Author: Alan Podjursky <alan.p[at]>

Summary: Certain books have found their way to Sunnydale, pre-Buffy.

Disclaimer: I dun' own nuttin'!

Feedback, it makes me write faster. (You know you want to do the feedback thing.)

Pre-Fic Comments:

Doncha hate it when an idea grabs you and won't let you go? I might continue this (might!) but if anyone else wants to take this and run with it, email me and ask.

Latest addition

Rupert Giles was moderately excited. He had been assigned to Watch over the new Slayer, Buffy Summers. It was an honour to be selected, out of all the possible Watchers that the Council could have called.

Eclipsing that task was the fact that he would finally be able to meet a long distance friend for the first time.

He had first encountered the friend when the fellow had written to him about the bibliography of the Elusive Writings. In return, the fellow sent him a photostat copy of the 1909 printing of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. While that version had been censored heavily by the printers, Giles had greatly appreciated receiving it. The Watcher had written back to the man, and their friendship had grown from there. He had found the man to be unusually erudite in the field of esoteric occult literature, and an amazing source of information about where one might find copies.

The British man looked down at the note with the carefully written address.

Xander Harris
Sunnydale, CA

Ah, this was the corrrect house. Strange, it didn't look like what he had envisaged. Giles looked up and down the road, before straightening his jacket. He knocked on the door three times.

It was answered by a man who had been behind the door when good looks -- or smell -- was being handed out. A days growth of beard was on his face, and he was garbed in jeans and a singlet.

"Excuse me, sir, but is there a Xander Harris living here?," Giles asked, mindful of the fact that assumptions made an ass out of you and me.

"What you want the boy for? He done something?," the man asked

"No," Giles replied. "I merely wish to meet him."

"Sure," the barely-human man said. "Xander! Get here now!"

Giles blinked. The learned scholar of three years acquaintance appeared to be a sixteen year old boy with abominable dress sense.


Giles was in the boy's small bedroom, carefully sitting on the bed in between stacks of books. Most of the floorspace was taken up in ancient grimoires and scrolls, modern notebooks and catalogs. A small desk in the corner had a relatively clean area with some sheets of paper that were half-filled with writing.

"Surprised?," Xander asked, a grin tugging at his mouth.

"To be honest, yes," Giles said. "I was expecting a man of retirement age, not..."

Xander shrugged. "I learnt long ago what this town was on. Once I started learning what the world was really like... could you stop?"

The man in tweed could only shake his head.

"So... why are you in Sunnydale, Rupert?," Xander asked, a pencil rolling around his fingers unconsciously.

"Well..." Giles made a snap decision. "I trust you with this. Vampires are real, as you know. What you don't know is that into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires--"

"--to stop the spread of their evil et cetera," Xander interrupted. He got up, excited, and dug into a pile at the foot of his bed. He produced a faded book, brittle with age and the acidic ink used. He handed it to Giles.

The Watcher looked it over. His hands started shaking. "Good Lord.... where did you get this? This is the sixth edition of the Slayer's Handbook!"

"A copy, actually," Xander said smugly. "I found it at a book fair in Los Angeles two years ago."

Giles looked around the small room with new respect. He'd already known that Harris had works like the Book of Eibon, and De Vermis Mysteriis, but the man also had numerous other books. A thorough man, then, not a dilantette.

"I'm going to help you and the new Slayer," Xander said. "Research, if nothing else. Demons and other supernatural entities of unholy origin are drawn to Hellmouths, historically."

Chapter 2

Xander found himself skateboarding into a railing on the first day of school. This was due, mostly, to the good-looking new student walking up to the front doors. Sunnydale wasn't a big town, and he knew almost all the students on sight.

Willow Rosenberg, a friend of his since kindergarten, stepped over his prone form, looking down curiously at him. Xander got back up.

"I'm okay, I'm good!," he announced. "Willow! You're very much the person I wanted to see!"

"Really?," the redheaded girl asked.

"Yeah," Xander confirmed. "I kinda had a problem with the math."

Willow blinked. "Uh, which part?"

"The math," Xander grumbled. "Can you help me out tonight, pleeeease, be my study buddy?"

"Well, what's in it for me?," Willow asked. The request for compensation was mostly form, part of the comfortable give and take they'd established as part of their friendship.

"A shiny nickel!," Xander tried. His friend seemed to accept that.

"Okay. Do you have 'Theories in Trig'?," she asked, expecting him to say yes.

"Nope," Xander said. He looked embarassed.

"No way," Willow teased. "You don't have a book?"

Their friend Jesse caught up with them inside the school. Like them, he was part of the outer fringe of the social fabric of the school, to be tolerated but never accepted by the recognised elite.

"Hey, hey!," Jesse said, greeting them. "Got something for you."

He handed over a small brown book. In return, Xander gave him a sheaf of photocopies. Xander paged through the book briefly.

"Nice, very nice," Xander said as he put it in his backpack. "See the new girl? Pretty much a hottie!"

"I heard someone was transferring," Willow contributed.

"So tell!," Xander demanded.

"Tell what, oh illuminated one?," Jesse replied, exasperated.

"What's the sitch, what do you know about her?"

"New girl!," Jesse said. It was obvious he had said all he knew in those two words.

"Well, you're certainly a fount of nothing!"


On his way to class, Xander encountered the new girl. She had dropped her bag, and her belongings were scattered over the floor. He squatted next to her, helping her gather her things together.

"Can I have you?," Xander Freud'ed.

The new girl gave him a confused look.

"Duh...," Xander laughed. "Can I help you?"

"Thanks," the girl replied, a smile lighting her face.

"I don't know you, do I?"

"Buffy. I'm new," the girl said, stating the non-obvious and the obvious.

"Xander. Is, is me," he said, introducing himself.

"Um, thanks," Buffy said. They had finished the collection; the two got back to their feet.

"Well, uh, maybe I'll see you around," Xander said, trying to think of something smooth to say. "Maybe at school... since we... both... go there."

"Great!," Buffy said. "It was nice to meet you."

Xander mentally hit himself for being so very suave, very not pathetic. He noticed something they had missed, grabbing it from the ground.

"Strange... a stake? Must be the new Slayer Rupert was telling me about."


Xander and Jesse caught up with Willow and the new girl, Buffy, at lunchtime. The two girls were talking, so the two boys interrupted.

"Hey!," Jesse greeted them, dropping his bag on the ground.

"You guys busy? Are we interrupting? We're interrupting," Xander said, throwing his bag to Jesse in a practiced movement.

"Hey!," the two girls said in unison.

"Hey there!," Jesse joked.

Willow sighed, then introduced them to Buffy. "Buffy, this is Jesse and that's Xander."

Buffy was too wound-out for Xander, so he decided to try and lighten the mood. "Oh, me and Buffy go waaay back, old friends, very close. Then there's that period of estrangement where I think we were both growing as people, but now here we are, like old times, I'm quite moved."

"Is it me or are you turning into a babbeling idiot?," Jesse asked, always ready to provide ego deflation.

"No, it's not, uh, you," Xander admitted.

"Well, it's nice to meet you guys," Buffy said. "I think."

Xander got Buffy's stake out from his bag, while Jesse tried for the greeting thing again.

"Well, you know, we wanted to welcome ya, make ya feel at home, unless you have a scary home...," Jesse rambled.

"And to return this," Xander said, holding up the wooden stake. "Hunting vampires, are we?"

"Hah, no, um, a-a-actually it was for self-defense. Everyone has them in L.A. Pepper spray is just so passé," Buffy said nervously. She was trying to avoid vampires! Those things were hell on her social life.

And so passed the rest of the lunchtime, until Cordelia arrived with news of the dead guy in the girls' locker room.


Buffy stormed into the school library once she'd checked the dead guy. The librarian, Rupert Giles, was in a tweed suit, and looked to be upper-middle-aged. He was talking to Xander in the office.

"Okay, what's the sitch?," she demanded. The two bookworms looked up.

"Sorry?," Giles asked.

"You heard about the dead guy, right? The dead guy in the lockers?," she asked.

"Yes," Giles cagily confirmed.

"'Cause, it's the weirdest thing," Buffy growled. "He's got two little, little holes in his neck, and all his blood's been drained. Isn't that bizarre? Aren't you just going, ooo?"

Xander grimaced. Dead people was of the bad, most definitely.

"I was afraid of this," Giles said.

"Me, I was expecting it," Xander threw in.

"Well, *I* wasn't! It's my first day! I was afraid that I was gonna be behind in all my classes, that I wouldn't make any friends, that I would have last month's hair. I didn't think there'd be vampires on campus. And I don't care," Buffy said.

Xander started putting his books back in his bag. He had been preparing for vampires, but his supplies were back at his parent's house.

Giles and Buffy got into an arguement about Slaying vampires, the Hellmouth, and whether Buffy would continue with said slayage.

Xander? He decided to foot while he was ahead.


Once he'd dodged his mother, Xander went down to the basement, where he stored his non-reference material. He dragged a large chest out from under the stairs, producing a large iron key to unlock it.

"Let's see...," he mused out loud.

"Xander! What're you doin' down there?," his dear old dad bellowed.

"Checking for rats!," Xander yelled back.

This provoked an insult, then blessed silence.

Xander carefully drew out a glass cube the size of his fist, placing it on an old shirt he had brought down with him for the purpose. It had an angular design etched on the top facet, but was otherwise unadorned. He also dug out five wooden stakes that he had prepared in a ritual a year ago. They had the same design as on the cube carved on the side of each.

He'd been looking forwards to being able to do this. He hadn't been able to previously, as there had been no one with enough experience for him to go out at night with.

Chapter 3

Xander looked around the Bronze. He'd just arrived; later than what he had agreed with with Jesse, true. Buffy, the new girl, was rushing out past him. Oh, there was Jesse. Willow didn't seem to be there at all. Perhaps she was studying at home?

He moved over to Jesse, who was talking to a blonde girl.

"Hey, Darla, this is my best friend Xander. Xander, this is Darla," Jesse said, obviously on a slight sugar high from too much Coca Cola.

"Hi," Xander said as he rummaged through his backpack he'd brought with him. He drew out a stake and a black glove. "Hey, Jess, can I talk to you in private for a moment?"

"You mind at all, Darla?," Jesse asked the girl. She was looking nervously at the stake.

"No, go ahead," she said. "I'll wait a few seconds."

Xander pulled Jesse off to the side, and gave him the stake and glove. The stake was one of his enscribed ones, and the glove had a completely different design drawn on it in white ink.

"Jess, this stake kills vampires. You know they're real; the Slayer's Handbook and Cultes des Goules mentions 'em. This stake, you only need to stab them with it," Xander explained as his friend took the tools.

"Sure," Jesse said. He looked them over. "Oh, cool. Magic Hoover runes. What's the glove for?"

"To make sure the stake doesn't hoover *you*," Xander grinned. "It's also got some protection in it."

Jesse nodded, pulling the glove onto his right hand. He put the stake in his jacket pocket.

The two of them moved back to Darla, who appeared annoyed with Jesse now.

"Welcome back," she said.

"You know, I haven't met you before," Xander said. "Have you got family here?"

Jesse, eager to appear knowledgeable, answered. "Yeah!"

A friend of Darla, without the world-weary look, wandered over.

"Darla, these two annoying you?," the girl asked. She put a slight stress on 'annoyed.'

"Nope," Darla replied. "This is Xander and Jesse. Xander, Jesse, this is Liz."

"Hi," the two boys said.

Darla made a snap decision. These two looked like they might know something, with that stake. They were weak enough that she could take them down easily, before they became trouble.

"Liz, I was just going to suggest to Jesse that we... go to my place," Darla said, hoping that Liz would pick up the hint.

She did. "How very cool," Liz grinned. "Xander, want to make this a double date?"

Xander agreed. Something about the two seemed off to his senses, and he wanted to find out what.

Outside, the air was cool and crisp. Jesse turned to Darla, having not picked up the 'off' vibes.

"So, where's---AAA!"

His segue was due to Darla and Liz suddenly shifting their face into vampire mode. The once-pretty girls now had ridged, yellow-eyed faces that only a mother (or Sire) could love.

Xander had read about these creatures, and seen them from far off, but this was the first time he'd seen one up close, and about to eat him. He got his stake out in his gloved hand.

"Oooh, nice stake," Liz mocked.

Xander stabbed at her with it, but the vampire moved off to the side a bit so he didn't stake her in the heart. Darla grinned at this. Jesse was still in shock a bit.

"Yeah, very nice stake," Xander smirked, waiting for something.

Liz the vampire suddenly dried up to nothing, a tall Liz-shaped tower of dust. The stake was now glowing slightly, lines of light etching the rune at the base.

Jesse cheered, "Go Magic Hoover Rune!"

Darla, not stupid, ran for it. She couldn't resist throwing something over her shoulder, "You'll die for the Master!"

Buffy came up behind them.

"Have you seen Willow?"

"Wow, you're leaving early," Jesse said, trying to strike up a conversation with her. "Wanna go to my place?"

"Not tonight, no," Xander said, somewhat more in control of his hormones.

"She left with a guy," Buffy said, looking around a bit more.

"We're talking about Willow, right?," Xander asked. "Scorin' at the Bronze, work it girl..."

"No, I need to find her," Buffy cut in. "Where would he take her?"

"Why? Oh, hey, I hope he ain't a vampire, 'cause then you might have to Slay him," Xander said.

Jesse grinned at Xander. "Hey, she's a Slayer, right? Because the vampires are here?"

"Was there a... a school bulletin?," Buffy asked, taken aback. "Was it in the newspaper? Does everyone in town know I'm a Slayer?"

"No, Xander said. "I only know because--"

"Well, whatever, it doesn't matter, just tell me, where would Willow go?"

"You're serious!," Xander said. "Here, take this stake. Make sure you're wearing this while you use it. If you stake a vamp with it, it won't matter where you stake it. Oh, and bring it back after tonight."

Buffy looked at the dust-statue of Liz. It had somehow escaped her attention before now.

"Eeeeew," she said. After she kicked it, it drifted into a small pile of dust. "If we don't find Willow, there'll be one more dead body in the morning!"


Xander, Willow and Jesse were in a tight circle, surrounded by vampires. They had rescued Willow at a crypt in the Eternal Rest cemetary, where a vampire had started a fight with Buffy. The Slayer had told them to run, so they did. Xander figured that the Slayer would catch up with them later.

"Okay, Will, here's a stake. Wear the glove while using it. Bring it back afterwards," Xander said, handing Willow the stake and glove.

"What's this for?," Willow asked.

"Um, can we talk later?," Jesse asked nervously.

The five vampires lunged at the three teenagers. Willow screamed as the two boys started trying to stake the ugly undead.

Xander staked one in the chest, but was knocked to the ground by another. He groaned, trying to get up.

Jesse staked one in the eye, using his elite 'dancing' skillz to spaz out of the way of the other one trying to hit him.

Willow continued to scream, but managed to scratch the remaining vampire in the arm. It seemed that a scratch was enough, as the vampire transformed into a statue of dust.

The three mortals stopped to breathe hard, as the two remaining vampires looked puzzled.

"Jed, whut happened to Fred, Bob and Burk?," one asked.

"I dunno, Tam. I say we split!"


Back at the high school library, Buffy was not surprised at all to see Giles there. The other three got there soon after. The four teenagers sat down on the lower level of the library, managing to lounge in the chairs.

Giles (with many added words from Xander and Jesse) explained how the world had started with many demons, which humanity had driven off.

"Okay," Willow said. "Xander, Jesse, you two haven't been doing anything stupid, have you?"

Jesse looked offended at this. Xander just looked nervous.

"Nope, wasn't our fault," Xander said. "Say, can I have those stakes back now?"

"What are they?," Giles said, grabbing Buffy's stake before Xander received it. "Most unusual. Xander, what is this rune?"

"Magic Hoover Rune!," Jesse said, grinning.

"It's a synthesis of several runes into my own system," Xander explained. "I've been working out a common basis for--"

"Basically, it kills vamps good," Buffy cut in, not wanting to sit around for a long explanation. Willow gave her a grateful smile.

Xander got the glass cube out, placing it on the table. He stopped Giles from trying to pick it up.

"Jeez, mine!," he snapped.

"A storage device?," Giles asked.

"Yeah," Xander said absently as he started placing the stake's runes against the cube's design on the top facet, the glow in the stake transferring to the cube. The slight glow in the glass grew as Xander transferred the energies absorbed from the four vampires into the cube.

"How ingenious," Giles said. "How exactly does your system work? You've never mentioned it to me."

"Well, basically," Xander started, "it's a synthesis of the common elements in--"

"Yadda yadda yadda," Buffy cut him off. "I'm going home to bed. Willow?"

"Me too," Willow said. "It's waaaay past my bed time."

Chapter 4

The next morning, the four teenagers and the British librarian met during study period.

"I, I've been studying this Harvest thing you said that vampire mentioned, Buffy. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell on Earth, quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details," Giles said.

"We can always rely on you to brighten our day," Buffy said. "What gets me, is how did those vampires disappear?"

"Uh, this might be a dumb question, but couldn't we just call the police?," Willow asked.

"And they'd believe us, of course," Giles dryly observed.

"Well, we don't have to say vampires. We, we could just say that there's a, a bad man," Willow tried.

"They'd turn up with guns and get eaten," Xander said.

"Buffy, maybe there was a tunnel or something they escaped in," Giles said.

"Well, there's an electrical tunnel that runs under the whole town," Xander contributed.

Giles frowned thoughtfully. "If we had a diagnostic of the tunnel system it might indicate a, a meeting place, it would, uh... I suppose we could go to the building commission."

"We *so* don't have time," Buffy growled. "What about that Harvest thingy?"

"I can get the sewer tunnel maps from the City Council computers," Willow said. "I accidentally got into their computer system the other day."

All the others gave her a look.

"Okay, maybe not accidentally," she admitted.

"Well, you can wrest some information from that dread machine while the rest of us try and find something on this Harvest business," Giles said, laying out a plan of action.


Darla stood just outside the mystical barrier that held the Master in the underground cave. She wasn't fool enough to be within choking or killing distance.

"A Slayer!," the ancient vampire said. "Have you any proof?"

Luke nodded. "Only that she fought me, and yet lives."

"Hmm, very nearly proof enough. I can't remember the last time that happened," the Master commented.

"1843, Madrid," Luke said proudly. "He caught me sleeping."

"She mustn't be allowed to interfere with the Harvest!," the Master growled. A scowl could have crossed his face; if so, it was indistinguishable from his normal expression.

"I would never let that happen!," Luke protested.

"That boy could be a bigger danger," Darla said.

The Master looked up at his favourite childe. "Oh? Explain, Darla."

"He had some strange stakes. The others who got staked with them only turned into a statue of dust, they didn't turn into little piles of dust. The stakes absorbed some energy."

A thoughtful expression settled on the Master's face. "This boy sounds interesting. Bring him to me."


Back at the Library, Buffy and Willow had worked out that the vampire had used a tunnel in the crypt.

"He didn't come out of nowhere. He came from behind me. I was facing the entrance, he came from behind me, and he didn't follow me out. The access to the tunnels is in the mausoleum! God! I am so mentally challenged!," she groaned.

"So, what's the plan? We saddle up, right?," Jesse said, eager to kick some vampire butt again.

"There's no 'we', okay? I'm the Slayer, and you're not," Buffy said. An annoyed look was on her face.

"Who died and made you a god?," Xander demanded. "Hands up who staked a vampire last night?"

Willow, Jesse and Xander all raised their hands. Buffy, noticeably, did not.

"Xander, this is deeply dangerous," Buffy growled.

"I don't want to go into a dark place full of monsters," Willow said. "But I want to help."

"Well, then help me," Giles asked. "I need to research this Harvest affair more."

"I'll give you a hand with that," Xander said. "Have you got a copy of D'Erlette's book? That should have something."

"I'm off," Buffy announced. "Xander, give me one of your gloves and wonder stakes."

"I'll help you," Jesse said. It was debatable to Xander's mind whether Jesse was hoping for a B-grade movie scenario, with Buffy leaping into his arms, or for plain-out hidden smoochies in the dark.

"No!," Buffy yelled. "You stay here, it's too dangerous."

A minute after she left, Jesse followed anyway.


Later that day, the group convened back at the library just before nightfall.

"You would not believe the traffic problems," Buffy said.

"Yeah, those vampires sure jam in sewer tunnels," Jesse chimed in. He had a cut on his left temple.

"Yes, well, I have found a reference to the Harvest," Giles said, reading a book at the same time.

Xander coughed in an obtrusive way.

"Uh, *we* have found a reference," Giles corrected himself.

"'For they will gather and be gathered. From the Vessel pours life. On the night of the crescent moon, the first past the solstice it will come...'," Giles quoted. "That is, of course, tonight."

Giles summarised the other findings, and that the Master was trapped underground, requiring energy that he could receive via proxy during the Harvest.

"It comes once in a century, on this night. The Master can draw power from one of his minions while it feeds. Enough power to break free and open the portal. The minion is called the vessel, and he bears this symbol," he finished off.

"So, I dust anyone sporting that symbol, and no Harvest," Buffy asked, wanting to be sure.

"That's the plan, Stan," Xander confirmed.

"Any idea where this little get-together is being held?," was the Slayer's next question.

"Bronze!," Jesse blurted.

"Why there?," Xander wondered.

"Only place in town to go at night," Willow expanded.

They collected the enscribed stakes and gloves from Xander, then got going.

Chapter 5

The group of vamp killers snuck up to the door of the large building known as the Bronze. The door was locked, so they decided to split up and try to find a way in. Willow and Giles went left, Xander and Jesse went right, and Buffy kept trying to kick the door in.

Jesse noticed something. "Hey, man, how come you've got two gloves?"

He was referring to the single gloves Xander had handed out with the enscribed stakes that protected the user.

"These're hard to make," Xander said, holding his gloved hands up. They had small metal plates sewn onto them. The plates had designs etched on them that wound around the curves of his hands.

"Ohhh," Jesse said. "Hey, man, a window!"

Xander punched the window in, his hands protected, and opened the latch. He crawled in, then stopped Jesse.

"Hey, you go tell the others how to get in."


Luke, the Master's Vessel, stood at the front of the stage. "I feel him rising. Every soul brings him closer! I need another!"

"Man, you guys really need a new scriptwriter," Xander joked, producing his stake. It had been emptied since the previous night, and no longer glowed with trapped energy.

"I hoped you'd come," Luke said. "The Master wants to meet you."

"I'll have to pass," Xander said. "I can deal with Elder Gods, and school principals, but psychotic vampires are a no no."

Buffy and the other three burst into the main room through the door just behind Xander.

"Okay, Vessel boy. You want blood?," Buffy asked.

"I want yours!," Luke roared.

Xander turned to Willow, Giles, and Jesse. "Okay, you guys start sneaking people out the back. I'll run distraction."

Giles pushed his glasses back up his nose. "I can't let you do that, Xander. I'll do it."

Xander silently held his hands up, showing the plated gloves. Gile's eyes narrowed behind the artificial lenses, his mind working furiously.

"Very well, but we will talk after this," Giles promised him. The three began organising the mortal teenagers who were still in shock and therefore easy to order around.

Buffy was now fighting Luke. It wasn't going so well, as she was thrown into a pile of empty boxes. Xander couldn't help her, however. The other vampires were trying to dogpile him.

Trying. They hadn't mastered the art of all attacking at once.

Xander switched stakes as his current one maxed out. While the enscribed stakes were extremely good at killing vampires and absorbing their energies, overfilling them tended to be a very bad idea.

"You'll tire out eventually!," a male vampire sneered at Xander.

"By then, it'll be daylight," Xander bluffed. There wasn't much hope of him lasting that long.

A female vamp jumped Xander, trying to wrap her arms and legs around her. He worked his arm, which was trapped between them, up. Xander worked the stake slowly into her heart, then shrugged off the statue of dust.

This simple act did wonders for scaring off the remaining two vampires.

By now, Buffy had staked Luke. The world was safe (from the Master at least) for another night.

Giles, Jesse and Willow all sat down heavily. While they had not been fighting, towards the end some people had gotten belligerent. It had mainly been the people of drinking age.

"I take it it's over?," Giles asked.

"It better be," Jesse said. "I'm pooped."

"Did we win?," Willow asked.

"Well, we averted the Apocalypse. I give us points for that," Buffy allowed.

"Willow, why is it that Jesse has similar interests to Xander, but you do not?," Giles asked. It was one of those questions that occur to you at a strange time, long after the appropriate time has passed.

"Because I have good marks and they don't," Willow smirked.

Chapter 6

Jesse was looking for Xander at school the next day with a semi-worried look on his face.

He didn't find his friend until morning tea time.

"Xander! Uh, what are Twelveheart's Scrolls about?," the teenage walking hormone asked.

Xander looked up from the small brown book that Jesse had given him a few days ago. "Music spells, I think. Why?"

Willow found the two boys. "Hey, Xander. Get that Trig book okay?"

"Hold on a moment, Will? Now, Jesse, who mentioned the Scrolls?"

"Uh, the Bronze's owner did," Jesse said. "Something about some English guy doing the final rite from them tonight or something."

"Weird," Xander thought out loud. "Twelveheart is pretty obscure. Anything else get said?"


"Uh, Xander, Trig?," Willow asked. She had no intentions of going through the next grade alone while Xander and Jesse had to repeat the current one.

"Sorry, Wills, I've been busy with, uh, stuff," Xander said. He had a look of panicked guilt on his face. Jesse was nervously looking off into space about five feet past Willow's eyes, slightly up and to the left.

The redhead sighed. "Guys, I'm gonna come around to Jesse's place tonight and I expect to see you two there for study."

"Right, right," Jesse muttered. "I say we go find Giles and look up this final rite thing."

"We get study period, and we use it to actually study. Who'da thunk?," Xander joked.


"Who?," Giles asked. "I don't recall... oh! Here they are!"

The Watcher dug up a scroll, upsetting a pile of highlighted photocopies in the process. Xander took it from him and quickly scrolled through most of it to the final rites.

"Let's see... how to sing true love... how to get a good voice... here we go. Final Rite."

The four of them looked through the hard-to-read Olde English.

"Oh well," Giles said. "This shouldn't be too bad. All you lot listen to is bad love songs, in the end."

The three teenagers looked at each other nervously, before Willow spoke up.

"It... that is..."

"What?," Giles asked. "It might be embarassing, but hardly debilitating."

"Tonight is a theme night," Xander explained. "Northern European black metal and American Rock."

"Oh," Giles said, hands shaking as he cleaned his glasses. "Oh bugger."

"What?," Willow said. "The music sucks, but it isn't that bad, is it?"

"Best case," Xander said, "Everyone suicides. Worst case, they kill, mutilate and spindle everyone in town *then* suicide."

"He's right," Jesse said. "I know of at least one song, for example, that sings about killing all the christians, then getting thoroughly drunk."

"What's this?," Buffy asked as she walked into the Library. "Who's killing who?"

Giles briefly explained the problem to her.

"Oh," Buffy said. "People actually listen to that stuff?"

"Some people from L.A. come here each month just for Metal Night at the Bronze," Willow explained. "Sad but true."

"Can't we just steal their CD's or something?," Buffy suggested.

"No dice," Xander said. "I know the DJ. He plays vinyl records, which are bulky and incredibly hard to steal without being obvious."

"What about breaking them?," was Buffy's next suggestion.

Xander looked at Jesse. Jesse looked at Xander. They both then looked at Buffy.

"You have *got* to be joking," Jesse said.

"If you break Carl's records, he'll break your back," Xander said. "I'm not making this up, either. Last time someone spilt twink on his copy of the Black Album, he broke both their arms in multiple places."

"I guess we'll have to s-stop this British fellow from casting Twelveheart's Final Rite," Giles said.

Xander looked at the scroll again. "I think I can do a counter to it."

"You think so?," Jesse said. "Magic Hoover Rune?"

"Magic Tarbaby Rune."

Chapter 7

"Welcome in the pain
It's a glorious hour
Say hello to the hate
Tap into the Power."

-Suicidal Tendencies, "Tap Into The Power"


Xander handed Jesse the stylus. It resembled a pencil, but without a core of lead. He then pulled his shirt off, showing a smooth, unblemished back with a chain going around his neck. His front was out of Jesse's view.

"Okay, now just as it's sketched on the paper," he said. "You can't make any mistake with this."

Jesse closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Are you sure about this, man? I mean, your design is like nothing I've ever seen."

"Do it."

Jesse started carefully drawing the stylus along Xander's back, a harsh black smoke rising from where the tip touched Xander's flesh. The teenager took his shirt, putting it in between his teeth.

Ten minutes later, Jesse took a step back to inspect his work. A design was sketched over Xander's right shoulderblade. A large X was there, the lines of the X composed of numerous small characters. Jesse's hand hurt from the small movements.

"Break, man."

"Sure thing," Xander said. His face was covered with slick sweat.

"How do you not scream out or anything?," Jesse said. "I know that Oemac's Wand hurts like hell."

Xander smiled weakly. "This has to be done, so I can't scream."

Jesse gave his friend a hard look. "You're not telling me something. You've got the Deadening on that chain, don't you?"


"Bigtime," Jesse said. "You know that has a price."

"Everything has a price," Xander said. "Get on with it."

Jesse sighed, and picked up the stylus. There were still large gaps in between the arms of the X to fill in. Eventually, the marking would have a large four sided diamond perimeter, filled with the design inside with the X reaching to the midpoint of each side of the diamond. Tendrils extended from the design, reaching up towards Xander's neck, either arm, and a larger tendril downwards towards the rest of his body. They would not be completed in this session.

Except for a single tendril reaching down his right arm to his index finger.

Smoke curled out from beneath Xander's door, mingling with the smell of old paper and ink.


<< "Pushit", Tool, Aenima (8:30 into the song, fading) >>

<< "Dusk And Her Embrace", Cradle Of Filth, Lovecraft & Witch Hearts >>

Giles winced as the moderately bad song finished, only for a worse one to start. He looked at Willow and Buffy.

"And people really listen to this stuff?," he asked with tones of disbelief. The Watcher could barely make himself heard.

"They're not human!," Buffy shouted back. Her Slayerly lungs made her heard easily.

A few leatherclad bikers near her grinned at the small group at this comment. The bikers were a good indicator of the tone of the Bronze for tonight. It was almost impossible to name a specific group as composing the majority of the crowd -- all sorts of people were there. Bikers, students, workers. The only common theme was the lack of yellow or irridescent colours.

"Where is Xander?!," Willow screamed. "Him and Jesse should be here!"

"There they are!," Buffy yelled, pointing across the Bronze.

Jesse had black jeans on, with a black Tshirt saying "All Hail Cthulhu!" on it. A black bag was slung on his back. Besides him, Xander had on blue jeans with a flat black Tshirt. Xander's shirt had the right sleeve and

part of the back cut off, to show the design burnt onto his skin.

The two teenagers made their way to the Watcher, Slayer and the Hacker. The Bronze, packed, was easier to get through than when it was moderately filled with high schoolers. Occasionally, a person noticed Xander's right shoulderblade and flinched out of their way.

"About bloody time!," Giles shouted at the two. "The Rite is starting!"

"We had to do something," Xander said. Somehow, he made himself heard talking normally.

"What? I thought you needed to get your Tarbaby thingy?," Buffy asked.

Xander turned around. Jesse pointed at the design wordlessly.

"Good Lord," Giles said. "You must be joking."

"Nope," Xander said. Jesse produced the glass cube out of his bag. The light from the energies of ten vampires slain using the enscribed stakes shone dully in the darkened club.

"You're a fool, Xander," Giles reproached him.

"I'm twice the fool it takes to do this," Xander grinned. "Jesse, press the top facet of the cube against the center of the Rune."

Giles grabbed Jesse's arm. "No! We don't know what--"

"Giles. We need the energy to start the Rune. It's like starting a car," Jesse explained.

Buffy and Willow were looking rather lost. (To be honest, Buffy was hoping for a few vampires so she would have something she understood.)

"What is this song about?," Willow shouted at Buffy.

The slayer listened to the song for awhile, her keen hearing managing to discern what the lyrics actually were. A faint look of disgust crossed her face.

"You *really* don't want to know," she yelled at Willow.

"Yes I do!"

"Some kind of seduction, I think."

Giles released Jesse's hand. "If this goes wrong, it's your head."

Jesse applied the design on the glass cube to the center of the Tarbaby Rune etched on Xander's back. The cube flared as the energy was sucked into the Rune, refining the design from smoky lines into black inlaid metal.

Giles drew in a sharp breath as he observed the change. Lines of power made themselves obvious now. Purple strips of brilliance, like neon signage, flashed across the steel construction of the Bronze.


<< "Dusk And Her Embrace", Cradle Of Filth, Lovecraft & Witch Hearts (Finish, fading into next song.) >>

<< "Bleed For Ancient Gods", Amon Amarth, The Avenger >>


Willow and Buffy had wandered off, looking for something to do. Buffy looked at the DJ stationed up on the stage.

He was thin and tall, with black hair and blue eyes. His mouth had a strip of duct tape over it, his face contortioning at odd times. The turntables and mixer were on a heavy wooden table, the amplifiers for the large speakers underneath. To each side of the table were immense horn speakers, stacks of smaller and more normal speakers to the outer side.

"What's the taped mouth for?," Buffy asked Willow. She hated being new to town.

"That's Carl," Willow said, as if that explained everything.


"School madman," Willow expanded. "He knows stuff. You know those really bad Lovecraft knockoffs where the main character goes mad?"

"Yeah?," Buffy said, although she had never read or heard of Lovecraft.

"He's like that. Stole a book off Xander that Xander hadn't checked yet."

Buffy made a mental note to never hassle Giles' spiritual successor.

Willow winced at the lyrics. "I think I liked it better when I couldn't really understand the song."

The Slayer rolled her eyes. "I still say I could take him."


<< "Bleed For Ancient Gods", Amon Amarth, The Avenger (Fading into next song.) >>

<< "Blood Tears", Blind Guardian, Nightfall On Middle Earth >>


Jesse looked around. "Okay, I can understand the demony looking people from the first song and the Rite. I can understand the people with large swords and axes from the second song and the Rite. But where on *earth* did the vampirey people come from? I mean, they don't look like our vamps."

Giles pushed his glasses further up his nose. "Remarkable, an entirely new breed. I can only conjecture t-that people, um, change into what they *perceive* rather than the original intentions of the artist."

Xander rolled his eyes. "The people *suiciding* are from the current song. Giles, Jesse, go and touch the stakes to them. The Magic Hoover Rune should work on them. But *DON'T* scratch them."

"Why didn't we use these in the first place?," Giles asked, looking at the enscribed stake with new respect.

"Too dangerous," Jesse immediately said. "And too many people."

"Get going!," Xander snapped. He could see at least one biker with a switchblade and suicidal tendencies.

They got.

Xander reached for the closest track of purple power, touching it with the line of black metal reaching from the design to his index finger. The line flared, as the purple energy darkened from purple to a deep blue-black, being absorbed by the design.


"Stop!," Willow yelled at Buffy.

The diminuitive Slayer was not stopped. So about ten students and bikers mobbed her when it was starting to look like she was about to attack Carl.

"They don't like people stopping the music," Willow belatedly explained as Buffy took a black eye. Sure, she was stronger, but her opposition was somewhat used to fighting together.


<< "Blood Tears", Blind Guardian, Nightfall In Middleearth (Fading into next song) >>

<< "Funeral In Carpathia", Cradle Of Filth, Lovecraft & Witch Hearts >>


Xander stepped away from the purple line of power. The power stretched from it's predefined route, disrupting the Final Rite. It was entrapped by the Tarbaby Rune, unable to move away.

He smirked.

The lines across the Bronze started to fade as Xander continued to absorb the power that was enabling the Final Rite. The other spellcaster put more power into the Rite; more for Xander to absorb.

He followed the lines with his eyes, tracing them back to the side of the stage. A simple weave of lighter purple lines, separate from the Rite, hid the caster from normal vision. Xander absorbed the weave in seconds. The caster was a middle-aged woman. He recognised her from a visit to one of Willow's friends; Amy from high schools Mum.

Xander reached out to her. The woman cringed back.

"Don't touch me!," she yelled. The woman was almost inaudible over the immense speakers just in front of them.

"Stop the Rite," Xander said. "Or I absorb you, too."

"I... if I do that, I won't...," the woman looked torn between stopping, and the penalty for stopping.

Xander sighed, and applied his right hand's index finger to her forehead for a fraction of a moment. He absorbed enough magic to knock her unconscious, then kicked the spell components into disarray.


Carl put a Slayer record on the second turntable, fading down Funeral. He was getting bored of that sound. Time for a change.


<< "Funeral In Carpathia", Cradle Of Filth, Lovecraft & Witch Hearts (Fading into next song.) >>

<< "Bloodline", Slayer, God Hates Us All >>


Giles slumped back as they stopped the last of the suiciders. It was just as well Xander managed to stop the Rite before *this* song got going. The other songs had only hinted at the Nosferatu; this one was damn blatant about it.

Now, for the damage control.

"Bloody lovely," he snarled. Jesse gave him a startled look.

Chapter 8

<< "Bloodline", Slayer, God Hates Us All >>

Giles slumped back as they stopped the last of the suiciders. It was just as well Xander managed to stop the Rite before *this* song got going. The other songs had only hinted at the Nosferatu; this one was damn blatant about it.

Now, for the damage control.

"Bloody lovely," he snarled. Jesse gave him a startled look.

"What?," Jesse asked. It was the first time he'd ever heard the British man swear.

"Look around. We've got at least ten different types of vampire -- all having their soul, thus being rather grey as far as the Slayer is concerned, a dozen barbarian berserkers, what looks like some demons, werewolves...," Giles trailed off.

"Giles! Do I make with the Slaying?," Buffy asked. "I mean, this place is half full of vamps now!"

Xander joined them, dragging a middle aged woman behind him. He had one of his plated gloves on his right hand. "I don't think we should. Telling them what they are working our way from there should work."

"Xander! What are you doing with Amy's Mum?!," Willow asked Xander, half scolding him. She had a slight frown on her face.

"She's the caster," Xander said.

"You're joking," Giles said, disbelieving.

"Nope. Looks like Carl is realising what's happening," Xander noted, pointing at the DJ setup on the stage.


<< "Bloodline", Slayer, God Hates Us All (Fading into next song) >>

<< "Phony Smiles and Fake Hellos", Black Label Society >>

Carl stopped flicking through one of his bins of records, looking at his hands.


There were talons on his hands.

GODDAMMIT! Those things were ripping up his record covers!

He continued flicking through his records, but far more carefully.


The already loud sound got even louder, as the distorted guitars started chugging along to the beat. The metal stairs that the five were under started to visibly vibrate.

"Nope," Jesse said. "The elevator doesn't reach the top floor. He's a can short of a sixpack, a record short of a collection."

Giles groaned at the last comment.

Buffy looked at the DJ. "His teeth have grown into fangs, no other changes besides the claws."

"At least we've fixed the suicidal people," Willow pointed out.

"Yes, there is that," Giles sighed. "If anyone has any ideas, they are welcome to contribute them."

"I've got one," Jesse said.

"Can't be any worse than what we've planned already," Xander said. "Okay, hit us with it."

Jesse departed the group for the stage.

"We're doomed," Willow groaned.


Carl looked up, as he felt someone tapping on his shoulder. Weird. The crowd knew he didn't do requests. He looked up. Oh. Great.


"Hey man, can I make an announcement?," Jesse asked. "It's... well, you remember when you stole that book off Xander?"

Carl nodded. He was unable to speak to Jesse, as his mouth was still duct taped shut.

"It's like that. Important," Jesse not-explained.

Carl rolled his eyes, but turned the music down and handed the mike to Jesse after he turned it on.

"Testing... right. Uh, Twelveheart's Final Rite has been active for the last three or four tunes," Jesse began, "and it's affected some of you, as you can visibly see. This is not a joke. This is deadly serious. If you even think you've been changed, go see the really old English guy in the tweed under the stairs and Xander."

He handed the mike back to Carl, who then immediately turned the music back up to 'fetal position in a kickdrum in a concert' levels.

Well. That explained the talons, Carl thought to himself. He felt his neck.

That would explain the quite recent lack of pulse too.


<< "Phony Smiles and Fake Hellos", Black Label Society (Fading into next song) >>

<< "Machine Screw", Type O Negative, Bloody Kisses (at end, fading into next song) >>

<< "Starfuckers", Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile >>

Xander and Giles gave Jesse very nasty looks when he got back to them. They were now being mobbed by drunk bikers and worried students.

"Look, all come with me tomorrow to the hospital, we'll prove your new status there, and we can sort legal matters out then. All those who can't come tomorrow day, come tomorrow evening to the hospital," Xander shouted above the music. His face was pale, and he was sweating slightly.

Giles, though unwilling to allow the newly changed to live, could understand their unwillingness to die. He gave a short listing of the vulnerabilities that he knew of for the vampires, then cautioned the newly made barbarians on their newly short fuses.

"Look, I don't bloody care if you didn't want this. It isn't my bloody fault! If you want to bitch at someone, go bitch at...," Giles paused, then looked at Amy's mother. While he prided himself on his selfcontrol normally, this was anything but.

"Darla," she whispered, barely audible over Trent Reznor. "She said she was working for the Master."

"There," Giles said triumphantly.

"Great, man, just great," a biker said. "Tom is gonna kill me when I can't come to the garage tomorrow."

"Tom Wilson?," Willow hesitantly asked.

The biker nodded.

"Mr Wilson'd let you work at night," Willow said, almost as quiet as Amy's mother.

The biker and his companions grinned, showing their new fangs. "Thanks, babe!"

Willow flinched at the long canines, and the bikers winced back.

"Here's my number," Giles said to the crowd, writing it on a sheet of paper. "Make a copy and ring me if you want. You've all come into an unsettling world, I'm afraid. There are numerous demonic vampires who would love to kill you all just to see your blood flow."

"You're kidding," a student said. He had brown hair and green eyes. "They're like the Sabbat?"

Giles paused to recall what the boy was talking about. Ah, yes, that role playing game, Vampire the Play or Masquerade or something. "Something like that, yes."

The boy grinned, then held out a hand experimentally. It turned into shadow, then solidified.

"Cool, very cool," his female companion said.

"Looks like we've just gotten a few dozen more Slayer-ettes," Jesse said.

Buffy gave him a weirded look.

Chapter 9

"Looks like we've just gotten a few dozen more Slayer-ettes," Jesse said.

Buffy gave him a weirded look.

"Jesse, they're *vampires* and *werewolves,*" Buffy pointed out. "They're the enemy."

"Buffy, they've still got their souls. They're fully cognizant of who they are," Xander said. "Demons and demon vampires don't have souls. It's still open season on them."

"Be vewwy vewwy quiet," Jesse joked.

"I'm Swaying Wampires!," Xander continued.

Willow laughed at this, happy for a break in the seriousness.

<< "Starfuckers", Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile (Fading into next song.) >>

<< "Witch Hunt", mdfmk, MDFMK >>

Giles looked around. "Well, um, the worst seems to have passed and Buffy still has to do her normal patrols."

The short bleach blonde gave him an imploring look. "Giles! C'mon! Can't I have the night off?"

Xander laughed as he watched the Watcher and the Slayer absently leave the dance club. "Sounds like she's asking her mum for the car keys for the night."

"Yeah," Willow agreed. "Coke?"


The next day found Giles and the four teenagers at the hospital come lunchtime, sitting on the steps outside. Xander still had his glove with the metal plates on his right hand.

"I knew they wouldn't come," Giles morosely said. "Why would they?"

"Point," Willow said. "Chip?"

"Thanks," Xander said, taking one from the newspaper. "They can still go out in public during the day. It's the pale and unpulsating I'm worried about."

Jesse looked puzzled at this. He took a piece of fish from Willow, who took one of his sandwiches in retaliation. "Why? I mean, they have to come, or... I don't know."

"They could feel like they have to act as society expects them to act," Willow said. The others gave her a look. "What? Mum, psychologist, remember?"

"I still say we should have slayed them," Buffy said. "Much easier that way."

"Buffy, Buffy," Xander sighed. "We really must educate you in the ways of your typical American. Americus Commonus, a rather subintelligent species with rare examples of shining brilliance."

He gestured around, indicating all of the small group.

"Okay, gotcha," Buffy said.

"Besides, most of them would be World of Darkness vamps," Jesse said. "They don't stake."

Giles blinked. "They don't?"


The five sat in silence at that.

"How does one slay them, then?"

"Sunlight, fire, beheading," Jesse said. "Crosses are no good either."

"Hey, Buffy, done that biology assignment yet?," Willow asked.

Buffy grimaced. "Anything but bugs. Mr Gregory is a nice guy, though."

Giles suddenly remembered something. "Xander, could I have a word with you alone?"

"Sure thing," the teenager agreed amiably. "I need to ask you something anyway."

Giles got up, wandering off a bit with Xander following. Jesse, Willow and Buffy began fig--er, redistributing Xander's fish and chips.

"Xander, I don't believe you're doing a wise thing," Giles began. "The path you've chosen could--"

"I don't care," Xander cut him off. "How would we have beaten that Final Rite last night if I hadn't? What would you have done? Some Wicca thing, lots of stinky herbs, hoping some higher deity will graciously do as you ask, hoping someone won't kick your spell components into a pile of salt and blood?"

The Watcher mentally gave Xander a point for that. "Be that as it may, you're opening the door to--"

"You're the last person to lecture me on that, Mr Eyghon Summoner," Xander snapped. He didn't take this kind of crap from his parents, he sure wasn't going to take it from someone who should have understood where he was coming from. "I don't summon anything. All of my power is drawn from myself, or from power floating around the air."

Giles looked relieved at this. "That's what I was worried about, Xander, and it is a relief to hear that you've taken care of that... possibility. Now, what did you want to ask me about?"

Xander pulled the glove off. The line of flexible black metal had a purple sheen to it.

"I need you to inscribe the control and interface rune to connect to this," he said. "It's too complex for Jesse, and you're the only person I trust to do it right."


"Oh, it's like no problem," Buffy said. "There I am, graveyard, hanging around looking tasty, and this vampire in plaid flares and a neon green jacket comes up to me..."

"What'd he say?," Willow asked. The redhead was determined to keep patrolling with Buffy, if she had this much fun.

"Where'd you go shopping? The bargain bin?"

"I don't get it," Jesse said.

"Ne-ver mind," Buffy said. "So, where is there to go at night besides the Bronze?"

"For those who have cars, L.A.," Jesse grinned. "And then there's the famous stay at home option."

"The fun never stops," Buffy groaned.

Jesse looked up at where Giles was talking to Xander.

"Hey, if we sneak off now, we could skip school this afternoon and go play at the arcade," he suggested.

The three quietly picked up the fish and chips and snuck away to pound the crap out of some digital badness.


The next day, they found they had a new teacher for biology. A seriously hot female teacher.

"Where'd she come from?," Jesse wondered. "Do you think I have a chance?"

"There's something wrong about her," Xander said. Buffy nodded.

"What's with the hat, Xander?," Willow asked. "You don't normally like hats. But if you do now that's okay."

"Tell you later," Xander said.

"Where'd Mr Gregory go?," Buffy said. "He was a good guy."


Willow was cut off as the new teacher came into the room to start teaching.

"My name is Natalie French, and I will be substituting for Dr. Gregory," she announced.

"Do you know when he's coming back?," Buffy asked.

"No, I don't, um, Buffy. They just call and tell me where they want me," Ms French sighed.

"I can tell you where I want you," Jesse muttered.

"Excuse me... Jesse?," the teacher asked.

Jesse blushed and went quiet. Ms French picked up a plastic container with a green ugly bug in it, displaying it to the class.

"The praying mantis is a fascinating creature," Ms French began. "Forced to live alone. Who can tell me why? Buffy?"

"Because it's so ugly," Xander said to Willow, who nodded in agreement.

"Well, the words bug ugly kinda sprung to mind," Buffy smirked.

"There is nothing ugly about these unique creatures. The reason they live alone is because they're cannibals!"

And so the lesson continued.

Chapter 10

*(After Jesse's announcement in the Bronze)*

<< "Starfuckers", Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile >>

The student pulled his friends and some of the biker vampires into a corner when Xander and his group left the Bronze. Carl decided to leave the music playing for now and joined them. In total, they were about fourteen. The student didn't bother grabbing the other newly made vampires -- they all looked like bad Bram Stoker knock-offs.

"Whaddaya want, kid?," a biker growled.

"I don't know about you, but I'm not waiting around to see if that guy and his friends change their minds," the student began. "That short chick was pretty insistant on killing us all."

"Continue," a thin man in a leather jacket said. "You've got our attention."

"The new werewolves are already starting to look at us sideways," the student's girlfriend continued for him. "We have to organise in some manner. I assume you're all Whitewolf breed?"

Looking around, all of the new vampire nodded except for one sad-looking individual, who was tolerated for the moment.

"I'm Lasombra," the student said, "and you will address me as such"

The first biker nodded. "Right. I'm Brujah. Well, that's my Clan."

"Kick-ass," the second biker grinned. "Bill, so'm I. I'm the Euro, by the way."

The newly dubbed Lasombra's girlfriend spoke up. "I'm Ventrue in Clan, and my name is Elizabeth."

"Tremere," a thin student said. "Timothy Smith."

"A-Adam," the non-Whitewolf vampire said hesitantly. "Rice breed."

Lasombra thought about it for half a second. The Rice vamp looked like a natural born follower.

"Adam, you can stay under my Clan for the time being. There is no one to challenge my leadership of the Lasombra?"

No one spoke up. The Rice vamp looked like someone had given him a million dollars. Lasombra loved it when something clicked like he wanted.

A muffled noise came from Carl. Everyone looked at him before they realised the psychotic DJ was laughing behind the duct tape gag.

"Malkav," everyone except for Carl said at the same time.

"And the sad part is there's no real change," the Ventrue said, shaking her head.

In the end, there were two Brujah, both bikers, two Gangrel, a biker and a student, no Nosferatu, two female Toreador, students, one Tremere, one female Ventrue, one Lasombra, one female Tzimisce (a female student), a male Assamite student, and the Rice vampire. They did not have any werewolves in their group. Most of the werewolves were bikers.

Carl left for a moment, to change the record as the song finished.

<< "Starfuckers", Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile (Fading into next song.) >>

<< "Eraser (Denial, Realisation), Nine Inch Nails, Further Down The Spiral >>

"We have to agree to the Masquerade," Ventrue said. "And I'm not saying this out of RPG'ing. The public isn't ready for vampires."

"I hear that," the Gangrel biker muttered. He was an african-american. "They ain't ready for black people either in some parts, and it's been hundreds of years."

"I say we fuck the rest of the Traditions laid out in the game," a Brujah biker said. He was slightly drunk. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

The student smiled. He could feel the Rite still doing it's work in him.


*(Day after the day after the Final Rite)*

"No vamps, eh?," Buffy said. "I didn't think any would come to the hospital like you suggested."

Xander and Giles gave her apologetic smiles. "Well, we could only hope."

Willow got a determined look on her face -- close to Resolve, but not quite.


"Sorry, Will, but we have to hide our passionate love affair for a bit longer."

Willow rolled up her English notebook and thwapped Xander on the head with it.

"Explain the hat? You normally hate them."

Xander grinned sheepishly. "Promise not to get mad?"

"I promise to understand," Willow said.

He took off his hat. Most of his hair had been shaved off, and Xander now had a design of inlaid black metal on his scalp, a tendril curling down around his neck to join with the Tarbaby Rune on his right shoulderblade.

"Ewww!," Willow said.

"Major ewww," Buffy agreed.

"Cool!," Jesse said. "Is your hair going to grow back? Who did it?"

Giles tried to quieten the teenagers. "It was necessary for Xander to control the... Tarbaby rune. He asked me to inscribe the pattern, as it was more complex than he believed you could achieve, Jesse."

The Watcher's distaste at a joke of a name like 'Tarbaby Rune' was almost visible. But not quite.

By now, Buffy was into the morbid curiousity stage. She touched one of the lines, jumping as a little arc of purple energy leapt from the line to her fingertip. "Owch!"

"Pretty cool, huh?," Xander said. "Just the thing to pull chicks at the Bronze."

Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them. "Now, as fascinating as this is, we must deal with the more immediate problem. Doctor Gregory."

Jesse immediately went pale. "I... I can't... I never saw anything like..."

Xander patted his friend on the back. "Think of that Shoggoth Carl tried to summon. That was worse."

This did not improve Jesse's state of mind.

"Who would wanna hurt Doctor Gregory?," Willow asked. She had rather liked the scientist, who was a geniunely good person.

"Uh, he didn't have any enemies on the staff that I'm aware of," Giles said. "He was a civilized man. I liked him."

Xander rolled his eyes mentally. You'd like anyone who also drank tea, he thought.

"So did I," Buffy said.

"Well, we're gonna find out who did this," Willow said, semi-resolve face brought out. "We'll find them and we'll stop them."

"Count on it," the Slayer said.

"What do we know?," Giles asked.

"Oh, not a lot...," Buffy trailed off. "He was killed on campus the last day we saw him."

"How do you work that one out?," the Watcher inquired.

"He didn't change his clothes," Xander said. "This is a question that no one particularly wants to hear, but... where did they put his head?"

"Think shoggoths, think shoggoths," Jesse muttered. He jumped in his seat about a foot. "Don't think of shoggoths!"

Buffy suddenly recalled something Angel had told her. "There's a vamp with a big fork for a hand in Sunnydale at the moment."

Giles blinked. "I read about that! He displeased the Master, and cut off his hand in penance."

"So, why kill our Bio teacher?," Xander asked. "It isn't as if Doctor Gregory was Doctor Frankenstein, human flesh stitcher."

Jesse thought about that a minute. "Okay, that was worse than seeing the Doctor, yet not as bad as the shoggoths. I'll think about that for a moment."

The others ignored him for the moment until he came out of the terror stage. Xander gave him a donut.

"There was a homeless man shredded in Weatherly Park," Giles said, holding up a newspaper. "Perhaps you could check that out, Buffy."

"Oh yeah," Buffy said, recalling another thing. "I came across a really weird vampire last night. It had a wolf's tail when it looked human. Well, mostly human."

"Was it a student?," Xander asked, a sinking feeling coming over him.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "How'd you guess?"

"Gangrel," Jesse said, coming back into the conversation. "They can shapeshift. He probably forgot to shift back completely."

The Slayer gave the Watcher's spiritual sucessor a triumphant look. "I told you we should have Slayed them."

"That's slain, Buffy," Giles corrected her.


Chapter 11

"What-ev-er!," Buffy said in response to Giles' vocab correction.

"Hey, Xander," Jesse said. After a response from his friend, he continued. "The new teacher, Ms French, asked me over to her house for private lessons!"

He somehow managed to waggle his eyebrows.

"Are you repressing the shagrugs?," Willow asked.

"Shoggoths, Will," Xander said. "Ever seen a shoggoth? They mix right in with contemporary garden decor."

"Er, in actual fact, they look like--"

Giles shut up when the teenagers gave him a collective Look.

"Ah. An example of the famous American wit. I see."

"Hot teacher, private lessons?," Jesse prompted.

"We'd better pay attention," Xander said. "He isn't getting his fix of adoration for scoring."

"Does it really count if it's with a teacher?," Buffy asked. "I mean that's like Willow scoring with Giles."

"Hey!," Willow said. "No offense Giles, but you're waaaay too old."

"So, what's the what with the lessons, Jesse?," Xander asked.

"Don't know so far."

"Keep an eye on her, man. I'm getting a baaaad feeling," Xander said. Buffy nodded.


"At least Luke atoned for failing so miserably," the Master said. "Darla, what have you learnt about the boy?"

"He's powerful, Master," Darla began. "He learnt of our plan for Metal Night, and stopped it. The boy sucked in the power somehow."

"Fascinating. How many suiciders? How many murderers?," the Master asked, his tone dry.

Darla didn't think her Master was wise to ignore the boy like this, but knew it wouldn't be wise to try and correct him after he'd brushed the youth off.

"The suiciders were stopped, and so were the berserkers. Ahhhh... you're not going to like my next bit of news."

The vampiress in the catholic schoolgirl get up was looking distinctly nervous.

"What?," Master Nest asked. "It can't be any worse than what's happened already."

"Saul can tell you more," Darla said, passing the buck. "He's followed the problems."

A vampire dressed in a waistcoat, pants and a dress shirt stepped forwards. Little goldrimmed glasses were perched on his nose. He referred to a notebook constantly as he reported to the Master.

"Due to unforeseen musical selection, a number of those present at the Metal Night at the Bronze were changed into vampires," Saul began.

"Where's the problem?," the Master asked. "We take them as minions, and there is no problem."

"They aren't Aurelius vampires," Saul said bluntly. "They have souls. They are of at least seven different breeds, the most organised of which are the Whitewolf vampires. All the other groups have drifted apart, solitary for the main."

The Master looked faintly surprised at this. Darla didn't like that; the last time he had been surprised, he had gotten trapped in this church under Sunnydale.

"Tell me more about these Whitewolf vampires, then."

"They're based on the vampires from the Whitewolf role playing game 'Vampire: the Masquerade'," Saul said. "Within the breed, there are nine clans currently existing, each of which has unique abilities. The leader of the breed is a man calling himself Lasombra, after the Clan in the game. He can do almost anything with shadows. His co-leader is a Ventrue clan female, a lineage which in the game was renowned for their leadership and politicking."

Saul paused to clear his throat.

"There are two females of the clan Toreador, quite useless. They're artistes, high society. Two members of the clan Gangrel are present, capable of shapeshifting. A Clan Tremere male, capable of magic--"

The Master interrupted Saul. "Magic? Can we use him?"

Saul shook his head. "Unlikely. The Tremere won't abandon surety for a chance with you, and you won't be able to coerce him."

The Master didn't punish Saul for insolence; the bookish vampire knew more on the subject than he did. "Continue."

"One female Tzimisce Clan, capable of fleshcrafting, or molding flesh and bone with her hands. One male Assamite, assassin, capable of creating a sphere of silence. And one... Malkavian."

Distaste coloured Saul's words. "Crazy, much like Angelus' childe Drusilla. The others call him Malkav from what we've observed. There is another vampire, of a completely different breed, which Lasombra has taken under his wing so to speak. My advice is to observe them for now with a minimum of interference."

The Master thought about the news. "The last thing we needed was another insane vampire."

He flicked a hand at the two vampires. "Leave me for now. Bring me something to eat -- preferably young -- and then go and observe these Whitewolf breed vampires."


Later that night, the gang minus Jesse were in the school library. Again.

"So basically, Jesse's on a date with the Bug Lady," Xander summed up.

"Indeed," Giles said.

"It was sooo creepy, seeing her head do that Exorcist thing," Buffy rambled.

"I go in and drain her?," Xander asked. "Darnit. Bug people don't have innate magic."

"Have you had your daily twinkie?," Willow asked.

"Ah, no," Xander admitted.

"The Slayer will have to do this the old fashioned way," Giles stated dryly. "I have a tape with high pitched sonar that should disable the creature."

"Does that tape thingy work on other things?," Buffy asked. "I always wanted a boombox."

Chapter 12

Jesse looked nervously around. He had arrived at Ms French's house for those private lessons, and had thought it was going well when she gave him a martini. A drugged martini. Jesse was out like a light.

Next thing he knew, he was in a cage in her basement, with a jock in the cage next to him.

"Man, you've got to let me out!," the jock hissed. Jesse vaguely remembered his name -- Blayne. "She... she lays... and then she... oh God, I don't want to die that way!"

The walking hormone looked across the room. A giant Praying Mantis was doing... something.

"Ms French?," he asked, hoping against an affirmative.

"Call me Natalie," the bug replied.

"You've got nothing on shoggoths," Jesse said happily.


Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander were now hunting down Ms French, the wayward biology teaching bug lady.

They weren't doing too hot until they heard a little girl screaming.

"Let's go!," Buffy shouted.

"Err, how do we know it's Ms French?," Giles asked.

"Easy. Even if it isn't, it's win-win for us."


The gang burst into the basement, machetes and boombox in hand. Giles started the tape of bat sonar.

"... it is important not only to file alphabetically..."

"GILES!," everyone minus Ms French and Blayne yelled. He quickly flipped the tape while Buffy engaged with the Bug.

The Slayer was losing to the praying mantis' superior speed until Giles hit play. On the *right* side of the tape.

From there on it was a doddle. In no time flat, Buffy was knee deep in ichor and bodyparts.

"Well, I'm glad that's over," Giles said. "But where is the girl?"

"Girl?," Jesse asked, puzzled.

"We heard a girl screaming so came running like our butts were on fire," Xander said.

Jesse wordlessly pointed at the jock, grinning like mad.

Blushing badly, Blayne decided to make like a tree and leave. Buffy tailed him, to make sure he could get home safely.

"Proud of ya, Jess," Xander said. "I figured you'd be scared spitless. Or crapless. I was hoping for spitless cos well, that's cleaner."

Jesse continued his grin. "I remembered something. Praying mantises have *nothing* on Shoggoths."

Everyone groaned.


"Okay, you heard about Tremere?," Lasombra asked Elizabeth. They were curled up together in bed.

"No," she replied, legs wrapped around her mate. "What about him?"

"He's taken a childe," the shadow vampire said. "Physics student."

"Not a goth, I hope?," the female asked. "I can't stand them."

"Neither can he, Lizzy," Lasombra said, caressing her back. "It set me to thinking, though. We need more people if we're going to shoot straight to the top. Mortal servants, if nothing else."

"We'll start small," Lizzy said. If she heard someone else besides Lasombra call her that, she'd rip their face off. "Depose the Mayor."

"Sounds good to me," Lasombra said. His hands reached lower on her back, then they didn't talk for quite awhile.


Xander jumped up and down the next day in the Library, hassling Giles.

"Don't forget, you promised," Xander said. He still had a baseball cap on his head, hiding the black metal lines. The youth had replaced the metal plated glove for an unadorned black one while at school.

"I know," the Watcher said. "It's not as if I'd miss going to Omar's boot sale."

On Saturday, the two were going to a small, invitation only book trading event in Los Angeles. Giles had promised a ride to Xander, who was quite excited. Every other time Omar had arranged a boot sale, his parent's had been in Vegas, unable and unwilling to transport him.

"Have you sorted out your photocopies?," Giles asked Xander.

Neither of them ever let an original copy of something out of their hands, preferring to sell people photocopies of the original document.

Xander looked vaguely insulted. "Have you?"


Omar looked around the open space. While he called it a boot sale, in actuality it worked out to be a small market inside his bookstore. He cleared some of his trestle tables for use by his guests each year for this event. Omar was dressed in flowing blue and white robes, to stand out from the other occult book sellers. He looked out, seeing a familiar face come in from the chilly night air into the warm, heated shop.

"Ah, welcome Giles! Xander! It is soooo good to see you able to turn up this year!," he warmly greeted the Sunnydalians.

"Hi, Omar," Xander grinned. "It's great to be here. I hope you don't mind if we drag around a suitcase, rather than set up on a table? We're willing to pay a table fee."

"No!," Omar denied, waving his hands in the air. "You're a good friend, Xander, I can't take your money like that!"

The Arab spotted some more guests arriving. "A thousand apologies, but Armstrong and his wife have arrived, and I would be remiss to not greet them. Thomas!"


Half an hour later, Xander had swapped the photocopies in his suitcase for an equal weight of books and scrolls, and had swapped it for his other suitcase in Giles' old car. He was haggling for a copy of the John Dee translation of Alhazred's writings when the front door was kicked in. Two bikers marched in, shotguns in hand.

"Give us all the money, and no one gets hurt!," one yelled.

The other's canines lengthened as he snarled at the group of old men and Xander.

Xander stepped forwards. "Brujah?"

They looked at him, confused. "Yeah?"

"Get out of here," Xander said, exasperated. "Or I drain you. You know I can do it."

They got. They'd seen what the boy had done to that witch lady. They wanted no part of that.

Red Wilson marched over and handed Xander his photocopy and the Dee translation photocopy. "That's on me, after saving our butts like that."

Xander wound up getting a dozen more smaller photocopies, free, by the end of the night from some other men, all elderly.


On the way back to Sunnydale, Giles looked at Xander.

"We have to do something about the vampires from Metal Night," the Watcher said. "They're starting to stretch their legs."

"I know," Xander said. "I'm kinda hoping they'll go the nonlethal way, you know? I'll talk to Carl and that shadow student guy."

Giles nodded at that. "Very well. Did you get a copy of Berich's Demonologie?

Chapter 13

The next night, just as Xander had sat down to start cataloging his new acquisitions, his dad thumped on the door.

"Boy! One of your friends've come t'see ya!," Tony Harris bellowed.

"Coming," Xander said. "Hold on while I hide the girl!"

"Hah!," Tony said as he moved back to the sofa to watch Baywatch.

At the front door, Xander was surprised to see two of the changed vampires from the Bronze. He didn't recognise them. The couple were dressed in something approximating their best, the woman in makeup, the man in a suit.

"Hi, uh, what can I do for you?," he asked.

"I'm Lasombra, and this is Elizabeth," the male one said. "She's Ventrue."

"Good, great for you," Xander said. "I didn't think the blood drive was until next week."

"Ha, ha," the woman said slowly. "Look, we wanted to sort some things out with this Slayer of yours, and talk to you about some things."

Xander wordlessly stepped to one side, not inviting them in. They crossed the threshold. Xander mentally ticked something off in his mind.

"My room is this way. Mind the bottles here, mind the paper once we're there."

The two vampires exchanged looks silently. /Disorganised./

"You're remarkably trusting," Lasombra said.

Xander held up his right hand. He'd removed his glove, and the line of black metal flowing to his index finger stood out on his pale skin. "I have reason. You're still reliant on the Rite's changes."

They had reached his room. Xander sat down on his chair, gesturing for the other two to sit on his bed.

"Start at the start, and when you have reached the end, end," he said.

Lasombra cleared his throat, then began. "Well, my, er, our breed of vampire has organised somewhat. The Whitewolf breed will meet once a year with a representative from each of the clans. We want to ask what the Slayer considers grounds for Slaying."

Xander looked slightly embarassed. "She's a seventeen year old girl. I don't know, it could be your nailpolish. Seriously, though, don't kill anyone, don't end the world, don't torture. That's good enough for me."

"We also want to ally ourselves with you, as far as it is possible for us," Elizabeth said.


"Oh... poor little vampires want to look pretty?"

"Just do it, you fucking Fiend."

Crystalline. "If that is what you wish to call me. Degenerates."

Cajoling. "We'll pay."

Smooth, laughing. "You'll pay. Come here, sit down."


Once Xander had finished talking with the two vampires, he'd gone to the Library to meet with the others.

"Do you really think that's a good idea, Xander?"

"I don't know. I do think that it's the only way we're going to know what's going through their heads," Xander replied.

"Hey, Xander, can I borrow your copy of the Maleficarus?," Jesse asked. He was doing a crossword while the others talked a bit.

"Sure, I'll bring it tomorrow."

"Um, Xander, you've only got their word that the other Whitewolf vampires will listen, you know," Willow pointed out.

Xander sighed. "What can I do?"

"Stake 'em," Angel said, coming out of the darkness.

"Love to," Giles said. "Unfortunately, there's the middling detail of souls."

"Oh," Angel said. "I'll track them, then."

"Okay, I bagged three normal vamps and a Dracula knockoff last night," Buffy announced.

"Wonderful," Giles said. "Details?



"What? How do I look?"

"My God, you look /horrible!"

Sound of door slamming.

"What, poor little vamp don't like her permanent plastic surgery?"

"What did you do to me?!"

"Never forget you asked for it."


The next day, the teenagers were on a field trip to the Sunnydale Zoo. Xander, Jesse and Willow found Buffy, who was glaring at a group walking away from her.

"Hey! Buffy!," Xander shouted.

"You missed it!," Willow added.

"Missed what?," Buffy asked.

Jesse was only too happy to answer. "Two zebras doing the nasty! And--"

Willow thwapped the walking hormone with her bag.

"It was like the Heimlich, with stripes," Willow said.

"And I missed it," Buffy said, sarcasm dripping from her words. "Yet somehow I'll find the courage to live on."

"Where were you?," Jesse asked.

"Looking at the fishes," the Slayer said. She looked bored out of her skull.

"Was it cool?," Willow inquired.

"It was fishes," Buffy said, mistress of cool adjectives.

"I'm feelin' you're not in the school trip spirit here, Buff," Xander said.

"Well, it would...," Buffy tried to find the words. "It's nothing, I... we do the same thing every year. Same old, same old."

"Buffy, this isn't about the animals," Xander explained.

"This is about not being in class," Jesse finished. Both were grinning madly.

"You know, you're right!," the Slayer realised, brightening up. "Suddenly the animals look all sparkly and new."

"Gotta have perspective," Xander, Philosophizer Extra-ordinaire, said.

Buffy looked over at the Hyena House. Four students had just finished taunting one of the more... diligent... students.

"What are Kyle and his buds doing with Lance?," Willow asked.

"The same thing they do every day," Jesse observed morosely.

"What is it with these guys?," Buffy wondered out loud, exasperated.

"They're obnoxious. Professionally," Willow explained.

"Well, every school has 'em," Xander added. "So, you start a new school, you get your desks, some blackboards and some mean kids."

"And teachers," Jesse added.

"Well, I'd better go extract Lance before--," Buffy began.

"Me and Jesse'll do it," Xander interrupted. "This job doesn't involve actual Slaying."

"You don't think we should go in?," Buffy asked Willow.

They decided to go in, but were stopped by the zoo keeper.


Inside, the two boys found the four bullies trying to throw Lance into the hyena enclosure.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own species?," Xander challenged them.

"Yeah, I mean who let you guys out of your cages?," Jesse added, not to be out done.

"What, are *you* gonna get in my face?," Kyle snapped.

Xander took off his glove and baseball cap. The lines of black metal stood out in the dark against his pale skin.

A growl from the hyenas turned the sixes heads towards them. Lance took the chance while Kyle and his cohorts were distracted to run for the exit.

The four bullies and Jesses' eyes glowed yellow. In Xander's case, the lines on his head flowing down to his right shoulderblade glowed.

Chapter 14

The Spirit of the Hyena, summoned by the circle and ceremony, leapt into the bodies of the six who looked at it's chosen ones. Well, it leapt into five of them.

The sixth was... being difficult.

It felt the sixth drawing on it's substance somehow, a gentle tugging that it could not stop. The Spirit sent another tendril specifically to the mind of the sixth, then could not pull that tendril away either. It decided to cut it's losses and restrain itself to those two tendrils, choosing skill over brute force for this one.


Xander gasped as he felt a Presence try to force it's way into his head. The teenager pressed his forehead as the pain dissipated.

A faint yellow glow flickered in his eyes momentarily.

Kyle growled as the possession struck deep roots in him.

"I lead this pack!," Xander snarled. "I am more powerful, I am more knowledgable, and I can beat you any day!"

The other five whined, acquiesing to his leadership.


Later that night, Xander was at Jesse's house. He handed his friend the Wand of Oemac, and a sheet of paper he had been working on for many months now.

"Continue what you've started. The Pack must grow in power."


Giles blinked as he saw Xander and Jesse walking towards him.

"Ah, Xander! I've been meaning to ask you about--"

Xander pushed the librarian out of the way. "I'm busy."

The motion revealed more black metal lines under the gloves that Xander habitually wore now. Giles could also see more lines than what he had drawn on Xander's neck as the youth walked away from him. A star inside a figure had been inlaid with that metal on Jesse's hand, too.

"Oh, dear," the Watcher mused.


Later that day, Giles managed to grab Willow and Buffy. Jesse was with Xander and the four bullies and, well... for some reason, the Watcher didn't trust them at the moment.

After a brief discussion where the hypothesis that Xander and Jesse were turning into normal sixteen year old boys was disproven, they reached the conclusion that their condition must be connected with the zoo trip, and the hyenas.

They settled down for some research into animal possession.


Buffy had left partway through to get some donuts and Coca Cola, and had been... approached for... favours... from the possessed bookworms.

While Xander's patterns were powerful, they weren't resistant to a sharp rap on the noggin. Especially when his mind and the Runes were dulled by the constant fight with the Spirit.

"Okay, I got Jesse and Xander," the Slayer announced as she returned to the library. "Hurry up, we've got to get them locked up before they wake up."

"Oh, my God!," Willow gasped. "What happened?"

"I hit them," Buffy responded.

"With what?"

"A desk."

"Boy, is Principal Flutie gonna love you," the redhead observed as they dragged the two boys into the bookcage, locking it.

"Xander tried his hand at felony sexual assault," Buffy said.

Buffy and Giles left to consult with the zookeeper looking after the hyenas, while Willow kept watch on the possessed teenagers.


In another part of town, Elizabeth was applying for a job as a secretary with the Mayor.

She had gotten it easily, thanks to having the mind-warping Dominate ability. Combined with her natural Presence ability that came with all Ventrue vampires, it was quite efficacious.

"Thanks, Elizabeth!," Mayor Wilkins the Third said. "That's brilliant of you, to crossreference these reports for me!"

"It's nothing," the Ventrue said. "But I would like to point out that Mr Olson isn't really a good choice for taking care of the sewage disposal committee."

She carefully applied pressure to Wilkin's psyche -- too hard, and the man would know that something was wrong. The vampiress was leery of anyone finding something amiss with her.

"Gosh, you're right," the Mayor blinked. "I knew something wasn't quite right with him! Could you take care of it until I find a replacement?"


Her boyfriend, Lasombra, was on the other side of town and on the other side of the law.

"Listen to me," he snarled as he lifted the drug dealer into the air. "You don't pay Davey any more. You pay me. You so much as piss anywhere but where I tell you to piss, you'll be pissing blood. Got me?"

The small, thin, smelly man nodded so hard Lasombra thought his head might fall off. "Yeah, I understand, it's just that Davey--"

"Ain't around anymore," the vampire snarled. "Tell all your friends. And if any of you even think of crossing me, I'll know."

Lasombra's figure turned black and smoky, falling into the flat plane of shadow cast by the warehouse. The drug dealer crossed himself, feeling religious all of a sudden.

He hurried to get home when he heard a noise down the alley. Some nights, it didn't pay to get out of bed.


"Listen," said the zoo-keeper. "Just get the pack leader here, and the rest of the pack will come for him. You do that, while I set up the ceremony."

Chapter 15

Xander clutched his forehead as he felt a prime example of a migraine coming on. The black metal lines defining the Tarbaby Rune flared green for a moment. Eventually, they dimmed to a blackish green that was unpleasant to look at for too long.

"God, let me die now," he groaned as he and the other five once-possessed students stumbled out of the stylized hyena head drawn on the floor. "I take it you managed to de-possess us?"

The four bullies ran off quickly, Buffy having disabled the zookeeper who had tried to perform the ceremony on himself at knifepoint.

"Indeed," Giles said. "The Hyena, um, Spirit, seems to have left you."

"Alexander Lavelle Harris," Willow began, "You've got a lot of explaining to do."

"Uh, what?," Xander asked. "I only vaguely remember what happened."

"I can remember," Jesse said, before actually remembering. "Actually, Idontrememberathing."

"You guys ate a pig," Buffy said, always helpful.

"Bacon? Cooked?," Xander inquired.

The Watcher and the two girls shook their heads.

"Oh, my God," Xander panicked. "I ate a pig?! I mean, the whole trichinosis issue aside, yuck!"

"Well, it wasn't really you," Buffy assured them.

"Great," Jesse said. "I ate raw pig but that was cool, it wasn't me."

"Well, I remember I was goin' on the field trip," Xander thought out loud, "and then going down to the Hyena House, and next thing a guy's holding a knife to Wills throat."

"You saved me," Willow said.

"Hey! No one messes with my Willow."

Xander gave the redhead a hug.

Jesse wandered over to Buffy. "I think I've been traumatised by this, I need a hug too to outweigh the horrible memories."

"This is definitely the superior Xander," Buffy said. "And no one besides Jesse comes on this strong."

"Accept no substitutes!," Jesse joked.


<< "Techno?", Nemesis/iCE/REM (S3M. I doubt you'd find an MP3 of this song.) >>

Buffy squashed an errant cockroach as it skittered across the table.

"Ewww," she said. "Someone remind me why we're at this roach motel?"

The gang was at the Bronze, taking in the sights of people shaking their booty and the sounds of Carl shaking the dust from the rafters.

"Annual Fumigation Party," Jesse said.


"It's an annual tradition," Willow explained. "The closing of the Bronze for a few days to nuke the cockroaches?"

"Oh...," Buffy said, in another world.

"It's a lot of fun," Willow smiled. "Hey, where are you at?"

"I'm... sorry," Buffy apologised. "I was just... thinking about things."

"So, we're talking about a guy?," Willow asked.

Xander groaned, and went off to get a coke. Jesse tagged after him.

"Not exactly a guy," the Slayer sighed. "For us to have a conversation about a guy, there'd have to be a guy for us to have a conversation about. Is that a sentence?"

"I'm willing to volunteer," Jesse said, handing Willow a Mountain Dew can.

"You lack a guy," Willow said, catching on.

"I do, which is fine with me most of the time, but...," Buffy trailed off.

A few tables away, Xander frowned, firing a tiny fireball at a cockroach that got too close to his feet. He hated the papermunching things.


Xander couldn't believe this.

"He spent the night? In your room? In your bed?," he asked incredulously, referring to Angel.

He was getting kinda sick of the guy. Angel hardly ever said anything helpful and rarely helped do anything.

"Not in my bed, by my bed," Buffy corrected.

"That is so romantic!," Willow exclaimed. "Did you, uh... I mean, did he, uh..."

"Perfect gentleman," Buffy smiled.

"Alas, that ye spurn me so," Jesse mock sighed.

"Buffy," Xander began. "Wake up and smell the seduction! It's the oldest trick in the book."

"What? Saving my life? Being slashed in the ribs?"

The Slayer was getting indignant at Xander's insinuation she couldn't spot a sleaze.

"Duh! I mean, guys'll do anything to impress a girl," Xander explained. "I mean, I once drank an entire gallon of Gatorade without taking a breath."

[Authors Note: that's 4 litres, to all non Imperial countries.]

"It was pretty impressive," Willow allowed. "Although later there was a certain ick factor."

The Watcher returned, books in hand.

"Can we steer this riveting conversation back to the events that happened earlier in the evening?," Giles inquired. "You left the Bronze and were set upon by three unusually virile vampires. Did they look like this?"

He held a book open, showing three vampires.

"Yeah," the Slayer confirmed. "What's with the uniforms?"

"It seems you encountered the Three," Giles thought out loud. "Warrior vampires, very proud and very strong."

Xander rolled his eyes. "That's only according to Johnson. According to Beverly, Ergeth and G'zirrar, they're pussies."

Giles resolutely ignored Xander. He was going to impress that boy one day!

"Uh, o-obviously you're hurting the Master very much. He, he wouldn't send the, the Three for just anyone. We must step up our training with weapons," the Watcher said.

"Buffy, you should stay at my house until these Samurai guys are history," Xander announced.

Jesse punched Xander on the arm. "You're dreaming! She can't sleep on top of books! Buffy, I'm sure my folks won't mind you staying with me. Unlike Xander's old man."

"What?," Buffy asked, nonplussed.

"Ah-ah-ah," Xander said. "Don't worry about Angel, Willow can run to your house and tell him to get out of town fast."

"Angel and Buffy are, are not in any immediate jeopardy," Giles said.

"I know," Xander replied, rolling his eyes. "Don't you know how to have fun?"

Chapter 16

Willow gave Buffy a disbelieving look. "Angel's a vampire?!"

"Told you you should have stayed at my house," Jesse piped in.

"I can't believe this is happening," Buffy complained, visions of love breaking. "One minute we were kissing, and the next minute... Can a vampire ever be a good person? Couldn't it happen?"

"In the sense there are bad vamps, and then there are bad vamps who make the first suckers look good," Xander said.

"A vampire isn't a person at all," Giles explained, going for the absolute explanation rather than the relative. "It may have the movements, the, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but i-it's still a demon at the core, there is no halfway."

"So that'd be a no, huh?," the red head asked. This sounded like a good, tragic love story to her.

"Well, then what was he doing? Why was he good to me? Was it all some part of the Master's plan? It doesn't make sense!"

The Slayer wasn't really cut out for the intellectual scene, and was more into the staking and slashing thing.

"Alright," Xander said as they got to a seat. "Seems straightforward to me. He's a demonic vampire, you're the Slayer. Boom."

The Slayer didn't seem encouraged by this. Giles crouched to look at his diminuitive blonde charge.

"Uh, it is a Slayer's duty," he pointed out.

"You haven't betrayed me with him, have you?," Jesse asked.

Buffy snorted, tossing her head up. She remained silent, however.

"You're in love with a demon?! Are you outta your mind?," Xander asked.

"What?," Cordelia asked as she wandered past the gang.

"I-I didn't say demon, Cordy," Xander said suavely. "Buffy, how could you love one of those? Everybody hates 'em!"

Cordelia was quickly distracted by another girl walking past with an unusually elegant dress on. "Where did you get that dress? Is this a Honou original? This is a knock-off, isn't it?! Some cheesy knock-off! This is what you--"

Buffy rolled her eyes as the queen of Sunnydale's socialites stormed after the offending female.

"And we think we've got problems," Hemery's ex-queen said.

"Uh, would this be the utterly wrong time to point out that Metal Night at the Bronze is happening right after the Post-Fumigation Party?," Jesse asked.


The Tzimisce vampire looked around Sunnydale.

"I hate this town! It's so... American!"

Sometimes, being an exchange student sucked when the culture clash got to be too much.

Perhaps it would be better in Los Angeles.

There would be less competition and more space, for sure.

And she had heard about a law firm that could use her... gentle influence. It had powerful clients, and no one really knew who the senior partners were outside the company. Perfect -- a few ghouls, some careful Domination, and she would own that firm

From here on, LA was her territory. Even if it didn't know it yet.


Willow sighed, head slumped onto the book in front of her.

"Not another one," she moaned.

"Well, Amy's mum isn't going to do any more Rites," Jesse said. "That's good, right?"

"Thaumaturgical Law of Probability, Jesse," Xander sighed. "Magic gets easier as it is repeated in a particular place. That's what makes sites like Stonehenge so powerful."

"Exactly," Giles said. "Uh, with Carl indisposed, who will be the disc jockey?"

"That's DJ, Giles," Buffy corrected the Watcher.

"DJ, then," Giles allowed.

"Carl will be," Jesse said.

"That's good," Xander said. "In that not really good at all way."

"He's even worse than before, now," Willow said. "And he knows what might happen this time. He'll do something he thinks is immensely funny."

"Like?," the Watcher inquired.

"I don't know," Willow said. "I barely know him."

"Could be anything," Jesse said. "Malkavians are poster children for nuttiness. And he's this world's Malkav, the archetype."

"Oh blast," Giles said, cleaning his glasses. "Buffy, try and stake this Carl before Metal Night happens the day after next?"

"I'll try," the Slayer said, "but these Whitewolf vamps don't exactly wander around graveyards saying 'Heres dinner!' and the normal stupidity."

"Er, why did you not mention this?," the Watcher asked.

Buffy shrugged. "You didn't ask."

"I bet the Watchers' Council loves us," Xander observed. "Several new types of vampire, and we haven't managed to get any yet."

"Quite," Giles said. "Given their communiques in the last week, I strongly advise you all to reschedule any trips to England you have planned in the near future."

Xander blinked. "Heck, Giles, was that a joke? From you?"

Giles's eyes fell on an open book, jogging his memory. "We seem to have derailed our initial train of conversation quite badly. Uh, I've found some references to Angel in the Watchers' Diaries."

"I still can't believe he read my diary!," Buffy muttered. The Irish vampire had gotten nosey when she had let him stay at her house, which was where she had discovered his undead state.

"There's mention some two hundred years ago in Ireland of, of Angelus, the one with the angelic face," Giles began.

"Sure got that right," Willow said. "What? I'm not allowed to look at guys?"

Xander manfully resisted a bad joke. "I'm not saying anything, I have nothing to say."

"Does this, uh, Angel have, um, a tattoo behind his right shoulder?," Giles asked.

"'Cause if he does, I'm sueing his ass," Xander joked.

"Yeah, it's a, it's a bird or something," Buffy replied.

"You saw him naked?!," Jesse asked, surprised. "All you had to do was ask me, Buffy..."

"So, Angel's been around for awhile?," Willow asked.

"Not long for a vampire," Giles said. "Two hundred and forty years or so."

"Well, he said he was older," Buffy mused.

Giles recounted what he knew of Angel. The Irish vampire wreaked havoc in Europe for several decades, then moved to America and went silent.

"He could have fed on me," Buffy said stubbornly. "He didn't."


Xander groaned as he saw a strange car in the driveway. He hadn't met a family member that he could recall wasn't habitually drunk or an asshole.

He carefully readjusted his baseball cap, and flexed his fingers in his white gloves before he opened the front door. No use giving the folks more ammo to hit him with.

He saw the tall redhead sprawled back across the sofa, given preference by his parents. An electric guitar leant against one of the armrests.

Okay, maybe not all of his relatives were drunken assholes. This guy was cool.

"Hiya, Uncle I!," he yelled, safe in the knowledge that his parents wouldn't try anything with this relative visiting.

Chapter 17

After much discussion between themselves, the gang minus Buffy had decided not to worry about the Slayer's relationship to Angel too much. Angel had demonstrated restraint, and the recent influx of humanly moraled vampires had blurred the black and white world of demonic vampires and holy humans somewhat.

"Uh, I'm not gonna be able to help with Metal Night," Xander said. "Unless you're willing to let my uncle come along."

"You've got relative visiting?," Willow asked. "I thought they only came at Christmas?"

"Special case," Xander explained. "Uncle Iori is cool."

"Iori Yagami?," Buffy asked. "As in King Of Fighters, Insane Orochi Warrior Iori Yagami?"

Xander nodded, grinning like mad.

"I've got his autograph!," Jesse said, digging up a photograph with a signature on it.

"Is he capable of taking care of himself in the event of supernatural disturbance?," Giles asked.

Everyone looked at him blankly.

"Ah, Giles, you have watched TV recently? He's Iori Yagami. One look at him and the vamps will either run screaming or faint," Buffy explained, annoyed.

"I'll ask him," Xander said. "So, Jesse, learnt anything on what's planned tonight?"

Jesse blinked, then pulled out a notebook he'd written his notes in.

"Well, it's a different backer this time. I haven't found out who the caster is. The backer is someone called Ethan Rayne--"

"Ethan!," Giles snarled. A scowl crossed the normally serene Watcher's face.

"You know this loser?," Buffy asked.

"Yes. Go on, Jesse," Giles said.

"Uh. Anyway, it isn't Twelveheart's Final Rite tonight. It's... Baxter's Messy Reversal, whatever that is."

Jesse closed his notebook with a flourish.

"That's it?," Willow asked.

Jesse looked sheepish. "Well, I tried going to Carl's house to ask what music he was gonna do, but he was asleep. And his Dad kept looking at me, then laughing."

"Bummer," Xander said. "Maybe we'll just get Weird Al all night."

"Oh!," Buffy said, remembering something. "I snagged a promo poster. I can't believe we forgot to grab one -- I mean, they've been up all week."

"And?," Giles asked.

"Come As You Are Night," Buffy read from the A4 poster. "Prizes for the best costumes."

Xander looked up from some books he'd brought with him. "I found Baxter's Messy Reversal, guys."

"That was swift," Giles blinked. He'd expected to have to dig through some indexes first.

"It's a pretty recent spell," Xander shrugged. "Baxter died just last year."

"So what does this thing do?," Willow asked.

Jesse looked over Xander's shoulder, reading the page. "Ewwwww. Gross."

Xander thwapped Jesse with his baseball cap, before he put it back on his head. A faint fuzz of hair was growing back over where he'd shaved it off to put the Rune to control the Tarbaby Rune.

"That's the description, doofus," he said goodnaturedly.

"What's the what?," Buffy asked.

"It brings out what people want to be, and makes them into that," Xander said. "The name comes from the idea of physically turning someone inside out. Skin inside, fleshy stuff outside."

"Ewwwww," Willow said. "That Baxter guy needed to get out more."

"No argument from me," Xander said.

"Wonderful as that is," Giles said, "we're running out of time. Why did no one think to remind us ahead of time?"

The teenagers looked at Giles again, with that 'duh' expression. Buffy finally spoke up for them.

"You keep telling us, you're the Watcher. You're supposed to train me and plan and stuff."


<< "Prey", Seraphim Shock, Music From The Succubus Club >>

Willow looked around. The Bronze was packed; there had been less at the last Metal Night. She blushed madly as the song began with feminine passioned moaning, before spiralling down.

"Why are there so many people?," she hollered in Xander's ear. He'd managed to come; his uncle was chatting with Carl.

Giles looked miserable in his tweed jacket, huddled over a beer.

"You can't buy publicity like the last Night," Xander yelled back. "And people want to show off their costumes!"

Buffy got back from the bar, Slayer-enforced elbows helping her make way through the packed crowd of people. She handed everyone their drinks.

"There are people from New York, Chicago... all over, here!," she yelled.

And there was. It was somewhat possible to identify groups of people -- the headbangers were congregated in one section, engaging in brain damage, the Goths were dotted through the crowd like well dressed mourners...

"Who on earth are the people in black with the white hair?," Giles yelled.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Drow!," he screamed back.

The noise was getting louder, somehow. Carl was surpassing himself, and his speaker stacks.

"Have you found the caster?," Giles shouted.

"Not yet!," Xander replied.

"Well, get busy! Because something's starting!"


<< "Prey", Seraphim Shock, Music From The Succubus Club (Fading into next song) >>

<< "The Dark Elf", Blind Guardian, Nightfall In Middle Earth (Fading into next song) >>

<< "Sadly Sings Destiny", Blind Guardian, A Night At The Opera >>

Iori was having a blast. He had decided to travel east for no particular reason, and was glad he had, now. He always enjoyed seeing his nephew Xander again.

He looked around, as all the costumed people shivered slightly. Attuned to power, he felt something shiver across his skin.


Kevin Grant of San Fran was having a blast as well. His friends had heard about an unbelievable club in a small town in Calif, and the group of them had spontaneously decided to road trip. The slim, slender Kevin had decided to crossdress, and was currently costumed as a Priestess of Eilistraee -- quite a feat, since they wore as little as possible.

He was going to be in quite a bit of pain the next day, but he intended on being tanked by then. His friend, Karen, was dressed as a Priestess of Corellon Larethian. Kevin thought that was a bit... normal... but it was her choice. Yvonne was costumed as a Jedi, with two plastic horns glued on her head, four smaller horns in a row below those, and faint fake tattoos drawn on her face.

He had already had a bit to drink, was mildy tanked already, and thus didn't realise when the power shivered over the crowd.

Correction. She didn't realise.


Xander's head shot up, following the now obvious lines of power. They all emanated from a bust of a Greek woman, suspended from the ceiling.

"There!," he shouted.

Giles raised the crossbow he had brought along, and shot the bust with it. The plaster statue fell apart easily, the lines of power dissipating into the atmosphere.

"Well, that's that," he shouted.

"Can I do a speech again?," Jesse shouted.


Chapter 18

<< "Sadly Sings Destiny", Blind Guardian, A Night At The Opera (About halfway through.) >>

Giles slumped back onto the tall stool as he lowered the crossbow. The plaster bust, focus of Baxter's Messy Reversal, was currently raining down gently on the crowd, who thought it was a great joke. Well, except for the once costumed, now changed people. He spotted Xander reach out to a fading line of power.

"Don't touch that!," he shouted over the din as Xander's right index finger touched the power, the Tarbaby Rune latching onto it.

"What?," Xander asked, right before he fell unconscious.

"It's still flowing from Eris," Giles continued. Why did no one listen to him?

"What's up with Xander," Jesse yelled.

"Give me a hand," the Watcher yelled at the Slayer as he grabbed one of Xander's arms. The Watcher and the Slayer hauled the comatose teenager out of the Bronze, Willow and Jesse trailing after.

Outside, it was possible to talk to each other without yelling.

"What's wrong with Xander?," Willow asked Giles, worried about her friend.

"He touched a line of power that was still connected to Eris, the Goddess of Discord," Giles wearily explained.

"What?," Buffy asked. "So he lets go, no one gets hurt."

"The Tarbaby Rune doesn't work like that," Jesse said. "It's the Tarbaby, not a fishing hook."

"Precisely," Giles said, cleaning his glasses. "Uh, Eris won't let him absorb her power and her. We can't affect her actions in any way. The best course of action in this situation would seem to be to wait it out."

The five of them were jumped as they made their way to Giles' car. The four awake and conscious people got out the glove and stake which were by now standard issue, and proceeded to try and scratch the vampires. Luckily, they were all normal Sunnydale originals, and thus fairly easy. Comparatively speaking.

"Buffy," Giles shouted. "Would you be so kind as to pass me a crucifix?"

"Sure thing," the Slayer yelled to him. She pulled out a medium sized wooden cross and threw it to tbe British librarian.

"Yeouwch!," Rupert Giles screamed as the cross burnt his hand like a hot poker. "What the devil was that?!"

"Uh, Giles, are you still Giles?," Jesse asked.

"Yes, I bloody well am, now give me a hand and stake these bloody vampires!"


Lasombra covered his face with his right hand, sighing deeply. He looked at the vampire across the table from him.

While they were horribly inferior to his breed of vampire, he had had hopes that the demonic vampires would be of some use.

"Explain this to me once more, Seth. You attacked the Slayer and her friends with ten newly turned, yes?"

The sole survivor nodded nervously. None of the old guard of Sunnydale knew what to make of this new master of the town.

"They were armed with weapons that could vaporize you by merely scratching you," Lasombra continued, dead pan.

Nod. Nod. A faint sheen of sweat could be seen on the demonic vampire's forehead.

"Why did you not attack them from a rooftop with a sniper rifle?," Lasombra asked. "At least then, you'd manage to kill one before they scattered."

"Ah, we, were going to uh, get some guns but we saw her and, uh, just got so mad that--"

"Stop," Lasombra commanded. "Please, try to control yourselves. I want this Slayer and her friends to stay alive for awhile."

The demonic Seth looked nervous. "You want a Slayer alive, Boss? Are you going soft on us?"

Lasombra's eyes narrowed. "Your kind truly are imbecilic, are you not? We now know exactly how this girl will react to threats. We know who her companions are, we have a general idea of their resources. It's a case of the devil you know."

Seth nodded again. He wanted to rip Lasombra's throat out for that imbecile comment, but knew he wouldn't get more than a step before those solid shadows got him again.

"You will attach yourself to Johnson's squad," the Whitewolf vampire decided. "He has shown some intelligence. Perhaps you can learn something."


Giles sat in the library, thinking. He'd sneezed on the way over, and had gotten scaly red skin and horns.

He wasn't sure how he'd managed to regain his normal appearance, but wasn't complaining.

"I don't get it," Jesse said. "You haven't been bitten by a demonic spider, have you?"

"Spider?," the Watcher blinked.

"Spiderman became Spiderman by being bitten by a radioactive spider," Buffy explained. "Don't you watch any TV?"

"The first Rite!," Willow realised. "It must have affected you as well, Giles."

The Watcher readjusted his glasses, pushing them further up his nose. "I'm not surprised, with that demonic music."


A team of four men got out of a black Toyota on the edge of Sunnydale. They were dressed in black clothes, with coats over the top.

One walked back a bit.

"Bloody hell," he said. "What a useless sign."

"You shouldn't've driven," another said. "You're daft at driving, Bill."

"Daft yourself," Bill complained. "They shouldn't've put that sign in the middle of the road.

"The bloody sign wasn't on the bloody road, you twit!"

"Well, it isn't now, is it? I hit the thing, didn't I?"

"Look," the third said. "Here're the stumps where it used to be. See? Nowhere near the road."

"Well, no one's gonna miss the thing," Bill muttered. "'Tisn't like it was anything special."

The third picked up the sign, hammering it into the ground slightly. It stood up by itself, like a spoon in custard.

Somewhat wobbly.

"Bugger fixing it," the second said. "Cheap American construction."



"Well, what're we standing around here for? I'm parched from all this talk!"

Chapter 19

Giles pushed his glasses up his nose from where they had slipped slightly.

"Er, Buffy, from what I have just heard from a colleague in London, the Council has sent a team to, ah, sanction us," Giles began nervously.

"Is this in the US-Iraq sense of sanctions," Xander asked. "Cos I don't drink Guinness or eat black pudding or anything."

"It's somewhat more permanent than that," Giles said. In his nervousness, a slight red sheen appeared on his skin.

"Giles, you're showing," Willow chirped. She was working on a program she was writing on the Library computer.

"Ah, thank you."

"They kill us," Buffy surmised. "Wonderful."

Jesse looked up from a small book he was making notes from. "Can't we kill them first?"

"Jesse, they're people!," Willow scolded.

"People who want to kill us," Jesse muttered. "So I say they aren't people anymore."

"No!," Giles commanded. "There will be no killing."

"Not even almost killing, put them in a coma type killing," Jesse asked.


"Giles, I've got that program debugged and working," Willow said.

"Wonderful," Giles said in a tone indicating anything but. "Are you sure that this 'scanning' will not harm my books? They're rather old and fragile."

"Well, the burning could put a crimp in your plans then," Jesse joked.

"WHAT?!," the British man yelled, before clutching the nearest pile of books possessively.

[AuthorsNote: Preciousss belongs to meee... filthy little computersss...]

"Take a chill pill," the new computer teacher, Ms Calendar said, entering the Library. "Scanning something doesn't hurt the books in any way."

"Well, I still think that skimming my books into the Idiot Box is a bad idea," Giles said.

"If you want, they could scan mine and Jesse's first to reassure you," Xander suggested.

Giles cleaned his glasses. "Yes, a test run with Jesse's reference material first would seem to be in order."

"That's scanning, Rupert," Ms Calendar corrected. "And TV's the idiot box. This is the good box."

Two more students entered the library, carrying some computer parts with them. "Okay, Miz Calendar, where do we set up?"

"I-I thought the computer suite was upstairs?," Giles asked. "What is the meaning of this, this invasion?"

"It won't take as long this way," Willow said. "Here, I'll clear a table for you guys."

It didn't take long for the two boys and Willow to set up the extra machines.

"I still prefer a good book," the Librarian said stubbornly.

"The printed page is obsolete," one of the students evangelised. "Information isn't bound up anymore. It's an entity. The only reality is virtual. If you're not jacked in, you're not alive."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I'll show you alive."

"Thank you, Fritz, for making us all sound like crazy people," Ms Calendar said sarcastically. "Fritz, Fritz comes on a little strong, but he does have a point. You know, for the last two years more e-mail was sent than regular mail."

"And cheaper, too!," Willow said.

Giles made a noise of non-agreement.

"More digitized information went across phone lines than conversation," the computer teacher continued.

"That is a fact I regard with genuine horror," the Watcher said.

"I'll bet it is," Ms Calendar joked. "Alright, guys, we're done for today."

"Giles, you wouldn't have that copy of D'Erlettes book if Willow didn't have that computer and an internet connection," Xander observed.

"Perhaps there may be a slight chance of redemption of these infernal machines, then."

"I've just got a few more. I'll hang for a bit," Willow said. She was in the Zone, and unwilling to stop for mundane matters like sleep.

"Cool! Thanks," Ms Calendar said.

Everyone breathed out when the computer teacher and her disciples left.

"Well, I've got good news," Xander said. "I've talked to the Bronze's managers."

"And?," Giles asked. "What was their response?"

"Superstitious," Xander said. "They'll let me put sealing patterns on the inside of the Bronze which will stop more Rites and Reversals."

"Good," Jesse said. "Could we let more Drow people do that Reversal thing, though?"

"Why?," Buffy asked.

Willow hit Jesse with her book bag. "You've been watching Eilistraee's priestess, haven't you?"

"Er, what?," Giles asked, confused.

"They do their religious rituals wearing as little as possible," Xander explained.

"Ah!," Giles exclaimed. "I see."

He began cleaning his glasses furiously.

"So, when're you doing those patterns?," Jesse asked. "Want a hand?"

"Sure. They're going up tomorrow," Xander said, "while the cleaning crew are taking care of the place."

"The Bronze gets cleaned?," Buffy asked.

"Sure," Willow said. "With extra weak cockroach killing stuff."


"Thanks for that, Elizabeth," the Mayor said. "You know, you've been quite a help, a real saving to the taxpayer!"

"No problem," the Ventrue vampire smiled. "I'm afraid we've got a problem with the police HOD."

"Really?," the Mayor blinked, thinking furiously. He talked with the man every day. He was sure of him -- unlike this girl, who he was giving enough rope to hang herself. "What seems to be wrong?"

"This," Elizabeth said, throwing an open newspaper on the table. It had a picture of the police chief going into Sunnydale's house of negotiable virtue.

Wilkins picked up the newspaper, looking at it carefully. His suspicious mind noted that it was different to the one that he had gotten this morning, yet had the same date. Now that he had noticed that, he could feel something pushing on his psyche.

"What are you?," he asked. "And please leave my mind alone."

Elizabeth looked surprised. "Why... how?"

Wilkins smiled.

The Ventrue vampire snarled, showing her fangs. She locked her eyes with the Mayor, initiating a battle of willpower.

For Wilkins the Third, it was life or death. For her, it was power.

Chapter 20

Darkness enclosed the small, corridor like alleyway. It had once been illuminated by a small light, but the bulb had not been replaced since it blew two weeks ago. Silhouettes were all that could be seen.

The shape of a woman could be seen walking in from the street. She stopped in front of a refrigerator box, before stopping.

"I know that you're there."

Her voice was smooth, aristocratic.

"Fuck off," a voice said from inside the cardboard. "Before I look at you."

"Given time, and my talents, I could fix that," the woman said.

The cardboard was pulled to one side by the inhabitant. He thrust his face at the woman -- it was misshapen, one of the eyes an inch lower than the other, the jawline was not normal, and his eyebrows twisted unnaturally.

"Now you've seen me," the man said, "piss off."

The woman reached out a hand to his face, drawing a finger along his left eyebrow. Under her cold digit, the line of flesh and ridge of bone moved, making a faint cracking noise, as it moved back to where Nature intended normal eyebrows to be. She handed the man a mirror.

"Take a look."

The man did. He had nothing better to do, and doubted this woman would fuck off until she was satisfied. He was wholly shocked when he saw his reflection.

"How... how did you do that?! I-I don't have anything to pay you with, but--"

The woman cut him off. "I'm a vampire. Oh, please don't look shocked. My Clan can work your flesh and bone like playdough. In return for your services, I'm willing to repair your face and... other... irregularities."

The man looked up at her, hope infused in every pore. "If you can fix my face, I'll follow you past the gates of Hell."


Xander blinked at Willow. They were walking to their maths class, together.

"So, you found a guy, Will?," Xander asked, slightly disappointed.

"Yeah," Willow said. "He's such a sweetie!"

"Who is he?," Jesse asked.

"Malcolm," Willow replied.

"Again we must ask, who is he?," Xander said.

"I met him online," Willow expanded. "We talked last night. He's so smart, and romantic and--"

"Okay, Will, you like him. Now, the basics. I didn't see you at the Bronze, so where'd you meet him?"


"Aren't there pedophiles who go into chatrooms to look for underage girls?," Jesse asked.

"I-I can't believe you guys! You're jealous!"

"Great going," Xander said to Jesse, as Willow stormed ahead of them.


Two more girls had arrived in Los Angeles. They pulled up in a Nissan Skyline, then got out.

One had a fine, pure white porcelain mask on her face, hiding her looks. It wasn't apparent how it managed to stay on. The other was an elegant woman, both in their mid twenties. The one with the mask had a black and white jacket on, and a full length white skirt that was cut to the knees on the sides. The other had a red and black outfit on, again with a full length skirt.

"You're sure that Amanda came to LA?," the non-masked one asked.

"Positive," the masked one replied. "Hey, a gallery. Let's have a look in it."


"Ah, Xander, are you sure that no ill effects have survived your... episode from last night?," Giles asked, worried about Xander's state of health. He hadn't had a chance to ask the youth until now.

"Sure," Xander said, avoiding his eye. Buffy saw this immediately.

"You're hiding something."

"It's nothing!," Xander protested.

"If you don't tell us, Xander, I will tell them about that book you borrowed from me," Giles said.

"You wouldn't!"

"What book?," Jesse asked curiously.

"No book!," Xander said hurriedly. "Okay, I give, I give. Eris made me promise to, uh, nggemslfthr."

Buffy blinked. "Okay, could anyone else understand that? 'Cause I've got Slayer hearing, and I couldn't."

Giles sighed deeply. "A week ago, Alexander Harris borrowed a book from me called 'The--"

"OKAY!," Xander said, drowning out Giles. "She made me engage myself to her. That took care of the permanent connection, once I changed it."

Universal doubletake.

"You have got to be kidding," Jesse said. "You've got Discordia hooked up with you?"

Xander shrugged. "Well, I did get a hell of a boost from that hyena thing."

"How far have you two gotten?," Jesse asked, jealous.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "'Cause I want to know why an ancient goddess is interested in you."

"She refused to tell me," Xander blushed. "She, ah, and then, said, uh, and did, uh..."

"He's gone non-verbal," Buffy said. "Most guys take a minute to come out of it."

"Well," Giles observed. "Now that our hormones have cleared, let's hear how your tailing of Dave went."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Whatever this Dave is up to, it's large."

"What is the name of this place?," Giles asked. The group were all in the Library.

"It said CRD," the Slayer reported. "But I couldn't get close enough to see what it was."

Buffy had hypothesized that Dave was connected to Malcolm, Willow's new crush that she had met on the Internet. Jesse, Xander and Buffy had started trying to check out this 'Malcolm' to make sure that their friend wasn't getting to know a serial killer, or circus freak.

It was starting to look that way, with the secrecy surrounding him.

"Calax Research and Development. It's a computer research lab," Xander said, coming out of his memories. "Third largest employer in Sunnydale till it closed down last year."

Jesse looked at him in stunned amazement. "How'd you know that? That is in no way connected to the books."

"Well, my uncle used to work there. I-in a floor sweeping capacity."

"But it closed?," Buffy asked, smelling something.

"Uh huh."

"Looked pretty functional from where I stood. I don't have a clue what they were doing."

"And what do they need Dave for?," Xander wondered.

"We still don't know an enormous amount. Whatever is going on there may be on the up-and-up," Giles pointed out, playing the part of Devil's Advocate.

"No, if CRD opened, it would've been on the news," Xander said. "And my uncle would have let us know he had a job again."

"Besides, I can just tell something's wrong," Buffy complained. "My spider sense is tingling."

"Ah," Giles said. "This is connected to your demonic spider from the other day?"

"Kinda," Jesse said.

"Yes, well, ahem, I think we're still at a stand still. Short of breaking into the place, I don't see..."

"Breaking in!," Buffy broke in. "Then this is the plan!"

"I'm free tonight," Xander suggested.

"Tonight it is!"

"A moment, please, of quiet reflection. I do not suggest that you illegally enter the--," Giles began, cutting off as Ms Calendar entered the Library.

After a quick panic for an excuse, the man continued. " into the file so the book will be listed by title as well as by author."

"I just came by to check your new data base, make sure your cross reference table isn't glitching," the Computer Studies teacher said. "'Cause I'm guessing you haven't gone anywhere near it."

"Uh, I'm still sorting through the chaos you left behind you," Giles the Luddite said.

"Hmm," Ms Calendar non-committally agreed, then spotted the three teenagers. "You're here again? Kids really dig the library, don't cha?"

"We're literary!," Buffy said, scoring brownie points.

"To read makes our speaking English good," Xander joked.

"Yeah, I speak good England," Jesse said.

"Uh, we'll be going now," the Slayer said, grabbing the two boys on the way out.

Chapter 21

Giles woke up slowly. It was four in the morning, and he had only gotten to bed two hours ago after helping Buffy patrol and study for her maths quiz.

He got up, fumbling for his glasses, and switched on the light.

Someone banged on the door again, repeatedly. A female voice shouted "Hurry up, Giles!"

He rushed to the front door, knocking over a few piles of books on his way down the staircase.

"Ah. Good morning, Willow, what can I do for you?"

Willow had her arms full of what looked like telephone company books. She looked at Giles, puzzled.

"Why are you wearing a nightie?"

"This is a nightshirt!"

"Whatever. Look, I just need to hide some stuff here for awhile, okay?," Willow said, panicky.

"Might I ask what it is that you wish to conceal?," the Watcher asked, his mind starting to turn over.

"Well, I kinda was looking through the NSA's files, and I think they might have kind of thought of perhaps looking for me," Willow said. "It's probably nothing, but I don't want to take any chances. But if you don't want me to hide my notes here--"

"It's okay," Giles sighed. "Here, I'll put them in the spare room for now."

"Thanks! You're the best, Giles! Um, I'll go get the rest, now."

"The rest?!"


Half an hour later, the two were sitting over a cup of tea and a cup of milo.

"So," Giles said. "Why didn't you ask Xander, Jesse or Buffy if they could look after your notes?"

"Their parents would go nuts?," Willow tried.

Giles looked at her.

"Okay, I didn't want to admit to failure," she sighed. "I just went too far too fast."

"Have you told your friend Malcolm about your... activities?," Giles asked.

"No! He'd think I was a crazy woman," Willow replied.

"It's good to see you're still thinking," Giles said. "The others are only worried that this Malcolm might not be who he appears to be."

"I guess I did come down hard on them," Willow admitted. "I'll apologise tomorrow."


Later that day, Giles looked up at his proteges, minus Willow.

"Uh, that Calendar woman found that this, this book is blank," he said, holding up a really old tome with a picture of a horned demon on the front.

"Uh... was that, by any chance, a medieval fairytale book and not a Seal?," Xander asked.

"Not at all," Giles said. "Rather charming chap called Moloch the Corrupter used to be in here."

Buffy blinked. "Giles, did you release Moloch?!"


"Who's Moloch?," Jesse asked. "'Cause I can't remember no Moloch."

"The Corrupter," Giles began, "is a very deadly and seductive demon. He draws people to him with promises of love, power, knowledge. Preys on impressionable minds."

"Like Dave's!," Buffy said, drawing a conclusion.

"So, who read it?," Jesse asked.

"No one, as far as I can tell," Giles said. "That dreadful Calendar woman found it and it was already blank."

"If he's so powerful, why is he bothering with Dave?," Xander wondered.

"I don't know," Giles said. "And I don't know who could have read it. It-it wasn't in English."

"I never thought I'd say this," Xander said, "but Yay for American monolinguism."

"Where was it?," Buffy asked, trying to narrow it down.

"Uh, in a pile with some others to be scanned," Giles recalled.

The four looked at the computer. Giles had a slightly triumphant expression. He knew that no good would come of that machine!

"And that released the demon?," Jesse asked.

"No," Buffy said. "He's not out here. He's in there."

"So he's digital information stuck in this thing?," Giles asked, wanting to be sure. "Could we smash it and kill him?"

"No luck," Jesse said. "This computer is networked to the rest of the school. The school is networked to the rest of the world. He could be in Russia or Japan or Canada or something."

"So, what are we gonna do?," Xander asked.

"Willow scanned him into her file," Giles thought. "It may be a futile gesture, but perhaps we could delete him?"

"Solid!," the Slayer said.

She moved over to the computer.

"Which file is it? Uh, 'Willow'? That's probably it. I'll just delete the whole thing."

Buffy dragged the folder on the Macintosh's desktop to the Trash, then jumped back in fright when an exquisitely beautiful face appeared on the monitor.

"Stay away from Willow! It is none of your business," the face said. For all it's beauty, it was repulsive to the Slayer.

The monitor returned to the normal view one sees when using a Macintosh computer.

"Well, now we know who Malcolm is," Buffy said.


The demonic vampire looked at the other vampire. "You ain't one of the Bosses breed. Who're you, giving me orders?"

The demon was forced to silence itself when the other vampire moved across the room faster than it's eyes could follow, pinning it against the wall.

"Listen, scum," Adam said. "I'm Rice breed. I'm stronger than you. I'm smarter than you. And Lasombra accepted me into his clan. So learn some respect."

"Okay, sure," the demonic vampire said. "It's cool?"

Adam let it fall to the floor. "It's cool. Now. This is what you're going to do. You're going to pass on a message to someone. You've drawn courier duty."


"Come, Assamite. It's not that big a job," the Tzimisce vampire said. "I know that it's a blue milk run for you."

The vampire facing her shrugged. "Sure, Zhim. I'll check out that companie's offices for you."

"Wonderful," Tzimisce smiled. "Terry, please escort Assam to the Armoury?"

The tall figure behind her nodded. His face was perfect, possessing a rugged handsome quality. His limbs were straight, muscular. His expression held devotion to the female in front of him.

"Come on, I'll show you the way."


Elizabeth snarled as she made her way to Lasombra's base of operations. She had failed to Possess the Mayor, but had been able to wipe his memory of her.

Damn that little man!

It looked like they would have to work their way from the bottom up, rather than in a pincer hold. Tremere had gone to New York, to establish the Kindred there. She would check in with Lasombra, then travel to New York, checking that Tim was still doing what he should. Then...

There was nothing preventing her from catching a plane to Asia, to grasp more, control the flow of the economies.

Chapter 22

Buffy and Xander were looking for Willow -- they'd tried her house, and had only found an email from 'Malcolm' on her computer screen, saying 'No more waiting, I need you to see me.' Giles and Jesse were trying to convince Ms Calendar that demons existed, and one was in the Internet in some fashion.

"See him? How? Where?," Buffy thought out loud.

"What about CRD?," Xander said.

"The research place?"

"I'm guessing that's Moloch central."

"Guessing that's our best lead," Buffy agreed. "Let's just hope Giles can back us up."

They telephoned Giles, then made their way to Calax Research. Buffy easily leapt over the fence, Xander following slowly. He took off his gloves, revealing the Tarbaby Rune's extension as well as several other new lines.

"Those look new," Buffy commented as they jogged to the entrance.

"Hyena," Xander said. "It could access my memories and wanted more power."

"Ah," Buffy said as she kicked the doors in.

They knocked out the security guard, then got a few rooms into the building before the security lockdown kicked in. Red lights turned on, and a faint hissing of gas could be heard.

Xander started throwing small fireballs at the door from one of his new Runes, and Buffy started kicking at the thing, avoiding Xander's projectiles. Between the two of them, the portal quickly opened.

Moloch was in a Terminator-like body, without the organic material. It was a far cry from the sophisticated face presented in the computer screen, yet had the promise of achieving that. The demon was clutching it's metal head, feeling the effects of Ms Calendar's technopagan coven binding it. Buffy jumped at the demon, kicking it. All she succeeded in was hurting her foot.

A technician grabbed Xander from behind. He absently electrocuted the man, then started untying Willow from where Moloch had been trying to convince her to join him.

Then Moloch stopped screaming. He was bound in the robot, exorcised from the Internet.

"Come on, Buffy," Xander pleaded as him and Willow started moving towards the exit. "Let's go this way!"

"Wait!," Buffy said.

Moloch broke through the wall, then punched Xander into a wall. The youth sat there, getting his bearings. Buffy quickly followed.

"I was omnipotent!," the demon raged. "I was everything! Now I'm trapped in this shell!"

Moloch reached for Buffy's skull, his intentions obvious.

"Malcolm!," Willow shouted. "Remember me, your girlfriend?"

The demon turned, to see Willow with a fire extinguisher. She bashed him over the head with it.

"Well, I think it's time we break up!"

Thwack again.

"Or maybe we can still be friends!"

Xander, his mind turning over again, got up. "I think he needs a pick-me-up, Will."

Willow gestured to go right ahead. Xander drew a breath, then unloaded the mother of all lightning bolts into the robotic demon. He then collapsed against the wall again.

The demon exploded, the cheaply made motors and servo's unable to cope with the power overload.


The demonic vampire shuddered briefly. Sometimes he'd rather be Baseball Billy again, even if he had been a weakling who had gotten shaken down for lunch money each week.

"Come now," the Master said. "I promise not to bite. Much."

"I-I'm only the messenger," Billy said. "I got a message from Lasombra through Adam for you."

"Is he one of those new vampires I've been hearing about?," the Master asked, intrigued.

"Y-Yeah. Uh, he wants to t-talk with you," Billy stuttered. All his instincts were telling him to run like hell.

"Why?," Darla asked. "What does this Lasombra hope to gain?"

The demonic vampire paled, which was impressive considering what his complexion normally was. "Uh, I don't know. He doesn't tell me these things."

"He's the new Sunnydale Master, isn't he?," the Master mused out loud. A tone of hate could be heard tinging his words.

Billy nodded.

"Tell him I'm willing to talk to him, but am unable to leave here, so he will have to come to me," the Master said.


Giles woke up to another person knocking on his door. He yawned, getting his glasses and making his way downstairs.

Knock Knock Knock

"I'm coming," he shouted. "Keep your shirt on!"

He opened it to the sight of four men in black. He recognised all of them.

"Oh," the Watcher said. "I-I've been sending in my reports, if that's what the problem is."

"That isn't it," Bill said. "Can we come in?"

"Be my guest," Giles said.

The four entered, standing in his living room.

"Ah, I'm afraid I don't have any beer or anything to offer except tea," Giles said.

"That isn't the problem," Bill said. "The problem is all these bloody vampires you've let be created, Ripper."

Giles straightened up. "I think you'll find that we did the best we could and can."

"Gettin' civvies involved, too," Bill continued.

"They've been a real help!," Giles protested. "Without those three, the Bronze situations would have been a hundred times worse!"

"That's the only reason we're talking to you rather than what Travers and his crowd were calling for," Bill said. "We're to observe you carrying out your duties, and report back on you to the Council."

Giles sighed, collapsing on his favourite armchair. "Bloody wonderful."

Wasn't even six in the morning and already the day was shot to hell.


Tim Smith smiled at the gangster. The gangster was an aging man who owned a small bar, and controlled half the city.

"So you're promising me eternal life if I sign this contract in blood?," the old man asked. His name was Thomas Angelo, a pragmatic man who believed in no God, and no Devil. "There ain't no way that you'll welch on it?"

"Exactly," Tim said, showing his fangs as he smiled.

Thomas looked over the contract. It had an unconditional loyalty clause as well as numerous others... bah. He had absolutely no intention of following through with it once he'd gotten what he wanted.

"Gimme your pen or whatever the hell I'm supposed to use," Thomas said. He had no intentions of fulfulling this contract that this asshole had, but whatever science had created him, he wanted it. The fellow had demonstrated healing like he had never seen, and the old man could use that.

Smith produced a sharpened length of wood. The old Don got out a knife, and slid the blade across the back of his hand. He dipped the point of the wood in the blood, then put his name to the contract.

Chapter 23

Lasombra looked up, incredulous.

"You have got to be kidding," he said.

Billy shook his head. "Straight up, Boss. A couple of ten foot tall and bulletproof werewolves jumped down from the rooftops, ripped Adam apart and ran off with him."

Lasombra pulled out a packet of cigarettes, lit one then thought for a moment.

"Uh, Boss," Billy began tentatively. "I didn't know you smoked."

"I figured if the stress from managing you shits wouldn't kill me, these wouldn't either," the vampire said dryly. "What do we know about these wolves? Bikers?"

The demonic vampire nodded. "Uh, they had leathers on. I can get some more information if you want -- I know a guy who knows a guy."

Lasombra tapped the cigarette on the ashtray, dislodging the burnt dross. "Do that. Billy, I want you to stay out of the action, try and pick up where Robert left off."

"The werewolf vamp guy?," Billy asked.

"The Gangrel, yes," Lasombra corrected him. "Perhaps he wasn't caught in the sunlight after all."

"Ah, Boss, are you sure you want me doing your spywork?," Billy asked.

"You've proven yourself to be most adept at escaping sticky situations, and to be most inept at fighting," Lasombra said. "On your way out, tell Johnson to come in. Oh, and try shaking down the barkeep at 'Willy's Alibi'."


Giles woke up again to the sound of someone knocking on his door at four in the morning. He snorted, drawing in the fumes of ink and china clay.

"Hold your horses!," he yelled. "If this doesn't involve the end of the world, you'd better find a bloody good excuse!"

He put a bookmark in the Forgotten Realms sourcebook -- these days, what with the Rite and Reversal, he was using them as much as thousand year old tomes -- and got up, stretching.

He opened the door to a quite unexpected person. The Drow priestess from the last Metal Night.

"Oh. You."

He couldn't remember which deity she followed, but he sincerely hoped that she was a priestess of Eilistraee, and not Lloth.


Xander, Buffy, Jesse and Willow all had free period, and so decided to find Giles. They didn't find him in his usual haunt, and roamed the school until Willow spotted the back of the British man's head through a door. A white haired person was beside him, female.

"Ah! The annual play," Jesse observed. They all quickly reached the same conclusion, and entered the school hall.

Buffy got in the first comment. "If it isn't the great producer!"

"Had to see it to believe it," Xander continued.

Giles turned to see who had appeared. "Oh. You lot."

"Who's your co-producer?," Willow asked.

Xander paused to look at the person. Female, very shapely, long white hair, obsidian skin, purple eyes.

"Drow," he observed.

The drow pointed at Xander. "Human. Ooo, wow."

"Be nice, Chalithra," Giles reproached her. He turned to the four students. "She is staying with me for the time being."

Willow clapped a hand over Jesse's opening mouth -- he had that look in his eyes, and she just knew he was going to try a bad pick up line. The hormonal boy shot her a hurt look.

"Anyway," Buffy continued. "The school talent show. How did you finagle such a primo assignment?"

"Our new Fuhrer," Giles acidly commented.

"I think they call 'em school principals now," Willow offered, not disagreeing with Giles' original term.

"Mm. He thought it would behoove me to have more contact with the students," Giles explained. "I did try to explain that my vocational choice of librarian was a deliberate attempt to minimize said contact, but, uh, he would have none of it."

"Giles, unto every generation is born one who must run the annual talentless show," Buffy said, a firm believer in 'what goes around comes around.' "You cannot escape your destiny."

"Nah! I think I'll take on your traditional role... and watch!," the Slayer laughed.

"And smirk," Jesse added.

"And laugh!," Xander said.

"Et tu, Xander?," Giles asked.

Willow had ignored the four in favour of talking to the drow.

"O-kay. I think maybe we better leave our Mr. Giles to this business he calls a show," Buffy said. "Coming, Willow?"

"I want to stay and chat to Chalithra," Willow said. "If that's okay with you guys."

"That's fine," Xander said, cutting off Willow. "It's of the good, to make new friends."

Buffy, Jesse and Xander got up and would have walked out of the hall to continue their free period, but found the aforementioned new principal barring their way.

The short man in his suit blazed bureaucracy, eternally in search of those who would deny the Order that had been laid down by those in the levels above.

"Principal Snyder!," Buffy said, surprised. The two boys looked panicky.

"So. We think school events are stupid, and we think authority figures are to be made fun of?," Snyder commented, his tone making it clear that the question was not to be answered.

"No! No, we don't," Buffy said, trying to dig her way out. "W-unless you do."

Yep. Keep diggin' that hole, Buff, Xander thought to himself.

"And we think our afternoon classes are optional," Principal Snyder continued. "All three of you left campus yesterday."

"Yeah, but we were fighting a demon!," Buffy said before she realised who she was talking to.

"Fighting?," Snyder asked, latching onto the term that reeked of antisocial behaviour, deviating from Order.

"Not fighting," Buffy backpedalled.

"No, uh, we left to avoid fighting," Jesse tried. Xander was wise enough to realise that Snyder already had decided what he was going to do.

"Real anti-social types," the Principal decided. "You need to integrate into this school, people. I think I just found three eager new participants for the talent show."

For some reason, Xander had decided to wear a shortsleeved shirt that day. Snyder's eyes immediately fell onto the black metal snaking up his arms from the Runes etched on his fingertips, which were (thankfully) still gloved.

"What's this? What's this? Tattoos?," Snyder asked, frowning. "I'm going to keep an eye on you troublemakers.


Later that day after school, the three sighed.

"Why couldn't we have a cool principal, like Mr Flutie?," Buffy asked.

"Because... no, I don't even want to think about why," Jesse said, swallowing back a shudder.

"I've got a good 'why'," Xander said. "Why aren't you helping us, Willow?"

Willow smirked. "Because I was still talking to Chalithra and Giles, so Snyder thought I was being a good little student. Um, I can help with organising, but I'm not going on stage in any way whatsoever."

"Well, this is where we part ways," Xander said. "Me and Jesse are gonna go see Carl. See you girls tomorrow!"

"Want any backup?," Buffy asked.

"Ah, we're gonna borrow some CD's, not stake him," Xander said.


Jesse looked around. "I forgot his address. What is it again?"

Xander shrugged. "I dunno either. I just follow the music."

They were in the warehouse part of town -- for some reason, Carl rented one. Loud synthesizers cut through the air. The two youths followed the music back to a particular warehouse.

"Don't bother knocking," Xander said. "There's a better chance of someone hearing you in China than inside there."

They found the Malkavian vampire playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Xander moved over to the stereo system, wordlessly turning down the volume on the vacuum tube preamps.

"What did you--oh, Xander! Hey man!," Carl said. "What can I do for you guys?"

"I'm just after those albums I mentioned the other day," Xander easily explained.

"The Blessed Hellride, Youthanasia, Mezzanine and Blue Oyster Cult Super Hits?," Carl asked as he flicked through a milk crate full of compact discs.

"Yeah," Xander said. "I'll get them back to you in a week."

"Coolness," Carl said, turning up the volume slightly.

"Could I borrow The Fragile?," Jesse asked. The vampire wordlessly handed him the double CD case.

Xander paused as he was about to leave. "Carl, are you dealing okay? You're a good friend, man."

The vampire shrugged. "Same old, same old. My hours haven't changed. All that has is my diet and a couple other things."

"Where do you get the blood?," Jesse asked morbidly.

"Because taking it from the source would be major bad mojo," Xander added.

Carl smiled. Away from the turntables and speaker stacks of the Bronze, his face looked... tired, was the only word to describe it. "Lasombra set up a medical company. He gives me a discount, since he owes me."

Jesse suddenly felt like leaving, badly.

"See you next week, then," Xander said.

"Don't be a stranger," the Malkavian vampire said as he turned the volume back up, the dark room illuminated by the glow of the valves.

Chapter 24

The Master looked at Billy. "So, your Lasombra is coming now?"

Billy nodded.

"Where is he?," the Master asked. "I'm quite anxious to meet him."

The demonic follower pointed at the shadow cast by the stone cross in the cave. A figure rose from the two dimensional plane, gaining depth as well as height and width. He was dressed in jeans, a black jacket, and a white tee shirt.

"I'm Lasombra," the man said. "And I'm presuming you are the Master?"

"Indeed," Old Wrinkle Face said. "Welcome to my parlour."

"Said the spider to the fly," Lasombra finished the quote.

"You'd better not interfere with my plans, boy," the Master said.

Lasombra's eyes narrowed. "You'd better not get in my way."

Billy nervously raised his hand. "Uh, Boss?"

The two vampires' heads shot around to look at the underling.

"Should I tell him about those wolves?"

Billy was starting to sweat.

Lasombra smiled. "Absolutely. Remind me, however, to tell you about a delightful little thing called 'OpSec' when we get back."

"Werewolves?," the Master said. "Pathetic creatures."

"Wrong type," Billy said. "These are the Garou that we're talking about. They can control their change, they're hideously strong, and they have a massive hate-on for us vampires."

A balding vampire in an embroidered waistcoat with little goldrimmed glasses moved forwards a step. "Are you referring to the, uh, Whitewolf breed of werewolves created during Twelveheart's Final Rite?"

Billy nodded nervously.

Lasombra saw the Master's eyes narrow. He took the opportunity to ask something that had been digging at him for quite awhile.

"Why did you get Darla to organise that Rite?," Lasombra asked. "Were you hoping for a massive influx of footsoldiers?"

"I told her no such thing!," the Master snarled. "That bint organised all that by herself!"

With the passion he put into his statement, he might have even been telling the truth.

"Now," the Master said. "You will swear loyalty to me, or you will not leave this cavern un-alive."

Lasombra smirked. "You really should do your homework, you know."


"Come now, Assam. Take a seat."

"Thanks, Zhim. Well, I've got good news and bad news with regards to that so called law firm you wanted me to scout out."


"They've got extradimensional ties."

"You're joking."

"No. You'd be getting in over your head if you tried anything with them."

"It's just as well I asked you to check them out for me. Terry will pay you for your services."

"I see you've expanded."

"Oh, yes. I... bought... one of the swankier restaurants here in LA, and I've got the local street gangs by the balls, so to speak."

"This should be good."

"Quite. Their manly leaders aren't manly unless I deem it so. If their manly leaders try to run, or plot against me, then they aren't manly any more."

The normally reserved Assamite vampire laughed out loud at this.


The old man looked at the vampire across the table from him with venom in his glare. He still believed in no God, but now he believed in at least one Devil.

"You're going to fry in Hell," Thomas Angelo spat.

"Please," Smith smiled. "Between you and Vercetti, we've got this town sewn up."

"I don't like working under other people," Angelo admitted.

"At least you can still walk under the sun," Smith observed. He dug a fingernail into his arm, blood flowing down from his wrist, painting his fingers.

And the old Mafia don drank.

While he hated working under others, he didn't mind that as much as dying of old age.


Xander sat in the folding chair, head on arms laid flat on the chair in front of him. Him, Buffy and Jesse were in the school hall, trying to dream up an act for the School Talent Show.

"I know!," he said. "We'll summon something, and Buffy can fight it!"

The Slayer shuddered. "I don't think so."

"I can play the piano," Jesse offered.

"Badly," Xander dryly added.


"Truth hurts, man."

"Well, what if we do an illusion of something for Buffy to fight?," Jesse offered. "I really don't want to sing in front of everyone.

"Everyone doesn't want you to sing either, Jesse," Buffy said. "What? I heard you 'serenading' Harmony."

Willow wandered over to the three, Chalithra behind her.

"Why didn't Snyder try and kick you out?," Willow asked the Drow girl.

"New," Chalithra explained. "He still doesn't recognise all the students, and didn't want to embarass himself."

"Heeeey," Xander yelled. "Welcome to the jungle!"

"Hi, guys!," Willow said back. "This is Chalithra, and she's originally from San Francisco, but doesn't feel like going back at the moment, which is okay, since I've always wanted to travel across America, too, and--"

"Okay, Will," Xander interrupted. "We've come up with a plan for the talentless show."

"What's the what?," Willow asked.

"They do their Penn and Teller act and make an illusion of a demon and I fight it," Buffy said.

"Cool," Willow said. "The best I could do is get embarassed and run away mid-skit."

A scream cut through all the rehearsing in the hall, echoing from the changing rooms behind the stage. All five youths' heads turned immediately.

"Bet you a dollar it isn't a spider," Jesse said.

"No bet," Chalithra said. "Bet you a dollar it isn't a vampire attack."

"You're on!"

Chapter 25

The Master snapped his fingers. The three minions present produced molotov cocktails and lighters. They lit the lighters, holding them apart from the petrol filled bottles.

"Ah, but I have done my homework, Lasombra. And I know that fire is very, very bad for you," the eight hundred year old Master said.

Lasombra's mind worked furiously. "You've forgotten something."

"What would that be?," the Master asked disdainfully.

Lasombra smiled. His tendrils of shadow that he had created while the Master threatened him wrapped around the three demonic vampires, immobilizing them.

"That!," Sunnydale's new Prince said. "This conversation has been most informative."

And with that, he melted into the shadows behind the stone cross again and disappeared from the Master's cavern.


The Mayor looked at the vampire across the table. The contractor was a black man in a suit, briefcase in hand.

"Mr Trick, I've been having some problems with minorities in this town," Mayor Wilkins the Third said, "and I was hoping that you'd be able to sort things out for me, with minimum cost to the taxpayers."

"I'm sorry," Mr Trick said, "but I'm starting a very lucrative contract with another being in two weeks. I'm sure you understand."

Mayor Wilkins the Third stood up, walking around the office to the vampire.

"Well, gosh. This is a quite urgent matter," the Mayor said. "I can't have people disrupting my town, stirring up trouble. It would be a crime. Do we understand each other?"

Mr Trick swallowed. He couldn't believe this short guy could be so threatening.

"S-Sure thing."



The masked Toreador looked around the restaurant.


"Excuse me, madam," the head waiter said. "Do you have a reservation?"

"I'm here to see Amanda," the vampire snarled. The head waiter frowned slightly at her breath, but had the decency to not comment.

"Lady Tzimisce has left orders for you to be escorted to the Red Room," the head waiter said. "Pierre will show you there, and the Lady will see you shortly."


Back in Sunnydale, the Scoobies were discussing the body found in the changing rooms. A body minus a heart and plus extraneous blood once known as Emily.

"Demon!," Jesse said.

"Human!," Xander retorted.



It was a interesting and rewarding discussing, despite the lack of depth and rewards.

"Excuse me!," Giles cut in. "Ah, I think it would be a human, since, uh--"

"Demons don't need knives," Buffy completed. "What kinda sicko would want a heart, though?"

"It must have happened right after dress rehearsal," Giles thought out loud, "since Emily never attended her cross country meet."

"Vampire?," Willow hoped.

"Um, I think not," Giles said. "There are various demons which feed off human hearts, but they all have claws."

"Yeah, they got no use for a big ole knife," Xander sighed.

They briefly discussed the implications of a human culprit.

"Ah, if it's human," Giles said, "that makes the whole issue far more complex."

"As if it wasn't bad enough with all the weirdos running around now," Buffy grumbled.

"It also raises the creep factor," Willow said. "It could be anyone! It could be me!"

She paused, as everyone looked at her weird. "It's not, though."

"Demon or no, we have some investigating to do," Giles said. "I suggest we start with your... talent show compatriots. One of them may have been the last to see her alive."


Chapter 26

"You guys pick up a common theme?," Xander asked as they regrouped in the Library after asking various students about where they had last seen Emily, the girl who had been de-hearted. "Because I'm hearing Morgan, and not as in rum either."

"Me too," Jesse added. "Me too."

"Uh, everyone I asked said that they saw Emily with Morgan right before she, uh, died," Willow said nervously.

"We have a winner!," Xander decided.

"I fear I was lead to the same conclusion," Giles nodded.

"Well, what do we do?," Xander asked. "We don't slay him, right? We wanna bring him to justice. If it is Morgan and he is human, of course."

"We could set up a complex sting operation where we get him to confess!," Willow grinned.

"Yeah! Me and Buffy could do some under the covers work!," Jesse grinned lecherously.

The Slayer gave him a 'yeah, right' look.

"Uh, I should wear a wire!," Xander said, getting into the spirit of it.

"Whoa, hey, you guys, all we know is that Morgan is a grade A large weirdo," Buffy pointed out, playing devil's advocate. "That doesn't lead directly to murderer."

"Guy talks to his puppet," Xander pointed out.

"And for his puppet," Willow added.

"Well, yeah, but what about the whole 'it's a demon' theory?," Buffy asked.

"What if he wasn't talking for his puppet, and it's the demon?," Jesse asked.

"I'm looking into that, but, uh, my investigation is somewhat... hampered by our life in the theater," Giles hedged.

"Uh, priority check, Giles?," Buffy asked, weighing her options with her hands. "Talent show, murder."

Not to mention getting *out* of said talent show.

"Yeah, so sad, the show can't go on," Xander said dismissively.

"Principal Snyder is watching us all very closely. Now, if he chooses, he can make all our lives extremely difficult," Giles explained. "A Slayer... and all of us... cannot afford that! We will find this murderer, but in the meantime... the show must go on."

"You just want us to suffer like you are!," Jesse accused.

"This is so unfair," Buffy complained.

"Buffy, you watch Morgan," Giles decided. "Check his locker, see if there's anything there."

"Like a heart?," Willow eagerly asked.

"Or a once-living dummy?," Xander joked.

"I'll pull up his locker number," Willow said, moving over to the computer.


Elizabeth stepped down from the plane, looking across the busy terminal. Thousands of people flooded the area. She adjusted her hat as she began to move towards the waiting car, where an Asian man was holding up a sign saying 'VENTRUE'.

"Is velly good to have you with us," the man said as he opened the door for her.

"Thank you," she returned as he shut the door, getting into the driver's seat.

"Tendo-sama is very interested in what your company has to offer," the man continued.

"Oh?," Elizabeth asked, eyebrow arched. "We have been rather... impressed by how well she has done."


Robert looked around his cell, sighing. This was getting exceedingly boring.

"Almost time," his guard said, looking at his watch.

"Time? Time for what?," Robert asked.

The werewolf unlocked the door, and three more of the werewolves entered. He had had no idea that the Garou had organised so far, and also had not known that they had grown so hostile so quickly.

"Careful, I bruise easily," he joked.

They all ignored him, taking him outside the building. They kept him moving until they came to a pit dug into the ground.

"Here's your stop," his gaoler said, pushing him in.

He fell about twenty feet, and had to burn some blood healing his broken leg bones.

"The sun will be up in about... half an hour," a werewolf yelled down to him. "Don't even think of climbing out, or we'll set you on fire!"

This just got better and better, he decided. Looking around, he found several stormwater pipes -- all rather large, but still far too small for him to crawl into. Robert looked up, and grinned toothily as he saw that none of the wolves were looking down into the pit.

"So long, suckers!," he yelled out, slowly transmuting into mist and flowing easily into one of the larger drains.

Chapter 27

Elizabeth smiled demurely from where she was sitting. A small, delicate cup of jasmine tea hid her mouth.

"You've done most well, Ms Tendo," she said. "The strides made by your company in the field of neurology and medical science has been simply amazing."

The Japanese business woman smiled back. "I was fortunate enough that the lead researcher, Saotome Ranma, is a friend and agreed to work for me so quickly."

"Are you sure that the deal with my corporation is satisfactory?," Elizabeth asked, referring to the business that Lasombra and herself had set up recently. Together, the two of them had managed to 'convince' many independant businessmen to sell to them. "We can renegotiate if it is not."

"Tendo Enterprises is happy to work with Ventrue Corporation as a partner," Nabiki Tendo rebutted gently.

"Would it be alright if I stayed to observe your wonderful company for a week?," Elizabeth asked.

"Perfectly," Nabiki nodded. "I insist you stay at my family's house --my sister will be glad to see another face at the table."


Lasombra looked up from a page of figures he was studying. "Robert!"

The thin vampire before him grinned. "Lassie!"

"Don't call me that," the grim vampire at the desk growled. He gestured at the pair of wolf ears perched on top of Robert's head. "What's up with the lug holes?"

"These?," Robert asked, reaching to touch one. "I slipped up using Shape of the Beast."

Lasombra sighed deeply, expressing dismay. He pulled out a sheet of paper, slipping it across to his friend. It was an intelligence report. "In your absence, I've had a lesser vampire called Billy doing the info thing. He's basically useless, but not quite as useless as the rest."

Robert nodded. "I'll take him as... an apprentice, of sorts."

Lasombra pulled out a cigarette, and lit it. He gestured at Robert's new ears with the lit cigarette. "Figured out a way of hiding those?"

Robert nodded again, taking a widebrimmed hat from a coatrack hanging on the wall.

"It works, but you need to do something about the empty skin where your ears used to be," Lasombra said thoughtfully. "It's a shame that Tzimisce skipped town."

"She didn't like this place to begin with," Robert shrugged. "Probably went to Los Angeles, possibly back to Paris."

Someone knocked on the door, then opened it without ceremony and entered. It was Billy, aforementioned would-be spy.

"Billy!," Lasombra grinned.

Billy gulped. Grinning vampires didn't really look that inspiring. "Uh, yeah, boss?"

"This here is Robert," Lasombra said, gesturing again with the cigarette. He tapped it absently on the ashtray on his desk. "He'll be taking back his position of Spymaster, and you'll be working under him."

"You'll be going to Vice City," Robert spoke up. "Tim Smith refuses to send his report by post, wants a courier."


Amanda smirked as she swept into the Red Room.

"You!," the masked vampire snarled, rising to her feet. Her long white dress swirled around her legs, and her black and white jacket remained smooth.

"I am, indeed, Amanda of the Tzimisce," the woman said, pronouncing it zhi-mee-see. "And you are?"

"I am Despair," the masked woman's companion said, rising to her feet as well, "and this is my friend Jessica."

Amanda looked at the unscarred Toreador inquisitively. "Despair?"

The vampiress sighed, long-suffering echoing in the sound. "Mother had a Catholic upbringing, and was in a rebellious phase when she chose to name me. Please, call me Des for the time being."

Yes, Despair was trying to ingratiate herself. But Amanda didn't seem to notice.

"What can I do for the two of you?," she asked.

Jessica ripped her mask off, revealing a face that Erik would have been proud to have. "You can start with fixing this!"

"Well," Amanda began, a smile growing, "Terry does need a hand or four with a small job I have for him..."


Xander looked over the book Giles had handed him. The Watcher had found a possible perp for the organ thefts over the last few days -- a group of demons who needed them to assume a human appearance.

"So Morgan could still be the guy, only demon Morgan instead of crazy Morgan," Willow summed up.

"It's said that these demons are, are, are preternaturally strong," Giles read, "and Morgan is, is... Well, he seems to be getting weaker every day."


After school, Xander stole Morgan's dummy from Mrs Jackson's cupboard, taking it to the Library. Something was off about that puppet, something was definitely strange...

"Where did you get that?," the Slayer demanded.

"Oh, I took it out of Mrs. Jackson's cupboard," Xander said easily. "I thought you said you wanted to be able to speak to Morgan alone, and well, Morgan's alone, and, uh... Sid's with me."

Buffy looked at the puppet uncomfortably. It looked like a little dead person, to her.

"Hi, Buffy! Hi, Willow!," Xander said in a squeaky voice, manipulating the dummy. "Would you like to hear some off-color jokes?"

And he had a ton, from sleepovers with Jesse and Wills.

"I really don't think you should be doing that," Buffy said.

"What? C'mon...," Xander complained. He assumed a squeaky voice again. "I'm not real!"

"Xander, quit it!," Buffy demanded again, unsettled. She began to walk off in search of Morgan, when a thumping sound from behind rattled her. Buffy turned to find Xander thumping the puppet's head into the table.

"He's... not... real!," Xander said forcefully, picking Sid back up. "I think our demonstration proves that, uh, Sid is wood. Now, why don't you go and find Morgan and prove he's... whatever he is?"

"I imagine he's looking for his puppet," Giles interrupted, unamused.

"I'll go find Morgan," Buffy sighed. Xander was in a peculiar mood, and she couldn't see how to get him out. "You watch the dummy."

Xander assumed the squeaky voice again, manipulating Sid. "Bye-bye, now. I'm completely inanimate."

Buffy gave Xander another look, then left in search of a possibly demonic Morgan.

"Redrum! Redruuum!," Xander said in that squeaky voice.

"What do we do with him?," Willow asked, meaning Xander.

"Eh, I'll keep him company," Xander shrugged, assuming she meant Sid.

"Xander, Willow, we have some hunting of our own to do," Giles said.

"Once again we're banished to the demon section of the card catalog," the redhead said philosophically.

"You concentrate on re-animation theory," Giles directed. "I'll peck about in organ harvesting. Unless, of course, you prefer..."

"That's okay, you can have the organs," Willow said quickly.

Chapter 28

A beautiful woman appeared in a restroom, stepping out of it into Sunnydale's premier country club. Her hair was long, black, and tied into a ponytail. She appeared roughly sixteen or seventeen years of age, and her dark green clothes accentuated her jade eyes. She moved over to a table that hosted five women of varying age, and stopped once she had reached it.

"Hello, I don't believe we've met before," the eldest woman, a Mrs Skinner, said.

"We're old friends, even though we've never met," the newcomer said, smiling. She produced a large gem from an unseen pocket, and held it up to the light.

"How beautiful!," Mrs Chase gasped.

The woman set it down in the exact centre of the table. "For the prettiest of you all. But I must be off, I fear."


Xander looked up from the book he was reading through. "Hey, I found something. It basically says that Pinnochio-like things try to become human by harvesting organs."

"Pinnochio-like things?," Willow asked.

"Emily's heart," Giles realised.

"Morgan's dummy," Willow added, realising what Xander was driving at.

"Say, where'd it go?," Xander asked. "It was right here by me a second ago, bad jokes and all..."

"Don't remind me," Willow groaned. The last time she'd heard that many bad jokes, she had been six.

"Right," Xander said, pulling off one of his black gloves. "I'm gonna fireball it if I see it again."

"Don't be so hasty," a voice unfamiliar to both Giles and Willow called out from the Library doors. "You're chasing the wrong rabbit."

Everyone looked at the door, to see a girl with dark green clothes, green eyes, and black hair standing at the door. Amusement danced in her eyes.

"Eris!," Xander said, grinning. "Great to see you again!"

"Lexy," the girl smirked, slinking over to the table and sitting on Xander's lap. "I've got a good way of showing you just how great it is for me to see you again..."

With that, she started making out with him in the middle of the Library.

"Hey!," Willow complained. "You can't do that! Giles, they can't do that, right?"

The Watcher was decidedly pale at the moment. "Willow, she could turn this place into a warzone if she called on her brother. Be nice to Discordia."

Willow went as pale as the Watcher. She fell to her knees before the Goddess making out with her best friend. "Goddess!"

Eris disengaged from liplock. She smirked down at the redhead. "It's always nice to find one of your worshippers, isn't it, Namekeeper?"

Xander, who had been somewhat zoned out until now, blinked as his eyes regained focus. "Who, what? Hey, I'm just Xander!"

"'Just Xander's don't have enough power or chutzpah to tell Father off," Eris smiled. "Word is beginning to spread of your new status, and my followers begin to tell of you as well."

"You're... you're... the Namekeeper?," Willow asked Xander weakly. "But... but... but..."

With that, the hackeress fainted dead away.

The amusement in Eris' eyes had grown.

The sounds of yelling and argueing grew as people passed outside the Library.

"I'M the MVP! NOT YOU!"

"You're NUTS, man! That plaque is MINE!"

Xander looked at Eris, annoyed. "You didn't!"

Eris looked at Xander, and started grinding her hips into his. "But it's so much fun... and it makes me so hot..."


Amanda glared at her fellow Toreador. "I can't believe you did that!"

Despair looked at her flatly. "If you'd been polite to her in the first place, we wouldn't be doing this."

The two vampires looked vastly different to their normal appearance. Amanda's face resembled that of one of the more notorious criminals of Los Angeles, and Despair's face was that of the man's partner. By no coincidence, the two whose faces they wore did not work for Lady Tzimisce.

"I look like a guy!," Amanda hissed.

"Shut up!," Despair roared. Her vocal cords were also altered, so her voice was a tenor rather than it's usual soprano. "We're in this to get the painting, then get out. So shut up and work!"

Terry smirked from behind the two. His face had been altered too.