Previous Chapters: ONE / TWO / THREE / FOUR / FIVE / SIX / SEVEN / EIGHT / NINE / TEN
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.
“Do all in this city know my doings?” Sorkatani complained. “Am I watched wherever I go? Does every mage with a scrying crystal spy upon me when I bathe? We had barely passed the gates when we were accosted.”
“Your comings and goings are noted, that is certain,” Viconia agreed.
Sorkatani pursed her lips and gazed for a moment in the direction in which the emissary had departed. “I shall think on her message. An invitation to a meeting in the Graveyard District after dark? I like it not.”
“Probably wise to be suspicious, Tani,” Spike commented. “It reminds me – well, it reminds me of me. When I was evil.”
Willow looked at him sharply, opened her mouth to speak, but then shut it again with the words unsaid.
“I shall go to no such meeting,” Sorkatani decided. “Let the lady who would speak with me seek me out herself. I shall not dance to her tune.”
“So, you will then go to Gaelen Bayle?” asked Yoshimo. “You have the gold to meet his price now.”
“Not yet,” Sorkatani said. “I do not entirely trust his offer of help. Also, I sense that there are battles ahead and we are still not equipped as I would wish. I would seek Jaheira’s counsel before making any decision. Let us go from here to Waukeen’s Promenade. We shall bathe, and eat, and visit the Adventurer’s Mart, and then go to the Copper Coronet to seek out Buffy and her party.”
“Buffy Anne Summers,” High Watcher Oisig intoned, “speak unto us. What is your fate? Where do you dwell in the Halls of the Dead? Is it your will that you be returned to the realms of the living, or that you be permitted to sleep in peace with your journey through this world complete?”
“Uh, hi guys,” Buffy’s voice rang out through the temple. “I’m, well, not so much with the being in Heaven thing this time. It’s just, like, dark and empty and kinda cold. Get me out of here.”
“Oh, Buffy,” Dawn wailed. “That just sucks.”
“Hell, yeah. Hang on in there, Buff, we’ll have you out in no time,” Xander called.
High Watcher Oisig passed on Xander’s message and turned to the other dead body. “Jaheira, speak unto us. What is your fate? Where do you dwell in the Halls of the Dead? Is it your will that you be returned to the realms of the living? Or that you should be permitted to sleep in peace, your journey through this world complete?”
“My journey is incomplete,” Jaheira’s spirit replied. “I cannot rest.” She fell silent.
The High Watcher stood waiting, obviously expecting her to speak again, but Jaheira said no more. “It seems clear that both your colleagues desire to return,” Oisig said. “So shall it be.”
Sorkatani knelt by Minsc’s body. “Minsc,” she lamented, “how it must gall your mighty warrior spirit to have fallen in a mere tavern brawl.”
“Mourn not, abbil,” Viconia said. “I shall Raise him.”
Willow wiped away the blood that was trickling from her nose. “It still feels all kind of weird to me that you can do that stuff. I mean, I brought Buffy back from the dead, and it was this whole big deal with the sacrifices and stuff, and, well, maybe I shouldn’t even have done it. It kinda, uh, was a bad thing and she hated being back. Maybe it wouldn’t be right to do it to Minsc. Suppose he’s in, well, Valhalla, or whatever, and we drag him back here and he’s all gloomy and stuff?”
“Minsc has perished before,” Sorkatani said, “and was glad indeed to return to my side.” She turned her gaze to the bodies of their fallen foes. “I am troubled,” she said. “Have I done an evil thing in slaying these warriors? Am I, as Buffy said, too quick to kill? They sought to provoke me, true, but I could have ignored their insults, swallowed my pride, and turned away. Had I done so then Minsc would still be alive, as would they.”
“Can’t see as you could have done anything else, Tani,” Spike put in. “They were spoiling for a fight. If you’d backed down they’d have pushed harder, seems to me, and you’d have had to really crawl to get out of it.”
“Would that have been so bad?” Sorkatani wondered.
“Would you have them call you ‘coward’? For you to be known as such would be perilous indeed, abbil,” Viconia advised. “You would be set upon at every turn by those who covet your goods and your power. Better to be known and feared.”
“She speaks truth, my lady,” Yoshimo backed up the drow. “To appear weak in this city is to invite attack.”
“Respect,” Spike said. “It’s all about respect.” He looked down at the bodies. “How’s this work, then? Do we take their stuff, like we would if they’d jumped us in the street, or is it different ‘cos we’re in a hotel?”
“Their possessions are ours by right of conquest,” Yoshimo told him, “save that we must recompense the innkeeper for damage to his furnishings and for robbing him of paying guests.”
Sorkatani frowned heavily. “I wonder, are there wives and children waiting for their return? Should their goods be returned to such families?”
“That would be weak and foolish,” Viconia sneered. “Still, I am yours to command. If you wish it, I shall question the spirits of these elginhyrr oolos and find out.”
“Let it be done.”
“Red could do with a bit of patching up, looks like, before you start on with that,” Spike pointed out. “Yoshimo, too.”
“I’m okay,” Willow said. “Uh, maybe I could use a little pick-me-up, but that’s all. I think.” A frown appeared on her brow and her mouth twitched. “Hey, I used magic, guys. Are those Cowled Wizard characters going to show up to, like, haul me off to prison?”
“You need not fear, Willow,” Yoshimo reassured her. “The Cowled Wizards do not interfere with what happens within taverns.” He grinned suddenly. “Perhaps they fear that meddling will lead to them being refused service. Also many inns purchase spells of privacy to shield their guests from prying eyes.”
Willow breathed in deeply. “Wow, that’s a relief.”
“Your magic is strange and powerful,” Viconia complimented her. She touched her fingertips to Willow’s forehead and spoke an incantation. The flow of blood from Willow’s nose stopped. “Perhaps you are not as weak and foolish as you first appeared.”
“Uh, thanks,” Willow said. “I think.”
“Our foes were truly well equipped,” Yoshimo observed. “Who would have thought that an argument over who should be first to use the bathrooms would have been so profitable?”
Sorkatani shook her head. “This was not a righteous fight,” she said. “It could have been avoided. To slay so casually, and then to strip the bodies of the dead like buzzards at a carcass, smacks over much of robbery and murder.”
“It is the custom,” Yoshimo said. He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”
“They would have done the same to us,” Viconia said. “Now they have paid the penalty for their foolishness.”
“Uh, got to say it’s been wigging me out, this whole ‘kill people and steal their stuff’ thing,” Willow said. “I mean, even when they’re, like, bad guys, and just attack us for no reason, it just seems kinda, well, ghoulish. This is even worse.”
Spike frowned deeply. “Don’t see anything wrong with it myself. Only, it strikes me that Buffy would say that it’s wrong. Dunno why, but she would.”
“You are right. She would, and she would be right to do so.” Sorkatani thrust forward her jaw. “I shall have them Raised.”
“That is madness!” Viconia hissed. “You have lost your mind. Bringing enemies back from the dead? Do it yourself, for I will have no part in such foolishness.”
Sorkatani inclined her head to the drow. “I do not ask you to. Perhaps I am being foolish, as you say, but I must do this or feel shamed. I shall take them to a temple.”
Willow smiled. “That kinda makes me feel a lot better about things too.”
“It’s bloody stupid,” Spike said, “but I’ve got the feeling it’s what Buffy would have done, so I’ll back you up on it. ‘Course, if the wankers aren’t grateful and come back for a rematch, I’ll kill them again like a shot.”
“You are truly noble, Lady,” Yoshimo said. “I am unworthy to walk in your shadow.”
“Don’t be silly,” Sorkatani said, and blushed.
Viconia stared at Sorkatani and shook her head slowly. “I do not understand you. Yet I am yours to command. Usstan dosst.” She bowed her head. “If you are set on this foolishness, jabress, then let us waste no more of our hard-won gold than we must. I will not call upon the power of Shar for such an action, for I doubt that she would approve, and so you will have to purchase the necessary scrolls from a temple and I will read them for you. That will be cheaper than paying a priest to perform the rituals.”
“I thank you,” Sorkatani said. “First, of course, we must see to Minsc.”
“Empty places,” Buffy said. “That’s all there were. I just wandered around, all alone, nothing to see, nothing to do. Still, back now, huh? Thanks, guys. And this time I mean it. I’m glad you brought me back.”
Xander and Dawn beamed in delight. Giles smiled fondly at his slayer. Anya smiled too, but her smile seemed less openly joyful, not quite reaching her eyes. Tara bit her lip and looked at Anya’s slightly guarded expression. A thought had struck her and she wondered if the other girl was thinking along the same lines.
When they had brought Buffy back from Heaven, had they robbed her of her only chance of true eternal peace?
Amon the Sorcerer bowed low before Sorkatani. “Your grace and mercy passes understanding,” he said. “I thank you.”
“Men should not die over matters as trivial as who is first to the baths,” said Sorkatani. “To have left you dead would have been an ill deed.”
“Few are noble enough to act on that feeling if it would cost them gold,” said Amon. “Truly you are a great lady.”
Sorkatani shuffled her feet. “Not really. I just try to do the right thing.” Her mouth twisted slightly and she glanced at the two corpses, a human barbarian and a dwarf, that still lay on the floor. “I am sorry that your companions could not be raised.”
“Everyone’s time comes to an end eventually,” Amon said philosophically. “It was bound to happen. I take this as a warning. I shall retire from adventuring and open a shop.”
“It serves the fools right,” said the other man who had been Raised. “Again and again they would charge into trouble. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve had to drag them to temples and reach deep into our purses to bring them back from the consequences of their recklessness. Well, no more. If you are retiring, Amon, I think that I shall seek employment among the Shadow Thieves.”
“It would not be the same without Pooky,” the mage said, referring to his imp familiar who had also fallen in the brawl and who had dissipated upon death. “Fare thee well and good luck, Brendan.” He turned to Willow. “The spell that you cast, causing the air to thicken and bind us, is unknown to me. Teach me, I pray, and I will trade you spells of my own.”
After the former foes had departed the party finally got their long-delayed baths. There were no individual bathrooms in this inn; that was a luxury found only in the most exalted of establishments, where the clientele included the nobility and the wealthiest of merchants. At the Inn of Seven Vales there were two bathrooms, each containing four tubs, and the group divided themselves up on the basis of gender.
Sorkatani disrobed with an absolute lack of embarrassment about nudity in the company of other women that Willow envied. The showers at Sunnydale High had been something to be endured, rather than enjoyed, as far as she was concerned. She undressed shyly, squirming inwardly as she saw Viconia’s gaze lingering on her body, and slipped under the suds with some relief.
Willow couldn’t help taking pleasure in the sight of the nude bodies of the other two girls. In the case of Sorkatani it was a purely innocent aesthetic pleasure. The warrior’s body was sculpted perfection, the golden skin glowing with health, and Willow was reminded yet again of how like Buffy Sorkatani was in many ways. And, perhaps even more so than Buffy, Sorkatani might as well have had ‘het’ stamped on her forehead.
Not so Viconia. Willow couldn’t keep herself from sneaking glances at the slim and lithe body, the gleaming skin of charcoal grey, the nipples of deepest black, and the faint dusting of fine white pubic hair. Willow squirmed at the uncomfortable thought that she would have been totally unable to resist the slightest of invitations from Viconia had Sorkatani not been present.
Willow squirmed even more as she suddenly remembered Sorkatani’s comment about ‘mages with scrying crystals watching me as I bathe’. She blushed, covered her breasts with one arm, and with her other hand scooped soap suds to cover her groin. Viconia raised an eyebrow at her. Willow blushed even deeper, and opened her mouth to explain, but then she remembered Yoshimo’s remark about inns purchasing privacy spells for the protection of their guests. ‘I’m being silly’, she thought, and forced herself to relax. ‘Nobody is watching me. Well, except Viconia.’
“Oh, man, I think I’m in heaven,” Warren drooled. “That is so cool. Those babes are so hot.”
“Yeah,” Jonathan breathed. “I just wish we could, like, zoom in a bit.”
Andrew frowned. “They’re only, like, an inch or so high on the monitor,” he criticized. “It’s not like you can see all that much, dudes.”
“Hey, be impressed,” Warren said. “Remember that the original just has, like, a static animation of a room with a mouse that scuttles across the screen and goes ‘squeak’. What’s a mouse compared to pussy?”
“It’s still kind of, well, boring,” Andrew said. “What are the guys doing?”
“Taking a bath too,” Warren said. “And hey, if there’s one thing that I don’t want to see it’s Minsc in the nude, dude.”
“Uh, I’m kinda puzzled by the whole resurrection thing,” Willow said. “It’s still wigging me out that you can even do that stuff. I mean, where I come from it’s a whole massive deal, and not really of the good, and it can go pretty wrong, and, well, not the same as here. You take it so, like, for granted I was thinking ‘hey, maybe death’s not all that big a deal here, not as long as you’ve got friends and money and stuff’, only, then, it didn’t work on those two guys and nobody seemed all that surprised.”
“Coming back from the dead is no trivial matter,” Sorkatani said. “It strains the heart, or so I have been told, each time a little more. Once, or twice, and the damage cannot be perceived. A dozen times, and only one with the constitution of an ox is likely to survive for more than moments. The heart restarts, indeed, but then it stops. It is said that once there was a warrior of the Northlands who was slain and raised a full score of times. Few others have passed even half that tally. The dwarf and the barbarian no doubt had died in battle several times before. Their allocation of lives had run out.”
“Like the nine lives of a cat? Uh, no, you probably don’t have that expression.”
“It is a saying among the people of the Sword Coast too,” Sorkatani smiled. “Yes, an apt analogy.”
“Uh, so we can come back from the dead, but it’s not, like, a permanent free pass. We get a few goes and then that’s it.” Willow twisted and stretched to soap her back. “I get it. Uh, would it be, like, bad manners to ask how many times you’ve, uh, died?”
“It would,” Viconia said. “Yet we are comrades. Ask away, abbil, I will take no offence.”
Willow raised her eyebrows. Viconia’s use of the word for ‘trusted friend’ was unexpected. “Okay, how many.”
“Twice,” Viconia told her. “Also, once I was turned to stone, but in that state I but slept and was not dead.”
Willow turned to Sorkatani.
“Never,” the Perfect Warrior said before Willow could ask. “I cannot be raised. I saw what happened to Sarevok. He broke apart on my sword. Crumbled into pieces, turned to dust, and whirled away on the wind. His spirit was carried off to the inferno that houses all that remains of Bhaal. That same grim fate awaits me.”
Jaheira’s eyes were wide and sad. “In the glades of Silvanus I wandered,” she related, “and yet I was not content. There was music of harps, and pipes, and yet it did not bring me joy. It seemed to me only a pale shadow of music that I had heard in life.”
“Were you not, ah, reunited with your husband?” Giles probed gently.
“He sat under a tree, and ate fruit, and smiled,” Jaheira told him. “His eyes dwelt upon the nymphs even as he spoke to me.” She winced. “He told me that he knew a peace that he had never felt in life, and I felt a sting in his words; for always I urged him on to achieve more. Rarely did I praise him. Never did I let him rest and reflect upon what he had accomplished. I was a bad wife to him in many ways.”
“Surely not,” Giles said. “You really are a quite, ah, remarkable woman.”
“A less remarkable and more pleasant woman would, it seems, have suited Khalid more,” Jaheira said sadly. “He chided me; gently, but chide me he did, and although he invited me to join him beneath the tree I would not do so. I wandered on, seeking I know not what, and nothing that I found filled the emptiness that was within me. Then a voice called to me, and I answered, and then I was pulled away from the glades and returned to life. Even as I left I heard Khalid calling to me, telling me to be happy. Yet I fear that I have no capacity for happiness. Always I remain discontent.”
“I must confess that I have something of the same inclinations,” Giles said. “Buffy has encouraged me to, as she puts it, ‘lighten up’. I pride myself that I have managed to unwind at least to some extent.”
“I found myself missing your company, as I wandered the forests of the Afterlife,” Jaheira admitted. “And your strange yet entrancing songs.”
“Ah. Thank you,” Giles said. “I, ah, could play you something now, if you wish.”
“Aye, bard, ye dae that,” a dwarf spoke up. “Play us a bonny song. There’d be gold in it for ye.”
Giles flushed. He hadn’t realized that the conversation had been audible to the other patrons of the Copper Coronet.
The dwarf’s request was backed by more and more voices and a throng began to gather. Buffy and Anya had been talking to Hendak; they returned to the table and joined in with the clamor of encouragement. “Hendak doesn’t want the ten per cent cut,” Anya said. “Bernard says you draw in the crowds and they get a return that way. You can keep everything you make.”
“That’s jolly decent of them,” Giles said. “Very well. I shall play something that, I hope, may lighten Jaheira’s spirits somewhat.” ‘And perhaps Buffy’s’, he added silently. He raised his guitar. At the very moment that he was about to strike the first chord he saw Sorkatani enter the building, with Willow, Spike, and the others following in her wake. He hesitated for a moment but then saw Willow gesture to him to continue. “Live it up!” he announced, and began to play.
“How can you see looking through those tears?
Don't you know you're worth your weight in gold?
I can't believe that you're alone in here
Let me warm your hands against the cold
A close encounter with a hardhearted man
Who never gave half of what he got
Has made you wish you'd never been born
That's a shame because you got the lot
Hey yeah you with the sad face
Come up to my place and live it up
You beside the dance floor
What do you cry for?
Let's live it up
If you smiled the walls would fall down
On all the people in this pickup joint
But if you laughed you'd level this town
Hey lonely girl that's just the point
Hey yeah you with the sad face
Come up to my place and live it up
You beside the dance floor
What do you cry for?
Let's live it up…”
Disclaimer: the lyrics to ‘Live It Up’ by Mental As Anything, written by Greedy Smith, are used without the permission of the copyright holders and with no intention to claim ownership or profit from their use.