SLAYER. We have your husband. He is unharmed. (We're afraid he'll have a headache when he wakes up. Sorry about that.) Come to Solomon Heights, alone, now. He will be freed and neither of you will be harmed. If you bring anyone with you, or tell anyone, for your next date with Drew, you'll take him out for a stake. We are watching you.
—Winston, the karaoke Troubadour
Samantha Kessler's blood went cold. This was not an unusual sensation for her, but this time, it was different. They took Drew! She knew she shouldn't have left him alone, but Drew was on campus! There was supposed to be security around here. But really, they all knew how good (or not) Martense security was most of the time. Students went missing, or showed up dead, or undead, all the time. But this was Drew.
There was only one thing Sam could do about it. She strapped on Drew's rapier, got her axe and the bulletproof vest her father had given her, and went out to her Jeep.
Martense parking garage to Main Street: five minutes, with good traffic lights.
Sam left the Jeep idling in front of the Sacred Grounds. It was dark inside, but Ada often stayed late, studying her books in the basement. Sam folded the note into quarters and stuck it between the door and the jamb, then rang the bell, careful not to break the glass. Back in her Jeep, she drove north to the bridge and climbed Solomon Heights.
Sam's headlights illuminated the open chain fence that normally spanned the forest road. There were vampires in the woods. She could feel their eyes on the back of her neck. If they hurt Drew in any way... They all knew where that thought led. Carnage and a thick layer of dust.
Three cars sat in the parking lot: an orange VW microbus, a classic Beetle with big pink flowers painted on it, and a dark blue Pacer. One of the vampire hippies, a young woman with long blond hair and a fringed leather jacket over flowered dress, was perched on the hood of the Beetle. She waved Sam into a parking spot and asked permission to check Sam's Jeep to make sure no one was hiding in the back, or clinging underneath. Sam let her look. She'd followed the instructions to the letter, since leaving the note for Ada wasn't really "telling" anyone. Technically. Ada could figure it out and send the cavalry, if necessary. The vampire girl told Sam that Drew could be found in a clearing a half-mile up the path, but on either side in the woods, vampires were posted with walkie-talkies. Sam shouldn't out-run her observers, or Drew would die. She could try to kill them, but she probably couldn't kill all of them fast enough to get to Drew before he dies. If any of them failed to check in on time, or checked in with the wrong password, Drew would die. Did the Slayer understand?
Sam understood perfectly. She turned her back and started loping up the winding path through the vampire-infested woods. This was all wrong. Big, obvious trap. But what else could she do? Over and over again, she'd dreamed that the future Slayers were disappearing. In ancient Greece, the Grey Sisters had said as much. In order to save the world, Sam Kessler had to die. Okay, fine. She was ready. She had her last will and testament all made out and updated. For five years, she'd fought vampires, demons, and sometimes people who made the demons look good. And she'd come close a few times. Britta. Anna. The vampire who hit her with a crowbar. Time and again, Sam owed her life to her friends. She owed the world her life. God put her here for a purpose, to fight and die, to save the world. She was the Slayer. That's what they did.
But not Drew. He only fought monsters because she did, and he wanted to be with her. He loved her, and he was not going to die tonight. Not if she could help it.
Sam pounded her frustration and anger out into the hard-packed ground. From time to time, she caught glimpses of the vampires, pacing her through the woods. In the moonlight, she could see them carrying weapons—air guns and walkie-talkies. The trap was closing jaws around her.
She reached the clearing. Drew was lying on the ground, arms at his sides, eyes closed. The tingling at the base of Sam's neck grew stronger. Vampires were gathering just beyond the edge of the trees. The gray-haired vampire who sang karaoke at Blaire's stepped into the clearing directly across from her. The others hung back, waiting.
"Welcome, Slayer. I'm pleased to see you followed our instructions." He waved a languid hand. "Please assure yourself of your husband's well-being." His mouth twitched as if the concept of "Slayer's husband" was a joke. "He has not been harmed, merely..."
"Drugged." Sam knelt beside Drew, keeping one eye on the vampire, who didn't move. She checked Drew's pulse, breathing, and pupils. He was alive, as promised. It crossed Sam's mind to simply sling Drew across her shoulder and run off with him. But she was alone here, with who knows how many vampires ready to shoot them both. It wasn't a risk she was willing to take, until she knew that Drew would be safe.
"He should wake up, in due course. Meanwhile, you and I have things to discuss."
She stood up and faced the Karaoke singer. "So, your name is Winston. As in Churchill?"
"Indeed, and John Winston Lennon. We were both named for the sly Prime Minister."
"But then you go and murder his best song. I actually used to like 'Imagine' before." Sam shook her head sadly. "What do you have to say, Winston, before I slay you?"
"So testy, when we haven't done anything to harm you, or your husband, and don't intend to." Again, that almost smile. That was really annoying. Everything about these vampires was annoying. "I tell you the truth. Drew will go free, and neither of you will come to harm. That's more of a chance than you gave poor Pricilla, who warned you about the Ferryman."
"Forgive me if I don't believe you." Sam snorted. "Pricilla had been dead for I'm guessing about thirty years. That thing that I staked was just wearing her clothes."
"Ah, a common misconception, that vampires have nothing in common with the people we once were. Take her, for example..."
Sam was only half-listening, so when the words 'take her' crossed his lips, her senses leaped to the soft 'pfft' sounds all around the clearing. Sam turned and twisted, jumped, and bent, tilted her axe as a shield and covered Drew's body from the tranquilizer darts. Some she dodged, others deflected, but one scratched the back of her hand, another grazed her cheekbone. Numbness spread, slowing her reflexes. A third dart hit her deep in the small of her back, just below the edge of her Kevlar vest. Paralysis shot up her spine and Samantha Kessler, the Vampire Slayer, fell to her knees and slumped across Drew's body.
Sam woke up again an indeterminate time later.
"Ah, that tranquilizer didn't last very long, but long enough." Winston, the karaoke troubadour smiled down at her.
Sam flexed her arms and legs, but found that she was shackled to some kind of hard surface, a stone altar, or metal table, or what, she couldn't tell. Her arms stretched above her head, and her legs were bound together at the ankles.
"You'll find those shackles quite impervious to your strength. They're specially made for you." Winston and a parade of vampires placed objects on the table around Sam's body. Voices murmured, "Seventeen shells of seventeen-year cicadas." "Slime from thirteen slugs." "Eleven hairs of a three-toed sloth." "Seven flowers of a century plant." "Five bristlecone pine cones." "Three seeds preserved in honey from an Egyptian tomb." "Two in one—a piece of amber, holding the bones of a prehistoric frog."
"What, no eye of newt?"
"Newts are far too quick. I'd hoped for a piece of tortoise shell, but Irene objected to harming the creatures."
"So, now you've got me. What's it to be? Torture? Death by kumbaya?"
"Oh, no, Ms. Kessler. You've completely misjudged us." Winston smiled. "I did promise that you wouldn't be harmed, didn't I? We've never wanted you to come to harm. We were in fact protecting you, as much as we could. That little incident with Mr. Howe—not our idea at all." He lifted a pale green stone amulet and dangled it above Sam's face. "You know what this is, of course."
"Amulet of Neperkin, that you stole from our vault."
"Which your friends Tyler and Cole stole from a tomb in the Middle East. All things come around. Cycles, you know." He spun the amulet in little circles. "Do you know what it's for?"
"Time travel spells."
"Possibly, oh, yes, but not in this case. Time is such a fluid, lovely thing. So many applications. What, you thought we were going to go back in time and eliminate the first Slayer, so there wouldn't be any Slayers at all?"
"That's one theory." In truth, Sam was curious just what Winston meant to do to her. And the longer she could keep him talking, the more time Drew and the others had to find her.
Winston spun the amulet in the other direction. "Not at all. You, of all people, know how difficult it is to change history. I mean, just look at all the trouble your enemies last year went through, and that was only fifty years. Nothing compared to five thousand."
"So you've done your homework."
"My dear, you could say I've made studying you my life's work."
"Un-life, you mean."
"Whatever." Winston shrugged. "No, my dear Samantha, we don't intend to kill you. We never did. What we intend to do, is make you immortal. And we'd best get to it."
"Immortal? Wait! What?" Sam shook her head furiously, but Winston clasped the Amulet of Neperkin around her neck.
"Let time slow down within her skin. Extend her life by three times three. Thus it is spoken, so mote it be."
"So mote it be." The other voices echoed. Sam's body relaxed, slowly and her eyes went glassy.
"That's it, folks. Byron, if you would be so kind, to bring the stethoscope?"