It was the heat, or to be more exact the complete lack of said heat, that hit them as they walked out of the air-conditioned comfort of the airport.
Buffy wrinkled her nose in disappointment. "I thought Australia was supposed to be, you know, hot as in sun, sand and surf, because I'm noticing a distinct lack of all three."
"Well we are only at the airport Buffy," Willow answered. "But it's a big place, almost the same size as the continental United States and we are right down in the southern, colder parts of the country. Melbourne's on a similar latitude to San Francisco not LA."
"How come nobody tells me these things," Buffy complained. "I only brought summery clothes."
"Well then, I guess you're screwed." A voice commented from behind them.
Buffy and Willow turned around to find a tall, slim dark-haired young woman surveying them coolly.
"I'm sorry?" Buffy asked warily.
"You're screwed," the young woman repeated. "Melbourne's the embodiment of four seasons in one day. You know, like in the song."
Buffy and Willow stared at her blankly.
"Four seasons in one day. Crowded House." The blank stares continued. "Never mind, shoulda known you Yanks wouldn't listen to any decent music." She muttered.
"That's not true," Buffy replied indignantly. "I love Justin Timberlake."
"Anyway," Willow jumped in quickly before Buffy could say anything else. "I take it your our welcoming committee."
"Yep, name's Jess," The young woman introduced herself. "Sorry about not finding you sooner, but the airport's a big place and I wasn't told exactly where you were coming in."
"Well you found us anyway," Willow said brightly. "So all's well that ends well."
"Uh huh." Jess said noncommittally. "I was told there were going to be three of you arriving, where's the other one?"
At that exact moment Xander emerged through a door a few metres further down, lurching under the mountain of luggage he was carrying. "OK I don't have either super witchy powers or super strength, so how did I end up carrying all the bags."
"Because you're the man." Buffy answered simply.
"Are you all right there?" Jess asked uneasily, a little concerned at the way the guy was staggering towards them.
"No really, I'm fine. I like lower back pain, it makes me feel more alive."
Jess shrugged nonchalantly. "Cool, I'll go get the car." She turned around and walked off in the direction of the car-park.
Xander stared after her, stunned disbelief on his face. "She did realise I was joking right?" He asked the other two.
Buffy and Willow just smiled and walked off after Jess.
"Great," he muttered, shifting the weight of the bags to a more comfortable position and trudging off after them. "If I have permanent spinal damage Willow better have a spell to put it right again, otherwise her bag is the first one that's going to be 'lost by the airline.'"
The mood in the room was understandably downcast; they had after all just lost five fellow Slayers the previous night, including their squad leader. Most of the dozen or so girls in the room were still in a state of shock, their eyes swollen and red from crying.
"I know you're all in a lot of pain right now," Buffy began softly. "I know some of you lost friends last night, people who meant a great deal to you. But you're going to have to put that all behind you, bury it until this is finished, until you have the time to grieve.
"The thing that murdered your friends is still out there and it will kill again unless we stop it, and we have to stop it because nobody else will. It's all part of being a Slayer, the rest of the world depends on us to stop things like this happening."
"And how do you plan on stopping it?" One of the girls asked quietly.
"Firstly I'm going to head back to the place where...the incident happened last night, snoop around a little, see if I can discover some clues about what did this and how to fight it-"
"And what if it's still there?" A tall, blonde girl interrupted harshly. "What if you get attacked like the others did, what will you do then?"
"If that happens then I'll deal, and I won't repeat the mistake your squad leader's made last night." Buffy answered calmly.
"Sorry?" Buffy looked confused
"Her name was Kayla." The blonde girl said flatly.
"Fine then," Buffy looked the girl directly in the eye. "I won't repeat Kayla's mistake."
"And what mistake was that exactly?"
"She forgot the first rule of Slaying, the Golden Rule," Buffy continued, not breaking the eye-contact. "Don't. Die. When she saw the first two members of her squad fall she should have pulled the rest out and ran but she didn't, instead she panicked, she froze and her entire squad died."
"So you're saying this is all Kayla's fault," the other Slayer continued, not backing down an inch. "That her squad died because of her."
"No, I'm not blaming her," Buffy's voice hardened. "If it was anyone's fault it was the demon that killed them, what I am saying is that she made a fatal mistake and I won't."
"Buffy." Willow repeated for the third time, trying to grab the Slayer's attention and stop anything before it got started.
Buffy and the tall, blonde Slayer continued to glare at each other for a moment, before Buffy finally broke off the stare-a-thon and turned slowly to face Willow.
"What's up Will?"
"Got a call from Scotland," Willow replied. "They've finished working on that image from the video."
"Are you guys set up to receive a video call here?" Buffy asked, deliberately ignoring the girl in front of her.
"Um yeah, I'll just go set it up." Someone answered and then slipped quickly out of the room.
An awkward, uncomfortable silence reigned for a short moment, as the blonde Slayer glared accusingly at Buffy, while Buffy tried to ignore her, avoiding turning the tension between them into an outright fight.
The silence was finally broken by a large-screen TV on the wall behind Buffy flaring into life and a familiar figure appearing on the screen.
"Leah," Buffy instantly recognised the red-headed Slayer. "Have you got anything for us?"
"Not a lot I'm afraid ma'am," Leah's distinctively thick, Scottish brogue blared from the speakers.
"The image isn't as clear as what Renee..." Leah paused. "Well it's not as good as it could have been, but it's the best we can do under the circumstances, I'm sending it to you now."
When the image flashed up on the screen some of the Slayers behind Buffy gasped and began whispering amongst themselves, Buffy just stared at the face thoughtfully, frowning softly and chewing on her lip.
"As I said it's not a lot to go on," Leah's apologetic face replaced that of the killer's. "But it appears your wee beastie is human."
"Just because he looks human," Buffy answered. "Doesn't necessarily mean that he is. Thanks for that Leah."
Leah nodded and as the screen faded to black Buffy turned to face the group of Slayers in front of her, the expressions on the faces ranging from anger to disbelief to Jess's seemingly perpetual nonchalance.
"So now we know what this thing looks like and we can hunt it down more effectively," Buffy said, making sure to meet the eyes of every Slayer in the room. "I want that picture printed off and distributed to everyone in this room, we need to find this guy and we need to find him fast before he hurts anyone else."
"But he's human isn't he, I mean he looked human." One of the Slayers asked, shaking her head in denial at the thought. "But nothing human could do what he did to one Slayer let alone five, right?"
"As I said in my experience just because it looks human doesn't mean that it is. There are plenty of things out there that wear a human face in order to disguise their true nature."
"Like vampires, maybe it was some kind of supercharged vampire." Another girl suggested excitedly. "Or maybe it was one of those ubervamp thingies you fought in Sunnydale when you closed the Hellmouth?" She looked at Buffy expectantly.
"Even an ubervamp couldn't have done that to five Slayers," Buffy replied. "And besides an ubervamp looks about as human as Michael Jackson.
"Plus your mystics and Willow couldn't find any traces of magic in the area," Buffy continued, cutting off the other girl before she could add to her wild theories. "So that rules out any kind of magical supercharger.
"Now here's the plan, me, Willow, Jess, you and you," Buffy pointed at a random girl in front of her and then at the tall, blonde Slayer who had confronted her earlier. "Are going to go visit the scene of last night's crime, meanwhile Xander will help you research this guy, see if he matches any descriptions we have in our library. Failing that try tapping into the police database or local newspapers see if they have anything on him."
"And what makes you think we're going to fare any better than Kayla and her crew did?" Jess asked quietly.
"Because we have three things going in our favour, first we won't be taken by surprise, second, we have her," Buffy pointed directly at Willow, who gave an embarrassed smile and a little wave. "The most powerful Wicca this side of England and third, this," Buffy reached down into the bag at her feet and withdrew the Scythe with a flourish. "That should be more than enough to ensure a different outcome this time if it comes to that. Now let's get moving."
Buffy emerged from the building frustrated, even though they had searched every room thoroughly the only evidence they had found was of it formerly being used as a squat by junkies and currently as a nest for some scarily, though Willow reassured them not demonically, large rats, of the thing that had wiped out an entire squad of Slayers, or the bodies of the squad, there wasn't a single sign.
"Well that was a complete waste of time." The blonde Slayer Buffy had learnt was called Nicole pushed past her and down the steps.
"You'll have to forgive her," Jess walked up beside her. "Nicole and Kayla were close, they've been through a lot together. I don't think she's gotten used to the fact that Kayla's gone yet."
"Well it's only been a day but she is going to have to," Buffy answered. "Otherwise that attitude of hers is going to get her killed."
"That's a bit harsh isn't it?"
"Oh I didn't mean by me," Buffy explained hurriedly. "Although if she keeps it up with the Joan Collins 'tude I may be tempted to try.
"I mean if she keeps acting this way she's going to get sloppy out in the field and as soon as that happens she's going to get either herself or someone else in serious trouble."
Jess stared after Nicole's retreating back. "Yeah, I guess you're right." She gave Buffy a smile of thanks and then ran down the steps in an effort to catch up with the other Slayer.
Buffy let her eyes wander over the scene in front of her, contemplating her next move. She felt Willow and the last Slayer exit the building behind her and move past her, starting the long walk back to the local Slayer HQ.
She was about to follow them when a movement in the shadows across the street caused her to freeze and focus in on the spot where the movement had occurred, for a brief second there was nothing there and then suddenly a tall, slim, strikingly attractive young women just appeared as if out of thin air.
Her face and figure may have been striking but strangely it was her clothes that caught Buffy's immediate attention. She was dressed head to toe in a remarkable, tight-fitting, black, silky material that Buffy had never seen before, which considering the amount of shopping she had crammed into her short life was unusual in and of itself but the strangest thing was the style of the woman's clothes, they were of a cut and design that was completely alien to her, Cordelia would have had a field day trying to guess the designer.
The young woman wasn't actually doing anything, she just stood there, completely still, so Buffy followed her eye-line and realised she was watching the small troupe of Slayers and Willow walking down the street. Buffy turned back to her and their eyes met for a brief instant, a small fleeting smile touched the young woman's lips and then she was gone.
It was only after the woman had disappeared that Buffy became conscious of the breath held tightly in her chest, a frown creased her features as she gently released it.
After a quick glance at the spot where the young woman had been standing she set off in pursuit of the others, running at full speed until she caught up with them. "Guys, hey guys." She yelled.
They all stopped and turned to face her. "What's up Buff?" Willow asked the question on everyone's lips.
"Did any of you see the woman standing over there watching us?" They all looked in the direction Buffy was pointing at.
"Um, I don't see any woman over there." Jess said slowly.
"Well no, she's not there now," Buffy answered as if speaking to a two-year-old. "She disappeared a few moments ago."
"Disappeared?" Nicole said sceptically.
"Yes disappeared, as in poof," Buffy answered. "But I don't mean as in a magical poof, at least I don't I do. Anyway she was there one minute and then gone the next."
The other exchanged a bewildered glance. "Look you've just flown a very long way and I'm sure you're tired," Jess said soothingly. "Jet lag can have strange effects on people-"
"I am not jet lagged and I am not seeing things," Buffy stated firmly. "She was standing there and she was watching us," she paused as something slowly began to occur to her. "Or maybe she was watching the building."
"So what you think this chick might have something to do with the thing that killed Kayla and her crew?" Nicole asked.
"It's possible." Buffy shrugged.
"Well it's late, and if she was there she's not there now," Willow intervened, being the voice of reason. "I don't think there's much point in trying to track her now. We'll come back tomorrow when we're all a little less tired and emotional and see if we can find anything."
"Yeah, that's a good idea Will," Buffy agreed. "I could probably do with a good night's sleep, nothing to do with jet lag or anything, I'm just a little tired."
They all began walking back down the street again, Buffy casting one last, long look behind her before following after.