Rupert didn’t see who started the fight. One moment the two sides were exchanging nothing more lethal than wary looks; the next fists were flying, fangs were out, and swords and stakes were appearing out of nowhere and being used in deadly combat.
Bodhi seemed to have been taken completely by surprise, the same applied to Joan, and Angel had been caught flat-footed too. Had someone acted without orders? If that was the case then Rupert would bet that the one responsible had been either the Drow, on Bodhi’s side, or else the teenage boy, sulky rebellion written all over his features, who was tagging along with Angel.
Or it was like the Battle of Camlann. Someone had made an innocent move, someone on the other side had read it wrong, and all Hell had broken loose. The ring-tone of a mobile phone had sounded out an instant before the fight started; maybe that innocuous occurrence had been the trigger.
There was no time for analysis now. Only survival mattered. Rupert used his guitar case to block a punch from one of Bodhi’s minions, fumbled in his jacket for a stake, and drove it home. As the vampire disintegrated Rupert cast a quick glance around.
Rupert hadn’t been at the meeting where Joan had delivered her warning to Angel and didn’t realize how accurately she had foreseen the likely course of events. Bodhi had seized hold of Angel and was, as Joan had predicted, breaking him apart. Bodhi wrenched savagely at Angel’s right arm and snapped his forearm like a twig. She then moved on to his left arm and twisted it around until it was about to pop out of its socket.
The teenage boy growled deep in his throat and launched himself at Bodhi. He moved with uncanny speed, faster than any human Rupert had ever seen other than Joan, but he wasn’t fast enough. Bodhi let go of Angel with her left hand and lashed it around in a back-fist blow that connected solidly with the youth’s face. He was lifted from his feet and flew twenty feet through the air. He landed rolling, and came up to his feet almost at once, but he was wobbling on his feet and his face was a mask of blood.
Joan had gone straight for Tanova. The spell-caster was the most deadly threat, next to Bodhi, and a good deal easier to neutralize than the insanely strong vampire elf. Tanova had turned grey in the first second of the fight, protecting herself with a Stoneskin, but Joan rained blow after blow on her and then, as Tanova began to speak the words of a spell, Joan rammed her magical dagger into Tanova’s open mouth. The Stoneskin didn’t protect her there and, instead of an invocation, it was a gush of blood that came forth. Tanova howled and, with a mighty effort, threw Joan off her and away. Tanova backed away quickly, opening her Louis Vuitton purse and pulling out a potion bottle, but one of Angel’s crew, a massively-muscled character who resembled a Terminator, seized her from behind and dashed the bottle from her hand. He pinned her arms and held her, helpless to defend herself, as Joan came in again.
The African-American member of Angel’s company, Gunn, battled the Drow vampire, holding his own and preventing the vampire from getting off a shot with the deadly little hand crossbow, and Cordelia dueled with the paladin girl.
Nothing in Giles’ old diaries had given Rupert the impression that Cordelia was in any way skilled at combat. Either they were wrong or else Cordelia had learned a lot during her time in Los Angeles. She wielded a saber with speed and skill that would have done credit to an Olympic fencer but against Jeroneth she might as well have been a novice.
Jeroneth parried two of Cordelia’s strikes, spun and lashed out with a cut that sliced into Gunn’s arm and forced him to release Zarbalan, and then went on the offensive and disarmed Cordelia with casual ease. Jeroneth dropped the long sports bag she held, seized hold of Cordelia with her left hand, and slammed the pommel of her sword into Cordelia’s shoulder to paralyze her free arm. The vampire girl opened her mouth wide to reveal gleaming fangs, lunged at Cordelia’s throat, and bit deep.
“If this is a jest it is in poor taste,” Sorkatani said.
“It is no jest,” the Radiant Heart knight replied. “Lay down your arms and surrender.”
Sorkatani shook her head. “We have vowed to lay down our arms only when we are dead,” she said. “I am loath to begin a battle against the law enforcers of the city I have come to regard as home but, if you press me too far, I will fight.”
“That goes for me too,” Buffy said.
“For all of us,” Jaheira said. “What nonsense is this? We have murdered no-one.”
“Hey, you’re Sir Mardus, right?” Xander put in. “How about you explain what’s going on? We’ve been away from the city for more than a month. Just who are we supposed to have killed?”
“Sir Xander?” There was surprise evident in Sir Mardus’ voice. “You still travel with them after what they did?”
“What they did? Huh?” Xander’s eyebrows rose out of sight under the rim of his helmet. “So killing vampires and psycho High Priestesses of Lolth are crimes now?”
“I know not of what you speak,” said Sir Mardus. “Slaying paladins is most definitely a foul crime and it is that of which Buffy the Vampire Slayer stands accused.”
“If I see someone protecting rapists, and about to kill someone who’s trying to stop the rapes,” Buffy spat out, “I kill him, paladin or not.”
Sir Mardus raised his sword higher. “You slander the good Sir Darnell and his comrades most vilely,” he growled. “Take back those words.”
“If Sir Darnell was the man she slew,” Jaheira put in, “then your definition of ‘good’ must be very different to any I have encountered before. The man was a false knight and his comrades naught but bandits.”
“He was protecting evil-doers, and so doing evil, and I would have kicked his butt most mightily had Buffy not beaten me to it,” Minsc added.
“The paladins of the Order of the Radiant Heart do not do evil,” Sir Mardus said, his voice almost a growl.
“Sir Keldorn attacked me without reason,” Viconia pointed out.
Sir Mardus glared at her with an intensity that would have made a lesser woman quail. “And is that why you attacked other knights of the Order? Revenge?”
“Wait a minute,” Willow said. “Something’s wrong here. I don’t think he’s talking about what we’re talking about. What would knights of the Radiant Heart have been doing in Tethyr?”
“They were patrolling the borders,” Sir Mardus answered, transferring his glower to Willow.
“Border patrol? Huh?” Xander frowned and shook his head. “That sure was one heck of an incursion into the Neutral Zone. It makes Captain Kirk look like a guy who stuck strictly to orders by comparison.”
“I do not understand you, Sir Xander,” Sir Mardus said. “Who is Captain – a-hah! A light, I think, shines in the darkness. You maintain that you travelled with the party of Sorkatani the whole time?”
“Well, yeah,” Xander said. “Except for when the girls were in the bath, and that time they went to a party without me, but, yeah. We sailed to Brynnlaw together, we went through the dungeon together, sailed back, got shipwrecked, made our way through the Underdark… if you have a ten-day to spare I’ll tell you all about it.”
“He knows,” Spike said, adopting an odd accent, “’cos he was there.” Giles chuckled. Everyone else looked blank.
“Some British thing,” Buffy said to Willow, making a correct deduction.
Sir Mardus ignored the by-play. “Then you can testify in their defense,” he said to Xander, “and that should set all to rights. The powers of the Holy Sword, Carsomyr, will serve as testimony that you speak the truth.”
“Ah,” said Xander, pulling a face, “funny you should say that. It’s kind of a long story…”
The phone rang and Katrina hastily set aside her laptop. Randy beat her to the phone, despite his injured leg, and Katrina could only listen to his side of the ensuing conversation. She’d expected the call to be from Joan, or one of the others, reporting on the success or otherwise of their rescue mission. Instead it turned out to be from Randy’s friend Clem, the demon who’d been pretending to be a movie extra when she’d met him at Joan’s birthday party, with some news that brought a smile to Randy’s lips.
“Thanks, Clem, that’s bloody brilliant,” Randy said, as the call drew to an end. “It might save our lives. I owe you one.” He was silent for a few seconds, listening, and then continued. “Yeah, sure, no problem. I’ll get it for you. Thanks again. I’d better get on to Joan and let her know what you found. Thanks again. See you around.” He thumbed the button to disconnect the call and turned to Katrina. “Clem’s found Bodhi’s lair.”
Katrina narrowed her eyes. “Good,” she said. “We can take the fight to them instead of just reacting. I wouldn’t quite call it a life-saver but it could be very useful.”
“I don’t mean whatever posh pad Bodhi’s taken over,” Randy corrected her. “Clem’s found the coffins. Marked inside with vampire blood, just like Angel guessed, and the original corpses dumped out. The clincher is that he found a couple of things stashed there. A sword and a thing like an antique lantern. And it’s glowing.”
“The Rhynn Lanthorn,” Katrina identified the artifact. A smile spread across her face. “You’re right, that clinches it. If Joan can stake them, and force them to go back there to regenerate, we can zap them into the memory sticks and send them back where they belong.”
Randy was already dialing. He waited for the call to be answered and then grimaced. “Voicemail,” he muttered. “She’s probably in the middle of a bloody fight.” He raised his voice to a normal speaking tone. “Clem’s found Bodhi’s coffin stash,” he reported. “In Sunnydale Cemetery, the Broderick crypt, that’s the one with the tacky cherubs over the door, next to the one with the statue of the angel reading a book. As soon as you dust the bitch get over there and finish the job. Uh, love you.”
Katrina twitched an eyebrow upwards and gave Randy a half smile. “I still find it hard to believe you’re a vampire,” she remarked.
Randy lowered the phone and gazed at her with his scarred eyebrow rising in a mirror image of hers. “What? Don’t quite get the non sequitur, luv,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Katrina said. She retrieved her laptop and started shutting it down. “Which one’s Sunnydale Cemetery?”
“It’s the closest one to the High School,” Randy told her. “Not far from the Bronze.”
Katrina pulled a memory stick out of the laptop’s USB port and stared at it speculatively. “Hmm. How close are you to being back at fighting strength?”
“Apart from the leg I’m pretty much recovered,” Randy said. “Overall I’m up to, maybe, seventy-five per cent of normal. Against Bodhi and her pals that’s nowhere near good enough. Would just have been a liability, if I’d gone with the others, ’specially as I can’t run for it if I start getting clobbered.”
“But could you cope with a normal vampire?”
“’Course I could,” Randy assured her. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to get eaten by an ordinary vampire,” Katrina explained, “and you’re taking me to Sunnydale Cemetery.”
Jeroneth recoiled from Cordelia, retching, and spat blood from her mouth. “What foul taint is this?” she exclaimed. “The ichor of a tanar’ri!”
The Groosalugg had released Tanova on seeing Cordelia’s plight. He hurtled toward Jeroneth, pulling out an axe from under his jacket as he went, and struck at her neck with all his might.
Jeroneth blocked the blow with her forearm. She underestimated Groo’s strength and her arm was knocked aside. The axe blade glanced off her steel arm bracer, continued on, and bounced off her breastplate. Groo swung the axe around and took another swing at her neck. Unfortunately he didn’t realize that his first strike had had no effect on Jeroneth whatsoever and he took his eyes off her sword for a fraction of a second. That was all the time she needed to thrust her blade deep into his abdomen. Groo dropped the axe and staggered back with his hands clutching at his stomach.
Tanova, free now, began a spell to restore her protections. Joan rushed at her and delivered a lightning-fast strike. Tanova tried to ride the blow, so that she could finish her spell, but Joan was hiding a stake flat against her forearm and Tanova saw it too late. Joan changed the direction of her strike, flipping out the stake, and drove it home into Tanova’s chest. The vampire disintegrated into a cloud of white mist.
Tara rushed to Groo’s side, pulling a cloth out of her purse as she went, but her course took her within a sword’s length of Jeroneth. The blade licked out… and stopped short of Tara’s skin. Jeroneth turned away, leaving Tara to tend to Groo unharmed and unhindered, and directed her attention toward Zarbalan’s fight against Gunn.
Connor launched an assault on Bodhi. He hit her twice, without any apparent effect, and then lunged at her breast with a stake. She caught his arm, squeezed it hard enough to break bones, and ripped the stake from his hand. Angel attacked her, striking with his undamaged arm, and Bodhi stabbed him with the stake. He managed to interpose his arm between the stake and the intended target; the point pierced all the way through his arm, between the radius and ulna, and nailed it to his chest. The wood jammed against bone and stopped the stake just short of piercing Angel’s heart. Angel staggered away with his face contorted in agony.
Connor broke free while Bodhi was distracted. He chopped her across the throat with the edge of his hand, putting all his considerable strength into the blow, but achieved nothing more than forcing her to take a step back. He tried to follow up his strike and she caught hold of him once more. Bodhi dragged Connor inexorably to her, holding him by his uninjured arm and the back of his head, and tilted his head to expose his throat. Her head darted forward like a striking snake and she bit deep into the side of his neck.
Fred came up behind Jeroneth and rammed a tazer into her back. Unfortunately the steel cuirass under Jeroneth’s shirt acted like a partial Faraday cage and the paralyzing shock was diluted down to no more than an annoyance. Jeroneth spun around, her sword hissing through the air, and Fred only managed to avoid losing her head by throwing herself to the ground and scrambling away.
One of the policeman vampires hurled himself at Rupert and slammed him back into a parked car. The vampire shoved Rupert down onto the hood of the car and tried to get his teeth into Rupert’s neck. Rupert fended the vampire off with his guitar case, using it as a shield, but couldn’t free himself and the fangs drew closer and closer. Anya scurried to the rescue but Alex got there first. He slammed a stake into the vampire’s back with every ounce of his strength. The tip of the stake burst through the front of the chest and thumped into Rupert’s guitar case. An instant later the vampire disintegrated and both the men began coughing as a dust cloud enveloped them.
Bodhi withdrew her fangs from Connor’s neck and pushed him away. “Another one immune to life draining,” she complained, as Connor staggered and sank to his knees. “Aren’t any of you normal humans?” She glanced around and realized, for the first time, that Tanova had been staked and was drifting away in mist form. “Bastards!” she swore. She kicked out at Connor’s face. He caught her foot and tried to pull her off balance. Bodhi wrenched her leg free and grabbed for Connor’s hair. He threw himself backward to avoid her clutching hand, rolled out of reach, and then regained his feet.
“Jeroneth!” Bodhi yelled. “Stop pissing around and throw me my sword. I’m through playing nice.”
Jeroneth bent down, scooped up the sports bag, and tossed it in Bodhi’s direction.
Joan took off in a flying leap and snatched the bag out of the air. Her hand was already entering the bag as she landed. She snatched out the long-sword and drew it forth from its scabbard. “Ooh, shiny!” she exclaimed. She threw away the bag but kept hold of the scabbard with her left hand. For a few seconds she twirled the sword to accustom herself to its length and balance, simultaneously looking around to assess the situation, and working out where she was most urgently needed.
Only a couple of Bodhi’s minions still survived. One of them was fighting Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan. Joan saw the vampire seize Andrew by the stake hand and the collar, and then force him into a position where he’d be wide open to a bite, and she moved in that direction to rescue Andrew. Before she could arrive Jonathan knelt down behind the vampire’s legs and curled himself into a ball. Warren shoulder-charged the vampire, driving him back onto Jonathan, and the vampire crashed to the ground underneath Andrew. Warren landed on top of the pile and, in the confused scrimmage, either Andrew or Warren rammed the stake through the vampire’s chest.
That left Joan with a choice of aiding Angel and Connor against Bodhi or helping the rest of the Los Angeles crew in their battle with Jeroneth and Zarbalan. Angel was badly injured, and Connor was hurt, but Joan decided that they weren’t in immediate mortal danger. Bodhi, using only bare hands and fangs, was making slow work of beating them to death. Meanwhile the situation was far more perilous for Gunn, Fred, Cordelia and Groo.
Even as Joan began to run in that direction Zarbalan rammed his short-sword into Gunn’s stomach. At almost the same moment Jeroneth slashed the tip of her sword across Fred’s throat. Groo, already badly wounded, roared out in rage and charged. Jeroneth met his rush with a sideways chop that sliced bone-deep into Groo’s thigh. Great gouts of blood spurted forth as the sword came free and Groo toppled to the ground.
I’m too late, Joan thought as she ran, but she kept going and hurtled straight at Jeroneth. That deadly sword came up again, pointing straight at Joan’s heart, and it seemed impossible for her to avoid it. Jeroneth’s lips were already curling up in a smile of triumph when Joan swung the scabbard in her left hand and swatted the blade aside. Her own sword, the magical blade that had once belonged to the paladin Sir Krivalek before being appropriated by Bodhi, came around in a lethal answer. Steel flashed in the streetlights in a semicircle that passed through Jeroneth’s neck. For a brief instant her head tumbled through the air, a smile still frozen on her face, and then head and body together dissipated into a cloud of white mist.
Zarbalan screamed. He pushed Gunn away and uttered one word. “Oloth!” Suddenly he was gone, hidden from sight at the center of a cloud of absolute darkness, and then everything vanished from Joan’s vision as the Drow hurled himself at her and the darkness swallowed her up. She knew he’d be coming sword first and she leapt aside. His sword-point caught the side of her right arm, tearing skin and flesh, but she ignored the flare of pain and kept hold of her sword. She released the scabbard, grabbed for where she estimated he must be, and caught him by the arm. A pull, a twist, and the short-sword clattered on the ground. He struck out at her with his other hand, something sharp in his grip – a bolt from his pistol crossbow, she deduced – but it only scraped across her fore-arm and now she had his position clearly in her mind. She struck with her long-sword, hitting him solidly despite the blade’s awkwardness for such close work, and then delivered another blow, and another, and then his arm seemed to collapse in her grip. The darkness dissipated and the street lights revealed that she was standing in a waist-high cloud of white vapor. It writhed, swirled, and then began to move as if blown by a wind that somehow affected nothing else.
“Now you’ve made me angry,” Bodhi said. She dipped a hand down to her waistband and brought it up holding a gun. She extended her arm and pointed the sleek automatic pistol directly at Joan’s head. “Everybody stand still.”
“This girl’s dying!” Tara protested. “I’m going to try to stop the bleeding and you’ll have to shoot me to stop me.” She strode toward Fred, her jaw set, resolutely ignoring the gun that swung to point at her.
Bodhi laughed. “Well, you did sing very nicely, and so I’ll spare you. In fact I’ll be nice all round. You may tend to your wounded.” She went back to pointing the gun at Joan.
Joan didn’t understand Bodhi’s motives but wasn’t going to argue. “Do it,” she said to her friends. They rushed to the assistance of the fallen. This meant that everyone ended up in front of Bodhi; however jumping her from behind was probably completely pointless for anyone without superpowers and so it didn’t make a whole lot of difference.
“Hey, a healing potion,” Anya said, picking up the vial that Tanova had dropped when Joan decapitated her. “Who’s in worst shape?”
“Christ, don’t use that!” Warren cried.
“Why not?” Anya asked.
“Vampires in the Forgotten Realms are Negative Energy beings,” Jonathan explained. “Cure spells harm them and harm spells heal them. That won’t be Cure Wounds, it will be Cause Wounds.”
Bodhi laughed. “Now that would have been delightfully amusing,” she said. “Of course you’re only postponing the inevitable. We’ll finish you off tomorrow. Although,” she added, “I might spare Giles and Tara. They do sing very nicely and, unlike their counterparts in my world, they don’t pose any kind of threat.”
“What does she mean?” Angel asked. He had managed to extract the stake from his arm, with assistance from Connor, and blood from the wound was dripping onto the ground and pooling there. “We got all of them except her. How come she thinks she can do better tomorrow by herself?”
“I told you, Angel,” Joan said. “Staking them doesn’t kill them. They float back to their coffins and regenerate. Tanova and the other two will be recovered in a few hours, at full strength, and we… won’t.”
“Ah, you do know,” Bodhi said. “I wasn’t sure. Oh, well, it’s too late now for you to do anything about it.”
Joan looked around, scanning for the clouds of mist, but they were all out of sight. She realized why Bodhi had been stalling. Apart from a rough idea that the vaporous vampires had moved off in a roughly south-easterly direction she had lost track of where they had gone. Hopefully one of the others had thought to take a more accurate bearing.
“And now,” Bodhi said, “I’ll take my leave. Until tomorrow.”
Joan fixed her eyes on the gun, poised for action, watching for any sign that Bodhi was about to pull the trigger. Maybe she could make it into sword-fighting range without any serious bullet-wounds. Instead of firing Bodhi returned the gun to her waistband and then, just as Joan was starting to move, Bodhi transformed.
The vampire girl vanished. In her place was a bat, five feet above the ground, fluttering its wings. Joan rushed forward with sword raised, and Alex dived for Zarbalan’s discarded hand crossbow, but the bat zoomed rapidly upward. It easily evaded Joan’s desperate leap and slash, climbed to fifty feet or more above the ground, and then turned and flew off to the west.
“Crap and double crap,” Joan swore. She guessed that Bodhi would be protecting the others while they regenerated, and was taking a circuitous route as misdirection, but it was quite possible that she was going to lurk in the vicinity and pick off stragglers from Joan’s group. The whole “I’ll probably kill you in the morning” thing could have been the misdirection. “She turned into a bat! I didn’t know she could do that.”
“She turns into a bat in her final battle against the Bhaalspawn,” Andrew said, “just when you think you’ve killed her.”
“Sorry,” Warren said, “I should have warned you. I forgot.”
“It’s not like I could have done anything to stop her,” Joan said. “Don’t worry about it.” She took out her cell-phone to dial 911 but then realized that several of the others had beaten her to it. She was about to put the phone back in her pocket when she remembered that it had rung just before the fight started. It could well have been important – not many people had the number – and she retrieved her voice-mail and listened.
“That bite,” Connor muttered, staring at Cordelia’s neck.
“A perfect match for the one on your neck,” Angel said. “Don’t worry about Cordy. It’s not life-threatening. Take it from the expert. Fred and Charles are the ones who need to get to the hospital right away.”
“And Groo,” Cordelia added. “Uh, that’s assuming they can treat someone with his…. background.”
“Fear not, my Princess, I shall not perish,” Groo assured her. “These wounds will heal. Yet I shall be weak for some days, I fear, and if those creatures seek battle anew on the morrow I will be of but little use.”
“The marks,” Connor went on. “They’re not like the ones on Dad’s neck at all.”
“Dad?” Angel’s brows lowered. “You mean Holtz?”
“Yeah.” Connor’s Adam’s Apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed hard. “He’s dead. Justine said you killed him, and he had two puncture wounds on his throat, but they didn’t look like that.”
Joan had barely noticed the conversation going on between Angel and his associates. “Listen up, everybody!” she called. “Randy’s located Bodhi’s coffins. Sunnydale Cemetery.” She scanned the scene and winced. The Sunnydale contingent was in reasonably good shape, bar a few bruises, but Angel’s people were pretty much out of action as a fighting force. “I’d better get over there right away. I’ll need a…” She bit back the word ‘nerd’ that had been the first to come to mind and thought of a tactful equivalent. “Uh, a technical advisor to do the zappy thing with the, uh, gizmo.”
“Take me!” Andrew volunteered, beating Warren and Jonathan by a fraction of a second.
Joan set aside for the moment the matter of which nerd to pick. “I could do with some combat back-up,” she went on, “but… well, I think I’ll have to do without. Those of you who are still in one piece are going to have to look after those who… aren’t. Bodhi might come back and, even if she doesn’t, the local bad guys will probably be attracted by the smell of blood.”
“I could use that healing potion thing,” Angel offered. “I’m a vampire. Maybe it’ll patch me up enough to go another couple of rounds against her.” He clenched his jaws tightly for a moment. “Although it might not do a lot of good. She’s unbelievably strong. It’s like fighting a Terminator.”
“Wow, a pop culture reference,” Cordelia said. “That’s not like you, Angel.” She was busily engaged in binding up the deep wound in Groo’s leg and spoke without looking up.
“She stole the strength of a god,” Andrew explained, but no-one took any notice of him.
“Using that’s a risk,” Jonathan warned Angel, as Anya handed the potion bottle to the vampire and he took hold of it, awkwardly, with a blood-smeared hand. “You’re not the same sort of vampire as they are. Ordinary healing spells and potions work on Spike. So, whatever this is might not work on you. It might backfire and make you worse.” Jonathan focused his gaze on Angel’s mangled arms. “Not that there’s much worse you could get. Uh, without dusting, that is.”
“I’ll be careful,” Angel said. “I’ll just take a small sip first and see what it does.” He popped the wax seal free with his thumb and raised the bottle to his lips. His eyebrows shot up. “Human blood,” he said, lowering the bottle. “And it’s… enriched somehow. Full of life. Almost like Slayer blood.”
“Eww,” Joan said, wrinkling her nose. “Well, if it will help, I guess you’d better drink up.”
Angel grimaced. “I’m going to be suffering withdrawal pangs for weeks after this.” He put the bottle to his mouth, tilted it high, and drank deep.
Joan heard sirens, not close but drawing nearer, and relaxed slightly. Ambulances were on their way. “Is it working?” she asked Angel.
“Too soon to tell,” Angel replied. A cell-phone went off nearby; Warren snatched it out of his pocket and put it to his ear. Angel stared at the wound in his arm. “The bleeding does seem to be stopping,” he decided, “but there doesn’t seem to be any dramatic instant effect.”
“I can’t wait for long,” Joan said. “Warren…” She saw that he was on the phone and turned, instead, to Jonathan. “Jonathan, how long will it take before the vampires, uh, regenerate?”
“Three hit points per one-minute round,” Andrew said, before Jonathan could answer, “and Tanova, at this point, should have a hundred and thirty hit points. Forty-three minutes twenty seconds. I don’t know about the other two, they’re not canon characters.”
“I wouldn’t count on it being that precise,” Jonathan warned. “Take it as just a rough estimate.”
Joan glanced at her watch. “So, maybe thirty or forty minutes. That doesn’t give us much time to track the misty things to their lair and do the zappy thing. We know the cemetery but that still means searching a whole lot of crypts.”
Warren waved a hand at her and took the phone away from his mouth for a moment. “I know which one,” he called, and then went back to his phone conversation.
“We’re in business,” Joan said. She slid the sword into its scabbard and waited for Warren to come up with more specific details.
“What?” Warren exclaimed, loudly. “Get out of there, Katrina! Right now! Bodhi’s on her way. She’s in bat form.” He was silent for a moment, listening, and then groaned. “Oh, crap. You be careful. Please. And get the hell out of there if you get the chance. We’re on our way.” He disconnected the phone and turned his attention to Joan. “The Broderick crypt at Sunnydale Cemetery,” he told her. “One of Randy’s demon friends tracked it down. Only Katrina talked Randy into taking her there. And now they’re in the crypt and there’s a huge armored demon outside. They’re trapped.”
Magistrate Bylanna folded her arms and stared at the two groups in front of her. “The evidence appears damning and yet it never rang true to me. It contradicts everything that I know about Sorkatani and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They stopped the skinner murders, shattered the power of the Slavers, and destroyed the Cult of the Eyeless. It makes no sense that they should turn to murder and banditry.”
“They shielded the wanted fugitive Valygar,” one of the Cowled Wizards said.
“Who was later exonerated on all charges,” Bylanna pointed out. “Their actions in that case are hardly indicative of a tendency toward lawlessness.”
“And yet there are unimpeachable witnesses to their crimes,” Sir Mardus said. “Squire Brendur saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the very act of murder.”
“He stated she was accompanied only by three others, counting Sir Anomen,” Bylanna reminded him, “and there are thirteen in the adventuring band. Where were the others? And he reported that one was a Drow who wielded a rapier. It is well known that Viconia De’Vir uses mace and flail.”
Buffy’s lips tightened and she exchanged a quick glance with Sorkatani before speaking out. “It was Bodhi,” she said. “She took Anomen and turned him into a vampire. We’ve been chasing them all the way back from Spellhold. She probably thought it would be funny to pretend to be me.”
“And what of you, Sorkatani?” Sir Mardus asked. “Several people saw you slay the prostitute Rose Bouqet, and you were seen coming out of the Delryn Estate shortly before Lord Cor Delryn was found murdered. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“We’re too late, then,” Buffy said. “You were right, Xan. Damn it.”
“Sir Xander predicted that Sir Anomen would kill his father when he returned to Athkatla,” Sorkatani said to Sir Mardus. “It seems he was correct. We had hoped to reach the city in time to prevent the deed but, alas, we failed. I know nothing of the other murder.”
“Rose gave us some of the evidence that helped us nail Reijek Hidesman,” Anya put in.
“Why would Sir Anomen kill his father?” Sir Mardus raised his eyebrows and stared into Sorkatani’s eyes. “Even if that was the case, what were you doing there?”
“I was miles away,” Sorkatani said. “We have not been in the city for a month and a half.”
“So you say,” said Sir Mardus.
“Summon the witnesses,” Magistrate Bylanna ordered. “I have not heard the testimony of Squire Brendur.”
“The slaying of Sir Darnell and his comrades, and the abduction of Lady Jeroneth, took place far from the city,” Sir Mardus said. “That matter is outside your jurisdiction.”
“It is material to the other cases,” Bylanna said. “If Buffy and Viconia are not guilty then their testimony will be relevant to the charges against Sorkatani.”
“Lady Jeroneth?” Xander said. “Lady Irlana’s friend, right? The one with the huge… tracts of land?”
“Indeed so,” Sir Mardus answered. “She does have extensive land-holdings, although I fail to see the relevance. A most brave and honorable lady, greatly skilled at arms, and fair of face withal.”
“Well, when we fought the bunch who had a paladin with them, back in the Forest of Tethir, she wasn’t there,” Xander said. “There were no girls in that outfit at all.”
“The lady mage Janthoreen also rode in Sir Darnell’s company,” Sir Mardus said. “She was brutally slain.”
“The mages in the party we fought were two guys,” Xander said. “Pointy hats, staffs, and, here’s the clincher, beards. It wasn’t the same outfit. I knew the Order of the Radiant Heart couldn’t have been acting like such total assholes.”
“If what you say is true then it exonerates your companions,” Sir Mardus conceded, “but I will reserve judgment until after Squire Brendur has been questioned further.”
“There is one missing from your party,” Bylanna said to Buffy. “Yoshimo, the bounty hunter, who has assisted this office more than once in solving crimes. Where is he?”
Buffy’s lips curled down. “He’s dead.”
“Oh.” Bylanna bit her lip and bowed her head. “I am sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you,” Sorkatani said. “It is yet another loss for which the blame rests with Irenicus and Bodhi.”
“You’ve been a bad girl,” the massive demon told Bodhi. “Messing with things that don’t concern you. Your friend with the big jugs nearly killed the Vessel and you chewed on the Spark. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work it’s taken to set things up and you’re gonna wreck it all. Some major players are really pissed at you.”
“I believe the local expression is ‘See me not caring’,” Bodhi replied. “Hmm. You are quite an impressive specimen. I could use a… being like you. If your martial prowess matches your appearance you could be a formidable addition to my forces. And if your genitalia are to scale with your body I might even be willing to take you to my bed.”
“Not interested, lady,” the demon replied. “I already have an employer.”
“Don’t be so hasty,” Bodhi purred. “I assure you the benefits would be considerable. What’s your name?”
“The name’s Skip,” said the demon, “but you’re not going to be around long enough for it to matter. You should have stayed on friggin’ Vulcan or wherever.” A long metal blade slid out of a recess in his armor and extended out beyond his right fist. With his left hand he pulled out a wooden stake. “Say goodbye to Earth, Miss Pointy Ears.”
“That’s not friendly,” Bodhi said. “And here’s me without a sword and dressed for a night out and not for fighting. If you damage my clothes I’ll be very, very, cross with you.”
“I’m gonna damage a whole lot more than your clothes, doll,” Skip said. He charged toward Bodhi, moving with a speed that belied his bulk, and thrust out his bladed arm at her chest.
Bodhi caught the arm, turned, and threw Skip over her shoulder. He crashed to the ground and she kicked him in the head so hard that he skidded away across the cemetery lawn.
Skip clambered to his feet and shook his head. “You’re pretty strong for a little girl,” he conceded, “but you’re playing out of your league. I’m gonna break you apart.” He advanced again, more cautiously this time, and tried to seize Bodhi by the throat.
Bodhi met his hand with hers and squeezed. Skip cried out and used his other hand to try to stab her with the stake. Bodhi caught that hand too and wrenched the stake from his grasp. “If I’d known I was going to be fighting tonight,” she remarked, “I’d have worn the boots with the dagger sheaths. I’m going to have to do this the hard way.” She pulled Skip closer and brought up her knee between his legs with such power that he rose clear of the ground. “Damn armor,” she complained, as he landed with barely a wince. “You’re not fighting fair.” She released Skip and took a step back.
“Bitch,” Skip growled. He shook his crushed hand, grimaced, and put his other hand down to his groin. He straightened up and swung a mailed fist, hard and fast, at Bodhi’s face. Bodhi stepped inside the blow, ignoring the impact of his forearm against her head, and caught Skip by the throat and the waist. She lifted him up, above her head, and then threw him high into the air. He landed with a crash and lay still, stunned, for a moment. A white cloud of vapor drifted past, passing within feet of the combatants, and disappeared into the Broderick crypt.
Before Skip could recover Bodhi was on him, straddling him, and using one of the spikes that protruded from his head to wrench his head around and back. “I haven’t actually tried this out in combat,” she remarked, drawing her automatic pistol, “and I don’t know how good it is at penetrating armor. So I’ll cheat.” She thrust the barrel into Skip’s mouth and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the gunshot was partially muffled but was still loud in the quiet of the cemetery. Skip jerked once and went limp. Bodhi returned the gun to her waistband, took hold of Skip’s head with both hands, and turned it first one way and then the other. “Quite effective,” she decided. “He looks dead. Of course he might be faking…” She stuck her thumb into one of his open, staring, eyes and ran the nail across his eyeball. There was no reaction whatsoever. “Well, that seems fairly conclusive,” Bodhi said, “but there’s no point in taking chances.” She took firm hold of Skip’s head with both hands, braced a foot against his shoulder, and heaved and twisted with all her might until she managed to tear the head clean off his neck. She tossed the head away and turned toward the crypt.
“It was dark,” Squire Brendur said, “and she wore a hood that covered her hair. She was of a height with this woman, and her voice was not dissimilar, but I could not swear that they are one and the same. Nor could I swear that they are not. I saw Sir Anomen clearly, and spoke with him, and thus I assumed that she was, as she said, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“This evidence does not clear her,” Sir Mardus said. “I cannot, in all conscience, release her from custody as of yet.”
“There is something else, though,” Brendur added. “I have never seen this lady drow before in my life. The drow who accompanied Sir Anomen, and the lady who styled herself Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was a young man.”
“Are you sure?” Sir Mardus said. “Why did you not say this before?”
“I thought I had done,” Brendur said. “Perhaps I overlooked that detail and, if so, I apologize. This is clearly not the same person.”
“My nephew Zarbalan,” Viconia said. “Bodhi turned him into a vampire to strike back at me. The day when I sacrifice her heart to Shar cannot come soon enough.”
“I think that settles the matter of the charges against Buffy and Viconia,” Bylanna declared. “Consequently their testimony, that Sorkatani has been with them all the time and only arrived in Athkatla this evening, is valid. There is no case to answer. Chief Inspector Brega!”
“Yes, Magistrate?” the officer responded.
“Inform the guards that Sorkatani, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Viconia De’Vir are innocent on all the charges that have been leveled against them,” the Magistrate ordered. “The real culprits are the vampire Bodhi and her associates. One of them, I deduce, is disguised as Sorkatani. Also order that all guardsmen are to be on the look-out for Sir Anomen but to beware; he is now a vampire and, therefore, highly dangerous.”
“I shall inform Prelate Wessalen,” Sir Mardus said, “and ensure that similar orders are issued to the Knights of the Radiant Heart.”
“Good,” said Bylanna. She turned to the Cowled Wizard who was the organization’s representative in the government offices. “Corneil, see that the Cowled Wizards are likewise informed. I do not want there to be any mistakes leading to unnecessary, and perhaps tragic, confrontations.”
“It shall be as you command, Magistrate,” Corneil agreed. “We shall ensure that no-one suffers for the murder of our colleague Janthoreen except the true slayer.”
“I thank you, Magistrate Bylanna,” Sorkatani said.
“That goes for me too,” Buffy said.
“I take it that you will be willing to assist the authorities in tracking down and destroying the vampires responsible for the crimes,” Bylanna said.
“Of course,” Sorkatani replied. “We have suffered greatly at their hands and are sworn to vengeance against them. Tonight, however, we can do nothing but return to the Five Flagons Inn to rest for the night. We have been traveling all day and we are tired, our spells are depleted, and my sister Imoen is… unwell. We are in no condition to face Bodhi. She is, as we have learned to our bitter cost, formidable almost beyond measure.”
“Bugger,” Randy said. “She’s coming this way. Told you we should have run for it while she was fighting that armored git.”
“We’d never have made it without being seen,” Katrina said, “and staying meant that I got the last of her minions. All three of them, and the Rhynn Lanthorn, are safely tucked away in here.” She held up the memory device, looked at it for a second, and then slipped it into a pocket.
“Fat lot of good that’ll do us if the big bad Momma Vampire rips off our sodding heads,” Randy grumbled. “Look, I’m going to take her on. You make a run for it. And bloody do it this time.”
“She’ll kill you,” Katrina warned, “and then Joan will kill me.”
“Maybe not,” Randy said. “This time I’ve got a sword and she hasn’t. Not even a knife; she was whinging about that a minute ago. ‘Course, she’s strong enough not to need one, but at least this’ll be an equalizer.” He picked up the scabbarded sword that had lain, abandoned, in one of the coffins. He closed his hand on the grip and immediately snatched it away again with a slight yelp. “Bloody hell! The bastard’s red hot!”
“Let me see that,” Katrina said. She examined the sword for a moment. “It’s Daystar,” she announced, a hint of reverence in her voice. “It was created to destroy the Undead. It does double damage against them and it can unleash a deadly Sunray. Bodhi must have left it here because they can’t use it.”
“Great,” said Randy, “or at least it would be if I wasn’t Undead myself. I can’t touch this and it’s bloody Hammer time. Please tell me you’re an Olympic-standard fencer, or the Californian SCA sword-fighting champion, or something.”
“Sorry,” Katrina said. “The only swords I’ve ever handled have been keyboard and mouse controlled on a computer screen.”
“Shit.” Randy gritted his teeth. “Oh, well, I’d rather have blistered palms than have that bitch rip my arms off and beat me to death with the soggy ends.” He took hold of the sword hilt with his right hand, clenching his jaws even tighter, and pulled it from the scabbard. “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more,” he quoted, “Or fill the wall up with our English un-dead. You get even a whisker of a chance, luv, and you run like buggery. Tell Joan I love her.” He raised the sword to the guard position and stepped out of the crypt.