Arms full, Buffy found her way back to her room. Ceil had been very helpful. Once over his hysteria, the jovial Arms Master was delighted to be introduced to a genuine Slayer, and even more delighted to fit her out with weapons. Eyeing her speculatively, he'd proceeded to pull out a variety of swords, daggers, axes and stakes for her to try. After hefting their weight and examining their length Buffy decided on two daggers, a light sword for close encounters and a heavier broad sword for battle use. The type of cross bow the Slayer favored in Sunnydale was a lighter model than the one Ceil showed her. At home she didn't need much range, just accuracy and the ability to put a wooden shaft into an undead heart. Ceil insisted she would need a little more power on Balance. That meant a heavier bow, and some target practice to fix the calibration.
Ceil had also made some disturbing references to mounted combat. Buffy didn't want to think about that right now. She'd agreed to come back the next day for the crossbow.
Dumping her loot on the bed, Buffy looked around for something that she could put to more immediate use--preferably a mirror and a comb. Unbidden, the image of a naked vampire standing in a stream of luscious hot water, soaping the dirt and drool off his undead flesh popped into her mind. Stop it! she scolded herself. She assured herself that the image had to do with the hot water part. After all, she hadn't even combed her hair since a hundred years from yesterday, in a dimension far, far away. She was even willing to admit, that as weird and annoying as this trans-dimensional diversion was, the sight of Spike being attacked and molested by two love-crazed hellhounds was practically worth the trip.
Buffy examined her room. It was smaller than Spike's, but still a pretty good size. Homey actually, with benches on either side of the large stone fireplace and a canopy bed filled with pillows and hung with tapestries that could be pulled closed to protect the sleeper from the night air. Long French windows opened onto a small balcony, and beyond she would be able to see a view of the cliffs and terraces that backed the fortress from both the bed and the comfy chairs in front of the hearth. An armoire, weapons chest, and a low dresser topped with a long ornate mirror filled up one whole wall. Not entirely bad for an all expense paid century at the Lost Horizon Hotel and Spa of the Apocalypse. Except Buffy had no intention of staying long enough to sample many of the amenities.
Buffy edged over to the mirror, not really wanting to see the results of . . Yipe!-- she recoiled from her reflection. She could handle a little fashion adversity, but this was pretty sad. Taking another look Buffy decided that her new clothes did make a certain Matrixy, trans-dimensional, badass warrior statement, but the hair and make-up needed some serious attention. And whatever demon designer had come up with those earrings on the trip through the portal needed a refresher course in accessorization. Heading for the only other door in the room, Buffy fervently hoped that the nearest bathroom wasn't down three flights and behind a tree.
And behind door number one . . . Eyes wide, Buffy took it all in--a marble bathroom, complete with a demon sized tub, sink and very earth-like toilet. Soap, towels, candles! Bottles and jars of pastel liquids and creams! Reaching over the wide, flat rim of the tub with both hands, Buffy twisted the faucets on full blast and nearly went into raptures as a spout of hot-hot!-water poured into the tub. Jamming the plug in the drain, she managed to push the door shut with her foot and pull off her shirt in one economy of motion. Leggings and boots followed. Grabbing the nearest container within reach, she dumped half a jar of sparkly purple granules into the water. If she could just stay under the radar for 20 minutes--twenty minutes!--she'd go anywhere with anybody, even T'Soun. She'd chant. She'd pet a Hellhound. She'd float in this tub until she turned all prunie and they had to send in a lifeguard to pull her out.
Sinking through a whipped cream layer of foam into the watery depths, Buffy offered a fervent prayer of thanks to the bathroom god. "I've discovered the door to heaven," she affirmed. "Bless you, and all your little piped in parts."
Half an hour later, a clean Slayer wrapped in a fluffy towel, floated contentedly through a cloud of steam into her new bedroom only to be startled out of her bliss by a familiar Irish accent emerging from the invisible depths of her comfy chair. Buffy almost lost her grip on the towel.
"The Boss is lookin' fer you," K'elp informed her blandly. "E said to send you over as soon as you was clean." The sprite leaned forward, fixing the Slayer with her bright green eyes. "Actually," a conspirators’ smile player over her lips, "when I told 'im you was in the bath 'e said somethin' about rollin' you damp and naked in a rug and bringin' you to 'is tent."
Buffy felt the residual dampness left by the steamy bath liquefy on her skin and trickle slowly between her shoulder blades. She was sure she could turn it back into steam with very little effort. It wouldn't be good steam.
"But I told 'im I didn't think you'd stand for it." K'elp stood, watching Buffy out of the corner of her eye. "E said I'd 'ave a better sense a' humor if I read a book once in awhile." She gave a sniff. "You ask me, there's already too many words on paper over there, getting nobody nowhere, and damn little straight out conversation."
The kelpie waved a hand toward the dresser on her way to the door. "There's fresh under things in the chest and more clothes in the drawers. I think you found everything else. I put some bread and cheese across the way for ya. 'Es got 'is blood and brandy." She gave Buffy one last look over her shoulder. "Make 'im sleep some, O.K.? 'E can't win a war on pig's blood an' alcohol."
As Buffy opened Spike's door the female Hellhound raised her head from her sprawled position just inside the room and gave the Slayer a baleful stare. Her mate had claimed the hearth rug and was snoring gently in a muted, buzz saw kind of way.
"Nice evil puppy," Buffy cooed, sliding sideways through the opening and along the wall of bookcases to her left. The big head swiveled with her, one red eye tracking her progress. Maybe punching Spike for the naked rug remark would have to wait until there was less tooth and claw in the audience. Note to self, she thought. Time to start carrying that sword.
"Out on the balcony, Slayer."
Buffy circled the room, grabbing an apple on the way past the table, and made her way out the nearest open door. It was dusk. The sun was a sunken ruby after-glow below the horizon, the lavender sky rapidly turning to the deeper violet of night. The smell of night blooming jasmine floated up from the gardens on the cooling evening breeze.
Buffy joined the vampire at the stone railing. Beyond the fortress walls, down on the flat plain below the woods, she could see small fires punctuating the landscape in scattered clusters.
"What's burning down there?" she asked.
Spike, his hair still damp and curly from his own bath pulled a double handful of it back off his face and secured it with a silver clip at the nape of his neck. He answered her without turning his head. “That's the Dragon Fields. They like to be down in the caves near the volcano vents so they can cozy-up to the flames. On a clear night, with the wind right, you can hear 'em roarin' at each other 'til first light. It's kind of comfortin' actually, although some feel other things.” Spike shrugged and looked up at the sky. “Mostly it starts after the moons rise."
"What about the forest?"
"Full of wolves. Well, wolves and feral shape shifters. They're partial to the moons as well, and not nearly so polite as the dragons."
"And around the other side?"
"Of Balance?" Spike smiled. "There is no other side. I mean there is, but it's the bottom, you'd fall off."
"You mean it just floats here in space?"
"Well, yeah. Kinda like the planet Mongo." Getting a blank look from Buffy, Spike tried to explain. "Flash Gordon? Ming the Merciless? The Mud Men?" He clutched his head in mock despair. "Oh, make me feel my age why don't you!" he moaned.
"Look," Spike said, pulling Buffy over so she could follow where his finger was pointing. "See the lights out there?"
Buffy looked. Faintly she could see small, widely spaced smudges of light out beyond the edge of the horizon. "That's three of the seven plains. The rest are behind us," Spike explained. "Balance is their anchor. We're right in the middle. They circle us. We turn, but very slowly. It creates a centrifugal equilibrium."
"And you get from one plain to another how? With space ships?"
"No, Buffy,” Spike was trying to be patient, “mostly by portal. There is a path inside, inside bein' relative in a quaquaversal sort of way, but it's pretty much only used by wizards, an' not often. It's full of hazards, an' even some of the adept have gone in an' never come out again. Inside is mostly fire, which, unless you want to be a smore . . .Well, it discourages tourism is all I'm sayin'"
"Is this what you wanted to show me?" Buffy asked, letting the sarcasm rise to the surface in a simmering boil. “Moons and dragons and a comfy hellhound by the hearth?” She could hear the subtle click of nails on stone inside Spike’s chamber. It didn't seem to be coming in her direction, but yelling tended to draw attention. Buffy turned the boil into a hiss. "Or maybe you were hoping I'd show up wearing a rug?"
"Yes. Uh, I mean no." Spike was flustered. "It was a joke. I was going to take you, that is, before the hounds of the Baskervilles showed up. . . " He regrouped. "Tomorrow's soon enough. We'll get you some kit, ride down, meet the landlords."
A loud woof suddenly erupted from inside the room, followed by a plaintive,"Lao Hu? Please, sir? Lao Hu?"
Spike turned and started back inside, the Slayer at his heels. "Grendel! No! No snacks before dinner. Leave the boy alone!"
Just inside the door to the corridor a small monk of about ten or eleven stood frozen and trembling against the wall. The male hellhound had his nose pressed to the boy's chin and was looking up into his eyes, daring him to move. The small horn buds on the young demon's forehead stood out in livid contrast to the paleness of his face.
"Get off you big oaf!" Spike ordered. After a final twitch of his lip, the hound backed off, astrolling casually away from his captive to flop down in his chosen spot by the fireplace. Buffy could swear the giant beast had an evil grin on his face.
"Are they going to be living here now?" she asked. The female, who'd deigned to ignore the entire incident, cracked an eyelid at Buffy's question. One ear rose a perceptible inch.
"They're harmless," Spike answered, narrowing his eyes at the big dogs. "They just like to frighten people." The eyelid dropped, but the ear stayed where it was.
"Really?" Buffy looked pointedly between the two hulking canines. "I'd say they take after their father?"
Spike turned back to the boy.
"Are you all right?" the vampire asked him, not unkindly.
"Yes, please." The boy answered, not taking his eyes off the dogs. The 'no snacks before dinner' thing probably wasn't really funny from his point of view. "I was sent for you, sir. A wizard just came through the inner gate. His Holiness says it's most important you should come."
The request brought an immediate response from Spike. "Right!" He straightened and looked over his shoulder at Buffy. "Slayer?"
Curiosity won over crankiness. "Wouldn't miss it for the world." Buffy conceded.
As Spike, Buffy and the boy made their way along the path to the temple, the double moons of Balance began to rise. In their crescent phase they appeared like a double image, one a slightly paler reflection behind, and to the side of the other. The white gold light they cast deepened the shadows and made the evening dew sparkle like tiny pearls of ice.
Faintly, in the distance Buffy heard a roaring call and its echoing replies. Her skin prickled in a not entirely unpleasant response of her own. She rubbed at her bare arms and the frisson began to subside.
Spike glanced at her sideways, raising an eyebrow. Buffy willed her hands back down to her sides. She'd never considered the possibility that vampires might get goose-bumps when something crawled across their primal senses, but Spike seemed to understand her reaction.
As if the dragons reminded him of the seriousness of his errand, the young monk increased his pace.
Errand completed, the boy left Spike and Buffy at the door to His Holiness' chambers with a final bow. The rapid patter of his retreating footsteps only emphasized the urgency of their summons. Spike opened the door without knocking.
His Holiness was seated directly opposite the door on a low gold chair, placed behind a wide ebony table. Both were carved with elaborately intertwined dragons and tigers. The walls of the stone chamber were hung with tapestries, or painted with the figures of fantastic deities whose colors echoed the rich hues of the rugs and pillows that covered the floor. A teapot sat steaming on a small charcoal brazier, and the pungent smell of herbs mixed with the more subtle smell of incense, candle wax and char.
Spike noticed that T'Soun was already there, leaning against the sidewall, her expression grim.
His Holiness caught the vampire's eye, shifting his look sideways to the only other occupant of the room.
The wizard sat slumped in a low chair, his trembling hands making their best effort to hold a steaming goblet to his lips. Tall, thin, and pale he was dressed in a black frock coat and pants. An embroidered gold and burgundy vest was buttoned over a stained white shirt, torn and blackened lace protruded at the cuffs. A black cloak was flung back over the chair. It was almost as if Doc Holiday had made it to Balance and traded in his six-gun for a wand of power. Spike could see there was no bravado left in this man, and very little power.
The wizard's longish salt and pepper hair hung in his eyes. His cheekbones and hawk-like nose seemed to barely carry enough flesh to hide the bones beneath them. He was bruised, cut, haggard and ...scorched. Soot and blisters traced the angles of his face and made his fingers bleed against the silver goblet he was holding. The wizard's clothing and boots still smoked slightly, seeming to have carried the residue of some unnatural fire into the room. As if in testament, a ragged, smoldering tatter along the charred hem of his cloak burst into a surge of bright green flame.
"William," the wizard acknowledged bleakly as he spied the vampire. He was too tired to raise his head.
"Morgaine." Spike crushed the flame under his boot and went down on one knee next to the chair to look into the wizard's face. "You got out. What about the others?"
Morgaine closed his eyes and shook his head. "Maybe. Some other way." He gestured weakly. "I don't know." He let his hand drop. "Tangren and I made it through the gate together, just before the roof fell in. I lost him in the maze. The mirrors . . "another head shake. "I turned around and he was gone. I think we were the only ones who got away. We were already in the cellar when the attack came." Long bony fingers clutched at Spike's arm. "Someone let them in!" The wizard's pale blue eyes blazed with a furious inner light. "They never would have made it past the wards without help."
"The Legion, their Hordes Morgaine! Can you tell me how many? Which way they may be headed? Is He leading them? Are their Angels at his back?!"
Morgaine shook his head. "They hit us fast and without warning. We warded the portal, William! It was strong! It would have taken a Master Mage and an enormously powerful spell to even rattle the lock. We felt safe." The wizard slumped. "Puffed up with our own arrogance and stupidity! How could we let this happen?"
Spike gave Morgaine a pat on the arm and then got to his feet to pull up another chair. Buffy had already claimed a piece of T'Soun’s wall.
The vampire looked at the old monk. "I sent the scouts out this morning, Holiness. I don't expect them back until tomorrow at the earliest. I'm callin' the tribes together, but I need more information before I can pick the place to make our stand. Balance has already lost the Southern Plains, and now Lythmutte. We have to stop the Legions from getting any closer than they already are. And, most of all, we have to keep them off this rock." He turned to the wizard. "Not all the Mages stay at Lythmutte, Morgaine. You didn't-- before. Can you find the others? Bring 'em in?"
"When I've slept, William." The wizard's eyes lost focus. "I was in the maze for weeks, maybe longer. Time has no meaning on the inside path. There’s barely enough magic in me now to light a candle. The last vent surge almost got me." He shifted his still slightly smoking boots and looked at T'Soun. "How long since Lithmutte fell?"
"Three days, surface time." T'Soun answered the wizard, but she was looking at Spike. "You know what you have to do." It wasn't a question. "You can't put it off any longer."
"Can we take this outside?" Spike asked pointedly.
"Rest Morgaine," he said to the wizard before he turned to follow T'Soun. "I need you."
Buffy drifted along behind T'Soun and Spike as they headed for the garden. She'd stayed pretty detached up to this point, but this was too good to miss. She could feel His Holiness' eyes in her back as she left the room. The old monk missed nothing.
Keeping just enough distance to stay out of Spike and T'Soun's way, Buffy made sure she stayed close enough to hear what was going on.
"Why does it have to be me?" Spike was saying in an urgent whisper. "She's bloody ravin' insane. An' dangerous! The last time I was up there she soddin' attacked me. I barely got out with all my parts"
"She stuck her hand down your pants you big sissy!" T'Soun hissed back.
"It was a personal violation!"
"You're a vampire! You bite people without their permission! You don't consider that a personal violation? Besides, she was specific about it being you. It's one of the reasons I was sent to get you."
Spike sighed. He was a man who knew when he was losing.
"His Holiness..."T'Soun started. Spike held up a hand in surrender.
"Hold the big guns T'Soun, I'm goin'--under protest I might add. If I'm not back in an hour send somebody large and scary after me . . . or bring the Slayer." Spike trudged off through the garden, shaking his head.
Buffy moved up to stand next to T'Soun. The two women watched Spike's retreating back in silent solidarity.
"Men!" T'Soun muttered.
"Right there with ya, sister," Buffy agreed.
“Women!” Spike cracked his neck with a wrenching twist of vertebrae that would have permanently crippled a mortal being. “Put an idea in their head and they just won’t get off it until they get their own way.”
Muttering to himself under his breath, he pushed his way through a narrow opening in the overgrown hedge separating the temple grounds from the high cliffs of Balance, then stepped onto the neglected path to the Oracle’s Tower without missing a beat of his rant. “… rather go into battle armed with a fly swatter than have my tea leaves read by the Bloody-damn-Oracle. But ‘ere I am, aren’t I? Guilt-tripped and Elf-whipped into submission by a force more powerful than hell itself, a stubborn female with a mission!”
Memories of his last visit to the Oracle brought on a shoulder wrenching shudder. Not only was the trollop certifiable, she also had a fancy for him. He’d be pinched and squeezed black and blue by the time he got out of her clutches, and probably put off women for the rest of his unnatural life!
“Whose in charge here, s’what I’d like t’ know?” Spike’s question was plaintive but rhetorical. He knew opinions varied.
The Oracle’s Tower was just as Spike remembered it; rough and forbidding, over-grown with vines, and exuding a general air of clandestine neglect. Built against the high cliffs that backed the stronghold, it was actually more of a facade than a structure. The rounded face of the tower was made up of massive stone blocks, but the interior was carved into the rock itself. Inside, in the dark, a narrow, curling staircase wound upward to the rooms at the top.
With a shrug of resignation, Spike put his shoulder to the well-worn planks of the ancient oak door. The rusty hinges yielded with some reluctance despite his inhuman strength.
Leaving the door ajar in case he needed to make a hasty retreat, Spike began the journey upward. The stone stairs were steep and treacherous, and their tight spiral had a disorienting quality to it. Spike knew from experience that if he gave into it, whatever protected the tower would overpower his ability to distinguish up from down. Even with that knowledge, looking in either direction could be a fatal mistake. The effect was designed to discourage casual visitors, yet the steps had been well worn over hundreds of years by feet reluctantly making this dark climb.
Spike made sure he kept one hand on the wall and his eyes pointed straight ahead. Afraid to look down, he felt blindly for each step with his feet. Cobwebs from long dead spiders tangled in his fingers, and the unnatural silence amplified the occasional dry crunch of small, four-footed skeletons beneath his boots.
The stairway ended at the entrance to the Oracle’s chamber. As he climbed the last few steps, Spike could see her sitting in a Roman chair behind a large stone table in the middle of the room. A large copper bowl filled with water sat in a circular hole in the table’s center, its rim curling over the hole’s edge to hold it in place.
The chamber itself was cold and dimly lit by a few torches and candles. Flickering tongues of light from a shallow fireplace alternately flared up to chase huge shadows around the walls, then withdrew to sputter ineffectually against charred sticks, sucking the illumination away with them as they went.
Spike hovered in the doorway, reluctant to enter, aware that he would be leaving his only easy escape route behind. An arch on the other side of the room opened onto a terrace at the top of the tower, but the drop was more than Spike was willing to risk. Vampires leapt, they didn’t fly. Eventually the primary direction was always down. Spike knew he wouldn’t die if he went off the tower, but breaking both ankles and crawling around on his hands and knees until he healed would be embarrassing to say the least. And all to escape a sex crazed vampire with the curse of vision and one too many loose marbles. He’d never hear the last of it!
The Oracle gave no sign that she was aware of a visitor, although Spike had no doubt she knew he was there. The long and tattered blue robes of a Pict priestess flowed around her thin frame, exposing arms circled with angular blue tattoos that ended in tight spirals on the backs of her hands. Her rings spun, loose around her long fingers as she moved her hands, nails clicking on the surface of the tabletop like the talons of a predatory bird. She was the oldest vampire Spike had ever met, although to be honest, not the absolute craziest. Drusilla was points ahead on that score.
Spike cleared his throat as he put a reluctant foot over the threshold. He moved into the room to stand in front of the table, prepared to petition her help and then run like hell. The Oracle still gave no acknowledgement. Feigning elaborate indifference, she continued to hum tonelessly to herself, skittering her fingers gently through a spill of tiny bones she’d just scattered across the table. Without looking up, she flicked a long fingernail at a small bone, propelling the tiny vertebrae off the table to bounce off Spike’s chest and onto the floor with a tiny ping.
Spike responded with a growl of exasperation and watched impatiently as a smile flitted briefly across the Oracle’s lips. She raised her head with elaborate slowness to finally look at him. Only one dark violet eye was visible through the wild, unruly tangle of her hair. Its pupil dilated by drugs or madness, the eyelid weighted with a feral sensuality.
“A gentleman caller……….” The Oracle’s voice was husky with disuse. Twirling a lock of her hair around a finger, she looked Spike slowly up and down. “No flowers?” She asked. “No candy?”
“You don’t eat candy,” Spike snapped impatiently. “You’re a vampire.”
“William,” her voice was playful, but threatening. “I’m disappointed in you. Don’t you know it’s the thought that counts?”
“You want a price for your help?” I’ll pay you not to touch me, Spike thought.
The Oracle waved a languid hand. “Trinkets. Lust. Blood. All tender for my talents.”
Trinkets? Spike pulled the ornate silver clip out of his hair and handed it to her over the table. The clasp had a wicked point. He’d used it more than once for something other than keeping his hair out of his face. This time it was buying him a (hopefully short) trip to the land of the crazy.
“Can we get this over with?” he asked.
The Oracle took the clip and smiled her disturbing smile, then held out her other hand, palm up, over the bowl. Reluctantly, Spike placed the back of his hand in hers. Her grasp was dry and cold; colder by far than his own.
The Oracle peered into Spike’s palm, examining the lines cutting through his pale flesh. Spike watched her smooth brow crease in concentration. Even in her faded glory it was obvious to him that the Oracle had been turned in her prime. But that was hundreds of years ago. She was old and alone now, and probably the last of her line. Looking down at her Spike could only think that he would rather be dust, than end up like this--barmy with loneliness, trapped by a talent that showed you things you didn’t want to know, living like a pale, sad shadow of a former self.
The Oracle ran her thumb slowly down his palm. It was an intimate and insinuating gesture. Spike’s nostrils flared at the touch, and his lip curled in disgust.
Slowly, almost teasingly, the Oracle let her face transform into the mask of a vampire. The cool violet of her eyes was now an amber glow under a delicately wrinkled shelf of brow. The metamorphosis brought no visible lucidity to the moment. Spike had just determined that this drama was designed to make the reading take forever when, with lightening speed and a flash of fang, she jammed the point of the silver clip viciously into his palm. Spike tried to yank his hand away, but the Oracle held his wrist in a vise-like grip. Blood welled up then ran freely down Spike’s fingers, one long red stream tracing its way down the Oracle’s forearm and off onto the floor, the rest dripping into the bowl in great, red drops. The water rose to greet this offering with tiny, greedy waves that sipped at each crimson bead with mouths like glass. Around the edge of the bowl the water’s surface began to quiver and gently spin.
Rolling her eyes up at Spike, her face contorted by lust and hunger the Oracle grabbed his bleeding hand in both of hers, defeating his struggle to make her let go. Her eyes never left his as she bent her mouth to his palm and ran the flat of her tongue slowly across the seeping wound.
The blood hit the Oracle like a drug. Closing her eyes, she let her head fall back against her shoulder, her face slackening with pleasure. Then, leaning in again, she took one of Spike’s bloody fingers into her mouth, sucking and drawing it slowly out through her lips.
The sensation made Spike’s nostrils flare and his lips twitch up off his teeth. He stopped his face from changing, but couldn’t block a hint of lengthening fang.
Reached the end of Spike’s finger, the Oracle flicked her tongue once against the tip. A small moan caught in her throat and her grip loosened. Spike snatched his hand back, as if the touch of her tongue had scorched him. Holding it stiffly by the wrist with his other hand, he flashed into his own game face and growled, “Read the blood you bint!”
Ignoring him, the Oracle rolled Spike’s blood on her tongue. Drawing in a small breath of air she examined his offering like a connoisseur tasting a fine wine. With languorous pleasure, she licked the last lingering drop from her lips.
“Mmmm…excellent,” she breathed. “One hardly gets such impulsive flavors anymore. There’s evil, yes…and pain, and guilt, so sharp on the tongue, but also…courage, guile and strength. All good qualities in a really robust red.” Finally, her eyes opened to regard him playfully, “And I taste,… just the merest hint of... raspberries.”
Spike watched her in silence, willing himself a patience he didn’t feel.
The Oracle wiped a finger along the streak of blood on her arm and contemplated its moist red tip before licking it off. She looked at Spike intently. “Death knows you, vampire,” she offered. “He’s coming to call. Bright and shining like the sun. Bringing blood and ashes.” She leaned back. “He wants the woman too. Just like always. Just because he can always have whatever he wants, even if it’s yours.”
Spike sighed. “Well, that helps about as much as nothing. Look, Love. Can you tell me where the Legion is? What they’re doing? How far they’ve come? What I can do to stop them? Something, anything useful?”
The Oracle smiled dreamily and rolled her head in a slow lazy circle that ended with her looking down into the water in the bowl. The surface swirled, a shallow whirlpool filled with light. Grasping the sides with bloody hands she peered deep within.
She began to whisper to herself in a singsong chant,
Fang or blade, spell or curse. It’s always blood that makes it worse.
She nodded her head. “Yes. I see you, William. Bloody William. Bound by blood. Paid in blood. Betrayed by blood.”
The water smoked. Almost at the periphery of his hearing Spike could hear the clang and snort of distant battle. And then it cleared. The Oracle’s eyes darted through its shallow depths, following movement only she could see. She moaned. “So many, many, many, she whispered. “Like ants they swarm. More powerful this time.” She clapped her hands together once. “Crash the gates! Coreth now. But coming here….to tilt the balance. Open the way.” She nodded to herself. “To feed the Eaters of the Dead.”
“Can I stop them?” Spike asked urgently. “Can you see it? Can I beat him? Tell me what I can do!”
Placing both hands flat on the table the Blood Oracle rocked back and forth.
Light to dark, Dark to light, Power mates with endless night. Balance waivers, Breaks the fall. One is left to save us all.
The light in the bowl went out with an almost inaudible pop. Just as suddenly the Oracle’s face returned to human form. She fell back in her chair, suddenly confused and spent, one blood-streaked arm hanging almost to the floor.
For one brief moment she looked up at Spike with total lucidity. “William? Thank the gods! I told them you would come.” Then her eyes rolled up in her head, all consciousness gone.
Spike reached for her hand and placed it in her lap. If this uncomfortable pang he was feeling in his chest was pity, it was an emotion he was grateful to have been spared this last hundred-odd years. Picking up her cloak, he tucked it gently around her unconscious form. This is becoming a habit, he thought to himself.
Scrubbing his uninjured hand across his face, Spike walked to the archway that opened onto the top of the tower and propped a tired shoulder against the wall. Lit by the lambent glow of Balance’ double moons, he could see laid out below him, the fields and forests of the kingdom he’d promised to defend.
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