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 similarities to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum took place off-screen during the earlier chapters of this story. In this chapter there is a short passage of exposition by Clem that gives some insight into one of those off-screen events. It makes use of an idea taken directly from ‘Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum’, with only slight changes, and is used with permission from Kallysten. Thank you!
“Hey, Giles, you got a minute?”
Giles made a slight adjustment to the tuning of his guitar, strummed a chord, nodded with satisfaction and put the instrument down. “Ah, yes, Buffy. You had some idea that you wanted to discuss with me, I gather?”
“Yeah. I almost forgot about it, and then we did that book hunt with Korgan the Barbarian, and it reminded me.” Buffy sat down and rested her elbows on the table. “There’s something we did back home that we’re kinda skipping here. Research.”
“Well, we rarely seem to get the opportunity,” Giles said. “We come upon enemies unexpectedly in most instances. There simply isn’t time to research the best methods to slay them. We must merely rely upon trial and error. The only prophecy that seems at all relevant to our situation would appear to be the Prophecy of Alaundo the Wise and we are traveling with perhaps the foremost expert on that prophecy.” He permitted a small smile to come to his lips. “If she sometimes misquotes it, well, I think we can forgive her. Her situation cannot be easy.”
“I guess, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. Although it wouldn’t hurt to try to find out as much as we can about that Irenicus guy, the one who snatched Sorkatani in the first place, ‘cause I’m betting that we’re gonna have to fight him eventually. No, I’m thinking that maybe we could be a bit more organized about getting hold of weapons and magic and stuff.”
Giles adjusted the position of his glasses and looked at her over the rims. “Organized? In what way? We seem to be acquiring quite a selection as it is.”
“Yeah, we are,” Buffy agreed, “but we could do better.” She glanced around to check that none of the others were in hearing range. “I’m thinking about that dream that I had that I think means that Yoshimo’s gonna die for good. I want to make sure he gets the best chance we can give him, ‘cause he’s an okay guy and it would break Tani up pretty bad, and that means getting him some good stuff. And yeah, the rest of us too. I want to know where the best stuff is, Giles. Like, you know that Lich thing that Tani keeps thinking about busting in on, down near the city gates, does it have anything worth the fight? And, if it does have some neat stuff, what’s the best way of fighting it?”
“Hmm, yes,” Giles said. “That would seem to be a suitable subject for research. As would the crypt that we discovered on our quest to defeat the Unseeing Eye. It had a guardian rumored to be formidable, I recall, and we had no wish to battle it for no good reason. Yet a sufficiently valuable prize might make it worthwhile. Yes, a visit to whatever libraries and archives are available in this city would certainly be in order. There might be some information about the contents of those crypts. Or some clue as to where we might find the remaining two parts of the Crom Faeyr hammer.” He adjusted his glasses once more. “Of course Sorkatani herself would be of enormous help in such research. She was, after all, brought up as librarian.”
“As long as you don’t mention the Yoshimo thing to her,” Buffy said. “I don’t want to worry her. But yeah, good idea.” She quirked an eyebrow at Giles and smiled. “Hey, you’re a librarian and all with the demon slaying and stuff. Tani’s a librarian and, hey, Perfect Warrior. Is there something about being a librarian that I didn’t know? Like, could it have been the right career choice for me if I’d stayed in college?”
Giles smiled back. “That is certainly possible. It would, of course, have required you to acquire some actual familiarity with the books.”
“I knew there had to be a down side,” Buffy said. She gave Giles a broad grin.
“And there is always the chance,” Giles warned her, “that you would have suffered the most dreaded occupational hazard of being a librarian. Although I’m told that one gets used to it.”
“Paper cuts?” Buffy hazarded a guess.
“No. Being transformed into an orangutan.”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “This is some British joke, right?”
Giles sighed. “It is indeed. Although I think that Willow would have understood. Very well, I shall consult with Sorkatani about research.” He turned his head and scanned the room before continuing. “I presume that you wish me to seek also for anything relevant to returning us to our own dimension?”
Buffy closed one eye and tilted her head to one side. “I guess. But hey, if we don’t ever get back, it’s maybe not the worst thing in the world. Everyone I care about is right here with us, ‘cept for Angel, and hey, it’s not like we were close any more. And I’d miss the people we’ve met here. I know the rest of the guys aren’t all that struck on Anomen but I like him, and hey, I’d miss Minsc. I think everybody would. And Tani, and Yoshi, and Jaheira, and hey, I’m even getting to like Viconia.”
“And you mustn’t forget Boo,” Giles said.
Buffy chuckled. “Yeah, we’d all miss Boo. So, yeah, staying here wouldn’t suck. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t look if you see a, whatchacallit, Grimoire of Traveling to Other Planets, or a map saying ‘to the portal that leads to Earth’, but hey, the priority is finding where the good stuff is. Stuff that will give us the best chance of not getting killed. ‘Cause hey, even if we do find a way home, I don’t want to go until we’ve rescued Imoen. And kicked that Irenicus guy’s ass.”
Joan turned away from the screen and looked across at Willow. She was gazing in rapt fascination at the screen of the other computer as Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan showed her the Pirate game in action.
“That is totally cool,” Willow enthused. “I wasn’t expecting it to be like this. See, I know the games companies have hundreds of people working for them, and budgets of, like, millions of dollars, and I thought, well, something that three guys put together in a basement is going to, uh, suck. But hey, this is just fantastic. I guess it’s the magic, huh?”
“Yeah, it is,” Warren admitted. “Without that, well, this would be pretty basic. Not much more than stick figures moving on a flat background. We could do it all ourselves, I think, but to get it this good would take us ten years. Maybe longer.” He glanced across the room and noticed Joan looking at them. “How are your other selves getting on?”
“They seem to be pretty content where they are,” Joan replied. “Even me. Buffy.” She grinned. “It is just totally confusing there being two of me.”
“Hey, worse for me,” Willow said, “seeing as there’s just the one name for the two of us. Of me.”
“It was pretty much only Buffy who wanted to come back,” Jonathan said. “If she’s okay with being there now maybe we don’t need to do anything.”
“I guess,” Joan agreed. “It’s just, well, Buffy is talking about taking on more dangerous monsters just to get cool stuff. I hope they’ll be okay.”
“They’re pretty tough,” Jonathan said. “They should be able to handle anything they come up against. At least until they get to Spellhold.”
“It’s where Irenicus has Imoen prisoner,” Warren said. “There’s a maze there that is pretty dangerous. And Irenicus pulled a move that caught us by surprise when they made it there the last time.”
“The last time?”
“We had to reload,” Jonathan said. “Anya kept getting killed and we had to go back three weeks to give them a chance to do things differently.”
“Anya kept getting killed?” Joan’s mouth turned down at the corners. “I don’t like the sound of that. Maybe we ought to pull them out after all.”
“But we only have the one set of bodies,” Willow reminded her. “I guess it wouldn’t be so bad for me, ‘cause the other Willow and Tara are together just like we are here, but hey, you would have some pretty different memories to handle. It might be, uh, you could end up being like a completely different person.”
Joan sighed. “Well, yeah, I don’t want to do that, but I don’t want the other set of us to end up dead either.”
Jonathan looked down at his shoes. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“Hey, there’s no call to panic,” Warren said. “We can leave things alone for now. As long as we have saved games to go back to then there’s still time to change things.”
“I guess.” Joan stood up. “I gotta go meet Randy for patrol. I’ll see you Saturday at the party, guys.”
“Your idea has much merit, Buffy,” Sorkatani agreed. “There is much knowledge that would be of use to us within the volumes written by learned men. In truth I would enjoy spending time in the company of books once more. The feel of their bindings, their very smell, is a comfort to me.”
Giles nodded appreciatively. “I feel the same way,” he said.
“And yet it seems that there is always some more pressing task,” Sorkatani continued. “I owe Renal Bloodscalp of the Shadow Thieves a debt of honor, and I must repay it by carrying out a task for him soon, and now a message has come from Mazzy Fentan. She seeks our aid against a peril that threatens her home town.”
“Does this peril dwell in the wilderness?” Jaheira asked.
“She believes so,” Sorkatani confirmed.
“I would welcome an expedition into the wilds,” Jaheira said. “We spend too much time in the city for my taste.”
“So maybe we should split up again,” Buffy suggested. “Only, I’m not so good at the wilderness thing.”
Sorkatani frowned. “It is I that must repay the Bloodscalp,” she said.
“Hey, I can get by in the woods if I have Jaheira with me,” Buffy said. “And Minsc, ‘cause hey, Ranger. They can tell me what mushrooms not to eat and stuff.”
Sorkatani sucked in one cheek, and then the other, and tilted her head to one side. “I agree. I shall stay here and carry out the task for the Bloodscalp. Yoshimo must be with me, for he too is indebted to the Shadow Thieves, and his skills will be of great value to me.”
“I take it that you intend to investigate the libraries after you have completed this task?” Giles enquired.
“Indeed. Also there are libraries within the Thieves Guild, of a specialized nature, and my service to the Bloodscalp would gain me access to them.” Sorkatani pursed her lips and nodded.
Giles raised an eyebrow. “A specialized nature?”
“Guides to the locations of treasures and the guardians that protect them,” Yoshimo said. He grinned widely. “Exactly what you seek.”
“Hmm. Yes.” Giles pushed his glasses firmly home on the bridge of his nose. “That does sound particularly relevant. I suggest, then, that I should be part of Sorkatani’s group.” He raised his head and looked directly at Jaheira. “Much as I would like to spend more time in the company of certain other members of our band.”
Jaheira lowered her eyes briefly and then lifted her head and met Giles’ eyes. “There will be time enough on future adventures,” she said.
A smirk spread across Spike’s face but he refrained from comment. “Think I’ll tag along with Tani, if that’s okay,” he said. “Not really a wilderness sort of bloke. More of a city boy.”
Giles pursed his lips and muttered to himself. “Hmm. Yes. ‘Just a city boy’. Unfortunately ‘born and raised in South Detroit’ won’t really have any resonance for a local audience. Perhaps I could come up with an alternative.”
“Uh, Giles, you’re making the kind of sense that’s not,” Buffy said.
“Oh, sorry, my dear. I was woolgathering. I am still planning future performances and Spike’s comment triggered a thought. I must try to fit in some rehearsal time into our schedule.”
“I shall be of this group, then,” Viconia announced. “Shall we invite the hargluk to accompany us?”
Sorkatani nodded. “I have no objections. A mission for the Shadow Thieves is likely to be more to Korgan’s taste than to that of our paladin.”
“Okay, so Xander comes with me,” Buffy said. “And I guess Anya will want to be with him, which gives me one thief-type, and I think I should have Dawnie this time, ‘kay? Anomen will want to be on my team. Okay, now we’re cooking with, uh, charcoal?”
“Clem’s a movie actor,” Willow explained. “It takes six hours in make-up to get the costume and prosthetics done, and he’s on set tomorrow afternoon, so he’s keeping it on tonight.”
“Cool.” The pretty girl student nodded appreciatively. She was shorter even than Buffy, probably less than five feet tall without her heels, and she tilted her head back as she looked up at the demon’s face. “It looks totally real. What’s the movie?”
“Uh, ‘Men in Black 2’,” Clem told her. “I’m one of the aliens in the Arrivals lounge.”
“Wow, way cool. You’re working with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Awesome.”
Clem shrugged. “I don’t get to meet the stars. But yeah, it’s cooler than a lot of jobs, and it pays okay considering that mostly I just stand around waiting. I did get to talk to Rip Torn for a while the other day.”
Andrew’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, that is so cool,” he sighed. “He’d be totally great as one of our voice actors. You think that maybe you could…”
Warren dragged him away before he could finish his sentence. “Are you nuts?” he hissed. “First, Rip Torn is a pro actor. He’s not gonna do a voice gig for a few bucks just ‘cause an extra asks him. We can’t afford pro prices. And second, Clem’s a demon, remember? The whole ‘movie extra’ thing is just a cover for him looking like, well, a demon, ‘cause some of the people here don’t know about the whole demon deal.”
Andrew pouted. “He still might be working on the movie.”
“Yeah, maybe, but just shut up about it for now, okay? Doofus.” Warren ran his fingers through his hair. “It was totally cool of Joan to invite us. We don’t pay her back by making waves, okay?”
“Okay,” Andrew mumbled.
Jonathan gazed at the girl, who was still talking to Clem, and drew in a deep breath. “She’s really pretty,” he said. “And she’s not that tall. You think maybe she might speak to me without just giving me the brush-off right away?”
“Yeah, go for it,” Warren urged. “She is kinda tiny. I wonder if that’s why the girls invited her? I haven’t noticed her hanging out with them before today. Okay, we don’t know all the people they know at college, but it’s a thought.”
“You mean, for me?” Jonathan shuffled his feet.
“I don’t see a boyfriend with her,” Warren said. “It could be. Go talk to her. What do you have to…?” His voice trailed off as he saw a pair of arriving guests being greeted by Joan at the door.
One of them was Katrina.
Buffy wrenched the druid’s arm up behind his shoulder with force enough to bring a gasp of pain from her captive’s lips. “I don’t like killing people,” she hissed, “but you guys are kinda making it hard for me not to. And hey, druids, I thought you were supposed to be the good guys? All peace and harmony with nature, like Tara and Jaheira, sorta thing. So what’s with the trying to kill everyone who comes through this place? And the whole sending animals to attack the town gig? ‘Cause let me tell you, so not the way to gain friends and influence people.”
“Your so-called civilization corrupts everything that it touches,” the druid snarled. “All who trespass in the glade must perish. This has been decreed by our leader Faldorn. The pristine wilderness must be preserved at all costs.”
“Pristine wilderness?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “The place is crawling with trolls! Like, that great big troll mound, with the bone struts and the oh-so-tasteful skull motif, is supposed to be some place of outstanding natural beauty? And hey, not seeing the whachacallit, ecological soundness, of creepy monsters that can’t be killed without fire. That kinda seems unfair to the bears as far as I’m concerned.”
“Faldorn?” Jaheira raised her eyebrows. “Faldorn of the Black Raven Uthgardt? I know her. She is of the order of Shadow Druids.”
“Shadow Druids?” Buffy’s eyebrows climbed in an apparent attempt to gain an altitude advantage over Jaheira’s. “Somehow that doesn’t make me think of hugs and puppies.”
Cernd, the delegate from the Council of High Druids who had met Buffy’s party in Trademeet and was accompanying them on this mission, drew himself erect and spoke in the manner of a lecturer. “The Shadow Druids have a distorted picture of the Balance. They would see all revert to wilderness. No cities, no towns, no farms, no mines. Humans would exist only as nomads. They will slay a man for felling a tree. They cannot accept that without human civilization all Faerun would fall to orcs, ogres, dragonkind, or even the drow, and their wilderness would be despoiled by mines and burnings and cities in any event. Humans can see reason and exercise restraint, if arguments are put to them in proper form, whereas the evil races know no restrictions. Faldorn is a heretic in our eyes.”
Buffy sighed. Cernd was amazingly good looking, and she’d been briefly interested enough in him when they met to have brought a few dark glowering frowns to Anomen’s face, but he was such a total wilderness nerd that he made Giles on the topic of books seem fascinating by comparison. “So, are we gonna have to fight her, or what?”
“Her views are extreme,” Jaheira said, “but I have spoken to her on friendly terms. I think that we may be able to reason with her.”
“The attacks on Trademeet must stop,” Mazzy put in. “I would prefer that it be through persuasion but, if we must fight, then so be it.”
“Yeah, that goes for me too,” Buffy said. She slackened her grip on the druid’s arm. “Okay, druid guy. Take us to your leader.”
Sorkatani scowled at the Red Wizard. “I like this not, Edwin,” she said. “I am no assassin.”
Edwin shrugged. “Your scruples are no concern of mine. Rayic Gethras is a threat to my life. Mae’Var has commanded that you obey me. If you are truly loyal to the Shadow Thieves then you must carry out this assignment. I can’t see why slaying a member of the Cowled Wizards would be a problem for the Perfect Warrior.”
“Warrior, not assassin,” Sorkatani stressed. “But you are right that I have no love for the Cowled Wizards. Yet I have no love for you either, Edwin, for you were an enemy of my friend Dynaheir.”
“She is dead, and not at my hand. What matters it now if I sought her death a year ago?” Edwin stroked his beard. “You have your orders. Obey them.”
“Whit’s yer problem, lassie?” Korgan grumbled. “Death an’ plunder. That’s whit adventuring is aye aboot, ye ken.”
Sorkatani sighed. “It is not my custom to attack those who have done me no harm. Yet I have no choice. Very well, Edwin, we shall slay this wizard for you.” She turned and led her followers from the room.
Once outside Giles drew close to Sorkatani. “Are you really going to kill this man? In cold blood?”
“No,” Sorkatani told him. “I will not do murder. I shall confront him and see what transpires. Perhaps he could be persuaded to leave the city for a time and let it seem that he is dead. There may be some other solution.”
“We should just kill Edwin,” Viconia suggested.
“It may yet come to that,” Sorkatani said. “But we have not yet found proof of Mae’Var’s treachery. Renal Bloodscalp cannot act against Mae’Var without that proof, lest he should start a feud between the two factions, and if we act precipitately we would make things worse.” She shook her head. “It will be long before we can settle down to browse peacefully through books of knowledge, I fear.”
“And before I can stand before the rivvin and sing,” Viconia said. “Sunshine on a rainy day, makes my soul, makes my soul, trip trip trip away…”
Giles grinned. “By George, I think she’s got it!”
The smile on Katrina’s face froze as she saw Warren. She turned her head and directed an angry gaze at Joan. “This is a set-up, right? I should have guessed, seeing as how we’ve met exactly once and have hardly any friends in common.”
Joan gave her a weak smile. “Okay, you got me. I’d kinda hoped to get you inside and sitting down with a drink before you saw Warren. But hey, come on in anyway. Stephanie knows Willow and Tara, so it’s not like you’re total strangers.”
Katrina spotted Alex over beside a table helping himself to a slice of pizza. “What is it with you people? What part of ‘I never want to see Warren ever again’ don’t you understand?”
“The part where you won’t even let him say ‘sorry’,” Joan told her. “I know he screwed up. I know he did something wrong. I can understand if you won’t ever get back together with him. But he’s our friend and he’s hurting. We have to try to help. At least let him apologize. Maybe he can get some kind of closure if you don’t just throw his words back in his face and shut him out.”
Katrina’s friend Stephanie was alternating her gaze between the party host and Katrina. Her forehead was creased in a frown. “What’s going on, Katrina?” she asked.
Tara had witnessed the altercation and hastened to the door. “Hi, Stephanie,” she greeted the girl, who had one class in common with her at college. “Come on in. Let me take your coat.” Stephanie, the bemused frown still on her face, handed her coat over by reflex.
Katrina turned her angry glare on her friend. “Well, I’m not staying here. Take your coat back, Stephanie.”
“Huh? I don’t see the problem, Kat,” Stephanie said. “I’m not going to insult Tara by walking out on her friend’s party ten seconds after we get here.”
At the other side of the room Rupert had observed the activity at the door. He picked up his guitar and slipped the strap over his neck. It was time to see if he could work something of the same magic as his other self in the computer world. A shame, he thought, that he was unable to call upon any actual magical assistance. He would have to rely upon the power of music and words alone.
“Hey, everybody,” Anya called out. “Rupert is going to entertain us with a song. You probably haven’t heard him play at the Espresso Pump but he’s a big favorite there. A little quiet, please.”
“Come on, Stephanie,” Katrina urged again. “Don’t make me walk out on my own looking like a loser.”
“Hey, hush up,” Stephanie said. “I’ve heard people talk about Rupert Giles. We don’t want to miss this.” She walked forwards. Tara smiled sweetly at Katrina and held out her hand for her coat.
Rupert’s fingers danced over the strings. The tune was familiar to many of the guests, even if only from their parents’ record collections and ‘I love the 80s’ on VH-1, and the buzz of conversation died away. Then Rupert began to sing.
“A lovestruck Romeo sings the streets a serenade,
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made,
Finds a convenient street lamp, steps out of the shade,
Says something like, ‘you and me babe, how about it?’…”
Katrina passed her coat to Tara without even realizing that she was doing so and took a step further into the room.
“Juliet says ‘hey, it's Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack’
He's underneath the window, she's singing ‘hey la my boyfriend's back
You shouldn't come around here singing up at people like that
And anyway what you gonna do about it?’…”
Katrina wrenched her gaze away from Rupert, clenched her teeth, and looked around for her coat. Tara had vanished.
“Juliet, the dice were loaded from the start
And I bet that you exploded into my heart
I forget, I forget the movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong?
Katrina’s mouth twitched. She sighed, shook her head, and a trace of a smile crept onto her lips. Joan tapped her shoulder and pointed to the table on which a selection of drinks was laid out. Katrina rolled her eyes but then shrugged and helped herself to a glass of white wine.
“Rayic Gethras?” Sorkatani called. “I would speak to you.”
No voice answered. Only two stone golems charging to the attack.
“Call off your guards, wizard,” Sorkatani shouted. “I wish only to talk.” She ducked under a swinging stone fist. “If you would save your creations then call them off.”
There was no reply. The other golem struck out at Korgan, who blocked the blow with his shield, and then struck out with his axe. Sorkatani gave up her attempt to call the wizard and drew Celestial Fury with her right hand and a mace with her left. Nalia sheathed her shortsword and took a two-handed grip on her staff. Giles struck out with his staff-spear, keeping the blade retracted, and hit Korgan’s opponent across the head. Viconia swung the Flail of Ages and dealt a golem a powerful blow. Spike and Yoshimo stood back and took no part in the fight.
Sorkatani didn’t need their help. Celestial Fury’s edge could do little damage against a stone golem but its magical stunning powers were fully functional. The golem froze in place and she hit it with the mace, sending a chip of stone flying, and then struck it again on the back-swing. Nalia hit it with her staff and Viconia belabored it with alternate blows from her flail and the Mauler’s Arm mace. Sorkatani pivoted, hit the other golem with Celestial Fury, and stunned that golem too. She returned her attention to her own opponent and left Korgan and Giles to pummel their helpless foe.
The shock effect wore off the first golem and it struck out once more. Sorkatani swayed aside from the blow and slashed Celestial Fury across its torso. There was no shock this time, but it mattered little, as a strike from Viconia’s mace had cracked an arm almost all the way through. The golem rocked under the hail of blows. Sorkatani smote it across the damaged arm and the crack widened. Viconia’s flail lashed down again and the golem’s arm parted company from the torso and fell to the floor. Seconds later the whole golem was nothing but rubble and the three women turned to join in the assault on Korgan’s opponent. It lasted mere moments against the whole party.
“This Gethras is no inviting host,” Sorkatani commented. “The door was open but there is no butler to receive guests. Instead there are mephits in the vestibule, golems on the second floor, and no response to our calls.”
Giles frowned. “The first floor, surely? Ah, your usage is the same as that of Americans.”
“Maybe this Gethras bloke has just popped out to the shops for a pint of milk,” Spike suggested. There had been no invisible barrier preventing him from entering the house without an invitation. The invite rule in this world seemed to operate somewhat erratically. Occasionally he would come up against it and slam into the mystical wall but every time he really needed to enter a dwelling the barrier was absent. It was puzzling, and he hadn’t yet worked out a rationale behind the variations to the rule, but he was more than happy to take advantage of it.
Sorkatani raised an eyebrow. “A wizard who has golems as servants would not go out himself on trivial errands. No, I suspect that he would find it amusing if an innocent visitor blundered into deadly peril. That he threatens Edwin proves nothing, for I would threaten Edwin myself if our mission did not preclude it, but this reception causes me to believe that Gethras is no innocent. At best he is negligent.”
“You barge uninvited into my home and you presume to criticize me?” The voice that came from the staircase was almost a sneer. “Leave now and perhaps I shall spare your miserable lives.” The wizard began to descend the stairs as he spoke. He wore the traditional brown robes of a Cowled Wizard and bore a quarterstaff. “Or perhaps I shall take payment for my destroyed golems out of your hides.” He halted a few steps short of the bottom of the stairs and looked down upon the room.
“Rayic Gethras, we must speak with you,” Sorkatani said. “We called out as we entered but you did not answer. We do not seek conflict. Your golems attacked and we did but defend ourselves.”
“I care not,” Gethras said. His facial expressions were obscured by the cowl but his sudden indrawn breath was clearly audible. “Is that armor of dragon scales that I spy? I shall take it as payment for my golems.”
“You can take it only from my dead body, yeunn rivvil,” Viconia snarled.
A sardonic smile was visible under the cowl. “That can be arranged.” His fingers moved and a shimmering veil obscured his body. “Vuur –” He began to utter an arcane phrase but it was chopped off short as powerful hands closed on his ankles and jerked hard. Spike popped out of invisibility as he dragged the wizard from the staircase. Gethras yelped in pain as his head collided with the steps and then the floor.
Sorkatani raced forward and slashed with Celestial Fury. The enchanted blade bounced from the wizard’s body without piercing his skin. Korgan’s axe fared no better.
“Protection from Magical Weapons,” Nalia deduced. “I can pierce it but it will take time.”
“No need, pet,” Spike assured her. He released the wizard’s ankles and seized Gethras by the arms instead. “I’ve got it covered.”
“Stay invisible, Yoshimo,” Sorkatani ordered. “Yield or die, Gethras. You have earned your death but I will spare you if you give me information about Spellhold.”
“I yield,” Gethras gasped. “Release me.”
Sorkatani nodded to Spike. The vampire released his grip and stepped back slightly.
The wizard’s hand darted to a pouch and he started an invocation. “Adumbrat–” was as much as he managed to say before Spike shot forward with unexpected speed and seized him by the throat. The crushing grip held the wizard immobile and able only to gurgle incoherently and scrabble at Spike’s arms with feeble fingers.
Spike lifted Gethras up until his feet came clear of the ground. “Got any further use for this wanker, Tani?”
The Perfect Warrior stared at Gethras with eyes that held no mercy. “Faithless one, you yielded and then recanted. The offer of quarter is withdrawn.” She nodded to Spike. “Kill him.”
“Hey, Clem, are you really in ‘Men in Black 2’?” Jonathan asked. “I, uh, know about the demon thing.”
Clem’s droopy ears twitched upwards and then flopped limp once more. “It was all true except for the part about shooting tomorrow,” he revealed. “The shooting’s finished, as far as I know, and it’s in post-production.”
“Wow, cool.” Jonathan took a sip from a can of beer. “Uh, Clem, you were a friend of Spike before they, uh, lost their memories, right? How come it didn’t all go wrong? I mean, the Slayer might have, uh, staked you without figuring out that you’re one of the good guys.”
The ears twitched up and down again. “I guess that could have happened,” Clem said. “Brrr! Not a good thought. I bumped into them when they were on patrol and I noticed they were acting kinda strange. Well, I just thought maybe they’d had a quarrel or something, and I asked Spike if he wanted to watch the ‘Knight Rider’ marathon that was gonna be on later, and then he said something like ‘uh, do we know you?’ and I knew that something was wrong. But it worked out okay. I showed Spike where he lived, and later I helped him out when he had a bit of trouble with the Slayer, and we got to be friends all over again. And the Slayer’s a great girl when you get to know her.” He glanced around and then lowered his voice slightly. “In fact Joan’s nicer than Buffy ever was, you know?”
“Maybe,” Jonathan said. He had admired Buffy from afar, and she had saved his life more than once, but he had to admit that being an actual friend of Joan was pretty cool. He took another sip from his beer and then moved on to the topic that really interested him. “Uh, that girl you were talking to earlier? The, uh, short one?”
“Lisa? Nice girl. Her skin is too tight, of course, but that’s the same with all your species.”
“I guess. Uh, did she say how old she is? I mean, she looks like she’s around my age, but it just struck me that maybe she’s one of Dawn’s friends. Umad. Whatever.”
Clem opened a can of beer and poured some out into a paper cup. “You know, ‘dawn’ isn’t really ‘umad’ if you turn it upside down,” he digressed. “That necklace she has now, well, if she reads that one upside down she’d end up calling herself ‘pawn’, and that could be sorta misconstrued. Oh, yeah, Lisa. No, she’s a student at UC Sunnydale. Are you, well, interested?”
“I might be,” Jonathan admitted. “Uh, did she say what she was doing? I’d kinda like to try to talk to her, only, well, it would be nice to have something in common other than just, uh, being short. Like, ‘hi, I’m short, I see that you’re short too,’ maybe wouldn’t go down too well.”
“Mostly we talked about movies,” Clem told him. “The ‘Men in Black’ movies, of course, and ‘Galaxy Quest’, and ‘Pitch Black’, and the ‘Star Wars’ series. Only she thinks that ‘The Phantom Menace’ kinda sucked.”
Jonathan smiled. He scanned the room to locate Lisa and stood up. “Thanks, Clem, nice talking to you,” he said. “I think I’m in love.”
Faldorn didn’t look like a villain. She was an attractive woman who was probably in her mid twenties, with black hair and blue eyes, and there were laughter lines at the corners of her mouth. She reminded Buffy slightly of Jenny Calendar, at least as far as looks went, but as Buffy listened to the hatred that spewed forth from the druid’s mouth she became extremely glad that Giles wasn’t there to hear it.
“You are just plain nuts,” Buffy told Faldorn. She shook her head. “You think you can wipe out the towns by making animals attack them? That is just dumb. Come on, when we arrived in Trademeet we saw an attack in progress, and the animals killed, like, two of the guards, but there were animal bodies up to here. Call that protecting nature? I call it being a whacko nut-job.”
“You need help,” Tara said. “There’s something wrong with your aura.”
“Silence!” Faldorn snapped. “Only druids have the right to speak here.”
“Then I shall speak,” Jaheira spoke up. “My comrades are right, Faldorn. We knew each other once, and you were not like this. Your war in the Cloakwood was just. What you do here is not just at all. It is misguided to the point of insanity. You will bring death and destruction to these glades and to your comrades.”
“They are my followers, not my comrades,” Faldorn said. “They may die in my service, but it will be a worthy death, for a true cause. Nature must be preserved.”
“Not at the cost of many lives,” Jaheira said, “and not on a fool’s quest that has no hope of success. Abandon this deluded battle. The High Lord of Trademeet is a reasonable man. I am sure that he would bar his citizens from intruding on this grove in exchange for an end to the war. Otherwise you will all perish.”
“So you say, false druid,” Faldorn sneered. “You have forgotten the power of nature.”
“I have forgotten nothing!” Jaheira snapped. “You know not what you face, Faldorn. We alone could slay you all with little difficulty. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more than a match for any ten of your druids.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Buffy said. “I will if I have to, but hey, I’m a Vampire Slayer. Let’s just call the whole thing off, okay? Stop the war.” The corner of her mouth twisted. “I wish Sorkatani was here. She can talk to people better than I can, I guess.”
“Sorkatani? The Perfect Warrior?” Faldorn snorted. “A creature of evil. I should have killed her in the Cloakwood.”
“Hush your lying mouth, woman,” Minsc rumbled. “Do not call Sorkatani evil or you will have Minsc and Boo to deal with.”
Willow bit back her own angry retort. “Good thing Spike and Viconia aren’t here,” she muttered to Tara, “or the fighting would start right here and now.”
“Oh, I’m trembling in my boots, oafish excuse for a Ranger,” Faldorn said. “I shall not back down. While I am the Great Druid the attacks upon the corrupt city of Trademeet shall continue unless all of us are slain. And only another druid can depose me, by defeating me in combat, according to the ancient ways. No armor, no weapons but a simple staff and our wits.” She stared at Jaheira. “Will you challenge me, then, Harper? To the death?”
“I do not seek your death unless there is no other way, Faldorn,” Jaheira said.
“Oh? Is it not that you fear to face me without the protection of your dragon scales and your shield and weapons of steel?”
Jaheira flushed. She opened her mouth to utter a reply but Cernd preempted her. “That is why I am here, Shadow Druid,” he declared. “The Council of High Druids has sent me to remove you. If your death is necessary for that purpose then so be it. But first let me warn you that you cannot hope to win against me in the battle circle. Relinquish your position and there is no need for you to die.”
“Insolent puppy!” Faldorn snapped. “I shall face you in ritual combat. Prepare yourself for death.” She turned and walked away towards a sunken pit surrounded by a stone circle.
Buffy frowned. Cernd had fought alongside them as they had made their way to the grove and he had not impressed her all that much. Neither his combat skills nor his spell-casting had struck her as anything special and she had assessed him as much less formidable than Jaheira. “Are you sure about this, Cernd?” she asked. “Uh, you’re not exactly Conan the Barbarian. Not that he’ll mean anything to you, I guess. What I mean is, uh, are you that good in a fight?”
Cernd looked into her eyes and nodded calmly. “Oh, yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In such combat, with no weapons but a plain wooden staff, I cannot lose.”
Jaheira frowned. “She will turn into a panther or bear, I would guess, for that is what I would do in her place. How are you so sure that you will win?”
“It is simple,” Cernd revealed. “I’m a werewolf.”
Lisa cocked her head to one side. A wrinkle appeared between her eyebrows. “How come I look at you and I think ‘The Matrix’?” she asked.
Jonathan licked his lips nervously. “I, uh, I was an extra,” he said. “I was just in a couple of crowd scenes. Only, uh, when Keanu Reeves was beside me it made him look, well, really tall, so a couple of shots with me in them were on some of the publicity stills. I guess it kinda stuck in people’s minds, ‘cause a lot of people say that.”
“Oh, that is so cool,” Lisa enthused.
“Not really,” Jonathan said. He was pleased that his explanation for the lingering after-effects of his self-enhancement spell had been accepted, but he didn’t want to become involved in any complicated lies that would inevitably end in humiliating exposure. “It was only for two days, I didn’t get to speak to anybody famous, and I cut class to do it and got into trouble. I don’t even remember much about it any more. Tell me about yourself. That’s bound to be more interesting.”
“Gethras is dead, Edwin,” Sorkatani told the Red Wizard.
Edwin raised an eyebrow. “No tokens of proof?”
“I do not lie,” Sorkatani said.
“Could stick my fingers down my throat and puke his blood up over your shoes,” Spike offered.
Edwin wrinkled his nose. “That will not be necessary. I know that the Perfect Warrior is no liar.” He rummaged in his pocket and produced a key. “I also know that she would not work for vermin such as Mae’Var unless compelled by dire necessity. You seek to prove that Mae’Var is disloyal to the Shadow Thieves, do you not?”
“My loyalties lie with the Shadow Thieves and not to Mae’Var himself,” Sorkatani said.
“An admirably cautious choice of words. But have no fear. I have no loyalty to him whatsoever. He offered me protection from Rayic Gethras, that is all, and now I have no need of that protection.” Edwin held the key out to Sorkatani. “This is the key to Mae’Var’s document chest. If there is proof of his deeds it will be there.”
Sorkatani accepted the key but frowned. “What do you ask in return, Edwin?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “I know that you always repay your debts. Having you indebted to me will suffice very well.” He twined a strand of his beard around a finger. “I would be willing to join your little band, oh warrior. I believe I shall shortly be unemployed and in need of a position. You have need of a wizard like me, well, not that there is any other wizard like me. Certainly this dilettante noblewoman dabbling in thievery and magic is a completely inadequate substitute.”
“Dilettante? Dabbler?” Nalia glared at Edwin. “How dare you?”
“Perhaps you may be more skilled than Nalia,” Sorkatani conceded. “Or you may not. You will not be more skilled than Willow. I have no need of you, Edwin, and I have better things to do than to waste my time and energies on preventing Minsc from killing you. Leave us.”
“Very well,” Edwin said. “Remember, though, that you owe me a debt. And, if you ever come across documents called the Nether Scrolls, call me. I would regard them as full payment.”
“An unpleasant man, I thought,” Giles remarked, after Edwin had departed.
“Aye, a sleekit bastard,” Korgan agreed.
“Indeed,” Sorkatani said. “I hope that our paths do not cross again. But perhaps it has been worthwhile.” She held up the key. “If the box does indeed contain the proofs that we seek then we can kill Mae’Var and go home. We may yet get a chance to investigate the libraries, and for you to practice your songs, before Buffy returns from Trademeet.”
Warren sat alone. Not that he’d been alone for very long, but just at this moment Andrew was talking to Clem, Jonathan to Lisa, and Alex was engaged in animated conversation with Katrina’s friend Stephanie. Umad was giggling in a corner with a couple of her school friends, Randy and Joan were bickering over the music, Willow and Tara were talking to a couple who Warren didn’t know, and Rupert was flipping through a song book while Anya hovered over him and glowered at any female who came close. Warren leaned over to deposit his empty plate onto the floor beside his chair and when he sat up again he found himself looking straight at Katrina.
“Hello, Warren,” she addressed him. There was no smile on her face but her tone was neutral rather than hostile.
“Uh, h-hello,” he replied. He started to rise to his feet, almost spilled his beer, and sat down again. “Katrina.”
Her eyebrows twitched and a crease appeared in her forehead. “Considering the effort that your friends put in to get me here, and to stop me walking out, I’m surprised that you haven’t even spoken to me.”
“The last time we met you made it quite clear that you didn’t want to ever speak to me again,” Warren said. “I didn’t know they were going to do this, Katrina. I would have told them not to. I – seeing you, knowing you hate me, it just hurts too much.”
“Joan – and just what is the deal with that, anyway, I thought her name was Buffy? – said that all you want is a chance to apologize. Well, okay, Warren, you can have that chance. Staying away from me tonight has earned you that much.”
Warren lowered his glass to the ground and clasped his hands together. “I can’t. I got you hurt. I was stupid and dumb and I wish I hadn’t, and yeah, I’m sorry, but I can’t apologize enough.” His brow furrowed as he strained to remember words from the Dire Straits’ song that Rupert had performed when Katrina arrived at the party. He couldn’t get them exactly right but he improvised. “I can’t do the talk like the talk on the TV. I can’t do a love song like, uh, Rupert can. I can’t do what it takes but I’d do anything for you. I can’t do anything except be in love with you. And all I do is miss you and the way we used to be. If I could sing it I would, Katrina. But I know that it wouldn’t do any good.”
Katrina’s eyes opened very wide. She raised her glass to her lips and gulped at it. “That was, uh, that was totally stolen from Dire Straits,” she said.
Warren spread his hands. “You got me, but then, words aren’t my thing. It says what I want to say.”
“And the end?” Katrina challenged him. “Were you going to go on to say ‘you and me babe, how about it?’, Warren?”
Warren folded his hands again. “I don’t have the right. I know that.”
Katrina’s eyebrows climbed. “You have changed. And you never used to have friends like these. The way they back you up, and, well, they are pretty nice. I don’t think anyone would have gone out of their way for you before, not the way they have. I, well, maybe the ‘never’ might not be a total ‘never’.” She raised her hand with the palm towards him. “Don’t say anything else. Not now. Let me think about things. I’ll e-mail you. Goodbye, Warren. For now.”
Dawn’s grin was so wide that it seemed almost to split her face in half. “Statues of us! That is just so awesome. Saviors of the town. Cool to the max. I so have to show Spike. Hey, if only we could have brought a camera!”
“Uh, I think it’s kinda, well, tacky,” Buffy muttered.
“Me too,” Tara said in an equally low voice.
“Ah, we are all heroes,” Minsc boomed out happily. “It is good that our great deeds have received such recognition. See, they have even shown Boo! There is his little nose peeking out.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Xander agreed.
“Yes, but the financial reward is more practical,” Anya said. “I think a visit to the local shops would be in order.”
Buffy gazed at the statues and frowned. “Hey, there isn’t one of Mazzy.”
“I told the High Lord to omit me,” the halfling warrior explained. “I live here. It would be a little embarrassing to have my statue in the town square.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” Buffy said. “Okay, guys, the shops are calling our names.”
“Excuse me, your ladyship,” a townswoman addressed her, “I implore you to help me.”
“And the shops are gonna have to wait,” Buffy said. “A hero’s work is never done. Okay, lady, what’s your problem?”
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 performed by Rupert Giles in this chapter, and paraphrased by Warren Meers, are taken from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Dire Straits and were written by Mark Knopfler. Lyrics sung by Viconia are from ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ by Zoë Pollock.