The ground was grey, flat, and featureless. It stretched away to infinity, without even a visible horizon, in all directions except one. In that direction lay the City of Judgment. Of the buildings in the city only one, a high tower seemingly made of smoked glass, was visible. The rest of the city was hidden behind an encircling wall, higher than the city walls of Neverwinter, made up of irregularly shaped slabs. The Wall of the Faithless. The grim place where those who worshipped no god were interred, conscious but immobile, as bricks in the Wall until their souls were eaten away to nothing by the vile moss that formed the Wall’s mortar.
Tanova shuddered. “We are dead,” she said. “Now I will surely face punishment.”
“Punishment?” Jeroneth queried. “But why? We were vampires. Surely the gods would not punish our souls for deeds over which we had no control.”
“True in your case, and Zarbalan’s, for vampirism was forced upon you,” Tanova said, “but that was not so for me. I loved Joneleth, and was friend to Bodhi, and when Bodhi turned to vampirism to regain her elven immortality I joined her of my own free will. I must bear the responsibility. And my goddess isn’t exactly known for her forgiving ways.”
“Who is your goddess?” Jeroneth asked. “You never mentioned her when we were vampires.”
Tanova’s lips curled into a tight, mirthless, smile. “Shar.”
“I made a promise to Shar that I would sacrifice Bodhi’s black heart to her,” Viconia said, glowering at Buffy, “and I will not be forsworn.” The party was gathered in the great library of the Temple of Oghma, the largest repository of knowledge in Athkatla, for an intensive research session. They sat around tables littered with open books and unfurled scrolls.
Buffy sucked in her lower lip and nibbled on it. “If there’s even a chance of bringing Anomen back to life,” she said, “we have to take it.” She pointed to a line in the tome in front of her. “And this says there’s a chance. If we can get him, and Bodhi’s heart, to the Temple of Amaunator…”
“Bollocks,” said Spike. “Waste of bloody time. Even if we can get him all the way to the Temple of Whatsisname, which will be a total bugger of a job seeing as how he’s a flammable vampire and he’ll be trying to get free the whole time, and even if the ritual actually works, he’ll just be a total basket case. He killed his dad, remember?”
“I don’t know,” Xander said. “His dad was a total jerk. I always felt there was something screwy about his sister’s death and it wouldn’t surprise me if Lord Delryn was the one who killed her. Maybe Anomen might be able to get through this.”
“It would be legitimate vengeance,” Anya agreed. “There’d be no need for him to feel bad about it.”
Spike snorted. “And what about the other blokes he’s killed as a vampire? He’s a bloody paladin who’s been eating people. He’ll be so depressed he’ll make Angel look like the bloody Laughing Policeman. We’ll probably have to watch him twenty-four seven – uh, ten – to stop him slashing his wrists. It’s not like he can lurk in an alley eating rats if we turn him back human.”
“Actually humans can eat rats,” Jaheira pointed out, “although they often carry diseases and must be very thoroughly cooked.”
“I hope he does not eat rats in front of Boo,” Minsc said. “They are also rodents, although greatly inferior to hamsters.”
Buffy put her hands to her head. “Stop it!” she snapped. “We can turn Anomen back into a human. I say we do it.”
“It is not that simple,” Sorkatani said. “If we stake Anomen he goes to his god absolved of the sins he committed as a vampire. If Raise him as a human he will, as Spike has pointed out, feel the full weight of those sins. And Viconia will be unable to fulfill her vow to her goddess. That is not something that can be lightly ignored. You will be putting her life, and indeed her afterlife, in peril for the sake of a doubtful benefit for Anomen. I oppose it.”
“As do I,” said Jaheira. “Viconia’s need is greater.”
“Viconia is a true comrade,” said Minsc. “Boo says we should choose her.”
“Viconia’s my friend,” Willow said. “Anomen… not so much. I can’t be impartial so maybe I’d better stay out of this.”
“I’m sorry, Buffy, I’m on Viconia’s side on this,” Tara said. “I have a feeling it’s what my goddess would want.”
“Me too,” said Dawn. “Let Viconia sacrifice Bodhi’s heart to Shar, like she promised, and put Anomen out of his misery with a stake. Face it, Buffy, none of us ever liked Anomen. If you ask us to choose between him and Vicky there’s only going to be one answer.”
“I have to go with Anomen,” Xander said. “Sorry, Vicky, but he’s a Knight of the Radiant Heart like me.”
“Count me out,” said Anya. “I’m not going to vote against Xander but otherwise I’d definitely be on Viconia’s side.”
“I wasn’t suggesting we vote on it,” Buffy said.
“Wait one moment,” Giles said. He reached across the table and took the book from Buffy. “I suspect we are arguing about nothing.”
Buffy frowned at him. “Huh?”
“Ah, yes,” Giles said. “I thought so. If you hadn’t snatched this away quite so abruptly I could have spared us this… discord. You can’t bring Anomen back, Buffy. The ceremony can raise only the most recent victim of the vampire. We know that Bodhi has turned others…”
“Zarbalan!” Viconia exclaimed. Her face contorted. “What shall I… no. My vow must take precedence even over my family.”
Spike put his arm around her shoulders. “No, love, you don’t need to beat yourself up,” he assured her. “He wasn’t the last. Those farmers, remember? Plus I bet she’s been making minions like crazy since she got here. We’ll be facing an army of new vamps and there’s no way we’ll be able to tell which one’s the most recent.”
“Indeed so,” Giles said. “The matter, then, is settled. It’s a straightforward fight to the death against Bodhi’s vampires. We kill all of them, stake the corpses of all save Bodhi, and leave her corpse to Viconia.”
“I’m good with that,” said Xander. “Kill them all and let the gods sort them out. But, hey, let’s get back on topic. This whole research session was supposed to be about finding a way to fix Carsomyr. Anyone found out anything about how to put it back to being a Holy Sword?”
“Re-consecration,” Giles said. “Not yet, I’m afraid.”
“I have,” said Sorkatani, “and it would seem to be easier than we feared.” She slid an open book across the table toward Giles. “There is a ritual that must be performed by a High Priest of the relevant deity, or by a Prelate of an order of paladins…”
“Prelate Wessalen should be willing to do that,” said Xander. “Go on.”
“The ritual requires the heart of a fiend slain with the sword,” Sorkatani said.
“Not a problem,” Willow said. “I have them all properly labeled and color-coded. I can pull out the right one any time.”
“Neat,” said Spike. “Thought for sure we’d have to go on another sodding ‘Forest of Trees’ quest but it looks like we’ve already done it by accident.”
“The snag is that, before the ritual, the sword’s owner must stand vigil for an entire night,” Sorkatani went on, “engaged in wakeful prayer, and fasting, from dusk ‘til dawn.”
“That would mean putting the fight off until tomorrow at the earliest,” Xander said. “What do you think, Buffy? Guys?”
“Well, it would be neat to have Carsomyr working at full power,” Buffy said, “but I don’t want to wait. I bet Bodhi’s already heard that her little plan to frame us didn’t work. She’ll spend tonight making new minions like crazy, like Spike said. Or, even worse, she might make a run for it. If she leaves town we might not find her for months.”
“And Imoen may die as a result,” Sorkatani said. “I think that we must attack today rather than waiting until we have upgraded our weapons.”
“I agree,” Giles said. “Unless anyone can come up with a valid reason for further delay I vote that we eat, prepare our spells and potions, and then descend upon Bodhi with fire… and, of course, the sword.”
Spike chuckled. “According to some obstinate historians,” he said, and Giles chuckled in his turn.
The Americans and the Faerûn natives exchanged glances, their eyebrows raised, united in being excluded from the English in-joke.
“Is this a British thing or just some pop-culture thing from, like, prehistoric times?” Buffy asked.
“Both, actually,” Giles admitted. “1066 And All That.” The non-Brits were none the wiser.
“Uh, maybe fire’s not the way to go,” Willow said. “It’s what they’ll be expecting and they’re gonna be shielded every which way. They took all our Fire Resistance rings at Spellhold, remember, and I bet they have plenty of potions. Plus, there’s another factor. The air circulation in the catacombs is limited. There’s furniture in the chamber, lots of it, and if that catches fire it’ll use up a whole lot of the oxygen. We need it, they don’t. And the smoke will choke us and not them.”
“And that leaves me fighting the vamps on my own,” Spike said, “and Bodhi will rip my arms off and beat me to death with the soggy ends. So, what, you think we stick to the sword and skip the fire part?”
“We can beat them in a straight fight, I am sure of it,” Sorkatani said, “but it will be a hard and bloody struggle. No doubt they will use the furniture as barricades and it will be almost like storming a castle.”
“They didn’t the last time,” Xander said.
“Last time they wanted to lose,” Sorkatani reminded him. “This time they’ll make use of everything they can to give themselves an advantage. That great big table will be upended and used to bar our entry. That’s what I’d do, in their position, and I’m sure that Bodhi will do the same.”
“I could Disintegrate the barricade,” Willow mused.
“And then the air will be full of sawdust,” Xander pointed out. “Not as bad as toxic smoke but still nothing you’d really want to breathe in.”
“I could topple or break up the barricade with Warp…” Jaheira began.
“Sawdust!” Xander broke in loudly. “Uh, sorry for interrupting, Jaheira, I just remembered something that could be useful. A real vamp-killer.”
Jaheira quirked an eyebrow upward. “Explain further, Xander,” she said, “for I fail to see how wood might be a weapon against vampires once turned into harmless dust.”
“Not so harmless,” Xander said. “When I worked construction we had a safety lecture and we were told about why, when you’re in a confined space and the air is full of sawdust, the last thing you would want to do is to strike a spark. And why it really might be the last thing you do.”
“It is a shame that I did not meet you until after you had already become a vampire,” Jeroneth said to Zarbalan. “I feel that there could have been… something between us.”
Zarbalan nodded. The expression on his face was oddly grave. “I feel the same,” he said. “Even as a vampire, consumed by an evil that now deeply shames me, I was drawn to you.” He took hold of one of her hands, she took hold of his other hand, and they stood gazing into her eyes.
“I don’t believe it,” Tanova said. “You’re still in love. Well, that proves it. Some things, no matter how unlikely, are just meant to be. I’m a little jealous. If only Joneleth had felt like that about me, instead of me only being the third most important woman in his life, things would have gone very differently. You’d probably never have been vamped, for a start.”
“Do not be jealous,” Zarbalan said, “but, rather, pity us. For, having just found each other, we now must part forever.”
Jeroneth grimaced. “You will go to Lolth’s bleak realm and I to the House of the Triad. Its joys will be dimmed indeed without you.”
“Alas, my love, my fate will be even worse than that,” Zarbalan said. “I rejected the worship of Lolth, who had brought my family nothing but misery and despair, but I had not chosen a new god from those of the surfacers. I am Faithless. There will be no afterlife for me; only the Wall.”
“Not if I can help it,” a new voice said; one only Tanova could hear.
Tanova wailed and cast herself down on the ground. “Forgive me, Mistress,” she implored. “I would never have acted against one of your High Priestesses if I had not been a vampire.”
“Oh, get up,” Shar snapped. “Your groveling impresses me not. If you want forgiveness, rather than to be sentenced to spend the next thousand years as Yoshimo’s slave, do something constructive. Pass on my words to Zarbalan.”
“I obey, Mistress,” Tanova said. She rose to her feet and stood, listening, with her head bowed and her eyes downcast.
Jeroneth and Zarbalan stared at her. Their foreheads were deeply creased. “Who are you talking to?” Jeroneth asked.
Zarbalan released Jeroneth’s hands and snapped his fingers. “Of course!” he said. “Her goddess. We were not worshippers of hers and so, by the rules of the Dead Realm, we cannot perceive her.”
“That makes sense,” Jeroneth said, “but I thought all that deities, or their servants, did with the shades of the dead was to carry them off to the relevant afterlife.”
“Apparently not,” said Zarbalan. “So, a deity is right here beside us? Tanova must be more important than I thought, if the goddess has turned up for her in person.”
Tanova bowed deeply and then turned around to face the other two once more. “She is not here because of me,” she said, “but because of you, Zarbalan. You are important to Viconia and thus to Shar. She instructs me to tell you that she will try to get Kelemvor to spare you from the Wall of the Faithless. If she cannot get him to agree then she will work to free you in the future. Do not accept any deals from devils. And if you are condemned to the Wall… do your best to endure. Don’t let yourself fade away.”
Zarbalan nodded. “I will do as she suggests.” His face was impassive – showing any emotion that might be considered weakness was anathema to the Drow – but his hands were clenched so tightly that his nails were digging into his palms.
“Why is Shar doing this?” Jeroneth asked. Her eyes narrowed and her brow lowered in a frown of deep suspicion. “She is a goddess of Evil. Is it her intent to increase Zarbalan’s suffering?”
Tanova stood still, obviously listening, and her eyes widened. “She says Zarbalan’s entire surviving family have converted to her worship,” she relayed to Jeroneth, “and Nathrae is now the High Priestess of Shar in Ust Natha.” She switched her gaze to Zarbalan. “You are close kin to two of her most important clerics and your welfare is, therefore, important to her,” she told him. “When she saves you from the Wall – and she says ‘when’, not ‘if’ – she will give you an honored place in her household. And if she can arrange it with Torm she will find a way for the two of you to be together.”
“She will?” Jeroneth’s eyes became wide circles. “I… that does not sound like the action of an Evil goddess. I am not sure that I understand… but thank her for me.”
“And for me,” Zarbalan added.
“She can hear you,” Tanova said. “It is only you who – what the fuck?” She clamped her hands over her ears and cowered down. She turned, still crouched, and stared at something invisible to the others. After a few seconds she took her hands away from her ears, stood up straight, and turned to face the others once more.
“What just happened?” Jeroneth asked, followed half a second later by Zarbalan echoing her question.
“Something, or someone, has angered Shar,” Tanova answered. “She shouted out ‘What? He dares?’ loudly enough to hurt my ears, then she called out ‘Hold on, Eilistraee, I’m coming,’ and then she departed in a clap of thunder.”
“That sounds as if she intends to… rescue Eilistraee from peril,” Jeroneth deduced. “Yet is Eilistraee not a goddess of Good?”
“That is so,” Zarbalan confirmed. “The goddess of those female drow opposed to Lolth. I do not understand how she could be allied to Shar.”
“Not merely an ally,” said Tanova, “but a friend, I would say, for Shar’s rage was so great that it sent a chill through me. Whoever threatens Eilistraee will regret it.”
“Oh, crap,” Xander moaned. “I got it wrong. We’re screwed.”
“Bugger,” Spike said. “So much for your Cunning Plan. Worked out about as well as mine usually do. Still, it was a good thought. Don’t blame yourself, mate.”
“It is my fault as much as any,” Sorkatani said, “for when I talked of the barricade I had forgotten that the table was made of stone.”
Her prediction, that Bodhi’s vampires would use the furniture in the entrance hall of their lair to form a defensive barricade, had been accurate. Unfortunately her recollection of the great table had not been equally accurate, hardly surprisingly as it had been well over a month since they had last seen the room, and neither she nor any of the others had remembered that it was not made of wood but of non-flammable stone.
“I can still Disintegrate it,” Willow said.
“And then we’ll take the vampires on in a straight-out, head-on, slugging match,” Buffy said. She heaved a sigh. “I’m pretty sure we’ll win but it’s not gonna be pretty. I’d rather have had an edge. I’m guessing the flour bombs won’t be enough?”
“Well, the air-fuel ratio…” Willow began.
Buffy chopped her off short. “If there’s one thing I don’t need, when we’re about one minute from starting a battle, it’s to have my eyes glazing over,” she said. “Sorry, Will, but science just isn’t my thing.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’ll keep it simple,” she said. “No. Not a chance.”
“Yes,” Giles contradicted her.
“But the air-fuel ratio would be way below the lower explosive limit,” Willow protested.
“I have a little trick up my sleeve,” Giles told her, “courtesy of The Beatles. Get ready to Disintegrate the table on my signal.” He poised his guitar, played a few twanging notes, and then began to sing.
“Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood…”
“They must intend to set the table ablaze,” Anomen deduced, frowning at the wooden table that had been stone until moments ago. “Our protections against fire will not hold out for long in proximity to such a conflagration. I think we had best retreat from the barricade.”
“They play into our hands,” said the Calimshite vampire Ulvaryl, “for the smoke will choke them.”
“They’re not stupid,” Bodhi said. “Far from it. They have something planned. No way would they have overlooked the smoke factor.” She frowned. “I’m beginning to think it was a mistake to fort up here and wait for them to attack. There are only two ways out, they know about both of them, and one is usable only at night. If we get the upper hand they can retreat whereas we have nowhere to go. It’s too late to change the plan now, and we’ll just have to make the best of it, but I made a bad decision.”
“They are only humans,” Ulvaryl said. “They cannot stand against us.”
“Keep thinking that way and you will be dead before you know it,” Bodhi said. “They’re fucking dangerous.” She flipped off the seal from a Potion of Fire Resistance and raised the bottle to her lips. “Cast your wards now. They’ll hit us any moment.”
As Bodhi drank her potion the barricade disintegrated into dust as it was hit by spells. Simultaneously several objects were hurled into the room, either launched from slings or thrown by people of exceptional strength, but they weren’t aimed at any of the vampires. Instead they struck the walls and the ceiling, burst on impact, and sent billowing clouds of white dust into the air. A gust of wind, which this deep in the catacombs could only be of magical origin, sent the wood dust from the disintegrated barricade up into the air to mingle with the clouds from the hurled missiles.
“Bags of flour?” Ulvaryl exclaimed. “What is that meant to achieve?”
Bodhi tossed the empty potion flask into a corner. “Well, it’s ruined Kachiko’s invisibility,” she pointed out, and pointed at where the former Shadow Thief showed up as a ghostly outline in the dust cloud. “It seems a strange way to go about it, though; if they come in here invisible we’ll spot them just as easily. An Invisibility Purge, or True Seeing, would have been a much more logical choice and I can’t believe they don’t have those spells. No, they’re up to...”
She broke off mid-sentence as she saw a streak of flame shooting toward the chamber at great speed. Bodhi dived for the rear of the room but even her super-fast reactions weren’t enough to get her out of the way before the glowing object reached the middle of the room and exploded.
The blast wave caught Bodhi in mid-air and hurled her into the wall. She slid down the stone and landed on her head. She lay, groaning, for a moment and then picked herself up and looked around. It was immediately apparent that she’d escaped lightly compared to everyone else.
For a few seconds the room was an inferno. The very air seemed to be ablaze. The lesser minion vampires, who had little or no protection against fire, were incinerated instantly. The host of skeletal undead, Grimwarders and Skeleton Warriors, which had been assembled to defend the catacombs, were blasted into fragments. Kachiko, Ulvaryl, and a vampire who was formerly a Cowled Wizard were picked up by the blast wave and tossed out of the room to fall in the midst of Buffy and Sorkatani’s party. Kachiko’s invisibility was no protection; her position was given away by the burning dust that coated her body, and she was hacked to pieces in an instant. The same fate befell the other two vampires and three white mists floated off in search of their coffins.
Anomen, and the Calimshite vampire Del, were smashed against the sides of the chamber and they rebounded, battered and stunned, to sprawl on the floor. The fire died out quickly, only a few floating sparks and the charred remnants of the flour bags still burning, and another gust of wind blew fresh air into the room. Buffy and Sorkatani charged in, with the rest of their band at their heels, and pounced on the vampires as they were getting to their feet. Sorkatani struck with Celestial Fury and Del’s head came off. Anomen managed to get his shield up in time to block Buffy’s first strike with the Blade of Roses but then she used the Hammer of Thunderbolts to batter the shield aside. The Blade of Roses swung again and decapitated him. Two more clouds of white mist drifted away.
Bodhi picked herself up just in time to see their fate. She was shocked by the ferocity of the blast, many times more powerful than a normal Fireball, and could hardly believe that her main force had been almost annihilated in mere seconds. Still, she had reserves in the side rooms, and a trick up her sleeve…
The automatic pistol had fallen from her waistband as she hit the wall but it lay on the floor right in front of her. She snatched it up and aimed. “Say hello to my little friend!” she yelled, and opened fire.
Buffy clenched her teeth tight shut as she swung her sword. Having to kill Anomen was traumatic in its own right but it also brought back horrible memories of sending Angel to Hell. As he disintegrated into a white mist, rather than into the dust to which she had been accustomed in Sunnydale, she opened her mouth and drew in a long breath. She stood, unmoving, for a moment as she struggled to regain control of her thoughts and emotions. And then she heard Bhodi’s voice shouting out something impossible.
“Say hello to my little friend!”
Buffy looked around and saw a gun pointed straight at her. For an instant she stood frozen, so astonished at what she saw that she couldn’t react, and then she began to move. Too late. The first bullet hit her just above her right breast and she fell to the ground.
Bodhi continued to fire as fast as she could pull the trigger. With her superhuman strength she was able to ignore the recoil and the muzzle rose only slightly as she swept it in an arc. Bullets struck the force screen of Willow’s Protection From Normal Missiles and stopped dead. Sorkatani took a hit on the left arm and dropped her parrying sword Malakar. Jaheira was struck right in the middle of her forehead, below her helm, but she had Ironskins in place and the bullet didn’t penetrate. The impact knocked her unconscious but that was all. Spike jumped in front of Dawn and took a bullet that would have hit her. It pierced his Armor of Deep Night, went through his chest, and exited through his back. The bullet, almost spent, struck Dawn’s dragon-scale reinforced armor and bounced off harmlessly.
Bodhi’s second-last shot hit Minsc’s plate armor and glanced off the breastplate. The ricocheting bullet struck Tara in the side of the neck and ripped through her carotid artery. She went down with blood gushing from the wound and was unconscious before she could even begin a healing spell.
Minsc bellowed “My witch!” and hurtled forward swinging his sword. He reached Bodhi just as she had ejected the spent magazine from the gun and before she could insert a fresh one. She tried to fend him off but his sword connected with her left hand, taking off her little finger, and the gun and the full magazine went flying. Bodhi snarled, seized Minsc by the arms, and hurled him out of the main room into a side chamber. There a pack of fledgling vampires, who had been waiting in reserve and who had escaped the powder explosion’s effects, fell upon Minsc with fist and fang.
Willow dropped to her knees at Tara’s side and made a futile attempt to staunch the bleeding from the dreadful wound. She called for Viconia and Xander, the most powerful healers still conscious, but the noise from the gunshots in the stone-walled chamber had partially deafened everyone and neither heard. Viconia was busy checking on Jaheira and Xander was heading for Buffy. A few seconds were wasted before Willow called out to them with her mind.
Bhodi drew sword, called out to her reinforcements, and charged. Only one of her reserves, Salia from Calimshan, emerged at her call and joined her. Sorkatani intercepted Salia and began hacking at her with Celestial Fury. The Calimshite vampire managed to fend Sorkatani off for a few moments but then Imoen hit her with a Melf’s Acid Arrow, Salia faltered, and Sorkatani kicked her legs out from under her and decapitated Salia as she went down.
Bodhi headed for Buffy. Xander was just starting to turn toward Tara, responding to Willow’s mental call, when he realized Bodhi’s intention. He was just in time to reach out with Carsomyr and block Bodhi’s strike at the wounded Slayer. Bodhi responded by aiming a back-hand cut at Xander’s neck. The sheer power of her blow brushed aside his parry but her sword was deflected just enough to catch Xander’s helm instead of his neck. He was knocked ten feet across the room, and ended up dazed and on his knees, but he wasn’t seriously hurt.
With Xander out of the way Bodhi turned back toward Buffy but found Spike and Dawn standing over the Slayer with drawn swords. She feinted in that direction but suddenly spun around and went for Willow instead. Viconia stuck out her mace Mauler’s Arm and blocked Bodhi’s strike. Bodhi’s sword sheared through the shaft of the mace; the weapon’s enchantment was destroyed and suddenly Viconia had only normal strength. Her other arm, holding the heavy Flail of Ages, sagged and Viconia was wide open when Bodhi thrust viciously and drove her sword right through Viconia’s dragon-scale armor and into her belly.
Viconia cried out in pain and dropped the Flail of Ages. Bodhi’s triumphant grin was wiped from her face when Viconia brought up her empty hand, laid it on Bodhi, and cast the Heal spell which had been intended for Tara. To a Faerûnian vampire healing energy was deadly and the spell dealt Bodhi a dreadful wound. She screamed and leapt back, ripping the sword out of Viconia’s stomach in the process, and grabbed for a vampire-style healing potion.
“Where the fuck are my minions?” Bodhi yelled. She guzzled down the potion hastily. “It can’t take all of you to deal with one stupid barbarian!”
Buffy began to get to her feet. She was wearing the Ring of Gaxx and had regenerated enough to get over the worst effects of her wound. “Time to die, bitch,” she said to Bodhi.
“I’m not beaten yet,” Bodhi growled, looking around for the gun. “And I’ll take some of you…”
A wail of anguish from Willow drowned Bodhi out. Tara had stopped breathing and the spurts of blood from her neck had ceased. When Willow rose to her feet her eyes had turned black.
“You killed Tara,” she shrieked at Bodhi. “You’re going to suffer for that. I give you… pain!” She raised her hands and bolts of energy streaked out and slammed into the vampire.
Bodhi howled in agony, dropped her sword, and fell to her knees. A crossbow bolt, fired by Anya, passed through Bodhi’s hair as she went down. A volley of Magic Missiles from Imoen struck Bodhi and brought another cry of pain from her lips. She scanned the room, located the dropped magazine and the gun, and snatched up the pistol’s magazine. She then scrambled across the floor, still on hands and knees, heading for the gun.
“Hey Giles,” Giles sang, “Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” The automatic pistol rose from the floor and streaked across the room, too quickly for Bodhi to catch it, and landed in Giles’ hand.
Spike had been rushing for the gun too, trying to beat Bodhi to it, and he arrived at the spot where it had lain in time to meet Bodhi and kick her in the face. She flew through the air and crashed into the rear wall of the chamber. She slid down the wall, blood trickling from her nose, and landed in a sitting position. The pistol magazine fell from her hand. Another blast of magical energy from Willow hit Bodhi, causing her to jerk spasmodically, and Buffy and Sorkatani both raised their swords and charged at the disorientated vampire.
At that moment a group of new arrivals rushed into the chamber from the side corridor. Not Bodhi’s vampire reinforcements, as she was expecting, but Minsc, Korgan, five Shadow Thieves, and the Red Wizard Edwin Odesseiron.
“Villainess!” Minsc roared. “It is time for you to meet my sword!”
“We wiped oot yer beasties, lassie,” Korgan informed Bodhi gleefully, waving his bloody axe. “Ye’re next.”
Buffy, wielding the Blade of Roses in her left hand, aimed a blow at Bodhi’s neck – which wasn’t there. Buffy blinked, surprised at missing, and then realized that the vampire had transformed into a bat.
“I hate it when they do that,” Buffy grumbled, swishing her sword through the air in a futile attempt to hit the fast-moving and agile creature. Sorkatani followed suit but also failed to connect. Xander threw Azuredge but missed as the bat jinked and twisted in the air. Anya and Dawn fired crossbow bolts, Korgan hurled a throwing axe, and two of the Shadow Thieves threw daggers, but no-one scored a hit.
The bat fluttered away quickly, taking an erratic course to evade the sword strokes and missiles, but couldn’t avoid target-seeking Magic Missiles from Imoen and Edwin. Bhodi went rigid in mid-air, and briefly plummeted toward the ground, but recovered just in time to twist away from one of Sorkatani’s slashes. She rose quickly to ceiling height, spun on a wing-tip to dodge as Buffy leapt high and slashed at her again, and then flew through a small hole in one of the walls and was gone.
“No!” Willow wailed. She had thickened the air into a barrier to block the bat’s escape but had, naturally, assumed that it would head for the exit doorway and had formed her barrier in the wrong place. “She’s not going to get away again.”
“Damn right she’s not,” Buffy said. “What’s behind this wall?”
Korgan trotted quickly across the room, his Boots of Speed more than compensating for his short legs, and picked up his throwing axe. He tapped the wall, poked at the mortar between the bricks, and frowned. “This is aye newer than the rest o’ the stane, lassie,” he told Buffy. “There’s something back o’ it. A door, ah’d guessit. Gie us a lend o’ yer muckle hammer an’ ah’ll suin hae it doon.”
“I think I can demolish it rather more quickly and easily than battering it down with hammers,” Giles said.
“First we have to see to Tara,” Willow said.
“And Viconia,” Spike said, “and Jaheira, and for that matter you’re not looking too chipper yourself, Slayer.”
“Says the guy with a hole through his chest,” Buffy said. “I’m healing. Another ten minutes, maybe, and I’ll be good as new. What about everyone else?”
“I have healed myself, Jabbress,” Viconia said, “and I believe that Jaheira is but stunned. She should recover consciousness soon. I shall Raise Tara in a moment. First, though, we must stake all the vampire corpses, lest they rise and attack us once more, and pour our Holy Water into the pools of blood. I suspect that Bodhi draws power from them.”
“And while we’re doing that,” Xander put in, “we can try to work out how in hell Bodhi got her hands on a gun.”
Tara opened her eyes and found herself standing on a grey, flat, and featureless plain. It stretched away to infinity, without even a visible horizon, in all directions except one. That way lay a high wall, apparently built with irregular slabs of stone, behind which was visible the top of a skyscraper-height building that looked as if it was made of smoked glass.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman appeared in front of her. A very tall woman, well over six feet six, with the broad shoulders and smoothly muscled arms of an athlete from one of the strength events of Track and Field; a javelin thrower, perhaps. Her hair was a chestnut shade, her eyes were brown, and she wore green hose and leather armor dyed in a green and brown camouflage pattern. “Greetings, Tara MacLay,” she said, in a warm and rich voice that held a hint of a purr, “and well met.”
Tara had seen her before, in her dreams, but this was much more vivid and real. She went down on one knee and bowed her head. “Lady Mielikki,” she asked, “am I dead?”
“Indeed you are, Tara,” Mielikki replied, “but you have no cause for worry. Your friends are prevailing and soon they will return you to life. There would be no point in me taking you away to my realm. Really I just wanted to greet you and to thank you for choosing me as your deity.”
“I, uh, th-thank you,” Tara said. “It j-just seemed n-natural.”
Mielikki smiled broadly. “A very appropriate word. I felt your worship right away, like a bright flame, more vital than from any other of my followers save only for my Chosen Star Lady Jeryth.”
“Th-thank you,” Tara said again.
“We do not have much time,” Mielikki went on, “and I have two questions for you and a message for you to pass on. First, the most important question. How much do you trust Viconia?”
“Absolutely,” Tara replied without hesitation. “She’s n-n-not Evil. Abrasive and s-sarcastic, that’s all.”
“Then I shall extend equal trust to Shar,” Mielikki said. “I know that Viconia is high in her favor and, if she is as you describe, then the same must apply to Shar or she would not think so highly of Viconia. Now my message. Jaheira, at present, is a worshipper both of myself and of Sylvanus. This has never been a problem before but I am considering leaving the service of Sylvanus. We disagree on certain matters and a gulf is growing between us. For instance he has forbidden me to attend Shar’s party and I am going to disobey his command. I intend, soon, to leave his realm and establish my own. It will then no longer be possible to serve both of us and Jaheira will have to make a choice. Tell her that I hope, very much, that she will choose me.”
“I’ll tell her, my Lady,” Tara agreed.
“And now my second question,” Mielikki said. “Tell me, how fares Finland these days?”
Tara opened her eyes and found that she was being cradled in Minsc’s arms. Willow, an anxious expression on her face, was staring at her from a range of only inches.
“Tara! Are you all right?” Willow asked. “The spell didn’t take effect right away and I was scared it hadn’t worked.”
“Uh, yes, I’m okay,” Tara assured her. “I was just… uh, like Viconia said that time, one does not simply depart from the presence of one’s goddess without being dismissed. I was talking to Mielikki.”
“You were? Wow.”
“Yeah, wow.” Tara tried to get up. “Uh, you can let go of me now, Minsc.”
Minsc lifted her and set her upon her feet. “There you are, my witch. You spoke to our goddess?”
“I did,” Tara confirmed. “She was asking me about Finland. Not that I know much, apart from the javelin throwing, and the skiing, and the rally driving – which didn’t translate well – and, yeah, Nightwish. And the Winter War.”
“More than most Americans would have known,” Spike commented. “Bet most of your lot would maybe have come up with Santa Claus and that’s all.”
“I paid attention in class,” Tara said, “and I used to watch the documentary channels a lot.” She raised a hand and touched her neck, now unmarked, and frowned.
“So Mielikki’s been to Earth?” Willow asked.
“Yes, definitely,” Tara confirmed.
“And she’s not the only one,” Buffy put in. “Bodhi’s been there too.”
Tara touched her fingers to her neck again. “That’s right. She shot me,” she said. “Where did she get a gun?”
“The same place she got the jeans she was wearing, and the pumps, and the wristwatch,” Buffy said. “Sunnydale.”
Xander held up the pistol. “SIG P-229, .40 caliber,” he said. “Sunnydale Police Department issue. And she quoted from ‘Scarface’. She’s been to Sunnydale for sure.”
“Maybe there’s a doorway to Earth behind that wall,” Dawn suggested. “Like a wardrobe to Narnia.”
“Gods, I hope not,” Buffy said. “I’m kinda hoping it’s a sealed chamber with only the one way in and out. I’m sick of chasing that bitch around. I just want to kill her and have done with it. Are you ready to fight, Tara?”
“I think so,” Tara said. “Yes. I feel fine and I’d hardly cast any spells. I’m ready.”
“Everyone happy with the way we’ve swapped the strength belts around?” Buffy asked.
“I am well content,” Viconia said. “I shall fight with my flail and with the Mace of Disruption. Perhaps later I shall change to fighting with flail and shield but, for now, I shall not change the style to which I have become used.”
“And I can make do with potions,” Xander said. “Let’s take down that wall and get after Bodhi.”
“Do it, then, zra’ha,” Sorkatani said to Giles.
“Certainly, Jabbress,” Giles said. He struck a chord and sang one line.
“Tear down these walls they keep raising for you…”
As he continued to play, strumming out a succession of jangling chords, bricks began to fall from the side wall of the chamber opposite the room that held the pool of blood; first one, then half a dozen, and then the whole face of the wall collapsed and toppled into the room. Behind the façade was revealed a much older wall, of smooth and weathered stone, decorated with a frieze of ancient pictures and hieroglyphics.
Giles stopped playing and stepped back to avoid a billowing cloud of dust. “There you are,” he said. “I believe you will find there is a concealed door set into the wall.”
Korgan strode forward, ignoring the dust, and examined the wall. “Aye, it runs alang this line,” he said. “It’ll nae tak me lang tae hae it open. Ah, thot’s where it gangs…” He shoved on one of the pictures and the door swung open to reveal a flight of stairs leading down.
“And that will be where they hid out last time, when they faked us out into thinking we’d killed them all,” Buffy said. “There were five less corpses in the coffins next door than there were vampires, not counting Bodhi, so the others will be in there with her. I’d guess they’re still regenerating but don’t count on it. Anomen will be one of them. Also there was no sign of Tanova, or Viconia’s nephew, so they’re probably in there too. Buff up, everyone.”
“And watch out for traps,” Anya added. “I bet there are lots.”
“That’s your job, and Dawn’s,” Buffy said, “plus our… esteemed colleagues from the Shadow Thieves.”
The thieves in question nodded assent.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends,” said Spike, surveying the dark opening, “once more.”
“After you,” said Giles. “You, after all, are the English dead.”
The stairs were, indeed, heavily trapped. The party made a slow and cautious descent. A corridor at the bottom, also hazardous with traps, led into a large chamber containing five pools of steaming blood.
They expected her to be standing at bay, surrounded by undead minions, and probably accompanied by Tanova and Zarbalan. Instead she was sitting cross-legged beside the central pool of blood, her hands in her lap, and she had taken off her shoes. She looked up when the party entered but made no move to come to a combat-ready position.
“I surrender,” Bodhi said. “There isn’t any point in me fighting you any further. I can’t even take any of you with me as you have priestesses capable of raising the dead. If I’d managed to kill Viconia and Jaheira, and if Tara had stayed dead, then maybe – but I didn’t. I lost, you won. Congratulations.”
“Before we kill you,” Buffy said, “tell me how you got to Earth.”
“I suppose I might as well,” Bodhi said. She took one hand out of her lap; everyone tensed, poised to fill her full of arrows and quarrels at the slightest threatening move, but she merely dabbled her fingers in the pool of blood, raised her hand to her mouth, and licked the blood from her fingers. “It occurred to me that, as Spike can walk in the sunlight here, we might be able to do the same on your planet. Tanova used a Limited Wish scroll to discover how we might travel there. We had fun for a while, and walking in the sunshine was rather pleasant after fifteen years, but it didn’t end well.”
“How did you get there?” Buffy pressed. “And, hey, where is Tanova anyway? We didn’t kill her upstairs.”
“She died in Sunnydale,” Bodhi answered. “So did Viconia’s nasty little nephew, and Jeroneth – who I rather liked, even though she retained some of those annoying paladin traits like honor and mercy. Oh, and the Rhynn Lantern was destroyed while we were there, so you’re not going to penetrate my brother’s illusions and get to Suldanessellar.”
“Now I know you’re lying,” Buffy said, “seeing as how we have it.”
“What?” Bodhi’s eyebrows shot upward. “That’s impossible. Unless… Katrina must have been lying when she said everything in the device was destroyed. The bitch. That means Tanova could have been saved!”
“Katrina?” Buffy’s eyebrows emulated Bodhi’s. “Who the hell is Katrina?”
“She’s Warren’s girlfriend, I think,” Bodhi replied. “It’s odd that you don’t know her. She seemed to be rather a good friend of your clones in Sunnydale.”
“Our… clones?” Buffy’s eyebrows beat all previous altitude records. “Warren? Robot girlfriend Warren?”
“Humph!” Edwin snorted, from the rear of the party. “Why can’t these simians see that the vampire is simply stalling? They should kill her immediately, before her minions regenerate, and then I can look for the scrolls.”
“Do you talk to yourself, or do you have a little companion like Boo?” Minsc asked him. “I did not know that wizards had… oh, yes, Boo has reminded me about familiars. Is your familiar a hamster too?”
“I am talking to myself, you enormous oaf, as I am the only person here capable of understanding even the simplest stratagems,” Edwin replied. “I had expected Sorkatani and Buffy to be less gullible but, alas, it seems I was mistaken.”
“I know she’s stalling,” Buffy said, “but I want to hear this. Although I guess you have a point. Guys, find the coffins, stake the vampires, and if Bodhi makes one sudden move – fry the bitch, Willow.”
“On it,” Xander said, moving off to the side without coming between Bodhi and the people with leveled weapons. Spike, Korgan, and three of the Shadow Thieves followed his example.
“So make with the explain-y, Bodhi,” Buffy urged. “How did you get to Sunnydale, why did you come back, and what did you mean by clones? Did Warren make robot doubles of us?”
Bodhi shook her head. “I think I have told you enough, Vampire Slayer,” she said. “I will derive some minor satisfaction from leaving you with an unsolved mystery. It’s not much consolation, but the Red Wizard was right. I was indeed only stalling to give Anomen and the others time to regenerate. If it’s not going to work, then…”
She uncrossed her legs with astounding speed and leapt at Sorkatani. The hand that had been in her lap came up holding a long dagger. Buffy and Sorkatani moved as one, matching Bodhi for speed, and Bodhi leapt straight into the blades of Celestial Fury and the Blade of Roses. She writhed, impaled on the blades, and tried to reach Sorkatani with the dagger. Sorkatani blocked the blow, Buffy pulled her sword free, and then Buffy brought the Blade of Roses down across the back of Bodhi’s neck. Bodhi disintegrated into mist and drifted off across the room.
Buffy and Sorkatani exchanged a high five. “Yay, go us!” Buffy exclaimed.
“Go us, indeed,” said Sorkatani, “but our task is not yet over.”
“Yeah, there’s the sacrifice of her heart to Shar thing to do,” Buffy agreed. “Viconia, come with us – and somebody who can check for traps, too, just in case. Follow that cloud!”
Buffy stripped the watch from the wrist of Bodhi’s corpse. “Cartier!” she exclaimed. “Wow, she sure was living the high life in California. Of course it would have been by killing people, and taking their stuff, but I don’t see any way of sending this back to the rightful owner. I’m keeping this.”
“That’s not fair, Buffy,” Dawn objected. “I’ve only got a dumb ‘Hello Kitty’ watch and I’m way too old for it now.”
“Tanova Disintegrated my watch back at Spellhold, remember?” Buffy pointed out. “We’ll divide up the rest of the stuff, sure, but I’m claiming this as my share.”
Dawn pouted but acquiesced.
“Aha!” Edwin exclaimed, from a side chamber. “I have found the scrolls which I sought. I can return to Thay in triumph! I desire nothing more and I will depart from here immediately.” He headed off through the door and up the stairs without even saying farewell. The Shadow Thieves, who were under orders from Aran Linvail to stay only as long as Sorkatani wished them to stay, had departed as soon as all the traps in Bodhi’s chamber had been disarmed.
“That jaluk is arrogant and obnoxious,” Viconia remarked. “I do not know why you recruited him to assist us.”
Sorkatani shrugged. “I trust not the Cowled Wizards,” she said, “and Edwin will, at least, work with the Shadow Thieves without complaint. Mekrath, with whom we had pleasant dealings and who is a friend to one whom I trust absolutely, is no longer an adventuring wizard and would not have joined us to battle vampires. I knew of no-one else. Edwin served his purpose and has earned his pay. Let us hope we do not see him again.”
“Indeed, Jabbress,” Viconia said. “Have you taken all that you desire from the darthiir’s corpse, Jabbress Buffy?”
“Yeah, I’m done,” Buffy said. “She’s wearing Victoria’s Secret underwear, and she’s my size, but no way would I wear anything that’s been next to her… skin. She’s all yours.” She stepped aside and made room for Viconia at the coffin’s side.
Viconia raised a sacrificial dagger. “Great Shar, Mistress of the Night, Lady of Loss, I dedicate to you this blasphemer who claimed that stolen power had made her the equal of the gods,” she said. “Do with her as you will.” She sliced through Bodhi’s chest, the strength from the Girdle of Frost Giant Strength she now wore enabling her to cut through the ribs, and exposed Bodhi’s black and unbeating heart. Buffy winced and averted her eyes.
Viconia swapped over to a stake. “For Shar!” she cried, and brought the stake down into the elf vampire’s heart. The body exploded into dust, just like any normal vampire, and Buffy couldn’t help feeling it was slightly anti-climatic.
Until Viconia vanished.
For an instant the space where she had stood was empty and then, suddenly, someone else was standing there in her place. A woman with skin as white as milk, hair of absolute jet black, and purple eyes. And she was seven feet tall.
Buffy’s hand went to her sword, by reflex, but faltered and stopped with the sword undrawn. She felt an unfamiliar sensation flooding through her; awe. This was no ordinary woman. Glory might have styled herself a god but this was the real thing.
“Fear not, mortals,” the woman said, her teeth showing pearly white behind ruby lips. “Viconia is safe. I merely wished to speak with her in private and, at the same time, have speech with her comrades.”
“Shar!” Sorkatani exclaimed. She dipped her knees, as if beginning a curtsey, and then bowed low. Buffy followed suit.
“Well met, Sorkatani Gorion’s Ward,” Shar said, “and Buffy Anne Summers. I greet you. And Dawn Summers also.” Her eyebrows lifted fractionally as she looked at Dawn but her gaze did not linger on the younger Summers sister for more than a second. “My business is mainly with Imoen, and with Giles,” she went on, “but I greet you all. You’ve all done very well.”
Bodhi felt an instant of unbelievable pain, and a sensation as if something was being ripped out of her, and then opened her eyes to find herself standing on a grey, featureless, plain. It stretched seemingly to infinity in all directions save one. In that direction stood a high wall, with a tower of smoked crystal showing beyond its rim; the City of Judgment.
“Oh, crap,” Bodhi muttered. “The Wall of the Faithless. My home for the next few million years. Or until I disintegrate altogether. Time for Plan B.” Bodhi had rejected the Seldarine long before the mages of Suldanessellar had stripped away her soul and she was well aware of the dread fate which awaited her. No-one would come to collect her soul and in ten days she would face a judgment which could have only one outcome. But there was one way to avoid it…
She set off for the gates of the City at a brisk walk. There was nothing to show the passage of time, and her body in the Afterlife was no longer wearing a wristwatch, and Bodhi couldn’t tell how long it had been before she reached the gate and was admitted to the Basilica where judgment would take place. The servitor who opened the gate for her raised an eyebrow, as if puzzled by her apparent eagerness to meet her fate, but did not speak. Bodhi ignored the servitor and scanned the grim hall for the beings she sought.
Baatezu. Devils. The fiends who, by agreement with Kelemvor, were allowed to barter with doomed souls and offer them an alternative to the punishment they had earned through their lack of faith. Yes, there they were. Bodhi ran her gaze over the various devils, passing over Fluxugons and Cornugons and Abishai, until she saw an Erinyes. She headed for the devil in female form and spoke.
“Greetings,” she said. “I’d like to make a deal.”
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. ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’ belongs to Bioware and Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Lyrics from ‘Norwegian Wood’, by The Beatles, ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix, and ‘Tear Down These Walls’, by Runrig, are used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.