Two days of walking since the lake, and they were once again in the foothills surrounding the mountains. After some debate, it was decided that straight up and over would indeed be the fastest way. Especially since the amulet was already dimming, and none of them were sure exactly how much time they had left. So, the little procession made it’s way up the mountain. Which was easier than they thought.
“I wonder why the sides of this mountain are all… smooth,” Dawn pondered, hopping over one of many strange cracks in the ground.
Xander shrugged, which looked rather strange, seeing as how his shoulders were already higher than his head. “Dunno. Maybe the earthquakes rounded it out. Spike did say that this mountain doesn’t even exist in our time. Maybe it’s… collapsing?”
“That’s reassuring,” the juvenile Smilodon muttered. “We’re climbing over a collapsing mountain.”
“It could be worse, Bit,” Spike called from ahead of the group. “It could be a volcano. At this time, there were several active ones in this range.” Then, quieter, so that no one but Buffy and Giles heard him, “In fact, this could BE a bloody volcano we’re on.”
Buffy trotted up next to her boyfriend, and bumped him with her shoulder. “Don’t say things like that around Dawn. She’s upset enough. Still blaming herself for gettin’ us here in the first place.”
Spike chuckled. “Well, I for one, am glad we came. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened since we’ve been here, that probably would’ve taken… forever, back home.” Nuzzled her. “One thing in particular.”
She giggled, a sound that still surprised him when it came from the huge cat. “Good point. Besides. If we’re here now, we’re supposed to be. If being the Slayer has taught me one thing, it’s that nothing happens by chance.”
Giles chuckled from behind them. “Almost nothing. You must factor in free will, Buffy.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, but.. Still..” Shook her head. “Never mind. I’m getting a headache. Let’s talk about other things.”
Dawn bounced up next to them, still jumping cracks. “Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings,” she quoted with a giggle.
Spike bumped her with his snout, gently knocking her to the ground. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he finished the quote. “And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings-”
The whole group said the finale, laughing all the while. “Callou, callay, we’ll seize the day like cabbages and kings!” Then they all had to stop for a moment, for they were laughing too hard to continue.
Spike had rolled onto his back, he was laughing so hard. If he’d been human, he would’ve had to wipe a tear from his eye. “Oh.. bloody.. Alice In Wonderland… Bit…” Chuckled, trying to compose himself.
Dawn walked over, giggling. “Yeah?”
He looked at her, upside-down. “Why’d you have to bring that up? Now I’m gonna have that whole book goin’ through my head for the rest of today.”
“You’ve read it?” This, from Willow, who was sitting nearby.
Spike gave a nod. “Yeah. When I was human, it was my favorite book. I was always asking my Nanny to read to me, when I was little, and reading it myself when I got older.” Chuckled. “I’ve probably got the whole thing memorized.”
Xander laughed. “You had a *Nanny*?”
Spike rolled over, snorting at the Hyena. “Yes. Till I was… twelve, I think. We moved that year, and she died shortly after that. Then I went to live at my Granmum’s.” Half shrug. “It was a different time back then…” Cocked his head. “It’s so strange to think that all of that, everything I remember, is actually in the *future* from here.”
Buffy grinned, and moved to lie down next to him. “Yeah. I mean, none of us’ll even be born for another.. what was it?”
“Ten thousand years,” Spike and Giles said in unison, then stared at each other, sending the rest of the group into another laughing fit.
After the laughter had subsided, Spike shook his head and looked up at the Mammoth. “Never, and I mean *never*, do that again, Rupe.”
“The feeling is mutual,” the Woolly Mammoth replied, pulling a shrub out of the ground and shoving the whole thing in his mouth.
“Ewww,” Dawn observed. “How can you eat that, Giles?”
He pulled the shrub, or rather, what was left of it, out of his mouth, and swallowed before answering. “Simple. I just keep telling myself that it’s a giant broccoli spear.”
Spike chuckled. “Good idea.” Sighed. “When we get back, I don’t care how eager to feed my body is, I’m eating nothing but salad for two weeks.”
Buffy laughed, but nodded. “Me too. Salad bars. You don’t appreciate them until you have to eat raw meat for a living.”
“I am never looking a sushi again,” Willow groaned. “I’ve had enough raw fish to last me three lifetimes.”
Tara nodded. “Personally, I am going totally vegetarian when we get back. No meat. EVER again.”
Nods of at least partial agreement from all the carnivores. Giles shook his huge head. “Not me. When we get back, I’m finding an all you can eat buffet that serves steak, and moving in.”
“Here, here,” Anya snorted, nodding her Rhino’s head. “Meat is the way to go. Right now, I’d even eat bologna.”
Xander balked. “You’re kidding. You *hate* bologna, Ayn!”
She nodded. “I know. That’s why I said ‘right now’, meaning that when we get back, I will probably not eat it.”
Xander chuckled and nodded. “Oh yeah.”
Spike looked at him curiously. “What about you, Harris? What’s your food fantasy?”
Xander licked his lips. “A hot fudge sundae.”
Moans all around.
The Hyena continued. “With three scoops of ice cream, caramel AND chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.”
By the time he was finished, everyone was in various stages of drooling. Spike licked his lips. “I’ve made a decision. When we get home, forget the salad. I’m eating all the chocolate I can find. And washing it down with hot cocoa-”
“And the little marshmallows!”, Dawn chimed in, running her tongue over her tiny fangs.
Spike nodded. “I was just about to say that, Bit.”
Xander stood up, and moved closer to the others. “Let’s make a deal. When we get back, we’re all going to a Baskin Robbins, and not leaving till we’ve tried all 31 flavors. Then we’re going to a Golden Corral, and eating them out of business.” Put a forepaw out. “Deal?”
Buffy was the first. “Deal.” Laid her paw on top of his. Then Dawn, Spike, Willow, Tara, Anya, and finally Giles, the last two just hovering their paws over the others, due to their massive size.
After a few more moments of talking, mostly about food, the group continued their accent of the mountain.
It was getting dark, and cold. Very, very cold. More than any other night that they’d been there. Partially due to the coming winter, but also due to the higher altitude. Xander, Willow and Tara weren’t having an easy time of it. Actually, no one was, but the three short furred animals the least of all. Willow and Tara had found a way to help, by riding on Giles’ back, snuggled deep into his fur, but Xander was shivering as he walked in-between Giles and Anya. They were doing their best to knock the wind off of him, with their sheer, combined bulk, but it wasn’t helping. Dawn was once again riding on Spike’s back, and he and Buffy were walking very close together in front of Giles, pressing against each other for warmth and assurance.
Suddenly, Spike caught a strange scent. He paused in his tracks, nearly causing the Mammoth behind him to plow into him. No one said anything. They wanted to give the vampire/wolf time to lock onto whatever scent he was tracking. He looked behind him, up at Giles. “Rupert, I smell sulfur. Give a sniff.”
Everyone raised their snouts, and drew in puffs of frigid air, letting out little snorts of steam on every exhale. One by one, they all picked up on it. Buffy looked to Spike. “What is it?”
He sped up a little, indicating that the others should follow. “If I’m right, it’s a warm place to sleep.” That got everyone’s attention, really fast, and they trotted to catch up with the Dire Wolf. Found him standing in the mouth of a cave. “Come on in, guys. The water’s fine.” Trotted into the cave, while the others exchanged confused looks. Water? Followed him in, one at a time. Soon, it became evident what he was talking about.
Hot springs! There were hot springs inside the cave! Little bowl like impressions of nicely heated water spaced almost evenly around the cave. Xander gave a whoop, and jumped into one. “Ahhhhhh. Warm. Really warm. Finally.” Grinned at the others. “Hey, guys! Join me in the Spa De La Ice Age!”
Willow and Tara didn’t need much coaxing, and quickly found two puddles that were about the right size for them. The others were warm enough, and just settled down around the large cave, near the bubbling heat sources. All, that is, except for Spike. He followed a scent deeper into the cave. The deeper in he got, the warmer it got. Until it was just plain HOT in there. Still, he was curious, and kept going, unaware that a Smilodon was following him. He reached what almost appeared to be a cliff, looked over the edge, and froze.
There, about a mile below him, was a red/orange glow, and a very disturbing bubbling sound. The heat was tremendous, and the scars on his face from where Buffy had slashed him a week and a half earlier were starting to sting with all the sulfur in the air. His eyes hurt as well. Still, he couldn’t stop staring. When Buffy came up next to him, she nearly scared the wolf out of his skin.
“Whew. Why’s it so hot in here?”
He yipped, and looked at her. “Bloody.. Slayer! Don’t do that!”
She backed up a step. “Geez! Sorry.”
He shook his head. “Not your fault, luv.” Swallowed, and began heading back to the others, Buffy on his heels.
“Spike? What was that?”
Spike stopped once he’d gotten far enough away from the pit that his eyes weren’t hurting anymore. “Lava, Buffy. Molten lava.”
She cocked her head, then sat down abruptly. “You mean we’re… This is..”
He nodded gravely. “Right on both counts, luv. We’re inside a bleedin’ volcano.”