Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR / FIVE / SIX.
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 off-screen.
“Bloody gorgeous,” Spike breathed reverently. He ran his hands over the jet black leather armor that adorned the torso of a mannequin in the shop display. “Would I look bloody great in that or what?”
Viconia quirked an eyebrow at him. “You are not unpleasing to the eye as you are, vampire.” Spike now wore black boots, black breeches, and a black shirt over a red undershirt, not unlike his familiar Sunnydale outfit, but the effect was somewhat spoiled by his brown leather studded brigandine. “You gain pleasure, then, from caressing a form of smooth and shining black?” Viconia continued, her tone suggestive and her expression challenging. “Prove yourself mighty in battle and there may be such pleasures in store for you.”
“Name’s Spike, not ‘vampire’,” Spike said absently, his attention still fixed on the armor. “Am I going to have to go through all that again?” He stroked the black leather once more.
“The Armor of Deep Night,” the proprietor of the Adventurer’s Mart told Spike. “Crafted long ago by servants of Umberlee the Sea Queen, for one who held her favor, and filled with mighty enchantments. It resists the blade as well as does a suit of mail and plates.” He spread his hands. “Twelve thousand danter, and it is yours.”
“Twelve thousand?” Spike winced. “Just have to put it on my Christmas wish list, then. Bugger. Haven’t seen anything I wanted that much since the DeSoto.”
“There is much here that would be of great use to us,” Sorkatani said. “There is little that is within reach of our purse. At least now all of us have enchanted weapons, and all are armored that may wear it.” She counted out coins to the shopkeeper and took up the new enchanted katana that she had purchased to replace the one that had failed to pierce the fanatical preacher’s chain mail during the rescue of Viconia. “Mayhap we shall return from Lady Nalia’s keep laden with gold enough to buy that armor, and much else, Spike.” She grinned suddenly. “On the other hand, we might get our butts kicked. Only one way to find out. Let’s go.”
“Uh, it’s a long way, right?” Willow put in. “Shouldn’t we, like, buy horses?”
“Horses are expensive,” Sorkatani said, “and horse thieves are hanged. We walk.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. “So, looks like we’ve solved the crimes. Elephant leather, tannin, it all points to being someone who works with leather, and there’s a leatherworker’s shop right down the street.”
“And the victims were skinned,” Anya added.
“Yeah.” Xander screwed up his mouth. “Anyone else here thinking ‘Silence of the Lambs’?”
“I was really trying not to,” Buffy said. “So, what do we do? Take what we’ve got to the cops, or go grab the guy ourselves?”
“We should catch him ourselves and turn him in for the reward,” Anya stated firmly.
“If we tell the authorities now we are likely to be thanked and perhaps get some small coin,” Jaheira advised them, “but to apprehend the culprit and drag him before them would gain us a larger reward. Also, should the guard arrive at his door in full panoply, he may take alarm and flee.”
“So we should totally catch the guy ourselves,” Dawn said.
“On the other hand, if he is innocent, our intervention may do great harm,” Jaheira continued. She shrugged. “There are other workers in leather in the city, and a man may work with leather, or skin, without opening a shop for business. Yet we risk doing harm even if we take our evidence to the guard. They may seize the nearest suspect and a poor man in this city may find that innocence is no defense. As well to confront the man ourselves, I suppose.”
“Okay, we go see this Kojak guy,” Buffy decided.
“Rejiek Hidesman,” Jaheira corrected her.
“What kind of sicko are you?” Buffy asked. Rejiek Hidesman had just given his version of the ‘I’d have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids’ speech and was standing with an unrepentant sneer on his face. “I hope they hang you. Come quietly and you won’t get your ass kicked.”
“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me,” Xander couldn’t resist adding.
“No, I won’t be doing that. My work is too important to be stopped.” Rejiek moved away towards a staircase that led down towards a lower floor.
Buffy vaulted the tradesman’s workbench and made for him.
“Buffy look out!” Dawn and Anya yelled almost simultaneously.
Buffy halted, but too late. Her foot had already made contact with a false floorboard. A lever tripped and two bottles crashed from a nearby shelf and broke on the floor. Their contents mixed and a cloud of vapor spread out to fill the room. Buffy gasped, staggered, and clutched at her throat. Xander reeled back, retching. Jaheira coughed and choked. Dawn collapsed to the floor gasping for breath. Anya, who was far enough back to be barely affected, fired a crossbow bolt at the fleeing Rejiek. Giles bent down to grab Dawn’s ankles and tried to drag her to safety.
Tara was right at the back and the gas cloud didn’t reach her. She raised a hand and gestured. “Ilman saastuminen, hälventää,” she cried. The cloud of gas dispersed.
“W-way to go, Tara,” Buffy wheezed. “Hey, where’d he go?”
“Down the stairs,” Anya said, “and I really wouldn’t advise running down after him.”
“You’ve got a point there,” Buffy admitted. “Dawn! Are you all right?”
“Just – about – okay,” Dawn panted.
“Okay, people, proceed with extreme caution,” Buffy ordered. “Anya, take point, okay? Dawn, me and you right behind her.”
“We should have torches,” Xander advised. “In ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill put out the lights.”
“Good thought, yeah. Just watch out we don’t set the place on fire.” Once torches were lit, and once everyone had stopped coughing and all eyes had stopped streaming, the party advanced down the staircase.
The lower room was a scene out of hell. Partially skinned corpses lay on benches and on the floor. The stench of death filled the air. There was no sign of Rejiek Hidesman.
“Tripwire!” Anya announced. She traced its route and then carefully cut through the wire.
Dawn’s eyes were wide and her skin had grown pale. She gulped and gritted her teeth. “I can see another one of those trick floorboards,” she warned. “Over there.” She pointed at where another staircase led further down into the building.
“He’s getting quite a head start,” Buffy complained.
“Exactly his reason for these traps,” Giles said.
“Half of the room is rigged,” Anya said. “Not just along the line to the stairs.”
“So he’s protecting something,” Buffy deduced. “Check it out. Carefully.”
A search of the room turned up a scroll that contained an apparently coded message from a customer of Rejiek. “The cops will want this,” Buffy said, “but hey, Giles, could you make a copy before we pass it on?”
“Of course, Buffy.”
Dawn snipped through a tripwire and peered at the alcove, hidden by a bedstead, that the booby-trap had been guarding. She recoiled, turned away, gulped in a great breath and then doubled over and vomited.
Xander took her place and looked to see what had disturbed her. He duplicated her actions almost exactly. “Buffalo – Bill,” he croaked, once he had recovered enough to talk. “It’s a fucking skin suit. Leather jacket out of – urgh – pieces of human skin.”
Buffy went to comfort Dawn, who clung to her for half a minute, and then gathered the party again for another cautious descent down a staircase.
Xander’s prediction about the lights did not come true. The staircase led down into a cavern under the banks of Athkatla’s river, fitted out as a cargo dock, with hoists and ramps on a wide wooden platform. There was some light filtering in from the open river, and torches flickered in sconces on the walls to provide additional light to the scene.
Rejiek Hidesman wasn’t there. A boat was sculling out of the cave towards the river, and though Buffy couldn’t make out the identity of the occupant she had no doubt that it was the fugitive making his getaway.
The cavern was not unoccupied, however. A bearded man in blue robes stood near a cargo hoist, his hands raised in apparent readiness to cast a spell, and another man crouched behind an inverted boat hull with a crossbow leveled. Two creatures lurched towards the bottom of the stairs. Their skin was the color of scabbed blood. They would almost have looked like skinned human corpses were it not for the clumps of reddish hair that grew in scattered patches across their torsos and legs. Wide lipless mouths gaped to display jagged teeth. A vile smell of rotting flesh rose from them.
“Ghouls!” Jaheira announced. “No, worse, ghasts.” She whirled her sling about her head.
“Meddling fools, you will not disrupt Rejiek’s great work. Your skins will be the final touch,” the mage shouted. “I, Vellin Dahn, command your death!”
Dawn loosed her crossbow bolt at his head. He vanished before it struck and it passed through empty space. Jaheira’s slingshot hissed through the air. The crouching crossbowman fired an answering shot. Buffy charged the ghasts. The fight was on.
Anya fired at the crossbowman and her bolt struck the boat hull close to his chest. He flinched briefly and then started to reload his crossbow. Xander raced towards him, the Sword of Chaos raised high, and the man abandoned his attempt to reload and drew a shortsword for close combat. Tara chanted an incantation and the ghasts wavered and backed away. Buffy spun, kicked one ghast in the face and knocked it sprawling, and in a continuation of the same move lashed out with her sword and carved a huge gash into the torso of the other. Jaheira drew her scimitar and advanced. Giles slipped the guitar from his back and struck a chord.
The man in front of Xander suddenly vanished as mysteriously as had the mage. Xander stopped, confused, and swung the Sword of Chaos in random circles.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Giles sang. Dawn choked back a giggle.
Beside Xander the air shimmered and the leather-clad crossbowman reappeared. His sword was poised for a stab. His mouth opened wide in shock as he realized that he was no longer invisible. It opened wider as Jaheira thrust her scimitar into his back and then Xander struck with his two-handed sword.
The ghast that had been felled by Buffy’s kick struck out and connected with Jaheira’s legs. She froze rigidly in place; and then she toppled over as the man in whom her scimitar was lodged fell dead under Xander’s sword stroke and dragged her with him in his fall.
Buffy finished off the wounded ghast and then turned on the one that had paralyzed Jaheira. Xander backed her up and inflicted a heavy wound on it as it turned to face the Slayer. Buffy slashed off its head.
“Where did that wizard guy go?” Dawn wondered.
Giles shook his head. “Teleported away, I fear. I had thought that he had become invisible, hence my choice of song, but it would appear not. A fortuitous decision on my part, however, as it would appear that it dispelled the other man’s invisibility and perhaps saved Xander from injury.”
“Yeah, nice one, G-man,” Xander said. He grinned. “Good enough that maybe I won’t tell Spike about what you sang to do it.”
“This party’s right out of my control,” Warren reported. “I can select Jaheira, yeah, but I’m not getting any choices on dialogue options. I can override her target choices, and move her away from the rest of the party, but that’s about it. Her AI is taking over. She’s even making her own decisions about weapon selection. If I change party order to make Jaheira the leader, well, as soon as I take the mouse away it just changes right back to Buffy. The game’s running itself, dudes. I might as well get back to working on the code. I’m just kibitzing here.”
“I’ll take over,” Andrew volunteered.
“I got a better idea,” Warren said. “Look, dude, I can port this super AI shit over and come up with a cool new pirates game, I think, but we’re gonna need a story line. Buried treasure, Governor’s daughter, voodoo magic, all that shit, you know? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write the story.”
“Me?” Andrew said. “You mean it?”
“Sure.” Warren smiled. “Okay, your stories kinda suck sometimes, a bit too much with the slushy stuff and the crazy action, but that’s pretty standard for games. You’ll do fine. Just don’t base the main guy character too much on Spike, okay?” He reconsidered. “On second thoughts, why not? Only, pirate not vampire.”
“Okay,” Andrew agreed. “Uh, can there be, like, zombies?”
Jonathan looked up from the screen on which he was following the actions of Sorkatani’s party. “Fifteen men on an undead man’s chest.”
“He got away,” Buffy said in tones of severe dissatisfaction. “Bummer. Okay, we take what we’ve got to the cops. Let them do the rest.”
“I like it not that the mage escaped,” Jaheira said. Tara had freed her from the paralysis induced by the ghast, but the half-elf was still weak and affected by nausea. “Mage and murderer alike will carry grudges against us and may seek vengeance.”
“Let them come,” said Buffy. “That would give me the chance to kick their asses and drag them off to the cops. What do they do to serial killers here? Hanging? Beheading?”
“I believe so, although I am not familiar with the specific punishment codes of Amn,” Jaheira said. “Your qualms against the taking of human life do not extend to such cases, I trust?”
Buffy shuddered. “After what we saw upstairs? I don’t have any problem with capital punishment for those guys at all.”
“No horse? Thought you would have had one for sure, Milady,” Spike said, letting a hint of Parker from ‘Thunderbirds’ creep into his voice.
“Oh, please, call me Nalia,” Lady Nalia said. “I’m not one to stand on ceremony with the lower orders.”
“No kidding? Right, Nalia. Where’s your horse? You don’t seem the sort to enjoy walking. What happened, it get eaten by the trolls?”
“It’s in your pouches,” Nalia said. “I sold it to go towards the money to pay mercenaries.” She sniffed. “I just hope you’re worth it.”
“Count on it,” Spike said.
“We are all heroes,” Minsc boasted. “Me, and Boo, and Spike, and Viconia, and Yoshimo, and of course the great Sorkatani. And I am sure that Willow will be a hero too once we are out of the city and she can use magic.”
“I’ll do my best,” Willow said. “So, these trolls. I knew a troll once. Olaf. Like, super mighty, but maybe not big with the brains. Are trolls here the same? Sort of great big beardy warrior types with hammers?”
“Big with the ale drinking and always up for a spot of eating babies,” Spike added.
“They are great big creatures indeed, but lack beards,” Sorkatani said. “I have not heard of them drinking ale, but I can well believe that they would eat babies. They rarely use weapons, for they need them not. Their claws and teeth are all the weaponry they need. They are deadly, and greatly to be feared, for they are extremely hard to kill. They recover from even death blows. Only fire, or acid, can bring them to their final death.”
Willow fidgeted with a strand of her hair. “I guess I’d better prepare some, like, fire spells.”
“And I will prepare fire arrows.”
“Just don’t hit me with them,” Spike cautioned. “Inflammable bloke here.” He frowned at something ahead of them. “What the sodding hell’s going on there?”
The city gates were blocked. A wagon had lost a wheel right in the middle of the archway, and shed its load onto the road. Workmen labored to clear the way while the gate guards watched over them.
“A delay,” Nalia moaned. “This really is intolerable.”
“Yeah, real inconsiderate of them to lose their wheel just to bugger up your day,” said Spike.
“Jest not, Spike,” Sorkatani said. “Such things happen. Viconia tells me she was held in prison for a day before being brought out to be burned just as we were in the vicinity. I suspect that it was no coincidence. Gaelen Bayle and his people may not be the only ones watching me.”
“Just have to stay sharp, then, won’t we?” Spike looked around for something to occupy his time while they waited for the way to be cleared. His eyes fell upon a shabby building with a tavern sign depicting a flying crane hanging above its door. “Tell you what, love, what say we go for a pint while we’re stuck here?”
“Ah, a cool goblet of ale would be refreshing,” Minsc agreed. “And there may be nuts for Boo.”
“I see no reason why not,” Sorkatani agreed. “Very well.”
“Do we have to?” Nalia moaned. “It’s not a very prepossessing establishment.”
“Feel free to hang around out here,” Spike said.
“Oh, I suppose I’ll have to accompany you,” Nalia said in tones of weary resignation. “Perhaps a small glass of wine.”
Spike quirked an eyebrow. “Yeah, that’d suit you down to the ground.”
The tavern was small and grubby. The floor was covered with straw. The ale, however, was good, and there were indeed nuts for Boo.
Spike contemplated his last cigarette. “Don’t suppose there’s any more of these in this world,” he said. “Guess I’ll just have to get used to smoking a pipe.”
“You could always give up,” Willow suggested.
“Why should I? Not as if it’s a health risk,” Spike said. “Nah, a pipe just doesn’t have that badass vibe,” he mused. “Have to roll my own. If I can find paper thin enough.” He tilted his head as if listening to something, turned, and stared at the wall. “Is it my imagination, or is there a door there?” he asked.
Yoshimo followed his gaze. “Perhaps.” The bounty hunter stood and walked over to the wall. “Yes, there is a door here. Well concealed. Strange, in a tavern.”
“Ah, yes,” the innkeeper confirmed. “That be the Crypt.”
“Sounds like home from home,” said Spike.
“It be the lair of a Lich,” the innkeeper went on in the tones of one relating a ghost story. “Once a mighty mage, now undead, he now eternally guards a great treasure, or so they say. None can attest to the truth of the tale; for of those who have ventured within, none have ever returned.”
“Great treasure?” Spike was intrigued. “Fancy a side quest, Tani?”
“Tani?” Sorkatani raised her eyebrows, and then smiled. “I like it.” She considered his suggestion. “We do not have the equipment to confront a lich. They are truly deadly enemies. This katana of mine lacks the enchantment to cleave their undead flesh. I doubt if we have any weapons that would bite, nor have we talismans to resist his dread spells. Perhaps another day.”
“Fair enough.” Spike finished his goblet of ale, stood, and stared at the secret door. “I’ll be back,” he growled, in as good an impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger as he could manage, and he brought a grin to Willow’s face. “Hang on a minute,” he said, as a thought struck him. “Wonder if they do cigars in this world?”
Buffy scowled. “Slaves. Forced prostitution. Gladiator combats. This place stinks.”
“No kidding.” Xander’s scowl matched hers. “They allow such things here?”
They had returned to the Copper Coronet after collecting a reward of five hundred danter for exposing the Bridge District skinner murderer. Giles had performed again, with satisfactory financial results, and the tavern proprietor, Lehtinan, had invited them to spend some of his earnings in a visit to his ‘special entertainments’ in the rear area of the tavern. The nature of those entertainments, which took place behind doors guarded by burly thugs, shocked the exiles from Sunnydale.
Jaheira too showed great displeasure, although less surprise. “It is against the law, but in this district that means little. The city guard rarely show their faces here, I gather.”
Buffy perked up. “So, if we freed the slaves, nobody would arrest us for it?”
“Correct. We might make enemies, but we would also make friends. It would be a good deed, Buffy.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, “let’s do it. The boss guy said we can go into the back rooms, so, let’s poke around some.”
They explored the area beyond those to which their invitation extended. A guard tried to stop them passing a door; Buffy punched him out and led her party onwards. Beyond the door two more guards took violent objection to their presence. Buffy used one of them to club the other into unconsciousness, in the process rendering the first equally hors de combat, and when another three came to their assistance they were subdued in similarly short order.
The area beyond that door was lined with cells. Some were occupied by gladiators led by a warrior named Hendak, who seemed very Viking-like to the Scoobies, and others were filled with children.
“The children will be sold as servants,” Jaheira explained. “Some may face worse fates.”
“Not while I’m around,” Buffy said forcefully. “I don’t see any keys. Dawn, Anya, can you get them open?”
The best efforts of the two girls to pick the locks failed. Giles’ attempts to sing them open were no more successful, and the doors were reinforced to such an extent that they resisted even Buffy’s attempts to force them open.
“The key is held by the Beastmaster,” Hendak told them. “His room is on a corridor to the far side of the arena pit. Free me, Buffy, and I will take my revenge upon that swine Lehtinan. Greatly have I suffered at his hands, and too many of my companions have died for his profit.”
“I’m on it. I’m on it,” Buffy said. “Come on, guys.” She led the party along the designated corridor to a section where there were more cages. These ones, however, contained animals. Panthers, bears, and a massive creature with a humanoid body topped by a bull’s head.
“Hey! Guests aren’t allowed through here,” a hulk of a man in a fur-trimmed jacket growled, stepping out of a side room to bar their way. He clutched a longbow in one hand. A beautiful but deadly female leopard padded at his heels.
“Uh, veterinary inspection?” Buffy said. “No? Okay. Here’s the deal. You hand over the keys to let out the slaves, and I don’t kick your teeth down your throat.”
“Foolish child!” the Beastmaster growled. “I have a counter offer. Surrender, and live as a whore. Otherwise you die now.”
“That’s it,” Buffy hissed. “You’re heading for a world of hurt.”
The Beastmaster put his hand to a lever on the wall and pulled it. All the cage doors flew open at once. “Attack, my children,” he boomed. “Aid your master! Tabitha, kill!”
From every cage a raging creature emerged and fell upon the Scoobies. Two of the small apelike monsters that they had encountered in Irenicus’ dungeon, gibberlings, leaped at Tara. A black panther pounced on Anya. A black bear bared its teeth and aimed a blow of its paw at Jaheira. A hulking brown bear reared up and clawed at Giles. The minotaur swung its axe at Xander. Tabitha the leopardess launched herself at Buffy.
Dawn was spared the attentions of any of the beasts in the initial charge. She thrust with her short sword at the panther that had knocked Anya to the ground. Jaheira uttered a word of command and the black bear swerved away from her. Giles was desperately fending off the brown bear with his staff; the black bear hurled itself on his assailant and clawed and bit. Xander defended himself with the Sword of Chaos. Tara wielded a mace against the gibberlings. Buffy met Tabitha’s leap with her sword and impaled the lithe creature on the blade. It howled in agony but tried to force itself forward, lashing out with its claws and driving Buffy back.
The Beastmaster howled in anguish. “Tabitha!” He drew back his bowstring and loosed a shaft. Buffy dodged. The arrow hurtled past her and struck Giles in the armpit. It penetrated up to the depth of the flights.
Giles did not even cry out. He toppled face first to the ground, jerked twice, and was still.
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.