Previous Chapters are HERE.
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 loose similarities to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.
“It’s no good,” Jonathan moaned. “I’ve gone back to the save six times now and Anya gets squished every time. They were right on top of the trap when I saved and there just isn’t time for them to do anything different. She dies every time, dude. Absolutely pulverized. There’s nothing left of her to Raise.”
“So go back to the save before that,” Warren suggested. “Okay, so they’ll have to do some things over, but that’s no big deal.” His gaze sharpened as he noticed Jonathan squirming in his seat. “Uh, just how far back is the previous save, short stuff?”
“Way, way, back,” Jonathan admitted. “At Nalia’s castle on the way back to town just after they killed Firkraag. That was somewhere around Christmas time.”
“You didn’t save for three weeks?” Warren clutched at his hair. “I can’t friggin’ believe it!”
“Hey, I saved plenty of times,” Jonathan defended himself. “Only, I kept saving over the past saves. They were doing okay, you were keeping me pretty busy, and I didn’t bother coming up with new names for the files. I did a save right before they set off for Spellhold. Only I overwrote it just now so that I could give you a save with all the sea voyage and Pirates of Brynnlaw stuff on it. Hey, I didn’t know that Anya was going to walk straight into that crushing walls trap ten seconds later.”
Warren gritted his teeth. “Okay, okay. I guess I could have thought to do a save myself once in a while, and yeah, I have been keeping you pretty busy. I’ll let it pass. But, oh, man. This just sucks. Anya flat as a pancake. Irenicus smart enough to take all their gear before he dumps them in the labyrinth. Sorkatani friggin’ catatonic. They are so dead. I guess we’ll just have to go all the way back to that old save.”
Jonathan passed the mouse back and forwards between his hands and looked glumly at the screen. “They’re gonna have to do the whole Mae’Var thing, the Planar Sphere, the Druid Grove, the battle with Bodhi, all over again, and then get back into Spellhold.”
Warren perked up slightly. “I guess maybe there’s a bright side to this snafu. I missed out on all that stuff. It’s been pretty much all work and no play for me lately. Maybe I’ll get a chance to watch some of it next time round. It’s not a game but it’s pretty damn good as a movie.”
“Yeah, there is that,” Jonathan said. “Maybe they’ll meet Haer’Dalis this time around. They missed out on that, which was a shame, and they never got round to fighting the Mind Flayers and getting the Hammer of Thunderbolts. Although maybe things will just repeat themselves, they’ll still miss that stuff, and the game will just run through the same loop until Anya gets killed all over again. There’s nothing I can do to change things. I can’t remember if I could still control Anomen way back then or not but, even if I can, it won’t last long.”
“Chaos theory should make things work out different enough that they don’t end up in quite the same place next time. But hey, this time we save every day, dude, without fail, and we rotate the save files so that we don’t end up in another loop with them too close to the thing that’s gonna kill them to get any chance to do things different. Make it so.”
“Does…” Andrew began, and then he saw Jonathan and Warren turn their gazes on him and he faltered. Whenever he said anything about it not mattering if the Scoobies in the game died, because they weren’t even real, Warren and Jonathan both shouted at him and that sucked. He thought fast and covered himself. “Does the save game from Spellhold give you the things you needed to get the sea and ships all super-detailed for the pirates?” he asked instead.
“Yeah, I guess so, dude,” Warren said. “I’ll take a look at it later. They’ve done the voyage to Brynnlaw, and met the pirates there; I should be able to get all the stuff I need. And I’ll be able to get the Baldur’s Gate mod moved on a whole lot. I just don’t have time to do it right now. I’m meeting up with Alex in an hour and no way am I going to cancel. I’m going stir crazy after all the time I’ve spent in here lately.” He held up his arm and sniffed. “And I’ve been skimping on personal hygiene. I’d better go shower.” He turned back to Jonathan. “You sure you don’t want to come?”
Jonathan screwed up his eyes and hunched his shoulders for a moment. He let his shoulders fall and then spoke. “I kinda want to, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Two guys have a better chance of picking up chicks than three and, dude, I just suck at that kinda thing. I go all stammer-y. And they’re always taller than me and I just feel, uh, kinda intimidated. I’ll pass.” He gave a wry smile. “When we sell the game and make a million then maybe they’ll beat a path to my door and I won’t have to try.”
“You deserve better than a gold-digger,” Warren said. “You can be all kinds of smart and funny once you get a groove going. The script you did for the girl PC was just ace. Maybe you should try on-line dating. Get a chick hooked with your writing before you meet her face to face.”
Jonathan frowned and sucked in his bottom lip. “That’s a thought, dude, but I dunno. She’d have to meet me sooner or later. And suppose she turned out to be a dog?”
“Just think about it. Anyway, I’d better get going.” Warren headed off towards the shower. Hardly had the door closed behind him when it reopened and he stuck his head back into the room. “If we meet up with three chicks I’ll tell the spare one that I have a friend who looks just like Elijah Wood in ‘Lord of the Rings’. I just won’t mention that I mean in character as Frodo.”
“Hi guys. Left anything for me?” Buffy wandered up to the breakfast table and smiled as she saw that there was indeed plenty of food remaining. “Where’s Sorkatani?”
“She is with the Steward,” Jaheira informed her. “Another minor crisis with one of the household staff.”
“Isn’t there always?” Buffy helped herself to food. “I met up with her last night. We both had trouble sleeping and we sat up talking for, like, ages. I thought she might still be in bed.”
Giles sat down. “I’m glad to see that you have not devoured all the food,” he remarked.
“We got kinda distracted,” Willow said. “We were wondering, well Xander was, if it’s right to make armor out of the dragon hide seeing how Firkraag was kinda a person. What with him talking and everything.”
“Hello, Firkraag, evil, kidnapped Tara,” Buffy said. “The whole dragon being a person thing? See me not caring.”
“Good,” Anya said. “I refuse to let all our hard work go to waste.”
“After we spent fifteen sodding hours on the job, including turning something the size of a sodding bus over so that we could do the other side, I should just bloody think so,” Spike agreed.
“You’re not usually so concerned with moral issues, Xander,” Giles remarked.
“Yeah, well, I’m taking this paladin gig seriously, Giles,” Xander said. “Like Spiderman says, ‘with great power must come great responsibility’, and I got the cool powers and the Holy Sword and stuff so I guess I have to start doing some thinking.”
“It still amazes me that one so base-born should be granted the status of paladin whilst I, son of Lord Cor Delryn, could not achieve it,” Anomen commented.
Buffy’s head swiveled towards him in the manner of a battleship’s gun turret. “You don’t get to speak like that about Xander,” she said coldly. “He’s a paladin. You’re not. Deal with it.”
Anomen flinched. “I meant no disrespect. Xander is a true knight, even if he has never been received into the Order. He is a hero, and a dragonslayer, and the Holy Avenger would not suffer him to wield it were he not worthy. Yet all my life I have been taught that it is only the nobility who are fit for such high destiny. It is hard for me to acknowledge that those teachings might be false.”
“The nobility are just blokes whose ancestors were good at hitting other people with swords,” Spike said. “Or who had steel swords before anyone else. Biggest bastard gets to be king, oppresses the poor, sets his pals up as lords and knights. Few centuries down the line and half of them are bloody useless chinless wonders like those toffs who hang out at the Mithrest Inn, half of the rest of them are stuck-up twats like Nalia’s bloody annoying aunt, and others are right bastards like Isaea sodding Roenal. ’S who you are that counts, not who your bloody granddad was.”
Willow nodded approvingly. “Tell it like it is, Spike.”
“Yet our ancestors established codes of conduct and high ideals for us to strive towards,” Anomen said. “There are many within the Order of the Radiant Heart who are of noble birth and who are true knights. Sir Ryan Trawl is everything that a knight should be.” He stroked his beard. “There are portraits within the High Hall of the Radiant Heart that show knights of the past wearing armor of dragon skin. It can be no sin to make such use of the hide of an evil dragon.”
“Okay, that settles it,” Buffy declared. Her tone made it clear that she would brook no further argument on this issue. “We take it to Cromwell as planned. I want everybody to have the best gear we possibly can. We beat the dragon, yeah, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t gonna be tough fights ahead. Rule number one, people; stay alive.” She looked directly at Yoshimo as she said that and wondered why he turned his head so that he did not meet her eyes.
“The naval combat side still needs work,” Warren told Alex, as they walked into the bar, “but we’ve made a breakthrough today, and I think tomorrow we might make some real progress.”
“If you want any more playtesting done I’m your man,” Alex volunteered. “What I’ve seen of it so far totally rocks.”
“You’re first in line, Alex,” Warren promised. “You’ll get to hear yourself doing all that ‘scurvy knave’ stuff.”
“As Third Crewman, yeah,” Alex grinned. “Randy gets to be the hero, Rupert is the Governor of Jamaica, and I swab the decks and get keelhauled. I guess I won’t get to have my picture on the box.” His gaze fell on a voluptuous brunette in a low-cut dress. “Ay, caramba! That’s a picture I wouldn’t mind having on my box.”
“We still need more female voices,” Warren mused.
“Hey, this is a relaxation night, remember? You said you were starting to go stir crazy, shut up inside working on the game the whole time, and you needed a break. So, take that break. Forget about the game for one evening. Just check out the girls and if we get to talk to some pretty thing, well, bonus.”
“I guess you’re right,” Warren said. “So, what are you drinking?”
“I’ll get them,” Alex offered. “Tonight’s on me. You can pay me back when the money starts rolling in.” He ordered drinks and leaned back against the bar. “Wow, is that girl in the leather skirt hot or what?”
“She’s not bad,” Warren conceded. “I bet she’s taken, though. We’d have a better chance with that redhead and blonde pair over there, or…” His eyes widened and his voice tailed off.
“Or what?” Alex asked, trying to follow Warren’s gaze. “I don’t see anything special.”
Warren turned his wide-eyed gaze upon Alex for a moment and then his head swung inexorably back towards a girl who sat alone. She had long hair, light brown with fair highlights, framing a face that Alex would have described as fairly interesting rather than pretty.
“Not special? You’re kidding, right?” Warren’s voice took on a note almost of reverence. “It’s Katrina.”
“I am not worthy of her,” Yoshimo told Buffy. “She is pure and innocent, gentle, kind, and good. I am a bounty hunter. My trade is death.”
“And the Perfect Warrior’s isn’t?” Buffy treated him to a medium grade eye-roll. “She’s been killing people just to stay alive since she was fifteen, Yoshi. If you’re thinking of her as some shrinking violet who’ll get shocked by a little blood, well, you must have been kinda wandering around with your eyes closed.”
“She kills to stay alive and to protect the weak. I do it for money, Buffy. Yes, I kill only those for whom the law is offering a reward, but I have never concerned myself with whether or not the accusation is just. I have done shady deals with thieves. Dragged people who had killed to escape abuse, or persecution, back to face a law framed by those who endorsed that abuse. If I had not met Sorkatani, and had Nalia fled from the warrant that declared her mentally unfit, I might well have accepted a commission from Isaea Roenal to track her down and return her to him to be incarcerated.”
“That’s what you did in the past, Yoshi. It’s not what you are now. Is it?”
Yoshimo bowed his head. “It is not,” he admitted. “She has changed me. I will never accept an unjust commission again.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I have nothing to offer her,” Yoshimo said. “I am just a humble soldier under her command. I am willing to die for her. Let that be enough.”
“That’s another thing,” Buffy frowned. “What’s with this death wish? And you being all big with the mopeyness? You used to be a fun guy, Yoshi. All with the wisecracks, you know, ‘the tourists love that stuff’ and all that. Only ever since the Harpers tried to kill Tani you’ve been gloomy silent guy. What’s the story?”
“That was when I realized that she holds my heart,” Yoshimo confessed. “I cannot hope to win hers. To die in her service is all that I could wish.”
“This is some crazy Kara-Tur thing that I don’t understand, right? Sorta like this world’s version of Kamikaze or Hara-Kiri or whatever? Hey, Yoshi, I got news for you. You can hope to win her heart. She’s pretty stuck on you already. You shall go to the ball, or whatever.”
“But…” Yoshimo began.
“But me no buts. I don’t think Sorkatani’s had all that much happiness in her life and she for sure hasn’t had much in the way of fun. She seems to think that you can give her some and, if you go back to acting the way you used to, I kinda think that she’s right. So if you really do have feelings for her do something about it.”
A smile seemed to fight its way onto Yoshimo’s face against his will. “I make no promises, but I will try to recover my good humor. And I may venture some small approaches to my Lady. Perhaps I can indeed give her some small measure of happiness in the midst of our troubles. For a while, at least.”
“I hope so,” Buffy said. “And a good start is trying not to get killed. That wouldn’t do anybody any good.”
“Hello, Katrina.” Warren stood a few paces away from the girl and fidgeted with the cuffs of his suit. Alex hovered a few paces behind him.
Katrina turned a smiling face towards him but the smile died as recognition hit. A cold scowl took its place. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I, uh, I live in Sunnydale again these days,” Warren told her. “I’m just, uh, having a night out.”
“I thought I was pretty clear about never wanting to see you again,” Katrina snapped.
“I know. I know. But, uh, I was in here anyway, and I just, I couldn’t not speak to you. I thought maybe, if you let me, I could, uh, try to tell you how sorry I am.”
“When it comes to your wind-up little slut trying to choke me to death, well, sorry just isn’t going to cut it.”
“I made a mistake,” Warren said. “I was wrong, and stupid, I admit it. I just want a chance to try to make it up to you. There isn’t a day goes past when I don’t regret it.”
“And there isn’t a day when I don’t regret ever lowering myself to be with a jerk like you,” Katrina told him. She had a small amount of wine in her glass. She drank it quickly and pushed the glass away.
Alex’s brows began to lower in a frown directed at Katrina.
“Don’t say that,” Warren pleaded. “I know I never deserved you. Just give me a chance to explain. To apologize.”
“You expect to just waltz in here and sweep me off my feet with some cheesy lines and a fancy suit?” Katrina stood up.
“No. I ju-just thought, maybe, we could, uh, talk. Maybe work something out. I, I didn’t really think. I just saw you and I had to say something. There’s never been anyone else that I cared about but you, Katrina.”
“There is nothing to work out.” Katrina gathered up her purse. “What you did was sick. And just looking at you makes me want to vomit.”
“No. look, I’ll go. You don’t have to leave because of me, Katrina.” Warren’s face was pale and his eyes glistened with faint traces of tears. “Come on, Alex. We’ll go somewhere else.”
Alex glared at Katrina. “Look, lady, I don’t know who you are, or what there might have been between you and Warren in the past, but what you just said to him went way too far. He’s a nice guy. He doesn’t deserve that.”
“Leave it, Alex,” Warren urged. “I deserve anything she calls me. More. Let’s just go, okay?”
“The bar is big enough for both of us,” Alex said stubbornly. “I don’t see why we should have to leave ‘cause of some crazy psycho ex of yours.”
“Crazy psycho ex?” Katrina repeated unbelievingly.
“Don’t speak to Katrina like that!” Warren snapped. “Uh, sorry, Alex. Look, you don’t know the full story. It’s me that’s in the wrong here. Really. I did some bad things before we met. I hurt Katrina. Well, I was responsible for her getting hurt. The last thing I want to do is ever to hurt her any more.” He turned away, leaving his untouched drink forgotten on the bar, and headed for the door.
Alex stood for a moment longer staring at Katrina. “Okay, sorry. I don’t know the background and maybe I got some things wrong. But I know this, lady. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any guy look at a girl with more love than Warren looks at you. If you have an ounce of compassion in you then at least give him a chance to talk.” He spun around and followed Warren out of the bar.
Katrina stared after them for a long moment and then put down her purse and resumed her seat. Her brows were furrowed in a thoughtful expression as she ordered a refill for her wine and sat sipping at it.
“Hi, sorry I’m late.” A pretty dark-haired girl sat down across from Katrina and smiled. “No guys been hitting on you yet? I’m surprised.”
“Actually one has,” Katrina said. “Warren Meers. My ex.”
“Oh, yeah,” the other girl said. “I remember him. He was kinda cute. For a geek, that is. I never did work out why you guys broke up.”
“It’s a long story,” Katrina said. “Long and not interesting. Forget about him. Let’s just order, okay? And talk about something pleasant.”
“I did some bad things,” Warren confessed. “I built a robot girlfriend.”
“That was you?” Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “I guess it must have been you that built the robot Buffy too?”
“You know about them?”
“Rupert found his Watcher’s Diaries,” Alex explained. “There was stuff in about the Buffy robot. I should have guessed it was you. I mean, it had to be a computer genius.”
“No genius,” Warren said. “I was a total idiot. I thought a robot could be as good as a real girl. Then I met Katrina and I learned otherwise. Only I’d done too good a job on April. I left her in Dutton only she tracked me down here and, well, she tried to kill Katrina. If Buffy hadn’t turned up maybe she would have done. Katrina dumped me. Well, who wouldn’t, man? I can’t blame her. I was so stupid.”
“I guess Randy, Spike, found out and got you to build him a Buffy robot?”
“That’s right,” Warren confirmed. “I did some bad things, like I said.”
“According to the diaries if we hadn’t had that robot helping out then Glory might have won and destroyed the world,” Alex said. “Plus, it acted as a stand-in Slayer for five months while Buffy was, well, wherever she went after the fight with Glory. Some other dimension, I guess. Anyway, you might have been thinking dumb when you made the robots but I guess it worked out for the best.” Alex fixed Warren with a piercing stare. “Were you dating Katrina when you made that first robot?”
“Of course not,” Warren said. “If I’d known Katrina I’d never have wanted to make April.”
“So what’s she so disgusted about?” Alex wondered. “Okay, if it tried to kill her I can see that she’d be mad at you, but that ‘want to vomit’ line was out of order.” He shook his head. “Okay, I guess there’s nothing that we can do about it. Women, huh? Let’s find some other place. Not that Sunnydale’s exactly overflowing with them, but there must be somewhere.”
“I’ve kinda lost my enthusiasm for a night out,” Warren said. He looked down at his shoes. “The robots weren’t the only bad things I’ve done. I robbed the Sunnydale Museum.”
“Well, yeah, I know that,” Alex said, “seeing as how you got me to return the diamond for you. I guessed that maybe it wasn’t quite as much of a prank as you said but, hey, you giving it back worked for me. I’m not a cop. As far as I’m concerned you’re a good guy now, even if you might have made some mistakes in the past.”
“Thanks, man,” Warren said. “You’re a good friend.” He met Alex’s eyes, heaved a sigh, looked down at his shoes again and then raised his gaze to Alex’s face once more. “Too good for a guy like me. I can’t go on keeping this from you. I know what happened to your memories. I know where they are. And if you want them back you can have them. And your friends can have theirs back too.”