This one is 4,555 words, rating R. 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.
Spike opened his eyes. “Uhhh,” he moaned. “Good plan, Spike.”
“That was a plan?” Dawn rolled her eyes. “Funny, it looked to me as if you were getting the crap beaten out of you.”
“What?” Spike raised his head. “Had a flashback,” he explained. “Thought for a minute I was escaping from Glory.” He allowed his head to sink back again and his eyes moved from side to side. “See we’re out of that place. Broke his thrall, did you?”
“That would be a no,” Xander admitted, stepping forward into Spike’s line of vision. “They took all our armor and weapons and dumped us in this place. It’s some kind of maze. Bodhi’s coming in after us in, uh…”
“When Anomen rises,” Buffy finished the sentence for him. “She turned him.”
Spike turned his head and saw that the Slayer’s face was streaked with tears. Her mouth was set in a tight line and her eyes held no light. Willow was beside her, clad only in her underwear, with an arm around Buffy’s shoulders.
“Oh.” Spike tried to raise a hand but his arms still weren’t working. “That’s… tough. Sorry to hear that, Slayer.”
“Thanks.” Buffy’s eyes flickered downwards for an instant and then she met Spike’s gaze again. “I’m gonna make her pay for that. I don’t know how, but I’ll do it.”
“Bloody right,” Spike agreed. He glanced around and his brow furrowed. Dawn was kneeling to his left and Tara to his right. “Where’s Vicky? Would have thought she’d have been with me. Not that she’s the sort to fuss, but still.”
Tara took a deep breath. “Uh, Spike,” she said slowly. “Viconia is… she’s…”
“She’s what?” Spike struggled up into a sitting position, with some difficulty because he was still unable to use his arms, and turned his head to look all around the chamber. “Where is she?”
“Viconia is dead.” Jaheira’s tone was leaden. “Murdered.”
“I feel hollow inside,” Imoen confided to Sorkatani. “He took something away. My divine soul, or so he said, and he gave it to… that creature. I didn’t even know I had it, but without it I’m empty, and I’m getting weaker. If I don’t get my soul back I’m going to die, I know it, and you’re in the same position.”
Sorkatani shook her head. “I don’t feel any weaker. If anything I feel stronger. Maybe it was because you and Giles helped me in the dream. I wasn’t here to help you when you needed me. I’m so sorry.”
“Dream?” Imoen’s brow furrowed. “I had no dream. Just blackness, and pain, and my will draining away.”
“And you did not share in my dream? I fought an armored warrior, an avatar of Bhaal, and you helped me. Giles was there too.”
“I was?” Giles pushed his glasses further up his nose. “I sang a song to try to aid you, certainly, but I did not know if it would have any effect without my guitar.”
“You were strangely dressed in the dream. You wore very tight breeches, and a jacket with many heavy cords across the front,” Sorkatani told him, drawing her fingers across her chest in illustration, “and you had stripes of paint upon your face. You sang that you were a ‘dandy highwayman’. I knew not what you meant by that, or why it was important that I used a mirror, but I could feel that it gave me strength. I think that I may have held on to something of what Irenicus sought to steal.”
“Even though you lose your soul your conscience shall remain,” Giles quoted. “That is exactly what I hoped to achieve, my dear.”
“Thank you, zra’ha,” Sorkatani said, and she hugged Giles and laid her cheek against his chest. “Even in this dark hour I feel hope.”
“I’m glad,” Giles said, and he patted her on the back. “I feared that you would be, ah, catatonic. Buffy had a dream that seemed to foretell such an outcome, although the events leading up to it were unclear, and I had tried to make preparations to deal with it.” He grimaced. “One such preparation was teaching Viconia a specific song.”
Sorkatani’s grip on Giles tightened briefly to an almost painful extent. She released him and stepped back. “Perhaps there is yet a chance to recover her,” she said. “If we can retrieve her body…”
“Viconia?” Imoen raised her eyebrows. “I never could see what you saw in that evil bitch.”
“Call her not so,” Jaheira scolded. “Her tongue is sharp, true, yet she is as good a friend as any could wish to have.” Her mouth twisted. “I shall not say ‘was’ while even the slightest chance exists that we shall bring her back.”
Imoen’s eyebrows climbed even higher. “It seems things have changed in my absence. I am sorry, Jaheira. I had thought that you disliked her too.”
“I had warmed to her even before we parted company in Baldur’s Gate,” Jaheira admitted. “That she left us then caused my resentment to flare anew, it is true, but all that is long mended and I shall mourn her greatly if she is lost to me now.” She took hold of Giles’ hand. “There have been changes, Imoen, and this is another. Giles and I are… together.”
“Together?” Imoen sounded almost as if she did not understand the meaning of the word.
“Nind phuul vithin huend nind karliiken vir'ed,” Sorkatani said. A hint of a smile flickered on her face for a brief instant before fading again. “Oh, yes. That’s another change. We have learned much of the drow tongue from Viconia and often use phrases from that language amongst ourselves.”
“I understood not a word,” Imoen said.
A tinge of rose pink had come to Jaheira’s cheeks at Sorkatani’s words. “We are sleeping together,” she expanded for Imoen’s benefit.
“Oh.” Imoen frowned but made no further comment.
“I am extremely relieved to see that you are holding up so well,” Giles said to Sorkatani.
The Perfect Warrior’s mouth twisted. “It is hard. I came close to falling into despair. How could Yoshimo betray me thus? Was he a doppelganger, and the real Yoshimo dead? He went about the city alone, unlike the rest of us save for the occasion of Viconia’s adventure, and would have been vulnerable to such a substitution. Or had he lied to us all along, and his… affection for me been all part of a scheme to win our trust? Yet he gave the Ring of Gaxx to Dawn, perhaps at the risk of his life, and I take this as a sign. He is no doppelganger, and his friendship no mere lie or trick. Irenicus has some hold on him, it is clear, but there may be a way to break it.”
“Could start by breaking the wizard’s neck,” Spike suggested. “That might work.” Buffy and Minsc had wrestled his dislocated arms back into position, although at the cost of some considerable pain, and Spike was now fully restored to fighting fitness. “We ready to move out yet, jabbress?”
“I believe so, abbil, if you are fully healed.”
“Jabbress?” Imoen’s puzzled frown was becoming a permanent feature. “Abbil?”
“Yeah, I’m good to go,” Spike confirmed. He grinned. “Think we’d better start off by looking for some clothes for Willow before Minsc bursts out of his pants.”
“Indeed so.” Sorkatani’s lips twitched into another brief half smile. “There are four staircases and nothing to show which one to take. I suspect that it does not matter and we shall have to explore all eventually.” She pointed to the stairs that were on their right if they faced away from the entrance door. “I suggest that one first. Buffy?”
“Why not?” Buffy shrugged. “I’ll take point, with Spike, ‘kay?”
“I agree. In these circumstances there can be no doubt that you are our best fighter, and Spike our second,” Sorkatani confirmed. “I shall follow immediately behind you. It is time to find out if I can still play the hero without Celestial Fury.”
Imoen frowned yet again. “Celestial Fury?”
The monster that met them in the corridor at the top of the stairs was almost laughably easy to defeat. A single small humanoid, furry and foul-smelling, with long arms and bandy legs. Buffy delivered one kick and it died.
“A gibberling,” Sorkatani identified it. “Do not drink from it, Spike. They can carry disease.”
“Would have to be bloody starving before I’d eat anything that smelled like that bugger,” Spike muttered.
“Was it defending this jar?” Buffy wondered, indicating a large pot behind where the corpse lay.
“I think not,” Sorkatani said. “They are almost mindless creatures that live only to attack and feed. Investigating the jar would still be worthwhile, however. That elg’caress,” she spat the word out, “claimed that there are weapons to be found here. She might have been lying but it is an avenue that we cannot risk failing to explore.”
The pot did indeed hold weapons. A crossbow and some bolts. There was also a gem that, from its clarity and brilliance, they guessed to be a cut diamond.
“We should keep the diamond,” Willow urged.
“Of course,” Anya agreed. “It’s valuable.”
“Uh, that isn’t exactly what I meant,” Willow said. “Don’t sell it without checking with me, okay?”
Sorkatani shrugged. “I doubt if there are merchants here. Irenicus did not bother to strip us of our gold in any event. He thought only of our means of defending ourselves. That which was in our packs is gone, true, but there should be enough in our purses for the necessities of life. We shall keep the gem, if you wish.”
Spike was listening at a nearby door. “Something alive in there,” he informed the party. “More of that sort, I think.” He waved a hand in the direction of the gibberling’s remains. “Might as well check it out, right?”
“Beware of traps,” Sorkatani cautioned him. “Such weak opponents may be a lure to draw us into peril.”
Spike nodded. “Good thinking, jabbress. I’ll watch it. Got the Danger Sense ring. Should be okay.”
The five gibberlings within the room lasted barely five seconds. Buffy killed two, as did Spike, and the one that burst past them ran straight into a kick from Sorkatani that proved as savagely effective as those of the Slayer. Xander didn’t even have time to raise his new crossbow.
“So far, so good,” said Spike. “Prob’ly just intended to lull us into a false sense of security.”
Buffy nodded. “We won’t let it. Okay, people, standard drill. Check the place out and move on.”
Barrels, boxes, and jars lined the walls of the room. Two rolls of carpet took up most of one corner. Buffy unrolled them. They contained, not Cleopatra, but a bow-stave and a spear.
“May I?” Jaheira held out her hand for the spear. Buffy passed it to her and the druid examined the weapon. “The workmanship is superb,” she stated. “A blade of the finest steel and a shaft of ironwood. This may be a weapon of equal or superior worth to my Spear of the Unicorn. And yet,” Jaheira continued, the corners of her mouth turning down, “it is well known that cursed spears exist. The dreaded Backbiters, which turn on their wielder in combat, for instance; and such powerful enchantment also would call for a skillfully crafted weapon. As Willow cannot Identify it for us I would be foolish to use it. A great pity.”
“Hmm.” Giles toyed with the strings of his guitar. “I might be able to do something about that. I need, however, something that resembles a toy cat.”
The barrels and boxes held arrows, a bowstring, sling bullets, throwing knives, and throwing hatchets. Minsc strung the bow and slung a quiver of arrows over his shoulder. Xander passed the crossbow to Anya and took up a pair of hatchets. Everyone but Tara acquired a throwing knife or two.
“Sling bullets, but no sling,” Tara complained. “Maybe I could improvise one somehow.”
“Read a book once where the hero rigged a sling out of his girlfriend’s bikini bottoms,” Spike suggested.
Tara tilted her head to one side and closed one eye. “No, I don’t think they’re the right shape,” she decided. “And we don’t have any spare clothes to cut up. Maybe a sling will turn up later. Or some cloth that’s softer than carpet.”
Jaheira was laboriously slicing through the carpet with the spear blade. The throwing knives had made no impression on the tough material and the spear, although razor sharp, was an unwieldy implement for such work.
Eventually she had cut out a reasonable approximation of a cat shape. “Will this do, a’mael?” she asked Giles.
“Excellent, my dear.” Giles smiled at her. “I wonder, though, could I impose on you to cut out another section? Just a body, no need for legs or a tail. And then, perhaps, stitch it to the first section to form a bag?”
“If you think that it would help,” Jaheira agreed, sighing, and bent again to the work.
“I shall make it up to you,” Giles promised. He strummed a finger across his guitar strings. “Perhaps your favorite song to start with? It may lift all our spirits.”
A smile came to Jaheira’s lips for the first time since they had entered Spellhold. “That is a good thought, a’mael. Let’s live it up.”
Willow was sitting on a barrel in the corner, her legs tightly together, but she began to swing them slightly as Giles struck up his tune. Tara walked over to her.
“We have to do something about getting you some clothes,” Tara said.
“Well, yeah,” Willow agreed. “I’m not seeing any around, though.”
“Take my top,” Tara suggested. “At least I have these breeches.” She slipped her top over her head and held it out to Willow. She turned around, the top still in her hands, as she heard a strange sound.
It was a long, low, moan and it was coming from Minsc. As Tara turned, and gave him a clear view of her breasts in her lacy bra, the moan deepened. His eyes, already wide open, gaped even wider. Tara blushed. She started to raise the top as a shield but Willow chose that moment to reach out and take it from her.
Minsc was standing rigid and erect – uh, stiff and upright – uh, he was drawn up to his full height and he wasn’t moving. Tara lowered her eyes. Willow’s eyes flicked between Minsc and Tara. For a moment none of them moved or spoke.
“Boo says that I am being no gentleman,” Minsc said at last. He removed the quiver from his shoulder, set it down, and pulled his tunic over his head. “This will serve as a dress for one of my two beautiful witches.”
Willow clenched her teeth hard to stop herself from licking her lips. Years of swinging a two-handed sword, and trekking through the wilderness in forty pounds of plate armor, had given Minsc a body to die for. He didn’t have the sculpted six-pack abs of a male model but he was a wall of solid muscle. Cordelia, had she been here, would probably have used the phrase ‘salty goodness’ to describe Minsc sans shirt. And, hey, Willow couldn’t really disagree. She just hoped that she wasn’t showing her appreciation clearly enough to upset Tara.
Tara couldn’t stop herself from licking her lips. Years of swinging a two-handed sword, and trekking through the wilderness in forty pounds of plate armor, had given Minsc a body to die for. He didn’t have the sculpted six-pack abs of a male model but he was a wall of solid muscle. Guys usually didn’t do it for Tara – especially not muscular jock types, who in Tara’s experience tended to be assholes – but Minsc was such a genuine all-around nice guy that he was bypassing all her defenses. And that muscular chest was broad enough for two girls at once to snuggle up against…
Both girls forced away their eyes. Willow swallowed hard, handed Tara’s top back to its owner, and took the tunic from Minsc. “Thanks, Minsc,” she said, and donned the tunic. She allowed herself to slip from the barrel and planted her feet on the floor. The tunic, which was just over hip length on Minsc, went down to mid-calf on Willow. Her arms were lost in the sleeves and she tucked the material up to leave her hands free.
“Ah,” Minsc sighed, as Tara replaced her top, “now I will be able to concentrate on looking out for monsters, but the view is not as pleasant to my eyes as it was.”
Tara glanced at Willow, saw the way that her lover’s eyes were dwelling on Minsc’s torso, and an impish smile came to her lips. “Turnaround is fair play,” she said. “Now it’s us who will be distracted from the monsters.”
Jaheira held up the completed carpet cat. “Will this serve?” she asked.
“Excellent, my dear,” Giles said. “I should be able to achieve satisfactory results with that. Place it upon a barrel and set down the spear in front of it.”
Jaheira obeyed his instructions and Giles took up his guitar again.
“Wait a minute,” Anya put in. “Include all the things we’ve found. Some of these arrows or axes might be magical too.”
“An excellent suggestion, Anya,” Giles agreed. He waited while the others deposited their arrows, bow, crossbow, bolts, hatchets, knives, and the sling bullets in front of the barrel. “Is that everything?”
“We’d better include the gems,” Willow suggested. She laid down the diamond and Anya added a large ruby that she had found.
“Then I’ll begin.” Giles picked out a simple tune on the guitar and chanted the magic words.
“Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss,
Old fat furry cat-puss
Wake up and look at these things that I bring.
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light,
Bagpuss oh hear what I sing.”
The crude carpet-bag cat seemed to inflate. It changed color, becoming pink and white, and eyes and whiskers appeared on its face. It yawned, revealing a hitherto unsuspected mouth, and stretched.
“Oh,” said the cloth cat. “I say. A spear with an enchantment upon it. Rather well done, I think. As magically sharp as, for instance, Lilarcor or the Blade of Roses. No special powers, I’m afraid, but it’s very good for poking people with.”
“And the other items?” Giles prompted the cat.
“A bow and arrows,” the cat went on. “One sheaf of arrows is enchanted too. Just the basic level, I’m afraid. Half of the crossbow bolts bear the same enchantment. One of the bags of sling bullets is the same, and one bag contains bullets with twice the magic, although the others are just normal pieces of cast lead. It’s rather a shame that we don’t have a sling, isn’t it? Oh, yes, and the ruby is quite important. It’s a key to a portal. Or rather one of a set of three keys to the portal.”
“A way out of here?” Giles asked.
“I’m afraid not,” the cat replied. “Rather the opposite, in fact. It’s a gateway through which demons can access this dimension. However there is a bright side. Once you slay the demons you will be rewarded.” The cat yawned again. “I’m beginning to feel rather sleepy.” Its eyes closed.
“Rewarded? In what way?”
The question remained unanswered. The cat had fallen asleep. It did not transform back into its carpet form, however, but remained as a pink and white Bagpuss.
“Quite remarkable,” Giles commented. “I didn’t anticipate that particular effect.”
“Cool,” Dawn said. “That is just totally the cutest piece of carpet I ever saw.”
“It is as I thought,” Jaheira said. “The spear is indeed a mighty weapon. I claim it for my own, by right of having done the work of cutting out the carpet cat.”
“You’re probably the best with a spear out of all of us, so, yeah, I’m good with that,” said Buffy. “Speaking of which, Sorkatani’s the best with a bow. Shouldn’t she have the bow instead of Minsc?”
“I’m only two or three inches taller than you,” Sorkatani pointed out. “I totally couldn’t use it from anywhere but the front row. Minsc can aim over our heads, no problem.”
“Good point,” Buffy agreed. “Okay, Minsc keeps the bow.” She watched as everyone retrieved their weapons from the pile and Minsc examined the arrows to determine which ones were magical. “I guess it’s time to move on.”
Warren frowned as he studied the screen. “So far, so good,” he remarked, “but they have problems coming up. I didn’t know they’d lost their spells. The bad guys are getting too damn smart.”
“It’s like they’ve read the Evil Overlord list,” Jonathan agreed. “Well, not all the way through, they’re still doing some of the ego-trip stuff, but they’re sure rigging the odds in their favor.”
“Maybe we ought to do a bit of rigging of our own,” Warren suggested. He hit the space bar to pause the game. “We’re not gonna have time to keep on reloading and giving the guys another shot at things that go wrong.”
“Uh, I guess,” Jonathan said, “but I don’t know what we can do. We can’t touch them at all, remember, and these days we can’t even get into the game to place any objects.”
“We can still access the inventories of monsters they haven’t met yet,” Warren said. “At least to some extent. I could change, like, the Rukh rakshasa’s vanilla sword into something better.”
“He’d use it on them,” Jonathan objected.
“So I’ll give him the Bone Club,” Warren answered the objection. He accessed Options and selected ‘Save’. “It’s not that powerful against humans, not enough to matter, but it would give them something they could use against the Undead. They’re bound to meet the Rukh before they have to face the Lich. Without that club, or something like, they’re in deep shit.”
“Good point,” Jonathan conceded, “but I have a bad feeling about messing with things too much. I always think that it’s gonna come back and bite us on the ass.”
Warren frowned. “I have that feeling too,” he admitted, “but I have to do something. I’ll keep it to a minimum. The Bone Club, and, hey, I’ll dish out a few extra Mithral Tokens. It always bugged me that there aren’t enough tokens to get the good stuff. They’re gonna need that Jester’s Chain, and the Boots of Speed, when Sorkatani goes all psycho on them.”
The next room that the party entered was full of statues. Each one held a bowl in its stone hands. A chest stood in the centre of the room. After examining the chest for possible traps they opened it and found a strange assortment of objects; a mirror, an hourglass, a pair of boots, a bottle of water, a small sundial, a skull, a statuette, and several medallions. There was also a note.
“Heed this, inmate,” Sorkatani read out. “The true test of madness is the simple measurement of the mind’s precision. The cured shall be rewarded. The afflicted shall wander without recourse.” She glanced around the room. “There are words carved upon each statue,” she observed. “No doubt puzzles that we must solve. My own opinion is that the true test of madness is whether or not you spend your time thinking up stupid puzzles and forcing others to solve them. Why didn’t those Cowled Wizards just get a life?”
“Get a life?” Imoen frowned at Sorkatani. “You do not speak the way I remember. Are you really Sorkatani or is this but another vision brought to me by Irenicus as part of my torment?”
Sorkatani dropped the note back into the chest and hugged Imoen. “Do not fear, sister, it is indeed I. I have spent months with our new friends and have picked up some of their mannerisms of speech.”
Willow examined one of the inscriptions. “Two brothers are we,” she read. “Great burdens we bear. All day we are bitterly pressed. Yet this I will say, we are full all the day, but empty when we go to rest.” Her brows furrowed briefly and then she smiled. “I know! It’s the boots.”
“I guess we have to put the things from the chest into the bowls, huh?” Dawn suggested.
“That seems logical,” Giles agreed. He picked up the boots and deposited them in the appropriate statue’s bowl. “What is the next riddle?”
A couple of minutes later all the bowls had been filled. The chest snapped shut and then re-opened.
Anya peered inside. “Two rather large gemstones,” she reported. “That seems obscurely disappointing somehow. Even though I’m sure that they are worth money.”
“There may be more to them,” Giles said. “I shall ask Bagpuss.”
The cloth cat announced that one gem was another portal key. The other was an Ioun stone, bearing a minor protective enchantment, and in other circumstances they would have regarded it as hardly more than a curiosity. In this situation it was a valuable asset. They allocated it to Buffy, as she would be the first into harm’s way, and moved on.
So far this maze seemed far less dangerous than they had been led to believe. No-one dared to say so out loud, for fear of jinxing things, but it seemed almost too easy. The next room was more in accordance with Bodhi’s description.
A tiger-headed humanoid, a rakshasa, dwelt within. He was surrounded by a retinue of mephits, imp-like elementals, and immediately commanded them to attack.
Minsc loosed shaft after shaft from his bow. Xander hurled axes. Throwing knives hissed through the air. The mephits faltered. Then the rakshasa cast a spell. A cloud of poisonous vapors billowed up around the adventurers and they retreated, coughing and choking, with the mephits in pursuit.
Spike was unaffected by the poison gas. He dodged the main body of the mephits and grabbed the last one of the bunch as it fluttered past. “Poison doesn’t work on me,” he chuckled as he twisted the mephit’s neck. “You and me, pussy-face. Fists and fangs. Let’s get it on.” He faced the rakshasa and snarled a challenge.
The rakshasa snarled back at him and raised a club of carved bone. “You are facing your doom, vampire, yes indeed.”
“No chance,” Spike answered. He leaped forward and ran straight into a powerful blow that sent him crashing to the ground. He rolled away as the rakshasa followed up. It caught him with a kick that was nothing like as hard as the blow from the club had been. Spike regained his feet and went in for another attack. The club swept down. Spike attempted to block the blow but the impact left his arm numb and useless. Another swing connected with his temple and felled him once more.
“Bloody magic weapon,” Spike growled as he scrambled away. “This could be harder than I thought.”
“Way to go, Warren,” Jonathan commented. “You give a weapon with big pluses against the Undead to someone who’s gonna fight Spike. Has it ever occurred to you that, considering you’re a total genius, you can be pretty damn stupid sometimes?”
Glossary of Drow words and phrases
• ‘zra’ha’ = mentor
• ‘elg’caress’ = bitch
• ‘Nind phuul vithin huend nind karliiken vir'ed’ = They are fucking their brains out