Hearts of Darkness, Part II (continued) Page 1, 2
Through a fog of pain and confusion, Spike thought he heard Mena's muffled cry, "Spike, please wake up."
He fought to open his eyes. Though his vision was murky, he saw Mena and Haley kneeling next to him. Xander, Mike and Lia stood behind them.
"Oh thank God, he's conscious," Haley thankfully said.
"I don't know how he's even alive or undead or whatever he is," Spike heard Xander say. "He looks like his head hit the side of a Mack truck, and that wound on his side is wicked nasty looking."
"Quickly now, we have to stem his blood flow." Haley urged. Taking off her jacket she pressed it into his side. Xander handed her his jacket too and she tightly tied it around Spike's midriff. Haley gently examined the wound on his head. Even for a vampire, it did not look good!
"The vampires," Spike gasped. "What about the vampires? Where's Dracula?" He clutched his head as he felt as if tiny men sporting large pick axes were trying to dig their way out of his skull.
"Gone," Mena informed him. She held Spike's hand. It was so cold, so clammy, even more than usual for a vampire. "Once they realized that Victor and Elizabeth were dead, and that the wolves were following Dracula's orders they fled into the forest. The count was dealing with a few stragglers the last time we saw him. Illyria is holding down the fort back at the SUV."
"Those vamps are gone but still a problem" Spike gasped. "We have to get out of here in case they return."
"Where can we go?" Xander asked Haley.
"The retreat, but we have to hurry. Spike is bleeding profusely. We need to find a place to treat him fast!"
Mike and Xander grabbed Spike by his legs and arms. They started to carry him slowly up the ravine and back to the clearing.
"Oh Haley," Mena cried out, "He looks so bad."
"I know, dear," Haley answered bravely trying to mask her worry, "but I'm sure he'll be all right." Nodding her head she softly added, "He has to, he's Spike."
Spike drifted in and out of consciousness, his head throbbing, his side leaking red. As he felt his body being carried along, he forced his eyes open and found himself looking up through tree branches into a starry night sky. The moon flashed intermittently through gaps in the canopy above him. As it did, the patterns on it's surface took on a familiar form; a lone wolf circling the perimeter, howling in sorrow at his pain and weakness.
His head rested painfully on Xander's stomach and Xander fought to keep his grip under Spike's arms as they moved through the brush towards the clearing and the SUV. Exhausted, Xander and Mike struggled to carry the vampire through the darkness, stumbling over fallen branches and into leaf-covered depressions.
Xander gasped out, "Wait, wait...got to rest a minute!" He and Mike set Spike down among the dry leaves of the Transylvanian forest and knelt beside him trying to catch their breath.
"This just... this isn't working." Xander panted. "There's gotta be a better way to carry him? If we only had a stretcher."
Mike rested beside the wounded vampire. Then he turned and said, "Lia, can you bring us a sleeping bag from the car along with a couple of tent polls. If we stick some holes in the ends I think we can use that as a makeshift stretcher."
Lia murmured a sullen "Alright," and headed off down the trail, finding her way with a tiny light. Its flashes faded into the forest as she grew distant but the light revealed that Mena had taken the path as well, as she went ahead in search of the First Aid Kit.
Spike lay nearly oblivious, the blood draining out of his wound and soaking the jackets pressed against his side. If he hadn't been a vampire he would have already been dead; bled out, his body fluids left in a Hansel and Gretel trail leading back through the forest to the place beneath the falls where he had been pulled from the water. His strength too had bled away along with the red fluid that had kept him going, kept him warm, kept him something other than dead.
In addition to his blood loss, his head wound made everything surreal, strange. His vampire vision sometimes made the night forest seem as bright as day, sometimes as dark as the grave. At times there seemed to be wolves running alongside him, and then other times the wolves seemed to be part of him. They passed among the glowing trees; trees he seemed to see through someone else's eyes. From a distance he felt Dracula grinning at him, pulling him deeper into those trees. Dracula's eyes compelled him to obey. Or was that Haley who was compelled? Spike sank into darkness while
Almost hypnotized, Haley watched Dracula's eyes glittering in the dim light as he penetrated her mind. Trying to remain focused on protecting Spike, she tried frantically to block him out. Can't they see him, she wondered, looking at the shadowed forms of Xander and Mike, Help ? Again and again she chanted the mantra, her lips moving silently, trying to build a wall of words. Shupaza Hiari Wangu, Shupaza Hiari Wangu, Shupaza Hiari Wangu.
Slowly she found herself being drawn away from the group clustered around Spike. She vaguely remembered Xander asking where she was going, and she thought she had murmured something about checking on Mena, but she swore she hadn't actually said a word.
Deeper and deeper into the woods she retreated, fleeing from the approaching monster. She tried to call out for help, but found she could mouth the words but produce no sound. As Dracula approached she found herself backed up against a huge old tree. Shupaza Hiari Wangu, Shupaza Hiari Wangu Shupaza Hiari Wangu, she chanted desperately but to no avail. Dracula's thoughts began to fill more and more of her mind, occupying all the spaces filled with fear and dread until finally Haley no longer remembered the words of the chant, or any words at all until he spoke.
"Relax. Do not fight so," a soothing voice ordered.
Haley's struggle ended and, with its end, peace filled her.
"There, there, lovely one," the monster whispered as he reached out and stroked her hair. "Is that not better? There is no reason for you to fight or fear me."
Haley found herself murmuring, "Yes, master."
Dracula smiled to himself in the dark. He liked this one. There was a lot of Slayer in her. Not quite enough to successfully resist him but enough to make him respect her.
"You will obey me now. Do all I instruct and I will reward you. Is this understood?"
"Yes, master. I will obey you in all things," Haley responded, feeling as though she was speaking to a favored teacher. Haley, the good student, always admired her teachers.
Dracula put his hand on her cheek, cupping it gently as he wondered, Could this one be more than food, more than minion? Haley had been a potential Slayer. If he could turn her completely, perhaps she might be the mate he needed. Her strength augmented by his gifts could indeed produce a superior consort.
He was angry at his previous choice. Elizabeth. What a monster! What a fool! Her arrogance and jealousy had already cost him any chance he had of luring Spike over to his side. Now, he'd lost Victor as well. Perhaps Haley would serve in Victor's stead while he learned more about her. It would take time to evaluate her capacities, her flaws, her potential. But, he thought, first things first.
"First, my darling, I need you to do something for me. I need some of Spike's blood. It should not be difficult for you to obtain." Dracula put a small vial into her hand. His hand lingered on hers possessively as he continued, "Succeed in this and I will be most grateful."
"Yes, master," Haley, echoed again, thrilled with his touch.
"Address me as 'Count' around the other humans but when we are alone, you may," here Dracula hesitated, then whispered seductively, "call me Vlad." Kissing her hand gallantly, he backed away as he told her, "Go now! Return to them and do as I have instructed you."
"Yes, Vlad," Haley answered, flushed with pride that she had been shown such a mark of favor.
Suddenly, Haley felt herself released, no longer frozen in the glare of his eyes. She slowly moved back toward the group while her head turned to try to keep Dracula's form within her field of vision a little longer.
Back along the path where they had stopped to rest, Spike was now unconscious. Xander could see the flash of Lia's light fluttering in the night as she returned with the requested items. Quickly, he and Mike made holes at the bottom of the sleeping bag and slid the posts through them, producing a makeshift stretcher. As they took hold of Spike and moved him onto it, he started to come to and moaned in pain. Haley came up to the group just as Mena ran up with the First Aid Kit she had brought from the car.
"Maybe this will help? It's not much but maybe?" Mena asked, hopefully.
Haley took it from her saying, "Let me see to Spike, and Lia, give me your light."
Lia passed over the small flashlight As Haley knelt and used it to illuminate Spike's wounds. Then she stood and turned to the group, instructing them, "While I check on Spike all of you should guard us in case we've been followed. Set up a perimeter so you can tell if anyone is coming."
Xander and Mena nodded and gestured to the others to spread out among the trees.
As they moved off into the forest, Haley was left alone with the barely conscious vampire. Kneeling beside him she uncovered the wound in his side. The trip through the underbrush had caused it to bleed steadily again. Haley looked around to make sure the others were too far away to see what she was doing, then uncapped the vial and held it against the stream of blood on Spike's pale skin. Rich, red liquid flowed effortlessly into the glass. Quickly she capped it and put the vial in her pocket.
Spike's eyelids began to flutter and he moaned and stirred. Haley felt as though an anvil had been removed from her shoulders. Having fulfilled Dracula's orders she was now free to follow her own inclinations. Whispering words of comfort, she gently examined Spike's wounds and began bandaging him with dressings from the kit.
Illyria moved out into the green, grateful for the brief respite. The exhilaration of the battle still infused her senses, but was overshadowed by the anxiety and concern she felt for her pet's condition.
When they realized that Spike was injured she had been ready to rescue him herself, but Xander had stopped her. "Someone has to stay behind in case any minions are still hanging around," he said, "someone who can hold down the fort, single-handedly. That would be you, Illy!"
Reluctantly, she had agreed that indeed, she was the one most suited for the task, so she began to patrol the area as the others rushed to Spike's aid. Now she just hoped her communion with nature and the essence of all life forms around her would calm her emotions and focus her energy on her required task. She must secure the area from intruders.
She could attenuate her perceptions so she saw only what humans saw. Sometimes she did that just to cut down on confusion as she interacted with them. But now as she moved into the darkness of the forest she opened her senses to everything.
Illyria could see through the entire light spectrum. She could see things that humans couldn't possibly dream of viewing. Around her each living thing seemed to spring into sharp relief. Every leaf glowed with life, bearing a halo with a golden aura that pulsated with energy.
Spreading her awareness out through the forest, she became part of it as she guarded the sentient bits of humanity behind her. She had internalized her protection of them by classifying them as pets, as subjects, and now, through her memories from the Fred-shell, as friends. They were hers and she was angry that anyone would dare to endanger what was hers. She could feel each of her humans blending their life force into the green. Even Spike's soul radiated a small diamond flash.
Into this luminous web crept an ominous darkness. It was something very old and long dead, yet it still moved and thought. Something dank and stale like the grave, yet it did not rot. Something wicked and very powerful, yet she did not fear it. She feared nothing! She pulled her awareness back to near human levels and saw Dracula approaching her through the patterns of the living forest. Although she had valued his assistance in the battle, she did not trust his motives, and saw no need to consider further discourse with him.
Dracula saw only a slim woman in a skintight armored suit. The only thing that separated her god-form from her human countenance was the blue tint of her hair and skin, and the piercing glow of her eyes. At times, he could detect a ripple of distortion around her as though she was disturbing the flow of time. There was power here, power that Dracula recognized but did not understand. To him her power seemed very similar to that which the vial of ancient demon dust radiated, yet it was even more charged. He had existed but a few centuries. The timeless existence of an Old One was beyond his comprehension.
"You appear very different from when I first saw you in human form. Might I add, that this form is even more intriguing," Dracula commented as he approached her cautiously, trying to reach her mind and take control. It was like a mouse trying to hypnotize a tiger.
Focusing his concentration, he locked his eyes on hers and crooned hypnotically, "Come with me, my goddess. Power such as yours is wasted on mere mortals. If you join me I will share the secrets of eternity with you. Together we will be truly invincible."
Outraged that this worm would dare seek to join with her Illyria picked him up and threw him down violently! "You insolent piece of carrion!" she raged. "How dare you approach even the dirt beneath my boots? You reek of death and decay. Your flesh seems to writhe with a host of maggots. Your spirit is drowned in darkness. You are less than nothing."
Dracula picked himself up slowly, stunned by her attack.
"And you, my dear," he gasped, "reek of power, but a power that has been diminished. I believe you are a shell of what you once were."
Illyria turned the word 'shell'over in her mind. It was the Fred-shell that Dracula has seen before this night. She was furious at his taunt and even more furious that he was trying to probe her mind, to take control of her actions, to make her his servant!! She, Illyria who had ruled countless empires!!!
"Yes," she admitted, "It is true that my power is diminished, but I still require very little of it to crush a half-breed such as yourself!" Furious that this arrogant fool had taunted her with her loss of god-king status and tried to probe her mind with his dirty mental fingers, she seized him again, this time by the throat. Long forgotten was the fact that Dracula had fought beside them, that they needed his help, and that she now fought alongside another half-breed and members of a species so new it had not existed during her reign on this planet.
She tightened her grip as Dracula struggled, kicking out with his feet, ripping at the deceptively delicate-looking hand that circled his neck. He tried to dissolve but Illyria's power kept him solid as her fingers dug into his neck. He didn't need to breath but pain was no pleasure for the count. Then suddenly, Illyria eased her strangle hold and threw him away from her.
As soon as he landed on the ground he sprang up holding his neck.
"Vermin," Illyria spat out, "do not attempt to approach me again! Your duplicitous behavior does not deceive me. Harm Spike or any of the others and I will dispatch you back to the hell dimension from whence you crawled."
Dracula slunk off, back towards Spike and Haley, his plan to propose that Illyria be his mate reluctantly abandoned. Now he just wanted Spike's blood so he could be powerful enough to punish that blue witch!
In disgust, Illyria turned away from his retreating figure and moved back through the forest towards the clearing and the Land Cruiser. From a distance and even in the dark she could see the human Lia kneeling beside one door of the SUV, probing the lock with tiny metal tools. Illyria quickly found the young Slayer Mena and silently beckoned her to follow. In the clearing of the moonlit forest she pointed to Lia who had just managed to open the door and was now searching through the back seat. Together, they dashed up behind the unsuspecting woman. Illyria pulled Lia out of the car and threw her over the hood where Mena held her struggling form. Just then Mike and Xander, with Haley following behind, came into the clearing, carrying Spike on the makeshift stretcher.
"What the hell is going on here," Xander called out, as Mike looked on in worried surprise.
"She was trying to steal the goblet," Mena explained as she pulled Lia from the hood and pushed her to the ground in front of the group.
The woman quickly stood up, her haughty features indicating her annoyance. "Well, why not?" she sneered. "We are all working toward the same thing. Right? Besides, we have more expertise than a hundred untrained Watchers and a thousand ignorant Slayers. A job this important should be left to the experts, not your little band of untrained incompetents!"
Mike's face blanched white as he heard her speak. "Lia," he pleaded, "what the hell is wrong with you? I think you had better explain..."
"No! Forget it!" Xander ranted angrily. "You know what? I don't think we're in any mood to hear her excuses or yours either, Mike. We appreciate your help in the fight but now both of you can just take a hike. Should have known we couldn't trust any of Wolfman and Hart's minions."
"Xander, please, give us a chan ," Mike tried to interrupt.
"No!! Just go!!!" Xander demanded. Mena stood at one shoulder, Illyria at the other, backing him up.
Mike hesitated then reluctantly nodded his chin in the direction of the road. He couldn't believe Lia had pulled such a stupid stunt, but knew it was no use arguing with her about it. At least not here! They wasted no time loping down the path towards their car.
"Guys, we need to get Spike into the car and get moving," Haley reminded them. "There may still be vampires around and in addition to his side wound, Spike has a severe concussion. That's more serious than even his blood loss. According to the map that retreat should be nearby, and hopefully, now, minion free. We have to get him to some place safe then work on getting him well." She turned and looked to Mena, saying, "A little bit of Slayer's blood might do the trick. Without it he might take weeks to recover."
Mena blanched somewhat at the thought, although she knew she would do whatever it took to help Spike recover. She pulled back from the group while Xander and Illyria loaded Spike into the back of the SUV.
Spike was still groggy, but could hear some of the conversation going on around him. He desperately wanted to help his team, but every movement he made opened the wound again, or made his head spin. Not only that, he was painfully aware of the count's constant presence.
Dracula stood by watching and saw his opportunity to speak to Mena alone. In capitalist terms what Dracula was doing was interviewing prospective employees for a job he needed to fill: Consort. Mena was a child but to Dracula, who had lived for centuries, all humans were little more than children. Even when he had been mortal, a girl of Mena's years would have been thought to be of prime marriageable age, even a girl several years younger, so Dracula did not feel he was breaking any taboo with the girl. Not that that would have stopped him. He looked at Mena's smooth skin, her rich hair, her pretty face and her tight, hard little body. Yes, she was indeed desirable. Perhaps her youth would make her more pliant, easier to break to his will, train to his purpose. Dracula watched the group around Spike and while their attention was diverted he approached Mena.
"Ahhh...my dear Slayer, I was very impressed by your fighting abilities tonight, as well as your beauty. It must be difficult for such a lovely young woman to be alone," Dracula purred, using all his charm, his voice soft and silky.
For a moment, Mena was confused. Even though Dracula had fought beside them tonight, he had remained aloof and had barely said a word. Now he was brazenly flattering her, smiling seductively and turning on the charm. She realized he must be up to something. After all, from everything she had read and heard about him, Mena knew he was evil and dangerous. Still, she found herself attracted to him, as even Buffy had been.
"I...I'm not alone. I'm with my friends," Mena declared, though her voice quivered a bit too much.
"Ah, yes, your friends. I am sure that they are fine company, but don't you want someone special, someone just for yourself?" Dracula almost cooed.
Of course she did. She couldn't deny it, But that was a point of weakness: A teenaged girl's desire for a boyfriend of her own. Now she understood what the count was trying to do.
Dracula reached out to Mena's mind and found - a wall. Mena felt him prying at her mind and she chanted the mantra her grandmother had taught her. Chanted it and kept him out.
"Come to me, my beautiful girl. I will be that special someone you desire. You will be my consort. Join me and I will reward you with eternal life and more power than you can imagine," Dracula insisted, holding out his hand to Mena.
Dracula stood there, his hand outstretched, his mind concentrated on bending the young girl to his will, but Mena staunchly resisted. Curious as to what was going on, Xander finally came up behind them and overheard Dracula's words.
"Why you cradle-robbing, poofy-shirted, sicko pervert!! Guess you didn't learn your lesson the last time Buffy kicked your ass? Don't you dare try that thrall stuff on Mena," Xander yelled and swung a punch at Dracula's face. Dracula dissolved into a mist and Xander's momentum sent him crashing to the ground. The vampire reformed a few feet away as Xander leapt to his feet saying, "I told you the last time we met that, 'one round of an old fashioned fist fight and you'd fold.' Only a coward opts out for a cheap gypsy trick rather than facing a fair fight, but then I guess that would be so typical of you!"
Dracula looked startled for a moment, then a look of epiphany passed across his face and he said, "I remember now. My former emissary." He smiled. Or, more correctly, smirked.
"Step aside. Do not interfere," Dracula ordered Xander as he reached out with his mind. As he did so, Xander felt himself weakening and began the chant Mena had taught him: Shupaza Hiari Wangu, Shupaza Hiari Wangu, "Strengthen my self will, strengthen my self will."
Dracula redoubled his efforts, outraged that this was the third creature to resist his thrall in the last hour.This one he would rule!
Xander felt himself weakening, felt himself settling back into a comfortable subjugation. Self-contempt filled his mind like the bitter taste of bile in his mouth. Just as he was about to give in to this all too familiar, hypnotic force, it suddenly stopped. He looked around and saw Illyria throwing Dracula like a bull throwing a cowboy. The count crashed into the branches a nearby tree, clung there for a moment then slipped through and to the ground, landing lightly on his feet.
Xander glared at him as, on either side of him, the little Slayer and the Old One glared as well.
"Okay, Vlad. That does it! Game over Pal! Truce ended! Nice doing business with you, but if you aren't gone by the time I count to ten, I'll let Illyria rip you to shreds. And trust me, your slick gypsy tricks won't work with her."
Dracula regarded them all coolly for a moment, then flashed a malevolent smile and gave a mock bow. Turning away, he sent a covert glance over to Haley at the SUV, then vanished into a mist and was gone.
After Dracula left, Haley tried once again to hurry the team. "Guys, come on we have to get going," she urged. Illyria got in the front seat of the SUV and Mena climbed in the back with Spike, as Xander prepared to close the hatch.
The motion roused Spike from his semi-stupor and he glanced in Xander's direction. "Look, I know I was pretty far out of it," he murmured hesitantly," but please tell me I didn't hear that tosser trying to hit on Mena."
"Wish I could," Xander shuddered with disgust, "but unfortunately it's true!"
"He wanted to be my special someone," Mena blushed and giggled softly.
"Spike tried to shake his head in disbelief, but the pain made him feel dizzy. "Oh bloody hell," he sighed wearily, "knew I should have dusted that arrogant wanker when I had the chance." Closing his eyes for a moment, Spike willed his surroundings to stop spinning before he continued," Now that we have his precious cup, you can bet we haven't seen the last of the bastard. Once he tortures any remaining minions back into submission, he'll be back!"
"Speaking of minions," Spike winced as he turned to look around, "where did Wolfram and Hart's Dynamic Duo run off to?"
"Uhmmm, actually," Xander hedged, "Lia tried to pocket the goblet, so I kinda gave them their walking papers."
"Bugger!" Spike cursed softly. "Mike's a decent bloke and hell with a crossbow, but that partner of his is a treacherous little viper. Trouble is, this leaves us a bit short handed."
"All the more reason we have to get you patched up," Xander whined, "and fast! Fighting alongside the Dark Prince was weird enough. Fighting against him...uhmmm, I don't...let's not even go there!"
"Sorry I wasn't much help for you, mate," Spike winced as Mena adjusted his bandage, "but from what I thought I heard, seemed like you were holding your own pretty well, Harris."
"Yeah? Well if you heard that much you probably heard my knees knocking in terror too." Xander laughed nervously then nodded proudly at Mena and Illyria. "Don't know what I would have done without the super girl power!"
"Can't argue with...you...you there...,"Spike slurred as the fog once again invaded his consciousness. "A strong wo woman...is good to...."
"He keeps fading in and out!" Mena whimpered. Her face clouded with worry.
"Xander! We're wasting time!" Haley and Illyria called in unison.
Quickly closing the hatch, Xander slipped into the driver's seat and started the engine. "Okay, Mena, hold our Sleeping Beauty steady back there. We're on our way."
About a mile from the clearing, Mike climbed into the parked Range Rover and slammed the door with a vengeance. Lia gave him her usual lethal glare. It was the same look that usually withered his resolve and made him back down, but this time he was livid.
"Congratulations, Lia!" he snarled. "Thanks to you our job just got a hell of a lot harder."
"Don't be ridiculous," she glowered, "I was merely doing my job, you know, like I was supposed to do! We were instructed to secure one of the artifacts, or have you forgotten?"
"No, I haven't, but our prime objective is to keep Spike safe. What do you think Sirk would say if he found out we left a wounded Spike and his team to fend for themselves because 'lovely Lia' carelessly wore out our welcome?"
"The battle was over, you fool, and the vampire will heal!"
Mike regarded her coldly for a moment. It was so satisfying for him to finally have her on the defensive, and he could feel the anger coming off her in waves.
"As far as I'm concerned, the battle is over when Spike and his team are tucked away safely on a plane out of this miserable country, and we're on the very next plane out right behind them! Until then every time they move, we tail them! Got it? Or should I clear that with Sirk?"
Lia started to protest, but Mike ignored her and switched on the scanner. "Buckle up, Baby!" he smirked, enjoying her growing frustration and rage. "Looks like they're on the move again! So, unless you feel like hoofing it back to town, I suggest you sit tight, shut up and enjoy the ride!"
Haley glanced back at Spike. She saw his body jump as the SUV rolled over a hole in the road. Spinning around she moved forward towards Xander, who was driving. "Xander, could you please slow down." She added, jokingly, "I do think you actually missed running over a hole back there. You seemed to have managed to hit every one in the road so far."
"Sorry," Xander sang out. "Just anxious to get some mileage between us and the bad guys."
"Can you do it without putting more bruises on our backsides?" she snapped back. Xander flinched at Haley's scolding. Checking out the rear view mirror, he saw her give him a look that he could swear would melt stone and it was a look that actually surprised him. For her it was totally out of character, but he quickly dismissed it as her being concerned about Spike's injuries, as well as the possibility of being pursued by a pretty pissed-off Count Dracula. Gripping the steering wheel harder he repeated the chant that Mena had taught him. He swore that this time he was not going to be the one to fall under Dracula's thrall.
"Haley," Mena softly said. She sat in the back of the SUV next to Spike. Gently touching the watcher's hand she whispered, "He won't admit it, but he's worried about Spike, just like the rest of us."
Mena was surprised to hear Spike softly murmur, "I've hurt myself worse shaving."
"Spike! Are you all right?" both Mena and Haley said in unison.
"I think so," he hesitantly replied. "Have a bloody headache the size of Bill Gate's wallet, and I'm also hearing double." Slowly he opened his eyes and quickly regretted it as his head firmly asked for complete attention. Slowly rubbing his forehead he lay back and willed himself to heal quicker.
"Haley, coming to a fork, which way?" Xander shouted.
Using a flashlight Haley examined a large map. "Almost there Xander, take the left fork and we'll be just two miles from the retreat."
"Great! I can't wait to take a hot shower and get into some dry clothes. I'm soaked to the skin."
The previous rainfall had managed to drenched them to the bone. By now, everyone in the car agreed they would be happy just to find a nice warm, dry place to rest and recoup for what could very well be a battle with Dracula and what was left of his minions.
Ten minutes later Xander saw the headlights of the SUV reflect brightly off of a large building directly ahead.
"End of the line guys, we're at the retreat. A roof and hopefully hot showers await."
Xander parked the SUV just in front of the large building. Opening his door he rushed out and ran to the back of the vehicle. Quickly lifting the hatch, he began to help Mena ease Spike out of the car. Haley and Illyria climbed out and hurried over to the entrance of the retreat. Haley let out a frustrated sigh as she found the door to be locked.
"Oh bollocks!" She cursed, slamming her fist in frustration on the solid wooden door.
"What is wrong?" Illyria asked her.
"The door is locked, we won't be able to "
She wasn't able to finish her sentence as Illyria pulled her back. Placing her hand on the knob Illyria rammed her shoulder into the heavy wooden door. It immediately opened as the wood around the door handle splintered in her grip. With a broad smile she proudly declared,"Obstacle eliminated."
Spying Xander having a hard time walking with Spike, Illyria quickly moved to help them.
"Sorry love," Spike panted, hanging heavily on Xander and Mena for support. "Need a bit to catch my breath. I'll be all right in a tic."
"Allow me," Illyria offered. Stepping up to Spike she gently lifted him into her arms. She easily walked with him to the entrance.
"Bloody hell, Blue," Spike moaned. "A guy has to have some dignity."
"Is this that guy thing you were speaking about earlier?" Illyria asked Mena.
Mena nodded her head. Ever since she had joined them Illyria had a million questions about being human, most of them being about how different men and women were. Mena told her that sometimes when a man does something that is contrary to what a woman would do, their reply would be "It's a guy thing". Secretly, Mena loved seeing Illyria carrying Spike. Since he looked so helpless in her arms, she just wanted to mother him.
Illyria shook her head. "Men are such fragile creatures. It is a good thing I chose a woman's body to use as a vessel for my rebirth." She quickly walked towards the door of the building, leaving Xander behind.
Feeling useless, Xander rolled his eyes then called out, "I'll just get some of our things, and the goblet. Unless of course I'm too fragile to lift it." Spinning around he ran back to the SUV. Retrieving the sack that held the golden goblet he also grabbed a suitcase filled with weapons and other things they used in battle.
Glancing back at the dark building he didn't see any lights going on. "Bad luck, you just won't let go will you?" Xander whined. His answer came as a flash of lightning streaked across the sky. Letting out a heavy sigh he also dragged out some lanterns. Quietly he thanked Haley's perfectionism in stocking the SUV. He prepared himself for a scolding look as he brought in the lanterns he had previously insisted they wouldn't need. "I guess I can add electricity and a howitzer to my wish list."
Once Haley entered the retreat she slowly shook her head in dismay. A flash of lightning revealed in just how dreadful a condition Dracula's army had left the building.
"My God, the place is in a shambles," she gasped. She was standing in a large foyer and from the looks of the place she wondered how it had managed to stay up. There was nowhere to sit since most of the furniture had been wrecked far beyond any use. The walls had massive holes in them and several were scrawled with crude graffiti. Her nose crinkled from a sour smell that permeated the building.
"Whew! What died?" Mena asked, as she walked into the foyer.
Illyria was right behind her carrying Spike in her arms. "Oh bollocks," he mumbled. "I don't think this is much of an improvement over the bleeding forest."
"Spike, you really must watch your mouth," Haley scolded him.
A small puzzled frown curved Illyria's lips. She wondered why Haley chastised Spike for using the same word she herself had spoken not minutes earlier.
Haley rushed over to Spike. "It's still a roof Spike. We'll be dry and warm, just what the doctor ordered. We just need to tidy up a small space that we can use for the day while you recuperate."
Spike looked about the area. Through the darkness he was able to make out a long hallway that led to the back of the retreat. To the right was a large sitting room; to the left was what looked like a library. Books were strewn throughout the room.
"Gee," Xander said as he walked through the door. "Someone threw a rave party and didn't invite us."
"Always the bridesmaid," Spike joked.
Mena smiled hopefully. At least Spike was well enough to joke. If he stopped being so snarky she would know his wounds were more severe than they realized.
Putting down the leather case that held the weapons and the lanterns Xander wiggled his eyebrows at Spike. "Speaking of bridesmaids, now that Illyria has carried you over the threshold, do the two of you want to be alone? 'Cause with all those holes in the walls I don't think it's physically possible."
Spike scowled and kicked his legs out. "Let me down, Blue!" his voice tinged with embarrassment.
"Hold that thought," Haley said. She rushed into the sitting room. With Xander's help they flipped over a couch and covered it with some blankets they found piled up in a corner of the room.
Mena found a large fireplace in the room. There were several logs already in the hearth so she immediately began making kindling from pieces of broken furniture. In minutes she had a warm fire blazing. The welcome glow from the flames brightly lit up the room.
Once they had the couch covered Illyria gently put Spike down. As she pulled her hand back she noticed the wetness on her arm. "Your wound, it has opened."
Spike tried to pull his coat over to cover it but Haley pulled his hand back. Her brows furrowed in concern. "It's bleeding again. Oh dear, this is never going to heal. We need to find something to sew it up, as well as some clean sheets to use as bandages."
"Yeah, but that would be in the hospital about fifty miles to the south of Bistritz," Xander said.
Mena was alarmed at the amount of blood that soaked Spike's bandage. He had never once let on how bad his injury was during their ride here. She had been more concerned about the head wound during the trip. Now that he was conscious she quickly realized that the wound on his side could be just as grave. Standing up, she gently smiled at Spike. "I will try to find what you need." She heard her voice crack with concern. She could see in Spike's deep blue eyes that he heard it as well.
"Take your time, love, I'll be right here."
Silently nodding her head Mena took one of Xander's lanterns. Lighting it she began to search the other rooms for something they could use to help Spike.
Xander joined her in the search. Half an hour later Haley was using a needle and thread that Mena found to stitch Spike's wound closed.
Spike grimaced in pain each time she dug her needle into him. "I am soooo sorry," she apologized for what seemed the hundredth time. She cringed each time she felt Spike shiver from the needle.
"Can't be helped luv," Spike groaned. "Just try to speed it up. Right? Don't know how long I can take it."
Once she finished sewing the wound Spike stretched out on the couch, and let out a halting breath. "Never knew you had seamstress on your resume."
Haley tucked the needle back in the case that Mena had given her. "Well, I am a watcher after all. It's my job to know many things."
Mena held the bloody bandages in her hands. "How do we get rid of these? If Dracula should show up we can't let him get any part of Spike's blood."
"I know what to do with them," Xander said. Taking them from Mena, he walked over to the fireplace and threw them into the flames. The bandages puffed instantly into a small cloud of dust.
"What about the goblet?" Xander grasped the bag that held Dracula's goblet.
Spike held his hand up. "If you don't mind, I'd like to keep that blasted thing near me. I'm still weak but Dracula's going to have to pry this thing from my undead fingers to get it."
Xander handed the bag to Spike. "Or dusty fingers, I imagine the latter would be much easier."
Spike smiled and tucked the bag into the confines of his leather coat. "We'll see who's going to end up in a dust buster first."
Haley sat down on a large cushion that lay on the floor. "I do have to admit, that Dracula seemed very powerful during the battle. Not to mention the control he had over those wolves. That was quite impressive! In fact I do believe that I actually saw him turn into one."
"Just smoke and mirrors," Spike scoffed. "Trust me, that wanker is the king of illusion and deception. How do you think he's lasted all these years?"
"I don't believe it's only that Spike," Haley countered. "There are many legends about werewolves and wolves in both the old and new worlds. The American Indians revered wolves. Many tribes thought of them as spirit guides and totems that protected them through life. In Europe however the wolf has traditionally been thought of as an evil spirit."
"Werewolves are a whole different animal though," Xander offered. "Oz is one, but he's still half man and half beast. I think Haley is right, Spike. I saw Dracula change into the real thing too." Thinking about it a bit more he added, "I wonder what it's like to turn into a wolf? Must hurt like the dickens."
Spike squirmed uncomfortably on the couch. All this talk about wolves reminded him of what Wesley had said earlier.
Mena sat down next to Haley. "I'll never forget the time we had a Cherokee Indian visit our village. He told me a story that I've never really understood, until I felt my slayer powers come alive."
"What was it about?" Haley asked.
"The story went like this:
"A wise man," Illyria slowly nodded her head.
"The Indian's are a very old and wise people," Mena replied. "They respect the land and animals. Unfortunately, other races on this earth have not followed their ways. It was when my slayer powers came alive that I realized that I had two wolves inside of me. The demon who gave me my slayer powers as well as my human self. I have to use the demon in my battles, but I nurture the good side myself."
As the others continued to discuss the story Spike thought just how closely the words echoed his life. As the voices in the room began to fade he recalled the times in his past when he had fed the evil within. It was after he met Buffy that he began to nurture the humanity inside of him. His Compassion, Love, Hope all the traits that wise old Indian had said the good wolf represented.
Even when the demon's hold on him was as strong as the day Dru sired him, deep inside a small spark refused to be extinguished.
Closing his eyes, Spike tried to rest, tried to heal his wounds, and tried to wrestle with the possibilities that his connection to Dracula and his children of the night might be deeper than he realized.
Several hours later Spike opened his eyes and released a long yawn. Stretching his legs out he was pleased to have only a slight headache and a sting in his side. It was still painful but not enough to keep him immobile. "Guess that sewing did the trick," he whispered quietly. Glancing around he saw a large blanket covering the lone window in the room. Bright light struggled to enter from around the sides. A large fire blazed in the fireplace.
"Have you recovered sufficiently?" he heard Illyria ask him. She was sitting on a large cushion on the floor. Raising his arms he moved them to the side. "I have to admit a bit of sleep and some expert needlework must have done the trick. Did you eat breakfast yet?"
"Try supper," Xander said as he entered the room. He held some dry crackers and bottled water in his hands. Most of the kitchen was trashed, but they were able to find several things to eat in a large cupboard. "Not hot and healthy but hey, it's food."
Slowly Spike tried to sit up from the couch. "Damn, I've been asleep too long, what bloody time is it?"
"Rest Spike, we're safe, for now," Xander insisted. "It's nearly six pm. You were sleeping so soundly we didn't want to disturb you. Haley even managed to redress your wound without waking you up."
Looking down Spike noted that he had a clean bandage. Remembering something, he checked for Dracula's goblet.
"Don't worry about that," Xander said. "Even asleep you almost had a death grip on the thing."
"Can't let Count Ponce-a-lot get his bloody hands on it." Spike tried again to rise from the couch but discovered that he still was not one hundred percent. His head began to swim. Xander gently pushed him back onto the couch.
"Just try to relax Spike, so far no sign of a cape, teeth, or fur. In fact it's been quite a pleasant stay. Our clothes have dried out, and we even managed to wash some of the grime out, it was a cold wash, but at least I don't have that lived in smell anymore."
Spike lay his head back on the couch's arm rest. "I was going to mention that."
"I noticed that you never smell bad, even after a fight. Is that also a vampire thing?"
"No, I just tuck some of them bleeding hanging car deodorants under my arms. You ought to try it sometimes, works wonders."
"Riiight," Xander drawled.
Xander noticed that once Spike laid his head back on the couch he immediately fell asleep. He didn't know how long it would take Spike to heal, but he prayed that Dracula stayed away long enough for Spike to get at least ninety percent close to normal.
Haley rushed into the room. "I heard his voice, is he well?" Stepping up to Spike she gently placed her hand on his forehead, then shook her head. "Damn, it's hard to tell if a vampire is sick or not. They're always so lukewarm to the touch."
Xander moved over to the blanket that hung over the window. "From the way he snapped back at me I'd say he's well down that road to recovery." Pulling the blanket back just a crack Xander looked outside. The sun was just setting, so they might be spending a second night in the retreat. They needed to get out of there as fast as possible, but that would not happen until they knew that Spike was strong enough to fight Dracula or his minions.
"Illyria, I'll take over watching him," Haley told her. "Mena managed to find several edible items in the kitchen's cupboard. I think you should eat as much as you can. We don't know when our next meal will be."
Illyria stood up from the cushion. "I will leave him in your capable hands."
Once she left the room Haley stared at the sleeping vampire. Placing her hand inside of her pocket she rolled the vial of blood between her fingers. She needed to find a way of taking the goblet from Spike. Once she accomplished that she would have to find the master. She needed to complete the task that he had entrusted to her.
"Xander," she called out.
Xander dropped the blanket and turned to face her, "Yeah?"
"Why don't you ask Mena to make a pot of tea. I'm sure that Spike would love a nice hot cuppa."
"I think he's more of a warm beer kinda guy. Besides, he's sound asleep."
"Please Xander, I'm sure the tea will do him a wealth of good and he's bound to wake up soon."
Blinking his eyes, Xander slowly nodded his head in reluctant agreement. "Okay, okay, Nurse Nancy. I'll go get it. Be right back."
"Take your time!" she murmured softly as he left the room. "And I'll take all the time I need." Stepping up to Spike she quietly began peeling his leather coat back, hoping to get Dracula's goblet. Quick as a flash Spike's hand moved to close his coat. It was just as he had done so many times before. Even with him unconscious, she was unable to wrest the goblet from his possession.
"Blast and double blast," she cursed. She closed her eyes as she heard her master's voice echo in her mind. Slowly she turned and walked to the foyer. Standing in the doorframe that led outside she closed her eyes and emptied out her mind.
In the cool breeze that blew on her face she heard her master's voice. "Spike's blood, bring it back to meee "
"I can't get the goblet but I'm sure the master will be pleased if I bring him the blood," she reasoned out loud.
Turning around she rushed back into the room where Spike was sleeping. She rummaged through a small pile of wet clothes and sighed in relief when she found the SUV's keys inside of Xander's pants pocket. Stepping outside she hurried to the truck, opened the door and prepared to put the keys in the ignition.
"Going somewhere?" she heard a voice from behind.
"Why are you here?" Haley hissed.
Xander slowly walked up to her. "Something that Illyria told me earlier just didn't click. She said she heard you say 'bollocks'. Now, that's a word I've heard Spike say a million times, but I've never heard you say it. And that look you gave me back in the SUV, not your Motus Operandi. Come on, Haley tell me. Is something wrong?" Xander searched her eyes, but saw only emptiness there. He waited for her to reply.
"The master calls to me," she mumbled.
"Huh? What in the world are you talking about?" Xander asked. "Wait! Don't tell me the prim and proper Haley has fallen under Dracula's thrall!"
Haley's brow furrowed in anger, the master wanted her. Xander was keeping her from following his orders. Ignoring him, she tried to get into the SUV.
"Oh no you don't, Missy!" Xander grabbed her arm and jerked her back. Haley let out a hiss and a snarl. "I'll take those," he muttered, snatching the car keys from her hand. As he did he noticed that she kept her other hand tucked in her pants pocket.
"Give them back to me!" Haley lunged forward, but Xander managed to keep them out of her grasp. "Hey! You're not fooling around are you?" Xander was shocked to hear the hate and venom in her voice. All this time he had been worried about being the one to fall under Dracula's thrall and it was Haley who would succumb to it, not him.
"I need to get to the master," Haley growled. "I need to give him Spike's blood."
"Whoa, wait a minute! What do you mean, Spike's blood?" Xander clutched the hand that Haley had hidden in her pocket. As he dragged it out he was shocked to see her tightly grasping a small glass vial filled with a red liquid.
Haley immediately took advantage of Xander's shock at seeing the vial. Drawing her foot back, she slashed it up and forward. She managed to clip Xander in the chin with the heel of her shoe, and he stumbled back from the blow, falling to the ground.
Relinquishing the SUV to Xander, she sprinted into the forest. The bushes and trees scratched her at her limbs as she ran into the darkness but she could not stop. She had to follow her master's voice. Soon her task would be complete. She hoped he would be pleased.
Sitting up Xander rubbed his chin. He saw Haley disappear into the woods. The sun was setting, so she couldn't have picked a more perfect time to go all mindless minion on them. Slamming his hand into the dirt, he growled in frustration. Standing up quickly, he rushed back into the retreat.
Mena was sitting peacefully with Spike. She watched him as he blew on the cup of hot tea she had just brought him. As he was about to drink it Xander staggered into the room.
"Haley's gone," he gasped. "Dracula's got her under his thrall and that's the good news. The really bad news is she took off with a vial of Spike's blood."
"What happened?" Mena asked him.
"I was suspicious, and stupid! I saw her do something that didn't seem quite like her and when I went to confront her alone, she got the better of me. Here I thought I'd be the one to fall under Dracula's thrall and it ended up being Haley."
"Then it wasn't a dream," Spike groaned. With Illyria's help he sat up straight. Standing gingerly he took in some deep breaths. "I swore I saw her talking to Dracula, but I thought it was all part of getting a knock on my noggin. If Xander is right we need to get to Haley before she reaches Dracula. Are you certain she's under his control?"
"Oh, yes, the classic signs of buttmonkeyship are all there. She said the master needs her, tried to steal the SUV and clipped me good on the chin." Xander gently moved his sore chin back and forth.
"Sounds like Drac's work all right." Spike double-checked to make sure he still possessed the goblet. Once he felt the hardness of the metal he was thankful that all she managed to get away with was only his blood.
"What do we do now?" Mena turned and asked Spike.
"We get to her before she reaches her precious Prince of Darkness."
"Are you well enough to fight?" Illyria questioned him.
Spike took a few steps forward testing his legs. Coming to a wall he drew his fist back and thrust it forward. As he pulled it back a large hole was left in the plaster. Rolling his fingers, Spike moved his head from side to side; cracking pops echoed in the room. "If I can do that to a wall, I guess I'm well enough to take on Dracula's lackeys." He dug his hands into his coat pockets. "Let's go find Haley." He frowned and quickly stalked out of the room. Spike was very concerned about Haley. He promised to hold back as long as possible until he found out just how much control Dracula had on the watcher.
Xander, Illyria, and Mena rushed ahead of him. At the doorway was the case that held their weapons. Each one of them grabbed all that they could carry. Leaving the retreat they saw that the sun had just set; its hazy pink glow lingered along the skyline.
Xander cocked his crossbow. He nodded towards his companions. "Let's lock and load." With that said, Xander led the way into the forest.
"Bloody John Wayne he ain't," Spike mumbled as he followed Xander.
"We go to fight?" Illyria asked Mena, slashing her sword in the air as she forcefully tramped away from the retreat.
Mena energetically nodded her head. "Oh yes, we go and fight. I just pray that Haley will be all right." Mena was actually shocked to hear that it was Haley who had given in to Dracula's thrall, not Xander. She silently prayed that they would be able to catch up with her before she gave Dracula any of Spike's blood, or he had the chance to get her even further under his control.
Meanwhile up ahead in the dense woods, Haley snarled in irritation as her hair caught onto a branch. Breaking it free she lumbered through the forest. Her master's voice began to grow louder. Greedily clutching the vial of Spike's blood to her breast she hurried through the underbrush.
She was unaware of just how long she had been running when she came upon a large glade. Stopping at the forest's edge she gave a sigh of relief. There, standing in the moonlight was her master, Dracula.
"Come to me my chattel," Dracula purred. "Bring to me what I asked of you."
Haley stumbled towards the count. She reverently held the glass vial in both hands.
Coming to him she handed him her stolen treasure. Taking the small glass tube Dracula held it up. He rolled it almost lovingly in his long fingers as his dark eyes studied the red liquid moving slowly against the sides.
"Haley NO!" Xander shouted from the forest's edge. As he entered the large glade he saw Dracula holding the glass vial that held Spike's blood and Haley obediently standing in front of him.
"I see you brought guests, very good," Dracula said. "Now my dear, where is my goblet?" His other hand reached out and motioned her to give the goblet to him.
Haley's eyes dropped to the ground. Her head was bowed in abject defeat. "I...I am s sorry, Master, I was unable to get the goblet away from Spike." She looked hopefully up into her master's face. "But I did manage to get his blood. Have I not pleased you?"
Dracula's hand moved up. His cold fingers slowly brushed her neck and traced her jaw line. Moving his hand back he slammed the back of it into her head. Haley flew through the air, across the glade and landed in the soft grass. "No, my dear, you did not please me at all!" Dracula snarled in disgust and rage.
Xander, Mena, and Illyria rushed over to where Haley had fallen. Spike remained glued to his position just opposite of where Dracula was standing.
Xander pulled out small bottle. It held what was left of Mena's tea. Quickly he forced the mouth of the bottle past Haley's lips. She tried to fight him, but Xander managed to make her swallow some of Mena's anti-thrall potion.
"The chant Haley," Xander insisted over and over. "Remember the chant!"
Once Mena's tea began to work, Haley was able to hear what Xander was saying. Closing her eyes she began to repeat the chant that Mena had taught them. Slowly Dracula's voice inside of her head began to fade away. Opening her eyes she saw several concerned faces gazing back at her.
"Haley, are you all right?" Mena gasped. She saw a large bloody cut on the side of Haley's face.
With Dracula's spell now broken, Haley wanted to crawl under a rock and die. "Oh God, I'm so sorry," she whimpered. Tears began to stream down her face. "How could I have been so weak? I'm sorry I...I betrayed you."
"Not your bloody fault," Spike said from where he stood. "Ol' Drac here has a way of bringing out the very worst in people."
A wicked smile formed on Dracula's face. "Ahhh, you know me well Spike."
"Too sodding well!" Spike replied. Slowly Spike took a step forward. Spreading his arms out he asked, "So, what now, Legend?"
"Why, I get my goblet from you." The count sneered in contempt.
Spike's taunting laughter echoed in the glade. "Not bloody likely! You seem to have missed one very important little thing. You don't have your bleeding minions here to help you. So now if you don't mind, PISS OFF!"
Dracula's sly smile grew to encompass his handsome face. "Perhaps then, you do not know me as well as you thought you did." Throwing his cape from his shoulders he shouted, "Come!"
"Spike!" Xander shouted. "Ummm, the trees are moving."
"Not the trees, mate," Spike replied. "Something else," he whispered. Quickly he rushed back to where Haley had fallen. Spike knew that they needed to stick together now. In seconds what remained of Dracula's fallen army began to appear from the forest. They slowly marched out of the forest and stopped just behind their master. Though their ranks had been decimated from the previous battle, they were still a powerful force and with Dracula now leading them, Spike knew this fight could be even more difficult.
"This is most pleasing to me. I am anxious for more combat," Illyria declared. She stepped up to stand next to Spike.
Mena pulled two stakes out and clutched them tightly in her hands. "I think I can always use more practice." She stood up and walked over to stand defiantly next to Illyria.
Xander stared into Haley's eyes, he tried to gauge whether the old Haley was still there. "Are you back with us yet? Either way I don't think your previous master is going to let you off easy."
"I tried to fight him," Haley swore softly. "But his will, it's just "
"..too strong," Xander finished for her. He sadly smiled at her. "You forget! I was one of his buttmonkeys too." Taking in a deep breath Xander stood up. "From one buttmonkey to another, how about now we kick his butt?" He extended his hand to her. Taking it she stood up, and was pleased to find Xander handing her a crossbow.
"Let's show him what watchers are really made of," she whispered as bravely as she could.
Slowly they walked to either side of their companions. Standing together the B.I.G. B.A.D.S. prepared to face what once again appeared to be, overwhelming odds.
Spike was glad to see apprehension on many faces among the dregs of Dracula's army. Several of them actually began to step back. This reluctance was not unnoticed by Dracula.
"What are you afraid of!" he snarled. "They are my enemy! I order you to kill them and bring me back my stolen goblet."
Dracula's rage grew as he saw that none of his men were stepping forward.
"How dare you fear them and defy my orders? It is I that you should fear! I, Dracula, lord of all that you see before you. Master over men and beasts. Not these insignificant creatures! Disobey me this time and you will die along with my enemies!"
Then throwing his head back Dracula released a howl that filled the forest. In seconds his wolves once again appeared. His frightened troops recoiled in terror as the great canines approached, and memories of the recent carnage filled their minds.
"Fools!" Dracula bellowed at his hesitant troops. "You need not fear the beasts, for they fight with you this time, not against you. Now go my army! Go my children! DESTROY THEM!"
Spike's team stood their ground, though the thought of fighting both Dracula's minions and now his wolves struck terror in their hearts.
"Any chance of interesting the big dogs in some Kibble and Bits, instead of our bits?" Xander joked anxiously, gesturing towards the restless pack. His answer was a rumble of fearsome growls. "Okay then, guess we can take that as a definitive no," he swallowed and stepped back closer to his teammates.
Gripping their weapons, they braced for the attack. But, for some reason, neither the minions nor the wolves made a move!
Spike began to nervously pace back and forth. With the arrival of the wolves his energy seemed to brim over. Was Wes right? Did he really have a inner wolf?
Stepping close to Xander, he opened his coat and pulled out the goblet. "I'm about to do something I hope I don't end up regretting later," he said. "Just in case this doesn't come out all roses and lollipops, I'm leaving this in your charge."
Xander reverently took the goblet from his hands. Unzipping his jacket, he plunged the treasured artifact within its confines. A humble, "Thanks," was all that he could think of to say. Xander was honored that Spike had entrusted him with something so important. Handing Spike a stake, Xander gave him a quick smile. "They'll have to pry it from my dead fingers."
"Let's bleeding hope it doesn't come to that mate, now stay back," he growled to the others.
Taking a step forward he slowly began to feel his connection to the wolves grow stronger. Dracula's head jerked back as he felt a change in the rank and his power being challenged. His troops sensed this too, and nervously watched their master for a sign.
Gripping his stake tighter, Spike dipped his head slowly down. His eyes stared ahead, towards the pack of wolves that surrounded the count. With a feral growl Spike shook his head as his game face appeared. His now golden eyes almost glowed in the darkness.
The wolves started to pace back and forth as they gazed first at Dracula, and then at Spike. They were unsure which one was the alpha male! When they first arrived it was the one who had called them. But now, the one who stood before them felt more powerful. Slowly, they began to walk forward, to where Spike was standing.
Spike was shocked to see the wolves approach him, for that was exactly what he was willing them to do. It was as if they were in tune with his inner thoughts.
"NO!" Dracula bellowed. "You are my children of the night. You will listen to me, not this traitorous excuse for a vampire." Dracula stood firm, his eyes narrowed in concentration, as he frantically called the wolves to him.
The wolf pack seemed to be confused. They looked again at Dracula, then at Spike. A battle of wills was now being fought, with a four-legged army as its prize.
Slowly, cautiously, the wolves all began to turn towards Spike. They lowered their heads in submission, denoting that Spike was now their pack leader. Spike smiled with wicked satisfaction as the count looked on in frustrated rage. Then, raising his arm he pointed towards Dracula's minions.
"Rip their bloody hearts out! Spike screamed.
Spinning around, the wolves loped over to where Dracula's troops stood. The woods were soon filled with piercing screams as they began to attack what was left of Dracula's army. Most of the minions stayed to battle in vain with the canines, but many turned away and fled into the forest.
"You take his lackeys, I'll handle Drac," Spike told his companions.
"Once again, into the breach," Haley sighed.
Illyria slashed her sword in the air. "My blade's hunger for blood is insatiable. I cannot wait to quench it." Without hesitation, she rushed to where the wolves were ripping apart what was left of the count's army.
"Wait for me!" Mena called out.
Taking a few skips forward she was met by two vampires. Wickedly smiling at them, she tightly clenched two stakes in her hands. Ducking a blow from the first vampire, she spun around and slammed one of her stakes into her other assailant. In a flash she rolled away on the ground and under a large bush. The remaining vampire tried to get to her under the branches, but the large thorns that grew on them were too sharp. Pulling back, Mena flung a stake through the bush. It landed expertly into the chest of the demon. Crawling out from under the bush, Mena nodded her head in satisfaction and grabbed her dust-covered stake from the ground. "Thanks for the workout guys," she smirked.
Standing up, she searched for more vampires to fight. Most of them had been forced to take on the wolves, but some were still able to find their way through the pack's ranks. Flipping her stake, she rushed over to an area where the minions were trying to slink away. She was pleased to find the wolves actually helping her. Looking back, she could hear Spike shouting orders to the wolves. The whole concept of these fierce animals obeying Spike and fighting beside them was fascinating to her. Once this fight was over she would have to ask him how he was able to do that.
"Silence!" Dracula hissed at Spike. "How dare you pretend to control my lupine army!"
"Not only do I bloody pretend, I think I'm doing a damn good job of controlling them."
Spike rushed forward to where Dracula stood. Both powerful vampires now faced each other, two combatants, more than ready for this climatic battle.
Spike slowly began to shift to his right. Not to be outdone, Dracula matched Spike's anger and determination as he also moved to his right. Both vampires moved in a large circle, oblivious to the battle as it raged around them. Spike only saw and heard Dracula, while the count's full attention was on Spike.
"I will have my goblet returned to me!" Dracula roared, as he rushed at Spike. "I have your blood now since your weak Watcher has betrayed you and delivered it to me. I will mix it with Mon Harken's dust and become the most powerful vampire on this planet. No one will be able to stop me."
"Is that right? We'll see about that! Give me all you bloody got," Spike countered.
Dracula lunged at Spike with nails that had grown to needle-like sharpness. Spike leapt in the air, catching a branch of a tree with one hand, and swung over the enraged count. Spinning around in the air, Spike landed firmly on the ground. "A perfect ten dismount if I might say so myself," he said with a laugh.
His laughter cut sharply into Dracula like a blade. After losing half of his army, the betrayal of his bride, and the treachery of his most trusted servant, Dracula now lost something that he had always prided himself in keeping total control of his temper. He recklessly lunged towards Spike. Anticipating the move, Spike moved to the side and the count clumsily stumbled past him.
"Toro!" Spike proudly declared. He spun around taking on the stance of a matador facing off against a bull in the arena. "I knew you were all smoke and mirrors. All those sodding tales of turning into a wolf and bat were just that, tales. Theatrical special effects to make horror movies sell better."
Dracula took in a deep breath. If he was to lose his temper, he thought, better to use it to his advantage.
"No my old friend, those were not tall tales or clever tricks." Dracula hunched forward. Spike swore that he could see Dracula shrink a bit. His teeth now began to grow right out of his mouth. "There is more truth to them than you think," Dracula slathered.
The smile on Spike's face began to fade as he was now witnessing a chilling transformation. He saw Dracula bend forward, and his fingertips touched the forest floor. Spike could see long, dark hair sprout right through Dracula's clothes.
His legs began to shorten, his fingers shrunk, as his body began to change into that of a wolf. In seconds his clothes had disappeared. Spike stared in stunned silence as he now stood before the biggest wolf he had ever seen.
"Bloody hell," Spike whispered. How was he going to be able to face this killing machine?
That thought quickly flew from his mind as the giant beast leapt towards him. Spike fell to the ground, his back landing hard on the forest dirt. Digging his hands deep into the wolf's long fur Spike locked his elbows as he fought to keep a mouth full of sharp teeth from tearing his throat out.
Spike roared in pain as Wolf/Dracula's hind legs pulled in, and his sharp nails gouged Spike's legs. Agony filled Spike's mind. He could faintly hear Dracula's voice whisper in his thoughts "Once I have the goblet, I will rule this world. After the ritual is performed, I will find your Slayer and finish the job she started with me. At long last, revenge will be mine!"
Drawing his knees in, Spike planted his feet on the wolf's stomach. He jerked his legs out, flinging Dracula off of him. The wolf/count hit a tree hard, landing at its roots. He lay there, trying to catch his breath.
"That is never going to happen!" Spike shouted. "No way in hell I'm letting you lay a bloody finger on Buffy! In fact, I may just have to kick your ass a second time for her sake!" His anger at the count's statement was so intense the fighting wolves intensity grew stronger as well. They fed off of the rising fury that emanated from their pack leader, Spike.
Standing up, Wolf/Dracula shook his body. He snarled and howled orders to the pack, but none would listen. As he saw Spike step closer to him, he realized that this battle was lost. Turning around he fled into the forest.
"Not so bloody fast," Spike yelled. He quickly raced after him, but the four-legged creature proved to be too fast for him. Spike realized that he needed something extra.
"Spike, remember what I said," Spike heard Wes's voice echo in his mind. "You have the power in you to defeat Dracula. Call upon the beast within!"
"Next thing you're going to be telling me is to use the force Luke," Spike mumbled. He called once again on his inner beast, his inner wolf, hoping that he could gain some extra strength that would help him catch up to Dracula. What happened next was something totally unexpected, and ended up really pissing Spike off.
Xander and Haley stood back to back. They fought bravely against what was left of Dracula's army. Any lingering fear they had about the wolves was long gone. Illyria was fighting side by side with the wolves and reveling in it. She loved communing with the beasts, as much as she did with all of nature around her. Using her blade she practically mowed the battling vampires to the ground. Mena tried to help where she could, only pausing for a moment when she saw Spike run into the forest chasing after a large black wolf.
"Remember the wise old chief's tale of the wolf, Spike," she softly whispered, and then returned to the fight.
Spike's eyes changed. They were more feral. A frightened grin crossed his face. "Oh my God, maybe it's not all smoke, and mirrors," he moaned.
Falling to the ground, Spike found himself kneeling, and yet somehow standing on all fours. He began to pant heavily. His head lowered, and then he felt something he was no stranger to--pain! Intense pain! Pain so strong that he had only felt it once before, in a dark crumbling cave, as his world had crashed and burned around him.
Arching his back, Spike screamed as he felt as if every bone in his body was breaking. Looking down he could see his fingers shrinking. His skin felt as if it were on fire. The agony seemed to encompass his entire body. It even flooded into his soul. Fear made his blood run cold through his veins when he saw hair begin to sprout out of his hands.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" he gasped. "Wesley you sodding wanker, did you forget to tell me something?" he howled.
In seconds Spike felt his mind begin to grow numb, his thoughts drifting away. His sense of sight, smell, and hearing intensified until he could see, smell, and hear everything in the forest, even more clearly than his vampiric abilities had ever allowed him to do.
A primitive part of his being awakened and began to take control. Its voice grew louder, stronger. HUNT, KILL, EAT, he heard the voice repeat deep inside. Spike fought to keep a part of himself, his human self, in control. It was then that he heard Mena's voice echo in his mind.
"Which wolf wins?...The one that you feed."
Spike looked deep into himself and into his soul. Slowly he summoned that part of himself that he had fought to keep hidden. Since the fateful day when he had reclaimed his soul he had tried to repress it, fearing what would happen if the beast resurfaced again unchecked. Now he needed his inner wolf to win this fight. But which one? The wanton killer or the fierce protector?
"Which wolf wins? The one that you feed," he heard again, and he knew what he had to do. Let the man, not the demon feed the beast within. He could feel that beast now, clawing to be released, so Spike opened his heart, opened his soul and allowed the wolf spirit to nourish itself. Then--he set it free!
Spike's form wavered as his legs grew shorter and his clothes began to melt into his body. A white glow surrounded him as the change began to grow quicker. A mournful howl filled the forest.
In seconds a huge white wolf stood on the cold forest floor in place of the soulful vampire. Panting heavily, Wolf/Spike shook off what remained of his confusion and pain. Then cocking his head to the side, he smelled the scent trail left by another of his kind. Quickly sprinting down the trail, within minutes he had caught up with his prey.
Wolf/Spike slowly stalked Wolf/Dracula. His head held high, his lips pulled back as a low growl rumbled from his throat.
Wolf/Dracula was now in an unfamiliar position. He faced an opponent who was clearly equal to him in power and strength. He could smell anger and determination flowing out of Wolf/Spike. The scent tingled in his nose.
Wolf/Spike tensed and stopped circling his enemy. He wanted this to end here and now. Once Wolf/Dracula stood still, Spike leapt in the air towards him. As he did his opponent met him in mid stride.
Wolf/Spike opened his mouth and bit into his enemy's thick neck. Wolf/Dracula countered with a painful grip on Wolf/Spike's paw. Landing on the ground, both beasts began to roll in the dirt as they wrestled for a better hold.
"Where did Spike go?" Xander said.
"DUCK!" Illyria shouted.
Squatting down, Xander felt a body sail over him with Illyria following. Standing up, Xander gave his blue goddess a wink. "That's what I like in a girl. Not afraid to rip a guy's head off, especially a vampires."
"A little help here!" Haley sang out. She was struggling with a vampire who was attempting to chew her hand off.
"No rest for the wicked," Xander sighed. He sprinted to her and plunged his stake into the vampire's chest.
Suddenly the wolves stopped fighting the minions. Once the great beasts hesitated; what was left of Dracula's army took this chance to flee into the woods. Moments later the pack ran into the forest, drawn by a great power struggle they sensed was taking place.
Illyria and Mena rushed over to where Haley and Xander were standing.
"Now why do you think they ran away?" Xander asked. "And where the hell did Spike go?" All froze as they heard a chorus of howls coming from the forest.
"Dear God, I pray that those howls are not heralding the demise of a certain white haired vampire," Haley said, her face drawn with worry.
Illyria used a piece of clothing from a fallen foe to clean the blood off her sword. Plunging it into her scabbard she placed her hands on the swords hilt. "I have no doubt that Spike will win this battle, for he is a true warrior. His command of the fearsome beasts was quite impressive. But how did he acquire this skill so suddenly?"
"I wondered about that myself. Let's go find out," Mena said. She led the way into the forest, in the direction she heard the wolves howling.
It didn't take them long to find where the animals had ran off to. As they came to the edge of a cliff, they found the wolf pack sitting on large rocks that dotted the landscape. They seemed to be calmly waiting for something. Searching ahead to where the pack's attention was directed, Xander saw a huge dark wolf, and a white wolf fighting close to the cliff's edge. The dark wolf he recognized as he had seen Dracula morph into it, but he had no idea where the white wolf had come from.
As they came closer to the battling wolves, the pack parted, allowing the humans to approach unharmed.
"I am not sure where that white wolf came from, but it looks like he's winning," Haley said.
Both Mena and Xander agreed, the white wolf, though smaller, was fighting with more ferocity than the darker one.
"What should we do?" Illyria asked.
Xander shrugged as he pumped his fist in the air and half heartily cheered, "Go white wolf?"
Wolf/Spike felt a rush of adrenaline race through his body. He was strengthened by the way the fight was going. Even though this was the first and he hoped the last time he would change into a wolf, he quickly found how easily he managed to adapt to being a creature with four legs. He liked his longer teeth, and especially liked the sharp claws. They were proving to be awesome weapons.
Wolf/Dracula howled in pain as Wolf/Spike dug his claws into his back. Effortlessly, the white wolf hopped over the darker one, preventing his opponent from running back towards the forest.
Wolf/Dracula slowly began to back up. He stopped when he reached the edge of the cliff. Turning he saw that the earth lay hundreds of feet below. Shaking his head he realized that staying a wolf would not help him win this battle. Not with this relentless and powerful rival!
Standing on his hind legs, he stretched his head up. In seconds the hair on his body began to recede. His mass grew longer, thinner. His clothes soon began to appear as the human shape began to reform out of the canine's form. In less than a minute Count Dracula had replaced the dark wolf.
"So that's what happens to his clothes," Xander softly whispered in awe. "Next sci-fi convention I go to I know a lot of attendees that are going to have a field day with this bit of information."
Wolf/Spike now faced Dracula's human form. As he slowly padded towards the powerful vampire, he saw the count pull out a large knife. He would never be able to defend himself as well against the sharp weapon in his wolf form, but as a vampire ? Once Wolf/Spike thought about returning to his vampire self, the change happened quickly.
Xander, Haley, Mena, and Illyria were startled as they saw something strange happening to the white wolf. It stood up like Dracula, and slowly its body began to change. They saw the white hair begin to recede into its body, all except for the top of its head. As its body grew longer they saw a familiar article of clothing begin to appear through the retreating white hair.
"To channel Giles," Xander said. "Oh, my GOD! Is that who I think it is? That's Spike!"
Standing there in shock, the BIG B.A.D.S watched in fascination, as the white wolf became an all too familiar platinum haired vamp! Suddenly Spike stood before them, panting as the intense pain from the change wracked his body and his mind.
Dracula immediately took full advantage of his confusion. Throwing his cape back, he lunged towards Spike. His handsome face marred as it morphed into a furious vampire's visage. His eyes were twisted in hate, and his fangs were bared. He needed to end this battle, and was determined to end it without delay.
"I will never allow myself to be defeated by one as low as yourself. Thousands of my enemies have perished before me. All have died easily by my own hand as shall you, Spike! A traitor to his own kind will never defeat a legend. This ends now!"
"I'll tell you what your enemies probably said before you cut their bleeding heads off. PISS OFF!" Spike panted. He fell to the ground as Dracula tackled him with all his strength.
"You insolent cur! No man talks to me in that manner and lives!" Dracula plunged his knife deep into Spike's shoulder. Spike roared in pain, as the blade tore into an old wound. It was then that he remembered the souvenir that he had brought with him from a previous battle in the Budapest Hellmouth.
"Look who's calling me a dog. You were scratching fleas with the best of them moments ago." Clutching Dracula closer to him, he kept the blade locked in his shoulder. "I can still smell the Milk Bones on your breath," he whispered. As Dracula struggled to escape Spike's vice-like grip, Spike used his other hand to take something out of his boot. Tightly clutching his prize, he grinned wickedly up at the Dark Prince.
"Prepare to die," Dracula hissed.
"Been there," Spike grunted. The sound of glass breaking was heard just before Dracula's mouth flew open in shock as he felt a sharp pain between his ribs. Standing up, he found the hilt of a knife sticking out of his chest. Opening his jacket he pulled out what was left of the glass vial that contained Spike's blood. The souled vamp's precious blood was now mixing harmlessly with his own as the vial had shattered when Spike's dagger plunged into his chest.
"I got that from one of your lackeys during a small altercation in the catacombs." Spike sneered as he struggled to stand. He pulled Dracula's knife from his shoulder. "I swore that I would return it to you if the opportunity ever arose. Looks like now was a good time."
Dracula stumbled back as he pulled the blade from his chest. The battle here was lost. With Spike's blood now soaking his own shirt he would be unable to evoke the power of the demon's dust hidden in his goblet, even if he was able to get it back. He knew the fight was truly at an end as he saw the wolves gather around Spike in homage and then begin to depart.
Spike's connection to them grew fainter. Turning he called out to them, "Thanks for the help, mates." It was then that he noticed that his friends had been watching him.
"Oh bugger," he groaned, "how long have you been standing there?"
Xander released a small cough, "Um, this suddenly gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."
"Bloody great," Spike growled. Spinning around, he turned his attention back to Dracula. He saw him standing near the cliff's edge. "As you said before, this ends now."
Spike practically flew towards his enemy, but skidded to a stop as he saw the count leap off of the cliff.
Tightly clenching his fists Spike screamed, "COWARD! I can't believe the tosser took the chicken way out."
"Actually, I think it was the bat way out," Haley corrected him.
With the full moon lighting the night sky, Spike saw a huge black bat fly up the cliff wall. It hovered inches away from Spike for a few seconds before flying into the night.
"You bloody wanker," Spike called out. "Get your Transylvanian bat ass back here and finish it! You sodding, bleeding, poncey, Princess of Darkness! You fight like a bloody girl you poofter!"
"Hey! Maybe you can turn into a bat?" Xander called out hopefully.
For a second Spike wondered if he had an inner bat. He angrily shook his head. "Bloody magic, never liked it, never will. Besides, I'll be damned if I'm going to pull off another one of his bleeding magic tricks to win a battle."
"Aww, you mean you don't want to change into a wolf again? That was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, Spike, magic or not," Mena enthused. She was absolutely gobsmacked when she watched the beautiful white wolf change into Spike. She secretly hoped that he would change again.
Illyria regarded Spike respectfully. "I share a kindred pride for you and your abilities, Spike. I pondered how you had taken command of the great beasts, but can now see that perhaps you heeded my advice. You not only communed with the animals, you became one of them. I commend your brilliant strategy."
"Wish I could take more of the credit, Blue," Spike grinned, "but I kinda got a little help from my friends from above to pull this one off. Just wish that a few of those friends had seen clear to warn me about the particulars first!" he added sarcastically, glancing skyward.
"You were quite impressive," Haley said. She had never seen a more beautiful wolf. His fur was snow white. Even in the darkness she could see his brilliant blue eyes.
"Oh yeah, Spike, you do realize that you were uhh...naked in wolf form don't you? Especially since we were able to see your," Xander hesitated, glancing carefully at Mena, then continued softly, "as Austin Powers would say, your sausage and eggs."
When he received a look from Spike that could melt stone Xander quickly added, "And a very nice pair if I do say so myself." At Spike's even more lethal stare, he continued, stammering, "Umm, it's not like I mean that in any affectionate way or anything. Of course, not that there's anything wrong with that." Finally giving up, he grinned in the most macho way possible.
"Okay Harris, now you've really got me worried about you. Think I should get a new room mate for the rest of the mission." Shaking his head to clear those disturbing thoughts from his mind Spike raised his fist to the heavens. "Wesley! Got a bone to pick with you," he shouted. "Show your bloody ears, I'll tear them off. You have an inner wolf, Spike," he mocked Wesley's voice to perfection. "Bugger that! You forgot to mention the part where I grow hair, and huge teeth and all those other important bits of information. Especially forgot to tell me that it hurts like hell too, didn't you Percy? I swear sometimes you're all a bunch of sadistic wankers the lot of you. Just got to have a few laughs at good old Spike's expense."
A streak of lightning raced across the night sky. The explosion of thunder was so loud nearly everyone jumped in the air.
"Oh dear, I wouldn't try to anger them," Haley warned him.
"What more can they do to me, for God's sake? I was bleeding White Fang!" Spike growled, then continued on jokingly, "Probably Angel's idea. He's the dog fancier after all."
Xander pulled out the goblet he had hidden in his jacket. "We have the goblet, but what about this vial of demon dust that Dracula spoke of?" He handed the goblet to Spike, who quickly tucked it into the confines of his duster.
"I suppose that Dracula could have been wrong about it being missing and it's still hidden somewhere within his castle," Haley surmised.
"Perhaps Victor or Elizabeth had it but lost it during the battle?" Mena added.
"Don't know, don't care," Spike sighed. "We've got the goblet and the arrogant bastard didn't get my blood - so no harm done."
"Of course," he grumbled bitterly as he turned to leave, "I'm still out my bloody eleven quid plus interest, but since we've got the tosser's golden chalice, I'm willing to call it even. Don't know about you folks, but if I never see the Poncey Prince's face again it would be too soon! Let's hope we can safely say we're in the clear now."
Suddenly the skies opened up and soon all were drenched thoroughly. Pulling his coat tight to his body, Spike scowled and began to storm away from the cliff.
"C'mon, let's head back to the retreat to pack up our gear. We need to get as far away from this place as we can. I'm bleeding cold, wet, and plain old, sick and tired of bloody Transylvania. Just want to get back to someplace normal. I need a warm beer and some hot wings."
"I'll drink to that!" Xander replied wholeheartedly, as they all nodded in agreement.
Without another word Spike led the others back to the retreat. Quickly packing up their things they piled into the SUV and started driving back to the village and the inn.
After watching Spike and his team pack the SUV and head back to civilization Mike and Lia walked in stunned silence back to their own truck. They had barely looked at each other let alone uttered a word.
Since Lia had ruined the fragile truce they had with the BIG B.A.D.S, Mike had been determined to stick around anyway, just in case their help was needed again. They had observed the recent events from the cover of the woods, but that hadn't prevented them having the bird's eye view to everything that had transpired, the latest battle, the power struggle to control a wolfen army and last but not least, Spike's startling transformation. Needless to say, shock and awe barely did justice to the emotions Mike and Lia felt now!
Once they climbed into their seats, the uncomfortable silence lingered until Mike found his voice. "Well," he whistled softly, "That was uhmm,...different and just...weird."
Lia, however seemed not to have heard him. She was muttering quietly to herself, "Perhaps this creature is more extraordinary than I previously thought."
Mike looked at her carefully. Why did he get the impression that her words were less a compliment to Spike, and more of a choice tidbit to pass along to Sirk?
Damn, he cursed himself nervously, Wish I had gotten the chance to give Spike, Harmony's cryptic message. Now more than ever, he didn't trust Wolfram and Hart's motives where the vamp was concerned, especially after witnessing Spike's more unusual abilities.
Sighing he reached under his seat and pulled out the near empty bourbon bottle. Eyeing the contents ruefully, he gestured towards Lia. "Ladies first," he offered. She simply glared at him in disgust and turned away.
Shrugging it off, Mike finished off the liquor, tossed the bottle in the back seat, and started up the engine. "Have I told you lately how much this place creeps me out," he asked as he started driving back towards the main road. "Don't know about you, sweetheart, but I can't wait to get the hell out of Dodge!"
During the ride to Bistritz Spike silently sat alone in the back of the SUV. Gazing out of the rear window he stared listlessly at the dark forest as it flashed by.
The physical pain of the change into the wolf still clung to him. It had been a traumatic transformation, and one he knew he would not easily shake. Closing his eyes, he promised himself that he would never go through that again. Sensing the essence of a kindred spirit, Spike opened his eyes and saw a wolf following the SUV. Placing his hand on the glass he was shocked to see the wolf appear to fly up to the vehicle. Its form wavered until he saw it change into the wolf totem mask that he had found what now seemed, so very long ago.
Yellow eyes glowing, it hung in front of him for a few seconds before disappearing. Inner wolf, he thought wistfully. That's all you're ever going to be, mate. I know it was worth it to win this battle, but I'd rather not be going through that regularly. Bowing his head he tightly formed a fist, Too much pain, too much risk.
Laying his head back, he closed his eyes and tried to rest. Before he knew it though, they had reached Bistritz. Morning was dawning as they pulled up to the inn, so the weary warriors retired to their rooms to briefly rest, clean up and pack.
Haley quickly called Giles and told him they had completed their mission and were all very anxious to leave Transylvania as quickly as possible. Surprised by their urgency, yet unable to immediately deploy a Council jet, Giles had to make the best arrangements he could to ensure Spike could travel safely.
Within an hour he had reservations for them aboard a commercial flight to Paris out of Budapest Ferihegy airport departing very early that evening. In Paris they would meet Andrew, hand over the goblet to him and then board a private Council jet that would take them back to the United States and on to New Orleans.
Although they had hoped for the comfort and security of the Council's jets on every flight, they all agreed it was best to leave Dracula and his home turf far behind. So later that morning they packed the SUV and began the 250 mile drive back to Budapest.
The huge clock on the airport terminal wall read 5:00 PM. There was still almost an hour before they could board their flight to Paris.
Xander, Haley and Mena sat on a comfy bench, staring out the large windows, watching the planes taxi past them. For a while Illyria, in her Fred-guise had walked about the terminal admiring the potted plants and examining assorted trinkets in the souvenir shops. Now, she amused herself by observing the humans as they marveled at the great metallic birdlike flying machines.
Such primitive technology would have been useless in my world, she mused. Still, it amazed her pets, so she was happy for them. Smiling at Spike as she passed by, she walked over to join the others at the windows.
Spike sat quietly in a safely shaded area watching his friends as they chatted amongst themselves and admired the planes. He didn't blame them for soaking up the last warm rays of sunlight. Somehow this mission had chilled him to the bone and he wished he could enjoy that warmth too - that is without combusting.
The whole wolf thing still weighed heavily on his mind. Even though it had been painful, he had to admit to himself that it had been kinda cool, and the rush of pure power he experienced was downright awesome. Good thing he had been able to feed the right wolf, though.
He wasn't sure what he wanted to tell Buffy about it, or if he wanted to tell her anything at all. He had sworn the team to secrecy, at least until he decided what to do. It wasn't that he wanted to hide anything from her - he just needed to find the right time and the right words to explain it. Gifts from the powers that be somehow took a lot of explanation these days.
When it came to Buffy, more than anything else he wanted her to see him as a man and not so much as a beast. Even though he believed she loved both the human and the demon in him, the whole idea of him going all Call of the Wild and genuine wolf-like, might worry her. Unless of course, he reasoned as he chuckled to himself, I can talk her into entertaining some personal fantasy of Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf. Now that could be interesting!
Lost in that pleasant, albeit naughty thought, he didn't notice the approaching stewardess. She had wondered why the handsome man with white hair sat in a dark corner alone while his friends sat in the warm sunshine. Putting on her brightest smile, she walked over to him.
Are you all right, sir?" she sweetly asked him.
Looking up at her pretty face he flashed her a smile that melted her very heart and replied, "Right as rain, luv. Right as rain."
Meanwhile that very same day at a villa, somewhere along the Amalfi Coast of Italy:
Warm ocean breezes wafted gently through the villa's garden, filling the air with the fragrant perfume of roses, gardenias and lemon tree blossoms.
As the handsome, dark haired man walked along the terrace, he stopped to inhale the aroma of the flowers and savor the incredible beauty of this place. Reaching a bougainvillea draped terrace wall, he stood there peacefully, sipping his espresso, and gazed out over the magnificent vista and pristine coastline below.
The brilliant sunlight reflecting off the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Salerno, reminded him, once again, why this villa in Ravello was his favorite residence.
The main house in Rome was too formal. It was a place for conducting business and entertaining his wealthy friends. But this beautiful retreat nestled in the hills overlooking the Amalfi Coast, was a place to relax and share with more intimate acquaintances. It was a place for lovers and Marcus was a man who certainly had no shortage of those. Even so, he had regretted the loss of his most recent conquest.
That girl had been special; so vibrant, so exciting! Sometimes though, behind her perfect smile he had seen glimpses of a secret sadness, and memories of a lost love. Even though he knew her heart was somewhere else, they had continued to enjoy each other's company. Given enough time, he was certain that he could win her affection with his power, wealth and influence.
Then came the day nearly four months ago, when she had broken it off with hardly any explanation. Although Marcus was not the kind of man to take rejection lightly, he had wished her well and moved on with his life. Perhaps in time, he thought, she will return. After all, he had all the time in the world and no intention of ever spending it alone.
These private thoughts were interrupted suddenly by his manservant's voice calling to him. "Scusa dominare, this came for you in the morning post."
"Grazie, Antonio", he replied, taking a small package from the man and examining it carefully. It was wrapped in brown parchment paper and bore no return address. The handwriting was unfamiliar, but the cancelled postage indicated that it had been recently mailed from Romania. Puzzled, Marcus dismissed his servant and took the package over to the table to open it.
The wrapping fell away to reveal a small blue velvet box and an envelope that was addressed to him. For a moment Marcus thought it could be a gift from one of his many admirers, perhaps even a peace offering from the girl who had occupied his thoughts only moments ago, but then he started reading the enclosed note.
Marcus sat in stunned silence when he finished reading. Slowly he opened the velvet box and his fingers touched the cross almost reverently. As he closed his eyes visions of another time filled his mind. A time of death and destruction; Druid wizards and ancient warriors; and the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil.
"Ahhh Victor," he sighed sadly, snapping the box shut. "It appears both Dracula and I have greatly underestimated you."
Try as he might, Marcus could not stop his eyes from trailing back to the one word on the note that had captured his undivided attention. Spike. Suddenly the events of the past few months became clear to him.
His smile was bitter as he voiced his disbelief. "So...William the Bloody has cheated death for the third time. The Senior Partners have truly lost their edge!"
He sat quietly for a moment pondering this incredible news and what he might do about it. "Antonio," he then, called out. "Come here, quickly. I have a very important errand for you to run."
Later that evening:
Marcus stood on the terrace sipping his wine, watching the lights in the harbor reflecting off the now placid ocean below.
Suddenly a familiar perfume filled the air. He turned and saw her standing there in the pale moonlight, smiling at him.
As he walked towards her he admired her almost sinister beauty; dark hair, dark eyes, the way the deep blue velvet of her dress draped sensuously over her body. She was indeed one of the most exquisite and dangerous women he had ever known.
"Ahhh Drusilla," he crooned softly as they embraced,"bellissima sempre. You are even more beautiful than I remember."
The woman kissed his cheek then leaned in closer to whisper seductively in his ear. "The cute and clever pixies have been filling my dreams. They spin round and round and round in my head telling me to Hurry! Mustn't be late, Cinderella! Prince Marcus wants you to come out and play. He's invited you to the ball, so be sure to wear your very best party dress!"
Dancing away from him she twirled gracefully in a circle, her skirt flaring around her legs. "Will this one do?" She asked coquettishly.
Marcus watched in fascination. So lovely, so mad, so malleable, he thought to himself.
Taking her hands in his, he pulled her close once more. "Yes cara mio! It will do--perfectly! The clever pixies are right. I do want you to come and play. I know a special game, but it is for you and me alone to enjoy. Perhaps we will call it lost and found."
Drusilla clapped her hands in childlike glee. "You see", he smiled slyly; "an old friend of mine has something that once belonged to you. It will take some time, but I want to help you get it back!"
End of Hearts of Darkness, Part II
Hearts of Darkness, Part II (continued) Page 1, 2
Ahhhh! New Orleans!!!!
Home of Mardi Gras, The French Quarter, Bourbon Street. Famous for its colorful Cajun and Creole heritage, soulful jazz, voodoo, incredible food and drink, and a general...well, lets just say, let-the-good-times-roll kind of attitude.
Anne Rice's immortal vamp Lestat, called New Orleans a vampire's city, so why does Spike seem so uneasy in the Big Easy????
Could the Crescent City hold some unpleasant memories for him? Will those memories trigger thoughts about someone he hoped he had left behind with his past life? How do a Vengeance Demon, some very trampy vamps and a ghost related to Marie LeVeaue figure into this whole mess? Are there more surprise visitors on the horizon?
Oh...and is it just me or is Haley getting a bit too touchy feely with Blondie Bear????
To find out please come back next time for: Hoodoo You Love?
And as always,
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