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Tabula Avatar Chapter 62

Belated Happy Birthdays to spikes_heart and peabodyblue. Happy birthday to saradane. Happy anniversary (for yesterday) to pfeifferpack and blueskink. Congratulations to enigmaticblues on passing her Bar exams.

My apologies for not yet replying to comments on my last two posts; the last 6 nights at work have been so exhausting that I’ve been collapsing into bed as soon as I arrived home and then sleeping for over 9 hours. What little spare waking time I’ve had I’ve spent writing.

Here is the next chapter of ‘Tabula Avatar’. The theme of the previous chapter was ‘sacrifice’; the theme of this one is ‘love’. Next will come ‘travel’ – and then… well, you’ll find out. 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 found themselves in a strange and deadly world. There they have made new friends, and deadly enemies, and have teamed up with Sorkatani the Bhaalspawn and her companions on a quest that took them into deadly peril. Currently they are impersonating drow mercenaries in the Underdark city of Ust Natha. Rating R; this chapter is exactly 7,800 words.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Sixty-two

“I have received a commandment from Shar,” Viconia announced. “We are to give another performance before we leave this city.”

Buffy groaned. “Do we have to? I just want to get out of here.”

Giles raised his eyebrows. “Is an audience really necessary? Surely I could simply play the songs at some suitable point along our route.”

“And what if the noise attracts another horde of goblins, or worse, seeing us as prospective victims? She does not want any interruptions. Also,” Viconia pointed out, “you play better when you have an audience. She wants you to be at your best.”

Giles’ eyebrows climbed higher. “Indeed? There is, then, some particular purpose rather than it being merely for her entertainment?”

“There is indeed,” Viconia confirmed. “The purpose has not been revealed to me but I know that it is important. She specifies that we are to play ‘Shadows of the Night’, of course, and ‘Because the Night’, but you must also include some additional songs of romance and love.”

The eyebrows reached maximum altitude and stalled. “Indeed? I can do that, certainly, although they aren’t what I would have thought to choose for an audience of drow.” Giles screwed up his forehead. “Hmm. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is out, I think, there are too many references that are alien to this environment, but I should be able to come up with a decent assortment of love songs nonetheless.”

“Yeah, well,” Spike put in, “if you start playing that bloody dirge ‘Lady in Red’ I’ll rip your sodding throat out.”

- - - - -

“Love… you! Yes, oh, yes! Love you, oh, what you do to me, oh! Oh! Oh!” Jeroneth’s cries of ecstasy dissolved into incoherence.

“Tet ligrr, mzilst ssin'urn, ussta ’che,” Zarbalan answered, his words slightly muffled. “I love you, usstan ’che dos, usstan ssinssrig dos. Doer whol uns’aa, usstan ’che Jeroneth, I love you. Usstan tlun doerin! Usstan tlun quanthin dos... uhhh... phor!”

Bodhi sucked from the throat of a feebly struggling peasant, owner of the cottage in which they had found shelter for the day, and then disengaged. She passed the man over to Tanova, cocked her head to listen to the sounds from the bedroom, and sighed. “Ah, young love,” she said. “It makes me feel… romantic.”

“I am at your disposal, my Lady,” Anomen said. He wiped the blood of the farmer’s wife from his lips and deposited her body tidily in a corner.

Bodhi shook her head. “Sorry, Anomen, I am fond of you, and you’re as handsome as any girl could desire, but we just don’t have that certain spark the way those two have. That being said,” she began to shed her clothes, “right now I’m turned on enough that I’d fuck a minotaur if he was the only male present. Service me.”

“As you wish, my Lady,” Anomen assented. His lower lip protruded in an aggrieved pout as he undressed.

“Ah, did I upset you?” Bodhi raised her eyebrows and gave Anomen a wicked little smile. “Don’t feel bad. It’s not as if you love me either. Let’s just enjoy the moment.” She dropped to her knees, took him into her mouth, and bobbed back and forth for a few seconds. “There, isn’t that nice?” She dipped her head again. Anomen groaned and took hold of her hair.

“Oh, that’s just great,” Tanova complained. “We’re in a two room hovel, the two new lovers are using the bedroom for the hottest sex I’ve ever heard, and now you two are going at it too. There’s nowhere to go to get away from it except outside and the daylight would make that fatal. I’m almost tempted to walk out anyway and let the sun end it all.” She drained the last drops of the peasant farmer’s blood. “Hmm. I think we turned this one. An idiot minion. Just what we don’t need.”

Bodhi pulled back from Anomen and changed over to using her hands. “You should have turned a handsome knight for yourself, if you’re feeling frustrated. Would you like to join in? I don’t mind sharing Anomen.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, sister-in-law, I’m in love with your brother,” Tanova pointed out, rolling her eyes. “I don’t want anybody else.”

“When I think about you I touch myself,” Bodhi sang, suiting the action to the words with her left hand while continuing to work on Anomen with her right. “It’s a shame he doesn’t feel the same way about you. You’re so much nicer than that bitch Ellesime. Prettier, too, and I bet you’re better in bed.”

“Unfortunately Jon doesn’t see it that way,” said Tanova, “except perhaps for the bed part. The day we spent together before the assault on the city was… special.”

“At least you have the memories,” Bodhi said. “Now, get off that chair. I want Anomen inside me and the floor isn’t very comfortable.”

Tanova sighed, dumped the farmer’s corpse onto the floor, and stood up. “Go ahead. I’ll just walk out of that door and take my chances with the sun.”

Bodhi took her place and sprawled on the battered old armchair with her legs apart. Anomen approached but Bodhi took hold of his cock and stopped him before he could enter her. “It would be lovely to be able to walk in the sun again,” Bodhi mused, fondling Anomen’s erection absently, “quite apart from the inconvenience. I used to enjoy the sunshine. There must be a way that we can get to Spike’s world. Mmm, yes. Sunshine, great music, and I bet they have bras even nicer than the ones made here to Anya’s pattern.”

“I have a scroll of Limited Wish,” Tanova said. “It wouldn’t get us there, it’s not powerful enough for that, but it might be able to show us the way. Assuming there is a way, of course.”

“A good thought,” Bodhi said. “Work out a suitable wish. We have to hide the Rhynn Lanthorn so that the elves can’t retrieve it; where better than in another world?”

“Not right now,” said Tanova. “There are too many distractions.” Her hand stole down the front of her harem pants.

“There might be perils in that unknown world,” Anomen cautioned. He groaned and thrust against Bodhi’s restraining hand.

“Don’t worry, we won’t go until you’ve had a chance to kill your father,” Bodhi said. “I’m not worried about any danger. They wouldn’t call her Buffy the Vampire Slayer if everyone in that world could do it.” She eased her grip and guided Anomen into her. “Enough talking. Let’s fuck.” She put her lips to Anomen’s ear and whispered. “When you get close pull out and spurt it all over my tits. Just to get Tanova even more frustrated.”

“I heard that,” Tanova said. “Bitch.”

“I’m a bitch,” Bodhi agreed. “I’m a tease, I’m a goddess on my knees, when you hurt, when you suffer, I’m your angel undercover, I’ve been numbed, I’m revived, can’t say I’m not alive… Well, okay, technically I’m not, but I feel alive.” She nipped at Anomen’s earlobe with her teeth. “In fact I feel wonderful.”

- - - - -

“I feel awful.” Imoen rubbed her stomach with the palm of her hand.

“Time of the month, huh? Jaheira should be able to fix you something up to make it better,” Buffy suggested.

Imoen shook her head. “It’s not that. I feel empty inside. Like hunger, but eating doesn’t help, and it’s getting worse. I think it’s something to do with losing my soul.”

“Uh, you don’t have any urge to kill little fishes, do you?” asked Willow.

Imoen tilted her head to one side and stared at Willow. “Of course not. Why would I want to do that?”

“We knew someone who lost his soul and he killed my fishes,” Willow said. “Forget it. So, what can we do to help?”

“Killing Bodhi would probably be a good start,” Imoen replied. “I can’t think of anything else. I don’t think even sex will work now, even if I felt well enough, which I don’t.”

“Uh, right,” Willow mumbled.

“There isn’t anything physically wrong with you,” Tara said. “I wonder if a Restoration spell would help?”

“A good idea,” Jaheira agreed, “and it certainly could do no harm. It may well alleviate Iimzyne’s symptoms, at least for a time.”

“I’m all in favor of that,” Imoen said.

“Allow me,” Nathrae offered. “I owe you more than I can ever repay. Three sleep periods ago I was a prisoner in a cage, due to be executed shortly, and now I am the senior High Priestess of an entire city.” She uttered a brief incantation and touched her fingers to Imoen’s forehead.

“Thanks, that’s much better,” Imoen said. “I still don’t feel quite right, but the pain has gone.”

“Good,” said Nathrae, and then her eyebrows climbed. “That’s odd,” she remarked. “The spell should have drained my energies, leaving me weak until I rested, but I feel no such effect. A gift from Shar, no doubt.”

“No doubt,” Talabrae agreed. “She is well pleased with us. A whole city won to her cause! Yet in truth we can claim little credit, for without Gelfein’s song we would have had to engage in battle against overwhelming odds, and I do not believe that we could have prevailed.”

“We’re not in the habit of losing,” Buffy said, “but yeah, it would have been tough. Score this one for Gelfein.”

“He is in truth a bard of remarkable skill,” said Talabrae. “Thanks to him we pulled off a civil war and a regime change with less than three hundred dead.” Her lips twisted in a wry smile. “Not counting the dozen or so assassinations that followed, that is.”

“Let us hope that it is an end to the deaths,” put in Qilué of the Female Fighters’ Society, who had been Raised after the battle in the Temple of Lolth, and now sat with the group awaiting the start of Giles’ performance. A silver sword pendant, emblem of Eilistraee, was hanging from her neck in open display of her previously secret allegiance. “I fear for our army. They are cut off from the Elven city and must retreat through a hostile country. Three hundred of my sisters in arms are with them and in jeopardy.”

“If we can aid their escape we will do so,” Sorkatani promised, “although I can make no promises as to our success.”

A roar of greeting from the crowd drowned out any reply that Qilué might have made. Giles, Viconia, and Spike had appeared on the platform overlooking the amphitheatre. Only a few hundred of the crowd of thousands had heard Giles playing previously, in the tavern, but those who had fallen under his spell during the revolt were eager to hear him perform when it was only for entertainment.

Giles brandished his guitar, waited for the noise to die down, and then waved his arms to signal for silence. “I am dedicating our first song to Matron Mother Evelintra,” he called, “a great woman, and a good friend, tragically slain. Remember her.” He paused for a moment with his fingers poised over the guitar strings and then struck a series of chords. Spike joined in with the drum, Viconia shook and beat upon her tan-tan, and Giles began to sing.

Woman came in the name of love
Woman come and go
Woman come, she to justify
Woman to overthrow

In the name of love
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love
What more in the name of love…

- - - - -

She was seven feet tall, beautiful, and naked. Her perfectly shaped breasts were a magnet for male eyes but Yoshimo, with a struggle, managed to keep from staring.

“Strange,” Eilistraee said, gazing at Yoshimo with piercing eyes. “You do not seem to be evil, and yet you serve Shar.”

“I have done evil things, Lady,” Yoshimo admitted, “and I acknowledged the lady Shar as my goddess expecting it to bring me the punishment that I deserve. Instead, however, I have met with nothing but kindness and comfort. I have found solace in her realm and serve her with all my heart.”

“She is a mistress of deceit,” Eilistraee said, “and I shall not take your words at face value, as you should not take hers. I am prepared to listen to your message, however, and not dismiss it out of hand. Speak, then, petitioner. What does your mistress ask of me?”

“First, and most urgent, I have a message for one of your worshippers who died recently,” Yoshimo said. “The priestess Evelintra.”

Eilistraee’s eyebrows rose. “One who is precious to me, indeed, and for whose untimely death I mourn,” she said. “What is this message?”

“I am to tell you that Talabrae,” Yoshimo spoke with careful precision, “did not betray Evelintra to her death. She loved her dearly and bitterly regrets that she could not save her.”

“And has since avenged her,” Eilistraee said. “I observed what befell. Know, petitioner, that Evelintra never believed the lie that she was told.”

“That is good to hear, Lady,” said Yoshimo, “and I shall pass on the news. No doubt it will bring comfort to the woman Talabrae.”

“Your mistress is not known for bringing comfort,” Eilistraee observed. “I cannot help but wonder at her motives.”

“She tells me that she has won thousands of new worshippers amongst the drow in the past few days,” Yoshimo replied. “Is that not motive enough?”

“Perhaps,” Eilistraee said. “I have gained many new worshippers myself, in the city of Ust Natha, and some who hid their faith in fear of their lives have been able to emerge in safety and stand up proudly. It seems that I owe a debt to priestesses of your dark mistress.”

Yoshimo raised an eyebrow. For Eilistraee, whose skin was an ebony black darker even than that of Viconia, to refer to Shar as a ‘dark mistress’ seemed odd.

“I assume that Shar wants an assurance of truce between us now that our worshippers jointly control a whole city,” Eilistraee went on. “I have no objections. Of course, if her priestesses and worshippers begin persecuting mine, I shall order them to fight back.”

“If they do, it will not be at Shar’s command,” Yoshimo assured her, “and from what I have been told I would say that such oppression would be most unlikely.” He found his gaze drifting to Eilistraee’s nipples and lowered his eyes. That resulted in him staring at the fuzz of fine white hair covering the goddess’ pubic mound. Hastily Yoshimo raised his head once more and focused on Eilistraee’s face. “She has a further request. Truce between yourself and your brother.”

Eilistraee nodded. “Logical also. Vhaeraun is detestable, evil, and thoroughly untrustworthy, it is true, but is probably sensible enough to see the advantages of restraining his followers from hostile action in the circumstances. I am willing to order truce within the boundaries of Ust Natha.”

“And elsewhere,” Yoshimo said. “Will you agree to a universal truce, if my mistress can prevail upon your brother to accept, throughout the Underdark and beyond into the surface world?”

“Why?” Eilistraee tilted her head to one side and a crease appeared between her eyebrows. “Of what concern could it be to Shar?”

“Together we’ll stand, divided we’ll fall,” Yoshimo quoted. “My mistress desires to break the power of Lolth for all time. It will be far easier with three Powers united toward the same goal than if there is strife between two of the three.” He sucked in his lips briefly. “Lady, this I say to you for myself, and not for my mistress; I was a brother, and my love for my sister was what led me to my fall, and I cannot believe, whatever troubles there may have been between you, that your brother does not love you still.”

“You do not know him,” Eilistraee pointed out.

“What does knowledge have to do with belief?” Yoshimo countered.

Eilistraee laughed, a trill of melodic sound, and her teeth flashed white against her dark face. “That is from the philosophy of Kara-Tur, I take it? The sound of one hand clapping, and so on?”

Yoshimo performed a formal bow, grinned, and shrugged. “The tourists love that stuff.” He adopted a more serious expression. “I have known only one drow, the priestess Viconia, and she is my only yardstick by which to judge the race. I know the drow gods only by reputation. Yet I would wager… well, as a dead soul, I have little to wager, save for the goods that were buried with me, but I would wager my katana that there remains some love for you in the heart of your brother Vhaeraun. And, I venture, vice versa.”

Eilistraee sighed. “You are not wrong in that guess. I hate what he has done, what he has become, and yet… I remember the smiles of the handsome boy who played with me when we were children, and I feel again the fondness that was once between us. Not all of the Dogmas of Vhaeraun are anathema to me, and in fact half of them would not be out of place in my own teachings, but the rest… I regret that we are enemies… but such we are, and have been for thousands of years, and I cannot see that it will change.”

“Have the drow not been cast down into the Underdark for thousands of years, and do you not still strive to change that?” Yoshimo fixed Eilistraee’s eyes with his own. “As a brother to a sister I ask you to at least agree to a truce. Perhaps friendship between you will be revived in time, perhaps not, but let there be a chance. Someone must be the first to extend a hand.”

“You are eloquent,” said Eilistraee, “and I sense that it comes from the heart and not from schooling. Very well. I shall command my clergy that they are to make no hostile moves against the worshippers of Vhaeraun except in self-defense. In Ust Natha and elsewhere. If he can be persuaded to do likewise then the truce will be in effect.”

“And if the worshippers of Lolth attack those of your brother, and you have forces in the vicinity, will you order that they give assistance?” Yoshimo asked.

“That goes further than a truce,” Eilistraee said, “and becomes an alliance.” She frowned. “As far as the city of Ust Natha is concerned I agree. The same must apply in reverse, of course, and presumably the deal also applies to the forces of Shar.”

“It does indeed,” Yoshimo confirmed. “And outside Ust Natha?”

“You press hard,” said Eilistraee. “It is much to ask. And yet… very well. I agree, within certain limits. I will not command that my people throw their lives away against impossible odds. If a thousand of Vhaeraun’s men are attacked by ten thousand worshippers of Lolth, for instance, and I have but one hundred in the area, I will not send them to die in futile battle. I will request that they give what aid they can, rescuing the wounded and aiding the fleeing to escape, if they can do so without dooming themselves. If their intervention would tip the balance between victory and defeat, however, my command shall be that their commitment should be unstinting.” She sighed. “This is conditional upon his agreeing to the same terms. I hold out no great hope that he will do so.”

“I am but the spirit of a mortal, and I have persuaded you, Lady Eilistraee,” said Yoshimo. “I am sure that my goddess will prove at least as persuasive.”

- - - - -

Vhaeraun, the Masked Lord, entered the inner chamber of the Palace of Loss and saw the figure who awaited him. His muscles tensed and his hand went to the hilt of his longsword Nightshadow. “If this is a trap, woman, know that I am well capable of defending myself,” he warned. “Who are you? Where is Shar?” In another universe a computer hard disk whined as data was written as fast as the drive could handle it. The free space shrank by gigabytes.

The woman smiled. Her dark hand went to her white hair and flicked it away from her face. “Don’t you recognize me, Vhaeraun?”

“Shar?” Vhaeraun stared in amazement. “What are you doing in the form of a drow?”

Shar did not answer directly. “How many drow worshippers do I have, Vhaeraun?”

The god of male drow, thievery, and drow interests on the surface world took his hand away from his sword hilt. “I don’t know. A thousand or two, perhaps?”

“Five nights ago I had three thousand and eight,” Shar told him. “Now? Fourteen thousand two hundred and forty three. My priestesses control an entire drow city. I have the right to take this form.” She smiled again. “Anyway, I thought you’d like it.”

Vhaeraun tilted his head to one side and scrutinized her. “You are fair in any form, my Lady,” he said, “but, yes, it is pleasing to me.” His mask moved as his eyebrows rose slightly. “You have trimmed your purple robes with white lace. A new look indeed.”

“I thought the contrast would look… fetching,” Shar said. She clapped her hands and an image formed in the air to one side. Three drow figures on a stone platform, holding musical instruments, hands moving as they played. Sound filled the chamber.

…on the Temple floor
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of love
What more in the name of love…

Vhaeraun stared. “What is that?”

“Mortals, performing to an audience of thousands in Ust Natha, at my command,” Shar explained. “This song honors a fallen comrade, I believe, but later they will play songs of a more light-hearted nature. They are greatly skilled. I think that you will find it a pleasant background to our conversation.”

“Ust Natha? I have gained some two and a half thousand worshippers in that city recently,” Vhaeraun said. “I was preoccupied with some urgent matters concerning House Jaelre or I would have looked into it more closely. That is where you have gained your new converts, I take it?”

“It is,” Shar confirmed. “Would you care for some wine?”

“This is a social meeting, then? Your invitation was phrased as if it was to discuss important business.”

“There is no reason why we can’t combine business with pleasure,” Shar said. “I shall come to the point in due time. For now take a seat, have some wine, and listen to a bard greater than any of the bae’qeshel.”

“I sense that you seek to manipulate me,” Vhaeraun said, but he sat down anyway and accepted a glass of wine.

“Of course,” Shar admitted. “I am a woman as well as a goddess, after all, but I seek only to persuade you to adopt a course of action that will be to our mutual benefit. I shall explain later. For the moment, just enjoy the music.”

- - - - -

Tears trickled down Talabrae’s cheeks. Her lips moved as she spoke but her words were inaudible, drowned out by the noise from the crowd, until Sorkatani leaned close.

“Beautiful,” Talabrae said. “A fitting tribute. For this alone I shall forever be in Gelfein’s debt.” She dabbed at her tears. “I owe much to you all.”

On stage Giles passed to Viconia a yarting, picked up in Brynnlaw to serve as a spare and never used, which he had restrung as a four-string bass. “You have not had much time to practice,” he said. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t feel ready.”

“It is simple enough,” she replied, placing her fingers upon the frets. “These notes, and these, and then the same repeated deeper, and then back to the first. I am ready, mentor.”

Giles glanced at Spike. “Ready, mate,” said the vampire, raising his drumsticks. “Just say the word.”

“On four, then,” Giles said. “One, two, three, four.” He struck the first chord and Spike began the drumbeat. As the fourth bar ended Giles nodded to Viconia and her fingers began to dance on the bass strings. Giles switched to playing the sustained notes and the magic of his enchanted chain mail continued the basic rhythm chords as he reached the start of the vocals.

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait… for you

Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you

With or without you
With or without you…

- - - - -

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Katrina said. She held up the device. “Magic meets technology.”

“It doesn’t seem natural, somehow,” Tara said, “but I guess it’s right for this situation.”

“We can really get everything that makes Warren, well, Warren on a 512 megabyte Flash drive?” Willow asked. “It doesn’t seem enough.”

“I analyzed the storage capacity of the original crystal,” Katrina said. “It’s not much more than a gigabyte and it held the memories of eight people. I don’t understand the compression, that’s the magic side of things, but it worked. This will too.” Her lips twitched into a half smile. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t absolutely certain.”

“So, when do we do it?”

“We’re almost ready,” Jonathan answered. “We haven’t made the final decision about the location but, otherwise, everything is good to go. Tomorrow?”

“I think I’ll take a look at the disk space,” Katrina said. “Running out when we were in the middle of inserting Warren would be bad.”

“Good thinking, Kat-woman,” said Jonathan. Katrina rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty sure we have at least thirty gigs of free space,” Jonathan went on, “but better safe than sorry.”

Katrina switched on the monitor of the game machine. “I see they’re still in Ust Natha,” she commented, as the screen lit up. “I would have thought they’d have left by now. Good. No danger of them bumping into Warren and asking awkward questions.”

“Hey, are they doing another concert?” Willow sat up straight and stared at the screen. “It’s pretty dark, but it looks like it.”

“I’ll put the sound on in a minute,” Katrina said. She minimized the game window and right-clicked on ‘My Computer’. “Properties… Holy shit!”

“What is it?” Jonathan and Andrew raced to join her. Willow stood up and followed.

“Used space – infinity. Free space – infinity.” Katrina pointed at the screen where the circle representing the disk, which should have been divided up in a blue and pink pie chart, was a solid black. “What the fuck?”

“That’s not possible,” Jonathan said.

“No shit, Sherlock,” Katrina said. Her brow furrowed. “Now I think about it, I don’t hear any sound from the drives. What’s going on?”

“The magic must have taken over,” Willow suggested.

“Well, yeah, that’s the only explanation that makes any sense,” Katrina agreed, “but what’s this going to mean to our plan? No way am I going to put Warren in there if we can’t get him out again.”

“We’ll have to run some tests,” Jonathan said. “I’ll insert some things, books maybe, a minor monster or two, and see what happens.”

Katrina ran her fingers through her hair. “Yeah, we’ll do that.” She closed the ‘Properties’ window and maximized the game once more. “Everything seems to be working okay for them in there, at least. Why does magic have to be so complicated?”

“That’s what I feel about technology,” said Tara. “Most of what you’ve been saying just doesn’t mean anything to me at all.”

“I might be able to make sense of it eventually,” Willow said. “It’s probably Quantum.”

“Our own Roundworld,” Katrina responded. “Where is Ponder Stibbons when you need him? Oh, well.” She switched on the sound. “I guess we might as well watch the show while we’re trying to get our heads straight.” Tara coughed gently. “Oh, yeah, sorry,” Katrina said. “Present company excepted.”

- - - - -

Giles couldn’t resist the urge. “Hello, Ust Natha!” he shouted. Spike sniggered. Giles glanced across at Viconia and, somewhat to his surprise, saw that she had not laid down the yarting to pick up her tan-tan. Instead she stood with fingers poised over the bass strings. His forehead creased briefly but then he decided to trust that she knew what she was doing, even though he had taught her the notes for only the one song, and he went ahead as planned. “This is for the woman I love,” he called out. “Live it up!”

- - - - -

I can’t believe that you’re alone in here,” the image of Giles sang, “Let me warm your hands against the cold…

Vhaeraun found his foot tapping to the beat. He turned his gaze away from the projection and watched Shar’s hips swaying.

She smiled and beckoned to him. “Shall we dance?”

“I know not the steps to go with this strange music,” Vhaeraun pointed out.

Shar snapped her fingers and the image changed. “Do as they do,” she said, indicating where Jaheira danced with Anya, Tara and Willow danced together, and Sorkatani and Buffy jived. Around them drow were beginning to follow their example.

“They are all females,” Vhaeraun observed.

“I think that, in this context it makes no difference,” Shar said, “and, look, now males join the dance.”

Dawn had pulled Evelintra’s nephew Geldiirn to his feet and soon persuaded the initially reluctant boy to dance with her. Talabrae and her consort Angloth rose and copied Jaheira and Anya’s moves. Imoen and the drow male who had partnered her at Evelintra’s party followed suit. A male drow approached Qilué and she rose to join him.

Hey there you with the sad face, come up to my place and live it up…

Vhaeraun watched for a few seconds longer and then faced Shar and they danced. When the song ended the Masked Lord touched his fingers to Shar’s cheek and guided her head to look directly into his eyes. “I have not seen you smile this much in all the centuries that I have known you,” he said. “I would attribute it to your acquisition of new worshippers, perhaps, and yet… they are smiles of joy, not of triumph.”

“And joy is not an emotion for which I am known,” Shar continued for him. “Indeed. It is the music. It lifts the spirits and burns away the bitterness that has consumed me for uncounted ages.”

“Remarkable,” said Vhaeraun. He gazed into her eyes once more. “You are beautiful when you smile.”

Shar smiled at him. “I shall try to do so more often.” Her eyes flicked to the projection, now showing the musicians once more, as notes began to sound out. “They play again.”

“Then we shall dance again.”

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me…

Vhaeraun suddenly stopped in mid-step. “Show me the audience, if you would, my Lady?”

Shar frowned but acceded to his request.

“I thought so,” Vhaeraun said, focusing his gaze on one particular couple at the fringe of Buffy’s group. “That is my senior priest in the city of Ust Natha. He dances with one who displays the insignia of Eilistraee. That is forbidden.”

“Your Dogmas actually forbid dancing with her worshippers?” Shar raised an eyebrow. “They must be remarkably comprehensive.”

“They forbid friendly intercourse,” Vhaeraun said.

“Those two have not reached that stage,” Shar said, a mischievous smile playing on her lips, “not yet, anyway.”

“He’s supposed to backstab her, not dance with her,” Vhaeraun grumbled.

“I am sure he intends to pierce her dark and yielding flesh,” Shar said, “although not necessarily from behind, and his weapon will have no blade. For now they merely dance in celebration of mutual victory. Ignore them and dance with me.” She swung her hips and pouted.

“Oh, very well,” Vhaeraun agreed. “I suppose I can overlook it for the once.” He turned back to Shar and they began to move in time to the beat.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?
Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?
Feeling all alone without a friend you know you feel like dying
Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me…

- - - - -

“I love him,” Jeroneth said.

“I think that’s pretty obvious,” Bodhi said. “We have ears.”

“And I love her,” said Zarbalan, as Jeroneth lowered her eyes and the shape of her mouth indicated that she would probably have been blushing if vampire circulation had allowed it. “From the moment when she took off her helmet.”

“When our eyes met, and I saw that you were a drow,” Jeroneth added. “In that moment I knew. I felt confusion, and even some dread, for how could a relationship between a drow and a Knight of the Radiant Heart be other than doomed? Yet there was joy also. Then despair when you turned against us.”

“I am sorry, ussta ’che,” Zarbalan said. He squeezed her hand. “I could not disobey.”

“It has turned out for the best,” Jeroneth said, “for now both of us are immortal, rather than me growing old while you remained almost unchanged. I forgive you, my love.”

“If I had been a living drow,” Zarbalan said, “then, whatever difficulties we faced, I would have striven to overcome them.”

“If I hadn’t made you into a vampire you’d never even have met her,” Bodhi pointed out. “It’s almost as if fate has brought you together.”

“Fate, and you,” Zarbalan said. “I thank you.”

“And I,” Jeroneth added.

Bodhi smiled at her. “I am pleased too. You are a delightful addition to my family. Courteous, charming, and truly beautiful. I envy you your breasts. They are… magnificent.”

Jeroneth dipped her head. “Thank you, mistress. I sometimes think that they are too big, however, especially when I am exerting myself in battle.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem now that you’re a vampire,” Bodhi told her, “and we’ll get you a nice supportive bra when we get to Athkatla.”

“Bra?” Jeroneth’s brow furrowed. “What is that?”

“You surprise me,” Bodhi said. “They were all the rage in Athkatla even before we left for Spellhold. Garments worn… no, I’ll show you.” She pulled the jerkin of her leather armor over her head, slipped off her shirt, and revealed her bra-clad breasts. “See? It supports without flattening and is attractive withal. One of my enemies, Anya Jenkins, brought the pattern from another world and taught the seamstresses of Athkatla how to make them. They have become quite the fashion.” She posed for a moment and then donned her shirt once more. “You would look quite spectacular in a well-cut bra.”

“I was not current with the fashions of the city,” Jeroneth said. “I mixed but little with the ladies of society. Since the Lady Moira, Sir Anomen’s sister, died my only close female friend has been my fellow Knight of the Order Lady Irlana. We talked more of swords and armor than of undergarments.” A frown crossed her brow. “I was taught that vampires are ravening monsters devoid of feelings for aught but carnage. This is not true, for I love Zarbalan, and when I speak of Irlana I feel still the friendship that I had for her. It would grieve me deeply if we brought harm upon her. There are others, too, in the Order that I would not willingly harm.”

Bodhi paused in the act of picking up her leathers. “Yes, we still love. My fondness for my brother is as great as it ever was in life. I turned Tanova out of friendship, not hate or lust for blood, and the same with Valen who was slain by Spike. I understand your feelings. Don’t worry about it. I have nothing against the Knights of the Order. I aided them yester eve because it would please Anomen,” she lied, as her true motivation had simply been that corpses hacked apart by minotaurs couldn’t be drained of their blood and life, “but then turned against them when I saw the opportunity to blacken the name of my enemy. If it would grieve you to slay them then we shall do so no more.”

“Thank you,” Jeroneth said. Anomen nodded agreement.

“It may be that conflict with the Order cannot be avoided,” Bodhi admitted, “but in that case we shall strive to bring your friends into the family.” She raised her leather jerkin quickly and pulled it over her head to hide her face from the others. Her eyes narrowed, unseen, as she thought about turning more Knights. It might be fun, and they were well-dressed and clean; good material for lovers. On the other hand they had that annoying loyalty to the Order, which seemed to carry over into their vampire existence, and that raised the possibility of conflict or even revolt if she turned too many. Better to keep her word to Jeroneth and turn them only as a last resort.

“My true enemies,” Bodhi continued, her voice muffled by the jerkin, “are the Shadow Thieves.” Her head emerged from the leathers. “And, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sorkatani, and their band.”

“Especially,” Zarbalan added, “my father’s sister Viconia.”

- - - - -

Giles raised his eyebrows at Viconia. “Remarkable,” he said. “You played those bass lines perfectly. I didn’t teach them to you. I’m, ah, rather astonished.”

“The music told me what to play, mentor, and I played it,” Viconia said. “I know not how. Perhaps it is a gift from Shar.”

“Perhaps,” Giles said. “Hmm. Do you feel confident enough to try something with a more complicated bass part? Perhaps ‘The Chain’?”

Viconia’s eyes narrowed briefly. “It talks of shadows. That would please Shar. Yet also it mentions watching the sun rise. An audience of drow would find that strange. To substitute the moon would displease… no!” Her eyebrows shot up. “She grants me dispensation, as long as I sing ‘praise the dark’ in place of ‘damn the dark’. Yes, mentor, we shall perform ‘The Chain’.”

Giles turned to their drummer. “Can you manage, Spike?”

“I’m no Mick Fleetwood,” Spike said, “not even Korgan, but I’ll cope. Watched Formula One enough in the Murray Walker years, and Dru owned ‘Rumors’ anyway. Let’s do it.”

Listen to the wind blow
Watch the moon rise

Run in the shadows
Damn your love
Damn your lies

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain…

- - - - -

“The sun sets,” Bodhi observed. “Dress, pack, and prepare yourselves. If we keep up a fast pace through the night we will reach Athkatla before morning.”

“What of these ones?” asked Tanova. She waved a hand to gesture at the corpse of the farmer, in the corner of the main room, and the feet of the farmer’s late wife, just visible through the door of the bedroom.

“You said it yourself,” Bodhi said. “We don’t need idiot minions. Leave them. Let them rise, and prey upon peasants and sheep until some mob or hero slays them, but we’ll be long gone. I don’t think we’ll have time to make it all the way to the Graveyard District before sunrise but at least we can be in a nice comfortable hotel room.” She grinned at Jeroneth and Zarbalan. “With great big comfortable beds.”

- - - - -

When I think about you,
I think about love
Don’t live without you
And your love
If I had those golden dreams
Of my yesterdays
I would wrap you
In the heaven
‘Til I’m dyin’ on the way

Feel like making
Feel like making love
Feel like making love
To you…

Shar swayed in Vhaeraun’s arms, her head against his chest, and her arms around his neck. His right hand held her body to him; his left crept down to her buttocks. She was warm in his arms, her fragrance in his nostrils, her usual Deadly Nightshade perfume replaced by a light and delicate floral scent mingled with the aroma of an aroused woman. Shar raised a hand and snapped her fingers. Something materialized in the chamber.

Vhaeraun heard the ‘pop’ of displaced air and turned his head. The object was a bed. A very large bed, a four-poster, of ebony wood with drapes and sheets of purple. Vhaeraun turned his head back toward Shar and raised an eyebrow.

“I feel like making love,” Shar quoted, smiling. “Feel like making love… to you.”

- - - - -

Giles played the final notes of ‘Feel Like Making Love’ and then laid down his guitar for a moment to take a drink of water.

“Shall we do ‘I touch myself’ now, mentor?” Viconia suggested.

Spike shuddered and shook his head. “Don’t think so, love,” he said. “Bad memories.”

“Bodhi sang it before we fought her while you were, ah, dead,” Giles expanded. “It’s rather spoiled it for us.” He set down the glass and picked up his guitar once more. “I feel the need for some Zeppelin.”

Spike groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re going to do bloody ‘Pathway to Paradise’?”

“Certainly not,” Giles told him. “We are going to do ‘Whole Lotta Love’.”

- - - - -

Shar’s long legs wrapped around Vhaeraun’s waist as they writhed on the bed. Gasps and moans came from their lips.

Way, way, down inside
I’m gonna give you my love
I’m gonna give you every inch of my love
Gonna give you my love…

- - - - -

“…everything I need to know
Just resting in the afterglow
Of your love

Giles played the final notes of the old Small Faces song and lowered his guitar. “I think it’s about time we brought the show to a close,” he said to his companions. “I’m getting tired and I’m running out of love songs.”

“We should finish with ‘Shadows of the Night’,” Viconia said.

“That was always my intention,” Giles assured her, “but there’s something else I want to play first. I’m going to let the magic out on this one. It might help Talabrae and Nathrae keep the city united after we’ve gone.”

- - - - -

“No, no, a thousand times no!” Vhaeraun swung his legs from the bed and stood up. “You ask too much.”

Shar gazed up at him with her purple eyes open very wide. “Why? It would make so much sense.”

“I am sorry I spoke harshly,” Vhaeraun said. “It is ungallant of me. My anger is not directed at you. My sister betrayed me. I do not forgive such things.”

“Did she? Or did she try to stop you from making a terrible mistake?” Shar raised herself up on one elbow. “The alliance that I propose would benefit you enormously. If you reject it out of pride you will be harming yourself.”

The projected image of Giles began a new song. Vhaeraun ignored it. “My stance is not negotiable. I will make no truce with my sister.”

Together we’ll stand
Divided we’ll fall
Come on now people and get on the ball
And work together
Come on, come on, let’s work together…

Vhaeraun’s brow furrowed. “Except perhaps in so far as the city of Ust Natha goes,” he conceded. “You are right that it would make much sense. Conflict would only weaken all of us and give Lolth the opportunity to retake the city. I agree to alliance there.”

“Good,” said Shar. “Yet surely it would make little sense to be allied in one place and opposed in others? Your followers are already under commandment to aid worshippers of Eilistraee in certain circumstances, are they not?” The creases in Vhaeraun’s brow deepened. “If her followers are thieves, or males,” Shar prompted him.

“Indeed so,” Vhaeraun conceded. “In fact, if I recall correctly, followers of mine died at the side of a follower of hers in Ust Natha recently.”

“They did,” Shar confirmed, “and it was part of the event that sparked the revolt that led to the city falling into our hands. Extend that part of your commandments to cover all of her followers, and of course those of mine who are drow – or thieves – and we may all profit greatly by working together.”

Come on, come on, let’s work together
Because together we will stand
Every boy, every woman and man…

“I agree to an alliance between your followers and mine, certainly, and without reservations,” Vhaeraun said, “but an alliance with Eilistraee is much to ask. You are persuasive, however, and I would agree if it was matched by a similar commitment from her. I doubt that you would be able to obtain such a commitment.”

“I have already sent an agent to meet with her and to propose such a deal,” Shar revealed. “If he fails, well, I will try again. I have confidence in him, however, and I believe that he will be able to report success when he returns.”

“We shall see,” Vhaeraun said. He shook his head. “I can’t believe what I have just done. An alliance with my sister, when I have hated her for more than fourteen thousand years? Have you used enchantments to sway my mind?”

Come on, come on, let’s work together
Now now people
Because together we will stand
Every boy, every woman and man…

“I swear that I have used no enchantments upon you,” Shar stated with absolute sincerity. “We have merely come to a mutually satisfying agreement.” She patted the bed at her side. “Speaking of mutual satisfaction,” she said, “must you rush away?” She allowed the sheet to slide down to expose her breasts to his gaze.

“Well, perhaps not,” Vhaeraun said. He approached the bed. Shar leaned forward to meet him and dipped her head. Vhaeraun’s eyes widened. “Aahh. Ohh.”

Shar’s head moved for a few moments and then pulled back. “I have not done this before,” she said. “I am copying my Chosen One, Viconia. Do I do it right?” She dipped her head again.

“Nnnggh. Urgh,” Vhaeraun gasped. “Yes. Definitely yes.”

- - - - -

“Oh, yes,” Giles sighed blissfully, as he played the soaring Neil Giraldo lead guitar line and Viconia and Spike clapped their hands above their heads. Six thousand drow in the amphitheatre below, plus thousands more on surrounding walkways and leaning out from every window that offered a vantage point overlooking the stage, swayed and sang. The sound filled the entire city.

We’re running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, it’ll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They’ll come true in the end…

“This couldn’t be better,” Giles murmured to himself, “if I really had been one of the founder members of Pink Floyd.”


Songs performed by Giles in this chapter are:
‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ by U2 (slight changes in the lyrics made by me), ‘With or Without You’ by U2, ‘Live It Up’ by Mental As Anything, ‘I Want You to Want Me’ by Cheap Trick, ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Feel Like Making Love’ by Bad Company, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin, ‘Afterglow (Of Your Love)’ by The Small Faces, ‘Let’s Work Together’ by Canned Heat, and ‘Shadows of the Night’ by Pat Benatar. Bodhi quotes from 'I Touch Myself' by The Divinyls and 'Bitch' by Meredith Brooks. Lyrics are quoted and amended without permission and all rights remain with the original writers and performers.

Tags: birthday wishes, birthdays, fic, tabula_avatar
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