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As Jim and Blair left the Library, Jim asked, "so what do you think, chief?"
 
Blair reassured his partner, "well, I think the reason that Willow panicked initially is because she's probably a hacker and thought we were there to bust her or something. She does, after all, seem like the nervous type, Jim."
 
Jim nodded his agreement to that. "Yeah, she does, doesn't she? Do you think she knows what happened to Michelle?"
 
Blair shrugged, "it's possible." He then caught the look in his Sentinel's eyes and guessed, "you think she does, don't you?"
 
"I think it's possible. But if she does know, then everyone in that room knows too, and didn't want to tell us. I was watching our 'spectators' when Willow panicked, and they all started to become real protective of her--like they all shared some big secret. And they all jumped a bit when we started to ask about the other victims, like they had an idea of what happened to them. Something's going on here, chief, and I want to find out what it is."
 
"So what next, Jim?"
 
"I'd like to go back to the station and take a look at the full case files on the recent victims. See if there's any connection between them."
 
"Sounds good to me. Lead on, MacDuff."
 
Jim groaned at the obscure literary reference as he opened the door to the truck.
 
*****
 
Buffy caught the brief look on Giles' face as the two cops [correction, the cop and that grad student] were questioning Willow. Whatever he was thinking, he blew it off, but she wasn't about to let it go that easily. The minute the two men left she questioned her mentor, "Giles?"
 
He roused himself from his thought on the prophecy he was re-reading and focused on Buffy. "Yes?"
 
"What's your opinion of those two?"
 
"Hmmm? They're with the police department, and they're a little nosy."
 
"Ohhh no. I saw the look that blared across your face while they were questioning Willow. Now, spill it."
 
"Oh that? It's nothing?"
 
"Yeah right. It may be nothing, but it's more than we've got right now. What is it?"
 
The Watcher took off his glasses and cleaned them, trying to gather his thoughts. As he replaced the glasses he commented, "there's a chance, albeit a very slim chance…"
 
Buffy urged him on, "yes?"
 
"Well, there's a chance that Detective Ellison may be our 'Blessed Protector', but I couldn't tell from just meeting him this one time."
 
"Giles, that _isn't_ nothing! You were thinking that because of his partner, right? '…guided by wisdom and innocence…'?"
 
"Well, yes, but that doesn't make him entirely 'separate from the hunted', does it?"
 
Xander added, "and he doesn't seem all that particularly gifted to me, either."
 
"Still," declared Buffy, "Giles, you yourself said you couldn't tell from just meeting him this one time, and he may already fulfill one part of the prophecy, so I say that this warrants further investigation. And Giles, you're always telling me to trust my hunches, so maybe now it's time for _us_ to trust yours." She then turned to her computer-genius best friend, who was still searching for information on the Order of Ra. "Willow?"
 
She looked up from her computer, "yeah, Buffy?"
 
"Can you pull up the files of the Sunnydale PD and find out what kind of information we can get on these guys?"
 
"Sure." She opened another window and typed in the now-familiar codes to get into the Police Department database without anyone knowing she was in there.
 
Buffy watched her friend's fingers fly over the keys in amazement. She didn't know how the girl did it, and frankly, she didn't really want to know, she was just grateful, at times like this, that she knew someone who knew how to pull any thing she could possibly want out of a computer.
 
Willow frowned as she repeated the search again on the database. [This can't be right,] she thought.
 
Buffy picked up immediately on her friend's confused expression. "What is it, Willow?"
 
"Well," replied Willow, "I checked the department records three times, and there's no record of a Jim Ellison or a Blair Sandburg anywhere in there."
 
The bell rang, and everyone looked at the clock. Xander and Willow gathered up their things and headed out for Math class, while Buffy gathered her stuff to get to Biology. As Willow pulled up the card-catalog program she had designed as a password-protected screen saver for her to hide her research behind, Giles told the group, "all right, why don't we meet back here after school. In the meantime, I'll keep looking for more on the Order of Ra and who this Blessed Protector chap might be."
 
The group agreed, and the three students left quickly to get to class.
 
*****
 
Blair leaned back in his chair and threw a pen across the wall in frustration. There were apparently about as many connections between the hundreds of deaths in Sunnydale over the years as there were in the number of drunk driving cases in Cascade: none. Apparently, anyone who lived in Sunnydale could be at risk. The only link between the cases was the thin cord that tied them together--their unique cause of death. Jim was looking at the more recent cases, and Blair was wondering if his partner was having better luck. "I hope you're having better luck than I am right now, Jim."
 
"No connection between those cases, chief?"
 
"Nothing other than cause of death. I can see why the Feds would make all those vampire jokes. It seems like anyone could be a target in this town."
 
"True. Actually, I did find a few connections between the more recent deaths, although its slim. Come take a look at this." Blair got up to look over Jim's shoulder as the Sentinel explained, "the coroner's reports state that the victims were drained of their blood, just like the other ones, but that the third mark, the one on top, was made post-mortem." He pointed to the identifying mark on one of the neck photos to emphasize his point.
 
Blair commented, "like some sort of ritual." Already his mind was working on the possibilities.
 
Jim agreed, "Exactly. I'm beginning to think this vampire thing may not be far off--not so much as the idea of actual vampires..."
 
Blair completed the thought, "...but a vampire cult could be a possibility. Someone who is draining the blood for their own purposes and then dumping the bodies somewhere. You think that could be the case?"
 
"It's the best idea we have so far. The only hole I can poke in the theory is this new group."
 
"Yeah, man. A vampire group would never commit their murders in broad daylight. Plus, the murders would be messier--they would have to have spilled blood _somewhere_. But these killings are just too clean. And what would they use the victims' blood for? Why has none of it ever been found in a DNA typing somewhere, connected to another crime?"
 
"Beats me, chief. I would like to go take a look at the corpse, though. See if there's anything we can find that forensics here couldn't."
 
The two men packed up their files on the case and headed out to the Sunnydale funeral home, which doubled as the town morgue.
 
*****
 
Within ten minutes of the bell sounding the end of last period, Buffy, Xander and Willow were back in the library to meet with Giles. All three teens had the same things on their minds: if those guys Ellison and Sandburg weren't cops, then what were they? And who was their "Blessed Protector"? Buffy was convinced it was Ellison, but if it was, then what was so different about him that he would be able to find the Order of Ra when the Slayer can't?
 
Once everyone had settled in, Willow behind the computer, Xander and Buffy at their customary spots at the table, Giles announced to the group, "I could find nothing new on the Order of Ra, so at this point we can only work with what we have right now: according to Egyptian legend this group of vampires received a blessing from the sun god Ra that allows them to be unaffected by daylight and undetectable by their enemies, including the Slayer. The only way to know they're around is by the triangle-shaped mark they leave on a body after a kill. The Slayer can still kill them, as they received no other special protections from Ra, but only the 'Blessed Protector' from the Slayer prophecies will have the abilities necessary to track them."
 
Buffy added, "and now we have two guys who say they're cops but who may or may not be cops snooping around asking about one of the people the Order of Ra have killed."
 
Willow hadn't found anything new on the Order of Ra during her search on the 'Net, but something told her that even though those two cops weren't Sunnydale PD, they were still on their side. She pulled up Excite in a second window and did a search on James Ellison. As the search results came up, she called to the group, "guys, I think this is something that you might want to see."
 
She pulled up one of the pages as the others crowded around her computer. It was an article from the Cascade Sun Times in Cascade, Washington, about the Prometheus arson investigation, and beside the article was a very flattering picture of Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes division and his partner, Blair Sandburg.
 
Buffy and Giles both muttered under their breath, "…Then a blessed protector will descend from the clouds…"
 
*****
 
It normally took about twenty minutes to get from the station to the Sunnydale Funeral Home. Unfortunately, Blair insisted on driving, so the pair made it to the Funeral Home in a little over an hour. Jim winced as his partner got out of the truck and cracked his knuckles rather audibly. "Do you really have to do that, Sandburg?"
 
"Sorry, Jim. I like to crack my knuckles after driving for a long stretch of time. I didn't realize it was that loud."
 
Jim let out a long sigh. "Usually it isn't, chief. I guess I'm just a little cranky after having spent forty minutes being lost in a town that's as small as Sunnydale."
 
"How many times do I have to apologize for making a wrong turn at the gas station, Jim ?!?"
 
Jim reassured his partner, "don't worry, all is forgiven--as long as you're buying dinner tonight."
 
Blair smiled briefly. "Deal."
 
The two walked into the funeral home, flashed their badges, and were quickly directed to the morgue. Once at the morgue, the local coroner, having expected them forty minutes earlier, steered them to the appropriate body, then left to take her dinner break.
 
Jim pulled down the cloth that was covering the head of the late Michelle Chen. In his line of work, he worked with dead bodies on a fairly frequent basis, but this one seemed distinctly different. He opened up his senses in an effort to determine just what was bothering him about Michelle's body.
 
*****
 
Buffy got off the phone with the Sunnydale PD and sighed loud enough for everyone to look at her. She turned to her Watcher and announced, "Giles, we may have a problem. I just got off the phone with our local police department. According to them, our Mr. Ellison and Mr. Sandburg just went over to the morgue to have a look at Michelle Chen's body."
 
"Buffy, I hardly see that as cause for concern. It's only 6:00, there are several hours before sunset, and even if Michelle were to cross over, we have at least one or two days before that were to happen."
 
"I don't know, Giles, but my spider-sense is tingling. I have a bad feeling about this."
 
Just as Giles rolled his eyes at her awful comic-book metaphor, Willow interrupted them. "Guys, I think you should take a look at this."
 
As the group came to stand behind Willow, she explained, "I found out that the funeral home is now keeping track of their 'residents' by computer, so I was able to break into their system, and I found out that there have been six deaths that we could consider vampire-related killings, and three of those were from our friends in the Order of Ra."
 
Buffy urged her friend on, "yeah?"
 
Willow continued, "well, out of the six people who have died, all three from the Order of Ra are listed as having had their bodies stolen about twenty-four hours after they died."
 
Xander started to say out loud what everyone was thinking, "and we all know that bodies aren't just stolen from the Sunnydale Funeral Home…"
 
Buffy completed the thought, "…they usually walk out under their own power. And since Michelle died around 6:30 last night…"
 
Giles completed her thought, "…she should be waking up any minute. Come along, Buffy. I'll drive."

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