Title: Riddle Me This…
Summary: This is in response to Kits ‘Charade’ challenge posted in the challenge thread (Page 4). None spoilery background is that Cordy left Sunnydale after ‘Lovers Walk’ and Buffy died fighting the Mayor. Set in the early days of Ats the fic is entirely AU. As for the CURSE, Willow passed out before she got to that particular proviso.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made. Also, the basis of the challenge follows Sandra Browns novel, Charade. I’ve not read it myself and won’t be in case it knocks me off stride.
Distribution: GTCA, JF and AO
Feedback: Yup, feeding is good, or my muse will sulk. Also, feel free to include criticism too if you feel the urge so long as its constructive, always appreciated
Thanks/Dedication: To Kit for the challenge and letting me start in Ats not BTVS, Also my BETA, Califi for being the pal she is and putting up with me! And also Lysa and Val, for helping my tired grey matter come up with a name.
Water dripped; ploink, ploink, ploink and echoed around the dark, dank stillness. Here was the kind of place where, if you stayed still too long, the hairs on the back of your neck would rise as a soul chilling and nameless terror surged up to swamp you. Down here imagination was superfluous.
“Look, I don’t know who you are, but this has got to be some kind of mistake. If you’ll just explain…tell me what this is all about then we can work it out…please! You can tell me that can’t you?” Ritchie knew he was gibbering, but was well past caring.
Strapped to a table that bore a horrifying resemblance to a hospital operating table, he jerked his bald head from side-to-side desperately trying to penetrate the gloom and locate his kidnappers. Finding nothing but dark shadowy shapes a hoarse sob worked up from his convulsing throat.
He had no idea where he was being held except that it was possibly somewhere underground and windowless with nothing to illuminate his rank smelling prison. Audible under the pounding drum of his heart, the skittering of tiny claws came from all around, adding yet another layer to the hellish ambience. His skin crawled.
Gaining control of the hysterical sobbing and sucking in a breath of fetid air, he tried to inject some fraught reason into his voice, “This is a mistake, that’s all. Just a dumb mistake and if you’ll just talk to me…” The only hope he had left was that if he said it enough somebody might actually listen to him.
Sweat beaded and prickled all over his shirtless torso, drying over goose-bumped skin until chilled shudders wracked him, causing the leather straps to bite deeper into abused wrists. Legs cramping, he twisted uselessly and groaned when streaks of agony shot up from the ankles they’d already sadistically broken.
All he kept thinking was this couldn’t be happening to him. “Somebody help me, please, please, somebody help me.” Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, Please let this be a dream. I want to wake up now.
“If you’re Richard Stokes, 38 years old, and of Sunnydale, California then there is no mistake.”
That much was true, and unable to deny it Ritchie’s full bladder threatened to erupt, “But…but I’m a nobody. I don’t even own a credit card or owe money to anyone. What have I done to you? Why are you doing this to me?” His voice got higher in pitch, verging on strident as panic escalated hearing that dry booming voice.
“Who you are means nothing to us, just what you are preserving in that frail body.” The voice replied. He couldn’t identify the accent, knowing only that each sibilant sound tap-danced along his spine, leaving an icy trial.
Next, the scrape and shuffle of footsteps hinted at something heavy being dragged along the concrete floor, stopping beside the stolen surgical table. “What are you going to do with me?” he whispered as terror spiked, sensing rather seeing somebody close by.
A match hissed and flared into life and Ritchie recoiled from the flame’s first bright eruption. Blinking to banish the floating spots obscuring his vision, he could only to stare with mounting horror at the face revealed by the flickering match. Simultaneously gagging on the stench as a thick, foul smelling candle was lit.
It wasn’t the long curved knife, gleaming in a gnarled hand that caused his heart to stutter and nearly stop, but the grotesque and ravaged features of the creature holding it. Oh God, warm fluid drained unnoticed to soak his pants and seep up his naked back.
“I’m going to remove the heart they gave to you. You may scream if you wish. Nobody can hear you way down here.”