Warning, character death; although, as you will have already seen, death doesn’t work quite the same way in this universe.
Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR / FIVE / SIX / SEVEN / EIGHT / NINE
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.
“We’re getting slaughtered in here, Buff,” Xander said gloomily. Buffy flicked a sidelong glance at the lifeless body of Jaheira. Xander saw her look and winced. “Sorry. But we are getting our asses kicked. We’re pretty much out of arrows and stuff. Running out of potions. Tara can’t have much juice left in her tank. I say we go back out into the city, re-supply, and come back.”
“There is merit to that suggestion,” Giles agreed, “but, on the other hand, we are likely to arouse suspicion if we return to the gateway in our current condition.”
“Uh, Giles, have you forgotten something about those guards? They’re blind. They won’t notice a damn thing.”
“They must have some way of perceiving their surroundings,” Giles pointed out. “They could hardly function if they couldn’t.”
“Hey, you think maybe they’re like Daredevil? Super-hearing to compensate for the whole lack of eyes bit?”
“That is possible, Xander. Certainly I believe that it would be foolish of us to take it for granted that their lack of eyes means that they will not have their suspicions raised by peculiarities in our appearance or actions.”
“And carrying a dead body out with us would definitely count as peculiar,” Anya said.
“Why take her?” Buffy asked. “She’s in her Afterlife, right? Back with her husband? Why not just leave her alone?”
“I believe her religion requires her to be buried outdoors,” Giles said.
“I’d ask her,” Tara said. “I wouldn’t just drag her back if she wanted to stay, Buffy. We’ve learned our lesson. I’d only do it if it was what she wanted.”
“You’d do it?” Buffy’s eyes widened. “As in, you would bring her back yourself rather than getting that High Priest guy to do it? You can do that?”
“I – I think so,” Tara said.
“And there’s no chance of anything going wrong?”
“No. It would either work or it wouldn’t work. That’s all.”
Buffy’s forehead wrinkled and she closed her right eye as she considered this. “Okay. Talk to her. If she wants to come back, fine. If she doesn’t, just let her be. Okay?”
Tara nodded. “I couldn’t do it right now anyway, not without a long rest first,” she said. “There’s time to think about it.”
“So, are we going to beat a strategic retreat for now?” Xander asked.
Buffy frowned. “I hate giving up when we’re so close,” she said. “All the way out, and then all the way back in again, taking the missing piece of the magical super-zapper with us. Suppose they get their hands on it? I want to just get it over with.”
“Yeah, well, so do I, Buff, but those beholders have just got so much firepower. I thought I was toast back there when they froze me rigid and then kept blasting me. If Giles hadn’t got me loose with ‘Freebird’ I’d have been a goner for sure. And suppose they zap Giles like that?”
“I could get him out of it,” Tara said. “I think.”
“Maybe, but he’d take a beating first,” Xander said. “The Buffster’s the only one who can really stand up to them and even she can’t take that kind of pounding for long.”
“Perhaps,” Giles mused, “I might be able to do something about that. If only I could think of a song appropriate to dishing out damage to the Beholders themselves.”
“A soccer song?” Dawn suggested. “They’re great big balls, right? So, something about kicking them?”
“I’m afraid I can’t think of anything relevant,” Giles said. “Balls. Rubber ball? Great – aha! I think I have it.”
Sorkatani looked uncharacteristically nervous. “There are some things that I have not told you,” she told Spike, Willow, and Yoshimo. “I think that I owe it to you to be completely honest. I hope that it will make no difference between us but, if it means that you feel that you can no longer stay with me, so be it.”
“This about that dream you had last night?” Spike asked.
“In a way.” Sorkatani breathed in deeply, held for a moment, and then let the air out in a long sigh. “My story is, shall we say, unusual. You may find it disturbing. Minsc and Viconia are already aware of my background, and Jaheira has known of it even longer than have I, but – well, listen to my tale.”
“Uh, sounds kinda ominous,” Willow said, and made a not altogether successful attempt to summon up a cheerful smile.
“It is,” Sorkatani said in somber tones. “I was very young when Gorion brought me to Candlekeep. Too young for me to have any memories of my homeland Kara-Tur, although I have tried to learn of it from books, and I have made an effort to learn the language. When I was old enough to understand he told me that my parents were dead and that he had rescued me from danger. I never pressed him for further details, for to me Gorion was my father. He brought me up to follow the law, and to value justice, and to protect the innocent, and I have tried to live up to those ideals. He used to tell me ‘Love, Give, Forgive. Try always to keep that in mind, Sorkatani, and you will not go far wrong’.”
Willow’s eyes widened. She knew that those words had been used to Buffy, by the First Slayer, when Buffy had gone on a Vision Quest to learn more about the meaning of being a Slayer.
“For years I saw no other future for myself than working with Gorion in the libraries of Candlekeep,” Sorkatani continued. “I practiced the martial arts, true, but mainly as a way of keeping fit, and it did not occur to me to wonder why Gorion not only permitted but encouraged me in their pursuit. Until one day when he told us that our lives were in danger, and that we must flee, and he revealed to me the secret of my parentage.”
“You’re the rightful empress of that Kara-Tur place?” Spike guessed.
“Would that it was that simple,” Sorkatani said. “No. My father was no emperor. He was a god. Bhaal. The Lord of Murder. Now dead, and I am his heir.”
The beholders were hideous creatures resembling giant armored eyeballs floating above the ground on invisible supports. One giant eye took up most of the front of the monsters, and a wide mouth filled with conical teeth gaped below it. Their top surfaces were surrounded by a fringe of tentacles. Each tentacle ended in a small eye; and each of those eyes was capable of shooting out deadly blasts of magic. The central main eye projected a beam that cancelled the magic of enemies.
The Scoobies had fought their way past hordes of zombies, mummies, ghouls, and shadow creatures that sapped the strength of anyone who they struck in combat. They had fought a demon that thrived on pain and despair, and had eventually defeated it by putting aside their weapons and having Jaheira and Tara cast healing spells on the demon. They had talked to a dying god.
But the beholders were kicking their asses. Three of the eye monsters had cut off their advance and had them pinned down in a side tunnel, unable to go any further without running into a concentrated barrage of the blasts that had wounded each of them and had killed Jaheira. It had looked as if retreat was the only possible option. Until now.
Buffy poised herself like a sprinter. She was charged up with every protective spell that Tara could muster. “Ready when you are,” she said.
“Very well, Buffy,” Giles said. “This should distract them more than somewhat, I believe. It would be better with a piano, but I will just have to do the best that I can with the guitar.” He fidgeted with his glasses briefly. “I did have to modify the words a trifle. I hope that it will work. Yes, it should work. It will.”
“Just go for it, Giles,” Buffy urged.
“Very well. One, two, one two three four;
I shook your nerves and I rattle your brain
Too much love drives Beholders insane
I broke your will
Oh what a thrill
Goodness gracious – great balls of fire!”
Buffy took off from her crouch and accelerated towards the beholders. Giles’ song took effect and the monsters burst into flames. They bobbed and swirled, displaying obvious signs of being injured and confused, and then rotated so that each could use its central eye beam to put out the flames on one of its fellows.
But by that time Buffy had reached them. The Blade of Roses sliced deep into one beholder and sent it crashing down out of the air. She thrust out with the lesser blade in her left hand and drove it deeply into a second monster. The Scoobies broke from cover and loosed a volley of their few remaining missiles. Xander threw Azuredge; the magical axe severed an eyestalk from the unengaged beholder and then returned to Xander’s hand. Buffy dodged under a paralyzing blast from one of the monster’s other eyes and thrust home with both of her swords.
“Okay,” she said, as the rest of the Scoobies joined her. “This should be where we find the rest of that super zapper thing. Anya, Dawn, check it out, would you?”
“I’m on it,” Dawn said.
“I’ve found it,” Anya gloated.
“Right,” Buffy said, “time to kick the ass of the Unseeing Eye.” She sucked in her lower lip and bit it briefly. “That is, if a thing like a floating eyeball actually has an ass.”
“It was in the Time of Troubles,” Sorkatani related, “when the gods walked the earth alongside men, that Bhaal perished. He had, however, foreseen his death and made plans for that eventuality. His purpose may have been to ensure his line of succession, or to arrange his own return from death; no-one knows. What is known, as Gorion revealed to me on the day that we fled from Candlekeep, is that Bhaal fathered children on mortal mothers. I am one, and Sarevok whom I slew in Baldur’s Gate was another. There may well be others, in fact I would be surprised if there were not, but I do not know for sure.”
“You can’t help who your father is,” Willow said. “Uh, I’m having some trouble with the whole concept of gods actually getting down and doing the, uh, you know, but, hey, if you’re worried that you take after him, well, I don’t think so. You’re your own person, Sorkatani. In fact, hey, you remind me a whole lot of Buffy.” She gulped. “Maybe you might not take that the way I meant it, ‘cause you and Buffy didn’t seem to be hitting it off that well when we split up, but hey, Buffy’s my best friend and I think she’s about as good as they come, and, well, being like Buffy is definitely of the good as far as I’m concerned.”
Sorkatani smiled at her, a fond smile that lit up her face. “I take that as you meant it, for I well know that Buffy is a true hero. Our parting was not in anger.” The smile faded away. “She said things that angered me, true, but when I thought on them later I wondered if her criticisms of me were in fact just. Am I too ready to kill? Always I must watch myself. The taint of murder runs in my veins. Sarevok believed that through killing he could gain the power of Bhaal. He slew Gorion, he sought to slay me because he feared that I was a rival for the power, and he plotted to start a war between Baldur’s Gate and Amn. I, with the aid of my friends, stopped him. And I killed him.”
“You could do nothing else,” said Yoshimo.
“I could see no other course, true,” Sorkatani agreed. “Yet I cannot deny that I have killed many along the way, and not all were evil. Some were fooled by Sarevok’s lies. Some were honest men, doing their duty, when Sarevok’s allies had labeled me criminal and murderer and I was sought by the law. At least one could have been a friend had things happened differently. I did not seek their deaths; but I caused them nonetheless. And now it seems that I have brought death to Khalid, and to Dynaheir, because of who I am. Death is my gift.”
Willow felt the hairs on the back of her neck rising. ‘Death is my gift’. Words she had heard from Buffy in chilling circumstances. When Buffy had retreated into a fugue state following Glory’s capture of Dawn, and when Willow had visited Buffy inside the Slayer’s mind, Buffy’s inner self had repeated that phrase over and over as she acted out killing Dawn. Words that had been spoken to Buffy by the First Slayer on the spirit quest; and words that could be interpreted in many ways. Was Sorkatani’s use of the same phrase coincidence? Willow didn’t know.
“Bollocks,” Spike said. “Sorry, Tani, but it is. Okay, some bugger wants something off you. My guess is he thinks he can use you to grab some of that god power.”
“That is my guess too,” Sorkatani agreed.
“Still doesn’t make it your fault that your friends got killed. Blame that Irenicus bloke, not yourself.”
“I do; but I cannot help feeling guilt.” Sorkatani looked at them one after the other; from Willow, to Spike, and then to Yoshimo. “Will you still stay with me now that you know my past?”
“I will follow you ’til the end, my lady,” Yoshimo said.
Spike pursed his lips. “Can’t make the same promise, Tani. Already made a promise to Buffy and it’s got to take priority. Nothing to do with who you are, though, love. Far as I’m concerned you’re one of the good ones. Good as they come.”
“Uh, what Spike says goes for me too,” Willow said. “I, uh, if it came down to choosing between you and Buffy I’d choose Buffy, but hey, best friend here, I really have to. I’d rather we all got together again so that I didn’t have to choose.”
“Same here,” Spike said.
“Thank you, my friends,” Sorkatani said, smiling.
Viconia had moved closer to the group as they talked and had stood quietly listening. Now she spoke up. “I will stand with you, abbil, and this time until the end. I regret that I did not face Sarevok alongside you.”
“You said that I was soft, and that my reluctance to kill would get me killed, and those who followed me,” Sorkatani remembered. “Have you changed your mind, or have I grown hard?”
“I regret that I did not stand at your side to face Sarevok. If I had my time over again I would choose differently. I will not desert you again; even if your decisions seem to me to be foolish, even weak. That is all.”
“That is enough. I thank you, abbil.” Sorkatani rose to her feet. “The sun is well above the horizon. Let us go.”
“This sucks,” Buffy complained. “We killed the bad guy. It should have been all over.”
“I don’t get it.” Xander shook his head. “Clerics get their power from their god. We blew up the Unseeing Eye, right? So how come his priests were still throwing spells at us? And hey, it wasn’t even a real god. Just a monster faking it. I don’t get how they even had spells in the first place.”
“I must confess that it has me somewhat perplexed,” Giles agreed. “We were lucky to survive that encounter.”
“Damn right. If it had been Buffy that they’d mind-zapped instead of Dawn we’d have been toast.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Dawn said. “I totally didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Don’t worry about it, Dawnster,” Xander replied. “I’ll heal.” He grimaced. “Although, having to do it the old-fashioned way sucks. The ‘presto, healo!’ thing has bandages totally licked.”
Buffy screwed up her face. “And that’s an image I so could have lived without.”
“Ah, it is a fine day to be a hero,” Minsc commented cheerfully. “We are mighty, yes, and mighty are we.” He looked down at Willow. “You are indeed a great witch, Willow.”
“I, well, I do my best,” Willow replied.
“Will you be my witch?”
“Uh, yours?” Willow’s hands fluttered. “I, uh, not that I’m not flattered, Minsc, but, I kinda like girls, you know?”
“Yes, girls are nice,” Minsc smiled. “The sight of a pretty girl can bring joy to my heart.”
“And to mine, Minsc, which is kinda my point,” Willow said. “I’m a lesbian.”
“I am from Rashemen,” Minsc said. “Is Spike also from Lesbia?”
Spike almost choked trying to hold back his laughter.
“It’s not a country,” Willow said. “What I’m trying to say is, I’m gay.”
“And who would not be, walking in the sun on a fine day, returning victorious from a fine session of giving the butts of Evil a good kicking?”
“What she tries to say, oafish one,” Viconia put in, “is that she lusts after women rather than men.”
“Oh.” Minsc frowned. “You thought then, Willow, that I was courting you?”
“Kinda, yeah,” Willow said.
“Nothing was further from my mind,” Minsc assured her. “I think of you in the manner of, perhaps, a sister.”
“Guys always do,” said Willow, simultaneously relieved and disappointed. She had to admit that she had felt rather flattered at the idea that the giant warrior was attracted to her and it had given her something of a boost to her self-esteem. That now dissipated.
“I wish to be your protector,” Minsc went on, “as I was to Dynaheir. My dajemma ended in failure. Dynaheir died, and now Boo and I cannot return to Rashemen, for we would be disgraced in the eyes of my people. We can only be redeemed through giving good and faithful service to another worthy witch.”
“Fyunch click,” Spike said.
Willow turned big round eyes on the vampire. “You know about Moties?”
“Uh, yeah,” Spike admitted. “Read a lot, Red. Don’t spread it around, right?”
“Okay, Spike,” Willow agreed. “Although, not really understanding why not, but okay. Thanks. That clarifies things a lot.” She turned back to Minsc. “I think I get it, and, well, I’m kinda flattered, and it would be nice, but, what about Sorkatani? If Buffy needed me back, and I went, it would kinda leave Sorkatani short. You’re her strong right arm, right?”
Minsc’s face fell. “Sorkatani is my comrade and my leader. Yet it is my duty to protect a worthy witch. What should I do, Boo? I am torn.”
“Feeling kinda torn myself here,” Willow admitted. “Let me think about it, Minsc, ‘kay? Maybe after I’ve seen Buffy again. And Tara.” She chewed on her lower lip. “I hope they’re getting on okay without me.”
“Spike reads Larry Niven?” Andrew cocked his head to one side. “That’s kinda weird, guys. I mean, he’s a Vampyr, like centuries old, dudes, and he reads science fiction?”
“He’s a nerd like us,” Jonathan grinned, “only he keeps it kinda close to his chest. I guess it doesn’t go with the whole bad boy image.”
“So, dude, you think that maybe I could be as cool as Spike? If I got the, you know, boots and the leather coat and shit?” Andrew ran his hand through his hair in an attempt to slick it back. “And the English accent? ‘Blimey, mate, give us a cuppa tea’.” He pursed his lips. “Uh, maybe the accent doesn’t work. But, hey, the coat would be cool.”
“The accent sucked,” Jonathan confirmed. “Can I say, ‘Mary Poppins’? Not cool. But yeah, the coat could be cool.” He looked down at himself. “Only, I think maybe it wouldn’t look right on me.”
“Spike’s cool ‘cause he’s got that whole undead, super-human strength, thing going for him,” Warren said. “I don’t think it would work out so well for you guys. Start trying to look like real bad-asses and some biker dude would kick your asses.”
“Uh, Orbs of Nezzla’Khan?”
“I’d kinda forgotten about them, dudes,” Warren admitted. He scratched his head. “There’s only the one set. Tracking them down would be a whole lot of work. I’m kinda busy here, guys. Getting the super-realistic stuff to work with a 3D engine wasn’t easy, but it’s looking good now, and I think I can port it over to work on X-Box without too much trouble. After that I’ll try a version for PlayStation. I’d just as soon give looking for the Orbs a miss.” He left his own computer and came over to join the other two. “Anything interesting happening?”
“Minsc wants Willow to be his witch,” Jonathan said. “There was this whole misunderstanding when she told him she was a lesbian. Pretty funny. I haven’t been keeping track of Buffy’s party lately. They’re probably still down in the Pit of the Unseeing Eye.”
“Uh, Viconia,” Willow began, and then hesitated. She wasn’t sure how to bring up the topic of Viconia’s distressing nightmare.
“Speak, rivvil,” Viconia said. “I shall not eat you.” Her eyes gleamed wickedly. “Not, that is, unless such is your desire.” Her innuendo brought a blush to Willow’s cheeks. “Such coyness is foolish,” Viconia said. “I am aware that you desire me, rivvil. And why should you not? You know that I could give you great pleasure should I so choose. Well, girl, what is it? You wish to seek entry into my bedchamber for a night of passion? Such might not, perhaps, be entirely out of the question. You are not unappealing, for a rivvil, and the thought of your limbs intertwined with mine does not totally revolt me. It might be an entertaining way of whiling away an idle hour.”
Willow’s blush deepened and she lowered her eyes. “Uh, that’s not it,” she said. “I mean, Tara. I’m in love with her. Okay, we’re kinda on a break, but, I’m not that kinda girl.”
“The loss is yours,” Viconia said. “What is it, then? Speak out.”
Willow lost her nerve. “Uh, I was just wondering, what does ‘abbil’ mean? I thought maybe, ‘leader’, only Sorkatani called you ‘abbil’ as well. Is it, like, ‘friend’?”
Viconia’s lascivious smirk left her lips. “It is the rarest of terms in the drow language,” she said. “It means ‘comrade’. ‘Trusted friend’. We drow do not give our trust lightly. We learn early in our lives that to trust is to risk betrayal. ‘Trust is for the foolish’, we say. And yet – I trust Sorkatani. I do not merely believe that she would never betray me; I know it.” She glanced at the others in the group. “The oafish Minsc, too. He is strange, boorish, and in many ways like unto the weak and foolish children of the rivvin. Pathetic. And yet – I trust him. My time among the rivvin has made me credulous and weak.”
“I don’t see that,” Willow said. “I mean, I trust Sorkatani too, a whole lot, and I’ve only known her a few days. You’ve known her a long time, right?”
“I have.” Viconia did not expand upon that. “Is that all, rivvil?”
“Uh, just about,” Willow said. “Unless, uh, there isn’t anything you might want to, you know, talk over? With another girl, you know?”
Viconia’s eyes conveyed nothing of her inner thoughts as she stared levelly at Willow. “No. There is not. Go now, rivvil. Your company grows tedious.” Her gaze swung towards Spike, who was walking beside Minsc at the head of the party. “Perhaps your vampire companion might be more entertaining. He will not share your foolish scruples.”
Willow followed her gaze. “I kinda think maybe Spike might surprise you,” she said. “He can be a surprising kinda guy. He’s got layers. Like an onion. Or, maybe, more like cake.”
“Hey, that’s a surprise,” Warren remarked. “I didn’t expect that, dudes. Jaheira’s dead.”
“Jaheira’s dead?” Jonathan repeated. “Should we reload?”
“No need. They’re carrying her around with them so they must be going to Raise her.” Warren looked over the display and gave a low whistle. “Man, they’ve been taking some heavy punishment. Buffy’s picture’s gone red most of the way up to the top. Xander too. Giles, Tara, Dawn, they’re all hurting. Except for Anya; she hasn’t taken much damage at all. I told you she was sneaky.”
He right-clicked on one of the portraits and started to check the inventory screens. “Tara’s pretty well out of spells. One Dispel Magic and one Speak With Dead. That’s it. No sling bullets left. Xander’s out of arrows, the girls are down to their last few bolts, and most of them are way down on hit points. They so need to rest, dudes, but I guess they don’t feel like they’d be safe sleeping down there, and I can’t get enough control over the party to make them. Still, it looks like they’ve got the quest pretty well cleared up. They should be okay. There’s just that one last fight with Gaal to go.”
Gaal, High Priest of the Unseeing Eye, turned his empty eye sockets on Buffy. “You!” he spat out venomously. “You have slain the Unseeing One! We are bereft! Yet enough power remains to punish you for your vile deed.” He raised his hands high and began to chant. Behind him a mage tossed a shaving of root into the air, gestured, and spoke a syllable in a language unknown to the Scoobies.
“Now wait a minute,” Buffy said. “It’s over. Why fight? I don’t want to kick a blind guy when he’s down.”
The guards of the Unseeing Eye ignored her and launched themselves into the attack. They moved with eye-baffling speed. One set upon Xander, raining blow after blow down upon him in quick succession, too fast for Xander to block, and only his plate armor saved Xander from serious injury in the first seconds of the combat.
Another took on Buffy. His speed matched the Slayer’s and their blades clashed and re-clashed in a temporary impasse. Then Gaal’s incantation took effect and a pillar of flame lanced down and struck Buffy. She cried out in pain and shock. Her next parry missed. The guard’s sword thrust out, took Buffy in the center of her chest, and drove through. The point emerged from her back and Dawn screamed.
“Slow down, you move too fast,” Giles sang. “You got to make the morning last.” He saw Buffy’s terrible injury and his song faltered. “Buffy!”
The song had already done its work. The servants of the Unseeing Eye lost their magical speed as their Haste was dispelled. Xander parried the next blow aimed at him without difficulty. His expression was filled with grim resolve as he struck back at his attacker. Dawn loosed a crossbow bolt at the warrior who had stabbed Buffy. Anya loosed one at the mage. Tara launched herself at Gaal and delivered a blow with her mace. He parried with a war hammer and knocked her to the ground.
Buffy looked down at the sword that transfixed her chest. “Death is my gift,” she said. Blood trickled from her mouth as she gasped out the words. “Maybe… third time… will be the charm.” She brought up her own swords. Her opponent tugged on his two-handed weapon and it began to slide free. Too late. Buffy’s left-hand sword bit into his side, the Blade of the Rose slashed his femoral artery, and the man collapsed in a welter of blood. Buffy’s face twitched into a smile of grim satisfaction and then went blank.
She toppled forward until the pommel of the sword hit the flagstones and halted her fall. Slowly Buffy slid down the blade, more and more of it emerging from her back, until the cross-guard rested against her chest and brought her to a halt. Her own swords fell from her hands. She lay there, motionless, as the combat raged on; impaled grotesquely upon the blade like a butterfly on a pin.
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. Lyrics from ‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, most famously performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, and ’59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)’ by Simon & Garfunkel, are used without the permission of the copyright holders and with no intention to claim ownership or profit from their use.