- 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.
Story begins here
Empress stopped at a fork along the ridge’s path and scanned the valley spread out below her. Lifting her head high, she inhaled deeply, searching through the darkness. The adversary’s trail was becoming less distinct, the demon’s scent melding with scents from others of its own kind and now a few humans. The Grundy closed her eyes and concentrated, finally catching a faint whiff of the scent. There.
The Slayer stood on the rocky terrain waiting patiently for Empress to make her choice. Buffy trusted her completely; she had never known the Grundy to be wrong.
Empress confidently turned to the west and the Slayer followed.
Halfway down the steep, narrow trail into the valley, the Grundy abruptly stopped as she’d been trained.
“What is it Empress?” The Slayer maneuvered carefully around the little demon.
Buffy could see there were obstructions blocking the path ahead, indistinct mounds in the dark lying among the sand and rocks. Cautiously she picked her way forward, sweeping the flashlight’s beam in a wide arc. She could already smell the sickly sweet odor of decay and wrinkled her nose.
Her light stopped on two bodies sprawled across the trail. They were both boys, fairly close in age to her sister Dawn and dead some little time now. Drained of blood they no longer held value to their killers, so they’d been left sprawled on their backs in the middle of the trail with twin expressions of horror and agony mirrored on both freckled faces. Ignoring sightless eyes that stared at the star studded sky, she nudged the closest body with her shoe. A limp arm splayed across the neck shifted, allowing the beam of her flashlight to highlight the damage. She didn’t need to check the other body to know it would also have two identical holes caked with dried blood. She wondered if they had older siblings waiting up for them, wondering why they hadn’t returned home. Why they never would.
“Is this because of our guy?”
At the affirmative tail wag, Buffy nodded thoughtfully. So they weren’t far behind. When they reached the valley floor, they’d have to pick up their pace in order to catch up before it went into some bolt hole for the day. She wanted to kill this demon and there were only three more hours until sunrise.
Empress stilled. Tilting her ears back, she growled and whirled around to face the opposite direction.
Buffy’s tinglies fired. “Empress, did it double back?”
Empress growled again.
Buffy swiveled, trying to see the trail behind them. “So our vamp went out and invited more guests without even asking. That’s so rude.”
Four pairs of glittering golden eyes slowly advanced toward them. Setting her flashlight to the side, Buffy fingered her stake. “I’m glad some of you finally showed up because this has been a pretty boring walk. My name’s Buffy and this is Empress. I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but you know, it’s really not.”
Willow paced back and forth in front of their small fire. She had her worry on and pacing helped relieve a little of the anxiety.
Anderson, the soldier in charge, leaned back against the cave wall and watched her. “Why don’t you try to rest Ms. Rosenberg? Daylight will be here in a couple more hours.”
“Please call me Willow.” Embarrassment colored her face. “I’m sorry if this is bugging you, but I can’t sleep.”
“You’re not bugging me, although there’s nothing to worry about; you’re perfectly safe. Watson and I are both in here with you and Williams is on duty right outside the entrance. Nothing can get in.” Stretching, he stood up. “Maybe this will help.” Cupping his hands around his mouth he called to the soldier standing guard outside. “Williams? What’s your status out there?”
There was no immediate reply and the lengthening silence made the hair on Willow’s arms stand up. She shot a panicked look at Anderson. Frowning, he stared at the entrance.
“Watson, go out and see what’s going on.” As Watson walked outside, he turned to Willow again. “It appears I may have been wrong, Ms. Rosenberg. It might be a good idea to arm yourself.”
“Willow,” She corrected automatically and reached for her backpack.
“I don’t think arming yourself would be a very good idea at all. We certainly wouldn’t want anything violent to happen, now would we?” Willow heard the stranger’s drawled comments and looked up. Horrified, she watched the vampire saunter nonchalantly into the cave. He stopped inside the entrance and growled, “Drop your weapon and kick it to the side. Now.”
With a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Willow heard Anderson acknowledge the vampire as he reluctantly obeyed the command.
Biting her lip, she watched the smirking vampire settle against the wall with his arms crossed. He was wearing black Council fatigues and Anderson knew him by name, so he had to be the missing security man from the Council’s first expedition. One of the vampires must have turned him, creating a dire problem.
Anderson stepped in front of her, speaking low. “Willow, stay behind me.”
Grange smiled and Willow could see his fangs were bathed in blood–Williams’ blood? or Watson’s?– the sight made her stomach lurch.
“Willow Rosenberg? The American witch? How fortuitous. I was back here to find this wanker from my group, but you’ll do nicely. I need someone to handle a couple magical objects for me.”
She cleared her dry throat. “I’m not all that good with magical objects or much else in this dimension.”
Grange smirked again; Willow decided he’d probably been a jerk when he was alive and becoming a vampire wasn’t a major improvement.
“I’m the head of Council Security, Ms. Rosenberg. Or may I call you Willow? I’ve read your dossier. Your background is very impressive, you have a natural talent.”
“You can call me Ms. Rosenberg,” She snapped, hoping he couldn’t smell her fear.
“You used to be Head of Security and you were good at your job.” Anderson’s shoulders slumped slightly. “I’m so sorry Grange.”
Clearly baffled Grange stared. “Sorry? For what? I’m faster and stronger than I’ve ever been. It’s amazing, Anderson. All those years we fought for the Council and never knew how incredible this could be. I get it now.” He leaned forward confidentially. “You know, I’ve never killed a lookout so easily. But then Williams never was that competent. I only gave him average marks on his last evaluation. On the other hand Watson was an excellent soldier, so he proves my point.”
“During your mission Philips died, but Adams returned alive.” Anderson watched him carefully for any sudden movements. “Grange, where are the icons? At least satisfy my innate curiosity before you kill me.”
She realized that Anderson was trying to keep Grange engaged and talking, not only to elicit information but in a ploy to buy the two of them time. Closing her eyes briefly, Willow sent a prayer to the Goddess.
The vampire pushed away from the wall where he’d been leaning, moving farther into the cave with athletic grace. Tightly corded muscles flexed beneath his uniform. The soldier had been fit in life and the demon was powerful and self- assured now. Fear swept through her as she realized Anderson wouldn’t be any hindrance at all to the arrogant predator and he knew it–the vampire was toying with them. Hurry Buffy.
Exuding supreme self confidence, Grange took another deliberate step. Anderson backed up again slowly, gently tugging Willow along with him. Without looking behind her, she knew they were now only a foot or so from the cave’s back wall. There was nowhere left to go. He’d boxed them in.
Eyes glittering, Grange wagged his finger at the soldier. “Now, that’s not very nice, Anderson. I get that she’s a priority, but she’s mine now.” He shrugged. “As for your questions concerning the others in my little group, I have no idea what happened to any of them. I saved that ass Harker and got jumped by the locals for my trouble.” His expression hardened again. “Humans aren’t worth dying for. Would you like me to turn you? It’s the only way you’ll survive tonight.”
Ignoring the question, Anderson persisted. “Where are the icons? Does Harker still have them?”
Grange snorted. “Are you joking? Harker couldn’t hold his own dick without help. The owners took them back.”
He stepped forward again so quickly Willow couldn’t follow the movement before boasting, “Vampires rule this dimension,” He’d stopped an arm’s length away. “We’re treated like Gods. If I didn’t hate the damn desert so much, I’d stay here. But I miss London and all those modern amenities.”
He smacked his fist against his open palm and she nearly jumped out of her skin. “That’s why I need Ms. Rosenberg. I’m planning to retrieve those statues so I can go home and she’ll be ever so helpful with that little endeavor.” He leered at her. “And she’s much prettier than Harker.”
He laughed then— an ugly sound that made Willow cringe. Petrified that she’d have to leave with the demon, she slid closer to Anderson. He briefly squeezed her hand.
Grange glided another step closer. Willow pressed her back against the wall and he laughed again before turning back to the soldier.
“Since the witch is here with you, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the Council sent the Slayer in–that’s what I’d do in their shoes. Is that why you’re so chatty? Waiting for Supergirl to save your ass? I’ll bet she went out to annoy the locals and left Ms. Rosenberg in your very professional care. She’s going to be upset when she discovers you didn’t keep up your end. I’ll bet you’re hoping she’ll show up to neutralize the big bad vampire. How’s that working out for you?– he pretended to look all around the cave– “Because unless she’s invisible, I’d have to say not too well.”
Grange leisurely stretched, working the kinks out of his shoulders and Willow thought it was one of the most menacing things she’d ever seen. Very shortly, she was going to be forced to watch Anderson die and then, not too long afterward Grange would become disgusted and kill her too, because she’d already made the decision not to cooperate. There was absolutely no way she’d let a vampire use her to get through the portal.
“Staring straight at Anderson Grange spoke. “Ms. Rosenberg, you might want to say goodbye to Anderson now. Any longer and he won’t be able to hear you.”
Not waiting for her reply he growled, closing the gap between them.
Anderson pulled a stake from the inside sleeve of his shirt and gave the startled witch a slight push. “Run Willow and don’t stop until dawn.”
Raising the stake he propelled himself forward.
Grange lifted his hands to ward off the unexpected strike, knocking Anderson’s hand aside, but the soldier stubbornly held onto the stake. The vampire grabbed for it and chest to chest they started to grapple, both struggling to gain the advantage.
Seizing the opportunity Anderson had provided for her, Willow scooped up her backpack and ran as fast as she could out into the desert.
Next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/302314.html