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Tabula Avatar Book 2

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This story is No. 4 in the series "The 'Tabula Avatar' Universe". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy and the Scoobies are doing well in Faerûn. They have friends, lovers, wealth, status; returning to Sunnydale no longer seems important. But they have enemies too, and events in the real world now pose an even more deadly threat to their existence.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Dungeons and Dragons > Baldur's Gate(Current Donor)SpeakertocustomersFR1828188,5762625583,2858 Nov 067 Sep 08Yes

Chapter One

Disclaimer: the characters in this story 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, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use.

Banner by Pythia.

Tabula Avatar banner by Mythic Historian

Jaheira smiled as Viconia joined her at the table where she broke her fast. The drow girl wore no armor, her hair was tousled, and her eyelids drooped.

“You seem more weary than before you went to bed,” Jaheira observed. “Did you find pleasure in Spike’s arms?”

Viconia lowered herself carefully into the chair. “Pleasure is but a poor word for the rapture that I experienced,” she said. “It was as if I was unmade and made again. I have known the attentions of pleasure slaves, who knew that they would taste the lash if they did not give me satisfaction, yet their efforts were as naught compared to what Spike did only out of desire to give me joy. In return I sought to please him, more assiduously than any ssins d'aerth*, and in so doing I felt great delight. Truly is it said ‘l'alurl faerbol zhah mrann d'ssinss’*, for to have him sheathed within me was better by far than had I been presented with a Girdle of Storm Giant Strength.”

“I could almost feel envy,” Jaheira commented, “but Spike does not inspire feelings of desire within me. A friend, yes, but I would not wish for more.”

“Your attentions are directed elsewhere, I know,” Viconia said. She reached out for a piece of fruit. “Giles is not unpleasing to the eye, and is most pleasing to the ear, but I find Spike much more to my taste.” She paused with the fruit halfway to her lips and sighed. “When he tilts his head to one side and runs his tongue across the tip of his teeth it sets a flame in my loins. Rather would I see that look upon his face, and know that it was directed at me, than see the city of Menzoberranzan before me and know that it was mine to rule.” She bit into the fruit and chewed.

“You love him, then?” Jaheira queried.

Viconia’s forehead creased. “Love is not an emotion with which I am familiar. I can with certainty say only that I feel affection towards him as well as lust. Great affection and much lust.” The creases faded and a smile came to her lips. “My vithanna obsul is bruised and swollen and yet even now I yearn to feel him within me once more.”

“Have you then worn him out?” Jaheira asked.

“He sleeps,” Viconia confirmed, “and yet he rises at the merest touch. I left the bed that I might preserve some vestige of control and not surrender myself totally to him. Also,” she helped herself to a second piece of fruit, “I hunger greatly for food.” She ate the morsel and then resumed the conversation. “And you?” she asked. “Did you take Giles to your bed last night?”

“I did not,” Jaheira replied. “We but talked. He told me of his world, of the woman he loved there who was cruelly slain, and of many marvels that can be found there. In return I recounted to him some tales of the history of this world with which he was not familiar. I would have taken him to bed had he shown such desire,” she confessed, “but the time was not right. Yet we did share a kiss before parting and it filled me with yearning. I am smitten indeed. I worry, however, that he does not feel the same way.”

“How could he not, abbil? He may wear lenses of glass to improve his sight but he is not blind.”

Jaheira raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “You are kind, abbil, but you flatter me excessively. I am well aware that I am no great beauty. My face may not frighten the horses in the streets but I shall never have men swooning in my wake.”

Viconia tilted her head to one side and her eyes narrowed. “Your beauty is not that of a simpering maiden, true, but a man of experience would see it. If you wish my advice, however, the braids do not suit you. A year ago, when you wore your hair loose, you were more appealing to the eye.”

Jaheira shrugged. “They are the fashion.”

“Not where Giles comes from,” Viconia pointed out. “And do we not set our own fashions now? We wear the undergarments called ‘bras’ created by Anya, and hats of a pattern created by Willow, and half of the jalin of the city now do the same. Let your hair hang loose, abbil, and by this eve Giles shall be running his fingers through it and pulling your mouth to his. And then moving on to… other places.”

“Oh, Viconia, you are as bad as Anya,” Jaheira said, with a roll of her eyes. “There is more to a relationship than sex.”

“True,” Viconia conceded, “but it is the best part.” She looked around the room. “I take it that Anya and Xander lie yet abed after a night of passion, as usual, but where is everyone else? Does Buffy writhe in simulated ecstasy under Anomen? Has Yoshimo overcome the awe in which he holds our jabbress and paid successful court to her?” Her forehead crinkled. “And has Minsc gone out for a brisk walk, perhaps in the company of Dawn?”

“Your guesses are wide of the mark,” Jaheira informed her. “Most of the others have already risen, broken fast, and gone out into the city. Giles will spend the morn at the library of the temple of Oghma. He is not good company when his nose is in a book and I decided not to accompany him. Sorkatani and Yoshimo have gone with him, as has Nalia. Xander has a task to perform for the Order of the Radiant Heart and has gone to their headquarters in the company of Anya, Buffy, and Anomen. Willow and Tara have gone shopping and Dawn went with them.”

“Where, then, is Minsc?” Viconia enquired.

“He lies yet abed after a night of passion,” Jaheira replied, her eyes twinkling.

“You jest, surely?” Viconia shook her head. “His heart is given only to his hamster.”

“Listen to my tale. There was romance in the air yester eve, following Giles’ performance,” Jaheira said, “or perhaps merely lust.”

“Sex and drugs and rock and roll, as Giles would put it,” Viconia commented.

“Indeed. Although there was no indulging in the stupor of Black Lotus as far as I know,” Jaheira said. “But sex, yes. Korgan retired to his room with a pair of halfling maidens and they are there yet.” Her nose wrinkled. “Foolish girls. The attraction can only have been the music.”

“The hargluk is lewd of manner, devoid of courtesy, and has warts upon his face,” Viconia agreed. “He is a skilled performer upon the drums, however, and played his part well last night.”

Jaheira grimaced. “I prefer not to think about it. I will move on to the others. Buffy and Anomen were engrossed in each other, of course, but I do not know if they spent the night together or apart. They were breaking fast when I arose.” The twinkle returned to her eyes. “Ensure that you have neither food nor coffee in your mouth, for I have news that will surprise you greatly.”

“Indeed?” Viconia’s eyebrows rose.

“I was not jesting when I spoke of Minsc’s night of passion. He did not spend the night alone,” Jaheira revealed, “and I do not refer to Boo.”

“Usstan orn tlu vithus!”* Viconia exclaimed in surprise.

Jaheira gave her a dry smile. “You already have been.”

Viconia laughed. “Your knowledge of the drow language improves, abbil. Go on. Who was it? Not one of our party, I think.”

“True. A waitress of this establishment set her cap at him and our ranger succumbed to her charms. And ample charms they are too.”

“The retlahgoruth one with the big arlyuren?” Viconia cupped her hands in front of her breasts. “Spike commented favorably upon her… assets… and I was displeased. It is good that her attentions are directed elsewhere. And I am pleased for Minsc. I have grown fond of the big waeles. It is not good for a jaluk to be intimate only with a hamster.”

- - - - -

Jonathan whistled. “Man, that Viconia is one hot chick,” he commented. “Looks like we missed some hot action last night. Although, looking in on them doesn’t seem right these days, you know? Like, they’re people we know, so it would be kinda, well, creepy. Not like watching porn.”

“I get what you mean,” Warren agreed. “I’m good with letting what they do behind closed doors stay behind closed doors.” He bit his lip. “Uh, how much of a real person would you say Viconia is these days?”

“Like, totally real,” Jonathan said. “Just listen to her, dude. We could be listening in to a couple of the girls on campus talking about guys and it wouldn’t be that much different. Well, apart from the drow bits, and the hamster.”

Warren chuckled and then his face turned serious again. “So, she’d pass the Turing Test?”

Jonathan’s eyes rolled. “Like there was any doubt?” He twitched his mouth from side to side and looked up at the ceiling. “I would kinda like to go in there and talk to them myself, you know. I’d do it for real only I’m worried about what would happen to my body while I was in there. I mean, if I woke up, and Amnesia Me ended up as, like, a different person the way Joan and Randy and Rupert and the guys have. And it’s a dangerous world in there and I don’t know if I’d cut it with just my magic bone. But it would be cool.”

Warren nodded. “Yeah. Uh, maybe if we could keep your body sedated?” He shook his head. “No, bad idea. But you agree that she’s a real person?”

A deep crease appeared between Jonathan’s eyebrows. “Well, duh. Totally real. I don’t get how the magic has worked that way, it’s like way more than we expected, but you can’t deny that it has. What’s with the question, dude?”

Warren shifted in his seat. “Joan doesn’t think the game characters are real people,” he said.

“Like what’s that got to do with anything?” Jonathan shook his head. “Some people think the Apollo moon landings were faked. I would have thought that Joan was smarter than that, but hey, I guess she hasn’t seen that much of the characters compared to us. If she’d seen them talking just now she’d have changed her mind. But so what, anyway? What does it matter if she thinks they’re real people or not?”

“She…” Warren began, but his voice trailed off without completing the statement. Jonathan tilted his head to one side and looked at Warren with his eyebrows raised. Warren clenched his teeth and squirmed. “I guess it’s kind of a secret.”

Jonathan’s eyebrows remained raised. “If it’s to do with the game world I don’t see how it can be any kind of secret between you and Joan,” he pointed out. “It’s nothing to do with her. Well, apart from her original memories being in there, I guess, but she says that she doesn’t want them back. The game world is all ours. I did the spells, you did the code, and Andrew summoned the imp that sniffed out the crystal for us. What’s it got to do with her?”

“She’s unhappy about Spike and Buffy not being a couple in there,” Warren revealed. “Uh, she thinks it’s kinda wrong.”

“So? What does she expect you to do about it?”

Warren’s mouth twisted. “She kinda wants me to fix it.”

“Fix it? Fix what? I don’t get what you mean. Get them together? There aren’t any LoveTalk variables for Spike and Buffy that we could change with Shadowkeeper. Everything like that is all grayed out or gone completely. There’s not a damn thing that we can do to change anything.” Jonathan’s eyes narrowed. “What does she want you to do, Warren? I kinda get the idea that it’s something bad.”

“She wants me to get rid of Viconia,” Warren confessed. “And Anomen. She thinks that maybe Buffy and Spike will get together if the game-world characters aren’t around to mess things up.”

“Get rid of Viconia? What do you mean, ‘get rid of’?” Jonathan’s eyes narrowed. “Are you telling me that Joan wants you to, well, kill them?”

Warren shifted his weight from one buttock to the other and looked down at his hands. “Uh, yeah. I guess so. Well, no guessing, ‘cause she said it right out. But she doesn’t know what she’s asking.”

“But you told her to go take a hike, right?”

“Not exactly,” Warren said. “I, uh, kinda let her think that I would do it.”

Jonathan sucked in his breath. “You can’t do that! It would be, like, murder.”

“I know.” Warren’s hands came up and fluttered in front of his chest like confused bats. “You don’t have to tell me. I know that Viconia’s a person now. I don’t know how, but she sure is, just as much as anyone who got born the usual way. Only Joan doesn’t see it like that. She’s not even a gamer. I guess she thinks it’s pretty much the same as killing off a character in a TV show. Nobody really gets hurt.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not the same at all,” Jonathan stated. “I won’t let you do it, dude.” His lips closed in a tight line, his chin jutted forward, and his eyebrows descended low over his eyes.

Warren clasped his hands together. “I’m not gonna do it, man, don’t worry. I don’t even know how I could. The console commands don’t do jack to the party characters these days. I could spawn the Handmaiden of Lolth, ‘cause she’d go right after Viconia, I guess, or maybe beam in Keldorn, but she never goes anywhere alone that I’ve noticed so somebody else would get mixed up in the fight anyway.”

“You were thinking about it,” Jonathan accused.

Warren sucked in his upper lip and bit it. “Yeah, I thought about it,” he admitted. “Joan was pushing pretty hard, and I owe her, and I’m kinda thinking about maybe going to Rupert about a loan, and everything would just be so much easier if Joan’s on side.” He raised his eyes and met Jonathan’s stare straight on. “But I’m not gonna do it.”

“I’ll hold you to that, dude,” Jonathan said.

“Sure thing, man,” Warren said. His shoulders slumped. “I don’t know that I could even kill Anomen. He’s a jerk, yeah, but maybe not so much of a jerk now. I guess Buffy’s good for him.” He drew in a long breath. “I was thinking maybe, if they died and the others couldn’t raise them, we might not reload from a save game. That wouldn’t be…” He lowered his eyes to avoid Jonathan’s gaze.

A deep crease appeared on Jonathan’s forehead and he chewed on his lower lip. He was silent for a long moment before he spoke. “I guess I could live with that,” he conceded. “If Buffy – I mean Joan – is pushing you. You’re right. It wouldn’t be the same.”

Warren straightened his shoulders. “It would take the heat off, yeah, and let me stall,” he said. “It might never come to it anyway. They’ve raised all the NPCs who’ve died so far. Reloading is pretty much a last resort.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said. He quirked an eyebrow upwards. “You said something about going to Rupert for a loan. What’s with that?”

Andrew walked into the room at that point. He didn’t speak and the other two paid him no attention.

“The money’s kinda running low,” Warren said. “Those extra hard disks and the rest of the upgrades have kinda eaten into our funds. It’s not like we’re desperate but it would be neat if we had some spare cash. Like, if I get anywhere with Katrina, being able to take her out somewhere nice would be good.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan agreed. “Uh, I got a date with Lisa at the weekend…”

“Hey, that’s great,” Warren said. “Don’t worry about the money, dude. We’ll get by.”

“What’s that about money?” Andrew asked.

Warren turned. “Oh, hi, dude. Have you finished that rewrite yet?”

“All done,” Andrew said. He held out a folder to Jonathan. “Check it out.” He frowned at Warren. “The money, dude. Do we have a problem?”

“We’re not exactly loaded,” Warren said. “Maybe we might have to cut back on the pizzas for a while and spend some time eating with our folks.” His mouth twisted. “That means putting up with some bitching about me dropping out of college, I guess, but I can live with that.”

“How long will it be before any money comes in from the game?” Andrew frowned and his lips stuck out in a worried pout.

Warren shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, dude. Maybe we could get an advance right now, if we took it to the right people, but I think we’d have a better chance if we wait until we get a rep on the Baldur’s Gate boards from the mods.”

“When can we start uploading?” Jonathan asked.

“Give me a couple of hours,” Warren said. “I just need to check out that the WeiDu installer works with them and then do a bug check.”

“Cool.” Jonathan grinned. “Then I’ll do some pimping on alt.games.baldurs-gate and the other BG groups.”

“About the money situation,” Andrew said slowly.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Warren said. “We’ll get by. Hey, you’ll never guess what we just heard. Minsc got laid!”

- - - - -

Sorkatani laid down a heavy tome and sighed. “This book has told me more about the slaying of liches than I wished to know,” she said. “I am confident now that we can destroy the creatures if we make the proper preparations beforehand. Yet I am troubled.”

Giles laid down the volume that he had been studying and adjusted his glasses. “Troubled? In what way?”

“Beings of great evil they may be, who abandoned their humanity in favor of undeath,” Sorkatani said, “and yet, if they stay within their crypts and harm no one, is it right that I should seek them out and slay them?”

“Hmm. I’d never thought about it from that angle,” Giles said. His brow furrowed. He removed his glasses. “I must admit the moral aspect has me somewhat perplexed. On the other hand spending eternity alone in a crypt doesn’t seem like much of an unlife to me. Slaying such a reclusive lich might count as a mercy killing.”

“True,” Sorkatani agreed. “I think that I shall try to obtain the sword Daystar without conflict nonetheless. I have no great hopes that negotiation would be fruitful but perhaps stealth may serve.”

“I am willing to try,” Yoshimo offered. “I have the Cloak of Non-Detection. Invisibility, perhaps Protection From Undead, and I think that I can succeed.”

Sorkatani smiled. “That would be way cool.”

Giles’ eyes rolled upwards. “Bloody Americans and their linguistic pollution,” he muttered.

“But don’t take any unnecessary risks,” Sorkatani went on. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I will be careful, jabbress,” Yoshimo assured her. “I don’t want to lose me either.”

Sorkatani nodded. “Good. Then we shall go down to the Crooked Crane Inn at the first opportunity and acquire the sword Daystar.”

“Why are you so determined to get that particular sword?” Giles asked. “I’ve seen a description of it and it appears to be a longsword with an elaborate hilt. You like a curved blade and a simple hilt.”

“It’s not for me, it’s for Buffy,” Sorkatani explained. “It was created to use against the Undead. Totally right for the Vampire Slayer. That Blade of Roses that she uses is a good weapon but she could do better.” She put her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “We don’t have much that can harm liches at the moment,” she said. “Only Xander’s Holy Sword and Willow’s staff. Celestial Fury could stun them temporarily, I think, but it can’t destroy them. In Buffy’s hands Daystar would be a fearsome weapon against not only liches but vampires. We’re going to have to fight that vampire woman Bodhi eventually, I know it, and I want the odds to be as much on our side as possible.”

“You believe, then, that there is something exceptional about her?” Giles asked.

“I sense it.” Sorkatani frowned and rested her chin in her hands. “And, after her, I must face Irenicus. The most formidable wizard that I have ever seen. We must have every possible weapon when we go up against him.”

“I take it that you expect him to have escaped from the Cowled Wizards?”

“So my dreams lead me to believe,” Sorkatani said. She lifted her chin. “Summer draws to an end,” she said. “I want us to be on our way before the season of gales is upon us. Let us waste no more time.” Her lips drew back into a rueful smile. “Although no doubt some new quest will present itself, and delay things further, no matter what plans I make.”

- - - - -

“Ettins,” Xander said. “They’re, like, two-headed giants, right? I guess they’re pretty tough customers.”

“Indeed they are,” Sir William Reirrac, a senior Knight of the Radiant Heart, confirmed. “They strike mighty blows and are hard to take by surprise. Yet they should not pose too much of a challenge to you and your friends, Sir Xander, after what you have accomplished already.”

Xander dipped his head slightly. “Uh, yeah, thanks, Sir William. I’ll do my best.”

“The matter of the dispute at Imnesvale may not be as straightforward,” Sir William went on. “However you have certain advantages over the rest of the Order in this case.”

“No family connections with the Baron,” Anya put in, “so nobody can say he’s biased, right?”

Sir William tilted his chin upwards and looked down his nose at her. “That is correct, young lady,” he said in cold tones. His expression warmed slightly as he turned back to Xander. “I bid you farewell, then, Sir Xander,” he said. “Go forth and do your duty for the Order and report to me on your return.”

“I don’t think that he approved of me,” Anya said once the group had left the Radiant Heart building.

“It is not customary for members of the Order to bring their partners when they are being briefed upon their duties,” Anomen said.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Oh? So how come you were all for me coming along?”

“You are an exception,” Anomen told her. “A warrior of quite extraordinary abilities. As one of the leaders of our group your presence was advantageous.”

“And mine wasn’t?” Anya gave Anomen a hard stare.

Anomen lowered his gaze. “Your insights could be valuable,” he conceded, “particularly in the matter of the dispute between the Baron and the commoners of Imnesvale.”

“And you can give us all tips on how to slay giants, right?” Xander suggested. “Seeing as how you’ve done so much of it.”

Anomen’s gaze dropped lower until he was staring at his boots. “In truth I have slain no giants,” he confessed. “My part in the campaign was confined to healing the wounds of the injured.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that out for myself,” Xander said.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Leave him alone, Xan. I knew he was shooting a line the whole time. And hey, at least he’s owned up now.”

“I am sorry,” Anomen said. “Your party was so full of mighty heroes that I was worried that there would be no place for me if I could not claim deeds to match.”

Xander grinned. “Hey, Ahn, you hear that? We’re mighty heroes.”

- - - - -

“They are formidable in the extreme,” Galvarey cautioned. “If you take them lightly you will suffer for it.”

“My father has over four hundred men at his command,” Isaea Roenal reminded him. “The upstart adventurer’s little band will be crushed.”

“And how many of those men are mere peasant levies? Against the Perfect Warrior such men can serve only as a distraction.” Galvarey shook his head. “Have you even two score of hardened veterans? Have you battle mages and warrior clerics?”

“I have,” Roenal said. “My personal guard and that of my father. Experienced fighting men who are a match for any in Athkatla short of the Knights of the Radiant Heart.”

Galvarey snorted. “Humph. Two members of her party have been created Knights. Sorkatani is more than a match for any of the Order and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an even greater warrior. Still, perhaps your men will occupy them long enough for me to get my assassins into position.”

“I will wipe them out,” Roenal claimed. “No rootless adventurer can prevail against a noble.”

“This ‘rootless adventurer’ is the daughter of the God of Murder,” Galvarey pointed out. “She is a killer the like of which you have never encountered, Roenal. Wipe them out, you say? Make sure that you do, for if any escape they will come for you.”

“None shall escape,” Roenal said. “I want them all dead. Most especially the ones called Yoshimo and Anya who caused my humiliation.”

“Good,” Galvarey said. “Hold fast to that thought. Now we must make our preparations. They will be leaving the city soon, I have learned, to carry out a task for the Radiant Heart. It is Sorkatani’s custom to call at the De’Arnise Hold on both her outward and her return journeys. We can make use of that. Send a message to your father. The assault must begin when she is there for the second time.”

“Will your assassins be ready?”

“Certainly.” Galvarey gave a cold smile. “If you do your part I will do mine. There will be no survivors.”

- - - - -

“The bigger they are, the harder I hit. Evil, meet my sword. Sword, meet Evil!” Minsc whirled Lilarcor above his head. The sentient sword’s own battle cry was cut off by the sound of impact as Minsc chopped into the thigh of an ettin. The huge creature toppled as its leg gave way. Minsc followed up quickly and finished it off with a thrust.

Xander spared Minsc a quick grin and then had to devote all his attention to his own defense. Two ogres charged him wielding heavy clubs. He moved quickly to the side so that he faced only one and swung Carsomyr. The Holy Sword severed the ogre’s club arm and it reeled away spouting blood from the dreadful wound. Before Xander could follow up and finish off the wounded ogre the other one was upon him. Its club strike glanced from the gleaming red dragon armor that protected Xander and he took no harm from the blow. The ogre’s body crashed into Xander and it wrapped its free arm around him. The two-handed sword was useless at such close quarters and Xander struggled to free himself. He lost his balance, the ogre pushed forward, and both of them fell to the ground and grappled.

A pair of ettins emerged from behind a hillock. One became engaged in combat with Minsc. The other’s four eyes fell on where Xander and the ogre were tussling and it advanced towards the struggling pair. It raised its huge club overhead and took aim. Xander released Carsomyr and pulled a dagger from his belt. The ogre butted him in the face and the visor only partially protected Xander from the force of the blow. He rolled sideways, saw the ettin’s club looming overhead, and felt a wave of sheer terror.

The blow never fell. Suddenly the ettin was held literally in an iron grip; tied down with battleship chains, fifty feet long and a two ton anchor, and completely immobilized. Xander sent silent thanks to Giles and resumed his death grapple with the ogre. It had the edge in strength and ferocity but Xander was far better armored. He struck with the dagger, was rocked by an answering punch but not seriously harmed, and struck again. Eventually the ogre went limp and Xander freed himself from its grip. He clambered laboriously to his feet, picked up Carsomyr, and stood panting from his exertions.

He could hear Giles singing somewhere nearby and he remembered the ettin. It was still there, wrapped in chains, struggling futilely to free itself. Hastily Xander jogged over to the monster and thrust his sword through a gap between the coils. There was a moment of resistance and then the razor-sharp blade slid home. The ettin screamed and gurgled in its death agonies. Xander pulled the blade free and cursed as a gout of blood spurted forth and splattered his armor.

The strains of ‘Battleship Chains’ died away and Xander heard Giles grumbling in the distance. “About bloody time. I was beginning to feel like a scratched record.” The magical chains around the ettin dissipated into nothingness.

Perhaps too soon. The ettin was still alive, although mortally wounded, and it lashed out with its club. Xander tried to dodge but the blow caught him across the shoulder and sent him stumbling backwards. He managed to stay upright, brought himself to a halt, and he raised Carsomyr. No blow was necessary. The ettin’s arm flopped limply to the ground, the huge fingers opened, and the club rolled free. The two pairs of eyes stared sightlessly at the sky. Xander heaved a long sigh of relief and lowered his sword.

His shoulder was throbbing and he could feel blood trickling down over his chin from a split lip. He concentrated and cast a healing spell on himself. “I nearly forgot that I could do that,” he muttered. Minsc was nowhere to be seen. It was several minutes since he had seen any other of his companions and had no idea of how the battle as a whole was going. The hillock would give him a vantage point, and it was from that direction that he had heard Giles’ singing, and so it was towards the summit of the mound that he set off.

They were in an area of broken ground on the edge of the Umar Hills. Rocky slopes, boulders, low hills and small gorges cut into the rock by fast-flowing mountain streams made the terrain entirely unsuitable for mounted combat. Any thoughts of fighting a formal battle, with organized maneuvers and tight formations, had also had to be abandoned. The ettins’ ability to fling boulders as large as those fired by a trebuchet would make close packed ranks extremely vulnerable. The party, and the half-dozen Knights of the Radiant Heart to whose aid Xander had been sent, had dispersed as soon as the fighting started. The engagement had soon dissolved into a confused mêlée in which little groups of individuals fought their own separate fights.

Fights that now seemed to be coming to an end. Xander saw several of his comrades on the rocky slopes beyond the hummock. None of them had an opponent. Only one ettin was in sight; it was attacking Sir Alymar of the Radiant Heart, and it had the upper hand over the paladin and had forced him to his knees, but then Buffy raced into view and struck twice with the Blade of Roses and her new sword Daystar. The ettin went down like a felled tree. Buffy looked around for other opponents and saw none.

Giles emerged from his hiding place in a clump of bushes and joined Xander. “The battle’s done and we kind of won,” he remarked.

“More than ‘kind of’,” Xander said. “We kicked their asses. But I’m pretty much beat.” He saw Anya and waved to her. She waved back but did not hasten to join him. Instead she continued to search the bodies of the dead ogres, orcs, and ettins for gold and gems. Xander turned back to Giles. “I’ll have to learn to use a lance,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense owning a trained warhorse and still having to fight a battle on foot.”

“I suppose not,” Giles said. “Not that this was really suitable ground for cavalry. I don’t know when another opportunity will arise. You can hardly charge with a horse into a crypt to face a lich, the Planar Sphere entrance seems to be up a flight of stairs, and I doubt if taking the horses with us by ship to Spellhold will really be feasible.”

“You think I wasted my money?”

“Not entirely,” Giles said. “You do need a horse, after all, but perhaps it was a little extravagant of you to purchase that particular animal. A simple riding steed would have sufficed.”

Xander shrugged. “A Honda Civic will get you from A to B but guys still buy Ferraris and Humvees. I’m a paladin with a Holy Sword and a warhorse. In this world that’s pretty much as cool as it gets.” He walked forward and began to descend the far slope of the hummock towards where the other members of their group were beginning to gather together. Giles slung his guitar over his shoulder and followed.

- - - - -

Baron Metrich glared at Xander. “I shall protest against your decision,” he said. “How dare you favor the peasantry against a noble? Prelate Wessalen shall hear of this.”

“Well, duh,” Xander said. “I have to make a report to the Order as soon as I get back to Athkatla. I’ll be sure to tell them all about what a jerk you are.”

“How dare you!” the Baron spluttered.

“You have no more claim to these lands than I have,” Xander went on.

“Less,” Sorkatani put in. “Xander fought against the Shade Lord and the Shadow Dragon. Where were you, Baron Metrich? What men did you send to the fight?”

The Baron flushed. “That has nothing to do with it.”

“Oh?” Anya quirked an eyebrow upwards. “The feudal system works the same way in this world as it did in mine. If you were the Lord here it would be your duty to protect the lands and the tenants. You didn’t.”

The Baron made no direct answer. “I warn you, Sir Xander, you have made a dangerous enemy,” he said. “I have friends in the Council of Six.”

“Yeah. Right. See me not caring,” Xander said. He turned his back on the Baron and walked away to join Minister Lloyd and the other celebrating villagers.

“The Council of Six wear masks so that nobody knows who they are,” Anya pointed out. “You may think that you have friends among them, but you can’t know for sure. Or maybe you’re just lying.” She smiled brightly at the Baron and then followed Xander. Sorkatani and Yoshimo delayed for a moment, staring at the Baron until he lowered his eyes and walked away, and then they turned to join their friends.

Baron Metrich departed from the inn. His squire approached leading his horse and the Baron prepared to mount.

“One moment, Baron Metrich,” a voice called. A hooded and cloaked man stepped out of the shadows at the side of the building and approached. “I would speak with you on a matter of some importance.”

The Baron gestured to summon the pair of men-at-arms who waited for him nearby. They walked briskly to join their master and only then did the Baron speak to the newcomer. “What is it that you want, fellow? I am in no mood for pleasantries.”

“I understand that the judgment has gone against you,” the stranger said. “Sir Xander has sided with the peasantry and your investment is lost.”

“True,” the Baron growled. “I shall have harsh words for the Prelate of the Order of the Radiant Heart. How dare he appoint a commoner to pass judgment in such a matter?”

“Sir Xander has risen quickly to favor,” the hooded man said. “You see he’s rather good at killing monsters, and people too for that matter, and the Radiant Heart needs such men. His friends are even better at it. Sorkatani, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike, Willow, Minsc – all warriors and mages of might and renown.”

“I shall get my revenge upon them nonetheless,” Baron Metrich stated.

“It would be a lot easier if you had allies,” the hooded man said. “Come with me. My master has a proposition that you may wish to hear.”

“Who is your master, fellow? What alliance do you propose?”

“If Sir Xander were to die before he makes his report to the Order then you could demand a new hearing,” the hooded man said.

The Baron glanced around to make sure that none of the villagers were in the vicinity. “True,” he said. “I might indeed be interested in such an alliance. Tell me first, though, what is your name, what forces do you have, and who is your master?”

“My name is Nadinal,” the hooded man told him. “Already we have recruited Lord Roenal to our cause and have an army poised to strike. As to my master, his name is Galvarey.”

- - - - -

The door was thrown open with such force that it crashed into the wall. Warren grimaced and turned away from his keyboard. “Hey, watch what you’re doing, Andrew,” he moaned. He looked towards the door and his eyes widened. His jaw dropped.

It wasn’t Andrew who had entered. It was a woman, young and fairly tall, clad in black fatigues and a flak jacket. She swung a Heckler and Koch MP-5SD in a wide arc to cover the entire room and then brought the weapon up to the high port. “Going in,” she said, and descended the stairs.

“Who – what’s going on?” Warren demanded. His voice sounded high and shrill in his own ears and he fought to control himself. “What do you want?”

Jonathan cringed away. “We don’t have any money,” he said. His eyes flickered towards the computers and his lips twisted.

“At ease,” the woman said. “This isn’t a robbery.” She raised her voice. “All clear, Rye.”

The next figure to enter was Andrew. He was being pushed ahead of a very tall man clad in similar black garb. His lips were trembling and there were streaks of tears on his cheeks. His hands were tied behind his back.

“Uh, Riley Finn, right?” Jonathan said. “Used to date Buffy? What’s going on?”

“Andrew? Are you okay?” Warren asked.

“I didn’t mean any harm,” Andrew quavered.

Riley’s gaze was cold. “Jonathan Levinson and Warren Meers,” he said, “I’m taking you into custody under the powers vested in me under Public Law 107-56.”

“They don’t know anything about it,” Andrew said. “I was just doing a guy a favor and getting some cash out of it, that’s all. We need money and I was just trying to help.”

“Andrew, what the fuck have you done?” Warren demanded.

“He’s involved in the trafficking of contraband sub-terrestrial materials,” Riley said. “Your involvement will be determined after you’ve been interrogated.”

“Interrogated?” Jonathan’s voice was a squeak.

“I’ll handle the suspects, Sam,” Riley addressed the woman. “You pack up the computers.”

“Computers? No!” Warren gasped. “Don’t touch them!” He started to move forward but stopped as Riley cocked a fist and the woman lowered the barrel of her sub-machine gun.

“Interesting,” the woman said. “A strong reaction there. I wonder what I’ll find?”

Riley nodded. “I think we’ve struck gold.” He looked from Warren to Jonathan and back again. “Which one of you two is The Doctor?”

Glossary of Drow Phrases
• ‘ssins d'aerth’ = prostitute
• ‘l'alurl faerbol zhah mrann d'ssinss’ = ‘the best magic item is a lover’
• ‘Usstan orn tlu vithus!’ = ‘I’ll be fucked!’
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