- 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.
“Okay, Empress, let’s see what happens.”
Wagging her tail, Empress concentrated on measuring the distance to the clay jar where Buffy pointed. It was a tricky shot. She needed to hit a small piece of rope that stuck out of the narrow opening. It had been explained that any other spot and the fire couldn’t penetrate the clay. It was the rope or nothing.
But she was ready. She’d known she would be called upon to handle this part of the operation, so she’d eaten a lot of extra wood yesterday, turning it into a game to play with the children.
Narrowing her eyes in concentration, she opened her mouth and a small fireball flew through the air, soundlessly landing with pinpoint accuracy right on top of the bomb’s wick.
They watched as it ignited and worked its way inside the jar. There was a brief interval where Buffy held her breath before she and Spike clapped their hands over their ears to drown out the sound of a tremendous explosion. The dust settled and they could see that an entire section of the thick stone wall had collapsed.
“Good work, luv.”
“Now rinse and repeat.”
Empress smirked and immediately set off another; blasting an enormous hole alongside the first.
“Oh My God, Spike. This is awesome. Look at all the damage!” She looked down at the grinning Grundy. “Great job, Empress. Now you need to do the same thing on the other three sides. Spike and I will be down in the tunnel. We’re going to set off those last two bombs with Spike’s lighter. As soon as you finish, go back and wait with Willow. Do you understand?”
When the little Grundy wagged her tail, Buffy nodded satisfied. “Good. Okay, Spike, let’s go.”
“Right behind you, Slayer.”
Grange felt the castle shake for the second time. It felt as if they were under some type of mortar attack, but that was impossible, although someone was blowing enormous holes in the castle walls with some type of incendiary device. The other vampires in the cadre that were still alive after the initial attack were frightened beyond belief and running all over the place. They’d never had anyone stand up to them before except for those children they’d dispatched fairly easily and they couldn’t comprehend that they should be doing something to protect the castle and themselves, especially with the noise from the assault ringing in their ears. It was obviously too much.
Instead of preparing defenses, they were trying to run away in droves, but whoever was in charge for the offense had prepared well. Scores of wooden arrows flew through the air, cutting off the escape routes and dusting any vampire stupid enough to run out of the castle into the open.
Disgusted, he was preparing to mount a counter attack when Calder appeared with his contingent of personal guards. “Come Grange, we’re going to escape through the tunnel system to a safe haven I have set up. The castle will not last.”
He almost opened his mouth and volunteered to lead a fight when he thought about what he would be doing. Why should he stay? This wasn’t his dimension and this was not his leader. Besides he might be able to escape later from Calder and locate the icons in all the confusion. “Fine. Which way?”
Grange, Calder and the guards ran through the unused storage room and into a secret tunnel when Grange stopped. “What the hell?” He picked up one of two clay pots sitting against the tunnel wall and sniffed. “I’ve figured out what happened to your castle, Calder. These little beauties are filled to the brim with good old fashioned black powder. Someone has been giving your villagers a little chemistry lesson.”
“Put them down now.” Buffy’s voice rang through the tunnel.
Lifting his sword, Spike moved next to her. “You heard the girl. Set them down now.”
Grange showed his teeth in the parody of a smile. “Ah, the mystery is solved. The Slayer I presume? Say, how is Ms. Rosenberg? I was certainly sorry to let her go off into the desert alone like that.”
“Willow’s fine. She loves the icons, by the way.” Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “You must be Grange. I should have known by the tragic accent.”
Spike raised an eyebrow.
“Not you Spike. This idiot sounds too much like the Council for my taste.”
“Spike? My, my, we’ve a visit from someone famous. Calder, meet William the Bloody. He used to be one of the most vicious vampires in our entire world before he became the Slayer’s lap dog.”
Spike took a step forward. “I’m no one’s lap dog.”
“Careful Spike. He’s still holding the bombs.”
Grange smiled and his face became the perfect parody of a Halloween jack-o’-lantern. “Oh yes and we certainly wouldn’t want me to light them. I happen to have some top-of-the-line waterproof matches in my breast pocket, too. The Council never did mind spending money to equip their soldiers with the very best. Too bad they don’t do the same for Slayers. Between us, I suppose that make you the more expendable.”
“Maybe I can help that little fact along.” He held the bomb up. “Calder, these contain explosives and they’re what destroyed your castle walls–he nodded at Spike and Buffy– and these two made them.”
Calder growled at his guards. “Kill them.”
“That last blast was only number eight.” Willow said for the third time.
“It’s been ten minutes. Maybe they’re not going to do the two in the tunnel. We should shoot the power ball.”
“No, we need to wait a little longer. Oh, here’s Empress. Hello baby.” Willow bent down to pet the Grundy. “You did a good job, girl. Wait, she’ll know. Empress, did Buffy and Spike go for the other two bombs?”
The Grundy nodded, crooning and wagging her tail.
“That settles it. We wait.” Willow sat down next to the siege engine within the small circle of torch light and folded her hands. “You might as well take a seat, Ian, we’re not doing anything until those last two bombs go off. We can’t risk it with Buffy and Spike still out there. We have to make sure they’re safely in the tunnels first.”
He obediently sat down, folding his own hands in his lap. “So, do you honestly believe that Imenhotep was a healer? I read recently that…”
“Well, that wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.” Buffy looked at the piles of vampire dust on the floor and turned to Grange and Calder. “Your fighters aren’t really that good at actual fighting.”
Spike wiped his sword off. “Next time you might want to hit a dimension that has soldiers that know how to use weapons, Grange. It’s a little one sided otherwise.”
Grange handed a clay pot to Calder. Holding up the book of matches, he said, “I think the sides just evened up” He pulled a match out. “You two are going to sit down and let Calder tie you up. Then you’re going to wait right here while we leave. Otherwise I’ll set these off. Somehow I don’t think both of you want to die in this Godforsaken dimension and even if you’ll sacrifice yourself for the cause, Ms. Rosenburg is still around here somewhere. Without you to protect her, she’s as good as dead.” He closed the matchbook in preparation for striking. “Now, drop your swords and kick them over to me.”
Calder tied their wrists behind their backs and their ankles together while Grange placed the bombs on the floor and scrutinized the wicks. “These are certainly short. I guess that means we’ll need to run.” He lit a match. “Sorry, but I lied. Of course you knew I would.” Lighting the wicks, he and Calder took off down the tunnel.
Spike and Buffy easily broke their bonds and ran through the tunnel after the other two vampires. They reached the split as the bombs went off. The concussion blew them off their feet and into the stone wall.
“When we catch up to them, Grange is mine,” Spike growled.
“He’s Council and that makes him mine. You can have that mute leader. Besides I have a rope burn on my wrist. I won’t be able to wear a bracelet for at least a week. But we’ve got a more pressing problem. Those last two bombs were the signal for Willow and we’re still in the strike zone.”
“There go the last two now,” Willow said relieved. “Ian, are you ready?”
Together they counted down to zero.
After working so long and hard on the project, the pair’s final act was sadly anticlimactic. They released the rope, the enormous boulder counterweight sunk to the ground and the golden ball was slung from the hill top and down into the valley. It was so dark they couldn’t even follow its trajectory.
But in mere minutes they had no trouble hearing and feeling both its final destination and its terrible destructive power.
There was a deep bass earthquake-like rumbling that shook the ground beneath their feet, making it hard to stand up, accompanied by an instantaneous, brilliant flash of light– light so bright it turned the entire valley floor into day instantly.
The castle vaporized, leaving behind an enormous steaming hole.
Up on the ridges, Lyre and her warriors stared in openmouthed amazement as every one of their vampire targets instantly crumbled to dust from the searing heat that blew outward from the epicenter. Luckily for everyone else, the fiery heat stopped once it reached the thick sandy base of ridges.
On top of the sandy hill, Willow and Ian whooped in excitement and relief, holding each other and dancing around the siege engine.
They both heard a noise and thinking it was Buffy and Spike, turned around to call out congratulations.
“Ms. Rosenberg. It’s so nice to see you again. And surprise, surprise. Harker is here, too. I should have known something as destructive as what you unleashed had to be the work of the Council.” Eyes glowing with menace, Grange moved into the torchlight. “So I guess congratulations are in order, however I haven’t time to celebrate. I’m here for the icons and I understand you have them.”
He stepped closer, forcing Willow against the trebuchet.
She felt like she was going to faint as she relived the horror of the other night. Only this time there was no courageous Anderson to save her. Ian was white as a ghost and Willow thought he might actually faint. She quickly looked around for Empress. Where had the Grundy gone? Remembering the success Anderson had had stalling the verbose Grange for awhile in the cave, Willow desperately asked, “What makes you think Ian and I have the icons at all?”
“The Slayer may have mentioned it in passing a little while ago, just before I blew her and her vamp boy toy up with their own bombs. By the way, whatever you two did certainly makes those pale in comparison. That was a stunning show of force. Certainly upset Calder here. It was his castle that you vaporized.”
To Willow’s unending terror, another vampire stepped out of the shadows, exuding more power and if possible, even more menace than Grange.
Ian stuttered. “I-I know you! You’re the leader of those vampires that killed the girls in the village.”
Calder growled. “I kill a lot of girls, or at least I did. Until you destroyed my castle and killed all of my followers.” He moved deliberately toward Ian. “And now I find that it was you that took my portal keys, too. You will return them at this moment or be in a great deal of pain. Comply quickly enough and I may give you a merciful death.”
“No one’s going to do any dying. Well, except for you of course.” Buffy stepped into the circle of light, followed by Spike and Empress. “You know, I think I liked you better when you didn’t speak. Did anyone ever tell you how grating your voice is? Nails on a chalk board. I’m just sayin’.”
Spike stepped between Ian and Calder. “He’s mine, Slayer. You wanted the Council wank.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry, I got sidetracked. Do him quick Spike, that voice just goes through me.”
Spike reached out and yanked Calder away from Ian. “Leave Harker alone. You’ve killed enough.” He blinked and stared at the vampire. “You know you look so familiar that it’s startin’ to really bother me.”
“You are a traitor to your own kind,” Calder growled, pulling away from Spike. He leaped toward Buffy.
“Slayer, look out!”
Buffy sidestepped easily, giving Spike plenty of space to swing his broadsword. He lopped off the vampire’s head and Calder exploded into dust.
Spike shook his head. “What an utter git.” He turned back to Ian. “Are you alright mate?”
He nodded hesitantly.
Spike smiled a genuine smile at the nervous scientist. “Good. I’d hate to see someone with your talent for destruction overly upset.”
Ian blinked. Did Spike smile at him and make a joke? Starting to relax, a huge grin spread across his face. “It was pretty awesome.”
Buffy was advancing toward Grange. “You’re so predictable, Grange. I knew you’d come sniffing around if I dropped that super obvious hint about the icons. We even let you tie us up to make it look good. But there’s one thing I didn’t tell you. That enormous explosion? It was caused by your precious icons. We totally blew them up. So sorry, no one’s going to be having take out in London or any other dimension. That is if there were any vampires left. But I guess they’re all gone, too. And if they aren’t, I think the villagers might have a thing or two to say about it now. They’ve seen vampires die at the hands of humans, so they know you’re not immortal Gods and on that note—”
She spun so fast Grange couldn’t follow her movements, and suddenly the Slayer was right in his face with a stake in her hand. She stared in his eyes for an instant and then drove the stake home.
He exploded in a cloud of dust.
She wiped her palms on the butt of her jeans. “I hate fledges, they’re so annoying.” She smiled. “So I guess we can go home now.” She looked down at her clothes and added wryly, “And just in time. I don’t have any more clothes.”
Spike tucked her hand in his. “Who said you need clothes.”
He snapped his fingers. “Got it. That bloody leader looked like the lizard king himself. That’s been botherin’ me since the tunnel.”
“The king? Is this some type of Elvis reference? Maybe he came and went through a portal. Now that I think of it, he did look sorta otherworldly at the end. I mean who squashes all that fat into silver sequined pants?”
”Not that king. I’m talkin’ about Jim Morrison. Singer for the Doors.”
Rolling her eyes, she smirked at him. “Oh Good. For a moment there I thought this was going to be one of those ancient memories. You know, like where were you when Kennedy got shot.” She smiled sweetly. “Or in your case, I guess it would have to be Abe Lincoln. And then you’d get to add ‘oh you lot are such children’.”
“You lot are children.” He leered. “But I happen to like a certain child. When we get home you can sit on my lap and I’ll tell you a bedtime story.”
She leered right back at him. “It had better be a really long story.”
He draped his arm across her shoulders, pulled her close and purred, “Oh it will be, luv, it will be. With an enormous happy ending guaranteed.”
Gazing in each other’s eyes, they pointedly ignored the simultaneous eye rolls from the two humans and the Grundy standing in front of them.
The elderly woman stepped closer to Buffy and lowered her voice. “I must tell you something which has weighed heavily on my mind. In my vision, you and Spike both died and there was even the possibility that the entire world would turn to ashes. I didn’t have the courage to tell you. But I believe I finally understand now. Although the most probable course at the time, the vision shown to me was only one outcome among many. Your strength of conviction and principles changed history and saved us all, including yourselves. Buffy, you were the keystone that held everyone together and made our future possible.”
Behind her, Imala could hear Lyre saying good-bye and added, “Buffy, please make sure that Spike understands that what he did was the right thing. Bringing those icons here was another step in the line of change. He also saved Lyre. She would have died in that battle with Cris and it is not yet her time. I have been shown that she will lead this village through extraordinary changes when I am gone.”
Buffy laid her hand on the elderly Priestess’ shoulder. “I think Lyre will make a wonderful leader. As for the rest of what you’ve told me, I believe we do make our own destiny. Our visions are merely guidelines, to give us a sort of heads up, so we can make informed decisions and choose the right path for ourselves.”
The Priestess nodded. “Well said, warrior.”
Buffy grinned. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been known to think deep thinky thoughts on occasion. Just don’t want to ruin my image.”
Imala laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“There have been a few reports of stragglers showing up, but the villages are taking care of the problem themselves.” Lyre smiled shyly at Spike. “We have changed the world, Spike. Cris would have been proud.”
“About Cris, pet…”
She touched his lips with her finger. “Please don’t be sad or guilty. I’m not. Cris was my closest friend, but she was foremost a warrior and chose her own path. As do we all. You know I never got the chance to thank you for saving me at a time when I was not strong enough to do it for myself.” She called over to Buffy. “Slayer, may I hug Spike goodbye?”
Buffy flashed a grin. “A pretty girl like you? I don’t think you’ll be able to keep him from hugging you.”
“Goodbye Spike.” Lyre hugged him tightly and the guilt over the warrior’s deaths melted from his face.
He hugged her in return. “Goodbye pet.”
Relieved that Spike had finally resolved his issue, Buffy picked up her sword. “Is everyone ready? We need to get to the portal site by this afternoon.”
Ian grabbed his backpack. “It’ll be good to get back to London. I have so much to report to the Council. I may even get an academic paper out of the information we’ve collected on portal keys.”
Buffy cut her eyes to Spike and her mouth thinned. “I can’t wait to see Travers and the Council myself.”
next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/305486.html