I clawed my way awake again, and I discovered that the uncomfortable rocker had been swapped for a long wooden table that was equally uncomfortable. I winced as I opened my eyes. The stronger pounding in my head told me that someone had hit me again, likely to keep me out. I was supine this time, belly up, which left me feeling woozy and nauseous. The candles were still lit, and the ceiling was high above me, letting me know that I was in the middle of the blood circle. The calf carcass was gone and so were the minions, but the sharp tang of the blood and some sort of incense filled my nose.
Testing the bindings on my wrists and legs, I called, “I can’t lay like this. It cuts off blood flow.” The last words were fainter as sparkly stars flew across my vision, and I swallowed and whispered, “Probably not what you were aiming for. . . yet, anyway.”
The vampire-witch was noticeably calmer when she peered over at me. I squinted through the physical discomfort. She wasn’t wearing her game face, and her expression looked innocent and youthful. . . and worried? “Oh. Give me a minute.”
She started by my feet, which brought me a moment of hope that she was really that dumb, but she mumbled some sort of spell under her breath as she worked. My arms and legs felt like lead weights, and I couldn’t move them myself. She gently released me and helped me roll onto my side. Almost immediately, the symptoms abated, and she began replacing the physical restraints. She left the new spell in place. Damn it.
“T-thank you,” I said, following my instincts. Now that I could think, I was more curious by her change in demeanor.
As she worked, she said quietly, “I didn’t want to be. . . what do you call it? Turned, you know.”
She didn’t reply for a few seconds. “No. The boys decided to turn me. We were part of this Wiccan group in Gulfport. Well, me and Ron were. He was my boyfriend. We joked around with each other. I was Hermione to his Ron. Those aren’t our real names, and contrary to what you might think, doing magic was only a side gig. It was a hobby. . . a lark that I could do. Something I inherited from my Aunt Megan. She used to tell me I was special. Like her.”
“Oh.” I was keeping it simple, giving her just enough, so she’d continue.
“I had an internship at the Institute in Gulfport.” She’d moved from my legs to my hands now, and she read my confusion. “I wanted to work with marine life. But then Harold turned Ron who turned me. Harold was a real piece of work. Honestly, I think he was a bit of a sadist. Always skinning people’s pets and leaving them on the porch for them to find.” She shuddered. “I think he thought it was funny. . . seeing their expressions, watching them cry and scream.”
“Know someone a little like that,” I whispered, shivering, too, despite my efforts to not reveal much. Killing pets and eating humans were apparently very different in Miney’s mind.
“Well, then, you know that he caused a lot of fights between me and Ron. He was good at driving a wedge. Harold frightened me and pissed me off. That night in the cemetery?” She paused for effect, and I filled in the blanks.
“When I ran across the three of you?” I tried desperately to remember exactly how our interaction had played out. I thought she was the one being all snarky with Harold and Ron.
“He was from Falls Church. . . a coven there. He and some others got themselves kicked out when they started researching and practicing darker magic several months ago. They ended up moving away from that Podunk, country place and ended up in Memphis. That’s where they were all turned.”
“That’s where they came up with this plan?” This horrible plan to simultaneously open several Hellmouths and potentially cause Armageddon? Did Willow know about this subset of her beloved Falls Church coven?
“Yes. Fanned out away from Memphis. Followed some leads. Ended up in Canada and Norfolk, of all places. And I’d lost everything else in my life, so why not?” Miney’s line of thinking had taken an abrupt turn that I didn’t quite get, and her eyes were shiny with unshed tears that she quickly blinked away.
Then, the truth hit me over the head like a two by four at one of Xander’s old construction sites. It seemed too much of a stretch to think that Miney and her vampire-witch pals knew about the journey that had taken Spike and me to Norfolk. Occam’s Razor and all that. Harold had probably killed her family and her dreams, and Spike and I had killed her Ron. I had killed her Spike. They’d been on the hunt for a pregnant Slayer, and they’d found one. For all those pieces to come together. . . well, that was a bit mindboggling, but just my luck.
“Why not?” I said gently. “I’ve been there.” Losing heaven came to mind.
She placed a hand on my belly, palm flat and fingers splayed. I resisted the urge to draw away, especially when the baby shifted in response to her touch. “It’s hard.” It took me a second to realize she was referring to the baby bump and not her life. “What’s it like?”
Miney had skipped again, but I followed her lead, hoping that I’d get some clue about how to stop the spell. . . stop her from killing me and the baby. “Honestly? A bit strange but not. It’s hard to explain.”
“Like an alien growing inside you?” I couldn’t quite read her face in the shadows.
The baby pressed toward her hand. My senses were on high alert despite her calm, and I forced myself to keep breathing slowly and evenly. “It happens so gradually that it doesn’t feel alien. It just feels. . . right.”
She spoke to my belly, running the tip of her fingernail over the thin cotton of my t-shirt. “Hello, little one.” She smiled when the baby nudged her direction again, and then, she sighed. “I’ll never get to do this.”
I almost retorted, “Well, yeah, because you’re dead.” But, I didn’t. Instead, I said, “I never thought I would either.”
“Oh, really?” Her eyes brightened in surprise. “I heard there were more Slayers now than you can shake a stick at. Makes it easier to have a family. Y’all get to have it all.”
Anger flared inside me again, but I tried hard to douse the flames to keep a cool head. Still, my emotions led me to say, “Not exactly. I used to be the only Slayer. Monsters and sacred duty and all that jazz aren’t – weren’t conducive to family life.”
“And yet, clearly,” she gestured at my body, “here you are.”
She was right. Here I was. Here I was bringing a baby into this world: a world full of vampire-witches and prophecies and danger.
Before I could reply, she asked without any trace of emotion, “If the baby came out now, would it survive?”
My blood ran cold at that. She wanted my baby. I knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I saw it in the renewed gleam in her eyes and the set of her jaw in the candlelight.
“I-I don’t know,” I managed.
I did know. I knew because Spike was always spouting off the latest facts he’d read about my stage of the pregnancy. He even had a copy of that book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and he’d dog-eared and highlighted the pages. The baby had an over 90 percent chance of survival at this stage of the pregnancy, but I didn’t want Miney to know that. “I don’t think so,” I said, infusing my words with confidence.
Her eyes hardening again, she gave me an almost-rueful smile as she stepped away from me. “If something happens to you, I won’t let your baby die. I promise.”
“If you destroy the world, I doubt you’ll be able to keep that promise.” I still wasn’t sure why she was participating in this ritual. When so much of her own choices had been taken from her, why was she taking the same choice from potentially millions of others? Oh, wait. She was a vampire now without anyone to remind her of her humanity.
“If it comes to that, I’ll have the power to guarantee it.” She sounded so sure of herself that I almost believed her.
Before I could reply, her phone rang, the ringtone Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” echoing through the abandoned, dilapidated store. As Miney answered the call and paced out of the blood circle, her magic hold dissipated from my arms and legs. Summoning all my Slayer strength, I pulled with all my might against the remaining physical restraints, the metal digging into my skin. I kept quiet at first but then, my voice rang out in frustration and fear.
Miney was speaking in hushed whispers, bits of gibberish I couldn’t make out, and she whirled mid-conversation to catch me fighting for my life and the baby’s. She held the phone away from her ear, pointed a finger at me, shook her head like I was a disobedient child, and cast a spell, which slammed me back against the table. Already vulnerable from earlier injuries, my head hit the hard surface with a sharp crack, and I battled tooth and nail against the resulting sparklies to stay awake and alert. When I opened my mouth to shout at her, no sound came out. Apparently, she took my voice with that last spell.
The vampire-witch strode across the room to a position where I couldn’t see her. There was some scuffling and a click or two, and then, a speaker came to life. The sound of chanting in some foreign, ancient-sounding language bounced and wove its way around and up through the air. Multiple female voices were weaving together, sounding like a warped female version of a Gregorian chant with a decidedly evil bent, and I felt the tug of magic through my chest and abdomen as the spell took hold in and filled the room.
Like she was being fueled by the magic and chanting, Miney began to dance, pointing her toes and sweeping around the outside edge of the blood circle the way my sister used to do when she took ballet lessons after we moved to Sunnydale. The swell of the chanting dipped low like an invitation for the vampire-witch, who plunged low in an elegant bow, her fingertips trailing over the blood like they had my abdomen. The magic surged then, and Miney’s voice joined the others until they were all a chorus together. The blood began glowing a muted red color that brightened with each repetitive note, and I felt it. . . felt the Hellmouth opening beneath me, and unlike when I was in Sunnydale, there was nothing I could do.
The scarlet light began slipping through the outlines of the archaic symbols painted inside the circle, a new thin stream of illumination appearing and then brightening and changing colors with each shift in the rhythm of the chanting. Miney flitted in between the symbols with an elegance I hadn’t expected. With a flick of her wrist, a knife appeared in her hand, the blade glinting in the now orange and golden lights.
To avoid panic taking hold of my mind, I centered myself the way I learned with Angel so long ago, finding that quiet space amidst the chaos around me. If I couldn’t find an opening here, I had to hope that my friends and family were out there, searching for me and for my sister.
A scream of agony swept over the other voices. The incantation continued incessantly, not changing tempo or speed, and as the scream ended, the entire ground around me and Miney seemed to faintly glow around the already bright symbols. Great. This was followed by another scream from a different woman this time, and I wondered which Slayer at which Hellmouth was being bled for the spell.
My eyes remained fixated on Miney, who appeared heedless of me. She was caught up in the magic of everything now – her eyes closed as she got lost in the spell and the dance. Recognizing this, I remembered that she forgot about me not so long ago, and I tested my arms and legs. I could move! Yahtzee. As the ear-piercing cries continued and the room glowed with more brilliance, I realized that the metal of the bindings was much flimsier than I initially thought. The vampire-witch’s magic was what made them so tight, and now that magic was being siphoned elsewhere.
As the next young woman’s blood was spilled onto another Hellmouth, the whole room began to vibrate and almost pulsate with the energy of what was about to happen. I tugged on my right leg, snapping the chains. Miney was hardly phased.
Crap. I hadn’t kept track of the number of different Slayers who’d been harmed.
Miney lunged then, eyes flying open, curls streaming behind her. I kicked out at her in the exact moment that she plunged the knife, and I felt the blade slide into my flesh like butter.
Now, it was my turn to scream, the sound of my voice ringing out with Miney’s as my foot connected with her torso and flung her away from me. She slammed hard into the shop window, cracking but not shattering the glass. In my fury, I snapped free of the other chains and landed on my feet. Too late, my mind registered that blood was pouring fast and hot out of my thigh and onto the circle.
Miney struggled to her feet, somehow continuing her chant with the other vampire-witches despite the disruption to her pattern. She advanced on me, and I fell into a ready stance despite the pain.
“You can’t have my baby!” I half-snarled at her.
Feeling suddenly unsteady, I collapsed to my knees, and as I fell into my own pool of blood, the lights in the Hellmouth dimmed.
I only vaguely heard Miney screaming in anguish and rage as someone kicked down the door. A dog barked, and I was out again.