Speaker-to-Customers (speakr2customrs) wrote,

Tabula Avatar Chapter 65

Several of my stories have been nominated at the Twisting the Hellmouth CoA Awards. Voting is quite complex, and in two rounds; after the first round the top 5 in each category go through to the second round. The first round ends on Wednesday 21st at 21.00 (presumably in American time) and so time is almost up. If you’re eligible to vote there, and haven’t already done so, hurry!

‘Tabula Avatar’ has been nominated in the ‘Overall’ category as Best Crossover Series, in the ‘Crossovers’ category as Best Crossover (Games), and in the ‘Story Types’ category as Best Unfinished Crossover (Other). Also in the ‘Story Types’ category Tentacle Sex and the City is up for Most Porn-tastic Fic. I’m nominated as Best Crossover Author in the ‘Overall’ category, and in the ‘Crossovers’ category The Hour of the Troll is nominated as Best Crossover (Literature). curiouswombat, who goes by the name of Curiouslywombat at TtH, is up for 3 awards for ‘Return of the Key’. All votes gratefully received; there are quite a few excellent stories there to vote for, although obviously I’d prefer you to vote for me.

Here is the next chapter of ‘Tabula Avatar’; late because of wallpapering the bathroom, Christmas, and Storm of Zehir. At long last the Randy and Joan versus Bodhi face-off! Previous chapters can be found HERE. Rating R; this chapter is 7,200 words.

Tabula Avatar

Chapter Sixty-five

“The whole city converted? Really?” Jarlaxle’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “It is almost impossible to believe.”

“Believe it, jaluk,” Viconia said. “We left them no choice. Once the temple was despoiled, and the spiders of the city had been slaughtered, there was no way for them to turn back.”

“They slaughtered the spiders?” Jarlaxle’s eyebrows climbed so high that it seemed they were seeking to replace the hair on his shaven head. “Great indeed would be the wrath of Lolth. Yet what of those who took no part in those acts?”

“What were they to do? Start a civil war against a full third, or more, of the fighting forces of the city? There wouldn’t have been much left of Ust Natha when the dust settled,” Sorkatani said, “and they still wouldn’t have regained the favor of Lolth. Talabrae pointed that out most eloquently.” She grinned. “Forcefully, too, and those who might have rallied the Lolth loyalists died in a series of sudden and tragic accidents in a remarkably convenient way.”

“Accidents including tripping and falling on a katana, I take it?”

“In one or two cases,” Sorkatani admitted, “but mostly Talabrae arranged them herself.”

“She was totally committed,” Buffy added. “She’d pretty much burned her bridges and scattered the ashes once she signed up with Shar. I hear Lolth is real tough on apostrophes.”

Jarlaxle tilted his head and narrowed his visible eye. “Apostrophes?”

Willow gave an eyeroll that, although unpracticed, would still probably have gained her a Yellow Belt. “I didn’t know Lolth was a Grammar Nazi, Buffy.”

“She means ‘apostates’, or perhaps ‘apostasy’,” Giles translated. “Really, Buffy, that’s bad even for you.”

“Whatever,” Buffy said. “Anyway, that’s how things are in Ust Natha. Shar totally rules, Eilistraee and the god of drow guys are in too, Lolth is out. If you’re still planning on heading there, now the elves are out of the way, you’d better get with the program.”

“I cannot abandon Lolth altogether,” Jarlaxle said, “or my life would be instantly forfeit if – I mean when – I return to Menzoberranzan. I must confess, however, that Vhaeraun’s doctrines are more to my taste. I will keep my religious affiliations, such as they are, to myself and do nothing to upset the new rulers of the city.”

“I have little love for the gods and their priests,” Entreri said. “Hypocrites, most of them, like that swine of a paladin who fought to protect rapists. The only deity for whom I have any regard is Shar.”

“Hey, cool. You should fit right in,” Buffy said, giving him a beaming smile.

“What the hell was a paladin doing with those guys anyway?” Xander wondered. “Like, it should have blown a hole right through the rule about not associating with anyone evil. Instant loss of powers, hello vanilla fighter, right? Except that’s not what happened, and he still did the Laying On Hands thing, yeah? I don’t get it.” He wrinkled his nose. “I’m really not big with the shouting of ‘Yay, go Team Paladin’ right now, that’s for sure.”

“Presumably, because the victims of the utterly despicable act were drow, he did not regard the perpetrators as evil,” Giles said.

“To most rivvin we are mere monsters, not people,” Viconia said, “and they can do anything they like to us with a clear conscience.” Spike took hold of her hand and squeezed it gently. Willow laid a hand upon Viconia’s shoulder.

Entreri took note of the byplay. He remembered the berserk fury she had shown when smiting one of the rapists and guessed that she, too, had been a victim of sexual assault. He refrained from comment; he did not think that any such would be well received unless he accompanied it with a disclosure of events in his own distant past that he was not ready to share. He decided to change the subject.

“We shall go to Ust Natha, as Jarlaxle desires, if the way is now open,” he said, “and we will escort these rescued ones to their home.”

“Hey, that’s great,” Buffy said. “It would save us one whole lot of time.”

“It sure would,” Willow agreed. “I could jump there with them, no problem, I know that place pretty well by now, but getting back here? Not so simple. One tree is pretty much like another. I’d have to walk.”

“Time we cannot spare,” Sorkatani said, “with Bodhi probably already in Athkatla. Your offer is greatly appreciated, Artemis Entreri.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Buffy added, giving him a beaming smile.

“You saved my life,” Entreri said. “It is the least that I can do.”

“Dusk draws near,” Jarlaxle said, “and we will travel best by night. We shall depart soon.”

“I guess,” Buffy said. “Maybe we’ll see you around some time.”

“It is possible,” Jarlaxle said. “We are traveling north and east, heading for the Bloodstone Lands, but Athkatla is not all that far out of our way.”

“Perhaps we could assist you against your vampire enemy,” Entreri offered.

“She’s tough, real major league tough,” Buffy said, “and we could use any help we could get, but there might be one teeny little problem with that.” She glanced at Xander.

Xander shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re thinking about the rule about me not mixing with Evil people,” he said, “well, after today, see me not caring. You two guys put your lives on the line to do a good deed. You’re okay by me.”

“That was the only obstacle,” Sorkatani said, “and so we would be delighted to accept your aid, if we have not ourselves slain her before you arrive.”

“It would be my pleasure to assist you, Lady Sorkatani,” Entreri said.

“Now, my friend,” Jarlaxle said, wagging a finger at Entreri, “remember that we are mercenaries. To work without being paid, even for those who have been our allies, is against the mercenary code.” Entreri glowered at him, as did Xander and Minsc, but Jarlaxle merely smiled back at them.

Sorkatani produced a single gold danter and held it up. Her smile matched Jarlaxle’s. “Will this suffice?”

“That will do nicely,” Jarlaxle said. Sorkatani tossed the coin to him and he caught it. “As a retainer, at least,” Jarlaxle added, “with the balance being in the form of a fair share of the spoils.”

Sorkatani glanced at Buffy and then nodded. “Agreed.”

The scowls on the faces of Xander and Minsc vanished. Spike grinned at Jarlaxle. “Just winding your pal up there, were you, mate?”

“Winding him up?” Jarlaxle’s forehead creased up.

“Pulling his leg, jerking his chain…”

“Your idioms are unfamiliar,” Jarlaxle said. “My command of the Common Tongue is perhaps not as comprehensive as I had thought. However, I think I understand the gist. I was indeed jesting with my comrade, although there was a serious point to be made as well. We are not Knight Errants and should think before we act. His precipitous action, noble as it was, could have resulted in both our deaths. If we had Kimmuriel, and a half-dozen swordsmen of Bregan D’aerthe, with us then open assault may have been the correct course but, as it was, we should have picked them off one at a time.”

“The captives were suffering,” Entreri said. “I could not bear to delay.” He looked at the ground to avoid meeting any questioning gazes. If it had been only the drow girls who had been victims he would have been able to contain his rage; it was the rape of the young male that had pushed him over the edge.

“A noble cause, as I said, but rash,” said Jarlaxle. “It worked out well in the end, thanks to our new friends, and I will say no more about it.”

Entreri suppressed the urge to heave a sigh of relief. His last attempt to change the subject, away from uncomfortable matters, had proved only temporarily successful. He tried again. “Master Giles,” he said, “it is evident that you are an accomplished bard, and the song by which you turned our foes’ summoned spiders against them was masterly. I was somewhat incapacitated at the time, of course, and in no fit state to appreciate the music. That you inspired a revolution by your songs is a feat the like of which I have never heard. Play for us before we part, if you would, for our entertainment rather than to work magic.”

“I don’t see why not,” Giles said. He opened a Bag of Holding and took out a yarting of slightly unconventional appearance. Viconia mirrored his actions. “I have a song that I think particularly appropriate for the present company,” Giles said. He glanced at Viconia. “I haven’t finished teaching you ‘I Feel So Good’ yet. Do you think that you can manage?”

Viconia nodded. “Shar guides my hand,” she replied, poising her fingers over the strings of her yarting.

Giles nodded. “Excellent,” he said, and turned to face Entreri and Jarlaxle. “This is a song about a man who gets out of prison – and what a time he has!”

I feel so good I’m gonna break somebody’s heart tonight,
I feel so good I’m gonna take someone apart tonight
They put me in jail for my deviant ways
Two years seven months and sixteen days
Now I’m back on the streets in a purple haze
And I feel so good
And I feel so good
I feel so good I’m gonna break somebody’s heart tonight

I feel so good I’m gonna make somebody’s day tonight
I feel so good I’m gonna make somebody pay tonight
I’m old enough to sin but I’m too young to vote
Society’s been dragging on the tail of my coat
Now I’ve got a suitcase full of promissory notes
And a half-naked woman with her tongue down my throat
And I feel so good
And I feel so good
I feel so good I’m gonna break somebody’s heart tonight…

- - - - -

Bodhi twirled on the dance floor, a wide smile on her face, a handsome young man partnering her. Beside her Tanova danced with slightly less abandon and a partner who was the handsome man’s less attractive friend.

Don't write yourself off yet
It's only in your head you feel left out
Or looked down on
Just do your best
Do everything you can
And don’t you worry what their bitter hearts
Are gonna say

“I love this song,” Bodhi remarked as she danced. She licked her lips.

“Yeah, Jimmy Eat World are pretty cool,” her partner agreed. He grinned widely. This chick was hot; maybe a little older than most of the crowd at The Bronze, and maybe not quite as pretty as her friend, but she just had so much style and class. Also, from the way she kept looking at him, he was pretty sure that he was going to get laid. It didn’t occur to him that her hungry looks were mostly directed at his neck.

It just takes some time
Little girl
In the middle of the ride
Everything everything will be just fine
Everything everything will be alright
It just takes some time
Little girl
In the middle of the ride
Everything everything will be just fine
Everything everything will be alright

“Like another drink?” the young man asked Bodhi, as the song finished.

Bodhi fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I’d like that. And then maybe we could go somewhere a little… quieter.” She led the beaming man from the dance floor.

“Bodhi!” Tanova hissed. “Look!”

Bodhi followed her gaze and stopped dead in her tracks. “What the fuck? What are they doing here?” Her smile vanished and her forehead creased up in a frown. Buffy and Spike were moving through the crowd around the bar. They wore no armor, only the clothes appropriate to this world, and carried no visible weapons. Spike’s long coat could easily be concealing almost anything, however, and Bodhi took it for granted that they would have swords. “I was looking forward to some violence,” she said, “but perhaps not with those two. Any sign of the others?”

Tanova cocked her head to one side. “No. Only Buffy and Spike.” She muttered an incantation and focused her gaze on the newcomers. Her eyes narrowed. “That’s strange. I’m not detecting any magic at all.”

“What’s up?” the man who had danced with Bodhi asked. The vampires ignored him.

“And that’s stranger,” Bodhi said. “They’ve just looked straight at us without reacting. How could they not recognize us? These clothes aren’t much of a disguise.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?” Bodhi’s dancing partner directed a questioning gaze at her and at the subjects of Bodhi’s attention. “You know Randy and Joan?”

“It’s nothing you need to worry about,” Bodhi told him. She turned briefly to smile at him. “Why don’t you go and get the drinks? We’ll meet you back at the table.”

“Sure,” the young man agreed, and moved off. Tanova’s partner accompanied him.

“Clones,” Tanova said. “I think they’re clones.” She watched as ‘Buffy’ and ‘Spike’ halted, stared at the table where Jeroneth and Zarbalan sat holding hands, and headed in that direction. “They’ve never met us. They’re going by descriptions from the people who brought us to this world.”

“That would explain a lot,” Bodhi agreed. A wide smile spread over her face. “Randy and Joan, he said? Not Buffy and Spike, but clones. No dragon armor, no Hammer of Thunderbolts, and no Staff of the Archmagi for Willow. I like those odds. This could be fun.”

“It’s only a guess,” Tanova cautioned her. “Your dinner could have been mistaken.”

“I think it’s a good guess,” said Bodhi. “Worth the gamble. Anyway, they’ve seen the others. We couldn’t get out without them seeing. Come on.” She led the way toward the table and Tanova followed at her heels.

The two presumed clones reached Zarbalan and Jeroneth slightly ahead of Bodhi. The girl, who could have been either Randy or Joan as Bodhi had no idea which of the two names was the feminine one, stared at Zarbalan.

“So, you’re a drow, right? How did you get into this world?” she asked.

The blond vampire turned around as Bodhi and Tanova approached. “Watch out, Slayer,” he warned. “Here come the other two.”

The girl half turned, keeping Jeroneth and Zarbalan in her field of vision, and watched Bodhi out of the corner of her eye. She raised an eyebrow. “Nice clothes,” she said. “I was expecting you to be in leather.”

“When in Waterdeep, do as the Waterdavians do,” Bodhi said. “Although I can’t understand how you can walk in such high heels.”

“Practice,” the Slayer said. “Not that you’re gonna get the chance to try, seeing as how I’ll be dusting you any minute now.”

“Oh?” Bodhi grinned widely. “I think not. Should we go outside? It would be a pity to destroy this place, would it not, Randy? Or are you Joan?”

The girl’s mouth twisted. “Joan the Vampire Slayer,” she confirmed. “You’re Bodhi, right?”

“Bhuraedea Firvannauath, Bodhi for short,” Bodhi said. “Let us not delay. My next bed-partner will be back with drinks soon. I’d like you to be dead before that.”

“In your dreams,” Joan said. She backed away, keeping her eyes on the vampires, and headed for the doors. Randy went with her.

Jeroneth lifted a long bag up from under the table. “I presume you will want your sword, Mistress?”

Bodhi shook her head. “There is no need. It’s incredible. They have no magic weapons at all. If Juk, or whatever his name is, gets back before we finish just tell him that we are at the privy. This should only take a moment.”

“Unless Willow and Tara are waiting for us outside,” Tanova suggested. “I’m buffing up just in case.”

“Pessimist,” Bodhi said. She caught sight of her erstwhile dancing partner and his friend arriving with a tray of drinks and waved to him. “We have to go out for just a minute,” she called. “We won’t be long.” She shot him a beaming smile as he nodded acknowledgment. “Don’t use anything like Abi Dazim’s Horrid Wilting,” she said quietly to Tanova. “You know how sexy killing makes me feel. I don’t want any smelly fumes clinging to me when I’m going to be fucking soon.”

- - - - -

Joan kicked high, catching Bodhi across the side of the head, but Bodhi hardly even flinched. Randy hit Tanova twice, dodged a return strike, and grabbed for Tanova’s arm. She managed to avoid his clutching hand and stepped back, shaking her head as if to clear it, and spoke an arcane phrase. A circle of fire sprang up around her. Randy hesitated.

“Switch!” Joan called. Randy bent down and Joan vaulted over his back; she passed through the flames and kicked Tanova in the face. Randy went the other way, staying low, and kicked to Bodhi’s knee. He brought his leg up and kicked again, to the stomach, and then a third time to the head.

Bodhi’s arm blurred. She moved faster than Randy would have believed possible and caught his ankle with one hand. She held his leg straight and brought her elbow down on his knee joint. Randy cried out in agony as his kneecap fractured and his knee joint was dislocated.

Joan’s hand went inside her jacket and emerged holding a stake. She thrust it through Tanova’s chest and the vampire popped out of existence. Joan whirled around and hurled herself at Bodhi. She gasped with horror and threw herself flat as Bodhi struck out at her by wielding Randy as a living flail. Joan came up inside the arc of the swing and stabbed with her stake. Bodhi released Randy, sending him flying to crash head first into the outer wall of The Bronze, and grabbed Joan’s wrist. Joan opened her fingers, releasing the stake, and caught it with her other hand as it fell. She thrust at Bodhi’s chest but Bodhi pulled and twisted on the trapped arm; Joan was thrown from her feet and her strike missed its target. She went with the throw, freeing her arm in the process, and rolled away. As she came to her feet she was hit by a barrage of glowing bolts of energy. She cried out in pain and then again in surprise; Tanova, completely unaffected by her staking, was standing thirty feet away.

Bodhi closed with her and punched. Joan’s block was brushed aside and a fist smashed into her cheek. She rocked under the impact. She managed to parry Bodhi’s next punch but a third struck home. This time Joan was knocked from her feet and fell on her backside. Bodhi kicked her in the head, knocking her flat, and then stamped down. The breath was driven from Joan’s lungs. Another stamping kick cracked ribs. Bodhi kicked once more and then reached down, seized Joan by the hair, and picked her up. Bodhi’s mouth opened wide and her fangs gleamed under the street lights as she aimed a bite at Joan’s throat.

Randy hit her from behind. He hopped to the attack and drove both fists down on the back of Bodhi’s neck. She staggered, her knees bent briefly, and she released Joan. Randy struck again. This time Bodhi was not taken by surprise, Randy was off balance and unable to bring much power to bear, and Bodhi shrugged off the blow. She whirled round and lashed the back of a fist into Randy’s jaw. There was a crunch of breaking bone, Randy was lifted into the air by the force of the blow, and he hurtled backward to once more crash into the wall of The Bronze. He bounced off, fell forward, and tried to regain his footing. Tanova sent three fiery bolts streaking across the street to impale Randy. His shirt caught fire and he rolled away, beating at the flames to try to extinguish them, and leaving smears of blood behind him on the sidewalk.

Bodhi backed off for a moment. The flames were actually providing Randy with some protection from her. Joan seized the opportunity to tackle Bodhi and shove her head first into the Bronze wall. She didn’t follow up her momentary advantage but instead dived for Randy, smothered what remained of the flames, and helped him to rise. Tanova hit them both with a Lightning Bolt and Randy, whose face was a mass of blood, jerked convulsively and went limp in Joan’s arms.

Bodhi ran her fingers through her hair, making sure that it covered her ears, and glanced over at Tanova. “No more spells,” she commanded. “I’ll finish them off.”

Even as she was speaking Joan lifted Randy, swung him over her shoulder, and took off at a dead run. Bodhi started to pursue but Joan took a sharp turn and disappeared into an alley.

Bodhi stopped and shook her head. “She knows the area and I don’t,” she said to Tanova. “I’ll let them go for now. I can always kill them later. They must be clones. That was ridiculously easy.”

“I’d rather we had killed them,” Tanova said.

“And me,” Bodhi agreed, “but it can’t be helped. Let’s get back to the men. Some fucking, and then a feed, will be the perfect end to the day.”

- - - - -

In the Year of the Turret
A great Horde shall come from the East
Like a plague of locusts
So sayeth the wise Alaundo…

The woman’s robes were jet black with streaks of violet in a seemingly random scattering across the cloth. Sorkatani peered from behind her mother’s cloak and wondered if they were truly random or if the designs meant something in the writing of the Westerners.

“So, Wei Guiying, you come to us at last.” The Western woman turned her head and fixed her round eyes, a strange blue in color, on Sorkatani. “And you bring the Child of Prophecy. The young Mistress of Thrones and Crowns.”

“She will never bear that title, Alianna,” Wei Guiying said. Sorkatani could not follow the Western tongue well enough to be sure of the meaning behind inflexions but she thought she detected a hint of bitterness in her mother’s voice. “You must know that. I had no choice but to bring you my daughter. Her life is in danger. Now that the Great Khan is dead the heirs contend for the succession. Her claim may be slight but it is enough to place her in peril.”

“And if it was revealed that she is not truly the child of Yamun Khahan…?” The tall Western woman continued to stare at Sorkatani. Her retinue of foreign devils, tall and with hair like straw, also gazed at the girl.

“She would still be slain,” Wei Guiying said, “and I would be wrapped in felt blankets and trampled beneath the hooves of horses.” Sorkatani bit her lip and squeezed her mother’s hand tightly.

“And so you fled to us.” The Westerner’s thin lips twitched up at the corners.

“There was nothing else that I could do,” Wei Guying said. “Now give us shelter, as you promised, until I can find a way of returning to Shou Lung.”

Alianna’s smile grew broader and she showed her teeth. There was a clasp on her cloak in the shape of a skull and her grin matched that of the emblem’s grisly symbol. Sorkatani’s grip on her mother’s hand grew tighter. “Out of the frying pan, or the wok as you would call it…” Alianna said. She raised a hand. “Kill the woman. Do not harm the girl. Take her alive. For now.”

“Hé? What is this?” Wei’s mouth fell open.

“Our Lord is also dead,” Alianna said, “but with the right sacrifices He shall return. You were merely one of the vessels to carry His seed. Our promises were simply to persuade you to fill that role. You no longer matter.”

“You shall not harm Sorkatani, barbarian witch,” Wei spat. She pulled her hand free of her daughter’s grasp. “Run, child, quickly,” she ordered in Tuigan. “Ride to Rashemen and I will join you there.”

As Sorkatani obeyed her mother and scuttled towards the horses the Western woman’s guards advanced to the attack. The first to reach Wei Guiying thrust out with a long straight sword.

Wei swayed aside. The sword passed under her arm. She clamped down with her arm, pinning the sword-arm, and struck the man under the nose with the heel of her other hand. Sorkatani did not see the moves that followed but when next she glanced back the man sat on the ground, his face bloody, and her mother held his sword.

Two of the Western barbarians rushed at Wei Guiying. Her kalat billowed as she spun, kicking high to connect with the head of one barbarian, and slashing with the sword at the other. Both men fell.

Sorkatani reached the horses. She was too small to vault into the saddle, in the way of a seasoned warrior of the Horde, and so she grabbed the horn of the saddle and clambered onto the back of her horse. Once mounted she was not going to flee; her bow was in its case at the saddle bow and she knew how to use it. She was not yet nine years old, and a girl, but she was Tuigan and the daughter of the Great Khan. She would fight.

Unseen hands clamped on her heel and dragged her from the horse. A barbarian in a steel chain hauberk and fur jerkin, his lips curled in a sneer behind his pale yellow beard, became visible from nowhere. “Gotcha!” he cried.

“Sorkatani!” Wei Guiying raised the sword and ran towards her daughter. Sorkatani heard the twang of a bowstring and then a muffled thud. She saw her mother stumble and arch her back. The sword sagged in her hand.

Sorkatani cried out. She kicked, clawed, and bit but she could not free herself from the grasp of the foreigner.

“Sorkatani!” her mother called again. “Run!” She took a fresh grip on the sword and resumed her course. Another of the foreign devils caught up with her and hacked at her with an axe. Wei Guiying went under the blow and came up striking with knee and elbow. The barbarian stumbled back and his arms went out. Wei Guiying slashed with the sword and severed his axe hand at the wrist. Once more she turned towards her daughter.

The bowstring twanged again. Sorkatani saw the arrow strike. It took Wei low in the back, left of center, and penetrated for half its length. Wei Guiying fell on her face on the ground.

Sorkatani screamed. She renewed her struggles to escape her captor. It was to no avail. He was a man full grown, tall and strong, and she was a child of eight. He tucked her under his arm and carried her, wriggling and kicking, towards the woman in the black and violet robes.

Wei Guiying raised her head. She tried to get to her feet. Using the sword as a support she managed to rise to her knees. The barbarian with the bleeding nose aimed a kick at her face. She swept up her arm under his leg as he kicked and sent him sprawling once more. In the process she lost her own balance and fell. She struggled to her knees again. Blood was running from her mouth.

A foreign devil carrying a short recurve bow, like those used by the Horde, stepped out from the shadows behind the robed woman. “Feisty piece, ain’t she?” he commented. “Not half bad looking for a woman with a kid that age. Must have been not much more than a child bride. Pity she’s dying. Could have had some fun first before we killed her.” He slung his bow over his shoulder and walked towards Wei Guiying.

Sorkatani went berserk in the arms of her captor. The bowman had shot her mother in the back. He had to pay. She managed to get a finger into the eye of the man who held her. He yelped and released her body with one arm to snatch at her clawing hand. She pulled her arm away, wriggled and twisted, and was free.

Only for a second. The man caught her hair and halted her in her tracks. She knew the counter; she reached up with both hands, grabbed his hand and pulled it down onto the top of her head, then turned so that the whole force of her body was thrown against his wrist. If he had been another child, probably even had her captor been an adult woman, it would have worked. The man was just too strong. All she achieved was to bring a brief grunt of pain from his lips and to trigger a slap to her face.

Pain shot through her. Her head sang with the impact. She was already crying but her tears now ran more freely.

“Sorkatani, xin ái…” Wei Guiying bared her teeth and made it to her feet. She whirled the sword again, taking the bowman by surprise, and slashed the blade across his legs. He went down, blood pouring from the wounds, and she took a step towards the man who held her daughter. She staggered and swayed, halted for a moment, and then forced herself on. The foreign devil cursed, swung Sorkatani up and held her under one arm, and fumbled at his belt for a dagger.

“Do I have to do everything myself?” Alianna complained. She took a bone wand from her sleeve and aimed it at Wei Guiying. A beam of pale green light shot forth. Wei Guiying froze in her tracks and stood rigidly motionless.

“A clumsy substitute for true divine spells,” the Western woman remarked, as she put away the wand and drew a mace, “but it is only for a time. When the sacrifice is complete our Lord shall return and his dominion over murder shall be restored.” She walked up to the helpless Wei Guiying. “For Bhaal!” she cried. She took a two-handed grip on her mace and swung hard.

Sorkatani screamed as her mother toppled to the ground and lay still.

- - - - -

“Bad dream, jabbress?” Spike materialized out of the dawn’s dim light and stood beside Sorkatani’s bedroll.

Sorkatani sat bolt upright. For once she did not immediately reach for Celestial Fury. “Mǔ? Hé?”

Spike cocked his head to one side. “What’s that you said?”

Sorkatani rubbed a hand over her eyes. “Mother,” she said slowly. “I… remember my mother.”

“Oh?” Spike’s brow furrowed slightly. “Thought you were too young to remember her.”

“I was eight – nearly nine,” Sorkatani said. “I remember – but why only now?”

Jaheira disentangled herself from Giles’ arms, without waking him, and slowly emerged from their bedroll. Her hands moved beneath the coverings as she adjusted her garments before revealing herself. “Lye n’denginar tarienelle,” she said, her voice soft, and she stared at Sorkatani. “How could I have forgotten?”

The furrow in Spike’s brows grew deeper. “Tani’s an engineer?”

“Our little Slayer princess,” Jaheira translated. “It was the name Khalid and I had for her. Such a fierce child, she was, but…” Her voice trailed away. Creases formed on her forehead and between her eyebrows. “I do not understand,” she said. “When we met in the Friendly Arm Inn it was as if for the first time… and yet we were with Gorion when he rescued you from the Temple of Bhaal. We travelled with you to Candlekeep, more than a ten-day on the road, and it was I who…”

“Who held me when I cried,” Sorkatani finished for her.

“How could I have forgotten?” Jaheira shook her head.

Willow’s head popped up out of her bedroll like a marmot peeking out of its burrow. “Sounds like someone tampered with your memories.”

“Indeed so,” Jaheira agreed. “It must have been Gorion. No doubt he felt it… safer for Sorkatani.” She shook her head again. “I suppose I can understand his reasons, although I am not sure if I approve – but why have the memories suddenly come back?”

“What’s that, my dear?” Giles stirred, groped for his glasses, and then remembered that he no longer needed them. All around the camp people were waking up and asking what was going on. Hasty explanations were made to those who had missed the earlier conversation. Sorkatani gave a brief account of her dream and of the memories it had awakened.

“Bloody hell!” Spike exclaimed, grinning. “Remember when I guessed that you were the rightful Empress of Kara-Tur? Wasn’t that far off, was I?”

“Perhaps not,” Sorkatani agreed, “although Yamun Kahan was not really my father, and my mother was only a very minor Princess of the Imperial House of Shou Lung.”

“Yah Moon Callahan? Who’s he?” Buffy asked.

“This world’s equivalent of Genghis Khan, I gather,” Giles explained, “save that he died in battle with his conquests incomplete.”

“Gorion lied to me,” Sorkatani said quietly, her expression pensive. “He never knew my mother.”

“I’m sure that any such deception will have been for the best of motives,” Giles assured her. Sorkatani frowned and chewed on her lower lip as she pondered her realization.

“Something is wrong,” Viconia announced. No-one, not even Spike, paid any particular attention. Her statement was assumed to be part of the general discussion. She repeated herself, to no greater result, and then stood up. She was stark naked save for Bracers of Defense on her arms. “Listen to me!” she called. “Something is very wrong.”

“Well, that’s one way of getting everyone’s attention,” Buffy muttered.

“I have no spells,” Viconia announced. “The Heal spells that I cast upon the drow, the Restoration for Imoen – they have not come back.”

“What?” Tara stared at her. “I… yes, I have my spells back.”

“And I have mine,” Jaheira added. “It is only you, abbil.”

“Maybe you just didn’t get enough rest,” Buffy suggested. “And, hey, maybe you could put on some clothes instead of, like, flashing yourself in front of Dawn?”

Viconia curled her upper lip in a sneer. “Dawn has breasts of her own, jabbress Buffy,” she pointed out.

“I even have a pussy,” Dawn muttered under her breath, too quietly for even Buffy to hear. “We’ve done the communal bath thing, Buffy,” she added aloud, with an accompanying eye-roll. “It’s not like my delicate mind is gonna be scarred by catching a glimpse of Vicky’s…”

“Dawn!” Buffy chopped her sister off short in case she had been going to say a Naughty Word.

Viconia picked up her bra and panties. “I had rest aplenty,” she said, as she donned the garments, “for Spike spent much of the night on guard, as you know. No, there must be some other reason.” She reached behind her back to fasten the bra hooks. “I still have the spells that I did not cast,” she said, “and the Bless spell from the fight has returned. It is only the major spells that I have not regained.” She stood for a moment in silent concentration. “Gaer zhah naubol!” she exclaimed, her lips turning down in a grimace. “I cannot reach Shar.”

“I do not believe you can have offended her,” Jaheira said, “for you have surely pleased her greatly of late.”

“And hey, she was giving you song requests for Giles like a listener calling up a late-night radio station,” Buffy said.

Viconia frowned. “I shall ignore those incomprehensible words,” she said. “What can be wrong? What Power could interfere between me and my goddess?” She began to gather up her clothes and armor.

“Hmm. Memory is within Shar’s sphere, if I recall correctly,” Giles observed.

“You are right, a’mael,” Jaheira confirmed, “and particularly loss of memory. You suspect a connection?”

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Giles said. “Could Gorion have, ah, invoked Shar in the course of casting the spell?”

“But if the spell has now broken,” Jaheira said, slowly, “then what does this mean?”

“Nau! This cannot be!” Viconia dropped her dragon-scale hauberk. It landed on her bare foot but she didn’t even flinch. Her eyes were wide with horror and her lips had gone pale. “I can think of only one explanation,” she said, “although it is almost impossible to believe. Something has happened to Shar.”

- - - - -

“We didn’t stand a chance,” Joan said. Her face was a mass of purple bruises. “She’s faster than me and much stronger. We didn’t hurt her at all and she smashed us up like we were in a car crash.”

“Buffy went into the game with a Strength score of 22,” Warren said, “which is about eight times as strong as a regular human. After Bodhi gets Imoen’s soul her Strength goes up to 24. It’s an exponential scale. She’s maybe three or four times as strong as you are. You can pick up a car, right?”

“If I can get a good grip on it, and find some way of balancing it, yeah, no problem,” Joan confirmed.

“Well, Bodhi could pick one up and throw it,” Warren said. “Only gods are stronger. She’s super fast, too.”

“Yeah, I had noticed.” Joan touched a finger to her cheek and winced. “She came within a whisker of killing both of us. Randy will be out of action for quite a while. Days at least, weeks maybe, I don’t know. He’s never been hurt this bad before.”

“I’ve splinted up his leg as best I can,” Tara said, “but I’m worried about his jaw. It’s a shame we can’t take him to the hospital.”

“They’d just declare him dead,” Alex said. “Not having a heartbeat pretty much disqualifies him from most medical treatment.”

“All we can do is keep him in bed and feed him lots of blood, I guess,” Joan said. “Until he gets better our fighting strength is way down. If they come after us we’re in big trouble.”

“They are subject to the same invite rules as our native vampires, I take it?” Rupert asked.

“Yeah,” Warren confirmed, “but Tanova being a high-level mage gives them a few ways to get round that. Bodhi has the standard vampire charm but Tanova can Dire Charm on top of that. Domination, too. She could just command you to invite them in and the odds are you’d do it. That’s if she didn’t just use a Fireball to set the house on fire.”

“She surrounded herself with fire to stop Randy getting to her,” Joan remembered, “and she threw fire and lightning at us. I staked her, and she just vanished, and then she just popped up again.”

“Mislead,” Jonathan said, “or Project Image. You weren’t fighting her, you were fighting an illusion.”

“I can’t beat them,” Joan admitted. “Both of us together didn’t do more than muss Bodhi’s hair. Without Randy they’d kill me for sure – and there are the other two as well.”

“Our usual tactics are effective against normal vampires,” Rupert said, “but these are not normal. We need to completely rethink our methods. If you can make any suggestions,” he continued, looking at the members of the Trio and Katrina, “then I would be very grateful.”

“Flamethrowers would be good,” Warren said, “but I don’t think the cops would be too happy about that.”

“Super-soakers full of Holy Water,” Andrew suggested.

“Not a bad idea,” Joan said.

Warren shook his head. “Against Tanova? Not good, guys. Lightning Bolt would travel up the stream. She’s got you outranged with most things. Arrows might work, maybe, except that I think she knows Protection From Arrows.”

“She does,” Jonathan said. “I checked.” He scratched his head. “Even if you stuck her through the heart it wouldn’t be enough,” he pointed out. “If she’s prepared a coffin here she’d just go back there and regenerate. Those vampires don’t dust the way Sunnydale ones do. We need to find their lair.”

“We need to get them back into the computer,” Katrina said.

Joan stared at her. “As long as we get rid of them I don’t much care how we do it,” she said, “but killing them works for me.”

“Hey, that’s right,” Warren said. “If we don’t get Bodhi back in there Imoen will die. They won’t be able to get to Suldanessellar and Irenicus won’t get stopped. I don’t know if Sorkatani will die, losing her soul doesn’t seem to have affected her much except for her turning into that prehistoric Slayer girl, but the population of the city will be totally screwed.”

Joan grimaced. “It’s still hard for me to think of them as real,” she said, “but getting my cheekbone, and three of my ribs, broken by somebody who came out of the computer is a pretty convincing demonstration. Sunnydale has to be my priority but I’ll do what I can. Except that I have absolutely no clue about any way to do it.”

“I tried to use the device as soon as I realized who they were,” Katrina said. “Nothing happened. Totally zilch. I don’t know why. It worked on Warren.”

“Yeah, but I was in a coma,” Warren said. “Maybe they’d have to be unconscious, or regenerating in their coffins, for it to work.”

“So I have to knock them out or stake them anyway,” Joan said. “It doesn’t change much. Right now I’m too beat up to do much of anything. I’m gonna get some more rest, heal up some more, and hope Bodhi doesn’t come after us until I’m back to full strength.”

“This isn’t her world,” Jonathan said. “She doesn’t know her way around. I think we’re safe.”

Warren groaned. “You had to say that, dude. You’ve jinxed us.”

“She was wearing a Lauren Moshi top and Joe’s Jeans,” Joan said. “I think she’s finding her feet pretty quickly. We might not have much time at all.”

- - - - -

“Randy and Joan,” Bodhi said. “You know them, do you not?”

“Not exactly know them, Mistress,” the newly risen vampire replied. “I’ve seen them around. Joan used to call herself Buffy. She was in my brother’s class at High School.”

“Where does she live?”

“Somewhere near the mall, I think. Hampton or Revello, maybe Hamilton,” came the reply.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Revello,” the other new vampire, who had partnered Tanova at The Bronze, stated. “I could check in the phone book, Mistress. Her last name is Summers.”

“I don’t know what book you speak of,” Bodhi said, “and neither do I care. Just find her.”

“At once, Mistress.” The minion scurried to obey. “Summers, J. 1630 Revello Drive. I knew I was right about it being Revello.”

“You can find this house?”

“No problemo,” he assured her. “I’ll drive you over as soon as it gets dark, if you like, Mistress.”

“Can’t you go out in the sun?” Bodhi asked.

The new vampire shuddered. “I don’t know. It scares me.”

“I could always find out by throwing you out the door,” Bodhi mused, “but that would be poor reward for your service. Okay, take me there tonight.”

“What is your plan?” Tanova asked.

“Simple,” Bodhi said. “You cast Cloudkill into the building and we kill anyone who makes it out alive.”



The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows, the author of the books, and the game designers and copyright holders. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’ belongs to Bioware and Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle belong to R. A. Salvatore. The song lyrics sung by Giles are from ‘I Feel So Good’ by Richard Thompson, from the album ‘Rumor and Sigh’, with a slight amendment made to make one line understandable to Faerûn natives. Song lyrics used during the scene at The Bronze are from ‘In the Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World. Lyrics used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.

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