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Blair noticed as Jim's eyes focused in concentration and his jaw tensed up. No one else in the room would have picked up on the subtle change in the Sentinel's focus, but Blair knew all too well the consequences of what could happen if he was any more than one step right behind Jim Ellison. He used his voice to give Jim a balanced anchor to work from. "Jim? What is it, man?"
 
"There's something different about this body." The Sentinel drew in a deep breath, and noticed what it was that he smelled. "Chief, I don't think this body is starting to decay like it normally would." He started to take a look at the body, and his attention was immediately drawn to the triangle of marks on the girl's neck. He reached out to touch the marks, and traced along the skin between the marks in a formation that would look like a three-pointed star. It wasn't visible yet, but there seemed to be some sort of scar that was moving its way up to the surface. Which led him to realize something else about the girl's body: there were things that were _moving_ in her body that shouldn't be _moving_.
 
As Jim jerked his hand back, Blair looked questioningly at his partner. Jim hadn't zoned--or if he had, then the Sentinel is getting better at pulling himself out of his own zone-outs because Blair hadn't noticed a thing. He looked at the face of his partner, whose eyes seemed to be widening by the second. Considering the fact that nothing usually phased Jim Ellison, let alone caused him to freak out, he decided he absolutely needed to know what Jim felt when he touched the body. "Jim, what's going on? What did you find out from the body?"
 
Jim pointed a cautious finger at the body, and Blair's eyes followed Jim's arm until he was looking at the body himself.
 
A body whose eyes were blinking, a sinister yellow in color;
who was smiling, showing pointed fangs;
and who was getting up on what were supposedly dead legs to come walking toward them.
 
Blair, who was getting used to being able to hold conversations with raving lunatics in unusual situations, stammered out, "you're ssssupposed to be--?"
"dead?" replied the late Michelle Chen. "As they say, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." She looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings and grinned wickedly, "or in this case, maybe they weren't so exaggerated."
 
Jim asked the only thing that could come to his mind. "What are you?"
 
Michelle laughed wickedly. "You mean you don't know? You two must be new in town."
 
"That's right," interrupted the new person in the conversation. "Didn't your mama teach you to be nice to visitors?"
 
Jim and Blair looked over to see Buffy Summers, one of Willow Rosenberg's friends from the high school, standing in the doorway of the morgue, looking every inch like she had one heck of a chip on her shoulder. If Jim weren't still in shock from seeing a dead teenager holding a conversation with a live one, he would have wondered if that attitude wasn't going to get the young woman killed.
 
Michelle hissed at Buffy, "didn't yours teach you it's not polite to interrupt?" She then rushed the Slayer, who promptly sent the young female vampire to the floor by stepping out of the way and hitting her across the neck with a clothesline strike. Buffy then took out what looked to Blair like a wooden circus tent spike and promptly shoved the spike into Michelle's heart.
 
The vampire convulsed for a instant, then turned to dust.
 
Buffy got up from her position next to where the vampire once was and looked to face the cop and the grad student. "We need to talk."
 
"I'll say," spat out Blair. It was all he could think of at the moment.
 
"Can you meet me back at the high school library in, say, fifteen minutes?"
 
Both men nodded, and Buffy turned and left, heading back to Giles' car. Jim ran to catch her, "just where do you think you're going?"
 
Buffy forced herself out of Jim's arm grip, and he was astounded by how much strength she had, particularly considering her size. She replied, "look, detective, I'm not going to try to skip town or anything. It's just that what happened back there is going to take some explanation and I'd rather not do it here." Satisfied that he at least seemed to believe her she continued, "Okay? So I'll see you in fifteen minutes at the library." She then turned and left, headed for Giles' car and what she hoped wouldn't be a lecture about killing vampires in front of 'innocents' again.
 
Blair found his way up to where his partner stood as they both watched the young woman get in a car with the high school librarian. As they watched the ancient car sputter and drive away, both men wondered how the young high school girl was going to 'explain' committing the murder of a formerly dead corpse in front of their eyes.
 
And why, and how, the body instantly turned to dust.
 
*****
 
"So let me get this straight," commented Blair, "this place is known as the 'Mouth of Hell' because of some sort of supernatural gateway that draws mystical energy to it like a magnet. And because of this, your town is overrun with all sorts of monsters, demons, witches and creatures, but particularly with vampires?"
 
Giles, Buffy, Willow and Xander all nodded. Jim continued, "and you," nodding his head to Buffy, "are the 'chosen' Vampire Slayer, born with some sort of supernatural abilities that helps you to locate and kill vampires?"
 
Buffy nodded as Blair picked up, "and you three back her up by researching prophecies, helping her to train, finding things she might need through whatever means necessary, and giving her general moral support?" Giles, Willow and Xander nodded again.
 
Jim added, "and that thing that we encountered back there is a special type of vampire that has all the other vampire characteristics but is unaffected by daylight and Buffy's 'abilities' can't track them?" Giles and company nodded again as Jim sat back down next to his partner.
 
The Sentinel looked out the small library windows at the fading sunlight. He didn't know what to believe. He had been constantly checking the group from the time they started their outlandish story for any signs that they might be lying, but he found none. The librarian Giles had been working for almost two hours to explain the town's complex "history" to the two men. Not only was the man convinced he was telling the truth, as far as Jim could tell, he was, in fact, desperately trying to make the two men believe that the outlandish tale was what was really going on in Sunnydale. He laughed to himself as he realized that was how Blair first sounded to him when he first tried to explain what was going on with Jim's senses. He had to find out what Blair's impression of these guys was. He turned to his partner and whispered, "so what do you think, chief?"
 
Blair whispered back, "vampire myths and the like are rampant in all ancient cultures, Jim. The common belief is that those myths were created to come up with plausible reasons that bad things happened…"
 
As his voice trailed off, Jim knew he was holding something back, "but…?"
 
Blair replied, "but then again, everyone told me Sentinels were just a myth too."
 
[Touché,] thought Jim.
 
Blair added, "and nothing I've ever seen could be classified in the same category of weird as what happened to us in the morgue today. At this point, I'm willing to believe them--at least, until a more plausible explanation comes along."
 
Jim let out a deep breath. He was hoping, at first, that maybe this whole setup was an elaborate reuse set up by the vampire cult to cover their tracks. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that Blair was right. [After all, it's a lot harder to discount myths and legends when you're the actual personification of one.] Jim turned to the group and announced, "okay, we believe you."
 
As they all visibly relaxed, Jim continued, "so what now?"
 
Giles replied, "actually, we were hoping you could tell us." The Watcher went over to the stacks and grabbed the book that the 'Blessed Protector' prophecy came from. He flipped to the prophecy and handed it to Blair to read.
 
The younger man read over the prophecy, his eyes growing wider as he first scanned the page, then read the text in more detail. He asked Giles, "you think this is talking about us?"
 
"I'm not exactly sure. I'm fairly certain that the first part is talking about the Order of Ra, and 'will descend from the clouds' and 'guided by wisdom and innocence' could certainly be talking about you two."
 
Blair nodded in agreement. That much he could see as well.
 
Giles went on, "however, as unique as your pairing may be, I don't see how it would fit into 'separate from the hunted'…"
 
Jim's attention drifted from Giles' explanation of the prophecy as it focused on the new person who had just entered the room. [If you could call it a person,] he thought. The man had a heartbeat, but it was slower than a human heartbeat, and quieter, almost as if it didn't need to pump quite as much blood as everyone else's did. He didn't breathe, as far as Jim could hear, but the strangest thing of all was the smell that pervaded the man's being like a subtle cologne. The Sentinel recognized it immediately, because he had smelled a similar scent that afternoon.
 
The man smelled like a corpse.
Michelle's corpse.
 
He drew his gun and leveled it at the dark-haired 'man', which caused all conversation in the room to cease. He then asked, "who are you?"
 
The man looked at him with an absurd amount of calm and spoke with a gentle voice, "you can call me Angel, and you can put the gun away. Even if it were necessary, it's useless on me."
 
Buffy chimed in, "he's right, detective. Angel is a vampire. But don't worry--he's on our side."
 
Jim re-attached the safety on his gun and put it in the holster, allowing Angel to come into the room. After Buffy introduced the vampire to Jim and Blair, she explained the story of how Angel came to possess a soul, and how he, in turn, had been helping Buffy find and destroy the others of his kind ever since she came to Sunnydale. As the nervous tension in the room dissipated once again, Angel asked, "so, detective, out of curiosity, how could you tell I wasn't human?"
 
Jim looked at him with only half-surprise. "Excuse me?"
 
Angel replied, "one thing about vampires, detective, is that we can often detect strong emotion in people, sometimes to the point of reading minds. When I walked in the room, it was like something almost instinctive kicked in, and you drew the gun on me before you even really thought about it. I've never met a human who could pick up on my other nature before it revealed itself."
 
The rest of the group looked at Jim and Blair with renewed curiosity. Giles chimed in, "yes, detective, I think I'd like to know that information myself."
 
Jim wasn't about to tell them about his senses, so he decided to divert attention back to Angel. "What do you mean by your other nature?"
 
Instantly, Angel's face changed from his attractive human features to the twisted face of a demon. He hissed, "this is my other nature."
 
Jim and Blair jumped back from the table in shock. Angel turned his face to the floor, drew in a deep breath, and instantly his face returned to human form. After Jim got his voice back, he stammered out, "what was that?"
 
Buffy replied, surprised, "that was his 'vampire' face, detective."
 
Jim exclaimed, "but the one we saw this afternoon…"
 
Giles replied, "…was of a special sect called the Order of Ra. As I mentioned before, they have been given special abilities that allow them to hide their true nature. Evidently, that includes the removal of most demonic features from their appearance."
 
Before anyone else could speak up, Angel interjected, "and you still haven't answered my question, detective."
 
Jim wished for a moment that he was half as good at coming up with an on-the-spot lie as his partner was. He decided to try a truth that could be semi-plausible. "I couldn't hear you breathing. That, added to an incident we experienced earlier this evening and the conversation we were just having simply made me a little nervous, that's all." He then tried to add a little lie, "I didn't know you weren't human until Buffy said something."
 
Buffy, however, wasn't buying it. "Wait a second, you drew your gun while Angel was still a good ten, maybe fifteen feet away from you. No one could possibly hear anyone's breathing from that distance."
 
The second Buffy said, "…no one could possibly hear…", '…separate from the hunted…' finally clicked into place in Rupert Giles' mind. He voiced his realization, "unless that person was a Sentinel."
 
Blair and Jim looked at the librarian in shock, while Buffy looked simply confused. She asked, "Sentiwhat?"
 
Knowing that he would most likely need to explain the concept to Buffy, Giles had already formulated an explanation in his mind. "A Sentinel is someone who has one or more senses that are enhanced far beyond normal human function. In pre-civilized cultures, a Sentinel would warn the tribe of impending danger and help in the search for food. His skills would normally be honed by extensive periods of time in isolation, and he would be aided and advised by a Guide who would help him to use his skills in a way that best served the tribe." He hit his hand on the table and declared, "I can't believe I didn't think of this before!"
 
Buffy mumbled that part of the prophecy to herself, "…not of the hunters yet separate from the hunted…", as Jim grabbed the book out of Blair's hand to read this prophecy for himself.
 
Giles noticed the look on Blair's face. "I take it this information is nothing new to the two of you, Mr. Sandburg?"
 
Blair shook his head slightly. "No, but I'm wondering how you came across this information?"
 
"Before I came to this lovely town, Mr. Sandburg, I received my degree from Oxford and worked as an Assistant Curator at the British Museum. And considering my evening activities," nodding his head over to his Slayer, "I can pass nothing off as mere myth or superstition."
 
By this point, Jim had finished reading the prophecy, and rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. The prophecy was fairly obscure, but it was clear even to him that the two of them were a close match to the description of the "Blessed Protector" in the prophecy. And even though he still wasn't sure about this whole 'vampire' thing, the five people in front of them were definitely wrapped up in this somehow, and he was determined to find out how.
 
For some reason, Blair seemed to be swallowing this whole thing hook, line and sinker, and it bothered Jim. He decided he'd wait, though, and prod his partner for information once they had a chance to get away from these kids and their bizarre guardians and take the time to discuss things then. [In the meantime, Ellison,] he thought, [just play along. Even if these guys talked about your senses to anyone, who'd believe 'em?]
 
By this point, Buffy was just plain confused. Giles' explanation of what a 'Sentinel' was had gone way over her head. [Enhanced senses? Protect the tribe? Where does Giles think he is now, the Amazon jungle or something?] One look at poor Xander's face and she knew that he was undoubtedly just as lost, although Willow seemed to be following the discussion actively and with great interest. [Although who knows? With Willow, it's just as likely that she's developed a major crush on that grad student.] A second look at Willow's face cemented her opinion. [Yep, crush time. But for those of us who want a clue as to what's going on…] Buffy addressed the group, "Excuse me, but I think I lost you guys right around the part about him having 'enhanced senses'. Someone care to fill me in?"
 
Giles let out a long sigh. There were some days when he was convinced that in the hands of the girl sitting before him, the world was truly doomed. This was one of them.
 
Jim looked over at the young 'Slayer' and smiled. [Might as well play this to the hilt.] "What's confusing you, Buffy?"
 
"Well, first off, this 'enhanced senses' thing. That means that you have, like, superhuman hearing or something?"
 
Jim chuckled slightly at the 'superhero' analogy, and replied, "you could call it that, yeah."
 
"And your other senses are just as strong?"
 
Jim nodded.
 
Buffy wrinkled her forehead in thought for a moment. She wasn't quite sure how to prove Jim's claim was true. How could you test to see if someone has superhuman senses, when you don't? After all, when they give you a response, how can you tell they're not just making it up? She leaned over to Angel, who was sitting next to her, and whispered, "do you think they're telling the truth?"
 
Angel nodded, and whispered back, "I've known a couple of Sentinels over the years, and this guy fits the bill, all right. The ones I knew were both military, and they definitely fit the big, strong, soldier type."
 
Jim leaned in, curious, and asked Angel, "you know other Sentinels?"
 
Blair looked over at the trio. "You know another Sentinel? Where?"
 
Angel replied, "Blair, other than detective Ellison here, I don't know any _living_ Sentinels. The last one I encountered was about a hundred and fifty years ago. I tried to attack his village, but he could sense me coming and got the people in the village out before I could get there."
 
Blair asked, "Just how old _are_ you, Angel?"
 
"Around 243, give or take a couple of decades. You tend to lose count after your 200th birthday."
 
Blair and Buffy both slumped back in their chairs in astonishment. While Blair was shocked at Angel's true age, Buffy was amazed that given the confused look on Giles' face, the only person who heard her whispered conversation with Angel was Detective Ellison. [Unless…] She addressed the two men, "how did you know what Angel had whispered to me? No one else in the room heard it, and you two are sitting the furthest from us."
 
Jim pointed to his ear, while Blair replied casually, "unlike Jim here, all of my senses are 'normal'. I've just hung around Jim long enough to know that if Jim says he heard something, he heard it. I've never even known him to lie to me once in the three years we've known each other." Blair then remembered something about what Angel just told him. "You said that the Sentinel sensed you coming. Do you have any idea how?"
 
While Angel shook his head, Jim replied, "he probably smelled you."
 
Every human at the table sat up, attentive. This was definitely a new one. Buffy asked, "excuse me, but exactly _what_ do you mean by that?"
 
Giles chimed in, "yes, I've never heard anything about vampires _smelling_ different than the general population."
 
Jim noticed the look on Blair's face--it was one of his 'Guide looks' that meant he didn't smell it either, but he completely trusted and accepted the fact that Jim had noticed something unusual. Jim explained to the group, "when Angel first walked in, I did notice that he wasn't breathing, but at first, I just thought it was my senses short-circuiting on me or something. The most distinguishing thing about him, though, was that he smelled like a corpse."
 
Buffy almost looked worried. Two possibilities ran through her mind, and neither was good: one, either Angel was wasting away because his soul wasn't letting him feed, causing his body to decay; or two, he _was_ feeding and lying to Buffy about it, and if that were true, she'd probably have to kill him.
 
Remembering what little he knew about conventional vampire legends, Blair remarked, "but I thought vampire's bodies don't decay, as long as they're feeding regularly."
 
Jim realized he needed to clarify the statement. "Wait a minute, chief. He didn't smell like a normal corpse." Suddenly he put two and two together. "He smelled like Michelle's corpse."
 
Angel, who had been listening to the proceedings with increasing interest, gawked at Jim's statement. "Your sense of smell is _that_ good?"
 
Jim nodded.
 
Giles needed a little clarification on the inside conversation Angel and Jim now seemed to be having. "Angel, would you care to explain what you mean by that?"
 
Angel replied, "I'm sure you're aware that the humans and animals give off pheromones to attract the opposite sex?" Giles nodded. "Vampires have a different type of 'pheromones', so to speak. This 'scent' helps us to distinguish between those of our kind and humans, so that we're not trying to feed off each other. My guess is, that's probably what the detective smelled from both Michelle and myself, right?"
 
Jim nodded. "I think so. I can sometimes smell human pheromones, so it would make sense that I would be able to smell something like that as well, right, chief?"
 
Blair nodded in agreement. He then asked Jim, "was there a difference between the smells you got from Angel and what you got from Michelle?"
 
Jim shook his head. "Not anything substantially significant, at least that I can remember."
 
Willow chimed in, "but even if the smells were different, we would have to find another vampire from the Order to see if the smell was a distinguishing characteristic, right?"
 
Jim, Angel and Blair all nodded. Xander spoke up, "so that brings us back to square one: how do we find the vamps in this Order of Ra?"
 
Jim replied, "good old fashioned police work. Blair and I will go over to the station tomorrow, see if we can find out who's just moved into town recently."
 
Buffy agreed, "good idea--once you've gotten a list of who's new in town, you can use that supernose of yours to tell us if any of those people smell like Michelle did."
 
Even Giles could see the Sentinel's reaction to Buffy's rather stupid remark, so he quickly interjected, "oh my, would you look at the time! If these children aren't home soon, their parents are going to get quite suspicious, so I suggest we adjourn this meeting for the evening."
 
One look at their watches forced all but Angel to agree. As long as it was dark out, Angel pretty much didn't care about time. It wasn't like he had anyone to answer to about his comings and goings, anyway.

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