Vamps and Thieves
Previously in Gypsies, Vamps and Thieves, Victor had called his master, Dracula, to tell him that Spike was not only in the area but was currently in the Hungarian National Archives where Victor has taken a temporary job. Victor has been searching for the ancient scrolls containing the information Dracula needs to successfully resurrect a certain someone, in addition to the vampire army he is creating in order to enact his great plans for world domination. Mwahahaha.
"Yes, Master. It is William the Bloody, himself. I must say that I prefer his original vampire name and can't begin to imagine why he switched it to something so cheap and mundane and utterly plebeian as Spike. It sounds like a dog's name."
"Now, now, Victor. William, that is, Spike is an old acquaintance of mine. And I told you he would be a valuable asset who will play a grand role in my strategy. You must treat him very well, or I shall be quite cross with you. You do not want to make me angry, Victor."
"Oh, no, Master. Of course not. I will faithfully follow all of your orders. It's just that William is here in the National Archives with a team of Watchers and a Slayer. It is a logical assumption that they are also seeking the scrolls."
"A vampire with a soul in the company of Watchers and Slayers. Ahh, yes, then the rumors are true. Spike has greatly changed since last we met." Excitement mixed with a touch of doubt and concern grew within Dracula. "You will offer him your assistance, of course."
"Assistance!" Victor said. "Master, please forgive me for asking, but are you sure that is wise? I mean, now that William appears to have indeed joined the powers of good rather than continuing to enjoy his dark nature and work toward chaos and evil, he may choose not to join our side."
"Spike never was one for organized, complex evil. He always preferred to play fast and loose or as they so vulgarly say nowadays -- go with the flow."
"I am assuming that you are sending another squadron to make sure the Hellmouth opens. Shouldn't I convene with them as soon as they arrive and coordinate an attack on William and his team of do-gooders? We could kill him before he realizes what we are doing and attempts to undermine your great plan."
"That would be both unwise and unlikely," Dracula said softly.
"You will protect the scrolls," Dracula said evenly. "He cannot be allowed to obtain them. Spike is a vampire of great strength and will. Even with my soldiers' assistance, you would not survive a confrontation with him. Especially in such company."
"Master! You doubt me?"
"No," Dracula said, calculating the odds. "But I know what Spike is capable of, and I prefer to have him as the leader of my army. You know how persuasive I can be. Perhaps I can arrange to have his soul removed; the gypsies know many tricks and have many skills. You will bring Spike to Transylvania."
After a brief pause, Victor spoke again. "I see. So my assistance will be a ruse. I will do as you wish, Master."
"But how?" Dracula asked, more to himself than Victor. "How can we convince him to come here?"
"It will not be easy."
"No, it will not be easy." But what luck to have Spike so near his grasp! "Nevertheless, it is possible."
Victor waited patiently for his Master to formulate his plan. Finally, Dracula spoke again.
"I was informed that Spike is on a quest to save the existence of magic in this dimension. Tell him that I will help him in this endeavor, and that I will make it known in the demon community that he and his company have safe passage to my castle."
If Victor doubted that Spike would believe that story, he didn't say.
"Yes, that will suffice," Dracula said. Victor could hear the cold pleasure in his voice. "He will surely realize that I am the most knowledgeable supernatural being in this part of the world and therefore his best opportunity to find whatever artifact he has come in search of here. I am certain that Spike will prove to be very useful. Keep a careful watch on him, Victor, and bring both the scrolls and the vampire with a soul to me."
"As you wish, Master." Victor hung up the phone when he realized his Master had already done so.
Dracula sat quietly surveying his chamber. His eyes glowed with anticipation. Spike would come to Transylvania with his Slayer and Watchers. He felt it in his bones. In his blood. And then, his bold, world-changing plans could finally unfold.
The team returned to the Gellert Hotel, hoping to discover that Illyria had also made her way there without having gotten into any trouble along the way. When they reached the rooms, they were relieved to find Illyria had indeed come back unharmed from wherever her boredom had taken her.
"Blue," Spike nodded, acknowledging her presence as he plopped down into an armchair. "Didn't expect you back so soon. Enjoy your jaunt through Budapest?"
"I do not understand jaunt. I simply wished to learn more about Budapest and to gather information on the culture, customs, and mysteries of human behavior. I find that, despite the different languages and other small aspects of daily life, humans are much the same wherever I go."
"That's very true," agreed Mena. "I just wish everyone could learn that, and that we all would then choose to embrace our commonalities while celebrating our differences."
"You planning to use that line when you compete in the next Miss Universe Contest, pet?" teased Spike. "You'd get my vote."
"You can be very witty sometimes, Spike. This time, not so much," retorted Mena.
Spike shot her a mock menacing look. His sincere affection for the young Slayer would, of course, never allow him to look at her with true menace.
Illyria went on as if they had not even spoken. "Humans are very odd creatures. Although I first considered you such simple beings, unworthy of my notice, I now find humans not only odd but also fascinating at the same time.
"How sweet," snarked Xander. "On behalf of all humanity, I thank you for your interest in us." He sank down onto the sofa across from Spike.
"You're welcome, Xander. Since you reiterated today that if I wish to fit in, I will need to learn more about humans, that is how I spent my day."
"I think that's very wise, Illyria," said Haley. "Not that we don't appreciate you as you are, but there are lots of people in the world who are terrified of what they cannot explain."
Illyria turned to her. "Haley, today I gave Xander and Mena my permission to call me 'Illy', although only when we are in private situations. You may do so also. Spike, I prefer that you continue to call me 'Blue'. For some reason, that amuses me."
"Sure thing, Blue."
Finding herself slightly gobsmacked, Haley blinked and then replied, "Why, thank you, ...Illy. I consider that an honor."
Illyria simply nodded benevolently as if to say, Of course, it's an honor which I have graciously bestowed upon you, then asked, "Did you get the desired results from your visit with the Hungarian Slayer and her Watcher?"
"Yes, I think we did. As far as they are concerned, we will be helping them re-seal the Hellmouth, and they, in turn, will help us resolve the problem with the power overload you regained from the gem. That is, of course, why we are here." Haley watched as Illyria walked to the window and stared out into the distance without responding.
Spike cleared his throat, gaining the attention of everyone in the room. "Feel the need to comment on this whole mission. Ever since we met this Victor bloke I've felt he was a bit dodgy, so I've been putting a few things together and came up with a theory. Sarolt and Balazs weren't certain which master vampire had sent minions to open the Hellmouth. Well, I'll wager that us being here in Drac's neck of the woods to nick his goblet, and a horde of minions showing up to open the Budapest Hellmouth is not as coincidental as he might like everyone to believe."
"I know that Dracula was the first master vampire to come to your mind when we discussed whose minions they might be, but I fail to see any connection," said Haley. "So far, we have no evidence of any kind. And what could Victor possibly have to do with anything?"
"See, that's the thing. I figured out who Victor is. Or what he is. He is one of Count Nancy-boy's minions. He is still human, at least, for now. But I smelled blood on his breath, and although it was human blood, it was not his own. Not like he just bit his tongue or anything. Reckon he's been drinking blood in preparation for being turned by Drac."
"I knew there was something wrong about him," said Mena. "I sensed it, but I couldn't figure out what it was. But how do you know that Dracula is his master?"
"Recognized just a bit of thrall in his eyes. Very few vampires use thrall, you know, but it's a mainstay of Count Ponce-alot. And I have a feeling that Victor doesn't want to remain human. Just something about the wanker. I've seen it before. This git's doing all of Dracula's evil bidding because he desperately wants immortality," Spike stated matter of factly.
Haley glanced at the others and then made eye contact with Spike again. "I really hate to think that of Victor, but since both you and Mena sensed something dodgy about him, I believe we should try to ascertain the truth of it when we go back to the Archives tomorrow. You could very well be correct about all of this being non-coincidental. Dracula, at least according to myth, is a very cunning creature."
Spike snickered at that assessment. "He's had his moments over the years, all right, but he never was much into things like opening Hellmouths to allow other demons access to his part of the world. Was always the sort who preferred to be the big fish in a small pond. Lord of the manor type, you know what I mean? Not into sharing or even spending much time with other vampires, although he'd venture out and mingle now and then."
"I wonder what might have spurred his interest in the Hellmouth, then?" asked Haley.
"Don't know. Haven't seen him in decades. Buffy chased him out of Sunnydale before we crossed paths there. Xander, now, he was right friendly with old Drac during his time in Sunnydale, and that was just a few years back. Did your old master share any of his current plans with you?" Spike asked Xander, knowing the answer already. "Has he been calling you late at night and giving you instructions?"
Spike just couldn't resist causing the Watcher a little discomfort. He knew that Xander had been dreading this mission ever since he first saw Dracula's Goblet on their list of artifacts.
We've been a bit too chummy, lately. Wouldn't want everyone thinking I've gone completely soft, Spike thought, knowing full well that he had done just that.
He'd grown fond of and cared about the well-being of a lot more people than just Buffy and Dawn now. At least, where this group of individuals was concerned, he knew that he actually was an old softy. And that probably went for Andrew and Dana, too. Maybe even Willow and Rupert. Nah, he may respect Rupert, but he was only slightly fond of him.
Illyria turned venomous eyes on Spike, a result of the ribbing he had just given Xander. "I will end his existence! Dracula will not use my man to do his evil bidding!" she proclaimed rather loudly.
Xander discovered a small smile breaking through the mix of anger and resentment and fear that had been fighting for control of his facial expression. "I'm glad that at least one of you agrees that will so not happen this time!"
A moment later, his tiny smile eroded, his face displaying confusion instead. "Did you just vow to kill Dracula in my defense?" he asked Illyria, looking deeply into her eyes. As he stood there a moment longer, the look of confusion morphed into confusion mixed with unease. He turned to the others in the room.
"And is it my imagination, or did she just call me her man?!" His voice had raised in panic. He didn't understand exactly what Illyria meant by that term, but he wanted to find out. No, on second thought, maybe he didn't want to know.
Meanwhile, back at the Hungarian National Archives, Victor was lost in thought, envisioning himself as a vampire. He forced himself to come back to reality, added a new scroll to his cache, re-checked the scrolls he had already found, and then locked them all safely away. He drained the last droplets from his goblet of blood, then wiped it clean with his handkerchief.
I wonder what that do-gooder vampire with a soul is doing here? It is obvious that he is fighting on the side of the Slayers. This cannot bode well for the Count, he mused as he turned out the lights and locked up before heading back to his very temporary rooms.
Victor was certain that he had proved himself to be a very valuable and diligent servant. Soon he would find the last scroll and then re-join his master, who would finally give him his great reward.
Xander jumped up from his chair as something plopped onto the page of a book he was reading. Brushing it to the floor, he gazed up to the source of the projectile. Spike was sitting on top of a table opposite him, with his feet resting on one of the wooden chairs. He was happily eating his favorite snack.
"Spike, only you would be able to find a place that sells wings thousands of miles away from the nearest greasy spoon. If Victor is anything like Giles, he'll be pitching a fit if he catches you eating those in the middle of all these 'treasured texts'. I might have offered to cover for you in exchange for a taste, but those smell about as nasty as my laundry bag."
Spike saluted Xander with a half-eaten chicken wing. "Not the best I've eaten -- more of a barbecue flavor than the superior Buffalo variety, but at least I can satisfy my hot wing fix. Ate most of them on the way here, so they'll be gone before poncy, uptight Victor catches me and attempts to kick me out. As if the bugger could manage it." He took the last bite off the wing and tossed it back into the bag.
He pulled out another wing, and waggled it at Xander as he warned, "And don't bother trying to con me into giving you one by pretending they revolt you; this happens to be the last one." Spike grinned and took a big bite of greasy meat off the bone.
Shaking his head, Xander pointed to Haley and Mena. Both were currently busy studying one of the many books they'd found in the archives. "I thought you came to help us find information about Dracula's Goblet."
"No, that boring, thankless, ugly job is your department. I'm the handsome muscle." Spike made a fist, raising his arm in a classic body-builder pose as if showing off his bicep, and smiled sweetly.
Xander collapsed heavily onto his chair, letting out a low growl. "I could have had a great construction job by now, but no-o-o. I had to meet The Vampire Slayer and then get hooked up with her reject-slash-boyfriend-slash-pillar-of-fire."
"Hey! That's Mr. Pillar-of-Fire to you!" Spike smirked.
Finishing off the last hot wing, he slapped his hands clean and rubbed them on his jeans. Gazing around, he looked for something even remotely interesting to do. He realized that Illyria was right; this job was as boring as rain on a Sunday afternoon.
He should have spent the entire day with Illyria, despite her assurance that she had felt no further flashes of instability, ever since she had begun to refrain from using her more advanced powers. She had promised she would do nothing more taxing than to communicate with the green, so he had allowed her to wander around the city some more while he joined the others.
Shoving the chair aside with his feet, he hopped to the floor and ambled over to the table where Haley and Mena were sitting. Bending down, he gazed at the book Haley was studying. He saw a drawing of a demon with a tongue so long that it occupied two pages.
"Oh, I remember when Dru and I once met one of those Grylingualat Demons. The git tried to hit on Dru. After putting my fist through its heart, it took me most of the night to pull its tongue out of Dru's throa--"
"Spike!" Haley shouted. She cast a maternal, warning glance toward Mena. "Young minds are present," she sung out.
"Oh, right." Spike saw Mena leaning over to look at the demon in Haley's book, but the Watcher speedily turned the page before Mena got even a glance.
"Dru's throw blanket," Spike quickly said, and when he noticed Haley's eyes widen at his lame attempt to alter his bawdy story, he continued to scramble to clean up his tale.
"His tongue got stuck in the loosely woven yarn when Dru tossed the throw blanket up over her shoulder. You know, one of those crocheted throws. It's a thing. So being the gentleman I am, I helped him pull his tongue out." Giving Mena a pleased smile, he added, "It was cold that day."
"Ri-i-ight," Mena said, rolling her eyes. "And I suppose you also gave him back his heart?"
Clearing his throat, Spike began to walk towards a large cart in hope of changing the subject. Gazing inside, he saw what appeared to be burnt books and scrolls.
"Wonder what happened here?"
"That actually happened during the last World War," Spike heard Victor say. He saw him standing at the end of a narrow aisle of bookcases. Moving to the cart, Victor sadly looked down upon the charred remnants.
"Every now and then, we stumble upon another cache of books or documents that people strove to save from the ravages of war, and we bring them here. Someone just discovered these last weekend. The badly damaged, very frail ones are kept in a special, protective environment, but these are to be incorporated into the regular Archives."
"Were very many destroyed during the war?" asked Haley.
"I was told that throughout the early 1940's, they lost nearly one third of what had been originally stored here in the Archives. We keep trying to re-collect and salvage whatever we can for the future. Hoping to find a way to retrieve what was lost."
Spike gently lifted one of the larger burnt books. Opening it, he was surprised to see a small, flattened scroll fall out. As he was about to pick it up, it was quickly snatched by Victor.
"Give me that!" he hissed.
Victor carefully opened the scroll. Spike saw the archivist's hands shaking as he studied the tanned paper. "At last," he sighed.
Then realizing he was being observed, Victor hurriedly added, "Ah, there was one scroll missing from a set of documents that historians had been hoping to retrieve. This may be it. I'll need to alert the Head Archivist. It's nothing of importance to the world, of course, but simply of sentimental value to Hungarians as part of our ancient cultural history."
"I'm happy for you," Spike said. The more time he spent with Victor, the more he realized that this was a man who virtually screamed vampire wannabe.
Victor carefully clutched the scroll tightly to his chest. His master would be elated to hear that he had finally found the scroll that would complete the resurrection spell. He cursed himself; he had passed by the cart many times since last weekend. He'd never thought to look in it for the missing scroll. It was fortunate that Spike had happened to pick up that particular book.
It was then he remembered what his master had ordered him to do the last time they spoke. "I hope you don't mind, but the first day you were here, I overheard you speaking of looking for information about Dracula's Goblet."
"Yes," Xander said. "Know anything about it?"
"Well, to tell the truth, I know nothing about his goblet, but I have, on occasion, met a descendant of Dracula, or rather Vlad Tepes III. He's very interested in preserving the history of Hungary and the entire region."
"Uh-huh. I'm sure he is," Spike said. "Being a descendant of such a renowned, cultural icon and all." Spike couldn't resist using Haley's description of the Count to tease her while also poking fun at Victor's attempt to pretend Drac was his own descendant rather than himself.
"Oh, have you met him?" Victor asked with feigned innocence.
A small smile parted Spike's lips. "How about we stop this game of 'let's pretend I'm not Dracula's butt monkey'. You know what the bloody hell I am, and I can smell the blood on your breath from across the room."
Spike morphed into his game face. He took a defensive yet still threatening stance directly in front of Victor, just in case this minion wanted to make a name for himself by trying to stake a souled vampire. Spike didn't want to kill him, unless it was absolutely necessary. He realized that the team might benefit from gaining whatever information they could from Drac's lackey.
Victor's reaction was the total opposite of what Spike had expected. The minion's eyes glowed in admiration. He noticeably gulped. "Beautiful," he sighed.
Somewhat amused yet also disgusted by Victor's reaction, Spike allowed his human face to return. "So Drac wants something other than my death, eh? Do you have anything to tell me -- a message from your master?"
"Yes! My master extends his invitation for you and your companions to come to his castle in Transylvania."
"Oh, right, and I'm sure we'll have no problem getting past his demon guard dogs."
"And what makes you think we'd want to hang out with the m-- with that guy?" asked Xander heatedly.
"My master instructed me to tell you that he is well aware of your quest to find the artifacts for the Offering in order to safeguard magic in our world. He is, naturally, more than anxious to help you in your cause."
"Naturally," sneered Xander. "As natural as my Aunt Tilly's patootie!"
The others all turned to look at Xander with raised eyebrows, tilted heads, and other signs of bewildered amusement.
Xander nervously scratched his head, "Um, carry on, my good man."
Victor continued. "He wants me to assure you that he has declared a truce. He offers you his complete protection. No demon will interfere with you in transit to his castle or during your entire stay within his domain."
"What a sweetheart. I suppose the fact that his sodding life would also end if we should fail has nothing to do with his benevolence. And a truce doesn't bloody exist unless both parties agree to it. We're not promising the safety of any demon we happen to find in our path."
"If Dracula has given his word, Spike, perhaps we should accept his offer?" Haley said. She knew they had to find that goblet soon. She was well aware that Dracula could not be trusted, but they really had no choice other than to accept his offer. If anyone would know where that goblet was located, it would be Dracula.
Thinking the same thoughts as Haley, Spike knew that this was an opportunity too good to pass up. If Drac was worried about preserving his own life, he may just be willing to part with the goblet in order to save it.
"Tell you what, Victor. We'll think about it and get back to you."
"I shall accept that offer. Just let me know when you'll be able to come. My master awaits your arrival. If you need any help in the meantime, my skills are at your disposal. Now then, if you'll excuse me." Bowing before the women, he swiftly moved down the aisle. In seconds, he disappeared in the shadows of the Archives.
Spike unclenched his fists. He had not realized how tightly he had been gripping his hands. "I never liked Drac's lackeys; present company excluded."
Xander was about to reply with one of his sarcastic remarks, but decided to bite his tongue. He had to concede that he did betray Buffy and take her to meet Dracula. He cursed himself for having been so weak, then told himself that he was completely over the thrall, that he could be a trusted part of the team.
But being near Victor and smelling the blood was both disturbing and enticing. Yes, he admitted to himself, I was also aware of the blood, and it smelled so good! Oh, my God, that's so disgusting.
He now wondered if he should have come to Hungary for this part of their mission. He worried whether or not he would have the strength to fight off Dracula's thrall once he was actually in his presence. He prayed that if the team failed, he would not be the only one left standing next to Dracula.
"Don't worry, Xander," he heard Spike softly say. After placing the burnt book he had found in the cart onto the table where Haley was once again sitting, Spike moved to Xander's side. "I know you have the strength to fight him off this time. All kidding aside, in the four years since Drac was in Sunnydale, I've seen you beat back many a demon, both inner and outer. If I were a betting man, I'd say that you'll win this time against Mr. Smoke and Mirrors. And hey, guess what? I am a betting man."
"Spike, just do me a favor." Xander knew what he was about to say had to be made perfectly clear. And would have to be done. He hoped that Spike was now enough of a friend to do it.
"What's that, mate?"
Leaning closer, Xander whispered, "If you see me fail, if you see me fall under his spell again, kill me. I'm absolutely serious, Spike. Kill me as quickly as you can. I couldn't live with betraying my friends again."
Spike silently nodded his head. His respect for Xander grew even stronger. It took guts to tell a vampire, especially one that he had often dreamed of staking, to kill him. Placing his hand on Xander's shoulder, he said, "I'm the right man for that job."
"Well, just don't get too trigger happy. And don't enjoy yourself too much either, even though I'm sure my blood will be extra tasty after all the hot wings I managed to eat--" gazing down at his stomach, he added, "on occasion."
Winking, Spike replied, "I'll wait till I see the whites of your Drac-loving eyes." As he noticed the fear reappear on Xander's face, he added, "No matter how delicious your blood may be, I could never enjoy drinking the blood of a friend."
As Xander's fear was replaced with a look of gratitude, Spike switched gears again, "I'll just rip that California-boy's head right off your shoulders and beat Drac with it till he screams for mercy." He snickered and was happy to see Xander join in the laughter.
Spike vowed to keep an eye on him and tell the others to do so, too. Xander was definitely afraid of Dracula's potential power over him. That anxiety could cause almost as much trouble as Xander becoming a lackey again.
"Oh, my God. I found it!" Haley shouted. While Spike and Xander were talking, she had been looking at that burnt book. Thumbing through its pages, she saw a drawing of a golden goblet. She was then shocked to discover under the drawing the inscription, 'Dracula's Goblet'. Couldn't be any clearer than that!
She quickly told the others the essentials of what was written below the goblet. "It is as we expected; the goblet has always been in Dracula's possession. He invariably takes it with him when he travels anywhere, so it is extremely likely that it is at his castle with him right now. The text claims that the golden goblet holds an ancient magical property. That would certainly make it qualify as a worthy artifact for the Offering. Well done, finding the book, Spike!"
"Does it say anything else?" Mena asked. She was getting really excited. After searching so long in the Archives, she hoped they were finally close to finding out everything they needed to know about this special goblet. "What kind of magical property?"
"Maybe it's like the holy grail in the Indiana Jones movie," Xander suggested. "It gives you eternal life."
"That came with a price, Xander," reminded Mena. "The immortality was restricted only to the confines of the cave. That is one of my favorite movies. When I first watched it, I kept screaming at Indiana, Hatari! Kwepa!"
"Hatari kwepa? What does that mean?" Haley asked.
"I'm sorry, Haley. Sometimes the language of my people creeps in, especially when I get excited. Hatari means danger, and kwepa means to duck."
"I'll have to remember that. Actually, I'd like to learn Swahili. Maybe you could teach me during our long drives across the country."
"I'd love to teach you, Haley. Spike and Xander already know several words in Swahili. I have wondered about using it to communicate something that we don't want the bad guys around us to understand. It may come in handy. Spike and Xander don't know all that much of the language yet, so it really won't take you long to catch up to them."
Haley smiled and resumed reading what was written under the drawing of the goblet. "Apparently, whenever any magic potion is drunk from this golden vessel, the magic is strengthened and enhanced. It says it can also strengthen the drinker."
Haley turned the page, then she stamped her foot. "Damn! I can't translate what's here. It appears to be Celtic or maybe Demotic."
"Demonic?" Xander asked her. "You mean the devil made them do it?"
Not demonic, Xander. Demotic. It's ancient Egyptian. It was one of the three scripts found on the Rosetta stone: Demotic, Hieroglyphics and Greek. Demotic was a common script used by ancient Egyptians, and Hieroglyphics was used only for important or religious documents. It was the ancient Greek that helped open up the ancient Egyptian world.
"Victor looks about as stuffy as an old mummy," Spike said. "Perhaps he can give us a hand in deciphering? I'll also tell him that we'll be taking Dracula up on that invitation. If the goblet is in his castle, guess we need to go there to find it."
He hurried to Victor's office while the others looked through the remainder of the books they had selected. Stepping inside, Spike was surprised to find no Victor and the office in disarray. The drawers were pulled open, and most of their contents were missing.
"Bloody wanker skipped town!" Spike angrily kicked a chair to the other side of the room. Spying a small refrigerator, he opened it. "My nose is always right." He spied a half-full bottle of a familiar red liquid. Reaching for it, he was startled by a voice coming from the doorway behind him.
"Should I be calling the cops?"
Closing the refrigerator, Spike turned around and was surprised to see Mike Rosales standing there.
"I lose one lackey and find another. You alone?" asked Spike.
"Nope. Unfortunately, Dragon Lady's still with me, but you don't have to worry about Lia. She's in another section of the Archives. The one with all the armor and pointy spears, her forte."
"And you are here because?"
"Same as you, Spike. Just doing my job."
"Yeah, one or more of us have caught sight of you Wolfram & Hart spies in every place we've been. Glad that you've been keeping your distance, as was agreed at that summit meeting in Ann Arbor. Tell me the truth, mate. Am I still part of your job?"
Spike was not about to let his guard down. Mike may have a sense of honor, but he was still a card-holding operative of Wolfram & Hart. Spike knew that turning his back on Mike at the wrong moment could earn a wicked hole to mend from the proverbial, and possibly actual, knife stuck though it.
"Look, Spike. I'm not sure why Wolfram & Hart is so interested in us finding one of the artifacts, but I do have my suspicions. They might want to use it as some sort of bargaining chip, either before September 22 or maybe when the time comes for the actual Offering."
"Is this you telling me or what Sirk told you to tell me?"
Mike had hoped that by now, Spike would have learned to trust him a little, but he knew that trust was something that was hard won. Ever since Spike had saved his life in Chicago, the vampire with a soul had earned some of Mike's trust. Mike had tried to pay back the debt he owed Spike by giving him a head's up before that meeting in Ann Arbor, but Mike realized that was paltry in comparison to what Spike had done for him.
Mike would have to do something more profound to show Spike that his motives were not all sprung from the well of Wolfram & Hart. He did indeed have a code of honor despite working for the law firm. He had already explained to Spike about his family and the need to keep them safe from harm, but there were small things he could do without catching the attention of his employers.
"Spike, I've been informed that you're going to help close up the local Hellmouth. I also know that a certain master vampire has more of his abominations on the way to stop you."
"Now tell me something that I don't know."
"If you need any extra help, I'm willing to offer it."
"No Wolfram & Hart strings attached?"
"Just call me Pinocchio. The big guys are usually pleased as punch when a Hellmouth is unsecured, so they'd prefer that you steer clear of this one. But like I said, I'm walking and talking like a real boy at the moment."
Spike didn't like the idea of working with anyone from Angel's old employers, but he knew it'd be smart to keep a few back doors open. Mike could possibly be a valuable back door. "In that case, we could use an extra hand later on."
Mike waved both hands in the air. "You're in luck -- I'm ambidextrous."
"I hear they're trying to find a cure for that."
Mike noticed Spike's hesitation. "If you're still worried about me reporting back to the office, then I hope this can be a token of my good faith." He pulled out a small card. Flipping it, he showed Spike a number. "It's my cell number. Call me, and I'll find a way to ditch Lia and be there for you. I promise."
Spike wasn't sure if Mike or Wolfram & Hart knew about Dracula's Goblet, and he wasn't about to tell him. He would keep that a secret, as well as his invitation to Dracula's castle. Making sure that the back door was kept open, he replied, "We'll think about it."
Mike smiled widely, "At least, you didn't say no. Now, I'd best be going. I'm sure my bitter half, and although you have seen only an inkling of her compared to the eons I've spent with her, you know that I do mean bitter, will be searching for me. Just a word of warning, Lia's a real company man. I think her middle name is Marion-ette."
"Yeah, I've been around long enough to know a barracuda when I see one. We'll be careful around her. Later, then, mate."
"Later." Mike smiled warmly at Spike and watched him walk back to his companions. He then set out to look for Lia, hoping that he had laid more groundwork for mutual trust with Spike. Maybe even a real friendship. If he could ever get out from under his entrapment within Wolfram & Hart, Mike thought he might enjoy working with Spike and his team.
He knew that he would have to be extremely careful now. His employers literally had ears everywhere. He would watch his step, but he decided that his steps toward Spike's team were steps that needed to be taken.
Mike's thoughts turned to his wife and kids. He had originally joined Wolfram & Hart to help provide a good life for them. If he had known beforehand everything that the job entailed, he never would have signed on.
Now caught up in something of such global importance, his loyalties and job priorities were definitely changing. He was still working to save his family, but now he was also trying to stop Wolfram & Hart from destroying the very world in which his family lived.
And after saving the world more than once already, Spike certainly deserved any help he could get, too. Mike was determined to provide as much of that help as he could, whether Spike trusted him or not.
Spike checked out the clock as he entered his hotel room and saw a big 2:22PM digitally displayed. They had spent most of the day in the Archives. During the ride back to the hotel, he had concentrated his thoughts on whether or not they could trust Mike.
From past experience, Spike knew that anyone employed by Wolfram & Hart could be in the top ten list of back stabbers. Letting out a large yawn, he pulled off his leather coat and threw it on the bed. He was about to stretch out for a nap, when the door burst open. Haley, Xander, Mena, and Illyria boldly barged into the room.
Spike let out a low growl. "Oh, bloody hell! Haven't any of you watched vampire movies? We rest in the day! As in now!"
Xander swiftly walked to the bed. "Sorry, Spike, but we need to get in touch with Balazs to find out if they're ready to start this ritual-closing-the-Hellmouth thing. Haley said she gave the phone number to you.
Spike threw his leather coat at Xander. "It's in my left pocket."
Xander dug in the pocket and fished out a small sheet of paper. He grinned as he held it in his hand. "Here you go, Haley."
Snatching the paper, Haley rushed over to the room's phone and began to dial the number. Xander threw the coat back to the sleepy vampire.
Haley heard a gruff voice say hello and immediately recognized it as Akos, the shaman, not Balazs the Watcher. She could hear Balazs' voice in the background, so she quickly asked Akos if they were ready to start the ritual.
Laying his coat next to him, Spike tried to ignore the suddenly crowded room. He tiredly sat down on one side of his bed, then pulling his legs up, he fell back until his head met the pillow. As he covered his eyes with one arm, he faintly heard Haley speaking on the telephone. He was almost asleep when he felt someone sit down beside him. Raising his arm, he opened his eyes and found Illyria staring down at him.
"I am bored," she stated.
"Sorry, Blue. I'll call room service and have them send up some minions for you to beat up. Did you want them with or without weapons?"
Illyria's haunting, icy blue eyes lit up. "Can you do that?"
Spike let out a small sigh. "No, but I can order you a steak. Xander said his was bloody tough when he ate supper last night. You can wrestle with that."
As she stood up, Illyria snarled, "In my dominion, thousands would have died to entertain me. Here I am cursed to endure your penchant for making bad jokes." She began to angrily storm out of the room.
"Where you going?" Spike called out. "Don't leave on my account," he whispered. As she left the room, he moved his arm back over his eyes. "One down, three to go."
"I'll inform the others," Haley said. She placed the phone back on its cradle and then turned to address Xander and Mena. Spying Spike lying on the bed, she made sure to speak loudly enough for him to hear her.
"Akos said that they're ready to begin the ritual tonight. It's to start at midnight." She saw Mena let out a large yawn. Checking her watch, she noted that it was nearly two thirty in the afternoon.
"I suggest we all do what Spike is doing."
"Trying to do!" Spike called out.
"Yes, trying to do," Haley admitted. "We should get some rest, so we can be fresh for the ritual. Akos said that performing the spell can be a drain on those who are casting it. That would include you, Xander. Plus Balazs, Akos and myself. The others will need their strength and to be alert to-"
Spike interrupted her as he shouted, "To keep the bloody vampires from ripping out your bloody throats! I know my part. It's now way past Spike's bedtime; I need some rest. Otherwise, I may lose my concentration during the battle and won't be able to keep the sodding vampires from breaking your bloody necks!"
"Sheesh! I think someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," Xander said.
Spike sat up and glared at Xander, his piercingly blue eyes at defcon five. His voice began at a coldly quiet level but grew exponentially louder as he spit out, "That's the problem, you git. I'm working the vampire's version of the dead man's shift. Now, can I get some bloody sleep?" He fell back down on the bed. Rolling to his side, he pulled his leather coat over his head.
"And on that pleasant note, I bid you good night. I mean, good day," Haley said.
Mena followed Haley out of the room. Lingering at the door, she leaned in and shouted, "Good night, Spike!" She hurriedly ducked through the doorway as a table lamp sailed her way.
Xander shook his head, making tsking sounds as he brushed the broken shards of the lamp up against the wall. He tiptoed quietly out to the sitting room and closed the door that led to the bedroom. He just wanted to quickly check his email and then get some sleep himself.
Walking to the windows, Xander closed the curtains tightly shut, just in case Spike should come in before the sun had set. Even though Spike was a pain in the butt sometimes, Xander didn't want anything to happen to him due to carelessness. Once he was sure no sunlight could make its way into the room, he crossed over to the couch.
Plopping down, he quickly checked his email. Finding no new messages, he put his feet up on the coffee table, leaned back and closed his eyes, not realizing just how tired he was. In seconds, however, both man and vampire were fast asleep.
Sometime later, Xander stirred and felt his arm tingling as if it were asleep. Opening his eyes, he nearly jumped ten feet high as he discovered the reason his arm felt so heavy. Illyria was lying next to him on the couch, her head snuggled against his arm. She was also staring steadfastly at him. Her hand reached out to gently touch his face.
"You have been sleeping for a long time, yet I did not wish to wake you."
"Um, that's okay," he said nervously. "You can wake me anytime. Yep, I'm an awake kinda guy."
Glancing at his watch, he saw that he had slept longer than he had intended. It was ten o'clock. His stomach grumbled, letting him know that he had missed supper.
He also felt a little uneasy having an Old One looking at him as if he were a roasted chicken. In fact, he began to feel very uneasy at being so very close to her. He had seen that look before; most of the time it had brought him only trouble.
Since there were no sounds coming from either of the adjoining bedrooms, Xander assumed the others were still asleep. Illyria sat up suddenly, and he took that opportunity to jump off the couch. Putting his hands behind him, he slowly backed up towards one of the large windows in the room. He glanced through an open door and saw Spike asleep on his bed.
Illyria followed him. After he turned and pulled the heavy curtains back, the cool night air hit his face. Fully awake now, he walked out onto the small balcony. Illyria followed him again. Leaning against the balcony railing, he hesitantly smiled at her. He didn't want to anger her. God only knew what an angry god could do to an ex-carpenter.
"You still fear me," she said sadly.
Xander noted it was not a question but a statement. She knew exactly what he was feeling. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to stand up to her -- put on a brave face -- or whatever the hell else he could do to keep from potentially being squashed by the powerful woman who stood before him. So very, very close to him.
"I am confused by these feelings," she admitted.
"Oh?" Xander squeaked. Clearing his throat, he put on his most thoughtful face.
"Yes, by superfluous emotions from the Fred-shell. I feel feelings for you, Xander."
"No. No feelings. You aren't feeling anything for me, Illyria. And, by the way, we don't say 'feel feelings'. We say have feelings."
"You say that I do not. Yet I sometimes see a look from you that confuses me, that makes me sense that perhaps you feel...have feelings for me. Do you not believe that to be true?"
Xander saw her bathed in the moonlight. It flowed across the gentle curves of her body. He saw her face soften, her smile warm and inviting. Her eyes, well, he had never seen more beautiful eyes since--
No! he screamed inside. I can't let this happen again. He spun around and stared out into the night. He saw golden lights illuminating the Hungarian skies.
"Xander," he heard her say. Her voice was very gentle this time. It had more emotion.
Hesitantly, he turned to look at her. "I...I can't say I have the s-same feelings as you do, Illyria. My feelings are...I mean, I think of you more as a friend." He bit his lip as she moved even closer. Oh, my God! She smells so good. He didn't know if she was wearing perfume or if all gods smelled like a spring morning.
Illyria felt an ache near her heart. At first, she thought her Fred-shell was beginning to deteriorate due to the strain from the additional powers. Then she realized she was just feeling disappointment that Xander was not reacting the way she had hoped.
"At least you have overcome your fear of me enough to say you consider me a friend. I have learned from Wesley that friendship can grow into other things."
"I can be friends with a former god, but I don't know if the friendship can ever grow into something else."
Illyria suddenly changed. He saw Fred standing before him. "Do you think you can be more than friends if I do not look like a god?"
"No, Illyria, it's not like that. I've seen so many demons, I think I've built up an immunity. It's not because you're a god. I've just been burned by love so many times in the past. I want to take it easy before jumping into the dating pool again."
Her body slowly returned to her Illyria incarnation. "This Fred-shell will not age. I have time. I will stay with you and wait to see if perhaps you will develop feelings for me."
Xander found himself feeling compassion for her and regarded her tenderly for a few moments before softly asking, "Why did you stay with us? After you destroyed the gem, I thought you'd be out trying to get your god-dom back."
Illyria took a step back and glanced toward the room where she knew Spike was sleeping. He had been with her during those frustrating times after her rebirth, when she had struggled to find her place in this world. She also recalled the good times she had sparring with Spike at Wolfram & Hart. She had appreciated his tenacity and had come to consider him a worthy opponent and a skilled warrior. Eventually, she began to enjoy being in his company.
Now that pleasure extended to Spike's companions. She hadn't realized just how lonely she had been during the weeks after the battle in L.A. until she had spent some time with Spike and his friends. She did not wish to return to a solitary life. Friendship seemed to be an essential part of living in this dimension.
"Since I came to this world, my existence has been similar to that of the roller coasters we experienced in Houston. It had its ups and downs. After I destroyed the last of the demons from our battle in Los Angeles, my existence became an uninteresting plateau with only a few dips downward. Once I rejoined Spike, my days regained the excitement of both climbing the hill and racing down its slope."
Xander nodded in recognition. "The roller coaster that we call 'fighting the good fight'.
"Only now, the roller coaster is more entertaining because I ride it with all of you. Although you irritate and annoy me much of the time, I find that I enjoy being with you, as well as Spike, Haley, and Mena. You are all brave warriors. And it seems that trouble follows you around."
"Oh, yeah," Xander said. "We have a lifetime membership in the Trouble of the Week Club.
She was learning to recognize humor more often and understood Xander's joke. She let out a small laugh. Xander returned it. As she took a step closer to him, he took a step back.
He didn't want to let her know that he had begun to feel something for her -- something that had opened up a small place for her in his heart. It was either that or heartburn. He had to admit that there was a definite burning sensation somewhere.
"How long will you stay with us?" he asked.
Illyria stepped up to the balcony's edge. Leaning on the railing, she closed her eyes. A strong breeze whipped her long hair back. She sighed softly and replied, "I will help you close the Hellmouth tonight. I anticipate the battle will be exhilarating."
"Not the word I would have used," he muttered.
"I am still considering the ritual to remove the power I absorbed from the gem. I am aware that I risk my death, yet the loss of my power will be difficult to bear. Should I determine that I prefer to retain it all, I will remove myself to a desolate place to live out my final days, where I will not risk the lives of humans."
"Please don't choose that, Illy!" Hearing the emotion in his voice, he tried to cover his feelings by adding, "I mean, as your friend, I don't want you to die. We would all miss you."
"Thank you, Xander. If I choose to undergo the extraction of my powers, and the magic of the shaman and Watcher is successful, I will likely stay with your team long enough to help you to ensure that the Ritual Offering is accomplished. If I am to remain in this world, it is to my advantage to make sure the Offering is made. After all, I am a creature of magic."
"That you are, Blue," Spike's voice was heard to say behind them.
Spinning around, Illyria and Xander saw the vampire standing in the window frame that led to the balcony. Stepping out onto the balcony, he purposely allowed his game face to appear.
"Both of us have a stake in making sure we get all the bloody artifacts together. It we fail, this world is going to be as boring as Xander's wardrobe."
Xander gazed down at his plaid shirt. "Hey! Plaid is coming back in."
"Yeah, right. And I'm sure all the men in Rio are scrambling at Lumberjack Bob's to get the Xander look."
"It could happen," Xander pouted.
"It's time!" Haley called out as she rushed into the sitting room with Mena close at her side. "We need to go now so we can reach the catacombs in time for the ritual. Has something happened?" She focused on Spike in his game face.
He quickly changed back to his human face. "Nothing's wrong, Haley. Just making a point to Blue here."
Xander hurried past Illyria, saying, "We can finish this discussion later."
"Do not worry. I will be here," she said. She quietly walked into the room and joined Haley and Mena.
"Hold on," Spike said. "I have to let Mike know we're leaving."
Taking out the business card Mike had given him, he called the reluctant Wolfram & Hart operative on his cell phone and gave him the heads up.
"Okay, you can count on me," Spike heard Mike say. "I'll be there with bells on."
"Make sure you wear something else, too; it's going to be bloody cold down there."
"I'll be there."
Spike heard a click as Mike hung up. Closing his cell phone, the vampire saw three anxious faces staring back at him.
"Well, what are we waiting for? We have a bloody date with a Hellmouth."
"And with some of Count Dracula's minions, too. Don't forget them," added Mena, with a touch of a Slayer's undisguised eagerness.
"Right, then. Who wants to wager on how many of Drac's minions Mena will leave alive for us to kill?" asked Spike as he ushered them out of the room and towards the elevator where they continued their somewhat nervous joking.
But as they made their way to the parking lot, all were quiet. Not a word was said as they steeled themselves for the coming ritual and impending battle. Mena said a small, silent prayer that every one of them would be returning to the hotel together after they accomplished their task and successfully closed the Hellmouth.
"Where the bloody hell did that cat come from?" Spike hissed. He watched it disappear in the darkness.
"Guess that's why they call them cat-a-combs," Mena replied with a grin. "They come and they go."
"Why can't Hellmouths be found in a nice, clean, brightly lit place? Why are they always dark and dirty and looking like the set of a Stephen King novel?" Xander moaned.
Once they entered the catacombs, the scent of dirt and mold was overpowering. The long chamber walls were bricked up. At junctions, the roof was held up with ancient logs. Everything was old and damp and musty -- exactly what Xander expected catacombs to be like.
He had not been surprised to hear that the local Hellmouth was located under an ancient castle. Sarolt had simply called it 'Castle on Castle Hill'. A tourist attraction during the day, it was locked up tight for the night. They had, of course, needed to sneak in after hours. Once inside, Balazs had been able to quickly lead them to the entrance of a maze of catacombs under the medieval castle.
"This way," Spike said. His voice echoed in the expanse of darkness.
They had reached a fork in their path, and Spike chose the left fork. Balazs had been leading them to where the Hellmouth was located, but now Spike seemed to inherently know which way to go.
"This likely sounds right strange, but I can sorta feel the presence of the Hellmouth. Could be 'cause I spent so much time in the one in Sunnydale."
"Perhaps by destroying one Hellmouth," suggested Haley, "you now have a connection to all Hellmouths."
Moving forward through the catacombs, Spike wondered about that himself. He was amazed how he knew exactly which way to go. As they grew closer to their destination, he suddenly had a flashback of being dragged down a similar dark tunnel.
He then saw himself being strung up over a primeval stone symbol embedded in the ground. As ancient words were spoken, glyphs were carved deep into his skin. He fought to keep from screaming as the pain from his wounds grew to a screeching crescendo. His dripping blood collected on the star symbol below. He watched in horror, as a monstrosity crawled from the ground. It was a monstrosity that Spike helped to gain entry into the human world.
Shaking off the memory, he continued to take the lead. He wanted to get this done as soon as possible. He had thought he was over what had happened to him the last time he was near a Hellmouth.
His shaking hands told him that was not the case. Fisting them tightly, he led everyone quickly to where he knew the Hellmouth would be within this maze of dark tunnels.
"Did we bring enough batteries for the torches?" Haley called out.
"You mean flashlights?" Xander waved his flashlight in the air.
Haley's brows furrowed. "No, I do believe I said torches."
"We call them flashlights," Xander stated.
Haley halted in the center of the tunnel. "Are you giving me a lesson in linguistics?"
Before Haley and Xander turned their discussion into an argument, Mena interrupted them. "Let us simply say portable lights. Okay? We need to keep our minds on what is ahead rather than battling with each other."
"Fine," Xander and Haley replied in unison.
"Who's the Watcher and who's the student," they heard Spike say from ahead.
"Are we there yet?" Xander cried out in a playfully whining voice, hoping to change the conversation away from 'You say tomato, I say toe-mah-toe'.
He was surprised by his reaction towards Haley. He hoped it was not misplaced anger brought about from bad memories of Spike's tryst with Anya or his troubled love affair with Buffy. Spike was a different vampire now. Xander needed to remember that and trust him as much as Buffy did. He should have faith that Spike would not risk his relationship with Buffy for a fling with Haley.
Xander wondered just how extensive the catacombs were; they seemed to run for miles. They had been walking for over half an hour. The only sounds he heard were breathing, dripping water and their footsteps. He was relieved when he heard the shaman declare, "We are near our destination."
Flashing his light ahead, Spike saw a huge cavern open up. His vampire eyes were able to discern most of the dark cavern. Scanning the underground chamber, he spied large wooden poles supporting the dirt roof above them. Seven other openings in the deteriorating brick walls were scattered along the outskirts of the cavern. Eight rows of wooden support poles led like spokes of a wheel from the tunnels towards the center.
Gazing up, Spike saw many roots from the trees above that had broken through the cavern's ceiling. The floor was riddled with dirt, rotted roots and large rocks. Shining the flashlight ahead, he noticed a round stone in the center of the cavern, embedded in the dirt floor. Déjà vu rushed through Spike as he realized that it was identical to the one that lay in the basement of Sunnydale High.
Hearing the sound of a throat clearing, Spike realized he had frozen in the entrance of the tunnel. He quickly stepped to the side and allowed the others to enter. Sarolt and her grandfather rushed past the rows of posts until they reached the center. They then began pulling things out of several knapsacks that they had brought with them. In minutes, the cavern was awash in the ancient glow of flickering candles.
Balazs slowly weaved around the support poles. He gazed down each tunnel that exited the cavern. "This can be a problem," he declared. "Too many ways to get to us."
"See, I always look on the bright side," Xander said. "I see many ways we can get away."
"Are you frightened?" Illyria asked him.
"If I die, I don't have a Get out of afterlife free card. That's reserved for Old Ones; all those present please raise your hands."
Illyria was about to raise her hand, until she realized that Xander had made one of his many jokes. A half smile parted her lips. "Then it is death that you fear, human. That is what I smell."
"Actually, I believe it's the sausages he ate for lunch," Haley said.
"I think it's that cheap perfume you're wear--" Xander quickly replied, until he was interrupted by an angry Mena.
"Magombe," Mena hissed. "I am supposed to be trained by my Watcher in the art of slaying a vampire, not the art of snappy, rude comebacks."
"Sorry," both of them said.
Looking sheepish, Xander pulled out several of Doc Morton's dart guns from a backpack. He began to load them with the garlic-laced darts. "I'm sorry, Mena. I've not been much of a Watcher for you, lately." He let out a labored sigh and handed her two dart guns.
"I want you to know I'm very proud of how much you've improved since we left Nairobi. Even after nearly getting your head handed to you by Hyllus, you were ready to get back in the saddle as soon as your injuries healed. I've never been so proud of you, Mena."
Mena tucked the dart guns into a large cloth purse that hung at her side. "I am doing my job, Xander. It is a job, as you know, that I take very seriously. I realize that there is so much more that I need to learn. I look to my Watcher for guidance, and you are very special to me. I know that I have been gifted with special powers, but I have never forgotten that line we heard in one of your favorite movies."
"With great powers come great responsibilities," she recited earnestly.
"When I feel the power of the Slayer, and as it intoxicates me, I fight to not allow it to rule me. That is what my Watcher has taught me. My nyanya once told me that it is a wise person who knows her true friends. A true friend is someone who looks after your back to make sure a lion is not ready to eat it. I consider you a true friend, Xander."
Xander was in awe of his young charge. She never ceased to amaze him. She had quickly grown into a very mature young woman and was fast becoming a fantastic Slayer. He gently patted her on the back. "If I see a lion, you'll be the first one to know."
"Your clue, Mena, will be him running the other bloody way," Spike called out from the cavern's entrance.
"What's the matter? Is wittle Spikey afraid of the big bad Hellmouth?" Xander noticed that Spike had remained at the original spot where he had entered the cavern.
"Actually, I'm trying to get a lay of the land. Or the minions."
"Balazs rushed towards him. "What do you mean?"
Spike tilted his head back. He took in a deep breath, while moving his head back and forth, then slowly nodded. "We'd best get this party started because we have bloody gate crashers that are going to be busting it apart soon."
"How soon? Can you tell how many?" asked Balazs.
Spike closed his eyes and opened all of his other vampiric senses. He didn't realize that his game face had appeared as he struggled to discover a bit more about the enemy army that would be arriving soon. When Spike opened his eyes, Balazs noticed that they were glowing yellow in the darkness of the cavern.
Observing the others watching him, Spike saw anger wash over Akos' face. Realizing that his face remained vamped, Spike quickly humanized it and began to tell them the little that he had surmised.
"Not sure exactly how far away or how many; I've about reached my limit." He looked to Illyria for help. "Sense anything, Blue?"
Illyria stepped to the center of the cavern and cocked her head to one side. Closing her eyes, she seemed to instantly go into a trance. Her hands raised up, her fingers extended, and blue light suddenly snaked out of her fingertips. Streaks of light weaved around the wooden posts toward the eight tunnels that surrounded them.
In seconds, the blue streaks of light came snaking back. As the lights wrapped themselves around Illyria's thin body, she seemed to absorb them. Dropping her arms, Illyria's haunting blue eyes slowly opened.
"They are 40 stone throws from here. I sensed at least sixty of them. Maybe more. They felt like half-breeds, but were -- how can I put it -- tainted."
"The ones we fought before were vampires, yet they were not," Sarolt said. "Some were as strong as a typical vampire, and yet others were weak."
"Yes," affirmed Balazs. "The weaker ones seemed to be rotting as they fought us. When I spoke to Giles again this afternoon, he said that there had been recent reports of Dracula working on a spell of resurrection. Supposedly, he has been raising the dead, then turning them into vampires. If the reports are true, Dracula may have created a true army of the undead."
Spike slowly shook his head. "Bloody great. What do we call them, then? The undead undead?"
"How about Zompires?" Xander offered.
"Or Vambies?" Sarolt suggested. She cringed when she heard her grandfather loudly clap his hands. It was his way of telling them all to shut up and listen to what he was about to say.
"Enough of this childish jabbering!" Akos hissed. "What we are about to do is a very serious matter. We need to concentrate and proceed with the closing of the Hellmouth. The vampire's job is to keep us from being killed by the obscenities that will try to stop us. Can you do that, vampire?"
Illyria was puzzled by the hatred that she sensed pouring out of the shaman. She felt a need to assure this human that Spike was to be trusted.
"I do not understand why you belittle him. I have fought many battles with this half-breed. He has the heart of a true warrior."
Spike was never one to let someone fight his battles for him. He slowly walked up to Akos and stopped mere inches from his face. He quietly but firmly said, "As I told you when we first met, the name's Spike, and yes, I can do that, old man."
Akos was still reeling from being introduced to Illyria and had not yet come to terms with his thoughts about her, but his perception of Spike was very clear. He had not trusted Spike from the moment he met him. He learned as a child that all vampires were evil creatures, as had been taught to his father, his grandfather and many generations before him.
Even after noting how highly Spike's human companions thought of him, Akos' opinion of this so-called souled vampire had not changed. Nevertheless, he knew Spike was needed to protect them as they executed the ritual. If the vampire were to die while protecting them, then Akos would consider that perhaps there was such a thing as a good vampire.
"Very well," said Akos. "Then let us begin. Already, the Hellmouth strains to open. We must hurry."
Looking down, Spike saw the hairline cracks widen slightly along the spokes of the star symbol. It was then that he realized just how closely he stood to the very center of the Hellmouth. He moved quickly back to his prior position. He grimaced when he realized he may have rushed just a bit too much. Hating to show any weakness or cowardice, he began to take control.
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Gypsies, Vamps and Thieves, Part 2 Page1, 2
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