Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR.
Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events not dissimilar to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but offscreen.
“Hey! That door isn’t supposed to open.” Jonathan paused the game and beckoned to Warren. “Look at this, dude. Did you do that?”
“Do what?” Warren didn’t look up but just kept on typing away at his own computer. “I’m busy. Don’t bother me, man, unless the girls have taken their clothes off.”
“No, really, you’ve got to see this. It’s, like, relevant.”
Warren sighed and abandoned his coding. “Okay, okay.” He went over to Jonathan and peered over his shoulder. “What’s so exciting? They’re going to go through a door? Man, the excitement! How can my heart take it?”
“Where do you think they are?”
“Huh? I don’t know. The Temple of Ilmater? One of the inns?”
“Nope. That’s one of those fake doors. The ones where you just get that caption about ‘this shop sells boring stuff like food and clothes’, you know?”
Warren’s eyes opened wider. “Holy shit! What happens when they go in?”
Jonathan hit the space bar. “I’m just about to find out.” He watched as the characters entered a scene depicting a rectangular room filled with racks and trestle tables. One of the standard archetype figures that represented a female shopkeeper stood behind the tables. The blue ring that showed her to be a neutral character surrounded her feet. The tables were covered with little pictures of cloaks.
“Oh. My. God.” Warren sucked in a deep breath. “That is just totally incredible.”
“It’s just a shop,” Andrew said, obviously unimpressed.
“A shop that doesn’t exist in the game,” Jonathan pointed out. “It’s made itself, dude.”
“Standard template,” Warren muttered, “but those cloaks – they’re from the animation from when you’ve killed a magic user. It’s modifying itself.”
“How can it do that?” Jonathan wondered.
“Buffy!” Warren decided. “She expects there to be clothes shops, so there are. The game’s adapting itself to match. Oh, man, I’ve got to see the code for this.”
“I’ll port over a copy after the next save,” Jonathan promised. “Can you use it? I mean, if we have to put, like, people’s memories into every copy of the game, that kinda rules out it being a million-seller.”
Warren sucked in his bottom lip and chewed on it. “I don’t know. But it has to be doing it through code. If I can extract that and patch it into a standard game, and it does the same thing, then we’re really on to something.”
“We can’t make money out of selling Baldur’s Gate mods,” Jonathan pointed out.
“We can make a reputation,” Warren said. “But yeah, the big bucks only come if we can make something new. Like, well, there hasn’t been a good pirate game since Sid Meier’s ‘Pirates’. But if I could take a piece of shit pirate game and turn it into something like this I bet it would sell truckloads. They’re making a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie, remember? If it’s a hit the market would really take off.”
“And if it bombs like ‘Cutthroat Island’? There hasn’t been a good pirate movie since ‘The Crimson Pirate’ in, like, prehistoric times. And hey, man, Disney?”
“Johnny Depp, dude,” Andrew pointed out. “I think it’ll be cool. I’d buy a good pirate game. With, like, swashbuckling and wenches and gold and shit.”
Warren and Jonathan exchanged glances, with their eyebrows raised at Andrew’s mention of wenches as a plus factor, but they made no comment.
“Ah, Buffy, my dear, you look positively radiant.” Giles smiled fondly at the Slayer.
“Thanks. I was worried that this place would be all, like, long dresses and those pointy hats with the scarf hanging on the end, but hey, they’ve got some okay stuff.” Buffy pirouetted, showing off her new moleskin breeches and silk shirt. “Cool, huh? We lucked out in a way, ‘cause we landed right in the middle of this place’s version of a mall.” She looked at Giles, tilted her head to one side, and raised an eyebrow. “You look more messed up than when you went out. Rough time shopping, huh?”
“We became involved in an adventure somewhat more violent than contesting with other bargain hunters at the sales,” Giles related. “Werewolves, and ogres, and strange shadow creatures.”
“Oh my,” Xander added.
“All ended well, however. We took no serious hurt, freed some circus folk from an enchanted imprisonment, and reunited a mother with her lost child.”
“Ah, we are all heroes,” Minsc sighed happily. “Hamsters and rangers everywhere rejoice!”
“Sounds cool,” Buffy said. “Tell me about it.”
“Later, if you don’t mind, Buffy,” Giles said. “Right now I think I’ll bathe and put on clean clothing.”
“Me too,” said Xander. “Hey, Ahn, looking good.”
“Yes, I am,” Anya said. “Do you know they haven’t invented the bra on this world? I’ve changed all that. I have seamstresses working on some right now. For us first, but afterwards they’ll put them on sale, and I’ll get a commission.”
“O-kay,” Buffy said. “So, we’re all awake and fed, and we’re all clean and shiny and we don’t look like something the cat dragged in any more, and we’ve got maps of this place. So, let’s make some moves about finding a way back to our own world.”
Willow put her hand up. “Uh, Buffy, I think we’ve got a problem. I guess we need magical help on this one. Well, if there’s a law against magic, how are we gonna find it? I guess we’re not gonna find a wizard in the Yellow Pages. And hey, feeling kinda useless here, ‘cause if I can’t cast any spells without being arrested, well …”
“I believe the Cowled Wizards sell licenses that allow the practice of magic,” Yoshimo put in.
“Figures,” Spike said. “It’s a racket, innit? They’ve got a monopoly and they’re getting rich out of it.”
“Perhaps, then, a suitable payment might procure the release of Imoen,” Sorkatani mused. “It seems that all of us have reason to seek out the Cowled Wizards.”
“I find it strange that Irenicus allowed himself to be taken so easily,” Jaheira commented. “Surely he could have escaped, even if he could not have defeated them all. Did he have some ulterior motive? It was at his prompting that Imoen was included in his arrest.”
“You may be right,” Sorkatani agreed. She shook her head. “We do not know enough. There are questions that must be asked. Let us, then, head for the Government District and find the leaders of the Cowled Wizards.”
“This place smells,” Dawn said, wrinkling up her nose. They were traversing a district of small, close-packed, houses. The people in the streets wore clothes that were patched and shabby.
“Horse manure, mainly,” Spike told her. “London smelled like this when I was human. ‘Course, some of it’s not from horses.”
“Eww. Did you have to say that?”
“Can’t deny it, Nibblet. Shit happens.”
“Eww,” Dawn repeated.
“A word, lady?” A leather-clad figure stepped from an alley and approached Sorkatani. “You’d be the one I’m looking for, if I’m not mistaken. Sorkatani be your name, aye?”
Sorkatani rested her hand on the hilt of her katana. “Yes, I am she. What is it that you want?”
“’Tis not what I want, but what I can do for ye,” the stranger said. “Ye’d be wanting information on the young lass arrested by the wizards on your arrival here, aye?”
“I am,” Sorkatani confirmed. “And you would be wanting payment for such information? Who are you, and how do you know of me?”
“My name is Gaelen Bayle, though ye’ll not have heard of me,” the man revealed.
“I have heard of him, Sorkatani,” Yoshimo put in. “At least a little. He is a man with many connections amongst the underworld of this city. A man of his word, too, as far as that is worth.”
“Speak, then, and I will listen,” Sorkatani said. “Again, how do you know of me?”
“Why, ye be one of renown enough that the wise take note of your deeds; and of your misfortunes too.”
Buffy frowned and pouted. Spike saw her and grinned.
“Bit jealous, are we, Slayer? Can’t take someone else having the fame?”
Buffy pretended not to hear.
Gaelen Bayle was reluctant to discuss his offer on the open street and led the group to his house. There Sorkatani engaged in discussion with him, attended by Jaheira, Yoshimo, and Minsc, while Buffy’s party waited and fidgeted.
“He offers aid to recover Imoen, and to combat Irenicus,” Sorkatani related after her meeting concluded, “but at a price. A vast price. Twenty thousand danter.”
Buffy’s eyebrows shot up. Danter were the gold coins of Amn, and she had gained some understanding of their value during the morning’s shopping expedition. “I don’t know how much that is in dollars, but I’m betting it’s a whole lot. How much do we have left?”
The party counted their coins and Anya announced the total. “Three thousand one hundred and eighty three.”
“And we must needs eat, and our weaponry and equipment is not as I would wish for a battle against a mighty opponent,” Sorkatani said. “He seems confident that I will have no option but to take up his offer. Still, I shall explore other avenues first. I am told that there is employment for mercenary warriors being offered by a girl in a tavern nearby. I may take service in her cause for a while, perhaps, if her cause is just.”
Buffy shook her head. “I can’t see myself doing anything like that. Still, maybe it won’t be necessary, huh? Let’s go see if we can sort it out with those wizard guys ourselves.”
“Oh my God! Hobbits! Real hobbits!” Dawn squealed.
The little man glowered at her. “What a rude girl! I don’t know what that name is, but it sounds insulting. Keep it to yourself.”
Dawn flushed. “Sorry. It’s just, I’ve heard stories about, uh, whatever you call yourselves, but I’ve never seen any, well, hobbits are our name for you, before. I didn’t mean to be rude. Sorry.”
“Well, you shouldn’t call out names like that. And we are called halflings.” The hobbit, or halfing, stalked off.
“They couldn’t call them hobbits in D&D,” Xander explained. “The Tolkien estate has the name copyrighted. So they had to call them halflings.”
“It still seems all kind of weird us being in a game,” Dawn said. “I guess everything fits, though. So, if we’re gonna make it through, we’re gonna have to learn the rules.”
“Well, that was a bureaucratic nightmare that could have come straight out of Kafka,” Giles commented, as the party trudged unhappily out of the hall that was the nominal headquarters of the council that governed Amn.
“Or out of ‘Futurama’,” Xander said. “Like, ‘When Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back’.” He grinned. “Hey, maybe you could sort things out with your bard mojo. You could sing Hermes’ song. ‘When I was four there was a hurricane in Kingston Town, with a foot and a half of water. Everyone was alright but I cried all night; it blew my alphabet blocks out of order’.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Giles said. “I won’t dignify it with the name ‘singing’.” He sighed. “I really must find a guitar, or something similar. Although performing bard magic would presumably attract the same penalty as if I were a wizard, or would be subject to the same exorbitant license fee.”
“Five thousand dollars! I mean danter, but hey, we could call them dollars among ourselves.” Willow pursed her lips. “Five thousand just to get a license to do magic!”
“Told you it was a rip-off, Red,” Spike said.
“Yeah.” Willow shook her head. “How are we gonna come up with that kind of money?”
“Might want to think about that mercenary job after all, Slayer,” Spike suggested.
“I suppose we could take a look,” Buffy conceded.
“These Cowled Wizards have the smell of corruption,” Jaheira muttered. “Spike is right. They use their privileged position to suppress those who would be their competition, or to gouge coin from their pockets.”
“And they seek to manipulate me,” Sorkatani said. “I sense it. I greatly distrust their representative, Tolgerias, with his request that I agree to an unspecified service before they will even discuss Imoen’s case. I see why Gaelen Bayle had such confidence that I would be driven to pay his backers the sum that they demand.”
“What’s going on over there?” Dawn pointed at an assemblage of people at the other side of the square where the government buildings stood. “It’s like they’re – oh my God, they’re gonna burn somebody at the stake!”
“Dawn, come away!” Buffy called.
“They’re burning somebody at the stake? Buffy, w-we have to stop them!” Tara’s voice trembled with her distress.
“Uh, maybe it’s legal here, Tara. We can’t go interfering with the law,” Buffy said. “Best we stay out of it.”
“Buffy!” Willow gasped. “You can’t mean that. I mean, it’s probably some poor witch who just couldn’t pay their stupid fee.”
“I think we should take a look, although not take precipitate action,” Giles counseled.
Sorkatani took no notice of the discussion within Buffy’s group. She strode towards the crowd, closely followed by Jaheira and Minsc. Yoshimo trailed a little further behind. Spike raised a quizzical eyebrow at Buffy and then followed Yoshimo, with Dawn, Tara, and Willow close at his heels. Buffy frowned and then set off in pursuit, accompanied by Giles, Xander, and Anya.
The woman who was tied to a stake looked exotic in the extreme. Her skin was black; not the deep brown referred to as black among the humans of Earth, but true black. Where the sunlight gleamed on her skin the highlights appeared grey. Her hair, on the other hand, was so blonde that it was almost white. Faggots of wood were piled around her legs in ominous fashion.
A crowd of some thirty people were gathered in front of the stake. They were being addressed by an armor-clad man, who was alternating his efforts between working up the crowd to a fury and delivering insults and grim promises of eternal torment to the captive.
“Look ye all upon this foul drow that we have bound before ye!” the preacher ranted. “A creature of evil and darkness. A creature of foulness and deceit, bent only on our destruction. This vile drow has foolishly come amongst us, my brethren, thinking that we would be lax in our senses! Tell me what should be done with it!”
The answering shouts from the assembled throng gave no doubt that their opinion was unanimously in favor of death by burning.
“Then the drow shall burn,” the preacher pronounced.
“You rivvin are mad!” the drow woman cried. “I have done nothing to any of you. I sought only to make my way without molestation.”
“Done nothing? You are a drow elf, are you not? That is enough to condemn you,” the preacher told her.
The drow began to utter words in an alien language. The preacher struck her heavily in the face with a mailed gauntlet and silenced her. Tara’s face twisted in revulsion at the deed. Willow hissed in anger.
“I know that voice,” Sorkatani said. “Viconia.”
“It is indeed her,” Jaheira confirmed. Her fingers closed on the hilt of her scimitar. “I have no love for drow in general, nor for Viconia in particular, but it seems that she has done nothing to deserve her fate other than to be a drow. This is not justice.”
“Sorkatani!” the drow called out almost at the same time. “Is that you? Save me! Deliver me from these madmen.”
Sorkatani stepped in front of the preacher, who was a man almost as tall as Minsc, and stared up at him. “What is this madness?” she demanded.
“We burn a drow,” he told her. “Join us, my lady, and rejoice in our righteous destruction of this unholy entity.”
“What crime is she accused of?” Sorkatani pressed.
“What crime?” The preacher’s eyebrows disappeared up under the rim of his helmet. “Why, the crime of being dark and evil, of course! Look on her. Her skin is black with the stain of her foul soul. She is a drow, and deserves no mercy.”
“Racist bastard,” Tara muttered. Willow’s hands twitched in the hand formations of a spell, but she restrained herself and cast an uneasy glance back towards the bulk of the Council buildings that stood as a visible reminder of the severe penalties for the practice of unlicensed magic.
The stake had been set up only yards from a building that bore the crest indicating that it was also one of the offices of government. A guard in plate armor and crested helmet stood at its steps, halberd in hand, watching the proceedings. Dawn approached him. Spike followed at her heels.
“Do something!” Dawn urged the guard. “You’re, like, police or something, right? They’re going to burn somebody right in front of you.”
The guard shrugged. “A drow has no rights in Athkatla. It’s none of my business.” He brought his halberd fully erect and averted his gaze from Dawn.
“You wuss! What kind of cop are you?” Dawn scolded, and she kicked the man in the shin. He yelped and stepped back. His grip on the halberd shifted and he began to lower it towards the girl. Spike growled deep in his throat and turned an icy gaze on the guard. The unmistakable menace in Spike’s expression promised more pain than the guard was willing to risk. He returned the halberd to the upright position and averted his gaze once more.
“We found her in the market,” the preacher continued. “She was attempting to hide her identity. That proves her to be a spy.”
“It proves her not to be an idiot,” Tara interjected.
“We have taken the law into our own hands,” the preacher went on, “and it is good. Stand aside and watch her burn, or join us. Either way, justice shall be done.”
“This is no justice,” Sorkatani said in a deceptively casual voice. She whirled around, the katana coming out as she spun, and brought the blade down across the ropes that bound Viconia.
“Praise the goddess,” Viconia said. “I thank you, Sorkatani.”
“What? You interfere with the judgment of Beshaba,” the preacher growled. “You shall join her on the pyre.”
“Kill the ally of the drow!” a voice called from the crowd. Weapons that had been being brandished in a purely symbolic fashion, like the Kalashnikovs at an Afghan wedding, were now grasped in a more businesslike manner.
“Go!” Sorkatani commanded. “Leave this place. Go about your business. I have no wish to kill you.”
“It is you who shall die, traitor to humanity!” The preacher raised his mace high. Sorkatani’s katana lashed out first and struck him in the chest. Her blade failed to penetrate the chain mail but the impact still sent her opponent stumbling backwards. Minsc was on him before he could recover.
The mob attacked. Viconia spoke words of power and a glowing hammer appeared in her hand. She struck out with it at the first of the mob to reach her.
Yoshimo drew his blade and struck. Jaheira swung her scimitar. Sorkatani killed a man with a slash across his throat. Minsc rained blows down upon the preacher and sent him reeling back.
Dawn cocked her crossbow and loaded a bolt. A peasant with a club raced towards her. Spike met the man half-way and halted his rush with a stamping kick.
Tara raised her hand and spoke mystical words. A glowing hammer, identical to the one wielded by Viconia, filled her hand.
“No. Tara, they’ll arrest you!” Willow wailed. Then a woman brandishing a meat cleaver ran at Willow, who defended herself with her staff.
Anya had a crossbow slung at her back. She slipped it free and cocked it. Xander drew the Sword of Chaos and positioned himself to protect her.
The melee spread. Giles cracked a skull with his quarterstaff. Buffy was drawn into the fight, against her will, and punched and kicked her way towards Dawn.
Sorkatani brought her katana down across the shoulder of a burly man armed with a club. The blade sliced through the man’s torso almost to his waist. She pulled the blade free and thrust it into the stomach of another attacker.
Tara hammered a man to the ground. Another man ran at her with a pitchfork. Dawn shot him in the back. Spike clotheslined a man who was running at her with a knife and then stamped viciously on the man’s throat. Anya fired her crossbow into the mob.
Jaheira drove her scimitar up under the chin of an attacker and forced the blade up into his brain. Minsc delivered a mighty final blow and crushed the preacher’s skull. Sorkatani killed and killed again.
And then the fight was over.
“I owe you my life, abbil.” Viconia bowed her head to Sorkatani. “You have saved me once again. I swear to you that I did nothing to provoke their attack. I entered the city only to buy food and clothing. I was seeking the market when the man guessed my identity under my hood. I was surprised and he called out, bringing others. Perhaps they assumed that I was here to spy upon them. They are so quick to fear, these rivvin.”
“How do you come to be here, Viconia? Surely you can not have been seeking me?”
“I did not know you were here. I had to leave Beregost. A fortune teller advised me to travel south. One direction seemed as good as another, and so I followed her advice. I had thought it to be bad, but perhaps it was good indeed.” She smiled briefly. “It would be a privilege and an honor to join you again, Sorkatani. What say you?”
“Of course,” Sorkatani said warmly. “Did you think that I would say no?” She swung her gaze to Jaheira. “You don’t object, I hope?”
“In truth, I am not opposed to Viconia joining us once more,” Jaheira said. She spoke slowly, sounding as if she was reluctant to admit that she had no objections. “Remember, though, that many will think less of us simply because she is here.”
“Well, they can keep their racist opinions to themselves,” Tara said sharply. She stood with empty hands now; the magical hammer had vanished once the spell had run its course.
“I know you not, but I thank you also for your part in my rescue,” Viconia said. “Sorkatani, we should leave this place. These scum may have friends who will seek vengeance.” She kicked one of the bodies in the ribs.
Buffy stood with her mouth open watching as Yoshimo, Spike, and Dawn – much to Buffy’s distress – ransacked the bodies of fallen foes. The guard at the government building door stood impassively, taking no notice of their actions, as did two guards at the door of another nearby building. Buffy felt sick to her stomach. Bodies littered the ground, the bodies of humans, and nobody seemed to care. Whatever sort of demon this Viconia was, surely she wasn’t worth so many human lives? Or even one human life?
“I think we should split up,” she said. “I’m not so sure we should work together.”
“Our party has grown to be quite a cavalcade,” Sorkatani said, “big enough to attract altogether too much attention. Perhaps you are right.” She seemed oblivious to the reasons behind Buffy’s decision. “Minsc, Jaheira, and Viconia shall stay with me, of course. I have already invited Spike to join me.”
Yoshimo rejoined the main body of the party in time to hear that part of the discussion. “I wish only to stay with you, Sorkatani,” he said, his tone causing the young warrior maiden to blush slightly. He was carrying a helmet recovered from one of the fallen. He bowed briefly to Viconia. “Perhaps this helmet will make your appearance less obvious, lady.”
“Take this,” Tara offered. She slipped off the long-sleeved and shapeless woolen sweater that she wore over the dress that she had purchased earlier that day. “It will hide your arms.”
“An ugly garment,” Viconia criticized, “but a practical suggestion. I will wear it for the present, until I find something equally concealing but not so horrible.” She looked straight at the cleavage that was now revealed by Tara’s dress. “You look much more appealing without it.”
Tara blushed. “Thank you.”
“I’d kinda like Yoshimo to stay with my bunch,” Buffy said. “We could use someone who knows his way around this place.”
“As could I,” Sorkatani reminded her. “The decision must be his.”
“My decision is made, and I serve Sorkatani,” Yoshimo said.
“Look, guys, let’s get out of here first and split up later,” Willow said, glancing nervously back at the Council building. “Tara used magic, and so did, uh, Viconia, and the Cowled Wizards will be coming to arrest them any minute.”
“The magic granted by the gods is not under the jurisdiction of the wizards,” Sorkatani said. “There is no need to fear. Although, yes, moving on quickly would be advisable.”
“Mages and Clerics don’t play by the same rules, Will,” Xander said. “Tara’s a Cleric, I’m guessing this dark elf is too, so they can use their magic and it doesn’t count.”
“That’s not fair,” Willow complained. “It’s, it’s – class discrimination.”
“Don’t worry, Red, we’ll come up with the five thousand in no time,” Spike said, arriving with arms laden with pieces of plate armor. “We’re up nearly a hundred from this lot. Got some decent armor that’s not banged up too bad, too.”
Dawn shook a pouch of coins and grinned at Willow. “Yay, go us!”
“Buffy has said that she wishes us to separate,” Sorkatani told Spike. “Again I invite you to join with me. Dawn, you are also welcome. You too, Tara.”
“They stay with me,” Buffy said sharply. “Well, Dawn and Tara. You can keep Spike.”
“Surely they may choose for themselves?”
“Dawn’s my sister. And only fifteen. And of course she’d choose me.”
“Not if you’re going to be a total asshole,” Dawn grumbled. “What do you want to kick Spike out for?”
“I think you’re being unfair, Buffy,” Tara said. She glanced at Viconia. “Maybe I’ll go with Sorkatani’s group.”
“Hey, better idea,” Willow said with a note of urgency in her voice. “Why don’t we just, like, not split up? Okay, there’s a lot of us, but we haven’t really got the feel of this world yet, and we’ve got stuff to learn, like I didn’t even know the difference between the two sorts of magic, and there’s sort of safety in numbers, and can we talk about this later?”
“I concur,” Giles said. He looked over the rims of his glasses at the scattered bodies of the slain members of the mob. “Are we, uh, supposed to clear up the bodies of the dead?”
“Their relatives will recover the bodies,” Yoshimo assured him. “Any left unclaimed will be taken away by the city authorities. Although in certain parts of the city they would probably get eaten by ghouls.”
“G-ghouls?” Dawn said, shuddering.
“Don’t worry, Bit,” Spike said. “Ghouls just want to have fun.”
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.