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Tabula Avatar Chapter 50

When I finished what was intended to be Chapter 49 of ‘Tabula Avatar’ I realized that it was huge. Over 10,400 words! That’s longer than some of my complete short stories. I went through it to see if it could be trimmed but it didn't work out that way. By the time I’d finished it was 11,400 words! The only option was to split it into two chapters. The first of them went up yesterday as Chapter 49; here is the second. 6,850 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.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Fifty

Giles peered through the gas cloud. Spike appeared to be getting very much the worst of his fight with the rakshasa. Giles searched through his memory for a suitable song to turn the tide. Cat Scratch Fever, Tiger Feet, I’m A Tiger – all seemed more likely to aid the rakshasa than to hinder it. Even Joni Mitchell’s Taming The Tiger had the refrain of ‘You can’t tame the tiger’. Perhaps he could do something with the lines about ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright’? Before he could collect his thoughts Sorkatani had acted.

“Hold on, Spike,” she called. “I’m coming.” She took a deep breath and charged through the gas cloud, breathing out as she went, and emerged on the far side with her eyes streaming but otherwise unharmed. The rakshasa turned away from Spike to face her. It lashed out at her head with the club.

Sorkatani swayed back away from the blow. The club brushed the tip of her nose but merely grazed the skin. She immediately went forward again and threw all her weight and strength into a punch to the rakshasa’s abdomen. It doubled over, gasping for breath, and attempted to deliver a backhand strike with the club. Sorkatani chopped at its forearm with the side of her hand. The rakshasa’s fingers opened and the club fell to the floor. Sorkatani brought the heel of her hand up under its chin and sent the creature stumbling backwards across the room.

Spike seized it before it could regain its balance. “Right,” he growled. “Let’s see how hard you are without your magic bone.” He bared his fangs and plunged them home.

Buffy burst out of the gas cloud and joined them. “Looks like you didn’t need me,” she said. “Nice technique.”

“I learned from the best,” Sorkatani said. “The mephits?”

“Those imp things? All dead.” Buffy glanced back at the cloud of gas. “Nobody can dispel that thing now. I guess all we can do is wait for it to go away.” She looked at Spike, who was slamming the rakshasa’s head against the stone floor, and raised her eyebrows. “Uh, Spike, he’s dead. You can stop now.”

Spike gave the corpse one last blow. “Fucking bitch,” he growled under his breath. “Yeah, okay. ‘S not really helping anyway.”

Buffy had heard his first comment. “What have I done now?”

Spike raised his head and looked into her eyes. “Not you, Slayer. That fucking Bodhi.” He lowered his eyes again. “S’ppose you prob’ly feel about the same as I do, yeah?”

Buffy grimaced. “Yeah. Sorry.”

The gas cloud had dissipated by this time and the rest of the group entered the room and joined them. Willow looked at an archway at the far end of the room. The stone of the arch was inscribed with runes, and the space between its columns was a blank darkness, a door into nothingness, “I guess that’s the magic portal that Bagpuss mentioned,” she said. “We need three keys, he said, and we only have two.”

“I suggest that we leave it alone for the time being,” Giles said. “We can return when we have the third gem.”

“I’m good with that,” Buffy agreed.

Tara frowned at the battered and bloodied corpse of the rakshasa. “I don’t think its robes would be much use for Willow now,” she said.

“Bugger. Didn’t think, abbil,” Spike said.

“Hey, it’s okay,” said Willow. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I might be able to make a sling out of its sash,” Tara went on. She bent to retrieve the silken garment.

Imoen stared at the corpse and shuddered. “Is that not a rakshasa?” she asked, sounding more alert and aware of her surroundings than she had done since they had entered the labyrinth. “They can be slain only by a blessed crossbow bolt, or so I have read.”

“Looks pretty dead to me, pet,” Spike said.

“Death can be beautiful,” Imoen said. Her eyes seemed to focus on something invisible to the others. “That’s what he said. When he hurt me.” Sorkatani rushed to Imoen and folded her in an embrace.

“We killed one down in the sewers,” Xander reminisced. “I had the Sword of Chaos, and Buffy had… did you have the Blade of Roses then, Buff? I don’t remember.”

“I’m not sure. I think maybe not,” Buffy said. “I remember we killed it without blessing any crossbow bolts.”

“I suppose that it might have recovered after we had left the area,” Anya said. “There’s no point in taking chances. Tara, could you do a blessing?” She held out her crossbow.

Tara pulled the sash free of the rakshasa’s body. “I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm,” she agreed. “Mielikki, Lady of the Forest, I bless this crossbow bolt in your name.”

“Thanks.” Anya aimed the crossbow and pulled the trigger. The bolt hit the corpse and embedded itself in the flesh without causing any reaction whatsoever. “Better safe than sorry,” Anya said. She looked around the room. “There doesn’t seem to be anything in here other than the portal,” she said. “Let’s move on.”

- - - - -

Further along the corridor they came to a room with carved stone heads on all its walls. It was another riddle room. This one threatened pain to those who answered incorrectly, with a reward on offer once all riddles had been solved, but they felt that they had no option but to take the challenge.

Alive as you but without breath, as cold in my life as in my death; never a thirst though I always drink, dressed in a mail but never a clink.” Buffy frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“You never read ‘The Hobbit’?” Willow’s eyebrows arched upwards.

“The answer is ‘fish’, Buffy,” Dawn told her sister. “We had the book,” she said to Willow. “I totally thought that Buffy had read it too. I guess she reached the description of hobbits having hairy feet, decided that there weren’t going to be any shoes in the book, and gave up.”

“Hey, I read it,” Buffy said. “I just don’t remember all the details. There was a ring, and a dragon, and dwarves. And a guy who turned into a bear. Whatever. Anyway, answer this one, smart guys. Of all your possessions, I am the hardest to guard. If you have me, you will want to share me. If you share me, you no longer have me.”

The accumulated wisdom of the party solved all of the riddles without difficulty and a Ring of Regeneration was the reward. They moved on.

To face another fight. This time a party of yuan-ti snakemen were the opponents, waiting for them in the corridor, and brandishing swords as they slithered to the attack.

They were no match for Buffy, Sorkatani, and Spike, even without the back-up from missile weapons, and fell like ninepins.

Until a mage amongst the yuan-ti cast a spell of Confusion upon Buffy.

- - - - -

“Do something!” Spike yelled. “Can’t hold her much longer.”

Spike clung to one of Buffy’s arms, exerting all his strength, and Sorkatani held the other. The Slayer was struggling with all her might and both of them had been slammed against the walls more than once. Minsc lay unconscious on the floor nearby.

“Confusion, confusion,” Giles muttered. “Ah! I think I have it.”

There must be some kind of way out of here
Said the Joker to the Thief
There’s too much confusion
But I can give you relief

His modification of the lyrics to ‘All Along The Watchtower’ was successful.

“Hey!” Buffy complained. “Get off me. What are you doing?”

Spike and Sorkatani released her. “Yeah, right, no thanks necessary,” Spike grumbled.

“You were the victim of a Confusion spell,” Giles informed his Slayer.

“When I went crazy like that they totally took the Giant Strength girdle away from me,” Dawn complained. “Even though it so wasn’t my fault. Nobody’s going to take away Buffy’s Slayer strength.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” Buffy said. “You think Irenicus wouldn’t take it if he could?” She saw Minsc on the floor. “Oops. Did I do that?”

- - - - -

A deadly and impassible trap forced them to retrace their steps and ascend another staircase. There Buffy fought a clay golem with only her bare hands and won.

It had guarded a treasure room that contained magical arrows, magical darts, and magical crossbow bolts. There was also a Bag of Holding, a spell scroll, and the third key to the demon portal.

“So, what do you say, guys?” Buffy asked. “Do we go back and fight demons to get some kind of reward at the end? Or is it just a big waste of time.”

“We won some pretty useful things just for answering dumb riddles,” Dawn said. “We have to get something good for fighting demons. Don’t we?”

Buffy pursed her lips. “You tell me. The whole idea of this place seems kinda warped to me. It could be that all we win is a teddy bear.”

“Or a goldfish in a plastic bag,” said Giles. “I think that we have no option but to find out, however. We are still rather poorly equipped compared to when we entered Spellhold.”

“I agree,” said Sorkatani. “Let us do this.”

They returned to the room in which they had fought the rakshasa. The portal opened as soon as it was touched. The creature that stepped forth was roughly humanoid in form but covered in fur. Its head was that of a wolf. It wasted no time before opening its jaws and attacking.

The struggle was hard and brutal. The monster regenerated almost as fast as they could damage it. Eventually Spike, who would be immune to lycanthropy if the creature was a werewolf, clung onto its muzzle while Buffy and Sorkatani pinned its limbs. Jaheira drove her spear into the humanoid’s chest and reached the heart.

Spike examined the deep fang gouges that marred his forearm. “My turn for the Ring of Gaxx,” he said. “Hope we’re right about be being immune. Being a vampire werewolf would be a bit of a bugger.”

“It was a Greater Wolfwere,” Sorkatani said. “I was not sure before, but now that I can look at it more closely I can be certain. Their bite carries no such risk.” She frowned. “They can recover even from seeming death. Only gold kills them permanently.”

“Not a problem,” Spike said. He forced a gold coin down the wolfwere’s throat. “That should do it.” He scowled at his hands. “And now I’m covered in wolfwere slobber. Could do with there being somewhere to wash and brush up in this place.”

- - - - -

The fight against the next creature, a winged fiend, was even tougher. By the time they brought it down both Spike and Xander lay unconscious and bleeding on the floor.

“I wonder if we are doing the right thing,” Giles mused. “Another fight like that could easily cost us a life. Is it worth the risk just to obtain some unspecified reward?”

“I’m not giving up now after all this effort,” Buffy declared. “As soon as they’re up and ready to rock again I say go for it. It’s a good thing we have the Ring of Gaxx. The new ring is nothing like as good.”

“Indeed, we must be grateful for the Ring of Gaxx,” Sorkatani agreed. “I hope that Yoshimo is not suffering for his action.”

- - - - -

There was no third battle. Instead of a demon it was a genie that entered through the portal. His hands held, not a weapon, but a suit of armor.

“The stone commands, and I obey,” the genie said. “This armor is the gift to those of sound mind. A puzzle, a riddle, a reward. Thusly was my home built and I have fulfilled my duties. You are doing well, Sorkatani and Buffy.” He set the armor down on the floor, stepped back into the portal, and disappeared.

“Why did he only mention you two?” Anya complained. “Aren’t the rest of us contributing?”

“I fail to see what purpose would be served by the genie reciting the entire list of our names,” Giles said. “I’m sure that he meant to imply us all.”

“Sorkatani and Buffy and Friends,” Anya said. “That wouldn’t have taken long.”

“This had better be magic armor after all we went through to get it,” Buffy said. “Get that Bagpuss thing to check it out, Giles.”

Giles obeyed. The cloth cat revealed that the armor was the famous Doomplate, bearing three levels of enchantment, but with a tragic history. All who had worn it had died shortly after donning it for the first time.

“Then again,” Bagpuss concluded, “most adventurers die early in their career anyway. It might be coincidence.” The cat yawned and became an inanimate toy once again.

“I am willing to take that chance,” Minsc said. “I yearn to be clad in full plate once again. Full plate and packing steel, that is the right state for a warrior.”

“Be my guest, big guy,” said Xander. “Unless Sorkatani…?”

“I am content without armor,” Sorkatani said. “Until we have magical weapons enough to go around I shall fight mainly with my hands. Steel armor would hamper my moves.”

“I guess it’s all yours, then, Minsc,” Buffy said.

The giant warrior donned the armor’s leather lining and then fastened the steel plates in place.

“Goodbye, eye candy,” said Tara. Willow giggled.

Buffy frowned. She moved to the side of the room and gestured to summon the two girls. “What is all this?” she asked in a low voice. “I couldn’t help noticing both of you drooling over Minsc. Aren’t you, like, gay any more?”

“Minsc is nice,” said Tara. “And I can look without it meaning that I’m going to touch.”

“Gay Now, not Blind Now,” Willow added.

“Yeah, right.” Buffy shook her head and walked away.

- - - - -

That was the last occasion for levity for a while. The trek through the maze became a constant succession of grim battles. They fought umber hulks and minotaurs in a room that led to a doorway in the shape of a head. Attempts to open the door resulted only in the head delivering a cryptic message about a ‘power crystal’ and ‘the hand of the builder’ being required before the door could be opened. They gave up the attempt and ransacked the room, discovering a valuable scroll of Delayed Blast Fireball, and then moved on.

Beyond another staircase they fought kobolds, who would have posed no challenge at all to them in other circumstances, but whose fire arrows inflicted several nasty wounds on their unarmored opponents before they fell. Umber hulks, yet again, this time in a trapped room that locked half of the party in with the monsters while the others could only wait helplessly for the battle to end. A party of mummies, which pressed them hard for a time, before eventually falling to the Delayed Blast Fireball scroll. A series of creatures summoned by a magical book; beginning with a single kobold, easily slain, but concluding with a beholder, which was defeated only in brutal close-quarters fighting in which magic counted for little and sheer savage persistence won the day.

Further on they encountered a powerful group of the Undead. A mummy, faster and stronger than those they had faced earlier, two skeleton warriors, a skeletal golem with razor-edged bone scythes at the ends of its arms, and, most to be feared, a lich. That turned into a frantic and desperate fighting retreat through fifty yards of corridor and back into the labyrinth’s entrance hall.

Anya was frozen by a Symbol of Stun and Xander swept her up and carried her over his shoulder. Minsc and Imoen were ensnared by Maze spells. The lich wasted a Power Word Kill spell on Spike as he rained savage blows upon it with the Bone Club. At last the lich shattered under Spike’s onslaught, Buffy smashed the bone golem, and Giles was able to gain the time and space that he needed to set the mummy on fire with a song by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

All the time they were accumulating equipment. A few kobold fire arrows. A pair of short-swords with basic enchantments on the blades. A Ring of Free Action. A suit of chain mail, slightly enchanted, that served to provide Xander with some protection. A magical great-sword, seized upon with glee by Minsc, although its enchantment paled into insignificance compared to that of Lilarcor. A crystal shard, declared by Bagpuss to be the power crystal that was necessary to open the exit door, but which had no effect when they retraced their steps and tried to use it. A magical quarterstaff. And several spell scrolls.

The scrolls were of surprisingly little use. There was a Simulacrum scroll, which would have enabled Willow or Imoen to create a duplicate of themselves with two thirds of their magical ability, but as neither of them had the power to cast a single spell the duplicate would have been equally helpless. Project Image, a more powerful variation of the same principle, and just as useless. A Summon Fiend scroll; similarly useless as the fiend would turn on the caster without a Protection From Evil spell in place, and no such spell was available. There were other scrolls, and some did good service in their fights, but the most powerful spells could only be stored up for use at some later time.

And then, eventually, they faced a vampire.

- - - - -

A rather pathetic vampire, in fact, with spectacles perched on his nose and wearing the tattered remnants of Cowled Wizard robes. “Did Bodhi send you here to kill me?” he asked, “or are you as damned as I am?”

“Reminds me of Dalton,” Spike muttered. He put a hand on Buffy’s arm. “Let me have a word with him, Slayer,” he said, and then stepped forward. “Bitch locked us in here, mate,” Spike addressed the vampire. “Same as you, I reckon. Know how to get out of this place?”

“I created this maze,” the vampire replied. “There is no way out but by my hand. I hid the crystal. The kobolds worship it, you know, the foolish creatures. All who enter here are damned. We must battle for her amusement.”

“Better to battle against her,” Spike said. “That bitch is going down. Got a feeling you aren’t any fonder of her than we are. Give us a hand and we won’t kill you.”

“Give us a hand? Hah! Only by my hand,” the vampire cackled. “We are her puppets. Her toys. She plays with us as a cat plays with a mouse. There is no way out now. She will kill you or you will starve. As I am starving.” His face contorted. “Blood. I must have blood.” The vampire launched himself towards Buffy.

Spike caught him in mid-leap and restrained the other vampire with ease. “Don’t stake him, Slayer,” he advised. “Chop his hands off first.”

Buffy hesitated. “Chop his hands off? That’s, like, cruel.”

“Of course!” Giles exclaimed. “The hand of the builder. Excellent work, Spike. Do as he suggests, Buffy.”

“Eww,” Buffy mumbled, but she took one of the short-swords and obeyed. The vampire cried out in pain and struggled in Spike’s grasp. Buffy took out a stake and thrust it through the captive vampire’s heart.

“Okay, so what do we do with them?” Buffy asked, as the white vapor cloud of the vampire’s body drifted away towards a coffin.

“Stick them in the recess beside that stone head,” Spike said. “Should open the door, if I’m right.”

“Oh, right.” Buffy picked up the macabre trophies.

“Better finish this bloke off,” Spike said. “Think he’s totally round the twist but he could still be dangerous to some other bugger later.” He ripped off the lid from the coffin and plunged a stake into the corpse that lay within.

The body crumbled to dust. As it disintegrated a spectral form appeared above the dust. “I thank you,” it said. “I am free in death.” The ghostly apparition dissipated.

Spike swayed and clutched at the rim of the coffin. “Thank you,” he echoed in a voice that seemed filled with anguish. “Oh God.”

“What is it?” Buffy enquired. “Something wrong?” She bit her lip. Spike had lost Viconia, and, though she felt pain at her own lover’s passing, she was sure that Spike’s feelings for Viconia ran much deeper than did her affection for Anomen.

“Nothing,” Spike replied, and turned away. “Nothing at all.”

- - - - -

The vampire’s hand was indeed the key that opened the door. Unfortunately it did not lead out of the maze but only to another level. Yet more traps, riddles, and monsters lay beyond.

By now everyone was bone weary. Buffy paused at the end of a fight against trolls to look at her watch. “It will be dark outside by now,” she said. “He could be rising any time.”

“Then we must press on,” Giles said, “or else prepare to face Bodhi.”

Buffy bit her lip and then shook her head. “We can’t face her. Not with what we have. She’s as strong and fast as Glory and a whole lot smarter. The only edge we have is her ego and that’s not gonna be enough. Not with us having no spells and hardly any protections.”

“I do not know this ‘Glory’,” Sorkatani said, “but I agree that we must avoid facing Bodhi if at all possible. Not only is she formidable herself but her followers are powerful in their own right. Their mage, Tanova, held Willow at bay for some time – and I now believe that they had no intention of defeating us in the crypt.”

“Yeah, they threw that fight,” Buffy agreed. “The whole staking thing was a set-up. I guess she had a body double.”

Sorkatani smiled slightly. “Your wit lightens my heart.” She sighed. “And it was in sore need of lightening, for our position is grim, but I will not allow myself to become disheartened. Let us be on our way once more.”

- - - - -

They slew minotaurs, yuan-ti, trolls, wolfweres, an umber hulk twice the size of any they had faced before, a mind flayer, and an evil genie. Many of the monsters were carrying strange metal tokens, resembling crude coins, and more tokens cropped up in jars and chests throughout the maze. The party collected them as a matter of course. The logic of this maze indicated that there had to be some reason for the tokens’ presence and, even if there was no reward to be won, the metal pieces were light in weight and took up little space. There was nothing to lose.

And, eventually, they found out that there was much to gain.

By that time Sorkatani had a katana again; and a fine blade into the bargain. Malakar, the Dueling Steel, endowed with specific enchantments to aid in parrying an opponent’s blows. Xander now wielded a mighty great-sword, the Flame of the North, which was almost the equal of Lilarcor.

Weapons that had been paid for in blood. Sorkatani had suffered a slash across her arm that had laid it open to the bone. Xander had been stunned by the mind-flayer and temporarily reduced to babbling idiocy. Three clay golems had broken Buffy’s left arm and right cheekbone, cracked at least one of Minsc’s ribs, and stretched Spike unconscious on the floor before the last of them went down. The magical rings healed all of the injuries; but much precious time passed, even with both the rings in use, before the party members were all fit to continue.

Eventually they stumbled into a room containing yet another clay golem. Buffy’s arm was still in a sling, and Minsc bit back a wince every time he drew a deep breath, but they fell upon the golem as ferociously as did the others. It landed only one punch, knocking out Spike yet again, before it shattered into pieces under a rain of blows.

The room beyond the golem contained a strange machine. Cogs and gears protruded from a stone housing. An operating lever of inch-thick steel was mounted on the machine’s side.

“What on Earth – sorry, on Abeir-Toril – is that thing?” Giles wondered.

“A printing press?” Buffy suggested. “Maybe Xander can start producing comic books here after all.”

“If I can get over a couple of little hurdles, maybe, like that I totally suck at drawing and I can’t remember any of the origin story-lines well enough to put them over,” Xander said.

“It’s not a printing press,” Willow said. “There’s a coin slot and a chute. It’s a vending machine. Or maybe gambling.”

A notice on the machine confirmed her deduction. It was indeed a vending machine and, according to the description, it dispensed shoes.

“Must be shoesday,” said Buffy. “Let’s see what it has to offer. Insert five, ten, fifteen, or twenty tokens. How many do we have?”

A quick count turned up thirty-eight of the tokens. “The best thing should cost the most,” Willow suggested. “Suppose we start with the twenty, and then the fifteen? Or we could do the twenty, the ten, and the five.”

“Twenty, then fifteen,” Buffy agreed. “There’s still a door further along that we haven’t been through. We might find a few more tokens later. We could always come back – or maybe not.” She pulled off the sling, as the Ring of Gaxx had now healed her arm completely, and glanced at her watch again. “We’ll take what we get and move.” She fed twenty of the metal discs into the slot and pulled the lever.

The machine whirred, groaned, and shot forth a large metallic object. Buffy raised her eyebrows. “If those are shoes they’re for, like, totally weird feet,” she said. “It looks like chain mail. Only, hey, I’ve never seen armor in colors like those.”

Xander unfolded the armor. “Yep, a chain shirt,” he confirmed. “In green and pink and blue? For someone who takes ‘fashion victim’ too literally, I guess.”

“I’ll ask Bagpuss for his opinion,” Giles said.

“Hold on a second,” Buffy said, and fed in another fifteen tokens. She pulled the lever once more. This time the machine disgorged a pair of boots. “That’s more like it,” she said. “Okay, unleash the talking cat.”

The fat furry cat-puss woke up, and stretched, and opened his eyes wide. “Remarkable,” he said. “The armor of Dekirh Fast-hands. He was a bard who played in some of the roughest dives on the Sword Coast. The patrons used to throw things at the stage. Not just fruit and the occasional vegetable, or money, but chairs, knives, even axes. His friends had this armor made for him to help him survive those, ah, gigs. It’s extremely heavily enchanted. Even more so than the Doomplate. Rather gaudy, of course, but then he was a bard.”

“I guess that makes this yours,” Buffy told Giles.

Giles raised a finger to the bridge of his nose and adjusted the position of his glasses. “It’s certainly, ah, colorful,” he said. “I suppose I can put up with the, ah, spectacle in the interests of being well protected.”

“And the boots?” Buffy prompted the cat.

“Boots of Speed,” Bagpuss replied. “The wearer can almost keep pace with a galloping horse.” He yawned and collapsed into his inanimate form.

“So, who gets the boots?” Xander was the first to pose the question.

“Dawn,” Buffy stated immediately. She used simple logic to quell any possible objections. “Spike’s the fastest runner, me next, then Sorkatani, so none of us get them. As for the rest of you – would you run away and leave Anya, Xander? Would she leave you? Minsc wouldn’t desert his witches. Giles and Jaheira would stay together, right? It should be Dawn.”

Dawn raised her head and stuck out her chin. “I’m not running away from anyone.”

“You’ll run from Bodhi if she comes for you,” Buffy ordered. “If we lose. Get out, get clear. Sime should help you get off the island. Get Nalia. Get Korgan, if he’s not drunk in an alley. Get Sir Ryan Trawl, Valley Girl, Aran Linvail, that tough halfling girl, Hendak, Bernard – everybody who owes us anything. And put that bitch down.”

“Oh,” said Dawn. “That’s different. Yeah. I can do that.”

Sorkatani moved close to Buffy and spoke in a low voice. “I am fond of Dawn too, but I would have wanted the boots for Imoen. However she is… not herself. It might not occur to her to run. You are right to give them to Dawn.”

Buffy swallowed. “Uh, Sorkatani – you don’t think that Imoen might be, uh, a doppelganger?”

Sorkatani shook her head. “I did fear that, for a while, and I asked Spike to check. He assures me that she smells right. She is just… damaged.” She sighed. “Irenicus had her in his power for a long time. Tormenting her to bring forth the Bhaalspawn taint. I could have spared her that. We delayed to gain power and weapons that would enable to defeat Irenicus – and all for nothing. He took them all from us. We are in no better case than if we had rushed here as soon as we had gained sufficient funds to pay the Shadow Thieves for our passage.”

Buffy shook her head. “Don’t blame yourself. I pushed for the delay too, and hey, we were right. If we’d come here two months ago we wouldn’t have stood a chance in this place. We’re all better fighters than we were then. Plus, the one thing that’s really getting us through it is the Ring of Gaxx.”

“Indeed,” Sorkatani said. She gave a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “And Bagpuss.”

“That too,” Buffy said. She saw that Spike had regained consciousness but was still sitting on the floor rubbing his jaw. “Your turn for the ring, I guess,” she said, and slipped the Ring of Gaxx from her finger. Minsc was wearing the lesser Ring of Regeneration and was recovering from his injury, although slowly, and so Buffy handed the more powerful item over to Spike. As she did so she heard Xander speaking behind her.

“There’s something else you have to do if you get out and we don’t,” Xander said to Dawn. “Warn Anomen’s dad.”

Buffy spun around. “What’s that?”

“It’s obvious, Buff. The first thing Anomen is gonna do when he gets back to Athkatla is kill his father.”

Buffy gritted her teeth. “Damn. You’re right. Will? Any chance you can do the resouling spell?”

Willow shook her head. “I dunno, Buff. This world might not even have an equivalent of an Orb of Thesulah. And the incantation isn’t geared up for the right gods. Maybe there might be some way but, hey, it’s gonna take a whole lot of study. All I can say is it wouldn’t be any time soon.”

“Damn,” Buffy said again, and sighed. She drew herself up to her full height and thrust out her jaw. “I’m gonna have to kill him.”

- - - - -

I don’t want anybody else,” Bodhi sang.
When I think about you I touch myself…

Spike snarled and went into game face. Hearing Bodhi singing a song that Viconia had performed almost made him see red and charge blindly into the attack. Sorkatani laid a hand on his forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. Spike managed to regain control of himself and moved sideways to allow those behind him to enter the room.

Bodhi ran a finger along her groin, raised it to her lips, and licked it lasciviously. “Hello, my pretty mousies,” she greeted the party. “Surprised to see me ahead of you? Well, I told you I was coming in after you. I didn’t say from which end.”

Anomen stood beside her. He was still wearing his red dragon armor. He raised the Hammer of Thunderbolts and bared his fangs at Buffy. “Your blood will be sweeter than your love juices,” he said. “I shall drink you dry.”

“Get used to disappointment,” Buffy said. She scanned the room and the opposition. It was a large chamber, dominated by a statue of a minotaur with the horns missing, and there was a door on each wall. Bodhi stood in the center of the room with Anomen to her right. To her left stood Tolgerias, who Buffy vaguely remembered having met when he was alive and a Cowled Wizard, with a nondescript fledgling vampire in the garb of a Shadow Thief beyond him. To Anomen’s right was Lassal, brandishing Lilarcor, and Tanova. Buffy had a vague feeling that someone was missing but she couldn’t pin it down.

There was no point in trying to run from Bodhi. It would just ensure that the slower members of the party were picked off first. No point in retreating back into the corridor and defending a narrow point, not when the vampires had all the spells; they might as well do this thing right here. Buffy waited for her friends to finish filing out into the room and spreading out into a fighting line. “Okay, elg’caress,” she said, using the drow term for ‘bitch’ in tribute to the fallen Viconia, “Bring it on.”

“Evil, meet my sword,” Minsc roared. “Sword, meet Evil.” Despite his words he was holding a longbow with a fire arrow nocked to the string.

“Yeah,” said Xander. He raised the Flame of the North. “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown.”

Bodhi laughed. “I’m gonna make you mine,” she sang. “Valen! Do it.”

- - - - -

No human could have detected the faint whisper of sound. Spike wasn’t human. He sidestepped and spun around all in one move. The stake aimed at the middle of his back missed by inches and carved a gouge along his side.

Valen, Bodhi’s little messenger girl. Lurking invisible until the moment came to strike. She was wearing Spike’s dragon-skin reinforced Armor of Deep Night. Spike snarled and smashed the Bone Club into her face. She reeled back against the wall. Spike followed up by slamming her head against the stone, seized her, and began to forcibly divest her of the armor.

Sorkatani closed with Tanova and slashed with her new katana. Lassal struck at her with Lilarcor.

“Hey, I don’t want to hit Sorkatani,” the intelligent sword protested. “She’s Minsc’s friend.” Lilarcor had no need to fear. Sorkatani parried with ease and riposted, driving her blade through Lassal’s chest, and then aimed another cut at Tanova. A Stoneskin prevented the katana blow from doing significant harm but the vampire hissed in frustration as the spell that she was casting was disrupted.

- - - - -

Giles’ mind was racing. There was no point in using the Crazy World of Arthur Brown song against the vampires. Bodhi had mentioned something like that earlier, she was clever, and she was bound to have taken precautions. The party’s stock of Fire Resistance rings and potions, taken from them by Irenicus, would be enough in themselves to give the vampires all the protection they would need. Even as he dismissed the idea Minsc’s fire arrow thudded into Tolgerias and went out immediately. All it achieved was to distract the vampire wizard for a moment and cause a spell to misfire.

Giles spent a second considering the idea of boosting Buffy’s powers with the song that would unite her with himself, Xander, and Willow. No, not a good idea. Without Willow’s magic the Union would be weakened, not all that much more powerful than Buffy on her own, and it would leave three members of the group helpless. But there might be something else that he could do along those lines…

Extraordinarily nice, she’s a killer,” he began. “Queen…

Bodhi snatched the Hammer of Thunderbolts from Anomen’s hand and threw it. The weapon hit the guitar, shattered it to matchwood, and continued on to smash into Giles chest. He was thrown backwards, bounced from the wall, and fell on his face. “Oh, I do hope he’s not dead,” Bodhi purred. “I wanted to bring him into the family.”

Buffy sprang at her and Bodhi leaped to meet the Slayer in mid-air. There was a flurry of blows too quick for a normal eye to follow and then Buffy fell to the ground. Blood was pouring from her nose and her left eye was swollen shut.

Bodhi landed lightly on her feet. “Don’t just stand there,” she said to Anomen. “Kill somebody.”

“You took my hammer,” he complained.

Bodhi rolled her eyes. “Use your fangs, you idiot.”

A crossbow bolt from Anya bounced from Anomen’s armor. He growled and charged at her. Xander intercepted him and hacked with the Flame of the North. Anomen blocked with his shield and struck back.

Jaheira ran at Bodhi, teeth bared, her spear aimed straight at the vampire’s heart. Bodhi caught the spear with both hands and stopped Jaheira’s rush dead. Bodhi wrenched hard, sending Jaheira stumbling away, and pulled the spear from the druid’s hands. Bodhi twirled the spear to reverse it and then threw it at Willow.

Willow was in the middle of reading a spell from a scroll when the spear hit her just below the ribs. It pierced her through the body and pinned her to the wall. She didn’t even cry out, just clutched at the spear shaft for a brief moment, and then her body went limp. She flopped forward, her arms hung slack at her sides, and her head lolled. Blood ran along the spear and dripped onto the floor.

Tara screamed. She dropped her improvised sling and tugged at the spear. “The ring!” she cried. “Who has the ring?”

Minsc bellowed in rage. “My witch!” He tossed aside his bow and drew sword. “Death! Death to you all!” He whirled the sword around his head and rushed at the nearest target, who happened to be Tolgerias.

Jaheira’s face contorted in an inhuman snarl. Her body twisted and changed shape. Where a half-elf girl had stood now there was a huge brown bear. She lunged at Bodhi.

“I must say this is rather exciting,” the vampire said. She spun on her heel and lashed out with a kick that caught the bear under the chin and lifted it bodily into the air. Jaheira hit the ground heavily, changed back into half-elf form, and lay still.

Buffy climbed to her feet. The fledgling vampire pounced upon her. Buffy punched him twice in the face and then drove a stake through his heart.

Spike pulled the Armor of Deep Night over Valen’s head and kicked her back into the middle of the room. “I’ve got the ring,” he called to Tara. He dropped the armor, sprinted over to the dreadfully injured Willow, and tugged out the spear to free her. Blood gushed from the wound and he winced. He lowered her gently into Tara’s arms, pulled the Ring of Gaxx from his finger and handed it to Tara, and then rushed back to the discarded Armor of Deep Night.

Sorkatani was holding her own against both Tanova and Lassal, successfully keeping Tanova from casting any spells, and parrying every blow that Lassal delivered. She seemed even faster and stronger than she had been in the previous battle at Bodhi’s lair.

Bodhi clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Do I have to do everything myself?” she complained. She streaked across the room and caught Sorkatani’s sword arm. “You are supposed to be fading away and dying,” Bodhi said. She wrenched hard, pulled the katana from Sorkatani’s fingers, and tossed it away. “Didn’t you read the script? Still, I can make it happen.” She punched Sorkatani and sent her staggering back into the middle of the room. “Oh, our little Imoen’s still alive too, I see. I’ll have to do something about that.”

Sorkatani’s form seemed to blur and shift. For an instant she had fangs, scales, and claws; but then, even before gasps of horror could escape from the lips of Dawn and Imoen, she transformed again.

Now she was dark of skin, as dark as Valygar, and naked but for a scrap of fur from some wild beast. White clay was daubed across her forehead and in a stripe across her nose and cheeks. Her hair hung in matted dreadlocks and a necklace of animal teeth was around her neck.

“Sineya,” Buffy whispered. “But how?”

Bodhi drew back slightly. “Interesting,” she remarked. “I don’t see quite what it’s intended to achieve, but it’s certainly making your death entertaining.” Her pause was only momentary and then she hurled herself towards Sorkatani again.

Sorkatani met her with a backhand blow that lifted Bodhi from her feet and tossed her back against the chamber wall. “I am destruction,” Sorkatani said. “Absolute and alone.” She rotated her hand and a stake appeared in it.

Valen rushed in with fangs bared. Sorkatani delivered a single stake thrust to the heart and Valen exploded into white mist. Sorkatani turned her head, her eyes locked upon a new target, and she lunged again.

Straight at Spike.


Tags: fic, tabula_avatar
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