CHAPTER TEN: THE PRESENT
Buffy let it ring for must have been the hundredth time before switching the hand-held phone to off and dropping it on the couch next to her. She shook her head, thinking the worst. She’s spent 24/7 in that tiny dorm room and now that we’re worried—she’s gone. Great timing, Will. Buffy stood up, a determined look on her face. She walked over to the phone book and began flipping through it vigorously.
“Who are you calling?” Dawn said anxiously.
“What’s the name of that guy, the leader? Wittgenst-“
“Wittingstone. Mr. Wittingstone.”
She flipped a few more pages and then ran her finger down the page. She closed it angrily and began pulling her shoes on.
“You know where he is?” Dawn asked.
“No, he’s not listed. Not surprising though. Evil cult leaders never seem to be around when you need them.” She grabbed her duffel bag full of Slayer’s gear. Just in case.
“Where are you going then?”
“Weatherly Park. Some of your First Principles ex-buddies might still be there and maybe they know where he is.”
“Good. Sounds like a plan,” Dawn said, standing up and grabbing her jean jacket. Her face was dry and determined.
“Whoa,” Buffy exclaimed. “I didn’t say anything about us going. This is Slayer territory now. It may be dangerous. You’ll stay here.” How many times have I said that in my life?
“Remember Buffy? About how you weren’t going to protect me anymore, how you were going to ‘show me the world?’” Dawn was getting upset again. “Well you can start by showing me Weatherly Park at night. Besides. I got this thing started . . . and I want to see it through. After all, it’s just a geezer in a suit—not Dracula.”
And in the stories, Dracula only looked like a geezer in a suit until the fangs came out. The real thing was even worse. Still, Buffy knew Dawn well enough to be certain that she would either have to let her come along or tie her up securely to keep her from sneaking out of the house. And me without my manacles, she thought bitterly.
“Fine. You come. But you follow my lead, got it?”
Weatherly Park was an easy place to get lost in at night, dark and full of winding trails. Buffy wasn’t worried, however. She had been patrolling the place for years and could draw a decent map of the place with her eyes closed. She and Dawn walked quickly, criss-crossing the park. They were disappointed to find no First Principles members and no Mr. Wittingstone, either.
“It’s a bust, Buffy. They’ve all gone home. I know there’s supposed to be a big meeting tomorrow though.”
Buffy held up her hand for Dawn to be quiet and continued listening. Something wasn’t right—they weren’t alone. Her left hand slipped expertly into one of many places she secreted stakes on her body. She gripped the comforting weapon and focused her senses. All of a sudden, with a deft spin and a quick flip of her wrist, the stake was flying through the air, only to embed itself a moment later in the chest of an oncoming vampire. The vampire disintegrated into dust spectacularly, a phenomenon Buffy could never tire of watching.
She jogged over to where it had been destroyed and looked around. “One vampire,” she said, throwing her hands up in the air. “One vampire? They have got to be kidding me. That’s so T-ball and I’m in the majors now.”
A muffled scream spun her around to see three other vampires had surrounded Dawn and were dragging her off towards a large copse of trees. Damn. They always do that and I always fall for it. Hold on, sis! With a short kick into the dirt, she launched the fallen stake into the air and caught it as it spun, and then ran after Dawn and the other vampires.
Before she even reached the trees, however, one of the vampires came flying out, its limbs spinning wildly in the air, and landed hard on the grass. It was soon followed by another one that had a cracked skull, and a third that screamed before disintegrating into dust in mid-air, a branch lodged in its chest. Buffy quickly staked the two who were lying motionless on the ground. “Dawn!” she called as she ran forward again.
Buffy followed the shout to a small clearing where she saw her sister standing with her arms crossed. She was facing someone Buffy hadn’t expected to see.
“Spike,” Buffy said, readying the stake.
Dawn put a hand on her arm, but continued glaring at him. I know what you tried to do, was all she could think.
“What are you doing here, Spike?” Buffy asked indignantly.
Spike shrugged nonchalantly. “A little of this, a little of that. Saving Little Red here from the Big Bad Wolves.”
Buffy looked over at Dawn. She nodded.
“So you’ve been following us?” Buffy asked.
He snorted. “Following you? Hardly. But I heard what these fellows were planning and happened to be in the neighborhood.” More like I talked some new arrivals into a little job, but close enough.
“I don’t buy it, Spike.”
“And I don’t care.” He bent down and picked up a briefcase that had been sitting next to him. He threw it through the air, and it opened upon landing, causing several bundles of cash to spill onto the ground next to Buffy and Dawn. “It’s so you don’t have to wear that bloody ridiculous uniform anymore,” he explained.
Buffy didn’t move towards it. “I don’t want your money, Spike. I can’t be bought. And I don’t want you stalking us. So as you Brits are so fond of saying, sod off!” She took Dawn by the hand and led her out of the trees and back into the park.
“Better get ready, Slayer!” he called after them. “Big things are happening!” He chuckled to himself and then walked away with a bemused smile on his face, leaving almost two hundred thousand dollars in unmarked bills sitting on the ground.
Xander parked his car in front of the Magic Box, a worried look on his face. Willow hadn’t been in her room at the college, she wasn’t at her parents’ house, and she wasn’t even at the Bronze—not that he had expected her to be there, but he had checked it out just in case. As he unlocked the front door, he invented several new methods of torture he would gleefully try out if he found out those little thugs had hurt her.
He saw a flash of hair disappearing behind the front counter and hurried over, relief swelling in his heart. “Will?” he cried out.
Xander almost tripped over Anya, who was ducking behind the counter, hoping he hadn’t seen her.
“What are you doing down there?”
“Would you believe, tying my shoe?”
Xander shook his head. “No, but that doesn’t matter now. Have you seen Willow?”
“Not since the funeral.”
“She’s in danger—I need to find her fast. Can you do something, like magic or—“
“Well, a simple locator spell should work but—“
Anya’s eyes narrowed and she set her jaw. “But perhaps if she’s hiding from you Xander she doesn’t want to see you. That happens you know.”
“She’s not hiding—she’s just consciously avoiding every place I would normally look for her. Now are you going to help me or not?”
She considered for a moment and then silently assembled the components for the spell. They were basic items, but it took her several minutes of sorting through the store’s debris to find them. She recited a short incantation and then threw a large ball of twine and a small red button into the air. The items floated there for a moment, and then the ball of twine unwound into a pattern, criss-crossing back and forth over the lines it created. Within moments Xander and Anya were looking at a rough street map of Sunnydale. With a final incantation, the button glided over to a point on the map and hovered there.
“Okay, I know where that is. There’s a bunch of condos in that area, near where Giles used to live.”
“I hope she’s okay,” Anya offered with a slight shrug as she dissipated the casting and let the twine and button fall to the floor.
“Thanks,” Xander muttered as he turned and headed for the door. “Say hi to Spike for me.”
Anya was not amused.
Tintsman rested his elbows on the bar and ordered another drink—his third. He had been sitting in this seedy, windowless dive in Sunnydale’s warehouse district for almost an hour now, scoping the place out, listening in on his fellow patrons’ conversations, and occasionally asking a judicious question or two of certain individuals. He had come dressed to fit in—long, greasy hair, grungy jeans, leather jacket—but he could tell the others knew he didn’t belong from the way they kept muttering and glancing over at him from the corners of their eyes. He wasn’t nervous, however, although he kept a foot squarely on the duffel bag that sat on the floor next to him. He considered himself a professional now, and being a professional meant having a plan for every contingency.
“I think maybe you’ve had enough,” intoned a voice from behind as Tintsman grasped the glass mug.
He calmly laid a couple of dollars on the bar for the drink before turning to see that three men, dressed much like he was, had stood up and were staring at him with menacing looks. He casually pressed a button on a beeper strapped to his belt. “Enough?” Tintsman asked rhetorically, looking down at the foaming mug of beer. He walked over to the man who had spoken, a veritable giant at almost seven feet tall. “Yes,” Tintsman said flatly. “I have had enough.”
Before the other man could react, Tintsman slammed the mug into the aggressor’s face, sending drops of beer and shards of broken glass everywhere. The man staggered back in pain as Tintsman turned, grabbed his duffel bag, and jumped over the counter, knocking over several bottles of cheap liquor in the process.
The customers looked at each other, not knowing quite what to think. Almost in unison, however, they stood up, each hoping he would be the first to show this outsider whose bar it really was. Their press towards the counter stopped suddenly when both the front door and the rear exit burst open in a spray of broken wood to reveal figures in green armor holding projectile weapons. Instantly, the armored figures opened fire, spraying a thick stream of liquid followed by a hail of wooden bullets. The customers, caught in the crossfire, screamed in agony from the holy water, only to burst into flame and ashes from the wooden bullets a second later.
Three of the customers, more quick-witted than the rest, avoided the deadly hail by leaping behind the counter. Unfortunately for them, they found Tintsman waiting, duffel bag open and weapons at the ready. None of the three would ever drink—or do anything else—again.
The largest of the vampires—the one Tintsman had shattered his beer on—grabbed hold of one of his drinking-buddies by the back of the shirt and sent him flying into the air to smash into Joshua, the armored figure guarding the front door. He then rushed the door, shrugging off an incredible amount of holy water fired at him from Otis on the opposite side, stepped over his now-prone attacker, and breathed in the cool night air.
An armored figure, much shorter and slimmer than the others, stepped out of the shadows in front of him. She drew a long, slim blade that glimmered slightly in the moonlight. The sound of gunfire echoed from the bar onto the deserted street where the two combatants circled. The vampire suddenly rushed in and swatted his attacker away with a backhand. She crashed against a wall and was slow getting to her feet.
The giant vampire knew he should probably run for it, but he was greedy—a solid kill would help make up for losing his favorite drinking spot. He spied a length of chain rusting away in a nearby gutter and grabbed it. He swung it over his head a few times, and then with a chuckle swung it at his attacker’s legs.
She watched him and was ready for it. With careful timing she leapt into the air, towards him, as high and far as she could. When she had reached the highest point of her jump, the blade lashed out and connected. She crashed into the vampire’s body, but its head was no longer attached. Before it even hit the ground, the body
disintegrated into dust. She tucked her body in and landed in a sommersault. Rita pulled off her helmet as Joshua came trotting outside.
“Are you nuts?” he asked, having seen the tail-end of the battle. “A guy that big--why didn’t you use the guns?”
“He was the one,” she replied simply.
“You mean . . .?”
“Yes. I have no idea why he was here. But now it’s done.”
Back inside the bar, Tintsman surveyed the scene. He was pleased—not a single vampire had escaped. He stepped through thick piles of dust, ash, and broken glass over to where Otis was standing. On the ground in front of him, two men were moaning—their legs and lower abdomens were bleeding profusely from the dozens of puncture wounds the wooden bullets had caused.
“I checked with the holy water. These guys aren’t vampires,” Otis observed.
“Obviously,” Tintsman replied. “Finish them off.”
“Michael? Are you sure? I mean—“
“Vampires or those that help them. That’s what you swore to me.”
“I know, but--”
Tintsman turned towards the door to see Rita and Joshua enter as a short burst of automatic fire followed by screams told him that Otis had followed orders.
“Did you find out what you were hoping to?” Joshua asked.
“Yes,” Tintsman replied. “Much as I expected. Angel’s gone—some say Los Angeles, some say San Diego. The librarian—Giles—either died in the explosion of the high school a few years back or is in England.”
“So Los Angeles then?”
“Not yet. Like I said, we won’t leave until Sunnydale is clean. This is a good start, though. They’ll know we’ve arrived now.”
Fueled by spilled liquor and strategically-placed pools of gasoline, flames quickly enveloped the bar as the four figures walked away into the night.
Xander was agitated when he left the Magic Box and got back into his car. That was a stupid thing to sa — and mean—but she deserves it. Though maybe I deserved what she did. Never mind now. It’s done. I won’t think about her anymore. Still, no matter how many times he promised himself, the image of Anya and Spike rolling around on a bed was one he couldn’t get out of his head—and it was one that enflamed him with jealousy. Let’s see. Angel-Buffy. Spike-Buffy. Angel-Cordelia. Spike-Harmony. Spike-Anya. Dead guys really do get all the action.
He was knocked out of his reverie and literally jumped in his seat when he went to adjust the rear-view mirror and saw a woman in it, staring at him. Eyes wide open, he swung his head around to verify that she was really there, and then quickly got out and yanked the backseat door open.
“Okay, who are you and what the hell are you doing in my car?”
“You don’t remember, do you Xander?” the woman asked, stepping onto the pavement. She was short, slim, and had shoulder-length blonde-hair. Combined with her jeans and white blouse, she looked no different than half of the girls in California.
Xander shook his head but kept looking at her. Maybe there was something . . . familiar about her.
Xander’s eyes flew open even wider than before. The girl from the ski lodge. God that was a long time ago—but I thought she was a . . . He stepped back, covered his eyes with his hands, and then looked again. She was still standing there, so he walked up to her and jabbed a finger into her shoulder.
“What was that for?” she asked, slightly offended.
“Listen, this is going to sound stupid, but I really have to be going so I’ll say it and swallow the humiliation later. I always thought you were a ghost. Okay? Gotta go now, bye!”
“A ghost? That’s rich. You mean like Casper the Friendly?” She gave a disbelieving laugh but stopped when she saw Xander had gotten back in the car. “Wait!” she said. “I’ve been trying to track you down for days now. There’s something you have to understand—you’re in danger!”
“Great. As if you hadn’t noticed, this is Sunnydale—the Hellmouth. I am always in danger. Right now my best friend is in danger. So I’m glad you’re really alive—if you are—and everything, but I have to go.”
Her words were cut off when Xander slammed the car door and pulled away, leaving Amara to bite her lip in frustration.
Xander raced through the streets of Sunnydale, now more confused than ever. More than once he ran a red light, but he hardly noticed. Eventually he reached the area Anya had indicated on the map. He slowed the car down now, circling the blocks and keeping a close eye on the sidewalks to either side. He circled several times with increasing frustration and no sign of Willow until on one of the side streets he noticed the front door of a condo open and a figure step out.
He slammed on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt. He jumped out and ran up to her. “Willow! Listen, are you okay? I don’t want to freak you out, but Dawn said there’s some punks after you and—“
“It’s okay, Xander,” she replied calmly. “I just had a talk with Mr. Wittingstone about First Principles. He helped me to understand. I’m part of a community now, and a community sticks up for its own.”
Xander’s mouth dropped open in shock.