"Drusilla!" Angelus yelled. "Get over here and use the Glaive!" A M'Fashnik demon drove a poker into his stomach and he screamed.
"You want us to take care of this, boss?" asked Lyle Gorch.
The Mayor waved a hand. "Let's see what our visitor has to say for herself first. This should be interesting. Go ahead, little lady, we're listening."
Drusilla approached the trestle to which Angelus was lashed. "Poor old daddy. All trussed up like a pig at market. I had another daddy once. He would go to market, bring back a pig for dinner. One day he didn't come back. We found his head on our doorstop."
"There's nothing like family," said the Mayor. "Just makes me feel all warm inside."
"Drusilla," said Angelus. "Just touch me and you can use the Glaive to transport us out of here." He lowered his voice. "We're surrounded here. Listen to me. You've got to use the Glaive or it's the end of us."
Drusilla planted the butt of the Glaive at her feet, holding it in her left hand as she trailed the fingers of her right across Angelus's abdomen. "Must listen to daddy. My daddy used to call me down to dinner. We'd have roast pheasant every Sunday. As it cooked, the scent wafted about our whole house." She reached for the brazier.
"Dru, no!" Angelus screamed as his skin seared under the touch of the poker.
"But now he's gone and you're my daddy. A girl belongs to her father. You are my master, my king." She turned her gaze upon the Mayor. "But he is the Emperor. I can see it all, in his head. Such power. Such aspirations. Such ... " She laid down the poker and walked towards the Mayor. "Potential. He has the potential to rule it all. Poor Angelus, a petty lord in a petty realm. His crown has slipped over his eyes. No, Angelus is just the King. You are the Emperor." She frowned. "Or the Hierophant. I cannot decide."
The Mayor met her eyes. "If you want, I'll be the elephant. Hey, that reminds me of a good one. Why do elephants make such excellent travelers?"
"They trample everything in their path."
"That's not how I heard it, but I like the way you tell it better. And with you and the Glaive at my side, there will be nothing that can stop us. Oh, hey! Your hands must really be hurt after carrying around the Glaive all this time. Do you mind if I take a look at it?" He took the Glaive from Drusilla. "Now how did Rhad say this was done? Oh, yes." He twisted the two metal rings encircling the shaft, opening the compartment in which nestled the stone. He gingerly plucked the diamond from its niche and returned the Glaive to Drusilla. "The famed Stone of Saint Isidore -- San Isidro to our Spanish friends. Pretty little bauble. Ow! Hot potato!" He juggled the gem from hand to hand before tossing it to a M'Fashnik. "Feed that to the Irish boy. They do like their potatoes."
The M'Fashnik stuck its gargantuan thumb into Angelus's mouth, pulling it open. It shoved the stone inside, and then clamped a meaty paw down over Angelus's face. Angelus convulsed as smoke curled through the M'Fashnik's fingers.
Drusilla tested the heft of the Glaive. "So much better. None of that nasty dissonance. Its song is so much clearer now. Such things it wants to do. It sees potentials, as do you."
The Mayor laid a hand on Drusilla's shoulder. "I can see there's some potential in you as well, my dear. Tell me, you know how to use it? To make the world over?"
"I can use it," said Drusilla, "to make the world end."
"In good time. Gosh, you are an ambitious one, aren't you? My organization always has a place for a real go-getter like you. Well, this is just peachy. I guess I won't be needing Grace anymore, now that I have you. I think we'll make great partners, the two of us."
Drusilla glanced over the Mayor's shoulder and stuck out her tongue at Angelus. Angelus spasmed tremendously and the M'Fashnik released his grip. Angelus spat out the stone, which sailed in a broad arc across the room and then skittered across the floor. Angelus panted heavily, trying to cool the charring of his mouth.
One of the Gorch brothers raised a hand. "If you won't be needing the little missy, what do you want should be done with her?"
"Dispose of her."
"You mind if we have a little fun with her first?"
"Ewww. Not in the house. Take her out to the barn through the tunnel. The delivery entrance, Rutherford likes to call it." The Mayor turned to Drusilla. "Please excuse the coarseness of the hired help. It's hard to find associates as refined as you so far out here."
"Soon, you will have armies you can only now dream of."
The Gorches unbound Grace from her chair. Obviously weakened, she collapsed in a heap to the floor. The two vampires hauled her to her feet with rough, calloused hands. They lugged her out of the room.
The Mayor squeezed Drusilla's shoulder. "Why don't we discuss our new partnership upstairs. We'll leave your sire to his torments."
"Shall we still be able to hear his screams?"
"If you want."
"It's such lovely music. The Glaive sings the harmony."
Their voices trailed off as they turned and walked towards the stairs. "I think," said the Mayor, "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Tell me, do you know anything about rural electrification?"
"All the little stars twinkling down on Earth."
"Something like that. Peppermint?"
The M'Fashnik returned to their task. Angelus's screaming shook the house.
Wailing echoes reverberated against the tunnel walls. Grace followed the stouter of the vampire brothers, being pushed along by the skinnier one.
"Lyle," said the one behind her. "What you figure the Mayor and that witchy gal are cooking up?"
"I reckon it ain't our place to know, Tector. You want to end up like that Angelus fellow?"
Grace touched the stone tucked into the folds of her clothing. She hoped that no one had seen her pick it up when she fell to the ground.
"That Angelus weren't so tough. Got himself hit in the head and went down like a mule kicked him."
These vampires, though physically strong, didn't project the same strength that William had. Would the trick that had failed with him work on them?
"I remember when that mule kicked you in the head. That's why you're so damn slow. Not that you were too bright to begin with. Naw, Tector, Angelus was already weak. You see those bite marks on his neck? That's what a woman does to a man, makes him weak. That's why we ain't got no steady gals." He turned and stared directly into Grace's eyes. "Love 'em and leave 'em for dead. That's what keeps a man on his feet."
They reached a ladder at the end of the tunnel. Lyle climbed the ladder and pushed open a trap door set in the ceiling. Bits of straw rained down on their heads. Tector lifted Grace up and Lyle pulled her into the expansive interior of the barn. He threw her onto a pile of hay.
Tector emerged from the trap door. "Now missy, don't put up too much of a fight and we'll make things real easy for you."
She couldn't play on their sympathies -- these beasts had none. But she sensed the rivalry between them. She glanced at the sunlight streaming in through the open door behind her. "What will you do to me?" she asked.
Lyle tipped back his hat. "I reckon when we've done our business, we're gonna kill you. How, I don't know. I'd just as soon break your neck and be done with it, but Tector here's a cutter."
"If we like you," said Tector, "we might make you ours forever."
Lyle shrugged and touched the holsters at his side. "And if we don't like you, I'll just blow a hole through your brain."
"You use weapons? I thought real vampires did their killing without such things."
"Don't get me wrong, I like a good rassle as much as the next man, but you know what they say about old habits. They're hard to break. Unlike you."
Tector said, "Lyle just likes waving them around. He talks a lot but he can't hit the side of a barn at six paces."
Lyle wheeled around to face his brother. "You're one to talk. I had to kill everyone on that stage we robbed back in Bodie because you were too drunk to shoot straight."
"That was with a scatter gun. Scatter guns don't count. Face it, Lyle. You could use a Gatling gun and I'd still outshoot you blindfolded."
"That's it, you son of a bitch. Fill your hand!"
Quick as a flash of lightning, Tector's Colt was in his hand. Blood sprayed across Grace's face and echoes of the shot were ringing off the walls of the barn as Grace watched diffuse light pass through the saucer-sized hole in Lyle's back. Grace inched backwards.
"Tector, you bastard! That's gonna take near three weeks to heal up!" Lyle suddenly had a pistol in his right hand. With his left, he fanned the hammer back and four bullets tore through his brother's chest. Grace slipped over the back of the bales and crouched out of sight.
"Well lookee there," said the now perforated Tector. "You got lucky. Now I'm going to have to tan your hide." Grace saw Tector hit Lyle across the face with a right hook. Lyle shook it off and jabbed Tector hard in the stomach. They started to grapple. As Lyle threw Tector to the ground and dropped his bulk on top of him, Grace slid through the door and into the sunlight.
She ran across the fields and through the orchards and didn't stop, disregarding the bushes that whipped her legs, the stones that lacerated her feet. Pursuing her were words she didn't want to remember, and more terrible than words, pictures, serrated images that tore into her. Grace dismissed the whole world from her mind, forgot who she was, where she was as she fled to what seemed to be the end of the world. He won't break me, she muttered to herself. She would not be stripped, nor made to....
And she collapsed, gasping, drawing in jagged breaths, her fingers clutching painfully at the rough earth. This is Colina del Rey, she told herself. Perhaps if she kept telling herself things, talking some sense into her head, she would begin to understand this world again. It seemed all out of joint, and she felt that if she tried to stand up again, her body would not do what it told her to do. The salt air stung against her cuts, and momentarily revived her mind. Grace raised her eyes, forcing herself to look around at Boca del Infierno, which sat brooding below. And, more welcoming, the ocean. As a moment of darkness flickered across the outlook, Grace nearly saw the dark shadows of the procession that she had witnessed those nights ago. Though it hardly appeared credible to her. Another person, another place. Not her. The sunlight flooded back, unobscured again, and the shadows vanished.
Grace lay down, allowing the sun to bathe her. She closed her eyes, drifting to sleep in a world of golden warmth. Somewhere, very far away, a little voice was talking to the stars. Where had they come from? Wasn't it supposed to be day? But no, it was pitch black night and the stars were growing larger, bearing down on her, large white shining orbs that pressed and pressed and pressed, until she couldn't breath. Burning into her, leering at her, laughing. Grace twisted in her sleep, mutely pushing them away. To her relief, they dissolved, and it was just her, alone in the dark night. Drusilla was taking her by the hand.
"Did Daddy scare you? He likes to do that. He scared me senseless years ago." And she giggled.
"Should you be waving that thing around so recklessly?" Grace asked in alarm.
Dru was cutting away at the sky.
"How else to wreak havoc? How else to wreck the world? That's the song it sings. It won't sing for you anymore. It used to like you, but now it's quite decided that it likes me the best!" Drusilla skipped with delight. Slash! Another rent in the sky.
Grace noticed the faint thread of scarlet where Drusilla had pierced the sky. It started seeping down, slowly at first, but then in a torrent. As it gushed down at them, Drusilla started screaming, her face twisting into a pale grotesque. The ground beneath them started to give way. Grace clutched fiercely at Drusilla's blood stained white skirts to no avail. She started hurtling down to earth.
Grace woke with a start. She was still atop Colina del Rey. Clutched in her shaking hand was the San Isidro stone. She forgotten that she had taken it away with her.
"Useless! It didn't protect Ma. If I hadn't insisted on treating it as if it were the holy grail, those demons would never have come after us. Tormented us...." Grace's thoughts failed her.
The Glaive had gone. Two days ago, it would have spelt disaster for her. Such a disaster seemed trivial now. Grace gazed down at Boca, and for a moment imagined that she could see it pulsing, slowly pumping its black poison into the very air and the earth. She thought of Anna with a shudder. The boarding house, her home, forever desecrated.
They could not remain here. Leave Boca to the demons and the Mayor. Let them tear it up, cut it up with the Glaive. Let them cut it out of history, cut it out forever. No more daydreaming about the heroic Rhad's grand arrival in Boca, transforming the meager existence of the family. He wasn't here. He didn't come when we needed him.
Grace raised her arm, ready to throw the stone away into the strong winds that gusted around her. She remembered Inéz's determination to carry the stone back to Spain. It seemed petty to resist now. Perhaps Inéz would help them in return for the stone. No.... Inéz was dead. There was palpable shock as she remembered the still corpse of the young girl. So many things to remember now. Grace tucked the stone away in securely in her pocket.
"Mother!" Something inside Grace crumpled. She must find her now, find what was left after Angelus's torments. How could she have let herself doze off, no matter how tired?
Heart sick, Grace trekked down the hill.
Darla woke with a start and looked around her, disoriented and very sore. She had been lying on her side crunched between one of the few remaining walls of the mercantile and Anna's chest. Raising her head, she yelped, ramming it against the bottom of the table she and Anna had ducked underneath. Cursing, she shoved Anna away from her and waited as the sunlight incrementally drifted from the store, before venturing outside her shelter.
"Sleep well, Darla?"
Darla groaned and glanced up at Spike, who smirked at her from his position in the far corner. He didn't look comfortable, scrunched up with his arms crossed over his knees. As the sunlight receded he slowly unbent from his position, stretching his arms and legs. Looking up, his blue eyes appraised her and Anna through a veil of dirty disheveled hair. She ran a hand through her own. Ugh. Cobwebs decorated her fingers along with bits of dirt. She glanced at Spike, who now stood against the edge of the Mercantile's counter. She'd forgotten he'd returned sans Drusilla and the Glaive. Annoying idiot. With a groan, she rolled out from beneath the table.
The store was in ruins. Except for two walls and a small piece of roofing, and the counter Spike was now leaning against, there wasn't much left. Frowning, hands on her hips, she surveyed it for supplies. Not a can of food, soap, clothing, nothing. It was a complete and utter waste of space. Damn Angelus and his little plans! She hoped the Mayor was torturing the living daylights out of him... no, wait, she should be the one doing that. She was the only one permitted to do that.
"Mwwwhahhhhahhhah..." Spike's chuckling interrupted her reverie.
Darla glared at him. "What?" He gestured at her ensemble, his eyes drifting down her body and up again, starting at her torn chemise and ending at Angelus' blood smudged long johns.
She glanced down at the silk underwear, which had clearly seen better days and over at Anna whose eyes gleamed with amusement while she struggled to hold back her own laughter. "Keep it up. And we'll see who finds themselves in their underwear."
Spike shrugged. "Yeah right. As if you'd lower yourself to wear these threads. Please." His eyes darted to Anna. "The maid on the other hand..."
Darla grimaced. Anna's frock wasn't much better than a rag. She'd rather wear Spike's breeches and suspender assembly. Free her up for fighting. Except as Spike had so aptly put it, his clothes weren't much better or cleaner than what she had on. Plus she doubted they'd fit her slight form. Her eyes searched the store and landed on Inéz, lying amongst the broken glass beneath the windowpane. The girl was about her size and wore a charming assemblage of tight pants and a loose shirt, with a bandana around her head.
"Darla...don't think that's much cleaner."
Ignoring him, Darla quickly pulled off Inéz's clothes and changed into them.
"Ahhh...never mind. Be a fitting trophy for you -- something to remember her by. Must keep that in mind when I get my first slayer. Will happen you know." Spike sighed, clearly disappointed that he hadn't gotten another chance with this one. "Don't suppose the chit has any blood left in her. Make a tasty snack. Hear slayer blood is a rare delicacy."
Darla considered drinking Inéz's blood. Sniffed the body. Not quite ripe. But it had been sitting in the sun a while and she despised stale blood. She glanced back at Anna; perhaps her "maid" could be of some help in that department? Also it would be nice to have her things, which Angelus had forced her to leave at the boarding house.
"Anna, dear, come here."
Anna rolled her eyes and drifted towards Darla.
"How would you like to take a little excursion? Get us some food, maybe my frocks while you're at it?" Darla asked, stroking a nail along Anna's cheek. "And if you return quickly, I may even give you a few of them. Give you a chance to change out of that frightful rag. What do you say, dear?"
Spike lifted a piece of wood from the floor and weighed it in his hand while Darla studied her. Perhaps she should send Spike along to make sure the fledgling completed the task. No, she needed Spike with her. They had to come up with a plan, or rather, she had to come up with a plan to save Angelus and locate Dru, and she needed Spike's help. Anna, well, was disposable. If the little chit didn't return -- it was no skin off her nose.
After a few moments Anna nodded and turned to leave the store. Spike darted in front of her.
"Better come back sweetling," he said pressing a stake against her heart. "I'd miss you if you didn't. And you really don't want me hunting you down. Now do you? Sweet bint?"
Anna's eyes narrowed, she raised her hand and pushed the stake aside. Pressing a hand against his chest, she smiled and gingerly stepped past him. Spike's mouth dropped open. Without another word Anna was out the door. Moving gracefully down the street and out of sight. Spike watched her a moment before turning to Darla, who had decided to eat Inéz after all. He frowned when Darla drained the dead girl.
"Any good?" Spike licked his lips, his eyes on the blood that still dripped from the corner of her mouth.
Darla shrugged. "Better than rats. Speaking of which, we need to locate Drusilla. Do you have any idea where she might have gone?"
"Nope. Last thing I remember is her waving that Glaive around in the General Store and here I was. Figured she was coming with me."
"Well what did she say before she waved it -- that might give you a clue."
"Don't know..." His eyes narrowed while he contemplated it. "Right...something about going back to Mummy and Daddy." He paused and stared at Darla. "You don't suppose she's with Angelus?"
"No... you think?" Darla bent down and unhitched Inéz's knife from her bare arm. The girl was proving to be a regular treasure chest of goodies.
"Right. So where's Angelus then? Last time I looked he was busy having his way with the platelet's Mum?"
"Oh that's right you missed out on all the fun. Angelus is with the Mayor, who hopefully is only torturing him."
"Got himself captured, eh. That wasn't very-" He stopped when he caught her look and wisely shut his mouth. "So I guess we go rescue him and Dru then."
Darla nodded. "That's about the size of it."
"You got a plan?"
She glanced at him. "A bit of one." She looked over to where she'd sent Anna. " Assuming of course that girl follows directions and comes back."
He snorted. "And the odds of that happening are? Should have staked her while I had the chance."
Darla launched herself at Spike, the force knocking him against the wall and causing it to shake behind them. "Listen closely William," she said, Inéz's knife at his throat. "Any more cracks from you and I'll be the one doing the staking. Understand?"
He slowly nodded. "Uh, so what's your plan then? If you don't mind me asking."
Darla pulled back from him. Her eyes drifted teasingly over his clothes, envisioning him in one of her frocks. Be a shame to waste a good frock on him, but you never know. "Later," she said with a grin. "First we have to get out here, find shelter, get some new clothes and we could use some reinforcements..."
"Reinforcements? Where? Boca de isn't exactly a burgeoning metropolis."
"Let me think, will you. This is going to take awhile to puzzle out. If you want to be useful -- you could get us both something to eat and maybe some frocks while you're at it." Darla sniffed her shirt.
"Right. And while I'm at it, you want me to find a better hide-away then this?"
"No..." Darla sighed. "On second thought I'll come with you. I think I remember passing a homestead on the way here. That's sure to have something."
It had taken her most of the afternoon, but Grace finally found the entrance of the cave where they'd left her mother--dumped her like a crumpled heap of day-old laundry. Grace winced at the memory, feeling tears well in her eyes. She'd thought the blond one was horrible, but William had nothing on the dark one. That dark one was pure evil. She hoped the Mayor cut out his un-beating heart and fed it to the M'Fashnik demons. She hoped that the Mayor stuck hot pokers in his ribs, shoved crosses and holy water down his throat, and--and... she gulped on the bile that threatened to erupt from her again. Pull yourself together, she scolded herself and stared at the Cave.
It was located not far from the Boarding House, hence the reason they had come there. Aunt Anna had led them. Aunt Anna who was now a vampire. Grace shuddered pushing the thought aside along with the memories accompanying it. Tentatively, her hand gripping the stone in her pocket, she approached the cave. Before now, she hadn't really used the stone to detect demons, only to manipulate them. But she'd noticed how it grew warm and glowed in her hand whenever demons were close. Like it did now indicating something was lurking just beyond the cave's entrance. A demon? Must be - the stone only helped her sense and manipulate demons. Well not all demons, she had learned that the hard way. But a couple of ogres shouldn't be that hard to manipulate they were like the demons she had met in the woods, simple minded. Not like vampires.
Standing a few steps back from the cave, Grace's eyes searched the area she remembered Angelus dumping her mother. "Ma?" Grace called softly. "You here?" She crept closer. Called out again. Listening. Outside of the echo of her voice, the cave was eerily silent.
Behind her, she heard a twig snap, and turned quickly, her eyes examining the encroaching darkness. The sun was almost completely gone now. Twilight. A thin haze of light made it possible for her to see more than just a few feet ahead of her. Another breaking twig. Grace jumped backwards. Had the Gorches found her again? She gripped the stone in her pocket and reached out with her mind.
She bent and picked up a wooden branch and felt its weight in her hands. If it was the Gorches, she'd stake one of them just like Jacob had taught her. She heard rustling to her right, reminding her of the sound her mother's skirts used to make on the ground as they walked from the boarding house to Auburn Cole's plantation in the summer.
She edged closer to the cave wall and took on a fighting stance. Knees bent, arm lifted, elbows out. Inéz would probably have laughed if she were still alive. Grace gulped. Inéz. Lying all alone on the cold floor, her neck broken. All her fault. If she'd only listened to Inéz. Stayed at the cave. Not tried to -- stop it! Must stay focused. Using the stone she reached out with her mind into the brush. It was a demon. But she couldn't quite grab hold of its mind, even though its mind felt vaguely familiar. The sky had gotten darker in the last ten minutes. Grace listened as the rustling grew closer, then lifted the branch and lunged.
"OW!" Yelping in pain, her opponent grabbed Grace's arm, dug in its nails and twisted the branch from her grip. It was then that Grace saw her opponent's face. Dimly lit by the moon, which had finally peeped out from behind the drifting clouds. "Now, Gracie is that any way to greet your Aunt Anna?"
The setting sun was still a red glow in the west when Spike and Darla left the barely-standing mercantile and headed down the road to the small homestead Darla had noted earlier. As they walked down the dusty road they spied a man hurrying along the other side, his movements furtive and hasty. Spike looked at Darla hopefully but she kept walking straight ahead, paying no attention to the blood on the hoof they were missing. Except for that one man, the street was deserted, the house and stores closed up and blind-looking. Midnight parades and dedications notwithstanding, most townspeople seemed to know how best to survive in a town with a higher number of demons per capita than one of Dante's circles of hell. The smart folks stayed home behind locked doors.
As the two vampires approached the small wood frame building of the homestead just outside the town limits, they could see no lights lit, no chickens in the coop, no dog barking from the porch. The door hung open on its hinges. The two vampires entered, surprised they could do so. No one lived here anymore.
"At least someone in this godforsaken town was able to get out," Darla remarked dryly as she inspected the empty wardrobe in the abandoned bedroom.
"Well, this place is a bust," Spike said. "Where to now?"
"I'm doing nothing until I have a bath and some clean clothes. These reek of sweat and smoke."
"We could go back to the boarding house. Maybe Dru's gotten Angelus away from the Mayor and they're waiting for us there."
Darla laughed cynically, "You have a greater estimation of that daft girl's sense than I have. Chances are she's watching the Mayor torture Angelus and snickering. She can't concentrate from four to five. Besides, if the Mayor's looking for us, he's certainly going to have someone watching the boardinghouse. I think our best bet is the saloon."
"Didn't Anna say that would be the next place they'd look?"
"They've likely searched it and left by now. We'll approach it carefully, just in case."
Darla turned on her heel and exited the humble building, followed by Spike who, in a fit of frustration, tore the door off its hinges and flung it across the yard. They walked in silence back into town. As they drew nearer to the saloon, they left the street to approach it from behind. Hanging back for several minutes, they watched and listened. The saloon was silent and dark; they could neither see, hear nor smell anyone hanging around.
At a signal from Darla, they finally crept up to the building and with a quick twist of his wrist Spike broke the lock on the alley door and they entered.
Once inside, Darla and Spike paused, again using their heightened senses to check for any other presences -- living or undead, human or demonic. Finding a candle and a box of matches on a small table by the door, Darla lit it and surveyed the corridor. To their left was a staircase leading down. She led Spike down the stairs and they came into a large kitchen, the fire in the stove still banked, the embers warm. Next to the stove was a large sink with a pump. Checking the walls for windows and seeing none, Darla used her candle to light the several kerosene lamps on the counters tops and the large kitchen table. As the light grew she saw, to her delight, a large copper tub leaning against the wall.
"Spike, bring that tub over here by the stove." Darla was already busy at the sink pumping water into one of several large kettles which she then set on the stove before taking the poker and stirring the fire to a steady blaze. She threw some more coal from the scuttle into the roaring fire and shut the oven door.
Spike dropped the tub to the floor in front of the stove with a ringing clang. Darla hissed at him and shot him a dirty look. He had the grace to shrug apologetically.
"I'm going upstairs to find something to wear," Darla said, pumping water into another pot and setting it on the stove next to the first. "When the water's hot, pour it into the tub and keep heating water until you run out of things to heat it in. I want hot water up to my neck."
Spike was staring abstractedly at the tub, not really seeing it and not giving any indication that he'd heard her, but Darla picked up her candle and headed up the stairs. If she came back and he hadn't filled her tub, she'd just have to make sure that he always listened to her in the future.
Shielding the candle flame with her hand to both guard it against draughts and to keep it from being seen from the outside, Darla went up to the second floor of the saloon where Anna and her girls had had their rooms and, presumably, their clothes. She was fairly certain that only Anna's clothes would be of a quality that she could bear and they should fit well enough, but she needed a couple of larger dresses as well. She couldn't repress a sly smile thinking who would be wearing them.
She found Anna's dressing room right at the top of the stairs. It opened onto a garishly decorated red parlor that reeked of rotting bodies and stagnant blood. The site of the boys' party, she thought. The interior decorating was about what she'd have expected from Anna. Closing the connecting door, she went to inspect Anna's wardrobe. The contents were also as she'd expected: lots of red, lots of silk, none of it of the best quality or the most au courant style. And fairly drenched with perfume.
Turning up her nose, she inspected some bundles wrapped in butcher's paper and tied with twine. Aha, she thought, clean clothes, straight from the laundress and ready to wear. Shaking out an assortment of underthings and a relatively tasteful cobalt blue dress, she slipped off a scuffed slipper and slid her foot into one of Anna's button-up black half-boots. It fit well enough -- a little wide. Putting the clean clothes and shoes aside, she went down the hall to check out the other rooms.
Returning to Anna's dressing room with her finds, she gathered the clean clothes she'd chosen for herself and the other items she'd need for her plan.
When Darla returned to the kitchen she was gratified to see the tub filled with steaming hot water. Wasting no time, she shucked Angelus' discarded frock coat that she'd picked up on her way out of the mercantile, the dead Slayer's breeches and shirt and climbed in. Spike was busying himself at the sink filling yet another kettle with water to heat and carefully averting his gaze from the naked Darla.
She sank gratefully into the wickedly hot water, feeling it lift the dust and grime from her pores. She realized that she'd forgotten the scented bath salts she'd taken from the dressing room, but she was too comfortable and relaxed to get up to get them. "Spike," she said, "Get that little china box I put over there and add some salts to the bath."
Spike didn't react -- he was staring into space, distracted and not paying attention. "Spike," she said sharply. He jerked as he heard her. "Bath salts," she said and waved a slender wet arm at the bundle of things she'd brought from upstairs. Flushing and carefully not looking at her, he picked up the small china container and handed it to her. She sprinkled a liberal amount of the salts into the hot water and sighed with pleasure as the scented steam rose to her nostrils.
Spike returned to the sink, but there were no more kettles or pots to fill with water, nor was there any room left on the large stove to heat them. She watched his stiff back and shoulders and felt a small amount of sympathy for him. He's worrying about Drusilla, she thought. He hasn't yet learned that God, or something dissimilar, takes care of fools and crazy people -- even crazy vampires. She thought dispassionately about Angelus and what was likely happening to him. She realized, as she thought about it, that she wasn't in any tearing hurry to rescue him from the Mayor. This was his game, she thought. Let him deal with the consequences. They'd get out of this eventually but not before, she hoped, Angelus had a little sense drilled, hopefully literally, into him. She sighed again and submerged herself completely in the deliciously warm water.
While under the water she scrubbed her fingers through her hair, untangling it and trying to loosen some of the accumulation of dirt and cobwebs making her silken blonde hair stiff and sticky. This wouldn't do it, she realized. I need to give it a proper washing. She was going to have to pester Spike again.
Sitting up, she looked again at the straight shoulders and back of her great-grandchilde. She'd gotten so used to him that she rarely looked at him with an objective eye anymore. She still tended to think of him as he had been, gentle and bespectacled, bookish and stuttering. The only thought she'd given to "Spike" as opposed to "William" was annoyance at his pranks and stunts. He was, to her mind-- when she bothered to think about him at all--nothing more than a minder and a distraction for Dru, leaving Darla with more of Angelus' time. But the thin linen of his shirt and the worn fabric of his trousers now covered a frame lean and strong -- nothing soft left about him now. His dark golden hair had grown long enough to be held back in a small ponytail tied with a leather thong, leaving a long forelock that forever fell into his no longer soft blue eyes. The only time now that his eyes were soft instead of steely was when he looked at Drusilla. A sneaking small part of her, a part that she would deny with her last breath--that is if she needed to breathe--wished that Angelus would occasionally look at her like Spike looked at Dru. She realized that the warmth of the water was not the only warmth she was feeling. The Slayer's blood was singing in her veins, opening her to ideas she'd never before considered.
As if he felt her eyes on his back, Spike turned. "I want to wash my hair," Darla said. "Would you bring me the soap?" Taken aback by her unexpected, indeed unprecedented politeness, Spike wordlessly brought her the pot of creamy scented soap. "I'm too relaxed to do it myself, do it for me." Through slitted eyes she watched surprise, suspicion and resignation flit across Spike's expressive features. He was, she realized, one of those people whose every thought could be seen in the slight movements of his face. She could tick off on her fingers--if she had had the energy to, that is--what thoughts her request had caused him to have. Surprise was obvious, she hardly spoke to him at all and if she did, she was likely scolding him or making a pointed comment designed to embarrass him; suspicion, wondering what she could be up to, how could this be used against him, how this could be another challenge set up for him to fail; and resignation, what could he do besides what she requested -- there was no way he could refuse.
Moving around to the back of the tub to stand behind Darla, Spike scooped a dollop of the fragrant soap in his fingers and gingerly began to rub it into Darla's scalp. Too gingerly. She snorted in annoyance and said, "Quit poking at my head. Rub it in properly." Using a little more muscle and his whole hands instead of just his fingertips, Spike began to work the soap into a real lather. Darla's eyes closed and she let her head drop forward as she enjoyed his strong hands massaging her scalp. She didn't open her eyes again until she heard him swallow and say her name.
He was interrupted by a crash from upstairs. Spike bolted for the stairs while Darla slid down into the tub, hurriedly rinsing the soap from her hair. Climbing out of the tub and still dripping wet, she picked up Angelus' frock coat from the heap of discarded clothes on the floor and followed Spike.
As she ran up the stairs, fast but quiet, she nearly tripped over Spike who was kneeling at the top of them. He looked at her, placed a finger over his lips and turned back to watch the two vampires in the saloon's main room, helping themselves to the liquor behind the bar. They were dirty, disheveled and covered with bruises and lacerations. Several large holes punctured their chests and they bickered with each other as they drank copious amounts of whiskey straight from the dusty bottles.
"Dang it, Lyle, if you hadn't let that little filly get away, we'd be drinking something better than whiskey right now," the taller, lankier vampire said. "I'm downright starvin'."
"Weren't me let her skedaddle, Tector," the shorter, stockier one said. "You're the one had to go and badmouth my shootin'"
"Well, I wouldn'ta said it iffen it wasn't true. You couldn't hit a buffalo an' it was nose ta nose with ya."
"I had any bullets left, wouldn't be a buffalo missin' his nose," Lyle muttered under his breath before tilting the bottle again. He changed the subject. "Wonder if we should go back to that Mayor and see if he's got anybody else he wants us to eat?"
Spike and Darla, still crouched at the top of the stairs, exchanged a meaningful look and continued to listen.
"Worth a try," Tector said. "No reason to let him know the young 'un got away." Grabbing a couple of bottles, they turned to leave the saloon, kicking aside the shards of the door they'd broken down to get in.
As they were leaving Lyle remarked, "Wonder what that loco limey girl with the spear was doin' with the Mayor. Ain't never seen her 'round before. Quite a looker she is, wouldn't mind getting me some a that." Spike stiffened at this reference to Drusilla, muscles tensing to spring at the vampires and teach them to talk about his sire that way. Darla caught his sleeve and pulled him back.
"Just follow them," Darla hissed at Spike. "No fighting. I'll get dressed and catch up." Spike looked back at her, finally noticing her long wet legs shining under the long coat. It distracted him momentarily. Darla gave him a shove, "Go on," she said, and he crept the rest of the way up the stairs and into the barroom to follow Lyle and Tector.
Returning to the kitchen, Darla put on the blue dress, thankful that Anna was just enough larger than her that she didn't need to wear a corset. She looked at the boots, but decided that it would take too long to button them up so she slid her feet back into her battered leather slippers. Winding her wet hair up into a hasty knot, she ran up the stairs and out of the saloon.
Spike was waiting for her outside, having returned for her after seeing which way the other vampires went. They weren't hard to track -- they were moving slowly, pausing often to drink and playfully wrestle with each other. Spike and Darla followed them back out of town, past the deserted homestead and into the gardens of a palatial mansion high on a hill overlooking the town. Pairs of vampires, ogres and well-armed humans patrolled the grounds. Crouching behind a large azalea bush they watched Lyle and Tector approach the house. Darla was thinking furiously.
"I have an idea," she whispered to Spike. "I'm going to let myself be captured."
Spike just stared at her, a frown creasing his smooth forehead. "Are you crazy, Darla?" he said. "What good'll that do?"
"I'll find out where Angelus is and what Dru is doing with the Mayor. Once we're together, we can kill that disgusting Mayor, grab Dru, destroy the damned Glaive and get the hell out of this sty and back to civilization."
"Destroy the Glaive? Won't Angelus want to keep it?" Spike murmured, keeping a sharp eye on a pair of large green ogres patrolling rather close to them.
"I don't give a damn anymore what Angelus wants," she snapped. "I've had just about enough of him and his little obsessions. Time I put my foot down and put a stop to all this nonsense." The ogres turned toward the bush Spike and Darla were hiding behind, sensing that something wasn't right.
Darla put her hand over Spike's mouth and pulled his head close to her mouth. Whispering into his ear she said, "In the kitchen at the saloon there's a bundle of clothes I collected. Get them and meet me right here tomorrow night. Come right after sunset -- I want you to be ready when I break back out." She gave him a long stare to make sure that he understood and would do as she said. Gulping, he nodded. "Good," she said, stood up, smoothed her skirts and walked out into the garden, heading towards the house.
She was instantly surrounded. Spike watched as she struggled ineffectually and argued with the guards. They were dragging her around to the back of the house as he slipped away into the night.
"You don't understand," Darla was saying to the guards as she twisted in their grasp. "The Mayor will want to see me. I have important news for him."
"Mayor busy," said the larger of the two ogres, his voice deep and thick with mucus. "You wait with other one. Not make trouble. Not make noise." He clapped a large horny hand over her mouth and force-marched her down a flight of steps into a large cellar-cum-dungeon. Her eyes were drawn immediately to the form of Angelus hanging limp and unconscious in his bonds, his smoothly muscled chest polka-dotted with burns marks. Two M'Fashnik demons were standing around a brazier, rolling the iron pokers so they would heat evenly. They were speaking softly to each other in their own tongue, only glancing up for a second as the ogres tied Darla to the chair that had recently been occupied by Grace.
Darla surreptitiously pulled at the ropes. Good, she thought, they aren't strong enough to hold a vampire -- the ogres must think I'm human. She sat quietly, waiting for Angelus to wake up.
Spike was back at the saloon. He found the bundle of clothes that Darla had told him to bring to her the next night. He inspected them and had a sinking suspicion he knew what Darla was planning. He sat disconsolately on the floor behind the bar, drinking, dreading the coming night and missing his girl.
"Now, Gracie is that any way to greet your Aunt Anna?"
Anna twisted Grace's arm painfully, trying to drag her the rest of the way out of the cave and back towards the mercantile. She'd given some thought to abandoning Darla and Spike and heading out for parts unknown, but she really did want those dresses that Darla had promised her and she'd already observed that it was easier to hunt in a pack than individually. She decided to stay with them -- at least until she knew which was the winning side.
As she pulled back, resisting her aunt's clutching hands, Grace had finally had enough. This was the final straw. She felt a red rage building inside her, burning out her fear, her doubts, her willingness to continue to be this town's favorite victim.
Anna felt the heat building under her hands, scorching them. Gasping, she snatched her smoking hands back, watching in amazement as Grace quietly began to glow in the dark cave. There was fire in Grace's eyes as she slowly reached out for her aunt. Mesmerized by Grace's orange-red gaze, she couldn't move as Grace placed her hands gently on Anna's white, white cheeks.
Her face started to smoke, then to sizzle. The harsh smell of burning filled the cave. She fell screaming to her knees as her demon was burnt out of her by the power in Grace's small hands. Anna's last thought before she died was, "Thank you, my darling niece." Her essence, the part of her human self that had been tied to her body, joined her soul and united they moved into the light.
Grace stood numb and unfeeling, for a few moments. Dropping her hands to her sides, she stared straight ahead of her. Her mind moved from the white, hot anger she had just felt to the emptiness of shock and pain. She recalled her Aunt's last words to her. She had heard the words even though they were never spoken. Aunt Anna was truly gone. Inéz was gone. Papa wasn't going to be back. Mama might be dead for all she knew.
Then she heard it. A great wailing sound that echoed through the cave and back to her. It was the sound of something in deep profound pain. Something had obviously been broken in whatever, who ever it was that was keening without abandon, unchecked. Looking around and finding herself utterly alone in the darkness just outside the cave, Grace realized that the mournful, broken sounds were coming from her. She dimly comprehended that she was gasping and heaving for air from her crying. She struggled to regain her composure, but her body and heart would not follow. The events of past week had taken their toll. She fell to the ground where Anna had been and grabbed at the dust left behind. Through her tears she watched the dust sift through her fingers. Her grief became more frantic. She brought her dirty hands to her face and wiped at her cheeks, mixing Anna's remains in with her tears.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god! My fault. All gone. My fault. Hurt," she muttered through the sobs, clutching her head in her hands, her hair forming a stringy, dirty veil. "No more, no more. Must stop!" She rocked slightly. Her sobbing continued. The human part of her had had enough; it wanted its release from the dam of emotions that the demon part of her kept in place.
Grace got up slowly from the ground, dizzy from the crying. When she had steadied herself, a new wave of guilt and anger washed over her. She took her feelings of helplessness, hostility and fear out on all that was near.
"Stupid, selfish, stubborn!" she screamed while kicking and pulling at the bushes and saplings that were around her. She stripped leaves and branches, tore at the ground that they were rooted to. She acted as if whipping herself into such a dervish of destruction would somehow solve her problems. But soon her crying subsided and turned into grunting as she continued her assault.
Finally collapsing against the mouth of the cave, Grace calmed down. She was exhausted, physically and emotionally, still taking in large gulps of air, hiccuping occasionally. She dully recognized the throbbing in her hands, looking at the scratched and bleeding appendages with a detached air.
She slowly contemplated what she had done to her aunt. Deep down, she knew that the Anna of the last several days was not the person she had known before, but she had had very little time to process the change of Anna the human to Anna the vampire. She was not allowed the luxury to mourn Anna's original death or to put any closure on that relationship.
'You killed her. Murdered her. You are the cause of all their pain,' whispered a tiny, nagging voice. "No," she replied slightly, shaking her head. 'Because of you, all are in danger.' Wearily, she lay down on the ground, drawing her knees up to her chest. "No," she sniffled again. The voice in her kept whispering, then it was overtaken by other ones.
"Grace, I don't know what has come over you in the past several days, but whatever it is it's not a good thing," said her mother.
"I don't know what you think you can accomplish--a little girl like you--against the riff-raff in this town," admonished a human Anna.
"Hullo, Sweetness, miss me?" Spike taunted.
"Ah, don't worry, Grace" Angelus crooned. "She was good for a morning's entertainment, but a little too worn to be my bride."
"You're not answering my questions, Grace. I'm getting very annoyed with you," cautioned Mayor Wilkins.
The cacophony of voices rang in her head. With her hands closed up over her ears, she attempted to shut out the voices, as if they were coming from a physical outside source. Her eyes were screwed up tight with the effort put into pushing out the noise in her head. Moments passed before the chattering diminished to a white noise. Exhaustion weighed down on her heavily. With her cheek pillowed in the crook of her left arm, her right hand carefully fingered the fabric of her dress, rubbing it between her thumb and index finger. The smoothness of it calmed her as she fell into slumber.
She found herself back on Colina del Rey. The sun was high. Facing the ocean, she let her gaze follow the horizon. She used to do this. What clouds there were in the sky drifted lazily in the light winds that caressed the grasses and leaves. She could hear the whispering but it was indistinct. She strained to understand, getting nothing more than wisps. She closed her eyes and inhaled the sea air, enjoying the sun's warmth on her face. It had been too long since she last did this.
"You can have this again," came a voice from behind her.
Grace turned around and saw no one. She walked a few paces forward, still scanning in front of her for whoever was talking to her. Seeing nothing, she turned back around to the ocean. A woman stood in front of her with her back facing Grace. The woman's waist-length hair cascaded over a simple smock that went down past her knees. The woman looked over at Grace and gave her a gentle smile. Anna. But this was not an Anna that she was familiar with. Her Anna didn't have a gentle smile, a simple dress like this, nor ever wear her hair in this fashion.
"I am one part of her," said the same voice. Grace heard it but did not see Anna speak.
Anna extended a hand out to Grace and she accepted it. They stood next to each other, hand in hand, looking out at the ocean towards where the world curved away from the sky. Grace turned to look at Anna. "I don't know what to do."
"You will do what must be done."
"You mean to save my mother?"
"That's not what you are meant to do, Grace."
"I don't understand."
"It's not your mother that you must go to, it's the Glaive."
"I don't care about that anymore. It's just a thing. I want my mamma."
"You will have your mother, but you must get the Glaive first. If you do not get to it, you will then have no need for your mother."
Grace paused a moment before continuing, "It's not something that is meant for this world is it?"
Anna did not answer, keeping her eyes straight ahead. Grace looked away from her and back to the water.
"You must go to it."
Grace didn't say anything at the statement. She just kept watching the sea. "What if I don't?"
"You will. It is a part of you. Only you can do what must be done."
"I don't even know how to really use it. I don't know why Papa didn't leave something behind to guide me if he knew he wasn't coming back," said Grace with a trace of bitterness.
Anna released Grace's hand and brought it up to smooth some Grace's hair out of her face. "He always thought that there was a chance that he would be back in time to meet you when you got older. But the Glaive was never meant for you. He made it for other reasons. He left it with Rose saying that it was for you one day because he knew that you would be the only one to figure it out."
"Figure it out? But I don't know how to use it properly. It controls me."
"His blood allows you to use it. His blood allows you to hear and feel it. His blood will allow you to control it."
Grace sighed. With every answer Anna gave, more questions cropped up. Anna cupped Grace's chin with her hand and turned her face towards hers.
"Your mother is important to you? And you wish for her to suffer no more?" Anna asked.
Grace nodded mutely.
"Then you must put her out of your mind and focus on the Glaive. That is how you must proceed. Once you have risen above the impulse to go to her first, you will have completed part of your destiny. This is how you will do what must be done." Anna released Grace's chin and returned her gaze back to the horizon.
Some thoughts then occurred to Grace, "It was never meant for me?" In the several years that she had known of the Glaive's existence, it had never occurred to her that it was not meant for her.
"What father would leave behind a weapon of possible mass destruction for his daughter?" Anna replied.
"I didn't think it was a weapon," Grace answered feeling a little foolish at that statement because it was the truth. She didn't consider it a weapon. She looked at it as a reminder of her father. In that respect she never considered the Glaive's powers to be other than hers and hers alone. So she toyed with it, never once thinking that he father had other motives for its creation.
"Why do you think that it is being sought by so many?"
Grace didn't answer this time. Instead she asked another question she had. "What am I supposed to do? You keep talking about 'what must be done' but I don't know what that is."
Grace suddenly found herself in Anna's arms. She embraced her with such love and warmth that Grace found it difficult to stay confused. She wanted to stay here. She wanted to know this Anna better. Grace felt safe. She hadn't felt this way for days. Not since she and her mother had gone to... Grace stopped short at the thought of her mother. Mamma, where was she now? Was she OK? Was she alive? Was she dead? Tears began to fall down Grace's cheeks. She sank deeper into Anna's embrace.
"Shhh, Grace. There is no point in going back to this. Nothing can be helped by it," she whispered into Grace's ear while stroking Grace's hair. "Know this--you are so much more than you know. The answers may not be clear now, but they will be when the time comes. Your mother's love for you is eternal and she believes in you completely. Your father believed that you could do this. Let that carry you."
They continued like this for a few more moments. Grace was greatly comforted by her aunt's actions. All too soon, Anna moved to break the embrace. She took both of Grace's hands and clasped it in hers. "It's time for you to go Grace."
Grace nodded and moved to pull her hands away first. But Anna held fast. She kissed each of Grace's hands and then let go. "Go now." And with that Anna was gone.
"Aunt Anna!" Grace cried out as she bolted to a seated position from the ground she was sleeping on. She looked frantically around and realized that it was still night and that she was still at the cave. She cringed a little as she felt her sore muscles protest at the quick movements she put them through. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she rose to her feet. Part way through this action she stopped suddenly and slowly pulled her hands away from her eyes. She studied her hands in the moonlight for a few minutes before realizing what was different. Her hands were now completely healed. What had earlier been a mass of cuts, abrasions and swollen digits were now two normal, uninjured hands.
It was early morning and the sun was beaming down on the small frontier settlement. It was unusually busy in the streets, children were playing, traders had set up little huts and the rich folk ate breakfast outside in view of the goings on around Boca del Infierno. Spike was sprawled out on the floor of the saloon. Every now and again a head would poke in, the early morning drinkers looking to escape the sun and spend the day in the best way they knew. With no sign of Anna, they left. Finally, one punter pushed the doors aside and strode in. A stream of light caught Spike's leg, snapping him out of his drunken sleep.
Several people followed and the saloon was soon bustling with activity. Spike rose up, noticing some of the customers were young ladies. These people weren't the normal scum that came in. They were rich, and unaware of the concerns of the usual mob. They spoke of their favorite garments and their butlers. Spike's stomach ached looking at the girls, but he would need to get them alone first. He stepped behind the bar, put on an apron and smiled at the group. "What can I get you to drink?"
Darla laid against the wall, reveling in the smoothness of her skin. That bath had done her good. She had been waiting days for that. She had managed to loosen the restraints a little. Not for escape purposes, but for comfort. The room was dank and wet, made with rotted wood. Not at all like the other rooms that Darla passed on the way to this one. The door too, had seen better days. The two of them would make light work of it.
Angelus jumped up from the ground, pulling at his restraints, trying to break free.
"You were grunting like an animal all night," Darla muttered. Angelus suddenly calmed, noticing Darla's relaxed state. He had a lot of questions to ask her, but he just sat down sensing that she was planning something.
"So, what are you doing here?"
He eyed her suspiciously. "Waiting for anything in particular, dear?"
"Night-time. I'm here to get you out."
"And a fine job you've done."
"Such a pessimist, Angelus. I can get out of here any time I want."
Angelus knelt beside her and kissed her. She had a seductive smile on her face, but he didn't take it any further. He stood up and began to pace.
That damn Drusilla. He could still feel the pain of her betrayal. What the hell is she thinking? He often asked himself that question, but not even Dru herself could answer that.
"He'll be here tonight. So we can leave this dump."
Angelus chuckled a little. "Darla, honey... We're not going anywhere. Not until I have that Glaive."
She didn't fight it. She'd get him out if she had to drag him.
Evening had come, and darkness was beginning to descend. The rich had long since left the saloon, and word of the new bartender had spread. The mob was in; the occasional question about Anna fell on deaf ears. Spike was having the time of his life. Free drinks and pocketing the money that he received. He was severely intoxicated at this point and had forgotten about Darla's orders. He was telling all the humans about his exploits; his years of killing and maiming. Most just thought it was drunken lies, but upon mentioning Darla's name, he suddenly remembered the plan. He ran to the kitchen, tripping over tables, chairs and the occasional passed-out drunk. The kitchen was much brighter than the saloon and it took him a few moments to adjust to the light. He grabbed the clothes and noticed that some wigs belonging to Anna had also been left. Different shades, a hairstyle for every day of the week. He ran from the saloon towards Gleaves' mansion, with the customers asking questions.
Jacob and Cole got ready to go out and look for Inéz and Grace. They left Rupert to look after Rose. They were now both wearing rags. Jacob knew in his heart that Grace was dead. He was all set to leave town with the Emerson women. Cole was his only tie to this god-forsaken place. They were like brothers, ever since they were children. Jacob remembered when his parents died; he went off the rails. Cole kept him from doing some very stupid things. Cole thought him everything he knew as a boy, and Jacob still looked up to him when he needed help.
Cole knew how much Jacob cared for Rose and Grace. He wasn't about to let him go out there alone. He was always there for his friend and that wouldn't change now. They walked briskly into town. The streets were much more crowded than usual for night-time. But word of free drink had drawn a huge crowd to the saloon. The mob spilled out onto the street. They danced and sang as the Jacob and Cole pushed through the sea of people. Two large men stopped them in their tracks.
"Well, look-y here Tector. I think we found our boys."
"Who are you?"
"I'm Lyle and this is my brother Tector. And you must be Jacob and Cole. Mr. Mayor told us all 'bout you."
"Yep, we was sent here to kill you." Tector added.
The two vamped out and grabbed their prey. Jacob fumbled for some magicks to ward them off, but he couldn't think with this mob jumping around. Lyle locked his arms around Cole's head. The crowd thought the two were dancing, so they joined in, putting their arms around creating a big line of drunks, jumping up and down. The line separated Tector from Jacob, but Jacob could still see his friend. Lyle was choking Cole, pulling tight around his throat before finally snapping his neck. The crowd didn't notice. There were people passed out all over the place. The brothers ran for the other human, but Jacob muttered some Latin and roots whipped up from the ground and tripped the vamps. He ran away from the crowd and collapsed beside a house, still seeing his friend's face gasping for air before being violently ripped of his life. Jacob started to get dizzy before throwing up and lying down on the ground. He couldn't go on fighting anymore. Everything he had was being taken from him. He was a broken man.
A small window at the roof told Darla that it was night-time. She quickly broke free of her restraints and helped Angelus with his. In the distance, they could hear talking and laughing. The Mayor and his posse, no doubt. But if they could move quickly enough they could breeze right past without being stopped. They could grab Dru while they were at it.
In a fine hall, a large number of the Mayor's cohorts sat around, all talking at once, regaling each other with their anecdotes. Drusilla was having the time of her life. She sat at the Mayor's right hand as if she were a favorite daughter. There was tea and cakes, just like she'd had when she was alive. She didn't utter a word all night; just sat there with a huge smile, laughing hysterically from time to time.
Gleaves sat on the Mayor's left. He too had been silent most of the night, apart from telling the group of his magnificent business acumen. Suddenly a large crashing sound came from the end of the hall. Followed by a second, and a third. Finally, a door fell, and Angelus and Darla ran from the room. Two of the M'Fashniks appeared and tackled the vampires to the ground.
Wilkins strutted calmly forward. "Now, you didn't think we were going to let you go that easily, did you?" The M'Fashniks threw them back into the room and stood at the door holding them in.
"Bad Mummy and Daddy," Drusilla admonished, "no cake for them. But Miss Edith has been a good little girl, and will get tea and treats."
"Really Richard," complained Gleaves, "I don't know why we can't do this somewhere else. They're destroying my things."
"Don't worry Rutherford," Wilkins reassured him, "I've got a little surprise coming for you gentlemen that's just going to perk you right up."
It had been dark for some hours now, and there had been no sign of Darla. Spike knew there must have been some problem. He needed to get inside and rescue them. That would put him in Darla and Angelus' good graces. But he couldn't get in, the place was well guarded.
From the distance, several of the girls from the brothel appeared. They made their way towards the house, preparing for a night of work. Spike realized where his train of thought was going and he tried to derail it. It was no use though. The foundations of a plan had already been laid in his mind. Against his better judgement, and assisted by enough alcohol to render an elephant unconscious, he slipped on a black dress from the pile of clothes. He chose a long red wig, and placed it roughly on his head. He joined the back of the group, and knew that when he was sober, he would regret this.
"Why, Darla, my dear! And Angelus! I had no idea you were so eager to join us!" Mayor Wilkins flapped a dismissive hand at the two M'Fashnik demons, who stepped back, reluctantly releasing the two vampires.
Darla lifted her chin defiantly, and tugged at the front of her dress to straighten it. Angelus, feeling the effects of several hot pokers, had dropped to one knee and Darla stepped to his side, reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder.
"Hello, Richard. I may call you Richard, mayn't I? I feel I've known you forever, I'm sure!" She glanced over to where Drusilla stood, at the Mayor's right. "Drusilla, dear, there you are! I declare! Angelus and I were just talking about you, weren't we, darling?" Stooping, she thrust a shoulder under Angelus's arm and helped him to his feet. "Well, we mustn't disrupt your little party any longer, Richard. Drusilla, dear, come! And bring your little toy, won't you?"
As she started to sweep her companions towards the door, the Mayor stepped forward. "Nonsense, Darla, I wouldn't dream of letting you rush off so soon. Please, sit, have some, er, food... or, um, well, I'm sure we'll manage to find some sort of refreshment for you. Somewhere. Rutherford, where are your manners? Make room at the table for our guests!"
Gleaves scowled at the two vampires, but waved one of his flunkeys forward. "Abel, fetch a couple of chairs up here, and--." The flunkey bent to whisper something in the Governor's ear, and he looked up at the Mayor. "Wilkins, it seems your 'surprise' has arrived."
Grace stepped hesitantly into Auburn Cole's parlor. She didn't think she'd made a sound, but obviously she had, as she saw her mother suddenly spin around from the window, where she'd been standing watch.
A long moment passed as the two women stared mutely at each other. Then with simultaneous gasps, they both ran forward and into each other's arms. Time passed in a jumble of incoherent murmuring and sobs of tension and relief. Eventually, Grace opened her eyes and lifted her head from her mother's comforting breast. They had stumbled towards the sofa, and Rose was gently stroking her daughter's back, humming softly, if, it must be said, somewhat tunelessly, a lullaby Grace remembered her singing a long time ago. Grace thought she'd never heard anything more wonderful.
Sighing, she shifted slightly, and took one of her mother's hands between her own. Rose reached up with her free hand and smoothed away Grace's tears. Grace smiled. A sad smile.
"Mamma, I need to tell you something." She bowed her head, hesitating.
"Darling, you know you can tell me anything. What is it?"
Grace looked up. "It's about Aunt Anna, mamma. I--I... Mamma, I killed her!" She went on to explain to her mother what had happened.
Rose lifted a finger and raised Grace's head up. "Grace, you listen to me, you hear? You did not kill your Aunt Anna. They did, those... those monsters. Whatever you think you did, don't ever forget that! You killed a vampire, not a human being. And I thank the good Lord you did! Because if it had been the other way around, I don't think I could've gone on, and that's the truth!"
"But nothing! If I had more strength in me, I'd kill all of them myself, I surely would!"
Grace almost smiled. Almost, but not quite. She still had to tell her mother about Inéz.
When she'd done so, both women were silent for a while. Then Rose straightened her shoulders and gave her daughter a fierce hug. "Well, looks like the Emerson women're going to have to fight their own battles, don' it? Won't be the first time! When Jacob and Auburn get back, we're gonna make ourselves a plan. A damn good one, you wait and see!"
"What do you think it means, mamma? All that stuff Aunt Anna said about the Glaive-- Oh!" She suddenly remembered something, and pulled away from her mother, with a horrified gasp. "Mamma! Oh! What've I done?! She said... she said Once you have risen above the impulse to go to her first, you will have completed part of your destiny. This is how you will do what must be done. I... I forgot! I should've gone for the Glaive first! Oh! What if that means I've failed before I've started?! Oh!"
"Gracie!" Rose gave her daughter a firm shake. "Stop that! Having hysterics isn't going to help none, now is it?" As Grace gazed silently back at her, Rose gave a nod. "That's it, love, calm down. Now, as I see it, Anna was... well, I don't know exactly what she was, but she seemed good, didn't she?" At Grace's mute nod of assent, she continued. "Well, then. I'm sure if she's come with some sort of message of good, from, er, someone, then you goin' off to see if your mother is still alive is bound to be a forgivable sorta sin, ain't it? Well, ain't it?"
Though Grace's mouth trembled, she managed a weak smile, and said "I hope so, mamma, I truly do. 'Cos I didn't mean to disobey anyone, or anything, honest I didn't, I just wanted to get back here to speak to Jacob. As well as look for you, only my head was sort of muddled, and then I saw you, standing there and I couldn't think, and... and..." She trailed to a halt.
Giving her knee a comforting pat, Rose smiled. "I know, love, I know. We'll sort it all out, don't worry now. She stood. "Well, girl, don't just sit there -- we've got a Glaive to find!"
"'We'?" Grace stood, also, and looked at her mother in some dismay. "Mamma, there's no 'we' here! I have to go alone, and you have to leave town!"
"Leave town? What nonsense is this? Leave town, indeed!"
"Mamma, have you looked in a mirror today? You've been beaten and..." She faltered to a halt, gazing piteously at her mother.
"I've been what? Beaten? Degraded? Stripped of my clothes and my dignity by a foul creature who shouldn't be walking God's earth?" Rose huffed, and span away from Grace, then back again. "Doesn't that give me some rights in this business?"
"But he... you... he..."
"He what?" Suddenly Rose realized what the girl couldn't make herself say, and her face crumpled. "Oh, my baby! You thought -- I thought you'd realized. Honey... Grace, love, he didn't rape me!"
As Graced looked up, fresh tears coursing down her pale cheeks, Rose wrapped her arms around her daughter. "Oh, sweetie, hush now...hush." Leading her towards the couch, she pushed her gently down, and waited until the gasping sobs halted. Smoothing a hand over Grace's fair head, she bent to press her lips there. "Don't you see, love? That's what that monster wanted you to think? Oh! Not that he wouldn't have done what you thought he had, I suppose, sooner or later. But he didn't. It was just another game to him. Truly, love. So put it out of your head now, y'hear?"
Grace sniffed, and lifted a head, brushing furiously at her cheeks. "Put it out of my head? Oh, no! He's going to pay for what he did to us, mamma, he's going to pay!"
Spike followed silently on the heels of the girl in front of him, pulling at his black dress, tugging and twitching at it until it was in place around him. Then he patted his head until he could sense the wig was straight and none of his own blond hair showed beneath the red. As they walked between the pillars that fronted the imposing double doors, the girl in front stumbled slightly on the front step, catching a heel in the hem of her dress. Swearing, she bent to disentangle herself, just as Spike reached her.
Sensing someone behind her, she gave a short laugh. "Damn heels! Ain't they a pain? Got me a damn blister already, and they ain't been on my feet more'n a half-hour!"
Spike reached an arm out to hook it around her neck, blocking her airways, and pulled her into the black shadows behind one of the pillars. She had only a second to glimpse the ridged face and yellow eyes before the vampire sank his fangs into her and drank. As her body dropped to the floor, he grabbed the shawl from around her shoulders and smiled. "Feeling better, love?"
Wrapping the shawl around his own shoulders, he held one end coyly to his face and sauntered through the doors. There was some sort of big party going on. He could smell humans, mostly, though there were demons present. He could smell them, too. Men were standing in the large tiled hallway in groups of various sizes, drinking and laughing and paying a lot of attention to the whores who had just come in.
Stepping around one group, he started to make his way to the end of the hall, where more double doors stood open. He could hear music and the raucous sound of people partying got louder as he approached. He stiffened suddenly when a hand grasped his arm.
"Just where d'ya think you're sneakin' off to, huh?"
Spike could smell bourbon and cigars and the sour smell of an unwashed human. Beneath the concealing fringe of his shawl, his lip curled fastidiously. The urge to kill was strong, but he curbed his instincts, and bent his head coyly, saying nothing.
"C'mon, now, honey, turn around! Why you are a shy one, ain't you? I wanna see that pretty face, now, y'hear?"
The drunk reached a beefy arm around Spike's waist and squeezed. Spike's eyes narrowed dangerously, a fist curling tightly in the folds of the black dress. Then he set his teeth and drew a mental breath. Swinging around, he smiled brightly at the partygoer.
"Well, handsome, hello! What's a girl got to do to get a drink around here?"
Delighted, the drunk reached down and gave Spike's butt an affectionate squeeze. "You can call me Samuel, Red. Lookit them blue eyes! Ain't they just fine? Always was partial to a redheaded woman with sparklin' blue eyes! You wanna drink, darlin', I'm yore man! C'mon through here." Towing Spike along behind him, he pushed his way through to the ballroom. Glancing around, Spike saw that the room was crowded with humans, with a few demons here and there, some M'Fashnik, some K'raal, even one or two Pigmy Lo'ma demons.
A loud cheer went up as they entered, and Spike figured the Mayor must have made some announcement about the whores, judging by the way that heads were turning towards the doors. Several of the men started heading that way. His thoughts were rudely interrupted as someone grasped him around the waist and pulled.
"Wotcher got here, Samuel? And mind iffen I take over?"
The speaker was an even bigger, beefier version of Samuel, who looked back at the interloper indignantly.
"Go get yer own whore, Philpott Clarkson! This 'un's mine!"
Clarkson pushed his face menacingly into Samuel's. "Oh, I'm sure if you think harder about it, you're gonna change your mind, ain't ya, Samuel, old friend?" he said, one hand slipping down to caress the gun holstered at his side.
"Er, well, put it like that, 'n I guess one dance don't make no never mind." Reaching across, he pinched Spike's cheek. "Just one dance, now, honey!" he added, with a fulminating glance at Clarkson.
With a crow of success, the big man swung Spike into his arms and squeezed. His hands grasped the vampire's hard, and Spike, perforce, had to drop his hold on his shawl. "Ooh, cold hands!" Lowering his head, he leered at Spike suggestively, showing the vampire a gappy set of teeth blackened by years of tobacco chewing. "Have ta find a way of warmin' 'em up, huh?!"
Looking Spike up and down, he added, "Skinny one, ain't ya?" At Spike's outraged stare, he added, hurriedly, "Hey, I like 'em skinny! Don't make no difference to me if'n a whore's got titties or not! Long as you got the right parts everywhere else, you know what I mean?" Leaning close, he leered at Spike, who reared back in disgust. Frowning, the man stopped mid-step. "Wossermarrer, whore, Philpott Clarkson not good enough fer you?"
Spike could see some people turning towards the raised voice, and gave his dance partner a sickly smile. Ducking his head, he raised the shawl to his face again and tittered. "Oh, no, er Philpott, honey, it's just er, your cigar, that's what it is, I can smell cigar, and mother always told me smoking was bad for your health."
"Oh, don't you worry none, sugar, smokin' warn't what I had in mind fer you!" Laughing uproariously at his own wit, he pulled Spike closer, and the vampire could feel the man's fat belly shake. "Hey!" Clarson added, "yore voice sounds funny! Are you Welsh? My great granny was Welsh!"
"Welsh!" Spike spluttered indignantly, but even as he started to raise a fist to strike at the other man, he was swung back into the dance. Welsh! Bloody moron! he thought to himself.
As he was danced along the crowded floor, the music got louder, and he saw they were nearing the band, to the right of which were situated some long, damask-covered trestle tables. And behind them, smack bang in the middle, sat Drusilla, swaying gently to the music and smiling happily.
Ducking his head, Spike thought furiously. His lover was sitting next to the Mayor, who was bending his head and whispering in her ear. Spike scowled. Dru was being a little too friendly, from where he stood, and he didn't like it. Spike couldn't see the Glaive anywhere, but, as the crowd shifted, he caught a glimpse of Angelus, sitting at the other end of one of the tables, slumped forward over a tankard of something. There was a man sitting next to him, and next to the human sat Darla. Though she wasn't smiling, she didn't look in any pain, either, and Spike frowned behind his concealing shawl. Now what was he supposed to do? If he went anywhere near them, he knew Dru would know him at once, and he couldn't rely on her not to give him away. And what the hell was Darla doing, anyway? She and Angelus were supposed to be captors, not bloody well sitting there enjoying themselves! And he was sure Angelus was drunk! Look at him, Spike thought, contemptuously, he can't even lift the bloody tankard!
They'd come to a halt at the makeshift bar, and Clarkson thrust a wine goblet into his hands, interrupting the blond vampire's thoughts. "Here you go, honey! You drink that down, you gorgeous thing, you!" Curling a lip in a parody of a smile, Spike nodded his thanks and took a mouthful of the wine. Before he had time to swallow, the drunk grabbed the goblet back and put it on the table. "Hey! They're playin' 'Fat Annie's Dance'! C'mon! I like that one!" Grasping Spike's hands in his own sweaty ones, he swung Spike onto the dance floor and into a fast two-step. As he was swung past the main table, he saw Darla's eyes rest on him a moment, then move on. Then her head turned sharply back. Over his dance partner's beefy shoulders he saw her search the crowd and knew the moment she spotted him.
As her eyes widened and her jaw dropped, Spike couldn't help himself. Fluttering his eyelashes at her, he smiled. Sweetly.