Giles had certain preconceptions about travel through inter-dimensional portals, formed by watching ‘Doctor Who’ and other science fiction TV shows and movies, and he was slightly disappointed by the experience of traversing a portal in real life. No hurtling through space, no bright points of light stretching out into lines, just mist and a sensation as if he was floating. He could see Nalia ahead of him, obscured by the mist but still recognizable, but the others were out of sight.
He floated for perhaps a minute, during which he slung his guitar over his shoulder once more and took hold of his staff-spear with both hands, and then the mist grew brighter in front of him. The floating sensation turned into a distinct feeling that he was falling, but only for a moment, and then the mists were gone and he landed.
He found himself in a roughly circular chamber that seemed to be cast in concrete rather than hewn from stone. Gaps in the walls seemed to open into nothingness. There was no sign of Raelis Shai, Haer’Dalis, or the other actors. The humanoid warrior and the pair of yuan-ti who had taken them away were there, however, facing off against Sorkatani and the others. A trio of humans in leather armor stood with the enemy group and a gnome cowered against the wall.
“No matter,” the humanoid warrior was saying. He had the same bronzed skin and pointed ears as Raelis Shai, and was probably of the same racial stock. “I expect you will bring a fine price from the cambion as thralls. Hunters, take her!”
Sorkatani had sheathed Celestial Fury at some point after jumping into the portal. She drew and struck in a move that took the enemy commander by surprise. He reeled back, blood pouring from a gash across his cheek, and parried desperately as Sorkatani followed up with a succession of blows from both her swords. Korgan charged one of the yuan-ti and chopped at it with his axe. One of the humans aimed a blow at Yoshimo. He parried with ease and riposted. The human fell bleeding to the ground. Spike seized one of the other humans, ripped the sword from his hand and flung it in the direction of the unengaged yuan-ti, and buried his fangs in the man’s throat.
The other yuan-ti stood beyond the reach of swords and was moving its arms in gestures that implied that it was a spell-caster. Its yellow skin turned grey. Stoneskin. The sword thrown by Spike struck an instant too late and bounced off. Viconia called out to Shar and gestured. A column of flame lashed down and enveloped the snake creature.
Nalia’s attention was on the same opponent. She extended a hand and began to chant. Suddenly the magic words turned into a cry of agony. A halfling appeared behind her. He had approached invisibly and had stabbed Nalia in the back with a strangely shaped dagger. Nalia’s eyes rolled up and she slumped to the ground.
Giles thrust out with his staff, extending its spear-blade as he went, and he caught the halfling as much by surprise as the little assassin had caught Nalia. The halfling shrieked in pain as the blade pierced through the muscle of his shoulder until it bit into the bone. He jerked away and then ran with eye-baffling speed, evading Giles’ second thrust with ease, and streaked across the room out of harm’s way. ‘A Haste spell’, Giles thought. He hesitated for a second, unsure of whether it would be best to aid Nalia or to unsling his guitar and use Bard magic to neutralize the speed of the deadly halfling, and the remaining human advanced to attack him before he could take action. Viconia rushed to help the badly wounded Nalia. Giles breathed a sigh of relief as he saw her actions and then concentrated his attention on his sword-wielding opponent.
Korgan’s opponent was bleeding heavily from a deep axe wound but still managed to raise high an ornate wand. A pillar of flame seared down to strike Korgan. The dwarf ignored it and struck again. “Ach, ye lang sleekit scunner,” he growled. Tendrils of evil-smelling smoke arose from Korgan’s face. “Ah’ll larn ye tae singe ma beard!”
The halfling paused once out of reach and used his uninjured arm to pull a potion bottle from a belt pouch. Before he could drink from it he was felled by a corpse thrown by Spike. The vampire was upon the halfling before he could regain his feet.
The yuan-ti mage recovered from the effects of Viconia’s Flame Strike and cast a spell of his own. It had no effect. His hideous reptilian jaw dropped in obvious surprise. Then Yoshimo fell on him with katana blows that failed to penetrate the Stoneskin but kept the mage off balance.
Sorkatani slew the enemy leader and headed for the mage. She lashed out with Celestial Fury in a backhand blow as she passed Giles’ opponent and struck his head from his shoulders. A moment later she was at the mage and raining down blows upon it. Her second strike activated Celestial Fury’s power of shock and the mage froze in place, stunned, as the barrage of impacts whittled away at the spell’s protective power. Korgan had hacked his opponent to pieces and he joined Sorkatani and Yoshimo. The spell failed and the yuan-ti mage perished.
Sorkatani flicked the blood from Celestial Fury and twirled it into the scabbard. She looked to Nalia, who was already sitting up under Viconia’s care, and then at the dwarf. Her eyebrows shot upwards. “Korgan, your beard is on fire.”
“Jings, sae it is!” he exclaimed. He smothered the flames with gauntleted hands. “Ah weel, a wee spell or a quaff of a potion an’ ah’ll be richt as rain. Let’s see whit loot yon buggers hae aboot their persons, lassie.”
The gnome who had been cowering at the far side of the chamber stood up and approached the Perfect Warrior. “I thank you, my Lady, for your timely rescue,” he addressed her. “I fear that it will only be a temporary respite, alas, but I am grateful nonetheless. I am afraid that I gave little thought as to what I would do after I removed my collar.”
“Temporary respite?” Giles frowned. That sounded ominous.
“Your collar? What do you mean?” Sorkatani asked. Her brows descended in a frown that matched that of Giles. She looked at the bodies of the three fallen humans. Those slain by Spike wore collars around their necks. Another collar lay beside the body of the man whose head she had removed.
“Thrall collars,” the gnome explained. “All prisoners in this place must wear them. They take away our will and we must helplessly obey the commands of the guards. Mine was flawed and I managed to remove it. I was being punished for that action when you arrived.”
“Then we have slain those who were not our enemies. A shame, but I doubt that it could have been avoided.” Sorkatani glanced along a corridor that led away from the chamber. “I wonder if Raelis Shai and her group have been fitted with such collars yet? I saw them being led away and they did not seem to be resisting. They did not reply when I called out to them.”
“You are friends of the actors? You are lucky that they were not also set upon you so that you would have been forced to slay them,” the gnome said. “Yes, they have been given collars. To rescue them will be hard. Perhaps impossible.”
Sorkatani tilted her head to one side. “I suspect that our journey home will be impossible without the planar gem.” She gestured towards the swirling nothingness that had replaced the portal through which they had entered. “We rescue them or we stay here.”
“Ah, where is ‘here’?” Giles asked. “I take it that we are not in the city of Sigil from which Raelis Shai fled to Earth – I mean, to Faerun?”
The gnome shook his head. “This is the Prison of the Planes,” he said, “and none have ever escaped.”
“Yeah, well, there’s always a first time,” Spike said. He bent down and began to search the corpse of the halfling assassin.
“Indeed,” Giles said. “I might be able to tip the odds in our favor somewhat, I think. Tonight,” he said, releasing the staff-spear with one hand and patting his guitar, “there’s gonna be a jailbreak.”- - - - -
“I think we might have a problem, dude,” Jonathan said. Warren didn’t react. He stayed still staring at his own monitor. “Uh, Warren? Do you copy, dude?”
“Uh, whazzat?” Warren turned his head. A huge grin lit up his face. “She e-mailed me. Katrina actually e-mailed me.”
“She did? And I’m guessing that it wasn’t just to tell you to drop dead, huh? Hey, that’s cool. Are you, uh, dating again?”
Warren’s grin faded slightly. “Well, not as such. But she says that I can meet her for a coffee when she’s in Sunnydale next, maybe two or three weeks from now.” The grin returned. “Hey, her not wanting me dead is an improvement, right?”
“Yeah, that’s great, man.” Jonathan smiled briefly but then returned to his original topic. “We have a problem, Warren. The sort that’s gonna cost money to fix.”
Warren lost the grin. “What’s up, doc?”
“Well, the Autosave when they went into the Planar Prison hung for ages,” Jonathan explained. “I thought for a while that it wasn’t gonna work, but it saved eventually. So then I did a save after the first fight, and that hung too, and I shut down and checked out the game.” He pursed his lips. “The disk is pretty near full. I deleted temporary files, uninstalled all the other programs on the machine, everything I could think of, and I only made it up to three point four gigs of free space. The game’s growing like, well, like a Tribble colony. We need a bigger hard disk.”
Warren grimaced. “It’s frigging sixty gigs, man. They don’t come much bigger. Not that we can afford, anyway.” He bit his bottom lip. “There’s a seventy-three gig one just out. But how long is that gonna last? I’ll have to get it to run from two hard drives.” He nodded to himself. “That’d be a bitch with the straight game, but this thing should be smart enough to cope. Yeah, I think I can rig it. Maybe if I get it to read from the second disk after they set off for Spellhold, in the chapter break, that should work. Yeah.”
Jonathan frowned. “Uh, Warren, you’ve probably already thought of this, but, uh, how big is the Pirate game?”
Warren’s jaw dropped. “Shit! I never thought of that. If it’s bigger than a DVD can hold then we’re in deep shit. It would never sell.” He turned back to his own PC, gazed briefly at the e-mail from Katrina, and then reluctantly closed it and began investigating file sizes. He heaved a deep sigh. “We’re okay. It’s big, but not too big. There’ll be plenty of room to fit the rest of the stuff on, even a music track, and still fit it onto a DVD.”
“What about the BG mod?” Jonathan asked.
“Oh, that’s gonna be way smaller than the game with Buffy and Spike in,” Warren said airily. He checked out the folders. “Only one point three gigs. No problemo.”
“Warren,” Jonathan said slowly, “we’re not putting that on DVD. It’s supposed to go up for download at Baldurdash and Planet Baldur’s Gate. Nobody’s gonna download a one point three gig file, man, not unless they know in advance that it’s really good. On dial-up it would take, like, about a year. And it only goes as far as Spellhold. How big is it gonna be with the Underdark and Suldanessellar and that stuff on?”
Warren’s mouth turned down at the corners as Jonathan spoke. “Oh, shit. Yeah. You’re right, dude. So much for getting a big rep out of it.” His brow furrowed for a moment. “No, wait, we’re okay. I can break it up into sections. Maybe I should get on with that now. I don’t need to wait until the real thing gets all the way through. I can start straight away. I’m stuck on the Pirate game until Andrew finishes that last rewrite.”
“Don’t forget about the hard drive thing,” Jonathan reminded him.
“I won’t. You can get by with the available free space for a while, right?”
“I guess,” Jonathan said. “They should be sticking around town for a little while after the guys get out of the prison. Giles is gonna do a concert with Viconia and Korgan.”
“I wonder if Joan and the guys would like to see that,” Warren mused. “Rupert would, for sure. Hey, pause when they get near to it, dude, and I’ll give the guys a call.”
“Sure thing,” Jonathan promised. “It should be a great gig. It’s just a shame they don’t have a trumpeter.”- - - - -
Nalia laid aside the knife that had been used to stab her in the back. “The enchantments to enhance the edge are as great as those upon Buffy’s Blade of Roses,” she announced, “and it also carries an enchantment to produce sleep. A powerful weapon for its size. Yet its shape is strange and I would deem it difficult to wield.”
“It’s not that hard,” Spike said. “Seen knives like this before, in France. Come from North Africa, I think. They look like they’d be crap for throwing but, if you know the trick, they’re not bad.”
“And do you know that trick?” Sorkatani asked.
“Yeah, I can handle one,” Spike said. “Only thing is, it’s a bugger of a shape for wearing at your belt. Don’t fancy using it long-term. I vote I carry it around in here and then we flog it when we get back to town. Everybody okay with that?” There were no dissenting voices. Spike went on to hand Nalia a pair of boots. “Check these out, luv, would you? All the halflings I’ve seen around go barefoot, ‘cept for that Mazzy bird, and the little bugger who was wearing these was zipping around like Speedy Gonzales. Could be cause and effect.”
“You suspect, then, that they are Boots of Speed?” Nalia accepted the boots and examined them. “You are correct, Spike. They do indeed bear that enchantment.”
“They would be of little benefit to you, Spike,” Sorkatani said. “You can run almost as fast without them. Viconia and I are also fast runners. I suggest that they go either to Giles or to Nalia, to help them to stay clear of the fray the better to cast spells, or else to Korgan that he may charge into the fight at great speed.”
“Aye, that’d be richt braw,” Korgan said. His eyes seemed to light up as he gazed upon the boots.
“I don’t think that they’re quite my thing,” Giles said. “Somehow I don’t think that racing around like a mad thing whilst I am performing is quite my style.”
“News that will gladden Jaheira’s heart, I am sure,” Viconia commented. Spike choked back a laugh.
“The boots would be of use to me,” Nalia said. “Perhaps the good dwarf and I should draw straws?”
Korgan raised a flat hand to shade his brows and peered around the room in a theatrical fashion. “Ah’m lookin’ for the guid dwarf ye mentioned,” he said. “Ah’m nae guid, lassie, and dinnae ye forget it.”
“Ah, yes, um, ah, I meant that you are a good fighter, of course, Korgan,” Nalia explained.
“Aye, ah am that,” Korgan agreed. “Aye, ah’ll draw straws wi’ ye.” He glared at her. “An’ mah waur luck will run true, ye ken, an’ the laird’s dochter will aye hae yon boots, an’ the puir dwarf will be left wi’ naethin’, forbye.”
“Oh, ah, well, I have these dragon-skin boots,” Nalia said. “Perhaps you should have the Boots of Speed after all.”
“Do not be so easily swayed, Nalia,” Sorkatani put in. “Have we not passed on to Korgan the axe Frostreaver, a mighty weapon, and one that comes from your own keep? Draw straws as agreed.”
Korgan laughed. “Ah weel, a dwarf maun try,” he said. “Ye’ve braw legs fur the pullin’, lassie. Dinnae fash yersel’.”
Nalia blushed. “I really don’t mind,” she said. “The dragon-skin boots offer protection against fire and acid. It would be a shame to abandon them.” She hastily moved on to identify another item retrieved from the fallen foes. It was a suit of finely-crafted chain mail taken from the leader of the group that had abducted Raelis Shai and her party. The links were small and closely woven so that the mail seemed almost to resemble cloth. It jingled softly as she handled it.
Nalia’s eyebrows climbed high up her brow. “I sense a strong enchantment indeed,” she said. She took a fresh drink of the infusion of powdered pearls that were a component of her Identify spell and uttered the incantation once more. “This is quite remarkable. Elvish manufacture, such as I have never seen before. This armor was created for a bard.” Giles pricked up his ears. “Melodic Chain,” Nalia went on. “As strong as your armor of leather reinforced with Shadow Dragon scales, I deem, and with strange enchantments beyond that. It is designed to resonate with a bard’s songs, accompanying them, and strengthening their magic.”
“A valuable prize indeed,” Sorkatani commented, as a beaming Giles donned the armor. “We are stronger than when we arrived. Let us press on with our mission.”
“Not that way,” the gnome said, as Sorkatani looked towards the direction in which Raelis Shai had been taken earlier. He gestured towards another exit from the chamber. “If you take that route, and slay the Master of Thralls first, you may be able to break the spell that controls the slave collars. Then the prisoners would aid you against the warden instead of fighting you. He is a cambion, and will be hard to beat even with their aid.”
“Just what is a cambion?” Giles put in.
“A demon,” Sorkatani told him. “Much more human in appearance than most, but very powerful. A foe most fell. This gnome’s suggestion has much merit.”
“What about this Master of Thralls geezer?” asked Spike. “I’m guessing he’s not gonna be any pushover.”
“A tana’ari,” the gnome said.
“Also a demon,” Sorkatani translated. “Such a one as we fought in the Slavers’ house where I won Celestial Fury. I had no weapon then that could pierce its hide.”
“He has two pets, fierce wyverns,” the gnome went on, “and there is something else. Something invisible that rends its victims limb from limb.”
Sorkatani looked at Spike, grinned, and turned back to face the gnome. “That is a game at which two can play.”- - - - -
“Anomen Delryn? I bring a message from the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart.”
Anomen glanced aside at Buffy, swallowed, and then returned his attention to the messenger. “Is it, then, time for my test of knighthood?”
“It is,” the messenger confirmed. “You are to present yourself to Sir Ryan Trawl at the High Hall of the Order at the earliest possible opportunity. It is permitted for your companions to accompany you.”
Anomen turned to Buffy and took hold of her hand. “Buffy, my dear,” he said, “wouldst thou come with me to the High Hall for my test? Your shining example has been my inspiration in all things and it is by thinking of what you would do that I hope to succeed in my trials. Your presence would be a great comfort and support to me and nothing could give me greater pleasure than if you would permit me to wear your favor.”
“Of course, Anomen,” Buffy said. She squeezed his hand gently. “I’d love to come.”
A few yards away Tara mimed sticking her fingers down her throat. “Can I say ‘cheesy lines’?” she whispered to Willow.
“Can you ever?” Willow agreed. “But hey, at least he says something. Yoshimo could take lessons, ‘cause even cheesy lines are better than just making with the sheep’s eyes and following Tani around, you know?”
“He could take better lessons than that,” Tara said. “Maybe we could give him some pointers? Or Spike could, I guess, and we could give some to Tani.”
“Except that Spike has gotten absolutely nowhere with Buffy,” Willow pointed out. “I guess a heartbeat counts for a whole lot.”
The messenger had moved away from Anomen and he addressed Xander. “Xander Harris?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Sir Ryan Trawl of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart desires interview with you on the matter of your prospective knighthood. He bids you call upon him at the High Hall of the Order at your earliest convenience. If you would be so good as to accompany Anomen Delryn this would be ideal.”
“Uh, yeah. Prospective knighthood? You mean it?”
“Why, certainly. Word of your exploits has reached our ears and it seems clear that you are indeed a paladin, for you wield the holy weapon Carsomyr, and yet you have no title. The Order intends to rectify that matter, subject to you proving worthy, and that will be a mere formality as the sword itself will not suffer the unworthy to bear it.”
“Hey, way cool! Sir Xander. Wow. Hey, if Giles has to call me ‘Sir Xander’ that will be a total blast.”
“Does that mean that I will be a Lady when we are married?” Anya asked. “And when are we going to get married anyway?”
“So, are we all going to go to the Radiant Heart place?” Buffy asked the group.
“I dunno, Buff, maybe some of us should stay here and wait for the others,” Willow said.
“I shall stay,” Jaheira volunteered. “Giles and Tani will no doubt be here before long.”
“I guess,” Buffy said. “Although, don’t hold your breath. Giles kinda loses track of time when he’s settled down with a moldy old book in a stuffy old library.”- - - - -
The wyvern’s sting struck just above the gorget of Viconia’s armor and pierced deep into her neck. She dropped her mace and flail and staggered backwards. She clutched at her throat with both hands and tried to utter the words of a healing spell but only choked. Her throat was swelling and she couldn’t breathe. Her eyes opened wide in a mute appeal for aid and she collapsed to the ground.
Sorkatani and Spike were locked in desperate battle with the Master of Thralls. Nalia had been stunned by the tana’ari’s magical gaze and stood immobile gazing into the distance with vacant eyes. Yoshimo fought the other wyvern. It had been severely weakened by a Cloudkill spell but was still attacking ferociously. Korgan flailed with his axe at an invisible opponent, an air elemental, which was bludgeoning him with fists of solid air. Giles was the only unengaged member of the party. He was playing ‘I can see clearly now’ in the hope that it would enable them to see the invisible elemental but he abandoned the song as he saw Viconia fall.
Giles dropped his guitar and snatched up the staff-spear. “Viconia’s down!” he shouted, and he charged towards the wyvern. It opened its jaws and lowered its head to bite the helpless drow. Giles thrust out with the staff and jabbed the blade into the side of the wyvern’s neck. It hissed, raised its head, and lashed out at him with the sting at the end of its tail.
“Ah see ye the noo, ye greet gust ‘o wind,” Korgan cried gleefully. He struck out with a new accuracy and the air elemental recoiled.
Sorkatani heard Giles’ cry and cast a quick glance over her shoulder. “Spike!” she began, intending to ask him to hold off the Master of Thralls so that she could try to save Viconia, but he misunderstood. He whirled around and threw the assassin’s knife at the wyvern. It pierced the scales of the beast’s neck but the enchantments of sleep had no effect.
Spike was on the move even before the knife hit. He raced across to where Viconia lay. He was in game face, snarling ferociously, and he laid into the wyvern with an irresistible fury. His sword bit deep into its neck and it roared in pain. Spike struck again with every ounce of his strength and pierced its skull. The creature’s wings furled up and its legs buckled. Spike hit it again and it toppled. Spike snatched Viconia out from under it as it fell.
“Fuck! She’s not breathing!” Spike gasped. He clamped his lips over hers and tried to force air into her lungs. Her swollen throat frustrated his efforts.
Giles retrieved his guitar. “I’ll see to her. Help Yoshimo,” he said to Spike, and he strummed a chord. “‘Breathing,’
” he sang, choosing a part of Kate Bush’s song by that name that did not deal with the main theme of nuclear apocalypse and death, “‘Out, in, out, in, out, in… Breathing’,
Spike pulled the assassin’s dagger out of the wyvern’s body. His arm blurred and the weapon streaked across the chamber. His aim was perfect. The knife hit dead center of the reptile’s eye and it shrieked and reared up high. Yoshimo drove home his katana into its exposed belly and jumped clear as it toppled.
“Sorted,” Spike said, starting to turn back to Viconia, and then his lips drew back from his teeth. “Shit! Tani!” He took off like a sprinter but knew that he would arrive too late.
The tana’ari had four arms with which to fight. It caught hold of Sorkatani’s right arm with one claw. As she brought her left across to try to free itself it seized that arm too. The demon’s eyes gleamed as it opened its fanged maw to bite off her head.- - - - -
“Arise, Sir Anomen,” Sir Ryan Trawl declared. “Arise, Sir Xander.”
The two new knights rose from their knees and thanked the Commander of the Order. Anomen made straight for Buffy. “At last I am created knight,” he said. “The day for which I have longed for years is here at last. Rejoice with me!”
“That’s wonderful, Anomen. Sir Anomen,” Buffy said. “Do you get any, like, cool new powers?”
Anomen tilted his head to one side and frowned. “I know not. Ah, indeed, I feel a renewed sense of power. I believe that I shall gain access to more spells, for I have risen in Helm’s favor.”
“Way cool,” Buffy enthused. “Uh, party time?”
“Some modest celebration would be in order,” Anomen agreed. “I crave a boon, my Lady. Grant me a kiss in honor of this occasion.”
Willow and Tara exchanged eye-rolls. Buffy’s gaze was directed at the rather severe countenance of Sir Ryan Trawl and she missed her friends’ expressions. “Uh, yeah, sure, but not here,” she said. “In a little while, ‘kay?”
“Sir Xander,” the senior paladin addressed the new knight, “there is a small matter in which you could be of great service to the Order.”
Xander and Anya exchanged looks in which the unspoken words ‘I knew there’d be a catch to this’ were implicit. Xander shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, what do you want me to do?”- - - - -
Sorkatani’s foot lashed up. She caught the tana’ari under the chin with force enough to have killed a human outright. Even the powerful demon was rocked back on its feet by the impact and its grip on her arms slackened. Sorkatani pulled free her right arm, seemingly with ease, and slashed Celestial Fury across the limb that held her left arm pinioned. Spike and Yoshimo arrived at that point but their aid was unnecessary. Sorkatani swept aside the tana’ari’s defenses with her left hand sword and smote to the head with Celestial Fury. The demon’s skull spilt apart and it dropped like a stone.
Sorkatani turned away from the fallen Master of Thralls and looked around. The wyverns were dead. Korgan had destroyed the air elemental, once able to see it, although he had taken a beating in the process. Nalia was still stunned but the effects would wear off in time. It was Viconia whose case was urgent and Sorkatani ran to her. Spike followed at her heels although there was little that he could do to help.
Giles’ song seemed to have helped a little. Viconia was breathing, shallow rasping breaths that provided only barely enough oxygen to her lungs, but she was unconscious and her skin was changing hue as the poison spread through her system. Sorkatani crouched, laid her hands upon Viconia’s brow, and cast two spells in quick succession.
Viconia’s eyes opened. “Jabbress,” she croaked. “I thought I would die.”
“I have only slowed the venom,” Sorkatani warned her. “You must cure yourself.”
“I shall, now that I can speak.” Viconia chanted the words of a Neutralize Poison spell and sat up. “We have won, then?”
“This battle, at least,” Sorkatani told her.
“I think we have the key to our release,” Yoshimo announced. He brandished an orb that he had retrieved from the body of the Master of Thralls. “If I am not mistaken this is the controller of the collars. We shall have to fight only guards from now on and not fellow prisoners.”
“You okay, Vicky?” Spike asked.
“I need yet more healing, but I can manage that for myself,” Viconia replied. She fixed her gaze on his face. “You came to aid me. I was fading but I saw. And I felt your lips.”
“Was worried about you,” Spike admitted. “Not that I did much. Giles kept you breathing.” He shook his head. “And I left Tani in the lurch. Sorry, jabbress. Thought I'd really dropped you in it there. In a real pickle. Dunno how you got free.”
“I drew upon the power of Bhaal,” Sorkatani admitted. “I do not like to do so except in the direst need but, when I do, then I am stronger perhaps even than Buffy.” She stood up. “We should not waste it. The power will not last for long. Let us strike while the iron is hot. We can examine the weapons that we have taken later, once the warden has been destroyed.”
“Nalia is still – ah, she’s moving again,” said Giles. “Very well, then, to the furnace to destroy the thrall controller and then,” he blasted out several power chords, “‘Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in this town. See me and the boys we don’t like it, so we’re getting up and going down’.
”- - - - -
“You have known us for such a short time and yet you have bought our freedom with blood and at the risk of your own,” Raelis Shai said. “My child, it is a debt that we can never repay.”
Sorkatani lowered her head slightly. “I said that I would protect you from whatever came through the conduit,” she said. “I keep my word, or try to, always.”
“Nevertheless you have gone far beyond what anyone could have expected,” Raelis Shai said. “The deeds to the playhouse are but poor recompense for such efforts, but we have little else to offer.”
“We have gained treasure enough from our fallen foes,” Sorkatani assured her. “Return us to Athkatla and all shall be repaid.”
Korgan squinted up at Raelis Shai and muttered to Spike under his breath, “Thot’s aye easy fur the lassie tae say. Mahsel’, ah’d nae hae turned doon a wee blaw job.”- - - - -
“So your quiet time in the library didn’t turn out so quiet, huh?” Buffy grinned at Sorkatani.
“Indeed,” Sorkatani said. “But we gained weapons and armor of great value from our adventure. The chain mail that Giles is wearing most of all, I think, but the Staff of Air is of no small worth either and nor is the sword Adjatha the Drinker.”
“We did okay too,” Buffy said. “A much better scimitar for Jaheira and a magical club that she’s totally thrilled with, a cool staff, and some other neat stuff. And hey, another day or two and Cromwell will have finished all the dragon skin armor.” She paused to sip at her goblet of wine. “Hey, maybe we can take a couple of days off and just hang out.”
“That would be pleasant,” Sorkatani agreed. “I sense that soon we will be as prepared for Imoen’s rescue as we can be. There is a sword that I would seek out, and a ring, and we should investigate Valygar’s Planar Sphere, but then I shall approach Gaelen Bayle and ask him to set us on the way to Spellhold.”
“Yeah. But for now let’s just enjoy the moment, okay? Giles is gonna do his big concert thing. No more adventuring until after that.” Buffy sipped at her wine once more. “Once in a while a girl just wants to have fun.”- - - - -
“I must confess that I feel rather nervous on my other self’s behalf,” Rupert said. “It does seem to be something of a step up from playing at the Espresso Pump.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like the crowd in Medieval Land have seen the Beatles or the Stones,” Randy said.
“True,” Rupert agreed, “but his backing group is something of an unknown quantity.”
“They were a big hit when it was just Giles and his guitar with some guest vocals from Spike and Tara,” Jonathan reminded them.
“Hey, hush up,” Joan said. “It’s starting.”- - - - -
An exploration of the store rooms at the playhouse had revealed a set of drums that was probably as close as this world could get to a proper drum kit. Korgan had fallen upon them with glee and the final rehearsals had, in Giles’ opinion, been very successful. For all that he was still nervous as the time came to begin. The house was full to capacity. A poor performance would wreck his reputation in Athkatla probably beyond recovery. Giles drained a glass of water and strode out onto the stage.
As the opening number he had chosen one of his all-time favorites. It was a shame that they had no bass guitar, of course, but the audience wouldn’t miss what they didn’t know. And, while he might be no Eric Clapton, and Korgan was no Ginger Baker, it had sounded rather good in rehearsal. Giles struck the opening note, Korgan thundered out a roll of drums, and they were off.
“In a white room with black curtains near the station.
Black roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings.
Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes.
Dawn light smiles on you leaving, my contentment…
”- - - - -
Rupert raised his eyebrows and nodded. “That really is rather good,” he commented.
“Not too bad,” Randy conceded. “For a middle-aged rocker.” He tilted his head to one side. “See the black elf bint is joining them. Smart bit of talent.” He sensed Joan’s eyes on him. “For an inch-high computer graphic, that is.”- - - - -
Spike was watching from the side of the stage. He expected ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ and was taken by surprise when Korgan began a repetitive thumping beat and Giles twanged out a Lindsey Buckingham riff. Viconia sang in a sultry voice that almost matched that of Stevie Nicks.
“Listen to the wind blow
Watch the sun rise
Run in the shadows
Damn your love
Damn your lies
And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain…
”- - - - -
Giles was determined to make this a show worthy of the name. There had not been time to rehearse a great many songs with Korgan and Viconia, and so he sang accompanied only by his guitar on over half the numbers, but all went down well. Songs from the repertoires of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack, the Moody Blues, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Ian Drury and the Blockheads, The Who, The Byrds, Rush, Cheap Trick, and Joni Mitchell. He brought on Tara to do ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ once more, gave Spike the lead on ‘Rebel Yell’ but with drum accompaniment on this occasion, and showcased Viconia again on ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.
After a solo rendition of Rod Stewart’s ‘Mandolin Wind’ it was time for the finale. Korgan sat at the drums and began tapping out the rhythm. Giles strummed out the opening chords. The two men kept this up for nearly a minute before Viconia walked out from the wings.
She had abandoned all attempts to disguise her race. Her face was unveiled, her white hair hung loose, and her robes left her dark-skinned midriff bare. A star sapphire gleamed in her navel. Her arms rose as if they were floating as she stepped lightly across the stage, twisting and turning, her hips swaying with the rhythm.
“I see you in the darkness
I see you in the light
I see your eyes shining
In through the night
Make me feel, make me feel
Like I belong
Don't leave me, you won't leave me here
Cast your eyes
Like summer skies
Blue earth and the ocean
Clearer than the skies, yeah!
Sunshine on a rainy day
Makes my soul, makes my soul trip, trip, trip away
Sunshine on a rainy day
Makes my soul, makes my soul trip, trip, trip away…
She was singing to Spike. She faced the audience for most of the song, but her eyes strayed constantly to where he sat in the wings. Every swivel of her hips, every time her tongue licked across her lips, was aimed at him.
And it worked.
Viconia left the stage after the final bows and made her way to Spike’s side. “I felt your eyes upon me, Spike,” she told him. “You desire me. I know this.”
“Won’t deny it,” Spike admitted, “but you’re still wasting your time. Not gonna lay a finger on you, pet. Being burned doesn’t appeal to me.”
Viconia reached out and touched him lightly on the arm. “Spike,” she said, her voice gentler than he had ever heard it, “I would not burn you. I would not use you for a moment’s pleasure and then cast you aside. I desire you, that is true, but you are also a true abbil. I take pleasure in the sound of your voice, in the things you say, the way you make me laugh, and I do not wish to lose those. Yet can we not have both? Share a bed and wake in the morning as abbin still? Would this not be appealing to you also?” She lowered her eyes. “I know not if what I feel for you is what the rivvin call ‘love’, for such is rare indeed among the drow. But I have never felt like this for a male before. I offer myself to you. Do not reject me.”
Spike put his hand on hers and stared into her eyes. “No-one’s ever said anything like that to me before,” he said. He took a step closer to her so that he was almost pressed up against her body. “Better not be jerking my chain, love. Couldn’t stand it.”
“I jerk no chain, Spike,” Viconia said. “I speak as I feel.” She ran her tongue lightly over her parted lips. “I want you to want me. I need you to need me. I’d love you to love me.”
Spike laughed gently. “Got quite a memory for lyrics there, pet.” He touched his fingers to her cheek. “You mean it? Bloody hell. And it’s not like Buffy even gives a toss. Must be an idiot to have turned you down in the first place. Bloody gorgeous, you are. Oh, sod it.” He groaned and pulled Viconia to him. His lips fastened on hers. Her arms went around his shoulders and pulled him closer.- - - - -
Joan glared at the screen. She glanced around, saw that no-one else was watching at that moment, and clicked on Buffy’s icon. The scene changed. Buffy was sitting on Anomen’s lap and his arm was around her.
Joan’s expression didn’t change. She clicked on Sorkatani and found herself watching a stilted conversation between the warrior maiden and Yoshimo, full of tentative glances and unvoiced sentiments, with nothing overt being said at all. She moved away from the PC and waited her chance to catch Warren alone.
She took his arm and guided him away from the others. “The game is all wrong,” she told him. “You have to put it right.”
Warren stared at her and a crease appeared between his eyebrows. “Wrong? I don’t get it. Which game?”
“The Baldur’s Gate thing,” Joan told him. “The other me. Buffy. And Spike.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
Joan’s lips were a tight line across her face. “Buffy is with that Amon Hen guy. Spike is making out with that dark elf ho. It’s not right. She is me and Spike is Randy. They should be together.”
“I got to admit I don’t get the Buffy and Anomen thing,” Warren admitted. “He’s, like, totally dull. And a bit of a jerk. But Viconia’s a hot chick.”
Joan flushed. “I don’t care. It’s wrong. Put it right.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Warren said. “I looked at them in Shadowkeeper and the LoveTalk variables just aren’t there any more. They’re making their own decisions, and that includes the game characters. If Spike and Viconia have gotten together there isn’t anything that I can do about it.”
“Yes there is,” Joan insisted. “You can get rid of her. And Amon Hen.”
Warren’s frown deepened. “Get rid of them? What do you mean?”
“You owe me,” Joan reminded him. “The birthday party, Katrina, remember? You owe me. And it’s not like they’re real. They’re just made up. Pretend people in a computer. You can get rid of them.”
Warren’s eyes widened. “You don’t – you can’t mean – get rid of them? No. I can’t.”
“Yes you can," Joan insisted. “Delete them, write them out of the script, whatever, I don't care how you do it. Just kill them off.”The End… of this volume.
Author’s note; when I started this I hadn’t read the site rules in detail and I hadn’t realized that there are supposed to be length restrictions. This story is considerably over those restrictions and it’s still a long way from the end. Therefore I am going to break it off here and call it a new story from the next chapter.
Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use. Lyrics performed by Rupert Giles in this chapter are taken from ‘Jailbreak’ by Thin Lizzy, ‘Breathing’ by Kate Bush, and ‘White Room’ by Cream. Lyrics sung by Viconia are from ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac and ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ by Zoë.