“So, you’ve found something useful from yesterday’s search,” Riley said as he settled onto the couch in Giles’ room.
“Yes,” Giles said after a brief pause. “It seems that the being our demon was paying homage to was this Ktulu we’ve been hearing about.”
“Are you sure?”
“I found a picture to go with the relevant information,” Giles said then placed a copy of the hand drawn picture in front of Riley. Next to it, he placed the picture of the mutilated corpses.
“I can certainly see the similarity,” Riley said. “So, how do we find and kill this thing?”
“We don’t,” Giles said. “It is located in the same dimension that Buffy and the others traveled to. I am sure Buffy will be able to stop this monster. What we can do is figure out why the Senior Partners are helping it, and then stop them.”
“I take it the Senior Partners are the ones bringing this thing’s followers here.”
“Precisely,” Giles said.
“What does this Ktulu want?” Riley asked as he studied the picture once more. The thing really was ugly.
“The gist? To free its Master and help it achieve world domination.”
“Typical demon stuff then.” Riley nodded. “So, any idea on how it plans to do this?”
“There is a prophecy concerning the Key and the Father of the Key,” Giles said. “It states that these beings will either help or destroy Ktulu and its Master.”
“So this Key and Father of the Key, they are…”
“Presumably in the same dimension the others are in.”
“I don’t get it,” Riley said after a few moments. “If the people who can stop it are on the same world as it, then why would the Senior Partners send Spike and Dawn of all people there? Wouldn’t it be better to keep Buffy and the slayers away from this thing?”
“I can only assume that the Senior Partners want Buffy and the others out of the way,” Giles said as he stared Riley in the eyes.
“And by getting Buffy and the others out of the way, the Senior Partners are free to do whatever they want.”
The ocean’s waters rolled and swelled, rocking the ship. A gentle breeze caused the sails to puff outward, pulling the ship along at a steady pace. Spike was enjoying his time on deck. Cool salt water misted the air, and droplets formed on his skin, helping alleviate the heat caused by the sun.
Gaelwine had taken Angel and Spike to a small fishing village along the Sarian Sea. He would take them no further, but with Liana’s help, they had hired a merchant vessel, De’Sara, to carry them to the outskirts of the barbarian’s kingdom. It also helped that the Sea Dragons had agreed to escort the ship through the hostile waters; the barbarians and the people of the village were not friendly neighbors.
The last time Spike had been on a ship, he had been hiding in the cargo hold on his way to Africa. The return trip was fuzzy at best, but Spike well remembered the uncomfortable quarters and the nauseating swaying motion. Now, with his immunity to sunlight, Spike could enjoy the voyage. His sleeping quarters were also much better and this time the swaying of the ship didn’t cause his stomach to churn. It was too bad Angel could not say the same. He was a little off to Spike’s right, hugging the railing; his skin tinted a lovely shade of pale puke green.
Off to Spike’s left a long dark figure slithered through the water, scaled back briefly breaking the surface.
“This great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beast.”
“What is that ye say?” asked Captain Eras, causing Spike to jump slightly. He had been focused on watching the sea dragon as it swam through the waters and hadn’t noticed the man’s approach.
“Oh? That? It was just a saying from a religious book back on my old world,” Spike answered with a shrug.
“Psalms, 25-26. This great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beast. There go the ships: there go leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein,” Angel clarified with a nauseated groan lacing his words. “It is a book in the Bible.”
“Ye have leviathans in yer world?”
“Nah mate, just myths about them.”
“Sounds like a world I’d be liking to visit, it having no scaly beast like me own.”
“Sounds like you’re not too fond of the dragons,” Spike said, his tone cooling.
“Have nothing against yer dragon friends Father,” Eras said, hurrying to reassure Spike. “I’m just not going out of me way to make friends with ‘em is all.”
“Why is that?” Angel asked once he was able to breathe again. Once this voyage was over, he was never setting foot on a ship again.
“I’m just of the thinking that people and dragons are not to be mixing. Live and let live I say. Though I’m not above making mutually beneficial arrangements like today’s.”
“Fair enough.” Spike shrugged and turned back to watching the ocean’s waves.
Two weeks into their journey, the winds began to change. The sun’s heat no longer warmed, and an icy wind chilled everyone to the bone. When they weren’t working, the crew spent more and more time below deck, trying to keep warm. Angel spent his time huddled under layers of fur and thick wool blankets, his teeth knocking out a steady rhythm. Even Spike was feeling the cold and stayed tucked away in his own quarters. He was here to help save the world; it wouldn’t do to be turned into a vamp-sicle.
At the beginning of the third week, Spike heard cheers go up along the deck. Coming out of his room, carrying every blanket and wrap he possessed, Spike could see Ceolas, the Barbarian’s homeland.
Anchoring the ship, the crew helped Spike and Angel load their packs into one of the ship’s rowboats. Climbing into the boat with two crewmembers, the rest lowered the small boat into the frigid waters.
Quickly, the two crew members took up the oars and swiftly began to bring the boat ashore. Waiting on the beach was a tall redheaded barbarian. He wore thick leather clothing and the clasp of his cloak was stamped with the image of a large bear. With only a slight nod in greeting, the barbarian came forward and helped Spike and Angel retrieve their packs. With another brief nod, this time to the ship’s crew, the barbarian turned and walked back up the beach. After their own brief goodbyes Spike and Angel followed, beginning their two day journey to reach the barbarian’s village.
The barbarian’s village stood stark against the gray misty dawn. Small bushes and clumps of grass dotted the frozen landscape. Stone houses lined the distant horizon.
Huddled in his thick fur-lined cloak, Spike let the sounds and scents of the barbarians’ homes fill his senses. Smoke rose from chimneys, and the smell of smoked meat and livestock drifted on the breeze. People went about their daily chores while small children played in groups.
“We should be there soon,” came Angel’s voice from Spike’s left.
Casting a quick glance at his companion, Spike tried unsuccessfully to hide his snickering. Angel plodded along, covered in many layers of fur, wool, and leather clothing. The bulk made him look overweight. He had an unsteady gait to his walk, and his constant shivering didn’t help. Angel reminded Spike of a waddling penguin.
“Don’t worry, mate,” Spike said. “They’ll have hot food, and a nice fire for you to warm yourself by when we get there.”
“Are you sure?” Angel asked again. “It’s not like we gave them much warning.”
“Peaches, for the last time, they wouldn’t have sent Mr. Personality here if they weren’t expecting us,” Spike sighed, indicating their silent guide with a nod of his head. “Besides, King Aneirin told us this Gunnarr bloke seemed to be a reasonable fellow.”
“I know what he said Spike,” Angel grumbled. “I just don’t trust this world. In Pylea…”
“Bloody hell, Angelus!” Spike growled. “Enough about Pylea! Ærworuld is not Pylea! It’s not even a hell dimension.”
Sighing Angel aimed a quick glance towards Spike. “It’s just…”
“You’re overly paranoid, and have severe trust issues?” Spike quipped, his tone carrying a light teasing edge.
“Very funny Spike,” Angel shot back. “I just…I don’t want anyone letting their guard down, that’s all.”
“I understand Angel, really,” Spike replied. “But the thing is, this place isn’t all bad. It‘s kind of like where we come from, mate. It’s got both good and evil, and for the most part good usually prevails.”
“Yeah, I guess you‘re right.”
“Well did you hear that,” Spike said with a grin. Looking over, Spike directed his words to their guide. “He said I was right. Bloody hell, if I didn’t know better I’d say he was possessed.”
“Shut up Spike.”
“Ah…there’s my old Grandsire,” Spike chuckled. “Had me worried there for a minute. Thought I was going to have to get Red to have a look at you.”
Angel chose to ignore Spike’s comments; their guide kept his back to them, hiding his slight smile.
Falling silent, they continued on into the village. The stone houses where bigger than Spike had first thought, and he noticed a few were even placed closely together. Small windows were located on the front of the houses, some covered with wooden shudders to block out the chill wind. However, a few places had their doors open, and as Spike and Angel walked past they caught random glimpses of families working, playing, or just gathered together. Animals roamed freely in well-tended pastures. Generously sized gardens were placed in back of some of the houses, though the vegetables had been harvested long ago.
As they walked by some people stopped and watched. A few pointed and whispered, speculating over who the Father of the Key was. It became a little disconcerting for Spike the further into the village they went. Even though he could not understand the barbarians’ guttural language, he knew they were discussing him. Spike didn’t think he’d ever get used to the wide-eyed stares his status in Ærworuld afforded him.
After awhile their guide led them to a two-storied house in the center of the community. In front stood a man whom Spike guessed to be Gunnarr from the various descriptions given to him by Dawn, Aneirin, and other members of the royal court. Standing with him were people Spike assumed to be other clan leaders, none of whom seemed all that happy to see either he or Angel.
Coming to a stop before the group, Spike locked eyes with the Barbarian leader, and gave a slight bow in greeting, arms spread wide in a gesture of trust.
“Rise, Father of the Key,” the soft-spoken Barbarian greeted. “I am Gunnarr, son of Rylach, and leader of the Great Barbarian Clans. It is an honor to welcome you and your companion to our home.”
Gesturing for them to follow him inside, Gunnarr led the group into a wide uncluttered room with a massive fireplace along one wall. A long wooden table, covered with food and drink, dominated the center of the room. Other members of the community stood along the outer edges of the room. Spike figured they were there either out of sheer curiosity, or to witness whatever meetings took place. He was willing to bet it was more of the former rather than the latter.
Once everyone was seated around the table, Gunnarr lifted his glass, gaining the crowd’s attention.
“We are here, because dire circumstances call for us to be. However, today the Gods have seen fit to bless us with the presence of the Father of the Key, and this is a cause worth celebrating.”
A loud cheer rose among the gathered crowd, and Spike wished a hole would open up so he could crawl in and hide. Instead, Spike raised his own glass in thanks. “It is an honor to be here.”
More cheers rose, and soon food was passed around. When a goblet of warm blood was placed in front of Spike, he turned shocked eyes towards Gunnarr.
“Our people have long known the Father would not be human.”
“Thank you,” Spike replied as he fiddled with the cup.
“And that doesn’t bother you?” Angel asked, confused by these people’s easy acceptance of Spike’s demon status.
“Why would it?” one of the other clan leaders asked. “Our Gods are not human, and yet we honor them.”
“He’s a demon!” Angel stated. “Don’t you people know what that means?”
“It means the Father needs blood over food,” a nearby woman rebuked. “Orlong, one of our beloved Gods, is a drinker of blood. It is said the Father is one of Orlong‘s beloved children.”
“Excuse Angelus, please,” Spike said, his voice soft but cold. “He doesn’t understand the differences between my old world and this one.”
Throughout the night, the festivities wore on inside, laughter and music accompanying stories of past victories and treasured fables. The night air carried the scent of an approaching winter storm, but the cold could not persuade Spike to re-enter the chaos inside.
“You are not one for boasting about past deeds, are you?” Gunnarr spoke softly, joining Spike on the small patio behind the house.
“Used to be.” Spike shrugged. “Find I don’t have the taste for it anymore.”
“Your friend, he does not understand our world, or you.” Spike simply snorted in response.
“His world, it is different from ours?”
“Yeah, there most people see the world in extremes,” Spike sighed. “It’s bloody hard on humans when the beliefs they’ve had their whole lives turn out to be false. Many are willfully blind.”
Gunnarr nodded, eyes still trained on the dark landscape before them. “If you wish to retire none will think ill of you.”
Giving Gunnarr a grateful smile, Spike quickly made his escape.
“What was that ‘Excuse Angelus’ crap earlier?” Angel snapped as he and Spike got ready for bed. Gunnarr and his people had offered Spike a private room to sleep in, and since he knew they didn’t trust Angel, Spike had offered to share.
“What do you think Peaches?” Spike sneered, then in an imitation of Angel, “He’s a demon.”
“Well, you are,” Angel replied, confused as to why this angered Spike so much. “And nobody here seems to get what it means.”
“Wrong, Hero,” Spike snapped. “They just don’t think it makes me a disgusting thing like everyone else does.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“You bloody well didn’t have to!” Spike hissed. “You made it plain for everyone out there how you felt. I thought we had gotten past this, but obviously I was wrong.”
Pulling his shirt over his head, Spike tossed it on top of his gear and crawled into his bed. The whole time he kept his back to Angel. The tense silence following his words pursued them into sleep.
The next morning dawned bright and early, and painfully cold. The Barbarians once again gathered in the main room with food and ale. A roaring fire kept the room pleasantly warm.
Spike sat next to Gunnarr, and was soon surrounded by other clan leaders. Angel was left to find a place along the wall, the Barbarians’ low opinion of him obvious.
“King Leof is an honorable man.” Angel could hear Gunnarr say. “But his people are no allies of ours.”
“I know,” Spike sighed. “But without your help he and his people will be slaughtered. I can’t let this happen.”
“None of the Alliance have ever cared when it was our people being killed,” one old clan elder growled.
“Maybe now would be a good time to show them their preconceived ideas of you are false?” Angel ventured tentatively knowing his involvement was unwanted.
“And why should we care what they think of us?” the old man challenged. “They despise our ways and declare our Gods to be false.”
“The young Mountain-King does not believe these things, Horlrich,” Gunnarr said, addressing the old clan elder.
“Even so,” Horlrich snapped. “He’s scarcely old enough to be a man, and he’s idealistic. They won’t listen to him.”
“That’s because a lot of his allies are greedy bastards who only see his age and not his intelligence,” Spike snorted.
“Well, if you say so Father,” Gunnarr said, a hint of amusement in his eyes.
“And would this King Leof fall into that category?” Horlrich asked snidely.
“Don’t know mate,” Spike replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve never met the man, but Gunnarr here has already said he’s honorable.”
His words caused Horlrich’s dark eyes to narrow and his lips to thin. His gnarled hand clutched at his glass, knuckles turning white.
“I have already promised my aid to King Aneirin,” Gunnarr said, his voice soft, eyes serious. “Will your clan not stand with me old friend?”
“The Alliance does not need nor do they want our aid.” With a disgusted snort, Horlrich stood, cane grasped in one shaky hand. Promptly, a young clan member appeared by his side, aiding the old barbarian from the house.
Sighing, Gunnarr ran a hand over his tired face.
“Will any of the other clans stand with me?”
A few faces seemed uncertain. Eyes flickered between Gunnarr and Spike, to Horlrich’s retreating form.
“We have many things to discuss and a few days in which to do so,” one clan leader said as the others stood. “We’ll reach a decision then.”
When the other clan leaders had left, Angel brought his gaze back to Spike and Gunnarr.
“Can’t you, you know, order them to help?”
“No, Companion of the Father,” Gunnarr answered. “I may be chief of all the clans, but we still have leaders who take care of the day to day decisions.”
“It’s all right mate,” Spike said as he placed a hand on Gunnarr’s arm. “We’ve got a few days to change the old bugger’s mind.”
The next few days flew by and soon Spike and Angel found themselves bundled up and waiting to be escorted back towards the beach. Horlrich had not been moved and because of this only a handful of the clans would stand with Gunnarr. Spike tried to hide his disappointment but he knew a few pretty words could not heal such deep wounds.
“I am sorry Father of the Key,” Gunnarr said, his voice soft. “I had wished to gain you more allies. Horlrich seems to forget that at one time we had earned our brutal reputation.”
Nodding, Spike shook Gunnarr’s hand. With a quick farewell, Spike beckoned for Angel to follow him and their guide. Spike had a city to save and no time left to attempt to heal old grudges.