Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

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Tabula Avatar Chapter 22

Happy birthday to rustybitch

I’ve been struggling a bit with this chapter of my BtVS/Baldur’s Gate 2 crossover ‘Tabula Avatar’, which is why it's late, but here it is at last and it’s significantly longer than usual. 6,900 words. Rating R. Lots of spoilers for ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, of course. Previous chapters are HERE.

Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events bearing some similarities to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Twenty-two

“Xander! Oh, Xander!” Anya threw her arms around Xander’s neck and hugged him.

“Careful, he is yet fragile,” Viconia warned. “As am I,” she muttered under her breath. “He needs a day of rest, or a spell of full healing,” she continued aloud. “I am weary, drained of power, and must rest myself before I could cast such a spell.”

“So I guess we won?” Xander asked. “Oh, yeah, dumb question. If we’d lost there wouldn’t have been anyone to bring me back.”

“Yes, we won. Now you have to take it easy, Xander,” Anya ordered. “Lie down and rest. I’ll be back to tend to your every need in a little while. Just as soon as I’ve finished supervising the skinning of the dragon.”

- - - - -

“Spike, are you all right?” Sorkatani asked. “You look weary, and paler even than usual. I sense that something is amiss.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Tani,” Spike said unconvincingly. Sorkatani raised her eyebrows and Spike sighed. “Oh, all right, you got me. I’m hungry. Nothing to eat in this bleeding forest. Haven’t seen any animals, ‘cept for the undead ones, and that’s screwed up my meal plans. I’d been banking on catching deer and rabbits and what have you, or eating our enemies, but everything we’ve been fighting was sodding undead. Well, ‘cept for the dragon, and I reckoned its blood was probably acid, or worse. Wasn’t going to touch that. So I haven’t eaten in two days and it’s starting to get to me a bit.”

“Oh, poor Spike,” Sorkatani commiserated. “You should have said something earlier.” She unfastened the vambrace on her left arm. “Easily fixed.”

Spike stared at her incredulously. “You don’t mean…?”

“Certainly.” She rolled back the sleeve of her tunic and extended her arm towards him.

Spike made no move to take it. “Tani – you can’t mean this.”

Sorkatani raised her eyebrows. “I think I know my own intentions, Spike. I trust you not to take too much.”

Spike stepped away from her. “You don’t know what you’re doing, Tani. I’m a sodding vampire! Once I start feeding I’m not going to be able to just stop. Don’t do this. Don’t bloody tempt me!”

His raised voice attracted Willow’s attention and she came over. “What’s the problem?”

“Spike has no blood and is hungry. I offered him some of mine,” Sorkatani told her. “He refused.”

“Too bloody right,” Spike said. “Not going to drink from you.”

“Uh, if it’s the whole god-child thing that’s got you wigged, I guess I could spare some,” Willow offered.

Spike’s eyes widened even further. “Bloody hell, Red, you should know better than that.”

“Hey, we’re friends, right?” Willow pouted at him. “And you said you wanted to bite me, remember?” She waggled a finger. “Although, you’re not scoring points for thinking ahead. Couldn’t you have, like, brought some along with you?”

“Did,” Spike told her. “Filled a skin up with pig’s blood back at the village. Went bloody solid, didn’t it? No anti-coagulants here. Tried cutting the skin open and chewing on it but it’s not the same.”

Willow went slightly green. “Eww. So didn’t need to know that.”

Buffy joined them. “What gross thing is Spike doing now?”

“Refusing to drink our blood,” Willow said.


“Spike has not eaten for two days,” Sorkatani explained. “I offered him my wrist, but he refused me. Willow too.”

Buffy stared at Spike and her eyebrows began to check that they had adequate stocks of crampons, pitons, and ice axes. “Huh? Not that I don’t think Sorkatani and Willow are totally nuts for offering, but how come you’re turning them down?”

“Don’t want to hurt them. Don’t want to risk doing that level drain thing Mazzy mentioned.”

“Viconia can reverse that,” Sorkatani informed him. “And I do not think that you are that sort of vampire anyway.”

“Look, just drop it, okay? I can hang on until we get back to the village. It’s no big deal. Not like I’m going to starve.”

“It is your decision, of course,” Sorkatani said, “but it was my decision to make the offer. Your refusal does not offend me but I am somewhat puzzled.”

“And me,” Willow added.

“Okay,” Spike sighed. “It’s a sex thing, right? Pretty girl willingly offers herself up for a bite, it’s a bloody turn-on. Both ways, right? And okay, Red, couple of years ago I’d have taken you up on it, yeah, and then shagged you stupid and you wouldn’t have been able to resist. Wouldn’t have wanted to resist. Different now, though. We’re friends, don’t want to bugger that up, and, hell, I like Tara and I wouldn’t want to make things between the two of you any worse.” His gaze shifted to Sorkatani. “And with Tani, well, it’d just be wrong.”

Sorkatani’s cheeks became tinged with pink. Willow’s face went way beyond that and flamed scarlet. “Uh, that time in the dorm, when I said ‘wait half an hour and then try again’, were you, uh, was it, uh…?”

“Had a hard-on up to my bloody waist,” Spike admitted. “Sorry, being crude,” he said to Sorkatani. “Forgive me, jabbress.”

Sorkatani’s blush deepened. “Forgiven. I know little of such things except from books. This conversation has been, well, educational. I understand why you would not drink.”

“Don’t tell me you’re being noble, Spike,” Buffy said in a voice tinged with skepticism. “Would you have turned it down if it had been me that offered?

“No,” Spike admitted. “Would have warned you what you were getting into, but yeah, I’d have gone for it. So, you offering?” He looked straight into her eyes.

Buffy hesitated. “Was that what it was like for Riley? Was he…?”

Spike pursed his lips. “Dunno. Don’t think it works quite the same way for blokes. Blood pressure drops and that’s a bit counter-productive. Might have been, though.”

Buffy grimaced. “I hated you for showing me, but I should have thanked you.” She shook her head slowly. “No, Spike, I’m not offering. I guess we’re friends these days. Let that be enough, okay?”

Spike lowered his gaze. He extracted a cigar from a pouch and lit up. “As you wish.”

- - - - -

“I cannot believe this,” Jaheira complained sharply. “One of my comrades has disappeared and is either dead or in dire peril, I am the only one who knows this, and you have me dragged away from them to attend a meeting! Threatened at the point of a crossbow, even, and for what? A review of accounts! Progress reports! A rephrasing of our mission statement! Had there been a crisis, a warning of an invasion of dragons or of a Zhentarim plot to overthrow the peaceful governments of the Sword Coast, then I could have understood. But for this?”

“If that was indeed all there was to it, then I would sympathize with your feelings,” Galvarey said. He was elegant and urbane, the very model of a senior figure in any organization, his hair graying just the right amount at the temples and his beard neatly clipped. His voice was deep and rich, resonant with sincerity and understanding. “However, Jaheira, you misunderstand the object of the exercise. It was an important assessment.”

“An assessment? Of what?”

“Of you, Jaheira.” Galvarey steepled his fingers and leaned back in his leather armchair. “Your association with Sorkatani has caused some concern within the Harpers. We had to be sure that you had not become corrupted.”

“Corrupted?” Jaheira’s eyes widened. “From association with Sorkatani? Gorion’s ward, brought up to honor the traditions of the Harpers?”

“From association with the daughter of the God of Murder,” Galvarey said. “Nature may triumph over nurture.”

“Or it may not,” Jaheira said. “She lives by Gorion’s code. Often did Khalid say to her ‘Gorion would be proud of your actions’ and those words would bring a smile to her face even in the bleakest of circumstances. He said it often.”

“Ah, poor Khalid,” Galvarey mused. “Such a tragedy. I remember him well. He had another saying, I recall. ‘If at first I don’t succeed – my wife never lets me forget it.’ Yes, he was a great loss to the Harpers.”

Jaheira’s face paled. “He said that? Often?”

“In jest, in jest,” Galvarey assured her hastily. “Forgive me for mentioning it. So, he often said that Gorion would be proud of her actions? Would Gorion be proud that she travels with a drow, and now also with a vampire?”

Jaheira sat up very straight and looked Galvarey directly in the eyes. “Yes. Viconia has changed for Sorkatani. I have seen it with my own eyes. At first I thought that Sorkatani was foolish to extend trust and friendship to Viconia and I told her so in no uncertain terms. Yet her trust has been repaid and Viconia has become a true comrade. In truth I myself have grown fond of her over time.”

“Indeed?” Galvarey’s eyebrows climbed. “I had heard that you quarrel incessantly.”

“You are having us watched?” Jaheira’s eyes narrowed.

“I have my sources. It is my duty to keep myself aware of the circumstances of Harper operatives in the area. Go on. You are fond of this drow, you say?”

“We bicker out of habit but there is no heat to it.” Jaheira’s eyes remained narrow as she stared at Galvarey. “I disapprove of some things about her, yes, but those things are trivial. She is staunch and true when it matters.”

“And the vampire? Drow may or may not be evil by nature, and we have the example of Drizzt Do’Urden to confirm that there can be such a thing as a good drow, but that vampires are intrinsically evil is an incontrovertible fact.”

“Spike is of a different breed to the vampires of this world,” Jaheira told Galvarey. “He freely admits that he was evil in the past but, just as Viconia changed through Sorkatani’s influence, so Spike has changed because of Buffy.”

“Ah, yes, this ‘Buffy’.” Galvarey ran his fingers over his beard. “It is said that she is stronger and faster than any human in all of Faerûn. What of her? She is, I hear, known as ‘The Slayer’. That is, perhaps, not a designation guaranteed to inspire trust. What do you know of her motives, and those of her companions from the other world?”

“She is Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Jaheira stressed. “A warrior for Good in her own world as renowned as any in this. She wants, above all else, to go home. Hardly a motivation to cause concern, I would have thought. The others are her retinue; loyal, faithful, and true. One of whom, I might remind you, has disappeared and was replaced by a doppelganger. I dispute that any assessment that you wished to carry out upon me was worth the delay in informing Tara’s comrades of this. You may have further imperiled her life.”

“I sent Meronia back to relay your message,” Galvarey assured her. “Also, I have passed the word for all Harper contacts to listen for any word of her and bring me what they find.”

“Good. I take it I may leave now and rejoin Sorkatani?”

“And if she has received the message and is already on her way back to the city? Await her here,” Galvarey urged.

“I think not,” Jaheira said. “I shall leave at once.”

“Oh, very well,” Galvarey sighed. “But bring them to see me once you return to the city.”

“If I can,” Jaheira said. “Our first priority must be to find and rescue Tara. You should also bear in mind that Sorkatani may still bear you ill will over the affair of the mage Xvar. You tricked her into abetting the assassination of one who had aided her when she was in peril, and that sits ill with her. She may be in no hurry to accept your invitation.”

“The wizard was a deadly threat and had to be eliminated by any means at our disposal,” Galvarey claimed.

“Xvar was a buffoon who liked to claim powers and influence that he did not possess,” Jaheira countered. “And as for his apprentices, who were supposedly creating abominations that would endanger the city, I am not convinced that they were much more than two foolish young people who thought that playing with magic was cool.”

Galvarey frowned. “Cool? What does the temperature have to do with anything?”

“Exciting, fashionable, something that would impress their friends,” Jaheira translated. “A term from the dialect of Buffy’s world. It matters not. The point stands. Were they in truth a dire threat to the city, and to the Harpers, or did you inflate their significance to bolster your own importance?”

“I had information and I acted on it,” Galvarey said evasively. “I used the resources available to me to neutralize the threat with the smallest possible risk to the Harpers. If that meant taking advantage of the Bhaalspawn, well, so be it.”

“She has a name, Galvarey. Use it.”

“Very well.” Galvarey raised his eyes towards the ceiling briefly. “I want you to bring Sorkatani here to me when she returns to the city,” he repeated his request. “I wish to see her for myself and make my own assessment of whether she is a force for weal or for woe. If my opinion of her coincides with yours then I may consider making an apology for my actions with regard to Xvar.”

Jaheira sniffed pointedly and rolled her eyes. “I’m sure Sorkatani will be overwhelmed by your magnanimity. Not.”

“Your attitude verges on insubordination, Jaheira,” Galvarey said sharply. “I am your superior and I demand your respect.”

“You are but little higher than me in rank, Galvarey. You are no Herald,” Jaheira pointed out. “You shall have my respect when you earn it. Not before.”

Galvarey gritted his teeth. “I insist that you speak to me in a respectful manner, then.” A smile appeared on his face. It did not reach his eyes. “We have no quarrel. We both seek only to further the cause of the Harpers. I am working closely with your mentor Dermin in these matters and I have his wholehearted backing. Bring to me Sorkatani and, also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Jaheira deflated slightly at the mention of her long-standing colleague and friend. “Not until after we have rescued Tara, or have learned her fate and avenged her,” she said. “It is bad enough that Imoen languishes in the custody of the Cowled Wizards, and that we make no progress at all towards retrieving her, but at least Imoen’s fate is not unknown.”

“And I might be able to do something about it,” Galvarey said. “I have some measure of influence. I do not claim that I can obtain her release but I may at least be able to get some definite information on her whereabouts and her prospects of release.” His smile slipped. “You can tell the Bhaal– Sorkatani – that I will do what I can. As long as she presents herself here to undergo assessment.”

- - - - -

“So. How was being dead for you, Xander?” Buffy gave him a rather shaky smile.

“Pretty good, all things considered,” Xander said. He grinned widely. “I’ve got all these cool new powers.”

“As if.” Buffy rolled her eyes.

“No, really, I’m not kidding, Buff.” Xander stood up. “I’ve tried one of them out already.”

“Xander! Lie down right this minute,” Anya ordered. She stopped wrapping up sections of dragon skin and scurried over to return to her boyfriend’s side. “Viconia warned you that any exertion before you’ve had some healing could kill you again.”

“And I’ve had some healing,” Xander told her. “I did it for myself. All part of the whole new powers package.”

Anya frowned. “What, you’re a cleric now?”

“Better,” Xander boasted. “I’m a paladin. A knight of the forces of Good.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped. “Can I say, huh?”

“And that goes for me too,” Anya added.

Giles took the opportunity to escape from the task that Anya had badgered him into carrying out. He wiped his hands and went to join the group around Xander. “I gather that you had some sort of revelation while you were dead?”

“I did. I’m not just your average guy with a sword and axe any more. I went to this kinda great hall place belonging to some, uh, god,” Xander hesitated before saying the term when describing a deity other than the Christian one, “by the name of Torm. There was a whole bunch of dead paladins and they told me I was one of them. There’s a few things I’ve got to do, some rules I’ve got to stick to, and in return I can heal by laying on hands, can cast a few spells, I can cure diseases and I can’t catch them, and hey, I can detect evil.”

“Rules?” Anya asked. Her forehead creased deeply in a frown. “Please don’t tell me you have to be celibate.”

“Hey, don’t worry, Ahn, that’s not one of the rules,” Xander assured her. His own forehead creased. “Uh, there is one you’re maybe not gonna be wild about. I’m not allowed to get rich. I’ve got to tithe, that’s, like, give ten per cent of my income to the poor.”

“I knew what tithing was when there was nobody on your continent but Skraelings and Leif Eriksson,” Anya reminded him. “I can live with you tithing. But is there a rule against you marrying somebody rich or saying that your wife has to tithe?”

“Not as such,” Xander said. “I can’t spend too much on myself, but hey, it’s not like they have that much stuff here I’d go crazy for. No cars, no TVs, and, hey, it’s okay for me to have a castle, so that’s about as much house as anybody could want. There’s a limit on how much in the way of magic weapons and armor I can have but, hey, who needs a weapons chest full of the stuff anyway?”

Buffy looked down at her feet.

“And your wife?” Anya probed.

“I’m not supposed to spend, like, huge amounts on her – you – but they didn’t say anything about you not spending your own money on yourself,” Xander told her. “I guess they don’t think in terms of women being successful in their own right here. Like, a little with the chauvinistic attitudes.”

“Are you sure?” Anya still had a suspicious frown on her face. “And does this mean no nice presents from you?”

“Hey, Ahn, it’s not like you were gonna get any diamond necklaces or Cadillacs from a foreman construction worker,” Xander reminded her. “And hey, I reckon it’s kinda relative. See, a lot of those paladin guys are pretty much the upper crust, and what they call being frugal we’d call living it up. Look, these cool powers can help us stay alive, and that’s what counts, right?”

“I suppose so,” Anya said. She still looked discontented and so Xander sought for a way to distract her.

“Well, I’ve tried out the laying on of hands thing, on myself ‘cause lying around sucked, and Viconia’s patched everybody else up,” he went on. “I think I’ll give one of my other powers a shot. Let’s see how this ‘Detect Evil’ thing works.”

“You don’t really need to detect Spike,” Buffy said. “He’s right over there smoking a cigar. Just follow the smoke trail.”

“I’m all for the first try being easy,” Xander said. He concentrated. “Uh, this isn’t working. Did I, like, just dream the whole thing?”

“Xander, lie down,” Anya said at once. “If you just imagined that you healed yourself you could drop dead again.”

“No, I feel fine, Ah, I really do,” Xander insisted. “I’m getting something, but, well, it’s so faint that it’s pretty much useless.” He called out to Spike. “Hey, Undead English Guy, come over here, okay?”

Spike wandered across the chamber. “Thought you weren’t keen on secondhand smoke?”

“Actually, cigar smoke’s not too bad, at least in a big room,” Xander said. “I just wanted to try out my new ability to Detect Evil on you. Only, it doesn’t seem to be working.”

Giles raised his hand to remove his glasses, realized that his hands were smeared with grease, and thought better of his gesture. He peered at Xander over the rims. “Xander, has it occurred to you that Spike might not be evil?”

“Of course he’s evil!” Xander insisted. “He’s Spike!”

“Bloody right I’m evil,” Spike agreed.

Sorkatani had come over to join the group close behind Spike. She looked at him with her eyebrows raised in a quizzical expression. “Are you sure of that, Spike?”

Spike gazed down at his feet. “Maybe not,” he mumbled. “Don’t want you lot taking the piss, mind.”

Xander’s eyes seemed to bulge out. “Not evil? Really?”

“Hell, I don’t bloody know,” Spike said. “Ask a sodding philosopher, not me.”

“Well I’ll be…” Xander gasped.

“Not by me you bloody won’t,” Spike hastened to say.

“So much for my trial,” Xander moaned. “I was all geared up to Detect Evil and there’s not a thing evil anywhere near. Which is good, yeah, but it’s kinda an anti-climax.”

Viconia had been sitting resting nearby, recovering from the strain of casting Restoration on Yoshimo and Raise Dead on Xander, and had taken no part in the conversation up to this point. Now, however, she stood up and moved closer. “You must be mistaken, foolish rivvil,” she said. “Surely you can detect me?”

“Uh, nope,” Xander said. He tilted his head to one side and stared at her. “Should I? Are you saying you’re evil? I figured you for something of a bitca, kinda in the Cordy league, but that’s all.”

“Your words make no sense,” Viconia complained. “Of course I am evil. I am a cleric of Shar. It is my duty.”

“Uh, I’m reading a big zero on the evil-o-meter,” Xander told her. “You’re just joshing me, right?”

Viconia’s eyes opened hugely wide and she put her clenched fist to her mouth. “Ssussun pholor dos!” she gasped. “You must be in error. Or you are jesting. Tell me you jest.”

Xander shook his head. “Nope. No kidding. You’re not evil. You’ve got the word of a paladin on that.”

“No, this cannot be,” Viconia insisted.

“Uh, suppose you aren’t evil, what would be so bad about that?” Xander asked.

“I am a priestess of Shar, fool,” Viconia snapped. “Goddess of darkness, loss, and despair. I gain my spells from her power. If I am not evil I will fall from her favor and my spells will desert me. I will become a mere fighter, and one of no exceptional skill at that.”

“So no neat-o ‘Raise Dead’ and ‘Heal’,” Xander said. “Bummer, yeah.”

“It is far worse than that,” Viconia went on. “I am an apostate. I was a priestess of Lolth, goddess of the drow, and I forsook her worship and was marked for death. Shar protects me. If I again become apostate I lose that protection and the yochlol Handmaidens of Lolth will come for me and drag me away to eternal torment.” She shuddered. “I must be evil. Tell me that you were jesting.”

“Okay, yeah, I was joking,” Xander said. “Have it your own way. You’re evil. And so’s Spike.”

“And don’t you bloody forget it,” Spike smirked. “I’m the Big Bad.”

Viconia’s brow retained its troubled frown for a long time.

- - - - -

“Viconia’s not Evil? Xander’s suddenly a paladin? Huh? Have you been playing around with Shadowkeeper?” Warren accused.

“No way, dude. I wouldn’t risk messing anything up in case it screwed with what you’re doing with the save games,” Jonathan said. “I guess Viconia’s just, well, changed. It can happen in the straight game if you work at it.”

“Yeah, but only if you’ve got a romance going, and even then not until ‘Throne of Bhaal’,” Warren pointed out. “This is just way, way, too early. And Sorkatani’s a girl, and she comes over as being straight, so, no romance thing. Could it be something to do with Willow? But it’s still too damn early to make sense.”

“I don’t know, it’s kinda logical when you think about it,” Jonathan said. “I mean, what Viconia does between the first game and ‘Shadows of Amn’ is pretty much not evil. She could have been up to all kinds of evil shit, right, and what does she do? Buys a farm and tries to get along with everybody.”

“I guess so,” Warren said. “Hmm. And Spike’s not evil either.”

“Well, Randy’s Spike minus the memories and he’s a good guy,” Jonathan said. “I guess the change kinda goes all the way through. Hey, Xander’s a paladin! Who’d have thought it?”

“I hardly knew Xander, but Alex is a really nice guy,” Warren said. “I guess I can see it, kinda, but I don’t get how it just happened by itself. Give me a look at his stats, dude.” He scrutinized the screen. “Just a vanilla paladin. I kinda thought he might have the Undead Hunter kit.”

“Yeah, it would have made sense,” Jonathan agreed, “but I guess he’s just the Vampire Slayer’s sidekick, not the Vampire Slayer.”

“I don’t remember his Charisma score being that high,” Warren mused. “I guess I wasn’t taking that much notice. I was more interested in the girls.”

“Well, everybody always liked Xander,” Jonathan told him. “And he dated Cordelia Chase, and she was, like, pretty much the top prize. I guess it fits.”

“18 Constitution, which I guess explains all those hit points,” Warren went on. “17 strength, everything else pretty average. Hmm. We might as well take a look at everybody else while we’ve got it paused. Any other changes?”

“Yoshimo’s got his lost levels back, yeah, I expected that. Spike’s true neutral. Hey, so’s Viconia! She’s right, Shar is so gonna be pissed. Maybe the game changed them because of the rule against paladins associating with evil people?” Jonathan suggested.

“It’s just a game, Short Round, it can’t make decisions,” Warren said, and then he remembered some of the other odd things that had been happening. “At least I don’t think it can. It’s just, uh, adjusting things to make them more internally consistent.”

“And how is that different from making decisions, smart guy?” Jonathan challenged.

Warren gave him a shaky smile. “Stop it, Jonathan. Let me stay in de Nile a little longer. The water’s nice and there don’t seem to be any crocodiles.”

- - - - -

“The dragon skin should work way better than crocodile hide,” Anya bubbled. “We can all have boots and there’ll be plenty left over. Maybe we can sell the surplus. It can be my next thing after the bra.”

“It’s nice to know that we are carrying these heavy packs up hill and down dale in support of a worthy cause,” Giles remarked.

“Yes, isn’t it?” Anya said, with a beaming smile, completely blind to Giles’ sarcasm. “I suppose I can’t charge you, as you did help skin the dragon and carry the hide. Oh, well, there should be plenty left over to make boots for sale.”

“There will be enough to make sets of armor,” Sorkatani suggested. “There is a dwarf in Athkatla who can craft such things.”

“Too light,” Minsc said scornfully. “A warrior should wear armor of metal.”

“You were trapped within your armor, unable to stand, when the Shadows sapped your strength,” Sorkatani reminded him. “You would have been grateful for armor of lighter weight then, would you not?”

“Perhaps,” Minsc admitted, “but otherwise I am content with what I have.” He rapped his knuckles against his breastplate. “Full plate, and packing steel. Right, Boo?

“Well, I totally want dragon armor,” Dawn staked her claim. “That would be just the coolest thing ever.”

“Dawn Summers, you are so not going to go wandering around dressed in black leather,” Buffy told her.

Dawn gave her an eye-roll that would have got a five point nine from any judge in the world. “Hello? Wearing brown leather right now.”

“Well, black leather is different,” Buffy said weakly. “It’s just, well, skankier.”

Dawn rolled her eyes again. “And your leather pants weren’t?”

“Hey, don’t diss the leather pants,” Buffy said. She gave a very parental long-suffering sigh. “I suppose you can wear black leather armor as long as you wear something suitable underneath.”

A call from the front of the column brought their discussion to a halt. “I see a log cabin ahead,” Yoshimo announced. “Could it be the cabin of the wanted murderer Valygar?”

Anya pricked up her ears. “It’s in the right place. Let’s check it out. Do we surround the place and yell ‘Valygar Corthala, come out with your hands up’?”

Buffy frowned. “Suppose we just knock?”

- - - - -

“I kinda feel sorry for Anya,” Willow remarked. “She was looking forward so much to arresting Valygar, and turning him in for the reward money, and then he turns out to be a good guy.”

“Yeah, well, I’m getting the feeling the Cowled Wizards are a bunch of lying scheming jerks,” Buffy said. “It must be tough for Tani, with her almost sister being kept in prison by those creeps.”

Willow raised her eyebrows. “You called her Tani,” she observed. “Hey, did you pick that up from Spike?”

Buffy colored slightly. “Maybe,” she admitted. “Spike’s not so bad these days.”

“Yeah, we have Xander’s word as a paladin on that,” Willow grinned. “He’s kinda wigged about it.” Her eyebrows crept down slightly and she pursed her lips. “Hey, Buff, tell me. When we were talking about, uh, feeding Spike, were you, you know, tempted?”

“No way!” Buffy denied. “Letting Spike bite me? That would be just, well, eww.”

Willow looked around, checking to see if anyone else was within hearing range, and decided that it probably was safe to talk freely. Spike and Anath had gone into the woods to hunt, now that they had left the domain of the Shade Wolves, and there were no supernaturally acute ears to worry about. “Are you sure, Buffy?” she challenged, lowering her voice slightly. “’Cause hey, it kinda got to me. I got to thinking about him biting me on, not the wrist, but here in the crook of my elbow,” she placed her fingers on the spot, “you know, licking me first and then sinking his fangs in kinda gently, and, uh, I got kinda, well, squidgy.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose and said “Eww! But it’s Spike!”

Willow quirked an eyebrow upwards. “Come on, Buff, you don’t mean that. He nearly melted me and, hey, gay here. You can’t tell me that you weren’t even a little bit tempted.”

“Vampire, bitey, equals badness,” Buffy insisted. “That’s all there is to it. The end.” She changed the subject. “Hey, that Planar Sphere thing that Valygar was talking about? Maybe we could use it to get home.”

“Maybe,” Willow said, with no enthusiasm in her voice, and then returned to the topic of Spike. “Okay, so the bitey thing, not a turn-on for you, yeah, I can understand that, but hey, I don’t get why you’re playing it so cool. Spike is hot, he’s in love with you, and he’s got the all-clear on the evil thing now. I know you think he’s a hottie, Buffy, you can’t fool me on that. You should be all ‘carpe diem’ and ‘take me now’, but no, you’re all ‘we can be friends’, and hey, it’s getting kind of old.”

“Spike is a vampire, I’m the Slayer, ‘just friends’ is more than he’s got any right to expect,” Buffy said. “What’s with you being all matchmaker-y anyway? Okay, you’ve gotten pretty friendly with Spike these days, I get that, but doing his wooing? Taking it too far, Will.”

“It’s not for him, Buffy,” Willow denied. “I’m thinking of you.”

“Of me? Is this some kind of transference thing? You think he’s hot so I must?” Buffy saw Willow’s raised eyebrows and quirked an eyebrow in return. “I didn’t sleep through all of Psych class. Some of it stuck. Look, Will, I don’t need a vampire boyfriend. Just a nice, normal, guy.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “And you’re going to find one in this world exactly where?”

“Hey, you might have given up hope of getting back to Sunnydale, but I haven’t.” Buffy sighed. “Although, yeah, it’s not looking like it’s gonna be any time soon. Still, even if we are stuck here, there’s bound to be some nice normal guys around.”

“Maybe.” Willow looked straight at Buffy’s face, almost tripped over a tree root, and had to return her eyes to the path ahead. “The thing is, Buffy, I know you think Spike’s hot,” she repeated. “This isn’t any kind of transference; this is me being your best friend and knowing you. And hey, as that best friend, I’m warning you that can’t rely on Spike always being there for you if you change your mind.”

“Spike stuck with Drusilla for, like, a hundred years,” Buffy said airily. “He’ll wait.”

“So you admit that you’re interested?”

“No way!” Buffy protested. “Okay, I admit that he’s not entirely unattractive, but he’s still a vampire. End of story. Oh, look! There’s the village up ahead. Maybe we can get some hot baths if we bribe the innkeeper enough.” She quickened her pace.

Willow turned her head and looked back along the line of adventurers to where Viconia walked at Sorkatani’s heel. “Okay, Buffy, you keep swimming in de Nile,” she said. “Spike stayed with Drusilla for a century, yeah, so maybe he will wait for you. Except that Drusilla didn’t have any competition until you came along. You do have competition, Buffy. And Viconia’s kinda like Drusilla only she’s got the whole not being insane thing going for her, so, hey, pretty serious competition.” She turned back to her friend but found that Buffy had drawn well ahead, out of hearing range, and so Willow shook her head and set out in pursuit.

- - - - -

The party entered the village in triumphant procession. Spike was well-fed again thanks to an unwary deer. Everyone was tired, and dirty, but cheerful and looking forward to hot baths.

A few of the local peasants stood at the side of the road and cheered for their liberator – Mazzy Fentan! Buffy pouted. Viconia glared at them fiercely. Spike laughed. Sorkatani just grinned. Mazzy looked acutely embarrassed and halted to call out loudly to the small crowd, informing them that the real heroes were Sorkatani, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and their comrades, who had rescued her and destroyed the Shade Lord who had been the true source of the evil that had afflicted the locality. The crowd took note and the cheers became directed at Sorkatani and Buffy. More of the villagers emerged from their dwellings as the news spread and the procession began to resemble a ticker-tape parade; except, of course, for the complete absence of ticker-tape or skyscrapers.

Mazzy’s address to the crowd had brought the party’s procession to a temporary halt. Xander, Anya, and Minsc had been at the front of the group at the time, and they continued onwards towards the inn without waiting for the others to start moving again.

“I’m starting to wonder if this paladin gig is the real deal,” Xander moaned as he walked. “I’m supposed to be able to Detect Evil, right, only not a damn thing shows up. Spike’s not evil. The werewolf girl? Not evil. Which maybe doesn’t wig me out too much, ‘cause hey, Oz was a good guy, but from what I remember about Dungeons and Dragons werewolves have to be evil. Viconia’s not evil and she’s totally wigged about it ‘cause being evil is, like, her job. The guy wanted for a double murder? Hey, he isn’t evil at all. I guess he just bored those guys to death, yeah, ‘cause I nearly fell asleep during his story. Hey, I figured I was on a winner with the ogres for sure – only they’re not evil either!”

“The butt of Evil in these parts has been kicked most thoroughly,” Minsc declared, with evident satisfaction.

“Or else my cool power doesn’t work,” Xander said. “I’d ask for a refund only I didn’t pay anything for it. Isn’t there anybody evil in this – hey, hold on a minute! I’m getting something. Evil. Coming in loud and clear from dead ahead.”

Minsc grinned widely. “Then we shall kick its butt. Who is the evil one, Xander?”

“Uh, this doesn’t make any kind of sense,” Xander frowned. “I’m getting major evil readings from one of the merchant guys with a stall out in front of the inn. I mean, evil vibes off the scale.” He bit his lip. “Only, hey, he’s just standing there selling books. I can’t just walk up and whack him with my mighty sword. I don’t think that’s a paladin thing to do.”

“A book stand? Hmm. You mean that guy with that little straight moustache?” Anya halted and took off her backpack. She rummaged through it until she found a certain scrap of paper. “I wonder if he’s selling ‘The History of the Zhentarim’? Okay, the Valygar thing was a dead loss, but maybe this will make up for it.”

“Did I miss an episode?” Xander wondered. “You kinda lost me there, Ahn.”

“The note we found at the shop of that guy who was skinning people,” Anya reminded him. Xander winced at the memory. “It goes ‘Seek me out in the hills of Umar’, which is where we are, ‘and signal your identity with the purchase of the book, The History of the Zhentarim. This will identify you, for I do not know your name, nor should I’.”

Xander nodded. “Seems to fit, yeah, what with the guy up ahead being evil.”

“The rest of the letter was all cryptic clues about his secret name, stupid spy stuff, but I’ve decoded it. Well, Dawn and I have. You buy the book, you call him ‘Darcin Cole’, and then he’ll talk. After that I think you can do as much whacking with your mighty sword as you like.”

Xander grimaced. “I don’t know, Ahn. If he was part of that whole ‘Buffalo Bill’ deal I might not be able to keep my cool long enough to go through with the whole undercover spiel. I might lose it and start with the whacking too early.”

“Then I’ll do it,” Anya said. “I probably even smell like a skinner right now.” She narrowed her eyes. “I really should have a cigarette in a long holder for this, and maybe one of those hats with a little veil, and a trenchcoat. And a gun. Oh well, I’ll just have to rely on having the gang near at hand as back-up.”

- - - - -

“Your note said that you would provide the final ingredient,” Anya pointed out sharply, “not just tell me what it is. The blood of a Silver Dragon? Well, I’ve just finished killing and skinning a Shadow Dragon and, let me tell you, dragon slaying isn’t easy.”

“That’s not my problem,” the man who went by the name Darcin Cole said. “You contracted to make the armor. If you can’t fulfill your obligations then you’d better be ready to face the displeasure of our masters.”

“And that would be worse than facing a dragon exactly how?” Anya asked.

Darcin Cole’s eyes narrowed. “You should know that. Something’s wrong.”

Anya smiled sweetly and slipped a nine-inch enchanted dagger from her sleeve. She moved so smoothly that Cole didn’t react until the blade was already at his throat. “It certainly is. I’m a bounty hunter and you’re under arrest.” She raised her voice. “Guys, come and get him.”

“You’re a fool if you think that you can cross The Rune and live,” Cole snarled. His expression changed suddenly from one of anger to alarm. His mouth hung open slackly.

Anya thought that he must have seen something behind her but she didn’t look round. All of her friends were in the vicinity, as she had persuaded them that there was no point in rushing to bathe if there was a possible fight in the offing, and several of them were invisible. She felt completely secure in that direction. “I’m not going to fall for the old ‘look behind you’ trick,” she told him.

Cole ignored her. “Oh, shit,” he groaned. His gaze was directed off to one side. Anya used her peripheral vision to look in that direction without taking her eyes from her prisoner. She saw a shimmering in the air and then three figures appeared out of nowhere. One of them materialized several feet above the ground and fell awkwardly. The others landed more elegantly and one spoke.

“You have uttered a name that should remain unspoken,” the mage said. He fixed Cole with a steely stare and raised a clawed hand in a gesture as if he was ripping out a heart. “Suffer eternal death!”

Cole stiffened, clutched his throat, and toppled sideways.

The other mage extended his arm towards Anya. She lashed out with her dagger and caught him across the wrist. His skin flashed into the grey impenetrability of a Stoneskin spell and the blade glanced aside harmlessly. Azuredge bounced off his head a second later as Xander, twenty feet away, flickered into visibility. The mage ignored the blows, made the same clawing gesture in Anya’s direction, and spoke with remorseless finality. “Suffer eternal death!”


The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use.
Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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