All About Spike - Print Version
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London Hellmouth
By Sylvia Volk

England, 1905:

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?"

"Mm?"

"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."

"Promise?"

"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.



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.



Part Three

"Mr. Lupine? What are we doing here?"

"I beg your pardon, my love?"

"I mean, what is this place?" Wiggy looked about her, disgusted and appalled. As a trio of disreputable (and vaguely nonhuman) characters clad in greasy baker's smocks pushed past, she drew back fastidiously and whisked her skirts away from contamination. "I mean--it is a slum, isn't it? What do we want with a slum? Mother wouldn't like me being about such low people, I'm sure she wouldn't-- Is there some shop you want to visit? Or are we meeting someone?"

"You're babbling, Wiggy."

"Yes, sir." She hung her head, abashed. Then she popped up again: "But it's so filthy here! I don't like it at all. And I'm sure there are--oh, fences, and pickpockets, and women no better than they ought to be, and--and--and--I could pick up lice from these people!"

They climbed a stair and entered a low lodging-room, still below street level. On benches arrayed around a roaring fire, vagrants lay snoring, their hats tipped over their faces. They stank. Everything stank. Wiggy held her nose. A slattern of a woman materialized to block the way, thrusting out her hand and saying aggressively, "I charge tuppence nightly if you want to dab down here in the kitchen, but if you need a private room for you and your dollymop then it's crown and a half the week--"

"Make way, my good--er--creature." Lupine fended her off with his walking-cane. She flicked a forked tongue at him and retreated. Wiggy goggled after her.

"Mr. Lupine--that woman--isn't human!"

"No, she's a Dilys demon. This way, child."

They made their way into a courtyard between slum dwellings, a place so crowded with costers' barrows, chicken-coops and latrines that there was scarcely room to walk. Beyond this, an equally narrow tunnel admitted onto an alley, at the end of which--turning a corner--Wiggy and Lupine found themselves on the public street. It was about an hour after sunset. Electric advertisements floated overhead like angelic pronouncements. The crowds pushing past were bound for the theater, from their dress and conversation, and then late supper or else a few hours' drinking in some public house. In this part of London, the streets never slept.

"Follow me, my dear. I suppose it's natural for you to be curious: it's in your blood. After all, your mother was a potential Slayer, like her mother, and her mother and grandmother before them." Wiggy nodded; her mother had indeed been a Slayer in training, one who (like so many other potential Slayers) had eventually married a Watcher and settled down to perpetuate the Chosen bloodlines. Wiggy's own original Watcher had been her paternal uncle. True, he had vanished from Wiggy's life, making way for dear Mr. Lupine to take her in hand . . . but potentials married Watchers, and Watchers fathered potentials, and so forth, and so forth. Wiggy frowned momentarily. What had become of Uncle, anyway? She couldn't quite recall the details-- But never mind. The important thing was, Mr. Lupine was her Watcher now, and they would be married eventually. And she loved him very much. That was all that mattered.

She looked fondly at Mr. Lupine.

"These are two quite dreadful monsters, this Spike and his Drusilla." Mr. Lupine drew Wiggy's hand through his arm, pressed it affectionately. "The two we met in the taproom of the George. You saw the chaos they caused there. They're both vampires, Wiggy. Outcast, cannibalistic, evil things that were once just like us."

"I thought he was very handsome." Wiggy spoke in a small voice. "I . . . dreamed about him last night."

"Mist," said Lupine, lifting a finger, and watched her eyes cloud over with confusion. "That's better . . . Mustn't let yourself be tempted, dear child. As I was saying, the vampire Spike was wreaking havoc at the George. It was my duty to stop him. We fought. Eventually I proved myself the stronger, which cost him the use of his arm. And we should have been rejoicing over his defeat, except that his accursed paramour came to avenge him."

"Oh."

"But eventually, I shall track them down, and finish things off. The vampiress shall die, and her companion too. Beheading is the best way to dispose of such monsters. But before then, I hope they'll lead us to the real prize--the demon that killed the Slayer."

"Why do we want that?"

"Er--what?"

"Why do we want to find the demon? That seems to me quite reckless. Shouldn't we pay a call at the Watcher chapterhouse, recruit reinforcements--just the two of us against the beast would surely be suicide--and I don't quite see what good it does to confront such a thing anyway--" She wrenched her hand out of his grip, faced him. "In fact, it's unwise. What do we have to gain? I say we should--"

"Wiggy."

His eyes were pits of black, and he was speaking in that strange language, weaving a fog in her mind and heart . . . Wiggy's gaze fell submissively. Lupine finished, drew a deep breath, and inquired, "Do you love me?"

"Oh yes, oh yes, dear Mr. Lupine!"

He patted her. "You may call me Arturus, you know."

"Arturus," said Wiggy, blushing.

They resumed walking along the street. "I suppose," he said, "you deserve to know my motives. You know that the other Watchers schemed against me. Wouldn't allow me a Slayer of my own-- But no matter. Because once we find the monster, they'll see their error. I'll be able to use the demon as a source for my magic, just as I use you now." She nodded. "Because the power of the Slayers runs in you, child. And the power of a beast strong enough to devour a Slayer . . . well, what couldn't I accomplish, fueled by that?"

They had reached their destination: a modest shop off New Oxford Street, whose awning proclaimed MAPS AND ANTIQUARIES in fading gilt letters. He ushered her through the door, and a bell rang in the dim recesses of the shop.

Came a plump and pallid creature to the call of the bell; it looked to a horrified Wiggy like a gigantic white rat walking upright, hairless and moistly pink, simpering. It wore suspenders. It wrung its hands as it sidled up to Lupine, who grinned (showing all his long teeth) at it, and tipped his hat politely. "Good day. You carry maps of London?"

It had ruby eyes. "Yiss sir. Many map, sir, every kind."

"Have you Colsoni's Le Guide de Londres?" The proprietor shook his head. Lupine went on, "Well then, a copy of the Queen Mary Tudor map? No? Perhaps a reprint of Braun and Hogenberg--no? Hm. Hollar's panorama of 1674?" More frantic head-shaking. Lupine was becoming testy: "London Vanished and Vanishing? How about Dr. Dee's Sum Troy Sub Londinium? Or else the Duchess de Richenburg's book The Londinomicrom--?"

The ratlike proprietor was shaking like a leaf.

"Nooo sir--"

"Well, if you have none of these things, what good are you to me? No, no, I jest. Fetch me a bowl of water, and a bottle of ink. Then go back to your dusting or whatever else you were doing. The lady and I require privacy." And when he had these things, Lupine beckoned a wondering Wiggy and said, "Pour the ink into the water, my dear. Now, clear your mind. And look into the bowl."

He leaned closer and said conversationally, "Men have sometimes seen two such things--huge, vague borderers--walking the moors, spirits from elsewhere; so far as any might clearly see, one of them walked in the shape of a woman. The other, misshapen, stalked marshy wastes, in the tracks of an exile, except that he was larger than any other man . . . Da com of more, under mist-hleoþum, Grendel gongan, Godes yrre bær." His hand closed on the back of Wiggy's neck. Something like a galvanic shock shot through her; she stiffened all over, and Lupine said in her ear: "Draugr. Ketta. Find out where they are."

She saw them, in the window of the swirling ink, the two vampires on the loose in the oblivious West End. The woman, twig-thin and fey, with a lunatic gleam to her sudden smile; the young man always by her side, hollow-cheeked, a scar marring one eyebrow. He had a street tough's swagger, the prowl of an alley-cat--the tom alongside the queen. But his left arm hung uselessly limp. Wiggy knew, somehow, that they were quarreling--violently at odds--but still, between angry comments, the young man stared at his lady, seeming dazed in blind adoration at everything she did. And she preened in his attention, seeming to bloom like a night-flower.

What was that around them? They were in a court or some sort of alley, a street market from the look of it. Wiggy's attention was snagged by a fragment of electric advertisement seen between buildings, high above where the vampires walked--there and gone again, gleams upon the inky water. But she couldn't quite make out the words. Around Spike and Dru, other people came and went, dreamlike silhouettes--lurching past them, staggering, shambling, swaying. Something was dreadfully wrong about their gait. Many of them reeled like drunkards, and perhaps that was all it was, but-- Yes, there were couples dancing drunkenly, bottles lifted and upended, toasts clearly proposed to wild applause. And--Wiggy bent forward suddenly, horrified--but the people were all wrong! They had horns. They had beaks, and the feet of great birds. Oh God, some had the heads of animals, and now she caught a clear glimpse of a street-hawker moving past with a tray slung round his wattled neck, and on the tray were his wares. Kittens. Clambering over each other, calico and tabby and black. The dearest little kittens.

She smiled involuntarily at the kittens.

"What do you see, my love?"

"It's a sort of marketplace or gin garden," Wiggy reported. "But they're all demons there. All of them. And there are people hawking little kittens in a very perplexing way."

"A kitten market," said Mr. Lupine's calm voice from somewhere very far away. "There are several in London. Do you see any kind of landmark?"

"Well, there's an electric sign. It says--oh, wait--Wilde and Wife? Something like that."

"Keep looking."

She couldn't have looked away even if ordered. All the people in the market were demons. And they were plainly celebrating, deep in their cups; it was a scene of low revelry, quite shocking, in fact. Kittens were being exchanged for bottles of liquor, or dickered over by money-changers. There were kittens everywhere, in fact--everyone seemed to be carrying one. Perhaps they served as a form of currency. It was nightmarish. A phantasmagoria. And, completely at home in their surreal cityscape, the two vampires had halted and were deep in conversation. With such monstrosities surrounding them! They looked like lost things in the horrific scene, angelic children gone astray: Spike tugged at Drusilla's beaded sleeve, and she looked back at him large-eyed, pale as the palest bisque, like the Bru doll from Paris Wiggy had owned as a child. Whatever taxed them so gravely, Wiggy couldn't hear. She could only watch.

She saw tusked monstrosities, things whose faces sagged as if melted, shambling heaps covered with moss or lichen. A trio of dwarves laboring to roll a vast white egg along. An ox-headed giant with a cleaver and blood-splattered apron, hacking unidentifiable carcasses apart at a booth thronged with customers. A Punch and Judy show whose puppets were tiny grimacing mannikins that scurried back and forth, kept from escaping by their leashes and collars.

Spike in the midst of this chaos was now circling a snarling opponent, one of the tusked things. Its yellow face was livid with tattoos. It was twice Spike's size, and the two of them ranged round each other, shoulders hunched, heads down, jockeying for an opening. Demons shoved for views of the match, and some of them were laying bets, exchanging kittens and pound notes. Spike leaped and was at the tusked horror's throat, and in the crowd behind him, Wiggy glimpsed Drusilla watching hungrily, licking her lips with a sharp pointed pink tongue.

Again she caught sight of the advertisement blazing down. Wilde Wife, like a testimonial.

Wiggy blinked. The scene changed. The fight--whatever its outcome--was clearly over. Drusilla and Spike were in an alley, high brick walls towering over them; inky shadows lay all about. He was shouting. She was shouting. At last he shoved her away from him, and she took to her heels. Spike was after her in an instant. He caught her, swung her about, drew her head to the hollow of his throat. Her face transformed. She fastened onto him and began to suck. Her hand came up to grip the front of his threadbare shirt, she burrowed avidly against him. And he leaned back against the wall in an attitude of abandonment--legs braced wide, back arched, cradling her head in the crook of his good arm.


#


"Dru, you've gone barmy."

They had been arguing for some time, but Spike had made no headway. Drusilla was adamant. Sometimes she went like that--hatched some nutty idea, and wouldn't be swayed. Caution meant nothing to her then. She might walk out rapturous into the noonday sun, or fling herself on a stake to see what happened next; no telling what she could do. And in the face of the strongest arguments Spike could muster, she would go on madly dancing away into cloud-cuckoo-land. It was the mention of dragons that had driven her daft this time.

"Oh, but Spike, I can see it so clearly." She had her hands clasped at her throat, her yearning face lifted. "We must find chains. Lovely thick clinking ones, Spike, all rusty. With heavy manacles . . . an iron ring, driven into a rock . . . a seaside cliff, with the sound of the tide . . . You'll chain me at the mouth of the dragon's lair, and lie in wait for battle when it appears!"

"Dru, love. Listen up. We are not going to chain you up for the dragon to eat."

"But I'm your princess! Aren't I your princess? Not anymore--oh, Spike, your poor Drusilla, you don't love her any longer and--and--"

"Of course I love you! That's why--"

"--I would have made such a beautiful sacrifice, but now it's ruined if you won't play--"

"--why I don't want you all eaten up, can't you see that!"

"--I was going to be just like Andromeda," Dru wailed.

They had found themselves one of the West End kitten markets, a thriving crossroads where all manner of demons mingled. A scene of roistering. Hellion demons and Fyarl and Zzashnokuchgarr were there, and some exotic demon breeds even Spike couldn't identify, and most of them dead drunk already. They were drinking to the Slayer's absence, safely hidden from human eyes. For Spike and Dru, this represented safety--so long as they didn't resent the cordial insults flung in their direction, "Filthy vampires," and "Dirty half-breed scum, surprised you show your faces," for every other kind of demon despised vampires.

The vamps hunting Spike and Drusilla would never show their faces here. As for human beings, the only signs of their presence were the foodstuffs for sale: pickled eyeballs, shoe-soles (a favorite Fyarl treat) and humanity's one contribution to civilization and gourmandry throughout the dimensions . . . baby pet animals. Puppies and newborn rabbits, budgies and canaries and the like, and kittens. Most especially, kittens.

Nothing raised pets so well as human beings. There were demon species powerful enough to wipe out the Earth without raising a sweat, and the only thing that restrained them was the thought of the kittens.

"Drusilla."

". . . sometimes the stars have a chat with the new moon, and I hear them say distinctly, 'Drusilla would look so fetching in several pieces' . . . yes, Spike?"

"Dru, you got to promise me something."

She perked to attention, forgetting the stars and the moon. "Yes, Spike."

"You got to promise," he said, shutting his eyes, feeling his way, "seeing the way my arm is now and there's no telling if it'll get better . . . you promise me, Dru, that if anything happens to me, you'll find yourself another man--"

"Another knight?" she said; though Spike didn't know it, she had picked something up from a coster's barrow and was regarding it, smiling, intent, distracted.

"Dru, listen. Don't mourn me." He had watched her mourning broken dolls, wilted flowers, dead birds in their cages; she would weep and wail and wring her hands for hours on end. "Or--or think about me at all. Just go on with your life. You'll need somebody to take care of you, do for you when the stars are talking or your cards get you going, can't look after yourself. So you find yourself another knight, turn him and let him make you happy. And never look back, all right?"

A loud rude voice interrupted. "'Ere, lydy! Half-pence fer the rose, if you please! An' don't think yer gonna put it back either, 'cause it's already ruint, nobody's going to want ter eat it now, I saw you pull those petals orf."

Drusilla was staring blankly at the blood-red rose she held, a scattering of ripped petals at her feet. "Oh," she said. "Spike, give him half-pence, please."

"Dru you know I don't have any money--!" hissed Spike, returned to cruel reality with a jolt.

She lifted the rose, still plucking petals idly. "I had to have it. See? It's the exact color of a little girl's screams."

"Such a lovely lady deserves many roses." An eight-foot-tall Hellion demon stooped over the barrow. It flicked its talons and a half-pence coin landed amidst the heaped blossoms there (most of which were far more outré than any rose). Then it straightened, picking meaningfully at its serrated teeth. It sneered. "All the roses she likes, eh? Shut up, scum." This last was directed at the flower-seller, a very small cowering demon. The Hellion considered the display of flowers, chose the largest and flashiest bouquet, and offered it to Drusilla.

Spike went for the Hellion. He sank his right fist in its midriff, with his whole weight behind the blow. An instant later the barrow was overturned, a ring of demon spectators was swiftly forming, and Spike and the Hellion were circling each other, growling. Spike glared up from under his eyebrows, bristled and made himself as large as he could. He stuffed his useless left hand into the front of his jacket. Drusilla, on the sidelines, was leaping up and down and clapping. "My gallant knight meets the giant at the bridge, and I must pin my favor on his shoulder--!"

The Hellion grinned, showing a vast expanse of stained yellow incisors. "After I bite off your head, vampire," it informed Spike, "your woman and I have a good, good time."

He lunged for its throat.

It was bludgeoning, eyeball-gouging, thumb-chopping action, the very finest of its kind and the best outlet for a little steam in Spike's viewpoint. Fast and furious, a mad scramble of fists and teeth. Both he and the Hellion had fangs: considerable natural armament. It was taloned too, and its skin was as rough as a shark's. And it had twice his weight. Still, Spike put up a good account for himself--till it got in a straight punch.

He shot backwards fifteen feet and crashed into a display of Siamese and Burmese kittens. Wickerwork cages were smashed open. Their mewing contents leaped to freedom. That, naturally, caused almost a riot as the kitten-merchant pounced after his wares, and demons on every side pounced too. Kittens vanished into pockets. Kittens dashed between legs. The kitten-merchant sat down in the wreckage of his ruined cages, and began to curse. Spike lay on his back, the world spinning about him, groggy.

A triumphant harsh purr drifted to his ears. ". . . out like a Sleeper. Vampires! Mongrels. No staying power to them. Half London's vampire crew is still cowering underground, scared a new Slayer's about to appear any moment."

Drusilla's voice said something.

The Hellion snorted thunderously. "Hah! No new Slayer. No more Slayers, never. Got to have your ear to the ground, get the real news. There won't be no more Slayers. And without them--" Another thunderous snort of disdain. Then in a softer voice: "What we see, what we want, is ours."

Spike opened his eyes and there was Drusilla, just melting deliciously into the Hellion's arms.

He sprang across the intervening distance. He landed on the Hellion's back, legs round its waist, good arm round its forehead, yanking its head back by main force as he snapped his jaws shut on its throat. The Hellion roared. It dropped Drusilla. It staggered backward, clawing at Spike on its back. Spike ripped and tore and chewed, jaws never stopping their action, sprays of fine blood jetting into his eyes. Then he dropped off the Hellion as it crumpled. The Hellion hit the ground. The earth shook.

Spike smeared at his eyes with the back of his right hand, wiping away Hellion blood. Then he raised his bloody jaws to the night and howled.

"Come on, Drusilla. We're leaving."

He caught her by the wrist, dragged her in his wake. On the far side of the kitten market, she broke free. They were in an alley; electric advertisements shone down from several streets over, brighter than Dru's guardian stars. The signs were brand-new and glitzy, the very latest thing no doubt--though Spike preferred the London of his youth, unmarred by such things. He remembered when the gaslights had been replaced by electric, and the whole night-time aspect of the city had been transformed. But that was progress, wasn't it?

That was London all over for you. Walk three streets one way, and you were in human demesnes: respectable shops, theatres, grand hotels. But three streets the other . . . Just behind the tarted-up facade of West London was a whole different world. Cars and carriages never penetrated these narrow lanes. Tourists who went astray often failed to return. All was crazy with age and the poverty of the spirit: posh on the outside, but once you explored . . . a demonic slum, and at its core was the seething darkness of Hell. So it was with Drusilla. On the outside, lovely and ageless and elegant. Smack on the nines with the very latest fashion. Always young. But what was within--ah, that was a dark queen indeed, Faust's Beatrice, wicked Helen, a Clytemnestra with red-splattered fingers.

She faced him, swaying, her eyes vast and starry. "Mustn't blame me, Spike. I have to do as my blood bids." Her lips parted. The tip of her tongue darted out suddenly. "Are you very angry at Princess?"

"For God's sake, Dru--"

"How dare you!" Her slap sent him reeling; he hadn't seen it coming. Spike knocked the back of his head against the wall, and his vision momentarily went black. "You never got me my Crawler," she screamed, launching herself at him. "You promised me a fine Crawler, Spike!"

They were in each others' faces, shouting. "How the hell am I to fetch you a Crawler when every time I look away, you're off with some other bloke! I'm not your bloody dog, that you can make me sit and roll over and fetch--"

"You're not Daddy either." Dru spat it out.

"So I can't tell you what to do?! News for you, Dru. Angelus left us. So get out of his shadow, 'cause now you're with me, and I'm--"

"My boy." Her eyes were as huge as the whole night, pits for Spike to fall into. "His shadow is always over us." She hissed out: "My boy is a very bad boy."

Spike shoved her away from him. For an instant she stood poised. Then she ran. Spike stared after her. And gave chase.

He caught her at the mouth of the alley, reeled her in. She was struggling, fighting. "I'm yours," said Spike, throwing back his head to bare his throat to her. "Yours, Dru. And you're mine." Her face transformed. She was on him, fangs buried in his neck, and the pain burned through him clean and fine. Burn him to ashes. While she drank, making little senseless noises, till only the grip of her hands held him upright and all the world shrank to the things she said between thirsty gulps of his blood.

"You're my dolly. Aren't you, Spike?"

"All--yours--"

"And do you love Mother?"

"Oh God yes."

"Daddy left me. But you will never leave, will you?"

"Yes--yes--don't stop, love. Never let go."

While the harsh electric light shone down from overhead: Wilde, Wife & Son.

It went on for a seemingly endless time, as it always did. When it ebbed, Spike sagged back against the rough brick wall, his feet sliding a little in the filth of the alley. He felt as if he was drifting, hallucinatory from blood loss as if from the finest morphine. A sensation of exquisite clarity and pleasure. She had been in his mind too, moving through it like coiling smoke, changing things to suit herself. And now she drew back, bent her dark head, and kissed the bloodied ends of his scarf, with which she had wiped her mouth. Then she tucked his scarf in, and straightened his cap. "My good boy," she said.

". . . stearcheort onfand feondes fotlast," said Lupine, strolling round the corner and finding them. Wiggy was by his side. He smiled. "Ah, there you are at last."

Spike, addled as he was, reacted at once. He put himself between Lupine and Drusilla, and as for Dru, she slithered round swiftly behind Spike, clutching at him and peering narrow-eyed over his shoulder. "It's the sorcerer," she spat, nails digging into Spike's arms. "And his horrid little girl. We must eat them, Spike, before they eat us--"

"Just watch me, sweetheart."

"Now, now, none of that." Lupine was in a high good humor. He pointed with his cane, spoke: "No ðær aht cwices, leð lyft-floga, læfan wolde--"

A wall of fire flared up between them, spitting smoke and sparks.

"Get away from us!" yelled Spike. "We don't have anything you want."

"Oh, but you do. You remember that I charged you with a task. And I shall look unkindly on any dereliction on your part, so no more slacking. Have you discovered the Slayer's nemesis yet?"

"We're just vampires," said Spike, "terrible low creatures, no one ever talks to us, how would we know? Besides we've been chased all over the city since yesterday. Don't have so much as a bleeding hole to lay our heads."

"I warned you about loose talk in front of my ward," Lupine cautioned.

"What, you going to wash my mouth out with soap?"

"I can do worse," said the sorcerer. "Well, Drusilla? Do you want to watch your lover die?"

Spike, bristling, advanced toward the barrier of fire. Cinders alighted on his clothing and burned there, leaving tiny scorched marks; he shook them off. It should be possible to hurdle the flames, if he pulled his coat over his head and moved fast enough-- He was in game face, drawing deep on his demon. A growl rasped in his throat. He was about to die, he knew; but if he could take down the sorcerer first--

For Drusilla. It would be worth it.

"Spike, back," said Drusilla abruptly. She touched his arm, and he halted. "It was a dragon," she said to Lupine. "Deep in the Hellmouth. I know what you want to do with it."

"You do?"

"Dark intoxicating sorceries," Drusilla half-sang. "I know. But you shan't wake the beauty, the thorns will spit your heart and eyes, your pretty warrior won't be able to save you then--old wolf, old bear, in the poacher's trap, bee on a pin, on cotton-wool--forever and ever--"

"Oi, Dru!" Spike pulled her back. "Get away from that fire!"

"It doesn't matter." Lupine too stepped back, shook his head hard as if to clear it. The fire died then, guttering out as swiftly as it had appeared. "You've told me what I want to know. And your usefulness to me is done." He began to speak the first words of a spell, then reconsidered. "Nor need I put myself out to dispose of you, I think. For I hear some friends of yours coming."

It was vampires. They spilled round the corner, spotted Spike and Dru, and stopped dead. Licking their lips. "Looky looky, it's the foreigners, found 'em at last, their bad luck!" As for Lupine and Wiggy, the vampires did not appear to see them at all. Lupine was just finishing sketching a figure on the air with the point of his cane; he gathered Wiggy to him with a glance, retreated with her in tow. Spike and Drusilla were left on their own, with almost twenty vampires swiftly advancing.

"Run, Dru!"

They ran.

They were east of Seven Dials, Spike could feel it in his bones; the Hellmouth was a lodestone, and his demon a compass-needle. He was getting his bearings now. No grand thoroughfares cleft this district, not closer than New Oxford (where, though he didn't know it, the sign Wilde, Wife & Son shone within sight of the door of an antiquarian map-shop). He and Dru pelted down narrow streets that turned and jinked like worm-tracks, and Spike knew them all by heart of old--years away from London or not--Little Earl Street, Macklin Street, Great Wild Street and the maze of tiny roads round old Clare Market. Pitch-black lanes overshadowed by the cliffs of common lodging-houses, but nowadays the lights shining down from many windows were eldritch blue, and the folk who slunk out of the way as Spike and Dru ran past, were demons every one.

It was the Hellmouth. With the Slayer gone, the Hellmouth had surely upwelled and loosed this surge of demonic colonization through St. Giles. All human beings would have either perished, or been driven forth before the torrent. Now most of St. Giles had gone under to new habitants, and the tide would be creeping out in all directions, soon to overwhelm all London beyond reclamation . . .

Demon London. It could happen so fast.

A fog was rolling in between the lodging-houses. It mounted, thick and smoke-brown and languid, like the demon tide from the Hellmouth made palpable. A real pea-souper, a London particular fog. Within moments, the lanes of St. Giles became claustrophobic tunnels. It muffled sound, hung heavy as a shroud and would even confuse vampire-noses on the trail. Spike slowed down, turned yet another corner, dropped to a walk and patted Dru's arm reassuringly. "We've given them the slip," he said.

There was a road with streetlights ahead; they glowed yellow and dim as torch-flames through beer-bottle glass. The painted walls of London's Victorian buildings took on their true aspect in this light, which made what had been gaudy mellow, and what had been strident as soft as watercolor. You could scarcely see the other side of the street.

"And look where I'm brought you, pet," Spike concluded, strutting.

"Darling William, you're a genius! All the way to the old workhouse!"

No demons here; they had escaped the Hellmouth's sphere of influence. Human poverty surrounded them. Humans sheltered in every doorway along the street, homeless folk clutching blankets about them--in some instances, entire families huddled together. Most were sleeping, though one or two roused enough to watch without comprehension as the two vampires stalked past. Spike looked fondly on them, all so helpless, massed like flies. Drusilla's favorite dish, weren't they?

And there. Dru darted past him, pounced. "My Crawler!" she crowed.

"Eat well, baby," said Spike, and stood back to roll a cigarette.

After a moment he looked around again. "Er--Dru, you were going to eat her, weren't you?" he inquired.

Drusilla crouched over the Crawler, who was a tiny heap of knitted lace and mob-cap, cotton-gloved hands like bird-claws and an empty tea-cup still clutched in one. Other Crawlers slept within touching distance, oblivious. But Dru wasn't drinking. She had dragged the Crawler up and shaken her into a semblance of wakefulness, and was now staring intently into her face. "Be in me," she crooned. "Be with me. Come into me . . . come . . ." Even for a human as weak as Crawlers were, this one was somnolent. Spike's interest was piqued. He bent closer, sniffed, and recoiled.

"Magic?" he said.

Magic sleep. The Crawler's eyes were half-open, but it was a sleepwalker's trance. No consciousness lay behind it. Winkled lips parted and a thread of a voice emerged. ". . . who asks a question of the Sleepers . . . ?"

"I ask," Drusilla said. "What are you?"

". . . London is ours now . . ." A faint titter escaped the sleeping human. "Little vampire."

"You're a Sleeper?"

". . . they all sleep . . . sleep like the grave . . . never wake up . . . soon all humans will be ours. Mine. Sleepers."

Drusilla struck and bit. The Crawler convulsed, beat feebly at the air with her bird-claw hands, and then sagged again--wakened at last, but only by the moment of death.

Dru dropped her, straightened and dusted off her fingertips. To Spike she said, "You must drink too, William. You'll need to keep your strength up, if you're to be fighting the dragon."

He looked up sharply. "What? That sorcerer will be doing that."

"No, he'll be searching for a way into the Hellmouth. Because all he knows--"

"--is what did for the Slayer," Spike swept in, suddenly excited.

"And we know," said Dru modestly.

"What do we know?"

"We know the way to its lair," Drusilla said. "I saw it in the Crawler's mind. I knew we had to have a Crawler, I knew it." She patted Spike's cheek. "So you could have a dragon, my dear." She glanced at the sky, through fog. "Tomorrow, at midnight, that is the time. And now it's dawn. We should get--"

"Under cover? Why bother?" He tossed down his cigarette-stub, ground it out under his heel. "London fog. It's like a homecoming, love. And what better way for the likes of us to stay safe till tomorrow night, than aboveground? Nobody's going to be hunting us in daylight."

"Oh, Spike! You're too good to me. Shall we play at being tourists?"

He held out his right hand, let her rest hers in it, bowed genteelly and spun her. In the thick London fog, they began to waltz.

"Walk about London--"

"--dance with daylight--"

"--flirt with death and danger--"

"--so long as the fog persists. How long is that, sibyl?"

"For hours and hours," she said, glowing.

"But mind you," Spike added, "we're still not feeding you to the thing, alright?"

The fog stayed till evening. Drusilla and Spike ended up in the Green Park, off Piccadilly. They watched the sheep graze, walked among the trees. Vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells slept in the Sheep Pen, as they had since before either Spike or Dru were born--stretched out on the grass, with newspapers over their faces. In the end, Spike slept in Dru's arms in the Green Park, under a bush all day long, courting spontaneous combustion; Spike didn't care. For London fog was his natural habitat, after all.



Part Four

He slept in her arms, and around them, others slept too. The homeless men lay in the park, toes sticking out beneath the split uppers of their boots, and the park keepers (as was their amiable custom) let them sleep. Crawlers drowsed throughout the parish of St. Giles. There were more of them than in former days, and the demons who also now populated St. Giles seemed curiously indifferent to their presence. So they dreamed on, unmolested, and what was more, uneaten. Some smaller demons were moved to drop half-pence in their teacups, even. Demons could recognize their own.

Throughout London, human beings fell into slumber and did not wake. Eventually some of these sat bolt upright, still fast asleep. Cold fire burned in their mouths and eyesockets. Then they rose, and descended toward the Hellmouth. They were Sleepers now.

At Mount Mills, off Goswell Road, was a waste field where nothing ever grew. Nothing had grown there since the time of the Great Plague, and it was sacred now to the First. Harbringers in robes haunted it; those who met them on moonless nights mistook them for Franciscans--till the knives came out. Those Harbringers now turned their eyeless faces toward Seven Dials. The First Evil looked through their senses, but its time was not yet, and it withdrew all its servants into hiding.

By evening, Sleepers walked the backstreets of St. Giles. Dozens of Sleepers. With shoes walked right off their blistered and bleeding feet, some of them. But when they crawled through area windows and down into the vampire-infested cellars, the vampires drew back and would not feed. Only afterward did they approach, grovel, and lick the stains where the Sleepers had trodden.

In the Hellmouth, the dragon slept too. Its bed was at the heart of a maze. Its every exhalation was Sleep. From it, nightmares seeped upward throughout London.

Wiggy and Lupine had withdrawn to the safety of Southwark, not yet affected. In their room at the Old George, they bided their time. Lupine counted over his spells. Wiggy honed a sword, and remembered her lessons.

Spike woke, snuggled closer to Drusilla, and smiled.

Bright fog still hung over them, a shroud. It was fitting. He played with Drusilla's hair, breathed her perfume--heliotrope, her carnivorous diet, mothballs--and once he gathered one of her hands in his, and kissed it lingeringly. They had slept together like this, day after day, for twenty-five years now. When she whimpered, he curled himself all the more snugly round her. She twitched, made a little sharp mewling cry, and he gentled her. But when she spoke in her sleep, the name that came out was, "Angelus."

His shadow was always over them. Spike disentangled himself, sat up, sniffed hard and wiped at his nose and mouth with the back of his right hand. Because she still slept and did not watch, he then tried to shake some life back into his left arm. He shook it. He slapped at it. He lifted it, and let it flop.

Then he gave up and sat bent over, cradling his left arm in his right.

"Is the pretty lady ill?"

Spike turned slowly. It was a little girl, a toddler perhaps six years old, but brilliant as sunshine itself with yellow ringlets round her sweet face, eyes utterly enormous. Crystal-clear English grey eyes. Her pinafore was bundled shapelessly round her, no doubt because beneath it, a sheet of cotton-wool would be sewn onto her little body; that was how the poor folk of London kept their children warm, sewing them up in cotton-wool. But the pinafore itself had been lovingly smocked, in dozens of elaborate pleats studded with tiny pearl buttons; and its collar was real lace. She regarded Drusilla with interest.

She was just what Drusilla might like for breakfast.

He smiled at her. "She's sleeping, that's all. Are you lost, then?"

"Here's a flower." It hung from her chubby fist, the stem bent. A violet. "Do you want it? You look sad."

"Just because I'm hungry, sweet." To flirt with her was instinctive in him. He accepted the flower, cupped it and made play at inhaling its weak fragrance. "Thank--"

"Emma!" A woman appeared, out of the fog. She was in every way the little girl grown up, such a beauty as would have had Angelus drooling at once. Delicate as a bird. Well-bred, though her dress was faded, and with the stamp of purity and innocence in every line. Young still, too; she must have married very young. Yes, Angelus would have been after her like a shot. "Emma, come away from the gentleman. Sir, excuse my daughter, she always has to have her nose in everything-- Emma, come here right now."

"Will you buy me a strawberry ice?"

A man was behind the woman now. "Emma, mind your mother." The toddler ran to him. He shooed her into her mother's arms, and straightened, gazing suspiciously at Spike. He was built like a stevedore.

Spike considered them. His mouth watered. The child. The mother. And the brawny father. Small Emma dimpled at him, and held out her arms. "Sorry, darling," he said to her, was up on his feet, and in a flash he was past her and her mother, and had the father down--wrestling one-armed, with his fangs in the man's throat.


#


"Where are we going, Mr. Lupine?"

"Didn't I bid you call me by my Christian name, my child?"

Wiggy blushed, and repeated her question. "Arturus. Dearest Arturus, do you know where we're going?"

Dearest Arturus cast her a nettlesome glance. He said, "For the fifth time, I'm working on it."

Dearest Arturus! How well she loved him! He was everything to her--being, as he was, not only in loco parentis, but also her betrothed, her lord and master, her sole support and (of course) devoted Watcher. It was just as in the books--oh, Mansfield Park, for instance, and David Copperfield--a great true love, between a man and a woman whose souls entwined. And she would guard him with her life, she reflected pleasantly. A few fleeting fantasies passed through her mind. Staking demons who threatened Mr. Lupine; exorcizing vampires who dared attempt to bite him; standing, short-sword in fist, between Mr. Lupine and the Vicissitudes of Life. She had brought the weapon with her, concealed in an umbrella. Not for nothing had her mother named her Wiglaf, after a famous hero of ancient ballad. "He might not have killed dragons, Wiglaf," Wiggy's mother had told her, rocking Wiggy on her knee, "but this was his virtue, and mark it well: Wiglaf stood true when no other would, and--" with a faint smile, "--he survived past the end of the story, and that's something, isn't it?"

The thought of dragons brought the memory back, clear and calming, a balm to Wiggy's soul. She pictured herself at Mr. Lupine's side, standing true when no other would; outliving him eventually (for after all, he was twenty years her senior) to linger by his grave, laying flowers on it, a mystery to handsome young men who, passing by, would inquire whether she was still single, and shed a tear at her tragic story . . . "Alone and palely loitering," she muttered under her breath. The rest of the poem didn't apply, but it cheered Wiggy nonetheless. More loudly, meanwhile, she said, "Arturus? Do you know where we're going yet?"

They had gotten a cab in Southwark, and it had deposited them at New Oxford Street. From that point onward, Mr. Lupine had given every evidence of not knowing east from west or up from down. Plunging into the teeming crowds of the West End, they had tramped ceaselessly up one street and down another; peering at the blank faces of buildings, to no avail; jostled by rude men, Wiggy's handkerchief stolen, liberties taken. Dens of iniquity surrounded them. Wiggy was convinced of it. Why, there was a gin-palace to every five houses hereabouts--she had counted them herself.

At last they trudged to a dismal halt in Seven Dials itself, that benighted circus of diabolism. Wiggy had a firm grip on the tail of Mr. Lupine's coat. "Arturus? Are we there yet?"

And Mr. Lupine snatched the hat off his head, flung it down on the filthy cobblestones, and stamped on it. "For the last time, girl, hold your tongue! I told you--"

"--you're working on it," Wiggy joined in the chorus.

He cast her a jaundiced glance.

"Directly beneath our feet," he announced, "lies the very mouth of Hell." (Wiggy started slightly and climbed atop a nearby abandoned box.) "This is our destination. Child, if I could, I would say the word and we would sink toward the center of the Earth. But Hell must be climbed down into; it is not a pit, but a labyrinth leading to the Earth's very core; and till we discover the entrance of the maze, we must perforce stand still and--"

"Oh! It's like Mr. Verne?"

"I beg your pardon," said Lupine, distracted.

"The novels of Mr. Jules Verne? The French writer. 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'?"

"Wiggy." He regarded her. "Get down off that box. Hold your tongue for a few moments. And let me think."

She held her tongue for two minutes altogether by the clock. Then: "But, dearest Arturus? Can't you ask someone for directions?"

"For example, whom?" demanded Lupine, at the end of his rope.

Wiggy pointed with her umbrella. "For example . . . them?"

It was a pair of Sleepers shuffling past. One was a man, still in his long nightshirt, and with a striped and tassled cap upon his head. The other was a blank-faced young lady, a factory worker by her garb. Both were sleepwalking, open-eyed but blind to the world. Both looked utterly exhausted--drained by a sleep that gave no rest, eaten alive by dreams. "Follow them!" Lupine said.

It was as simple as that.


#


Drusilla led the way into the Hellmouth.

Spike slunk behind her, still wiping blood from his chin. The mother and child had run away screaming, but he had drunk his fill of the father, before escaping with a giggling Dru in tow. No doubt the Green Park keepers were, even now, summoning Scotland Yard. And Scotland Yard's finest would take note of another mystery, scratch their heads and put it all down to providence. Spike ran his tongue round his teeth, patted his stomach, and grinned to himself.

They went down through the cellar of a slum lodging-house, through a trap-door and a passageway black as coal. At the end of the passage was a single tiny room, and in one corner of this room, the floorboards had been pried up. What was revealed was a lightless hole, stinking and close. That was the way down: a dead drop to nothing. Spike stood over it, sniffing vigilantly. Dru hissed. She dropped to her hands and knees, her whole body writhing--weaving over the hole, like a snake testing the air for danger. Every human affectation had been stripped from her. "Here's home," she whispered finally.

They went down.

They saw in the dark. It was the Hellmouth itself they descended into, following Drusilla's nose through a labyrinth of passageways impassable as the Minoan Maze. It was one of the old legends of London: that a maze lay under the city. Such legends were told of many cities in the old world. Sometimes they were true. A Hellmouth was a maze in its purest form. Fog was drifting through the tunnels, white wisps like long inquisitive fingers. Sleeping humans lay strewn face-down on the ground. Spike and Dru stepped over them. They were Sleepers who had not made it all the way.

"Wonder what they're wanted for," Spike commented. "And do you know what it'll be like?"

"A mirage of paradise," Dru said, faraway and rapt, "a garden of illusions. Lawned with gold, jewel-flowered, with poison trees. A hundred knights in armor sleeping, a hundred horses too, dreaming of King Arthur. Oh! I can see it so clearly, and it's beautiful!"

They went down to a barren cavern, where the way ahead widened drastically. Its roof was a slanting shelf of hard clay, high overhead; there were shadows deep as fissures in the ground. Just in sight, far ahead, was a true fissure, a crevasse like a mouth. That was all: nothing more. Except the bodies.

They had been Sleepers. Some of them were still alive, Spike noticed--with the instincts of a predator, he spotted them amidst the carpet of bones, ripped clothing and scalps, and the dismembered pieces of meat. Most of them, though, were dead. Yes, and some predator bigger and hungrier than any vampire had been at them. Eating.

So that was what the Sleepers were wanted for. Spike let out a whistle. "It's a bloody charnel house!"

"This is the dragon's lair, and see, there's treasure heaped on every side," said Dru happily. "Redder than rubies, and twice as tasty. It will come out of its crevasse and eat me too. And then . . . ooo, look, Spike! Sleeping Beauty!"

"Christ," said Spike, nostrils flaring. "Blood?"

A runnel of red, as thick as ink, ran along a little natural trough in the floor. He stooped and sniffed, licking his lips. Next moment Drusilla had caught the back of his neck and pushed him down to all fours, leaning over him as he glanced up in surprise. "Drink, my love," she commanded, dipping a palm in the red rivulet. She brought it dripping to his lips. At the first taste, he grabbed her wrist and lapped avidly, gaze sliding back to her as his tongue slid between her fingers; and Drusilla petted him. "There, there, my pet. Drink from Mommy's hand. You must be strong to fight the dragon and bring her destiny to me. Do you know whose blood this is, Spike?"

He had never seemed more animal than that moment, when he crouched beneath her stroking hand and looked sidelong past her, narrow-eyed, upward. His gaze followed the trickle of blood. It ran along the cave floor, down a little slope . . . from a great stalagmite that towered almost as high as the cave ceiling . . . and from there, above, drops of liquid fell plink-plink-plink and fed the rivulet of red . . .

A girl lay atop the stalagmite, high above, beyond any human reach. From her dangling hand, blood dripped. And the smell of that blood . . . Spike swallowed. "It's herself?" he said.

She had been tossed up and spitted on the point of the stalagmite, impaled upon it. She wore armor, and some kind of axe or weapon--all red enamel and gleaming steel--lay a little way down the stalagmite, caught on a ledge. She was a Sleeper.

She was a Slayer.

"So that's what became of her." Spike was almost afraid to speak aloud. "Look at her, now. Wounded bad, she was. Fought hard, didn't she? Came down here in full armor, to ward off the thing's talons? Look at those bloody huge claw-marks scored into the floor. But she's only human, even if she's the Slayer. Her bad luck in the end--the dragon got her."

"The alchemist," said Dru happily, "he sent his minions down here, to steal Slayer blood for his experiments. But they couldn't reach her, and then the dragon frightened them away." She let out a girlish little laugh. "I knew it from his mind. So there she lies, till the end of the world perhaps. And bleeds, and bleeds, pretty little lost girl."

"She's still alive?" Spike marveled. "Well, well, well . . . let's eat her."

"No, Spike. First you must fetch the axe. It's the only thing that can kill the dragon. And then--" Her eyes glowed. She clasped her hands under her chin: "Then, dear Spike, our story's told! Oh! Fetch it quickly, Spike!"

"Wait. Where's the dragon, then?"


#


"Is this the place?" Wiggy whispered, tugging on Lupine's sleeve.

Now is my hour, thought Lupine. Collapsed Sleepers lay underfoot, and sometimes it was hard to avoid treading on them; he had conjured a light, but the closer they came, the dimmer it got. From ahead of them, where the way widened, seeped wisps and tatters of vapor, of no earthly origin. The way had led downward ceaselessly, and now they had arrived. He could smell power, like the aftermath of a fire, like a glow of golden rings, like beckoning treasure. Power, and blood, and a reek like a street butcher's premises. It was the heart of darkness: the Hellmouth. He would conquer the dragon, drain its magic, and become invincible.

Now is my hour.

"Wiggy, my dear," he said. "Attend." Lupine summoned power, feeling it well up dead-black in his eyes, and the girl Wiggy stiffened into a puppet and faced him, attending. "Now," he said, dropping an affectionate kiss on her brow, "you may be of use to me, child. Do you remember all those old tales about dragons? One must lure them forth, and there is one sure way to do that. So what I want you to do is very simple. Walk straight into the cavern there, while I circle round to one side. Then stand still, no matter what. The monster will come for you--and when it does, I'll have my chance."


#


The first thing Spike felt was a faint rumbling, a vibration through the soles of his feet. Then light flared up. The cave-floor was shaking; the Sleepers--both the living, and the dead--all groaned suddenly and in unison. Their heads lashed back and forth. Under their eyelids, their eyes darted. They muttered now, a low and eerie mumble whose words could not quite be made out.

Then they sat bolt upright. Cold blue light burned in their eye-sockets and the round empty holes of their open mouths. From the dead and the living alike came one voice: "GO AWAY. LITTLE VAMPIRES, YOU ARE NOT OUR MEAT. GO AWAY."

"Ooooh!" cried Drusilla with mad rapture. "Come pretty monster, come and dance in the dark with my Spike!"

"GO AWAY," said the Sleepers in the dragon's voice. "WE EAT THE PURE. GO AWAY!"

But Spike's attention was suddenly riveted on the black shadows which painted the floor, long streaks and splashes of ink-black. Velvet darkness, like chasms. Impenetrable shadows.

No. Not ink, not shadows. They were stirring. They were long tattered wings.

They lifted, rustling, opening wide, and the way ahead was abruptly all blackness--a city of dreadful night. Scales whispered, but far too loudly. How big was--? Something slithered over stone. Drusilla said, "Pretty monster!" and began to skip toward the spot. Spike caught her sleeve, put her behind him: his shoulders were hunched, his head down, his game face upon him and his center of balance low, feet braced. Barehanded. His only weapons were fists and fangs.

Then the wings unfurled fully--stretching from wall to wall of the immense cavern.

Spike was a tiny figure, silhouetted against those wings.

And a dragon's head thrust out of the seething darkness, opened its mouth, and roared.


#


London dreamed: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings. London dreamed, while Sleepers tottered through its streets, wearing dressing-gowns and carpet-slippers, or else their plush-hatted beribboned Sunday best. Going down to the dragon. London dreamed, and a stranger fog crept eddying through its ancient cellars, leaving transformations in its wake . . . till archaic fish splashed white into being in the Fleet ditch and the Serpentine, in the city's buried rivers, and in the Pool of London east of the City. Fish that leaped abroad ships, snatched men right off their decks, and vanished back into the Thames with their screaming dinners pulled after them. London dreamed, while Hellhounds cavorted on the Isle of Dogs, and in Westminster Abbey, the bones in the crypts got up and danced. And vampires got together to toast each others' healths in human blood; "To the Slayer, may she never rise again!" was what they pledged.

While, above, Big Ben chimed the quarter-hours, beating out the words from an old hymnal:

So hour by hour be Thou my Guide,

That by Thy power, no step may slide.


Not that vampires cared about anything like that.


#


Spike fought the dragon in a rolling, tumbling, writhing knot of serpent and vampire, wings and heels. Because one arm was useless, he relied on his feet. Early on, he had pinned the dragon in a clinch, his right arm round its narrow body, his fangs fixed in its neck, and when it wound itself around him, he proceeded to try to kick it to death. Kick. Kick. Kick. With each kick, his boot-heels sank deep in its hide. Crescent wounds were ripped in the black scales. Blood welled up, turned to smoke, blew away.

Its wings rose and fell: they smashed the cavern floor, and when they did, the earth shook. The dragon roared. Spike didn't; he was too busy. More and more and more of the dragon welled up out of the fissure, pouring out like ribbons of black snakeskin. He was too close to be injured by its wings, but soon there would be too much of it to fight--

If there was a heaven for vampires, he was in it.

Drusilla stood opposite, waiting.

The girl Wiglaf, a sleepwalker among sleepwalkers, stood in the mouth of the cavern. Her face was perfectly blank. Pure as the driven snow, serene as an angel, she waited like Dru for the dragon; they actually stood in line with each other, Wiggy some ten feet behind Drusilla. Neither saw the other. Both were blind in different ways.

On every side, the Sleepers rose jerking. Some fell apart as they lurched upright. Some had their heads fall off as they moved, but they stretched out their arms nonetheless, turned like broken and awkward dolls, and staggered to the attack. Toward Drusilla and Wiggy and Lupine. They all spoke together, and on the top of the stalagmite, the sleeping Slayer opened her somnambulist eyes, looking blankly at nothing, and moved her lips: "GO AWAY. WE EAT THE PURE. LITTLE VAMPIRES--PALTRY SORCERER--YOU DISTURB US--GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY!"

It was then that Lupine stepped forward and began to chant.

"No þæ yðe byð," he said firmly, "to befleonne, fremme se þe wille!" His eyes were black. Sleepers moved toward him, zombies with groping hands, swaying in his direction. Elsewhere, Drusilla sidled warily backwards, already surrounded by them. "Stay back," Lupine warned, his voice rising. "Undead creatures. Ac gesecan sceal sawl-berendra--." The dragon had rolled itself up in a snake-knot, writhing and threshing. Then it thumped its length down like a carpet being beaten, and Spike was flung off and hurled across the cavern. He landed tumbling, snarled once, and threw himself back into the fray. A sweat had broken out on Lupine's brow. He made mystic gestures. "Byde genydde, niþða bearna--" A Sleeper caught his elbow, and he shoved it away, and it fell and hit the floor in three pieces. "I'll soon deal with you! Ah--where was I--ah, grunde-buendra gearwe stowe--" He made more mystic gestures, with increasing desperation. "--þær his lic-homa leger-bedde fæst . . ."

Wiggy screamed, overpowered and borne down toward the floor beneath a heaving mass of Sleepers.

". . . swefeþ æfter symle!"

They woke, the Sleepers, all around them--rousing from their slumber, out of the nightmare at last. The dead fell to ruins, bones and limbs toppling to the cave floor. All at once and all together: where there had been an army, all that remained were corpses and dazed survivors. Those who lived, seemed so dazed they didn't even know where they were. The moment of triumph stretched on and on; near the cave entrance, Wiggy rose tottering and leaned against the rock wall, and Drusilla made a sound like the keen of a gull. As for Lupine, he threw his arms open. "Power of the beast," he ordered, seeing his victory, "come into me!"

Nothing happened.

"Power of the beast, I command you," Lupine repeated, "enter me now!"

The dragon roared.

It had Spike pinned down, on his back, one of its forefeet planted square on his chest; he was trying to wrestle its foot off, one-handed, with no success. The dragon rose, threw out its wings like zigzags of tattered black smoke. There was a sound like a thunderclap, and a deep low rumble like doom far away. It knocked Spike rolling sideways; its tail came around and slammed down, on his left, on his right, on his left. He barely escaped. But all its attention was elsewhere. Pale fire flickered round its long whiskered jaws. Its tongue darted out, licking air. Its tail twitched. "Someone do something," Lupine ordered, his voice high and girlish now. He backed away. "Er--vampire? You kill it. Kill it, vampire!"

"--'m trying, already--" said Spike indistinctly.

It now crouched, belly low to the cave floor like a cat. Like a cat about to pounce. Yellow flames danced far back in its gullet, kindling upon its forked tongue, playing around its teeth. Smoke suddenly wreathed its jaws, rose in wisps of spark-shot brown vapor. Its head slewed around with terrifying speed, and for an instant Spike was looking directly into its mouth. But it only blinked its slitted eyes, seemingly indecisive, and its head swung sideways again: toward Wiggy, toward Drusilla, toward Lupine . . .

Then back toward Dru.

"Kill it!" His nerve breaking utterly, Lupine darted in Wiggy's direction. As he did, he shouted. "Æfter ðam wordum wyrm yrre cwom, atol inwit-gæst, oðre siðe, fyr-wylmum fah, fionda niosian lathðra manna!"

The dragon charged, angry, a shimmering form in malignant coils, surging forward in flames. Dru screamed. It was certain death. Without hesitation, Spike threw himself into its mouth.

It went up in a beautiful arch, carrying him with it in its jaws. As it did, it roared again. At the height of its leap, it shook its head, flung him away like a rat from a terrier's teeth; he hit the stalagmite. The writhing weight of the dragon fell full on the stalagmite too, entwining it like an avalanche--then sliding down, down, down. For an instant, Spike clung to an outcropping--with the whole stalagmite rocking and swaying under him--and his gaze met the gaze of the Slayer impaled on the stone. Of course, he thought, she has heard the magic and awakened.

The stalagmite shattered. The dragon fell earthward. The Slayer fell with it, freed. Spike remained clinging to the last spar of the stalagmite, high above.

He looked down and the dragon, landing, rose again with the swan-arched recurve of its long back and deep chest and crested neck breathtakingly beautiful. It leaped forward, rippling like the great serpent it was. And breathed fire. The dim cavern was lit bright as noon. The Slayer had landed on her feet, poised like a bull-dancer. She lunged. Lupine had swung Wiggy in front of him, putting her in the way of the flames. "My axe!" That was the Slayer, shouting. "Where is--?"

In a dream of her own, Drusilla swayed toward the dragon's path. "Come pretty pretty pretty dragon," she crooned, opening her arms.

The axe was on the spar, within Spike's reach. He let go, snatched it, and threw as he fell.

The dragon flamed, crashed to earth with the axe upright in its back, and died.

The fire dimmed to embers. The whole world seemed to shout with quiet. The dragon slid backward into the crevasse, sliding into the Hellmouth, taking its last victims with it as it did: the Slayer gripped in its jaws, and Lupine's broken body pinned somewhere beneath its great neck. The Slayer had knocked Wiggy out of the path of the fire, and gone to her death in Wiggy's stead.

The last few feet of the black beast slithered into the hole, and vanished. A vast gout of flame licked out in its wake, and dragon, Slayer, axe and sorcerer were gone as if they had never been.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

Then--

Spike, breathing in stitches over broken ribs, became aware of Drusilla moving forward. She was singing eerily to herself, moving to a music only she heard. She poised herself on the brink of the crevasse, a wild and infinitely lovely princess playing at awaiting sacrifice. She peered over the edge. "And now--!" she said.

A ribbon of something like buzzing black fog arched out of the crevasse. It wove on the air, darted to and fro. Drusilla flung her arms open. "Come!" she said, and cried out in ecstacy as it fell upon her.It scribbled madly over her, attacking her everywhere--eyes, ears, mouth, up under her skirts-- and then poured away from her, and elsewhere.

Straight into Wiggy.

Drusilla screamed. She collapsed in racking sobs, arms wound round herself, rocking. "No! Now I'll never get it, never--oh, my poor Spike--never ever--" Spike scrambled toward her, took her in his arms. "Oh, Spike, what have you earned," she cried, "you've lost us our chance, bad dog. Why did you have to spoil the sacrifice? Why?"

"I'm the Slayer now," said Wiggy in a tiny voice. "I can feel it." All around her, dazed Sleepers were at last taking notice of their horrific surroundings. She patted one of the nearest reassuringly, turned him around and pushed him gently toward the cave entrance. The others were finding the way too. Without thought, naturally, Wiggy stepped between them and Spike, watching him every moment. "Don't you try anything," she warned. Then she seemed to reflect: "Shall I . . . ?"

Spike tensed and his arms tightened round Drusilla. A thought struck him, and he blinked. "Hey. Spell's broken: I can use both arms now. Must have been when the warlock died--? Well well." He almost rose and moved to face off against Wiggy--without thought, naturally, instinctively. And she stiffened and almost came at him, a light dawning in her eyes.

But then Dru wailed again, and the moment was gone. Spike said, distracted, "Oh, get away, girl, there'll be another day," and the girl Wiggy, awakening, stammered, "W-what was I thinking of?" and began a wary retreat. "Don't you try anything!" she repeated when she was far enough away. Then she turned and began ferociously to shoo the remaining Sleepers homeward.

He was left alone with the other dead, on the brink of Hell, with his mad lover babbling in his arms.

"--now it's all ruined, our future in ashes, ashes Spike--lost to the lamb, gone and never to be the Lovers going perfect into the light together--I'll never be her now, you're doomed, we're doomed--and all my lovely painted cards going up in fire--"

Spike didn't understand a word of it. Still, his gaze followed the new Slayer as she left him, and--for an instant--he almost left Dru and went in Wiggy's wake. But it was a hundred years too soon; he repented of the impulse as soon as it came, and kissed Drusilla's wet cheeks, and was lost.





A note on the spells, which are all in Old English. They are taken from Beowulf. Not only is this appropriate to the story, but it's also a change from Latin:

Attor on innan: some poison within.

Mara ond mðma: apple-dark steeds. (The word mara--as in Tolkein's 'mearas'?= 'horses'.)

Wrætlcne wundur-maðum: wondrous treasure-rings. (The word maðum, mathom, = 'treasure'.)

Sweord ær gemealt, forbarn brden-mæl; wæs þæt bld t þs ht, ættren ellor-gæst, s þær inne swealt: already the sword had melted away, its blade had burned up; too hot the blood of the poisonous spirit who had died within.

Strenge getruwode, mund-gripe mægenes: his own strength he trusted, the strength of his hand-grip.

Fyr on flde: strange water-fires (fire on flood).

Mn-scaða: evil-harmer, man's-scathe, scathe-of-evil; a pun on man, evil, and mn, human.

sceadugenga: shadow-walker.

stearcheort onfand feondes fotlast: the stout-hearted one discovered the footprints of the foe.

No ðær aht cwices, leð lyft-floga, læfan wolde: The fiery terror left nothing alive, wherever it flew.

Da com of more, under mist-hleoþum, Grendel gongan, Godes yrre bær: Then up from the marsh, under misty cliffs, Grendel came walking; he bore God's wrath.

Draugr, ketta: an undead spirit, its supernatural dam (common monsters of Norse saga).

No þæ yðe byð / to befleonne, fremme se þe wille, / ac gesecan sceal sawl-berendra / byde genydde, niþða bearna / grunde-buendra gearwe stowe / þær his lic-homa leger-bedde fæst / swefeþ æfter symle.: No man escapes easily from death - let him try who will - / but all soul-bearers walking the earth, / each son of man, driven by need, / must enter his place, made ready from birth / where the body-covering, deep in its earth-bed / sleeps after feast.

Æfter ðam wordum wyrm yrre cwom, atol inwit-gæst, oðre siðe, fyr-wylmum fah, fionda niosian lathðra manna!: After those words the dragon charged again, angry, a shimmering form in malignant coils, surged out in flames, sought hated men!



Posted on August 19th 2003.