Keystone – 16/21

This entry is part 16 of 21 in the series Keystone
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Author: Winsomeone
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 46,252  Complete-21 chapters and epilogue
Warning: explicit exsanguination scene
Beta: EnigmaticBlues

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.

Chapter 16

“Buffy, could we stop a minute? I’ve got to rearrange my backpack. My shoulders are starting to hurt.”

“Sure. We’re carrying so much stuff I’ll bet we could all use a break.”

“I can’t decide which are heavier, buckets of coal or buckets of stone salt.”

Lyre massaged her arm muscles. “I vote for the coal.”

Ian carefully set his bucket down. “I’ll trade if you’d like–this sulfur isn’t too heavy, it just stinks.”

Setting the bulging backpack against a tunnel wall, Willow started shifting stuff, trying to even out her load. “Wait a minute, where did this come from?” She lifted out a small wooden box.

Buffy turned to Spike. He was lighting another cigarette. Rolling her eyes at his nicotine habit, she said, “You didn’t mention bringing a second box.”

“I didn’t, just nicked the icons.”

The group stared suspiciously at the ornate box.

“Be careful Willow,” Buffy warned.

She sprung the clasp and her eyes widened. “Okay, this is weird. The icons are in here, and so is this.” She held up a white envelope. “It’s addressed to you, Buffy.”

“Since when does the post office deliver mail here?”

Willow handed it over. “Maybe it’s included under ‘nor gloom of night.’”

“It could be a Council trick.” Spike threw down his cigarette and moved next to her, placing an arm protectively around her shoulders.

Buffy looked up at him. “You’re afraid some evil thing’s going to go all postal on me, huh?”

Watching Spike’s solicitous attention, Ian had an epiphany. It wasn’t him personally that Spike didn’t trust as much as his employer. Slightly relieved, he decided that he could deal with that. After all, he didn’t completely trust Spike-the-vampire either.

Buffy was still staring at the sealed envelope. “This looks like Giles’ writing.”  She pried open the back flap and scanned it.  “It is from Giles. It’s a warning not to use an incantation the Council provided for the icons.”

She looked over at Ian. “Do you know anything about that?”

He nodded. “The Council gave me last minute instructions to test the icons before returning through the portal with them. It’s here in my papers. It’s supposed to assure us that they do indeed work.”

Buffy crumpled the paper in her fist. “Well, it’s a trick. Travers and the Council are planning to destroy this entire dimension. They wanted to be certain the vampires would die.”

“But-but- that’s absurd,” he sputtered. “We would have been killed along with everyone else here, including all the villagers.”

Spike’s mouth tightened. “And you didn’t know about this? You were the leader of their little foray.”

Ian looked around at the suspicious expressions. All the goodwill and camaraderie had evaporated. With a sinking heart, he realized how much he’d grown to like these people in such a short time.

“I swear I didn’t know anything! I haven’t even read their incantation yet. I don’t want to die and I don’t want anyone else to die either. Besides, why would I be badgering you to help the Treen if I knew they were going to die?”

Spike snorted. “That’s the sort of devious behavior I’d expect from the Council.”

Willow shot him a look before turning to her best friend. “No, that’s true, Buffy. Yesterday Ian asked me to help him decipher the incantation when everything calmed down and we had the icons. He really hasn’t read it.”

“This wouldn’t be the first time Travers screwed over his own people.” She turned to Ian. The man looked stricken. “We’ll have to destroy them without trying them out.”

Relieved, he agreed. “Absolutely. We’ll find some way.”

She looked up at Spike and said casually, “I’m going to have a little talk with Travers when we return.”

He met her gaze and growled softly.

Shivering slightly, Ian decided he’d avoid that meeting like the plague.

Buffy straightened the creased paper, slipping it into the pocket of her jeans. “Willow, for now give the icons to Empress and we’ll destroy the box later.”

“Okay dokey. Here Empress.”

Wagging her bushy tail, the Grundy promptly swallowed them.

Ian’s mouth dropped. “How did she do that?” he asked, bewildered. “And where exactly did they go?”

Spike patted the Grundy’s head. “Not to worry, they’re safe as houses.”

“How much farther to the meeting place, Lyre?”

“Just up ahead and only a little farther past that is our village.”


Lyre’s voice trembled. “There’s no one here. Cris and the others really are dead. I had hoped…” Her voice trailed off as she blinked back tears.

Buffy looked around at the solemn warriors. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Spike told me how much he admired your leader and the other brave fighters. But at least you’ll be honoring them by working with us to take down the vampires.”

Spike’s eyes glittered. “The Slayer’s right, Lyre. We’re going to try our hardest to kill every last one of them. Think how proud Cris would have been to see you lot not givin’ up.”

She wiped her eyes. “You’re right. The last thing Cris would have done was give up, so we won’t either. It would make all of her hard work and sacrifice meaningless.”

Her expression became determined. “Let’s go. The village isn’t far now. Then we can plan our retribution.”

The sky had darkened by the time they finally arrived at Lyre’s village, and even in the dark, the group could see obvious differences between the two villages and their people.

While the Treen were semi nomadic, extremely primitive, and lived on the edge of the desert, Lyre’s people– the Abadi– had lived in an idyllic setting of large, shady trees along the banks of a swiftly moving stream for many generations and their spacious buildings, made of wooden planks, reflected that fact.

Buffy walked Empress nervously into the heart of the village, braced for the same noisy reception she’d experienced with the Treen.

She couldn’t be sure whether it was because Lyre and the other warriors were accompanying them, or because the village was used to trading with strangers, but no one appeared overly interested in either the strangers or their unusual animal. Buffy glanced down at the Grundy and giggled. Empress, less than impressed with her reception, had acquired a sulky expression, her nose high in the air.

Everyone followed Lyre through the village square to a large, square building on the far side.

Lyre stopped outside the door. “This is the temple of the Priestess-Seer, the leader of our people. It is customary to introduce new visitors before settling you inside the guest house. I know we’re all weary, but this won’t take long.”

She motioned them through the door and into a large, dimly lit room.

Buffy’s eyes swept the room, drawn to large swirling symbols painted on the white walls and then to the center of the room dominated by a large freestanding altar; clay vessels with offerings of food and other items were arrayed around it.

A slight noise caught her attention. There were several people standing silently in the dark corners. Still glancing around, a voice drew her attention back to the altar. Someone stood in the shadows on the far side.

“Lyre! The portents told of your arrival, but I refused to believe until I saw you with my own eyes. The woman smiled. “You have been missed greatly. I have longed to speak with you again.”

Lyre chuckled. “I have longed to see you, too.”

Leaning heavily on the can she was using for support, an elderly woman with waist length white hair smiled in the group’s general direction. Looking in her face Buffy saw milky white irises and a complete lack of focus and got the joke. The woman was blind.

She held her arms open and Lyre hugged her. “I also have longed to see you and our people again, Priestess. But I’ve brought sad news. My friend Cris and her followers have been killed. They died heroically, slain by the false Gods during a fierce battle.”

“I’m sorry, Lyre. Cris was a wonderful woman, but she was not the one you sought. I warned you that I saw death treading upon her shadow and I have been deeply worried since you left.” She patted Lyre’s arm. “But you have returned whole and for that I shall leave a little something extra for the Gods tonight.”

She turned in the group’s direction again and bird-like, cocked her head. “Dar and our other missing children are also back safe and sound.”

She made a shooing motion with her free hand. “You all have my permission to leave. Your families will have heard of your return and they’ll be anxious to see you.”

Dar and the other Abadi warriors quickly left.

Turning in the general direction of the strangers that remained, the Priestess motioned them forward and murmured loud enough that the others could hear. “You have brought some interesting companions, my dear. I can feel power, strength and yes, even intelligence and cunning among them.” She leaned her head in that odd bird-like way again. “I should like to meet them now.”

Lyre reached to take her arm and she shook her head, adding coquettishly, “I believe I would very much like the men to help me to my seat.”

Spike shot Buffy a smirk.

She rolled her eyes in response.

The Priestess gestured vaguely in the general direction of a small table and chairs in another part of the room. “Everyone else, please sit down. I know it has been a tiring journey and I promise not to keep you from your rest for too long, however you’ve safely escorted my granddaughter home and I would know more about you.”

Spike helped Ian escort Lyre’s grandmother to a chair. He placed her hand in the crook of his arm. The skin of her hand was light and dry and she smelled of summer flowers.

After helping her into a seat at the end of the table, he slid into his own seat and thought about what he’d heard. Spike already knew that Lyre, with her vast stores of knowledge, was special. Now it appeared there was another, equally important reason Cris had watched over her so carefully. Linage. And with linage usually came power. He wondered how much power the old woman– and Lyre through her– wielded among the Abadi villagers.

While everyone else was still getting settled, he watched the Priestess listen to the sounds and comments swirling around her. She might be old, but nothing got by her. By being seated first at the end of the table, she’d set up the perfect scenario to be near enough to hear everything. From Ian and Willow’s whispered concerns about the careful upright placing of their backpacks and Buffy’s terse commands regarding the overly full buckets to Empress padding over to lie down next to his chair, gave the wily old woman clues concerning the dynamics within the group. Buffy dropped into the seat next to him and he almost flinched. The Priestess was no doubt aware from the assistance he’d rendered– at her request– that he was a vampire. He wondered what she was thinking right now.

Spike unabashedly continued assessing her until she turned in his direction. Although there was no reason to do so–he knew she couldn’t see him– he dropped his eyes. Her sightless gaze lingered a second or two in his general direction before turning in the Slayer’s direction. She smiled broadly, displaying several missing teeth. “You girl, the leader, what is your name?”


The old woman murmured. “Such a pretty name. And I am Imala, Priestess-Seer of the Abadi. I, too, am a leader. We have that in common.” She smiled again. “What would you say, Buffy, if I told you that I had a vision concerning you and your friends two days ago?”

“I’d ask if you understood any of it. Visions can be cryptic.”

Imala chuckled. “You’re a smart girl.” The Priestess sat back against her chair. She was so tiny that her feet didn’t touch the floor. She swung her legs back and forth like an energetic child.  “I will tell you what I saw and perhaps between all of us we will gain the knowledge to understand the Gods’ message. A wise man has said that the sum of parts is sometimes greater than the whole.”
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