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Tabula Avatar Chapter 25

Happy Birthdays to hjcallipygian and to one of my very closest online friends, the delightful evilawyer.

Here’s another chapter of my BtVS/Baldur’s Gate 2 crossover ‘Tabula Avatar’. A massive 9,300 words as there wasn’t really any suitable break point earlier. Rating R. Lots of spoilers for ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, of course. I made a couple of minor errors in the last chapter – misquoted a prophecy, and referred to two men when one of them is really a woman – and I’ve gone back and fixed those errors now. On with the story …

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-five

Warren looked up from Andrew’s completed Pirate game script. “Hey, this is pretty damn good, dude,” he praised. “Mostly, anyway. There’s just a couple of places where it, well, kinda sucks. Just a touch, dude. Mainly it’s good.”

Andrew pouted. “Okay, dude, let’s see you do better,” he challenged.

Warren shook his head. “You know I can’t write worth a damn,” he admitted. He cocked his head to one side and looked at Jonathan. “How about you? I kinda suspect you might have done some fanfic writing. Am I right, dude?”

The smallest of the Trio shuffled in his chair. “Yeah, I’ve written some stuff,” he confessed. “I did a Baldur’s Gate story that was pretty long, one time, but I never tried putting it up on alt.games.baldurs-gate or anything. I was kinda scared it’d get pulled to pieces, you know?”

“I guessed you had,” Warren said. “All that back-story for Sorkatani, the stuff about Sarevok giving her that ‘Perfect Warrior’ nickname and that kinda thing, it’s not in the game script but it had to come from somewhere. You still got it, dude?”

“Uh, yeah,” Jonathan said. He stared down at the table. “It’s on the same PC as the game. You can take a look if you want but, hey, don’t blame me if it sucks. I never said that it was any good.”

Warren’s eyebrows went up and down and he nodded slowly. “The game must be accessing it some way, I guess. Yeah, I’ll take a look. Don’t look so nervous, dude, I bet it won’t suck that bad. It just has to be better than the crap that I write to qualify you for doing some beta work on Andrew’s script.” He rose from his chair and headed for the PC. “Hey, less of the sulking,” he said to Andrew. “I’m not saying your stuff is bad, dude, just there’s a couple of places where it could do with a – fuck!” His hand shot out and hit the space bar to pause the game.

Andrew sniggered at the unintentionally humorous effect of Warren’s exclamation. Jonathan, however, rushed straight over to join his friend at the PC. “What’s up, Doc?” he asked.

Warren pointed at the screen. “Sorkatani’s frigging dying, dude. What the hell? They were just doing R&R and picking up armor from Cromwell. How come things suddenly went all to hell?”

“That’s the Harpers’ Hold,” Jonathan said. “It’s that Galvarey thing. Only, it’s supposed to be this whole big confrontation but there’s only Sorkatani and Jaheira there. It looks like Galvarey got smart.”

“You see the skull and crossbones sign on your girl’s pic? Yeah, he got smart. No taking her crowd on in a straight fight and getting creamed this time. The creep’s poisoned her. Jeez, the red was going up her picture so fast I could frigging see it moving, man. She must be losing two hit points a second. They’ve grabbed hold of Jaheira to stop her from helping and I don’t think your girl is gonna make it through this one. What saves have we got?”

“The last full save was back at Imnesvale,” Jonathan confessed. “These days I’m only using the saves to get new area coding for your mod. Like, what’s the point when I can’t control any of the party members? It’s not like I could do anything to change things.”

Warren sucked in his cheeks. “I guess you’ve got a point, dude. Only, you can control Anomen now, right?”

“Oh, yeah, like I’d want that asshole to come swooping in to save the day?” Jonathan rolled his eyes.

“I don’t think you’ve got any choice, dude,” Warren said. “We’re gonna have to reload when she dies and if we can’t do something to save her it’s gonna end up in a loop where we can’t get past this point. They won’t ever get to Spellhold. What’s the Autosave showing?”

“Sorkatani going in to the Harpers’ building. That’s not far enough back to do a whole lot of good. Yoshimo’s hanging around not far off but that’s no use when I can’t make him do anything. I guess it’s Anomen or nothing. Bummer.”

“Yeah, bummer. That jerk bugs the hell out of me and if he gets to be the hero he’ll be even worse. Hmm. He’s right over on the far side of the Docks. He’d never make it across in time to do any good. Okay, I guess we might as well see what happens when the Bhaalspawn dies and then do what we can with the reload.” Warren tapped the space bar again and the game came to life once more. “Poor kid, she – yay! Go Sorkatani! Man, your girl kicks serious ass.”

Words flashed across the bottom of the screen as the avatars moved in frantic action.

Galvarey did 2 damage to Sorkatani
Sorkatani - Slow Poison: Sorkatani
Sorkatani - attacks Galvarey
Sorkatani did 13 damage to Galvarey
Galvarey - Stunned
Jaheira - attacks Harper Guard
Jaheira did 5 damage to Harper Guard
Harper Guard - attacks Jaheira
Harper Guard - Critical Miss
Sorkatani - attacks Meronia
Sorkatani did 15 damage to Meronia
Nadinal - casts Mirror Image
Galvarey did 1 damage to Sorkatani
Nadinal: Mirror Imaged
Jaheira - casts Neutralize Poison: Sorkatani

Warren raised his hand to high five Jonathan. The shorter man grinned and was in the process of raising his own hand when events on screen caused him to freeze with his hand only halfway up. His grin vanished. Warren followed his eyes. “Oh, crap.”

Iko - attacks Jaheira: backstab
Iko did 22 damage to Jaheira
Jaheira - Spell failed: casting failure

- - - - -

Galvarey’s smug smile wavered as Sorkatani seemed to glow with an inner light for a moment. “What -?” he began

She exploded up from her seat in an irresistible surge of motion. Her hands were under the edge of the desk and it rose into the air and crashed down on top of the senior Harper. The legs of his chair shattered under the impact and Galvarey went down with the heavy desk on top of him, its edge across his breastplate, pinning him down. The coffee pot smashed into fragments and dark liquid splattered across the mosaic floor.

Jaheira whipped her right hand around and punched her captor squarely on the nose. He released his grip on her left arm and swung a clumsy punch in return. She ducked under his swing and kicked his legs out from under him.

The other guard was a woman, Meronia, powerfully built and much taller than Jaheira. She drew a katana in a quick and smooth motion. Unlike Sorkatani, however, Meronia did not strike as part of the draw. She raised the sword to an attacking position and before she could bring it down Sorkatani had unleashed one of her own lightning-fast combination draw and strike moves. The Perfect Warrior’s hands were still shaking and her aim betrayed her. Instead of hitting a vital point the blade sliced across the guard’s buttocks. Meronia staggered away, shocked by the pain and by Celestial Fury’s enchantments, and her blow at Jaheira remained undelivered.

The mage was left untouched for the moment. He didn’t take his opportunity to unleash a deadly spell but instead thought first of his own safety. Multiple images of himself flickered into existence around him, shrouding him from attackers.

Jaheira ignored him and made for Sorkatani, uttering the first words of her Neutralize Poison spell as she went, and stretched out her hand towards her stricken comrade. Even as she did so she cried out in agony as a sword plunged into her back. The spell was lost.

A Halfling appeared behind her. He had been invisible, lurking unseen behind Galvarey’s other guards, and had timed his attack perfectly. His blade had pierced Jaheira’s armor and penetrated four inches into her flesh. He pulled it back and struck again.

The mage began to chant the words of a Summoning spell. Sorkatani brought Celestial Fury around in a desperate slash but connected only with two of his Mirror Images. The wizard was untouched and completed his spell.

Jaheira recovered her balance and spun around, bringing her fist across in a blow at her attacker, but she was expecting a human and her aim was too high. The Halfling ducked easily under her punch and drove his short sword into her thigh. Sorkatani lashed out with Celestial Fury at Meronia, who was returning to the fight, and simultaneously kicked at the Halfling. She caught him full in the face, and sent him flying across the room to crash into the wall, but she lost her balance in the process and fell to the ground. The guard previously felled by Jaheira grabbed Sorkatani and tried to pin her sword arm. She butted him viciously in the face and he went limp.

Jaheira helped Sorkatani to rise. “Galvarey, please, I beg you,” she pleaded, “give her the antidote.” She drew her scimitar and engaged Meronia.

Galvarey was pushing at the desk in a futile attempt to free himself. “Gone,” he grunted. “I drank it beforehand in case of accidents. The Bhaalspawn will die whatever you do, and good riddance.”

Sorkatani caught up the chair that she had sat in earlier and threw it at the mage. She leaned over the desk and put the tip of Celestial Fury to Galvarey’s throat. “If I was the killer that you thought … me to be … you’d be dead now,” she said, the words coming slowly and with great effort, and turned away. She saw the floor rippling as an Earth Elemental, summoned by the mage, rose up from the mosaics and emerged into the room. “Jaheira!” she called. “Run!”

They raced for the door on faltering legs. Jaheira left twin trails of blood droplets behind her. Sorkatani dragged her left leg and it seemed on the verge of buckling beneath her. An armored guard blocked their path briefly but Sorkatani slammed him into the wall and they pressed on.

Behind them the Earth Elemental wavered for a moment, uncertain what to do as the mage who had summoned it was dazed and incapable of issuing commands, but then the Harper wizard picked himself up and urged the creature on. It lumbered after the fugitives, moving awkwardly but with surprising speed, and the wizard followed behind. The Halfling assassin clambered to his feet, spat out a bloody tooth, and joined the pursuit.

- - - - -

Yoshimo stood at the edge of the quay, staring out over the harbor, his normally cheerful face set in an expression of deep misery. He tossed a pebble into the calm water and watched the ripples spread out. “Whichever way it turns out, I lose,” he muttered to himself. “But how could I have known? It all seemed so simple then. Revenge and profit all in one package. A win-win situation. Hah! You fool, Yoshimo.”

A noise behind him made him turn. Thirty yards away Sorkatani was stumbling away from the door of the Harpers’ building, doubled over, with one arm clutching her stomach and the fingers of her other hand in her mouth. The sound that had attracted Yoshimo’s attention had been the sound of Celestial Fury falling to the cobbled ground. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Sorkatani would never discard that precious katana unless she was on the verge of death.

Jaheira emerged from the doorway, reeling backwards, her face a smashed and bloody mask. She halted her retreat and stood at bay as a massive and vaguely humanoid creature of living soil shambled out and made for Sorkatani. Jaheira struck out with her scimitar but it glanced from the monster’s lumpy exterior without effect. The Elemental swung its massive fist and swatted Jaheira aside. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she toppled sideways like a felled tree.

A leather-clad Halfling ran past the Earth creature and made for Sorkatani with a short sword in his fist and a snarl on his bleeding face. Sorkatani was bent double, retching, but nothing came out of her mouth. Her legs gave way under her and she sank to her knees. This put her head right down at the Halfling’s level. She wore no helm, as it was a warm day and she had believed herself to be going to a place of safety, and she was wide open to his attack. He grabbed her hair, jerked her head back, and brought his blade up to cut her throat.

- - - - -

“Help me up, damn it!” Galvarey ordered. “Get this blasted thing off me!”

Meronia lowered the bottle of healing potion that she had just gulped down and rushed to obey. She grunted with effort as she heaved at the heavy desk and her eyes widened as she remembered the way that Sorkatani had tossed it at Galvarey. “She must be very strong,” she muttered, and then she remembered something else. “She didn’t kill you. Why? If she’s so evil…” Her brows descended low over her eyes and she shook her head.

Galvarey clambered laboriously to his feet and scowled at the dent in his breastplate. He was well aware that if he hadn’t been wearing armor it would have been his ribs that took the impact and his chest would have been crushed. “She is not entirely evil,” he conceded. “She kills in hot blood, not cold, and my helplessness no doubt awakened Gorion’s teachings of chivalry and mercy. Still, she is a creature of Chaos, and will bring doom upon us all if we do not end her now.” He strode to the corner of the room, where his great two-handed sword stood propped against the wall, and took hold of it by the scabbard. “Go! Stop her before she reaches her companions; and bring back Jaheira, dead or alive. Make haste!”

Meronia bowed her head and then ran from the room. Galvarey picked up his mighty blade, made his way back to his desk, and opened a drawer. At that moment a green-clad mage, who had the slightly pointed ears of a half-elf, entered. The wizard stared at the unconscious guard lying on the floor, and at the shattered chairs and pottery fragments that were strewn about the room, and then turned to Galvarey. “What has happened, my Lord? Did things go amiss?”

“She resisted the poison long enough to get away,” Galvarey explained. “She seems to have some spell-casting ability and I believe she cast a Slow Poison upon herself. Then that treacherous bitch Jaheira nearly spoiled everything. Luckily Iko got to her in time.” He pulled out a squat orange flask from the drawer. “Excellent! I had feared that this would be broken. If the Bhaalspawn’s comrades arrive to avenge her we’ll need every advantage we can get.”

“Avenge her? I thought she’d gotten away?”

“Oh, she’ll die,” Galvarey said confidently. He leaned the sword against the desk and began to remove the seals of the flask. “The paralysis should have set in by now even allowing for her spell. After that it’s just a matter of time before her heart stops working. Perhaps one minute, perhaps twenty. It’s difficult to make accurate predictions when one is dealing with a semi-divine being, and her Slow Poison spell complicates things still further. It would be safest to remove her head before any of her associates can intervene. Of course then they are going to be somewhat incensed. The Vampire Slayer is reputed to be quite remarkably strong and fast, more so even than Sorkatani.” He raised the flask to his lips and drained it. “Now I’m stronger.” He flung the flask to the floor, adding a new set of fragments to the mess that was strewn there, and picked up his greatsword and brandished it effortlessly with one hand. “And if you would be so good as to cast a Haste spell upon me, my dear Bessen, I’ll be faster too.”

- - - - -

Iko’s sword swept round for the killing stroke. It didn’t land. Instead a mighty fist of earth smashed down upon his head and felled him instantly. The Earth Elemental followed up by stamping down with a massive foot upon the prone Halfling and caving in his skull.

“Idiotic creature!” Nadinal raged from the doorway. “You have slain the wrong mortal. Kill the girl!” The Elemental turned towards the mage, then turned back to Sorkatani, and then back towards the mage again. “What is wrong?” Nadinal asked. He received no reply, as the Elemental lacked the power of speech, but the answer to his question revealed itself immediately.

“Kill him, Earth creature!” Yoshimo ordered. He wore the Ring of Earth, a treasure won at Nalia’s keep, which granted him a limited power of command over Earth Elementals. So far the ring had proved of but little worth to him, for they had encountered no such creatures, and he had continued to wear it only because its secondary enchantments enhanced the protective spells on his leather armor to some extent; but now he was thanking every god in the pantheons of Faerûn that he had taken the ring as part of his share of the loot from that expedition.

The monster lurched towards Nadinal. The mage exerted his will and turned the Elemental back towards Yoshimo. The bounty hunter sent it heading back at the mage. Stalemate. But a stalemate that was in the wizard’s favor, for the Ring of Earth enabled the wearer to control an Elemental for only forty-five seconds, and Sorkatani had now slumped from her kneeling position to sprawl face down on the cobbled ground. Jaheira lay beyond her, motionless, unconscious or even dead. There was no aid to be had from that source.

But perhaps there might be assistance from somewhere else. Yoshimo cast a quick glance to the side, along the harbor, and saw Spike and Minsc walking on the quayside quite a long way off. He took a deep breath and yelled as loudly as he could. “Spike! Minsc! Help! To me!”

The Earth Elemental lurched towards Sorkatani as Yoshimo’s concentration wavered. Hastily he turned his attention back to the monster. Perhaps even Spike and Minsc could not defeat such a being, and he had only seconds left before it reverted to the control of the Harper wizard. Yoshimo had a vision of its foot descending upon Sorkatani’s defenseless head and despair started to fill him. Then an idea hit him and a grim and mirthless smile spread across his face. “To me, creature,” he ordered. The Elemental obeyed. Nadinal hesitated, uncertain of what Yoshimo was doing, and did not try to oppose the command. “Run,” Yoshimo commanded. “As fast as you can. In a straight line.” He jumped aside just before the Elemental reached him. “Keep running!” he yelled. “No turning back!”

Nadinal realized what Yoshimo intended too late to counter it. The Elemental reached the quayside, went over the low stone wall without even pausing, and plummeted fifteen feet to the water in the harbor with a splash that swamped a couple of the small boats that were tied up nearby.

Yoshimo turned triumphantly back to the mage and froze. Meronia was now standing over Sorkatani’s body, the katana in her hand poised to strike. Yoshimo drew his own blade and advanced, calling out a challenge, but he was horrifyingly aware that he couldn’t hope to reach the woman quickly enough to prevent her from bringing the sword down and ending Sorkatani’s life.

“Kill her!” Nadinal snapped. “Quickly!”

Meronia hesitated. “I can’t just kill her in cold blood,” she said. She stepped away from Sorkatani and faced Yoshimo.

“You disappoint me, Meronia,” Galvarey said, stepping out from the building and blinking in the sunlight. “Oh well, as they say, if you want anything done properly do it yourself.”

“Evil, meet my sword!” Minsc’s mighty voice rang out in challenge. “Sword, meet Evil!” He was still some distance away, however, running along the quayside brandishing his sword Lilarcor.

Galvarey frowned. “Blast. I had hoped to avoid facing him. Meronia, if you have qualms about disposing of the Bhaalspawn, you can slay that annoying ninja instead. I’ll deal with the Bhaalspawn myself. Minsc is too far away to intervene.”

“But I’m not.” Spike had raced along the dockside at full vampire speed and had left Minsc far behind. He vaulted over a street trader’s barrow and landed in front of Galvarey. “You lay one finger on Tani, wanker, and I’ll rip out your lungs.” He was in full game face and he bared his fangs in a snarl.

“She’s dying anyway,” Galvarey informed him. Spike growled and charged. Galvarey sidestepped the onrushing vampire and struck a tremendous blow with his sword. It failed to penetrate the enhanced Armor of Deep Night but it swept Spike from his feet and sent him sprawling headlong. “I don’t think you’ll be doing any ripping out of lungs, vampire,” Galvarey sneered. “Rather the reverse, I believe.” He brought the greatsword down in another powerful strike and the blade struck sparks from the cobbles as Spike rolled aside.

Spike leaped up, inside the arc of the sword, and seized Galvarey’s arms. His mouth gaped wide and his fangs approached the Harper’s throat. Galvarey released the sword with one hand, wrenched up his arm despite Spike’s grip, and placed the flat of his hand against Spike’s face. He thrust the vampire away with irresistible force and Spike’s eyes widened as he was pushed backwards until he had to relinquish his grasp. Galvarey sent Spike stumbling away and took hold of the sword with both hands once more. Spike retreated, dodging and dancing just out of range of Galvarey’s swings, and drew his own sword. He maneuvered to keep himself between Galvarey and Sorkatani. She was still lying motionless, her breathing was irregular and shallow, and her lips were beginning to show a hint of blue.

Bessen the half-elven mage came out onto the street to back up his master. Two men-at-arms accompanied him. He raised a scornful eyebrow at Nadinal. “You don’t seem to have achieved much,” he remarked. “Perhaps you’d better leave it to the professionals.”

Nadinal scowled at his rival and turned his attention to Yoshimo. The bounty hunter was facing off with Meronia, feinting and probing, but neither had launched a serious attack as yet. They seemed evenly matched in speed and strength. Nadinal sent a volley of Magic Missiles streaking through the air and Yoshimo cried out in pain as they hit. His eyes turned to the wizard. Meronia reacted instinctively and struck at her distracted opponent. Her blade bit into his arm to the bone and went on to slice through his leather armor and carve a bloody gash across his chest. His katana fell from his hand and he stood helpless before her as she raised her weapon for another stroke.

- - - - -

“I do not deny that I desire to take Spike to my bed, Buffy,” Viconia said. “His devotion to you has thus far meant that my advances have been rejected. Perhaps if you make it clear that your preference is for that jaluk belggir Anomen then Spike will relent and become my mrann d'ssinss. Then we can all live in ssinssriggin happiness. Except for you, obviously, but you will have brought your misery upon yourself.”

Willow chuckled, Dawn giggled, and Buffy pouted. She wasn’t sure if Viconia was making a serious suggestion or if she was merely making jibes at Anomen for her own amusement. Buffy knew that ‘jaluk’ meant ‘male’ but had no idea what ‘belggir’ meant; somehow she doubted that it was anything complimentary. Sometimes Viconia seemed to use words in her own tongue because she did not know a term in the human language with the shade of meaning she desired, but often it seemed to be because she was insulting someone or swearing. ‘Ssinssriggin’, Buffy guessed, meant something obscene. She had learned to respect Viconia, and to accept her as tolerable company, but regarding her as a close friend in the way that Willow obviously did was still a long way off. The drow girl was too much like Cordelia in Buffy’s eyes.

“Evil, meet my sword! Sword, meet Evil!”

The distant cry would have passed unnoticed if anyone had been speaking at that moment. Neither Dawn nor Willow heard it. Viconia cocked her head to one side. “Was that Minsc?” she asked.

“Minsc’s battle cry,” Buffy confirmed. She pushed back her chair, rose to her feet, and almost ran to the window. She could see little through the thick and uneven glass and so went to the door and peered out across the docks. “I don’t see anything,” she said. “Maybe we should head out anyway.”

Willow joined her. “Let me take a look,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to try out Clairvoyance.” She squinted into the distance. “I can see Minsc running,” she reported. “Spike’s fighting someone. Oh goddess! Sorkatani and Jaheira are down. Not moving.” She spun around and headed for the table to retrieve her bag. “Good thing I’ve learned Dimension Door, huh?” The killing rage that burned in her eyes belied the lightness of her words.

Viconia had jumped to her feet when she heard Willow’s report. Her lips curled back to show her teeth. “Wait, abbil,” she urged. “I have a better plan.”

- - - - -

Meronia hesitated for a moment. Yoshimo had fought bravely in defense of his leader and she was loath to slay him. Common sense, however, dictated that the bounty hunter was too dangerous an opponent to spare; his vengeance for Sorkatani’s death might come weeks or months later in the form of a lethal trap in an unexpected place. She took a half-step forward and raised her katana for the finishing blow.

“Taste hamster justice!” Minsc roared. Close, very close. Meronia whirled round just in time to throw up her blade in a desperate parry. It was futile. The immense power that Minsc had put into his blow drove the two-handed sword through her block and on to connect with her head. The heavy blade clove through her skull and split her head almost in two.

“What have you done to Sorkatani, fiends?” the tattooed warrior demanded.

“Poison, I think,” Yoshimo gasped out. He fumbled one-handed in a belt pouch for a healing potion.

Minsc bellowed in rage. “Cowardly murderers! Minsc and Boo shall wreak vengeance upon you!” He began to lift up his sword; it was wedged in Meronia’s jawbone and her corpse rose into a sitting position in a ghastly parody of life. Minsc put his boot upon her body and tugged the sword free.

Even Hasted Galvarey was finding that fighting Spike was a frustrating experience. The vampire gave him no more chances to land a solid blow but danced around poised to leap in at Galvarey’s first mistake. When the Harper had ignored Spike for a moment and advanced determinedly towards Sorkatani Spike had rushed in and delivered a blow of his own that scored a gouge along Galvarey’s dented breastplate. It was almost with relief that Galvarey turned aside to face Minsc. “Bessen, slay me this vampire,” he called out as he went.

Bessen frowned. His repertoire of offensive spells was geared more towards combat with humans than with a member of the Undead. He was Hasted, however, as were the two men-at-arms, and he had a Stoneskin spell to protect him. He fired off a Magic Missile that hurt Spike, but did no serious damage, and then advanced with his enchanted quarterstaff. The two men-at-arms advanced at his side.

Galvarey frowned as he saw Meronia’s dead body. He had hoped that Sorkatani’s allies would arrive in ones and twos and could thus be defeated piecemeal, and that aspect of his plan seemed to be working so far, but attrition of his own forces posed a serious danger. He needed to finish off Minsc, and the wounded Yoshimo, as quickly as possible. “Nadinal, assist me,” he ordered.

The wizard obeyed and cast a Hold Person spell at Minsc and Yoshimo. The bounty hunter froze in place, standing motionless except for the drip of blood from his arm and chest, but the berserk Ranger didn’t even slow down. Minsc’s sword lashed out and destroyed the last of Nadinal’s protective Mirror Images. Then Galvarey was there. He brought his greatsword crashing down in a blow that the Harper thought would brush aside the Rashemen warrior’s blade and strike home.

The two swords clashed. Minsc’s block held. “Villain!” he roared, and struck back. His rage-fueled power was almost enough to match Galvarey’s Potion of Fire Giant Strength. Not quite, however, and the Harper parried with ease.

The two Harper guards tried to pin Spike between them. One had a sword and shield, the other bore a spear. Spike slashed the swordsman across the face and sent him spinning away, crying out in shock and pain, but then the vampire had to leap aside hurriedly to avoid a spear thrust. Bessen raised his quarterstaff but was then distracted by an unexpected happening.

A hooded figure was kneeling at Sorkatani’s side. He held a small bottle of dark green glass and was trying to pour the contents into the Perfect Warrior’s mouth.

“What are you doing?” Bessen snapped. “Get away from her!”

The hooded man raised his head. He was Fovem, a pedlar, who sold goods of dubious provenance from a barrow at the quayside. His barrow disappeared into the nearby narrow alleys with remarkable speed whenever alarm whistles indicated that the City Guard were paying one of their rare visits to the area. “Don’t give me orders, Harper,” Fovem warned. “Even you can’t cross the Shadow Thieves.”

“Shadow Thieves?” Bessen repeated blankly. “What business is it of theirs?”

“You’d better not be harming her,” Spike growled. Behind Fovem a window in the air opened and Willow stepped through. She stood looking around for a moment, trying to work out what was going on before she acted.

“Indeed not. This is an all-purpose antidote,” Fovem explained. He frowned. “She cannot swallow.”

Bessen hesitated for a moment but then made up his mind. The Shadow Thieves were a power in Amn but the Harpers were a network that spanned the continent. He fired off another Magic Missile and Fovem was thrown from his feet and lay writhing in agony on the ground. The bottle of antidote fell onto the cobblestones and smashed.

His action clarified the situation for Willow. “Bag of knives!” she called, and tossed her bag to the ground. A swarm of daggers rose from the bag and hurtled towards Bessen. His Stoneskin protected him from the blades at first but when the hail of steel ended his defense had been stripped away and he was bleeding from a dozen cuts. He reeled back and began to chant the phrases of a ward of Spell Turning.

Galvarey rained down blows upon Minsc, a hint of desperation showing on his face, in a furious attempt to overwhelm the Ranger before the witch’s arrival tipped the balance of the battle too far the other way. Minsc withstood the onslaught, although barely, but had no chance to strike back.

And then Buffy arrived.

She was moving so fast that she was almost a blur. Her Slayer speed was enhanced by a Haste spell and she had run all the way from the tavern at forty miles an hour. The Blade of Roses whistled towards Galvarey. He swung up his greatsword, confidently expecting to sweep her sword aside and deliver a riposte, but he received a rude shock. Her raw strength matched his enchanted power and his parry was only just enough to avert her strike. She changed over to a two-handed grip and struck once more with even greater force. Galvarey parried again and backed away, trying to open the range so that the length of his weapon would give him the advantage, but she followed up quickly and pressed him hard.

Viconia raced onto the scene wielding her flail and mace, moving almost as fast as Buffy, using the strength boost bestowed upon her by her enchanted mace to negate the encumbrance of her armor. She was bare-headed, as her hat had been torn from her head by the resistance of the air as she ran, and her white locks streamed out behind her. “Jabbress!” she wailed as she saw the still figures of Sorkatani and Jaheira. “Abbil! You must not die!” She divested herself of the Flail of Ages by flinging it at Bessen and dropped to her knees at Sorkatani’s side.

Bessen rocked under the impact. The flail wrapped itself about his neck. He tore it away, burning his fingers on one of the weapon’s magical heads in the process, and glanced around to size up the situation. He had managed to complete the Spell Turning ward before Viconia’s interruption and he felt reasonably confident that he was safe from Willow at least for the moment. Not for long, a mage of her obvious power would be able to negate the Spell Turning in time; but perhaps for long enough. He considered striking back at her but rejected the idea. She would undoubtedly be warded as effectively as was he, or more so; she had just cast a devastatingly effective spell that he had never even seen before and he had an uneasy feeling that she had powers that he could not match. Retaliation would have to wait. His first priority had to be to dispose of the Bhaalspawn.

The drow woman was no doubt going to cast a healing spell. He could disrupt it with a Magic Missile; or he could strike directly at Sorkatani, finishing her off before the spell could take effect. Yes, that was the best option. He pointed his finger to unleash the magical darts. His mouth opened; but instead of the command word it was a spray of blood that burst forth from his mouth. He swayed on his feet and clutched at his neck. His fingers encountered a short shaft with small stiff vanes, a crossbow quarrel that was embedded deep in his throat, and he gazed with unbelieving eyes at a teenage girl forty feet away who was lowering a crossbow. She stared back at him coldly as she re-cocked her weapon, her hands moving with uncanny speed, and slipped home another bolt. His legs gave way under him and he sat down hard on the cobbles. He fumbled desperately in his belt pouch for a healing potion.

Dawn took careful aim and shot him again.

- - - - -

A few yards away Nadinal cast a Summoning spell and two ferocious Gnoll warriors materialized and charged into the battle wielding halberds. Minsc met them with a yell of “Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes!” and slew the first with one mighty blow. The wild-eyed Ranger turned on the other and drove it back.

Galvarey looked about him and a hint of panic began to appear in his eyes. Moments ago everything had been in his favor; now the balance had tipped decisively in the other direction. Meronia and Bessen were dead. One of his men-at-arms was dead and the other was struggling feebly in the vampire’s grasp. Nadinal was running out of offensive spells. The opposition had a spell-caster of their own on the scene now and he guessed that she had Nadinal outclassed by far. The Vampire Slayer was proving to be every bit as formidable as her reputation had suggested and it was taking every bit of his skill to hold off her assault. She had drawn her second sword and her barrage of attacks was beginning to tell. Another gouge had appeared on his breastplate alongside that left by Spike’s sword earlier. One more blow like that and the dented armor would give way. Victory, so certain minutes ago, no longer seemed even remotely possible.

Then Sorkatani sat up.

“Nadinal!” Galvarey cried. “Get us out of here.”

Nadinal gulped. Spells of escape and evasion had been Bessen’s specialty. His own area of expertise was the summoning of monsters and his best cards had been played already. He cast down fragments of bone and skin upon the cobbles and brought forth a pair of zombies. “Run for the door, my Lord,” he yelled. “I’ll try to hold them off!”

Willow’s eyes narrowed and she began to chant.

Galvarey flung his sword at Buffy and ran for the building. Nadinal spent a brief instant issuing mental commands to the zombies and then followed. They didn’t make it. The very air around them seemed to thicken and clutch at them. Nadinal halted in his tracks. Galvarey, using his giant’s strength, managed to force himself forward but his pace was slowed to a crawl.

Minsc hacked the remaining Gnoll to pieces.

Viconia stood up. Tears of joy and relief were trickling down her cheeks. “Ssussun pholor dos, naut-elghinyrr,” she cried at the zombies. They shriveled up, crumbled into dust, and blew away. She permitted herself one brief sneer at the mere wizard who had thought to summon Undead in the presence of a true cleric and then she bent to help Sorkatani to her feet.

Willow pointed her index and little fingers at Galvarey and Nadinal. “Mystra, Azuth, magic’s source, strip away their borrowed force.” Galvarey’s slow progress halted completely as the potion’s effect was dispelled and his strength became that of a normal human. Buffy sheathed her secondary sword and seized hold of Galvarey by the top of his armor’s back plate. She dragged him backwards, encountering no resistance from Willow’s spell, and tossed him to the cobbled ground.

Spike whipped a left cross to the jaw of his captive man-at-arms and dropped him in an unconscious heap. He ran to where Celestial Fury lay, picked it up with a care bordering on reverence, and brought it to Sorkatani who took the blade, held it for a moment in steady hands, and then twirled it into its scabbard.

Viconia turned her attention to Jaheira. “She lives!” she cried joyously. “Thanks be to Shar,” she added conscientiously. She examined the unconscious warrior druid, running her fingers lightly over Jaheira’s face, and frowned. “Her jaw is broken,” she announced. “Dawn, I would have you assist me here. If I heal her with the bone out of place it may set crooked.” Dawn put away her crossbow and came in answer to Viconia’s summons. Viconia almost absently cast a Cure spell on the injured, possibly dying, Fovem as she waited for Dawn.

Minsc dragged Nadinal from the grip of the thickened air and dumped him on top of Galvarey. “Villains, make your peace with your gods, for your evil shall be punished by death,” he growled.

“Wait!” Sorkatani’s voice rang out. She walked forward slowly and looked down at the two men. “Spare them.” There was weariness in her voice, and a great sadness. “There has been too much killing already.”

- - - - -

The bedraggled but victorious band of warriors walked back along the quayside. Minsc was still seething with suppressed rage at the treacherous and cowardly attack upon his beloved leader. Spike was wondering whether Sorkatani’s mercy towards Galvarey would have unpleasant consequences in the future and was expressing his misgivings to Yoshimo, who was oddly quiet and not forthcoming with responses to Spike’s comments.

Sorkatani too was silent and withdrawn, Willow was trying to comfort her, and Buffy was alternating between displaying concern for Sorkatani and for Dawn. The Slayer was convinced that her sister would be going into shock over having killed a human at any moment; Dawn was blissfully free of any such worries. She had killed humans twice before, something that Buffy had apparently forgotten; perhaps forgivably as on one of those occasions the Slayer had been busy dying herself at the time. Anyway, Dawn felt totally justified in her action as she had shot Bessen as he was about to murder Sorkatani in cold blood, and she was expressing her opinion of Buffy’s attentions with some truly spectacular eye-rolls.

Viconia and Jaheira were bickering as usual. “I know not why I took such care in attending to your face, tree-hugger. The squirrels care not what you look like,” Viconia sneered.

“And the men who flock to you notice only the ease with which you part your legs,” Jaheira riposted. “They never lift their eyes above your breasts, unless they desire that you pleasure them with your mouth.”

“Pleasure that you would not know how to give,” Viconia shot back. “Only food enters your mouth, and only harsh words come forth from it.”

Their insulting words were in complete contrast to their actions; Jaheira’s arm was around Viconia’s shoulders and the drow had her arm wrapped around Jaheira’s waist. Viconia’s last jibe struck too close to home, however, and Jaheira winced and her arm tensed briefly.

“What is it, abbil?” Viconia asked, the mocking tone suddenly absent from her voice and replaced by tenderness and concern. “Does it pain you still? I have a spell or two yet remaining.”

“As have I,” Jaheira said. “Your care could not be faulted, dear friend. It is just that Galvarey told me that Khalid complained often about my sharp tongue.”

“In jest only,” Viconia assured her. “He was devoted to you, abbil.”

“Was he?” Jaheira’s expression became pensive. “I always thought so. Yet I am no longer sure. When I met him in the fields of Silvanus he seemed content in a way that he never was in life, for I would never let him rest satisfied with what he had. Always I urged him to achieve more.”

Viconia wanted to reassure her friend but was somewhat at a loss for the right words. Loving partnerships between equals were extremely rare among the drow and when they did occur were more likely to be in same-sex relationships than in heterosexual ones. It had always seemed perfectly natural to her that Jaheira had been very much the dominant partner in the marriage, rather than the topsy-turvy male dominance prevalent in this strange surface world, and she had been surprised only that Jaheira had never taken a whip to Khalid. It was hard for her to comprehend why her friend was upset. “He knew that you wanted only the best for him,” she said.

“Perhaps,” Jaheira said, and fell silent.

Viconia’s brow furrowed as she wracked her brain for something else to say. Then a man stepped out from behind one of the stalls at the side of the street and approached her. He was holding something of hers.

“Your hat, my Lady,” he said, his tone respectful.

Viconia’s eyes opened wide in surprise. The man was an ordinary townsman, a rivvil peasant in her eyes, one of a class who she would have expected to address her as ‘vile creature of evil’ rather than ‘my Lady’.

“Thank you,” she said stiffly, suppressing her natural impulse to take the hat without comment and then have the man flogged for presuming to speak to her. She let go of Jaheira, accepted the hat, and placed it on her head. She thought of how Sorkatani would have acted and, guided by those thoughts, put her hand in her purse and took out a gold danter. “Please, good sir, accept this coin as a token of my gratitude.” She forced a smile onto her face, although it was barely visible through the veil.

“You are most gracious, my Lady,” the man said. “May the gods bless you and the Lady Sorkatani.” He took the coin, bowed, and returned to his stall.

Jaheira raised her eyebrows at Viconia. “Your speech to him was passing fair,” she commented. “I would have expected you to snarl ‘vith’os, jaluk rivvil’ and perhaps to smite him with the Flail of Ages.”

“Such was my first thought,” Viconia confessed. “Yet it was pleasant to have my hat returned to me, and it would be convenient to have others perform similar services for me in the future. To put aside my contempt for the moment, adopt this strange rivvin custom called ‘politeness’, and feign gratitude seemed to be in my best interests.”

“Congratulations,” Jaheira said. “You have just discovered the secret behind all of humanity’s customs.”

- - - - -

“Hey, guys, you just have to take a look at my girl,” Xander greeted them with a beaming smile that faded as he noticed their disheveled condition of their apparel and the bloodstains that covered Jaheira and Yoshimo. “Hey, what’s up? Did I miss a fight?”

“You did,” Buffy confirmed. “It was bad, Xan.” She shook her head. “You’re lucky you missed it. We could have used your help, yeah, but it was bad. Scary bad.”

Dawn had opened her mouth to say ‘Yay me, I killed a wizard’ but Buffy’s tone made her change her mind and remain silent.

Anya came out of Cromwell’s forge wearing leather armor reinforced with Shadow Dragon hide. It was matt charcoal gray rather than black, and had a skirt of leather strips rather than leggings, but still looked sexy as well as practical. Matching knee-high boots completed the outfit. She was expecting to have to dispute possession of the boots with Buffy but the Slayer had temporarily lost all desire for conflict.

“It looks good on you, Anya,” was all that Buffy had to say on the subject.

“Yeah, I totally envy you,” Dawn said.

“First come, first served,” Anya said.

“I guess,” Dawn replied.

Anya pouted. She had expected more argument and felt almost disappointed to have been ceded victory so easily. “What happened?”

Giles emerged from the dwarf’s shop before anyone could reply to Anya. “Ah, Sorkatani, you are back,” he said. “We can set off on our mission now, I …” His voice trailed off as he saw their condition. “Oh dear. I take it there has been some trouble?”

Willow’s mouth twisted. “Yeah, you could say that,” she told him.

Sorkatani’s impassive expression cracked and she burst into tears. Giles instinctively held out his arms to her and the Perfect Warrior almost hurled herself into his embrace, clutching the Watcher to her, and sobbing. “The Harpers… tried… to kill me,” she choked out. “The Harpers.”

Giles hugged her with one arm and patted her on the back with his other hand. “There, there, my dear,” he said, feeling totally ineffectual at first but then realizing that Sorkatani was drawing comfort from him. He had become surrogate father to yet another young lady. “It’s all right. You’re safe.”

“They poisoned her, Giles,” Willow explained. “She was, like, about ten seconds away from death.” She clenched her fists. “Bastards.”

Xander’s eyebrows shot up. Even such mild swearing was rare for Willow and indicated extreme emotion. “They poisoned her?”

“And beat the crap out of Jaheira for trying to save her,” Willow added.

Giles stiffened and his eyes went to the druid. “Are you all right?”

Jaheira turned her head away from him and then her resolve failed her and she met his eyes. “They summoned an Elemental. It broke my jaw and smote me senseless,” she related. “Viconia healed me. I am well recovered, Rupert.”

“Thank God,” Giles breathed. “Ah, that is, thank the gods.” He patted Sorkatani’s back again. “And thank the gods that you are safe, dear child.”

“The Harpers,” Sorkatani sobbed again. “Why? I was brought up by a Harper. Jaheira is a Harper, as was Khalid. Why turn against me?”

Buffy put her hand on Sorkatani’s shoulder and gave what would have been a comforting squeeze had the pauldron of the Perfect Warrior’s armor not negated the effect completely. “On my eighteenth birthday,” she said in a flat and tightly controlled voice, “the Watchers’ Council arranged for me to be dosed with a toxin that took away my Slayer strength. I was supposed to be locked in a house with an insane vampire and to have to kill it without my powers. It got even worse than that. Real ugly. I never understood why they did that.”

“Then you too know the pain of betrayal that I feel,” Sorkatani snuffled.

“Yeah. We’ve got a lot in common, sure enough,” Buffy agreed.

“Galvarey seeks personal advantage,” Jaheira said. “He hopes for advancement in the Harper hierarchy. So he has built up Sorkatani as a menace in their eyes so that he can gain credit for removing this threat that exists only in his reports. Far safer for him than seeking out a true evil who can not be poisoned under the guise of friendship. There are other Bhaalspawn, or so rumor has it, who lead bands of marauders rather than defenders of the right. An orc chieftain, a human, perhaps even a giant.”

“A giant? No problem,” Xander muttered. “Anomen can bump him off with a toothpick, and nineteen more at the same time.”

Buffy gave him a dirty look but said nothing.

Giles eyes seemed to smolder. “I sincerely hope that this Galvarey is dead now,” he said.

Spike opened his mouth, looked at Sorkatani, and closed it again with his comment unvoiced.

“Sorkatani spared his life,” Viconia said. “I counseled against it, but she did not take my advice.”

“You called her a fool and walked out on us when she spared Tamoko,” Jaheira remembered.

“Worry not, tree-hugger, I shall not desert her this time,” Viconia promised.

“Tamoko?” Yoshimo echoed. Jaheira frowned at him. “It is a name of Kara-Tur,” Yoshimo said. “Is it not?”

“It is,” Sorkatani confirmed. Her sobs had abated now. “She was Sarevok’s girlfriend. It is a long story and I will not tell it now. She aided me for her own reasons but asked me to swear that I would not kill him. I could make no such promise, and in the end she came to me and sought combat. I spared her. It was to no avail, for she killed herself after I had slain Sarevok. A great shame. I liked her and would have been her friend.”

“A sad story,” Yoshimo commented. His face was impassive but Spike noticed that Yoshimo’s heart rate had speeded up. The vampire wondered briefly why this might be but quickly became distracted as the conversation returned to the central topic.

Xander had no interest in the tale of events long past. “So this Galvarey dude poisoned you, nearly killed you, and you just let him off? Hey, I’m a paladin, kinda sworn to be honorable and all that stuff, but I still think that it was kinda dumb.”

“She spared him twice,” Jaheira said.

“I could not bring myself to slay him while he was helpless,” Sorkatani said. “Nor could I slay him once he was a prisoner in our custody. Perhaps he will recognize that I pose no threat. Perhaps he will attack again. Regardless, I could do nothing else. I am no murderer.”

Giles’ lips moved silently, repeating words that he had spoken once before and would always remember. ‘She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.’

“I guess not,” Xander said. “I just hope that you don’t come to regret it.”

- - - - -

Galvarey toyed with a quill pen and stared at a blank parchment. “We can’t have Meronia resurrected,” he announced. “She saw the Bhaalspawn spare my life. If she finds out that it happened twice she’ll ask too many questions. She might ask those questions of the wrong people.”

“Indeed,” Nadinal agreed. “She is no great loss, I suppose. A skillful swordswoman, but not skillful enough. Easily replaced. Unlike Bessen.”

Galvarey scowled. “The fool. Why did he have to involve the Shadow Thieves? He should have aimed his spell at the Bhaalspawn, not at the pedlar.”

“I didn’t know that Fovem was a Shadow Thief,” Nadinal said.

“A fence in this area could not operate without their approval. It is no surprise.” Galvarey sighed. “We cannot risk a feud. Better to let Bessen stay dead and offer apologies for his unauthorized action. The drow woman saved Fovem’s life, thank the gods, and so Bloodscalp should be willing to leave it at that. It is strange, and intensely annoying, that we have a disgusting drow to thank for the loophole.”

“Not that disgusting,” Nadinal said. “I would not kick her from my bed.”

Galvarey frowned. “I think that taking the drow to your bed would be the most foolish thing that you could possibly do.”

“I did but jest,” Nadinal said. “If ever I did so she would be bound and gagged or silenced. And really, in that event, what would be the point? A lover who does not cooperate is no lover at all.”

Galvarey paid no attention to his comments. “Iko was a useful tool, but your Elemental crushed his head to a paste. I fear that he is beyond resurrection. Lucette is more deadly by far than he ever was but has too many scruples. She will require careful handling if we are to use her against the Bhaalspawn. Damn.” He yawned. “I am smitten with fatigue,” he declared, and laid down his quill with the parchment still untouched. “The Haste spell demands its repayment from my body for the energy that I spent. I can do no more today. I must take myself to my bed. I shall write to Dermin tomorrow.”

- - - - -

The aftermath of Willow’s Haste spell had left Buffy, Viconia, Willow, and Dawn equally fatigued, and the expedition to rescue Tara had been postponed for yet another day. The party had returned to the Copper Coronet and the girls had retired to bed, as had Sorkatani and Jaheira, and even Minsc; his adrenaline-fuelled exertions in the fight had taken almost as much out of him as if he had been Hasted. Xander and Anya had taken themselves off to bed too, although sleep was not what they had in mind. Anomen had gone back to his own home, reluctantly as apparently his relationship with his father was not unlike that of Xander with Tony Harris, but with Buffy absent there was nothing to keep him with the rest of the group and he despised the environment of the Copper Coronet.

The new plan was to make an early start in the morning and leave the city at dawn. There would be no detour to call upon Cromwell, even though there would be another set of armor ready that day, as they wanted no further delays. They would ride to Nalia’s keep, pause there for a meal, and then on to the Windspear Hills.

Giles was performing a few songs before bed. The strains of his rendition of the folk song ‘Matty Groves’, most memorably recorded by Fairport Convention, drifted up to where Yoshimo paced the walkways on the tavern’s roof. There were apartments up there, and pedlars’ stalls, and even a temple of Ilmater. Yoshimo approached the temple but hesitated and turned away without entering. Two muggers sprang at him from a shadowed corner; he slew them with two swift sword strokes that were delivered by pure reflex. They were dead before he even realized what he was doing.

He stared at his bloodied blade. “I am damned whatever I do,” he muttered. “Trapped. And she did not even kill Tamoko! My revenge would have been hollow anyway but now I find there is nothing to avenge. Would that those fools had killed me!” He flicked the blood from his katana and twirled it into its scabbard. “Yet to have fallen before such incompetents would have been no fit end for Yoshimo. Viconia would have brought me back anyway, most likely, and there would be no respite. I must go on towards my doom and hope only for an honorable death.”


Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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