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Giles looked up from the book of prophecy he was reading as he heard Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison coming through the doors of the library. While he was grateful that he had the Slayer and her friends around him, sometimes it was good to have another college-educated male around to bounce ideas off of.
Even if that person _was_ Professor Sandburg, who still seemed to have one foot stuck in the teenage years himself. He greeted the gentlemen, "good morning! How did the interview go with the assistant principal?"
Jim noticed that Buffy and her friends had congregated here when the Assistant Principal had sent them away. He recounted the details of the interview to the group, adding as he concluded. "There was one thing I noticed about him that was a little strange, though. I couldn't hear him breathing, and I picked up a vampire's scent around him, but it was faint, like it was coming from someone far away instead of coming directly from him. I also heard a buzzing sound, like a small transistor radio, but again, that was very faint. I can't come to any definite conclusions as to whether or not our Mr. Filsdera is a vampire."
"Interesting," mused Giles.
Buffy asked, "could this 'blessing' of theirs mutate to help them adapt to their current danger?"
Giles replied, "it's possible, --"
Before he could finish the sentence, Blair replied, looking over Willow's shoulder, "but I don't think it's likely. Jim, come take a look at this."
Jim stood behind Blair, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen as his Guide explained, "we found a web site devoted to this school that Mr. Filsdera says he taught at before he came here to Sunnydale. The school exists, all right -- in fact it's a technical high school where students work on all sorts of inventions, including…" As Willow pulled up the information they had been looking at earlier Blair concluded his comments, "…a portable ozone generator."
Confused, Willow looked up at Blair and asked, "but why would someone want to carry around something that creates ozone? It's not like it's going to solve the greenhouse effect to have individual people carrying around something like this?"
"True," Blair replied, "but there is a more practical use for ozone down here on Earth." As an inside explanation for Jim, he stated, "Jim, think of ozone as white noise for your sense of smell." Realizing immediately what that meant, Jim sat down and sighed in frustration. While he could hear where a white noise bubble existed with his hearing, he couldn't hear _through_ white noise. And now he was going to have to try to train his sense of smell to react in the same way? He could already feel the headache coming on.
Realizing that he had totally lost the other people in the room, Blair continued his explanation. "Have you ever heard a sound that was painfully uncomfortable, either by being too high-pitched or too loud?" As every person in the room nodded, Blair continued, "white noise works by sending out a sound signal that cancels out the offending frequencies. The effect of ozone on your sense of smell is similar, but the way the effect is produced is different. Instead of working on the source of the offending odor itself, ozone works on your sense of smell, desensitizing it until the offending odor is virtually unnoticeable."
Buffy muttered under her breath, "…the wonders of modern technology…" Out loud, she asked Jim, "so if a vampire is wearing one of these, you couldn't be a hundred percent certain if the person was a vampire or not?"
Jim shook his head. "Not exactly, Buffy. Now that I know they might be using these things, I can check for other things that might be evidence that the person is wearing a portable ozone generator." He then turned and asked his Guide, "like the buzzing noise I heard?"
Blair nodded. "Right -- that was probably the sound the machine makes when it's operating. To anyone else, it would be silent, but since you had never heard anything like it before, your hearing probably picked up on it as unusual."
Xander then commented, "trouble is you can't go around and check everyone in Sunnydale to see if they're wearing an ozone generator."
Giles agreed, "true…but you _could_ use the fact that we know the last known location of the Order to track down some of the other people who might have moved to Sunnydale. Willow, out of the people who have just recently moved to Sunnydale, how many came from LA?"
Willow looked through the information she had gathered. "From what I can tell…at least six of them. There are six more that don't list any sort of previous background prior to their arrival in Sunnydale."
Giles thought out loud, "so if they're all vampires…that would mean that there are thirteen in the higher circle of the order."
Buffy asked, "how do you know they're in the higher circle of the order?"
Giles replied, "once the Order comes into a town, they usually entrench themselves in prominent positions in the schools, business, et cetera. They're often there for decades before they move on. Before they leave, though, they have a tremendous competition, fighting each other to the death, specifically to see which of the order will survive. Those who do become part of the inner circle; and that group moves on to another town. That way, only the strongest vampires are a part of the order at any given time."
Buffy commented sarcastically, "great. So that means we're not only fighting vampires we can't always tell are vampires, they're Sunnydale's best and brightest?"
Giles sighed. "Apparently so."
Jim thought for a minute about everything that he was hearing, and made a decision. "Okay, I'll go check out a few of the people on this list, see if I can connect them to Filsdera. Blair, can you stay here and help Willow and Giles try to pull up more information on the six we don't have a previous background for?"
Blair saw this maneuver exactly for what it was: Jim's overprotectiveness kicking in at full speed. But just because he wasn't going to be at Jim's side didn't mean that he wasn't in danger. And what about the danger Jim was about to face, anyway? The girl could handle herself here, and probably come up with more information than he ever could. "Un uh, Jim. I'm going with you."
"Whoa, chief," he replied, "I saw the way that Filsdera looked at you this morning, and I _don't_ want to take any chances that another one of his 'brothers' might have a little less control than he does. Apparently, this guy knows who we are, or he wouldn't have had the ozone generator on to distract me. But, he doesn't know who Buffy is, so he wouldn't go around trying to attack you here in the school with so many easily available witnesses. I think you'd be a lot safer right here."
Blair tried to argue, "but what about you, Jim--?"
The Sentinel cut him off. "Chief, I'll be fine. I promise I won't interview any of these people in a private room, or be alone with any of them for even a split second. Humor me just this once, okay?"
Blair sighed. There was no arguing with Jim when he got like this. "All right. But call me when you get out of each interview, okay?"
As he waved the cell phone to show that he had it, Jim replied as he walked out of the library, "I promise, chief. I promise."
After three hours of Net surfing and four calls from Jim, Blair was starting to feel very glad he didn't go with the older man. The more he found out about the men and women who were likely to be in the Order of Ra, the less time he wanted to be around any of them. Almost every one of them seemed to either have some sort of military background or martial arts training; the ones who didn't were usually 6'5", 280 lbs of pure muscle, and didn't need military or martial arts background to intimidate _anybody_. Jim could look someone like that in the eye and get answers out of them; however, Blair assured himself, he would have been little use to Jim tagging along behind him.
And he _was_ useful where he was. Once Willow had to go back to class, Blair discovered that Giles, for all his knowledge, was totally unable to use a computer. He did, however, have a machine that was stocked with every tool a good hacker needed to break into any computer that was less secure than the Pentagon's. [Most likely Willow wrote him a wish list and Giles simply bought all of it,] he thought. For all of his British stoicism, those kids definitely had Giles wrapped around their collective little finger.
With that much power behind him, Blair was easily able to find out all he needed to know about the six new residents of Sunnydale that Willow had not been able to gather much information on. Not only did they _all_ hail from LA, but they lived within a two-mile radius of each other. There was a definite connection there. Now all they had to do was find out what it was.
When he looked at his watch, he realized that neither he nor Jim had checked in with Chief Masterson that day, and, knowing this town, he was going to want to see one of them _in_person_ to be sure that the men were safe. Besides, the one thing Blair did _not_ have near the library computer was a phone, and he needed to make some calls to try and further determine the non-supernatural connection between the members of the Order of Ra. He walked over to the door to Giles' office, where the librarian was pouring all of his concentration into some huge tome of ancient prophecy, and stated, "Giles, I'm going to go back to the police station and finish up my work here. If Jim comes by, can you let him know where I'm going to be?"
"Mmmmph.." was the only response he received from Giles.
Convinced the man had not heard a word he had told him, Blair grabbed a piece of paper off of the circulation desk and scribbled a note to Jim. Quickly taping it to the door of Giles' office, he turned and left.
As he walked past the school's massive iron gate and headed toward the police station, he realized the one thing he had not considered when he decided to leave the library.
His track record for getting in trouble.
The minute he was out of sight of the school, two large, muscular men blocked his path. When Blair looked up to try to convince them to let him pass, he was greeted by two pairs of glowing red eyes and two sets of pointed fangs.
He began to fear for his life, and was about to break into a run for the school when Assistant Principal Filsdera came up behind him. "Well, well," hissed the Assistant Principal, "look who we have here? Let the pig go off to play on his own, did we Mr. Sandburg?"
In his usual I'm-about-to-die-so-I-might-as-well-say-something-totally-insane manner, he replied, "guess you figured your pack mules here couldn't take us on together, hmmm?"
The Son of Ra laughed loudly. "you're a very brave man, Mr. Sandburg." His tone darkened as he continued, "but you're a fool. I was going to bring you across right here, but now I think I'll wait. It'll be so much nicer to bring you across with the screams of the Blessed Protector echoing in my ears as he watches helplessly while you die." He ordered his two sons, "bring him below."
Blair turned around in time to see the men he had just called "pack mules" knock him unconscious.
"He's not there? And you haven't seen him all day?" Frustrated, Jim signed loudly as he thanked the officer on the line, "all right then, thanks." Before he hung up the phone, he added, "if he does show up, though, could you have Chief Masterson contact me immediately at this number?…Thank you again."
School had let out half an hour ago, and neither Giles nor the Slayer or her friends could remember having seen Blair any later than one in the afternoon, which was when Giles could faintly remember hearing Blair say something about heading to the police station. Yet, Jim had just called the police station, and, according to Officer Clarkston, no one there had seen Blair all day. Buffy's 'spider-sense' was tingling like mad when she heard that Blair had disappeared.
And she wasn't the only one.
Jim started to pace the width of the library, frustrated and angry that he had no idea who he was dealing with or where they were. The concern for his partner was obvious to all, and only spurred them on to try and help the desperate Sentinel.
"You know who's taken Blair, don't you?" asked Buffy. Her tone, though, belied the truth that they all understood.
Jim looked her straight in the eye and nodded. While he understood the implications behind Buffy's question, he flatly refused to think about them. After all, if Blair were dead, they would have found his body, wouldn't they?
Giles understood the other man's concerns all too well. He, too, was frustrated by how little they understood about their enemy. The only thing they had to go on to this point was the prophecy…
Giles practically jumped up from the chair he had been sitting in, and Buffy could tell by the look on his face that her watcher was on to something. By the time he had brought the well-worn book of prophecy back to the table, everyone was on edge, wondering just what the older man had figured out.
He turned to the Blessed Protector prophecy and skimmed through it again. A lightbulb went off in Giles' mind as he read, then re-read the last part of the prophecy.
By this point, Buffy was ready to inflict bodily harm on her mentor if that was what it took to find out exactly what he was thinking. Exasperated, she exclaimed, "Giles! You look like you just found the meaning of life! Now, will you _please_ tell us what's going on?"
Giles apologized, "Terribly sorry, Buffy. I'm convinced, though, that the key to finding Mr. Sandburg is in the second to last line of the prophecy: '…forcing the demons to the Slayer's domain…'. The Order forced us into chasing them when they kidnapped Mr. Sandburg--"
Buffy interjected, "but then what does the prophecy mean by 'the Slayer's domain'? I doubt it means the Library or the High School, because if it did Jim or I would have found them by now."
Patiently, Giles replied, "I'm not sure…but I do know that when we figure it out, we'll know where they're holding Mr. Sandburg."
Willow thought for a moment, then commented, "I think we can rule out the High School, the Library, and Buffy's house, because since they don't know Buffy as anyone other than the Slayer, they wouldn't connect those places to her."
Xander suggested, "well, what about the Bronze? Enough weird stuff has certainly happened there."
Buffy shook her head. "I don't think so. It's too public a place to stash somebody, let alone for them to tie it to me."
A few tense moments of silence fell over the group, as they racked their brains trying to come up with a solution. Suddenly, the silence was broken by Giles' hand loudly hitting the table. "Of course," he exclaimed, "why didn't I think of this before!"
Confused, Jim looked to Buffy as if to say, 'what's with him?'
Buffy simply shrugged.
Giles then grabbed the group's attention and explained, "for centuries before cash transactions for land were common place, there were only a handful of ways to acquire someone else's property: you could marry into the owner's family, inherit it from them when they died of natural causes, or taking it from them by force."
For once in her young life, Buffy was able to pick up on where this was headed. "So, since I killed the Master…"
Willow completed the thought, "then the underground caverns could now be considered her domain."
Encouraged that he now might have something to do, Xander exclaimed, "I still remember how to get there. So when do we leave?"
Buffy looked at her friend's enthusiastic face and immediately her protective Slayer instincts kicked in. She replied, "_we_ aren't. I still remember how to get there myself. I'll get him back," and started to open up the supply cabinet to arm herself from Giles' cache of weapons.
If Jim had had more time to think about it, he would have gawked at the impressive selection of medieval weaponry that Giles had locked away in the supply closet of a high school library. His entire focus, though, was on saving his Guide, so all he noticed was the crossbow that he knew he would need to fight the vampires. He ran over to the closet, grabbed the crossbow and started loading up a bag with the specially crafted wooden arrows nearby when Buffy grabbed him by the arm, squeezing with a surprising amount of strength. "Jim? What do you think you're doing?"
Jim grabbed Buffy's hand, and with a vise-like grip, pulled it off of his arm. Looking her straight in the eye, he stated simply, "I'm going with you," then returned to his task of putting arrows in the bag and loading every pocket he had with stakes.
Buffy eyed her hand, then the Sentinel with amazement. Being the Slayer, she possessed super-human strength, and had used all of it on Jim's arm. Yet he pulled her hand off his arm like she was a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. If she hadn't been the Slayer, she figured she might even be nursing two or three broken fingers right now. Considering the focused look on Jim's face, Buffy doubted that he understood the amount of strength that small action required. But she understood it fully, and immediately felt sorry for any vampire that would cross their path tonight. Out loud, all she could think to do was stammer out, "okay," and start loading up the weapons they would need for their attack.
Giles simply couldn't believe it. Buffy never accepted their help when it came to a vampire attack, preferring instead to try to keep them as far enough away from the danger as possible. Yet all it took was a few words from the Sentinel and they were off to rescue Blair together. In silent communication, Giles gave his Slayer a look that asked, "what just happened?"
Buffy looked back to Giles and shrugged. Her look said it all -- "I have _no_ idea, but we'll _definitely_ talk about it later." She then turned to Jim, who was waiting impatiently by the Library door. Surprised that she wasn't going to have to chase after the Sentinel, she urged him on, "Jim, let's go."
She didn't have to say it twice. As the two warriors walked out of the Library together, Giles prayed quickly that the three of them would return safely, and soon.
Then, not wanting to leave all of the legwork up to the Almighty, he decided to follow at a discreet distance.

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