CHAPTER WARNING: I wasn’t kidding when I told you that this was a dark story.
Disclaimer: Neither Stargates nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me. I claim no ownership of them and recognize that they belong to the various people and companies who own them. I do this solely for my own enjoyment and, should our interests mesh, the enjoyment of others. I have made no money off of this and do not ever plan to. Anything that even looks vaguely familiar (such as brand names, culture references, etc) also does not belong to me.
Series: Return to the Blood Lands
Story: Welcome to the Keep
There was a short trip or perhaps a very long one. It was no beach vacation, that’s for sure. Xander was beamed up into the ship (and what the hell, demons had space ships?) and beamed back down in the same instant. Or so he thought until he looked at his watch.
The place he appeared in was a touch better than the dark and cold place he had just left. It was a little brighter and somehow more human, but it was apparent that the same sucky interior decorator had hit this place as well.
They took Xander to a small room with the same bad lighting and overall creepiness of the entire place. There was another man (another HUMAN, of all things- why was he so surprised?) in the room, heating up something on the fire. Xander had been intensely relieved at the sight of another human and made a stab at conversation, feeling good will all around. At least until the demon grabbed him, yanked up his sleeve, and held him still as the human carefully pressed a hot iron against the vulnerable flesh of his bare upper arm.
It was a pain like no other he had felt before. The inhuman strength of the demon behind him forced him to take it standing still. He was sure he blacked out for a second, screaming, but he suddenly came to. He hardly noticed that the iron was gone because the pain was still so intense.
The man attempted to wrap something around his wounded aching arm but Xander, possessed by a strength only the wounded and the scared and the extremely pissed off could achieve, managed to shove back, pushing himself out of the grip of the demon by bracing his feet against the table.
He even managed to knock the demon down but before he could get too excited about that, the human hit him over the head with what felt was a chunk of wood. Xander hit the ground and couldn’t move, his vision swimming. He saw the human’s shoes near his face as the man moved to bend down.
“Save your spirit for the battlefield.” Xander blacked out completely.
He came to woozily, mopping up the side of the face with his hand. The man had hit him that particular part of the forehead that was prone to heavy bleeding. Xander’s head smarted a little from the blow but it was a welcome distraction from the still aching pain of his arm.
He moved to rip off the bandage covering the wound only to have his wrist caught in a tight grip. A tired youth with green eyes and a five o’clock shadow shook his head. He wore strange clothes, like he was a reject from one of those old history reenactments.
“No, keep it on.” The boy told him. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen. “You take it off, stuff gets inside. Your arm turns black and oozes pus. If you’re lucky, they kill you. If you’re not, they cut off your arm and make you eat it.”
“I’d say that’s a good enough incentive to keep it on.” Xander said, a little freaked out. The youth nodded, pushing himself to his feet. “What’s your name?”
“What does it matter?” the youth leaned against the wall, eyes warily assessing the rest of the people in the area that Xander had assumed was a courtyard. It was a very big open area, about the size of thirty or so high school football fields. It was enclosed only by tall walls made from what looked like a mixture of wood and some sort of strange metal.
Looking up, he realized that the walls had what looked like to be stands way up high and that the walls appeared to become more metal the farther it went up and the closer it got to the stands. The way the stands were positioned meant that anyone sitting up there had a clear and direct view down. If something happened, they wouldn’t miss a single bit of action.
There was no ceiling above those stands, just grey open sky.
There was a giant gate on the side he had woke up near and where the youth still was, reaching up high in the sky but not as high in the stands. He doubted anything could open them. It would have to take some kind of Herculean effort to even move one of those things an inch. The only other exits he could see were on the opposite side where several open doorways led into darkness. Unless he decided to learn how to fly, those doorways were the only way out.
There were roughly sixty people in the courtyard with them, all clumped in one area rather than spreading out to the far corners of this place. Some had clothes like the youth while others wore what Xander thought of as era clothing. One person passed by wearing clothing that would have been fashionable in the forties while another wandered by wearing something a caveman would have worn proudly. He looked down at his well-worn t-shirt and sweat pants. Even in a crowd of oddities, he STILL stuck out like a sore thumb.
“Your name matters because I asked.” Xander frowned at the youth after a long period of silence. “Isn’t that enough?”
The boy shook his head. There was some horror going on in that skull of his that Xander wasn’t privy to. “They have us.” Xander didn’t think the kid was even listening to him anymore. “Our names have no consequence. To them, to the WRAITH, we are merely food.”
The Wraith. That’s what the demons were called. That was the first time Xander had heard them referred as such but it wouldn’t be the last. There was such venom in the youth’s voice, like the word itself was a curse. Like just saying it was distasteful. But besides that brief second of anger, the youth was tragically composed, like he had expected this all along.
The boy had the sort of resigned tranquility that even those in the know about the Hellmouth didn’t have. He knew he was going to die. He had no hope that it would turn out otherwise. This deeply disturbed Xander, who was so used to the “otherwise” happening at the eleventh hour.
Xander’s arm didn’t hurt that much anymore but by the way the youth’s hand kept straying to his own matching bandage, he was the only one feeling even remotely alright at the moment. He pushed himself to his feet, wobbling as his balance took its sweet time to find itself again. He unsteadily made his way to the center of the courtyard, trying to look at the stands from a better angle. He had an unsettling feeling he wasn’t so much in a courtyard as he was in an ARENA.
The dirt that covered the ground was dark and would absorb a lot of blood without it being too obvious. There was something about the smell of that bothered him too, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was. And while, thank god, the dirt wasn’t squishing around his bare toes, it still felt weird.
At the center of the area, there was a large metal grate in the shape of a circle. It was about twice the size as a manhole back home. He walked to it, crouching down and looking into it. Whatever the grate was covering, it went down deep. Squinting, he could just barely see the shadowy outline of an unhealthy looking tree. He angled his head, realizing that the tunnel didn’t go all the way down but stopped as if it hit a roof and was forced to widen out. Was there a cavern or something beneath the arena?
Something gold and glowing with hostile light emerged from the meager cover of the tree. He couldn’t tell what shape it had from this height, but he had a feeling it was an animal and it was PISSED. He felt the thing’s deep growls more than he could hear them, which was distinctly Hellmouthy enough to make him worried. When he felt the pressure of the thing’s eyes on him, he jerked back away from the grate, deciding he did NOT want that thing interested in him, whatever it was.
As it was, it was rather fortune for Xander that he backed off so quickly. While he decided to stay in the corner of the arena (far away from that glowing demon thing down below), the tall gates suddenly swung open with tremendous force. The youth Xander had spoken to so briefly was crushed between the door and the wall.
His death was the most merciful.
Xander’s attention was pulled to that part of the stadium not only because of the loud bang of the double doors against the walls, but also because of the low roar of the THING that had forced it open. It forced its way through the doorway, breaking off the top with its head because even though the gates were at least ten stories high, it was still too big to fit through.
Jesus Christ. It was a goddamn T-REX.
He didn’t remember exactly what happened afterwards but when he thought about it hard enough, it came back in vivid flashes. The roars of the reptile drowning out the screams of the humans. The sight of it shaking a mouthful of its prey like a dog, limbs sticking out here and there before it tilted its head back and swallowed. The minor earthquake of its steps knocking the ground right out from under him so he couldn’t run and could barely crawl.
He remembered grabbing someone’s arm, only the someone wasn’t attached. He remembered managing to get to his feet only to fall head first into the wall as the reptile jumped around behind him. He remembered sitting back, covered in other people’s blood, and just watching the angry beast, because there was nothing he could do, he was going to DIE.
From his view, he could see the prominence of the creature’s ribs. Had the Wraith STARVED it? Common sense told him that a creature that size needed another dinosaur as dinner to fully sate its appetite. The little humans running to and fro did about as much for it as a couple of squished peas did it for Xander.
It rammed its head towards the stands but seemed to bounce off of some kind of barrier. Only then did Xander notice that PEOPLE were up there, WATCHING!
The Wraith came in then, a whole group of them. They were armed with strange weapons. They took up position just as the reptile noticed they were there, shooting it over and over until the huge reptile finally fell to the ground with a teeth jarring thud. Even with the gore and blood and dead bodies that littered the stadium, it suddenly became clear who the real monsters were. And it wasn’t the dead reptile.
Something like shock sucked all will to move from his body. He only lived through that because he had moved to the side of the arena. Everyone who had been near the gate or near the center had died. Xander might have thanked whatever god that looked out for him or maybe even that weird demon down below for scaring him away, but he was just too numb. He felt boneless and unreal, like he wasn’t really present. Like what he had just watched wasn’t real, that it was just a dream, just a figment of his imagination.
The blood was thick between his fingers. The scent was overpowering. Oh god. It was REAL.
A Wraith came by and noticed him. All around the arena floor, Wraith were looking around, trying to find survivors. They left the pleading wounded to die and kicked the already dead out of their way. The Wraith who noticed him nudged him with a foot, grinning when Xander looked up with eyes dull with shock.
“You survived.” He was jerked roughly to his feet. “Welcome to the Keep.”