Keystone – 9/21

This entry is part 9 of 21 in the series Keystone
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Keystone

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 9

Buffy staked the last vampire and watched it explode into dust. “I think I’m going to need something a little less pop culture-y and more creature of the night-ish next time, because he sure didn’t get that HBO quip.”

Empress snorted. She thought the vampires in this dimension were very stupid. Extremely strong, yes, but stupid. The fight hadn’t lasted nearly long enough and was even a little boring toward the end. Once she’d lit the sky with a couple fireballs to make it easier for the Slayer to see, the demons had almost run right into the Slayer’s stake. They appeared shocked and surprised that the petite woman and her fire shooting pet hadn’t surrendered immediately. Like she and the Slayer would allow some hunting party of very stupid vampires to attack them without a fight. She might be a Grundy but nobody could force her to roll over. She snorted again.

Buffy grinned. She knew exactly what the Grundy was thinking.

“I know that was hardly worth the effort Empress, and I’d love for us to track down some more vampires, but we’d better start back. It’s almost dawn and Willow’s going to wonder what happened to us.” She wiped her ashy hands on the butt of her jeans, dropped the stake in her shirt pocket and started back up the trail with Empress padding along behind her.  “I hope Willow and the Council minions were able to get some sleep tonight.”

***

The sounds of a routine morning in the village washed surreally over Ian. He’d awakened with a pounding headache and a worse heartache and wasn’t sure how to go about doing anything about either one.

Before falling into a fitful sleep last night he’d made a promise to himself that he would try to learn more about why the villagers worshipped demons. After breakfast he decided the obvious place to start would be with Kalin’s parents.

He found the couple in their hut surrounded by several members of their family and others from the village including one of the elders. Swallowing his sudden nervousness, he entered the crowded hut.

To say it didn’t go well would be the understatement of the year. He stuttered and fumbled, trying to find the right approach. The couple stared blankly at his polite condolences on behalf of their dead daughter. Growing more nervous in the face of so many suspicious villagers, he blurted out a question about the vampires. Kalin’s parents ignored him, looking everywhere but at the spot where he stood nervously awaiting their reply, while the other villagers around him murmured uneasily, and the elder next to Kalin’s mother narrowed his eyes angrily.

Gathering his last shred of courage, he repeated his question even louder. Kalin’s father finally replied with a flat rambling statement about Gods, immortality, honor and tradition that was not only illogical, but made Ian’s stomach churn. Extremely agitated, the elder leaped to his feet, pointed to the hut’s doorway and demanded that he leave.

Embarrassed, he mumbled a hasty apology and fled.

Jamming his hands in the pockets of his khakis, he walked the perimeter of the village feeling like a jerk for upsetting everyone. The villagers were obviously too mesmerized by the vampire cult to help themselves, nor did they have any real understanding of a vampire’s true nature. They believed the demons were Gods and Ian had no idea how to change that misconception.

Ignoring the little voice whispering in his head that he was a scientist not a soldier, Ian thought about the situation, running scenarios over and over in his head determined to find some way to change the villagers’ minds. He had to do something, he owed it to Kalin.

When the sun started beating down on his uncovered head, he looked up and realized he’d walked a long distance from the village. He was about to turn around when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and squinted ahead into the sun. A red haired woman was carefully picking her way down a steep sand dune.  Looking up, she waved her arm excitedly.

Shading his eyes with his hand, he saw that she carried a twentieth century backpack slung over her shoulder and let out a relieved breath. Evidently the cavalry had finally arrived. Enthusiastically, he waved back.

“I’m sorry I’m not the cavalry but more of a private that got lost during the battle.” Willow stretched her aching legs and feet out in front of her and took another long swallow of the water Ian had provided. She still couldn’t believe that not only had she found civilization but had stumbled into the one place that housed a missing Council member.  She glanced around at the primitive conditions inside the hut. Well, it was sort of civilization. “What a coincidence, finding you here. Buffy is never going to believe it.”

“Buffy? Are you talking about Buffy Summers? The Slayer is here?”

She nodded, holding out her empty cup. Ian immediately refilled it. “The Council sent us here to retrieve the icons and then find the rest of the missing team if possible.” She blushed. “I’m sorry, that made you sound second best. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“You don’t mean it that way but the Council does. I have no illusion which is more important to them. I can’t say that I disagree, as those icons are key to holding these vampires within their own dimension, although that doesn’t sound as attractive as it used to.”

Willow set her cup down next to her and waved off Ian’s attempt to fill it again. She was so full of water she sloshed. “Are you referring to the way vampires are treated like Gods? That is so twisted.”

His mouth dropped. “How do you know about that? Is the Council aware of it?”

“No, at least I don’t think so. Well, I guess it’s possible. Maybe.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m babbling. I have no idea what they know. I only know because Grange boasted about it last night before I escaped.”

“If Grange is still here why isn’t he with you? And why would he boast about it?” Even as the words left his mouth comprehension dawned. Oh God, another member hadn’t made it home and once again the responsibility could be laid squarely at his feet. A sick feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. “Grange is the vampire you ran away from last night.”

Willow met his gaze. “I’m sorry Ian but at some point Grange was turned.”

She watched the scientist wearily rubbing his forehead and felt a stab of sympathy. The man looked far worse than she did and she’d been running for her life for the past two hours. She could see that the responsibility for the safety of his team weighed heavily and she already knew how badly that had turned out. Factor in living here with no idea whether he was stuck forever and it was a miracle the man could function at all. If it had been her, she’d be a blubbering idiot. She laid her hand on his arm.

 “I’m impressed how well you’ve kept everything together. I don’t think I could have done half as well. Look, we’ve just met and everything, but I’m beat and no offense, but you look like you could use some down time yourself. This is definitely battlefield conditions and I think we could both use a nap before we try to sort anything else out.” She glanced around the empty hut and added wryly, “I don’t suppose you’ve got an alarm clock.”

He blinked and then a slow grin formed erasing some of the worry lines and making him look years younger. “Welcome to my world. To stay sane I’ve spent the last two weeks pretending I’m Margaret Mead.”

Willow’s mouth quirked and he muttered, “That didn’t sound so odd in my head.”

Pushing his sleeve up he showed her a wrist watch. “We can use the alarm button. A couple hours of sleep sounds heavenly. There was a ceremony last night and I didn’t get much sleep. Later if I’m not completely persona non gratis around here now we can eat and then I’ll fill you in on what this village considers a festive occasion.”

Willow yawned. “Add in any info we can share about the icons and that sounds like the makings of a perfect afternoon. Besides, we have to give Buffy time to track me, so we need to sit tight.”

“There’s no place to go anyway, we’re extremely isolated. I’m not sure you realize how lucky you were to stumble across this village, it’s the only settlement in this entire section of desert.”

 “How did you find it?”

 “I saw smoke from their central fire.” He settled down next to Willow, politely scooting toward the edge so he didn’t touch her. “What if the Slayer runs into Grange?”

Snuggling into the pallet Willow murmured, “We can only hope.”

***

“I can’t seem to walk anywhere in this dimension without running into drained bodies. It’s becoming a habit I could do without,” Buffy muttered as she stepped around the second dead soldier. Gripping her stake she cautiously walked into the cave with the Grundy at her heels.  “Willow? Are you in here?”

Her voice echoed through the empty cave. No Willow anywhere.

She stepped carefully around the third dead soldier, stake still clutched in his hand and  examined the dusty cave floor, putting together how everything had played out. One set of large tracks in, so one male vampire had shown up and killed both of the soldiers standing guard. Then according to the scuff marks and prints, the demon fought and killed Anderson after a lengthy fight. And somehow while all of this was going on, Willow managed to escape. The vamp’s tracks led back outside, although oddly not in Willow’s direction, instead they joined several others before she finally lost them among the rocky ground on the ridge.

Walking back into the cave, she picked up her own backpack from the corner where she’d left it last night. “Empress, can you track Willow?”

Crooning, the Grundy headed outside.

Following, Buffy felt both sad and relieved at the same time. The Council’s men were dead, but her friend had walked away under her own steam, so things were only half as dire as she’d originally thought when she’d arrived. But they needed to locate her before the next sunset. “Which way?”

Empress turned east into the desert with the Slayer at her side.

next chapter here

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/302710.html

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