Shar’s gaze passed over Dawn and, instantly, the Goddess of Memory and Unrevealed Secrets realized that there was more to the girl than met the eye. She probed further. The spell crafted by the monks of the Order of Dagon was ingenious, and cunningly crafted, but it couldn’t withstand the concentrated attention of the goddess. Within a fraction of a second Shar had worked out the nature of the screen; an instant later she discovered what it concealed.
The Key was within her grasp.
Only the merest hint of a raised eyebrow betrayed her interest. She made sure that her eyebrows rose in exactly the same fashion when her gaze moved on to the next member of the group. She addressed Viconia’s comrades, as she had planned, making no reference to the Key. Her mind, however, was working furiously to address this new information and to decide what she should do. Control of the Key would give her a formidable weapon against her enemy Shaundakul… perhaps even enable her to steal away Shaundakul’s portfolio of Portals… and she would need only to stretch out her hand…
Viconia cried out “For Shar!” and plunged down the stake into Bodhi’s heart. She saw the vampire’s corpse disintegrate into dust and then her surroundings blurred and shifted. When they cleared Viconia found that she was no longer standing in Bodhi’s crypt. Instead a room with marble walls, hung with blue drapes, lay before her. There were four people, or rather beings, sitting on comfortable-looking chairs within the room.
One of them was Shar. Viconia dropped to her knees and bowed her head.
Shar smiled and stood up. “Arise, Viconia De’Vir, you need not kneel before me,” she said. “I have brought you before me to praise you, and to give you thanks, not to call you to account. You are dear to me, and those who are dear to you are dear to me also; Jaheira, and Giles, and Sorkatani, and Willow, and Dawn, and the others. And you converted Yoshimo and sent him to me. He too has become dear to me and I have benefited greatly from his counsel.”
“As have I,” said one of the other beings. A seven-foot tall female Drow, incredibly beautiful, with waist-length hair that seemed to be made of spun silver. It took Viconia a second or two to recognize the figure but then she felt like kicking herself for her stupidity; it was, of course, Eilistraee. The goddess was clad in a blue gown, rather than naked as she was traditionally depicted, which gave Viconia some slight excuse for her mistake.
“It was Yoshimo’s words that persuaded me to seek reconciliation with my brother,” Eilistraee continued, “and thus you are, indirectly, partially responsible for our reunion. I too therefore owe you a debt.”
“And so do I,” the unmistakable figure of Vhaeraun added. “You have my sincere thanks.”
Viconia had been brought up to regard Eilistraee and Vhaeraun as the enemies of the Drow race, treacherously seducing the Drow from the true worship of Lolth, but her experiences in Ust Natha, especially coming to know the undercover Eilistraeean priestess Evelintra, had changed her opinions. And it was obvious that the two gods were friends to Shar… as, too, was the other goddess Viconia had not been able to identify. Pale skin and dark hair, a skirt and bodice of a deep rich blue, and a belt clasp in the shape of a web; Viconia would have thought her to be Mystra, for the being certainly fit the traditional description of the Goddess of Magic, but that could not be the case because, as was well known, Shar and Mystra were deadly enemies.
“You do me too much credit, Lord and Lady,” Viconia addressed the members of the Dark Seldarine, putting aside the question of the other deity’s identify for the moment, “but I am glad if I have, in a small way, contributed to your reconciliation.”
“And thus also to the ending of the long strife between Shar and myself,” said the other goddess, “and the turning of an enemy into a friend.” Viconia’s eyes widened. This must, indeed, be Mystra.
“Indeed so,” said Shar, “and she deserves to be well rewarded.”
In any other company Viconia would have seized on any opportunity of reward. Here, though, she was too awestruck to be self-serving. “Any virtuous deeds of mine have been because of the inspiration of my comrades, ussta Quar'valsharess,” she said. “The credit should go to Sorkatani, and to Giles, and to Jaheira… indeed, to all of my company.” Shar’s smile of approval enabled Viconia to recover a little of her usual attitude and she added a qualifier. “Except for Korgan. I already knew how to drink.”
“The fragment of Bhaal’s essence is yours, Imoen,” Shar said, “and so it is your right to decide what shall be done with it. If you desire that it is returned to you, then that is what I will do.”
Imoen opened her eyes very wide. She turned her head away from Shar for a moment, looked at Sorkatani, and then turned back to the goddess. “Uh, I thought it was yours,” Imoen said. “Viconia sacrificed Bodhi to you. If that doesn’t get you the piece of Bhaal that Bodhi stole, then what does?”
“Oh, I have possession of it currently,” Shar said, “but it was not rightfully Bodhi’s and so I do not claim that it is now mine by right. I will keep it only if you relinquish your ownership willingly.”
“Lady Shar,” Sorkatani put in, “may I ask what you intend to do with it?”
“Bestow it upon my newest servant, Egeria,” Shar replied. “She was one of the Shards of Selûne, but turned against her mistress when Selûne treacherously broke a truce and imprisoned me. Egeria has pledged her allegiance to me and I intend to use her as my herald, my emissary to other deities – especially ones aligned to the cause of Good – and as an ally that the most favored of my mortal worshippers can call upon in time of peril. She would be better equipped for that role if her strength and skill were greater, especially as the other Shards of Selûne will set upon her at the slightest opportunity, and the essence of Bhaal will empower her to the same extent as it did the late, and unlamented, Bodhi. I shall ask Eilistraee to tutor her in swordplay, for none in all the Realms can match Lady Silverhair with a sword, and as regards unarmed combat – Buffy, may I ask you to instruct her, when time allows?”
Buffy gulped. Her eyes widened into a ‘deer in headlights’ expression. “Uh, thanks for the compliment, my Lady,” she said, “but, uh, I’m not that much of a teacher. Okay, I said I’d teach Sharwyn a few things, but this would be a whole different ball game. Giles is the instructor, not me, I fight mainly by instinct. Or, hey, Spike’s got a lot of knowledge, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and that sort of thing, so maybe he could do it.”
“You underestimate yourself, Buffy,” Shar said. “I have observed the improvement in Sorkatani’s technique since she has trained with you. Let me put it another way. Would you act as her practice partner, then, and would Giles and Spike provide the technical input?”
“Sure, I’ll practice with her,” Buffy said. Spike and Giles both added their assent.
“Egeria,” Giles muttered to himself under his breath, so quietly that even Spike could barely hear him. “The water nymph, or minor goddess, who was the counselor, or possibly lover, of King Numa Pompilius of pre-Republican Rome.”
“It’s a coincidence of names, nothing more, Giles – or may I call you Rupert?” Shar said. “There are celestial beings in this world who originated on Earth – the goddesses Mielikki and Loviatar, for instance – but my Egeria was born in Faerûn as a mortal woman.” She gave Giles a beaming smile. “I think I shall leave Imoen to think over the matter, for the moment, and talk with you. I have much for which to thank you.”
“Ah, you have?” Giles raised a finger to the bridge of his nose where his glasses used to rest. “I fail to see how.” He was struck by the contrast between Shar in person and the descriptions of her in the texts he had read. Shar was described as cold, gloomy, and bitter. This woman was vivacious, charming, and quite remarkably beautiful. “I’m, ah, flattered, but I don’t quite see how.”
“Your songs,” Shar said. “I had been feeling rather depressed lately – for several thousand years, in fact – and your music lifted me out of my depression. ‘Hey yeah you with the sad face, Come up to my place and live it up.’ That, and the arrival of Yoshimo and some advice that he gave me, inspired me to take some positive action to improve things. It didn’t quite go as I’d planned,” she admitted, a hint of laughter coming into her voice, “but it worked out better than I could have hoped. I have made a true and precious friend in Eilistraee, and I have made my peace with Mystra and we are becoming friends too, and my relationship with Vhaeraun… has moved to a new level. None of these things would have happened if you had not come to Faerûn.”
“Good gracious,” Giles said. “I had no idea.”
Shar’s expression turned serious. “Also,” she went on, “when I came out of my depression, I realized that I had not been doing my job properly.”
“Your… job?” Giles’ eyebrows climbed high and so did those of most of the others in the group. Only Tara and Jaheira showed no signs of surprise or incomprehension.
“My duty is to serve my worshippers,” Shar explained. “To help them find the strength to get what they want and what they need. In my specific case, as the Lady of Despair and Loss, I should be helping them to overcome despair and come to terms with loss. I forgot that and, instead, aided them only in spreading despair and loss among their enemies.” She shook her head. “I was wrong. Vengeance can bring some measure of closure, certainly, but the loss remains. And what if the loss is due to natural causes? I was failing those of my worshippers who had lost a loved one to accident or simple old age. No more. I shall seek, from now on, to mend broken hearts rather than to break them.”
‘If you need to fall apart,’ Giles sub-vocalized, making no audible sound whatsoever and barely moving his lips, ‘I can mend a broken heart…’
Shar heard him anyway. “Those words seem appropriate, Rupert,” she said, rather puzzling the others. “Song lyrics, I presume? They are not from any of the songs I have heard you perform.”
“Ah, yes, I don’t recall having played it since I came to this world,” Giles confirmed.
“Perhaps you might do so now?” Shar suggested. “My business with Viconia is not yet concluded and so there is plenty of time.”
“Ah, of course, Ma’am,” Giles replied, hoping that was the correct form of address when speaking to a goddess in informal circumstances, “I would be happy to oblige. The song is called Crash and Burn, but that refers to emotional states not to physical collision and conflagration.” He raised his guitar, strummed out the introduction, and then began to sing.
“When you feel all alone
And the walls are closing in on you
Give me a moment please
To tame your wild wild heart
I know you feel
Like the walls are closing in on you
It’s hard to find relief
And people can be so cold…”
Shar listened, apparently entranced, a smile on her face and her feet moving to the music. Her mind, however, was racing. During the second verse Shar came to a decision about the Key. As Giles sang the second chorus she approached Dawn.
“Let me be the one you call
If you jump I'll break your fall…” Giles sang.
Shar took hold of Dawn’s hand and waist. In time to the line “Lift you up and fly away with you into the night…” Shar swept Dawn into the air and took flight.
“I gave you permission to leave my service, Viconia, once you had found a replacement and fulfilled your vow,” Shar said, “and told you that I would not object if you became, instead, a priestess of Eilistraee. Your tasks are now accomplished and I am sure that Eilistraee would be happy to take you into her service.”
“Indeed so,” Eilistraee confirmed, “and with great pleasure.”
“I hope, however, that you no longer wish to avail yourself of that offer,” Shar said, “for you have pleased me greatly and I regard you most highly.”
“I thank you, Quar'valsharess,” Viconia said. “I am well content to remain in your service. I feared that my thoughts and actions would incur your displeasure and it was for that reason alone that I considered leaving. If I have pleased you then I will be yours forever.”
“Yes, you have pleased me,” Shar said. She drew herself up to her full height and allowed her countenance to reveal her full majesty. “Viconia De’Vir,” she declared, “I appoint you as my Chosen. Your title shall be Shadow of the Night. Go forth and continue to act as you have been acting, and in so doing you will be carrying out my will.”
Viconia’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened. “Nindol z'klaen tlu natha wussrun'wa!” she exclaimed. (I must be dreaming!)
Shar’s smile returned. “Surrender all your dreams to me tonight,” she quoted, “They’ll come true in the end.”
The spell shielding the Key was a superb piece of work but it had been cast by mere mortals. It had vulnerabilities. The insane could see through it, as could necromanced animals, and Shar’s own domains had enabled her to pierce it with ease. There were other deities who would be able to penetrate the spell with equal ease; for instance Cyric, whose sanity was tenuous and who had stolen the domains of Deception and Illusion from Leira when he slew her; the Illusion god Baravar Cloakshadow of the Gnome pantheon; and Shaundakul, whose domain of Portals would give him a special insight into the Key.
Shaundakul would not willingly harm an innocent, Shar knew, but he regarded it as his duty to disclose secrets rather than to keep them; the root cause of the dispute between Shaundakul and Shar. If he discovered Dawn’s true nature then it would soon become common knowledge and she would be at risk. Baravar Cloakshadow, although Good by nature, was also a gnome with that race’s unfortunate inability to resist meddling with interesting things even if they were far better left alone. And Cyric would try to make use of the Key himself. The possibility of destroying the entire universe in the process wouldn’t deter him; he was crazy enough to ignore any risks in his pursuit of conquest – perhaps even to relish the possibility of universal destruction. Shar couldn’t allow that. Indeed she would have been unhappy about Cyric taking an interest in Dawn, who after all was a close friend of Viconia, even had there not been the risk of apocalyptic consequences.
And so, as Shar flew around the room holding a delighted and giggling Dawn, the goddess took action to strengthen the Key’s defenses.
Shar poured energy into the spell, reinforcing it, plugging the loopholes. She shielded Dawn from the gaze of the insane, from necromanced animals, and from penetrative spells. She rebuilt the screen into one that was perfect; designed to be impenetrable even from an entity with powers and domains that matched her own. It might be possible for physical evidence to lead someone to the Key, if they already knew of its existence, and part of the spell was designed to guard against that possibility by ensuring that the Key blended into the background and didn’t stand out in any way. Shar reinforced that element too, although she was surprised by how much energy it soaked up; the power of the Shadow Weave was effectively limitless, however, and she drew upon it until everything was absolutely flawless.
The only remaining way anyone could learn of the Key would be from the minds aware of her identity. Shar considered editing their memories to remove all knowledge of the Key but decided against it; such tampering would be unethical, a consideration that she now regarded as important, and it would make it impossible for Shar to ask for their cooperation if, at some future time, she had a legitimate need to make use of the Key’s powers. Instead she decided to rely upon an aspect of the shielding spell that already existed, which caused those aware of the Key not to think about it unless some occurrence brought it to mind, and she merely gave it a boost. And, while she was adjusting their memories, she enhanced their memories in other respects; Giles and Willow, she thought, would find this benefit particularly useful.
Finally Shar bestowed some additional protections upon Dawn. Accelerated healing, matching that of her sister exactly, so that anyone who discovered it would assume that it came from the same source as Buffy’s. This would minimize the chance of Dawn bleeding heavily in a location with mystical significance and, possibly, triggering an apocalypse. Magic resistance, again matching Buffy’s, for the same reason and to make it more difficult for a foe to capture Dawn. And, as a finishing touch, Shar gave Dawn a unique property; any magical protections, rings or amulets or bracers, worn by Dawn would be enhanced by one grade.
As Giles reached the end of the chorus Shar alighted and set Dawn back on the chamber floor. A job well done, Shar thought, both helping one of Viconia’s closest friends and also making the universe a safer place. She had no way of knowing that her action had had drastic unintended consequences. It would be another four hours thirty-two minutes before the first of those consequences would become visible in the skies and panic would begin to spread throughout Faerûn.
“It would be fitting for my Chosen to receive some special benefits,” Shar told Viconia, “and I would like to bestow upon you bardic skills to match those of Lolth’s bae'qeshel. That would, however,” Shar qualified, glancing over at Mystra, “require the agreement of the Goddess of Magic.”
“You have it,” Mystra said at once.
“Thank you, my friend,” Shar said, and then she turned back to Viconia. “You will not become instantly as proficient as Giles, of course,” she warned. “You will need his tuition for a while yet.”
Viconia nodded. “My zra’ha will guide me,” she said. “I would not expect to reach his level of mastery without much hard work. I thank you, Quar'valsharess, of all gifts this is the one I would have chosen.”
“And you deserve a gift from us,” Eilistraee said, exchanging a glance with her brother. “A magic item, perhaps?”
“My enchanted mace, the Mauler’s Arm, was broken as we fought Bodhi,” Viconia said, “and it gave me the strength I need to wield my heavy flail. I had to borrow a belt of strength from my comrades. A replacement would be my choice, if it pleased you, Lady Silverhair.”
“Mace and flail is an odd combination,” Eilistraee remarked. “I would have thought it awkward to use them together in combat.”
“Indeed so,” Viconia agreed, “and I used the mace primarily as a parrying weapon. Its main function was to increase my strength.”
“Then any item that sufficiently enhanced your strength would make a valid replacement,” said Eilistraee.
“Or,” Vhaeraun suggested, “such an enchantment could be applied to the flail itself, thereby killing two bats with one stone.”
“A clever thought, my new friend,” said Mystra, “and easy for me to arrange. Lo, it is done.” She smiled at Viconia and then her brow furrowed. “Strange,” she remarked, “I felt a… disturbance in the Weave.”
“As if millions of voices cried out in terror and then were suddenly silenced?” Viconia suggested.
Mystra’s frown became more pronounced. “No, more as if a score of Ninth-level spells had all been cast at once,” she said. “What did you mean by that?”
“I am not sure, Lady Mystra,” Viconia said. “It is something I have heard my abbil Sir Xander say, more than once, and it came into my mind. I believe that it is a quote from a story that they tell on Earth, about the destruction of an entire world, but it is only a tale for children and not the recounting of a real event.”
“And I have just felt a disturbance in the Shadow Weave,” Shar said. “My avatar on Faerûn was casting a minor spell and, just as it was cast, I detected something drawing massive amounts of power from the Shadow Weave. Power enough, I deem, to shatter a world in truth.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “No, there has been no catastrophe upon Toril, nor has anything happened to any of the other worlds in the system, and all the Planes seem to be intact too. There has been no great flood of petitioners arriving at the Fugue Plane following their untimely deaths. Perhaps it was some natural event.”
“Perhaps,” Mystra said, although she did not sound totally convinced. “Well, it has passed now, and seems to have had no significant effects. I shall investigate further, later, but I think we can put it aside for now. This is a moment that calls for a celebration. Viconia, would you care for some wine?”
“I shall be hosting a party for some of the gods in the near future,” Shar told Giles, “and I will synchronize it with one of your performances so that we can listen in and enjoy your music.”
“I’m… flattered, Ma’am,” Giles replied. “I’m afraid we’ll be leaving in pursuit of Irenicus shortly and I doubt if there will be any opportunity for me to play before our return.”
“There is no urgency,” Shar said. “Give me, through Viconia, a few days’ notice and I will arrange the timing of the party accordingly. I would like, however, to make some requests.”
“Shadows of the Night, no doubt,” Giles said, nodding. “And, I would guess, Crash and Burn?”
“Indeed so,” said Shar, “but I have some special requests for you. I would like you, if you could, to come up with songs for my guests that are as apt for them as Shadows of the Night is for me.”
Giles reached up a hand to his face and groped for the glasses he no longer wore. “Ah, yes, I can certainly try,” he said. “Which, ah, deities will be attending?”
“Vhaeraun and Eilistraee, of course,” Shar answered. “Mystra. Talona, my longest-standing friend. Umberlee. Hoar. Velsharoon. Mask. Lliira. Milil. Baravar Cloakshadow. Tempus and the Red Knight. Azuth has not yet replied to my invitation but, as Mystra is coming, no doubt Azuth will as well. Mielikki has not confirmed her acceptance, as yet, but she did mention to Eilistraee that she intends to attend.”
“Uh, excuse m-me, my Lady,” Tara put in. “Mielikki told me she will be going to your p-party even though Sylvanus doesn’t want her to.”
“Good,” said Shar, “although that no doubt means that Sylvanus will not be attending. Hopefully Mielikki will bring Gwaeron Windstrom and Eldath with her; although Eldath rarely attends social gatherings and, if she does, tends to hide in the corner and speak to no-one. I’d still like you to find a song for her, though, Rupert.”
Giles pursed his lips. “Hmm. You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties would be… cruel. Ah. Eldath is the Goddess of Peace, is she not? Then Peace In Our Time would be rather appropriate.”
“I knew you would be able to think of something suitable,” Shar said, favoring him with a smile. “I have invited several other gods,” she went on, “but so far they have neither accepted nor rejected their invitations. I will let you know the full guest list later. I am confident that you will not disappoint me.”
“I will endeavor to give satisfaction,” Giles said, and then his eyes lost focus and he began to mutter to himself. “Hmm. Mystra is obvious – It’s A Kind of Magic, of course – but as for the two Drow deities…”
Shar smiled at him, her expression definitely one of fond affection, and rolled her eyes. “Bards,” she said. “I fear he will be fully occupied on this matter for quite some time.” She turned to Imoen. “Well, Imoen, have you made your decision?” she asked. “Do you wish the essence of Bhaal returned to you, or may I bestow it upon Egeria?”
“It won’t turn… Egeria… Evil, will it?” Imoen asked.
“It did not turn you Evil,” Shar responded. “You are a pure soul, Imoen, and I believe that you have purified even that which came from the God of Murder. At worst it will pass on to Egeria some of your… mischievousness, and I would not regard that as a bad thing.”
“And it wouldn’t turn me Evil if I took it back?”
“Only if you allowed it to,” said Shar, “and I cannot see you doing that. You would gain great physical strength, now that potential has been unlocked, and it may be that this is what you desire. As for what you would lose… while you carry the spark of Bhaal no resurrection is possible for you. A fatal blow will turn you to dust.”
“And a thousand people will want to kill me, as they do Sorkatani, just for being a Bhaalspawn,” Imoen said. “Being strong isn’t worth it. I’m a mage, and a thief, not a warrior. Keep the Bhaal essence, Lady Shar, and do with it as you will.”
Shar bade the group a final ‘Farewell’ and then vanished, departing as suddenly as she arrived, but Viconia did not immediately arrive to replace her.
“Wow,” Xander exclaimed, “if that was an Evil goddess I can’t wait to meet a Good one.”
“No way is she Evil,” Willow and Buffy said in chorus.
“Shar isn’t Evil,” Tara agreed. “She’s… nice.”
“Did you really detect Evil from her, Xander?” Giles asked. “If so then it would set a new record for appearances being deceptive.”
“I forgot to check,” Xander admitted. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. She’s not Evil. Things aren’t the way they say they are in the Paladin handbook.”
“What, there’s a Paladin handbook?” Buffy asked. “Is that like the Slayer handbook that everyone got except me?”
“More like a scroll up on the wall of the Hall of the Radiant Heart,” Xander said, “with a sort of Cliff’s Notes guide to being a paladin. And it seems like there are a few things missing from…” He broke off, leaving the sentence unfinished, as a rush of displaced air heralded the return of Viconia.
Shar’s newly-appointed Chosen One materialized in the center of the chamber, in the place vacated by her goddess, and promptly fell to her knees. Spike rushed to Viconia’s side and helped her to stand.
“You alright, love?” he asked.
Viconia giggled, much to everyone’s surprise, and swayed on her feet. “Usstan satiir alur taga tenu,” she said, her voice slightly slurred. She wrapped her arms around Spike’s neck and giggled again. “Usstan tlun Detholusin. Lu'usstan talinth usstan tlun shee'lot.”
“Too bloody right you are, love,” Spike said, raising his eyebrows. He turned to the others. “She’s as pissed as a bloody newt,” he informed them. “Oi, love, speak Common. Buffy, Minsc, and Imoen don’t speak your lingo, remember?”
“I was speaking Ilythiiri? I did not realize,” Viconia said. “The wine in Dweomerheart must be strong indeed. I had only one glass. Or was it two? But this is a time for celebration. Shar has appointed me as her Chosen! I am blessed and honored above all.”
“Congratulations, love,” Spike said. “S’ppose a few drinks was fair enough in the circumstances. Wouldn’t mind a couple myself, come to think of it; we beat the bad guy – girl – and it seems like a good excuse for a party. Tradition, innit?”
“There’s still Irenicus,” Buffy said, “but I guess we can’t get after him right now.”
“Indeed so,” said Sorkatani. “I notice that several of us have suffered damage to our armor, which needs repair, and Willow has plans to upgrade our weapons. I believe attending to those matters would be worth the delay.”
“And I have to stand vigil for a whole night, if I’m to get Carsomyr back in full working order,” said Xander. “Seeing as how we’re going up against a, whatchacallit, Archmage then the Dispel Magic feature could be pretty damn useful.”
“I think I know how to get us all to the Elven camp in one jump,” Willow said, “but I’ll need to do some shopping for scrolls first. That would save us one whole lot of time.”
“Cool, that would be a major help,” Buffy said, “so I guess we can spare one night for a party. It’s not like Viconia’s gonna be any use for anything else.”
“Ah thocht the wee Drow lassie cood hauld her bevvy aye better than thot,” Korgan remarked. “Ah’ve seed her doon a bottle an’ a hauf wi’ nae bortha.”
“I guess the gods make pretty strong wine,” Buffy said, for once managing to get the gist of what Korgan was saying. “We’ll have to stick to what they serve at the Playhouse bar.”
“And I’ll have to give it a miss,” said Xander. “If I have to stay awake all night then beer isn’t the best preparation.” He looked at Anya. “And certain other things are right out.”
“Oh, alright,” Anya said, pouting. “It’s not going to be much of a party for us, then.”
“Cheer up, Anya,” Dawn said, “at least we’ve made a profit on this. We got back almost everything Bodhi stole from us, there’s a whole heap of gold and jewels, and a few cool things from Earth. Only one watch, unfortunately, and Buffy glommed onto that,” she said, glaring at her sister, “but there’s something that will make a really neat present for Viconia.”
“A present for me, lotha dalninil?” Viconia said, breaking off from her current activity of nibbling on Spike’s earlobe. “What is it?”
Dawn produced the item she had found and held it up. “A pair of sunglasses.”
“A device to shield my eyes from the painful glare of the sun? I thank you, dalninil,” Viconia said. She reached out a hand in Dawn’s direction. “Give it to me that I may put it on.”
“Uh-huh, not until you sober up,” Dawn said, hiding the glasses behind her back. “The state you’re in now you’d probably break them, and it’s not like you need them down here.”
Viconia squinted up at the roof of the chamber. “You are correct, we are indoors,” she said. “Very well, Dawn, you may keep the glasses of the sun for now.” She returned her attentions to Spike and ran her tongue up the side of his neck.
“Neat,” Buffy said. “Dawn, have you and Imoen taken everything that’s not nailed down?”
“Probably not,” Dawn replied. “Shar turning up was a bit of a distraction. There might be a few more goodies around.”
“Then check out the places you haven’t searched and then we’ll go home.”
“On it,” Dawn answered.
“You know,” Xander remarked, “I still don’t get how come Shar was talking to us here and to Viconia somewhere else all at the same time.”
“My goddess can be in ten different places at once, if she so desires,” Viconia said, drawing herself up to her full height. “All hail Shar, the beautiful, the benevolent, and the wise.”
“I’m still amazed by how much you have changed,” Mystra said. Eilistraee and Vhaeraun had already departed from Dweomerheart and Shar was on the point of leaving. “You’re… nice. I can hardly believe you’re the real Shar.”
“Oh, I’m really me,” Shar said. “Although… if I reveal something to you that I have told no-one else, will you keep it to yourself?”
“Of course,” Mystra said.
“I killed lbrandul during the Time of Troubles and took his powers and portfolios,” Shar revealed. “Perhaps that changed me.”
Mystra shook his head. “He was a sixty-foot giant lizard of reclusive and taciturn disposition,” she said. “I can’t see how that would have changed you for the better.”
“That depends on your opinion of lizards,” Shar said, “but you’re probably right. Certainly it didn’t leave me with any particular desire to, for instance, catch flies with my tongue.”
Mystra laughed. “They’d have had to be pretty big flies to have interested a lizard that size,” she said. “Seriously, though, I cannot attribute any changes in you to your absorption of Ibrandul. The changes in you are far more recent than the Time of Troubles.”
“Then it must be that, as I said to Giles, it is his music that has changed me,” Shar said.
“How could one bard have the power to change a goddess?” Mystra asked.
“Not through magic,” said Shar, “but through words. He knows thousands of songs, selected from the best works of countless bards from a world far more populous than ours, and some of them tug the heart in ways that none of our bards can match. You really must listen to him. Some of his songs are truly… sublime.”
“Tell you what,” Spike remarked, four hours later as the group sat in the back rooms of the Playhouse, “I could murder a curry.” He set down an empty mug of beer and wiped his lips.
“Alas, that seems to be something that is absent from Faerûn, at least in these parts,” Giles said, and then his brow furrowed. “Although, perhaps I could conjure some up.”
“Go for it, then, Rupes,” Spike urged. “Got me a bit puzzled, though. Didn’t know there were any rock songs about… curry… oh, bloody hell, you don’t mean…?”
“I think you have, indeed, guessed my intent,” Giles said. “Now, I will need to adjust the words slightly. The football references are irrelevant, of course, but they might as well stay in. Hmm. Curry on its own, without side dishes, would not be altogether palatable. However… let me see… ah, yes. Poppadoms pilau rice and keema naan… that scans, if I say it with the right rhythm. Substitute ‘Waterdeep’ for ‘Waterloo’? No, I think not, we might find ourselves transported there. A simple repetition of the ‘vindaloo’ line at that point… yes. I think I have it.”
“Where on Earth are you from?” Giles chanted.
“We're from England
Where you come from
Do you put the kettle on?
Nah Nah Nah
Nah Nah Nah
Nah Nah Nah…”
Sharwyn, who was due to go on stage shortly, watched and listened intently as Giles sang and played. The other Faerûnians, and the Americans, looked on with expressions indicating utter incomprehension.
“Poppadoms pilau rice and keema naan
And a bucket of Vindaloo
Poppadoms pilau rice and keema naan
And a bucket of Vindaloo…” Giles sang.
Vindaloo Nah Nah
And we all like Vindaloo…”
At the conclusion of the song a large tray materialized in front of Giles. It was laden with dishes holding heaps of steaming, fragrant, rice; plates piled with crispy poppadoms; a steel platter covered in broad, flat, naan breads stuffed with spiced mince; and a bright copper bucket filled to the brim with curry. And, sitting by itself, a large piece of cheese.
“Bloody marvelous, Rupes,” Spike praised, rubbing his hands together and flashing a beaming smile. “Was expecting it to be in leaky tinfoil containers, in a greasy paper bag, like in the video.”
“Well, the song was… pretty crappy,” Buffy said, “but the food smells good.”
“It sure does,” Xander agreed. He glanced at his watch. “Damn it, I have to head off for the Radiant Heart building pretty soon,” he said. “Still, I guess I have time to grab a little food first.”
“I’d advise caution,” Giles recommended. “It may be a little… fierce for you. And your night of standing vigil might not count if you have to keep breaking off for trips to the privy.”
Xander laughed. “Hey, I’m used to chili,” he said. “I don’t think your British curry is going to give me any problems. Other than finding something to eat it with…”
There was a general rush to the rooms to collect plates, knives, and spoons. Dawn was the first to return, suitably equipped, and to dig in. “Aagh! Hot! Hot! Hot!” she squealed, and grabbed for a drink.
“I did warn you,” Giles said. “I’d advise you to dilute the curry with plenty of rice and accompany it with pieces of poppadom or naan bread.”
The others, and Dawn when she recovered, took Giles’ advice. “I see what you mean,” Xander conceded. “It’s pretty fierce. But tasty.”
“American wimps,” Spike said, scooping up a portion of fiery curry on a poppadom and consuming it undiluted.
“Hey! Just because we’re human and actually have working taste-buds,” Xander protested. He munched on a section of keema naan, flat bread stuffed with spiced mince, and licked his lips. “I have to admit this is pretty damn good. But I really have to get going. A whole night of staying awake in front of the altar of Torm – and I don’t even have any comic books to read.”
“That’s not exactly in accordance with the spirit of a vigil,” Giles chided. “You should think worthy and uplifting thoughts.”
“Hey, don’t knock comic books,” Xander said. “They have plenty of worthy and uplifting stuff. You can’t do much better than Spiderman’s motto; ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.”
“Indeed so,” Sorkatani agreed. “It would serve well as my own watchword.”
“I think mine would be,” Sharwyn mused, “With marriage must come total fidelity. And if it doesn’t then the offending party should be thrown into a pit of hungry wolves.”
Anya set down her plate, went over to Sharwyn, and shook her by the hand. “Well said, sister,” she said. “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
The sun was setting as Xander walked through the streets to the Radiant Heart building, and the stars were beginning to appear in the sky, but most major thoroughfares in Athkatla had at least partial street lighting and it was almost impossible to make out more than a few of the brightest celestial bodies. Xander, even if he had been able to see the stars, was only vaguely aware that the constellations of this world weren’t the same as those of Earth and wouldn’t have noticed that something was different.
Hundreds of miles to the north and east, where it was already fully dark, the wandering Bedauwi tribes of the Anauroch Desert looked up at the sky and felt the chill of fear striking into their hearts. Further south and yet further east, on the Sea of Fallen Stars, the sailing master of a ship on its way from Aglarond to Westgate gazed at the patterns of the stars with baffled incomprehension, gave up on his attempt to take a star sight, and laid down his sextant with trembling hands. Ieriyn, brightest star in the heavens and the star which marked True North, shone no longer. An astronomer in Cormyr, who had been watching the stars since nightfall, saw them shift and change before his eyes. He swung his telescope, seeking out formations he had memorized over years of study, and found nothing that he recognized. Mystra’s Star Circle, The Jester, The Swordsman, Tassabryl, Jansreene’s Throne – all were gone.
The moon still orbited, where it had always been, with the Tears of Selûne trailing behind. The familiar planets, or at least those above the horizon at this time and location, were still there; but now they swam in alien skies.
Mystra swept into the Palace of Loss as soon as her arrival had been announced and hastened into Shar’s audience chamber.
“Welcome, Mystra,” Shar greeted her. “This is a pleasant surprise. I had not expected you to visit me so soon.”
“This is not a social call, alas,” Mystra said. “I bring news. I have discovered what resulted from the disturbance that we felt in our respective Weaves.”
“Oh? What was it?”
“The Crystal Sphere,” Mystra announced, “has… gone. Disappeared without trace.”
“What?” Shar’s eyebrows shot upward. She conjured up a crystal ball, expanded it to beach-ball size, and stared into it. “When did this happen?”
“My priests began to report that the stars had all changed some twenty minutes ago,” Mystra replied. “That was about four and a half hours after we felt the disturbance.”
“And light would take four and a half hours to travel from the Crystal Sphere to Toril,” Shar calculated. “Indeed it would seem that the two events are linked. It would be an incredible coincidence, otherwise, and certainly the destruction or removal of the Crystal Sphere could account for the tremendous drain on both Weaves.”
“I agree,” said Mystra. “But what has caused this?”
“It can only have been Lord Ao’s doing,” said Shar. “He created it and surely only he can have removed it.”
“But why?” Mystra wondered. “He put the barrier in place for a reason. Why take it away now?”
“It makes interstellar travel by spelljammer possible,” Shar suggested, “although impractical. It would take centuries to reach another star at spelljammer speeds.”
“And thus such a journey would be pointless,” said Mystra. “I cannot imagine that it could be the reason for Lord Ao’s action.”
“He moves in mysterious ways,” said Shar, “and rarely, if ever, explains his motives to us.”
“He rarely communicates with us at all,” Mystra agreed. “This time, though, we should have received notification in advance. The humans use the stars for navigation. The Crystal Sphere portrayed the stars as they were tens of thousands of years ago. Their positions have changed beyond all recognition and all existing star charts are now useless. The northern star that guides sailors is no longer there. No doubt another has taken its place – but to recognize it, and to chart anew the constellations that will point to its location, will be a task that will take astronomers many nights.”
“And in the meantime sailors on the Trackless Sea will have no accurate way of measuring their position,” said Shar. “I feel it is our duty to help them.”
“The duty of the gods, certainly, but not specifically of ourselves,” Mystra said. “It does not fall within either of our portfolios.”
“Perhaps not,” Shar said, “yet I shall aid nonetheless. Umberlee is capricious and oft uncaring of her worshippers. I shall go and stir her into action.”
“In that case,” Mystra said, “I shall do the same with Valkur the Mighty. Simply drawing the problem to his attention will suffice; he will not need further urging to do his duty.”
“Shaundakul would be of great help, too,” said Shar. “It must be you that calls upon him; he would spurn any request I made.”
“You do him an injustice, I think,” Mystra said, “but it is true that he would respond more quickly to an approach from me. I shall go to him immediately after I have spoken to Valkur.”
Shar frowned and bit her lip. “I hate to say it but Selûne, who is the patron of those who navigate by the moon, could also do valuable service.”
“That is true,” Mystra agreed, “and, indeed, stars come under her portfolio. I will speak to her, too, although I feel more like shouting at her and possibly slapping her across the face.”
“Send Azuth in your place,” Shar suggested.
“Good idea,” Mystra said. “I shall do that, and also send him to Deneir.”
“God of Cartography,” Shar said. “Yes, he would certainly be of help. I’ll get Eilistraee.”
“I wonder,” Mystra mused, “if this could be some sort of test Lord Ao is giving us, to see if we really aid our worshippers in a crisis?”
“It seems a rather drastic way of going about it,” Shar said, “but, if it is a test, we shall not fail.”
“I’m a failure,” Sharwyn moaned, staring at the table, which remained obstinately empty of vindaloo, rice, and naan bread. The original meal conjured by Giles had been eaten over three hours ago, some of the group were in the mood for second helpings, and Sharwyn had attempted to duplicate Giles’ feat but with a total lack of success. “I can do magic, I can play music as well as anyone in the Realms, and I should be able to work bardic magic. Yet I played the song exactly as you did earlier and absolutely nothing happened.”
“You’re not English,” Spike pointed out.
Sharwyn glared at him. “Neither is Storm Silverhand. What’s that got to do with it?”
“I believe Spike may have pinpointed the problem,” Giles said. “The song begins ‘Where on Earth are you from? We’re from England’ and that is what you sang. Yet you are neither from Earth nor from England. You need to make the song your own.”
Sharwyn cocked her head to one side. “I see what you mean. But ‘Neverwinter’ wouldn’t scan.”
“Then you must find something that will,” Giles advised, “and that is appropriate for you.”
“Hmm.” Sharwyn grimaced and ran her fingers over her guitar strings. “You mean, something like ‘Where’s this Earth that you’re from?’ Something like that? And, for me, let’s see… Neverwinter, the Sword Coast, the… Faerûn! I’m from Faerûn!”
“I believe you may be getting somewhere,” Giles said. “Now try it in the song.”
Sharwyn nodded. “I shall. Shar, guide my hand.” She drummed on the fingerboard of her guitar and then began to chant.
“Where’s this Earth that you’re from?
I’m from Faerûn
Where you come from
Do you put the kettle on?
She carried on through the song, hesitantly at first but with growing confidence as she went on, and was rewarded by the appearance of a tray of vindaloo and accompaniments.
“A Heroes’ Feast!” she exclaimed. “I did it! A spell that I cannot cast in the normal way. I am truly a bard at last.”
“Congratulations,” Giles said, followed by most of the others. Korgan merely grunted and began to stuff himself with curry washed down with copious quantities of beer.
“Tomorrow I shall try my hand at the same spell,” Viconia declared. “I fear that tonight I am in no condition to work magic.” She had been drinking steadily since their return from Bodhi’s lair and had neither become significantly drunker nor sobered up. “Spike, ussta’chev, I want you to take me to bed now.”
“Hang on a tick, love,” Spike said. “I’ve only just started on this curry.”
“But I want to make love now,” Viconia said. “Do you value food more than my willing body?”
“’Course not, love,” said Spike. “Just give me a minute.”
Viconia batted her eyelashes at him. “Dos shlu'ta vith uns'aa wun ussta bunjiro ka dos daewl,” she invited, her voice a husky purr.
Dawn, Tara, and Sorkatani all went bright red. Buffy looked at her sister, frowned, and glared at Viconia.
“I’ll have to learn to speak Drow,” Buffy said, as Viconia led Spike off toward the bedrooms. “It would be pretty useful if we went back to Ust Natha, and it could be pretty handy in a fight if we could call out to each other without the other side knowing what we were saying, but mainly I’d like to learn it for another reason. I want to know if I need to smack the Chosen of Shar upside the head for saying – whatever that was – in front of Dawn.”
“Well,” said Tara, “I’d have to say that the answer to that question is a definite ‘Yes’.”
• ‘Nindol z'klaen tlu natha wussrun'wa!’ = ‘I must be dreaming!’
• ‘ussta Quar'valsharess’ = ‘My Goddess’
• ‘Usstan satiir alur taga tenu’ = ‘I feel better than alright’
• ‘Usstan tlun Detholusin’ = ‘I am Chosen’
• ‘Lu'usstan talinth usstan tlun shee'lot’ = ‘And I think I’m drunk’
• ‘zra’ha’ = ‘mentor’.
• ‘Dos shlu'ta vith uns'aa wun ussta bunjiro ka dos daewl’ = Viconia is inviting Spike to do something that was illegal in several US states until 2003.
Disclaimer: Song lyrics used come from ‘Crash and Burn’ by Savage Garden and from ‘Vindaloo’ by Fat Les, with some alterations to fit the circumstances. They are used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.