Chapter 12: Live Free or Die
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Daniel hissed. "I should have remembered about the nish'ta."
"We all missed it," Carter said soothingly. "It's done, it's over, we just have to go on from here."
"Easy for you to say, Sam," Daniel shot back. "You weren't the one sitting here all day working on escape plans, while forgetting your fellow prisoner was susceptible to Goa'uld nind-control techniques."
Giles groaned as he looked Buffy over, feeling what felt like every eye in the compound boring in on him. "I shot her," he whispered, staring at her mangled leg. "Dear God, I was aiming to kill her."
"It wasn't your fault," Major Carter said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I know what the nish'ta can do to you, and believe me, you were not responsible."
Giles whirled on the Air Force officer. "You can say that to me after I-"
"I said," Carter snapped, iron in her voice, "it wasn't ... your fault."
Willow looked up from Buffy, tears in her eyes. "So what now?"
Riley kicked the bomb cart. "The bomb's not going any further unless we push it. Radio receiver's fried, and the wiring to the detonator squibs is totally burned away."
"Well, is there another way to set the thing off?" Anya asked.
"Sure," Carter said with a hint of bitterness. "Crack the valves manually and set off a spark. And pray that the Goa'uld aren't in charge of the afterlife."
"What about Buffy?" Willow asked. "We've got to get her out of here."
"We may have to leave her behind," Anya said.
"What?" Willow shouted.
"Absolutely not!" Giles snapped.
"Well, can we drag her out of here and defend ourselves against the hordes at the same time? She's probably going to lose the leg anyway, and how many one-legged Slayers do you know of?"
"Anyanka, if you think that even for a moment I'd consider-" Giles hissed.
"Hey!" Carter yelled. "Nobody gets left behind!"
"I'm only-" Anya sputtered.
"I said nobody," Carter snapped, cutting her off. "End of discussion."
Willow shook her head sadly, then stopped and stared at something in the next chamber. Giles followed her gaze and saw a glittering golden box, encrusted with hieroglyphs.
Daniel saw it too. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
"It healed me," Willow insisted. "I was shot in the chest and it cured me. It even took care of a couple of pimples on my nose. I ... I just don't know how it works."
"Okay, physically, but what it does to you mentally..."
"One use," Carter said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "One use won't do any harm. And we're going to need her."
"She's just a kid, Sam."
"No. She's something else." Sam moved over to Giles. "Can you carry her?"
"Certainly," Giles said. "Willow, can you support her leg?"
"Daniel, you get it started," Carter ordered. "Finn, help me cover up the bomb."
With that, Giles, Willow, and Anya quickly carried Buffy to the sarcophagus; with every step he took, Giles noticed Buffy wincing in pain, and he felt his heart twist in his chest with every twitch in her face.
Daniel touched a glyph on the sarcophagus, and its top rumbled open; Giles carefully laid his Slayer into the glowing opening. "Forgive me," he whispered.
"For what?" Buffy asked weakly.
"I did this. I nearly killed you."
Buffy smiled with half her face. "Did I ever ask you ... to forgive me ... for stabbing you with that ... letter opener?"
"Several times," Giles said softly.
"Then I can forgive you for this," Buffy answered. "We'll ... call it even. Deal?"
Giles grasped her hand, gave it a squeeze, and then let it go as the doors of the sarcophagus began to rumble closed. "Deal," he murmured.
He heard a noise at the chamber door and saw Carter and Riley coming in, pushing the bomb cart. "Figured that they'd notice the thing out in the hallway," Riley said. "In here, maybe we can tuck it in a corner and figure out something."
"We'd better let the others know," Carter said, thumbing her radio mike. "Colonel, we've got a problem here-"
Riley grabbed at her equipment vest and yanked her aside, just in time to avoid the staff-weapon blast that had just been shot at her head. He fired his shotgun into the group of vampires that were charging in from the next chamber over; Carter regained her footing and let loose a long, ripping burst from her own weapon, incendiary bullets streaking almost like lasers and setting their targets alight as they hit.
"Fall back!" Daniel shouted.
"But Buffy-" Willow protested.
"Right now she's the only one who's safe! Fall back!" Daniel repeated, firing blindly with his zat'nikatel.
"Giles!" Riley called; when Giles turned to face him, Riley tossed him his shotgun, shrugging to unsling his rifle from his back. Giles grabbed the shotgun and fired, striking a vampire in the shoulder; he saw the spent shell spinning away and fired again, putting his next shot into the creature's chest and blasting it to powder.
"Get the kids clear!" Riley hollered, slipping an enormous shell into the tube slung under his weapon. As Giles hustled Willow and Anya back, flanked by Carter and Daniel, Riley called out, "Willy Pete! Fire in the hole!" Then he fired, setting off a blinding white supernova among the attacking vampires.
Through the white phosphor fire and burning ash, a monstrous form charged into the chamber. Giles glanced at it and then froze - praying it wasn't what he thought - but if it was - "Riley, get back!" he shouted.
Riley jumped back, rolling out of the doorway - just as the creature took a deep breath and launched a stream of fire down the corridor.
"What the hell is that?" Riley shouted as they ran.
"Gornach," Giles gasped. "Sort of a fire elemental. Very rare, very dangerous, well-nigh impossible to kill."
"And it's probably annoyed because it's not raining lava outside, so it wants to barbecue anything in sight. Namely, us," Anya added. "Isn't this fun."
"You've encountered one of these before?" Daniel asked mildly.
"Not until now," Anya snapped. "And if I go another thousand years before I see another, it'll be too soon." She kicked at a stone as she pounded down the hall. "Well, now what? The plan's obviously gone to hell on a one-way ticket; anybody have any new ideas?"
"I guess we go to Plan B," Willow said, grabbing at an abandoned staff weapon. "We do this the Slayerettes' way."
"And what's that?" Daniel said.
"Make it up as we go," Willow answered.
"Bollocks," Spike hissed as he rolled over onto his back. "I forgot about tall, dark, and gruesome there."
"Never mind that," O'Neill groaned as he struggled upright, then gave up and slumped back down to the ground. "What you forgot was to mention there was someone in here who could blow our cover."
"Spike didn't know," Larry said, training a staff weapon on them. "I never met him until we dragged him in here after one of our sweeps." He shook his head. "You shouldn't have come, Xander."
"Like I was gonna miss out on the end of the world?" Xander spat, holding his head and rocking slightly. "And what's with you wearing the bad guy's colors, Larry?"
Larry frowned. "I owe him. Everything."
"You stood up to the Mayor pretty good," Xander sighed.
"Look what it got me," Larry said. "If it weren't for Kheper I'd be worm food."
Tara looked from Xander and Larry to the others; Spike was on his feet unsteadily, covered by one of the staff-wielding vampires, but the two men in snake armor were still sprawled on the ground, holsters empty, weapons taken from them. Teal'c moved slightly, stilled as another vampire poked him with a staff weapon, and then opened his hands.
"No, I guess you're right," Xander whispered. "Can't reason with a guy who's been whammied."
Tara blinked. What had aroused Spike to rescue Willow the first time? What had broken the thrall?
The chip. Electrical charge to the brain.
A spiny-faced demon, freed of the influence of this mad would-be god by ... the zat. Electric charge.
And now this man. Larry. Xander's friend, apparently, but that was overcome by the thrall. If only there were some way to deliver...
...lord of thunder, I beseech thee...
bring forth the lightning and the thunder
Willow's spell, Tara thought. Dangerous, untried. But without it, death wouldn't be a risk, but a certainty. A last resort, Willow had called it, but if there were ever time for a last resort, now was it.
What had she invoked? Oh, yeah. Tsul'kalu. The Cherokee god of thunder.
"Tsul'kalu, lord of thunder," Tara whispered. "I beseech thee."
Larry looked over at Teal'c and O'Neill, staying close to the vampire guards flanking him.
"Bring forth the lightning and the thunder," Tara murmured, and she felt the energy begin to build within her, tingling, setting her to trembling. She slowly raised her hand, the right one, clad in the elaborate jeweled glove the Air Force had provided for her.
Larry turned to face her.
"Fulgus," Tara hissed, and her arm lit on fire.
The lightning bolt tagged all three, Larry plus the two vampires, blasting them back, but in the same instant, Tara felt her hand begin to burn. She yelled in pain and tore off the glove, flinging away the suddenly superheated gauntlet.
"Sweet," O'Neill rasped as he struggled to his feet. "Nice going."
"Yeah," Xander said as he got on his hands and knees. "Nice shot."
Larry was still on the ground, rocking gently; the two vampires got to their feet, levering themselves up with their staff weapons.
Teal'c opened his helmet to face them. "Join us," he said. "I promise, you will have vengeance upon the false god who has humiliated you so."
"Guys?" Xander said nervously. "Just because these vamps aren't on Kheper's leash any more doesn't mean-"
The two vampires dropped the staff weapons and turned on Tara, brows furrowed, fangs gleaming.
Then with a sickening crack, both of them were smashed aside, thrown into a wall by a single swing of a staff.
Larry stood behind them, sweat trickling down the scarab brand on his forehead, an expression of pure fury in his eyes. He brought his staff back to vertical, glaring at the vampires. "Anybody got a stake?" he asked, his voice rough.
Spike stood up. "Got better'n that," he said; he dug into a pocket of his overcoat, came up with a zat, and swiftly pumped three shots into each vampire as they struggled to their feet. "Haven't you wankers ever heard of searching a prisoner?" he scolded the empty ground where the vampires had been.
"Prisoners are in the holding pen," Larry said. "Three chambers down that corridor and hang a left; you can't miss it. I'll stall Kheper for as long as I can; hopefully you can make it out one or the other of the exits."
O'Neill leaned against a wall. "Already ahead of you there," he said, touching a control and folding the snake-head helmet back into his collar. He tapped his earpiece, then the throat mike. "Carter, what's your status?"
Even in the bad light of the chamber, Tara could see his face turn pale as he heard the answer. "Oh, hell. Hang on, Carter!" he snapped as he grabbed a staff weapon.
"What?" Tara asked.
"They're pinned down. The jumbo-sized whatsit apparently is laying down fire, has 'em cut off from the exits."
Teal'c grabbed a staff weapon for himself, and snatched the zats from where they'd been sequestered, handing one to the Colonel while slipping the other into his sleeve holster.
O'Neill triggered the zat open, then closed, stuffing it into the pouch on his left sleeve. "Teal'c, you're with me." He stared hard at Spike. "Blondie. Make sure they get out all right."
"Didn't we already talk about how we're not getting left behind?" Xander snapped.
O'Neill looked at Xander, slowly rubbing his forehead, wiping off the oval that had been inked on his head in magic marker. "You two did good, kid. I mean real good. Your job's done, okay?"
"Not with half of us pinned down somewhere in this maze, it's not!"
"Xander," Jack said. "You got us in, you bought us as much time as you could. Look ... they got a saying in my job. Until you drop the bombs, you're flying for your country; once the bombs are gone, you're flying for yourself." He put a hand on Xander's shoulder. "Teal'c and me, we've got it from here. You and Tara, your job now is to get outta here alive. You," he continued, pointing at Spike. "You watch out for them, you hear me?"
Spike looked like he was about to say something nasty, then bit it back. "Right," he finally said, gripping his zat.
Larry grabbed his staff weapon and took one long step to follow the soldiers when-
"Larry, this way's out," Xander snapped.
"I can't leave, Xander."
"Like hell you can't, man-"
Larry cut him off. "I'll help, Xander. I'll help your friends get out okay, but I have to stay."
"Staying's not an option, Larry."
"Leaving isn't an option, Harris. I can't explain; you're just going to have to trust me."
"Go!" Larry hissed, turning to follow Teal'c and O'Neill.
"Come on, Harris," Spike snapped, grabbing Xander's arm with one hand and Tara's with the other.
"Hey, isn't the exit the other way?" Anya called as she, Willow, Daniel, and Giles rolled into an anteroom, Carter and Riley following close behind.
"I do believe you're right," Giles answered dryly. "Unfortunately, in case you had forgotten, so is the fire-breathing Gornach."
"Well, why don't we just kill it?" was the response. "You said 'well-nigh' unstoppable; that means that there's some really difficult way of killing it, right?"
"Well, yes. There was one loose near the Devonshire moors during the Blitz; the Watchers' Council convinced the RAF to send a plane to bomb it."
"That killed it, right?"
"Stunned it. They finally dropped a blockbuster on it."
Carter groaned. "So what you're saying is that nothing we've got will work."
"Perhaps if you have more plastique?"
"Used all the C4 on the doorways," Riley said, shaking his head. "We didn't pack any HE or frag grenades, just incendiaries."
"Staff weapons are probably useless, and we can't get a clear shot with the zats," Carter added. "I'm open to suggestions. Even dumb ones."
"I don't suppose we could offer it a breath mint?" Daniel asked mildly. Five pairs of eyes stared him down.
This wasn't the worst plan they'd ever had, Xander mused as the three of them pounded down the hallway towards the front exit to the sewers, but it had to be in the top five.
What was wrong with it? They were running away from the danger that still threatened Buffy, Willow, Riley, and Anya, for one; for another, they were leaving the rescue in the hands of government operatives, who Xander was pretty sure wouldn't be able to find the ground if they were thrown out of a plane; third, just to show how inept they were, they'd left Xander and Tara's defense in the hands of a vampire. Bad enough, that; worse still that it had to be Spike.
He could hear footsteps behind him, getting closer. He glanced at Tara and Spike; Spike was loping along like a marathoner, but Tara was starting to gasp for breath. If they ran any harder, he might have to tell Spike to carry Tara. He'd never be able to carry Tara to safety himself, not and still outrun the vampires.
They were almost to the exit; thirty feet, maybe less.
Then a dull silver sphere sailed over their heads, rolling to a stop at the edge of the outer doorway.
Spike skidded to a stop, catching Xander and Tara by the wrists, yanking them back so hard they yelped in pain as they went flying in the other direction.
"What the-" Xander began to holler, but the curse he was about to spit out was drowned out by a deafening explosion.
Spike let them go so quickly that they both went sprawling to the ground, grabbing his bug-zapper and opening it and firing in one smooth move, sending their pursuers scattering. Xander and Tara hit the ground barely a moment before the ceiling over the exit passage groaned and collapsed behind them, throwing up dust, leaving the two humans coughing and half-blinded.
Xander wasn't sure what was more disorienting: the fact that they'd come within a hairsbreadth of getting blown sky-high, the unsettling fact that their way out was now buried under about forty tons of rubble, or the mind-bending fact that Spike - Spike, for crissakes - had just saved their skins.
"Well, there's that escape route gone balls-up," Spike said with a grimace.
"Other way, I guess," Xander muttered as he struggled back upright,
They turned towards the center of the complex, Spike leading the way with his weapon up and ready.
"Putting a whole lotta effort into saving us," Xander muttered as Spike leaned around a corner. "What gives, Evil Dead?"
"I'm putting a lot of effort into saving me, monkey boy. You and the witch are just along for the ride."
"Right. Just don't forget what Buffy'll do to you if you leave us here to die."
"Part and parcel of self-preservation, mate," Spike snapped, shooting another electric bolt as one of the would-be god's minions poked a head around a corner.
"Hey, how can you tell if that zat gun's about to run out of ... well ... run out of zat?"
Spike shrugged. "Buggered if I know."
It was deja vu all over again, O'Neill figured.
They were up to their eyeballs in trouble, chasing down a snake-head who had apparently taken up a personal grudge against Stargate Recon Team One. And once again, they had an uncertain ally in a First Prime who had opted out of the employment contract.
Of course, this time, the man leading them through the citadel of the would-be god hadn't volunteered for the job or the gold tattoo in the first place.
"Carter?" he barked into the radio.
"Sir, we're still pinned down," she responded. "The thing's got the exit corridor blocked and we haven't got anything to dislodge it."
"Okay, we're on the way. We'll think of something." O'Neill gritted his teeth and looked at Larry. "You got any ideas for how to stop that thing?"
"Torak?" Larry said. "All I know is he's big, he's tough, he's not incredibly smart, and he breathes fire. Look, I'm not an expert like Buffy or Mr. Giles. Didn't know anything about any of this until ... what, a year ago? Graduation. That's when I found out that the biggest danger on the streets wasn't gangbangers on PCP."
They rolled into the next chamber, looking at the fixtures on the walls, the enormous golden box between two of the doorways, the intricate ring on the floor, and off to the side, a squat shape under a G.I. camouflage net. "Through that door," Larry said. "Right out the corridor, then you get to the back antechamber, probably where Torak's camped out. Past that you've got access to the sewers and the surface. Lets out right near the old high school."
"Okay," O'Neill said. "So ... all we need to do is get past whatshisname."
"Perhaps your status may be used to our advantage," Teal'c offered.
"You know, First Prime?" O'Neill clarified.
Larry grimaced, the dull light of the chamber glinting off his scarab brand. "Worth a try." He leaned out the far doorway and hollered, "Torak! Stand down! Stand down!"
The response from the hallway was a gout of flame; Teal'c grabbed Larry's arm and yanked him back, in time to protect his body from the flames, but too late to get his robes out of the way. Larry hissed when he saw the flames, rolled and quickly shed the cloak, tossed it into a corner where it slowly smoldered, far away from anything else.
"So much ... for ... that..." O'Neill said, his voice trailing off as he heard a rumbling from the golden box. "Oh, crap."
Something was in the sarcophagus, about to come out, and the safe money said that anything coming out of one of those things was not likely to be good.
He raised his staff weapon to the sarcophagus as the top opened up slowly, only to whirl around as Teal'c shouted, "O'Neill!"
He saw it then - three, no, four bloodsuckers charging down the hallway. Teal'c triggered off a blast from his staff weapon; O'Neill shot down the same corridor, hitting targets but not slowing them down-
-but something else did. Not the explosive pop of the staff weapon, or the shrill scream of a zat, but the hissing whistle of an arrow. Followed by another. And another. And a fourth, quicker than the mind could process. And before he could think to ask who'd be shooting arrows in the chamber, the four vampires were gone with the wind, nothing more than hazy ashes in the corridor.
He turned back to the sarcophagus, staff leveled, to see Buffy Summers standing up, longbow raised, arrow notched.
"Nice shooting," O'Neill said conversationally.
"Comes with the job," Buffy cracked, jumping out of the sarchopagus. O'Neill noted that the right leg of her pants was scorched, the knee exposed, but as she landed, she had a spring in her step that made his knees wince in envy.
She looked around. "So what'd I miss ... Larry?" she asked, shocked.
"Lookin' good, Buffy," Larry cracked.
"Thanks, but ... at graduation..."
"Kheper. He put me in the box."
"Okay, but what about the..." Buffy stammered, putting a hand to her forehead.
Larry echoed her motion, touching the brand. "He hit me with the gas."
Larry blinked. "Oh, the zat? No, Xander's girlfriend. Hit me with a thunderbolt, it felt like."
"Willow's girlfriend, not Xander's."
"Willow? Wait, you mean ... never mind," Larry said, frowning.
"So you busting out?" Buffy asked quickly.
"Helping you guys."
"Cool. So how do we get out? And what about the bomb?"
O'Neill pulled the radio detonator from beneath his costume. "Once we get clear, we just set it off."
"Uh, Colonel..." Buffy said, then took a breath. "Giles kinda shot it with a boom-stick when he was whammied."
O'Neill cringed. "D'oh," he said under his breath. "Teal'c, let's have a look."
It took two seconds to uncover the bomb and only twenty seconds more to diagnose the problem. "Radio's dead. Wiring to the detonators is torched away. Looks like the valve release is still okay, but there's no way to set it off remotely or blow it at the right time."
Larry blinked. "You were going for the whole compound?"
"Pretty much," O'Neill answered. "'Course, now we have to improvise."
Larry looked at the bomb for a long moment, then whirled as footsteps pounded down the hallway from the direction of the front exit. O'Neill followed his gaze, bringing up the staff weapon, but it wasn't foes coming towards them, it was...
"For crying out loud, I thought I told you to get the hell out!" O'Neill hollered.
"Love to, mate. I'm not cut out for this hero business. I'm also not cut out for drilling through a hundred tons of rubbish."
"Grenade," Xander explained. "Collapsed the front exit. Nearly dropped the ceiling on us. Something tells me these guys don't like us."
"Okay," Buffy said. "Still the other exit, right?"
O'Neill opened his mouth to chastise her, but then remembered she hadn't been around for that discussion. "I think there's a dragon guarding it," he said instead.
"Gornach," Spike growled. "That'll be a tough nut to crack."
"You know how to kill one of those?" O'Neill asked, suddenly interested.
"Me and Drusilla ran across one in France back before the Great War," Spike said. "That's World War One for those who weren't around before the Atomic Age. The thing got on our trail, and Dru tried to kill it by dropping a safe on its head from a first-story balcony."
"That killed it?"
"No, but it left it woozy enough that I was able to bait it in front of the freight train which did kill it."
"Great. So we gotta do a Looney Tunes attack?" Buffy snapped. "Hate to break it to you, but we don't have a safe, a balcony, or a freight train handy."
"I'm not saying what we've got will do the job," Spike shot back. "They asked if I knew how, and that's the only way I know."
"I've got an idea," Xander said suddenly. "I'm gonna need one of those zap guns."
"Hold on just a-" O'Neill began to protest, but Teal'c and Larry were both holding out zats to the kid by then.
Xander grabbed both. "Three shots disintegrate, right?"
"That is correct," Teal'c answered.
"Hang on," O'Neill snapped. "Don't do something stupid!"
"We've been trying to play this smart from the beginning," Xander said just as heatedly. "Every smart move we make, things just keep getting worse. I say it's time to try something stupid."
"What makes you think you won't get killed?"
"Hey, if I kept worrying about whether saving the world was gonna get me killed, I'd be dead or in Cleveland by now." He held up the zats, touched the side studs, and both snapped open. "Relax. I saw this in a movie once."
"Xander, wait!" Buffy shouted, but he was already rolling out the door and charging down the hallway.
"Crap," she spat, nocking an arrow and sprinting after him.
The rest of the group spared a split second to look at one another, then grabbed whatever weapons were close at hand and barreled after them.
"Maybe we could try a bank shot with one of the grenades?" Anya said. "You know, distract it?"
"Wish we had more water," Willow sighed, looking at Anya's squirt gun.
Carter was tuning them out, flexing her hands on the grip and magazine of her MP-5, nervously thumbing the burst switch from single-shot to three-round to full-auto and back. The Colonel should have called, should have come up with some idea.
She had just put her hand to the radio when she saw Xander Harris sprinting down the hall towards the antechamber.
"Holy Hannah!" she said before she could even process it. "Xander, no!"
She rolled out of the doorway and rushed after him, only to nearly collide with Buffy; they raced into the opening, weapons up.
Just in time to see Xander hurling himself sideways, drawing the creature's attention to himself ... and bringing up his arms, a zat'nikatel in each hand, blazing away.
The first shots went wide, scoring the walls, but he aimed the pistols like they were fire hoses, walking the shots into the monster even as it drew in a breath. First one shot hit the massive demon, then another, and the creature staggered. A third shot hit - the creature glowed blue and shimmered - a fourth shot struck home, then a fifth, a sixth, and then more than any of them could count-
-and as Xander smashed into the ground on his side, the ferocious demon exploded into a fireball that reached halfway to Xander before collapsing in on itself, leaving nothing behind but electrical sparks dancing across the holes gouged in the back wall. Xander gave an agonized grunt as the zats skittered away across the floor.
"Ow," he moaned. "Chow Yun-Fat never wiped out a shoulder doing that."
"Two words, Xander," Buffy said as she hauled him to his feet. "Stunt double."
"I thought he did his own stunts!"
Carter whipped her gun around as she checked the exits from the antechamber as the rest of the motley strike team came charging in. "That was Jackie Chan, not Chow Yun-Fat, and he's got the fractured skull to prove it - DOWN!" she shouted as something moved in the hallway.
She and Riley each fired a burst of tracer rounds, catching more of the unholy footsoldiers on fire, but then another figure strode up behind them, raising an arm and making the air pulse and shimmer - and smash into the group like a brick wall.
Everyone scattered as Kheper stalked into the antechamber, eyes flashing. "Do you think you can stop me?" he growled, and his voice was even harsher than before. "Do you think your pathetic flailing can save this miserable world?"
Willow struggled to her feet, clutching a staff for balance. "You tried to kill us," she seethed, her own voice low and dangerous. "You couldn't stand that the others wouldn't let you into their little club, so you're getting your revenge by destroying the world?"
"Ah, Willow. How little you understand," Kheper said mockingly.
"I understand this," Willow countered. "What goes around, comes around. You killed me, so-"
She didn't finish the sentence, instead snapping up the staff weapon and shooting a bolt right into Kheper's chest. He staggered, stumbled, and fell.
Willow took a deep breath, panted several times, then sank to her knees, the staff dropping from her fingers.
"Sweetie," Tara said, taking a step to Willow-
-when suddenly Kheper was back on his feet, right in front of Willow, hand splayed and pouring bright energy into her forehead.
Carter took a step to one side and sighted down her MP-5 at Kheper's forehead, while Buffy drew back an arrow.
Carter's three-round burst was aimed right at Kheper's forehead, burning phosphor tracing a line from the gun to a point between the Goa'uld's eyes; Buffy's shot was off to the side but aimed right at his heart.
None of the shots made it. The bullets bounced off a force shield, spinning crazily, tracing wobbly arcs to odd corners of the room; the arrow simply shattered.
Then Anya raised her water cannon. Kheper saw it and laughed. "Do you think to harm me with that ... toy?"
Anya didn't say a word, just pulled the trigger and shot a stream of water into Kheper's chest.
Kheper screamed, hands clawing at his body, giving Buffy just enough time to pull Willow out of the way. Then, eyes flashing, the Goa'uld sent another shockwave Anya's way.
Anya smashed into the wall, cannon caught between her body and the rocks; Carter caught her before she could collapse. Anya frantically pumped the slide, charging her weapon again, and pulled the trigger once more; nothing came out but a puff of mist.
Carter looked down. "You cracked your reserve tank."
Anya looked at where Carter had indicated, at the puddle of water at their feet, soaking through their clothes. She threw down the useless weapon and stared daggers at Kheper. "Yob tvoyu mat'!" she screamed at him.
"What was that?" Carter asked under her breath as they inched back.
"Something I heard during the Russian Revolution. You don't want to know," Anya whispered back.
Kheper took two steps closer before Buffy held up her hand, and then he hissed, eyes flashing white.
No, not white. Eyes flashing red, Carter realized with shock.
He wasn't just frowning, either; his brows were furrowed, unnaturally so, and when he breathed out in frustration, backing up, he showed a nasty set of teeth ... no, fangs.
Buffy kept her hand raised, advancing on the ... vampire. "That's how you were going to survive the apocalypse, huh?" she said, dangling a cross on a chain before her, backing Kheper up into the hallway. "I don't know if that thing in your head ever had a soul, but if it did, or it does, I've got one word of advice.
She had a stake in her other hand, and as she took another step forward, he fled.
"So that's it?" Xander asked.
"Blow the front door," Buffy said, all business now. "We seal him in and then maybe you can call up a plane to drop something here. Maybe the shock will set off the bomb."
"We could try a Durandal," Carter mused. "Anti-runway bomb, should dig in deep enough that if they hit the sarcophagus room, it'd react with the naquada and..."
"Carter!" O'Neill snapped. "Don't talk about it. Make it happen once we're out."
"Front door's already gone," Xander said. "This is the last way out."
"So we close it behind us," Buffy said. "I'd say it's showtime."
"Okay," Xander said. "Once we do this, we can worry about how to explain Larry..."
"Larry?" Willow asked, puzzled. "Wait, Kheper dug up Larry's grave? Larry's down here?"
"Duh," Xander said sweetly. "He's right ... here..."
Except he wasn't.
"Where'd he go?" Xander asked. "Larry!" he bellowed.
"We don't have time," O'Neill said.
"The hell we don't! I'm not leaving him behind!"
"And if they double back and cut us off again? We're holding the exit now; we may not be if we get into the maze again!"
"I didn't say 'we', Colonel, sir, I said 'I'! Look, you guys hold the hallway. I'll be back as soon as I find him."
"Xander, we can't-" O'Neill started.
"Don't be a bloody fool," Spike snapped.
"Xander, it's too dangerous," Buffy pleaded.
Then, through the din, Daniel spoke up. "Nobody gets left behind, right?"
Maybe it was the mild tone of his voice; maybe it was the glint of light off his glasses; maybe it was just his posture, but everyone stopped cold. "We didn't leave Teal'c behind that first time; we never gave up on Carter with Jolinar, and Carter and Teal'c never gave up hope of getting you back from Edora, remember?"
O'Neill paused a moment. "Teal'c, you're with Harris. Keep him safe."
Teal'c nodded, gathering up one of the fallen zats from the floor.
"Hey, Xander," Riley called, pulling his radio from his vest and tossing it to Xander. "Holler when you've got him, okay?"
"We'll hold the passageway as long as we can," Buffy said.
"Gotcha," Xander said, grabbing the other zat as he strode up the hallway.
Larry looked around the sarcophagus chamber, fingering the golden box, touching a toe against the ring engraved in the floor. Then he slowly, carefully, pulled the netting from the one device Kheper hadn't brought into the chamber.
He touched the shattered control panel lightly, traced wires - not electrical conductors, but almost like guitar strings, it seemed - to a valve on the end of each of the tanks strapped to the ungainly cart.
He inspected the valves, closely, carefully, and then nodded, satisfied.
That was when Xander burst into the room, the huge dark man in tow. "Come on, Larry. We've gotta get out of here."
Larry sighed. "I can't go, Xander."
"Whaddaya mean you can't go? Larry, it's a second chance. How many of those do you get?"
"It's not a second chance, Xander. It's borrowed time."
Xander blinked. "Huh?"
"Remember Caroline Everett?"
"She was the one who made that bust of Oz in art class, right?"
Xander nodded. "She was another one who didn't make it past graduation. Lemme guess. Kheper?"
"Yep," Larry said bitterly. "Only she wasn't a warrior. She was a test."
Xander stared uncomprehendingly.
"Kheper wanted to see what the sarcophagus would do against a vampire bite," Larry explained softly. "So he had one of his pet vamps - one of the early ones - drain her, force her to drink his blood ... and then he put her into the sarcophagus." He took a slow breath.
"It worked fine for a couple of days," he continued. "Then, one night, she went to sleep ... and when she woke up, she had fangs and a taste for blood."
"Wait, so you're saying...?" Then Xander got it. "Oh, God. God, Larry, you're not telling me..."
"I don't go in that box every day, then one day soon I'm gonna wake up and I won't be able to see myself in the mirror to shave," Larry said. "That box is the only thing keeping me alive, and I can feel it stripping a piece of me away every time I go in it. Sooner or later ... I'm gonna hit a point of no return." He laughed. "That's assuming I can keep going in the box. 'Course, you blow this place up, that's not an option any more."
"Look, maybe we can get the sarcophagus out?" Xander asked, looking at his companion. The big man just shook his head.
"I'm already dead, Xander," Larry said sadly. "I've just been on borrowed time, that's all. And I'm not going back to my folks wondering if one day I'm gonna wake up and kill them all and enjoy it."
"Come on, Larry, don't talk like that-"
"Let him, Xander Harris," the other man said. "Sometimes, the only choice left us is the manner in which we die."
Larry nodded slowly. "What he said." He smiled. "We got the Mayor, didn't we?"
Xander took a shuddering breath. "Yeah, Larry. Yes, we did."
"There's worse ways to go," Larry continued. "No need to tell everyone that I ended up like this, huh? Branded?"
"I ... I guess not."
Larry nodded again. "Guess it's settled then. You guys get out ... and I'll worry about the rest." He paused a moment. "Hey, Xander?"
"That day, junior year ... when you confronted me and I finally came out ... what did you think I was?"
Xander laughed, but Larry could see it was painful. "Werewolf."
"Yeah," Xander said, smiling ruefully. "Turns out we were barking up the wrong tree."
"Yeah. Turns out it was Oz."
Larry blinked at that. "Oz, huh? Is it just me or does that make a whole lotta sense somehow?"
"I dunno," Xander said. "Larry, are you sure...?"
"I'm sure, Xander," Larry said sadly. "I'm sure. Okay, you guys just stand in the middle of that ring a moment, okay?"
They did as he asked, and he went over to a crystal in the wall. "You can tell the others when you're clear, I take it?"
"Okay," Larry said, nodding. "Once you're clear, tell them you're okay and then run for the treeline."
"Trust me," Larry said with a smile. He stepped up and offered his hand to Xander. Xander shook it, then wrapped Larry in a hug.
"Larry, you know I'm straight, right?"
"Yeah. Bummer," Larry said with a sardonic laugh. "Listen ... about the lunch money ... I'm gonna have to owe you, okay?"
Xander disengaged from the embrace. "You don't owe me anything, Larry."
"Be safe, Xander," Larry said, walking back and touching the stud on the wall.
A set of rings leaped out of the floor, rising to encircle Xander and the other man; then with a flash of light, they were gone.
Larry stood for a moment, and then off in the distance, he heard the clatter of gunfire, some dull thumps, and then a concussion that rocked the walls and echoed through the chamber.
It was time.
He took a deep breath and bellowed, "KHEPER!"
As if by magic, the man calling himself the Scarab appeared. "So the betrayal is complete," he growled.
"Oh yeah. Right from the moment you started this, bug man."
"I would have made you a god."
"You would have left me for dead."
"What makes you think that?"
"Gut feeling," Larry spat. He strode over to the bomb and grabbed his staff weapon. "You ever heard the phrase 'freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose'?"
Kheper blinked, then touched a stud on his gauntlet, and the shimmering force field enveloped him.
"I'm dead if I stay," Larry said coldly. "And I'm dead if I go. I understand that now. You know what that means?"
"It means that you will die," Kheper answered.
"No, you son of a bitch," Larry said, yanking at the wires on the bomb, listening to the valves pop open and gas hiss out.
He leveled his open staff at the Scarab of Ra. "It means that I am free."
Kheper's eyes went wide, and he slammed his hand down on his gauntlet.
Larry cursed to himself for trying to get in the last word, hoping he hadn't left it too late, squeezing the trigger on the staff, watching the rings leap up, the light envelop his would-be master even as the staff-
The light faded and Xander immediately hit the switch on the radio. "We're clear! We're clear! Blow the exit and get clear!"
"Clear? How?" O'Neill's voice came back.
"A ring transporter," Teal'c said, his voice no longer in that annoyingly calm tone. "We are on the surface; you must seal the exits and evacuate! Do not argue!"
Xander was running like a madman for the treeline, trying to get away, as far away as he could. "How far is far enough?" he asked, gasping.
"I am uncertain! The sarcohpagus contains materials which may magnify the explosion!"
They kept running; Xander felt the ground buck under him as he got closer to the trees. "Was that it?"
"I doubt very much that it was!"
"Crap, how powerful is this thing?"
"As I said, I am uncertain," Teal'c said. "Do not talk; save your energy for running!"
They were almost to the treeline when the entire landscape was lit up as though there were an arc-light on two feet behind them; he felt rather than heard Teal'c get behind him, grab him in a bear hug, keeping his larger body between Xander's and the light.
Xander looked back and faltered, stumbling as he saw the statue of Mayor Wilkins shoot skyward, but then the air turned to brick and smashed right into-
"We're clear! We're clear! Blow the exit and get clear!" Xander hollered over the radio.
O'Neill blinked. "Clear? How?"
"A ring transporter," Tank's voice came through. "We are on the surface; you must seal the exits and evacuate! Do not argue!"
"You heard him; everyone fall back!" O'Neill ordered. Carter tossed him her machine gun and unstrapped her shotgun.
"Spike, make sure Willow, Tara, and Anya get out okay," Buffy snapped.
"Daniel, Finn, take point. Carter and I have the rearguard," O'Neill ordered.
As if they could sense the humans withdrawing, a flock of creatures poured into the antechamber. O'Neill took aim with the machine gun and opened fire, yellow streaks tagging the vampires, catching them on fire; Carter fired more slowly with her shotgun, aiming for the hearts of their pursuers.
O'Neill pulled the trigger once more, and Buffy heard him curse as the bolt locked open; he pulled the magazine, looked at it, then tossed the entire weapon aside. "Finn! How you loaded?"
"One mag left and one Willy Pete!"
"Give it over! Use your zat!"
Riley tossed O'Neill his rifle; the Colonel caught it, grabbed the magazine, and pulled the trigger in front of it, shooting a grenade into the antechamber.
As the phosphor consumed the hunters, the prey ran like madmen into the sewer pipe, firing all the way, dropping weapons as their ammunition was exhausted, until they finally were clear of Kheper's compound and into the Sunnydale sewer system proper.
O'Neill took out another radio device, hollered, "Fire in the hole!" and pushed the button. The blast from the passageway they'd just left was deafening, and they could see the roof collapse through the dust.
They kept running; Buffy was pondering whether she'd have to pick up Willow and carry her, when suddenly Tara skidded to a stop, grabbing Willow's hand. "We'll never make it! Willow, the shield spell!"
"What?" Buffy blurted.
Willow grabbed Tara's hand and shouted, "Everyone get down!"
Tara raised her hand to the buried door - the hand that wasn't gripping Willow's - and shouted, "Aegis!"
Willow raised her free hand and called out, "Contego!"
Buffy saw everybody hitting the ground, and dove down to follow them, about to call to Willow and Tara to get down themselves, when suddenly an overpowering burst of light and noise and fire burst through the sealed door, vaporizing the rubble, racing for them, and in front of Willow's and Tara's hands the air shimmered silver even as the wave of fire rolled towards--