Author's Note: Blame my wonderful beta, Dreams of Spike. She's making my story flow.
They had a plan.
All five of them were heavily armed. They had decided that it was time to take action, for better or worse. Durrak’s allies were waiting in each building for his signal: a fire to be lit at the very top of the tower.
It was time to take the tower.
First, they had to move through the tunnels undetected, and emerge beneath the Obedience Chamber, where they had set off the explosion as an announcement of their intent the day before. They were hoping that the chamber would still be mostly empty, but if necessary, they were prepared to fight their way up to the tower.
All they really needed to do was to destroy the owners – and the place would fall into chaos.
At least – that was the plan.
The tunnel they were moving through was a bit more narrow than most of the others. They had to walk through it single file, until finally reaching the opening above their heads. One at a time, they climbed up into an unfamiliar, dark chamber.
It was underground, and very dark. Even the stone of the walls was black. There was no light at all, until the small group brought their own torches up into it. There were only five cramped cells on each side, and a spiraling stone staircase leading up to what could only be the Obedience Chamber.
A sudden feeling of dread hit Buffy hard. Familiarity was the worst feeling when entering a place like that, but it was exactly what she felt. Her eyes were drawn to the staircase, and she found that for some reason, she could not look away.
“What is this place?” It was Xander who had spoken. He peered into the cells, and found that only four of the ten were occupied. One by one he saw the beaten and abused prisoners, many with very fresh wounds, huddled back against the walls of their cells, as if afraid to move.
“This is where the condemned are kept,” Durrak explained as he helped his sons climb out of the tunnel, “those slaves who have committed crimes against their masters so heinous that they must be executed.”
Xander finally reached the last occupied cell, the one closest to the staircase. His eyes widened as he saw that the prisoner inside wasn’t huddled against the far wall, but hanging from the ceiling by his shackled wrists. His feet could not even reach the ground, but it did not look as if he was up to trying, anyway.
He hung limply from his chains, his back to them, blood dripping down from his wrists, and from the many lash marks that covered his back, shoulders, buttocks, and the backs of his legs. Long, dark hair was matted against the blood that soaked his back. Blood moved slowly down the backs of his thighs from an injury that Xander didn’t even want to think about.
“Poor bastard…what could any of them have possibly done to deserve something like that?”
“This one is quite well known.” The demon stood beside Xander, looking in on the prisoner. “His trial was much talked about. He is said to have murdered three of his Masters, and a Mistress. He is to be put to death very soon. For crimes such as his, his death will certainly be slow and painful.”
The carpenter shook his head, trying not to imagine what the vampire inside the cell had already been through. He still held no great love for vampires, but he also had no more desire to see them suffer – not like this. He put down his axe, then began to load his crossbow.
“Yeah, well, I think they’ve had enough fun with this guy…”
Buffy’s attention was finally drawn away from the staircase. She tried to brush off her feeling of foreboding. Finally, she moved forward to take a peek at what her friend was looking at – and it felt as if her heart had frozen in her chest.
Pale, smooth skin, ripped apart by a whip – a strong muscled back – long, unfamiliar dark hair, with familiar curls. There was the familiar curve of a backside and strong thighs that her nails knew well. Above his head, shackled, and untouched save by a few bruises, were hands that had known her body better than she ever could.
“…think we should just put him out of his misery, before they can cause any more of it.” Through her racing thoughts, she managed to catch the tail end of what Xander had been saying. His crossbow was raised, aimed at the vampire’s back…
“Wait!” Buffy quickly slapped the crossbow down, the bolt skittering across the stones just a foot away from its target.
“Buff, what’s wrong?”
She ignored him completely, not even hearing his question. Her eyes were locked on the slave in the cell. “No…no, it can’t be…”
“Can’t be *what*?” Xander was obviously growing impatient.
The Slayer made her way to the cell, hands clutching the rusted bars. “No…no…” She suddenly yanked hard, pulling against the cell door, before pushing hard against it. She repeated the motion several times, rocking back and forth until the sound of old metal groaning and giving way could be heard.
“What are you doing?” Durrak demanded. “You’ll alert the guards! They’ll hear us!”
Over and over again, she just repeated the same thing, “No…no, no…”
Finally, the lock snapped under the force of her assault. Buffy yanked the door open and ran inside. She immediately went to the hook on the wall, where the chain was attached, and unwound it quickly, her hands trembling as she continued repeating her denial under her breath.
The chains lowered, and Buffy moved quickly to catch the vampire by his shoulders before he crumpled to the ground completely. She slowly lowered him, kneeling on the ground so that she could hold him, his head rested against her arm. “No no no no, please, please no…”
She didn’t want to see – but she knew that she *had* to see.
Buffy was surprised at the level of concern that flooded her heart for the vampire in her arms, but silently decided that she would have officially given anything for her fear to be proven untrue, for him to be back at his crypt right then, safe and sound and untouched…
Placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, her breath caught in her throat. Blood loss from his injuries had made his skin so much colder than it was ordinarily. She turned him gently, cradling his upper body in her lap. His head rolled back, and Buffy began to brush the dark hair away from his face.
“No….” she moaned, as her action revealed sharp cheekbones and a straight nose that she knew better than anyone knew she did.
Bruising covered one side of his face, but the rest was left untouched and beautiful. The full lips were next to come to her attention, before her gaze darted to the eyebrow with the familiar scar. She traced her fingertip gently across that scar, not even noticing the way her hand trembled. Finally, there were the eyes…deep, beautiful blue eyes that stared almost lifelessly up at the ceiling, not even seeing her face, as she whispered his name.
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