The Case of the Invincible Assassin
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction
Book #1 of the Machina Trilogy
by Boo Rogue Amazon & HA
July 30, 2000 24, 300 words
Teaser: Boo: *Walks into the middle of a dark room until a spot light clicks on and illuminates her body* (clears throat) And now ladies and gentleman the story you have all been waiting for...*She is cut off by a yellow blur that streaks in*
HA: Pikachu!!! ;oP
Boo: And here comes HA...in the Pikachu suit...interrupting my lovely speech *glares at the yellow fur ball*
HA: *HA waves to all the readers* Pika :o) *HA does the Pikachu Dance*
Boo: HA, can we please get serious now and tell them about our story? *Looks at Pikachu HA and watches him blink uncomprehendingly. She sighs.* HA pick a suit, any suit, just get out of the Pokemon theme...*begging* Please.
HA: *HA nods* OK...*Changes into a Goblin Machina suit* Better? :o) Ooooo, my back itches...*Extends the suit's claws and scratches his back*
Boo: *Sighs and puts a hand to her head* I think I'm getting a migraine.
HA: *Still scratching* Oh, that feel good...:o)
Boo: At least this is one of the characters in our upcoming co-written story. *To readers* Have I told you all that we co-wrote a story?
HA: *Stops scratching* Oh, yes. Ahem. Being the two big Buffy fans in the SH community, I proposed to Boo if we could co-write a SH/Buffy story.
Boo: And I agreed, because I was having a moment of temporary insanity, still it turned out for the best.
HA: Me, I'm nuts all the time ;oP Care to tell the readers out there what madness we created, Boo?
Boo: Well we put our cyber generated heads together and came up with a story; about this villain; who is going to try and take over the world with a lot of machines. Guess whose idea the machines where. *sardonic grin*
HA: *HA smiles* Guilty :o)
Boo: Anyway it is going to have all your favorites. Buffy, Bo, Shirley...
HA: Plus some killer robots bent on world domination. We hope you enjoy it :o)
Boo: Or we hope that you don't throw rotten tomatoes at us. We will take what we can get.
HA: Please no rotten veggies and eggs. Besides, I'm not sure if this suit is rust-proof ;o)
Boo: *evil grin* Let's find out. *Boo dumps a bucket of water over HA's head* I have always wanted to do that.
HA: *Looks at his chest* Uh oh...*The missile launcher in his chest starts firing out of control* HIT THE DECK!!!
Boo: Oh No, not again!! *Boo ducks and covers*
HA: *After all the missiles are emptied out of the launcher, HA falls to the ground. The missiles leave the room a total wreck.* Boo, no offense, but that was a bad idea.
Boo: *Boo cautiously stands up and looks at Damon's ruined website* I think that we are about to become very, very dead HA.
HA: *Still on the ground* Duh, Sherlock ;oP Perhaps a strategic withdrawal?
Boo: Yes I think a hasty but unobtrusive exit would be a very good idea. *Starts running away with HA on her heels. Shouts over her shoulder* Remember to check out our story!!
HA: Enjoy! Good night, everybody!!!
*Both Boo and HA are gone*
Disclaimer: OK, here we go again. This is getting old really quick. These characters don't belong to us; they are Joss and Credo's and we are just borrowing them. Anything you want to add, HA?
HA: Pika...Pikachu! :o)
Boo: Oookkkaaayyy. On with the story then.
HA: *Nodding* Pikachu :o)
Cast of characters from tAoSH
Shirley Holmes (Great-grand niece of Sherlock)
Cast of characters form BtVS
Buffy Summers (The chosen one)
Original Characters by Boo and HA
Marcus Quinlan (The anointed one)
The gaunt, skull-faced, armored figure put away his weapon and stared down at his latest kill. The target was a young-looking woman dressed in a business suit. She had been beautiful, with long raven-colored hair and a slender figure, but now she was a headless corpse on the floor. Her head lay in the corner of the room; the killing blow had been that powerful. Blood flowed from the neck wound and formed a little puddle on the pristine white tile, making the scene look especially gory. A flash of light appeared behind the assassin. He turned around in time to see a portal form in the air. A second later, a black orb emerged from it and hovered before him. The portal closed as quickly as it appeared. The assassin knew what the object was. It was an Evil Eye, which was well named because of the eye situated in the center of the orb. The eye focused on the assassin, who bowed to it in turn. "Master," he said. The Evil Eye flew towards the woman's corpse and looked at it for a moment, then returned its gaze to the assassin.
"Excellent, Thanatos," a voice from the Evil Eye said. "I take it she refused our offer?"
"She did, master," Thanatos answered.
"Typical. The other two did also, if I recall," the voice said bemusedly. "I suppose the others will do the same."
"The others will be even harder to track down, master, but they will not escape me," Thanatos replied robotically.
"Your enthusiasm is noted and appreciated," the Evil Eye said. "Nothing can stop you, my harbinger of death." The Eye pivoted and looked around the room. "Were there any difficulties?"
"With the kill, no. She did not have time to respond. However..." Thanatos bent down near the corpse and picked up a bloodied piece of paper from the dead woman's hand. "I fear our presence has been acknowledged," he said, holding up the paper.
The Evil Eye moved to look at the paper, and after a while, the voice spoke again. "Well, it seems my return is not a surprise to at least one person. That doesn't really surprise me. He was always an intelligent one."
"Shall I deal with him?" Thanatos asked.
"No, not yet," the Evil Eye replied. "Why waste time and effort on him? Besides, sooner or later he'll be just like the others."
"As you wish, master," Thanatos said. "Who is the next target?"
The Evil Eye backed away and projected a holographic image to the assassin. The image was that of a teen-age boy with dark hair dressed in formal wear. Data on the target was next to the image. "This is Marcus Quinlan, heir to the Quinlan fortune. The 'odd man' of all of them, so to speak."
Thanatos read the data and studied the hologram of the boy. "Interesting. Still, he does not look like much of a threat."
"You know that is not true," the Evil Eye said. "He is as powerful as the others, perhaps even more so. Do not underestimate him because of his appearance."
"I understand, master," the assassin said. The hologram disappeared.
"I want his death to be especially painful, Thanatos. I want him to feel agony to the point that he will beg to die."
"As you command," the assassin replied. "Marcus Quinlan will die an agonizing death at my hands."
"Good," the Evil Eye said. "Although quite frankly, I think he'll enjoy death. Still, I can't have him running around."
"Shall I leave for the city of Los Angeles?" he asked.
"Not necessary, Thanatos," the Evil Eye said. "I have a feeling Marcus will be departing for another place after he and his 'father' investigate our work here."
"The place in the note, master?"
"Indeed. In fact, after all my observations, I wouldn't be surprised."
"Then I shall depart at once."
"Good. Do not fail me, or else." A portal opened behind the Evil Eye, and it flew into it. Thanatos watched as the portal disappeared. The assassin looked at the note again, then he replaced it into the dead woman's hand. A portal opened in front of him as he stood up. "Marcus Quinlan, death is coming for you," he said. Then taking a final look at the room and its deceased occupant, Thanatos walked through the portal and was gone.
* * * * *
Marcus Quinlan stared at the body of Madelyn Kahn and drew a hand through his dark hair. It was early morning and the sunlight was just starting to creep into her high rise apartment located in the more wealthy area of San Francisco. It made the murder scene look almost surreal in comparison. The ancient vampire was greatly disturbed by this discovery, the reason being because Madelyn was like him, an anointed one. She hadn't been as old as Marcus was but still, for someone to destroy her without a struggle. She should never have died so easily. The vampire had been out of the hunt for almost thirty years now due to uncontrollable circumstances that had arisen. Basically he had been discovered as the anointed ones' messenger of death by the one whom now lay at his feet dead. With the loss of his anonymity he lost his advantage over his comrades. He still tracked his sired but the anointed ones were being driven deeper and deeper underground. The realization of who had been killing their numbers had motivated them to plot their return to power in secret. The ancient vampire's betrayal of his clan was something for which he would eventually pay dearly for. It was because of this development that secrecy became a necessity. This was also the reason why his brother Antony had been tracking the anointed ones. Keeping tabs on them, so to speak. It was the mortal Quinlan that had decided, reluctantly, to bring this murder to the vampire's attention. He was very protective of the immortal he had called "brother" for so many years and at first had not wanted to involve him. Marcus' thoughts drifted back to that day thirty years ago when Antony had, after Alexander's death, decided to go into seclusion so he could hunt more freely. He had been twenty years old at the time and had been posing as Marcus's little brother since he was ten. He had told the vampire that since Marcus had been discovered he would be watched by the old ones so it was with a great reluctance that the vampire had agreed that Antony was the only one left who could track them anonymously. The man he had once called "little brother" was now kneeling down by the female vampire's severed head. At fifty years of age he was still handsome. With his rich brown hair dusted with gray and a scar running down the length of his chin the elder Quinlan looked more like a mercenary than the owner of a vast financial empire. Marcus now called him "father" in public for appearance sake but to the vampire the fifty-year-old man would always be his little brother.
"Marcus, come take a look at this," his brother's gruff voice said softly. The vampire crossed the room to stand next to him. He studied the still, pale features of Madelyn Kahn.
"She didn't even have time to morph into her true form," the ancient vampire said in shock. He noticed that her features were slightly off because she had been changing when she was killed. Antony just nodded, approving of Marcus' observations.
"And look at this," he said, pointing to the almost surgically clean wound at the neck. "There is not a knife or sword on the planet sharp enough to sever a head so cleanly. The only thing that could have done this is a laser." Marcus' eyes shot up at that. "Are you saying we have vigilantes interfering with the hunts?" the heir to the Quinlan fortune asked. Antony just shook his head in a negative gesture.
"I don't know, but I don't see how humans, even very well armed humans, could sneak up on an anointed one. I couldn't even do it and I posses Slayer senses," he remarked thoughtfully. Marcus nodded; Antony was right. Whatever had done this could not be remotely human. He was just about to question his brother more when out of his side vision he caught a flash of white. Puzzled, the vampire stood up and walked over to the decapitated body. In the dead woman's right hand there was a piece of paper. Feeling like he had just fallen into a very campy mystery novel, the heir knelt down and removed the paper from her hand. The note was covered in blood but still mostly legible.
My dearest Madelyn,
I am afraid the time has come to drop out of sight for awhile, L---- is ba-
Marcus tried to read the name but was unable to do to the blood covering the neatly scrawled letters. He skipped over that brief part and continued reading.
I have gone on, shall we say, a hiatus. I write you my devoted Madelyn because I need you to do something for me while I am away. Marcus Quinlan is back, and our revenge is at hand. Go to Redington; it is a truly banal suburban area that contains one Shirley Holmes. It seems that our dear Marcus after all these years has a weakness. What do you suppose Serena would think of that? Get the girl, and hold her. I will contact you shortly.
Your love, Xavier
After reading the letter, Marcus cursed low and harsh under his breath. The extremely foul language coming from the vampire's usually charming lips caused Antony to look at him sharply. Wordlessly, he handed his brother the letter. It was grave brown eyes that met Marcus's brilliant blue when he was finished reading.
"Dammit, Marcus, I told you she was going to be a liability," the old man spat in disgust. "How could you have been so stupid as to let Xavier find out about her? Better yet, how could you have let him live in the first place?" Marcus glared at his brother.
"I didn't really have much of a choice in the matter, Antony. He slipped away and disappeared," the vampire replied, raking a hand through his black hair. He then turned away from him as Antony's look turned to pity. Marcus had never wanted nor needed his brother's pity.
"I have to go protect her," Marcus said softly not looking at his brother. Antony's eyes shot up in anger.
"The hell you are," he growled. "You don't think that whatever did this is going to be waiting for you. The note was there when she was killed and they are going to know it will be enough to drag you to Redington. Marcus, listen to me for once in your life. You know that I have been looking for Madelyn for what, almost five years now? The anointed ones have buried themselves so far under ground that it is going to take a millenium to flush them all out. Then all of a sudden we get this tip to her whereabouts? Look around you? No signs of entry, no signs of a struggle. Whoever did this Marcus knew his target. Knew her habits, her schedule, her true nature. This was the work of a seasoned professional. Someone or something is playing with you brother and if it did this to Madelyn..." he started to say. Marcus turned on his brother, his blue eyes shooting fire.
"Then what do you think it is going to do to Shirley?" This statement stopped Antony cold. The old man sighed and shook his head in defeat.
"You could be killed, brother," he said sadly, true fear entering his eyes. The vampire just gazed at him steadily.
"Two thousand years, Antony. It is a long time. Shirley isn't near as indestructible as I am. I'm going," he said with determination and turned to walk out of the room. Antony just sighed and replied to the now empty apartment.
"Even after two thousand years, women still make you do things you will end up regretting."
* * * * *
From the shadowy enclave of Madelyn Kahn's hallway a man dressed in black watched as Marcus Quinlan walked down the hall and disappeared into the elevator. The watcher that had been assigned to this particular case had called in his report shouting hysterically. The man in black now knew why. He also knew what was required of him. No evidence must be left behind, no one could know. He waited a moment longer for the old man to come out and take the door to the back stairwell. When both the Quinlans had left the mysterious gentleman entered the apartment and started collecting evidence to the occupant's true nature. When he had a garbage bag full of things he had just turned to leave when his eyes fell on the note that had been left of the table. His tanned face was lined with his scowl and he set the bag down on the floor. With his glove covered hand he reached into his jacket pocket and removed a cell phone. Dialing the number from memory he waited until the person on the other end answered. He didn't have to wait long as the phone was picked up on the second ring.
"Did you remove everything?" the voice on the other end asked without bothering to say "hello."
"Yes, the cleanup crew can come in and dispose of the body now," the man answered.
"Good work. The Council will be pleased." There was almost a note of gloating coming from the gentleman on the other end.
"We have a problem," the mysterious man said sharply and the smile that had curved his comrade's face fell instantly.
"What sort of problem?" He didn't like problems and his tone was that of someone who was very unhappy. He was the kind of person it was dangerous to make unhappy. The gentleman dressed in black was sweating in fear.
"Marcus Quinlan was here," he said as if that explained everything. There was a pause on the other end of the phone.
"Call Rupert. I know he is no longer part of the Council but maybe we can manipulate his Slayer into taking care of the problem for us." The man in black smiled and looked down at the note.
"I think I know just the bait to use," he replied and then hung up without saying good-bye. His smiled as his eyes fell on the name "Shirley Holmes."
* * * * *
Buffy Summers ducked just in time to avoid the pad-covered fist coming at her head. Using her momentum the Slayer rolled sideways, coming up in a fighting stance, and then kicked her opponent across the shoulder blades, sending him into a nearby stone wall. With a muffled cry of pain the figure hit the wall but managed to keep his balance. He turned, ready to attack the Slayer again but met instead a pair of mischievous blue eyes and the tip of a very pointy stake that was poised over his heart. With a sigh the pad-covered figure removed his hood to reveal the handsome middle aged features of Rupert Giles.
"That took too long, Buffy," Giles said pompously. "If I have told you once I have told you a thousand times. Make the kill and then move on." Buffy just rolled her eyes, lowered the stake and turned her back on her Watcher. Giles immediately tried to take advantage of her lapse but he, just as immediately, ended up on his back staring at the ceiling. Buffy let go of his arm, the one she had just used to flip him, and crouched down next to her former Watcher.
"How was that for fast, Giles?" she asked grinning widely. She then stood up, stepped over him, and went to sit in one of the chairs they had moved out of the way to train. They were in Giles' home since they no longer had the old Sunnydale High School library to train in anymore. The Slayer then took out her lucky stake and started playing with it. With a long-suffering sigh Giles managed to regain his footing, much to the protest of his back. Groaning in pain he was just about to turn to Buffy and admonish her when the phone rang. He went to answer it.
"Giles," he practically growled into the receiver.
"Ah, Rupert, it is good to hear your voice. I daresay it has been too long," the man on the other end answered. Giles' eyes widened a little in shock and then narrowed.
"I'm afraid I can't say the same, Thomas. What could you possible want, or should I say what could the Council possible want?" The former Watcher's voice was heavy with undisguised suspicion, and the mention of the Watcher's Council had Buffy's eyes lighting up with interest where before they had been bored. She look at Giles questioningly, who shook his head as if to say, "I don't know"
"Rupert, it really grieves me to hear such suspicion in your voice, but you and your Slayer have made your choice, I suppose. Anyway, it's all water under the bridge and what not. I am sure you are probably wondering why I have called you. Well, to make a long story short, the anointed ones are back." Thomas heard the former Watcher gasp on the other end and smiled to himself. This was going to work perfectly, he thought and then continued. "As you know, Giles, this is a grave situation. One that requires the talents of the Slayer. I can not, however allow her to go without Council supervision. That is why William will be there to oversee this operation."
"I don't think so, Thomas. We have broken with the Council and will have none of your poking around. Also, if I recall correctly, the anointed ones were your mess. Something that should have been taken care of centuries ago. Tell me why I should risk Buffy's life on this?" the former Watcher questioned. Suddenly the phone was taking from Giles hand. He turned and glared at Buffy, who glared right back.
"I really hate it when people discuss me like I'm not here," she said into the receiver. "Now who are these anointed ones and what do I have to do to stop them?"
"Ah, Ms. Summers," Thomas replied in mirth. "It seems that you are everything your reputation proceeds you as. I will get to the point then. You know a teen-ager by the name of Shirley Holmes, do you not?" Buffy started a little in surprise.
"What does she have to do with all this?" the Slayer questioned, a hint of dread entering her voice. She had been thinking about her young friend just a few days ago. Wondering about what kind of trouble the stubborn teenager had been getting herself into. She had hoped that the supernatural nastiness was over for the girl that is way she had to fight the urge to groan loudly. Buffy was beginning to wonder if she cursed people just by association.
"I afraid that she has everything to do with this. She is being stalked by an anointed one. They are a group of the oldest most powerful vampires in the world and their leader Marcus Quinlan is going to Redington." Buffy didn't even flinch. Every since their first meeting Buffy had felt an instant responsibility for Shirley's welfare. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that she would be catching the first plane she could find to Redington.
"Then I guess I have a plane to catch," she replied and hung up on the Council member. She then turned and came face to face with Giles.
"Buffy I can't let you do this. You have no idea what you are getting into," he said with deep concern.
"I have to go, Giles. Shirley is in trouble." The Watcher started in surprise at that. He hadn't expected the Council to use a lure to get Buffy involved and on the off chance that it was actually true he felt he owed his friend Robert to protect his little girl. Still, he had to warn the Slayer.
"Buffy, you know as well as I do that the Council isn't always as forthcoming as we need them to be," he told his Slayer. She just looked at him and sighed.
"I know that, but if there is a chance that Shirley is in trouble then I can't ignore it."
"All right but I'm going with you. The anointed ones are unlike any vampire you have ever seen. They are more powerful than even the Master had been," he replied ominously. Buffy tried to repress her shiver.
"Well then, Giles, it looks like we are going to Redington. Better bring your Dramamine." And it looks like I am going to be put to the test again, she thought. Well, they could bring it on; after fighting Adam she was ready for just about anything.
* * * * *
"Bo, I can't believe you are acting like this," an exasperated Shirley Holmes groaned. Bo Sawchuk, her longtime best friend and partner, just glared at her.
"How am I suppose to act, Shirley? I swear to God you could have been killed. Why didn't you take me with you? Better yet why did you go in the first place?" Shirley turned away from her best friend, not having an answer for that. She couldn't believe that Bo was still mad at her for that. Nothing had happened, nothing at all. It had all started with that note she had gotten two days ago. It had said it was from Marcus Quinlan and it asked her to meet him in one of the deserted warehouses in the downtown area. She had been stunned and intrigued so she had gone, but no one had shown up. Still the junior detective couldn't shake the feeling that someone had been watching her, perhaps even studying her. She shivered and she put another test-tube on the burner. Her and Bo were in her attic laboratory and she was testing bits of the note she had received.
"Shirley, you get a mysterious note from a guy you haven't seen in four months and all of a sudden he wants you to met him somewhere. For someone so damn smart you can be pretty stupid," he snorted in disgust. Shirley turned to glare at him.
"Just let it go, Bo, OK? I mean, I know that it wasn't the smartest thing in the world to do but I had to know what he wanted. Besides I was careful." Bo just sighed and asked the same question he had been asking for the last two days. He had yet to get a straight answer from her on the subject and for some reason, a reason he didn't want to explore, he liked it less than her going to the warehouse alone.
"Shirl, what I want to know is why? Is that so much to ask? What the hell kind of hold could this guy have on you that you would run off to meet him without telling me?"
Shirley still wasn't looking at him. What could she tell him? That the memory of the one kiss they had shared had haunted her, even after kissing someone else. Marcus Quinlan was an enigma to her, the ultimate mystery, and God help her she was attracted to him. It had taken her three months alone to admit that to herself. It didn't explain anything though. She had been attracted to Matt too, but she didn't think he could hold her thoughts or invade her dreams the way that Marcus had. Bo was standing there impatiently glaring at her and she still didn't have an answer for him, so she settled for a half-truth.
"Bo, he and Angel saved our lives in that warehouse. What was I supposed to do? Ignore the note? It had said he needed help." Bo sighed. As far as an answer went it sounded reasonable enough, but for some reason he couldn't shake the feeling that she wasn't telling him something. He was about to question her further when all of a sudden they heard a crackling sound. Shirley's eyes widened and she turned to pull her best friend down to the floor just as the test tube exploded. When they got up both of the teen-agers were shocked to find Shirley's lab table almost completely obliterated.
"Now that is what I call explosive gossip," Bo said jokingly. Shirley just groaned.
* * * * *
In an abandoned warehouse, Thanatos studied images of Shirley while waiting in the warehouse for Marcus to make his inevitable appearance in Redington. The images were being projected from a hologram emitter. The assassin closely examined the young brunette as she waited for the anointed one.
"She does not seem to be under an enchantment, master," the assassin replied thoughtfully.
"As I expected," the Evil Eye said from behind the assassin. "It seems Marcus has made quite an impression on the young lady. I am almost perverse enough to wonder exactly what that impression was."
"Hmmm," was all the assassin said said. "The false note has served its purpose. She suspected nothing."
"Indeed," the Evil Eye said, focusing on the image of Shirley. "It seems our information was correct Thanatos. The geart-grand niece of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes does indeed know our least favorite immortal." A chuckle came from the black orb. "Come to think of it she must have made quite an impression, herself, for him to be coming to this place despite the danger."
"Based on the information I've gathered, she is an interesting female," the assassin replied absently.
"And so similar in appearance to someone we used to know." The Evil Eye chuckled again. "Ah, my dear Marcus, she does look so much like Serena. The resemblance is so uncanny that I'm tempted to have her killed just to watch you suffer that same pain and agony all over again."
"Shall I, master?" the assassin asked.
"No, not at the moment. Only if she gets in the way," the Evil Eye answered. He wasn't quite ready to dispatch this pretty little piece of cheese. His mouse hadn't even found the mousetrap yet.
"As you wish." The hologram of Shirley vanished, and Thanatos faced the Evil Eye.
"By the way, your quarry should be arriving soon. Remember your orders, Thanatos."
"I do, master. I will not fail you."
"Don't. Failure is something I will not tolerate. You are the perfect assassin. My masterpiece." The Evil Eye flew closer to the assassin's skull face. "Do not disappoint me."
Thanatos bowed his head. "I will not fail you," he intoned again.
"Good." The Evil Eye backed away. "All goes according to plan, then. Faust is departing for the South Pacific to accomplish his part in the operation. Make sure you complete yours." A portal opened behind the Evil Eye, and it exited through it, leaving the assassin to ponder his next move.
* * * * *
Marcus Quinlan had arrived in Redington late last night on a cargo flight that had departed San Francisco. His accommodations had been less than comfortable and the in-flight movie had been non-existent. That is what happens when you arrive in a steamer trunk. In the vampire's opinion, being dead did have its advantages; traveling the streamer trunk way was not one of them. Still it did get him into Redington hopefully undetected. Now the vampire was playing a waiting game and following Shirley. He had watched her do a number of normal teen-age things, most of them with Bo. The twinge of jealousy he had felt had surprised him. He had not been jealous of anyone since the sixth century. Marcus had finally called it quits for the day when both Shirley and Bo were safe at their respective houses. The ancient vampire had been hiding out downtown since he had arrived and this is where he now went. The small apartment he was renting was nothing more than an eight by ten hole in the wall. It did suit his purpose for secrecy, however, so it didn't matter that the accommodations were less than desirable. He unlocked the door to his apartment and stepped inside. It was at the last moment though that his sixth sense kicked in and he threw himself sideways. Still he wasn't quite fast enough to avoid the laser bolt that left a large gaping hole where his shoulder blade use to be. Luckily enough it was his left arm that now hung loosely at his side.
"What the...??" Marcus looked at the hole, then at his attacker. The vampire had yet to flip the light switch so the only light came from the dim florescence of the moon streaming into his apartment window. Without the room's light he was unable to determine specific details, like the attacker's face, even with his exceptional night vision. He was only able to make out a thin figure wearing some kind of armor and a cape.
"Impressive," a voice hissed softly from the surrounding darkness. "Your reflexes are quite good." He looked at the hole in Marcus' shoulder. "Too bad they're not good enough." Marcus glared in the direction of the stranger, unaware that the assassin could make out every detail of Marcus' figure.
Thinking that he had the advantage the vampire rushed the stranger at an inhuman speed, but his attacker managed to quickly sidestep him and he ended up near the door. In essence, both men switched places.
The stranger laughed coldly. "Fast, but not fast enough, Marcus Quinlan."
Marcus glared at the stranger from across the apartment. "Who are you, and how do you know my name?"
"I am Thanatos, your executioner. Death should always know the name of the one he is sent to destroy." The assassin reached behind him and took something from his back. Marcus watched as the assassin activated the object, which emitted a broad laser beam.
Marcus blinked. "A lightsaber?" The vampire almost grinned at this development and fought back the hysterical urge to say "Luke. I am your father, Luke."
"Actually, it's called a beam saber," Thanatos corrected. He would have been smirking if he had lips.
The glow of the beam saber enabled Marcus to see the face of his attacker. He saw a skull-like face adorned by a helmet. "You're the one who's been killing the anointed ones," Marcus declared as his face morphed from that of a handsome teen-age boy to the monstrous vampire within.
"And you're next." The assassin lunged at Marcus with his beam saber. Despite the slight pain of his shoulder, Marcus moved out of the way just in time to avoid Thanatos' swing. He threw a punch with his right fist, but Thanatos managed to avoid it. The assassin, however, was not able to dodge the next punch; Marcus made contact with his chest, but it had no effect on him. It was like swatting a Sherman tank with a fly swatter. Thanatos responded with a slash to Marcus's left arm, leaving a deep cut. Marcus kept fighting, determined to defeat this new foe. As they fought, the vampire noticed the lightning-like speed of the assassin's attacks and blocks; his next punches were blocked and he barely dodged the beam saber. A series of punches and beam saber swings continued until the assassin responded with a kick to the chest. Marcus was too slow to block it, and he was sent towards the window.
Thanatos looked at his target. "You're fighting back." This was said in almost a shocked tone, like he hadn't really expected much resistance from the boy.
"Really? Too bad," Marcus quipped, knowing that he might be outmatched this time. He would have been breathing heavily if he were alive.
Thanatos looked around the room. "This place is rather small." He put the beam saber away.
In the course of the fight, Marcus had forgotten about his psychic powers. Now while the assassin seemed defenseless, Marcus focused the power of his mind on Thanatos. He willed strongly for the assassin's head to explode. He did not care what would happen. All he wanted was to defeat his attacker.
Thanatos just watched as Marcus mentally strained himself. Finally, Marcus stopped trying and looked at his enemy, realizing that nothing had happened.
"Was that your best?" Thanatos pointed his fist at Marcus, and it started to glow. "I believe we should step outside."
The assassin fired an energy blast from his hand. Exhausted by the mental strain, he tried to stagger out of the way but was unable to. The beam of light struck Marcus in the chest and he flew out the window. With pieces of broken glass falling besides him, the vampire fell seven floors to the alley below.
The ancient vampire hit the unforgiving pavement of the alley next to his apartment with a resounding thud and the crack of breaking bones. The impact also jarred loose the white gold signet ring he always wore, causing it to slip off of his hand. He watched it disappear under some nearby trashcans. The vampire had landed hard on his back like a kicked turtle. A normal human being would have been either paralyzed for life or killed after such a fall. Luckily for the heir to the Quinlan fortune, he was not a normal human being. He struggled to get up, moving his limbs, testing them for movement.
Thanatos looked down at his victim, then jumped after him. The heir to the Quinlan fortunately had almost regained his feet thanks to the wall behind him as the assassin fell. The anointed one watched as Thanatos landed on his feet effortlessly before him. Now Marcus could see more of his assailant. He especially noticed the skulls, one on his chest and two on his knees.
Still stunned, Marcus asked, "What are you?"
"Like I said before, your executioner." Before Marcus could react, Thanatos threw several star-shaped objects at him. They exploded on Marcus's face and body, releasing a strange liquid. A second later, Marcus's skin was started to scorch where the liquid landed, especially his face. He screamed in agony and leaned again the wall behind him, covering his face with his good arm.
"W-w-what?" Marcus said weakly.
"I believe the common name for that substance is 'holy water,'" the assassin informed his target. "Acidic to your kind."
Despite the pain, Marcus willed himself to keep standing. His regenerative powers were kicking in, healing the burned areas, albeit not fast enough for him. Thanatos saw this and threw more of the holy water filled throwing stars. Marcus screamed as they hit and released the blessed substance. As the holy water burned him, it made a hissing sound, the sound that only slowly searing flesh can make. Thanatos listened to the vampire's screams of pain and threw more of the deadly stars. Marcus dropped to his knees struggling to not pass out.
"Pathetic." Thanatos reactivated his beam saber. The blade of the weapon started to glow brightly. With a shout, Thanatos swung the beam saber horizontally, sending a wave of energy at the vampire. It hit Marcus in the abdomen, and the anointed one was struck to the ground.
Thanatos walked up to Marcus and looked down at him. The ancient vampire slowly raised his head to look up at the assassin, showing his badly burned face. "So, now you're going to kill me?" he managed to say, a little amazed that the last blow did not immediately slice him into two.
"That is correct," the assassin answered.
"Why didn't you do it earlier?"
"You were to suffer first." Thanatos pointed his beam saber at Marcus. "Care to beg for death?"
Marcus strained to keep his head up. Considering his existence, he wanted to welcome death. Then he thought about the anointed ones and their plans to rise to power once again, he thought about his brother Antony, and lastly he thought of Shirley Holmes. It was the image of her brilliant blue eyes that had him staring obstinately at the face of death itself.
"G-g-go to hell," Marcus answered defiantly.
"A pity I did not make you the offer, but then, you would have probably rejected it like the others." Thanatos raised his beam saber, ready to strike the final blow. "Farewell, Marcus Quinlan."
Suddenly, Marcus heard a gunshot and the sound of metal bouncing off metal. Thanatos spun around to see a teen-age boy standing behind him with a gun pointed at him. The boy had snuck out from behind some trashcans while Thanatos was attacking Marcus and fired at the assassin while his back was turned. Unfortunately, the bullet had bounced off.
Marcus saw the boy stiffen with fear. "B-b-back off, man," the boy said before firing again. The bullet bounced off Thanatos' chest. His beam saber started to glow again.
Before the boy could fire again, Thanatos let out a roar and sent another energy slash towards him. "No!" Marcus shouted, but it was too late. The energy slash from the beam saber struck the boy, exploding brightly. The boy was thrown into the wall behind him, and then he slid to the ground, lifeless.
Marcus, horrified by what had happened, willed himself to stand up. He ignored the pain of his injuries and in a fit of rage, charged Thanatos while he was not looking. The assassin spun around quickly and grabbed Marcus by the throat. Marcus kicked the assassin, but he did not even flinch. Thanatos then tossed Marcus in the direction of the fallen boy and he landed hard next to him.
"A futile effort, vampire," Thanatos said as he advanced on the fallen anointed one. "I shall enjoy killing you." Marcus looked up and as the saber came down towards his neck he gathered his strength and rolled forward. The light beam hit the concrete about an inch from where his head had been. Using his momentum the vampire rolled forward and then shot his legs out, catching the assassin in his gut. It was the assassin's turn to fly back into the brick wall of the adjoining building. Upon impact, Thanatos lost his hold on his beam saber and it fell from his hands. Marcus quickly snatched it up and brought it down on the assassin, hacking off his right arm. Thanatos screamed briefly and backhanded the vampire, sending him flying back next to the downed boy. The beam saber clattered to the ground, useless, in front of Thanatos. The assassin was just about to get up and finish off this annoying little immortal when he heard the telltale sounds of sirens in the distance.
Marcus stared at the empty right arm socket of his enemy. The sliced wires with little sparks of electricity at the ends caught the anointed one's attention. "A robot?" he said, puzzled.
"How observant of you," Thanatos said sarcastically, looking down at the vampire. Then he focused his attention on where his right arm used to be. "Hmmmmmmm..." With his intact arm the assassin bent down to pick up the beam saber, deactivated it, and returned it to the holder on his back. "It seems the local authorities are on their way. They are approximately one, two miles away."
Marcus winced as he struggled to get up. This was turning into one of those rare moments when he was glad he was a vampire, but his healing process was slow in repairing his wounds. Clutching his left arm, he looked at the boy, then at the assassin.
Thanatos picked up his severed arm, then gazed at Marcus and the boy. "Humans and vampires, two of many species that walk this world. Soon, that will all change."
Marcus stared at Thanatos. "What is he talking about?" he wondered to himself.
Marcus saw a portal open quickly next to Thanatos. "I will take my leave for now, Marcus Quinlan. Next time, you will die by my hand." Marcus watched as the assassin disappeared through the portal, carrying his detached limb.
After the portal vanished, Marcus changed back to normal and looked at the boy. He looked about Shirley's age and his clothes were befitting of a kid who lived in downtown Redington: T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Jordans, Marcus noted, looking at the sneakers. A red baseball cap adorned the boy's head. Marcus bent down and looked him over. He was amazed that the blow did not slice the boy in half; he considered that the only consolation. He felt for a pulse on the boy's neck and found none. Marcus bowed his head, blaming himself for the boy's death. The mortal world was a fragile place to live, and this was one of the reminders of how brutal death could be.
His thoughts were interrupted by the wailing of a police siren. Marcus got up, knowing that he needed to be as far away from the area as possible. He would have a hard time explaining what happened to the police; also, he was sure that he looked about as dead as he actually was. His healing process was progressing well to his vast relief. Still it was a minute before he felt he could run. When he could stand without the world spinning, he started running while clutching his injured left arm. He wasn't sure were he was going to go but for now getting away from the sound of the approaching sirens as fast as he could was tops on his list of things to do. With one last regretful glance at the slain teen-ager the vampire disappeared into the night.
* * * * *
The moon hung overhead, shining its pale light down on the little known waterway off the coast of southern California. The science vessel aptly named the U.S.S. Explorer moved silently through the still waters under the black cloak of night and would soon officially be in international waters. Soon the mainland was a distant memory, and the ship rendezvoused with the six Navy destroyers assigned to it. Normally, a science vessel would not require an escort, much less six heavily armed US Navy ships, but the cargo it held would have deemed twice the number of ships to be present. It was being transported to a small, secret military installation to be disposed of properly. The men assigned to this top-secret mission were nervous about what they were transporting. Some felt that an airplane should have been used, but their superiors felt that idea was risky and too obvious. Still, that idea was used as a decoy to hide the real mission. They knew that terrorists would love to get their hands on their cargo. The cover of night ensured that few questions would be asked from outsiders. If anyone did, then it was just a routine supply mission; on the official register, the science vessel was listed as a military supply ship.
The seven ships continued their journey in international waters all through the night and it wasn't long before the first rays of brilliant sunlight illuminated the hulking gray ghosts. The sailors hoped to reach the isolated island where their cargo would be destroyed with in the hour. Then they would be reunited with their loved ones and resume their normal duties. Hope is futile to the hopeless, however, since few knew that this mission was doomed the minute the ship had left port. It was an astonished crew that felt the first twinges of panic when one of the escorts shook and stopped suddenly. Then another, and another. Soon, all the ships were dead in the water.
"What was that shaking?"
"What was that noise?"
"It came from the engine room."
"What?!! Check it out, then!"
Conversations like these dominated the talk of the crews of all the ships. The men held back the urge to panic. They were stranded in the middle of the ocean, and no one knew what was going on. They manned their radios to call for help, but all they got was static.
"Sir, the radio's dead!"
"I'm afraid it isn't, sir. We seem to have been cut off from the outside world."
The captains of the ship were confused. The White House and the Pentagon had done their best to keep this mission a secret, even from the citizens of the US. The cargo was that dangerous; the last thing the US military wanted to do was cause a nationwide panic and attract various extremist groups.
"Sir, we're detecting a sizable object rising to the surface on radar."
"Is it a submarine?"
"No, sir. Its shape is too small and irregular to be a submarine."
"Then what is it?"
"I'm not sure. I'm still trying to figure out how it just appeared."
Suddenly, a dark blue object emerged from the ocean and hovered above the ships. All questions on the strange object were answered, but even more questions were raised.
"What is it?"
"Is it hostile?"
"Is it alien?"
"Is it Iraqi?"
The object before them was shaped somewhat like a suit of armor. It was not gigantic (it was about the size of a car), but its presence intimidated the crews of the ships. Its pointed limbs were stubby compared to the rest of the body, although the arms were longer than the legs. A domed head with a diamond-shaped sensor plate sat atop this strange object. Two cannons sat on the object's shoulders. Unknown to the sailors, the object was a mecha armor, a type of battle mech. Inside, Faust watched the ships closely. "Ah, the Gremlins did an excellent job. All those ships, and now they're sitting ducks." He focused in on each ship, studying the amazement and fear on the faces of the sailors. "Typical organic behavior," Faust mused in a superior tone.
The mecha armor's right arm pointed to one of the escort ships. Before anyone could react, the arm shot out a powerful particle beam that destroyed it, leaving nothing behind.
"Oh my God!"
"Red alert! Red alert! All men to battle stations!"
Faust watched as the crews manned their gun batteries and armed themselves. "Well, time to begin." He opened all communications to his forces. "Gargoyles, attack the remaining escorts from above and collect any lifeforces that appear before they cross over," he ordered. "Do not attack the ship with our prize." A portal opened above the ships, and Gargoyle robots flew out. Legless and cone-headed, the winged Gargoyles split up into two groups. One group started firing down on the remaining escort ships with laser guns in their arms and missile launchers on their shoulders. The soldiers responded with machine gun fire, but they could not draw a bead on their strange foes. The Gargoyles dodged the bullets and returned fire, taking down some of their targets. The other group of Gargoyles started collecting little balls of light after revealing them with a special beam and threw them into small portals. Some of the ships' gunfire was focused on Faust's mecha armor, but it could not get past an energy shield being generated by the mecha armor.
"What the hell?!!"
"We're not even hitting him!"
Turning off the shield, Faust targeted another escort ship with his shoulder cannons. "You never learn!" he shouted before opening fire. After a few rapid shots, the ship was a flaming wreck.
"Oh my God!"
"He just took out another ship!"
"Sir, they're overwhelming us!"
"We haven't hit even one of them yet!"
"Keep firing! That's an order! Keep firing!"
Faust surveyed the battle. A group of Gargoyles was now collecting lifeforces from his recent target. He noticed a number of survivors on the ship. He opened communications with his forces again. "Kappas, attack from below. Take out the escorts, but leave the primary target alone."
Below the ocean's surface, a portal opened, and Kappa robots swam out. With egg-like bodies, bird-like beaks, and claws, the Kappas swam for the escorts. They fired torpedoes from their shoulders or fired powerful streams of water from their mouths, hitting the undersides of some of the escorts.
"What the hell was that?!!"
"Sir, we're taking in water!"
"Sir, enemies in the water! We can't identify them!"
"Who are they?!! What are they?!!"
Some Kappas headed for the flaming wreck. There, Gargoyles were firing on the sailors while they were trying to put out the flames and taking the life forces of the dead ones. The Kappas poked their heads out of the water and launched missiles from their shoulder launchers. The missiles took out the doomed ship and the remaining survivors on board. Anyone who managed to get into the water was immediately attacked and killed by the Kappas.
Faust watched the massacre from above. He was delighted as escort ship after escort ship started to sink under the attack of the Gargoyles and Kappas. "Now, for the cargo." He communicated with his forces again. "Retrieval unit, get the cargo. Leave no witnesses."
A portal appeared on the deck of the science vessel, and a squad of Elves and Dwarves emerged from it. Elves had long-pointy ears and were armed with machine or beam guns. Dwarves were similar to the Kappas in their body shape and had missile launchers on their shoulders and claws or beam cannons on their arms. Both robot types were small (they were half the size of an average human being), but they were deadly, as the crew of the science vessel found out.
"Sir, the enemy has boarded us!"
"They just appeared on the deck from out of nowhere, sir."
"Sir, they're gunning down our men!"
"Sir, some of them are approaching the bridge!"
Some Elves and Dwarves stormed into the bridge and mowed down everyone there with machine gun or beam gunfire. The dedicated men fell to the ground, never to see their loved ones again. Others went around the ship killing the remaining crewmembers.
Soon, the science vessel was left alone. Faust piloted his mecha armor to the science vessel to meet with his troops. Finished with destroying the escorts, the Gargoyles and Kappas moved closer to the science vessel to greet their leader. As he moved closer to the ship, Faust mused over how he could have taken out all the ships by himself, but he reasoned that it would have been too easy if he did it that way and not nearly as much fun.
The mecha armor hovered over the deck of the science vessel, now littered with the bodies of the brave but ill-fated crew. The Elves and Dwarves stood at attention on the deck, with the Gargoyles hovering above the ship and the Kappas sticking their heads out of the water. The mecha armor came to a complete stop over the science vessel. The back hatch opened, and Faust emerged from the mech. He was an Elf type, but he wore an officer's cap and a cape to distinguish himself as a commander. An optic sensor resembling a monocle was where his right eye should have been. He floated down from the mecha armor and hovered before the Elves and Dwarves. Faust looked at all of the dead sailors. "Are all of the organics dead?" he asked.
One of the Elves beeped and whistled a response, reporting that all the members of the crew were dead.
"Good," Faust said. "And our objective?"
The Elf, which answered Faust, motioned behind him, and a Gremlin emerged from below deck. Resembling a crab, the small Gremlin floated over to the robot leader, carrying a long yellow cylinder. It presented the cylinder to Faust, who took it and looked at the label. He saw the biohazard sign and the name "GL-17." Faust rolled the container in his hand carefully and chuckled. "Ah, Anubis," he said to the container, "my master will be pleased to see you. Very pleased."
Faust sensed something behind him and turned around. He saw one of the sailors stand up and point a gun at him. The man fired at the robot commander, but to his surprise, an energy shield emerged around his target and the bullet disintegrated upon contact. The man fired in frustration until he was out of bullets. The shield stopped all the shots. If Faust had a mouth, he would have been smirking at this pitiful attempt to kill him. After he made the shield disappear, Faust faced his attacker. "For the record, even if the shield wasn't activated, I'm bulletproof." The man shook in fear, not sure what to do next. Faust knew what his next move would be. He formed a large ball of energy in his hand and flung it at the would-be hero. The ball of energy engulfed the man, disintegrating him as he screamed and leaving a ball of light. Faust motioned to the ball of light and it went through a portal, which disappeared after a second.
Faust returned his attention to his soldiers. "Now, which one of you told me that all the organics were dead?"
All of the Elves and Dwarves backed away from the guilty Elf. The Elf waved his hands in front of him and beeped and whistled out a plea of mercy to his commander. Ignoring it, Faust created another energy ball and destroyed the hapless robot with it. Another ball of light was left where the Elf was standing, and Faust made that one go through another portal.
"Our master does not tolerate any mistakes," Faust reminded his soldiers after the portal closed. "Neither do I. Understand?"
The assembled robots beeped and whistled their understanding without hesitation while looking at the spot where the Elf once stood. "Good," Faust said, satisfied. "We depart. We have what we came for," he declared, holding up the GL-17 container.
After Faust said that, he hovered back to his mecha armor with the GL-17 container and entered it. Portals appeared in the air, the sea, and on the deck of the science vessel. Faust and the Gargoyles exited through the portal in the air; the Kappas left through the portal in the water; and the Gremlin, Elves, and Dwarves departed through the portal on the deck. After the three portals closed, all that was left was one ship devoid of life while its escorts sunk slowly to the watery embrace of the sea below.
* * * * *
Shirley was in her attic laboratory immersed in one of her favorite past-times. She was cutting out newspaper articles of criminal related activities in the greater Redington area. On the floor next to her lay an article entitled "Local boy found dead in alleyway." There wasn't much information in the article, not even the name of the murder victim in the alley. Of course, Shirley was just assuming murder, but it could have been an accident. But if it was it had been one hell of an accident. The body had been covered in third degree burns. Still, a detective never assumed. Shirley was in the middle of studying the article when the door to her attic lab swung open with a bang. She looked up in shock to find a pale, trembling Bo standing before her. Getting to her feet, the junior detective didn't even mind that she was still in her nightclothes. Something had gone terribly wrong in her best friend's life and that was all that mattered now.
"Bo, what's wrong? What happened?" Bo stared at Shirley with dead eyes and then as if he couldn't help himself he went over to his best friend and fell into her arms. Shirley didn't have anytime to feel awkward so she wordlessly put her arms around Bo and let him bury his face in her neck. They stayed like that for a moment before Bo pulled back from his best friend in embarrassment. Running a hand through his blond hair the teen-ager took a moment to collect his thoughts and blurted.
"The body in the alley. It was Adam, Adam Lancaster." Shirley's eyes widened in empathy. Adam had been one of Bo's best friends from the time he had spent in a gang. He was one of the few people from his old life that he still kept in touch with.
"Oh God, Bo. I'm so sorry." Bo just shrugged his shoulders and looked away so she didn't see the tears.
"I know, but that isn't enough, Shirl. I want the guy who did this," he said suddenly, forcefully. Shirley didn't have to ask what he wanted from her; she already knew.
"All right then, let's go to the scene of the crime and see what we can find out," she replied sympathetically. Bo looked up then and smiled the first smile he had cracked since finding out. Shirley smiled back and then happened to look down at what she had on. When she looked back up she was blushing in embarrassment. "Um, just let me go put some clothes on first," she said, practically running out of the room. Bo was positively grinning now.
A few hours later Shirley and Bo arrived at the alley where Adam Lancaster had been killed the night before. The junior detective could tell it was hard for her friend to be here with the reminders of the violent death his friend had been on the receiving end of. Still, she didn't say anything, respecting his need to hold it all together. Shirley didn't say anything while she crossed under the yellow police tape and went to stand next to the chalk outline on the ground. She then started examining the area for something; anything the police might have missed. Off to her right there was a flash of light and Shirley walked toward it. Kneeling down she started to dig behind the trashcans that were almost directly across from where the body had lain, hoping that something brown and furry didn't attack her. Her hand luckily enough found nothing of the rodent persuasion but closed around the smooth surface of a ring. The detective pulled it out and examined it. It was a signet ring caste in white gold. The crest on the front seemed familiar to the junior detective but she couldn't quite place it. Suddenly Bo touched her on her shoulder and the junior detective jump three feet. She then turned to glare at her best friend.
"Dammit, Bo, do you have to sneak up on me?" she growled. Bo just shot her a sheepish look.
"Sorry Shirl," he apologized, then his face took on a puzzled look as he stared at the ring. "You know, that symbol on the front of it looks familiar," he replied thoughtfully. Shirley nodded her agreement and continued to stare at the ring wordlessly. Bo knew the moment she had figured it out by the widening of her blue eyes and the small gasp that escaped from her lips.
"Oh my God, Bo," she said softly. Bo's face fell into a frown.
"What? What is it, Shirl?" The junior detective just turned to him with tortured eyes.
"This symbol...it's the Quinlan family crest," she said. Bo's face took on a look of anger and he vowed right there to tear Marcus Quinlan limb for limb.
* * * * *
In his hideout, Thanatos sat on a crate as an Imp robot worked on reattaching his right arm. The Imp had a cylindrical body with an upside-down long triangle and two horns sticking upward. Hovering near the right arm socket, it was using its two claws to reconnect the severed wires. It was beeping and whistling occasionally while doing its work, which annoyed the assassin. From his experience, Imps rarely said anything interesting.
The Evil Eye hovered before Thanatos. The black orb seemed to be glaring at the assassin. "You have failed me," it said.
Thanatos bowed his head. "I know, master."
A sigh came from the Evil Eye. "Marcus always was a fighter. Never gave up despite the odds. I didn't remember until now how much I loathed that about him."
"I ignored you and I underestimated Marcus Quinlan," the assassin said. "I await punishment."
The Evil Eye was silent, and the only sound in the room was the Imp's beeping and whistling as it worked on Thanatos' arm. "You are still functional, Thanatos," the Evil Eye said finally. "Finish the job. Despite this abysmal failure, you are still the best I have, but I warn you not to fail again."
There was a pause before the Evil Eye continued. "Now, apparently you outmatch Marcus, but his never-say-die attitude, to use the term loosely, will guarantee you future problems. I believe it is time to send some help."
Thanatos felt offended. "Master, I need no help."
"Oh, really?" The Evil Eye focused on Thanatos' right side, where the Imp was nearly done with its repair work. "Like it or not, Thanatos, you will require some assistance."
"I require no army to kill anyone," Thanatos remarked. Even as a robot he retained some indistinguishable feelings of pride and this was a major blow to his ego.
"You're not getting an army," the Evil Eye pointed out. "I am tempted to send an entire battalion after Marcus, but that is not a wise move. Unlike Faust's attack, there will be witnesses if we have a large presence in this city."
"Understood, master." The Imp finished its repair work, and then it flew over to the Evil Eye. "I will accept three Goblin types to assist me, then," Thanatos said, flexing the fingers on his right hand, then the right arm. "They are trackers as well as soldiers."
"Very well, " the Evil Eye said. A portal opened near the wall behind the black orb. Thanatos watched as three figures marched from the portal and formed themselves into a line. They stood at attention, awaiting orders.
"There you go, Thanatos. A little hunting party," the Evil Eye said, moving closer to the portal with the Imp at its side. "Let's see if you do better with them."
The Evil Eye and the Imp vanished through the portal, leaving Thanatos with his small hunting party. The assassin looked at his new troops, then at his right hand. "Marcus Quinlan, this time there will be no second chance," he declared. Forming his right hand into a fist, he smashed it through a nearby wall.
* * * * *
Marcus discovered it hurt to move as he twisted his left arm out of its makeshift sling. The ancient vampire groaned loudly. He was feeling every one of his two thousand plus years right now. What hurt even more than the physically pain, however, was the regret. He should have been able to defeat the monstrosity that had attacked him last night. One did not live as long as he had without being able to fight their way out of tough situations. Then there was the dead boy, and Shirley. Standing up the ancient vampire started to pace the small confines of his new hideout. It was another small apartment in the low rent district. The room was even more of a dive than the last one had been, sporting a ratty sofa sleeper and a dirty mirror that failed to show Marcus' reflection as he passed by it. What the vampire would have seen if he had been able to see his reflection would have been a slightly puffy pick burn scar that was fading fast. The ugly wounds of the night before had mostly healed and soon he would be back to one hundred percent strength. He was vain enough to appreciate at least this one little aspect of vampirism. His looks had lead many women to their, shall we say, lost innocence. A slow smile was curving his lips as his thoughts strayed to things that he shouldn't be thinking about until a sharp knock at the door interrupted him. The vampire narrowed his deep blue eyes and went to the door and cautiously opened it. At the last minute he swung the door fully opened and prepared himself for an attack. To his surprise none came. His eyes then widened in shock as he took in the two figures standing out side of his door.
"Drop something, Quinlan?" Shirley said coldly and held up his signet ring. Marcus would have gone pale if he would have had any color to him in the first place. With iron control Marcus slammed the mask down on his surprise.
"Shirley, Bo, what a nice surprise. How did you ever know I was here?" he said blandly and walked back into his apartment. Bo just glared at him and took a step forward like he was going to attack the heir. It was Shirley's hand on his arm that stayed him. The teen-ager glanced at his best friend, who shook her head "no." Bo nodded reluctantly and turned back to Marcus.
"You should be more careful about using your credit cards," Bo replied snidely. Marcus didn't say anything to that, just gazed at them calmly. He wasn't a fool. The heir had used the credit cards hoping to draw out the killer that had been hunting the anointed one. He had figured that he would mark himself as a target to keep whatever it was from going after Shirley. After his battle with Metalhead last night he was very glad he had used himself as bait. He would have hated to see what that thing could have done to the junior detective. Marcus couldn't tell the two teens this, however, without revealing more about his feelings than he was comfortable with so he did what anyone would do. He stared them right in the eye and lied.
"I wasn't careful about my cards because I wasn't trying to hide. By the way, where did you find my signet ring? I have been looking all over the place for it."
"Why you lying sack of...Ow!" Bo started to say but was cut off by a sharp pinch to his side compliments of Shirley. The junior detective then stepped into the ratty apartment and Bo followed her reluctantly, shutting the door behind him. She then held up the ring and gazed at the Quinlan heir with accusing eyes.
"We found it in the alleyway where Adam Lancaster was killed. What was it doing there, Marcus? Better yet, what are you doing there? I don't hear from you for almost four months and suddenly you are sending me cryptic notes about being in trouble, then your ring is found at the scene of a recent murder." Marcus looked at the junior detective in puzzlement. "I never sent you any note." His voice held true surprise. Shirley was about to come back with a scathing comment when the door suddenly exploded. Bo was knocked sideways and hit the wall with his head. The blow rendered him unconscious. The blast had thrown Shirley forward into Marcus Quinlan, who caught her in his arms. Still, he was off balance and her momentum slammed them both into the wall behind them. The ancient vampire felt his injures from last night scream in pain from the impact. When the light of the blast had cleared enough for both Marcus and the junior detective to see again, they could just make out the skull covered figure of Thanatos.
"He is right, you know," the robot said, addressing Shirley and taking out his beam saber. The weapon extended and started to hum. "He never sent you a note. I did." Marcus growled low in his throat and stepped in front of Shirley in a protective stance. He was thinking that if he could keep the robot focused on him then Shirley could get herself and Bo out of harm's way.
"I'm going to kill you, Thanatos," Marcus said calmly. He was tried of playing games with the mechanized piece of junk.
"Marcus, what are you talking about? What is that thing?" Shirley questioned. She couldn't disguise the note of fear in her voice.
"I am death," he replied lightly, and then stepped forward to take a swing at the vampire. In one smooth motion, Marcus threw Shirley to the right where she landed on the couch and Marcus dived left into a roll. He came up on his feet and looked to see that the detective was all right. It was a mistake because the assassin took advantage of his lapse and hit him with a hand blast that send him flying into the wall. The impact left a Marcus-shaped hole in the plaster. The vampire felt the protest of his old wounds and collapsed to the floor on his knees. Thanatos approached him and there would have been an evil gleam in his eyes if he were human, or even alive for that matter. The robot knelt down on one knee next to Marcus and lifted his head so he was looking in the assassin's glowing eyes.
"Time to die," he said calmly and raised the saber.
"Marcus, no!" Shirley screamed and the robot looked back in her direction. The split second was enough. The rage had been building inside the vampire and he had tried to fight it, because he didn't want to morph in front of Shirley. Where the rage had not been enough to shatter his iron control, rage combined with fear was. He was afraid for the beautiful teen-ager and her friend. Marcus' features morphed into the demon within and he pushed Thanatos off of him. The assassin roared and stumbled backwards off balance. Shirley watched all that was happening like she was in a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare. Marcus Quinlan stood before her, not as the handsome young man that she had been slowly falling for, but as a member of the undead. He was now approaching a fallen Thanatos where he kicked the assassin in the side. The blow was powerful enough to expose the wires. Thanatos growled and kicked the vampire hard in the chest. Marcus flew back from the blow and landed on the rickety dining room table, smashing it to pieces. This time the assassin didn't give the vampire time to recover he let out a volley of throwing stars that exploded over Marcus. He screamed as the holy water hit him and the room was filled with the smell of searing flesh. He then hit the boy with two hand blasts, causing his body to convulse. Shirley in the meantime had gone over to Bo and tried to wake him up so they could get out of there. Still she couldn't take her eyes from the fallen vampire as Thanatos slowly approached him. The robot was very ticked off by now.
"Enough of this. You die now!" he roared and started to bring the saber down in a wide arch, but before he could strike the sound of a window breaking interrupted him. A blond figure crashed through the window and rolled into the living room. The figure came up into a fighting stance.
"The Slayer?" the robot said in surprise. He hadn't been expecting her to show up. It was something his master would have known.
"Buffy, help us!" the junior detective cried from the corner. She was sitting with Bo, cradling his head in her lap. Buffy didn't respond to her plea; she just stared at the creature in front of her.
"What the hell are you supposed to be?" she said snidely. There was, however, a hint of surprise in her voice. She had seen Shirley go into this place and had been waiting for her to come back out so she could talk with her. When the sounds of fighting started the Slayer had decided that she had waited around long enough and decided to find a way in that was less obvious than the front door. She had expected to come in to the place and see Marcus Quinlan standing threateningly over Shirley, not to see him broken from trying to protect the teen-agers. It seems that the Council was less than truthful with her about the vampire. She would have to think up something nasty for them for that.
"Well Slayer your entrance is unexpected but it is no matter. It will be more effective to kill you know rather than latter as was planned." Thanatos turned away from Marcus and faced Buffy.
"I'm sorry, I must have missed Demon Introductions 101. You know me, but who or what the hell are you?" Buffy questioned the assassin.
"I am Thanatos. That is all you need to know," he replied and fired a blast at Buffy with his free hand. Buffy dived and rolled sideways to avoid the blast and it hit the wall behind her, right above Shirley and Bo. The junior detective covered her best friend's body with her own to protect him from the falling plaster. The blast had left a gaping hole that went through to the empty apartment next to Marcus'.
"Anyone ever told you that you look like a Vader reject from Star Wars?" Buffy taunted. Thanatos growled and swung at her with his beam saber. "It will be a pleasure to take your life," he said as the blade descended. Buffy ducked sideways and then rolled into a roundhouse kick that connected solidly with Thanatos.
"Sorry, I don't do death. Makes me look too pale," she replied with a cocky grin. The kick knocked Thanatos back and he stumbled a little before regaining his footing. He then reached behind his back and took out his second beam saber.
"He brings out the long sword. Trying to make yourself feel more manly?" Buffy said mockingly to the assassin. Thanatos just roared and attacked her with both beam sabers. The clumsy rage-induced attack was just the opening Buffy needed. She sidestepped him and kicked one of the sabers out of his hand, watching as it flew back behind her. Buffy kept her eye on it and did a back flip. She caught the weapon in midair and landed in a fighting stance.
"Hmmmmm...we seem to be evenly matched now," Thanatos observed.
The Slayer just shrugged. "If you want to see it that way. Now how about I prove you wrong by beating the crap out of you?" A cocky grin curved her lips.
"Well, aren't we cocky, organic," the assassin replied in amusement. Buffy just shrugged. "No, just realistic." The Slayer took a firm hold on her new weapon, marveling at its perfect balance and slashed at the robot's head. Not to be outdone, Thanatos blocked the swing effortlessly and slashed back. She saw the blow coming and knew that she wouldn't be able to get her own weapon up in time so she launched herself into the air and flipped over him. Still, she wasn't quite fast enough and the beam grazed her shoulder, leaving a puckered, nasty burn in its wake.
"What's the matter, Slayer? Too slow?" The assassin taunted and attacked her again. Buffy glared at the robot and managed to block the attack. She then pushed him back and slashed at his face; the blow took a chunk off and revealed the wires below.
"What is this, revenge of the androids? Like a killer human-demon cyborg just wasn't enough?" she said, almost shouting to the sky. Thanatos didn't reply to that; he just hand-blasted the Slayer in the chest and sent her into the wall across the room. She hit the ground dazed and tried to shake off the blow. It wasn't easy, but she managed.
"Enough of this!!!" the robot bellowed, pointing his fist at the blonde. Buffy watched in horror as the light from Thanatos' fist started to glow brighter as he aimed it at her. "This is so not good," she said and rolled sideways to avoid the blast. It ended up taking out the wall behind her. Thanatos roared and did an energy slash on Buffy. Buffy ducked out of the way again and the slash took out a large potion of another wall. The Slayer was covered from head to toe in plaster and starting to resemble a ghost. With a howl the assassin charged the Slayer and they exchanged blows with their beam sabers. Buffy blocked the next few swings and dodged another one. Another piece of the apartment went with this one and it was with a dawning dread that Buffy realized the ceiling was starting to crumble. She also noticed that Marcus Quinlan was moving and shaking off his injures.
"Marcus, get Bo and Shirley out of here! The place is going to cave in!!" Buffy's warning brought the robot's head around and he watched as Marcus, now back to his human face, stumbled toward the teen-agers.
"You will not escape, anointed one. Not again!" The assassin's beam saber started to hum louder and he sent an energy slash at Marcus, Shirley, and Bo. Bo had just come to as well and he was coherent enough to see the energy wave coming at him. He and Shirley screamed. Marcus didn't even think twice; he just stepped in front of the teen-agers, taking the full force of the blast. It was powerful enough to knock even the ancient vampire into unconsciousness.
"Marcus!" Shirley screamed despite her new knowledge. The robot grinned internally as he stepped up to the Quinlan heir.
"Time to die, vampire." The assassin raised his beam saber, ready to strike the killing blow, but as he was about to bring it down, Shirley stepped in his way. The robot stopped, very puzzled by this action and regarded her quietly.
"Shirley, what are you doing?!" Bo cried.
"What is this? You dare oppose me?" The robot was stunned that an ordinary human would dream of opposing him, much less do so.
"I won't let you kill him," the junior detective said softly but there was a layer of steel behind the words.
"How noble. Then I'll just kill both of you." The robot raised his weapon and Shirley closed her eyes, waiting for her death. It never came because Buffy grabbed the assassin from behind and threw him back across the room.
"I don't think so, scrap-for-brains," the Slayer taunted and watched dispassionately as he hit the wall behind him. Before he could recover, the Slayer grabbed Marcus and threw him over her shoulder. They all bolted out the door. Thanatos was about to follow but then was halted by the sound of the ceiling caving in. The assassin roared in frustration as the place came down around him and buried him alive.
* * * * *
In a deserted warehouse across town, a very disturbed Rupert Giles tended to the wounds of the anointed one. Marcus Quinlan was lying on a steel table, still unconscious while his wounds healed themselves at an astronomical rate. Buffy was pacing by the vampire's table and Shirley was sitting in a chair next to Marcus. The junior detective couldn't bring herself to touch him, but she couldn't bring herself to leave either. Bo was the only member of the party that was not near the Quinlan heir. Instead he was leaning up against one of the support beams and sulking. Shirley glanced briefly at her best friend and sighed. She knew that his sour mood was her fault. She just didn't know what to tell him; maybe she never would know. The junior detective then turned back to the ancient vampire and sighed. No matter what she now knew he still held the power to make her stomach go all tight and fluttery. Hell would freeze over before she ever admitted that though.
"How is he, Giles?" Buffy asked. She was giving voice to the question Shirley had wanted to ask since she had arrived.
"He is healing, just as I suspect you are," the former Watcher said with a sigh and a shake of his head. "I suspect that you shall both be recovered from this ordeal in a few hours." Buffy just nodded and then turned to face the vampire; she was still talking to her Watcher though.
"Giles, they lied to us about him. Makes me wonder why the Council would want him dead," she said almost to herself. Shirley's head whipped around and her eyes widened in horror.
"They sent you to kill him," she whispered in horror then her eyes turned thoughtful. "Of course," she said to herself in derisive understanding, "why else would you have come to Redington. You obviously didn't know about that monster that tried to kill us." Buffy looked at the teen-ager ruefully and replied. "Yes Shirley, and I'm sorry." The junior detective just nodded. She should be used to Buffy's world of death by now but she wasn't. It still surprised her that her friend could be capable of killing, that it was just another day for her.
"I wonder if Angel knew he was a...you know," Shirley said, not able to bring herself to say it. Buffy's turned to the teen in surprise, and she was just about to ask her how she knew her former lover when Bo interrupted her. Bo snorted in disgust and stalked over to his best friend.
"Hello, Shirl, of course he knew. Don't you get it? Marcus played you for a sap, because he knew, he knew." Bo couldn't bring himself to say that he knew that she had feelings for him. It would be admitting that he hadn't been totally blind in the area where Shirley was concerned. Instead, he turned and stalked away to a different part of the warehouse.
"Bo," Shirley called out in concern. She was about to go after him when a gentle hand stayed her.
"Let him go," Buffy said gently and then looked to her Watcher. "Giles?" she said with a pointed look in the direction that Bo had gone.
"Yes, well, I guess I should just go see how the boy is doing, quite right," he stuttered and walked away leaving Shirley and Buffy alone with a still unconscious Marcus. The Slayer then pulled up a chair next to the girl and faced her.
"All right, what is going on here?" the Slayer questioned. Shirley met Buffy's blue eyes with her own and then looked away. She knew the Slayer wasn't asking about the mechanical assassin that has tried to kill them an hour ago. Still she wasn't ready to talk about this; whatever this was, she admitted to herself.
"There is nothing going on. I met him on a trip to L. A. to view his family's collection in the museum there. Angel and him ended up saving me from a ritual sacrifice." Shirley shuddered as she thought of that. She hadn't told Bo that some of her memories from that night had been slowly returning.
Buffy sighed. So that is how she knows Angel, she thought to herself. "It seems you have not been taking my advice about leaving the supernatural nasties to us train professionals." Shirley had the good grace to wince in chagrin.
"I just follow the clues where they take me. Sometimes they just happen to lead to vampires, and Ralos Demons," she replied not meeting the Slayer's eyes. Buffy groaned. She knew what a Ralos demon was, knew what they were capable of. It made her wish that she could go back in time to the instant before Shirley headed to Sunnydale for the first time and found out about the craziness that was Buffy's life in the first place. The Slayer continued to glare at the teenager until she would met her eyes again. That is when she caught it, that look in the detective's eyes when she glanced at Marcus. Buffy's own eyes widened as she realized what it was she saw there. Shirley was falling for the vampire and from the looks of it the teen-ager was about halfway there. The Slayer shook her head and made sure the detective was looking at her before she spoke.
"Shirley, I know that look. That is a totally crushing on a guy look if I ever saw one. Take if from me. Vampires make horrible boyfriends. They are always in danger, they never grow old, and worst of all they always end up leaving you because of some demented idea about protecting you." Shirley blushed and looked away again. She then looked at Marcus who was now almost completely healed.
"I know, Buffy. Don't worry, OK? I can protect my heart from the likes of Marcus Quinlan." Shirley half-hoped and half-dreaded that this was not the one time she would be wrong.
* * * * *
At his hideout, Thanatos underwent some major repair work. The assassin had managed to dig himself out of the rubble before anyone could find out what happened. Although his vital circuitry was still intact, his exterior had sustained significant damage and he had lost both of his beam sabers. The Imp that reattached his right arm was participating in his repairs. It was joined by two other Imps; one had an orb body and the other had an upside triangle body. All three Imps moved around the assassin and patched up exposed areas and reattached wires, chattering away in their language of beeps and whistles. In another part of the hideout, three figures watched the assassin silently, occasionally letting out little beeps and whistles. The Evil Eye floated ominously before him.
Thanatos was infuriated with the night's events. The anointed one was an easy kill; he was no match for him and he was still weak from last night's battle. He had tracked Marcus Quinlan down using his credit card numbers. He did not expect to see the girl named Shirley Holmes there, but it did not matter to him. He was going to kill her and her friend after disposing of Marcus. It would not do for him if people knew of his existence. Then, the accursed Slayer arrived. He had heard of the Slayer before and he knew his master was aware of both the Slayer and the Watcher's Council. Thanatos still could not believe that the Slayer, a mere female organic, was able to defeat him. He admonished himself quietly for giving in to rage. The robot should have ignored the Slayer's taunts, but there was something annoying about her. He got angry, and as a result, he made mistakes that led to him digging out of a collapsed room. He had experience with rage before, and it taught him never to give in to it. To give in to rage during battle resulted in costly mistakes, even death. That night in the fight with the Slayer, Thanatos gave in to rage, and he paid the price.
"The Slayer is here?" Thanatos felt the rage of his master emanating from the black orb.
Thanatos bowed his head. "I'm afraid so, master. She is the reason why Marcus Quinlan still lives."
"Hmmmmmm..." The Evil Eye floated around. "The Slayer. Well, I did not calculate her interference at this time. In fact, I thought she would desire the death of the anointed one."
"Apparently, that was not her intent," Thanatos said. "I also observed that the Holmes girl was acquainted with the Slayer."
"Not surprising, considering their ancestors and their past," the Evil Eye said. "Let's see, first Xavier finds out about me, then Marcus survives your attack, and now the Slayer is involved." The black orb got into Thanatos' face. "Thanatos, I'm not very pleased right now. The first problem can be overlooked and dealt with later, but I cannot tolerate the other two. You have failed me not once, but twice."
"I understand, master," Thanatos said, keeping his head down. "I accept the punishment for failure."
"Much as I am tempted to punish you, you are still functional and in the area," the Evil Eye said, backing away from Thanatos. "I have given you some help. Try to use them this time."
"I will, master." The Imps were nearly complete with their repairs. Thanatos stood up. "I will destroy Marcus Quinlan and the Slayer."
"Destroy Marcus, destroy the Slayer, and destroy those two brats with them!" the Evil Eye bellowed, rising slightly.
"As you command, master. They will all die."
The Imps finished their repairs on Thanatos and joined the Evil Eye. A portal opened next to them. "I'm adding one more member to your hunting team, Thanatos. Something with brute strength," the Evil Eye revealed. A large figure marched out of the portal carrying something long and joined the other robots waiting on the other side of the hideout.
"This is your last chance, Thanatos. Succeed, and you will be rewarded. Fail, and you will be punished harshly," the Evil Eye warned before it and the Imps exited through the portal.
Thanatos watched as the portal disappeared, then studied the four robots under his command. He thought about how he would avenge his disgrace on the Slayer and Marcus Quinlan. He would make them pay for standing in his master's way. After contemplating over this, he addressed his hunting party. "Prepare to move out. We are going hunting."
Thanatos reached behind him and pulled out both of the replacement beam sabers given to him by the Imps. He activated both of them, then faced a pile of crates. He let out a roar and let loose a large energy slash from both blades and the crates were reduced to a pile of firewood. As he put his weapons away, the four robots cheered him in beeps and whistles.
"This time, Marcus Quinlan, you will not escape me, and neither the Slayer nor the Holmes girl will stop me," the assassin said coldly, staring at the charred wooden remains of the crates.
* * * * *
Shirley had been dozing when a slight groan from her left had her jerking awake. The junior detective almost fell out of her chair, but she managed to right herself in time to see the smirking face and dancing blue eyes of Marcus Quinlan. She glared at the vampire whose smile widened. Then suddenly it was gone and a dawning realization entered his depths followed by despair. He turned away from Shirley in shame.
"You know," he said calmly. It was a statement. Shirley looked at the handsome monster before her and forced herself to answer.
"Yes, I do. Why didn't you just tell me?" she questioned softly. And why didn't I figure it out sooner, she thought to herself. The vampire's head whipped around.
"You're the detective. Figure it out," he answered harshly. Even after two thousand years his anger could get the best of him and as he watched Shirley turn away from him, he instantly regretted his words. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for," he said, sitting up and regaining his footing. He was still a bit unsteady and he stumbled a little; the junior detective saw this and immediately rose to help him. She draped his arm over her shoulders and let him lean on her. She also tried to ignore what his closeness was doing to her stomach. Instead she helped him to the chair she had just vacated and put him it. Marcus sighed in relief and raised his head. The sight that greeted him was Shirley's very tempting lips within reach of his own. He almost gave in to his inner urge to kiss her but before he could someone cleared their throat from behind them. Shirley blushed and retreated from him, hugging herself with her arms. Marcus sighed and turned to face the interloper.
"Your timing is impeccable as always, Slayer," he said, turning to Buffy. She just glared and approached him.
"Stop trying to be cute, Quinlan, and cut the crap." Marcus looked at her with grave eyes and nodded. Buffy just sighed. She was about to ask the Quinlan heir some questions when Giles and Bo returned. Marcus saw the boy glare at him and go to stand protectively next to his best friend; even the Watcher was keeping a wary eye on the vampire. It was a painful reminder that these people knew what he was and two of them, the Slayer and the Watcher must know about his past. It was not a thought that made the him comfortable. He had been a very bad boy for almost five hundred years and had been atoning for that time for the last fifteen hundred. He still wasn't sure if he would live long enough to make amends.
"What do you want to know?" he said in resignation.
"I want to know what you are doing here and what that thing was?" Bo asked before Buffy could. "You almost got us killed saving your sorry butt." Shirley glared at Bo and pinched him on the side as a signal for him to shut up. Bo glared at her. Marcus in the meantime had yet to respond because he was clamping down on his rage. It just wouldn't do for him to get mad at the boy and tear him limb from limb. The vampire's mask slammed into place and he told them what he knew.
"That thing, as you call it, is what has been killing off anointed ones. It is a powerful assassin. Where it comes from I can't say but I need to find out."
"That still doesn't tell us what you are doing here," the Slayer pointed out. Marcus looked at her stubbornly. "No, it doesn't." He wasn't going to admit that he was here to protect Shirley. Mainly because even though he could sense the detective's attraction to him he could also feel her revulsion. His heart just wasn't up to the rejection right now. Marcus watched as the Slayer studied him and then nodded. It seemed she had come to her own conclusions about him.
"Well, whatever he was, he's gone now," Bo said. "I don't think he could survive getting crushed by a falling building."
"I highly doubt that," Marcus countered, knowing how dangerous the enemy was. "That robot nearly killed me two times now. He's more powerful than me and my mental powers have no effect on him." He looked at Bo. "Believe me, he'll be back good as new and very, very angry. He won't let anything stand in his way. That boy in the alley learned that the hard way." This last part was said bitterly with no end of guilt.
At the mention of Adam, Bo bowed his head solemnly. "His name was Adam," Bo said softly. Marcus looked at the teen-ager before him and realized with a start that he must have known the deceased. It instantly explained the question that had been haunting him. He had wondered what had tipped Shirley off to his presence. "I'm sorry," Marcus said quietly. Bo just glared at him. Silence fell on the group and the tension was heavy in the air. That is, until Buffy broke in with an observation.
"There was something off about that robot. Could you feel it?" Buffy asked the vampire. Giles shot her a curious glance.
"Yes," he said and then looked at the Slayer. "He had a soul, a lifeforce. It was a vampire," he said softly. "That is why you were able to feel it as well." Buffy nodded.
"So you're telling us this thing is alive?" Shirley asked, puzzled. Marcus shook his head "no."
"Technically I'm not alive," he replied with a grin. Shirley didn't smile back.
"OK, so how do we turn this recycled junk heap into scrap metal?" Buffy questioned of the ancient vampire. Marcus was about to tell her that he didn't know, but Giles spoke before he could.
"Actually Buffy, I think I have a plan." Giles just hoped that it would work.
* * * * *
Night had fallen on the city of Redington; it was peaceful and serene for most of the residents, but for Marcus Quinlan it was anything but. The ancient vampire sat in the middle of a circle inked in blood waiting for the assassin Thanatos to show up. This was all part of Giles' plan to rip the lifeforce from the robot. As far as plans went Marcus was thinking this was pretty weak; not that he minded being bait, he just hoped that this cockamamie idea worked. The ancient vampire had been sitting there for a while now and for some odd reason he was wishing for a deck of cards to practice his sleight of hand with. He allowed himself a small smile at that. Here he was waiting for something that had succeeded in killing some of the most powerful vampires in the world, something that had almost killed him twice, and he was bored. It was in the middle of this thought that Marcus heard the slight scrapping sound outside and froze. Just then the warehouse door opened and the assassin robot stood before him, bathed in moonlight.
"I have been expecting you," Marcus said calmly as the robot took a step into the room. The vampire still remained seated but shifted his body slightly to prepare for the attack he knew was coming.
"Really?" the assassin answered, not really surprised. "Where are your little friends?"
"They are safe," he replied calmly. Marcus didn't even flinch when he lied. Two thousand years of deception and half-truths had made the vampire the grand master of falsehoods. Thanatos just looked at the heir. His face would have been heavy with his derision if he had a face.
"No one is safe from me," the robot replied and activated both of his beam sabers. "I believe it's time we end this, Marcus Quinlan. You have become quite a nuisance to me." Marcus warily eyed the beam sabers and slowly rose to his feet. "I can't say that I'm sorry about that," he said and grinned nastily at the assassin.
"Time to dance with death, Marcus Quinlan," Thanatos growled.
"Now!" Marcus yelled, and Buffy dropped down from the ceiling beam she had been perched on. She landed right in front of Thanatos.
"Time to dance with death? What, did you get that from a book? Two Thousand and One of the World's Lamest Sayings?" The Slayer then grinned, threw a handful of red powder in the assassin's face, and rolled sideways. Shirley, Bo, and Giles also stepped out of the shadows, and Giles was holding a spell book. The assassin was momentarily staggered by the substance Buffy had thrown into his circuits.
"What the...??!!" Before Thanatos could completely recover, Giles started chanting in Latin and the junior detective and her partner added their voices to the ancient magic of the spell. Enraged, the assassin shouted "Attack!" Before the junior detectives and Giles could react they were thrown to their knees by the wall exploding behind them. Bo hit the ground first and broke Shirley's fall as she was thrown into him. Giles went down hard and his glasses skidded across the floor under some broken crates along with the spell book. When the smoke cleared all three of them slowly regained their footing and turned to see what had just happened. What they saw made them feel like they had all stepped into a grade B sci-fi movie. Standing in the smoke was a Troll, a robot with a flat dome head and a single eye-slit. It was massive, standing at least four heads taller than Giles, and at six foot two the Watcher wasn't short. It was carrying a rocket launcher, which was still smoking from the previous shot. Standing next to this monstrosity was a Red Cap Goblin, a smaller, lithe robot with a distinct red conehead and spiked ears. In its almost graceful fingers the robot held a weapon that resembled a blaster rifle out of Star Wars.
"Oh dear, I do believe this could be a problem," the Watcher said in shock.
Buffy in the meantime had whirled around at the sound of the explosion only to see Giles, Shirley, and Bo go down. She had just taken a step towards them when the wall behind her exploded as well. The Slayer was flung forward right into the waiting arms of Marcus Quinlan. Their eyes met as the ancient vampire steadied her and they turned towards the now burned out wall behind them. Standing in the newly created doorway were two more robots. One was a Hobgoblin, which had a flat dome-shaped head with a flat upside-down triangular eye-slit and curved ears. Its hands, if you could call them that, sported long deadly looking four-fingered claws. Two large discs sat on its shoulders. Buffy had to admit that it was pretty ugly, even by her standards, but if this robot was ugly then the robot standing next to it, a Goblin, made Chaos Demons look like hunks. This robot had long ears and a V-shaped eye-slit. It almost looked like it had a perpetually impish grin on its face but it was just an illusion. Unlike its partner this robot didn't have any hands.
"Why do I suddenly feel like I have stumbled into an episode of Transformers?" Buffy said to Marcus, eyeing the robots dubiously. Marcus just shrugged, not finding her humor in the situation; he was more worried about keeping everyone alive. Before he could voice his concerns, he was cut off.
"Goblins, Troll, kill the organics." The order had come from Thanatos and both Buffy and Marcus watched in horror as the Goblin revealed the missile launcher in its chest and the Troll aimed its rocket launcher at them. They fired at the duo and Buffy rolled sideways as Marcus rolled in the opposite direction.
"Scratch that," the Slayer said to herself, "I think we have stepped into an Terminator movie."
Giles, Shirley and Bo were having their own problems. When the first blast had taken out the wall they had all ducked behind some crates, needless to say that their cover was now starting to resemble Swiss cheese from the exploding projectiles that there seemed no end of. The Hobgoblin reached for its shoulder discs and threw them at their hiding place, breaking some of the crates. The discs returned to their owner, who replaced them on its shoulders and started firing sonic blasts at the hiding place. During the attack, Shirley chanced a glance over her shoulder at Buffy and Marcus. Unlike the mortals in the group, the Slayer and the ancient vampire were playing a rousing game of "dodge the bomb." She watched as Marcus rolled sideways just in time to avoid being blown up. That was when she suddenly felt herself being pulled sideways by strong arms just as their hiding place exploded. She turned her head and found herself looking at Bo.
"Thanks," she said softly. Her best friend smiled and said just as softly "No problem." The junior detective then turned her head to see what became of Giles. She saw him on the opposite side with no cover. She watched in horror as the two robots turned toward him about to fire. The junior detective jumped up out of Bo's arms and started on a dead run at the Watcher. "Shirley, no!" the teen-ager cried but she didn't hear her best friend. Instead she did a pretty good running tackle as she hit the former Watcher at full speed and threw him to the ground. They both ducked and covered waiting for the inevitable but all they heard was a clicking sound. Both Watcher and junior detective looked up cautiously at the robots to find that they were out of ammunition. The brown-haired, blue-eyed junior detective grinned widely at Giles who grinned widely back, well as widely as Giles was capable of.
Buffy was starting to think what things could not get any worse until the Red Cap Goblin aimed its beam rifle at her. The Slayer tensed, ready to face this new threat, when the Hobgoblin fired a sonic blast at her from its claws. She tried to avoid it but the blast was spread out like a sound wave and the tail end of it caught Buffy and threw her back into some crates. She hit the wooden boxes hard, smashing them to pieces. She sat up, groaned, looked up and froze like a deer caught in headlights. There was a rocket coming right at her courtesy of the Goblin. Buffy almost laughed hysterically. She was sure she was going to be the only Slayer in history to be blown into a thousand unrecognizable pieces until she felt her body being pulled forcibly to the side. She distinctly heard the explosion as a cold body covered her own warmer one, deflecting the debris. Buffy then found herself looking into the grimacing face of Marcus Quinlan. The Slayer smiled wanly at him, not even wanting to imagine what the ancient vampire's back no resembled. Marcus helped her to her feet and they stood side by side waiting for the next attack when they noticed the clicking sounds all around them. It seemed that all the robots were out of ammunition. Buffy turned toward the doorway where Thanatos had been lounging, and watching the destruction. She flashed him that cocky Slayer grin of hers.
"Looks like all your toys are shooting blanks," she taunted. Thanatos glared at the insolent young Slayer and Marcus grimaced. He had a feeling that Buffy's mouth was going to get them all killed.
"You have mocked me for the last time, Slayer," he said nastily, and with a flick of his wrist the three Goblins lined up in front of him. The Troll stayed behind, standing over Shirley, Giles, and Bo. The big robot wasn't moving but that didn't stop the mortals from keeping a wary eye on it. Thanatos' voice filled the warehouse once more as he gestured toward his prospective targets.
"You three, the Slayer!" he bellowed and the Goblins started advancing on Buffy. Marcus tried to jump in front of her to protect her but was suddenly thrown back by a large blast. He flew ten feet into the wall behind him and hit it with a thud. Dazed, the ancient vampire raised his head, only to see Thanatos standing there with both of his beam sabers out and still humming from the slash attack he had used on Marcus.
"Now, now, Marcus, none of that. You and I haven't had our chance to dance, and the pleasure of killing you will be all mine." The assassin would have been grinning evilly had he been capable of it. Buffy saw what happened and was just about to rush Thanatos when a sudden sharp pain in her shoulder stopped her. She looked over at her arm to see a claw imbedded in her flesh. The next thing she knew she was yanked off her feet and being reeled in like a landed fish.
Marcus saw the Slayer go down and scrambled to his feet to help but then Thanatos was there. With a flick of his hand in the direction of Giles, Bo and Shirley, the assassin gave a command. The ancient vampire watched in horror as the big, ugly Troll came back on-line and drew a large glowing ax. Marcus not so much saw but sensed Shirley and Giles' terror as the beam ax was brought down on them. "No!" Marcus screamed as he watched the weapon descend on the junior detective. He took a step in the teen-ager's direction but was hit hard in the stomach by the assassin. Marcus dropped to one knee, doubling over in pain as he felt at least four of his ribs crack. Still it didn't keep him from watching as, spurred by his shout, Giles threw Shirley to one side as he rolled to the other. The ax struck the cement floor between them, echoing harmlessly throughout the warehouse. The vampire breathed a sigh of relief. That is when Marcus sensed Thanatos bending down next to him. He started, having almost forgotten about the assassin in his fear for Shirley.
"She will be your weakness every time, Marcus Quinlan," the assassin said softly in his ear and then stood up and kicked the vampire hard in the side. "Your emotions are what make you organics so weak." Marcus cringed from the blow and lay at the assassin's feet withering in pain.
Giles came up out of his roll and slowly regained his feet. I'm getting too old for this, he thought as his back protested this latest bout of gymnastics. The Watcher turned his head and sighed in relief when he had managed to throw Shirley safe of the slash by this big dumb behemoth that was even now recovering. The only consolation Giles could find in the situation was that this thing, whatever it was, seemed to be slower than his ancient car. Thinking fast the former Watcher peered through bleary eyes and located a two by four on the floor. The robot had just now recovered and turned toward the teen-agers. Giles was having none of that so he grabbed the board, advanced on the monstrosity, and swung with all his might striking it across its back. The board shattered and the former Watcher watched as a very angry killer robot turned his way.
"Bloody hell," he managed to say just as the thing backhanded him and sent him flying into a pile of crates.
Buffy struggled with her captor as the talons dug deeper into her shoulder. She was still being dragged along and it was really starting to tick her off. The Slayer had finally reached her breaking point. In one smooth motion Buffy wrenched the claw from her shoulder, mindless of the pain, and flipped into a fighting stance. She then reached into the pockets of her leather jacket and pulled out the beam saber she had taken from her last fight with Thanatos. With a look of pure rage she activated the saber and faced the three uglies before her.
"OK, boys, no more Ms. Nice Buffy," she said and attacked. The Slayer brought a slash down on the nearest robot, the Red Cap Goblin, which had been the one reeling her in like a fish on a hook with its free hand, and took off the robot's arm. The Red Cap Goblin beeped and whirled as if in pain. She was just about to cleave the thing in two when a fist came out of nowhere and cold-cocked her across her jaw. The blow snapped the Slayer's head back and would have snapped her neck had she been completely mortal. Instead it knock her to the ground where she rolled left and back into her fighting stance. Buffy scanned the trio for her attacker and saw the smallest one with the bulbous hands, the Goblin, standing in front of her with its arms raised in a boxing pose.
"You are scrap metal first, my friend," the Slayer promised in a nasty voice. It was Buffy's policy to always keep her promises. The Goblin responded by extending its three-pronged claw in one of its hands.
Marcus watched in horror and guilt as the scene unfolded before him. His friends were in danger, and quite possibly going to die all because of him. He watched as a particularly nasty blow fell on Buffy and winced in sympathy. The Troll in the meantime had cold-cocked Giles and was now approaching him with the dull look of a programmed killer. Marcus tried to move to help but was slammed back onto the warehouse floor by the foot that Thanatos had rested on his chest.
"I don't think so, Quinlan," the assassin said. "Look at them, Marcus. I want you to look at them all and watch them die. I want their deaths to be the last thing that you see before I send you to hell." Marcus snarled in rage and tried to rise again only to be slammed down to the floor by Thanatos again. It was then that the heir realized something that Thanatos did not. They were in the middle of the ceremonial circle. With this realization came a new strength as the vampire started scanning the warehouse for the spell book Giles had dropped. He found it at not ten feet away from where Shirley and Bo were now crouched down. Now if only he could get it.
Rupert Giles groaned and tried to move, finding to his amazement that nothing was broken. His mini-celebration was short lived, however, when he saw the shadow fall over him. He looked up only to see the Troll poised with his ax above his head ready to deprive Giles of his own, but before the blow could fall a small piece of metal hit the robot, and then another. Giles lifted his head to see Shirley and Bo chucking bits of debris at the robot, trying to draw it away from the Watcher.
"Come on, you rusted piece of scrap metal! Over here!" Bo yelled as he threw another piece of debris.
"Yeah, come pick on somebody your own size!" Shirley's voice joined her best friend. Bo shot the junior detective a dubious look; "Someone your own size?" it seemed to say. Shirley just shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. The taunts had their desired affect as the Troll beeped loudly and started toward the teen-agers. They managed to duck the swing it made at them just at the last minute. In the meantime Giles recovered enough to stand; he then did something supremely stupid. The former Watcher, calling himself every type of fool imaginable, jumped on the robot's back and latched his arms around its head. The metal menace screamed in rage and started bucking wildly. It was while the robot was distracted from her and Bo that Shirley formulated her plan. A gleam of triumph had entered her blue eyes and her best friend waited expectantly for her to fill him in. He knew that look well; it was her "I have a plan" look. Shirley tugged on Bo's sleeve and pointed to the large metal hook that was hanging from the ceiling directly above the Troll. It was part of a large pulley system. She then gestured toward the lever that was on the wall. Bo just grinned, catching on to her plan quite well.
"Diabolical, Moneypenny," Bo replied in his horrendous James Bond impression. Shirley just grinned.
"Giles, let go now!" the junior detective shouted. The former Watcher shot her a "you must be joking" look but none the less did as she said. The minute he let go Giles went flying back into the crates he had just freed himself from. The minute the Watcher was clear Shirley gestured to Bo who pulled the lever. "Sayonara, sucker," Bo said as he yanked down on the rusted lever. The hook gave a loud groan and then came crashing down. The robot had a split second to look up, beep loudly, and then the sound of metal hitting metal echoed throughout the warehouse as the Troll was crushed under the weight of the pulley system. A second later, its lifeforce flew out and exited into the night.
The Hobgoblin threw its shoulder discs at Buffy, who slashed them in half with ease. Buffy dodged left as the Goblin tried to slash her. The thing swung its clawed hand at her only to have her turn in midair and cut it off. The robot shrieked, whirling and beeping. That is when the Red Cap Goblin aimed its beam rifle with its remaining hand and let out a volley at the Slayer. Buffy rolled and dodged but she wasn't quite fast enough for the last one. It hit her squarely in the chest and threw her back to the floor. The Slayer groaned as she tired to get up only to have a bulbous hand hit her across the face. Blood spattered on the floor beside her as her head whipped around. The Hobgoblin shot out a tentacle from its claw and it wrapped around the Slayer's body and stood her up. Unable to move, Buffy felt a series of electric shocks through the tentacle. As she was slowly electrocuted, she distantly heard someone cry out "Buffy!" recognizing the voice as Shirley's. Still the last blow had taken a lot out of her so she wasn't sure. One thing she was starting to become more and more aware of was that the robots were approaching and she was going to die. Nearby, the Goblin let out what seemed to be maniacal laughter. It rushed Buffy and started punching her in the face with its remaining "hand." After some punches, the Goblin "laughed" as it activated its remaining claw.
Shirley's moment of celebration was over as she turned to see Buffy blown back by a blast from the laser-like weapon one of the three Goblin robots was carrying. She called out the Slayer's name and had tried to run to her, only to have Bo's arms snake around her waist and stop her. The junior detective was struggling fiercely against her best friend to Bo's surprise, but he was just too strong and he held her in place. Suddenly her struggles ceased and she cocked her head to one side like she was listening to something intently.
Marcus' deep ocean blue eyes were focused intently on the junior detective as he tried to reach her. He knew the moment she had let him into her mind by the thoughtful look that had descended on her face. The vampire smiled. It was that curious, questioning gaze that had first intrigued him like none he had ever known.
"Shirley, can you hear me?" he thought, reaching out to her with his mind.
"Marcus?" her own mind questioned. He could feel that logical part of her that was rebelling against the telepathy.
"Yes, Shirley, it's me. Stop fighting me." Marcus saw her nod from his position on the warehouse floor and smiled. "Good," he thought. "Shirley, listen to me. The spell book is under some crates ten paces to your left. Thanatos' attention is focused on Buffy right now. I need you to retrieve it and bring it to me. Use the crates behind me as cover."
"All right," she thought and Marcus could feel her determination flowing through him. It gave him strength just as he hoped; at the same time he was giving her strength. The ancient vampire broke the connection and watched as Shirley turned to Bo and told him to let her go. Bo was still eyeing her warily but he reluctantly freed her. She smiled at her best friend and leaned over to whisper in his ear, gesturing to the place of the fallen spell book. When she was done Bo nodded his head in determination. Shirley went to retrieve the book, trying not to watch as Thanatos' robot gofers ganged up on Buffy. The junior detective retrieved the book and went to stand by Bo again. Thanatos had not noticed a thing. Suddenly Bo started yelling at the assassin.
"Thanatos, you ugly piece of scrap metal, you had better tell them to stop!" Bo didn't have to fake his rage at the assassin; he was already pumped enough to tear the robot limb from limb with his bare hands. Thanatos took his amused gaze off of the Slayer's battered form and looked up at Bo.
"Don't test me, boy, or else you will be joining your little gang friend sooner than you ever believed possible," the assassin warned. At the mention of Adam, Bo's rage took over.
"I'm going to kill you!" Bo said, his voice oozing venom. "I'm going to take that lightsaber and shove it up your...!"
"Enough!" Thanatos roared. "You make me weary, boy," he said and drew both of his sabers. Buffy looked up through one bloody eye and saw what was happening. "No," the Slayer croaked. Ignoring the electricity being pumped into her body, she managed to use the last of her strength to break out of the Hobgoblin's tentacle and kick away the giggling ugly that was beating the crap out of her before it could slash her. The Goblin went flying and Buffy used the beam saber to cleave him in half in midair, releasing its lifeforce. As the two halves of the Goblin fell to the ground, Buffy quickly sliced the Hobgoblin down the middle, setting its lifeforce free. Thanatos let out a double energy slash attack and it was heading right for Bo. Shirley saw the energy wave heading toward her friend from her position behind Thanatos. She had flanked the assassin while his attention had been focused on Bo, and was about to scream a warning when Buffy jumped in front of the energy pulse while dodging the Red Cap Goblin's gunfire. The Slayer's body convulsed and she hit the ground, not moving.
"Buffy!" Bo screamed in anguish and raced toward the downed Slayer.
"Thanatos, you bastard." Marcus ground out from his position on the floor and used the last of his strength to throw the assassin off of him. Surprised, the robot landed on his back in the middle of the circle. Marcus stumbled painfully to his feet and turned toward Shirley.
"Shirley, come here now," he ordered and the junior detective's shocked brain obeyed. Usually everything in the junior detective would have rebelled against that order but there was an urgency to Marcus's voice. She entered the circle and Marcus grabbed her hand with his left hand and the book with his right. Shirley watched stunned as he started the chant in Latin.
"Quinlan, what are you doing?" Thanatos bellowed. There was real fear in the assassin's voice. Marcus glared and started chanting louder. Understanding filled Shirley's eyes and she joined in. Suddenly the room started to fill with a rushing wind and the robot assassin stood up. His eyes would have reflected his desperation if they could have.
"No, Marcus, you can't! It isn't possible!" he bellowed. "I will not fail the master again! I will not be defeated by an organic!" The robot raised his beam sabers, intent on taking both Marcus and Shirley with him, but before he could a flash of yellow light engulfed the assassin and ripped the lifeforce from his body.
"Noooo!" the robot bellowed just before the mechanized shell fell to the ground in a lifeless heap. The beam sabers fell to the ground deactivated. Marcus thought it was all over until he saw the one-armed Red Cap Goblin with its beam rifle aimed at him and Shirley. He shoved Shirley out of the way quickly before the remaining robot could open fire. The robot fired rapidly at the anointed one, who managed to get out of the way in time. Snatching one of Thanatos' beam sabers and activating it, Marcus prayed that his aim would be true and he flung the weapon at the robot like a javelin. His aim was perfect; the blade of the weapon embedded itself into the face of the Red Cap Goblin. The robot shrieked loudly and fell to the ground. A moment later, its lifeforce flew out and left. Marcus pulled Shirley up and they surveyed their surroundings. They saw only the remains of the five killer robots and Bo and Giles attending to the unconscious Slayer. For a moment, no one said anything.
"Let's get Buffy to a hospital," Marcus said, breaking the silence, and Shirley just looked at him numbly.
* * * * *
Shirley never thought that she would be sitting by the Slayer's bedside hoping she would awaken. It was almost inconceivable for the detective. She had never thought to meet the monster that could bring Buffy to death's door. The Slayer had been like this real life super heroine to the junior detective; superheroes weren't supposed to be vulnerable. She was a little surprised at how much Buffy had come to mean to her as a friend; the only other person she felt this strongly toward was possibly Bo. What was disturbing the detective the most, though, was the harsh reminder that Buffy, with her incredible strength, intelligence, speed, and immune system, was still achingly human. For some reason the Slayer had seemed immortal to the young teen-ager and it was a blow to find that she wasn't, that she could die, just like everyone else. Shirley was sitting in the chair beside Buffy's bed with the Slayer's hand in her own. The strong steady beat of her pulse did a lot to help her banish the thoughts of her friend's mortality from the young girl's mind. That is until she looked up and saw Bo lounging against the wall. He had his arms across his chest and there was a confused expression in his eyes. Shirley knew it was because her best friend was having the same thoughts about the Slayer that she had been having. Shaking herself out of the funk she had fallen into, Shirley distracted herself by studying the people around her. Giles' behavior was shockingly calm and collected. Sure she could tell that he was worried but there was also a peace about him. It almost made Shirley wonder what else Buffy had been through that was worse than this, in the same instant she decided that she really didn't want to know the answer to that question. Lastly the junior detective turned her attention on Marcus. The ancient vampire stood apart from the rest of the group looking for the entire world like the foreign entity he was. As she studied him she noticed that his eyes held pain, the depths of which she could only guess at. It was part of the intensity that had intrigued her so thoroughly on their first meeting. Even knowing what she knew now he was still a mystery. Still, she seemed to be seeing him clearer than she had before. As she studied him the junior detective realized that the signs to his vampirism were there all along despite his immunity to sunlight. The pale skin and small blood stains on the collar of his otherwise pristine white shirt were only two of the signs. She was surprised that she had missed what was so obviously staring her in the face now. This realization made the junior detective a bit uneasy. She wasn't use to being fooled, even if it was by a charming two thousand-year-old vampire. It was a mistake that she would not make in the future. Still, the future had nothing to do with her present situation. Being a detective, or more importantly being a Holmes, had taught her never to lie to herself and she had to tentatively admit that she was attracted to the ancient vampire; what that meant for the future no one could say. A small secret smile curved her lips; just what would her mother say to a two thousand-year-old vampire for a son-in-law? Just then Shirley was jolted out of her musings by a small squeeze of her hand. The junior detective's eyes flew to the bedridden Slayer only to find an alert pair of blue eyes staring right back at her.
"Buffy?" the junior detective tentatively questioned. The Slayer gave the detective's hand another small squeeze and Shirley grasped her hand tightly back. Everyone in the room turned towards the detective when she said the Slayer's name and then turned towards Buffy, only to find a very awake vampire slayer staring back at them. Giles was the first to rush to his former charge's side. As he knelt down next to the girl who was like a daughter to him, he took her other hand in his and smiled. "You look like hell, Giles," she croaked softly, teasing her Watcher. The former Watcher gazed at her affectionately.
"Really, well, you look simply fabulous," he replied. Bo grinned.
"Yeah, I have to agree with the G-man here. Bandages are a good look for you." Giles tried not to grimace at the asinine nickname that Xander had given him and tried not to think of ways to strangle Bo for mistakenly using it. Buffy noticed this and decided that the opening was just too good to resist.
"Oh no, Giles, it looks like we have just met Xander number two."
"The gods preserve me," her Watcher replied with fervent meaning. Bo just looked at them with confused eyes.
"What?" he asked. Maybe it was the tension or maybe it was just the completely confounded look on Bo's face but everyone in the room burst into peals of laughter. Everyone that is except Marcus. The heir to the Quinlan fortune took that moment as his cue and quietly slipped out of Buffy's hospital room. He looked back only once at a laughing Shirley and then turned to walk away. His own smile was bittersweet as he left as quietly as he had come.
* * * * *
Five days and two hospital visits later Buffy was released by Dr. Cali from her prison, as she called it, and was free to hunt supernatural nasties once more. Shirley on the other hand was placing a suitcase alongside the long black limousine that had come from the embassy to collect her and her family. The junior detective was suffering in a charcoal gray skirt suit and heels. With her hair pulled back into a bun the fifteen-year-old looked like she was in her early twenties, that is until she lost her footing in the heels and stumbled. If it weren't for the steadying arm someone had placed at her elbow she would have been kissing pavement. The junior detective turned to thank whoever had saved her from the fall and collided with the dancing blue eyes of her best friend. Dressed in jeans and a black shirt, Bo smirked at his best friend trying not to laugh. Shirley just glared at him.
"OK, now that you have witnessed my humiliation, you can leave." Bo's grin got wider. The grin was to cover up the fact that he was trying not to leer. He had to admit that Shirley looked really good in her present outfit.
"So where are you going?" he asked to stop that train of thought.
"Well, Dad said it was another boring embassy function, but his left temple was twitching. It tends to do that when he is lying, so I hacked into the embassy computers. You will never guess what I found." Bo just grimaced.
"You mean I don't want to guess what you found." She glared at him and continued.
"It seems that Mum and Dad have both been called in to investigate the wreckage of some United States military vessels found somewhere in the South Pacific. Bo, what do you think would be important enough about this wreckage for the US officials to call in a top ranking British diplomat and a prominent virologist?"
"Something that you shouldn't be messing with in the first place. Something that is going to get you into trouble," Bo snapped. She was taken aback for a minute by his reaction and he sighed. "Shirley, just follow this concept with me. We both could have been killed in this recent case. Buffy almost was, and to tell you the truth that scares me. If you get involved in whatever happened in that ocean out there, then something is telling me that the next time I visit the hospital it is going to be you I'm seeing, but unlike Buffy you're not going to just wake up." Bo was angry and there was real fear in his eyes, fear for her she noted, shocked. She had no idea that he felt this way. On impulse the junior detective went to her friend and drew him into a hug. He didn't fight her like he normally would and that told her more than anything that he was really afraid for her this time. When she pulled away she looked him right in the eye and said, "Bo you know me better than anyone, right? What do you think would happen to me if I didn't have my mysteries?" Her partner sighed. He knew the answer; he just didn't like it.
"Then I might as well have thrown you into the path of Thanatos myself. You would be just as dead." She smiled at him and he smiled back. His face then took on a serious expression.
"Shirl, just do me a favor and be careful." She grinned at him.
"Hey, careful is my middle name." It was Bo's turn to grin.
"I thought it was..." Before he could complete that sentence a hand clamped down over his mouth.
"If you want to live to see another day, Sawchuk, I suggest that you never finish that sentence." Bo's smile widened beneath her hand. Shirley answered with a smile of her own, removed her hand and went to open the door to the back of the limo, but Bo beat her too it.
"Allow me, yer ladyship," he said with a very bad Cockney accent and a small bow. He then opened the door for her.
"Why thank you, my good man," she replied in a false haughty voice and got in. Bo went to close the door but before he did he stuck his head in one last time.
"I mean it, Shirley. I want you to be careful." The junior detective smiled at him.
"I will. I promise," she replied. He smiled and shut the door. The minute Shirley was safe behind the tinted windows of the limousine, she pulled out her case journal and studied the strange symbol she had hastily scrawled in it. The junior detective had copied it off of Thanatos when no one was looking. What it told her intrigued her. It told her a number of things, the most important being that Thanatos was property, which meant that he had not been acting alone. The assassin had belonged to someone and Shirley was going to figure out who. It was only a matter of time.
In the trees across the road Marcus Quinlan watched as Shirley said goodbye to Bo and got into the limo. A few minutes later, Robert and Joanna Holmes came out of the house with two embassy security guards flanking them. Marcus already knew where they were going. He just hoped it kept Shirley out of harm's way. With a growing sense of dread the ancient vampire looked down at the small piece of paper he held in his hands. On it was the strange but vaguely familiar symbol that he had copied off of Thanatos' fallen form. He just hoped that it didn't mean what he thought it meant. The vampire was deep in thought about the implications of what he had found when a small sound alerted him to a presence behind him. He whirled around ready to defend himself only to come face to face with the Slayer. Marcus lowered his guard but only slightly.
"How did you find me?" he questioned.
"Spidey sense and a little feminine intuition," Buffy replied with a nod towards the limousine. Marcus just grimaced.
"I shouldn't be this transparent. Not after two thousand years." Buffy smiled at him, glad that he could joke.
"Yeah, well, let's just say that I have been there, done that." The vampire watched sympathetically as pain flashed in the Slayer's eyes.
"Angel was a fool," he said not unkindly. Buffy just gave him a wan smile.
"And what does that make you?" she asked softly. The vampire turned away from her and watched as the limousine pulled away from the curb heading towards the Redington airport.
"It would make me the grand master of fools," he replied softly and turned back towards Buffy.
"So why did you find me, Buffy?" he asked warily. He still wasn't completely sure she wasn't going to stake him. She crossed her arms and shot him a bland stare.
"I saw your face when Metalhead came into the warehouse. I think you know something about who sent that piece of scrap metal after you and what can I say? I'm bitter. Losing to those junkyard rejects does not give me a happy. I guess I'm not above a little revenge," she said in a nasty tone. Marcus sighed and looked down at the symbol in his hand.
"You may just get your wish, Slayer."
Marcus, Buffy, Shirley, and Bo were all so preoccupied with each other that they did not notice the Evil Eye hovering above them recording their every move.
* * * * *
In another part of the world, in a nearly darkened chamber, a figure was watching everything on a large holographic screen. He was sitting in a throne that hovered above an apparently bottomless abyss.
"So, you and the Slayer were able to defeat my harbinger of death, eh, Marcus?" the man said, curling his clawed hand into a fist. "Mere organics have managed to defeat my Machina. Of course, you and the Slayer aren't mere organics, are you, Quinlan?"
The man burned with rage inside as he watched the screen. "At least I can have the satisfaction of knowing that you and the Slayer were nearly killed by my creations. My Machina are superior to all organic life. If the accursed Slayer and that ex-Watcher had not interfered, you would be joining the other dead anointed ones."
Two other screens appeared above the first screen. The first new screen showed an assortment of Machina robots being assembled and given lifeforces. "You may have succeeded in destroying five of my Machina, but I have more where that came from, Marcus," he said with hatred. He looked at the second screen, which showed Imps and Elves monitoring closely a small cylinder in a glass cube. "When I initiate my plan, you'll wish Thanatos had killed you, Marcus. That is, if my Machina don't terminate you and the Slayer first," he said, grinning evilly.
All the screens vanished, leaving the chamber in near-darkness. "Soon, my vision of a perfect world order will be achieved, and not even you and the Slayer can stop me," he said while hovering around the chamber. "It's going to be 'Game Over,' Quinlan, and you don't even know that you have already lost."