Bodhi spotted Randy the second he left the crypt. “Oh, wonderful, it’s the Spike clone,” she greeted him, irritation evident in her voice. “Just what I needed to put the final touch to this really shit evening. I just wanted to listen to some music, have a meal and a fuck – not necessarily in that order – and then watch one of those DVD things while I waited for a new minion or two to rise. Was that really too much to ask?” She leapt thirty feet up and sideways, landed in the branches of a tree, and ripped off a branch about eight feet long. “Instead I end up in a succession of battles to the death. Oh, well, at least killing you will mean that the evening isn’t a total loss.” She began stripping away the twigs from the branch to convert it into a quarter-staff.
Randy thrust the tip of the sword into the ground and took his hand away from the hilt. He spat on his palm and then blew on it. “Thought the only thing you liked listening to was the sound of your own voice,” he said.
“Not entirely true,” Bodhi said. “I quite like the music of your world. Mainly, though, I like the sound of screaming.” She jumped down from the tree and began to twirl the improvised quarter-staff with ominous competence. “Ooh, excellent. I smell a live human in the crypt. At least I’ll get my evening meal after I kill you.”
“You don’t fucking touch her, bitch,” Randy warned. Bodhi merely laughed.
Katrina walked out of the crypt and Randy groaned. “You were supposed to lie low, you daft bint,” he said.
“There wasn’t a lot of point if she can smell me,” Katrina pointed out, and then she held up her USB flash-drive. “Your friends are in this now,” she told Bodhi. “I intended to send them back to Faerûn. But if you’re going to kill us, well,” she bent down, placed the drive under her heel, and straightened up, “then I’ll smash the disc and you’ll never see them again.”
Bodhi lowered the staff. “Thank you for not staking them,” she said, a note of sincerity replacing her usual mocking tones. “Tanova is a very dear friend and I have become fond of Jeroneth also despite, or perhaps even because of, her tendencies toward being too soft. Although Zarbalan is an annoying little weasel.” The staff came up again. “Why do you want to send us back?”
“So that Imoen can get her soul back,” Katrina answered. “I don’t know if that would happen if we killed you here.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” Bodhi said. “I’ll turn you, and your boyfriend, instead of just killing you. And you can be one of the family instead of just a disposable minion. Now give me that… thing and tell me how to get them out of it.”
“It’s not going to happen, Bodhi,” Katrina said.
“Give it to me,” Bodhi repeated. Her voice deepened and her eyes widened. “Pick it up and bring it to me.”
“Don’t look in her eyes!” Randy ordered. “She’s trying to put you under her thrall, Kat.”
“I won’t,” Katrina said. “Give yourself up, Bodhi. We’ll just send you back to Faerûn, with your friends, and we won’t harm you.”
“Fuck that,” Bodhi replied. She bent slightly, stretched a hand down along her leg, and then clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She straightened up. “This is the last time I go out without a throwing knife. I’ll just have to –” Suddenly her arm blurred and the staff shot through the air, hurled like a spear and with immense force, heading directly for Katrina’s chest.
By the time they arrived at the Five Flagons Inn exhaustion was taking its toll. Imoen, who had been casting spells all day as well as suffering the effects of her illness, was only able to walk with the assistance of Minsc’s strong arm. The duty of casting ‘Restoration’ on her, with Viconia still devoid of higher level spells, had fallen entirely on Tara and she was flagging too. Willow wasn’t in much better shape. Everyone was looking forward to a meal and then collapsing into bed. They passed by the posters on the outside of the inn, announcing ‘All this ten-day – Lady Sharwyn Laummyr!’ and showing a picture of a pretty red-headed girl holding a guitar, without taking any notice.
Samuel Thunderburp, the halfling innkeeper, greeted them with pleasure and some surprise. “Well, you’re back,” he said. “This would be Imoen, then? I’m well pleased you found your friend, Lady Sorkatani.”
“Thank you, Samuel,” Sorkatani responded. “It was a long expedition, with many dangers and reverses, but we prevailed in the end. There are battles yet to fight but, for the moment, we can rest.”
Willow yawned. “And that rest had better be pretty darn soon,” she said. “I don’t even feel awake enough to eat.”
“Ah,” said Samuel, “I’m afraid you might have to wait a little while. An hour or so, anyway, maybe two.”
“Of course,” Sorkatani said. “The bedding will be packed away. We expected as much, arriving unheralded, and we can wait. Or we can sleep atop the beds using our travelling blankets.”
“Right now I could sleep on a bed of nails,” Tara said.
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Samuel said. “There’s a concert going on in the Playhouse and it’s pretty noisy. Don’t think you’d be able to sleep until it’s over.” He saw the faces of the tired girls sink, with even some lip-trembling from Imoen, and scratched his head. “Although,” he added, “There are a couple of free rooms upstairs. If you don’t mind not having your own rooms some of you could use them.”
“Thank you, Samuel,” Sorkatani said again, bestowing a beaming smile upon the halfling. “That would be ideal.”
Buffy frowned. Recent events had made them loath to split up, or to sleep without guards even somewhere they would expect to be safe, and Buffy wasn’t keen on the idea.
Willow read her expression and correctly guessed her thoughts. “It’ll be okay, Buff,” she said. “I have a couple of stones with alarm wards cast on them. I’m still awake enough to place them before I go to sleep. If Minsc stays with me and Tara, and Tani with Imoen, we’ll be fine.”
Sorkatani nodded. “I am nothing like as tired as are our spellcasters,” she agreed, “and I will sleep with Celestial Fury at my fingertips. We shall, as you say, be fine. I, however, would like a meal before I sleep.”
“I’ll have one sent up to you on a tray, Milady,” Samuel suggested. “For you too, Minsc.”
“A large one, if you please,” Minsc requested, “and be sure to include vegetables for my hamster.”
The rest of the party were less desperate for sleep and decided to use their own rooms once the concert ended. They placed orders for meals before going down to stash their travelling gear in the living quarters behind the Playhouse.
“I take it that you have been successful in renting out the stage during our absence, then?” Giles remarked to Samuel, as the innkeeper and his assistants took their orders.
“I have indeed, Master Giles,” Samuel replied. “Things were a bit slow at first, after you left, but then Lady Sharwyn asked if she could play here and it’s been very successful. I have sixteen hundred danter for you, from the receipts, and that’s not counting tonight’s takings.”
“Sixteen hundred?” Giles raised his eyebrows. “She must be good.”
“Best I’ve ever heard, excepting your good self,” Samuel said. “Comes from right up North, Neverwinter they say, and she was taught by the famous half-elf bard Finch. She got stranded here when her husband walked out on her.” He shook his head. “Sometimes I don’t understand humans. You’d never find a halfling doing something so bloody stupid. Walking out on a tasty piece like her? He must have been crazy.”
“I remember a pillock who walked out on Buffy,” Spike put in. “Humans can be absolute tossers sometimes.” Viconia gave him a sharp look, and glanced sideways at Buffy, but then relaxed and smiled.
“Perhaps,” Giles said, “we should go down and catch the end of her performance after our meal.”
“Sure, why not?” Buffy agreed.
“One more thing,” Samuel added. “I didn’t know you were coming back today, of course, and I’ve been letting Lady Sharwyn stay in the rooms back of the theatre. She was staying at the Coronet but making a proper lady walk home at midnight, ‘specially to a rough area like that, didn’t seem right. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course we don’t mind,” Giles said. “Of course it would be useful for us to know which room she’s using, to save any… embarrassing intrusions.”
“Lady Buffy’s room,” Samuel replied.
“No problem,” Buffy said. “I’ll either share with Dawn or take Tani’s room for the night. That’s assuming Korgan hasn’t used the rooms to store contraband or groupies.”
Randy leapt to intercept the thrown branch and, just barely, managed to catch it. He stopped it short mere inches from Katrina. She flinched and recoiled.
There was a distinct ‘crack’ from under her heels.
Bodhi froze. “Was that…?” she asked, in a voice that was hardly more than a gasp.
Katrina stepped aside, bent down, and picked up the shattered remnants of the flash drive. “Yes,” she said. “I’m… sorry. I didn’t do it deliberately.”
“I was just trying to knock you away from it,” Bodhi said. She sounded hesitant, uncertain, even shocked. “If I’d meant to kill you I’d have shot you. This is what happens when I try to be merciful.” She bared her fangs and her voice hardened. “I won’t make that mistake again. You killed Tanova. I’m going to rip out your intestines and hang them from a tree.” She curled her fingers into claws and rushed at Katrina.
Randy met her rush, wielding the branch as a quarter-staff, striking out at her and trying to get an opening to drive one end into her heart. He fought with cold determination, and resolve, but he had little experience with the weapon. Bodhi attacked with sheer blind fury, her rage increasing her already phenomenal strength, but depriving her of the advantage she would otherwise have gained from her superior skill at staff fighting.
Randy battered her blocking arms, smashed a strike across the side of her head, and rammed the middle of the staff into her forehead. None of it had any effect. Bodhi shrugged off blows that would have at least stunned any other vampire and kept on fighting with undiminished fury. Then she caught hold of the branch with one hand, holding it still for an instant, and brought the other hand down in a chop that snapped the two-inch thick wood like a mere twig. Randy stumbled, thrown off balance, and Bodhi wrenched one half of the staff out of his right hand.
Now the advantage was all with Bodhi. Randy could fence, and used the half staff as if it was a sword, but Bodhi was an expert swordswoman and was strong enough to twitch the unwieldy branch around as if it was an epée. Also Randy’s injured leg hampered his footwork, slowed his attacks, and prevented him from using kicks as offensive moves. She drove him back, away from where Daystar stood up from the turf, and gave him no chance to swap over to the deadlier weapon.
In desperation Randy changed to a two-handed grip and bludgeoned away at her. It didn’t help. She could hit harder with one hand than he could with two and now she started punching him with her free hand. She landed a solid blow on his jaw, rocking him back, and then kicked him in the stomach. As he doubled up she caught the back of his head and shoved it down into an upward knee strike. She released her grip and brought up her other knee, catching him full in the face, and sent him flying back to land on his back in the grass.
Randy tasted blood in his mouth. His own blood, metallic and lacking the tang of life, seeming to carry the bitter taste of defeat. His head was spinning and he felt dizzy and weak. He could hear the roar of a car engine, getting closer, and he could only hope that it was Joan racing to the rescue. Unfortunately it looked as if she was going to be too late. Bodhi advanced to stand over him, reversed her grip on the broken branch so that it pointed downward, and raised it over his chest.
“I’d like to make this slow,” she said, her voice a snarl, “but I have a lot of people to kill.” Randy summoned up every scrap of willpower he possessed and forced himself into action. He swung his section of branch in a defensive block and managed to deflect her stab so that it sank into the ground beside him. He rolled aside and kicked out at her legs. She stumbled and dropped to her knees. Randy began to scramble to his feet but his stiff knee slowed him down. He was only half up when Bodhi lashed out with her left hand, caught him in the face, and sent him flying to land ten feet away.
Bodhi stayed on her knees and began to pull clods of earth from the jagged tip of the branch. “Tanova,” she said, obviously speaking to herself. “What shall I do without you?” She turned her head to look at Randy. “I suppose vengeance is a start…”
Randy raised his head. He was having difficulty focusing his eyes but he could make out something behind Bodhi. Something gleamed in the moonlight, blurred with speed, and then a moving line of bright light intersected with Bodhi’s neck.
Her head came off. Head and body disintegrated into a cloud of white vapor and began to drift toward the crypt.
“Joan?” Randy croaked out.
“I did it,” Katrina’s voice answered. “I killed Bodhi! Katrina the Vampire Slayer. Yay me!” She lowered Daystar and swayed on her feet. “I, uh, I think I’m going to be sick.”
The floor of the inn was soundproofed quite effectively, probably intended to prevent plays being disturbed by the noise from the tavern rather than to stop the sound of music from permeating upward, but they could hear the throb of powerful drumming as soon as they began to descend the stairs to the theatre. “Either Korgan is sober,” Spike commented, “or the bird has her own drummer.”
“That rhythm sounds familiar,” Giles remarked. “Korgan, I believe.” He descended the stairs, reached the bottom, and opened the door to the Playhouse. The ticket girl turned to face him, raising a hand, but stepped back as she recognized the party.
Giles didn’t even notice. His attention, from the second he entered, was focused entirely on the stage. The rest of the party, with the exception of Spike, carried on toward the rooms but Giles stood still.
Korgan was indeed playing the drums, furiously beating out a fast and heavy rhythm taught to him by Giles, and he was clean and tidy enough – at least by Korgan’s standards – to imply that he was probably reasonably sober. But Giles wasn’t looking at Korgan.
At the front of the stage was an attractive red-haired young woman, probably in her early twenties, and she was playing guitar and singing. She didn’t stand, static, in one position, as was the norm for Faerûnian minstrels, but prowled and pranced across the stage as energetically as any lead guitarist in a Stadium Rock band.
“He had to fight back tears of rage,” she sang, as she blasted out power chords from the guitar.
“His heart beat like a drum
For with the wife of his best friend
He’d spent his final night of freedom
Over the hills and far away
he swears he will return one day.
Far from the mountains and the seas,
back in her arms again he'll be.
Over the hills and far away…
Over the hills and
over the hills and
over the hills and far away…”
Her fingers blurred on the strings as she went into the lead solo. The guitar snarled, howled, and wailed. Giles put his finger to the bridge of his nose, to where his glasses would have been if the spells they had cast in the Underdark hadn’t restored his eyesight to the point where he needed them only for reading small print, and stared. He could hardly believe that there was no power lead, no amplifiers, and no speakers. The way she was sustaining the notes seemed impossible for an acoustic guitar, even with magical enhancement, and the tone was… amazing.
“Not half bad,” Spike remarked. “Hate to say it, Rupes, but she might even be better than you.”
“Indeed so,” Giles agreed. “In fact she might even be better than Gary Moore.”
“Don’t worry about it, mate,” Spike advised Giles, after Lady Sharwyn had performed the final verse and chorus and brought the song to an end. “After all, she’s only a tribute band.”
“Thank you,” Sharwyn addressed the audience when their applause died down. Her voice, when not singing, was a cut-glass aristocratic tone that reminded Spike and Giles of Joanna Lumley playing Purdey. “This is one I wrote when I was eighteen and it has been rather successful. Feel free to join in on the choruses. ‘Dark Lass Gone Away’.” There was a cheer from a significant contingent of the audience, obviously familiar with the song, and then Sharwyn began to play. The song followed the familiar Faerûnian pattern, similar to traditional English folk music, but Sharwyn was rocking it up more than somewhat. The effect was very reminiscent of Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span.
“So, not just a tribute band,” Spike remarked. “Looks like you might actually have some competition in this place.”
“Quite so,” said Giles. “Hmm. Rather Martin Carthy or Richard Thompson. She is indeed an exceptionally accomplished musician, and an excellent singer, and has incorporated rock techniques into the native music quite successfully. This, I think, is my ‘Juke Box Hero’ moment; as if I’d seen my own shadow at the back-stage door.”
“Gonna have to keep on rockin’ if you’re going to stay on top,” Spike agreed. “Tell you what, though, we’d better go on through and dump our gear. If we hang around here much longer, gawping at another woman, our lasses are going to have our guts for garters.”
Joan released Randy from her embrace and stepped back. “I’m a little mad at you,” she told him. “You took way too big a chance. Don’t do anything like that again, okay?”
“I know, luv,” Randy agreed. “Would probably be dead if it hadn’t been for Kat. Still think it had to be done, though.”
Warren kissed Katrina tenderly on the forehead. “You were a total superhero,” he told her, “but, please, don’t you ever do anything that crazy again. You scared the crap out of me.”
“It worked out okay, didn’t it?” Katrina smiled triumphantly but then the smile faltered. “I know, we were lucky, and I was stupid.”
“Never stupid,” said Warren. “You’re the cleverest of us all, no question. Crazy, yes, stupid, no.”
“Uh, guys,” Joan said, “Bodhi will be regenerating. We should get her zapped away into the memory thing before she gets back up. I really, really, don’t want to have to fight her again.”
“Me neither,” Randy agreed.
“No problemo,” Warren said. All four trooped into the crypt. Bodhi lay in her coffin, motionless and pale, arms folded over her breast. Warren aimed the augmented flash drive device at her and pressed the activation stud. Bodhi vanished.
“Mission accomplished,” Warren announced, and then frowned. “Uh, Katrina, where’s the Rhynn Lanthorn?”
“Ah thocht we’d aye seen the last o’ thae scunner Bodhi,” Korgan said, in between mouthfuls of ale.
“She faked us out,” Buffy explained. Her eyes were wide; she was still somewhat startled at having been greeted by Korgan with an enthusiastic, and slightly smelly, hug. “The corpses we staked, down in the crypts, were look-alikes. She planned it all out in advance so we’d think she was dead. And now she’s back and twice as dangerous.”
“Dinnae fash yersel’, lassie, we’ll gie her a guid skelping this time,” Korgan said. “She’ll feel the edge o’ mah axe an’ nae mistake.”
“I have sworn to cut out her heart and sacrifice it to Shar, violent one,” Viconia said.
“Aye, thae’ll dae fine, forbye,” Korgan said, “but ah’ll gie her a guid leatherin’ wi’ mah axe first.”
“Uh, sure thing,” Buffy said. She had understood less than half of what Korgan had said, as usual, but she was pretty sure he was expressing the intention of doing serious harm to Bodhi and she was all in favor. “I’m good with that.”
“Ye’re havering, lassie, but ah ken whit ye mean,” Korgan replied.
“Pot, kettle, black,” Buffy said. “I think. Where’s a dragon with a translation spell when you need one?”
Sharwyn greeted Giles with a formal curtsey. “Master Giles,” she said, “it is a great honor to meet you.”
“Ah, thank you,” Giles replied, sounding slightly flustered. “I’m, ah, pleased to meet you too, Lady Sharwyn. You are a remarkably talented musician.”
“Thank you,” the young woman said. “I was taught by a master and I have a certain… gift. I need only hear a tune once to be able to play it note for note.”
“I noticed,” Giles said. “Perhaps we might play together at some future time?”
She gave him a beaming smile. “That has been my desire since I first saw you playing at the Copper Coronet,” she said. “Your music was a revelation to me. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that it saved my life.”
“It was my darkest hour,” Sharwyn explained, “and I was thinking of killing myself. Then I heard you sing.
Hey little girl with the sad face
Come up to my place
And live it up
And suddenly things didn’t seem quite so bad.”
“That’s, ah, gratifying to hear,” Giles said.
“I decided,” Sharwyn went on, “that, instead of killing myself, I’d find a way of killing the bastard who walked out on me.”
“Ah.” Giles raised his eyebrows, opened his mouth, and then closed it again.
“I approve,” Viconia said. “No male is worth killing oneself over. Much better to slay the treacherous vermin and move on.”
“Absolutely,” Anya agreed. She beamed at Sharwyn. “If every woman betrayed by a man stood up for herself, and took appropriate vengeance upon him, the world would be a much better place.”
“Well, I haven’t actually done it yet,” Sharwyn admitted. “I want to kill him in fair fight. That way I won’t get hanged afterward. It would spoil the whole thing.”
“Very true,” Anya said.
“He has much more experience at fighting than me,” Sharwyn went on, “and, as far as magic goes I know only the basic spells and inspirations. Nothing more powerful than Web and Magic Missile.” She bowed her head towards Giles. “Master Giles, I implore you, teach me the art of Spellsinging.”
“Ah. I, well, to be honest, I don’t quite know how I do it,” Giles confessed. “I’ll certainly teach you more songs, especially if you would accompany me in some performances in return, but the Spellsinging you’ll have to work out for yourself.”
“I would be most grateful, Master Giles,” Sharwyn said, “and to perform alongside you would be both a pleasure and a great honor.” She turned to face Buffy. “Lady Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is said that you are the most dangerous fighter in all of Amn, either with weapons or bare hands. Instruct me, please, and I will pay you in gold.”
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know that I’m the best,” she said. “Sorkatani might be a touch better than me with a sword. But, yeah, I’m not bad. I’ll teach you, sure. We’re going to be fighting some vampires soon. If you come along with us you could get some on-the-job training.”
“I fear I would merely get killed,” Sharwyn said, shaking her head. “I am not capable of facing such powerful foes. I have slain an orc or two, and fought in skirmishes against bandits on the high road, but that is all. I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Buffy said. “I’ll give you some training later. After we’ve dealt with Bodhi’s vampires.”
Cordelia stared at the demon’s corpse. “That’s Skip,” she said. “Well, unless he had a twin brother. What was he doing here?”
“Trying to kill Bodhi,” Randy told her. “Apparently she was buggering up some cosmic pillock’s plans. What was it he said? ‘You chewed on the Spark and your friend with the big knockers nearly killed the Vessel’. Something like that.”
“That would make Connor the Spark,” Cordelia mused, “and either me or Fred the Vessel.”
“How is Fred?” Joan asked.
“Alive,” Cordelia replied, “but it was a close thing. Her,” she pointed to her own neck, “trachea – I think I got that right – was damaged and she nearly choked to death. Your friend Tara kept her breathing and saved her life.”
“Thank God,” Joan said.
“Yeah. And thank Tara,” said Cordelia. “Anyway, I think the Vessel, which so doesn’t sound good, is probably me. What’s a tannery?”
“A place where they make leather,” Randy said.
“You mean tanar’ri,” Warren corrected. “It’s what demons are called in the Forgotten Realms.”
“And I… taste like one,” Cordelia said. “I knew Skip had made me part demon. I figured it was better than dying of ‘widespread neuro-electrical deterioration’. Only this thing about the Vessel and the Spark is kinda making me reconsider. I’ve got this… creepy feeling. Like this is yet another time when I’m being used to breed demon spawn.”
“Another time?” Joan raised her eyebrows.
“It’s happened a couple of times before,” Cordelia confirmed, “only it was a lot more obvious. One time I woke up eight months pregnant – I was out to here,” she said, illustrating her meaning with a gesture a foot in front of her stomach, “and another time a demon spawn started growing out of the back of my freaking head. I am so totally tired of it.”
“I can imagine,” Joan said. “Well, actually I can’t imagine, but it sounds pretty freaky.”
Cordelia tilted her head on one side and stared at Joan. “You’re not her,” she said. “You look like her, which you totally should seeing as how it’s her body, you have her voice and you do some of the same mangling words things, but you don’t have the same… inflexions. And you don’t know me. We spent three years together, sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies, but always mattering to each other. And none of it means anything to you. You’re talking to me like I was a… casual acquaintance.” She shook her head. “I came out here, instead of staying at the hospital with the others, so I could talk to you about some things – but there isn’t any point. You don’t know Wesley, you’ve only just met Angel, you wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right, I don’t know you,” Joan said, “but I’d like to.”
Cordelia’s face lit up with a smile. “Thanks,” she said. “We’ll keep in touch.” The smile faded. “As long as I can figure out a way of not giving birth to demon spawn, which tends to be fatal, and then, if I can get the demon-y part out of me, a way of not dying.”
“Not dying, definitely of the good,” Joan agreed. “If there’s anything we can do to help…”
Warren, Katrina, Jonathan and Andrew were clustered together, at the door of the crypt, deep in discussion. Andrew emerged from the huddle and addressed the girls.
“Maybe, if we sent Cordelia into the game,” he began.
The other three promptly fell on him, delivering a succession of slaps to the head, until he sank to the ground.
“You really needn’t call me ‘Master Giles’,” Giles told Sharwyn. “I’m not a schoolteacher, Lady Sharwyn.”
“Very well… Giles,” she replied. Her full lips curled in a half smile. “For that matter, you need not call me ‘Lady Sharwyn’. In fact I’m not sure that I still have a right to the title. When my mother disinherited me she told me she would petition Lord Nasher to have my patent of nobility revoked. I never received any official word to that effect but that’s probably because I haven’t been within a hundred miles of Neverwinter in the last year. I’m fairly sure that, technically, I’m a commoner.”
“Your mother disinherited you?”
“She disapproved of my marriage,” Sharwyn explained, “but I was over twenty-one and she couldn’t stop me. Of course with hindsight I can see that she was right – although, I think, for the wrong reasons.”
There was a moment’s awkward silence, broken when Spike spoke. “Tell you what, pet,” he said, “if I was you I’d drop the title altogether, ‘least for professional purposes. Just call yourself ‘Sharwyn’.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, the whole full name and title thing’s kinda clumsy,” she agreed. “Better to go the ‘Madonna’ route. Which won’t mean a thing to you. Just use the one name.”
“You might be right,” Sharwyn said. “I’ll consider it.”
“Take my word for it,” Spike counseled, “you’ll never get anywhere in the music business with a name like Lady something.”
Warren rubbed his hands together. “Okay,” he said, “it looks like we’re going to be able to cheat the Rhynn Lanthorn back in. The question is, where?”
“What do you mean, where?” asked Jonathan.
“I mean,” Warren said, “we don’t have to put it in the same place as Bodhi. We could deliver it direct to Buffy and Sorkatani. They could go straight to Suldanessellar without having to track her down and fight her first.”
“With Imoen getting weaker all the time,” Katrina pointed out. “What would be the advantage of doing it your way?”
“Suldanessellar has to be in pretty bad shape by now,” Warren replied. “The city’s been locked down, no access to the outside world, with an occupying army of drow and rakshasa and golems. In the original game it doesn’t matter how long you take to go there, things don’t get any worse, but now it’s playing by the same rules as the real world. The food will be running out. Remember when the party found the Knights of Solamnia in the Planar Sphere and they were, like, half starved? There are thousands of elves in Suldanessellar. It’s going to be like the frigging Siege of Leningrad by the time Buffy’s group get there. Only without the snow.”
“We could save a lot of lives,” Jonathan said.
“Good point,” said Katrina, “but what about Imoen?”
Warren chewed on his lip. “It’s a hard call. Maybe they could split up. Half of them go to rescue the elves, the rest stay in Athkatla and hunt for Bodhi.”
“In that case, maybe we should have just staked Bodhi while she was in the coffin,” Katrina said. “Or we should smash the flash drive now with her in it.”
“Would Imoen’s soul make it back to her from here?” Jonathan asked. “I think we have to put Bodhi back into Athkatla.”
“Yeah,” Warren said, a smile coming to his lips, “but maybe we don’t have to put her back alive. If we drop her out in the open, in broad daylight, she’ll disintegrate. Problem solved.”
Buffy and Dawn entered the dining room and found that most of the others were already tucking into breakfast. They joined Sorkatani and Imoen at a table.
“What’s that?” Dawn asked. A peculiar object of metal and glass, roughly spherical and somewhat smaller than a soccer ball, was standing on the table in front of Sorkatani.
“The Rhynn Lanthorn,” Sorkatani said. “Imoen has confirmed its identity with a spell. It is the genuine article.”
“If you went out by yourself last night, hunting for Bodhi,” Buffy said, “I’m going to be pretty mad at you.”
“Had I done so it would have been foolish indeed, and you would have been right to be angry,” Sorkatani said, “but I did no such thing. No, this was delivered to Samuel, very late last night, with instructions to hand it to us when we rose.”
“Huh? By who?”
“He gave no name,” Sorkatani said. “Samuel described him as a human male, rather short – ‘As short as Lady Buffy’, to use his exact words – but otherwise unremarkable.”
“That is so not fair,” Buffy moaned. “Even halflings mock my height. Stop sniggering, Dawn.”
“The man told Samuel to say it was left by ‘a well-wisher’,” Sorkatani went on. “That is all I know.”
“Something smells,” Buffy said. “Bodhi had the lantern thing. I can’t see her just leaving it lying around. The Shadow Thieves could have gotten hold of it, maybe, but how would they even know about it? We haven’t said anything to them yet.”
“My very thoughts,” Sorkatani agreed. “The only one who could know that we sought it would be Bodhi herself.”
“You think that Shorty was one of her minions? Could be, but why would she send it to us?”
“She may believe her brother has had time enough to achieve his purposes,” Sorkatani said, “and that we could no longer hinder him if we went to Suldanessellar. Giving us the means to pursue him there, and thus sending us away from Athkatla again, would give her time to build up her own forces here.”
Buffy nodded. “That makes sense,” she agreed. “Doing what your enemy wants you to do is usually a dumb idea. So I say we don’t go. We hit the shops first thing, restock our supplies and so on, and then we go hunting Bodhi.”
“That is my thought also,” said Sorkatani. “We shall do as you suggest.”
During their conversation Spike and Viconia had entered. They waited until Sorkatani and Buffy had concluded their discussion before Viconia spoke.
“I have good news, Jabbressen,” she said. “I have my spells once again.”
“Good news indeed,” Sorkatani said.
“Definitely,” said Buffy. “Did you find out what the problem was?”
“I did, Jabbress Buffy, for Shar visited me in my dreams,” Viconia said, “but the tale is long and I will relate it at another time.* Suffice it to say that all is now well with my goddess. She has granted me additional spells, in fact; including one which I believe may cure, or at least significantly alleviate, Imoen’s illness.”
“I hope so,” Imoen said.
“Right, I think that settles it,” Buffy said. “This afternoon is vampire hunting season.”
“Bodhi!” Anomen rose to his feet. “You return! Did, then, things not go well in the other world?”
“They started out well,” Bodhi replied, “but took a tragic course.” She strode across the crypt and threw her arms around Anomen. “Tanova is dead.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Anomen said. He returned her embrace but wrinkled his nose. “You smell of smoke,” he said. “Were you struck by a Fireball?”
“I was banished from the other world,” Bodhi explained, “and I found myself in the middle of a walkway, in the Temple District, under the full glare of the sun. I barely made it to a sewer in time.” She released Anomen and took a step back. “I must bathe in the pools of blood to revive myself. There is no time to lose. I fear we shall soon be under attack. How many are our forces?”
“Myself and Kachiko, of course,” Anomen said, “and we have sired eleven new vampires.”
“Are any of them powerful warriors or wizards?” Bodhi asked.
“Two were city guards, and one a Cowled Wizard of moderate ability,” Anomen said. “The rest were mere peasants. However we met three vampires from Calimshan who say they are friends of Tanova. They are ferocious fighters.”
“Salia, Ulvaryl, and Del?”
“Indeed so,” Anomen confirmed.
“Excellent,” Bodhi said. “They are a most welcome addition. Where are they?”
“In the lower crypt,” Anomen answered. “Why do you say we are going to be attacked?”
“I met Roger the Fence in the sewers,” Bodhi explained, “and he told me the latest news. My scheme to blacken the names of Sorkatani and Buffy nearly worked. They returned to the city last night and the Knights of the Order tried to arrest them. Alas, the confrontation ended without blows being struck, and it seems they have proved their innocence to the authorities. I doubt if they will delay for long before they come after us.”
“Perhaps we should leave here and find another stronghold unknown to them,” Anomen suggested, “and strike at a time of our choosing when we have grown in number.”
“Wise counsel, Anomen,” Bodhi said, “and if there was more time I would do so. If I am wrong, and they do not attack today, then we move tonight. We must, however, prepare for the worst. Gather the minions, set Kachiko to activating all the traps, and ready yourself for combat.”
“I shall obey, my Lady,” Anomen said.
“Luckily,” Bodhi said, “I have brought back something from the other world that may give us an edge in the battle. An ingenious little weapon that is deadly out of all proportion to its size.” She put her hand to her waistband. “It’s called a gun.”
* See The Whole of the Moon.
Disclaimer: the characters in this story (except Sorkatani) 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, and the game designers and copyright holders. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. ANGEL ©2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The ANGEL trademark is used without express permission from Fox. All Rights Reserved. ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’ belongs to Bioware and Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Sharwyn belongs to Bioware, Atari, Hasbro Properties Group, and Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Lyrics from ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, by Gary Moore, and ‘Live It Up’, by Mental As Anything, are used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.