Previous Chapters are HERE (and you may well need to take a look at them after such a long break). Or at least at the chapter immediately preceding this one, Chapter Thirty-six.
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.
Riley’s face remained impassive as he listened to Warren’s pleas. “You might as well save your breath. You don’t get any say in this. No phone call, no lawyer, no appeal.”
Warren shook his head. “This is America, man, not friggin’ Myanmar. What the fuck happened to the Free World?”
“Nine-eleven happened,” Riley said. “Terrorists don’t have any rights.”
“Look, dude, I’m designing a friggin’ computer game about pirates on the Spanish Main. In what Bizarro world does that make me a terrorist?”
“Your associate was caught red-handed,” Riley pointed out. “Just shut up. I’m not interested in excuses and lies.”
“Buffy knows all about it,” Jonathan put in. “Call Buffy. Please?”
“I didn’t mean any harm,” Andrew quavered. “I didn’t tell Warren and Jonathan what I was doing. I wanted the money to be a surprise.”
Riley turned towards Andrew and frowned. “You’re not trying to tell me that Buffy knew about your demon egg trading?”
Andrew’s forehead creased up. “I never said that. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t going to say a thing until I could show Warren the two thousand bucks. I thought he’d be really pleased and say how clever and useful I’d been.”
“I was gonna borrow some cash from Rupert, you dumbass,” Warren groaned. “Why didn’t you just stick to writing the dialogue for the female character version like I friggin’ asked you to?”
“Buffy knows about the computer game,” Jonathan clarified his earlier statement. “And Willow knows too.”
“It can’t do any harm to check with them,” the woman in black suggested. “Although those are not pirates,” she added, gesturing towards the medieval castle displayed on the monitor, “so there’s a hole in Mister Meers’ story right there.”
“The pirates are on the other computer,” Warren explained. “That’s Baldur’s Gate 2. We started out by doing mods for it and used what we learned in creating our own game. Hey, we’re getting feedback on the mods, and people are talking about them on Usenet. I could show you.”
Riley looked at the woman. “Hey, Sam, can you make any sense at all out of what he’s yammering on about?”
Sam’s teeth showed as she gave a broad smile. “You never were a nerd, were you, Rye? Yeah, it makes sense to me. Okay, kid, show me this feedback. Don’t try anything clever. If you erase even one file you won’t like what will happen.”
“Erase?” Warren grinned. “I don’t ever want to erase it. I want to have it carved on my tombstone.” His grin faded away as he remembered that there was a silenced sub-machine gun trained on him and his tombstone could be considerably nearer in his future than he would like. He made no sudden moves as he returned to his own computer, opened Outlook Express, and went to Read News.
Riley took out a cell phone and dialed. “Buffy? Yeah. Look, you know anything about some guys called Andrew Wells, Warren Meers, and – yeah? No, I won’t. They – no. We caught Andrew storing the eggs. He – Yes. That’s what he said. They say that you know all about their computers. I was going to take – hey! I – okay, okay. I won’t touch anything. Yes. Okay, okay. Right, see you when you get here.” He frowned as he put the phone away. “Well, I guess you must be telling the truth about some things. She would hardly let me get a word in.” He raised his eyebrows as he turned towards Sam. “She was pretty insistent that we mustn’t do anything with the computers.”
Warren grinned again. “Way to go, Joan,” he said. Jonathan’s grin mirrored Warren’s. Even Andrew adopted a rather shaky smile.
“Joan? Yeah, what is with that anyway?” Riley’s eyebrows crawled downwards.
Warren shrugged. “Don’t ask me,” he said. “Most of the hippies’ kids with dumb names have changed over to, like, boring normal ones. Maybe she felt like doing the same.” He opened up alt.games.baldurs-gate, moving the mouse slowly and not clicking until Sam had had the chance to observe what he was doing, and selected a thread. He read the post and, despite the situation, a beaming smile spread over his face. “Wow. Way cool. Hey, Jonathan, there’s a totally awesome review from Speaker-to-Customers.”
“Anything from Htn963?” Jonathan asked.
“Not that I’ve seen yet,” said Warren. “but dude, you have to read what Speaker says. And the reply from Barbarian X. We so rock!”
Jonathan stood up and began to head for the computer. Riley barred his path. “Have you guys forgotten that you are under arrest?” the agent snapped.
Jonathan recoiled. “Uh, yeah,” he confessed. He sat down again and hunched up his shoulders.
A deep furrow appeared between Riley’s eyebrows. “Htn963? Speaker-to-Customers? Code names? It seems pretty suspicious to me.”
“No, just a bunch of nerds,” Sam contradicted him. “Gamers. This message is talking about how cool it is that the mod – I guess that would mean ‘modification’ in this context, rather than ‘moderator’ – lets characters use spears as a one-handed weapon with a shield instead of having to be used two-handed. I think they’re telling the truth.” A crinkle showed between her eyebrows. “Is that right? The standard game has spears as two-handed? That’s dumb. What about Greek hoplites? Oh, yeah, that’s exactly what this guy says. And Zulus.”
“That’s just what I said,” Warren agreed. He was still smiling. “Oh, Jonathan, dude, you just have to read this. He finishes off with ‘Bayete, Tr0ika, I salute you!’ Way cool.”
“I’ll read it just as soon as people stop pointing guns at me,” Jonathan replied.
Warren’s smile faded away. “Oh, yeah. Look, guys, will you stop it?”
Riley scratched his head. “I got to admit that you just don’t act like any terrorists I’ve ever heard of. I mean, you’re acting like this whole thing isn’t even important if we don’t keep reminding you.”
“Well yeah, dude, it isn’t important,” Warren said. “Like, we know that we’re innocent. I’m just scared you’re gonna mess with the computers and wreck months of hard work.”
“I’m inclined to believe them, Rye,” Sam put in. “They’re just too oblivious to the trouble they might be in not to be genuine.”
Riley’s brow wrinkled. “You have a point. I’ll see what Buffy has to say.” His head swung towards Andrew. “But this guy isn’t innocent.”
“Yes he is,” Jonathan spoke up. “He’s only guilty of being a moron.”
“Hey!” Andrew protested. His head sank as everyone joined Riley in staring at him. “Okay, yeah, you got a point. I just didn’t think, guys.”
Warren rolled his eyes. “You’re damn right. Nobody pays two thousand bucks for an easy job unless there’s something wrong with it. If the government takes the computers away because of this I’m gonna friggin’ strangle you, dude.”
“And I’ll hold your arms while he does it,” Jonathan added.
“It’s not my fault,” Andrew whined. “I only wanted to help.”
“Shut up, all of you,” Riley ordered. “You’re giving me a headache. You can all go and read that thing on the Internet that’s gotten you all excited. Just don’t touch anything without Sam’s say-so and stop with the damn bickering. Buffy should be here soon. If she backs up your story then maybe, just maybe, we might let you go.”
“That’s not quite up to your usual standard, Giles,” Xander commented. “It just doesn’t have the beat. Some kinda, whatcha call it, avant garde rock?”
Giles looked over the rim of his glasses at Xander. “I’m tuning it. As I’m sure you’re very well aware. One of the strings was becoming rather worn and I’ve had to replace it.” He sighed. “Tuning isn’t easy with these wooden pegs instead of a machine head.”
“How come there’s an empty one?” Xander asked.
“Because this instrument is supposed to have seven strings,” Giles explained, “and I can only play with six. I have to leave a blank slot, and tune the others to cover, and it puts rather a strain on them. Therefore I have placed a special order for an instrument constructed to my own specifications. With any luck it will be ready by the time we get back to the city.” His lips pursed. “I hope that it works out. Perhaps I’m foolish to place too much hope in a gnome who was never seen a genuine guitar. Still, he appeared to be a gifted craftsman, and my instructions were quite specific. I’m fairly confident.”
“So, another invention that we’re introducing to this place, huh?” Xander grinned. “In all the sci-fi books it’s things like, well, gunpowder that the space travelers bring to the primitive planets. We’re more into the clothing and entertainment side. The bra, fancy hats, rock and roll, and now the six-string guitar.”
“Yes, not exactly Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, is it?” Giles agreed. “They do have gunpowder here, you know. The gnomes use it. It doesn’t give them an edge against longbows and fireball spells, as it happens, and I don’t really think that the other races would be all that interested. Especially as I have very little idea of the formula, other than that it contains saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal, and I doubt if any of the rest of us know the specifics either.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s a bit more complicated than Captain Kirk made it look in that episode where he was dumped on that planet with the lizard guy and they had to fight it out,” Xander agreed. “So, no gunpowder. But maybe I could show this world comic books. They have printing presses, right? Or, hey, how about I teach them about chewing gum?”
Giles shuddered. “I think that they should be spared that particular innovation.” He tweaked the tuning peg slightly and played a note. “Ah, I think that’s it.” He played a series of notes across all the strings and smiled. “Yes, that will do for now.” He began to lower the guitar to the side of his chair.
“Play something for me,” Jaheira requested. “Perhaps the song that you sang in the Copper Coronet to bring me cheer after I returned from the dead?”
Giles’ brow wrinkled. “Certainly, my dear. If I can remember which song that was.”
“It told me to ‘live it up’,” Jaheira reminded him.
“Oh, yeah, the song that was in ‘Crocodile Dundee’,” Xander put in. “Yeah, play that one, Giles.” Anya nodded her agreement.
Giles stood up, put one foot on his chair, brought the guitar into position and began to strum out chords. “How can you see looking through those tears”, he sang.
“Don't you know you're worth your weight in gold
I can't believe that you're alone in here
Let me warm your hands against the cold...”
Sorkatani entered, accompanied by Yoshimo and by the castle seneschal, as Giles was halfway through the verse. She opened her mouth to speak but then changed her mind. She stood in silence, smiling slightly and tapping one foot to the beat, until the song finished. “I am sorry but I have news that will spoil the mood,” she announced then, her smile gone. “An army is heading for the castle, equipped with siege engines, and it seems that we will shortly be under attack.”
“Siege engines?” Xander gulped.
“Must be Tuesday,” Buffy commented.
Sorkatani’s brow wrinkled. “Shoes day? What do shoes have to do with it?”
“For Buffy, every day is shoes day,” Dawn muttered.
“Oh, yeah, your days don’t have names,” Buffy said. “Forget it. So, an army, huh?”
“Several hundred men, I am told,” Sorkatani expanded. “Perhaps approaching a thousand.”
“I think we got trouble,” Xander said.
“No matter what their numbers, the forces of Evil cannot prevail against true heroes,” Minsc’s deep voice rumbled.
“And there may well not be that many,” Giles said. “People often exaggerate. Who told you about this army?”
“A party of travelers arrived here a few minutes ago,” the castle major-domo explained. “They said that they were alarmed by the sight of the army and sought shelter.”
Minsc cocked his head to one side for a moment and his eyebrows lowered. “Boo says,” he boomed, “a castle is a stupid place to hide from siege engines.”
Sorkatani raised her hand and smacked herself in the forehead with the heel of her palm. “He’s right,” she said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“You would have done in time, I am sure, Jabbress,” Yoshimo assured her. “It did not strike me as strange either until Minsc spoke.” He cocked his head towards the giant ranger. “Our companion has a directness that the rest of us lack.”
“I should have spotted it at once,” Sorkatani grumbled. “Such stupidity could get us killed.”
Xander frowned. “I don’t get it,” he confessed. “Okay, so it might be dumb to shelter in a castle if you’re scared of an army with ladders and those catapult things, yeah, but what’s the big deal? People do dumb things when they’re scared.”
“They may well be a fifth column,” Giles informed him.
Xander’s brow remained furrowed for a moment and then cleared as he placed the term and realized what Giles meant. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I get it.”
The expression confused the Faerûn natives rather than clarifying things. “A what?” asked Sorkatani and Jaheira simultaneously.
“Spies and saboteurs on the inside helping the attackers,” Anya explained, beating Giles to it. “”In one of the wars on our world a rebel General claimed that he had four columns of troops approaching a city and a fifth column of sympathizers hidden within.” A fond smile spread over her face. “Good times. Sun, sangria, and plenty of vengeance.”
“Exactly,” Sorkatani said. “It is odd how some words do not translate between your language and ours.”
“Like Shoesday,” Buffy agreed. “Uh, Tuesday.”
“Words based on specific places and events,” Giles added. “This could be a little problem in a few songs, for instance ‘fancy French cologne’ in Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’. I must find out the local equivalents, or substitute generic terms. I’m already working on a revamp of Journey’s…”
Jaheira cut him off just as Buffy’s eye-roll was about to generate potentially dangerous levels of centrifugal force. “Hush, a’mael,” she said, laying a hand upon his arm. “We have more urgent matters to consider. Such as an approaching army and this ‘fifth column’.”
Dawn’s sharp teenage ears pricked up. “A’mael? I don’t know that one.”
Jaheira’s cheeks became tinged with color. “It is my own mother tongue, Tal’Quessir, not the drow language,” she explained, but offered no translation. “Jabbress, what shall we do about the infiltrators?”
“I suppose that it is possible that they are genuine travelers who, as Xander suggested, might simply be very stupid,” Sorkatani replied. “We cannot attack them, or throw them into the cells, without proof. If they are assassins Xander’s ability to detect evil may be helpful. Otherwise… Tara, Anomen, do either of you have Detect Lie prepared?”
“Alas, no, my lady,” said Anomen.
“Afraid not,” Tara said. “What about Viconia?”
“She and Spike lie yet abed,” Sorkatani replied.
“Yeah, they’re vithing their brains out,” Dawn muttered, but not quietly enough to go unheard.
“Dawn!” Buffy snapped.
“Dawn!” Tara scolded. “That’s not how you form the indicative in Ilythiiri.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Nind phuul vithin huend nind karliiken vir'ed,” she said clearly and precisely.
“They are – boinking – until their heads explode,” Tara translated. “Very good, Dawn.”
Conflicting expressions writhed across Buffy’s face. Dawn swearing was Bad; Dawn learning correct grammar in a foreign language was Education, and thus Good. She abandoned the struggle. “Whatever. Anyway, somebody better go drag them out. Apart from the ‘Detect Lie’ thing, if we have to fight a whole army we’re gonna need everybody.”
“Do we have to fight them?” Anya wondered. “We could just not be here when they arrive.”
“Heroes do not run away from Evil,” Minsc rumbled, a scowl replacing his usual smile.
“If I am the target then it would make some sense,” Sorkatani agreed, “although any enemy so determined would only follow me elsewhere. I suspect, however, that it must be the De’Arnise Hold itself that they want. The Roenals, I assume. I can think of no-one else who would have the resources and the motive.”
“That Baron Metrich guy who I told to take a hike would have an army,” Xander suggested. “Although, why would he look for me here? Yeah, it’s the Roenals.”
Anya’s lips tightened. If she fell into the hands of Isaea Roenal he would have her put to death, probably in a painfully protracted manner, and her desire to be somewhere else was undiminished. “We can’t fight a whole army,” she pointed out.
“I shall not abandon these lands and people,” Sorkatani insisted. “I gave my word.” The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “Fear not, Anya, for the situation is not as black as you think. The bulk of their forces will be a mere peasant levy. Poorly trained and badly equipped. Can you imagine Isaea Roenal or his father paying for coats of mail for so many? It will be armor of padded cloth, if that, and farm implements as weapons.”
“You can do a lot of damage with a scythe,” Anya pointed out.
“True, but an untrained and unarmored man can easily be slain before he has the chance to swing,” Sorkatani rebutted her point. “In fact my problem is that I have no wish to kill poor men who have no choice but to obey the orders of their lord. Our objective must be to cause them to break and flee, rather than to slay them, so that we can break through and reach the commanders. Those I shall slay.”
“I know some non-lethal spells with a pretty big area of effect,” Willow put in. “Stinking Cloud, Grease, Web, Darkness, Fog Cloud, Fumble – hey, that one would really mess up guys trying to fire a siege catapult.”
“Entangle,” suggested Jaheira. “Warp Wood, on the scaling ladders.”
“Warp Factor One, Miss Jaheira,” Xander interjected, incomprehensibly to the druid in question but raising a smile from Willow, Buffy, and Dawn.
“Cloak of Fear,” Anomen added his suggestion. Tara nodded agreement.
“I had thought to lay traps along their line of approach,” Yoshimo said, “but I am afraid, Jabbress, that most of my contrivances would be lethal in their effects against lightly-protected peasantry. Perhaps I could improvise less deadly versions.”
“Like noose traps that lift people up by their feet and, hey, just leave them dangling above the ground,” Dawn said. She grinned broadly.
“It’s not as easy as in the movies,” Anya cautioned her, “but we should be able to work something out.”
“Have you songs that could cause panic in our foes, zra’ha?” Sorkatani asked.
Giles put a finger to the bridge of his glasses and adjusted their position. “Hmm. Perhaps. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I’m not sure that any of the songs that I know would really be relevant to fighting a battle against a thousand men.” He pursed his lips. “A thousand men. Hmm. Ah. Now that’s an idea.”
“I doubt if there will be a thousand,” Sorkatani told him. “The ‘travelers’ have exaggerated their number, perhaps intending to cause dismay amongst us, I believe. If I called up a levy from the De’Arnise lands I would raise only some three hundred men. The Roenal lands are but little larger and I doubt if he can have more than four hundred. His armed and armored retinue will be about the same in number as my own guard, or a few more, perhaps fifty to my forty.”
“In that case I think that I could certainly spread a fair degree of alarm and despondency,” Giles said, with a nod and a smile. “Spike will appreciate this particularly, I think.”
“Talking of which, the two of them should be involved in this,” Buffy said. “Spike’s pretty good at thinking up ways to make people miserable.”
“And, hey, that’s pretty much Viconia’s whole job description,” Willow added. “I guess somebody oughta go drag them out of bed and get them down here.”
Dawn opened her mouth to speak. “Not you, Dawn!” Buffy spoke quickly to pre-empt her sister. “Anya, how about you go get them?”
“I suppose I should knock rather than just walking in,” Anya said. “Although…”
“Just bring me Spike and Viconia, okay?” Buffy said. “One bleached pest, one drow priestess, the right way up and with all their buttons fastened.”
“One bleached pest and one drow priestess reporting for duty, ma’am!” Spike’s voice came from the doorway. He entered, accompanied by Viconia, and his gaze swept the room. “What’s up?”
“This is a council of war, ussta mrannd'ssinss,” Viconia deduced. “What new enemy do we face, Jabbress?”
“Isaea Roenal, or so I suspect,” Sorkatani replied. “An army marches upon us, with siege towers and catapults.”
“And a thousand elephants?” asked Spike. Giles raised his eyebrows and chuckled.
“No, no elephants,” Sorkatani said.
“Well, in that case I won’t bother setting up a hot dog stand,” Spike said. Giles’ chuckle grew louder.
“A hot dog stand?” Sorkatani stared at Spike in blank incomprehension.
“Something from my world. Don’t worry about it, Jabbress,” Spike said. “So, it’s another battle, then? Now, I’m all for a good punch-up, fists and fangs and all that, but don’t you ever get a week off just to relax and smell the roses?”
Sorkatani sighed. “It seems that such is not my lot in life. Sit down, abbin, and we shall make our battle plans.”
Glossary of Drow Phrases
• ‘Nind phuul vithin huend nind karliiken vir'ed’ = ‘They are fucking until their heads explode’
• ‘ussta mrannd'ssinss’ = ‘my (male) lover’
• ‘a’mael’ (surface elven rather than drow) = ‘beloved’
Disclaimer: 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.