“It’s fine the way you want me on your own
But in the end it’s always me alone…” Giles sang. He was teaching the band ‘My Favorite Game’, by The Cardigans, ready for the performance they were to give before they left the city. Sharwyn was going to take lead vocals, of course, and he’d already taught her the lead guitar part.
“And I’m losing my favorite game,” he continued.
“You’re losing your mind again
I’m losing my baby
Losing my favorite game…”
Sharwyn went as white as a sheet, dropped her guitar onto the stage floor, and fled from the stage. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“Good Lord!” Giles exclaimed. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Oh, vith!” Viconia swore. She laid down her bass guitar with considerably more care than Sharwyn had shown. “You had best leave this to myself and Jaheira, zra’ha. This is no business for a jaluk.”
Viconia and Jaheira hastened after Sharwyn. Anya, her mouth set in a line like a steel trap, followed behind them.
Tara raised her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my Goddess!” she said, and scurried off after the others.
Giles shook his head. “I must be slow,” he said, “but something seems to be obvious to them but I can’t think what it could be. It’s not a cheerful song, certainly, but… ah. ‘I’m losing my… baby’. Oh, dear. I think I’ve rather put my foot in it.”
“What?” Xander said. “I don’t get it.”
“I do not understand either,” said Minsc.
“Pillock,” said Spike. “Why did you have to choose that song?”
“Well, I thought Shar might like it,” Giles said. “How was I supposed to know? Sharwyn didn’t say anything that would give me a clue. Until now.”
Anya re-entered the auditorium. “They don’t need me,” she said. “The others have things under control. Giles, I think we should hold off on going to Suldanessellar for a day longer. That will give me time to track down Sharwyn’s ex-husband and strangle him with his own intestines.”
Math wasn’t really Mielikki’s field and there wasn’t a great deal she could do to contribute to the project. She’d done as much as she could but now, until the other deities came up with some up-to-date star charts that she could pass on to her Rangers and Druids in the wild, they didn’t need her and she was taking a break. She strolled through the corridors of Dweomerheart, going nowhere in particular, and then she heard something that sounded like muffled sobs.
She headed for the source of the sound and saw someone huddled in a corner. The faded grey-green robes gave away the figure’s identity. A goddess who had been an enemy of Mielikki’s for centuries.
“Talona?” she called, as she approached. “Are you alright?”
Talona lifted a tear-stained face. “M-Mielikki,” she said. “Why are you even speaking to me? I’m evil.”
“You are in distress,” Mielikki answered. She conjured a handkerchief into existence and proffered it. “Is there anything I can do? What is the matter?”
Talona took the handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be alright. I’m just a little upset.”
“More than a little, it would seem,” Mielikki said. “What happened?”
“Shar spoke… harshly to me,” Talona replied.
Mielikki’s eyebrows shot up. Shar had always been Talona’s friend and protector. For her to speak so harshly to Talona that the Goddess of Disease and Poison was reduced to tears seemed out of character, especially for Shar’s new charming and friendly persona; was she casting aside old friends in favor of her new ones? That was not an admirable trait in Mielikki’s eyes.
Mielikki sat down beside Talona and, suppressing the revulsion she felt at the other goddess’ pockmarked and scarred appearance, put her arm around Talona’s shoulders. “I’m sure she didn’t mean it,” she said. “A misunderstanding only. Don’t cry.”
“It was the truth in her words that hurt,” Talona said. “I am… not a nice person.” She wiped her eyes again. “You are very kind.”
“I try to be,” Mielikki said, “but sometimes I fall short.”
“Bringing comfort to one who has been your enemy is not falling short,” Talona said. “I would like to mend things between us. I am sorry for the affair of Syrune.”
“I handled that very badly too,” Mielikki said, “as, indeed, did Silvanus. You were only backing your worshippers, as was your duty.”
“Rejecting Syrune’s appeal was no part of my duty,” Talona said, “and I regret it now.”
“It did not end as badly as it might have done,” Mielikki said. “She was judged only False, not Faithless, and she was not condemned to the Wall.”
“Thankfully so,” said Talona. A crease appeared in her forehead, running through one of her scars, and her brows lowered. “Shar says that it is all wrong that the Faithless suffer an infinitely worse punishment than the False. She says that surely to go actively against the ideals of your deity, or to merely feign allegiance and yet ignore the teachings of the faith, is an active betrayal whereas not choosing a deity is at worst a sin of omission and at best can even be a sign of integrity.”
“I agree,” Mielikki said. “I have never been comfortable with the idea of the Wall. Although some of the False do receive severe punishment. Not Syrune, thankfully, for she does not deserve any punishment at all.”
“Indeed so, for I pushed her past all bearing,” said Talona. She lowered her eyes, dabbed at them again, and then looked up at Mielikki’s face. “Mielikki… your compassion toward an enemy has touched me deeply. I would wish to be your enemy no longer.”
“Then so shall it be,” said Mielikki. “We share a hatred of Loviatar, after all, and is it not said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend?”
“That would make many gods my friend,” Talona said, “for Loviatar is despised by most. Yet in the main they despise me as well.”
“That may change,” Mielikki said.
“Talona? Have you been crying? Are you alright?”
Mielikki turned her head and saw Shar, an expression of concern on her face, looking down on them.
“I have,” Talona confirmed, “but Mielikki has comforted me.”
“Oh, Talona my friend, I have made a mess of this,” Shar said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry that I made you cry. It was meant to be just a little friendly advice but it may have come over as if I was scolding you. I should have waited until I could give you my full attention rather than using just a single avatar while the others were doing calculations on star bearings. Please forgive me.”
“It was the truth in your words that hurt,” Talona said. “Of course you are forgiven, dear friend.”
“I am glad,” Shar said, “for you are dear to me.” She turned her gaze to Mielikki and gave her a dazzling smile. “Thank you for your care of Talona,” she said. “I am in your debt.”
“I did only what anyone with an ounce of compassion would have done,” Mielikki said. “I am pleased to find that it was only a misunderstanding, and that you did not truly chastise your old friend, for that would not have been a worthy act.”
“Indeed it would not,” Shar agreed. “I sense that you would have chastised me had I acted thus, and I approve. You have proven yourself to be as honorable, and as compassionate, as I deduced you to be from the character of your clerics Tara and Jaheira.”
“And, I think, you reflect the character of your Chosen, Viconia,” Mielikki replied.
“In that we both have tongues that are sometimes sharper than we intend? Perhaps so,” said Shar. She rested a hand on Talona’s free shoulder. “Are you feeling up to returning to work? Deneir is wondering where you are and complaining because no-one else can multiply large numbers as fast as you can.”
“I’m used to working on a somewhat different scale,” said Talona, “but I am glad to hear that my contribution is valued. Yes, I am feeling better now, thanks to Mielikki, and I will go back to calculating for Deneir.”
“I’ll continue my stroll,” said Mielikki, “for I have little to contribute at this stage. Farewell for now, Shar, and Talona.”
“Farewell,” said Talona, “and again I thank you for your kindness.”
After the other two deities had departed a frown crossed Mielikki’s brow. It occurred to her that Shar might perhaps have manipulated events. She was very clever; had she really made a mess of her prior conversation with Talona or had she deliberately placed the two goddesses in a situation where Mielikki would be confronted with a weeping Talona? It was possible but, Mielikki decided, highly improbable. And even if Shar had set the situation up, after all, perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. Talona was no longer an enemy, it seemed, and Mielikki was a firm believer in the principle that you could never have too few enemies. It would be stretching a point, at this stage, to call Talona a friend but it no longer seemed as impossible an eventuality as it would have done a few minutes earlier. The frown vanished, replaced by a broad smile, and Mielikki resumed her walk.
“Are you sure you’re up to continuing?” Giles asked. “You really seemed quite upset, understandably, and I don’t want to cause you any further distress.”
Sharwyn picked up her guitar and played the riff from ‘My Favorite Game’. “Yes, I want to do this,” she said, “including this song. It will not distress me again; instead it will strengthen my resolve. Once I have gained more combat experience, and learned to utilize my bardic skills for spells more relevant to the task than the one by which I created spicy food, I will, as Anya suggests, strangle my ex-husband with his own intestines.”
“Ah, quite,” Giles said. “If you’re certain…”
“I am,” Sharwyn assured him. “I agree that the song is likely to please Shar and I approve.”
“I didn’t realize you were an actual worshipper of Shar,” Giles said.
“I turned to Shar after… what happened,” Sharwyn said. “She gave me comfort, and gave me the strength to endure, and,” she suddenly flashed a smile, “she even improved my memory. As I have heard Buffy say, ‘What’s not to like?’ I never gained anything from my previous worship of Siamorphe other than a vague sense of superiority to those not of the nobility. Yet why would I be superior to others because of what my great-grandparents did? If I am indeed superior it would be because I can do… this.” Her fingers blurred up and down the guitar frets.
“That is certainly an ability of which you can feel proud,” Giles agreed. “Hmm. ‘You can feel proud.’ That gives me an idea…”
“I had an idea while we were at Cromwell’s,” Buffy explained. “The Crom Faeyr hammer would use up the Hammer of Thunderbolts, the Gauntlets of Ogre Power, and our best Giant Strength belt. What we’d get in exchange would be a hammer that made anyone who held it as strong as Bodhi was after she stole Imoen’s soul. Which means anyone who took it off me would be that strong – and that would really suck. It would mean I wouldn’t dare throw the hammer at anyone and, hey, I like throwing the hammer.”
“Be a wow at the Olympics,” Spike commented. “You’d really stand out beside those Russian birds who look like they were built in a tractor factory.” His remark met the usual blank incomprehension from the Faerûnians but raised a smile from the Earth natives.
“I can certainly vouch for the efficacy of the hammer as a throwing weapon,” Giles said, rubbing his ribs, “but also for the danger it represents if it is retrieved by the enemy and thrown back.”
“Exactly,” Buffy said, “which is where my idea comes in. Nobody can throw Azuredge back at Xander because it’s got that whole return-y thing going for it. And I remembered that we still had an axe we took off that guy in the sewers, the one who wanted to make Dawn into a slave, with the same boomerang enchantment on it. We hardly ever use it so I had Willow and Cromwell move the spell over to the hammer. Neat, huh?”
“Indeed so,” Giles agreed. “I take it that the upgrading of the other weapons was successful?”
“Yep,” Buffy confirmed. “I got an extra level of enchantment put on the Blade of Roses so it can hit major demons. We tweaked pretty much everything else, too.”
Sorkatani flicked Celestial Fury from its sheath. “Willow has enhanced my weapon, already formidable, to be truly a marvel,” she said. “It now bears an enchantment sufficient to smite any foe and the stunning power has been strengthened. And Malakar has been… tweaked, as Buffy called it… too. Willow has achieved wonders.”
“I couldn’t have done it without that book of Irenicus’ we found in the asylum,” Willow said. “Kind of poetic justice that we’re going to be using this stuff against him.” She grinned widely. “But the coolest thing is what we’ve done with Lilarcor.”
“I had noticed that Minsc is not wearing that, ah, loquacious sword,” Giles observed. “I do hope you haven’t sold it. Lilarcor might be rather annoying at times but it – or, rather, he – is a sentient being and deserves to be treated as a member of our party rather than as a possession.”
Willow grinned. “Show him, Minsc,” she said.
The giant Ranger drew the two-handed sword from the sheath at his back. It was the weapon taken from the Demon Knight in the cave beside the Kuo-Toa city in the Underdark. Except that it wasn’t.
“Heya, comrades, waddya think of my new body?” the sword called.
“My word!” Giles exclaimed. “Lilarcor!”
“Yep, it’s me, Lilarcor,” the sword confirmed. “Sharper than ever and ready to hack and slash as soon as Minsc takes me into battle. And the sooner the better. I want to see what I can do in this body. Gimme somebody to hit.”
“It was easier to move Lilarcor’s consciousness over than to add the additional enchantments to his old… body,” Willow explained. “This way he can still give Minsc immunity to Charm and Confusion, he’s got the extra plusses from the Demon Knight’s sword, and it’s got another ability we never really noticed before. Anyone hit by it suffers from blurred vision for the next couple of minutes. Of course when Minsc hits you blurred vision is the least of your problems, which is why we didn’t spot it earlier, but it’s still neat.”
“Indeed so,” said Giles. “Most ingenious. Congratulations, Lilarcor.”
“You could say he’s been born again,” Xander remarked.
“I’m not sure that the original of your analogy applies in this world,” Giles mused, “although, perhaps, one could say that Viconia, for instance, has been born again in that she went through a crisis of faith and came out with it strengthened.”
No-one took any notice of his musings. They were staring at a patch of shadow that was transforming into a humanoid shape. Seven feet tall and winged, with blue hair in a long tight braid, and clad in skin-tight leather pants and a leather jacket. Egeria.
“Deservedly so,” Giles continued, “for a goddess who believes that she has a duty toward her worshippers, and acts accordingly, appears to me to be one eminently worthy of worship.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so,” Egeria said, “and no doubt my Mistress will be equally pleased.”
“My word!” Giles exclaimed, looking up with a start. “Ah, greetings, Lady Egeria. That’s a… new look for you since yesterday.”
“I took the advice of Buffy and Spike,” the Herald of Shar said. “It both looks good and is practical, is it not?” She took a stride toward Sharwyn. “My Mistress has sent a gift for you, songstress,” Egeria said. Even her voice had changed since the previous day; the hesitancy had gone and she spoke with self-confidence and clarity. “That you would be willing to sing a song that you believe would please her, even though it brings up painful memories for you, has impressed her. Normally she would wait until after you died before showing her appreciation but you are due to play in the concert that she will use as the music for her party. She would, therefore, much prefer it if you didn’t die just yet. This might help prevent that eventuality from coming to pass.”
Sharwyn took the proffered object and her brow furrowed. It was a black wooden cylinder, probably duskwood, some nine inches long. “Forgive me for asking, my Lady,” she said, “but… what is it?”
Buffy sniggered, Willow managed to hold herself back from doing the same, and Tara blushed.
“I know what you’re thinking and I seriously doubt it,” Anya said to them. “At least one of the ends would need to be more rounded. The way it’s shaped could be… painful.”
“Hold it out, away from your body, and with the ends pointing to the sides,” Egeria instructed. “Then say ‘grow’.”
Buffy sniggered again.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “It’s me who’s the teenager, Buffy,” she said. “What are you, twelve?”
Sharwyn, her eyebrows high, held out the black cylinder and, as Egeria had instructed, called out “Grow!” The black rod transformed. It grew to two feet in length and, from its ends, two gleaming blades of matching length extended.
“Shiny!” Buffy exclaimed. “What is it?”
“An Uthgardt Double-Sword,” Sharwyn answered. “The Uthgardt barbarians are neighbors of Neverwinter, and often we have fought them and at other times fought in alliance with them, and their weapons are well known to us. It’s not considered to be a noble weapon, of course, and that is the very reason why I chose to learn its use.” She spun the weapon in a circle, slashed left and right at imaginary opponents, and ran through a thrust and withdrawal. “I make no claim to be a master with the Double-Sword but I am skilled enough not to slice open my own legs or skewer my stomach. With this I will be able to pull my weight on our expedition and not be a liability. I thank you, Lady Egeria, and ask you to convey my thanks to our Mistress.”
“I will,” said Egeria. “The command word for it to return to its small form is, of course, ‘Shrink’. The enchantment upon the blades is basic; ‘Plus One’, as I believe Xander has termed it. If you desire it to be more powerful you must arrange that for yourself.”
“I can do that,” Willow said. “We still have plenty of enchanting components left. We were going to offer Sharwyn her choice of our spare weapons anyway.”
“This will serve all my needs,” Sharwyn said. “I am… less incompetent with a Double-Sword than with any other weapon.”
“You under-rate yourself,” Jaheira commented. “Your form in those maneuvers was perfectly acceptable. I assess that, taking into consideration the unusual nature of your weapon, you would have little difficulty in defeating the average man-at-arms or orc.”
“Thanks for saying so,” Sharwyn said, “but I have little practical experience.”
“That will come,” Jaheira said, “and when it does it is training and practice that will see you through. The techniques required would seem to resemble those of the quarterstaff and the two-handed use of a spear, modified by the shorter length available for the grip, and I believe that practice with me would prove valuable to you.”
“If you are offering then I accept gladly,” Sharwyn said, “although my music practice with Giles must take precedence.”
“Of course,” Jaheira agreed, “but I am willing, when there is time.”
“I’m guessing you’ve come for another martial arts lesson,” Buffy said to Egeria.
“If this is a convenient time, Sensei,” Egeria said. She bowed to Buffy.
Buffy laughed. “You’ve taken the whole dojo thing on board pretty well,” she said. “When you can take the pebble from my hand it will be time for you to leave.” Egeria looked blank. “Sorry, a pop culture reference from my world,” Buffy said. “Sure, I can spare some time. A couple of hours, anyway, then I’ll have to start getting ready for my second date with Artemis.” She gazed at Egeria with slightly narrowed eyes. “You don’t move the same way you did yesterday and your stance has changed a whole lot. I’d say you’ve gotten used to your new strength. That was quick.”
“The T’ai Chi exercises helped greatly,” Egeria said. “I believe that I am ready to learn some practical combat techniques today.”
“It’s traditional to start by learning how to fall without getting hurt,” Buffy said, “but I’d guess your wings can take care of that. Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you get the leather jacket on over your wings?”
Egeria grinned. “Isn’t it obvious? Magic.”
“It’s a kind of magic…”
For this song the limelights were shrouded, plunging the stage into darkness, and Faerie Fire had been cast on the band members. Then, when Sharwyn went into the lead guitar passage, Willow cast Dancing Lights centered on the guitar. The magic was nothing out of the ordinary, well within the capabilities of apprentice wizards or druid acolytes, but its use in this context was completely new to Faerûn. The members of the audience were awestruck.
Giles permitted himself a small smile of satisfaction. This farewell concert, before they set off to battle Irenicus, was proving to be the best performance he had done in Faerûn so far. Sharwyn was an amazing guitarist and excellent singer, as she had already demonstrated, and her dulcimer rendition of The Battle of Evermore had turned out to be just as big a hit as he had predicted. Perhaps the biggest source of improvement, however, had been the incorporation of Viconia playing bass guitar. She wasn’t anywhere near Geddy Lee or Jack Bruce levels of skill yet, of course, but it was surprising how much even adequate bass playing added to the music. It really made it rock. And the light show was the final touch. Yes, a very satisfactory performance.
“And now, our final number for tonight,” Giles announced, as Sharwyn set down her guitar and picked up an instrument resembling a flute, and Viconia stepped forward to take up the lead vocal role. “This one is called Proud.”
“It’s a kind of magic…” Mystra sang. “I loved that. I see now why you value their music so highly.”
“I especially liked their last song,” Vhaeraun commented. “What have you done today to make you feel proud…? An admirable sentiment. Our people could do worse than to live by it. If Giles does not come up with a suitable song dedicated to me I might adopt Proud as my new anthem. Too long have the Drow lived without pride in themselves.”
“I think my favorite of the songs performed tonight was the one dedicated to my petitioner Evelintra,” Eilistraee said. “Pride (In the Name of Love). A similar theme, in a way; Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride. A worthy memorial to Evelintra. It is, however, too specific a subject to be my official hymn.”
“I’m sure he’ll produce something special for both of you,” Shar told them. She shrank down the viewing crystal, from beach-ball size down to that of a tennis ball, and teleported it into a cupboard. “He’s already working on it. And, from the snatches I overheard, a renewal of pride will be a theme of both songs.”
“I look forward to hearing them,” said Vhaeraun.
“I think we can all feel proud of what we have achieved these past two days,” Mystra said. “Workable star charts, and instructions on how to find the new North Star, produced and distributed to almost every ship not in port and to scores of travelers in the trackless wastes and deserts. We may have saved hundreds of lives. And passing copies on to the Mulhorandi pantheon, and the Celestial Bureaucracy of Shou-Lung, gained us much prestige in their eyes and left them owing us a favor. Definitely a job well done. And it is you, Shar, to whom the credit is due.”
“You over-rate my contribution,” Shar said. “Deneir, Vaikur, Umberlee, and Talona did the majority of the hard work.”
“It was your idea in the first place,” Mystra pointed out, “and you were primarily responsible for putting the team together and making sure that we all co-operated. That you managed to get Umberlee and Vaikur to speak civilly to each other was a major achievement in itself. And only you knew that Talona is a skilled mathematician.”
“Talona has been my friend for centuries,” Shar said, “and so of course I know her well.” She stood up. “I should get back to work,” she said. “Now that the crisis is over I can return to my other tasks. The first priority is to complete the rewriting of my dogmas to reflect my changed priorities and my new alliances and friends.”
“I must engage in a similar task,” said Eilistraee. “My worshippers have been allied with my Wicked Stepmother’s forces up to now. I cannot allow that to continue after… her treacherous actions. And we must bring my people and my brother’s together after long ages of hostility.”
“I shall do my part,” said Vhaeraun, “and any of the clans who refuse to accept the new state of affairs will find that their priests receive no spells. I think it will not take them long to come around.” A smile lit up his face. “Actually, I think my commands will meet little resistance. I cannot imagine that there will be many males who are unwilling to work alongside pretty females who are renowned for their habit of wearing no clothes.”
Eilistraee flashed a smile in return. “They only dance in the nude under the new moon, or the full moon, and at celebrations,” she pointed out.
“I think my followers can live with that,” said Vhaeraun. He rose to his feet. “Well, if Shar is going to be working, I suppose I should go,” he said. “I had hoped that perhaps she might be in the mood for… something other than work… but it appears I am out of luck.”
Shar’s eyes twinkled. “Perhaps I could be persuaded to… postpone my duties for a time,” she said.
Eilistraee shot to her feet. “I’ll be off, then,” she said, sounding as if she would have been blushing had that been possible for a Drow. “I’ll be back tomorrow to begin Egeria’s swordplay lessons. Farewell.” She teleported out and a noise like the crack of a whip sounded as air rushed into the vacated space.
“I’ll leave now too,” Mystra said, her tone one of amusement rather than embarrassment. “Have fun.”
“We will,” Shar assured her. “Farewell!”
As soon as Mystra had teleported away Shar and Vhaeraun raced each other to the bedroom. The result was a dead heat.
Artemis Entreri entered Buffy’s room in a hesitant fashion that would have amazed those who knew him as the cool, confident, master assassin. “You are sure that your friends will not object?” he asked.
Buffy shook her head. “Even if they did it would be none of their business,” she said, “but they wouldn’t anyway. They like you. And, hey, that’s pretty unusual. Xander always hated Angel, everybody hated Parker, Spike hated Riley, and everybody and their dog couldn’t stand Anomen.” She closed the door behind him. “But they like you. Yay, go us.”
“The idioms of your world are very strange,” Artemis said, “but I will take that as a sign of encouragement.”
“It was,” Buffy said, and then added, as Artemis made no actual move, “but you’re not acting on it.”
“I am unsure of how to act,” Artemis admitted. “You are so different from any other woman I have… spent time with. In my line of work I mix primarily with the criminal classes and the women I meet are mainly… of ill repute. I am unused to the company of respectable ladies.”
“I’m a Vampire Slayer,” Buffy said. “I doubt if that counts as a respectable profession for a lady. And you’ve been treating me right so far on our dates. Just keep doing what comes naturally.” She moved closer. “It’s traditional to start with a kiss.”
“Are you sure you’re fit to come on this expedition?” Giles asked. “It’s not like you to be sick.”
“Do not fuss, a’mael, I am in good health,” Jaheira assured him. “I have cast Cure Disease and Neutralize Poison on myself, as a precaution, but I feel fine now anyway. It was merely a touch of nausea. Something that I ate last night must have disagreed with me, or my drinks may have been stronger than I thought. Or else,” she said, a teasing glint appearing in her eyes, “it was a reaction to one of the songs in your performance. Now the trees are all kept equal with hatchet, axe, and saw. A distressing sentiment to any druid.”
“It’s an allegory,” Giles explained. “The trees represent two ethnic groups in one of the countries of my world. No trees were harmed during the making of that song, I assure you. Although,” he mused, “the song might be useful as a weapon in the unlikely event that we are ever attacked by Ents, ah, that would be Treants in this world’s terminology…”
“If we are attacked by Treants there will be no need for violence,” Jaheira said. “I will give them a good talking to and resolve the situation without conflict. Now, I am feeling well enough for breakfast. I wonder… could you summon up some of your spicy Vindaloo?”
Buffy counted up the assembled expeditionary force. The usual gang plus Korgan, Sharwyn, Edwin, Nalia, Mazzy, Valygar, Artemis and Jarlaxle, Cernd the Druid, and Sir William Reirrac and Lady Irlana from the Order of the Radiant Heart. Twenty-four in all.
“Everybody ready?” she asked. A universal murmur of assent came from the crowd. “Okay, Will, Imoen, Nalia, Edwin, you are cleared for take-off.”
“What is the undeniably attractive but extremely strange simian talking about?” Edwin muttered.
“We’re what?” said Imoen.
“I mean, let’s go,” Buffy said. “Should I count us down? On three, ’kay? One, two, three…”
A ragged salvo of miniature thunderclaps sounded out as air rushed into the spaces where four groups of six adventurers had stood. The Playhouse auditorium was suddenly empty. Two hundred miles away, slightly to the east of south, four softer and more muffled sounds air being displaced marked the reappearance of the adventurers in a ruined Elven temple.
And, within seconds of their arrival, they found that a score of Drow crossbows were trained on them.
The two Knights of the Radiant Heart snatched at their swords, as did Mazzy Fentan and Valygar; Edwin raised his hands ready to cast a spell; Nalia did both, drawing her short-sword with her right hand and positioning her left to begin the gestures of a warding spell; and Sharwyn, for the first time in earnest, uttered the command word and expanded her Double-Sword to its full six-foot length.
“Stop!” Buffy yelled. “Nobody start anything! These are our friends.” None of those who had visited Ust Natha had made any move to draw weapon.
“Ugulur dost sythyrren!” Viconia shouted to the Drow. “</i>Nindolen ph'abbilen</i>.”
“Usstan rothrl, Ilharess,” a male drow acknowledged. He un-cocked and lowered his crossbow, as did most of the rest of the Drow guard contingent, and those who were slow to comply had their weapons pushed down by the others.
“Ve’dui, Kellin,” Viconia greeted the male drow, who she had had no difficulty in recognizing as he was one of the House De’Vir survivors and, indeed, a second cousin of hers. “Vendui, Briz’baste.”
A round of introductions followed. Buffy was relieved to find that most of the Drow guard detail spoke the Common Tongue; Sorkatani, Spike, Tara, Dawn, and Jaheira were chatting happily in fluent Drow, as of course was Viconia, but her own knowledge of the language was restricted to the few phrases the group used in their everyday speech. Something she had resolved to rectify, in the future, but at least she could communicate.
“We didn’t expect you to be occupying these ruins,” she said to Briz’baste, Second-in-Command of the Ust Natha Female Fighters’ Society and in charge of the guard detail, “otherwise I’d have warned the new guys. We thought you’d be in the tunnel down below.”
“We thought it wise to maintain a presence here,” Briz’baste explained, “lest the Darthien block up the gateway to the Underdark in our absence. I suspect they would be only too pleased to seal us off and forget that we even exist. Also,” she continued, her voice taking on a tone of reverence, “we discovered an eroded inscription in these ruins that we believe confirms an ancient legend. This may well have been the place where Valaderion died.”
“Valaderion?” Buffy queried. “Who was he?”
“A Darthiir of the Sy’tel’quessir,” Briz’baste replied. “A worshipper of Shevarash.”
Buffy hissed. Viconia had told her what the Elven god of Hatred of the Drow had tried to do to Eilistraee. “Shevarash, huh? So, what, you want to dance on his grave?”
“Certainly not,” said Briz’baste. “Quite the reverse. We would celebrate his life and mourn his passing.”
Buffy’s eyebrows shot upward like a 16th-Century Chinese mandarin in a rocket-propelled throne. “Can I say, huh?”
“Five thousand years ago,” Briz’baste related, “Valaderion entered the Underdark to retrieve the Bow of the Black Archer, captured by our people when they slew the mortal Shevarash, and preserved as a trophy. Valaderion was a ranger of supreme skill and a mighty warrior. He outmaneuvered us in our own domain, and slew many Drow, and at last he made his way by stealth to the Temple of Lolth and took the prize that he sought.”
Buffy’s eyebrows remained at an altitude far higher than that to which the late Wang Hu had been propelled by his forty-seven rockets. This didn’t seem the sort of exploit that a Drow, even an Eilistraeean like Briz’baste, would celebrate.
“Then, on his way back to the surface,” Briz’baste continued, “he found his path barred by Beholders. Ancestors, perhaps, of the ones that you slew. They attacked him, and he fought, and then he discovered that he did not fight them alone. The Drow maiden Kiralasha, a rebel who had fled the city, also was under attack by the Eye Tyrants. His first thought was to slay her, or to leave her to be slain by the Beholders, but that would have left him alone against fearful odds and so he aided her instead.”
The other conversations were dying away. Everyone, even those Drow who had heard the story before, was engrossed in Briz’baste’s tale.
“They fought side by side against the Beholders,” Briz’baste went on, “and drove them off. Once more Valaderion thought to slay the Drow girl, and indeed Kiralasha thought to slay him, but then they saw that the Drow had sent a whole army to block the route to the surface. The only way out lay through the realm of the Beholders and whichever slew the other would surely perish in battle against overwhelming odds. They made truce and, together, fought their way through the tunnels of the Eye Tyrants. Long and perilous was the way and, as they strove side by side, they came to respect each other, then to trust each other, and then, eventually, they fell in love.”
Buffy heard Tara go “Aah”, in an ‘isn’t that sweet’ kind of way, but her own thoughts were different. Buffy somehow couldn’t see this being the sort of story where the two lovers had a white wedding, and a thousand years of happily married life, before dying naturally surrounded by adoring great-great grandchildren.
“Valaderion could no longer follow the precepts of Shevarash,” Briz’baste related, “and he abandoned the worship of his god. Yet he was a man of iron honor and he had vowed to return the Black Bow to the temple. Therefore, once they had reached the surface by an exit far from here, they made their way through the forest to this place. Kiralasha hid, lest the Shevarash-worshippers slay her, and watched as Valaderion returned to the temple.”
“Oh, crap,” Buffy muttered under her breath. “Not good.”
Briz’baste paused and her throat moved as she swallowed hard. “The instant Valaderion entered the temple Shevarash struck him dead,” she said. “Kiralasha… pined away, and eventually went insane, and faded to become a Skre’tcha.”
“A Banshee,” Viconia translated for the benefit of the non-Drow speakers.
“Kiralasha passed on her story to the followers of Eilistraee, before she went mad,” Briz’baste said, “and we have preserved it for five thousand years as a lesson in the power of love. So, too, have the worshippers of Shevarash… but they take a very different moral from the tale.”
“That… totally sucks,” Buffy said. The others voiced similar expressions.
“It does, as you say, suck,” Briz’baste agreed. “Now that I know you are a human, Qilafae, I understand how it is that you use such unusual idioms. They are strange to our ears yet undeniably colorful and vivid.”
“It’s nothing to do with her being human,” Sorkatani put in. “Qilafae – Buffy, in our tongue – hails from a land exceedingly far away and her idioms are as strange to us of the Sword Coast as they are to you. But we have become used to them and often find them slipping into our own speech.”
“It is odd that… Buffy… no longer speaks Drow but you do,” Briz’baste remarked.
“It was the spell that gave me the language,” Buffy explained. “Once I went back to looking like this I forgot it. Sorkatani – Dynefryn – and a few of the others had learned Drow from Viconia but I never did. I’m going to make an effort to learn it now. I’d like to come back to Ust Natha for a visit some time, after we finish with Irenicus, and speaking the language would make things a whole lot easier.”
“You would be welcome,” said Briz’baste, “especially if Gelfein will play more of his songs.”
“Of course, I would be delighted to do so,” said Giles. “And my real name is Giles. First, however, we must deal with Irenicus.”
“Have you slain Bodhi?” Kellin De’Vir asked.
“We have,” Giles confirmed. “Viconia sacrificed her to Shar.”
“Shar be praised!” Kellin said. “Zarbalan is avenged. But Irenicus bears an equal share of the guilt. He must die too.”
“You won’t get any arguments from us on that score,” Buffy agreed. “After what he did to us… we’re going to terminate him with extreme prejudice.”
“We would be happy to assist you in that endeavor,” Briz’baste offered. “According to General Durgloth three hundred and eighty Drow, mostly of House Despana, accompanied Irenicus into the Darthiir city. So, too, did some fifty oura errdegaurren and a dozen mighty war golems. Worst of all they were joined, as much to the consternation of our troops as theirs, by an ancient black dragon. Nizidramanii’yt, the terror of the forest, devourer of darthien and ilythiirien alike. Irenicus cast his webs wide.”
“What are Our-a Hurdy-Gurdies?” Buffy asked. “It sounds like you’re quoting the Swedish Chef.”
“Rakshasa,” Viconia translated, as Briz’baste frowned in bafflement. “Like the one that we fought in the maze at Spellhold.”
“Fearful odds,” Briz’baste went on. “We could contribute warriors to your cause, if you wish. Give me two hours and I believe I could raise at least five hundred.”
“All of House De’Vir would stand with you, for a start,” said Kellin.
Buffy shook her head. “Thanks, but it wouldn’t be a good idea,” she said. “There are two thousand five hundred Elves between us and the Elven city. We’d just be kick-starting the war all over again.”
“And, even could we avoid that, the people of Suldanessellar would not greet another band of Drow as liberators,” Sorkatani added. “We will abide by our original plan and enlist the aid of the Elves. Two Drow is probably as many as they will tolerate. They have met Viconia, and her presence is essential in any case, and Jarlaxle should be able to talk his way through.”
“Yeah, he could talk the hind legs off a donkey,” Buffy agreed.
“And persuade it to go for a walk afterwards,” Spike put in, bringing one of those ‘Nerdy Brit cultural reference here’ chuckles from Giles in response.
“He should be able to convince the Elves he’s harmless,” Buffy went on.
“Mostly harmless,” Spike added, again bringing a chuckle from Giles.
Of course, Buffy knew, believing that Jarlaxle was harmless was a good first step toward waking up naked and penniless, in the middle of a forest, and handcuffed to a bear. But that was the Elves’ problem and, hey, see her not caring. “Anyway, thanks for the offer, but we’ll pass,” Buffy said. “And it’s been super nice catching up with you but we’d better be going. We’ve a long way to march. This was the closest place to Suldan-whatever we could teleport to but it’s not exactly next door. Oh, before we go; has Chaldiira had her baby yet?”
“Not yet,” Briz’baste answered, “but it will be soon. She stays within her House now for it is close to the time.”
“Well, pass on my good wishes,” Buffy said, “and to Talabrae, Nathrae, Qilué, Vlondril, and everyone else we met.”
The others chimed in with similar messages, Dawn putting the young girl Akorynrae at the head of her list, and Briz’baste acknowledged them.
“Before you go,” Briz’baste requested, “I would ask a boon. Would Gelfein – Giles – perform one more song for us?”
“Ah, indeed that story you told brought a song to mind,” Giles said, “and I would be happy to perform it for you, if time permits.”
“Three minutes one way or another isn’t going to make any difference,” Buffy said. “You might as well play it, Giles.”
“Normally the song is five minutes long, actually,” Giles said, “but the first two verses aren’t as appropriate and I think I’ll start with the third. I haven’t taught this one to Viconia or Sharwyn yet and so it will be a solo performance.” He took out his guitar. “It’s about love between people from communities hostile to each other and it’s called ‘Through the Barricades’.” He played an introductory passage and then began to sing.
“Born on different sides of life
But we feel the same and feel all of this strife
So come to me when I’m asleep
We’ll cross the lines and dance upon the streets
And now I know what they’re saying
As the drums begin to fade
And we made our love on wasteland
And through the barricades
Oh, turn around and I’ll be there
Well there’s a scar right through my heart but I’ll bare it again
Oh, I thought we were the human race
But we were just another borderline case
And the stars reach down and tell us
That there’s always one escape
Oh, I don’t know where love has gone
And in this troubled land desperation keeps us strong
Friday’s child is full of soul
With nothing left to lose, there’s everything to go
And now I know what they’re saying
It’s a terrible beauty we’ve made
So we make our love on wasteland
And through the barricades
And now I know what they’re saying
As our hearts go to their graves
And we made our love on wasteland
And through the barricades…”
• ‘jaluk’ = ‘male’
• ‘Ugulur dost sythyrren’ = ‘Lower your crossbows’
• ‘Nindolen ph'abbilen’ = ‘These are friends’
• ‘Usstan rothrl, Ilharess’ = ‘I obey, Matron Mother’
• ‘Ve’dui/Vendui’ = ‘Greetings’ (informal and formal versions)
• ‘Darthiir/Darthien’ = ‘Surface Elf/Surface Elves’
• ‘Sy’tel’quessir’ = ‘Wood Elves’
Song lyrics quoted in this chapter are from ‘My Favorite Game’ by The Cardigans, ‘It’s A Kind of Magic’ by Queen, ‘Proud’ by Heather Small, ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ by U2, ‘The Trees’ by Rush, and ‘Through the Barricades’ by Spandau Ballet. They are used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.