Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa. kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum could almost be the other half of this story, as you will see. The crystal doesn’t get broken in ‘Tabula Rasa’; something else happens to it instead …
Chapter One was HERE.
“The invisibility ray was cool,” Andrew said, “but I don’t want to play with it any more. Suppose we dropped it, and it broke, guys? We’d have just a few hours to fix it before we turned to jell-o.”
“Good point,” Jonathan agreed.
Warren frowned. “Yeah, that would suck. Okay, we’ve had some fun with it; I’m okay with calling it quits.” He laid the ray gun on a bench, took out a screwdriver, and worked on it for a moment. “So, what do we do with the diamond?”
“We could, you know, fence it,” Andrew suggested.
“Like we know any underworld guys who’d buy stolen stuff,” Jonathan scoffed. “I think we should give it back. There’s a reward, dudes. Ten thousand dollars.”
“Yeah, but, suppose that old watchman guy, Rusty, remembers us if we take it back?” Andrew said nervously. “I don’t think they’d give us the reward if they knew we’d stolen it.”
“Which is where this comes in,” Warren smirked. He picked up a crystal from the bench and held it against the ray gun. “I think we should be able to come up with a mind-wipe ray.”
Jonathan swallowed hard. “I don’t know. That could be pretty, well, dangerous. I mean, look what happened to Buffy and Xander and Willow and everybody.”
Warren frowned and pursed his lips. “Point, yeah. Not that it was a bad thing, they seem pretty happy now, but the way you two handled the invisibility ray I guess there’s a chance we’d end up getting hit by the mind-wipe ray ourselves. That could be pretty much of the bad.”
“Randy Meers,” Andrew chuckled. “Joanathan.”
Warren tilted his head to one side and screwed up his forehead. “Melpuv,” he said.
“Uh, wouldn’t the bar of the ‘r’ be pointing the wrong way to be an ‘L’?” Jonathan quibbled.
“And ‘dawn’ really makes ‘umad’ upside-down? It should be ‘umap’.” Warren shook his head. “Anyway, I get the point. Memory wipes, dangerous. It would have to be tightly controlled and limited, like just wiping ‘x’ number of hours or days or whatever, and man, the testing would be a bitch. It’s not like a guinea pig could tell us what the last thing it remembered was.”
“We could get Alex to hand in the diamond,” Jonathan suggested. “Tell him we took it as a joke, and it kinda went wrong, and we want to give it back but we’re scared they’ll think we really meant to steal it. Split the reward with him, maybe.”
“Not a bad idea,” Warren agreed. “I’ll think about it.”
Jonathan hit the button to power up his PC. “Yeah, right. I’m going to get back to the game, dudes. Maybe we should copy it over into a multi-player session and you two could join in?”
“No way, man. That goody-goody Sorkatani of yours gets right up my nose.” Warren set down the crystal and powered up his own PC. “Before you start, put a copy of the script file for Xander in Shared Docs. Some of the code could be useful for the AI program I’m working on.”
“Would that, like, clone Xander? Avatar Xander, that is?” Andrew asked.
Warren shook his head. “Nope. It will just be the basic framework. Maybe something that will make the program more able to cope with the unexpected, which would be totally cool for the enemy AI in a First Person Shooter, and that’s what I want. But without what was in here,” he picked up the crystal again and held it up, “it won’t be Xander. None of the memories, the personality, all that shit. It needs the magic as well as the coding.” He put the crystal down again.
When they’d retrieved it from the tunnels under the Magic Box it had been black and opaque. Now it was pale green, translucent, and sparkling.
The crystals were orange and dull red. Some of them were as tall as a man. They reflected and refracted the torchlight so that the whole chamber was bathed in a glow as if from a blazing fire. The pools of water at the sides of the room looked almost like lava.
“A natural cave, originally,” Giles muttered.
A roughly circular clump of crystals took up the center of the room, blocking the party’s view. Sorkatani and Imoen advanced around one side of the crystals, Buffy and Dawn took the other side. Both pairs came to an abrupt halt as they saw the being who stood in front of them.
“Sorkatani, welcome,” the being greeted them. “You have escaped somewhat later than I had hoped. I am Aatagah.”
“A genie,” Dawn breathed. “A real genie.”
Her identification was undeniably correct. From the top of his turbaned head down to the swirling column of tapering mist that served him instead of legs, Aatagah was the very image of a story-book or cartoon genie. The mighty scimitar that he was brandishing in one hand could also have come straight out of the Arabian Nights, but close up and in three dimensions it looked much more threatening than romantic and picturesque.
“You have my welcome to my little piece of this place,” Aatagah continued. “I do try to keep it more appealing than the rest.”
Sorkatani drew a sword and took one step towards the genie, sword in one hand, mace in the other. “Yes, I have escaped,” she said. “What part did you play in my capture?”
The genie chuckled. “Worry not, Sorkatani. I did so enjoy your blundering about in Baldur’s Gate. I did not wish to see you captured.”
“If you are not my captor, then what do you want from me?” Sorkatani allowed the blade of her sword to droop slightly but her eyes stayed watchful and suspicious. Buffy took her cues from the other girl and mirrored Sorkatani’s actions. “Can you assist me?”
“Such assistance as you will get from me depends on yourself. Are you prepared to answer a question?”
“Is that thing dangerous?” Xander asked Jaheira.
“Very,” the half-elf nodded. “These simple weapons would fail to bite. I have some enchantments that might be efficacious, as does Imoen, but I fear they would not suffice to bring such a foe down. Better not to fight.”
“Hey, Will, what have you got up your magical sleeve?” Xander asked.
“I’d just mess up,” Willow replied. “I’m useless.”
“Hey, none of that.” Xander grinned at his friend. “You’re Buffy’s big gun, remember?”
“Big gun. Right.” Willow summoned up a weak smile and Xander turned away, satisfied. He didn’t hear Willow’s muttered continuation. “She still died.”
“Here is my hypothetical question,” Aatagah began. “You and your sister are captured and locked in separate cells, unable to communicate. The mage responsible appears and speaks. He explains his sadistic game. In each cell there is a magical button. If you press your button and your sister does not, you will die but your sister is free. If your sister presses her button and you do not, she will die but you will be free. If neither you nor your sister press the button, both of you will die. If both of you press your respective buttons, both of you will die. The mage says that you have one turn of the hourglass to decide your action, and then he leaves.” Aatagah paused and looked with piercing eyes first at Sorkatani and then at Buffy. “Tell me, Sorkatani, do you press the button?”
Sorkatani’s brows lowered. “My sister? Imoen, who is as close as a sister to me?”
“A hypothetical sister, I meant; but very well, let it be Imoen.”
Sorkatani sucked in her lower lip and pressed on it with her teeth. “No way to save us both. Hmm.”
Aatagah turned to Buffy. “And you, stranger? Would you press the button?”
Buffy did not hesitate even for a second. She spoke out in a clear strong voice. “I would press the button.”
“Buffy, no!” Dawn protested.
“A hypothetical question, child,” Aatagah reminded her. “Sorkatani?”
“I love Imoen, yes. I would die to save her. But I would not die merely to have a chance to save her, when her own actions then might doom her as well. I will not cooperate in my own destruction. I would not press the button.”
Aatagah looked upon her with contempt in his eyes. “Truly? I had not thought you to be a coward until this day. Mingle with your brethren, coward. I shall test your mettle.” He turned his gaze to Buffy. “You fear not to take the consequences of your actions. Your test shall be sterner.” He gestured with his empty hand and two clouds of smoke appeared; one near Sorkatani, the other near Buffy. Each cloud dissipated to reveal monsters.
Four small creatures, humanoid but inhuman, rushed at Sorkatani. She met one with a blow of her mace, halted it in its tracks, and ran it through with her sword. Imoen stabbed another with a short sword. The remaining two reached Sorkatani and began to claw and bite. Minsc and Jaheira rushed to her aid.
A tall and muscular figure loomed towards Buffy. It wore a loin-cloth resembling the dress of a Sumo wrestler, and its head was crowned by a top-knot that was also Oriental in style, but its green skin and horned head made the resemblance only superficial. It wore a large sword slung across its back but made no move to draw it. Instead it raised its hands in mystical gestures and began to chant.
Buffy didn’t give it the time that it needed to complete its spell. She charged forward and smote with her hammer. The monster cried out and then snarled in rage. It reached for the sword as Buffy hit it again. Dawn threw her dagger and hit it in the chest. Spike and Xander rushed to the attack.
Sorkatani tossed her mace up into the air, grabbed one of her opponents and threw it to the ground, caught the mace as it descended and slammed it down onto the winded creature. Minsc plucked away the other distorted humanoid from Sorkatani’s back and hurled it to the ground. Jaheira had chosen a spear from the assortment in the Golem room; she drove the spear through the creature and pinned it to the ground.
Spike went into game face, seized one arm of Buffy’s opponent, and dragged it down towards his fangs. Xander slashed his blade across its legs. Buffy hit it with her hammer again. Spike plunged his fangs home and began to drink.
The monster howled in pain and tried to dislodge Spike’s grasp. Buffy struck again and landed a solid blow on the monster’s thigh. The leg buckled under the impact and the creature toppled to the ground. Spike released his grip so as not to be dragged down with it and wiped a hand across his blood-smeared mouth. Xander thrust with his sword and drove it home into the green chest. The monster lay still.
Spike returned to his human visage. “Tastes worse than pig blood,” he commented. “What was that thing?”
“An ogre mage,” Jaheira informed him. “Has it satisfied your hunger, vampire?”
“Stop calling me ‘vampire’, will you, luv? Name’s Spike. Got that? One easy syllable. Shouldn’t be too hard to manage.”
“Is ‘Jaheira’ then too hard for you to manage?”
Spike smirked, caught Buffy’s eye, and bit back the retort that was about to leave his lips. “Okay, Jaheira. You don’t call me ‘vampire’; I don’t call you ‘half-elf’. Deal?”
“Very well,” Jaheira agreed, her tone still cold and unfriendly. “Spike.” She turned away and went to check Sorkatani for wounds.
“You have come through after all, Sorkatani,” Aatagah said. “Here, then, is the advice that I offer. Seek out Rielev. He has been waiting for one such as you. Give him the release that he craves and you shall find that the focus of your journey shall soon become apparent. Farewell!” The genie shimmered, swirled, and faded away into nothingness.
Sorkatani stared at the place where he had been, a troubled frown on her face. “Was my decision really that of a coward? I thought merely that it offered the best hope of at least one of us surviving. Did Buffy make the true hero’s choice?”
“No, Buffy made the dumb choice,” Dawn told her. “You should totally have known that I would press the button, Buffy. Do you still just want to be dead again?”
“I want you to live, Dawn. That’s all.” Buffy walked to one of the pools and stared into the water.
“Here you go, Nibblet.” Spike pulled the dagger from the ogre mage’s chest, licked it clean, and returned it to Dawn. “Good shot, Bit.”
Dawn took it and looked dubiously at the blade. “Thanks, but, eww for the licking.”
“Waste not want not. Wasn’t going to clean it off on my shirt, was I?”
“Yeah, ‘cause that stupid suit and shirt look so good. Not. You totally have to find some new clothes.”
Spike cast a glance back at the loincloth-clad corpse of the ogre mage and raised an eyebrow. “Fair enough, Bit; but that giant baby costume is right out.”
“That’s interesting,” Jonathan remarked. “Aatagah posed the question to Buffy as well. And he called her ‘stranger’. The whole program’s adapting to them, not just the controllable characters. Even the text displays are changing. I didn’t expect that, you know, ‘cause they’re bit-map pictures.”
“Ones and zeros, pal, ones and zeros,” Warren put in, from his place at his own PC. “Next time you save and quit copy the save game over to the network. I want to take another look at the code.”
“I liked that bit between Jaheira and Spike,” Andrew commented. “You think they might end up as friends?”
“Maybe. Only, it’s Giles who seems to be having the most interaction with her. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if he went through the Jaheira romance?”
“Uh, I guess so,” Andrew said, without enthusiasm. “It would be cooler if it was Spike.”
“One sword, of no better quality than these that we have already,” Sorkatani announced with some dissatisfaction. “I had hoped for better from an ogre mage. And coin. Forty pieces of gold, of the same weight as the Double Eagles of Baldur’s Gate. The emblem on the face looks vaguely familiar but I can’t place it. The Amnian coins that we saw in Nashkell, perhaps? They should be worth about the same as the coin of Baldur's Gate. We shall have enough for lodgings and food, at the least, when we escape this place.”
“Speaking of food,” Anya put in, “I’m hungry. It’s all very well for Spike, drinking the blood of monsters, but that’s not an option open to the rest of us. Well, unless we get very very hungry.”
Dawn wrinkled up her nose. “Okay, I’m predictable, but I’m going to give that a big ‘Eww’.”
Xander rummaged through his pockets. “I’ve got one Twinkie. That’s it.”
“It’s not going to go very far between twelve,” Anya said.
“I too am hungry,” Minsc announced. His stomach rumbled at that very moment as if to emphasize his point. “And Boo. What food is there here for hamsters?”
“Uh, maybe he’d like a piece of the Twinkie?” Xander suggested.
“You mustn’t feed hamsters sweet things,” Dawn protested. “A Twinkie would make him sick.” She saw Buffy directing a questioning look in her direction. “Hey, I read up on it, okay? I was hoping I might get a hamster. They eat seeds, and corn, and wheat, and insects, and small amounts of vegetables. What they like best are apples and cauliflowers, and you mustn’t give them parsley ‘cause it’s, like, poisonous to them. And not Twinkies.”
“Okay, I bow to your superior knowledge, Dawnster.” Xander broke the Twinkie in half, passed one section to Anya, and handed the other piece to Minsc. “Here you go, big guy. I think you probably need this the most.”
“I thank you.” Minsc accepted the Twinkie and bowed slightly towards Xander. “Your kindness is matched only by your ability to kick the wrinkly butt of Evil. But Boo is very hungry. Can he not have just a tiny piece?”
“Maybe just a very, very, little bit,” Dawn conceded.
Minsc broke off a minute section of Twinkie and fed it to the hamster, who squeaked ecstatically. Minsc then bit heartily into the Twinkie himself. “Delicious!” he boomed. “I have never tasted anything as good. I feel new strength rushing through me. Look out, Evil, here comes Minsc and Twinkie!”
There were two possible exits from the chamber of crystals. One appeared to be wider than the other at first glance, but a closer look showed that it took an abrupt right-angle bend after a few feet and narrowed to a width no greater than that of the other exit.
“There is nothing to guide our choice,” Sorkatani mused. “That being so, one is as good as the other. I propose to take the left, unless anyone has strong objections?”
“Would it be a good idea to split up?” Buffy wondered. “Explore one route each?”
“Perhaps,” Sorkatani said. “I would take counsel on this matter. What say you, Jaheira?”
Buffy turned to her own mentor. “What d’you say, Giles?”
“I feel we are not yet strong enough to separate,” Jaheira advised. “We are as yet ill armored, and only in numbers have we strength.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Giles agreed. “Also, I haven’t found any kind of musical instrument, and my bardic abilities, if I indeed do have any, are somewhat restricted. We don’t know what Anya can do either.”
“I can look after the money,” Anya offered.
Giles didn’t react. “That being the case, I’d certainly feel more comfortable in the company of our new friends who, apart from their proficiency in the skills of combat, have a familiarity with this environment that we lack.”
“Okay, okay.” Buffy smiled at Sorkatani. “I’m in no big rush to split up anyway. Left it is, then.”
The left corridor led them straight into danger. Six small humanoids lurked there. Some wielded axes, but others were armed with bows. Arrows hissed through the air towards the party.
“Goblins!” Sorkatani snarled. She ducked back around the corner to dodge the first volley of arrows. “No match for us at close quarters, but we have no weapons of range. We must charge them.”
Spike looked dubiously at the wooden shafts of the arrows as they clattered to the ground.
“What’s wrong, Spike?” Xander jeered. He held a shield in front of his mail-clad body. “Scared of a few arrows?”
“Well, yeah,” Spike admitted. “Gonna get one of those armor suits as soon as I get the bloody chance.” He gritted his teeth. “Okay, if we’ve got to charge, then let’s sodding well charge.”
The whole party charged forwards as one, with the armored Minsc and Xander leading the way. An arrow pierced Xander’s shield, and one glanced from one of the iron plates reinforcing Minsc’s mail, and then they were on the goblins and striking with swords and maces. The fray lasted only moments.
“And now we have bows,” Sorkatani proclaimed with grim satisfaction. She unfastened a quiver from a goblin corpse and slung it onto her own back.
“Hey, a cool necklace,” Dawn exclaimed. “What’s an ugly goblin doing with something nice like this?”
“Do you have to do that?” Buffy snapped.
“Hey, taking stuff from the dead bodies is totally what people do here,” Dawn defended herself. “I’m a thief, right? So this is like my job.”
“She’s got a point, Buffy,” Spike said.
“Fine. Fine. My little sister loots the bodies of dead goblins. I just hope they don’t have fleas.”
“Fleas?” Dawn recoiled. “Like, eww!”
“Regretfully, I think that none of us will be able to avoid the attentions of fleas and lice in this environment,” Giles said.
“Oh, we’ll get used to them,” Anya assured everyone. “They won’t do us any harm. As long as they’re not carrying the plague, that is.”
“Plague?” Buffy paled. “I totally want to go home. Right now.”
Further along the corridor they found and explored a large room. It held strange vats in which living beings were trapped in some kind of suspended animation. Imoen shuddered at the sight and rambled almost incoherently about what she had suffered at the hands of their captor. Sorkatani comforted her and took no part in the exploration of the room.
It also held a pair of imp-like creatures, one composed of vapor and one of ice, which managed to raise painful welts on Minsc’s tattooed forehead before falling to his sword blows.
Crates and boxes within the room were quickly searched for items of use or value. One was booby-trapped, as Dawn discovered just as Buffy was about to put her hand on the trigger, and the young girl disarmed the trap herself as Imoen was in no fit state to take part. Inside was a quarterstaff of smoothly polished wood shod with metal.
“Enchanted,” Jaheira announced. “A charm of no great power, but enough that it may strike a creature immune to normal weapons.”
“May I?” Giles requested. He took the staff and made a few passes with it. “I pride myself that I am rather proficient with the quarterstaff.”
“As do I,” Jaheira informed him.
“Oh, I beg your pardon. If it is your favored weapon, then certainly you should take it,” Giles offered.
“No need. The spear shall serve.” Jaheira studied Giles’ moves. “Your form is satisfactory. Impressive, even.”
Spike choked back a snigger.
“A guardian who feeds on filth and on the bodies of prisoners,” Sorkatani mused. “A monster of some kind, no doubt, but what?”
“Sounds totally disgusting,” Buffy said, wrinkling her nose. “I just hope we don’t meet it.”
They had interrogated a golem. A laborious process, as it would respond only to questions that could have come from its master, but they had managed to extract some useful information. Most important, it would appear, was the discovery that the golem would open all the doors as it went about its task of cleaning the catacombs. Unfortunately it would not begin that task until activated with an ‘activation stone’, and that was apparently in the vicinity of the ‘Rielev’ already mentioned by the genie.
“We must find this Rielev,” Jaheira stated.
“Indubitably,” Giles agreed. “I suppose there is nothing that we can do but to keep on looking.
“Hey, guys, check out this totally cool sword,” Dawn urged. “Imoen says that it’s, like, magical.”
“Not that it’s a weapon of power or anything,” Imoen said. “Just minor enchantments to sharpen the edge and stuff. It’s too long for me.”
Dawn picked it up and swung it experimentally. “It doesn’t feel right for me either. So, who gets it? Buffy?”
Buffy hesitated, unwilling to appear greedy, but her eyes were gleaming.
“I prefer a curved blade,” Sorkatani told her, picking up a scimitar. “Take it, Buffy.”
“These scrolls contain spells,” Imoen said. “Flame Arrow. Identify. Dispel Magic.” She glanced at Willow. “One each, and toss a coin for the third?”
“No, you take them,” Willow said. “I don’t think I should.”
Tara caught Willow by the shoulder. “Look, Willow,” she said, with an edge to her voice that none of the Scoobies had ever heard from her before. “When we were safe at home you couldn’t keep off the damn magic. The shop needs tidying? Magic. We want to see if Dawn’s in the Bronze? You magically move everybody else out of the way. I’m in a bad mood with you? Hey, magic can fix that. Now we’re in this place where magic is normal, and we’re in danger and being attacked all the time, and you won’t cast a single damn spell. Everyone is doing their part except for you. Start pulling your damn weight. Get over yourself.” Tara snatched up one of the scrolls at random and forced it into Willow’s hands. “Take the damn scrolls, learn the spells, and fry the damn monsters. Okay?” She turned her back on Willow and stalked off.
Willow’s lower lip trembled. “Okay,” she agreed in a small voice. She unrolled the scroll. “Flame Arrow. Material components, a drop of oil and a piece of flint.”
“Uh, maybe you were just a touch hard on Willow there,” Xander suggested to Tara.
“No. I was not,” Tara said flatly. “Come on, I think we’ve just about cleaned this room out. Let’s move on.”
They moved on and found a room occupied by inactive and unresponsive golems. Beyond that they were ambushed by goblins again, and there was another brief and almost one-sided battle in which Giles slew two goblins but took a deep cut to the arm. Tara healed him with a spell and made a point of doing so in front of Willow, who had still done nothing constructive.
After that they at last found Rielev.
Rielev dwelt, if you could call it that, in a bubbling vat of fluid. Preserved in a state neither dead nor alive, yet able to communicate. He had been, or so he said, a friend and colleague to ‘the master’, but had been condemned to the vat for some weakness or failure. He desired only death. His death, he revealed, could be brought about by removing the ‘crystals’ that powered the vat. Once removed, the crystals could then be used to awaken the slumbering prisoners inside the other room of vats. Rielev believed that one or more of them might know the way out of the complex.
Sorkatani granted his request, and there were tears visible on her cheeks as she pulled out the ‘power crystals’. Buffy looked on with sad eyes.
“Rather be bloody dead myself than live like that,” Spike muttered. “She’s doing the right thing, pet.”
“I guess,” Buffy sighed. “The guy who runs this place is all kinds of sicko. I’m all in favor of finding him and kicking his ass.”
“Yes, the ass of Evil should be well kicked,” Minsc agreed. “I shall find him and he shall taste hamster justice!”
“Hope that’s better than hamster jam,” Spike said. “You can get chewed lips from hamster jam.”
The activation stone for the janitor golem was on a table in front of Rielev’s tank. They took it and retraced their steps.
The power crystals did indeed awaken the creatures trapped in vats in the room that had so upset Imoen, but questioning them proved to be futile. The beings could not hear or see anything outside their vats. They rambled, distressingly, even horrifyingly, but that was all.
The ramblings did provide nuggets of information that might eventually turn out to be of practical value. There was a room belonging to ‘the Mistress’, which was apparently deadly. The ‘Master’ had a genie trapped within a bottle. A statue, small enough to be ‘taken’, was necessary to gain access the genie. Meaningless at the moment, however, and the party left the room and went to activate the janitor golem.
“What the hell is that?” Xander stared unbelievingly at the hideous creature that barred their path.
“An otyugh,” Sorkatani answered. “A carrion eater, but a predator too. Very dangerous. It takes little hurt from most weapons. Blunt or enchanted weapons can harm it, I think. Worst of all, its tentacles and bite carry a dread disease.”
“I’m not surprised,” Buffy said, watching the monster splash through sewage as it lumbered towards them. Its tentacles thrashed menacingly, and a huge maw full of jagged teeth gaped.
“Sounds like a job for me,” Spike volunteered. “Disease can’t hurt me, pet.”
“I would recommend that you refrain from biting the otyugh,” Jaheira advised.
“Wasn’t going to, p- Jaheira,” Spike replied, screwing up his mouth at the thought. He extended a hand to Buffy. “Give us the hammer, would you, love?” She passed him the weapon without comment. Spike grinned. “It’s clobberin’ time!” He hefted the hammer and charged.
Spike slammed home the hammer with vicious force. The otyugh’s rubbery body shuddered under the impact, but it stayed standing and struck back with a tentacle. Spike dodged and struck again. A tentacle ripped through his suit and left bloody wheals on his shoulder. “That the best you’ve got?” Spike grunted, and hit the monster on the top of what approximated to a head.
The otyugh was sagging, obviously injured, when Spike slipped on the filthy stone surface and went down to one knee. He put a hand down to support himself and the otyugh lashed out with a tentacle, connecting with the arm that held the hammer and wrapping round to pinion the arm. Its huge mouth gaped wide and approached Spike’s head.
Buffy raised her sword and sprang forward, as did Sorkatani and Minsc. Xander was only a pace behind them.
“No!” Willow yelled. Her hand pointed and arcane words burst from her mouth. A flaming arrow shot forth from her hand and streaked through the air to impale the otyugh. It writhed in apparent agony and lost its grip on Spike. He jumped up and swung the hammer. A second later Buffy arrived and slashed with her sword, with the others close behind. The otyugh went down under a hail of blows and stayed down.
“Are you all right?” Buffy asked.
“Been better,” Spike replied, “but nothing serious.” He passed the hammer back to Buffy and walked over to Willow. “Thanks, Red,” he said. “Saved my bacon there.”
She smiled. “Not something a Jewish girl does often. Are you okay?”
“Thanks to you, yeah. I’d hug you, pet, only I doubt if you’d appreciate it.”
“Uh, yeah, you are pretty stinky. I’m glad you’re okay, Spike.”
“A mighty butt-kicking for the forces of Evil,” Minsc boomed.
“Well done, Willow,” Tara said. “I’m proud of you.”
Willow’s smile vanished. “Don’t patronize me. I didn’t want to see Spike get his head bitten off and I acted. I didn’t think about it and I didn’t do it so that you’d think better of me. I’ve had it with your blowing hot and cold.” She turned her back on Tara and walked away.
“Things don’t seem to be going too well for those two,” Warren commented. “It doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing much in the way of hot girl-on-girl action.”
“Oh, hi, Warren, I didn’t know you were watching.” Jonathan paused the game and hit Q for a quick-save.
“I wasn’t. I just caught the end of that fight.” Warren gazed at the screen. “If they take the exit to the right from there they get to the dryads, right? I so want to see what Spike makes of them.”
Jonathan grinned. “Slurpees?”
The sewer confluence where they had fought the otyugh proved to be a fertile ground for scavenging. A stack of chests contained potions, scrolls, a key, a helmet, and a crossbow. Unfortunately it also contained a booby trap, which the thieves failed to spot, and a hidden spring-powered blade slashed a half-inch deep gash in Dawn’s forearm. Tara had to cast her healing spell twice before the gash stopped bleeding and closed up.
“I don’t think I’ve got much juice left,” she admitted. “Uh, maybe one more at most. Try not to get hurt, guys.”
“These potions are as effective as the spells,” Jaheira pointed out. “There is no reason to despair as yet. Although the advice not to get hurt is sound anyway.” She sighed. “I too have little left in the way of healing spells. I am tired, and hungry, and we have not yet seen any sign of my husband Khalid.”
“Husband?” Giles exclaimed.
“Yes. He was with me when we were attacked and he too was captured. I fear for him.”
“Ah, yes, quite. Well, don’t despair, there seems to be rather a lot of rooms in this place. I’m sure we’ll find him eventually.” Giles fidgeted with his glasses and backed away, and then turned to Buffy and Sorkatani, who were examining the loot from the chests. “May I take the crossbow? I was never much of a hand with the longbow, but with a crossbow I can hit what I aim at.”
Another long corridor, another fight with goblins, and then something new. A chamber with carpets, tables, cabinets, shelves, and a padded armchair.
Imoen put out her arm and stopped Buffy as she was about to step onto the carpet. “Watch out for traps,” she cautioned the Slayer. “Why would there be a carpet here? I suspect a hidden pit.”
“With spikes at the bottom?”
“Quite possibly.” Imoen crept cautiously onto the carpet, prodding it with her bow stave as she advanced. No pit, but there was a bear trap. Imoen managed to snatch the bow away before the jaws snapped shut; a leg would have been harder to save. One of the sets of shelves was booby-trapped too.
The treasures within the room were certainly worth protecting. A statuette, possibly the one that gave access to the genie in a bottle. A key that tingled with mystical power. An amulet that granted additional spells to a wizard or witch. An enchanted helmet, the Helm of Balduran, that Sorkatani told them was famed in her home city of Baldur’s Gate as one of the items that had helped the adventurer Balduran become the mighty hero who had founded the city. She laid no claim to the helmet other than by the gleam in her eyes when she looked upon it, but everyone assented when Xander said “I guess that should go to you, huh?”
And, most eagerly greeted of all, a tray bearing a loaf of stale bread, a wedge of hard cheese, and an apple with wrinkled skin.
An antechamber to that room held an ambush party of goblins and another one of the devices that Xander insisted were transportation portals. His deduction was based upon their similarity to devices from Star Trek and similar shows, rather than from any knowledge of this environment, but it seemed logical enough and his identification was accepted as correct.
Again they failed to find a way of activating the portal. It had a slot for a key, and they were accumulating an impressive collection of keys, but none of them were the right key for this slot. They cursed, looted the goblins, and moved on.
“Hello, nurse!” Spike’s eyes widened and he let out a low whistle.
Xander’s eyes widened as he too gazed at the beautiful and scantily-clad dryads. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
“It must have been as you were kissing me.” Spike couldn’t resist completing the line. Xander recoiled and his mouth screwed up. Anya had started to aim a disapproving glare at her fiancé but Spike’s words defused her anger and she burst into laughter instead.
Sorkatani cast a brief puzzled glance at the strangers to her world but then dismissed their incomprehensible behavior from her mind and advanced to speak to the dryads.
They revealed that they were slaves, concubines, to the owner of the complex. They pleaded for help and claimed that if their acorns were taken to the Dryad Queen in the Windspear Hills they would be able to escape their captor, Irenicus. They could not exist away from their trees unless the acorns were there to receive them.
Sorkatani immediately offered to help. The acorns, however, were in the possession of Ilyich, the leader of Irenicus’ duergar mercenaries.
“Duergar?” Spike put in. “The famous disappearing racehorse?”
That interjection produced a chuckle from Giles and blank looks from everyone else.
“The Dark Dwarves,” Sorkatani explained, frowning at the vampire. “If we find this Ilyich we shall retrieve your acorns and do our best to take them to your Queen. If we can escape this place ourselves, that is.”
“If you bring us the acorns we shall tell you how to escape,” one of the dryads replied.
Sorkatani clucked her tongue in irritation. “That is unfair. We would help you anyway; there is no need to withhold that information to compel our compliance. Ah well, I suppose I cannot blame you. Very well, we shall return with the acorns, if it is in our power.”
Beyond the dryad grove they found a bedchamber. Richly furnished and decorated, and full of tripwires, alarms, and traps. They missed an alarm and a bell sounded. Nothing happened immediately and they searched the room for valuables and weapons.
Imoen had, apparently, been shown the room before. She began to mutter about her captor and what he had done to her. Sorkatani again tried to comfort her, and she was taken by surprise when a golem burst into the room.
“The sanctity of the mistress’ room has been violated. The intruders must die,” the golem grunted, and knocked Sorkatani to the ground.
Buffy kicked it into the wall. Minsc charged it with a war hammer. Giles struck it with his staff. Buffy hit it with her own hammer as it bounced back from the wall and it crumpled to the ground.
“You are a great warrior,” Minsc praised Buffy. “You kick the butt of Evil most mightily. Boo says – duck!”
“Huh?” Buffy looked at him uncomprehendingly and was knocked to the ground by the fist of a second golem as it attacked with blinding speed.
Spike snarled and leaped to the attack. Giles, Xander, and Minsc followed close behind and the golem was destroyed in less than a minute.
“We will have matching headaches, sister in arms,” Sorkatani said to Buffy.
“I guess so,” Buffy replied, rubbing her head, and she turned to Minsc. “Next time, I’ll duck when you say duck. Or when Boo says duck. I thought it was, like, boo to a goose.”
“Boo would not goose you,” Minsc assured her. “He is a well-brought up and polite hamster.”
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use.