6,250 words. Major spoilers for ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’. Rating R.
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 took place off-screen during the earlier chapters of this story.
“It would seem as if numbers would be no advantage,” Sorkatani mused. “The crypt cannot be large. We would hamper each other and be vulnerable to spells.”
Giles put a finger to the bridge of his glasses and adjusted their position. “Are you suggesting that we take on the lich without waiting for Buffy’s return? Without Willow, without Xander’s holy sword and Azuredge, and with only one cleric?”
“I am,” Sorkatani confirmed. “I feel that it is a task within our capabilities.” She reached out and touched Giles’ hand. “I will take your counsel on this, zra’ha. If you advise against it then we shall delay.”
“Ah, hmm, yes.” Giles was thrown slightly off balance by Sorkatani’s affectionate gesture, and by her use of the drow term ‘zra’ha’ meaning ‘mentor’, and he removed and replaced his glasses as he gathered his thoughts. “Hmm,” he mused. “The sword Daystar is a tempting prize, and I agree that there would be little point in our whole force crowding into a confined space, but I think that I must recommend that we wait. I can’t think of any songs that would be relevant to fighting an undead wizard. We need Willow, I think, and Xander.”
Sorkatani nodded. “You are wise, Giles, and I shall take your advice. The quest for the Ring of Gaxx must wait too, for its defenders are likely to be of no less power than the lich at the Crooked Crane, and I had thought to use that lich as practice for those that we would face later.”
“An excellent idea, my dear,” Giles agreed. “But only after Buffy returns.”
“I tire of these books,” Sorkatani confessed. “I have been too long on the road of adventure and become too used to action. The calm and tranquil contentment of sitting and reading is not the pleasure that it was. I could totally use a break.”
Giles smiled at her use of California idiom. “I am sure that you could. I suggest that we pay a visit to the Five Flagons Inn in the Bridge district. Bernard tells me that there is a playhouse there that would be an ideal venue for a musical performance. The acting troupe is experiencing some problems, he says, and their audience is declining. It may well be possible to come to some arrangement.”
“Ah, yes, the Five Flagons,” Yoshimo said. “It has the widest selection of drinks in the city and it is also renowned for serving excellent food.”
Giles raised an eyebrow. “It is? Then let us go there without delay.”
Darsidian Moor gestured towards the body that lay on the flagstones of the courtyard. “There he is,” the bounty hunter told Buffy’s party. “The Skin Dancer. I have disabled him but my arm was injured in the fight. Finish him before he awakens.”
A girl stood behind Darsidian. “Yes, kill him quickly,” she urged.
Buffy guessed her to be Raissa, the missing girl who the party had been asked to rescue, and she smiled at the girl. “You’re safe now, Raissa,” Buffy assured her.
Anya’s smile was wide and a light seemed to dance in her eyes as she drew her sword. “Well, look who it is. Rejiek Hidesman. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.” The serial killer was at most semi-conscious, apparently wounded, and helpless to resist. Anya stepped forward with her sword poised for a thrust but she halted before reaching the body. “The magistrate would probably prefer him alive so that he can be hanged,” she said.
Darsidian’s eyes widened. “No, kill him now. He might escape.”
“He is tricky,” Anya conceded.
Buffy clenched her teeth. The thought of killing someone who was lying wounded and helpless turned her stomach. “I say we tie him up,” she said.
The girl’s mouth opened in alarm. “No! Kill him! I will never feel safe as long as he is alive,” she said.
“Uh, Ahn,” Xander put in. “If that’s Rejiek Hidesman, how come he doesn’t read as Evil? But that Darsidian guy does.” Xander’s eyes narrowed. “And hey, guess what? The girl is putting out evil vibes like Springfield Power Plant putting out radioactivity. Something’s not right, guys.”
“Meddling fools,” Darsidian snarled. He drew his sword with an arm that showed no trace of injury.
“Clever, paladin,” the girl sneered. “Yes, I am Rejiek Hidesman. I had thought to throw you from my trail for good. Well, we shall have to fall back on cruder methods. Kill them, Darsidian, and let us leave this place.”
Darsidian took one step towards Anya. Buffy moved faster. The Blade of Roses came into her hand and whistled through the air. Darsidian’s head seemed to leap from his shoulders, fell to the ground, and rolled away across the flagstones. “No, I don’t think so,” Buffy said. She turned to face Rejiek. “This time you don’t get away.”
Rejiek’s mouth dropped open. The serial killer in the guise of an innocent girl turned to run. Anomen and Jaheira spoke together, both uttering the same arcane phrase, and the Hidesman froze in place.
Tara went to the wounded figure on the ground and knelt down. She touched her hand to its head and recited the words of a curative spell. The figure stirred. “Tiris,” it muttered. “I had the strangest dream…” The body sat up. It raised its hands to its chest and to its face. “No! It was no dream. He stole my skin!”
The barmaid’s bosom was rather impressive. Giles judged, from the depth of cleavage on display, that Anya’s introduction of the bra to Athkatla had spread as far as the Five Flagons Inn. He conscientiously averted his eyes, as did Yoshimo, but Spike was not as restrained and gazed openly into the alluring depths. Korgan’s leer could have served as a pictorial representation of the term ‘salacious’. The dwarf looked as if he would cheerfully have dived in and disappeared.
The young woman addressed the party with the customary greeting of retailers to prospective customers in the city. “A pearl to you, good people.”
“A pearl necklace to you,” Spike replied. His unscarred eyebrow quirked upwards and his eyes twinkled.
Giles groaned. “Spike, you’re incorrigible.” The vampire only grinned. Viconia, who had been initially oblivious to the innuendo in the phrase, clicked her tongue in irritation and glared at Spike. Sorkatani’s forehead crinkled. Giles had no wish to explain the other meaning of the term ‘pearl necklace’ to the seventeen-year old girl, or, worse, to hear Spike do so, and he spoke hastily to distract her. “A drink before our meal, perhaps, Sorkatani? Viconia?”
“Ah’ll hae a pint o’ Evermead, if ye’re buyin’,” Korgan piped up quickly. The elvish mead was thirty danter a bottle, and Giles winced slightly, but he nodded and placed the order.
“Small beer,” Sorkatani requested.
Spike dragged his gaze away from the cleavage. “Not really up on the local beers, pet. ‘S long as it’s cool and wet a beer’ll do me.”
“Bitter black ale?” the barmaid suggested.
Spike nodded. “Yeah, sounds okay.”
“And the same for me,” Giles added.
“A glass of Westgate wine,” Nalia decided.
“You have rice wine, I believe? Then that is what I shall have,” said Yoshimo. “A rare taste of my homeland.”
Viconia’s lip curled. “You will not have Morimatra,” she said to the barmaid. “I shall make do with some lesser vintage of the darthiir or the rivvin.”
“Will that be a glass of Morimatra or a bottle?” the barmaid asked. Just enough of a smile showed on her lips to make it clear that she was enjoying scoring a point over the customer.
Viconia’s eyes widened. “I am impressed. A bottle, if you please.”
“A taste of your homeland too?” Yoshimo remarked, as the waitress departed.
“Indeed.” Viconia sighed. “As much of a taste as I will ever have again.”
“Can you never return to your homeland?” Giles asked.
Viconia shook her head. “I shall never look upon the Underdark, or the great city of Menzoberranzan, ever again. I am under sentence of death. True,” she reflected, “it was seventy long years ago, and all those who knew me are dead now, and I might pass unrecognized for a time. Yet that would not be enough. Alone, without the protection of a House, I would be prey to all. Slavery would be the least fate that would await me.”
Giles frowned. “Seventy years ago? I thought that you had only just arrived on the surface when you met Sorkatani.”
“I had been only months in this unroofed world when I fell in with her,” Viconia related. “An accident befell me as I fled the Underdark. A terrible thing, and yet perhaps it was the greatest of blessings, for it made our meeting possible. I stumbled upon a basilisk and I was turned to stone. For nearly seventy years I slept, entombed, until a group of rivvin adventurers slew the basilisk and freed me as they rescued those of their own who had been petrified. I learned of the slaughter of my House only later, from Drizzt Do’Urden, as I journeyed with Sorkatani.” She laughed, a cold and bitter laugh, utterly devoid of humor. “Irony indeed, for it was his family who destroyed mine, and then were destroyed in their turn.”
There was a moment of silence after that. The arrival of the waitress with their drinks provided a welcome relief. They gave her their orders for their meals and she departed.
“We are all orphans, or nearly all,” Sorkatani said. “You know my tale, and Nalia’s, and now Viconia’s too. Jaheira’s parents were killed twenty years ago in the Tethyrian Civil War.”
“My parents are also dead,” Yoshimo volunteered. “I had but a sister. She died a year ago.”
“I am sorry,” Sorkatani said. There was another awkward silence. Spike swallowed, opened his mouth, but seemed to change his mind and did not speak.
Viconia removed her hat, combed her fingers through her hair, and tossed her head. “I have turned the conversation towards subjects that bring reminders of sorrow. Forgive me. It was not my intention. Let us talk of lighter matters. Spike, explain to me the meaning of a ‘pearl necklace’, that I may know if my deduction is correct.”
Giles groaned and hid behind his goblet of ale.
“Waukeen is not dead,” the High Priest declared. He had assisted Buffy’s party in restoring the girl Raissa to her own shape, in return for a substantial donation to the temple, and was now taking the opportunity to lecture them on his religion. “She is missing, true, but the faithful know that she shall return one day. Until that day Liira the Joybringer answers the prayers of merchants, and we pay her due honor, but Waukeen is the true goddess of wealth and coin.”
Anya cocked her head to one side. “Liira the Joybringer?”
“The goddess of joy, happiness, dance, festivals, freedom, and liberty,” the High Priest of Waukeen explained. “Mistress of Revels. And, as I said, acting as the goddess of wealth and trade whilst Waukeen is absent.”
A crease was visible between Buffy’s eyebrows. “How can a goddess be absent?” she muttered to Willow. “You think maybe it’s kinda like a Glory deal, like she’s been kicked out into some other world, maybe Earth?”
“I guess it could be,” Willow said. “But she doesn’t sound like that would be a bad deal for the place she’s ended up. Uh, I guess she’d do okay on Wall Street.”
“It is rumored that she has been captured by some enemy god,” Anomen told the girls. “It is no more than rumor, however, and I cannot vouch for the truth of it.”
Anya ignored the other conversation. “So Liira is goddess of joy, dance, freedom, liberty, wealth, and trade?”
The High Priest nodded. “For the time being, at least.”
Anya turned to her fiancé. “Xander, do you realize what this means? Liira is the goddess of the Dance of Capitalist Superiority! I have found my patron deity!”
Sorkatani shifted in her seat. “It is wearisome to wear armor at all times,” she lamented. “I envy Buffy her freedom of movement.”
“Patience, jabbress, the hargluk Cromwell will have your dragon armor ready soon enough,” Viconia said. “It is much more comfortable than steel. I shall remove it when I sing before an audience, even so, for it is practical rather than flattering.”
“Looks good on you anyway, Vicky,” Spike said.
“Not good enough to prevent you from looking with lust upon the overly abundant physical attributes of a rivvil serving wench,” Viconia snapped.
“Leave it out, Vicky,” Spike groaned. “’M not your bloke, so you don’t get any say over who I look at. Right?”
Viconia raised her chin and extended her neck. “And yet you desire me. I sense this. Why do you deny it?”
“Well, for a start, you spending the last half-hour telling us all about how you killed your three husbands when you got tired of them don’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies,” Spike riposted.
“Only two were killed because I tired of them. The other I slew because he slept with my sister.” Viconia allowed her head to sink slightly. “I promise you that I shall not kill you when I tire of you. We are abbin, are we not?”
“A pearl to you, good people,” the serving wench broke in. “Will there be anything else?” Her manner and tone clearly conveyed an implicit accompanying message ‘and if there is nothing else will you please leave so that someone else can make use of the table?’
“A cup of tea, if you would be so good,” Giles said.
“Make that two, luv,” Spike added.
“Ah’ll have anaither pint o’ Evermead,” Korgan chimed in.
Nalia ordered tea. Viconia had not finished her drow wine and declined any further refreshments. Sorkatani hesitated.
“We have a tasty and stimulating drink from Ulgarth,” the waitress suggested. “It is called ‘coffee’ and many customers say that it is delicious.”
Sorkatani grimaced. “A cup of tea, please,” she said. “I totally am never going to drink coffee ever again.”
“Actual limelights,” Spike commented. “Bloody long time since I’ve seen them.”
Giles sized up the playhouse as a rock venue and was eminently satisfied. The seating in the stalls alone would hold larger audiences than those to which he had played at the Copper Coronet, there were galleries and boxes at the sides and rear, there was plenty of room for dancing in the aisles and at the front, there was a proper raised stage, it was – as Spike had noted – well lit, and the acoustics were excellent.
Alas, the same could not be said for the performance.
The leading man was tall, strikingly handsome, and had the stage presence of a palsied newt. His voice carried clearly to all corners of the theater, thanks to the superb acoustics, but it was toneless and squeaky. He stumbled over his lines, addressed the villain by the wrong name, and gave the leading lady absolutely nothing to work with. The other actors, smoothly professional at first, began to stumble on their own lines as his missed cues and errors threw them off their tracks. The audience members, who made up less than a third of the theater’s capacity, were distinctly unimpressed. The play had been running for less than fifteen minutes when the heckling and cat-calls started.
“Don’t blame them,” Spike muttered. “Biggest load of shit I’ve seen since ‘Highlander 2’.”
“I thought Bernard said that they were good,” Sorkatani said.
“They probably would be if the hero wasn’t being played by Ed Wood’s dentist,” Spike commented.
“Aye, ma granny cud act better than that greet steamin’ puddock,” Korgan agreed.
“Yes, quite, but do try to keep it to yourself, Korgan,” Giles requested. “We need to keep on the good side of these people if we are to get permission to use this place as a concert venue. Telling them that their lead actor is a, ah, puddock would not be helpful.”
“What is a puddock?” Sorkatani asked.
“A wee slimy hoppy thing, ye ken, lassie,” Korgan explained. “Sits on his hurdies an’ croakits an’ eats flies.”
“Would be a bloody sight more entertaining than this,” Spike muttered, as the actor addressed the heroine by the name of the actress instead of the character and then dried totally.
“Liira’s bane!” shouted a townsman in the front stalls. “This is the worst play I’ve ever seen.”
“Quite, quite, dreadful,” a nobleman in a box agreed loudly. “To think that I paid five danter for this. It’s a disgrace.”
“Get him off!” a peasant yelled.
“Rubbish! I wants me money back,” another audience member demanded.
“Hey, look, it’s Giles the bard!” a voice called. “Clear the stage and let’s have a song. Who wants to hear crap actors when there’s a real bard around?”
“Oh, dear,” Giles lamented. “That’s not going to endear us to the theater company.”
A dozen other voices joined in the calls for Giles. A dozen more shouted abuse at the stage. The leading actress burst into tears and left the stage.
“It’s not my fault,” the leading actor quavered. “I’m just the understudy.”
“And a bloody useless understudy at that!” someone shouted. An apple core whizzed past the understudy’s face and he turned and fled. The villain followed.
The entire audience, bar Sorkatani’s group, was shouting now. About a third of them were chanting for Giles, and some people came over to deliver their requests face to face, and the rest were shouting general abuse and demanding their money back.
“Think you’re pretty buggered as far as getting to use this place goes,” Spike said to Giles. “Gonna be about as popular with that lot,” he waved a hand towards the stage, “as Maradonna is in England.”
“Yes, thank you, Spike, I think that I had realized that,” Giles replied. He slumped down in his seat and wondered if he could use a song to make himself invisible.
On stage things were happening once more. An extremely attractive woman walked out from behind the curtains and took up position at the front of the stage. “I am sorry, good people,” she addressed the audience, “but, as you can see, things are not well with our troupe. Our performance is not as we would have hoped, due to circumstances beyond our control, but I beg forgiveness from you. Please, come back another day, when we have restored matters. We will then prove to you that the Sigil Troupe is worthy of your attention and coin, and we shall, of course, do so for free.”
Her appeal fell on deaf ears. The twin choruses of demands for refunds and requests for songs from Giles continued unabated. The woman tilted her head to one side. She clasped her hands together and bit her lip. Then she untangled her fingers and raised her hands. “Please, would Giles the Bard come forward?”
Giles groaned and stood up. He moved past Sorkatani and Nalia. Spike snatched up the guitar and held it out. “Think you’re gonna need this,” he reminded the Watcher.
Giles glanced up at the woman on the stage. Her expression did appear to be one of hope rather than of fury. “Ah, perhaps. Thank you, Spike.”
“Pity ah’ve nae brought ma drums,” Korgan said.
Giles advanced to the front of the house. “I am Giles, madam,” he introduced himself. “How can I be of service?”
“I am Raelis Shai, manager of the Sigil Troupe and of this playhouse. The audience calls for songs from you. I do not like to see an audience go away unsatisfied. If you will oblige, then I shall divide the takings with you. Will you do this, good sir?”
“I will be glad to. I am sorry that those who call for me have disrupted your troupe’s performance,” Giles told her.
A smile came to her lips. “The fault lies with our understudy. Or rather with our lead actor, who was foolish enough to get himself imprisoned, but I shall tell you more of that later. If you would come up onto the stage…?”
Giles ascended the steps at the side of the stage and stood at the front. He slung his guitar around his neck. Half of the crowd fell silent but those who did not know Giles continued to shout. He searched his mind for a suitable song. Recently he had been concentrating on songs that would work best with a drum accompaniment and those were the ones that were freshest in his mind. There was one in particular that he had marked out as having potential as a magical aid to quelling riots. A drum backing would improve it, certainly, but it should be perfectly adequate with only a guitar. One line would need modification for use in a polytheistic society, true, but that would be easy enough to do on the fly. He strummed the first chords and then began to sing.
“I'll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can't keep
Inside of the day…”
Spike began to clap out the rhythm to accompany him.
“Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Know that gods exist
I hope I pray…”
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down, oh sit down,
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
By the time he reached the end of the song the shouts from the audience had long since died away. Fresh shouts rang out at the end, but they were cries for more. Giles glanced at Raelis Shai and saw a broad smile on her face. “More, yes,” she requested.
Voices from the stalls, and even the boxes, echoed her words. “More, more, more.”
Giles decided to go with the flow. “Spike,” he called, “would you join me?”
The vampire’s eyebrows jerked upwards and then he obeyed. He scorned the steps and leaped up onto the stage. “The Clash again, is it, mate?” he asked.
“Actually, I thought perhaps ‘Rebel Yell’,” Giles replied. “As long as it isn’t only your look that you stole from Billy Idol.”
“Hey! Bloke stole the look from me, you git,” Spike protested. “Yeah, I can do that.” He ran his fingers through his hair and curled his top lip. “Ready when you are, Giles.”
“Last night a little dancer came dancin’ to my door…”
“Our leading actor, Haer’Dalis, has been kidnapped by a wizard native to this city,” Raelis Shai explained. “He refuses even to negotiate with us.” At close quarters it was apparent that she was not of the same race as the Amnians. Her skin was of a bronze hue, in fact it had almost a metallic sheen, and her ears were pointed. She appeared to be in her late twenties, or perhaps early thirties, but Giles had learned that appearances could be deceptive in this world. Viconia, after all, looked no more than twenty-five but she was in fact a hundred and fifty even without counting the seventy years that she had spent as a statue.
Giles adjusted the position of his glasses. “And you would like us to rescue your comrade.”
Raelis looked at him from under full lashes. “I would. I beg you to aid us. In return you shall receive the use of this playhouse for two nights of each ten-day.” Something about her gaze, and the way that she ran her tongue over her parted lips after she finished her speech, hinted that there might be other rewards on offer.
Viconia glared at the theater manager and moved to Giles’ side. She placed a hand on his shoulder in an unmistakably possessive gesture. Giles was taken aback for a moment and then realized that Viconia was staking a claim, not for herself, but on behalf of the absent Jaheira. He made no move to remove the hand. “Sorkatani is our leader,” he told Raelis. “It is for her to decide.”
“I am in favor,” Sorkatani said. “I told you that I was growing bored with searching through old books. A little action would not go amiss.” She narrowed her eyes slightly and fixed Raelis with an intense stare. “As long as we are told everything. Why would a wizard kidnap an actor? I sense that there is more to this tale.”
“Haer’Dalis possesses an exotic gem,” Raelis told her. “The wizard’s greed may have called to him at the sight of this bauble. It is something that our dear sparrow would not willingly surrender.”
Sorkatani’s eyes rolled upwards. “And what does it do?”
“Do?” Raelis’ eyes flickered sideways briefly. “Why should it do anything?”
“It is magic, is it not?” Sorkatani shook her head. “I know wizards, lady. They lust not after gold, nor women, nor gems for their value alone. Only magic makes their hearts race. This gem has powers. Tell me the truth.”
Raelis sighed. “Very well. We are not of this world. We fled from Sigil, a world in another plane, to escape a powerful lord who wished us ill. We found shelter here. Yet we long to return home. One who knows the gem’s secrets can use it to traverse the planes.”
Even through his armor of Shadow Dragon scales Giles felt the grip of Viconia’s hand tighten. “We too are from another world,” he told Raelis. “Or rather Spike and I are, and other companions who are elsewhere at the moment. I, however, have no wish to return to my own world any time soon.” Viconia’s grasp slackened.
“I’m not bloody leaving ‘less I really have to,” Spike added. “Paradise for me, this world. Can walk in the sun, all the blood I can drink, got better friends than I ever had back there.” He grinned at Giles. “Even though some of them are the same people.”
Sorkatani gave Giles a rueful smile. “Another quest, I think. Nothing in this city is ever as simple as it seems at first, is it, zra’ha?” She turned back to Raelis. “Why have you not gone to the Guard about this?”
“I am not used to your customs,” Raelis replied, “but it has never been our experience to be treated fairly by the many authorities that we have come across. And, even did we get Haer’Dalis released, what of the gem? The wizard could say that it is his, and we have no proof to the contrary.”
“I suspect that in truth it is indeed the property of the wizard,” Yoshimo said. “If the wizard desired only the gem he would have no need to imprison your actor. And actors are often trained as thieves. An attempted theft gone wrong, I believe, is that not so?”
Raelis flushed. “It is an artifact of our world,” she said. “I know not how the wizard obtained it, but it is rightfully ours.”
“The truth from the start would have been appreciated,” Sorkatani said, “but we shall do our best for you. We shall retrieve your actor, if at all possible, and shall do what we can to obtain the gem. The wizard may be open to offers of other magical items in trade and we have several such that we do not need save for their monetary worth. We shall see.” She smiled at Giles and Viconia. “You so had better give a good show after all this, right? Hey, maybe you could find a song for me to sing.”
The wizard Mekrath frowned at Sorkatani. “So, you seek the release of the little thief, do you?”
“I do,” Sorkatani confirmed. “I would be prepared to pay for his freedom. I have a selection of magical items. Perhaps we could barter for him and for the gem that he sought to steal from you.”
“You get straight to the point. An admirable trait.” Mekrath looked directly into Sorkatani’s eyes. “You are the one known as the Perfect Warrior, are you not?”
“Yes, I have been called that, although I make no claims to have achieved perfection,” Sorkatani confirmed.
“Hmm. Thalantyr of High Hedge speaks well of you. Very well. Perform a small task for me and I shall barter. One of my imps has escaped and run off into the sewers. This would be of little consequence except that he took with him a magical mirror. Retrieve it for me and we can do business.”
“Bloody hell,” Spike complained as they departed, “does everything we do have to end up as another sodding quest? What’s next, ask for a pint of beer and get told ‘Okay, but only if you go to the Forest of Trees, slay the Dragon of Sodding Great Teeth, and pull the Sword of Slicing out of the Stone of Scone’?”
Sorkatani smiled at him and her eyes twinkled. “Welcome to my life.”
Haer’Dalis was everything that the understudy was not. His voice was melodious, his eyes twinkled with engaging humor, and he radiated charisma. His pointed ears were pierced and adorned with multiple earrings and he wore feathers in his long blue-grey hair.
He was effusive in his gratitude. All of his thanks were directed at Sorkatani, laced heavily with compliments, and they brought a blush to the young girl’s cheeks. They brought rather different expressions to the faces of Giles, Spike, and Yoshimo, none of whom felt inclined to trust the actor as far as they could throw him.
Raelis Shai’s thanks were more welcome. She accepted the gem gratefully. “With this we can depart from this world,” she said. “It is no longer safe for us here. Our satirical play ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ offended Duke Rowan Darkwood, for it exposed to public view things that he wished hidden, and he will not rest until we are destroyed. We are pursued by a cambion, a foe most implacable, and I believe that we have been located and he but waits his moment to strike. I shall perform a ritual with the gem that shall summon a conduit of planar travel. We shall travel the conduit, and I know not where it shall take us, but in that very uncertainty lies our safety.”
Giles nodded gravely. “I hope that you find peace and security,” he wished her.
“The deeds to the playhouse will be of no use to us once we are gone,” Raelis went on. “I gift them to you, in thanks for your assistance. The playhouse, the props, and there is accommodation in the rear. All shall be yours.”
Giles beamed. This was a valuable gift. Somewhere that they could actually call home, rather than just rooms in an inn, and a way of earning a regular income that was not dependent on constant combat.
“There is but one favor that I would ask in return,” Raelis added.
“Yeah, travel to the Forest of Trees, slay the Dragon…” Spike muttered under his breath.
“When I summon a conduit it may bring with it beasts from other planes,” Raelis explained. “The ritual will take all my energies, and of the rest of us only Haer’Dalis is a fighting man. I ask that you stand guard over us and protect us from any such beasts until we depart and the conduit closes.”
“Of course,” Sorkatani promised. “I shall be glad to do so. Yet it has been a long day, and I would benefit much from rest before we are pitched again into combat.”
“Certainly,” Raelis agreed. “Return here upon the morn, then, and then we shall say farewell.”
“I had hoped that the Lady Sorkatani would be with you,” the Major-domo of the De’Arnise Keep said to Buffy.
The Slayer rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me. There is some crisis that can only be solved by the application of large amounts of gold. Right?”
“Wrong, my Lady,” the Major-domo told her. “There are matters that will require attention in the future, but nothing of pressing need. No, there are visitors who wish to see her. One is Bolumir, Priest of Tempus, who desires permission to open a temple in the chapel within the keep. This would be of great value to the garrison.”
Buffy twisted her mouth from side to side. “I’m guessing I can’t give permission for that one?”
“Only the rightful holder of the keep can do so,” the Major-domo confirmed.
“Okay, I’ll tell Tani when I see her,” Buffy said. “And the other visitors?”
“A merchant selling war-horses,” he said.
“I guess we can take a look,” Buffy said. “I’m not big with the fighting on horseback thing, but Anomen might be interested, or maybe Minsc or Jaheira.”
It was Xander who was most interested, however, much to Buffy’s surprise. A seventeen-hand black stallion whinnied as the paladin walked past. Xander turned, stopped, and stared. The horse tossed its head and whinnied again. Xander walked up to it and extended his hand. The stallion nuzzled his palm. “How much?” Xander asked the merchant.
“With all harness, tack, saddle and barding,” the merchant said, “three thousand two hundred and seventy danter. Three thousand two hundred to you, sir paladin.”
“I’ll take him,” Xander announced. “I’ll call him… Jesse.”
“Three thousand two hundred danter for a horse?” Anya asked incredulously. “Are you crazy?”
Xander shook his head. “Hey, paladin here, I’m not allowed to accumulate wealth, remember? Any surplus cash I’m supposed to give to the poor or the church or whatever. But a war-horse is a legitimate business expense.”
Anya frowned. “Well, I suppose so,” she conceded.
Xander grinned and stroked the horse’s neck. “A paladin can call for his war horse when he gets to the right level,” he said. “I remember that much from playing Dungeons and Dragons. Well, this one called for me.”
Raelis Shai performed the ritual to open the planar conduit at the rear of the stage. Sorkatani and her band stood guard and slew imp-like quasits and a fire elemental as the creatures tried to enter from other planes. Korgan did most of the fighting, his enthusiasm for slaying ‘beasties’ being unbounded, and the others did little more than loose an occasional arrow or slingshot.
The first conduits to open led, according to Raelis, to planes incompatible with human life. She let them close again and continued with the ritual. Eventually a portal opened from which blew fresh air instead of noxious fumes.
“This shall be our gateway,” Raelis said. “Farewell, Giles, Sorkatani, and your comrades. I shall long remember your kindness.” She picked up a pack from the floor and slipped her arms through the straps. Even as she did so the portal shimmered and changed.
A figure stepped through. A humanoid rather than a monster. Armed and armored and ready for battle. Two other figures followed in its wake. Mages of the Yuan-ti snake men.
Korgan whooped and raised his axe. Sorkatani stepped forward with Celestial Fury. One of the Yuan-ti raised a hand and a shimmering wall of force barred their paths.
“Good day, Raelis,” the human intruder greeted. “Long have you evaded the wrath of Lord Darkwood, but you could not hide for ever. Your punishment is upon you.”
“We did but perform a play,” Raelis protested.
“The reasons do not concern me,” he replied. “I care only for the reward I shall receive.”
Sorkatani hammered on the barrier with Celestial Fury. “Nalia! Get this down,” she ordered.
Nalia bit her lip. “I shall try,” she replied.
Giles exchanged his staff-spear for the guitar. He was sure that Willow would have already disposed of the barrier, but she was not here, and Nalia’s skills were definitely inferior. It might be up to him. Runrig’s ‘Tear Down These Walls’, perhaps?
“You hired these humans to protect you?” The man raised a contemptuous eyebrow. “You know not what you face, Prime creatures. You can do nothing.”
“I promised to protect them,” Sorkatani snarled. “If you want them you will have to go through me.”
“Fool. I do not even need to involve you. Already I have the souls of these ones attuned. Let it begin.” He clapped his hands together. Even as Giles began his song the barrier vanished.
As did the intruders, Raelis Shai, Haer’Dalis, and the rest of the Sigil Troupe.
The conduit remained, a swirling portal at the side of the stage, but its circumference was beginning to reduce. Sorkatani stared at it for a moment. “I promised to guard her,” she said. She glanced behind her at the others. “We know not where it leads. You need not follow,” she said, and jumped.
“No! Sorkatani!” Yoshimo shouted, but it was too late. Sorkatani had already passed through the portal. Yoshimo followed her a second later.
“Beasties tae slay!” Korgan yelled, and he charged headlong into the conduit.
Spike was only feet behind him. Viconia cried out “Jabbress!” and followed at his heels.
“Oh, damn it,” Nalia said, and she too entered the portal.
Giles hesitated. His first loyalty had to be to Buffy, who was probably miles away, and who would not know what had happened. Could he abandon her? There was no guarantee that he would be able to return. And yet he had come to love Sorkatani almost as much. The portal was visibly shrinking. The decision had to be instant.
“Oh, dear Lord,” Giles said, and he leaped.
Disclaimer: 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. Lyrics performed by Rupert Giles in this chapter, are taken from ‘Sit Down’ by James. Lyrics sung by Spike are from ‘Rebel Yell’ by Billy Idol.