Under Pressure - 10
~The Back Forest, Thursday, 7:20 pm~
“Is it just me, or did that sound like a wolf?” Willow whispered, but it seemed disproportionately loud in the silent woods.
“Shh, ma chaton.” Asher rested a hand on Willow’s shoulder. He could hear the dogs circling around their master in the woods. “Sit very still and try not to become the prey.”
Willow shot him a disbelieving glance. Even Spike seemed to think that was perhaps the stupidest advice possible, but Asher didn’t have much time to explain. If he had to confront El Lobo tonight, he wanted to make sure it was as far away from his delightful companion as possible.
Asher ran into the forest until he had reached the ring of dogs, and in the center of their howling was El Lobo. “What are you doing here?” Asher snapped. He knew it wasn’t the politically correct response, but he didn’t have time for those games, not when a disaster the size of the Initiative was about to go up in flames.
“I could ask you the same question. You are supposed to be taking vengeance upon the human soldiers. Instead I find you skulking in the forest. No wonder everyone doubts your skills.”
“I think the Council would approve of my presence here tonight. After all, there is a secret passage into the soldiers’ lair not far from here. I am observing their movement through this exit.
What is your excuse for being here?”
“I was tracking you. You smell... of despair, lust, and ... magic?” El Lobo’s eyebrows rose at that last revelation. “What have you been playing with, loverboy?”
“What do you think?” Asher let out a snarl- sometimes the only effective way to communicate with those of the Beast Master’s line.
The wolf sniffed in a way that was inhuman even for a vampire. “You’ve tasted the magic blood and now you are hooked. I can smell it on you. You will never leave the Hellmouth again.”
“That is a ridiculous statement. I will leave the Hellmouth when my job is through, which may even be tonight.”
“Impossible. You have tasted the Hellmouth. I can’t let your body leave. Maybe your spirit will depart tonight, but I assure you, the rest of you will remain behind.”
“Are you threatening me?” Asher let his power begin to boil while maintaining an iron hold on his shields.
“I can see it now. It was such a tragedy. A broken man, sent to the pits of hell to run an errand. Instead he found magic, the power of the Hellmouth, and decided to claim it for himself. He sent false messages to the Council and his sourdre de sang all the while cultivating his mastery of the forbidden lands.” El Lobo rambled on, telling the cover story his master had created.
“That is a lie, and everyone will know it.”
“Will they? How many of the Council really trust Belle Morte’s line, given her history of conquest? It is much easier for them to believe what they want to believe, which is that one of the beautiful death used them.”
Asher held back the urge to directly attack the slight on his line. Even with no witnesses, Asher would not be caught throwing the first punch in this fight. “And the conclusion of this fantastical tale you are weaving?” Asher asked through gritted teeth.
“Ah yes, the ending, that would concern you. It is only by chance that I happened to be passing this way. I discovered that you were organizing the local vampire population to go against the Council using weapons you stole from the humans. These Americans have such funny ideas about independence and you have so much hatred towards the Council. I intervened at the last possible moment and stopped the coup. I will deliver your head to the Council as a tribute.”
“You assume my head is yours for the taking.”
“Oh I think that is a safe assumption.” El Lobo let out a burst of power, slashing at Asher’s shields.
“You have strengthened since we last met.” Asher grudgingly acknowledged the thin line of blood across his cheek. “But then, so have I.”
~The Initiative Level 3, Thursday, 7:22 pm~
“Okay, this is way creepy.” Buffy fingered her stake as she stared down the long hallway filled with caged H.S.T.s.
“That’s one word for it.” Angel murmured, knowing that nothing but fate had kept him on the outside of the cages. “Which of these ... hostiles... have chips?”
“How did you know about the chips?” Forrest started, but Graham interrupted him. “Only that one.” Graham pointed to an emaciated vampire in the corner cell. “It’s still a prototype project, so we weren’t able to mark all the hostiles.”
“Okay, Buffy, how many extra stakes do you have on you?”
“A couple, why?”
“It might be a good time to teach these guys a lesson on staking.”
“So, in other words, you want me to share my hand-crafted toys with everyone else, just because someone here didn’t read their owner’s manual for keeping vampires for pets? That’s so not fair.” Buffy pouted as she fished her spare stakes out of her jacket pockets. “Fine, here you go, but just for the record, I’m an only child; sharing is so not in my genes.”
Angel kept his mouth in a frown, but his eyes twinkled at Buffy’s bantering. “Okay men, listen up, this H.S.T. is a type vampire. He is characterized by the ridged forehead, yellow eyes, and elongated fangs. The proper way to dispose of a vampire is wooden stake to the heart. Open the cell.” Angel slipped into the military lingo he had picked up on reading the Initiative reports, figuring the soldiers would respond better to an authority figure than to ... well, Buffy.
Sure enough, one of the Alphas ran his card through the lock enabling the glass door to slide away. The starved vampire made a run for the exit. Angel easily caught him and slammed the stake home, watching the vampire disappear into dust. “Any questions?”
“Do they all do that?” Mike was staring at the pile of dust on the ground.
“Just the vamps.” Buffy decided to cut in, “which reminds me, you have to yank your stake out when you’re through, or else it’ll poof too. Oh, and the beasties are kinda fast, so maybe you should work in pairs. One stuns with your ray guns, and the other stakes.”
“Hey Blondie, they’re not called ray guns, they’re called tasers.” Forrest shot back.
“And I’m not called Blondie; I’m called the slayer, so I guess that makes us even. Now, let’s start with the slaying.” Buffy glanced up the hall wondering just how far they’d get before the plague reached this area.
Buffy and Angel watched as the Alphas hesitantly tired to stake their first vampire, nearly letting it out in the process. “Okay, this is going to take too long. Gates, you let the door down, I’ll do your staking. Miller you’re with Angel. You two, remember, stun first, then stake.”
“Do as she says men. Gates and Summers, take left. Mitchell and Johnson take right.” Graham echoed Buffy’s suggestion.
“And where does that leave you?” Forrest asked, as the lights flickered.
“We have to get Walsh upstairs and in protective custody.” Angel answered for the Alpha captain. He ignored Buffy’s glare; he’d feel bad about double-crossing Miller later.
As the static on the radio increased with another squad signing in, Graham called out, “we’re
burning daylight. Let’s move it!” The Alphas snapped to attention and finally got to the business they’d had been assigned to. “Walsh is at the end of the hall; follow me.”
“Alright girlie, let’s see what you can do.” Forrest opened the next cage, hoping to catch the know-it-all Miss Summers off guard, but Buffy rushed in, staked, and rushed out before the glass wall had even slid all the way open. “Bring it.”
“Um guys?” Graham’s voice came from down the hall. “Are you sure you put Walsh in cell 501?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course we put her in 501.”
“It’s empty and the door is open.” Angel stared at the empty cage.
Graham gave up trying to look for Walsh in a cell she had evidently escaped from. “Miller to Finn.”
“This is Finn.” The voice came over the radio. “You got the announcement about elevators down, right?”
“Yeah. Look, we’ve got a slight snafu. Walsh is missing. I repeat Walsh is missing.”
“Damn. I want you out of there, now. We’ll deal with Walsh later. Finn out.” Upstairs, Riley breathed a sigh of relief. He knew Walsh was trouble, but he didn’t want Angel to be the one to find her. Of course, if she didn’t come up through Lowell House, she’d likely meet a much worse welcoming party out back.
“Come on, Riley, just give us five more minutes.” Buffy said, grabbing the radio from Forrest.
“The building is falling apart. I don’t want you on the lowest levels.”
“Yeah, well somebody has to do it. I promise we’ll come right upstairs as soon as we finish the nastiest of them. Okay, Buffy out.”
Riley tried to respond, but the radio cut off in a spurt of static.
“So, I guess that leaves us with clean-up.” Angel slipped a big sword out of his back sheath, personally relieved not to have to deal with the mad scientist.
“I thought you said metal didn’t work. How are you going to kill vampires with that?” Graham stared at the sword, shocked that he hadn’t noticed that large a weapon on the man earlier.
“Oh, we’re not killing vampires. We’re handling the really nasty stuff. Here’s the plan. You open the door and zap whatever’s in there then I’ll cut off its head. Any questions?”
“Nope, just glad you’re on my side.” Graham said, opening the door to a spiky demon that had taken two whole teams to subdue the first time. The Alphas, Buffy, and Angel worked steadily for several minutes to weed out the demon population on sublevel three.
They were about half way through when the lights flickered one last time and then went out. “Okay, that wasn’t in the plan book.” Buffy muttered. “Gates, I want you to stand behind me. Mitchell, Johnson, can you stay together? Angel?”
“Don’t worry, I see you.” Angel grabbed Graham and dragged him over to where the rest of the Alphas were standing, staring blankly in the nearly absolute dark.
“Okay, I’m thinking, Walsh is gone and standing in a dark hallway is sort of a lost cause; who else is thinking retreat?” Buffy reasoned.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Angel agreed.
“Wait, Riley ordered us here.” One of the Alphas answered.
“Right. We came, we saw, we decided it so wasn’t worth it.” Buffy answered as she tried to herd the soldiers to the door. Her slayer sight was giving her a slight advantage over the soupped up soldiers when it came to navigating in the dark.
“But wait! If the lights are out, that means all the electricity is out, which means the cells aren’t locked. The H.S.T.s could get out and hurt people. We have to hold this hall.”
“Okay, whoever said that, no Christmas presents for you!”
“What? Why?” The group heard the sound of shattering glass, no longer reinforced by the protective electrical shield.
“Two words- supernatural hearing.” Buffy groaned as she prepared herself for a serious battle.
~ Back Forest, Thursday, 7:25 pm~
“Whatever you do, don’t act like prey.” Spike advised Willow as they backed into each other, watching the dogs circle in closer.
“What exactly is that supposed to mean?” Willow said trying not to trip on the stump she had just been sitting on.
“You know, keep your heart rate low, try not to smell like fear, and whatever you do, don’t run. The chase is too exciting.” Spike kept his eyes on the dogs who seemed to be waiting about twenty feet away for some last signal before pouncing.
“You’re talking from experience?”
“You could say that, pet.” They stood there for a minute. “You’re still too tense. If I can notice, so can the dogs.” Spike whispered, noticing the eager look in some of the dogs’ eyes.
“Sorry.” Willow was quiet for a moment, then, “Ooom. I am the tree. I am one with the tree. My roots reach deep into the earth, and I am at peace. Ooom.” Willow intoned.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” Spike glanced away from the dogs to stare at Willow.
“I’m meditating. I’m trying to be one with the trees because dogs don’t attack trees.”
“No, they just play fetch with the branches.”
“You’re so not helping, Spike.”
“Fine, go on, and be the tree. Just do it silently.” Willow shot him an angry glance before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. He had to hand it to her, this was not the same ‘panic first, ask questions later’ girl he had kidnapped the year before. The dogs, while maintaining their position, seemed to losing interest in the pair.
Of course, that could have something to do with whatever was crashing through the bushes towards them. Spike took a good whiff. Whatever was heading their way was panicked, human, and definitely stank of laboratory. If Spike was right in identifying the odor then he hoped Asher would come back before he lost his big chance.
“Do you hear something off?” Willow whispered moments before Profressor Walsh stumbled into the clearing and tripped over a log.
“You know how you asked me what it meant to act like prey? Well, luv, there’s your answer.”
Professor Walsh stood up. “Well, well, if it isn’t Hostile 17.” She glanced around. “And Willow Rosenberg, why am I not surprised to see you here?”
“Um, maybe because you’re old and bitter, and after all the horrors you’ve created, nothing surprises you?” Willow retorted with a bit of bravado, before realizing just who she was talking to. “Just a guess.”
“Nicely done, Red.” Spike smirked.
“Thanks.” Willow blushed.
“So since you’re on a roll, how do you think we should punish dear Mags?” Spike saw Walsh flinch at the nickname. “Oh yes, you may not be willing to do your homework on this town, but we’ve definitely read up on you, and guess what we’ve uncovered?”
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t hurt me! I’ve got you chipped.”
“Maybe, maybe not. ‘Course, you’ve got nothin’ on Red here.” Spike bluffed while praying the redhead wouldn’t go on some crazy tirade about not helping him because he was her enemy, even if it was the truth. “So, luv, what’s it going to be?”
“Ummm.” Willow glanced between the evil vampire and evil scientist.
“I’m warning you, Rosenberg, you do anything to get in my way, and I’ll fail you!”
Willow shook her head in disbelief. Yeah, she liked being a straight A student, but this was a matter of life and death and all Walsh could think of was Intro to Psych?
“What, you don’t think I’ll do it? Just you wait, missy! I can have you expelled!” Dr. Walsh’s shrill voice rose in panic.
“You going to let her get away with that? Huh, Red? Come on, Red, what’s it going to be?”
“Umm, guys?” Willow confirmed her suspicions by glancing behind her. “What about the dogs?”
“Bloody brilliant. We’ll chop up her body and feed it to dogs. No one will find the remains.”
“No, I mean dogs, now!” Willow picked up a big stick and turned to face the encroaching ring. “None of us are getting out of here if they have anything to say about it.” Walsh’s retort was cut off by an eerie howl rising up from the possessed canines. They had cornered their prey. “Spike? I don’t suppose you can fly?”
~Initiative Level 3, Thursday, 7:26 pm~
“Miller, come in Miller?”
“Get that radio off!” Angel yelled, plunging his sword into the tentacled beast currently blocking their route.
“Now’s not a good time, Finn.” Graham answered as he backed down the hall. He used to think he knew the Initative well enough that he could navigate it blind folded. He would have preferred finding out he was wrong before it came to this.
“What’s your position, Alpha?”
“I said get rid of that thing! They can track you by it.” Personally Graham thought the clangs and squelching noises of Buffy and Angel holding their six was giving their position away anyway, but he was in no position to order. When they reached a split in the hallway, he took off his radio and tossed it down the hall they weren’t going down. Evidently the strategy worked, because at least one demon followed the sound of Riley’s voice calling “Alphas report!”
“We turn right here, sir.” Mitchell tried to direct them when it felt like they should be at the end of the hall. “Sir, why is this wall slimy?”
“Don’t touch it. It might be the plague.” Graham answered just as Buffy yelled “Duck!” The soldiers hit the deck just as her stake hit the belly of a demon. The demon exploded into a mass of goo. “Does someone else want to fish that stake out?” Buffy said, already pulling another weapon from her coat pockets.
“Please say we’re getting close to the stairs.” Angel glanced back. Graham was shocked to see the yellow eye shine.
“I’m the only thing saving your ass from a horde of demons hellbent on revenge.”
“There’s semiautomatics in the armory. If we can get there my men could take them out faster than you can taking them one at a time.”
“First of all, none of you can see in the dark, so the chance of you getting to the armory is slim to none.” Angel said between sword swings.” Second, a lot of what you guys collected is bulletproof, which means your rifles mean nothing.”
“Third of all, shut up and find the stairs. That demon just tore my jacket and I’m officially pissed.” Buffy interrupted the squabbling.
“Found it!” Forrest called out, cranking open the escape hatch that led to the ladder up.
“You call that a stairwell?” Buffy glanced back at the metal rungs the solders were easily scampering up in the dark. Evidently, basic training did have some uses.
“Hey, it means we just have to climb four flights fighting off H.S.T.s to make it out of here. It beats the alternative.” Graham called down as Angel yanked the stairwell door closed behind them, twisting the lock shut.