Searching for Answers
It was really pathetically easy.
Within a matter of moments the gun was knocked from the soldier’s hand by a powerful side kick from the Slayer, that sent it skittering across the floor behind her, far out of reach; and left the disarmed soldier clutching his shattered wrist and moaning in pain.
Glancing beyond him, Buffy saw that the door did not lead directly to another room, but to a dark stairway leading down to yet a lower level. No one was in sight to have noticed the incident; no sound broke the silence, except for the very unmanly moans and whimpers coming from the injured soldier.
Buffy rolled her eyes in impatient annoyance, feeling no sympathy whatsoever for this man, only disgust at the cruelties he was involved in – not to mention his pathetic lack of skills. He had not even attempted a single blow yet.
And he would not have the chance to.
Buffy grabbed him by the arm before he could recover or do anything to alert his comrades of the little commotion beyond the door, and slammed his head hard into the wall, knocking him instantly unconscious. She looked down at the slumped form on the floor with an expression that was almost disappointment, as Spike moved quickly to relieve the man of any weapons he might still have on him. They had no idea what they might yet face, and it could not hurt to be as prepared as possible for whatever lay ahead.
“That…was sad,” Buffy stated flatly, as the blonde vampire straightened up and handed her a second gun that the soldier had had concealed in his clothes, and a small but dangerous knife. Buffy tucked the weapons away in her own clothes, meeting Spike’s eyes resolutely.
“Ready?” she asked quietly, searching his eyes.
They were just slightly too wide, and his mouth was set in a tight, controlled line as he slowly nodded his response. She knew that he was scared, and trying hard not to show it – and she could hardly blame him. Just the fact that he had been willing, insistent even, on coming down here with her, was amazing to her, considering the horrors that he had suffered in just such a place as this.
His head turned, his eyes looking down into the darkness beyond the door. Buffy was not aware of the powerful scent that had assailed him the moment the door had opened. The heavy, sickening scent of the soldiers, mingled with the overpowering combined scents of many different species of demons, intensified by the distinct smells of blood and filth that spoke of the abuse and mistreatment the creatures had been subjected to in this place – all of this, infused with the unmistakable traces of fear, agony, despair…
It was the scent of hell itself.
And it was all too familiar to him.
“Can you tell – anything – what might be down there?” Buffy asked softly, studying his face intently, but utterly unaware of just how much he *could* tell.
He nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from the doorway. “It’s – it’s a holding area. A prison of sorts. Where they keep the – the slaves. Before they sell them. While they’re – in training.”
Her eyes widened in surprise as he went on. “There’s a lot of demons down there, Buffy. Lots of different species. And soldiers have been here, really recently. Though they’re probably not there at the moment. Not usually – um, training – this late.” The aching strain in his voice as he tried to keep his own remembered pain out of it hurt her to hear it as he went on. “And – if what those blokes back there said is true – Riley’s told them to stay away from Anya – no reason for them to be down there right now.”
Buffy was silent for a moment before she said quietly, “Anya’s definitely down there.” It was a statement and a question at once.
He nodded again.
She took a deep breath. “So – on top of the possibility – maybe a slight one, but still – of soldiers down there – there’s the added lovely threat of all kinds of demons that are bound to be fighting mad and ready to kill something. So…”
His soft bitter laugh held a painful note to it that stopped her, sending a chill down her spine. He met her eyes with a sad smile, his own shining with unshed tears. “No, Buffy,” he said softly. “They won’t be a threat.” He looked back at the door, his smile fading as he added in a haunted voice, barely over a whisper, “Not by now.”
Buffy felt sick as she realized what he was saying, and was reminded again of how he would know so much about the workings of a place like this. She steeled herself mentally and emotionally to face yet another shock, aware that there probably *was* no way to really prepare herself for what she was likely to see down those stairs.
Echoing her thoughts, Spike looked at her again and explained quietly, with an unearthly sort of calm, “There are torture rooms down there, Buffy. Where they break them. The – the shape that some of them will be in…”
He paused, searching her eyes with concern. He knew what Riley’s men were capable of first hand; he had experienced it himself. Buffy had heard a lot about it, heard enough to make her furious and light a fire of rage in her that had driven her to action.
Still – it was not the same.
He wondered anxiously if the Slayer was ready for what she was about to see, the things they were about to face. He certainly was not sure if *he* was. Still – he had to try to make her understand. If she went in there unprepared, his fierce but soft-hearted girl would either fly into a frenzy of rage and blow the whole mission – or break down completely.
Neither of which was a good option.
“Buffy,” he went on quietly, looking down at the floor between them. “I know – from the smell of it. This is just like the place – where I was. They take them down there when they’re captured – and they *don’t* leave. Not until they’re broken and ready for sale. They’re kept down there, in the dark and the – the filth – and there’s torture, love. Horrible things – things I don’t want you to even try to imagine. You – you just need to be prepared.”
Buffy felt the sick, uneasy feeling increase at his words. *I am so *not* ready for this,* she thought as she looked toward the stairs again. Suddenly, her eyes widened as a terrible realization occurred to her. She looked back at Spike as she asked in a tone of alarm, “So – why have they taken *Anya* down there? Oh, God…”
Her mind raced with the implications. She knew that Riley knew that Anya had once been a demon. The thought of what her husband could do with that knowledge, what horrible intentions he might have for the pretty ex-demon, overwhelmed her with a sense of dread.
“She *is* human, love. He wouldn’t risk – taking it *too* far,” Spike tried to reassure her. “He’s too careful about his bloody reputation. If he got caught doing something to a human girl – he could lose everything.”
Buffy’s mind was still racing ahead, down a dark, frightening path. She looked back up at him suddenly, a grim certainty in her eyes. “Then he must not intend for her to ever leave here. Because the moment she does, and goes to the authorities – he’s done.”
“He told his men that she’s a demon,” Spike remembered, frowning thoughtfully as he recalled the conversation of the soldiers in the hall. His eyes widened. “He’s gonna use that story to cover his tracks. He wants to use her as bait to get to you – then just eliminate her when he’s done – get rid of the evidence. He has the means. And then, if anyone said anything, with no body to examine – no one could prove that she *wasn’t* a demon.”
“And Riley’s such a highly respected citizen,” Buffy said in a disgusted, angry tone.
“Translate ‘rich and powerful’,” Spike muttered.
“Right,” Buffy nodded. “The authorities will go with whatever he tells them. He’s the supposed ‘expert’ on demons and such.” She paused. “He’s planning to use her, then kill her. She’s human – but he’ll still get away with it!”
Spike thought about Anya, so excited and happy that morning, awed and overjoyed by the promise of the new life growing inside her – and then about Riley, and his cruel disregard for that life, for Anya’s life, her dreams. She was nothing but a pawn to him, a tool to be used to destroy his estranged wife.
And he had no doubt that if Riley planned to claim that the girl was a dangerous demon, he surely would have no qualms about allowing her to be subjected to the same vile abuses that all slaves were subjected to in this place. Certainly an attractive girl like Anya would not escape unharmed.
Suddenly – his personal fears and insecurities didn’t seem to matter so much anymore.
“What are we waiting for, love?” he asked softly, startling Buffy out of her grim thoughts, which no doubt matched his own. “Let’s get her out of here before he can!”
Buffy’s eyes softened with admiration for his courage. She was scared to death – and she could fight back. In this place, Spike was virtually helpless – and yet he was urging her, prodding her on past her distractions, back to their mission, all the more important now that they understood the risk to Anya and her baby.
She nodded firmly. “Right. Let’s go.” She took his hand in hers for a moment, squeezing it tight, not sure whether the gesture was more for his comfort or for her own.
Either way – it worked.
She took a deep breath and led the way down the dark staircase, careful to keep Spike behind, her, watching carefully for any sign of the enemy approaching. Halfway down the stairs, the smell that had been so overpowering for Spike first became noticeable to her – a stench of blood and filth and decay – what she imagined that death itself might smell like.
And then, the pitch darkness of the stairwell gave way to a dim glow, as they reached the bottom – a cold, stone floor, leading down a hallway made up of dozens of tiny cells, nothing more than cages really, with a few solid doors interspersed among them, leading to rooms that were concealed from their sight. The faint light came from a few torches spaced at odd intervals down the hall, giving the whole scene an almost medieval look.
This was a dungeon – a torture chamber, as Spike had said.
The dim light did not allow her to see beyond the very front of the cells, so at first no life was visible to her. But her Slayer senses were on overload, screaming at her that she was in danger – surrounded – she needed to fight!
Spike’s hand on her arm startled her, and she jumped, spinning around to face him, eyes blazing with warning. Instantly the fear and fury vanished when she saw who it was she was facing.
He was not surprised by her reaction, his expression surprisingly calm. “Easy, Slayer,” he said softly, and his tone, his use of her title, were steadying, strengthening to her as she met his eyes uncertainly. “These in here are in no position to hurt you, love. They’ve already been chipped. I *promise* you – they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”
The familiar adage from childhood might have been funny, if not for the deadly serious look in his eyes.
And he was right.
As they made their way quietly down the hall, Buffy did not even see most of the occupants of the cells. Those who were close enough to the front to be seen in the dim light quickly drew back as she passed, and she could feel the fear in the atmosphere around her. These creatures knew exactly who and what she was.
If it had been a few years ago, and she had been patrolling, she would have felt a thrill at her power, to see these “evil” creatures cower before her.
Now – it broke her heart.
“Anya?” Buffy risked the soft call, as Spike had said it was highly unlikely that any soldiers would be down here, wondering sadly if her friend was locked in one of these dark, dank cages, like nothing more than an animal. “Are you here?”
When there was no response, Spike said quietly, “She’s probably in one of the larger rooms. That’s where they put them – if they want to isolate them. Or – or to…” His voice trailed off, as he found himself unable to speak the words, not in connection with Anya.
They moved cautiously toward the nearest door, trying it. Locked.
Spike carefully sniffed the air for a moment. “Don’t think she’s there. Further down a bit, love. Come on.”
He started down the hall ahead of her slightly, concentrating on picking Anya’s scent out of the dozens that surrounded him. It was difficult, but he thought he could just…barely…make it out…
Buffy was talking quietly, taking advantage of the privacy to release a bit of her nervousness in thinking out loud more than anything, as Spike was not really listening, concentrating fully on his task.
“This is so terrible,” she said quietly. “We are going to put a stop to this. I can’t believe that they kept you in a place like this, as if you were – were *nothing*! This is evil. Worse than evil. I mean – there are no words for what this is.”
*You seem to be finding a few,* he thought, but did not say aloud.
He knew that she was only talking because she was nervous, and ordinarily the sound of her voice was something he loved to hear – but at the moment it was simply a distraction, breaking into his concentration. He frowned, stopping, and backing up a couple of steps as he tried to focus on Anya’s scent.
“To think that Julian and Mara – and you – and so many others have been treated like this – it just makes me sick! Aaron’s just lucky that he didn’t get caught. Man, I bet he’s ticked off that he’s missing out on the action…” Buffy’s anxious rambling suddenly cut off, as a sudden thought occurred to her.
The wheels began to turn in her mind, as she thought about all the circumstances that seemed to fit so well together. How conveniently chipless Aaron had just happened to come across Giles’ path – how eager he had been to come here with her, volunteering for the dangerous mission into the heart of enemy territory.
Or *was* it enemy territory – to him? If he was Riley’s plant, it would be too convenient for Riley to use him to help entrap her, before sending him back to eliminate his original target, the influential abolitionist speaker who had been doing Riley’s cause so much damage.
She drew in a sharp breath. *But he’s *not* here. He’s home – with Giles.*
She felt a sick, heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach as everything fell into place. She almost *heard* an audible “click”.
“Oh my God,” she said softly. “Spike…”
He was not paying attention, concentrating hard as he stood in front of one of the iron doors. “Here!” he said suddenly in a triumphant tone, without looking at her. “She’s in here, Buffy!” He turned then to face her, and suddenly got a startled look on his face, his eyes widening in surprise.
Before Buffy could register the words or the look, she felt a hand on her arm – and Spike was still standing in front of her, too far away to reach – so that meant…
Immediately she sprang into action, spinning and delivering a brutal punch to the face of her as yet unknown assailant, followed by several more powerful blows, the last of which sent him flying back into the bars of one of the cells, falling to the ground on his hands and knees.
He staggered to his feet, golden eyes blazing with fury as he glared at her. Even in his vampiric visage, which she had never seen until now, Buffy recognized the vampire that rushed her now with a menacing snarl.
Aaron might be late – but he had arrived.
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