Chapter 1Disclaimer: Cleveland’s branch of W&H is my invention, so’s Gabriel Porter; Buffy and other characters belong to Joss Whedon and co., instead.
From the start, the day was shaping to be rather wrong: the weather was windy and cold, and the sky was already partially overcast; then again, the day before that the weather was unnaturally warm and it had rained all day long; today, at least, it was too cold for rain.
Louise Sheldon, one of the several full-time secretaries of Cleveland’s W&H branch, shivered and reminded herself yet again to go out on the weekend and buy herself a warm scarf, a winter-appropriate yet fashionable hat, and some warm leggings, for a start. And then she began to shift through the mail, as always. This time, though, she was interrupted with a cough.
“Yes?” she spoke up to the visitor – a relatively short, but powerfully built man. Of course, his looks were probably deceptive – the visitor had no reflection, which meant that he was a vampire, which meant... any number of things, none of them particularly good. “You’re here to meet one of the lawyers?”
“Na, just to use your archives. It’s in the big room to the left of here, right? I wasn’t here for about a century, so forgive me; my memory is a bit dusty.”
“Um, yeah,” Louise nodded, feeling rather unbalanced by the newcomer. As he walked past her, however, she recovered and asked him:
“Are you a client?”
“Not anymore – I’ve been dismissed,” came the faint, flippant reply.
Now that was something Louise had had to deal before: former, disgruntled clients who came back intent on executing all sort of mischief. With a practiced move, she pressed a small, red button under her counter – and immediately four of the nearest security guards (each one – a former member of a SWAT team) moved forwards to intercept him. Feeling almost happy, Louise leaned backwards and prepared to observe in a strategically positioned mirror the upcoming execution – and stiffened, suddenly afraid: already the newcomer had sent one of the security guards into a deep knock-out, smashing both his face and his taser into bits and pieces.
Seeing this, the downed man’s partner pulled out a short wooden stake, kept for just such vampire visitors. Instead of flinching back, however, the newcomer pulled out a weapon of his own: a relatively short and thick, wooden and ironbound club, with which he both knocked the stake away and smashed the man’s shoulder, at the very least: the second man dropped to the floor, bleeding profusely.
The remaining pair fired their tasers, scoring direct hits. The vampire, jerked, stiffened... and then walked forwards, his eyes glittering yellow and his fangs glittering white, slamming one of the men with his club and flinging the other in the opposite wall. Both men went down and didn’t get back up.
Now all that remained before the vampire was the door of the archives, closed with an electronic lock. Judging from the concentrated look on the vampire’s face, as he seemed to be measuring the angle with which to hit the door with his club, it would not be enough at all.
“What’s going on in here? Gabriel? You’re back?” Ms. Melusine’s incredulous voice didn’t forebode anything good either. “I thought that you were gone for good!”
“I’m back,” the vampire – Gabriel – abandoned his plans (whatever they were) and turned to face the W&H’s local senior lawyer. “Which one of your fairy clients is hunting in the south-east corner of the suburbs? You know, the fancy place?”
“None,” Melusine answered calmly.
“Good,” abruptly the vampire put his club away and left, without anyone trying to stop him.
As he was exiting the doorway, however, Andraste, Melusine’s second-in-command (in a manner of speaking), ran into him with a thoughtful look. “Didn’t I see you somewhere before?” she asked, thoughtfully. “Yesterday, at the goblins’, right? You got what you sought?”
The vampire just nodded in reply and left, silently. Ms. Melusine, however, reacted much more vocally: “You saw him? You knew that Gabriel Porter was in town?”
“Is that his name? Should I have known it?” Andraste asked innocently, and fell silent, as Me-lusine shifted from her human to less than human form in a short sharp burst of shredded clothing.
“Andraste,” Melusine’s vocal tone caused Louise to dive to the floor. “The two of us need to talk now.”* * *
The attack of the fiery eye-eating undead serpent didn’t change Mr. Lavero’s attitude one bit: just as before he droned about the Aztecs and their role in the Mesoamerican history – clearly, whatever spell Willow had used to restore the Boi-tata’s damage had worked too well in Dawn’s opinion – the history teacher (and the other victims) didn’t seem to remember anything at all. That was annoying...
Fortunately, today the history lesson was the last lesson of class, and so Dawn was able to stave off her boredom (seriously, how does one make Aztecs boring?) by keeping one eye on her hand-watch. Still, to say that she was happy to see Buffy would be an understatement, for once.
“Buffy,” she said cheerfully, “you came!” Then she noticed something else, and frowned: “What’s wrong?”
“Her,” Buffy said curtly, thrusting her finger in the direction of the clock-tower of the ill repute.
Dawn looked in that direction and grimaced. After the failed invasion of the formians, Giles did sign the deed for the clock tower over to Andraste and the W&H. Still, neither she nor Buffy expected to see Andraste move into it so soon after the invasion.
“You’re moving in? So quickly?” Buffy spoke as she and Dawn walked over to the diabolical lawyer, startling her for once.
“Oh, it’s just you two,” Andraste responded, clearly relieved, upon seeing that it was the Summers sisters. “That’s a relief – I was worried that Melusine might send someone to drive her point across even further.”
Buffy and Dawn exchanged looks. Until today they assumed that the two lawyers got along professionally well, but now... “And why would she do that?” Buffy asked, curious despite herself.
“I sort of made a mistake,” Andraste said, wincing. “There’s this vampire, Porter something, and he has been banned from the local W&H premises since 1912. However, he’s a bit of a juggernaut, apparently, and-“
“Whoa! What do you mean, a bit of a juggernaut?” Buffy’s curiosity took a professional turn.
“Apparently, if he gets into a right frame of mind or something, he’s nearly unstoppable – well, maybe not to one of your kind, but to anything that we are able to throw at him,” Andraste explained, giving Buffy a look. “As a result, we do not keep him on as a client, but tend to placate him all the same. Only, I didn’t know that, that policy was executed before I came here, and so, yesterday, I didn’t placate him. Consequently, this morning he came over to our offices, broke four of our security force and almost took down the door to our archives, when Melusine had saved the day by answering his questions. Since it could be considered my fault – which maybe it is – it was implied that I don’t appear in Melusine’s field of vision for the rest of the week. Judging from the scope of her fury, I got off quite lightly,” she added, as an aside.
“Oh, well, what lovely professional relationships you’ve got at W&H,” Buffy said wryly. “Dawn, come on, let’s talk to Giles and others – maybe Melusine will be there as well. Andraste, nice talking to you.”
“Likewise,” the baatezu nodded as the Summers sisters retreated back to their vehicle. She did think of telling them about the unidentified fairy that got the vampire so pissed off to begin with, but decided against it – she wasn’t a friend of the Slayers after all, plus Melusine will certainly get them up to date.
Upon making this decision, Andraste shivered once and went into her retreat: a cold wind was blowing through the streets of Cleveland.To be continued