Elaisias


by Saber ShadowKitten





Part Four





Willow looked nervously at Angel, then at the bed, then back at Angel before repeating. "It's kind of...small. And you're kind of...not."

"I can take the floor, Willow," Angel said, pulling all the blankets off the bed. "It's no problem."

"No, that's okay. If Buffy and Spike..." She paused and frowned at him in confusion. "What are you doing?"

Angel gave each of the blankets good, hard shakes. "Getting rid of bugs. I remember doing this every night way back when." He gave her a small grin. "And I walked ten miles to school, uphill both ways, too."

Willow giggled. "You're just getting to be an old man. Which is why you can share the bed with me. I mean, you don't snore, right?"

He chuckled. "No, I don't snore. Buffy asked me that same question once."

"Well, she would know, seeing as how you guys...uh...I'll shake this blanket." She quickly grabbed one and shook it hard, then sneezed when the dust and dirt came out of it.

"Bless you," Angel said.

"Did you know that's an old superstition?" Willow said, making a great show of putting the blankets back on the bed to cover her nervousness. "If you sneeze and no one says 'bless you' or something like that, it's said that you can be possessed by an evil spirit, because when you sneeze, your soul leaves for a brief instant."

"I guess that's why vampires don't sneeze," Angel said wryly. She giggled again. "Now, the question of the hour is -- do you snore?"

"Nope," Willow replied. "I'm as silent as a mouse. Although mice aren't really that silent. You can always hear them scurrying about in the walls if you listen really carefully. One time, I thought they were building a skyscraper on my head because of all the noise the mice were making in my ceiling above my bed. Then I did an anti-mouse spell and they packed up their little bags and got on their motorcycles and left."

"Mice ride motorcycles?"

"Well, if their name is Ralph."

"Of course."

*****

"Take it off, baby," Spike purred, watching Buffy from his side of the bed, sans shirt-tunic and boots.

Buffy turned and threw her jerkin at him, still clothed in her shirt and hose. "You so need a new line."

"Like what?" Spike asked, rolling onto his back and putting his hands behind his head. "I'm all for suggestions from women that don't involve pain...well, most pain."

"You could say something simple like 'beautiful.'"

"I don't want to lie."

Buffy jumped on the bed and punched him in the stomach.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?" Spike stared at her incredulously.

"Oh, let me think," Buffy replied sarcastically.

"I didn't mean you, Slayer," Spike said after he figured it out. "I was speaking metaphorically."

"You're going to be speaking in soprano if you say something like that again," Buffy grumbled, laying down on her side of the bed and pulling the blankets up to her chin.

Spike sighed, raised up on his arm and blew out the candle inside the glass lamp on the night-stand.

*****

Angel woke up to find himself practically curled around Willow, his face buried in her short, red hair, his arm possessively around her waist. His first instinct was to pull her even further into his embrace, which he started to do until he realized what he was doing. Then he went to move away, but the soft sigh and wiggle back against him that came from her put all rational thinking out of his mind.

So he pulled her further into his embrace, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep.

*****

Buffy sat bolt upright in bed, sucking in a large breath of air as she came out of nightmare. Spike was awake the second she moved, already standing on the floor beside the bed in a defensive manner, looking for an attack. When he saw nothing, he focused on Buffy.

"Slayer? You okay?" he asked.

"Nightmare," Buffy replied, taking deep, shaky breaths. "At least, I hope."

Spike relaxed and climbed back into the bed, sitting so he was facing her. "Want to tell me about it?"

"Angelus."

Spike stiffened. "What about him?"

Buffy looked at Spike with wide, scared eyes. "He came back."

"But you and the poof aren't-"

"Willow," Buffy interrupted. "Not me, Willow."

"Angel's going to shag Willow and lose his soul?" Spike asked for clarification.

"Yes...no...I'm not sure," Buffy answered. She shook her head. "The dream wasn't very clear. It just involved her and him and then...him." She took another shaky breath and met Spike's eyes. "I can't go through that again, Spike."

"I know you can't, luv," Spike said, moving so that he was leaning back against the wall above the bed with Buffy in his half-embrace. "And neither can I."

*****

Willow awoke, found herself enfolded in Angel's embrace, smiled drowsily and went right back to sleep.

*****

"...We got separated from them," Buffy was telling Spike. "Then we found Angel, but he wasn't...he didn't..." She took a ragged breath. "His soul was gone."

Spike ran his fingers over her still bound hair, her cheek still pressed against his bare chest, his other arm around her waist. "But you didn't specifically see Willow and the ponce...?"

"No," Buffy replied. "I saw only that part where Angel jumped through the wall after her. After that, Angel was soulless, so I just assumed that they..."

"Well, we'll just have to make sure they don't become separated from us then, luv," Spike said. "But if worse comes to worse, I will stake him. You can bloody well count on that."

"Thanks." Buffy yawned, the sunlight peeking through the shuttered, tiny window comforting to her. The comfortable silence was soothing, as was Spike's gentle stroking of her hair. Soon, her eyes fluttered shut, and she fell back into sleep.



Part Five



Spike stayed awake for the majority of the day, listening to Buffy's soft snores, her breath warm on his bare chest, as he thought of possible ways to keep Willow and Angel apart. He wasn't worried that Buffy would wake up and ream him a new one for their position. They'd slept like this before, although he normally had his shirt on, when they stayed up too late watching videos or British Comedy at Buffy's apartment. She only had one television, and it was in the bedroom, so after fighting over the remote for a good twenty minutes, they would settle back against the pillows and "veg out," as Buffy called it. Halfway through whatever they were watching, he'd get the snacks, then she'd curl up against him so they could share whatever ice cream carton he'd snagged from her freezer.

He'd never admit it aloud that he enjoyed holding her and her letting him. It made him feel wanted, even if it was just for a comfy pillow for a few hours. Drusilla had been the last person who had sat with him like that, and she'd been gone for over six years. Sure, he'd had other meaningless flings -- he was male, and therefore perpetually horny -- but he didn't have anyone just to hold. And if that made him sound like a wuss...well, that's why he never said it aloud.

Buffy sighed and snuggled against him further, causing a smile to tug at the corner of his lips. Who would ever had thought one of the best friends he'd ever had would be the woman who started out as his mortal enemy? One thing was for sure, Spike would never claim that his unlife was boring.

*****

By the time everyone had cleaned up, was fed and ready to go to The Poisoned Quill, it was already well-past sunset. The days were divided up into three watches, which Willow and Angel translated to be eight a.m., four p.m. and midnight Sunnydale time. A bell located at the Town Hall in the center of Elaisias would ring at each of the changes of the towns' guards.

Buffy and Spike by mutual agreement had decided upon a plan to keep Willow and Angel apart. On the way to see Ellie, Buffy walked with Angel, engaging the ensouled-vampire in conversation, and Spike walked with Willow, trying to pry information he could use to blackmail Angel out of her.

The Poisoned Quill was located in the business section of Elaisias, not too far from the Guts and Garters Inn. What the foursome had thought to be a bookseller or magick shop turned out to be a tattoo parlor. Run by Drakn Inkpeddler, the artisans who worked at the parlor could create any skin art design the paying customer desired. For a little extra, the tattoos could be interwoven with magick to be used one time in the future.

Willow's mouth hung open slightly as she moved from picture to picture on the walls of the parlor. The artwork was exquisite. Creatures she'd never seen before came to life right in front of her eyes because of the detail. "These are...wow."

"Ditto," Buffy said, making her own perusal of the room, as were Spike and Angel.

"Did you find one you like?" The proprietor asked, stepping into the main room of his shop. Drakn was a human, finely dressed in breeches, black shirt and a rich burgundy jerkin. His face was narrow, but kind, with a short, pointy beard and long brown hair left loose around his shoulders. Half glasses perched on the edge of his nose, and his slender fingers were permanently stained with colors. "I'm having a special today. Two for the price of one on the smaller artworks."

"Actually, we've come to see Ellie," Angel said.

Drakn arched a brow. "Ellie, you say? I'm afraid I don't know any lass by that name."

"But Nester Podgin said-," Willow began, but Angel cut her off.

"And I thought maybe you'd might like to copy of a tattoo design that I see you don't have," the dark-haired vampire said.

"One I don't have?" Drakn said, obviously interested. "Impossible."

"Well, why don't I show you," Angel said, gesturing towards the back room.

"By all means," Drakn replied, stepping back to allow Angel to pass him. Buffy watched as the artisan kept a wary hand on the knife strapped to his waist as he followed Angel.

"Willow, can you explain these magickal symbols?" Spike asked, pointing to a grouping of pictures on the wall.

Willow walked over to where the blond vampire was standing and studied the pictures. "Each one represents a different spell. Like this one opens locked doors. This one protects you from fire. This is a healing one."

"How do they work?" Buffy asked.

"The symbol is inked onto the body and you put your hand over it to activate the magick while saying a certain spell word tailored to your desires."

The trio turned at the feminine voice to see a young, tall, slender woman who's entire body was silver in color. Even her eyes were silver. She wore no clothing and had no hair, which only seemed to make her seem more ethereal than titillating. "Hello, my name is Ellie," she introduced herself. "You wished to speak with me?"

"Um, yeah," Willow said. "Nester Podgin said you could tell us about the Tower of Seven Woes."

Ellie smiled, a flash of white against the silver of her lips. "Ah, dear old Nester. And how much did he charge you for my name?"

"I think Angel gave him a few gold coins," Buffy answered. "But he told us before naming a price. Angel just gave him money because he's nice like that."

"The poof," Spike muttered. Buffy elbowed him in the side.

"Well, I shall be happy to tell you what I know of the Tower of Seven Woes," Ellie said. "I take it you are after the bounty?"

"Ye-" Spike began.

"No," Buffy spoke over him, giving him a glare that read 'don't even think about contradicting me.' "We just want to help."

"A noble quest," Ellie said. "Your companion in the other room said as much the same."

"So, can you help us?" Willow asked.

"Yes," Ellie said. "But first, please, choose," she gestured at the walls of the room, "I am interested in seeing what draws each of you, and if it matches what I have read."

"Read?" Buffy asked, her feet automatically carrying her to her favorite one she'd seen.

"Each person has a unique sense of what makes you who you are," Ellie said. "I've seen Giants with poetry tattooed on their chests, and Gnomes with bears tattooed on their arms."

She walked over to Buffy's side and smiled. "You have chosen as I have read. You are a woman of great strength and confidence, yet you let your emotions run free, stopping you from becoming hard and uncaring of those around you. The warrior woman, in her tarnished chainmail and breastplate looks off into the distance searching for the next foe to vanquish. The sword in her left hand is relaxed, the tip touching the ground, but it is covered in the blood of her fallen enemy. The silver shield in her right hand, with the red heart etched onto the shield, means that she is a protector of all that is good." She winked. "Even if they don't deserve to be protected."

"What about me?" Willow asked, standing by her choice.

"Ah, you, my dear Sorceress, are intelligent, have an open and forgiving heart, and are brave in the face of unspeakable danger," Ellie said, moving to the redhead's side. "As matches your choice of the knotted symbol of terra-mother, care-giver to all."

Ellie turned to Spike, who was standing with his arms folded over his chest on the opposite side of the room from the girls. The silver woman almost glided across the room with a dancer's grace, coming to a stop beside him. "And you, sir. What have you chosen?"

Spike's eyes flicked over to Buffy and Willow, who were both watching with unabashed interest. He turned and pointed to a random one on the wall. "That one."

Ellie laughed lightly. "A man who doesn't want to play my little game. That is alright, sir, for I know which you have chosen." She walked partway down the wall and pointed to one at knee level.

Spike's eyes widened slightly. She had picked the exact one that was his favorite. Her mouth curved up in a smile and she returned to his side. "You, dear sir, have led a long, colorful life," she whispered to him so the girls wouldn't hear. "You are a man of extremes. You hate with your entire being, yet love with equal fervor. You do not like to be alone, but you refuse to use people to stave off your loneliness. You're not book smart, yet you have the wisdom of the ancients. You have chosen the fierce sapphire dragon, with one, distrustful, blue eye cracked open to keep watch for enemies. However, your dragon comes with a tender side, as the country mouse is curled up on his snout, sleeping peacefully."

The blond vampire stared at the silver woman with something akin to awe on his face. She leaned closer to him and said, "Return later and I shall tell you more."

Ellie then turned and smiled at Buffy and Willow. "Come, let us adjourn to a more private room. Your other companion will join us there when he is through with Drakn."

*****

Ellie poured them all tea and sat down at the small, round table in the back rooms of The Poisoned Quill. She had set out some snacks of which the misplaced Sunnydalians had no clue what they were, but they tasted delicious. Conversation was light at first, with the two girls asking questions about the different tattoos they'd seen, but they eventually got around to the subject that brought the four friends to the parlor.

"What specifically would you like to know about the Tower of Seven Woes?" Ellie asked.

"Nester said that you knew all the folklore of the Tower," Willow said. "And of the types of creatures that live there."

"That is true," Ellie said. "I have studied the Tower since I was a girl. My father left one day to prove that the Tower was harmless, and he never returned. Since then, I have learned all that I can about the place so perhaps one day I might go in and find him."

"Is there really seven levels?" Buffy asked.

Ellie nodded, sipping her tea. "Yes, there are seven levels. However, the entrance to the Tower is at the top, therefore the top-most floor is level one. With each level you descend, so do the numbers."

"Nester said that the Bands of Kimara are rumored to be in the seventh level somewhere," Spike said. "Why can't we just blast through the ground level and find them?"

"The Tower is made of black obsidian and is impenetrable by blasting," Ellie replied. "It is protected by the magick of the Mage who designed the Tower."

"So we have to start from the top and work our way down," Buffy said. "I'm going to guess and say with each level we go down, the bigger and badder the monsters are."

"That would be a correct assumption," Ellie said. "Each level is protected by a certain creature or creatures. There is also said to be traps of all sorts throughout the Tower."

"Another dumb question," Spike said. "Why can't we just run down the steps to the bottom floor instead of stopping off at each level?"

"The stairs are not connected all together. They are supposedly at opposite ends of each level, so you must pass through the level in order to get to the next set of stairs," Ellie said.

"Then do we have to go back through all the levels to get out again?" Willow asked.

Ellie shrugged. "That I do not know. The information I have been able to piece together has taken years for me to gather. I know Nester has said no one has ever come back from the Tower, but he is a minstrel, thus he takes creative liberty with everything."

"So you talked to people who've actually been in the Tower?" Buffy said.

"Yes," Ellie replied. "Though many were insane or on their deathbed when I spoke with them."

Willow gave Buffy a scared look. "Sounds like its not such a happy place," the redhead commented.

"No, it is not," Ellie said. "And it is a very dangerous place. You must have a strong heart, mind and will to be able to pass through the levels, for not just physical strength will get you through."

"It's not too late to change our minds and just stay plastered until we go home," Spike whispered to Buffy.

Buffy ignored him. "Well, we've been up against unbeatable odds before, and we had nothing better to do this week anyway..."



Part Six



"What took you so long with Drakn?" Willow asked Angel later that night as the four sat around a table at the tavern again, planning to tackle the Tower the following night. "I've been patiently waiting for hours now for you to spill, but my patience is now gone. So spill."

"It took him awhile to sketch my tattoo," Angel said with a shrug. "That's all."

"Right, mate," Spike said. "And I'm a ballerina."

"Well, you got the tights..." Buffy smiled mischievously at Spike.

"Sod off," Spike grumbled at her.

"And you're sort of fairy-like," Buffy continued to tease.

"Didn't I just tell you to sod off?" Spike asked.

"Do I look like I care?" Buffy retorted.

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

"Whore."

"Asshole."

"Twat."

"Ball-sniffer."

"Alright, potty-mouths," Willow interrupted, blushing faintly. "Do I have to wash them out with soap?"

"Sorry," Buffy apologized to Willow.

"Yeah, what the cow said." Spike gestured with his thumb towards Buffy.

"Cow?" Buffy growled at him. Spike smiled innocently at her. She hit his leg with her knuckles, giving him a charley horse.

"Ow," Spike snapped, grabbing her fist and twisting her arm. "That hurt."

"Wimp," Buffy said, trying to pull her hand free.

"Guys-" Willow said.

Angel reached across the small table and easily covered both Buffy and Spike's hands with his own larger one. "If you two don't cut it out, Willow and I are going to lock you up together until one of you is dead." He squeezed tightly. "Got it?"

"Yes," the two bottle-blonds replied simultaneously.

Angel released their hands and Spike stood. He gave everyone a curt, false half-bow. "If you'll excuse me, I have a date to keep." He met Buffy's eyes, and the animosity had already vanished to be replaced with hidden messages. She nodded imperceptibly. "Slayer, I'd find yourself a new bunkmate, or you'll find yourself on the floor. Your snoring kept me awake all day."

With that, Spike turned and headed out of the tavern.

"I do not snore!" Buffy yelled after him, then blushed when patrons at the other table looked at her. "Well, I don't."

"Don't worry, Buffy," Willow said. "We were roommates for four years. I think I could survive another night or two with your snoring."

"Thanks, Will," Buffy said. She took a sip of her mucky water and grimaced. Then she glared at Willow. "I don't snore!"

*****

"Wills," Buffy said much later after the girls had adjourned to the room they were sharing that night. "Do you like Angel?"

Willow, who was sitting beside the blond Slayer on the double bed, spellbook open in her lap, gave Buffy a confused look. "Of course I like Angel," she answered. "Why wouldn't I?"

"I meant like like," Buffy clarified. "As in lusty, tingly, wouldn't mind seeing him naked and in your bed like."

Willow blushed bright red. "Um...," she hedged. "Well...I like Angel a lot. As a friend. A good friend. And I...may have had...naked thoughts about him..." She got a far-off look in her eyes. "And me...and chocolate."

Buffy giggled and Willow ducked her head in embarrassment. "Oh boy, I said that last part out loud, didn't I?"

Buffy couldn't help but grin. "You sure did. Chocolate and Angel together? Sounds kinky."

"You're not upset?" Willow asked.

Buffy frowned. "Why would I be?"

"Because it's, you know, Angel. Your ex-main snuggle-vampire."

"Oh, no," Buffy replied immediately. "Angel and I haven't been...Angel and I for a very long time now. My chocolate fantasies no longer involve him. Well, every once in a while they do..."

Willow smiled in relief. "Good," she said. "Oh, but not good, if you don't want me to have chocolate Angel fantasies..."

"Will, you can have all the chocolate Angel fantasies you want, free of guilt," Buffy said. She gave her redheaded friend a serious look. "But they have to stay fantasies. No trying out the chocolate on Angel in real life."

"I would never...," Willow began to deny, then a thoughtful expression appeared on her face. "Okay, maybe I would if Angel showed up naked holding a half-gallon of chocolate fudge ice cream-"

"Willow," Buffy interrupted, getting the other girl's attention back. "This is serious. Angel plus chocolate plus real life equals bye-bye soul."

Willow's eyes widened as what Buffy was saying sank in. "You think I could make his soul go away?"

Buffy nodded. "Faster than you can say Angelus."

"Wow," Willow said faintly. "I don't know whether to be flattered or scared to death."

"Just promise me you won't do naked things with Angel," Buffy begged quietly.

"I won't," Willow promised. "I don't want to see Angel soulless again. Once was definitely more than enough."

*****

"Cutting it a little close, aren't you?" Angel commented as Spike entered the room they were to share for the day.

"Is it my fault women don't want me to leave them?" Spike replied, unbelting his sword sheath and dropping it to the floor as he rounded the bed.

Angel shook his head and went back to the book he'd found to read. He was stretched out on the bed, dressed only in his breeches, the rest of his clothing folded neatly in a pile beside the bed.

"Did you all decide anything else I should know about before we go tonight?" Spike asked, pulling his shirt-tunic off and letting it drop carelessly to the floor.

"Willow and Buffy are going to load up on supplies later this afternoon while the majority of the shops are open," Angel said. He smirked at the blond vampire. "I gave them your share of the money from the amount I pinched from your purse earlier."

Spike scowled at his Sire. "That's just swell," he said sarcastically.

"We're going to leave as soon as the sun sets," Angel said.

"Duh."

The dark-haired vampire rolled his eyes and went back to his book as Spike stretched out on the bed beside him. After a few minutes of silence, the younger man sighed loudly. Angel repressed the knowing grin that threatened.

When Spike sighed again, Angel gave in. "What is it, Spike?" he asked with fake disgruntlement.

"I'm bored," Spike said.

Angel gave him a skeptical look. "How can you be bored? You just got here."

"Well, the Slayer at least snores. You're too quiet. It's unnerving," Spike said. He turned onto his side and snatched the book from Angel's hand. "Stop reading, you poof, and entertain me."

Angel saw something on Spike's skin when the blond took his book, and he quickly grabbed Spike's wrist. Pulling his Childe's arm closer, he studied the colorfully-inked mark on the back of Spike's wrist above his hand. Because of the quick-healing that came with being a vampire, the small, perfectly-etched tattoo of the sapphire dragon with a mouse on his snout was already set. "This is what you've been doing all night?"

"Bugger off," Spike said, trying to yank his arm back.

Angel raised his eyes and saw that his Childe was blushing slightly. His mouth curled up into a smile and he released Spike's wrist. "It's very good," he commented. "Who did it?"

"Ellie," Spike answered reluctantly. The blond looked at the upside-down-to-him, blue dragon on the back of his wrist. It really was well-done. Even the tiny mouse's whiskers were curled because of the way she laid on the dragon's snout. He rolled onto his back and gently ran his finger over the marking, feeling a light tingling through the pad of his fingertip from the ensorcellment within the tattoo. "I had to listen to her blather on for hours as she did it."

"And was that such a hardship?" Angel asked with amusement.

Spike grinned. "Not exceptionally so, no."

Angel shook his head, then scooted down so he was laying on his back as well. "Question-"

"Answer," Spike said immediately.

The dark-haired vampire smacked his Childe purposely on the forehead as Angel brought his hands up to put behind his head. "Why are you and Buffy always at each other's throats?"

"Why shouldn't we be?" Spike replied.

"Spike, you've been working with her for six years now. I would think that any animosity between you two would be gone. It's not like you can feed from the living anymore, so that can't be the reason," Angel said.

"Maybe I like fighting with her," Spike said.

"One day things may go too far and one of you could end up dead," Angel said bluntly.

"I'm already dead."

"Spike-"

"Angel-" Spike mimicked in the same exasperated voice of his Sire. He turned his head and saw Angel glaring at him. He sighed. "'You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' mate."

"You don't have a soul," Angel said. Then he frowned as he placed the quote. "Nietzsche? You're quoting Nietzsche?"

"Read it in a fortune cookie," Spike said with a smirk.

"Why I ever made you is beyond comprehension," Angel commented.

"You thought I was a handsome git with a sexy arse," Spike answered to the rhetorical question. "An' you certainly did love to bugger me sexy arse, too."

"Don't remind me," Angel said.

"You're in love with the Witch, aren't you?"

The dark-haired vampire blinked in surprise. "Where did the question come from?"

"You asked me about the Slayer without any emotion in your voice," Spike replied. "Like you were asking about the time or weather. Means you aren't in love with the chit anymore. So I'm wondering if you're hard up for someone else."

"Very crass," Angel said.

"Well, are you?"

"I do love Willow," Angel answered. "As a friend, nothing more."

"Right then," Spike said. He looked back up at the ceiling and tried not to show his concerns. His Sire sounded more like he was trying to convince himself of the last part of his answer, rather than his Childe. Which meant he and Buffy needed to keep Willow and Angel in their sights at all times, or hell would return to their lives.



Part Seven



Spike took one look at the obsidian Tower of Seven Woes and started to hum the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme. Angel snorted in amusement, having thought the same thing. Willow gave the dark-haired vampire a grin, laughter dancing in her eyes. "Do you think if we said 'Open the bombay doors, Hal,' we could get in easily?" the redhead asked.

"What do you mean? Who's Hal?" Buffy said. She looked at her three companions in confusion when they burst out laughing. "Why do I get the feeling I'm missing something?"

"That's because you are, ducks," Spike replied. "But don't worry about it. You were never too bright to begin with."

"You're right," Buffy agreed, much to the blond vampire's surprise. She smirked at him. "I keep hanging around with you, don't I?"

"Oh, I'm just so wounded, Slayer," Spike said. He pretended to wipe at fake tears. "How could you say such a horrible thing?"

"Spike, get dusted," Buffy told him before returning her gaze to the enormous Tower before her.

"I think the question of the late, late hour is: how do we get in?" Willow said after a few moments of the group's quiet study of the stone building.

"Well, Ellie said the first level is the top level," Spike said. "That means we have to go up somehow."

"Just whip out your super-cape, Spike," Buffy said to him. "I mean, you're already wearing the tights." She giggled. "I can just picture you wearing your tidy-whities over them..."

Spike gave her a slow seductive smile. "It wouldn't work, luv," he said in a low voice. "Seein' as how I don't wear knickers."

Buffy responded in a purr of her own, reaching over to run her fingers along the material of his shirt-tunic. "Mmm, baby," she said, dropping her voice to a whisper as she leaned closer to him. "That must...chafe."

His blue eyes sparkled with humor. "If it does, will you make me feel better?"

"I think that could be arranged," she replied. She winked. "I promise to keep your ashes in a nice place. Like, say, my garbage can?"

Spike chuckled. "I'd be overjoyed that my final resting place was in your rubbish bin."

Willow shook her head when Angel gestured to the two blonds, an amused smile on her lips. She looked back up at the Tower, trying to once again see if there was a way up. It had taken them half the night to walk over to Cable Island from the Inn, which left them the other half for them to get into the infamous place before the sun came up.

Between the four of them, they carried the additional supplies Willow and Buffy had purchased late that afternoon. Spike and Angel each had a leather bag slung across their chests, the Witch had her saddle bag and Buffy had her waist pouches. There was food and water for girls, blood for the vampires, some magickal supplies and some practical ones, such as rope, candles, flint and steel in case Willow's magick didn't work, and several bandages for first aid usage. Each of them were armed with the weapons they'd appeared in the game with, along with Buffy creating a few stakes to hide on her person. "They're what I use best," she'd said when Willow raised a questioning brow.

"Well?" Angel asked Willow. "Any ideas? I'm drawing a blank."

"Do you think Buffy could shoot an arrow up there?" Willow said. "We've got rope."

"We don't know if there's anything for it to latch onto," Angel pointed out. "And I wouldn't want the person who climbed the rope first to fall."

"Maybe there's a secret entrance," Buffy said, as she and Spike rejoined the conversation.

"Push a rock and a door swings open," Spike said. "It's possible."

"Or you could just use the steps."

The four turned at the voice and saw a grizzled, old dwarf standing behind them, leaning heavily on a cane. His grey beard was fully and bushy, coming down to mid-pot-belly on him. He was dressed in a well-worn, leather jerkin and breeches, his deerskin boots laced halfway up his legs. Bright violet eyes peered up at them in the semi-darkness, the half-moon providing enough light for them to see.

"Steps?" Willow said first, giving the dwarf a friendly smile.

He lifted his cane and pointed to the side of the Tower. "They're on the back side, running up the cliff. You have to go down to go up, but I wouldn't recommend either."

"Well, we don't have a choice," Buffy said. "But thank you."

He nodded, then turned and slowly shuffled away. Buffy looked at Willow. "Another game helper?" Angel and Spike both looked at the redhead in askance, too.

Willow shrugged. "Must be. We probably were suppose to ask him more, like what is going to attack us climbing the steps, but it's too late now," she said, pointing in the direction the dwarf went. "He's gone."

The other three looked to where she pointed and saw that the dwarf had vanished. The nearest buildings were too far away for him to have ran behind with them not seeing.

"I'm going to say this can't be a good sign," Spike said. He glanced at Buffy. "This is all your fault."

"My fault?" Buffy said in confusion. "How in the world can this be my fault?"

"Your B.O. chased him away," Spike replied as he walked towards the side of the Tower.

"I do not stink!" Buffy yelled, chasing after him when he broke into a run.

"You reek!"

"Take that back!"

"Worse than that bloody Ramora!"

"I'm so going to hurt you!"

Angel sighed. "Do you feel old?" he asked Willow. "I feel old."

"Ancient," Willow replied with a smile.

The dark-haired vampire offered his arm. "Shall we catch up to the kids?"

"Can we give them a time-out when we do?" Willow asked in response, putting her hand in the crook of his elbow.

"I was thinking more along the lines of throwing them off the cliff," Angel said with a grin.

"That's a good plan, too."

The two of them met up with Buffy and Spike at the top of a set of stairs carved into the side of the cliff. The rough waters that surrounded Cable Island caused waves to crash along the rock way down below, sending up a symphony of sound to the four at the top. The Tower of Seven Woes looked as though the cliff had been whittled away by the creator around the Tower, leaving discerning edge between the black obsidian and the rock face of the cliff itself. They could see a set of stone steps winding back and forth on the sheer face of the Tower, from several hundred feet below it to the very top.

"At least the moon's on this side," Willow commented as they fathomed the daunting climb before them.

The wind blown up from the water caused their clothing to be buffeted against their bodies. Buffy was glad her hair was braided tightly and she smirked at Spike when he checked the tightness of the band that held his hair pulled back. Willow's pixie-style cut made caused her hair to blow around with the heavy breeze, and the redhead had to shout to be heard over the roar of both the wind and the waves.

"We'd better get going," Willow said.

"Peaches, you take the lead," Spike said. "Then Willow, the Slayer and I'll take up the rear," he leered at Buffy, "so I can watch the Slayer's arse."

"No, you lead," Angel said. He wanted to be behind Willow in order to assist her more easily. "Then Buffy, Willow and me."

Spike and Buffy exchanged looks. The Slayer leaned closer to Spike, who ducked his head so she could speak in his ear. "I made Willow promise not to screw Angel soulless, so it should be okay. So long as we all stay together."

He nodded. "Right," he said, then raised his voice. "I'll lead."

The peroxide-blond vampire studied the steps heading down the cliff towards the water below. As the dwarf said, they had to go down in order to go up. He shifted into game face and the increased night vision allowed him to see that the stone steps were glistening with moisture. He glanced back at Buffy, who was standing right behind him, and said, "Be careful. It's slippery."

"You, too," Buffy said, then turned and passed the message along.

They began their decent slowly, testing out the strength of the wind, the slipperiness of the steps, and their own balance before they became more sure of themselves. With one hand on the rock face, they made their way down two hundred stone steps to a large, natural platform with relative ease. The steps started up from that point, winding back and forth up the cliff face and the Tower in what seemed like a never ending zig-zag pattern.

All four of them looked straight up at the obsidian Tower of Seven Woes and then exchanged nervous glances.

"Cor, that's high," Spike commented loudly to be heard over the waves crashing against the rocks a few hundred feet below.

"I hope no one has acrophobia," Willow said, equally as loud.

"Or is afraid of heights," Buffy added.

"Um, Buffy...," Angel started to say. She looked over at him in question and he shook his head. "Never mind. Let's just go. I'd prefer not to be halfway up when the sun decides to crest that horizon behind us."

Spike led the way again. Going up was even slower than going down, but the four of them were more steady, and the higher they went, the drier the steps became. The wind kept blowing against them, but it was in a way that pressed them closer to the cliff face and then the Tower, rather than trying to knock them off.

It was Angel who noticed the strange disparities in the obsidian wall as they climbed. At first, he thought it was just his imagination. However, at one point, he let his gaze slide behind them along the wall without being obvious, and he knew that their relatively safe climb may soon come to an end.

Not wanting to cause a panic, he used the pretense of steadying Willow in order to stop her on the step above him. He bent his head to whisper in her ear that was further from the wall. "We're being watched," he told her softly.

He immediately felt her stiffen under his hands and he slid his arms around her smaller waist in a parody of a lover's embrace. Gently, he pressed a kiss to the side of her neck, ignoring the immediate tingle of his lips from his action, and spoke again. "Keep your eyes on the wall ahead of you as we walk."

She nodded imperceptively and squeezed his hands. He released her and she continued walking, her eyes scanning the wall in front of them as they climbed. When she saw it move, she thought that her eyes were playing tricks on her. Then it happened again and she had to hold back her gasp.

The obsidian wall of the Tower had eyes!

Willow looked back at Angel, who nodded in silent communication with her. She tried to think of a way to let Buffy know of the possible danger, but couldn't. Instead, she concentrated on keeping her own eyes open for danger, a bright light spell half-formed in her mind in order to blind the eyes if need be.

However, Buffy and Spike were aware of the eyes watching them, and Buffy'd had the similar disquiet of not knowing how to tell Willow or Angel. Spike had noticed a set of eyes ahead of them closing quickly, making them disappear into the obsidian wall face. When he saw them a second time, he had made a gesture with his hand several times, allowing Buffy a chance to see his signal.

Buffy and Spike had worked long enough together so that words were not always necessary. A certain look, hand gesture, or even a slight tilt of the head spoke volumes. Buffy caught Spike's hand signal and she went instantly on alert, searching for the danger. It took her a few minutes to find the hidden eyes watching them as they ascended the stone steps, but when she did, she silently drew a stake she had hidden in her billowy sleeve earlier that day. Sharp wood worked just as well against non-vampires as it did her normal foe.

They were on the last switchback to the top of the Tower, far, far above the crashing waves below. Spike's legs were starting to ache from the constant stepping, and he wondered how Willow was managing with her normal, human body. He glanced at the wall ahead of them and saw another pair of eyes close quickly, blending into the obsidian. He really wished whatever the eyes belonged to would attack already. He was getting sick of them watchi-

Pale, skinny arms shot out of the obsidian at Spike's side, clawed hands wrapped around his waist and he was yanked through the wall. Buffy yelled out Spike's name, running up the steps that had separated them, and banged on the Tower where he disappeared into. She looked down at her friends in time to see Willow vanish into the wall, too, pulled by the same pale, skinny arms and clawed hands.

"Willow!" Angel yelled, mimicking Buffy's actions where the redhead disappeared. His fist banged on the hard stone, trying to find a hidden door. He heard a yelp and looked up the steps to see Buffy struggling against the clawed hands that were pulling on her. She went into the wall before he could reach her side, and he repeated his pounding on the wall. "Buffy! Willow!"

When the clawed hands shot out and wrapped around his waist, the vampire quickly found he was no match for the strength behind whatever had him, and he vanished through the obsidian wall of the Tower.

Down below, the waves continued to roar.



Continued 1