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Chapter Nineteen - Falling
Someone threw water in Buffy's face and she woke with a start. She sat up, eyes darting from side to side, taking in her surroundings. She was underground in a cavern the size of a football field. The misshapen creatures that had attacked them earlier were everywhere, scuttling over the walls, floor and ceiling like insects. They were talking to each other in that strange clickerty-clack language of theirs and it was giving Buffy a headache. In the centre of the room was a large, black pit.
'Where am I?' she asked.
As one, the creatures rose up on their legs and stared at her. Buffy's skin went cold. The closest one crept forward, red eyes glowing, as it reached for her with long, gnarly fingers. Buffy backed away. Her captors had neglected to tie her up and she could tell by the weight in her boot that she was still armed. That was sloppy, but these things didn't give the impression of being very smart, just very numerous.
She stumbled backwards into the arms of another of the creatures. Its flesh was like mouldy cheese and its skin flaked off in her hands as she pushed it away. She stepped away, more cautiously this time, flicking bits of the creature of her fingers as she did so.
'Willow? Tara?' Buffy called. 'You here?'
There was a muffled moan and Buffy turned to locate the source. Tara and Willow were lying on the floor, trussed up in cocoons like flies in a spider's web. Their heads poked out of the top, but they had been gagged and blindfolded.
The room suddenly went quiet. The monsters all cocked their heads to one side as if listening for something. Then they all scattered to the sides of the cavern like waves of darkness.
Buffy stood her ground.
A tall man strode imperiously into the cavern. He must have been seven or eight feet tall at least. He wore a long black robe that completely masked his shape and had a hood that was pulled so low that Buffy could not make out his face. In spite all of that, however, she could tell that he was glowing.
Buffy realised that she had stopped breathing and had to really focus to start forcing air into her lungs again. It was like the hooded man was the only thing in the room, the only thing in the world, and nothing else mattered.
'I am sorry for what we had to do to your friends,' the man said. His voice was warm and soft, like a caress. Or a kiss. 'They torched three of my people. Witches are too dangerous to leave unbound.'
'Yeah, well I'm dangerous, too,' Buffy announced.
In one smooth movement, she drew the knife from her boot and lunged at him. The man caught the knife in his hand and snapped the blade in two.
'No,' he said, 'you're not.'
Buffy's heart hammered within her chest. He was so close to her now that their bodies were practically touching and she was very aware of his presence. What was wrong with her? She hadn't reacted this way to a man since well, since Angel, and maybe not even then.
'I am Bres,' the man said, his voice causing the hairs on the back of Buffy's neck to stand on end, 'and these are my people. You were looking for us.'
'They don't look much like your people,' Buffy rasped, her throat dry.
Bres laughed and Buffy felt giddy as the energy of it washed over her.
'No, that they do not,' Bres conceded. 'They are the Fomorii and they took me in when my own kind made the mistake of turning against me. I am their lord and master now.'
There was a long drawn and silence and Buffy had to fight not to stare at Bres. He seemed completely serene and relaxed, but Buffy was wound tight. Finally, she could stand it no longer.
'I'm Buffy,' she said, breaking the silence.
'I know,' Bres replied. 'You are the Slayer. It is always a pleasure to meet a fellow warrior.'
He lingered over the word 'pleasure' in a way that made Buffy distinctly uncomfortable.
'You want something,' he said.
'No I don't,' Buffy said hastily. Too hastily.
'Come, Slayer, we are both warriors,' Bres responded. 'Deception does not suit us.'
'I'm not ' Buffy began, then thought better of it. 'I want you to stop killing people and get out of my town,' she said. 'And I want my sister back.'
'In that order?' Bres mocked. 'You are a very practical young woman, Slayer.'
'Don't change the subject,' she insisted. 'So, are you going to get out or do we throw down right here?'
Then she thought about what she the heat in her cheeks flared all the more.
'I don't think either of us wishes to fight, Slayer,' Bres replied. 'I would hate to have to kill you.'
'You're so sure of yourself, aren't you?' Buffy retorted.
'Yes,' Bres said simply. 'I am. I am also more than happy to give you what you desire, once you have given me what I came here for. Where is the Cauldron?'
'I don't know what you're talking about,' Buffy said. She folded her arms across her chest, hoping to look defiant, but fearing she only appeared defensive.
'Of course you do, Slayer,' Bres replied. 'The Fay assured me that the it was here.'
'Then I guess you must have been lied to,' Buffy told him. 'Sorry you've had a wasted trip. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.'
'I do not think so,' Bres said.
'Yeah, well maybe I don't care what you think,' Buffy said. Was she sounding petulant?
'I think that you will,' Bres told her. 'Watch.'
He stepped away from her and turned to regard the Fomorii, his people. He raised his arms over his head and clapped his hand. The sound echoed around the cavern.
'Bring the offering,' Bres said.
Two Fomorii led a third to the edge of the pit. Then they began to tie ropes around his arms and his legs. Buffy could see that the ropes were connected to a pulley fixed in the ceiling and that a half-dozen other Fomorii were holding on to the other end of the ropes.
'What are they doing to him?' Buffy asked. 'And shouldn't he be, like, struggling or something.'
'Why should he struggle,' Bres replied, 'when he is about to meet his god?'
The two Fomorii finished securing the ropes and then stepped away. The other Fomorii began to walk slowly backwards, hauling their comrade up off of the ground and swinging him out over the pit.
Then they held him there.
'I do hope that you are paying attention,' Bres said to Buffy before clapping his hands once again.
The Fomorii holding the ropes started to walk forward and the bound Fomorii was slowly lowered into the darkness.
'Wh-what's going to happen to him?' Buffy asked as the creature disappeared from sight.
'He is going to look his god in the eye,' Bres replied.
A scream tore out of the pit.
'What the -'
Buffy tried to lunge forward, but Bres had a hand on her shoulder, holding her in place. She turned on him.
'Whatever that thing is down there,' she said, 'it's killing him.'
'Wrong,' Bres replied. 'It's already killed him.'
Without waiting for a signal, the Fomorii hauled the ropes back out of the pit. The only sign of their comrade was the black slime dripping slowly from the rope.
'Why?' Buffy asked.
'Think of it as a demonstration,' Bres explained. He turned back to the Fomorii. 'Take one of the witches and bind her. The red will do.'
The Fomorii scuttled across to Willow and began to truss her up.
'No!' Buffy screamed, but Bres' grip was strong and, despite her struggles, she was held firmly in place.
'Remove her blindfold,' Bres instructed the Fomorii.
Willow blinked against the light as the rag was torn away. Relief washed over her as she spotted Buffy, rapidly replaced by terror as the Fomorii around her continued to paw over her. She wriggled in her bonds, but could not prevent herself from being lifted high up over the pit. She looked down and her eyes went wide. The gag in her mouth muffled her scream.
'So, Slayer,' Bres asked Buffy, 'are you going to tell me where I can find the Cauldron before or after I lower your friend into the pit?'
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