Of Pizza and Vampires
“Liriel, my Raven.”
Liriel stopped dead in her tracks and stared at the figure that had appeared in front of her. A dark-haired human warrior, tall and broad, clad in tunic and breeches and holding a massive black-metal sword. “Fyodor,” she breathed, “ussta mrannd'ssinss
“Liriel, my Raven,” Fyodor said. “You are in terrible danger. These people are leading you into peril. Flee at once and have nothing to do with them.”
Liriel drew in her breath sharply. Fyodor was the soul of integrity, the truest male she had ever met, and a warning from his ghost had to be taken seriously. And yet… why would Buffy Summers and the girl Annabel seek to harm Liriel and her comrades? The girl had shown admirable spirit, and genuine gratitude, and Buffy had been friendly and shown them respect. It made no sense for them to be secretly hostile. If they were not hostile, and Fyodor meant only that associating with the two girls would bring peril from their enemies down on Liriel too, then it would be dishonourable for Liriel to desert them. And Fyodor would never want Liriel to behave in a dishonourable fashion even to preserve her life.
“What danger do you mean, Fyodor?” Liriel asked, in Common.
“Fyodor?” Thorn echoed, looking about her. Sharlarra, too, began to scan her surroundings.
“There is no time to explain,” Fyodor said. “You must act at once.”
“Oh, crap!” Buffy exclaimed. She had gone some distance ahead while Liriel stood still but now she turned and walked back. “The friggin’ First. You’re talking to someone who’s dead, right? It’s not them.”
“She lies to you, my Raven,” said Fyodor. “Strike her down and flee before she betrays you.”
“To strike without warning, at one who has done nothing to harm or threaten me, would be a knavish act,” Liriel said. “It is not like you to give such counsel.”
“I see nothing,” Sharlarra said. “If you speak to an apparition of Fyodor why would he not show himself to us? We were his friends, too, although of course not as close to him as you.”
“Is not a telthor
bound to Rashemen?” said Thorn. “How can Fyodor be here? The Earth woman seems to know something. Speak to her.”
“You make a terrible mistake that will place you and your friends in dire peril,” Fyodor warned. “Stay clear of the small fair-haired woman. Death comes to all who associate with her. And trust nothing that she says.”
“Whoever you think you’re talking to isn’t really there,” Buffy said, her words overlapping those of Fyodor. “There’s this thing called the First Evil. It can take the form of anyone who’s dead. Or who’s been dead, like I have, and so it can fake being me. But it can’t touch anything and you can’t touch it. That’s how you can tell it from the real thing.”
Liriel made a decision. “You are not Fyodor,” she declared, switching to Elvish which, thanks to the Tongues spell, would be heard by Buffy as her own language. “He would never urge me to step aside from peril if there was Evil to be fought. And, as Thorn says, Fyodor will be bound to Rashemen. You are a creature like unto the Master Wraith of the Forest of Mir.”
The apparition changed form. Thorn and Sharlarra exclaimed in horror as they saw it too. Now Cierre stood in front of them but not as she had been when she passed through the portal to Arda. Her arms ended in bloody stumps where her hands had been hacked off, the mithral chain-mail she wore was rent by swords and pierced by arrows, and a trail of blood ran down from her mouth.
“This is your fault,” the false Cierre said. “You sent me to my death… but soon you will envy my fate. Death and torment await you. See you in the Hells.”
Thorn drew her sword and struck in a lightning-fast move that swept the blade through the incorporeal being. It laughed, sounding not even remotely like Cierre, and then changed into a monstrous translucent form with horns, huge claws, and a wide fanged mouth. It maintained that shape for only a couple of seconds, during which time Thorn hit it again, and then collapsed in on itself until it was nothing more than a point of light which winked out and was gone.
“I saw that,” Buffy said. “A friend of yours, I guess?”
“Not a friend as such,” Liriel said, “but someone we all respected.”
“And one who would have died well, and with honour,” Thorn added, “and who would not have blamed Liriel for her death. The words of the Master Wraith were ill-chosen if its aim was to make us feel guilt.”
“When it spoke as my beloved Fyodor it sought to warn me away from you,” Liriel told Buffy.
“I have to admit it had a point there,” Buffy said. “I can be kind of dangerous to be around. If you want to look for somewhere else to stay I guess I wouldn’t blame you.”
“There is only one reason why it would warn Liriel off,” Sharlarra said. “It fears her.”
“That would be of the good,” Buffy said, “but I don’t buy it. That’s the original Evil, the thing that the darkness fears, and it’s way too tough to be scared of anyone.”
“So it might claim,” Sharlarra said, “but it is Evil and thus a liar by definition. No, it is merely a Master Wraith. A powerful adversary, certainly, but it can be slain. The Master Wraith of Mir was slain by Gorion’s ward and her party. And if they can do it then so can we.”
“Cool!” Annabelle exclaimed.
“They were mightier than are we, and better equipped,” Liriel said, “and at that time Viconia was a High Priestess of Shar and could blast the Undead with but a word. Still, I am a Mage of no small ability and my companions are experienced warriors. We will stand with you against this spirit of Evil and will not shrink from the fight.”
Buffy bit on her lower lip. “I’d be majorly glad to have you on my side,” she said, “but I can’t offer you anything in return except, maybe, for a little help with getting the hang of this world. We don’t have much money or much of anything else of value. I don’t want to drag you into it, and put you in danger, when I can’t give you anything in return and it’s not your fight.”
“We require no payment,” Liriel said, “although we will accept your help as a guide to this world, and your assistance in the conversion of our gold into the coinage of this land. We offer our aid in this fight willingly.”
“I suspect that we have already incurred the enmity of this evil being,” Thorn said. “The vampire was its minion, was it not? Then it will have cause to seek vengeance upon us. If we left you and went elsewhere then it would send its forces against us and there would be none to give us aid. For us to join forces would be the best course of action.”
“And I would seek its destruction in any event,” Liriel said. “It took the shape of Fyodor and put words in his mouth that he would have regarded as shameful. I will make it regret that insult to his memory.”
“As shall I,” Thorn said.
“And me,” Sharlarra confirmed.
Buffy’s face lit up with a smile. “Well, this is the best news I’ve had in, like, forever,” she said. “Okay, let’s get back to my place. It’s not far.”- - - - -
“Well, this is my house,” Buffy said. “You’re welcome to stay but I have to warn you it’s kind of… cramped. We have other guests and a… prisoner.”
“We can stay at an inn, if you show us where one can be found,” Liriel said. “We are not short of funds.”
“That might not be so easy,” Buffy said. “You said something about your money being gold coins, right? It’ll be pretty hard to spend them. Most places they’ll just look at you funny and ask for real cash or plastic. We’ll have to change the gold for our kind of money and I have no idea how to do that. But, hey, Anya will know. I’ll introduce you and you can meet the rest of the gang too.”
“Gang?” Sharlarra queried. “Are you, then, affiliated with a Thieves’ Guild?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Buffy said. “Just the guys who hang out with me and, uh, help me fight the monsters. My friends.” She opened the door and went in, holding it open for the others to follow, but did not utter any spoken invitation to enter. Annabel followed right behind her; the Elves hesitated and exchanged looks before stepping through the door.
“Vampires are common here, I take it?” Liriel asked.
“Yes,” Buffy admitted. “Not ones like the one we just fought, though. That one was… special. I’ll tell you all about in a minute. First, meet the gang.”
There were several people in the house, all of them human. Annabel went to one of them, a girl who looked to be a match for her in age, who was wearing the most hideous woollen garment Liriel had ever seen. The two girls embraced.
“You scared the shit out of us, you daft muppet,” the girl in the ugly clothes said. “What were you playing at, running off like that?”
Liriel did not hear the reply because the other inhabitants of the house all spoke at once and drowned Annabelle out. The cacophony died away and they gave precedence to the eldest human present, a tall man whose brown hair was receding and showed some grey at the temples, handsome despite his age. He wore lenses in front of his eyes, no doubt an aid to vision, held in frames of a sleek simplicity that made those made by the gnomes of Faerûn look crude and clumsy by comparison.
“Well done for retrieving Annabelle, Buffy,” the human said. His voice came through the translation spell as resembling that of an aristocrat or scholar from Neverwinter or Waterdeep. “Did you encounter the Turok-Han? And who are your… companions?”
“Scratch one Ubervamp,” Buffy replied. “It’s dust, thanks to these guys, and they get the credit for saving Annabelle too.”
“Then they have my sincere thanks,” the man said. He turned his gaze upon the Elves and his eyebrows shot up. “My word!” he exclaimed.
“Holy guacamole!” a dark-haired human male, perhaps the same age as Buffy, chimed in. “Look at their ears! Are they Elves or Vulcans?”
“Elves,” Buffy said. “I thought Elves were little guys with bobble hats but it seems I was wrong. Well, maybe not so much about Liriel, apart from the bobble hat bit. Guys, these are Liriel, Thorn, and, uh, Sha-la-la?”
“Sharlarra,” the Star Elf corrected her.
“Sorry,” Buffy said. “I mangle names sometimes. It’s a thing.” She pointed a hand at each of the humans in succession. “Liriel, these are Willow, Xander, Giles, Anya, my sister Dawn, uh, Kennedy, and that’s Molly with Annabelle.”
Liriel dipped her head. “Vendui
,” she said. “Fair be our meeting.”
“Fair be our meeting,” Sharlarra echoed.
“Well met,” said Thorn.
“Elves,” said the older man, Giles. “Remarkable.”
“They look more like members of the SCA to me,” the girl identified as Kennedy said. “The ears are probably fake.”
“If they’re fake then so are your knockers,” Annabelle said. “They saved my life, Ken. Don’t say a word against them or I’ll twat you one.”
“You’ll what? I thought you were straight,” Kennedy said.
Liriel was baffled by this conversation, which made no sense at all to her; perhaps they were using something like Thieves’ Cant in which words were used in ways for which they were not intended.
“She means she’ll punch your lights out,” Molly, the girl in the incredibly ugly garments, translated. Not that this clarified things much to Liriel but, as the conversation didn’t involve her, it wasn’t important.
“Elves?” said the girl who Buffy had introduced as Anya. “Two of the ljósálfar
and one døckálfar
. I haven’t heard anything of the álfar
in over a thousand years. They’re supposed to be very good in battle and skilled at witchcraft too.”
“They’re all of that,” Buffy confirmed. “Like I said, I might not have been able to beat the Two-Rock Khan without their help.”
“I was under the impression that Elves were purely mythological beings,” Giles said.
“We come from another world,” Liriel explained. “Our world is being devastated by a magical catastrophe and we fled through a portal that brought us here.”
“Ah. Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice of destination,” Giles said. “We are under attack from an ancient and powerful evil being that may be seeking to end the world.”
“We had little choice,” Liriel said. “A few years ago, when the signs of catastrophe first began to show, some friends of ours fled through the same portal to a different destination. When we decided to follow them we cast an augury and discovered that they were all dead. Going to that same world seemed foolhardy and the spell showed this world to be the least hazardous alternative.”
“The others must have been pretty bad if this was the best option,” said the young girl Buffy had named as her sister Dawn. “This is the Hellmouth. Vampire Central plus a shitload of other demons and things that go bump in the night.”
“Hellmouth?” Liriel queried.
“A gateway to the Hell dimensions,” Giles explained. “If it were to open then demons would swarm through and overrun the Earth. Even while it is closed there is a… leakage of demonic energy that attracts all manner of demons to the vicinity.”
“It sounds like Hellgate Keep,” Liriel said. “Not the environment we would have chosen, perhaps, but better than our being incinerated, or transformed into something horrible, by the azure flames of the Spellplague. We are here now, anyway, and must make the best of it.”
“I’ve already warned them that they’ll be putting themselves in danger if they team up with us,” Buffy said, “and they’re okay with that. They’re good people, Giles, and this could be the biggest stroke of luck we’ve had in, like, forever.”
Giles lowered his head slightly and looked at Buffy over the rims of his eyeglasses. “I hope you made it clear to them just how dire is our situation,” he said. “Did you tell them about the First Evil?”
“Sir Giles,” Liriel said, “the being that calls itself the First Evil has appeared to us already. It took the shape of one who was very dear to me and put into his mouth words that he would regard as shameful. I will not permit such an insult to pass unavenged. And my friends are united with me in this resolve.”
“In that case I am delighted to welcome you as allies,” Giles said.
“And as house guests,” said Buffy, “which will mean reorganising and everybody squashing up even more.”
“Oh, joy,” said Buffy’s sister, her lips forming into a pout. “Not.”
“If you are short of space then direct us to an inn,” Liriel said. She surveyed the room. The table and chairs were crafted with the extreme precision that seemed to be a hallmark of this world. Lights which functioned without flame provided the illumination. In Faerûn such furnishings would have implied that the householder was very wealthy but here that did not seem to be the case; Buffy had already stated that she had little in the way of funds. The wooden boarding substituting for glass in one of the windows seemed to confirm that.
“That’s… not a good idea,” Buffy said. “Hotels are public places and so vampires can get in without an invitation.” She directed a glare at her sister. “Dawn, that was rude. And Annabelle will probably ‘twat you one’, whatever that is, if you’re not polite to Liriel and her friends. In fact so will I, if she tells me how to do it.”
“You just apply your fist to her face,” Annabelle informed her. “Should be a piece of cake for the Slayer.”
“Uh, in that case, maybe not,” said Buffy. “But I’ll think of something else that you won’t enjoy. So behave yourself.”
“It’s an exceptionally vulgar term,” Giles said, “and quite obscene. Annabelle, I’m surprised at you.”
“Sorry, Mr Giles, but I thought if I said ‘clock you one’ she’d just look at her wrist,” Annabelle said. “Should have known Miss Gay Pride would go straight to the other meaning.”
Buffy’s face flamed red as, apparently, she recognised the obscenity once given a hint. Liriel came to the conclusion that Giles, Annabelle, and Molly were from a different city to Buffy, Dawn, Kennedy and Xander, and used different slang as well as having a different accent. The ones who had not spoken yet could belong to either group.
“Uh, how are we going to re-arrange where everybody sleeps?” asked a red-haired young woman who had been hitherto silent. Willow, Liriel remembered from the introductions. “We were pretty much at max as it was.”
“We need only half as much sleep as do humans,” Sharlarra said, “and so we can take turns.”
“I can sleep on the floor in wolf form,” Thorn volunteered.
“You’re a werewolf?” Willow exclaimed. “Uh, that’s right, the full moon is tomorrow night so you’ll be changing tonight. But won’t you need to be locked up so you don’t eat anyone?”
“I am not a werewolf, I am Lythari,” Thorn said. “The moon does not dictate my change. It is at my conscious command and my mind remains the same at all times. I will eat no-one.”
“Talking of eating,” Buffy said, “the cupboard’s pretty bare. I think it’s send out for pizza time again. Is pizza okay for you guys, Liriel?”
Liriel raised her eyebrows. “As I have no idea what ‘pizza’ is I cannot give an informed answer. But I am prepared to give it a try.”- - - - -
Pizza proved to be a dish of flat bread covered by a thin layer of a red paste of unknown origin, a thicker layer of cheese, and small pieces of a variety of other foodstuffs scattered over the top. These included mushrooms and Liriel claimed as many of the sections containing mushrooms as she could. Thorn, of course, sought out the pieces with the most meat. Liriel found the pizza to be a pleasant and tasty dish. The astonishing thing about it, though, was that it was delivered to the door of the house, in boxes, arriving while it was still hot from the oven. There were several disc-shaped pizzas and, even though Thorn ate like a starving wolf and Xander of the Earth rivvin
was a mighty trencherman, there was plenty to go around.
“Once we’ve finished eating,” Buffy said, “I’m going to rescue Spike. If you guys,” she addressed Liriel and her companions, “would come with it would make it a whole lot easier.”
“You have a comrade who is held captive?” Liriel queried.
“I hope you don’t mean Comrade in the Communist sense,” Anya said. “That’s a bad word around here. We’re all devotedly Capitalist.”
“I have no idea what you mean,” Liriel said. “Is this some religious division? I do not know what gods you follow here but I, at present, have no god. I abandoned my first goddess, who was Evil, and was rejected by my second, who was Good. I then took up the worship of Mystra but she was murdered by Cyric and Shar.”
“It’s politics, not religion,” Buffy said, “and it’s pretty much the least important thing we could possibly be talking about.”
“Can’t have been much of a goddess if she got killed,” Kennedy commented.
Liriel and Thorn directed cold glares at her. “If we were in Faerûn I would call you out for those blasphemous and insulting words,” Liriel said. She turned to Buffy. “What is the custom here?”
“Call her out? Like, a duel? They’re not allowed,” Buffy replied. “They banned them, like, a hundred years ago. Which is lucky for you, Kennedy, or Liriel would probably light you on fire. Anyway, getting back on topic, yeah, we have a… comrade is as good a word as any other… who got captured. I think I know where they have him but the Ubervamp stopped me when I went looking. Now it’s dust I should be able to get him back.”
“If we even want him back,” said Xander. He held up his hands, palm outward, as Buffy turned a glare on him that almost matched the intensity of the one Liriel had given Kennedy. “Okay, shutting up now,” he said.
“I would be glad to lend you my aid in this endeavour,” Liriel said. “Should we not also seek out the coffin of this ‘Ubervamp’ and drive a stake through its heart before it regenerates?”
“Huh?” Buffy, and several of the others, looked at Liriel with blank expressions on their faces. “What do you mean, regenerates? It’s dusted. The end.”
Sharlarra’s brow furrowed. “I saw no gaseous form,” she said. “Could it be that it was indeed destroyed so easily?”
“What do you mean, easily?” Buffy said. “That thing kicked my ass yesterday and it might have done the same thing tonight if you hadn’t been around. It was way tougher than any other vamp I’ve ever fought.”
“But when you threw it into the fire it burned and, you say, it stayed dead,” Liriel said. “In our world vampires, once slain, turn into a white mist and drift back to their coffins. There they reform and, in a few hours, are ready to attack once again.”
“That has to suck,” Buffy said.
“Well, yes,” Liriel said. “That is what vampires do. They drain your life energy by drinking your blood.” Buffy rolled her eyes and Liriel realised she had misinterpreted the words. “Oh, I see. You were commiserating with me over vampires in my world being more difficult opponents. Your use of words for more than one purpose can be… confusing.”
Giles chuckled. “I see that I am no longer the only one who has problems with your, ah, California idioms,” he said.
“Hey, she cast a spell that taught her my language,” Buffy said. “It’s so not my fault if it didn’t work out the way she expected.”
“She cast a spell?” Willow exclaimed. “You didn’t tell me she’s a witch.”
“Didn’t I? I thought I’d said she cast spells,” Buffy said. “She’s got this neat one where she can make this flying sword that fights by itself.”
“I am not truly a witch,” Liriel said. “I posed as one in Rashemen but my clerical spells are no longer adequate for the role. It would be more accurate to say that I am a wizard with some minor healing abilities.”
“But wizards are guys,” Willow said, “and witches are girls.”
“I agree that witches are female,” Liriel said, “or at least all the ones I have met have been women. In Rashemen only females are allowed to be witches and may not be anything else. Males with a talent for magic must become wizards. And amongst my people, the Drow, females are taught clerical magic and males learn arcane magic. But this is not a rigid rule. My father was the greatest mage of Menzoberranzan and he taught me arcane magic from my earliest childhood. And in other lands female wizards are as common as male ones. Unless you mean that there is a rule in your land, like that in Rashemen, which forbids females to take up magecraft.”
“Uh, that would be a no,” said Willow. “Most people don’t even believe that witches or wizards are real.”
Liriel paused with a slice of pizza halfway to her mouth and almost dropped it in her surprise. “They do not? How strange.”
“There aren’t many of us,” Willow said, “and, well, we’ve learned how to do most of the things magic can do with science.”
“Like the carriage with no horse that we saw?” Liriel said. “We deduced that it was powered by some engine using burning oil. Such devices are commonplace in this world?”
“There are millions of them,” Willow confirmed. “Most people have one. Uh, I don’t, but that’s ’cause I don’t have much money while I’m a student, and Buffy doesn’t have one for the same reason. Xander has one, though. And Giles had one but he sold it when he moved back to England.”
“Can I have one?” Sharlarra said. “How many gold pieces would one cost?”
“That would depend on the gold pieces,” Anya said. “How big are they, and what’s the gold content?”
Sharlarra slipped a hand into a pouch and pulled out a coin. “A Waterdeep Dragon,” she said. “Seven-eighths gold.”
Anya examined it. “Hmm,” she said. “I’d need to weigh it to be sure but, at a ball-park guess, I’d say the gold would be worth about fifty dollars. You wouldn’t get the full value but I know people. I could get you pretty close to it. That would mean it would take about four hundred to get a decent car. Or less if you went for a used one.”
“Only as much as a light war horse? I’ll get one tomorrow,” Sharlarra said. “Or should we get one each?”
“Uh, you need to learn to drive first,” Buffy said, “and that takes a long time. I’ve never really gotten the hang of it myself.”
“Buffy and cars, not mix-y things,” agreed Dawn.
“Such contrivances are hardly a priority,” said Liriel. “First we must consider a place to live, clothing of the style of this land, and other necessities.”
“You can’t do anything about any of that tonight,” said Buffy, “so let’s just eat up the pizza and then go get Spike. Oh, and make sure we leave some of the pizza for Andrew. He might be a total jerk but we can’t starve him to death.”
“Our prisoner,” Buffy said. “I mentioned him, right? I’m sure he did. He’s been kind of working for the First Evil but more because he’s an idiot than because he’s really evil. I think. Anyway, you’ll meet him eventually, but putting it off as long as possible would be of the good. Forget about him for now. There’s something I’d better tell you about Spike. He’s… a vampire.”
“A vampire?” Liriel narrowed her eyes and gave Buffy a hard stare. “I thought you were some kind of vampire hunter.”
“I’m the Slayer,” Buffy said. “One girl in all the world with the strength and skill to fight the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. Or something like that. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“It seems odd, then, that you wish to rescue a vampire from captivity,” Liriel went on. “I take it that this particular vampire is on your side? That seems… strange.”
“He’s… not a normal vampire,” Buffy said. “He has a Soul.” She pronounced the last word with a reverence that Liriel had heard previously only from people talking about their patron deity.
“Unusual indeed,” Liriel agreed, “but no guarantee of worthiness. The vampire Bodhi obtained a soul and became even more of a threat to the Sword Coast thereafter, until she was slain by Gorion’s ward. Of course she was an evil bitch even before she became a vampire.”
“He helped us out before he got the soul,” Willow put in. “Okay, he did bad things, even after he started helping us, but they got fewer and fewer and he did more of the good. I’m all for getting him back.”
“I’m not,” said Xander. “Even if the soul gets him a free pass on the bad things, there’s still that whole Manchurian Candidate thing to deal with. It’d be a whole lot simpler and safer just to let that First thing keep him.”
“If the Master Wraith took him then I will do everything in my power to aid you in his recovery,” Liriel said, as Buffy turned a cold glare on Xander. “I have no idea what Xander means by a ‘man chewy Anne candidate thing’ but if it needs to be dealt with, and my magic can help, then I am at your service.”
“Good,” said Buffy. “So, that’s settled then. The pizza’s pretty much all gone now and we’d better save what’s left for Andrew. I’ll show you girls to the bathroom and then we can go get Spike.”- - - - -
“Piped hot water,” Sharlarra enthused, as they departed from Buffy’s house, “and a most ingenious water closet. This world has much to offer.”
“Hedonist,” Thorn said.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a hedonist,” Sharlarra said. “And they have devices that can store music so that it can be listened to when there is no bard or minstrel present.”
“They also have vampires under the command of a Master Wraith,” Liriel said. “A world where they heat bathing water on the stove, but have less formidable enemies, might have been preferable. But we are here now, and must deal with the foes we find, and at least we can wash off the blood and dust conveniently and in comfort.”
“I hope nobody notices your swords,” Buffy remarked. “You’re not allowed to walk around with that kind of weapon these days. If the cops spot you we could be in trouble. If that happens let me do the talking, ’kay?”
“You refer to the City Watch? They enforce a prohibition against the carrying of swords?” Liriel shook her head. “This world is different indeed. So that is why you bear no visible weapons?”
“I’ll carry a sword or an axe sometimes,” Buffy said, “mainly if we’re going up against a Big Bad. I had this really cool Troll Hammer but it went missing while I was dead and I don’t know where it is now. And the guys sometimes use crossbows. But mainly we stick to stakes because they’re easy to hide. And if the cops do get nosy, well, there isn’t any law against carrying a pointy stick.”
She led them through the streets of the town, far more brightly lit than those of any city in Faerûn, but less busy. They encountered no ‘cops’ and, indeed, few other passers-by. Those they did encounter gave them a wide berth; it seemed that their armour and weaponry made them appear threatening to the natives. Buffy, therefore, was able to give them more information about the opposition, as they walked, without being overheard by strangers.
“The First’s minions are these weird guys called Harbingers or Bringers,” Buffy said. “They wear robes, with cowls over their heads, and their eyes are sewn shut.”
“I presume that their other senses compensate,” Liriel said, “or else they would be no challenge.”
“I guess they do,” Buffy confirmed, “or else they can see even with their eyes sewn up. Their mouths are sewn up too.”
“Undead?” asked Liriel.
Buffy shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine,” she said. “All I really know is they work for the First, they get all stabbity with curved knives, and they want to kill all the Potentials – they’re the girls with a chance of getting to be the Slayer if I die. But the Bringers die if you get them through the heart, or break their necks, or cut off their heads – pretty much the same as normal guys except they can maybe take a bit more of a beating before they go down.”
“We will not waste time beating them,” Liriel said. “We have swords and knives. That is what we will use.”
“Or teeth,” said Thorn.
Buffy shuddered. “I wouldn’t,” she advised. “They’re pretty gross. I wouldn’t want any part of them in my mouth, that’s for sure.”
“You mentioned you had been dead,” Liriel remembered. “So the Master Wraith can impersonate you, then?”
“It has done,” Buffy confirmed. “You don’t seem all that surprised.”
“Raising the dead is common in my world,” Liriel replied. “I was never quite able to do it myself, and even had I been I would have lost the ability when Mystra died, but I’ve seen it done.”
“Have you ever been… dead?” Buffy asked.
“Not quite, but close,” Liriel said. “I have never needed a Raise Dead cast on me, at any rate. Thorn? Sharlarra?”
“Never,” said Thorn.
Sharlarra screwed up her eyes and frowned. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I cast a spell, when I was kidnapped, to make it appear that I was dead. My heart slowed down and my breathing was imperceptible. Do you think that counts?”
“I have no idea,” Buffy said. “We’d best play safe and take it that the First might be able to pretend to be you.”
“We should all beware lest the Master Wraith attempts to impersonate one of us to sow confusion,” Liriel advised. “If we have separated we should touch hands immediately upon rejoining.”
“Good thinking,” Buffy said. “Oh, and it can impersonate Spike too, seeing as how he’s a vampire and dead by definition. This sucks. We’re nearly there. Just across here.”
They were in the vicinity of a building decorated with small conifer trees, bearing many brilliant lights, fastened to its walls and standing in pots outside the doors. Buffy led them past the building and across a stretch of waste ground surrounded by a wire fence. She kept her eyes trained on the ground.
“When I was here last night I fell through the entrance,” she explained. “It’s not a long drop for me but you might get hurt. Okay, I see it. Over here.”
There was a hole in the ground covered over by wooden planks and dirt. The planks had broken to reveal the hole below. “I’ll jump down first,” Buffy said, “and catch the rest of you. It’s not all that far down but there are some broken bits of wood and stuff that you have to watch out for.” She leapt down, landing lightly, and was turning to reach up when Thorn landed just as lightly beside her.
“I did not require your assistance,” Thorn said. She sniffed. “There are no creatures in the immediate vicinity,” she said. “The others may descend safely.” She reached up and caught Sharlarra as the Star Elf dropped down to join her.
Buffy caught Liriel and lowered her to the ground. “Hey, you’re pretty athletic,” she said to Thorn.
“Elves are stronger, pound for pound, than humans,” Thorn explained, “and thus potentially more agile. The difference is even more marked in the Drow. Liriel, although smaller than you, is probably as strong as your friend Xander. And I’m stronger. Although I am only stronger than Sharlarra because I train harder.”
“I have different skills,” Sharlarra said. “I don’t have time to spend hours every day jumping up and down and swinging a sword around.”
Thorn made no reply. She drew her sword and peered into the tunnels that led off from the chamber in which she had landed.
Buffy pulled out a tubular object from a pocket in her coat and operated a switch on its side. A beam of light sprang forth. “I was just starting to head this way, last time I was here, when the Ubervamp jumped me,” she said, using the light beam to indicate one of the tunnels. “It seems a pretty good place to start.”
“Indeed,” said Liriel. “Thorn, do you detect anything?”
“Blood,” said Thorn. “Faint, and far off, but detectable. And familiar. I would say it is the same as the blood we saw on that hanging frame, above the summoning circle, at the place where we entered this world.”
“The sacrifice, then,” said Liriel. “Perhaps it was he whom we seek.”
“There is something else,” Thorn continued. “Something… foul.”
“Or that might be him,” Liriel said, “for he is a vampire.”
“Hey, Spike doesn’t smell foul,” Buffy protested.
Liriel tilted her head to one side and looked at Buffy. “Aha,” Liriel said. “An emotional connection. And that may explain how a vampire started aiding one whose duty is to hunt his kind.”
Buffy twiddled the light projector, causing the beam to waver erratically, and looked away. “I wouldn’t call it an emotional connection,” she said. “We had a… physical relationship. I needed someone, and he was there, and it helped for a while. But it didn’t work out too well.”
“I would wager that it more than just physical on his side,” Sharlarra said. “You don’t change sides unless it means something. There has to be love.”
“It was only when Valaderion fell in love with Kiralasha that he turned away from the worship of the vile Shevarash,” Liriel added. She could have said that it was her love for Fyodor that had been the decisive factor in her own defection from Lolth but that was too personal to mention to someone who was still a virtual stranger. “I agree with Sharlarra.”
“Can we not do this now?” Buffy said. “Oh, look! Bringers!” She sounded almost glad at the interruption.
Four robed, knife-wielding, figures rushed from deeper in the tunnel. Buffy met the rush, smacked one of the Bringers across the throat with her forearm, and swept its feet out from under it. As another thrust at her Buffy caught the striking arm, wrenched, and stabbed the Bringer with its own knife. She stamped down on the head of the one she had felled and was ready to take on the next opponent – but there were none remaining.
Thorn had disposed of the others with two quick sword thrusts. Liriel hadn’t even bothered to draw sword.
Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Impressive,” she said.
“So were you,” said Thorn. She raised her sword blade. “This was the source of the foulness,” she said. “Your vampire may, after all, prove to be sweet-smelling.”
“I should be so lucky,” Buffy said. “He smells of cigarettes and cheap whiskey.”
“As I have no idea what those are it will be of no help to me in tracking him,” Thorn said. She wiped her blade clean on the robes of a fallen foe and sheathed it. “However the scent of blood comes from deeper within this very tunnel.”
“And the Bringers came from there too,” said Buffy. “Looks like we’re on the right track.” She led the way onward.
Liriel would have expected there to be guards deeper within but in fact they encountered no further opposition. After working their way through the tunnel for a minute or so they emerged into a chamber. It was illuminated by flaming torches mounted in brackets on the wall, just as it would have been if it had been a dungeon in Faerûn, and within the chamber they saw a bare-chested male figure shackled to the wall. Symbols unfamiliar to Liriel, but which looked either alchemical or necromantic, had been carved into his chest and abdomen. His face bore bruises and cuts.
He lifted his head as they approached. “Bloody great, another round of ‘Kick the Spike’,” he said, looking at Buffy. His accent resembled that of Annabelle or Molly much more closely than that of Buffy. “Got some new minions, then? Haven’t seen any like that before. Look like sodding Elves.”
“We are indeed Elves, vampire,” Liriel said, “and we are no-one’s minions.”
“Spike, it’s really me,” Buffy said. “We’re here to rescue you.” She turned to Liriel. “I guess the First’s been impersonating me,” she said, and then turned her attention back to Spike. “You’re… a mess.”
“Sounds like the real thing,” Spike muttered. “Bloody First wouldn’t give a toss what I looked like.” Then Buffy reached him and put a hand on his arm. “You are real!”
“Yep, it’s the real me,” Buffy confirmed. “I’ll get you down in just a second.” She looked up at his bonds. “Leather straps? Damn, I didn’t think to pick up a knife.”
“Allow me,” said Thorn. Her sword flashed twice. The leather parted and Spike slumped down into Buffy’s arms.
“Thanks,” Buffy said. Her eyebrows lifted slightly. “Hey, that sword’s way sharp.” Her attention went back to Spike. “Can you walk? Come on, lean on me. I’ll get you home.”
“We will guard front and rear while you are encumbered,” Liriel offered. “Thorn, to the front.”
Liriel and Sharlarra brought up the rear. “I will revise my spell selection overnight,” Liriel mused. “We will need our Tongues and Comprehend Languages spells renewed. True Seeing would enable me to see through our foe’s impersonations. And Fire spells are always useful.”
Sharlarra was not listening. She was watching the vampire as he walked, with the aid of an arm slung over Buffy’s shoulder, ahead of her. “He’s rather good-looking,” she commented, speaking in the Common Tongue rather than Elvish so that the spell did not translate her words. “A little skinny, perhaps, but he has a really nice backside.”
“He has,” Liriel agreed, in the same language, “but this is not the time to discuss such things.” She tried to go back to thinking about spells but found her mind kept dwelling on Spike’s backside. It was, indeed, well-shaped. He was exceptionally handsome. And a vampire, unlike a human, would not age and die in only a few decades… She shook her head and reminded herself that Spike’s affections, if Sharlarra was correct, were already engaged elsewhere.
“Kept telling myself you would come for me,” Spike said to Buffy, “but I could hardly make myself believe it. Don’t deserve it after what I’ve done.”
“Enough with the self-pity already,” Buffy said. “You’re on the team and we look out for each other. Because that’s what we do, in a herd.”
“Haven’t got the foggiest what you’re talking about, Slayer,” Spike said. “Who’re your mates with the pointy ears?”
“Elves,” Buffy said, “but not the Santa’s Helper kind. I couldn’t have killed the Turok-Han without them.”
“That the big ugly bugger who kept punching me in the face? You’ve topped him? Good for you,” Spike said, “and thanks to you Elves too. But I don’t get it. Elves? I’m starting to wonder if this is just another dream and I’ll wake up chained to the sodding wall again.”
“We are quite real, I assure you,” said Liriel.
“But you won’t be for much longer,” a voice said. A figure materialised in front of them; a female Drow, her body gashed by a massive wound that split her almost in two. Iljrene, Protector of the Song, who had once been Liriel’s friend. “You Lolth-loving bitch.”
“The First,” hissed Buffy, but the warning was unnecessary. It was obviously an apparition as no-one could have stood upright, or spoke, with such an injury.
“You are not Iljrene,” Liriel said. “You have no power over me, Wraith.”
“Oh, I have power,” the First said. “You will learn. Shortly before you die.”