It wasn’t difficult for Buffy and Xander to find the old abandoned house Willy the Snitch had described to them. The outside showed years of neglect in the worn paint and waist-high weeds that surrounded what apparently was once a grand and stately home. Most of the downstairs windows had been boarded over to keep out vandals, and the second floor openings were draped in dark curtains that were pulled tightly shut against any prying eyes and possible penetration of sunlight. Everything about the place screamed vampire to the blonde slayer. Especially the location. The neighborhood wasn’t exactly known as one of the nicer areas of Sunnydale, but it was convenient to at least two cemeteries. Plus other similarly empty dwellings nearby assured that there weren’t many people around to notice the strange comings and goings that went on through all hours of the night until the morning sunrise eventually drove any undead residents back into hiding.

Climbing the dilapidated porch stairs the two teens approached the front door with exaggerated caution. There was still a good hour or more of daylight left, giving an advantage to the pair in their plan of attack. They were also counting heavily upon the element of surprise working in their behalf as well. The vampires would probably still be sleeping and slow to awaken, tilting the odds in their favor during those first critical moments of battle. But no time was ever good to face the undead. They had to stay alert and prepared.

Buffy tried to peek through the cracked oval pane in the front door, but couldn’t make out a thing beyond the thick layer of grime that frosted the window glass. Giving a tentative twist to the tarnished doorknob she was surprised as the door swung open without effort on its rusted, creaking hinges. Apparently the house wasn’t locked.

“Someone should tell these guys it’s not safe to leave their place open like this,” she said, stepping boldly across the less than inviting threshold. “You never know who might drop by unannounced.”

“Maybe they like company,” Xander quipped, following closely on his friend’s heels. Once inside he began to look around, his eyes darting nervously in every direction at once. It may have been daylight outside, but the interior of the old house was gloomy and dark, just the way a vampire would like it. Xander was immediately reminded of the times he’d been to Angel’s mansion on Crawford Street. Angel was a vampire too, but with a difference. He had a soul. Often helping the slayer and her Scooby Gang by fighting on the side of good, Angel had befriended Buffy several years ago when she’d first moved to Sunnydale. Over time the two had become very close, eventually falling in love. It was a point Xander still had difficulty understanding and only grudgingly accepted.

On a closer inspection of the surrounding foyer Xander decided that Angel’s home was downright cheery compared to the dump he had entered. The walls around him sported a dreary patterned paper that was stained and peeling. He could see only a few old pieces of furniture scattered about in the rooms that were visible from the main hall and a liberal layer of undisturbed dust covered everything. At least Angel had the decency to keep his place neat and tidy.

“These guys should think about hiring a maid,” he whispered to Buffy as they quietly crept further into the front hall. Xander inadvertently rested a hand on the surface of a hall console as he walked past, the distasteful sensation of a decade or so of encrusted dirt causing him to jerk his arm back quickly. Where he’d touched the furniture piece was the clear imprint of his palm in the musty, mold-riddled grime. Grimacing he wiped his hand clean across the front of his shirt. “Of course, a few lit matches would do a much more thorough job.”

Buffy didn’t reply. Instead she reached into her coat pocket and took out a wooden stake, gripping the weapon tightly in her small fist. Her spidey senses were tingling big time. There were definitely vampires around. A lot of them.

“Maybe you should wait outside,” she advised Xander in a low, calm voice.

Xander didn’t like the sound of that. Normally he would have felt slighted by the insinuation that he somehow wasn’t man enough to handle himself in a dangerous situation. He’d done this sort of thing with Buffy before. Okay, so he didn’t have Super Slayer powers. But he knew which end of the pointy stick went in the vampire. In a rush of adrenaline induced panic he realized that wasn’t much help when one didn’t have said stake in hand. Stepping forward he moved in closer to the blonde girl in front of him.

“What?” he asked, his voice cracking slightly with his growing apprehension. “And leave all the fun for you? No way! I’m staying.”

“Then you might need this.” Buffy reached into another pocket and handed the boy a spare stake. “Unless you brought your own?” she asked with a teasing grin for her friend.

“Guess I left mine at home,” he replied, gladly relieving her of the offered weapon.

Tip toeing past the front parlor the pair quickly surveyed the area then moved along to what appeared to be the former dining room directly across the hall. Both rooms were empty, devoid of any signs of recent habitation or life. But then it wasn’t exactly life that they were searching for.

The teens made a slow careful sweep of the entire first floor, eventually heading back toward the staircase that dominated the main center hall. Buffy led the way up the narrow flight of stairs, her senses on full alert as she scanned for vampires. She was hyper-aware of every creak and groan that emanated from the floorboards beneath their feet as she and Xander climbed the old stairs to the house’s second level.

Upstairs they discovered a small open hallway with five closed doors leading off into various directions and rooms. Trying the first door that she came to Buffy took a deep, steadying breath and gingerly turned the knob. Throwing the door open she sprang into the room, her stake raised high and ready for action. But the room was empty except for some tattered draperies on the windows and a lone chair in one corner. No vampires here, the blonde thought silently to herself. She secretly thanked herself for not kicking the door open with a crash in her usual grand style of entry. The noise would have immediately alerted any occupants elsewhere in the house to their presence. As it was they still had the element of surprise working for them in their favor.

The next room they tried was as empty as the first, but their third choice proved lucky. As Buffy leapt forward she nearly tripped over an undead body that lay stretched out on the floor just inside the doorway. This room was as dark and shielded from sunlight as the rest of the house and it was only at the last minute that she saw the sprawling figure before her. With a spry dance-like movement she managed to avoid stepping on the prone creature, maneuvering deftly around the sleeping form without awakening it.

Recovering quickly, Buffy slowly craned her head around, surveying the dark room. She was standing in the midst of several sleeping vampires, she guessed about six. They were asleep, sacked out on thin mattresses, some on the floor itself, and all totally oblivious to the two trespassing teens. Buffy felt every one of her senses kick into high gear, her body literally buzzing in excited anticipation of battle. A strangely feral grin graced her usually feminine lips as she gripped the stake in her hand tighter. There was nothing that got her old Slayer juices flowing like the close proximity of a half-dozen creatures of the night.

Xander nodded in understanding as Buffy silently gestured for him to stay put where he was in the doorway. The boy’s eyes were wide as he took in the sight of the vampire nest. He watched with nervous interest as Buffy cautiously wove her way across the room, the blonde slinking on nimble feet as she made her way between the horizontal bodies toward the far wall. She came to a stop beside one of the room’s two draped windows, her free hand grasping a fold of the heavy, rotting curtain shade. Her weapon raised and ready Buffy waved Xander to come forward and close the door behind him. She waited eagerly for the teen to step aside and get into position, and then at her signal, it began.

Buffy ripped at the window curtain. She had intended to pull it back and let in the sun, but to her surprise the old material was so decayed it simply disintegrated, falling apart in her hand. Only one small section came down at her tug. But it was enough to allow a thin stream of sunlight to filter through the dirty glass. The lone ray pierced the room with a trail of purifying brightness, spilling upon the arm of one vampire and across the leg of yet another.

An acrid smelling smoke began to fill the room as demon flesh began to smolder and bubble. Spontaneous flames exploded into life, and instantly two simultaneous shrieks of panic rang through the air as the vampires awakened to discover they were on fire. Their pained cries were like an alarm clock. Suddenly every vampire in the room was on its feet. They were dazed and confused, but instinctively they cowered away from the small patch of sunlight that penetrated the filmy window.

Deciding that what they needed was a little more light on the subject, Buffy pulled her shirt sleeve up over her hand to protect it, and using her forearm, she thrust her elbow against the window, and shattered the glass pane. As the large shards came raining down around her, they cut and ripped away great hunks of the rotting curtain, and the afternoon sunshine came pouring into the small room at full strength to bask the dingy walls in warm color as it illuminated a scene of vampire hysteria. Snarling undead were writhing, twisting away from the offending brightness and tripping over each other in their haste to escape.

Xander anticipated a stampede as the vampires tried to make a break for the safety of darkness. The frightened demons were initially so intent on getting out into the hall that none of them took notice of the dark-haired teen standing to one side of the closed door. Jumping forward at an older vampire dressed in an ill-fitted tuxedo Xander punctured the creature’s back with his borrowed stake, watching with satisfaction as his target dissolved into a pile of dust that fell to the unswept floor, its final scream of surprise echoing eerily in the musty air.

The old vampire’s death cry caught the attention of the others. Like fiendish keystone cops they pulled up short in their shock, stumbling over each other as they turned to stare at Xander. The teen wisely chose to retreat at that point, his courage failing fast as he faced the five growling monsters. But there was no where to go, the door being closed behind him, and Xander soon found himself with his back pressed up against the wall.

“Uh, I don’t suppose any of you guys would like to step outside and finish this?” the boy threw out in a lame challenge to the vampires closing in on him. He was answered by several menacing and hungry sounding rumbles. “I didn’t think so.”

Suddenly Buffy was there with him, her lithe form directly in the line of danger between her friend and the vampire gang. But that was a place that Buffy felt perfectly at home. With a perky toss of her blonde head she faced her quarry, green eyes twinkling merrily.

“Nap time’s over, guys,” she announced to the mutant-like creatures. Frowning at one particularly ugly female she delivered one of her trademark slayer insults. “Whoa! You could have used a few more centuries of beauty sleep there, honey. Those bags under your eyes are big enough to pack and take on a trip.”

“Think you’re smart, little girl?” the female growled in retaliation at the cheeky blonde. “Well, it wasn’t too smart coming in here. I get hungry when I wake up and you look like a good breakfast to me!”

The creature flung herself at the teen, her gnarly hands going for Buffy’s throat. The younger girl easily stepped aside from the charge, following through with a well-placed kick to the woman’s back that sent her slamming headfirst into the solid wall. The vampire bounced back, momentarily stunned, and collapsed to the floor. Turning to face the other four creatures Buffy clenched her small fist around her wooden stake, holding it aloft for all to see.

“Anyone else?” she retorted, defiantly daring the scowling undead crowd before her

Buffy quickly checked out each of her enemies’ faces, searching for the one Willy had told them about earlier. There he was, a tall skeleton-thin vampire that appeared to be no more than a few years older than she was herself. But with vampires looks were deceiving. According to her bartender source this fellow was at least a hundred if he was a day. And in her slayer experiences Buffy had discovered that older vampire usually meant smarter vampire. The dumb ones didn’t last that long, especially here in Sunnydale. Not with her around.

Xander recognized the creature at almost the same instant. Now it was just a matter of weeding out the other unwanted vamps and questioning Mr. Undead Jack Skeleton. Buffy already had that part of the plan started. Rushing forward she met a burly male in greasy mechanic’s overalls head-on in a tackle. She knocked her surprised target backward into another vampire, the three of them stumbling across the room from the force of her push directly into a patch of sunlight. The two vampires immediately began to howl, fighting and scrambling to get away from the window as they fled from the sun’s burning rays.

Reaching out from behind her the skinny vampire they wanted to question made a grab for the blonde girl. Hitting her with one arm he swung his other around in a wide arc to smack Buffy in the face. She deftly blocked the blow and the next that came at her, skillfully deflecting both with her slim forearms. She kicked out a leg, her foot catching the thin vampire in his lower gut and doubling him over in pain. The position presented her with the perfect opportunity for a staking. But that wasn’t why she was there. She had come to get some answers from this thing, not kill it. At least, not yet.

Spinning clockwise in a swift roundhouse kick Buffy’s foot caught the vampire in his side, sending him to the floor in a tumble of disjointed angular limbs. She hadn’t really hurt him that much, just inflicted enough damaged to take the creature out of the fight for a while, allowing her to concentrate on the others instead.

A vampire standing by the door watched as his companions all fell to the ground within the space or a few seconds. Baring his fangs he confronted the petite girl. This young human was obviously something more than she appeared. Realizing that all the stories he’d heard of a Slayer were true, that she did exist, he glared at the slim, young blonde before him. The vampire found it hard to believe that this pretty teen was capable of the things the Chosen One was rumored to have accomplished. Well, he’d soon put those fairy tales to rest. This time the slayer had picked the wrong vampire to fight. She was about to become his meal.

Buffy saw traces of burn marks on the arm of the vampire that was now advancing on her. He had been one of the first creatures she had so rudely awakened. As she quickly tried to size up his potential strength the vampire suddenly came at her with a flying kick. Leaping into the air she slashed out at him with her own leg, her feet hit lifeless flesh with a dull thud. He had managed to catch the side of her left knee with a heel, delivering a stab of pain to her joint that she suspected would eventually become a bruise.

Vampire and Slayer each fell back gracefully onto their feet, readying for the next attack. The blonde could tell that by his fluid moments that her attacker was well skilled in the martial arts. She would have to be careful. He was going to be a tough fight, but not an impossible opponent to defeat.

Preoccupied with watching his friend Xander was caught off guard when a cold hand suddenly snatched at his leg, yanking him down to his knees. The female vampire had roused from her unconscious state and grabbed hold of him, dragging him to the floor and throwing him roughly onto his back. Scrambling quickly over his prone form she grinned evilly, her long fangs exposed as she made a lunging attack for his exposed throat.

Instinct took over and Xander shot his arms forward, thrusting the creature away to avoid her bite. He had forgotten about the stake clutched in his fist and it was only by chance that its sharpened end faced outward when he hit the creature, the point stabbing her chest. Again luck played its hand and his blow managed to find the undead demon’s heart. The vampire gasped, bursting into a cloud of decayed dust that settled over the teenager’s lank frame. Heaving a relieved sigh Xander coughed, brushing off his clothing, his heart still thumping wildly as he struggled to sit upright.

Before the boy could get his feet under himself again he was forced to suddenly duck as a body flew through the air above his head and hit the wall beside him. Buffy’s martial arts adversary hadn’t proved as expert as he’d hoped. But even as the girl tossed that vampire aside like so much unwanted trash, another came at her, trying to sneak up from behind. He was almost on her back when she spun around, striking him in the face with her clenched fist then punching him again for good measure. As he stood reeling drunkenly, dumb-founded by the twin blows she lunged forward with her other hand, the one holding the stake, neatly impaling him with Mr. Pointy. He was soon nothing more than a scattering of dust at her feet.

The vampire in mechanic overalls began to back away, leery of rushing into danger. It was obvious Buffy knew what she was doing. He had seen her easily take-out several of his hunting companions, even thrashing the capable Karate Kid and leaving him crumpled in a heap in the corner. Hoping to escape the same fate the garage mechanic made a break for it, running past the blonde girl toward the door beyond.

His hand had just closed on the knob when Buffy turned and charged at the vampire. Grabbing at his coveralls she swung him around in a circle, releasing him when the arc of his flight was pointed at the second unbroken window. Soaring across the room the undead mechanic hit the closed drapes, ripping them down around him as he crashed through the glass pane behind. An anguished scream tore from his throat as he tumbled from the second story window, the cry falling silent as the afternoon sunlight finished the job that the drop had begun.

That left two vampires. The martial arts guy was up on his feet again and ready for more punishment. Ignoring Xander he ran past the boy to charge at Buffy. With a loud yell and a blinding flurry of fists he attacked her, raining down blow after blow at the blonde. Buffy agilely ducked and blocked each lightening punch, and the deadly kicks that followed. She then retaliated with her own offensive tactics, including several well-aimed jabs to the vamps head and stomach. The battling pair struck out at each other again and again, hands flashing and legs sweeping in a violent and graceful ballet.

An unanticipated blow managed to get past Buffy’s defenses, the fist to her lower ribcage knocking the wind from Buffy with a whoosh. Stumbling back a pace she attempted to catch her breath, her lungs burning with the need to replenish their supply of oxygen. Thinking the girl was weakening the karate vampire prepared for his triumphant victory with gloating viciousness, closing in for the kill. But the slayer wasn’t out of the game yet. Snapping back with several quick wallops to the creature’s face and throat she sent him reeling backward with an enraged growl and a renewed determination to exterminate the blonde girl.

From the corner of her eye Buffy noticed Xander standing at readiness a few feet behind the creature. The teen’s fists were raised over his head, his stake poised to strike. Carefully she maneuvered her opponent into position. Fending off a series of strikes she returned the attack with forceful vigor, pushing the creature back step by step until Xander saw his opportunity. With a downward thrust the boy struck the final blow, his stake penetrating deep and true between the beast’s shoulder blades.

As the vampire dust settled on her shoes Buffy turned to face their final antagonist. Like a trapped and frightened animal the bony creature gnashed its pointed teeth, snapping and growling at her. Slowly the teens advanced, wooden stakes prominently displayed in upraised hands. It was obvious to the creature that they were capable of carrying out their intended threat. The skeleton-like vampire retreated into a far corner and Buffy stepped forward to further drive home the point that they meant business.

“Got a couple of questions I’d like to ask,” she said to the cowering undead beast. “And if you answer like a good little vampire, maybe I’ll be nice and give you a head start for that door when I’m done.”

“Questions?” The monster raised an eyebrow, regarding the blonde with suspicion, but he was showing signs of cooperation. “What kind of questions?”

“Nothing too tough,” the slayer responded flippantly. She waved the pointed stick in her hand, brandishing it with casual menace. “Just a little information we’d like you to share.”

Weighing his options, the vampire quickly decided it was in his best interests to cooperate. “What do you want to know?”

“We’re looking for someone,” Buffy said. “He was in town a couple days back. I hear you got to know him pretty well. Guy sells pretty things. Jewelry and stuff.”

“Him?” By his expression Buffy knew the creature recognized the sorcerer’s description. “Yeah, I know him. Well, not really know him…” Buffy hauled back her arm to deliver the stake’s point and the creature gasped, his frightened eyes going wide in their deep sockets he rushed on with his explanation. “What I mean is, I don’t know him well. You see, I only met him once. It was in a bar. We had a few drinks, some laughs. Talked about things. That’s all.”

“What kind of things?” Buffy queried.

“You know, things,” the vamp responded with a cryptic shrug. “The kind of stuff guys talk about in bars. Sports. Business. Where the chicks hang.”

Xander gaped at the undead creature before him. “You were giving him pointers on where to pick up girls?” he asked in incredulous outrage. “I don’t believe it! Even the undead can get dates. Where did I go wrong?”

“Probably the clothes,” replied the vampire, noting the teen’s non-descript outfit of slacks and wildly patterned shirt. Xander grimaced, insulted by the cutting comment. Now vampires were giving him fashion critiques. How bizarre could the world be? Still, he thought to himself, if this guy was scoring, maybe he knew a thing or two that might help.

“So, you think some new threads might be the ticket?” Xander asked with great seriousness.

“Wouldn’t hurt,” the creature shrugged loosely, his angular frame fairly creaking as he moved.

“But the hair’s okay, right?” the teen pressed, hopefully grasping for some hint of approval. “It’s says I’m cool and a happening kind of guy. Right?”

“The hair’s good,” the thin vampire assured the teen. Xander beamed happily, his confidence restored. But before he could continue his questioning, Buffy interrupted.

“You ladies can exchange beauty tips later,” she grumbled irritably. “Let’s get back to this buddy of yours in the bar. What else did you discuss, besides chicks?” she asked, derisively emphasizing the last word.

“He was looking to sell some of his stuff,” explained the vampire. “His special inventory he called it. Magic rings, amulets, cursed jewelry. I put him in touch with a friend who was in the market for that kind of thing.”

“Do you remember his name?” Buffy queried, continuing her interrogation. The vampire thought a moment.

“My friend?” the creature frowned, seeming puzzled by the odd question. “Of course. I’ve know him for a hundred years.”

“No! The guy you talked to in the bar!” the slayer sighed, rolling her eyes in exasperation. She was beginning to run short on both patience and time. She knew Giles was probably waiting for them to come back and she wanted to be able to bring him some good news.

“It was a weird name,” the vampire muttered thoughtfully. Raising a gnarled hand he stroked his long chin. “Give me a minute. It’ll come to me. Hmmm, ah yes! I remember. Waldo. That’s it.”

Buffy and Xander exchanged a pained look. “Do you want to say it, or do I have to?” the blonde asked her friend.

“I’ll do it,” Xander sighed, his normally jovial features screwing themselves into a constrained mask. “Okay, pal. So…” The boy took a deep breath, preparing himself for the unavoidable. “Where’s Waldo?”

“How should I know?” the skinny beast groused back peevishly. Buffy intimidated the creature with another show of her stake, shaking loose another string of excuses. “Look, I don’t know. It’s not like we were close. I’d only met him the once. I hear he left town really sudden like. There was some kind of trouble.” His face suddenly drawing into a devilish grin the creature winked at his captors. “But maybe you know more about that than I do.”

“Anything else you can tell us?” Buffy asked the vampire. “The more I find out, the bigger head start you get.”

“I heard he was looking into a few stores in the area, trying to drum up some new sales contacts.” Thinking hard the thin ghoul seemed to be searching its memory for any little detail it could come up with for them. It apparently wasn’t having much luck. “Did I say he sold rings and stuff like that?”

“You don’t get any points for that one,” the girl grumbled, her temper rising.

The vampire sensed the interrogation was quickly coming to an end. He began to sweat, nervously edging his way along the wall toward the door, hoping that the slayer wouldn’t notice. Suddenly he made his break, bolting for the exit. His long bony legs carried him swiftly across the room in only a few steps, but the door was shut and he had to stop a moment to open it. That was when Buffy sprang. Jumping at the creature’s back she impaled it with Mr. Pointy. The vampire disintegrated, his remains gently whirling away in a stray breeze that found its way in from the broken window.

“That wasn’t very helpful, was it?” Xander asked his friend. He was feeling a bit disappointed by the abrupt conclusion to their questioning. There were still a few things he wanted to ask the vampire guy about.

“Let’s hope Willow and Oz had better luck,” Buffy said hopefully as she stomped vampire dust from her shoes. “He did say the guy was looking for a place to sell his real stuff and there’s a couple stores at the mall that might be likely candidates for that kind of deal. Maybe they can track him down from a lead on that end.” The girl sighed, reaching for the door and opening it. As she stepped out of the room she glanced back over her shoulder toward Xander. “Come on, Xand. Let’s go break the bad news to Giles.”

A flash of movement caught Buffy’s attention. Out of the corner of one eye she saw something coming across the hall in her direction. She jerked he head back around to see two vampires running straight for her, intent on an attack. She yelled a warning at Xander, pushing him back into the room behind her. Just before she slammed the door shut on her astonished friend, closing him safely inside, she snatched the wooden stake out of his hand, adding his weapon to her own personal arsenal.

Executing a perfect cheerleader-style handspring the teen twisted her body into a somersaulting flip that brought her forward to meet the two attacking vampires. She landed upright on her feet with an agile bounce, both arms extended outward, stakes in hand. With a simultaneous thrust of the twin points she pierced the creatures’ chests. Both weapons struck their targets and the undead pair became two more statistics to add to her daily tally of vampires dusted.

Buffy took a careful survey of the hall and the other rooms looking for any more vampires in hiding, but it seemed that the two kamikaze attackers had been the last of the creatures inhabiting the old house. Eight ghouls in one hour, she thought proudly to herself. Not a bad night’s score and she hadn’t even gone out on patrol yet. Opening the last door she found Xander frozen in the spot where she had left him, his arched eyebrows raised above a stunned expression.

“All clear,” she told her classmate, smiling chipperly. Xander stumbled forward into the hallway, looking down at the two untidy piles of vampire debris on the floor.

“I could have handled that,” the dark-haired teen complained, his macho self-image slightly tarnished as his initial shock dissolved away.

“I know,” Buffy responded flatly. She didn’t bother contradicting her classmate, allowing him some semblance of pride. She’d discovered in the past just how frail the male ego could be, and if Xander were desperate enough to be seeking help about girls from vampires, it obviously wouldn’t take much to damage his psyche.

Descending the stairs the teenagers exited the empty house together. Though they had successfully eradicated an entire vampire nest their departure was not nearly as eager as their arrival earlier. The first warm pinks of sunset were still an hour or so away as they trudged along slowly, heading across town, each glumly aware that they had been unable to come up with any information that would help their librarian friend. For the dejected pair of young friends it was long walk back to the condo.

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