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
The weightlessness scared him in a way that little else had in months. He thought he might have screamed but then he hit SOMETHING- one of the upper most branches of the trees. It broke under his weight. Xander’s ribs broke in his chest, screaming agony. And he kept going down, kept hitting branches. Kept on FALLING and falling and it never seemed to stop.
Until HE stopped. He hit the ground with a suddenness that wasn’t even as alarming as the sudden halt to his fall. Bits of broken branch still fell around him, above him, over him. It had been a long fall and the trees took much of the brunt of it, but he had SURVIVED. He rolled over, yelling hoarsely because that was been a bad idea. His back was raw and bruised and it could barely take the pressure of the dirt against it, let alone the pressure of the dirt plus his body weight.
He started coughing uncontrollably, each jerk of his chest as painful as the last. There was blood in his mouth, pain in his chest, agony in his stomach. One arm was dislocated, the other was bent the wrong way. His knee felt like an island of pain all on its own but he thought he might be able to get on his feet, bruised and aching and maybe even sprained but not broken.
Xander was free but… how LONG would he survive?
The pain was too much. He blacked out for a while and woke up with a start. What had been day had eased into night. He could see no moon because of the thickness of the trees but he assumed several hours had passed. If he hadn’t died while he was unconscious, then he had some hope he could live through his injuries at all.
The crystal was cold against his chest. Xander used it all up- forever? Crap, great job, Harris.
Feeling around his ribs and torso, Xander realized while a lot had been healed already, he was still too wounded to move. His skin had grown back, his cuts had pulled together, and some bones had been mended but he couldn’t even imagine the ordeal he’d have to go through to get up. With both arms out of commission, he didn’t see much hope for that.
He realized that he was sitting near a tree. While the angle was totally wrong, maybe he could stick his shoulder back in? He had seen other people do it. Other people as in Faith and the Death Keeper but that at least PROVED it could be done. No harm in attempting, anyway.
Or wrong- LOTS of harm attempting!
Through much trial and error and pain, he thought he managed to shove it back in. Dizzy and about on the verge of passing out again, he managed to push himself up to a seated position, only to fall back down again when his arm, trembling with the effort, collapsed under his weight. He laid on the ground for the longest time, breathing harshly and shaking. He felt nauseous and sick and, for the first time, wished he had died during the fall, that his neck had hit the branches instead of his stomach and back.
He was about on the verge of giving up entirely when he saw it.
It was a creature crafted of golden whisps of energy. Despite its failure to stick to solid form, he could not help but think it still as an animal, solid with drives and appetites. It watched him from on top of a rock, seeming to look at Xander steadily. He wondered how long it had been sitting there, watching him struggle and hurt himself, or even if it had been there before, watching him while he was unconscious and vulnerable.
He had seen it once before, before the Keeper culling with the T-Rex. He thought it had saved him, in a way, but he couldn’t help but wonder if it was just so he could be eaten later. He found he was too hurting to care.
“Go ahead and eat me.” Xander said, waving his arm weakly. It weighed about a ton. “I’ve already been tenderized and everything.” He laughed until it hurt. Xander managed to roll on his side, facing the creature but it made no move, just continued to watch him as it threw off random light. He wondered why it wasn’t eating him. He didn’t want to die but he was being realistic here: he was a six course meal that had been thrown, LITERALLY, into its lap.
Besides, he preferred it to the Wraith. There was something more… humane about being torn apart by a real predator rather than being toyed with by the Wraith who, for all of their alien ways, seemed like petulant children toying with their food, not understanding and not caring about the consequences of their actions. One of these days, their ‘food’ was going to fight back and no one would know what hit them.
He jerked awake again, having fallen asleep almost without noticing it. It was getting colder as the night dragged on but not so cold Xander thought he couldn’t handle it. He felt a little bit better and a little more human but he was still in so much pain. Letting his head fall to the side, he realized quickly that it, the creature, was still there, still watching.
The creature finally moved from its rock, taking careful steps over to Xander’s side. He watched it with the same wary resigned attention that he had given the brander after that first time. You knew it was going to happen regardless of anything you did but you still wanted to do SOMETHING to save yourself. It was an urge so hard to fight that you felt it like an ache in your teeth.
The creature lowered its head to Xander’s shoulder and closed its mouth around it. Xander grunted. It was the bad shoulder. Oddly, the creature seemed to pull back at the noise. It circled him, watching with… well, it didn’t seem to have eyes. Where the eyes should have been was just that pale yellow gleam, darker than the rest but nothing that indicated an actual eye.
It sharply looked off into the distance and, without warning, there were six energy creatures where there had been one before. He had an urge to complain. He might have accepted being the meal of one alien demon thingy, he didn’t want to be the meal of an entire pack. Strange pack though they were. They didn’t even match in form.
They looked at each other for a while before turning their full focus on him. Their eyes were suddenly and startlingly visible in an array of different colors from a dark brown to a light gray. They seemed to glow with their own light, much like the light that their barely solid forms gave off. What disturbed him more was that every pair of eyes that looked down on him was so completely human, if one disregarded the shell they were in.
Human eyes or not, the focus they had on him was unnerving. He tried to meld with the floor, which was ironic because that was exactly what he had been trying to do before. They jumped at him, bearing incorporeal teeth and open mouths… and harmlessly grabbed his clothing. Xander noticed that they avoided his arm and his shoulder.
“Uh, you guys?” Xander asked, feeling stupid. Following some signal from the front, they started dragging him across the ground. “Ow, what the FUCK!” Xander barely managed to position his broken arm over his hips so it wasn’t being jostled as much but it still HURT! “Eat me, don’t drag me around while you make up your mind!”
They dragged him for miles, it seemed. Xander felt every rock, root, and branch on his raw and aching back. The fact that he had healed so much already was rather phenomenal, if you thought about it, but it STILL wasn’t enough! He wanted to be well enough to fight these little bastards off.
Not that he could, realistically. He put his foot through the glowing creature near his feet twice. It was like kicking air- there was no point. Apparently, nature wasn’t fair. These guys could abuse him as much as they wanted but he couldn’t even seek retaliation.
He attempted diplomacy. He tried to tell them that he’d really taste better if he wasn’t covered in dirt. He tried to bribe them with the promise of a juicier, meatier substitution. He even tried to appeal to their ethics, even managed to babble something about the Geneva Convention and torture. But they continued on, as if they couldn’t understand. Which of COURSE they couldn’t, but Xander didn’t want to hear that.
They stopped in a huge clearing, FINALLY. They let him go and backed away, those human eyes staring at him almost expectantly. A hand carefully cradling his ribs, he pushed his torso up and looked around with his legs spread out in front of him. His brain stuttered to a halt when he realized what he was looking at. Xander shoved himself up to his feet painfully, laughing hoarsely.
It was the altar, but it wasn’t just an altar, it was a stargate! The strange device that would create portals to other worlds using a combination of symbols, an ‘address’! He leaned heavily on the device with the symbols, recalling with ease the address to Syera’s planet. With a broken laugh, he pressed the six symbols in rapidly. The middle button, shaped like a big glowing gem, was a start button if there ever was one. He pressed into it, giddy.
But nothing happened. The stargate lit up but failed to engage. Xander was pissed, enraged, and depressed all at once. To be denied something at the last possible moment-! He hit the device impotently, whirling around. The energy creatures sat and watched. There was a certain peace and serenity to them that immediately made Xander feel foolish at his little tantrum.
He meekly turned around to the device and tried again. It failed, again. But Xander was watching the circle itself this time and he thought he might know what the problem was. There was something missing in the sequence of symbols.
“I need another symbol, right?” he asked no one in particular. “At least it’s just one symbol I have to guess at.” He looked over the device, counting the buttons. “Thirty-eight possible answers to my problem.” Xander braced himself on the device, fighting off a dizzy spell. “Oh what the hell, I have all night.”
He tried seventeen different symbols as the final symbol (the symbol of origin, Xander remembered vaguely from Ma’ryn’s lecture on the topic) until, finally, there was a reaction from the gate. It was a reaction that literally jolted Xander off of his feet. There was a whoosh and without any warning, the portal seemed to reach out for him before it settled back within the confines of the circle. It reminded him of a waterfall, but the concentrated force of it reminded him also of a geyser. A sideways geyser, at that.
Xander managed to get himself back up on his feet again, stumbling to the glowing puddle of water. It looked so strange and beautiful, shimmering there gently at him. He could hardly believe such a thing could lead anywhere else but heaven but it did have to lead to a hell, since that was where he was. He looked over his shoulder, almost looking for approval from the energy creatures but they were gone, leaving no hint of their presence.
With nothing but his injuries and the clothes on his back, Xander took a deep breath and eased into the portal.
Xander remembered a trip to Catalina Island when he was eleven. He went with Willow and her parents for the summer vacation because her parents were concerned that she would stay indoors the entire week instead of going out to enjoy the island. Xander was their only hope of their daughter seeing the light of day.
Xander took his job seriously and managed to drag Willow nearly everywhere on the island, resulting in two very unhappy kids with serious sunburns. He forgot the sunscreen. It was fun, in both a real sense and in a sarcastic sense. He always thought that that Sheila and Ira were awfully kind to have invited him along.
His own parents were kind in the sense that they let him go without a fuss, not that the Rosenberg family could understand the absent and indifferent way he was dropped off on their front porch the day before they had to go. They wanted to talk about possible child abuse and neglect. He wanted to talk about candy and boats that would go real fast. Thankful, Sheila and Ira dropped the issue.
He remembered finally reaching the island, hoping for tropical trees, sunken ships, or even a pirate or two. Maybe even one of those big flashy birds that became popular as a mascot on cereal boxes. What he saw instead was the same sort of stuff he’d see in California, only the sun was on the wrong side. Xander realized in hindsight that he shouldn’t have expected something so foreign so close the mainland, considering just how little time it took to get to the little island.
He was reminded of that disappointment now because, even though he had allegedly jumped over quite some distance, the land in front of him was nearly identical to the world he had just left. Was it too much to ask for a talking purple plant or green sand? This was supposed to be an alien environment, why did it have to look so much like home? Or maybe something farther up north, Oregon or Washington, or even Canada. Xander wasn’t seeing too many desert plants.
Xander stumbled down the steps gracelessly, doing his best to keep his weight off of his knee, which, in thanks, only screamed in pain every OTHER step. He wasn’t going to be able to keep up the pace for much longer. He’d either need a crutch or a new knee- neither of which were in eyesight. So he continued to limp grudgingly.
The only confirmation that this planet was a different one was the lack of a looming Keep off in the distance. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t any Wraith about. Glancing over his shoulder at the silent gate, he knew that just as the gate had been his salvation, it could easily become his bane. The portal was open to anyone. The Wraith could come through anytime- did, even, on that first planet he was on, six months ago.
There was a barely worn path in the grass, its destination unknown. Xander staggered to it hurriedly, more willing to take on any native who would have made the path than he was willing to linger by the stargate and wait for the Wraith to come. Because they would come. They always knew how to find their lost humans.
Two months ago, he had the unfortunate pleasure to watch a Keeper battle. It was rare in the sense that there were three Keepers involved, and even rarer in the sense that two of the Keepers were forced to team up. The third Keeper was one who was lucky enough to survive the fall from the grate, but unlucky enough to be picked up by the Wraith soon after.
The battle wasn’t so much of a battle as it was an execution. The Keepers were angry that the one managed to get free, and even angrier at the fact that he had gotten recaptured. Such a thing tended to pop holes in what little hope a Keeper could dare have. No one liked to face up to the fact that, if you did manage to escape the Keep, you could never go home. You could never live in peace. All you were allowed to do was run and run and hope the Wraith weren’t faster than you, because they would be after you.
He needed to get away from the stargate.