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A new breed of demon surfaces during a routine slaying session: an ancient vampire sorceress who can occupy human hosts and can anticipate Buffy's next move. Reprint.
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Christopher Golden is the award-winning, Los Angeles Times bestselling author of such novels as Strangewood and Of Saints and Shadows, and the teen thriller series, Body of Evidence. He has written eight Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels (seven with Nancy Holder), including the upcoming Sins of the Father, and is also a popular comic book writer and pop culture journalist. Please visit him at www.christophergolden.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Several months later...
At first glance, the town of Sunnydale was like so many other small towns that made up the endless suburban sprawl of Southern California: it promised much but delivered very little.
There were no real neighborhoods, only differing amounts of distance from the nearest freeway. Life went on at the other end of a commute: at the office, the magnet school, hangouts based not on proximity but on flash. Although the school board talked about the excellence of Sunnydale public education, everyone really believed the key to success was whom you knew and how charming you could be.
But there were other things wrong with Sunnydale, in the light of which the worship of style over substance seemed the tiniest of faults. Unlike the other, similar towns that dotted the coast of Southern California, Sunnydale was cursed. Below the ground, the mouth of Hell sat dormant, ready to erupt at the appropriate provocation and to disgorge the demons, monsters, and forces of darkness that raged for the death of the world. Evil was drawn to the Hellmouth as though it were a magnet, drawn to Sunnydale, and it flourished there.
Sunnydale was the epicenter of the dark forces that lurked in the shadows of the world, a constant threat to humanity. It was evil's very own ground zero.
In its way, Sunnydale was the heart of darkness.
And if you want to destroy a thing, you aim for the heart.
Which was what had brought the Slayer, Buffy Summers, the Chosen One, to Sunnydale three years before, though she hadn't known it at the time. Forced to leave her old life in Los Angeles after her war against the darkness led her to burn down the high school gym, she and her mother had come to Sunnydale because Joyce Summers thought it the perfect place to start over. The perfect place to run an art gallery the way she'd always wanted.
Buffy believed in that dream. She had been thrilled to have an opportunity to put the whole vampire thing behind her. She knew now that it was naïve to believe she could escape her destiny. But back then...for one brief, shining moment, she'd thought she could be a normal kid again.
The first day at Sunnydale High, Rupert Giles, her new Watcher, had made himself known -? and any hope Buffy entertained of having a normal life had evaporated.
Now, on this cold and gray February night, torrential rain bulleted the metal siding of the Bronze. Wind rattled the windows as if they were the vertebrae of a frozen, abandoned graveyard memory. The Bronze stank with the odor of wet wool laced with coffee. People dashed into the club completely drenched, because, as a rule, Southern Californians didn't own umbrellas. Or if they did, they never remembered to use them.
Buffy slipped back into her chair at the Bronze, sipping at her newly purchased -? and lusciously warm -? mochaccino, and grinned broadly at her friend Xander Harris, who sat across the table from her.
"Isn't this great? Flash-flood warnings, and I'm chillin' with my friends. No vamps to stake. No demons to destroy. Just me, my pals, and an extremely mediocre band."
Xander nodded happily. "Yup. It must be great to be a Slayer in Southern California. When the weather's bad, even the forces of evil take the night off."
"Actually, business has been a little slow all week," Buffy said. "I'm having trouble filling my empty nights. Almost." She raised her hands. "I gave myself a manicure last night."
Then she made a guilty face at her best friend, Willow Rosenberg, who slid, burdened with a pair of huge coffee cups, into an empty seat at the high, round table.
"Of course, the manicure was accompanied by the whole study thing. Since I would never want you to feel that all the time you've spent tutoring me is wasted."
"My time is freely given," Willow announced, sliding one of the cups to Xander, who had held the table for them. "And the band's not that bad." She paused. "Which is actually the definition of mediocre, so, okay." She sipped her latte and smiled in the direction of the coffee counter, where her boyfriend, Oz, was buying some pastries. As if he sensed her gaze, he looked up and smiled back, blue eyes shining.
Buffy was wistful. She could hardly remember what it was like to be in a relationship that wasn't tormented and awkward. Oz was a werewolf three nights a month, but that was the extent of the major weirdness between them. It wasn't like her and Angel's deal.
"Uh-oh, your smile is fading," Xander chided. "Remember, Wendy, if we don't think happy thoughts, the pixie dust won't work, and we won't be able to fly anymore."
"Hey, I'm weightless," Buffy protested. She took a sip of her mochaccino to prove it. She licked her lips and sighed with contentment. "Time off from slayage doesn't get any better than this."
"Or shorter," Xander said slowly as he gestured toward the entrance to the Bronze.
"No," Buffy moaned. "No, no, no."
Giles was closing his umbrella as he scanned the crowd. The sort-of-haphazardly-dashing forty-something Brit's expression was serious in the extreme, and that, combined with the fact that he usually avoided the Bronze like the plague, was a fairly good indication that he was here on business.
"You guys distract him while I hide under the table," Buffy grumped.
Giles spotted her and headed on over. Willow frowned in sympathy, and Xander wagged his finger in Giles's direction.
"This Slayer's out of service," he said by way of greeting. "In serious need of downtime."
"Hi, Giles," Buffy said wanly. "What's the haps, not that I really want to know?"
"I am sorry, Buffy." At least he was contrite. "I've just learned that the medical examiner conveniently failed to mention to the media that Jackson Kirby's neck was torn open and he was drained of blood."
Jackson Kirby had been something of a local celebrity. A homeless panhandler, he had been a fixture on the corner of Avenida Ladera and Escondido Boulevard for seven years. "WILL WORK FOR FOOD," the sign around his neck had read. Whether anyone ever actually called him on the offer seemed unclear.
He had been found dead in an alley early in the morning. With no family and -? according to the local news -? nothing suspicious about his death, he'd been quickly interred at city expense.
"He was buried at Restfield," Giles continued. "If he rises, we need to make sure he doesn't stay risen."
Sigh. Life as the Slayer, Buffy thought glumly. "Don't you think he'll wait until it stops raining?" she asked. She started pulling on her raincoat.
"I've got my car," he told her.
"And an umbrella," she noted. She picked up her coffee cup and examined it. "And, happily, I have finished my piping-hot beverage."
"So, the glass is half full," he ventured.
She gave him a look.
"One-third," he amended.
"Hey, that's my line," Xander said. "Buffy, you want some company?"
"Xand, that'd be above and beyond the call of duty." She flashed him a wan smile. "But you're sweet to offer."
"I've got nothing better," he insisted.
"It's just one dusting. It'll be over like that." She snapped her fingers.
"So, I'm thinking, company," Xander insisted.
Oz walked up with a buttery croissant on a plate, which he offered to Willow. "Is there a rumble?" he asked.
"We're rumble-free," Buffy assured him. "Or, rather, you are." Then she shrugged and said to Xander, "If you're all pumped to be wet and cold and bored, who am I to stop you?"
Xander smiled and hopped off his stool. To Oz and Willow, he said, "Duty calls."
Willow pulled off a piece of croissant and popped it into her mouth. As she chewed, she said, "Do you want us to come with? Cuz we're happy there."
Buffy smiled. "You guys have something better to do."
"Hey," Xander protested, miffed. Then he shrugged. "Okay, I was first
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Book Description Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2000. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Free Upgrade to 1st Class shipping for standard cost. Excellent Trade PB: NEW! May have very light normal shelf edge wear. Most 1st Class arrive 2-6 business days. Most intl arrive 4-10 business days. Choose Expedited or 2 day for faster delivery. Seller Inventory # 931010050
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