- 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.
Grange angrily paced back and forth in the cave. He was starving, absolutely famished, craving food so badly that he could hardly stand it. He’d had some problems initially catching anything in this hellish dimension, and it was just his luck that the one thing he’d managed to trap yesterday was small and hadn’t even made a dent in the gnawing hunger.
He could feel his body weakening. Frustrated beyond belief, he hurled a fist sized rock against the far wall. The noise it produced sounded a little like the report from the semi-automatic he kept beside his bed at home. It was oddly comforting.
He hated this dimension with its vast desert and barren caves with a passion he hadn’t known he possessed– after all, he’d been a career soldier before joining the Council to become head of security, and he’d been on countless missions through the years in terrain much like this– but being here in this hellhole seemed much, much worse somehow.
He’d always prided himself on his ability to be completely calm and detached during any unusual situation, but the damn sun was sapping him in ways he hadn’t expected and coupled with the no food situation, he was really starting to lose his grip. If he didn’t eat soon, he feared for his sanity. On the other hand, sanity could be overrated…
Shaking his head over even making a joke like that, he tried to pull his mind away from his raging hunger and the current situation by thinking about other things. He replayed movies he’d seen in his head, television shows he’d enjoyed recently, and then London and the bustling nightlife captured his thoughts.
Thinking about the city reminded him of food again. There were all kinds of food on every corner in a large bustling city like London. At home he could eat as much as he wanted, wash it down with a few pints at a pub, and then go out and get dessert.
Stretching out on the rocky floor to conserve his strength, he put his hands behind his head and thought about what kind of food he’d have first when he returned home. A pretty young blonde maybe, or better yet, a buxom redhead. He’d always had a special fondness for ginger women. Maybe he’d let her run first-strictly for entertainment of course- he was in the best physical shape he’d ever been in. He smirked. Dinner and a show. How very metropolitan.
Anger finally abated, his golden eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Too bad he didn’t have those damn icons any longer; he could leave right now and be home in time for tea. He briefly wondered how blood and Lemon Zinger would taste together and decided it might be a delicious combination since they were both so tangy.
He really had to find something larger than a two year old this time. If only he could have caught the female too, but he’d been unsure of his abilities at first. Not like now.
After his meal, he’d track and recapture the icons so he could go home. He’d been diverted from his directive— he laughed at what the Council would think about the reason— but a soldier always completes his mission, and Grange was nothing if not a soldier. And now with the light finally waning, it was time to move out.
Still laughing, he saluted the empty cave.
There was a light knock and Lydia looked up from her paperwork as Giles poked his head in the door of her small office. “Lydia, do you have a moment?”
“Of course, Rupert. Please come in.”
He dropped into the leather chair in front of her desk and held up a manila folder. “We just saw each other at the portal opening an hour ago, but I felt it might be best to speak to you about this in private. Have you read the report from Professor Simms concerning his personal investigation into the icon box?”
She frowned at him curiously. “No, I haven’t. May I ask how you managed to receive a copy?” She leaned back and sighed. “I’m sorry, Rupert, that was rude of me. You needn’t answer that.”
“The Professor gave a copy to Willow at our suite earlier and she passed it to me. I understood the Council had already received it.” He supplied the answer easily, before arching an eyebrow. The woman looked decidedly unhappy. “But this isn’t about my having the report, is it?”
Lydia shook her head. “I’m being removed from the project. It seems Quentin is more than a little unhappy with my work lately, including the hiring of Professor Simms to fill in for Harker. I believe our group meeting earlier was the proverbial last straw.”
“Can you fight the decision?”
“You’ve been in the field awhile, but I daresay you remember how the game is played.”
Watching his thoughtful nod, she shrugged. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I knew this could be a possibility when I spoke up, although honestly, I didn’t think Quentin would go this far. But the direction the Council has taken in various affairs lately has bothered me and others among the senior staff. As for this particular situation with the portal and the vampires, only a select few, even among the highest level, are aware of the inherent danger here. Need I say I dislike secrets of this magnitude?”
He frowned. “He’s setting up a sacrificial lamb in case this can not be easily contained.”
She dipped her head in acknowledgment. “And I am to be the one bloodied upon the altar.” She tapped the desk with her fingernails. “After all, I am but one small cog in a tightly run machine constructed by Quentin and his—.”
“Bloody twits” Giles interrupted and was rewarded with a flash of amusement in Lydia’s eyes.
Her mouth quirked. “I was going to say inner circle.”
“They are one and the same.” He leaned back in the chair and stretched his long legs. Pointing at the pile of papers spread across the desk, he spoke slowly “How long do you have? I assume you will be given ample time to either complete or hand off your current assignments.”
Her lips pursed. “I’m not sure yet. You see, I have made the effort to cultivate a close friendship with Emma, Quentin’s personal secretary, although I’m sure he’s completely unaware of it.”
“Keep friends close and enemies closer…”he murmured and was rewarded with another flash of amusement.
“Quite. So I haven’t been officially notified yet, although papers have been typed that will reassign me to the field, possibly to work with one of the potentials, although that is certainly not within my true area of expertise.”
Giles watched Lydia set her shoulders firmly and raise her chin. He’d always admired her indomitable spirit and her humanity, both in short supply around here. He fixed his attention on her solemn expression as she continued to speak. “But today I am still in charge of this project, so would you mind explaining what it is that Professor Simms has discovered?”
Endeavoring not to embarrass her further, he slid the folder across the desk and replied matter-of-factly. “Professor Simms has discovered that the box is losing dimensional cohesion– slipping on a molecular level– away from our dimension and possibly back to its own.”
Lydia looked startled. “How can that be?” Leafing through the report, her eyes narrowed. “This report is dated prior to the Slayer’s trip earlier today into the portal.”
He nodded in the affirmative. “If the icons can’t remain permanently within this dimension and Quentin was already aware of this, what purpose would be served by sending Buffy to retrieve them? It appears that we should be finding other ways to stop the raids.”
She answered wryly. “About the Slayer’s current trip, there were only two things of which I was certain. One, it would not be a humanitarian effort to retrieve my team, and two, the Council badly wants those icons.”
Her expression grew thoughtful. “Now, I am certain of only the first, although I do have my suspicions concerning the second. Come on, Rupert, I think we would both like to hear more about what Professor Simms has to say, and then there is someone else we need to speak with.”
Spike decided that he’d never complain about Southern California again, or at least not nearly as much. At least in Sunnyhell he didn’t have gritty sand mucking about in his boots because of the lack of decent concrete sidewalks or the constant stink of sulfur in his nose. Yeah, he could stop breathing– no problem there– but then he’d have to give up inhaling his Marlboros and there was no bloody way he’d walk all night over hill and dale without a nicotine fix. That wasn’t even an option.
Factor in the circuitous route he’d had to take around some little Podunk village that was not only having some sort of loud party but wasn’t even shown on Adams’ sketch–which meant even longer slogging in the sand and you had a dimension rated high on the shite meter. He figured about an 8.5 of extreme suckage as Buffy would say.
Scowling, he dug a pebble out of his Doc Marten before setting off to climb to the top of the tall hill that was the end point on soldier boy’s map. It had taken him four hours of steady walking and complaining to finally arrive here and it would soon be daylight. He needed to do his little recon and then find someplace to wait out this dimension’s short day.
He hiked to the top and finally stood on the crest, peering through the nearly breaking dawn into the deep valley below. His mouth dropped open as the litany of complaints inside his head vanished.
Running a hand through his hair, he swore softly. He’d been wrong. This dimension was definitely a solid ten–solid gold Olympic medal material in fact– with lots of additional bonus points for one very minor detail the soldier boy had neglected to mention to the Slayer about the vampire’s stronghold.
It was a castle.
He took in the details of the enormous, looming stone structure sitting solidly in the middle of a surprisingly verdant valley filled with trees and other lush landscape and sitting right in the middle of all that scenic greenery was the stone edifice.
Although much smaller than a conventional castle, it was still at least four stories high and completely surrounded– as far as he could tell from this angle– by one very solid thick stone wall.
Incredulous, he rubbed his tired eyes and looked again. No mirage, it was still there and still every bit a castle. Hell, he was English— he knew a castle when he saw one. He could even see the top third of an actual keep showing above the wall. The only thing missing was a gaily colored flag perched on the top. And oh, mustn’t forget that real cranking drawbridge spanning a moat full of brackish, yellow water– although having any kind of a water-filled moat in the middle of a desert was actually pretty inventive, and now that he thought about it, where in the hell had they found enough stone to quarry to build a bloody castle?
Feeling incredibly vulnerable since he’d forgotten to pack his siege tower, Spike realized he was standing on the crest of the hill gaping down at the castle’s front facade like some gobsmacked berk, and now that he’d started paying attention to his surroundings, he also realized there were several vampires– he and Rupes had been right, they were obviously guarding the door– standing at the large, barred entrance to the bloody thing, and who might at any moment, look up at the top of said hill. And right at him.
Swearing again, he dropped to the ground and slid a little way back down behind the crest. He leaned back against the hill, carefully sitting on his coat to avoid the gritty sand, and tried to think of a brilliant plan to gain entrance into a castle in any way except as a prisoner. After all, being incarcerated somewhere inside that monstrosity would cramp his reconnaissance style a wee bit and piss off the Slayer when she discovered she had to storm a castle to save him. Especially since he knew she hadn’t packed her siege tower either.
When he couldn’t immediately think of a brilliant plan that didn’t include chain mail and hollow coconuts, he lowered his sights a little and tried to think of any plan. Maybe he should leave and report back to Buffy, although he couldn’t think what good that would do. Then they’d all be sitting here staring, instead of only him. He needed to get inside– if only to figure out the layout and how many vampires were in there– although reason dictated way, way too many if they could build that.
Nothing for it. Grimacing, he hoped something would come to him and changed into game face to look pretty for the locals. Standing up again, he laced his fingers behind his neck in the universal gesture for surrender. At least he hoped a universal gesture meant the same thing in other universes, after all wasn’t that what universal meant? Already wishing he’d given himself more time to think up a plan or at least the chance to locate some chain mail and possibly even a couple of coconuts to hollow out, he took a determined step forward.
next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/301618.html