Saving Souls, Sunnydale Style



Notes. This is set in early season six with a few tweaks that mean less problems with the Scoobies. It was beta read by Jennifer who did a great job (as usual!). Thanks, Jen.


Sunnydale lay bathed in sunlight, the sky holding in the warmth and peace of another beautiful late summer day. Children played in the quiet streets, a growing awareness of Labor Day approaching filling their games with frantic energy.

Relieved parents noted the signs of autumn and braced themselves to cope with the last week of vacation, basking in the knowledge that their children would soon be someone else's problem for eight hours a day.

Summer was winding down and it had been a good one.

Sunnydale was not known for peaceful serenity though. An observer with a trace of psychic ability would have sensed a build up of malice and power that was set to unleash a storm upon the sleepy town.

Sunnydale would ride it out, as ever, lick its wounds, bury its dead - and hope and pray that they would stay dead...

***

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 28 (SUNRISE 05.29, SUNSET 18.30)
16.00

The Magic Box was one of Sunnydale’s more haunted shops. Rupert Giles was well aware of this but, with a recklessness caused by acute boredom, had taken over the shop anyway. His former careers of school librarian and Watcher had both ended. The first quite spectacularly when the school was blown up, the second, well, perhaps he was still technically Buffy’s Watcher but she had moved far beyond needing him for training or guidance. He had no intention of leaving Sunnydale though; his knowledge of all things demonic made him an invaluable member of the team. The Hellmouth was always spawning new adversaries for the Slayer and her friends to battle.

Employing Anya as his shop assistant had struck some of the Scoobies as riskier still, but it had turned out surprisingly well. After a thousand years as a demon, Anya was struggling to fit into a human world again. In her desire to merge with her fellow Americans, she had wholeheartedly embraced the cult of making money. This made some customers nervous, as leaving the shop without buying anything could change Anya’s parting words from, ‘Have a nice day’ to, ‘ Please return when you’re serious about buying something or are no longer financially embarrassed.’
On this perfect summer day though, customers or browsers were few. Beaches, parks, fresh air and sunshine held more appeal than dim shops smelling of musty books and oddly scented candles.

Undeterred by her solitude and bursting with energy, Anya was briskly flicking away the few dust motes that had dared to settle since her last feather duster attack. A movement at the window and a shadow cast on the display she was working on caught her attention. She automatically glanced up to see if it was a customer. A frown creased her forehead as she saw that a poster now disfigured the pristine glass. An unauthorised, unwanted poster. Anya felt annoyance rise within her at the sight. Telling herself to calm down, she marched over to the door and flung it open, setting the bell jangling discordantly.

Looking up and down the street, she could see no youngster with a bucket of paste and a bag bulging with flyers. No likely culprits at all in fact, though she gave an elderly man with two shopping bags a suspicious look that bordered on a threat. Clutching his groceries, he hurried off, casting back rather apprehensive glances until he rounded the corner and felt safe again.

Denied a target, she turned to vent her wrath on the poster itself. Barely registering the subject, she took hold of a corner and pulled, ripping the paper with a satisfying tearing noise. Unfortunately, she had only removed a few square inches; the rest of the poster was stuck fast.
Anya gritted her teeth and began to scrape away at the paper, removing it in tiny shreds. Noticing the damage this was doing to her nails, she stopped, aghast and stepped back to look at the window from a distance. It looked messy. Firming her lips, Anya went in search of something to help her, emerging from the shop with a hand axe that looked promising as a substitute for her freshly manicured nails. About thirty seconds later she studied the hole in the window, the cut on her hand and the ruined edge on the axe, unable to make up her mind which distressed her most.

Anya dealt with her cut first. No point in having blood to mop up as well as glass to sweep. It proved difficult to do first aid with only one working hand, but she managed to wrap enough bandage around the injury to make a mummy jealous. Which in turn made holding a broom difficult.
After examining the blunted axe from various angles, she wrote out a new label for it, describing it as "antique, distressed and ceremonial" rather than "perfect for preparing wood for ritual fires”. She then called an emergency glazier, who added to her gloom by penciling her in for early next week - if she was lucky.

Anya leaned on the counter, resting her chin on her good hand, and brooded for a while. She finally cheered up when a regular (and rich) customer fluttered in, clutching a promisingly long shopping list. Peeling her chin off her hand (had she got ointment all over her?) she went to greet Mrs Palton the Third.

Ointment and a bandage were soothing her hand but she felt a need for some cash register calisthenics, too.


17.30

Xander left work for the day as soon as he could. They were well ahead of schedule on a new office building and he had a feeling that he was breaking some unwritten rule by being too efficient. Xander didn’t want to make waves. Finishing early slowed things down and kept his crew happy. Come pay day, they might complain about a lack of overtime but Xander was living for the moment tonight.

Humming happily to himself he headed for his car. He intended to drop by and pick up Anya from the shop. She seemed to be extending the opening hours more and more and Giles was only too happy to let her, as long as he wasn't expected to join her behind the counter.
“Slacker,” muttered Xander, somewhat unfairly as he'd spent the evening before carefully explaining to Anya that making money wasn't as important as spending time with him. Giles didn’t have a honey – didn’t have a social life at all and it was probably more exciting for him at the shop than it was at his apartment. Which is why Anya should get to leave early. Logical. Sensible. More time for the important things in life for those who actually had one.

Tonight he planned to sweep her away in a grand, romantic gesture. Only back to the apartment but he'd make up for the venue. Maybe he should buy flowers on the way to the shop? They made her sneeze if he got the wrong sort, but they also made her go all mushy. And when Anya got mushy, she got passionate moments later.

He got into the car, his head full of nicely naughty little thoughts. That was probably why it wasn't until he began to pull away that he noticed the flyer tucked neatly under his wiper blade, obscuring his vision. Cursing mildly, he unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door, grabbed the flyer and gave it a swift once over before screwing it into a loose ball. Looking round, he spotted a trashcan and lobbed the paper at it, scoring a direct hit.
"And still the champion," he murmured, pleased with himself. Getting back into the car and pulling away, he discovered that his palms were clinging to the wheel. Wiping them down his jeans, one at a time, he carried on driving.


17.35


Buffy reached for the mail with as much enthusiasm as a student collecting a homework assignment and extracted the usual jumble of junk mail and bills. The flyers and free papers went straight into the recycling bin after she'd flicked through for any upcoming shoe sales. One was stuck to the back of another and only part of it was visible. Buffy started to unpeel it but stopped when she realised that it was talking about ‘souls’, not ‘soles’.

"So not interested in the afterlife deal," she murmured. "Though I could always write a book...."

She considered this option for a while and was just planning out the locations on her book signing tour of Europe when reality in the form of the bills brought her air castles crashing down with dry rot and woodworm.

The bills almost joined the junk but she restrained herself. Ripping them open and absorbing the totals took away all her happy feelings (as paying them would her bank balance) but she shrugged. At least they weren't final demands.

Deciding that training would take her mind off her financial woes, she got changed into comfortable clothes and headed for the Magic Box. It was so nice having somewhere with plenty of things for her to punch and kick. Very therapeutic. As she closed the door behind her, she found her hand sticking to the handle. Had Dawn got gum all over it or something? Buffy added cleaning the door handle to the list of chores planned for the weekend, but put it right at the bottom, beneath ironing, weeding, window washing and a thorough spring clean of her makeup bag.


17.45

Willow was also headed toward the shop, to pick up a surprise gift for Tara, a 'just because I love you' present. They were the best kind, unexpected and romantic. She smiled, remembering the time that Tara had given her a witch’s hat, a genuine pointy hat in traditional basic black, with a slight crook in the point, and dared her to wear to class. She had, and they had giggled all night about the scolding she’d received from the leader of the college Wicca group for ‘reinforcing damaging stereotypes and just before the Solstice Bring and Buy sale too.’

Like Xander, her attention was less on her familiar surroundings and more on anticipating a passion-filled evening, but gradually she was distracted by a low level buzz. She instinctively looked around for an insect, keen on making her a meal, wondering with another part of her mind if vampires and mosquitoes shared any genes. Seeing nothing, she realised that it wasn't something in the physical world that she was hearing. It was an indicator of magical activity. Minor, almost background really, but just strong enough that she could sense it. In fact, it was making her skin tingle slightly.

A quick scan showed nothing obvious. She was alone in the street, there were no mystic sigils scrawled on the walls, no obviously magical objects on the ground. Unless the trash can was a demon in disguise? Nah.

Her curiosity aroused, she began to experiment. She moved up and down to determine when the signal peaked, but she discovered that her sensitivity wasn't sufficiently acute to allow her to home in on the source. She could, however, narrow it down. After a short while, she spotted the poster, tacked up on a wooden telephone pole. Bingo.

Flyers for garage sales, local bands and MLS opportunities usually decorate such poles but not in Sunnydale. The Mayor had a great dislike of such untidy, homemade advertising and during his time in office he had discouraged them. Which is to say, he sent round a henchman or two to the address involved and gave them an hour to remove the poster, making good any damage.

Since he'd been removed from office, the posters had begun to creep back. Willow gingerly reached out a hand to the poster and found herself prodding it with a finger when she had intended to just study it. Murmuring a simple incantation designed to reveal magic, she noticed with interest that the poster was coated with several spells. She would need time to work out what they did and something told her that this was going to be difficult.

Willow was puzzled. The spells weren't designed to attract attention; she had been well past it when she'd noticed the magical hum. Nor were they designed to make it invisible. Unless there was a hidden message that she couldn't read? Glancing down the street, she saw that every pole had a poster attached and she was certain that they'd been bare the day before.

Walking towards the Magic Box, she saw that shop windows had posters, cars had flyers; she even glanced up at a passing plane to see if it was sky writing...

When she got to the Magic Box she checked out the window for a poster and made an educated guess as to the cause of the hole. The shop was empty of browsing customers in search of that little something to add sparkle to their drab lives. Not surprising as it was about the time that most people were cooking, eating or washing dishes depending on their schedules. Generally there was a Scooby or two around about now, catching up on gossip, homework, research or training. Tonight there was just Anya behind the counter, meticulously polishing the cash register.

"Hey, Anya," called Willow. "Where is everyone?"

She was more relaxed with the ex-demon nowadays. Cowering together as a troll decided which of them to kill first had done wonders for increased camaraderie. She still preferred being with her when there were others around though. Anya was sometimes a little overpowering, undiluted.

"Xander is still working and Giles is depositing money at the bank. I sent Dawn home when she disarranged a stack of candles I'd spent thirty-three minutes building into a scale replica of the Temple of Imon. They really should make children do something useful during school vacations. Picking up litter perhaps. I haven't seen Buffy or Tara today," replied Anya with her usual precision.

"Ah, okay,” replied Willow, a little stunned by the flow of information. “I was just here to get something for Tara but that can wait. I wanted to ask you about - "

"Spending money shouldn't have to wait," said Anya in a firm, but determinedly pleasant tone. "Please feel free to browse - without touching - while you talk."

"Umm, sure," said Willow, drifting over to a display of essential oils. "Well, it's nothing really. I just wondered about the broken window. It didn't happen when you were trying to scrape off a poster, did it?"

Anya glanced over at the cracked and smeared glass around the large, axe-shaped hole.

"Yes," she replied crisply. "Someone with no manners stuck it there without asking. I have a strict policy about using my premises to give other people free advertising. I don't do it."

"I remember," said Willow, moving on to jewelry. "I don't think the Brownies will ever get over being charged for selling their cookies outside the shop."

"Once their function in society was explained, I reduced the fee to a box of the chocolate mint ones for Xander," Anya replied defensively, smoothing back her hair. In her quest for the perfect human appearance, she tended to change hair colour more often than some people changed sheets. Today it was a rich brown.

"Anyway, that poster - did it seem odd to you at all?" asked Willow, getting back to the important topic.

"I didn't really read it," said Anya shrugging. "It seemed to be about a meeting on Friday night and I have other plans. To do with Xander." A dreamy smile passed over her face and she reached up to smooth back her hair yet again. Willow wondered if it was like Giles’ habit of removing and polishing his glasses. Did she have a habit, too? She’d have to ask Tara.

"It's a meeting all right," said Willow, ignoring the reference to sex with Xander, which made her feel a little uncomfortable even now.

 “Unfortunately, it's not something I've got a whole lot of experience with. I need one of those posters to examine. One without glue all over it, if possible. I think I'll just go and take one of the flyers. There are a few cars parked nearby with them on. Stupid of me not to do it as I walked by them."

"But you didn't buy anything!" said Anya plaintively as Willow left the shop quickly, an intent look on her face.

The bell jingled a few moments later and she perked up but only for a second. It was Buffy and she wasn't known for being a big spender on magical items. Clothes, yes. Candles and chicken feet, no.

"Where was Willow going in such a rush?" inquired Buffy. “I waved and she just kept on going.”

"To steal something from a car," said Anya simply, walking over to the essential oils display. Tutting with disapproval, she began to tidy the bottles that Willow had moved around, making sure that all the labels were showing.

Buffy opened her mouth then closed it again, shaking her head.

"I just know there's a better way you could have phrased that. Want to try?"

Anya huffed impatiently. "There are pieces of paper stuck underneath the wiper blades on some of the vehicles parked on the street. Willow wants one and as the one on my window was damaged, she's gone to get - "

"But you don't have a car," interrupted Buffy.

"The shop window," said Anya with an eye roll that Buffy mentally gave an 8 out of 10.

Willow came back in, this time accompanied by Tara. She was flourishing the flyer triumphantly and mercifully unaware of Anya’s description of her actions.

“Oh, hi, Buffy,” she said. “Did Anya tell you all about it? I just bumped into Tara outside, and updated her on the Hellmouth’s latest attempt to stop us all getting bored with life.”

“Do you think it’s a demon, Buffy?” asked Tara eagerly.

Before Buffy had chance to ask - or answer - any of the questions hovering in the air, Xander joined them, twirling his car keys jauntily.

"Well, hello, beautiful ladies," he said smiling. "One of you lucky, lucky people is headed for a night of passion and pizza at the Harris residence."

"That would be her," Buffy and Willow replied in unison, pointing at Anya, who was smiling fondly at her fiancé but also sneaking a look at her watch. It was way too early to close! Tara grinned.

"You are absolutely correct!" he declaimed grandly. "We'll save you three the crusts if you're lucky."

"Sorry to interrupt this romantic extravaganza but it might be all hands to the research pump, rather than the, umm, never mind," said Willow, her voice trailing off as her brain caught up with her mouth.

"What's the deal with the poster then, Will?" asked Buffy curiously. "Anya said she had one on the shop window and you were going out to get one off a car. What gives?”

"That looks like one I had on my windshield," said Xander, walking over to Willow. "If I'd known you wanted it I wouldn't have given it the patented, Harris heave ho into the nearest trash can. Not really your thing is it, Will?"

Buffy craned her neck to read the upside down flyer.

"I had one in the mail too, but I just threw it out. What's the biggie? It's just a revival meeting. One of those white-suited, flashy smiley guys from TV who guarantees to save your soul if you give him mucho money. Like you could ask for a refund if you ended up elsewhere.”

"And you don't think the Hellmouth town is an odd place to target?" Willow asked pointedly. "I've lived here all my life and never seen one before. Anyway, I seriously doubt it's as straightforward a con as that. The posters are giving off a kind of magical hum. This is coated with spells and I want to know why."

"I suppose we should skip the passion and order pizza for here?" said Xander, pulling out a chair, reversing it and sitting down with a look of resignation.

Willow took pity on him. "You and Anya go home. Until I find out a bit more, there's not a lot you can do. Just try not to get too close to the posters."

"I touched one!" exclaimed Anya. "And I bled. That can't be good." She stared at her hand, a worried look on her face.

“Hey, Anya, that looks bad!” exclaimed Xander, spotting the bandage for the first time and looking concerned.

"You got a paper cut?" asked Buffy, a little lacking with the sympathy.

Anya gingerly peeled back her bandage to show a jagged but shallow gouge.

"Ooh, that does look nasty!" exclaimed Buffy, trying to remember that not everyone had Slayer-powered healing.

"It is throbbing a little," admitted Anya bravely. "But it was from the window, not the paper. So that's all right then, isn't it?"

She gazed around at the group with an anxious frown and was hastily reassured that glass cuts, even from glass that had enchanted posters stuck to it, were hardly ever fatal.

Their babbling and Anya's incipient hysteria were mercifully interrupted by Spike, who sauntered in with a bland, "Evening, all," and perched on a nearby table.

"What is it, Spike?" asked Buffy impatiently. When Spike was patrolling with her, they were often quite friendly, but in front of the Scoobies she found herself reverting to insults. Spike played along with it but it annoyed him sometimes.

A faint look of hurt crossed his face. "Just had something to show you, Slayer.” He glanced over to Willow, who had picked up the poster again and was reading it carefully. “Oh, Red's beaten me to it, has she? I'll be leaving then, shall I?"

He was edging slowly out of the door, waiting to be called back and getting the message that it wasn't going to happen, when Willow stopped him, asking, "Wait! Spike, where did you get your poster? They've been mailed, stuck on cars and shops; where do you fit into that? And why did you think the Slayer needed to know anyway?"

Spike was back inside and sitting comfortably before she'd finished speaking. "Not sure what you mean, love. It was stuck to the outside of the crypt door. I don't have Postman Pat popping by that often, funnily enough, so I assumed all the vamps were getting them hand delivered."

"Vampires getting told about a revival?" asked Xander, sarcasm and bewilderment fighting it out for supremacy. "You don't even have souls, so why would this guy want you lot around when he threatens people with theirs getting deep fried in hellfire and brimstone? To provide an object lesson?"

Spike stood up, his heavy boots slamming against the wooden floor with a decisive thud.

"Something screwy here, even allowing for ‘I sniffed my glue gun once too often’ Harris, confusing matters. My poster isn’t about saving souls." He chuckled. “Quite the contrary.”

Xander gave Spike a halfhearted smirk but didn't respond with a quip. He had the feeling that the night in with Anya was now history and squabbling with Spike was a poor second to smoochies. Better than nothing though. He opened his mouth but the golden moment had passed.

Willow took Spike’s poster from him and spread both flyers out on a large table. Bending over, she began to compare them. It didn’t take her long. As she finished reading them, she looked up at him.

“Is this some sort of trick?” she demanded crossly. “These posters are the same. It’s just the date, time and place for the meeting, along with some religious stuff about needing to save souls because, shock, horror, there’s an Armageddon coming at an unspecified time in the future.”

“Boy, they sure missed the boat on the last three or four,” murmured Buffy.

Spike looked genuinely taken aback. “No, they’re not. Yours might say that, fair enough, I haven’t read it, but mine doesn’t.”

Buffy intervened as Xander’s face clouded over and he rose, taking a step towards the vampire. Spike did many things that were evil, despicable and grounds for staking, but practical jokes weren’t one of them. Or she’d have dusted him a long time ago.

“Spike, everyone, go look at the posters and let’s find out what’s going on.”

Anya looked reluctant but she walked over and gave them a cursory glance. “Look the same to me,” she declared. One by one, everyone took turns at reading the posters. They were unanimous that both were identical – even Spike, but Spike persisted in his claim that they read very differently to his eyes.

“Hate to break it to you, lads and lasses,” he said sarcastically, “but what you have there is an invitation to every vampire in town to come and feed till their fangs are blunt. It’s at that park on the edge of town, Friday night, after sundown. Seems there’s going to be a whole lot of people gathered together at six o’clock, expecting to be making with the singing. Instead, they’ll get hit by the magic and by the time sunset comes, half an hour later, they’ll be under a spell that stops them running away. Enter the hungry vampires. So, now do I get some credit for wasting valuable drinking time to come and fill you in?”

“What are you on, fang boy?” asked Xander in disbelief. “Are delusions a side effect of the chip?”

Tara hesitantly said, earning a grateful smile from Spike, “M-maybe it’s the spells on the posters? Willow, could they change the way the posters appear to demons and humans? Each sees a different version?”

Willow looked intrigued. “It could,” she said. “There are so many spells plastered all over it, anything’s possible. It’d make sense, I suppose.”

“Well, thanks for finally admitting it,” growled Spike.

“We don’t know it for certain yet,” Buffy snapped back, with an apologetic smile towards Tara. “We’ll check it out of course.”

Despite her words, no one really doubted Spike was, for once, telling the truth, and there was a pensive silence for a moment.

Buffy and the gang could easily manage a small group of vampires, but this sounded more like the social event of the year for the undead population of Sunnydale. An audience of terrified humans wouldn't help matters either.

"Just how many vampires got this flyer?" asked Buffy, turning to Spike.

"Doesn't matter. They’re stuck up all over the place, remember? By this time tomorrow every vamp in town will know about it."

"And that would be how many exactly?" she asked, moving closer to stare at him challengingly. Spike wasn't quite sure why he was supposed to feel guilty, so he didn't.

"Your guess is as good as mine, pet," he said with an aggravating eyebrow twitch. "Can't be more than a few hundred I suppose. I mean - you're out there killing them all the time, aren't you?"

"I could make that a few hundred less one right now, Spike," she muttered giving his chest a hard look, as though pinpointing exactly where to thrust her stake.

Spike chuckled low in his throat. "I love it when you threaten me, Slayer. Your nose sort of twitches. It's cute."

Buffy made a complicated sound of frustration and stomped off to join Willow. She was gamely embarking on the first stage of research: a random search for anything useful in the face of overwhelming ignorance of the topic.

"I can't do much here," Buffy said, never much for the bookwork involved in battling evil. "I'm going to see if I can find the people running this show and pick up any clues."

“That could be dangerous!" Willow exclaimed. "We should get some information about how powerful they are, what kind of demons we're up against before you do that.” She smiled in relief. “ Oh good, here's Giles."

Giles walked in, his brow furrowed, his spirit weakened. "Anya, next time, please make sure there's no fairy gold mixed in with the takings. I just had the most annoying encounter with that woman at the bank, you know the one who always looks as if she’s chewing on nails. I had to stop off for a cup of tea to calm me down - oh, are we doing research? The perfect end to a hellish day."

Twisting his head around, he took in the damage to the shop window for the first time. "What on earth has been going on, Anya?"

"Someone stuck a poster up on the window," she replied.

"And you couldn't have just peeled it off?" said Giles pettishly. Finding an insurance company willing to cover the shop was getting trickier. It wasn’t that long either since Anya’s ex had done an unwanted demolition job on most of it. A new window was going to have to come out of his pocket. He couldn’t risk making another claim this soon.

Anya stalked over and confronted Giles, hands on hips, face thrust forward. "No. I couldn't. And yes, I am damaged, thank you for noticing my bandage."

Giles took a deep breath, polished his glasses and went to stand behind the counter, well away from Anya who seemed to be in an Anyanka, the Vengeance Demon, frame of mind. "Would someone care to fill me in on the details here before I resort to drinking during business hours?"

Deciding that customers were likely to be few at seven o’clock, he began reaching for the supply of single malt anyway. It was conveniently located under the counter and his fingers had just closed around a fiery, ten-year-old Talisker when Spike said, "Make mine a double, mate. Before we start boozing, I’ll fill you in though -”

Giles straightened and put empty hands flat on the counter. He was damned if Spike was getting his good stuff. Olivia had brought him that bottle on what had turned out to be her last visit. Not only did it have sentimental value, it was far too expensive to waste on a vampire whose taste buds were ruined with cheap rotgut. Spike looked disappointed but not surprised.

Buffy, Willow and Anya all began to talk at the same time and Giles flinched as he was bombarded with a confused tale involving blood, posters, and excessively white teeth. He sighed and quelled the tumult with an upraised hand.

 "Everyone, quiet. Xander, you tell me."

Xander looked surprised, then pleased. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Giles."

"Not really; you probably know least so it'll take less time to tell me," said Giles a little unkindly.

Xander’s jaw dropped but he made a swift recovery. “I know as much as anyone here,” he answered indignantly. “Which isn’t much, granted, but still!”

Seeing that Giles was getting impatient, he quickly hit the high spots on the magical posters that had sprung up all over town and the possibility that the prayer meeting would turn out to be a massacre.

When he had finished there was a short silence.

"Most odd," said Giles finally, drumming his fingers on the counter as he spoke.

Spike gave a derisive snort of laughter. "Trust the Watcher to remain calm in the face of a problem, especially when he knows sod all about what's going on."

"Actually, I might well have come across this type of event before," said Giles calmly, giving Spike a supercilious glare.

There was an impressed silence and Giles flushed slightly, coughing to hide his pleasure at their admiration. Precious little of that he got nowadays since they’d gone off to college and learned everything worth knowing in their first week.

"Some decades ago,” he began to lecture, “in the early stages of the Depression, here in the States, revivals and fairs were a way of escaping dull reality for many people. They went, had fun, spent some money they could ill afford but it was a social event and it brought a community together.

“All well and good but at one such evangelical show, in a small town called Talbotville, the entire audience was killed, some three hundred people. They never found out how and there wasn't a mark on the bodies. It was hushed up, as best one could, and as there weren't many people left in the town, there wasn't anyone to discuss it. A year later, the town was virtually abandoned. It’s almost certain that there was demonic activity behind the deaths."

"How do you know about this, Giles?" asked Willow curiously. “If they never found out?"

Giles raised his eyebrows. "That much concentrated pain and evil? It would have set off alarm bells with every sensitive in reach. The Council would have been informed in advance and they're probably the ones responsible for much of the cover up."

"If they knew, why didn't they stop it?" wondered Xander.

"I don't know all the details but you'll probably find that some of those dead were Council operatives, trying to do just that. I'll call London; see what they can send me. In the meantime..."

"I'll be out there asking some questions," interrupted Buffy. "This is Wednesday night; we don't have much time. Willow, is there a name on that poster?"

Willow scanned it again. "I can't see one," she said doubtfully. "Usually don't they play up the star attraction?"

"Are you blind, Red?" said Spike, "It's right there on the top line of my poster in big letters...oh, that’s missing off yours, too, is it?” Spike shrugged. “I can write out exactly what I see, so you can compare it. Probably easiest and there might be a clue or something."

Taking paper and pen from behind the counter, he walked over to the circular table that was reserved for the Scoobies and began to write in a surprisingly neat, flowing style. As he wrote, he became aware of a stunned silence behind him and wriggled uneasily as he sensed that there were many people staring at his back.

"Talk amongst yourselves, why don't you," he suggested without turning. "It's only Spike being helpful, not the first time, is it now?"

"Well..." said Anya.

Spike did turn then and gave them all a steady look. "I don't like the idea of some nutter coming to my town and taking out most of the population. I don't like getting junk mail and, in case you hadn't noticed, someone not from Sunnydale knows where I live. I don't like that much either. So I'm helping, okay?"

Buffy walked over to him and rested her hand fleetingly on his shoulder. "Fine. You help. Tell me a name; get me an address. Fast. I want to do something."

Spike nodded and turned back to his writing.

A few minutes later, he passed over the demonic version and Willow read the name aloud. "’Brother Saul’. I can check the hotels and such, I suppose. Easy enough to hack into their guest registers if they're computerised. Giles,” she added diffidently, ” as you’re the expert on this guy, maybe you should be the one to check the poster? See if it rings any bells?”

“Of course,” said Giles agreeably. He reached for the poster and found that he almost had to tug it free from Willow’s grasp. It was as if it were glued to her hand.

Fifteen minutes later, Willow had located the motel; not one of Sunnydale's finest but a step up from the one Faith had lived in for a while. It was on the edge of town and, not surprisingly, the closest one to the large field where the revival meeting was to be held.

"Just thought," said Xander. "If he's using the park, doesn't he need a permit or something? Can you trace the paperwork on that, Willow?"

"I'll try," she replied, her fingers busy again on the keyboard.

Buffy grabbed an assortment of weapons, concealed them here and there and headed for the door.

"Hang about, Slayer," said Spike. "I'm coming with you. In fact, I'm the one going in, while you watch my back."

"Are you insane?" snapped Buffy, looking as if she might reach for one of her weapons before she even left the shop. "Since when did you become the leader and since when - "

"He won't tell you anything. You're the enemy. He might tell me because I'm an invited diner at his little feast. Use your brains, girl."

"Spike's right," said Giles, neatly defusing the confrontation with the ease of much practice. "If he can play along with this person, we might get some useful information."

"And if I just kill him, we won't need it!" said Buffy impatiently.

Giles gave her a look that he saved for emergencies. It reduced her to kindergarten level. "Buffy - we don't know he's a demon. You can't kill a human."

Buffy threw up her hands and said, "Fine! I'll take a babysitter! Come on then and if I overhear even the tiniest hint of a double cross, I'll - "
"Stake me, where I stand. Got it."

As they left, with Spike enquiring innocently if he got paid for babysitting the Slayer and getting a fist in the ribs in reply, Xander shook his head and muttered something.

"What was that?" asked Anya curiously.

"Nothing," said Xander, giving her a bright and insincere smile. "Just hoping Spike keeps needling Buffy so that she remembers what her job title is."

 
20.30

Buffy would have been astonished and pleased to see how complimentary Giles was on the subject of her planning abilities; within the pages of his Watcher’s Diary at least. She was perhaps the first Slayer to have need of the skill of delegating and assigning roles to her helpers. Most Slayers worked alone, their Watcher their only resource. They might have planned attacks and formed strategies but more often they simply responded to a threat by killing or being killed.

Buffy was different. She had a group of helpers and they needed to have their various skills coordinated and directed. The ease with which she had taken to this role might have been part of her character before being Called but it had certainly blossomed during her years as Slayer.
Spike was under no illusions that Buffy had surrendered control of the night’s events to him. She might have reluctantly agreed to let him confront Brother Saul but he had a feeling that she was just waiting for an excuse to upgrade her role.

“All atremble wanting to get those fists flying,” he thought to himself with reluctant sympathy. He thought back to the weeks after he’d been fitted with the behaviour-modifying chip. Eventually he’d discovered that it didn’t stop him from hurting non-humans but the memory of weeks of watching others fight, while he stood aside, still filled him with a dull depression.

“Right, Spike,” whispered Buffy, leaning in close. Spike breathed in the familiar scent of her hair and restrained himself from even attempting to brush it with his fingers. Buffy was tense enough that she might overreact and do something he’d regret. A solid thump to his side made him realise that he’d missed Buffy’s instructions as he drifted into erotic daydreams.

Buffy glared at him and repeated, “It’s that room over there. You’ll need an invitation, of course. They might not spot that you’re a vampire if they’re human, so you’ll have to just make them think you’re polite when you ask for one. Talk more like Giles and they’ll put it down to you being English. Try and find out about their plans. If they start to attack you, reveal you’re a vampire. Or would it be best to admit that at once?” Buffy hesitated, uncertain under Spike’s bored gaze and raised eyebrow.

“Oh, enough with the clever plans. Just hang about and if you hear me scream, which you won’t, since I’m not a nancy boy like some people we both know and I hate, then come running. That suit you, Your Slayerness?”

“If you mess this up, I’ll make Giles pay for taking your side,” Buffy replied through clenched teeth.

“Jealous are we?” asked Spike curiously, leaning closer and studying her face, his head tilted slightly to one side and his eyes quizzical.

Buffy flushed, stepped back and said coolly, “If I’m not watching you walk towards that door in the next three seconds, I’m going in myself. One, two…”

“I’m going, I’m going! Sheesh, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Especially if it’s those red lacy ones with the little hearts–“

Only the fact that Spike was knocking at the motel room door saved him from Buffy’s wrath but she made a mental note to hit him at the first available opportunity. Those panties were new. Had Spike been going through her stuff again? Or, worse still, helping Dawn with the laundry? Dawn was getting way too good at convincing other people to do her assigned chores.

She watched as the door opened and he stepped confidently into the room after a short conversation with a man. She felt a pang of worry. Not about Spike of course, certainly not, but about this new menace that was plaguing Sunnydale. She’d got to the point where she trusted Spike – more or less – but there was still the chance that he would turn on them. Trying to convince herself that that was only reason she wanted to see what was happening, she moved in as close as she dared and tried to listen.


20.40


Spike rapped at the door and waited for it to open. He could sense evil behind the door, could feel the tingle on his skin that came from magic. Bracing himself, he smiled as the door opened a crack and tried to appear friendly but confident.

“Yes? What do you want?” The voice was low and not threatening but Spike felt a slight shiver even so.

“Just wondered if I could come in and have a little chat about this meeting you’re setting up. This is the place, right?”

“You want to be invited in?” There was a thread of amusement running through the voice now. “Why, certainly. Step inside, Mr -?”

“The name’s Ripper,” said Spike with an inward chuckle of his own. He was getting the feeling that Brother Saul knew just a little too much about Sunnydale and that might include his own history. Plenty of demons would have been only too pleased to see Spike dusted for his crimes of associating with the Slayer and killing demons as a way of keeping busy. Giving a false name might not do much if Brother Saul had a description; Spike flattered himself that he was unmistakable, but if he just had a name, incognito was the way to go. And just thinking about Giles’ reaction if he ever found out that Spike had borrowed his own nickname, well, it made Spike feel all warm inside.

“A name with an interesting history, I’m sure. Well, this being a motel, I’m not sure if you need one but let’s be safe shall we? You’re invited in.”

Spike gave a nod of his head and stepped into a dimly lit room, furnished in the usual bland, rather worn style of most motels. His host was alone, which surprised Spike. He’d expected a larger place, and certainly a bodyguard or two. He scanned the room quickly but didn’t see any posters. Nor did he see a Bible.

“So, sit down, make yourself at home. I’m always glad to meet the locals when I come to a new town.” The man took one chair and waved at another. His eyes were cold, his voice unaccented and flat.

“Didn’t catch your name,” said Spike abruptly, remaining standing. ‘You’re this Brother Saul, are you?”

“I certainly am. And you received an invitation to my little gathering and felt, hmm, suspicious perhaps? Am I right?”

Spike took a moment to study Brother Saul. He saw a man who was so normal that it seemed odd. Average height and build, pale eyes, brown hair, middle aged. You would pass him in the street and forget his face before you’d gone two steps. His suit was black, his shirt white, his tie a dull blue. It made Spike’s eyes ache just looking at so much drabness.

Then he spoke and his voice had power. Natural or magically enhanced? Spike wasn’t sure, but he remained wary.

“Just wondering what’s going on, is all. Not your normal kind of get together, now is it? And all those people with their Bibles and crosses, praying, well, let’s just say they’re not the people I normally hang out with on a Friday night.”

“I’m sure that’s quite true, Mr Ripper. I can promise you, it’s going to be a night like no other, for you and all the people like you in town.”

“’People like me’? You do know what I am, don’t you? Why not come out and say it?”

He got a long, level stare in reply and a cool smile. “Why, surely. You’re a vampire. I’ve got no problem with that. The Lord might but I’m a broad-minded man, myself.”

Spike snorted.“So why the front? What do you think you’re going to get from this town that needs a lot of hymn singing hopefuls to make it work?”

The smile was gentle now, almost pitying. “Now, you’re just full of questions, aren’t you? And I can understand that, I truly can. But it really doesn’t concern you, now does it?”

His voice slipped easily into an exaggerated Southern drawl, mocking the stereotype he had chosen as a disguise. It rang false but warmly comforting too and Spike had to shake off a wave of dizziness as the two impressions collided in his mind.

Brother Saul watched him struggle, a benign smile on his face. As the confusion on the vampire’s face receded and was replaced by rage, Saul stood up. Walking over, he placed an arm around Spike’s shoulders and ushered him to the door.

“Now, don’t you worry one little bit. You and your friends just get yourself there come sundown and you’ll be in for one helluva treat. Promise. Now, watch how you go, you hear? Nice chattin’ with you.”

Spike found himself outside again, with the door firmly closed. Raising his eyes in disbelief, he walked off, not bothering to look for Buffy. He was fairly certain that she was just waiting to jump out from a bush and yes, there she was.

“Spike! What happened in there? I couldn’t hear a thing,” Buffy said in an agitated whisper.

“Wouldn’t have mattered if you did,” muttered Spike, striding away from the motel. “That tight-mouthed, bloody git’s giving nothing away.”

“You didn’t find out anything? I knew it was a waste of time you going -”

She yelped in surprise as Spike turned and grabbed her arms. “If you’d gone in there, I don’t know if you’d have made it out, Buffy. He was human, he seems Mr Average, but he felt as evil as anyone, anything I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what he wants and he wouldn’t tell me. But he’s not got my vote for Host with the Most, let me tell you.”

“Lighten up,” said Buffy uneasily, knocking his hands away and rubbing her arms absentmindedly. “He sounds like the Mayor and look what happened to him.”

Spike reflected for a moment. “Wilkins, yeah, he’s got that feel to him. I met him once. Didn’t like him.”

“Thought you villains all hung together,” said Buffy sarcastically.

Spike shook his head in exasperation, plunging his hands into his coat pockets.

“You should know better, then. Told you once, I don’t like demons or humans who want to mess things up too much. A little mayhem and confusion; fine. Too much and I’m likely to end up dead, along with the cannon fodder.”

Buffy stared at him for a moment, as though measuring his sincerity and then shrugged. “Let’s just get back to the Magic Box and see what Willow’s found out.”

Spike hid his surprise at the invitation and readily fell into step beside her. After two paces, Buffy remembered the underwear comment and hit him. After that, the conversation became heated, frequent glares were exchanged and both reached the shop feeling pleasantly energized.

21.00

Inside the motel room, Brother Saul stood facing the door, wrapped in thought. After a moment, he said, without raising his voice. “Well, now. A visit from the Slayer’s lapdog. Isn’t that a sweet welcome, Nalia?”

The door to the bathroom opened and a figure swathed in dark fabric stepped out. “It was only to be expected. Has he touched a poster?”

“Yes. I could feel the traces.”

“Then it’s already too late for him.” The fabric wrapped around the figure slipped a little, revealing a woman’s face, once beautiful, now scarred and pitted. “I am in such pain. I cannot remain on this side. It seems to hurt more here, somehow.” Her voice was as plaintive as a child’s but there was no innocence in it.

“It won’t be much longer,” Saul said reassuringly. “When I get back what I lost, you’ll be healed just like that.” He snapped his fingers and grinned at her.

She nodded her head, responding with a wan smile.

“You go home and rest up, my dear. I’m going to call round some of the movers and shakers in this town. I don’t want anyone to miss my little show.”

She nodded obediently again, stepped back inside the bathroom and kept walking. The bathroom walls melted away as she approached and vanished from sight. After she had gone, a swirling vortex of colours appeared on the wall, and the air became charged with static.

Alone again, Brother Saul closed the bathroom door to hide the portal and then sat down, pulling the phone towards him. This part was dull but a necessary part of his role. Studying a list of names and numbers in front of him, he picked one at random.

“Hello, there. I’m so sorry to disturb a fine lady like yourself but I was wondering. Have you been saved?”

His voice was persuasive and charming but his expression was one of amused contempt as he drew a line through one name after another. The gullible were to be found in every dimension, he’d discovered. That was one thing you could count on – and exploit.

21.20


By the time Buffy and Spike returned to the Magic Box, Willow and Tara had managed to identify most of the spells on the poster. That was the good news. The bad news was that Willow had discovered a little too late that touching the posters was not a good idea.

“See,” she explained rapidly to the group, “when you touch them, you pick up some of the magic. It’s like they’re sticky but it’s not something you can wash off.”

“So, how many of us have touched one?” asked Buffy, rubbing her hands on her jeans without realising it. Anya, who was sitting down, cradling her injured hand, gave an anguished moan. Xander patted her shoulder consolingly.

Willow looked a little sheepish. “I, uh, only just found out and well, all of us have. Did any of you notice that after you touched them for the first time, your hands felt sort of like you’d been eating pancakes and the syrup bottle was all oozy at the top?”

“Not very scientifically phrased,” said Giles with a smile, “ but yes, I know exactly what you mean.”

Buffy got a tiny happy as she scratched off one chore from her list. No need to clean that door handle after all. Then the bigger picture destroyed the moment.

“What about Dawn?” said Buffy sharply. “She’s over at Janice’s. She should be safe but we have to warn her –“

“Already done that,” said Willow. “Dawn called a few minutes ago to see if she should come here or go home. I told her as much as I could without freaking her out. She didn’t think she’d touched one yet.”

“Good,” said Buffy. ‘So, what’s this sticky stuff going to do to us, Will? And how do we stop it?”

Tara made a small attention-seeking noise and then flushed as everyone stared at her expectantly. She was working on not going to pieces when everyone was staring at her but it was difficult.

“I think, that is, from what Willow found out, well, it’s lots of spells. That’s what’s making it hard; they’re all twisted together and we have to unravel them. One is still in a knot. When we untie it, it should make sense of it all.”

“How long do you estimate that will be?” asked Giles, a worried frown on his face.

Tara and Willow exchanged glances.

“Not long,” they chorused.

Giles looked far from reassured. “Good,” he said doubtfully. “Buffy, Spike, what transpired at the motel? Did you get any useful information?”
Buffy threw Spike a disgusted look that he parried with a sardonically lifted eyebrow.

“Spike went in with nothing and came out with nothing,” she said.

“Not quite,” corrected Spike. “I can tell you that he’s human, he’s evil and, I don’t know, he was on his own in there but I could sense something hovering. A demon of some sort maybe but it didn’t feel evil, not next to him anyway. It was giving off this signal, can’t really say it plainer than that.” His voice trailed off and he shook his head in frustration.

Willow nodded, understanding his difficulty. "I know,” she said. “It sounds the same as the feeling I got off the posters. You can sense it because you’re a demon and I can because of the Wicca thing. It makes me feel itchy.”

“Are you sure he was alone in there?” asked Giles.

“Unless there was someone hiding under the bed. Well, I suppose there could have been a small army in the bathroom but believe me, we didn’t get on good enough terms for me to ask to take a leak.”

Giles looked thoughtful but said nothing.

Spike stood up and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Buffy asked quickly.

“I’m going to see what the reaction is in the bars. Someone might know this guy or have some idea about the posters. I’ll keep an eye open for Niblet too. If I see her, I’ll walk her back here.”

“Thanks,’ said Buffy giving him a rare, approving smile. He grinned back, adjusted his duster and swaggered out. Research was fine for the likes of Harris or the witches but he didn’t fancy straining his eyes over musty books when he could be just as useful and drink a beer at the same time.

Some tension left the room with the vampire. He was a little like Tara in some ways; connected to the group but not yet fully in it. Complicating matters, though Xander was firmly closing eyes, ears and mind to it, was the fact that Spike’s feelings for Buffy and her contempt for him were changing. They were slowly becoming a team, patrolling together, bickering more or less amiably and building on the emotions that had linked them when Buffy had come back from the grave. Xander preferred Spike when he was trying to kill Buffy. Which wasn’t good of course, but it had the virtue of being a more predictable state of affairs.

As the door closed, Xander perked up noticeably and volunteered to go out for donuts and coffee, essential research tools, right up there with paper and pencils. Tara and Willow retreated to a quiet corner to solve the remaining spell puzzle, leaving Giles, Anya and Buffy to discuss Saul’s motivations.

“It sounds as if he’s going to kill a lot of people,” offered Anya. “That could be a deal with a demon; the demon gets the souls, he gets power.”

“Yes,” said Giles. “That’s a fairly standard exchange but I can’t help feeling that there’s more to this than we’re seeing.” He flicked over a page or two in the tome before him, and then slammed the book shut – carefully – with a frustrated sigh.

“Are there any pictures of the person involved in the last massacre?” asked Buffy. ‘I mean, we’re assuming it was the preacher who was the bad guy back then too, aren’t we?"

“Nothing in my books. I spoke to the Council while you were out but only got the person on night shift. He took down the details but it’ll be tomorrow before we hear anything, I’m afraid. Are you thinking that it’s the same person? It was seventy years ago. Spike said Brother Saul was human and middle-aged, so he’s either a different man or already heavily involved with a demon who can extend his lifespan.”

Anya frowned. “If it happened here in the States, why can’t we just look it up on Willow’s computer? I know you said it was hushed up but these things tend to get gossiped about.”

“It’s worth a try if Willow solves the problem of that last spell,” replied Giles. “However, as none of us are particularly good with that thing,” he waved a dismissive hand at Willow’s laptop, “ and the spell is the most pressing concern, well, it will have to wait.”

The door opened and Dawn came in as he finished speaking.

“What will?” she asked. “Ooh, research! Can I help?”

“No!” said Buffy automatically. ‘And stay away from these posters. They’re dangerous.”

“Yes, I can see the fangs from here,” said Dawn sarcastically. “Willow warned me about them already. I’m not stupid, you know.”

Anya looked impatient. “Buffy, Dawn’s old enough to help. Idle hands and all that. Let her do the computer stuff. It might stop her from destroying carefully arranged window displays.”

“I said I was sorry,” Dawn whined defensively. “I just thought the blue candle would have looked better a little further to the left.”

Buffy chewed her lip then gave in more or less gracefully. ”Okay, Dawn. You can look something up. But it’s not real research, more of a history project.” She looked at Dawn hopefully, thinking that this might put her off the idea.

Dawn gave her an annoying smirk and sat down, flexing her hands. “Just tell me what you want. Willow’s given me all sorts of tips on this.”

“Really?” murmured Buffy. “That was nice of her. Not connected with your grades going up at the end of last semester is it? I hear there’s all these sites to help with your homework?”

Dawn blushed. “I promised I wouldn’t do anything sneaky,” she said with some dignity.

Buffy softened. “I know, sweetheart. I’m going to do some training until Willow and Tara finish. Giles will tell you what we need to look for.”

Heading for the training room at the back of the store, she wondered just when Dawn had started to grow up – and whether she should feel glad or worried.


23.30


It took two hours for Willow and Tara to finally unravel the intertwined spells on the poster. By this time, everyone else was sitting around, chatting quietly. Dawn had come up with nothing further about the earlier incident, Giles hadn’t heard from the Watcher’s Council and Buffy had trained until even she was tired.

When Willow pushed back her chair and walked over to them, their faces registered relief. It was short lived. Willow seemed to be very concerned and her hands were trembling slightly.

“What is it, Willow?” asked Giles quietly.

She turned wide eyes on him and swallowed. Tara joined her, slipping a comforting arm around her and hugging her gently.

Willow visibly made an effort to steady herself and began to talk.

“There are three elements to this, apart from the spell that confuses the words. The first is the sticky stuff I told you about. It’s a spell that transfers magic from an object to a person. Physical contact has to be involved; it’s not enough to just be in the room. It’s not transferable between people either; if I shook Dawn’s hand, it wouldn’t infect her.”

“’Infect’?” said Anya, alarm in her face and voice. “I’m going to die, aren’t I? I hate being human! This would never have happened if I were still a demon!”

Willow gave her a look of mingled pity and scorn. “We’ve all gotten infected, Anya, except for Dawn. And being a demon wouldn’t have helped you. Let me finish.”

“Yes, listen to Willow,” urged Xander. “She’s going to spray us with some magical disinfectant mojo any second now. Right, Will?”

“Umm, no. Not exactly. You see -”

“What? You mean you can’t do anything? But you and Tara are witches! You have to -” His voice rose, indignation making him shrill.

Buffy laid a hand on his arm and said, “Xander. Shut up. You’re scaring Dawnie.”

“He so is not,” said Dawn indignantly. “But he’s being a big wuss.”

Xander gulped, looked around at his friends and abruptly sat down. “Sorry, sorry. Just carry on. I’m fine.”

Willow reached over and patted his hand reassuringly, then looked at the notes she had made. “So, the sticky stuff is on us and it’s carrying these other spells with it. The good news is that it will wear off by itself. I can only estimate it but Tara, you think it’s about a week, tops?”

Tara nodded. “Probably less. But that’s only a little bit of good news because Friday night is less than forty-eight hours away and it’ll certainly last that long.”

‘But it has no ill effects of itself?” asked Giles.

“None that I can see,” replied Willow. “Anyway, the spells. One is an attraction spell. Anyone who touched a poster is going to be at that meeting if they have to die trying. It’s that strong. They won’t know why, they won’t think they’re behaving strangely, but they’ll trample down their grandmother if she’s in the way, trust me.”

Buffy stood up and began to pace. “With those posters flooding the town, not many people will escape. They’re still out there too. People will carry on getting infected tomorrow and Friday. Can we destroy them? We’re already affected so it doesn’t matter to us.”

“Probably too late,” said Xander. ‘People aren’t likely to touch the ones stuck up - yes sweetie, apart from you - but everyone who had one on their car is infected. The ones in the mail mean at least one person in each house got a dose too. We’re too late.”

“What about whoever printed them?” said Dawn. “Or maybe he brought them with him? And who stuck them up? Who’s helping him?”

Buffy looked pensive. “Spike said he was in a little room, all alone. No staff, no helpers. He has to be using magic.”

Willow coughed. “I wasn’t done but yes; I don’t think he’s using human helpers. Anya went out into the street as soon as the poster was put up on the shop window. She didn’t see anyone, just a shadow. I’d guess there wasn’t anyone to see. And I don’t think they were printed as such. I think from the feel of it, that they were magically generated. It’s quite easy, really. You take something similar to what you want; he could have used old newspapers maybe, and you move around the particles that–”

“Willow, that’s fascinating,” interrupted Buffy. “Maybe we should focus though, huh?”

Willow gave her an apologetic smile and continued. “Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. So everyone’s there at the park - and there’s no sign of an application for a permit by the way - and then the final part of the spell activates. This was the tricky part. I’m not absolutely sure we got it all. There’s a trigger word, or phrase that I don’t know. It could be anything. When the people hear it spoken by the spell caster, they’ll just switch off. They’ll be his slaves and they’ll do anything he tells them to do.”

“Like stand still as the vampires feed off them,” said Buffy, a sick look on her face.

“Wait,” said Anya. “You said the demons were affected too. What’s going to happen to the vampires?”

Tara answered her. “As far as we can tell, their poster is exactly the same. It might be a different trigger word but other than that, it’s identical.”

Giles looked perplexed. “Why is he doing that? You couldn’t keep the vampires away. Can it be that he thinks they’ll turn on him?”

Buffy shook her head. “I’m not so sure they would turn up in droves, Giles. The average Sunnydale vampire is a bit wary. I get the stupid ones after all. They might think it’s a trap. It seems to me that this guy isn’t one to take chances. He wants his party to be a success and it won’t be if the vamps are a no show.”

“True,” said Giles. He passed a hand over his forehead, then adjusted his glasses automatically. “Willow, is there any way to reverse this spell? We really can’t fight well if we’re down there in the crowd doing our best mindless zombie impression.”

“Whoa, that was almost funny, Giles,” said Xander, trying to quip his way into calmness.

“It really wasn’t intended to be,” murmured Giles. “Willow?”

She shook her head apologetically. “That’s as far as we’ve got. We’ll do our best.”

“What happens if we kill him?” said Buffy abruptly. “Will that cancel the spell?”

“Buffy!” said Giles, reproof sharpening his voice. “We can’t kill anyone until we’re sure of a lot more facts.”

“It might work,” admitted Willow. “But, Buffy, supposing he has an accomplice? A magic user in the background who’s doing the spells? You can’t be sure he’s the one that needs killing.”

“Yes, I can,” muttered Buffy savagely. “But you’re right. We need to find out more first. Like what he’s getting out of this, besides the heartfelt gratitude of the vamps.”

Dawn wandered over to the poster and stood looking down at it.

“Dawn! Keep away from that!” called Buffy.

“I’m not going to touch it, I’m just looking,” Dawn replied impatiently. “And it’s a good thing I did.”

“Why?” asked Willow coming up behind her and grabbing Dawn’s wrist as she reached for the poster.

Dawn swung round and stared at Willow. “ I wasn’t going to touch it! I was just telling you, you’ve made a mistake. You all keep going on about it being on Friday night; it’s not. It says Saturday, clear as anything. Hah. You’d have been there a day too soon!” She smiled triumphantly.

Willow slumped down in a chair after moving the poster away from Dawn.“How many versions of this poster are there?” she asked rhetorically.

“I can guess what’s going on,” said Anya unexpectedly. “He knows that some people will read but not touch. He doesn’t want them showing up and getting in the way of the zombies. So, if you read it, you see Saturday, if you touch it, you see Friday. There’s probably a compulsion spell in the mix too, Willow, making people want to touch it to increase the potential victims even more. Look at the way I was made to go over to it, breaking that window all through no fault of my own. Not to mention Dawn who is even now trying to reach the high shelf where you placed the poster, Willow.”

“Dawn!” said Buffy in exasperation. Willow sighed and gestured at the poster, murmuring an incantation. The poster flew up to the ceiling and stuck there.

Willow looked irritated that Anya was implying that she’d missed a spell but she had to admit that it was possible.

“It could have been that one spell strand we weren’t sure about,” Tara ventured. “The one that was so entwined with the compulsion to go to the meeting. They were almost identical. Dawn; it was only a weak compulsion spell as far as duration goes; it should wear off in a minute or two.”

Dawn looked at her and smiled gratefully. “I feel fine,” she said. “Honest.”

Willow sighed. “I guess I’d better take another look -”

“No. Now, we should all rest,” said Giles firmly, removing a book from Willow’s hands and placing it carefully on the table.

“Rest! With magic goop all over me?” exclaimed Anya. “I think not. I’m going home to have a bath. A deep, hot bath with bubbles. Xander, you can scrub the hard to reach areas on my –”

“And leaving right now,” said Xander, ushering Anya towards the door hastily.


THURSDAY AUGUST 29 (SUNRISE 05.30, SUNSET 18.29)

08.30

The next morning, Giles arrived at the shop at the usual time, wondering as he did so, if there was really any point in opening. In a month or so, the pre-Halloween rush would begin but at the moment the shop was getting few customers. He also wanted to concentrate on this current problem and somehow, selling magical items to people due to be enslaved and eaten the next day seemed, well, tacky.

At precisely nine o’clock, just as he was flipping the door sign to read, ‘open’, the phone rang. Giles knew who it would be.

“Hello, Quentin,” he said without bothering to wait for his caller to identify himself. “What do you have for me? You sent me an e-mail and a photograph? How progressive of you. Do you mind just going over it again so I can write something down? I prefer that, silly of me, I know.”

Ten minutes later, he hung up and looked at the notes he had jotted down. They didn’t make for encouraging reading, nor did they add a great deal to what he already knew.

Moving over to the computer, he logged on to his e-mail account and downloaded a picture of the evangelist presumably responsible for the 1930s deaths. He felt more at ease with the computer when he was alone. When Willow was hanging over his shoulder, correcting his every keystroke, he felt like a kindergarten student told to read Shakespeare aloud.

Travers had only been able to find one photograph, a grainy, black and white one, showing a man in profile. It seemed he had called himself Brother Saul then, too. Giles printed it off and studied it without getting any insight. The chap looked nondescript indeed.

Glancing up as the doorbell jangled, he saw to his relief that it was Willow and Tara rather than a customer.

“Morning, Giles” said Willow. Her face was pale and her eyes shadowed. Giles suspected that she had continued to work, even after he had shooed them out of the shop. A look at Tara’s equally exhausted face confirmed this.

“Hello, both of you,” replied Giles. “Where’s Buffy?”

“She’ll be here in a moment, with Dawn. Every poster we saw, she insisted on tearing down and it slowed her down so much, we came on ahead.”

“Have you made any progress?”

Willow nodded but did not look happy. “Some. I’ll tell you about it when Buffy gets here. I’ve got some things to set up; a little experiment I want to try. Can you close the shop?”

Anya walked in as Giles was flipping over the door sign and looked horrified. “We’re closing? But we only just opened! What will our regulars think? There’s a man who comes in every Thursday for his hair tonic. He’ll freak if he can’t get it.”

“I didn’t know we sold that,’ said Giles curiously, sidetracked into shop talk.

“It’s actually the paralyzing slime excreted by a Nerenian snail but it perks up the follicles as well for some reason. Demons use it all the time.”
“Isn’t that stuff dangerous?”

“Only if you swallow it. If he chooses not to read the label, I can’t be held responsible for any outbreak of fur on his nether regions,” Anya replied with a sniff.

Giles ran a hand over his own receding hairline speculatively and then stopped, flushing slightly. Buffy and Dawn’s arrival provided a welcome diversion.

“No Xander?” asked Buffy, after greeting Giles and Anya.

“He has to work, you know,” said Anya reprovingly. “Xander has a lot of responsibility and he takes it very seriously. People depend on him. He’s in charge of a whole crew of strong, sweaty men with tools.”

The door swung open and Xander walked in. “I changed my mind and called in sick,” he explained. “I just can’t concentrate knowing I’m all sticky in a non-sugary, magical kind of a way.”

Buffy tried to stop her mouth from twitching into a smile but failed. Anya glared at them both and pointedly moved away to the back of the shop, where Willow and Tara were arranging some small bottles on a table.

“Okay,” said Willow. “We’re ready. Dawn, you stand over here and Xander, you go over there by the counter.”

“Is this going to hurt?” asked Xander warily. “Because, officially, I’m sick you know. I should probably be resting.”

Tara smiled. “We’ve found out a way to make the magic traces visible. It won’t hurt at all.”

Giles looked puzzled. “What is the purpose of that?”

Willow walked over to Dawn with a bottle of silvery blue powder in her hand. “Making it visible means we can tell when we get rid of it, but it also breaks it down a bit. Lets us get a hold of it so we can cancel it out.”

Giles still looked doubtful and she gave him a mock scolding glance.

“Just trust us, Giles. We know what we’re doing. Anya, switch off the lights, please. The powder will show up better.”

Anya flipped a switch and Willow tipped the bottle up, pouring the powder into her palm. Murmuring an incantation, she cast it over Dawn and then Xander. Stepping back, she said clearly, “Reveal!”

The powder swirled and spun then swept up to form a halo around their heads. Dawn’s halo was blue, pure and clear. Xander’s was a murky grey. Anya gasped in horror and Xander panicked, trying to crane his neck so that he could squint up at the powder over his head.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t I blue and pretty like Dawn?”

“No,” said Willow. “But let’s try this –”

Linking hands with Tara, she began to recite a spell. Tara waited until she had spoken one phrase and then began to repeat the spell herself. Their voices merged, amplifying the spell’s effects, and the powder over Xander’s head turned jet black. Willow’s eyes glinted and she began to speak faster. There was no effect and without stopping the incantation, she reached for another bottle. Tara held out her free hand, Willow poured powder into it and Tara scattered it on Xander with a sweep of her hand.

The halo sparkled as the powder hit it and then turned blue, an exact match of Dawn’s.

Willow and Tara staggered apart and sat down, looking drained.

“Did it work?” exclaimed Xander. "Am I clean? Oh, I feel much better, I really do.”

Willow nodded wearily. “Yes, you’re fine but that took a lot of doing. There’s no way we can do that to everyone in Sunnydale.”

“Even if you could, I doubt they’d stand there and let you,” said Buffy sensibly. “Question is, do you have enough energy to clear us up and how will it work when you’re doing the spell on yourselves? Each other. You know what I mean.”

Willow and Tara exchanged troubled glances.

“We can remove the spell from you three, no problem. We have plenty of time to rest – but I don’t know if we’ve got the power to do the spell alone, to cleanse each other. It took both of us with Xander and even that was an effort,’ said Tara doubtfully.

“Maybe we can do the powder throwing for you?” said Buffy.

Willow stood up, looking rather shaky. “We’ll have to see. Now we know it works, I’ll mix some more of the powder.”

As she walked unsteadily over to the supplies behind the counter, Buffy and Giles wore identical looks of concern. Willow had been known to push herself beyond her capabilities when it came to research and magic. Sometimes it resulted in a painful physical aftermath. Neither of them wanted that to happen again.

16.00

By the end of the afternoon, the two witches had managed to remove the spells from everyone in the shop but had yet to try it on themselves. The recovery time between spells had stretched to an hour and both were looking exhausted.

Buffy had insisted on being cleansed first, over Anya’s protests, and had gone to see what Brother Saul was doing, after another training session and a quick lunch. Giles was persevering with research, looking for evangelists who disappeared suddenly, demons who got power from large numbers of deaths and anything mundane about Brother Saul, like an address or date of birth. He was getting more and more frustrated as book after book proved to be useless. Dawn was less enthusiastic about research than she had been the night before but was gamely trying to copy Giles, using the computer instead of the books.

Anya and Xander volunteered to go and look at the park where the revival was to be held, to see if there was any activity. They left the shop only after Anya had found several pairs of gloves. “Just in case we have to touch something magical,” she explained. Xander looked as if no power on earth would make him wear bright yellow rubber gloves in public but wisely said nothing.

Willow stood up, after eating her third donut. She looked queasy, even though the energy rush from the sugar was giving her a temporary lift. “Do you feel up to me chanting at you?” she asked Tara. “We need to know if we can do this so we can try something else if it doesn’t work.”

“I’m sure you can do it solo,” said Tara encouragingly. “Just not so sure I can.”

Willow opened her mouth to reassure Tara then stopped as she saw the humour glinting in her lover’s eyes.

“I know you’re stronger than me,” whispered Tara, hugging Willow tightly for a moment. “I don’t mind normally – but now I wish I had your power. I hate the thought of leaving you open to whatever this creep has planned.”

Willow looked determined. “We’re both going to succeed. We have to.”


14.00


Buffy arrived at the motel before two and made her way to the reception. Glancing up at the board behind the counter, she saw that the key to Saul’s room was missing. Good. He was still at home and if she was patient, maybe he’d leave and she could follow him to somewhere that would magically reveal the clue to defeating him. Hmm. Well, it had to happen sometime.

A spotty youth in his early twenties shuffled out from a room just off the counter area. Buffy guessed that she’d interrupted some quality T.V watching and chip munching, given the crumbs down his ample front. His vacant eyes lit up as they took in Buffy’s blonde good looks. Telling herself that it was all in a good cause, she made a supreme effort and smiled charmingly at him.

“I wonder if you can help me?” she asked sweetly.

It took a while to get much out of Jason; he kept trying to get things she wasn’t willing to give; her name, phone number and vital statistics being just some of them. After she let a little steel creep into her voice, he was more forthcoming.

Saul hadn’t ordered the rudimentary room service (not that she was too surprised that he’d passed up on that after reading the menu pinned up on the reception wall) and had had no visitors apart from Spike. Buffy was amused by the youth’s description of him but decided not to share it with Spike. Vampires had long memories and if Spike did ever get the chip out, he’d make this one of his first stops. Murmuring gleefully to herself, “’Skinny guy with white hair, looked like a dealer or a pimp, y’know? All that leather and way tight jeans,’” she headed out of the office.
“Hey,” he called after her when she began to leave without showing signs of tipping him or arranging a date. “The guy’s making lots of calls, if that’s any help. Going to cost him a fortune when he settles up.”

Buffy turned back. “Any way of telling where he’s calling?”

He looked at her with a salacious leer that made Buffy feel an urgent need for a shower. “Sure. But it’ll cost you.”

Buffy gave him a level stare from Slayer eyes.

“But you can just, like, owe me, right?” he added hurriedly.

16.00


Buffy made it through ninety minutes of lurking behind a dumpster, then decided to head back to the Magic Box. There was only so much waiting patiently she could take. She was a Slayer, not a stalker. And the dumpster was very smelly. Just as she stood up, stretching out the kinks, she heard footsteps and hastily crouched down again. Brother Saul walked by; his steps faltering for a second as he passed her hiding spot and then went into his room, closing the door behind him.

Buffy processed this for a moment. There were no doors and windows at the back and no connecting doors. The only way in or out was through the door she could see. She’d either been staking out an empty room, in which case that receptionist was toast, or Saul had unusual powers. It occurred to her, too late, that he could have left and not handed in his key to the office. They had giant slabs of wood attached to discourage this but it was possible. And not a guarantee of an evil soul, though she’d like to think so.

Buffy could think of several ways that Saul could be apparently inside his room and also walking around Sunnydale. Identical twins, shape-shifting demons and the ability to turn invisible and walk through walls were just a few of them. They were imaginative ideas but totally wrong, as she was to discover.

16.10

Saul watched her leave, a smile on his face. He had, of course, left the room through the portal, needing to sort out a few last minute details. When he stepped back, the Guardian he had left in his room had reported a spy outside. Buffy’s stealth did leave a lot to be desired. It wasn’t usually a vital part of Slaying.

Just to puzzle her, Saul had ducked back inside the portal and arranged a temporary exit behind the motel. The energy it cost was well spent as he relished the Slayer’s astonished bewilderment and saw her leave, clearly in a bad mood.

He wasn’t going to underestimate her though. Killing her early was to be avoided but if she made it necessary then that was that. Brow furrowed, he contemplated sending out a diversion, a warning of some kind, and then slowly shook his head. This one wouldn’t back off out of personal fear no matter how many demons he sent her way. He needed a lever. There were ample targets of course but he decided to choose the vampire.
That would teach him to lie to his betters.


17.30

After a much-needed shower and yet another meal eaten standing up, Buffy headed over to the Magic Box. Willow and Tara both looked miserable.

“What’s up, you guys?” she asked. “Are we all sparkly clean with no waxy buildup?” She spotted Giles shaking his head and sighed. “It didn’t work did it?”

Giles walked over to her, clearing his throat. “Willow managed to cleanse Tara but, unfortunately, she herself remains affected.”

“I’m just not strong enough,” said Tara despairingly. “I’m sorry, Willow!” Her customary calm had left her and she seemed on the verge of tears.

“Shush,” said Willow, smoothing Tara’s hair back from her face. “We’ve got all tomorrow to work on it. You’re tired, baby, maybe you just need to rest.”

Tara nodded but she knew that rest wouldn’t help. She just wasn’t strong enough to defeat the spell. No amount of rest would change that.

Anya and Xander came through the door, looking dispirited.

“No luck,” Xander said, pulling out a chair and sitting down heavily. “We must have covered every inch of that park. There’s nothing and no one. Apart from way too many people with dogs who’ve never heard of pooping and scooping. Of course, it’s tomorrow that the stage crew will come in and set up the lights, speakers that kind of thing. Not to mention the stage.”

Anya gave him a furious look. “Then why did we bother going there today?” she screeched.

“Good point,” admitted Xander sheepishly. “So, how did the rest of you waste your day?”

Tara winced and Willow joined Anya in glaring at Xander.

Xander sensed their disapproval and looked first surprised and then aghast. “Oh, did you not, I mean, you’re still...oops.”

Buffy decided to give them her meagre information as a distraction.

 Giles looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t place too much importance on Saul seemingly coming and going unnoticed. That might well have been down to a mistake on the part of the receptionist or even your scrutiny, careful though I’m sure you were.”

Buffy rolled her eyes but didn’t disagree.

“However, these phone calls bear investigating. You say he was targeting women of some importance in the town?”

“Yes. I didn’t recognise all the names but they’re the people who crop up in the paper opening things, or giving donations. You know the sort.”

Giles nodded but continued to look perplexed.

“Maybe he’s after their money,” said Dawn, dragging herself away from the computer where a computer game had replaced the research, and joining in the conversation.

“Maybe it’s part of his cover. It’s what people like him would normally do?” offered Tara.

Buffy shrugged. “Maybe we can just call them and ask them? You do it Giles. You’ll wow them with your accent and they’ll crumble like cookies. Here’s a copy of the numbers he called.”

Giles took the paper gingerly and went over to the phone. Clearing his throat and looking incredibly bashful, he began to work his way down the list. Ten minutes later, he slammed the phone down in disgust.

“Really, those women! They’ve been brainwashed already, if you ask me. Refused to tell me what he wanted, denied he’d even called in some cases. One of them told me I was damned to hell fire for trying to hinder the Lord’s work. Complete waste of time.”

“Calm down, Giles,” said Buffy in a comforting tone. “So they didn’t crumble. It happens. We can’t all do telesales.”

Muttering, Giles went off to make himself a cup of tea. Along with whisky, it was the universal panacea, in his opinion.

Buffy glanced at the shop window. “It’s dark,” she discovered.

“That’s what normally happens at night, Buffy,” said Xander, deadpan.

“Funny man,” she replied. “But where’s Spike? I expected he’d check in to see what we’ve come up with about the poster spell. Or maybe to report on what he found out in the bars last night.”

Willow groaned. “I’d forgotten we had to do Spike, too.”

Xander looked at her. “Rephrase that last comment, Will, before my mind takes me to places I’d really rather not visit.”

Willow pulled a face but refused to rise to his bait. She was just too tired for witty repartee.

“I’m going out to look for him,” said Buffy restlessly pacing. “I’ll just check his place, Willy’s, that sort of thing. Back soon.”

After she’d gone, Xander whispered, “Zombie Spike doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me.”

“No, but it’s not how most girls prefer their boyfriends,” answered Anya, overhearing him.

Dawn began to laugh. Anya’s instincts when it came to money and sex were always spot on, however lacking she was in the finer details of being human. Xander knew that too, which accounted for the spluttering she supposed.

19.00


Buffy reached Spike’s crypt and found it dark and empty. It wasn’t a totally wasted journey, as she’d bumped into two vampires on the way. “Two less for Saul’s little buffet for the fanged and tan free,” she thought with satisfaction.

Without Spike in it, the crypt became exactly what it was; a damp, dark tomb without a view. Feeling like an intruder, Buffy turned back to the door.

A large demon appeared, on cue, blocking the exit. “Looking for your boyfriend, Slayer?”

Buffy gave a shriek of indignation and lashed out at the demon, avoiding the squirming tentacles writing around its head with a shudder of distaste. Her boot landed squarely in its chest, sending it flying back a few feet.

“Spike is not my...oh, what do I care. You’ll be dead in thirty seconds.”

“Dead?” croaked the figure. “No, no need for that. If you want to see your, umm, the vampire again, then you need me alive.”

“I really don’t you know. If Spike’s gone missing, well, he’s a big boy.”

“I thought you said he wasn’t your…”

“One more word and you’re going to die ahead of schedule. Fifteen seconds left.”

A moment passed and Buffy sighed. “I didn’t mean you couldn’t deliver your message, just don’t use the ‘b’ word, okay? Any time you’re ready.”

The demon eyed her nervously. “I don’t know anything, Slayer. I was just drinking in Willy’s and this human came in. He didn’t seem to notice anything strange about us and he didn’t seem scared. Weird, no one went near him. He just looked at me and said he’d pay me if I came to Spike’s place and waited for the Slayer to show.”

“And you didn’t mind doing that? It didn’t seem, ooh, kinda risky?” asked Buffy sarcastically. She stared hard at the demon. “Hey, I know you! Giles got you to come and get rid of the rats in the storeroom that time.”

The demon looked wistful. “They were nice rats. Very juicy.”

Buffy sighed again. Saul had chosen his messenger well. Too stupid to see that his errand was potentially life threatening, too harmless for Buffy to kill before – or after - the message was delivered.

“He just looked at me and I didn’t seem able to refuse,” said the demon helplessly.

“I bet. So where’s Spike then? Tied to a railway line with the 8.12 from L.A. due any minute now?”

“I don’t understand," said the demon, desperation creeping into his voice as Buffy became more and more incomprehensible to him.

Buffy rolled her eyes, then wondered why she expected a demon to appreciate humour and cultural references to silent movie clichés.
“Just give me the message.”

“Spike is beyond your reach and will die at sunrise if you don’t back off. Saul promises that no humans will die tomorrow, despite what you might think. You’re to send a message that you agree to a truce and he’ll release Spike after it’s all over,” said the demon, obviously reciting a memorized message.

“What? I never heard anything so crazy. Forget it.”

“Then Spike will die.”

“Newsflash; he’s a vampire. He’s overdue and past his sell by date.”

“Well, I don’t think he’s much loss myself. He was mean to me once. Stole all my kittens. Can I go now? You weren’t serious about killing me, were you?”

Buffy waved a hand in dismissal and then reconsidered. “Where do I send the message?” she called out.

The demon reluctantly stopped running away and shouted, “Go to the motel and leave it there.”

It backed off cautiously then broke into a run again, tentacles swaying as it picked up speed.

Buffy fumed, and without a target for her anger, kicked at Spike’s armchair. The leg cracked and the chair slowly sagged.

“Oh, great. Now I have to rescue Spike and get him a new chair.” She studied the chair. “A replacement chair from the dump,” she amended.


19.30

The demon reached the cemetery gates and paused for breath. He was fairly certain that he was safe from Buffy. She had other things on her mind. As he walked, he began to mull over the message he had just delivered. Had his forehead been the right shape, he would have wrinkled it. Willy’s had been buzzing with the news of the meeting tomorrow and the weird posters. The vampires there were passing up on Willy’s bottled blood, boasting that tomorrow they’d have blood running out of their ears. The demon found that image revolting but he’d smiled and nodded in an effort to share the joy. How then, did it make sense for Saul to tell Buffy that no humans would die?

Deciding that he’d better spread the word about a possible trap, he began to walk quickly back to Willy’s.

He never got there. Saul stepped out of the shadows, right in front of a brick wall in fact. The demon shied away nervously at this clear sign of magic use, then smiled ingratiatingly.

“M-message delivered, just like you wanted,” he stuttered.

“That’s just wonderful!” beamed Saul. “You’ve been so helpful that it just breaks my heart to do this – and this –oh and this, for sure.”

Stepping back into the portal, he vanished. The streetlight shone down on the demon, illuminating his death throes for any who cared to watch.
But the street was empty.


20.00

“That was fast,” said Giles, looking up in surprise as Buffy walked back into the shop. “Did you locate Spike?”

“Not exactly,” said Buffy. “Seems quiet. Where is everyone?”

“Since we’ve been here for hours and Willow and Tara are exhausted, we’ve called it a night. We need to be fresh for tomorrow. I was just heading home myself.” Giles stood and reached for his jacket.

Buffy shook her head. “Sorry, Giles but I need you. Spike’s being held hostage, the big dope and I had this really strange message from Saul –”


PORTAL DIMENSION : SUNNYDALE TIME 20.00


Spike was bored. In danger, probably, in pain, definitely, but he could deal with that. It was the mindless tedium that was driving him nuts. He was tied to a bed, the cords cutting into his flesh. He was in a room with an inconveniently undraped window and sunrise was not far off. He had been kidnapped and he was fairly certain that he wasn’t, technically, in Sunnydale anymore.

None of that mattered compared to the fact that he had been here for hours with no telly, no visitors and only blank stone walls to look at. The window was no help either. By the time it grew light enough for him to see what lay outside, he’d be dust.

After the few seconds of agonising pain of course. Not something to anticipate with pleasure.

Spike wasn’t one to give in though. Most of the pain in his wrists was self-inflicted. He’d been tied in the classic way, wrists and ankles tethered to the bedposts. Except this bed was a slab of stone and the posts were stone too. Seemed to be a theme the decorator had gone in for in a big way.

He had pulled, tugged and torn at the metal chains until blood was seeping, warm and sticky, down his arms. Licking at it had been his only food and as it had come out of him to begin with, he wasn’t sure how useful that was from a nutritional point of view.

In sheer temper, he began to sing, screaming out lyrics to every song he could remember that was offensive, obscene or disgusting. If that didn’t work, he was prepared to dredge up his memories of some of the music Dawn had made him listen to over the summer he babysat her.

“Let’s see how you buggers like it, ‘cos it did my bloody head in!” he howled.

Another thing that was tormenting Spike was that he wasn’t even locked in. There was an open archway cut into one of the walls. It was tantalising to think that all he had to do was break the chains to escape. The arch revealed more of the plain stone walls. No one had walked past, no one had come in.

Spike tried to piece together what had happened. He had been in Willy’s, drinking less than normal out of sense of being on duty, and casually asking around about the posters. The reaction had been pretty much as he’d expected. No one who knew him would give him the time of day and those who didn’t know him knew nothing useful.

He missed the days when he’d been welcome at Willy’s, when he’d had a reputation as a bit of a lad, instead as a killer of his own kind. Even after he’d been beaten up there by a demon determined to show him the error of his ways, Spike had refused to give up going. It was a question of pride. Besides, you got some good fights there and not all the demons were unfriendly. Fear made for friends. To your face at least.
One genuine friend, a poker buddy named Clem, might have shared some information but despite this being his usual night to prop up the bar, he'd never showed up.

Deciding to move on, Spike had headed out of the door and taken two steps. Then he’d come to a halt, staring at a swirling vortex in front of him. Before he’d had chance to run, a sharp blow from behind had pushed him into it. It was fuzzy but he remembered screaming, falling – then nothing. He’d woken up tied to the bed.

“Hell of a way to treat someone,” Spike muttered, his throat hurting so much that he called off the concert. “You’d think I’d at least rate a bit of torturing.”

As if someone was just waiting to be asked, a figure appeared in the archway, paused for a second and then walked over to the bed.

“About bloody time,” Spike said coolly. “And if that’s my curtain you’re wearing, do me a favour and put it back. I really don’t want to die in, oh, about five minutes or so.”

“I cover myself because many here do not enjoy looking at what I have become,” replied Nalia.

“Well, I really don’t have a weak stomach, love,” responded Spike, turning on the charm as he identified the voice as female.

She shrugged and pulled back the fabric from her face. Spike studied the scarring with a professional eye and didn’t comment.

As if annoyed by his lack of reaction, she pulled up the concealing folds again and turned to leave.

“Hey!” called Spike, panicking now. “I just told you; the sun’s coming up. Get me out of here! Umm, please?”

She took two steps before replying. “Until the Slayer ceases her actions against us, you are ours. You will have to hope we are honourable enough to give you back to her as you are now – not as you will be in so short a time.”

“What?” Spike frowned, trying to work out what she meant. By the time he did, she had gone. Cursing, he pulled again at his shackles, eying the window. It was dark grey out there now.



20.30


Buffy got to the motel in a very bad mood. On the one hand, better Spike taken than Dawn. He had far more experience of evil and would cope better with threats and torture. Though she had a feeling that Dawn had probably been kidnapped more often than he had.

On the other hand, he was not her boyfriend and she would be damned if people were going to act as though he mattered, and kidnap him to put pressure on her, and assume that it would make her upset and angry and worried and…

“You’re doing it again, Buffy!” said Giles sharply.

“Huh?” said Buffy, making an effort to concentrate on Giles.

“You’re muttering and grinding your teeth. I must ask that you stop. It’s terribly aggravating. I know you’re concerned –”

“‘Concerned’? I’m a little puzzled, sure. But concerned? No way. This is Spike we’re talking about, remember?”

Giles gave her an uncertain look. He had reasons of his own for disliking Spike but he had also come to respect the vampire for certain qualities. As a Watcher, he could not exactly say that Spike’s death, by whatever means, would sadden him but, yes, he’d miss him. A little.

Buffy on the other hand, seemed to be driven by conflicting emotions on the thorny subject of the vampire. That was all well and good but if it affected her fighting and concentration, it could be a lethal distraction. Giles resolved that when there was a lull in the excitement, he would have a serious talk with his Slayer. And he might combine that with a visit to Spike too. Assuming they found him of course and they all survived this latest adventure.

As they reached the motel door, Buffy glanced around to check that there was no one lurking, then hammered on the door with a clenched fist.
Giles sighed. Obviously the subtle approach wasn’t popular tonight.

The door opened and Brother Saul gave his visitors a pleasant smile.

“I was hoping it was you,” he said, directing his words at Buffy. “Come in, and you too, of course, Mr. Giles.”

Giles peered past Saul. The room appeared empty. He glanced idly over towards the bathroom door, remembering Spike’s comment. It was shut. Not unusual perhaps but if Saul was the only occupant, why bother?

“Very well,” he replied. They walked in and took seats, Buffy making sure her back was against a wall.

“No need for caution,” said Saul, observing her choice of position. “This is a friendly meeting between people on the same side of the fence, believe me. Though I have to say, I’m a little astonished to find the Slayer and her Watcher on good terms with a vampire. Times have changed, indeed they have.”

Giles flushed. “Spike is far from a normal vampire,” he said.

Saul raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Turned vegetarian has he? Well, let’s not quarrel.”

“I don’t have a problem with quarrelling,” said Buffy brightly. “Or fighting. Or slaying, if it comes to that.”

“I took your little pet just to get your attention, my dear. He’s fine, trust me. A little battered because he keeps trying to escape but that’s really his own fault.”

Buffy’s lips thinned and she spoke in clipped, controlled tones.

“Spike is not my pet, nor my boyfriend. You should have chosen your hostage a little better. He’s tried to kill me more times than I care to remember.”

“In that case, I’ll kill him now, instead of waiting for him to die tomorrow,” replied Saul easily.

Buffy glared at him, her bluff called.

Giles frowned. “You seem to have a slightly different version of that event, depending on whom you’re talking to.”

Brother Saul chuckled. “I don’t mind telling you what’s going to happen if it stops you interfering. I’m on a mission, a quest to rid the world of vampires. Tomorrow night, I’ll clean up Sunnydale. It seemed like a good place to start.”

“’Start’? What about the events of seventy years ago, in Talbotville?” asked Giles, watching closely to see if Saul would react to this.

He did. He laughed.

“You must have me mixed up with my grandfather. That was tragic, just awful. He died in that freak tornado too, you know.”

Giles gave him a look of disgust but didn’t bother arguing with his version of events.

“So just how does inviting the vampires to feast on the town equal killing them? Hoping they’ll get heartburn and self combust?” asked Buffy.

He gave an irritatingly unctuous chuckle. “So you got your tame demon to read you the other version of my poster have you? I guessed as much. And, let me see, either you managed not to touch them or you’ve got a mighty powerful magic user on your team. Well done. You move quickly. We could make a good team ourselves but I won’t even bother asking for that. I just need your promise to back off and let me do your job for just one night.”

Buffy stood up and shook her head. “No. I’m not backing off. Stop stalling and tell me what’s going to happen.”

“I’m going to get me a nice little crowd. Bait, if you like. They’ll come to no harm; they’ll just lose a few hours of their lives. When I’ve done with them, they won’t even remember leaving their houses. And once I’ve released them, they’ll be living in a safe town. That’s worth it all, don’t you agree?

“Because, see, once they’ve attracted those nasty vampires, they’ll go straight home, safe and sound, but the vampires, well, they’ll be stuck out on that field.

“And you know what? They’ll stand there until sunup. It’ll get a mite dusty around then but I’m sure it won’t bother people. Forecast is for a windy day. I checked.”

He beamed at them both, folded his hands in his lap and waited for their applause. When it wasn’t forthcoming he frowned and added, “Now, I’m helping you out here, little lady. I can kill more of those bloodsuckers in one night than you do in a year. Least you can do is show some appreciation!”

Buffy walked over to him and leaned down, placing her hands on the arms of his chair.

“Read my lips,” she said calmly. “I’m the Slayer, you’re a creep with a cunning plan. How stupid do you think I am? Why do you need the people at all then? The posters will force the vampires to go there even if there isn’t any ‘bait’ visible.”

Saul shook his head admiringly. “My, but you see things clearly, dear. It’s a gift; treasure it. But you see, not all the vampires will be affected. Some might well read a poster without touching it. They’re not going to get close if there’s an empty field and their friends are acting all crazy-like, now are they? But you put those people there and I guarantee, the blood hunger will take away any tendency to think rationally.”

Buffy curled her lip in disgust at both his plan and his complacency. She noticed that Saul was lying, obviously assuming they didn’t know that only controlled vampires and humans would be showing up at the Friday meeting. Which, in turn, meant that the humans weren’t needed as bait. That was ominous.

Giles stood while Saul was talking and moved towards the bathroom door. What Xander called ‘Spidey sense’ was tingling every time he glanced that way. Giles preferred to label it intuition based on decades of experience. Ignoring the protest from Saul, pinned in his chair, he threw open the door. He took one look inside and gasped.

“You’ve opened a portal and anchored it? Are you mad? The power required is phenomenal. If your control slips, the whole town could get sucked in!”

Saul smiled from his chair. “But I’m not the one doing any of that complicated stuff. Wouldn’t know how to start. Rest easy; my friend on the other side is very competent. She’s got too much resting on this to let the portal close.”

Buffy grabbed Saul by the collar and hauled him up out of his seat. “Is Spike in there?” she demanded.

Saul choked, “Yes and sunrise is getting awful close for him, on that side, so if you want to see him again, better behave yourself.”

“No,” said Buffy. “If you want to live to see tomorrow start, let alone finish, you’ll –”

“You can’t kill a human,” Saul gasped, laughing, even as her grip tightened. “Especially not with your Watcher standing right there.”

Giles twisted his head to look at them briefly and very deliberately turned his back on the scene.

Buffy grinned and said, “What were those final words of yours then?”

Saul was turning red in the face. “You want your toy, you go through there and get him. I estimate you’ve got about four minutes.”

“Then you’re coming with me.” She twisted his arm up his back and began to march him towards the portal.

“No, you mustn’t, Buffy!” Giles cried out. She ignored him and made straight for the swirling emptiness of the portal.


PORTAL DIMENSION : SUNNYDALE TIME 20.45


Spike was going out screaming. This wasn’t how he’d imagined it happening. Where was the glory, the worthy opponent? Where was the audience? No one would ever know what had happened to him. Buffy would think he’d done a runner. Buffy. He loved her and he hadn’t even kissed her yet.

“Hey! Get yourself back in here, scarf girl. You didn’t tie me up for nothing. What do you want then? Need something killing? I can do that. Just don’t let me die like this, tied down…”

His voice broke and for just a second, he lay back. Then, with a roar of rage, he began to make one final effort to break the chains that held him in place. The sky was a delicate pink now but he was in no mood to appreciate its beauty.

Absorbed in his struggle, it took him a moment to realise that he was no longer alone.

“I will watch you die, if that is what you desire, vampire.”

Spike looked at her. “You daft or what? I desire not to bloody well die, thank you very much. Why are you doing this? At least tell me that. Cover up the window and talk to me. It’s going to be sunny all day; kill me later.”

She seemed to be startled by his words. As Spike watched, indecision passed over her face. When she looked down at him, Spike put on his best puppy dog eyes and pleaded with her silently.

Whirling, she left the room. Spike cried out in despair, as the sun broke free of the horizon and began to flood into the room. With exquisite timing, she returned, hurrying now, and flung a thick blanket over him. It was itchy and heavy enough that he would have smothered had he needed to breathe, but Spike wasn’t inclined to complain.

He heard her moving something into the room and guessed that she was screening the window. The blanket was pulled off him gently and he saw that the room was now blessedly dim again.

She was kneeling by the bed, her face very close to his. Looking at her, he said quietly, ”Thanks love,” and pulled up so that he could brush her lips with his.

In the instant before his mouth touched her skin, she recoiled and lashed out with her hand, slapping his face hard.

“You filthy creature! How dare you profane me with your touch? You feed off blood, your mouth is your weapon and you would kiss me with it?”

Spike had rarely felt so rejected. This woman could give Buffy pointers.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean – and I don’t kill anymore, you know. Doesn’t mean much, maybe, but it’s been months, years even, since I – fed.”

She frowned. “You lie. Vampires must feed or they wither. You look well enough.”

“I drink blood, yes; animal blood. Why did you capture me if you don’t know who I am?”

“You are the Slayer’s friend, she values you.”

“I wish,” muttered Spike.

“It is puzzling. She exists to kill your kind, yet she works with you. Explain this to me.”

Spike unsuccessfully tried to get comfortable on the stone slab.

“I’ve been fitted with a chip in my head. A device that gives me pain if I try to hurt someone. I’m harmless and so the Slayer won’t kill me.” Silently he added, “Yet.”

“This cannot be. It is unnatural,” Nalia said, looking agitated.

“Too bloody true. But there you are. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. So can I go now?” Spike said hopefully.

His rescuer stood and paced the room. “Saul will kill vampires, many vampires soon. He has explained their evil, their blood lust to me. They deserve to die and their deaths will bring great happiness.”

“Is that right?” asked Spike. “Who to?”

She smiled at him happily, but it was a travesty of a smile in her ruined face.

“He will gain power from their deaths. Enough power to restore me. He promised. Last time, it went wrong; the people died before he could attract the vampires. He was very sorry and he suffered greatly for it, losing all his strength for many years. This time, all will be well.”

Spike felt a shiver run down his spine as he guessed that she was talking about the Talbotville massacre. He sensed something very wrong here.
“I’m a bit lost, love. Thought the whole idea was to kill the people.”

She laughed. “It is a trap of course! Saul will let the people go and keep the vampires with him till sunrise. Then –”

She held up her hand and pretended to blow dust off it.

Spike lay back and stared up at the ceiling, trying to make sense of this. He failed.

“How do you know this Saul then? He’s human, isn’t he?”

She shrugged. “We are human, too. He is one of us. Our world lies by yours but touches only now and then. Time runs differently for us here. I have been like this for ten long years. Years of pain but soon I will be whole again. The portal will remain open until the morning after Saul’s spell. Just long enough.”

She stood and began to untie him.

“I am going to let you go back. The Slayer did not save you so obviously you are of no value to her after all. If you go back, you will become part of the spell and your death will benefit people. If you die here, it will do nothing.”

Spike was shocked. Burying the hurt her words had caused him, he asked her bluntly, “You trust this Saul then? Because he seems a bit of a con man if you ask me.”

She gave him a look of disdain. “When I am beautiful again, we will marry. Come with me, carrion eater and get back to your world.”

Spike got up from his bed, wincing as his cramped muscles eased and followed her. The portal lay outside his door. She gestured to it with an unpleasant smile.

“Pass through; and enjoy your final hours on earth.”

Spike glared at her. "Up yours, lady.”

He walked forward quickly, in case she changed her mind and entered the portal, then emerged into a very crowded bathroom.


21.05


Buffy was hauling Saul along, despite his struggles and Giles’ protests. She was within reach of the portal when Spike suddenly appeared, his momentum slamming him against her and Saul.

Saul took advantage of Buffy’s slackened grip and twisted out of her hold. Pushing Spike out of his way, he leapt into the portal. A moment later, it vanished.

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on around here?” said Spike. Buffy recovered from her surprise and ignored the feeling of relief that seeing Spike unharmed had given her.

“Good question,” she replied. “Glad you could join us at last.”

Spike reacted badly to her sarcastic tone and opened his mouth to retaliate. Giles anticipated this and decided that he couldn’t bear to listen to another Spike and Buffy bickerfest.

“Children,” he said firmly.

Two heads swiveled as one to look at him, identical expressions of disbelief and outrage on their faces.

“The portal has been closed but it could reappear at any moment. I suggest we go to my house and pool our knowledge. And then, I’m going to bed. I’m bloody knackered.”

Giles’s lapse into the vernacular stunned Buffy and sent a grin across Spike’s face.

“Right you are,” he said. “Could use a bit of your single malt, myself. I just nearly died, you know.”

“Drama queen,” muttered Buffy.

Giles cast his eyes upwards as the squabbling began again.


22.30

An hour later, after stories had been exchanged and theories discussed, Giles left Spike and Buffy still talking and went to bed, yawning widely.

As he disappeared upstairs, Spike stood and reached for his coat.

“I’ll be off then. Wouldn’t want you to miss your beauty sleep, pet. I’ll be round at the shop tomorrow some time, so the witches can fix me up.”

Buffy looked down. “I was coming to get you, you know,” she said softly. “I wouldn’t have just left you there to die.”

Spike stood still, looking at her bent head. Bewildered, hopeful, yearning, he replied, “I know, love. Never thought you would, no matter what that daft bint said.”

Buffy raised her head and looked at him directly. “But you’re still not my boyfriend.”

Spike flinched then grinned.

“Not yet, Slayer. Not yet.”

Still grinning, he swung around and out of the door then paused.

“You staying here then? ‘Cos I’ll walk you home if you like.”

Buffy smiled. “I’ll stay a little while. Thanks.”

He nodded and left her staring into space.


FRIDAY AUGUST 30 (SUNRISE 05.31, SUNSET 18.28, MOONRISE 23.52)

10.00

The next morning, it was a tired, apprehensive group that gathered at the Magic Box (temporarily closed for inventory check according to the sign on the door). The news that Saul wanted to kill vampires not humans was a relief of course but not totally reassuring.

“After all,” said Xander, summing it up, “ I don’t feel inclined to trust someone who thinks nothing of turning me into a zombie. And what’s with the girlfriend thing? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to for some cosmetic surgery.”

Giles nodded. “Saul has lied to the vampires and there’s no reason to think he told us or his lady friend the truth. From what Spike learned, their dimension swings close to ours every seventy years or so, by our reckoning anyway. Portals can only operate over a certain spatial distance. Last time, apparently, the humans weren’t sent home in safety but died. The spell must have had serious side effects. Willow, are you sure that isn’t the case with these spells?”

Willow shrugged helplessly. “As far as I can tell, no, they should keep the people safe, if Saul just tells them to go home. But it’s awfully risky. He’s got to juggle controlling them with trapping the vampires. He’s going to be one busy little preacher. One mistake and he’s knee deep in hungry, disappointed vampires. Or corpses. Neither of which is of the good.”

“So what can we do?” asked Tara.

Buffy stood up.

“We can stop him, that’s what.”

Anya frowned.

“Don’t you want him to kill the vampires? Are you worried about job security? I wouldn’t be. Vampires can’t be eliminated entirely. You’ll get a nice break for a week or two and then more will arrive. In fact, they’ll flood in, once word gets round. All that prime real estate in the cemeteries going begging? They’ll be fighting over it like-”

“Well, that’s something to look forward to,” said Buffy dryly, interrupting her. “No, Anya, dusting vampires who’re there to massacre helpless victims is fine by me but I really don’t want to take any chances. I’m sure he’s not going to let the people go; why should he? It’s like Will says, this plan is a little too hit and miss.” She paused and added hesitantly, “ Besides – unless we lock you up or something, Willow, you’re, well, you’re going to be down there on that field too, aren’t you?”

There was a momentary silence as this sunk in. A look of determination passed over Tara’s face.

“I want to have another go at taking that spell off you, sweetie,” she said firmly. “We need you tonight.”

Willow hadn’t been looking happy at the reminder that she was hours away from being entranced but this startled her. Unwilling to hurt Tara’s fragile self-esteem, she hadn’t wanted to ask her to try again.

“Do you think you’re stronger today then? Because – ”

Tara interrupted. “No, I’m pretty sure I can’t do it alone but you’re forgetting that at least three other people in this room have some magic in them. Giles, from the stories Willow’s told me, you’ve got a lot of experience in the arts.” Giles nodded, looking rather strained as the memories flooded back.

“Buffy,” continued Tara, “you managed to do the spell that well, that made you realise Dawn wasn’t exactly, umm,” her voice tailed off as Dawn looked stricken but with her mind fixed on helping Willow she ploughed ahead.

“Anya, you did a spell with Willow once, trying to get back your necklace.”

Anya nodded. “I see. You think that the four of us all working together might be enough?”

Tara said, “Yes. I do.” She stood up and faced them all, no stammer and no shyness. “Willow? Help me train them in the spell?”

Willow gave her a grateful look and took time out to hug her before going over to the three potential spell casters.


11.30

As the powder turned blue around Willow’s head, Tara felt happy tears stinging her eyes. She hadn’t been able to cleanse Willow by herself but it didn’t matter. Willow was safe.

“What about Spike?’ said Dawn, her voice cutting effortlessly through the relieved babble. “Hadn’t we better make sure he’s cured too? If we wait till sunset, or whenever he’s supposed to be coming here, it might be too late.”

“Look, Dawn,” said Xander, “Willow and Tara are pretty tired now and…”

“And what? It’s not like before, when the worst that could happen is Spike goes there and gets a headache when he tries to feed. If he gets caught up in this, he’s dust.”

Xander opened his mouth, then had the grace to back down.

“Fine, let’s go and do the whammy on him then.”

Willow squeezed Tara’s hand and said, “Buffy, I can go with you to the crypt and do the spell right there if you like. Tara, you stop here and rest up a bit, huh?”

Buffy had been looking a little shamefaced after Dawn’s outburst. It had almost slipped her mind that Spike would be affected along with the other vampires.

“Sure. Let’s go. I really want us all to be together when it gets closer to the time. If these portals can pop up anywhere - well, let’s not get separated if we can help it. Dawn, you stay here with Giles and Tara and do research, since you’re so fond of it. Xander, do you and Anya want to look at the park again? We’ll all meet back here well before sundown if possible.”



12.00

Buffy pushed open the crypt door, hoping that this time she wouldn’t be faced with echoing emptiness. Sunset was still over six hours away so Spike might be annoyed to be woken up, but it was in a good cause.

Willow followed her in, looking around curiously. She hadn’t been a regular visitor to Spike’s home in the past, but she remembered it as being less, well, homey than this.

“It’s quite cosy,” she remarked.

Buffy cast her a surprised look.

“Yeah, sure. If you go for trailer park gothic. Anyway, I’ll just see if he’s downstairs. That’s where the bed is, umm, well, he’s obviously not up here so he must be –“

Willow gave her an amused look and waved her hand at the opening leading down.

“Go and wake him up with a –“

“You say ‘kiss’ and I’ll slay you where you stand, Willow Rosenberg!”

Willow giggled. Buffy gave her a look that only a best friend could get away with and headed below. She wasn’t there long enough to even blow a kiss to someone.

“Gone,” she said tersely. “Where is that man? Does he live here or not?”

“Leave him a note,” suggested Willow practically. “He can get around in daylight when he needs to, so he might be able to make it to the Magic Box before we leave to take out Saul.”

Buffy perched on the edge of a stone slab, swinging her feet. She looked at Willow, almost pleadingly.

“I don’t know what to do about that Willow. I know I told Anya we’d have to stop him but supposing I’m wrong? This is a chance to kill hundreds of vampires, save hundreds of lives; should I intervene?”

Willow thought about it. This was tricky. Normally, the villains were planning something evil and there was no ambiguity about their plans or the need to stop them. This time was different. Spike had been threatened but not hurt, the magic on the posters was harmless and would wear off, and Saul was going to kill vampires not people…maybe.

She shook her head sharply as though waking up from a dream.

“He’s evil, Buffy,” she said firmly. “Good people don’t kidnap your friends to put pressure on you, or use magic to control other people, no matter how noble their aims. And what about all those dead people at his last meeting? Don’t let him fool you. He’s not on our side. He’s all ulterior motive guy, I can just tell.”

Buffy nodded slowly, then smiled. Jumping down, she went over to Willow and gave her a hug.

“You always make sense, Willow,” she said. “So now it’s simple. I have to stop Saul without killing him, because he‘s human –”

“Ooh, from another dimension though! Maybe he doesn’t count?” said Willow eagerly.

“That would make it easier but I don’t think we can be all judgy about people based on their address, Will. Anyway, I’ve got no chance of fighting all those vampires and you can’t take the spell off the people so…”

“So, what?” Willow asked curiously.

Buffy grinned at her.

“You want me to spoil the surprise?”

“Well, duh.”

“Ah.”

“There is no plan is there?”

“Not as such, no.”

“Thought so.”


13.00

Willow had gone back to the shop, in case Spike appeared. Buffy had decided to take one more look around the motel room. They hadn’t really examined it the night before. Saul was unlikely to be there of course; he would probably just open the portal and step into the park. The need for the preacher disguise had passed.

She went straight to the room, bypassing the possible delights of another conversation with Jason, and twisted open the door lock with little difficulty and even less guilt. That comfortable feeling of being on a mission where breaking and entering was a peccadillo at best fled as she walked in on a couple having imaginative and highly athletic sex on the bed. They’d been very quiet, but the gag on the man might account for that, Buffy thought distantly, as she backed off, horribly embarrassed.

She doubted that they’d chase her; those knots would take a while to undo and they weren’t exactly dressed for the street.


14.00

Anya and Xander had returned to the park for a last look around. There was still no sign of any preparations being made for a large-scale event. Which made sense really. Xander began to think aloud, “ No permit, no portaloos, no P.A. He’s not even going to pretend to have a show is he? Just get them here, zap them and then wait for the undead to arise.”

Anya nodded. She wasn’t going to be one of the zombies and neither was Xander, so she was feeling more detached about it than he was.

“We should get back to the shop,” she suggested. “Buffy wanted us all together.”

“Yeah, sure,” replied Xander absently. He was scanning the area, trying to think where Saul was likely to position himself. He saw the perfect spot, some way off; a natural stage where the ground rose sharply to a small plateau. If Saul stood there he could see what was going on, but it would be hard to get to him.

“Let’s go and see what’s behind that place over there. I bet it’s where he’ll be,” he said, setting off at a jog.

Anya followed him at a more leisurely pace, her interest waning as more and more physical effort was required of her.

Xander got to the plateau and stood looking out. Yes, this was ideal. He turned and saw that there was grass for about twenty feet, then thick woodland.

“I’m going to take a look in there; coming, Anya?”

Anya gave him a look of disbelief.

“I’m exhausted. My shoes are covered in dirt and those trees look like the kind that have falling leaves and caterpillars. I’ll wait here.”

“Fine, fine,” murmured Xander, not really surprised. “Won’t be a sec.”

He walked over, found an overgrown but usable path into the wood and began to search for possible places to hide. He had gone about a hundred feet when the Guardian that Saul had left monitoring the area, homed in on him.

Sitting on her coat to avoid getting closer to the grass than she had to, Anya rested, blissfully unaware of Xander’s danger.

Until the screams got louder.


16.20

“Where is Spike?” fretted Dawn. “If he doesn’t come soon, he’ll be right in the middle of it all. We need to find him. Sunset’s in two hours.”

Giles sighed. “Spike may well have decided to leave town, Dawn, especially after what happened to him. He’s a vampire and as such, he puts his own survival above all else.”

Dawn sputtered with outrage. “Giles, how can you say that? Spike’s different, you know he is!”

Buffy, still recovering from the incident at the motel, looked up from the book she was pretending to read. Willow and Tara were at the table with her, open books and notes scattered in front of them.

“Spike wouldn’t leave town, Giles. I don’t know where he is but he wouldn’t do that.”

Dawn gave her a grateful smile.

“Be that as it may, we need to concentrate on stopping Saul,” said Giles firmly. “Then it won’t matter if Spike is still under the spell’s influence or not.”

“If we’re sure he’s going to appear at the park, can’t we set up a barrier, something to stop the portal from opening? We’d only have to keep it in place until the morning, if what Spike learned is true,” said Tara.
Giles rubbed his forehead distractedly.

“I’m not sure we can prevent it from appearing, Tara. We can’t shield the whole area after all. If we block it at one point, he only needs to reposition it a few yards away. We wouldn’t be able to move fast enough.”

“And we’d still have the people and the vampires to contend with,” said Buffy.

The afternoon had been spent in research. Eye wearying, mind numbing browsing of books and the Net. Buffy had joined them after sorting out weapons. She wasn’t sure what she was going to be fighting but she would have put money on there being something that needed hitting. She also laid a selection out on the counter for Giles to choose from.

With time running out, there was an air of desperation creeping into the group.

Buffy looked towards the door for what felt like the twentieth time.

“Xander and Anya should have been back long before this, never mind Spike,” she fretted. “Maybe we should just go over to the park and join them.”

“And do what?” asked Giles pointedly. “Buffy, we have no plan, no clear idea of Saul’s motivations –”

“Now we do,” said Willow softly. She held up the book she was reading, a muted triumph in her eyes.


14.15

Anya stood up quickly. She recognized those screams. Her feet got tangled in her coat and she kicked it aside impatiently. No longer grudging the exertion, she ran in the direction of the screams, wondering just what had possessed her to fall in love with someone who was in deadly peril so often.

The woods were dim and Anya found it difficult to move quickly. The branches seemed to be grabbing at her hair, the roots at her ankles. The screams were getting louder and she didn’t think she could get more concerned. Until they stopped. Then she really began to panic.

Forcing her way into a small clearing, she felt her heart thud painfully as she saw Xander slumped on the ground, blood oozing from his ears. Hovering over him was a winged demon, small enough to pass for a bird to the casual observer.

Anya had come across the species before; had even used them herself once or twice. They were sentient but at an animal level. Once they had been common; now a scant thousand survived, making them valuable pets to own or rent out. When instructed, they would guard an area, attacking intruders but not usually killing them. A Guardian’s weapon was its voice - its screams caused dizziness and acute pain. Xander would have been wiser feigning unconsciousness but from the length of time the screams had gone on, Anya guessed he had tried to fight it.

Anya watched as the Guardian registered her presence, gnawing her lip frantically as she tried to remember what the controlling words were. They would still be the same; this species was long-lived, practically immortal, but their trainer had died centuries ago. They retained the implanted words of command but could learn no others. They could speak, a little, but it was pointless to reason with them.

Xander began to move, moaning and pawing at his ears. Anya saw the Guardian twist in the air, as though trying to decide whom to attack. Just as it opened its mouth to begin screaming again, she remembered the commands.

“Rekrath! Lintoth!” she called out. Hopefully that meant, ‘Stop! Leave!’ Or had she just told it to attack and kill? She had to admit that they would have been words she was more likely to have used in her days as a vengeance demon. Relief washed away the fear as the creature hesitated then vanished. Anya wondered if it had gone back to its owner or to Saul; assuming they were different. She doubted Saul could have afforded to own a Guardian though. They were a little out of most people’s price range.

Running over to Xander, she knelt beside him, cradling his head gently on her lap. She couldn’t leave him and he wasn’t capable of walking. He would recover but not for some time. They would have to wait.

Anya twisted her hand round so that she could look at her watch. Sunset was still well over three hours away.

She hoped it would be long enough.


16.30

Buffy jumped up and walked over to Willow.

“Tell me what you’ve got,” she said.

Willow said, “It’s all fancy in the book but I’ll give you the quick version. Saul’s spell went wrong because he didn’t - oh, how can I put it - he didn’t put the plug in. All their spirit drained away, leaving nothing for him to command, nothing to control. That’s why no one could find out what killed them. Physically they were fine but your body needs at least a little bit of spirit to keep it going. These people weren’t in a coma, weren’t vegetables; it was much worse than that.

“After they’d done what they were told to do and made their way to the site, they just got weaker and weaker until they died. The awful part is,” Willow shuddered, “I’m not sure about their souls. They might still be on this plane but with no body to anchor them and no spirit to guide them onwards.”

Buffy looked suitably appalled but it was clear to Giles that she was impatient.

“She wants to know how to kill Saul,” he thought. “Wants to be told that he’s a demon and fair game.”

Tara reached over and took Willow’s hand, sensing her distress. Willow squeezed it gratefully and then continued.

“Anyway, Saul failed. There weren’t any vampires involved that time, no matter what his girlfriend told Spike; he planned to kill the humans and get a massive energy boost from their deaths. His companion was doing all the magic; he was to be the host for the power.”

“I’m guessing that would be this scarred woman?” Buffy asked grimly.

Willow nodded.

“Her name’s Nalia. The backlash from what happened must have injured her terribly but the portal would have been so close to closing that they had no choice but to retreat. And wait.”

“And now he’s back,” mused Buffy. “So why the change in plans, Will? Why use vampires instead?”

Willow shrugged helplessly.

“This book is all about the massacre, written by a man who saw it but wasn’t involved. He was a local hermit; never came down to town much. He was actually meditating and practicing shape shifting but he kept that secret, I guess.”

Giles looked rather stunned.

“I swear those books mate when I’m not looking,” he said. “I had no idea I owned that book.”

“You don’t,” said Willow with a sad smile. “It’s mine. I got it back when I was trying to cure Oz. I thought if this man could change shape, he might have found out how a werewolf could stay human. But he didn’t. Ever since you mentioned Talbotville, I thought it sounded familiar but I never read all of the book, just the parts about the shifting. The massacre is right at the end, in an appendix. It clicked when I was on my way back from Spike’s so I stopped off at the house and grabbed all my werewolf books. I wasn’t sure which one it was in.”

There was a slightly uncomfortable silence as they all spared a thought for Oz. Giles broke it with an exclamation of disgust.

“How could I have been so dense! The gathering of innocents and demons, the magic user to act as a conduit…Saul’s trying to perform the Rite of Amrion. I wonder if Nalia realises how it ends?”

“With her death?” asked Tara quietly.

Giles nodded.

“Yes. Somehow, Saul will channel all the life force from the slaughter into her. There are several methods he could use. Then, the final act of horror; he will betray her and in absorbing her power he will become, well, a force to be reckoned with, is putting it mildly.”

“What does he want?” asked Dawn. She had been listening silently, her face pale, hands locked together in her lap. Buffy thought how hard it must be for her to listen to all this talk of rituals and death after what she had endured at Glory’s hands.

Giles shrugged.

“Who knows? With the power he would wield, he could literally move mountains, command armies of demons; he would be unstoppable. We simply can’t let him complete the ritual.”

Buffy stood up.

“We can’t even let him start, Giles. Because it seems to me that the way this thing begins is with most of Sunnydale dying. I’m not going to let that happen.”

“S-so, he’s not going to just let the people go, like he said?” asked Dawn, almost pleading for a reassuring answer. Buffy gave her a quick shake of the head and patted her shoulder.

Tara had been sitting, deep in thought, her hands clasped, her face downcast. Suddenly she looked up and said, “Willow? About the souls of the people from Talbotville?”

Willow looked at her hopefully. “Yes? Do you think that we can –”

“Locate them on the astral plane and -”

“Use their trapped energy to distract Saul?”

“I speak for all those people, not you two, in the room and go, ‘Huh?’” said Buffy.

“No, I can guess what they mean,” said Giles, an intent look on his face. “It’s a long shot of course. We have no way of knowing if those people are trapped in between this realm and the next. If they are, they might be anchored to their place of death. But if we can summon them at the meeting, well, it would be a distraction, if nothing else.”

“I’ll look up what we need for that,” said Willow. “It’s a variant on the spells I used when I, well, brought back Buffy so it shouldn’t take long. Don’t go looking all disapproving, Giles!”

Giles shook his head. “I still think you took a big chance then, Willow, but despite that, I do respect your undeniable talent, believe me.”

Willow beamed and headed for the bookshelves as Giles added silently, “And you scare the life out of me with it, too…”


18.00

“What time is it?” asked Dawn suddenly. “I mean, how long until sunset or whenever that meeting starts?”

Tara had drifted over to the window.

“It’s starting now,” she said tightly.

The others came over to join her and watched as groups of people drifted past, their faces empty, their movements jerky. It was a fascinating but frightening sight and Spike’s entrance from the storeroom under the shop made them all jump.

“Sorry,” he said, “Seemed a bit busy out there and it was light when I set out so I used the tunnels.”

Buffy stalked over to him, “Where have you been?” she yelled, pointing out of the window. “Look out there; that’ll be you soon. You were supposed to be here, so we could do the spell on you.”

Spike shrugged. “I was planning on being here, love but something came up –”

“I bet you were out drinking, or playing cards,” she said bitterly. “You just can’t stay focused, can you? This is all a big game, something to keep you entertained because you can’t kill anymore.”

Spike froze, hurt and anger clear on his face. “A friend of mine died last night,” he said “A friend who was last seen headed to my place to give you a message. Want to share anything, Slayer of demons? Did you off him just for the hell of it?”

Buffy looked stunned. “He was your friend? I didn’t know that. In fact he –” She broke off, not wanting to tell Spike that the demon had seemed quite happy with the idea that Spike was dead. “I didn’t hurt him. Last I saw, he was headed out of the cemetery, on his way back to Willy’s probably. Saul had hired him; if he’s dead, why not put him at the top of the list of suspects?”

Spike whirled around and slammed his fist into a wall and then leaned forward, his palms flat against the surface, his arms braced. His head sank low as he regained his composure. Straightening up, he faced Buffy.

“Sorry,” he said hoarsely. “I should’ve known it wasn’t you. Poor guy had his entrails yanked out by the yard. Not your style.”

Buffy made a face at the image but Spike’s distress had taken the edge off her annoyance.

“Come here and let Willow and Tara take the spell off you,” she said urgently. “It will trigger for you as soon as sunset comes I suppose. We have to hurry.”

Spike gave them all a rather weak grin and, with a return of the old swagger, walked to the back of the room. Willow and Tara, for what they hoped was the last time, began the spell. Dawn was still at the window, looking at the people, recognising some neighbours or school friends. They were thinning out now.

“We don’t have much time,” she thought. “Maybe Buffy should just go on ahead.”

She turned to suggest this, then screamed. Spike had left it too late and the summoning spell began to work on him. Suddenly morphing into game face, he began to run for the door. Buffy was taken by surprise but not for long. She tripped him neatly and landed on top of him.

“Finish the spell!” she cried. “You have – to – I can’t hold him!”

“He has to stay here,” said Willow frantically. “We can’t finish it if he’s not close to us. There’s only a bit left to do.”

Spike had fought Buffy before, with the full intention of killing her. She’d faced that and always emerged the victor. This was different. Spike wasn’t interested in fighting her; he just wanted to get to the door. Inch by inch, he dragged himself along, eventually making it to his feet. Buffy’s punches were doing nothing to slow him down. Giles joined her, simply hanging on grimly to one of Spike’s arms but the vampire threw him off. This finally triggered the chip and he cried out in agony, his back arching as he grabbed at his head.

Dawn snatched a club from the counter, one of the weapons Buffy had left out for Giles. Taking advantage of Spike’s incapacity, she took a good swing at his head, knocking him out for long enough that Willow and Tara could finish chanting and casting the powder. As the powder turned blue, Spike’s face reverted to human but he remained unconscious.

Buffy ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath.

“We have to move out. Dawn, I want you to stay here with Spike. He’ll be back to himself soon and he’ll protect you. This is safe; everyone’s at the park by now.”

“What? No way! I want to come, too!”

Buffy gave her a level glance.

“Spike’s looked after you plenty. You just going to leave him hurt? Especially when you’re the one who did it?”

Dawn looked guilty and confused. Buffy left it at that, feeling mean but justified if it kept Dawn safe, and turned to the others.

“Got everything you need? Let’s go.”



18.15

Anya was getting worried. Xander wasn’t showing any signs of coming round and it was almost night. Making a difficult decision, she left him and went to investigate. Moving as silently as she could, she reached the edge of the woods. The plateau was still empty but she could see scores of people arriving, filling up the large field. The scene was eerie and she suddenly realised why; no one was speaking. A crowd that size should have been noisy; talking, coughing, shouting. She shivered and peered through the gathering darkness, anxiously looking for Buffy or the vampires.

She made her way back to Xander and cried out with relief. He was struggling to sit up, holding onto his head and moaning.

“Xander! You’re finally awake, thank goodness.”

“A-anya? There was this thing, this terrible noise –“

“I know, sweetheart,’ she crooned, kissing him. “I made it go away.”

“You didn’t kill it?” Xander asked, a little disappointed.

“Do you know how much those things cost? I’d have been hit with a bill that would have taken both of our wages for the next century to pay off.”

“Oh. Right.” Xander stood up, wobbly but determined to soldier on. “What time is it? What’s happening? God, Buffy must be out of her mind, wondering where we are.”

“Not enough to come looking for us,” said Anya tartly. “It’s sunset. There’s a huge crowd of people over there and no sign of Saul. We have no weapons, no plan and no way out. We’re doomed. Again. I suggest we stay very quiet and hope no one sees us.”

Xander shook his head, then winced. “It’s too late to go back to the shop. We have to circle round, try and meet up with the others. If I know the Buffster, she’ll have spare weapons to, well, spare.”

Anya sighed but followed him as he led the way out of the wood. It had been a good plan but it was never executed. As they stepped cautiously to the edge of the trees, they saw a figure ahead of them, on the plateau, lit with a ghostly light.

Brother Saul had arrived.


18.30

Anya and Xander huddled in the shelter of the trees while Xander assessed the situation. Saul was not alone. From Spike’s description, he guessed the figure swaddled in cloth was Saul’s girlfriend. She was setting up a copper bowl on a tripod. Under it was a heap of kindling. On a blanket nearby, Xander could see a wickedly sharp knife. He gulped. Knives…fires…that added up to a sacrifice. He just hoped that Buffy knew all about it and was about to leap in and stop it in the nick of time. From where he was, he couldn’t see the crowd but surely amongst it was Buffy?

Saul stepped forward to the edge of the plateau and raised his arms high. He hesitated for a moment, then called out a word, high and clear. Xander strained to hear it but it seemed to enter his head, then vanish before he could pin it down The silent crowd surged forward and raised their heads, staring at Saul vacantly. He smiled in pleasure at their obedience.

“Friends,” he called out, his voice traveling effortlessly to the edge of the group. “Welcome to my gathering. I ask that you remain here and do not move until I order you to go home. Stay. Here.”

He turned his back on them and joined Nalia.

“Pathetic how easy it was,” he said conversationally. “Now let’s hope the second half of the guests come soon.”

She turned to fuss with the placing of the bowl and he allowed himself the luxury of an unguarded emotion. In this case, the contempt he had felt for the audience spilled over to include Nalia.


18.45

Buffy and her friends reached the edge of the field just as Saul spoke the controlling word. They felt the ripple of magic break over them and shimmer into nothingness.

“Do any of you see Xander and Anya?” whispered Willow.

Buffy looked around, trying to see in the dim light cast by Saul’s spell.

“Not yet. We need to get behind Saul. We can’t rush at him; he’s picked his spot too well.”

Taking a less direct route, they made for the woods Xander and Anya had spent so long hiding in. Unfortunately, they were now the only moving people in a crowd of statues. Dodging and weaving, they tried to use the people as shields to avoid attracting Saul’s attention. They were helped by the fact that Saul had his back to them, chatting to Nalia but they knew that he had only to turn round for them to be spotted.

They reached the edge of the crowd as close to the stage as they dared, to lessen the amount of time spent in the open. Just as they were readying themselves to dash for the hill, scramble up it and fade into the woods, a welcome diversion arrived. Or perhaps, not so welcome.

“The vampires are here!” said Tara urgently.

18.50

 From their vantage point, Xander and Anya had noticed the new arrivals too. Surrounding the still crowd was a thin line of vampires, as silent as their intended prey. They moved stiffly forward then halted as Saul’s voice rang out, giving the word of command.

Xander nudged Anya. They had to move. Not only were they too close to Saul, they had to find Buffy. Cautiously, they stepped back into the woods then moved as quietly as possible to the edge. Which, in darkness and thick undergrowth wasn’t all that quiet.

Saul’s head snapped round then relaxed as three vampires emerged from the wood, latecomers to the party. He stepped closer and said the word again, then gestured at the field. The vampires walked onwards, following his command. They reached the edge of the plateau and kept on going. As the ground fell sharply away, they tumbled, ending up in a broken heap. It was pitiful to see them continue to struggle to reach their assigned positions but Saul did nothing to prevent them trying.

The vampires’ arrival gave Anya and Xander plenty of time to get out of earshot. Emerging from the woods, Xander sighed in relief as he spotted his friends. Using the slope of the hill as cover, they slid down, keeping low and came up behind the group. Buffy whirled round and then stopped her attack. Smiling, as she saw that they were safe, she mouthed instructions and gestured off to the side. Quietly, they moved away from the field to regroup.

When they were at a safe distance, Xander quickly updated Buffy and in turn was told of Willow’s discovery.

“So; he’s got everyone together; what happens now?” Xander asked, reaching eagerly for a weapon, in this case a heavy double bladed axe.

“Now we wait.”

“What for?” asked Anya. “Why not just kill them now?”

“Demon girl’s got a point,” said Spike from the shadows.


18.40

Dawn had tried bathing Spike’s face with water, she’d applied ice to the lump on his head and she was seriously contemplating slapping his face, when he stirred. Vampires healed fast and he sat up as his eyes opened, looking around wildly.

“It’s okay,’ said Dawn, anticipating his questions. “You went nutso and tried to walk through walls to get to the park. I, well, I knocked you out with a club and that let Willow and Tara finish cleaning you up. So they all went off to have fun and save the world – again – and I got left babysitting you for a change.”

Spike mulled that over for a moment then stood up, gripping the edge of the table for a moment.

“Get me some of Giles’s whisky, there’s a good girl,” he said.

“You’re not supposed to drink alcohol with a concussion,” said Dawn primly.

Spike stared at her in disbelief.

“I’m a vampire you ninny, not a babe in arms. Oh, I’ll get it myself.”

He walked round the counter, reached for the nearest bottle, pulled out the stopper and took a hefty slug.

“Much better. Right. Did they leave any decent weapons then? Bet they hogged all the good stuff.”

Dawn looked puzzled. “Do you think someone’s going to attack the shop, then?”

Spike looked equally puzzled. “Can’t see why they’d bother but we’ll make sure to lock up on the way out, if you’re really concerned. Now get a move on.”

“What? We’re going to the park? But Buffy said we had to stay here.” squeaked Dawn.

“And do you want to stay here?” asked Spike. He tried out a wicked looking sword and nodded in satisfaction as it sliced through a wooden candlestick without even noticing it was there. He turned and cocked an eyebrow at her.

Dawn flushed and tried to remain cool. “I can go? You don’t think I’m too young or whatever?”

Spike gave her an appraising look, skimming his eyes up and down her body.

“You’re bigger than your sis was the first time I tried to kill her," he noted dispassionately. “I’d say you’re in. Here; catch this stake.” He sighed. “Butterfingers.”


19.15

“Spike?’ said Buffy in disbelief. “You left Dawn on her – oh.”

“Hi, Buffy,” said Dawn stepping out to stand beside Spike.

Buffy ignored her, stepping up to Spike and jabbing him in the chest. “How dare you endanger her like this? What were you thinking?”

Spike gazed off into the distance, then turned and met Buffy’s angry stare. “She’s old enough, she can handle herself and we need all the help we can get. Fill me in, if you can, otherwise point me at a demon. Curtain’s rising, Buffy. It’s show time.”

She bit her lip, then nodded.

“But we’ll discuss this later,” she hissed at Dawn who had an unrepentant grin on her face.

Looking around, Buffy’s head drooped for a second, then rose.

“I’m going up there to do all I can to stop Saul. If I have to kill him, I will.” She held up a hand to forestall any comments. “I know he’s human but it doesn’t matter. If he were a demon, I’d kill him in a heartbeat. No one else can stop him and I’m not waiting for him to unleash the vampires. I’ll try not to harm him –“

“Don’t know why,” muttered Spike.

“But he has to be stopped,” she finished.

Willow looked at her uncertainly. “Shall we begin the spell, try to summon the souls? That might help.”

Buffy nodded. “Yes; you and Tara go as close as you need to and do that. I need some back up to go with me to the hill and some people ready down here in case it all goes wrong and the vampires start to kill.” She hesitated, glancing at the group remaining.

“I’ll go with you,” said Giles quietly. “Spike and Xander can lead the fight here if needed.”

Buffy smiled at her Watcher with affection. “There’s no one I’d rather have at my back,” she said simply. Turning to Dawn and Anya she said, “Keep out of sight, if you can.”

Dawn rushed over and gave her a hug. Buffy returned it, stroking Dawn’s long hair comfortingly. “I’ll be fine,” she said. “Now, it’s time.”

Giles and Buffy vanished into the shadows, followed by Willow and Tara. The remaining four exchanged glances, then crept as close as possible to the clearing. So far, all seemed still.

Spike looked around. “What’s he waiting for?” he murmured.

“Moonrise, perhaps?” replied Anya. “Some rituals require a heavenly body to be in ascension or decline.”

Spike shook his head. “Moon won’t be up till midnight; it’s too long. He’s not going to wait there like a lemon for another four hours. Could be something else but I don’t have a bloody almanac in my head. Might be an eclipse scheduled for all I know.”

Dawn looked up at the night sky. “What’s that reddish blob?” she asked.

Anya glanced up.  “Mars. Named for the God of War.”

“And I’m no astronomer,” said Xander, “but not only is that ominous but the planet seems to be setting. Never knew they did that.”

“Not got long to go, either,” said Spike. “Better get ready, troops. There must be a couple of hundred vamps out there - Hey! What the hell?”

A bright green light had suddenly flashed out from the hillside, spreading until it covered a large area.

He pushed through the bushes and stared at the field. The whole group, humans and vampires alike, were enclosed within a translucent shell, gleaming green.

“Bugger’s only gone and put up a force field,” said Spike, half admiringly. “Now, what’s to do?”



19.45

Buffy and Giles were a few yards away from Saul and Nalia. Buffy shrugged. One man, one woman. Seemed easy enough.

Standing, she walked out to confront them, leaving Giles in hiding.

“Thought you were taking the worm off the hook when the fish arrived,” she said, keeping a few feet back.

Nalia looked bewildered. “Why are you here, Slayer? Your vampire was not harmed and you are free of the spell.”

Buffy spared her a glance, her attention focused on Saul who seemed eerily calm.

“You think you can come to my town and kill half the inhabitants and I’ll just let you?” she demanded.

Nalia looked uneasy. “I – did not know that they were to die as well, not at first,” she admitted. “But Saul explained it to me and –”

“He did, huh? Well, maybe he can explain it to me,” Buffy said through gritted teeth.

Saul shook his head. “There’s really no time for this, Slayer. Mars will set at ten past eight exactly.” He smiled. “I looked it up on one of your computers. Very handy, I like them. When it vanishes, I will take its place as the symbol of war on this plane. Symbols are great, aren’t they? But the real thing – well that’s something else again.”

“So, going to let me in on your vision?” asked Buffy sarcastically. “Your sort always has one.”

“Vision? Well, yes, I suppose I do have a vision. Me. In charge. Of everything. You and all your demon friends, well, dead I’m afraid. And now, I really have to begin.”

“You can’t think I’m just going to let you –”

Saul turned his back on Buffy and gestured to Nalia. She raised her arms, called out a short incantation and green light shot from her hands to cover the field.

Buffy gasped as the people below were isolated within a dome of green fire.

“What did she do?” she demanded.

Saul smiled. “You just never stop asking questions, do you? It’s for two things. One, it stops you or your friends - yes, I know they’re around - from going in. Two, it stops those inside getting out…and they’re all going to want to get out, believe me.

“The humans are going to want to get out once the vampires begin to feed. Then, when they’re all dead, I’m going to make it very sunny in there. That’ll finish off the vampires. Then – ” He hesitated for a moment.

Nalia chimed in, “Then I will channel the combined life force of both living and undead into Saul and he will reign forever with me by his side.”

“In an urn, maybe,” sneered Buffy. “The spell ends when he kills you. You’re such a magical genius and you didn’t know about that?”

Nalia and Saul exchanged glances of complicity and amusement. As though addressing a child, Nalia told Buffy, “Of course, I know that, foolish girl. But after the power is within Saul, he can bring me back. You of all people should know that death is never final.”

“You’re as bad as each other,” Buffy said, disgusted. “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people down there. They’re not counters in a game, they’re real people with – ”

“They’re not us, so they don’t matter,” said Saul. He turned toward the crowd and Buffy knew that he was about to order the vampires to kill. Springing forward, she launched a kick at him. Nalia hissed in shock as Saul went sprawling to the ground. Murmuring under her breath, she sent more of the green light in between Buffy and Saul, blocking him off. Buffy found that she could not push through it.

She turned on Nalia, who smiled mockingly and encased herself in the same protective field.

“Now what will you do?” said Nalia.

If Buffy were honest, she would have admitted that she really didn’t know.


19.30

Willow and Tara began to prepare for the spell. Sitting on the floor, their hands linked, they sank into a light trance. At the cardinal points of the small glade they were in, lit candles spread incense-laden smoke into the air. All the sounds of the night melted away, leaving them both poised to enter a different world.

Shedding their bodies, their merged spirits soared, searching, seeking, calling. Time had no meaning here and their search seemed endless. Trapped souls surged around them, clamouring for attention, pleading for release. The fusion of their spirits brushed them aside gently, sending out a continuous call. Gradually, the press of souls eased and they were left only with those they sought.

* we need you to help us*

*we can help no one , we are trapped*

*we can help free you*

*how?*

*like this*

In flashing images, the fusion told of the events since their death, explained how another town was to suffer their fate. A shudder passed through the group and a cold, remorseless anger began to build.

*we go*

Abruptly, Willow and Tara jerked awake, panting and trembling.

“What happened there, at the end?” whispered Tara. “I’ve never felt such rage.”

“We have allies,” said Willow grimly. “And I think we’re going to need them.”

Standing, they went back to the others.


20.00

Spike turned as the witches approached. "Hope you two can pull a rabbit out of a hat because – what’s up with you, then?”

“Don’t mention those animals,” said Anya through clenched teeth. “They disturb me.”

“Sorry,” said Spike with a total absence of regret.

“We contacted the souls. They said they’d help. I think. It’s hard to talk to them,” said Tara doubtfully.

“They’re here, and they’re angry,” said Willow, with more certainty.

“Shouldn’t we be doing something?” said Dawn, fidgeting. “Buffy and Giles have been gone a while and I can’t see her from here.”

Spike said, “Time to get a look,” and began to walk to where he could see the plateau. Xander grabbed his arm.

“Not too good at following orders are you?”

“Lousy at it, mate. What’s your point?”

“Buffy said to wait.”

“And put me, us, in charge. And I’m saying, we move the hell out and see what’s bloody well going on.”

Xander hesitated and then nodded resignedly. He would rather have been fighting than waiting, too. Hiding was another option but in the years since he met Buffy, that just wasn’t ever one of the choices, somehow.

The group moved forward, able to see because of the green glow from the field and the plateau. Glancing up, they saw Buffy facing her two shielded adversaries.

“Can she hit them if they’re in there?” asked Tara.

Spike picked up a stone and hurled it at the crowd. It hit the magical barrier and bounced back.
“Doesn’t look like it,” he said. “Any chance of you two girls breaking this open?”

Tara and Willow studied it.

“Maybe. But I’m not sure we have time,” replied Willow.

20.08

Giles decided that he was serving no useful purpose in remaining hidden. He walked swiftly over to Buffy and said, “What is happening?” Saul and Nalia ignored him, waiting for the moment to begin the killing, secure within their protective shells.

She gestured at the scene. “Just your basic magical force field thingies. Can’t get through. Saul’s about to tell the vampires to feed. Giles, we have to do something to get rid of those barriers and stop the magic user from creating more.”

Giles opened his mouth but never spoke. The air was suddenly filled with insubstantial figures, hovering and swooping like ghostly birds.

“They reached the souls,” Buffy said in wonder.

Giles studied the forms and flinched. He grabbed Buffy’s arm and began to pull her back.

“Buffy; they don’t look happy. I think we need to retreat. Now!”

Turning as one, Buffy and Giles ran for the edge of the plateau and dived off it, bumping and rolling to the bottom of the hill.

Saul and Nalia sensed danger and looked around. The souls cried out, a terrible keening that echoed across the field and grew in power. Nalia flinched and the shields trembled as her control weakened. The souls focused on her, battering against the shield, still crying out their anger and pain, each note a blow, a stinging cut.

The shields dropped.

Saul looked at Nalia, fury twisting his face. “Weakling! Protect me! It’s time!”

She stared at him, a vast disillusionment on her face.

“They are talking to me,” she whispered, “telling me your thoughts…you were never going to restore me, never going to bring me back. That was to be the betrayal that completed the spell. I should have realised. I would have been a willing sacrifice…not enough. It wouldn’t have been enough. Nothing is ever enough for you!” Her voice rose into a scream and she turned to attack – but the souls encased her, trapping her.

Saul whirled around to face the field, raising his arms. He began to shout out to the vampires but the souls were too fast. They wrapped around his face, smothering his words and choking him. Below, the vampires and the humans began to move, his control over them weakening.

20.15

Buffy and Giles landed, bruised and shaken at the bottom of the hill. They struggled to their feet just as the barrier disappeared.

“I have to go back up,” Buffy said urgently. “I can fight them now.”

“No,” said Willow, joining her, the others a few feet behind. “It’s too dangerous, Buffy. I can feel the souls and they will attack you if you try to rob them of their revenge.”

Buffy shook her head.

“It can’t be all about revenge, Will. Not if they want to move on. They’ve done their bit. They have to stop now, have to let me finish it. Talk to them.”

Willow and Tara looked at her, then sank down on the floor, their friends forming a protective circle around them. They slipped into trance immediately and went to the souls.

*leave us alone. we have them now*

*you have helped us. we thank you. but you must not kill them*

*we will exact retribution*

*what will you do?*

The souls milled around, confusion rendering them speechless. Finally they said,

*we will take them with us when we go*

*they still live. you cannot*

*then we will kill them first*

*if you do you will be trapped here. they will drag you down with them. we have a better way*

There was a pause, then,

*show us*

The fusion of Willow and Tara’s spirits gathered the souls to itself, cradling them as a mother would a hurt child. It soothed and comforted, healing their wounds.

The souls sighed and calmed, swirling softly around them. Finally they moved upwards, their path clear at last.

Willow’s eyes snapped open.

“They’ve gone,” she said. “Hurry, Buffy!”

Buffy ran at the slope and began to climb swiftly. After a moment, Spike followed her.

Giles looked at the people and the vampires, still enthralled but not as deeply.

“If Buffy, if she kills them, the control will break and we’ll have a massacre on our hands.”

“What do you suggest?” said Xander.

Giles looked grim.

“We start to kill the vampires ourselves. Right now, while they’re still captive.”

Dawn gasped and Xander looked a little sick.

“It doesn’t seem, well, fair. I mean, they can’t fight back or anything.”

Giles gave him a look of astonishment.

“Pray that state of affairs continues,” he replied. “Everyone! Get a stake and start slaying. We don’t know how much time we’ve got.”

As the Scoobies moved off, Giles shook his head.

‘’Fair’. Words fail me sometimes,” he muttered. Pulling out a stake, he plunged it into the nearest vampire, hoping that they were all in game face, as this one was. As the dust showered over him, he did his best not to inhale.


20.20

Buffy reached the plateau, Spike close on her heels. Nalia was lying on the floor, moaning piteously. Saul was crawling toward the knife, mumbling to himself. As his hand reached for the hilt, Buffy’s foot stamped down on his wrist.

“I don’t think so,” she said. Hauling him up, she allowed herself the satisfaction of one good punch. Saul collapsed like a punctured balloon. Spike stood, an axe in one hand, unsure of what to do.

“Do you need me to kill anyone, then, Slayer?” he called.

“Human, Spike. Don’t think you can.”

“Ah. I’ll just be going back then. Looks like your lot are going in for some mass slaughter down there; wouldn’t want to miss it.”

“They’re doing what?” said Buffy in astonishment. She joined Spike and glanced down.

“Oh, my.”

She was torn between approval and shock.

Spike glanced at her.

“Has to be done, Buffy. Doubt that Saul guy’s going to be helpful and tell them all to go home.”

“No,” said a voice behind them. “I won’t.”

Buffy spun round and faced Saul, a frightening intensity chasing away the madness on his face. His hand held the knife and he brought it flashing down towards her. Buffy automatically blocked the slashing movement, sending the knife flying out of Saul’s hand.

“It’s over,” she said. “Send the people home.”

“No. I’m going to kill them, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to –“

“Die. You’re going to die,” said Nalia. Unnoticed by Buffy – but not by Spike, who watched with approval, Nalia emerged from her daze and picked up the knife. Saul’s back was still turned to her when the knife entered. He collapsed, his hands clawing at the soil, his body seeming to shrink as his spirit fled.

Nalia pulled out the knife and stabbed herself with it, casually and without emotion. Buffy lunged forward but Spike’s arm barred the way.

“This is best, love,” he said softly. “She’s been betrayed by the one she loved. After that, you just want to die. I know.”

With the deaths of Nalia and Saul, all the spells on the crowd shimmered into oblivion.

“We’d better go and make sure all the vamps are dusted,” suggested Spike.

Buffy looked at him for a long moment, then turned away and went down the slope, this time a little slower.


20.35

As the spell dissipated, the remaining vampires looked confused. Seeing people who were quite obviously not going to stay still while they were eaten and watching Giles and his crew efficiently staking their way through the crowd, most of the vampires simply scattered into the darkness. Those who stayed to fight died quickly as Spike and Buffy joined their friends

The darkness was useful in convincing the humans that they hadn’t really seen what they had really seen. Stakes were tucked away and the Scoobies moved around the field, calling out that the meeting had been cancelled. Inside fifteen minutes, the place was empty.

Wearily, Buffy and her friends headed back to her house. It had been a long few days.


21.30

Supplied with drinks, curled up on sofas or floor cushions, the group began to relax. The silence was broken with comments, the noise level rose, and soon there was an excited babble as stories were exchanged, battles re-enacted and success celebrated.

Reaction might come tomorrow but just for a brief space of time, all was peaceful.

“So, what about the bodies?” asked Xander.

Buffy shrugged. “Let the police add them to the list of unsolved murders. Bet you they show up as suicide pact lovers in the paper by tomorrow.”

“Not too far off the mark…” said Giles thoughtfully. “Might I trouble you for some tea, Buffy? I’m sure root beer is delightful but I have a hankering for some Earl Grey.”

Buffy found herself in the kitchen with Spike, doing her best to make Giles a proper cup of tea.

“You have to warm the pot first,” began Spike. “Then it’s one spoon per person and one for the pot –”

“Huh? What pot? He gets a teabag in a mug and that’s as far as I go.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Bloody colonial,” he said.

Buffy left the teabag steeping and walked over to Spike.

“I’m sorry – those things I said to you earlier – your friend –" her voice faded away.

Spike smiled. “Forgotten them already. Well, not poor old Bill, but it doesn’t matter what you said. I never listen.”

Buffy drew back, indignantly. “You never listen?”

Spike pulled her to him gently, his arms around her neck. She stood very still, her eyes fixed on his.

“I never listen when you tell me I’m not your boyfriend. I just look at your eyes and they say –”

“What?” whispered Buffy.

“They say -”

“We forgot about tomorrow night!” announced Dawn, bursting into the kitchen and ignoring the flustered way Buffy sprang backwards about three feet.

“What about tomorrow night?” said Spike through clenched teeth.

Dawn gave him a surprised look. “All the people – and the vampires – who read the poster and didn’t touch it will think there’s a meeting tomorrow. They’ll still go, some at least. There might be trouble. We should make plans! I staked eight vamps tonight you know! I’m good at it! I can make it ten, I bet. Buffy, did you ever get eight vamps in under five minutes? I did.”

Spike shook his head, and headed for the door.

“Spike!” called Buffy and then paused.

Spike turned and looked at her with a wry smile. “Guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow night then.”

She nodded. He was half way out of the door when he called out casually, “It can be our first date.”

“Huh? Spike! Come back here! It is so not a date. You are so not my…oh, what the hell.”

Spike grinned as he made his way down the path. He may even have hummed a happy tune.

Some vampires never learn.

The Hellmouth, suffering the loss of so many friends that night, sensed his happiness and howled in anger. It began to broadcast an invitation to any evil in the neighbourhood.

It wouldn’t be lonely for long. Spike wouldn’t be happy for long.

But that’s another story.



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