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 wasn’t a cruel man.
He was one of the few higher level Keepers that didn’t play with their food. Although the smart Keeper knew that once he was paired off with Xander, he was going to die, he also knew that at least Xander would kill him quickly rather than drag it out like so many of the broken Keepers did. Like the Death Keeper did. Like the amateur Keepers on the first floor. Like the Wraith enjoyed.
This was something that the Keepers appreciated longer and longer they stayed in the Keep but Xander was always under the impression that they all hated him because he never died. What they did hate was the hellish situation, their looming death, and the always present Wraith. They just happened to take it out on him, secretly wishing for what Xander had openly obsessed about: killing the Wraith in a battle for revenge.
Xander spared a glance for the grate that had caught his eye six months before. The desperate made their attempts at escape through there, hoping to live through the fall long enough to find the path to the stargate. There was no easy way out of the Keep, for the Keep was a floating island, anchored to the ground with what Ma’ryn had called ‘ambitious bits of string’. The grate was the closest to the ground, but still a good four hundred feet away from packed dirt and harder rocks. Many died in the attempt and those who didn’t wished they did.
The grate was never far from a Keeper’s thoughts though. Like the Holy Grail, it was their one hope. Their golden opportunity to escape, if they just went for it. The Wraith didn’t even bother to bolt it down. Every Keeper always kept it as an option but rarely ever took it. It was easier to suck it up and kill somebody than it was it to risk your own life in an escape attempt that might not even work.
One more psychological kick to the balls. Xander recognized it for what it was. It was like dangling succulent meat in front of a starving child. It was an ultimate act of cruelty that Xander couldn’t even play devil’s advocate and justify. It was just one more detail to add to the millions of details that led him happily to the arena floor that day.
“Richard” was already there. Xander bet he was armed. Xander HOPED he was armed, if only for the pleasure of taking the Wraith’s weapon from him and using it for the sole purpose to hurt, to kill, to DESTROY. Nothing destroyed a vampire’s ego more than being staked by their own stake. Xander assumed it would be the same with the Wraith.
“Hiya Richard.” He smiled and it was a terrible thing to witness. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long LONG time.”
Xander wasn’t a cruel man, no, but he saved mercy only for those who deserved it. The Wraith did not deserve it.
If the Keepers had watched the battle, they would have wondered who exchanged Keeper Swift for the Death Keeper. The smarter ones would have realized that Xander was toying with “Richard” as much as the collective Wraith had toyed with them all but only Ma’ryn knew that Xander was trying to make “Richard” feel as Syera must have felt- the face of death right there, breathing on him, as he wished and hoped it would just looked away.
Something slid over him like a silk blanket. Xander recognized it. He always did, until he didn’t. This time, instead of allowing it to let him mentally pull away from the battle, he fought it. It fought back, sulky, but compromised for just being there. Not watching but not fogging either. Xander didn’t want to forget this battle.
The Wraith fighting style consisted of an upfront attack. “Richard” stalked forward like a single minded bull. It was their arrogance personified. Food wasn’t supposed to fight back. Xander taught him the error of his ways. Humans ALWAYS fought. It was practically a biological imperative.
The demon had strength on his side and managed to use it more than once. Xander’s head felt like a dented pumpkin from one blow he took at full force and could barely push himself to his knees. The Wraith knocked him back down again, gleefully, which was a mistake. Xander was good with his legs and being stuck on the ground meant he had to use them.
He never knew that leg-sweepy thing actually worked outside of the movies for non-slayers but it got the Wraith on the ground with him and before Xander even knew what he was doing, he was straddling the Wraith and choking him to death. It was a bad idea from the start, the demon was stronger.
“Richard” attempted to feed on him from his position but caught his hand on Xander’s vest instead of his chest. When that didn’t work, the demon just shoved him off and rolled to his feet, launching a kick that Xander barely caught from his kneeling position. The hold echoed with a bitter familiarity in Xander, who suddenly remembered the farmer with stunning clarity. With no guilt whatsoever, he twisted his grip powerfully, breaking the demon’s leg. He let go.
The demon fell back on his other leg but stayed upright. The bastard was already healing, a luxury he had not allowed the farmer. He swung out at Xander when the human came close but Xander only ducked and did a different variant of the leg-sweepy thing directly to the broken leg. The Wraith screeched in pain. Xander basked in the sound, smirking at the Wraith when he snarled at him.
“You have a strange way of hiding your fear.” Xander told the Wraith, his voice twisted into something harsh. The Wraith recognized the words and bared his teeth, even if he did not recognize the reason why Xander was repeating them.
Revenge was little more than getting even. Becoming equals or better yet, reversing the odds. What was my fate is now yours. Xander was the aggressor, no longer the victim. Xander was the taunter, no longer the taunted. Xander was the predator, no longer the prey. In the heat of the moment, Xander enjoyed the role reversal.
“Get up.” He ordered coldly. “If only to give me the pleasure of knocking you down again.”
The Wraith got up slowly, painfully as he clutched at his leg. Something clicked in his leg, barely out of ear shot as he leaned over, his gold eyes glaring hatefully at Xander. He was shuffling backwards minutely, or as much as he could in that position, but he didn’t straighten up, somehow knowing Xander wouldn’t attack until he stood up all of the way.
“You think the battle is won?” The Wraith laughed hoarsely. “This is a simple wound to fix.” His head dipped slightly, letting silvery white hair fall to obstruct his face. Xander tensed but for why, he couldn’t say. “Arrogant little… HUMAN!”
At the screech of his species, the Wraith straightened up and threw something at him with surprising speed. Xander didn’t expect to catch it so he didn’t. His shoulder did instead. It was a sharp pain that exploded outwards with a rush before it dulled momentarily with a cruel ache he felt all the way down to his bones.
His torso curled reflexively in response to the injury, like he was a wounded animal that wanted nothing more than to shield the hurt in a futile attempt to stop it from hurting even more. He straightened a little when something colder and more human took control from his baser instincts.
Xander turned to the Wraith, who hadn’t rushed him in his moment of weakness because of his own, placing a hand underneath the imbedded knife. It wasn’t in deep but the blood already soaked half of his vest. Making sure the demon was watching, he yanked the weapon out of his shoulder, ignoring the bright hot flashes of pain.
“You think the battle is won?” Xander repeated mockingly. His vest was split at one shoulder and fell down far enough that the injury was clearly framed. He absently twirled the knife through his fingers, faintly remembering a failed attempt at knife throwing when he was fourteen, how funny Jesse thought whole experience was, how appalled Willow was at all of the damage. “This is a simple wound to fix.”
Drusilla’s necklace BURNED against his chest. For a moment, Xander knew what she was talking about, with all of the singing. He could feel the edges of the wound knit together. Still playing with the knife that the silly Wraith had brought him, he walked up to the Wraith, who watched him with uncomprehending eyes.
“Arrogant little Wraith.” He said softly, quietly. He remembered a scream and a corpse. Without hesitation, he slammed the handle of the knife into the Wraith’s throat, making him choke and cough. For the next grueling couple of minutes, the battle was brutal. Both Wraith and human tore at each other with a vengeance. Bones broke, skin tore… even hair was pulled (in Xander’s defense, “Richard” started it) in their sudden frenzy of blood lust.
The Wraith hadn’t managed to break his spirit so he did his best to break Xander’s body. Being similarly motivated, Xander’s goal simply was to destroy. Strength wasn’t much of an advantage, as “Richard” found out, but neither was speed, Xander learned to his dismay. It all came down to who could withstand more pain and who could heal faster.
Xander was afraid he would get to the point where he could no longer take the pain, but, lucky for him, the Wraith suddenly started to heal slower and slower, like he had run out of juice or something. It made him clumsy and off balance. Without any remorse, Xander took full advantage of the Wraith’s weakness.
The heat of the necklace wasn’t as noticeable any more. Xander had a bad feeling that its ability to heal, like that of the Wraith, was limited as well. He needed to end the battle.
Xander scrambled for the knife, which had been knocked out of his hand when the demon had lunged at him (broken leg and all), and tightened his grip around the hilt. His next action towards the Wraith wasn’t a punch like the demon expected, but a vicious slice across the stomach. Without any warning, “Richard” dropped to his knees, one hand pressing over the contents of his stomach in a half-hearted attempt to keep it from spilling out over the arena floor.
“Congratulations, Keeper.” The Wraith spoke through a bloody mouth. He was smirking. “You have become exactly what she wanted you to be.” He threw his head back and laughed. “A Wraith in human form!”
The thud of the Wraith’s body falling on the ground seemed anti-climatic. The blood, oozing from the knife embedded in the skull of the creature, barely licked his shoes. Xander barely remembered putting it there, only that he wanted the Wraith to just SHUT up because…
Because he recognized the truth when he heard it. He was no better than the Wraith. And worse yet, he couldn’t even manage to summon up the horror and the shame that should have accompanied such a realization.
Xander only raised his eyes once, fixing his attention on the queen. Unlike the almost offended Wraith around her, she was smiling. Amused. The human pet, how pitiful he was! Xander turned his back to her, knowing his fate as well as she did. He did not react when a new Wraith came to fetch him, even though he had proven beyond a measure of a doubt that he could take one on and kill them. He accepted his fate with a bowed head.
Death was better than life at this point.
“Nice.” The Death Keeper observed with a laugh. Xander was covered in blood and gore. Most of it wasn’t even his. “Did you enjoy the blood, Keeper?” Xander felt frozen. He couldn’t respond even if he wanted to, so he passed the Death Keeper, who just kept laughing behind him.
He passed Counter too, who looked at him almost frightened before running away. It was the first time he had ever seen the thin Keeper leave without spouting off a number. Xander felt a strange urge to ask him, to shake him by those thin arms and ask him, “Do you do a future thing too? Can you guess how many days I have left now?”
Xander stayed silent. Inside, he was laughing hysterically.
Ma’ryn let out a heavy sigh when he saw Xander coming. Something squirmed in discomfort inside of Xander when he saw that furry face frown but more than he wanted to grovel for forgiveness, he just wanted to hug his friend. He hated himself now more than ever for putting Ma’ryn in the position he was in.
“Choose his death.” Xander’s escort demanded, already bored. He didn’t get into the drama like “Richard” did. Didn’t have the heart for it or, more likely, didn’t have the patience for it.
Xander gazed up at Ma’ryn, his eyes dull. He wanted to say something meaningful, maybe even something philosophical- Ma’ryn would enjoy that. He suddenly regretted not telling Ma’ryn more about his world. He had so many stories to tell too! So many people to talk about. So many people he would miss.
“Very well.” The catman said softly. He pushed past Xander and his escort without looking at either of them. Xander just watched him go until the escort jerked him back out of the cell. Apparently, they were supposed to follow.
Ma’ryn went up the stairs, a relatively short journey compared to the multiple ones that Xander took when he was on the lower floors but it made sense that it was shorter. It was closer to the top. Getting back to your cell from a battle, now THAT could be a pain, climbing so many floors up. Xander’s mind was rambling.
Ma’ryn took them up another passageway, one that Xander had never seen before, to an open walkway up on top of one of the walls. What counted as a railing (which was really just an extension of the wall) only reached Xander mid-shin, which meant it was even shorter for Ma’ryn. If he tripped, he’d fall all the way down. And down was a LONG ways away.
If Xander wasn’t so preoccupied with the mysterious inevitability of his death, he would have been in more awe. You could see a lot from up here. Although the skies were normally grey and gloomy looking and downright depressing, they looked amazing coupled with the wild life hidden behind the walls. From their viewpoint, Xander could see out for miles until the horizon blurred with mist. It was still early in the day but mist and fog were two prevalent weather themes for the planet, apparently.
There were trees everywhere below. They were all tall strong looking trees, though none were tall enough to be even with Xander. The tallest tree top was at least fifty feet down. Looking down even further, he could see where the health of the trees declined the closer it got to the edges of the Keep, where it hovered over the land, not permitting the trees to get what little sunshine there was to be had on this planet.
“Go.” Ma’ryn told the Wraith imperiously. The catman stopped in the middle of the walkway, facing nature with a scowl and hands tucked behind his back. “I will handle this.” The Wraith left. Apparently, once you ‘choose’ a death, the Wraith didn’t care about when or how, just as long as it was done.
After several long moments of hesitation, Xander ambled over to Ma’ryn’s side. While he didn’t copy Ma’ryn’s position exactly, he followed the implied suggestion of looking out at the world. He didn’t need the bitter feeling that the sight provoked. It was gorgeous, in a gloomy way. He wished he knew more about it. He wished he knew more about the galaxy he was in. He wished Ma’ryn would just go ahead and kill him already.
He angled his head low, trying to see Ma’ryn’s expression but the catman wouldn’t look at him. “Come on, man. The suspense is killing me.” THERE was the expression he was looking for. A glare was better than nothing. “Too early for a joke?”
Xander realized a second later (Good job, Mr. Tactless, he told himself) that Ma’ryn was genuinely upset. He stiffened in alarm when one big hand grabbed the back of his head but relaxed when it only roughly positioned him so he was looking at nature instead of at his friend. Xander accepted it without question. If the catman wanted to look in this direction, he damn well look in this direction and not complain about it.
“I cannot bear to kill you with my own hands.” Ma’ryn gasped roughly. Xander couldn’t even begin to imagine the look on that furry face that would accompany such anguish. He shifted anxiously from foot to foot but kept his eyes averted. He would allow for his friend to keep his dignity. “To me, you are closer than blood.”
“Funny, I’ve… never been much of a cat person.” Xander said helplessly, upset too but unable to deny his nature. Ma’ryn knew the distraction for what it was- nothing, empty air. He spoke as if Xander had said nothing at all.
“But neither will I allow the creature to feast on you.” Ma’ryn let out a slow and shaky sigh. He backed away, disappearing even from Xander’s peripheral vision. “For however long you live, you are free. Remember that, Xander.” There was silence for a while after that quiet promise. Xander crossed his arms over his chest.
“I really don’t see how-” Sudden force hit him from behind, throwing him forward. The wall hit his shin and did nothing to stop his momentum. He pin wheeled his arms, flapped his arms real hard and tried to learn how to fly-
HOLY SHIT, he was falling.