Elaisias


by Saber ShadowKitten



Part Eight



"Who's this?"

"That's me, you oaf. Get off."

"Not now, Slayer."

"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."

"Buffy? Spike?"

"Willow?"

"Angel?"

"Dopey? Doc?"

"Wheezy?"

"Wheezy? Isn't that the woman from The Jeffersons?"

"'I'm movin' on up. To the East Side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky...'"

"Spike, you're strange."

A lightball formed in Willow's hand and she smiled at her three friends. "Hi, guys."

"Thank you, Willow," Buffy said, shoving Spike further away from her. They were sitting on the hard floor practically on top of one another in what looked to be a featureless cell approximately the size of a twin bed.

"Everyone okay?" Angel asked, looking specifically at Willow.

"Yes," Willow replied.

"Will you get away," Buffy growled at Spike, who leaned across her to put his face near the floor and the wall beside her where he saw a thin crack of light.

He turned his head to look up at her. "You're just afraid I'm going to smell that you want me," he said with a leer.

"As much as I want herpes."

"Slayer, that's disgusting."

"So is the thought of having sex with you."

"Buffy, do you have a stake on you?" Angel asked the Slayer.

Buffy looked over at him. "Yeah, why?"

"Because if I have to listen to you two for too much longer, I may need it," Angel said, straight-faced. Willow giggled.

Buffy looked back down at Spike, and the two both rolled their eyes before the peroxide-blond vampire turned his attention back to the crack. "Straighten your legs a minute, pet," he said to Buffy. She did and he readjusted himself across them, his chest pressing against her thighs so he could use his hands.

Carefully, he put his fingers near the crack, feeling along the juncture between the floor and the wall. Air came through it, and he could smell the telltale odor of the long dead, old blood and mustiness. He found the corner of the non-visible door and dragged his finger along the edge as he slowly rose to his feet, stepping over Buffy as she quickly moved to give him room.

"Willow, give us a light up here," Spike said.

Willow stood and brought the lightball closer to him. They could both see the crack between the door and the wall with the closeness of the light. "Any doorknob?" she asked.

Spike moved his finger off of the crack in order to run his palms over the entire door. He found a small hole where a doorknob would normally be and crouched down to look. It was a key hole that did not extend all the way through the door, but he could discern the locking mechanism. "Looks like a job for the coiffed one," he said.

"Don't you know how to pick a lock?" Angel asked, switching places with Spike.

"We usually just break down the door," Spike said. He offered his hand to Buffy. "Don't we, luv?"

"Or we get Giles," Buffy said, accepting his help up. She stood and the two watched Angel as he inserted lockpick tools into the key hole. Willow held the lightball closer to the dark-haired vampire to give him more light.

"Got it," Angel said, giving the door a push.

The four carefully filtered out of the cell, wary and hands on their weapons. They found themselves in a long hallway with doors running down both sides. Torches were suspended high on the obsidian walls, their flames providing enough light Willow could stop her spell. Cobwebs hung from the corners of the stone beams that split the ceiling and a fine layer of dust coated the stone floor.

"Well, which way do we go?" Buffy asked, looking down the hall towards the left. "Left or right?"

"Don't you think we ought to figure out where we are first?" Willow said.

"I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say we're in the Tower," Spike said. Angel smacked him on the back of the head. "Ow," the blond vampire glared at his Sire, "prick."

"We were almost to the top of the steps," Angel said, giving Spike a warning look. His Childe sneered at him, then turned and walked over to another cell door, examining it. "So I would hazard a guess we were on level one somewhere."

"And we have to get to level seven," Buffy said. "Which means we have to find the stairs and takes us back to my original question. Left or right?"

"Left," Spike said.

"Okay," Buffy said. She turned right and started heading up the hall. Willow and Angel both shrugged when they looked at each other at Buffy's action, then followed the Slayer.

Spike turned the stone handle on the door he was examining and pulled it open. He looked into the cell, the torches from the hall providing enough light for him to see. A rat the size of his arm looked up at him with its beady red eyes from its perch on a half-eaten human head. The vampire quickly closed the door, turned right as he knew Buffy would choose when he said left, and hurried to catch up with the others.

Angel gave Spike a questioning lift of his brow when his Childe joined them, and the blond shook his head. They traversed down the long hallway without seeing anything other than black obsidian stone and torches. There was no other sounds beside that of their footsteps and the girls' breathing.

"Do you think we'll find anyone else here?" Buffy asked.

"Alive or dead?" Spike said, earning another swat from Angel.

"Maybe," Willow answered. "There's a bounty on the Princess, and we know that anyone who's after that needs the Bands of Kimara..." The redhead paused, then shook her head. "What am I saying? Of course we'll meet others. This is a game. We're in the game. So we'll meet everyone and everything a person playing the game is suppose to meet. And fight."

"Does that mean the game hasn't been altered because we're in it?" Buffy said.

"Um...I don't think so," Willow replied. "Because it's an online game, it's kind of like MUDing, where we can separate and do different things, but still all play together. And the goal is still the same -- get the Bands and rescue the Princess."

"The wonders of modern technology," Spike commented. "And I thought the telly was a bloody exciting invention."

"That's right, you're old," Buffy said. "I keep forgetting."

"Because I'm still dashing?"

"Because you act like you're five."

"Do not," Spike growled at her.

"Okay, you don't act like you're five," Buffy said.

"That's better."

"Make that three."

"Hey!"

"What about you, Angel?" Willow asked. "What was your favorite invention so far?"

"I liked the phonograph," Angel replied. "Being able to listen to symphonies-"

Spike snorted. "Nancyboy."

"Some of us have class, Spike," Angel said.

"Some of us have an unlife," Spike retorted.

"Oh look, stairs," Willow said overly loud. "And they go down, too."

The four came to a halt at the top of the stone steps that curved downwards. Torches continued to line the obsidian walls, set at intervals in the small stairwell. No handrails were evident, just like the steps outside of the Tower.

"You mean, we're through the first level already?" Buffy said. "That was too easy."

"The challenge was probably getting out of the cell," Willow said. "And we didn't examine any of the other cells, which hardcore gamers would have done. And they probably would have been attacked or found treasure or something."

"Treasure?" Spike's ears perked up.

"We just want to concentrate on reaching the seventh level," Angel said. "We'll fight if we have to, but we're not here to go treasure hunting." He looked pointedly at Spike. The blond vampire pouted.

"Down?" Buffy said.

"Down," Willow agreed.

"I'll lead this time," Angel said. "Buffy, why don't you take up the rear and keep your short bow handy. You can shoot over everyone's heads that way if need be."

"Got it," Buffy said.

Angel checked to make sure everyone was ready, then he headed down the winding stairwell. Willow followed behind him, then Spike with Buffy at the end, keeping an eye out behind them, just in case. The curved stairs wound around two full turns of the clock before they ended at the second level. There was only one direction which the foursome could go, right, for to the left was a blocked-off passage.

Quietly, they followed the hall lit with torches for a short distance before the hallway turned to the left. "I think this is the outer wall of the tower," Angel said, his voice unnaturally loud in the silence of the passageway. He touched the obsidian wall to his right, the smoothness of the rock like glass.

"Ellie said the stairs would be on the opposite end," Buffy said. "So we should stay with the outer wall until we find them."

"If we're allowed," Spike said. He gestured up towards the ceiling with his head. "By our companions."

Angel, Willow and Buffy looked up. Sitting, laying and standing on the stone beams that criss-crossed the hallway near the ceiling were hundreds of cats. Big ones, small ones, in all different colors and coats. The cats' greenish-yellow eyes all watched them as they walked, their tails flicking slowly back and forth.

The hall turned left again and they came to a halt when they found their way blocked by a large, stone statue of a cat. It was a deep green in color, perfectly chiseled to look as though she was sitting tall, her paws primly placed, her tail curled around in front of her. The slanted eyes of the statue glittered with gold flecks, the marquis irises black as night within their centers.

"'Mem-'"

Buffy clamped her hand over Spike's mouth before he could start singing Memories from the musical CATS. "Now what?" she asked the others quietly.

"I don't know," Willow said. "Did anyone see a door or something on our way?"

"No," Angel said. "Just our feline friends."

"And the big pussy blocking the hallway," Spike added after he pulled Buffy's hand away from his mouth.

"You just couldn't resist, could you?" Buffy said to him.

"Oh come on, pet," Spike said. He gestured to the statue. "Who could?"

"All of us did," she replied. "Then again, we're mature adults."

"Speak for yourself," Angel whispered to Willow. The redhead covered her mouth as she laughed. He smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it lightly, then spoke up. "If you two are done...?"

"We're done," Buffy said, giving a final glare to Spike. "Right?"

"Mum's the word, ducks," Spike said. "I won't even make the comment about wanting to lick the pussy's sweet milk..." He quickly pressed his lips together and gave the Slayer an innocent look when she raised her fist to deck him.

The purring that started stopped Buffy from hitting Spike. The four companions looked up at the cats, as they began to jump from beam to beam, trying to gather on the one directly above their heads. The hallway behind them began to fill with the felines, the purring becoming louder with the increase in the number of cats in the small area.

"Hello, my precious kitties," a throaty, female voice cooed from near the statue.

Angel, Buffy, Willow and Spike turned as one towards the voice. An extremely curvaceous female with waist-length midnight hair was sitting on the stone statue's shoulder, her long legs crossed at the knee. Her human features were of oriental origin, with slanting green eyes outlined heavily in black, making them more cat-like. The black shirt she wore tucked into black hose was open to her navel, exposing a pendant of deep red that hung suspended right above her cleavage, drawing eyes to her rounded breasts.

"Stop drooling," Buffy hissed at Spike, as she passed behind him to stand at his other side nearer to the wall.

The woman gazed down upon them, a small smile curving her lips. "Humans," she said in that same throaty purr. "Welcome to my lair. I am Ysele the Cat. And you are...?"

"Angel," Angel replied, nodding his head in a formal greeting. He turned on the charm that had wooed countless women to his bed many years before, knowing immediately that was how to deal with the female before them.

"My...," he paused, a slow smirk appearing, letting Ysele think the others were only his bedmates but he wasn't going to call them that. "...Companions are Lady Willow, Lady Slayer, and William."

"I know the poof thinks he's Batman and all, but this is ridiculous," Spike muttered to Buffy. She gave him a puzzled look. "You know, Batman, Catwoman -- Julie Newmar, not Michelle Pfeiffer. But not Adam West's Batman. Michael Keaton."

"Spike, you're babbling," Buffy told him. "Do beautiful women turn you more into an idiot than you already are?"

"No, because you haven't," Spike answered, then turned his attention back to what Ysele and his Sire were speaking about.

Buffy's eyes widened. It couldn't have been, she thought. She didn't just get a compliment other than the normal "good fighting, pet," from Spike...did she?

"We are seeking to reach the stairs to the third level," Angel was saying to Ysele when Buffy tuned back in after convincing herself Spike did not just call her beautiful.

"Rrrreally," Ysele purred with a long roll of her 'R.' "I know this level like the back of my," she held out her gloved hand, "hand."

"Then perhaps you would be willing to escort us," Angel suggested, walking over to the statue and raising his own hand, palm up, to hers.

Ysele put her hand in Angel's and slid down the front of the statue. The dark-haired vampire put his other hand around her waist to assist her, and they ended up standing very close together when her feet were on the ground. "And just what would you be willing to exchange?" Ysele asked.

Angel's lips curled and he gave the woman a smouldering look. "I think we could come to some sort of...arrangement," he said silkily.

"I bet you could," Willow growled under her breath. "Vampires. Psh. Always thinking with their parts."

Angel caught Willow's glare and he knew he had to move the charade along before she turned him into a toad. He ignored the strange idea that popped into his head that she was jealous. He reached into a hidden pocket and extracted the black, onyx statuette of a cat that the halfling had shoved at him two nights prior. He held it up between himself and Ysele and saw the woman's eyes gleam with greedy delight.

"Do we have a deal?"



Part Nine



With the help of Ysele, the foursome reached the stairs heading down to the third level without a problem. They saw several traps that would possibly befallen them had they attempted to traverse the second level alone. Willow reminded them that the further down they got in the tower, the more traps and harder the levels would become unless they played smart.

"Why don't we just bribe each person we come by to take us across the level?" Buffy asked, as the group made their way slowly from the stairwell on the third level into the torch-lit hall.

"Because not everyone will be trustworthy," Willow said. "They could take our bribe and lead us to our death, then come back and steal the rest of our stuff. Plus, there probably won't be a cat in heat on every level."

Angel cocked his brow at the redhead. "'Cat in heat?'"

"I'm too polite to use the 'B' word," Willow said loftily, her nose in the air.

"Ysele wasn't that bad," Angel said. Willow gave him a look and his lips curled up. "Okay, she was."

"Darn tootin'," Willow said.

"Willow sounds jealous," Spike said in a low voice to Buffy as the two bottle-blonds walked behind the other two.

"Threatened, not jealous," Buffy corrected. Spike gave her a questioning glance. "Beautiful seductress versus plain old us, who's going to win when it comes to men's attentions?"

Spike didn't get to answer because something odd caught his eye. Turning, he frowned at the pile of rags that he could have sworn was moving a moment ago. He faced Buffy again and he glanced back with his eyes before returning them to hers, telling her without speaking that he thought something was following them.

Buffy's eyes flicked to the area behind them in time to see a bunch of rags fall into a pile on the ground. Her brows netted together slightly, as she pondered where the rags had come from. They weren't there when they passed that point in the hallway a few seconds ago.

"Angel, do you have the food?" Willow asked the dark-haired vampire walking beside her.

"I think so," Angel answered, lifting the flap to his bag. "Feeding time at the zoo?"

"Oh, ha, ha," Willow replied dryly. "Just give me an apple."

"Here you are, M'lady," Angel said dramatically, producing an apple from the bag.

"Thanks," Willow said, accepting the apple from him. She opened her mouth, about to sink her teeth into the juicy fruit, when Buffy's yell caused her to drop the apple to the stone floor.

"Look out!" Buffy exclaimed, running up to the redhead and yanking her boldly back from a pile of rags on the floor near Willow's feet.

"Buffy, what-" Willow cut her question off when she saw the rags start to move on their own in front of her eyes.

Angel had turned at Buffy's yell, and he saw Spike further back down the hall fighting what looked to be a person dressed in rags. Except, he immediately realized, the person had no face, just an empty hole where the head would be under the rag-hood.

Willow squeaked as the rags in front of her formed into the shape of a person with no face. "Raggamoffyns!" the redhead exclaimed, recognizing them from the creature index in the instruction booklet she'd read before attempting to play the computer game back in her office.

Buffy stepped in front of her and kicked at the thing, causing it to fly back against the obsidian wall of the hallway. It collapsed into a disassembled pile, but it immediately began to reform. Buffy exchanged a worried look with the redhead, then latched onto the other girl's arm and started running up the hallway away from the rags.

Angel darted back down the hall to Spike's side as the blond vampire sliced with his short sword through the head area of the animated rags. Just like the one Buffy kicked, the rags fell harmlessly to the floor and laid still. Then they began to reform.

Spike looked up at his Sire with wide eyes, and the two vampires turned and ran up the hall after the girls, bypassing a second animated raggamoffyn. They skid to a halt at the entryway to a large, circular room near what they thought was the center of the third level. In the very middle of the room was Buffy and Willow, surrounded by raggamoffyns of various shapes and sizes.

Buffy continuously kicked raggamoffyn after raggamoffyn, sending them flying back to land in a disassembled heap on the floor. However, when one was pushed back, another would take its place, making the Slayer's work never-ending. But she kept circling the seated Willow, fighting them off back as the redhead searched her spell book.

Angel exchanged a nod with Spike, and the two vampires leapt into battle from behind. The dark-haired vampire grabbed one of the raggamoffyn's heads and twisted. The rags came off in his hands and the pile fell to the floor, then immediately began to reassemble. He kicked his foot out to the side, knocking a second one apart. Soon he was opposite Buffy in the center, helping her.

Spike went after the raggamoffyns with a violent abandon. He swung his short sword at neck after neck of the animated rag creatures, sending them falling into a heap onto the floor before beginning to re-shape. He also worked his way to the center of the circle where Buffy and Willow were. Once there, he gave the Slayer a cocky grin. "Having fun, ducks?"

"Tons," Buffy answered, kicking yet another raggamoffyn backwards. "This reminds me that I have to do my laundry when we get back." Spike chuckled.

"Come on, come on, come on, come on," Willow mumbled to herself as she flipped through the pages of her book. "Aha!" Rapidly, the redhead scanned the spell, then began to recite it, her hands tracing magickal symbols in the air.

All the raggamoffyns in the room became engulfed in flames at the same time.

But they kept coming.

"Oh, this is nice," Spike growled, beating out a spark of fire that hit his shirt-tunic after he'd swung at a flaming-raggamoffyn.

"Why aren't they disintegrating?" Buffy felt the heat of the flames through her boot as she kicked one.

Angel swore fluently when he burned his hands twisting off the neck of another raggamoffyn that had suddenly burst into flames due to Willow's spell. He fell into a fighting stance and began to kick them like Buffy, sending bits of flaming rags up in the air and onto his clothing. As did Spike, he had to smack the burning particles before his own clothing caught on fire.

"Oops," Willow said, her eyes wide as she witnessed what her spell had done. She quickly bent her head again and started to turn pages even more rapidly. She found a spell to put out the flames and started to cast it, making sure to make the correct adjustment for the size of the area they were in.

An invisible cloud opened up above them, and a sudden downpour of rain drenched the entire room.

An extremely soaked Buffy, Spike and Angel all looked at Willow when the rain stopped. The redhead smiled up at them. "Well, they're not on fire anymore," she said in her defense.

Willow was correct, the raggamoffyns were no longer flaming. The water-soaked rags seemed to slow down, not forming themselves fully when they reassembled after being drenched. Buffy kicked one and it flew apart, the rags landing on the stone floor with loud plops.

"I think we should use this opportunity to leave," Buffy suggested. "Before they wring themselves out."

"Good idea," Angel said, pulling Willow up to her feet. The redhead gave him her wet spell book and gathered her sopping skirts up in her hands. She nodded to him. "Let's go."

With the dark-haired vampire leading the way, the four crossed to the opposite side of the circular room from whence they came, and entered another hallway. Their feet squished with each step they took, their clothing heavier because of the wetness. The torches flickered, but they did not run into any more raggamoffyns.

Angel came to a halt when they entered another room that was filled with old armor, rusty weapons and the gnawed bones of the fallen who'd tried to traverse the third level and did not make it. His eyes scanned the dimness, searching for whatever killed them. The door out of the large room was directly opposite them on the far side.

"Keep your eyes open," the older vampire warned before he started across the room.

Buffy heard the squeak of rusty metal first, her head turning rapidly to pinpoint the source. She grabbed Spike's arm to alert him of the sound. Spike nodded, indicating that he heard it, too, when the subtle sound of metal rubbing against metal reached their ears. He fanned away from her and she took a few steps to her left, forming a slight vee with Willow and Angel in front.

Angel cocked his head when he heard the sound and dropped his eyes to Willow. The redhead's own eyes widened perceptively as she met his, then she glanced around nervously. He passed her back her spell book in order to free both of his hands.

The foursome were silent, tense, waiting for something to happen. The wet trail of footprints and the drag-mark from the back of Willow's dress marked their progress across the large room. The squeak of metal seemed to echo in the obsidian room, making it hard for them to pinpoint from where it originated.

The redhead darted a glance behind them and froze mid-step, gulping in a big breath of air. She turned around completely and her eyes slowly went from the stone ground, up over the broadsword feet, the armor leg-braces, the metal codpiece, the giant-sized breast plate, the pike arms with short sword hands, and the plumed helmet with the faceplate up showing an empty hole where the face should have been.

"Oh boy," she breathed, watching as a second one assembled beside its brother. "Shrapnyl."

"Do we fight...," Spike began, getting a good look at the shrapnyl. A third was assembling as he spoke.

"...Or do we run?" Buffy finished, her eyes on the animated metal as well. She turned her eyes to Spike the same time he turned his to meet hers.

"Run," they both said simultaneously, having learned long ago which fights were necessary and which were not. The shrapnyl fell in the 'not' category.

Prompting Willow and Angel forward, the four broke out in a run for the door. Angel saw a shrapnyl assembling directly in the doorway and he pulled ahead of his friends. When he was close enough, he launched himself with a double-side kick at the breastplate of the fully-formed shrapnyl. It shattered apart, the metal armor and armaments clattering noisily onto the obsidian floor.

They ducked through the doorway and continued down the torch-lit hall. Behind them, scraping and clacking was heard as the shrapnyl came in pursuit. The four skid when they ran around a sharp corner, Willow hitting her shoulder on the wall as she went around it. She gasped in pain, almost dropping the spellbook, but continued on.

"Trouble," Angel called back to the others as he spotted another shrapnyl blocking the hallway. Past it he could see several more, lined up like dominoes. With a snarl, he hunched forward like a linebacker and charged, plowing into the first shrapnyl with his shoulder. It fell to pieces under his hit, the metal echoing in the hallway off the obsidian, as did the second and the third.

The dark-haired vampire stopped short of plowing into the fourth one, who had lowered a sharp blade right at neck level. Angel ducked the swing and shot his fist out. It connected with the breastplate of the shrapnyl, and the hollow echo of his hit rang loudly, but the animated armor did not fall.

"Protect Willow!" Buffy told Spike before sprinting ahead of the redhead towards the shrapnyls that were reassembling themselves behind Angel. She flipped over a partially formed one and slammed her clasped fists down one the next in line, scattering the metal pieces again. She spun and kicked the one she jumped over, knocking it apart.

Angel shot his foot back and hit the one that had started to reform behind him. As it fell back apart, he reached up and grabbed the fourth shrapnyl's armor plated arm as it swung again. He yanked the animated arm out and used it like a bat to bust apart the rest of the shrapnyl. He sprinted forward over the collapsing armor to a fifth one.

Spike stayed behind Willow, watching their backs, as the redhead started paging through her spellbook again. He could see several of the shrapnyls heading up the hallway from the way they had come, and he clenched his teeth togther. "Come on, luv," he ground out. "Find us a bloody spell before we become a permanent part of this game."

"I'm looking, I'm looking," Willow said, her eyes flying over the pages. She tried to remember more of the instruction booklet for the game, trying to deduce whether it had said anything pertinent to destroying the shrapnyls. She knew fire didn't work, nor did water. If she manipulated the stone around the animated armor, she'd run the risk of harming herself and her friends, too.

Then it came to her. The shrapnyls, like the raggamoffyns, were animated objects that normally didn't move on their own. And if they were animated, they could be de-animated. Her fingers flew furiously as she turned the pages of the spellbook, searching for the spell. She heard Spike growl loudly behind her and him run back down the hallway, then the clank of metal as he attacked the shrapnyls approaching them from behind.

Willow took a deep breath, then started her spell, praying to the Goddess that it would work. Her hand wove the symbols in the air above her head, her lips moving as she chanted quietly.

Spike grunted in pain when he was cut across the hand by one of the shrapnyls. He tried to use his short sword to disassemble his opponent, but the clash of metal on the armor only created sparks and noise. Angry, the blond vampire spun and kicked out his foot in hard back-kick at the shrapnyl's breastplate, sending it flying back into the one behind it. They went down with a clatter of metal on stone.

Angel kept pressing forward, knocking apart shrapnyl after shrapnyl to get to the end of the line. He wanted to know how many there were to get through before they reached relative safety. He continued to use the plate armor from the shrapnyl's arm as a bat, alternating swinging it into his opponents and kicking them.

Buffy grabbed a fallen codpiece and chucked it at a shrapnyl with all her strength. As the one she hit fell over and shattered apart, she snatched another piece of armor from the slowly reassembling animated objects and pitched it at a second foe. She was starting to get tired, and very pissed off. Things that refused to stay down or dead really irked her.

"Aaah!" Buffy yelled. She snatched a broadsword foot from one of the fallen piles and began to beat on a breast plate. "Will," clang, "you," clang, "stay," clang, "down!"

Suddenly she, Angel and Spike all covered their ears as metal began to crash down around them. The shrapnyls who were still standing fell to the stone floor as one, the armor bouncing and clattering on the obsidian. Because of the narrowness of the hallway, the sound rang loudly and clearly against the smooth rock, as if hundreds of pots and pans in a kitchen all fell from an overhanging rack.

When it stopped, the silence in the hall seemed louder than the falling metal had sounded. Angel looked down the hall and saw Buffy, then Willow, then Spike spaced out along it, surrounded by armor and weapons that littered the floor. The redhead was smiling in happiness, her wet hair plastered flat against her skull. She gave him a thumbs up and he couldn't help but smile broadly in return.

Buffy slumped in relief, her eyes going past Willow to find her usual comrade-in-arms looking in her direction. Spike cocked his head to one side and arched his scarred brow, and the Slayer nodded in return, answering his silent question if she was alright. He nodded once, as well, indicating that he was fine, too.

"I don't know about you guys," Buffy said, breaking the strangely loud silence. "But I think we should take a break before moving on."

"It is well past sunrise," Willow said. She gestured to the obsidian walls. "Even though we can't see it."

"Do you want to stay right here, or try and find the stairs first and stop by them?" Angel asked, his voice easily carrying the distance between everyone.

"Here," Spike called back.

"Here," Buffy agreed.

"I say here, too," Willow added.

"Then here we'll stay," Angel said. "But keep the spell you used handy, Willow, just in case."



Part Ten



"Giles is probably freaking because I'm missing," Buffy commented, wiping the juice from her apple off her chin. The four had taken turns keeping watch as the others had slept, and were now eating before they continued on. "I mean, I've vanished out of Sunnydale without a peep."

"What about me, Slayer?" Spike said. "I'm not there, either."

"But no one cares about you," Buffy said with an evil smirk.

"Ouch," Angel said, smirking at Spike as well.

"Bite me," Spike growled.

"I'd bet you'd like that," Angel commented, his smirk growing when Spike glared at him.

"Alright, children," Willow said. "We should probably get going again. The longer I'm gone from home, the less money I make."

"How very shallow of you, Will," Buffy joked. Willow grinned at her.

The four stood, leaving their garbage among the piles of armor and weaponry, and continued down the hallway towards where they hoped the stairs down to the fourth level would be found. Willow and Buffy led the way, carefully stepping over the unanimated shrapnyls. Spike followed the girls, with Angel taking up the rear.

The trip to the stairs was uneventful. They found several more piles of rags and armor, but when they didn't move, they figured Willow's spell was all encompassing. Buffy paused at the top of the stone steps leading down, a frown on her face. "What's that smell?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," Willow said. "It almost smells like-"

"Sulfur." Angel completed, his voice flat.

"Yeah, sulfur," Willow said. She glanced at the tall vampire and saw his face was devoid of any emotion.

"And here I thought it was the Slayer's perfume," Spike said.

"More like your stinky cologne," Buffy said.

"I don't wear cologne."

"Then I guess it's you that stinks."

"Buffy, you lead," Willow said, interrupting the beginning verbal battle.

"Okay," Buffy agreed. She started down the steps, treading slowly and wary of a trap.

The fourth level opened up immediately from the stairs into a hallway that led in three directions, straight, left or right. The Slayer looked to her companions. "Well?"

"I guess straight," Willow said. "The stairs are always on opposite ends, and the closest between two points is a straight line, so..."

"Onward and ever-pressing forward," Buffy said, leading the way again down the torch lit hall. The foursome passed several intersections, which seemed to be every ten feet, but they continued going straight, watching and wary.

The moaning was faint at first. Each of the friends dismissed the sound as part of their imagination. But it slowly increased in volume, sliding through the obsidian hallways to their ears. The moaning was a hollow, empty sound, like wind rushing over a conch shell.

Then, beneath the moaning, they began to hear voices and screams and cries.

"Noooooooooo..."

"Not real, not real, not real, not real..."

"Aaaaaahhh!"

"Hahahahahahahaha..."

"I want my mommy, I want my mommy, I want my mommy..."

"Yesssssssss..."

The repetitive crack of a whip echoed against the obsidian. Chains clanked and rattled. A scream pierced the air and cut off abruptly. Deep, evil laughter rolled down the halls. A wail of agony made the torches flicker violently. The smell of sulfur was heavy and cloying. The continual sounds of utter despair beneath it all chilled the air.

And Angel was not with them.

Spike, Buffy and Willow exchanged wide-eyed glances at the dark-haired vampire's sudden disappearance. The moved closer together in the center of an intersection, having to lean nearer to each other in order to hear.

"Did either of you see him get taken or attacked or something?" Willow asked worriedly.

"No, the ponce was right behind me just a bloody intersection ago," Spike replied.

"So we backtrack," Buffy said. "Stick close together."

Spike nodded and turned to head back the way they came, the two girls on his heels. He paused at each intersection they came to, looking both left and right, before continuing straight. Eight intersections back, they found Angel sitting on the ground a short way down the right hallway, his back against the obsidian wall, his knees bent with his feet flat on the floor. His elbows were on his knees, the heels of his palms against his eyes.

"Angel," Willow called to the dark-haired vampire, breaking away from Buffy and Spike to walk hurry over to Angel's side. "Angel, are you okay?"

She touched Angel's shoulder, then flinched back with a gasp when the vampire's head shot up and he snarled at her, his dark eyes cloudy. "A-Angel?" Willow said with a shaky voice.

Angel snarled at her again, and the redhead backed away quickly. She turned to Buffy with tears in her eyes as Spike stepped forward in front of his Sire. The dark-haired vampire growled at Spike, his blunt teeth bared in the torchlight. Undaunted, Spike crouched in front of Angel and put his hand on the older man's knee. "Hey, mate, you-"

Spike's head snapped to the side when Angel's hand shot out and clawed the blond across the cheek. The younger vampire struck back immediately, his fist flying forward to punch Angel in the face. Angel's head hit the wall behind him, and he yelped like an animal. Brown eyes met ice blue for a moment as Spike snarled, "Angel! Snap out of it!"

The blond vampire hit Angel again when his Sire snapped at him, teeth clacking together. The dark-haired vampire yelped a second time and shrunk in on himself, pulling his knees close to his chest and dropping his head. Spike stared at his Sire's dark head for a moment, mind whirling.

"Angel," Spike finally said, his voice low under the moaning and other noises. He reached out and put his finger under Angel's chin, tilting the older man's face up. He found the brown eyes filled with tears and fright, but not recognition. After a moment's deliberation, Spike shifted into his true face and sliced his palm with his canine. He then held his bleeding hand out in front of Angel's mouth, moving himself slightly to his Sire's side.

Angel's nostrils twitched as the scent of Spike's blood invaded his senses. His brown eyes still held the now-golden ones of the younger vampire, and Angel didn't move for several long seconds. Then, lowering his eyes, he licked the blood-covered palm in front of his mouth.

Angel's eyes shot up again to meet Spike's when the old, familiar taste filled his mouth. Blinking rapidly against the tears that started to fall, he whispered harshly, "Spike?"

"Yeah, mate," Spike said, slipping back into his human mask and pulling his hand back. "It's me."

The dark-haired vampire let out a choked sob and dropped his head again. Spike frowned at his Sire, then sat down beside the older man, his back against the obsidian wall. He saw Angel stiffen when a particularly loud wail under the constant moaning reached their ears.

Comprehension finally dawned on Spike, and he was unsure of himself. What could he do to help his Sire who was reliving the hell he'd been to personally? It wasn't as if he was that saddened by the fact that the old man got sent there after trying to bring hell to earth in the first place. Spike had a strong dislike for the git with his soul and absolutely hated the unsouled version, post-curse.

Then why was he feeling like he was being stabbed in the gut as he watched his Sire try to stop crying?

"Hey now, you big poof," Spike said, placing his hand on Angel's upraised thigh. "Stop your nancy-act before I go out and get you your own bloody pair of hose."

Angel glanced over at the blond, and Spike silently hissed at the torment he saw in his Sire's eyes. He squeezed the older man's thigh once, then turned his hand over, palm up, the cut he'd made with his canine still slightly bleeding. Angel looked away again, his face turned down towards Spike's hand.

After several moments, the dark-haired vampire raised his right hand and slit his own palm with brief flicker to his vampiric countenance. He dropped his hand on top of Spike's, intertwining their fingers, their cut palms pressing together. "Stronger than love, stronger than hatred, stronger than lust, stronger than need," Angel whispered, turning his eyes to his Childe again.

"Stronger than sex, stronger than anger, stronger than want, stronger than greed," Spike continued, his whisper carrying strongly under the moaning and screams. "The blood of my Sire-"

"-Is the blood of my Childe." Angel tightened his hold on Spike's hand, and the younger vampire did the same. "And as our blood mingles, let it be shown, as I claim you, my Childe..."

Spike met Angel's pain-filled eyes steadily, unhesitatingly. "...I claim you, Sire, as my own."

Angel took a deep, purposeful breath and let it out slowly. The ancient vampiric ritual that had been translated from language to language throughout time was well-known, but rarely performed. Only the most favored childer of a bloodline ever partook of the ritual, which renewed their blood-ties to their Sires.

Angel had performed the ritual twice before, once with Spike and once with another Childe who had been become dust long ago. He had also been on the Childe end of the ritual with Darla, and with the Master himself. Blood was the most powerful tie between vampires, and any blood oath or blood ritual was not entered into lightly, for it bound the vampires together and could be called upon in time of want or need. If Darla had called upon his blood-tie to her when she was firing upon Buffy long ago, he might not have staked his Sire.

The dark-haired vampire had needed Spike, had needed to have a strong tie with reality and someone who was a firm part of his long life. Spike had reciprocated the renewal without hesitation, which went to show the strength of the blood that bound them together. Angel only hoped that this rebinding never got tested in a way that led to ruin.

Still holding Spike's hand, Angel wiped at his eyes with the back of his sleeve of his other arm, and gave the younger vampire a small, grateful smile. He then looked over to where the girls were standing, watching them with worried expressions on their faces. "Can we get off this level, like now?" he said loudly in order to be heard.

Willow rushed over to him and crouched down at his other side, giving him a quick hug around his shoulders. "Are you okay?" she whispered near his ear.

"Bad memories," Angel said. He saw Buffy watching him with a guilt and pain-filled expression, and shook his head. "It's okay, Buffy."

Buffy nodded, tears filling her own eyes. She turned away from her friends and the dark-haired vampire squeezed Spike's hand a final time before releasing it. He gave Willow a small smile, and the redhead gave her own brief nod. He stood and walked over to Buffy, engulfing the tiny Slayer in his arms.

"It's okay, Buffy," Angel said, feeling her shoulders shaking as she cried. He brushed his hand over her bound hair. "This is my nightmare, not yours."

"I'm so sorry, Angel," Buffy said.

"You did what you had to do," Angel said. "Don't ever feel guilty about that. I don't want you to."

"Telling me not to and my actually not feeling guilty are two different things," Buffy sniffed. Another scream ripped through the hallways and Angel stiffened. Buffy pressed her lips together at the new flood of tears.

"You know what, people?" Spike said loudly. "What say we save the brood-fest until we get home, eh? I'll even feed you tubs of chocolate ice cream until you bloody burst."

Spike's statement caused the stormy emotions to calm with light laughter. Angel pressed a kiss to the top of Buffy's head, then released her. He took another purposeful breath and set his face in a stony, determined mask as the moaning and cries continued around them, and said firmly, "Let's get out of here."



Continued to NC-17 Version

Continued to PG-13 Version 1