Disclaimer: Neither Stargates nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me. I claim no ownership of them and recognize that they belong to the various people and companies who own them. I do this solely for my own enjoyment and, should our interests mesh, the enjoyment of others. I have made no money off of this and do not ever plan to. Anything that even looks vaguely familiar (such as brand names, culture references, etc) also does not belong to me.
Series: Return to the Blood Lands
Story: Welcome to the Keep
“It’s the ritchta.” Sora said softly. The creature was a dark yellow color, too raw to be called gold. It flitted between substance and no substance. It was solid and incorporeal at the same time, making no noise with its movements save for a slight hum that seem to be caused simply by its presence. It had a body (when the details could be seen) that looked faintly feline or perhaps even canine. The eyes gave no clue which it was; the eyes were startlingly human.
The ritchta stared at them for a while, human eyes considering them for a long moment before it seemed to frown and fade into the wind. Xander let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. He had been desperate and hopeless the last time he saw one of those things so he hadn’t thought much about their presence. But now, just when he had regained hope in life, seeing those things terrified the crap out of him.
They reminded him of bad things. The Keep. The Wraith. The Hellmouth. The hyena. Demons. Vampires. Falling. Hurting. Dying. Except he didn’t die. He SHOULD have, but he didn’t. He DESERVED to. They wouldn’t let him. They made him LIVE.
“They’re rarely a danger to us.” Sora said, recognizing his alarm a little late. Xander turned and must have shot her a ‘oh really?’ look because she shrugged and smiled faintly. She seemed to drift off then, her eyes focused on nothing. “They say that a ritchta comes to be when someone dies a violent death and spends his last breath burning with hatred for his murderer.”She turned to him with a suddenness that made him sit up. “Does your world have such stories?”
“Well, yes.” Xander wet his lips. “Not exactly… ritchta, so to say. Mostly poltergeists, ghosts, and stuff.” He nodded in the direction that the creature took off. “We called those demonic … uh, well…” He hesitated to call anything that helped him willingly and without strings attached ‘demonic’. “Primal animal spirits.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I think so, anyway.”
“My father used to say that the ritchta- the animal spirit- is actually a human, boiled down to the core.” Sora sounded a little wistful. “On a basic level, what is the difference between man and animal? Especially in emotion… Hate, anger, fear, grief.” She was quiet for a moment. Sora turned to him, silently asking for his comprehension. “And we’re both cattle. We eat the animals and the Wraith eat us.”
“Why can’t anything eat the Wraith?” Xander complained. Although Sora smiled, the expression was fleeting.
“The ritchta eat the Wraith.” Sora said, turning big sad eyes towards Xander. “But then the Wraith took to the sky, where the ritchta could not reach. The ritchta are bound to the soil of the planet, even the ones who are blessed with wings.” She seemed to remember herself suddenly, embarrassed to have been caught up in such fanciful stories. “Or so the stories go.” She stood up hastily, making the log roll and almost dump Xander to the ground. “We should get back.”
Xander got up, grumbling but compliant. They were slower going this time around because Xander was stick-less but Sora was being remarkably patient with him. She was too caught up in her own thoughts to tell him to speed up and, honestly, Xander was too wrapped up in his own to call her on it. Wouldn’t want anyone to think she was a softie.
They were halfway back to the village (it was a slow process) before Xander spoke up again.
“I’ve seen those before. Twice actually. Once on the last planet, once at home.” He mentioned quietly, biting his lip. His injuries were such that he had to pay close attention to the ground he was walking on or else face an ungraceful spill. Or that’s what he would claim if asked. He didn’t want to see her scrutiny.
“On your planet?” Sora was always curious to hear about his home. She told him once that she thought it was bizarre that his planet didn’t have a stargate. He had to admit, stargates were pretty cool but… Unless stargates could create a portal to another dimension, he was shit out of luck getting home.
“Yeah.” Xander rubbed the back of his neck. “They’re… feral.” He realized, without even looking at her, that the last sentence needed a bit more elaboration. “I mean, obviously your primal- I mean, ritchta- are wild. I get that. But this-” He extended his arm in the general direction of nowhere and yet his meaning was clear. “This is like a tame wild, you know? Like when you’d feed the wild cats that skulk around your village and they’re wild and they’re mean but they come back for more scraps and even let you pat them on the head once or twice without getting clawed before they go running off back into the wild.” He took a big gulp of air. “But the ones- there. On my planet. They were…” He wanted to say evil but the label was too black and white, even for the hyena’s thoughtless cruelty. “Different. Angry.” He decided on lamely.
“I guess it depends on the environment- and who the person was, of course.” Sora speculated dubiously. “The ritchta here know this place and they know these people. Even if they don’t know the people, per se, they at least knew the family before. Familiarity breeds… comfort, I suppose. Even for the ritchta.” She gazed at him half under the veil of her hair.
He felt the weight of her gaze like it was a physical thing, but pretended he didn’t notice. Xander knew she was about to ask something and that something was a heavy question. He could read her intention on her face and, although he wished she wouldn’t ask at all, he wished she’d stop threat assessing and just come out with it already.
“You had a nightmare last night.” And WHAM. She didn’t beat around the bush. No gentle lead into it, no easy questions, just BAM. Smack in the face. “You kept on asking if someone named Syera was alive. I assumed he wasn’t.” Xander only nodded, his lips pressed in a thin line. “What was it like, in the Keep?”
“Dismal.” His lips twisted briefly into something that was too cruel to be a smile. “Lonely. Cold. Horrible.” He navigated his wave around a dense bit of brush. “A guy could lose his sense of self in such a place. I did, for a while.”
“Was Syera your friend?” She asked gently.
“Yeah. First friend. Last one, I promised.” He smiled briefly and looked up at her. He gave her a sheepish look. “Broke the promise, made another.”
“You told me before that you were in there for six months.” How much crap did he mumble when he was under the influence of that evil, wonderful tea? “How can you go for six months and only make two friends? I would have thought, in such a situation, men would band together and-” Xander was laughing. It wasn’t a nice sound.
“Band together, my ass! Everyone hated everyone, everyone hated themselves. Doesn’t make for good unity under ANY circumstance…” Xander trailed off, rotating his shoulder unconsciously. He continued with a softer voice. “I had one there, one man I trusted, one guy I called friend. He threw me off a ten story wall with the hope that I would die.” He turned to her, suddenly angry. “You see, when you got friends, you don’t want them in that sort of situation. You want to get them out of there- even if it means securing the only irrefutable way out. Death.”
Sora’s eyes were big. He didn’t care if she was shocked. She SHOULD know these things. From what little he had pried from her about her culture, she wasn’t from a world of good old country pacifists. It irritated him, that she should have such idealistic notions about man. Man wasn’t concerned with honor. Man was concerned with self-preservation. Xander felt as if he should stop talking but it just KEPT on coming out.
“There’s no hero in the wings, there’s no honor in what you’re doing, and you HATE everyone, because they’re alive and you’re alive and maybe someone else, someone more DESERVING isn’t, and, and…” Xander ran out of words for a moment before he remembered something awful. “The Wraith LOVE it.” He shook his head, the gesture as violent and brief as his words. “You have no idea how much.” Xander came back to himself, shoving that anger way WAY down. Snatches of it kept slipping out despite his efforts. “It’s Hell on a floating island. I REALLY don’t want to go back Sora. I’d kill myself before I’d let them catch me again.”
Time passed, as it often did. They didn’t go directly back Sora’s house, instead choosing to linger around in the village. They were just in time for dinner. Meals were communal, shared between all of the members of the village. It made for a large party in a very small village. There couldn’t be more than thirty or forty people in the village but each made enough noise for at least twice their person.
Xander mingled with Sora’s adopted people. Did the nice thing. He could TOO do the nice thing! He just usually did the sarcasm thing. The comments from the peanut gallery thing. The really not needed observations about life thing. He could socialize. Kind of.
Xander found himself falling back on the tried and true manners thing once he realized the brilliance of his ‘thing’ (sarcasm, comments, observations, or otherwise) was going over the heads of the village people, especially when he got into the pop culture references. Let’s not let them think that the odd man found in the woods was TOO odd, else they do the good old ‘angry mob with torches and pitforks’ routine.
The people were polite and nice if not a bit cautious. They shared food and drink freely. Xander very pointedly ignored the broth Sora got him and ripped a huge chunk of steak savagely from his meal. Then, at her glare, meekly put the meat down and drank his broth.
It was nighttime already. Many of the people were already inside. These weren’t the type of people who stuck around long after the sun went down. Xander approved. Vampire-less or not, it was just better if people stayed inside at night. Not that he was one to, but that was different. He was aware of the things that went bump in the night. He was expendable.
Sora seemed inclined to stay out longer. That was not acceptable. She was just torturing herself. Xander made with the drama, leaned heavily on his stick (new and less splinter inducing!), and complained tiredly about his aching knee, getting enthusiastic nods from some of the older men lingering outside with them. Sora scowled at him but got the hint. She got up and wrapped an arm around his waist. Nobly sacrificing his dignity for the cause, Xander leaned on her heavily and tried to look pathetic.
Sora was blushing, trying to avoid looking at the group of old men, who were nudging each other knowingly and snickering while unsubtly watching them walk off together to the lonely little one room house near the edge of the village. Different culture, different world, different dimension- it didn’t matter. The old folks were still sticking their noses in the love lives of the young’uns. Or lack thereof.
Xander, on the other hand, did not have such illusions about their relationship. He knew his place. He was the surrogate brother type all the way. There had to be some sort of mathematical formula for that. The cuter he found a girl (and the less evil she was), the more they felt the need to treat him like a sibling. It was quite bruising to one’s ego when the only women who were interested in him in THAT way were evil, should have come with a warning label, or both.
The crisp air of the night was a stark contrast to the slightly stale air of Sora’s house. She didn’t have windows and you didn’t leave your door open for anything, PERIOD. Or so she told him. She fed him some horror story about bad ass alien raccoons that multiplied like bunnies (he was paraphrasing) but he knew better. Sora was anal about EVERYTHING. Sometimes, she reminded him of a cat walking on hot coals- always tense, always cautious, always slow, just waiting for that knife in the back.
Xander sat down on the edge of his bed and watched as Sora wandered around, fixing this, adjusting that. Finally, she sat down in her own bed, which didn’t look HALF as comfortable as his. He tried to make an issue out of it but she got fed up and said she would punch him if he kept bugging her about it.
And she WOULD do it too. Looking for a shy wilting flower? Wrong place, buddy.
Xander rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. For the first time in more than two months, he had gotten to shave. Such luxuries were rare in the Keep, so that morning, he had taken much pleasure in the simple task. It had been a while since he had been able to, so he was struck by the strange sense of being naked. It didn’t help that Sora promptly informed him that he looked ridiculously young without a beard. He was an eighteen year old male, for crying out loud. He didn’t need to hear that!
“You can stay here.” She told him suddenly. He realized, a bit late, that she had been watching him steadily for the last few minutes. “If you cannot go back to your world. I would-” Sora bit her lip and looked away for a moment. “I would not object strenuously if you were to stay with me.”
“Well, don’t get all excited over little old me.” Xander retorted, trying for an indifferent look. Like most things he did, it failed miserably and Xander had to deal with the indignity of grinning stupidly at her despite his good intentions to stop. Then he had a thought that made the grin disappear in a flash. “I can’t go back. There’s no way back.”
“Then stay.” She said, as if it was a simple matter. And, thinking about it, Xander realized it was.
“You aren’t planning on eating me or something, are you?” He smiled again but it was a nervous gesture. It was a question that really needed asking, considering his track record. “That’s usually the way these things play out.” Sora gave him that look of polite confusion. He got that from her a lot. “I can stay. If you want me to.” She smiled brilliantly, thrilled beyond measure that he would be mooching off of her for an even longer period of time. Girls were strange.
“I would like that.”