"What, exactly, is going on?" Buffy demanded of Illyria.
"I'm not a minion," Angel said in a small voice.
"The Island has arrived. That means that the time for battle has come." Illyria clearly was prepared to begin a rousing battle speech.
"I mean, I thought I was just going on a trip with my boyfriend, never mind that he apparently wanted to control my mind and everything. Did you arrange all this? Are you setting us up?"
"You, as a mortal, are outside these affairs. The man you so naively term your 'boyfriend' is Sergei Koschei, also known as the Immortal, the Deathless. The Immortal has stolen something ancient for his own use that I need. He is too young to understand the power he is misusing." Illyria paced the room. "He must not be allowed to continue. The Isle of Buyan only appears in this pitiful world every two hundred years, and that is where he consolidates his power. It is resting in the waters just north of the port, only to stay a short time. I have prepared well for the arrival, but now it is time for others to assist me in my weakened state. I have assisted each of you without question," making a sweeping gesture around the room, "and now it is time to repay me."
"Assisted without question? Sure," Spike muttered sarcastically, but he shut up quickly at Illyria's icy glare.
"Why Buffy? I mean, I'm glad she got away from the Immortal, but why are you dragging her in?" Angel asked.
"She received my assistance as well. The addition of her abilities is a fortunate coincidence."
Buffy lifted her chin. "I'm in. Fred, Illy-whatever, I don't care what you need. I want to show him that I won't be controlled like that. If you have a way to take him down, then it's you who has what I need."
"Then I'm in. For Buffy." Spike challenged Angel with a look.
"Of course I'll help. I'm glad to." Angel gave in.
After a moment of consideration, Spike spoke up again. "The only problem is, how are we supposed to leave? They've got people stationed outside with all kind of high-tech anti-vamp gadgetry. We've been trying to get out of here for what, a month?"
Illyria shook her head. "I eliminated your guards earlier today. Their presence was no longer convenient to me. Their destruction will cause Koschei displeasure, which pleases me."
"So what, they're just gone? You could have gotten us out of here weeks ago? I didn't have to sleep in here with Spike tormenting me for the last month?" Angel said with exasperation. He wasn't surprised when Illyria didn't answer his question directly.
"Koschei stationed men to control the magical elements in this city so that he could use it as a base for operations when he visits Buyan. What he fails to understand in his weakness is that I am far more powerful, even weakened, than his ridiculous measures. We will be exactly what he fears, a force to prevent him from getting what he wants from his stores. A force that can use his power against him, to destroy him."
After roles were portioned out to each of the fighters, Spike and Buffy found themselves paired. Angel and Illyria were to go dispatch the rest of the anti-demon gang, while Spike and Buffy were to go visit an acquaintance of Illyria's, someone called Baba Yaga, for information on killing the Immortal.
Illyria was unusually evasive when questioned on this. "She will not speak to me. The two of you are well suited to the task. You can go tonight, while we kill."
They set off for the village after stopping at a tiny shop, mysteriously open in the middle of the night, to buy a packet of tea, at Spike's insistence.
"I think we'll need it," he said grimly at her confused look.
At the edge of the city, Buffy was astonished to find a pair of horses and a sleigh waiting. "A sleigh? Are you kidding?"
"Roads are terrible out here, and the snow's fresh. This is the fastest way to go." Spike expertly guided the horses through the drifts that covered the narrow track.
At the village, they traded the horses for snowshoes. The village was a collection of ramshackle huts with skinny dogs tethered outside, not so much a little forest village out of a fairy tale.
Buffy looked sidelong at Spike, who was stomping easily through the snow. "You didn't have to come along, you know. This is pretty much a personal thing for me."
"Nah, I did. Think it's not personal for me? Anyhow, I've got your back."
Bones lined the fence, and small human-looking skulls decorated the fence posts. Inside the fence was a cottage, but it was raised off the ground and vibrating slightly. There was no visible door.
Spike raised his voice. "Turn your back to the forest and your front to me."
To Buffy's astonishment, the cottage rose up on giant birdlike legs and began to turn. The door passed by their faces once, twice, then on the third rotation the filthy claws dug back into the ground and the cottage sank to ground level.
"How did you know to do that?" Buffy asked.
"We have a little history, Baba Yaga and I. It's a long story and not so pleasant. Ask me nicely when I'm drunker and I'll tell you someday."
The door knocker had pointy little teeth, and Buffy thought she saw them move out of the corner of her eyes. She shuddered and hung back a bit as Spike knocked and they entered.
The old woman inside was tiny, wizened, and dressed in ancient, filthy rags. Her eyes were cold and rheumy but sharp. The contents of the cottage were meager but neat, with a bed and a stove as the only furnishings. The rest of the room was filled with what looked like roadside debris, carefully cleaned and organized.
When the woman spoke, the her words were picked up by invisible hissing winds, which howled around her head and turned them into piecemeal but understandable English.
"Who sent you?" she demanded.
Spike stated, "I am here by no one's command. I came of my own free will."
"You've returned, as you promised so many years ago you would not. But where once there was no soul for me to eat, now you have an appetizing treat indeed." She moved quickly, and Spike felt a tongue on his neck. She hissed and spat. "Your flesh is still poison, and your soul is of no use to me. What has one like you done to deserve such love and purity of spirit?" The house underneath them shook with her distress.
She sniffed the air again and calmed. "Oh, but what's this I smell? Your little companion stinks of sweet revenge." Suddenly she was nearly on top of Buffy, leering into her face. Buffy could see that her teeth were covered in metal. She snapped and gnashed her teeth, making little sparks fly.
"No! She has been wronged and the revenge is just. Ah, when will I get to eat again?" The grimace on her face wasn't a pretty sight, but Buffy stepped forward regardless.
"Can you help us? We need to find out how to kill Koschei the Immortal. Do you know him? What's his secret? Why is this mysterious island so important?"
At the sound of the questions, a whirlwind built around the old woman. When it subsided she collapsed to the ground. Her flesh was writhing on her body and her skin had drawn back from her mouth. She seemed to be unable to speak.
Spike scrambled for the packet he'd bought in the city. He went to the kettle steaming on the old stove, poured a cup, then dumped the contents inside, stirring frantically. He knelt down by the old woman and guided a few drops of the blue liquid into her parched mouth. After she began to stir again, she took the cup from him gratefully.
"Ah, you have learned a lesson or two since we last met. I believe I like you after all, night creature. I will allow your companion to tell me what she needs, and I will consider helping you."
Spike added, "Don't ask any questions, just tell her what's happening and what you want."
Buffy carefully explained the situation.
"Thus I set my bargain. I will help you, young woman, but you will give me what I need in return. I have lost my power over the night, as one evening my Night Horseman went out and didn't return. The nights will go ever longer and colder until I have a Night Horseman again. I think your vampire will make a fine Horseman indeed."
"So why would a vampire such as myself want to make the days longer?" Spike asked. "Wouldn't I just want it to stay nice and dark and cold all the time?"
"Ah, but you are a good vampire now. You know that everything here will die if the light of summer never comes." Buffy could practically hear Spike's eyes rolling, but he didn't protest. "Here is all you need to know to remove Sergei Koschei the Deathless from this world."
Buffy and Spike argued as they trudged through the snow, back to the village and the warmth of a pub fireplace.
"I'm not going to do it. It's not worth it."
"Bollocks, Buffy. You've done it before." He turned from her slightly, so she couldn't see his face.
"You know this isn't the same situation. I'm not going to sacrifice you to get revenge on a stupid old ex boyfriend."
"This is important, else why would both Illyria and the Immortal be so concerned now? She's not human; she doesn't care about things in our lives, be it vamp or demon or human. I think there's something else in that chest, something that's far worse than a pointy piece of metal. We've got to at least find out."
Ending the discussion for the time being, Buffy ran ahead to the lights of the village, Spike trailing behind.
Angel and Illyria set out together, but in the middle of clearing out thugs from yet another warehouse, she ordered Angel to leave. "Your assistance is causing errors in my timing. Leave now. I will communicate later."
Angel walked back to their room slowly, considering what was going on. He was convinced that there was another layer that they were missing.
When Spike and Buffy returned to the room, only Angel waited for them.
The atmosphere was tense as Buffy and Spike related the terms of the deal that they'd made.
"So the upshot is that we're looking for a big green oak tree, someplace on this island that appeared out of nowhere. We have to get a chest out from under it, which is going to be filled with all kinds of stuff we don't care about. We have to find a tiny hare, which somehow has a tiny duck inside of that, and then an egg inside that, with a little bitty needle inside, thinner than a hair. We break that, the Immortal dies, we go home." Spike crossed his arms.
"Except you don't go home. You promised Baba Yaga you'd stay and work for her." Buffy tried to keep her voice as even as possible.
"I.. well, I mean.. Buffy, how bad did he hurt you?" Angel asked.
Buffy was surprised by the intensity of the question. "Who? What?" She looked back and forth between Angel and Spike. "Ohhhh. Um, I don't know. I'm mostly mad, I think. I was the one who went after him, at first, so you know. But the last couple months, we really haven't been in much of a relationship. Just drop by, get me some expensive stuff, take me to dinner, then leave again. I think he only used the magic stuff to keep me around, for some reason."
"He didn't, you know?" Angel looked down, and Spike looked away.
"No. No, I don't think so. I'm okay, I swear. I mean, what he did is totally not okay, and I'm really mad about it, but that doesn't mean I can't be okay too. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah," Angel said softly. She moved to give him a short hug, then went over to Spike and hugged him too. They both smiled up at her.
"So, guys, what do we do next? I vote we take the fight to him."