Now I know how Bruce Willis felt.
He should have known this was a bad idea. A Scooby reunion in the Angel-run headquarters of Evilco Incorporated? Also known as Wolfram and Hart's Los Angeles office. He would have liked to have stayed in Africa, where his slayer-scoping duties had turned him into a trim and fit new version of Xander. But Willow had sent him a trans-Atlantic cell-phone photo of the Resolve Face, and he was powerless against it, even in digital form.
So here he was, sitting in some cubbyhole little meeting room, spinning slowly in a slightly squeaky office chair. Angel, Buffy and Spike were having their tortured Days of Our Un-Lives moment, and he had wisely decided to stay out of it. He was barely tolerant of Buffy/Angel melodrama, completely sickened by Buffy/Spike melodrama, and was worried that his good eye might actually explode in horror at the sight of Buffy/Angel/Spike melodrama.
Willow and Giles were off with Wesley and some blue-haired biker-chick, apparently. She gave off a certain Seven-of-Nine kind of vibe to Xander, and he had little doubt that he'd soon be adding to his list of tiny women who could kill him with their pinky toe.
Tiny women. Not-so-tiny list.
He blew out a bored breath, staring at a pencil someone had lodged into the ceiling. Briefly he amused himself with a fantasy of Angel and Spike having a fancy business meeting when suddenly the pencil comes loose and accidentally lodges itself in their hearts. Never mind that this pencil would have to be a magically enchanted pencil to get the both of them in one accidental fall, but in a place like this he wouldn't put it past them to have enchanted the pencils.
Sometimes the odd places that his mind went frightened him.
It was about this time, as he was contemplating the necessary magical ability it would take just to get a pencil lodged in the ceiling in the first place that he heard the small pops that indicated to a long dormant memory that small arms fire had just taken place.
He slowed his spinning to a halt and strained his ears. A few more small pops and a muffled scream. Other noises he couldn't identify. He slinked to the door, grateful that the inner blinds of the room were drawn shut, and peeked through to the lobby.
Buffy, Angel and Spike were all out cold, and huge demons with three yellows horns on their heads and pretty serious acne were busy fixing glowing red manacles to each of them, then securing the manacles to a heavy support beam. As he watched, mind racing, he saw the beam itself glow with that same eerie light.
More scuffling sounds, and he watched as Giles, Wesley and the blue haired girl were all led into the room, the blue-haired girl looking extremely pissed. She had a strange collar around her neck, the same eerie red light glowing around it. The man introduced to him as Gunn was being dragged in behind them, a strip of red glowing metal around his head. A growing bruise on his eye explained why he wasn't moving under his own power. He was out cold.
He had to do something. Maybe he could get to Willow, they apparently hadn't gotten to her yet. Surely she would be able to deal with this threat, but he wanted to be sure that she didn't have to go too far with her magic in order to do so.
Slowly and as quietly as he could, he opened the door to the small office. As he did, he could hear the voice of one of the demons.
"Romero just reported in, they've got the witch tagged, so that's all of them. They're bringing her in now. Grorgo said they had to use the third strongest setting on her. Highest he ever heard of," it's voice was gruff but slightly higher in tone than Xander would have imagined.
"Excellent. Have the Yarnaks do a search of the rest of the offices on the floor. Their orders are to kill any other beings alive or undead. There should not be any others, but perhaps they'll stumble upon a workaholic doing a little weekend work."
A moment later Xander saw several of the large tri-horned demons kick down the door into the office two doors down from where he was. They were huge and heavily muscled, and he knew without a doubt they could take him out without even a thought. He shut the door as quickly and quietly as he could and started looking frantically around the room.
"Oh man. Ok, ok think. Gotta think...gotta move." His eyes took in the room. A small table, several chairs. He doubted they would do much damage to the huge demons. Pencil in the ceiling and...
And an air duct. He just might be able to fit. He stood on the table, grimacing as it wobbled precariously. Luckily for him the vent was loose already, and with a minimum of prying it swung open. It would be a tight fit. Good thing he'd been on the "travel on foot through Africa for six months with little money and less food" diet. Thinking fast in a way that would later surprise him, he quickly unlaced one of his shoes. From the clanging outside he could hear the demons were searching the room right next door. Not much time left.
He tied one end of the lace to his shoe, and wrapped the other around the vent. He really hoped this would work. With a slight hop he pulled himself inside the vent, having just enough room to shimmy down the rectangular shaft. He could see a larger open area with a slowly rotating fan up ahead. He slowly made his way forward, grunting slightly with the exertion.
"I guess now would be a good time to be quoting Bruce Willis," he remarked to no one in particular. He looked back behind him, as he felt the slight tug. He was at the end of the slack. He slowly bent his leg, pulling on the shoelace. The vent it was tied to swung upwards, the lace itself coming undone slightly as he did so.
"Come on...easy does it," he whispered.
With a slight click the vent snapped back into place. He tugged a little more and was rewarded with the lace finally unwinding itself. Now he just had to get to the open area before the demon brigade decided to take a peek in the vent. Doing his best to keep his painful grunting as silent as possible, he shimmied forward at a pace that he was sure was going to get him killed. Behind him he could hear the demons kick the door in. He could picture it now...
"What's this Jer?"
"Looks like a one-eyed human doin' a sardine impression, Paulie."
"Hey human, what exactly did you think you were going to accomplish with this?"
It would be at that point that the pencil would decide to dramatically dislodge itself, spin amazingly in mid-air and sink a few centimeters into the head of the first demon.
With that oh-so-lucid daydream, Xander redoubled his efforts at both silence and speed, spurred on more by the potential embarrassment than the horrible painful death that would follow directly after. The crashing sounds behind him suddenly silenced, and he heard the high-pitched gravelly voices of the demons.
"What's this Mer-flok?"
"Looks like a pencil, Gornax."
"How you figger a human got a pencil stuck up there like that?"
Almost there, just another three feet. Shimmy like you never shimmied before, Xan-man!
"I dunno, maybe it wasn't a human. Coulda been a vamp or somethin'."
"Oh yeah, I didn't think of that."
"Well that's why I'm the brains of this partnership."
"You callin' me stupid? How about I put my spur upside your skull?"
"You ain't got the scales, slimey."
"Who you callin' slimey!?"
A sound that seemed suspiciously similar to that of a bone spur being driven through a demon skull reached his ears.
"Who's slimey now Gornax? Yeah! Who da man!? I da man! Oh yeah! Go Mer-flok! It's your birthday!"
Man, demons sure are scary when they have personalities.
Finally Xander was far enough to grasp the edge of the larger open area, and quickly pulled himself the rest of the way in. A quick glance around showed that he was in some kind of hub that had more vents leading in five other directions. The largest of these moved upwards into the general area of the lobby. Maybe a little observation could get him a better handle on this situation. He heard a muffled voice.
"Mer-flok! What the hell is this? We?re not paying you blasted Yarnaks to kill each other! How are you supposed to kill humans if you're so busy killing each other?" The voice was the same one he'd heard earlier. Obviously he was in charge, or at least one of the people in charge. If he was technically a person. He really needed to upgrade his vocabulary. What do you call a being that may or may not be a demon? Person would have to do for now.
He knew he was nervous because he was babbling even in his head.
"Come now Jamie, you can hardly blame our friend Mer-flok here. You know how Yarnaks are. His loss was to be expected. Let us focus on our objective." A new voice. Calmer, silkier. Far more dangerous. This was the real man-thing-demon in charge. His voice was one of supreme confidence, and Xander had no doubt that the man was a killer.
"Of course my liege. Mer-flok, the room is secured?"
"Uh...yeah, I guess so."
"You guess?" Jamie was obviously not in the mood for anything less than perfection.
"I mean yeah. Yes. Yes, it's secured. No humans or nothin' in here. Just a pencil, is all."
There was a crackle of static and a garbled voice coming from a radio of some kind. Just what he needed, demons that used technology. This was turning into the kind of day only Xander Harris seemed to be able to live.
"Excellent, then all is going according to plan. We will begin the questioning. The serums are prepared, Jamie?"
"Ready to be used at your pleasure, sir."
"Then let us administer them. I am most interested to hear what they have to say."
Xander knew he had to hear this too. The key to victory was to know your opponent, and right now it was up to him to help the others. Here's hoping this vent is certified to carry up to 1 Xanderpound of weight, he thought. With a slight hop he pulled himself into the next vent, pleased to find it was slightly larger than the other, and he was able to move faster and quieter than he had in the previous one.
After a minute or so of crawling, he could hear more voices. He peeked out of the small slits and was rewarded with a bird's eye view of the entire scene.
Everyone was now shackled and secured to the beam in the middle of the room, the strange red glow casting everything in a suitably creepy light.
Buffy, Angel and Spike were slumped on the ground, while Giles and Wesley seemed to be staring blissfully at the wall, both of them affixed with a glowing red band around their heads. To their left was Gunn, wearing a similar band but still out cold from earlier. Willow was wearing the band as well, and seemed to have several more placed around her arms and neck. She was not staring in the same blissfully unaware way as Giles and Wesley, but instead seemed to have trouble focusing on anything, her head lolling back and forth occasionally.
There were at least ten of them that he could see now. Three were of the same yellow-horned demons he saw earlier. Yarnaks, according to Head Evilguy. The others were either human, vampire, or possibly demons with really good camouflage. Four were unassuming, obviously just there to do the heavy lifting, so to speak. Of the other three, one was a well-dressed man in a very expensive black suit, with slicked back onyx hair and shoes too shiny to be anything other than demonic in origin.
The other two were dressed similarly, both wearing something that looked like a cross between the Three Musketeer's and a biker. They were leather jackets over frilled white shirts, pants that could only be called pantaloons, and sturdy leather boots. It was an odd look, but the way they carried themselves told him they knew how to use the swords they had strapped to their hips.
The man in the black suit spoke in the same smooth voice Xander had heard earlier. Obviously he was the man in charge.
?I see you have done an admirable job of securing them,? He said to the Biker-Musketeers. ?Excellent job, boys.?
?We live to serve,? said one, bowing deeply.
?Always happy to be of...service," said the other, and Xander was a little wierded out to see the second one check out the backside of his bowing partner.
"Well then, I believe it's time we got the information we came here for," the leader said.
He pressed something on his wrist, causing Angel to jerk slightly. The vampire's eyes snapped open and he was almost instantly straining against the thick glowing chains that held him close to the pillar.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Ah an excellent question Mr. Angel," the leader drawled in a slow, calm voice. "It's always so pleasant to make proper introductions before getting down to any real business."
Oh great, thought Xander, he's one of those super-confident James Bond type supervillains. Xander hated that kind of villain, much preferring the cackling sadist type of...waitasecond, no! He preferred the "dead, staked and preferably sprinkled with holy water" type of supervillain. He wasn't sure whether he should be proud of his life or deeply depressed by the fact that he actually had a preference in what kind of evil killer he'd rather face off against.
"My name is Samuel Gender, and these are my associates, Jamie and Butch Le'Strange," he gestured to the Bikerteers behind him.
"Le'Strange?" Angel asked, clearly finding the name a bit on the amusing side.
Jamie was on him in a flash, pressing his forearm into Angel's neck.
"You have a problem with me and my brother's names, huh bloodsucker?" he snarled.
"Is this supposed to be intimidating me? Vampire, remember? I don't really need to breathe," Angel's voice was raspy, but he definitely didn't seem distressed.
Jamie snarled again, slamming his elbow into Angel's face before stepping back behind Samuel Gender.
"I do apologize for Jamie," Samuel said soothingly, as he
patted Jamie on the head. "He's a bit hotheaded at times."
Jamie seemed to tolerate the patronizing gesture, although just barely.
"No need to introduce yourself of course, as I know all about you and your operation here, Angel. In fact, that's what I'm hear to discuss with you."
"Do whatever you want to me, just let the others go."
Samuel laughed. "Oh no, I'm afraid I can't do that. I've got things to discuss with them as well."
He walked around the small group of mostly unconscious demon-fighters, seeming to take in their collective appearances. Finally he squatted in front of Angel and held up a small vial.
"Do you know what this is?"
"Mouthwash?" Angel turned his face to one side, blinking rapidly.
"No," said Samuel, ignoring Angel's attempt to anger him. "This is the extract of Verita root. The most potent magical truth serum that has ever been discovered. I've had it administered to you and all of your friends here, and now I'm going to ask you some questions. You will answer me truthfully; of that, I have no doubt."
Xander shifted slightly in his uncomfortable perch above the lobby. Nobody ever told him that eavesdropping on evil plans could be such painful work.
"Where are you keeping the amulet used to defeat the army of the First Evil?" Samuel asked.
"What?" Xander almost shouted, remember just in time to slap a hand over his mouth. Luckily one of the Yarnaks had coughed at the same time, and no one seemed to have heard him.
"I-it's," Angel furrowed his brow, and then shook his head. "It's...in the White Room." His voice was strained, and he gasped out the last two words.
"I see, excellent. And where is this room?"
"I'm not sure," Angel replied, a little easier than last time.
"If you're not sure where it is, then how do you get there?" Samuel asked.
"The elevator. Press...eighteen, twenty two, eleven, six, thirty one, thirteen, thirteen again, and then press the big white button that appears."
Xander was thinking as fast as he could. Wishing he had brought that pencil from the ceiling with him. Maybe if he could get to the amulet before these whackos did, he could...what? Destroy it? Something anyway.
Eighteen, twenty two, eleven, six, thirty one, thirteen, thirteen, white button. Eighteen, twenty two, eleven, six, thirty one, thirteen, thirteen, white button.
He fumbled around in his pocket, trying to be as quiet as possible. Luckily he had a pen on him, but nothing to write on. His arm would have to do.
Eighteen, twenty two, eleven, six, thirty one, thirteen, thirteen, white button.
It was as he was writing the last bit on the inside of his arm that he banged against the vent wall, causing the metal to make an echoing roll of a thunder.
"What was that?" one of the demons exclaimed.
"The vent! There's someone in there!"
Oh man, time to shimmy! Xander scrambled down the vent, glad that this one was larger and easier to maneuver in than the previous one. He slid forward on his stomach, not caring about how much noise he made now.
Ahead of him was another hub, and he quickly slid out and into the larger area. Only instead of landing on a nice solid metal surface, he landed on a nice hinged and grated surface. His body weight overcame the clasp on the hinge, and the floor literally swung out from underneath him.
"Oh crap!" he remarked intelligently as he fell out of the vent.