Bob Larkey juggled his jacket and briefcase as he pulled the mail out of the box. Unlocking the door, he went inside and tossed everything on the dining room table.
“Bill, bill, junk – God, Mom, stop writing!” He shuffled through the pile of mail. A slim CD case in red and black slipped out of the pile. “Not another AOL disc!”
He started to throw the disc away, when the lettering caught his eye. The silver and purple letters seemed to glow. “Cool.”
Tearing open the case, Bob walked over to his computer. “Congratulations, you’ve been selected… yada yada… testing new game… whatever… prizes… prizes?”
Dropping the CD into the drive, he quickly went through the installation process, impatiently clicking ‘yes’ on the terms and agreements screen. When the main screen came up, Bob blinked. “Wow. These are incredible graphics! This is so cool!”
Quickly, he read through the instructions for creating and equipping a character. Mouse hovering over the start icon, he glared at the screen. “Prepare yourself! Lonzak the Wizard is coming! Beware my magnificent fiendishness!”
With a click on the start icon, Bob Larkey, aka Lonzak the Wizard, disappeared.
And reappeared in a dark and damp stone room.
“What the hell?” Turning, he tripped over the long robe he was now wearing. “Where’s my pants?”
Belted around his waist was a bag of scrolls and another of potions. On the floor lay a staff with runes carved into it. “Okay, this is too weird.” He searched the room. “Where’s the pause button? I don’t have the memory for virtual reality! Hello?” His voice echoed off the walls.
“This has to be some kind of joke. Fine! I’ll play along!” Grimly, he went to the door set in one wall and jerked it open.
Outside, the corridor was the same damp stone, with torches set in holders along the walls at irregular intervals. Trusting his old Dungeons and Dragons credo of ‘you can’t go wrong going right’, Bob turned right and walked down the corridor.
As the corridor twisted to the right, he noticed a strong smell. Then he heard the growling. “What the hell?” He squinted. Was something moving at the far end of the corridor?
A shape bounded down the dimly lit corridor. Something dog like. If dogs were covered in bright red scales, had a forked tail, and a mouthful of huge teeth.
Dropping the staff, Bob screamed and turned to run. He made it two steps before the dog pulled him down. Two more dogs ran up and joined the feast, tearing the screaming man apart.
Back in Bob’s den, the light glinted off the silvery lettering on the CD case. Revenge.
Xander pawed through the mail. “No pizza coupons? My God, what’s the world coming to?” A red and black CD case slipped out of the pile. “Not another AOL disc! Ah… what are you, my beauty?” The silver and purple lettering seemed to glow. “Cool.”
Tucking the CD into his bag, Xander opened the back door. “I’m going to school.” His mother didn’t look up from her magazine. “I’ll remember to take candy from strangers and hitchhike with an axe murderer on the way.” When she nodded, he went out the door and let it swing shut behind him.
He made it through second period before ditching and heading for the library. Stopping by Willow’s locker, he showed her the CD box. “New toy.”
“Xander, another hack and slash game?” She shook her head. “Don’t you ever get tired of those?”
“Never. Help me install it?”
“You mean install it for you?” Willow rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you learn how to do it? It’s not that hard.”
“What? And deprive you of that supreme computer nerd feeling? Come on…” He turned on the puppy dog look. “Pretty please… “
“Okay, okay.” She shut her locker. “Once again, I’m regulated to the grunt work.”
“You’re my helper! My minion!” Xander put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “My chief minion even.”
“I’m your only minion.” Willow leaned into Xander, the feel of his body against hers making her all goose bumpy.
“True, but even if I had many minions – you’d still be Chief.”
“Yea, me!” She slipped her arm around his waist. “Are there any perks to this minioning?”
“Undying love and gratitude isn’t enough for you?” He dropped a friendly kiss on her temple. “How about I get us pizza and a movie tonight?”
“It’s a date!” She blushed. “I mean – a friend’s date – not – you know – a date date.”
“Loan me the money for the pizza?” He asked.
“Sure.” Part of minion duty must mean lending money.
“And the movie?” Xander pushed open the doors to the library. Angel was sitting at one of the tables. “And hello! Isn’t it daytime? Shouldn’t you be in your coffin?”
Angel ignored Xander, instead giving Willow a slight smile. “Willow.”
“Angel.” She said in the ‘oh wow’ way she always did when she saw him. “Hey.”
“Xander.” Giles looked up from the book he was holding. “Angel is here at my invitation. We’re discussing poetry.”
“Poetry?” Xander snickered. “That’s real manly, Dead Boy.”
“Xander!” Willow elbowed him.
“It’s okay, Willow.” There was a glint of mischief in Angel’s chocolate eyes. “Lying in bed with a woman and reading poetry to her – you’re right, not manly of me.”
Willow grabbed the CD case from Xander and beat a hasty retreat to one of the library’s computers. The vision of Angel in bed and reading poetry – possibly naked – made her face turn red.
“Well… if you’re lying in bed and reading poetry…” Xander smirked. “Not the manly thing to be doing.”
“It passes the time while the lady rests from… other activities.”
“Yeah, well… “He didn’t have a comeback for that one.
“In any event – “ Giles said sternly. “It seems that Angel knew the poet and this particular poem was written about him.”
Bad enough Dead Boy had that young-and-handsome-forever thing going for him. Now he had poets writing about him. “Whatever.” Xander shrugged. “My name is in the top one thousand players of Endless Quest.”
“And I’m the only Slayer.”
Xander jumped and turned to find Buffy standing behind him. “Hey, Buffy.”
Angel choked down a growl and the urge to rip out Xander’s throat. The scent of the boy’s desire for Buffy was sharp and rank to his sensitive nose. Not that he could blame Xander, Buffy was beautiful today in a green blouse and tight jeans.
“Angel.” Her hazel eyes sparkled as she walked over to him. “Don’t tell me, there’s some big nasty crisis thing I need to know about.”
“No, I just brought Giles a book.” Standing, Angel offered her his chair.
“Yeah, seems vampires are big poetry fans.” Xander told her. “I prefer a more physical lifestyle myself.”
“Mouse clicking being quite strenuous these days.” Giles muttered.
“Poetry’s pretty.” Buffy's cheeks turned pink as she sat down.
Oh, dear God, no! Xander had a horrific mental image of Buffy lying in bed with Angel. Naked. Not reading poetry. “But not as much fun as killing demons!” He sat down in the chair next to her before Angel could sit there.
Angel frowned, but contented himself with standing behind her and resting a hand on her shoulder.
“Xander, your game is ready.” Willow called.
“Are you putting games on the library’s computers?” Giles frowned at Xander. “Those are for school use only.”
“And coincidentally, I’m a student at said school.” Grinning, Xander leaned back in his chair. “And like you ever use them anyway?”
“Yes, well, be that as it may – “
“And like real students ever come in here?” Buffy waved a hand around the otherwise empty library.
“Exactly!” Xander exclaimed. “So they’re going to waste anyway.”
“Hey!” Willow protested. “I use them for research! And this is ready when you are.”
“Ah, another game for the Xandermeister to conquer.” He leaned closer to Buffy. “I have killed many a virtual demon in my day.”
“Go, Xander.” She smiled.
“And of course.” He leaned in to whisper in her ear. “Vampires. Lots of vampires.”
Angel’s hand tightened on her shoulder as she pushed Xander back. “Goodie. You be the Slayer from now on.” She patted Angel’s hand. “I’ll retire and let Angel read poetry to me.”
At the computer, Willow was making a game character for herself. “Let’s see… witch, of course… “ She filled the character’s inventory up with spells and potions. Xander was still telling a not so much impressed Buffy about his virtual slaying, so she picked out a staff and a few other magical items.
“Xander, bored now.” Willow frowned as he leaned closer to Buffy. “Too busy sucking up the Slayer pheromones to listen to me. Well, witchy girl, let’s just play and find out what Xander sees in these things.”
With a click on the start icon, Willow disappeared.
Giles blinked as Willow vanished. “Willow?” He stood up, dropping the book he was holding to the floor. “Willow!”
Buffy jumped up and turned to look at where Willow had been sitting. She wasn’t there.
Willow appeared in a dark and damp stone room. “Oh, boy. Not good.”
She allowed herself a minute to panic and then forced herself to be calm. Checking the pouches on her belt, she found potions and scrolls. Holding each one, she knew somehow what each one did.
A staff lay on the floor and when she picked it up, the same feeling of recognition tingled through her. The items were the same ones she’d given to her character. She was also wearing a long green dress.
“Maybe I should wait for help.” Willow chewed nervously on her lip. “What would Buffy do? What would Xander do? What – “ There was a scratching sound behind her.
Turning, she saw the door behind her sliding open. “They’d run!” She bolted out the other door and slammed it shut behind her.
Out in the corridor, she looked one way and then the other. Left or right? “Okay… eni, meni, miny, moe.” She turned right and started down the dimly lit corridor.
“She simply vanished.” Giles stared at the chair Willow had been sitting in moments before.
Xander was wandering through the stacks calling for Willow, but Angel shook his head. “He won’t find her.”
“How do you know?” Buffy had checked the hallway just in case Willow had gone to get a drink of water. “Intuition?”
“This is magical.” He turned the CD case over in his hands. “There’s glamour on it.”
“A pretty spell?” She frowned.
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Giles took the case carefully. “A glamour spell is used to make an item more attractive so that it’s more likely to be picked up.”
“So we’re looking for magic by Revlon?”
Angel gave her a slight smile. “Could be. How else do you explain waterproof mascara?”
“So the game is magic?” Xander sat down in front of the computer. “Then we go get Willow.”
“Xander, no!” Buffy vaulted over the table and knocked him away from the keyboard.
“We can’t just leave her there!” He tried to force past her to get to the computer again.
“We don’t know where ‘there’ is!” Grabbing his arm, she wrestled him face down onto the tabletop.
“We’ll find her, Xander.” Giles assured him. “I promise you.”
“And the only way to do that is to play the game!” Xander struggled against Buffy's hold.
Buffy looked up at Angel’s soft words. “Angel, we can’t – “She let Xander up.
“Play the game?” Angel looked to Giles. “If she was sent somewhere, we have to go after her.”
“Angel, we need to find out how to retrieve her.” Giles shook his head. “Perhaps the game has some clue in it.”
“And in the meantime, she’s there and in danger!” In the silence following his words, Xander sat back down in front of the computer. He quickly put together a character and hit start. Nothing happened.
“It may be a single use spell.” Pulling off his glasses, Giles rubbed at the bridge of his nose.
“Maybe if we put it on another computer?” Ejecting the disc, Xander bolted out of the library.
Following him to the computer lab, Giles explained the situation to Jenny Calendar. The computer teacher turned the disc over in her hands. “Definitely magical.”
“What is it with demons and computers these days?” Buffy shivered, remembering the demon Moloch that Willow had accidentally scanned into the computer. “What? Evil books aren’t enough anymore?”
“Nobody reads anymore.” Angel pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “They’re all on the internet.”
“Tell me again how these boxes aren’t an instrument of evil.” Giles snorted.
Ignoring him, Jenny put the CD into one of the lab computers. “Rupert, if you’ll look for a retrieval spell, I’ll see if I can get into the computer code.”
“And how long will that take?” Xander protested. “We need to help Willow now.”
“If Xander and I – “Buffy felt Angel’s hand on her shoulder. “And Angel go into the game, we can help keep her safe until you can get us out.”
“Absolutely not!” Frowning, Giles shook his head. “Buffy, we cannot risk your being injured or killed in some other dimension.”
“Why?” She challenged. “Because I’m the Slayer?”
“No big. I die, another is called, remember?” She said flippantly.
“And if you die in some other dimension – another may not be called.” The Watcher took hold of Buffy's arm. “You are simply too valuable to risk. I forbid it!”
“But Xander and Willow aren’t?” The hazel eyes were hard. “Or Angel of course.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.” Giles let go of her arm, aware of Angel’s narrowed eyes and tightened jaw. “But if anything happens to you – I don’t know what would happen.”
“I know what will happen if I don’t go.” She said quietly. “I’d be letting a friend die.”
“Rupert, please.” Jenny laid a hand on his arm. “Go find a retrieval spell. I’ll set the game up on a computer for each of them. Xander’s the expert on games, he can help us prepare.”
“I am?” Xander blinked. “Of course I am!” All right! I’m the man! Oh dear god, now what do I do? Grabbing the game manual, he did a quick read through while Jenny began installing the game on the computers.
Giles hesitated for a moment before returning to the library.
“Buffy, you’re a warrior, you too, Dead Boy.” Quickly Xander moved from computer to computer outfitting the characters. “Being as there’s no vampires in the game.”
“Um, Xander?” Buffy looked up from the manual. “There are.”
“And they’re all on the wrong side.” He pointed out. “I’ll go as a thief type and that’ll help with traps and IDing anything we find.”
Angel pointed at one of the monsters in the manual. “That looks familiar. I’ve seen one of these.”
“What is it?” Buffy wrinkled her nose up at the picture of the ugly beast. “A turtle? Eww… are those suckers?”
“It’s a Kessian beast.” He shook his head. “Nasty and hard to kill.”
“Are any of them not nasty and not hard to kill?” The comment was light, but Buffy couldn’t disguise the bitterness.
“Willow will be fine.” Catching her hand, Angel squeezed gently.
The cool touch was reassuring, and Buffy smiled up at him. “Thanks.”
“We’re ready.” Xander interrupted. “If you two are through with the kissy face?”
“Kissy face?” Giles walked back into the lab with a fat book in one hand and a large bag of weapons in the other.
“No kissy face.” Buffy nodded primly. “Hand holding only.”
“Yes, well.” The Watcher gave Angel a stern look. “You are rather young to be indulging in – kissy face.”
The barb struck home and Angel let go of Buffy's hand as if it were suddenly coated with holy water. She was young, but then, compared to him, the entire population of Sunnydale was young. Including the buildings.
“There should be a few minutes for us to take inventory once we get in the game.” Xander felt strangely calm. Somehow his fear of not finding Willow had choked and strangled his fear of dying. “I’m hoping that we get there with the stuff I’ve given the characters.”
“And if not?” Buffy pulled a stake out of the bag Giles had brought back with him. “Maybe these’ll go with us?”
“Maybe.” Xander picked up the manual and clamped it in his teeth. “Pthis – oo.”
Keeping a firm grip on the bag of weapons, Buffy moved her mouse over the start icon. Beside her, Angel did the same and locked his free hand around her wrist.
Putting one hand on Buffy's other arm, Xander took a deep breath around the manual. “Now!”
With a simultaneous click on the start icon, Buffy, Angel, and Xander disappeared.
The bag of weapons and the manual fell to the floor.
“Oh dear.” Giles sat down heavily.
Buffy, Angel and Xander appeared in a dark and damp stone room.
“The good news is – we’re in.” Xander grinned. “The bad news is – we’re in.”
“Oh my God!” Buffy's voice startled both men. “Why am I dressed like this?”
Angel’s eyes widened. Buffy was wearing a skimpy leather and fur bikini. Very skimpy. A sword was strapped to her waist and a dagger stuck up from her boot top.
“Let me just say…. Wow!” Xander said after a moment of taking mental pictures.
“Wow, nothing!” She pulled the blue cloak she was wearing around her. “It’s cold in here! And why aren’t you guys in fantasy beachwear, too?”
Angel and Xander were both in tunics and trousers and Angel had a vest of chain mail. He tugged at the long red cloak he was wearing. “Here, take this.”
“Ah, no.” Xander grabbed his hand. “That’s part of your protection. It’s a cloak of chain mail. It’s – hey!”
“What?” Angel pulled back as Xander grabbed a big handful of his cloak.
“I know – I can tell what it is by touching it!” The brown eyes were lit up with wonder. “It’s like it’s talking to me!”
“Well, yea…” Buffy rolled her eyes.
“And this – “ Xander grabbed the large amulet Buffy was wearing. “Magical! This is so cool!” He ran his hands up Buffy's arms to the metal armlets she was wearing. “And these – “
Angel’s soft growl made Xander turn. Angel was in full vamp face. “Are so off limits!” He threw up his hands and backed away. “And best when viewed from afar.”
“Angel.” Buffy shook her head.
“Sorry.” The look on his face as it shifted back said otherwise.
“You guys get pants and I get…” Tugging at her bikini top, Buffy frowned. This was a lot more skin than she liked to put on display. “Fashions by Conan. So not fair.”
“We better get moving.” Xander told him. “In most games, if you sit too long, something comes after you.”
“Sounds like real life.” Angel followed Xander as he opened the door.
With one last tug at her top, Buffy followed them out into a dimly lit corridor. Xander started to turn left, but Angel stopped him.
“Everyone automatically goes to the right.” Xander explained. “So we need to go to the left, it’s safer.”
“There’s blood this way.”
“You sure – “ Xander stopped. “Right. Forgot the whole vampire thing for an insane second.”
“Guys.” Buffy called. “Body.”
A badly mauled body lay just around the curve of the corridor. Blood was splattered over the floor and walls.
“Let me just say – “Xander gulped. “Real game not so much fun.”
Buffy noticed that Angel was standing back, his hands clenched into fists. “You okay?”
“Fine.” He jumped as she touched him.
“Xander, we need to move on.” She said over her shoulder.
“Let me just see if – ick – our friend here has – oh God – “ Holding his breath, Xander flipped open the dead man’s cloak. “Useful things – please don’t let me yak – “
“Fine. Angel and I are going to check our back.” Buffy led Angel back up the corridor. “Angel, you sure you’re okay?”
“I didn’t think.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. “I haven’t fed since yesterday.”
“Yeah. And human blood is…”
“Yeah.” Stepping close to him, Buffy laid a hand on his arm. “Can you deal?”
“I’ll be all right.” Looking past her, he saw Xander coming back up the corridor towards them.
“Staff of power and some potions that might come in handy.” Giving a necklace to Buffy, Xander explained. “It increases your strength.”
“You should keep it.” She handed it back.
“No, you see, here – “ He waved a hand. “You are the weakest link.”
“Excuse? Slayer strength?”
“Buffy, if we are in the game, your character was the one with the lowest strength.”
“And why is that?” Settling her hands on her hips, she glared at Xander until she realized he was staring at her breasts.
“Because your character was female.” He forced his eyes to look somewhere besides her breasts. Half naked, barely covered in an itty bitty fur bikini, breasts. “I didn’t think you’d want to wind up in a man’s body.”
“Good point.” Buffy put on the amulet. “And it goes with my outfit, too. Yea.”
“Ready?” Xander turned and led them down the corridor once again.
Moving cautiously, they rounded the curve of the corridor and found themselves at another intersection.
Angel didn’t have to point the way to the next body. A meandering trail of blood led to the torn and mauled body that lay against one wall. A female body.
“Rupert!” Jenny stopped the computer code scrolling by on the screen. “Look at this!”
“Did you find something?” He looked up from the ancient text he was scanning through.
“This symbol.” She tapped the screen. “I’ve seen this before.”
“Hmm… it’s familiar to me as well. Wait.” He went into his office and took a book from the file cabinet. “I think… yes! Here!”
Laying the book down on the desk next to her, Giles pointed to a particular entry. “The demon Bilgatz, consigned to another dimension in 1205.”
“Ugh, a face only a mother could love.” Jenny looked at the illustration of the demon. It had one large eye in the middle of its face in between its two large mouths. “What’s his story?”
“Gains strength through sacrifice of willing souls. Hmm… “ He paused. “Normally sacrifices aren’t required to be willing.”
“No, just alive. Until dead.”
“It says here that if he gets ten thousand willing sacrifices, he can break free and return to our dimension.” He pushed his glasses up impatiently. “Why do they always put an escape clause? Why can’t a demon be trapped somewhere for eternity?”
“Take all the fun out of it?” She grinned at him.
“It’s bloody inconsiderate if you ask me.”
“Did you find the spell?” She gestured at the book he had been looking at before she interrupted him.
“Yes. I have all the necessary ingredients. If you’re ready?”
“Call me ever ready.” Laughing at the quizzical look on Giles’ face, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Let’s do it.”
Setting up the candles and carefully making a boundary to form a portal, Giles positioned the items Jenny needed within easy reach for her.
Jenny took a few moments to compose herself, breathing deeply and reaching for the calm center of her being. Softly she began to chant the spell.
“Return to me
That which was stolen.
Return to me
That which is mine.
Free from the hold
Free from the grasp
Return to me now from beyond!”
There was a bright blue flash and a gust of cold wind. The candles flared up before going out.
Blinking at the spots dancing before his eyes, Giles hurried to the portal. There was a jumble of items, but no Willow. “What are all these things?”
“Oh, my God. This is my Malibu Barbie.” She picked up a tanned doll wearing a purple bikini. “I knew Beth Johnson stole her!”
“As happy as I am for you and your doll – “ He sorted through the pile of objects. “Willow and the others are still missing. Oh dear…”
“What?” She clutched at his shoulder.
“Bones.” Gingerly, he moved a tattered comic book off the pile of bones.
“Tell me this isn’t Willow.”
“I think it’s my puppy.” Grimacing, she lifted the small skull. “He disappeared when I was ten.”
“It appears the spell is convenient for locating personal items, but not people.”
“If Willow were my child, maybe – “ Jenny shook her head. “And asking her mother to help is – “
“Out of the question.” With a sigh, Giles picked up the game manual. “I’m going to see if anything in here might be of help. It’s probably all useless drivel, but perhaps there’s something.”
“You’re such a positive thinker.” Trailing a hand across his shoulders, she returned to her seat in front of the computer. “One more quality I love about you.”
The tips of his ears turned red as Giles flipped open the game manual.
“Buffy!” Xander shouted. “Don’t let them get behind you!”
“I’m trying!” She backed away as the skeletons tried to box her in.
Angel was fighting off four skeletons and a dozen more were rushing toward them. He was in game face and growling as he cut one down with his sword.
“Pull back!” Xander ordered as his sword cut a skeleton in half. “Draw them into the archways!”
Obediently, Buffy began backing toward the two open archways behind them. The two skeletons moved quickly in an attempt to cut her off, but she was able to dodge their swords.
A hard swing of her sword cut one in half and the bones clattered to the floor. The second skeleton was able to land a glancing blow on her forearm, making her cry out in pain. Spinning around, she slammed a foot into the skeleton’s chest, sending it sprawling.
Angel swung his broadsword in an arc, decapitating the three remaining skeletons that were harassing him. Moving to the first archway, he pushed Buffy through and took up a position just inside the opening. He could smell the blood from her injury and had to fight to keep from turning to check on how seriously she was wounded. Xander moved quickly to take up an identical position in the other archway.
The skeletons were forced to come through the archways one a time, unable to fully swing their swords as they moved through the opening. Angel and Xander easily cut them down as they came through, while Buffy guarded their back.
Nursing her aching arm, she frowned; so far, Xander had been right. She was the weak one here. The rules of the game were in full force it seemed. Even with her Slayer strength, she was tiring before they did. Xander was much stronger and more coordinated that he usually was, and Angel’s strength was easily twice what it normally was.
“Buffy?” Angel stepped back as she flinched and spun around, sword raised.
“Sorry.” She slid the weapon into the scabbard at her side. “Feeling a bit sorry for myself. Quality pout time.”
“Let me see your arm.” He took her arm and examined the injury. The skin was mottled and purple with a small gash along the edge of it. “Hurt?”
“Not so much.” She lied.
“You’re a brave lass.” He winked at her and lowered his lips to the cut.
“Hey!” Xander pushed Angel to one side. “No blood tasting!”
“What?” Angel’s eyes widened. “I was going to kiss her!”
“Oh, oh…” Xander flushed. “I… ah… never mind.” He backed away. “I’ll just search for goodies… over here…”
While Xander retreated to the piles of bones to search for anything valuable, Buffy and Angel sat down with their backs to one wall.
“Tired?” Angel put his arm around her shoulders.
“Tired of this.” Leaning her head on his shoulder, she closed her eyes. “All this fighting.”
“Rest.” Wrapping his cloak around her, Angel pulled her tightly against his side.
They had traveled through the damp corridors for hours, at first following a trail of mauled and hacked bodies. The dead woman they had found early on had given them a scare until they rolled her over and found the face of a stranger.
Now there was nothing more to go on other than the occasional dead monster and Angel’s insistence that they were on the right path. Every room was a battle. Skeletons, zombies, vampires, and various other citizens of hell greeted them around every corner.
“All right, no goodies this go round.” Xander announced. “Let’s hit the road.”
“We need to rest.” Angel told him.
“We don’t have time to rest! Willow – “
“Let’s go.” Buffy climbed slowly to her feet.
“We won’t do Willow any good if we die before we get to her.” Tossing the annoying cloak over his shoulder, Angel stood up and steadied her with a hand on her waist.
“Just – “ For a moment the desperation and fear showed through Xander’s usual bravado. “Just a little farther. Please.”
Angel nodded. “But we need to rest. Soon.”
“We will.” Xander led them out through the archways and into the corridor. It split off in two directions and Angel grabbed him before he could turn to the left.
“What makes you think she went that way?” Looking down the right passage, Xander shook his head. “It’s darker that way.”
“Because she went this way.” Turning away from Xander and Buffy, Angel started down the corridor. “I can smell her.”
“You can – what?” Xander turned to Buffy. “He can smell her?”
“Vamp, remember? Great sense of smell.” She’d figured out early on that Angel’s insistence on the direction they were traveling was because he was following Willow’s scent. “And he’s better looking than a bloodhound. Eww… no pun.”
Xander took the lead, using a magical object to scan ahead of them for traps and pitfalls. “Moving on now.”
Buffy caught Angel’s hand as they walked along, and his cool fingers squeezed hers comfortingly. The one good thing about this particular trip to hell was that Angel looked good in his sword and sorcery fashions. The chain mail vest accented his broad chest and shoulders, and the tight leather pants accented – she looked up to see him grinning down at her.
“See anything you like?”
“Um…” Her face turned red and she gulped. “So… what does Willow smell like?”
“What do I smell like?”
“Pure and good.” He dipped his head down to breathe in her scent. “Fiery.”
“I smell like smoke?” A frown crinkled her nose. “That’s sexy.”
“Everyone has a base scent. Willow is very earthy and so is Xander. You’re a fire scent.” Angel couldn’t resist kissing the tip of her nose.
“I get it. Like Earth, Wind, and Fire.” Nodding her head, she ticked off the elements. “I’ll have to check out their albums.”
Angel could never quite figure out if Buffy was really this clueless or if it was just an act. She was too intelligent to be as dense as she seemed sometimes. He settled for pulling her close and kissing her cheek.
One cool hand cupped her cheek and tipped her head so that his lips could move down along her throat. His head jerked up suddenly. “Wait.”
“What?” Xander stopped and turned to look at him.
“Shh…” He laid a finger over Buffy's lips before she could speak. “I hear something.”
Straining, Buffy listened but heard nothing. Xander tilted his head, but it was obvious that he didn’t hear anything either. Angel slid the long sword out of the scabbard on his back. Motioning for them to be ready, he led them down the corridor.
As they approached a doorway, Buffy could hear the sounds of battle. Screams and shouting, the roar of fire, and a voice chanting. Willow!
Xander held up a hand as Angel started to open the door. “Wait. That’s some kind of fire spell.”
“And?” Angel could smell Willow’s fear and it pulled him to her. The dainty redhead had always been kind to him, never judged him as so many others did.
“And fire spells usually travel in a wall or a circle out from the spell caster.” Xander made a sweeping motion with his hands. “If we go in, we could get fried.”
“He’s right.” Buffy laid a hand on Angel’s arm. “We won’t do Willow any good if we’re crispy critters.”
They stood for an eternity of minutes waiting for the crackle and roar of fire to stop. Willow’s voice rose again and again above the screams. Then the sounds changed to rustling and scrabbling. The door opened and a trio of vamps rushed out.
Xander met the first one with his sword through its chest, dropping it to its knees where he could easily take its head off. Buffy sliced through another vamp and he exploded into dust. Angel grabbed the last one, twisting her around and pinning her against the wall.
Buffy looked up to see Angel’s beautiful face morph into game face as he sank his fangs into the vamp’s throat. The female struggled with him, but he was far stronger than she was, and he jerked her head to one side to bare her throat. Repulsed and fascinated at the same time, Buffy watched him feed off the struggling vampire. His eyes closed and a look of total rapture covered his face. He was grinding his body against hers and growling, thrusting between her spread legs in a blatant parody of sex.
A twinge of jealousy went through Buffy. For a moment, she wanted to be the vampire, wanted to feel Angel’s body crushing hers, his fangs buried in her throat, feeding off of her. Her skin grew hot as she imagined him between her legs and moving against her. Inside of her.
Angel threw the drained vampire from him and sliced her head off. Taking the wine flask from his belt, he rinsed his mouth out. The blood of another vampire wasn’t the best, but it would help take the edge off his hunger. He looked up to see Buffy staring at him. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She held out her hand to him. “I understand.”
Taking her hand, he lifted it to his lips. He could smell her arousal and let a smile lift the corner of his mouth. Her scent reassured him far more than her words ever could.
Xander rushed into the room, sword raised in case any vampires were still inside. “Don’t worry, Willow! We’re here to – “
Willow was sitting on the floor reading a fat book. “Hey, Xander.”
“Save you.” He finished weakly.
“Willow!” Buffy rushed forward and hugged her. “You’re okay?”
“Yeah, well, at first I was really scared.” She stood up and hugged Xander. “But I know spells! Lots of them! And my stick – er, staff has more, and – “ She stood up on tiptoe to hug Angel. “Angel, hey.”
“Okay, so Willow’s found.” Buffy shoved her sword into the scabbard. “Let’s go home.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that simple.” Angel told her.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of here.” Willow picked up the book she’d been reading. “There’s a portal spell in here, but it says ‘town’ and I’m thinking that may not be home.”
“Probably a typical town or village.” Xander looked around the room they were in. “You really need to dust in here, Will.”
“Oh, vamps.” Willow smiled. “I fried a whole bunch of them. You’d have been proud, Buffy.”
“I am, Willow.” Buffy hugged her again.
“We can rest here.” Angel was making a careful circuit of the room. “Two doors so we won’t be trapped. They open in so we can block them shut.”
“Oh, and I can do warding spells!” Willow dug through a bag on her belt. “I’ve got these cubes in here and they told me they’re for warding.”
“Set it up.” Angel ordered. “You and Xander will sleep on that side of the room, Buffy and I on the other.”
“Excuse me? Who died and made you boss of the sleeping arrangements?” Xander asked. “Why not girls on one side and boys on the other?”
“We’re the strongest, so one of us with one of them.” Angel looked Xander over and smiled. “And you’re not my type.”
“Aren’t you cold?” Willow whispered to Buffy. “I mean, you look all One Million BC, but I’d think cold.”
“Cold, very.” Buffy envied Willow her green velvet gown. “You look pretty. And warm.”
“Thanks! It’s hard to run in, though.” She took the cubes out of her pouch, there were four black and four white. Going to one corner of the room, she began to chant.
“Spirit of the east
Birth of the day
Protect me from evil!”
Touching a black cube to a white one, she set them carefully on the floor as they flared with light.
She moved to the next corner.
“Spirit of the south
Ascent of the day
Protect me from evil!”
With a snap, a black cube and white flared together. Willow set them down and moved on. Buffy became aware of a subtle hum.
“Spirit of the west
Descent of the day
Protect me from evil!”
With the third set of joined blocks, a glow began to pulse around the edges of their vision.
“Spirit of the north,
Death of the day
Protect me from evil!”
The last joining of the cubes brought an arcing of power from one corner of the room to the other until they were surrounded by a pale glow.
“Okay. Whew.” Willow sat down in the center of the room. “Tired now.”
“That’ll give us eight hours.” Xander sat down next to her. “Good job, Will. When we get back, take a few shiny medals out of petty cash.”
“Thanks. This is kinda fun.” Her smile faded. “Except for the monsters and dead bodies.”
“Here.” Angel handed Buffy a piece of jerky from his belt pouch. “I don’t really need this.”
“Oh, jerky!” Willow held out her hand. “Can I have some? I – I didn’t think to bring food.”
“You brought magic.” Angel handed her a piece of jerky.
“And so I did.” She munched happily on the jerky.
“Isn’t this just too much fun?” Xander sat down. Opening his backpack, he pulled out two small globes. They began to glow softly as he set them on the floor. “All we need are s’mores and spooky stories.”
“Let’s pass on the spooky stories.” Willow said. “Tell me how we’re getting out of fun land.”
“Giles and Jenny are working on the research end.” Buffy told her as she washed down jerky with a drink from the wine flask Angel handed her. “And we came into the game to help keep you alive until they figure out how to get us out.”
“This is getting us nowhere.” Jenny rubbed her eyes. “The code is just a simple translocation spell, and only if you’re willing to be translocated.”
“There has to be some way to bring them back.” Giles threw the game manual aside.
“I’m going to install the game on another computer.”
“Jenny, no, it’s much too dangerous.”
“Nothing happened until they actually started the game.” She put the CD into another computer. “Let’s go through the install sequence and see if anything shows up there.”
Leaning on the back of her chair, Giles watched anxiously as the different boxes appeared on the screen and a gauge showed the files read and copied.
A big gray box with tiny print appeared. Jenny impatiently clicked a small box labeled ‘I agree’ and it vanished. “Wait! What was that?”
“Just the terms. Nothing important.” She shook her head.
“Wait, go back.”
“Okay.” Shrugging, she hit the back button. “It’s just the standard terms.”
“All rights… agree not to distribute…” Giles read the tiny print as it scrolled by. “You agree to willingly sacrifice your soul to Bilgatz.”
“Oh my God!”
“Are those standard terms?” He said sarcastically.
“Of course not, Rupert!” She retorted. “It’s just that – no one ever reads this stuff.”
“Perhaps they should start.” Picking up the CD case, he looked it over. “Dear heavens.”
“Number 2,347 of 10,000.”
Jenny’s face paled. “We have to stop him.”
“I know. I just hope we can save Buffy and the others while we’re at it.”
“Are you kidding me?” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “After vampires and demons, a rent-a-cop is nothing.”
“Yes, well.” Giles tucked his glasses into his shirt pocket. “Vampires don’t have guns as a rule.”
Jenny had tracked down the location of the software company that had produced the game. A small building on the edge of Sunnydale. No one was surprised. The Hellmouth attracted all kinds of demonic activity. Computer based or otherwise.
The door was guarded by a single man. He was leaning against the doorframe and smoking a cigarette.
“One second.” Jenny opened a small pouch and poured a handful of something red into her palm. “Let me take care of this one.”
Giles and Cordelia watched as Jenny walked up to the guard. He threw the cigarette down and dropped a hand to his gun. Jenny blew the dust in his face and he slumped to the ground.
“Very nice.” Giles opened the door.
“I’ll take this.” Jenny pulled the guard’s gun out of his holster. “Just in case.”
Inside, the factory was dark, the offices closed and locked. A sound of machinery drifted down a long corridor. Moving quickly, they found themselves overlooking a group of people working at packaging CDs.
“We have to stop them.” Giles whispered. “If they get enough souls to free Bilgatz, he’ll be free to terrorize our dimension once again.”
“We need to find the program so I can alter the code.” Jenny pointed at an office just off the work floor. “There’s someone in there.”
“The programmer?” Giles asked.
“Not likely.” She shrugged. “But in this case, who knows?”
“We need a diversion.” Frowning, he looked around the factory. He jumped as the fire alarm went off.
The people working hurriedly shut down the machinery and started moving for the fire exit. A chubby young man rushed out of the office and followed them outside.
“So let’s move already.” Cordelia hissed as she crept back to where Giles and Jenny were hiding.
“Good job, Cordelia.” Giles moved quickly down the stairs to the fire door. With Cordelia’s help, he wedged the door handle so that it couldn’t be opened. “That’ll hold them for a few minutes.”
“Yeah. ‘Till they come in the front door.” Cordelia huffed. “Why do I keep getting involved with you freaks?”
“Out of your sense of civic duty, one would assume.”
In the office, Jenny was busy at the computer. “I think I can get into the game code.” She said as Giles and Cordelia came into the office.
“Good.” Cordelia looked at Giles. “That is good, right?”
“That depends on if we can help Willow and the others.” Giles locked the office door. “Help me move this cabinet.”
“What?” She gaped at him. “Excuse me! I’m not here to do physical labor!”
“Cordelia, the file cabinet is very heavy.” He explained. “I need your help to move it.”
“I might break a nail.”
“And they might bash your skull in if we don’t keep them out of here.”
“Fine.” She pushed at the heavy cabinet. “But this is the last time I help you people.”
“Rupert!” Jenny called excitedly. “I’m in!”
Buffy shifted closer to Angel. After a dinner of jerky and wine, she and Angel had settled on one side of the room, with Xander and Willow on the other. Xander had put away the globes, leaving the room dimly lit by the protective spell.
Angel had pulled off the hated cloak and draped it over her, then lay down next to her. With a respectable distance between them. The distance had been steadily narrowing. They had both reached out to touch the other’s face and hair and to hold hands. Gradually, they had inched close enough to kiss.
“This is almost like a sleepover.” Buffy whispered.
“Do you usually sleep in a fur bikini?” Angel slipped a finger down between her breasts and tugged on the bikini top. “If so, I’m coming over to spend the night.”
Her skin tingled where his cool fingers touched her. Nibbling at his bottom lip, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed closer.
Sliding his hand down her back, Angel pulled her tighter to him. His cloak tangled between them and he tugged it up and over both of them. Her tongue teased along his lips until he opened his mouth for her. His cock hardened as her hot tongue swirled inside his cool mouth.
The chain mail vest Angel wore resisted Buffy's efforts to get her hands under it. He chuckled softly at her little grunt of frustration. Catching and sucking her tongue, he slid a hand down her thigh to pull her leg up over his hip.
Shivers of fire spread through her as a big hand cupped her ass and pulled her hard against him as he arched forward. The hardness pressing into her sent fresh shivers chasing through her. Tangling her fingers into his thick hair, she kissed him harder, thrusting her tongue urgently into his mouth.
Breaking the kiss, she moved her mouth along his face to nibble on his ear. He growled softly and thrust his leg between her thighs. Both of his hands were on her ass, clutching her to him as he ground himself against her body.
When Buffy's teeth bit down on his throat, another growl rumbled up from his belly, and he slid a hand down under the waistband of her bikini bottom searching hungrily for warm, bare flesh.
“Hey! Knock it off!”
Buffy jumped as Xander’s shout echoed across the room. She buried her red face in Angel’s neck.
Xander yelped as Willow elbowed him. “What? They’re over there making smoochies and growling. Some of us are trying to sleep.”
Angel chuckled as Buffy's face warmed his neck. “I’ll try to keep the growling down.”
“Why are you – “Xander sat up. “Are you biting her?”
Turning, Angel looked solemnly at the younger man for a moment. “Not now.”
“Good.” He lay down before popping back up. “But you – “
“He’s kidding.” Willow pulled on his arm. “Go to sleep.”
“Sorry.” Angel murmured in Buffy's ear as he settled back down next to her.
“No big.” She kissed the red spot on his neck where she’d nipped him. “Embarrassment is good for the soul, right?”
“You’re asking me?” He rolled onto his back and pulled her against his side.” Don’t be embarrassed. We wouldn’t have done anything anyway.”
Buffy laid her head on his chest and moved her hand in slow circles over his stomach. “Angel, do you – will we?”
“Yes, but not here.” He kissed her temple. “Someplace nice – special. Maybe we’ll go away somewhere.”
“A hotel?” That didn’t sound very romantic.
“We’ll have candles and soft music and maybe rose petals scattered across the bed.” His eyes closed and he snuggled into her warmth. “Moonlight coming in through the windows.”
“That sounds beautiful.” She yawned suddenly. “When?”
“When you’re ready.”
“When is that?”
He smiled and kissed her temple again. “Soon, I’m thinking. But not yet.”
“I’m not sure I’ll know.” Buffy yawned again. “How will I know?”
Angel bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Trust me, you’ll know.”
Nuzzling Angel’s ear, she whispered. “Should we tell Xander you’ve already bitten me?”
“Better not.” He could imagine Xander’s reaction – make that everyone’s reaction – to the information that he occasionally tasted Buffy in the throes of passion. “I don’t want to wake up with a stake through my heart.”
Angel tucked the edges of his cloak around Buffy as she fell asleep. He could absorb and reflect her body heat but she wouldn’t be as warm as she would have been with a living person. Like Xander. Not that Xander would be living for long if the boy tried sleeping cuddled up with his mate. “I love you, Buffy.” He whispered softly.
Willow sighed enviously at Angel and Buffy cuddled together. Xander had rolled over and put his back up against hers, saying this was just like nap time in kindergarten. “Some girls have all the luck.”
Angel woke instantly as the protective wards snapped off. “Buffy.”
“I’m awake.” She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “God, I feel good! Maybe I should sleep on stone floors more often.”
Rising to his feet, he noticed that he felt completely rejuvenated. “This is strange. I should be hungry.”
Xander nudged Willow’s shoulder. “We slept, so we’re once again fully charged.”
“No, it’s looking at me…” Willow mumbled. “Big froggy eyes…”
“Wake up, Will.” Xander shook her shoulder. “No frogs.”
“Gaa!” Willow bolted up.
Buffy stretched. “I feel good. Like I slept for a week.”
“I didn’t sleep very well.” Angel said. “But I feel completely rested.”
“See, the way the game works, is that you sleep – you’re fully rested and ready to rock.” Xander pulled a handful of jerky out a pouch on his belt and offered a piece to Buffy and to Willow. “Doesn’t matter how hard the floor was, or how much you tossed and turned, or… how much certain other people growled in their sleep.”
“That was purring.” Buffy looped an arm around Angel’s waist. The first time she and Angel had gotten down to serious smooching, she’d discovered that vampires could, and did, purr.
“Whatever.” Xander shot Angel a dirty look. “We sleep, therefore we’re rested.”
“I hate to be a big poop.” Willow said. “But how do we get out of here?”
“Giles and Jenny are working from the outside.” Buffy slid her sword out of her scabbard and held it up. “I say we work from the inside.”
“All for one.” Xander held up his sword to hers.
Willow giggled and laid her staff on their crossed swords.
Angel hesitated a moment before drawing his broadsword and touching it to theirs. “And one for all.”
“But I get to be Charlie Sheen.” Xander joked.
A shimmer in the air caught their attention and they backed away from it. Willow called a spell to mind while Xander, Buffy, and Angel held their swords at the ready.
The shimmer grew and wobbled. It vanished abruptly and a small item clattered to the floor.
Xander approached it cautiously. “It’s a scroll.” He picked it up.
“Be careful.” Willow warned him.
“It’s not magical, Will. Just a scroll.” He unrolled it. “Oh my God.”
“What? What is it?” Buffy snatched it away.
We’re working on a way out. Be careful!
“Way to go, Giles.” She grinned.
“He and Ms. Calendar must have found a spell or something.” Willow hugged Buffy. “We’ll just sit here and – “ The door behind them rattled.
“Or we’ll keep moving.” Xander waved them toward the other door. “You can’t sit and wait long in a game, Willow. It’ll come looking for you.” They started carefully down the corridor with Xander leading the way.
“Oh, wait!” Willow took a small white stone from one of her belt pouches.
Let my eye see them all!”
The stone glowed softly and then slowly opened to reveal an eyeball. It floated up and out of Willow’s palm and hovered for a moment before drifting ahead of them down the corridor.
“Gaa!” Xander jumped back as it went past him. “And gaa, yet again!”
“I can see what it sees.” She told him. “It’s neat. But yeah, kinda up there on the whole ‘gaa’ scale.”
“But kinda cool.” Buffy told her. “That can see ahead of us? Tell us if there’s any nasty monsters?”
“It’s like this picture in my head. I can see what’s around the corner.” The redhead tilted her head to one side. “No monsters, but there’s a dead end and a door.”
“Useful gaa, then.” Xander started down the corridor once again.
“I like the spells here.” Willow grinned. “Very short.”
“Short is good.” Buffy nodded. “Nothing like an epic poem when an ugly’s chasing you.”
Xander paused at the door. “Let’s see….” He listened intently for a moment. “Sounds like somebody’s home. Quiet or noisy?”
“Noisy.” Angel said. “Catch them by surprise.”
Xander kicked the door open and rushed into the room, startling the skeletons that were milling aimlessly about. “Follow me, boys!” He yelled as he backpedaled.
Early on, it had become obvious that Angel was the true warrior of the group. He stood just outside the doorway and neatly hacked each skeleton in half with a grim efficiency. When the last skull hit the floor, he stepped over the pile of bones and entered the room cautiously.
While Buffy and Willow sorted through the bone pile, Xander checked the different boxes and chests in the room for traps before he opened them. Angel stood guard at the doorway in case something tried to come in.
“Healing potion, healing potion.” Willow pulled a flask out of the pile. “Ooh… magic!”
“Good magic?” Buffy set aside a handful of gold coins.
“It’s a recharging potion.” Willow told her. “When I use magic, I get weaker. This recharges the magic batteries.”
“Good magic then.” Holding up a large ruby necklace, Buffy examined the fist sized stone. “Wow! Gaudy much?”
“Let me see.” Xander ran his fingers over the jewel. “Eye of Fire. Give it to Willow.”
“But I found it.” Buffy pouted. “It’s my pretty.”
“And for Willow it will make a nice circle of fire.”
“Oh.” She handed it over. “Yours.”
“Thanks.” Willow put it on. “You can wear it whenever you want.”
“Here.” Xander handed Buffy a pair of large armlets. “These are better than the ones you have on.”
“And all silvery too.” She stripped off her armlets and put on the new ones.
“Guys.” Angel warned them. “What’s that?”
They looked up to see a blue pulsing disc floating a few feet off the floor.
“Get behind me.” Willow stood and planted her staff firmly in front of her. “Protect!” A line of silver licked out in front of her, spreading until it formed a circle around the group.
The disc grew larger and an opening appeared in the center. Several items fell out. The disc folded up on itself and vanished.
Xander stepped outside the circle of protection and cautiously approached the items. One was a scroll that he handled carefully before opening. “Hey – we have mail!”
Dropping the protection spell, Willow snatched the scroll from Xander. “It’s from Giles and Ms. Calendar!”
The demon Bilgatz is collecting willing souls through the game. You must stop him before he breaks free.
His weakness is in his second eye. It is hidden inside his stomach. You must make him open his stomach to use the eye.
We’re trying to send you weapons to help destroy him.
Be careful and hurry!
A map was drawn at the bottom of the scroll.
“Good job, Giles.” Buffy looked over Willow’s shoulder at the map.
“Don’t forget Ms. Calendar.” She handed the scroll to Xander. “They make a good team.”
“Looks like they laid a path out for us.” Angel pointed out the lines on the map.
“Not exactly a straight line.” Frowning, Xander traced the path with a fingertip.
“Probably skirting us around the worst of the monsters.” One of the items on the floor caught Angel’s attention. He picked up a leather scabbard and slid the sword out. He felt power tingling through his fingers.
“Ooh… may I?” Xander ran his hand over the hilt. “Very nice. This is a bad ass sword.”
“Is that the official name?” Buffy pouted. “How come I don’t get a shiny new sword?”
“You get a shiny new crossbow.” Xander handed her a small bow loaded with a single cross bolt. “Magic arrow. You shoot it and it comes back.”
The pout was irresistible and Angel leaned down to kiss Buffy. “You could have it, but I think it’s too much for you to handle.”
“You don’t think I can handle your sword?” She grinned impishly up at him.
“Well, you’ve done – “
“Stop!” Xander interrupted Angel. “No more double entendres! Mental images bad! Bad!”
“Come on, guys.” Willow motioned and the floating eye went out the door. “We’ve got a demon to kill.”
“Wow. Get on with your bad self, Willow.” Buffy giggled.
Giles and Cordelia pulled another file cabinet over in front of the door. The pounding from the other side was growing louder.
“If I can just clear the monsters from their path…” Jenny frowned at the lines of code. “They can move faster.”
“Yes, faster would be good.” Giles pushed his glasses up.
“This is fascinating. Somehow, they set up a pocket dimension to funnel the souls to him.” She shook her head in admiration at the combination of computer code and magic. “I gave them some weapons and a map. It’s the best I can do.”
“Why don’t we just shut the computer off?” Cordelia asked. “Or delete all the code?”
“We don’t know what might happen, Cordelia.” Leaning back against the cabinets, Giles lent his weight to keeping Bilgatz minions out. “If it really is a pocket dimension, they could be trapped there forever.”
“At least I wouldn’t have to do this stuff anymore.” The brunette shot back. “The weirdness quotient tripled when Buffy came to Sunnydale. I swear, sometimes I wish – “ She shrieked as an axe head burst through the door panel above their heads.
“Ah… Jenny?” Giles turned to her. “Do hurry, please.”
“Uh – big doggy things!” Willow stopped and stared wide eyed. “Icky!”
“How many?” Angel asked.
“Lots – ooh – they’re ugly.” She shivered. “Like the winged monkeys? But scaly and claws and – “ She curled her fingers into claws. “All grr!”
“Could be any number of minor demons.” Angel shrugged. “Usually not too bright.”
“There’s like twenty or maybe more.” Frowning, Willow moved her head as if tracking something. “They’re moving, so it’s hard to tell.”
“We can try the doorway trick.” Xander suggested.
“No, wait.” She put her hand on his arm. “Let me do something first. I think I can take most of them out.”
“Be careful, Will.” Buffy gave her a hand a quick squeeze.
“You know me.” She nodded. “Miss Careful.”
Squaring her shoulders, Willow opened the door and walked into the next room. She held her hands up in front of her as the flying demons came for her.
“Rain of marble
Hail of stone
Strike my foes
And bring them down!”
From her fingertips flew a blizzard of stones that sliced through the demons, decimating their numbers. The few that survived were easy prey for Buffy's magic arrow and Angel and Xander’s swords.
“Nice trick, Willow.” Xander saluted her with his sword. “I vote you keep that one.”
“I wish.” She flexed her fingers.
“Okay, this is it.” Xander pointed out the large, ornate door at the other end of the room.
Willow drank one of the blue magic potions while the others downed healing potions. The last few hours had been relatively battle free, but they knew they needed to be at full strength for the battle with Bilgatz.
Buffy stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to Angel’s soft, cool lips. He ran his hand over her hair. “Ready?”
“Let’s lock and load, gang.” Xander kicked open the door. “God, I love doing that!”
Inside the found the demon sprawled obscenely on a throne made of human body parts. Robed acolytes were kneeling in front of him and chanting. “Who dares?” He roared.
“Oh, wait. I’ve seen this movie.” Xander mocked. “It doesn’t end well for you.”
“He’s ugly.” Willow frowned. “Two mouths? Not pretty.”
“Kill them!” Bilgatz gestured in their direction. His worshipers scrambled up and ran at the group.
Willow planted her staff in front of her. “Protect!” Sliver streaked around the floor to encircle the group. With her right hand, she grasped the ruby dangling between her breasts. “Ignite!”
A wall of fire roared up directly in front of her. Angel stepped back involuntarily and Buffy caught his arm before he could step outside the protective ward. He was trembling and his features morphed into his vampire face as the demon inside him panicked at the sight of the flames climbing up to touch the ceiling.
“Easy.” Buffy slipped an arm around his waist. Her own fear was choking her as the flames wrapped snugly around the silver circle protecting them. Sweat trickled down her face from the heat.
Above the scent of fear came the stench of burning flesh and the screams of Bilgatz’ minions as they died.
The flames died down to reveal Bilgatz standing before his throne, singed but otherwise unhurt. With a scream of fury, he threw himself at them.
“How do we get to the second eye?” Xander asked.
“By taking out the first one.” Buffy raised the crossbow and pulled the trigger.
The arrow pierced the large eye, splattering ichor over the demon’s face. It staggered and almost fell.
Angel’s silver sword bit deeply into the demon’s neck and yellow blood spurted out. Smoke rose up where it splattered onto the floor. Pulling the blade free, Angel swung again, but the demon rolled away.
Xander was waiting and brought his own sword down into the demon’s body. He jumped back as it swung blindly at him with one clawed hand.
“Oh, look at the widdle blind demon.” Buffy taunted. “Hey, let’s play Marco Polo, you’re it!”
“Die!” Bilgatz struggled to his feet. His stomach peeled open to reveal an eye the size of a basketball.
“Sorry, I’ve already put my Christmas gifts on layaway.” Buffy pulled the trigger on the bow once more.
The arrow hit the eye dead center, but Angel decided not to take any chances. Plunging his sword into the eye, he twisted it viciously. Bilgatz fell, screaming and roaring in agony.
Willow clapped her hands over her ears and sank to her knees. Xander staggered back and dropped his sword.
Buffy backed into the protective circle of Angel’s arms and buried her face in his throat as the screaming hit an overwhelming crescendo.
“Jenny! Do hurry!”
“Rupert, I can’t do anything!” Jenny told him. “All we can do is wait!”
The axe bit through the door again and a chunk of wood ripped loose as it was pulled back.
“Windows!” Running to the windows, Cordelia tore the blinds down.
“At this point, retreat is the better part of valor.” Pushing the window open, Giles helped Cordelia crawl outside. “Jenny, come here!”
“One more second!” She was typing frantically.
“Now!” He watched as someone reached a hand in and groped for the door handle.
“Got it! Locked them out!” With one last tap at the keyboard, Jenny pushed away from the desk and ran to the window.
Giles helped her out and crawled outside just as the office door burst open. Catching Jenny’s hand, he ran for where they’d parked her car.
The screaming stopped suddenly, and they found themselves in the computer lab. Buffy held onto Angel for support. “Where’s Willow?”
“The library?” Xander ran out of the classroom and they followed him to the library.
Willow was getting shakily to her feet as they came in. “Oh, there really is no place like home!”
“From now on – “ Xander collapsed into a chair. “No more demony computer games.”
“You okay?” Angel dipped his head down to lay his cheek against Buffy's.
“Yeah.” She raised a hand to touch his cool cheek. “A little weirded out, but okay.”
The library doors opened and Giles, Jenny, and Cordelia walked in.
“Willow!” Jenny rushed to her. “Thank heavens you’re okay.”
“We’re all fine.” Willow hugged her.
“Buffy?” Giles held a hand out to her.
“We killed it.” She squeezed his fingers. “One less demon baddie.”
“Good, good.” He smiled at her. “But let’s restrict the dimensional slaying to our own dimension from now on, shall we?”
“Hey, from now on, no away games.” She assured him. “The demons can come to me.”
“Well, you know what I mean.” She grinned impishly up at Angel. “Wanna walk me home?”
“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”
Joyce sat on the stairs and listened to Angel’s soft voice. He was sitting on her sofa, reading from a slim volume of poetry and idly running his fingers through Buffy's hair. Buffy was lying with her head in his lap, her eyes closed and a smile on her lips.
“One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every golden tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.”
She smiled as she realized he’d changed ‘raven tress’ to golden. This boy – no, this man – was no first year college student. He was older, too old for her daughter. Joyce felt her heart soften as Angel laid his jacket over Buffy, then kissed his fingertips before pressing them to her lips. Angel obviously loved Buffy; it was there in the way he spoke to her and the way his dark eyes followed her.
“And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!”
Another smile crossed her face as she remembered her own first love. Hopefully, things would end better for Buffy. Getting up, she looked again at her beautiful child. Not that she would trade Buffy for anything, even if she could do things differently. She moved quietly back up the stairs.
Angel listened to Joyce’s footsteps and the gentle click of her door shutting. For a moment, he’d thought she would come down and tell him to leave. Not that he couldn’t get back in through Buffy's window.
“Hey, poetry boy.” A small warm hand slid up over his chest and into his hair to tug him down. “If you’re going to stop reading, then kiss me.”
“Hmm… let me think… kissing or poems?” He laughed softly at her pout. “Kissing is good.”
“Uh hum…” Buffy sighed as the cool lips brushed hers. “Kissing is good.”
“Very good.” Angel whispered against her lips.