vampire had pulled a khukri from somewhere when I focussed my attention on him again. "For the old. For his pain," he intoned. "For the dark."
"For the dark!" responded the other vampires.
I began to focus my magic. If I was to die, then it would be with a curse on my lips. There is power in a mage's last moments and I would use it. The Master might be resurrected on my blood, but I would make sure it was a twisted, useless resurrection if nothing else. I could do no less. It was far too heroic for my normal tastes but I had few other options available to me.
And then one of the vampiric crowd exploded in a cloud of dust and everything dissolved into a chaos. It was a good chaos though. The sort of chaos that saves my life. Very good chaos indeed. I'd pay tribute to Janus that night in thanks. The rail was quickly pulled back over to its starting position and I've never been so happy to see a vampire in all my life as I was to see Angel at that moment. He quickly unbound me and I dropped to the ground in a heap. Not very graceful, but it takes a few moments to get the circulation going again after you've been hanged.
Now that I was the right way up I could evaluate the situation. Buffy was tearing through vampires like a whirling dervish of slaying, which was good, but where was Kyros? Ah, there. Jesse was attacking him with a short sword he'd grabbed from somewhere. The boy was attacking with a fury I'd never seen in him before but it wasn't going to be enough to keep the Immortal at bay for more than a few moments. I quickly palmed my gladius from where it had been dumped and headed over towards the pair of them.
Jesse, inevitably, fell and Kyros's sword would have cleaved him in two, but it was instead met by my blade.
"I'll take it from here, Jesse," I said. "You'd best go help Buffy."
He did so, knowing better than to argue with me when I used my 'I'm about to kill something' voice.
"I will have my revenge!" snarled Kyros, looking barely human.
And then the battle was joined in earnest, swords flashing in a dizzying array of slashes and thrusts as we attempted to cleave each other in two. He'd gotten a lot better since I'd last encountered him and he had by far the superior weapon with his katana, so I found myself a great deal more challenged than I expected. I was forced inexorably back as his blade seemed to sing through the air in a series of elegant cuts that would have lopped limbs off with ease if any had landed.
I had to call upon all my reserves of defensive skill as I fended the twisted Immortal off, but it worked. He could not find a way through my defences even with a far better blade and the advantage of my just getting down from being hanged. The frustration came to be clearly visible on his face, and frustration is something easily exploited in battle. Frustration leads to sloppiness. Sloppiness leads to openings. Openings lead to victory.
And then I stemmed the tide. I stopped falling back and stood firm in the wave of the continued assault. Kyros had a strength borne of a centuries old hatred, but I had faced far worse than him and lived to tell the tale. I may not have been able to claim the head, but I had survived an encounter with the Kurgan intact; Kyros was nothing at all compared to that savage. It wasn't easy, but I did at. I stood firm and I looked him in the eye as he threw everything he had at me.
Eventually his movements slowed. Even the most powerful Immortal could not maintain that fury indefinitely and Kyros was far from that. His movements slowed and the advantage passed to me. I began my own attack, blade flickering in a series of probing strikes against his defences. Oh, he'd improved immeasurably since his last attempt at my life. I could break him at will then; not so now.
But he still wasn't my equal. His movements were growing desperate as he realised his plight, but there was no way out for him. He could not escape and I would not allow it even if there was a route available. Eventually a parry was a hair too slow, and I drew blood with a light strike against his left forearm. He fell staggering back with a look of sheer horror on his face. The knowledge of defeat was in him.
He was not going to go down without a fight though, and he hurled himself at me with an energy born of utter desperation. Once more I was forced into a retreat as he gained a second wind from his fear. He even came close to breaking through once or twice, but my skills proved equal to his fear of death and his second wind came to an end leaving him weaker than before.
It was just a matter of time then. Eventually his sloppy movements allowed me to break through his defences and a powerful cut I took his sword arm off at the elbow and sent it flying across the now silent warehouse. He fell to his knees and looked at me with eyes full of silent horror.
"In the end, there can be only one," I intoned, before I brought my blade down and hacked through his neck in a single powerful blow.
"Everyone, away from the windows," called out Giles as I dropped my sword to the ground. I heard footsteps and muttered speech, but I was beyond hearing it. I could feel the energy gathering.
And then it came. The world exploded around me Kyros's quickening was released into the air and then absorbed by my own power. Everything that was his was made mine for just a moment before I released the memories into the aether. I didn't need those. It wasn't the most powerful quickening I'd ever taken, but it was respectable enough, and I dropped to my knees when it was over, surrounded by shattered glass from the exploded windows.
"What the hell was that?" demanded Buffy with a hysterical edge to her voice.
"That was the quickening," I said, rising back to my feet. Damn but I felt my age. I hate taking quickenings. "It's what distinguishes people like me from people like you; it's the source of an Immortal's power."
I eyed the group. They looked distinctly on edge, and I thought I could see a trace of fear in Willow's eyes. That hurt. I didn't suppose the children had seen someone decapitated like that before though. The first kill is always the hardest. Giles looked quite alright though.
"I think we should leave quickly," said Giles. "We do not want to be here when the emergency services arrive."
"You guys can leave, but I need to dispose of the body," I said. "Only an idiot would leave evidence of the Game laying around."
"Game?" squawked Willow.
"That's what Immortals call it," I said. "A sick joke, really, but you have to have a sense of humour about it."
"I'll help with the body," said Angel.
I stared at him before sighing and nodding my agreement. "Fine," I said. "I can always use the extra muscle."
The others left and I promptly set about removing the body with Angel. With two pairs of hands, it was quick work to dismember it and then dispose of those smaller chunks. We didn't exchange a word except for my occasional directions to Angel. It wasn't perfect - there's not much you can do about the damage done by a released quickening - but it was enough to keep from Kurgan- style publicity.
The next day at school was one I approached with even less enthusiasm than normal. Being rejected by the gang wouldn't exactly be a crippling blow, but it wouldn't exactly be a high-point either. It wasn't like I could offer any sort of compromise either. If another hunter cam after me, I'd do the same thing. I had no choice in the matter. Passive resistance does not stop head- hunters, or at least none I've ever ran across would be stopped by it.
When I entered the classroom, I found Willow, Jesse, and Buffy sat together chatting away. When I approached, Jesse looked up and waved. "Yo," he said. "We saved you a seat."
Nothing to worry about. If they could accept Buffy, who'd nearly got them all killed, why would I have had a problem?