Giles’ forehead was furrowed with deep creases of concentration as he pondered his task. “Dancing in the Moonlight
would seem, on the face of it, to be appropriate,” he mused, aloud but only for his own benefit, “but somehow it just doesn’t have the right vibe. The same with Let’s Dance. Dancing in the Dark
, perhaps? A Dance Called
… wait a minute! Am-er-i-ca… Eil-is-tra-ee… Am-er-i-ca… Eil-is-tra-ee... dum da-dum dum dum dum dum da-dum... ‘They did a dance called Eilistraee…
’ Yes, that works – or would ‘for Eilistraee
’ be better? Hmm. And, now I think about it, there are significant parallels between the Clearances and the Descent… That could be it! Now, what shall I have to change? ‘The landlords came
’ isn’t relevant to the Drow. ‘The Sun Elves came
’? ‘The Crown Wars came
’? I think I need to consult with Viconia on this.”
“You have an idea, then, Master Giles?” Sharwyn asked.
“Indeed I have,” Giles confirmed. “I believe I have found a suitable song to play for Eilistraee. I will have to do some rewriting of the lyrics, I fear, but it should not be too big a task. I can start teaching you the tune straight away.” He idly strummed out some chords. “And Sharwyn, as I’ve said before, please don’t call me ‘Master’. If you must call me something other than ‘Giles’ then I suggest the Drow term ‘Zra’ha’, meaning ‘Mentor’, that Viconia uses for me.”
“As you wish, Zra’ha,” said Sharwyn. She gave a note-perfect rendition of the chords Giles had played. “Is that it?”
“Part of it,” Giles said. “I’ll run through the rest in a little while. Hmm. The version on ‘Heartland’ begins with a keyboard section. Perhaps we’d better go with the live version.”
“Keyboard?” Sharwyn queried.
“An instrument played by pressing down keys to produce the notes,” Giles explained. “Modern ones are electronic, ah, that’s a way of producing sound that can’t be reproduced here, but originally they worked by controlling air being blown through tuned pipes.”
“Ah, a zulkoon,” Sharwyn said. “I play the zulkoon.”
“Indeed so. I also play two different types of bagpipe, the shalm, the shaum, the glaur, the dulcimer, the harp, the longhorn and the songhorn, the lyre, the lute, bandore, and mandolin, and the tocken. And the drums, too, with perhaps more precision but less verve than Korgan.”
“My goodness,” said Giles. “I had no idea you were so multi-talented. That opens up a whole range of possibilities. Hmm. The Battle of Evermore
would be well suited to the dulcimer…
His musings were interrupted by the return of the shopping expedition. Everyone wore beaming smiles; in normal circumstances smiles on the faces of the male members of the party would have indicated only relief that the shopping trip was over but this particular trip to the merchants had been the only kind of shopping that men would enjoy; shopping for weapons. Well, shopping for electronic gadgetry or for cars would fall into that same category, back on Earth, but weapons were the only equivalent boys’ toys here in Faerûn.
“Good news, everyone!” Xander announced, doing his best imitation of Professor Farnsworth from ‘Futurama’. It was wasted on most of the others but Willow and Tara cracked smiles and Dawn actually chuckled. “We’ll be good to go the day after tomorrow, in the morning, with our weapons upgraded, our armor patched up, and Willow all chock-full of magic-y goodness. And the extra gear we’ve picked up covers the whole cost and more. We came out of it with a profit.”
“Excellent news indeed,” Giles agreed, “especially as I’ve just spent five thousand danter on new musical instruments and will be spending more shortly.”
“Hmm,” said Anya. “Would that come under weaponry, entertainment, or propitiating the gods?”
Giles raised a hand from his guitar and, out of habit, adjusted the position of imaginary glasses. “All three categories, I’d say,” he said. “Yes, very definitely, all three.”- - - - -
“…Whatever it is that girl
Put a spell on me
Giles sang the last line of the verse and then watched as Sharwyn, Viconia, and Korgan continued with the instrumental passage. Korgan was a competent drummer with a good sense of timing – which, together with his strength, explained why he was a formidable axe-wielder – and it was easy to teach him the correct rhythm for each new song. Viconia had a good ear for a tune, dexterous fingers, and – perhaps due to her worship of the goddess who had Memory as one of her domains – learned very quickly. And Sharwyn… was a marvel. Not only did she have perfect pitch, and fingers that could move from chord to chord too fast for the eyes to follow, but she had a genuine feel for music and could improvise to go beyond what Giles showed her. The only female guitarist Giles knew of who might possibly match Sharwyn was Charlotte Hatherley of Ash – indeed he could think of only a handful of male guitarists in Sharwyn’s league. She was doing full justice to the Hendrix lead part and Giles was content merely to listen for the moment.
And then a disturbance in the Playhouse dragged his attention away from the music. A shadow, in a corner of the auditorium, was growing and changing shape. The other members of the adventuring party reacted at once. Those who were sitting stood up and armed themselves. Buffy and Sorkatani, who were practicing unarmed combat, stepped apart and went for their weapons. Celestial Fury was in Cromwell’s workshop, being upgraded, and so it was the lesser katana Malakar that seemed to leap into Sorkatani’s hand. Buffy drew the Blade of Roses and raised it ready for instant action. Giles didn’t move; his best weapon, the guitar, was already in his hands.
The shadow took the shape of a human figure, larger than life-size, and then fully materialized as a beautiful young woman. A seven-foot tall young woman with wings.
“Good Lord!” Giles exclaimed. The other band members looked up, saw the woman, and stopped playing. Korgan dropped his drumsticks and produced his axe; Viconia drew out the Flail of Ages.
“Uh, hello,” said the winged woman. “I, uh, come in peace.” She had extremely pale skin, almost as white as milk rather than pink, and her hair was blue. Her hesitant speech, and the shy smile that came to her lips, reminded Giles very much of Tara when she had first met the Scoobies.
Buffy lowered her sword. “And you would be?” she prompted.
“I am Egeria,” the winged girl replied, “Herald of Shar. Or at least I will be her herald when I finish my training. I’m not quite ready to take on the role yet.”
The Blade of Roses went back into its scabbard. “Oh, yeah, she said she’d be sending you for lessons,” Buffy said. “I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer – but I guess you already know that.”
“Well met, Buffy,” said Egeria. “Uh, if this isn’t a convenient time I could come back later. It’s convenient for me, because my mistress is rather busy dealing with the problems caused by the disappearance of the Crystal Sphere, but I wouldn’t want to impose upon you.”
“No, this is fine,” Buffy said, “and I’d be free tomorrow too, but after that we’re heading off to kick an evil wizard’s ass and we’ll be pretty much tied up with that for a while.”
“Oh dear,” said Egeria, her intensely blue eyes widening. “Isn’t that rather cruel? Surely, if the wizard has injured you, you should wreak your vengeance upon him directly rather than inflict pain upon an innocent donkey.”
Giles burst into laughter, as did Spike, and Buffy pouted.
“The wee lassie’s nae talking aboot a donkey,” Korgan explained. “She means kick the wizard’s bum.”
“The speech of our friends from California is full of idioms strange to our ears,” Sorkatani said, “but colorful and vibrant nonetheless.”
“I… see,” Egeria said. “I take it that you are Sorkatani? Are you also willing to assist with my training?”
“Sure, no problem,” Sorkatani replied. She gestured toward the open space in the auditorium that she and Buffy were using. “Come and join us.”
Egeria stepped forward, out of the corner, and her head collided with a scenery arch. “Oops!” she exclaimed, as the arch wobbled and began to topple. She snatched at it but a piece broke off in her hand and the wooden structure crashed to the floor. “Oops!” she repeated. “I’m so sorry. I’m six inches taller than I was yesterday, and three times as strong, and I’m afraid I’m not used to it yet and I’m being dreadfully clumsy.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll fix the damage,” Xander offered.
“Ah,” said Giles, “I think that practicing martial arts in your present condition might be rather hazardous for your practice partners. Perhaps we’d better postpone this for a while.”
Egeria’s face fell. “You’re right, of course,” she said. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
“No, wait,” Buffy said. “You could do T’ai Chi. That would be safe and, hey, it would help you get the hang of your upgrades.”
“T’ai… Chi? I do not know what that is.”
“It’s an exercise system based on martial arts,” Buffy explained, “or you could say it’s a martial art that incorporates an exercise system. It’s, like, slow and graceful movements that help you learn precision and balance. Then, later, they form the basis for the combat moves.”
“An excellent idea, Buffy,” Giles said. “It would be an ideal starting point for, ah, Egeria. I will leave it in your hands as T’ai Chi is one area in which your technical knowledge surpasses mine.”
“Yeah, I learned it mainly from Angel,” Buffy said.
“Never did understand how he managed to pick it up during the Boxer Rebellion,” Spike commented. “The locals were more interested in using their Kung Fu on the foreign devils than teaching it to them.”
“Maybe he learned it in Chinatown,” Xander suggested. No-one else paid any attention to Spike’s remark.
“So, you up for it?” Buffy asked.
Egeria tilted her head to one side. “Your speech is, as your companion said, strange to my ears,” she said, “but if you are asking if I would like to learn this ‘T’ai Chi’ then the answer is yes.”
“Cool,” Buffy said, confusing Egeria further. “Come over here, preferably without knocking over anything else, and we’ll get started.”
“I think I will join them,” Sharwyn said, laying down her guitar and crossing the stage. “I too desire to learn combat skills from Buffy and, with another beginner there, this would seem to be the ideal time to make a start.”
“Oh, sorry, I hadn’t meant to interrupt your music practice,” Egeria said. “What I heard, as I entered, was intriguing. I have not heard the like before save for when my mistress sang to me, as we were imprisoned together in Selûne’s dungeon, and she told me that those songs were ones that you had brought to this world. I was rather hoping that you would continue to play.” Sharwyn hesitated and looked back over her shoulder at Giles.
“That particular song would be rather distracting as the background to T’ai Chi exercises,” Giles said. “I’ll play something different, gentler and more appropriate, instead. Go ahead, Sharwyn, the T’ai Chi will make an excellent foundation for your combat lessons too.”
“Very well, zra’ha, I will set aside the music for the time being,” Sharwyn said, and she continued on her course and joined the other girls. Dawn, too, placed herself with the group.
Giles could hardly prevent himself from breaking into a chuckle as he observed the range of heights. Buffy was a fraction over five feet tall, Sorkatani an inch and a half taller, Dawn had grown to about five foot six, Sharwyn was around five foot eight, and then there was the enormous jump to Egeria’s seven feet. It was almost as if they were model figurines manufactured in three different scales. He watched, successfully holding his amusement in check, as Buffy showed the others the starting position and then moved on to the T’ai Chi form called ‘Parting the wild horse’s mane’. Once they had begun the exercise, copying Buffy’s movements, Giles began to play the song that Egeria’s arrival had suggested to him. Another Hendrix number but very different from ‘Purple Haze’.
“Angel came down from Heaven yesterday
Stayed with me just long enough to rescue me
And she told me a story yesterday
About the sweet love between the moon and the deep blue sea
And then she spread her wings high over me
She said she’s gonna come back tomorrow…
”- - - - -
“I’ll need some time to adjust to being this height,” Bodhi said. “I always wanted to be taller but suddenly being five foot eleven, when I’ve been five foot nothing for centuries, is a little disconcerting. It will be a while before I can adapt my combat techniques accordingly. And that’s not even allowing for me having wings now. I hope you’re not going to send me straight off to battle before I’ve gotten used to my new abilities.”
The Erinyes recruiter laughed. “Don’t worry, you’ll spend the first month learning the principles of Contract Law and how to subvert them, and you’ll have plenty of time to get accustomed to your new body shape before you’re required to enter combat. We’re used to devils being in new bodies – although you’re the first, as far as I know, to go straight from mortal form to being an Erinyes. Usually it’s lower devils who get promoted who face the problem. You should do well in the Law course; I don’t think anyone else has ever negotiated such favorable entry terms as you did.”
Bodhi shrugged her shoulders. “I wasn’t trying to engage in sharp practice. It just seemed logical to me. I have four hundred years experience with sex and violence, sometimes both at the same time, and it would be a shame to waste it; both from my point of view and that of your employers. Doing it this way benefits both me and the Legions of the Hells.”
“I agree,” said the recruiter, “otherwise I’d never have gone along with it. However let me warn you that you’d better hold up your end of the deal. If you let us down you’ll make me look bad – and any punishment that I incur will be passed on to you a thousand times over. That’s a promise.”
“I understand,” Bodhi said, “but you needn’t worry. I’ll stick to the deal as we agreed it. In fact I expect to enjoy it.”
“I hope you’re not planning on seeking revenge upon the people who killed you,” the recruiter went on. “That kind of misuse of your position wouldn’t be looked upon well at all.”
“Don’t worry,” Bodhi said, “I don’t intend to do anything of the kind. Buffy and Sorkatani beat me, Buffy’s clone beat me, and then Buffy and Sorkatani and their crew killed me. I’ve learned my lesson. The only way I’ll go after them is if your organization orders it and I sincerely hope that they won’t do that. I’ve no intention of seeking vengeance and I’d be more than happy if I never set eyes on them again.”- - - - -
“I’ll come back tomorrow, as the song says, if that will be convenient for you,” Egeria said. The T’ai Chi session had finished and the group members were sitting drinking tea or coffee, depending upon preference and nationality, and eating gingerbread. Egeria was handling her teacup with as much care as if it was an eggshell filled with nitroglycerine and, so far, had not broken anything.
“Sure thing,” Buffy said. “We won’t be doing anything except waiting for Cromwell to finish working on our armor and weapons. The next day we head out to… kick wizard bodily parts that might share a name with donkeys but definitely aren’t cute and innocent beasts of burden voiced by Eddie Murphy.” Egeria’s brow furrowed. “Sorry,” Buffy added. “I really should stop making with the Earth pop culture references while you’re around.”
“I bought the DVD of Shrek
a week before we were transported here,” Tara commented. “I suppose the other versions of us, back in Sunnydale, must have it now.”
“Well, I hope they enjoyed it,” Buffy said.
“Of course they will have done,” Anya said. “A lively and entertaining fairy-tale with humor, action, romance, and a total absence of evil bunnies. What’s not to like?”
“That whole thing with there being clones of us back in Sunnydale is kinda weird,” Willow said. “Or, hey, maybe we’re the clones. That might make more sense, I guess, when you think about it.”
“Xander Harris, class clone,” Xander said, raising a chuckle from the original Scoobies but from no-one else. “Or it could be like what that Toth guy and his staff thing did to me and we’ve been split into our good halves and our not-so-good halves.”
“If Warren’s involved it’s more likely to be robots,” Buffy said. “I thought the Buffybot was way too wrecked to be repaired but, hey, Warren was pretty much a genius like that.”
“Bodhi said ‘clones’ plural,” Willow said, “so he must have made robot doubles for the rest of us too. And they must have been good enough to fool Bodhi.”
“The Buffybot fooled you
,” Buffy pointed out, “and didn’t it fool the demons in Sunnydale while I was dead?”
Giles looked sharply at Buffy, studying her face, and was pleased to see that she didn’t show any signs of distress at all when she mentioned having been dead. It would seem that she was, by now, completely over the post-traumatic stress disorder she had suffered following her resurrection.
“The Bot might have fooled some demons, and it was passable as a fighter,” Spike said, “but it wasn’t the Terminator. It wouldn’t have stood a bloody chance against Bodhi and her crew. The versions of us in Sunny D dusted Tanova, Vicki’s nephew, and that paladin girl you were accused of killing, and chased Bodhi back here. If King Nerd Warren is capable of making robots that can beat that bunch, well, he’s the genius to end all geniuses. I’d go with the clone explanation.”
“So are we the clones, or are we the originals?” Anya wondered.
“Does it matter?” said Buffy. “It’s not like we’re gonna get into a big argument with the other versions about who gets the bed, the TV remote, and the credit card. As far as I’m concerned we’re the originals and that’s that. And, you know, I feel a whole lot better now I know that there’s someone – robots or clones or whatever – back in Sunnydale doing the Slayer’s job well enough to have gotten rid of an enemy as dangerous as Bodhi. If they’re managing okay then I don’t have to feel guilty or worry about what might be happening in Sunnydale without me there. I can relax and enjoy being here. Although I wouldn’t mind going back just for one day to go shopping.”
“I’d buy myself a battery razor,” Xander said. “I can’t get used to the razors they have here. I cut myself half the time and it’s too much of a waste to use up a Cure spell or a Lay On Hands on a little nick.”
“Tampons,” Anya said. “A Bag of Holding could probably hold a lifetime’s supply.”
“Hmm,” said Giles, “it would be very useful to be able to go back and purchase a Yamaha or Casio portable keyboard. The possibilities…”
“I was thinking more of clothes and shoes,” Buffy said. “Especially underwear, after Tanova disintegrated my only bra with actual elastic in the straps.”
“I should get new clothes,” Egeria remarked. “This…” she indicated the long black gown, trimmed with purple, that she wore, “is only a temporary measure, to replace the blue dress that was compulsory wear when I served Selûne, and I gave no thought to style but simply changed the hue to match the colors of Shar. Yet now it does not please me.”
“Black leather,” Spike suggested. “Can’t go wrong with black leather.”
“Hey, he’s actually right,” Buffy said, “although it has to be by accident. With your legs tight black leather pants would look totally amazing.”
“And a black leather jacket,” said Spike, “maybe with a purple shirt.”
Buffy’s brow furrowed briefly and then she smiled. “Yeah, that would work,” she agreed. “As long as the purple shirt was on the bluish side of purple, ‘cause otherwise it would clash with your hair and eyes, and, hey, not one of those shirts with frilly sleeves like some of the people here wear.”
“I will think on what you suggest,” Egeria said. “I have learned much today, and not just the T’ai Chi. Your mentions of your world, even the parts I did not understand, were fascinating. Tell me, what are ‘robots’?”
“Golems,” Buffy said, “only crafted well enough that some people mistake them for real humans.”
“Uh, technically those would be androids,” Willow said.
“Whatever,” Buffy said. “Anyway, we don’t know how to get back to Earth, I’m happy to stay here even if we did know how, so there isn’t any point in talking about it any longer. So, Eggy, how about you come back tomorrow after lunch? That work for you?”
“That would be perfectly satisfactory,” Egeria replied. “This has been… a most refreshing experience. For one thousand six hundred years I was a servant of Selûne, thinking myself greatly honored in that role, and never did I get the chance to grow and develop. I see now that I was a slave in all but name, existing only to serve Selûne’s will, and she had no interest in me as a person at all. My defection to Shar has been… greatly liberating. I now realize what I have been missing for all of those centuries.”
“Shar danced with me,” Dawn commented. “She was real nice.”
“Indeed so,” Egeria agreed. She sighed. “When I was a human High Priestess of Selûne I preached the dogma I had learned, that Shar was cold and cruel, hateful, and evil beyond all measure, and I believed what I taught. Yet when I first met her she was calm and reasonable, seeking to make peace and asking nothing more than an acknowledgment that there had been faults on both sides, and it was the mistress I had served all my existence who was spiteful, vindictive, and treacherous. And now that I have taken service under Shar I have found her to be kind, friendly, and courteous. She treats me as if I were her equal, phrasing her commands as if they were requests, and acts in the same fashion toward all her other servants save for those that are mere automatons devoid of personality. And she regards being a goddess as a job, requiring her to fulfill her responsibilities toward those who worship her, whereas Selûne treated it as a right and a privilege with her worshippers as mere minions under her control.”
“Yes, Shar spoke to us about her job as the Goddess of Loss,” Giles said.
“At this very moment,” Egeria went on, “Shar is working hard, coordinating the other gods, as they work to provide sailors with new star charts in the wake of the disappearance of the Crystal Sphere. She had to cajole some of the… less dedicated deities into joining in and I am afraid that my former mistress refused absolutely to co-operate. I feel ashamed, now, to think that I served her for so long without recognizing that she was unworthy. The signs were there always, had I but given thought to them; I had more smiles and kind words from Eilistraee and Eldath, on the occasions of their visits to the Gates of the Moon, than ever I did from my own goddess.”
“Eilistraee is a worthy goddess indeed, charming and kind without being weak,” Viconia agreed, “and I revere her second only to my divine mistress Shar.”
“You mentioned the Crystal Sphere before,” Giles put in. “I take it that it is, or was, a globe encompassing this solar system? With lights set into it to represent the stars?”
“That is correct,” Egeria confirmed. “Lord Ao put it into place, thousands of years ago, to seal off the system to which Toril belongs from the worlds which circle other stars. There are certain portals that enable one to travel here from other planets, of course, but such a journey was impossible by spelljammer. But now the Sphere has vanished, gone without trace, and the skies are in confusion. In all the time that the Crystal Sphere has been there the stars have not changed, save when new stars were set into the Sphere to signal great events, but now it is gone and we see the real stars far beyond. And they have moved, in those thousands of years, so that they form no patterns that are recognizable. The charts by which the sailors reckon their courses are useless now. No-one even knows which star shows the true North.”
“My word!” Giles exclaimed. “That must be extremely alarming for them.”
“Indeed so,” Egeria agreed, “but my mistress is working hard to ensure that no harm comes to the sailors.”
“When did it happen?” Sorkatani asked.
“Yesterday,” Egeria answered, “at the very moment that my mistress summoned her Chosen into her presence and sent her avatar to speak with you.”
“She said that she felt a disturbance in the Force,” Viconia said. “So, it was the destruction of the Crystal Sphere that she felt?”
“It was,” Egeria confirmed.
“Hey, it couldn’t have been anything we did, could it?” Xander said. “I mean, we staked Bodhi, and she had stolen the essence of a god, and she’d just traveled through a portal between worlds. It’s crazy, I know, but the crazy keeps happening around us.”
“Nah,” Spike said. “Can’t see it. This Sphere thing must have been bloody enormous if it held a whole solar system, right?”
“It was truly immense,” Egeria said. “I understand that it took the light of the sun over four and a half hours to reach the Sphere. It takes only some eight minutes to reach Toril.”
“No way could you stuff enough energy into one poxy vampire bitch to blow up something that sodding huge,” Spike said. “Got to be coincidence.”
“Two things I don’t believe in are coincidences and leprechauns,” Buffy said.
“Why do you not believe in leprechauns?” Egeria asked. “They are stealthy, and avoid the eyes of humans for the most part, yet I assure you that they are real.”
“Oh. Right,” Buffy said. “Uh, maybe this Crystal Ball thing was stolen by leprechauns.”
“Such a feat is immeasurably beyond the small fey creatures,” Egeria said, “although I concede that they are mischievous enough to have done it had they the means. No, the only being with the power to abolish the Crystal Sphere is He who created it in the first place – Lord Ao. Although even the gods cannot guess what might be His motive for such an act.”
Giles opened his mouth as if to speak but then closed it again with his words remaining unspoken. He had just thought of something else that might have the power and which had been created for the purpose of tearing down barriers between worlds.
The Key.- - - - -
“Terrible sorry, sirs and ladies,” Samuel Thunderburp called from the Playhouse lobby, “but this lady insists on seeing you and she won’t…”
“Out of my way, diminutive innkeeper,” a female voice snapped. “I will not put up with this intolerable situation one second longer than is necessary.” The woman pushed past the halfling innkeeper and advanced down the theater main aisle. “Where is Willow?” she asked, staring at the group and frowning. “I insist on seeing her immediately. It is absolutely imperative.”
Giles studied the woman. She was clad in wizard’s robes, red and embroidered with sigils in gold thread, and her head was shaven completely bald. Despite the baldness, and the piercings she wore through one eyebrow and one side of her nose, the woman was fairly attractive. He had never seen her before, he was certain, and yet she looked vaguely familiar.
Minsc rose to his feet and moved to block the woman’s path. “What do you want with Willow, stranger lady?” he demanded. “You wear the robes of a Red Wizard of Thay, like Edwin, and they are often bad people.”
“A Red Wizard like
Edwin? The obtuse barbarian outdoes himself in stupidity.” The woman glared at Minsc. “Ignorant lummox, do you not recognize me?”
Minsc shook his head. “No,” he said. “I do not know any lady Red Wizards. Or is a lady wizard a witch, even if she is a Red Wizard? I am confused.” His eyebrows climbed. “Wait! Boo says you are…”
“Edwin?” Sorkatani sheathed the katana that she had drawn as the Red Wizard approached. “What happened to you? Did you don a Girdle of Femininity?”
“He’s suddenly shapelier, that’s for sure,” Spike commented.
“My word!” Giles exclaimed. “Remarkable!”
“No, I did not put on a Girdle of Femininity,” Edwin snapped. “Do you think the great Edwin Odesseiron would make such an elementary mistake? I read the Nether Scroll. I took precautions first, of course; I warded myself against Evil and cast Identify. All I learned from that was that the scroll would greatly increase my knowledge, which was exactly what I sought, and so I went ahead and read it. And this happened.”
“Ha!” said Jaheira. “And indeed it has greatly increased your knowledge; for you are one of the few men who truly knows what it is like to be a woman.”
Edwin glowered at her. “I am a wizard
,” he said, in aggrieved tones, “not a gigolo or a bard. I have no need to know what it is like to be a woman. This transformation is not only irritating and inconvenient but it is of no practical use whatsoever.”
“What, are wizards here like the ones in the Pratchett books?” said Spike. “Thought they could shag as much as they liked. Wasn’t that Tolgerias bloke shagging Bhodi? ‘Course he was a vampire at the time, maybe that makes a difference.”
“Khelben Blackstaff is married,” Sorkatani said, “and, if rumor is correct, Elminster has… shagged… hundreds of women. Indeed it is said that he himself was transformed into a woman, for a while, before being changed back by a Netherese mage.”
“Huh!” Edwin grunted. “I suspect it must have been the same mage who scribed the scroll that I read. And, alas, he was a mage more powerful than any of the miserable Cowled Wizards in this city. They charged me five thousand danter merely for a consultation and then said that none of them had the power to help. And they refused to give me a refund.”
“They’re a bunch of jerks,” Buffy said.
“That is putting it kindly,” Sorkatani said.
“Always said they were running their monopoly as a racket,” Spike said. “What this world needs is a Monopolies Commission. Or, better still, two Monopolies Commissions.”
“Quite so,” Giles agreed. “So, Edwin, I take it that you want Willow to, ah, change you back?”
“The bard sees the obvious,” Edwin said. “Yes, of course I do. Sorkatani claimed that Willow is my superior in the arcane arts. If that truly is the case then she should be able to change me back into my proper form.”
“Not necessarily,” Sorkatani said. “She is no specialist in transformations.”
“She transformed a massive stone table into an explosive powder,” Edwin said. “I could not have done that.”
“Actually, it was I who transformed the table,” Giles pointed out. Edwin, who had been with the Shadow Thief party coming in through the side entrance to attack Bodhi’s lair, had missed that part of the battle. “Willow did only the reducing it to powder part.”
“And she’s not here anyway,” Tara added. “Willow and Imoen went to the smithy to make a start on enchanting our weapons and stuff. They’ll probably be pretty tired when they get back. Not up to doing any complicated magic, that’s for sure.”
“But she has to help me!” Edwin wailed. “I cannot stay like this any longer. Do you realize that several men have… made advances to me? It’s absolutely unbearable.”
Spike sniggered. Edwin glared at him. “The irritating vampire finds my situation amusing. Ha ha. I would like to see how he would react if he found that his… male appendage had been replaced by a…”
“Yes, quite, Edwin, we understand,” Giles interrupted. “I believe that I may be able to do something about your situation.”
“You may?” Edwin raised his eyebrows. “Hmm. Bardic magic is a poor substitute for true wizardry,” he muttered, seemingly oblivious to the fact that when he talked to himself he was perfectly audible to everyone around him, “but this bard does seem to be competent at his inferior craft. Perhaps he may be able to cure me of this dreadful affliction.” He reverted to his normal speaking voice. “Well, don’t just stand there; get on with it.”
“You are taking it for granted that Giles will help you,” Sorkatani said.
“Well, yes,” said Edwin. “It is what you and your friends do, isn’t it? Help people?” He frowned. “Does the Perfect Warrior mean that I should pay Giles?” he continued, in his ‘talking-to-himself’ voice. “If so it will be conditional upon results.”
“Payment will not be necessary,” Giles said. “I can make it part of the training that I am giving to Viconia and Sharwyn. However it would have been only polite for you to have asked rather than demanded.”
“Bah! The superfluous niceties that these Sword Coast people insist upon are irritating,” Edwin muttered. He raised his eyes heavenward. “Why can they not recognize my superiority and be compliant without going through unnecessary formalities?” He returned his gaze to Giles. “Well?” he snapped. “Will you help me?”
“Hmm,” said Giles, looking around at the others. “Should I?”
“You might as well,” Spike said. “At least it would shut Edwin up. Or should we call him Edwina?”
“Minsc is unsure,” Minsc said. “Edwin is not a nice man, and he was the enemy of Dynaheir, but he did not harm Dynaheir and he helped us against Bodhi. Boo tells me that he set fire to a vampire who was about to jump on my back. Yes, we should help Edwin.”
“I suppose that I should thank the Rashemi lummox,” Edwin muttered, “or perhaps the hamster, who seems to be the brains of the duo.”
“Yes, Boo is one smart hamster,” Minsc said, with a broad grin on his face.
“I’ve got no objections to helping Edwin,” Buffy said. “The only time I met him was when he helped us against Bodhi. He’s a little manners-deficient but, hey, so’s Spike.”
Sorkatani shrugged her shoulders. “Edwin was Dynaheir’s enemy because he was ordered to be,” she said, “but he never succeeded in doing anything about it. I won’t hold it against him. Go ahead, zra’ha, change him back.”
“I’ll certainly try,” said Giles. “It’s not going to be simple. I take it that you have already tried Dispel Magic?”
Edwin sniffed. “Would I overlook something so obvious? Of course it was the first thing I tried.”
“Then I will have to tailor my song to your specific situation,” Giles said. “Luckily for you I know the very song. I’ll have to amend the words slightly but the lyrics already contain a good foundation on which to work. Altering them to the purpose will not be difficult.”
“Well, don’t just stand there. Get on with it!”
“I’ll need the whole band for this,” Giles said, “which means I’ll have to teach them the song first. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.”
“I am at your disposal, zra’ha,” Viconia said.
“This is rather exciting,” Sharwyn said. “A significant step up from the creation of spicy foodstuffs.”
“Ah’m nae bothered aboot the magic,” Korgan said, “as lang as ah can beat yon drums.”
“The song includes a reasonable amount of drumming,” Giles said. “I think you’ll be satisfied. Hmm. I must remember to teach you ‘Pride of the Summer’ sometime soon.”
“Will you just get on with it?” Edwin began to drum his fingers on the back of one of the Playhouse’s seats.
“Giles knows what he’s doing, Edwin, keep your hair on,” Spike said. “Oh, that’s right, you can’t. You haven’t got any.”
“I will treat the vampire’s remarks with the contempt that they deserve,” Edwin said.
Giles ignored the bickering. “If we were at the Copper Coronet,” he said to the rest of the band, “I’d suggest doing it up on the roof. We’re not, however, and the sloping roof of the Five Flagons is hardly suitable to function as a stage. So let’s do the show right here.”- - - - -
The guards at the gate stared at the two men who sought admittance. “You’re a Drow,” one said, incredulity evident in his voice. “And you want to come into the city?”
“Well, yes,” Jarlaxle said. “Otherwise there would be little point in us presenting ourselves at the gate.”
The other guard took off his helmet and scratched his head. “Well, I suppose there’s no law against it,” he said, “and Lady Viconia turned out to be an asset to the city. Here, wait a minute, you’re not an enemy of hers, are you? Everybody knows the Drow fight among themselves a lot.”
“Far from it, I assure you,” Jarlaxle said. “I hadn’t seen Viconia in nearly a century until we met her, and her companions, in the Forest of Tethir a few days ago. There they saved my comrade from death at the hands of vicious mercenaries. We intend to repay them by assisting them with a vampire problem.”
“You’re too late,” said the helmetless guard. “Lady Buffy, and Sorkatani, and their bunch finished off the vampires yesterday.”
“Did any of them fall in the battle?” Artemis Entreri asked, speaking for the first time.
“Nah, it’d take more than vampires to beat that crew,” said the guard who still wore his helm. “If there’s a better fighter in all of Amn than Buffy the Vampire Slayer I don’t know who it might be – unless it’s Sorkatani.”
“I heard one of them did get killed,” said the bare-headed guard. “The nice priestess lady who gave Sir Keldorn that right tongue-lashing in the market-place after he attacked Lady Viconia. They brought her back, though, no problem.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Jarlaxle said, “but it deprives us of the chance to repay our debt by aiding them in their fight. And they paid us in advance, too.”
“A wasted journey, then,” Artemis said.
“Sometimes I despair of you, my friend,” Jarlaxle said. “A trip to see several pretty girls, who seem to be well disposed toward us, can never be regarded as a waste of time. It shall, then, be merely a social call.”
“I did hear tell that they’re heading off to fight a wizard soon,” said the guard who had doffed his helm. “My cousin told me they were at Cromwell’s smithy getting their armor patched up and their weapons sharpened. And he heard that young lass Dawn singing a song about ‘We’re off to kill the wizard’. Not a bad song, he said, but not as good as the ones what Giles sings.”
“Ah, so our services might still be of use,” Jarlaxle said. “Let us, then, seek them out.”
“You’ll find them at the Five Flagons in the Bridge District,” said the guard who still wore his helmet. “Go straight along here, turn right after you pass through the inner wall, and then turn left at the river and keep going until you find the bridge. You can’t miss it.”
“We shall follow your directions,” Jarlaxle said. “Thank you, good sirs.” A coin changed hands.
“Thank you, sir,” said the recipient. “Welcome to Athkatla.”- - - - -
“I’ll be singing the original words to the first verse and chorus,” Giles explained, “so don’t start panicking because nothing is happening. It’s not meant to. The spell will begin with the second verse.”
“Oh, just get a move on,” said Edwin. “I’m tired of waiting.”
“If I rush it too much things might go wrong,” Giles said. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.”
“What could be worse than my present situation?”
“Well, I could transport you back to Thay while you remained in female form,” Giles warned. “I suspect that you wouldn’t find that an acceptable outcome.”
Edwin paled. “And have my associates and family see me in this condition? Indeed I would not. Very well, then, proceed at your own pace. I will restrain myself from pressing you further.”
“Good,” said Giles. “Okay, one, two, three, four…” He struck the first chord, Korgan hit the drums, and they began to play. Sharwyn’s lead guitar substituted for the electric piano, played by Billy Preston on the original recording, and, as Giles had specified, he kept to the standard lyrics at first. Then, with the second verse, he began the spell.
“Edwin was a man who turned into a woman
,” Giles sang
“But he was a Thayan man.
He read the Nether Scrolls and so he had it coming
But we’ll help him if we can.
Change back to what you were before.
Change back to what you were before…
Change back, Edwin
Nothing happened. Edwin rose from his seat. “You’ve failed!” he complained. He took a step toward the stage, where the band was continuing to play, his mouth opening to protest again.
Spike seized Edwin and shoved him back into his seat. “Shut it,” Spike ordered. “Giles knows what he’s doing.”
Edwin obeyed and sat, fuming in silence, as Giles ran through the final chorus. The band paused, as if the song had ended, and then re-started with Giles singing his variation on the coda from the single version.
“Change back, Edwina
Your body’s waiting for you
May your chest get flat, and your hips get leaner
Change back to Edwin, Edwina!
Change back, change back,
Change back, oh yeah…
As he sang Edwin’s body changed. His breasts, as Giles had commanded, shrank and his hourglass figure became the more angular body of a man. His face returned to its previous shape.
“You’ve done it!” Edwin cried, looking down at his chest. He stood up and patted his backside. “Yes, I think you’ve done it. My voice sounds right again. Wait a moment, I must see a mirror before I am certain that everything is as it was before.”
“What, you think you’ve turned into a vampire?” Spike said. “Don’t be stupid. You’re still human and now you’re a bloke again. And I would have thought looking under your robes would be more of a priority than checking out your face. Bloody would be if it had been me that had been turned into a girl.”
“Oh. Yes, of course,” Edwin said, looking down again but this time directing his gaze somewhat further down his body. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“That’s wizards for you,” said Spike. He turned to Giles. “Bloody clever choice,” he said. “I’d guessed you would use Cliff Richard in reverse. ‘Hello Ed, Goodbye Edwina’. Shows what I know. The Beatles’ song was much better. Can’t beat the classics.”
“Indeed so,” said Giles, “although my preference tended to be for the Stones. And I didn’t become really passionate about music until I discovered the Yardbirds, then John Mayall, and then Cream.”
“I thought you said you liked the Bay City Rollers,” Buffy put in.
“Good grief!” Giles exclaimed, raising a hand as if to take off glasses. “That was a joke. I suppose it’s my own fault for making it to someone without the right cultural background to understand why it was a declaration of what was palpably impossible.”
“I don’t even understand what you just said,” Buffy said, “but, whatever. Good job, Giles, like always.”
“I feel humbled to have been a part of it,” Sharwyn remarked. “Perhaps one day I will be able to perform such magic by myself.”
“Oh, I’m sure you will,” Giles said. “It just takes practice.”
Edwin had been patting himself down, conducting a tactile self-examination, while the attention had been on Giles. He finished and straightened up. “You have achieved what neither I, nor any of the Cowled Wizards, could achieve,” he said, “and restored me to my natural form. I thank you. And I must accept that you, unlikely as it may seem, have a mastery of your craft that may equal – nay, even exceed – my own.”
“Big of you,” Spike grunted.
“Of course the craft is itself inferior to true wizardry,” Edwin continued, “but I am impressed nonetheless. And grateful. I feel it incumbent upon me to offer a service in return.”
“It’s not necessary, Edwin,” Giles said. “I did it, as I said, as part of the training for Viconia and Sharwyn.”
“I insist,” Edwin said. “I hate feeling indebted to my inferiors.”
“If you’re determined to repay us,” Sorkatani said, “then you can come with us to fight Irenicus.”
“Hmm.” Edwin stroked his chin. “Jon Irenicus has a fearful reputation. The Shadow Thieves were in awe of him. There would be a distinct risk to my person in such a conflict. On the other hand the potential gains, in the form of my reputation being enhanced to the level that I deserve, are considerable. Should I agree to her suggestion? I think the gain outweighs the risk. Very well, Sorkatani, I shall accompany you and participate in your fight.”
“Thank you, Edwin,” said Sorkatani. “You are, in the phraseology of my companions from Earth, a bit of a pillock. Yet you are also a competent wizard and could be of great help to us. I propose that we accept Edwin’s offer. Does anyone object? Minsc?”
“Edwin is not nice,” Minsc said. “Boo says that he is arrogant and… e-goat-testicle. But Irenicus is most evil, and slew Dynaheir, and we must smite the evil wizard with everything that we have. Yes, Minsc will let Edwin come with us to fight Irenicus.”
“Okay, Edwin, glad to have you aboard again,” said Buffy. “We have a few spare magic items we haven’t sold yet, feel free to take a look through them and see if there’s anything you can use. You deserve a share, seeing as how the scroll you took from Bodhi’s lair turned out to be a… bust.” She struggled to keep her face straight and more or less succeeded. Spike chuckled openly.
“Ha ha,” said Edwin. “The so-called humor of these simians can be wearing. Still, I can put up with it for a while. Thank you, Buffy Vampire Slayer, I will take advantage of your offer.”
“Hey,” a familiar voice called from the doorway. “We’re back. Has Egeria gone? I see Edwin’s here. Is he going to join us to fight Irenicus? And, hey, look who we met on our way back here.”
Willow and Imoen came down the aisle accompanied by Nalia and the halfling warrior maid Mazzy Fenton.
“Greetings, Sorkatani and Buffy,” Nalia said. “Word reached us that you had been accused of heinous crimes, impossible for us to believe, and we set off for Athkatla to speak up in your defense. When we arrived we found that you had already cleared your name.”
“Yeah, we found the real murderers,” Buffy said, “and they’re dust now. Hi, Nalia, Mazzy.”
“Willow tells me that you are shortly to set off to battle your arch-enemy,” Mazzy said. “I offer my sword to your cause.”
“And I mine, and my wands,” said Nalia.
“Irenicus is a foe most formidable,” Sorkatani warned them. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I owe you my life,” Mazzy said. “You rescued me from the dungeon of the Shade Lord. My sword is ever at your call.”
“And you saved me from forced marriage to Isaea Roenal, a fate worse than death itself,” Nalia said. “I am not yet even close to repaying you. Anyway, Irenicus will have minions, will he not? Even if he is beyond our powers we can keep them off your backs as you battle him.”
“In that case we’re glad to have you with us,” Sorkatani said.
“Cool,” Buffy said. “With you, and Edwin, and Valley Girl, we’re getting quite an army.”
“Count me in, too,” Sharwyn offered. “I did not feel that I could contribute anything to your fight against the vampires but, like these ladies, I think I could hold my own against the minions of the evil wizard. And I would gain valuable experience in combat and, perhaps, in the use of Spellsinging in battle.”
“Do we need so many? And can we transport them all?” Jaheira asked.
“Sure we can transport everyone,” Willow said. “I don’t know if Edwin and Nalia can do Teleport Without Error…”
“I can’t,” Nalia said.
“I must confess that I have not yet mastered that particular spell,” Edwin admitted, “although of course it is well within my capabilities.”
“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Willow said. “They can use scrolls and we’ve enough and to spare. And I can put clear pictures of the destination into their minds. I’ve tested it out with Imoen and it works. With four mages we can transport everyone at once, no problem.”
“Good,” Buffy said. “I want us to arrive mob-handed. What’s the expression they have here? Something about a pineapple full of arms?”
“I think you mean ‘in full panoply of arms’, Buffy,” Giles said. “Why are you so eager to boost our numbers? I’m not saying I’m opposed to adding members to our expedition but I wouldn’t have thought they were vital. We will, after all, be linking up with an entire army of Elves.”
“That’s exactly why, Giles,” Buffy said. “I don’t trust the Elves as far as I can throw them – make that as far as Dawn could throw them. They were hiding something. I can make a fair guess at what it is…”
“Irenicus and Bodhi are their creation,” Sorkatani put in.
“Damn right,” Buffy said. “That’s just what I think. And they don’t want word getting around. If we turn up at the Elven camp with that lantern thing I bet they try to take it from us and leave us behind. The more of us there are, the more likely they are to act reasonable – and the less likely they are to act mean to Viconia.”
“Thank you, Jabbress Buffy,” Viconia said. “That is my belief too.”
“Ah, yes, I see,” Giles said. He might have said more but there was an interruption.
“Lady Buffy, Lady Sorkatani,” the Halfling innkeeper called from the theater entrance. “There are two gentlemen upstairs wanting to see you,” he announced, coming closer to the stage. “And, unlike certain people, they’re happy to wait until they’ve been – bloody hells! Weren’t you a woman when you came in here?” Samuel Thunderburp’s jaw dropped as he stared at Edwin.
“So it may have seemed, Halfling,” Edwin said, “but it was a mere temporary inconvenience. You see now my true magnificent self.”
“Huh. It’s not an improvement,” Samuel said. “Anyway, back to business. Shall I show them down, mistresses? They say they’re friends. One of them is a Drow but he seems a decent enough sort, if a bit bloody flamboyant in his attire.”
“Flamboyant? That must be Jarlaxle,” said Sorkatani.
“And Artemis will be the other,” Buffy added. “They said they would head this way to help us against Bodhi. Yeah, show them in, Samuel. They missed out on Bodhi; if they don’t mind changing targets then we really do have an army.”- - - - -
“We saw Willow and Imoen at a distance,” Jarlaxle said, “but we were unable to catch them up. Still, we are here now. Too late to assist you against your vampire foes, alas, if the gossip from the guards at the city gates is accurate.”
“It is,” Sorkatani confirmed. “We slew them, and staked their corpses, yesterday.”
“And I see that this has cured the malady that afflicted the fair Lady Imoen,” Jarlaxle said. “You look far better than you did when we met you in the forest, my lady. A treat, indeed, for my jaded eyes.”
“Knew he had two,” Spike muttered. “He’s wearing the patch over the opposite one now.”
“I suspect that you say such things to all the girls,” Imoen said, smiling back at Jarlaxle. “You speak with the skill of much practice.”
“I admit to having worked on my eloquence,” Jarlaxle said, “but that is to compensate for my taciturn companion.”
“I can speak for myself,” Artemis protested.
“Then do so,” Jarlaxle urged. Artemis merely glowered at him. “You see what I mean,” Jarlaxle said. “When it comes to swordplay there are few who can match him. Wordplay, however, is a different matter. I outclass him by far – and this is not even my native language.”
“I prefer to let my sword speak for me,” said Artemis.
“I have a sword that speaks,” Minsc said, “but he talks mostly of smiting the foe and his language is often coarse. I would not let Lilarcor speak for me, no indeed. For that I have Boo.”
“Well, as far as I’m concerned you going up against two dozen mercenaries to save the prisoners says all that needs to be said,” Buffy told Artemis.
“Thank you,” Artemis said. “Jarlaxle advised me that it was a foolish act but I could not do otherwise.”
“And, like I said then, that makes you a stand-up guy as far as I’m concerned.”
“An idiom strange to my ears,” Artemis said, “but I believe that I understand it from context. I thank you.” He fell silent.
“It grows late,” Edwin said, “and I, for one, grow tired of sitting around here in this throng. I shall depart. I will return tomorrow to inspect the magic items of which you spoke and to discuss our tactics against the wizard Irenicus.”
Giles looked at his watch. “Yes, it is getting late,” he said. “We’d better break for a meal now. I have to be ready for our show tonight.”
Sharwyn’s eyes seemed to become as wide as saucers. “That talisman on your wrist is a clock?”
“Ah, yes,” Giles responded. “It’s called a wristwatch. We brought them with us from Earth. Most people there have them.”
“Is it… accurate?”
“Fairly accurate,” Giles said. “They’re very accurate back on Earth but here they gain very slightly. About a minute and a half a month, assuming that the noon bell from the Temple of Lathander is precise – and it certainly seems to be.”
“This planet turns a touch slower than Earth,” Willow said. “I make it that the days here are three seconds longer than ours. That’s why our watches gain.”
Sharwyn shook her head. “Neverwinter, from whence I hail, is renowned for the quality of its clocks,” she said. “The finest are accurate to within five minutes a year – but they weigh perhaps thirty pounds. I can scarcely believe that timepieces so small can be almost as accurate.”
“The watchmakers of our world are quite ingenious,” Giles said, “but we can’t claim any credit. All we did was buy them. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to make a quartz digital watch.”
Jarlaxle kicked Artemis hard on the ankle. “Ow!” Artemis exclaimed. “What did you do that for?” The flamboyant Drow kicked him again and jerked his chin to point at Buffy. “Ow!” Artemis said again, and then “Oh.”
“The little guy’s braver than I am,” Xander remarked to Anya. “I wouldn’t kick Artemis Entreri for all the chocolate in Maztica.”
Artemis swallowed hard and then fixed his gaze on Buffy. “Your world must be full of marvels, Lady Buffy,” he said. “Perhaps you could tell me about them over dinner.”
“Are you asking me out on a date?” Buffy asked.
“I am not familiar with the term ‘a date’,” Artemis said, “but I am inviting you to dine with me.”
Buffy gave him a beaming smile. “I’d love to.”To be continued…
Disclaimer: Song lyrics used come from ‘Dance Called America’ by Runrig, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Angel’ by Jimi Hendrix, and ‘Get Back’ by The Beatles, with some alterations to fit the circumstances. They are used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only.