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Tabula Avatar Chapter 48

I posted Chapter 47 of Tabula Avatar on Sunday, and already I have another chapter completed. Here is Chapter 48. 6,235 words, rating R. Warning: Character Death. Previous chapters are HERE.

Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken but instead falls into the hands of The Trio. They insert the trapped memories into the computer game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’ and the Scoobies join the Bhaalspawn and her companions on a quest that leads them into deadly peril.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Forty-Eight

Sorkatani removed the scabbard of Celestial Fury from her sash and set the weapon down. She did the same with her scimitar, and then her mace, and lastly she pulled a dagger from her boot and placed it beside the others. She walked away from the weapons and stood beside Imoen. Tears were trickling down her cheeks.

“Unfasten the scabbard of your sword without touching the hilt,” Irenicus commanded Xander. “Hold it only by the scabbard as you set it down.” Xander obeyed with his jaws clenched so tightly shut that his teeth were in danger of cracking.

Viconia added the Flail of Ages and the Mauler’s Arm to the pile of weaponry. Irenicus fastened his gaze upon her as she straightened up. He touched his hand to his neck, where Spike’s fangs had broken the skin, and he frowned. “You. The drow woman. Heal me,” he ordered.

Viconia’s lips curled back from her teeth. The hatred that radiated from her was almost palpable. She approached Irenicus slowly, staggering between every step as she tried to fight his command, and almost spat out the words of the healing spell.

“And now a Restoration,” Irenicus went on. “I don’t feel as if he drained anything, but it is better to be safe than sorry.” Viconia carried out his instruction and then stepped back.

Bodhi had stopped beating Spike. Now she was forcibly removing his Armor of Deep Night. He was barely conscious but still tried to resist. Bodhi clicked her tongue and wrenched at his left arm, dislocating it, and then repeated the procedure with his right. She was then able to pull the leather and dragon-skin jerkin over Spike’s head. “Hmm,” she mused. “Nice, but I don’t think it would suit me.”

“Your touch profanes it, iblith,” Viconia snarled. “Quar'valsharess? Elg’caress, y’sik.”

Bodhi let go of Spike and his head hit the floor with a thump. “You doubt my godhood?”

Viconia snorted. “Some stolen power does not make a god. I shall cut out your heart and sacrifice it to Shar. When you face her dread majesty you shall learn the difference.”

Bodhi shot across the room almost too quickly for the eye to follow. “You shall face it first,” she sneered. She seized Viconia by the chin and the back of the neck and wrenched hard. The horrified onlookers heard a sickening crunch. For a moment Viconia hung limp in Bodhi’s grasp. “Oh, crap,” Bodhi exclaimed. “I should have made her take the armor off first.” She tossed the corpse aside.

Jaheira’s scream of rage and grief was cut off by a barked command from Irenicus. “Silence!” The mage directed a cold glare at Bodhi. “Please, sister, do try to restrain yourself. There is much more at stake than merely gratifying your lust for violence.”

Bodhi shrugged. “I won’t touch Sorkatani. Well, not until you have finished with her.”

“See that you do not,” said Irenicus. He turned his attention back towards his captives. “Now divest yourself of all magical rings, bracers, gauntlets, amulets, and belts. Place them in this box.”

- - - - -

The bruise on Yoshimo’s jaw had faded almost to nothing as the regenerative powers of the Ring of Gaxx healed him. His eyes flicked from side to side; his gaze moving from the pile of weapons to the box of magic items, from the corpse of Viconia to the mound of armor and cloaks, but never resting on the faces of any of those that he had betrayed.

“I don’t get it,” Xander addressed him. “How did you fool my Detect Evil power? ‘Cause hey, someone who’d sell out a girl who loves him, plus a whole bunch of guys who thought he was their friend, has to be about as evil as they come.”

“It is… complicated,” Yoshimo said. “I would say that I am sorry – but how could any apology make up for such an action?”

Willow shivered. She wore only a bra and pants, for Irenicus had made her shed the Robe of the Good Archmagi and she had worn nothing else under the magical garment, but her shiver was not because she was cold. “We trusted you,” she said. “I enchanted your katana. We fought three liches to get the Ring of Gaxx for you. Sorkatani is in love with you! How could you do this to us?”

“Enough!” Irenicus rolled up a scroll and slipped it into his sleeve. “There is yet one precaution to be taken. Everyone move into the next room.”

They obeyed and assembled in what appeared to be a dining hall. Imoen would not have moved had Yoshimo not taken her by the arm and, with surprising gentleness, guided her forward and steered her through the door.

“Wait one moment, brother,” Bodhi said. She tilted her head on one side and licked her lips. “There are rather a lot of them, even without that dhaerow bitch, and my little family is rather short of men. Tolgerias just isn’t up to the task of keeping me satisfied and Tanova isn’t getting any at all. I think I’ll take one now.” Her gaze scanned the party, lingering on Minsc, Xander, Giles, and Anomen.

“Suit yourself,” Irenicus said. “They are of no interest to me.”

“Mistress, no!” Yoshimo pleaded. “You promised that you would release them once the master has taken what he needs.”

“And so I shall,” Bodhi said. “Most of them, anyway. They will be set loose in the maze. I never promised that I wouldn’t hunt them later.” She laughed. “Not that promises mean much to me anyway. Did you forget that I am a vampire? I want a man and I am going to take one. The only question is which. Do you wish to make the choice for me?”

Yoshimo gazed at the floor. “No, mistress,” he mumbled.

“Then be silent.” Bodhi walked along the line of captives. She shook her head as she passed Minsc. “Muscular idiots can be found anywhere.” She paused at Xander. “Mmm, tempting,” she mused. She moved on to Giles. “A bard might be entertaining,” she remarked, “but he’s a little too much like Tolgerias. I think I’d rather have someone with more size and muscle. I doubt if he’d be able to keep up with me in bed.”

Jaheira bit back the rebuttal that would have issued from her lips and said nothing.

Finally Bodhi reached Anomen. “Mmm, nice,” she said. “Tall, dark, and handsome. And there is a delicious irony in taking away the Vampire Slayer’s man.” She took hold of Anomen’s hand and towed him away from the group. “I’ll have this one.” Her hands went to Anomen’s hair and she pulled his head down towards her. She kissed him hard on the lips, despite his resistance, and then wrenched him around so that his throat was exposed to her fangs.

Whatever noise Anomen may have made as she bit him was drowned out by Buffy’s screams.

- - - - -

“What is that thing?” Tara shuddered as she stared at the swirling gray vaporous shape that was approaching them. Somehow it conveyed the distinct impression that it was alive.

“A nishruu,” Willow identified it. “Or maybe a hasheakar. They eat magic. I don’t summon them ‘cause they destroy magic items and…” She broke off as the amorphous creature reached her and its tendrils touched her head. “No! Goddess! It’s taking my spells!”

“You are hurting my witch!” Minsc protested.

“Quiet, barbarian. She is not being harmed,” Irenicus said. The distress on Willow’s face seemed to contradict the mage’s assurance but Minsc fell silent anyway.

Bodhi had left the room after draining Anomen. She returned dragging Spike by one leg and holding Celestial Fury in her other hand. She tossed the katana to Yoshimo. “Here,” she said. “This is from your homeland, is it not? Take it and cheer up.”

Yoshimo made no move to attach the scabbard to his belt. He stood holding it, saying nothing, his face set in lines of abject misery that almost matched the expressions on the faces of Sorkatani and Buffy.

Spike groaned and stirred. “’M not telling you jack,” he mumbled. “Never gonna get your sodding Key. You might be strong, but in our world, you’re an idiot.”

“What is he babbling about?” Bodhi wondered. She kicked him in the ribs.

“God of bad home perms,” Spike muttered. “No idea that gods were such prancing lightweights.”

Bodhi flicked Spike into the air, whirled him around by the ankle, and slammed him down again to hit the ground head first. He slumped unconscious once more.

Dawn had already sobbed until her tears ran dry but now more poured forth.

Irenicus watched the hasheakar consume all of Willow’s memorized spells and then he directed the strange being to move on to Tara. He turned to Yoshimo and held out his hand. “The Bhaalspawn’s favored weapon, I take it. May I?”

Yoshimo passed Celestial Fury to the mage and Irenicus examined it briefly. “Ah, yes,” he said. “An ingenious toy. It could be improved, of course. How did that formula go again? Ah, yes. The heart of a demon, a Wand of Lightning, and some diamonds. That would be a project for an idle hour and it will be long before I have such time. It might as well stay as it is.” He held out the sword to Yoshimo again.

“I do not want it,” Yoshimo said. “It is the weapon of a true Samurai and I am not worthy.”

Irenicus raised his eyebrows. “Indeed? Very well, it will make a passable gift to one of my allies. They are hardly Samurai, of course, but I doubt if they will refuse.”

“No, wait, master, I have changed my mind. I shall take it after all,” Yoshimo said. He took the katana and slid the scabbard through his belt. He bowed to Irenicus and backed away.

Irenicus paid him no more attention. He watched as the hasheakar drained Tara’s spells, fastened itself to Minsc and stole away the ranger’s minor healing and Barkskin magics, and then he frowned as the magic-eater headed for Sorkatani. “No, creature, touch her not,” he ordered. “The druid shall supply your next meal.” The mist being recoiled and then made for Jaheira.

“Why not me?” Sorkatani asked. “What is it that you want from me? Why did you take me in the first place, and what have you done to Imoen?”

Irenicus shrugged. “I suppose there is no reason not to tell you. There is nothing that you can do to escape your fate. I merely wish to extract your soul.”

- - - - -

“We got mail,” Warren muttered. He took a sip from his coffee and began opening the e-mails. Some feedback on the Baldur’s Gate mods, an Amazon flyer, and then a personal invitation from the widow of the late General Sani Abacha of Nigeria to help her smuggle millions of dollars of embezzled State funds out of the country. More feedback. A reply from a game publisher.

“We do not accept unsolicited material… blah, blah, blah,” Warren read out. “Okay, fuck you too. You’re sending the disk back by normal mail? Gee, thanks.” He moved on to the next one. “I have just seen your demo and I… oh, wow!” Warren’s eyes bulged wide. “Oh, man!” He gulped at his coffee, winced as the incautious mouthful scalded him, and set the cup down. “Jonathan! Andrew! Hey, dudes, come here! You so have to see this.”

- - - - -

“At least let my Willow have a cloak,” Minsc requested. “She is cold.”

Willow wondered for a second how Minsc knew. It was logical that she should be cold, of course, now that they were down in this creepy basement laboratory place; but hey, logic wasn’t Minsc’s strong point. Oh. Yeah. That was how he knew. Goose bumps, and a lot of them ‘cause there was one whole lot of skin on show, plus her nipples were standing out plainly even through the material of the bra.

Yoshimo unfastened the clasp of his Cloak of Non-Detection and slipped it from his shoulders.

“No,” Irenicus commanded. “Not that one. She is not to have access to anything magical.” He had shed his Cowled Wizard robes and once more was clad in the apparel of leather straps and studs that he had worn in his stronghold in Athkatla.

“But her spells have been taken from her, master. What harm would it do?”

“Perhaps none. I prefer not to take the chance. What do I care for the witch’s comfort?”

“I’ll let the big barbarian warm her up,” Bodhi said. She grinned, picked Willow up from the stone flags, and deposited her on top of Minsc.

Willow lurched sideways. With her ankles bound, and her hands tied behind her back, it was hard to balance. Bodhi wasn’t going to do anything to stop her from falling over; in fact she moved to stop Yoshimo when he took a step forward as if to assist. Then Minsc, whose hands were also bound, used his shoulder to steady Willow.

“Thanks,” Willow gasped, and wriggled into an upright position with Minsc’s assistance. She sat in his lap and felt the heat from his body against her bare skin. That wasn’t all that she felt. Something was moving under her butt, and it wasn’t Boo. A semi-naked Willow wriggling in his lap had obviously affected Minsc quite dramatically. She was almost being lifted into the air.

She tried to put it out of her mind. It was hard – no, bad choice of words there, Willow – uh, it was difficult, but this wasn’t the time or place for thoughts along those lines. Her body didn’t seem to agree with her. She could feel a warm glow between her legs and she had a horrible feeling that her panties would be developing a damp patch. Her cheeks began to burn and she guessed that they would be flaming crimson for everyone to see. She didn’t dare even glance at Tara.

Bodhi laughed. “It seems that the barbarian has warmed the witch up considerably. Perhaps I chose the wrong man. No, Yoshimo, fear not. I made my decision. This one shall have a fighting chance.”

Willow could see the blush spreading as far as her arms. Embarrassment cubed. She fought for control and focused her attention on Sorkatani, who was strapped into a seat with a glass dome over her head and shoulders, and on Buffy.

- - - - -

“That’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, not Cambridge, England, right?” Jonathan’s brow furrowed. “Eastern Standard Time. So they’d be three hours ahead of us?”

“Yeah, that’s what I make it,” Warren agreed. “So they’ll finish work when it’s just past lunchtime for us. We’d better not hang around. Help me put a reply together, dudes.”

“Sure thing,” Jonathan agreed. “Hey, they want us to come to a meeting? Wow.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t be too eager,” Andrew suggested. “I mean, if we just say we can come absolutely any time, they might think that we’re kinda desperate and offer us a bad deal.”

“We don’t sign anything until we hear what the other companies are offering,” Warren said. “But I have a good kinda feeling about this.” He gave a wry half-smile. “Which same probably means that when we get there they’ll lock us in a room and not let us out until we sign everything over to them.”

“They have a pretty good rep,” Jonathan said.

“I’m not serious, dude,” Warren said, “but I don’t want to start counting chickens.”

“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “Uh, if we go all the way to Massachusetts, I guess that would mean flying, right? I’m kinda worried about flying. I’m not sure I want to go.”

- - - - -

“You don’t want to do this,” Buffy said. Irenicus did not reply. “I’m serious,” Buffy went on. “You can’t take her soul.”

Irenicus deigned to look up from the machine that he was adjusting. “Oh, I assure you that I can,” he told her. “It worked perfectly well with Imoen.”

“And you put it in Bodhi,” Buffy said. “Yeah, I got the memo. But you’re forgetting something. She’s a vampire. She didn’t have a soul. You do. There’s no way that you’re gonna be able to have two souls.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Irenicus said. “I don’t have a soul. They took it from me when they cast me out.” He turned away from the machine and his fists clenched. “They took my soul, my immortality, and left me to age like a miserable human. But they shall suffer for what they did. They shall all suffer.”

Buffy opened her eyes very wide. “And you think that getting a soul is gonna help you with this? Hello, soul means conscience. Once you have that you’re gonna feel one whole load of guilt over what you’ve done to us. Your whole evil scheme is gonna end up with you big with the brooding and the living in an alley. Although probably not eating rats.”

Irenicus frowned. “Your words are almost incomprehensible. Still, I believe that I understand the gist. You think that a soul will distract me from my objectives? Possible, I suppose, but unlikely. I doubt that the Perfect Warrior feels much guilt over those that she has slain.”

“Then you are wrong,” Sorkatani said. “Over those that attacked me, or threatened innocents, I feel no guilt. Yet there was one occasion when I began a fight to the death without just cause, in response to mere taunting, and I regret it still.”

“Perhaps. Nevertheless I need your power, Bhaalspawn, and I am prepared to take that risk. You shall not sway me from my course.”

Sorkatani sighed. “I can see that. But tell me something first. How did you know that Imoen was also a Child of Bhaal when we did not?”

“I have studied you for a long time, Bhaalspawn. I even visited Candlekeep in another guise on more than one occasion. When I discovered that there were two orphan foundlings in that cloistered environment, of much the same age, I suspected that there was a connection. I could not be certain that my suspicions were correct at that time, but once I had the pair of you in my grasp it was easy to discover the truth; although I had to show her some very dark shadows indeed before the taint became evident enough for my purposes.”

“Was our escape from your lair all part of your plan?” Sorkatani asked.

“Of course. You were not ready for this procedure at that time and I needed to concentrate upon Imoen. Everything was planned. You were never free, Child of Bhaal, it was only the illusion of freedom. I had you on a leash that was unbreakable. And always under my control.”

“Yoshimo,” Sorkatani said. “My betrayer.”

“Yes, I did betray you, jabbress,” Yoshimo said. “I shall regret it always.”

“Then why did you do it?” Sorkatani wailed. “I loved you. I thought that you might love me.”

“I do,” Yoshimo said. “I love you as much as any man has ever loved a woman.”

Buffy snorted. “You treat someone you love like this? I’d hate to see what you do to your enemies.”

“I have always said that I am unworthy of Sorkatani,” Yoshimo said. “I made a decision long ago that bound me to this path. There could be no turning back.”

“What the fuck could make you do it?” Buffy demanded. “What did he offer you? To make you the Emperor of Kozakura or something? Or, what, he has your mom or your sister or somebody held hostage?”

Yoshimo winced. “I am a miserable coward,” he told her. “I put my own life ahead of that of the woman I love. My ancestors are shamed.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Buffy said. “You were scared of this guy? Come on, I’ve seen you throw yourself into the path of a dragon’s breath for her. It doesn’t make any kind of sense. You think that we couldn’t have turned this… this escapee from a fetish party into sushi in five minutes if you hadn’t drugged us?”

Yoshimo shook his head. “It was all pre-ordained. It was too late for me even when we met.”

“I tire of this chatter,” Irenicus said. “My preparations are complete. This will not take long, Bhaalspawn. It will be unpleasant for you, even painful, but you may well survive. Your sister did, after all, and you are stronger than her.”

“My sister,” Sorkatani said. “How strange that sounds.”

“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Tell me about it.”

“I said enough of this chatter,” Irenicus snapped. “You may discuss your siblings later. If you survive, that is. Observe the Shadow Thieves chained within the other chambers. The fruits of my sister’s Guild War. They are the power that shall drive this procedure. Their deaths will force the divine soul from you.” He spread out his arms and raised them high. “And then I shall become a god.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Buffy. “With the portfolio for what? Exotic leather gear? Gay bars?”

“Prattle as much as you wish,” said Irenicus. “You shall not distract me.” He uttered a mystic phrase and beams of light shone forth from his fingers. In the series of glass domes that ran along one wall of the laboratory, opposite that against which the helpless adventurers had been placed, the captive Shadow Thieves began to die.

- - - - -

Warren clicked on ‘Send’ and leaned back in his chair. “So now we wait again,” he said. “Oh, crap, my coffee’s cold now. I forgot about it.”

“Mine too,” Andrew said. “I’ll get some fresh, ‘kay?”

“Thanks, dude,” Warren said. He scratched his head. “Wow. We’re actually getting somewhere.”

“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “Cool.” He turned and looked over his shoulder at the dark screen of the other monitor. “Hey, I wonder if the guys in the game have gotten to Spellhold yet?”

“Maybe,” said Warren. “We haven’t looked in on them for a while. Let’s check them out.”

- - - - -

Giles stared at Sorkatani as she writhed in her bonds. Her agony was obvious. So, too, was Buffy’s mental anguish. The two girl warriors had become very close lately and now Buffy’s friend was about to lose her soul. The torments that Angel had inflicted upon them after losing his soul were seared into the memories of all the Sunnydale crew. Giles did not expect that Sorkatani would become a similar monster; there would be no vampire demon to provide the impetus towards blood-lust and cruelty, and Spike’s recent behavior had proved that it was possible to overcome even that drive; but it would still in all probability drive a wedge between the two girls.

Giles sighed. If only there was something that he could do to help Sorkatani. He was helpless, however, tied up and without his guitar. There was nothing that he could do to prevent her from losing her…

A stray thought popped into his mind. A misheard lyric. Not one that was intrinsically humorous, or that would have qualified for a Memorex advert, but it was just barely possible that it might alleviate the situation somewhat. He had no access to his guitar, but he could slap his bound hands against the floor in at least an approximation of the drumbeat…

Even though you lose your soul,” he sang, “your conscience will remain.
Even though you lose your soul
Your conscience will remain.
Da diddley qua qua, da diddley qua qua,
Da diddley qua qua, da diddley qua qua.
Even though you lose your soul
Your conscience will remain,

- - - - -

“Oh, crap!” Warren stared at the screen in horror. “Viconia is dead.”

“And Anomen,” said Jonathan. “He was getting to be not that much of a jerk, too.” His eyes narrowed briefly. This was the end result that Joan had been pushing for; had Warren interfered somehow? He shook his head. Warren hadn’t even touched this computer since the night of the party. It was pure coincidence.

“How far back is our last save?” Warren asked.

Jonathan squirmed. “I kinda forgot about saves,” he confessed. “I haven’t done one since the one that we reloaded from the last time. After Tara died, remember? That’s, uh, that was before they did the Planar Sphere quest. Unless you saved after that?”

“I have to answer ‘no’ to that one,” Warren said. “We’ve both been too busy with the Pirate game. Crap. We should have saved during the farewell gig. That’s another long re-run they’ll have to go through.”

“And then it’ll probably turn out bad here again,” Jonathan said. “First time through they made it past this point okay but then Anya was squished in a trap. Then Tara died. This time it’s Viconia and Anomen.”

“It’s getting worse each time,” Warren said. “Crap and double crap. Next time it might be Giles who gets killed. Or Willow, or Buffy, or Tara again. Or all of them.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said. “Uh, I hate to say this, but, uh, you think we should leave it? I mean, this is bad, and Viconia being dead totally sucks, but it could be worse.”

Warren heaved a sigh. “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, but I didn’t dare say it out loud. Not after what you said when you found out about me trying to get Viconia killed.” He frowned at the screen. “We might not get too many chances to save over the next few days. Yeah. If we save here, well, at least if we have to reload again we won’t be going back too far.”

“Irenicus has taken all their gear,” Andrew commented. “They’re gonna have problems in the maze.”

“He did that the last two times,” Jonathan said. “It’s the down side of the bad guys acting like real people. They don’t do stupid things any more. I think he’ll always do it.”

“They should be okay in the maze,” Warren said, “at least if they stay clear of that trap. Willow has some serious firepower. Jaheira too. And Buffy and Spike can get by without weapons.”

“Spike’s Near Death,” Andrew pointed out.

“Yeah, that sucks,” said Warren, “but he’s a vampire. He’ll heal. And Tara and Jaheira will have him fixed up in no time anyway. Okay, go for it. Let’s save it here. And then, maybe, we’ll get them to the Underdark.” He sighed again. “And I’ll tell Joan that she got her friggin’ wish. I hope she’s happy about it ‘cause, dudes, it doesn’t make me happy at all.”

- - - - -

Bodhi unfastened the straps that held Sorkatani. The second that she was loose the Perfect Warrior tried to punch Bodhi in the face. The vampire girl caught the fist and pushed Sorkatani back. “Now, was that the instinctive reflex of a mindless killer?” Bodhi wondered, “or have you survived the experience relatively unharmed.”

“I am myself still,” Sorkatani answered. “No thanks to your brother.” She frowned. “He seems human, you are an elf. How is that possible?”

“My punishment was less severe than was his,” Bodhi said. “I’m glad that you still have your mind. Hunting you wouldn’t be anything like as much fun without it.” She released Sorkatani’s hand. “Come. Don’t bother to fight back. It would achieve nothing.”

Sorkatani rubbed her wrist. “I could not Draw Upon Holy Might. It seems my powers have indeed been stolen.”

“Oh, yes,” Irenicus said. He smiled, the first time that any of the adventurers had ever seen such an expression on his face, although it bore more resemblance to the rictus on the face of a corpse than to an open and honest smile of happiness. “The power is incredible. I am renewed.”

“Any overwhelming feelings of guilt?” Buffy enquired. “I’m guessing no.”

“And you are correct,” Irenicus replied. “My course is unchanged. Those who punished me so cruelly shall pay the penalty for their callous actions.”

Their callous actions?” Buffy began to raise her voice but then forced herself to remain calm. It was hard to fight back the seething anger that was raging within her but she knew that to let it out was to risk the fate that had befallen Viconia. She wasn’t scared of Bhodi, even though the way the vampire girl had handled Spike spoke of Glory level strength, but to provoke her while Buffy was tied up would be foolish.

Irenicus did not reply. “We have wasted enough time,” he said to Bodhi. “Take this trash to the labyrinth, if you still wish your amusement, while I test out my new powers and then inform our sisters in the dark of our impending arrival. I shall remain here for a time to plot the remaining stages of our plan before we depart.” He cast one last glance over Sorkatani and Buffy. “I bid you farewell, Child of Bhaal and Vampire Slayer. We shall not meet again.”

- - - - -

“You have proven resilient beyond expectation,” Bodhi told Sorkatani. “I respect you. It won’t stop me killing you, of course, but I’ll give you a fair chance.”

“A fair chance?” Sorkatani stared into Bodhi’s eyes. “We have no weapons. You cannot be harmed except by enchanted blades, fire, or wooden stakes. You call that fair?”

“It is easy to improvise stakes and fire,” Bodhi pointed out. “As for enchanted weapons, well, you will find some within this maze; if you can pass the challenges. The Cowled Wizards who created this place intended it as some sort of sanity test. There are puzzles to solve, and foes to overcome, and rewards to be won. At the end lies freedom.”

Sorkatani watched Tanova deposit the bound form of Minsc on the marble floor nearby. “I sense that there is a catch.”

“Two catches,” Bodhi admitted. “Many of the traps in here are lethal, and the foes are formidable.” Tolgerias dumped Jaheira beside Minsc. “And, of course,” Bodhi went on, “I’ll be coming in after you. I’ll give you a head start. Until our new recruit – Anomen, is that his name? – rises. Then we’ll start the hunt.”

Yoshimo lowered Dawn gently to the ground. “I am sorry, dalninil,” he said softly. He squeezed her hand briefly and then stepped away.

“Fuck you,” Dawn spat out. “You total…” Her eyes widened suddenly and her voice died away.

Bodhi took no notice. “Irenicus has only one obsession,” she continued. “He can think only of his banishment and his quest for revenge. It is of less import to me. I will aid him, certainly, but I intend to have fun in the process. I shall make your deaths entertaining. Well, entertaining to me, anyway.”

“If you wish entertainment,” Giles suggested, from where he lay on the floor with his glasses askew, “simply restore to me my musical instrument. Let me entertain you.”

“A tempting offer,” Bodhi said. “I have seen you perform and I was quite impressed. Of course you have no drummer here and, alas, you no longer have your best vocalist. Even so I would take up your offer did I not suspect that you would use your bardic powers to set me on fire.” She turned back to Sorkatani. “If you make haste you might even reach the exit of the labyrinth before I come in after you.”

Sorkatani glanced at Spike’s shattered body. Bodhi noticed and laughed. “I suppose having to carry him around with you will slow you down somewhat. He doesn’t heal as quickly as my kind of vampire, it seems, and even one of us would take quite a while to recover from that kind of damage. You might have to leave him behind. Or put him out of his misery.”

“I don’t abandon my friends,” Sorkatani said. She glared at Yoshimo. “Unlike some people.”

Yoshimo lowered his eyes to avoid her gaze.

“You took so long,” Imoen said, speaking for the first time since they had found her. “I waited for you, but you didn’t come for such a long time.”

“I came,” Sorkatani said. She rushed to the other girl and hugged her. “I wanted to be sure that I could beat Irenicus and free you, and that’s why I took so long, but then it didn’t even work. I am so sorry.”

“I’ll leave you to your touching reunion,” Bodhi said. All of the surviving members of the party were now inside the maze. Sorkatani and Imoen, and the unconscious Spike, were the only ones not tied up. “I advise you not to spend too long on it, however. Your time runs out and this maze is long and complex.” She did not follow her minions up the flights of stairs that led to the balcony housing the entrance door. Instead she bent her knees and leaped fifteen feet upwards. She landed beside the door and smiled down at Sorkatani and the others. “I’ll see you later,” she said, “for dinner.”

Bodhi departed through the door and it slammed closed behind her. A grating noise and a heavy thud indicated that the door was now locked and barred. There would be no escape in that direction. The party would have to negotiate a labyrinth full of deadly perils before they could break free.

- - - - -

“Who are all these people?” Imoen asked. “I don’t know them.”

Sorkatani pulled free the last loop of cord binding Buffy’s arms. “Do you not know Minsc? And Jaheira?”

“Surely Imoen knows her good friend Minsc,” the ranger declared. He slipped his hands free of their bonds and bent to untie his legs. “And Boo, who has cleverly freed Minsc from these ropes.”

A fractional hint of a smile touched Imoen’s lips. “Of course I know Minsc and Boo and Jaheira. I mean the others.”

“We have met before,” Buffy said. She began to unfasten the cords around her legs as Sorkatani moved on to Giles. “We fought our way out of Irenicus’ lair together before the Cowled Wizards took you away. Remember?”

Imoen frowned. “I think so. It’s all so mixed up. So many dreams intertwined with reality.”

“Well, now we are together again,” Minsc said, “and we shall give the butt of evil a good kicking, oh yes we shall.”

“Without our weapons, our armor, and our spells?” Sorkatani freed Giles and stood up. “I have learned much of the art of fighting with bare hands, and none can match Buffy, but we are still at a disadvantage.”

Giles pushed his glasses straight. “Not as big a disadvantage as you might fear.” He climbed to his feet and put a hand into the pocket of his breeches. “Irenicus forgot to mention one category of magic item when he was making us divest ourselves of our enchanted possessions.” He pulled a small leather bag from the pocket, unfolded it, and unfolded it again. “Magical bags.” His right hand went into the bag and came out again holding the old seven-string guitar by the neck. “A little re-tuning and I’m back in business.”

“That is not all,” said Minsc. He was untying Willow as he spoke. “Boo is such a clever hamster. He retrieved three of our rings and brought them to me.” Once Willow was untied Minsc placed the rings in her hand.

“One of the good Rings of Protection,” Willow said. “My Ring of Wizardry, although that won’t help until I get a chance to rest and get my spells back. And the Ring of Danger Sense. Cool. Boo sure is one clever hamster.”

“It’s not a lot,” Buffy said, “but it’s better than nothing. I can still kick ass. And I’m gonna kick that bitch’s ass all the way to hell for what she’s done to us.” Her fingers tugged at the ropes holding Dawn.

“Jeez, Spike’s a mess,” Xander commented. “He’s totally trashed. Even worse than when Glory did a number on him.”

“Bodhi is about as strong as Glory now,” Buffy said. “It was two weeks before Spike was over that beating. I’m guessing it would take about that long to fix this, too, and we don’t have two weeks. I don’t know if we even have two hours. Anyone have any healing spells left? Any potions?”

Jaheira shook her head. “We have nothing. Those creatures of Irenicus took every spell that I had.”

“My Paladin powers are gone too,” Xander said. “I got zilch.”

“Maybe if we each give him a little blood it will speed things up,” Tara suggested.

“I don’t think that’s gonna help enough,” Willow said. “He couldn’t even drink right now.”

“I’ve never tried healing someone with a song,” Giles said, “but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be possible.” He frowned. “Although I must confess that the only malady that would be healed by any of the songs that come to mind would be a broken heart.”

“It’s okay,” Dawn said. “I can fix him.” She held out her hand. A small item gleamed between her fingers.

“You pick-pocketed that right from Yoshimo’s hand?” Anya’s tone was warm with admiration. “That’s amazing! I couldn’t have done that. And you were tied up, too.”

“He slipped it into my hand when he put me down,” Dawn admitted. “I totally couldn’t have taken it off him. Maybe he’s not quite such a total jerk after all. Anyway, we’d better get it on Spike right away and fix him up.” She crossed the floor to where Spike lay and slipped the object onto an unbroken finger.

It was the Ring of Gaxx.


Glossary of Drow words

• ‘iblith’ = filth, offal, excrement
• ‘Quar'valsharess’ = goddess other than Lolth
• ‘elg’caress’ = bitch
• ‘y’sik’ = rather
• ‘dalninil’ = sister

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’, with all the changes that have taken place in the companies involved, but it isn’t me; and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use.

The song from which Giles’ ‘misheard lyrics’ come is Stand and Deliver by Adam and the Ants. It is quoted without permission and with no claims to ownership or intent to profit from the use.

Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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