Happy birthday to itmustbetuesday and to debxena
The difference in time zones means that I can post on the right day for both of them even though their birthdays are a day apart. Cunning, right?
Here’s the next chapter of ‘Tabula Avatar’. 7,865 words. Includes nakedness and a sex scene! Although, typically for me, it’s not terribly graphic. Rating R. Previous chapters can be found HERE.
Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal didn’t get broken but instead fell into the hands of The Trio. They inserted the trapped memories into the computer game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’ and the Scoobies teamed up with the Bhaalspawn and her companions on a quest that took them into deadly peril. When we left our heroes Buffy and company were impersonating mercenaries in the drow city of Ust Natha; Warren was still in a coma…
“I didn’t know that red dragon armor gave you total protection from fire,” Buffy said. “Hey, I might not have turned it down if you’d told me.”
“It doesn’t,” Sorkatani admitted. “It gives partial protection only, just as we said at the time, but I took extra precautions. Priestesses always cast Flame Strike.”
“She didn’t when she fought me,” Buffy said. “Not that I gave her the chance, of course. So, what, you drank a Potion of Fire Resistance?”
“Close. I had Veldrin cast Protection From Fire on me,” Sorkatani revealed, “when Miss Bitch in Chain Mail was busy healing herself.”
“Yeah, that would work,” said Buffy.
“Silence!” Solaufein commanded. “I detect a disturbance on the Astral Plane.”
“As if thousands of voices…” Xander muttered under his breath.
“The devourers come. Be ready.” Solaufein set down the magical gadget and drew his swords.
Buffy took hold of her crossbow. “Okay, everybody, let’s do it. Go!” The entire party turned as one and rushed away to the north-west.
Solaufein was left standing alone to face the mind flayers.
The conversation of the mercenaries was an irritating distraction to Solaufein as he concentrated on performing the ritual. He attempted to shut their voices out of his mind but was not entirely successful.
The two leaders – a concept that was somewhat baffling, as surely one should be trying to kill the other to claim sole authority – were rehashing their fights in the tavern. What little he overheard was a sensible discussion of tactics rather than the vainglorious boasting that he would have expected from them. Presumably he had missed those parts of the conversation.
Slightly further away a mature male passed the time by performing upon a musical instrument. A surfacer instrument called a yarting, Solaufein thought, although he was not knowledgeable enough in the field to say for sure. The male seemed to be teaching a song to the priestess Veldrin. The song also seemed to originate from the surface lands, as it spoke of ‘shadows of the night’ and night was a surfacer concept, but Solaufein had to admit that it was a pleasant melody and both performers had good voices. At another time he would have been happy to listen. At the moment, however, it was a distraction that he could well do without.
The device that would disrupt the devourers’ astral travel was simple to operate but presumably fiendishly complex in its inner workings. A githyanki creation, Solaufein believed; they were an ingenious race, with unparalleled knowledge of the astral plane, although fanatical to the point of insanity. What price Matron Mother Ardulace had paid for it Solaufein could not guess.
Whatever the secret behind its operation, and whether it was directed by the words of the chant or by the shapes in the mind of the chanter, eventually it performed as Solaufein had been promised. It began to flash, a throbbing pulse of dull orange, warning of astral travelers in the vicinity.
“Silence,” Solaufein ordered the mercenaries, “I detect a disturbance on the Astral Plane.”
The two annoying leaders ceased their prattle, and the musicians ended their song, but the duergar slave spoke on. A cryptic comment, incomprehensible to Solaufein, and thankfully brief.
“The devourers come,” Solaufein warned them. “Be ready.” He drew his swords in anticipation of the combat to come. The mercenaries did not follow suit. Instead, upon a word of command from the insufferably arrogant one of their leaders, they turned and ran. Abandoning him to fight alone against impossible odds.
“Traitors! Cowards!” Solaufein spat out. The Nasadrans were taking their revenge on him for his scathing words in the most terrible of ways. Condemning him to certain death – or worse. If he was lucky the devourers, the illithids, would eat his brain. Becoming their helpless slave, his very mind in their grasp, would be infinitely worse. That fate was certain now for Phaere, their captive, who would be dragged into their dread city. Unless he could reach her before the devourers took him and grant her the gift of a quick death…
The air parted in a score of places and ghostly forms took shape and then solidified. Devourers, their umber hulk thralls, their captive Phaere, and another drow. The report that had stated that all her escorts had fled or been slaughtered had been inaccurate. Solaufein raised his swords for his final battle.
The closest of the devourers swiveled to face him. Its facial tentacles writhed and it raised its clawed hands. It blocked his path to Phaere and he would have to battle or avoid it. Solaufein felt a sudden sensation of crushing pressure inside his head and he fought to keep his will his own. A losing battle. He was frozen in place, helpless and immobile, as the tentacles reached for his skull.
“We don’t need no domination
We don’t need no thought control
No sharp tentacles in our brainpans,
Flayers, leave our minds alone,
Hey, flayers! Leave our minds alone!
All in all you’re just another prick going to fall
All in all you’re just another prick going to fall…”
The music was strange, alien, unlike anything that he had ever heard before, but effective. The pressure on Solaufein’s mind vanished. He could move again. He slashed with his left-hand sword and thrust with his right, driving the blade into the vile creature’s body, teaching the devourer anew the Lesson of Steel that the githyanki and githzerai had formulated millennia ago.
Even as that devourer slumped to the ground, weak flesh torn asunder by the hardness of steel and gushing forth its life blood, another devourer was reeling under the impact of a volley of crossbow bolts. Chain lightning crackled and sizzled in an arc between the bulky bodies of the umber hulks. Something even bigger and more solidly built than the massive insectoid burrowers, an earth elemental, heaved itself up from out of the cavern floor and struck at a devourer with fists of stone. A fire elemental joined it and incinerated an injured umber hulk. A skeleton warrior arose from the dust, hewed with a two-handed sword, and another devourer learned the Lesson of Steel as the blade clove through its skull.
Solaufein faltered in his charge. He looked around him with his eyes widening in amazement. The mercenaries had not fled the field, had not abandoned him to his death; they had made a tactical withdrawal to open the range. They were fighting with missiles and spells, out of reach of the devourers’ tentacles, and the magical music was shielding them from the mental blasts that were the only ranged weapons that the illithids possessed. They had the advantage, were exploiting it skillfully, and the devourers were dying.
He was going to live.
At least for the moment. The devourers were fully occupied with defending themselves against the elementals and undead, creatures that they could not control, and had no conventional way of striking at the mercenaries who were subjecting them to a barrage of bolts, arrows, and thrown axes. It did not take them long to think of an unconventional way. Two figures charged to the attack under their mental control. Phaere and her escort.
Solaufein plunged a sword through the chitinous belly-plates of an umber hulk, withdrew it smoothly as the beast went down, and turned to seek a new target. He saw the suicidal charge and gasped in horror. The mercenaries were thirty yards away, with a clear field of fire, and he expected to see Phaere shot down in self-defense. Matron Mother Ardulace would exact a terrible retribution upon everyone involved. Execution was the least of the penalties that he could expect to face.
The next volley of missiles was unleashed. The bolts whistled past the two drow and struck one of the remaining devourers. Phaere and her bodyguard charged on.
The song changed.
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear of psionic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time…”
The two drow slowed and stopped. The male bent over and clasped his head between his hands. Phaere turned around and bared her teeth. “Burn, vile devourer, in the name of Lolth,” she snarled. A Flame Strike seared down upon a devourer who was sheltering from the rain of missiles behind a stalagmite. The illithids, however, were even more resistant to magic than the drow. Even a priestess as powerful as Phaere had little better than a fifty-fifty chance of her magic breaking through. The flames fizzled out leaving the mind flayer unharmed.
The musician changed his tune once more.
“In the name of Lolth
Once more in the name of Lolth…”
A second pillar of flame struck home. This time the magic resistance failed. The illithid staggered out from behind the stalagmite, beating at its burning robes with its hands and thrashing its tentacles in agony, and three crossbow bolts and an axe hit it in the middle of the back. It spun around, crashed to the floor, and lay still. The axe wrenched itself from the fallen body and flew back to the hand of the duergar mercenary.
The battle was now coming to an end. The umber hulks had all been slain. The few surviving devourers were driven into the open and shot down or else perished under the blows of the elementals. The last of the illithids seemed to recognize the source of the force that was preventing it from escaping via the astral plane. It made a desperate attempt to reach, and destroy, the githyanki device. Solaufein blocked its path. He fended off its attempts to grapple with him and inflicted terrible wounds upon its arms. He was poised to deliver a finishing thrust when the skeleton warrior struck it from behind and knocked it to the ground. The earth elemental trampled the body into ruin and then melted back into the floor of the cavern.
Solaufein wiped the blood from his blades and slid them back into their scabbards. “Greetings, Phaere of House Despana,” he said. “I trust that you are uninjured?”
“No thanks to you,” Phaere replied. “This last-minute rescue was foolish.”
“I did as I was commanded,” Solaufein said, doing his best to keep his tone neutral.
“So you did, as any male must. I must have words with my mother about her choice of savior,” Phaere said. “How it must gall you to be compelled to come to my aid.”
“I would not have wanted you to become a prisoner of the devourers, Phaere,” Solaufein said.
“So you say.” Phaere turned to look at the mercenaries who were now approaching. “And who are these?”
“A contingent of mercenaries from Ched Nasad,” Solaufein explained.
“Oh? Were none of our own people adequate for the task?”
Solaufein felt Qilafae’s eyes upon him as he replied. “I know of none who could have been as effective,” he admitted.
“They certainly have… unconventional magics at their disposal,” Phaere said. She turned her attention to the mercenaries. “Which of you is the leader?”
“We are the leaders,” said Qilafae, indicating herself and the swordswoman. “Qilafae and Dynefryn of the Flickering Flame.”
“You seem to be adequately competent. Perhaps you may be of use to me in the future. I shall consult with my mother and speak with you later.” She swung back to face Solaufein. “My escort and I shall return to the city. See if you can salvage anything of value from the wreckage and then follow.”
“You are returning to the city alone?” Solaufein discounted the escort, a warrior of no great experience who had been given his position because of his obsequiousness rather than his combat skills. “That is foolishness! What if you stumble into some danger? I will not be held responsible.”
“Your concern is touching,” Phaere said, her upper lip curled in a sneer, “but demeaning. Do you forget that I am a High Priestess? I can handle any danger. Obey my command. You have no choice. Farewell.” She turned her back on him. “Follow, male worm,” she said to her escort, and walked away.
Solaufein clenched his fists tight and kept silent until Phaere was out of sight. “Blasted arrogant wench,” he growled then.
“Wench?” Dynefryn raised her eyebrows. “A strange way of describing a senior priestess.” She smiled. “I would certainly agree with the ‘arrogant’.”
“Yeah, she wasn’t exactly big with the gratitude,” Qilafae said. “It’s kind of a shame that we splatted that kuo-toa ambush party on the way here. It would have served her right if she had run into it.”
“And I would have been punished for my failure to protect her, regardless of it being at her orders,” said Solaufein. “I will follow her at a distance.”
“Yeah, do that. We’ll tidy up here,” Qilafae said. “The devourers don’t usually have any good stuff, but you never know. This hammer came from one of their hang-outs.”
“I did not know that you had experience in battling them beyond the one encounter that you mentioned,” Solaufein said.
“Well, we didn’t tell you, so why should you have known?” Qilafae’s voice softened. “I’m sorry we didn’t warn you about what we were going to do.”
“I was convinced that you were deserting me,” Solaufein admitted. “I felt that my doom was certain and that all that I could do was to sell my life dearly.”
“We don’t let down people who are depending on us, Solaufein,” Qilafae said, “even if they are being assholes.”
Solaufein frowned. “To be suspicious of mercenaries, and to question the competence of those who seem to be mere strutting undisciplined braggarts, is not being an ‘asshole’.”
Qilafae’s eyes turned cold. “And I was just thinking maybe you’d lightened up. Okay, be like that.” She turned on her heel and strode away towards the mangled body of one of the devourers.
Most of her comrades followed. One male lingered. A rogue from his armor, an assassin or a scout, and a skilled one for he was hard to see even at close quarters. He seemed to be one with the shadows.
“Made a right bleeding rothé’s ear of that, mate, didn’t you?” he said. “If you meant it as an apology, that is.”
“I misspoke, perhaps,” said Solaufein.
“Yeah, well, I noticed the ‘seem to be’ even if she didn’t,” the rogue said. “Little tip for next time. Just bloody well say ‘sorry’. She won’t take it as a sign of weakness. It’ll help you stay on her good side. And, take it from me, you don’t want to get on her bad side.”
“No doubt you are correct.” Solaufein looked along the trail to Ust Natha and saw that Phaere was almost out of sight. “I must go to ensure that Phaere returns safely to the city, lest I incur the wrath of the Matron Mother.”
“Yeah, you do that,” said the rogue. “’Fore you go, mate, question for you. Any vampires in Ust Natha?”
Solaufein squinted at the shadowy figure. Ah. That would explain how he was hard to see. His body temperature was hardly higher than that of his surroundings. “Apart from yourself?”
“Well, yeah, obviously,” said the vampire.
“Perhaps in the undercity,” Solaufein answered the question, “but none who are part of any of the Houses or the fighting societies. Some from the surface were guests of House Despana mere days ago but you have just missed them.”
“They are with our armies upon the surface,” Solaufein said. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering what the local vamps do for food around here,” the rogue said. “Don’t want to eat people if it will piss off the Matron Mothers.”
“You may feed upon slaves if you come to a satisfactory financial arrangement with their owners,” Solaufein told him. “Some captive elves from the battlefront are beginning to arrive in the city too. I would imagine that they could be obtained cheaply.”
The vampire frowned. “Like my meals to be able to fight back, mate. Eating some poor helpless bugger just isn’t the same.” He waved in the direction of the devourer corpses. “Pity those things taste like shit.”
“There is always the dueling arena,” Solaufein suggested, “or the missions that you are required to perform may provide suitable opportunities to feed.” He glanced along the path to the city. Phaere and her escort were long gone. “I must go.”
“Irenicus and Bodhi have gone,” Spike reported. “Up on the surface fighting the elves. We missed them.”
“I suspected as much,” said Sorkatani. “Let us hope that they did not talk of us while they were here. We have changed our appearance much but our dragon armor is distinctive.”
Giles nodded agreement. “And, unfortunately, it gives us too much of an edge for us to discard.”
“I would have done so if I had thought it necessary,” Sorkatani said.
“Yeah, like you did in the fighting pit,” said Buffy. “I still say that was showing off.”
“Had we possessed enough high quality drow armor to equip us all I might have insisted upon a change,” Sorkatani went on. “As we did not I felt that it was worth the risk. I do not believe that Irenicus would have talked about us to his new allies.”
“Well, if the local equivalent of a SWAT team busts through the doors and grab us while we’re taking our baths then we’ll know you’re wrong,” said Buffy. “Hey, I don’t think he’d say anything about us either.”
“To reveal that he has powerful enemies on his tail would lose him face,” Viconia confirmed.
“And it’s not like he would expect us to turn up here anyway,” Buffy said. “I think we’re safe.”
“Kinda weird definition of ‘safe’ you have there, Qilafae,” said Xander. “We’ve finished checking out the bodies. None of the flayers have anything worth jack.”
“Good,” said Buffy. “Let’s get back to the city. I want that bath.”
Buffy looked down at her naked body and her eyes widened. “I… Holy crap!” She put a hand to her groin and ran her fingers through her pubic hair. Or, rather, through what was left of it. A faint triangle of fine, downy, white hair. She hadn’t had that little since she was about twelve or thirteen. It looked as if she was growing out a recent Brazilian wax. “Who stole my bush?”
She raised her eyes and looked around her. Communal bathrooms were the standard in most of the inns of Faerûn and she had become accustomed to seeing her companions, or at least the female ones, naked at bath-time. She’d never paid any particular attention to their pubic hair, although she had been vaguely aware that Viconia and Jaheira were fairly sparsely endowed in that department, but the changes were dramatic enough to be obvious.
Dawn had no more than a slight fuzz like the skin of a peach. Sorkatani and Jaheira were almost as denuded. The other girls had the same faint triangle as Buffy; matching that of Viconia, who as a genuine drow was of course unaffected by the spell.
The girls were all looking at each other and down at themselves. “Uh, so, it’s not just the pointy ears,” Willow commented. “Now that’s thorough.”
“Perhaps it would be best not to speak of this at the present time,” Jaheira suggested, raising her eyebrows and jerking her head toward the door.
“It’s okay, this room is totally blocked against scrying,” Willow assured her. “Hey, I guess they’re real serious about not wanting anyone peeking on girls in the bath.” She picked up her Staff of the Magi, which she had propped up against the wall, and passed it from hand to hand. She remained visible. “There’s even a permanent Invisibility Purge on the room. We’re probably safer talking in here than even if we went right out of the city again.” She returned the staff to its position against the wall and stepped into a bathtub.
Buffy tested the water temperature, decided that it was satisfactory, and followed Willow’s example. “We could probably find better things to talk about than our, uh, hair.”
Anya sat down in her bathtub, slid languorously under the water, and then suddenly jerked upright again. Water cascaded down her breasts. “Xander! His penis will have changed too! It will be the size of a dwarf’s. How will he give me orgasms with a tiny penis?”
“Size doesn’t matter,” said Buffy.
Anya snorted. “That’s what men with small penises say. I don’t agree. Xander’s is the perfect size. When he’s human, that is.”
“Hey, you were okay with Spi-, uh, Urlzaqh suggesting that Adalon should turn Xander into a duergar,” Willow reminded her.
“That was because it meant I could still call him Xander, or at least Zander, and I wouldn’t have to worry about calling him by the wrong name,” Anya said. “I was a little surprised that he agreed. I suppose it’s because dwarfs are more, well, macho than elves.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” said Willow, “although I think he might have forgotten that the duergar are bald.”
“I’d forgotten about it myself,” Anya admitted, “but it doesn’t look too bad on him. Rather Yul Brynner, well, apart from him being four foot tall. But what about his penis?”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. She didn’t see the Yul Brynner resemblance at all and would have described the duergar Xander as being more like a scaled down cross between Minsc and Stone Cold Steve Austin. “I wouldn’t worry about it. I think dwarfs might be pretty much on the same scale as humans down there. Korgan’s groupies never seemed to have any complaints and some of them were human. Uh, actually they did have plenty of complaints, come to think, but about things like erratic personal hygiene and drunkenness. The size thing didn’t seem to be a problem.” She raised a leg out of the water and began to apply soap.
Anya nodded. “Yes, you might be right. The two halfling girls certainly seemed to be somewhat bandy-legged the next morning. I’ll just have to hope that Xander has the same effect on me.”
Buffy heard a snigger from behind her, recognized the voice as Dawn’s, and winced. She had briefly forgotten that her sister was there and had allowed the conversation to stray into areas that were way unsuitable in front of a fifteen-year-old; although stopping Anya talking about sex, once she got started, was pretty difficult and Buffy couldn’t think how she could have silenced Anya short of drowning her in the bath.
“To share a bed with a duergar slave is not normal behavior for a drow,” Viconia commented, “and I would have counseled against it earlier. Now, however, I think that you should be able to get away with it. None will voice criticism that could lead to being challenged to face Dynefryn or Qilafae in the dueling arena.”
“Good,” said Anya, as she lathered her arms, “because I’m not going to miss out on my orgasm quota.”
“We don’t usually allow slaves to stay here,” said the innkeeper. His gaze strayed to the hilt of Celestial Fury, on which Dynefryn was lightly resting her hand, and he swallowed hard. “On this occasion I’m prepared to make an exception in the interests of my head remaining attached to my neck.”
“Wise male,” said Dynefryn.
“The Lust Chambers are open for your use, of course,” the innkeeper continued. “I’m sure that you will have no trouble finding willing partners but if somehow you could not find ones that you regard as acceptable, or if your tastes run towards the non-consensual or the permanently damaging, there are some outcast drow from another city who are available on very reasonable terms.” He squinted at the two non-drow males. “They could service your slaves. An application of tentacle rods would overcome any unwillingness.”
The innkeeper smiled ingratiatingly at the potentially lethal guests. His smile evaporated as he realized that he was the focus of some extremely cold and hostile gazes. It seemed that he was mistaken in believing that the mercenaries regarded their slave warriors as only slightly inferior to drow.
Or perhaps not. One of the females put her hand on the arm of the duergar male in a fashion that he took to indicate possessiveness. “That won’t be necessary,” she said in icy tones. “Zander is mine.”
“And Tallin is ours,” added the one who seemed to be the senior mage in the mercenary band. Her hand went to the arm of the gigantic human slave in a duplicate of the other female’s gesture. “He doesn’t need anyone else.” A second later one of the Nasadran’s priestesses took hold of the human’s other arm in identical fashion.
“You are sleeping with slaves?” The innkeeper’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He saw the glares that were aimed at him, which made the mercenaries’ earlier looks seem warm and welcoming by comparison, and he gulped. “Which is entirely your business,” he added. “So, that’s one double room,” he paused and took another look at the two females holding on to the big human, “uh, one triple, and…?”
“Another double,” answered a male Nasadran, clad in black leather armor with a red trim. “’Long as that’s okay with you, Veldrin.”
“You know I wouldn’t want it any other way,” confirmed a mercenary priestess.
“A double room for us also,” said a Nasadran female who carried a long spear. A male of mature years, clad in a chain-mail jerkin that seemed to be of surface elf workmanship, stood at her side. The innkeeper presumed that he was the other half of the ‘us’ in question.
The two leaders, who had wreaked such carnage in the fighting pits, looked at each other. “Me and Dhaunae, you and Iimzyne?” suggested she of the mighty war hammer.
“Unless Iimzyne wishes to avail herself of the Lust Chambers,” answered the sword-wielder Dynefryn. “I do not approve but she is old enough to make her own decisions.”
“It’s okay, I’m not in the mood,” said a female whose hair was so badly cut that it might almost have been crudely hacked off with a dagger. “I think I’ve burned it out of my system. I’ll share with you.”
“So will that be five double rooms and a triple?” queried the innkeeper.
For some reason all of the Nasadrans turned to stare at the mage and priestess who were with the enormous human. “Uh, yes,” the priestess confirmed. “F-five doubles and a t-triple.”
Qilafae of the Iron Arm opened her eyes very wide, raised an eyebrow, and then turned back to the innkeeper. “Food first,” she said.
“Certainly,” the innkeeper said. “I shall get you menus. I recommend the rothé steaks with our special sauce.”
“A question, male,” said the priestess Veldrin, as the innkeeper was dishing out menus. “You mentioned captive drow from another city. Tell me, which city is that?”
“Not Ched Nasad,” the innkeeper assured her. “Another Northdark city called Menzoberranzan.”
“Oh? I know it well, although I have not been there for many years,” said Veldrin. “Perhaps I shall take a look at these captives. I may derive some amusement from their plight.”
The cage was a dome that rather reminded Spike of an aviary. The similarity was superficial and extended only to the outer shape. A closer look revealed that the bars bristled with a variety of spikes, from small ones like the thorns of a rose bush up to large ones like the fangs of a saber-toothed tiger, and the captives inside were of course drow rather than birds.
There was no furniture within the cage, no chairs to sit on or beds to lie in, only a bare stone floor and a few piles of rags that must serve as bedding. There were at least twenty drow inside, roughly evenly split between males and females, and all were adults or at least teenagers. They were a pretty miserable bunch in Spike’s opinion, skinny to the point of emaciation, and their clothing was tattered and filthy. Elves didn’t sweat as much as humans, and were usually much less evident to his nose, but he had no problem smelling these drow. They obviously didn’t get much access to washing facilities. Anyone who took up the innkeeper’s offer of the prisoners as sex slaves would, in Spike’s opinion, have to be sodding desperate or seriously strange.
Sympathy for strangers, and especially for those who belonged to groups that might be classed as enemies, wasn’t an emotion that was natural to Spike even now. He felt a slight revulsion at the conditions in which the prisoners were being kept but, apart from that, his reaction was mainly to hope that Sorkatani or Tara didn’t see them, get annoyed, and do something bloody stupid. He was taken completely by surprise when Viconia grabbed his bicep tightly and hissed into his ear.
“They must not see me. Investigate for me and meet me at our room.” She released his arm, turned, and walked briskly away.
Spike closed one eye and tilted his head to one side. He had no sodding idea what Vicky was up to, and he wasn’t even sure what she had meant by ‘investigate’, but he went along with her order anyway. He waited a moment to make sure that Vicky had removed herself from the vicinity and then swaggered up to the jailor.
“So, who are this lot then?” he enquired.
The jailor turned to look at him and raised her eyebrows slightly. Her hand moved a little closer to the short-sword at her hip. “I do not recognize your insignia. Who might you be, male?”
“Urlzaqh of Ched Nasad,” Spike told her. “A mercenary of the Flickering Flame Company hired by your House Despana.”
“Ah, yes,” the jailor said, “the Nasadrans.” Her hand moved away from her sword. “I heard of your leaders’ exploits downstairs. These captives are nobodies, mercenary. Outcasts who attempted to pass themselves off as members of a true House.”
“We were faithful servants of Lolth,” a captive protested from inside the cage. “Our House was strong. We should have been triumphant. Our fate could be yours!”
“Your House was weak,” the jailor sneered. “It has been wiped from history’s eye. As you shall be once the method of your passing is decided.”
“We were loyal. We could have given much to this city had you accepted us,” said the captive. “If there is nothing left for us but death then we shall face it without fear. House DeVir! House DeVir!”
Spike felt something inside him twist as the prisoners were reclassified in his mind. No longer strangers, who he could look upon without compassion, but Viconia’s family. A family that had cast her out, true, and they might be reclassified again after consultation with Vicky; he regarded Tara as family but he wouldn’t spit on her brother Donny if the git was on fire. For the time being, however, these drow were in the category of those for whom Spike felt sympathy and would aid if he could.
“House DeVir is nothing,” the jailor taunted. “Ashes on the wind, as you, too, shall be. You should have died with your Matron in your own city. Now… we shall see, and I shall doubtless find it most amusing.”
“Insolent bastard! This could just as easily be you, fools. Darkness take you both!” The prisoner turned away from the bars and sat down on a heap of rags.
“I take it that your curiosity is answered, male?” the jailor said to Spike. “Go away, then, and leave me to this tedious duty.” A chair stood near the cage door; she picked up a book that lay upon the seat and turned as if to sit down.
“Not yet,” said Spike. “Might have a use for those poor bastards, mightn’t I?” He had been fighting back an impulse to go into game face ever since the captive had mentioned the name of her House; now he stopped resisting and allowed the change to take place.
The jailor started and dropped her book. “Your pardon. I did not know.”
Spike grinned, displaying a mouthful of fangs, and reflected that it was nice to be somewhere that vampires got proper respect. “’S alright. Anyway, about these buggers. Was wondering what I was going to eat while I’m in Ust Natha. If House Despana sends me after drow, or duergar, or surfacers then I’m well sorted. Trouble is so far we’ve only had to fight devourers and those slimy bastards taste like shit. S’ppose there’s always the dueling arena, yeah, but that would mean having to find a string of people stupid enough to be up for a challenge.” He ran his tongue over his teeth. “These gits could be the answer to my problem.”
The jailor frowned. “That is possible. Certainly the Matron Mother of House Despana gave one of them to some visiting vampires recently. I cannot let you have them without her authority, however, as my orders are that they are to stay alive until the means of their death is decided upon.”
“Fair enough.” Spike frowned. “Not that they’d be much of a meal, state they’re in. Tell you what.” He fished a pouch of gold from his belt, weighed it in his hand, and passed it to the jailor. “Feed them up a bit. And, yeah, let them have soap and water for washing. Don’t want to have to hold my sodding nose when I’m draining them dry.”
The drow opened the pouch, tipped the coins out onto her hand, and nodded. “As you wish. This shall suffice to feed them for at least a tenday.”
“Yeah, right. Should have an answer one way or the other by then.” Spike cast one last glance over the captive drow. His sharp hearing picked up conversation that was not meant for his ears.
One of the prisoners, a teenage boy in human terms, was sobbing quietly and apparently trying to muffle the sound by pressing his face into the rag bedding.
“Hush!” a female commanded him in a harsh whisper. “You bring disgrace upon us. Do not show weakness in front of the Ust Nathans.”
“Forgive me,” the boy choked out in answer. “I will try to control myself but I am afraid of being devoured by the vampire.”
“Zarbalan went to his fate with commendable bravery for a male,” the female said. “You must do the same if it comes to it. Death at the fangs of a vampire is not the worst that could befall us.”
“I shall try to be strong, mother,” the boy answered, and he fell silent.
Spike didn’t let any reaction to what he had overheard show on his face. He grinned at the jailor once more. “I’ll be back,” he promised, and he turned and walked away.
Minsc looked at the huge bed and then turned to the girls. “There is only one bed,” he said. “I thought that there would be three.”
“Uh, I wasn’t sure,” Willow said, “but hey, a place with gladiator fights and Lust Chambers probably wasn’t going to be catering for families.” She glanced at Tara through lowered eyelashes. “It’s plenty big enough for three. We could, uh, keep our clothes on, I guess.”
Tara giggled. “Hey, that would spoil the fun,” she said. She sat down on the edge of the bed and began to remove her boots. She wobbled as she did so and had to snatch at the bed to stop herself from falling over.
“Just how much of that wine did you have anyway?” Willow wondered. They had shared a bottle of Morimatra as an accompaniment to their meal and the drow wine was potent stuff.
“The same as you,” Tara said. “I wouldn’t win any prizes for co-ordination even cold sober.” She tossed her boots down onto the floor and batted her eyelashes at Minsc. “Last one naked is a, uh, I can’t think of anything.”
“A person still wearing clothes,” supplied Minsc. He set Lilarcor’s scabbard down against the wall, unbuckled the straps holding the upper portion of the Doomplate in place, and pulled off the cuirass.
“Exactly,” Tara said, and giggled again.
“Well, if you’re sure you want to do this,” Willow said, “I’m okay with it.” She bit her lip, paused, and then pulled the Robe of the Good Archmagi over her head and threw it onto a chair. “How about you, uh, Tallin?”
“It is strange not being able to use our right names,” said Minsc, who was setting down parts of his armor beside where he had laid Lilarcor. “I am glad that the spell reminds us or I would forget.” He stood up straight, turned around, and his eyes fell on Willow. He swallowed hard. “Yes, it will be nice to share a bed with my two beautiful witches.”
Tara pulled off her robe. The girls had done some hasty shopping as they passed the market on their return to town, in case anyone noticed their surface-style clothes and asked awkward questions, and their purchases had included underwear. She was wearing a spider-silk camisole. Her fingers went to its fastenings and then she hesitated. “Uh, maybe I might keep this on after all.”
Willow guessed that Tara was losing her nerve and was torn between relief and disappointment. Tara looked delectable in the camisole, and Minsc looked pretty darn tasty too, but it would be a big step and, hey, what if it didn’t work out? “Yeah, me too,” she said. Her own garments, silk panties and the wrap of cloth that was the Faerûnian equivalent of a bra, were neither as pretty nor as appropriate for bed as Tara’s underwear but there was no way that Willow was going to be the only one to get naked.
Assuming that Minsc didn’t strip off all the way, that was, but he followed the girls’ example and stopped when he was down to his underwear. A pair of long shorts that went down almost to his knees. His chest, for which ‘mighty’ was the most descriptive adjective possible, was bare. Definitely eye candy material, and Willow took a good look while she could, but it was soon hidden as Minsc disappeared under the bedclothes.
Minsc occupied the center of the bed with Tara on his right and Willow on his left. Willow lowered the covers of the bedside light, a globe with Continual Light cast upon it, and they composed themselves for sleep. For a while small scuffling noises came from a little nest of rags that Minsc had made for Boo. Eventually the hamster fell silent and Willow closed her eyes. Actually going to sleep, next to Minsc and with Tara on the far side of him, wasn’t going to be easy.
“That was well done, my beloved,” Viconia said. She rested her head against Spike’s shoulder. “I am greatly pleased with your actions but I am in no mood for copulation tonight. I trust that you will understand, as you have done in the past, and content yourself with holding me only.”
“No problem, love,” said Spike. “What are we going to do about them? Don’t like the idea of leaving your relatives to rot but I can’t see any way of rescuing them.”
“My thoughts are the same,” Viconia told him. “It is… confusing to me. I was cast out by House DeVir, and I would have been executed had I not been saved by my brother, and I should not care what happens to them now. Yet care I do. I saw a cousin there, and an uncle, and one with whom I shared confidences when we were both in training as priestesses, and I felt sorrow and anger. I would rescue them if I could do so without putting us at risk.”
“Do we tell the boss ladies?” Spike wondered. “They’d want to spring the prisoners, bloody certain they would, but I was worried in case they went off half-cocked and did something bloody stupid.”
“Half-cocked?” Viconia frowned. “I do not understand.”
Spike remembered that the term had originated from the early days of firearms and sought for an alternative way of expressing his meaning. “Rushed into action without thinking it through,” he said.
“Dynefryn would not do that,” Viconia stated. “I do not believe that Qilafae would either. Perhaps coming upon the scene unprepared, as I did, but not if prepared in advance. We should consult with them. They may think of some plan.”
“Long as it’s not a cunning one,” said Spike. “I take it we can’t just buy your relatives as slaves, or as food for me like I kidded the jailor I wanted, and sneak them out of the city somehow?”
“It might be possible if we rise high in the favor of House Despana,” Viconia said. “Yet it is rare indeed for there to be drow slaves owned by individuals. If we bought them for you to eat that could only be one at a time. It would be difficult and dangerous to keep them alive and smuggle them out of the city one by one over several days. And what would happen to them then?” She sighed. “It is beyond me. Let us sleep on it for now.”
Willow rolled onto her side, facing Minsc, and she snuggled against him. He wasn’t asleep. His arm curled around her and pulled her to him. She put out her own arm and rested it on his chest. A wicked impulse struck her and she allowed her hand to drift down his body. She could always pretend that she was asleep and didn’t realize what she was doing. She reached the object of her interest. Rampant and erect, as she had expected; what she hadn’t expected was to find herself making contact with another female hand engaged in a similar exploration.
“Tara!” she exclaimed, the magic prompting her to call her lover by her drow name proving inadequate for this situation.
“Willow!” Tara was just as surprised. She giggled. “You’re being a naughty girl.”
“And so are you,” said Willow. She felt Minsc’s embracing arm move and his hand brushed against her breast.
“My beautiful witches are both being naughty,” Minsc said. “Your touching is making me think naughty thoughts too.”
So much for pretending to be asleep. Willow brought her leg over Minsc’s and caressed Tara’s leg with her foot. She continued to explore Minsc’s erection, her hand and Tara’s swapping positions as one went up and the other went down, and she brought her other arm up and put it around Minsc’s neck. She raised her head to kiss Minsc, almost bumped her nose against Tara’s as the other girl did the same thing, and she kissed Tara instead.
Suddenly all three of them were moving, pulling at clothes, stroking exposed flesh, probing, caressing, fondling, kissing. Willow pulled down Minsc’s shorts even as Minsc was stripping Tara of her camisole. Seconds later Tara was divesting Willow of her panties and Minsc was unwrapping her breasts. Clothes were thrown from the bed, no-one caring where they landed, and in a moment everyone was naked.
Willow felt Tara’s hand probing between her legs, Minsc’s mouth on her nipples, her own mouth seeking out Tara’s, and then Tara’s head suddenly dipping down to perform an action that Willow would never have imagined her carrying out. Minsc’s appreciative groan showed that Tara wasn’t making a bad job of it. Then Tara released Minsc and turned to Willow. Her lips and tongue worked their usual magic and Willow was almost melting as she squirmed around until she could take over from Tara and work her own oral magic upon Minsc.
The bed seemed to be full of limbs, mouths, and erogenous zones. It was chaotic, sometimes awkward, but they managed to make it work anyway. Half an hour after they started Willow was on her hands and knees, her face buried between Tara’s legs, rocking against her lover as Minsc thrust into her from behind. Tara’s fingers were tangled in Willow’s hair and her cries of pleasure were interspersed with giggles.
“If this… is decadence,” Tara gasped out, “I could get… used to it.”
“Hey, Minsc and Willow and Tara are all in bed together,” Andrew commented.
Jonathan looked up briefly but then grimaced. “Leave them to it, dude, I’m not in the mood. Anyway, like Warren said, it’s not the same now they’re people we know.”
“Nothing’s the same without Warren,” Andrew said. He switched off the monitor and joined Jonathan at the table. “I don’t know how we’re going to cope.”
“We have to try,” Jonathan said. “When he comes out of the, uh, coma we want to be able to tell him that everything’s going well. We can’t just let things slide. We have a contract to fulfill, dude. At least he’s already done most of the hard work.”
“Suppose he, well, never comes out of it?” Andrew’s lower lip trembled.
“He will,” Jonathan said. “He has to. Don’t even think anything else.”
“If only they had healing spells in this world like in Faerûn,” Andrew said. “A Restoration or a Heal would fix him right up.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know any equivalent in this world,” Jonathan said. “I’ll talk to Willow and Tara, maybe they might have some ideas, but I doubt it. We just have to wait for, like, natural healing.”
“I guess so,” said Andrew, “but it totally sucks. Why did that guy have to hit him with a chair anyway?”
“According to Alex,” Jonathan said, “the guy claims that he thought that Warren must have been ‘high on PCP’ to have put that big jock Frank down so easily.” He shook his head. “I guess what that really means is that he thought Warren was a vampire. At least he didn’t stake him.”
“I hope he goes to jail for a long time,” Andrew said,
“And has to share a cell with a weightlifter called Bubba who wants to be his special friend,” Jonathan agreed, a venomous note creeping into his voice. “But mostly I just want Warren back.”
“Me too,” said Andrew. “Hey, want some coffee?”
“Yeah, thanks,” said Jonathan, looking up from the technical manual that he was studying. His lips twitched upward in what could just barely have been classed as a smile. “So, Minsc and Willow and Tara are doing it, huh?”
“They are,” Andrew confirmed. “It was pretty dark but they were definitely all having fun.”
Jonathan’s hint of a smile became slightly more definite. “At least somebody is. It’s a long way from the original Baldur’s Gate game by now. I can just picture them if they had to redo the voice acting to cope with this kinda action.” He tried to deepen his voice and adopt an Eastern European accent to emulate Minsc. “Camaraderie, adventure, and girl on girl. The stuff of legend, right, Boo?”
Andrew managed a shaky grin as he completed the quote. “Squeak!”