Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Eleven [BUFFY]

CHAPTER ELEVEN: FOUR YEARS AGO

“You had best come up with a right good reason why I shouldn’t have you killed now,” Spike growled. He pushed the wheelchair closer to the intruder. “You see, we expected your arrival after what happened to poor dear Cleo over there.” Spike nodded at the female vampire, who was nursing her arm.

His band of vampire underlings tensed in anticipation of a kill as they slowly encircled the man in the nowdirty trench coat. They were still wary after hearing Cleo’s story of what happened to Tomas and Albert, but knew that with their numbers, nothing, not even a Slayer, could hope to stand against them for long.

“I knew you would be here,” said the human, with a glance at Cleo, “and I have a proposition to make.” He looked around and realized that his plan had better work, or he really would end up dead. Like Maggie and Katie, he thought grimly. It was Saturday night, and he had followed one of the vampires into the tunnels, one of which emerged right into this “Spike’s” lair—an abandoned factory. It had grown progressively darker as he had delved into the catacombs, and now he doubted he could find his way out unaided.

“I know you hate Angel as much as I do,” Tintsman continued. “If you tell me where to find him, I will . . . end him.”

“Kill Angel?” Spike exclaimed, as if the human in front of him had made a great joke. “What a lovely thought. Unfortunately, better than you have tried. I should know—I’m one of them.” He looked down at his own crippled legs, injured in the collapse of the church when he had kidnapped Angel to revive his beloved Drusilla. His eyes rose and he carefully looked over the man standing in front of him. Spike was surprised to see that he didn’t show fear—or really much of any emotion at all. Spike knew that the man carried a surprising array of weaponry and was as physically strong as any vampire, but beyond that he was a mystery. Still, he reflected, if this fellow wants to kill Angel, who am I to stand in the way? Angel and his precious Slayer had been a thorn in Spike’s backside ever since coming to Sunnydale.

“What makes you think you can?” Spike said finally.

“I wounded him at his resting place. He ran from me there.”

“Well,” Spike said, impressed. “Perhaps we can come to an arrangement.”

Later, after the man had been escorted out of the factory, Spike wheeled himself into Dru’s bedroom. The bed was scarlet and canopied, while along the walls were hundreds of dolls, each with a black gag tied around its mouth. His lover sat at the edge of the bed, carefully drawing an ivory-handled comb through her long, dark hair with one hand while gazing intently at the small hand-mirror she held in her other hand. Dru got up as he entered and gave him a deep kiss—she was almost completely cured from the mystical disease she had been afflicted with.

“Please tell me it’s not true lovey,” she said. “Please don’t tell me he’s going to kill Angel. I was so hoping we would get to.” She pouted and spoke in an odd, lilting, almost childlike manner while fluttering her eyelashes.

“Don’t worry, my little bird,” Spike replied, stroking her arm “It will never happen. But until I’m better, anything that will keep Angel occupied can’t be all bad, now can it? And pet,” he said, gently taking the mirror from her hand, “your hair looks lovely—but I’ve told you about the mirror—you can’t see anything in them, remember?”

“Silly silly silly,” Dru recited, swaying back and forth to nonexistent music. “Of course I can’t see what’s in the mirror. But what’s in the mirror can see me—and I want everything to be just perfect.” She sat back on the bed and continued brushing her hair.

“Right,” Spike said hesitantly.

When he left her bedroom, he beckoned several of his followers forward.

“Follow him,” he instructed. “Discretely, mind you. Help him finish off Angel if he finds him, and then finish him. If he doesn’t find Angel, finish him off anyway. Either way, I don’t want him alive come sunrise.”

***

Hot tea sloshed out of the cup and onto the counter as Giles was startled by the tapping on his kitchen window. He looked up and saw Angel wearing a serious expression on the other side. Giles had not expected company, but in any event he assumed company would use the front door should they arrive. He leaned over and unlatched the window and pulled it up.

“Can I come in?” said Angel.

“Ah, sure. Of course,” said Giles, hesitating slightly. Once invited in, Angel could enter his home at any time. But Giles knew that if Angel had wanted to kill him, the vampire would have had hundreds of opportunities in the past several months. “I was just brewing a pot of tea. Would you care for some?” he asked as Angel climbed smoothly through the window.

“No thank you. I thought I had better try coming through here instead of the door,” he explained. “I think I’m being followed.”

“Come and let’s sit down,” said Giles, moving into the living room and pulling small piles of books with titles like Death Rituals of the Ancient Orient and Ten Simple Mistakes Every Summoner Makes off of the chairs and onto the floor. Small stacks of note cards and various file folders covered a table in the room. Saturday night was one of Giles’ favorites. Not because he enjoyed parties or barhopping like the younger inhabitants of Sunnydale, but because it allowed him an entire uninterrupted day to spend on his studies.

Angel quickly recounted what he had found in the cemetery and the subsequent attack at his apartment. “I’m not sure what to think,” he concluded. “My attacker was something like a hi-tech Slayer—but even stronger than Buffy or me. What I don’t understand is that it seemed to have some kind of personal grudge against me. He was human, though. I could tell from his scent.”

“And you’re sure you’ve never heard of this ‘Maggie and Katie’? Something dating from the time before your, ah, change, perhaps?”

“I . . . I don’t think so,” Angel’s faced looked pained as he tried to recall. “No, it couldn’t be. This man was only in his forties or fifties, and it’s been almost a century since I . . . changed.”

“Well, the weaponry and the outfit you describe are clearly his most distinctive characteristics. I’ll do some research and see what I can uncover—only this is more in Willow’s field than my own. Still, she showed me a few things on how to use the ah . . .” he fumbled for the word.

“Internet?”

“Precisely. I’ll head to the library and see if I can find anything.”

“There is something else,” warned Angel. “I’ve heard rumors that there’s a new presence in town—the vampiric kind. I’ll check into it and meet you back at the library.”

“Right. Be careful then. If something happens, Buffy will not be there to save you.”

“Yes. But at least she’s somewhere safe.”

***

Angel made his way cautiously along the wide streets of the warehouse district, where Willie the Snitch had told him the newcomers could be found. Unlike most places in Sunnydale on a Saturday night, the warehouse district was largely deserted. A thick San Francisco-like fog had rolled in, making it difficult to see very far in the distance. Occasionally a street light illuminated a small puddle of the darkness, but with so many large buildings any light was quickly obscured. Unlike light, however, sound carried easily and Angel quickly discerned voices nearby.

“He’ll be either at the house or at the school,” one of the voices said.

“How do we know?” another answered.

“Because he’s never anywhere else. At least that’s what the file says. Even on a Saturday night.” Angel edged along a building wall in a crouch and peeked around the corner. On the opposite side of the street was a long, low warehouse with its main loading doors pulled open. A black sedan sat in front of it, and a man in a business suit was conversing with a handful of other fellows in jumpsuits. Angel could tell that some of them, at least, were vampires just from the smell and the way they carried themselves. Giles will be at the school, he realized. If they’re going there for some reason, he may be in danger.

“What do we have here? A lurker, it looks like,” said a voice directly behind Angel.

He spun and saw two figures in blue jumpsuits standing just a few feet away. He silently cursed himself for being careless just as their faces contorted. His did the same, causing them to hesitate—but not for long. Angel’s opponents looked at each other and then simultaneously leapt for him with claws and fangs extended.

He ducked out of the way just in time, causing one of the vampires to smash into the wall with a loud thud. Angel stayed in a crouch as his leg lashed out, striking the other vampire in the back of the knees and sweeping it off of its feet. Angel stood up and spun around to meet the charge of the other vampire, who had already recovered. He managed to catch the vampire's wrists but the sheer force of the charge knocked them both to the ground. Angel landed on his back, still holding his attacker’s wrists, but that left his neck vulnerable to the vampire’s fangs—the pain was immense as the vampire tore a large chunk of flesh out of Angel’s neck. It wouldn’t kill him of course—few things could kill a vampire—but it still hurt like hell!

Just as the vampire was going in for another bite, Angel swung his head around hard and hit the vampire right in the nose with his forehead, stunning him. Angel took advantage of the opportunity to roll the vampire over, so he was now on top.

The forearm suddenly around his neck told him that the vampire he had swept off its feet earlier was back in the game. Angel knew he had to end this quickly before he was simply worn out. Still straddling one of the vampires, he grabbed the other’s arm and tugged forward, flipping the vampire over his shoulder. It landed hard on the concrete.

The other vampire, still bleeding from the nose and dazed, was helpless as Angel formed his fingers into a point and plunged it into its chest and grabbed its heart. He pulled it out, disgusted by what he had been forced to do, as both the heart and the vampire turned to ash.

All of this had transpired in just a few seconds, but it was enough time for the vampires and man he had watched earlier to be alerted. He saw the vampires heading in his direction, and decided that fighting four or five at the same time would not be a good idea.

When the other vampires reached the scene, they found only one of their companions and a pile of ash. Their mysterious attacker was nowhere to be found. Had they but looked up, they would have seen him about fifteen feet above the street, pressed against the wall and hanging onto a window ledge.

When they had returned safely to the warehouse, Wittingstone listened with displeasure as one of the vampires explained how he had been attacked by another vampire. Wittingstone sighed and shook his head. It was bound to happen sooner or later, he thought to himself. We’ll simply have to engage in some early practice runs. Hopefully, there will be still some targets left when the Brass arrive for the field demonstration next week. Wittingstone walked over to one of the crates and lifted its lid. He began handing out small rifles with drum magazines, pistols with small hose attachments, and silver, layered suits of body armor.

“You’ve all been trained in these,” he said as the vampires began donned the equipment. “The rifles fire wooden ‘bullets,’” he continued. “Holy water,” he said, holding up the small pistol and hose. “Watch out for overspray. And of course, the exoskeletons will increase your strength even beyond its current level.”

“Now I want these back in mint condition,” he said sternly. “Mr. Castillo will be displeased to find we’ve damaged his prototypes before the actual demonstration.”

***

Joyce pressed the doorbell one last time, before turning away disappointed. She held a small tin of homemade brownies in her hands, and had hoped to interest Mr. Giles in a quick snack and some  conversation. She was surprised he wasn’t home—according to Buffy, he was something of a homebody. It’s not that I’m attracted to him, she reflected, he’s far too bookish for that. But ever since Ted I’ve been spending far too many Saturday nights home alone. And it must be lonely to move from a whole different country to someplace like Sunnydale where you don’t know anybody.

She decided to try again tomorrow night and started walking down the path back to the street. She hoped he might tell her more about how Buffy had been doing in school. The girl was always reticent to talk about it. Still, Joyce was pleased that the girl had found something of a mentor in the librarian—any friends had to be better than those troublemakers she had been involved with at her last school, and having an ally on the faculty might help her stay in school longer if the Board of Education ever decided to expel her again.

Just as she reached the sidewalk, a black sedan pulled up and parked in front of the house. Joyce could see that a man in a dark suit was behind the wheel. He quickly opened the door and walked around the front of the car to stand a few feet in front of her.

“Good evening, ma’am,” he said. Joyce was past the point where it stung to be called “ma’m” as if she were middle-aged, but had not yet reached the point where she expected it as a sign of respect.

“Hello,” she nodded, and pointed back towards the house. “If you’re here to see Mr. Giles, I fear we’ve both missed him.” She was curious what sort of involvement Mr. Giles would have with someone like this on a Saturday night.

“Well that is disappointing,” Wittingstone said politely. “But I can always call again. I have very important business with him. Pleasant evening, then,” he finished, walking back to the car.

“The library,” he said to himself as soon as the door was shut. The sedan started up and rolled down the street.

Joyce headed home for another evening with the television as company. But at least I have fresh brownies to console myself with, she thought.

***

Giles tapped the “Delete” button with frustration. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, but slowly his screened had become filled with various windows advertising everything from home mortgage assistance and instant college degrees, to pictures that made him blush. The worst part was that he had no idea how to make them go away and return to his search screen. Infernal thing, he thought to himself. No one ever has to wonder how to close a book if its rubbish.

He pushed the keyboard away in frustration and walked over to the phone on the counter. He tried calling Jenny Calendar, but only got an answering machine. Pulling a small slip of paper out of his pocket, he dialed a different number. He hated to bother Willow on her and Buffy’s vacation, but if anyone could make sense of these dreadful computer problems, she could. The phone just started to ring when Giles heard the library doors open. He covered the speaker with one hand and turned towards them to say “I’ll be with you in just a moment, Angel” when he realized he wasn’t looking at Angel. Vampires, yes. Angel, no. Spike’s bunch, Giles realized, as the two advanced towards him.

“Arctic Ridge. This is Chad,” said a groggy voice from the receiver. Giles dropped the phone and backed up around the counter, placing it between him and the vampires. He knew that his friends were too far away to help him with this problem.

The vampires advanced slowly, and then leaped right on top of the counter. They had grown bored of following the other human around and decided to stop for a quick snack when they saw the library light on. Besides, this one looked like much easier prey than the other.

Giles continued to back away and then turned and sprinted for the doorway to a small room behind the counter. I wish I had participated in Buffy’s calisthenics instead of simply supervising them, he thought to himself, panting. He reached the doorway and shut it behind him, locking it just as his attackers reached the door. He knew it wouldn’t hold them for long. He ran to the shelves and began fumbling through the boxes. I know it has to be here somewhere.

A hand punched through the door, right above the handle and then fumbled to release the lock. It turned with a click and Giles turned around, his back against the wall. He aimed carefully and the crossbow bolt embedded itself in the vampire’s heart, causing the creature to disintegrate. Giles fumbled with another bolt, realizing he would never have it loaded in time. The vampire’s companion advanced with a smile, knowing it was going to enjoy this.

The sensation of his skin burning made him think otherwise. He growled out in anger and turned, catching the blast of water full in the chest. In just a few seconds, both he and his vampiric companion had disintegrated.

Giles, too, was covered by this spray of water. His tweed jacket was drenched, his glasses were knocked off his face, and his hair was in soggy disarray. He kneeled down and fumbled in the pooling water for his glasses, shaking water off of them as he put them back into place.

“You!” he exclaimed, seeing the figure that Angel had described so well.

“I . . . thought you might be one of them,” the figure said plainly, without apologizing.

“Ah, of course,” said Giles, squeezing water out of his jacket.

“You should be careful. I am told that another one will be here tonight. He is called Angel.”

“Angel?” Giles said, then decided to play along. “Yes. I’ve ah . . . heard of him. How exactly do you two know each other?” If he could find out what this fellow wanted with Angel, Giles hoped, he might be able to persuade him that he had the wrong man—or vampire.

“I am . . .” the figure hesitated, as if he could barely remember the answer to the question. “My name is Michael Tintsman. My wife and daughter were . . . killed on the orders of Angel. I’ve tracked him across the country. It’s taken me six months to find out where he is, but now I am close. He will be here tonight.”

“Ah, are you sure you have the right one?” Giles said. He knew it couldn’t be Angel, as Angel was with him and Buffy last year. And if he ever decided to start feasting on living prey again, he wouldn’t travel across the country to do it.

“Yes. His killers said so before they . . .” Michael closed his eyes in pain. It was clear to Giles that this man had never come to grips with his wife’s and daughter’s deaths. Instead, he had turned to revenge to keep from dealing with the real pain.

“And your ah, equipment?” Giles asked, more out of curiosity than anything.

“I . . .took them . . . from a project I used to work on for the government.” Michael knew, but did not say, that the Sunrise Project had been developed to track and hunt vampires, proof of whose existence they had finally been provided with by the project’s private contractor, Electrotech, Inc. The only problem was that the exoskeleton required the constant injection of adrenaline and other drugs into the wearer’s system in order to function. When studies consistently showed that the injections had negative effects on memory and emotional states, Michael had written the report recommending that it be canceled.

Giles sympathized with the man’s plight, but knew that Angel could not be to blame. He was attempting to come up with a believable story that would convince the man to leave Sunnydale and not return, when the subject of their conversation burst through the library doors, intending to warn Giles of an impending attack.

Michael could hardly believe what he saw, but he regained his composure quickly. “I won’t let you kill another innocent,” he whispered, placing himself between Giles and Angel.

Angel stopped short when he saw Michael there, but crashed back through the door when dozens of wooden darts flew at him. One of the darts struck him in the leg, while another broke the small pane of glass in one of the doors.

“Wait!” Giles shouted at Michael’s back. But it was to no avail. The hunter planned to follow the wounded Angel out into the hallway, and finish him off for good.

Next Chapter

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