Disclaimer: Btvs characters are owned by J. Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Damon Lathe and ‘Blackcollar’ are owned by Timothy Zahn and Baen publishing. I own nothing but ideas caused by sleep deprivation and overdosing on caffeine and nicotine.
Sunnydale High School Gym
With a grunt Xander pulled himself up the last twelve inches of rope till he was able to touch the overhead beam. Still in control he descended the rope till he was five feet from the ground where he released his grip and allowed himself to drop to the mat he had placed on the floor before he started his exercises. Flexing his knees to absorb the shock of landing he gathered himself before leaping up the rope again.
Even though it wasn’t even seven o’clock in the morning Xander had been awake for hours, the result of a nightmare that woken him in a cold sweat just after five.
In the nightmare he was once more Comsquare Damon Lathe and he was fighting the Ryqril invaders on Plinry and forced to watch as one after another his men fell in battle till the final mission where they had fought their way through several wings of Ryqril Assault troops in order to extract General Lepkowski, the theatre commander, from his besieged headquarters.
Xander knew that the dream wasn’t real, Damon Lathe, the Ryqril, the Terran Democratic Empire and the Blackcollar program only existed in his head and in the imagination of a writer named Timothy Zahn, but it still felt real to him. He was just grateful that he didn’t have dreams of Comsquare Lathe every night.
Five times he went up and down the rope climb, relishing the burn in his arms as he strove to climb faster every time. Xander was three quarters of the way up the rope for a sixth when he heard a voice yell.
“Xander you Dweeb! What the Hell do you think you’re doing?!”
He looked down to see Cordelia Chase, Head Cheerleader, Fashionista and verbal sparring partner glaring at him from the floor.
“Good morning Cordy and aren’t you just a ray of sunshine today.” Xander said as he locked his knees and ankles on the rope to hold himself in place. “And what are you doing here this time of the morning. Did you run out of your favourite coffee or something?”
“Whatever Loser, you need to get out of here, the rest of the squad will be here soon and I want you gone by then.”
Xander quickly descended the rope. “What’s the matter Cordy? Afraid I’ll distract your ‘Cordettes’ with my manliness?” He said, wiping his face with a towel.
“Humph! As if! More like you’ll disgust them with your vacant eyed stare and drooling when we run through our routines.” Cordy retorted. Though in the privacy of her mind she thought that Xander looked a lot better these days.
“Oh. Since when do the cheerleaders practice before school? ” Xander asked as he draped the towel around his neck. Despite himself he had to admire how the socialite looked dressed in her Cheerleader uniform of mid-riff baring top and short pleated skirt.
Cordy shrugged. “Cause of this stupid ‘Careers Week’ we won’t be able to run through our routines after lunch like we normally do.” She explained.
“So you’re forced to be up early like the common people?” Xander grinned. “How’s it feel?”
“Just get out of here Harris!” Cordelia ordered, feeling a bit out of sorts and not in the mood for the usual verbal sparring she enjoyed with Xander.
“Fine!” Xander said, scooping up his backup which held a change of clothes and heading towards the locker room. Normally he would have hung around, not only to admire the Cheerleaders in their figure hugging outfits as they practiced their routines but to also annoy Cordelia Chase.
But after the sparring match with Buffy last night and his morning workout he was feeling a little sore and decided to spend some time in the ‘whirlpool bath’ that Coach Marin had installed for the football team before school started.
As he walked away Cordelia suddenly realised something different about Xander. Before Halloween Harris had slouched all the time as if he was ashamed about his height, but now he walked with a loose limbed gait that looked to be totally relaxed yet at the same time ready for anything. She supposed it had something to do with Halloween, after all she had watched as Xander sparred with Buffy last night and while he hadn’t been able to win he’d managed to get in a few hits against the Slayer.
Thoughts of the changes in Harris were pushed aside by the arrival of the rest of the cheerleaders, most of them chatting brightly except Harmony who was concentrating on the contents of her coffee cup. But then Cordelia knew that Harmony didn’t really wake up till she’d had her second cup.
“Alright ladies let’s get warmed up.” She said as the cheerleaders dropped their bags. “We’ve got a big game on this weekend and I want our routines to be perfect!”
Buffy hurried to the Auditorium, deftly avoiding the other students that were hanging around their lockers. This morning when she came to school she had told Giles about the encounter with a group of vampires last night in a crypt. Her Watcher had insisted she accompany him to the graveyard even though it was school hours. When they arrived Giles had taken one look at the name of the man who was buried there and immediately began cleaning his glasses before driving her back to school and disappearing into the library muttering something about research.
As she entered the room she looked around the crowded Auditorium, noticing that Principal Snyder was glaring at the gathered students for some reason, but she ignored it for now. Instead she walked over to where her friends, Willow and Xander were sitting, the table between them covered in brochures and pamphlets from the various stands.
“Hey Buffy! Isn’t this exciting?” The red head asked, almost bouncing in her seat with excitement. Buffy couldn’t help but smile at Willow’s enthusiasm. Beside her Xander gave the Slayer a smile in greeting before returning to the questionnaire he was completing. Buffy pulled her own questionnaire out her bag and took a seat.
“So what was so important that Giles had to drag you out of school?” Xander asked as he turned another page and frowned at a question before ticking one of the boxes.
Buffy looked around to ensure that there was no one eavesdropping nearby. “It’s all to do with these vampires that I caught breaking into a crypt last night.” She explained as she rummaged in her bag for a pencil. “When I told Giles he wanted to see straight away. Then he found out the tomb belonged to some guy named ‘Dulux’ or ‘Delag’ or something like that he started wigging out.”
Willow and Xander shared a look. “Do you think that there could be a problem?” Willow asked.
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Giles said he had to look something up. He hopes to have more info by the time school finished for the day.” She started to fill in the questionnaire.
As she worked, she thought about the ‘Date’ Angel was taking her on tonight. Well Angel hadn’t called it a date as such. He’d just seen the photos of her when she was in her ‘Dorothy Hamill’ phase and mentioned that the ice rink was closed on Tuesday nights but Buffy was sure that she could talk Angel into going for Coffee afterwards.
She frowned as she read one of the questions.
“Do I like shrubs?”
“Well they are smaller than bushes so it’s harder for vampires to hide behind so I’d go for yes.” Xander quipped. Buffy snorted in laughter and concentrated on the survey. She hoped that whatever it was that had Giles so concerned wouldn’t interfere with her date with Angel tonight.
Unknown to the trio several ‘people’ were starting to arrive in Sunnydale.
‘Truck stop, just outside Sunnydale’
With a muted rumble a customised Chopper came to a stop. Stepping off the Hog a burly Biker removed his sunglasses to show that he had a patch over one eye before moving to a payphone and tapping in a number from memory.
“I’ve arrived!” He growled. After hanging up the phone he moved back to the pumps to refill his tank.
‘Greyhound Depot, Sunnydale’
A mousy looking man dressed in a cheap suit and carrying a battered sample case stepped off the 11:15 bus from LA. When he got to the first payphone he made a call.
“In Sunnydale.” Was all he said when the connection was made.
A baggage handler was in the hold of a recently arrived jet, off loading the luggage in the hold when he saw a lithe figure nearby.
“Hey kid! This is a restricted area, you shouldn’t be here!” He said as he moved to grab the girl, only to catch a petite fist to the face.
With barely a glance at the unconscious baggage handler the mocha skinned beauty left the plane and sprinted to the boundary fence. She had a mission to accomplish and nothing was going to stop her from doing it.
Giles looked up from the book he was reading as the doors to the library swung open to reveal Buffy, Willow and Xander.
“So Giles, did you work what the dire is?” Buffy asked looking at the table that was covered in books.
“Yes Buffy I think I did.” Giles answered, moving a stack of books aside so Xander could put down the box of donuts he had brought. “The crypt where you encountered those vampires last night belonged to a man named ‘Du-Lac’.” He opened a book to show them a photograph of an elderly man dressed in turn of the century fashion.
“He was a gifted mathematician and theologian who spent many years studying the mystic arts. Probably his greatest creation was the construction of what is known as ‘The Du-Lac Cross’.” He showed them another picture, this one of an ornate golden cross. “That supposedly could be used to decipher almost any mystical text, no matter what the language it was written in. He originally created five but before his death all but one were destroyed and until now no one knew the location of the remaining one.”
“So why destroy his work?” Willow asked, reaching across for a plain cake donut, not wanting to smudge any of the books with frosting or oil. “And how did he end up here in Sunnydale of all places?”
“Unfortunately for Du-Lac his studies lead him into the Dark Arts, practices that no mortal should even know about let alone understand. His superiors in the Church had no choice but to destroy his creation and excommunicate him. How he ended up in Sunnydale we’ll never know.”
“So it’s basically a decoder?” Xander said passing the box of pastries over to Buffy who claimed a Jelly and a Chocolate frosted donut for herself.
“And now Spike has it.” Buffy said before taking a bite from the jelly donut. “So what do you think he’s going to do with it?” She asked, her question muffled by the mouthful of soft pastry and jelly.
“That is the question Buffy. Du-Lac wrote about many Dark Rituals, most of them encoded but perhaps we’ll be able to find sufficient clues in his other works for us to identify exactly what Spike has planned.”
Willow and Xander nodded and began pulling books towards them, Willow with happiness, there was so much neat stuff in Giles’s collection, and Xander with resignation. Despite now having an eidetic memory, one of the skills left over from Halloween, he still disliked studying. Next to them Buffy looked at all the books and bit her lip slightly.
“Ahh guys, maybe I should do a quick patrol while you do some research?” Buffy said. “You know me and books. Not of the good!” She really had to get home so she would be ready for her date with Angel.
Giles was about to insist on Buffy staying but she unleashed the most potent weapon in her arsenal, ‘Puppy Dog Eyes!’. To the Watcher’s credit he was able to resist for almost a minute before finally relenting and letting Buffy go.
With a happy skip Buffy left the library and headed home to get ready, thankful that her mom was in LA on a buying trip and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days.
Watching her leave Xander couldn’t help but shake his head. He was pretty sure that ‘patrolling’ was the last thing on Buffy’s mind tonight. “She’s probably going to see Deadboy.” He thought. Xander knew that Buffy would never see him as a prospective boyfriend, but for the life of him he couldn’t understand what the attraction was with Angel. Did girls really go for the ‘Brooding Surly Type’? He wondered.
Sighing, he dragged a book closer to him as well as the Latin/English dictionary. This was going to be a long night.
Several hours later Xander closed another book and placed it on one of the piles that littered the table. He had to smile when he saw that Willow had dozed off though she still had a pencil in her hand. On the other side of the table Giles, coat now hanging from the back of the chair and his tie loosened, stifled a yawn and reached for another book.
“Giles.” Xander said, getting to his feet and stretching. “I think we’re looking at this from the wrong direction.”
“Oh what do you mean?” Giles asked, gently rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“We know that Spike has the Du-Lac Cross and he didn’t go to all the trouble of getting it just to leave it on his mantelpiece.”
Giles nodded. “Yes he needs it to decipher a ritual of some kind. The problem is that Du-Lac wrote about so many things it’s hard to know where to start.”
“Yeah that’s my point. Instead of sifting through everything that he wrote about we should concentrate on those things that Spike might use.”
Giles considered what Xander had said. “You make a good point Xander.” The Watcher got up and walked over to a bookcase and retrieved a slim book. Returning to the table he opened it to a pre-marked page.
“William the Bloody!” He read. “AKA Spike. Believed to have been turned in the early Eighteen Eighties by either Angelus or Drusilla, for reasons unknown. Became known as Spike due to his habit of torturing his victims with rusty railway spikes. His victims tended to be poets and scholars for some unknown reason.”
“Along with Darla, Angelus and Drusilla they quickly became known as ‘The Scourge of Europe’ due to their exploits. The group stayed together till the turn of the century when they were spotted in China during the Boxer Rebellion where Spike managed to defeat the Slayer Xo-Rin. Soon after they went their separate ways and dropped out of sight.”
The Watcher looked at the younger man. “We now know that Darla returned to the court of The Master and remained here in Sunnydale after Nest was trapped beneath the Hellmouth due to the earthquake during the Thirties. Angel of course was doing whatever it was he was doing before his own arrival here. In the case of Spike and Drusilla they stayed together as far as the Council could tell. They were spotted in Panama during the Twenties, there was no sighting of them during the war though there was a rumour Spike had dealings with various intelligence agencies at the time, though nothing could be confirmed. The only two verified sightings after that was New York in the early seventies when Spike killed the Slayer Niki Woods and five years ago in Prague. Until their arrival here in Sunnydale it was believed that Drusilla fell victim to a mob in that city.”
Xander nodded slowly as he took in the information. “So Spike and Drusilla have been together for over a hundred years.” He mused as his eyes slid out of focus while he absorbed the information. The library was silent for a few minutes apart from the ticking of the clock and the soft snores from Willow.
Suddenly Xander’s eyes snapped back into focus and he looked at Giles. “Drusilla! She’s the key!” He stated firmly. “Anything that Spike does will be to Drusilla’s benefit.”
Giles blinked and was about to disagree when he realised that Xander was right. “So if he is doing this for Drusilla he most probably wants to heal her. According to Angel she is at a fraction of her former strength.”
Xander was about to say that they should talk to Angel when the door slammed open, startling Willow awake.
“Not the frogs!” She squeaked then realised where she was. She looked over to the door and her eyes widened when she saw Buffy standing there.
“Buffy what happened to you!?”
Buffy looked a little battered as she limped into the library. She had a split lip and there was a shadow of bruise forming on one cheek.
“I had a run in with something.” Buffy said as she collapsed in a chair. Without being asked Xander disappeared into Giles’s office to retrieve the first aid kit and one of the ice packs that Giles kept in his bar fridge. By the time he returned Willow was fussing over Buffy and Giles was intently studying a gold ring with the aid of a magnifying glass.
“So what did happen to you Buff?” Xander asked as he passed her the ice pack. In the time that he had known her he’d never seen Buffy so battered.
Buffy gently placed the ice pack to her face and looked at her friend. “I was with Angel at the ice rink.” She remembered how relaxed she’d felt as she glided over the ice while teasing Angel, trying to get him to join her. “Then this big guy grabbed me by the neck and tried to choke me.”
Xander frowned at that, he’d seen several vampires try to choke Buffy in a fight and what usually happened was that the vampire ended up with shattered elbows before Buffy shoved a stake into their heart.
“Angel tackled him off me and they started to fight. The guy was strong, it wasn’t till I kicked him in the neck with my skates that he went down.” She shuddered when she remembered the spray of greyish black blood that erupted from the Biker’s throat.
“Then Angel saw the ring the guy was wearing and started wigging out. He said that I should get out of town.”
“He’s not wrong.” Giles said, putting down the magnifying glass. He held up the ring he’d been studying. “This ring means that your attacker was part of The Order of Tarakan!”
“Sounds like a bowling league team.” Xander said, holding up a bottle of pain killers. Buffy shock her head.
Giles ignored the interruption and continued speaking. “They are a group of assassins that dates back to the time of King Solomon. Their credo is ‘To kill the unwary and sow discord’!”
“Bowling can be a vicious game.” Xander deadpanned, only to get a glare from the Watcher.
“Please take this seriously Xander, Buffy’s life could be in danger. The Tarakan’s work in groups of three, but each one will strike their target individually. The only thing that concerns them is claiming the bounty on their target.” Giles paused to polish his glasses for a moment. “Angel may be right Buffy. Until we know more it might be advisable for you to lay low.”
“But why are the after me?” Buffy asked.
“Umm, maybe it’s because you’re the scourge of the underworld.” Willow said.
“I dunno Wills, I haven’t been feeling all that scourgey lately.” Buffy admitted.
“So where’s Angel?” Xander asked. “I would’ve thought that after you’d been attacked he’d have stuck around.”
Buffy shook her head. “He said he was going to try and find some information about my attacker.” She explained.
“Yes quite right.” Giles said. “For now I think that you should all go home and get some sleep.” Buffy was about to argue but Giles continued talking. “Tomorrow we may have some more information and a better idea of how to deal with these assassins and whoever it is that hired them. But we won’t be able to do anything unless we are fully rested.”
The teenagers reluctantly nodded acceptance and Willow grabbed her bag. The two girls left the library leaving Xander and Giles alone.
“It’s Spike who’s behind this.” Xander said. It wasn’t a question but a fact. “He knows that Buffy will be looking to stop whatever the ritual is so he’s paid for someone to kill her.”
Giles nodded, realising the truth in Xander’s statement. “Yes Xander I believe you’re correct. Hopefully Angel will be able to tell us more next time we see him.”
Xander grabbed his bag and headed for the door. “Ok Giles I’ll see you in the morning but if anything happens ring me straight away.”