WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Responding to the stress in Buffy’s voice, Faith climbed out of the car. “What -- oh.” She shut the door behind her, then reached into the trunk to pull out a bag full of weapons. “Coincidence?”
“I don’t think so.” As Buffy pulled out her favorite ax and Faith grabbed a crossbow, the creatures continued to advance and also separate, attempting to flank the pair. Buffy saw they had thick green skin, nasty looking fangs, and some kind of chain mail for clothing. “This is a good old fashioned ambush. I wonder why they didn’t just roll something onto the roadway that we might actually hit, to make their job easier.”
“Maybe they felt up for a fight -- like I do.” Faith aimed the crossbow at the nearest demon and let loose a bolt. Flying true, it impacted the thing right in the center of the chest -- and bounced off.
“Would you like to rethink that attitude?” Robin asked, from where he peered through the rear window.
“I never rethink my attitudes.” In one swift motion she reloaded, aimed and fired again, and this time the bolt avoided the primitive body armor and struck the creature right between the eyes.
And bounced off.
“Uh oh.” That’s all Faith got out before she found herself flying through the air, sporting a nasty series of gashes across her arm.
Buffy saw it all, but by that time the other two creatures were nearing. She tried for a trick shot, swinging the ax to slice one’s head off, then continue the arc to catch the second one. The razor sharp ax blade shattered on first impact, jarring Buffy’s arm right up to the shoulder.
The demon staggered back one step, slapped a hand over the slight crease in its neck, then kept on coming.
“My favorite ax!” She used the handle as a spear, throwing all her weight into the blow, but the beast grabbed it out of her hand and swung it around at her head. She barely ducked in time, and when she came back the other one was on her. She dodged its slashing claw, then had to throw herself back to avoid a kick.
This was not working. Faith had disappeared into the shadows, and the third demon had stopped in its tracks to examine the Mustang. If Buffy couldn’t beat her two, she had to at least get them away from the car before Robin decided to join the fight. “Come on, boys -- you want a slayer, I’ll give you a chase.” She bounced a stake off the skull of one, then scooped up her bag of tricks and dashed further into the gully.
After about fifty feet she landed in a slight depression, invisible in the rapidly darkening ditch, and fell face first into the brush. They’d be right behind her -- she yanked a sword from the bag and got to her feet, ready to make a quick strike and flee again.
They weren’t right behind her.
In fact, all three now stood around the car, staring into it. She glimpsed Robin’s face, a mix of concentration and pain as he tried to figure out how to defeat something uninjured slayers hadn’t phased. “Robin, get behind the wheel! Drive away!” She dashed toward the monsters again, sword held high.
In the same instant, a large rock emerged from the shadows and banged into one of the demons. Faith followed at full speed, swinging a huge chunk of wood she’d scooped up.
With speed shocking for its size, one monster spun around, lowered its head, and impaled Faith on its horn.
Buffy saw the same thing coming. Two handed, she swung the sword with all her might, coming down on the head of the demon closest to her. It glanced off the thing’s skull, and to her surprise chipped off its horn. With a scream of pain and rage, the demon batted at her with its arm, and Buffy found herself spinning through the air.
She came down hard, and screamed as she felt her shoulder pulled out of its socket. The pain was so blinding that for a moment she almost passed out, but she forced herself to stay conscious when she realized, this time, one of them had followed her. The now hornless one, who looked very, very mad. A thin stream of green blood flowed from the jagged base of the horn.
Blood. With her good right arm, Buffy jerked out the thin dagger she kept strapped to her waist -- the only weapon she had left. The demon came at her, arms outstretched, roaring in rage, and just as it reached her she leaped straight into the air, trying to ignore the pain.
The demon stabbed at her with both hands, its claws sweeping through space as she scissored her legs apart to avoid them.
With all the strength she could muster, Buffy jammed the dagger down into the socket where the horn had been, and was rewarded to see it sink in all the way to the hilt before the thing collided with her, and they both fell hard to the ground.
When Buffy regained consciousness she was looking into the Demon’s own red eyes, now unfocused and unseeing. It still quivered, as if trying one last time to reach her, but this time it was down for good. “You’d better be dead,” Buffy gasped. “That’s the last time you horn in on me.”
She wouldn’t do them any good in this position. Sitting up, Buffy gripped her now useless left arm with her right hand. “This is really going to hurt.” She gritted her teeth, then pulled with her strength.
It really did hurt.
She opened her eyes to again see black sky above, but this time she had movement and feeling -- lots of feeling -- in her arm. Climbing unsteadily to her feet, she got her bearings and stumbled toward the car.
There is was, looking relatively undamaged, and with not a demon to be seen. Several yards beyond, a body lay unmoving in the dirt, and Buffy headed toward it. She glanced into the Mustang as she passed.
Faith was still breathing -- thank God. Buffy pulled the other slayer’s shirt up to reveal a nasty, horn sized hole in her abdomen, from a blow that had probably broken one or two floating ribs. The bleeding had already slowed, thanks to Faith’s mystical healing ability -- how long had Buffy been out?
“Buffy?” Faith’s eyes fluttered open, and she drew a shuddering breath. “The demons --”
“Gone. And my outfit is ruined.” Buffy ripped off part of her dress -- now it was a minidress -- and used it to bandage Faith’s wound, although every movement made her shoulder scream.
There was no point in putting it off. “Also gone. I think the demons took him, but there’s no sign they hurt him.” If they’d planned to hurt Robin she’d have found him -- or parts of him -- still lying around.
“But . . . why?”
“That’s the question of the day.” She made sure Faith was as comfortable as possible, then prepared to search the area -- although she already knew nothing would be found. “Don’t worry, Faith. We didn’t come this far together to lose any one of us now. We’ll get this sorted out.”
The argument at Kara’s house went on far into the night.
There were interruptions: one by a call from Jason’s irate father, who was so mad he told his son not the bother coming home, and the other from the police, who took statements about the gang fight at the coffee house. But between those times, the group reached a stalemate -- because all the evidence the visitors gave Richard about the existence of evil beings was purely circumstantial.
In the end, Kara settled the argument when she left to get a drink of water in the kitchen, and saw a shadowy figure standing near the edge of the back yard. She called Xander, Dawn, Jason and Richard to the window, waiting until they were ready before she flipped on the outside flood light.
The vampire who had escaped the coffee house shielded his eyes, but merely looked annoyed at having been discovered. That emboldened Kara, who opened the back door door despite a panicked yelp from her father. “What do you want?”
The vampire grinned, exposing the points of his fangs. “The slayer’s sister.”
For a moment the vamp looked oddly confused. “Orders.”
“Who gave the orders?”
The vampire grinned again. “Why don’t you invite me in, and we’ll discuss it?”
“If you’re thirsty, there’s a garden hose right by your feet.” Kara shut the door and turned to her father. “Any more questions?”
“Yes -- how do we catch it alive? We need to find out what it’s really up to, and how it found your friends here.”
“You could turn on your bug zapper,” Xander suggested.
“Xander . . .” Dawn shivered. “You know, sometimes I think I only get attention when I don’t want it.”
Kara only half listened to them. She was glad to have her father convinced now, and the idea of being a slayer excited her more as she thought about it, but there was a much more immediate concern. If they just took off for Chicago and left the vampire behind, it would mean more than not getting any answers. It would mean her friends and neighbors being next on the food chain. “We have about six hours to figure this out. After that it’ll start getting light, and our friend will go find someplace to hide.”
“Well, he’s not hiding now,” Jason pointed out. “Look.”
Sure enough, the vampire was waving his arms and shouting something. Kara cracked the door open, and they heard quite clearly, “Look out! They’re coming!”
“Something’s coming?” Kara glanced around at the others, who were so rattled by the warning that they stepped away from the door, into the combined kitchen-dining area that took up the back of the house. “Something a vampire would try to warn us about?”
“Clearly, he’s just trying to fool with us.” Richard glanced nervously behind him. “And at any rate, nothing can come in without being invited.”
That comment made Xander look nervous. “Well, actually, while it’s true vampires can’t come in --”
At that instant, something came in without being invited. Two somethings, in fact -- one through the front door, and one through the back. They were huge and green, and covered with sharp things, and when the nearest one turned, Kara saw it’s eyes glowed an evil red.
“Demons can come in,” Xander finished, and by the time the words were out he’d drawn and fired the small crossbow he’d insisted on taking inside.
It bounced off the hide of the nearest creature, which had smashed through the kitchen door. It turned to him with a huge grin. “Silly human. If the slayers couldn’t harm us, how could you?”
“Like this.” Richard, looking enraged, smashed a barstool over the thing’s back.
“You're brave. I’ll let you live.” The demon grabbed Xander and Richard in its two meaty hands and tossed them through the nearest wall.
By that time Kara reached the kitchen’s knife drawer. She grabbed up sharp objects as fast as she could, hurtling them at the beast. One bounced off and embedded itself in the wall where Dawn stood, so Dawn grabbed it up and made a move toward the attacker. Before she could use the knife, the demon who had entered through the front reached the end of the main hallway and grabbed her from behind, hauling her backward.
The first demon now moved in, ignoring Jason as it stalked toward where its brother struggled with Dawn. Jason would have none of that -- he opened the gun rack on the far side of the dining area and hauled out a World War 2 era M-1 carbine. “Lock and load! Take that, evildoer!” He pulled the trigger.
“Jason!” Kara had just pulled a bag of flour and box of matches from a cabinet, but paused to yell across to her friend. “Dad doesn’t keep those loaded, they’re collector’s items!”
“Oh.” Jason grabbed the rifle by its barrel, dashed forward, and smashed the collector’s item across a demon’s back.
It swung around without a second thought, claws extended, and swept Jason through the wall that separated the dining area from the garage, leaving only Kara standing. She retreated to the gaping hole where the back door had been, wondering how she could kill just one of them without being torn apart by the other.
“Hey!” a voice hissed behind her. She wasn’t the only one standing, after all -- the vampire hovered just outside the back door. “Invite me in!”
“And that would be useful how?”
“Okay, fine. But you’re on the right track -- they’re weak against fire.”
Kara looked down at the items in her hand, just as the demon who wasn’t struggling with Dawn turned toward her again. “Thanks heaps.” She hurtled the flour at the approaching thing, and as it burst into a cloud she struck a match, set fire to the match box, and threw it, too.
She could feel the heat as the flour, mixed perfectly with air for combustion, ignited into a mini-bomb that engulfed the demon’s head. It screamed and, batting at its scorched green scalp, stumbled back, then fell over a chair. “So, my chemistry teacher wasn’t kidding.”
“Now will you invite me in?” the vampire asked.
“Fine. Come on in.” How much worse could her situation be, when she had to ask for assistance from a vampire? Kara reached behind her for a shard of wood left over from the smashed barstool, but to her surprise the vampire charged right past her. The other demon had disappeared from sight into the hallway that led to the front door, so the vampire drop kicked the injured one as it struggled to get up. He swung around and kicked it again, as Kara moved in to help.
But the demon, with amazing speed, grabbed the vampire by one leg and swung it through the air. The vamp rammed into Kara, and she felt stabs of pain all over as the impact forced her back into the kitchen. The vampire landed beside her and gasped, “More fire.”
“Right.” She reached up to turn on a stove burner, then stuffed a dish towel into the gas flame. The demon was headed for them again, but hesitated when she straightened up, the flaming rag in her hand. “Get back.” With her free hand, she fumbled behind her through the cabinet.
“Your little flame can’t stop me,” the creature said in a low, rumbling voice, but it still hesitated.
Kara found what she was looking for, but as she started to fling the glass bottle of lamp oil, she realized only a few ounces of the liquid remained. Not enough, unless she could use it to kindle a bigger fire. “Crapweasel.”
“I’ll slow it down.” The vampire flung itself at the demon again, and the two things fell to the ground, with the green monster quickly gaining the upper hand. The vamp, desperately trying to keep a hold, screamed, “I’ll never survive in a world with two armies of slayers, anyway! Do what you have to.”
With mixed feelings, Kara hurtled the bottle, then the rag.
A moment later she used the fire extinguisher by the kitchen door to douse the flames that licked at the demon’s corpse. Of the vampire, nothing remained.
With the battle done, the house lay in a deathly quiet. She glanced around at the various ragged openings where walls used to be, and knew it was time to do a body count.
She found her father, ironically, draped over his easy chair in the study, just coming around. “Kara -- you’re all right?” When she nodded, he reached out an unsteady hand to the table beside him for a half full, and miraculously unbroken, bottle of brandy, poured some into an equally uninjured glass, and waved her off. “Go check the others, I’ll be able to walk eventually.”
Xander lay in the bathtub, covered in ceiling tile and unconscious, but breathing.
Jason lay in the garage, face down. She carefully turned him over, used clean shop towels to staunch the flow of blood from gouges across his chest, and returned to her search.
Dawn had disappeared, along with the surviving demon.
After doing a quick patrol through the house Kara reached for the kitchen phone, then paused. Clearly Jason -- at least -- needed medical attention. But how would they explain all this? More importantly, how long would it take to explain? Something big was up, so big that it was forcing different groups to fight over The Slayer’s sister. That was the only answer to the vampire’s actions -- it had wanted Dawn for some other purpose. For a hostage? Blackmail? To get Buffy Summers to do something, or to keep her from doing something? They had to find answers fast, because the bad guys were doing pretty well for themselves, so far.
She limped back into the garage and cast a sympathetic eye on her friend. The bleeding had stopped, and his respirations were more regular. “Hold on, Jason. We’re going to get you to help, but it might not be the closest hospital.”
“So I’m a slayer.”
The petite black girl -- petite was putting it mildly, Willow thought -- turned from Willow to Kennedy, a suspicious look on her face.
They'd found her, ironically, when Kennedy leafed through the newspaper's sports section in their motel room. Trina was her name, and after years of struggling she had suddenly exploded into the top of women’s gymnastics, despite being only fourteen. Overnight, she seemed to be at the top of her game. In fact, Willow and Kennedy had found her in a small gym near the edge of town, practicing her routine late at night, even after her coach had gone home. The girl wore a purple leotard, had draped a towel over her shoulders, and was covered with some kind of chalky dust that made Willow want to sneeze.
“Just like me,” Kennedy offered.
Trina nodded, but looked at Willow. “And you’re a witch.”
“I’m a good witch.” She did a little spin. “See? No green skin, no warts.” She waited, while the girl continued to size them up. “I could do some magic?”
“I believe you, I think.” Trina shrugged. “Sometimes strange things happen around here, and people just pretend they don’t.”
“I know just how that is.” Despite growing up on a hellmouth, Willow had been in high school before she finally had to admit that the world was much stranger than any adult would ever say.
“But . . .” Trina looked around the gym, at the balance beam, vault, uneven parallel bars, and finally at the empty bleachers on either side of the relatively small area. “It’s not like anybody would miss me if I left the foster home. But after all this time I’m finally -- well -- popular. I’d have to give up my chances at a gold medal.”
“You’d be fighting to keep the world safe.” Kennedy sounded impatient. “If not for slayers, places like Cleveland would be big smears in the dirt.”
Willow decided to play to the girl’s quest for glory. “You’d be just like Spider-man, only you’d be more like Spider Girl.”
For the first time since they met her Trina smiled, but it was a smile much too cynical and world-weary for a fourteen year old. “You mean nobody would know who I really was, and I’d have no friends and family?”
Oops. Wrong hero. But before Willow could recover another, much more masculine voice interrupted.
“Yes, that’s exactly what she means, child.” They turned to see something at least two feet taller than Kennedy, standing at the gym’s main entrance. Its eyes glowed red, and it was covered with sharp horns and claws. “Stay out of this, and you can still be in your silly competition.”
Turning to Trina, Kennedy poked a thumb toward the demon. “See, that’s the kind of thing that jumps out at you on a Hellmouth. Better to face something like that with other slayers, don’t you think?”
Trina just stared at the thing, mouth and eyes wide.
“I am having a very bad time,” the demon announced, stalking toward the girls. “I’ve lost my brothers this day, and I am in no mood for pre-fight banter, so I will make this plain.” It pointed a finger at Willow. “I’ve come for the witch. Give her to me or die.”
“Oh boy,” Willow said.
“The only thing about you that scares me is your breath.” Kennedy took three steps to the vault, ripped it from its anchors, and sent it flying at the approaching monster.
With one quick chop, it ripped the vault in half.
“And the claws,” Kennedy added. “And the eyes, those are a little creepy. Run!”
But Willow, who’d run from such things far too often in her life, had a few tricks up her own sleeve. Whispering a quick incantation, she waved a hand to produce a magical shield that shimmered between them and the demon.
It paused. “You’re powerful, as was said.” Then it walked through as if the barrier was air. “You’ll do.”
“Oh boy,” Willow repeated. Another quick spell produced similar results.
“Willow!” Kennedy yelled. “Off the mat!”
Looking down, Willow realized she was on one end of a runner that led to the vault, and the creature had just stalked onto the other end. She stepped back as Kennedy grabbed an edge of the mat, while Trina instantly saw the plan and took another edge. Together, they jerked.
The demon tumbled head over heals, while the two slayers dashed for the uneven bars and tore them from their mounts. “A little bauble on the dismount!” Trina yelled as the thing climbed unsteadily to its feet.
“Trina,” Willow warned, “don’t tease the inhuman killer.”
Thrown like spears, the two bars sped toward the creature’s chest. It grabbed them out of midair and hurtled them back, forcing the slayers to tumble out of the way. “No perfect ten for you,” it announced.
“Hey,” Willow protested, “don’t tease the slayer trainee!”
With the demon’s attention diverted toward Willow, Trina whispered something Willow couldn’t hear into Kennedy’s ear. Nodding, the older slayer picked up the nearest weapon she could find -- Trina -- and sent her flying across the gym. Spinning in midair like a cat, Trina aimed a perfect kick at the creature’s head.
It whirled and knocked her to the floor, where she lay dazed, clutching her leg.
“Not good.” Willow angled toward Kennedy, who desperately searched for another weapon. Surely there was something in Willow’s bag of magic tricks that would help, but the thing had walked right through her most powerful protection spell. “Kennedy? Anything?”
“Got a grenade in your purse?”
“My purse is in the car. And no.” They backed up together, as the demon stalked steadily toward them.
Then a flickering orange blaze enveloped it. In a panic the creature backed off, twisting and turning as it slapped at the flames. It was a magic, Willow knew, but the creature didn’t seem to realize the flames were just an illusion. She looked around, trying to figure out where it was coming from, and saw --
“Um -- Kennedy?”
The slayer also turned. In the corner of the room a figure floated in midair, long hair flowing around it. Its arms were outstretched, and although it appeared to be female Willow couldn’t make out its face because of a bright white glow that emanated from it. When it lowered its arms, the flames disappeared from around the demon. Then it just hovered there, appearing to watch them.
“Friend of yours?” Kennedy asked.
“It’s an aural projection -- I think.” Willow continued to stare at the apparition, wondering why it seemed so familiar to her. But then she heard the demon roar, and at the same moment their visitor vanished. “It was an illusion. The flames, I mean. Whatever it was, it couldn’t actually hurt the demon.”
“Then what good did it do us?” Kennedy took Willow’s arm, dragging her away from the enraged creature as it started toward them again. “If it could have stuck around and kept scaring it with fire --”
“Scaring -- oh, of course.” Willow pulled away from Kennedy, waved her hands in an intricate pattern, and murmured a verse of Latin.
The demon burst into flames and fell, screaming, to the floor. In seconds, it was all over.
“It came to the gym and fired up,” Kennedy said, staring at the smoldering corpse.
“Hah, hah.” Feeling immense relief, Willow took Kennedy into her arms. “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome here.”
“Yeah. Someone not only knows we’re here, but wants you. We’d better report back and figure this thing out.” She kissed Willow, and took a moment to run her hand through her lover’s red hair.
“Hey!” They turned to see Trina, who'd levered herself into a sitting position while she favored her ankle. “Are you two . . . you know . . .”
Kennedy grinned at her. “It’s not a requirement.”
“Never mind.” Trina shook her head. “As long as I don’t have to shower with you, I want to be a slayer.”