Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events bearing some similarities to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.
The crystal reflector cast a circle of charmed light that kept the Shadows at bay. They staggered into the lit area and collapsed. Buffy swung Sorkatani down from her shoulders and lowered her to the stone flagstones.
“Sorkatani!” Viconia wailed. “Jabbress, please do not die! Without you I would be lost. Sorkatani!”
“Peace, Viconia, the mighty Sorkatani will not die so easily,” Minsc assured her. “She will be up and kicking the butt of Evil very soon, yes indeed.”
“She saved me,” Anath said in a shaky voice. Yoshimo was supporting her with an arm around her waist. “She took blows that were meant for me. Why?”
“She is a true hero,” Yoshimo said. “It is not for me to explain her actions, merely to follow her and try in my humble way to emulate her.”
“This is totally humiliating,” Xander complained as Giles lowered him to the ground. “Not that I’m not grateful, Spellsinger, but hey, being as helpless as a turtle on its back totally sucks. How did you manage it, Giles? I mean, in this tin suit I must be way, way, over two hundred pounds.”
“I’m strong, strong enough to carry him,” Giles sang, continuing the song that he had begun as several of the party members had been felled by the onslaught of the Shade Wolves. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother…”
“That was bloody close,” Spike said, and wiped his brow. “You okay, Nibblet?”
“I’m okay,” Dawn confirmed. “Wow, there must have been, like, a hundred of those things.”
“More than there were in my pack,” Anath said. “Other beasts there were, too, as well as wolves. Panthers, giant lynx, and I think a bear.”
“Yeah, there was a bear,” Buffy confirmed. “I killed it. We made it through, people. Everybody did good. Nice timing, Viconia. You bought us just enough space.”
Viconia was crouched beside Sorkatani, fussing over her, ignoring the needs of anyone else. She looked up at Buffy through tear-clouded eyes. “Thank you, rivvil j'nesst.” She drew in a breath. “Abbil.”
“I’m okay,” Sorkatani gasped out. “Just weak.” Her mouth twitched into a pain-wracked smile. “I really must get some lighter armor.”
Viconia’s face lit up with a smile of sheer joy. “Jabbress,” she gasped. “I was so scared for you.”
“Guys!” Anya called. “I think we got trouble. There’s something up in the air above us. Something big.”
“It is the great beast that I sensed,” Anath said. “I can smell that same sharpness.”
Spike peered up into the dark sky. “Oh, vith! It’s a sodding dragon!”
“That was a lot tougher for them than I expected,” Jonathan observed. “I thought they’d just waltz through the Shade Wolves.”
“They had problems with the darkness,” Warren noted. “Only Spike and Viconia could see them coming. What happened to the Helm of Infravision? Did they sell it?”
“Tara had it,” Jonathan informed him. “It went off with the doppelganger. Right when they could have used it. And Jaheira wasn’t there either.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched. “Man, they sure got hit big time. It was like Zulu Dawn, dude.”
“Yeah. Frigging hordes of them. Shade Panthers, Shade Bears, all the animals in the damn forest. Wonder if there’s a Shade Moose?”
“I think I saw a Shade Squirrel, but Minsc stepped on it before I could be sure,” Jonathan said. “The Shade Lord threw pretty much everything he had at them.”
“The bad guys are getting smarter,” Warren commented, “and the good guys dumber. I mean, like, the werewolf girl’s supposed to die holding back the Shade Wolves long enough for the party to get the reflector going. They’re not supposed to save her.”
“That’s not dumb,” Jonathan said. “That’s being a hero, dude. Sorkatani doesn’t give up on anybody. She’s like Buffy.”
“She’s like Buffy ‘cause you made her to be like Buffy. Yeah, I get, she’s a hero. She’d be a dead hero if Buffy hadn’t saved her ass.” Warren chewed on his bottom lip briefly. “I wonder what will happen if the Bhaalspawn dies in this game? She’s not, like, the center of everything any more. Maybe it won’t force a reload and it’ll continue on without her.”
Jonathan frowned. “That would mean no final conflict, no Throne of Bhaal. I mean, Irenicus can’t even pull off his evil plan without the Bhaalspawn. Imoen’s not enough.”
“Maybe he’d grab Ilasera or Sendai or somebody and start over,” Warren mused. “It might be interesting to find out.” He saw the look of distress on Jonathan’s face. “Okay, okay, interesting but sad and we don’t want it to happen.” He sought for an alternative topic with which to distract his friend. “Hey, what were those songs that Spike reckoned would be right for Viconia? They sounded kinda interesting. Think it’s worth me looking for mp3s?”
“Well, Baby Spice recording one of them doesn’t sound promising, but I guess they could be okay if the original voice sounded like Viconia. What were they? Oh, yeah. ‘Hammer’ and ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ by – holy shit!”
“I don’t think she was called Holy Shit,” Warren said. “Although, that’d be a cool name for a band trying to out-gross Slipknot.”
“No, I mean, look at that!” Jonathan went on. “The Shadow Dragon. It’s out and flying.”
“Wow!” Warren stared at the screen. “That is just – wow. But hey, it’s kinda hard to see. Dark on dark. Like a Stealth Fighter.”
“And it’s diving like a frigging Stuka,” Jonathan gasped. “It looks like the guys are toast.”
The temple entrance was too narrow for the dragon to pursue them. It sent one final jet of acid spray down the steps after them but they had made it out of range. The monstrous black creature roared out its frustration and tore at the stonework. Blocks came loose from the walls and ceiling and fell, bouncing and rolling down the stairs. The dragon rose into the air once more and departed.
“Think it’s gone?” Dawn said hopefully.
“Dunno,” Spike grunted. He was fully occupied in trying to restrain Minsc, who was whimpering in fear and trying to flee off into the unknown recesses of the catacombs. “Buggering hell, Minsc, what’s bloody wrong with you? You’re a sodding hero! Act like one.”
Xander, still weak and helpless in his heavy armor, was quivering and sobbing as Giles set him down on the floor. “I’ve never seen Xander scared before, no matter what he faced,” Giles commented.
“Dragon fear,” Viconia explained. “It is magical. But I have the cure.” She laid her hand upon Minsc’s brawny armored shoulder. “Streeaka!” she commanded. Minsc’s contorted face cleared.
“Oh my!” he said. “I was running away like a coward. Boo will be ashamed of me.”
“Cure Xander! Cure Xander!” Anya demanded.
Viconia shook her head. “I cannot,” she said regretfully. “I have little power left. One spell of healing, and a spell to raise a fallen comrade from the dead that I keep as the last resort, and that is all. I chose Minsc because your Xander cannot run away and harm himself.”
“We sure could have done with Tara,” Buffy grumbled. “Why she had to go off like that beats me.”
“Jaheira would have been of great use too,” Sorkatani said, “but in her case she had little choice.”
“Yeah, I -”
Buffy’s reply was interrupted by a heavy impact at the tunnel entrance. A tree trunk slammed into the gap, roots shearing off against the stone walls as it was forced into the passage, and wedged there firmly. There were still gaps through which air could circulate but no creature larger than a rabbit would be able to escape.
“It’s blocked us in,” Dawn gasped. “We’re trapped.”
“Like the Fellowship in Moria,” Giles commented.
“So the only way to go is onwards,” Buffy said. “Okay, as soon as everybody’s back on their feet, we move on. We’re okay here for a while. The dragon definitely can’t get in now. And hey, at least there’s a little light down here. I was worried that it would be, like, pitch black.” Her lips twitched into a half smile. “Hey, no Vin Diesel, but we’ve got Minsc, right?”
They stayed tense and poised for action for a few minutes but there was no further sign of activity from the dragon.
“We should sleep,” Viconia suggested. “I can recover spells while our comrades regain their strength.”
“Sleep? Down here?” Buffy looked nervous.
“We would post guards,” Sorkatani said. “Alas, I can be of little help.”
“I’ll take the first watch, Tani, Slayer,” Spike volunteered.
“I also,” Minsc said. “I am ashamed. I was afraid. I must regain my honor.”
“To fall victim to the dragon fear is no cause for shame, abbil,” Viconia assured him. “You are still our mighty Minsc.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows slightly. Viconia’s tone was completely at odds with her usual waspish persona. For the first time she began to understand why Willow liked the prickly and sarcastic drow girl so much. “I’m good with that,” she said. “Maybe me second watch, with Sorkatani or maybe Xander, if they’re okay by then?”
Xander tried to crawl away across the floor.
Spike raised the alarm after they’d been resting for a couple of hours. A fresh wave of Shade Wolves was approaching along the corridor, accompanied by a pair of eight-foot animated skeletons in plate armor. The party scrambled to their feet and took up battle positions.
“Leave them to me,” Willow said. “I was fighting with one hand tied behind my back up there. Undead, so no use making with the poison gas, and I wasn’t too keen on tossing around fireballs in a forest ‘cause, hey, forest fires are no fun. But there’s nothing around us now that can burn, so…” She raised her hands and sent a jet of searing flame shooting along the corridor. Shade Wolves in its path shriveled up and lay still. The legs were blasted out from under one of the skeletons and it toppled to the ground, where it broke apart. “…They’re playing on my turf,” Willow finished.
The other skeleton warrior continued to advance, only slightly scorched, and brandished a huge two-handed sword. Xander, now recovered from both his physical weakness and his dragon-induced panic, threw Azuredge hard and accurately. The skeleton fell to pieces.
“My strength has returned, but it would be as well to get some more rest before we press on,” Sorkatani advised. She had not even had a chance to draw Celestial Fury.
“You’re just going to go back to sleep?” Buffy asked incredulously.
“Sleep is precious when battle is imminent,” Sorkatani said. “I have learned that one must snatch it when one can.”
“She’s right, Buff,” Xander said. “It’s like they say in ‘Starship Troopers’ – that’s the book, not the crapola movie – you can never get too much sack time. I remember it from when I was soldier guy, too.”
“I guess you’re right,” Buffy said. “I don’t know if I could sleep right now, though. I’ll take over on watch.” She looked at Spike and Minsc. Minsc was once more his usual cheerful and staunch self, and he looked capable of going on for hours, but Spike’s shoulders were slumped and he was uncharacteristically quiet. “Spike, want to swap?”
“Wouldn’t say no, Slayer,” Spike admitted. He lay down to rest and Buffy took his place on guard.
There were no further interruptions to their rest save for rotations of the guard duty. Perhaps, Buffy thought, the Shade Lord was running out of dark forces; or perhaps he was just holding back to ambush them deeper within the complex.
Or perhaps there was no other exit and they were sealed in to slowly starve to death.
They kept Tara in an iron cage. It was only temporary accommodation; another, stronger, cage was being prepared, one designed specifically to resist Sorkatani’s strength. Rumor had reached Firkraag’s men that Buffy was even stronger than Sorkatani and the cage was being reinforced still further. The lock was a massive contrivance, subtlety being scorned in favor of being built to withstand the blows of a war hammer wielded by an immensely powerful warrior, and Conster the mage cast numerous spells upon it to shield it from the lock-picking skills of Yoshimo, Dawn, and Anya.
Once Tara was in that cage she would stay there until someone with the key let her out.
She had demanded privacy for toilet purposes and, rather to her surprise, Tazok had acceded to her demand. Curtains of cloth screened an area of her present cage and a similar arrangement was being rigged in the new cage. The screened area was too small for sleeping or bathing; a request for a bath had been granted with alacrity but the resultant hot tub was set up right out in the open, in front of a drooling Tazok, and she had shuddered and changed her mind. She had resorted to sponging herself under her clothes instead.
Her bed had no screen and she slept fully dressed under the gazes of Tazok, Rascar, or whoever else was on guard. Only Tazok and Rascar seemed interested in her in any sexual sense. She suspected that the Elf mage Conster was gay, although it might have been simply his wizardly asceticism and the mannerisms of a different culture which gave her that impression; he certainly saw her as nothing other than an object that had to be guarded because his master the dragon had so commanded. The priestess who had assisted in her capture, Plath Rededge, was definitely straight and seemed to lust unavailingly after Conster. To Dig-Dag the Orc Chieftain Tara was a prospective meal and nothing more.
During the time that Tara was being kept in the temporary cage she took pains to appear as unthreatening as possible. Apart from her insistence on a certain amount of privacy, and her flat refusal to bathe under the eyes of Tazok, she was quietly compliant and on the surface was almost submissive. Quietly, however, she was making a careful selection from her arsenal of available spells and was preparing to take advantage of any opportunity to escape that might arise, while all the time taking pains to appear harmless.
It seemed that her deception was successful in lulling the suspicions of her captors. When the reinforced cage was ready only Tazok, Rascar, and Plath Rededge were present to supervise her transfer, plus an orc minion who was there merely to fetch and carry. Chieftain Dig-Dag simply wasn’t interested and Conster obviously thought such duties were beneath him.
The odds were still heavy, of course, but perhaps not entirely insuperable. She had selected spells to immobilize rather than kill, on the reasoning that a wounded man – or monster – would react violently, whereas someone who simply hadn’t been immobilized would be much more amenable to reason. She decided that it was worth making an attempt.
She made one final trip to the curtained toilet area before the transfer and used the privacy to cast a couple of preparatory spells. ‘Free Action’, so that she could escape any magical attempts to restrain her, and ‘Holy Power’ to give her the strength of a strong man. Even with that boost Tazok’s sheer brute power was far beyond anything that she could muster, possibly even exceeding that of Sorkatani or Spike, and she assessed him as the most formidable threat to her escape. Consequently she selected him as the principal target of her first offensive spell.
‘Hold Person’. Even as she spoke the words of power she had a sudden moment of doubt; was Tazok human enough to be affected by the spell? Apparently he was. He stood still as a statue, rooted to the spot, only his eyes moving. The orc minion was right beside him and was caught by the spell too. Two down, two to go.
Rascar’s first impulse was to laugh at Tazok’s predicament. Plath reacted with alarm and retaliated with a ‘Hold Person’ spell of her own. Tara’s ‘Free Action’ negated that spell and, before Plath could react to the failure of her move, Tara had snatched away the other girl’s staff and hit her over the head with it.
At that point Rascar realized the seriousness of the situation and swallowed his laugher. He grabbed for Tara with one hand and fumbled at his belt for a cudgel with the other. Tara jabbed the point of the staff down onto his foot and rapped him across the knuckles with the section between her hands. It worked, rather to her surprise, as her technique was drawn from having seen Giles in action and from memories of Robin Hood movies. Rascar abandoned his attempt to seize her and hopped backwards. His face contorted with anger and he gave up on drawing his cudgel in favor of drawing his sword.
The blow had only momentarily dazed Plath. Tara struck again before the other cleric could recover her balance and this time knocked her to the ground. With that accomplished Tara turned her full attention on Rascar.
He might have been puny next to the massively muscled Tazok but he still posed a significant threat to Tara, especially as he was probably angry enough to use his sword to wound or even to kill, and she didn’t feel confident about taking him on in a straight fight. She was racing against time, too, as Tazok would not remain Held for long, and her own boosted strength would wane within minutes. It was time for some more clerical magic.
This time she used a spell of ‘Command’. A disciplined mind could withstand such a spell, and an experienced warrior such as Sorkatani would shrug it off almost without noticing, but she guessed that the thief was neither disciplined nor experienced enough to resist. It was common practice, she had learned, for priests to Command their victims to sleep, but she feared that falling to the cold flagstones would shock Rascar awake almost instantly, and therefore she chose a different option. One that she had heard Xander refer to during one of his rare civil conversations with Spike, sitting in the Copper Coronet, talking about a long-ago game of Dungeons and Dragons that their present situation had brought to Xander’s mind, when neither had been aware that Tara was listening. A Command guaranteed to totally neutralize any susceptible opponent for at least a few vital moments.
“Masturbate!” Tara ordered.
Rascar’s mouth opened wide with horror. He dropped the sword and his hands went to his groin. Tara did not hang around to watch but acted immediately.
Tazok was still helplessly immobile, although probably not for very much longer, and she briefly considered hitting him with the staff. She decided that, even with her currently enhanced strength, the huge warrior would probably withstand several such blows and it simply wasn’t worth the cost in time. Instead she reached up with the staff, hooked one of the horns on his helmet, and dislodged it from his head. She caught it before it hit the floor and placed it upon her own head.
The cloak on Plath’s back was probably a Cloak of Protection and so Tara snatched it up and wrapped it around her own shoulders. She ignored Rascar’s sword, as she had learned that clerics shunned the use of bladed weapons with good reason and she would probably lose the use of her spells if she wielded it, and she contented herself with the priestess’ staff. It wasn’t much of an armory, but it was the best that she could do in the limited time available, and she had to be content with what she had. She turned and ran from the room.
One exit led to the lair of the dragon. She had no idea what lay beyond the other door, but it had to be a better alternative, and so she fled in that direction. Down a long curving flight of steps and into a maze of corridors.
The first turning that she took led her straight into deadly peril. She was confronted by a pack of beasts. Man-shaped but bestial; all hair, claws, and slavering jaws. Werewolves in their most primal and savage state. Unmistakably filled with a desire to rend her limb from limb and to devour her flesh. She spun on her heel and ran, back the way that she had come, with the werewolves in hot pursuit.
They gave up on the chase at the foot of the staircase. Tara made her way back upwards again with as much dignity as she could muster. She was halfway up when she met Tazok on his way down. He brandished his huge two-handed sword and glared at her. She met his eyes without flinching. Coolly she removed his helmet from her head and handed it back to him.
“By all the gods, I like your style, wench,” he boomed out. “You have spirit indeed. It seems almost a shame that I have to return you to your cage.” He returned his sword to the scabbard across his back and his scowl was replaced by a grin.
Tara walked up the stairs at his side. They entered the room in which the cages stood and found Plath sitting on the floor rubbing her head whilst Rascar was engaged in fastening up his breeches. The orc minion snarled at Tara but retreated into a corner when Tazok fixed it with a menacing glare and uttered a commanding grunt.
Plath cast a minor healing spell on herself and stood up. She looked at Tara with an expression on her face that was neutral rather than hostile. “My staff, please,” she said, extending her hand. Tara handed it over without delay. She half expected the priestess to deliver a retaliatory blow but Plath made no such move. “And my cloak?”
Tara returned the cloak but took the opportunity to make a point. “I want some clothing to replace the top that Tazok tore,” she said.
“I may have something,” Plath agreed. “There is no great difference in our size.”
“Don’t bother,” Rascar spat out venomously. “I’m going to kill the bitch.”
“Don’t you touch her, Rascar,” Tazok growled. “She is a courageous lass. Hers was a brave deed, and well done, and she made a fool out of you. Hah, big joke, Rascar Wanker. Harm her and I will pull out your guts and strangle you with them.”
“Lord Firkraag wants her in good condition,” Plath reminded Rascar. “When he has finished with her then maybe you can kill her.”
“When Firkraag has finished with her then I take her,” Tazok insisted. “She will make me a fine wife and give me many brave sons with her brains and my brawn. ”
Tara opened her eyes wide. It was probably an improvement over the prospect of being raped, killed, and eaten, but only marginally. She couldn’t help feeling a slight sense of accomplishment in having impressed him so remarkably, and her being gay didn’t mean that she never wanted to have children; but she would have preferred it had the children’s prospective father not resembled the offspring of a WWE wrestler and a nineteen-seventies’ East German lady shot-putter, or perhaps of the wrestler and a female walrus, or even a Mack truck.
She tried to raise an objection that was more tactful than coming out with a truthful ‘I think that you’re repulsive and I wouldn’t boink you if you were the last humanoid on Faerûn’ would be. “Uh, but suppose they have my brawn and your brain?”
Tazok grinned once more. “In that case we feed them to Dig-Dag and try again.”
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 ‘He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother)’ by The Hollies are also used without permission and no intention to profit.