All About Spike - Plain Version

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Chapter: 1  2  3  4


London Hellmouth
By Sylvia Volk

Part Two

Drusilla lay on a bed of filthy sacks, hands trailing, hair trailing, singing in soft madness to herself. Her gaze searched the ceiling, seeing who-knows-what in distant corners and shadows. But her eyes were as wide as flowers. Her mouth made a sweet smile. She was happy.

Soon her brave knight would come back and give himself to her, and they would dance--dance--yes, and feast, eating anything and everything they wanted. She was a vampire; this was her substance. Hunger. The demon that possessed her (she thought vaguely) had devoured her soul first, then all of her, from the inside out. Now all she knew was hunger. It never went away. She walked about, Drusilla's mind in Drusilla's hollowed-out skin . . . with the famished demon in her empty places, her soul, her womb, her belly, her heart, and all it ever did was want more--made her glut herself with Spike's body, claw her nails down his back and bite his shoulders blue-black with glorious bruises. In consuming passion. In ravenous, endless, empty want. The hole where her soul had been, could never be filled up again--no matter if she drank down entire oceans of blood. Ate whole worlds. Given the chance, she would have tried. That was a vampire's life.

But then her rapturous daydream ceased and she sat up, looking wildly about. "My darling!" Drusilla clutched at her eyes. "Oh my poor darling. He has disarmed you, my knight."

She stood, casting aside the ragged sacks that had covered her: a mere-wife rising from deep waters. "I shall be his lady of the lake." Drusilla breathed in deeply, caught Spike's scent--and glided away.


#


Spike had both hands clenched round the stranger's wrist, but he might as well not have had vampiric strength . . . it made no difference, he could have been arm-wrestling a giant, he couldn't make the man let go. The fingers clamped onto his shoulder were like billhooks. He could have gone for the throat again, but didn't dare. Hadn't worked the first time. There was a time to charge in screaming to the fight, and a time to roll over and play good dog, and this was definitely time for the latter.

God, he hated sorcerers. He knew one when he saw one, and this was certainly a sorcerer, a dangerous black sorcerer--

"Darling, what are you doing--? Oh."

--a dangerous white sorcerer. A dangerous white sorcerer of the Watcher persuasion, to be exact.

The girl who had just tripped in through the tap-room door was a vision of English girlhood, all ringlets and dewy blue eyes, peaches-and-cream complexion, roses blooming in her cheeks. She was perhaps sixteen years old, no more, and at the mere sight of her, Spike-- No, it wasn't the sight of her, it was the scent. He had only smelled the like once before in his career, and this was only the merest whiff of potential--but the fragrance of Slayerhood was not to be forgotten. She might as well have been brandishing cross and stake. And now she was blinking big-eyed at the filthy room, remarking, "I've never set foot in one of these places before, it seems quite nasty, are they all like this?" Lupine turned his head, smiled wolfishly at her and crooked a finger, and she came to his side like a lamb.

Her interested gaze took in the fires still burning here and there, the humans slumped like cordwood on the floor. Last of all, wonderingly, she examined Spike. With no change at all in her expression.

"Mr. Lupine darling? What are you doing to that poor man?"

The chit was as crazy as Drusilla!

"Wiggie, my dear," said Lupine. "This is no man. This creature is a vampire."

"Oh," she said vaguely.

"Miss Wiggy Fortemaine," he said formally, "be introduced to--" He shook Spike. "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name?"

"S-spike." Spike dug his fingers into Lupine's corded forearm. "Are you going to let go?" he hazarded.

"Well, since I'm asked so nicely . . ."

He let go. Spike was out of reach in a flash, groping automatically for his cigarette-papers in an effort at bravado. With his left arm aching from shoulder-blade to fingertips, hanging uselessly at his side. He gritted his teeth, kept from groaning. Not for the world would he have shown any signs of pain.

Meanwhile Lupine had possessed himself of his potential Slayer's hand and kissed it gallantly, whispered in her ear. (Her face became more empty yet, if that was possible.) Spike eyed them with disbelief. He thought it was like watching a turn at comedy. Besides, he had caught another scent, and there--

"Ah, yes," said Lupine in a bored tone. "The lost luggage. Well, mustn't stop you, I suppose. Go fetch it, then."

Yes. Spike shot across the room. There, a cellar trapdoor, the reek of beer-kegs and raw gin rising from its maw; and set neatly at the bottom of the narrow stair, a heap of baggage. It had, obviously, been stashed down here safely out of sight. It smelled of Drusilla. Triumphantly, Spike gathered it all up and carried it into the light; for a moment, all he thought of was his lady's pleasure. Then he looked back warily at Lupine.

The sorcerer lounged at ease against the wall, the very picture of debonair decadence, with the girl nestled in his arms. He was smoothing the dark curls back from her high forehead, and this time Spike caught his whisper: "Mara ond mðma," he murmured, and the girl echoed dimly, "Apple-dark horses," with a dream in her face.

Then Lupine jabbed a finger toward Spike.

"Attor on innan!" Spike staggered; sickening pain needled through him, he doubled over and all the rescued luggage thumped floorward. "Mn-scaða," said Lupine conversationally, "I set my mark on you, vampire. However you try to flee me, I'll always find you again." Spike was bent over, grimacing, holding his left arm. That was where the pain was, lancing out from his shoulder where Lupine had touched him. He felt crippled. "Of course I could just incinerate you, or perhaps let dear Wiggy at you--I believe you're the first real vampire she's ever seen, but she's been thoroughly trained to stake your kind--but business first. I have work for you. I want something found, and you and your, ah--"

"You leave Drusilla alone!"

"--your inamorata will help me. Yes?"

"Go find--some other vampires--"

"No, I don't think so. You and Drusilla seem like just the two I need. Or ought I find the lady and give her a taste of the spur too?"

"That'd be a big mistake," gasped Spike, "she'd bleeding enjoy it--"

Wiggy's eyes and mouth formed round O's.

"His language!" she whispered in horror.

"I'll thank you to keep a cleaner tongue in your head," Lupine ordered, "you're shocking young ears. Anyway, I think whether your Drusilla enjoys my attentions or not, either way you lose, hm, my friend? Since--"

Drusilla looked in at the doorway. She dragged a pair of unconscious vampire minions behind her, by the scruffs of their necks.

"Spike, pet," she said, "it's almost sunrise, I heard a cock sparrow singing over the warehouses, and these fine gentlemen offered to escort me, that I might make my curtsey to Princess Alexandra." She dropped what she carried, and it landed thump thump. And bowed gravely to Wiggy, who goggled at her. Lupine released the girl, putting her behind him with a quick move, and raised his hand. He opened his mouth to speak, but Drusilla forestalled him.

"Tsk, sir! My knight must leave now. And we have not been introduced, you and I."

"You're Drusilla," said Lupine, lowering his hand. "I saw you before."

"I am a cat," said Drusilla, frowning.

"You know what I've done to him? Now, woman, you will--"

Her hand flashed out and fastened onto Spike's collar, much as she had gripped the minions who now lay on their faces. He was still doubled up, choking with pain. Nevertheless, he got hold of their pair of portmanteaux, hooking his good arm through their handles (and he even managed to grab her hat-box) as she backed, pulling him with her, toward the door.

"--you and your Spike will find something for me, or else he'll never hold you with that arm again--"

Drusilla did not speak. Instead she lowered her head, glaring under her eyebrows at Lupine, and a shrill whining sound began in the back of her throat. As Lupine had with the girl Wiggy, she had placed herself in front of Spike, blocking access to him. Lupine raised his hand again, and the noise she made became louder.

"--do you hear me, you stupid woman?" Lupine's voice also rose. "You're in my power! Stand still-- Don't leave this place! I want whatever killed the Slayer. Find it and come straight back to me with the news. Remember, if you don't--"

She slammed the door shut on his shout.

"--your lover will never use that arm again!"

One of the vampire minions raised his ugly face. "Now that's a woman," he said thickly, and Lupine incinerated him.


#


Drusilla and Spike went to ground in the sewers. They knew the old tunnels beneath London intimately, and both of them wanted badly to hide. They ended up in a brick-walled chamber, a kind of annex, that might once have been the parlor of a private house but was now far below the basements of the modern city. But it was snug and dry, and once she had opened their bags and spread their spare clothing out for bedding, it made a very cosy vampire nest.

Spike sat hunched, holding onto his paralyzed arm. Dru fussed around him till he slapped her away. "Get off me, pet. You're not my mother."

"Yes I am, I am your mother, and you're my good boy Will."

"Thought you were a cat?"

"That was to confound the sorcerer," said Drusilla, "a cat may sneer at warlocks. Do you have any feeling in your arm at all?"

He only squirmed away from her. "At least we've gotten clear of our minders. What was that old Watcher going on about anyway, back there?"

"He wants the beast that devoured the Slayer. It shall be his wine and his feast. A monster in the underworld, it is," she went on dreamily, "called Earth's nursling. Its body stretches out nine leagues long."

"Well, he'll never be able to find it himself," Spike said, "he's right about that one--underground London is too much of a maze, and the closer you get to the Hellmouth itself, well-- No human can go down there. I wonder what it was, anyway? The thing that got her."

She dipped her face to kiss his left hand. When she looked up again, her gaze was unusually steady and clear. "You want to find it. But you have to feed first, you know."

"Yeah, yeah. God, don't paw at me. We'll hunt, uh, later. Tonight. The feeling should be back in my arm by then."

"Oooo . . . I want a Crawler, then, I want a Crawler, Spike! All rotten inside, tasting of old tea-leaves. Can I have a Crawler? And she shall try to run away," said Drusilla, gleefully, "slow as treacle, hands and knees, and we will dance about her holding hands, and clapping!"

"Clapping . . . yes." Spike tried to move his arm. After a moment he gave up and sat slumped. "Damn that warlock."

She was still giggling. "Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy . . . But he was handsome, wasn't he? That warlock. Very, very handsome."

"What?!"

Drusilla whimpered, jerked herself away in a fit of sudden pettishness. "Don't you shout at me! I was only saying."

"No, no--Dru love, don't start crying now--I didn't mean it, there--"

He soothed her till her brow smoothed again, her anger forgotten.

"I think you should have a treacle tart," she announced. "Yes, a treacle tart at tea-time, and then early to bed."

"You're a good girl, Dru," he said mechanically.

Drusilla leaned against his right shoulder, and they sat together like that, his arm around her. She fell asleep, but Spike did not. After a while he eased her down till her dark head rested in his lap, and stayed sitting against the wall, his good arm wrapped around himself and his face pinched.

His heart was bleak. The way his arm was now, he couldn't fight, would barely be able to hunt. Couldn't defend Drusilla against other vampires. Couldn't satisfy her. Wouldn't be able to keep her . . . because everyone wanted his wicked queen, didn't they? Every other male demon who saw her.

He'd always had to fight all the other vampires off her, for she was a fetching piece and all the lads went mad for her.

The knowledge hit him like a death sentence.

Finally he slept, one last thought driving away the woe: Something formidable enough to bag a Slayer--now, that would be a fight to dream of . . .


#


If you didn't know the seamy underside of London, you wouldn't know about the Crawlers. They could be spotted in the parish of St. Giles, in the benighted lanes of reeking squalor which had long been called the Rookeries. Usually they huddled on the steps of the old workhouse, sheltering from the elements. That was their home; they had no better. They were too old, too sick, too weak to struggle for a living . . . so they dozed all day on the steps of the workhouse, but if anyone took pity and gave one a halfpenny, then the reason for their name became obvious. The Crawler so blessed would stir into life, slowly cause a tea-pot to appear from beneath her ragged skirts. Then she would crawl--slowly, slowly, too feeble even to walk--down the street to buy a halfpennyworth of tea-leaves, and hence (crawling) toward nearby Drury Lane, where a generous publican supplied her kind with boiling water for free. With this, she could keep body and soul together another day.

They were the lowest of the low--women so downfallen that their lot in life was to beg from beggars.

Drusilla had always liked to eat Crawlers.

Spike had never eaten one. It seemed like too little a challenge. Besides, a gentleman always stepped aside and allowed his lady her fun.

She was funny that way, Drusilla: preferred street people and those too weak to fight back, even though she could bend a steel bar with her bare hands and bite through bone as if it was nothing. It was like her taste for rats, vermin most vamps turned their noses up at.

These things were only strangenesses of hers, quirks Spike had long known and adored. He adored everything about her--even the times she went from talking quite sanely to looking straight at him and announcing that hell was his home--even when she tore her hair and wept that her tarot cards whispered vileness in her dreams--even when she called him Lucael. Mostly he accepted that she was mad as a hatter. No use crying over spilt milk; she'd never get better. At least, though mad, she was happy.

There were tunnels, far below the underground trains, buried beneath daylight London. They linked all the older parts of the city, delved to find its buried rivers and, in places, ran along their courses; they criss-crossed beneath the Thames in a hundred places. Once evening approached, Dru and Spike found their way further down, into this tunnel network. They had stashed their bags, though she wasn't to be parted from her beloved volume of Aristotle. They picked their way over old, old pavement, with here and there stone gutters to be seen, which had been laid down the centers of vanished streets. Brick vaulting arched over their heads. Green witchlight glowed out of the mortar. Green glow-worms clung to the walls, thin as string and unnaturally long--sometimes one fell to the ground, locked in fatal combat with an immense spider, a spider fat and velvety as a pin-cushion. It was the glow-worms that hunted the spiders, not the other way around.

Drusilla plucked down a glow-worm, tugging it till it elongated and snapped in the middle. Laughing, she draped it in her hair. Spike trudged along beside her. In his cloth cap, a choker wound round his throat, he looked like a human being--till you took in the wildness in his eyes. He held her hand and helped her across broken stretches of pavement, and she thanked him in pretty phrases that would have been suitable for a tea-party. They were sniffing out their way, working west by crooked degrees. The tunnels shifted, year by year. Sometimes just a bit--what with cave-ins, sink-holes opening suddenly into further tunnels, ceilings collapsing and the London rivers shifting their courses. Sometimes the tunnels themselves moved about. That was the influence of the Hellmouth's proximity. Maps were useless here, you had to follow your nose. And Spike and Dru, sure as migrating birds, found their way by instinct through the maze. They were homing in on the heart of the underworld. Their destination was St. Giles, where a tangle of stinking lanes wound their threads round the most evil point of London. The juncture of streets called Seven Dials. Directly beneath which, lay the Hellmouth.

Dru sang as she walked, tripping along carefree, Spike barely spoke. His left arm was still useless--numb as deadwood.

They crossed under the Thames, came up in a tenement cellar just as the last sunshine died.

It was a demons' doss-house. Spike knew it the instant he inhaled, and the acrid stench hit his nostrils: Crumplin demon. They were vaguely human, Crumplins were, but lived on herrings--any way they could get them--and newsprint, and old books and clothes, all of which were readily gotten roundabout St. Giles. The vicinity of Seven Dials was chockablock with old-clothes shops--why, only the occult bookstores and black-magic establishments outnumbered them. Also the street stretching from Seven Dials itself to the adjacent intersection of Five Dials housed all the glory of a daily cut-rate fish-market. Nothing could be more convenient for a Crumplin.

The herrings they swallowed straight-up, and got drunk on. They swallowed the books and paper too, when they could get them. The clothing they donned, digesting it through their skins. They were always going through old suits, eating them threadbare as if with moth-holes, first at the elbows and knees and then everywhere, till the rags dropped off them and they stole round shyly to buy replacements, starting the whole process over again. Halfway through a suit of clothes, you'd catch them with bare feet and no shirts, looking like vagrants. They were harmless creatures, too meek to fight. If you bit into one, all you'd get was a mouthful of what tasted like button-factory sawdust.

This lot had been on a bender. A huge barrel--it had obviously held pickled herring--lay reeking in a puddle of pungency in the middle of the cellar room, staved right in and empty. Crumplins lay prostrate on every side of it. They clutched their distended stomachs and groaned. Some had herring-tails projecting out of their mouths.

Drusilla held her nose delicately and made a face. Fanning herself, she stole down the aisle between the cots, which were loaded with delirious Crumplins. Spike cat-footed in her wake. He gagged on the sheer stink. Fumes rose from some especially blotto Crumplins; he had heard somewhere, he didn't know where, that if one of their kind stuffed down enough herring, it'd explode outright.

"Wait, Dru."

He had halted to stare at a pair of disreputable ragged Crumplins, both sprawled on a single cot. They had only one shirt and one pair of pants between the two of them. But what startled Spike was that neither was wearing a hat. The exposed crowns of their heads were nests of rose-pink excrescences. "Bold of 'em," he mused. "Never saw one of these that dared appear bare-headed where humans might get a look. The whole of the Rookeries must be pretty well all demons these days, for them to be so careless."

There was a sound at the door. Something stooped to fit under the lintel, straightened as it advanced into the room. "Nuffler!" Spike muttered, pulling Dru into a corner. The Nuffler took no notice of them. Its great size--all knotted muscle and vast slabs of feet--was counterbalanced by its tiny vestigal head, in which the eyes were like pinholes. A bucket dangled from one huge fist. It fished about on the floor, came up with a Crumplin. The Crumplin, dead drunk, snored contentedly as the Nuffler knocked its hat off and then draped it headfirst over the bucket. The Nuffler knuckled the Crumplin's head, as businesslike as a farmer milking a cow. Pale liquid squirted into the bucket.

At first the liquid was translucent. Then streams of darker flecks appeared, spiraling into the bucket with the rest: lines of letters, fluid as ink. "Hello," said Spike, craning, "someone's been force-feeding books to these Crumplins. And not just any books, from the look of it. Spell-books. Well, well!"

The Nuffler moved on to the next Crumplin--never looking up from its work.

"Crumplin-milking operation," Spike whispered to Dru. They tiptoed past the Nuffler, unseen. "Somebody's got to be organizing this, some Master demon. Nufflers don't have enough brains to manage a herd of Crumplins--well, Nufflers have no brains whatsoever--but Dru? Remember those other vampires mentioned 'Sleepers'? Wonder if whoever's running this operation knows about 'em."

"I still want a Crawler," she whispered back anxiously. "There aren't any Crawlers here, are they?"

"No, pet. But-- What's that? Hush now."

He pulled her round the corner, shutting the door. Behind them, in the room, a commotion sounded. Someone--several someones, and not quiet--had just tromped in, using the same subterranean entrance Spike and Dru had employed. Spike couldn't smell them for the reek of Crumplins and pickled herring, but he was willing to bet money they were vampires.

He would have won his bet. Voices carried clearly through the ramshackle door: ". . . the trail went this way, couldn't have mistaken it . . . but where they are, the nasty foreign vampires . . . make an example of them . . ."

"This way!" Spike pulled Drusilla away, past other rooms full of filth and Crumplins, up a precipitous flight of stairs. "Don't dawdle, lamb--it's our skins on the line."

From the sound of it, the other vamps were coming right on their heels.

"I want my Crawler," Dru insisted, hanging back.

"This way, Dru!"

He hustled her through a doorway. The room beyond was just like those below--almost unlit, stinking, low-ceilinged, and as strewn with refuse as an animal's den--but the stench had a different quality, exotic and sharp, with an undertaste of alcohol. Spike wrinkled his nose. By the dim glow of an oil lantern, retorts bubbled and fluid (mostly Crumplin milk, apparently) dripped slowly from coils of glass tubing. This was an alchemist's workshop.

Voices rose up the stairs: ". . . lost them, dammit!" Then a peevish voice, louder than the rest: "--go ask the boss for new orders?" and another, to which all the rest joined in: "Get something to snack on first, eh?"

All the vampires trooped past the door, licking their lips and talking about food. Spike swallowed and pressed the flat of his good hand to his stomach. A moment passed. He cocked an ear and listened; they'd gone, all right. Coast clear. "Dru?"

"Spike? I smell something nice back here."

"Dru, we can't stay here, it's not safe-- Dru, come along! Dru! Oh, hell--no, wait, Dru, we can't, somebody's coming, get back in here right now Drusilla!"

"Stop yanking at me!"

"Oh, shut up and get into this closet."

The closet door closed behind them. Just in the nick of time: human footsteps sounded along the hall, and several people came into the room, bearing more lanterns. A man's cultured voice drawled, "--an extraordinarily difficult potion, Marcel, very impressive indeed."

Spike peered through a crack in the cheap clapboard door. He thought he recognized the voice.

A small human with pomaded hair and a mustache that curled up at the ends was showing two guests his alchemical apparatus. "--only the finest Crumplins, all of my own breeding, monsieur, I assure you. I 'ave force-fed them certain select grimoires and spell-books. Do not ask which--the exact titles are my secret. Add to the distilled Crumplin milk, oh, many ingredients of the finest--eye of newt, dried Fyarl mucus, secretions from a cupracabra, powdered horn of hundred-year-old Lessting--from my extensive apothecary's cupboard--"

Spike glanced at the closet behind him. It was large enough to hold perhaps three people, standing; shelves and cubbyholes lined the walls. With vampire-sight, he picked out the labels on corked jars: Baby's Breath, Mouse-venom, Goatsucker Glands, Ground Mumia and Balsam of Gilead, Heart of Brown Siberian Tiger, Mermaid-hair, Jenny Hanivar's Blood, and Essence of Scream. It was, indeed, an extensive apothecary's cupboard.

Drusilla, intrigued, was bending over to examine a large glass bottle, in which something vaguely humanoid floated--but it had horns, and a tail. She tapped on the glass, cooing to it. He glanced back at the door; it looked as if they were stuck for a while. Drusilla smiled brightly at him. So he pulled her up against him with an arm around her waist, and kissed her.

"How nice it is," said the alchemist, pausing just outside the closet door, "to talk shop with a fellow servant of Chaos. And one from the heights of Lambeth, no less." Lambeth was where the white warlocks of London tended to congregate, just as Seven Dials was where black sorcerers gathered. The Watcher headquarters was in Lambeth.

Lupine the Watcher, strolling across the room, replied, "But I wonder that you attempt the Art in the midst of this nest of vampires." Aside, he said, "Wiggy, my dear, put that down. You'll burn yourself."

"Never fear, monsieur, the vampires dare not to intrude, I 'ave them well intimidated. Not one will set foot across the threshold of this, my sanctum sanctorum. Vampires! I detest the creatures. The mere impurity of their presence would pollute my Great Work beyond salvage. Besides, they pilfer my stores of blood." In an undertone: "And if that ward of yours is no longer a virgin intactus, I'll thank you to have her stop fingering my apparatus."

"Oh, she's technically pure yet. And it's the letter of the law that matters, not the spirit, isn't it?" Both men laughed. "I'm saving the dear child. I have better uses for her than my own pleasure."

"Aha, if she ascends to Slayerhood, she'll fetch a pretty penny on the black market. Slayer's blood is priceless . . . Perhaps we could reach an arrangement? I 'ave deep pockets. Do not forget me, if it happens."

"She won't make a Slayer, probably," said Lupine, "she's too old. Three times now, she's been passed over since she turned fourteen. Though the last Slayer was far older than usual, almost twenty I believe at ascension, and over twenty-three at the end." He added casually, "By the way, do you know how the chit died? I'm curious as to what killed her."

"Who knows? They come, they go."

"True."

"But your Wiggy, she is a beauty. That waist, those . . ." The alchemist broke off, breathing heavily. "Purity," he said, half to himself. "I must live under certain restrictions while working my Art. Purity is essential. Of thought and of act. The alchemical Essence is most sensitive to emanations in the aether. Base urges must never trouble my mind, not even when . . . sorely tempted . . . No! I remain pure, everything about me is pure--"

"I say," called Wiggy from across the room; she was now hovering near the closet. "What's that odd noise? A sort of rhythmic thumping."

"Wiggy, come away from there. And stop touching things."

"But I hear it distinctly! Why, I believe the floor is shaking, even."

"Wiggy. Come."

She came, casting a final speculative look over her shoulder.

"Does she ever kick at the traces?" whispered the alchemist.

"Oh," said Lupine coolly, "you may speak openly in her hearing, my dear Marcel. I have her under so many glamors, I doubt she even knows her own name. Why, if you questioned her, she'd tell you she was still living under her mother's roof in Shropshire, and she and I are to be married come September. Just watch this." He snapped his fingers. "Wiggy, attend! Wrætlcne wundur-maðum."

Wiggy sighed deeply, bliss in every line. "Mr. Lupine darling." She held up her hand, admiring the bare fingers. "Such a lovely trinket. A golden ring. Oh, I do love your gifts!"

When his two guests had taken their leave, the alchemist came back into the room, muttering to himself. "That devil! He and his little bitch. He only wants to pry out my secrets. But he will never, never, never guess my recipes!" He removed a vial from his waistcoat pocket, turned it to the light and admired it, beaming; it was labeled Slayer's Blood. Still gazing rapturously at it, he reached for the closet door. "Why, what's that thumping?" he said aloud, distracted--and opened the door.

Two arms reached out and yanked him into the closet. The door slammed shut behind him.

After a brief interval, the thumping resumed. It went on for quite a long time. As it did, the fluid bubbling in the flasks and retorts began to steam and froth. It changed color. Little curls of steam rose. Fractures appeared in the glass apparatus, spreading with a sound like fire crackling. At the height of the rattling and thudding--which quickened so the rickety walls seemed in danger--the distilled liquid began to smoke.

Then all the retorts simultaneously blew their tops.

Silence fell, except for the hiss of burning Essence.

The closet door opened and Spike and Dru stepped out. He was buttoning himself. Dru still held the vial marked Slayer's Blood; she swiped round the inside with one finger, extracting the last lingering vestige of flavor.

"What a funny little man," she mused, "and what a lot of secrets locked up in his mind. But so nice of him, to bring along refreshments!"

"And now we know what did for the Slayer," said Spike, grinning at her.

She popped her finger into his mouth, and he sucked on it, slowly, still grinning around it.

"A dragon," Dru said, in a daze of second-sight, "lairing far below at the Hellmouth, and the Lamb of the Light climbing like a thief into its barrow, seeking the treasure-scythe of the Guardians . . . Too bad the monster woke before she reached the weapon."

He was looking past her. His eyes widened. "Er . . . Dru? Better run. The place is on fire."

"But I still want my Crawler," Dru wailed as he grabbed hold of her and jerked her unceremoniously out of the room.


Continued in Part Three


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