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
Xander came to with a gasp. His spine protested his violent lurch upward but he didn’t pay much attention to that, wildly twisting and turning for some indication that this was just routine, business as usual. That he just had a nightmare and Sora was asleep in the other bed and he was just suffering from some form or another of shell shock.
He looked around, his hopes plummeting abruptly. His bed was hard. His blanket was gone. Sora was absent. He was in the outpost, alone and cold with one killer of a headache. He barely remembered what happened. There was a celebration, right? And Sora… Sora had done something very wrong. She summoned the Wraith to Aromos.
Wrapped around his fist was Sora’s necklace. It was a plain and ugly thing that only looked good when the girl in question was wearing it. The pendant (if it could be called that) was about the size of a fifty-cent coin and looked not unlike a flattened bottle cap. He knew for certain that Sora wore it underneath her clothes. There was no reason why it should have been with him.
What happened? Why the hell was he in the outpost? He remembered catching something, a simple bundle of herbs in a cloth that opened in his hand and… argh! It was that knock out shit, a potent variation of the stuff she put in his tea. She knocked him out and must have dragged him into the outpost. But why? If she was going to kill everyone, why bother attempting to save him? Him, being a Keeper so damn unredeemable and ‘unsociable’ that the only kind thing to do was to put him out of his misery.
Where the hell did Sora get this kind of ass backwards logic anyway? Anyone in the village could tell her… His back straightened up suddenly as he remembered the villagers. The Wraith, would they have- He couldn’t complete the thought. The villagers had run and run quickly, but the Wraith ships moved faster, much faster.
Xander lurched to his feet and nearly flung himself at the door, pushing and trying to force the door open. It barely moved, what with the rock in the way, so he ran back into the interior of the outpost, looking around for a wedge to stick in the small opening. He ended up breaking one of the console tables, grabbing a long piece of metal from the wreckage to use as leverage.
With some effort, he managed to knock the rock over outside, which left an opening barely wide enough to slip through, but slip through he did, ignoring the scratches he received for it. Xander didn’t know how much time had passed, but he was determined to get back to the village and help. If there was anyone left to help.
It was still dark but the woods all around him were silent, even of the noises of animals and insects. The air was thick with smoke and ash and, all above him, the light from the moon and stars was muted, obscured by a thick cloud of smoke hovering over the land. Xander knew what that all MEANT but… He ran to the village anyway, slowing down only when he reached the outskirts of it.
He anticipated the sight. Sora had prepared him for it. But he still couldn’t believe his eyes.
The village was a stretch of burning and half-destroyed buildings. Sora was right; they did attack the houses first. Even the house they had just built was destroyed, its roof knocked down in such a way that no one, not even a sweet pregnant lady, could have survived.
He felt nausea suddenly rise to his throat and stumbled over to a bush. He vomited and heaved until there was nothing left but emptiness. Dizzy, he pushed away from the bush, shaking and on the verge of tears. He couldn’t even hear the crackling of the flame over the buzzing in his ears as he staggered through the hollow place that once had been a happy little village.
It was a barren place now. No one was left. If anyone had been lucky enough to evade the Wraith, they would be dead regardless. The direction Sora and he had run off to was the opposite direction of the way the villagers fled. The stretch of forest off in the other direction was burnt and in some places, still burning. If the fire didn’t flush them out for the Wraith to pick off and the fire didn’t burn them, they suffocated under the ash and smoke.
Xander felt suffocated himself, but for different reasons. He found himself in the middle of the village in that space where all the villagers had gathered together to eat and talk. He remembered the jokes and the fond complaints and the care each had for another, regardless of blood lines or pasts. He remembered the laughter the most and had to cover his burning eyes with his hand.
The fires still burned all around him, sluggish and muted, a reminder of loss and death.
He remembered more! He remembered the faces of the people he killed all of a sudden, and they were friendly faces. Faces of fathers, sons, uncles, brothers, friends- all dead. The villagers of Aromos- all dead. And who was responsible? Who had brought on this mess? He grasped his marked arm with bruising force as he fell to his knees.
“It was me.” He whispered to no one. Wood crackled as fire continued to leisurely devour it. “It was my fault.”
“It was not.” The whisper was so faint that he thought it to merely be the wind but he heard it when it was repeated and immediately got up to look for a sign of a survivor, but there was no one.
No one but a gleaming specter, regally sitting on top of an overturned log. It stared at him with fierce intensity. It had the golden form of a wolf but had the bluest eyes he had ever seen. It was a primal spirit, like his hyena and like those strange creatures that had dragged him from the Keep to the stargate. No, Sora had called it a ritchta. He remembered the word clearly because it had the same strange rigidity for singularity and plurality that the word ‘Wraith’ had.
“It was not.” The whisper was repeated again and again and again as more ritchta appeared. They came in various forms and yet seemed universal, connected and shared in some way that Xander couldn’t even begin to articulate but somehow just knew. For a moment, Xander touched upon that universal singular mind, not so much invited as he was dragged into it.
It felt like being pushed into a wildly active ocean with distorted and confused waves tossing him about as he sank deeper and deeper below the surface. He was afraid he was going to drown.
In a thousand screaming and crying voices, he heard their pain, their sorrow, and their suffering, as clear as the sound of his own heart beat. Their feelings became, it seemed, his own and his deep felt sorrow only magnified their own. Thousands of years of death, needless sacrifice, and fear etched on his mind in one single moment. It hurt.
It was too much. He was only one and they were many. He tilted his head back and screamed, his heart burning with hatred of the TRUE bringer of calamity, the true cause of the pain, and the true foe in lives of all who lived.
The ritchta screamed with him, shrieking with hatred of the Wraith.
He must have passed out again, sometime between getting out of the outpost and coming into the village. Startled and shaking from the effects of an intense dream, Xander woke up with a face full of leaves next to one of still slowly burning buildings- Sora’s house, in fact, nearly on the edge of the village. He didn’t remember passing out but he remembered feeling sick. He still felt sick. He felt unclean, like the metaphorical blood of the villagers would never be washed from his hands.
But it wasn’t his fault, not entirely, at least. He knew how cause and effect worked and there was no way that he was the sole cause of this terrible effect. Xander knew that the Wraith were the cause of this effect. If you took the Wraith from the equation, you would no longer have the effect. If you took Xander from the equation, well… Sora had her orders and her damn pride. The culling would have happened with or without his help.
But Xander, unwitting tool he was, did contribute to the culling, and it was this truth that Xander felt the most guilt and anguish over.
He was the mechanism that Sora had allowed for, the mechanism that could have stopped this before it started. He provided the technology that Sora undoubtedly used to draw the Wraith to this place. Instead of digging into Sora’s past as much as she dug into his own (she was trying to goad him into attacking and killing her, he realized), he focused on salvaging what he had left to him and creating a new life.
Yes, he made mistakes, many of which were fatal. But the fault didn’t entirely rest on his shoulders. For that matter, the fault didn’t entirely rest on Sora’s shoulders either. Even now, smarting from the betrayal, Xander couldn’t cast her completely in the role of the big bad. She was a product of her people, a child of a war that few thought could be won and even fewer feverously thought could be won with tactics like the sacrifice of Aromos.
That and he couldn’t say she was a bad person either. She was a ruthless and cold hearted liar when she wanted to be but… there was a part of her that was Xander’s, a part that wasn’t one hundred percent engaged in her stupid orders. He saw it when she gave him those rare genuine smiles. He saw it when she talked about her home. And he saw it right up until the last moment when she, upset and furious, still tried to reach him in some way.
Sora saw Xander as a mode for possible redemption. Xander saw Sora as a potential lifelong friend. Who was right? Xander never redeemed Sora and Sora never was Xander’s friend. And now Sora was dead- or worse. Everyone on the planet was dead- or worse. All but Xander, who could only sit in the ruins of the village contemplating the ruins of his life- or what accounted for such anyway.
Xander was upset still but it was muted in what felt like an all encompassing numbness. Once you see the gaping holes of what used to be rows of house and home, friend and family- after a while, you can’t remember what they used to look like before when they were whole. He felt odd, like Aromos had been an illusion and what he was seeing now- this was the reality. He just finally woke up.
The Wraith acted as one hell of an alarm clock.
He slowly rose to his feet once more, feeling an odd sort of déjà vu. He had been in this situation before. So hurt and nearly dead, he walked away once from that place that offered nothing but death for him- the Keep. Now, he knew he had to do it again. He needed to walk away from the place that had offered him nothing but life- the village. But now it, rather than he, was so hurt and practically dead. There were parallels any idiot could see but Xander, looking at the fractured homes and hearing the absent voices of the dead, wondered if what he was seeing was not just haunting parallels, but an actual disease. And he was spreading it.
No, no! It wasn’t him. It wasn’t his fault. He played a role but it was minor at best. The real main characters were the Wraith. They were the source of the disease. No, not even. They WERE the disease. The worst sin he could claim was trying to escape it. The dumbest mistake he could claim was trying to ignore that the disease ever had him. The Keeper within him was forever imprinted with the claim of that disease and trying to ignore that part of him was like trying to ignore the hyena or the soldier. Each had a solid claim on his past, present, and future.
He vaguely remembered the ritchta in the dream. Their anger was such a strong, nearly physical thing, utterly bewildering in the strength of the emotion’s simplicity. It was like hearing a single note of music that never ceased. Eventually, you stop hearing the note itself. It becomes a kind of background noise but, more importantly, it becomes something that you take into yourself so deeply that you become one with it. When the note finally ceases, you stop, confused. You know something so vital has been taken away from you but you don’t know what.
The ritchta, they were like that. The anger had become so overwhelming that they hardly recognized the emotion anymore. They were frustrated, angry, and confused. They didn’t know what to do with it, because the emotion had been with them for so long. If they did something to relieve the anger (and it was so clear they wanted to), they would lose a vital part of themselves, something so central to their being. So they wanted everything but they did nothing. They had no aim. They had no purpose.
Xander sympathized, but he had little attachment to identity or being comparable to their rigidness and insistence on it. He shared the anger but he WOULD have purpose. He would reach that spot where he could relieve it, even if in some small way. The anger and the pain, the memories and the blood- they were all he had left. And yet he would sacrifice them all to achieve his purpose that which, you could say, came to him in a dream.
His purpose was not noble. His purpose was probably one of the worst of the arcane sins, as he planned on vengeance. Nothing like an eye for an eye was more satisfying for people who have been as deeply hurt as Xander. Whatever metaphorical blood he had on his hands, it would soon be washed away in the blood of the Wraith he would hunt.
Hunt. Huh. The hyena had once so horrified him because of her great glorification of such a brutal and bloody sport. He blamed the Wraith for his sudden desire of it. They managed to kill an innocence in him that even the Hellmouth hadn’t been able to touch yet by forcing him to kill other humans. And from there, the rest of his corruption was inevitable.
Perhaps he even tried to unconsciously redeem himself, to prove that he wasn’t just the sum of the products of the Wraith’s manipulation. He attempted to ignore the Wraith and start a new life… so the Wraith turned around and took everything he had.
Maybe it was about time he returned the favor.