Fic: “Every Now and Then (2/3)” by Quinara.

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Every Now and Then
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Title: Every Now and Then
Author: Quinara
Rating: PG-13/R
Word Count: 13,935
Summary: When Spike goes missing Buffy is forced to remember things she’d rather have left forgotten.
Author’s Notes: Part 1 is here!

Warnings: None (I would say)

When Buffy woke her heart was thumping. She’d kicked her sheets to the end of the bed, but lying without them was doing nothing to cool her down. Looking to the left she sighed, feeling a little emptier as she stared at Spike’s side of the bed. Apparently yesterday hadn’t just been a bad dream.

Of course, she thought as she trudged to the shower, that didn’t mean she got off nightmare-free. Why had she dreamt about that? She hadn’t thought about their time away in a decade, didn’t remember most of it, yet here she was dreaming about it.

Not that it had gone that way. She was a little grateful the dream had missed out the intervening years they’d spent on that world and given her the bookends. Every day she’d lost a little bit more of herself, forgotten a bit more of her life, all until there had barely been anything left. Spike had brought her back, but it had taken a long time.

Now, she supposed, it was in danger of happening all over again. They needed the Slayer, after all.

She dressed without looking at the bed, but the silence was still unnerving, and she kept expecting a foot to poke her as she pulled things from the wardrobe. After drying her hair as quickly as possible and throwing on some make-up she headed downstairs in a rush.

Illyria was in the kitchen, flicking forlornly through a newspaper. Buffy wasn’t particularly surprised to see her. She definitely didn’t mind her being there – the pink and cream kitchen needed an injection of black and red to make it seem normal. Without it Buffy felt like she was living in Stepford, no matter than she’d picked the colour scheme herself.

Breakfast seemed to make itself, and Buffy ate it mechanically, watching as Blue came to the sports pages. “I shall question Rupert Giles,” she said, not looking up.

Buffy took a sip of orange juice she didn’t remember pouring. “I’ll join you when I can. There’re kids with appointments I can’t miss.” And it was true. That didn’t mean, of course, that she had to like it.

“We should not attempt to reclaim him by day. The risk is too great.”

“Agreed.” She didn’t have to like that either. In fact, universal dislike was sounding better to her by the minute.

Her breakfast things were soon in the dishwasher, and then they headed out to Illyria’s car. It was rather menacing in the sunshine, drunkenly parked near their mailbox and openly daring someone to try and hotwire it. A school bus came merrily by, and it seemed to give the car a far wider berth than was necessary.

Buffy couldn’t care less, and hopped into the back, trampling over seats to find her own in the front.

She’d slept later than usual, but because she hadn’t taken the bus she got to school a lot earlier than she normally did: the bell hadn’t even rung. The car cut a swathe through envious kids, and the disappointment was palpable as she hopped out and Blue drove away. Buffy smiled as she waved at them, amused they thought she was stupid enough to park a car anywhere near school property. Especially a nice one.

They were good kids, but one or two of them were just too easily tempted.

Still smiling she headed to her office, passing Julie on the stairs. “Hi, Julie,” she said, feeling it about as much as usual.

“Good morning, Buffy. How’s your husband?”

“Stable.” It was easy to lie.

Especially as the fake sympathy came again. “Well, I’ve gotta admire you for making it in.”

“I wouldn’t bother.” She said it before she could stop herself, carrying on up the stairs and leaving Julie defeated behind her. The smile didn’t ever fade from her face.

Julie didn’t bother her for the rest of the morning, which probably should have told her something was going on. She definitely should have realised when she’d had to haul Denzel J out of class and he didn’t give her any backchat for the entire two-minute trip to the principal’s office.

She didn’t, however. The thought didn’t even cross her mind until she met up with Mona for lunch.

“What’s up with you, girl?” she asked, nodding over her tray. “You like you’re about to pull a gun outta your purse.”

“And you would know that how?” Buffy laughed, leading them to their usual seats in the cafeteria. They sat, and, as usual, Buffy had herself a good view of the art class’s mural. Kids left a two-seat buffer zone either side of them – also as usual.

Mona waved her cutlery at her. “Hey! I’m more street than you.”

She shook her head, then stuck a fork into the meat-flavoured lunch-goop on her plate. “Sure you are, Mona.” Buffy knew for a fact that Mona lived as far uptown as Giles did; her husband made the big bucks. “And where exactly was it that you went to college, again?”

Mona grinned, that killer intelligence of hers sparkling in her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, keep spinning it, drop-out Daisy.” She spooned some of her own goop into her mouth, swallowing it down. “So? What’s up? I was by the photocopier earlier and Julie was skittering like a bug ‘fraid it was gonna get squashed.”

Buffy sighed, suddenly not very hungry, and really not wanting to tell the news again. She felt like everyone should know by now. He’d been gone so long. “It’s Spike.”

“That fine husband of yours?” Mona was still eating. “What’s he gotten into this time?”

“He…” Buffy bit on her thumbnail for a moment, then realised her hand was shaking. She dropped her voice, forcing the truth past her lips. She couldn’t bear to lie anymore. This was Mona, after all. “I’m telling people he’s in hospital, but he’s not, he’s missing. Kidnapped.”

Mona dropped her voice too, leaning over the table. Shock and sympathy seemed to give way to curiosity, and for some reason it made Buffy feel like she could cope. “You’re shitting me.”

“I’m not.” Buffy shook her head, just wanting to have it out now. “Blue said –”

“Goth girl?”

“Yeah, goth girl – she said they were gassed, both of them. Knocked out. Spike got taken, then she and the car got dumped the other side of town.”

“Well, damn.” Mona sat back in her chair. “And you trust goth girl to tell it you true?”

“Blue’s a friend from the old days, Mo.” She started swirling potato, a little moisture hitting her eyes. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t trust her on.”

“Hold up. Old days?” Mona’s tone was light again, and it brought the chatter of the cafeteria back to them. “What, when she was pulling on your pants, trying to get you to go to Build-a-Bear?”

Buffy laughed, but for the first time that day it sounded a little feeble to her ears. “She’s older than she looks. Hell of a lot older.” She stumbled, realising that she would have to lie now anyway. She always hit a wall somewhere along the line. She hated that. “She’s got Spike’s family’s skin.”

“Huh.” Mona smiled, just a little, measuring her up. “This is one of you guy’s things you can’t tell me about, ain’t it?”

“Yeah,” Buffy admitted. She was pretty sure Mona thought they were in the Mob, but what else could she do?

“Well,” Mona continued. “You seem to be handling it.”

“Meaning?” Buffy frowned.

“Sugar, you caught a look at your face lately?” She pointed with her fork, which was thankfully free of goop. “Anyone looking at you knows you passed Aw Crap about three exits back and are heading straight to downtown Getting Even.”

“I do?” That was actually a bit of a surprise. “But…” Her eyes closed, just for a moment before they opened again on Mona’s face. “I still feel so weak, Mo. So… out of control.” And wasn’t that the truth. “If I’d been there when it happened, if I’d still…” Been the Slayer. She should have stopped it.

“Let me tell you something, Buff.” The fork was still up in the air. “You don’t look weak; you look like you’re planning a homicide. I ain’t never seen you like this before.”

It was reassuring. A little reassuring anyway, even if she was completely fulfilling the impression of being in the Mob. It still wasn’t enough, though. She knew she was weak on the inside, and that wasn’t going to help if she wanted Spike back.

They didn’t speak again until they’d finished their food, and Mona left to do some marking. She looked at Buffy worriedly as she got up. “It’ll sort out, Buffy, you know it. The pair of you are too tight to get between. Not without some serious pain.”

“I hope so,” she replied, and smiled weakly.

She took the bus to Giles’ twenty minutes after school had finished, after she’d waited ten minutes to check no one wanted to see her and after she’d told the Principal what was up. He’d been relatively sympathetic, which was nice, and agreed she could make up the time another day. Not that she’d given the impression that she would have accepted any other answer.

Giles lived pretty well these days, the proof of which was in how long it took to get to his apartment from her school. They’d all been surprised though, including him, when he’d moved back to California.

“I’ve come to realise,” he’d said, in that kind of expansive tone he had more and more in his old age, “that while decent food and television can be imported, sunshine cannot.” He’d smiled afterwards, in a way that implied their company had also been one of pros. He’d included Spike and it was about that time that she’d finally forgiven him, wholly and absolutely, for everything that had gone down before.

Sitting on the bus, she shook herself. She was thinking about the past too much. She had to start focussing on the present or she was never going to be what she could.

When she arrived at Giles’ apartment, he answered the door to her with a hug, and she shared a brief little wave with Blue over his shoulder.

“How’s it going, Giles?” she asked as they pulled back.

“Ah!” He held up one finger as he led her into the sitting room. “Now, I called Willow and unfortunately she wasn’t available, but Illyria and I think we might have cracked something about these symbols of yours.”

Buffy took her seat on one of the green Chesterfields, slipping off her shoes and curling her feet beneath her. A breeze blew in from the balcony, rushing with the sunlight across the waxed floorboards beneath them; for a moment she almost felt calm.

Giles and Illyria sat opposite her, and Blue passed her an open book from the table, leather-bound and yellowing as always.

“They’re part of a transportation ritual,” Giles explained. “For the She’Wak Order of mages. The Order believes very strongly in the power of totems, somewhat animal, somewhat demon. It’s a rather interesting…” He paused. Off her look he then continued, “Yes, well, it allows Spike’s captors to operate remotely, and put him exactly where they want him before anyone has a chance to intervene, wake-up or generally bugger up the works.”

She frowned at the calligraphy. “So they’re smart.”

“Yes, but not quite smart enough!” He grinned at her for a moment, then let the smile quickly fade away. She didn’t let her expression change. “This is good news, Buffy. Reading further into the ritual shows that it requires another set of symbols – different ones, at the place to where Spike and Illyria were transported before Illyria was moved on again.”

“And we can trace them?” Something that was very possibly hope fluttered in Buffy’s heart.

“It’s even easier than that.” Giles grinned again, but more softly than before. “We can simply use the original spell.”

“OK.” She let herself smile a little this time. “When can we go? We’ll need some weapons, but after that there’s no time to lose, right?”

Her happiness dropped like a stone when Giles pulled out a handkerchief, awkwardly looking down and taking his glasses off to clean them. “Erm, yes, well.” He sighed, meeting her in the eye once more. “We’re going to have to wait for tomorrow night. There are some ingredients I need from the magic shop and if we head out now it simply won’t be open.”

She looked at her watch. It was five-past-five – he was right.

“I’m extremely sorry, Buffy.”

She shouldn’t have taken the bus. She should have got Illyria to pick her up. She should have… “You should have called me,” she said at last. “I could have gone on the way here. We could have gone tonight.”

“I’m sorry, dear,” Giles replied, easing the book out of her clenching hands. “We only worked this out five minutes before you arrived.”

“Well, you should have got there faster!” She stood up, her hands now in fists at her sides and anger pumping through her. It came from that place she didn’t know, but it filled her with fire and that was what she needed right now. “What if what they need him for’s tonight, huh? What if he needs us now, but we can’t get to him because you didn’t work as hard as you probably could’ve, and wasted the day making pots of tea?”

Giles’ head was bowed, but Illyria rose to standing, challenging her even as the sun still shone so finely. “You will be quiet now, Slayer.”

“You gonna fight me, Blue?” Buffy met her eyes, and the rage rose further to match that opposite. “How d’you think that’s gonna go? D’you really wanna test how old this body’s gotten?”

“Enough of this, Buffy,” Giles muttered, voice low and head still bowed. “Enough.”

“Just tell me it wasn’t because it’s Spike, Giles.” She would wield words as her knives if she had to. She always could. “Look me in the eye and tell me it wasn’t.”

Giles eyes flashed to hers, hurt and angry. She didn’t feel any shame. “I’m too insulted to answer that question.” He stood too, finally, pulling himself taller than he had stood in years. “Now, I think you’d best go home, or find a nest of vampires to slay, or in any case leave my apartment until you’ve calmed down. We are all doing our utmost here and it’s about time you realised that.”

No, she couldn’t help but think, we aren’t. They were all too old, too slow. It had been too long, even for Blue. None of them had fought in an apocalypse for fifteen years, and they were the only things that trained you. Even though Spike and Illyria did go out on the town every night, it wasn’t as though there was that much evil left in LA. Not after Wolfram and Hart had jumped ship.

She left without a word.

It was past midnight when she rode the bus home, bloodied and with a work outfit permanently ruined. A newly bought kitchen-knife nestled snugly in her handbag and she knew that if she were stopped she’d be in trouble. Luckily, no one seemed to want to bother her.

The bus pulled up three streets from her house and she followed a few wannabe-rebel teens down the steps, clearly proud that they’d stayed in a club long enough for entry to stop being free. She felt like telling them that her Friday nights at the Bronze had been edgier than theirs. There had been vampires, after all.

In the end she settled for brushing past them, comment-free. It didn’t keep them from falling silent, or from gasping as they saw the claw-slash across her back. It was pretty funny, really, because it didn’t even hurt.

She slept long into Saturday, even more restless than the night before.

The three of them had been in the new world for two weeks now, had even found some caves to sleep in. Buffy crouched, freshly awake in its darkest corner, and she knew the other two thought she couldn’t hear them.

She did. Their murmurs echoed and amplified all round the cave, hammering in her ears. She couldn’t see them talking, but she could see their shadows, thrown by the fire up the curved walls.

“You know what calls them.” Blue’s voice was still hoarse, healing from a lucky strike at her throat. “Her warmth, her blood. She is food to them, larger than all the others of her kind.”

“And what d’you want to do about it, Blue?” Spike was pacing. His shadow rose and fell. “Yeah, she’s a tasty treat, but we ain’t leaving her. Not here.”

“Her vision is impaired by darkness. Her requirements for sustenance are inconvenient. Her martial ability…”

“Oh, believe me, pet, be careful where you’re stepping on that road. Girl might’ve been taking easy for a bit, but give it time and you’ll be looking at a Fury. Mark my words.”

Blue was right. She was the weakest member of their team, the neediest. Spike could feast on lizard blood, exist quite happily on all the creatures that attacked them. She, on the other hand, needed flora, and the small, skittering rabbit- and fox-like creatures, that seemed to be mammals and were the closest thing to edible meat this dimension had to offer. And she left waste, made them trackable. That, she could admit, was a sin.

The only thing she could do was prove her worth. She needed to hone herself to the weapon she was, sharpen herself until she was only death, no matter how brittle she became. There was no room for that courtship ritual she had once called fighting. It was real here, and she would have to be too.

Buffy rose, then stepped into the main cavern of their caves, feeling the warmth of the fire. They both looked round. “I’m going hunting. Wanna come?”

Spike nodded. Illyria, as she called herself, didn’t deign to reply. Letting Spike follow behind her she headed out of the mouth of the cave, refusing to fear the dark.

As she walked, however, the dark grew lighter, sharpening into a clean and colourful world, too full of voices. It was years later and that cave was far behind her.

Willow was at her side, while Blue and Dawn were a few feet behind them. Spike was missing and it felt like she was blind in part of her vision. Every gaggle of smiling faces was a threat.

There were words that she should speak. She could get her thoughts across. I don’t like this, Willow.

“Oh.” She looked disappointed. “I thought it’d be nice, you know – a girly day out at the mall. Clothes and shoes and frappe lattes…”

The mall. That was what this glass box was called. It echoed too fiercely.

“Slayer.” Blue’s voice was shocked. Buffy turned to her, glad that there was still at least one of her companions with her. “You spoke.”

No, I didn’t.

“What’s the big?” Willow interrupted.

Illyria came closer. Dawn hung behind, biting on her lip and finally looking the age that Buffy remembered her. “Speak.”

“No. I can’t!” She heard the words this time, the charged air that rushed from her throat. “I won’t voice my thoughts.” But that was what she was doing. Everything was becoming real, and she felt as though there were suddenly a hundred more things that she could say. Something was tight in her heart: fear, or something like it.

“Buffy, it’s OK,” her sister said. She came forward at last, and put her arms gently around her. “You’re home now. Again. You can feel things if you want to.”

She didn’t want to feel anything. That was the problem. “You don’t want to see what’s deep inside of me.”

Dawn took her tighter, making the bright lights of the mall spin and blur. “Of course I don’t. I have your blood running through my veins, you know, and that’s more than enough. I don’t need to know how it cries.”

Buffy shivered, fear compounding with fear. Her eyes closed, and it was cold and dark once more. She preferred this time, this past. This was where she lived.

It was always cold now. The summer had fallen into a rainy season, and it had forced the lizards into hiding. She’d had to become vegetarian, and Spike had been feeding on rotting corpses.

The last blood he’d drank had been bad, the body too far gone. It had sent him unconscious, putting him out for over a week, when they were supposed to be moving on. Buffy sat by his side, eyes closed, waiting for him to wake up.

She heard Illyria approaching, so opened her eyes. The silhouette was dark as pitch against the light of the fire.

“He weakens our position.”

Buffy climbed to her feet then, and stalked calmly between the god and the body. “He’s staying, and we’re staying where we are.”

Illyria tilted her head like a snake, tasting the air between them. “You care for him. More than is wise.”

“I do.” Buffy lifted her chin. “Come near him, and I will smack you down.” She let herself glance at his frowning face. “Tell him, and I’ll smack you down harder.”

“He said the same of you.”

The first thought that crossed her mind was that the bitch couldn’t keep a secret. The second was that this was the longest conversation she and Illyria had ever had. Then she let herself feel nothing. She had no spare time for thinking about any sort of relationship and she had no spare energy. And now, unlike Sunnydale, that was actually true.

“I question whether either of you aid my existence.” Illyria looked towards the entrance of their cave, where the rain beat down.

“Oh no.” Buffy took a step forward. “You don’t get to think about leaving.”

“And you would stop me?” Those wide, snake-like eyes were back, boring through her own. “I am Illyria, and I do as I will.”

Something dark and hot swept then, from the pit of Buffy’s stomach. In two leaping steps she moved to thrust Illyria’s neck against the wall, but the god moved quicker, slamming a fist into the side of Buffy’s head. Buffy turned with it, bringing up her foot, bare since her shoes had worn away, to catch her in the midriff. A puff of breath ruffled Buffy’s hair as she danced forward and spun again, ducking beneath two more blows and bringing her foot back up, hitting muscles that should still have been feeling her last blow.

Someone was yelling, but she fought on, the feel of the earth bouncing against her toes bringing her alive in ways she had never felt. The cool, damp air whistled through her lungs, seeming to bring with it more than oxygen. The beat was fast, but her quarry was following the rhythm, predictable though it worked in double time. Patterns glistened in the air as moves started to repeat themselves, and Buffy stepped outside it, as was her birthright, finding at last the moment to start the killing blows.

“Buffy, bloody hell!”

Patterns flew in fragments away from her as she was forced to pause, turn and punch whatever was holding on behind her. Then she registered it was Spike’s body flying towards the fire.

Panic flushed away all her co-ordination and she scrambled to him, turning him on his side so his coat no longer lay in embers then crouching awkwardly; bare, hairy legs refused to fold properly beneath her. His face was near the hem of her hacked-off jeans and she realised that she didn’t want him waking to the knowledge that she needed to wash her clothes.

He sat up on his own, still looking too yellow from the blood. She raised a hand to check where the ground had slammed into his head, dusting fingers around the bump and glad that she couldn’t feel any cracked skin.

“Didn’t expect to wake up to you two fighting.” He smiled wryly at her, then lifted his eyes above her head.

She shifted around. Illyria stood a few feet away from them and the moment Buffy raised her head, their eyes met. There was a wariness there, and something like respect.

“We must move on,” Illyria said.

“How long was I out?” Spike countered, his voice cracked but warm in her ear.

“Ten days.” Buffy knew her voice wasn’t supposed to be that hollow, that neutral. But she could still feel the dark anger inside of her and she couldn’t remember how she was supposed to talk.

“Better get off, then.” He clambered to his feet and she came with him.

They walked to the mouth of the cave, where the wind started howling. The outside world was once again wrong and the wet ground became paving stones, echoing as her high heels clacked over them.

She was walking up a path, slower and more fragile than she should be. Her arm was hooked through Spike’s; she was trying to use him as a windbreak,wishing she still owned leather coats.

They climbed the doorstep and Spike rang the doorbell. She stared at the large, purple stain on the inside of his coat’s arm

“What the hell is that?” she hissed, now wishing she’d insisted he wear his posh jacket. “Are those Xonai guts?” So much for not causing a scene at her boss’s party.

Spike looked at the stain and shrugged. “Possibly.”

She wanted to yell, but the door opened. Principal Gainsborough – Jonathan, she remembered, or what it Jon? – smiled out at them, his moustache not moving as his mouth widened. “Buffy, hello! I’m so glad you could make it. And… Spike, is it?”

She stuck a smile on her face. Spike didn’t. “Yeah.”

“It’s a pleasure.” Thankfully Spike didn’t refuse to shake his hand. “The way Buffy is with the kids I knew she had to have a great family behind her.”


Over the years Buffy had perfected the art of getting an invitation – the phrases that couldn’t segue into anything but the words ‘come in’. They felt more and more tactless every time she used them, but they always worked. “Freaky weather, huh?” They also had the added benefit of breaking up awkward conversations. “We’re thinking we might have to board up our windows.”

“Oh, I know – the news has been saying it’s the worst night this winter.” He stepped away. “Come on in, get yourselves out of it. We’ve got plenty to keep you warm.”

And then they were inside another suburban house, as foreign as their own, middle-of-the-road music filtering from the kitchen so quietly that they could still hear the tick of the grandfather-clock.

“Please, let me get your coats.”

Her stomach plummeted as Spike rolled his shoulders out of his. The light was catching more and more smears on the leather, and his t-shirt wasn’t clean either. Still, the principal’s smile didn’t fade as he took the collar in his hands, and as he turned to her she realised she was supposed to give him her coat too.

She went through the motions and her fingers felt lithe and sharp as she undid the buttons. She was only on the third though when Spike’s hand closed around her wrist.

“Might not want to do that, love.”

She looked at his wince, trying to decode his embarrassment – for her, for that was what it was. “Why not?”

“Don’t think you want him to see what you’ve got on underneath.”

What was he talking about? She had that new shift dress from Roisin’s. It was perfectly respectable.

Shaking her head she continued with the buttons, wondering where that odd smell was coming from. It was a little familiar: blood, musk, dirt, rot. Spike’s hand withdrew from her wrist, and the coat slipped from his shoulders.

She was suddenly colder, uncovered apart from dirty, cut-off denims and roughly stitched skins. Lines itched along her back where the bristled hems of her top scraped. Her hair was heavier on her shoulders, thick and unwashed, braided irregularly.

She tried to meet Principal Gainsborough’s eyes, mortified. “I don’t sleep on a bed of bones, you know. I don’t.”

He frowned, but then they weren’t in his hall anymore, and he was melting into blackness. Spike was going too, and of course she was back in the cave again, cold and standing alone.

She stared at the wall in front of her, ghosting her fingers along the jagged edges of the rock.

Blue had been carving for days, marking out their demesne, drawing the story of their coming and their power. The rains would be arriving soon, driving them from the mountains to the plains and away from their home. But they would return, and this time they would have more than the vegetable patches to find the cave again.

The words ran in a language she didn’t know, with thick, angular glyphs leading trails that she followed along the wall. They moved in gentle curves, coalescing for a moment then breaking further apart, creating space for larger scenes to show through. One she found captivated her: the vampire, the god and the Slayer who led them, standing still at the centre of the world, bringing the light of violence to the surrounding lizards who would cross their path.

She traced her fingers over the figure that was her, stone imbued with something of her self. Her bond with the earth went in two directions now, and it made her feel right, whole, no matter that it was the other two that made her truly invincible.

“Well, Topsy’s had a good litter.”

She turned. Spike’s face flickered in the firelight, as did the red on his hands.

“Bloody good luck they were born at night, too.” There was an underground stream near the back of the cave, which he approached, still talking as he kneeled and plunged his hands into the water. “Plumper than the last lot. And there’s a male looks like he could be the Arnie Schwarzenegger of wannabe rabbits.” He stood up and came back, sitting on the lizard skins by the fire.

She left their story where it was and joined him, settling cross-legged in the face of the warmth.

“I reckon we should start the same with the foxes,” Spike continued. “They’re downright nasty sometimes, but there were those ones back down Christ’s Bluff that weren’t half bad. It’d make a change, anyway.” He picked up the stick at his side and poked a log into a better position, glancing at her from the side of his eyes. “You need a change every now and then.”

The fire crackled, warm and welcome. Spike didn’t speak, not until Illyria returned from the back of the cave, when he put his stick back on the ground and stood. “What you got for us, Blue?”

She filled Spike’s hands with something Buffy couldn’t see, before walking round the fire to her own seat. Spike took it back to his own place, completing their triangle around the fire.

“There is a further cavern,” Illyria stated. “From where the stream comes. It contains fungi, but I know not if they are poisonous.”

“Ah.” Spike held up one of his new possessions, a mushroom, and span it by its stalk. “Sample One for Spike the guinea pig. I look forward to the vomit.” He set it by the fire and held up his other hand. “What’s with the rock?”

“They litter the cave also. I believe it is an ore.”

Spike tossed it up and caught it again. “Well, now.” He grinned. “Wouldn’t that be fun? Smelting the day away.” He tossed it again. “Always fancied myself a blacksmith. Course, we’d need clay or some such…”

She heard a sound from outside the cave, which didn’t fit. Ignoring Spike’s voice she rose and stalked to the entrance, past the enclosure of rabbit-creatures and then into the night. She could see no disturbance, but there was something, an unrest in the air.

A spark to one side, and then crackling began. There was another fire, its smoke thick with noxious fumes that were filling into the cave. She looked to the East. It was nearly dawn; the lizards knew that was when they rested. Their cunning extended to fire, it seemed, and to sieges. They desired the sweetened blood of the well-bred rabbits.

Spike and Blue were behind her now, so she began, leaping forward and stabbing the spine of the lizard making for the rabbit-pen. Spike, she knew, would be fetching a skin to cover the fire. Her eyes scanned the leaves and rocks where the lizards could hide, and she felt the earth whisper, the flow of old blood beneath her feet mapping the way to where they stood.

She would lead them to victory, just as she always did.

[Part 3]


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