Darla was furious. Royally fuming. Drusilla eyed her back apprehensively as she stalked several paces ahead. "Grandm-umph!"
Before Drusilla had a chance to blink, there was a flurry of movement, a blur of color and she was dangling several inches above the grassy floor. Darla's hands were wrapped around her throat, and Drusilla's still heart gave an imaginary bump, as she gazed with pleasurable fear into the other creature's yellowed eyes.
"Don't! Don't say it! You and your... your... paramour! Did you see what happened up there? Did you?! Angelus could have been killed! You incompetent lunatic! I told you to follow the girl, that's all, but no, you had other ideas, you... you... ach!" With a splutter of disgusted exasperation, she dropped the other vampire to the ground and spun away, her skirts flying out around her. As her face transformed, she looked down at the long, narrow bundle at her feet. Damn Angelus to Hades, she thought, he'll be the end of us yet, with his secrets and lies. Glancing up at Drusilla, she curled a fastidious lip.
Amidst all the furor caused by Angelus and Spike, it had been fairly easy to dart through the crowd and grab the Glaive. She'd seen someone with gloved hands pick it up off the ground and place it reverentially in its long cotton shroud, and simply waited until attention turned back to the two vampires as they received their drenching. Thinking of that moment made her smile despite herself. I hope they're in pain, she thought, a lot of pain.
She crouched over the Glaive, and was reaching out a hand to tear aside the cloth when Drusilla stopped her. "No. It hurts my head. Too much.... Daddy must leave it alone. The child, the girl, she's the one it wants..."
"Hmmm." Standing, Darla thought a moment, then shrugged. "Very well. It seems this girl has some explaining to do. Angelus will enjoy persuading her, I'm sure." Gesturing at the bundle, she ordered Drusilla to pick it up. "After all, you and Spike were so eager to get it, you must be equally as eager to carry it."
"Where are we going, Gr-" At Darla's look, she faltered. "Er, Darla.... They are waiting at the boarding house for us."
"Of course they are. Licking their wounds, no doubt."
"No, not Spike and Angelus... the Mayor..."
"Oh." Darla paused, hands on hips, and thought. They obviously couldn't go back to their rooms, for now at least. As for Angelus and... "Oh, damn, Angelus!" she said aloud, "he can take care of himself! Come on!" Gesturing for Drusilla to follow her, she started to make her way through the narrow copse of trees toward the back end of the small town.
Anna leaned back in her winged chair and closed her eyes, tired but content. It had been a good night. The beer had flowed, and the men had been keen to sample the goods on offer. Couple more years and I can retire, she thought. Get away from this infernal town... open a little shop, maybe, selling pretty things to fancy women. Feeling a sudden draft, she frowned slightly and opened her eyes. As she did so, she jerked upright in shock. The two women who'd arrived in town a few nights ago with two male companions were standing in front of her. The two vampires. As bile rose in her throat, she shrank back in her chair. "Wha- wha- how did you-?" she stuttered.
"Oh, calm down," said Darla contemptuously. "We're not going to eat you. At least -- " with a pointed look at Drusilla, "I'm not. At the moment I feel you'll be of more use to me alive. As long as you do as you're told, that is." She raised a questioning brow, and Anna gave a hurried nod. "Mmmm. I rather felt you would."
Reaching up, Darla took a hatpin from her feathered bonnet, and looked at it reflectively. Fixing a steely blue gaze at the saloon owner, she slid a slender finger slowly down the pin's length. As she saw the woman's face pale, she smiled.
"Now that I'm sure we understand one another, my friend and I require some... company. You will go downstairs and fetch us a couple of your customers. Young ones. We're very hungry. If, by any chance, you... er... let me think... um, yes... if you were to fail me, I wouldn't be happy. You understand me, don't you? Do you understand me, Anna?"
Anna had to swallow twice, and her face was stiff, but she finally managed to nod. "Yes. Yes. Don't worry. I'll... I'll... I promise..." She gasped as there was a blur of movement and Drusilla stood in front of her, studying her face intently.
"She understands, Grandmother. She'll do as you say."
Grandmother? On her way to fetch two unsuspecting souls to their deaths, Anna couldn't help but think, and she looks so young, too!
A couple of hours later, the two female vampires surveyed their men. Having satisfied their hunger, Darla had tired of listening to Dru speculating on Spike's whereabouts and acquiesced to her demands to hunt for their companions. It hadn't taken long; the two had decided to lie low and lick their wounds until the crowds had disappeared. They'd heard the commotion when the loss of the Glaive was discovered, but had had no idea until now that Darla had taken it.
"Well, nice work boys," remarked Darla in an annoyed tone. The two rose to their feet, but Spike fell again. Drusilla helped him up and they started to walk towards town.
"The little girl... she has power," Drusilla said with a smile. "The Mayor has her."
"And the service of all the demons in this town," Angelus added. "Well, he may have the girl, but we have the Glaive."
For the first time, not a sound could be heard as they walked through the town. From time to time there would be a loud cheer from the hill, but it faded out as they entered the saloon.
Anna ran around the bar frantically gathering whatever she could. She threw her property into a small bag, before getting the smell of burning. She turned to see the four vampires standing in the doorway. She ran at them trying to pass through, but Angelus vamped out and grabbed her.
"Now where are you going Miss Anna?"
"I have to leave. Mayor Wilkins has dedicated the town to your kind."
"You know he has Grace, right?" Spike interrupted, to the annoyance of Angelus.
Drusilla looked towards the floor with a pained expression on her face. "She's lost now."
"What is she?"
Drusilla jabbered something about Grace's power.
"I don't know. The Mayor has been after her for months now."
The Mayor sat in his tiny wooden office, toying with a knife while keeping one eye on the young girl. She was trembling as two demons stared at her. Wilkins placed the knife down on his table, shifting his full attention to Grace.
"They have my Glaive. I'm not very happy with you, Grace. Now, why don't you tell me how you work?" he smiled.
"It's not your Glaive," Grace replied defiantly. She knew the Mayor was a dangerous man, but his congenial manner always made her act bolder than she safely should have. That's why he feared her. Because he knew she was more than met the eye. More than a quiet, tiny girl. "I suppose you could go find the man who fashioned it in the first place and get him to build you a new one. He's in the Neral dimension."
Wilkins sniffed and stared at her, a gleam in his eye. Grace shifted with discomfort. But she wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know. And it wouldn't help him anyway. There was no easy passage to the Neral dimension.
And Neral demons no longer visited Earth, either. Here, their powers were limited. They were weak. No Neral had bothered coming here in over three hundred generations. Except her father. But Rhad was a bit of an iconoclast, or so Grace's mother said. He'd wanted to explore the Earthly dimension. So he'd built the Glaive to give him normal Neral powers on Earth and help him pass as human. He'd fashioned it as a weapon because that seemed the easiest way to conceal its true powers.
And then he'd explored--the Far East and Africa, Europe and the Northern Lands. And then the Americas. That's where he'd found Boca del Infierno. And a human woman, Grace's mother. When the High Council had gotten wind that he was consorting with a human, though, they'd demanded Rhad's return. So he'd returned, leaving the Glaive for the infant Grace. She hadn't been allowed to go with him. The Neral didn't want her human blood intermixing with theirs and weakening them.
"But you won't be visiting the Neral dimension any time soon, I'm afraid," Grace added. The Mayor gave her an impatient look. Her heart pounded in her chest. "It's fortressed."
Her mother hadn't told her the truth about her heritage until she was twelve. And only because she'd had to. The Neral, her mother explained, had been a fairly weak demon species in the distant past; their blood had become too intermixed with human blood. It made Nerals an easy target for other demons species who'd wanted to ravage the wide, fertile land of their dimension, and they'd lived as a slave race to different conquerors for millennia.
But the very thing that they'd tried to defend themselves against had gradually made them stronger. They had keen minds that could discern the nature of their conqueror's magicks and technology. The slaughter and rape of their people had brought forth descendants who were stronger, less benevolent, and less human. The Neral were eventually able to drive the last of the conquerors from their dimension, and with magicks of their own, they'd put it under lock and key.
Grace's stomach was in knots. She could sense the Glaive, across town. It was singing to her. She could hear it in her head. It was still here, she thought, clinging to the thought. It was still here.
"So you might as well go after the vampires," Grace continued. "They have the Glaive, and they're probably leaving Boca del Infierno with it as we speak."
Wilkins smiled that half-sinister, half-fatherly smile of his. "Not if they can't get it to work right without you, my dear," he quipped.
Grace looked away from him, trying to keep herself from shivering. "Then I expect they'll be along here soon."
One day when she was twelve, she'd woken up to a shrill singing. It was the Glaive, calling to her. Her mother couldn't hear it, just her. Grace had grabbed the ax from the woodpile out back and gone to the tall locked cabinet where her mother kept the shining weapon. She'd split open the lock and the cabinet door and touched the Glaive. It'd glowed beneath her fingers.
After that, odd things started happening. The Glaive gave her the ability to transport herself to other places close by. If she'd had the Glaive with her now, she'd have tricked the Mayor into letting her touch it and disappeared. The Glaive also gave her the ability to sense things from afar--events, people's thoughts. Of course, she'd always been able to do that. But it had never been under her control. Over the past three years, though, she'd been able to hone it a little with the help of the Glaive.
The Glaive had one more power, and that was the power that was truly dangerous in the hands of the evil. It could be used to influence the minds of others, to make them vulnerable to suggestion. Demons were easy to influence with it. And some humans, too. The really weak-minded ones, anyway. But it probably wouldn't work on the vampires who were after the Glaive.
"Vampires are like dogs," the Mayor said. "Pack animals who'll follow the lead of whomever's the strongest."
Grace gazed warily at the two vampire henchmen that surrounded her. They didn't seem insulted in the least by their master's slur. "But you've been watching these four, like I have," she told the Mayor. "They're not ordinary vampires. They're the kind who have a nest of vampires serving them."
The Mayor smiled. "Except they don't." He tapped his fingers on his dark walnut desk. "You're not answering my questions, Grace. I'm getting very annoyed with you."
Grace stiffened her tiny chin. And she wouldn't answer his questions. She
didn't know quite how she'd get out of it--and out of here--but she wouldn't.
Only two things had saved her up until now. Her ability to temporarily control the minds of demons with the Glaive - that had at least prevented them from hurting her and her mother and her friends. That and the fact that other demons couldn't seem to get the Glaive to work. The only other species that had ever been able to make use of the Glaive were humans. They couldn't touch it bare-handed, but they could get it to work with a little practice. Her mother had. Not as well as Grace could, but enough. That's why the Mayor was a threat with it. And the tall, dark-haired vampire as well. Any vampire willing to learn how to use the Glaive could, because vampires were demons with human blood.
But neither would have the Glaive. She wouldn't allow it. She wouldn't let them wreak evil with the tiny piece of Neral it was her responsibility to keep.
The saloon was silent. Locked. Empty. Anna sat in the corner by the fireplace, unconscious and twitching. Even with Dru's helpful brand of pre-cognitive persuasion, the vampires had gotten little out of the Madam about Grace or the Glaive. Now the only reason Angelus was keeping Anna alive was because the air in the room swam deliciously with the scent of her fear. And she might yet be useful.
He unwrapped the long pole-arm Glaive from its soiled cotton cloth. Keeping the cloth between his hand and the weapon, he picked it up and studied it.
"So what's it for, then?" Spike asked. He had a deck of cards in front of him. He was turning the top cards over one by one, playing a one-man game of beat-the-house. "Slicing pirates in half? Making shish-ka-bob?"
"It's a talisman," Angelus replied. "From what I've read, it imbues its possessor with special... mental abilities. To see into the minds of others. To control their minds. To control men like the Mayor. Men like Holtz."
Darla sighed. She rose from her chair and pulled her gloves from her pocket. "Holtz has been dead for over one hundred years, darling."
Darla studied her lover's intent expression. Angelus had been acting rather reckless lately. And for what? A spear? They were vampires; the elite of the order of Aurelius. They already owned the world. Angelus knew as well as anyone that the vampire's weapons were darkness and cunning. They needed nothing else. They defeated Holtz. They'd defeat this 'Mayor' handily if they wanted to. Humans were weak. They had no defenses that would protect them from her and her Angelus.
"I got you your Glaive, Angelus," she said to him, tugging on one white glove. "Now we can stop living like savages and return to New York. We'll catch a ship back to Spain. And from there a train to Budapest. Budapest, hmmm? Gypsies? Your favorite."
But let Angelus have his toy, if it made him feel better, she mused. As long as he was willing to play with it with his usual stealth and artistry, what did she care? She'd never denied her darling boy anything he wanted. In fact, she'd been the one who had found him most of the toys to begin with.
"Yes, luv," Angelus replied, gazing at the shimmering end of the weapon. "That would hit the spot. We just need to do one last thing. Take care of the Mayor. And I think this will help us."
"The girl," Drusilla interjected, her voice a soft coo. She wrapped her long spindly fingers around her shoulders. "She sees with night-eyes. Knife-eyes. The Glaive sings to her." Drusilla raised her face to the ceiling. Her expression was ecstatic. "She longs for it. Oh, such longing! And fear."
"O.K., so fine," Spike said with barely a glance at his sire. "Let's see it work. Can you read my mind? Dru's? Darla's?"
Angelus gripped the shaft of the Glaive in his hand. He closed his eyes and concentrated for a long, still moment. There was nothing. Then he remembered something Spike had said about how Grace had transported Spike and Drusilla across town. Angelus thought about that, about appearing suddenly in the alley behind the tavern. Again, nothing. He opened his eyes and gazed at the Glaive with dismay. It was just as he'd feared.
Spike gave him an amused look. "So what your books didn't tell you, then, is that the Glaive is useless without the girl."
Angelus set the Glaive back on the table gingerly. "Not useless. Just difficult to use. Grace can tell us what we need to know."
Angelus watched Drusilla gaze at the Glaive warily. He would have let her try to use it if she'd let him, but she refused to touch it, only saying that it caused her pain.
"And how are you going to convince Grace do that?" Darla asked. She was all ready to go with hat and gloves on. But she realized they weren't going anywhere soon. She sat back down. "Once you have the girl and the Glaive together, you aren't going to be able to control her."
Angelus aimed his answer at Spike instead of Darla. His brooding expression turned into a smile. "Spike seemed to think he could, back at that ceremony, helping her get the Glaive from the Mayor and all."
"I was just going to nick it from her," Spike replied. "How to use it, that's your problem. But it shouldn't be too hard, I'll wager. She's just a girl."
"She wouldn't have asked for your 'help' if she didn't think she could get the Glaive back from you," Darla pointed out.
"Just a girl," Angelus echoed, staring into space coolly. "And she's no Slayer."
"How do you know that?" Darla asked.
"Because we're still here. And the Mayor is still here. She can't get rid of us that easily, or she would have done it already." Angelus gave Spike another predatory grin. "And besides, if she was a Slayer, Spike would have killed her by now. He's been itching for a taste of Slayer's blood."
"And I'll get it!" Spike cut in defensively. "That night in Seville-"
"--When you nearly got us all staked--" Darla interjected.
"--Was just a bit of bad luck."
And then Spike realized that Angelus wasn't mocking his so-called "inability" to put his money where his mouth was and kill a Slayer. No, Angelus' comment had been meant as encouragement. Or as close as Angelus came to encouraging anyone. He wanted Spike to make that kill he longed for. Spike felt his own blood lust rise to meet his grand-sire's.
"Am I sensing a plan here, darling?" Darla asked. "A prudent plan that doesn't end up with us all staked into dust?"
Dru rolled her head back and forth in a slow hypnotic motion. "The girl. She stinks of fear," she murmured. Then she stopped and smiled languorously at Angelus. "But she knows you won't kill her, will you, Daddy?"
"Not while she's the key to this Glaive business," Spike interjected.
Angelus took an annoyed breath. Girl or no, Grace had the power here, and there was no way of simply side-stepping that. The Glaive in his shielded hands was a ceremonial toy. A weapon at best. She was the key to him being able to use it. He just had to control her long enough to learn what he needed to know. But he couldn't bring her under his control by hanging the threat of death over her head. She'd know he was bluffing. There had to be other ways to control her. And he could think of one: the kind of control that kept him devoted to Darla, and Drusilla to him, and Spike to Dru. The control that made them a family.
Darla watched Angelus. She could see the cogs slowly turning inside his handsome head. Her earlier anger towards him had softened. Now she remembered why she'd spent nearly 150 years with the boy. Impulsive he could be sometimes--that was his human birthright. But he wasn't human any more. Her Angelus was methodical, artful. And the means to his ends were always ruthless. It was just his ends sometimes that she couldn't make heads or tails of. Like deciding to turn Drusilla. Or going after this Glaive.
"So we turn the girl into one of us," Darla breathed. "Isn't that what you're thinking?"
Angelus nodded, then immediately shook his head. "It won't necessarily make her easier to control, as you well know, Darla." He gave her a feline look. She smirked despite herself.
"No," Angelus went on with a sigh. "Dru's right. She's afraid of us. Not because we can kill her. Not because we can turn her into a vampire. But because we can hurt her. That's her human weakness." He smiled a contemplative smile. "There are worse things than death."
The Mayor hadn't finished his interrogation of Grace until quite late that night. Two a.m., according to the Grandfather clock that chimed outside the Mayor's office. Bored with his hostage, he'd drifted off, leaving her under the capable eyes of his loyal vampire goons.
Vampires, the Mayor had told Grace, were quite loyal as long as you kept them well stocked in blood. Well not quite all vampires, thought Grace, her mind drifting to the fanged foursome who'd taken up residence in her mother's boarding house. Did they know her mother owned the place? She fervently hoped not. The Mayor hadn't stooped that low yet, possibly due to his own distaste of such methods. But she knew it was only a matter of time before he did. She had to get free and warn her and the others. If the fanged four got a hold of her mother and... no mustn't think of her friend's name. He was safe for now. As long as she didn't think of him and didn't reveal his whereabouts, he would remain so, along with her mother.
Her mind drifted back over the events of the last few days. Quite a lot had happened in a relatively short period of time. First the Mayor had stepped up his plans to dedicate Boca del Infierno to Proserpexa and then the fanged foursome had arrived.
Their arrival had actually helped her -- so far. The younger vampire, the blond, had been easy to manipulate. Getting him to unchain her hadn't required much convincing on her part. Although his actions afterwards had been unpredictable and caused her to fall once again into the Mayor's clutches. Impulsive and unpredictable, that one, she thought. What was his name? Spike? No... that wasn't his real name, just a nickname. The real one was William. For some reason she felt that was important. The trick was finding a way of getting them to act against each other, disrupt the dark one's control and she had a feeling William may be the key.
She thought back to that night when they first arrived. It had been quite late, just a few hours after dawn, that she'd heard the sounds. Muffled at first than louder. They had set her teeth on edge. At first she thought it was just one of the cats. But as she drew closer, she realized it was the high-pitched wail of something that had once been a man.
She had never heard a vampire scream quite like that before. Curious, she snuck on tip-toe to the door leading to the vamps' two-room suite. The suite had once belonged to a family of four, two little twin girls and a young couple traveling to San Francisco. The Mayor had sent his goons over to clean up the corpses, a common occurrence in Boca del Infierno.
The dark man, which the blonde woman called Angelus -- like an angel, Grace thought, but not -- had strapped the younger blond male vampire to a chair and was methodically dripping some sort of liquid across the younger vamp's back and shoulders, eliciting the screams. The liquid, Grace guessed, must be some sort of holy water, contained in a small metal flask. No one else was in the room but the two male vampires. She couldn't make out much of their conversation, their words were muffled by the heavy wooden door, but it reminded her of when her step-father took the lash to her.
Odd, she thought, to actually feel empathy towards a vampire, but it had given her the germs of an idea. Then last night, she noticed something else interesting in their relationship -- the older vampire called the younger one "William" whenever he was annoyed or felt the need to get a point across, just as the blonde female vampire had in the bar. They called him "Spike" on all the other occasions. And Spike appeared to adore the crazy, black-haired vampire. That one scared her more than the Mayor. Drusilla. That one, Grace thought, is more dangerous than all of them put together. At all costs, she must keep the Glaive away from Drusilla. Drusilla would know what it was the moment she touched it. And, Grace shivered feeling the panic rise up inside her, everything would be lost.
Grace closed her eyes, swallowing her panic, using the techniques her friend Jacob had taught her. She missed him. When her father left, Jacob was the only friend she had in Boca del Infierno, the only one she could talk to. But he had to stay hidden. If the Mayor found him, he'd be killed. Jacob told her that the best way of controlling people, whether they be human or demon, is figuring out what they cared about most. So instead of worrying about what her enemies could use against her, maybe she should consider what she could use against them.
In the woods, Spike had been protective of the dark crazy vampire. They called each other pet names and seemed to be in constant physical contact. While the other two vampires seemed less attached, not quite as worried about each other? Spike also seemed to care about Angelus' opinion of him, like she had once cared about her step-father's, until she realized no matter what she did, he would consider her beneath him, nothing but a dirty stinking demon.
Did Angelus feel the same way towards Spike? She couldn't tell. He did appear to enjoy torturing the younger vamp. What about Drusilla? Grace shook her head. No, that one was too dangerous to try anything with, better to work on the one called Spike. He appeared to be the weakest. From what Jacob had taught her about vampires -- the youngest were usually the weakest. Their human memories and natures were still intact. The older the vampire got, the less human and the stronger it became. The infection that coursed through its blood would eventually eradicate all its remaining human characteristics.
A squeak of the door and two muffled cries startled Grave out of her reverie. She blinked, looking about her in the darkness.
"Hush," said a soft whispery female voice that sent shivers up Grace's spine. "Not a sound... or you'll not get any tea and cake today. Will she, Spike?" Drusilla's visage floated in front of Grace and she found herself caught in the thrall of the vampire's dark violet eyes. Inside them she saw nothing but butterflies. "Oh you see them too. The pretty butterflies?" Dru asked, a soft smile curling her lips as she softly stroked Grace's cheek with one long sharp black fingernail. "Oh so pretty, Spike, let Princess have a taste..."
Spike's hand darted out and roughly pulled Drusilla a few steps back from Grace. Drusilla whimpered, clutching his arm. "Sorry. Can't Dru, much as I'd like to." He smiled grimly. "You heard what Angelus said. Bring the nibblet intact. No biting. No tasting. And I mean to do as he says. Show the bloody pater... a thing or two."
Spike's cold fingers expertly undid Grace's bonds. "Well, Gracie, luv, we meet again..." he said to the girl. "Gettin' to be quite a habit, rescuing you!"
Once he was done, Grace rubbed her wrists together and looked up at the blond vampire who stared down at her through unreadable cold blue eyes. The coldness of his eyes almost made her falter, her heart rising slightly in her chest.
"Thanks," she whispered.
He flashed a wicked smile and tilted his head back towards Dru. "Right then, Angelus is expecting us."
They had been walking further and further from the center of town. At length one vampire ventured, "Excuse me, sir, but where are we going?"
"Oh really, Charles, you're too impatient. It's a beautiful night, it would be worth a stroll just to look at the stars and listen to the crickets chirruping away. As it happens I also have a little errand to run, but it's hardly dire enough to spoil a good walk. Here we are anyway."
As he spoke the Mayor turned down a small neat track up to an equally tidy little house. He strolled jauntily up the walk and rapped briskly on the door. "Mrs. Emerson! A word with you please!" He looked back to his associates. "Why don't you boys spread out, see if anyone might be close to their back door-- or maybe a window? Now remember, if Mrs. Emerson comes to the door, be polite! This may be business, but there's no need to be unpleasant. And don't you young rapscallions let your appetites get the better of you-- you should have eaten before we left."
He turned back to the door for another cheerful knock. "Mrs. Emerson! I'm sorry to get you up, but there's a bit of an emergency -- seems there's some folks in town that might not have the best of intentions for you and your daughter." No answer as yet, but he waited patiently. Patience was one of his virtues. He hadn't kept up much with the Emersons in the past few years -- though he was getting to know young Grace fairly well now -- but a mother could get a little stiff getting up late at night. He could wait.
"She's gone, sir."
"I beg your pardon, Charles, the wind was blowing. What did you say?"
The vampire swallowed his natural ferocity and forced himself to speak evenly. "Nothing's been disturbed around the outside, sir, doors and windows unbroken and sound. We had a look in all the windows. It ain't a big house, sir. There's no warm body that we can smell."
The mayor turned the doorknob. Unlocked. "Mrs. Emerson? Mayor Wilkins here--" he entered the little cottage, and took a quick turn through the rooms, not hurrying; less haste, more speed. Everything was put away, even the supper dishes. Water emptied, fire banked. A good housekeeper-- he respected that. The bedroom--empty, bed slept in -- could that still be warm? The wardrobe, cheap but clean and dusted, was open, some clothes apparently missing.
He stood quietly in the room, not hurrying, thinking. This was no abduction. Nothing disturbed, no smell of blood, no evidence of violence, but an orderly exit. Who had been here?
"Now, Mrs. Emerson, where could you have gone at this time of night?" he murmured, half to himself. "All right, boys, I guess this night air is just too good to resist." He continued cheerily as he stepped out of the house, closing and locking the door behind him. "Our lady's gone for a walk, but I don't think she's gone far. She's around here somewhere close, so fan out, and let's be brisk, shall we?" Something in his especially bright gaze made the vampires hop quickly to their task. A short cast around showed two sets of prints outside the back gate, one set made by the firm old shoe of their intended appointment, the other set, a pair of long, amorphous imprints of fuzzy distinction.
"Well I'll be just darned if I know what these are!" exclaimed the Mayor, "But I guess we'd better find out, right boys? Off you go!" The boys dared not hesitate, but took off, exchanging as they did so, a slightly more nervous look for whatever had made those prints.
Mrs. Emerson finally dropped gratefully onto the palate of skins, heedless of the thick bear smell Jacob kept conjured around the cave to repel the wild things of both God and his adversary. "There now, ma'am, I don't guess we can light a fire, but you can try to get some rest in any case."
He saw by her breathing that she was already deeply asleep. A woman of some character, to just up and get moving in the dead of night like that, and then drop right off on a pile of skins. She was a remarkable woman. And practical. He placed a deerskin half over her and turned once again to his work. From beneath a stone by the fire he drew a reflecting metal disk, one side polished smooth and bright to show his face. "Gotta go for a bit," he muttered to the sleeping figure, "but you'll be safer here than anywhere else, I expect. They won't find you before I'm dead myself."
So saying, he made his way up the little hill he climbed every morning and night, secret handholds long familiar in the dark. He had long since discarded his go-to-town suit for his regular homespun chamois. As he went, his feet, wrapped in skin after animal skin, made vague, pillowy impressions in the ground. At the apex of the hill he rose just above the tree line, and sat with his reflecting disc in his lap, gazing stonily at it. Properly wielded, it would take the viewer's gaze close to any place he could see from where he stood, like a spyglass that could see at night. Too long it, and he, had been trained on the simple matter of protecting Rose Emerson, whatever she might mean to him. It was time now to see what else was happening in this town.
Farther east, the Mayor met his minions returning down the track they had been pursuing. They pulled up short at the sight of him. "Wrong way, boys, unless you have a very, very good reason."
The others once again pushed Charles forward. He stammered, then blurted, "It's the tracks sir. We been followin 'em like you told us, but--" He hesitated, caught between fear and his own judgment.
"Come now, Charlie, you know I hate mumbling. Speak up, now."
"It's the prints, sir. We can't smell 'em. There's no one made these, they's just made to throw us off. Least that's what I think, sir. We're wastin' time."
"A false trail-- and the footprints--" A smile suddenly lit the face of Richard Wilkins, and his minions fell back a step. "Why Jacob, you old dog! It's been, what, why just ages! And getting Grace's poor old mother out of the way--I should have guessed! Well, sir, that calls for a big reward, yes it does. We'll just see about all this! Come on, fellas!" And without another word Mayor Wilkins trod off with his followers into the night, his step as springy and light as if he were on a picnic on the village green. He loved these kinds of surprises. Why, when things got like this, there was just no being sure what could happen next, or to whom.
Except, of course, that when it happened, he would be the one doing it.
Spike and Drusilla returned to the boarding house with Grace in tow, just missing the Mayor and his minions. The house was deserted, dark and quiet as they made their way up the stairs to the suite they shared with Angelus and Darla. Tying Grace to a straight-backed armless chair, they settled in to wait for their elders. Spike sprawled across the bed while Drusilla walked the room, cradling Miss Edith in her arms and telling her of their adventures.
"It was so dark, Miss Edith, dark like Seville," she crooned.
Spike groaned. "Please pet, don't let's be talking about Seville again."
As they heard footsteps too faint for Grace's non-vampiric ears, Spike and Dru looked towards the door, becoming still and very alert. Spike sat up from his careless sprawl. Dru placed the doll on the dressing table. A few moments later, Angelus and Darla entered the suite. Drusilla flew to Angelus, "Daddy's home! And Gra-, er, Darla!" Grace took note that Spike remained very tense and still.
"I see you finally did something right, Spike, my boy," Angelus said dryly, ignoring Drusilla as she circled around him, trying to get his attention. "I guess I won't have to stake you for that debacle up at Colina del Rey after all. Although don't think all is forgiven."
"Yeah, whatever. So how you gonna get her to help you use the Glaive?" Spike drawled, jerking a thumb at Grace and trying to seem casual. Inside he was conflicted -- he felt pride at having done something right, but apprehensive about his coming punishment.
"William, dear, do you really think that discussing this in front of the girl is wise? We don't want to give away all our surprises." Darla said, sitting down to remove her hat. "Besides, it's much too close to sunrise to do anything with her now. I, for one, am for dinner and a nap."
"Ooo, dinner!" squealed Drusilla, still hovering around Angelus. "Daddy, your Princess' tummy is so rumbly-grumbly. Pretty please, may I have something to eat?"
Angelus said, "I, too, feel in need of some refreshment. While you and Spike were out getting the girl, Darla and I went back up to the site of the ceremony. Plenty of stragglers still there, should be easy to find a bedtime snack."
Drusilla, Darla and Angelus moved towards the door. As Spike rose to join them, Angel barked, "Not you, Spike. Stay and guard the girl. Going hungry is mild enough punishment for the balls-up you made of things earlier. And don't think this is the last you're going to hear of it."
As the three other vampires left, Spike flopped back down on the bed, grumbling to himself and shooting dirty looks at Grace.
"I-I'm sorry you're hungry," Grace said. "You were just trying to help me get the Glaive back. I feel like it's my fault that horrible man is being so mean to you."
Spike rolled up to sit on the edge of the bed. "That ain't nothing to how bad he can be. If I hadn't been able to get you back from Hizzoner, your mum would have had a mite of sweeping up to do. Vampire dust really gets all over the place." He laughed hollowly.
"Well, I think he treats you horridly," Grace replied. "I mean, he didn't do any better trying to get the Glaive away from the Mayor." As she thought about the Glaive, picturing it in her mind, she could feel its presence very nearby. The more she concentrated, the more she could pull on its powers. Feeling the power fill her up, she decided, against all common wisdom, to try to make it work on a vampire. "Tell me about Seville," she said.
"Seville?" asked Spike, surprised and irritated. "Never you mind about Seville. Anyhow, you shouldn't be listening to things that don't concern you." Spike really didn't want to talk about Seville and his humiliation there. It was bad enough that Angelus and Darla were always bringing it up, taunting him with it, but he'd be damned before he'd parade his failure in front of this irritating little bint -- no matter how boring guard duty got.
He got up and started to wander around the room, picking up and examining objects, putting them back down. It wasn't like he didn't want to talk to Grace at all; any company was better than none. He just didn't want to talk to her about that. He searched his mind for a different topic of conversation -- maybe he'd try to get her to say something about the Glaive. He'd be right chuffed to be in the know before Angelus and it would make him look good to Drusilla. Make her see him as more of a man and less of a boy, albeit her darling boy.
Grace watched his perambulations, noted his restlessness, his seeming indecision, and concentrated harder on the Glaive. She felt that if she could get him to tell her about Seville, a subject he so clearly did not want to discuss, she'd know he was the one she could turn against the others. She was still learning to use the powers of the Glaive, but her success controlling the demons that had protected her at the bluff had made her confident and anxious to experiment. Filled with the thrumming power of the Glaive she watched Spike, sending him the command, 'Seville, Seville, Seville.'
Spike opened his mouth to ask Grace about the Glaive, but found himself talking about the very thing he wanted forget instead. It was odd and scary to him -- the more he tried to shut up, the more his mouth kept yapping. He felt like a third person in the room, observing Grace and Spike, but not able to be seen or heard by them.
Spike was so young and so human-like still, his memories so fresh and vivid that Grace had no trouble reaching into his mind to see the story he told:
Angelus and Darla had decided to humor Spike by coming to Seville to look for the Slayer. They had their own agenda of course, but they played it as if they were doing Spike a big favor. Ever since the first time he'd heard the term--Slayer--deep in a Yorkshire coalmine, Spike had been a vampire obsessed. Still arrogant of his new strength and speed, he saw the slaying of a Slayer as the ultimate proof of his right to be respected and feared as a creature of the night. So when they began to hear the rumors of something killing vampires and demons in Spain, they knew that this was where the Slayer of this time was located.
Following omens, portents, and Drusilla's vision of an object of great power, they'd narrowed the search to the city of Seville. Ancient and prosperous, legend had it that Seville had been founded by the mythical hero Hercules. The rich merchants and landowners displayed their wealth supporting the art of the ring -- the corrida -- the Fiesta Brava -- bullfighting. At the ancient arena, El Plaza de los Toros, the cuadrilla, or squadron, of picador, banderillero and matador brought brutal sacrifice to every saint's feast day for the entertainment of rich and poor alike. Slipping through the crowds each night as soon as the sun had set, Angelus, Darla, Spike and Drusilla made their own bloody sacrifices to the saints of hell to draw the Slayer to them.
Soon the city was rife with rumors of someone or something cutting through the crowds at the bullring, leaving pale death in its wake. And finally, on the eve of the Feast day of St. Isidro, the Slayer came to slay.
Drusilla sensed her first. As the trumpets sounded the fanfare of the Tercio de Vara to signal the arrival of the matadors and bulls into the ring, she stilled, seeming to listen intently. A sly smile crept over her face. "She's here," she whispered into Spike's ear. "I can feel her, flamenšo and castanets, hot blood and vino tinto."
"Her blood shall be our vino tinto, our red wine," Spike replied with a triumphant growl.
Unerringly, Drusilla led her three companions through the warm malodorous crowds. Standing out from the rest of the human cattle was a girl. Rich and ripe, dark and luscious, olive skin, tumbled black curls and flashing dark eyes, as she strode through the mob, it parted for her, men's eyes following, but none daring to touch. Without a word the four vampires split up to surround her.
The First Tercio - Picadores
In the arena, the first third, or tercio, of the bullfight was underway. Men in colorful costumes taunted the bull, tempting it to come within range of their picadors, or long sharp spears. Working as a team, they jabbed the spears into the hulking shoulders and neck of the bull, drawing blood and enraging it -- causing it to lose all sense of caution and cunning.
In the stands another team of picadores, Darla and Drusilla, were the first to approach the Slayer. Their job in this first tercio was similar to that of their counterparts in the ring -- to wear her out, to enrage her, to lure her. Weaving in and out of the crowd surrounding the Slayer, they flickered their demon faces for her alone to see. As soon as she would make a move towards one, the other would draw her off, leaving the odd, bloodless body as a trail for her to follow.
Stake clutched tightly in her hand, the Slayer would whirl to strike, only to find her quarry temporarily vanished and the attack coming from another direction. She felt as if she were fighting a ghost, something insubstantial, something that eluded her grasp like mercury. They drew her into the area underneath the stands where the horses and bulls were stabled, where it was dark and deserted while all human eyes were on the action taking place in the ring.
The Second Tercio - Banderilleros
Like Darla and Drusilla, the picadores in the ring had done their work well -- the bull was maddened and bleeding. As they left the field, two horsemen, the banderilleros, each bearing a six-foot long spear fluttering colorful ribbons called a banderilla, cantered into the arena. They circled the bull, tempting it to chase them, running it from one end of the ring to the other, round and round. While the bull was focused on one, the other would dart in and jab the banderilla into it's back, shoulders and neck, damaging the muscles there, causing the bull to lose even more blood, weakening it for the faena, the kill.
Under the stands, Angelus was the banderillero. As the Slayer searched the gloom for any signs of Darla or Drusilla, Angelus, mounted on one of the horses reserved for that purpose, burst out of the dark armed with the steel-tipped banderilla. Wheeling around the stumbling Slayer, he taunted her with the pike he carried, making short sharp jabs, a scratch here, a puncture there, until she was dizzy, disoriented and bleeding from several small wounds. Just as suddenly, he disappeared back into the dark, leaving the Slayer to face the matador.
The Final Tercio - Faena
As the crowds roared for the matador, now entering the ring in his flamboyant
suit of lights, Spike stepped out to face the Slayer. In his right hand was a
sword, the estoque, used to kill the bull. In his left, the
muleta, the cape of scarlet, emblematic of the sport. Spike circled his
bull, swirling the cape, tempting it to come for him. As the Slayer
charged, he performed a perfect veronica, the classic matador move, drawing the cape over her head as she rushed past, all the while standing completely still. The human observers above them cheered wildly, as if witnesses to Spike's feat as well as the graceful moves of the human matador out on the bloody sands of the corrida. Drusilla, standing in the shadows, cried, "OlÚ!" and clapped her hands.
Smiling his thanks and bowing to her, Spike took his attention from the Slayer long enough blow Dru a kiss, saying, "You shall have the ears, my dark Goddess, as a trophy." Seeing his distraction, the Slayer aimed a high kick at his head, connecting solidly. Whirling back around, Spike found her in a fighting stance, stake in hand and ready.
Screaming a challenge, he tossed away the muleta and charged. With lightening speed, she evaded him at the last second, thrusting a leg to sweep his out from under him. From then on it was all a flurry of limbs and blows, the sound of Spike's sword ringing off the stone floor as he swung at her and missed, the crunch of the hilt smashing into her jaw on his backstroke.
They tumbled in and out of the shadows, first one seeming to have the advantage, then the other. Spike pierced her side with the sword, but she kicked it away from him into some dark corner. Grappling and flailing, the fight was neither pretty nor scientific -- just two primitive creatures out for the other's blood. Grim and intense, they battled, neither one giving an inch.
The fight took them to the far end of the stables where the broken and unused picadors and banderillas were stored next to a glowing forge used by the farrier for the banderilleros' horses' shoes. The Slayer broke free long enough to grab one of the broken banderillas. The harpoon-like steel tip had broken off the six-foot spear of jagged wood. She drove this deep into Spike's shoulder, missing his heart by inches. The wound staggered Spike, forcing him to his knees as she grabbed another and drove it clean through him, just missing his heart again as he desperately twisted out of the way. Above them the crowd gasped and groaned as the bull viciously gored the matador.
Taking an armful of the wooden spears, the Slayer shoved them deep into the forge where they caught fire.
Seeing the danger that Spike was in, Drusilla flew to his rescue, followed more slowly and cautiously by Angelus and Darla. With just a flick of her wrist, the Slayer took one of her flaming brands and set Dru's trailing skirts on fire.
As Darla knocked Dru to the ground and rolled her to extinguish the flames, Angelus went to defend Spike who looked like a demonic St. Sebastian as the Slayer staked him time and time again, searching for the elusive heart that he only had strength enough to protect. When she saw Angelus' approach, she dropped one of the fiery spears to the straw-covered floor and disappeared into the smoke. Angelus pulled an unconscious Spike to safety as the fallen matador was also carried from the ring.
"And then we crossed the bridge to Triana. I drank Jerez. The others
drank, well, they drank pretty much Triana."
Grace flexed her wrists, testing the strength of the rope which bound her to the chair. She wouldn't be able to squirm out of it, and breaking it was far from her capabilities. "They do that a lot, don't they? Feeding themselves while you go hungry."
Spike tilted his head. "Sometimes Angelus isn't big with the sharing. But I do okay. Two squares a day, roof over my head, and all the fight I can handle. A vampire could do a lot worse. Those buggers who lackey around for the Mayor, you take them for example."
"That's right. You're no one's lackey, are you?"
"Not Spike. I lackey for no one." His brow furrowed. "I am the master of my fate. The captain of my bloody soullessness."
Grace concentrated on the faint music of the Glaive. She reached her mind to it, and to Spike's. "In Seville, did you come up with that plan?"
"That bull stuff in the arena? No. Angelus thought it would show respect for the setting. Put the cape into my hands himself. I wanted to just break her neck and be done with it."
Grace could feel his resentment. "That might have worked better."
"Damn right it would have! Simplicity does the trick. But Angelus likes to make statements. Never satisfied with doing the deed and getting out. He prefers theatrics in his kills. Make everything into a sodding operetta. Murder by Gilbert and Sullivan."
"You're not like him at all."
"Well, I'm Spike and he's Angelus, not the other way around. Tell me about this Glaive. What's it good for?"
"I can move people through the ether with it. You know that, you were there for that earlier tonight."
"Bloody useful that was, too. Moved you right through the ether into the Mayor's chains far as I could tell."
Grace shrugged. "You were still unconscious when his men overpowered me."
"Still, not exactly awe-inspiring, delivering you into their hands like that. What else can you use it for?"
Grace knew she couldn't tell him she was using it right then. In a small voice she said, "I killed a man with it once."
"Now we're talking! What'd you do? Chop him into little bits?"
"It was my step-father. He beat me one night after I dropped a serving tureen washing the dishes. I broke it and he took his belt and beat me. After he went to bed, I went and got the Glaive. I concentrated really hard and I wished he were dead. I could feel it listening to me. Then, a month later, he was."
"Just keeled over like that?"
"Thresher accident. He was working bringing in the harvest at Rutherford Gleaves' farm, and his sleeve got caught in the blades of the thresher. It pulled his arm in, and the only way they could get him out was to run the machine until he came out the other side."
"Lots of blood, then?"
"They wouldn't let me see him. Said I was too young to look at something like that."
"That's all right then. You've got a taste for opera too. But a whole month and then a farming accident like that. I have to hand it to you. You know how to throw off suspicion. Angelus likes to talk about subtlety, but no matter what he does, the smart set knows it's vampires. Knows it's Angelus. He couldn't have been chased across Europe by that Holtz Darla's always going on about if he didn't like to leave his signature. No, come in, tear things up, kill the witnesses -- that's the style that keeps you alive."
"It was Angelus's fault that you were almost killed in Seville -- " Grace broke off when she heard the door open.
Drusilla swept through the door. Grace saw satisfaction on her face, but the wildness in her eyes was undimmed.
Spike stood to embrace her. They fell into each other's arms, Drusilla nuzzling against Spike's neck. They kissed, just tasting each other. Then harder, passionately, as if trying to feed a hunger they alone shared. Then Drusilla pulled back. She let out a tiny burp, covered her mouth and tittered girlishly.
"You get your fill, pet?"
"Oh, Spike, you should have seen it. I could have danced all night. The Duke and Duchess are still at the ball. They're just serving the petit fours."
"So Angelus and Darla are still out there, then? Figures. Meanwhile I'm supposed to stay here like her bleedin' governess."
"Your time will come, my cavalier. I can feel her coming to you. The Slayer. To this very spot. One day you'll watch her die."
"Be the happiest day of my life, love. In the meantime, here I am playing nursemaid."
Grace felt their gaze burn into her. Drusilla disengaged from Spike and approached her. Grace cringed at the touch of Drusilla's fingernail to her cheek. "Naughty girl," said the vampire. "Looking where you're not supposed to." Drusilla's smile was cruel but knowing. Lost in her eyes, Grace for a moment thought she saw her father. She shook the image from her head. Suddenly she could no longer feel her connection to the Glaive.
"It's sweet, Spike," said Drusilla, "the song she sings to the Glaive. But it sings a different song. 'Ashes, ashes, all fall down.'"
Spike crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "Let me know when it hums a few bars of 'Oh, Susannah'."
Drusilla looked around excitedly. "Little tendrils everywhere. But where do they lead?" She crossed to the other room. Grace struggled against her bonds, bucking in the chair as Drusilla emerged with the Glaive, swaddled in a cotton sheet. Grace's breath quickened uncontrollably. Drusilla began to unwrap the shroud.
"It's so beautiful."
"Just a big stick with a butcher's knife on one end, Dru. Nothing the Swiss Guard would be seen with."
"The Pope wouldn't grant our audience. I was so disappointed."
"You and Angelus are the damned lapsed Catholics. Me, I was raised to believe that your Romish church was on the side we're on now."
Drusilla reached to take the Glaive in her hands.
"Dru, I wouldn't do that."
Grace could smell the burning flesh as the steam started to rise off Drusilla's hands. Drusilla's head rocked forward and back and her mouth made little o's of ecstasy. The urgency with which Drusilla caressed the Glaive increased the urgency of Grace's panic as she shook her head at Spike.
"Our captive seems to have something to say. Drusilla, when you've finished having your smoke, would you give me a hand with her?"
Grace whispered to Spike, "You love that girl more than anything, don't you?"
"What business is it of yours?"
"The Glaive will kill her if she doesn't let go."
"And I'm to trust you. Angelus wants to get his hands on it so badly you'd think he'd have mentioned that doing so would be his death."
Grace remembered her step-father's fights with her mother. "She belonged to him before she belonged to you. In a way, she'll always belong to him."
Spike seemed to consider this. His eyes focused on Grace's, boring into her. "Dru, take your stick and leave us for a little, would you?"
Drusilla shook herself from her reverie. "My darling has a point to make." She glided into the next room, carrying the red-hot Glaive.
Spike sat on the bed, facing Grace. "Actually, it seems you have the point to make. Well, stop beating around the bush and get on with it."
"I just don't know why you let them treat you the way they do. You're a better vampire and, I dare say, a better man than to let yourself be bullied by that Angelus."
"Oh, he's not so bad."
"The other night -- I saw him -- I saw how he tortured you."
"That wasn't torture, girl. Torture is what Angelus is going to do to you when he gets back. That was discipline. Discipline is what I'll do to you before he returns."
"Like my step-father used to discipline me."
"Exactly. Discipline is what makes a family strong."
Grace stared defiantly into Spike's eyes. "My step-father doesn't discipline me any more. I made sure of that."
Spike rested his face in the palms of his hands. Grace could see only the top of his head as he said, "I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to make me turn on him. On my sire. Culling me from the herd. You're trying to appeal to my better nature. There's something you forgot, though." He dropped his hands, met Grace's gaze, raised his eyebrows, and then, before Grace knew it could happen, he slapped her across the face so hard that her teeth cut into the side of her mouth. "I don't have a better nature."
He lashed out with his foot, kicking Grace in the chest. The chair toppled over and the seat broke away from the backrest. The ropes still held tight, though, and Grace could do naught but flail helplessly on the ground. Spike was above her in a flash. The hard toe of his boot pressed into her stomach. "You're trying to turn me against Angelus." He kicked her in the ribs. "Against my sire." Sharp pain filled Grace's chest as bone gave way to a second kick. "Grand-sire, really, but no matter." The third kick sent floods of agony through Grace's body. "Do you know what that means? What Angelus means to me?"
Grace could hear delighted squealing from the other room. She tried to turn but Spike grabbed her arm, digging his fingers deep into muscle and nerve. "He's why I am what I am. Look at me when I'm talking to you." Grace's head was pulled up as Spike's rough fingers yanked her hair. "I was nothing before I became a vampire. I owe everything to Angelus." Grace screamed as Spike pounded her head back against the floor. There was a flash of blinding light, and Grace felt herself leave her body for a moment. Then Spike grabbed one of her fingers and she was roughly pulled back to Earth with the snap of bone.
"Look at me. I strike fear into greater hearts than yours, little girl." Grace couldn't see beyond the shards of light that swam in her eyes. She could do nothing to avoid the hands that wrapped around her neck. "And you expect me to do what? Protect you? Against them? Against the people who gave me a family?" Grace could barely summon enough breath to gasp out the pain as he squeezed. Redness filled her brain, edged with ebony black. "Against the people who gave me life? And why? Because I'm a 'better man'?" Again the back of Grace's skull was pounded against the floor. "I'm not a man. Look at me! I'm an evil, soulless beast. You would do well to remember that." A finger was hooked into her mouth and her head dragged upwards. Spike appeared murky through her tears. She felt him move away from her. She could hear his footsteps as he paced.
"But you think differently. You think you can make me give this all up. Turn against the ones who gave me this. Help you get your Glaive back. Betray Angelus, betray Darla, betray Dru." Grace could only wheeze after the next kick to her chest. "Dru needs me. No one else has ever needed me. Sure, they won't brag about it, but the others need me too. Just as I need them. Without them I'm nothing. With them I'm whole. Look at me, bitch!" Spike bent over her. "We're like this." He held out his hand, his fingers splayed, his thumb against his palm. "Four fingers." His fingers curled together and his thumb wrapped across his knuckles. "One fist."
The punch sent Grace skittering across the floor. Just as she felt Spike stalking towards her, she sensed a dark shape throw itself at him, tackling him to the floor.
Angelus's voice reached her. "Spike, how many times do I have to tell you not to damage the merchandise."
"I wasn't going to kill her. Just make her wish I had."
"I gave you a simple task. Stand guard. All you had to do was keep everything safe and look what's happened."
Grace listened to the footsteps grow distant. They had to be Angelus's footsteps because Spike's voice was still near. "There's still enough of her left for you to squeeze out what you want. Learn to use your precious Glaive."
From the other room, Angelus spoke petulantly. "William, where is my Glaive?"
"What?" Rushed footfalls crossed the room. "Where's Drusilla?"
Angelus ran his hands through his hair in annoyance. He grabbed Spike's head and threw it into a wall, breaking a hole through it.
Darla entered, wiping a last bit of blood from her chin. "Oh, what's happened now?" she asked, growing weary of Spike and Angelus' constant fights.
"William here has lost our Glaive."
Darla looked in shock at the younger vampire and slapped him in the face.
"I don't give a damn about the Glaive, Dru's missing," Spike spat.
"Dru has the Glaive?!" inquired Darla.
Faint sounds of gasping came from the next room. Grace struggled to get up and squirmed on the floor holding her ribs.
"Somebody get a little over-zealous?" asked Darla, glancing at Spike. Small gleams of morning sunlight started to appear through the head-shaped hole in the wall.
Angelus walked into the main room, which was filled with darkness. He looked down at Grace. "Where's the Glaive?"
"I used it... to transport your friend."
"It's sunlight outside, ya damn fool," roared Spike, charging at her.
Grace fell back towards a window and opened the shutters, bathing the room in light. The three vampires dove back into a dark corner. Grace ran for the door and escaped. Angelus threw a stinging glance at Spike, almost piercing the younger vampire with his anger.
Grace rapped gently on the back-alley delivery door of the saloon. No one could hear her, she thought with frustration. She pounded against the door again, this time with her fist. Pain shot through her ribcage. She knew something was broken, but she'd just have to wait until she found her mother in order to do something about it.
The door creaked open. Anna peered out. Her hair was up in pins, a sleeper's disarray. Her face was clean of make up. She wore her pale pink bed robe, the silk one from Paris. She gave Grace a small glower. "Gracie, what are you doing here?"
Grace tucked her chin in. "I just came to tell you that I'm leaving. To join my mother and Jacob."
Anna nodded. A sympathetic expression crossed her face. "Well, it's about time. You shouldn't be running around here without them. I don't know what you think you can accomplish--a little girl like you--against the riff-raff in this town."
Grace gave her a steely look. "More than most people," she said. Then her bravado slipped. A run-in with both the despicable Mayor and the four vampires was just cutting it too close. "But things have gotten complicated."
"You don't say," Anna replied shrewdly.
Grace leaned forward into the doorway. Her chest seized up in pain again, and she winced. "You have to come with me. That's why I'm here. I want you to come with me."
Anna gazed at the girl for a moment. Grace was clutching at her ribs with one hand like she was in pain. For the first time, Anna noted the slight discoloration on her cheek--a bruise.
"You're hurt," she said with concern.
Grace nodded distractedly. "That's why I'm going. That's why you have to come with me!"
Anna sighed. The girl was brave, she had to give her that. And she was grateful for the offer. But she couldn't go. She had to look out for her girls. And she couldn't abandon her saloon. She'd worked too hard for both. She shook her head.
Grace's eyes widened. "Please, you have to! It isn't safe!" And as if to drive home that point, Grace sucked in a pained breath.
"I can't, Gracie, I can't." Grace's expression darkened with fear. Anna was touched. "Don't worry. I'll be all right."
"You won't," Grace bit out.
But Anna had to believe that she would. When push came to shove, Anna looked out for her girls. And the Mayor had always protected them--from his demons and vampires, from abusive customers, from hard times when the money wasn't coming in. Anna was an asset in this town. And the Mayor knew it.
So it didn't matter to her--it couldn't matter to her--what seedy dealings the Mayor had his hands in. She knew where her loyalties had to lie.
"If you change your mind," Grace said, "I'll be at the cave. Let me tell you where it is--"
Anna held up her palm. "Don't tell me anything more, Gracie. I'm not leaving, and I don't want to know any more than I already know."
"Don't." Anna reached for the door knob. "Now go, get yourself taken care of. Be safe."
Grace nodded. She hesitated for a second, then raced off into the morning light.
Anna paused at the alley door watching Grace run away from her clutching her side. She was worried about her, but thought she had made the right decision. Grace had her mother and Jacob to look after her. If Anna left, there would be no one to look after her girls. Even though several of them were as old as she was, she knew that only her strength and her association with the Mayor had saved them from being demon food a long time ago.
Clutching her flimsy pink wrapper tightly around her body, Anna turned and re-entered the saloon, closing the door softly behind her -- the girls were still resting up from a raucous night with another one just as eventful coming up -- Saturday nights were always a mob scene and they would be entertaining a special guest of the Mayor's that evening.
Thinking of the Mayor, she remembered how she'd come to be in the position she was in. Her mother had been the mistress of a local merchant with a wife and a ten-year old daughter. When she became pregnant, the man had thrown her out of the rooms he'd rented for her. With nowhere to go and no one to help her, she'd done the only thing she could do. Gathering her few belongings, Anna's mother had gone to the brothel to try to make some money to live on before she got too far along to work any more.
Anna had been born in that brothel and her mother had died giving her life. The former madam had cared for the newborn as if she were her own. Anna learned the trade from the cradle and as soon as she was old enough, she became the highest earning girl in the place. When the madam died a few years later, she left the saloon to Anna, along with a huge pile of debts and ten fellow working girls who needed looking after.
Anna climbed the back stairs up to her small, cluttered dressing room. Exhausted and in pain from her own beating at the hands of the newly-arrived vampires, she sank down onto the small upholstered bench in front of her dressing table. She looked herself long and hard in the face. She could feel it all collapsing around her ears--everything she'd worked for, everything she cared about--and she felt so helpless.
When the Mayor--who held the notes on all her foster mother's debts--approached her about buying the saloon and retaining her to run it, she thought her prayers had been answered. She was able to redecorate and give her girls the little things that made them happy. And they had been happy, all of them, for several years. The Mayor and his lackeys had kept the demons and vampires from making a buffet of them and as the little settlement grew, so did their profits. Anna was able to give up the horizontal aspect of her work and only did favors for the Mayor's "special" friends.
Then last year Anna had gotten the surprise, to date, of her life. The proprietress of town's boarding house had come to call on her, bringing her fourteen-year old daughter, Grace. The woman, Rose Emerson, had told her about the last confession of her father.
When the old man knew that he was dying he'd told Rose that she had a half-sister, the result of an ill-advised love affair he had had twenty years before. Pressured by his wife, Rose's mother, he had abandoned the woman and her unborn child. But in a town so small, he'd always known what had become of them. After his wife died, he had wanted to get to know his younger daughter, but was afraid of what the town gossips would do to Rose and her daughter Grace. He told Rose the truth and asked her to meet Anna, get to know her, find out if she was all right -- be family for her.
Because of her relationship with Rhad, Rose knew what it felt like to be an outcast. She could only try to imagine what it had been like for Anna to have been one her entire life. Rose and Anna were cautious around each other at first, polite, but as they got to know each other better during further discreet visits they became friends, then true sisters.
Sighing, she turned to the paints and powders that crowded her dressing table. The saloon would be opening soon and it was going to take some time to make herself presentable.
The Mayor sat in his office, playing with a coin. The door opened, and steam filled the room.
"Sir, we found her outside," said one of the Mayor's vampire lackeys, throwing Drusilla to the ground.
"She's coming." rasped Dru. "Coming to spank us, we've been bad."
"That's nice... it really is." Mayor Wilkins smiled. "And, you've brought me a present." He picked up the Glaive and held it high. "Now... tell me where the girl is."
Drusilla stood, tied up by chains hanging from the roof. Red patches covered her face from crosses and holy water.
"I can't tell. Daddy will be very cross." The Mayor was growing weary and tossed some more holy water towards her.
"It's dark outside... No doubt your little gang will be here to save you."
"Sir, they won't find us."
"Now Timothy, what have I told you about speaking out of turn."
Timothy looked at the other vampires and back at The Mayor. "Ummm... don't?"
Wilkins threw his eyes towards heaven and looked at the clock. "We're running out of time. They'll find us."
Spike was still burning from the fire that ignited his whole body. Luckily, only a small bit of sun had entered the room. Still, he had been lying in it for about five seconds. Good thing that light separated Angelus and myself on separate sides of the room, he thought.
That next evening, the four went to the Saloon. It was closed early that night. The door was jammed shut, but it was no match for the three. They got inside and grabbed Anna who had been creeping towards the door.
"Where is she?" demanded Angelus. He had been begging for a chance to hurt Anna since they arrived in the town. A chance to play his infamous games, but this was no time for playing.
"Who?" quivered Anna. Angelus vamped out and almost tore the hair from Anna's head. "Okay, Okay! She left town hours ago. Her mother and best friend are out there."
Angelus threw her into a mirror above the bar and they left.
They easily caught up with Grace in the hills. Spike was lagging behind, but kept running from fear of Angelus. Grace noticed them gaining ground and threw a ball of energy towards the ground. A large bolt of electricity spread out from it and hit Spike, knocking him to the ground.
Jacob had given her some magicks like this for protection. He had dabbled in magic for a while now, but wasn't very powerful. She tried to throw another ball, but Angelus dived forward and caught her. She screamed, but was pulled back towards the town. The scream was enough to alert Jacob, who peered out from the cave.
"Where did you send our friend?" Angelus asked.
"Towards the Mayor's office," Grace didn't hesitate in telling them. This was her plan. She hoped The Mayor and the vampires would kill each other and she'd be able to keep the Glaive.
The vampires made for the Mayor's office and smashed their way inside. The found the group in the basement and a fight broke out. Spike freed Dru, sending her falling to the ground. She looked up towards the door and said: "She's here."
The fight stopped and everyone looked towards the door. The Slayer stood there, stake in hand. Without hesitation, Spike confronted her. Dru and Darla fought off the Mayor's lackeys.
Jacob followed the Slayer through the door. He had an axe in his hand, and connected with Angelus' head. The Slayer pummeled Spike's head with lightning-fast kicks. The stake hovered menacingly around his chest as he struggled to block her thrusts. Angelus tripped Jacob, knocking the axe from his hand. They both reached for it, but Jacob kneed the vampire in the groin, allowing him to retrieve it. He swung again, lacerating Angelus above the eye.
The Mayor's crew was no match for the two women. Darla was one of the strongest vampires in the world and Drusilla, although insane and badly injured, was a deadly foe. She was an intelligent and vicious fighter, beating off her opponents. The lackeys were young and inexperienced, but there were enough of them to make a fight.
Wilkins reached for the Glaive, but Grace kicked him in the shin. He grabbed her hair, but a stray elbow from Darla hit him over the head. Grace ran for the door, dodging past the tussling crowd. Jacob and the Slayer followed her, fighting off all followers.
The three of them hid in a small abandoned building, knowing that the vampires would soon sniff them out. The Slayer was a small but intimidating girl with long black hair tied up. She was tanned with large muscles for a girl her age. She was only a few years older than Grace, eighteen, Jacob guessed. She answered to the name of InÚz.
"Jacob told me everything, Grace," she said. "You cannot keep the Glaive."
InÚz didn't know why the Mayor or Angelus wanted it, but she knew it couldn't be good.
But Grace could never part with it. This piece of Neral was her last connection to Rhad.
InÚz bandaged a wound on her shoulder while Jacob peered out for signs of followers. He suggested that they leave towards the cave on the edge of town.
Mrs. Emerson sighed and paced to the entrance of the cave. Peering out, for what seemed to be the millionth time, she scanned the hillside anxiously for signs of Jacob's return. When he'd wakened her to say he was leaving, she'd been terrified, but knew that he would never leave her alone if he absolutely didn't have to. Silently, she acknowledged to herself that Jacob had been a better friend than she'd deserved. She knew, in her heart, that he loved her. If only I'd met him before I met Linc Emerson, she thought. My little girl would've had such a happy life. Closing her eyes, she rested her head against the hard cave wall. But what was I to do? she thought, despairingly. No respectable woman in town would have anything to do with me. No husband in sight and a baby girl to take care of. Oh, Rhad... you said you'd come back... why didn't you come back? I know I shouldn't have lain down with you, but I couldn't help myself. And you loved our Gracie so...you were the strong one, not me. When you left, we about starved... it was Linc or the whorehouse... well, maybe I made the wrong choice...
Angry with herself and the direction her thoughts had taken, she opened her eyes. Where are you, Gracie? Rising, she stalked over to the cave entrance yet again and peered out. As she did so, a shadow loomed directly in front of her, and she fell back with a frightened gasp.
"It's only me, Rose, don't be scared."
"Oh, Jacob! Jacob! You were gone so long! Did you-?" She broke off, and rushed past him to grab her daughter to her, sobbing and laughing at one and the same time. "Grace! My Gracie! Oh, thank God! Thank God!"
"Mamma, stop! Please! I love you, too, but my ribs!"
"You're hurt? You're hurt! Where? Oh! Sit down, baby, and let me look at you!" As she spoke, she ushered Grace over to the bed of skins at the back of the cave and pressed her down on them, gently. As she sat, Grace smiled up at her mother.
"Mamma, we have company. This is InÚz. She helped us get away from Mayor Wilkins and... and some other folk."
"InÚz." Mrs. Emerson turned to smile distractedly at the young woman. "Please excuse me if I haven't thanked you or welcomed you -- I have to tend to my girl, but please, sit. There's broth still warm in the cauldron, if you're hungry. You, too, Jacob. I made plenty."
"Emerson, my dear, but, please, call me Rose. Everyone does." Turning to Jacob, she said, "Jacob. I need to look at my child's injuries. Can you please hang a blanket up, somehow, to give us some privacy?"
As Rose turned back to Grace, Jacob grinned at InÚz. "Better do as she says, girl. She has a sharp tongue when ya don't jump quick enough fer her likin'".
InÚz said nothing until Jacob had strung up an old blanket across the back of the cave, then she waited until he'd helped himself to a bowl of the broth Mrs. Emerson had mentioned and sat down next to her. Nodding toward the blanket, she leaned closer to him and said, in a low voice "La madre -- the mother -- she knows about the vampires, si?"
"Well..." Jacob took a mouthful of the broth and pondered the question. "Y'know, this town is one peculiar place. Must be that folk know something of what goes on here 'tween sundown and sunup, but if they do, well, they don't talk about it. Now, Rose there, she has to know something, 'cos of who Grace's pa was... or is, if he's still alive somewheres. But Rhad's one of the things we don't talk about much... pains 'er, I reckon. Grace likes to think she's protectin' her mother by not mentioning things like vampires, and to my way of thinkin' Rose just goes along with it."
As Jacob ducked his head once more to his soup, InÚz thought about what he'd said. It struck her that too many people were doing too much thinking and not saying enough! Her thoughts were interrupted as Mrs. Emerson emerged from behind the blanket, followed by Grace, who was finishing buttoning up her dress and scowling.
Hiding a smile, the Slayer thought to herself, Mothers -- all over the world they are the same! Patting the ground beside her, she signaled to the younger girl to sit. As Grace did so, InÚz noted that she hugged an arm to her ribs, and favored her right side.
"So," InÚz looked around at her companions. "Let us have some... how do you say? Honest speaking! Amongst us there can be no secrets. You agree?"
Although Grace gave her mother a doubtful look, she nodded, and the Slayer continued. Her English was excellent, and she spoke with little pause to search for a correct word.
"Jacob told me much, as we followed your scent, Grace, but there are some things he did not know. I have met these vampiro -- vampires -- before. I have fought with them. In Spain."
As InÚz uttered the word 'vampires', Grace glanced at her mother, whose expression didn't change. Raising a metaphorical eyebrow, Grace turned back to the Slayer. "You fought them?! Are you telling us you're a Slayer? A Vampire Slayer?"
"Si. Yes. I am a Vampire Slayer. This is my, um, la profecion de mi vida - my life's work. My Watcher sent me to this place. He said I was needed here. It was not an easy journey for me, at this time with the troubles between our countries, you understand?
"I followed their bloody trail from Seville. That was not hard, if you know what to look for. I met Jacob, here, back on the edge of town, and he told me something of your story. And of the Glaive. What Jacob does not know is that I already knew about the Glaive."
As Grace gave a start, InÚz nodded at her. Her glance at the bundle which lay at Grace's side was almost envious. And regretful. "Grace, you must know, in your heart, that this thing will never bring you peace. If you keep it, you -- and your mother, and everyone close to you -- will never be able to go about your lives without looking over your shoulders, wondering always when the next attempt to take it will come. This man, este alcalde? This Mayor? He is human, is he not?"
As they nodded, she continued. "Hmm. He is also... I don't know... " Shrugging off a sudden chill, she frowned. "Well. It is very late, and we are all tired. Tomorrow we will talk some more." As Grace opened her mouth, the Slayer held up a hand. "No. We are all tired, and you are in pain, I know. I promise, tomorrow I will explain everything to you. For now, we sleep." She looked at Grace's mother. "I sleep very lightly, Se˝ora. Rest. If anything comes, I will hear it. This I also promise you."
Smiling wearily, Mrs. Emerson nodded her thanks to the other girl, and drew Grace down with her to the bed of skins. As Jacob blew out the oil lamp, the cave was lit only by a faint glow emanating from beneath the cloth which shrouded the Glaive. As Grace gazed at the bundle, she felt her mother's hand curl around hers. "Grace, my darling girl," she whispered, "I thought I'd lost you tonight. All because of that thing you set so much store by. I've come to hate it as much as you love it. That girl was right... what she said earlier... Please, honey, listen to what she has to say, tomorrow, please."
Grace patted her mother's hand, comfortingly, but said nothing. But she thought I won't destroy my father's gift. I won't. There has to be another way...