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Tabula Avatar Chapter 61

Here is the next chapter of ‘Tabula Avatar’. I really must make some more icons; this chapter is fairly Buffy-centric and I don't have a TA Buffy icon. 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. They are disguised as drow (except for Minsc, who is still human, and Xander, who is disguised as a duergar or dark dwarf) and have all adopted aliases. It should be easy enough to see who the aliases refer to but, just in case of confusion, I’ve provided a glossary of the aliases as a footnote. At the very end is a link to a video of the song that Giles performs in this chapter.

8,725 words. Rating R (at least).

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Sixty-one

“You… stood and watched him die.” Buffy’s voice was deceptively quiet. A cold light seemed to flicker in her eyes. Suddenly she moved, shoving Talabrae backward and against a market stall, bending her over and slamming her down onto the trestle table. “You didn’t even lift a fucking finger to help him? Or Evelintra? What kind of a fucking friend are you?”

Talabrae’s guards hastened to help their Matron Mother. Spike went into game face and barred their path. He drew his saber Namarra and extended it at throat level. “Just stay out of it,” he snarled. Minsc, one hand on the hilt of Lilarcor, moved to place his intimidating bulk at Spike’s side. The guards halted.

The stall-holder, whose goods had been scattered, called out angrily and raised a hand as if to act. Willow brandished her staff. Something in her expression seemed to carry the threat of life as a blind, probably neotenous, cave amphibian. The stall-holder swallowed hard and back-pedaled.

“Qilafae, this isn’t helping,” Tara said gently. She put her hand on Buffy’s arm. “You don’t think she feels bad enough already? Save it for Ardulace.”

“I could not oppose our goddess,” Talabrae choked out. Tears were spilling from her eyes.

“Your goddess is a piece of shit,” Viconia spat out. “She cares nothing for the drow save as pawns.”

Twenty yards away a priestess, who had the spider emblem of Lolth tattooed across her face, turned away from a clothes stall and glared at Viconia. “Blasphemer!” she hissed, stalking towards the group with her face contorted in fury. “I shall have you flayed alive in front…”

Celestial Fury flashed. The priestess reeled back, her fingers clutching at her throat, blood welling out between them. Her mouth moved soundlessly. One of the House De’Vir drow seized her, dragged her to the rail at the edge of the market-place, and pushed her over to plummet into the depths.

Sorkatani flicked blood from her blade and returned it to its scabbard. “This is private,” she announced. “I’ll kill anyone who interferes.” The hubbub of the bazaar faded away and the nearby merchants and shoppers stood still.

Your goddess?” Talabrae turned her head, causing the tracks of her tears to change direction, and stared at Viconia. “You also follow Eilistraee?”

Viconia’s lip curled. “Hardly. When I rejected Lolth because of her callousness and stupidly pointless sadism I was forced to flee Menzoberranzan. I turned to Shar, the Lady of Loss, Mistress of the Night.”

“Oh, dear lord, there goes our cover,” Giles muttered.

“Menzoberranzan?” Talabrae’s gaze swept the group. “Then you are not what you claim to be.”

“The real Flickering Flame guys are dead,” Buffy admitted. “We came here chasing the wizard and the vampires who teamed up with Ardulace to start the war. They’re long gone but we’re gonna kill Ardulace before we go after them.” She slackened her grip and allowed Talabrae to rise. “Are you with us or against us?”

“To kill Ardulace for what she has done is my dearest wish,” Talabrae said, “but she is the Matron Mother of the ranking House and has the backing of the Handmaidens of Lolth. To go against her is treason and blasphemy.”

“Oh? I thought you agreed that her war is just going to get a lot of your people killed without gaining much of anything,” Anya pointed out. “Stopping her isn’t treason against Ust Natha. Quite the reverse.”

Tara handed Talabrae a piece of clean cloth. Talabrae looked at it blankly for a moment and then used it to wipe her eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “I… how can I oppose the Temple of Lolth?”

Buffy shrugged. The blazing anger in her eyes had subsided. “We’re going to,” she said. “Tag along and help us out. You owe it to your friend and, hey, maybe it’ll help you with the whole, uh…”

“Self-loathing,” Tara suggested.

“Yeah, the whole self-loathing thing,” Buffy said.

“I…” Talabrae bit her lip.

“A goddess who makes her people do things so against their nature is no worthy goddess,” Viconia said. Tara and Jaheira nodded agreement. “Reject the bitch Spider Queen. Shar would welcome you at your present rank. Or take up the worship of Eilistraee, in memory of and reparation for Evelintra, although I cannot speak with authority on how you would be received in that case.”

“I risk being cast out by my House,” Talabrae said.

“You would be able to live with yourself again,” Tara said. “Isn’t that worth it?”

“I know not if I could abide by the principles of Eilistraee,” Talabrae mused. “I am not merciful by nature. Yet Shar… does she not deal with loss by causing the bereaved to forget their departed?”

“No longer,” Viconia stated. “I still treasure the memory of my brother Valas, who laid down his life for me, and my friend Dynaheir who was slain by the wizard we pursue. My Lady wishes her worshippers to find solace. If that can be in other ways than forgetting this is acceptable in her sight.” Viconia glanced aside at Jaheira, who had raised her eyebrows in surprise, and explained. “I received a new Revelation at the time of my death. Shar wishes to… reposition herself. Talabrae would be a welcome convert without need to change her moral code.” She turned back to Talabrae. “You must, however, take vengeance. That is still required.”

“The desire for vengeance is not a problem,” Talabrae said. Her gaze swung to the distant Temple of Lolth, where light glinted on the points of many spears in the hands of the Temple guards, and a muscle jumped in her jaw. “Achieving it may be. Yet I will try. Very well. I renounce Lolth, and all her works, and accept Shar as my patron deity.”

“Apostate!” one of the House Godendar guards spat out. “You will bring doom upon us!”

“Ungrateful wretch!” the other addressed his colleague with equal venom. “Matron Mother Talabrae has ruled our House better than any before her, giving us both prosperity and justice, and has raised us from Seventh to Fourth in the City. I will follow her regardless.”

The first speaker frowned. “You will? But all of us, and our families, will be imperiled by this. House Despana and the Handmaidens will destroy us.”

“They can’t destroy you,” Spike pointed out, his eyes gleaming yellow and his fangs bared, “if they’re dead.”

- - - - -

“Twenty-nine converts in thirty-six hours, including two of full High Priestess rank,” Shar said. “A magnificent achievement. In my position your former comrades, those who came to Toril from another world, would doubtless celebrate with a gesture that involves raising one hand each and clapping them together.”

“A ‘High Five’, as they call it,” Yoshimo confirmed. “Indeed so, Lady.”

Shar was in her form as the Dark Dancer, seven feet tall, twisting and turning in perpetual motion. She raised a hand briefly, palm towards Yoshimo, and then lowered it before he could decide if she genuinely was inviting him to join her in a ‘High Five’. “Perhaps not,” she said. “Yet it deserves some celebration, for it is a feat unparalleled. Even The Dancer Before Dawn has never performed any comparable service.” She read puzzlement in Yoshimo’s eyes. “Irtemara, my highest ranking priestess, who heads my church in Calimshan. She is old, and her subordinates maneuver for influence, for they expect to inherit the leadership of the priesthood when she dies.” Her lips twitched into something resembling a smile. “They shall be disappointed.”

“You are going to appoint Viconia?” It was an easy deduction for Yoshimo to make. “Forgive me, Lady, but I was under the impression that you were going to release her from your service.”

“I have so promised,” Shar confirmed, “and I shall do so, if it comes to it, but I am hoping that she will choose to stay. I granted her request in the belief that silken threads will be more effective than manacles of steel in fastening her to me. It is strange,” Shar went on. “She disobeys many of my precepts, sometimes she questions her faith, and yet her worship carries a vitality that puts all others to shame. She makes me feel more… alive than I have done in three million years. I do not want to lose that power. Nay, rather would I strengthen her faltering devotion.”

“She is… morally conflicted,” Yoshimo ventured.

“I am aware of that,” said Shar. “I intend to resolve that conflict by amending the Dogmas of Shar. In so doing I shall strengthen the fervor of her worship. If that means that I must make some changes to my precepts, well, so be it. The revisions will attract more worshippers, as Viconia has already shown, and by the decree of Ao that will increase my own power. There is already schism in my Church, as recently a faction arose that believes I want them to be more ruthless, and one that proclaims the opposite will balance things nicely.” She slowed the pace of her perpetual dance. “That is, of course, assuming that she and her new recruits survive the next few hours. The odds that they face seem insuperable.”

“They are in peril?” Yoshimo gritted his teeth. “Can you not protect them?”

Shar laughed. It started out almost as a croak, conveying an impression of something unused for countless ages and covered by the dust of millennia, but grew warmer and more genuine as it went on. She chopped the laugh off short. “Your concern is for Sorkatani, is it not?”

“Not for her alone,” Yoshimo replied. “All of them are my friends. I desire that they all survive and get their revenge upon Irenicus and Bodhi.”

“An admirable desire,” Shar said, “and one of which I approve, but I cannot intervene directly. They must depend upon their own, admittedly considerable, ingenuity. We shall see in due course how they fare. Now, however, I must give you further instructions for your mission. I have not yet been able to arrange for you to meet with the servitors of my sister, no doubt because of her mistrust of me, and so I have decided to add a further task to be carried out first. It should not be arduous. Indeed, you might even find it pleasant, for you will meet one of the most beautiful female beings in all of the Planes.”

“None can compare to you, Lady,” Yoshimo said, bowing his head, and then he allowed himself a trace of a grin and added “except Sorkatani.”

Shar bared her teeth. At first her expression resembled the rictus upon the face of a shrunken corpse, hideous and frightening, but then her lips softened and it became recognizable as an answering grin. Her eyes even seemed to twinkle with genuine humor. “Of course. This lady, however, wears less clothing. You shall see.”

- - - - -

“Ardulace has sent three hundred of her followers to the army on the surface. That leaves House Despana with perhaps five hundred armed retainers. There are a hundred guards at the Temple,” Talabrae told them, “and fifty priestesses.”

“Forty of us, against six hundred and fifty,” Buffy said, frowning. “Not good. How many guys do you have?”

“My House is smaller than Despana,” Talabrae said, “but I prevaricated, and found excuses, and was able to get away with sending only thirty to the army. That left me with four hundred retainers at my command. Alas, I fear that I might not be able to count on all of them in the circumstances. You saw that even one of my personal bodyguards wavered. I think,” she paused and her lips moved silently, “there are at most two hundred that I could trust to stand by us. Some of Evelintra’s House fled to me after her arrest. That gives us another fifty, all absolutely trustworthy.” She bit her lip. “If they do not hear and believe the lie that it was I who betrayed Evelintra, that is.”

“It’s a help, I guess, but, hey, still not loving the odds,” Buffy said. “What about, what’s her name, Chaldiira? She’s your friend too, and Evelintra’s. Could her House help out?”

Talabrae pursed her lips. “She is vulnerable whilst she is with child. I do not believe she would risk aiding us. The situation is even worse than you have stated,” she went on, “for House Auvrindar will rush to attack us as soon as we move. They hate you, and seek vengeance, and they fear that I plan to usurp their position as Third House in the city.” Her lips formed into a tight and mirthless smile. “Quite correctly.”

“If we march openly against the Temple most of the populace will attack us,” Viconia said. “Thousands of them, from all sides, and we would be crushed. Vyll’ae, can you transport us? Iimzyne?”

“Not this many,” Willow replied. “I could manage just us, I guess, but then we’d have to fight, like, a hundred guards by ourselves. I never saw the inside of the Temple anyway. I could take us to the outside but we’d still have to get through the doors.”

“I guess we’re going to have to do it the hard way,” Buffy said. “Zander, what do you think? Can we do it?”

Xander shook his head. “I don’t know, Qil. The walkways are the only way to approach the place. If we just march straight on in there we’re gonna get involved in a straight slugging match. With them having the numbers… we’ll get creamed.”

“Walkways,” Giles muttered. “Walkways. Constitution of the walkways…”

“The Male Fighters’ Society,” Buffy suggested. “Solaufein is… was… pretty damn popular. They have to be hurting.” A mirthless smile came to her lips. “Not the way I am, but still... You think they might be up for some revenge?”

“You harbor false hopes, Qilafae,” Talabrae replied. “It... it was…” Her control faltered and tears appeared in her eyes once more. She swallowed hard, clenched her jaw, and wiped away the tears. “His own men stabbed him in the back,” she revealed in an icy tone. “Some fought with him, and died with him, but others betrayed him. Their admiration was not enough to inspire them to oppose their goddess.”

“The gates are locked,” Giles said to himself, “and we’re in a market square. Hmm. No factory chimneys, of course, but there are stalagmites. ‘Anti-Christ’ doesn’t mean anything here, but the radio edit version… hmm. We have several battle priests…”

“We’d better come up with something fast,” Buffy said. “I’m guessing that this demon Ardulace is summoning is in a whole different league to the ones that have been donating to Vyll’ae’s squishy heart collection.”

“A Lord of Demons,” Talabrae said. “A minor god in all but name.”

“Damn,” Buffy said. “I’m picturing Glory, only twenty feet tall and with horns and a tail. Not fun. We have to move now.”

“I think I may have something to tip the odds in our favor,” Giles said. “Yes. It should work. I’ll need a drum. One that can be played whilst marching.”

Anya scuttled to a nearby stall. Most of the goods on display were toys, many rather gruesome as they were intended for drow children; a miniature torture rack for dolls, My Little Drider, My First Tentacle Rod, and the like. A few of the items were ornaments and curiosities for adults. A snare drum sat amongst them. It was slightly smaller than a normal drum, even allowing for the size difference between drow and humans, and so Anya wasn’t sure which category it fell into. She doubted if it would matter to Giles. “How much?” she asked, pointing to the drum.

The merchant narrowed his eyes. Anya’s eyes narrowed in return; she suspected that she was going to be ripped off.

“Two silver coins,” the stall-holder said, “and I’ll throw in a couple of drumsticks.”

“That’s… surprisingly reasonable,” Anya said. “I’ll take it.” She handed over the coins.

“Confidentially,” the merchant whispered, as he gave her the drum, “I’m a follower of Vhaeraun. Down with Lolth! And down with Ardulace, who executed my good friend Merinid. Although what your bard hopes to achieve against the Temple, and all of House Despana, with just a drum is beyond me.”

- - - - -

“For the Order!” A knight shouted a war cry in a voice tinged with despair. He lashed out with his sword and drove it into the chest of a mailed orc warrior. Before he could withdraw the blade an ogre struck him from behind with a spiked club. The knight fell, unconscious or dead, and the ogre lumbered toward another knight. A dozen orc spearmen, some bleeding from minor wounds, were being marshaled into a tight phalanx by a chieftain who wore a helm decorated with a human scalp. A knight who tried to disrupt the group before they could form up was wounded by an arrow and then driven back by a minotaur wielding a great two-handed axe.

Bodhi crouched behind a bush and sized up the situation. Eight knights and a female mage fought a mob of fifty or so ogres, orcs, and minotaurs. The bodies of ten knights, a dozen horses, and about forty humanoids lay shattered and broken on the moonlit field. “I love the smell of blood in the evening,” she remarked. “Sythillisians, I think, versus paladins. I wonder… are they the Order of the Silver Chalice or the Radiant Heart? What think you, Anomen?”

“The Radiant Heart, my Lady,” Anomen replied. “I recognize Sir Darnell, wielding his sword bravely and skillfully, and the lady mage Janthoreen, and, yes, Brendur Tarmyrin who is still to take his Test. I know him well.”

“That implies that we’ve crossed the border into Amn. Good.” Bodhi half-closed her eyes, touched her tongue to her top lip, and smiled. “I have an idea. Let’s play Good for a change and rescue the knights. Ogres are so, well, smelly.”

Anomen nodded. “Of course, my Lady. In truth I still feel the urge to help my former comrades, even now that I am a vampire, and it did not sit well upon me that we would merely watch them die.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t just watch,” Bodhi said. “Take off your veil, Tanova, and then take out that spear schiltron. They’d be a threat even to us in that formation.” She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head. “Nobody show fangs until I say so. Zarbalan, don your hood. If they recognize you as Drow before they realize that we’re helping them it will ruin everything.”

Zarbalan frowned, and the set of his lips showed that he was unhappy with Bodhi’s decision, but he obeyed her order.

“The paladins’ mage must be out of Fireballs,” Tanova assessed, “but I’m not. Or I could Cloudkill them?

“Normally I’d say Cloudkill,” Bodhi mused, “but our ignoring the gas might look odd to the paladins and tip them off that something’s amiss. Burn them.” She saw a knight go down under a hail of blows and she came to her feet. “Do it now!”

- - - - -

Giles frowned at Spike. “Are you sure you know this one? I wouldn’t have thought they were, ah, quite your style.”

“’Course I know it, Watcher,” Spike assured him, rolling his eyes. He adjusted the drum on the cord that suspended it from his neck and beat out a brief experimental roll. “Bloody good song it was. They went bloody soft later, with soppy shite like ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Lavender’, but they did decent stuff when they started out. I can do the drum beat, no problem.” He grinned. “You going to put on face paints?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, thank you, Urlzaqh.” Giles turned to Viconia. “I shall need you to summon some zombies.”

Viconia raised her eyebrows. “Of course, mentor. Now?”

“In a minute or two,” Giles told her. “I’ll tell you when. Summon them around me, but they have to stand still when I start to walk forward. They can advance later.”

“I am puzzled, but I take it that it will become clear later,” Viconia said. “I have considered the words that you wish me to sing, or rather to chant, and I think that they would be better said by Talabrae.”

“Hmm.” Giles sucked in his lips. “You have a point, I suppose, but there is a slight element of risk there. Still, it shouldn’t affect us…”

“Don’t take too long thinking,” Buffy said. “Time’s passing. She’ll be starting the ritual before long.”

“Very well. Talabrae it is then.” Giles went to the Matron Mother and told her what he wanted her to do.

“‘I am your battle priest’… yes, I can do this, if you give me a clear signal to show when I am to begin,” Talabrae said. She screwed up her eyes. “You really think that your song can overcome the odds against us?”

“I have helped him to conjure up an army of a thousand men,” Viconia told her. “Do not underestimate Gelfein and the mighty power of Rock and Roll.”

- - - - -

Bodhi caught the axe in mid stroke, wrenched it from the minotaur’s hands, and whirled it in a deadly arc to cleave an ogre’s skull. The minotaur stared in astonishment, growled, and lowered its head to butt. Bodhi released the axe, caught the minotaur by the horns, and wrenched. There was a crunch of breaking bone and she thrust the beast’s limp corpse aside.

“For the Order!” Anomen shouted out the Radiant Heart battle-cry from sheer force of habit as he bludgeoned a somewhat charred orc chieftain to the ground.

Tanova unleashed a bolt of Chain Lightning that slew most of those orcs that had survived her Fireball. A one-eyed orc warpriest emerged unscathed, protected by some spell or talisman, and raised a bone wand to retaliate. Zarbalan raced forward and thrust his rapier into the orc priest’s chest.

“Anomen Delryn, by all that is holy!” the young Squire Brendur shouted out. “You come in the nick of time.” He drove home a shrewd thrust into the flank of a distracted ogre but then was attacked by a minotaur. He took its axe blow on his shield but the massive axe blade pierced the shield and bit deep into his arm. Anomen joined his wounded former comrade and they stood shoulder to shoulder against the axe-wielding beast. A powerful blow from Anomen’s mace drove the minotaur back and Anomen took a moment to cast a Cure spell on Brendur’s injury. His more powerful spells were lost to him, now that he was Undead, but the lesser ones remained.

Bodhi snatched up a sword that lay beside a fallen knight. “Hmm, nice,” she said, testing the balance. She spun on her heel and decapitated a charging ogre. “Keen edge, too. I think I might keep this one.”

“That is Sir Krivalek’s blade,” Sir Darnell said, his tone reproachful, but then he was forced to turn his attention to a pair of ogres that were heading for Janthoreen the mage. He intercepted one, wounding it and forcing it to turn aside to battle the knight, but the other one maintained its course and struck out at Janthoreen.

The woman raised her staff to parry the blow. Her strength was nothing to the ogre. The impact tore the staff from Janthoreen’s hands and she could only make a futile attempt to dodge as the ogre brought down its club again.

Bodhi raced to the rescue. She stabbed the ogre in the back and seized its arm as it tried to go through with the blow with its dying strength. “Naughty, naughty,” she scolded, ramming her newly acquired sword all the way through the ogre’s body and then ripping it across. “I’m afraid the penalty is death.”

“Thank you!” Janthoreen gasped out. “I have no more spells. You saved my life.”

Bodhi smiled. “Think nothing of it,” she said. She hastened to the aid of a wounded knight who was being overcome by one of the last two surviving minotaurs.

The other one was attacking a knight whose face was hidden by a full helm but whose sculpted breastplate revealed her to be a woman. Zarbalan approached the minotaur from behind and slashed his blade across the sinews behind its knee. It toppled and the woman knight drove her longsword into its throat. She raised her head, saw something behind Zarbalan, and cried “Look out!” Zarbalan whirled around and parried a blow from an ogre’s club. His slender blade snapped. The lady knight rushed to his assistance.

Tanova used a Disintegrate spell to blast an ogre to nothingness. Another, who had been on the point of charging her, reconsidered and turned to flee. Tanova turned it into a frog. “One day some prince is going to get a really horrible surprise,” she commented. The closest knight laughed briefly and then hastened to skewer the frog with his sword.

Only a handful of the Sythillisian monsters now remained alive. Two ogre berserkers were either too stupid or too gripped with battle rage to consider flight and fought on. The others fled. Bodhi hunted them down, her enhanced vampire speed giving them no chance to escape, and slew them. The knights and the vampires surrounded the berserkers and hacked them to pieces.

“Well met, Anomen,” Brendur said, sheathing his sword. “Sir Anomen, I mean.”

“There is no need to be formal when we meet on the field of battle,” Anomen said. “You acquitted yourself well, Brendur. I am sure that you will soon pass your Test and achieve knighthood.”

The female knight removed her helm and revealed her face. She was young, no older than her mid-twenties at most, and pretty. A mane of blonde hair fell free as the helmet came off. “You saved all our lives,” she said.

“And you saved mine, I think,” Zarbalan said.

The girl raised her eyebrows. “A drow? I thought that you were all evil.” She smiled at him. “I shall have to modify my opinions.”

“I think that Sir Krivalek would be well pleased that his sword is now in the hands of one who wields it so well and so honorably,” Sir Darnell said to Bodhi, who had just returned from slaying the last of the ogres. “Keep the sword with my blessing, my Lady.”

“I think this must be Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Brendur deduced. Bodhi’s hooded cloak hid her dark hair and, in the moonlight, the pallor of her skin was not obvious.

Anomen opened his mouth to contradict the squire. Bodhi pre-empted him.

“Yep, that’s me,” Bodhi said, mimicking Buffy’s accent as closely as she could. “Buffy the totally awesome Vampire Slayer from, like, the world of Caliph Onya.”

“It was a good day for…” Sir Darnell began.

Bodhi spun in a blur of speed. She hit Anomen in the back of the head with the pommel of the sword. He crashed to the ground and lay still. Brendur’s mouth dropped open and he put his hand on his sword hilt. Before he could either speak or draw steel Bodhi had struck again. She punched Brendur solidly on the jaw and the young man fell.

“What treachery is this?” Sir Darnell demanded, pulling free his sword. “Are you ensorcelled?”

“No, just treacherous,” Bodhi replied. “Kill them. No fangs.” She parried Sir Darnell’s blow, riposted, and drove the point of her sword into his throat. “Don’t kill the one I knocked out. I want him left alive to blame Buffy.”

- - - - -

Giles walked up to the city gates. One of the gate guards, House Despana insignia visible on his armor, trained a crossbow on him but did not fire. “We may not open them for you, bard,” a less hostile guard called out, “until we are given orders by Matron Mother Ardulace.”

“It’s all right, thanks, I don’t need them opened,” Giles replied. He placed his hand upon one of the heavy metal doors, ran his palm over the surface, and then walked away again. He took hold of his guitar, took up a position alongside a trio of zombies summoned by Viconia, and nodded to Spike. Spike raised his drumsticks, Giles positioned his fingers on the guitar’s frets, and they began to play.

I found smog at the end of my rainbow
I found my thoughts shift slowly into phase
Declared the constitution of the walkways
I realized it’s time to plan the day, the day, the day, the day…

I’m a market square hero
Gathering my storms to troop
I’m a market square hero
Speeding the beat of the street pulse
Are you following me?
Are you following me?
Suffer my pretty warriors and follow me

I got a golden handshake that nearly broke my arm
I left the ranks…

Giles stepped away from the zombies and began to move across the market place.

…of shuffling graveyard people
I got rust upon my hands from the padlocked city gates
The stalagmites provide our silent steeples

I’m a market square hero…

Merchants and shoppers began to drift away from the market stalls and to gather around Giles. All but one of the guards on the city gate deserted their posts, leaving their colleague from House Despana isolated and shouting in impotent fury at their backs, and followed Giles. He moved slowly across the plaza, Spike taking up a position at his side, and the others closed up behind him.

…Well suffer my little children and follow me
Follow me!

He quickened his pace as he left the market place and began the instrumental section. Drow began to pour out of the tavern where the party had made its base. They flocked to join the procession. The head of the Female Fighters’ Society led a formed body of troops out to meet them. Buffy and Sorkatani tensed and gripped their weapons, fearing something had gone wrong, but the warriors fell into step with everyone else. Their leader Qilué embraced Talabrae and then marched at her side. A similar column from the Male Fighters’ Society, and the entire armed forces of House Godendar and the refugees from House Zaughym, emerged onto the walkways and were welcomed. The heavily pregnant figure of Chaldiira led two hundred fighters forth from her House building and joined up.

Giles gave the signal to Talabrae to do her part. The Matron Mother’s eyes widened and rolled nervously. For a moment Giles thought that he would have to get Viconia to do that piece after all. Talabrae opened her mouth, however, and began to chant. The music had her in its grip and her voice was not only filled with a confidence and power not shown on her face but was also, unexpectedly, perfectly in tune.

I am your battle priest, show me allegiance,

Giles came in with the harmony part. “Are you following me?

I am your battle priest, pledge to me defiance,

Are you following me?

Suffer my pretty warriors
Suffer my fallen child
The time has come to conquer and I’ll provide your end!

Talabrae’s voice rose almost to a shriek as she shouted out the command that ended the passage. “We march!

Four thousand strong and growing, containing representatives from every House in the city save for Despana and Auvrindar, the column marched inexorably on. Bards amongst the throng took up the drum-beat. Giles, Talabrae, and Spike at the head of the column reached the turn-off that led to the Temple of Lolth. The spiders that roamed the area rushed to bar the path but were blasted out of existence by massed volleys of crossbow bolts and spells. A Phase Spider that teleported into the middle of the crowd was speared and trampled underfoot before it could bite. Giles turned toward the Temple and led his followers on.

I give peace signs as I wage war on the Temple
I’m the warrior in the ultra-vision haze
Armed with antisocial insecurity
I plan the path of destiny in this maze

’Cos I’m a market square hero gathering the storms to troop
’Cos I’m a market square hero speeding the beat of the street pulse, the street pulse
Are you following me? Are you following me?
Well suffer my fallen angels and follow me…

The guards around the Temple broke and fled, racing to get to the exit that led to the platform where Xander and Minsc had fought the beholder for Phaere, and those who didn’t make it before the advancing column cut off their retreat either ran for the Temple doors or threw themselves over the edge of the walkway. Those who had Feather Fall spells memorized landed safely among the grazing herds of rothé far below, and then had to take their chances with the startled beasts, but some were acting in blind panic and plummeted to their deaths. The way to the Temple lay clear.

I’m the market square hero
I’m the market square hero
We’re market square heroes
We’re the market square heroes
Are you following me?

I’m the market square hero!

- - - - -

Zarbalan held the lady knight immobile, with some difficulty as his strength as a newly-turned vampire was not all that much greater than hers and she outweighed him, and gazed admiringly at her breasts. The sculpted breastplate had not exaggerated and she was indeed well endowed. “I do not wish to rape and kill her,” he told Bodhi.

“That’s, well, something of a relief, really, after your behavior with the elves,” Bodhi said, ignoring the woman’s screams and protests. “I was beginning to think you were some kind of pervert.” She tossed Janthoreen’s head up and kicked it as it came down. The head sailed through the air, landed a hundred yards away, and bounced and rolled another forty yards before coming to rest. “Not that I have any claim to the moral high ground, of course, but you were taking it too far.”

Tanova raised her head from the throat of a knight. She had slashed it open with a knife to avoid leaving fang marks. “He was,” she agreed. “I almost felt sorry for the girls.”

“It was less satisfying than I had expected,” Zarbalan admitted. “The other males always claimed that to rape an elf was the ultimate delight for a drow but, really, it’s much more fun with a willing partner.”

“I shall never be willing, monster!” the woman hissed.

“You wish to turn her?” Bodhi closed one eye and considered. “Well, we need more recruits anyway, and it won’t spoil my plan. You don’t mind that she must be a good eight inches taller than you?”

“She is beautiful, and spirited, and the height does not matter to me,” Zarbalan replied.

“Hmm. Well, your face will certainly be in an interesting place when you’re fucking,” Bodhi said, a grin coming to her lips. “You’ll make an attractive pair and you have my blessing. What’s your name, girl?”

“My name is Jeroneth, monster,” the girl answered in a snarl. “You will burn for these treacherous deeds.”

“Possibly, but I’m rather hoping that it will be Buffy who ends up in hot water,” Bodhi said. “Yes, you’ll definitely be an asset to the family. We’ll have to carry your corpse with us for the rest of the night, and that’s a nuisance, but I’ll put up with it. Hmm. She’s wounded. We’d better make sure that it goes right. Anomen, heal her, and then give her another Cure spell or two while Zarbalan is draining her to make sure that she doesn’t just die on us.”

“Very well, my Lady,” Anomen said. His tone was cold and he did not meet Bodhi’s eyes.

“Oh, are you still upset that I thumped you on the head?” Bodhi opened her eyes very wide and fluttered her eyelashes. “It was for your own good. This way your friend the squire will think that we betrayed you as well. If you bump into any of your old associates in Athkatla they won’t attack you on sight. It’ll make it so much easier for you to get your revenge on your father for casting you out if you’re not a hunted traitor.”

“It was probably your father who murdered your sister,” Zarbalan put in.

“What?” Anomen stared at the drow vampire. “What makes you think that?”

“From what you told me,” Zarbalan said, “he had her body cremated before you even found out about it. That implies that he didn’t want her Raised. What other motive could he have had?”

“I never thought of that,” Anomen said, shaking his head. “You may be right. But why?”

“I do not know enough to speculate,” Zarbalan began. Jeroneth took advantage of his distraction to knee him in the groin, pull her wrists free from his grip, and make a dive for her sword.

Bodhi intercepted her and restrained her with ease. Jeroneth spat at Bodhi’s face but Bodhi jerked her head out of the way, moving almost too fast for the human eye to follow, and laughed. “A brave and resourceful girl. You’ll make a wonderful vampire.”

“She will indeed,” wheezed Zarbalan, rubbing his injured parts.

“Dress her in her armor once more,” Bodhi commanded him, “except for the gorget, of course. That way we won’t have to carry her armor separately and it’ll be easier than dressing her corpse. Then drain her. Quickly, now, for that squire isn’t going to stay unconscious for ever. I want us to be long gone by the time he comes round.”

- - - - -

They were too late to stop the ritual.

Only the first hundred and fifty or so of those summoned by Giles’ song entered the Temple. They were enough to crush the demoralized Temple guards and force their way through to the inner sanctum.

Phaere was there, and Ardulace, and the High Priestess and the Handmaidens of Lolth. They were assembled around a mystic circle marked out on the stone flags. In the middle of the circle, bound to an ‘X’-shaped frame that lay on the floor, was a sacrificial victim. Akorynrae, Evelintra’s niece, whose age in Drow terms was no greater than Dawn’s. She was naked.

Above her towered a demon. Fifteen feet tall, dark red of skin, with a horned head and huge bat-like wings. Flames flickered in its mane. Its mighty sword and its whip were on the floor at its feet, set aside for the moment, and it held its loincloth in its hand. The erect penis that jutted forth from its, or rather his, groin was a foot and a half in length.

“Turn away, Dawn,” Buffy commanded. She averted her own eyes and immediately wished that she hadn’t. Evelintra’s naked body was impaled upright on the blade of a huge sword set into stone blocks. Her mouth was open in a silent scream and bloody holes gaped where her eyes should be. Buffy’s lips curled back in a snarl and she averted her eyes once again only to see something that affected her even more deeply. Solaufein’s severed head, mounted on a plaque, hanging on the wall.

“Wendonai!” Talabrae hissed. “Get away from Akorynrae, you unclean thing!”

The demon Wendonai, one of the six commanders of the Balor, cast aside his loincloth and swung his head to face her. He ran his fingers over his phallus and leered. “You recognize me, then, apostate one? Then you must know that you cannot prevail. I shall ravish this virgin girl and, should she survive, she shall bear a draegloth to serve as Ardulace’s right hand for the glory of Lolth.”

“So, you have found your courage, Talabrae?” Ardulace sneered. “Too late. All you shall gain is your own death.”

Buffy threw the Hammer of Thunderbolts. Ardulace didn’t even see it coming. It struck her full in the face, shattered her jaw, and smashed her to the ground. Phaere cried out and began a spell. Viconia snuffed it out with a counter-spell before it was completed. The hand-maidens commanded the Temple golems to attack. Willow, Imoen, and Jaheira all summoned elementals in reply and the massive creatures battled the constructs.

“You cannot stop me,” Wendonai taunted Talabrae, dropping to one knee between Akorynrae’s legs, and continuing to fondle his penis. “I cannot leave this summoning circle until the ritual is completed by the sacrifice of the dragon eggs – unless the circle is broken by some fool entering. Of course, if you want to unleash me to destroy your associates, go right ahead. I sense two more virgins with you.”

“If you even think about touching Dawn…” Buffy growled, the intensity of her rage such that it overrode the spell that urged her to use the Drow alias, and she forgot her intention to follow up on the hammer throw by finishing Ardulace off with her sword. Spike’s simultaneous growl was one of bestial fury and his face rippled and changed.

Sorkatani paused in her charge toward Phaere and pointed Celestial Fury at the demon. “Stop!” she shouted. “Leave the girl alone.”

“Are you volunteering to take her place, Bhaalspawn?” Wendonai asked.

“Bhaalspawn?” Talabrae glanced briefly at Sorkatani but turned immediately back to the demon. “I failed Evelintra but I will not fail Akorynrae. I must stop this. Who is with me?”

Buffy drew the drow sword that was her current back-up weapon. “Count on me,” she said. “Let’s waste this sucker.”

Ardulace forced herself up to her hands and knees. She coughed and spat out teeth and blood. She raised her head in time to see Phaere hit by a mighty swing from Minsc’s sword. Phaere fell, her armor gashed open and blood spurting out, and Nathrae of House De’Vir pounced on her and bashed in her head with a mace.

Ardulace fixed her eyes upon the dragon eggs, standing in a box beyond the altar a mere five yards away, and scrambled forward. If she smashed the eggs, and could manage to utter the right words despite her ruined mouth, the demon would be under her command and free to leave the circle. The rebels would pay in blood, and worse, for their temerity. A few more feet…

Dawn seized Ardulace by the hair and jerked her head back. “You killed my sister’s boyfriend, bitch,” Dawn hissed, “and staked my friend out for a demon. Payback time.” She brought her short sword Cutthroat up to Ardulace’s neck, slashed it across, and stepped back to avoid the gush of blood.

Sorkatani and Buffy crossed the line of the summoning circle almost together. Talabrae was only a single step behind, as was Spike, and Qilué of the Female Fighters’ Society followed a heartbeat later. Willow, Imoen, and a mage from House Godendar at once began to bombard the demon with Lower Resistance and Pierce Shield spells.

Wendonai rose from his knees. Buffy slashed at the irresistible target presented by the demon’s erect penis. Spike winced in male sympathy but it didn’t prevent him from doing his best to ram Namarra through the demon’s kidneys. Simultaneously Sorkatani struck for the femoral artery with Celestial Fury.

All three blades bounced off. “Fools,” Wendonai boomed out, “my invulnerability is no mere spell. Only the greatest of weapons can harm me.” He punched Buffy in the face and sent her sprawling. He ignored further blows, and a potentially lethal spell from Talabrae, and sent a deadly spell of his own at the group of mages. Willow’s staff absorbed it harmlessly.

Qilué cast aside her flail and drew a dagger. She stabbed Wendonai in the thigh. The demon yelped in pain and shock. His fist lashed out again. Qilué tried to defend herself with her shield but the demon’s strength was immense. The shield smashed into Qilué’s arm and the bone snapped. Wendonai punched again as the shield arm flopped and hit Qilué on the head. Bone crunched and Qilué dropped dead.

Minsc bellowed with rage. Xander barred his path. “Wait, Tallin, Lilarcor won’t cut it,” he cautioned the ranger. “Try the Demon Knight’s sword.”

“My righteous fury knows no patience,” Minsc said, “but your words are wise. I shall do as you say.” He delayed his charge to swap weapons.

“If only I had Carsomyr,” Xander complained, shaking his head, and then something made him turn. He stared at the sword impaling Evelintra. “Oh no, no,” he gasped. “I recognize the cross-guard. That’s Carsomyr. They used my Holy Sword to kill her.”

The demon shrugged off more blows and spells. He seized Sorkatani by one arm and dragged her closer. Spike tried to bite the demon’s leg but had to give up when a lick of flame from the glowing skin set his shirt on fire. Wendonai leered at his captive. “Now, shall I rape you, or just kill you?”

“Neither,” Sorkatani said. Her clothes vanished. Her hair darkened and lengthened. White streaks appeared on her face. “Death is my gift for you, demon.”

Wendonai’s glowing eyes widened. “That’s very convenient,” he began. “Rape it is, the– aaagh!” His speech turned into an agonized howl as Sorkatani kicked him in the groin with the immense force of the First Slayer. “Bitch!” He hurled her away across the room, high and hard, but she rotated in mid-air and landed lightly on her feet.

“Taste hamster justice, vile demon!” Minsc roared. He carved a bloody slice across the demon’s back with the recently acquired two-handed sword. Wendonai turned, parried with a clawed hand, and lost a couple of fingers in the process. He snatched up his sword from the floor and hammered Minsc to the ground.

Dawn looked at Cutthroat in her hand, swallowed hard, and headed for the demon. The sword that had once been Bodhi’s was a match for the Demon Knight’s sword in its enchantment. If Minsc had been able to wound Wendonai then logically Dawn would be able to do the same.

“No, Dhaunae!” Buffy yelled. “Stay back!” She paused to wipe blood from her lips, pulped by the demon’s punch, but then ran to intercept her sister. “Give me the sword. I’ll take him on.”

Sorkatani headed for the grisly execution block. “Bayete, udadewethu,” she addressed Evelintra’s corpse, bowing her head reverently, and then she lifted the body from the sword and laid it down. She turned back to the sword, ignoring Xander’s warning that she wouldn’t be able to use it, and drew it from the stone. Sorkatani set Celestial Fury down, took a two-handed grip on Carsomyr, and leaped to the attack.

Anya loosed a crossbow bolt, which merely bounced off Wendonai’s hide, and then turned to Giles. “Do something, Gelfein!” she urged him.

Giles shook his head and sighed. “I’m afraid that rock music tends to be rather favorable to demons and devils,” he told her. “I can only think of songs in which they win. I suppose I could summon a devil to battle him but that wouldn’t be much of an improvement.”

“I suppose not,” Anya agreed. “Anyway, the First Slayer seems to be coping.”

“Rather well, actually,” Giles observed.

Wendonai reeled under Sorkatani’s attack. The great-sword carved huge gashes in his flanks. Minsc picked himself up, almost unharmed thanks to his new and splendid armor, and returned to the fray. Buffy joined in, Cutthroat flashing in her hand, and now she had a weapon capable of harming Wendonai. The rest of the fighting was over. Two of the elementals had survived the combat against the golems and their controllers turned them on the demon. Wendonai staggered and went down on one knee.

Talabrae, almost weeping with frustration at her inability to affect the demon, had been searching the floor for Qilué’s dagger. She found it and raced to the attack. Wendonai threw up his sword to parry a blow from Sorkatani. He used his other hand to catch Buffy’s arm as she slashed at him with Cutthroat. For a moment he was wide open.

“For Evelintra,” Talabrae snarled out. She sliced with the dagger. Her target was Wendonai’s penis, now sagging only half erect, and her aim was true. A fountain of demon blood soaked her arm to the shoulder.

Wendonai’s cry of agony was almost loud enough to burst eardrums. He made one last despairing attempt to strike back, his sword sweeping around in an arc aimed at Talabrae’s neck, but Sorkatani thrust out Carsomyr and stopped the blow dead. Buffy buried Cutthroat to the hilt in Wendonai’s back.

“A few more years and I would have been free anyway,” Wendonai groaned. He slumped to the floor. “Now I face another two thousand. I should never…”

Carsomyr swept down in a decapitation stroke and whatever the demon had been going to say was forever silenced.

- - - - -

Sorkatani’s outline blurred. The white clay vanished from her face, her armor returned, and her hair reverted to the white of her drow form. She looked at her hands. “Still the same. Good. I was a little worried about that.”

“I guess,” said Buffy. “It worked out all right. Nice move. We might have gotten our asses kicked if not for the First Slayer.” She bit her lip and looked at the place where the demon’s body had melted away on its death. “What was that thing?”

“Wendonai, the Corruptor,” Talabrae said. “One of the six Great Balors that command the armies of demonkind. It is said that he worked with… my former goddess… to cause the fall of the Ilythiiri.” She unfastened the last of the shackles that held Akorynrae, gathered the weeping girl up, and held her tight. “I am so sorry, my dear,” Talabrae said, her voice breaking as she spoke. “So sorry.”

Sorkatani reversed her grip on Carsomyr, walked over to Xander, and handed him the sword. “You won’t be able to use it for now,” she said, “but at least we’ve got it back, and you’re back in business once you’re back up to full size.”

“Thanks,” Xander said. “I still don’t get how come you were able to use it. Nobody but a paladin should be able to wield a Holy Sword. Maybe the First Slayer counts as a…” His voice trailed away and he stared at the blade. “It’s… dead. The magic’s gone away.”

“It was still enchanted enough to slay the Balor,” Sorkatani said.

“Well, yeah,” Xander agreed, “it’s still got that magical super-sharpness thing. But Holy… not so much. No cool powers, no magic resistance, no Dispel Magic.”

“So that is why they murdered Evelintra in such an obscene manner,” Sorkatani said. “To desecrate your sword.”

“Desecrate, yeah, that’s the word,” Xander said. His mouth twisted. “They killed that nice lady with my sword, and that burns me up, but if they did it just to wreck the sword… that’s just, well, sick.”

“They would have killed her anyway,” Viconia put in. She sighed. “Alas, I have tried to Resurrect her, but without success. Ardulace must have taken steps to ensure that Evelintra was slain permanently.”

“The same with Solaufein,” Buffy said. “Micar’lae just tried. No use.” Her eyes glistened with tears. “Damn. I really liked him, you know? Maybe things would never have worked out between us, what with everything, but hey, I would have liked the chance to at least say ‘goodbye’. I hope that bitch Ardulace rots in Hell.”

Anya and Dawn, who had seized the opportunity to loot the place once the battle had finished, emerged from a side room. Tears were running down Dawn’s cheeks and her lips trembled. Anya’s hands were shaking. “Count me in on that,” Anya said. “Count me double. Don’t go in there.”

“What did you find?” Talabrae asked.

“I think I know how Ardulace found out about Evelintra,” Anya said. “This isn’t a good time to tell you the details.” She swallowed hard. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Akorynrae raised her head. “They told me,” she sobbed. “It’s Krendorl, isn’t it? They told me they tortured him.” Her grip on Talabrae tightened. “Phaere laughed as she told me.”

“I’m sorry,” Anya said. “Yes. It’s your boyfriend. He’s dead.”

Akorynrae buried her face in Talabrae’s breast once more and wept.

Buffy shuddered. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “Take the dragon eggs, take the bodies of Phaere and Ardulace so we can just burn them, and then we’re out of this city. I want to go home.”


Glossary of Character Aliases

• Qilafae = Buffy
• Dynefryn = Sorkatani
• Gelfein = Giles
• Zander = Xander
• Auniira = Anya
• Vyll’ae = Willow
• Micar’lae = Tara
• Urlzaqh = Spike
• Veldrin = Viconia
• Dhaunae = Dawn
• Jhaelirae = Jaheira
• Tallin = Minsc
• Iimzyne = Imoen

The song performed by Giles in this chapter is Market Square Heroes by Marillion; a few of the words have been altered to suit the circumstances. The link is to a short version of the Radio Edit – at least until YouTube takes the video down! Embedding is disabled.

Tags: fic, tabula_avatar
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