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.
“You shall not free the Master’s consort, mortal!” the Shadow Jailor warned.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Why is it that every lame-o bad guy with a half-assed Apocalypse plan has to call himself ‘The Master’?”
“Yeah, and none of them will ever be as good as Roger Delgado,” Spike commented.
Giles sniggered. The other Scoobies, Sorkatani’s party, Anath, and even the Shadow Jailor, exchanged glances of baffled incomprehension.
“Huh? Is this some British thing?” Buffy sliced an oncoming Shade Wolf in two while raising her eyebrows at Spike and Giles.
“From ‘Doctor Who’,” Spike informed her. He seized the Shadow Jailor in an arm-lock and bent the creature forward. “Recurring villain. Had loads of style.”
Sorkatani brought Celestial Fury down across the Shadow Jailor’s neck. “You speak of something from your world?”
“Yeah. Don’t take any notice of me, Tani, I just get like this sometimes.” Spike released what was left of the Shadow Jailor and the withered body crumpled to the floor.
Sorkatani twirled Celestial Fury and returned it to the scabbard. She bent down and picked a metal object from the floor. “The creature has dropped a key,” she said, “and when there is a key, there is a lock.”
The prisoner behind the locked door was Mazzy Fentan, the leader of the missing band of adventurers, and she was a halfling girl. Very different from those of that race that the party had encountered in Athkatla. In contrast to their plump build and round rosy cheeks she was slim and sharp of feature. Her eyebrows had been carefully plucked and shaped, she wore her hair in braids, and there was a diamond stud in her nose. Her voice lacked the bucolic accent typical of halflings and instead she spoke almost like an aristocrat; a Sloane Ranger accent, Spike would call it, the sort of voice that implied a girl that Prince William might date – at least if she had been a lot taller and didn’t have such hairy feet.
“The Shade Lord has perverted an altar of Amaunator to his purposes,” Mazzy explained. “We found a parchment that implies that he cannot be slain while the altar is intact and so destroying it was our priority. The altar lies beyond this temple. We thought that approaching it this way would be easier than on the surface, for the attacks of the Shade Wolves were wearing us down, and we sought to find passage through these tunnels. We failed. The final door remained locked to us, for we did not did not find the symbol that would remove the wards, and we learned that it led into the lair of the Shadow Dragon before reaching the altar. At that point we changed our plan, returned by the way that we had come, and struck out through the forest after all. The Shade Lord summoned the Shadow Dragon and we were overcome.”
“It chased us in here and blocked up the tunnel behind us,” Buffy told her. “I’m guessing the only way out is right through its lair. Not good.”
“Not good indeed,” Mazzy agreed. Her expression had lost all traces of her initial relief at being rescued from her cell. “It is a foe most deadly. Fear goes before it. Its breath is a fog of black acid. The buffets of its wings can fell the strongest man as easily as a ninepin. Its terrible jaws can bite through the toughest armor. We also found, to our horror, that it has the same dread power as wraiths and vampires. It can sap away the very skills of a warrior, or a mage, reducing a hardened veteran to a mere untried novice.”
“Level drain, huh?” Xander asked.
Mazzy gave him a frown of blank incomprehension. “I beg your pardon?”
“Uh, just, I know what you mean,” Xander said. “How come nobody in this D&D world speaks D&D?”
“Vampires, eh? Can I do that level drain thing?” Spike wondered.
“I think not,” Sorkatani said, “or it would not be safe for us to touch you.”
Mazzy turned horrified eyes on Spike. “You’re a vampire?” Her hand went to the empty scabbard at her belt.
“A different kind of vampire. Spike is a true comrade,” Sorkatani assured Mazzy.
Mazzy was not soothed. “You travel with a vampire? Have I been rescued from the frying pan only to fall into the fire?” She looked around the group of rescuers and her eyes widened even further. “A drow! Horrors!”
Spike raised one eyebrow. “She hasn’t even spotted the werewolf yet.”
“Spike, so not helping,” Buffy scolded.
“Spike, do not tease her,” Sorkatani said at the same time. “Lady, I swear to you that we have rescued you indeed. We seek only to destroy this Shade Lord and free the people of Imnesvale from this threat. Yoshimo, have you found her sword?”
“Sword, bow, and armor, jabbress,” Yoshimo reported.
“Take them, Mazzy Fentan, and either seek your own way from this place, or follow us, as you choose.”
“Then you did but jest with me?” Mazzy directed suspicion-filled frowns at Spike and at Viconia.
“Spike is truly a vampire, and Viconia is truly a drow,” Sorkatani confirmed, “but they are also true and staunch friends and dear to me. They do not seek to harm you. You have no cause to fear them. We have but lately met Anath the werewolf, and I cannot vouch for her with such absolute assurance, yet she has given me no cause to doubt her goodwill and much cause to believe in it. I extend my trust to her too.”
“You shall not regret it,” Anath promised. “I shall serve you faithfully. I regret only that I can be of little help; for my fangs have no power against the undead, and in human form I have but small skill with a blade.”
“You’re a werewolf?” Mazzy stared at the slim, rather pretty, girl, who wore a plain blue robe and whom she had assumed to be a junior mage.
“The werewolf at whom you loosed shafts when I intended only to aid you,” Anath confirmed. “I seek vengeance against the Shade Lord. Vengeance for my pack, taken from me, and turned into the Undead.”
“Your intent was to aid?”
“I would have guided you to this temple, and shown you the secret of the reflector, as I did for Sorkatani,” Anath told her.
“Why did you not come to us in human form?” Mazzy asked.
“And had I done so, and my true nature had been revealed, would you not have thought that I sought to deceive you and have attacked me then? I thought it better to hide nothing from the start.”
“Oh.” Mazzy bowed her head. “In that case, Anath, I crave your pardon.”
Anath met Mazzy’s eyes. “It is granted.”
“So, we’re all good now?” Buffy checked. “Okay, let’s get ready to rumble.”
Mazzy stared at her. “I beg your pardon?”
The passage through the temple was frustrating and repetitive to the point of tedium. There were riddles to solve, gems to prize from pillars, ancient texts to decipher, and bone golems and skeleton warriors to fight as well as the ubiquitous Shadows. Giles, Willow, and Dawn found some enjoyment in the puzzles but to everyone else the combats came as a welcome relief.
There was one brief moment of levity when a lettered floor grid had to be negotiated, stepping only on the letters that spelt out ‘Amaunator’, and Xander lightened the mood with an appropriate quote from ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. There was no Grail Chamber beyond the grid, however, only another fragment of text and a section of the symbol that would unlock the final door.
They made one vital discovery that had eluded Mazzy. The bones of the child prophetess of Amaunator, murdered by the Shade Lord centuries ago, were in the room in which Mazzy had been imprisoned. Returning them to their crypt, an act of simple decency on which Sorkatani insisted and which Buffy wholeheartedly supported, resulted in a visitation from a ghost who presented them with a wardstone. With that in their possession, the ghost told them, they could pass by the Shadow Dragon and it would ignore their presence.
Suddenly their quest seemed much more achievable.
At last they had assembled all of the necessary items with which to pass the temple’s defenses and open the final door. They unlocked it and passed through with their hearts in their mouths. Beyond lay a huge vaulted chamber. The ceiling was disfigured by a huge gaping hole. Under the hole, in the middle of the chamber, loomed a huge and ominous dark figure.
Black as pitch, as large as a Tyrannosaurus Rex and many times as fearsome, there it lay.
Thaxll’ssyllia, the darkness incarnate, the Shadow Dragon.
Anya looked up at it with a calculating expression. “Hmm. There’s enough hide there for at least seventy, maybe a hundred, pairs of dragonskin boots.”
There was a staircase at the far side of the chamber that led out to a clearing in the forest. Once it had been a building but now all that remained were the stone slabs of the floor, the stumps of pillars, and a few heaps of rubble from long-crumbled walls. Vegetation grew up between the stones and in one place a sapling reached to a height of fifteen feet.
In the centre they saw the altar. A black and sinister shape that seemed broodingly alive and filled with menace. Beyond it stood a slender, apparently female, figure of ebony black. They might have taken it for a drow but for its dark hair and a slightly hazy and insubstantial air to its appearance.
“Ah, my knight in miniature has escaped and returned with more souls for me to feed upon,” it greeted them. Its voice was male, cracked and wheezing, completely at odds with its appearance.
“Merella!” Mazzy gasped. “The Shade Lord has taken your body.”
“This body has served well but now it fails me,” the Shade Lord continued. “I would have taken yours next, but you have brought me stronger ones that shall serve better. A night upon my altar…” It leered at Buffy and Sorkatani.
“So not on my ‘to do’ list,” Buffy said. She drew the Blade of Roses. Celestial Fury leapt into Sorkatani’s hand.
“To me, my Shades,” the Shade Lord called. A second dark figure shambled forth from behind the altar.
“Patrick!” Mazzy groaned. “What has he done to you?”
Mazzy’s former right-hand man waved a halberd. “Join me in darkness,” he croaked. A shadowy creature emerged from the stone of the altar itself and headed for the party, followed within seconds by another.
Buffy gestured towards the altar. “Willow?”
“On it.” Willow waved her hands and the altar was suddenly the centre of an inferno of flame. Even as the fireball dissipated Viconia was summoning down a Flame Strike to take its place.
The party loosed a volley of arrows and crossbow bolts at the Shade Lord. Buffy, Sorkatani, and Spike followed up with a charge. Patrick staggered out of the flames still brandishing his halberd. Xander raised Azuredge to throw at him but Minsc beat him to it and loosed an enchanted arrow that pierced the undead adventurer’s throat and felled him. Xander threw Azuredge at the Shadow Altar instead. Minsc dropped his bow and drew his two-handed sword. Giles lowered his crossbow and began to take his guitar from his back. He didn’t need to use it.
Azuredge struck the Shadow Altar with a clang just as Buffy and Sorkatani’s blades simultaneously drove into the Shade Lord. The creature of darkness shrieked once and was silent. The stone altar shattered. In the sky above the clouds parted and a sunbeam broke through. The two girls found that their swords were piercing the body of a white girl of about Buffy’s age, her face marred by the marks of fangs but still pretty, who smiled at them.
“Thank you,” Merella said clearly. Then her eyes rolled up and she slid limply from the blades and collapsed onto the stone floor.
Spike dived for the cover of a tree as the area was lit up by bright sunshine. A moment later he shook himself and emerged into the open again. “Forgot,” he muttered. “Still takes some getting used to.” He rummaged in a pouch, produced a small cigar, and lit up.
Mazzy’s eyes widened. “You’re sure you’re a vampire?” she asked.
“Expecting me to go up in flames, were you?” Spike grinned. “Seems this world’s sun doesn’t do that to me. Neat, innit?”
The halfling’s mouth hung open. Wordlessly she held out her hand. Spike handed her a cigar and then gave her a light. Her eyes widened even more as she stared at the Zippo lighter. “An ingenious device,” she commented. “Thank you.” She turned away, exhaling a cloud of gray smoke, and went to the body of her fallen comrade Patrick.
“That was kinda an anticlimax,” Buffy said, glancing around at the surrounding woodland that now seemed rather pleasant in the bright sunshine. “Just, like, one-two and it’s all over. Too easy. I’m looking for the catch.”
“It’s not all over,” Xander said. “There’s still the dragon.”
The wardstone was still effective. Buffy stared dubiously at the huge creature and shook her head. “How are we going to even make an impression on it?” she wondered.
“Sodding huge bugger,” Spike agreed. “Swords just aren’t going to do it.”
“Yeah, well, me and Anya have an idea,” Xander said. “Ever see ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’?”
“What, with the giant crossbow thing?” Buffy replied. “Yeah, but, how are we going to get one in here?”
“We build it,” Xander said. “The dragon won’t notice a thing as long as we keep the wardstone, right? We build the crossbow and shoot the dragon. Easy.”
“And if we don’t kill it right off? The ghost said that the wardstone stops working if we attack. It’s gonna be seriously pissed.”
“We should be able to finish it off,” Sorkatani said. “We must take all possible precautions. Viconia, can you shield us against the dragon fear?”
The drow girl shook her head. “Not all of us, jabbress.”
“I can handle that, I think,” Giles said. “Shield me and I’ll do the rest.”
It was more of a ballista than a crossbow that they constructed, powered by twisted rope, with a weighted spear serving as the bolt. Buffy and Sorkatani wound and loaded the weapon, Viconia and Willow dished out all the protective spells that they could summon up, and the party distributed themselves in attack positions surrounding the dragon. Giles stood in a corner of the chamber and poised his fingers over his guitar.
“Everybody ready?” Buffy asked. A chorus of assent greeted her. “Okay, Giles, hit it.”
“Well we won’t back down
No we won’t back down.
You can stand us up at the gates of hell but we
Won’t back down…”
Buffy pulled the wardstone from her pocket. She threw it at the dragon’s nose. It woke and reared up in surprise.
“What mortal fool dares to challenge Thaxll’ssyllia?” it boomed out.
Buffy sliced through the rope that held back the arms of the ballista. “This one,” she announced. The spear whistled through the air and took the dragon in the belly. It pierced the thinner armor of the creature’s underside and sank in for a full four feet.
The dragon didn’t fall. It reared up higher, spread out its vast wings, and belched out a cloud of black spray. Buffy dived out of the way. The dragon charged after her. Willow commanded the air in front of it to ‘Thicken’ but slowed its rush for only a second.
The other members of the group charged with hand weapons or loosed crossbow bolts. The dragon’s hide changed color subtly as a ‘Stoneskin’ spell took effect. The weapons bounced off without harming the now invulnerable monster. It struck out with a wing and sent Minsc flying across the chamber. His sword clattered away across the floor. The dragon’s tail lashed around and took Sorkatani’s legs out from under her. It slashed out with its left foreleg and caught Viconia across the chest. The mighty claws pierced through her armor and into her body. Viconia reeled backwards and sprawled on the ground. A bloody froth appeared on her lips.
Willow unleashed a counter spell to remove the ‘Stoneskin’. Xander charged in with a cry of triumph and carved a gash into the dragon’s side with the Sword of Chaos. The beast spun round and seized him in its jaws. Its fangs bit deep, driving through the armor, and then it tossed its head and released him. Xander hurtled through the air, smashed into the ceiling, and then plummeted forty-five feet to the ground. His shattered body landed almost at Anya’s feet and she wailed in despair and grief.
Buffy hit the dragon across the face with the Blade of Roses and blinded it in one eye. Mazzy Fentan ran up the dragon’s tail and onto its back. She stabbed down with her sword, but the scales there were thicker than at any other point, and she achieved nothing. The dragon reared up once more. Mazzy lost her footing and fell to the ground. The dragon stamped down at her and the halfling rolled aside. She wasn’t quite fast enough and the stamping foot caught her leg and snapped it like a twig.
Minsc picked himself up, retrieved his sword, and returned to the fray. Sorkatani was on her feet again and she struck out with Celestial Fury. The enchanted blade delivered a shock that held Thaxll’ssyllia rigid for a moment, reared up on his haunches, wings spread wide. The spear protruding from its flank was plainly visible.
Anath was in her werewolf form. Spike grabbed her hand, or paw, and pointed. She nodded and the two of them raced forward together. They approached the dragon on its blind side, caught the butt of the spear, and thrust to drive it deeper into the belly of the beast.
The momentary rigidity wore off. The dragon bellowed and reached down with a claw towards the two puny humanoids who were causing it such pain. Minsc struck out with his two-handed sword and blocked the attempt.
Anya’s face was contorted in an expression of berserk fury. She came in behind the dragon and sawed away at the hamstring of its left hind leg. It turned its head and opened its jaws wide to breath upon her with its breath weapon.
Dawn leveled her crossbow, took very careful aim, and shot it right in the open mouth.
Willow enveloped the dragon’s head in a fireball a moment later.
Anya’s sword severed the tendon and the dragon’s leg gave way beneath it. The colossal creature fell sideways.
Sorkatani raced to snatch up Viconia from under the falling monster. She threw the drow clear but was caught herself. She was knocked to the ground, and appeared to be in danger of being crushed, but she braced her arms against the floor and managed to support the weight for a moment. Yoshimo had been industriously hacking away with his katana during the whole fight without achieving much; he abandoned his efforts and ran to Sorkatani’s assistance. He used his weapon as a brace to support the dragon’s weight and managed to pull Sorkatani free.
Spike and Anath continued to force the spear deeper and deeper into the wounded dragon. Buffy thrust again with the Blade of Roses and drove it into the dragon’s eye socket. She pierced the brain and the monster turned its head, breathed out one last gout of jet black fog towards Sorkatani, and then went limp.
Sorkatani was on her hands and knees, recovering from having had to support the dragon’s weight, and couldn’t move to avoid the deadly spray. Yoshimo stepped in front of her and shielded her with his own body.
The spray lasted only for a couple of seconds. Yoshimo withstood it that long, his hands over his face to protect his eyes, and then he dropped to the ground and writhed in screaming agony.
Giles put down his guitar. “My God,” he said, striding forward to render what medical aid he could. “What carnage! Was it worth while? Could we not have left well enough alone?”
“The dragon had to die,” Mazzy said from between gritted teeth. “It was a deadly peril to all in the area. Ah, I am sore pained. Spike, a cigar, if you would be so kind?”
Sorkatani forced herself erect. Her face was blistered and obviously painful but she ignored it and wavered for a moment between Yoshimo and Viconia. “Logic,” she muttered. “Viconia can cure others if cured herself.” She staggered on wobbly legs over to the drow priestess and laid a hand on the girl’s chest. She spoke a phrase and the rasping noise of Viconia’s breathing eased.
“I didn’t know that you could perform healing spells,” Giles remarked as he used his water skin to rinse away the acid from Yoshimo.
“A minor talent only,” Sorkatani said. She repeated the phrase and Viconia’s eyes opened. “That is my repertoire exhausted.”
“Jabbress? You have healed me?” Viconia sat up and winced. “Not completely, I think. And you yourself need healing.”
“There are others in worse case,” Sorkatani said. “See to Xander first, for he is badly injured at best.”
Viconia obeyed. She walked on shaky legs over to where Xander’s crumpled figure lay. She gave the body a brief examination and shook her head. “He is dead,” she declared.
“Raise him! Raise him!” Anya demanded. “Give me my Xander back.”
“To do so would exhaust me,” Viconia said. “I shall tend the wounded first.”
Anya glared at her but conceded the point. “Okay, but hurry up.” She heaved a sigh. “I suppose that at least he won’t get any worse.”
“Man, that was intense,” Warren commented. “They did pretty good. I’ve seen the Shadow Dragon wipe out whole parties at their level.”
“There are twice as many of them as a regular party,” Jonathan said, “but yeah, they did good. Maybe they’ll be able to cope with Firkraag after all.”
“He’s at least twice as tough as the Shadow Dragon, dude,” Warren said. “That’s why you’re supposed to leave him until after Spellhold. If they’ve got any sense they’ll rescue Tara and then call it quits for now.”
“I know,” Jonathan said doubtfully, “but that’s not the way Sorkatani thinks. Plus, I don’t know if Firkraag will leave them that loophole. He’s kinda impatient to get things over with. If he keeps hold of the key they’re gonna have to fight him before they can even get Tara loose. That is gonna be one tough battle.”
“Well, most of them have leveled up with the experience for the Shadow Dragon. Maybe they’ll be okay.” Warren saw that Jonathan was still looking worried and so he changed the subject. “Hey, that was a nice save you pulled off there, putting Yoshimo in the way of that last breath weapon,” he complimented. “She was down enough points that the level drain would probably have killed her.”
Jonathan shook his head. “It wasn’t me. I’ve lost control of Yoshimo too now. That was all his own idea.”
Warren opened his eyes very wide. “He stood in a spray of acid and negative energy to protect Sorkatani? That took guts, dude. Shit.” He frowned and scratched his head. “That’s gonna mess up the whole storyline.”
“Maybe,” Jonathan said, “or it might work out the way it would do if Yoshimo got killed or kicked out of the party before they go to Spellhold. There’s only one way to find out.”
“Yeah. So, Yoshimo's running himself now, but I guess you’ve picked up Mazzy instead, right? What about the werewolf girl?”
“I can control Mazzy,” Jonathan confirmed, “but Anath’s a friendly monster. I can’t do anything with her.”
“There’s no script for her in the game,” Warren mused. “What the hell’s she going to do now they’ve cleared out the Shadow dungeon?”
“Tag along with Sorkatani, I guess,” Jonathan said. “It’s just as well that they couldn’t Raise the ones who’d been possessed by the Shade Lord or she’d pretty much have her own private army.” He turned away from the screen. “I might as well leave them to it. They’re going to be busy with healing and looting the dragon’s lair and things for a while. Pretty boring. How’s your pirate game coming along, dude? And the BG mod?”
“Totally awesome, dude,” Warren grinned. “The horses show up in the mod and they don’t affect anything except cutting down the travel time. I’ve got horses working in the pirate game too. They look great. Come take a look.”
“Sure thing,” Jonathan said. “Hey, Andrew. How’s the rewrite coming on?”
Andrew glanced up from his PC. “Aar, Jonathan lad, the tale it be making good speed. The wind it be fair for Jamaicy, and thaar be good prospects for plunder. Galleons laden with pieces of eight, and Spanish maidens, and indigo, and tobaccy.” He bit his lip and frowned. “Uh, guys, would it be cool, or kinda yucky. if the PC gets his hand cut off and has to have a hook?”
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 ‘I Won't Back Down’ by Tom Petty are also used without permission and no intention to profit.