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Tabula Avatar Chapter 51

Happy birthday to arclevel

It’s been a month and a half since I updated ‘Tabula Avatar’, due mainly to WriterCon UK, but here is the next chapter at last. 5,500 words, R, 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 Fifty-One

Spike raised the Armor of Deep Night as a shield against Sorkatani’s thrust. It almost worked. It kept the stake from penetrating his chest, and saved him from dusting, but the sheer power behind the blow slammed the dragon-hide into him and sent him reeling back until he crashed into the wall. Sorkatani was on him before he could recover. She kicked the armor from his hands and raised the stake again.

Dawn streaked across the room, making full use of the Boots of Speed, and grabbed at Sorkatani’s arm. “Stop!” Dawn shrieked. She was jerked from her feet as Sorkatani, or Sineya, brought her stake down with irresistible force.

- - - - -

Tolgerias saw Minsc charging towards him and quailed at the berserk fury in the barbarian’s eyes. Minsc shrugged off a Power Word Stun without even slowing down and Tolgerias had to leap away frantically to avoid the swinging greatsword. He aimed a wand and activated the device. Three ogres materialized in front of him and immediately raised their clubs to attack Minsc. He roared out his battle-cry and swung his sword. The blade bit deep into an ogre’s leg, cleaving the flesh and fracturing the femur, and the monstrous humanoid toppled. Minsc stepped over the crippled ogre and lashed out at Tolgerias once more.

- - - - -

Buffy decided that Tanova posed the greatest threat to the party and made for the vampire mage at top speed. Tanova pointed a finger and a ray of green light shone forth. It struck the Slayer and her clothes turned to dust. Shreds of cloth fell away from her back and the stake in her hand crumbled into powder. Buffy was left completely naked save for her boots, and unarmed, but otherwise unscathed. She kept on coming. Tanova’s eyes widened and she leaped backward and away.

Lassal moved to intercept Buffy and he swung Lilarcor at her head. She ducked under the blow, noticing as she did so that Lassal was wearing a pair of very familiar gauntlets, and kicked the vampire in the stomach. He staggered back several paces and collided with the base of the Minotaur statue. Buffy turned back towards Tanova, who had used the respite to surround herself with Mirror Images, and punched the nearest form. It disappeared. Another vanished as a crossbow bolt from Anya struck it. Buffy made for the next figure and kicked it out of existence.

- - - - -

Sorkatani’s stake touched Spike’s chest… and stopped. She turned her head and looked at Dawn. “Sister,” she said. “Yours?”

“Okay, totally creeping me out here,” Dawn said. “Uh, yeah. He’s, uh, like my brother.” Her eyes suddenly became huge circles. “Tani! Look out!”

Her warning was too late. Bodhi seized Sorkatani from behind. “You hurt me, you bitch,” Bodhi hissed. “It looks as if we missed some of your power. I’m taking it now.” She plunged her fangs into the side of Sorkatani’s neck.

Sorkatani reached up with her left hand, caught hold of Bodhi’s ear, and ripped it off. The vampire screamed and her mouth opened. Sorkatani punched her in the face and Bodhi flew back ten yards. She landed on her backside on the flagstones, mouth still wide open, and put a hand to the side of her face where blood was streaming down. “You’re stronger than I am,” Bodhi gasped out. “I don’t believe it!” She jumped to her feet, reached around to the small of her back, and drew a short sword. “I’m going to cut your fucking tits off and make you eat them, bitch.” She advanced towards Sorkatani with the sword poised to strike.

- - - - -

Spike thrust the Armor of Deep Night into Dawn’s hands. “Put this on, Niblet,” he urged her. “Keep you safe, yeah?” He raised the Bone Club and looked around. He doubted if Sorkatani, or the First Slayer or whatever the hell she was, needed his assistance. Minsc was getting the better of Tolgerias but taking a pounding from the summoned ogres in the process. Spike was about to go to his assistance when Imoen, taking an active part in the fight for the first time, used a scroll to cast a spell that struck both the unwounded ogres dead on the spot. Tolgerias, hit by the same magical rays, clapped his hands to his eyes and cried out. Minsc seized his opportunity and his sword bit deep into the vampire’s body. Spike decided that Minsc didn’t need any help and he scanned the rest of the room to assess the situation.

The fight between Xander and Anomen was relatively even. Anomen had a shield, and better armor, but Xander had a powerful magic sword and he was holding his own. Spike hesitated and then decided that he would be best employed in aiding Buffy. He raced to where the Hammer of Thunderbolts lay beside the unconscious Giles, snatched it up, and was just beginning to move toward the Slayer when events in the battle made him change his mind.

Under cover of the Mirror Images Tanova had drawn a Symbol of Fear. Buffy’s advance triggered the spell and a flash of light lit up the room. Buffy was unaffected, as was Spike, and Minsc’s frenzied berserker rage made him completely immune to the effects. Dawn was in the middle of donning the Armor of Deep Night and the enchanted leather shielded her eyes and protected her. Tara was so intensely focused on tending to the critically injured Willow that she was almost oblivious to her surroundings. Giles and Jaheira were still unconscious.

The others, deprived of the rings and amulets that would have helped them to resist the spell, succumbed to the magical terror. Imoen fled screaming from the room. Anya dropped her crossbow and followed. The Flame of the North fell from Xander’s hands and he turned to run. Anomen seized him from behind, pinned him in an iron grip, and buried his fangs in Xander’s throat. Spike saw his peril and raced to the rescue.

- - - - -

Sorkatani and Bodhi exchanged blows. Sorkatani crushed Bodhi’s cheekbone with a punch and followed up with a stake thrust. Bodhi used her sword to parry and connected with Sorkatani’s forearm. The blade was razor sharp and enhanced by powerful enchantments. It sliced deep into the flesh and grated on bone. Blood gushed from the wound and Sorkatani lost her grip on the stake. Bodhi struck out again, aiming at Sorkatani’s abdomen, and the Perfect Warrior evaded the blow by leaping away.

Bodhi bared her fangs and tensed to leap after her. At that moment Dawn stabbed her in the back. The blade, enchanted to only the most basic degree, pierced Bodhi’s leather armor but went only an inch into the flesh below. Bodhi yelped and spun around. She seized Dawn’s arm and twisted. “Little bitch,” Bodhi snarled. “I’m going to cut your fucking throat.” She drew back her sword and then slashed it across in a vicious killing stroke.

The blow didn’t land. Sorkatani had snatched up Malakar, the Dueling Steel, and then leaped back into the fight. She intercepted Bodhi’s blade and halted it three inches from Dawn’s neck. Bodhi hissed and brought her sword around to strike at Sorkatani. The Perfect Warrior parried that stroke too and riposted. Dawn wriggled free and scrambled away.

- - - - -

Tanova surrounded herself with a Fireshield just as Buffy punched the last of the Mirror Images into nothingness. Lassal re-entered the fray and raised Lilarcor above his head to strike.

“Dumbass!” Lilarcor scolded. “You don’t use a sword on a hot naked chick. You’re a vampire, dude. Hello, fangs?”

Lassal, who had no interest in naked chicks regardless of how hot they might be, ignored the sword and began to bring the weapon down. Buffy was too fast for him. She caught his wrist, kicked him between the legs, and wrenched Lilarcor from his hands. She reversed the sword and took hold of the hilt.

“Yay!” Lilarcor cried. “Go Buffy!”

The Slayer handled the heavy greatsword as if it was as light as a rapier. She slashed at Lassal’s right arm and sheared it off at the elbow. The forearm, wearing a Gauntlet of Ogre Power, fell to the ground. Lassal screamed and backed away.

“Oh, boy, blood and carnage and naked Buffy,” Lilarcor gloated. “It doesn’t get better than this.”

Lassal collided with the Minotaur statue. Buffy stabbed him through the chest, pinned him against the stone, and held him there with one hand while she used the other to tear the second Gauntlet from his remaining arm.

- - - - -

Steel clashed on steel as Bodhi and Sorkatani crossed swords again. As Bodhi drew back her sword Sorkatani’s blade flickered out and tore open Bodhi’s forearm. The short sword flew from her hand and skidded away across the flagstones. Sorkatani lashed out with an offensive strike aimed at Bodhi’s throat. The vampire back-pedaled to avoid the blow but wasn’t quite fast enough. The tip of the blade caught her just above the collar-bone and drew blood. Bodhi jumped back ten feet and bared her fangs as she cast a quick glance around the room to assess the situation.

She didn’t like what she saw. Spike had freed Xander and was battering Anomen with alternate blows from the Bone Club and the Hammer of Thunderbolts. Lassal was crippled and at Buffy’s mercy. Jaheira had recovered consciousness, picked herself up, and was retrieving her bloodstained spear from where Spike had cast it aside. Tolgerias was a bloody wreck, down on his knees in front of Minsc, and the ranger was raising his sword high to deliver a coup de grace.

“Tanova!” Bodhi yelled. “Get us the fuck out of here!” She back-pedaled away from Sorkatani, who was advancing remorselessly, and a hint of panic entered her voice. “Hurry!”

Tanova didn’t waste time in acknowledging the order and began to cast her teleportation spell without delay. She was still too late to save Tolgerias. Minsc smote the vampire wizard’s head from his shoulders seconds before the spell was complete.

Bodhi, Tanova, Anomen and the maimed Lassal vanished. Air rushed into the vacated spaces with a sound like a volley of pistol shots. The white mist that had been Tolgerias drifted away and slipped through the cracks around the door.

The fight was over.

- - - - -

Sorkatani raised her katana and scanned the room for opponents. There were none. She lowered the blade and stood still. Blood dripped onto the floor from her wounded arm. “Love is pain,” she said. “The Slayer forges strength from pain.”

“Tell me about it,” Buffy said. “Hey, you need to get that arm…” She broke off as she saw Sorkatani’s skin change color. The ebony skin of the First Slayer became Sorkatani’s familiar light bronze tone once more, the white clay daubed on her face disappeared, and the scrap of animal skin was replaced by the black breeches and red silk shirt that the Perfect Warrior had worn under her stolen armor. The right sleeve of the shirt immediately darkened as blood soaked through the material. “Hey, Tani, you’re back!”

Sorkatani blinked and shook her head. “What happened to me?” Blood began to trickle from her nose. “I was…” Her voice trailed off, she swayed, her eyes rolled up and she collapsed.

- - - - -

Warren drew in a long breath. He opened his hands and winced as he realized that he had been clenching his fists so tightly that his fingernails had dug into his palms. “Wow. Dudes, just wow.”

“Yeah, that fight was totally awesome,” Jonathan said. “But what was that thing with Sorkatani? She was supposed to turn into the Slayer.”

“I guess she did,” Warren said, “only, not the Slayer that’s the avatar of Bhaal. She was something to do with the Buffy kind of Slayer, I guess. Buffy seemed to recognize her. And, hey, that black chick with the face paint was way cooler than the reptile thing with the claws and the spikes.”

“You mean, like, she turned into some kind of manifestation of the Slayer power?”

“Yeah, dude, something like. Manifestation, yeah, that’s a good word for it. Or, hey, the Buffy from One Million Years BC.” Warren’s forehead creased. “I’d ask Joan about it but it’s all probably part of what she’s forgotten, so, not much point.”

“Rupert might have something in his Watcher diaries,” Jonathan suggested.

Warren shrugged. “It’s not that important. I guess if we just listen to them talking we’ll find out more.”

“Yeah,” said Jonathan. He glanced at his watch. “Except we have to go soon.”

Warren grimaced and looked at his own watch. “Crap. Should we pause it?” He frowned and answered his own question. “I guess they’re gonna be resting after that fight. They’re, like, totally wrecked. It’s not like we’ll be missing much apart from maybe some talking. Leave it running, dude.”

“What about saving?” Jonathan queried.

“Well, they made it through that fight,” Warren mused, “but it was a real close thing. If they had to do it over someone would probably get killed.”

“Willow came that close,” Jonathan agreed, holding up his hand with his thumb and forefinger almost touching. “Zero hit points, dude.”

“And bleeding so bad that even the Ring of Gaxx was only just keeping her stable,” Warren added. “She’s gonna be okay now, though, isn’t she?”

“If they can get some spells back, yeah,” Jonathan said. “Or, hey, the healing globe in that last room. They missed it on the way through.”

“I guess Bodhi kinda distracted them.” Warren stepped over to his own desk and picked up a little battery-powered razor. “Save the game, dude, and let’s go.” He returned to Jonathan’s computer and began to run the razor over his chin as he watched the screen.

The door opened and Andrew poked his head into the room. “Come on, guys, we have to go, like, right now,” he said. “Lawyers charge for their time, remember.”

Warren’s eyebrows rose. “Hey, look who’s being all punctual and responsible and shit,” he commented. “And, hey, you’re wearing a suit? Dude, this isn’t a court appearance. You don’t have to look good for a jury.”

“My mom insisted,” Andrew explained, as he descended the stairs and walked across the room to join the others in front of the computer. “I kinda thought you guys would dress up smart too.” He stared at the screen. “Hey, how come Buffy’s all bare naked?”

- - - - -

Buffy made a brief attempt to cover her nakedness with her arms and then realized that it was futile. The only person, or rather sentient being, who seemed to be paying any attention to her state of undress was Lilarcor. She could hardly hide herself from his gaze, or whatever a talking sword had instead of a gaze, when she was holding the sword in her hands. Even as the thought crossed her mind Lilarcor let out a long whistle.

“Not one word!” Buffy scolded. “Hey, Minsc, take your sword back.”

“Back where I belong,” Lilarcor sighed, as the giant ranger accepted the sword from Buffy. “Bye bye naked babe. Oh, well, I have to say it’s good to be away from those creepy frigging vampires. Uh, no offense, Spike.”

Spike glanced up from where he was trying to bind up the wound in Sorkatani’s arm. “None taken.” His gaze lingered on Buffy for only a couple of seconds before he returned to his task. “Was going to ask if anyone had any spare cloth but I suppose that’s a pretty stupid question in these circumstances. Bit short on clothes all round, aren’t we?”

Buffy reached down to her boots and fished out some strips of cloth. She had been wearing her breeches tucked into the boots and the dragon leather had shielded the hems from Tanova’s spell. “Would these be any use?” she offered. “If I had scissors, a needle, and some thread, and if I was any good at sewing, I could maybe make a thong. As none of those things are true then you might as well try them as bandages.”

“Ta, Slayer, I’ll see what I can do,” Spike said. His eyebrows quirked upwards briefly as he took the cloth. “See you’re a natural blonde after all, more or less. Wouldn’t have guessed.”

Buffy’s cheeks colored slightly. “I was wondering when you’d start with the snarky comments.”

“Yeah, well, a bit busy here,” Spike said. He turned his attention back to Sorkatani’s wound and said nothing further on the subject.

Buffy saw the Hammer of Thunderbolts lying on the floor nearby. She picked it up and swung it experimentally. “I’ll use this until I get my swords back,” she said. “Hey, Tara, how’s Willow doing?”

“She’s not getting any worse,” Tara replied, “but that’s all. The ring’s not enough. If only I had my spells.”

“And Giles?”

“He has at least one broken rib, I think,” Jaheira reported, “and there may be other damage. But he will live. This gaudy armor saved his life, I think.” She held out a hand towards Minsc. “You have the Ring of Regeneration, have you not, Minsc? I think that Giles’ need is greater than yours.” Minsc still bore some bruises from the ogres’ clubs but otherwise was in good shape.

“No, wait,” Buffy said. “What if we put both rings on Willow?”

“Not a bad idea,” Spike agreed. “That should get her sorted.”

“Once she has recovered we can give one to Giles,” Jaheira agreed. “The other to Sorkatani.”

“And I’ll rest up and get some proper healing spells back,” said Tara.

“No, we cannot rest,” Sorkatani put in. “We have slain several of the vampires, but they will reform in their coffins. We must press on, escape from this place, and catch them while they are at our mercy.”

Buffy bit her lip. “We’re not exactly in good shape for another fight but, hey, I guess they’re even more smashed up. Any idea how long they’ll be out of action? And how long it will take for the bald one to grow his hand back?”

“I do not know,” Sorkatani said, “but we must move quickly. Bodhi will return to destroy us once her minions have reformed.”

“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Let’s not give her the chance, guys. Any idea of how we get out of here?”

“The big double doors look like the exit,” Dawn reported, “but they won’t open. I’m guessing the statue operates them. The horns are missing and I bet that replacing them opens the door.”

“We found one horn,” Anya added. “The other has to be around here somewhere.”

“And there are two side doors that we haven’t checked out,” Dawn said. “Should we hit them now or wait until the wounded are on their feet?”

“I say we do it now.” Sorkatani stood up, flexed the fingers of her wounded arm, and nodded. “We cannot wait.”

“You sure you’re up to it, jabbress?” Spike asked.

“I have fought with worse wounds,” Sorkatani told him. “What say you, Buffy?”

“You’re right,” Buffy agreed. “Let’s do it now.”

- - - - -

Jaheira, Xander, Anya and Tara stayed behind to guard and care for the injured. The others followed Buffy and Sorkatani to the first of the side rooms.

A minotaur charged to the attack as soon as they opened the door. It raised a great axe to strike and then its gaze became locked on Buffy. The creature dropped its axe and grabbed for her with its huge hands.

Buffy kicked it between its legs. The minotaur bellowed and doubled up. Sorkatani brought down her katana in a two-handed strike to its neck and the horned head rolled on the floor.

“It wished to ravish you, I think,” Sorkatani observed. “They are lustful creatures and your nakedness blinded it to all else.”

“Yeah, well, so not gonna make a habit of taking off my clothes to fight minotaurs,” Buffy said, wrinkling up her nose. The monster’s arousal had been spectacularly evident. “Even if it works.”

A corridor led on to a chamber in which were another three minotaurs, all of whom were just as distracted by Buffy as had been the first, and a miniature Beholder or Gauth. Spike dealt with the Gauth, suffering some minor wounds in the process, while the girls and Minsc slew the minotaurs. They found a store of gold in the room, some more of the metal tokens for the vending machine that had provided the Boots of Speed, and a scroll of Chain Lightning. There was no sign of the missing horn for the statue and so they moved on.

The second room held four minotaurs. They lasted no longer than had those in the other room. Dawn slew one with a single blow.

“Wow, this is one cool sword,” she commented, as she wiped away the monster’s blood from the gleaming blade. It was the sword that Bodhi had used against Sorkatani. “Like, totally razor sharp.”

“I could have vouched for that,” Sorkatani said, a slight smile coming to her lips. “Your blow was well struck, dalninil.”

“Thanks, jabbress.” Dawn sheathed the sword and turned her attention to the large clay pot that was the only container in the room. “Let’s see what we have here. More of those token things, some arrows, a sack of gold, a scroll, and hey, we hit the jackpot! The second horn for the statue.”

“Great. Now we can get out of here,” Buffy said.

“May I see the scroll?” Imoen asked.

“Sure thing.” Dawn handed it to the mage. “Buffy, do you want to wear my shirt now the minotaurs are dead?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Like you couldn’t have offered ten minutes ago.”

Dawn shrugged. “The minotaurs wouldn’t have been so easy if I had. Or, hey, they might have tried hitting on me instead and that would just have been, eww, gross.”

“Can have my shirt if you like, Slayer, save the Bit from showing her bra to everybody,” Spike suggested.

“Thanks, Spike,” Buffy began. She was interrupted by an exclamation from Imoen.

“Heya, Sorkatani, we got something good here.” The girl held up the scroll and a hint of a smile appeared on her face.

Spike’s fingers froze on his shirt buttons and his head jerked around to face Imoen. “Raise Dead?” he asked.

Imoen’s forehead creased. It was obvious that she didn’t realize what lay behind Spike’s urgent query. “No, not Raise Dead,” she replied. “Limited Wish.”

Limited Wish?” Buffy echoed.

“It’s not as powerful as a full Wish,” Imoen explained. “No major changes to reality. If you ask for too much it can backfire on you. You have to be very careful about how you phrase things because it can be very literal.”

Buffy pursed her lips and nodded slowly. “Could be tricky, yeah, but we have an expert. Give the scroll to Anya.”

- - - - -

“So, how do we make the best use of this wish?” Buffy asked. “We could get our gear back, maybe? If I had Daystar, and you guys had your armor, and Xander had Carsomyr, and Giles had his other guitar, we’d be pretty well set up to do some serious ass-kicking.”

Anya tilted her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. “I can see a few ways that could go wrong,” she said. “It might work, but I think getting some spells back would be better.”

“Hey, yeah, we’d really be back in business then,” Buffy agreed.

“Only for one person,” Anya went on. “Trying for everybody might be pushing it too far.”

“So who do we pick?” Buffy wondered. “Willow for the firepower, Tara for the healing, or Jaheira for a mix of both?”

“Tara,” Spike stated. “She can do Raise Dead.”

Willow nodded agreement. “I’m good with that. Yeah, I’d like to get my spells back and show Irenicus a thing or two, but hey, Viconia is my friend too. Getting her back comes first.”

“I could raise her with Harper’s Call,” Jaheira said, “but that places an obligation upon the one raised to do a service for the Harpers. I doubt that Viconia would be happy with such a condition and, indeed, it could well anger her goddess. I have the Gauntlets of Ogre Strength now, thanks to Buffy’s quick thinking, and I can give a good account of myself with my spear. I agree with Spike that it should be Tara.”

“And Xander needs a Restoration spell,” Anya added. “Sorkatani too. Tara it is.”

“I took little harm from Bodhi’s bite,” Sorkatani said. “It seems that I shared Buffy’s immunities while I was in that strange form. Your other points are good, however, and I too feel that Tara should be our choice.”

Imoen frowned. “You’re all forgetting about me. I’m a mage too, remember.”

“You are not as powerful a mage as is Willow, Imoen,” Jaheira said bluntly, “and, even were that not the case, still would I vote for Tara. Viconia’s life must come before our revenge.”

“You could have spoken more kindly, Jaheira,” Sorkatani rebuked her friend. She turned to Imoen. “Her words were harsh but I must admit that they are true. We have been apart for a long time and there have been… changes.”

Imoen pouted. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll make do with scrolls. And the Monster Summoning wand the vampire wizard dropped.” Willow frowned briefly, and opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again without voicing any objection.

“How are you feeling, Giles?” Buffy asked.

“A little stiff and sore still,” he replied, “but I’m much improved. Another few minutes, perhaps, and I shall be fit for action.” He adjusted the position of his glasses and looked at Sorkatani. “Jaheira has told me of your remarkable, ah, transformation,” he said. “I believe that I can shed some light upon it.”

“It was disconcerting,” Sorkatani said. “I was not in control of myself. Tell me what you know, zra’ha, as you complete your healing and Anya prepares to cast the spell. And then we shall move on.”

- - - - -

“You have passed what tests I had to offer,” the apparition declared. “This session is now done. You are free.”

“About sodding time,” Spike grumbled. The doors had led, not to the main Spellhold complex, but to more chambers of fights and riddles. At last, however, they had reached the end of the maze.

“Showtime,” said Buffy. She hefted the Hammer of Thunderbolts and led the way past the ghostly wizard and up a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs a woman was sitting cross-legged on the floor. Buffy’s eyebrows rose. “Sime? What are you doing here? You were supposed to wait outside and report to Aran Linvail if we didn’t come out.”

“That was the plan,” the Shadow Thief agreed. “It didn’t work out.” Fangs gleamed in her mouth as she spoke.

“Oh, crap. You’re a vampire.” Buffy reached for a stake, remembered that she had no pockets, and raised the hammer instead.

“That’s right,” Sime said. “They got me. I couldn’t even fight back.”

“You were drugged, then, as were we,” Sorkatani put in.

“I believe so,” said Sime. “Irenicus commanded me to come and I had to obey. I even stood still for that bitch Valen and let her bite me.”

“I staked her,” Sorkatani informed the vampire.

“I felt it,” Sime said. “Whilst she is in her coffin I have free will. Bodhi ordered me to wait for you here and raise the alarm when you showed up. Fuck that. I’m still a Shadow Thief, undead or not, and I’ll do my best to follow Linvail’s orders.”

“So you’re still on our side?” Buffy chewed on her lower lip. Teaming up with a vampire against a mutual enemy would hardly be unprecedented, and she wasn’t against the idea in principle, but she was unsure how much she could trust Sime. That remark about having free will for as long as Valen was in her coffin was ominous.

Sime did not answer directly. “You can’t beat Irenicus,” she warned. “I have seen Willow in action, and I was impressed, but Irenicus is more powerful by far. A true Archmage, greater than any bar Halaster or Elminster.”

“Bodhi thought she was invincible,” Buffy pointed out. “We kicked her ass.” She twirled the Hammer of Thunderbolts. “I took out a god with a hammer like this. Irenicus is going down. Period.”

Sime shook her head. “I do not believe that you can prevail against Irenicus and Bodhi standing together. You would need an army to face them. Luckily there is such an army to be had.”

“You speak of the mages held captive in the Asylum,” Sorkatani guessed.

“I do,” Sime confirmed. “With their aid you should be able to overwhelm Irenicus. As long as the mages are not too crazed to function, of course.”

“Dradeel is my friend,” Sorkatani mused. “Tiax is evil and completely insane but I think that I can handle him. I do not know the others.”

“Avoid Irenicus until after you have freed them,” Sime counseled. “He is in the central chamber of this floor. Bodhi is with him.”

“Where’s Viconia?” Spike asked.

“She lies still where she fell, as far as I know,” Sime told him.

“Okay, Viconia first, and then our gear,” Buffy declared.

“Speaking of which,” Dawn put in from behind her, “you’re wearing my armor.”

Sime shrugged. “It is better than my own. I have your sword too, child, and Anya’s dagger.”

“You can keep the sword,” Dawn said. “I have a better one now. But I want my armor back.”

“And I want my dagger,” Anya chimed in.

Sime rose to her feet and drew the sword. “Sorry. You will have to take them from my corpse.”

“Huh?” Buffy’s eyebrows sought altitude as if they were World War One fighter pilots. “You’re going to fight us? I don’t get it.”

“If I let you pass, and Bodhi discovers this, my death will not be pleasant,” Sime explained. She put her left hand to her belt and pulled out the dagger. “This way none can know that I disobeyed her. If you stake my body, well, I shall have died as I have lived. A Shadow Thief to the end.”

“I shall tell Linvail of your loyalty,” Sorkatani promised.

“Thank you, my lady,” Sime said. She dropped into a fencer’s crouch. “Shall we fight, then? I can stand the hunger no longer.”

“Okay,” Buffy said. The hammer blurred through the air and struck Sime on the temple. The vampire toppled to the ground. “Hammer time!”

- - - - -

“I don’t see Carsomyr anywhere,” Xander complained, as he fastened up the buckles on his dragon-scale armor. “What would vampires want with a Holy Avenger? It’s not like they can use it.”

“It’s worth a great deal of money,” Anya pointed out.

“Or else they just don’t want it used against them,” Buffy suggested. “Daystar’s gone, too. And the Blade of Roses. Crap. I don’t see the Mace of Disruption anywhere either. Hey, it looks like they missed Azuredge.” She pulled the enchanted throwing axe out from under a backpack and handed it to Xander.

“And hey, I found the Staff of the Magi,” Willow announced, grinning widely. “I’m back in business. I was totally sure that Irenicus would have taken it.” She turned her back on the others, pulled Minsc’s tunic over her head, and then donned her own Robe of the Good Archmagi.

“His arrogance is a weakness,” Jaheira commented. “He feels that he is above such things, I think. But if he had given the staff to Tanova or Tolgerias then we would have died in the labyrinth.” She slipped an arm through the straps of her shield Saving Grace and picked up the Spear of the Unicorn. “I shall use this rather than the spear that we obtained in the maze,” she said. “It has less penetrative power but carries useful protective charms.”

Spike was taking no part in the scramble to retrieve their possessions. He knelt beside Viconia’s body, holding her cold hand in his, and stared intently at her face. “Bring her back, Tara,” he pleaded.

“Of course, Spike,” Tara promised. She knelt at the other side of Viconia, laid her head upon the corpse’s forehead, and raised her eyes heavenwards. For a moment a brief stab of doubt assailed her. Viconia was a priestess of Shar, the evil goddess of darkness and despair, who was very much the antithesis of Tara’s goddess Mielikki. Would Mielikki be willing to raise a follower of such a goddess from the dead? Viconia had mellowed considerably, and her allegiance to Shar seemed to be more in word than in deed these days, but it could not be ignored. Tara shook off the doubts. She concentrated, breathed slowly to clear her mind, and then recited the words of the Raise Dead prayer.

Nothing happened. Spike raised his gaze to meet Tara’s eyes, anguish evident in his expression, and then stared back down at Viconia. She lay still and silent with her heart still unbeating.

The Raise Dead spell had failed.


Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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