Joan walked across the sand. Her bed had vanished, her boots were back on her feet, and the walls of her bedroom had melted away. She could see a campfire ahead and she walked to where the flames flickered in the desert night.
A dark shape appeared beyond the fire. Naked but for a scrap of fur, ebony skin smeared with streaks of something white, hair matted and unkempt. Hands waved in front of jutting breasts, fingers outspread, paler palms visible. The strange figure swayed in the firelight to a rhythm pounded out by unseen drums. Not a tribal beat, strangely, but something that Joan vaguely recollected having heard before on Rupert’s stereo.
“Slayer,” the figure hissed. “Death was your gift, your prize; claimed by you, rejected by the other.”
“Can I say, huh?” Joan narrowed her eyes. “Do I know you?”
“You know me in your heart,” came the answer. White teeth gleamed behind dark lips. “The other knows me better. Now the other you knows another me.”
“Could you be any more with the cryptic?” Joan moved toward the fire. “Hey, wait a minute. Warren said something. Prehistoric… Slayer? You’re her, right? The Ghost of Slayers Past.”
“I am death. Absolute, alone. You are death, paired, partnered. Split apart but remade whole.” The teeth flashed white again. “Precious to me as she is precious to her. Stay alive.”
“Well, yeah, I pretty much had that planned,” Joan said. “The rest of what you’re saying is making the kind of sense that isn’t, as Alex would say.”
The flames leapt high and then subsided. Heavy black smoke began to pour from the fire, not rising into the air but spreading out sideways, wrapping Joan’s feet in an insubstantial shroud. “Dreams stay with you. Stay alive,” the First Slayer repeated. “She comes.”
Joan glanced down at her boots, wrinkled her nose, and looked up again. “She comes? Who?”
“Hunger made flesh, murder given form, sister to the Shattered One, temptress, destroyer.” The First Slayer swayed in the dim light. “They follow her. The cunning serpent, the bitter dark child, and the despoiled pure one wielding bright steel. Death is their gift.”
Joan rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right, I get the picture. A bad danger is coming, blah de blah. Why you have to dress it up in all this ‘hungry serpent, hidden dragon’ stuff is beyond me. Why couldn’t you just say it in plain American? ‘Bodhi and her little friends are coming to kill you all, run for your lives’. See? Not so diffic… oh, crap.” Joan grabbed her left arm with her right hand and pinched hard. “Come on, Joan, wake up!”
“They come,” the First Slayer said, “now. Make haste. Awaken!” She stepped backward, out of the circle of firelight, and vanished.
Joan opened her eyes and sat up. She lay on the bed, fully dressed apart from her boots, and Randy lay under the covers beside her. Joan blinked, shook her head, and then scrambled from the bed. She glanced at her watch, hastened over to the window, and pulled the heavy drapes slightly aside so that she could peer out. There was still some light in the sky to the west, and red streaks on clouds, but the sun had set. She returned to the bed, grabbed her boots, and pulled them on.
“Randy, wake up!” she ordered. She prodded him. He grunted and stirred. Joan rushed to the door of the room, opened it, and shouted. “Everybody get ready to leave! Willow, Tara, grab anything you can’t leave behind and get out. Umad! Give me a hand with Randy.”
The bathroom door opened and Umad emerged. She was wrapped in a towel, another towel was wrapped around her hair, and steam was rising from her skin. “What’s that, Joan?”
“Slayer dream,” Joan replied. “Bodhi’s coming. Get dressed, fast. Tara!”
“Oh, crap!” Umad fled to her bedroom.
“Wha’ izzit, pet?” Randy mumbled, his voice distorted by his broken jaw and the bandages that Tara had used to try to keep it immobilized.
“Bodhi,” Joan said. “Slayer dream. She’s on her way.”
“Bu’er,” Randy grunted. He struggled free of the covers. He was dressed, or mostly so, although the left leg of his jeans had been cut off at mid-thigh level. Below that his leg was held rigid by a cotton wool wrapping surrounded by bandage and reinforced with wooden splints. He scooped up his shoes from the floor, made a futile attempt to reach his feet, and looked at Joan. “Li’l help here, pet?”
“Sure.” Joan knelt and helped Randy with his shoes. Twenty-one hours of rest and recuperation had obviously had some effect on the injuries; when they had put him to bed he hadn’t been able to utter any comprehensible words at all. His leg was still totally out of action, however, a fact confirmed by occasional pained grunts as the movement jarred the injured limb.
Joan bit her lip. She hated the thought of running away but there seemed to be no other choice. Bodhi was insanely strong, something that was even more shocking because the elf girl was no bigger than Joan, and she had no idea how to cope with her. With Randy out of action a return match was likely to be short, brutal, and fatal.
This must be how her counterpart Buffy had felt when faced with the Hell-goddess Glory. Probably even worse; Glory had, according to what sketchy records the original Scoobies had left, been somewhat short in the brains department and with minions described as ‘hobbits with leprosy’. Bodhi was disconcertingly clever and backed up by a powerful mage as well as two other warriors significant enough to have been mentioned in the warning from the First Slayer.
Willow and Tara came into the room. “We’re ready to go,” Willow said.
“We’ll help Randy,” Tara suggested. “You can, uh, cover our backs.”
“Thanks,” Joan said, as the two girls took over the task of helping Randy to stand and hobble toward the door, “although I have no idea what I can do. Is Umad dressed yet?”
“Yep, ready to go,” Umad’s voice came from just outside the bedroom door. “This sucks.” Her hair was dripping onto her hastily-donned clothes.
“Tell me about it,” Joan said. “Let’s go.” She heard something from outside and paused for a second to listen. A car engine, approaching along the street, and music. Guns N’ Roses, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. To be clearly audible from a passing car the stereo must be turned up to a deafening volume. Joan put it out of her mind and led the way down the stairs, her mind working furiously as she went.
Buffy had fought Bodhi to a standstill. Of course she’d had magic weapons and rings, a vampire in full health thanks to those rings, and another Slayer, or near equivalent, in the form of Sorkatani. Pulling Sorkatani out of the video game might be possible – if Bodhi could come out then so could others – but she’d be confused at first, she might think Joan and friends were those impersonate-y Doppel-things, and a disorientated and angry Sorkatani could be just as dangerous as Bodhi. There was another Slayer, though; pity she was in a maximum security prison but maybe…
Outside, at the front, the car stopped. The music volume suddenly increased as the vehicle doors opened. ‘Sha na na na na na na knees, knees, I wanna watch you bleed…’
“It’s Bodhi!” Joan whirled around and caught hold of Randy, plucked him from Tara’s grip, and set him down at the bottom of the stairs. “Head for the back door. Get out fast!”
Even as she spoke she heard glass shattering as something hit one of the windows. A stone bounced across the carpet. She cringed, expecting the next moment to bring the explosive blast of a Fireball, but instead there was a soft ‘woomph’ and green vapor began to fill the room. She hustled the others out, catching a breath of the vapor as she did so and coughing, and heard more glass shattering upstairs.
Over the back porch, into the garden, and away. Randy hopping and hobbling along between Willow and Tara, Umad running ahead, Joan covering the rear. Poison fog billowed out of the back door behind them.
Figures loomed ahead. One fairly tall but female, long blonde hair streaming as she ran, a sword in her hand glinting in the twilight; the other short, jet black of skin, with pure white hair. Something hissed from the short one’s hand and hit Willow in the chest. She cried out and fell to her knees. Tara shrieked.
Randy howled and took off in a flying leap. He landed awkwardly but caught hold of the other vampire and managed to stay upright. He grappled, applied a lock, and began industriously trying to twist the drow’s head off. The drow lost his footing and they both fell to the ground.
The female vampire ran towards them. Joan moved to intercept her and found herself facing a swordswoman of great skill. She suffered a slash across the thigh, and another cut that laid open her face above her healing cheek-bone, before she got past the sword and slammed a stake into the vampire’s chest.
It stopped dead as if she’d hit a brick wall. The skin on her palm tore. The vampire whipped her left hand across and punched Joan on the chin. Joan staggered back a couple of paces and then threw herself aside to avoid a sword thrust. A rent in the vampire’s shirt revealed steel plate underneath.
The swordswoman didn’t follow up her advantage. Instead she whirled around and headed for where Randy was grappling with the drow vampire. Joan swapped the stake, its point blunted but still usable, over to her other hand and followed.
Tara and Umad had Willow between them, her arms over their shoulders, and were hurrying her along as quickly as they could. Willow seemed unable to provide much in the way of propulsion; she was obviously badly hurt, although conscious.
The vampire girl reached the pair struggling on the ground. She didn’t strike with her sword, presumably for fear of hitting her comrade in the confusion, but instead reached down with her left hand and caught hold of Randy. She dragged him up, kicked his arm and broke his grip on the drow, and lifted him into the air. The drow rolled away and laboriously raised himself on his hands and knees. Randy tried to break free but in his injured state he couldn’t manage it. The girl raised her sword and took aim at his neck.
Joan dived past her, reached the drow, and seized him in an iron grip. She poised her stake over his heart. He wasn’t wearing any armor. “Let him go!” she ordered.
The vampire girl paused. “You love him?”
“Yeah.” Joan coped with the drow’s attempts to free himself without any difficulty at all. He was smaller than her, had only normal vampire strength, and Randy had throttled him almost into insensibility.
“I love Zarbalan. Release him and I release yours.”
Joan didn’t comply. “After you.”
To her surprise the girl immediately set Randy down on his feet and stepped back. She sheathed her sword. “Now you.”
Joan hesitated. The drow vampire had shot Willow. On the other hand the girl had acted honorably – and the sword could no doubt come out again quickly, and Randy was crippled and would be a sitting target for retaliation. She lowered the stake and released her grip. The drow, Zarbalan, fell on his face on the ground.
“Thank you,” said the girl vampire. “Take yours and go before Bodhi gets here.”
Joan felt her eyes widening. A chivalrous vampire? ‘The despoiled pure one wielding bright steel’, no doubt. She must have been a virtuous ‘knight in shining armor’ before she’d been vamped and some of her moral code had carried over into her new state. Unfortunately so had her combat skills, making her a deadly enemy, but at least Joan had managed to win a respite from the fight. She moved away from the drow and went to where Randy was standing unsteadily on his one working leg.
Joan shot a glance over her shoulder and saw that the vampire knight was helping her drow lover to his feet. She turned back to Randy, decided that helping him to hop after the others would be too slow, and took his arm. “Hang on, I’ll carry you,” she said. “I hope this isn’t going to hurt your leg too much.”
“’ll cope,” Randy grunted.
Joan lifted him and swung him over her shoulders in a Fireman’s Carry. Even as she did so something hurtled through the air and struck Randy in the middle of the back. Joan felt the impact even through Randy’s body. She turned to look for the source of the missile. At first she saw nothing and then realized that Bodhi was standing on the roof of the house.
Bodhi’s arm blurred. Joan leapt aside and a dagger whistled through the space she had been occupying. It buried itself to the hilt in the ground. Joan took off at a dead run, weaving and dodging, and the ground erupted beside her as a Lightning Bolt missed her by a couple of feet. Joan shot another glance backward and saw Tanova, twenty feet above the ground, flying through the air like Harry Potter minus the broomstick. Or, probably more aptly, like a witch.
‘There should be cackling,’ Joan thought, as she summoned up every bit of speed she could muster. She saw Tanova extending a hand, finger pointing like a pistol, and frantically reversed course. A streak of orange light shot from Tanova’s hand and burst on Joan’s original track, exploding into a ball of flame, incinerating grass and hedges. Joan felt a wave of heat on her back but the flames didn’t touch her or Randy. She found herself facing the vampire girl and her drow lover. A small crossbow in the drow’s hand came up and pointed at her chest.
The girl swatted it aside. The bolt went wide. Joan saw the drow turn his head to face his partner, no doubt to ask why, but she had no time to find out the outcome of the discussion. Bodhi leapt from the roof, three feet of sharp steel gleaming in her hand, and Joan didn’t intend to be around when she landed. She spun around again and ran for her life.
She crossed scorched grass. Fear for her sister and her friends swept through her. The Fireball had covered a wide area; had Umad, Willow, and Tara escaped unscathed? It seemed so. There they were, emerging onto the road that led to the mall, Willow still clinging on to the other two. Umad and Tara were waving their arms, flagging down a car, and Joan ran to join them.
It was a police car. The right-side door opened and a tall cop got out. “What’s…? Jesus Christ!” He drew his gun.
Joan guessed that he’d seen Tanova. “Don’t try to fight,” she urged him. “Get out of here. Just get us to the hospital.”
“Okay, ladies, get in the car,” the cop said, but he ignored the rest of Joan’s suggestion. He leveled his gun. “Put that sword down, lady. Back off.”
“A gun, I take it?” Bodhi said. She advanced slowly toward the car. She was wearing black leather, Faerûn-style armor rather than Earth biker gear, and held a sword that seemed too long for someone of her height. “I’ve seen them on that scrying TV thing. Rather more efficient than a Lantanese arquebus, I think, but it still won’t hurt me.”
“Oh, fuck,” the policeman groaned. “Jack! Call for back-up!” He pulled a crucifix out of his shirt pocket with his left hand, keeping the gun trained on Bodhi, and held it up defensively.
Tara and Umad had managed to get Willow into the car. Joan could see that Willow’s dress was soaked in blood. She swung Randy down from her shoulders and he flopped limply. He was unconscious and the hilt of a dagger stood out from the centre of his back. Joan felt a cold chill as she realized that if she hadn’t been carrying him the dagger would have struck her in more or less the same place. She’d probably be dead.
There was no way for all of them to sit in the back of the car. She pushed Randy in on top of the others, laying him across the three girls, ignoring the driver when he tried to tell her that the man was dead. She pulled the knife out of Randy’s back. She was about to toss it away when a thought struck her. Only magic weapons could hurt the vampires from the game, according to Warren and his friends, apart from wooden stakes. That was why she hadn’t bothered with any bladed weapons when she’d gone to the Bronze, as none of hers were enchanted as far as she knew; however this knife came from that world and maybe it might be magic.
“I take it that’s some sort of holy symbol?” Bodhi raised her eyebrows, smiled, and then suddenly moved with dazzling speed. She snatched the crucifix from the policeman’s hand, held it in front of her face, and studied it. She showed no sign of any pain or repulsion whatsoever. “Interesting. Your world’s equivalent of Imater, I presume? Unfortunately for you you’re not a cleric, and apparently not a paladin, and so this was useless to you.”
“Okay, so you’re not a vampire,” the cop said, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t shoot you if you don’t put down the friggin’ sword. Right now!”
Joan went to the front passenger side of the car. She’d lost sight of Tanova and that worried her. Also she could see the knight and her boyfriend approaching now. The girl had her sword out again; presumably she felt that the temporary truce for hostage exchange had now ended.
“Wrong,” Bodhi said. “I am a vampire.” She bared her fangs. The cop pulled the trigger of his automatic pistol and it bucked in his hand. Before the gun had settled from its recoil Bodhi had snatched it away. “That stung, slightly,” Bodhi said. “You’ve made a hole in my armor. Just as well I didn’t wear my new clothes.” She examined the gun briefly, tucked it into her waistband, and then seized the cop by his head and one arm. He punched her on the point of the jaw; she didn’t even seem to notice.
Tanova suddenly appeared out of nowhere. She seized the driver and began to drag him out of the car. Joan grabbed him and pulled him back. “Get the fuck out of here!” she urged, climbing into the passenger seat. She stabbed at Tanova’s arm with Bodhi’s dagger. Tanova yelped, released her hold, and snatched her arm away.
“I can’t leave Matt!” the driver protested. He drew his own pistol and pointed it at Tanova.
“You have no will of your own,” Tanova said. “Kill Joan. The girl beside you.”
Bodhi dragged her captive to her mouth and bit deep into his neck. The driver turned in his seat and brought his gun around to point at Joan.
Thirteen figures materialized in the middle of a field. One of them sat down abruptly.
“I’m exhausted,” Imoen said. “That took everything I have. I need to sleep. Badly. No, let me rephrase that. I need to sleep well.”
“I’m pretty bushed too,” Willow said. “I’ve still got something in the tank, I could do another jump no problem, but I couldn’t take all of us, and I couldn’t do two trips, unless somebody hits me with something to recharge the Spell Trap.”
“The sun sets soon,” Sorkatani said, “and you will not be able to see your destination. It is time for all of us to rest.”
“There is a farmstead over there,” Minsc said, pointing. “Perhaps they might have beds for us, or comfortable straw in a barn, and some grain for Boo.”
“That sounds like bliss,” Imoen said. “Lead on, Minsc.”
“We’ve saved a great deal of time,” Giles said. “This really was an excellent idea of yours, Willow.”
“Indeed so,” Sorkatani added her own praise. “You have gained us at least three days, Willow, and if we can do the same tomorrow we shall reach Athkatla by the evening, or by the next day at worst.”
“Do you need another Restoration spell?” Tara asked Imoen, as they walked.
“I don’t think so,” Imoen replied. “I’m just tired.”
“Best that you get one before we rest anyway,” Viconia said, “as casting it in the morning would exhaust Tara or Jaheira for the rest of the day.” She stuck out her lower jaw and scraped her teeth over her top lip. “I can be of no help, unless I regain spells this night. I worry still about my goddess.”
“I don’t see how anything can have happened to her,” Buffy said. “I mean, isn’t she, like, one of the absolute major league goddesses?”
“True,” Viconia agreed. “Her enemy Selûne has but a fraction of her power, as does that certain other goddess I will not name. She has other foes, however, more capable of challenging her. The vile and contemptible Sûne, for instance, and there is her old quarrel with Mystra.”
“Why do you call Sûne contemptible?” Jaheira asked. “I have never heard you speak thusly of any other deity, save your former goddess, and of course Cyric. What has the goddess of beauty done to incur your wrath?”
“She betrays her own worshippers,” Viconia said, “by deserting them if they lose their beauty. There can be no worse crime. Shar despises her, as do I. Still, I doubt if she would have attacked my goddess, and had she done so Shar could have repelled her with ease. I suspect that it is Lord Ao who is behind whatever has befallen Shar.”
“I could, maybe, try to find something out,” Tara said. “Mielikki might, uh, know the score, and she might tell me, if I asked her.”
“Or not,” said Viconia, “as Mielikki is on friendly terms with some of those that Shar terms foe. Still, they are not directly enemies, and I suppose that it would be worth a try, abbil. It would help if my mind could be set at rest; or, if there is bad news, that I could know it and mayhap help if that was in my power.”
“Maybe someone’s kidnapping goddesses,” Anya speculated. “First Waukeen, now Shar. There could be two goddesses to rescue.”
“I think rescuing goddesses might be a little out of our league,” Xander said, “and, hey, Bodhi first.”
“Well, yes,” Anya said. “I was thinking of the future. The reward for rescuing two goddesses would be enough to set us up for life.”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Imoen said. “Just sleep.”
They entered the farmyard. “Strange,” Minsc said. “No dogs bark.”
“Maybe they just don’t have dogs,” Buffy said.
“That would be most unusual,” Jaheira said, “for a farmstead outside of a village. Dogs give warning of attackers. Something is wrong, I feel, but I see no sign that orcs or the like have raided here.”
“Can smell something dead,” Spike announced. “That way.”
“The pigs live still,” Sorkatani observed. She followed Spike with her hand resting on the hilt of Celestial Fury. He led the way to a midden heap. The corpses of two dogs lay there.
“I see no arrows or sword strokes,” Sorkatani said. She lifted one of the bodies and examined it. She stiffened, beckoned to Buffy, and showed the dog’s neck to Buffy and Spike.
“Vampire,” Buffy said. “Does this mean the dogs are gonna rise? I don’t have all the rules for this world figured out yet.”
“No, animals cannot be infected by vampirism,” Sorkatani assured her. “Wolves can contract something not dissimilar, and I have fought vampiric wolves, but they live still and die like any other foe. Only intelligent beings can become true vampires.”
“Told you I wasn’t stupid, Slayer,” Spike said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Right. Okay, my guess is Bodhi came this way.”
“That is my thought too,” Sorkatani agreed, “but I cannot believe that she fed on dogs.”
“Like when Red Dwarf ran out of proper milk,” Spike muttered, “but they still had loads of dog’s milk left because no bugger would drink it.”
Buffy ignored him. “Yeah. Not dogs. Farmers, though…”
“Exactly,” Sorkatani said. “I suspect that we will have to fight to win beds for the night.”
“Yeah. Okay, let’s get it over with.”
Buffy, Sorkatani, and Spike took the lead as the group went to the farmhouse door. Anya, Xander, and Dawn circled round the house to cover the rear exit. Buffy knocked on the door.
The door swung open. A burly man in a dirt-stained smock, and a woman in a shabby dress, stood within. “Welcome, travelers,” the man greeted them. “Come in and stay awhile.”
“My, grandmamma, what big teeth you have,” Buffy said. The woman’s hand shot to her mouth.
“So you know,” the man said. He snarled, revealing fangs, and reached out with his hands.
Sorkatani’s hand blurred and Celestial Fury hissed through the air. The man’s head seemed to leap from his shoulders. It dissolved into white mist before it hit the ground and his body followed suit.
The woman whirled around and fled. Seconds later a shriek sounded from the back door. Buffy, Sorkatani, and Spike entered the house and followed the white mist as it drifted through the dwelling’s main room and into a second room which contained two crudely-constructed wooden beds. A second cloud of vapor drifted from the rear of the house and headed in the same direction. Dawn, Anya, and Xander tracked it.
“Eww,” Dawn said, as the vapors coalesced into corpses on the beds. “I am so not sleeping in one of those.”
Buffy slammed a stake into one of the bodies. Spike did the same with the other. The vampire corpses crumpled up and disintegrated into dust. “Me neither,” Buffy said. “Although, a bed-roll on top of a bed would be better than on the hard floor.”
The rest of the party trooped into the house. “There’s a stove,” Tara said. “I can cook a proper meal.”
“That would be cool,” Sorkatani said, “although between you and Jaheira we were eating well even in the forest.”
“A real cooked meal, walls and a roof, even a couple of beds for those who don’t mind vamp dust,” Xander said, “and the fight only took a couple of seconds. Not a bad end to the day.”
The driver was right-handed and his position, in the seat to Joan’s left, made aiming the gun at her awkward. She dropped the dagger, grabbed his arm before the gun came to bear, and wrenched it upward. The gun went off, making a hole in the roof of the car, and then Joan twisted the pistol out of his hand. She pushed him out of the car, sending him crashing into Tanova, and wriggled across into his seat. She pointed the gun at Tanova and fired twice.
Tanova’s skin changed color, becoming a mottled gray, and roughened in texture. The bullets bounced off harmlessly. She recoiled, however, and clapped her hands over her ears. Joan’s own ears were singing with the noise but she ignored it and pulled the door shut. Tanova took her hands away, snarled, and reached in through the open window. Joan put the muzzle of the gun against Tanova’s arm and pulled the trigger again.
The muzzle-blast scorched a hole in the sleeve of Tanova’s top – Ralph Lauren, very nice, Joan identified it automatically – and the vampire yelped and pulled back. Joan fumbled the gear into Drive, stamped on the accelerator, and released the handbrake. The car shot forward.
A crossbow bolt glanced off the rear window. “Hang on to your hats,” Joan said. “Driving so is not one of my skills.” She heaved at the wheel. The car slewed around, overshot the turn, and the wheels went up on the curb before Joan managed to correct her steering. “It’s just as well I’m heading for the hospital.” The tail of the car was suddenly enveloped in flame and Umad screamed. They emerged from the fire an instant later, before any damage was done, and Joan gritted her teeth and concentrated on driving.
She realized that she was still holding the pistol, hampering her grip on the wheel, and she tossed it onto the passenger seat. “How’s Willow?” she called.
“Not good,” Tara reported. “She’s passed out.”
Joan winced as she remembered pushing Randy’s unconscious body into the car on top of the others, forgetting that Willow had a crossbow bolt sticking out of her breast, and she hoped that she hadn’t knocked it and done any more damage. There was nothing that she could do about it now, however; she just had to keep going, get them to the hospital as quickly as possible without crashing, and hope that nobody asked any questions about why she had been driving without a license in a stolen police car.
“I spoke to Mielikki,” Tara revealed.
“You did? And she answered?” Viconia raised her eyebrows. “I had to die before I was granted such privilege. You are favored indeed.”
“I guess so,” Tara said. “It’s pretty, well, awesome.”
“That’s my girl, awesome,” Willow said.
Tara blushed. “I mean, it’s awesome for me. Actually having a real conversation with a goddess. And, uh, she’s really nice.”
“I will concede that I have heard no ill spoken of Mielikki,” Viconia said. “Did she say aught of Shar? I suspect not.”
“She doesn’t know anything,” Tara confirmed, “except that, uh, there seem to be some of Shar’s servants running around asking questions. She’ll ask around and if she finds out anything she’ll let me know.” Tara nibbled briefly on her bottom lip. “Uh, Vicky, she said, well, that you can pray to her, if you like, and she’ll grant you spells. Just while Shar isn’t answering, that is, it doesn’t mean that you’d be actually worshipping her or anything.”
Viconia frowned. “It is well meant, I know, abbil, and it would be very useful, but I feel I must decline,” she said. “It could be taken to be a rejection of Shar.” She turned to Sorkatani. “I will do it if you so command, jabbress,” she said, “but reluctantly.”
Sorkatani shook her head. “I will not order you to do something that might offend your goddess,” she said. “We acquired plentiful scrolls in Ust Natha and can purchase more in Athkatla. That will see us through.”
“I hope they will not be needed,” Viconia said. “I shall retire to bed, then, and perhaps my spells shall have returned when I wake in the morning. First, though, as Spike took guard duty last night, and I therefore slept alone, I shall catch up on what I missed and get him to shag me senseless.”
Randy raised his head as Joan came into the room. “’lo, love,” he mumbled.
“Hi,” Joan said. She bent over his bed and kissed him gently on the forehead. “You’re not looking as good as usual, lover. I don’t think we’re gonna be ‘shagging’ any time soon. How’re you feeling?”
“Been better,” Randy said. “God, that sodding knife hurt like hell.”
“It’s magic,” Joan said, “which is of the good, now we’ve got it, as it’s about the only thing we have that will work on them.”
“Yeah, useful,” Randy agreed. “Pity they’ve all got great big swords, though.”
Joan shrugged. “If I can take the sword off that knight in shining armor girl I can use it against them. She’s tough, yeah, but I can take her.”
“If you can catch her without that bitch Bodhi around,” Randy said.
“Yeah, and that vamp witch,” Joan agreed. “She’s like a freaking one-woman helicopter gunship. Stealth Fighter, even, seeing as how she can do Invisibility. If our Willow had gone into big-time magic like the other one maybe we could match her. As it is I just don’t know how to deal with her at all.”
“How is Willow?” Randy asked.
“Out of danger,” Joan told him. “They’re not allowing her to have visitors yet but I think they’ll let Tara in pretty soon.”
“Good,” Randy said. “Was shit scared when I saw her get shot.”
“Me too,” Joan said, “but it’s okay. She’s gonna be fine.”
“How about you, love? You okay?” Randy raised a hand to her cheek, just below the Steri-Strips that covered the slice she had suffered from the vampire’s sword, and gently touched the bruised area with a finger.
“I’ll mend,” she said. “I don’t think it’s gonna leave a scar. It looks like you’re on the mend, too. You’re talking pretty clearly, now, so your jaw must be pretty much healed up.”
“More or less,” Randy agreed, “but it still hurts a bit when I talk.” He gestured at the weights and pulleys that held his leg in traction. “Don’t need all this crap, though.”
“It’s not gonna do any harm, and hey, it might even help,” Joan said, “and it keeps the docs happy. Think yourself lucky Rupert persuaded them that you didn’t need metal pins putting in your bones.”
“Yeah, dunno what that would have done to me once the vamp healing got going,” Randy said. “Never thought I’d ever get treated in a human hospital. Bit weird, innit?”
“It surprised me,” Joan said. “I guess people in this town haven’t been as big with the whole ‘not noticing the supernatural’ thing as I thought. Which is of the good, at least this time.” She dropped another kiss on his forehead. “It could still have been kinda awkward if Rupert hadn’t fixed you up with medical insurance. I’d thought for sure that was just a total waste of money.”
“Yeah, so did he,” Randy said. “Came as part of the fake identity package.” His voice changed. “It will never be used, of course, but I suppose that it will add a certain verisimilitude if anyone should investigate you,” he said, in an accent identical to Rupert’s cultured tones. “Score one for Dad,” he added, in his normal voice. “Dunno how much help the treatment is, mind, but at least they’re filling me up with the good stuff. Not a bad place to rest up. Even got a telly.”
“You want me to bring you anything else? Books, records, anything like that?”
“Maybe not a good idea to go back to the house, pet,” Randy said. “Could run into Bodhi. Best not to take the chance. Tell you what, love, get some of those Dungeons and Dragons books off our nerd pals. Could take a look through them, see if I can get a handle on how to deal with that kind of vampire.”
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” Joan said. “I was gonna be picking their brains anyway, but yeah, you doing some reading might help. You might spot something they’re, like, too familiar with to realize that we don’t know it.”
“Maybe,” Randy said, “and it’ll keep me occupied anyway. Stop me from going stir crazy.”
“Yeah.” Joan ran her fingers along the edge of the bed. “I’m getting the guys together for a Council of War. I don’t think the hospital would be too happy about us having it in here so you’ll have to miss out.”
“Yeah, not that I’ve got any ideas yet,” Randy said. “Probably worse not having Willow in on it. She’s the clever one.”
“I’ve come up with two ideas,” Joan said. “The first one might have too much of a down side but I’ll see what Warren and his friends think. Pulling somebody out of the computer to help us. Sorkatani, maybe.”
“Not a bad thought,” Randy said, “but it could cause some ructions when she gets put back in there and the other versions of us find out what the score is.”
“I hadn’t even thought of that,” Joan said. “I think it’s probably a no-no, except as a last resort.”
“What’s your other idea? Asking the cops for help? If the docs here were willing to treat me, in spite of me being dead, maybe we don’t have to keep things as secret as we thought.”
Joan shuddered. “A huge no to that. You were passed out when Tanova put her moves on the driver of the cop car. One word from her and he tried to shoot me. Getting the cops involved would be the fastest way to get us all killed.”
“Bloody hell! Didn’t know that, pet. You alright? Well, stupid question, obviously you didn’t get shot, but you gave me a shock.”
“Yeah, I stopped him, but it was a nasty moment. No way do I want it to happen again. No, we need help, but from somebody who’s already up to speed with the supernatural stuff. The other Slayer is in jail so that means either the Council of Watchers, and I really don’t want to bring them into this, or else Angel.”
“Angel? That could be a bit bloody awkward. He’s going to think he knows you, and you’ve never even met him, and from what I’ve heard he wasn’t too keen on Spike. Could be nasty if he doesn’t twig that I’m not the same bloke.”
“I’ll have to make him understand,” Joan said, “and if he can’t deal, he can stay out of it. Yeah, saying it’s gonna be awkward is pretty much a major understatement, but I don’t think we have any other choice. We have to stop Bodhi before she takes over the whole town.”
Clem laid down his cards. “Full house,” he said. “The pot’s mine. I’ll take…” He broke off as the door of the poker room flew open and two girls walked in. The kittens hissed and backed away to the side of their basket farthest from the newcomers.
“Hey, this is a private room,” one of the players protested. He stared at the women with several eyes. “No humans allowed.”
“I’m not human,” the leading girl said. She was tiny, no taller than the Slayer, and was probably very attractive if you liked your women with tight skin. She swept off her cowboy hat to reveal long pointed ears. “I’m an elf.”
“What, you make toys for Santa Claus?” The speaker was green-skinned and had horns on his head. He laughed at his own wit and two of the other players laughed with him. Clem stayed silent.
“I didn’t understand that,” the elf said, “but I sense that you are being disrespectful.” She walked around the table, moving like a stalking panther, and confronted the green demon. Her arm lashed out.
The demon flew from his chair, crashed against the wall, and bounced off. The elf caught him by the throat on the rebound and lifted him into the air. She opened her mouth and revealed gleaming white fangs. “You don’t look very appetizing, and I’m not hungry,” she said, “but any more disrespect from you and I’ll eat you anyway.”
“Okay, okay,” the demon wheezed. “You got my respect. Put me down.”
She slammed him to the ground so hard that his knees buckled. “My name is Bodhi. This town is now mine.”
“Oh, joy,” said the multi-eyed demon. “Another would-be big-shot coming in and getting the Slayer all stirred up. Just what we don’t need.”
Bodhi pulled a long sword from a scabbard on her back. She jumped up onto the card table, swung the sword, and jumped down again. The demon toppled from his chair. When he hit the floor his head rolled away under the table. “I said I wouldn’t tolerate disrespect,” Bodhi said. “Anyone else need a lesson?”
Clem raised his hands. “No, I’m good, I’m good. What do you want?”
“She’ll want us to kill the Slayer,” the green demon said. “Newcomers always do.” He gulped. “Uh, that’s because it’s a good plan, lady, I don’t mean no disrespect by saying it.”
“Oh, I don’t want you to kill the Slayer,” Bodhi said. “I rather admire her. She’s brave, and resourceful, and she spared Zarbalan’s life. I wouldn’t let any mere minions kill her. She deserves the best. I just want you to find out where she is. I’m going to kill her myself.”
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. Lyrics from ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, by Guns N’ Roses, used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.