- 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.
“That’s quite a story you reported to the Council Cyrus.” Lydia leaned over and said, “But I need to hear everything.”
To Giles’ astonishment the soldier grinned. “Sure, Lydia, I’d love some company.” He nodded at the empty visitor chairs in the corner. “Why don’t you two sit down for awhile?”
“Are you allowed to be up yet? It’s such a lovely day.” At his nod, she smiled–affectionately?– for the first time. “Wonderful. Rupert, would you find a wheelchair? I think Cyrus could use some fresh air.”
Still utterly confused, he murmured, “Good idea.” It was more than possible the Council was keeping a close eye on the young soldier, or even possibly watching him and Lydia. Either way it would be a good idea to leave the room.
It only took a few moments to locate a chair and gain permission from the floor nurse for the brief excursion. Giles pushed the young soldier out into the courtyard and stopped next to a stone bench beneath a huge flowering tree. He locked the chair’s brake and sat down on the bench next to Lydia.
Adams was staring around the courtyard at the flowers and trees like he hadn’t seen the world before and Lydia was being uncharacteristically quiet, so Giles finally broke the silence. “I can’t help but be curious. It sounds as if you two know each other well.”
Lydia stared at the young soldier absorbed in watching the squirrels playing tag on the branch above his head and the corners of her mouth lifted. “You could say that. Cyrus is my nephew, my oldest sister Corrine’s son. I helped him get his job in Security.” She raised an eyebrow. “And now he’s going to tell us what’s going on here. Cyrus?”
The young soldier reached over and plucked a piece of clover from the lawn. Twirling it between his fingers he looked at Giles. “So how much do you know about the icons and our mission?”
“Only what is written in the mission reports-that the group was sent into the portal– by Lydia on orders from Travers–in order to retrieve two icons, but the mission failed. You alone returned alive with an empty box and most of your group either dead or missing and presumed dead.”
Giles cleaned his glasses with his handkerchief. Replacing them, he stared at the soldier for a moment. “And that it was you alone who supplied the information within your report concerning what transpired on the mission.”
Ignoring Lydia’s wince at the flat recitation he awaited a response.
“I can assure you that everything in the report is correct, as far as it goes.” Cyrus stared down at the little piece of clover. “But I’m also certain that bringing back the icons was not our only priority. Harker had other instructions.”
Lydia jerked. “But that can’t be. I wrote the mission instructions and protocols myself. Retrieval of the icons was paramount.”
“What were the other instructions?”
Cyrus refused to meet their eyes, instead plucking the petals from the piece of clover. “After we retrieved the icons, Harker was instructed to use the icons immediately to open a portal to any location.”
Lydia frowned. “Whatever for? We were opening a portal here for your return. There was no need.” She stared intently at her nephew. “Are you absolutely certain?”
“You know how I was supposed to guard Philips and Harker on the mission? They were my number one priority. Since this was my first real mission I wanted to make a splash, so I spent a lot of time hanging around with them in the week before we left getting to know them.” He looked sheepish. “I guess I let the assignment go to my head.”
“Anyway I accidentally overheard a conversation Philips and Harker were having in Harker’s office a couple days before the mission. They were studying an incantation that Philips had been instructed to hand over to Harker by the Council. Its purpose was to open and close a test portal in the other dimension. They’d been instructed to make certain that the icons worked before we brought them back.”
“But that’s absurd. Not only did we need to remove them from the vampires’ possession as soon as possible, it makes a lot more sense to bring them through and test the icons under stringent conditions here as opposed to battlefield conditions there. If they didn’t work we’d have all the time we wanted to figure out why, not to mention expert guidance that would be unavailable to you. Also, if something went wrong, they could have easily caused that entire dimension to implode. That was not only a foolish idea, but an extremely dangerous one. I daresay Travers had no real idea what he was ordering you to do.”
“Which is probably why you were never supposed to know about those orders until later—when everything could be deemed a terrible accident.” Dismayed, Giles shook his head. “Lydia, we have inadvertently stumbled upon a plot between Travers and at least some of the Senior Council to make absolutely certain those vampires would never return here and evidently in order to do that, they’re willing to destroy the entire dimension including any and all humans living there.”
“This means if Harker is found alive and Buffy is successful in retrieving the icons, that incantation will still be part of his instructions. He will insist upon performing it. The dimension is still in jeopardy of being destroyed including Buffy and the rest of her team.”
Adams blinked. “But isn’t it a good thing we kill the vampires? They’ll never come through the portal.” He watched Giles’ expression harden and hastened to explain. “I mean, I met the Slayer and I know she would give her life to save everyone here, the same as the rest of us.”
“Ms. Summers is indeed a champion and has offered up her life before; however all of the humans in that dimension are innocents. We can not allow this power play to continue unabated.”
“But Aunt Lydia, it’s too late to stop it. Everyone’s already through the portal and it won’t open again until they’re supposed to return home. You have no way to reach them. Besides, only Ian Harker had the instructions for that additional incantation and he’s long dead. I was there, remember? Harker could no more survive out in that desert alone among those vampires than pigs can fly across it.”
“He has a point, Rupert. More than likely Ian is already dead and even if he is not, it’s a long shot that the Slayer and he will find each other.”
Giles rubbed his temples. He could feel the mother of all headaches coming on. “We need to discuss this further, Lydia, but first we should return Adams to his room.” Standing up to leave, he looked down at the young soldier. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that everything discussed here must remain among us three.”
He nodded. “I understand.”
“Thank you Cyrus for being so forthcoming.” She smiled at him. “I shall tell my sister that you are indeed a hero and that she should be very proud of you.”
Giles was amused to see one of the Council’s highly trained security men cast his eyes to the ground, blushing furiously.
“Cris is a very good leader. We’re all alive because of her. You must ignore her strong words to you.” Lyre anxiously whispered.
“I’m sure she is.” Spike shrugged, although he doubted Lyre could see him that well in the dark tunnel. “Look, I don’t have to like her to work with her. I’m not interested in being anyone’s friend.” After all, it wasn’t like he’d never worked with a pushy acid tongued blonde before.
He felt the girl stiffen and knew she was going to drop the subject about as easily as Empress would give up a piece of imported wood.
“Cris was the first brave enough to leave her village in defiance of the Gods.”
Sighing, Spike stopped. What was it with women? They always wanted to talk at the worst possible moments.This was not the place any man would have chosen to have a conversation, much less one like this. They’d been silently picking their way through a rough rock strewn tunnel that, if he’d judged the distance correctly, placed them directly beneath the middle of the castle.
But for whatever reason, Lyre obviously felt it was necessary to defend the blonde right now. She’d probably been mulling everything over since they’d stepped foot out of the cavern. Maybe even starting to second guess his motives, beginning to worry that he would take off and leave her to die.
“Yeah, I get that. The chit’s a good fighter, knows her way around weapons.” He was dying for a cigarette but didn’t dare light one down here, so he stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the wall. “Lyre, I have no problem with your leader. She’s doing what she feels is necessary for the group’s safety and I respect that.” He shifted, trying to get comfortable against the uneven stone. “She’s concerned because she sees me as a threat. It takes time to build trust, which is why I’ve been walking along down here wondering why you were so quick to believe me.”
She nodded. “That’s a valid question.” Moving to lean against the wall next to him, she continued. “Cris and I have different natures, but we also have different backgrounds. I’m from a village of seers. We have long held the belief that someday a strong blonde warrior will lead us in victory against the Gods. It is one of the prophecies passed down from the elders in the oral tradition of our people.” She glanced over at Spike and took a deep breath. “You need to understand that although we are forced to comply, most of our village disagrees with the Gods and the sacrifices they insist upon. But most villages are not that way. They willingly, no gladly offer up their people; it is considered a great honor to die for the Gods. Even with all their hatred and cruelty they are still loved unconditionally. Cris lived in such a village.
She left when her sister was sacrificed and she’s been gathering other warriors like herself to fight ever since. I believe she is the savior as the prophecy states.” She looked up and stared into Spike’s eyes. “It was also foretold that the blonde warrior would be aided by someone more than human with great strength and bravery. I believe you are that someone, which is why I needed you to understand Cris. Sometimes it is hard for men to follow a woman into battle.”
“So some seer long ago foretold of my help, but you’re afraid I’ll double cross Cris anyway because she’s a strong female leader.” Spike chuckled. “Lyre, remind me to tell you about my girlfriend later.”
His expression sobering, he added, “I’m here with a group searchin’ for some lost members and my primary mission right now is to locate them. That’s why I have to look inside the castle. However, our own leader has sworn to kill vampires and I’m sure she will offer her assistance once we’ve done all that we need to do ourselves. “
“And you? Will you now lend your assistance as the prophecy has stated?”
“I don’t think I’m the one you’re looking for, pet. We live far away from here and I don’t think your elders could have known about me. But I said I’d help you and I’ll do what I can while we’re here. I won’t go back on my word.” He stood up and dusted off his jeans. “Now, how much farther is this secret entrance?”
Spike watched the brunette run her hands along the side of the tunnel. She’d been unusually quiet since their brief talk a few minutes before. He’d brushed aside any guilt over his edited reason for sneaking inside the castle. Lyre and the other warriors didn’t need to know he was planning to steal icons from the vamps. More than likely they wouldn’t understand anything about portals or other dimensions anyway, so he’d kept it nice and simple, stressing the missing men instead. Lyre had immediately offered to ask the other warriors if they’d heard any rumors concerning strangers in the area when they returned to the cavern.
Spike helped her slide the heavy stone out, revealing an open gap about the size of a modern manhole cover. The air rushing out smelled musty and stale. It was a good thing he didn’t need to breathe.
Cupping her hands around his ear she whispered, “This tunnel leads to a small doorway which opens behind a tapestry and shelving within an empty storage room. I dare not go any farther.”
He nodded his understanding and climbed through. Once inside he replaced the stone behind him. The darkness closed around him and he slipped into game face. His newly enhanced vision showed him a tunnel so narrow that his shoulders brushed against the rough stone walls and a ceiling so low he was forced to walk bent over at the waist.
It took about fifteen minutes walking uphill before he reached the doorway Lyre had mentioned, which turned out to be an ancient hinged wooden plank fitted unobtrusively into the wall. Hearing nothing but silence on the other side, he carefully slipped through the door and into the empty room. Taking care not to touch the shelves or the dusty tapestry, he quickly checked out the room. It was an empty storage room and nothing more. Satisfied that he definitely wasn’t being played, he stepped to the closed door.
Another quick listen and he stepped softly into the hall. Nostrils flaring, he lifted his head to try and ascertain which part of the castle held the sleeping vampires. His demon, already adjusted to this dimension, reminded that he only had a couple of hours left to complete his search for the icons and get Lyre and himself safely back to the cavern before the sun rose.
Father down a large carpeted hall, he finally detected scents from at least a dozen, very old vampires on the other side of the castle. Watching for sentries, he headed in the opposite direction. He and Buffy had discussed this earlier and they’d both reasoned that the icons would most likely not be in their sleeping quarters, making Spike’s search that much easier. They both figured that since the vampires used the icons often, they would have set aside a space large enough to open a portal without disruption. Spike was to limit his search to large rooms–dining halls or communal meeting areas, any place big and empty.
After a few dead end corridors and a couple of possibilities that didn’t pan out, he was becoming frustrated with his nonproductive search when he rounded a corner in the serpentine corridor and he smiled to himself. This had to be it. He was staring at a vast empty space at least forty feet long with a ceiling that soared thirty feet high and an odd, almost medicinal scent wafting in the air that smelled differently than any of the other rooms.
Keeping one ear out, he slowly circled the room. In London, he’d glanced in the box the Council had retrieved when Giles had opened it and he had a good sense of the icons’ size. Now all he needed to do was find something in this room the right size to contain them. He glanced around and under the few small pieces of furniture pushed against the walls, trying not to touch anything unnecessarily. Finally his eyes lit on a small table in an alcove on the far side of the room. Quickly crossing the space, he lifted the top on an identically sized small wooden box.
Nestled inside were twin statues– their unmistakable golden shine muted within the dark room. Raptor shaped feathered heads with gleaming ruby eyes warred incongruously with benign smiles and rounded Buddha-like bellies. Spike decided they were creepy enough to be the real thing. He dropped the icons into separate pockets of his duster and quietly closed the box.
He was only a few feet away from the storage room when two voices began arguing loudly. The voices turned into the hall and Spike dove behind a tall cabinet next to him. He could only hope the vampires were too busy arguing to hear him or notice his scent.
The fates were with him for once. The vampires never paused, continuing their vehement argument down the hall and around the corner. Once they were finally out of sight, Spike rushed into the storage room and out through the hidden exit.
He didn’t stop until he’d gathered Lyre and they were back among the warriors in the cavern with the icons still safely hidden inside his coat. One strike for their side.
next chapter here
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/302550.html