Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

Tabula Avatar Chapter 63

Here is the next chapter of ‘Tabula Avatar’. Previous chapters can be found HERE. Rating R; this chapter is 10,275 words.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Sixty-three

Talabrae embraced Buffy and kissed her on the cheek. “Farewell, friend Qilafae,” she said.

Buffy put her arms around the drow woman. “Goodbye, Talabrae,” she responded, returning Talabrae’s kiss. “You take care of yourself, ‘kay?” She turned to Nathrae. “Hey, Nathrae,” she said. “We have to go to the surface and this chain mail will break apart and turn to dust up there. That seems kind of a shame. Maybe you could use it?”

“It is a fine garment,” Nathrae said, “eminently suitable for my new position as High Priestess. I accept it with gratitude, Qilafae, and I wish that I had a gift to give in return.”

Talabrae had moved on to embrace Sorkatani. She pulled back slightly after they exchanged kisses and looked into Sorkatani’s eyes. “Dynefryn, my friend,” she said, “is your real name Sendai?”

Sorkatani raised her eyebrows. “No. Dynefryn is an alias, you are correct in that, but my real name is not Sendai. Why do you ask?”

“The demon Wendonai called you ‘Bhaalspawn’,” Talabrae explained, “and I have heard rumors that a Bhaalspawn named Sendai is growing in power and influence in a drow enclave relatively close by. On the far side of the Forest of Tethir, and not an easy journey, but much closer to Ust Natha than is Ched Nasad.”

“That may be of interest to me at some time in the future,” Sorkatani said, “although I have more urgent concerns for the time being. Thanks for telling me, anyway.” She bit her lip. “You have been a good friend, Talabrae, and I would very much like one day to return here and see you again. Alas, I doubt that it will be possible.”

Talabrae put her lips close to Sorkatani’s ear. “I know that you have secrets,” she said quietly. “Evelintra detected something… she did not tell me, and I did not ask, but… are you really Drow?”

Sorkatani duplicated Talabrae’s move. “I’m a human,” she confessed. “All of us are save for Jhaelirae, who is half elven, and Veldrin.”

“Viconia De’Vir,” Talabrae said, nodding her head. “She schooled you well. I would never have guessed. If ever you do return there will be a welcome for you here regardless of your race. As long as we can recognize you, of course.”

“My appearance is not much changed,” Sorkatani said. “I am perhaps this much taller as a human,” she held up her hand with her finger and thumb a couple of inches apart, “and my hair is black and my skin has been described as a light golden brown. And, of course,” she grinned, “my ears are shorter.”

“And you bear Celestial Fury and wear dragon scales of black and red,” said Talabrae. “I will know you, and you will be made welcome.”

“I would like that,” Sorkatani said. “My real name is Dy- my name is D-,” she stumbled on her words, paused, took a deep breath, and concentrated hard, “Sorkatani.”

- - - - -

“Sorkatani!” Bodhi hissed. She pulled Anomen back into the shadows and gestured to the rest of the group to hide. “How did she get back here to Athkatla so quickly?”

“That’s not Sorkatani,” Tanova said. “See? Brown leather armor. This girl is a little taller, too, perhaps. I think I’ve seen her before. She’s one of the Shadow Thieves.”

Bodhi peered around the corner at the girl, whose features and night-black hair hinted at Kara-Turan ancestry, and nodded. “You’re right. One of Aran Linvail’s top people. Hmm. If I mistook her for Sorkatani then so could others. A change of armor… Let’s take her.”

“She’s dangerous,” Tanova cautioned. “Shouldn’t we wait? At least until after we’ve reached the inn?”

“We might not get another chance,” Bodhi said. She glanced at the sky. “It’s beginning to get light. I’m doing it now.”

“Wait, I’ll cast…” Tanova began. It was too late. Bodhi had already left the alley and stepped out into the street.

Bodhi came up behind the girl, moving quickly and silently, and reached for her neck. The Shadow Thief proved that she was as dangerous as Tanova had warned. The girl spun to meet Bodhi, pulling out her short-sword, and struck. Bodhi caught the blade between her palms and, with her phenomenal strength, stopped the blow short. It had only been a feint. A dagger in the girl’s left hand shot out and drove home into Bodhi’s stomach through one of the gaps in her cut-away armor.

Bodhi recoiled, releasing her grip on the sword, and the girl dropped into a fighting stance with sword and dagger poised. “Oh, you’re good, very good,” Bodhi said, “and I do believe that dagger was envenomed. Too bad poison doesn’t work on me.” Her hand went up to the scabbard on her back and she drew the long-sword that she had acquired from a fallen Radiant Heart knight. “What’s your name, girl?”

The Shadow Thief didn’t reply. She glided forward and slashed at Bodhi’s legs. Bodhi blocked with her sword and her free hand lashed out. It fastened on the girl’s wrist. Bodhi pulled and inexorably drew her captive toward her. Her fangs came out. “Don’t think of this as dying,” Bodhi said, as the girl struggled in her grasp, “think of it as a wonderful new opportunity. Tell me, can you use a katana?” She didn’t wait for a reply. Her fangs plunged home.

The street was almost deserted at this pre-dawn hour. The two passers-by within sight, drunks staggering homeward, fled screaming. A cry of pain sounded, mingling with the screams, and a short-sword clattered on the cobbles. The cry faded and became nothing more than soft moans. A listener would not have been able to tell if they were of pain or of pleasure.

- - - - -

Commander Durgloth tried to close his ears to the screams of the wounded and the dying. He had a battle to run and he could not afford to be distracted. He had to keep his mind clear. The tactical situation was grim. The strategic situation was worse.

During the initial invasion the elves had been forced into two set-piece battles in an attempt to protect their capital city. The drow had won both combats easily, and had picked up enough equipment from fallen elves to replace their failing Underdark armor and weaponry, but things were very different now. The elves had nothing to protect; they could pick their time and attack only when everything was in their favor. Their objective now, it seemed, was simply to kill as many drow as they could. The entire drow army, if possible; and they were succeeding.

“Commander!” An aide approached at a run. “A messenger from the city!”

A messenger? What he needed was reinforcements and supplies. More hectoring from Ardulace, threatening him with gruesome death if he didn’t conjure up victory over the elves out of nothing, would only make things worse. Perhaps he should simply have the messenger killed? No, there was a slight chance that there might be news of some concrete help. A relief column, an alliance with the Sythillisian Empire, even just a few heroes – Solaufein, Qilué, and Visaj alone would be worth a full company. Alas, he doubted if anything of the sort would be forthcoming.

Durgloth sighed and went to meet the messenger. He could always have him, or her, executed after he had heard the message. Unless the messenger was one of the Handmaidens, of course, in which case she’d probably have him executed for ‘failure’.

The messenger was no Handmaiden. Briz’baste, the Graceful Walker, Qilué’s lieutenant in the Female Fighters’ Society. A male drow unknown to Durgloth accompanied her. Durgloth ignored the male and greeted Briz’baste with a smile. “Well met,” he said, “or as well met as is possible in this bloody disaster. What news do you bring?”

“News indeed,” Briz’baste replied, “and new orders.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Durgloth said, “we’re in no shape to carry out any orders. If we even get out of this alive we’ll be lucky. If Ardulace thinks we can defeat the elves she’s insane.”

“Ardulace is dead,” Briz’baste told him. “These orders are from Qilué. Everything has changed. Your objective now is to get home alive with as many men as possible. Forget everything else. Forget loot, forget prisoners, and forget trying to beat the elves. Only survival matters.”

“Ardulace dead? I would applaud, but Phaere will be little better. If we return without loot I’ll be executed.” Durgloth noticed something odd about Briz’baste’s stance and peered closer. He saw blood staining her tunic. The stain spread as he watched. “You’re wounded. I’ll summon a healer.”

Briz’baste shook her head. “It is only a shallow cut, and the bleeding will soon stop, and there are new rules. Healing is to be reserved for those who can’t run. No exceptions. Everything comes second to mobility. We keep moving, even during the day, and we fight only to clear our path. Get our people home.” She smiled grimly. “No-one will accuse you of failure. Things have changed greatly. Oh, and Phaere’s dead too.” She unfastened her back-pack and pulled it from her shoulders.

“They must have done,” Durgloth said. “Ardulace and Phaere both dead? Even so, the Handmaidens will drag me to the sacrificial altar for failing Lolth.”

“No, they won’t. They’re all dead,” Briz’baste revealed. Her fingers worked on the buckles of her pack but her eyes were fixed on Durgloth’s face. “Solaufein is also dead. I’m sorry. I know he was your friend.”

Durgloth’s eyes widened in shock. “What happened?”

Briz’baste pulled a bundle from her pack. “Here,” she said. “Every ‘Teleport Without Error’ scroll in the city. Send the most seriously wounded back. We have clerics standing by to tend to them. Oh, and anyone unwounded who uses these scrolls to flee will be executed as soon as they arrive.”

Durgloth took the bundle. “What happened?” he repeated. “Tell me!”

“Ardulace executed Matron Mother Evelintra,” Briz’baste told him. “Solaufein tried to stop her and was slain too.” She pulled out another bundle. “Healing scrolls. My companion’s pack is full of potions.” The male drow removed his own pack and began to hand out bottles to Durgloth’s aides.

“They are sorely needed,” Durgloth said. “Go on.”

“The executions set off a revolt, led by Talabrae,” Briz’baste continued. “There were thirteen mercenaries in the city, brought in from Ched Nasad by Ardulace, and their leaders are the best fighters I have ever seen. They took Talabrae’s side. One of them is a bard who learned his craft on other planes. He sang a song that brought thousands flocking to her banner. They slew Ardulace, and Phaere, and sacked the Temple of Lolth.”

“They sacked the Temple?” Durgloth’s jaw dropped. “How can that have happened? The vengeance of the Priestesses will be terrible. Does civil war rage in the city?”

Briz’baste shook her head. “There is no war. There will be no vengeance. The Handmaidens and the Priestesses are dead. The Matron Mothers converted or died.”


“Priestesses of Shar rule Ust Natha now,” Briz’baste said, “and Eilistraee and Vhaeraun are worshipped openly and their clerics honored. If the army tries to re-impose the rule of Lolth the populace will fight – and you’re outnumbered seven to one. Eight to one, maybe, considering the losses you have taken.” She put her hand to her neck and pulled an emblem out from under her tunic. The sword symbol of Eilistraee.

“This is madness,” Durgloth breathed. “A trick. You try to lure me into approving of treason as a pretext for my execution.”

“No trick,” Briz’baste said. “Would Ardulace need a pretext? I shall be fighting at your side, remember, and if things are not as I say you could easily have me slain. I would hardly sacrifice my life for the sake of a lie.”

“It is almost impossible to believe,” Durgloth said, “but the orders that you bring could never have originated with Ardulace. I shall act as if you are telling the truth until I see evidence to disprove your words.”

“That is sensible,” Briz’baste said. She donned her pack, empty now except for some rations and a water bottle, and faced Durgloth. “There are still some orders undelivered. Set free all prisoners immediately. They will add to our enemies’ strength, true, but without weapons they will not make too great a difference and they tie your men down as guards. We shall move faster without them. Give all loot to the goblin auxiliaries and then send them away. Let the prisoners see you do this before you release them. Tell the goblins they are to make for the Sythillisian Empire and use the loot to hire mercenaries to aid us. No doubt they will steal it for themselves and flee. The elves will pursue them, and certainly kill them all, but that will take time. Time that we can use to run for home.”

“A good plan,” Durgloth agreed. “I would have done that, or something similar, already if I had not expected that it would lead to my demise on the execution block.” His brow creased as he thought. “I had intended to camp for the day. The elves will assault us, of course, but if we march we will blunder into the traps and ambushes they set in our path. We cannot see well enough by day to detect them.”

“Take a right-angle turn for a couple of miles, and then resume course for home,” Briz’baste suggested. “That should take you clear of most traps. As for the rest, well, that is why I have brought my companion. He is to take command of your scouts.”

“Who is he?” Durgloth asked.

“Kellin De’Vir,” the male drow introduced himself.

“De’Vir? One of the renegades held prisoner by Ardulace?”

“Call him ‘renegade’ no more,” Briz’baste instructed. “His kinswoman is now High Priestess of the city. He has skills that will be of great assistance.”

“We spent many years wandering in exile,” Kellin De’Vir explained. “Much of it was on the surface. I have learned the craft of a Ranger. The woods are no mystery to me and I see by daylight much better than most.”

“Excellent,” said Durgloth. He beckoned to an aide. “Take him to the scouts.”

“Once we are within two miles of the entrance to the Underdark Qilué will lead forth a sortie to clear our path for the rest of the way,” Briz’baste added. “She is gathering two thousand at arms and holding them ready.”

“That is good news indeed,” Durgloth said. “Is there anything else?”

“Those of House Despana who still survive are to be used as shock troops to break through elven formations,” Briz’baste said. “If they die in the process, well, it will eliminate the possibility of them seeking revenge for the fall of their House.”

“The troops from House Despana entered the city of Suldanessellar with the mage Irenicus,” Durgloth told her. “They were inside when he sealed the city with his magic. We need not concern ourselves with them.”

“Good,” said Briz’baste. “There is but one other thing; a message sent to me by magic not long before I reached you.” She grimaced and touched her hand to her wound. “That was when I received this. I was distracted and failed to spot an elf.” She lowered her hand. “The mercenaries may come this way and, I am told, they may wear the forms of humans. They must not be attacked. They are good friends to the rulers of the city and, anyway, they are matchless fighters. You could easily lose two or three hundred men in a senseless battle. The surest way of avoiding this is to command your men to refrain from attacking any humans at all.”

“I shall issue that order,” said Durgloth. His eyebrows rose. “They must be truly remarkable people.”

“They are,” Briz’baste agreed. “They pursue Irenicus and Bodhi.”

“The treacherous mage, and his vampire sister, are immensely powerful,” Durgloth observed.

“True,” said Briz’baste, “but I still would not want to be in their boots when the mercenaries catch up with them.”

“First they must pass through the elven army,” said Durgloth, “as must we. Let us waste no more time talking. I have orders to countermand, and new orders to give, and then we must march.”

- - - - -

“You return! And victorious, too, for I sense that you carry my beautiful eggs.” The silver dragon’s nostrils flared. “Give them to me.”

“Sure thing,” Buffy said. She set the box of eggs down on the cave floor. “Glad we could help.”

“I shall restore you to your normal forms,” Adalon the dragon continued, “and I have a reward for your efforts.”

“Just let me get my real body back,” Xander said, “and that’s all the – ow!”

“A reward is always good,” Anya said, as she pulled back her foot after delivering a sharp kick to Xander’s shin. “What is it?”

Adalon pulled something out from her hoard. “Necaradan’s Crossbow,” she said, holding out the weapon in one mighty clawed hand. “A weapon of surpassing accuracy.”

“I want it,” Anya announced, advancing to take the weapon. “I use a crossbow more than any of the rest of you and my existing one is nothing special.”

“It’s better than mine,” Dawn grumbled.

“So I’ll pass mine on to you,” Anya said. “That benefits both of us.”

“Could you fight over the crossbow after the nice lady dragon has turned us back into normal-size people?” Xander urged.

The dragon reared up onto her haunches and spoke an arcane phrase. The party members, other than Viconia and Minsc, transformed.

“That is so much better,” Xander said. He stretched and flexed his muscles. “Now I can use Carsomyr again. Even if it is only a big sharp sword without that special magic.”

“Big sharp swords are good,” said Minsc. “Is the warrior tattoo back on my face?”

“It is,” Tara confirmed, “and we can call you ‘Minsc’ again.”

“Being in a drow body wasn’t that bad,” Buffy said. “There is one thing that I got to like. I might keep things that way, in fact, once we get back to civilization.”

“Me too,” said Anya. “It’s much more convenient for oral sex.” Buffy groaned. Willow and Tara blushed.

Buffy changed the subject hastily. “We’d better get rid of these Evil necklaces.”

“They might come in useful later,” Anya said, “if we have to infiltrate some other evil organization.”

“Good thought,” Buffy said,

“I’d like to keep them anyway,” Sorkatani said, “in remembrance of Evelintra. If we put them in a Bag of Holding their radiance of Evil will be screened.” They removed the amulets and stashed them away.

“I shall not be returning to my previous duties,” the dragon said. “There is no point in my trying to preserve a peace that does not exist. I shall exact retribution on the drow, perhaps a score or so deaths, and then depart.”

Celestial Fury came out in a blur of motion. Buffy pulled the Hammer of Thunderbolts from her belt. Giles reached for his guitar. Jaheira’s spear swung down and pointed at the dragon’s abdomen. Anya cocked her new crossbow and reached into her quiver for a bolt. Willow vanished. More swords and maces were readied.

“No,” Sorkatani said. “You will not.”

“We can’t let you kill anybody,” Buffy added.

Adalon’s nostrils flared ominously. “You would protect the drow? Why?”

“We made friends there,” Buffy said. “The ones who stole your eggs and started the war are dead.”

“I cut Matron Mother Ardulace’s throat myself,” Dawn put in.

“And I so didn’t want to be reminded of that,” Buffy muttered. “Look, dragon, we made some good friends there. Ardulace killed two of them. We paid her back for that and now another of our friends is pretty much in charge. Viconia’s – cousin?” Viconia nodded confirmation. “Her cousin Nathrae,” Buffy continued, “is the new High Priestess in the city. They don’t want to fight the elves, they don’t want to mess with you, they just want to get on with their lives. If you start killing them, well, it’s you who’ll be starting a war.”

“You would die in their defense?” The dragon’s eyebrows were raised in an expression of surprise that was remarkably human.

“What makes you think that it’s us that would be doing the dying?” Spike asked. “Noticed the armor, sunshine?”

“Spike, you’re not helping,” Buffy chided. “We don’t want to fight you,” she said to the dragon, “but we will if we have to.”

“I do not understand how anyone could make friends with the drow,” Adalon said. Viconia glared at her.

“A drow has been my best friend for a long time, dragon,” Jaheira said, “and I would have been proud to call Evelintra friend had she lived. Talabrae, Nathrae, and Qilué have proven themselves true friends also.”

“I am puzzled,” Adalon said, “but I see that you mean it. Very well, then, I will take no action against the drow. I will transport you, as I promised, to the exit that leads to the surface.”

“No need,” Buffy said, “and, hey, it maybe wouldn’t be a good idea. There are two thousand drow assembling there. If you turn up it would be way too easy for somebody to make a wrong move and start a fight.”

“But will they not bar your path?”

“Our trusted friends know our true identities,” Sorkatani said, “and the rest will be told that we are disguised so that we can get past the elves.” She grinned. “The reverse of the truth.”

- - - - -

“I’m sorry that the rooms are not as I promised,” Bodhi said, “and the beds are small and stuffed with straw. We could not have reached the Mithrest Inn before sunrise.”

“And they’d have asked awkward questions about our ‘unconscious’ friend,” Tanova added.

“I have slept on the bare ground on campaign often enough,” Jeroneth said, “and straw beds will be no hardship.”

“You were lucky to have bare ground,” Zarbalan said. “In our wanderings I often had to sleep on stalactites. The points of stalactites.”

“Well, when I say ‘bare ground’, I mean battlefields strewn with broken blades and carpeted with caltrops,” said Jeroneth. She grinned at Zarbalan.

He grinned back. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you too,” she answered, and a second later they were wrapped in each other’s arms.

Tanova groaned. “Another day of utter hell for me,” she said.

“I think they’re sweet,” Bodhi said.

Jeroneth untangled herself from Zarbalan. “We would not be so ill-mannered as to make love in the same room as others not so blessed,” she assured Tanova.

“We wouldn’t?” Zarbalan pouted. “Oh, all right, although a night not in your arms will be torment.”

“We can still share a bed,” Jeroneth said, “but we shall only cuddle.”

“That’s a relief,” Tanova said, “as long as your resolve holds out against the temptation. Frankly, I wouldn’t wager on it.”

“Keep yourself occupied by planning the wording of the Limited Wish spell,” Bodhi suggested. “I grow more and more frustrated by the limitations imposed on us by our vulnerability to daylight. To wander freely under the sun would be a delight.”

“I never came to like it,” Zarbalan said, “even in years of wandering on the surface. The fields in which we slept were always full of thistles, and thorns, and caltrops.” Jeroneth punched him lightly on the arm.

“You can remain in this world, if you wish,” Bodhi said. “I enjoy your company but Anomen could no doubt use your assistance.” Anomen nodded but his lips were set tight. He approved of Jeroneth but showed no great liking for the drow vampire.

“I would rather that we go with you, my Lady,” Jeroneth said. “I miss the sun already and I fear that we will become embroiled in conflict with the Order if we remain here. To be forced to slay the Lady Irlana would grieve me deeply.”

“Where Jeroneth goes, there go I,” said Zarbalan. Jeroneth took him in her arms once more and they exchanged passionate kisses.

“I thought about the spell as we traveled,” Tanova said, “and I have worked out a provisional wording. I shall set it down on paper and then we can scrutinize it for loopholes and imprecision.”

“Do that,” Bodhi said. “I can hardly wait. Sunshine on a rainy day…

- - - - -

“Sunshine! Yay!” Dawn grinned widely.

Viconia pursed her lips. “I did not miss it,” she said. “I shall don my hat once again.”

“Wonder if we could teach one of the gnomes to make dark glasses?” Spike suggested.

“They don’t exactly have much sense of style,” Buffy said. “You’re not going to get cool shades from a gnome.”

“Unless we give them detailed instructions and sketches,” Anya said. “I sense another commercial opportunity.”

“I sense that we are being watched,” said Jaheira.

“Elves,” Sorkatani said. “Put your weapons away, everybody.”

“Halt!” An elf stepped out from behind a tree and aimed a bow at them. “Declare yourselves! You emerge from the realm of the Drow. If you are a collaborator, allied with the devils below, you shall perish swiftly.”

“My name is Sorkatani,” Sorkatani announced herself.

“And I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy added.

“We are pursuing Irenicus and Bodhi,” Sorkatani said.

“If you know of Irenicus then Elhan must speak with you immediately,” said the elf. His eyes narrowed. “Wait! There is a drow amongst you.”

“And the prize for observation goes to…” Xander muttered.

“She is a trusted member of our group and a deadly enemy to Irenicus,” Sorkatani told the elf. “We could not have made it through the Underdark without her.”

“Elhan shall decide what we are to do with you,” said the elf. “Continue onward. Make no sudden moves or you shall be slain. Bows are trained upon you from all sides.”

The group walked on for a further hundred yards and then fifty elf spearmen came out of the trees and surrounded them. An officer in green chain mail strode from the group and confronted the party.

“I am General Sovalidaas,” the officer said. “Who are you, who come forth from the Underdark, and who have a drow in your ranks? What is your business here and are you friend or foe?”

“I am Sorkatani, we are chasing a mage called Irenicus, and the drow is one of my closest friends,” Sorkatani replied.

“And, hey, how dumb would we have to be to say ‘foe’ when you’re pointing all those spears and arrows at us?” Buffy added. “Are you in charge here? ‘Cause, hey, we don’t want to have to keep repeating ourselves every few minutes. Let’s just tell the story once, to the top guy, and leave it at that, ‘kay?”

The general glared at her. “I suppose there is sense in what you say. I trust you not, accompanied as you are by a drow, but I shall take you before our commander Elhan. He shall determine your fate. Hand over your weapons.”

“No-one but me shall hold Celestial Fury,” Sorkatani said.

“You can have Carsomyr when you pry it from my cold dead hands,” Xander declared.

“Nobody takes our weapons,” Buffy said flatly. “We’ve been there, seen it, got the scars. We won’t use them unless you make us but we’re not handing them over.”

Sovalidaas stared at them. “You are surrounded and heavily outnumbered. Compliance would be wise.”

“If we’re that outnumbered you don’t have to be scared of us, then, do you?” said Spike.

“We do not fear you, far from it,” the elf replied. “Very well, keep your weapons, but if you draw them you die. Follow me.”

He led them to a tented encampment. The spearmen stood guard while the general went inside one of the tents. After a few minutes Sovalidaas emerged. “Duke Elhan will give you audience,” he said. “Make no hostile moves or you perish on the instant.”

“Yeah, right, we get the idea,” Buffy said. She and Sorkatani led the way into the tent.

It was big for a tent, almost a marquee, and was set up as a command centre. The senior officers of the elven army sat around a surprisingly large trestle table. An easel held a map, obviously of the forest, on which colored flag-pins showed the position of military units. A cluster of black pins presumably represented the drow. Green pins surrounded it in a loose scatter and also formed another dense cluster around a red pin.

“You are here,” Xander guessed under his breath. Sorkatani nodded agreement.

“Scrutinize the map if you wish,” said the officer who sat at the head of the table. “If you are hostile you will not leave here alive to tell of what you have seen.” He stood up. “I am Duke Elhan, commander of the armies of Suldanessellar, and you will tell me who you are.”

“I am Sorkatani Gorion’s Ward,” Sorkatani said, “known by some as the Perfect Warrior.”

“Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy said. “You want us to run through the whole list? It’ll take time.”

“If you are the leaders your names are all that are necessary,” Elhan said, “for now. I will ask some questions of you and you will speak what you know. My sages will detect any falsehood. They are very good at that sort of thing. Now, then, something simple and direct to begin with. You emerged from the home of the drow. Were you fleeing or are you in league with them?”

“Neither,” Sorkatani replied.

“You’re asking the wrong questions,” Buffy said.

“Truth, and truth,” a robed elf at the table declared.

Elhan frowned. “Surely you either flee the drow or are in league with them. What other answers could there be?”

“Why don’t you just let us tell you the sitch, ‘kay?” Buffy folded her arms. “Here’s the Cliff Notes version, uh, you won’t know what that is, the short version with just the main points. Irenicus captured us. He stole Sorkatani’s soul, Bodhi stole Imoen’s, and we want to get them back. Killing the two of them seems the best way of doing it so that’s what we plan on doing. Oh, and Bodhi beat Spike to a pulp, broke Viconia’s neck, and turned my boyfriend. Irenicus, uh, caused Tani’s boyfriend’s death too. We owe them a whole lot of payback.”

“All truth,” the sage confirmed.

“What were you doing in the Underdark?” Elhan asked.

“That’s where they ran to,” Buffy said, “so that’s where we chased them. We had to get into the drow city. A nice dragon gave us disguises. We went in the city, killed some drow and made friends with others, and then the top Matron Mother killed some friends of ours. We killed her for it.”

“Truth,” said the sage.

Sorkatani took up the tale. “Matron Mother Ardulace is the one who plotted with Irenicus to invade your city. She’s dead. Her replacement as head of the city’s government, Talabrae, opposed the war from the start. As far as she is concerned the war is over and there will be no more hostile action. She only wishes to get back what survivors remain of the drow army.”

“Truth,” the sage said. His eyebrows had climbed almost to the brim of his pointed hat. He turned to a colleague and whispered something.

“I concur,” the other sage said. “All that they have said is, without doubt, the truth.”

“Impossible,” said General Sovalidaas. “There is some deception here. There has to be. See, there is a drow amongst them and she hides her face.”

“I shelter only from the sunlight, darthiir,” Viconia said. She raised a hand and removed the hat. “I am not ashamed of my race. All in Athkatla know what I am.”

“Look, just point us at Irenicus and stand clear,” Buffy said. “We owe him a world of hurt.”

“If you are truly an enemy of Irenicus then we have that in common,” said Elhan. “It is said that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. I would not agree that such is always the case but it is a start. Getting to the Ex – Irenicus may not be simple, however, and I doubt that you can achieve it without our aid.”

“Then give us that aid,” Sorkatani said. “It is my understanding that he is inside your city and has somehow sealed it with magic.”

“Sealed, and hidden it from all eyes,” Elhan confirmed.

“How could he do that with a whole city?” Buffy wondered.

“His magics are great,” Elhan said. “We cannot penetrate his web of illusion. If we but had the Rhynn Lanthorn – but he has taken it.”

“Rhynn Lanthorn? What’s that?”

“An ancient lantern, inscribed with the oldest of runes, attuned to the Elven nation,” Elhan explained. “No magic can bar its return. If we had it we could simply walk into the city. If it was still within the bounds of Suldanessellar its light would call to us. It has been removed and taken far away. Find it and bring it to us and we will march upon the city and destroy Irenicus.”

“Bodhi,” Buffy said to Sorkatani. “He wouldn’t trust anybody else.”

“Indeed so,” Sorkatani agreed. “She was not interested in his revenge. No doubt she will be on her way to Athkatla with this lantern.”

“And with Anomen,” Buffy said. “He’s bound to go after his father. We have to get there and stop them.”

“First we have to stop this war,” Sorkatani said. “Remove your troops from this place, Duke Elhan, and there will be no need for further battle. The drow army has orders to return home and shun combat unless it cannot be avoided. There need be no more deaths.”

“The drow must suffer for this brutal invasion!” Sovalidaas snapped. “Their army must be wiped out to the last drow. All must perish!”

“That would be murder,” Tara protested. “Genocide.”

“To slay those who wish only to go home and fight no more is an act of Evil,” Minsc agreed.

“The drow are scum!” Sovalidaas spluttered. “Vile and evil to the core. We should hunt them down and exterminate them.”

If looks could kill he would have disintegrated on the spot. Sorkatani’s hand went to the hilt of Celestial Fury but she did not draw. Spike whirled and pounced upon the general. He seized the elf by the throat and lifted him into the air.

“That wasn’t nice,” Spike growled. “You can apologize to my girl or I can rip your head clean off. Which will it be?”

“Put him down!” Elhan commanded.

Spike shook his head. “When he takes it back. Otherwise I’m going to kill him.”

The elf guards in the tent leveled spears at Spike. Elhan waved them back. “Sovalidaas, you spoke out of turn,” he said. “There are some few drow who are not evil. The followers of Eilistraee are innocent of crimes against elves. Take back your foolish words.” Spike slackened his grip slightly.

“Very well,” Sovalidaas choked out. “Some drow need not be killed.” Spike did not relinquish his hold. “I apologize.”

Spike released the general, who staggered back clutching his throat, and turned back to face Elhan. Behind him Sovalidaas dropped his hand to his sword hilt and began to pull the weapon free. A huge hand closed on the general’s wrist and stopped him.

“You are a bad man,” Minsc boomed out. “I think that you should sleep off this foolish rage.” He brought across his other hand and smote Sovalidaas a tremendous blow on the jaw. The general’s helmet flew off and he crashed to the ground.

“Take Sovalidaas away,” Elhan commanded. “He has disgraced us. When he wakes tell him he is a general no more. He is reduced to the captain of a single company until he learns to control himself.” Two guards went to the unconscious elf, took hold of him under the arms, and carried him from the tent.

“My apologies,” Elhan said. He focused his gaze on Viconia. “Are you one of the worshippers of Lady Silverhair?”

“No, I am not,” Viconia said, “although I now have friends who follow her. My deity is Shar.”

One of the elven sages glared at her. “Then you are evil. There can be no good in a follower of the Mistress of the Night.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Come on, people, get with the times. Hey, meet Sir Xander, Knight Paladin of the Order of the Radiant Heart, totally not allowed to mix with evil people.”

“Viconia’s not evil, although, hey, she gets kinda embarrassed about that when we bring it up,” Xander confirmed.

“I grow used to it, abbil,” Viconia said, “and now that my goddess has relaxed her rules it is no longer a matter of shame to me.”

“Truth,” said another of the sages. “They believe these statements to be fact. Incredible. You say that Shar has relaxed her rules and accepts worshippers who are not evil?”

“Not just worshippers, but priestesses,” Viconia replied, “amongst whom I am counted.”

“The doings of the gods are of no concern of mine,” Elhan said. “I am satisfied that we need not slay these adventurers and that they may be the answer to our problem with Bhurae – Bhodi.”

Sorkatani and Buffy exchanged glances. “You’re hiding something,” Buffy said. “Come on, out with it. What do you know that we don’t?”

“Nothing,” said Elhan. “Unless you do not know that Bodhi is a vampire.”

“Hello, Vampire Slayer here,” Buffy said. “Knowing about vampires, and sticking pointy pieces of wood through their hearts, is what I do. You did hear me mention that the bitch turned my boyfriend, right?”

“I am sorry,” Elhan said. “You have my sympathies.”

“It so isn’t fair that you have those guys saying ‘truth’ after everything we say and we don’t get the same edge,” Buffy complained. “I still think you’re hiding something.”

“Let him,” Sorkatani advised. “It’s not important as long as it doesn’t affect us getting to Bodhi and then to Irenicus.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right,” Buffy said. “Okay, I won’t push. One thing, though, Duke. Bodhi is pretty damn tough. Any help you could give us would be useful.”

“I will not send men after her into Amn,” Elhan said. “Tensions are high after the defection of two Amnian cities to Tethyr. Although Suldanessellar is independent I fear the humans would not recognize the distinction and an armed band from here would be treated as invaders. I can provide you with some supplies and that is all. Holy Water from a spring sacred to Rillifane Rallathil, for instance, that should serve you well against the vampire.”

“Cool,” Buffy said. “Yeah, we could use that.”

“We could pour it into Bodhi’s pools of blood,” Anya suggested. “That might give her a very nasty surprise.”

Buffy grinned. “I like it,” she said. “We’ll do that. Okay, Duke Elhan, give us the Holy Water and we’ll be on our way.”

“We have not yet settled the matter of the drow army,” Sorkatani said. “Will you draw aside your troops and avoid useless massacre?”

“I think not,” said Elhan. “They must learn a lesson. Never again shall they dare to invade the realm of the elves.”

“They don’t plan on doing that anyway,” Buffy said. “Talabrae even wants to trade with you. Maybe not right away, ‘cause feelings are bound to be pretty strong, but when things have settled down.”

“You will make them hate you once more,” Sorkatani warned, “and when they have regained their strength they will indeed return. Show them mercy. Many of your men will die in such a battle, and for no good reason.”

“They will take mercy as a sign of weakness,” Elhan said.

“No, they really won’t,” Buffy said. “Hey, they have elf prisoners. Talabrae doesn’t want them and she’d be willing to make a deal for their release. If you slaughter her army, well, you can forget about getting your boys back.”

“Truth,” a sage put in. “They believe what they say. Perhaps their counsel is wise after all.”

Elhan’s brow furrowed. “It goes against everything I have been taught. Yet it is true that we will lose many. A cornered rat will fight to the death. A rat in the open will but flee. Perhaps I shall heed your words.”

“Now, that’s more like it.” Buffy smiled.

“There is one more thing that must be done before you can leave,” Elhan continued. “I cannot entirely trust any drow and, if I am to spare the drow army, I require a token of your good faith. The drow woman,” he gestured in the direction of Viconia, “must submit to a geas binding her to pursue Bodhi on pain of death.”

Sorkatani’s lips curled back from her teeth. “No.”

“Uh-oh. You really, really, shouldn’t have said that,” Buffy said, glaring at Elhan. “Big mistake.”

“It is not negotiable,” Elhan stated. “I will accept nothing less.”

“You will not do this thing.” Sorkatani’s mouth became a tight line and her nostrils flared. “I will not allow it.”

“You cannot ask this of her,” Jaheira put in. “It is cruel beyond bearing. Viconia is my friend. I pledge my life that she is true.”

“She must accept the geas, or you shall not pass,” Elhan insisted.

“You have to be out of your mind,” Buffy told him. “Forget it. You don’t get to touch her.”

“I will not allow it,” Sorkatani repeated. “If you persist in this insanity then I shall take up arms against you.”

“Jabbress, no,” Viconia pleaded. “I am not worth one drop of your blood. I am willing to submit to their geas. Am I not already sworn to cut out Bodhi’s heart and sacrifice it to Shar? They ask of me nothing more.”

“There shall be no geas, abbil,” Sorkatani said. “Never again. I could not bear it. I shall fight.”

“We all will,” said Spike. The others, except for Imoen who was hunched over clutching at her stomach, chorused agreement.

“You are mad,” said Elhan. “I have five hundred spearmen surrounding this tent, two score of battle mages, and over two thousand elven archers in the woods all around. You will perish swiftly.”

“As will you,” said Sorkatani, “and your army will be depleted. There will be no geas.”

- - - - -

Bodhi scrutinized the sheet of paper carefully. “It seems fine to me,” she said. “I see no flaws. Excellent work, Tanova.” She turned her head. “And excellent work from you, too, Jeroneth. Up close it might be possible to recognize that the leather is painted red and black but at a distance it will certainly pass muster.”

“Thank you,” Jeroneth said. “I was glad to help.”

“Her hairstyle is not the same as Sorkatani’s,” Tanova pointed out, indicating the Shadow Thief’s corpse that lay on the spare bed. “I will fix that, now that I have finished with the spell.”

“You still have to cast it,” Bodhi said.

“You want me to do that now? I had thought to do it tomorrow,” Tanova said. “We should take time to reflect on the wording in case I have overlooked something.”

“I’d rather not wait,” Bodhi said. “Just imagine how I’d feel if it turned out there’s a doorway to their world that opens only once in a hundred years, and that was tonight.”

“I doubt that will be the case,” Tanova said, “as they appeared some five months or so ago. A once in a century portal would mean that we have a long time to wait regardless of when I cast the wish.”

“I feel a sense of urgency,” Bodhi said, “perhaps a premonition. There is no time to lose.”

“Very well,” Tanova said. She took back the paper, on which she had written out the suggested wording for the spell, and then opened a scroll-case and took out the Limited Wish scroll. “Please, I must have quiet for the casting.”

“Of course,” Bodhi agreed. Jeroneth merely nodded. Anomen and Zarbalan were asleep.

Tanova cast the spell and then read out the question that she had prepared. Nothing happened.

Bodhi waited for a minute, tapping her fingers on her thigh, and then her patience ran out. “You have made some error,” she accused. “It hasn’t worked.”

“I don’t understand,” Tanova said. “I thought everything was in order. At the worst we should have received some cryptic clues. I’m sure I read it out correct… oh.” Her eyes went back to the sheet of paper and her eyebrows shot up.

Bodhi rolled her eyes. “What did you do wrong?” Her tone was sharp but held no real anger. Her affection for Tanova was deep.

“Nothing,” Tanova said. She smiled. “It worked. This is not the question any longer. It has transformed into instructions.”

“Instructions? Let me see,” Bodhi demanded. She snatched the paper from the mage. “Be in the gardens south of the Temple of Talos on the Tenth day of Marpenoth, 1369 Dale Reckoning, before the second bell after highsun sounds.” She raised her eyes to Tanova. “The Tenth? By the gods, that is tomorrow!”

“Your premonition was correct, then,” Tanova said.

Bodhi shook her head. “There was no premonition. I’m just terrible at waiting and I said the first thing that came into my head that would spur you to hurry up.” She looked down at the paper again. “The second bell after highsun? Broad daylight! This is impossible.”

“The Talosians do not tend their gardens,” Jeroneth said. “They are wild and overgrown. A disgrace to the Temple District. There will be shade a-plenty.”

“That’s good to know,” Bodhi said. “Thanks. I’ve never been in that part of the Temple District.”

“It is almost directly opposite the High Hall of the Radiant Heart,” Jeroneth said. “I know the area well.”

“Can you get us there without bumping into any paladins?” Bodhi asked. “We could go in via the sewers, before dawn, and lie up in the shade during the day until the specified hour.”

“There is a sewer entrance on the path on that side of the Temple of Talos,” Jeroneth said. “I do not know the routes through the sewers, however, and could not tell you how to find it from below.”

“Roger the Fence will direct us for gold,” Tanova said.

“It looks as if we have a plan,” Bodhi said. “Tonight shall be busy indeed. Now, let’s see what we have to do next.”

- - - - -

“Well, everything still works,” Katrina said. “I think it’s safe to go ahead. I don’t understand why it works, maybe, but it does.” She gave a wry smile. “There’d probably be a Nobel Prize for the taking if I did understand it.”

“I don’t think we should go public with this,” Jonathan said. “I don’t want anyone other than us messing with Faerûn. They wouldn’t understand.”

“I’m not even wild about us messing with it,” Katrina said, “but I can’t bear to think of Warren just lying in that hospital bed forever. We can get him in and out again. As long as he’ll do what he’s told and not start wandering around the city sightseeing…”

“I’ve written everything down,” Jonathan said, “and I’ll put it right in his hand.”

“Have a back-up ready,” Katrina suggested, “and be ready to zap it in if he throws the instructions away without reading them. I’ll take a look and maybe add a little message, okay? Have you picked the place for the insertion?”

“Yeah, I think I know a good spot,” Jonathan replied. “We don’t want him popping up in the middle of the street, it would attract too much attention and the Cowled Wizards might think he was using unlicensed magic, and we want it to be pretty close to a temple so he doesn’t have to go wandering around too far. The Temple District is pretty much all main streets, apart from the sewers and it could be dangerous down there, but there are a couple of, like, gardens, or orchards, or whatever. That’s my choice.”

“Down by the Temple of Talos? Sounds good to me. Let’s do it. Tomorrow.”

- - - - -

“…and she had to kill him,” Tara related. “There was nothing else she could do. Now do you see? If you put a geas on Viconia you’re as bad as Irenicus.”

“Truth,” a sage reported.

“I am nothing like Irenicus!” Elhan snapped.

“Then prove it,” Tara challenged. “Don’t act like him.”

“I… I…” Elhan took a deep breath. “I act only to protect the Elven nation. I am loath to begin a battle of three thousand against thirteen…”

“Then don’t,” Tara said. “It’s really not that hard.”

“Duke Elhan!” An elf soldier entered the tent. He glanced briefly at the humans but otherwise ignored them. “Forgive the interruption but there is an arrow message from the battle-front.”

“What does it say?”

“The drow are moving. They were fortifying a camp for the day but suddenly abandoned it and marched. My Lord… they have set their prisoners free!”

“They released their captives?”

“Indeed,” the soldier confirmed. “Read for yourself, my Lord.” He held out a scroll to Elhan.

“Qilué’s girl must have gotten through,” Buffy muttered to Sorkatani.

Elhan’s eyebrows climbed high as he read. He went to the map board and scanned the positions. “They will move faster without captives in chains,” he mused, “and they have abandoned their wagons of plunder too. Hmm. If they keep moving through the day, and of course through the night, they could reach here well before dawn. If the other drow sally forth to support them we could be caught between two forces. Better to march to meet them far from here…”

“Or just move aside and let them pass,” Sorkatani said. “There is no need for a battle at all. No prisoners to rescue. Why sacrifice lives for the sake of revenge when it’s against the wrong people? Those who gave the orders are dead.”

Elhan raised a hand to his chin. “You make a good case. The release… I have it! I still require an incontrovertible sign of good faith. If it is not to be a geas, well, it must come from the drow. You say they have prisoners within their city? Let them be released also. If that is done then I shall move my army aside. Those closer to the drow army shall no longer attempt to bar their path but shall only shadow them to ensure that they go nowhere but to their home.”

“Talabrae will go for that,” Buffy said, “no question.”

“We shall go at once to pass on your request,” Sorkatani said, “and we shall return here with the prisoners.” She sighed. “And then we can resume our pursuit of Bodhi. It will take us nearly a tenday to reach Athkatla, I would guess, unless we can obtain horses.”

“We can go by way of Trademeet, and buy horses there,” Jaheira suggested. “That will gain us a day or so.”

“We are still too far behind her,” Sorkatani said. “She must have four or five days’ head start and, even though she must shelter by day, her pace will be much faster. She may even have already reached the city.”

- - - - -

“Yes, I can use a katana,” the newest vampire told Bodhi. “They are scarce in this city and I have never managed to obtain an enchanted one.”

“Then this is your lucky day,” Bodhi said, “well, apart from the bit where you died, I suppose, although I think you’ll find being a vampire rather fun. I certainly do.” She held out a weapon. “Here. This was Sorkatani’s second-best katana.”

“Her second-best?” The former Shadow Thief pushed aside the corpse of the maidservant who had been her first meal. She took hold of the hilt and pulled the katana free of its scabbard. “This is an exceptional weapon.” She plucked a hair from her head and stroked it against the edge of the blade. The hair parted. “I would judge it to be as strongly enchanted as my short-sword.”

“It’s yours now, Kachiko,” Bodhi said. “I want you to use it on a special mission. Impersonate Sorkatani and blacken that shiny reputation of hers.”

“Hah!” Kachiko’s upper lip curled in a sneer. “Sorkatani, the so-called ‘Perfect Warrior’. I have lived in this city for years, and served the Shadow Thieves faithfully, and never have I gained a weapon such as this. She arrives from nowhere and in no time she has the favor of Aran Linvail, she wins a blade of legend such that she could keep this one merely as a spare, and the bards are all singing her praises. She even has her own tame bard to further publicize her. ‘Perfect Warrior’? Who could not be a ‘Perfect Warrior’ with her advantages? I was brought up on the streets, after my mother died on the voyage here from Kara-Tur, and all that I have I earned with my sweat and my blood.”

Bodhi narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to speak sharply. Sorkatani might be her deadly enemy but Bodhi had come to feel a grudging respect, perhaps even admiration, for the Perfect Warrior and hearing Kachiko’s bitter and envious tirade made Bodhi feel uncomfortable. She closed her mouth again. The new recruit’s attitude, although displeasing, would be useful. She paused for a moment to regain her composure before speaking. “You are certainly highly skilled,” she praised. “You fought superbly. I’m sure you would have defeated any normal vampire. You’ll be a valuable asset to our team.”

“Thank you, honorable Mistress,” Kachiko said.

“It’s a shame I won’t be around to appreciate your work,” Bodhi continued. “I might return, but I might not. I intend to travel to another world.”

- - - - -

Warren slept. He wandered through dreams. Vaguely he was aware that something was wrong, and he thought he could hear Katrina calling to him from somewhere in the distance, but he couldn’t find his way to her. Everything was dark.

Suddenly there was light. Dim daylight, flickering, green in hue. He looked around. He was out in the open, under leafy trees, standing on bare earth with a scattering of fallen leaves and a few small plants. Above him leaves fluttered in a slight breeze and he could smell damp soil and vegetation. From near at hand he could hear water trickling and splashing in a stream.

“What the hell? I was in the Bronze,” he exclaimed. “Where am I?” His gaze fell on his shoes and his mouth dropped open. They weren’t his shoes. High soft boots, laced to the tops, with his pants tucked inside them. He checked out the rest of his clothes. A shirt with slashed sleeves, a leather jerkin, and – wow! – a sword belt. An actual sword hung at his hip. Leather pouches dangled from the belt and he could feel the weight of a pack on his back.

There was something in his hand. A sheet of paper. He stared at it.

‘DON’T PANIC!’ was written across the top in big letters. He read on.

‘Warren. You’re in Athkatla. You got hit on the head and you’re in a coma. We stuck you in the game to get you cured.’

“This has to be one of Andrew’s crazy ideas,” Warren said. He shook his head and then a grin came to his face. “Hey, I’m in Athkatla! Totally cool. I can go see Giles play live.” He moved into brighter light and resumed his reading.

‘Don’t you go wandering around, Warren,’ the note continued. ‘I know you’ll want to see the place but it’s too dangerous. We can’t save the game right now and you could get really killed. You came out as a dual class Second Thief/Third Illusionist and we couldn’t bump you up any higher. Go straight to the Temple of Lathander and ask them to cast Heal and Restoration on you. There’s gold in your pack to pay for it and scrolls in case they don’t have the spells. As soon as it’s done head back to your start point and we’ll pull you out. If you go rubber-necking I’ll just zap you straight out. Don’t take any dumb chances. I miss you. Katrina.’

Warren raised his head to stare at the sky through the leaf canopy. “Okay, okay,” he said. “It would be totally cool to see Athkatla but, hey, I get that you’re worried. I won’t mess up. So, which way to the Temple?” He turned the paper over and saw a map. “Should have guessed. Right, I’m on it.” He noticed a low stone wall nearby. He clambered over it and emerged onto a street paved with stone flags.

A large building stood, or rather loomed forbiddingly, close at hand. Water surrounded it and two globes, crackling with electricity, were mounted on poles beside its gates. “The Temple of Talos,” Warren identified it. “Oh, wow!”

“Bloody tourist,” a passing pedestrian muttered, thereby answering the question of whether or not Warren would be able to understand the local language even before it had occurred to him. Two halberd-bearing guards at the temple gates glanced incuriously in his direction.

“I turn right, then left, and go straight on,” Warren said to himself. “It’s not like I even need the map.” He walked on until he reached the bend in the road. “Hey, the Radiant Heart place! This is so cool. I wonder if Garrick is there doing that Cyrano de Bergerac thing?” He leaned on the wall that bordered the path and stared across a wide and slow-flowing stream at the High Hall. He heard a splash, looked down, and saw rings spreading from where a fish had jumped.

He went back to gazing at the Radiant Heart building. A knight in shining armor walked up the path and entered the Hall. The doors closed and nothing further happened. There was no sign of the bard from the first Baldur’s Gate game, or of the lady knight he was courting, and Warren quickly lost interest. “I guess I’d better move on,” he said. “I don’t want Kat to get impatient.”

He walked along the main street. Crowds of people passed by, talking amongst themselves in a buzz of conversation. Clouds of gnats rose over the river. A bell tolled out, twice, from the Temple of Talos. Another bell answered from the building ahead of him, this one ringing out fourteen times, two deep notes from a bell in the Temple of Helm sounding in the middle of the sequence. “I can’t believe this,” Warren muttered. “It is just so cool. Andrew is going to just die of envy.” He reached the Temple of Lathander, passed between the pair of Dawnbringers at the door, and entered.

- - - - -

Warren put his hand on the stone wall and vaulted over it. He landed lightly on his feet and smiled. “Man, I feel great,” he said. “It sucks to have to leave so soon but I guess I can see her point.” He stepped into the shadow of the trees.

Something caught him by the wrist and yanked him deeper into the shade with irresistible force. His other arm was seized, and his legs, and he was lifted from his feet.

“If you scream, or call out for help, I’ll rip off your nose,” a female voice threatened. “Warren Mears, I presume? Tell me how to get to the land of Caliph Onya.”

Warren struggled. It was futile. His captors were far stronger than him and there were four of them. A pretty girl in plate armor and a small man in a hooded cloak had him by the ankles. His left arm was held by a beautiful dark-haired woman with a veil across her face. A girl in black leather held his right wrist with one hand and her other hand was at his throat. She ran her tongue over full, very red, lips. Fangs showed in her mouth.

“Oh, fuck,” Warren groaned. “Bodhi. Get me the fuck out of here, guys!”

Bodhi’s eyebrows climbed. “You know me? Well, in that case you…”

Her voice cut off in mid sentence. The orchard was suddenly empty.

- - - - -

Katrina looked down at Warren lying in the bed. “I hope this works,” she said. “No way am I going to risk the same thing again. Not after what nearly happened.”

“I don’t get how they could have been there,” Jonathan said. “It’s like they were waiting for him. That doesn’t make any kind of sense.”

“At least we pulled him out in time, dude,” Andrew said.

“It was too damn close,” Katrina said. “It scared the crap out of me. Never again.” She took out her little flash card device and aimed it at Warren’s body. “Let’s see if this crazy plan came together.” She pressed the activation stud.

Warren stirred in the bed. “Hurry, guys!” he said, and raised his head.

Katrina stared. Her eyes opened wide and she raised her hand to her mouth. Behind her Jonathan and Andrew recoiled.

Four figures had appeared in the room, surrounding the bed, their hands on Warren’s limbs. The girl who held his right arm was speaking.

“…nae dagor…” she said. Her eyes widened to match Katrina’s. “By all the gods!” she exclaimed, in English. “It has worked.” She stared around the room.

“Bodhi,” Katrina breathed. “Oh, fuck.”

“You know me too,” Bodhi said. “Puzzling, but gratifying.” A smile spread across her face. “Thank you for bringing us here. I think I will reward you. How would you like to live forever?”


Tags: fic, tabula_avatar
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