- 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.
Two hours later the sated couple was still lying on top of the duster, cuddled together.
Buffy was staring at the night sky again. Some of the constellations, like the big apple pie over to the left, were starting to look familiar. “Spike, what did you do with the icons? I didn’t feel any bumps during the actual, uh, bumping.”
“Just startin’ to wonder about ‘em now, huh?” His voice sounded amused. “I placed them in Red’s backpack and gave her the heads up. Figured we shouldn’t have them out here with us on patrol.” He nuzzled her neck. “That is if we’d actually patrolled.”
“Patrolling can be overrated sometimes, other things not so much,” she replied airily. “Besides the vamps seem to leave the villages alone for some reason.”
She stretched. He waited until she was nestled against his side again to speak. “I have to take Lyre and the others back to her village late tomorrow, their rendezvous point is near there.”
“We’ll all go. The farther we get from those vampires you took the icons from, the better I’ll feel.”
“It’s going to be a wasted trip, but at least she’ll be back with her own people afterwards. There aren’t goin’ to be any survivors–the vamps tore through those people like they were children playin’ with toy weapons.”
Hearing the bitter tone, she twisted around to see him better. “Spike, it wasn’t your fault. People die. It sucks, but it happens. You had a mission and you completed it.”
“My mission was recon.”
“We decided before you left that if you saw an opportunity you’d take it. They would have found those people at some point and you know that.”
“You’re wrong, Slayer. I led those demons back to that cavern. I might as well have killed those fighters myself. I should have waited and gone back in after they’d left the area, but I got impatient and cocky.”
He sat up abruptly and dug for his cigarettes. “We probably need to go back, so we can catch some sleep. Tomorrow’s goin’ to be a long day.”
He snapped open the lighter and she glimpsed his shuttered expression in the flame’s light. It was going to take some time for him to process the guilt. Spike had assumed the burden for those deaths and although she didn’t feel that it was in any way his fault – she hadn’t lied to him about that – obviously he did. Add another thing to the problem pile – one conscience stricken vampire.
She reached for her clothes. “You’re right; we need to go. It’ll be daylight in a few hours.”
“And then yesterday morning, I tried to find a real reason, but the villagers closed down. They wouldn’t tell me anything except for meaningless phrases about eternal Gods.” Shaking his head sadly, Ian waited for the Slayer to comment.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she leaned against the wall with Spike next to her. Empress was on the vampire’s other side, her furry head in his lap. Watching Ian with hooded eyes, Spike was idly stroking her head with one hand while the other held a thermos full of blood. He occasionally upended the thermos while acting as if he dared Ian to cross some invisible line.
After Willow’s comments last night, he’d made the decision to give Spike–no matter how scary he appeared–the benefit of the doubt, but it was harder to do than he’d thought. When they’d all awakened this morning, he had smiled and said good morning. Pushing past him, he’d received a brief nod. Okay, that hadn’t been the most reassuring.
Now there had been more of that unblinking stare during his explanation of the Treen ceremony he’d witnessed. It was making him so nervous that he’d actually stuttered a couple times, something which hadn’t happened since he’d been in fourth form.
Finishing his explanation, he mopped his brow with the tail of his shirt and reached for water, nearly upending the cup in the process. Taking a sip he watched Spike’s lips twist. Averting his eyes, Ian glanced over at Willow. She and Lyre were quietly discussing routes and tunnels over a map spread on the floor. No help for him there.
Buffy shifted, pulling his attention back to the Slayer. Spike was busy screwing the cap on his thermos, so he ventured a slight smile. “So what do you think we should do?”
She shrugged. “There’s nothing we can do. My main priority–the Council’s priority– are the icons. My orders are to return them through the portal when it opens again in a few days. Until then, I’d like to move them as far away from the vamps in the castle as I can take them. Since Spike agreed to accompany Lyre and the others back to their village, I’ve decided that we’re going with them.”
His eyes widened. “But we need to help the Treen. They’re under the vampires’ control. I explained what they did to the three young women.”
Buffy nodded soberly. “And it’s definitely horrible, and goes a long way toward explaining why they seem to leave the villages alone for the most part. But what would you have me do? I can’t risk a confrontation with an impenetrable castle full of vampires. If we provoke an attack and they start to lose, they’ll run back in there and we could easily lose the icons all over again.
Spike figured there were easily a hundred battle-ready demons living together in that building and not even a Slayer could take on that many. They’ve already trashed the only resistance movement around, and there are simply not enough fighters. There’s Spike, me, Empress, and Lyre and her people. That’s not enough to take them on.
You said yourself the Treen won’t fight for themselves, so I’ve got no way to break the vampire’s hold on them. We need something to even the odds. It’s too bad we can’t fire bomb the crap out of them while they’re hiding away during the day. Lob a few through that secret opening in their defenses that Spike used, like those Orcs did in Lord of the Rings.”
Spike shot her an amused glance. “Did you just use a Lord of the Rings example?”
Buffy’s lips curved. “I’m spending way too much time hanging with Xander, huh?”
Ian smiled slowly. “Actually, a bomb isn’t as farfetched as it sounds. We could try making a rudimentary black powder. Supposedly that’s what they used in the movie.”
Willow got excited. “Oh, that could work! But we’d need–”
“Sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate” Spike said promptly.
Willow and Ian turned to look at him and Buffy snickered. Trust Spike to know how to blow something up.
Spike was grinning at their surprise. “We used it in guns back in the day.” He nodded at Ian. “Council Boy actually has a right decent idea, if we can find the ingredients. It would level the playin’ field. I know there’s sulfur here, we’ve all smelled it.”
Ian nearly stammered again– this time from shock over Spike’s acknowledgement of his idea–but caught himself. The vampire already thought he was a git. “The Treen use charcoal to start their fires, so there must be a goodly amount close by somewhere. I’m sure they would show us.”
“But what about that other stuff– the potato nitrate?”
“Potassium nitrate,” Willow corrected easily, grinning at Buffy. “I knew you should have gone to chem class a little more.”
Ian thought out loud. “I’ve read it can also be made with bat guano, but I haven’t seen any bats. It’s the oxidizing agent, so this isn’t going to work without it.”
Spike frowned. “I’ve walked through miles of caves in the last twenty-four hours and haven’t seen or smelled a single bat. We used to use salt peter. It’s common, used to keep foods from spoiling without refrigeration. It was mined as a crystal inside caves, too. Maybe they’ve got that here.”
Lyre looked at the group. “I don’t understand much of what you’re saying, but I believe you’re speaking of stone salt.” She nodded at the man sleeping behind her. “Dar’s family gathers it for our village from caves all over this area. I’m sure he can lead you to a supply.” She looked curious. “But what can you do with this black powder?”
Spike smirked. “Storm a castle, pet.”
“And with any luck at all, turn a huge cadre of vampires into a big pile of dust. It can be amazingly destructive.” Ian started digging for paper and a pencil. “I’m going to need to compute the exact measurements and then there’s burn rate to consider….”
“I can help Ian with the calculations.”
He smiled his thanks at Willow. “I can use all the help I can get. It’s been a long time since I did any basic chemistry. What should we use for a fuse? If it’s not long enough someone would have to get awfully close to light it. You know on second thought, this could turn out to be terribly dangerous.”
Spike, Buffy and Willow looked at Empress at the same time.
The Grundy wagged her tail.
Willow reached over to scratch her ears. “Don’t worry about that part, Ian. Lighting it won’t be an issue.”
“We’ll need some type of containers,” Spike said.
Lyre spoke thoughtfully. “What about clay jars to hold this powder? Would those work?”
Ian nodded. “They would probably work well. Do you know of someone who manufactures something like that?The treen only make these slatted buckets. They don’t own any pottery that I’ve ever seen. Where would we get them?”
Lyre smiled. “My village is along a marshy area. There is an abundant supply of clay, so we make all sorts of containers to trade with other villages. I think the Treen are set in their ways and don’t want anything but wooden containers. You may have as many jars as you wish.”
Buffy stood up, signaling the end of the planning. “Alright, we’ll collect everything we need along the way to the rendezvous and then do the final assembly in Lyre’s village. Lyre, wake up Dar and the others. Ian, go find out where the charcoal can be found and ask if we could have some of their buckets, too.”
next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/304194.html