by alllie & Ldynwaitin
Previously on Spike: Soul Survivor, Hearts of Darkness Part 1:
After accepting Dracula's personal invitation to visit Transylvania, the Big B.A.D.S. find themselves in the small town of Bistritz. Wolfram and Hart agents, Mike and Lia are not far behind, with strict orders from Sirk to keep an eye on Spike.
Even though Dracula does not know that his golden goblet is the very artifact the team has to secure, everyone has mixed feelings about coming face to face with the infamous count.
Xander has nightmares about falling under Dracula's thrall again.
Mena and Haley are apprehensive and yet attracted to Dracula's sinister charm.
Illyria is eager to challenge this legendary warrior.
Spike? Well...Spike just hopes to get his eleven quid back!
He does however remind his team for the millionth time that 'the Poncey Prince of Darkness' is highly overrated but still a sneaky bastard and therefore not to be trusted. Their objective is to get the artifact and then get out of town! ASAP!
Dracula, in the meantime has problems of his own.
Elizabeth Bathory is proving to be less than the perfect consort. She is willful, disobedient and her reckless bloodlust could seriously jeopardize the harmonious relationship the count has with the residents of the local villages.
Not only that, Dracula's right hand man, Victor, is rapidly becoming disillusioned with his service to his master. Although he keeps his dissent private he is definitely not pleased with Dracula's fascination for Spike!
Realizing that he must step up his grand plans for a new world order, Dracula goes to Bistritz to welcome Spike and his team. Promising to help them with their search for the artifact, he offers them all lodging at his castle for the duration of their trip.
The team politely declines, but Spike gives into his curiosity and 'macho' bravado and boldly accepts the offer. Despite his friend's worried protests, Spike assures them he will be fine and explains that this will give him the chance to snoop around and locate the goblet.
With no thought of a 'back up' plan and no regard for his own advice, our hero heads off with Dracula to his castle. Once they arrive however, Spike finds himself in for a night of surprises and a turn of events that will put him and his team in mortal danger!!!!
Now...on with Hearts of Darkness Part 2:
It took Spike a few moments to regain his composure, let alone his voice. He had been staring at the couple in stunned silence ever since Dracula had introduced his special guest. The woman was incredibly beautiful, but underneath her perfect features Spike sensed cold indifference, even haughty contempt. That little voice at the back of his brain had been nagging him ever since he heard her name. For some reason he thought he recognized it or should know who she was, but at the moment he couldn't place her.
Remembering his manners, Spike stepped forward and slapped Dracula good-naturedly on the shoulder. "Drac, you sly dog! Congratulations old man, you really pulled a fast one on me," he joked. "If I had known you were getting married I'd have sent a card, or brought a wedding present. You know, one of those sensible but boring gifts that you usually end up getting ten of."
The count laughed heartily at Spike's humor. "I admit that our union was somewhat sudden, but I have actually had my eye on Elizabeth for several years now."
Dracula turned to gaze upon his bride affectionately, but Spike noticed that Elizabeth's smile for her husband seemed forced and in no way returned the obvious adoration he had shown for her.
Hmmmm...might too early for trouble in Paradise? he wondered, but continued to joke cheerfully. "So...not exactly a shotgun wedding, heh? Can't say I'd blame you though for being so anxious to tie the knot, what with a woman as beautiful as the countess, here."
Dracula grinned rakishly at Spike's enthusiastic assessment of his new bride. "Elizabeth, my dear, may I present Spike, formerly known as William the Bloody, one of the most infamous vampires the world has ever known."
As Spike approached the countess, she scrutinized him carefully, obviously intrigued, then offered her hand for him to kiss. For a moment he was a bit unnerved by the gesture, but it awakened the manners of the Victorian gentleman that still lived within him. Spike brushed his lips to her hand and bowed gallantly. "Countess, I am honored," he replied.
When Elizabeth finally withdrew her hand, Spike looked up to see her still staring intently at him. "Ahhhh yes...Spike," she purred. "You are the one I have been hearing so much about lately." She paused briefly to make sure she had Dracula's attention. "My husband," she nearly sneered, "seems utterly infatuated with you."
Picking up on the tinge of sarcasm in her voice, Spike glanced uncomfortably at his host. Dracula seemed somewhat embarrassed by her comments, but maintained his composure. No wonder the poor bastard keeps that fire roaring, he thought to himself, this bint's a bit on the frosty side.
Spike tried to think of some witty comeback to lighten the mood, but before he could speak the countess moved even closer. She began to look him over, lewdly, almost hungrily. Her hand traced up his arm, across his chest and then came to rest on his cheek.
"Dracula tells me," she cooed, "that you, are unique among our kind. He says you have a soul, one you fought valiantly for. I wonder, is it obvious to anyone?" Slowly, standing on her tiptoes she brought her face close to Spike's. Her gaze was mesmerizing, commanding his rapt attention. "Ahhh yes," she whispered seductively. "I can see it, there in your eyes, even smell it in the scent of your body. How very intoxicating."
Momentarily thrown by her boldness, Spike laughed nervously to himself as he thought, Okay, that is definitely the last time I nick any of Harris's damn aftershave. Poor sod truly is a demon magnet.
With another sly smile Elizabeth walked back to her husband and took his arm. "You are right about his power, my love. I can sense it. It emanates from him far more strongly than yours ever has," she taunted almost cruelly. By now the countess's intentions were baffling Spike. Bloody hell, is she playing me against Drac, trying to provoke a vampire pissin' contest?
The count had watched his wife's display with an odd mixture of jealousy, shame and rage, but he had done nothing to stop it. After another moment of uncomfortable silence, Dracula took his wife firmly by the arm. Spike could see her resist his touch, but something lethal in his gaze must have forced her compliance.
"You must forgive my new bride, Spike. She has such insatiable curiosity but tends to pry at times. You are indeed very different from other vampires she has met, but she forgets that you are also our guest, and we want you to feel at ease here."
He hesitated a moment to glare pointedly at his wife. Elizabeth met his gaze boldly, but then looked away, seemingly contrite. "Perhaps a tour of my castle would interest you, and then later we can settle down for some refreshments and conversation. Relive the good old times, yes?"
Spike truly did not remember any good old times with Dracula, so he had little desire to relive them. In fact, he wished he had never agreed to the count's invitation in the first place. He simply hoped he would be lucky enough to spot that damn goblet somewhere out in the open. Since that had not happened, he decided he would be just as happy to return to the Inn, but something told him Dracula was not going to offer that option.
Right now though, Spike was grateful for any diversion that might diffuse the tension between this 'less than happily married' couple. A lot of volatile sparks were flying around the count and his bride. Spike could sense a storm brewing and he really did not want to be here when lightning struck. As soon as he could get an opportune moment, he'd try to call Harris again and then make a hasty exit.
Putting his reservations aside for the moment, Spike nodded
cheerfully and tried to look interested in seeing Dracula's fine home
and accepting his hospitality.
For the next hour or so Dracula gave Spike the grand tour of his castle. The count's former residences had all fallen into ruin or been restored as museums, but this current one had an air of permanence about it. Clearly the symbiotic relationship he shared with the villagers of Bistritz had paid off for him. The count was truly quite at home here.
Maybe too much at home, Spike worried.
He marveled at how modernized the castle was. Updated plumbing and electricity were expected he guessed, but computer hookups and satellite reception? What's next? he wondered, Necro tempered glass and a fleet of vamp mobiles, just like the Broody One's? Oh...uhh no offense, Angel, he added with a quick look skyward.
All these luxuries seemed a bit unusual for a vampire who insisted on clinging to the old ways of life. Maybe he did it to please the missus, Spike shrugged, but then again, the Poncey Prince of Darkness I knew was never one to consider roughing it, let alone be caught 'undead' living in some common crypt. Poser always had to have his poofter's clothes, fancy trappings and special dirt, like some prancing, spoiled nancy boy.
Elizabeth had accompanied them on the tour but followed a few paces behind. She glared angrily at her husband from time to time but remained silent. Spike knew that the Dracula of old would never have tolerated such insolence and behavior from his consort. He would have snapped the woman's neck without so much as a second thought. But Elizabeth apparently held a particular fascination for him, and he tried very hard to control his anger, even though Spike could tell that she was pushing him to his limits. Spike began to wonder if there was more to this marriage made in Hell than met the eye.
When they returned to the main parlor, Dracula called for Victor and ordered him to bring them refreshments. Spike had seen Victor earlier when he first arrived at the castle, but Drac's right hand man had kept his distance.
A few minutes later Victor returned carrying a tray with
a crystal decanter and several glasses. Placing the tray on the table,
he avoided meeting Spike's eyes, ashamed to be seen performing such
a menial task. The vamp couldn't resist needling him though.
"Victor. Good to see you again, mate. Thought we were getting along right famously in Budapest, until you took off without so much as a goodbye."
Victor glanced nervously at his master, hoping he would intercede, then turned back to Spike. "My Lord Dracula was in urgent need of my services. My business with you however, was concluded, so I thought it best to..."
"Oh right, scurry off like a good little minion," Spike grinned.
Victor bristled with anger. "I am not a mere minion!" he muttered under his breath as Dracula came to his defense, and patted his shoulder reassuringly.
"Victor is my most trusted servant and devoted follower, Spike. I have relied on him for years to carry out my orders and he has never failed me. In due time he will be rewarded for his dedication."
Elizabeth had been watching this entire exchange with amusement. A cruel smile played across her lips when she heard Dracula's promise to Victor. Poor fool, she thought, the count will never honor his promise to you as long as Spike exists.
Victor was pleased that his master had spoken in his defense. He still clung desperately to the hope that Dracula would honor his years of faithful service. Perhaps I will be invited to stay and share a toast with the count and his guest, he thought.
His hope though, was dashed when Dracula picked up the decanter and began to fill the glasses. "That will be all, Victor," he said firmly. "Spike and I have a lot of history to catch up on. I will call you if I need you."
Victor's face burned with shame, and it was barely possible for him to contain his rage. Swallowing his pride, he bowed stiffly and strode out of the room. Now more than ever he was prepared to take an alternate course of action. His eyes met Elizabeth's as he passed by her chair, but he was not sure if he saw pity or pleasure in them.
Retreating to the anteroom outside the main parlor, he decided to listen in on the conversation. Now was not the time to let anger rule his actions. Careful planning had always been his forte, and he hoped that he could still find a way to turn the tide back in his favor. Even if he had to do it himself!
"Allow me to propose a toast," Dracula offered as he handed Spike a goblet of rich, red liquid. "To old friends and new beginnings."
Spike hesitated, then took the glass and raised it slowly to his lips. It was blood of course, warm and human. The heady aroma was so enticing it made his mouth water. Spike's eyes momentarily flashed to gold as the demon within him began to stir. From the very depths of his being the voice of the beast began to howl, calling to him, struggling to break free. Summoning his strength, he willed himself to hear the other voice, the quiet one that soothed him and kept him focused.
Dracula noted Spike's hesitation. "Don't worry my friend," he urged, "no one has died to provide our nourishment. I assure you, the donor gave it quite willingly."
His temptation suppressed, Spike trembled as he sat the glass down on the table. "Uhhh...if it's all the same to you, mate, I think I'd rather help myself to some of that vintage cognac instead. I'm off the human stuff these days, except for emergencies."
The count watched as Spike poured himself a large snifter of the brandy and downed nearly half of it in one draught. Elizabeth watched too, a mixture of curiosity and contempt on her lovely face. Her husband might think that Spike's soul made him special, but she was beginning to think it only made him weak. Even though she could sense that Spike was indeed very powerful, she certainly had seen no indication of any ruthless vampire nature. Surely this is not the legendary warrior that Dracula wants so desperately as his general, she mused with sarcasm.
"It must be very frustrating for you Spike," she taunted, drinking deeply from her glass and then seductively licking the errant droplets from her lips, "having to give up the taking of blood, and the thrill of the hunt. The blood is the life after all. Is it not, my husband?"
Dracula was cautious in his reply. "It is indeed, my love, but there are still many ways to savor it. Spike has simply chosen a more...unorthodox approach. Is that not so, my friend?"
"Actually, Countess," Spike explained, "I haven't given up on drinking blood. Just don't get it from the human tap any more. Instead mine comes from neat and handy plastic bags, or the butcher's sh..."
"You drink the blood of animals!" she recoiled in disgust.
"Elizabeth, please, it is not your place to judge," Dracula interrupted, clearly worried by the direction the conversation was going.
Spike though, seemed unconcerned as he continued, "Oh right, I admit I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of a diet of pig's blood, but jazz it up with a touch of otter or mink...makes it right passable, even tasty. You should try it."
"That may satisfy your rather...common palate," she sniffed in disdain, "but my aristocratic upbringing would never suffer me to settle for such plebian tastes."
Spike was perplexed by the countess's growing animosity towards him. Not to mention the escalating power struggle between her and the count. An hour ago he could swear she was coming on to him in front of her husband. Now she acted like she was ready to toss Spike out like yesterday's trash. Momentarily wounded by her insults, he decided not to let it show. After all, he'd been insulted by experts all his life. Compared to them, she was an amateur. Besides, he figured, I can definitely give back as good as I get.
"Trust me, my lady," Spike bowed with feigned respect, "even you might be surprised at what you'd stoop to in order to survive. As far as the thrill of the hunt goes, well, lets just say I can still get my violence on. Only now, I pick and choose who that violence is against. I'm still a warrior, just prefer to fight for the good guys."
Now it was Spike's turn to watch her squirm. Sometime during the verbal fencing, that nagging little voice in the back of his mind finally told him just who Drac's new bride really was. Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess. My God, he thought, this woman was a monster in her own right when she was human. What the hell was the blighter thinking turning her into a vamp? Maybe the poor bastard literally bit off more than he can chew with this shrew. Almost feel sorry for the fool, well...almost.
Elizabeth's eyes burned with anger. She could barely mask the hatred in her voice. "So, you admit it then. You hunt demons! You would kill your own kind!"
Spike's gaze was as steady as his voice. "If it becomes necessary...yes, I would. I have!"
Gasping in disbelief at Spike's brazen admission, Elizabeth looked expectantly at her husband, hoping he would silence this blasphemous traitor once and for all. But Dracula's reaction was not what she expected or had wanted. Instead he ignored her pleading expression and returned it with a murderous gaze of his own. One that warned her he would tolerate no further outbursts. This left her even more frustrated and angry, but she held her tongue.
"The soul has definitely changed you Spike," Dracula sighed wearily. His lethal gaze was still focused on his bride. "Apparently Elizabeth finds this concept too hard to comprehend. I do hope her rudeness has not offended you."
Spike took another deep drink of the cognac and then set the glass on the table. "You're right," he said thoughtfully, "I have changed. No sense in denying it. Sometimes I do miss the old life. It was exciting after all, but I've come to value my new life more."
Hesitating a moment, he continued on, his voice softer, "Went through hell getting my soul back. Don't want to risk bollixing it up now. Still, I can see where the whole idea of a vampire wanting his soul back could be a bit hard to comprehend. So no, I'm not offended."
Spike glanced at the count and his bride. The atmosphere was definitely tense. Time to make an exit, he decided. Have to talk about that goblet later.
"Actually, mate, I'm thinking I might be starting to wear out my welcome. You being newlyweds and all...need some quality 'alone time'. So I'll just signal for my ride and head on back to the Inn."
Pressing the buttons on his phone, Spike pretended to send a text message. "Right then, they should be here soon. So, thank you for your hospitality, and the excellent cognac. My team and I will see you tomorrow then, that is if your offer still stands?"
As Spike prepared to leave he noticed that Dracula appeared anxious. Elizabeth just seemed indifferent.
"Of course the offer still stands, but I wish you would reconsider. The night is young and there is so much we two have to discuss."
"I'm sure there is a lot to talk about, but I really do need the participation of my team for that. I'm not the expert on the artifacts or the ritual."
"Forget the ritual Spike! There are far more important things to consider for the future!"
Spike looked at the count in confusion. The countess looked at them both with contempt but her interest was once again piqued.
"Ummm," Spike started slowly, "in case you didn't get the memo mate, unless this ritual is successful, I don't think any of us are going to be worrying about the future, period. That sounds pretty important to me."
Dracula had to choose his words very carefully now. He could not risk letting Spike slip out of his grasp. The vampire with a soul was far too valuable, his blood the key ingredient for his ultimate power elixir.
In reality the count hoped Spike would see his vision for a new world order and join him willingly. A vampire of Spike's prowess would be an extraordinary asset, and a formidable force. Although he never had any real intention of sharing the elixir with Spike or Elizabeth for that matter, he still wanted them under his control. If they were faithful seconds they would be rewarded. If not...eliminated.
"Perhaps I should explain myself more clearly," Dracula laughed softly. "I am not discounting the ritual or it's significance Spike. I am simply questioning our part in it. You promised to deliver the required artifacts and I will indeed help you secure the one you seek in my homeland. But after that, the responsibility falls to the humans. Let them perform the offering at the Autumnal Equinox for all of us. I am certain that both the Council of Watchers and the representatives from Wolfram and Hart will do everything within their power to ensure success. In the meantime, we will be looking forward to what lies beyond that success."
"The Council will do their part, but I don't trust those wankers at Wolfram and Hart to do the same. They're a bit too dodgy to suit me lately. And as for myself, I'm committed to seeing this through. Got too many people I love or care about to back off now."
"All the more reason to accept the proposition I am about to offer you," Dracula smiled slyly.
"Proposition? From you...oh that's rich. A bloke who can't even make good on an eleven pound debt? I'd be daft to consider anything new you had to offer. And speaking of that little sum, thought we were going to settle up?"
"Spike, Spike," Dracula chastised in frustration," what I have to offer you is so much more than mere money. I'm talking about power, power beyond your wildest dreams. Power so strong that neither Wolfram and Hart nor any other force could ever challenge you or harm the ones you love."
He paused briefly, studying Spike's face. "I am willing to share this power with you Spike, unless of course, you are not interested. Perhaps you would rather spend eternity in selfless servitude to mankind as hired muscle for the Council of Watchers."
"I would say he has already made that choice, my love," Elizabeth sneered absently. "Your dreams are wasted on this so called champion. He will never see your vision. His soul blinds him."
"Woman!" the count bellowed. "Hold your tongue! Your insults undermine every effort I have made, and I will tolerate NO MORE OF THEM!"
Spike looked nervously at the angry couple. If his wife's looks could kill, Drac would have been dust by now, but Spike had to give him credit for laying down the law. Way to go, mate, put her in her place. Just wouldn't count on getting much loving tonight if I were you, though.
Stalking away, Elizabeth poured herself another goblet of blood and retreated in a huff to the settee, as Dracula turned his attention once more to his guest. The 'legend' looked a bit flustered so Spike grasped him on the shoulder then leaned in to converse with him privately.
"Look old man, don't take this the wrong way," he whispered, "but all this talk of super powers, visions and plans makes me wonder if maybe you're going through some mid-life crisis or having delusions of grandeur and what not?"
Dracula sighed in exasperation, "I assure you that is not the case--if you will just hear me out."
"Sure, sure, but if there truly is a power that can take out Wolfram and Hart I think I really need to discuss that with my team and the Council."
"NO!" Dracula shouted. "It does not concern them, or belong under their control. It belongs to us, Spike. That power is part of you, but only I have the means to release it."
"What the bloody hell are you going on about?"
Dracula looked cautiously at his wife. Her anger was growing and she gripped her glass so tightly he was sure it would shatter. Elizabeth was becoming dangerously disruptive. There was no more time to waste. He had to win Spike's cooperation.
"The humans may be able to save the existence of magic in this world, but in the end they will not be able to save themselves. The fate of mankind teeters on the precipice of destruction. They need strong leadership to save themselves and this earth from total ruin. That is where we come in. For centuries I have had visions of my own new world order and now, with your help, I am poised to see it happen."
"Riiiight...new world order...my help. Ummm...how?"
Dracula's eyes sparkled with fevered excitement, and Spike was seriously beginning to think the old poofter had finally gone 'sack of hammers' on him for real.
From her seat on the couch, Elizabeth rolled her eyes, mocking her husband as he continued his impassioned speech.
"You and I are really quite alike, Spike. We both have chosen women named Elizabeth as mates. We both see great value in preserving the earth from careless ruin. Even my very surname Tepes, is Romanian for spike. It's almost as though fate has made us blood brothers."
Dracula paused, gazing at Spike expectantly. "I want you to be my general, Spike. To rule at my side and command my army! Surely you would accept such an honor?"
Spike was dumbfounded. If he closed his eyes he could almost picture the Poncey Prince as Satan, trying to tempt him to sell his soul. He looked at Dracula sympathetically, trying to stifle his laughter. "Okay, no offense, mate, but other than the obvious vampire stuff, I really don't think you and I have that much in common. I mean, the name thing is interesting and all, but ummm...don't you think it's stretching things a bit?"
Noticing Dracula's wounded expression, Spike continued on as gently as he could. "Besides, I really don't fancy myself as a 'leading an army of minions' type of guy, or getting into the whole world domination thing. I just like my life the way it is right now."
"But with the position comes the power Spike, and that power is your destiny."
"Rather be in charge of my own destiny if you don't mind," Spike sighed impatiently," but right now, I really need to get going. Hopefully my ride is here."
He strode towards the door but Dracula barred his exit.
"Please Spike," he pleaded, "do not throw this opportunity away. This power is very real!"
Spike hesitated reluctantly as the count continued with desperation in his voice.
"I have within my possession two pieces of an intricate puzzle. One is a jewel-encrusted goblet that has been passed down through my family for generations. The other is an enchanted vessel that holds the remains of one of the world's most powerful entities. For centuries the third piece of the puzzle has eluded me, it's mysterious riddle unsolved, until I learned about the demon who fought to regain his soul. You are the missing puzzle piece Spike. That is why I sought you out, why I arranged for you to come here."
Spike had been listening skeptically to what he thought were the deluded ravings of this fading icon, but he picked up on the mention of the goblet. Balls! he thought to himself. Ten to one the count's precious puzzle piece is the same damn artifact we need to snag. Doubt he's going to just hand it over without a fight. Maybe if I play along a bit though, I can get him to show me where it is.
"All right, you've got my attention. How exactly do I fit into this puzzle?" he asked tentatively.
"Your blood is the key Spike!" Dracula answered with reverence. "When the dust of the entity is mixed with even mere drops of your blood within my goblet, the power of this great being is released. Anyone who drinks this blood cocktail becomes invincible. If you agree to join me I will share this power elixir with you as well as with my bride. No force on earth will be stronger than we are. Do you understand now what this can mean for you? For us?"
Bloody hell, Spike thought nervously, the poor sod's totally lost it. Now he wants me to join in the insanity? Despite his shock at the count's revelation and the sick feeling growing in the pit of his stomach, he maintained his composure. Got news for you, you crazy bastard, he vowed to himself. No matter how little blood you profess to need, you aren't getting a drop. At least, not if I can help it.
Spike was definitely not thrilled that his blood was in any way attractive to the count. Not only that, even the remotest possibility of a cold hearted bitch like Elizabeth gaining super powers made him cringe. Although his reasoning told him that Dracula's plans were probably certifiable, he had no doubt that the count believed in this fantasy. After all, something strange was definitely going on around here, and now that Spike suspected the count was behind it all, he feared a confrontation was inevitable.
Right now though, the mission was the prime objective. Regardless of whether Drac's super power mumbo jumbo was real or not, his goblet was still part of this mess and the team needed to secure it. Cursing himself silently once again for coming out here with no reinforcements or transportation, he maintained his bravado and stalled for time, hoping he could still get Drac to reveal the location of the goblet.
"Gotta admit, mate," he lied, "that's a pretty tempting offer and I just might be willing to give it some serious thought. Problem is though, it would mean some pretty monumental life changes, so I'd need to talk things over with my team, and especially with Buffy. I agree that this power seems too good to be true, but I really don't see her liking us working together, given her less than fond memories of you and all. Last thing I'd want to do is alienate the ones I love."
"Ahhh yes, the Slayer," Dracula pondered, "she may indeed protest our alliance, but I am sure that you can convince her that power like this would only insure the safety of the ones you love. Everyone would benefit in the long run. I respect that you would consider her opinion of course, but remember, Spike, women should compliment our lives, not command them."
Spike groaned silently as he noticed the countess bristle with anger at that remark. He thought maybe a little diplomacy on his part might smooth things over. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but trust me, it would take a lot of convincing to win Buffy over. I trust her instincts though, sometimes more than my own, and I definitely welcome her opinion, since she's usually pretty quick at giving it to me."
Spike chuckled at the thought of what Buffy's opinion of this whole fiasco would be. "Anyway, isn't there a saying behind every great man stands an even greater woman? I think that just might be true."
He glanced cautiously over at Elizabeth, hoping he'd won a few brownie points with that one.He hadn't! Her eyes just shot daggers at both men now.
Shrugging it off, he grinned at Dracula then continued. "There is one other concern though, mate. Need a bit of proof that this power is real before I ever consider donating any of my blood to the cause. How do I know that this goblet and the demon dust actually exist? You ran out on a debt before, so what makes you think I would even trust you this time around?"
Dracula smiled at Spike's candor. "Ahhh, Spike, I am wounded that you doubt my sincerity, but I can understand your need for proof. And so, you shall have it! Come then, I will show you my treasures."
Elizabeth had been listening intently to their conversation and bolted to her feet, eager to follow them. "I will accompany you, as well, my husband."
"Not this time, Elizabeth," Dracula ordered curtly, "I need to speak privately with Spike. Please wait here or retire to your chambers."
The countess approached her husband fearlessly, unwilling to be so casually dismissed. "Anything you have to say to him," she spat indignantly, "you will say in my presence. I will not tolerate you withholding secrets from me any longer."
Spike held his breath as Dracula's face contorted with growing rage. It was clear to him that the count was fast approaching the limit of his tolerance. "Ummm...I think it might be better if I just said goodnight, mate," Spike said quietly, "don't want to be the cause of any trouble and all. We can continue this later."
Dracula momentarily ignored him, focusing his attention on his bride. His eyes were black with anger, his voice a low growl.
"Listen carefully, Elizabeth, and you would be wise to remember this. I will withhold whatever I choose from you, madam! If I feel that I can confide in you, I will share my secrets! When I feel that you are worthy of sharing my power, I will bestow it upon you! Until then it would be in your best interest to follow my orders and earn my respect, instead of constantly challenging my authority."
The count paused briefly and sadly shook his head. His next words seemed both desperate and ominous. "I tire of this constant conflict, Elizabeth. I will not warn you again!"
But the countess was unmoved."You pathetic fool!" She laughed bitterly. "Do you actually think you can trust this traitor to be your ally? He turns his back on his own kind! Why would he ever desire to share in your grand plans or visions? No doubt he considers them the ravings of some deluded madman. He mocks you behind your back, or even worse, plots to steal your secrets for his own use. Yet you would still confide in him over me?"
Hey now, Spike pouted to himself, clearly irritated by her suspicions, let's not start accusing me of mocking or ulterior motives here. For the record, I at least pretended to be interested in the madman's delusions. Thought I was right nice about it too.
"Enough, Elizabeth!" Dracula roared, as he stepped towards her with his fists clenched. "GO TO YOUR CHAMBERS! NOW!"
Dracula's bride stood her ground in staunch defiance. "I will not!" she glowered.
The count's handsome face took on a feral appearance, the tips of his fangs gleaming. "Then, I am forced to escort you," he hissed, approaching his wife with menace.
Suddenly and without warning, Elizabeth hurled the goblet of blood that she had been holding, at her husband. It shattered at his feet, stopping him unexpectedly in his tracks. Staring in stunned surprise, he continued on towards her, but she seized another glass and sent it flying in his direction. Both men ducked as it crashed into the wall behind them. Blood trickled down onto the Persian carpet.
"Right then," Spike mumbled in panic, "I'll just be leaving. Now!" Keeping his eyes on the warring couple Spike backed away quickly, headed for the door.
The deadly standoff continued as Elizabeth picked up the decanter of blood this time and smashed it to pieces.
Working her way across the room, she tipped over an ornate curio cabinet, and its contents of priceless antique figurines met an untimely death in mere seconds.
Snatching up a huge shard of broken glass, the countess then turned her attention to the count's treasured artwork. With malicious glee she sliced jagged tears in several of the masterpieces.
Dracula acted like he was rooted to the floor, paralyzed with shock and dismay, unable to stop her rampage. "Elizabeth," he threatened, "I order you to stop this insanity! Immediately!" When threats failed he tried begging, "Please, I implore you! Your behavior is most unseemly."
Spike actually felt sorry for the poor poofter, knowing how particular the count was about his prized possessions. But the countess did not share her husbands pain. In response to his pleas she simply smashed one of many crystal liquor bottles against the marble fireplace. Now Spike winced in dismay as the flames leapt and sizzled, hungrily consuming the alcohol.
Even the vase of long stem roses that Dracula provided daily for his bride's pleasure, did not escape her fury. The embodiment of his romantic gesture met the same fate as nearly every other piece of glass in the room already had. Shattered into a million pieces!
Spike had finally seen enough and decided to bolt. "I'll just be letting myself out," he called back over his shoulder as he reached the parlor door. "Oh, and in case I neglected to say it--it was a real pleasure meeting you, Countess!"
This time Elizabeth grabbed the cognac decanter and aimed for Spike's retreating figure. He had just enough time to slip out and pull the door safely behind him before the decanter and its expensive contents crashed into and then drenched the polished wood.
From his hiding place in the anti-room off the main parlor, Victor was surprised to see Spike come out of the room alone. Hastily pulling the door behind him, the vamp hurried to the castle's main doors and went out into the night.
Victor considered trying to detain Spike, in case his master had not wanted him to leave, but the loud noises coming from the parlor convinced him that perhaps Dracula had more immediate matters to contend with at the moment.
For the past several minutes Victor had heard nothing but angry shouts, followed by the sound of breaking glass, and now Spike's hasty exit. From the bits of conversation he did pick up on, he could tell that his new mistress certainly did not take orders well. Not only that, but it was obvious that Elizabeth, much like himself, was not happy competing with the do-gooder vampire with a soul for Dracula's attention. Pressing his ear to the wall, Victor continued to listen as the battle waged on.
There were very few breakable items left in the room that had escaped Elizabeth's wrath. Her beautiful face was twisted with rage as she grabbed a Ming vase from the mantle and prepared to hurl it at Dracula.
That was the last straw! Snapping out of his torpor, the count bounded across the room, seized his bride roughly by the shoulders and shook her violently.
"Have you taken leave of all your senses woman?" he snarled! "Your senseless outbursts may very well have ruined any chance I had at securing Spike's cooperation. This is your last warning Elizabeth. Do not test my patience further. I will not tolerate such behavior. Especially from my wife!"
"Then you shall have no wife sir," she spat! "I will not suffer an existence that demands me to come to your bed like a common whore, or bask in your glory like your simpering servants! You say you chose me to rule at your side and realize your grand vision. Then share your secrets with me as well. All of them! Don't waste them on this pretender of a vampire who prides himself in being the champion of the people. His loyalty is to mere mortals, and he would kill his own kind to prove it. He will never give you what you need from him. You will have to take it! I wonder if you still have the courage to do so?"
Elizabeth drew herself up to her full height and fearlessly met her husband's murderous stare. "If I am indeed your queen then prove it!. Make me your only equal! If not, then I demand you release me from this sham of a marriage! I wish you to SET ME FREE!"
With that, she wrenched herself out of his grip and stormed out of the room, leaving the heavy oak door gaping open in her wake. Her footsteps echoed in the foyer as she ran up the stairs to her private chambers.
Victor peered around the corner and watched in smug satisfaction as the countess retreated. His mistress's disillusion with her husband might very well make her open to suggestion. Perhaps my dreams can still be realized, he thought to himself. I think the time may be right for a new alliance.
Back in the main parlor, Dracula winced at the sharp crack of Elizabeth's door slamming shut. He considered going after her for a moment, but then stopped and stared absently into the fire.
All his grand plans were crumbling to ruin. Spike had escaped, and probably considered him a delusional old fool, not only for his ambitions, but for his choice in a bride as well.
After being humiliated by her behavior tonight, the count realized Elizabeth was far too treacherous and power hungry to trust. Where did I go wrong? he pondered sadly, surveying the carnage in the room around him, as the tip of his boot brushed against a piece of a shattered music box.
But soon anger and cold resolve replaced his feelings of melancholy. "Perhaps you are right, Elizabeth," he whispered. "What will not come to me by choice, I shall take by force. I still have legions of faithful servants who will do my bidding, and deliver unto me anything I desire."
He looked down at the remains of the porcelain ballerina at his feet. "As for you, my dear wife," he smiled cruelly, "I advise you to tread carefully. If you continue to defy me you may just get your wish!" Bringing his heel down on the figurine, Dracula ground the glass into dust.
Spike bounded down the castle's front stairs and withdrew into the shadows along the carriageway. He was pretty sure that Dracula would be too busy mourning the demise of his antique collection, or fending off the countess to come after him, but he still thought it best to keep out of sight.
After m'Lady's little hissy fit, he chuckled to himself, it would take a whole lot more than great make up sex to keep those two together. If you ask me though, I'd say the bloody honeymoon is pretty much over.
Pulling out his cell phone he quickly punched in Xander's number hoping that since he was outside the castle walls the call would now go through. He pushed SEND and waited. The display lit up! He could hear the call go through and then...silence.
"Oh, come on, come on," Spike grumbled then pushed SEND again. The backlit display blinked twice, then flashed, then faded, then beeped annoyingly, then...went blank. "Huh? No!" he whimpered. "Please no!"
Shaking the phone gingerly, Spike rapped it sharply with his fist then pressed SEND again and prayed. NOTHING! "Oh, sod it all to bloody hell! Damn it!!!! Piece of useless plastic!"
Spike drew his arm back, ready to smash the phone against the wall, but reconsidered. Ahhh, bugger that. Don't need Haley reading me the bleedin' riot act for destroying Council property or some such rubbish. In frustration he stuffed it back in his coat pocket.
Leaning back against the stones Spike closed his eyes and hung his head, cursing his own stupidity for not charging the cell phone's battery. A minute later though, he was cursing Xander for not reminding him to charge it, or better yet, for not doing it for him. Regardless of whoever's fault it was though, it did not change his predicament.
"Brilliant! Now what idiot?" he admonished himself. "Obviously not going to be calling in the cavalry so...better come up with Plan B." Hesitating a moment, he looked around, then frowned in disappointment. "Since Drac didn't think to leave the keys to the 'Vladillac' laying around anywhere, it looks like Plan B means I better start walking."
From what he could remember of the maps, Dracula's castle was about 20 kilometers outside of Bistritz. The carriage ride from the village had taken a good hour or more even at a brisk trot. But then again, they had not stayed on the main road. They veered off onto some cart paths through the woods as they approached the castle. A straight shot from the castle to the town might be a little shorter, but Spike really wanted to keep a low profile and not attract attention.
As he had made his exit a few minutes ago, he noticed the clock in the foyer read 2 A.M. Sighing wearily, he contemplated the long trek back to Bistritz and started walking behind the castle headed towards the woods. Even at a vampire's pace it'll take me nearly three hours to get back to town. That doesn't leave a lot of time before sunrise but it's the best my legs can do going cross country.
"Unless," he grinned as he eyed the now horseless carriage parked behind the castle, "four legs are better than two, right? 'Black Beauty' has got to be around here somewhere! Just follow my nose!"
Inhaling deeply Spike walked towards a small bank barn that sat behind a rugged fence of wooden rails and fieldstone. Climbing over the wall he opened one side of the double doors and ducked inside. Immediately the aroma of warm horseflesh, sweet smelling hay, fine leather and pungent manure filled his nostrils.
Ahhh, he thought fondly, remembering a happier time from his youth, Now, this takes me back. Way back!
Most Victorian gentlemen, living within the city, traveled in coaches instead of riding astride, but Spike had spent many hours riding with his cousin Nigel on the Hawthorne family farm, as a young man. Even so, it had been years since then that he had actually 'sat a horse'. Spike winced in sadness at more recent memories of his cousin, but he shook it off quickly and concentrated on finding the big black horse that had pulled Dracula's carriage.
Beauty, as Spike had affectionately dubbed him, was indeed there and so were five others, just like him. The horses were bedded down for the night, contentedly munching their hay, or dozing quietly, but when they noticed Spike's presence they became agitated, sensing a predator in their midst.
The animals were used to Dracula, and most likely were kept under the vampire's thrall. But this vampire was different and definitely not their master. Spike moved as quietly as possible, trying not to spook the animals, but knew he had to hurry before anyone came to investigate.
Finding a saddle and bridle hanging on the wall, Spike approached the first stall.
The great black horse eyed him warily and backed into the corner, snorting its displeasure, and pawing the ground.
Spike couldn't remember if he'd read it somewhere or had seen it on TV, but the trick to quieting a nervous horse was to cover its eyes so it couldn't see what was going on.
He grabbed a large rag and entered the stall slowly. Beauty lay back his ears, and kicked the back of the stall, but Spike quickly grabbed the horse's halter and wrapped the cloth around his eyes. Almost like magic, the animal calmed down enough for Spike to quickly saddle him and walk him out into the breezeway.
Patting the horse's neck reassuringly he whispered as he gently removed the blindfold, "Easy now, mate. Just going to borrow you for a few hours. I promise to send you home with one of your master's village lackeys later this afternoon. Might be a extra measure of oats in this whole deal if you play nice, right?"
Spike did not think twice about stealing Drac's horse. After all, he figured the wanker owed him anyway. He was however, thinking twice about riding this huge brute. Taking a deep, unneeded breath, he muttered nervously to himself, "Right then! Nothing to it! Just like riding a bicycle. I think! I uhhh...hope."
Placing his left foot in the stirrup, he grasped the reins and began to hoist himself into the saddle. For a moment Beauty stood as still as a statue, but then, with his eyes uncovered and an open door in front of him, the horse bolted for the paddock.
Spike barely had time to seat himself properly and grab a handfull of mane before his right leg slammed into the still latched half of the barn door. Howling in pain he cursed his mount as he struggled valiantly to remain in the saddle.
"OWWWWWW! You bloody bastard! WHOA! WHOA! Damn it! Hold on now!" Clutching the saddle's pommel Spike managed to get his right foot in the stirrup, then gathering the reins, he hung on for dear life as they took off at break neck speed across the pasture.
From his hillside lookout Mike awakened with a start, as the infra-red scanner beeped frantically. "Shit!" he croaked groggily and sat up in his seat. "Must have dozed off!"
Fortunately for Mike, it had been a pretty quiet night so far. The only action he'd seen was about an hour or so ago when the coachman unhitched the horse. There had been a minor beep in the last half hour, but nothing ever came of it so he'd let himself relax again.
Now he could make out a large object moving rapidly across the screen. Zooming in on the blip he magnified the image. Picking up his binoculars he scanned the dark horizon.
"Spike? What the hell are you doing, man? "He gasped when he recognized the unmistakable platinum haired vamp astride what appeared to be a huge horse.
"Nice ride dude," Mike chuckled in disbelief, "and to think I always had you figured for a mega horsepower type of guy. 'Course, way out here in Medieval-ville, a fast horse probably does count as a sports coupe! Can't wait to hear you explain this one though."
Suddenly in the middle of his laughter, Mike panicked and trained his binoculars up and down the pasture, then back on the castle's entrance.
"Oh, Jesus," he prayed, as it dawned on him that Spike could be in danger, "don't let there be an army of zombie minions chasing him!"
Thankfully he saw nothing! There was no one else in sight. "Whew," he gulped nervously. Making another sweep of the area he could see that Spike was still alone, and headed for the woods. At least if he was running away there was no one trying to pursue him.
Mike considered his next move. He really could not tell if Spike was in trouble or just out for a late night joy ride. For now it appeared that the vamp was in no immediate danger, and there was no sign of Dracula at all. There was no way he could pursue Spike on foot through the woods, and that horse could go places even the SUV couldn't.
He made a quick call to the Wolfram and Hart spies in Bistritz, alerting them that Spike was on horseback and possibly headed in their direction. Then he turned his attention back to the castle's perimeter. If things got any weirder he would call for backup, wake the Dragon Lady and take off after Spike, but for now all he could do was keep his eyes open.
Wide open, he vowed. Need to stay alert. Can't give the bitch any more ammunition to use against me with Sirk. That bastard will off me for sure if I fail this time.
Mike looked reluctantly at his half empty bourbon bottle. This whole 'Dracula being interested in Spike thing' gives me the creeps, he shuddered. Just hope our vampire soul man has got this game under control. Sighing, he stuffed the liquor back under his seat and reached for the thermos of coffee.
Fortunately, the dense fog had dissipated, and with the help of the moonlight and his vampire vision Spike could see the end of the pasture fast approaching. Straight ahead, intersecting a long stretch of stonewall and split rails was a long wooden gate. Beyond that there was nothing but dense woods.
By this time, he had managed to take a little better control of his mount. The horse maintained a brisk gallop but had slowed up a bit as it neared the fence, realizing its confinement. Pulling back firmly on the reins, Spike steered the beast closer to the gate.
"Slow down there, Secretariat," he pleaded. "Give me a chance to get that gate open." For a moment the horse seemed to respond, but as Spike leaned out to lift the latch, it whirled around, nearly tossing him sideways and then took off again at a dead run straight for the stonewall.
Spike's eyes widened in terror as he realized what was about to happen. All he could do was dig into his stirrups, grab the front of the saddle and a handful of mane...and PRAY.
"Holy Mother of God," he whispered. Squeezing his eyes shut tightly, right before they met the wall, he felt Beauty's huge hindquarters flex and push off the turf. Then--they were airborne!
The next moment he felt a solid thud as the horse's feet reclaimed the ground on the other side of the wall. Cautiously opening his eyes again, he gasped in relief and glanced back over his shoulder. He was amazed at the way the animal had cleared that jump without so much as breaking its stride. He was even more amazed that he had been able to stay on its back.
Feeling a bit cocky now, Spike gloated in his skill. "Right! Nothing to it! Piece of cake!" Patting the horse's neck he urged him on towards the woods. "Next time though, might want to pick a mount who doesn't think he's running in the Grand National."
Entering the woods the horse slowed to a trot, and Spike looked around anxiously, trying to spot the familiar cart path, but he was too disoriented. Between trying to dodge branches to the face and banging his knees on every available tree trunk, he had enough to contend with just keeping Beauty on the trail.
As luck would have it, about fifteen minutes later, he spied a narrow stretch of dirt road up ahead in the clearing. He knew the cart paths were offshoots of the main road so he hoped to follow them as far as possible to the outskirts of town. He just hoped he was headed in the right direction.
In the distance Spike could hear the sound of running water and remembered they had crossed over a fairly wide stream using an elevated wooden bridge during their trek to the castle. Hopefully, if he followed the streambed it would bring him to that bridge and then closer to the main roads to Bistritz. Or maybe, he could even find a more suitable place to cross the water before the bridge and save some time.
Turning his mount in the direction of the sound he urged him forward. Sure enough, in no time they had reached the water's edge.
Staring at the stream in front of him, Spike could see that it was maybe six to eight feet wide and about two and a half feet deep. The streambed though, was very rocky and some parts of the bank were steeply sloped. Even though the water wasn't that deep, its flow was turbulent as it rushed on downstream to meet the river. On the other side of the stream he could make out a wider cart path and up around the bend of the road, what looked like kilometer markers.
"Now there's a stroke of luck, old man," he murmured, bending down close to the horse's ear. "What do you say we cross over and check out the road signs? Figure out where the bleedin' hell we're going."
Gingerly Spike urged the horse down the embankment. Beauty eyed the slope fearfully. He took a few steps forward, but then slipped in the mud and stopped in his tracks. Side stepping nervously, he began to back pedal up the bank in reverse. Spike urged him on again, but the horse jigged to the side and refused to move any further. Feeling Spike's boot heel in his side, he whirled and bounded up the bank away from the water.
"Oh come on, Dobbin," the vamp growled in frustration. "Just saw you leap a four foot wall without so much as batting an eye, don't think I'm going to believe you're afraid of getting your feet wet!"
The horse pawed the ground and shook his head, trying to fight the bit in his mouth, and gain control. Spike was ready for his resistance though, and firmly pulled on the reins, circling the horse back around to face the water. Then driving his heels sharply into Beauty's flanks, he spurred the animal straight for the bank.
"Don't want to walk across? Fine! We'll jump it then," Spike shouted smacking the horse's rump. "Get up now horse! Go on!"
Responding to his rider's command, the great beast lurched forward running at full speed. Once again Spike could feel the thunderous power of the horse's hind legs as they bore down on the water's edge, and he readied himself to take another leap of faith!
Six inches from the edge, Beauty planted all of his hooves firmly, lowered his head and neck forward and came to a screeching HALT!
Spike barely got off one "BLOODY HELL!" before he found himself somersaulting through the air over the horse's head, and landing most ungracefully on his butt in the middle of the brook. As he fell one arm pulled out of his duster and the current threatened to drag his beloved coat downstream.
SPLASH! THUD! "OOOPH! OW...bloody, soddin', OW!" he wailed as he fell back in the water, cracking his head on some submerged rocks.
It took him a few minutes to gather his wits about him, but Spike struggled up painfully shaking off the cold water, and looked around for the horse. Scrambling up the muddy bank, he slipped down and banged his knees, all the while cursing his stupidity.
"Great! Now you've done it you simple git! Making out like you're some swaggering cowboy!"
Beauty stood about fifteen feet away from the bank, reins trailing on the ground, watching Spike with what the vamp swore was evil equine amusement. Every time Spike approached him the horse would toss his head and paw the ground snorting, then move a little further away.
"Come on now, big fella," he pleaded softly. "Come on back to Spike like a noble steed. Promise we'll do it your way, no more water. Right?"
Slowly inching his way closer to the horse, he nearly grabbed the reins, but Beauty was too cagey. With one more defiant snort and stomp, the horse reared and whirled out of Spike's reach, then ran off through the woods heading for his home.
"Why you bloody son of a ...! WAIT! WHOA!" Spike bellowed in angry frustration. "Come back here you...you flea bitten, sway backed, hay burning OLD HACK!"
The horse, of course, ignored him and continued to flee.
In desperation Spike hurled more insults at its disappearing form. "You're nothing but a knock-kneed knacker's nag! YOU HEAR ME? Destined for FIDO FOOD, that's what you are!"
As he stood there, staring off into the night he prayed the horse would stop and come back, but it was to no avail. Beauty was long gone!
Bowing his head in defeat, Spike sighed and started back down the bank and into the stream. Just to have the last word though, he turned around and threw out one more barb in the horse's general direction.
"FINE! TAKE OFF THEN! 'Course, if you run into any of your master's other pets, you know, the children of the night variety, you might wish you had stayed with good old Spike after all!"
After sloshing through the stream to the other side, Spike limped painfully down the cart path heading in what he hoped was the direction of the main road. He no longer cared about keeping a low profile. He just wanted to get back to the Inn. Fast!
"Can this whole night get any worse?" he grumbled, pondering his reckless behavior. "So much for my great escape! Total disaster, that's for sure! What the hell was I thinking? I'm a hero now, regular bloody champion! I can do anything! Right?"
"Oh yeah! That'll be the day," he laughed bitterly. "Can't even steal a soddin' nag from soddin' Count Poncelot's castle without getting tossed on my bleedin' arse! Oh how bloody far the mighty have fallen!"
Lost in his thoughts, Spike tripped on a rock in the road and nearly fell on his face. He kicked it out of his way furiously and continued to berate himself.
"Never should have gone out there without backup, you git! Or at least a car! Splitting up the team up like that! That's gotta be one of the stupidest bloody moves I've ever made! Stupider than any poor tosser or simple bint I've ever ridiculed. Hell, dumber than anything even Harm would try, except that she'd probably have done it wearing heels..."
Up ahead he saw the kilometer marker. Fortunately it pointed to Bistritz. Unfortunately it said 12 kilometers.
Frowning wearily Spike picked up his pace, still mumbling to himself, "Worst part is--I didn't even follow my own advice! What kind of a leader does that? Harris will probably have a good laugh at my expense, not to mention the delight he'll take in making up an even more colorful version to tell Buffy."
Groaning in dread at that thought, Spike shrugged," Partly Harris' fault though. Wanker could have tried harder to stop me! What good is a bleedin' voice of reason if you can't talk sense into anyone? Especially me?"
Nearly two hours later Spike managed to return to the village inn. Being tired, aching, soaking wet and frustrated had not lightened his mood.
Fumbling in his pocket for the keys, he was grateful that at least, he hadn't lost them along with his dignity when he got dumped in the stream.
Unlocking the door he quietly entered the room he shared with Xander. Spike rolled his eyes in disbelief as he stared at the Watcher's sleeping form. Xander was literally sawing logs, his snoring so loud it sounded like a chain saw.
"Way to go, simple git," Spike growled in weary resignation, "even if I had been able to get a call through, you'd have never heard it over all that racket!"
Crossing over to the bathroom, Spike stripped off his boots and wet clothes and left them in a muddy pile on the floor. He longed for a shower, but instead crawled into his bed and pulled the sheet up over himself.
For a moment he considered waking Xander so he wouldn't be shocked to see Spike's bed occupied when he woke up.
"Nah," he mumbled into his pillow, "serves the wanker right! Should have talked me out of going in the first place. Besides, if he'd just remember to keep everyone's cell phones charged up, I could have let him know I was coming back. So, let him be surprised!"
Covering his head to block out Xander's snoring, Spike fell into an exhausted, but troubled slumber.
What remained of the late afternoon sunlight cast eerie shadows on the ivy-covered building that housed Dracula's minion army. All day long the sun had battled the thickening clouds and the air was charged with the threat of a summer storm.
The dreary atmosphere and dense woods surrounding the building made the locale seem even more foreboding. It was no wonder rumors ran rampant about the place. No one dared venture near the area during the day, let alone once the sun had begun to set.
Outside the barracks Victor lurked safely in the shadows, listening to the partying and revelry going on inside. Even though he knew it was unlikely, he still wanted to check the area for any intruders or deserters. Then he would join Elizabeth and they would address the troops.
"Fools," he snickered, enjoying his newly acquired powers. "If they only knew what fate really awaited them all."
Being turned was everything he had hoped it would be and more. "Damn Dracula for keeping this from me!" he spat.
Resentment set in as he thought of all the wasted years he had spent servicing Dracula as his willing and faithful servant. Very soon though, he would be his equal and with the help of Elizabeth and his former master's stolen army, he would make the Dark Prince pay dearly for all the humiliation and deception he had suffered at his hands while under his command.
Merely out of habit he took one last look around before he ducked inside just to be sure he was not being followed. The intoxicating scent of fresh blood overwhelmed him as he entered the room, sending an erotic sensation through his body, urging him to satisfy his lust to feed.
"There will be plenty of time for that later. You are late! Where have you been?" Elizabeth snapped impatiently at her newest fledging, throwing him into the wall.
Before he could answer, she seductively crossed the space between them. Placing her arms around his neck, she pulled him towards her exposing his neck, and licked the recent bite marks.
Startled by the countess's mood swing and amorous advances, he gave into his lust and buried his face in her breasts. His newfound vampire appetites were pushing him towards sensory overload, and Victor found himself giving in to the passions he had rarely experienced in his human life.
Elizabeth leaned back to expose herself even more to his savage kisses. Then just as quickly she laughed and pushed him away once again. "Later," she purred. "Or have you forgotten, we have work to do? Dracula's minions must see our strength! They must be convinced we are the only ones that have the real power and that we intend on sharing it."
Elizabeth pulled away, leaving him standing there, breathing heavily, and trying to regain his composure. His insides churning, he could almost hear the same condescending tones in her voice as he had heard all those years in that of his former master. Silently, he renewed his commitment to himself that he would never again be so easily controlled. That fact in itself helped him to put on his game face and he followed after Elizabeth.
Victor thought back to the events of the morning and how easily Elizabeth had accepted his proposal of a coup.
Gathering his courage he had come to her chambers shortly after Dracula had retired to his own room. At first the countess was furious at his intrusion, but he begged her to hear him out, promising that he could make it worth her while.
Victor proceeded to tell her that after years of serving the count without question, he was angry that he had been continually denied his promise of eternal life. Clearly the countess understood his frustration. She was tired of her husband keeping secrets from her. Now that Dracula intended to share the power he had promised to her with Spike, she was more than open to hearing Victor's plan.
He assured her that he not only knew of the goblet's whereabouts, he also knew about the demon dust and the ritual required to releasing it. If she would grand him the gift of immortality by turning him, he would deliver Dracula's treasures, as well as his army to her, and together they would bring about the Dark Prince's demise.
Victor remembered the cruel smile that she gave him as she accepted his terms, but he had bared his neck and never looked back.
Now, nearly fifteen hours later, Victor stood with the woman who had given him his birth into unlife, prepared to commit treason with her. He should have felt exhilarated by his new alliance and the prospect of sharing invincible power, but the seeds of doubt and distrust were growing. Always the meticulous planner, he had devised an insurance policy of sorts in case his scheme fell apart, but he really hoped he would not need it. Steadying his nerves, he prepared to rally Dracula's troops. Now, more than ever, they must never sense any fear in him, or all would be lost.
After all, he continued to assured himself, Elizabeth can not do this alone! I was the one who brought her the goblet and proposed our alliance. I am the one that Dracula's troops know and trust. She will need me in order to succeed and to capture Spike.
It was not hard to find the minions; they were in the great room of the old building. The noise was deafening. Victor frowned slightly as he thought, It's a good thing fear and rumors keep people away from this place. These fools would never hear an enemy approach with all the shouting and drinking going on.
Personally he did not approve of this raucous celebration. After all there was no victory, not yet! Another thing bothered him as well. Dracula had always been careful to appease the townsfolk. He kept a larder of willing blood donors to feed his troops and never hunted in the surrounding areas. He also demanded absolute devotion and concentration from his troops.
Elizabeth, however was letting the minions satisfy their bloodlust to excess in anticipation of the great surprise she promised to have for them. Soon, between the alcohol and fresh human blood, the situation would spiral out of control. Victor knew they had to get to Spike and fast. They all needed to keep their wits about them. It was only a matter of time before Dracula discovered their mutiny, and would hunt them down.
Elizabeth stopped outside the great room door. Sensing Victor behind her, she took his arm and together they strode into the room as a united front.
It did not take long for the room to quiet down as the minions watched the couple walk into the room as if they owned it. Most of them wondered where Dracula was and others sensed something strange was in the air. But all of them were curious as to what this pair was doing together, let alone here among them. The troops knew Victor was Dracula's second in command, and they respected him, but why was the count's bride at his side?
Elizabeth was quick to make her move and command their attention before she lost it. She pulled the goblet from underneath her cape and held it high above her head so that the whole room could see it. Even Victor stepped back to admire the cup that held the secret to their quest for invincible power. The room had become so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop as everyone stopped and stared.
For several months now, rumors about the goblet and what is represented had circulated throughout Dracula's forces. Everyone in the room had heard about the goblet but no one had ever seen it.
Dracula himself had told them of his plans to raise the most powerful army on earth. He had claimed that if they served him faithfully they would indeed be part of this army, and when the time was right they would all partake in the ritual to give them incredible power. But if that power was Dracula's to give, why was he not here? How had these two managed to take the goblet away from him and what were they planning on doing with it?
The troops focused their concentration on Victor and the countess, as she started to speak.
"I can see this perfect treasure has won your rapt attention. Beautiful! Is it not?" she said, admiring not the beauty the goblet possessed but the power it represented.
Adopting a regal stance she stared purposefully at Dracula's forces as she continued. "I know you are all wondering why Dracula's goblet is in our possession and not your master's. I also know that your master promised you that someday you would share in the power that this cup can bring. What you do not know however, is that the very master who demands your allegiance--has lied to you."
Elizabeth hesitated as the room filled with the sounds of angry protests and murmurs of surprise and disbelief. The countess gave Victor a sly smile and urged him to join in.
"How many times has Dracula lied to you in the past?" She cried passionately. "How many times has he walked all over you and treated you like dirt beneath his feet? How often has he sent you into battle, yet denied you any reward for risking your life? Are these the actions of a ruler who values his army and would share his power with them? I think not! This is a ruler who cares only for his own welfare. One who would withhold his power even from his chosen bride!"
The crowd was becoming even more agitated. They shouted and nodded their agreement. Some even called for revolt. Now Victor stepped up in front of Elizabeth and bared his neck to the crowd. "How many years did Dracula promise to make me his equal but instead kept me his slave until his bride, herself bestowed on me this gift of immortality?"
Victor beamed at Elizabeth. He knew the troops were sympathetic to his cause, and would follow him readily. "You have been faithful to Dracula and he has deceived you! You have been faithful to me and I wish to reward you."
Carefully he continued playing on their emotions. "Our great master intended to share this power not with his devoted followers, but instead with a traitor to our own kind, the vampire with a soul, Spike! Fortunately Elizabeth and I saw through his deception and stole the goblet from him. We will share this power with all of you if you help us complete the blood ceremony needed to release it."
"There is but one small problem. In order to begin, we must have the blood of the very traitor Dracula has claimed as an ally. We must find Spike but he must not be harmed!"
Victor waited once again until the renewed shouting subsided. "For now we need to assemble our plans and avoid Dracula. The university mountain retreat is closer to the village and should give us safe haven. We must go there immediately. Tonight we will take our best fighters and head for Bistritz to capture Spike. Once we have his blood the power shall be ours and we will reward each and every one of you for your faithfulness. This I swear upon my newfound eternal life!"
By now the excitement in the crowd was building to a frenzied pitch. Every one of Dracula's soldiers wanted to be the one to capture Spike. Victor and Elizabeth surveyed the situation with smug satisfaction, and knew they had done their job well. Standing arm in arm they watched the room empty, as the minions headed off through the cover of the dense woods to the retreat.
"Come my love," Elizabeth crooned, "let us celebrate the beginning of a new era, one in which we will rule supreme. Can you believe how easily they were fooled?"
Victor could not help but wonder if that was how Elizabeth actually felt about him. Was that what she meant for him to be--her fool? Angrily he vowed not to fall under her spell. He knew he could maintain control as long as he was the one to drink from that goblet first. But the hard part was still ahead. He was sure that Spike would not surrender willingly. Willing or not Victor plotted to himself, he can still bleed!
Pushing aside his fears, and happy with the response of the troops, he hurried Elizabeth off to the sanctuary of the retreat. They needed to keep the goblet safe and out of Dracula's hands.
Meanwhile, back at his castle Dracula was tearing the place apart room by room, frantically calling for Victor and Elizabeth. His rage had escalated to monumental proportions as each empty room only added to his worst suspicions. "How could this have happened?" He bellowed as he continued his search.
The count had risen earlier than usual that afternoon. Despite the horrendous fight that he had with Elizabeth the previous evening he had decided to try and reconcile with his bride. One more time!
Since Spike had witnessed their fight, Dracula was certain that his credibility with him was damaged beyond repair. But Dracula still needed the souled vampire's blood to complete the power ritual, and now he realized he would have to take it by force.
To be successful he would need help from someone who had indeed proven to be as ruthless as himself. His bride! He decided to finally share his secret with her, show her the goblet and then together they would formulate a plan to capture Spike.
As he started up the stairway to her chambers he was surprised that he had not seen Victor yet this afternoon. He knew that his trusted servant often ran errands in the morning hours, but he was usually there whenever the count needed him.
Reaching Elizabeth's room, he found the door unlocked and his bride missing. Puzzled, he began to search the rest of the floor for her, calling for Victor to help him.
When Victor did not answer, Dracula began searching the rest of the castle. What he found in the small sitting room outside his own chambers forced him to consider that the unthinkable had happened.
The dragon crest on the Tepes Coat of Arms was askew! In panic, Dracula opened the secret compartment behind the crest and found his goblet and the hidden cross containing the demon dust were gone. The air in this room was thick with Victor's scent, and the count could scarcely believe what the evidence screamed out to him.
He had been betrayed, by his wife and the person he least expected! By someone he had confided in, someone who had never disobeyed or questioned his orders, someone who apparently had been spying on him for some time now. Victor!
Still in denial, he continued searching every nook and cranny in the castle, thinking that Elizabeth had perhaps forced Victor to assist her, and that he might find them hiding. But he knew his efforts were in vain. He might as well accept the worst.
On one more desperate hunch, he raced down the underground passage to the barracks that housed his generals, intending to enlist their help in finding the traitors, only to find that they had also deserted him.
Pounding the stonewalls in fury, he knew it was no use looking for the rest of his army. Victor and Elizabeth were far too clever to attempt treason without taking his minions as well. Raising his fists to the air he swore they would all pay dearly for their treachery. "No on can betray me and live!" He cursed. "No one!"
How ironic, he thought as he walked back to the castle's interior, one that serves you so faithfully can turn on you so easily. "Betrayal," he sighed bitterly, "is always more painful when it comes by the hands of those you trust."
Throwing himself wearily into the chair in his study he began to formulate a plan. "I am not defeated yet!" He growled in defiance. "They may have the goblet and my army, but they still need Spike." Glancing out the window he pondered the thickening clouds and early darkness. "It will take some time to prepare the troops, but they will go after Spike as soon as night falls. I must get to him before they do!"
It was almost 5 P.M. when Haley and Mena returned to the rooms with dinner. After drawing too much attention and suspicious glances in the village restaurant the night before, The BIG B.A.D.S. decided it would be best to keep a low profile. Spike promised to fill them in on his visit to Castle Dracula, and judging from the frown on his face, that visit must not have been very pleasant, or productive as far as finding the artifact went. With that in mind, they all agreed it would not be wise to discuss the 'Dark Prince' in a public place where, as Spike reminded them, "Every bloody wall has ears."
Xander, Spike and Illyria were watching T.V. in the sitting room of the girl's adjoining suite. Spike yawned and looked up wearily as Haley placed several containers of food on the table and cheerfully called for everyone to, "Come and get it!"
Mena followed behind her chatting excitedly about the regional dishes they had bought. "The locals told us to try the meat stew with veggies, tochitura ghiveci and little grilled sausages called mititei. For dessert we have traditional poppy seed roll, cozanac, and Haley insisted we get a big bottle of plum brandy called tuica to wash it all down with."
Haley blushed a little as she justified her purchase, "Just in case everything turns out to be un-palatable, I thought..."
"I'm sure it will be fine, Haley," Spike interrupted, "any chance you found a butcher's shop?"
"Of course!" she answered, a bit put off by his curt response. "Fresh pig's blood coming right up," she said, handing him a mug. "Lucky for you pork is so popular here."
Spike smiled gratefully at her, but it did not hide his surly mood. His ego and assorted parts of his body still smarted from his undignified dip in the stream and the long walk back to town. Not to mention the fact that he had gotten very little sleep.
Xander had, as predicted, screamed loud enough to literally wake the dead and a few of the inn's residents as well, when he discovered somebody sleeping in Spikey's bed, where no one should have been. His shouts brought the girls running to the room and soon they were all pressing Spike to explain his sudden reappearance. The vamp begged off, telling them that he really needed to sleep, and that he'd tell them everything that evening.
So now, here Spike sat, watching his team devour regional cuisine and fielding a barrage of endless questions.
"What happened last night? Did you get into a fight or something? How about the goblet? Did you see it? Why did you decide to come back last night...and how'd you get here? How come you didn't call?"
"Whoa now. Hang on, one at a time," Spike pleaded. "I know you want all the gory details, but lets start with the cliff notes version, all right? Long story short, everything after the carriage ride turned bloody bizarre. Thing is, I should have figured the sneaky bastard was up to something."
"Why do you say that?" Haley asked.
"As soon as we reached the castle, Drac told me he has a special guest he wants me to meet. Then the blighter left me all by my lonesome for nearly an hour. Thought I'd poke a round a bit, see if I could spot the unholy grail, so to speak, but the longer I waited the more I started to think that maybe it wasn't such a good idea coming out there alone. Figured I'd try to call for backup, but couldn't get a connection. Blasted phone wouldn't work!"
"That's odd," Haley frowned, picking up Spike's phone," these units are brand new. Did you try again?"
"Didn't get the chance. Next thing I knew, Drac returned with his special guest. The poncey Prince had a wife!"
"Gahhhhh!" Xander shuddered. "Was she anything like in the movie, Brides of Dracula?"
Spike looked at Xander in disbelief and rolled his eyes impatiently. "Of course not, Nimrod!" he snarled. "She was worse!"
He waited a moment for the Watcher's shocked expression to fade and then continued. "Seems the Count had taken this particularly nasty bird, Elizabeth Bathory, as his queen. Got a bit more than he bargained for too, I'd say."
"Elizabeth Bathory!" Haley gasped. "The Blood Countess! Are you certain it was her Spike? I mean--she died centuries ago."
"Oh it was her all right. In the flesh!" Spike confirmed. "Or at least, reanimated flesh. The Ponce's sniveling right hand minion, Victor was there too, but didn't look too happy about it. Dracula treated him more like a servant instead of his second in command, and as for the count and his new bride. Well, lets just say I didn't see too much marital bliss."
"Anyway," Spike chuckled, "after a few hours of watching the newlyweds snipe at each other, I decided I had probably worn out my welcome. Besides, Elizabeth, or excuse me, the Countess, and I had developed a mutual dislike for each other, so I thought it was best if I took my leave. Sooooo...I lied and told Drac you guys were on the way to pick me up, right? But, as I'm heading for the door, the Legend dropped the bloody bomb on me!"
"Huh? What bomb?" Mena asked in confusion. The others looked puzzled too.
"Okay, this is where things really got bloody strange, so don't say I didn't warn you." Spike warned, watching his friends as they leaned forward in rapt attention.
"Drac started talking about his vision for a new world order, some grand plan he wanted me to be a part of. Seems he intended to raise an unstoppable army and he wanted me as the general to lead them."
Spike stopped for a moment as murmurs of disbelief and then laughter filled the room. "I know, I know," he grinned, "but the poor sod was serious! Claimed he had in his possession the recipe for a super power elixir. That would include his goblet, some ancient demon's dusty remains, and some ritual mumbo jumbo. He just needed one more thing to complete the cocktail, the blood of a demon who regained his soul. And that would be...you guessed it...ME!"
Spike looked around the room at his teammate's gaping fish mouth expressions.
"Wait just one minute now," Xander sputtered, "did you...did I hear you say that Dracula wanted to drink your blood?"
"Well yeah, pretty much! Not from the tap of course," the vamp laughed. "Trust me, that poncey bastard isn't coming anywhere near my neck!. He wanted to drink my blood from his special cup as part of the power potion. Then he claimed he wanted to share this power with his bride and myself. We would all become invincible. Right! I've heard that tune before!"
Illyria had been silent for most of the conversation, but now expressed an angry opinion. "The arrogance of this Dracula, fuels my rage. How dare he make such demands of you? I will render him limb from limb if he attempts to harm you."
Spike patted her arm soothingly. "Easy Blue, I appreciate your concern, but Drac wanted a willing partner in his crazy scheme. Thought he could seduce me back to the dark side."
"But this is preposterous, Spike!" Haley fretted. "He wouldn't dare try to...I mean you would never agree to such a thing...would you?"
"Of course not! But since he mentioned the goblet, I figured with our luck it would be the very one we needed as the artifact. I thought that if I played along like I was giving his offer some consideration, he might show me where it was. Almost had him there too, but then...all hell broke loose!"
"Oh no!" Mena whimpered. "Did he do anything to you Spike?"
"No, pet, don't worry. He was too busy defending himself. Apparently Elizabeth didn't appreciate her husband's idea of sharing his secret with yours truly first. She started her own little World War III with the Count and that's when I got the bloody hell out of there! Didn't want to take the chance of bleeding anywhere near those two!"
"Jesus Spike," Xander cried," why didn't you try to call again? We could have met you somewhere along the road to Bistritz or wherever..."
"Told you Harris, I tried but the damn phone was useless. I had to improvise."
Taking Spike's phone from Haley, Xander examined it closely. After a minute though, he looked at the vamp in smug amusement. "You know, smart guy, these things usually work better when the batteries are charged up."
"Yeah? Well,"Spike blushed as everyone looked at him, "what's the difference? Technically it still didn't work, so I had to figure a way back to town on my own."
"Okay then MacGyver, just how did you get back? You couldn't call Transylvania Taxi, so did you hot wire the Vampmobile?"
"Hardly", Spike grumbled, "Big ponce doesn't have car. Sticks to the old ways remember? So, I took a horse, and trust me, it was no easy feat!"
"You mean you took a hearse, right?" Xander giggled.
"Oh, ha ha Harris. Very funny, you're such a comedian. I said horse as in H.O.R.S.E. Got it?"
"Wait," Haley asked in amazement, "you took Dracula's horse without even asking? That's stealing Spike!"
"Hello! Pot calling the Kettle black here? If I remember correctly you recently added petty larceny to your resume." Spike looked pointedly at Haley as her face turned bright red. "Besides, I didn't think we were planning on just asking Drac nicely for his cup. Right?"
"Well no, perhaps not, but th...this is different," she stammered. "Some thefts are neccessary in the interest of the mission, but blatantly taking a horse is not!"
"Look, it's more like I borrowed it really, and what's the big deal anyway? That wanker owes me! Besides I told you he was too busy fending off that shrew he married for me to ask permission!"
"It's still stolen property, Spike and laws are harsh here." Haley tried to remind him.
"Oh for pity's sake, not if I don't still have it. Right?"
"What do you mean?" Both Mena and Haley inquired at once. "Where is the poor horse now?"
Spike tried to avoid eye contact as he hedged his answer. "I uhhh, well...I had it until we came to this stream see...and then me and the nasty brute sort of had an unexpected parting of the ways."
"Haley tried to stifle a giggle, but failed. "Oh my God, you got tossed didn't you?"
"What? No! No way! Well, okay, maybe." Spike tried vainly to defend his pride, but failed too, as everyone else started to snicker.
"So that would explain the pile of muddy wet clothes on the bathroom floor." Xander replied casually.
"Bloody brilliant deduction Einstein!" Spike snapped angrily. "Tripped over them too I hope!"
"Not many self respecting Brits get thrown Spike...," Haley continued to tease.
"The hell! That prat Prince Charles does it all the time. Besides, this horse was out to get me from the start!"
Now Mena joined the fun. "As grumpy as you've been lately you probably were yelling too much and scared him."
"Think I'm grumpy now do you?"
"I concur with the young Slayer." Illyria chimed in thoughtfully. "In my world we had dominion over the beasts, but sought to commune with them. Perhaps if you had tried to connect to the creature's inner essence..."
"Good Lord, Blue, I was looking for a quick ride back to town, not a life long relationship!"
Spike looked at his gleeful comrades in exasperation. "What the bloody hell is wrong with the lot of you? Whose side are you on anyway? I think we've got a lot more to worry about than whether I pick up my dirty laundry, play Dr. Do Little, or may end up in the Big House for nicking the Ponce's pony. You did hear what I said about Drac and his whole dominate-the-world scheme. Right? Not to mention the needing my blood part. The count has the goblet and we need to get it. Remember? So, any ideas?"
Spike was met by silence and blank stares all around.
"Blue," he sighed in frustration, "you're the one who listens to the green and communes with everything else on the planet. Think you could tune into the vibes from a gold cup, or sniff out some ancient demon dust?"
Spike looked at her hopefully but she only gave him her curious head tilt.
"Okay then," he tried again, "could you maybe just do that wonky time shift thing of yours? Freeze Drac and his bride in their tracks long enough for us to search the castle?"
"Illyria pondered carefully before answering, "My time altering ability is temporary and unpredictable at best. While I may be able to sense the articles you desire to find I feel it will be far more efficient and satisfying to determine their whereabouts through torture and mayhem."
Spike chuckled as he thought of Dracula and his bride at the mercy of Illyria's interrogation techniques. "Hold that thought, Highness," he smiled, "you may just get your wish."
Their discussion was cut short suddenly, by persistent pounding at the door and the appearance of an unexpected visitor. Before Mena could open the door fully, Dracula strode purposefully into the room, headed for Spike.
His expression was solemn but fierce and for a moment Spike was apprehensive. The rest of the team moved rapidly to surround him, thinking that Dracula had indeed come to collect Spike's blood.
Mustering every bit of courage he had, and praying that his voice would not crack, Xander stepped forward to challenge the count. "Whoa there bucko! Don't you need some kind of an invite before just barging into a room?"
Dracula stopped in his tracks, and directed his murderous gaze at Xander."Boy," he hissed cruelly as Xander retreated back beside Spike, "I will forgive your insolent behavior as your are ignorant of our ways. Every thing and every place in this village belongs to me. I come and go as I please and require NO invitation. You would be wise to remember this, should we meet again."
The count then turned his attention back to Spike, who waved the others off and confronted him head on. He thought he better try to diffuse the tension a bit. "Look old man," he shrugged, "if you've come here to bitch at me for taking the horse lets just consider it a little advance towards settling up on your debt."
For a moment Dracula was caught off guard. "You took my horse?" he asked in surprise. "If so, why did I find him wandering loose in the pasture fully saddled?"
Spike shuffled his feet and glared angrily at his teammates as they tried to suppress their giggles. "I uhh...only needed him to go about half way, so I thought I should well...send him home. Figured he knew the way."
The count smiled knowingly, "I see, but you could have taken him all the way to Bistritz, Spike. The villagers would have returned him to me in the morning."
By this time Haley and Mena were staring expectantly at him so Spike decided to give up the charade. "All right, all right," he grumbled, "lets just say that the bloody beast took me as far as he wanted to go, then went home himself!"
"Ahhh yes", Dracula laughed softly, "Diavol can be quite a challenging mount. He is extremely rebellious and unpredictable. Much like a certain vampire I know."
"Yeah, well don't expect I'll be changing my ways any time soon, so if came here still hoping to enlist me in your grand plans...forget it."
The count's smile faded rapidly, "That is indeed a shame Spike, because whether you choose to or not, we need to talk seriously about that very subject!"
"Look," Spike sighed in frustration, "I'm just not interested in your offer. I've talked it over with my team and they're not interested either. Hell, judging from the effect this whole thing has had on your marriage, I'd think you'd be wise to give it up and smooth things over with the missus."
"Elizabeth and I are no longer together!" Dracula announced quietly.
"Sorry old man, but I can't really say as I'm surprised." Spike offered.
Turning away from Spike, the count settled himself in the nearest chair. He looked preoccupied and very weary. "It is worse than that I am afraid," he replied angrily. "My beloved bride has betrayed me with none other that my most trusted servant, Victor!"
Spike nearly laughed out loud at that revelation, but sensing the growing apprehension among his friends, he tried to keep the mood light. "Boy, guess it really is hard to find good help these days," he joked.
Dracula however was not amused. His eyes flashed with anger as he rose from the chair and grabbed Spike's arm. "This is no laughing matter Spike! Do you not see what this means?"
Out of the corner of his eye Spike saw Illyria make a move to confront Dracula, but he shook his head telling her to stop. He pulled out of Dracula's grasp as the count continued.
"Elizabeth and Victor are more than traitors. They are now my mortal enemies! Soon they will be yours as well! They have stolen my goblet and the vial of demon dust. All they need now is you and your blood! They will stop at nothing to hunt you down."
Once again an overwhelming feeling of dread started gnawing at Spike's gut. He had seen Elizabeth's true face. He knew she was probably even more dangerous that Dracula himself, and ruthless enough to carry out this coup.
"Victor and the countess can't have gone too far," Spike reasoned. "It's barely sundown, so can't you just rally your troops and go after them?"
Dracula only smiled bitterly, "It seems as though they have taken not only my treasures, but my army as well. No doubt they have seduced my troops by showing them the goblet and promising to share the power it can unleash. All the more reason they will pursue you so fervently. Every one of them will want to be the first to deliver up your blood!"
He paused and looked at Spike and his team mates. "That is why I came tonight, to warn you and persuade you to ally with me. There is no other alternative. We must stop them and get the goblet back, before they destroy us all."
"So, you just expect us to drop everything and risk our lives to help you?"
"You have met my bride, Spike," Dracula said sadly, "I am sure you have only begun to comprehend what evil she is capable of. My vision was to control a better world. Her vision, alas, will not be so altruistic. Victor is a fool. He will never be able to advise or restrain her. All she cares about is the power and she will do whatever it takes to obtain it."
Spike thought for a moment then sighed in resignation as he faced his team. "Unfortunately, the Great Ponce is right. They have his precious toys, but they need my special puzzle piece. It's only a matter of time before they come for me. We can't just sit around waiting."
Their faces were etched with fear, but they all nodded in agreement.
Of course, if you had only accepted my offer last night, "the count reminded Spike sardonically, "we would not be in this position, would we?"
Spike shook his head in disbelief and roughly grabbed Dracula by the front of his shirt. "Listen to me you arrogant son of a bitch! Don't you dare try laying the blame on me! Every bit of trouble you're in is by your own hand and your own perverted sense of reality! You made your bed, guess you'll have to lay in it! Now that you've dragged us into your mess you better pray we've got the skills and the luck to pull your ass out of this fire!"
Pushing the count back as he released him, Spike snarled in disgust at the bewildered icon. "Don't suppose you had the decency to come up with a plan?"
"I...actually I have." Dracula stammered but quickly regained his composure. "Cut off the head of the serpent and the body will wither. If we eliminate Elizabeth and Victor the rest of my army will disperse. They are nothing without authority and soon they will come begging me to take them back. I will make examples of most of them of course, but those I spare will never desert me again!"
"So, Vlad the Impaler rises again." Spike sneered.
Dracula's smile was pure evil. "Tried and true tactics, my friend."
Spike glare was just as steely. "Yeah, except we're not friends."
For a moment the count actually looked wounded, but then his expression hardened. "I regret that you feel this way Spike. I thought we were destined for so much more. But it is best to put our anger aside. We have much to do."
"Right then, lets get on with it."
"On my way to warn you I explored the mountainous area just northeast of the village. There were tracks in the woods and I believe I know where Victor and Elizabeth have taken my troops for refuge."
Unrolling a parchment map, he pointed to the location of a lodge that the university faculty staff often used as a retreat. "Victor knows this place well, and it is currently vacant at this time of year. It will still take them time to organize their attack and come down through the woods on foot to Bistritz. We on the other hand, have the advantage of your vehicle for transportation and this will give us the element of surprise. But we must make our move on them NOW!"
Spike and Xander surveyed the maps as Dracula pointed out the roads to follow to the lodge.
"Head east out of the village along the main road and then northeast towards the Borgo Pass," he instructed. "The retreat lies slightly north of the mountain pass along the river. The main road will narrow and meet other ones that run through the woods. I will go on alone to spy on the traitors where they hide and determine their immediate plans. Wait for me at the crossroads before entering the woods. Agreed?"
Spike looked at each of the BIG B.A.D.S. before answering. They all nodded their approval. "We'll play it your way for now. Just make sure you show up! Understand!"
The count grinned slyly and then vanished into a swirl of mist.
"Damn," Xander gasped and the others looked on in amazement, "how the hell does he do that?"
"Nothing special really," Spike shrugged, "just another part of his flamboyant Houdini act. Poser's always been a regular drama queen!"
Spike and the team wasted no time packing themselves and their arsenal of weapons into the SUV. If Spike was worried about facing Elizabeth again, he kept it well hidden. His team mates did the best they could to steel themselves for the battle that lay ahead, but could not disguise the fact that they were very worried about Spike. They vowed to do whatever it took to keep him and his blood from falling into the wrong hands.
As they headed out of Bistritz they did not notice the Range Rover parked across from the village inn, or its occupants watching them.
"Well," Mike muttered as he started the engine, "looks like Spike and company might be heading off to a party. Think we better tag along in case we have to crash it?" Lia simply glared, gave him her usual non-committal shrug, and fastened her seat belt.
"I've got a bad feeling about this Spike," Xander whined as he peered intently past the headlights at the road ahead. "I don't think we can trust Dracula, not since we know he's got a vested interest in your blood now."
"Don't trust him much myself, mate, but what choice do we have? We can't let a witch like Elizabeth run rampant in this world. Hell, even Dracula realizes that! Besides, he knows the area and knows where to find the deserters. Believe it or not, although the clothes suggest otherwise, the poofter is a pretty formidable fighter so we're gonna need him."
Xander did not look too convinced, so Spike thought a moment then tried to offer more justification. "Look at it this way. If nothing else we get Drac to help take out Elizabeth and Victor and maybe half his army to boot. I know this truce with Ponce-a-lot is shaky at best, but we might as well get our money's worth out of him while we can."
Hesitating again he looked at his friends worried faces. "Hey, don't be worrying about me now. I can hold my own against Drac any day. Just promise me that we'll get a hold of that goblet before he does. Right?"
"Right," they all yelled in unison and then,"LOOK OUT", as Xander suddenly slammed on the brakes.
Dracula had re-materialized on the highway directly in front of them.
"Jeeeeez Louise," Xander gulped and mopped his brow. "I wish he'd warn someone before he does that!"
"What...and ruin his theatrical mystique?" Spike snorted. "Never happen!"
The count motioned them towards him. "Come quickly," he ordered, "we have no time to waste! The traitors are on the move, approaching rapidly as we speak. We must head into the forest to find a better place to cut them off and make our stand!"
"Do we fight here?" Xander asked as he brought the SUV to an abrupt halt about a mile into the woods.
Spike quickly scanned the surroundings. He saw that they were in a small clearing in the midst of a heavily forested area. Even though tall thick trees were scattered around them, the clearing would hopefully afford them a little more moonlight for visibility. He also spied something else.
Opening the car door, Spike sprinted ahead, as everyone piled out of the SUV and followed him.
Coming to a stop he found he was standing at the edge of a deep gully. Looking down, Spike saw a wide stream twenty feet below them, flowing through the dark valley. Feeding into it on the left was a waterfall. The ravine blocked their avenue of escape. Dracula's former army would soon be upon them. There was no choice! They had to make a stand here.
"We won't make it to the retreat in time. Looks like we bring our fight here, what say you?" he turned to his companions. Each one agreed. If they had to make a stand, this was about as good as it got.
Hearing no disagreements Spike nodded his head. "Right then, let's load up. We got some nasties who need our special greeting coming our way."
Xander was the first to return to the SUV. Opening the back hatch, he began to pull out several sacks. Tugging a sack open he fished inside and pulled out several garlic-dart guns and as many lanterns as he could find. Haley immediately grabbed two guns. Mena snatched several wooden stakes, while Illyria hoisted her sword. In minutes they were fully armed and ready for the onslaught.
Dracula's head jerked around. "They are near," he hissed. He could feel them coming. His mouth filled with bile at the thought that his own army was coming to destroy him. "I despise the taste of betrayal."
Spike hefted a large crossbow onto his shoulders. "Thought you'd be used to it by now, seeing as how you've usually been on the other end," he retorted.
Taking in a deep breath Spike let out a frustrated sigh. "You know, it's about this time in the movies that we would be circling the wagons. Guess we'll have to make due with what we got. Xander, drive the SUV into that fairy circle." Spike pointed to a large circle of mushrooms barely visible through a thick growth of trees. "We need some light for this coming fight."
"The undead poet strikes again," Xander sighed. As he rushed back to the SUV, Haley worriedly looked at the circle of mushrooms. "Fairy circles are suppose to bring bad luck to those who stumble upon them."
"Well then, since bad luck always seems to follow us, maybe it will work in reverse with our lot," Spike said, with a hopeful tone in his voice.
He jogged over to a large grove of thick trees that had grown in a tight circle. "What do you know, our good luck begins giant stakes," he said with a grin. "Just need a really big knife to make their tops pointy."
"If we run out of ammo we can ask them politely to run into them," Haley briskly answered him back.
Xander managed to drive the SUV through a large gap in the trees and stopped it in the center of the fairy circle. He turned the high beams on, brightly illuminating the forest ahead. With the heavily overcast night skies above they needed to create as much light as possible.
Spike opened up the back of the SUV. Mena, Haley, and Xander stashed extra supplies of darts and stakes in strategic positions to help replenish any stock depleted in the fight.
Illyria bristled as she also began to feel the undead army approaching. She tightly held the large sword she had bought in the local village. With a weapon she excelled in using in her hands, she now felt complete and ready to face any enemy. Slashing the sword in the air, Illyria gave a small nod of approval. "I cannot wait to test the craftsmanship of this blade. I think before the battle is ended it will prove to be a formidable weapon."
Mena wore a belt similar to an ammo belt, and in it were several wooden stakes. Securing two dart guns, she nodded that she was ready. Haley and Xander stood bravely by her side, armed with as much as they could hold.
Dracula nearly laughed as he surveyed who he was now forced to fight along side. "Three women, an overgrown boy, and one and a half vampires; what good is this rag-tag group against my mighty army?"
"Listen mate," Spike snapped back. "I may have a soul, but I haven't lost a step when it comes to keeping my bloody head on my shoulders. Besides, wasn't it just hours ago that you wanted me to be general of your sodding army! Believe it or not, with your back against the wall, there's no one better to have by your side." Nodding towards the others he added, "When the time comes, they'll have what it takes to fight your bleeding army."
Spike's head jerked as he heard a commotion in the darkening skies above. Looking up he saw the shadows of hundreds of birds flying over them. Even the animals in the forest knew to flee from Dracula's army. Only fools and heroes would be willing to remain in the line of fire. Spike quickly realized that they would need something else to aid them in their fight.
"Look Drac, I know I've always said your powers were just gypsy tricks, as far as humans are concerned, but what about your rumored way with creatures of the four legged variety?"
"You mean my empathy with the wolves, or other beasts which heed my call?"
"Bloody right on!! Think you can give them a howl, or whistle, or whatever the bloody hell you can do to help us out?"
Dracula slowly nodded his head. "I shall call my children. I know that they will not betray me."
Stepping between two large trees Dracula tilted his head back. Taking in a deep breath, he seemed to go into a trance. Immediately Spike felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. He didn't know why, but his attack mode meter just shot up to near bursting. Stepping back, he tried to shake off the feeling. It was then that the voice of Wesley echoed in his mind, "Remember what I said Spike, you too have an inner beast. Use it at the right time, don't fight it don't fight it."
"Either show yourselves or get out of my bloody head," Spike groaned. "Soddin' Powers That Be, if you're so damn powerful why don't you show your bloody selves when I'm in the thick of it? But noooo!!! You're always so eager to give advice from afar, but when it comes to getting your hands dirty, I don't see you lifting one leaf to help us."
"Not a smart thing to do trying to rile them up," Haley cautioned him.
"Thought it couldn't hurt since we're in enough trouble as it is," Spike replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Surrender Spike to us, and your deaths will be quick!" they suddenly heard a man's voice shout out from the forest before them. Immediately they recognized it as Victor's.
"Over our dead bodies!" Xander shouted back.
"That is precisely what they are aiming for you stupid git," Dracula hissed.
"What are you, channeling Spike now?" Xander taunted.
"I said, surrender Spike to us!" Victor shouted from a different position.
"Bloody nice to be wanted," Spike murmured. Cupping his hands he shouted, "Sorry, we're busy having tea, we'll get back to you when we're done."
Elizabeth angrily kicked at the ground. "That man is truly as arrogant as Dracula. Once we acquire his blood, I will relish seeing his head on the end of a pike!"
"Spike Kabob," one of the vampires who swarmed by her side said with a giggle. It didn't take them long to approach the SUV. Nearly all of the vampires whom Dracula had created for his army in the recent months had agreed to help Victor. After all, he was the first one they had seen after their resurrection. They trusted and respected him as Dracula's right-hand man, and thanks to Elizabeth's offer to drink from the goblet their loyalty was assured.
Victor tightly held a burlap sack in his hands. Hidden within it was Dracula's golden goblet. In truth, he trusted Elizabeth about as much as he did Dracula. For now though, he would allow her to believe she was in charge.
That would all change once they managed to get Spike's blood. Already he had formulated a plan to drink from the cup first. Immortality, he turned the word over and over in his mind, savoring the very concept. I can live forever, thanks to my new life as a vampire. But once I drink from this cup, I will become something even greater! No creature on earth will be able to harm me. I will outlive everything on this evil planet!
"Remember!" Elizabeth warned the minions. "Not a drop of his blood is to be wasted." She turned to face their new army. Nearly two hundred newly risen vampires eagerly awaited a chance to fulfill the purpose they were created for death and destruction. "Above all else you are not to kill Spike! It is his blood that we need to construct the potion that will make us all invincible. Bring the souled vampire to me. As for the others?" holding a tight fist high in the air she screamed, "Supper! Feast on them!!"
Hearing a roar, Spike knew that the enemy was upon them. Gripping the crossbow he held even tighter, he decided to use the rage that now rushed through his veins to his advantage.
"How long before your children of the night get here?" Spike asked the Count anxiously.
"Already I can feel their presence," Dracula answered.
"Is that central or standard time?" Spike snapped back.
"Do not fear, they will arrive in time."
"You'd better be right," he warned the legendary vampire. "This fight is going to get bloody ugly very fast, our only hope for survival is with the help of your pets."
Spike looked to the others. He was pleased to see no fear in their eyes. With all that they had been through over the past few months, they were already battle-hardened warriors. He had no doubt that they would do their best, but was it enough? Letting out a small sigh he took a wooden stake out and handed it to Illyria.
"I'd ask Xander to do this, mostly because it's been his bloody dream the past few years. But now I really don't think he'd be able to do it." Gazing deeply into Illyria's brilliant blue eyes he said, "If you see the battle going wrong, if there is no way we can win it, I'm counting on you to keep that harpy Elizabeth from getting any of my blood."
Nodding at the stake he gave her a wry smile, "Can't get blood from dust."
Illyria immediately knew the monumental task he was asking her to do. Gripping the stake hard she slightly nodded her head. "I shall not falter in my appointed task. Although I believe that your request will not be necessary. I know you will not fail."
Giving her a sly wink he said, "For emergency use only then! Right? But just like Harris said before, don't get too trigger happy."
Softly smiling Illyria winked in approval.
"And remember Blue, not to let any of those vampires bite you. It won't help us any if those vampires are hyped up with Illyria-mojo."
"Just remember your promise to me too, Spike," Xander reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah. If I see you falling under Drac's thrall I'm to rip your bloody head off. What a sorry lot we are, half our crew is ready to kill each other. If that bloody shrew waited long enough we'd do her work for her."
"Here they come!" Mena shouted.
Turning his attention ahead, Spike could just make out the first vampires approaching from the forest. The headlights on the SUV were only strong enough to illuminate the woods a few yards ahead. "Damned darkness is going to cut our playing field," he hissed. "Try to hit the bigger and stronger looking ones first," he suggested to the others. "We don't want to tangle with them at the end of the fight."
"Sound advice," Dracula said. "As I said, you would make a great general for my army."
Spike rushed up to a large tree for cover. Aiming his crossbow at the closest minions, he growled back at Dracula, "What part of not on your bloody unlife didn't you understand."
"I have existed long enough to discern that time can modify anyone's mind." Dracula held two large stakes in his hand. "Case in point, I now fight by your side."
"As you said before mate, things change." Spike aimed his crossbow at a particularly large vampire. Pulling the trigger his bolt flew straight to the heart of the advancing enemy. In seconds only a cloud of dust remained.
"That was a most prodigious shot," Haley praised him.
"Like any kid in England, I always dreamed of being Robin Hood and rescuing the fair damsel in distress."
"Not me," Haley sniffed. "As Marion I always saved, Robin."
In seconds Spike let off several shots. Each bolt hit its target. The forefront of the army was quickly being decimated by Spike's skill with the crossbow. Unfortunately, there were many more to replace those who died a dusty death.
Not wanting to wait for the enemy to come to her, Illyria let out a battle cry as she rushed towards the advancing enemy. Whipping her sword in the air, she expertly managed to cut the heads off of two vampires. Leaning forward and then back, she whirled her blade in a large circle. The deadly swath of her weapon caught four vampires in mid stride, cutting off their legs and arms. "Way to go, Kiddo!" Xander shouted. "I knew it would pay off having her watch Kill Bill."
"Let's hope she won't be the only one left standing," Mena said. Using her dart gun, she shot at the vampires who got too close to Illyria. Once they were stunned, Illyria quickly finished them off.
"This may just work," Dracula said. "Things seem to be going your way." At that moment a loud bang was heard, followed by a bright flash of light.
Spike felt a sprinkle of rain falling lightly on his head." Oh, don't tell me," he moaned. In seconds it seemed as if the heavens had opened up on them. The skies boomed with explosions of thunder. All were soon soaked to the skin. With each flash of lightning Spike was able to make out where the enemy was coming from.
"Who's the stupid git now?" Spike growled at Dracula. "Don't you know you never to say things are going good, that's a sure way to make them head south."
Loading his crossbow Spike soon found that unfortunately the heavy rainfall now managed to hide his targets. Letting out a low curse, he threw the crossbow down. It would have to be hand-to-hand combat now.
"Mena, come with me. Xander, Haley, try to keep those buggers from getting to the SUV. We can't afford to lose our light." Seeing Dracula casually standing by, he said, "I knew you were all talk and no bloody action. Are you just going to let us do your fighting for you?"
This brought the reaction that he was looking for. Throwing Spike a look that could probably have killed a hundred vampires, Dracula suddenly disappeared.
"Right then," Spike called to Mena. "Let's go Slayer, it's time to get a few more notches in your stake."
Pulling out a large stake for himself, Spike rushed towards the sound of Illyria's battle cries. He had to leap and then quickly duck as a head rolled at his feet and a sword's blade sailed over his head.
"Watch where you're aiming that thing, Blue." Spike warned her.
"I am sorry," Illyria said. "I was wondering when you would start enjoying the battle. Dracula has already nearly matched my quota of kills. He has indeed surprised me with his penchant for battle."
Squinting his eyes Spike saw Dracula appear, then disappear in the darkness. A moment later he materialized behind an unsuspecting vampire. Quickly breaking its neck he finished the vamp off with his stake and once again disappeared into the heavy rainfall.
Wiping dripping water from his eyes, Spike let out a small laugh. "I've seen better you poncey bastard, but right now I'm actually grateful for your Houdini act." Gazing at the sky he softly said, "Wish you were here Angel. Know you would like to get in a few licks."
Taking in a deep breath he rushed into the thick of it. This was what he really enjoyed doing and fighting was what he did best. Letting his demon have full control, he became a killing machine.
Mena was preparing to face more vampires than she had ever fought in her life. With Spike, Illyria and Dracula fighting at the front lines, she found it necessary to pick off only those who fell through the cracks. Using her stakes, and with athletic skills she leapt from tree to tree, keeping cover between herself and her attackers. She would stake and hide with each kill.
Plunging his stake into the heart of a vampire in front of him, Spike waved the dust cloud from his eyes. He let out a snarl as several shadows flew through the mist. He felt hands pulling him towards the forest floor. Kicking out with his legs, he latched them onto one of his attackers and pulled the vampire towards him. Using the only weapon he had left, he bit into its neck.
His opponent let out a howl as Spike tore into his neck and immediately released him. The other vampire who held Spike's arm began to drag him away from the battle. Dragging his feet on the forest floor Spike hooked the toe of his boot onto a large tree root. This delayed the vampire holding him long enough for Dracula to suddenly appear. He plunged a stake into the heart of Spike's captor.
Once it was dusted Spike didn't even have time to thank the count, as more vampires seemed to fly out of the forest.
Rolling around the tree trunk, Spike used its girth to give him enough time to pull a stake from the confines of his leather coat. Once he clutched it tightly in his hands he sprinted towards the SUV. Gazing back he was alarmed to see twenty more minions close behind. Looking at the SUV he saw Xander signal him to drop.
Falling flat on the ground he heard the whistling sounds of the garlic darts flying over his head. Rolling to the side, he saw several of his pursuers fall to the ground. The others scrambled to hide behind bushes and trees. Leaping up, Spike saluted a quick thanks to Xander, then taking in a deep breath he rushed over to where the fleeing vampires were hiding. It was then that he saw someone familiar lurking in the forest. It was Victor!
Figures the bloody wanker would be hiding from the fight, Spike thought. Pathetic coward! A flash of lightning suddenly made the forest as bright as day. Spike saw that Victor cradled something gingerly in his arms. It was small sack, and he just knew it had to hold Dracula's Goblet. This was top priority now. No matter what, he had to get that goblet away from him.
Unfortunately it was not going to be an easy task. At least fifteen vampires now stood between Victor and himself. Fortunately for him they all appeared to be rookies.
"Think you know what being a member of the undead is like?" Spike called out to the dark army that stood in his way. "Let me show you what it means to be a real vampire."
Spike completely released his demon. He tucked in his soul, and allowed the beast to take full rein. Slowly an evil grin crept across his lips. Shaking his head, he let his game face emerge, transforming his handsome features into those of a bloodthirsty monster. Gripping his stake Spike let out a howl of joy. William the Bloody was back in full force.
"Let's get ready to rumble," Spike snarled.
He rushed straight into five vampires. The first one he met was a female. She quickly died at the end of his stake. Two male vampires tried to grab Spike. He staked one and kicked the other into a large tree. As the tree splintered from the blow the vampire puffed away in a cloud of dust. The fourth and fifth vampires, a man and a woman, held a whip in their hands. They were so identical Spike guessed that they had to be twins.
"Get him, Tatiana," the man screamed.
"I have him, Tevis!" the girl shouted back. Her whip snaked out as she tried to wrap it around Spike's neck. Ducking from the whip's deadly tip, it was then that Spike realized that they were not trying to kill him.
Hearing the sharp crack, Spike threw his arm out. As the whip curled around his arm he grabbed it and dragged Tevis towards him. Gripping the vampire's neck Spike snarled at Tatiana, "What are your orders? Tell me or I'll rip his bleedin' head off."
"No! Please! Do not kill my brother!" Tatiana shouted.
"Then tell me, what are your orders?" Spike repeated.
Tatiana saw her beloved brother struggle in Spike's grip. They had just recently been resurrected. She could not bear to lose him again.
"We were ordered not to kill you," the young vampire angrily growled. "Your life was to be spared. The others were to be used to slake our hunger."
Tatiana screamed in anguish as she saw Spike plunge his stake into Tevis' chest. Her cherished sibling immediately crumbled to dust in Spike's arms.
"I told you our orders!" she sobbed, "Why did you kill him?"
"Never said I wouldn't," Spike casually stated.
"Then I will destroy you for killing my brother!" Tatiana shouted.
Spike took a defensive stance as she lunged towards him,
but she was stopped in her tracks as a crossbow bolt struck her in the
arm. Growling in pain and anger, she swore at him, "This is not
finished," and then rushed off into the forest.
"The calvary has arrived," Spike heard a familiar voice declare. He was surprised to see Mike and Lia suddenly step out of the forest followed by several of Dracula's minions. Mike held a crossbow in his hands.
Spike suspiciously eyed Lia. "You for or against me?"
As usual, she remained silent, her expression unreadable, so Mike answered Spike's question.
"We've got orders from the higher ups to 'Protect your peroxided head'," Mike joyously stated.
"What about the rest of DUCK!" Spike warned Mike.
Mike leaned over as Spike jumped in the air. Using Mike's back as a springboard he leaped into the arms of two charging vampires. Lia pulled out two small swords from her leather jacket. Gripping them tightly she quickly rushed over to Spike. Slashing her swords with deadly precision, she expertly cut each vampire in the arms and legs. Howling in pain, they immediately released Spike, and fell writhing in agony on the forest floor.
Mike's grin grew from ear to ear. "Super-concentrated strychnine poison, won't kill them but makes them wish it did."
Using his crossbow Mike shot a bolt into each disabled vampire. Both puffed into clouds of dust.
"House rules," Spike panted. "No sticking those bloody things in me, my people or Dracula."
"Dra...Dracula?" Mike gasped, his voice trembling. "In the flesh? You sure he's on your side, I mean, are you absolutely sure?"
Spike could hear the fear in Mike's voice. Trying to ease the man's mind he pointed to the east. "Take a gander over there. You can see him in all his poofey-shirted glory." Mike slowly turned his head. He struggled to control his pounding heart. Holding his breath he searched the darkness for a glimpse of the legendary monster who had filled his childhood nightmares. Suddenly, he saw a man in a long black cape appear out of nowhere. He watched him plunge a stake into one of the attacking vampires and then in a flash, seem to blend into the darkness of the forest.
"For now he's on our side. Not sure how long it's going to last though, damn rules keep changing." Spike shrugged.
"I-uhh, guess that's reassuring," Mike stammered, "I'll try real hard not to break any of those rules then."
Spike smiled at Mike, but then once again spotted Victor darting through the trees. "If you'll excuse me I have a date with a man and a sack."
Skipping over some rocks, Spike ran to where he saw Victor fleeing.
Victor leaned on a large tree for support. All around him loomed death and destruction. He had tried to stay back from the actual combat but the fight seemed to be flowing towards him. Still tightly clutching the sack that held Dracula's goblet, he glanced towards the battle and saw a woman with blue hair lopping the head off of one of the vampires he had resurrected.
"Oh no! That is not going to happen to me," Victor mumbled. "I'm going to live forever. I've planned it too long. Too hard to lose it now." He let out a small "Yipe!" as the head of a vampire rolled past him. He shivered as he saw its dead eyes gazing up at him, right before it turned to dust in the wind.
"What am I going to do?" Victor wrung his hands and wondered out loud. "I can't stay here, but I can't leave either. I need to get some of Spike's blood, yet I can't let the master see me. He'll tear me apart for my betrayal."
His thoughts were interrupted when he saw Elizabeth approaching him angrily."You fool, get out there and fight with the others!" Elizabeth hissed as she attempted to snatch the burlap sack from his hands. Victor was actually thankful when he saw Spike running towards them.
"It appears that the fight has come to us." Victor pointed behind her. Spinning around Elizabeth only had time to bring her hands up in defense as Spike rushed towards her. She cursed her luck that Victor had turned out to be such a cowardly knave. Regretfully she wondered if perhaps she should have tried to get Spike under her thrall before initiating her rebellion.
"You for or against us?" Xander asked Mike as he and Lia joined Haley and Xander near the SUV.
"Why are our motives always questioned?" Mike asked Lia.
"Perhaps it's because working for Wolfram and Hart puts you high on our list of people not to trust when we're in a battle for our lives," Haley replied.
Before he could answer, Mike swung his crossbow onto his shoulders. He let off a volley of shots. In seconds four vampires were stopped from coming into the protective circle of trees.
"Let's just say for now, I hope that proves we're occupying a place on the bottom of that list," Mike said.
"Great, I'll book 'em, you cook 'em," Xander said.
Using his dart gun, Xander began to stun any of the enemy who came into his range. Mike immediately followed the dart with a crossbow bolt. It appeared that the battle might be turning their way, until a flash of lightning told them otherwise.
Xander's blood ran cold as he saw more minions rushing towards them. He quickly realized that there was no way they could hold out against so many.
"Looks like you came at a bad time," Xander grimly said to Mike.
Mike was about to agree with him, when he heard a sound that froze him where he stood.
Haley let out a cautious sigh, "The wolves! Spike said Dracula had some kind of power over them. Thank God they're finally here. At least I...I hope we'll be thankful."
Mike nearly dropped his crossbow as a pack of wolves loped past him. Gulping hard he tried to hide his fear of the animals. His partner and the others were momentarily unsure of whether to stand still or flee. They began to mirror Mike's fear until they saw the wolves begin to attack the enemy.
Lia now saw this as a chance to turn the tide of the battle. Running just behind the wolves, she used her poison tipped knives on the advancing enemy. Mike however, took a few steps back as his fear of the awe inspiring beasts threatened to choke him. Tightly gripping his weapon in his hands he tried to push that fear away.
"I'm outta here!" Xander shouted. "Now that the big dogs with bad attitudes are here, we can help the others." Clutching several dart guns Xander ran into the forest.
Haley remained behind with Mike to secure the clearing and ensure that no minions would get close enough to stop the beams from the SUV from lighting the forest. Haley wondered how Spike was faring? She was glad for Mike's help, but her deep distrust of Wolfram and Hart made her suspicious of his intentions and justified her deeply harbored fear of ultimate betrayal.
Spike couldn't believe his luck! Right before him stood both Victor and Ms. Royal-pain-in-the-ass, Elizabeth. He expected this to be a very short fight, but soon realized that the Blood Countess was as proficient in fighting as she was in killing innocent young maidens. Her game face appeared, marring her beauty. Her eyes glowed with hatred as she prepared to face Spike's attack.
She immediately pulled out a saber from its scabbard. Lunging to her left, she managed to clip Spike on the arm. Spike deftly pulled himself away from another crippling blow. He let out a low curse as she was able to graze him again.
"Do not just stand there you wretch," she snarled through her canine teeth to Victor. "Help me!"
Spike searched the forest for anything he might use to help him. Spinning away, he ran towards the waterfall and at the its edge spied a rotted branch hanging from a tree. Leaping up he clutched at it. Whirling around he waited for Elizabeth to catch up. She laughed as she saw the branch Spike held, but that laughter quickly choked back when she saw Spike break the branch on his knees. In seconds he had managed to make a long wooden spear.
Victor stumbled out of the forest. He cowered behind her, intent on fleeing from the battle. "You stupid little coward, help me. I gave you what you wanted!" Elizabeth shouted at Victor. "Both of us can defeat him."
"N no," Victor stuttered. "I know when to leave a losing battle."
Victor was about to run away, until he heard the sound of a wolf baying. It was soon followed by the cries of other wolves. "Too late," Victor almost sobbed. "I'm too late."
Spike was glad to see that the wolves had finally arrived. He watched them run though the large stream that fed the waterfall and as they rushed past him he began to actually feel a connection to them. Even though their very presence made him feel calm and safe, this both surprised and frightened him. As he heard the wolves begin to tear the enemy apart in the distance, he felt his kinship with them grow. The demon inside Spike yearned to break free and run with the pack, but slowly he willed it to release its hold on him and to let the wolves do their part. Spike could swear that even his soul watched in wonder and pride as the great canines swarmed through the forest.
It was then that he heard a wolf howl a warning to him. Looking up he saw Elizabeth rushing towards him. Letting out a snarl, Spike drew his arm back and threw the wooden spear towards Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had seen her chance to overtake Spike. With the appearance of the wolves he seemed to have gone into a trance. As she raced towards him, she heard a wolf howl and saw Spike wake from his stupor. Now she saw death sailing towards her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark shadow. It was Victor stumbling towards her in terror as he ran from a huge beast. Grabbing Victor by the shoulders she shoved him in front of her!
To Victor, the wooden spear that sailed towards him seemed to be going in slow motion. "But I was going to live forever," Victor cried, just before the wooden spear pierced his chest. The burlap sack fell into the water and began to flow downstream.
"Guess forever wasn't quite as long as he thought it was," Spike said wryly, once again concentrating his attention on the countess.
"Perhaps not for that fool, but I will not allow myself to die so easily!" Elizabeth growled. Spying the burlap sack moving in the water, she rushed towards it, but Spike was faster. He snatched it just before she could reach it. Spying Xander making his way towards them from the forest, he threw it to him.
"Hide that where no one can get it!" Spike shouted to Xander. Opening the sack Xander saw it contained Dracula's goblet. Hugging it tightly to his chest he ran back to the SUV and hid it inside of the car.
This exchange did not go unnoticed. From a distance, Dracula saw Spike throw Xander the sack, and he surmised the goblet was within it, but now was not the time to retrieve his treasure. Now there were more important matters at hand. Personal matters!
With the goblet gone Elizabeth's hope for power began to fade away. Her anger growing, she slowly stalked Spike. She slashed her sword back and forth in the air hoping to get close enough for a lethal strike. Spike began to step back and felt the water rush past his feet. He stumbled to a stop as he found he was standing at the top of the waterfall.
"Time to end this nonsense," Elizabeth smirked.
"I agree," Elizabeth heard a deep voice say behind her. Whirling around she saw Dracula gazing at her, his face a mask of pure rage.
"Ahhh, my dear, Dracula," Elizabeth cooed with brazen sarcasm. "What now my beloved husband?"
In a flash Dracula appeared in front of her, his hand tightly gripping her neck. His head tilted as he regarded her beautiful face. "What a pity our marriage must meet such a tragic end. I was ready to rule the world with you by my side." Elizabeth struggled to speak, but was unable to as Dracula's grip on her neck grew tighter. "My only regret is that I was not the one to end the life of that other traitor, Victor." Pulling her closer to him Victor gently kissed Elizabeth on her cheek. Drawing back he softly whispered. "My dear, Elizabeth, time for you to die."
Spike could hear her neck break as Dracula twisted her head. With barely a hint of remorse the count plunged his stake into her heart. Spike watched as all that remained of the Blood Countess rained down in a shower of dust.
That was it it was over! Victor and Elizabeth were dead. Only the dregs of Dracula's rebellious army remained. With Dracula's wolves here, Spike guessed that the battle would now easily turn in favor of the good guys. Feeling he should offer some words of condolence, Spike turned toward the count. It was then that he heard a scream that pierced his soul.
"You killed Tevis, now you die!"
Tatiana suddenly flew out of the forest! Spike had nowhere to go! She leaped at his chest, shoving him as well as herself over the waterfall.
The fall seemed to last forever, even though Spike knew it really took only seconds. He let out a gasp of pain as the branch of a tree pierced his side. Agony ripped through his body as the force of the falls whirled him around in the turbulent waters. As he struggled to leave the fall's grip, he could faintly hear Tatiana screaming vengeance for her brother's death. Through the water he could make out her face staring down at him, contorted in hate. He struggled to remain conscious, but lost his battle as his head violently hit a large rock embedded in the bed of the river. Then darkness blanketed his mind.
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reading Part II of Hearts of Darkness,
Hearts of Darkness Page1, 2
And as always,
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