Fate's Cards Reshuffled
The character of Clarence Odbody is borrowed from the film It’s A Wonderful Life
; all other characters are borrowed from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
. Some dialogue from ‘Inca Mummy Girl’, by Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer.Xander Harris, This Is Not Your Life27. Fate’s Cards Reshuffled
‘I know that if it were, like, your duty, then you’d slay Angel’, Willow said. ‘But it wouldn’t feel right, after everything. I like it better with him on our side.’
‘You know what’s funny? Giles talking about my Slayer instincts. The first day I met him, Giles told me I should be able to pick out vampires in a crowd by instinct, and that was also the first day I met Angel. I got a feeling off him, all right—he annoyed me. A lot. But I never got any idea that he was—well, you know.’
‘Maybe your Slayer instincts didn’t react to him like a normal vampire because he isn’t a normal vampire. Maybe having his soul restored really does make a difference. Did you never get another kind of feeling about him?’
Buffy gave Willow a look. ‘Whaddya mean?’
‘Well, he is hunky. Come on, Buffy, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. And there’s a way he looks at you sometimes, when he thinks you won’t see.’
Buffy let herself smile. ‘Okay, I admit it. He could be a bit droolworthy.’ She shook herself. ‘But it’s going to take getting used to. You know, when Mom told me we were going to be hosting an exchange student, first I thought, a total stranger in the house for two weeks, I’m going nutso in three days! But now I think, maybe it’s just what I need to not go Angel-nutso.’
‘Maybe the exchange student will be droolworthy. Have you seen pictures?’
‘Pictures of what?’ said Amy, joining them as they walked up the museum steps.
‘The exchange student my mom volunteered us to host.’
‘Boy or girl?’
‘Good’, said Amy. ‘You are coming to the world cultures dance, right?’
Willow beamed. ‘I have the best world cultures costume! You’ll never guess what!’
‘Don’t tell us’, Amy said. ‘Don’t want to spoil the surprise.’ They walked into the building. ‘But we do want more boys in the group. Three boys and four girls, that’s good. With even numbers there’s all the pressure to define couples, but otherwise six or seven is good, groupier than three or four. None of us have to be there with Jesse, none of us have to be there with Jonathan, we just all hang out together.’
‘You know what?’ said Buffy. ‘That sounds like a plan. I think I’m almost starting to look forward to this. I hope Ampata does want to come to the dance. Then there’s no chance of Jesse or Jonathan asking me for a date. I like your groupy idea.’
‘That’s his name. Ampata Gutierrez. He’s from South America.’
‘Like the stuff in this exhibition’, Willow said. ‘I love museums.’
‘That’s my girl’, said Amy, putting a hand on Willow’s shoulder.
‘I’m not loving it so much when people start interfering with the display.’ Willow gestured at a classmate Buffy didn’t recognise, who was scraping something off what looked like a mask.
‘Who is that?’
‘Rodney Munson. I’ll have a word with him.’
As Willow left them, Amy said, ‘Willow tutors him sometimes. She thinks it might help. It’s kinda cute.’
‘You don’t think tutoring does any good?’
Amy shrugged. ‘Depends who’s being tutored. I don’t think academics are Rodney’s strength. He more tends to favour mindless bullying, mindless vandalism, mindless jokes—anything mindless, really. Still, Willow’s got him to leave that mask alone, see? I guess that’s something.’
The museum guide made an announcement about something happening in the Incan burial exhibit. Willow rejoined them and they went through to the room where the guide started talking about the beautiful teenaged girl chosen by the Incan people as their princess. Marcie, Jesse, and Jonathan were already there, standing around a platform where a stone coffin was on display. The guide explained that the princess had been buried alive in it as a sacrifice to a mountain god.
Jonathan said quietly to the others, ‘It’s an awful story. Such a waste. She was only our age, and they just came along and took her whole life away from her.’
Buffy nodded thoughtfully as the guide went on.
‘The princess remained there protected only by a cursed seal’—he pointed to something plate-shaped the mummy was holding—‘set there as a warning to any who would wake her.’
‘I wonder if there’s anything about mummies in any of Giles’s books’, Marcie said, keeping her voice low so other people wouldn’t hear. ‘Or cursed seals.’
‘I hope you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking’, said Buffy. ‘Like, it might rise from the tomb and I might have to fight it? As usual, I don’t know whether to thank you for the warning or blame you for the nightmares.’
Marcie started counting off her fingers. ‘You’ve dealt with vampires, more vampires, witchcraft, a giant insect demon, a giant robot demon, a shapechanging demon, monsters from the world of nightmares, vampires opening the mouth of hell to let out more demons, a corpse reanimated like a Frankenstein’s monster, and various other vampires along the way. A mummy rising from the tomb would fit right in. And you’d beat it like the others.’***
‘By now I’m not surprised that they’ve reached that thought earlier than we did. Really it was just Buffy, Willow, and me at that point, and we didn’t have that conversation when we were standing by the mummy’s coffin.’— ‘What conversation did you have, Xander?’
Xander had to think about this. ‘I think we talked about the exchange student. Ampata. I still can’t think of the name without thinking of the girl I knew, the Inca mummy girl, but now I’m reminded that it wasn’t really her name at all, it was the name of the exchange student she killed. Our conversation must have been how she found out about the real Ampata and got the idea of taking his place. I guess now I’m going to see who she might have gone after without that clue. In fact, if she could hear what they just said, about Buffy fighting her if she rose from the tomb, she’s gonna want to steer well clear.’***
Jonathan was sitting at a table in the library, half studying and half watching Buffy train with the librarian, Mr Giles (Jonathan was still getting used to the way Buffy and her friends just called him Giles). While they trained, they argued about whether Buffy should go to the world cultures dance. Mr Giles was concerned about keeping the secret of Buffy’s identity as the ‘Chosen One’. Buffy was arguing that the best way to keep her secret was for her to act like a normal girl, meaning going to the dance. As she got more vehement in her arguing, she threw harder and harder training punches and kicks into the training pads Mr Giles was holding, and Jonathan suspected it was the physical stress that eventually got him to break down, especially as he followed up by ending the training session and leaving to find an icepack.
Jonathan cleared his throat and asked, ‘You’re sure it’s okay if I come to the dance with you as well?’
‘It’s just—if you already had plans, I wouldn’t want to interfere.’
‘Hey, Amy was just saying yesterday how she liked the idea of the group going to the dance, and you’re part of the group now, okay?’
‘You don’t believe me?’ said Buffy. ‘Look, here’s Willow. Ask her if you don’t believe me. Willow, weren’t we saying yesterday that Jonathan should definitely come with our group to the world cultures dance?’
‘Oh, yes, the dance thing, definitely.’ Willow didn’t sound convincing.
Buffy took a step towards her friend. ‘Will, is something wrong?’
‘It’s Rodney. He’s missing this morning, and his parents say he didn’t come home last night. Have either of you seen him since the field trip to the museum?’
Jonathan said no and Buffy shook her head.
Mr Giles had come out of his office holding an icepack against his shoulder. ‘Trouble with Mr Munson again?’ He looked at Willow.
‘I’m thinking maybe trouble for him. Is anybody else wondering about that mummy?’
As they digested that thought in silence, Marcie came into the room. ‘Well’, she said, ‘nobody saw him on the bus coming back, and nobody’s seen him since.’
‘Time to revisit that field trip, then’, Buffy said.
‘Didn’t you say you were supposed to collect that exchange student from the bus station today?’
‘Thanks, Willow! I almost forgot. But that’s not until the evening. I can fit everything in if I head straight from the museum to the bus station.’
Jonathan stood up. ‘Is it okay if I come too? I mean, to the museum.’
Marcie gave him a look. ‘It’s up to you, I guess. I don’t see any need for everybody to go.’***
Willow, Buffy, Giles, and Jonathan looked into the coffin. The mummy was still there.
‘It doesn’t look as if it’s risen from its grave and attacked anybody’, Jonathan said.
‘But the seal is broken’ said Buffy. ‘That guide did say it was a warning against waking her.’ She took one of the larger fragments from the coffin and handed it to Giles. He was beginning to say something about pictograms when they were all startled by a loud yell. A well-built man who might have been South American rushed out of nowhere, brandishing a knife, and charged up the platform at them. Jonathan ducked to avoid him and fell down. Buffy was only beginning to react when the man looked into the coffin and started with surprise. Then he ran out again as quickly as he’d come, before Buffy could get to him.
‘Who was that?’ she said, as she helped Jonathan up again.
‘I’d say he was somebody who knew something about what’s going on here’, said Jonathan.
Giles picked up some more broken pieces of the disc with the pictograms. ‘Whatever he may know, he did not impress me as being disposed to be communicative. We shall have to rely on our own investigations.’
Willow was looking into the coffin again. ‘Whatever he knows, something inside here surprised him.’ She took a closer look at the mummy and felt shaky. ‘Do you think maybe it was the braces?’
The others looked too.
‘I don’t remember those’, said Buffy.
Jonathan pointed at the mummy’s mouth. ‘I don’t think a genuine Inca mummy should have braces.’
Willow swallowed. ‘No. But Rodney did.’
‘Then the mummy has risen.’ Buffy looked at Giles. ‘Do you think you can find out anything from those pictures?’
‘Pictograms. It will be hard work to decipher them. I gather that the mummy came from the remote Sabancaya region of Peru, and that’s outside the scope of my usual areas of expertise, and most of my library resources.’
‘Well, I’m going to have to leave you to it. I still have to go to the bus station to collect Ampata, or I’ll get some awkward questions from my mother and have no good answers.’
‘And I’m supposed to be meeting Amy’, said Willow. ‘Maybe you should talk to Ms Calendar, though. I mean, this looks like ancient mystical stuff, right? That could mean it overlaps with her area, somehow.’
‘Yes, that is a possibility.’ Giles looked cheerful. ‘Let’s get going, then. Whatever I manage to find out, we’ll talk again later. And until we know more about this mummy—where it might have gone and what it might be able to do—let’s all be on our guard. We want to make sure nobody else shares the fate it brought on Mr Munson.’***
While the exchange student was around the Summers house, Buffy would have to be careful about keeping her secret identity secret. Better if Angel wasn’t around much.
Maybe it was better if Angel wasn’t around much anyway.
He brooded about it as he walked the streets of Sunnydale by night. He was near the museum now. The museum that was also participating in the cultural exchange spirit, with its South American exhibition.
The voice was soft, almost too soft for Angel to be sure of the words.
He looked around. The sound seemed to be coming from the shadows, near the corner of an alley.
He moved closer, and saw somebody. A young woman, a pretty one, and she looked desperate. Once that would have appealed to him, as a vampire on the hunt. Now …
Angel inhaled again. If this girl needed help, maybe he wasn’t the best person for her to be looking at. He took another step closer.
There was something wrong with the girl. Try as he might, Angel couldn’t help smelling her—and there was something wrong with the smell of her blood. It smelled … stale
. How could that be?
She moved towards him and took hold of him by the arms, as if she were begging for his aid. ‘I—I—I’m weak’, she said. ‘So weak
.’ She looked up into his eyes, her own softening. ‘And you’re so strong
. I—I need your strength. Please—please forgive me …’
She pressed her lips against his—hard. He breathed in, hard, startled, and then he heard her doing the same thing. The stale smell grew stronger, and from the corners of his eyes he glimpsed that something about her didn’t look right, either. He grabbed her and pushed her away.
‘Don’t’, he said. ‘Don’t get close to me.’ As he spoke, he saw that she looked as if she was starting to shrivel up. And although she felt strong, somehow she also felt—brittle?
‘I don’t know what you are’, she said, ‘but I need your strength! Time is running out for me!’ She pushed back against him, hard, and pressed her lips to his again. He felt something, as if she were trying to draw something out of him. Although it wasn’t the same, somehow it reminded him vaguely of the time when he had become a vampire.
At that thought, he tried again to wrench her away from him. She struggled violently, and he felt disoriented and closed his eyes. Then he felt something give way and opened his eyes again.
It was as if she had come to pieces in his hands. There was nothing left of her but crumbled remains, looking like fragments of a corpse that had been dead for centuries.
‘No!’ he gasped. ‘I didn’t want to—what, what did I … No!’
As he recoiled, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and whirled to see a man behind him, a man who looked at him with a steady unperturbed gaze.
‘You did not kill her’, the man said. ‘It was not your doing. She was already dead, long ago.’***
‘I guess this guy knew all about mummies’, Marcie said, ‘but nothing about vampires.’
‘Presumably. If his role was as he described it, the duty handed down to him through the chain of generations would not require of him knowledge or study of other supernatural creatures or events, only of those matters directly connected with the one mummy whose fate concerned him. He told Angel that the breaking of the seal permitted her return, as he called it, and it was then that it became his task to restore matters to their proper condition.’
‘Meaning kill her off for real’, Amy said.
‘Perhaps. Or perhaps he had some means for restoring the seal and thereby once more, as it were, locking her back in her mummified state.’
‘Oh’, said Willow, ‘do you think when she was mummified she was—well—conscious of anything?’
Buffy shivered. ‘What a horrible thought. In that case I’m glad things worked out the way they did and she didn’t have to go back to that. She just crumbled to dust, right?’
Giles nodded. ‘So it would seem, if I understood correctly.’
‘I don’t know why, but that seems sorta—I don’t know, it fits better?’
‘There is something appropriate about a mummy ending in such a manner.’
‘I know what you mean.’ Jonathan shook his head. ‘Still, it doesn’t stop the whole story being an awful waste. She never had any kind of choice.’
Buffy agreed. ‘They just came and told her she was gonna be the one, and that was it.’
Giles smiled ruefully. ‘Are you perhaps thinking of somebody else we know?’
Buffy shrugged. ‘But this girl didn’t even get to live. For five hundred years she just lay there, trapped in that coffin, and then when she got out—sure, she killed Rodney, I know that’s not right, but she was doing it to get a chance at life. It wasn’t her fault her only chance was killing people, she didn’t set it up that way.’
‘You could say that about any vampire’, Amy said. ‘They don’t make themselves into vampires, and then afterwards the only way they can stay alive is by drinking people’s blood. They didn’t set it up that way, either. But you still hunt them down and—do your job.’
‘I guess I would have done the same to deal with this mummy if I had to. I’m glad I didn’t have to, that’s all, if she just looked like a girl.’
Jesse walked across the room. ‘I still don’t understand the part about what happened to her at the end, with Angel.’
Giles gave a small sigh. ‘We only know what Angel told us, and what the—guardian, if that’s what we call him, told Angel.’
Willow interrupted. ‘You know, that guy actually sounds kinda like a Watcher. I mean, he had this duty to observe the mummy, and his training for that duty was passed down through a chain of people over the centuries.’
‘An interesting observation, but it doesn’t answer Jesse’s question. The best we can do is put together the information we have to derive a probable model. I suggest that the ritual which produced the mummy, five centuries ago, left the girl technically dead, but in a supernatural condition which left open the possibility of her body being reanimated, a possibility which the seal existed to block. When the seal was broken, the body was reanimated, but not truly alive. Therefore, it appears, she was dependent on extracting the life force from others, the truly living, in order to sustain herself. What she extracted from the luckless Mr Munson, however, was only temporarily sufficient for her needs. She needed, to be blunt, more victims. Unfortunately for her, the next victim she selected was Angel, not a truly living human being but, like herself, technically dead although still animated. I suggest that he simply did not possess the pure living energies she needed. With no other source of those to draw on, she simply reverted to her former condition, with all of its liability to further decay. Of course the guardian, or Watcher, not knowing of Angel’s condition, could not fill in that aspect of the story, but it makes sense of what we know.’
Giles’s exposition made Jesse look more puzzled than ever. Willow said, ‘Don’t worry, Jesse, I’ll explain it to you later.’
Ms Calendar had been silent for some time. Now she said, ‘Amy was right, wasn’t she, when she said that vampires have no choice about having to drink blood to sustain themselves?’ When Giles gave her confirmation, she went on. ‘So what about Angel?’
Buffy jumped up. ‘Oh God! How could we not think of that? What could he be—no, wait. We went through all this before. Angel’s put himself on the line, again and again, against other vampires. He’s saved the lives of I don’t know how many people in this room, and not just mine.’
‘He had a perfect opportunity to feed off me’, said Jonathan, ‘and he didn’t’, and Jesse said the same.
‘I know’, Ms Calendar continued, ‘but he must be feeding somehow. I’m just saying we need to be careful.’
Amy looked at Giles. ‘Is it possible for vampires to feed off other vampires?’
He looked doubtful. ‘I’ve never checked the point directly, but it seems to me that it shouldn’t be possible. It wouldn’t fit with anything we know.’
Willow stood up and put a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. ‘If there’s a mystery, we’ll solve it, that’s all.’
‘Maybe we should try just asking Angel’, said Jesse. Jonathan agreed, and Marcie surprised everybody by saying that might not be such a bad idea—that is, if the right person asked him at the right time and in the right way.
Then Buffy announced that they’d have to leave the subject for now, because she had to go and look after Ampata.***
‘Now we’re at the world cultures dance. I wonder why I’m seeing this. After all, the mummy has crumbled to dust, there’s no more problem for Buffy. It is interesting, though. When I was actually there in reality, I was totally preoccupied with Ampata—I mean, the mummy girl. That is so confusing. I suppose looking on without that gives me a better chance to look at everybody. There’s Cordelia, going with a sort of Hawaiian or South Pacific look, with the lei and the bikini-style top and some sort of wrap-around skirt. I guess that’s not changed from reality.’ When Clarence said nothing, Xander went on. ‘But she’s still with Kevin Benedict, and that’s different. I suppose he chose that costume because he wanted to show off his figure. Can you tell me what it is, Clarence?’— ‘An Australian Rules football uniform.’
Xander gave a single laugh. ‘No wonder I didn’t recognise it. I guess it does count as a kind of world cultures thing. I see Jesse’s wearing the Bavarian costume Willow tried to get me to wear and I told her would make me look stupid. Now I am so sure I made the right choice about that. Jonathan must be meant to be a white hunter on safari in Africa, or something like that. I get the feeling I’ve seen the costume before; I suppose it’s the same as the one he wore in reality.’ Once again, Xander took Clarence’s silence as confirmation. ‘I know I remember Willow as an Eskimo. Now she seems more relaxed about it. That must be because of having a group around her instead of being by herself. I still don’t know why she chose that costume, I remember how it didn’t do anything for her.’— ‘It did distinguish her from the crowd in a way that attracted the attention of Daniel Osbourne.’
‘Who—oh, do you mean Oz? I didn’t even remember that Dingoes Ate My Baby was the band playing at this dance. Probably it was the first time I ever heard them. I suppose they’re not wearing costumes because band. So Oz dug Willow the Eskimo? Was this the first time he ever noticed her?’— ‘It was. He tried to speak to her when the band was on a break, but Buffy had just arrived and told her about the identity of the mummy, so that they went off to find you just as he approached.’
Xander felt like shrugging. ‘Well, Oz would have been cool about that. Meanwhile I recognise Amy, next to Willow, dressed as an Indian squaw. But who’s that coming up to them bringing fruit punch for everybody? Whoever he is, I don’t recognise him in that Canadian Mountie uniform, with the big hat. When Amy was talking about going to the dance as a group, she only mentioned Jesse and Jo—what? It’s Marcie?’ Xander was speechless for a moment. ‘Okay, I did not
see that one coming.’ He recovered. ‘Anyway, here comes Buffy now, so that’s everybody. I suppose that’s the real Ampata with her, and I figure that’s a genuine Peruvian costume he’s wearing. And that sari really suits Buffy.’***
‘Hi, everybody. Ampata, I think you’ve met everybody at school? But maybe you don’t recognise them all in their costumes?’
‘No, I remember everybody clearly. Good evening, Jonathan, Jesse, Willow, Amy. And here is Marcie also. Good evening to you, too.’
‘Sorry I didn’t fetch fruit punch for you and Buffy. I can go back for more.’
‘No, I can get drinks for us in a moment. Amy, is your costume that of the people who once lived here?’
‘Willow and I were talking about that, but we don’t know the answer. It’s just supposed to be a generic Indian costume.’
Ampata smiled. ‘But it is the costume Buffy is wearing that is Indian, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, of course, but …’
Seeing Amy flustered, Willow interrupted. ‘I hope it isn’t offensive for us to use that word.’
Ampata smiled wider. ‘I was only joking. In Spanish, too, the word “Indios” is used.’
‘In the US’, Buffy said, ‘sometimes people say “dots, not feathers”, so people can tell which kind of Indians they’re talking about.’
‘Dots?’ Ampata pointed at the bindi on Buffy’s forehead. ‘Like this?’ After Buffy nodded, he said, ‘Now I will fetch fruit drinks for us. And after that, perhaps we will dance?’ When Buffy nodded again, he went on, ‘I like to dance, and I hope you all do too.’
Between dances they all enjoyed talking with Ampata about life in America and life in Peru, and not about vampires or demons or re-animated mummies. They avoided those subjects even when Ampata wasn’t in earshot. He was on the dance floor with Marcie when the band took a break. As they were making their way back to the table where the others were sitting, Willow heard a voice from behind her complimenting her costume. She turned to see the lead guitarist from the band.
‘Some choices’, he said, nodding at Cordelia and her date, who were passing the table at that moment, ‘kinda obvious, don’t you think?’ He moved round to get closer to the table, just as Ampata and Marcie rejoined them. Looking round the group, he continued, ‘More imagination here. That’s good.’
Ampata introduced himself by name. ‘I am an exchange student. My costume is simply ordinary native wear at home.’
The guitarist introduced himself in return. ‘Oz. Band. So—no costume at all.’ He looked at Marcie. ‘I like yours. I can’t dance, gotta play, but’—he gestured at the empty cup in front of her—‘care to get another?’
Marcie was happy to accept. As she walked off with Oz, Amy said to Willow, ‘Well, you know what they say about the Mounties: they always get their man.’