I don't own anything. Buffy and Pathfinder are not owned by me. Nor are the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. They are owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. Signs of Trouble
Buffy and Kendra spent some time searching the monument for clues, before finally giving up. The ground had been thoroughly trampled by the townsfolk, preventing Buffy from finding any usable tracks, and no one had seen or heard anything the previous evening. Eventually they had returned to Kendra's home, and set about making a light lunch.
After eating, Kendra slipped away and returned with a small but sturdy chest made of wood and iron. “This is father's chest. If you would care to do the honors?”
Buffy picked up the iron key that they had left on the table the night before and turned it in the lock. Opening the chest, she found that it contained five books as well as a collection of documents covered in a cramped handwriting that she recognized as Petros'. Pulling the books out, Buffy frowned at the topmost one. It was the newest by far, a simple leather bound journal with the words 'read me now!' scratched into its cover. Flipping through it she saw that it was a diary, also in his handwriting.
The other books were more what she had expected from the will. The topmost was the copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts that Petros and Buffy had worked together to retrieve months ago in the tunnels under Carrion Hill. Below it was a jet black book called On Verified Madness, which resembled some of Giles' demonology books, focusing on some extremely unusual creatures, including the queller demon she had slain when it went after her mother while she was ill.
The next book was called Serving Your Hunger, and it turned out to be the holy book for Urgathoa, whose undead servants Buffy had foiled in Thrushmoor and Rozenport. She stopped flipping through the book when she realized that interspersed between the boring religious passages were random recipes, many for cooking people. The final book was called The Umbral Leaves, and it appeared to be another religious book for a crazy evil god, although this one at least didn't seem fond of cannibalism.
Looking at the papers, Buffy saw that they were notes taken from the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and seemed to be his research towards finding a way for her to return home. Unfortunately, Buffy knew little about the magic used in her own world, and Golarion had its own jargon and methodology for the arcane, leaving her completely at a loss.
“What did you find?” Kendra asked when she set the pages down.
“Well, most of the books are what I was expecting. Crazy evil books on monsters and stuff. Also, the book that we found to help me go home, and his notes on that. I have no clue why he stuck his diary in here, though. I mean, random much?”
“He had been very busy most of the last month working on something for you. He mentioned that you could not go home, but I never found out the entirety of the tale.”
Buffy leaned back on the couch and picked up the journal, fiddling with it slightly. Finally, she took a deep breath and started talking. The only time she had told the story in full of her trip was when she had been forced by Annika's thrall, but with some distance from the painful events Buffy decided to tell Kendra everything that had happened. She hadn't spoken for any real length to anyone in months, and Buffy, having always been a somewhat social person, had found herself feeling lonely.
“That's terrible,” Kendra said quietly. “How could your friend do such a thing?”
“I don't know,” Buffy said, her voice pained. “I don't think I'll ever understand it. When she got caught up in the magics, she wasn't really Willow anymore. She was just dark magic and anger. But... she still did it. Every time I think about it I get so angry, and I hate her for what she did.”
Kendra could see Buffy's hesitation. “Is that all you feel?”
“Willow was my best friend for so long. She hurt me a bunch of times, but I hurt her a bunch of times too, you know? We did everything together, and she gave up so much, got into the magics in the first place, to help me. Heck, I encouraged her to do it more. Called her my big gun. If I hadn't, she never would have turned into that. But...”
“But I still hate her. She killed my sister. But its my fault too.”
“Its not your fault,” Kendra said, her voice gentle. “She made her choices. Some acts of magic stain your soul, and lead you into true evil. But she still chose to start that path, even if it did not lead where she intended.”
“I know. But part of me... part of me still loves her, you know? She was my best friend.”
“And you feel guilty,” Kendra said quietly. Buffy looked up at her sharply. “You feel guilty because you still care about Willow, even though she killed your sister.”
Buffy closed her eyes, willing away tears. “Yeah,” she forced out, her throat thick.
Kendra slowly leaned over and hugged Buffy, who sat stiffly for a long moment before relaxing into her new friend's arms. “You shouldn't feel guilty about it. Of course you still love her. She was your best friend. That doesn't mean you love your sister any less.”
“I can't forgive what she did,” Buffy said, her voice hard as she pulled back.
“Then you can't. Some things can't be forgiven. Just don't let it consume you. Someone she loved died, and look what she did when she sought naught but vengeance.”
Buffy felt like she had been splashed with cold water. “Your right. I don't know if I could kill her, even if I had too, even after what she did. But I can't forgive her.”
Kendra just nodded patiently. After giving Buffy a moment to collect herself, she changed the subject, picking up the loose papers. “So these are father's notes on getting you home?”
“Yeah. You said yesterday that you know magic. Do you think you could figure any of that out?”
“Hmm. Given time. I doubt I could with nothing but the book he was using, he was an expert in his field after all, but I should at least be able to figure out his notes. If he was close to an answer, I think I will be able to finish it.”
“I don't know if you should,” Buffy said hesitantly, her desire to get home warring with memories of someone else who used dangerous magics. “He didn't want you exposed to this stuff. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you.”
“Don't worry, Buffy. I am an adult, even older than you, and I will be very careful. But I will finish this. It was my father's last project, and I will not leave it undone.” Kendra grabbed the Pnakotic Manuscripts and gathered all of Petros' notes before taking them to a desk on the other side of the room and beginning to work.
Buffy sat in thought for a few minutes, before finally cracking open Petros' journal. She wasn't sure why he had scrawled 'read me now!' on its cover, but she didn't have much better to do than try to find out. Unfortunately, the book was thick and Petros' cramped handwriting wasn't easy to read, so she had a lengthy project before her. It reminded her of reading Watcher's journals in that both managed to transform accounts of investigating and stopping monsters into something duller than a description of watching paint dry. Petros' journal was actually worse, in that it was actually his diary, and therefore the majority of it was actually composed of his accounts of day to day life in Ravengro, which wasn't exactly the most exciting town she had ever seen.
By the time Kendra turned in for the night Buffy had skimmed her way to the sections that mentioned her, and she blushed when she read his glowing accolades for her and her accomplishments. He had recorded everything she had told him, and she could scarcely believe that he was so impressed with the monsters she had slain in his presence. Just when she was preparing to go to sleep, she noticed a passage only a little over a month before his death had been circled with red ink. Frowning, Buffy read it closer. Apparently, it had come to his attention that someone was poking around the ruins of the prison, and he was concerned about their motives.
Several entries before his death were also marked with red ink, and Buffy felt like hitting her head against a wall. She had spent an entire day reading about small town life in the journal of a man who could give Giles' lectures on dry record keeping when he had marked what he wanted her to see right from the start. Shaking her head, she continued reading, but what she found left her frowning deeply.
The next morning when she awoke she tracked down Kendra, who was already up and had a light breakfast waiting for Buffy in the kitchen. After finishing her own breakfast Kendra had settled back at the same desk as the evening before, and was hard at work on her project. After eating Buffy tapped Kendra on the shoulder, as she hadn't acknowledged her when she had tried to get her attention.
“What,” Kendra finally asked as she looked up, her eyes still distant.
Buffy frowned. “Kendra, I've got something I think you should hear.”
“Is it important? This work is most fascinating, although a bit disturbing as well, I must acknowledge.”
“Yeah. This is way important. Big time important.”
Kendra sighed and set her quill down, turning to face Buffy. “Out with it then.”
“Remember how your dad's journal had 'read me first!' scratched on it? Well, I did, last night. And there is some stuff in here that is all kinds of badness. Listen, this is from four days before he died. 'It is confirmed. Whoever has come is quite interested in something – no, strike that – someone who was held in Harrowstone. But who, specifically, are they after? I need a list of everyone who died the night of the fire. Everyone. The Temple of Pharasma must have such a list.'”
“Someone was here causing trouble?” Kendra asked. “But father...”
“Yeah. I thought it was a bit weird that he was poking around that prison anyway. I mean, why would he just up and go 'I'm going to look in these ruins', when he'd been living here like, practically forever?”
“So father had his accident because someone was causing trouble here and he was investigating. Did he write anything else?”
“Yeah. This is from the day before he died. 'I see now just how ill prepared I was when I last set out for the Harrowstone. I am lucky to have returned at all. The ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts (for I did not find it prudent to investigate further) prevented me from transcribing the strange symbols I found etched along the foundation – hopefully on my next visit I will be more prepared. Thankfully, the necessary tools to defend against spirits are already here in Ravengro. I know that the church of Pharasma used to store them in a false crypt in the Restlands at the intersection between Eversleep and the Black Path. I am not certain if the current clergy even know of what their predecessors have hidden down below. If my luck holds, I should be able to slip in and out with a few borrowed items.'”
“Ghosts?” Kendra echoed thoughtfully. “So the prison truly is haunted.”
“Yeah. I hate ghosts. I've fought spirit thingees a couple of times, and it was the most fun you can have without having any. I mean, I can totally kick ass. But ghosts? Not so much ass to kick.”
“Yes, but if there was some equipment to combat them, more of it may yet remain. I would prefer not to take it unless we have to however. Taking church property makes me uncomfortable, however righteous the cause.”
“Yeah. But if the ghosts are causing trouble, we'll totally need it. Anyway, he wrote one more entry. 'Tomorrow evening I return to the prison. It is imperative that whoever is doing this does not finish. My caution has already cost me too much time. I am not sure what will happen if I am too late, but if my theory is right, the entire town could be at risk. I don't have time to update my will, so I'll leave this in the chest where it'll be sure to be found, should the worst come to pass.'”
“What do you think we should do?”
“Well, if the town is in trouble, then of course we'll need to save it. And if whoever was causing trouble killed Petros...”
Kendra's face hardened. “Then we catch them.”
Buffy nodded grimly in reply.
After their conversation, Buffy decided to hit the books. While she had never been research girl, Kendra was busy on the project that could eventually lead to her returning home, so she certainly wasn't going to drag her away from that for a not so pressing concern. After all, while the town had a somewhat ominous feel to it with her spidey-sense, it may well have had such a feel forever. The only really weird occurrence since she had arrived had been the bloody letter 'V' that had been painted onto the Harrowstone memorial, but even that wasn't necessarily supernatural, especially as no one had been reported missing and no bodies had been found. So, in the end, she decided to hit the books and brush up on her ghost lore and anything she could find about Harrowstone.
The only problem with researching in the Lorrimor home was the sheer magnitude of Petros' book collection. Every room was full of shelves, and every shelf was loaded to the brink of collapse with thick tomes. It would have made Giles unimaginably happy, but Buffy found it simply frustrating. However, her past experiences fighting ghosts had been less than positive, and after her encounter with the vampires of Golarion, she had learned to take nothing for granted.
Eventually she had found dozens of entities that could reasonably be found haunting an abandoned prison, from actual ghosts, to wraiths, haunts, spectres, and many other things besides. It was frustrating, but she learned all that she could about every type of creature that was likely to cause her problems if she had to visit the prison, and if anything else was there, or in the likely case she forgot something, Buffy decided she would simply have to improvise. It had always worked before, after all.
Satisfied with her research into potential foes, Buffy then turned her attentions to the prison itself. It had been built more than a century before to house the most dangerous criminals in all of Ustalav, and Ravengro had been built around it to provide for the prison's needs. Harrowstone had also had the dubious distinction of being the primary execution site for the entire country, and it had been in that capacity that some of Ustalav's most notorious criminals had been killed there.
The fire, while a terrible tragedy, had in some ways prevented a potentially worse situation, as before the fire started the criminals had rioted and taken control of the prison. In the end, the Warden had sacrificed himself and his most of his men to trap the prisoners within, and things had been at an impasse until the fire broke out, killing the out of control convicts and their jailers beside them.
Buffy frowned as she processed what she had discovered. The combination of dangerous, rioting prisoners, a long history of executions, and the sacrifice of the guards could easily have caused spirits to linger in the ruined prison. Unfortunately, nothing she found pointed at what criminals might have been in the prison at the time of its destruction, and without knowing the history of the ghosts, it would be far more difficult to overcome them. She could definitely understand why Petros had decided to go to the church to research prison records.
* * *
Buffy walked along a cobblestoned street surrounded by plain buildings of dull gray stone. The sky was gray and full of clouds, and all around her a dispirited drizzle of rain spattered down onto the world, yet Buffy remained dry. Slowly Buffy turned in place, unable to determine where she should go. One street seemed to extend to the horizon, the only break in its dismal gray a trail of bloody footprints leading to her own bare feet. In the other direction the street eventually ended in a large structure, dark and shadowed as though in silhouette, despite the lack of direct lighting of any kind.
Finally Buffy began to walk towards the building in the distance as she guessed that the bloody footprints showed which way she had already come. As she walked the rain slowly increased, beating down on the world and robbing her of most of the visibility, yet leaving her dry and not interfering any with her view of the shadow ahead. Looking behind, she noticed that her bloody footprints were undisturbed as well.
Eventually the road widened out into a large open square, empty of anything except a broken statue at its center. Approaching it Buffy could see that it was the stone statue of a prison guard that served as a memorial to Harrowstone, but it had been shattered with terrible force. Looking up suddenly Buffy could see a cloaked figure standing on a rooftop, observing her. She didn't know why, but she knew that whatever it was it wanted to kill her.
“Damn B,” a voice behind her said. “You always were good at pissin' people off.”
Buffy spun, only to find Faith slouching nonchalantly behind her. She was dressed in an orange prison outfit, and like Buffy she was barefoot, with a trail of bloody footprints running parallel to her own stretching into the distance. Unlike Buffy, however, she was soaking wet. “Faith,” Buffy said.
“Well, this one is better than our last dream, but do I hafta be gettin' this wet, B?”
“Here,” Buffy said, reaching into her bag of holding and pulling out her Class Protector umbrella. “Take it.”
“Look, we got off on the wrong foot in the first place 'cause you kept thinkin' I was wantin' what was yours...”
“Don't worry, Faith. I know how heavy it is. You only have to carry it by yourself for a little while.”
Reluctantly Faith took the umbrella, nearly falling as she did so. “Damn, B! How much does this thing weight?”
“It's heavier than a mountain, Faith.”
“Was that always so close?” Faith asked pointing into the distance as she carefully hefted the umbrella. Turning around Buffy saw that the shadowy building was much closer, but she still couldn't make it out.
Turning back to Faith, Buffy saw that she was now dry, although she looked very tired as she cradled the umbrella like it was the most precious thing in the world. Before she could open her mouth singing began from her left. Turning quickly Buffy saw five little girls all wearing colorful but bloodstained dresses and long scarves skipping rope. Two girls held the rope, while another skipped, and the last two sung the verses of a song. “Put her body on the bed. Take a knife and lop her head. Watch the blood come out the pipe. Feed the stirge, so nice and ripe. Drops of red so sparkly bright. Splatters spell her name just right. With a hammer killed his wife. Now he wants to claim your life. Tricksy father tells a lie. Listen close or you will die.”
“Damn, B,” Faith said, bemused. “And her I was thinkin' the whole bed makin' thing was weird. And I think that thing got closer again.”
Looking back Buffy saw that the shadowy building seemed to be right at the entrance to the street, but she still couldn't make it out. However, she could feel it, and to her supernatural senses it was like standing in front of an open Hellmouth.
Before Buffy could say or do anything the world lit up as the rain falling from the sky ceased to be droplets of water and become tongues of flame. Every building, from horizon to horizon, were instantly engulfed in flame, yet still the large building remained in shadow. Looking around, Buffy was surprised to see the cloaked figure still standing on the burning roof, not all all perturbed by the flames surrounding it. If anything, Buffy got the sense that it was pleased.
“Better watch out, B. You've got a long way to go still, and we're waitin' for ya to get your ass in gear. Your gonna need this to get home.” Buffy turned back to her to see her offering a large tarnished brass key, its metal an off shade of green in the ruddy light of the flames. Picking it up, she could feel a gentle warmth, and looking to the side she could now see enormous silver gates with a great black spiral drawn around a keyhole at their center. “Hurry up, B. You've got a long way to go, and lots ta do, before ya get back.”
“Don't worry, Faith,” Buffy said as she slowly walked towards the gates. “I know you'll take care of it while I'm gone.”
* * *
Buffy jerked awake suddenly, sitting up from the book she had fallen asleep on, the slayer dream still echoing in her confused mind. Looking up at what awoke her she was surprised to find Kendra already dressed and ready to leave the house. “What's the what,” she asked groggily.
“Its been five days since we buried father, so today is the last official day of mourning. I was planning to visit his grave, if you would care to accompany me.”
“Sure. How are you doing?”
“It's hard,” Kendra said, her voice sad but steady. “However, I had already had more than two weeks to adjust before the funeral, and now I have an interesting project keeping me busy. I think I will be alright.”
“When mom died...” Buffy began before trailing off for a moment. “It was bad. I had to take care of... of my sister, and fight the hardest battle of my life at the same time. I was a wreck.”
“Yes. Losing my mother when I was a child was difficult, but father helped me through it. It was not too long after that that he stopped teaching and we moved here. He still had his research, which often took him travelling, but he had more time for me.”
“I'm amazed at how well you've dealt. You, know something? I knew another Kendra once. She was a slayer too. I'm starting to think that Kendras are strong people.”
“And I'm starting to think that Buffys are strange people,” Kendra said, her eyes twinkling. “Not that that is terribly surprising, given the nature of the name.”
Buffy pouted. “Why do people always make fun of my name? Except this really nice halfling I met. She liked my name.”
Kendra just giggled in response as they headed for the door.
The two shared a quiet, contemplative walk to the cemetery. The sky was overcast again, with an unseasonable chill in the air that made Buffy shiver, used as she was to California's very temperate climate. When they reached Petros' grave Kendra knelt and began to pray quietly, and Buffy took a moment to marshall her own thoughts.
She hadn't known Petros for long, but losing another friend so soon after losing Dawn and Tara made her insides feel like broken glass. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she could understand Willow's desire to hunt down and kill the person responsible for taking someone she cared about away. It was the same instinct that sent her after Faith when she poisoned Angel, and she had felt the same urge when Tara had died, and even stronger when Dawn had... discorporated. But despite how hot her passion might run, she remembered her regret for hurting Faith, and she remembered what Willow's madness had led to. In the end, Buffy just really really hoped that whoever had killed Petros was firmly a member of the slayable list.
Finally tired of think such weighty thoughts, Buffy decided to stretch her legs. Walking through cemeteries was comforting to her after so many years of patrols, although doing so during the day felt very odd. Suddenly Buffy felt something, a chill running down her spine and the hairs on the back of her neck standing up as a subtle touch of spiritual forces agitated her supernatural senses. Freezing, she slowly took in her surroundings, unsure of what she was sensing.
Buffy's assessing gaze stopped as she saw something that she had seen before, somehow even more disturbing in its new, out of place location than it had been in its proper context. The closest tombstone was marked with the name 'Buffy Summers'. 'Come to my world, and be as I; as I am now, soon you will be; embrace your end and witness me',” the inscription read. Below it was the date, 4661 AR, the year that Harrowstone had burned.
Buffy looked around and saw that Kendra was still praying. When she looked back again she blinked in shock.
The weathered tombstone was blank.
* * *
The next morning Buffy was once more hustled from her bed by Kendra and led half asleep to the Harrowstone memorial. As before a crowd had gathered, and despite it having been scrubbed clean it was once more spattered with blood. Buffy pushed through the townsfolk and saw that now two letters were marked over the names at the base of the statue. In fresh, red blood were the letters 'VE'. Author's Notes
This chapter draws once again from The Haunting of Harrowstone. The journal entries are from that volume, although I altered them slightly to fit my altered back story for the adventure. The rope skipping rhyme is from that book as well, as is the message on the tombstone.
That was my first attempt at a dream sequence, but it felt right to me. A bunch of information there, although its probably difficult to interpret without knowing everything. The rope skipping song was just supposed to be an event that occurred with real children in the street, but it felt odd when I wrote it that way. I mean, how often does a random nursery rhyme you just happen to overhear children singing contain important information for later? Slayer dreams make much more sense as a conveyance method for creepy and cryptic clues.
This was also the first time I've ever written Faith. I'll blame any out of characterness on the fact it was a slayer dream.