Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

Tabula Avatar Chapter 52

I’ve been silent for a long time. Three weeks since I last posted anything at all. A month and a half since I last updated ‘Tabula Avatar’. Now, at long last, it’s back. This was a hard chapter to write. I struggled with it for ages, rewrote sections over and over again, but at last it clicked. 5,540 words, R, permanent 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-Two

Tara’s lip quivered. Her fingers seemed to be tying themselves into knots. “I’m s-s-so s-sorry,” she told Spike.

“Not your fault, abbil,” Spike replied. He didn’t look at her as she spoke. His eyes remained fixed on the dead body of Viconia as it lay on the floor. “Vedaust, ussta ‘che. Xal dos ragar gre’as’anto wun elghinn.”

“I, uh, m-maybe a full Resurrection might work,” Tara suggested. “I heard that elves don’t have quite the s-same connection to this world that humans do and sometimes Raise Dead isn’t enough. I can’t quite do that one, not yet, b-but the High Priest at one of the big temples could.”

“There was a Rod of Resurrection for sale at Barterman’s Adventurers’ Mart,” Sorkatani said. Her lip twisted. “I did not purchase it. The price was very high and, after all, we had three priests and a druid in our party, all capable of raising the dead. One of them could even perform Resurrection.” She shook her head slowly and the twist of her lips became more pronounced. “Viconia.”

“When we had Viconia raised at the temple near Beregost a simple Raise Dead sufficed,” Jaheira reminded her. “I think that there is no hope.” She sighed. “Sometimes they don’t come back. Sometimes some people, no matter how much you love them and no matter what you try to do, get… they get taken away.”

Giles laid his hand on her shoulder. He didn’t know how much comfort there would be in his grip but he wanted to do something. He felt the pain of Viconia’s loss keenly but he knew that it must be worse for Jaheira. And ten times worse for Spike. He searched for something to say, anything that could ease their sorrow, but he could think of nothing.

“Your gloating is premature, mongrel. You are not rid of me yet.” Viconia sat up and raised a sardonic eyebrow.

Jaheira’s jaw dropped. Buffy’s hand went to a stake by reflex. Tara’s mouth formed into a wide circle. A smile of incredulous joy spread over Spike’s face.

“Viconia! You scared the crap out of us,” Dawn exclaimed. “What was with the playing dead?”

“Playing? I was dead in truth, dalninil, had you not noticed?” Viconia turned her head to look at Spike. “No words of greeting, ussta ‘che? And why does Buffy wear your shirt? With nothing under it, if I am not mistaken.”

“Vicky! Bloody hell. Was pretty much struck dumb, love. Thought you were gone for good. Didn’t know there was a delay on Raise Dead. You weren’t breathing, your heart wasn’t beating – what the sodding hell happened?”

“One does not simply depart from the presence of one’s goddess without being dismissed,” Viconia said. “I came as soon as I could. Now, back to the matter of your shirt…” She held up a hand to ward off Spike as he moved to embrace her.

“The short answer is that Tanova disintegrated my clothes. I was butt naked until Spike helped out,” Buffy explained. “I picked up some pants later but I haven’t had time to change my top.”

“There was as much shirt-swapping going on as at the end of a Cup Final,” Spike commented, incomprehensibly to everyone but Giles. “Willow, Tara, Minsc – shame you missed it.”

“Indeed,” said Viconia. She lowered her hand and allowed Spike to take her in her arms. He kissed her, and she returned it for a moment, but then pulled away slightly to survey her surroundings.

“You were in the very presence of Shar herself?” Jaheira asked.

“I was,” Viconia confirmed.

“Tell us of it later, and we shall tell you our tale,” Sorkatani said. She had donned her dragon-scale armor and was occupied in stringing her Tuigan composite bow. “There is no time now. We must move quickly if we are to stake the vampires before we battle Irenicus.”

“You have not, then, defeated him?” Viconia frowned. “I assumed that you must have done so.” Her frown became a grimace and she extricated herself from Spike’s embrace. “I must bathe. At once.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time for that. Hey, we’re all filthy and most of us are covered in blood. Just grab your weapons and let’s go.”

“This is no mere matter of vanity,” Viconia insisted. “There is… a cause for discomfort that may hinder me in combat or distract me during spellcasting.”

Buffy decided that she didn’t want to know the details. “Tani, think we can spare two minutes? Okay, Viconia, you do what you have to, but hurry. There’s a washroom two doors down the hall.”

“Thank you, jabbress Buffy.” Viconia snatched up her pack. “Spike, seek out my weapons whilst I am gone.”

Spike obeyed, assisted by Jaheira and Dawn, and they soon located Viconia’s mace Mauler’s Arm. Her Flail of Ages was nowhere to be seen.

“It is a weapon of power and great value,” Jaheira said. “Anomen may have taken it in place of the Hammer of Thunderbolts.”

“Yeah, probably,” agreed Spike. “Could maybe find her a…” He broke off as someone entered the room. A bearded dwarf clad in the robes of a Cowled Wizard.

“What’s this? Why aren’t you in your cells with the rest of the whackos?” the newcomer demanded.

“We are not inmates here,” Sorkatani told him. “Is it not obvious by our armor? We came to seek a friend and were imprisoned by Irenicus. Who are you?”

“Lonk the Sane,” the dwarf declared. He drew himself up to his full height of some four foot three inches and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I am the Assistant Coordinator of the Residence for the Magically Deviant.”

“Ah, the very person we wanted to see,” said Giles.

“Oh?” Lonk glared at him. “And what would you be wanting?”

“We’d like you to release some of the, ah, inmates into our custody,” Giles informed him.

“What? Are you crazy?” Lonk’s eyebrows shot up. “Don’t you realize what those loonies will do if they get out?”

“We’re rather counting on them seeking revenge upon Irenicus, actually,” said Giles.

The dwarf snorted. “They might try. I’m not going to let it happen. Do not force me to oppose you. I am a wizard of no small power.”

“Hey, I thought dwarfs couldn’t be wizards,” Willow put in.

“I wasn’t a dwarf when I started in this job,” Lonk told her.

“Oh, a magical accident?” Giles raised a finger and adjusted his glasses. “There was a wizard in our world,” he related, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, “who was turned into an orangutan by one such accident. He found it rather handy, in fact, and refused to be turned back.”

“Oh? But he wouldn’t have been able to talk,” Lonk pointed out. “How could he cast spells?”

“He was the librarian at Unseen University,” Giles explained, “and the extremely long arms and prehensile feet were very useful for filing. Spell-casting wasn’t really required for the job.”

“Hah, yes, it wouldn’t be,” Lonk chuckled. “Quite amusing. I still think that being a dwarf is better. There are down sides, such as everyone expecting me to have a taste for strong dwarven ale and axes, but…” His forehead creased and he stared at Imoen. “You’re an inmate here, lassie. Back in the cells for you.”

“No!” Imoen protested. “You’re not going to put me back in that horrible place.”

“The ghosts of the former administrators declared that Imoen was to be discharged,” Sorkatani stated. “You cannot overrule them, Lonk.”

Lonk’s eyebrows rose. “She made it through the Maze? Amazing. No-one has made it through alive in all the time that I’ve been working here. Although, if she had all you lot with her, I suppose it’s not quite as astonishing.” He pursed his lips. “Very well, she stays free.”

“A wise decision,” said Giles. “Now, what about the other inmates?”

“I can’t let them go,” Lonk said, shaking his head. “I’m not going to go up against Irenicus.”

“You don’t have to,” Giles said. “Open the cells, turn off the wards, and leave this place. I really don’t think that he’d bother chasing you. He has his own agenda.”

“The Cowled Wizards won’t be best pleased with me either,” Lonk pointed out, “as I co-operated with Irenicus since he took over. They’d probably call it ‘collaboration’ and put me to death.”

“Do they know that you’re a dwarf?” Giles asked.

“Huh? What’s that got to do with anything? Maybe not,” Lonk said. “I don’t think Wanev ever reported my accident. It would have made him look bad.”

“There you are, then,” said Giles. “Take this bag of gold and disappear somewhere. Baldur’s Gate, or Tethyr, or wherever you like. Pass as a dwarf for a while. You’ll need to give yourself a suitable name, of course, Ironguts or Goldfinger or something, and make sure you roll your ‘Rs’ when you speak.”

“I’ve never noticed dwarfs walking like girls,” Lonk said.

Giles shook his head and raised his eyes to look at the ceiling. “The letter R. ‘Ah crrave a drrink o’ strrong dwarrven ale’, and all that. You’ll blend right in. The Cowled Wizards will never find you.”

“The alternative is fighting us,” Sorkatani reminded Lonk, “and that would be a fatal mistake. Take note of our dragon-skin armor. We slew two dragons to obtain it.”

“And we’ve just kicked Bodhi’s ass,” Buffy added.

“Oh, very well,” Lonk conceded. “I’ll let the loonies out. Don’t blame me if they turn on you.”

“A wise decision,” Giles said, and he handed Lonk the bag of gold. “Quickly, if you please. We have some vampires to stake before they rise.” A grin stole over his face and he strummed a mournful chord sequence on his guitar. “The lunatics,” he sang, in a dirge-like chant, “have taken over the asylum.”

- - - - -

Buffy held the stake poised over Sime’s chest and hesitated. “I feel kinda mean doing this,” she said. “She did her best to help us, even after she got turned, and paying her back like this doesn’t seem right.” She gritted her teeth and drove the stake home. “I guess it has to be done. She is a vampire, after all.” Her lips tightened as she thought of Anomen. He would have to be staked too. There could be no mercy on the grounds of their relationship. Angelus had taught her that in a lesson that had been all too bitter.

“Hope there was a ‘present company excepted’ in there, Slayer,” Spike said. He thrust his own stake into Valen’s heart.

“There was, Spike, don’t worry,” Buffy assured him. “You’re not like other vampires. I get that now.”

“Yeah, but way too late,” Dawn muttered under her breath.

Sorkatani brushed the dust of Tolgerias off her hands. “And now to deal with Bodhi. And Irenicus.”

“Do you think you’ll get your soul back when he’s dead?” Buffy asked.

Sorkatani shrugged. “I know not, but it is worth a try, I think. In truth I am not sorry to have the taint of Bhaal removed from me. The entity that has expanded to fill the gap, your First Slayer, seems to be entirely benign. Except, perhaps, for afflicting me with an odd feeling that I should either stake Spike or sleep with him.”

Dawn uttered a strangled snort. Buffy gave her a hard stare but was unable to interpret her sister’s expression.

Spike’s eyes became wide circles and his eyebrows climbed high. “Hope you don’t do anything about either one of those feelings, Tani. Not that sleeping with you would be a big hardship, you’re definitely a looker and a classy bit of talent, but having Vicky cut off my goolies afterwards would be a bit of a downer.”

Sorkatani grinned. “Worry not, Spike, these feelings are mild and easy to deal with. You need have no fear for your ‘goolies’, at least not on my account.”

“Glad to hear it,” Spike said, his eyebrows descending to a more normal position.

“Anyway,” Sorkatani continued, “Whether it is because of the First Slayer, or because of the song that Giles performed during the ritual, I feel no ill effects at all from the loss of my soul. If it wasn’t for Irenicus’ claim that I will fade and die without it I would think myself to have gained rather than lost.” She retrieved a ring and a necklace from the debris in the coffin, studied them for a second, and then slipped them into a pouch. “I suppose that I’d better try to get it back. Fading away and dying sounds, as you would put it, like the kind of fun that’s not.”

“It can ruin your whole day,” agreed Buffy. She frowned as a thought crossed her mind. Imoen too had lost her soul, and without any intervention by Giles, and there was no First Slayer connection to Imoen as far as Buffy knew. Might the soul loss have a more adverse effect upon Imoen than it had done on Sorkatani? An Angelus-style rampage didn’t seem terribly likely, Buffy thought, but the possibility of Imoen turning evil did exist. It was a problem for the future, however, and Xander’s ability to detect evil would give them warning if it came to it. She put the thought aside and led the way out of the room that had held the coffins. Ahead lay the laboratory chamber of Irenicus.

- - - - -

“Good Lord!” Giles’ eyebrows ascended above the rims of his glasses. “Remarkable.”

“Send in the clones,” Willow commented.

“Or doppelgangers,” said Anya.

Irenicus wasn’t relying only on his sister and her vampires to shield him from the attackers and give him time and space to cast his spells. A wave of minions charged towards the intruders, seemingly fanatically determined to protect their master, and most of them were exact duplicates of Buffy and her party.

“The likeness is mere illusion,” Sorkatani declared. She leaped to meet her own double and her katana came out and struck in one flashing move. The impostor died with her parry hardly begun. “See? They do not move like us.” She spun on her heel, lashed out again, and took off the head of a charging Spike.

The genuine article winced. “Bloody creepy,” he muttered, as his replica disintegrated into white mist. “Least they used a real vampire.” He saw another Sorkatani among the fakes, this one bare-breasted and ebony-skinned to emulate her appearance when possessed by the spirit of the First Slayer, and he would have chosen her as his own target had it been feasible. It seemed appropriate, somehow, as Sorkatani had slain the fake Spike. The woman was out of his reach, however, and instead he grappled with a phony Xander and plunged his fangs into the man’s neck.

Although each of the fakes was an exact duplicate of the real person the impostors did not replicate the party exactly. There was a Tara amongst them, whereas the real Tara had remained upstairs in a room firmly barricaded against intruders; after casting the Raise Dead and all her healing spells, and finishing off with a Restoration on Xander, she had been exhausted to the point where she could barely stand and would have been seriously at risk had she joined the others in the fight. There was no Viconia, as Irenicus must have thought them unable to resurrect her, and no Willow. Presumably Bodhi had reported her wound as mortal. The fake Dawn carried the correct weapon, a replica of Bodhi’s deadly sword Cutthroat, but wore Spike’s Armor of Deep Night whereas the real Dawn had retrieved her own armor from Sime. And the fake Buffy was fully dressed and wielded a two-handed sword.

Giles raised an eyebrow at his double. The man, presumably a former Shadow Thief bard, was playing an inspirational tune to give heart to his comrades. It was a generic folk melody and any magical effects that it was producing would have been minimal. “Not exactly a ‘Juke Box Hero’ moment,” Giles commented, and then he began to blast out The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The illusions were dispelled immediately. Suddenly the party were no longer fighting against themselves but merely faced a crowd of Shadow Thieves.

“That’s better,” Buffy muttered. The fake Dawn had been pressing her hard and Buffy hadn’t been able to bring herself to smite the face of her sister with the Hammer of Thunderbolts. She had no such compunctions about knocking a stranger twenty feet across the room and she did so at once. She rushed through the gap and joined Sorkatani in attacking Bodhi. Buffy saw the Blade of Roses gleaming in the vampire’s hand and she resolved to retrieve it. If she could inflict massive amounts of pain on Bodhi in the process, hey, bonus.

The former Asylum inmates had paid little heed to the hand-to-hand fighting. Their attention was concentrated solely on Irenicus. As soon as they had a clear view of him they opened up with a barrage of spells.

“Tiax rules all! The day has come when Tiax shall point and click and his foes shall be deleted!” A ray of light shot from the gnome’s fingers and struck Irenicus.

“Huh?” Willow stopped in her tracks and stared at the gnome. Where on Faerûn had he come across that concept? Had he picked it up from her mind? Unlikely, as computers had hardly been at the forefront of her thoughts recently. Was there someone else from 21st-century Earth here? She put the thought aside. The middle of a battle was no time for distractions.

Not that Willow had been able to do much so far other than use her staff to fend off an attack from a fake Anya. Without any spells other than those contained within the Staff of the Magi her offensive power was seriously restricted. There was a way in which she could ‘reload’, through the staff’s Spell Trap ability, but she needed someone to throw some spells at her first. Irenicus was at the center of a magical maelstrom already, and he probably wouldn’t even notice if Willow joined in, but Tanova was not yet engaged.

“Hey, Tanova,” Willow called, trying to channel Cordy, “are you hiding a hare-lip under that veil?”

Tanova’s head swiveled to face Willow. “Your words are as ugly as your scrawny body, worm,” Tanova hissed. “Have a hare-lip yourself.” She crushed a caterpillar cocoon between her fingers and spat out a mystic phrase.

Willow grimaced and wrinkled up her nose. This was entirely unrelated to Tanova’s spell, which had been absorbed by the Spell Trap with no ill effects whatsoever, but was because she had just spotted the fake Tara being bludgeoned to death by Viconia. The resemblance was superficial, now that Giles had spoiled the illusion, but it was still upsetting to witness.

“Polymorph Other? You tried to turn me into a bunny?” Willow sneered, recovering her composure. “How lame is that? I thought you were supposed to be a mage, not a hedge witch.”

Tanova’s response was Chain Lightning. It should have struck Willow and gone on to leap across the party, inflicting pain and injury on all of them, but instead it hit Willow and fizzled out.

“Is that all you got?” Willow raised an eyebrow at Tanova. “Bored now.”

A Lower Resistance followed immediately by a Disintegrate was the response. Willow grinned to herself; she could feel her ‘power meter’ rising rapidly.

“So, you are shielded,” Tanova snarled. “I shall do this the old-fashioned way.” She raised a hand to her veil and removed it to expose a mouth with full red lips that were most definitely not marred by any disfigurement. She bared her fangs. “I shall drink your blood and make you my slave for all eternity.”

“Tanova, you stupid vain bitch, ignore the witch and help me,” Bodhi snapped. She was holding her own against a joint assault from Buffy and Sorkatani but only barely. Her superior strength and speed didn’t give her enough of an edge to cope with both of them at once.

Lassal, who had lost an arm to Buffy during the fight in the labyrinth, was being overmatched by Minsc. Anomen was wielding the Flail of Ages, as Jaheira had predicted, but he was not proficient in the use of the powerful but tricky weapon and was as much of a hazard to his allies as to his enemies. At that moment Imoen used the Wand of Monster Summoning to conjure five gnoll warriors behind the enemy line and the Shadow Thief minions broke and scattered. Tanova turned away from Willow and raised her hands.

“Now, zra’ha,” Viconia called to Giles. He nodded and swapped smoothly from one chord progression to another.

“Here comes the sun,” Giles sang. Simultaneously Viconia chanted the words of a False Dawn spell. “Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right…”

The red glow of a rising sun filled the room. It was a formidable spell against the undead in its own right but reinforced by Giles’ song it was devastating. Bodhi screamed in agony as her skin blistered and she only avoided a decapitating strike from Sorkatani by a whisker. The injured Lassal caught fire and turned to smoke. Anomen staggered back, dropping the Flail of Ages, and covered his eyes with his hands. A fledgling vampire in the crowd of minions disintegrated. Tanova vanished. For a second Willow thought that she had been destroyed but then she saw the vampire mage still standing, ten yards away from her previous position, cowering back from the sunlight. Tanova must have been using Simulacrum or Project Image to present a false target to retaliatory spells or missiles.

That cover was destroyed now and Willow considered using one of her recovered spells to finish off the injured Tanova. She decided against it. She was still way short of full capacity and she would need everything she had for Irenicus. She couldn’t help feeling a degree of grudging respect for the evil Archmage. Had she been the target of a magical assault even half as intense as the one that Irenicus had been subjected to then she knew that there would have been nothing left of her but a greasy spot on the floor; and yet Irenicus seemed almost unaffected.

“Damn you all!” Irenicus snapped. “Why do I waste time fighting for this place when my revenge lies elsewhere? Flee, sister. I shall hold them back whilst you make your escape.”

Bodhi lost no time in following his suggestion. She spun around and raced away. Buffy lashed out with her hammer at the fleeing vampire and struck Bodhi on the elbow. The Blade of Roses flew from Bodhi’s hand and clattered across the floor. Bodhi didn’t pause to retrieve it. She streaked for the door furthest from the attackers, Tanova and Anomen racing at her heels, and Irenicus threw up a wall of fire to deter Buffy and the others from following. The few remaining Shadow Thief minions fought furiously to cover the retreat, their fanatical loyalty to their mistress indicating to Willow that they were Charmed or Dominated; and they died to the last man.

“Bad dog, running away,” shouted Dradeel the elven mage. He dispelled the flaming barrier and opened the way for the two Slayers to pursue.

“Bah! You frustrate me for the last time,” Irenicus spat out. Shimmering streaks of light shot from his hands and struck Dradeel, Tiax, Wanev, and three other freed inmates. All six died instantly, their bodies tearing apart as if their bones had exploded within them, and they collapsed in ruin on the floor.

“Dradeel!” Sorkatani cried, horrorstruck. “No!” She forgot Bodhi and turned to Irenicus. “You shall suffer for that, murderer.”

Irenicus waved his hands and was instantly shrouded in the deadly brown vapors of Abi-Dazim’s Horrid Wilting. “You shall do nothing, former godling,” he sneered, “other than fade into nothingness.” Sorkatani retreated, coughing, from the acrid gas cloud. Buffy hefted the Hammer of Thunderbolts for a throw but held back from releasing the weapon. Her view of the wizard was obscured and she didn’t want to risk losing the hammer, as Bodhi had done, unless she could be sure of achieving something in the process. A sling bullet from Jaheira bounced harmlessly from the wizard.

Willow sucked in air and clenched her fists. “Irenicus,” she addressed him, her voice shaking at first but steadying as she summoned up her resolve, “I owe you… pain.” She brought up her hands and unleashed a stream of crackling energy blasts. The same spell that had inflicted agony upon Glory a year ago.

The sneer was wiped from Irenicus’ face. He swayed on his feet and grunted in pain. “How did you do that? My wards…” He glared at Willow. She gulped and hoped that the Spell Trap would be enough to protect her from his inevitable retaliation. “I have no time for this,” Irenicus went on, to Willow’s momentary relief. “Enjoy your petty triumph while it lasts. Yoshimo!”

A swirling white circle appeared inside the brown cloud. Within it there appeared a familiar figure. Eight warriors in studded leather armor, each one wielding a pair of short swords, materialized behind him. “What is your will, master?” Yoshimo asked. His tone was flat and devoid of inflection.

“Kill them,” Irenicus ordered. A smile like the rictus on the face of a corpse flickered across his face. “They have proved annoyingly persistent. I don’t want them getting under my feet as I complete my revenge. Once Sorkatani is dead then your service to me is at an end.”

“Master, no!” Yoshimo pleaded.

“Do it,” Irenicus commanded. He snapped his fingers and disappeared. The cloud from the Horrid Wilting spell dissipated with his departure.

Yoshimo’s face was set in grim lines as he advanced with Celestial Fury in his hand. The assassins spread out and followed him. Several of them gulped down potions of invisibility as they walked and they vanished from view. Viconia chanted an Invisibility Purge and frustrated their plan of attack.

“Evil, meet my sword,” Minsc roared, and he sprang forward. Within seconds swords were clashing once more across the width of the room.

“Don’t do this, Yoshimo,” Sorkatani pleaded. Her face was contorted in anguish. “I thought you cared for me. Don’t make me kill you.”

“I have no choice, jabbress,” Yoshimo told her. “The decision was made long before we met. It cannot be changed.”

“That’s crazy talk,” Buffy said. Her gaze remained fixed on Yoshimo as she lashed out sideways with the Hammer of Thunderbolts and shattered the rib-cage of one of the assassins. “You’re choosing Mr. Leather Fetish Mage over Tani? What kind of hold does he have over you anyway?”

“A geas,” Yoshimo explained.

“A geas? Oh, crap,” said Anya. “That explains it.”

“Not to me,” said Buffy.

“I must obey Irenicus or I die,” Yoshimo elaborated. “Slowly, agonizingly, and without hope of resurrection. I agreed to the contract on those terms and I am caught without hope of escape. Until Sorkatani dies.” He grimaced. “I am too slow in obeying and the pain strikes already. Defend yourself, jabbress.”

He glided forward and struck with Celestial Fury. He was fast, he was skillful, and the enchanted katana could deliver paralyzing shocks even if an opponent successfully blocked a strike. However he faced the Perfect Warrior. She side-stepped and deflected the blow with her new katana Malakar, merely touching Celestial Fury’s blade enough to guide it past her body, and the shocking effect was not activated. Her left hand lashed up and across. The back of her fist hit Yoshimo on the chin and his head rocked back. She struck again, this time with the heel of her hand, and fractured his collar-bone. Yoshimo’s right arm went limp. He released the katana’s hilt with that hand and used it left-handed.

Sorkatani went in close, inside the arc of his next blow, and caught Yoshimo’s arm. She dropped Malakar and brought her right hand across to complete an arm-lock. She twisted hard. Yoshimo gasped in pain as his elbow was dislocated and one of the bones of his forearm snapped. Celestial Fury fell to the ground.

“It’s over, Yoshi,” Sorkatani said. Indeed it was. The eight assassins all lay dead. One of them had managed to inflict a nasty cut along Jaheira’s arm before dying on her spear. Another had slightly wounded Xander. The rest had failed even to draw blood before falling.

Yoshimo sank down to a sitting position and cradled his shattered left arm with his injured right. He looked up at Sorkatani. “It cannot be over while we both live. I am sorry. More sorry than I can ever say.”

“You told me that you loved me,” Sorkatani said. “Was that a lie?”

Yoshimo shook his head. “No lie. I love you, Sorkatani, but I am weak. I could not face a lingering death for your sake. I courted quick death many times but always I was spared. In the end I hoped only that Irenicus would release me once his aims were achieved. Perhaps, I told myself, he would release you too. He was interested only in that part of you that was the Child of Bhaal. Not in the woman who had captured my heart.”

“And you thought that I would forgive your betrayal?” Sorkatani’s expression was unreadable.

“You forgave Galvarey,” Yoshimo pointed out. “If you did not forgive, and cast me out or slew me, then it would be no more than I deserved. It was a slender hope on which to cling but it was all I had.”

“But why did you agree to such a geas?” Sorkatani almost wailed. “Before you even met me? Why?”

“I knew only that you were a Bhaalspawn,” Yoshimo said. “And one other thing. That you had caused the death of Tamoko. My sister.”

“Your… sister?” Sorkatani stared into Yoshimo’s eyes. “I… can see the resemblance. But she… I did not kill her. I would have been her friend had things gone differently.”

“If I had known then,” Yoshimo said, “I would never have signed up in the service of Irenicus. But I did, and I doomed myself. Now all that is left is for you to finish it. Kill me.”

“No! I will not kill you,” Sorkatani said.

“We could kill him and then raise him,” Anya suggested.

“It would not help,” Yoshimo said. “The geas would still be in effect. I must die permanently.”

“Or I must die,” said Sorkatani. “You would be free then.”

“No!” Imoen interjected. “Just kill him, Sorkatani, and let’s get out of here.”

“I’m good with that,” said Anya.

“Kill me, jabbress,” Yoshimo said. “Take my heart to a temple of Ilmater. Perhaps the Crying God might grant me solace in death.”

“Wait!” Viconia commanded. “Yoshimo, jabar iblith, there may be a better option. You are lost in darkness and despair, are you not?”

“As I have been for a long time,” Yoshimo confirmed. “Since the day that Galvarey poisoned Sorkatani and I realized that I loved her.”

“Commend your soul to Shar,” Viconia recommended. “The Dark Goddess will welcome you. You have followed her precepts even without acknowledging her. There is a place for you in the Palace of Loss. I promise you that.” Her lips curved into an approximation of a smile. “I was speaking to her only half an hour ago.”

“Darkness, despair, loss, and unrevealed secrets,” Yoshimo mused. “Appropriate indeed. I sense that you seek an advantage for yourself in this,” he went on. “Yet who am I to criticize you?” He started to shrug his shoulders and gasped in agony as he caused his broken collar-bone to move. “Very well, Viconia, I shall do as you suggest. I acknowledge Shar, the Nightsinger, Lady of Loss, as my patron deity. Take my soul when I die, oh Mistress of the Night.”

“Can we kill him now?” Lilarcor chirped. “Can we?”

“Yes, kill me now,” Yoshimo said. “You have to. If you don’t then I have to come after you as soon as I can use my arms. I have no choice.”

“I can’t kill you,” Sorkatani sobbed. Tears were trickling down her cheeks. “Oh, Yoshi, how could you?”

“I always told you that I was unworthy of you,” Yoshimo reminded her. “Make it quick and clean, jabbress. Slay me with Celestial Fury. That way I can hold my head up high as I die. Until it falls off.” His eyes met those of Spike. “Gallows humor, I think you call it.”

“Yeah, right,” Spike grunted. He turned his head to look at Sorkatani. “If you can’t do it then let me, jabbress. That okay with you, Yoshi?”

“You would be an acceptable substitute as my executioner,” Yoshimo agreed. “You have been a worthy comrade, Spike. It was an honor to fight alongside you. Farewell.”

“And you,” Spike said. “What about it, Tani?”

Sorkatani dried her eyes and picked up Celestial Fury. “No,” she said. “I shall do what I must.” She brought the blade up to striking position. “Goodbye, Yoshi, ussta ‘che,” she bade him. “Close your eyes.”


Glossary of Drow Phrases

• ‘dalninil’ = ‘sister’
• ‘Vedaust, ussta ‘che. Xal dos ragar gre’as’anto wun elghinn’ = ‘Farewell, my beloved. May you find peace in death.’
• ‘ussta ‘che’ = ‘my beloved’
• ‘jabar iblith’ = ‘treacherous excrement’.

Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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