- Keystone – Chapter 1/21
- Keystone – 2/21
- Keystone – 3/21
- Keystone – 4/21
- Keystone – 5/21
- Keystone – 6/21
- Keystone – 7/21
- Keystone – 8/21
- Keystone – 9/21
- Keystone – 10/21
- Keystone – 11/21
- Keystone – 12/21
- Keystone – 13/21
- Keystone – 14/21
- Keystone – 15/21
- Keystone – 16/21
- Keystone – 17/21
- Keystone – 18/21
- Keystone – 19/21
- Keystone – 20/21
- Keystone chapter 21/21 and epilogue
Word Count: 46,252 Complete-21 chapters and epilogue
Warning: explicit exsanguination scene
Summary: Sent to retrieve artifacts from another dimension the Slayer and her team become deeply embroiled in a twisted plot that places them in dangerous opposition to the Watcher’s Council.
A/N: AU Adventure. Set within the Grundyverse this story stands alone, a separate endeavor for this community, and although there is humor and romance, the plot is darker than what I usually write to suit our community theme of obstacles. Our poor beloved characters- they’ve certainly got ‘em in spades.
Disclosure: These characters belong to Joss, ME, Fox and anyone affiliated with same. Only Empress and the plot are mine.
Giles paced within the confines of Lydia’s small office, his long legs carefully skirting the furniture. He’d been steadily following the same circuit since they’d returned from their visit with Adams.
Becoming more and more worried over the shocking revelations that continued to manifest with every step he and Lydia took, Giles was feeling ineludibly trapped– tied in place by a thick coiling rope made of Council protocols and power.
They both knew that they desperately needed to find a way to warn Buffy, but so far they’d yet to come up with one single solitary idea on how to accomplish the task.
He could feel his legendary control slipping and was nearing the point where he’d march into Travers’ office and throttle the man, Ripper-style.
“The problem as I see it is the impossibility of opening the portal without anyone in the Senior Council being made aware of it.” He took off his glasses and started polishing a lens with his handkerchief without missing a step.
“That’s not the main problem at all, Rupert. Although we need to avoid alerting the Council, the main problem is opening the portal ourselves. It’s impossible. It is on a mystically set schedule, and due to the difficulty of opening anything into that dimension, it’s impervious to change. The next opening is timed for the Slayer and her team’s return, which is in two days– which means she and the others will have been in the other dimension for over a week.”
Giles could feel the Council’s rope tighten. “That’s too long to wait. They’ll have already stolen the icons by then and if they’ve located Harker they’ll have set off the icon test, too. There must be another way. If only I could travel there myself and tell her.”
“Even if you could travel there– which you can not– it would not be the wisest idea. That dimension is literally teaming with vampires. Look at what happened to Harker and Phillips and they had experienced security with them. Besides you wouldn’t have any way of locating the Slayer. You’d be searching an enormous area alone and unprotected.”
Leaning back in her desk chair, Lydia stared at the ceiling and drummed her red tipped fingernails on the arm of her desk chair. Tap, tap, tap. Suddenly she sat up and smiled, causing him to stop abruptly and ask, “What?”
“You’ve given me an idea. I don’t know if it’s even possible, however…” She reached for her telephone. While it rang, she quickly sketched her idea.
He agreed that it was definitely a long shot, but it was all they had. Maybe, just maybe the rope could be loosened slightly, enough for one slim chance.
“So what do you think, Professor Simms? Will it work?” Giles waited anxiously for the Professor’s opinion on Lydia’s idea.
The elderly academician stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “Theoretically it should work. The box is still cohesive enough on its own to house a small letter. If we remove the box from its protected space here in the lab, it will travel back to its own dimension and I can accelerate the process to assure its arrival in one piece. However there is something else which should be carefully considered first.”
“What would that be?” Giles tried to keep his impatience in check, but every moment standing here gabbing with the talkative professor was another moment Buffy was in danger.
“Once the box and your letter are sent on their way, I can’t predict their final destination with any degree of certainty. I have no way of tracking the box’s movement once it leaves our dimension.
I have postulated three distinct possibilities. The first shows the box arriving back at its original location. This is the worse case scenario. The Slayer’s enemies would then possess information that she does not.
The second possibility shows the box having an unknown attraction to the icons, somewhat like a magnet and a piece of steel. It would then materialize next to the icons or possibly with them inside again. Depending on who possesses the icons at that moment, either the Slayer or her enemies would then benefit.
The third possibility has the box dropping into some unknown location, possibly a dimensional hot spot, where no one involved in the situation will see it. Neither the Slayer nor her enemies would possess the information, therefore no one would gain.
So there is a high probability that the Slayer will never receive your letter and an even slightly higher probability that her enemies will.”
Lydia let out a breath. “What do you want to do Rupert?” It was his Slayer, his call.
“I’m not a gambler by any stretch of imagination, but I’d like to believe the odds aren’t always in favor of the house. Send it.”
Professor Simms beamed. “Excellent. Why don’t you sit down in my office and write out your missive while I get everything prepared. It won’t take long.”
Giles retreated to the desk in the next room. Locating some paper, he penned a quick note explaining everything Adams had told them and added a few personal lines to make sure Buffy could tell it wasn’t a hoax. He was sealing the envelope when the professor came back through the door. “Everything’s set. I’m ready for your letter.”
Reaching for the envelope, the elderly man smiled at Giles. “I felt it important that you understand everything and although it wouldn’t have been ethical to try and influence your decision, I personally believe you’re doing the right thing. Star crossed lovers hold a special place in my heart and I believe Buffy and Spike deserve any chance you can give them for continued happiness, no matter how slight the possibility.”
Giles looked up and froze.
Not expecting any reply to his comments, Professor Simms plucked the envelope from Giles’ outstretched hand. Mumbling calculations to himself, he walked back into the lab nodding absentmindedly at Lydia standing in the doorway.
Grange wiped the last drops of blood from around his lips with his thumb and sucked it clean. Surveying the cavern, he had to give kudos to Calder’s soldiers. They certainly knew how to hold a top notch massacre. Other than a couple enemy fighters they’d deemed healthy enough for a token gift for the vampire leader, his soldiers had killed and drained every single human in the cavern, including the wounded.
Other than killing Anderson, this had been the most fun he’d had since he’d arrived in this God forsaken hellhole.
He watched one of the vampires turn over the last body, do a quick search and shake his head. Feeling acute disappointment, Grange growled sullenly. Calder had been so certain the icons were here with these puny fighters.
Obviously someone had spirited them away before the second battle had begun.
As the lowest minion, he knew better than to try and sneak away to search himself– he could feel eyes watching his every move–so he forced down his impatience. He’d bide his time and eventually they’d turn up. He had no doubt Calder had sent feelers out throughout the countryside. He’d discover their current ownership before the night was over.
In the meantime he’d eaten very well. He glanced down at the blonde lying at his feet. Among the humans he’d eaten, she’d been the best. Deliciously sweet, just the way he liked. And bonus, he’d gotten a superb knife in the bargain. Smugly he slipped the knife down inside his boot and joined the line of soldiers heading back to the castle. Definitely a good night.
“…so I agreed to bring Lyre and the others with me. Their tunnel system is extensive and there are tunnels that join caves beneath almost the entire desert. We circled around to confuse anyone followin’ and then finally came up top a couple miles from the ridges. That’s where I caught your scents. Just a matter of tracking after that.” Spike reached in his pocket for his lighter. He was sitting on the ground in Ian’s hut with his arm draped across Buffy’s shoulders. She was leaning against his shoulder.
Willow and Ian were listening to his story while clearing away the leftover food. The Grundy and the exhausted warriors had already fallen asleep on the floor. Lyre was still awake, sitting alone, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
Buffy glanced over at the quiet girl and nudged Spike. His eyes filled with compassion.
“Lyre, why don’t you get some rest now, pet? We’ll have our big confab in the mornin’ when everyone’s not so exhausted. I know I could use some sleep, myself. We walked a long way.”
She looked up and Spike’s heart twisted for her. The grief stricken girl looked so utterly lost and alone, as if she’d lost her only friend. No, more like twenty friends.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “You’re right. I am tired. Good night.” She stretched out next to the other warriors.
“Buffy? Ian and I are going to turn in, too.”
Ian smiled at the couple still sitting on the floor. “It’s not the Ritz, but you’re welcome to any part of the dirt floor still available.”
Spike smirked. “I’ve slept in worse. Hell, I own worse. You should try sleepin’ in a crypt sometime.”
Buffy giggled, waving her hand airily. “Don’t let him fool you Ian. He might be a vampire, but he has the most comfortable king sized four poster bed you’ve ever laid on. Silk sheets, too.”
Spike growled, nuzzling her neck. “Gonna wreck my image, Summers. Besides, who said you’ve ever slept in that bed? Although I’d certainly have to agree with the laid portion of the comment.”
Ian stilled. “You’re a vampire?” Scandalized, he glanced at Buffy. Still giggling, she was playfully smacking Spike’s arm while he smirked.
“A vampire? Working alongside the Slayer? I mean, and a personal relationship, too… That sounds so…” Dumbstruck, his voice trailed off. He didn’t know what to say.
Willow laid her hand on his arm. “It’s alright, Ian. Spike’s a huge part of our team and Buffy’s main backup. Her Watcher is aware of the relationship. He’s been working with her for over a year and has saved us all countless times. Empress is his Grundy.”
Spike cut his eyes to Buffy. She’d stopped giggling and was warily watching Ian. “It’s too close in here, Sweetling. Care to join me for a stroll?”
She nodded, rising gracefully to her feet. “Willow, I think it’s time you and Ian got some sleep. Spike and I’ll do a quick patrol around the village perimeter before we turn in.” She looked pointedly at Ian. “Besides I need some air.”
“Sounds good. We’ll all be fresher in the morning. Good night guys.”
“ ‘night Red.”
“Good night Will.”
Neither one of the couple spoke to him as they walked out of the hut.
“Guess I mucked that up,” he said ruefully. “I was so surprised. I mean, he ate food with us.”
“Spike’s different than most vampires. He loves food and the spicier the better. He really is a good guy, Ian. I admit the first couple of times I met him, he tried to kill me. But after that chip was forced in his head, everything became different. It acted as a sort of catalyst and he completely changed the direction of his life and willingly joined our side. Once he and Buffy got together– no matter how it looks to the casual observer, they’re in love, it’s not just physical–that was the icing on the cake. He’s fiercely protective of her. I honestly believe, and I think her Watcher would agree, that Spike is one of the reasons she’s still alive. While we’re all working together here, if you can’t deal with Spike you’re going to find yourself pretty lonely.”
“Chip?” Ian’s eyes widened. “That isn’t William the Bloody is it? Dear God, I’ve read about him in the Council library. He’s an incredibly dangerous vampire.” His voice grew thoughtful. “There was a page appended to the text about how some covert military organization put something in his head to muzzle him.”
“He’s not muzzled. He could easily find a way to kill if he wanted. He chooses not to hurt people. In fact, he only drinks cow’s blood.” Willow’s voice hardened. “Ian, you need to try not to be a Council geek here. You’re a scientist first, so be rational guy and give him a chance. And whatever you do think about this, know that Spike and Buffy are our best chance of getting out of here alive. Personally, that idea appeals to me a whole lot. And look at Lyre– she’s a warrior whose sole mission is to kill vampires and Spike saved her and the others. She trusts him. I think you need to do the same.”
Ian spoke slowly, trying to get his jumbled thoughts in order. “I guess I need some time. I’ve seen things in this dimension that have colored my outlook– to put it mildly– and it might take awhile for me to figure out who I can trust. But I promise I’ll try to give Spike the benefit of the doubt.”
Satisfied with his answer, she said, “Spike’s a good man. You’ll see that once you’ve been around him for awhile.” She yawned widely. “Good night, Ian.”
But he’s not a man at all and that’s the crux of my problem. “Good night.”
Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/303732.html