Buffy had come to Los Angeles to escape slaying, a calling that had cost her everything—her nuclear family, her cushy Los Angeles home, her youth, and her love. If she’d never been called as the Slayer or had followed through on her initial instinct to tell Merrick he was insane and needed to leave before she called the cops, her life would not have taken the course it had. She wouldn’t have moved to Sunnydale, she wouldn’t have met Angel and fallen in love, she wouldn’t have been responsible for unleashing Angelus upon the world, and she wouldn’t have had to kill the first man she ever loved. Most of all, she would not be here; existing as a shell of her former self, plagued by the gnawing pain of loss and the knowledge that Angel was dead at her hand. She did not want to be the Slayer anymore. She wouldn’t be the Slayer anymore. She had paid her dues and lost her heart in the process. As Anne she did not have these problems; she could pretend to be like any other girl facing the challenges of independence. Anne did not have to worry about vampires and tenuous souls. Anne did not have blood on her hands.
Yet here she was, following a determined Lily toward the Family Home Teen Shelter despite the warning bells that clanged loudly in her head. She had been unable to convince the other girl not to go and unwilling to let her go alone. The outside of the building was innocuous enough; white clapboard exterior set between two identical buildings. But the energy radiating from the building was anything but innocuous. It set her teeth on edge. Again Buffy wondered what she was doing here; investigating possibly supernatural disappearances was no longer supposed to be part of her life. You’re here because if you weren’t and Lily died it would be all your fault, whispered that voice in her head, the one that sounded like the 15-year-old child who used to lie awake listening to her parents fight with silent tears coursing down her cheeks. Your fault. Just like Angel, just like Miss Calendar... Buffy forcibly pushed those thoughts from her head as the door opened and a man in a polo and khakis invited them inside.
They were directed to a door on the right of the entryway, an overly cheerful looking yellow sign proclaiming “Ken’s Office!” was taped to the outside. Ken was seated on the other side of a desk but had clearly been waiting for them, as his elbows were perched on the surface and his ever-present “I understand your pain” smile was on full display. The door was closed behind them and Ken stood, offering his hand to each girl in turn. “Welcome! I think you’ll find that you fit in perfectly at Family Home. Just remember, you are not alone anymore. Everyone here is running from something!” On that dubious(?) note, he indicated a doorway at the back of the small room, mumbling something about a shortcut.
Buffy pressed closer to Lily, tugging on her arm. When Lily turned to look at her, Buffy tried to wordlessly convey that they needed to get out of here. Her response was a sad shake of the head, as Lily resolutely stepped through the door that Ken was holding open. With a weary sigh, Buffy followed. She realized just how bad the situation was when she bumped into Lily’s back. The other girl was frozen, staring at two broad-shouldered men armed with semi-automatics. Buffy heard the click of the door closing just as she felt the barrel of a gun pressed between her ribs.
“Into the pool ladies,” Ken said, patronizing tone replaced by a cold detachment. Lily complied immediately. Buffy was attempting to figure out a way to disarm all three men in one move—Spin kick, maybe? Ken seemed to sense the direction of her thoughts and cocked his gun. “Not a smart move. You’re outnumbered and unarmed. You can die a bloody death now or you can get in the pool.” The last was said as a growl and Buffy forced herself to move forward. She sat at the edge of the black shimmering pool and without a backward glance, scooted over the edge.
She landed in a heap on a hard surface. Make that a filthy surface, she added as she rose up into a crouch, frowning at the dirt clinging to her cargo pants and top. She raised herself fully only to come face to ugly demon-face with a spiked club wielding creature. Its face was an angry red color, with deep grooves extending out from the center, reminding Buffy inexorably(?) of a burn victim. It was a little taller than her but broader than two of Sunnydale High’s best linebackers. It wore a brown cloth tunic and pants, shaking a clawed hand to the left. Buffy followed his gesture and saw a line of young men and women standing near a balcony. More demons similar to this one were standing near the silent assembly. Seeing Lily, Buffy moved to join her. The sound of chatter filtered up to the balcony from the floor far below. Buffy cast a quick glance over the edge and noted the multitude of well-dressed demons and human men and women who were milling(?) about a large open room with a projection screen taking up one side. The current image on the screen read, “Please stand-by as we process new recruits and prizes. Next fight will commence in 1:30:15.” One of the red demons was moving between the waiting observers, exchanging tickets for money. As Buffy joined the queue of silent humans in what was looking more and more like a demonic betting club, Ken’s voice floated through her head: “Everybody’s running from something.” Unfortunately, Buffy thought, they were running in the wrong direction.
Two demons, one wielding another club and the other a clipboard, filed down the line. They would stare at the individual in front of them and, with a shake of the head from the clipboard carrying demon, the other brought the club down with enough force to render instant death. Buffy felt her stomach clench as one by one, they were felled. Clearly, Mr. Executioner deferred to Mr. Clipboard (?). The latter halted their progression when he got to Buffy, feeling the power come off of her in waves. “This one,” he said, indicating Buffy. “And the next two. Send them to Xarcala. You may dispose of the rest.”
Buffy, along with Lily and a third girl, were grabbed from behind by three additional demons. The girls were quickly bound with a metal chain and shoved toward a hallway that stretched off to the left. Buffy’s attempts to fight against the bonds yielded no results save a growl and a clawed hand closing painfully around her arm. The walk wasn’t long. The hallway opened up into a cavernous room that stretched far into the distance, ending in two massive black doors with red sympols. Hundreds of the red demons traverse the room, armed more heavily than those on the balcony, weaving around several rows of long, narrow cages that stretched from floor to ceiling.
“Xarcala!” called the demon still holding Buffy’s arm. Her hand was beginning to tingle, the strength of the demon’s grip reducing the blood flow. Every instinct within her told her to fight, to attempt escape, but she knew she wouldn’t get far. Not against this many.
A demon, taller and broader than the others, which was quite a feat, appeared on their right. “New prizes?” he asked, the deep gravel of his voice setting Buffy’s teeth on edge.
“Yes,” returned her captor.
The tall one, Xarcala apparently, consulted a list clenched in his clawed hand; one which, Buffy noted, wore a pair of wicked looking brass knuckles. “Put them in T6,” he said, seemingly almost bored.
As they began moving down the long room, Buffy noticed that the cages weren’t empty, but were filled with all manner of demons, some sporting healing bruises and wounds, many of them growling and lunging at the bars as they passed. They stopped next to a cage near the middle of the right side of the room. This one contained a number of humans, along with a few demons. Buffy couldn’t tell for sure in some cases, but she got the feeling that the majority of these captives were females. A similar group was housed in the next cage down from this. When the door to the cage was unlocked, Lily and her guard led the way, brandishing his club toward the other occupants, though none of them were attempting to come forward. The demons in the cage preceding this hollered and snarled, pushing their arms through the bars. Buffy’s guard shoved her in with such force that she hit the far side of the cage, knocking the wind out of her and causing the chains still encasing her wrists to bite painfully into her skin.
“Get back,” growled one of the guards, using a long, wide blade with double serrated edges to threaten the demons away from the adjoining bars. Buffy felt the chain loosen and slide off her wrists but before she could completely turn around, the door to the cage was slammed shut and the lock returned. Looking at the other girls in the cage, Buffy was struck with the utter hopelessness of the situation. She’d run from her duty as the slayer only to end up a prisoner.