CtVS: Welcome to Bizarro World

Cordelia The Vampire Sayer
Script Welcome to Bizarro World
Air date November 6th, 1999
Written by JD Burton
Directed by JD Burton

Unaired Pilot


Ungrateful Dead

by J Douglas Burton

Anyanka watched the sun start its slow rise above the buildings of Sunnydale, California. An orange wash settled over the town as Helios took his first peek of the day. It was a beautiful sight, one that far too few appreciated. But despite the wonder of this tranquil scene, Anyanka knew that Sunnydale was notable for so many more things. Of course, it was a Hellmouth. 'Boca del Infierno' the Spanish settlers had called it, in their romantic tongue. Beneath the human veneer of Sunnydale lay a monstrous world, a portal to the demon realm, just waiting to be opened. Other things slept beneath the streets also - perhaps more sinister things... But there was more. Few people indeed knew why. In fact, Anyanka could think of only one person in the know: herself. This was her town, her creation. She had made it what it was. Oh, don't be so literal! Anyanka was a demon, not a creator. She didn't physically invent the town, nor did she have any hand in forming it personally. But one person had forever changed life in the sleepy Hellmouth, and she was Anyanka's protégé - even if she knew it not. That girl was the Slayer. Cordelia Chase. The demoness began her slow walk down into the town itself, off the small hill she stood on now. With her extra-normal physicality she would be among the streets in no time, far faster than any human. She had to be careful though, lest she give away her monstrous identity. It wouldn't be long, she realized, till these roads were filled with life. Cars taking their drivers on their way to work, customers marching to the local convenience store to gather sustenance, students making their way to school, to fill their heads with useless knowledge. And one of those would be Cordelia. Anyanka stopped by every now and then to check up on the Slayer. There were other duties that came first, naturally, but whenever she could, she dropped by. This world she had made was a good one. As she often did, Anyanka began to reminisce about her handiwork. Once, just over seventeen years ago, a woman was left alone and pregnant. Though her husband would return in just three months, Mrs Chase had no way of knowing that at the time. In her grief, she made a wish: that in spite of her failures as a single mother, her daughter would grow up to be someone, someone special. And Anyanka had granted that wish. Demons weren't supposed to interfere with Slayer matters, but Anya was skilful, and had manipulated it masterfully. The real Chosen One was being born mere miles away, in Los Angeles, so it hadn't taken much effort to transfer the destiny to Sunnydale. The signs would still point the way here; the Watchers would never know they had been swindled. And the Hellmouth's mystical energy would mask any hints of tomfoolery. Yes, it was a perfect plan. One that had worked magnificently. Anyanka smiled to herself. Yes, this was self-indulgence. But wasn't she allowed that once in a while? Hadn't she earned it? Just then, a frown crept over her face. What was that? Something she had felt beneath the Earth. But what? No matter, she shrugged. It's almost time for school to begin...

And somewhere in the depths a dark form squirmed, beginning its slow rise toward consciousness. A crimson eye eased half-open. Mbus was awakening.

[ Insert "Cordelia: the Vampire Slayer" opening titles.]

Eyes diverted to the end of the hall, where a door was opening. Onto the shiny floor of Sunnydale High School's hallway a black boot was firmly planted. The boot was brand new, and expensive, and reached half-way up the wearer's shapely calf. The other boot went down then, and the whole body was now in view. Up from the boots, above the long legs, was a glossy skirt, also black. The skirt was short, and tightly hugged the hips and upper thighs. As she walked, the skirt swayed back and forth, reflecting the bright overhead light of the hall. The top was a red number, buttoned up the front and had sleeves that failed to reach half-way to the elbow. Thin black lines patterned the cloth, up to the open chest area, which revealed soft flesh in its opening - but not too much. The clothes were designed to tease, not expose. A hand, the left, reached up to brush back the long brown hair from her face. A broad smile split that lovely face with its bright red lips and flawless brown eyes. A twinkle shone in these latter, a hint of mischief which made her that much more appealing. At this point, as she strutted down the corridor of her high school, Cordelia knew she could have any man she met on her way. But she wanted none of them. She was on her way to see only one. "Wesley?" she called into the library as she swung open the broad doors. "You here?" It was not a sure thing. He didn't always make it into the library first thing in the morning. The other Watcher, though, Rupert Giles, was a librarian here and was certain to be present. Cordelia hoped she wouldn't have to run into him, however, as his stuck-up British attitude offended her sensibilities. Her Watcher, on the other hand, was entirely different. Well, that wasn't completely true. He was English, snobby, aloof, and far too full of himself, but around her he was gentle, self-conscious, and adorably awkward. She enjoyed seeing him squirm, sweating in his suit, trying not to eye up his charge - a seventeen year old girl after all. Ordinarily she would have had him before he could blink, but held back in this one case. He was her Watcher, and she kind of needed him in full capacity. Besides, it was almost more fun watching him want her than actually having him. She glanced around, peering through the dim light. It was still here, and silent. Where was everyone? "Cordelia?" Ah, there he was! Mr Wyndham-Pryce himself, her Watcher. He emerged from a back room, his dark suit impeccably neat. Around his neck a striped tie choked his neck like a boa constrictor, though as always he seemed not to notice. A pair of light spectacles sat on his nose, though they didn't detract from his appearance at all. His hair was slicked down and probably wouldn't move even in gale force winds, the amount of gel he stuck in there. Yes, he was a geek. But a cute geek. "In the flesh," she responded, pursing her lips in a tight smile. It never hurt to draw attention to one's flesh. Predictably, beads of perspiration gathered on Wesley's forehead as he cleared his throat, trying to concentrate. "Sorry I didn't hear you come in," he apologized. "I was in the back." "Doing what?" she inquired. "Filling out my diary," he informed her simply. "Was there something?" "That was gonna be my question," she grinned. A frown wrinkled the Watcher's moist brow. "What do you mean?" "Vampires?" she reminded him. "Demons? Hellmouth? Any activity I, as the Slayer, should know about?" Understanding flashed in his distracted eyes and he nodded slowly. "Is that a yes?" Cordy asked. "What? Oh, no." "Nothing?" "Fraid not," he informed her. "Activity seems to be abnormally slow these days." "Such a shame," the Slayer replied sarcastically. "What I wouldn't give for a demonic homicide right about now." "You shouldn't scoff," her Watcher chastised. "Periods of calm are always dangerous signs. It means the vampires have been driven to covert methods of attack and will be harder to track down. We must be extra vigilant in order to discover the cause of this change in behavior pattern." "Aren't you ignoring the possibility that they might have gotten bored with this one-Hellmouth town and moseyed on over to another watering hole?" Cordelia pointed out. Wesley was not amused. "You must try and concentrate, Cordelia," he said, though he may as well have been telling himself by the way his eyes fought to remain where they should be. "We have much to discuss." "After class," she reminded him, flipping her hair over one shoulder. "I gotta book." He nodded his understanding, then turned back to the rear area, to his research, wiping the moisture from his face as he did so. Grinning, Cordelia slinked on out of the library, just before the bell rang to signify time to get to class.

"It is almost time," the deep voice of Andrew Borba rolled around the vast corners of the factory. "The second coming is at hand." The Anointed looked up at his burly protector with mild annoyance. Borba's mind was not as it should have been - perhaps making him one of them had been a poor choice. The Master had not had control over his subjects. That was probably one of the reasons he got killed. But Collin ran the vampire underworld now. He ruled his subjects with an iron fist and a glaring eye. Few had seen his wrath first hand, but all knew what he was capable of and rarely stepped out of line. Those that did... never stepped anywhere again. He would never have allowed the turning of a psychopath like Andrew Borba. Still, at least the guy was loyal. Borba was big and strong, and had a fanatic drive to protect his god - Collin. As far as he was concerned, the Anointed One was responsible for his accession to immortality and he would protect him whenever he could. But God his rantings could get on your nerves. Collin cast a steely eye over the assembly before him. Most of the vampires in Sunnydale were gathered here today, preparing for the events of tonight. In a sense, Borba was right - the second coming was imminent. Mbus was waking. Only two vampires in the throng seemed free of the excited tension that grabbed hold of most of the vampires. The new arrivals, Spike and Drusilla. Collin didn't like them, and hadn't from the start. They were trouble, wouldn't play by the rules. Next time they crossed the line, Collin decided then, he would break their legs in two and leave them for the sunlight. He had a vicious streak in him. Spike lounged on the floor, picking his teeth with the pinkie bone of his last victim. Drusilla lay draped over his lap, eyes drooping languidly. The Anointed felt sorry for her. After the clash in Prague her body was quite as weak as her mind. But pity was not a thing vampires were meant to feel, and he shut the thoughts from his head. "Soon," he muttered, and all in the factory turned their heads to hear his echoing voice. "Soon the Hellmouth will be ours."

Cordy looked down at her tray. What on earth was that? A pile of green slop lay on her plate, dished out mere moments earlier by a bearded dinner-lady with the biggest mole Cordelia had ever seen jutting out further than her nose. She raised an eyebrow as she glanced up questioningly at the 'woman', who met her gaze with a hard and fast glare that contained more than a hint of satisfaction at torturing the students with something that Cordy feared had already been through at least three people before arriving on her plate. She sighed and moved on down the line. She wished she had remembered her medically prescribed lunch today. Oh, no. She rolled her eyes at the sight of what just walked in. His awkward gait as he slumped into the dinner hall and grabbed up a tray showed a complete lack of grace. In fact, if he were any more gawky he'd be relegated to a special school. The thought made her smile as the mental image danced its way into her brain: Xander Harris amidst a group of ten-year olds, excitedly raising his hand to answer the question of 'what is 2 + 2?' He was heading this way. Quick, got to avoid him, Cordy thought, but it was too late. He was already behind her in the line. But that's when she saw her. The new girl in school, Faith. She stood directly behind Xander, uncomfortably close. Her brown curly hair spilled down across her shoulders and started down her back. The girl was tough and pretty, and dressed reasonably well. Ordinarily Cordelia would have accepted Faith into her small group of elite Sunnydalians, except for one thing: she was dating Xander. It was unforgivable really. If there was one thing you could do in this school that would bring down your social standing to absolute zero, it was to actually go out with a low-life like Alexander Harris. But for some inexplicable reason, Faith had done just this. The even weirder thing was: she didn't seem to care. She actually liked the guy! Welcome to Bizarro world, Cordy thought. "Hey!" Faith nodded at her, smiling widely. Her dark-painted lips set off the brightness of her teeth, creating a glorious smile. Cordy flashed back one of her own, doing her best to aim it past the grungy male between them, but unfortunately he noticed and nodded his greeting to her. "Hey Cordelia," he grinned, his soft bangs falling in front of his sharp eyes. Cordy tossed her head haughtily and prepared to move on, when Faith called: "Hey, C! Wanna sit with us?" Pausing in her tracks, Cor turned her head back over her shoulder to look at the other girl. Sit? With them? But there was a whole table of popular kids just waiting for her to grace them with her presence. Would she leave them to sit with the dregs of school society? Her mind was made up when she saw the irritation on Xander's face. "Sure," she grinned, getting a great sense of satisfaction from Xander's resulting scowl. "Cool," Faith smiled, retrieving her lunch from the dinner lady. The three teenagers headed over to an empty table (one which was sufficiently removed from the "in-clique" that Cor thought they might just not notice her anti-social tendencies). As they sat down, Cordelia examined the other girl. She felt a kinship with Faith, which was only natural. Faith was a Slayer hopeful - one of the many girls around the world who had failed to be called. It gave Cordelia a sense of superiority to think that she was Chosen above Faith, though she would never lord it over the other girl. Their relationship, however, was somewhat awkward. Faith clearly looked up to Cordy in an obscure kind of way, and it made the Slayer feel a tad uncomfortable. Especially since Faith insisted on hanging around with Xander the low-life. Sure it felt good to have someone treat you as a role model, tagging along to watch your every move in an attempt to emulate your fantastic personality. But did she have to drag reject-boy along with them? "So," Cordy made her best attempt to break the awkward silence, "how have you been?" "Five by five," came Faith's cryptic response. "How 'bout you?" "Good," Cordy replied, tapping her knife idly on the side of her tray. "Got anything planned for tonight?" "Me an' Xander are probably gonna head down to the Bronze," she explained, bouncing her head up and down as she spoke. "Wanna come with?" Xander looked up in alarm at this, but he needn't have worried. "Can't," Cordelia replied simply. "Patrol?" "Yup." "Cool." There was another period of silence. "Hey, I've been meanin' to ask," she added, pointing to her slop. "What is this stuff?" "I'm afraid to find out," Cordy answered, prompting a smile as reaction. "So," Xander piped up. "Any outrageous vampire activity lately?" Both Cordy and Faith glared at him for speaking openly about such matters. He shrank back as Cor replied: "If you didn't reach everyone you wanted to, I'm sure Principal Flutie'll let you use the PA." "I'm sorry," Xander stammered. "I didn't mean... I just..." "Look," the Slayer glanced sidelong at Faith, "it's trying to think." "Look, contrary to popular opinion," Xander addressed both girls, his voice strengthening, "this stuff affects people that aren't members of your exclusive club. I may not be up on all your secret handshakes, but I'm just trying to stay abreast of current events. Doing my best to reach my eighteenth birthday." "Don't worry," Cordy patted him reassuringly on the back. "I'll make sure there are no monsters under your bed tonight."

Under Xander's bed, way under, the blackness stirred once more. The motion was more pronounced than before, and closer to the surface. It wouldn't be long. Perhaps tonight...

She descended the lonely steps, one at a time. It was dark tonight, no moon. The sky looked empty without it, more threatening. Somehow that tiny ball of pale light in the sky was enough to make the darkness seem insignificant; when it was gone, the vastness of the black expanse seemed ready to smother the Earth under its choking grip. It was a strange wonder: one small entity making all that difference... The Slayer continued her descent, eventually reaching the bottom. She looked up and around her. She'd been here before, of course, but Cordelia's eyes were always on the world around her. Failure to be vigilant was the worst mistake a Slayer could make, and she was not the kind to make simple errors. A tall, sparse tree swayed in the breeze above her, dropping an occasional leaf to float gently to the cold ground below. What was it in nature that chose which leaves would stay and which would fall, cut down in their prime, relieving them of the opportunity to live a full and wholesome life? Was there in fact some deity, some divine being somewhere, making informed choices, or indeed casting lots? Or was the process entirely random, the result of nothing more than pure chance? The difference between life and death nothing more than a casual fluctuation, a minor perturbation. Cordelia shivered as she realized that neither option seemed comforting. Turning her attention back to the subject at hand, she knocked firmly on the solid door before her. She waited a few moments before it hesitantly swung open to reveal the darkly handsome young man behind it, peeking cautiously outside. "Cordelia," he sighed, relieved, and opened the door fully. "Come in." "Thanks," she said, easing inside. Angel's apartment was cosy, decorated here and there with interesting artifacts from all around the globe. In his centuries of traveling, he'd found a bargain or two, and had kept the treasures he collected. There was no clutter, however - everything had its place. And speaking of putting things in their place: "In the bedroom," Cordy ordered the vampire. "I don't have a lot of time."

Gracefully, Cordelia eased out of bed and stood up in the darkened room. The chill air from the open window raised goosebumps on her naked flesh, and she walked over to the chair which held her clothes. Moving swiftly, she eased into the tight leather pants and black halter top, adjusting the binding garments for maximum comfort. Yes, the clothes allowed easy movement, and they looked terrific, but honestly Cordelia would have been happier with something a little looser. Oh well, such is the life of a Slayer. "Thanks," she shot a bright smile at the vampire who still lay in bed, the covers pulled up to just below his smooth chest. "That was great." "Where you going?" Angel asked, his face an impenetrable mask as he gripped the sheets tightly. "Gotta patrol," she reminded him. "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow?" "I'll call you," she grinned, and headed out the door. As she closed it firmly behind her, Cordelia shivered. The night had turned especially cold since she headed inside with Angel. She glanced at her watch. Just left midnight. There was still an hour or so left of patrol time before she had to head home. Maybe I'll swing by Weatherly Park, she thought to herself, see if there's any activity there. So she walked, and it didn't take long for her to realize that Wesley had been right when he said vampire activity was down. Cordy walked for over an hour and saw no sign of any vamps anywhere. Oh, she didn't always catch one in the act every night, but they always left marks. Vampires didn't exist in a vacuum after all, and she had been trained to spot the signs of vamp mayhem. But tonight there was none. As she strolled past Weatherly Park for the third time, she glanced in again. Nothing. Where could they all be? Say one thing for Slaying, it was usually not boring. Tonight, on the other hand, was another story. It was cold, and breezy, and looked like it might actually rain. To top things off, there were no vampires, no hell-hounds, no virgin-munching giant bugs, no villains to pound at all. Y'know, sometimes those bad guys just didn't play fair... Normally Cordy would use these times for quiet introspection, but it was just too damn cold for that. Her brain was freezing. She hugged herself tightly and continued her patrol. Ten more minutes, she decided, and then I'm going home. Slaying was a tricky business; it wasn't for the average joe. But even though her status as the Chosen One put her in an elite group of one, Cordelia found herself sometimes wishing some other poor schlub had picked the winning number. Such moments were fleeting, however, as she realized it was her destiny, and there was no escaping it. Also, it was a hell of a lot of fun. "Hello there," Cordy muttered to herself as she passed by an old church building on 8th Avenue. It had stood empty for a while, windows boarded up, walls shedding bricks now and then, but tonight it sounded like someone had moved in. And they were having a party of sorts. No, not a party. As she moved closer, the Slayer could distinguish between the sounds she heard much better. There was excited chatter, and a great deal of yelling. One voice (with a strong English accent) rung out loudly above the rest. A scuffle followed, only a brief one, before the anxious yammering began anew. Something wasn't right here. Since when did people hold social gatherings in abandoned churches in the middle of the night? She figured it was worth a look to see what was going on. Pulling her hair tightly back, Cordelia bound it into a pony tail to keep the strands from blowing across her face in the increasing wind which whistled about her. She walked slowly and quietly up to the crumbling building, standing still for a second to ensure her approach had not been detected. She needn't have worried: the babble within easily masked any small noises she might make. Looking up, Cordy saw a small window just a few feet above her head, which would offer a good view of the interior. A little high... she'd need something to stand on. That's when she spotted the garbage can just to her left. She'd have to be careful, the can would make a reasonable amount of noise as she dragged it over to the window. Slowly she tugged it, decreasing the screeching sound caused by the metal scraping against the ground to a slight whisper. She stopped when the can was directly under the window and listened out. No change in the noise level within. That was a good sign. Cordy swung her head left and right to get a good look around. No one was here, mortal or otherwise, to watch her actions. Convinced she was safe, the Slayer clambered atop the metal garbage can, and stood on her tip-toes to look into the church hall. The glass of the window was segmented, and slightly yellowed. A curvature distorted the images within, but basically Cordelia could see what was going on beyond. She didn't, however, understand it. It looked like virtually every vampire in town was gathered here. They were milling around, aimlessly for the most part, filing in and out of the main hall. What could they all be doing here? Was it a vampire town meeting? She's never heard of such a thing, but who knew what went on in the undead community? This could be some kind of vamp orgy for all she knew (and she quickly shut that horrible picture out of her mind). But then, in the center of the room, Cordelia spotted something. It was hard to tell what exactly; the glass was none too clear and the large crowd obscured her line of sight. But it was definitely something unusual. Right, like that's a change, she corrected herself. The only thing unusual in this town would be something normal happening. Wait a minute, did that make actual sense? Not the issue right now, she realized. A circle. That's what she saw. A circle of vampires, holding hands around something on the floor. Damn, someone's in the way again, she cursed silently. Oop, there he goes. Yes, something on the floor: a symbol! Too hard to make out through this glass. That's when she noticed it. That symbol was all around the hall, in various places, many prominent. She hadn't paid attention before as churches always had religious decoration, but now she could see it all. One large instance of the emblem, on a wall near her vantage point, was clearly painted in blood. Icky! she thought. Do these vampires ever do anything that doesn't involve blood? The shape was simple, involving just three or four straight lines, but even in its austerity it had an ominous air about it. Even the distorted view Cordy had of the painted glyph sent a shiver down her spine. It had power in and of itself. She could feel it coming before it happened, but was powerless to stop it. She knew she shouldn't have worn those high heels, but they had looked so good... Her left foot slid off the corrugated lid of her make-shift pedestal and Cordelia completely lost her balance. Her behind hit the can hard, and her body fell to the ground along with the trash can with a loud clatter. To make matters worse, the waste itself spilled on Cordy's clean clothes, rubbing their foul smell off onto her. Great, she thought. What could be worse? Stupid question... The front door of the church swung open, and three vampires peeked their ugly heads out to see what all the noise was. The lead one, a shaven-headed guy in a gray windbreaker growled as he spotted her, and bent down towards her, baring his fangs. Drops of spittle landed on Cordy's neck, causing her lip to curl in disgust. "Ewww!" she yelled. "Get off me!" She shoved at him. His buddies must have been surprised when he did what she said, until he turned towards them, a shocked expression on his face, and they saw the wooden stake emerging from the middle of his chest. Within seconds, he was little more than a pile of dust. "Damn!" she muttered as she stood up, wiping the filth off of her. She should have kept hold of the stake; it had disintegrated with the vampire and she was left without a weapon. "Well?" she looked wide-eyed at the other vampires, hoping that the bold approach might work. "Didn't you see what just happened to your friend?" Cordelia waited, breathless, to see what their response would be. She shouldn't have. "It's the Slayer!" a tall, bearded vampire yelled into the church. And a mass of pale-skinned, walking corpses rushed out of the old building, looking for all the world like rats clambering over each in their attempt to emerge in the lead. It took Cordelia a moment to make her choice. Should she stand and fight, even without a weapon? She was the Slayer, after all. Couldn't she stand up to all of these guys herself? Like hell, she decided, and made a run for it. She had left the high-heels behind at the church, and made her mad dash in bare feet. The ground was exceedingly cold beneath her feet, but Cordy made sure they didn't touch long enough to hurt too bad. Occasionally, small pebbles bit into the flesh of her soles, but she didn't have time to feel the pain right now. Later she could nurse her sore feet; right now she just needed to get away. Twist after twist; turn after turn; Cordelia ran and ran until she was absolutely certain no vamps had stayed on her tail. When she eventually stopped to lean against an alley wall, her lungs struggled to take in enough air. She had never run so fast for so long before in her life. She needed to work out more often; since quitting cheerleading (on Wesley's orders) her exercise habits had been slipping. Tonight proved it was about time to tighten up those habits. Cordy didn't want a chase to ever come this close again. Her heavy breathing slowed now, as she regained her wind. She still didn't know what had been going on back at that church. Why would so many of the undead gather together like that? What was the weird ritual about? Vampires had never seemed too religious to Cordelia. But most of all, there was the question of that disturbing symbol painted in blood. The Slayer shuddered again at the memory of that demonic pattern. What was it?

"The symbol of Mbus," said Rupert Giles, laying a book down on the table, open at a page near the back. It was late the next day, after all of Cordelia's classes. Giles had been researching all day, and had finally come up with something. Cordy leaned forward from her seated position at the table as Giles took out his handkerchief to wipe his glasses clean. She peered at the page in front of her, stained yellow with age. There, on the open page, was the shape she had seen last night: a few broad, simple strokes, which managed to somehow chill the depths of her heart. "That's it," she nodded, leaning back in the unpadded chair. "That's what I saw last night." "Are you sure?" Wesley inquired, his eyes intent. "I'm sure," she glared at him. "I wouldn't forget that." A frown crossed her Watcher's face, and Cordy saw him steal a quick, sidelong glance at Giles. She realized then that he was annoyed that Giles had uncovered the answer instead of him. Although she hadn't understood before, she saw now that there must be a great rivalry between the two Watchers. Wesley had, after all, been given the Slayer, while Rupert had merely a second choice. Interesting, she mused. Perhaps she could use this to her advantage sometime... "Creepy," said Xander Harris, peering at the image in the book. What was he doing here anyway? "Do we have to let the civilians in here?" Cordelia moaned. Xander glowered across at the Slayer. "Now, now," Giles calmed her, while Wesley continued to sulk off to the side as his companion took center stage. "This issue affects everyone here." "How?" she asked pointedly. "I'm the Slayer here, remember?" The librarian's forehead creased as he began to pace about the room. "How could I forget? But I'm afraid the situation is more serious than your average vampire gathering." "And what is an 'average vampire gathering'?" Xander couldn't help but enquire. "Is this, like, a regular occurrence?" What annoyed Cordelia this time was that this was actually a good question, something she had thought of herself. "Not as such," Giles acceded. "And certainly not in churches," Cordelia pointed out, tightening her lips in a non-smile. "Yeah," Faith entered the conversation for the first time. "They're not usually known as vamp central." "While it's true that vampires don't frequent religious sites," Wesley droned in his British way, "such acts are certainly not forbidden to them. On more than one occasion - " "But why?" Cordy butted in. "What's with the sudden pious leanings?" "This," Giles said then, tapping the book on the table. "Mbus." "So what is this Mbus?" "It's not a what," the Watcher corrected her, "it's a who." "Of course," Wesley exclaimed, clenching his right fist. "I should have remembered it. The Watcher Council discussed him in the meeting in '94." Seeing Rupert's downward gaze, he added, "But, of course, you wouldn't know." His eyes still on the floor, Giles coughed and replied, "No. I've never... But the point is, this is his symbol." "So?" Cordelia wondered, her eyes large and intent. "I fear the vampires are trying to raise him again." "Impossible," Wesley scoffed. "No one on Earth has the power to raise Mbus from the depths. He imprisoned himself there until..." He trailed off, seeing where this was leading. "Until it was time for him to return," Giles finished, grimly. "I take it Mbus isn't the kind of guy you want to take home to mom," Cordy deduced. "No," Giles agreed. "He was - is - a powerful demon. Very little is recorded about him as he went underground before man had learned to write." "So how do we know anything at all?" Faith had to ask. "Oral tradition," Wesley answered, his expression betraying none of the petty hostility he had shown mere moments earlier. "That is, until the first Watchers recorded what they knew on paper." "So," Xander piped up, "what do we know? Or is this something I'd rather not hear?" "I imagine not," Giles admitted. "It's said even the demons on the Earth feared Mbus. He would torture them for centuries at a time without tiring of it. Other demons wouldn't even speak his name, for fear of summoning him. The name we use is a shortened form, derived from the frightened mutterings of the few demons Watchers could even get through to." "Okay, so I'm getting that he's not a nice guy," Cordelia said. "But if he's so feared, why are these vamps so excited about his re-emergence?" "Undoubtedly the legends have been watered down somewhat over the years," Wesley surmised. "Vampires don't have the same resources our side does. They probably see him as some kind of Messiah." "Or," Giles offered an alternative explanation, "they hope to escape his wrath by greeting him when he arrives." "Either way," Wesley continued, "when Mbus wakes, it will mean the end of human life on this planet." "Okay," Cordy went pale. "No pressure or anything." Silence descended on the library for a few moments before it was broken by the smooth English voice of Rupert Giles: "There is hope," he said softly. "Good," Cordy breathed. "Hope is good," Xander said, somewhat redundantly. The librarian leaned over the table, leafing through the open book until he reached the page he was looking for. "Ah, here it is! The Croysian Star." "The star?" Wesley frowned. "What does that have to do with anything?" "According to this text," Giles informed his colleague, "the star has the power to seal the Earth for a thousand years. The author here believed it would hold Mbus should he try to escape from his underground cell." "Wait a minute," Cordelia interrupted. "Our only hope of saving the world from total destruction is the word of some British old guy from the twelfth century, who learned everything he knew from demonic fairy tales?" Silence. "Pretty much." "Just so's I know," she replied. "So where is this star?" "As luck would have it," Giles said, "the Sunnydale Museum has it in a display of ancient artifacts, on loan from the Museum of Calcutta." "I don't believe in luck," Wesley sniffed. "This has been provided for us." "By whom?" Giles wondered. "I don't know," the other Watcher admitted. "God? There has to be someone on our side up there. Who do you think does the Choosing?" "As fascinating as this little theological debate is," the Slayer butted in, "how do we plan to get our hands on this star?" "That will be a problem," Giles confessed. "The museum isn't in the habit of handing out their artifacts to anyone who asks." "I guess we just won't ask, then," Cordy decided. "Now, Cordelia," Wesley held up a hand of warning, "let's not do anything hasty." "Hasty?" She stood up in anger. "The world could end tomorrow! I think a little B and E can be forgiven under the circumstances." "B and E?" Xander ejected, perking up suddenly. "You're thinking of S and M," Faith headed him off, smiling. "Oh." His expression darkened again. Neither Watcher was able to argue with Cordy's reasoning, but both had looks of extreme discomfort. "What do I do with the star when I get it?" she asked. Wesley and Giles looked at each other. "I don't know," Giles shrugged. "The book doesn't say." "Great," Cordy sighed. "I guess I'd better get moving then." "It's daytime," Wesley pointed out. "You can't steal the star in broad daylight." The Slayer nodded her agreement. "Fine. As soon as it's dark, though, I'm heading out." After a moment of thought: "And Faith's coming with me." "What?" Faith stood up as well. "I'm not a Slayer!" "You're the next best thing," Cordy pointed out, "and I'm gonna need all the help I can get." "No!" Xander violently objected. "She can't! Faith, no!" "You can't tell me what to do," Faith squinted at her boyfriend. "No, but I can," interjected Giles, her Watcher. "Rupert's right," Wesley agreed, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose with one finger. "The Slayer must work alone, and not endanger others." "Look," Cordelia said, jabbing her index finger at her Watcher in defiance. "The whole world's at stake here, and I don't think we can be worrying about one person's life. This is more important than that." "She's right," Faith nodded. "I have to go too." When the Watchers said nothing in response, clearly acceding to the Slayer and the 'almost-Slayer', Xander walked up to Faith, holding her arm lightly. "Look," he stammered, "just... be careful." "It's okay," Faith smiled. "I'm not going anywhere. I won't leave you like..." Like Willow, Cordy completed the sentence in her head. Xander grimaced at the memory of Willow's death, and Faith's expression softened in response. "Just trust me, okay?" He nodded, looking into her eyes with something very close to love. "Okay," he whispered. Moisture clouded his eyes, and the two touched lips softly, gently. Shaking her head, Cordelia strode out of the library. She had better things to do than watch this sickening display. There were stars to steal and demons to kill. She also had to pick up a Four Star Mary disc on the way home.

"So?" said Faith, looking up at the vastness of the Sunnydale Museum. "Now what?" It was dark now, and had been for over half an hour. The museum had closed at five, leaving but one or two guards to protect the priceless material inside. Problem was, the walls were huge and heavy, with no noticeable entrances of any sort. Both girls knew that there was also an intense high-tech security system inside that would alert the police at the first sign of intrusion. Cordelia squinted at the building, hoping a solution would leap out if she just peered hard enough. It didn't seem to be working the way she'd hoped. There were no windows but one or two high up, and those were heavily barred. True, she could probably bend the bars if she tried hard enough, but was almost certain that would set off an alarm. There was always the ceiling however: could it have an entrance? She frowned. "Who'd have thought breaking into a museum would be so hard?" "Yeah," Faith smiled a lop-sided smile. "You'd think they could at least leave a door open." "I know, it's so... hey!" she realized Faith was teasing. "It's just that I've never had to break into any place so secure before." "Oh, but you've broken into lots of easier places, right?" Faith joked. "Of course," came the matter of fact reply. "Haven't you?" "You serious?" Faith looked incredulous. "Does Wesley know?" "No!" Cordy laughed. "I only do it when I have to. You think the ceiling?" "What about it?" Faith was trying to keep up. "You think there's an entrance?" Faith stared up at the high top of the building. "I dunno. Maybe. How do you plan to get up there?" As she swung her head back round, she saw Cordelia standing with a stake in each hand. "Handy things, these," she said, and stuck one into the gap between the stones that made up the museum walls. Faith watched as Cordelia slowly crawled up the side of the building, using wooden stakes to secure herself during the climb. Half-way up, the Slayer looked back at her companion. "You coming?" she called quietly. Faith glanced about her. What the hell? And she began to ascend behind Cordy. Getting a good grip was difficult on the long climb, and the tips of her stakes wore steadily away with every step upwards. To make matters worse, her hands shook from the cold air as she had foolishly chosen to wear a short tee-shirt which exposed her midriff to the night breeze. At least she'd had the foresight to wear pants this evening - more than she could say for Cordelia who was attired in a short skirt and low v-necked top. It didn't seem to affect Cordy's performance, however. One time, a stake slipped from its hold between stones, and for a terrifying moment, she thought she might fall to her death. Only a last minute wave of her flailing arm brought the spike back into contact with the wall, saving her life. When she finally reached the top, Faith looked back down. The ground seemed a frightful distance away, and her head swam at the thought. Seeing her expression, Cordelia laughed, and patted the girl's arm. "Come on, we've got work to do." Both of them cast their gaze about the large roof that they stood upon. The problem was that it was not flat - there were many good-sized areas jutting up, blocking any full view Cordelia had hoped to have of the entire area. "Guess we'll have to take a look around," she suggested to Faith, who nodded her assent. And the two split up, peeking around the brick protrusions slowly, cautious not to draw the attention of anyone (or any surveillance equipment) as they searched for a way down into the complex. After ten minutes, Cordy was about to give up when Faith gave a low whistle. The Slayer made her way over to where the sound had come from. "What?" Cordelia asked. "What did you find?" "How does a door sound to you?" Faith grinned brightly, standing aside to reveal a small metal entranceway. "Good job!" the other congratulated, and pushed on it. It didn't budge. She tried pulling. Nothing. "Terrific," Faith sighed sarcastically. "Back to square one." "Not necessarily," Cordy disagreed, her eyes slit in a sly expression. "You think you could break this in?" Faith asked in surprise. "Probably," came the answer, "but I'd be willing to bet the door's wired." "So what then?" "Alarms aren't set off when you don't break in," Cordy pointed out. "Got a hair pin?" Beginning to understand, Faith removed a bobby pin from her brown curls, and handed it across to her talented partner. She watched as Cordelia straightened it, inserting it into the lock of the door. In less than a minute, the door was swinging open. The dark-haired Slayer stood triumphantly before it, one hand gesturing inwards. "Voila!" she declared. "Ooh, French too," Faith grinned. "I think I'm in love." "Get in there," Cordy rolled her eyes. "We've got a valuable antique to steal." And they headed into the darkened museum building. At the bottom of the stairs, the girls found themselves in a long corridor, lined with paintings. Cordelia glanced at one of them. It didn't look like much to her, bright colors splashed about for no discernible reason. She made out the name on the plaque below it: nothing she'd ever heard of. Cordy wasn't surprised. "Which way?" Faith asked, her voice trembling. Was that fear, or excitement? Cordelia wondered. It reminded her of the first time she'd broken into someplace - the magic shop downtown. In the dim light, she smiled to herself. "Down here," she said softly, pointing off to the left, and started down that way. Faith glanced back over her shoulder and wondered: "Are you sure?" Of course not, Cordy said silently. How in the hell could I know which way to go? Near the end of the hallway was a large set of oak double doors, and Cordy stopped before it, remembering a school trip a long time ago. "This is it. I'm sure of it." "So," Faith whispered, "do we just go in?" The doors swung in a wide arc as Cordy pushed gently on them. "Guess so," she told her companion, and stepped inside. The Eastern exhibit had many old and decaying objects, but the girls immediately spotted the case they were looking for. It rested against the east wall in a prominent glass display, with a large sign hanging above it. The two girls strode purposefully toward it, their gait strong and steady. When they were twenty feet away from it, Faith bumped full into Cordelia, who had stopped dead. "What - ?" she began. "Company," Cordelia cut her off. Faith stepped to the side, and saw what had caused the Slayer to pause. A man stood beside the case that held the Croysian Star. He had hair bleached a shocking shade of blond, cut very short and brushed back from his face. He stood with his side to the girls, unable to see them, in a black duster and dark pants. What disturbed them, though, was his face - a caricature of a frown, with bright yellow eyes. He was a vampire. "Stay here," Cordy whispered to Faith, and stepped purposefully forwards. With any luck, he wouldn't have seen Faith. They couldn't afford a complicated fight right now. Unless this vampire had killed all the guards. "Hi there," she said boldly, and the vampire's head swung swiftly round to glare at her. She saw an ugly scar above his left eyebrow. "Hi!" he greeted in an ugly English accent. "I thought you might show up," he half laughed. "Well, here I am," she smiled, "Looking for this?" He jerked his head in the direction of the display case, back over his shoulder. "I actually thought you'd get here earlier. I had to 'ave a snack to keep me going." That's when Cordy saw the corpse laying among the shadows, its blood congealing in a large pool on the light carpeting. "You bastard," she shook her head at him. "You want me, here I am." "Me, too," Faith called then, stepping forth from the shadows. Cordy sighed, rolling her eyes. She had wanted to keep the other girl out of this. "Well, well," the vampire chewed on something as he spoke. "Brought a friend have we? Somehow, I had the idea that might 'appen. Drusilla!" As he called out, a pretty vampiress emerged from behind a tall case containing a dried-out corpse. She continued to look at the display as she stepped around it. "It's so beautiful, Spike," she said to the other vampire. She was British also. Her figure was unhealthily thin, and she was clothed in a flimsy white dress like a night-gown. Her dark eyes were unfocused as they flitted about the place. Cordy could tell her mind was not in the here and now, but that didn't make her feel any safer. "That it is, pet," Spike agreed, "but we've got two much fresher corpses standing right over 'ere." "Don't count your Slayers before they're hatched, Spike," Cordelia warned the vampire, who grinned in response. "It's two against two," he stated. "I'd say the odds are in our favor." Cordelia frowned at that. "You never passed math in school did you?" Suddenly, without warning, he jumped at Cordelia, and the two hit the ground hard. He was strong and wily, and it took Cordelia everything she had to keep his fangs from her neck. A wide grin split his face as they struggled on the floor - he was clearly enjoying himself. "No use... fighting," he grunted, rolling around so he was on top again. "I've killed Slayers more capable than you." "And I've killed vampires a hell of a lot prettier than you," Cordy wheezed, gaining the upper hand from Spike. "You ever think about using a beauty mask? Moisturizing can do wonders for your skin." As she was rolled back under him, she gasped, "Maybe not in your case, though." Meanwhile, Faith was having her own problems. As she watched Spike and Cordy struggling she wanted to jump in and help, but Drusilla was circling Faith slowly, staring intently at her with a gaze that was decidedly unsettling. Drusilla raised a hand then, with two index fingers extended. A soft humming sound emitted from her lips, and suddenly Faith found her attention inexplicably drawn to those fingers. They filled her eyes; she could see nothing else. As the tips wavered sluggishly up and down, all thoughts drained from Faith's mind. Where was she? She couldn't remember. But something brought her mind back in focus for a brief second. A strong wrenching in her gut brought her attention back to reality for long enough to feel cold breath on her neck, and she kicked out hard. The fog lifted from Faith's eyes immediately, and she saw the weak female vampire reeling back, into the glass case that contained the Croysian Star. The glass shattered, dispersing all about like spray from a waterfall and the air suddenly rang with the high-pitched blare of an alarm. Faith covered her ears to protect them from the destructive blast of noise, and saw the others do the same. Growling, Spike punched Cordelia hard in the face, and leapt up. Seeing his friend on the floor amidst a sea of shards, he lifted her easily into his arms. He turned to run, then paused briefly. Grinning, he shifted Drusilla to a standing position against the wall, and grabbed the star from its open display, snapping it in two with an easy gesture. And then he and Drusilla were gone, swift as the wind. Faith stared around in despair. Their only hope of preventing the rise of Mbus was destroyed, Cordelia was injured, motionless on the floor, and the cops would be here any minute. It would be safe to say the night had not gone as planned. Cordy groaned from her position on the ground, lifting a hand to her head. "C'mon," Faith said gently, slipping an arm underneath the injured Slayer. "We gotta go."

A light grew around Mbus, deep beneath the crust of the Earth. It was almost time. He moved toward the opening. A strength filled him; he knew nothing could stop his rise tonight. The last hope of mortal kind had been destroyed and the path to freedom was unhindered. If Mbus could laugh he would, but part of his self-imposed imprisonment was a lack of physical form. When he rose, he would laugh, he would scream. He would show the world why his name was once the most feared name under the sun. It wouldn't be much longer now.

"Destroyed?" Wesley Wyndham-Pryce was incredulous. "How?" The girls had returned to the library, but it was late now. Xander had gone home long ago, though Wesley and Giles were still around. Cordelia had just finished giving the bad news to her Watcher, who looked decidedly less than pleased. Cordy was upset as she didn't like to fail. It made her feel like less than a Slayer. "A vampire called Spike," Cordy told him. "Big guy, bad hair. He jumped us, and when the alarm sounded he broke the star and left." "A single vampire got the better of both of you?" he demanded. "How is this possible?" "He wasn't alone," Faith interjected. "There was another one, a woman. She hypnotized me - I barely got away." "Two vampires, then," he continued, "defeated the Slayer and one trained as a Slayer. I would have thought better of the two of you." "I was getting the upper hand," Cordelia argued. "If it hadn't been for that alarm going off, both vamps would be dust by now and I'd have already prevented the rise of The Bus." "Mbus," Giles corrected. "Like I care. The point is, is that it wasn't my fault. I didn't do anything wrong." Faith looked surprised at Cordy, her eyes wide and moist. Although she hadn't said so, it was plain that the Slayer was blaming Faith for the disaster tonight. Tellingly, her eyes deliberately avoided any contact with Faith. "Regardless of who is to blame," Giles glared, "it is clear that we'll have to find another course of action. Mbus may be rising tonight!" "I've got a course of action," Cordelia stated, lifting a wooden stake. "I'm gonna go back to that church, and I'm going to kill every vampire I find there." "Cordelia!" Wesley chastised her. "It's not that simple," Rupert added. "We have to find another way to stop Mbus. We have to research..." "Fine," Cordy interrupted. "You read about him, and I'll kill him." And with that, she walked out the door. "Damn!" Wesley swore. "Well?" Giles looked at his fellow Watcher. "She's your Slayer." "What am I supposed to do about it?" he yelled. It was the first time Faith had seen him so distressed, his hair falling out of place down around his eyes. Even with all the dangers they'd faced, Wesley had never before gotten so out of control. It was a bad sign. "If you can't control your Slayer," snarled Giles, "I'm going to make sure the Council relieves you of the responsibility!" "Now see here," the younger Watcher jabbed his finger at Giles' face, "this is none of your business!" "None of my business? We might all die tonight because you can't keep your Slayer here long enough to listen to anything we have to tell her. I'd say it's bloody well my business!" "Stop it!" Faith yelled. "Just stop it! What the hell are you doing? We've got to help her!" And she ran out after Cordelia. "Damn," Giles swore.

The wind whipped about Cordelia's shoulders as she marched swiftly towards the old church. Her eyes were steely, and her body tensed for battle. The red lips which usually curled beautifully into the smile that had won her so many titles were pursed now into a thin line that revealed the intense focus she felt. The flow of dark hair that crowned her head swept backwards in the wind, stretching behind her like the wake from a boat. She was strong, she was intent, she was determined. She was the Slayer. Those damn vampires had crossed the line this time. Usually they were little more than a nuisance. Oh, sure, they killed people, but usually just a few. What they were doing now threatened the lives of everyone on the planet. Hell, they were probably setting themselves up to be killed too, if the stories of this demon were anything to go by. And they had destroyed the only chance the good guys had of stopping him. The anger Cordelia felt at them, and the clumsiness of her companion back at the museum, burned inside her like a fire in her belly, and she harnessed that feeling, stoked it, fanning the flame of rage. The passion would give her much-needed strength tonight. Those vamps would wish they'd never heard the name Cordelia Chase. That made her think: had they ever heard her name? She hoped so, or that last thought would never come true. She supposed she could always introduce herself before killing them. She smiled at the thought. The church was just ahead; she could see it at the end of the street. A light shone from within, bleeding out onto the road in front. The noise the occupants were making reached the Slayer's ears even this far away. She wondered if anyone had called the cops. She hoped not; all they'd do is get themselves killed. It'd be like ordering the vampires a pizza. Just then, Cordelia heard the patter of swift footsteps fast approaching from behind. Taking care not to let on, she eased a stake from her sleeve and into her hand. When the attacker was just behind her, she swiveled on one foot and stabbed at them. And stopped short, the point less than a centimetre from the woman's throat. Not a vampire. "Faith," she glared. "What are you doing here?" "I wanna help," Faith said, her eyes pleading. "There's an army of vamps in there - I figured you could use a hand." Cordy's shoulders slumped. "Sure," she sighed, and gestured on ahead. Faith bounced on her heels excitedly and stepped forward. And fell. Cordy had hit her in the back of the head - hard - with the butt of the stake. The non-Slayer lay unconscious and face-down on the freezing ground. "Sorry," Cordelia apologized, "but this is something I have to do alone." She tugged on the hem of her skirt, pulling it down to a comfortable level, and sorted her clinging top. Taking a deep breath, she kicked open the door and strode deliberately into the church hall. All around her were vampires; she'd never been around so many at once. There may have even been more here tonight than last night. Probably pilgrims from nearby cities, Cordy figured. They all noticed her entrance, and turned their heads in wonder. Cordelia used the moment of surprise to take a look around. The symbol still covered the walls, seats, and every other flat surface the vampires could find. But by far the largest instance of it was on the floor, in the center of the hall. Around it in a circle were dozens of vampires, all holding hands. This close, Cordy could see that they were chanting. What disturbed her most was that there was a large, gaping hole in the ground there, in the middle of the symbol. Mbus was waking. "Wow," said Cordy, taking the offensive. "Lucky me: all these men and I'm the only girl. Well," she amended, "unless you count them." She indicated a small group of skanky vampire women. "So, who wants to be the first to take me?" She'd always known no man could resist her - but she hadn't expected this response. Fully half the vamps in the room rushed at her, fangs and claws bared. "One at a time, please!" she grinned. They didn't listen. As the first creature of the night reached her, Cordelia flipped a stake easily into his chest, and whipped it out quickly. The dust sprayed by his decay slowed the vamps behind him, giving Cordy a bit of breathing room - for about two seconds. More got to her not long after. Cordy spun round, sending her foot flying into the faces of several bloodsuckers at a time, and they reeled back, knocking many of their comrades to the floor. As more fiends scraped at her, and she began to get crowded, Cordelia yelled out, "I... said... one.. at... a... time!" punctuating each word with a kill. By this time, the air hung heavy with dust from the remains of vampires, but still they kept coming. It was going to take something special to get rid of these guys, she realized. "Boy, you guys don't give up easy, do you?" she asked of one particularly ugly attacker. "Didn't anyone ever tell you no means no?" She sent out a powerful roundhouse, driving him back against the wall. Taking advantage of the moment's reprieve Cordy reached into the purse that hung over her shoulder and brought forth a small water balloon, which she threw high into air above her. It burst with a splash on the ceiling far above, spraying holy water all about. The vampires near her hissed, falling back in pain as smoke poured from their wounds. At that moment, Cordelia leapt into the air, rising like a dove, and alighted on the back of one of the filthy pews. Gracefully, she darted along the narrow back, leaping off the end. She turned, then, and kicked the end of the pew hard. It slid several feet across the floor, pinning five vampires, front to back, to the wall. "Those things are damn uncomfortable, aren't they?" Cordy noted, and grabbed a spear with a long wooden handle of the wall, looking at it speculatively. "People leave the damnedest things lying around," she observed, and threw it like a javelin, piercing all five vampires through the heart at once. "I guess phys. ed. paid off after all," she realized, and turned to face the rest of the vampires. A row of them paced steadily towards her. A gang. She raised an eyebrow. "I've never done so many guys at once before," she admitted to them. "But I'll try anything once." She whipped out eight stakes, four in each hand. "Don't worry, you'll all get your turn." And she threw all the stakes out, separating as they flew. Each landed squarely in the chest of a vampire, dusting him instantly. "Everyone satisfied?" Again, she spun round to face the other monsters in the room. "Come on," she teased. "I should be enough woman for all of you." And they turned as a group and ran. Spike, the white-haired fiend from the museum was the last to go, growling at her from the emblem in the center of the hall. "I know," she nodded, hands clamped on hips. "You're wondering which of us would have come out on top. Well, why don't you come here and we'll find out?" The frown faded from his face, leaving a not unattractive human countenance glaring her in the eye. His hair was still awful, though. "This isn't over," he warned her. And with that, he fled after his mates. "It never is," she sighed, and turned to the door. She was about to leave, when Spike's words came back to her. "This isn't over," she acknowledged, and turned back to face the center of the room. The crack in the ground widened, and a great crunching sound rang about the hall as it did so, shaking the building nearly off its foundations. The Slayer fought to stay on her feet, and the tremor eventually settled, leaving a rain of dust to fall down over her. The particles got up her nose, and she snorted in an attempt to clear the passageways, and coughed heartily. The taste of chalk hung in her mouth, and she couldn't get rid of it. It was foul. Black mist began to rise from the hole in the earth, spreading out into an increasing pattern in the air. Cordelia watched helplessly as the smoke continued to form a firmer shape. How could she fight a gas? Pretty soon, Cordelia realized that she recognized the shape - it was the symbol of Mbus. As the last of the black cloud emerged from the crack, the symbol consolidated, creating a tangible form. For the briefest moment, the symbol remained as just a glyph, but soon became something else. It was now clear just what the shape represented. The creature was enormous, filling half the church hall. It was like a dragon, but not the elegant beasts in fairy stories; this was deformed and skeletal. The face was a picture of extreme horror, elongated like a lizard's but with a snubby simian cast. The eyes were deep-sunk and glowed red, and the look within them was pure evil. Nothing Cordelia had faced radiated malice like this did. It was like a fountain of evil, spewing depravity in some kind of corporeal form. Huge wings blotted out the lights above, casting a jagged shadow over the tiny form of the Slayer. Six legs splayed across the room, shattering solid pews as though they were nothing more than matchsticks. Fear coursed through Cordelia's body, but she kept her limbs steady. She would show no outward sign of her cowardice. A deep rumble rolled around the hall, originating in the long throat of the beast before her. It was laughing, laughing at her. Some of her fear was replaced by anger, and hatred. "Your terror pleases me," a horrific voice sounded, chewed out by the jutting teeth of Mbus. "Kneel before the destroyer of worlds." "I don't know what you've been told," Cordy called up to its head high above her, "but I usually get flowers first." A low growl shook her bones together painfully, as Mbus lowered his glaring head level with her body, and snorted searing hot breath across her flesh. Enormous droplets of some slimy liquid splashed across her bare legs, and her nostrils flared. She didn't know which was worse: the pain, the fear, or the ickiness. "I should probably tell you," she said, "that you really are one ugly son of a bitch." The face retreated then, getting smaller as it did so. It took Cordy a moment to realize this wasn't a trick of perspective, that the head really was shrinking. In fact, the whole body had decreased dramatically in size, and was still reducing. Its form was altering too: the neck was shorter, the snout less protruding, and the wings had almost entirely retracted. Two legs disappeared, and soon the dragon had become a man. The humanoid form stood over six feet tall, and had dark brown, wavy hair. He was wearing a black leather jacket over a tight white tee-shirt that revealed firm muscles in his chest. Weathered denims finished off the outfit, with shiny black boots on the feet. His face was attractive, too. The only thing that ruined the look was the all-red eyes. Mbus grinned a humorless grin, and stepped forward. "How's this?" he asked, his eyes actually glowing. "Better," she admitted. "You look almost human." Mbus laughed then, the voice still deep and echoing. "I like you," he stated. Cordy's expression must have betrayed her, because he followed it with: "Are you so surprised? I suppose you've been told such terrible stories about Mbus, the torturer of souls, that I have no redeeming value." Cordy nodded in confirmation. "Exaggerated, I assure you. I'm not so bad, really, for a demon." Cordy relaxed her muscles then. Perhaps this would still turn out okay. "Oh, I'm still gonna kill you," he assured her. "I just wanted you to know how I felt first. You know, for peace of mind when you're being tormented in Hell." And he stepped towards her, teeth bared in an expression of evil. Grimacing in what she hoped was a threatening look, Cordelia brought back a stake in a position of attack. Mbus stopped in his tracks, and laughed, the bass tones rattling her bones again. "You think that can kill me?" he roared. "A wooden stake!" "Maybe not," she acceded, and pulled a handgun from the back of her skirt. "But I'd be willing to bet this could do some damage." Shots rang out, one after another, and smoke spilled from the barrel of her gun. Mbus fell back, sooty blood draining from his wounded body. Eventually, Cordelia stopped and walked over to the motionless flesh. There were gaping holes all over Mbus' body and head from the point blank attack he had suffered. She looked intently at him. No movement at all. He was dead. Mbus roared as his head raised up from the ground, red eyes burning with an angry fire. His teeth were sharp as he growled his hatred at the Slayer. And the head hit the ground again, in three separate pieces, as Cordy shot it out. She continued to fire, until the clip was empty, and still pulled the trigger several times after that, just in case. The pin snapped against dry air, and she eventually realized there were definitely no more bullets. Only then did she lower the gun. There was little left to identify Mbus. The body was mostly intact, but the head was... well there wasn't one (basically). She needed take no drastic measures to hide this body. The police would have nothing to suspect. Reaching back, she replaced the gun into the waistband of her skirt. Cordelia looked about for her purse. There it was! She retrieved it, and several of her stakes that had fallen onto the ground around the church. And then, she walked calmly out onto the street. As her weary body hit the cold evening air, she saw Faith stumbling drowsily towards her, gripping the back of her head with one hand. The girl frowned at Cordelia, saying, "Hey, why'd you..." She trailed off as she saw the state of Cordelia. The Slayer looked down at herself. God, what a mess! Her shirt was ripped in several places, her skin was scratched and bleeding over much of the exposed flesh. On top of that, she was covered in white debris from the crumbling building, and green snot from Mbus' hairy nostrils. Cordelia didn't even want to think about what her hair must look like. "What?" Cordy challenged. "You got a problem with the way I look?" "No," Faith half-grinned. "You look great. Really, better than ever." Cordy smiled that award-winning smile as she put an arm around Faith's waist. All was not forgiven, but they'd work through that some other time. Right now, Cordelia just wanted to get home and soak in a nice, hot bath. She and Faith shuffled along the street together, supporting each other's weight as they did so. They must have looked a sight to any observers, but this was not on their minds. They'd just killed a demon and saved the world from total destruction. Plus, both girls had a chemistry test tomorrow.

"Totally irresponsible," Wesley was chastising Cordelia back at the library the next day. She was seated, looking suitably contrite, with wide, puppy-dog eyes aimed at her Watcher, who paced back and forth before her. Cordy wore a thick sweater today to hide the scrapes and bruises from the public at large, but still thought she looked okay. She glanced at her legs, propped up on the table in front of her. You couldn't see the damage through her stockings. "Never before have I seen such a childish display of selfishness and single-minded stubbornness." The British voice droned on and on, as the bespectacled young man frowned thoughtfully. His look was intent, though rarely did his eyes actually touch on Cordelia in any way. He seemed caught up in his own words, as though the speech were more a test of his oratory skills than an actual rebuke. "You were disobedient, immature, and mostly, you were wrong." She rolled her eyes. "And, Cordelia?" She looked up at him as his eyes met hers. He smiled and said softly, "Job well done." Cordelia flashed a return grin at him, as she stood up from her seat. Well, who'd have thunk it? Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Watcher extraordinaire, was softening up into a real human being. She briefly considered hugging him, but instead extended a warm hand. He took it gratefully, and shook it in a steady grasp. Cordelia began to head toward the door when the Englishman got up the courage to call after her, "Cordelia?" "Yeah?" she spun back to face him, lips sucked inward, awaiting his words. "Are you... doing anyone, anyTHING, tonight?" he blushed. She smiled. "Actually, yeah," she replied, as his face sunk. "I have... plans. But maybe some other time?" Wesley's face brightened as she walked away. Cordelia inwardly congratulated herself, as she mused privately: There's always another time.

Anyanka stepped swiftly aside as Cordelia strutted her way out of the library. The demon, in her schoolgirl guise, smiled as she watched the Slayer in her triumph. This one had been close - a little too close for Anyanka's comfort - but there had never been any real doubt in her mind who would be victorious in the end. Cordelia was her creation, there was no way she could lose. Or so went the theory. But that notion would have to stand several tests, she knew. The toughest of which was yet to come... But Cordelia would make it through them. She always did. Anyanka shifted her backpack onto her shoulder and headed off to class. She was already five minutes late for history...

[Roll closing credits.]

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