"You had to turn the blonde one?" asked Darla. "I couldn't much stand her
when she was breathing. On this you bestow eternal life?"
Angelus' eyes widened. "Dearest, I thought a maid would make you happy."
"A maid, yes. A necklace, a new dress, one of those fancy German automatics, these might make me happy. But a whore? And one so meretriciously blonde at that? Oh, Angelus, couldn't you have brought me someone of more refinement?"
Drusilla whimpered into Spike's shoulder. "I can't stand to watch Mummy and Daddy fight."
"Let them have it out, poodle."
Darla continued, "I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything else from you. You always did have terrible tastes. I mean, James and Elizabeth? Do you know how painful it was to watch the two of them hanging all over each other? Made me wish I had a heartbeat -- then opening a vein would have been a release. Whenever I see a vampire that gets on my nerves, I say, 'There goes another of Angelus' by-blows.' And Penn? Could you have found anyone whom I was less interested in spending eternity with? Not to mention the simpering brat we're dragging along with us now."
"Hey," said Spike. "Leave Drusilla out of this."
"Sit down, Spike. I swear, Angelus, sometimes you let your fangs do your thinking for you."
"She'll be very useful to us," said Angelus.
"Oh, I can see how a whore would be useful to you, Angelus. What's the problem? Am I not whore enough for you? You change the first trollop you find, and then you have the audacity to pretend she's a gift for me?" Darla kicked Anna's still lifeless body.
"Darla, darling, let me explain. She's not just a whore. The child trusts her -- with her life, I'd wager. This common whore is our key to getting the Glaive. It shouldn't take much time after she awakens. We'll be at the opera before you know it, my dear."
"Can't be soon enough for me."
"And, this whore has the ear of the Mayor. And soon we too will have his ear, and any other souvenirs you may desire."
"Now you're talking," said Spike.
"She's been playing both sides against each other, and that's a strategy we can embrace. We'll have our Glaive and be on our way. There's nothing standing in our way."
Darla frowned. "I still don't understand why this Glaive is so important to you. As far as I can tell it's good only for showy parlor tricks. So it can read minds, influence people, Drusilla can do that. Of course, you need an alienist to translate Drusilla into English, but still, she's slightly less conspicuous than carrying around a medieval pole arm." She glanced at Drusilla. "Well, half a dozen of one . . . "
Angelus settled back onto the bed. "Oh, there's one more power of the Glaive I think you'll find very interesting."
Drusilla clapped her hands. "Daddy's going to tell us a story!"
"About bloody time. Find out what all this fuss is over," said Spike.
Angelus crossed his legs and rested his head back on his intertwined fingers. "You see, the Glaive is much more powerful than even its keeper suspects." Darla sat in the chair as Drusilla leaned forward expectantly. And as the sunlight filtered through the curtains across the room, Angelus began to explain.
As the morning sun gave way to afternoon drizzle, the churches of Boca del
Infierno emptied. A day of rest appointed by God was no match to the
appointments of Mammon. The fields surrounding the town were abuzz with
activity: peaches were picked, barley cut, garlic dug. On the vast farms
belonging to Rutherford Gleaves, the work was especially hard, the laborers
thinking only of the moment they would be able to return to the shanties that
passed for homes, return for five or six hours of dreamless sleep. There was no
leisure for them, no trips into town to the saloons or the brothels. They were
paid only in company scrip, redeemable only at the company store. And if they
found the prices there too dear, well, the company store was all too willing to
extend them credit, repayable in hard labor. Those few who managed to come out
ahead could cash out at the end of the season, but those few who managed to come
out ahead tended to mysteriously disappear before collecting their
All in all, it was an arrangement that did well for Rutherford Gleaves, and he had converted his profits into a stately mansion on a hill far from the shacks where his workers took their scant rest. He could look out from his windows across his domain and watch the harvest and know that all was right in the world. There was a God in Heaven, a Democrat in the White House, and not one Indian-Head cent beyond his grasp.
Turning from the view now, though, was a rat-faced man with stringy blond hair. "I don't understand why you don't hire trolls, Rutherford. Auburn claims that his efficiency at the sawmill has trebled since he went to troll labor."
"You don't deliver nearly enough babies to feed the workers I'd need, Harmon. Plus, trolls tend to squish the avocados, and guacamole spoils before I can get it to market."
Across the mahogany-paneled sitting room, the Mayor checked his pocket watch. "I don't know what can be detaining the Governor. You would think a man in his position would have more respect for punctuality. A servant of the people must be a servant to the clock as well. Oh, well, I guess we'll have to start the meeting without him. And I was so looking forward to showing him what we've planned."
Next to the Mayor on the settee sat a goateed man in a tweed suit, wearing a pince-nez and drinking from a china cup. "I suppose," he said, "that if the Governor can't be bothered to join us, I can make myself more comfortable." He grew indistinct about his edges and then, suddenly, gushed out into a puddle of tentacles and gaping, tooth-filled mouths. He still held the cup, the tip of his tentacle extended in a refined manner. He hadn't spilled a single drop of tea.
"Jesus, Bougarek," said Auburn Cole. "Give a man some warning before you do that. I don't look forward to falling asleep tonight with that on my mind."
Bougarek sipped his tea daintily and then tossed the cup and saucer into another of his mouths, splintering the porcelain audibly. "Your mistress is a Sister of Jhe. In your position, I'd always fear climbing into bed. But de gustibus and all. We missed you at the rally the other night, Auburn. Quite an event. I really enjoyed the fireworks."
"I was out learning some interesting things about this town's newest visitor. She claims to be some sort of a slayer of vampires."
"The vampire slayer?" asked Gleaves. "Some of the annals speak about a mystical warrior chosen to stand for humanity against the vampires. But I thought she was a myth."
"Well, this myth is hiding in a cave in the hills. And she has the Glaive, but it doesn't interest her. Her only interest is the stone."
The Mayor made a steeple with his hands, considering. "It seems our interests coincide. And while mystical warriors for good frankly give me the heebie-jeebies, we do have a little vampire problem at the moment. I think we'll be able to work together. Shall we put it to a vote, gentlemen? All in favor of letting the slayer have her stone in exchange for a term of service as town exterminator, say 'Aye.' Why, I think the ayes have it."
Dr. Kendall spoke, "Point of procedure, gentlemen. A motion must be seconded before it . . . "
"Shut up, Kendall," said Gleaves. "Owning General Robert's manual does not make you our parliamentarian."
"As I was saying, the ayes have it. A vampire slayer, working for me. That's just dandy. Has a certain irony to it. It is all right with you, Boo, right?"
Bougarek shrugged quiveringly. "As long as her mandate doesn't include K'reshians, I'm sure we'll get along fine. Tell me something, Auburn. I'm dying to know what you did with Jacob while you worked your glamour."
Cole chuckled. "I do own a sawmill, Boo. Let's just say he went to pieces on me."
The Mayor said, "So, Auburn, you -- I mean, 'Jacob' -- will endeavor to convince this Slayer to realize who her true allies are. We'll turn her on our other interlopers, and all it costs us is a piece of Papist paste! I know something about the art of the deal, believe me, gentlemen, and this is truly a bargain."
"But," said Dr. Kendall, "I thought the power of the Glaive came from the stone."
"Oh, sure, the stone gives it certain properties, the ability to control the weak-minded, some remote viewing, and a marvelous tendency to transport its holder into the hands of my minions. But these are nothing but legerdemain. And, you have to agree that I have my own capacities when it comes to controlling the weak-minded. Isn't that right, Kendall?"
"Well, you do have a certain charisma . . . "
"I said, 'Isn't that right, Kendall?'"
"Anyway, when Rhadyxmantril made the Glaive -- boy I miss him! He was always doing fun stuff, like stealing relics and starting earthquakes. When Rhad made the Glaive, he constructed it as the fulcrum between the divine and the demonic. Well, I have no need for the divine; the power that interests me is in the Neral blade. That saint's rock just holds back its true potential. Tell me, how do you think Rhad traveled between here and Neral?"
Dr. Kendall hunched his shoulders. "How does anyone travel interdimensionally? There are certain rituals, protocols that must be followed."
"Rhad just cut right through all that arcana. And when I say, 'cut,' I mean cut. Gentlemen, the Glaive possesses the ability to reshape the very fabric of ontology. Don't like how long it takes you to get to the coast? Snip, snip, you're closer. Finding life on the edge of the city too tiresome? Tear out a seam and you've moved away from it all. Gentlemen, what is the biggest, most dangerous demon facing California today?"
"I never liked that Hesperyx who walked around like he owned the place," said Dr. Kendall.
Cole beetled his brows. "That nest of Zagorrah we cleaned out last year was pretty fierce."
"Hello?" Bougarek said. "I like to think that I have a certain panache!"
Gleaves leaned against his picture window. "The Southern Pacific Railroad. Buying up right-of-way land at two and a half dollars an acre, and if you wouldn't meet their price, those bastards would get their friends in Sacramento to exercise eminent domain on the land for them."
"Exactly right!" said the Mayor. "And when they didn't use the land, what would they do then?"
"Sold it back to me at thirty-five dollars an acre. Promise to build a junction here, get everyone speculating on land like mad, and then they run the main line through Santa Barbara and stick us with a spur line that can barely carry my produce to market in time."
The Mayor smiled. "How'd you like to make Santa Barbara disappear? With the Glaive in its proper hands, gentlemen, we can make all the tracks in California pass through Sunnydale. Or, should the fancy take us, we can make all the tracks in California lead into chasms. Sometimes even commerce must give way to spite, after all. I am telling you that with the Glaive, Sunnydale can be anywhere. Should we need to be convenient to the ocean, we'll be convenient to the ocean. Should we need to be close to the desert, we can be close to the desert. We can be the most connected city in California and the most isolated at the same time. This way our city will always have room to grow and still maintain its small town charm. It's a commuter's dream. We don't like an outlying village? We can just fold right over it. It'll be there should we want it back."
"The world," said Cole, "would be our oyster."
The Mayor grimaced. "Ugh. Slimy little things. And, gentlemen, if we are really serious about developing our fair burg . . . "
"I've got six hundred acres lying fallow, awaiting ground-breaking," said Gleaves. "I'm just waiting for these buyers you keep saying will materialize."
"Now, Rutherford, I know as well as you do that you've sold some of that land four or five times. Every time the ink dries on the check, the buyer turns up with severe puncture wounds."
"What can I say? Real estate is a risky business. The land is useless for farming anyway. I tried growing garlic on it, but there was never as big a demand for garlic as you might expect."
"If we are serious about developing Sunnydale into the city of the future, we're going to have to think about electrification. They just ran electrification cables twenty-two miles to electrify Sacramento. I asked our Governor if we might have be able to receive some of the same service, but he claimed the distance was just too great. I think you can see how the Glaive might come in handy. And let me tell you, I have seen the future, and it is electrified. We will make Sunnydale a city of lights! And streetcars! No longer will our streets be clogged with horse manure once we install electrified streetcars. Believe me, Californians will embrace the clean, efficient transportation provided by electrified streetcars."
"Someone's been reading Jules Verne," said Bougarek.
"And, gentlemen, I foresee a time when every electrified home will have in it a little box with a screen, on which families can watch events taking place hundreds of miles away. All through the power of electricity! I call these boxes Distant Viewing Devices, or DVDs for short. Someday, the good citizens of Sunnydale will sit snug in their homes watching their DVDs, safe in the knowledge that nothing untoward can transpire on the streets brightly illuminated by electrified lighting!" The Mayor grinned. "Of course, we'll have our hand on the switch."
Dr. Kendall threw up his hands. "This is you grand scheme? To use the awesome powers of the Glaive to steal electricity?"
The Mayor glared at him. "Sit down, Kendall."
Gleaves crossed the room to the shelf where he kept the brandy. "I like it. And I assume that with the Glaive, we can put Gleaves produce in every greengrocer's in the country." He poured the elixir into five snifters and passed them about. "Gentlemen, I propose a toast. To Sunnydale! Electrified city of the future!"
"Hear, hear." They all drank. They savored the brandy, purring satisfied, listening to the calming sound of Bougarek chewing his snifter.
"I think this calls for some entertainment," said the Mayor. "Tell me, Rutherford, is that charming daughter of yours in residence? She has the most delightful singing voice."
"Edna Mae is still on her Grand Tour. I think she's spending my money in Florence right now."
"That's a shame. She's truly a charmer."
"I suppose if there's no further business," said Kendall, "we should conclude this meeting."
"I have some new business," came a voice from the doorway. They turned their eyes towards her, a slim figure in a high necked silk dress and elbow length satin gloves.
Gleaves rose to his feet. "How'd you get in here? This is a private house."
"But a public meeting," said Darla. "This is a meeting of the city council. And by law, those are open to the public."
The Mayor kneaded the back of his neck. "There is a law to that effect in our charter. It's called a 'sunshine law.' No one's ever tried to invoke it before. And you would think that just invoking a law with such a name might give you just the slightest case of bursting into flames. Not to mention the actual sunlight outside." Darla, smiling, twirled her parasol. "Ah," the Mayor continued. "I don't know why I bother learning all these rules when you show such innovation in circumventing them. It's just neat how creative you get. Really, America can go into the Twentieth Century assured of a glorious future with such creative minds at play between its shores."
"I'm pretty certain," said Gleaves, "that I had a butler. He's supposed to show riffraff like you the gates."
"That old man?" Darla said. "He was somewhat crunchy. And with the slightest hint of asparagus."
"And where is your gentleman companion?" asked the Mayor. "The Irish fellow. He has pluck. I'd like to pluck his fangs out one by one."
"That's why I'm here. It's Angelus. We have to stop him."
Cold. So cold. Why was she so cold? Opening her eyes, she glared wildly around the room, looking from corner to corner, never moving her head. No one there. She bolted upright, with an almost-gasp. She could hear voices, but there was no one there... Rolling off the bed on which she lay, she tottered jerkily to the door, her steps disorientated, drunken. Throwing open the door, she leaned against the jamb. She felt weak... her belly hurt...She wrapped her arms around her waist and whimpered. It hurt so much...what was the matter with her?!
Angelus looked up from his book, then, laying it gently down on the arm of his chair, stood. Walking over to her, he grasped her gently by the shoulders and led her to the chaise longue, which was situated in front of the window. Pushing her down to it, he turned away and walked to the far door of the suite. Looking through it, she heard him call someone's name, Drusilla, then, without waiting for an acknowledgement, he seemed to almost float back to her, and she closed her eyes, her head sinking back, heavy, on her neck.
Whispering... whispering... so loud the whispers...'No earth, Daddy, should have earth for the new baby...'...'Hush, Dru, you know we can't bring earth in here... we'd never get it out of the carpets...' At the cool touch on her face, she opened her eyes, and cowered back.
"No, pretty one, don't be frightened, Mummy's here." The girl was smiling; her voice was soft, cooing. I know her... "Come now, darling, look! Mummy's brought you a present!" Reaching one arm back, she tugged something towards her. A young boy, bound and gagged, his eyes huge with terror. As she raised her head and stared at him, he started to struggle, attempted to scream, and the noises he made were... sweet... and suddenly she knew... she knew!
Drusilla smiled. "Yes. Yes, that's it... you know what to do...." she said, and shoved the boy to his knees in front of her.
Her face felt odd, and she reached up her hands and touched... bumps? Ridges? Over Drusilla's shoulder, she could see him, the one who'd saved her, and without taking her eyes from his, she sank her fangs into the lad's neck and sucked.... Ah, the taste, the warm, coppery, sweet taste... It was too much. She closed her eyes to savor it. Feeling suddenly stronger, she reached out her arms and took hold of the boy herself, pulling him roughly from Drusilla's grasp. She heard the sound of soft laughter, but ignored it, continuing to suckle, lapping, guzzling, greedily slurping, taking in threads of flesh as she bit greedily into him. Finally, it was over, and she pushed him from her, to stand as his body toppled soundlessly to the thick carpeting.
And finally her savior spoke, directly to her.
"So. Anna. Welcome to our little family." Smiling, he added
A maid! He hadn't made any bones about it. He'd made her just for that purpose. But as he hadn't hesitated to explain, she was with them only for the duration of their stay in Boca. After that, she was on her own. But if you're a good girl, Anna, you'll be well rewarded at the end of it, so you will. You could hear the Irish in him, sometimes, she thought. Picking up one of Darla's silk chemises from the floor besides the bed, she tsked a little at the tear which ran down the front of it, then walked over to the vanity table mirror and held it up against herself, admiringly. Pure silk, she thought. Must've cost a pretty penny, and she didn't buy it in this town, no sir! She didn't know where Darla was now, but she hoped the creature wasn't anywhere too near. Bitch! Looking down her nose at me! Well, pretty is as pretty does, I always say, and she's a nasty one, even for a vampire... one of these days... Even as thoughts of retaliation for Darla's disdain crossed her mind, she dismissed them, acknowledging to herself that the other woman held all the power in their relationship. Maid and mistress, that's what they were, and they were never going to be anything else.
Angelus, on the other hand.... Her thoughts were interrupted with the opening of the bedroom door, and she thrust the chemise aside guiltily.
"Ah, there you are. Come with me, Anna, I have a job for you." Without waiting for a reply, Angelus turned on his heels and walked away from her, out of the suite of rooms they occupied. Following him, she was puzzled to see him turn towards the staircase at the far end of the corridor. The staircase that led to the family quarters. Rose's and Gracie's rooms. Puzzled, she padded after him.
The doors of all the rooms upstairs were flung wide. Clothes and possessions were flung higgledy-piggledy everywhere, as though someone had been looking for something. In a hurry. He led the way into Grace's room, and stalked over to the garderobe against the far wall. It's door hung drunkenly askew, and he reached inside it and pulled out one of Grace's dresses. Holding it out to her, he said "Take it." When she did so, he walked past her, only saying "Come."
Downstairs in the main parlor, he sat and gestured for her to sit also. Leaning back in his chair, he steepled his hands in that manner he had, and looked at her for a long moment, narrowing his eyes. "Anna," he said, "I made you one of us for more than one reason. Oh, we needed a maid. We certainly did. Young Spike," he grinned "can be a pig, so he can. However, there's a job I need you to do for me, Anna, and only you can do it."
Though puzzled, she was pleased, and couldn't help preening a little. He noticed and smiled. Reaching down, he picked up the book he had been reading and held it up so that she could read the title: Frankenstein: or, a modern Prometheus. "Interesting woman, Mary Shelley. A woman ahead of her times. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Frankenstein. In the end, you know, the creature he created was the death of him. Now, you understand, Anna, don't you, that I created you?" At her nod, he continued. "Good, then. Of course, it goes without saying that I don't expect you to be the death of me. Of someone, maybe, but not me." She didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but she nodded anyway. Killing someone would make a welcome change from cleaning up after this lot... But he was talking again and she shook off the thought hurriedly.
"We want you to go out and find Grace, Anna, or, if you can't get hold of Grace, then her mother will do. Use the dress. Follow her scent from the bar. We know, or should I say, we've been reliably informed, that they're holed up somewhere out of town, in the hills. Find them. Get them here. And, Anna..." he leaned forward in the chair, his smile genial, his eyes cold, "I want them brought to me alive. If they are brought to me in any other condition.... I won't be pleased. Do I make myself clear?" At her frantic nod of assent, he smiled again, and gestured her to the door. "Run along, then." And without another word, he went back to his book.
Rose debated silently whether or not to interrupt one of the girls. She needed to use the facilities, such as they were. Though I don't call a hole in the ground 'facilities'! she thought, in some disgust. Trouble was, it was a couple of hundred yards from the cave, and she shouldn't go alone, she knew. Glancing back at the far end of the cave, she could see that the two younger women were deep in conversation, and as it was the first civil conversation they'd had in several hours, she didn't want to break it up, truth be told.
Sighing, she peered out into the dim light. She could see and hear nothing out of the ordinary. She'd be there and back, she thought, and no one any the wiser! Darting quickly forward, she was out of their sight without them noticing, and she hurried towards the bushes, lifting up her skirts as she ran.
As she neared them, the bushes suddenly rustled and quivered, and she stopped, alarmed. Then she heard a familiar voice and gasped, her hands going to her throat. "Anna! What on earth! How did you find us? Have you seen Ja-" And then -- a sudden fierce pain in her head, a blinding light and.... nothing....
Angelus had woken up that evening to find Darla still gone. She'd grown very quiet during his exposition on the Glaive, and silence wasn't really her style. He rarely had to read her disapproval from some subtle look on her face; when Darla didn't like something, you knew it.
But she'd said nothing. She'd gone straight to bed afterwards without a word. Sometime around noon, she'd slipped out of bed and hadn't come back. Not all day. Angelus supposed a human man might worry about his woman disappearing for hours on end. He supposed he should have worried about Darla out in all that sunlight. But Anna's birth had distracted him--the evening's hunt for her first meal, taking care of the details of her membership in their little band.
And Darla could take care of herself. No matter what she might be up to. He had other things to worry about.
He strolled around their prisoner in a slow circle, his boots scuffing the hard wood floor of the downstairs sitting room. A queen tied up in her own castle, he mused. Bound and gagged and strapped to a chair. But this was no queen, not really. Rose Emerson had that worn look so many American women had outside the Eastern seaboard. A working life with few luxuries and the complete absence of cosmetics made them look ten, fifteen years older than they really were.
But this was no ordinary woman. He ran his fingers across her shoulders and up into her faded dull blonde hair.
"Hello, Rose," he murmured. "Welcome home."
Angelus smiled. Then he glanced over at Anna, who was sitting on the over-stuffed worn velvet couch staring at her sister with fascination. Dru loitered on the other side of the couch like a protective mother. Spike had the armchair and a cigar.
"I would have preferred Grace," Angelus said to Anna, "but this will work as well."
Anna leapt forward off the couch and knelt down beside Rose's chair.
"What do you think, then?" Angelus asked her. "When you look at her, what do you feel?"
"Hungry," Dru chimed in sensuously.
But Anna looked thoughtful. She tilted her head. Rose stared at her wide-eyed over her gag. "Ooh," Anna cooed. She reached up and touched her sister's cheek. Rose winced at the chill of her sister's dead fingers. "I don't want to kill you Rose," Anna whispered. "Or my girls." She glanced over at Spike with a wry smile. "What's left of them." She looked back at Rose. Her fingertips dug into her sister's forehead, stretching the skin as if to create a vampiric visage there. "I want to save you. Like he saved me." Her eyes drifted over towards Angelus.
"Turn them. An excellent idea!" Angelus replied. "And when we're gone, and this city belongs to you, Anna, that's exactly what you'll do."
"They'll become the predators and not the prey," announced a voice in the doorway. Darla came to a halt just inside the room. "And they'll have the men of this town lying on their backs."
"You've returned at last, I see," Angelus said stiffly. "Enjoy your walk?"
Darla wandered in the door. She threw the heavy wool blanket she carried onto the arm of the couch, then jerked off her gloves one by one. "I could have done without the sunlight."
Angelus stared at her intently. Darla noticed the look, but it didn't change her composure. "Well, they have that during the day, so I've heard," Angelus replied. "See anything interesting on your walk?"
Darla shrugged. "Not really. This place is just as dull during the day as it is at night. More dull, if that's possible." She set her eyes on Anna. "Come upstairs with me, won't you, Anne, Anna, whatever the hell your name is? And bring that blanket. I have some other things as well."
Anna nodded and rose to her feet. But inside she felt a pang of irritation. This Darla, the oldest of them all, had been a whore in some previous life, she now knew. The least she could do was show a little camaraderie.
"The laundry can wait, Darla," Angelus cut in. "I have one more thing I'd like Anna to do."
Darla stood silent and still for a long moment. Finally, she frowned and pivoted around, leaving the blanket on the couch. The others listened to the leaden sound of her boots going up the stairs. Somewhere up in the expanse of the second floor, a door squeaked.
"Grandmummy doesn't seem very happy with your plan, Daddy," Drusilla said with a pout.
Angelus turned back to their prisoner. He pretended to study her, but his mind was upstairs. "Yes," he sighed, "so what else is new?"
"What if she tries to stop you?" Spike asked, expelling a plume of spicy cigar smoke.
Angelus shrugged. "I expect she will."
"You don't seem too concerned."
Angelus smiled at his grand-childe. A real, full-on smile of pleasure. "It's all part of the game, Spike, my boy. It's the dance Darla and I dance. It's all a game. Including my plans for the Glaive. She knows that."
He turned his attention to the fledging vampire. "Anna," he said, "it's time to fetch Grace now. Tell her--tell her that her mother's been taken by those four foul vampires, and that she needs to come right away, before we turn her mother into a nice sit-down Sunday supper."
Anna smirked and nodded. She turned towards the door.
"And remember Anna--" Angelus called out. The vampire stopped and waited, blinking at her father. "Don't go near the Spanish girl if you can possibly avoid it. She's a vampire Slayer, like I told you, and killing a vampire Slayer requires more finesse and skill than an average human. She's strong--stronger than you, and she might be able to sense what you are."
Spike cleared his throat. Off his disgruntled, bored look, Angelus added, "We'll deal with her soon enough, but I'd just as soon not have that one other detail in the way tonight." He turned his attention back to Anna. "And make sure the girl brings the Glaive. But don't give her anything to be suspicious of until she's inside this house, or she'll use the weapon on you."
Anna nodded, and in a clack of heels, was gone.
Angelus turned back to Rose with renewed interest. One small corner of his mind was still upstairs with Darla, but there were other games to play right now. He strode over to Rose and wriggled the gag off her mouth.
Rose took a deep breath and tugged against her bonds. She stared up at Angelus. "What are you going to do to Gracie?" she gasped.
Angelus glanced over at Spike, and then Dru. "Pay attention, children," he said. "Notice that her first concern is for her family." He ran a hand over Rose's slightly plump, ruddy face. "It's touching, really." He bent down and stared into her eyes. They were blood shot and glistening. "We're going to have her teach us how to use the Glaive, of course," he replied casually. "And then we'll kill her."
Rose's eyes darkened. Her lips quivered.
"I don't want to eat the girl," Dru piped up. She ran one fingertip over the tip of her tongue and made a face. "Her blood smells."
Angelus stood up straight. "Yes, it does, doesn't it? And now we know why." He stared down at Rose. Spike grinned around his cigar, watching the way Angelus loomed over the woman like a predatory bird. "A Neral. Daughter of Rhadyxmantril himself."
Rose didn't blink. She was struggling to keep her composure. Determined not to betray Grace, Angelus thought. But it was way too late for that.
"Did you know that Neral demons smell, Rose?" he asked. "Well, to vampires they do."
"You've never met a Neral demon," Rose snapped.
Angelus chuckled at her sudden pluck. "Well, not until I came to this town." He knelt down on the floor the way Anna had a few moments earlier and stared into her rheumy eyes again. "Tough talk, Rosie. But what else should I expect from a woman who sleeps with demons?" He smirked lasciviously and ran a hand over the roundness of one plump thigh. Her whole body stiffened, then jerked under her effort not to move a muscle.
"We aren't scaring you, are we Rose?" he whispered. Rose's cold fear was evident in her stony face. And in the air. The scent was intoxicating. "No... demons don't scare you. A woman like you knows exactly what to do with a demon, doesn't she?" He let his hand slip into the crotch of her dress. But she was too tightly bound for him to make contact with anything. "If he's equipped the right way, anyway."
Rose squirmed. Angelus shook his head at her like she was a child. "No, Rosie," he went on, "any decent demonology Atlas will tell you that Nerals smell. They smell like sulfur."
Rose grit her teeth. "Are you going to kill me before Grace gets here? Or after?" she bit out.
Angelus reached up and cupped Rose's jaw in one hand. She winced. "Mmm... Rosie. You'll find I'm not much for killing. At least, not killing for its own sake. The dead are so... boring."
Rose stared back at the animated corpse who tormented her. "You're telling me."
Angelus smiled big. He liked this woman. He'd have to keep her alive. At least long enough to watch her daughter die. He pulled himself to his feet.
"Neral demons aren't exactly known for their morality, either," he said as if she hadn't uttered a word. "I've read some interesting stories about this Rhadyxmantril." He padded across the floor. "Would you like to hear some of them?"
Her mother was gone. Gone from where she'd been sitting, tending the fire. Grace hadn't noticed it first. InÚz had. They'd both shot out the mouth of the cave to see if she was nearby. But there was no sign of her.
Grace started down the hill in a guilty panic. InÚz leapt after her and gripped Grace's arm. "You'll stay here. I'll look for your mother."
Grace wriggled angrily. "I can handle myself!" she spat.
InÚz didn't budge. In the moonlight, Grace could see that alert, steady look on her face that she was starting to envy. "Grace under pressure" is what it was. Grace knew she couldn't live up to her own name under such circumstances. "If you could handle yourself, you wouldn't have come running up here to hide in the cave," InÚz said. Her accent was thicker when her mind was on her duties. "So stay here until I come back."
Grace stared up at the splash of stars across the night sky with an acquiescing frown. She hoped InÚz could see it. She hoped it was convincing. Then she walked back into the cave and settled down onto the skins and waited.
She stared at the hard, uneven cave walls for five long, dull minutes, then got up and walked to the entrance again. InÚz was no where in sight. Grace was about to slip out when she heard the bushes rustle just down the path. A dark figure emerged from them and Grace froze. She slipped back into the cave. A second later, Anna appeared at the cave entrance in a flurry of skirts. Her eyes were wild. Tendrils of her hair had fallen from her neat head-top pile and lay askew on her face.
Grace's fear turned into relief and then confusion. "Anna! What--how did you find us?"
Anna looked around the cave. "Where's the Slayer?" she asked.
"Not here," Grace replied. "My mother's missing."
Anna's eyes snapped back to her. "That's why I'm here. Gracie, you have to come with me. Now!" She waved Grace towards herself and started to back out of the cave.
Grace's knees jerked as the impulse to follow and the impulse to stand still collided in her knees. "Come where?"
"Those vampires--the ones from out of town--they have her! They have Rosie!"
Grace's heart seized up in her chest. She stepped forward. "How? Wha--what happened?"
"She came down to see me. To tell me where you were. Then the vampires came. They tried to get both of us. I ran. I thought she was behind me, and I just ran. I was half way into the woods before I realized she wasn't with me!"
"What do they want with her?" Grace asked, frightened and befuddled.
Anna gave her a stern, no-nonsense look. "What do you think they want?! She could be dead by now! We have to go!"
Grace felt nailed into place. "We need--we need InÚz! We need the Slayer!"
Anna's eyes widened. "There's no time!"
Grace's heart froze. They had to go. They had to! But they couldn't go unarmed. "Wait just one second," she said.
She ran quickly back into the depths of the cave to where the Glaive was, and unsheathed it from its cloth. She set the pole-arm end on the ground, her heart pounding madly. The blade glowed joyfully at her touch. She paused and poked at the secret compartment InÚz had found, just to make sure the Stone was there. She didn't know if she bought this whole story her mother had told her about the Stone being the real power behind the Glaive, but she wasn't going to take any chances.
Fear stabbed her again. Her mother!
Grace picked up the cloth and turned and walked back to the entrance of the cave. "I'm ready. Let's go!"
Together, she and Anna stumbled into the pitchy blackness outside the cave.
"Where are we going?" Grace asked. "The saloon?"
"They're probably at the boarding house," Anna said.
Grace's heart fell. "We never should have let them stay there," she said. Then she realized how idiotic it sounded; how could they have said no? They would have ended up just as dead as the Carson family. Now, they'd probably end up dead tonight instead.
She really, really hated vampires.
"O.K. We're taking a short cut," Grace said. She set the end of the Glaive back down on the ground. Its glow created a warm yellow pool of light around them. It would be best, Grace thought, if they didn't try to end up right where the vampires were. She needed a bigger target landing area. Transporting with Glaive wasn't exactly a science.
"O.K.," Grace breathed, summoning up her courage. She reached out and put a hand on Anna's velvet-sleeved arm. She imagined them both, standing at the edge of town. The Glaive glowed brighter.
And then they were there.
There was always a moment of disorientation. Grace waited for it to pass. They were on the far end of the woods, at the edge of a gravel street. Grace put the cotton cloth between her hand and the Glaive and started forward.
She wasn't able to walk fast with the heavy weapon in her hands, but it was just as well; the streets along the edge of town didn't have any lamps and it was no good trying to run in the dark. And she had to keep the cloth between her hand and the Glaive to prevent it from glowing and attracting attention.
She'd learned to slip in and out of shadows when she had the Glaive. People didn't exactly look past a young girl with a heavy pole arm in her hands.
As they stumbled along, Grace became aware that something didn't feel right about this--not going up against four vicious vampires, of course that didn't feel right; it wasn't supposed to. But something wasn't right about this--her and her aunt creeping up towards the boarding house together.
But maybe it was just because InÚz wasn't here, or Jacob. They could really use a Slayer if they had to fight these vampires to save her mother.
God! Grace agonized at herself. She was always rushing in without planning, doing things on impulse without thinking them through. What would she do when they got there? She had to think and she couldn't think. She just had to go forward. Her mother's life depended on her.
Soon, they were at the back entrance of the boarding house. Grace stared up at it miserably. This was her home. Or it had been. Now it was full of death, human death and the contemptible undead.
Her hands tightened around the Glaive. She trembled. "We should have brought InÚz," she murmured.
"InÚz?" Anna asked.
"InÚz, InÚz--the Slayer," Grace said irritably.
"It's too late for that now," Anna replied. She reached for the back door knob of the boarding house. It was unlocked. She opened the door an inch or two. The door creaked on its hinges.
Panic shot through Grace. "What are you doing!?"
Anna looked at her. Grace could see the confusion on her aunt's face in the dim lamp-light of the street. "Well, we have to go inside to save her...."
"What," Grace shot back incredulously, "we're just going to take them on!?"
"You have the Glaive."
What was Anna thinking?! Grace thought. This was Aunt Anna, the one who always had the level head and never wanted to get involved if she didn't have to. Well, it was her sister this time, and she had to get involved. But where was the level head? "We need a plan!" Grace exclaimed. "We need to... to figure out where mother is, and then I can transport in there and get her, maybe, and get back out, fast."
The plan made a kind of sense. Still, she wished she had InÚz here, just for back up. Why hadn't they gone to look for her? Anna had come running in asking where she was, and then they'd just raced over here in an unthinking panic.
"Well, where do you suppose they would keep her? Upstairs?"
Had Anna even met the Slayer?
Grace paused. "Wait a minute. Did I...?" She gripped the Glaive hard. "Anna, how did you know we had a Slayer with us?"
"Is that really important right now?"
"When you showed up at the cave door, you asked about the Slayer. How did you know that--"
"You--your mother told me."
Oh. That made sense, Grace thought. Anna reached for the open back door again.
Grace stared up at the house as if the walls and windows would give her the answers she needed. She had to do this. She had the Glaive. She knew its power. With the Glaive, she had the power of Neral behind her. She was powerful.
But something still wasn't right.
She looked at her aunt. "Shut that door, Anna," she whispered. "Why do you keep opening it? Shut it now."
Rose was sufficiently tormented and traumatized; Anna was out fetching her sister's demon spawn. There was nothing left to do now but wait. Angelus sashayed up the stairs of the boarding house and into the room he shared with his sire.
"Hello, luv," he said, shutting the door behind him. Darla sat at the vanity, brushing out her long blonde hair. He stepped forward and took a few tender tips of it into his fingers.
"Is she back yet?" Darla asked.
"Anna? She soon will be. No worries."
"I trust your plan is going well."
Angelus smirked. He stared into the mirror at the reflection of the window behind them. "You don't care about my 'plan', Darla. You haven't cared about my plan since before we left Seville."
"And now I care for it even less," Darla replied.
Angelus nodded. They understood each other. He placed his hands on her shoulders and imagined the pain he could inflict on them as part of the game. She had betrayed him. It wasn't the first time, and it probably wouldn't be the last. He'd grown to expect it and he'd grown to count on it. "And what have you done about that?" he asked.
"What I had to do," Darla replied calmly. "I went to see the Mayor."
Angelus smiled. "And did you tell him my plans for the Glaive?"
Angelus warmed with pleasure. "Good. It wouldn't be very much fun if he didn't know."
Darla set the brush down on the vanity with a clatter and stood up, shrugging off Angelus' hands. She turned on him. "I didn't tell him what you were up to for your pleasure, Angelus."
Angelus grinned. The game was afoot. "I know."
"Are you listening to me?!" Darla exclaimed. "What you're doing--what you want to do--is dangerous. And stupid. You kill your enemies, Angelus, you kill them so they can't kill you. You don't go trapping them in other dimensions!"
Angelus sighed wearily. "I get so tired of killing my enemies, darlin'. You kill them, it's all over. The pain has stopped." He reached out and cupped the curve of her neck in his hand. He squeezed. "And the dead, as you so aptly pointed out to me, always get the last word."
Darla didn't blink.
"If I'd had the Glaive back when we had Holtz on our heels, how I would have loved sending him and his horse and the road to Arles right into some nasty dimension." Yes, he thought with pleasure, Holtz trapped in a demon dimension. He'd have loved to have seen that. "Holtz wanted to kill demons. We should have given him his wish."
Darla jerked herself away from his grip. "But if you send the Mayor there, you know he'll just get himself back out. And then he'll come after you!" Her voice was rising. "If the Glaive doesn't get you first, Angelus! Do you understand what kind of power that thing wields? You said it yourself!"
Angelus lifted Darla's hair from one shoulder and curled his face into the crevice of her neck. His lips parted and he breathed her in. His true face crackled out from behind his human mask.
Darla swooned beneath him. "Stop it," she murmured unconvincingly. "Listen to me. Sometimes I have to look after you for your own good, Angelus."
"Yes, mother," Angelus whispered. The air that issued from his mouth when he spoke bounced against her skin. Darla melted under its ticklish touch.
"He's probably... planning... something," she went on, wincing as Angelus' teeth punctured her throat and penetrated deep into her. "Angelus... he could... attack... at dawn."
Angelus drew in great swallows of blood. Darla's arms gripped him. She gasped with passion. She was losing her footing. He clutched her against him. She hung like a rag doll, lost in the dizzying sensation that came with complete surrender and the loss of blood. She moaned with pleasure.
Angelus suckled his mother's life-blood until she was dry. Then he let her collapse to the floor.
"By dawn, I'll have the Glaive," he said to her still, twisted form. "And we'll see what side you fight on then, won't we?"
He knelt down on the floor and kissed her pale lips.
"Now it's time for me to go to school, mother. Learn how to use me Glaive."
InÚz stood some distance back from what appeared to be an old mill. She had been following the odd looking man for some time now, certain he would lead her to Se˝ora Emerson. The shawl that was around his neck looked exactly like the shawl she'd seen around Se˝ora Emerson's neck that morning. He smelled funny, she thought, like a mixture of dank earth and old garbage. Her slayer senses had first picked him up just a few yards from where she and Grace were standing outside the cave. Then she glimpsed the shawl. She didn't mention it to Grace so as not to alarm her, relieved Grace had not seen the man herself. Once she was certain that Grace had started back to the cave, InÚz headed after him. It would not do to take Grace with her, nor could she afford to let the man get away, especially if he knew Se˝ora Emerson's whereabouts.
With a sigh, she continued to pick her way through the thick pine needles and undergrowth, creeping closer to the creature, careful to stay up wind of him and out of sight. For she had sensed correctly that it was not a man, one of his arms had disintegrated into a tentacle and he slid more than walked, leaving a slimy trail in his wake.
When he stopped again, she quickly hid herself behind a tree. He had left the forest and entered a pasture. She stayed in the forest, well hidden by the trees and brush, and stared past him at a group of wooden buildings that were blocked by a screen of mist, almost hiding them completely from view. A barrier field, she thought, recognizing the faint discoloration in the air. It reminded her of the barrier fields the monks used in Seville to protect artifacts. Low frequency and not very difficult to circumnavigate if one knew how. The creature glanced around him suspiciously. Satisfied, he dropped all hint of disguise and turned into a tentacled, many-mouthed creature that caused InÚz to step backwards with a soft gasp. For a moment she was afraid he had heard her, but he continued towards the buildings as if nothing was amidst. In a few seconds it was swallowed whole by the mist.
InÚz stood perfectly still, waiting to see if any tentacles or limbs became visible, but the mist settled and the buildings looked undisturbed. She glanced around her at the silent forest and glade. Outside of a few caws and the buzzing of what she assumed were fireflies, there was no sound. Nor was there any breeze. The air was still and warm around her. Should she take the risk? Go into the mist? Investigate further? Or go back to the cave and discuss her options with Grace? She frowned. The half-demon girl annoyed her. All the little Se˝orita thought of was the Glaive. She thought little of those around her. InÚz shook her head; no it would be better to do this alone. Besides she had promised Se˝or Jacob she wouldn't bring Grace to any harm. Her slayer intuition also advised her to move forward, to investigate, and it was never wrong. She took a deep breath, checked her jacket for the stake she always carried and her boot for her crucifix handled knife, a gift from her parish vicar, and crept slowly from her place amongst the trees through the thigh high wildflowers to the mist covering the mill.
Her slayer senses picked up on the magical barrier before her eyes registered the change in the air. She took a step back and tentatively touched it. Not that strong, she thought with relief. In fact it felt exactly like the one the monks had put up around her church. She closed her eyes and let her slayer senses take over, hunting a crack, yes, there, just wide enough to squeeze through without setting off any alarms. In seconds she was through the crack and inside what appeared to be an elaborate foyer, with two closets on either side. At the end of the short foyer, a door stood partially open revealing another larger room with wood paneling, complete with animal heads on the walls and furs on the floor. She could just make out the back of one over-stuffed sofa. Creeping closer to the door, she could hear two voices discussing something in a combination of English and some other foreign tongue that she did not recognize. InÚz carefully wedged herself between the closet and the foyer door and listened. She could barely make out the top of the tentacled creature. The other party was hidden from view, but his voice sounded remarkably familiar.
As Angelus had instructed, Spike left Dru to tend to Darla and snuck out the back window. Noiselessly he made his way from the roof to the back of the boardinghouse unseen. His orders were simple: find out what was keeping Anna and help her if necessary. Angelus would handle things once everyone was back inside. Spike sensed--or rather smelled--Grace before he actually saw her. She and the new addition were fighting with the door. Anna kept trying to open it and Grace kept knocking her hand away. They appeared to be arguing about what to do next and he sensed that Anna was struggling to keep up the charade. Spike grimaced. The bint's too new at this to handle such a complex task, he thought. She's likely to bollix up the whole thing. Then get slaughtered for her trouble. Better lend a hand.
As much as he respected Angelus, there were times in which he wondered if Darla wasn't right. His grandsire didn't always appear to be playing with a full sack. Letting little obsessions like this girl and that Glaive get the better of him. Although Spike liked the idea of teleporting their enemies to unsavory dimensions, he also liked the idea of killing them. What was with all this fancy namby-pamby artistry, anyway? Evil was evil. Killing was killing. No need to get all complicated about it. But then Angelus could make the simple act of walking down the street complicated. Artistry and complicating things reminded him uncomfortably of his human self, weak "good" William. Argh. Would he ever be rid of that panty waist? Angelus certainly didn't think so. Time to prove him wrong.
He moved stealthily around the corner of the building towards the twosome, careful to stay out of Grace's sight. She was still holding that Glaive, which meant if he didn't time his actions perfectly she would just teleport away from him taking Anna with her. He tilted his head slightly, trying to catch Anna's eye. "Come on, you silly nit, move, just a bit, that's right and see if you can't grab that Glaive ah, yes, perfect!" Anna had caught sight of him, smiled slightly and moved surreptitiously to Grace's left, grabbing her arm as she did so, which caused Grace to lose her grasp on the polearm.
"Aunt Anna, what are you doin-" Grace barely got out before Spike's fist connected with her jaw sending her sprawling. She looked up at him dazed.
"Hullo, Sweetness, miss me?"
The Glaive had slipped from her fingers to the ground beside her. She lunged for it, but the blond vampire beat her to it. "Now, now, mustn't do that don't want you blinking off now that you've just arrived, do we? Hey grabbing my boot? That just isn't nice." Before she could utter a word or scream at her aunt to run, Spike's boot connected with her temple and the world was suddenly black and silent.
"Idiot! What you do that for? Angelus wanted her unharmed. If he takes his displeasure out on me -" Anna said, staring down at the limp girl that lay at their feet.
"Actually Angelus only wanted her intact and alive. Few bruises won't hurt her none." Spike chuckled, flexing his fingers beneath the heavy wool gloves Angelus had insisted he put on before picking up the Glaive and studying it. "Besides it would hardly do to have her blinking out on us would it? Or screaming? This way the nibblet has no clue you betrayed her..." He sighed, studying her worried expression. Dru was right he thought, she really was a baby. "Stop worrying, pet, the little chit will come to soon enough. Didn't hit her nearly that hard. Just unconscious is all. She'll come around, I promise you. And--" He grinned evilly. "Believe me when she does she'll wish that kick had killed her."
InÚz searched her brain for where she'd heard the voice before. It was a man's voice, and it reminded her of Jacob. But that can't be right, she thought. Why would Jacob be here talking to that thing? She thought about leaving but changed her mind when she heard her name followed by the words "vampires", "the Mayor" and "help in retrieving the Glaive". Her eyes narrowed in concentration, trying to make out the rest of the words. Her English was passable at best, and the accents didn't help, nor did it help that they appeared to be mixing English with some other tongue she'd never heard before. It sounded like they wanted to use her to get their hands on the Glaive and get rid of the fanged four. Splendid, she thought, InÚz, we are in what our watcher calls a rock and a hard place. Madre. This trip was turning into quite the little fiasco. She was beginning to wish she'd never heard of the stupid stone.
There was a scuffling in the other room and with a suppressed gasp, InÚz scrambled to get inside the closet. The creature she had followed was making its way back towards her. She heard the other man, the voice that reminded her of Jacob, say something along the lines of : "So long Boo, and tell his Honor not to worry, we've got everything under control."
She slid further back into the closet and slid the door shut behind her. Through a crack she watched the tentacled creature shift back into a man. A man that looked shockingly like the picture of the Governor her watcher had shown her. InÚz barely suppressed her gasp. Was there no one who was what they seemed in this place? Clearly the authorities could not be trusted. She waited until the man left the foyer and disappeared through the barrier before taking a much needed breath. She hadn't realized she had been holding it until that moment. Leaning back amongst the coats, she considered her next move.
She gasped and looked about her in fear. How? How had he known she was here?
"Why don't you come out and join us? I'm sure it would be more comfortable than hiding in that closet."
InÚz heard the closet door slide back. She closed her eyes a moment. Then she took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and pulled out her knife. If she were to die today, it would be fighting, she thought. With another deep breath, she steeled herself, knife gripped tightly in hand, ready to plunge it into her captor at the slightest provocation, only to come face to face with Jacob. Actually, make that two Jacobs.
"Oh, Judas Priest on a pony. InÚz, set the knife aside and listen to me. Quit swingin' it around like we was about ta fight, we ain't gonna do that, now give it here! Cole, can't you drop that illusion? It's givin' her the willies, and it don't do much for me either. InÚz, you know me. This is Auburn Cole. Cole, this is Miss InÚz. You could say she's come a long way to meet us."
The other Jacob had backed away while the first was talking--now he turned away, took a talisman from around his neck, passed his hand over it and turned back, the illusion dispelled. A man similar in age and build to Jacob, but clean-shaven and fair-haired, nodded to InÚz with a hint of a smile. "Evening, ma'am."
InÚz had never been closer to losing her self-control than in the last few moments. Her heart trip-hammered, her urge to fight or run kept her rooted to the spot.
"Who are you?" she blurted at last, her voice harsh with emotion. The man who looked like Jacob--who still looked like Jacob--answered quietly.
"I'm just who you thought I was. I left you in the cave this morning to take care of Rose and Grace, and I meant it. What are you doin' here?"
"Don't move." InÚz held her knife at the two men, point slightly up, just below heart level. They stood decidedly still. "Se˝or Abrahams, you will give me knowledge first, of what this all is." Stress had shaken her English, but she was understood.
"Easy enough." Jacob stayed stock still, keeping his eye on InÚz and her knife, but a gentle amusement was in his voice, like the way he had been by the fire that morning. "Cole here has been makin' friends with the Mayor to keep an eye on what he's doin'. He's a pretty important man in town, and with the mill to run, folks mostly left him to his own business. When I left I told you I was going to warn a friend of some trouble down his way. What I didn't tell you was that I'd seen trolls moving around out by his mill last night. Figured they was up to mischief. Turns out Cole's had them on his payroll for a week or two now, to keep the cover that he's interested in Wilkins' little urban development scheme. I hadn't been in touch, or I'd 'a known."
"And the glamour?"
"Oh, that." Jacob actually smiled at the floor for a moment. "Just something Cole and I made awhile back. We work out these little problems of our own sometimes. Lets you take the look of someone you know really well. The Mayor thinks I'm dead now, and Cole here is meant to take my place, to try to get to you and Grace." Done explaining, Jacob looked gravely up at the Slayer. "You have to listen close, now. The Mayor has been mighty busy while we've been away, and we have to get a move on. What's been going on that brought you out here?"
The knife had lowered as Jacob spoke, and now InÚz put it away, satisfied, not of the situation, but of Se˝or Jacob. He and Auburn Cole listened attentively while she told them of the disappearance of Mrs. Emerson; Cole nodded when she related following the strange tentacled demon in Rose's shawl.
"That Boo, with his weakness for clothes and manners--I wonder if his family worries about him." He looked at Jacob. "He didn't see Rose, though, nor did he go looking around for whoever owned that shawl. Good thing he's about as sharp as a bowling ball. But you followed the wrong track, miss--if the Mayor had Rose we'd know."
"That's just the thing you should have done, seeing what you saw," Jacob interjected. "I didn't see Boo wearin' that shawl myself, or I'd have been after him, and probably wrecked everything we're doing."
InÚz could not contain herself. "But what are you doing?"
Jacob looked at her kindly, and one side of his mouth twitched. "That's what I'm tryin' to find out.
"Now InÚz, we've got to get ourselves together. Wilkins doesn't have Rosie, and I think we both know who does. It's ten to one that Grace is headed there herself, will or nil. Those four are the wild cards in this hand, I don't know just what they're gonna do. But Wilkins has a plan for this town, and Grace is in it, and the Glaive, and Rose, and you." He took a deep breath, "And right now, we're going to to go along with it."
Spike wrestled Grace to the top of the stairs in the boardinghouse while Anna followed, clutching the Glaive in a fold of her now tattered and soiled red silk dress. She was still human-Anna enough to notice the damage and feel annoyed. She envied Darla her stylish and luxurious silk gowns, made for her, no doubt, in Paris or London. Just one more thing to resent about her present situation. That, and the accursed hunger she could feel gnawing at the pit of her stomach. Her teeth fairly ached with it.
"Don't just stand there gawking at your dress, girl," Spike growled. "Get the bedroom door.
"Silly bints, always worried about their frocks," he muttered to himself.
Anna reached around him and opened the door to the room where Rose was being kept captive. Spike dragged Grace inside, dropping her on the floor next to the bed where Angelus was stretched out and waiting, a dangerous look on his face.
"Anna," Angelus said silkily, reaching out a gloved hand to take the Glaive, "Why is Spike doing what I sent you to do?"
Anna looked around the room frantically -- at everything but him. Rose was still tied to the upright chair, her clothes and personal items still strewn about. Spike was leaning back against the doorjamb with a satisfied look on his sharp face. She could hear Darla and Drusilla speaking softly in the room down the hall. Just another thing to get used to, she thought. Hearing every mouse fart and cockroach cough in the whole damn house.
Angelus rose slowly, laying the Glaive aside on the bed. He approached Anna, took a large handful of her disheveled blonde hair, and pulled her head back painfully. "Speak up, whore! It's not too late for you to join your girls in hell."
"Sh-she wouldn't come into the house," Anna began. "I was trying to convince her, but she wanted to use the Glaive to get the Slayer. Spike saw us struggling and attacked her so she couldn't use it. He said you wouldn't mind a few bruises on her."
"This so, Spike?" Angelus asked.
"Pretty much how it went -- stupid cow called me an idiot, though. Imagine she'll come to regret it." Spike leered at Anna in a manner that managed to be both smug and spiteful, full of the promise of future pain.
Rose, gagged as well as bound, whimpered in fear and worry for her daughter lying unconscious on the floor. Grace began to stir and Rose silenced herself. She hoped that while the others were occupied with their bickering, Grace would be able to get to the Glaive lying on the bed and get away. Angelus dragged Anna by her hair to where Spike was standing. Spike grabbed her cruelly by the throat, raising her on tiptoe, demon face to the fore. As Angelus turned away from them, he saw Grace's eyes flutter and open. Rose closed her eyes, her only hope dashed.
"Why, hello there, young lady!" Angelus said brightly, helping Grace sit up. She shrank from his touch and cast terrified eyes towards her mother who could only look back at her with as much love and strength as she could muster. Behind her mother, Grace could see Spike dragging Anna from the room, shutting the door behind him. Grace and Rose were alone with Angelus. An Angelus who looked awfully pleased with himself.
Grace was unconscious again from a swift blow to the head. Angelus needed her knocked out to give himself time to prepare the scene just the way he wanted it.
When Grace's eyes finally flickered open, she saw the horrible sight in front of her before she even realized she was seated and bound to the vanity chair: her mother, sitting naked and trembling in the corner, clasping her thick, bruised knees tight to her chest. Angelus stood over her, buttoning up the fly of his pants.
"What--what did you do?!" Grace asked in horror.
Angelus gazed at the woman at his feet and pulled his belt through his belt buckle--a leisurely, mechanical movement. He didn't look up. "What I'll do to you if you don't tell me how the Glaive works."
Then he did look at Grace, eyes cold and empty and utterly devoid of feeling. Grace's heart jumped. The vampire started towards her, strolling. Behind him, Grace's mother looked around herself frantically. She wasn't tied down at all.
"You know," Angelus said to Grace, "normally, I'd try something with a lot of blood. I am a vampire, after all. Love the smell of blood." He paused by Grace's chair and lowered a hand towards her chin. "But not your blood. Sicky sulfery stuff, Neral blood."
He tilted his head to the side. "And then of course there's the whole matter of keeping you alive long enough to get what I want. I usually try something called a 'blood transfusion'." He glanced at Rose. Grace's mother shuffled an inch or two along the wall, pointlessly trying to keep her legs in front of her private parts. "Your mother here would do nicely for that. But it requires medical equipment you just can't find in Boca del Infierno."
Angelus left Grace's chair and walked over to the old battered wardrobe. The door squeaked as he opened it. He pulled out a twisted, rust-covered wire hanger. Grace's stomach turned to ice. The muscles in her arms clenched with fear.
Angelus untangled the hanger with his fingers. Then he pulled it out into a long, bent lash.
"But I'm flexible. I use whatever's at hand."
With that, Angelus stalked across the room and flung his make-shift lash out at Rose. Rose screamed. The wire whipped across her legs, leaving a long thread of blood on her shins. The vampire struck again, at her face. Rose skittered away on her buttocks and feet, throwing her hand out to stop the blows.
Grace struggled against her bonds in torment. "Stop!" she screamed.
But he didn't. The vampire struck again and again as Rose tried to stand. Rose screamed out in agony. She fumbled blindly along the wall, welted and bleeding.
Grace could feel the ropes cutting into her own skin but she couldn't feel the pain of it. The horror in her head was too much for that.
And then the dark-haired vampire came to a halt.
"Fine," he said. He pivoted around to face Grace. "You'll tell me how to use the Glaive, then. Not to hop across town or make demons dance--" He jabbed the wire at her. His Irish brogue had deepened. "But to cut through dimensions."
Grace stared at him, dumbfounded, her heart beating wildly. Her head was in a fog. Her mind whirled in a panic. "I--I don't... I don't know what you're talking about!" Fear tightened her stomach. "The Glaive... it can be used to persuade people's minds, it--it can... I--I can use it to travel, to read thoughts sometimes, but I don't--"
The vampire brought the lash up over Rose again. Rose stood against the wall, trembling, naked, bruises on her thighs and welts like jagged lines across her legs, forehead, and stomach.
Grace had never known such helplessness in her life, such tortured aching--in her stomach, in her chest. She sobbed. "I don't know what you're talking about," she whimpered.
Full-blown rage rose up in the vampire's face. His demon visage bloomed with it. He stalked across the room and thrashed out at Grace with callous metal.
It hit her arm and chest with a stinging fire. Grace stiffened and winced.
"I don't have time for this!" the vampire screamed. He stopped and stood motionless, then turned slowly, first one way, then another, as if unsure what to do himself. Then he saw Rose, who was crawling across the large queen-sized bed. He flew at her, weapon raised, and brought it down on her. Rose fell prostrate on the bed.
"Stop it!" Grace cried out. Tears were streaming down her face. She had to tell him. She had to tell him the only thing she knew that might satisfy him. She took a deep, ragged breath. "The Glaive! The Glaive tells you how to use it itself. You--you, you have to listen to it!"
The vampire marched over to her and grabbed her chin. Grace's neck was wrenched into an awkward position. Pain pulsed in the muscles of her neck and head. "You talk to it?" he spat.
"Then you know what it does."
Grace shook her head. Her pain flared. She winced. "I--I don't know. I swear." She felt like she was falling. Falling. If what the vampire said was true, the Glaive had kept secrets even from her.
But all she really cared about right now was keeping her mother alive long enough to get her to Jacob.
"If you h-h-hand me... me th--the Glaive, I'll talk to it," she whispered. Her voice cracked. "Just don't hurt her anymore!"
"Ah, don't worry," Angelus crooned. He turned toward Rose, who still lying flat on the bed. "She was good for a morning's entertainment, but a little too worn to be my bride. I'll find her a nice suitor, though. Something that can... appreciate a demon-loving woman like herself."
Grasping her by the nape of the neck, Spike pushed a staggering and struggling Anna down the hall to the suite he shared with Angelus, Darla and Drusilla. Dru's and his room was empty, so he went through the connecting door into the room normally occupied by Darla and Angelus. Dru was sitting in an armchair crooning to Miss Edith and Darla was stretched out on the bed, still painfully pale but awake. The girl from the saloon they'd dubbed "breakfast" was sprawled out on the floor, having apparently been rolled off the bed by Darla when she'd drained the last of her blood. Both Darla and Dru looked up at him expectantly.
Shoving Anna into the corner ("stay there and shut up"), Spike reached out to catch Drusilla who flew into his arms. "There's my princess! Did you miss me, then?"
"Princess missed her dark darling boy so much. She wanted to go out and look for him, but the Queen of Swords," she looked sidelong at Darla, "wouldn't let her. Wicked Queen kept your princess captive like Cinderella while she played Sleeping Beauty. But the looking glass said you were all right and if your princess waited quietly she should have a treat. May I have a treat, Spike, my darling? May I? It's been so long since I've had any fun."
"Oh, just get her out of here, William, she's giving me a headache," Darla commented faintly from the bed. "And bring me back something fresh and tender to eat. That last one tasted like the clap."
Drusilla squealed and gave Spike a smacking kiss. Rambling on about the wonderful treat they'd bring Grandmummy (Darla rolled her eyes at this, but said nothing), she carefully took Miss Edith and tied a scarlet ribbon around her eyes before putting her high on top of the wardrobe.
As she reached up, the hem of her midnight blue gown rose enough that Spike could see her delicate feet and ankles. His frail and dainty bird, his porcelain doll, his damsel to protect, his sire, his self. He swooped her up in his arms, growling playfully into her throat while her laughter pealed through the empty rooms and halls of the house -- his princess' palace. As he carried her from the room, he heard Darla petulantly say to Anna, "Oh stop sniveling and draw me a bath."
As they'd come to expect in this small town on the edge of the world, the night outside was black and still. Even the small nocturnal animals had sense enough to wait quietly for the ghostly presences that moved like humans but smelled like nothing alive to move on. Past a bend in the lane that put the boardinghouse and its lighted windows out of their line of sight, Drusilla pulled Spike to a halt and flung back her head, deeply breathing the cool night air. 'Oh Spike, smell the stars! They smell like Christmas in a toy store. Like plum pudding and pulling crackers and tipping the Guy." Still gazing upwards, she whirled round and round until dizzy, falling laughing to the ground. "Now they're angry," she whispered, her borrowed breath tickling Spike's ear as he bent to help her up. "How will they know whose gift is whose if they all have the same name?"
"Don't know, love, maybe you'd better rename them so they can keep themselves straight," Spike suggested.
"Hmm, that one's Carnelian, that one I'll call Comedian, there's Corinthian, and look, over there, it's Caricature. They're shooting up pie in the sky, but the dark is crutch-hungry."
Spike was enchanted by his darling's fanciful poetry, but he was hungry and the longer they kept Darla waiting, the worse it would be for them. As much pleasure as tormenting Anna would give her, Darla didn't like to be kept waiting for her dinner.
Sighing, Spike turned Drusilla gently and led her down the dusty road. He could understand how she felt, cooped up and hedged about with rules and chores. Tonight they would play. They would find some wholesome young family, a Daddy, a Mummy and at least three little ones, and Christmas would come early for Spike and Dru, if not for the little frontier family Robinson. Spike remembered enough of Angelus' lessons to rationalize that the random massacre of one of the town's "good" families would further their goal of harassing the Mayor and would make this little settlement that fancied itself a town wish that they'd dedicated it to them instead of the useless, and probably fictitious, Proserpexa.
Spike danced Drusilla down the road to her treat.
Drusilla chose the house because of the abandoned hobbyhorse on the wide front porch. "Plan B, poodle?" Spike asked. She giggled and nodded, then proceeded to tear her fine blue gown from the shoulder, leaving her breasts barely covered. She ran her nails down her face, scoring the white skin and dragged her hands through her hair, destroying the careful arrangement. Spike leaned in and carefully bit her lip, causing a small amount of blood to trickle down her chin.
Spike lifted her into his arms -- she lay back in them feigning a swoon. "Ready, precious?"
He ran clattering up the wooden stairs and stomped across the porch, kicking the front door with a clamor that echoed through the still night, destroying the illusion of peace. After a few minutes of pounding and shouting he heard a scuffle of footsteps inside.
The door opened cautiously and the face of a sleepy but alarmed young man holding a candle peered out. Pantomiming panting, Spike said urgently, "Please, you've got to help us, we've been attacked!" Looking anxiously over his shoulder, he whispered, "I think we lost them, but my wife, she needs help, she's hurt."
The man looked undecided, but moved a little out of the way so a woman could look out. "Poor thing," she said. "Kenneth, let them come inside this minute." Frowning, but acquiescing, he opened the door wider and asked them to come in.
Smirking to himself, Spike carried Drusilla into the house. The woman indicated that Spike should lay Dru down on the settee in the carefully appointed front room. The man went around the room, lighting candles and a kerosene lamp. The room glowed with warm light, making the faces of the householders blush deliciously. Ruddy, warm and sleepy. Spike's mouth watered. The woman shooed him away from Drusilla and knelt next to her, taking her arm to feel for a pulse. Her face fell when she didn't feel one. She turned to Spike with a sad and shocked look. "Oh sir, I think, I'm afraid she-she's dead."
They had played this game so often, Spike had his part down pat. The open-mouthed shock, the slow welling of a tear, the choked back sob.
The woman moved to his side, helping him to a chair, patting his shoulder, "Poor man, poor, poor man. There, there." She turned to her husband, "Kenneth, get him something to drink." Kenneth picked up one of candles and walked off down the hall.
Spike shrugged off her caresses as if embarrassed to have broken down or too in shock to comprehend what she was saying. "Please, just stay with her," he choked out. "I need a moment to myself." As if he didn't know where he was or where he was going, he staggered down the same hall the man had gone down. It led to a kitchen where Kenneth was reaching into a cabinet to bring down a bottle of whiskey. He reached to the drain board for a glass and turned to return to the parlor. Spike was standing behind him, blocking the doorway to the hall. Kenneth gasped and dropped the glass, which shattered on the wooden floor.
Stalking him, Spike came forward, eyes glowing yellow, brow ridged and fierce. "Thanks for the invite, mate."
Hearing the glass shatter, the woman in the parlor with Dru called out, "Kenneth? Is everything all ri...?" The word was cut off and Spike knew that Drusilla had chosen that moment to strike. Smiling like an angel of hell, he closed in on Kenneth.
"Town like this, you'd think people would be a little more careful who they invite into their houses. Or has that poof of a Mayor made you all believe that load of codswallop about humans and demons living together in peace? He's right, you know, being dead tends to make a soul pretty peaceable. Now, however, being undead -- nothing poncey and peaceable 'bout that."
Spike had never gone in for Dru's eye contact control of a meal. He liked it when they fought back a little, but Kenneth was frozen solid, not moving a muscle. Bugger this for a game of soldiers, he thought. Feeling cheated, Spike went straight for the throat, deciding to go ahead and kill this one, then look for someone with a little spirit in him. He already knew this one would be flat and tasteless. Nothing gave fizz to the blood like a good fight. He only drank enough to take the edge off his hunger, wrenching the man's head around as he withdrew his teeth. He turned to leave the kitchen and find Dru.
He met up with Drusilla in the parlor doorway. To the right of the doorway was a flight of stairs. A series of silhouettes marched up the stairs, the black paper outlining the profiles of three children of various ages. Dru pointed to them, then brought her finger to her mouth, licking the tip of it before holding it to her lips. They crept up the stairs, their eyes needing no more light than the starlight coming through the landing window. The shabby but clean runner on the stairs muffled their footsteps, but nothing muffled the beat of the three terrified hearts they could hear coming from above them.
Sharing a look of triumph, they entered the room that held those still beating hearts. Three children, looking to be about five, eight and twelve sat up wide-eyed and terrified in their beds. "Shh, sweeties, everything's all right," Drusilla crooned to them. Mummy asked me to look after you." The words and the sweetness of her voice contrasted maniacally with her sharp pointed teeth and gleaming yellow eyes. "Get up now, my little sugar plums, let's have a game."
Spike and Drusilla returned to the boardinghouse in the small hours of the morning, each holding a catatonic child. They knew Darla would be pleased and hoped that Angelus had had enough success with Grace and the Glaive to be in a good mood. Spike regretted that that man, Kenneth, had had so little fight in him, but he knew that it had been just the kind of treat Drusilla had needed. The way her eyes had sparkled when she saw the tiny crutches lying next to the bed of smallest little girl -- he hoped he could make them sparkle like that time and time again during the centuries they would have together.