Chapter Five

It was maybe an hour or two before sunrise when Spike arrived at the gates to the Forbidden Mountain. The old lady's map had been surprisingly helpful, showing him shortcuts and marking danger zones. One town he had been able to bypass looked like it was infested with rats. Spike suppressed a shudder. Rats were only for eating, and that was only if you were starving.

Thankfully, the rat town was behind him as he stood in front of an enormous gate. It was at least five Spikes tall, and if he had to guess, Spike would say it was made of solid steel. The dull silver color gave off the faintest shimmer in the moonlight.

Okay. How to get over the gate and into the fortress is the question. And this method had to be accomplished quickly. Spike glanced worriedly up at the sky. His instincts told him sunrise was coming sooner rather than later.

Spike studied the gate. It was tucked between two sheer cliffs, its own metal too smooth for any handholds. No convenient carvings for unwanted trespassers. Really, the gall of this Maleficent bird, not making it easy for him to waltz right up and rescue Buffy.

Well, there was really only one option left. Spike marched up until he was standing smack dab in front of the gate. You can never say that this vampire was a coward. They wouldn't leave the door open? Then he'd have to get himself an invite.

As he raised his fist to knock, the gate started to vibrate. With a horrible screaming noise, as if its hinges had never been oiled, the gate creaked open. Spike tripped backwards, quickly reassessing his plans.

A giant stood there, massive hand easily propping open the door. His matted, greasy black hair almost brushed the top of the gate, and he looked as if one stomp of his boot could turn Spike into vampire paste. His entire body blocked the opening in the gate, a good twelve feet or so across.

Summoning every inch of his bravado, Spike shouted, "Hey, mate! Yeah, you up there! Mind stepping out of the way a bit to let a bloke in?"

The giant grunted then scanned the area a moment, obviously not seeing where this annoying noise was coming from.

"Hey! I'm down here!"

The giant finally focused in on Spike and bent down a little, tilting his head in the vampire's direction. As he did so, Spike noticed that up on the giant's shoulder perched a small black bird. After staring at the bird, Spike realized it was in fact a rather big crow, as these things go. It was only next to a giant it looked small.

In a rumbling, deep voice, the giant said, "Who goes there?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Me, you big lummox. You know, the one standing right in front of you." Then he realized he had just insulted someone who could crush him with a thought. "No offense."

"None taken, puny vampire." The giant peered at him a moment. "What do you want?"

"I want you to let me in," Spike snapped. If the giant wasn't going to get ticked, then he sure was.

The giant straightened. "I can't do that. I have my orders."

"Screw your orders! You're a giant, right? Big with the evil and all? Shouldn't you be off ransacking villages and whatnot? Not guarding some witch's gate. That's for the hired help," Spike argued, a little desperate. He needed to get in! Buffy was here! He could feel it.

The giant just stood there, listening.

Spike forged on. "C'mon, what you gonna do? Gonna help your fellow servant of evil - I'm a VAMPIRE here, you know, not some bloody white knight - or are you gonna be a good little big boy and follow the rules? What are you mate? Proud giant or bootlicking minion? "

The giant said nothing. Spike wondered if he had gone too far and was about to get squished. Then -

"HO HO HO!" The giant laughed, vaguely reminding Spike of that slug creature. You know, the one in the movie with the girl in the gold bikini and all that rot about the dark side. "You are a daring little vampire, indeed. I think I will let you inside the gates."

Spike bounced on his toes, ready to charge in and go find Buffy and save the day.

"Not so fast. You have to do something for me," the giant said.

What was up with these people and all this quid pro quo nonsense? Couldn't he ever find some little nobody he could beat up to get what he wanted? That's the way Spike liked to do business. It's no fun when the other guy has the upper hand.

The giant seemed confer with the crow. A minute or two later, the bird gave a caw and flew off.

"I have a flock of sheep. They are very wild and hard to keep track of."

"And what do you want me to do?"

The giant smiled. "I want you to take them out to graze today. I don't think I feel like doing it myself. You should be able to keep a herd of sheep in a sunlit field, shouldn't you?"

Spike cursed. Daytime. Sun. All those things he couldn't do - just a bit of sunlight would send him up in flames. And a dusty Spike isn't going to be able to do much; rescuing Buffy would be out. Maybe if he -

"No friends, vampire. You can't get out of this by calling on your friends." The giant smirked. He knew there was no way Spike could possibly do this task. Maleficent would be pleased.

"No *friends*?" Spike stressed the word. "You sure about that?"

"I'm not going to make this easy for you. No asking for help from any *friends*," the giant repeated, mimicking Spike's stress.

Spike smirked. Just had to clarify that point. Then he called out, "Guide Girl, mind sending me the whelp here?"

Tara appeared, smiled, gave the most minute of salutes to Spike before being replaced by Xander. The man stood there, blinking, obviously very confused.

"Why did you do that?" the giant demanded. "That gets you nothing. The rules are clear, vampire. You could not ask any friends to help you."

Spike simply smiled, swaggered over to Xander and slung his arm about the other man's shoulder. "Hey, Harris, we friends?"

"Hell, no, Dead Boy," he retorted, jerking away.

"Well, then, problem solved. You," he said to the giant, "told me I couldn't ask any friends for help. Now, the whelp here is no friend of mine. Therefore, I can ask him for all the help I want."

Spike seriously hoped he had read this world right. If he was correct, then the giant had to abide by the rules he set down. If not, then he and Xander were about to become very, very thin.

Thankfully, it turned out that he did have a clue. Grudgingly, the giant admitted, "So he's not excluded. Fine. But he still has to agree to do it."

"Do what?" Xander demanded. "What's going on?"

"See, the thing is," Spike explained, "the giant here won't let me in unless his sheep get taken care of for the day. Since I'm not exactly sun- proof, I was thinking you do it."

"So you're going to palm your work off on me."

Basically. "C'mon. If we want the Slayer to wake up and get back to the real world, I got to get in that castle up there. Can't do that unless I get past the gate and I can't do that unless the giant lets me in. You follow me?"

Xander did. However, there was no way he was giving Spike what he wanted that easily. "Maybe I'll help you." Xander smiled. "If you ask really, really nicely." He wanted to see that vampire squirm.

Spike growled. Being nice to the rest of the Scoobies was okay. Minding his manners for strange old ladies on the street was doable. Didn't like it, but he could do it. But to be make nice to Xander, now that was asking a lot.

He looked up at the castle, perched high in the mountain. Buffy was in there, waiting for him. The love of his unlife was there, and if he reached her, he might be able to get more than just a crumb. This whole bizarre world and their roles in it came from Buffy. The Tara fairy had said so. And in Buffy's world, it seemed that he and Xander had to get along. And what Buffy wanted -

"Xander, would you please do me a favor and help me? I would very much appreciate it," Spike said, each word grudgingly spoken, like a little boy being polite only because his mother told him to.

"Can I hear that again, this time with some feeling?" Xander cupped his hand to his ear. "What did you want to say?"

Spike glared at him, longing for the ability to rip the human's throat out. The giant, still blocking the gateway, watched the proceedings with interest.

"Would you *please* help me?"

Xander considered it a moment.

"Bloody hell, Harris, what are you waiting for? You know you have to, why don't you just go ahead and do it?!"

Xander decided he had taunted Spike enough. "Okay. Shepherd boy, here I come."

Spike rolled his eyes. Took him long enough. "Good. Now that that's settled?" he turned an inquiring eye to the giant. "I think you need to move over, mate, and let me through."

With almost as grudging an air as Spike's request to Xander, the giant shuffled to the side. Spike marched on through, only to hear the door shut with a resounding clank once he had entered. Ignoring the rather foreboding noise, he proceeded to follow the trail up to the castle.

It wasn't very long before he crossed the castle's drawbridge, easily entering the hall. Clinging to the shadows, he tried to figure out in which direction Buffy lay sleeping. Spike closed his eyes on focused his senses on one thing and one thing alone. Slayer. Buffy.

Slowly, guided by some special instinct, he made his way towards a staircase. So caught up in his tracking, he didn't realize when he was surrounded.

A circle of nasty, pig snout like monsters were closing in on him, pike weapons out and ready. Balls. The minions had found him.



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