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', as the original publishers Black Isle no longer exist – possibly Atari – but it isn't me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use.
Author's note: this story is long. 67 chapters so far, 400,000 words, and still not finished. It is a prequel to 'Debt of Blood' – you might not see how that's possible at first, but trust me on this. The first chapter was written 3 years before the most recent and my writing style has (hopefully) improved during that time so please forgive any stylistic inconsistencies. It's written much more from the point of view of the Buffyverse characters than of the Baldur's Gate ones, as the original audience was Buffy readers, so if you're coming at this from the Forgotten Realms side I apologize. You should still be able to follow the story.
It begins during the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' Season 6 episode 'Tabula Rasa'. Buffy has just been telling her friends that she is failing to cope with the trauma of having been brought back from the dead. Unknown to her Willow, her best friend and a powerful but erratic witch, has set up a memory erasure spell to go off during the meeting. Willow intends it only to remove Buffy's memories of death and Heaven but she's made a major miscalculation…
Buffy's gaze scanned across the others in the Magic Box. Her eyes were wide and moist and she seemed almost to be on the verge of tears as she addressed them. "If you guys... if you guys understood how it felt... how it feels. It's like I'm dying, it-"
Her speech chopped off as a wave of dizziness swept over her and everything went black for a moment. When her vision cleared she gasped in amazement. Around her the others gasped too.
They weren't in the Magic Box any more. They were crammed into a circular metal cage inside a huge dimly-lit chamber. Standing up, jammed tightly against each other, with almost no room to move.
Jostling. Protests. Cacophony. Demands to know just what was going on, insistence on an elbow being moved away from a ribcage, commands that everybody just shut the hell up. All brought to a sudden halt by a scream of agony and despair.
Spike was on the side of the cage nearest to the sound. He spun around and stared at the source. Another cage, probably identical to the one in which the Scoobies were trapped, but this one had only one occupant. A girl, probably of about the same age as Buffy, but of some East Asian race. Golden brown skin, jet black hair, a pretty face that was distorted by pain as she writhed on the cage floor under the lash of some sort of energy beam.
Her tormentor stood outside the cage. A tall and muscular figure, clad in a strange costume of brown leather strips and buckles, which left much of his torso exposed, who looked as if he should be attending Adultcon. The ridiculous garb would have made Spike sneer in contempt, but the blasts of power that were streaming from the man's hands revealed him to be a potential threat rather than a safe target for ridicule. A warlock of some sort, Spike deduced. Powerful, dangerous, and very probably the one responsible for their current predicament.
Beside Spike Dawn sniggered. "Can I say, lame-o bad guy costume?" Another scream from the caged girl wiped the smile from Dawn's face.
The wizard, or whatever he was, spoke. He stopped his attack and addressed his tortured captive in deep and portentous tones that were completely incomprehensible to the Scoobies. The victim raised herself to her hands and knees and lifted her head to face him. She gasped for breath and then spoke in equally incomprehensible reply.
Spike's vision blurred. Everything went black for a moment and then cleared. Exclamations all around told him that the rest of the gang had experienced the same sensation.
"Remarkable!" Giles gasped. "A translation spell?"
Spike opened his mouth to ask the old git what he was talking about, but shut it again with the question unasked.
"I'll tell you everything," the girl was gasping out, her voice weak and trembling but now perfectly comprehensible. "Whatever you want to know."
Spike felt oddly disappointed. There was no reason why he should care what happened to humans, outside of the Scooby Gang circle and the England and Manchester United football teams, and to see a human girl tortured shouldn't have bothered him at all, but it seemed wrong somehow that this girl should have been broken by the torture. He had thought that her face showed a pride and strength not unlike that of Buffy.
"Hurts to talk," the girl went on. "Come closer."
The warlock laughed. "Oh, Bhaalspawn, how foolish of you to think that I would fall for that one. Your one weapon is your renowned physical strength, and you thought that I would place myself within your reach?"
The girl bounced to her feet in one smooth motion, her apparent weakness gone. "It was worth a try, wizard."
'Renowned physical strength?' Spike thought. The girl was slim, no taller than Buffy, and like Buffy she was not overtly muscular. Built like Anna Kournikova, perhaps, rather than like one of the tennis players who actually won tournaments. There was one obvious explanation for the apparent contradiction between the words and the visual evidence.
"She's a Slayer," Buffy muttered from behind him. "But how?"
"Well, you did die, Buffy," Anya pointed out.
"You misunderstand what I want from you, Bhaalspawn," the wizard went on. "You have no information that could be of use to me. This is not an interrogation. The pain will only be fleeting. You have much untapped potential. Do you even realize the power that lurks within you?"
"Do you even realize how much I'm going to hurt you when I get out of here?" the girl responded. The wizard shook his head and uttered a sinister laugh, right out of the standard repertoire of Bond villains, and a jet of flame shot forth from his fingers to envelop the girl. This time she didn't scream, only grunted, but she staggered and it looked as if she would have fallen had she not clutched at the bars of the cage for support.
"Anyone else think that we should try to get the hell out of here?" Xander spoke up. "As in, right now?"
"I heartily concur," Giles backed him. "Buffy, can you bend the bars? Perhaps, Spike, you could make yourself useful by assisting her?"
"Yeah, sure, only there's no sodding room to move in here." Spike began to try to maneuver himself into position beside the Slayer but halted as he saw something entering the chamber.
It was definitely 'something' rather than 'someone'. A bulky creature, slightly taller than a man but much wider, that appeared to be made out of clay. It moved past their cage at a jog, its footsteps making a loud noise that indicated tremendous weight, and approached the warlock.
"More intruders have entered the complex, Master!" it boomed.
"They act sooner than we had anticipated." The wizard seemed intrigued rather than alarmed. "No matter. They shall only prove a slight delay." He turned his back on the girl and followed the clay creature on a path that led past the cage that held the Scoobies.
"Let us out of here!" Dawn demanded.
"Yeah, let us out, 'cause you don't want to make – ow!" Whatever Xander had been going to say was cut short as a female foot connected with his ankle.
The warlock paused and scrutinized the crowded cage. "I know not who you are, nor how you came to be here, and I have no interest in finding out. Stay here and starve." He turned and strode away, ignoring the yells of protest that rang out in his wake. Behind him the tortured girl released her hold on the bars, slumped to the floor of her cage, and lay still.
"Hey, Buff, why'd you kick me?" Xander asked plaintively. "That really hurt, you know?"
"You were going to tell him that I'm the Slayer, weren't you? Well, that would kinda make him wary about coming close enough to grab, so, not of the good. I guess I'm thinking the same as that girl over there. He'd open the cage soon enough if I had hold of his arm."
"The bars, Buffy?" Giles prompted.
"Oh, yeah." Buffy heaved at the thick metal with no result. Spike managed to get into a position where he could add his efforts to hers, but it made no difference. "They're really strong, Giles. I'm not getting anywhere."
"Uh, I'm standing up against a door," Tara pointed out. "It might be a weak point."
"Excellent suggestion, Tara." Giles frowned. "We're going to have to do quite a bit of shuffling around. If everyone moves clockwise, perhaps?"
The group rotated, with some pushing and shoving and stepping on toes, until eventually Buffy and Spike were beside the cage door. They had barely begun to heave when they were interrupted by the sound of an explosion. Plaster fell from the ceiling and rattled from the bars. The door by which the wizard had departed flew open and a man entered at a run. He had taken only a few steps when he burst into flames, collapsed screaming to the ground, and writhed for a few moments before falling silent and lying still. Flames continued to curl up from his body.
Dawn screamed and then began to sob. Spike grabbed her and clutched her to his chest. "'S all right, Nibblet," he spoke soothingly. "Won't let anyone hurt you."
"Get your–" Xander began. He stopped and shook his head. "Sorry. Yeah, look after Dawn, Spike."
"'Til the end of the world," Spike confirmed.
"Th-thanks, Spike," Dawn sniffed, her sobs ceasing. "B-but what can you do against magic?"
"Stick myself in the way, if nothing else."
"Magic. Ah, yes. Willow, can you do anything about this lock?" Giles looked questioningly at the witch and was surprised to see the look of abject misery on her face.
"I don't know. I – I think this might be something to do with me. I was doing this spell, and maybe it went kinda wrong. Tara's right. I've been doing too much magic and I maybe don't know enough about what I'm doing." Willow wrung her hands. "I'm useless and stupid and foolish and if this is my fault I, I, oh, I'm so sorry and I don't know what to do!"
"You were doing a spell?" Tara glared at her lover. "But, Willow, you promised!"
"I broke my promise," Willow confessed. "I only wanted to make things better for us and for Buffy. I was stupid. You'll hate me."
"I'm not pleased," Tara said. "Look, we'll work this out later. Trying to get out of this, well, that's the kind of thing it's okay to use magic for."
"I'm sorry," Willow wailed.
"Okay, you're sorry. Get over it," Tara snapped.
Everyone looked at Tara, in so far as their positions allowed, with surprise at her uncharacteristic forcefulness showing on everyone's faces. Before anyone could comment there was another intrusion.
A girl slipped into the room through another door. She walked slowly, looking from side to side as she moved, and seemed poised to flee at any sign of danger. Her reddish hair was cut short in a ragged bob, looking as if it had been crudely hacked off rather than styled, and her face was marred by lines of crusted blood. She passed by the Scoobies' cage, taking no notice of their attempts to speak to her, and made her way to the cage in which the other girl was imprisoned.
"Sorkatani! Wake up!" she hissed. "We have to get out of here."
"Imoen?" The caged girl raised her head, stared at the newcomer, and then climbed to her feet. "Are you all right? Do you know what's going on?"
"He messed with your head too, huh?" the newcomer, Imoen, responded. "All I know is we got jumped near Baldur's Gate and I woke up here. I – I don't want to remember the rest. He's been… doing things… to us. Sorkatani, we have to get out of here!" She inserted a key into the lock of the cage and opened the door.
"All right, I'm moving. I ache all over, though."
"Yeah, me too, but my head hurts the most. Uh, was that you screaming? We have to get out of here."
Sorkatani took a wobbly step out of the cage. "How did you get free in the first place?"
"There was fighting. My cell got kinda damaged." Imoen clutched her head. "I don't know if I could do it again. The pain in my head's getting worse. It isn't like a normal pain. It's on the inside, like my bones made a little dagger, and it won't go away."
Sorkatani took hold of Imoen's shoulder and stared closely into her face.
Imoen squirmed. "Don't look at me like that, it just hurts, alright? Must have been the noise. There was a fight. Assassins after our captor, I think. There are people dead all over and the fighting is still going on. I could hear it. Are you going to get moving or do I leave without you?"
"We're not leaving alone," Sorkatani stated flatly. "I think the others are around. I thought I heard Minsc and Jaheira talking earlier. That way." She gestured towards the far end of the chamber, and then towards the Scoobies' cage. "There are some people over there, too. Strangers, but I think them no friends to our captor. We should free them also."
"Yeah, I'm all for that," Xander put in.
Sorkatani glanced briefly towards the Scoobies and then turned her attention back to Imoen. "Any sign of our gear?"
"I passed a room that way and I think I saw some weapons there," Imoen replied. "I don't think it was our stuff. I bet they sold that, or dished it out to the leader types, but hey, anything is better than nothing."
"Strange," Giles commented. "She appears to be speaking English, with perhaps a slight American accent, but the shapes that her mouth makes don't seem to fit the sounds."
"So she's not speaking English but we're hearing English? That translation spell that you mentioned?" Tara suggested.
"So it would seem," Giles replied. "Ah, hello," he greeted Sorkatani and Imoen as they approached the cage. "Would you be so good as to let us out of here?"
"Wait, Sorkatani, we don't know anything about these people," Imoen cautioned her companion.
"We know that they are imprisoned by a sadistic madman," Sorkatani told her sharply. "That's all I need to know. Does that key fit?"
Imoen inserted her key into the lock. "It's loose. Not the right key. I think I can get it to – got it!" The lock turned and the door swung open. The Scoobies spilled out into the chamber.
"Thank you, ladies," Giles said.
"Yeah, mucho with the thanks," Xander added.
"Ta, girls," Spike grinned, ogling the attractive Sorkatani. Buffy frowned and pouted.
"Yay, thanks," Dawn beamed.
"Your apparel is the strangest that I have ever seen," Sorkatani observed. "Who are you?"
"Rupert Giles. I am a Watcher."
"And I'm the Slayer," Buffy announced.
"Slayer? I have been called that," Sorkatani said. "Also the Destroying Angel, the Perfect Warrior, and the Mistress of Thrones and Crowns." She grinned, suddenly looking much younger. "Between you and me, that's just the kind of crap that bards come up with. Just call me Sorkatani."
"My name is Buffy. This is my sister Dawn. Xander, Anya, Willow, and Tara. Uh, and this is Spike. He's a vampire."
"A vampire?" Imoen recoiled.
"Vampire?" Sorkatani stared coldly at Spike. Her hand moved to her hip as if reaching for a weapon.
"He doesn't hurt people," Dawn spoke up. "He's my friend."
"He can't hurt people," Xander corrected her. "He got fitted out with a handy little computer chip that stops him if he even tries."
"I know not what those strange words mean," Sorkatani frowned. "I do not believe that you are evil, however, and if this vampire will behave himself I shall tolerate his presence."
"Big of you, pet," Spike muttered.
"What skills have you?" Sorkatani demanded. "Can you fight?"
"I think you could say that," Buffy said, with a small smile.
"We've all clocked field time," Anya said. "Willow and Tara are powerful witches. Buffy is the Slayer, of course. Spike's a vampire. But Dawn, she's just Buffy's little sister."
"Hey, I've staked vampires," Dawn pointed out.
"And you are certainly not to try it again," Buffy told her. "Stay out of any fighting, Dawn."
"Without weapons none of us can achieve much, except perhaps the vampire," Sorkatani said.
"Spike. The name's Spike. None of this 'the vampire' stuff, pet."
"Do not call me 'pet'," Sorkatani said sharply.
"All right, don't get your knickers in a twist. Don't mean anything by it. Just the way I speak, luv. Sorkatani." Spike frowned. "Bugger of a name, that. Where are you from?"
"You are not like any vampire of whom I have ever heard," Sorkatani frowned. "I was born in Kara-Tur, or so I have been told, but I was taken from there in early childhood and I was raised in the library city of Candlekeep. Most recently I have made my home in Baldur's Gate."
"Kara-Tur? Candlekeep? Baldur's Gate?" Xander's brows were creased in a puzzled frown. "Uh, look, this might sound kinda dumb, but, are we in the Forgotten Realms?"
"These are the Realms, yes, though I know not why you term them 'Forgotten'," Sorkatani confirmed. "Where else would we be? Maztica?"
"Uh, Dorothy, I don't think that we're in Kansas any more," Xander muttered. He pinched his arm hard. "Ow! I don't think I'm dreaming. This is crazy."
"We waste time," Sorkatani declared. "I go to free my comrades. Follow or not as you choose."
The Scoobies trailed along after the warrior girl and her more subdued companion. "Hey, Xander, what was all that about? You know where we are?" Buffy asked.
"Uh, I think so." Xander shook his head. "It's kinda impossible. I think we're inside a Dungeons and Dragons game. Maybe in a computer."
- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -
"I can't get them to join the party," Jonathan grumbled. "They'll interact fine, but I can't select them."
"Hey, they showed up fine in Shadowkeeper," Warren said. "Don't blame me, I got the mod working as well as I could. The languages fix worked, right?"
"Buffy has twenty-two strength," Andrew remarked, in awed tones. "She's as strong as a Fire Giant."
"And I thought I'd done good getting Sorkatani up to nineteen," Jonathan said. "Wow. We were totally taking our lives in our hands messing with the Slayer."
"You could crank your girl up to match with Shadowkeeper," Warren pointed out.
"That's cheating," Jonathan replied. "I got the Manual of Gainful Exercise in fair play in BG1. It would kinda cheapen it if I just edited her."
"Whatever," Warren said dismissively. "You want me to try hacking the code again? I should be able to make them playable eventually."
"No, it's okay," Jonathan said. "Kinda more interesting, them doing their own thing. I wonder how they'll cope when they get out into Amn?"
"Well, Spike will probably burn up in the sun," Warren pointed out. "When they get out of Irenicus' dungeon they get stuck right out in the open for the whole of the Cowled Wizards' cut scene."
"They might not get stuck the way the party does," Jonathan said. "Maybe he'll put a cloak over his head or something. It's not like he doesn't know the sun burns him. And hey, Randy Giles worked it out pretty quick."
"He's a big dork," Warren sneered.
"He's not as cool as Spike," Andrew agreed. "I kinda like Joan, though. And Umad."
"They're all an improvement on the originals," Jonathan opined. "Hey, it's a shame I can't let Alex see this. It'd kinda give the game away, wouldn't it?"
"Not so much. It would just look like we'd used some pics of them for the portraits," Warren said. "But it might make us look like some kinda creepy stalker guys, so, yeah, don't let him see this version."
"I won't," Jonathan agreed. "Okay, let's see how Buffy and Spike and the others get on with Minsc."
- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -
"They killed Dynaheir as I watched," Minsc related. The huge warrior's face was grave and wracked with grief. His head was covered with fine stubble, matching that on his chin and top lip, as if he normally kept it shaven when not caged in a cell. "I know not who they were, but… but – I will redeem myself!"
"Minsc, that's horrible," Imoen commiserated. "I'm so sorry for you."
"I won't cry for the dead. I won't. Okay, maybe a little, but I will staunch the flow of tears with righteous fury. Lullaby and goodnight, evil! Minsc will make you pay. Will you help me? We must join together once more, and our fury will be such that the bards will make their quills run dry. Yes, ink will be scarce wherever we go."
"Dynaheir was my friend too," Sorkatani said. "Her killers shall pay with their lives."
"I'm with you," Spike volunteered. "Took the lady prisoner and then killed her in front of you? Bastards."
"A vampire is a creature of evil, yet your words are good," Minsc boomed. "I thank you, and so does Boo."
"My hamster," Minsc explained. A rodent scuttled out of the warrior's ragged clothing and perched on his shoulder, its nose twitching.
"Ah, that is so cute," Dawn exclaimed. "Can I stroke him?"
"When we are out of here," Minsc promised.
"We have a problem," Sorkatani said. "The lock is welded shut. I can't get you out, Minsc." She shrugged her shoulders. "I hope I have better luck with Jaheira."
"What? Are you just giving up? Abandoning me? Is that how you show your friendship for Dynaheir?" Minsc grasped the bars and began to push at the door with all his might. "Coward! Quitter!"
Sorkatani grabbed the door and pulled, synchronizing her efforts with those of Minsc. Buffy and Spike realized what she was doing and added their strength to hers, although hampered by lack of room. The door withstood the multiple assault for only seconds and then burst open.
Minsc stumbled out into the chamber. "The bars! They twist and bend with my berserker strength! Now Minsc and Boo are free." He frowned at Sorkatani. "You goaded me with your indifference just to fill me with the strength of rage, did you not?"
"Of course, Minsc, you big idiot," Sorkatani said warmly. She threw her arms around the berserker. "I'd never abandon you, don't you know that?"
"Yes, Minsc knows that, but he forgets sometimes," Minsc said. "Here, little girl, you may stroke Boo."
"Hey, I'm not so little," Dawn objected.
Minsc drew himself up to his full six foot four and looked down at her. "Forgive me, lady. If you are all grown up, perhaps you will not want to pet a hamster." Sorkatani released him and moved away to join Imoen, who was heading for the next cage.
"Okay, okay," Dawn grumbled. "I'm fifteen. I guess that's still a little girl in some ways." She extended a hand towards the hamster, who lifted his chin and accepted her stroking with the same regal air as a cat would have shown.
"Fifteen? In my country of Rashemen that would be old enough to marry," Minsc rumbled.
"That is so not true in California," Dawn said.
"I know not that country. Where does it lie?"
"Uh, I don't know how to get there from here," Dawn admitted. "Where is here, anyway?"
"That is a good question. We were drugged, I think, and taken a long way by wagon. We could be far indeed from Baldur's Gate."
"Minsc, Buffy, Spike," Sorkatani called. "Jaheira's cage is magically sealed. I cannot break it open unaided. You would, perhaps, assist me?"
"No problem," Buffy responded. She hastened to Sorkatani's side, closely followed by Spike, and Minsc brought up the rear. They clustered around the cage door, Buffy and Sorkatani grasping it low, Spike and Minsc grasping it high, and heaved with all their might while the woman within the cage pushed. The lock groaned and gave way.
Another round of introductions followed. Jaheira was a woman who appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties; moderately attractive, although her expression was stern and forbidding and her mouth seemed more ready to turn downwards than to smile. Her ears were pointed.
"You're an elf!" Xander exclaimed. "Uh, assuming you're not a Vulcan."
"I am half elven," Jaheira replied. "And you are wholly impolite."
"Uh, sorry," Xander said, shame-faced. "I didn't mean to be rude. It's just, I've never seen an elf or a half-elf before."
Jaheira made no reply to his apology. "We must find weapons as soon as possible," she said to Sorkatani. "And then search for Khalid. We were separated and I fear for him."
"Then we should waste no more time. Imoen? Show us to this room where you saw weapons."
- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -
"So this is some loser Dungeons and Dragons fantasy land?" Buffy shook her head. "Only on the Hellmouth, huh?"
"It would certainly appear so," Giles said.
"Trust me on this, guys. We're in one of the Baldur's Gate games. I've never played them, but I've read a few reviews," Xander said. "I've read a couple of the Forgotten Realms books, too, but I never really got into them. Drizzt's too much like a kinda Angel Mark Two, all big with the brooding and 'oh, I'm an evil Drow but I must do good', and – uh, well, trust me on this. We're playing D&D for real. Which means we could get really killed."
"Dungeons and Dragons is just lame," Buffy scoffed.
"Uh, I wouldn't be too sure about that. Torture, murder, violence, monsters, pretty much par for the course here. It's okay for the characters who've got the skills and the weapons and the hit points and things, but it might be kind of a rough ride for us. We've got to get out of here."
"Maybe a wizard can send us back home," Tara suggested.
"Maybe, but he's gonna want paying," Xander pointed out. "And hey, I don't think my Visa is going to cut it here."
"It's okay to nick stuff here, innit?" Spike rummaged in the pockets of his thrift store suit, found cigarettes and his lighter, and lit up.
"No it is not!" Buffy snapped.
"No, seriously, Slayer. It's part of the culture, innit? Thieves and what have you? Kill the monster and take the treasure. We could do that."
"Treasure?" Anya piped up.
"Yeah, there's always treasure," Spike said.
"Bleach Boy's right," Xander said reluctantly. "It's pretty much okay to loot the body of anyone who you kill. As long as it was in self defense, and hey, that's pretty much an elastic definition. Goblins and Orcs and that sort of thing are fair game any time."
"So we kill them and loot the bodies? Can I say, eww?"
They stopped their conversation as they followed Imoen into a small room and saw the creature that stood there. A humanoid shape of living clay; either the one that they had seen earlier or an identical specimen from the same pattern.
"Golem," Sorkatani said. "Very dangerous, but they only do what they're ordered. I don't think this one has any orders about us." She picked up a mace that lay on a nearby table. "Just in case it comes to life. Only blunt weapons can damage a Clay Golem."
"I thought Golem was little and scrawny, kinda like an evil hobbit." Buffy scanned the table and snatched up a war hammer.
Dawn wandered over to a picture that hung on the wall and examined it carefully.
"Dawn? What are you doing?" Buffy asked.
"Uh, Buffy, there's something behind this picture, a kinda safe or something, and there's a trap on it."
"Trap? What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you just pull it open, this spring thing shoots a dart out at you," Dawn told her. She removed her name pendant from her neck and slid the edge of the letter 'n' into a groove. "Got it! I've totally disarmed it."
"Dawn! You're a thief!" Xander exclaimed.
"I am not! I totally meant to put that necklace back," Dawn protested. "I just got distracted with all the kidnapping by wooden puppet men and being wooed by the dancing demon and everything."
"No, no, not what I mean," Xander said. "I mean, you're a Dungeons and Dragons thief. We're in a D&D world, so we're D&D characters. Like, you just know how to find traps and disarm them, and I bet you can pick locks and shit. Hey, Willow's gonna be a Dungeons and Dragons style Magic User, I bet."
"And me," Tara said, and then faltered. "Uh, no, that doesn't seem right. I'm a – I'm a cleric."
"Cool!" Dawn beamed. "I'm a thief. Tara's a cleric. That's healing and stuff, right? Buffy's a fighter, totally obvious. What about the rest of us?"
Xander picked up a longsword. He brought it up into a salute, swung it twice, and lowered it again. "I'm a fighter. It feels right. Hey, I'm a fighter."
"And what would I be?" Giles frowned. "I may have dabbled in magic long ago, but I would scarcely claim to be a wizard. I hardly think that I have any great affinity for the magical side of religion either. I must be only an aging and mediocre fighter."
"A bard," Spike suggested. Everyone stared at him. "Hey, I've eaten a loser or two in my time," he said. "Some of it stuck. Oh, what the hell, I've read some Dungeons and Dragons stuff. You know me. I'll read the labels on sodding jam jars if there's nothing on the telly."
"Bard?" Giles repeated. "Hmm."
"Yeah, why not? Walked in on you once when you were singing 'Freebird', didn't I? Bloody good you were too."
"You were really good at the Espresso Lounge," Tara agreed.
"Ah, thank you, my dear. And, yes, thank you Spike. You may well have a point. It does have a certain, ah, feeling of being right somehow."
"And what about me?" Anya asked. "Is there an appropriate classification for someone who is very good with money?"
"Not a Druid, that's for sure," Xander said. "I can't see you as a Ranger either."
"I could be a Loan Ranger," Anya suggested. "That was a pun. Lone, l-o-n-e, loan, l-o-a-n."
"Uh, yeah," Xander said, raising his eyes towards the ceiling. "Nice one, Ahn."
Dawn levered open the concealed safe behind the picture. "Yay! Go me! Jackpot!" She lifted out the contents. "Uh, maybe not so much of a jackpot. A knife and three little bottles."
"Potions of Healing," Sorkatani told her. "A valuable find. The dagger is of better quality than the norm. Imoen?" She took the dagger from Dawn and held it out to her comrade.
"Magical," Imoen confirmed. "No great enchantment, but a useful weapon nonetheless."
Sorkatani handed it back to Dawn. "Use it well, child."
Dawn pouted. She wasn't happy about being called 'child', but she was pleased with the dagger and with Sorkatani's matter-of-fact acceptance that Dawn could be trusted with a weapon. "Thanks."
A chest against the wall of the room turned out to contain armor. Chain mail, leather jerkins, and mail hauberks reinforced with small iron plates. "Do we really need this stuff?" Buffy moaned.
"I would strongly advise you to acquire as much protection as possible," Giles counseled her. "I fear that this may be a rather more dangerous environment than Sunnydale. Everyone we encounter will be wearing swords and will, no doubt, use them at the least provocation."
"Okay, okay, I'll wear stuff if it fits," Buffy acquiesced. "Not that any of this will."
"Armor of great enchantment will adapt to fit whoever dons it," Sorkatani remarked. "This poor stuff, however, we must allocate according to size. Minsc, this splint armor seems large enough for your mighty frame."
- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -
"I'm getting bored," Warren complained. "Let me know when they start killing things, okay?" He stood up and walked away.
"Sure," Jonathan agreed.
Andrew remained glued to the screen. "I think this is really interesting. They're getting into character. They worked it all out themselves. It's the next best thing to if we'd put ourselves into the game. Better, even, because if we were there we could get, like, killed and stuff."
"Yeah, whatever," Warren said. "You're too into all the background stuff for my taste. Just give me the fighting and the chicks and the loot. You can keep the research and the roleplay." He adopted an expression of lofty superiority and addressed Jonathan scathingly. "Although, you do all that research and you still screw up. Genghis Khan's daughter-in-law was called Sorkaktani, not Sorkatani."
"I know that," Jonathan said, unconcerned. "It just sounds a lot better when you drop that second 'k'. She's a D&D character, dude, this isn't a history project."
"Okay, okay. I have to admit she's a hot chick. Where'd you get the picture, man?"
"It's tweaked a bit with Paint Shop Pro," Jonathan explained, "but basically she's Zhang Ziyi."
- 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 -
The fight was brief and presented little challenge. It did, however, remove the last vestige of doubt from the Scoobies' minds. They were not in California. They were not on the Earth as they knew it. The little imp-like mist creature was like nothing they had seen before, not even in the vicinity of the Hellmouth, and its dead body was far more significant as an indicator of the strangeness of their current environment than it could ever have been as a living enemy.
Beyond it was a locked door. Imoen had entered from that direction, but the door had closed and locked behind her. Their attempts to force it open were futile and the group had no option but to retrace their steps.
The chamber in which the cages stood had two other exit doors. One led only to a small room with no doors. A strange glowing device stood there, a circle of metal surrounding a shimmering force bubble, but although Xander was convinced that it was some sort of transporter gate it obstinately refused to react to anything they did. Giles noticed a slot in its surface.
"I believe that it requires some kind of key," he speculated.
"No doubt you are correct," Sorkatani agreed. "We have no such key. There is nothing to do but search for another exit."
The only other egress from the chamber was the door by which an intruder had entered shortly before dying a hideous death. They took that exit warily and soon found themselves stepping over more dead bodies. Black-clad figures with their faces obscured by masks. "Assassins," Sorkatani said. She bent to examine a corpse. "Penniless assassins. Whoever slew them has already taken all of use or value."
Buffy frowned at the other girl's casual attitude to the dead. It conflicted with everything Buffy had learned as a Slayer and with the morals of the society from which she came. Dawn shuddered and recoiled from the bodies. Giles merely took pains not to step on any corpses.
"Bet the inconsiderate buggers haven't got any blood left," Spike grumbled. "What?" he added as he saw the eyes of the rest of the party glaring at him. "Bloke's got to eat and these gits don't need it any more, that's for sure."
"Could you be any more gross?" Buffy snapped, and she stalked off to take point.
Ahead lay a chamber containing another strange device. It bore a vague resemblance to a Van de Graaff generator, and bolts of static electricity shot forth from it in random directions. Buffy was incautious in her approach and discovered painfully that the bolts contained sufficient voltage to be dangerous. A different variety of imp creature shared this room with the machine, and was apparently immune to the electricity – or even reliant upon it, for it delivered a painful shock of its own to Buffy as she closed to fight it.
"I see a switch," Giles pointed out. "It would seem logical to reverse it."
"I'll do it," Spike volunteered. "Don't think electricity'll do me any permanent harm." He raced forward, threw the switch, and the machine fell silent.
Buffy decapitated the imp. "Oww," she complained, and massaged her arm. "Those shocks hurt."
"I could help," Tara suggested. "At least, I think I could." She laid her hands on Buffy and chanted briefly.
The pain faded immediately. "Hey, cool," Buffy praised, grinning. "That's a neat trick."
"No mere trick," Jaheira scolded. "Such powers should be treated with reverence and gratitude."
"Hey, I totally am grateful to Tara," Buffy said, and flounced off.
"Her language may imply disrespect, but Buffy is truly a dedicated opponent of evil," Giles told Jaheira. "She and Tara understand each other very well."
"Her manners seem strange to me," Jaheira said. "From what far land is it that you come? Caliph Onya, did she say?"
"Ah, yes," Giles said. "Although I myself come from a different land with yet another set of manners and customs, the country of England. I was sent forth from there to guide and mentor Buffy when she was Chosen as the Slayer…"
The party moved on to face their next challenge. Giles and Jaheira were joined in their conversation by Tara, Buffy and Spike conversed with Sorkatani, Xander and Anya talked to Minsc, and Dawn was given instruction by Imoen in the skills that a thief used to scout the path ahead for hidden traps.
None of them notice that Willow hadn't said a word since before they had been freed from the cage. She trudged along at the rear of the group, silent and pale of face, too sunk in depression to really take notice of her surroundings.
And in no fit state for any kind of magical combat.