By Sylvia Volk
The Slayer was dead.
The word ran through London's demon underworld, from the hellhound rookeries beneath Jacob's Island and the skull-yards of Chelsea, to the forgotten crypts of giants' bones that lay far below the staid offices of the City--from the vampire nests of Deptford and Wapping, to the horrific back-street businesses located around the parish of St. Giles. The Slayer was dead! Her Watchers were in disarray, awaiting the call of a new Chosen One. The warlocks and white sorcerers of the Watcher's council bent all their energies to searching for her. The men with the stakes who battled demons in her name, threw up their hands and lost their heart for the fray. And London's underworld rejoiced.
Let daylight London go unsuspecting about its business; barristers in periwigs, beggars in rags, little girls in pinafores running about the streets, nobody knew of the secret war that had always been waged around them. In that war, the side of the light was now in retreat.
The Slayer was dead.
Hundreds of vampires lived in London. They hunted its parks and wharfs and alleys. They were mankind's predators and the cities of Earth were their natural habitat, and the larger the city the better; there were more vampires in London, in those days, than in any other city in the big bad world. Only the Slayer had kept their numbers in check. Now, with her gone, they licked their lips. A myriad of grinning fangs flashed white in the darkness. Oh yes, they knew a new Slayer always rose to spoil their pleasures. But that was tomorrow's bad news. Tonight, they meant to mow men down while the moon shone.
As, for example, in Southwark . . .
Not that anyone could see the moon from Southwark, on a night entirely enshrouded in fog. Here was London Bridge and the gateway to the City, but on this side of the bridge slums extended for miles in all directions, and the docks and warehouses seethed with rats. Southwark High Street had once been lined with fashionable inns, but these had all been pulled down with the widening of the road. The street had been renamed in honor of Wellington, and at the same time every trace of beauty and style had been stripped from it. Only one inn remained, and this was ramshackle and rickety and eccentric: the Old George.
Railway-goods sheds surrounded it. It had lost most of its trade, but still boasted a tunnel-entrance admitting on a coach-yard paved in cobbles; the stables had long since been done away with, though. A few of the new electric lights had been strung up as a nod to modernity. To the gentleman who came out of his room and leaned on the balustrade of the first-floor balcony, the effort seemed laughable. The only atmosphere conjured was one of seediness, and the paint under his hand was peeling.
A woman's voice called through the door behind him. "Darling? Come in to bed."
"Just a moment, love." He raised a flask and sipped from it. "And then," he purred to himself, "another bout at arms."
He was watching a little drama down in the courtyard below. There, a bedraggled pair had just come in off the street, afoot: the girl shivering with her companion's coat round her thin shoulders, the young man at her side burdened with several heavy portmanteaux. They had obviously just arrived by rail, and looked unhappy about it. Babes in the wood, forsooth. Perhaps new to London, and lost? They had the air of refugees. Worse, four or five bullies who looked like bargemen had followed them in, ringed them round, and cornered them against the arch of the passageway.
The bullies could have been cadging for money, or just tormenting a pretty girl. Except that they all wore the masks of beasts.
Sly yellow-eyed beasts with brutal cat-faces--strange to see, atop things that walked like men. Things in everyday dress, hob-nailed boots and knitted waistcoats and stained, shiny top-hats: vampires. The young man was trying to shelter his sweetheart. The vampires were shoving him from side to side, reaching past to snatch at the girl. She was in distress, making sharp little cries. She was also plucking at her young man's sleeve, holding him back and hindering him. He might have made a better showing of it, if not for her.
"Oi! Shove off, you!"
"Give us a kiss, kitty--" One of the vampires dodged around, caught the girl by one shoulder and pulled her casually toward him. Instantly, all the others made a circle round them, chanting gleefully. "Kiss or forfeit! Kiss or forfeit!"
"Kiss or bite." The girl's voice carried clearly up to the balcony above. There was not a smidgeon of fear in it. As the vampire who had her in his arms bent toward her throat, she tipped her chin up and lilted a laugh. Then she fastened her hands on either side of his head. And twisted.
His head came right off his neck, and the dark-haired girl cooed as he exploded in dust.
She looked at and through the remaining bullies, with eyes that saw a thousand miles. They shied back. The girl bent and lifted the young man bodily to his feet, petting him afterward as he straightened his rumpled scarf. "Spike my love. Did you drop my hat-box again?"
"Never mind that." They were all vampires: girl, boy, bullies, all of them. The boy flashed yellow eyes at the interlopers, put an arm round the girl's shoulders and growled deep and possessively. "What's all this, then? Don't we have a right to come to London?"
"--come to London town and see the Queen," the girl sang.
"Nasty foreign vamps ain't welcome in this territory," one of the others growled back. "Not without the Sleepers' say-so. Get back to where you come from."
"The Sleepers? Who's that?" The boy pulled a disgusted face. "Never heard of 'em. And I'm as good a Londoner as you any day. What, can't you hear? Deaf are you? Dumb too? Wouldn't brag about it, if I were you."
"My Spike's looking for the dell," the girl piped up. "It's bad manners to stand in his way. Have you seen her, the wild dell? I've heard them whistling the rats home of a night," she went on dreamily. "It must be a young maid, able for generation and not yet known or broken by the
upright men. But they're usually broken very young. And when they've been caught by the upright men, then they become Slayers, and no dells. Can't gather grapes from green briars, or figs off thistles. You see?"
Everyone stared at her.
"The Watchers their fathers carry them on their backs," she continued, with an air of bright logic. "They bring them up savagely, till they grow to be ripe: and soon ripe, soon rotten. Oh! Such buds! Such blossoms!" Tears welled up in her eyes. She suddenly raked at her own cheeks with her nails. "Such evil seed sown, Spike!"
"It's alright, Dru." Spike hugged her. "She makes sense to herself," he assured the other vampires. Then he puffed his chest out: "What she means is, I've come to challenge the Slayer."
But they all burst out laughing.
"A little late for that, sonny!" they mocked. "Slayer's dead."
"Been history all this fortnight. Good luck hunting!"
"Have fun sucking her cold blood--if you can find the corpse, that is."
Above on the balcony, the human man who eavesdropped on the vampires leaned forward and gripped the wooden rail till his knuckles whitened. He made a small sound of interest and frustration. But when one of the vampires glanced up toward the source of the noise, he made a very brief gesture . . . and the vampire started, dullness veiling his animal features, and looked away and forgot.
Then the man smiled slightly, good humor crinkling the corners of his eyes.
His eyes were wells of darkness, completely black.
He went on listening.
". . . who did for Her Majesty, then?" the young vampire Spike was inquiring sharply. "Got a bone to pick with him."
"That's it, isn't it? Nobody knows. She just up and vanished, roundabout Isis temple ground. Never came home to her poor lonely weeping Watchers. Put them all in a pother and the wasp's nest hasn't settled yet, nor will till they bring a new Slayer in to stand guard at the Hellmouth. But till then--"
One of the London vampires stuck two fingers into his grin, whistled piercingly. A clamor of noise and one long-drawn-out howl answered from the foggy High Street. Spike grabbed Dru's hand, knowing that reinforcements were on the way. "Time to go, sweet!" She resisted, wide-eyed and suddenly wild, trying to get round him and at her abandoned luggage, full of trash from abroad and other rubbish dear to her; meanwhile the others all swarmed them at once, barking out laughter, clawing at Spike, and baying lustfully at Drusilla. Spike dragged her bodily away.
"Want my dolly," she wailed.
He thrust her toward the street, shoulders hunched under a rain of blows. The other vampires ran after, yelling. "We want the pretty dolly too, give us the dolly! Oooh--what we wouldn't give for a piece of that!" She threw them kisses, not the least bit frightened. Spike cursed. "No outsider hunts in London without permission!" the vampires shouted. "If any dares come, we know what to do: eat 'em ourselves--" Their chorus rose proud as Spike and Drusilla fled: "Sire or minion or childe, city cousin or country mouse--we'll eat them up. Eat 'em ourselves. Eat 'em ourselves. Eat 'em ourselves!"
Drusilla and Spike ran headlong, almost as far as London Bridge. Once there, safely hidden in the heavy fog, she collapsed against him in gales of giggles, and Spike wiped his brow. "Well there's a welcome for you," he muttered. "Home sweet bloody home."
"You lost all our luggage."
"That I did."
"And I'm hungry, Spike."
"Me too. Well, leastways I've got a tide-me-over for you here. See?" His forehead was bleeding, cut by a blow. He took off his cap, bowed his head for her to lick the scrape clean. "That's right, you kiss it better," he said, "and we'll off to Billingsgate, see if we can find any pickings. Alright?"
He had never liked the dreariness of Southwark anyway, had positively shunned the place in his mortal days--never ventured near it, not even to lay a wreath at Chaucer's commemorative plaque. Of all England's poets, Chaucer had been the one least-liked by human William. Why, the man was as depressing as Swift--hadn't a romantic bone in his body--had been interested only in chronicling the vagaries of real life. And William had never been overfond of real life.
Things had been better in the days of Angelus. Then, with Darla, the four of them had painted the old town red; London had been the cradle of Spike's vampiric infancy, and how he had enjoyed breaking his toys! They had eaten harmonica-players and doorway fiddlers for their dinner, every night of the week if they liked: 'street food' they had called it. Then every once in a while, canny Angelus would drag home some well-to-heel businessman, chosen not for blood but ready cash. They'd bite him good and proper, hock his gold watch and rifle his wallet. Then Spike would have a pocket full of money. He'd treat himself to hot chestnuts from street-vendors, buy gingerbread-men for Drusilla. Oh, how he regretted the old crowded streets of his youth . . . jellied eels in basins, whelks and winkles. Gilbert and Sullivan. Reading Dickens aloud to Drusilla (she adored each and every villain) and buying issues of the Strand for Angelus to peruse. Best of all, Spike remembered the good hunting.
They had eaten the guv'nors at corner coffee-stalls.
Eaten the barefoot Cockneys who delivered the London papers.
Eaten theatre-goers for midnight supper, and finished up with lamp-lighters for afters.
There was no one they hadn't eaten.
Those had been the good old days.
But now . . .
"I'm famished, Spike."
"Yeah, me too, pet." It was the constant refrain of Spike's life these days, for they had been traveling, and for vampires, little is sure about traveling except that the pickings are poor: neither Dru nor Spike had fed well for some time. They had come across the Continent in some haste, walking warily in strange territories; set a foot wrong with one of the local Masters, there might have been hell to pay. Once they had reached safe harbor in England again, both had breathed a sigh of relief. Drusilla, given half a chance, would have wrought scarlet slaughter on the London train and laid down merrily with Spike on a bed of corpses, and then gone for the conductor when that stately personage looked in . . . never reckoning that kind of behavior was what got bad vamp girls dusted.
But that was Drusilla in a nutshell. Blood and lovemaking were all she knew. That was why Spike loved her.
His job was to restrain her. So he had joked and distracted her, and kept her from biting her fellow passengers. Not in a public train-carriage, anyway. Then at the station, there had been too many witnesses, no opportunity to feed. They had loitered about for an hour or two, and finally given up in disgust and gone off afoot. Rare the tramp around London that didn't turn up a prospective meal--but this time, all they had gotten was a run-in with the vampires of Southwark.
"I'm hungry, Spike!"
Spike too was hungry, not to mention wet, cold, and furious. They had lost all their money with their luggage, hadn't so much as a sou to buy a cup of tea. With Drusilla on his arm, he trudged across London Bridge, into the night-time City. His feet ached on the pavement, there was a hole in his boot; her hands were tucked round his arm for warmth. She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder at last, digging at him with her little sharp chin.
"I can hear the bats whistling," she muttered. He looked up with sudden renewed wariness, but she went on: "Swirling round my head like smoke. They cling in your hair, never come out. And I'm clemmed. Give us another lick, Spike?"
"Shush," said Spike. He was already light-headed. Nevertheless, he tipped his head back, cupped one hand against the nape of her neck and drew her in; Dru drank. While she did, he chafed her hands between his. The bridge was all but deserted at this hour. The only sound was the whistle of a distant tug. To an onlooker--but there were none--Dru and Spike would seem like a courting couple, innocent. They'd done this on the train, to keep her quiet; and in a secluded corner of the station; but it was dangerous, and Spike knew it. There was a fine line. The more he let her drink, the less strength he had. Too much, and he'd be unable to keep them safe.
When she let go, he stumbled a little. He pulled out an end of his scarf and wiped Dru's chin, then smiled at her. "Better?"
She made a show of rising on tiptoes to kiss him, over-bright eyes gazing searchingly into his. "I can always see myself in the pupils of your eyes," Drusilla announced in delight. "My lovely lost boy. You take such good care of me. Now may we hunt?"
"Right there with you, pet. Let's stroll."
They skirted round Billingsgate fish-market, hunting. The rest of the City was empty of nights, but Billingsgate opened at five o'clock, and long before then the streets were teeming with workers--fishmongers, fish-buyers, fish-carters, fish-porters. Fish-salesmen in straw hats, wearing white overalls and airs of rude beery good health. Hangers-on loitering about every street corner. The crack of whips, the clop of horse-hooves, the deafening clatter of wheels; laden wagons and carts and even a few donkey-conveyances trundling past. Fat, ruddy-faced, well-fed humans all unwary. The streets were teeming with them. Prime prey, for vampires.
Spike was murmuring into Drusilla's ear; in high excitement, she pointed this way and that, clapped her hands and skipped along. His blood would give her a temporary flush of vitality, roses in her cheeks to tempt mortals close . . . she was the huntress tonight, and Spike would hang back. As long as he kept out of streetlights, no one would notice his pallor. But just let her lure some man within reach, and then--! His mouth watered at the thought.
Spike held Dru back to let several pairs of carters go by unmolested, though she eyed them wistfully. It was a fish-porter he picked out, a great strapping slab of beefy-fisted muscle. The hat on his head was a leather tower studded with dozens of reinforcing nails; balanced upon this bulwark, he toted a tower of wooden boxes, twelve stones'-worth in weight. Spike, hands dug in his pockets, yipped under his breath like a fox-hound giving tongue. He tipped Drusilla a wink, and she let go of his arm and glided toward the human.
The street around them was otherwise deserted. The fish-porter felt the chill of her presence as she reached him. He began to turn in alarm, but the heavy boxes on his head made him slow. Her arm rose, weaving a serpent's dance. Drusilla tittered. One slice of her long fingernails and a line of red appeared beneath his chin. His eyes bulged; blood was suddenly soaking through his scarf; he tottered, and then Spike was beside them, grinning as he steadied the boxes, and Drusilla crooned and slipped her arms round the stricken man, burying her face in his neck.
Then both of them froze.
The fish-porter was dying in Drusilla's arms, more tempting than a five-course meal. But shapes like bats--like bats slipping elusive through wreaths of smoke--were now circling them in the London fog. There was a sound of jeering laughter. Spike snarled. Still, the other vampires were nine to their two--twelve to two--no, more than that--and even more were materializing, a whole pack of them, snapping their fangs and drooling. He glared at them. Drusilla was whimpering. Then Spike sighed, eased her away from the prey . . . and the two of them stepped back, thwarted.
The human folded onto the cobbles. Spike put his arm round Dru, turned with her. They slunk off down the street, licking furiously at their lips, as the other vampires took their place at the feast.
Home sweet bloody home indeed.
They took refuge in a warehouse on the banks of the Thames, curled up together on some old sacks. Spike drummed his fingers unhappily, chewing over the humiliation of having to back down--in front of other vampires, all of whom he despised--and he could have whipped every last one of them, too! If he didn't have to look after Drusilla. But only start trouble, and there was no telling what might happen to her. And if they had harmed a hair on her head-- The thought left him cold all over.
Meanwhile (he ducked his head, screwed his eyes shut and endured) Dru continued to grizzle.
"Willie! I want my hat-box, are you listening?"
"You don't need those things, pet. What we need is a nice warm human, and solitude--that's what we need." He sighed. Sniffing, he could smell other vampires about; they were still lurking, having no doubt set a couple of minions to keep watch. Damn them. Damn them all straight home to hell.
"Can't we at least eat a rat? Oooh--there's nice fat juicy ones in these warehouses, I remember, all full of goodness--"
Drusilla enjoyed rats. Spike, who did not, was hungry enough to think that if they couldn't have a full meal, they might as well catch a snack. He sniffed a few more times and then prowled away. Moments later he was back, a brace of wriggling Norway rats in either hand.
They settled down again, unmolested.
"But I still want my hat-box. And," Drusilla continued, woefully, "what about Aristotle?"
"Aristotle, Aristotle, Aristotle! Spike I want my Aristotle!"
Of course. Aristotle's Scientific Secrets, a slim booklet purporting to initiate young virgins into every mystery of the marriage bed. Tattered, foxed, watermarked, and with several of the pages torn out. Found in a used-book stall in a Bombay marketplace, en route from China to the Continent. Pounced upon by Drusilla with rapture, clutched to her narrow bosom (she had bitten the book-merchant so hard that the cover got all blood-splattered) and treasured ever after. For some unfathomable reason, it was her prize possession.
Spike had leafed through the book once or twice, and read all the folklore and nuttiness within. One section solemnly instructed young women to refrain from curing meat during their menstrual cycles, as the mere touch of their hands infallibly addled hams.
"Why'd you want that old rubbish for anyway? Doesn't do you any good."
"You don't understand, you're a man--"
"Drusilla, it's about contraception and pregnancy and childbirth. What the hell do you have to do with that?"
"It's a present for Darla."
"Darla? She's still in China. Eating Mandarins every night, I'll wager. And she doesn't need it. Lord, Dru, she's been a vampire for two hundred years, and even before she was turned--" Spike shrugged. "Bloody Aristotle couldn't have taught her anything--not with Plato and Socrates and sodding Hippocrates along to hold his coat!"
But Drusilla's eyes had darkened dangerously. "I w-won't have you saying nasty things about Grandmother. Grandmother loved me, she did, and Daddy too--oh they'll never come back to us if they only knew the bad things you say--she needs our help, Spike, she needs us by her side--" She threw down the last rat and began to cry in stormy gusts, twisting her hands together. "I'm burning all over! It hurts me!"
"Shh shh shh love." Spike possessed himself of her hands, held them against his heart. "There, there."
"Daddy's never coming back to us, is he?"
He swallowed, leaned his cheek against hers. "You know what? I think--" drawing a finger tenderly down the bridge of her nose, "--when we ran away from the inn, all the other vampires ran away too, left your luggage lying in the corner. I think it's probably still there. Or maybe, one of the servants spotted it, carried it into the taproom and put it away for its rightful owners, carefully, oh so carefully. 'Cause they knew you'd be crying for it." She nodded, managing an uncertain smile. "And I bet if I went back now and asked, they'd give it to me in an instant."
"It's dangerous though--isn't it?"
"Oh very dangerous, sweet, very dangerous indeed. That's why you have to stay here and not make a peep, all hidden. Secret. So no one knows. And when I come back--" He stood up, grinning reassuringly at her. "Aristotle."
"Cross my heart," said Spike. "Hope to die. And be rolled in a barrel down Tower hill, if I utter a lie. Though I still don't have a clue why Darla needs a book on contraception."
Drusilla watched him saunter off. "I'm in the wrong century," she said sadly.
By the time he got back to the George Inn, a pair of London vampires had joined him. They materialized out of the fog and flanked him, one on either side, tipping their hats in mockery, and Spike knew whatever he tried, they'd stick to him like glue. No chance of spotting a lone human and getting lucky, then. Not that he'd thought he'd have the chance. No, he scowled blackly at the pair of them, and when one winked at the other and tried to throw an arm around Spike's shoulders, Spike snarled and went for him with his fangs. They jumped back, throwing up their hands and sniggering. "Down, Towser!" one cried, and the other chipped in: "Poor orphan boy, with the pot all empty, and nobody takes pity, no matter how he cries! 'Please sir, I want some more!'"
They trailed him into the inn, all friendly-like, in human face but still leering with an improbably large number of teeth each.
"Stand us a pint, mate?"
"Shove off," growled Spike.
"Now is that friendly? I ask you!"
He wanted to go for both of them, then and there, rip out their throats and dust the pair. But one was big--easily twice Spike's weight--and the other bigger yet, and there was Dru's safety to consider . . . Spike simmered.
Naturally their luggage had vanished. Probably nicked by the inn porters--bleeding gits! Ignoring his escort, Spike crouched down on the spot and breathed in deeply. He brushed his hand across the pavement, brought it to his nose and sniffed. Then he stood, inhaled again. He about-faced, cast a dark glance at Big and Bigger.
Bigger sidled up to him. "Ah, is diddums got his feelings hurt? Poor sweet delicate flower!"
Spike said something unprintable.
"I know," said Big, laying a finger alongside his nose. "Let's have some fun. Pretty Percy here's got to go hungry, but that doesn't stop us from having a bite. London's our playground these days," he added, to Spike. "No Slayer, no Watchers . . . hunting's easy as bob-for-apples." They stepped into the George taproom. A somnolent scene greeted them: five or six patrons still lingering, half-asleep in their cups; a broken-nosed bar-man and slovenly bar-maid slowly doing their late-night washing of empty tables, with most of the lights turned down, and everything touched by the dreadful, run-down seediness of poverty and neglect and strong drink--a shadow no amount of scrubbing would ever brighten. "You just stand back in the corner, and watch the big boys at work."
Big and Bigger flashed across the floor, and were in among the drunks at the bar.
In an instant, there was chaos. Chairs overturned. Tables crashed in two. The vampires, in game face, swept beer-glasses crashing to smithereens, knocked the patrons out of their seats and threw them to the floor; one drunk managed to make it halfway to the door, before Big caught him by the coat-tails and yanked him back into Bigger's waiting jaws; the other patrons screamed bloody murder, and when the bar-man and maid rushed to the rescue (no doubt not believing their eyes) they met Big, drooling. With one swing of his arm he smashed the bar-man aside. As for the maid, he enveloped her in a hug and kissed her smack on the mouth, demon face and all.
It was as if a pair of crazed dogs had been loosed in a rabbit-hutch. Spike backed away against a wall, trembling with hunger, and stayed there. He turned his face aside in frustration.
The drunk in Bigger's arms had fainted dead away. Big, nuzzling the bar-maid's throat, said thickly, "The first round's on the house, ha ha--"
A voice spoke like thunder from the doorway.
"Fyr on flde!"
From every bottle behind the bar, from every puddle of spilled liquor on floor and tables, flames burst. The vampires recoiled. The flames were brilliant with heat, burning away their fuel yet not going out; they shot hissing as high as the ceiling-beams, but touched nothing and left no mark. Big and Bigger released their prey and bolted. Then a finger of blue fire licked up the back of Big's shabby coat. He went up like a torch, blundered into Bigger--and both of them caught on fire.
There was a soundless explosion. Then all that was left was a double greasy mark on the floor.
The man in the doorway stepped into the taproom. He flicked a finger at the staff and patrons, who were just going into hysterics. "Slæpe," he said, and they keeled over, fast asleep and snoring loudly. Spike made a break for the doorway. But the man had twisted to look over his shoulder, already speaking, in a language that was not-quite-English, the words almost but not quite making sense. "Strenge getruwode--" To get past, Spike had to brush almost up against him. His hand fell upon Spike's shoulder. "--mund-gripe mægenes--" Instinctively, Spike went to wrench free. It should have been easy, he should have been out of there in an eyeblink. After all, the man was only human--
Instead, he was turned around, slammed headfirst into the taproom wall. The grip on his arm was paralyzingly strong. Pain shot through his shoulder--ripping--tearing-- Spike roared and darted his head around, lunging, quick as a snake. And he came close; his jaws snapped shut a bare inch from the newcomer's cheek. But not quite close enough to make a difference.
"Sweord ær gemealt," said the man. "Forbarn brden-mæl. Wæs þæt bld t þs ht. Ættren ellor-gæst. S þær inne swealt."
A hideous heat seared Spike, licking through him from the inside out. For a vampire, unendurable torment.
Gasping, he was picked up, shaken like a rat, and slammed into the wall again. Fresh agony screamed from his shoulder. "Calm down or I'll yank it right off," said the smooth voice in his ear. "Yes, hold still. That's better. Good boy. Now--my name is Arturus Lupine. And you will listen to me."
Spike held very still.
Continued in Part Two