CHAPTER TWELVE: THE PRESENT
Buffy peered around the corner, careful not to be seen. She watched Willow, sitting there on the couch in
Xander’s living room, as the light from the television flickered across her face in the darkness. It took a moment for Buffy to realize that Willow wasn’t actually watching the T.V.—she was simply staring in its general direction.
Buffy stealthily made her way back to the kitchen. Xander and Dawn were waiting for her. “How long has she been like that?” she asked.
“Since I found her last night,” he answered. “I brought her back to my place so I could keep an eye on her. When I fell asleep she was like that, same as when I woke up this morning.”
“Well, you’re right. She’s definitely got a case of the old zombie-style mind-control going on,” Buffy replied.
“I tried to check out that condo she came out of but it was locked, and then I realized whatever pulled the whammy on her could just as easily do it to me. So I got out of there. But I bet that Witting-whatever guy lives there.”
“His name’s Wittingstone,” Dawn put in.
“Right. Well I guess in a way she’s not that much different then she’s been since Tara died. Still monosylables and whatever. Except now she likes to talk about First Principles and about the big rally that’s supposed to take place tonight. That’s pretty much all I can get out of her.” He gave a defeated sigh and leaned back in the kitchen chair. Early morning sunlight poured in from above the sink. It was going to be a long, hot day.
“We need some answers,” Buffy said forcefully. “And I want them before this big rally-thing goes off tonight. I’m starting to think it might not be a coincidence that a pack of vamps tried to kill Dawn right after she quit the group.”
“So what are you going to do?” Xander asked.
“Ask a few questions,” Buffy replied. “Starting with someone who seems to know more than he should.”
Xander was about to ask another question when he looked up at the clock. He stood up abruptly. “I’m supposed to be at the site fifteen minutes ago—it looks bad to keep calling in sick. Plus, I want to keep my eye on this job--we’re laying the foundation for the new high school.” Buffy and Xander each crinkled their nose at this. “But someone has to stay and look after Willow,” he added.
They turned and looked at Dawn.
Buffy squeezed through the narrow rock passage, a flashlight in one hand and a stake in the other. She wasn’t necessarily expecting trouble, but she wasn’t going to take any chances, either. She was deep below Sunnydale now, in a portion of the vast cave network she had never explored before. Water slowly trickled along the walls, but she felt and heard it more than saw it. Although it was dark and she was alone, she wasn’t afraid— she was the Slayer, and she had dealt with her fears long ago.
She had come to the tunnels looking for Spike, after a brief stop at his apartment and a chat with Clem, who had been staying there lately. Clem said that the blonde-haired vampire had been coming and going a lot lately, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time. Although he hadn’t known for sure, he thought maybe Spike came to the tunnels—at least it was where many of Sunnydale’s other day-shy denizens came to rest.
The tunnels slowly climbed upward as she continued along. Spike had said something was coming, and she regretted that she didn’t stay around long enough to find out what it was. Although he no longer considered himself the “leader” of Sunnydale’s vampire population, he still had authority and still had connections. He was also someone she just could not figure out, despite having known him for several years now. One day he tries to rape her, another day he tries to give her money. It made him sound insane, but she knew from some odd Spike-perspective, it all made perfect sense.
She quietly edged along the tunnels, in some places having to crawl to get through. After a few more minutes, through the shaking glow of the flashlight, she saw something that took her breath away. The edge of the tunnel she stood in opened into a large, round cavern. All along the edges of the cavern, the entrances to other tunnels sat in shadowed recesses. But most shocking was the floor of the cavern—it was like the floor of an emergency shelter after a disaster. Dozens upon dozens of vampires were there, most snoozing away peacefully on mattresses they had dragged down from above, others resorting to the comfort of lined coffins, either their own or belonging to corpses they had long ago ejected. More vampires were there than Buffy had ever seen in one place before, and she didn’t know how to react. It took her breath away, but then she realized it made sense—they had to go somewhere after the destruction of the Master’s church, Spike’s old factory, and the several other haunts and resting places Buffy and the Scooby Gang had flushed them out of.
She carefully walked among the sleeping vampires, looking for Spike with the flashlight on its dimmest setting. She was careful where she put each step, knowing that if she woke even one of them, they would all be upon her before she could reach the tunnel—and now she wasn’t even sure which tunnel she had come out of.
“Buffy!” The whisper broke the silence, startling her.
She swung the flashlight around, but the cavern was so large the light didn’t reach all the way to the walls.
“Buffy!” it came again, but this time she was listening. She saw that a faint light was coming from one of the tunnel entrances and she headed towards it. The light started moving towards her, and she realized the figure was holding an old oil lantern.
“Dawn!” she whispered as loudly as she dared. She wanted to yell and scold but she couldn’t as they stood in the midst of the dozing vampires. “What are you doing here? I thought you were watching Willow!”
“I was. But Xander came back—they were still waiting on the permits they needed or something. I went to see Clem and he told me where you were. I knew you’d try to find Spike.” Her last words were accusing. As she whispered, the dim glow from the lantern finally faded completely—it was out of oil.
“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m the Slayer! I can take care of myself,” Buffy whispered back, harshly. Just inches from her right ankle, a vampire rolled over in its sleep and groaned. She felt like kicking it, but restrained herself. “We’re not going to discuss this here. We’ve gotta get you out of here.”
They had started working their way back to one of the tunnels when a piercing wail froze them in their tracks. It was loud, like standing next to a fire engine on a four-alarm call. The sleeping vampires were roused and stood up, blocking Buffy’s escape. They didn’t notice her, however, as their attention was drawn to the bright light that now stood at the entrance to another nearby tunnel. A short figure dressed in green armor was standing there, holding a blindingly bright electric torch in one hand and a gun of some kind in the other.
“Come and get me boys!” she shouted, and then pressed the trigger on the gun. She aimed high above the crowd’s heads, so that fat droplets of holy water fell on them like a consecrated rain. Several vampires cried out in agony, causing the entire crowd to storm forward towards the figure. Buffy’s flashlight was knocked from her hand by the press, but she managed to grab Dawn’s hand just as they too were swept up in the crowd and pushed towards the tunnel. They tried to escape, but they had to keep up or be trampled. Stay calm, Buffy told herself. They think we’re just two more vampires. If they can’t see us, they don’t know we’re really alive. If they don’t know we’re alive, we’ll stay that way.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Joshua asked. More and more, hunting vampires didn’t exactly seem like a healthy way to deal with the grief to him. Along with Tintsman and Otis, he was standing with his back to the wall of a large, irregular cavern. There was only one exit tunnel from the cavern, and they were standing as far from it as possible. The only thing that kept him from shaking was knowing that although it might take them hours to actually trek back to the surface, relatively speaking they were only five or six feet below ground.
Tintsman stared at the tunnel intently. Soon he saw the faint glow he was expecting, and it was moving towards them and getting brighter. “No,” he replied finally to Joshua’s question. “But I am an engineer. And regardless, it’s too late to turn back now. She’s already on her way.”
The wait was nerve-wracking. Although Tintsman held a small radio transmitter, none of the three held any weapons. They knew that if they had to use them, it would be too late already. Soon they could hear the approaching storm of Rita and the vampires—the curses and yells of the vampires, and the occasional sound of her sprayer as she made sure they stayed angry enough to keep following her.
A minute later they were forced to partially cover their eyes because Rita’s electric torch was so bright. They could just make out her figure, rushing into their cavern, followed by a swarm of vampires. She barely kept ahead of them; although she was in great shape, the undead never ran out of breath—mainly because they didn’t need to breathe.
Tintsman waited until the last of the vampires had entered the cavern—Rita was less than ten feet away from them now, and the the vampires were at her heels. Even worse, they had seen him and the other two. He waited one more agonizing moment to ensure the timing was perfect, then pressed a button on the transmitter.
With a deafening explosion, the tunnel leading to the cavern collapsed in a pile of rubble. Half a second later, well-placed explosives set on the cavern ceiling detonated, sending large rocks and a rain of pebbles crashing into the swarm of vampires. Rita leapt into Tintsman’s arms, inches away from the cascade of stone. Where they were standing, they were safe—at least for the time being. Most of the vampires had survived the cave-in, and even now getting to their feet.
It was then they realized that their attackers had never meant to crush them. The explosives were set on the surface to create several parallel shafts to the nearby cavern below. And with the sun at just the right angle, the entire cavern was bathed in sunlight. Rita and the others covered their eyes as almost thirty vampires screamed, thrashed about, and finally disintegrated into dust. Tintsman watched eagerly, however. The pain of losing Maggie and Kate had been softened by the passage of time, and finding allies had given him hope. But unlike the others, he still had never faced what had happened—destroying vampires was his life now, all that he had left.
Later, as the others were preparing the climbing gear so they could extricate themselves, Joshua called out to them.
“These two aren’t dead,” he said. “Not vamps, either.” He pointed, and the others walked over to see that a young blonde girl was covered in rubble. They could just barely see another form underneath.
“Looks like the blonde shielded the brunette with her body,” Otis observed.
“Well they’re both out of it,” Joshua put in. “Though it looks like neither is hurt too badly. Give me a hand here and we’ll dig ‘em out.”
“Leave them,” Tintsman said coldy. “If they’re alive, finish them off.”
“Wait a second, Michael,” Rita said. “I know what happened back in the bar. But these two—they’re just kids. Human kids.”
“Vampires and those who help them!” Tintsman said angrily. He was tired of having to repeat it and tired of their always questioning him. “All of you swore. Now do it!”
“I don’t think I can,” Rita said.
“Me neither,” Otis added.
Everyone looked at Joshua, the weakest-willed of the bunch. He stepped back and put his hands in he air as if to fend off an invisible attacker. “I . . . I’m with them, Michael. It’s just going too far.”
“Fine,” he said, starting to ascend the shaft. “You can go wherever the hell you want. I’m going the rest of the way though. All the way. By myself if I have to.”
The others looked at each other, unsure of what to do next.
“I’m out of here,” Joshua said. “I’m going back to Topeka. This is just too much.”
The others reluctantly agreed.
“What about these two?” Otis asked, pointing.
“He probably is right you know. If they were down here, part of that crowd, they must be helping the vamps. Nothing else makes any sense,” Rita observed.
“Unless they were prisoners—but they weren’t tied up or anything.”
“Well not killing them doesn’t mean we have to help them. They’re alive. We’ll leave them alone. If they wake up, they wake up. If they don’t, they don’t. We’ll let fate decide,” Joshua said.
Xander was startled when Willow stood up suddenly. She had been sitting on the couch, motionless, for hours as the afternoon stretched into the early evening. He had tried all day long to get her to respond, but she had maintained the blank look and spoke only about “community” and “First Principles.” Now that she was finally doing something, he didn’t know whether to be overjoyed or worried.
“Uh, how’s it going Will?” he asked tentatively.
“Everything is fine, Xander. I have to get ready. Tonight is the big rally. Something big is going to happen.”
“I see. You know, I was thinking we might skip the whole ‘First Principles’ thing tonight—just this once, you know. Maybe catch a movie, get a little dinner, whatever.”
“I can’t, Xander. I have to get ready. Tonight’s the big rally. Something big is going to happen.”
“You just said that.”
She didn’t respond, but instead started walking towards the door. He jogged past her and blocked it with his body. He grabbed her gently by the shoulders and hoped his words would bore through to her brain.
“Willow, listen to me. Something’s going on. You’re not a joiner. You hate crowds. Whatever’s happening tonight, you don’t need to be there. I can’t let you go.”
“Community comes first, Xander. Without our communities, how do we know who we are? First Principles is all about community, and that’s because—“
Xander sighed and let go of her shoulders. He knew he could stop her, keep her here, but it really didn’t seem to matter anymore. She was never going to be herself as long as she was under this First Principles spell. If something big is going to happen tonight, we might as well be there to see what the hell it is. And how to put a stop to it.
“You know what, Will? Changed my mind. I feel like joining the ol’ community after all.”
Dawn woke first, wondering why her blankets were so heavy and if she were going to be late for school. She began to panic when she realized she could barely move. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she half wondered if she had been out camping—she could see the stars twinkling overhead and feel a cool breeze on her cheek. She lifted her head and look around. It all came flooding back—the rush of vampires, the bright lights, the figures in green, the falling rock—Buffy covering her body with her own.
“Buffy!” Her sister’s head lay inches from her own, and Dawn thought she stirred slightly. She called out her name again.
“Leave me alone. I’m tired,” Buffy groaned.
“Buffy, wake up! We’re stuck at the bottom of a freakin’ cave again!”
Buffy’s eyes flickered open.
After Buffy had awakened fully and found the strength and leverage to push herself off the ground, sending rocks skittering everywhere, she helped Dawn to her feet. Neither of them were seriously hurt, though Buffy’s back would be bruised like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. The climb to the surface was far easier than they had expected—metal climbing spikes had been embedded in the nooks and crannies of the stone.
“Thanks Buffy,” said Dawn, when they were resting at the lip of the shaft. “What you did was—well it was really cool.”
Buffy smiled. “All part of being the Chosen One, I guess.”
“So what was that all about?”
“You know, I have no clue. Something came along and took out half the vampires in Sunnydale—and almost us, too.”
“So you’re thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Unfortunately. We’re still going to have to find Spike.”
“Are my ears burning?” a voice called out. Dawn and Buffy whirled around to see Spike walking towards them.
“I wish your whole body was burning,” Buffy replied. “Why do you always show up at the worst time?”
“Love, the whole undead community in Sunnydale heard about what happened down there.” Spike walked over to the edge and looked down. “Biggest single massacre in years and years. I don’t think even you got quite that many at once. Are you jealous?”
“No, disappointed that you weren’t down there too. We’ve been looking for you.”
“Well, you found me,” he shrugged.
“You said something big was going to happen. How did you know?”
“You think I meant this?” He grinned, looking into the hole. “The bloody rotters got what they deserved— I couldn’t stand most of them. No, I was talking about something else.”
“So are you going to tell us are you going to be all cryptic, like Angel circa my sophomore year?”
Spike bristled slightly at the name. “All right. I don’t know much—but it has to do with First Principles and the big man in charge.”
“No, the real guy in charge. Word on the street is that he has a mad-on for a certain Slayer we all know and love. And, of course, this being the Hellmouth, he’s got quite a plan for bringing her down.”
“Enough games,” Buffy said. “What’s this guy’s name?”