As usual, here's the next chapter of Crazy Eights for your perusal.
Hoping you enjoy - all comments welcome.
Ailuros opened the double doors at the back of the reception area and stepped aside, allowing them entrance into The Crazy Eights proper. Motioning Spike forward, she repeated her earlier warnings to watch his back and keep close tabs on his companions.
“Holy Frijoles, Batman,” exclaimed Xander, eyes opened wide in amazement as he took in the transformed factory space.
The floor was now a sea of dramatic black marble crisscrossed with red veining. The harsh fluorescent lights were gone, replaced with soft recessed lighting that emitted an ethereal glow uncannily reminiscent of candlelight. Little touches of color appeared in subtle places. Cloth napkins and floral displays in deep jewel tones – amythyst, sapphire blue, burgundy, deep emerald green, and mandarin orange – all seemed to enhance the lush feeling of understated elegance.
The overall effect was soothing and amazingly warm for such a cavernous space. Most of the walls were covered in rich rosewood paneling that seemed to glow with an inner light, but the back wall – the site of the well-stocked bar – was mirrored. Apparently the patrons didn’t take issues with absent reflections.
Tables were scattered throughout the room, served by waitstaff dressed in nondescript uniforms – dark shirts, dark pants; utilitarian, not fashionable. On their left breast pockets were white pearlescent circlets with colored pips, denoting, Buffy guessed, some variation in what they served.
Entranced, Buffy looked around the room. So different from the Bronze, she thought. It felt like stepping out of childhood into the adult world. Sunnydale had never seen a place like this before.
Despite the opulent ambience, her ‘spidey sense’ was going off full blast; it felt like the skin at the base of her spine was trying to crawl its way to her neck. Which was not to be unexpected, in a club heaving with demons. Snapping out of her reverie, she remembered why they were all at The Crazy Eights to begin with. Not to gawk at the pretties, but to get the lay of the land and to see if anything suspicious could be seen at a cursory glance.
“I think we need to do the mixy thing,” she announced. “Standing around is gonna draw too much attention.”
Xander – who was beginning to look a little overawed and clearly in need of a drink – offered to scope out the bar. And Willow trailed after him, leaving Buffy and Spike standing awkwardly near the door… and begin to attract notice. Buffy could feel the eyes of an ancient-looking vamp in the dining room assess her.
Then, Spike moved closer and offered Buffy his arm. She raised a questioning brow. “What’s with the chivalry routine, Spike? I’m perfectly capable of walking around on my own.
“Look around you, luv. Mostly couples, yeah? Notice the makeup of most of those pairings – vamp/human. Very few unattended humans walking around, and we’re supposed to be blending in.” He held his arm out again. “When in Rome, pet.”
“When in Rome, what? Let people think I’m ready to be a vamp’s midnight snack?”
“They’re not snack food; they’re human pets – prized and well cared for. Some are blood cows, willing to let the vamps feed. Some are servant types that run errands during daylight hours.”
“How can you condone this?” she hissed. “Humans being kept as pets. It’s disgusting and degrading and just… wrong. And if you ever call me ‘pet’ again, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Look, luv, I get that it angers you. Don’t like your species lorded over, so to speak. But you have to understand it’s not forced – it’s mutually beneficial. The human pet is better cared for than in some human marriages.”
“Yeah, she replied sarcastically, “because everyone loves being a chew toy.”
“Some people do! And not to push a sore point, but it’s not like human marriages are all beds of roses. Your father didn’t exactly treat your Mum like a queen, did he? These vamps are monogamous and, even though they feed from their pets, it’s pleasurable for them both.”
Buffy merely pouted in response, as Spike continued.
“S’difficult to keep an open mind, I know, but these humans don’t need our help. Probably had right miserable lives before pairing up. Try and let it go, especially while you’re in here. Remember – vamp hearing.”
“This is not gonna be easy for me Spike. It goes against everything the Slayer stands for.” She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. “But I can do this. After all, I’ve said screw Slayer tradition before. I’m supposed to dust vampires - all vampires. Then there was Angel… and now, well, look at us. It certainly doesn’t say ‘leave Spike hail and hearty’ in the Slayer’s handbook, ya know.”
“Tolerance, thy name is Buffy. Just glad you gave me a chance, pet – Sorry! – luv.” He darted out of reach before she could whack him. “Though it would have been a lovely battle, it’s more fun fighting with you than against.”
A tap on the shoulder made the Slayer tense and spin around, battle ready in an instant.
“Hey Buffster, ease off. It’s me,” placated Xander. “And I come bearing menus.”
“You wouldn’t believe what they’re serving here,” chirped Willow. “Some of it gives me the heebie jeebies.”
Settling down at an out-of-the-way-table, Willow plunked down a couple of menus, and a handful of colorful flyers. Before they could even give the menus a cursory glance, a waiter appeared, punching something into a keypad.
“Welcome back to Crazy Eights, Mr. Spike. Your regular order and something for your pets?”
Buffy watched Xander’s mouth open, but a swift kick under the table had him shutting it again.
Spike nodded to the waiter. “Yeah, O-pos for me and a basket of those spicy chicken wings - my mates will order for themselves.”
With his eyebrow raised in surprise, the waiter turned to Xander for his order.
“Um, I think I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries.” Eyes narrowing, Xander enquired nervously, “That is a real beef-from-the-cow burger and grown-in-the-ground potato fries, right?”
“Yes, sir. We are fully stocked with a wide variety of human foods. And we have separate kitchens and utensils for our demon and human customers.”
“Heh… sorta like you keep a kosher kitchen.” Willow let out a nervous giggle. “I guess I’ll have a regular burger and fries, too. Oh, and a pitcher of Pepsi, if you have it, please.”
Turning to Buffy and bowing his head slightly, the waiter said, “Slayer, what can we get for you tonight?”
At the sound of her title, Buffy gave a nervous little start, and immediately felt Spike’s hand move supportively to the small of her back.
“Do you have any suggestions,” the shaken blonde asked sheepishly. “I’m afraid I haven’t even seen the menu yet.”
“We have a lovely vegetable lasagna, seems to be most popular with the human females. Would you care to chance it?”
At her affirmative nod, the waiter finished punching their order into his keypad and stepped away.
As soon as he was out of sight, all hell broke loose at the table.
One very angry Slayer turned to the vampire at her side and seethed, “Just how many times have you been here, Spike – that they know you by name and have your regular order memorized? And what did you do? Go around bragging that you hang out with the Slayer? I thought I was supposed to be all girly company tonight. There’s no sign hanging over my head that announces I’m the Slayer. Why does everyone seem to know what I am?”
“And what did you mean by ‘mates’ you bleached freak?” Xander demanded. “Nobody is mated to you. Nuh uh – Xander Harris is nobody’s mate and neither is Willow.”
“I can speak for myself,” said the redhead, agitated but clearly the calmest of the bunch. “But just to clarify, I’m not anyone’s mate, either.”
Holding his hands up in self-defense, the vampire in question tried to explain. “Let me answer Buffy’s questions, first. Look, luv… I’ve been here all of two times. I’ve never seen that waiter before in my unlife. I’ve got a bad feelin’ that he knew who I was thanks to this soddin’ chip in my hand. That little keypad thingamabob he was punchin’ our orders into is probably a chip-reader of some sort.” Pausing thoughtfully, he cocked his head and continued. “Come to think of it, he was punching something in it before he even called m’name.”
The geek in her engaged, Willow exclaimed, “I’ll bet that’s how he knew Buffy was the Slayer, too. There’s probably lots of information on that chip and not only what you’ve told them.” Almost bouncing in her seat, she added, “You’ve been hanging around with Buffy for a couple of years, Spike. Gotta be common knowledge around the demon community. Plus, demons, right? I’m sure they could just tell from her aura or something that she’s the Slayer.”
Buffy placed a conciliatory hand on Spike’s arm. “Look, I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions. This place just gives me the wiggins. My skin feels like it’s crawling thanks to all the vamps and whatever other demons are in the building.”
Spike let it all go with a curt nod and a small smile in her direction. Turning to Xander, he said, “And for your information, Harris, I said you were all my mates – friends, you git – not that you were mated to anyone.
“In case you’d not noticed, most of the humans in here are pets. They have no real status. Tthe vamps and demons talk for them and order for them. Calling you my friends was a bloody honor.” He glared at Xander. “Would you rather I’d called you pet and beat you into a bloody mess for being disobedient?”
Willow picked up her spoon and clanked it against her water glass to get their attention. "C'mon, fellas. We're supposed to be in this together... you know – rally the troops? One for all and all for one?”
“Stay out of it, Will,” Xander said, just as Spike said, “Stay out of it, Red,” at the same time.
This time it was Buffy’s turn to be peacemaker. “Enough! Time to get back to the mission. Let’s concentrate on the new intel, here. Because it seems like Spike’s chip has way too much info to be benign. From the looks of it, it recognizes who and what you are, and your personal preferences in munchies. Probably knows who your friends and family are too.”
“And it can probably locate your position at any time,” Willow added.
“Shit,” Buffy hissed, alarm evident in her eyes. “Spike, you’ve just moved into my house. D’ya think they’ll go after my mother?”
“No worries, luv. M’all healed up and I’ll move back to the crypt when we leave here.”
“There’s no need for bravado, Spike. Even you need time to properly recuperate. I’m thinking it’s already too late for that – you’ve already been in the house.” Buffy considered for a moment. “And actually, if something goes down at home, you’ll be able to help me protect Mom. It might be best to stay.”
“If you’re sure. Don’t want to put the lady in danger.”
Their waiter chose that moment to return with their meals. Buffy eyed his keypad as he scurried away.
In-between bites, the Slayer and her friends looked over the various menus. The human food was ordinary, nothing you wouldn’t expect to find in any halfway decent restaurant. But the demon menu had them a bit squicked.
“Eeeew,” squeaked Willow. “Blood on tap.” Eyes widening, she stammered, “D-does that mean it come straight from…”
“The neck, Red,” confirmed the blond vampire. “Menu states several types – see here? Donated – some of the humans here are wearin’ red circlets marking their donor status. Then there’s house-red, various animal types – pig, otter, goat, cow. S’also plasma, lymph and other types of bodily fluids. Somethin’ for every demon.”
“Okay… anyone else lose their appetites?” asked a decidedly green around the gills Xander. “And can we not review anything else on the demon delights list? I’d like to keep my food down.”
Those who were able, finished their meal in silence. Then they all agreed that their next step should be to venture down to the gaming room on the lower level.