Audaces fortuna iuvat (Fortune Favors the Brave)

—Sunnydale High School's motto

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 8:30 AM. The students of Sunnydale High School were stunned to see bright yellow crime scene tape surrounding their entire school. Of course they were used to seeing individual rooms and even sections of the school cordoned off by the police, but not the whole campus. This was supposed to be the first day of school after Thanksgiving, but there would be no school today. By California standards, it was a cold morning, but clutches of students and faculty huddled about the parking lot less to share body heat and more to guard against the inner chill that came from knowing that their school—so often rocked by horrors—might now be the scene of the most gruesome yet. The rumor whisperers differed in their certainty, but their stories were consistent in one detail: The entire Razorback cheerleading squad had been massacred over the weekend while getting in some extra practice for the state cheerleading competition.

On the school steps, stone-faced police officers stood in a line in front of the crime scene tape. Behind them, Principal Snyder spoke seriously to the Police Chief. "I'm very serious," he said to the Chief. "This has gone way beyond the detention or expulsion stage. I don't allow massacres in my school, especially of cheerleaders who have a chance of winning the state championship. And mark my words: whether it's a massacre or a so-called harmless prank, you can be sure that Buffy Summers is deeply involved."

"Still, we have to rule out alternative theories before we can go after Summers."

"Why? I'm telling you, I'm as sure that she's behind this as I am that Richard Nixon was completely innocent." When the Chief stared at him searchingly Snyder exclaimed, "What?"

No one paid close attention to the figures gathered at the edge of the parking lot on a grassy patch beneath a tree. Rupert Giles, the school's librarian, stood while Xander, Willow and Oz sat on the bench before him. They all looked up at Giles as if he could explain what had happened, but his brow was wrinkled in perplexity as he began to speak.

"Quite possibly, I know less than you do," he said. "Early this morning, one of the custodians discovered the bodies of several young women wearing cheerleader costumes. The bodies were dead only a day at most, I believe."

"I hope you'll spare us the unnecessary details," said Willow.

"What? Oh, yes, of course," muttered Giles. "The good news is that I don't believe that Buffy was amongst them. The bad news is that I don't know where she is." He fumbled for words. "Sh—she hasn't checked in since Friday."

"Maybe Buffy ran away again," interrupted Willow brightly. For voicing this possibility, she was rewarded on all sides by icy, silent stares. "Sorry," she said. "It sounded like a good thing when I formulated it in my head."

"What I'd like to know," began Xander, who had been chewing on his lower lip for the past ten minutes. "No, I take that back. I don't 'want' to know this if it's what I think, but I need to know. Did they find Cordelia?"

"To answer your question as best I can," said Giles, "I've heard some names mentioned, and Cordelia's isn't one of them. On the other hand, I am afraid that it was the cheerleading squad, and Cordelia is its captain. Has anyone else seen or heard from her since, say, Saturday night?" They peeked at one another out of the corners of their eyes, but no one spoke. "When did you last see Cordelia?" Giles gently asked Xander.

"Saturday afternoon," he said and then looked down at his knees. "She told me something about her plans for the rest of the day, but I was too busy thinking about…" He gave Willow a sidelong glance; his voice trailed off as he began chewing his lip again.

"What's this, somebody's funeral?" They all turned to see Faith sauntering toward them from across the street. "You guys look wicked dreary. What's goin' on?"

Giles took a step toward her as if he could head her off and spare the others an assault from Faith's insensitivity. "I'm afraid there has been a massacre in the school gymnasium," he said.

"God! Vamps?"

"It would seem likely. From what little I've learned, there was surprisingly little blood—from the perspective of the police; yet all the victims are described as having bled to death."

"Not sparing the gory details!" said Willow in a distressed singsong.

"Oh, sorry," said Giles.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" enthused Faith. "Better find B and dust some vamps, right?" Everyone was silent. "Don't tell me, Buffy already took off after them. Doesn't that girl share the glory with anyone?" Faith looked from face to face, reading in each one the new high on the gloom meter. Finally she said, "Just tell me what happened."

4:30 AM, EARLIER THE SAME DAY. Angel was visible through the window of his room in the old mansion. He was slowly moving through his martial arts routine. Outside, something stirred in the pre-dawn. Angel slowed to a stop. He then glided across the room, snatched his black shirt and deftly pulled it over his torso while on the move. He slipped outdoors and took a position behind a hedge that bordered the manse. There were no further sounds or movements from beyond. Angel sniffed the air. He moved stealthily to another position, hiding for a few seconds, observing, and then moving again. In this way, he made it around the perimeter of the south wing in less than ten minutes.

Spike had been spying on Angel, whom he held ultimately responsible for Drusilla breaking up with him, but the platinum-haired vampire had cursed his vampyric grandsire and rival silently. He had not become carried away enough to make any noise. Indeed, Spike had heard the same distant crunching of leaves that Angel must have, but he had no idea of what it was.

Spike only changed his hiding place once in order to avoid the path of Angel's steady prowl. It was then that the two vampires froze, hearing the noise again. It was difficult to tell at that range, but Spike thought that the distant figure moving through the woods looked like Buffy. He wondered whether Angel thought so, too. His suspicion was confirmed when Angel called, "Buffy?" But she didn't come. Whoever or whatever it was hadn't heard or didn't want to respond. The figure disappeared from view and there was nothing but stillness. Angel went back into his mansion. After waiting a suitable length of time, Spike headed toward the spot where the small female figure had disappeared. He was thinking that something was going on that might be interesting enough to distract him from thoughts of his breakup with Dru.

SAME DAY, 11:00 AM. As she trudged along Maple Street, Willow wished she was in class where she always felt most comfortable. She knew that made her a nerd in the eyes of everyone else, including her friends, but it was a truth she had come to accept. It was a truth unchanged even by her recent status boost from dating Oz who belonged to the local rock band, Dingoes Ate My Baby. Willow would not be in school today, however; there would be no school until Thursday. Funerals for the seven victims found in the gym were scheduled for Wednesday, but there were to be memorial services to include the missing as well: Cordelia Chase and Harmony Kendall were not among the victims, but, like Buffy, they could not be found, either.

Earlier, Willow had spoken to Joyce Summers, Buffy's mother, and Mr. Giles who, together, were looking for Buffy, so far without any luck. Neither of them wanted to go near the mansion where Angel stayed, so Willow had volunteered because she trusted Angel more than they did. Giles had urged her to take Xander with her, but Willow could not do that. Not only were Xander and Angel like oil and water, but Willow could not take Xander along because they were so uncomfortable around each other. She had been considering a de-lusting spell to bring an end to the developing "hots" between them. But now that seemed unnecessary. Cordelia's death had been better than a cold shower, she thought. (Then she thought better of sharing that thought with anyone.) In any case, now their discomfort was greater than before: he was distraught over Cordelia's disappearance as well as guilty for having betrayed her, and being around him made Willow feel responsible for how he felt on top of her own guilt for having betrayed Oz who was supposed to be—was, in fact—her boyfriend. The only good thing about it all was a dim, peripheral awareness that the whole business made Willow feel grown up; she did not like being grown up very much so far.

At last Willow came to Angel's mansion. It was weathered, overgrown and dark. It looked abandoned and seemed to scream "creepy!" even an hour before noon. Bravely, Willow walked up the front steps and opened the massive door, which seemed to creak forever. Inside, the light was dim, and Willow had to wait for her eyes to adjust before moving deeper into the house.

"Angel?" she called tentatively. A square-jawed, brooding face came out of the darkness toward her, startling her before she registered that it was Angel.

"Hello, Willow," he said. "Are you looking for Buffy?"

"How did you know?" asked Willow.

"That's easy to guess. You know Buffy visits me here. Besides, I thought I saw her this morning."

"She was here this morning?" asked Willow, her voice fluttering with hope.

"I can't say for certain. I saw someone in the woods. It sort of looked like Buffy from a distance, but when I called to her, she—or whoever it was—just kept on going. Is Buffy in some kind of trouble?"

"We don't know," Willow said. It suddenly sank in that she couldn't tell whether her friend was alive or dead, safe or in desperate trouble. It was like the previous summer—when Buffy had run away—all over again. Only now Willow felt a particular urgency because Buffy might need to be saved from something; if they could find her in time, they might be able to help her. Willow also knew that this time it was unlikely that Buffy had gone far away; wherever she was probably was not beyond city limits.

"Actually, Buffy has been keeping her distance for the past few days," Angel was saying. "Look, did something happen besides Buffy disappearing?" Willow told Angel what little she knew about the cheerleader massacre, and he was thoughtful for a long time. At last he said, "I'll help you search for her."

"The police found some blood on the upper landing, but there was no body nearby," said Allan Finch who was briefing Mayor Richard Wilkins III. The Mayor sat behind his massive desk, steepling his fingers as he listened intently to his deputy. "They are going to have the county crime lab do some DNA analysis to see if the blood matches one of the cheerleaders."

Wilkins nodded thoughtfully as Finch concluded. "What do you think they'll find, Mr. Trick?" the Mayor asked.

Behind Finch, a chair swiveled about to reveal the figure of Mr. Trick. "My sources tell me they're not gonna find a match to any of the cheerleaders. The landing's where 'it' happened: The Day of Jubilee in the land of the undead."

"Jubilee!" snapped Wilkins. "All I need is a fresh Slayer poking around here! Don't you know the saying, 'The devil we know is better than the one we don't'? Now, I realize that that particular aphorism is inapt in our case, considering we're the ones on the dark side, but I think the point I'm making holds up."

"Whoa, whoa, my man," cooed Trick. "Let me allay your apprehensions. Ain't no other Slayer comin'. Leastwise, not unless somebody offs that girl, Faith. She's the one an' only Slayer now."

"But I thought that when a Slayer dies, another comes."

"The way I hear it, where do you think Faith came from? She was called after the first time Buffy died."

"So Buffy has died before this?"

"Yeah," said Trick, "but this time she's gonna stay dead."