"Through good time and fair, we promise we'll be true.
Camp Skyline, we love you. We love you."
"Time for everyone to finish that last s'more and head to bed. We're heading out early tomorrow, and trust me, it's not going to be fun getting back down that mountain if you haven't gotten enough sleep," Dawn said, eyeing the group of eleven year-old boys and girls that were finishing toasting the last batch of marshmallows over the fire ring as twilight started to morph into darkness.
There were the expected grumbles, then the kids polished off the gooey-good treats and began to head back to their tents. The two night camping trip into Air Force Academy land was always a high point for the eleven year olds at Camp Skyline, and the campers seemed determined to enjoy it as much as possible. Soon they were all settled into tents and sleeping bags, leaving the counselors by the still glowing fire.
"City mouse, you still seem kind of jumpy here," Julie said as she peered at Dawn from across the fire. Julie had grown up spending every summer camping in the mountains with her family, so the nickname didn't bother Dawn so much.
"It's just that there's so much sky up there, and not enough between me and the sky," Dawn said. Better to let everyone think she was a little bit agoraphobic than to know the truth of why she felt a little bit on the edge. They'd think she was crazy if she talked about what really bugged her, the lack of safe solid walls around her when she tried to sleep.
"You want a back rub to maybe take the tension out of those shoulders?" David asked.
"Sure," Dawn said, stretching out her neck and spine and pulling her braid to the front of her as David edged around the fire. She knew David liked her, knew that he was interested in something a little more than just talk with her. And she was starting to like David as well. Just maybe it would be good to kind of follow Faith's suggestion and go with the flow of it all, to have a perfectly normal sort of summer fling. And then she'd go back to Los Angeles, and David would go back to school in Boulder, and he'd never have to know just how perfectly weird her life really was.
David slid behind her, digging his thumbs into her shoulders. It was almost like he knew exactly where the straps of her backpack had dug in the worst, and how to get it all back to normal. She found herself making small happy noises as David continued to work.
"I'd tell you two to get a room, but considering how many tents we have, and how Julie probably wouldn't let me bunk with her, you two getting a room would probably leave me sleeping outside tonight," Jon O'Neill, seventeen year-old counselor in training, and the last member of their group grumbled from the corner.
"Yeah, yeah yeah," Dawn mumbled as David's hands moved down her back. "Dad, would it help if we promised we wouldn't go any further with the public displays of affection? Or if I tried to set you and Kimmie up on a date?" Kimmie was the counselor in training for the nine year old girls.
"That's okay. She's cute enough and all, but, well I just don't like the idea of dating someone who still has a big picture of a boy band on the wall," Jon said.
"And that's a bad thing?" she said, thinking back to an old crush on Justin Timberlake that she never would have admitted to anyone because of the potential of low grade mocking by Buffy's friends.
"I'd just never really feel like I could compete with that fantasy," Jon said with a shrug.
As she started to reply, she suddenly picked up the sound of something on two legs making its way along the trail to their campsite.
"What's that?" she said as she pushed away from David and got to her feet, in the process grabbing one of the long skinny branches that had been used for toasting marshmallows. Old Sunnydale habits died hard.
"Sounds like a person, and not a critter," Julie said. She was still sitting by the fire, but Jon had grabbed a rock and was also scanning the fading light.
"Hey, there, you people. Can you help me?" A thin, dirty woman in a tank top and shorts staggered into their campsite. Her voice was surprisingly calm for how wild her eye looked.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?" Dawn asked.
"They kidnapped Stacy and me and dragged us into the woods last night. Then when it started to get light, they tied us to a tree and vanished. We managed to get the ropes off, but when they grabbed us, Stacy and I fought back, and we think she broke her leg. So I had to go for help and leave her there because she couldn't walk. Please, you've got to help us. Those guys that grabbed us, they just weren't right." The woman said as she tried to keep from crying.
"What do you mean, they weren't right?" Dawn asked. As she tried to focus on the woman, she noticed Jon carefully watching the trail to make sure there was nothing coming up behind the obviously distressed woman.
"It's like they were a bunch of circus freaks. When they grabbed us, their faces were all weird, and you know how some weirdos will go to those cosmetic dentists and get their teeth turned into fangs. They'd done that. And I cut my arm when we were trying to fight back, and this one goes and licks the blood off my arm, and says that there will still be plenty left for the ritual after that. We need to call the cops and get them to rescue Stacy."
"Unfortunately, there's no cell phone reception out here. You pretty much have to go all the way back to the trailhead, and that's a pretty tough seven mile hike," Julia said. "Just take a deep breath, and we'll get you some water while we get the kids up and ready to hike back out in the dark. It's not safe for them to stay here with crazies loose in the woods."
"It's safer for them to stay put in their tents than to have them trompsing out going 'Hey Evil Dude, here I am!' Trust me on this one," Dawn said, putting together the pieces in the only way that makes sense.
"I'm with Julia," Jon said. "We're talking eleven year old kids, no weapons, and no good defensive position."
"That's assuming that the people who kidnapped Stacy, and what was your name?"
"That's assuming that the people who kidnapped Stacy and Amanda were human."
"You can't be serious," David said. Dawn looked at the other two counselors. Julia face showed that she was firmly with David on this one, but there was something in Jon's eyes that made her think he was open to other possibilities.
"There's no way that something that wasn't human could get out here. Not in this part of Colorado without being noticed," Jon said.
"People see what they want to see," Dawn said. She looked around the campfire for props. She wasn't sure how much time they had before Stacy got sacrificed to the Big Evil Whatever, and it was easier to get people to believe if you did have props. The open bag of marshmallows would do. "Okay, I'm skipping 99.9% of the mythology here, but we need to get a move on saving Stacy. First part of the lecture: magic is real."
She grabbed a double handful or marshmallows from the bag, and taking a deep breath, tossed them up in the air as she called on the magic. They arched through the twilight, then stopped in midair before they could hit the ground. Deciding to get fancy, she mentally gave the command for the bits of mallow to form into a series of cube, pyramid, and sphere before letting the white puffs fall to the ground about a minute later.
"That was real?" Julie said.
"Much more real that what that David Hasselhoff or David Blaine or David whoever does on television."
"And here I never took those goth girls who claimed to know spells seriously," David the camp counselor said.
Amanda was quiet and looked like she was sliding into shock. Whoever stayed behind needed to keep an eye on her, Dawn thought. Jon didn't say a word, but instead had pulled the set of dog tags he wore out from beneath his shirt and was running his fingertips over the engraving. Jon had claimed they came from a family member who had died during the first Gulf War, and that they were a reminder to keep to his goal of getting into the Air Force Academy.
"Most of the goth girls are, as a dear friend would say, a bunch of blessed wannabes. But every so often there's real talent among the bitchy Andrea Dworkin girl power speeches and totally useless crystals. Are we okay on the belief in magic?" She glanced around and got nods from the people surrounding the fire ring. "Lets move on to point number two: vampires are real. Amanda and Stacy were abducted by vampires. Amanda's description is dead on, if you excuse the pun. "
"What, like Dracula and Lestat and all that shit?" Julie said.
"Even more whiney and evil overlord-like and shit in person," Dawn said.
"I'm starting to believe magic might be real, but vampires as well," David said.
"Trust me, they're way to real. Unfortunately, Spike's not around right now or I'd have him come to Skyline of family visit day."
"Assuming they're real, which I'm not a hundred percent sure about yet, how does that affect our ability to keep the kids safe and rescue Stacy?" Jon asked. Nice that someone was willing to keep their mind on the problem, rather than getting all spacey about the supernatural. And she shouldn't be surprised it was Jon. She'd been watching him as they went up the mountain, and he had something about him that the typical seventeen year old just didn't. He was going to be the one who went with her to deal with the problem.
"It actually makes it pretty easy to keep the kids safe. Be right back," Dawn said, rising from the fire. She went into the small tent she shared with Julie, grabbing her pack and dragging it back to the circle. She unzipped the top of it and began to dig for a certain small bag. "There, found it!"
"Found what?" Jon said, peering at what she held.
"My stash of crosses. The part of the legend about vampires not being able to enter a home uninvited is totally true. And for practical magical purposes, the tents here are houses. Put a cross on the top of the tent, and it's enough to keep the vampires from being able to mess with the tent in another way. Don't worry. We field tested it when I took what was supposed to be a nice quiet, vampire-free summer job in the woods. I should know by now it never works out that way. Okay, Amanda, how many vampires are we talking?"
"Four of them."
"Four's a manageable number. If it was like twenty of them, we'd risk the time delay so I could run down the hill to call for help. Julie and David, you two stay put with the kids and Amanda while Jon and I rescue Stacy."
"Why are you taking him? He's a kid himself," David said. Jon opened his mouth to defend himself, but Dawn started in before he could speak.
"If you had to ask, then you totally missed on the why. It's all about the way he walked up the mountain constantly scanning for danger like he was expecting the bad guys to appear on the next switchback. It wasn't like Julie, who was going up the trail like a redneck deer hunter,"
"Gee, thanks," Julie said.
"It was all about being on patrol for trouble," Dawn finished
"I was just worried about running into a mountain lion or a bear or something," Jon said. He seemed embarrassed, like he'd gotten caught smoking in the boiler room at school.
"Whatever it was to you, I know what it looked like. Now are you in for a vampire hunt?"
"No way I'd let you go after them alone. But what are we supposed to do for weapons. If it's the wood thing, are we going after them with hot dog roasting sticks?"
"Definitely not. There's way too much flex in those branches. Too bendy to penetrate the chest cavity and hit the heart, which will actually kill them, along with fire and decapitation," Dawn said as she began to pull more things out of her pack in search of weapons. She really had overpacked for the trip.
"We're just going to kill them?" Jon said.
"Yeah. Vampires may still look human, and may still have the human memories of their hosts, but when someone becomes a vampire, their soul gets kicked to the curb or sent wherever souls go, and the demon that makes a vampire a vampire takes totally over," Dawn said.
"So the human host is totally gone?" Jon said. It was kind of an odd question. But then it did take a while for some people to accept what a vampire really was.
"Totally gone," she confirmed.
"Um, Dawn, just how did you manage to fit that much clothing and gear into that backpack?" Julie said.
Dawn glanced down at the pile she had created. It was easily three times the size of the pack.
"It was a Solstice gift from a friend. There's this really cool Mary Poppins' carpetbag spell involving storage in pocket dimensions she figured out, so everyone got these purses and bags from her that have TARDIS level huge carrying capacity. Only weird thing is that if you try to store food in there, the peanuts turn purple, and the almonds turn chartreuse green," she said as she continued to rummage in the pack. "I'm not quite sure just what that dimension has against nuts, but hey, Jon do you know how to use a crossbow?"
"I can figure it out."
"In other words, probably not. Here's a half dozen nice sturdy, non-bendy stakes then," she said passing stakes not only to Jon but also David and Julie for a just in case scenario. She kept both a stash of stakes and the crossbow for herself.
"Amanda, where are they holding your friend?" Jon asked, drawing himself to his feet. The more she watched him, the more he reminded her of the odd times when Xander had channeled Army Guy. But it was way too much of a coincidence for someone else to have gotten tangled up in Ethan's spell in the same way.
"It's about a thirty minute walk farther that way. I think it's like the next camp site along the trail. There was a picnic table and a fire ring there too."
"No time like the present to deal with the vamps since there will still be a little bit of light," Dawn said, sighing as she got to her feet. "David and Julie, you know what to do to keep the kids safe?"
"Don't worry. We'll keep them inside the tents, and protected with the crosses," David said. He was a good guy. He just didn't have the background to go hunting with her like Jon really seemed to.
"Good luck, and God bless," Julie said.
"Then I guess we're hitting the trail?" Jon said.
"Yeah, it's time to go rescue Stacy," Dawn said.
They started to follow the dirt path that was just barely wide enough to two people to walk abreast. She was glad it wasn't single file. There probably would have been some sort of fuss about who was first and who was in back.
"I just wonder why the vampires thought it would be a good idea to plunk down and do some sort of magical ritual in the middle of a big military base," Dawn said.
"Probably because the base is so huge they can't really patrol the recreation lands too well. Sixteen thousand acres open to the public and about twenty people working in the natural resources office that are supposed to manage all that. Last year, there was a huge fuss in the Colorado Springs newspaper because it turned out someone had a huge pot plantation going on in one of the areas where they were getting ready to do a controlled burn. Weird stuff happens," Jon said.
"Yeah, weird stuff definitely happens," Dawn said, letting the conversation go quiet as they followed the trail towards the vampires. It seemed like a much longer walk than thirty minutes when the two finally crept closer to the Camp Vampire.
"So I'm assuming we've got a plan of attack?" Jon asked.
"Kill the vampires, free Amanda."
"I mean something more detailed than that. Like you take out the vampires on the perimeter first, then go after any left after that hand to hand."
"We usually improvise since plans don't seem to last long after the first punch gets thrown, but that sounds as good as any." If it made the rookie happy to have a plan, then Dawn wanted him to have his plan.
They hiked a little bit further until they could see the vampire campsite below them. Dawn was glad they were coming in from higher on the trail. People generally didn't look up when they were looking for trouble. The bad guys had already put game face on, which made it easier for her to convince Jon that they really weren't human. They had started a fire in their fire ring, and it was now dark enough that one of them had started to paint a pattern of geometric symbols around the fire while the other three sat on the picnic table and watched. She could make out the figure of a girl chained to a tree to one side. It must be Amanda's friend Stacy, who was still looking happily alive though wobbly.
"You were right," he said softly.
"I wouldn't lie. Well not about important stuff like this."
"Good to know. Now are you in range for the crossbow yet?"
"I probably need to be about fifty feet out. So I can probably only take out one of them with the bow. Takes too long for me to reload that they can probably rush us by the time I reload."
"So you take out the first one at range, and then we rush the other three."
"Yeah, and remember to get the stake through the heart. Hit a lung, and they just get pissed at you."
"Got it," Jon said. And there was just something about his confidence that made Dawn really believe that she had done right by bringing him along.
"Let's roll then."
She moved quietly into position, lifting her crossbow to aim at the painting vampire. All the time she had spent at the archery range the past three years had to be worth something. Taking a deep breath, she fired the quarrel, taking a moment to watch as it sunk into the vampire's chest, causing the demon to explode into a cloud of dust.
Then Jon was moving toward the remaining three, and she was following him down the hill. He got there first, moving to engage one vampire in a fistfight. Then she found herself in a fight with a vampire of her own, punching and blocking the punches the vampire threw at her. All thoughts of Jon left her mind as she concentrated on the odd dance of life and death. They were dumb. It was time to goad the vamp into something stupid so she could get this over with. She feinted, exposing her side so that the vampire thought it could get an easy punch in. Then he made the move she expected him to. He was quick, but she managed to block with her hand just in time, even though his strike hit her hand in such a way she knew it was still going to hurt in the morning. But the feint had made the vampire go off balance enough that his chest was totally exposed, and she drove the stake into its heart.
"Dawn, drop!" Jon yelled. Without a second thought, she dove for the ground without really seeing what else was going on. Before she could fully land, she felt a knee or foot or something connect with the side of her head. Then the fire gave a huge cackle like it had gotten unexpected fuel, and Dawn felt even more dust start to settle against her exposed skin. Jon had used her to trip the vampire into the fire.
"Dawn, are you okay there?" Dawn rolled on her back to see Jon bending over her.
"Did we get all four of them?"
"We got all four of them," Jon confirmed.
"Then I guess I'm going pretty good other than my hand and my head hurting. Whenever you win, you're doing good."
Jon offered her a hand, and she used it and her undamaged hand to pull herself to her feet.
"No problem. Now we need to check on Stacy over there." They walked over to where the girl was tied to the tree and gagged to keep her from screaming.
"Don't worry. We're friends. Amanda sent us," Dawn said as Jon pulled out a Leatherman and began to cut through the ropes. Stacy winced as she shifted against the tree trunk. Dawn had almost forgotten that Amanda had said that Stacy might have a broken leg. "Hey Jon, how good are your first aid skills?" From what she had seen of Jon, she wouldn't have been surprised if he could act as some sort of battlefield surgeon as well.
"Unfortunately better than they have a right to be."
"Thank you, thank you, thankyou," the obviously shaky Stacy managed as Jon removed the gag from her mouth.
"Good because we've got to get that leg splinted, and oh crap!"
"Crap. Can't you just go behind some trees to take care of that?"
"No, crap in the sense we've got no way to get someone with a broken leg down the mountain."
"Don't worry. I've already taken care of that."
"What do you mean?" she asked, as Jon cut the last of the ropes and they helped Stacy to a more comfortable position on the picnic table.
"I used this," he said, pulling the dog tags out from under his shirt. "Experimental military technology. Dad's a military bigwig, and for a while they were worried about dependents getting kidnapped when he was stationed somewhere scary. So we all got these panic button devices. I tapped out the code for medical emergency, and they've probably already used it to locate me and get a helicopter sent toward out way. All we've got to do is wait until they arrive to pick us up."
"So it's kind of like one of those ads for the 'I've fallen and I can't get up' buttons, but on a global scale," she said, giggling a little. Anything that could distract her from just how much her head was starting to hurt.
"Kind of like that," Jon said.
"Dang, I better not let Buffy know they exist. She'd insist on surgically implanting one in my ass so she'd always be able to find me. So how come you didn't hit it before back when we were planning the attack against the vampires?"
"Because I didn't want their help. You seemed like you knew what you knew what you were doing. You know how you were talking about how I walked up the mountain like I was on a combat patrol? You do the same thing. And if you thought we could handle it between the two of us, then I wanted it to be just the two of us. Sometimes you just feel like you've got to prove you can take care of those kinds of problems all by yourself."
"Believe it or not, I know exactly what you mean. I've done the same thing a time or two myself," Dawn said. With a wince, she looked down at her hand. Her hand was starting to poof up in the wrong sort of way, and the pain in her two outside fingers was starting to distract from the pain in her head. As she began to hear the whir of helicopter blades in the distance, she found herself wondering if she could scam some of the really good drugs from the Air Force in some sort of unobtrusive way.