Forgotten Slayer

City of Splendors

Author: Malaskor <malaskor[at]>

Copyrighted: October 22, 2002

Disclaimer: All characters with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are property of their respective creators, authors, owners, producers and agencies. These characters are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended or meant and no money will be made from this story. This story may be copied in its entirety and may be distributed as long as all copyright information remains.
The Storming Knights, Saran, Canth and the Stormbows belong to Chrys and are used with permission.
Parts from Sword of Life were taken with permission.

Warning: none Crossover(s) ahead
The following books and TV series have been used in this story:
* Buffy the Vampire Slayer
* Forgotten Realms Campaign setting and several source books and adventures
The following fanfiction series has been used in this story:
* Immortal Realms by Chrys ( )

Rating: PG-13 to PG-16; for mild cursing, violence and demonic horror content? in other words a bit more grown up than the series? but only cause we don't have to suck up to censors in the Journeyverse.

Thanks to Tenhawk and Kyle for letting me play with their universe and ideas.

Thanks also to Tim Knight for allowing me to use his characters. You will be missed man.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Somewhere else, sometime else

"A new player has entered the game."

"I know, she will bear watching."

"Indeed. She will be bound to be an interesting diversion."

"That she will be. And maybe she will prove worthy of my or your favor."

"Or someone else will favor her. Or even try to sway her to his cause."

"In that case we should hope that is the right cause."

"That will remain to be seen."

28th Eleasias, Year of the Staff
(1366 Dale Reckoning = 28th August 1995 AD)

After the initial jolt the pail rose steadily, even if somewhat slowly. Their ascent was accompanied by the low creaking of the rope carrying them and the steadily increasing noises from the inn's taproom. A bit over two minutes later the bucket was level with the rim of the well.

With a little jump Buffy left the bucket while Maith slid out gracefully. Now that she had once again solid ground under her feet Buffy looked around the taproom. The forty feet wide well they had been hoisted up was situated well in the middle of the taproom between the bar and most of the dining tables. Nearly all the tables in the large wooden room were occupied and the most of the customers were heavily drinking beer and such from large mugs. Others were obviously eating their dinner, if one considered that it was dark outside the windows.

As the gamblers saw that neither of them had won there was a bit of good natured grumbling from some of them. A portly, old man rose from his seat and took a purse that jingled with coins to two men in blue and silver robes that reminded Buffy a bit of priests, though these had a disc hanging where on Earth a cross would have been. With a nod the priest accepted the purse and let it vanish in a deep pocket of his robes. Then he smiled and said something to the man that caused the elderly man to nod.

A gruff voice from behind the bar startled the Slayer out of her observations. "Lass, if I were you I would quickly peace-bond my sword. The Watch doesn't like it if people wander around with unbound weapons."


As she saw that Buffy didn't understand what the barkeep wanted from her, Maith came to her rescue and explained the city's law about binding weapons inside its walls. "Buffy, you have to bind your sword with a bit of cord to its scabbard so that you can't draw the weapon without serious intent. The law was introduced to prevent unnecessary bloodshed and strife should enemies meet. If you have to fight with someone then you can challenge him to a lawful duel that will be observed by the authorities. Let me show you how to fashion a peace-knot."

With deft movements of her nimble fingers the elf maiden showed Buffy how to make the know so that she couldn't draw the weapon in anger, if one didn't count on her Slayer strength, but with a simple tug to one end free the swords again to defend herself if necessary.

When this little chore had been completed Maith said, "Come on, I want to get to my parents and introduce you to them."

"Sure thing. Lead the way."

"Now let me think we are in the Dock Ward and my parents have rented a flat in the South Ward. Yep, I got we have to go that way," Maith said pointing towards her left.

And so they took off through the busy streets. The first building they passed had a sign hanging from a beam above its door that made Buffy's face flush a bright red. Mother Shalinka's House of Pleasure left little doubt about the pleasures available inside. After that they passed framework houses, containing shops and apartments, and warehouses as well as taverns, pubs and inns. But mostly it was private homes and warehouses.

The whole quarter bustled with activity. Carts laden with all kinds of goods were pushed and dragged towards the docks or from there to the various warehouses. More than once Buffy had to stop as the visual impressions that rained down on her threatened to overwhelm her. Slowly realization settled in her.

<I'm really alone. No one of the gang is here.>

Around her bustled the medieval life and if it wasn't for the occasional dwarf, elf or other humanoid that passed her she could nearly have pretended to be on a renaissance fair. But she wasn't the only one staring, she herself drew more than a few with her outlandish garb.

Her occasional stops nearly caused her to loose sight of Maith in the crowd several times. Then they finally came to quieter parts. Less and less people were seen on the street and also the buildings began to change. Where the buildings of the Dock Ward mostly had a ground floor made of stone with two framework stories on top of that the buildings they were now amongst were almost all wooden or mud brick buildings with a framework and stone houses along the main streets.

After following the High Road for a bit towards the south they left the wide street for a side alley, a small sign proclaiming it to be the Anchoret Alley. A few doors down the small road Maith turned to a slightly set back door of a small two story building and knocked. There was a short commotion to be heard behind the door, then the bolt was thrown back and a petite woman opened the door. As she saw Maith the woman uttered a small scream and called back into the house, then the elf launched into a stream of words in a musical language.

The only thing Buffy understood among the flood of words was the repeated use of Maith's name. Not much later an elf with wide shoulders stormed out of the door and gathered Maith in a bear hug, adding his surprisingly deep voice to the stream of words.

Buffy felt another pang of pain but also elation as she watched the family's tearful reunion.

Finally the stream of words ebbed so much that Maith managed to get a word in edgewise. Then she continued, this time intelligible for Buffy, to tell her parents of the drow abducting her and the subsequent rescue from their grasp by Buffy. When she had finished her tale her parents went over to Buffy and gave the surprised Slayer a hug too.

With tears of joy in his eyes the father said, "I don't know how we can thank you for returning our baby to us." That drew a squeal of indignation from Maith. With an indulgent smile the elf continued, "As our daughter told us that you are from far away I ask you to accept our hospitality until you have found a place for yourself."

"Thanks. That would be very nice?." Buffy answered, her voice trailing off as she noticed that she didn't know his name.

"Oh, where are my manners? I'm Seroth Slenderbow and this is my wife Fellare. Please come on in."

"Thanks again."

She had barely answered as Maith already ushered Buffy in. After a short hallway they came into a comfortable, if small, living room a doorway opening into the kitchen. Three closed doors, two chests and a shelf with a handful books as well as a few plants on it occupied one of the walls and another door that led into a little garden filled the last wall together with two windows.

"Come on, we'll share my room for tonight and tomorrow we clear out the guest room for the time you stay," Maith said while tugging on Buffy's arm, nearly dragging her to the left of the three closed doors.

Behind the door was a nice little room with a bed, a couch, a dresser, a wardrobe and a small table with a chair. On the table rested a small harp as well as a few brushes and a piece of canvas. On the walls were several paintings of flowers and a few landscapes depicting rolling hills and wide forests. A small window provided light at day and now at night three flickering oil lamps served as light sources.

"Hmm, comfy room. Can you really play that?" Buffy asked when her gaze reached the harp.

"A little bit. I haven't been playing so long, just fifteen years."

Buffy could just stare. <She really plays harp already for fifteen years and that isn't long?>

A yawn broke through her astonishment and sent both of them into a short bout of giggles. Some time later Fellare called the two into the kitchen for a late dinner consisting of stew and bread. Both Maith and Buffy dug into the hearty meal like starved wolves into a sheep flock. In short order they finished off the whole pot of stew as well as one and a half loaves of bread. Seroth and Fellare smiled widely as they watched the two young women finish off the meal.

"That was really great. Thank you Mrs. Slenderbow."

"Please, call me Fellare. I'm glad to hear that you liked the stew, but I knew it anyway considering how you nearly inhaled it," the elf answered still sporting a wide, friendly grin. Then she continued in the tone every mother seems to have mastered at some time. "Now get ready for bed young ladies, it is late and you look like you need the sleep. Maith see if you have something that will fit your friend for the night. I'll put some water for you on the stove so you can wash yourselves."

"Thanks mum."

"Yes, thank you Mrs? ehm? Fellare."

"You are welcome. Now off with you, go see what Maith can find for you."

Buffy scampered out of the room to find Maith already digging through her wardrobe looking for a night robe that should fit Buffy somewhat. Three had been rejected by her but the one she was now holding up carried promise, as Buffy stopped and with an uncomfortable look on her face asked:

"Say, where can I go for little girls?"

"Oh, sorry I didn't tell you earlier. In the backyard is the outhouse we share with our neighbors."

Maith hadn't even finished her explanation as Buffy already stormed out of the room. Within moments she was in the yard and saw the small wooden outhouse. After taking a deep breath she entered the outhouse. In there she was pleasantly surprised, there was none of the bad smell she had expected and from the sounds she heard Buffy guessed that the outhouse was situated directly above one of the branches of the city sewer. Beside the seat was a box with soft leaves. Five minutes later she returned into the house.

Back in her room Maith had been busy and laid out three nigh gowns for Buffy to choose from. After some deliberation and trying on each several times Buffy finally settled on a simple, beige linen tunic that reached down to her knees. Half an hour later both were cleaned up and ready to go to sleep. Buffy settled on the couch while Maith slipped into her bed. After a bit turning and tossing around the two soon found comfortable positions and drifted off into the land of dreams.

When the sounds in the house and out on the streets finally woke the two girls the sun had already risen high into the sky. The air in the house had begun to get sweltering and what came in through the partially open window wasn't much better, so the two quickly rose and changed. When they came into the kitchen they were already expected by Maith's mother.

"Ah, finally you are awake. I was just going to wake you up. The porridge wouldn't get any better if I kept it any longer on the stove."

Buffy and Maith gratefully accepted the wooden bowls filled nearly to the brim with honey sweetened porridge, quickly consuming their breakfast followed by a mug of milk. While they were busy stuffing themselves with the food Fellare looked over Buffy's clothes and a slight frown began to form on her face. Buffy quickly felt the stare and looked up at Maith's mother.

"Is there something wrong Mrs. Slen? I mean Fellare?"

"Your clothes, you only have that strange armor of yours and you can't walk around in that all the time. You need to get some changes of clothes if only to avoid wearing the same things every day. But it would also make life easier for you if you fit in better, the way you are clad now you will draw attention. And not all of that will be friendly. There are more than enough thieves out there who will rob anyone looking wealthy enough and with such foreign clothes you will be labeled as such even without being rich," Maith's mother explained, by now in full mothering mode.

"Ohhh, shopping. I know just the right shops," exclaimed Maith. "Come on eat up we have so many to visit before nightfall and we also have to get your room ready sometime today."

Buffy grinned and sped her eating speed up, finally there was something in this foreign world, besides slaying, that she understood and more importantly enjoyed. But first the less enjoyable task for the day, after all the quicker they finished the longer they could go around the shops and browse for nice things to buy.

When they opened the door a few minutes later Buffy was greeted by a wicker basket tumbling down from its precarious resting place on top of a cupboard just beside the door. The room was filled with several more of these baskets as well as a few brooms, tools, oil lamps and several massive chests in addition to the same furniture that was in Maith's room.

"That doesn't look too bad," Buffy commented.

"Wait until we get to the chests, my father is a pack rat. He keeps nearly everything that might be even remotely useful sometime later. Anyway, mom said we could stow the chests and baskets away in the cellar and the brooms can go into the pantry."

"O.k. then, let's get started so that we can get out of here."

Maith grinned widely, "That is my kind of talk."

On that note the two stated to stack the baskets for easier transport. Before they continued to carry them into the cellar the brooms were placed in the pantry. When it then was time to get to the trunks Maith and Buffy each tried to lift one to see how heavy they really were. Buffy could lift hers without problem but Maith set hers down with a loud huff.

"Phew, that's even heavier than I thought. How can you lift yours so easily?"

Buffy looked down at the chest she was still holding and realized that without the added strength that being a Slayer brought she would have been able to do so only with utmost exertion. "Oh,? ehm? I have been training for a long time and well that is the result." Buffy explained, not willing to reveal her Slayer-ness yet.

Maith accepted the explanation without as pause and went on to look for a lighter chest. Unfortunately that search was futile and the two girls decided that Buffy would carry the trunks with Maith helping her in navigating the way without damaging either the chests or and furniture or doors.

Within thirty minutes they were out of the building and out on the bustling Way of the Dragon. Maith wove through the masses like dancing and Buffy had a bit trouble following her as she once and again became distracted by the myriad of sights that were visible in the bright daylight. In the north a mountain rose carrying a castle on its flank and topped with a tower-like construction near the top. When she looked more towards the west where the low sounds of the sea could be heard from she sometimes saw parts of a huge stone statue of a regal man staring out on the sea through gaps between the houses. There were shops of all kinds, from weapons and tools to food and clothes; everything seemed to be for sale. Besides a vast amount of inns, taverns and pubs existed small stalls that sold meals to passer-bys reminding Buffy of the fast food chains at home.

But despite all delays they soon reached the first store Maith had selected for Buffy to visit, Hascombe's Fine Threads. The proprietor of this tailor's shop was a balding man in his late forties; his portly frame suggested a well going business. As he saw Maith enter his shop his eyes lit up in delight only to have it just as quickly concealed behind a mask of obviously fake annoyance.

"What have I done wrong that I get to be punished with your presence again Maith you little pain in the neck?"

"Ahh drop the act you old geezer, you simply can't stomach it that I'm better with haggling than you ever will be," Maith returned the good natured teasing of her childhood friend. "See Gerion, I brought you my new friend Buffy, she needs a new wardrobe and you are just the man she needs to get a good one for a reasonable price." As she said this her eyes took on the pleading expression most people associate with little puppies.

"Girl, don't look at me like that," exclaimed the tailor. As she didn't relent a look of resignation flitted over his face. "One day you will drive me into bankruptcy. I have to live from something, you know?"

"I don't ask you to give your goods away, just that you give us a good price."

Buffy amusedly watched Maith and Gerion trade volley after volley for the next minutes until they finally reached a consensus. Then the time of quiet amusement was over for her. Both Gerion and Maith swarmed her and while Gerion took her measurements Maith held cloth sample after cloth sample in front of Buffy's face for her to choose from.

Half an hour later Buffy had placed an order for three white shirts, two trousers, one brown and one black ? or breeches as they were called here - and a simple, flowing, blue dress, all out of sturdy, simple - but still pleasant to wear ? cloth and on top of it all a wide, forest green cloak that would serve well against rain and a large duffle bag to carry all that. Gerion had assured her that all would be ready the next afternoon or early evening. On the one hand Buffy was glad to have some change of clothes soon but on the other hand she began to feel slightly nervous as her money had been reduced to a bit more than two thirds of its previous amount.

<Argh, the money is running out too fast. I have to earn more as soon as possible. But how? What could I do here to earn money?> Quickly Buffy directed her thoughts towards happier things namely shopping, at least for now. <Oh man I'm getting really tailored clothes, no more off the rack?.>

Buffy's thoughts were interrupted as someone emptied his chamber pot on the street, barely missing her.

"Eeek!" Buffy exclaimed disgustedly as she realized what had nearly hit her.

Softly laughing Maith came over to the indignant Slayer. "You have to look out a bit if you are standing in front of a house without a store entrance on the side you are on. On can never say when someone will empty his chamber pot. Come on now, we still have to get you some shoes."

At the mention of more shopping Buffy's bad mood vanished like a light fog in the summer sun. "Shoes, so you also know a shoemaker to cajole into giving me a good price?" Buffy asked with a teasing inflection.

"No, we will have to visit several to find good AND cheap shoes," the young elf answered with a wide grin.

"Well then we better get started, don't we?" Buffy responded. <Oh my god, did I just sound like Giles?>

And so the two started off towards the nearest shoemaker. Ten minutes later they arrived at the first shop. This one wasn't much more than a dingy, dark hole in the wall and while the prices were so low that they would probably find no better price anywhere else the quality was really bad, the leather of the shoes was cracked and the seams were crooked and stitched several times ? in the next rain the wearer's feet would be standing under water. The next two shops had good quality but the prices were overly inflated and way out of Buffy's financial range.

After a few more tries they finally found a shoemaker that offered shoes in an acceptable price bracket. After trying on several pairs of shoes and boots Buffy decided on two pairs of shoes, one of them moccasin-style, and a pair of soft buckskin boots that reached halfway up to her knees. While she tried on the shoes Buffy felt like she did when she was hitting the Sunnydale mall with her friends.

<I wonder what Faith would think of these boots> Buffy thought as she looked over to a pair of hard leather boots that were covered with hundreds of little metal plates that gave the boots a martial yet at the same time beautiful appearance. <Faith? all of them? where are they? Are they still alive or am I the last one left?> She managed only with a lot of effort to keep the feelings of loss and despair at bay that threatened to bubble up and consume her. Her efforts were helped by the amusement she got out of watching Maith haggle with the shoemaker as if there was no tomorrow. After much back and forth they finally reached a price that was acceptable for both sides.

After buying the shoes Buffy and Maith went window shopping along the High Road and then on the grand Market in the northern part of the city. They spent most of the afternoon doing that and Buffy wound up buying a beautiful leather belt and a small brooch that resembled entwined ivy plants. These last two purchases reduced her riches to a mere five gold and three silver pieces, so the two young women decided to take a look at some of the city's sights.

From the marketplace they swung over towards the north and the Sea Ward. As they followed the Street of the Singing Dolphin they passed grand villas partly hidden by looming walls and hedges as well as stone and timber houses that were adorned with masterfully crafted friezes or ornate carvings on statuary as well as the walls. Some were surrounded by wrought iron fences or carried rooftop spires. Besides the spires and gables of the noble villas more than one craggy and mysterious wizard tower rose into the sky, in short no building looked like the other but all spoke of wealth and power. In fact most of them seemed to project an aura of stateliness and majesty (and not to seldom a big dose of haughtiness too).

There were fewer people on the streets than in the other parts of the city, the traffic was dominated by three groups of people - nobles, servants wearing livery in the colors of their houses and patrols of the city watch.

Buffy couldn't stop staring, besides the spectacular, overflowing architecture of the villas there were a few griffons and pegasi circling in the sky carrying one or two riders each. Then they came to an enormous structure, definitely the largest towers she had seen since coming here. It was easily thirty stories high and was the central part of a walled in compound whose entrances stood open. Many people of all social levels entered and left the compound in a more or less steady stream.

Above the Roman entrance was a mosaic of a graceful woman with flowing, unbound, platinum blonde hair and a friendly face with blue eyes that seemed to sparkle like stars who was tossing a coin. Besides the fantastic quality the really impressive thing was that the coin left the woman's hand, flew up in an arc only to be caught again and then the woman presented the coin to the passerby, sometimes it was head and sometimes tails.

"That it the Tower of Luck, the biggest temple of Tymora for many rides around," explained Maith.

"Let me guess, Tymora is the goddess of luck."

"Yes, She is also the patron of adventurers," Maith replied. Then she quickly changed the topic and lightly tugged on Buffy's sleeve when she couldn't tear her sight from the spinning coin. "Come on, there are still so many things I want to show you."

As Buffy turned away from the mosaic to follow Maith she could have sworn that the picture winked at her. Maith guided Buffy through several broad alleys until they came upon the Shield Street. There they turned to the right and followed it a bit. Then Buffy jerked to a sudden stop. There, no more than a dozen meters ahead, in the center of the shiny, black wall of a two story building gleamed a single sparkling gem that was easily as big as her head.

"What do you say now?" the young elf asked with a wide grin.

"Wow?" Buffy was at a loss for words. She simply couldn't get over the size of the multifaceted diamond embedded into the wall in front of her.

After a bit she had gathered her wits enough to think logically again tentatively she reached out for the gem, wanting to feel it, to know if it was real. <Oh my god. Can that be really real?>

Then Maith's voice stopped her from her intended target. "Don't! You'll only hurt yourself." As Maith saw her questioning look she continued to elaborate. "As I saw it the first time I wanted to touch it too and as I did there was that wrenching pain. It was as if there was something protecting the stone, something that ripped a tiny bit off of me to keep me from touching the diamond for more than the blink of an eye."

As Buffy heard that she quickly snatched her hand back to her body. "Ok. Got it. No touching of the shiny stone."

"Well, how about we go now to the Heroes' Garden?"

"Heroes' Garden? What's that exactly? Someone planting heroes and waiting for them to grow?" Buffy asked with a wide grin.

"No, no. It is one of the two big parks here. It got its name from the statues there that show the city's greatest heroes."

"Ahh. Sure, let's take a look there that sounds interesting."

And so they turned away from Halazar's Fine Gems and went towards the southern end of the Shield Street where they turned towards the west until they reached the Heroes' Walk that encircled the park. For the next half hour the two young women strolled through the park and Buffy admired the beautiful statues that stood scattered throughout the park.

<That is nice, here they erect statues for people that fight against the darkness. I wonder if someone will ever do that for anyone who does that at home.> Buffy thought sadly as she reflected about what little appreciation she and the Scoobies had received, even from most of those they had rescued from certain death.

After leaving the park the duo once again wandered to the south and a bit to the west. Soon they reached the Field of Triumph, a arena covering the space pf a whole city block where athletes and warriors competed regularly and more than one exhibition of magical spells took place. And while the size of the building, that reminded Buffy of an angular version of the Coliseum in Rome, was already an overwhelming sight the most awe-inspiring part was the Lion Gate. The entrance was carved into the stone that it looked as if the spectators on their way into the stadium walked straight into the maw of a lion head, a lion head that rose eight stories into the sky.

By the time Buffy was finished with inspecting the building it was near the point they had to return to Maith's home or they would have to run to avoid being late for dinner.

"Come on, better we get home now or we'll be late for dinner and I for one don't want cold leftovers," Maith remarked to Buffy.

Buffy could only agree with that notion and on that note the two scampered off towards the South Ward. When they finally arrived and opened the door the girls were greeted by the smells of grilled fish and fried potatoes and onions.

"Mom! Dad! We are back!" Maith yelled as soon as the door was opened wide enough for her to put her head through the gap.

"And right on time. Hurry up, I'm serving our repast just now. Wouldn't want it to get cold, would you?" Fellare called back from the kitchen.

Soon all were sitting in the kitchen and happily eating. Between forks full of food they talked about their day, but mostly Buffy and Maith talked about what they had seen and bought throughout the day. Maith's father on the other hand told them that he had been to the Watch and told them that his daughter was back safe and sound and then he went to his workshop to continue his usual day.

When all food was finally eaten and the dishes stowed away Seroth stood up and motioned to the girls that they should sit back at the table. Buffy and Maith exchanged confused glances, clearly not understanding why they should remain in the kitchen. Before they could start discussing that, Seroth returned to the room with a bundle in his arms. With a flourish he unrolled it on the empty table. From inside the rolled up woolen blanket emerged a beautiful short bow and leather quiver with half a dozen arrows in it.

"I have thought hard about how I could repay you for rescuing my daughter, Buffy. And while letting you stay here as a guest is a step in the right direction it didn't feel right to leave it with that. Your armor and sword tell that you are a warrior where you come from and so I asked my self how can one thank a warrior better than by giving her another tool for her trade so that she can survive the next battle a bit easier? That decided it for me and so here you are. I fashioned this bow some time ago but I never found a customer I felt comfortable selling it to and I think I know now why. Here, it is yours."

Buffy was overwhelmed, even without having used this bow she could see its high quality. It was made out of a dark brown wood that had a slight silver shimmer to it. The light, elegant curve of the wood spoke of power, the grip was carved into the bow in a way that it didn't reduce the bow's stability and the leather that was wound around the grooves for the wielder's fingers promised a sure grip even in bad weather or with sweaty fingers. A waxed bow string hung from a notch on the upper end, ready for use.

"I? I don't know what to say?"

"'Thank you' would be more than enough. And you are welcome. You have returned to us the most precious thing we ever had," replied Maith's father. This description of her made Maith blush brightly, the light golden tint of her skin now more like bronze.

"Now girls, go to bed. Tomorrow you have to rise early like the rest of us and not sleep half the day away," Fellare disrupted the uncomfortable silence that had fallen over the group after Seroth's declaration.

Grumbling good naturedly, and in Buffy's case still a little dazed, the two young women vanished into Maith's room and got ready to sleep. A few minutes later Buffy emerged again from the room in her loaned nightgown and retreated into the guestroom. Half an hour later the only sound that could be heard in the rooms was the deep, steady breathing of sleeping people.

Chapter 2

The next morning Buffy and Maith were woken by the crowing of the three roosters that were kept in the neighborhood. With a groan Buffy rolled around and drew her blanket over her head. Before she could sink back into the depth of sleep the blanket was yanked off the bed causing Buffy to yell out in indignation. Through still half closed eyes she could see a giggling Maith holding it up into the air in a mock pose of victory.

"Oh, I'm going to get you for that!"

Still giggling Maith ran from the room taking the blanket with her. Grumbling about the injustices of life Buffy finally got up and ready for breakfast. A few minutes later she joined the Slenderbows in the kitchen for dawn fry, consisting of bread, butter, bacon, some fruits and the little bit of leftover fried potatoes from the last evening.

"So what are you going to do today?" Seroth inquired after finishing his first slice of bread.

Before Buffy could say anything Maith piped up, "I wanted to show her more of the city today and then help her with getting her new clothes home."

"Good, good. But don't forget that the end of the next tenday you'll have to have finished the next batch of arrows and only half of them have any fletching on them yet."

"Yes dad," Maith replied with a suffering sigh. Then in a much happier tone she continued to Buffy, "Hurry up. There is much to be seen today."

Buffy could only nod as at the moment her mouth was stuffed with a big piece of bread.

Soon Seroth had to leave for his shop and not much later Buffy and Maith took their leave too. Once again they directed their steps towards Mount Waterdeep and the Castle Ward. While the Sea Ward with its grand villas obviously was the center of wealth in Waterdeep the Castle Ward was both geographically and in terms of power the center of the city. The architecture in this ward was the most diverse one could find, from well-kept five stories high row houses to single houses not higher than two, from high, slender wizard towers to imposing temples, from wooden block buildings over framework houses to those completely built with stone. The southern part of the Castle Ward contained mostly barracks and warehouses attached to the castle and the wealthier trading houses.

Soon they were at the Tower of the Order, a three story stone tower whose wide base was surrounded by a fence of sparkling green light. From time to time parts of the light seemed to coalesce into solidity and then they would depict either a flame surrounded by a ring of stars or a man's left hand pointing upwards. The same signs were also present as blue mosaics inlayed into the wall above the tower's entrance.

"This is the Tower of the Order, it is the temple of Mystra the goddess of magic and Azuth the patron of mages. When you start looking for a mage that can help you this is the place to start."

"Really? Well, maybe I should start right now."

"I don't think so. With what little money you have right now you would be hard pressed to even find a mage to cast a light spell for you. In fact if Beshaba is smiling on you, you would insult the mage if asking without enough money in your purse and you would find yourself as a frog in a lake or some thing like that."

"If who smiles on me?"

"Beshaba, Maid Misfortune. She is the bringer of bad luck and one should always do his best to stay on her good side and not cause her to notice you."

"Oh. Then I guess she doesn't like that Thyme, whose temple you showed me yesterday, very much."

"Tymora," Maith corrected her. "No they don't like each other. In fact they are worst enemies."

"Ok. No asking for help from powerful mages for now. Got it."

Their next goal was the Spires of the Morning. Behind the walls that surrounded the compound was a garden complex that exhibited many strange flowers and bushes but also many that were well known to Buffy. From the garden rose eight beautiful gilded towers that reflected the morning sun in all directions, bringing light even in the deepest shadows among the bushes. The priests tending the park and holding small services for little groups in the towers' ground floors revealed the whole complex as a place of worship.

"So and whose temple is that now?" Buffy asked, slowly starting to wonder how many more gods it had there.

"These are the Spires of the Morning. They are consecrated to Lathander the Morninglord. He is the god of the sun and of new beginnings."

The two young women spent some more time in the lush gardens before they finally left the complex through another exit. As they stepped out on the street Buffy's eyes fell on a high tower a few streets on, it was absolutely black and seemed to have neither windows nor balconies like all the other towers that were scattered throughout the city.

"Whoa. Evil-y looking tower ahead. What's up with that one?"

"That is Blackstaff Tower. The Blackstaff, the archmage of the city lives there with his apprentices and his lady. He is the mightiest mage the city has and one our best defenses."

"So he is not evil?"

"No, he isn't. He is said to be a good man but also harsh. Come on lets visit New Olamn."

"What's that?"

"It's the new bards' college up at the end of Cliffride. If we are lucky we can catch a performance by some famous bard."

"Sounds great. Let's go."

Soon they stood at the entrance to a tunnel winding upwards through the mountain. A plaque over the tunnel opening announced its name as Melody Mount Walk. As they ascended the brightly and colorfully lit tunnel they were treated with low flute music that seemed to emanate from the naked rock the tunnel ran through. Finally on top they were treated with a beautiful view over the city. More than two thirds of the city area could be seen from where they now stood. To their right stood the large building complex that housed New Olamn and further up the mountainside towered Castle Waterdeep, the center of the city's defense. Behind the ridge the castle was built on Buffy could see the torso and head of the gigantic stone statue she had already noticed the day before.

Another breathtaking view was the palace the sat at the foot of the mountain's north flank. It was a lavishly decorated building with several courts that incorporated from Roman to Renaissance architecture most styles that were used between those epochs. It sported a good dozen of pointed spires and quite a lot of balconies as well as a roof terrace that could have served as a helicopter pad if there were something like helicopters anyway.

After sometime they turned from the beautiful view and entered the college. The inside reminded Buffy a lot of the UC Sunnydale, just in a medieval style. There were doors upon doors in the corridors that opened into classrooms and studies, libraries as well as a few halls that were obviously for the performance of theater pieces and concerts. Maith led Buffy to a central courtyard where several young men were practicing their instruments or sang.

"Dang. No one famous here, just students," Maith muttered, just loud enough for Buffy to hear and that was jut because of her Slayer-enhanced hearing. Louder she continued to Buffy, "Those are some of the older students, they should finish their education soon and then set out to make themselves a name. Come on, let's listen to them a bit."

"Sounds like a good idea," Buffy agreed and so the two sat down on one of the stone benches that lined the courtyard's walls.

<That isn't that bad. I could even get used to that music.> She thought as she leant back against the wall and listened with half closed eyes.

After listening to several pieces they stood up again and gave the bards-in-training a short round of applause before leaving.

"So where are we going now?" Buffy asked her guide.

"Now? Now we visit the City of the Dead."

As they descended through the Melody Mount Walk Buffy couldn't help but feel a bit apprehensive at the name 'City of the Dead'.

<City of the Dead? What kind of place deserves to be called a sight of the city and bear that name at the same time? Ah, well I guess I will see soon why, can't be that bad.> Buffy thought as she followed Maith, who had a little joyful spring in her step.

After they had left the tunnel Maith led the Slayer more or less straight towards the east. Once again they crossed through the Castle Ward into the southern reaches of the North Ward. There they stayed true to the direction they had followed so far until they reached a four meter high wall that branched off from the city wall to encircle part of the area protected by the city's fortifications.

"Behind this wall lies the City of the Dead. We will take the northern gate now to enter and leave later through the southern," Maith explained.

After Buffy had nodded her assent the two turned to the north for a short distance until they reached the double gate that protected the entrance to this part of Waterdeep. At the moment it stood wide open and flocks of people passed through the gates in both directions. Behind the portal was a vast parkland, easily big enough to be a city ward in its own right, riddled with dozens if not hundreds of tombs. People strolled across the wide paths and over the well kept lawn or sat in the shadows of some of the large trees that lined some of the ways.

"And this is now the City of the Dead. It is Waterdeep's burial ground and at the same time the largest public park. In those ornate tombs lay nearly all the dead belonging to the noble families of the city. Those large, simple tombs over there are there for the common people that can't afford to have their own tomb and those smaller ones belong to the wealthier traders making their home here," elaborated Maith while they followed one of the less populated paths.

"I see, and for what are the gates and wall around this place?" Buffy queried.

"They are for the protection of the city should a necromancer dare to disturb the rest of the dead. And at the same time they are there to keep people out after sundown. But in that regard they are less than effective, more than one couple climbs over the wall to find a quite place if you understand what I mean."

Smothering a little grin Buffy nodded her understanding. <That is getting more similar to Sunnydale than I thought possible, but here most will survive making out in the graveyard.>

The two young women viewed several of the ornate tombs closely; they were decked out with a multitude of ornamentations. There were statues that looked like angels, humans or animals, mostly in protective poses but there were also some that looked as if they were simply enjoying the beautiful weather. Some tombs had gargoyles on their roof that resembled those that could be found on Earth's gothic cathedrals. Only the ones Buffy saw here were in much better repair and gave the impression that they could take wing at a moment's notice.

Soon a question became obvious to her: "That can't be the only graveyard in this city. Where do you put al the people? There is no way that everyone can be buried in these tombs."

"Oh yes it is possible. Each of these tombs is connected to its own extra-dimensional pocket. And these are always as big as needed, so there is always enough room to lay everyone to rest as befitting their station."

"Wow?," Buffy trailed off as she tried to visualize the amount of magic that was needed for such an endeavor.

"I know, it's impressive; and speaking of impressive look at that mausoleum over there. That one belongs to part of the Wands family. Their clan has some of the mightiest mages of Waterdeep, even of the whole Sword Coast."

The mausoleum Maith had pointed out was a grandiose building constructed with white, red and green marble. It sported several large stained glass windows and two statues of warriors in full plate mail with lions at their feet stood at the entrance, one on each side. Above the gate the family's crest was emblazoned prominently. The immediate surroundings were filled with a sweet fragrance coming from hundreds of small flowers that were planted around the building, surrounding it like a horseshoe.

As they went on, Buffy noticed several times men in gray robes who approached people or tended to lesser tombs. One of them, with already graying hair, came towards them and after offering them a warm smile and nodding in greeting he continued on in the direction they came from. While he approached them Buffy had the chance to muster him in detail, or as much detail as could be seen. The man was in his late sixties with a face that showed every hardship had went through but still projecting a calm openness and friendliness that made one wish to have him as a grandfather. His hair was already thinning and what was left was shorn short, a silver headband encircled his brow. The rest of his body was hidden by the steel gray robe that had a symbol stitched over the heart. The symbol portrayed an upright skeletal arm holding up the golden scales of justice balanced evenly in its fist. Buffy had just finished her inspection of the man as he passed them and left her field of vision.

A few moments later she asked her comrade, "Who or maybe better what was that?"

"I have no idea who that was but with the what I can help you," Maith replied with a grin, finally she wasn't the little child ? now SHE got to explain things. "That was a cleric of Kelemvor, maybe even a member of the Doomguides, that are clerics that are especially favored by Kelemvor and they often travel around in his name on some quest."

"Doomguide? That doesn't sound nice. Why are they allowed to walk around openly?"

"Oh I keep forgetting that you have no idea who which god is. Kelemvor is the god of death and the dead. He is responsible for the judgment of the dead and that everyone gets to the afterlife he or she deserves. Doomguides act as normal clerics of Kelemvor in regard of their day-to-day duties, but they are also responsible for destroying undead wherever they can find them for daring to try escaping their final judgment or simply to grant them their final rest if they became undead against their will."

Buffy nodded her understanding, her thoughts whirling around that new knowledge.

They remained in the graveyard a bit longer before they started moving towards the southern gate that led to the South and Trades Wards. Once again they plunged into the steady streams of people, carts and animals that filled the streets of the southern part of town. They wove through the traffic and finally came to Hascombe's Fine Threads and entered while Maith called out for Gerion.

"Ger, we are here again! Have you finished Buffy's order yet?"

From somewhere in the back of the shop his voice answered, "Just sit down and wait a few minutes. You don't want me to ruin this gown on the last stitches, do you?"

Grumbling good naturedly Maith sat down on a small stool that stood near the counter Buffy leant against. Not ten minutes later Gerion came to the front of the store with the bundle of new clothes the Slayer had ordered. After placing them on the counter he quickly ducked into the back of the store again only to emerge after a few moments with Buffy's new knapsack.

"Here you are. Everything as you wanted, even the double seams. Though I can guarantee you that they are unnecessary, no one ever came back and complained about the seams opening."

"Better safe than sorry, I say," Buffy replied as she examined the clothes and tried them on for a final fitting.

Gerion had delivered good work, only one of the trousers was a little bit too wide and a few more stitches removed this little problem.

"Thank you Gerion," Buffy and Maith said nearly at the same time.

"No problem girls. When you need some new clothes or just want to talk you know where you can find me. But I have to get back to work now. If I don't finish that gown for Lady Rubicon before sundown I will make a hefty loss."

"Well in that case we wouldn't want to keep you from your work," Maith replied.

"Good luck," Buffy called over her shoulder as Maith dragged out of the shop.

After a bit more window shopping they returned to Maith's home. As they returned they immediately noticed the busy mood that welcomed them. Both Fellare and Seroth were bustling through the rooms searching for this and that. With time it became obvious to the two new arrivals that the elder Slenderbows were getting ready to go out.

"Ah, there you are. Maith your father is taking us out tonight. We are going to celebrate his latest deal," Fellare called out already turning away to look through her jewelry for something fitting for her yellow and green gown.

"Great, that probably means even more work when I get back to helping him," Maith muttered under her breath but the smile that played around her lips belied her words." Then she continued louder, "Where are we going to?"

"Don't be so impatient. You will see when we get there," her father admonished.

Half an hour later all had changed and were ready to go. Seroth led them through several back alleys in order to avoid the worst of the traffic and soon they reached a beautiful framework building, with the first floor built with stone. Above the entrance hung a shield depicting a group of knights charging ahead and a flowing script beneath the hooves of their horses announced the tavern's name: Storming Knights.

The taproom was furnished in a warm, friendly style, with a few tapestries and a light wood paneling. It wasn't too crowded and even if all tables were to be occupied there would still be enough room to get through without bumping into other patrons with every step. The four went over to a round table near the counter and sat down. After a sign from the elven barkeeper a barmaid quickly came over to take their orders.

"Hello I'm Saran. What can I bring you?"

"We will have a tallglass of firewine each and do you still have that fantastic venison?"

"Of course we do. It would be stupid to strike it from the menu."

"Good, good. Then we will take a large platter of venison with assorted vegetables," ordered Seroth.

"Right away, sir."

Soon the steaming platter of venison and several bowls with vegetables littered the table and Buffy and the Slenderbows dug into their meal with gusto. While they were eating a bard had taken his seat at the counter and soon he began to perform various songs and tell stories from near and far, news as well as legends.

Hours later the four went home, but not before Seroth had greeted the proprietress Canth of the Stormbow clan.

Then at home they quickly went to their own rooms as the firewine started to itself be known and they quickly became sleepy.

Chapter 3

After a about three hours of sleep Buffy's eyes popped open. Silently she slid from the bed and put her battle dress on. Next she picked up her Sunblade and her stakes, forgoing the bow and quiver as she feared that the arrows would cause too much noise. Still causing no noise Buffy slipped from the room. Silently she glided through the living room and left through the door to the backyard.

Once in the yard Buffy sped up to a light jog and moved to a gap between two of the five houses forming the borders of the yard. By now the streets were empty and besides the occasional patrol by city watch only a few people were still on the streets of the South Ward and most of them were on their way home from some tavern or the other. First she turned her steps towards the Dock Ward; with the amount of taverns and festhalls there it had to be the most likely and easiest hunting ground for vampires.

As she moved through the narrow ways that crisscrossed the Dock Ward Buffy had to dodge more than one drunken sailor that stumbled around. As she passed one of the warehouses Buffy looked up to the sky taking in her first good look of the constellations. There was a nearly full moon behind which dozens if not hundreds of smaller luminaries trailed like tears falling from the face of someone running. And of course there were countless numbers of stars in constellations that didn't even remotely resemble the few Buffy could identify on Earth. Then she took a double take. There outlined against the moon was a woman climbing on the steep roof with the help of a rope. After a few moments it became obvious that she didn't move and Buffy narrowed her eyes trying to get a better look. From the way the moonlight was reflected by her shape and the stiffness of the rope Buffy came to the conclusion that the thief on the roof was nothing else but a tasteless stone decoration combined with an explicit warning.

Soon she was moving on, deeper into the Ward. Suddenly the hairs in her neck stood up and a feeling of uneasiness overcame her. With a whooshing sound a dagger narrowly missed her head from behind and streaked past her ear towards the end of the alley in front of her, only to vanish after twenty meters, not even halfway down the lane. Out of the corner of her eye movement roused her awareness and she threw herself into a forward roll. Not even one meter from the place she came up again a dagger buried itself in a wooden rain barrel. After quivering there for a few moments it, too, vanished. Realizing the danger of staying in the open passage without adequate cover Buffy started to run towards the end of the alley that was about fifty meters ahead. She was at a full run as suddenly another dagger shimmered into existence, right in front of her. It swooped towards her chest and only thanks to her enhanced reflexes was she able to evade the flying attacker. Without slowing she turned the corner and ran on through several more alleys and roads. Only after running for three minutes straight did she slow down and catch her breath.

<Shit! What was that?> Buffy thought but she couldn't find a real explanation for what had happened. <I wish Giles were here, he would know what that was or at least in which books to look for clues? Hey, did I just wish for a research session? Oh my god I'm doomed?>

Finally she had caught her breath and stopped contemplating the events in that alley and went off to patrol again.

<Ok. Just three more alleys if I don't bag a vamp till then I head back to bed.>

When she had nearly finished the second alley Buffy stumbled over the legs of a man lying on the ground nearly totally obscured by the deep shadows in the small road. The Slayer hastened to mumble an apology but when she realized that there was no reaction whatsoever from the man, neither to her falling over his legs or to her apologies, she decided to investigate the huddled form closer. As she stepped closer she saw a puddle of wetness surrounding the man's head and much of his torso, the body laid on his stomach and the head was turned a bit to the side as if someone had wanted better access to his throat.

<Messy eater.> was Buffy's first thought as she saw the body.

But that was where the similarities to a vampire attack ended. There was no wound on the corpse's neck but instead there were four holes in the back of his shaven skull with diameters of about two or three inches. From what she could see in the bad lighting the blood that surrounded the body had come out of there and nothing else was left in the skull except for a little scrap of brain matter that hung precariously to the edge of one of the holes. Buffy felt queasiness in her stomach and only with great effort did she manage to avoid vomiting into the corner besides the dead.

<Oh man, what demon was that? I've never heard of one that does something like that.> With that thought the Slayer started her search for clues and tracks.

Besides his clothing that looked to Buffy like it came out of a bad pirate movie, the dead had nothing on him that could be used to identify him, no purse, no weapon and no form of identification. The attacker hadn't left any traces either. Buffy had searched in more and more wide circles around the corpse but not even a small bloody footprint could be found. After some time Buffy expanded her search to the neighboring alleys but there wasn't anything to be found.

Feeling dejected with her failure in finding the monster that had done that and getting tired again Buffy turned her step back to Maith's home. Half an hour later Buffy once again slipped silently under her blanket not once disturbing anyone as attributed by the unchanged deep breaths she could hear from the other two rooms.

Chapter 4

With sunrise a few hours later activity filled the house again. After breakfast Fellare took the girls to the side.

"Maith, could you and Buffy go to the butcher and the market and get us some meat and vegetables for our stock?"

This time Buffy was the first to answer, "Sure Mrs. Slenderbow, I mean sure Fellare we'd be glad to help."

As Maith heard that she frowned while Fellare beamed with joy that she didn't have to fight with Maith about who had to buy new foodstuff. To lighten Maith's mood she told her, "Don't look at your friend that way. Be glad that she volunteered you. Otherwise you would have to go to the washhouse with the laundry and you know as well as I that you like that even less. Wait a moment and I'll give you the list of what we need."

And indeed this comment helped to improve Maith's mood enormously. Fellare returned to the room a few minutes later with a slate tablet and some chalk and proceeded to write down an extensive list. While she did that Maith slipped out of the room to get the three large wicker baskets they had in the cellar that stored most of their perishables. By the time she returned her mother was finished with writing the list and so the two girls set off to their first stop on the list.

And that stop was the butcher. As they entered the shop Buffy could hear the sound of someone carving up some animal. From the back wall hung all kinds of sausages and hams while on several low tables meats, from steaks to whole legs, wear laid out for the customers to inspect and buy. Shortly after the sounds stopped and the butcher came in from the back carrying a leg of pork or something like that slung over his shoulder.

"Ahh customers. What can I do for you lovely ladies?" he asked in a jolly voice.

"Well met Goodman, there are a few thing on our list we would like to acquire here," Maith responded.

Nearly a quarter hour later they left the shop with a big package in their baskets. From the butcher they continued on to the market where they wandered from stall to stall until they had all the groceries that were needed as well as a two jugs, one with fruit juice and the second with ale. More than once Buffy was surprised by the similarities between what was offered here and in a grocery store in Sunnydale. But once she started to feel as if she were finally getting on track she saw something that was totally new and alien to her, be that an unknown fruit, animal or a group of dwarven warriors strolling over the market.

Next they went to the Dock Ward to buy some fresh fish that Fellare wanted to prepare for the evening. The nearer they came to the harbor the worse the traffic became. Carts and wagons littered the streets carrying vast amounts of goods to and from the ships laying there. Just like the variety of goods was amazing so were the people. There were sailors, soldiers, craftsmen and merchants; rich and poor; humans, elves, dwarves and gnomes. And the fashions varied between what reminded Buffy of Vikings to that of Thousand-and-a-night.

On their way to the shop Maith wanted to they passed warehouses and taverns as well as shops and pleasure halls. Some had simple wooden signs announcing their presence while others had colorful or even enchanted signs that seemed to call out to each passerby in person. Among the most beautiful or interesting were those belonging to the "Blushing Mermaid" and "The Ship's Prow" an inn that was built in a big, fat ship that sat on the land between the houses. And looking at the customers coming and leaving it was very well liked by sailors on shore leave. One block down they finally reached Marusar's Fishery.

"And here you get the best fish in the whole city," Maith explained as they stood at the door that doubles as the counter at the same time.

"Damn right. You better believe that missy. Nowhere do you get fresher or better fish than here from my selection of fine seafood," bellowed a voice from the dark interior, nearly causing the two startled girls to jump in the air.

"If you say so," was the dubious reply from Buffy that earned her an elbow in the ribs from her friend.

Maith then proceeded to inspect the displayed seafood. After much haggling, during which Buffy was hard pressed to recognize who was ahead in the run for the best price, the young elf bought a whole tuna and two dozen mussels. Now that they had everything that was on the list Buffy and Maith directed their steps back towards the elf's home. Soon they were there and delivered their baskets in the kitchen for Fellare to stow away.

"Mom, is there some thing else you wanted us to do? You know, we thought about going up to New Olam to listen to some of the bards or maybe to a tavern where a good one is playing."

"No, girls you can go and have fun. If I were you I would go again to the Storming Knights, from what I have heard will Lord Thann be there this afternoon. With a bit of luck he will perform something. You can keep the leftover money from your shopping to get yourselves something to eat and drink."

"Really? That's great! Come on Buffy we have to hurry if we want to grab a seat."

"Why? What's so special about that Thann?" Buffy asked.

"He is one of the founders of New Olam. And one of the best bards in town, his songs count among the most often performed along the Sword Coast."

"I see. Ok, let's go," Buffy agreed.

When they arrived at the Storming Knights Buffy could already hear from the outside the din of conversation inside the tavern. Inside were more customers than the previous evening and most of those seemed to be waiting for something or someone, all with only a drink and maybe a light snack in front of them. And more than a few sat at the bar nursing mugs with foaming beer or other drinks. Buffy and Maith took possession of a small table near the fireplace that was just barely big enough for two persons eating a full meal. After a lengthy wait Saran came to them after serving several large orders at other tables.

"Hello. Back already?" Saran asked with a smile. "What can I bring you today?"

"I think I'll take the honeyed ale and a few cinnamon rolls," Maith finally decided and after seeing Buffy's obvious problem with deciding what to take she told her, "You should try that too. It's really good."

Buffy considered that advice for a few moments and then she nodded her approval. "Just don't make that ale too sweet," she asked Saran. <This place has at least one positive side, no carding.>

For that request she earned a hearty laugh from Saran who then proceeded to assure her that she would make sure of that. Not long after that Saran returned with a tray carrying their drinks and a platter with the cinnamon rolls. Tentatively Buffy tried the sweetened ale and while the taste counted high on her strange-meter she found that it wasn't all that bad and took a second sip.

<That stuff has potential. I could grow to like it.>

Three cinnamon rolls later a handsome man with flaxen hair entered the taproom. He appeared to be somewhere around thirty years of age and wore some of the finest clothes Buffy had seen in her time in this city and even much of what she knew from Earth was at most equal to what he wore. From the ornately adorned belt hung a slender long sword as well as a forest green leather bag that perfectly fit in with the green of the man's cloak. In his hand he carried a leather case that seemed to hold a hand harp. An easy smile on his face he went straight to the bar and silently talked to Canth. Once in a while one of them would laugh out at a joke from one or the other.

"That's him, that's him," Maith whispered excitedly to Buffy. "Oh, I hope he really plays something. He is soooo good." Buffy couldn't help but roll her eyes at her friend's enthusiasm.

A bit later a young half-elf with curly black hair came into the Storming Knights and after looking around the room shortly she went directly over to the bar or more precisely to Thann. Once there she gave him a hug, causing Maith to sigh sadly beside Buffy. While the half-elf and bard started to chat Buffy slyly asked,

"Could it be that someone has a little crush here?"

"I don't know what you are talking about," Maith replied defensively. With a wide grin on her face Buffy decided to let the matter drop.

With the beginning of the new hour Canth came from behind the bar and announced, "Goodmen and Goodwomen, Lord Thann has decided to grace us with the pleasure of his music and will begin soon."

Meanwhile the nobleman was unpacking his instrument and made sure that the strings were tuned correctly. As soon as he was certain of that he started playing. His repertoire was vast; he played everything from lewd drinking songs to ballads and sagas. Sometime during the performance he took a little break and whispered something that caused his harp to change into a beautiful lute with which he continued the second half of his performance.

After three hours of listening to his tenor Buffy and Maith had to leave, dinner was waiting.

Chapter 5

Night had fallen quickly, or at least it seemed so to Buffy who had been wholly absorbed by dinner and the conversation that had accompanied it. Soon after dark all had retired to their rooms and got ready for bed. As soon as everyone had entered the world of dreams Buffy got up again and snuck out of the house for her second patrol across Waterdeep.

As she hadn't had real success with her patrol of the Dock Ward Buffy decided to try the area surrounding the City of the Dead and maybe it too if she found a way to get in there without being caught by the city watch. So she directed her steps towards the northeast getting closer to her goal though she took the one or other detour. One of her detours led her into a cul-de-sac, as she wanted to turn around a small plaque on the door beside a pair of tall, massive cart doors caught her attention. It read: Beware Guardian Monsters Within. Driven by curiosity she went closer to the doors. From behind them came a multitude of sounds, mostly snarls and huffing. The fragrance that came out of the building complex was a curious mixture of smells she associated with stables or zoos and other strange, alien musky scents that she couldn't compare with anything. After a few minutes of looking around and finding nothing that needed a quick slaying ? in fact she found absolutely nothing - Buffy turned around and directed her steps more towards the north.

She passed the House of Good Spirits whose patrons obviously were of good spirit of one judged by the laughter and off-tone singing that could be heard from the street. Soon after the Slayer left the South Ward and came into the Trades Ward that more or less surrounded the City of the Dead. The streets were relatively well traveled as long as one kept to the main roads, the back alleys were mostly deserted as Buffy strolled through them. One of the buildings she passed was fascinating. It was a two story stone mansion with barred windows whose doors were covered with metal plating that looked like it was comprised of flattened pieces of plate armor and other types of massive armors. Some of these plates showed signs that told the observer that this particular armor hadn't helped its owner much. The roof reminded Buffy of a slate roofed cottage in Ireland like some she had seen in photographs, it weren't for the griffon statues that were placed in regular intervals along the ridging.

She passed Saern's Fine Swords and many other shops as well as several taverns and inns before once again she veered off into the back alleys on her search for something to slay. The first alley she turned to was more or less empty, if one disregarded the heaps of rubbish and offal among which dozens of large rats ran around, filling the air with their squeaks.

<Eeewwww. Ok, I'll take the next alley?>

The next alley looked much better, while it was still dark and not what one could call clean it didn't sport all those rats and the crates, barrels and other rubbish that littered the narrow street were stacked along the looming house walls, leaving the center more or less free for passersby. As Buffy proceeded into the alley a bad feeling overcame her. She stopped for a moment to concentrate on her Slayer sense but she felt nothing that even hinted of a nearby vampire or other undead. Shrugging she dismissed the feeling and continued her way down the lane. She had barely proceeded a few meters as one of the larger stacks just behind her tumbled to the ground closing off the alley in that direction. Startled Buffy spun around and saw the mess that filled the alley, no one would get through there anytime soon.

<Whoa. That was close. I don't want to know how it would have felt if I had been standing there when that came down. Well, I better get out of here before someone comes along and makes me clean that mess up.>

With that though Buffy turned back and continued her way down the alley. Not even three steps later Buffy slowed down again as she saw several shapes coming out of the darkness between the crates in front of her.

"Lass, you have to pay for the right to use our alley," the center one said. "Be nice and give us everything in your purse and that nice sword."

"Sorry to disappoint you but I don't have any money with me."

"Don't you worry. You can pay us in other ways too," said another one, his voice carrying his leer clearly.

"I don't think so, slimeball. And if you want my sword come and get it."

Buffy quickly took stock of her situation, on the one side she was without too much space behind her to maneuver but also with a sword and on the other side were four thugs with clubs.

<Bah, I don't need no sword to get out of here.> Buffy thought with derision as she saw her opponents unordered approach. With each of them trying to be the first to reach her and make her 'pay the passage'.

The first tried to tackle her like a football player. With a quick, room consuming lunge he tried to bring Buffy down to the ground but she twisted out of the way and even added to his speed with a powerful push to his back. He had only time for a short shout of surprise before he smashed head first into one of the crate stacks that promptly buried him under it, knocking him unconscious before the second crate even touched ground level.

The next one was a bit more cautious and tried to coordinate his attack with the one that was nearly on the same distance. They started to drift to one side of the passage each, one slightly ahead of the other. Buffy decided to go on the offensive. <No cause to stay here any longer than necessary and maybe make an error,> she thought and moved towards the nearer one of the duo. He was a small, weasel like man with a nasty scar running across his face, as Buffy came closer she could see him muster her body with such an intensity that she felt as if he was mentally undressing her. Buffy suppressed a shudder of revulsion and started her attack with a sidekick aimed to the man's chest. With surprising agility the weasel ? as Buffy had dubbed him ? twisted out of the way and swung with his cudgel at her leg. He narrowly missed Buffy's knee but he managed to hit her thigh, leaving a painful bruise. Buffy immediately retaliated with a left hook to the thug's chin that nearly lifted him literally out of his shoes and sent him tumbling into the wall where he crumpled into a heap.

Thug number three tried to use the distraction the weasel and his hits provided by attacking Buffy's back. But he hadn't any real fighting experience as quickly became obvious when his club didn't hit her unprotected back and only lightly brushed along the trauma plates of her Kevlar armor. That slight touch was enough for the Slayer to realize the danger she was in for the next attack wouldn't miss her if she didn't act. Buffy let herself fall to her knees and swept around while extending one leg. Her quick reaction caught the young thief unawares and so he found himself on the ground with his legs smarting from the sweep kick that had taken them from under him. The last thing he saw before everything went black was a fist that rushed towards his face.

Upon seeing his comrades being taken down so fast their leader decided that caution was the better part of valor and he beat a hasty retreat. He quickly vanished in the dark labyrinth the back alleys presented, by the time Buffy was about to pursue him he had already vanished leaving no trail behind.

After dusting herself off Buffy left the alley and unconscious thugs behind, a slight limp in her step but still quicker than most would be after receiving that kind of hit to the leg. Ten minutes later the pain from her leg was reduced to a dull throbbing and even that was receding quickly. As Buffy proceeded to patrol she was now much more attentive for hints of further ambushes. Suddenly she hears a scream, the scream of someone experiencing mortal fear. Buffy starts to run in the direction of the screaming as it abruptly stops as if cut off and in turn she sped up even more, hoping against all probability that she wasn't too late.

After several twists and turns in the alleys Buffy reached the street the scream originated from. There in the middle of the street laid the crumpled form of a young, human woman in a simple, yet elegant gown. A few feet to the side were the shattered remains of a pair of glasses. Out of four wounds in her head seeped a slow trickle of blood, it was clear that Buffy was too late.

At the other end of the alleyway someone in a heavy, dark, hooded cloak ? barely visible in the bad light ? turned to the left and vanished into a small side street.

Buffy immediately picked up speed again and ran to the intersection she had just seen the figure use. The Slayer was so fast that she literally skidded on the street's gravel around the corner. She had to waste precious seconds to keep her footing and not fall down before she could continue down the alley. As she barreled down the narrow, winding lane she saw quite some way ahead the figure she was now following. It was in the process to vanish in the ground. The metallic clang a moment after it couldn't be seen anymore told her everything she needed to know, her quarry had entered the sewers.

Buffy hastened her step so that the cloak wearer wouldn't get too far ahead. The sewer entrance was covered with a massive iron grate that was fixed to the ground with a set of equally massive hinges, once it had been locked with a padlock but that was long rusted through. With a small exertion of her strength she opened the grating and climbed down the stairs into the dry sewer tunnel. In a niche at the foot of the stairs were about a dozen torches as well as two sets of flint and steel. After several tries she finally managed to create a spark that landed on the pitch coating the torch's end causing it to burn with a strongly smoking flame.

From somewhere in the distance she heard footsteps echoing down the tunnel. After taking a deep breath Buffy followed the sound of the retreating footsteps. While she managed to get closer to the source of the footstep she never saw the light of another torch ahead in the tunnels. Then came the first intersection, after a few moments of listening Buffy finally decided for a direction and went on. As she proceeded the Slayer started to get slight cramps in her stomach, not like when a vampire was near but similar. Something was close and it had set off her early warning radar.

About ten meters further down the tunnel started to widen until it resembled a square room with three other exits, one in each wall. With each step closer to the room the feeling got more defined and Buffy was sure that there had to be something ahead and the skeletons laying around the room gave silent witness of that fact. And indeed when she was more or less in the center of the room the occupants made their presence known.

Several of the haphazardly placed skeletons rose from their resting places and converged onto Buffy's position. Though she was startled by the form of her opponents the Slayer was ready. Within the next ten minutes about twenty skeletons had risen and were now nothing more than heaps of splintered bones. But by the time she was finished with them not a sound could be heard from the tunnels, with the exception of some water dripping from the ceiling. If the cloaked person had left any traces that could have given any hints regarding his further way they had all been destroyed during Buffy's fight against the animated skeletons.

Buffy had no other choice but to concede defeat. With a very bad feeling in her stomach she turned her steps back and returned to Maith's home. Once there she silently slipped into the house and got ready for bed.

<Oh man, am I glad that those tunnels were dry and not full of sewage. Would be a hell of a job to get my stuff clean again without a washer around, not to talk about the questions it would rise from Maith and her parents. If I hang them at the window any remaining smell should be gone till morning.>

After a lot of tossing and turning around Buffy finally sunk into an unquiet sleep.

Chapter 6

"Buffy! Time to get up!"

Maith's yell together with her incessant knocking quickly roused Buffy from her slumber. After some grumbling and several not ladylike curses Buffy finally got out of the bed and stumbled sleepily to the kitchen. As she sat down Fellare watched her with a worried gaze as she noted Buffy's disheveled appearance and red eyes.

"Are you all right Buffy? I hope your fish wasn't spoilt."

"What? No, no everything's all right," the young woman replied.

"Are you sure? I thought I heard you leave the house for the outhouse and not return for quite some time last night. You can say it if the fish didn't sit well with you."

"No the food was great. I just had a bit of a problem with falling asleep. So I went outside to watch the stars a bit. I guess I fell asleep out there for a bit."

"That is all right. But you have to watch out if you do that again. The alleys and backyards can get dangerous after dark, it isn't that bad in this Ward but in some of the others you can't be too careful. There are a lot of unsavory characters stalking the night and some might pass through here and the Watch can't be everywhere," warned Fellare.

"I'll keep that in mind," Buffy replied, showing a properly chastised face.

With a much more cheerful voice Maith's mother asked the two girls, "So what have you planned for today?"

"Well I have to help dad at least until noon with the new arrows or he won't have enough ready when the shipment has to be ready. So unless you want to watch us Buffy you will have to do something on your own," Maith answered apologetically.

"That is no problem. It is past the time that I start looking for a job anyway," was the answer Buffy gave as soon as she had swallowed the last bite. "I just have to find something that I can do...," she said trailing off, her face growing thoughtful and somber.

"You could try the Virgin's Square if you want to work as a caravan or warehouse guard or something like that. You could also try some of the taverns or festhalls they always need help and if you don't like it there you can stop as soon as you have the money to pay a master of some trade for your apprenticeship," Maith suggested.

"Good ideas, thank you. I guess I'll have to wing it."

"Wing what?" Maith asked totally confused.

"Sorry. I mean I'll have to improvise and see what comes out of it."

"Ahh, I see. Well good luck on this endeavor. You have to excuse me now or I'll be late for helping dad and he'll have my hide if I don't finish the batch of arrows he has prepared by now," Maith said with a little smile and after a little good-bye to her mother she nearly bounced out of the room in her hurry to be on time.

A bit later Buffy excused herself too and left the house. As she wandered more or less aimlessly through the crowded streets Buffy thought to herself: <Now which of Maith's suggestions should I follow? I really don't want to work in some kind of fast food joint. That would be as if I worked in the Doublemeat Palace in Sunnydale - gross. Fighting I can do easily, but do I want to get paid for fighting against humans? But then again I could get lucky and only have to stand around to earn my money. Can't hurt to try this Virgin's Court or whatever its name was.>

Having come to at least a partial decision Buffy started to move with more purpose. After asking for directions, and being corrected about her goal's name, a few times she finally found her way to Virgin's Square, so named as this was the place where nomadic tribes had been forced to give a yearly tribute of virgins to dragons that had been terrorizing the countryside before there was even a Waterdeep.

As she reached the square Buffy had to stop in wonder. It was much more crowded than she had suspected, there were over two dozen humans as well as several elves and dwarves and more arrived by the minute. All were obviously fighters but the differences between them were staggering. Some were clad in shabby leather armors and armed with weapons in similarly bad condition, not much above a common street thug. Then there were small groups that obviously belonged together wearing similar, well kept leather or chain mail armor and weapons as well as badges or even the same coat of arms, all about them screamed professionals. Then there were those single fighters that had really expensive suits of armor like plate mail and melee weapons of high quality, mostly swords but also a few axes and maces. Some again were armed with bows or crossbows and only a dagger or short sword for melee. Most of these fighters were male, only a few women were to be seen but with most of those the term female had to be used with caution. And in more than one case Buffy had to look twice until she recognized several women as women.

<Whoa, can anyone say testosterone overload?> Buffy thought as she watched the swagger most of the mercenaries showed as they strutted around the square.

Entering the square Buffy saw that small groups of women were gathered around the street junctions leading to it giving the eye to the mostly sinister looking men-at-arms as well as giggling copiously and gossiping, from what she could gather, about the advantages this or that warrior might have above his fellows while leaving little doubt about which advantages they were talking. Then her attention was diverted from the gaggle of women to a grizzled, hairy stout man with only one eye sitting on a stool a bit further in the square, his heavily muscled arms and the scar running across his face where his second eye had been were showing everyone that he was a veteran of many fights. What really set him apart from the strutting fighters was that they approached him from time to time to talk to him. And sometimes he wrote then something on a scroll when they departed again. Once in a while the veteran was also approached by people in rich clothing, maybe successful merchants or nobles, whom he either gave a scroll or received notes from after a short conversation.

<Looks like I have discovered who to ask about getting hired as a guard. Now, only to get a job...>

Buffy took a deep breath and entered the teeming horde of warriors and wannabes populating the square. After a few minutes she had crossed the square while avoiding to be groped or simply run over by someone bigger that paid no attention to where he was going. More than once she heard a whistle, catcall or lewd joke following her but when she turned around to see the culprit she couldn't identify the source, either no one was looking to her or it were too many.

As Buffy approached the veteran on his stool she noticed him sizing her up and suddenly she had a feeling of being judged. So she walked a bit straighter not letting his heavy gaze intimidate her as she could imagine it happening with others who hadn't faced vampires and demons for years. When she was no more than a couple of steps from him he seemed to have finished his inspection and looked at her with a slight air of expectation.


"Hello," Buffy started with a friendly smile, "I'm looking for a job as a guard here in town."

"Is that so? Do you have any experience with that kind of work? Do you have weapons or do they have to be provided? And if you have some what do you have and can you use them?" he fired off rapidly with a slightly patronizing tone.

Buffy's brow furrowed in irritation as she noticed his tone and at the same moment she noticed that she had forgotten to bring her sword along, but then she hadn't expected this kind of job interview mixed with a weapon exhibition. And her competitors all looked more intimidating than her no matter how much she was the better fighter.

"I may not have guarded a warehouse or such but I can fight. I have a sword and a bow and I can use more than a few other weapons," Buffy replied in a slightly defensive and at the same time offended tone.

"I see. Do you have any references from former employers or your teachers?"

"Uh, no. I haven't been employed that way before and I never needed any from Giles," she answered the last part more to herself.


"Yeah, he's who has taught me how to fight for most of the time," Buffy replied.

"Really," Balzidon didn't sound very impressed as he played with one of his rings and he let his eyes sweep across the square.

"So do you have a job for me or not?" Buffy asked after he didn't say anything else for some time and her impatience overcame her.

The one-eyed man sighed as if to ask if she was still there then he replied, "At the moment I have no assignment that would fit your abilities." After a moment he added, "But I know that one or two caravans would be delighted if someone came along to provide entertainment for the guards."

That retort left Buffy sputtering with indignation, only sheer willpower kept her from smashing her fist into his face. After a glare that could have peeled the paint of a wall the Slayer turned around and stalked off the court roughly shouldering an unsuspecting warrior out of her way.

<How dare he suggest something like that!> was all that ran through her mind over and over again as she disappeared in the milling masses that filled the streets of the Trades Ward. Buffy felt so angry, furious even, that she wouldn't have been surprised if somebody told her that there was steam coming from her ears. As she careened around a corner on her way into a less populated alley to escape the press of bodies Buffy slammed into a small form sending it sprawling.

"Hey, watch where you are going," she snapped. In the next moment she regretted it but somehow she couldn't manage to utter an excuse for her unreasonable behavior.

"How rude!" exclaimed a lisping voice from the ground.

By now Buffy's eyes had come to rest on the prone figure. What she saw there was the strangest person, or maybe better creature, she had seen in this city up till now. He, though Buffy was uncertain how she came to think of him as a he, looked like a cross between a giant mouse and an equally big beaver resulting in a 1.20 m high mouse with light brown pelt, a beaver's tail and a single prominent tooth that protruded from his upper lip. It was clad in a lime green uniform with a wide, black belt around his impressive waist. His large, black eyes held the sparkle of high intelligence and not a small dose of annoyance.

"I don't think that I want to play with you, would ruin my whole shore leave. But maybe later when you have cooled down Buffy and not likely to start a lesson in violence," he lisped and winked at her, his white tooth invoking the image of a grin.

In the next moment he vanished with a slight *plop* as air rushed into the place he had occupied just the blink of an eye before, leaving a completely confused Buffy behind.

<What was THAT now? Talking giant mice? How did he do that and how did he know my name?>

With a final shake of her head Buffy continued down the alley muttering something about the need of getting extra large mousetraps. Soon her thoughts turned back to the need of finding a job; or a heap of money. But with these thoughts returned also the wish to inflict bodily harm on that jerk.

<I don't need that now. He would never hire me if I would pummel him into oblivion. And I doubt that the Watch is as sleepy and incompetent as the Sunnydale police; I want to earn money and not a place in prison.> Buffy thought as she ruthlessly pushed that idea into the darkest corner of her mind.

Deeply lost in thought the young woman wandered deeper into the labyrinth of back alleys away from the populated streets. A sudden noise tore Buffy out of her mental wanderings. Buffy squinted her eyes against the glare of the sun that shone in her face and saw a man that must have been hiding in the shadow of a house entrance. The man approached her, brandishing a wicked looking dagger.

"You, girl, give me all your money," growled the stocky man.

Upon hearing that Buffy started to smile widely. Hendrak's brow wrinkled in confusion, that wasn't how she was supposed to react.

"Yes, you will do. You came along just at the right moment. Ok, you are a bit pathetic and not really a challenge but I really need to vent some steam. It's getting in the way of me getting a job. I hope you understand. Nice knife by the way. Are you trying to compensate for something?" Buffy said cheerfully and at the end more than a little bit mockingly.

Hendrak quickly started to grow angry; this little wench was mocking him.

"You little tramp. You think a scullery maid like you can get away with talking to me that way? I'll show you who is pathetic and then you will beg me for mercy!"

"No need for that, I already know how pathetic you are," the Slayer replied. "Oh and just that you know, for calling me a tramp I will have to hit you once more than I had planned."

With that Buffy exploded into action. Her left hand darted ahead as she jumped towards the would-be thief and trapped his dagger. Before the startled man could fully react her right fist had hit his trapped arm near the shoulder popping it out of its joint. With a scream he had let the dagger go, his arm now hung uselessly down. Reflexively he brought his other arm around in a try to block that strike but she was too fast for him and his block became only a weak glancing blow on her already retreating arm. Hendrak frantically tried to land a flurry of blows on Buffy but she either battered them away in a nearly playful manner or shrugged them off without showing any effect. But she allowed that side of her only a short time to come out and soon she returned to the offensive again. Her first attack was a low kick towards his groin that he managed to partially evade but now her foot impacted on his thigh. His face drawn in pain he staggered back only to catch a fist to his sternum. With a loud oomph he expelled the air from his lungs. As his upper body came forward and down he saw with an unprecedented clarity how wrong he had been in choosing Buffy as his target. Then he saw a fist coming to his face and then it grew dark around him. Hendrak crumpled into a boneless heap on the ground with the final realization that he, a veteran of fifteen years of thievery and backstabbing, had been defeated by a small, young woman that shouldn't be able to do so.

Buffy dusted herself off a satisfied smile on her face. After pocketing the thief's dagger she continued on her way. Several steps later she began to shake as realization of her behavior sunk in.

<Oh god, what have I done? That was like something Faith would have done during her stint with the mayor. That isn't a way how I should act against a human, even such scum. Maybe it was for the best that I didn't get one of those guard jobs. Don't want to think about what could have happened if I had a weapon and someone like him had come while I was guarding something...> she thought as she continued on with an unsteady gait, that only slowly regained its normal form as she worked through her actions.

A few minutes later Buffy finally came to a decision. <Nothing helps, I'll have to earn money somehow and the only way I can see right now is starting as a waitress or something like that. Now to find someone hiring me.>

With that new purpose Buffy directed her steps towards the larger streets on her search for a tavern that was hiring help.

Underground room

The dark cavernous room was dimly lit by several torches and a purple glow that emanated from a stone slab. In front of the slab kneeled a man his arms lifted in supplication. Further back in the shadows stood someone in a hooded cloak holding a child. On the slab in front of him was a dagger as well as several hooks that were connected to the corners of the stone with chains.

"Velsharoon! Lord of the Forsaken Crypt! Hear me, hear your faithful servant!"

From robes the color of dried blood the kneeling man withdrew a shriveled object that he placed on the stone. Then he took up the dagger and brought own the pommel on the dried heart, reducing it to many small fragments. Upon those fragments he poured a clear liquid that sizzled and boiled away as it hit the fragments. As soon as the last liquid had vaporized he began to chant in a language that seemed to ooze evil as it left the man's mouth.

In a pause he motioned to the person in the back of the room. It came ahead, bringing the child with him. The child moved with wooden strides that reminded of a marionette, her eyes wide with terror. She moved to the block and stopped at its left side. Upon a second sign she climbed on the altar with beads sweat building on her forehead as if she had to make an enormous effort to move even an inch. Once upon the stone she laid down spread eagle, tears and sweat streaking her face, on the heart's fragments.

As soon as she was in position the hooded person stepped to the head end and the supplicant finished his chant to move to the opposite end of the altar. With painfully slow movements the two each grabbed a pair of hooks and drilled them through her legs and arms respectively. After she was secured a sudden change went through the girl's behavior. Where before had been only slow, rigid movements and silence now she was screaming loudly and for a short time she tried move her arms, but the pain was so bad that with a final arching of her back she sunk back down to the altar silently sobbing.

"Shhhh. Be quiet, the pain will be over soon," hissed the red brown robed man.

Then he took up the dagger again and cut two shallow lines along each of her thighs and collected the upwelling blood in the little flask that had contained the clear liquid. When it was half full he rose from his knees and stoppered the flask.

"You can have her now, slave," he told the hooded form.

With a morbid curiosity he watched as four mauve tentacles came out of the shadows the hood threw on his slave's face. The writhing appendages wrapped themselves around the girls head, then their tips started to secrete a gooey liquid and then they dug themselves into the girl's skull. Shortly thereafter slurping sounds could be heard from the altar.

Above them a crowned skull laughed silently.

Streets of Waterdeep

Buffy stood in front of the tavern and looked up at the sign above the entrance.

<Felzoun's Folly. Well, here goes nothing...> the young woman thought and opened the door.

Chapter 7

Behind the door was a bustling, many-windowed taproom filled with a good three dozen people sitting at tables, in niches or standing at the bar. The din that filled the room was so loud that one could hardly understand what was spoken a couple of meters away.

Three young women carried trays laden with food and drinks to the tables always under the watchful eye of a dwarf that bustled busily around the tavern. From time to time he barked orders out at the waitresses, spurning them on when they became too involved in flirting with the customers or were generally neglecting their duties.

When Buffy saw the balding dwarf's face that was as red as his fiery bristle hair she could only think, <Now if he doesn't have high blood pressure I don't know what.>

Buffy led her steps over to the bar on her search for someone to talk to about getting hired. As soon as she had reached the bar the barkeep, a burly human, already stood ready to receive her order with an expectant look.

"What can I get you? Zzar, ale or maybe a white wine?"

"Nothing of that sort, I want to talk to the manager or whoever hires help here."

The barkeep nodded and directed Buffy to the far end of the bar to wait there until the owner had time to come over. Some minutes later Felzoun came over to her, for now finished with spurning the waitresses on. The hyperactive dwarf hopped on the last free stool and gave her a cursory examination while Buffy did the same with him. She didn't see much different from what she had seen while she came in, but one thing stood out to her - the distinct shape of two throwing axes beneath his apron.

With his fingers drumming a rapid rhythm on the counter he said, "I'm Felzoun the owner of this tavern. What do you want to talk about with me?"

"My name is Buffy Summers, pleased to meat you. I wanted to ask if you have any opening as a waitress or such."

"I'm sorry lass. But I have all the staff I need and as far as I know all the taverns in this ward are full as well. You will have much better chances in the Dock Ward. There are nearly always vacancies in one or the other tavern there."

"I see. Thank you for your time and advice, Mr. Felzoun. I will try it there," with that Buffy stood up and after a final nod to the proprietor she left the building feeling a bit dejected.

<Don't kid yourself Buffy. It's not as if one had to get a job automatically on the first - or second - try. There are still more chances to get one. At least he gave me a hint where I could have better chances.> the young woman chided herself for her reaction to being turned down by the dwarf.

Ten minutes later she had reached the imaginary border that separated the Trades and Dock Wards. Soon Buffy saw some truth in the dwarf's advice, among the multitude of inns, taverns and festhalls had to be one that would hire her and at the same time wasn't a sleazy hole in the wall.

The next fifteen tries seemed to do their best to prove Felzoun wrong. Either they had a full staff or were busy with making Willy's looking like a first class establishment.

<One more try then I'll call it a day. My feet are starting to kill me.>

With this thought Buffy looked up at the sign proclaiming this door to be the entrance to Salaama's Pleasure Hall.

The room that greeted Buffy was very different from all the taprooms she had entered so far, it was wide and well lit. The walls were painted in warm colors, tapestries and semi-transparent curtains enhanced this warmness and created private corners without breaking the room apart. A long counter occupied most of one wall together with a door that had a hand over window besides it, probably to the kitchen. A second, unmarked door was on the back wall of the room. On the far end of the left wall was a colorful door that had to lead to another wing of the building.

The room was only sparsely populated. It was obviously the afternoon was still too young for the main rush of customers to come in. Except for a handful of customers only several barmaids and the barkeep were present in the room.

As Buffy approached the barkeeper she was greeted by a brilliant smile that was only marred by a missing tooth from the woman who had cleaned absent mindedly a mug while surveying the room until her gaze fell on Buffy.

"What can I do for such a delightful vision?" she asked with a hint of a leer and an amused sparkle in her eyes as she let her gaze roam over Buffy's figure.

Buffy couldn't help but blush at the blatant way she was scrutinized be the woman behind the counter.

"Ehm, I wanted to inquire about the possibility of being hired here," the Slayer replied.

"I see. Let me get someone to cover for me and I'll show you to Madame Salaama."

"Sure, I can wait."

The woman moved quickly to the other end of the counter and waved one of the waitresses over to her and after a short exchange the waitress took her place behind the bar and the barkeep came back to get Buffy.

"All right, we can go now. Just follow me. I'm Berina by the way."

"Buffy, I mean my name is Buffy," she amended her answer as she noticed Berina's rising eyebrow.

Berina led Buffy towards the door in the back wall. It opened to a corridor with several doors and a staircase at the end. She led Buffy to the third door which she knocked at. After a few moments a voice bid them to enter. Berina was the first to enter with Buffy following her a few steps behind.

Inside was a relatively Spartan office with the only luxury being the quality of the workmanship that had produced the desk behind which Madame Salaama sat. She was a dark-haired woman about fifty years of age. Despite - or maybe because of - her hawkish nose she was a beauty with her dark complexion, brown eyes and long straight hair, reminding Buffy of boring documentaries about southeastern Europe or maybe even Arabia she had seen in school. And suddenly they didn't seem that boring anymore.

"Yes Berina, what is it? Any trouble out in front?" Salaama asked before she saw Buffy following the barkeep into the room. "And who is your girlfriend there? I haven't seen her before."

Berina started to show a little blush, something that surprised Salaama visibly.

<Why is she blushing? She is normally very proud when she gets to show her current girlfriend off.> the former desert warrior wondered. A moment later her silent question was answered.

"This is Buffy, Madame Salaama. She came inquiring if you would hire her," Berina responded. "I will now get back to my bar."

"I see. Please forgive me my presumption. Berina has come to introduce her girlfriends to me in the past and this is the first time it wasn't the case but someone on the look out for employment, namely you. Again, I'm sorry if I have offended you," she said in a warm voice.

"No problem."

"So you are looking for employment here. Do you have a specific position in mind?"

"Well I thought of working as a waitress. Are there any other possibilities?"

"Of course there are. Besides as a waitress you could work in the kitchen or you could work with our customers in a much closer position, be that by giving massages to them or bathing them or by providing companionship in whatever way they require, you are definitely beautiful enough to work in that position."

"Uhm, I think I'll stay with the waitress gig."

"That is all right. We can always need more serving staff, especially now in the summer with all the ships and caravans coming in the city," the proprietor explained. "Now let's get down to business. I offer you nine silvers per tenday as well as free food and a room. You'll get one free day during each tenday on the other days you'll work ten hour shifts, either starting at noon or the fourth hour after noon. If you agree to these terms we will draft a contract that will be deposited with the temples of Tyr and Waukeen. So what do you say?"

<That are pretty hefty hours, but I need to earn money and I doubt that I get something better anytime soon. Better take it now, I can always resign this job if I find something better.>

Now that Buffy had reached her decision she quickly answered her future boss, "Sounds good to me. I'm in."

"Good. One of the girls will give you a tour of the place so that you know where everything is while I prepare the contract."

Salaama then called one of the barmaids to her and sent Buffy on the grand tour of the pleasure hall. And a grand tour it was. First Buffy was led to her new room on the third floor. It reminded her a bit of the Sunnydale dorm though this one was for her alone, with the furnishing already in place, along one wall were a bed and a small nightstand, and along the other were a dresser, closet and a trunk with a padlock. On the dresser stood a basin for washing when she didn't want to go to tone of the two bathrooms that she would be sharing with the others on this floor. After that came the taproom, the large kitchen and even bigger storage cellar.

And then, finally, the wing that made the pleasure hall a pleasure hall and not a good tavern. There were a handful rooms with either a single or several copper bathing tubs and massage tables. The rest were normal rooms that could easily be redecorated to a customer's wishes and then there was the themed room: a dungeon. Complete with a rack as well as a high-backed seat that was equipped with leather straps to restrain the occupant. One wall was covered completely with a large mirror. There were more fixtures in the room but Buffy's mind was on overload and she was glad to get out of the room.

Soon after that room Buffy and her guide found themselves back at Madame Salaama's office.

"Ahh, there you are again. I hope you found your tour instructional."

"Instructional... I guess you could call it that," a slightly flustered Buffy replied as she remembered, all too vividly for her taste, the dungeon room they had visited last.

"Good, good. Now before we sign the contract one final thing I forgot to tell you before. The recreation rooms you saw on your tour are not for private use. If you have a suitor take him to you own room," Madame Salaama said firmly but kindly.

"Got it. No hanky-panky except in my own room."

And on that note they signed the contract.

Two dark eyes peered closely on the dark amulet. Carved out of black marble it was inlaid with onyx and obsidian. It would be hanging from a golden chain when it was finished.

With a satisfied smirk the man traced the inlaid patterns on the search for any errors that he knew he wouldn't find. When he was finally satisfied with the quality of the workmanship he uncorked the small flask he had placed on the desk before.

Slowly he dripped the viscous, dark red fluid contained in the flagon onto the amulet. For a few moments the drops pooled on the surface before they started to flow around the surface until only the patterns were covered in the girl's blood. Then suddenly the blood started to sink into the surface till no trace of it could be seen.

The room filled with vile laughter as the blood vanished into the amulet.

Chapter 8

"Now that we have gotten past that formality we come to the really important part."

"And that would be?" inquired Buffy.

"Your first shift of course. While I would like to have you on the late shift right away to take some of the strain of my other girls you will need a time of learning all the proceedings. So you'll start tomorrow at noon, come here at least half an hour earlier so that we can get you a fitting outfit," Buffy's new boss replied with a twinkle in her eyes.

"All right, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. I have just one question left."

"Yes, my child?"

"When should I move into my room?"

"You can move in right away, but if you want to you can do it tomorrow."

"Good, I'll do that before starting my shift then at the latest, maybe even this afternoon. It depends a bit on my hosts. I don't want to insult them by leaving them with just a quick good-bye but at the same time I don't want to burden then with me longer than necessary, if you understand what I mean?"

"I think I do," Madame Salaama replied. "Take all the time that is needed for your farewells but don't forget that they are still in the same city, so there shouldn't be a problem with meeting them again whenever you or they feel the need to do so."

"Got you. Well, I better get going now. Wouldn't want to be late for dinner," Buffy said with a wide grin gracing her face. "Till tomorrow then, bye."

The proprietresses smiled and made some shooing motions with her hand, "Then better hurry up. My ledgers don't complete themselves either and I have quite a bit left that needs to be finished soon."

With a parting nod Buffy left the room and then crossed quickly through the slowly filling taproom. Before she stepped out on the busy street she gave Berina a quick wave and received a bright smile in return. Once outside Buffy had to stop for a moment for her eyes to readjust to the brightness of the sunny day after the softer illumination inside the pleasure hall.

<Good, now which way to Maith's... Argh, I can't believe that I don't remember how I got here. Now, for some orientation point...>

In a low voice she muttered to herself, "'k over there is the harbor with that funky, giant statue so that is definitely the wrong way. And in that direction is the castle, so if I go that way and then around there... yes that should be right."

The way Buffy had decided on wasn't totally correct but after a few cul-de-sacs and roundabouts she finally came into a familiar area. Half a block ahead of her she saw the sign of the Storming Knights hanging from a house wall.


Now that she knew which route to go now Buffy hastened her steps and soon she stood in front of the now familiar door of Maith's home. And after some time her knocking was answered by Fellare. A quick glance told Buffy what had taken Maith's mother so long, she had an apron on and flour dust was sprinkled across her bodice and her hands were obviously cleaned only by a quick swipe across her apron.

"Buffy, you are early. Maith isn't back yet either, so you will have to pass your time until dinner on your own."

"No problem. I think I can find a way to o that."

"Good. And if you don't find something to do you can always come to the kitchen to help me," Fellare said with a slight smile gracing her features as she returned to the kitchen.

Buffy couldn't help but smile too. For a moment she felt just like at home and half expected Dawn to storm down the stairs into the living room, but then the illusion broke away and she was back in the elves' home. Before a real depression could set in Buffy shook her head and, after a short visit to the outhouse, joined Fellare in the kitchen. Soon she was chopping onions and other vegetables at a speed that was just barely reachable by a seasoned cook.

"You are good at that," remarked Fellare from her place where she prepared the meat that was going to be baked with a mantle of the dough she had already been preparing as Buffy had returned.

"Thanks, I have got some practice with cutting," Buffy replied and returned to methodically reducing the vegetables into small dices.

Soon there was nothing left for Buffy to cut up and so she asked, "What can I do now?"

"Thank you but that is all. But if you would be so kind to go to my husband's shop and tell him and Maith that the meal is about to wander into the oven?"

"Sure thing," Buffy replied quickly only to add a moment later, "If you could describe the way to me?"

Ten minutes later Buffy stood in front of Slenderbow's Bows and Fletchings. The store was quite busy right now as several porters carried large wicker baskets full of arrows out to a cart on the street. In the background Buffy could hear Seroth's voice as he ordered someone around. Within a few minutes a dozen baskets had been carried out of the shop as well as half a dozen longbows. When the last of the porters was finally gone Buffy managed to catch Seroth's attention.

"Hi, Fellare sent me to tell you that diner is about ready to be put into the oven."

"Already, my how the time flies when it gets busy here. I'll close up the shop in a few minutes; you can go to the back room and tell Maith the happy news. I'm sure that she will be very grateful if her grumblings all afternoon long are any indication."

And happy she was, with a small whoop of joy she nearly threw the arrow she was working on at the moment away before she thought better of it and slowly laid it next to the others that were already finished. Maith then got a broom out of a closet and started to sweep the wood slivers away her work had produced. Buffy soon got another broom and helped Maith with her work so that they were soon finished. When they came to the sales room they saw that Seroth was also nearly finished, the shutters were closed and barred and the closets with the bows in them were closed and shut with padlocks.

During dinner they talked about their day but as the others didn't have that much to tell it was soon Buffy's turn to tell her tale. When Buffy came to the way Balzidon had talked to her Maith was outraged while both Fellare and Seroth nodded with a grim expression and mentioned that such reactions weren't all that uncommon. Buffy skipped over most of the taverns and inns that didn't result in a hiring and finally told them of her new employer, with a bit of trepidation as she didn't think that it would be received well.

<I don't even want to know what mom would say if she ever learns of that. I don't think she will like anything that has to do with me working at a pleasure hall...>

"That is great. So what are you doing there? Are you just serving meals and drinks or do you do more?" Maith inquired.

"No, no, no. Just food and stuff. I must say I'm surprised how cool you are with my workplace."

"Cool?" asked Maith before her parents could react to Buffy's statement.

"I mean how good you all are taking that. My mom would probably throw a fit."

"Why should we throw a fit as you so quaintly put it? Those are among most people well respected ways to earn money," wondered Fellare.

"Ok call it a cultural thing. Where I'm from only very few people would call it well respected even if they were using the services of a pleasure hall, or however you want to call it, regularly."

"I see. I can assure you that you won't have these problems here, or at least not that strong as you make it sound being at you home."

"I'd say that good news together with those really good deals I managed to close today call for a celebration. I invite us to the Storming Knights for some drinks."

Seroth's announcement was greeted with general enthusiasm. After the dishes were cleaned they got ready and off they went.

Drome shrank back into the darkest corner of his cell. There he walked again, the dark man, and his sister wasn't with him.

<Where has he taken you to, Herna? What is going to happen to us? Oh, Tymora help us!>

As the steps receded down the corridor so did the light as the torches died off only moments after the man had passed them. Soon Drome was totally engulfed in the darkness.

Chapter 9

With a groan Buffy rolled out of the bed, silently cursing the rooster that was crowing somewhere in the neighborhood.

<Ugh, I should have listened when they warned me not to drink more than that first glass Ellerkiss or however it was called. My head is killing me. Who would have thought that it carries such a punch? I only had two small glasses and it tasted more like perfumed sugar water than alcohol.>

Her eyes half shut against the bright morning light Buffy stumbled over to the washing basin and splashed liberal amounts of cold water in her face. Feeling a bit better Buffy went into the kitchen to join Maith and her parents for breakfast.

When they saw Buffy Fellare and Seroth exchanged a quick smile before they greeted her. Maith wasn't quite that polite.

"You look like death warmed over. Next time listen when we tell you that Elverquist isn't something that humans can drink much of," Maith told her in a way too cheerful voice.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have learned my lesson. And could you speak less loud? An army is exercising in my head and they are noisy enough for me to handle," Buffy replied a bit grumpily.

Meanwhile Fellare had risen from the table and went over to the stove and removed a kettle from the heat. From it she poured a steaming brew into an earth ware cup. With a gentle smile she offered the cup to Buffy.

"Here drink that, it will make you feel better."

"Thank you," answered Buffy as she took the cup out of Fellare's hand.

She blew on the slightly green liquid until it had stopped to steam. Then she drank it down in one big gulp, only to nearly spit it out again as fast when its vile taste reached her, but then she had already swallowed the drink.

"Phew, what was that!? That tastes horrible!" Buffy asked between coughs.

"Just a little brew of a few herbs and a little bit moss and some birch bark, it will help you get better quickly. We can't have you start your first work day still suffering of the after effects of Elverquist."

"Right, thanks."

"But I hope you have learned something from that, even if there is a remedy against some of the aftereffects of it you shouldn't drink more than a few sips of elven spirits. In fact you were very lucky, more than one human thought he could stomach more and so drunk enough to fall into a long unconsciousness or even die."

"Yeah, I got that. And no danger of me doing that again - that stuff is nearly as bad as the headache and nausea combined."

Even while Fellare still explained the ingredients that went into the brew Buffy already felt them taking effect, enhancing the fight her metabolism fought against the last remains of alcohol and its aftereffects. Wave after wave of heat and cold washed over her back in quick succession. The first thing to go was the headache; soon the queasy feeling that had lurked in her stomach vanished too. In their wake they left a hungry and thirsty Slayer. With a loudly growling stomach she started to devour her helpings of porridge, fried bacon and bread under the amused and amazed glances of the elvish family. Never before had they seen or heard of such a quick effect of the old family recipe.

With a satisfied sigh Buffy pushed the bowl from her. "That hit the right spot."

"It looks like you are feeling better already," Maith stated the obvious.

"Yep, that stuff works as well as it tastes bad and it tastes really horrible."

"I'm glad that that was the case for you. It normally takes longer until it has run its course," Fellare commented and then she continued on another trail of thought, "When again do you have to be at the festhall?"

"About an hour before noon, maybe a bit earlier so that I can get settled in my new room there."

"Good, then we have more than enough time. Do you need help with packing your things together?"

"Not really. It isn't that much, but if you want you are welcome to do so."

"I think I will do so after I have finished with getting the kitchen back in order," Fellare replied while gesturing at the pots and dishes that stood around as silent reminders of the work that had been necessary to prepare the morning meal.

In the mean time Maith and Seroth had finished their own breakfast in a much slower and ordered way. After placing their dishes in the sink they bid their farewells and got ready to leave for the shop where another day of work awaited them.

"Bye. And don't forget to come visiting us soon Buffy," Maith called towards the kitchen as she went to the door.

"I won't forget. And remember, you can come over anytime yourself - just try not to catch me while I have to work, that would probably be boring for you," she replied as she came out to say a last goodbye to Maith before she left as it was likely that she wouldn't see her new friend for several days.

"Oh, I don't know…," Maith answered trailing off into laughter just before she scampered out of the building to catch up with her father, leaving a suddenly worried Buffy in her wake.

After a moment Buffy had pushed that worry away and went back to the kitchen. There Fellare was already busy with scrubbing the pots and pan that she had used. The elf looked up surprised as Buffy reentered the room and came over to her. Her surprise only telegraphed by the sudden movement of her head and the quirked eyebrow as turned her face towards the young woman.

"Now to what do I owe this surprise? Maith never comes here of her free will if there is the danger of work that doesn't include the possibility of nibbling at something."

"Well I thought you are going to help me pack so it is only fair that I help you with the dishes."

"Far be it from me to refuse such kind help," Fellare replied and took a step to the side, giving Buffy some space at the sink.

Within a short time the two women were finished with doing the dishes and after drying them they put them back into their respective places. Then they went to the guest room that Buffy had been using during her stay. Her few belongings were quickly laid out on the bed. The first thing to vanish in the depths of her bag was the battle dress Buffy had arrived in. Next followed her shoes and cloak, on top of that followed the dress, trouser and shirts that were still on the bed. Now only her new brooch was left on the mattress. Quickly she took it and put it lest she'd forget it.

"Now that was quicker than I thought," Buffy commented, thinking of the amount of clothes she would normally pack for a holiday - not that she had had any in the near past - or when she had moved to Sunnydale.

"I suppose so. You were thinking of what you would be packing if you were home, am I right," inquired Fellare.

"You got that right, but I only realized that just now as we are finished with that," Buffy answered with a slightly whimsical expression. With a quick shrug she shook that expression off, smiling a bit she continued, "Well I better get going now. It wouldn't be a good way to make a positive impression if I were to be late on my first day at work."

"I understand. Good luck and come along soon," Fellare answered with a kind smile.

A droning chant filled the dark room, together with the sweet smell of several burning censers that barely suppressed the aroma of rot, it created an eerie, oppressing feel for any unsuspecting visitor; not that any such visitor would have managed to gain entry to this underground room. And so it was only filled with the chanting man and a good dozen prone forms lying on low stretchers.

While he was still chanting the man walked around the room, what little light was provided by the few torches was reflected of his bald skull. From form to form he went and placed small, black gems on their eyelids. That done he retrieved a small brush and container of blue, nearly black ink and began to inscribe a symbol on each of their foreheads, taking care not to drip any ink anywhere else on the bodies.

As he finished with the last sigil his voice rose into a steady crescendo while he walked to the far end of the room. His way was accompanied with a low hissing as the gems started to grow hotter and hotter until they melted through eyelids and sunk into the sockets that had been occupied by eyes just moments ago. Once he had reached the wall he turned around and abruptly stopped his chant. The sudden silence in the room was only broken by the occasional crackle from the coal burning in the censers. After long moments in which nothing seemed to happen, the first of the bodies stiffly sat up a low moan escaping its lips. Quickly after that all the others rose from their stretchers.

The mage moved his arm commanding sweep and while he never said anything all turned jerkily towards him. As all eyes, if one could call the small pinpricks of evil, red light flickering in the burnt out sockets eyes, were turned towards him he grinned with a malicious glee. He turned around and pulled on a brick in the wall, moments later a portion of the masonry swung outwards revealing a hallway descending deeper underground.

"Follow me," the man snapped arrogance and euphoria coloring his voice. Then he started down the corridor not once looking back to see if he was obeyed.

This time Buffy got to her goal quicker as the traffic wasn't as bad as the day before. Sweating a bit from the nearly tropical air that seemed to have conquered the harbor town Buffy was glad to enter the cool taproom. Madame Salaama's was still empty and only part of the lights were on and except for the young woman sweeping the room near the kitchen entrance the room was empty.

"We are closed. Come back at noon," the woman called without looking up from the floor as she fought with a particularly persistent blotch.

"Well I don't think that it would be a good introduction for my first day to be too late for the appointment I have with Madame Salaama," Buffy replied dryly.

"Ooops. You know where to go?" the woman replied sheepishly. "I'm Jezeela by the way."

"Buffy. I mean I'm Buffy. Yes I know where to go."

"Great. Go on through I still have to get that stuff off the floor. See you later."

"Yeah, later," Buffy replied though she doubted that Jezeela had heard her as she considered the fervor with which the redhead attacked the stain on the floor.

With a quick shrug Buffy went through the door leading to the corridor with Salaama's office. A few steps later she stood in front of the office door. Her knock was immediately answered by the demand to come in. When Buffy entered the room it was nearly as if she had never left the room. Salaama sat in nearly the pose behind her desk and wrote something in a thick tome. The only real difference was the dark red dress Salaama wore now in contrast to the blue-white one of the last day.

"Ahh, Buffy. You are earlier than I expected you. Have you already moved your belongings to your room?"

"Uhm, no, I thought it was better if I came along right away."

"I see. Now why don't you stow your things away and come back when you are finished? We can choose you dress then and after that I will introduce you to the girls."

"Sure thing. Be right back," Buffy agreed.

Outside the room she picked up her duffle bag that she had rested against the corridor wall. Quickly she found her way to her new home and started to unpack. As it wasn't much that had to find a place Buffy was soon finished and returned downstairs. Madame Salaama then led Buffy to a room full with a multitude of outfits. After studying Buffy intently she began to search through one of the wardrobes.

"Yes, I think that should be a perfect fit," the Bedine commented as she removed one dress from the closet.

A moment later one could hear Buffy's scream through half the building.

"You want me to wear THAT!?"

Chapter 10

In the changing room Buffy's eyes widened almost impossibly wide as she saw what her boss had chosen for her to wear.

"You can't seriously demand that I have to wear that thing," Buffy said as her eyes roved over the garment Salaama held out to her, disgust readily evident in her voice.

It wasn't what was exposed by the garment; she had worn more revealing stuff to high school on a pretty regular basis. No the problem was the color of the cloth. It was baby blue with pink hearts all over the front and lower back.

Before Buffy could launch into a rant about the gruesomeness that was presented in form of the gown Salaama began to laugh. It started as a snicker but soon it was a hearty laugh that filled the room.

When the matron finally had calmed down after several minutes she said with a last chuckle, "Sorry, I could not resist," her face clearly showing no remorse. "It is always so interesting to see the first reactions to this piece. Here this is the one for you to wear tonight."

With that she reached behind her and pulled out a black and white ensemble from an overflowing rack slightly to the left of Buffy. The ensemble consisted of a low-cut, white blouse and a black, flaring, skirt that reached halfway down her calf. The skirt was connected to a very tight, shoulder free vest that was adorned with white star patterns stitched on it.

"Now go on and get changed. When you are ready, come to the kitchen and I will introduce you to the others that will work on your shift."

Soon Buffy had changed into her work clothes and gave herself a once-over in the mirror. And what she saw pleased her, the gown fitted her as if it was made specifically for her, tight in all the right places and giving her a maximum of movement, something that she immediately decided to test out a bit more with a few high kicks against imaginary opponents. A satisfied smile graced her face as she finished her test with a roundhouse kick that flowed perfectly without any hindrance from the skirt.

<Damn, I have to get the name of that tailor.> Buffy thought, only to ruefully add in her mind, <When I've got enough money to afford shopping there, it has to be expensive.>

Shaking off that train of thought Buffy gathered her clothes together and quickly brought them up to her room before she went to the kitchen for her introduction.

When Buffy entered the kitchen her gaze was immediately drawn towards a table in the back of the room where Salaama sat with a group of young women and two broad shouldered men. An older woman was just carrying a large, steaming pot to the table.

When Buffy was halfway through the kitchen Salaama noticed her approach.

"Ahh, there you are, Buffy. Come over, sit down and help yourself to a bowl of stew. I'll handle the introductions while all are eating."

Buffy didn't wait to be asked that a second time and under the amused – and in two cases slightly envious – glances shoveled two helpings into the bowl she was offered.

Noticing the glances she received Buffy asked, "What? I'm a growing girl." Drawing a few snickers around the table.

There were a few minutes of near silence as all dug into their meals. Then Salaama rose from her seat and started talking.

"Now then, let's get started with the introductions. As you have already heard this is Buffy, she will join the serving staff from today on. For now she will be assigned to the early shift until she has gotten familiar with the proceeding and the menu."

Next she turned to the two men at the far end of the table, gesturing first to the reddish blonde then to the bald one, "Those two are Hrolf and Rudgar. They act mainly as bouncers, so if you have troubles with a customer tell them and they will see that he starts behaving or leaves. If necessary they also help with the heavy work like bringing new beer barrels up from the cellar."

As Buffy took in their heavily muscled frames she had no doubt that most guest would quickly decide to behave if asked to by one of the two.

"You already know Berina, Buffy. She is the best bartenders to work here in years, this month she is on the early shift but mostly she works the nights." Upon hearing this praise Berina blushed lightly but a proud smile also found its way on her face. As Buffy gave her a short wave of greeting and recognition the smile got even wider.

Next Salaama introduced five young women that were clothed very similar to Buffy, the biggest difference were the color schemes that when seen together completed the rainbow, one clad mostly in a deep blue, the next in green, another one in a flaming red, one in bright yellow and the last one in a vibrant orange.

"And now we come to Caisria, Sinylla, Aithe, Erilet and Jezeela. They are the waitresses you will support. If you have problems they should be the first ones for you to ask for quick help."

"Ah, yes. I met Jezeela earlier when I came in. I just hope I can keep all the names straight," Buffy said as she greeted her new colleagues.

And finally came a short introduction of the kitchen personnel, two cooks and five scullery-maids. The introductions now over all continued with their lunch. They had eaten for barely another ten minutes before they were disturbed by the kitchen door flying open. Through the door strode, bustling around like a little whirlwind, a young, blonde woman whose slightly pointy ears told everyone that she was a half-elf. She ignored the eating people at first and instead flitted from pot to pot looking at what was simmering in them and taking a taste from nearly every single one. Only when she had completed her round of the kitchen did she come over to the table.

"And this bundle of energy is Dornias. She is my partner in running this enterprise. You will see her often in the taproom or anywhere else in the building as she loves to interact with the customers on a personal level," Salaama explained to Buffy, then she turned to Dornias, "How nice of you to join us Dornias. Come here, I want you to meet Buffy. From today on she is a member of our serving staff."

"Hello Buffy. I'm sure we will have a lot of fun working together," Dornias said with a sparkle in her eyes.

Buffy frowned shortly as she couldn't connect the sparkle in the half-elf's eyes with what she had said, but she discounted it with just a moment's pause and replied, "Nice to meet you."

As Salaama joined in with the question if she would join them at the table for lunch Dornias answered, "Sorry I can't stay any longer I have to have a word with Lady Thann about that wine shipment we are waiting for. I'll see you all later."

Not long after Dornias' leaving lunch was finished and it was time to open the premises for the day's patrons.

The first hours of the afternoon were very quiet and Buffy used the calm before the evening rush to start learning menu by heart. And that wasn't that little, even without the day's specials there were a dozen meals and about twice as many drinks on it and often in several variations, sizes and prices. The selections ranged from venison and fish to such exotics like stuffed sparrows but had also such common meals like steaks and stews. The drinks covered a whole array of beers, wines, liquors and harder alcoholic beverages.

In between learning these things and the first customers she waited upon Buffy had further chores. She had to replace the burnt out candles and refill the oil lamps in her section of the taproom.

As the hours went on the stream of customers grew and soon Buffy had barely a calm moment to rest a little bit. She commuted between the bar and the tables without pause. Even the additional help from the late shift didn't do much to reduce the work as by now the customers came in droves.

Finally her shift was over and Buffy was free to leave the taproom. As she directed her step up the stairs to get a well deserved rest Buffy couldn't help it, but her thoughts turned from getting a nice night's sleep to the brain eating creature that had gotten away from her on her last patrol.

<What was that thing? Oh, I wish Giles was here, he would know… And where is it…?>

On and on her thoughts went along those lines until the thought of going to sleep without at least trying to find the creature wasn't enjoyable anymore.

<Ok. One quick patrol round the area and maybe a look at that graveyard at night, that should be about right. So, up to the room and out again….> Buffy thought with only a very small dose of enthusiasm, as she was still feeling every step of the evening in the taproom.

Once up in her room Buffy changed into her battledress. Next she strapped the sword to her hip and placed two stakes at the small of her back. She quickly gathered her hair in a pony tail and then left the room. After locking the door she quickly left the building through the back door.

After patrolling the lively streets of the Dock Ward for a time Buffy decided to inspect the back alleys closer where hopefully the chances of catching the brain-eater were better. Half an hour later Buffy was pretty sure that these alleys were only kept from being classified as dead by the varying population of mice, rats and cats.

<Maybe I'll have better luck at the cemetery.>

As Buffy came near to the walls that surrounded the City of the Dead she noticed two things. Firstly the walls were lit with torches and glowing stones, providing light to the city watch patrols that marched along the top and secondly the traffic in the back alleys was significantly increasing. And it wasn't the sleazy or dangerous traffic she had expected in theses alleys. It were young couples and a few singly girls and boys that all seemed to have a certain destination in mind.

Driven by curiosity Buffy decided to follow one of the couples. The couple's way led Buffy deeper into the maze of alleys but also closer to the wall around the City of the Dead. After a few more bends and crossroads the couple reached a section of the wall that was a in a worse condition than the rest of it. The couple waited in the shadows for a few moments, peering to the right and left. Then they suddenly dashed over to the foot of the wall and up the stairs that led to the battlements. Buffy quickly followed the two. Once she reached the top of the steps Buffy looked to both sides trying to detect the couple, but at first to no avail. Then she saw movement in the branches of a tree standing close to the wall on the graveyard side.

Just as she saw that movement she noticed even more movement out of the corner of her eye, it was a watch patrol consisting of six men armored in chain mail and armed with swords and maces and a seventh man wearing no obvious armor and carrying a staff less than a hundred meters away and coming closer.

<Shit, I better don't let them catch me.>

With that thought Buffy dashed towards the tree. Once there she saw that the upper branches nearly brushed against the wall and were easily capable of carrying two persons. As long as one knew how to balance it would be easy to use this tree to enter the necropolis. Once she was hidden among the leaves near the trunk Buffy held as still as possible. She didn't have to wait long for the patrol to pass her position. When the watch soldiers had passed her position without showing any sign of noticing her Buffy let out a breath of relief that she hadn't noticed she had held.

She waited a bit longer to get more distance between the patrol and herself. Then she climbed down the tree, once on ground level Buffy looked around more closely. The part of the cemetery was probably one of the darkest of the City of the Dead as the area around her was full of bushes and trees and only a few crypts. But at the same time it was quite certainly one of the liveliest. In more than on bush or stretch of lawn a couple could be found making out.

<Great, I've found the local equivalent to the lovers lane.> Buffy thought a bit sarcastically. <That knowledge will come handy at some point. Ah, well as I'm already here I can take a closer look at the other parts of the graveyard.>

The next half hour Buffy stalked across the graveyard, narrowly avoiding another watch patrol but otherwise all was quiet. Then she chose a path that ended in a cul-de-sac with four crypts forming the end of the way. As Buffy came close enough to see the outline of the four buildings her slayer sense started to detect something, it wasn't the same feeling she connected with vampires but it was close enough to set her on alert. When she got closer to the crypts she saw that the door of one of the crypts barely hung from its hinges and stood wide open. From inside the building the Slayer could hear low scraping noises.

Buffy went to the door and looked inside. The first room was empty safe for a golden statue of a young woman in expensive clothes with several money bags at her feet. Behind the statue was another door leading deeper into the crypt. Slowly she advanced into the next room. The next room was circular with a spiral staircase leading downstairs in the middle of the room and on the walls mosaics showing scenes of trade and two heraldic crests. From the dark below came the scraping sounds Buffy had heard from the outside.

When Buffy stepped on the first step the outer wall of the staircase started to glow in a soft golden light that provided enough illumination to easily see but not so much that it would blind. Buffy cursed softly but when the sounds from below didn't change she continued downwards. At the foot of the stairway was a large room. The walls of the room glowed in similar way to the stairway's wall but here it was a silver glow instead of a golden one. On the far wall opposite to her Buffy could see a large doorway whose frame glowed and swirled with a multitude of colors, behind it Buffy could make out a huge room with rows upon rows of sarcophagi. But that was the least of the things that Buffy saw. In the room she now stood in were a dozen zombies. As she watched she saw two of the zombies carrying a sarcophagus to the doorway and throwing it through it. The others were digging for something in the center of the room while the two throwers went over to the next sarcophagus.

Buffy had seen enough and drew the Sunsword from its scabbard. The sword high up, ready to strike, she moved closer to the undead and with a quick strike she removed the arm from one of the shambling corpses.

Totally unperturbed the zombie tried to continue digging, albeit at an even slower pace as it was now unable to lift the earth filled shovel without letting the earth fall back into the hole.

"Lost something?" Buffy asked in a cheerful voice, while inwardly cringing. <That's the best I can come up with? I must be losing my touch.> When she realized that there was no reaction coming to either her taunt or the wound Buffy thought, <At least I didn't waste a good quip on such an unresponsive audience.>

Only the weakly oozing wound and the arm on the floor spoke of the strike Buffy had landed. The next minutes were a massacre as Buffy reduced the undead to not much more than minced meat. When she was finished Buffy paused for a moment to catch her breath.

<Like shooting fish in a barrel. Not that I'm against some easy slaying, but at least they could have tried to fight back.>

From the outside Buffy could barely hear the faint noise of running armored persons running.

<Ooops, seems like I wasn't as silent as I should have been,> with that thought she quickly and quietly slipped out of the tomb and into the shadows between the tomb she had just left and the crypt beside it. And not a moment to late as shortly after she was in hiding a group of watchmen and one of the grey robed clerics she had seen on her daytime visit came around the bend a bit further down the trail and immediately started to check the doors of all the tombs that lined the cul-de-sac. In process narrowly passing past Buffy's hiding place as one watch member that had been a bit in front of the others noticed the battered door of the crypt that Buffy had just left. At once he raised an alarm and the patrol converged on the building and soon they entered the room behind the door.

Satisfied that she couldn't be seen Buffy left her hiding place and sped towards Salaama's to finally catch a bit of sleep.

A burning feeling from the amulet around his neck caused the necromancer to jump from his stool and his research. Something had happened to the group of zombies he had sent out.

Silently cursing he went over to a large silver bowl full of water and submerged the black amulet in it. Then he threw in it an eyeball and two slivers of bone and started to chant in tongue long forgotten by most people roaming the Realms. When he was finished the water had turned pitch black and was still like a block of metal.

"Show me what has happened to my servants! Who dares to interfere with me and my plans?" he demanded of the bowl.

And with a ripple an image began to form.

Chapter 11

Buffy twisted around on her bed, sweat formed hundreds of little droplets on her brow as she entered her dream deeper and deeper.

She was surrounded by darkness, not a hint of light was anywhere to be seen. All senses were on high alert trying to catch anything as she moved further into the impenetrable darkness. Buffy knew she got observed from somewhere. She could feel the hate in the unseen observer's stare as if it was a solid object touching her.

After a seemingly endless time Buffy saw a dot of light ahead of her. As she got closer to it she saw that it was a circle of light, maybe two meters wide, shining down on a shiny, gray surface. At first the circle stayed the same size but when Buffy was about ten meters away the circle's boundary began to expand until it reached her feet after she had advanced another five meters. At the same time a gruesome scene started to be illuminated by the growing light.

Now fully in the light, directly across the circle, was a heap of men. Waterdhavian watchmen from their garb, their heads brutally opened and the brains missing. At the edge of the light stood a hooded humanoid, holding a last visible watchman up by his chin, so that the head was lined up with the shadowed face and the creature could - if one considered the wet, slurping noises - eat the brain out of the skull.

Over her growing nausea Buffy was suddenly assaulted by a multitude of tastes and a feeling of pleasure a gourmet might have with a rare wine or a fine entrecote. At the same time she felt a terror that wasn't her own, something she had felt only twice before, when she was getting drained by the Master and just before she ended up in this world - agony and the certainty of death. Startled Buffy realized that it was the man's but it cut off just as quickly as if flooded her mind. Simultaneously the hooded figure threw the last soldier on the heap at its feet.

The creature extended its arm towards Buffy and with a long, mauve finger it beckoned Buffy to come nearer and to her mounting horror Buffy found herself moving robotically forward. And without regard for the bodies she began to climb over them to reach her goal.

Somewhere in the blackness behind the figure in front of her she could hear a man speaking in low tones, but it didn't make any sense to her. Then she reached the beckoning hand.

With a small yelp Buffy woke up and found herself sitting on her bed, drenched I sweat. Through the window came the sounds of the lively streets of the Dock Ward.

"Whoa, what a dream," whispered Buffy as she let herself fall back on the bed.

For some time Buffy tried to get back to sleep, but the dream had her so fired up that it wouldn't come. So she got up and after dressing Buffy shuffled down to the kitchen with sleep still in her eyes.

"Morning, what's for breakfast?" Buffy yawned as she entered the room. Before she even halfway finished her question her nostrils were assaulted with the smell of fried bacon and freshly baked bread that had her mouth watering in anticipation.

"Take a seat and have some patience," grumbled the matronly cook without turning from the heavy iron pans she had on the stove. "The bread should be ready any minute and the rest isn't far behind."

And true to her word, a few minutes later the cook began to pile heaps of bacon on a plate that was soon joined by several loaves of bread and other foods, like fried vegetables and fruits as well as a large bowl of porridge and a small pot of honey. Next the cook placed several large carafes of milk, water and dark stout. With her stomach clamoring loudly for food Buffy began to build a heap of food on her plate.

"Now, now, slow down a bit girl. Leave the others something to eat when they come down," chided the matron with laughter in her voice.

With a sheepish grin Buffy placed the slice of bread in her hand back with the loaves in the center of the table. Now that she was forced to finish with piling more food on her plate, Buffy got started on demolishing the pile that had already found its way there.

Over the next minutes the other staff members tickled into the kitchen and soon the room was filled with the chatter of the women enjoying breaking their fast.

After breakfast Buffy spent the rest of her free time in her room looking out onto the street and surrounding buildings. While she sat there she thought about her dream.

<Was it just a nightmare? Or a Slayer-dream? It felt real enough - but if it was a Slayer-dream was it just a warning or was it prophetic as in it has to happen that way? Damn, where is Giles when I need his help with Slayerness?> Just as soon as the last part of her train of thought had made itself known Buffy felt bad about it. It wasn't as if Giles had purposefully left her alone. <Well seems as if I have to find that out on my own. One thing is for certain, I won't go down until I have tried everything possible and impossible to get home to mom, Riley, Dawn and the gang.> She promised herself.

Quicker than she thought it possible her free morning was over and it was time again for work and her new workout routine: dodge-the-grabbing-hands. While it was general policy that the guests had to keep their hands of the waiting staff many couldn't resist and tried to cop a feel - and Buffy doubted that it would be good for her employment prospects to beat up anyone who tried that with her. Dodging seemed to be the best solution. If someone tried too hard to grab herÅ well there was always the option of changing one's mind. Besides Hrolf and Rudgar usually noticed most of the really difficult guests and kept an eye on them to remove them from the premises before they caused too much trouble for the staff and other guests.

Again her shift started with refilling the oil lamps, replacing candles and memorizing the day's specials - roast ox with onions or leeks, and tripes cooked with onions in wine gravy - on top of continuing with learning the content of the usual menu.

The evening was relatively quiet, which was explained to Buffy as due to the fact that no ship had entered the harbor that day, much to the surprise of the natives.

"Days with no ships arriving are rare except for the deepest part of winter. Then frost and storms make it too perilous to venture out of the harbor. Only the most daring and most desperate fishermen dare to set out to sea for a few hours. And none of the traders that are headed to the farther ports, all long-distance trade is land bound during winter as you will see with the prices of the more foreign goods in a few months," Berina explained their reaction to Buffy.

But all that was quite uninteresting for Buff as she enjoyed the calm that allowed her to conserve her strength for the patrol later at night. This time she would be fitter and more alert, hopefully that was going to bring her closer to finding that brain eater. And maybe she could even find a hint of who was the source of laughter in her dream.

And soon her shift was over and Buffy got ready to leave for her patrol.

Chapter 12

Up in her room Buffy quickly readied her limited slaying gear and checked everything for damages that might prove dangerous later on but her examination found no signs of unexpected wear on her stakes and sword or sword belt. With a satisfied nod she slid the last stake into its place at the small of her back. Finally ready to leave for her patrol Buffy went over to the door.

The hand on the doorknob she suddenly stopped. Outside in the corridor she could hear the voices of a woman - Dornias the co-owner if she wasn't mistaken - and two men; all were obviously, or better hearable, more than a tad drunk and feeling playful with each other. Buffy didn't feel the slightest urge to step out in the corridor decked out for patrol while the three were on the corridor and maybe want an explanation when they saw her. Luckily she didn't have to wait long and soon the door next to her room shut with a loud click. The muffled squeals of pleasure that came through the wall confirmed that Dornias and her two companions were indeed in the next room.

Now that the coast was clear Buffy quickly snuck out of the building through the back door.

The necromancer stood bowed over his workbench where he ground up rare herbs and semiprecious stones into a fine powder. Then he added to it the filings he had separated from a silver trade bar earlier. Again he stirred the mixture until the metal was homogeneously distributed throughout the powder. On top of it he sprinkled a pinch of both sulfur and salt.

That done he moved the platinum bowl to the side and went over to a stone box that stood at the small wall of the room, about halfway between the workbench and the large fireplace that was on the opposite side and dominated most of that wall. He opened the box and reached into the cold that filled it. Satisfied that the enchantment still worked as the traveling enchanter had promised when he sold the box to the necromancer's alternate identity he removed two jars from their storage space, both were filled with a viscous, dark liquid.

These he carried over to the workbench where he slowly drained them, one after the other, into the bowl with its powdery filling. The first jar's content flowed slow but steadily, as intended and needed, but when he started pouring the second he saw something that made him scream in rage - the blood, for that is what it was, had partly coagulated. Trembling with barely suppressed anger he lifted the bowl up and studied the mixture, there was still some hope that it would be usable in the ceremony.

That was the moment that Beshaba, Maid Misfortune, smiled on him and the bowl's contents began to emit red smoke.

With a snarl the necromancer flung the bowl into the fireplace and moments later the blood jar followed. As the two contents mixed they burst into multicolored flames that consumed the mixture as well as the bowl and the jar's fragments.

<29000 gold pieces worth of materials! All ruined! When I get my hands on that charlatan… I will slit his neck slowly and then bring him back as a ghoul and then I'll bring him back as a ghoul and have him walled in without any chance of getting out again, never able to feed.> He plotted, his anger simmering just below boiling over, never caring if it was really the enchanter's fault or his own.

After long minutes of thinking about possible tortures for the wandering scion of the Harple clan he had finally used up his anger and was once again coldly calculating.

<Now where do I get a faerie dragon's blood from? Skullport is a ad choice, the last time no supplier had any and those that offered to obtain some for me tried to cheat me - not that they survived that error. No this time I need it quick and from someone I can trust not to betray me on this.>

His mind already considering and dismissing dozens of potential plans the mage left his laboratory through a secret door. Then he moved through the lavishly decorated corridors of his mansion until he left them through another hidden passage that led to a stair going down. At the base of the stairs he turned left and followed the corridor until he reached his shrine to Velsharoon.

The shrine's back opened into the cavernous room he used for his sacrifices but for now he wouldn't proceed there. Now it was time to meditate and gather power before he performed the ritual of communion. He lit a few blocks of incense and soon a sweet smell filled the small temple and wandered also into the darkened ceremonial room, preparing it for its upcoming use.

From a hidden alcove he removed the brownish robes, a shade like dried blood, he had reserved for all rituals that weren't exclusively arcane but also, if not totally, steeped in the divine powers that affected him and his works. After donning the robe he finally sat down in front of the idol that filled most of the space of the shrine's altar. As he studied the laughing, silver crowned skull the noble felt more and more at ease and the powers within him became more present to his senses until he knew just how he could receive the answer to his question about the whereabouts of a faerie dragon.

Felling refreshed and dedicated to a course of action he roused himself from his meditation over an hour later. With his mind he reached out to one of his mindless undead servants and made the zombie fetch the boy that was still in his small dungeon. Twenty minutes later he could hear the shuffling steps of the zombie as well as the low whimpers of his captive that clearly announced that the undead had succeeded in his task, a good sign for the rest of the evening that had begun under such bad auspices.

He motioned the zombie to approach and then to continue on into the ceremonial chamber where he chained the boy to the large altar that had already been stained with the sister's blood days before. The long time with no food had weakened the boy enough that he couldn't provide any significant resistance and so he had him quickly secured to the cold stone. Upon closing the final clasp on the leg irons the altar seemed to come to life, a low, purple glow started to emit from the stone, pulsating slightly in time with the boy's fluttering heart.

At the low moans the boy uttered the necromancer admonished him, "Now, now don't be that way. Take pride in the fact that you will be helping me with coming closer to creating my phylactery."

Without further elaborations he started to recite an ages old spell, his voice rising and falling through the cadences of the arcane tongue that was one of the eldest that could be found on Toril. As the spell reached its peak he performed a series of complicated gestures that ended with him drawing a pentagram into the air, his finger trailing a shower of red and green sparks that remained in the air until the pentagram was completed. Then they flew away in every direction and winked out of existence after only a few inches of travel. With the last words of the spell he withdrew a ceremonial dagger from the folds of his robe and plunged the wide blade into the child's chest.

In a small explosion of foul reeking smoke a remotely humanoid figure appeared in the room. It looked like a human sized, bipedal dog or jackal but with the pincers of a crab in place of the forelimbs. The Yugoloth made a demanding gesture with its right pincer, recognizing the demand the mercenary demon had the necromancer quickly opened the boy's chest wider and with a few cuts removed the heart which he then gave the demon. With obvious relish the summoned creature bit into the heart and after chewing on the muscle for a bit he swallowed, eating it completely with two more bites.

<The pact is sealed human. What do you want?> a raspy voice spoke in the necromancer's mind in a challenging tone.

"By the power of the spell that summoned you and the might of Velsharoon I command you! Don't you dare challenge me or I will use your True Name to damn you to eternal torture!"

<Then command me. How is my service required?> the yugoloth replied, his voice gaining a charming quality but it never totally lost the undertone of danger.

"Show me where the nearest faerie dragon lairs. And show me now."

<I can not tell you the exact location. But know that one is I the city above you.>

"Where? Where can he be found?"

<Look in the gardens that everyone can visit. Where the heroes and dead are honored, there you will find it.>

"Good. But be warned if you betrayed me you will regret it as you can be sure face the wrath of Velsharoon and mine."

<Spare your empty threats human. I gave you the knowledge you sought. Don't test my patience too much or I might decide to test the power of your bindings.> with that the demon sent out a little surge of power against the magics that had brought it to the material plane. The necromancer felt the sudden strain on his spells and quickly realized that he might loose control if the demon used his full powers against him, so he hastened to utter the words of dismissal that sent the mercenary back into its infernal home.

Now that the spell was finished he ordered the zombie to remove the body from the altar and place it in the storage room with the other bodies that were kept for later animation or spare parts. Then he concentrated on the ring on his slave's hand, sending out his summons. A few moments later he received a sense of confirmation as the ring's enchantment forced the mindflayer to continue his existence as the necromancer's obedient servant and slave. Minutes later the tentacled humanoid stood in front of him, ready to receive his orders that would be fulfilled.

"Get me the faerie dragon that is hiding either in the City of the Dead or in the Heroes' Garden in the Sea Ward. Bring it to me alive. Don't draw undue attention to yourself, if necessary kill any witness but under no circumstances let you be bound in a long fight, especially not with the watch. You can take a dozen zombies or skeletons with you to help, but see that they are disguised. There is no need for panic among the populace and alerting the Open Lord before we want it," the spell caster instructed his pawn, smiling as he added the last order, nearly as an afterthought. "Go now, and report back to me by dawn at the latest."

Once out of the pleasure hall Buffy once again directed her steps towards the city's big cemetery. Once again she kept to the less traveled back roads and alleys on her way to the City of the Dead. About halfway there whimsy struck her and Buffy decided for going a roundabout route through the rich Sea Ward and then on into the North Ward until she would each the northern wall that separated the city wards from the cemetery.

The nighttime walk through the Sea Ward was something totally different from her daytime visit with Maith as her tour guide. The roads were less traveled than during the day, in fact besides the occasionally watch patrol Buffy only saw a few expensive carriages that brought their rich owners home or to some event. Even here she kept mostly to the back alleys. The biggest advantage of roving around this part of the city was that here even the alleys were clear of trash and such pests like rats, so Buffy didn't have to worry about avoiding them while looking around for vampires and demons that were about to cause trouble.

Another advantage of visiting the Sea Ward was the beauty of the surroundings, the buildings were all finely crafted and nearly all of them had large adornments, be that paintings or sculptures. Behind many of the high walls that enclosed the mansions were lush gardens and Buffy could smell dozens of flowers, some familiar, some exotic to her senses, blooming. In some gardens parties were hosted and while she passed them Buffy could hear the laughter and general din of conversations as well as music from within the compounds. From one or two of the largest Buffy passed she could even hear the songs of rare birds or the cries of raptors that were kept in aviaries not too far from the outer walls.

Buffy was nearly at the imaginary border of the Sea Ward as she started to feel the cramping in her stomach that spoke of the presence of undead or demons. It was only a slight sensation so she was about to dismiss it but it continued to be notable and grew a bit stronger as she proceeded, as if she closed in on the source of it. Buffy changed her approach from a more or less leisurely walk to a prowl that would have made a stalking cat proud. After a few turns that were obviously wrong as attested by a lessening in the cramps Buffy was finally sure to be on the right track, but the feeling didn't grow stronger, it remained at about the same level. As she sped up in hopes of catching up to her elusive quarry the feeling started to grow weaker again though more slowly than on the wrong turns.

<Arrgh, where is that little member of the nighttime population? I can't have passed him in this alley, its too small to have missed him.> Buffy thought angrily, a bit unsure with whom she was angry -herself for missing the undead or with her quarry for eluding her -while coming to a stop in the narrow lane, well into the North Ward.

As she stood there in the alley looking left and right, up and down the feeling grew stronger again only to have soon reached a, admittedly low, maximum and then to decrease again. That confused Buffy even more, until she heard a crate toppling in the lane on the other side of the buildings lining the one she was in.

Buffy started to hasten her steps again and looked around for the next connecting passage to the parallel alley, but as far as the limited light and winding alley allowed her to see there was none. Soon it became obvious to Buffy that the two alleys were by far not parallel as the sensation grew dimmer and dimmer. So she made a turnabout and ran at highest speed back until she reached the one connecting passage that she had passed earlier. Once she was in the other lane she set off in pursuit of the being she had sensed.

Soon she passed the crates she had heard falling over, but it hadn't been because whoever passed through here had gotten caught in some protruding nail that they had tumbled down. The reason was the lifeless body of a would-be cutpurse that had paid for trying to rob the being passing through with his life - and brain - judging from the glimpse Buffy saw while she ran past the wreckage the body had caused when he was flung aside.

Led by what little effect her quarry had on her Buffy scrambled down the alley's winding path. It didn't take Buffy long to realize where she was headed; the City of the Dead. It was no more than three or four blocks in the direction she was currently going.

When Buffy reached the wall surrounding the graveyard quarter she felt the presence of her quarry not too far, but it had to be already on the inside as she couldn't see anyone or anything that didn't belong on the street at this time of the night. So she took another look around to see if a watch patrol was around and as it was certain that it wasn't the case she scaled the wall with a jump and a few grips and pulls on stones protruding from the wall. On the other side Buffy quickly found a tree suited to enter the city ward easily without risking to blindly jump down the wall.

Once she was on the inside Buffy wondered if jumping wouldn't have been better, for by now she couldn't feel her quarry anymore. But that didn't deter her from proceeding deeper into the graveyard, the approaching light that spoke of a watch patrol proved to be further incentive to continue into the deeper darkness provided by the trees and mausoleums. Slowly she stalked forward along wide and small paths that connected the crypts with the main paths that wound through the park like surroundings. Except for a few crickets and a slight wind rustling through the leaves nothing was to be heard.

But that didn't keep Buffy from searching for whom she had followed on a feeling. After some time, Buffy was close to giving up and calling it a night, she felt the cramping sensation again even though it was weaker than when her Slayer-sense rung the first time this evening. Not much later she could see a heavily cloaked shape walking along the path ahead of her, obviously on the lookout for something off the path.

<That's him, it, whatever… But why does he feel even weaker than earlier? Bah, not important it's slaying time.>

With those thoughts running through her mind Buffy drew her sword and surged forward. Her curiosity got the better of her though and so she gripped her target's shoulder and whirled it around to see what was hiding under the heavy cowl and cloak. What she saw made her stop for a moment in surprise and shock. While she had expected a number of vile and hideous creatures hiding under the cloak she hadn't counted on that, beneath the cowl came a eternally grinning face into view. Pale bone shimmered in the moonlight and two tiny green flames danced where the eyes belonged. The head moved with a slight creaking sound and all impressions fell into place. Her opponent was a walking human skeleton.

Her surprise slowed her for a second and that nearly was her doom. Quicker than she had thought possible the animated skeleton slashed at her neck with a bony hand that bore little resemblance with a human hand as the fingers ended in vicious claws. In the last moment Buffy managed to deflect the hand upwards and suffered only a small nick on her chin.

Buffy winced at the slight pain coming from her chin but this time she didn't let it stop her counterattack. Her sword slash hit the skeleton's extended arm well above the elbow. The bone shattered into many small slivers under the force of her blow, but the skeleton didn't show any sign of being hindered by the wound anymore than having a severely restricted reach with the remaining part of its right arm. Moving silently with only a slight creaking of dry joints it still tried to rip Buffy's throat open with both arms. But now that Buffy had adjusted to her surprise and the speed of her opponent it was only a matter of moments before it lost the other arm, leaving it only with two pointed stumps. But even that didn't prevent the skeleton from trying to kill her. So Buffy spent most of the next minute to reduce it to a small pile of broken bones, most of the time was wasted as several of her strikes that would have killed a normal opponent went into the empty space of the skeleton's chest and shaved only a few slivers from the ribs.

Now that the skeleton was destroyed Buffy looked around, the smashing of the skeleton hadn't stopped the Slayer-sense from sensing something nearby. So she started searching in the direction the skeleton had looked before she had put it down where it belonged. As she proceeded towards the small copse of trees that stood there, several dozen meters from the nearest crypt Buffy singsonged under her breath.

"Come out; come out where ever you are. Where have you hidden your bony, little ass?"

As Buffy got closer to the trees she could hear noises from within the stand of trees, noises that could only be interpreted as several people rushing through the underbrush. The sensation of undead nearby was now much stronger than anytime before this night. Nonetheless Buffy entered the bushes that grew under and around the trees. In the little star and moonlight that fell through the treetops Buffy could barely make out more than silhouettes and some movement further on. As she approached the figures that seemed to try catch something her senses affirmed that at least some of them were undead and probably skeletons like the one on the path. While she watched Buffy saw a few of them fall to the ground without any obvious reason and as they tried to rise again they fell right down again as if they stood on a patch of extra slippery ice and without any sense of balance. The ones that hadn't fallen down didn't mind what had happened to their fellows and continued on their chase of whoever they were after as their quarry retreated further into the trees. Buffy followed close on their heels leaving the three fallen figures behind as she was more interested in the chasing ones and the three didn't look as if they were getting away any time soon. In no time the chased chasers and Buffy left the bushes into a part of the copes of trees where they stood further apart and grass had replaced most of the undergrowth and ended up in a bank of fog that had appeared suddenly. Ahead of her Buffy heard a crack as if something hard had impacted on wood closely followed by a short burst of high pitched laughter. Buffy immediately slowed down as she had correctly guessed that someone had impacted at full pace with a tree. She couldn't help but smirk slightly. �<That must have hurt. But from the hollow sound there wasn't much t be damaged.>

Then there was a flurry of motion around her as something passed her quickly. Followed closely by a skeleton that upon seeing her stopped short for a moment and then charged towards her position closely followed by another three. This time Buffy had the first strike and she used it better than the skeleton earlier, she hit the lead skeleton in the head and it flew away like a baseball at a pro-game together with one of its shoulder blades. The remaining body had lost so much stability that it collapsed into itself and laid still. But Buffy didn't have time to celebrate her good aim as the other walking bone collections were upon her with unfriendly thoughts on their mind. It was a bit work to evade their strikes in the limited visibility of the fog but Buffy managed to do so and despite a few really close calls she came out of the encounter unwounded. The fact that the fog fell away quickly during the fight sped up the end considerably and soon they were scattered on the ground around Buffy's feet.

When the fight was over Buffy heard the chase continued behind her leading back the way they had all come. As her senses told her that there were still some skeletons left she took off after them in hopes of catching them before they got away. On her way she passed the place where the three skeletons had lost their footing earlier, they were still there but they didn't try rising anymore, their skulls had been broken but it was hard to say if that breaking happened before or after they were removed from the rest of their bones, but the fact that they were all scattered around the trunk of a large tree spoke for the after-theory. Whoever did that must have been angry and he left some kind of colored mucus on them, but Buffy didn't stop long after she was sure that those would never stand up again.

Her steps led her towards a small cluster of crypts that formed more or less a half circle with maybe 15 meter diameter. The skeletons seemed to have cornered their quarry in there and were crowding a small shape that was lying on the ground in a heap. Just as Buffy entered the half circle one of the figures bent down to grab the form on the ground. Buffy didn't hesitate any longer and barreled at full tilt into the group scattering them on the ground and grabbed the unconscious form. Without further delay she jumped on top of the nearest crypt and ran along the edge of the roof only to drop on the ground on the far side of the building, without pause she continued running. Her path barely avoided a group of watchmen and priests on patrol of the graveyard. On and on her flight continued until she was deep in the Dock Ward.

Finally she slowed down and took a good look at whom she had rescued.

Chapter 13

The light in the alley was anything but good, only the moon and stars provided any real illumination. The few lights that shone through the closed shutters of the houses were close to negligible. Luckily the slayer package included excellent night vision, even though it wasn't as colorful as during the day it was enough to study the object of her rescue.

What she had rescued was definitely not human. It was a miniature dragon, not bigger than a large housecat. Its scales were so small that Buffy could barely keep them apart and even in the little light that was available in the alley they were iridescent and reflecting all the colors of the rainbow, currently mainly blues and greens but the other colors were also present. The folded back wings looked similar to a butterfly's in the same position but their color set them apart from these simple creatures, the wings were beautifully gleaming platinum, nearly like mercury. At the back of its head, the sides of his neck along the spine and at the front legs the small dragon frilly fins sprouted from the body all colored a bright red with violet accents at their bases.

Not only the size was similar to a housecat, its long tail twitched and flicked just like it sometimes does with a sleeping - or awake -cat. The claws on the other hand were nothing like a cat's they were straight, long in relation to the paws' size and ended in needle sharp points.

During the examination the dragon woke from unconsciousness. It showed Buffy a wide toothy grin that displayed a surprising amount of tiny, needle fine teeth as he peered at Buffy though half closed eyes that were a nearly glowing sapphire blue with the slit iris of a reptile.

"Hi," the dragon whispered before his eyes closed again and his head sank down on her arm. His whole body went so limp that only the gentle rise and fall of his chest showed that he was still alive.

"Great, of course you just have to fall unconscious again. Couldn't you have stayed awake? Now what do I do with you? I can't just leave you here," Buffy grumbled. Just then the little dragon started to softly snore, a sound that was more a slight hiss coupled with a purr that would make any cat envious. "Oh, you are such a cute little critter. I know I'll take you with me. In my room should be way more safe that leaving you out here on the streets for the next skeleton to pick up. I wonder what Salaama thinks about pets? Maybe I can keep you, but for now that will be our little secret," the young woman whispered to the sleeping faerie dragon.

With that line of thought running through her mind Buffy continued down the alley keeping from the main streets as much as possible. She managed to use only two and that was one without any people using it and the other one was just a crossing over when no one of the few pedestrians was looking in her direction.

A few minutes later Buffy was back at the pleasure hall's backdoor. After listening at the door for any noise for some time she quickly and silently entered the building and continued on to her room. The noise from the taproom had lessened with the progressing hour but business was still going strong from what Buffy could hear when she passed that door on her way to the stairs. Upstairs it was quiet, nearly no sound from below came up to disturb the girls who worked the early shift and were now sleeping. But that wasn't completely true, a moment after Buffy entered her room she could hear laughter and squeals of pleasure through the wall that separated her room from Dornias'.

<Wow, she's still at it. Talk about stamina. I just hope I get some sleep tonight.> Buffy had barely finished that thought as a particularly loud yell could be heard through the wall.

Buffy gently placed her sleeping load on the cushion that covered her chair, and then she got ready to sleep herself.

The next morning Buffy had trouble getting out of bed, the sounds of passion from Dornias' room had woken her up repeatedly.

<Damn, sometimes I really hate to have that Slayer-hearing.> Buffy thought as she stumbled from her bed over to the washing basin to freshen up.

When she finally felt half-way alive and presentable Buffy remembered her little charge. The little dragon still slept peacefully on the seat she had placed him on. Some time during the night he had curled up on the cushion like a cat with the tip of his tail serving as an additional pillow for his elongated snout.

<How cute...> Buffy couldn't keep that thought from emerging as she looked down on the little fellow who was glittering and shining with the light that shone in through the window down on him. As she did that the mercury wings were so reflective and smooth that she could have used them as a replacement for her small mirror if they were completely unfurled by the dragon.

<I wonder what you eat. Ah well, I'll smuggle some treats up to you.>

After brushing her hair for the last time Buffy was finally ready to face the world outside of her room. With a last, wide yawn she left her room and entered the corridor to the stairs, only to nearly collide with Dornias who was literally skipping down the corridor.

"Good morning," Dornias greeted her in a cheery voice while nimbly avoiding the collision with the yawning Buffy.

"I hate you," grumbled Buffy, "being so cheery that early in the morning has to be illegal."

"Ohhh, did someone get not enough sleep?" Dornias teased.

"Well I could have had enough sleep if not for *someone* screaming and squealing for nearly the whole night."

"Really, that must have been awful. I must have been in luck then, cause I heard nothing like that," Dornias replied with wide, innocent eyes. Or as innocent as possible if one considered the twinkle that lurked in the half elf's eyes and the little smile that played around her lips. Before Buffy could think of a fitting response Dornias scampered off towards the stairs and out of sight.

With a low growl Buffy started towards the stairs herself, a growl that was loudly echoed by a growl from the monster hidden in her stomach. At least that was how it sounded to Buffy's ears. So, shelving Dornias' teasing in the revenge-later-section of her mind, she hurried into the kitchen to replenish the energy she had lost the previous night while chasing after skeletons and tiny, little dragons.

After a big breakfast consisting of porridge, the remaining roast ox and leeks from the last day and fresh bread Buffy felt for the moment content. Stretching her legs under the table she basked in the good feeling for a few minutes while the rest of the girls trailed out of the room. A few minutes later Buffy was alone in the large kitchen as the two scullery maids had left for the cellar and the outhouse respectively. Quickly she gathered a bread bowl and filled it with samples of various vegetables, some of the absolute last remains of the ox and a bit of fresh, raw boar flesh; several boars had been bought from the market a few days ago and were now ripe for preparation. The first one was already cut apart and ready for cooking, the others would later be prepared for being roasted on the spit.

<So that should be enough, he must like at least something of that.> Buffy thought, for herself she grabbed an apple and two roses for her night stand. <Those are too beautiful to end up in the salad today.> she mused as she admired the deep, royal blue and red color of the flowers.

On her way back to her room she encountered none of the other employees, something Buffy was glad about as she couldn't think of a good way to explain why she was carrying a good sized meal to her room after having just finished breakfast.

In her room the faerie dragon was still deeply asleep, nothing but a low purring and the soft rise and fall of the chest setting it apart from a corpse. Buffy set the bowl on her dresser and set the apple next to it, the fresh vegetables she also placed next to the bowl, in effect sorting the food into vegetables and flesh. As she did that she thought that she saw her small companion's nostrils flare as if he had picked up the food's scent, but after a moment he continued to purr as if nothing was happening around him. Now that she had prepared the food as much as possible without knowing what he liked to eat Buffy filled a mug with water from the carafe meant for use with the washbowl and set the roses in it. The impromptu vase went onto the nightstand and served as a much needed - in Buffy's opinion - source of color and good mood in the room that was currently a study in white and wood.

<Hmmm, color… Yes that room can really use more color. I have still a good three hours till my shift starts and a few coins left. That should be enough to get some colored cloths from the market and get a head start on decorating this room a bit homelier. Now what would go with that brown…> already mixing and matching colors in her head Buffy collected her purse and went to the taproom and through it out onto the street through the front door.

Just as she was about to step through the door onto the street a voice called out behind her. It was Berina, the barkeeper had been hidden by the long counter behind which she had been placing the day's stockpile of alcohol into its place.

"Hey Buffy, where are you going to?"

"Just a quick shopping trip to the market, I want to get some colors into my room."

"That's nice. I wish I could come with you but I still have a lot to prepare for later on, there are several ships and a handful caravans announced for today if nothing went wrong. So it's going to be a busy evening," Berina mentioned with a slightly sad look. Then the sadness lifted from her face and she reminded Buffy, "See to it that you are back in time, you will have a lot to prepare yourself. The other girls would never forgive you if you didn't help out too."

"Yes, yes. I won't take long."

"You better don't forget it. You will have to be back an hour before Highsun at the latest if you don't want to end up in total agitation before the first guest is here."

Looking out on the street Buffy noted the length of the shadows and noticed that she really didn't have as much time as she would want to have for a sedated shopping tour across the market and maybe some stores with a fitting inventory. "You are right. Damn, I better hurry now if I want to have the slightest bit of leisure shopping."

"Have fun. Maybe I can come along the next time."

"That would be cool. See you later," Buffy called back over her shoulder, already half on the street.

Buffy came back from the market in a real good mood and on top of that she had over half an hour to spare. In a way Buffy was lucky that she was lucky that she had only a little money left before going to the market cause otherwise she would have had serious problems to still be on time, so big was the selection in colored and patterned clothes on the market and in some of the shops Buffy passed on her way there. As it stood she now was down to a few coppers and a single silver piece, but on the positive side she had bought three nice clothes meant to be used either as tapestries or room dividers. All were patterned with organic, twisting forms that stood out in color on the white linen, one was a vibrant green, the second a deep sea blue and the last one flame red. The three clothes fit well together and the symmetric knotting of the lines that made up the patterns reminded Buffy of Celtic knot work, yet it was different than the true Celtic knot work as it didn't carry a consistent pattern throughout the whole cloth. It seemed as symmetric and ordered as Celtic knot work, but when you started to look at it closer in search of points of symmetry each time you thought you had found one of these points you found a twist or intersection that didn't fit in. If you looked at the pattern for a longer time one could make out silhouettes of animals and weapons, but Buffy wasn't certain if that was intentional or if she was just seeing things.

Buffy quickly made her way up to her room in hopes of being able to decorate her room at least a little bit before she had to start working. What she saw after she opened the door to her room and stepped through made her stop dead in her tracks.

The faerie dragon had awoken in the time she had been at the market. During that time he had eaten all the vegetables, the apple Buffy had forgotten to take along as a snack, the raw meat as well as most of the grilled meat. All in all more than enough that it should have a visible effect on the little dragon's girth but Buffy saw nothing of that. No what shocked her so much was that the dragon was now lounging on her pillow while daintily plucking petals from the two roses that he promptly nibbled away like a human might do with a particularly tasty dessert. In fact this dessert must have been particularly tasty as the roses weren't all that recognizable right now, with less than half of their petals still in place.

"Hello there. Thanks for placing these in the water. The petals are so much tastier when they are still juicy. You won't believe how much flavor they loose when they begin to grow limp and dry," the winged reptile greeted Buffy. "Want to try a bite? There are still some good petals left."

"Wha..?" Buffy couldn't even begin to formulate a coherent question.

"No? Good, more for me," the dragon's tenor carried obvious joy as he plucked another petal from the red rose and then proceeded to eat it.

"You know those were supposed to be room decoration and not a snack," Buffy said sounding a bit peeved.

She wished she could be angrier and inflict bodily harm on the little dragon, but it was simply too adorable as it looked up to her with an innocent look. Then Buffy had to giggle, while the dragon looked up to her he had part of the petal hanging out of the side of his toothy mouth. This in turn brought a wide toothy grin onto the faerie dragon's face.

After a few minutes Buffy had herself back under control, something that got helped along by the dragon as he finally swallowed the petal.

"Ok, I think it's time for introductions now, I'm Buffy and who are you?"

"Why, I'm Oncidium of course, how very rude of me not to mention that earlier, formerly of the forests of Cormanthor and the Dalelands," answered the dragon while taking on a majestic pose with the head held high.

"Nice to meet you, Onidum."

"The pleasure is totally on my side. But my name is Oncidium," he promptly corrected Buffy's garbled pronunciation of his name.

"That's what I said. Hey, how about I call you Oncy, or would you terribly mind?"

"I guess, I can survive it," Oncidium replied. <I'm just glad I gave her only the short version of my name. No imagining what she could have done to it.> he thought to himself with a barely visible shudder rippling through his body at the thought of his full name being mangled.

"Cool. I would love to stay and chat some more, but I have to get started working downstairs soon," the Slayer said. "So get comfortable, I'll be back later on in the evening, we can talk more then."

After finally laying her purchases out of her hand Buffy left the room with a final wave and rejoined the other waitresses in their preparations for the day's guests and the business they would bring. Idly chatting about a multitude of topics from the ships and caravans expected in the city over some of the latest gossip to the rumors about a mage wanting to begin selling a salve that was supposed to make people more attractive and beautiful and at the same time commenting on who would need that the most they refilled the oil lamps, sorted the cutlery and memorized the day's specials and in general did whatever work was still needed to be done before Highsun.

At the same time in Buffy's room Oncidium started to feel bored, not really the best mood for him to be in as it often resulted in chaos around him while he looked for ways to remove the boredom from a situation. So, driven by his curiosity, he went to the bundle of cloths Buffy had placed on the bed before going downstairs. The colors that he could see were already very much to his taste, but in the folded state the clothes were in right now he couldn't see as much as he wanted, so he grabbed a corner of the uppermost cloth and flew into the air. Hovering about a meter above the bed he looked around in search for a place to hang the tapestry substitute. The first one ended up hanging from two nails that must have been holding up some painting, the second one now hung from the cupboard and the last one covered the trunk at the bed's foot end.

For the next several hours the faerie dragon was thoroughly amused and entertained with studying the patterns and finding possible animal shapes hidden among them. But finally the point was reached where that wasn't enough anymore. Soon he had exactly the solution for that dilemma. Gathering the magical and elemental energies that were fundamental parts of his being the fey dragon began to form a spell. In a burst of power he released the spell and let it affect the three cloths. Suddenly there was movement in the patterns, knotted panthers stalked through a knotted forest, warriors fought with sword patterns and butterflies visited knotted flowers. And that was only a very limited selection of scenes that could now be seen if one studied the patterns.

Satisfied with his illusion and once again entertained Oncidium curled up on the bed and watched the now ever-changing activity through half closed eyes until sleep once again defeated him. Soon he started dreaming with only the twitches and sweeps of his tail remotely hinting at what those dreams might be.

Oncidium wasn't the only one working magic at that moment; many others did so too, from priests in the temples over several minor and major mages in their workshops to the Blackstaff in his tower. But only one of them had nefarious plans involved with the spell he was currently casting.

For tonight he was about to create more minions, smaller and less noticeable than usual, on the table in front of him were twenty hands. All of them were relatively fresh, no more than a tenday had passed since they were last attached to a body. Nearly all of them were right hands and came from thieves that had been caught in less tolerant cities than Waterdeep, be that the town of Skullport the city's dark, barely tolerated twin below Mount Waterdeep and the city proper or further away places like Luskan, Mulmaster, Zhentil Keep or Yûlash.

Ground onyx fell from the necromancer's hand as he traced arcane sigils in the air above the severed hands. As it fell towards the table the powder began to change its course until all of the hands were covered with a thin layer of gem dust, even those that weren't under his hand.

Then his voice rose to a climax and with a flash of darkness the onyx dust vanished. Then after moments of tense anticipation the first hand's fingers began to move.

Meanwhile Buffy was busy like never before in her short employment at Madame Salaama's. The guest room was full to the last corner and several guests in the bath chambers and the private rooms also decided that they wanted something to eat, not to mention all the drinks that were consumed.

On the positive side Buffy managed to listen from time to time to the tales an old storyteller was presenting, mostly while she was serving the thirsty patrons near the fireplace where he had found a cozy sitting place or while she waited for her orders to be prepared for her to serve.

Most of these stories centered around powerful magics, the folly of the mighty, love, hate and betrayal, adventure or, even better, around several of these themes. Just like the one story she was listening to at that moment.

"During the times of Ancient Netheril, the time of flying castle cities built on mountains borne in the air by magics barely imaginable in this time and place there was a mighty wizard called Karsus, ruler over the biggest sky castle of them all, Karse. Many say the mightiest mentalist of all the rulers Netheril had to offer. Many were his creations, spells no one could wield but him and a select few that came close to his might, artifacts that could build and destroy with equal ease, even living being that were not there before he created them after the image he created. Like many of his class he was bored. This boredom they sought to alleviate by hunting the commoners tending the fields down below on the ground that had no magic of their own and as such were nothing more than slaves. Their hunts were nearly always successful and only when they felt magnanimous did those farmers that hadn't managed to hide in their homes fast enough survive that sport. And the archmages reveled in their might over the life and death of their subjects, only the creation of newer, more powerful spells gave them a greater sense of power and joy.

"So mighty was Karsus that he felt it was his place to challenge the gods. Over a span of many decades he began to craft the mightiest spell he had ever devised, a spell that was to grant him godhood. Finally after many sacrifices that he and his vassals and slaves had to suffer the spell was finished.

"Now that he had created the spell he began his preparations that took another decade, no details are known about these preparations except that he needed parts of an oldest of all golden dragons, the immortal tarrasque and many other rare and powerful substances.

"Finally he cast the spell in a specially prepared place in his floating city. And then the whole power of the spell became apparent for it allowed him to steal the power and divinity of any one god he chose. And choose he did. Mystryl the goddess of magic was his choice.

"Knowledge has always outweighed wisdom in the mind of the ambitious and Karsus was no exception. After the casting of his spell, the body of the Archwizard swelled with the sudden influx of godly power causing lots of damage to the surrounding structures of the city. His mind filled with unimaginable knowledge. Karsus instantly realized his horrible mistake, but he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable. The Archwizard had stolen the mantle of divinity from the one power whose portfolio required her to constantly rework the Weave of magic - the Weave that Netheril and its glut of magic always threatened to unravel. When Mystryl lost her ability to do what was needed to maintain the integrity of the Weave, Karsus was ill equipped to do so in her stead. The Weave began to fluctuate wildly and the lands of Netheril and beyond were inundated with a flood of raw magic that surged with far greater power and destructive energy than had ever been seen before.

"Mystryl sacrificed herself to save the Weave before the damage became irreparable. This self-sacrifice temporarily severed all interactions with the Weave, causing all magic to cease functioning for a few minutes. Without any magic to keep them afloat the floating cities plummeted to the ground. Karsus was slain instantly when Mystryl sacrificed herself, as her action broke his link to her magic.

"Upon his death, Karsus' power engorged body immediately turned into a red-hued stone, and the Momentary God plummeted from the heights of his floating city to the ground. As his body fell Karsus replayed over and over in his mind the image of Netheril's cities plunging to the ground and shattering, a vision granted to him by his brief tenure as a divine being. Karsus's heart broke as he realized that his greed for the power of the deities themselves had caused the destruction of his home, his family, his friends and his people. Even in his death his death his heart still bleeds. Through the magic of the forbidding Dire Wood, Karsus is bound in eternal torment to relive repeatedly and for all time the moment he became aware of his folly."

Only thanks to her enhanced hearing was Buffy able to listen to the whole story while still serving the customers in her part of the taproom. She hurried from one end of her group of tables to the other and then to the bar and kitchen to bring back the orders she had received. With progressing time she was more and more often evading the groping hands of more or less drunk sailors and teamsters, mercenaries and even merchants. Some of them were easy to escape from, others needed a slight slap on the hand, but no one complained as long as the mugs were full when they arrived at the table. Sometime around the middle of her shift Buffy found a short lull of activity that she could use for a break and after a hasty dinner she was back in action, weaving her way through the guests to the tables that had to be waited on.

After what seemed like an eternity Buffy's shift was over and she could leave the taproom for her sanctum of peace and quiet.

Chapter 14

On her way back to her room Buffy made a quick detour through the kitchen to grab a light snack for herself and Oncidium, this time fish, bread and some fruit, as this was the most plentiful today. The boar had found high demand and all that was still left over was reserved for the paying customers. If despite all expectations something would be left over it would enrich the morning meal.

Once she came to her room Buffy immediately noticed that something was different, but she couldn't pinpoint what was amiss at once. Then she noticed the moving figures on the cloths.

"Whoa, what's going on here?" Buffy exclaimed as the surprise fully hit her.

"Hmm," Oncidium mumbled sleepily while looking at Buffy through one half open eye. With a shake of his head he shook off the lingering sleep and continued much more intelligible, "Oh that, I was a bit bored. Do you like it?"

"Ehm, yes. Yes, it looks pretty cool."

Upon hearing this answer Oncidium grinned widely, displaying his fine, sharp teeth. Sniffing the air he then changed the topic of their conversation so fast that it nearly made Buffy miss the new direction it was now taking, "Say, is that fish that I smell? Mackerel maybe? Can we eat now?"

"Fish, yes, but I have no idea what it is called. But it smelled nice, so I thought it would make a nice snack."

"Oh it definitely will, maybe not as good as when you catch them yourself and have them twitching in your mouth…" Oncidium trailed off as he saw that the description of his fish catching methods didn't seem to be all that good for Buffy's wellbeing, she had taken on a sickly pallor as her mind conjured the fitting pictures for his tale. "…ehm, yes as I wanted to say in the first place, this is an excellent fish and from the smell of it, it has been seasoned just right so none of its own taste should be destroyed."

Then they were relatively quiet while they ate the food Buffy had snagged from the kitchen. Maybe twenty minutes later they had demolished the last scrap of food. After the last bite was swallowed Buffy leaned back on her bed and gathered her thoughts. <No how to ask him about last night? Ahh, just go the direct way.>

"So, you know what the boney guys wanted from you last night?"

"I don't know for sure. I was just minding my own business and looking for a few nice, fat spiders - you must know the spiders here around are exceptionally tasty, must be the sea breeze and fishery - and then suddenly those undead abominations come and want to catch me. I can't stand those things, they are like a poison that corrupts and twists nature. Well, so I led them on a merry chase in hopes of coming upon a Watch or Guard patrol that would destroy them. And then you came along, really smashing what you did with that one skeleton, I've never seen one loose its head that way;" Oncidium had to stifle some giggles at that point before he continued, "That was when I decided to gain some distance, you had everything under control and I didn't want to know what they wanted from me. And I would have managed it if they hadn't had a mindflayer with them. His mental blast got me and then I know nothing more, the last I saw before I lost consciousness was that I fell directly towards a group of skeletons and a hooded person, I guess that was the flayer."

"Mindflayer… sounds nasty. Do they hang out with walking bones often?"

"They're only if you have something against being their slave until they are hungry and eat your brain."

"Eat my brain? Eeww, I have found a few bodies without brain in the last nights, could that have been him?"

"Yes, but that is unusual, flayers are highly intelligent and the few that dare to walk though a human city as powerful as Waterdeep should be more careful and not leave any bodies laying around after they have eaten. Now, as for being together with undead, normally they hate them and destroy them as undead are the few things that are a real, nearly unstoppable, danger for them. Most normal living creatures can be dominated by their mental abilities and only few of them learn magic but those that do often turn towards necromancy. But I doubt that that one did that as those that use magic usually let their mental powers atrophy."

"Artofy? What's that?"

"Atrophy, I mean they use them so rarely that they get weaker and weaker. And that one out there was as powerful as they come or close to that. It's a mystery, there are only two solutions, either he has a mage under his thrall or a mage has found a way of controlling him. And as I doubt that he would endanger himself by walking more or less openly through the city if he had a powerful human or elven wizard under his thrall it has to be the other way round, I just wonder how that was done…" �

Oncidium's voice trailed off as he thought about the possible ways that this could be achieved with. Then he suddenly sprang up in the air and borne by rapidly beating wings he shot after a really massive bug that had found it's way through the partly open window and snapped it out of the air. Loudly smacking he ate the insect hovering in the center of the room. After swallowing he flew back to the bed and sat down in a pose that looked as if it wanted to scream 'hard thinking', only to roll onto his back and against Buffy's leg a moment later where he pedaled with his legs as if he was a cat or dog begging for a tummy scratch. When Buffy didn't react at once to the unspoken wish he used his tail to nudge Buffy's knee and on top of that he added a wide eyed lost puppy look as Buffy looked at him to see what he wanted.

With a small sigh and a grin Buffy finally followed the dragon's wish and started to scratch and tickle his stomach and neck while she also thought about the implications of their talk and what she should do next. Soon she had her little roommate purring like a cat. The constant purring coupled with the lack of sleep from the last night and the exhaustion of the busy day in the taproom soon overcame Buffy's desire to stay awake and she fell back onto the bed, asleep before her head hit the pillow.

The room was full of bodies and assorted body parts; in none of them was still the spark of life. All souls that once inhabited these husks of flesh had left to mortal coil, some a long time ago, some only days before. But not all stayed in the afterlife, in their god's realm, one turned around before he entered Lady Luck's realm Brightwater. He had to find out what had happened to his sister before he could find rest and a chance to lead the necromancer to his just demise.

Slowly the semitransparent form of Drome rose from the body he once lived in. While his translucent body was clothed one could see that he still bore the hideous chest wound that had caused his death, but now there was no blood spilling forth, instead one could see a small speck of white light pulsating in his chest.

Drome looked around the room, light as if it was under open sky in the sun to his new senses and saw not only dead bodies but also the negative energy that came from necromantic magic and the connection nearly all undead had with the plane of void. But other than that Drome saw nothing that was of interest to him, so he stepped through the wall, searching for his sister as he knew that she had to be somewhere in this complex. Even while he crossed through the masonry his body ceased to be manifested as he changed over to the ethereal plane. To better search the building without being detected. It wouldn't do to fall under the necromancer's thrall after all.

Now he was off to search for his sister and then for someone to bring the necromancer to justice.

The next morning Buffy woke up with a heavy feeling on her chest. Confused and short before panic Buffy opened here eyes, what she saw set her at peace again. Sometime during the night the faerie dragon must have decided that the bed wasn't that comfortable and that Buffy looked much more inviting, not to say more comfortable to spend the rest of the night. And he obviously acted on that idea and was now curled up on her torso.

"Mmmhh, get down of me, you are heavy…" mumbled Buffy still a closer to sleep than wakefulness.

Oncidium lazily opened one eye and replied petulantly, "Don't wanna… It's comfy here." That said he closed his eye again and tucked his snout under his tail.

Seeing that her request wouldn't be observed be the colorful reptile Buffy slowly rolled on her right side to let him slide from her. Unfortunately on the side the bed ended rather abruptly a few inches from Buffy's body, consequentially Oncidium found himself suddenly airborne without the use of his wings. Before any sudden, awkward stop at the floor could become a problem he uncoiled from his fetal position and stretched his wings out. With an indignant screech he glided towards the floor but before a landing came to be he started to beat his wings so quickly that they blurred to Buffy's vision. For a moment he hovered still in the air before he rose close to the ceiling. After flying a few times around the room he finally landed on top of the wardrobe, all the time muttering about insensitive humans and shooting glares at Buffy. When he finally settled down on the armoire the picture of wounded pride and kicked puppy rolled into one Buffy couldn't hold it anymore and burst into laughing.

In between laughs she managed to gasp out, "Oh my god... I'm so… sorry… I didn't… didn't mean to… to throw you… out of the bed… I just… just wanted… you off my belly… Still friends Oncy?"

Somewhat mollified Oncidium grumbled his assent and flew back on the bed, where he promptly claimed the pillow for himself, "All right, all will be forgiven, but you owe me nice breakfast."

"You drive a hard bargain, but all right. Let me get ready first and go down for my breakfast, then I'll bring you something up. Now turn around and no peeking."

"Not even a little bit?"

"Not a whit."

"Soil sport…" Oncidium grumbled good naturedly, but none the less curled up on the pillow and hid his head under his left wing.

Before she had even started with getting dressed for the day Buffy could hear soft, hissing snoring from the bed behind her. With a merry grin Buffy continued with washing herself and then getting dressed. Soon she was ready and left the room for the kitchen and her taproom co-workers.

This time the kitchen was fuller than the last days as four of the personal attendants, as they liked to describe their job, were also up and about this early in the morning as they had planned to go to the tailors to order new gowns for their upcoming free day and the party they planned to attend.

An hour later Buffy returned to her room with a platter of food and a head full of gossip that had flown through the kitchen.

Some of the rooms that Drome found in the underground complex were so steeped in necromantic energies that he didn't dare to enter them, even while staying in the ethereal plane. Some were even so enshrouded in the dark energies that his supernatural eyesight couldn't see the room's interiors. The darkest and most impenetrable of these auras surrounded the room he had found the end of his life at the necromancer's hands, this room he couldn't even approach, the energies radiated out from the room and the shrine within and weren't contained within its walls like with the other rooms.

By the time he reached that room he had examined all the other underground rooms he dared to enter or at least look in. So he now glided upwards through the ether, passing the massive bedrock that formed the fundament of a large villa in central Waterdeep. Gliding through the building, invisible to the mortal eye, he continued his search, passing by and sometimes even through the human servants that worked in the mansion. Those he passed through stopped momentarily in their work, suppressing a shudder as they felt a hint of the coldness of death, but then they went on with their work thinking that it was simply a draft of especially cold morning air.

In the commonly accessible rooms Drome had no luck either with finding his sister, but then he found a hidden suite of four rooms not too far from the kitchen. In there he found his sister, animated as a zombie, mindlessly carrying small crates with vials and herbs from the main room to one of the smaller storage rooms on the far side of the wall Drome had stepped through. When he saw his sister's body defiled in that way he let loose a great shriek. While it was inaudible to all in the building it still had a notable effect, in the kitchen not even a dozen meters away all the milk curdled and went sour. Then he turned on the proverbial heel and ran back out through the wall, cursing fate that he could do nothing to lay his sister's body to rest as his incorporeal body prevented him from fully interacting with the material world.

He needed help. So he set off to find exactly that.

Oncidium practically pounced on Buffy when she entered her room, but before they could collide he began to beat his wings quickly like a hummingbird and finally landed softly on Buffy's shoulder. His long neck extended towards the cloth covered bowl sniffing appreciably the flavor rising from the bread bowl.

"Hmmm… that smells great," the little dragon hummed. "Come on, set it down. I'm hungry."

"I wonder from what," Buffy mumbled.

"What's that supposed to mean? Do you want to say I'm lazy?"

"No, no, I'm just surprised that you can eat that much, I mean that is a small snack for me, but you are… well smaller than me, for you that should be something like a five course meal and you just got up from bed."

"I'm a growing dragon. I recently had a growth spurt and now I'm one of the largest of my kind," Oncidium boasted.

"Then enjoy it. I have to get downstairs again, Madame Salaama wants me to choose another dress for tonight, some kind of private party or such we are catering tonight and I have to fit the topic or something like that. So see you later."

"Yeah, yeah, all right," Oncidium replied distractedly in between bites, already wondering what to do during the day.

Back downstairs Buffy sought her way to Madame Salaama and soon found her in front of the huge outfit collection the Bedine had amassed in the time she has run this establishment.

"Ahh, there you are. Just in time. Now that I have outfitted most of you for the evening we have a bit more time for you. It may take a bit longer to find the right one for you as I'm not sure which of the right costumes fits you. Well no sense to waste time with endless talking, lets get started."

"Cool, so what are we looking for?"

"Over there I have laid out a selection of possible costumes for you on the settee by the mirror. Now we'll take a look to see what fits best with you and the party's theme at the same time."

Over the course of the next hours the two women narrowed the selection further and further down, finally only two bodysuits, one a deep crimson and the other a vibrant blue, and very formfitting, floor length, moss green gown.

"Hmm, now to decide for the right one. Please put them on again for me and walk around the room a few times in each of them," Salaama ordered kindly.

Buffy acquiesced with a nod and changed into one after the other, each time walking three times around the room until Salaama was satisfied. When she was clad in the moss green gown Salaama grew visibly thoughtful.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" Buffy inquired. �"Something is missing…Ah, now I know what, stay still for a moment," Salaama answered, then she turned around and began to dig though one of the larger chests. "Here it is. That should be exactly what makes the gown a perfect fit for tonight." With that she withdrew a black corset from the depth of the coffer; from the way it was worked it was obviously meant to be worn on top of the clothing.

"Are you sure about that?" Buffy asked uncertainly.

"Of course, that will be perfect. Come here; let me help you with putting it on."

With that she rose from the settee and had Buffy sit down after she had put on the unlaced corset. Then Salaama laced it together and finally put her foot against the sofa to get additional leverage as she put the final pull on the laces for the right tightness.

"Ugh, not so tight, I still want to breathe," Buffy gasped as Madame Salaama's pull stole her breath.

With a chuckle she eased the tightness a bit and commented, "A bit play, all right, but not too much. We wouldn't want to loose the optical advantages of the corset, now would we?"

With a sigh Buffy gave in and let Salaama finish with adjusting her clothing. Then she received a half mask that would cover her face from her lips upwards. The white mask was at the same time unmistakably female and yet bearing no identifying features. The white material was cool against her skin and if it wasn't as rigid she would have thought it to be silk by how it felt like. The inner contours, which were not reflected on the outside, were so close to being perfectly molded to her facial features that Buffy wondered if someone had taken a mold from her face. But after a moment of deliberation she shrugged that thought away and was simply glad that the mask fit that well, she would have to wear it for several hours and getting abrasions or bruises in her face from a badly sitting mask was very low on her list of well liked things, even if her accelerated healing would have them vanish in a matter of hours if not minutes.

The view that the mirror presented her was very much to Buffy's liking. <Now that is a great costume, much better than the ones I had before. Not even to talk about the one that creep Ethan sold me that Halloween.>

"And now for the final adjustment," Salaama said as she stepped behind Buffy.

Placing her hand on a crystal button at the back of the corset Salaama spoke a strangely sounding word. At once the corset began to mold itself even more against Buffy's breasts, pushing them even higher and closer together than it did already, creating a décolleté the likes of which Buffy had never thought possible.

"Wow," was all she could say as she saw that happening in the mirror.

"Indeed, it is always impressive to see good workmanship at work," Salaama teased with laughter in her voice then she continued in a more serious tone, "Now to your duties for the evening, besides the guests food and those drinks that they don't get themselves from the bar, you are to help entertain them."

Seeing Buffy open her mouth in protest she raised a single finger, silencing her indignation before she could utter the first word.

"Not that kind of entertainment, I want you to dance with a few of them or join in on some of the games that are going to be played. You could also simply have some small-talk with some of the guests or play the role of a lucky charm for a guest the plays some of the games. Nothing that goes over that, all touching that you don't allow is still forbidden. Hrolf and Rudgar will roam the rooms to handle any that overstep their bounds and don't know what 'No' means. Simply call out if you need their help."

"Okay that I can do. And it sounds like fun too. See you later…" laughing happily Buffy skipped out of the room to help with the final preparations for the afternoon the mask dangling by the headband from her hand.

While Buffy was refilling the oil lamps and helping with hanging the last decorations she thought several times that she heard someone giggling lightly, but the voice didn't fit to anyone in the room and she couldn't see a single unknown person. Shelving it away as overactive imagination she continued hanging the garland she had just handed by Aithe.

Then came the final adjustments of the tables' positions, not too close together but enough so to provide enough room for a dance floor. While they did that the last garland moved steadily back and fro like a large swing with someone sitting on it.

And finally it was the fifth hour after noon and the first guests arrived, a group of four minor nobles with their mistresses and in one case the fiancée. For now they kept quiet and sat down at a corner table with their drinks. While the group of bards that was hired for the night was still setting up their instruments, strumming lutes and harps, checking the bagpipes for leaks and singing themselves ready for the evening, the nobles entertained themselves by exchanging the latest gossip about who was about to be engaged, who was suspected of dealing with illegal goods and how a certain engagement was about to be shortened considerably due to pressing 'circumstances' - and about the anger on the side of the boy's parents that the girl's part of the dowry would be lessened significantly while the husband-to-be's parents would have to make up the difference out of their estate. Chances were high that he would loose part, if not all, of his heritage now as a punishment for his indiscretion.

Soon more and more guests arrived in a steady trickle, be that singles, in pairs or larger groups. The guests were a colorful mix of minor - and a few not so minor - nobles, successful merchants and some adventuring groups as well as a group of six priests and priestesses of Sune the Goddess of Beauty and Sensuality. All in all the guests numbered close to one hundred.

When the first dozen guest had entered the building the five bards began to play their music taking turns, but also performing in all possible combination for some of the pieces they performed. Besides their preplanned program they also played requests from the guests.

Some simply listened to the songs and ballads, that covered all styles from chapters of sagas over formal dances to ribald drinking songs, others danced to those suited for it while some of the heavier drinkers started to enthusiastically - and wrongly - sing along with the bards no matter if there were lyrics to the music or not, others again ignored the music in favor of games and gossip. Among the games played was a game that looked very similar to chess, but from what Buffy could see it was different in how the pieces could move or so she thought never having had all that much interest in the game, but from what she remembered of the few games between Giles and Willow the game board and number of pieces was definitely different, it was by fifty percent larger. Or maybe one should say this field was larger, as she learned during the course of the evening there were three variants to the game that the players could decide on before they stared, for one the large board or the normal chess board or a hexagonal board. But this game wasn't really holding her attention captive, there were also several kinds of card games running during the course of the party, some for monetary stakes and some simply for the fun of playing.

What really interested her was the knife throwing contest some of the adventurers had running with the same number of young nobles that had a distinct amount of overconfidence. One only had to compare the two sides of the contest, on the one side were men and women that earned their living by their wits and skill with blades and other weapons and on the other side were more or less pampered sons of lesser noble houses that were mostly trained in the skills needed to keep their family's fortunes high and weapon skills were trained only as an afterthought or hobby, to see that. The overconfidence on the nobles' part was only lessened by one of them, a scion of the House Tesper, that was so far down in the sequence of heritage that he had started earnest weapon training relatively early in his adolescence as he planned to either become an adventurer himself or at least a traveling merchant who would import rare clothes and spices with his own caravan from Calimshan in the south or even far off Kara-Tur in the east.

"Hey guys, can I join in?" Buffy asked as she strolled over to the throwers.

Chapter 15

One of the nobles scowled darkly at Buffy due to the perceived disrespect of question while the adventurers laughed loudly, drawing more then one consternated stare from other party guests.

Before the noble could complain about the slight he had felt one of the adventurers, a dwarf addressed him, "Leave the lass be, not everyone is one of the toadies your parents pay." To Buffy he continued, "I like you, girl. We'll just play an easy round to see how good you are and then we can start for real. Want to bet a bit on your throws?"

"I'd like to, but I don't have much money at the moment. I have not even two silvers in copper coins until my next payday and that is still four days off."

"Well if you want to play we might give you some better odds until you are on the same level as we are."

"All right, I'm game if all of you are," Buffy replied. The little devil on her shoulder already started to calculate how much she could win and then spend shopping, a few moments later the little angel on the other shoulder stopped protesting and joined the devil in the calculations.

The nobles agreed to this but demanded their own training throws to get used to the throwing knives' balance, a demand that the adventurers and Buffy happily gave in to. Partly they did that to see their opponents' abilities and partly to avoid further discussions about specific terms for the game that might place them at a disadvantage.

"Good, good. Now that you have agreed to loose your meager money to your betters you should introduce yourself, girl," one of the nobles commented haughtily.

"Sure, if you return the favor. And get that stick out of your butt, I could be much better than you are," Buffy replied, drawing a snort of amusement from the dwarf that had offered the invitation to the game.

"Oh, that is going to be a fun evening," chuckled the black haired dwarf. "I'm Thershar of the Rocksplitter clan."

"Glad you enjoy this," Buffy replied, grinning widely at the dwarf. "My name's Buffy, Buffy Summers." Then she turned to the others that would be playing with them, "And who are you?"

The pompous noble that had been doing all the talking so far kept true to form as he looked at her in disbelief; there was someone who didn't know who he was. He announced to Buffy and all who cared to hear, "I'll have you know that I am Ferdinar, third son of Almauro Gauntyl of the Gauntyl family."

Then the introductions continued in a much more pleasant way with the adventurers and nobles taking turns in stating their names. On the adventurers' side one could find a real giant among men, with nearly seven feet of heavily muscled flesh, called Kervan Brighthand and then the utter opposite, a slender gnomish female, the only thing gigantic with her was the nose in relation to the rest of her face as she barely scratched the four and a half foot, called Dalfaer. And finally in the middle in terms of size was Aleria Falirsdotter at about five and a half foot she was only slightly bigger than Buffy, well if one ignored the shoulder width where she beat Buffy easily by a hand span or two.

The nobles on the other hand formed a pretty uniform group; all were male and about the same, average size. In fact the most distinctive differences between them were the fine clothes and the fact that one of them had a goatee. The bearded noble introduced himself as Nalim Raventree, but unlike his peers he didn't mention any relatives or birth rank, if it wasn't for his clothing one would be hard pressed to pick him out of a crowd by his bearings that were much more 'common' than the other nobles'. The other two were fraternal twins, Herian and Hefnar Brossfeather, fourth and fifth born - or fifth and fourth born depending on whom of the two one asked - of the Brossfeather family.

And now, finally, that the introductions were done they got to laying out the ruled for their game. With some discussion they finally reached the final version that had all stay at the same distance from the board with all of them getting four throws per round with free choice among the six throwing daggers that were available for this board. After each round one would bet again until the fifth round was reached, then the highest total score would win the content of the pot. The daggers were all well crafted with straight blades. The only easily spot able difference between them was in the grips, as each was different, something that didn't come as a surprise seeing that they were carved from the horns of several animals. So now they all provided a different hold for those holding them with the grip and a different balancing for all throwers. And finally, to set the betting quota correctly for Buffy's first throws until she was on a somewhat equal level in terms of money, Buffy got four practice throws, one with each dagger she selected.

The little angel and devil on her shoulder had a short argument but then reached a decision. <I'm going to throw at the five-ring and around it. Can't be looking too good now, right?>

With that plan in mind Buffy selected four of the daggers at random, trusting in her ability to adapt to them quickly. Her first throw just barely hit the target in the first place, but the next one was already better and lodged firmly into the four-ring, followed by a high hit in the seven-ring and finally one in the five-ring, only that one was on the opposite side of the center than the others, creating a slightly erratic and yet consistent pattern.

"That doesn't look too bad," Kervan commented, "I think for at least a few rounds we can justify that you bet one copper for every silver we bet." "Or do you have any problems with that?" he then continued to ask the nobles.

"Give us a moment to confer about that Master Brighthand," the scion of the house Raventree replied.

The nobles gathered around one of the small tables that held their drinks and a few small portions of fried cheeses and hardbread. After conferring for a short time they reached an agreement, the loudmouth Ferdinar took it upon himself to announce their decision to them.

"We agree to your terms, in fact I will exchange every silver shard(1) that I or my companions bet against a gold dragon should that impertinent girl manage to win the game," haughtiness and a high opinion in his skill was practically dripping from his words.

Inside Buffy's mind her little angel and devil started to dance around at that announcement, out loud she calmly replied, "Now that we've cleared that up, who starts?"

"Women first," Ferdinar said with mock gallantry, his voice and his poise more than amply told of his opinion of the women in this contest and his hopes for their humiliating defeat.

Rolling her eyes in exasperation Buffy turned to Aleria and motioned the Lathanderite priestess to go ahead with her first throws. An offer that she did gladly accept, after all being the first in a contest was just what the Morninglord - among other duties the god of new beginnings - liked to see his clergy doing. So she paid her bet for the first round into the pot and retrieved the daggers she needed.

Aleria threw her selected daggers in a quick succession, but not with the best of aims, scoring only hits in the middle and outer rings. Buffy threw her daggers slower as she had to prevent herself from throwing too well. A fact that was driven home to her by her first throw that missed the bull's eye only by a hair's width, Buffy then did her best to balance that score out with her following throws and got them all situated in the outer third of the board resulting in only a one point lead over Aleria's score. After her Dalfaer selected the daggers she deemed the best fitting for her style and stature. The gnome threw the daggers with almost lazy flicks of her wrist and put them all into the inner third of the board. She took the lead easily with more then double the points Buffy had scored.

Then it was the men's turn. The Brossfeather twins were the first to throw the daggers and though they threw with widely varying skill both managed to score exactly the same amount of points, ending up slightly ahead of Aleria and Buffy. Then Thershar stepped up to the throwing point. He threw well and easily bypassed the nobles' result, but he wasn't able to reach Dalfaer's score.

When he stepped away from the board he grumbled despite his good result, "Give me a throwing axe or hammer every day, those daggers are just toys for nancy boys. They are way too light."

The rest of the males then had their turn with Kervan taking second place and Nalim Raventree third. Ferdinar just barely managed to come to a draw with Buffy's result and that was only because his last dagger miraculously managed to hit the bull's eye and stay there, unlike the second throw that, while good, couldn't be counted as the dagger dropped to the floor after a second in the board.

Before the next round got to start it was time to bet and maybe raise the stakes from the one coin that was the current bet, with the maximum raise being five coins. This time there was only a one coin raise to the bet and so they were sure to play at least one more round before the winner got the pot's contents.

The game went on this way for three more rounds with the adventurers and Buffy slowly gaining a growing lead on the nobles, or not so slowly in Dalfaer's case, she was simply maintaining her lead even if it became smaller in relation to her friends and Buffy. All the time the contestants raised their bets higher, be that out of bullheadedness or the knowledge that they had a good chance to win the pot. With only one round left for this game's pot Buffy was satisfied with her current position, she was tied for second place in points and unless her competition for the win managed to throw nothing by bull's eyes she had a good chance to win, more so because her main rivals had to throw before her, so she could decide how good to throw herself.

The last round went on fairly close and with only Buffy left to throw the two best throwers, Dalfaer and Kervan, were only one point apart. And just close enough for Buffy to catch up with them or even overtake them with a few good throws. Her first throw was abyssal though, it just barely managed to stay in the outermost ring of the board. In the face of the loss of nearly all her money Buffy gave herself a mental kick, she couldn't afford to lose now, not after betting that much. The next two daggers flew true to her aim and hit the bull's eye, leaving her only a handful of points behind Dalfaer.

Then it was time for the last dagger and a new question arose, <Should I go for a clean sweep or maybe better make it close? Guess I better go for a close result or that prick starts shouting about foul play.>

That decision made Buffy lined up her last throw, quickly calculating how many points she needed to win, and let the dagger fly towards the wall. It flew straight, without any wobble and only a few rotations around its axis until it came to a stop with the tip deeply buried in the soft wood of the target. Before the dagger had even stopped vibrating from the impact Buffy saw that she had made an error in her calculation. She wasn't slightly in the lead as she had intended with her throw. She now had exactly the same score as the gnome, Dalfaer.

Dalfaer came over to Buffy and extended her hand in felicitation, "That was a good game and the first time this year that I had a draw in this game. Most of the times it goes back and fro between Kervan and me with a clear winner, so, congratulations."

"Thanks, you are quite good. It was fun to play with you," Buffy replied, inwardly surprised that it was true and not just a figure of speech. She had had fun during the game.

The other players were good losers and congratulated the two women to their result, well all but Ferdinar. Dalfaer and Buffy then conferred about how to solve the question of what to do with the money. Finally they decided to share the pot to equal parts and to forego a deciding round for all or nothing. While the two divided their winnings equally after exchanging the coppers of Buffy's share for silver the nobles drifted away in search of a different entertainment.

Aleria called after Ferdinar, "Lord Gauntyl, haven't you forgotten something?"

Aware of the sudden attention by the other party guests the scion of the House Gauntyl stopped. With calm strides he returned towards the group, only his eyes told a different story when compared to his bearing. Where his pose was a picture of calm and graciousness his eyes were wild and fiery with anger.

"Of course, how negligent of me to forget our agreement Dawnlord," he said, addressing Aleria.

No one noticed Buffy's little, startled jump when she heard the priestess's title. By the time he had turned to her Buffy had collected her composure again and showed no sign of anything being wrong. He quickly exchanged the silver for the Dragons and Toals he was due to exchange with a modicum of good manners before vanishing in the crowd that populated the festhall.

Buffy excused herself from staying with the group of adventurers and quickly slipped up to her room. There she stowed her newly gained riches away before rejoining the party to help with entertaining the guests and the refilling of the buffet and bar.


Chapter 16

Buffy returned to her room exhausted from the long work, but also satisfied with earning a good amount of money on the side with her winnings from the dagger throwing and a few tips she had gotten from a few of the patrons. Now Buffy felt torn between the extremely tempting bed and the need to patrol a bit in search for vampires to dust.

After a short internal battle Buffy overcame the siren's call her bed emitted and came to the compromise to do a short patrol of the harbor ward, after all the drunk sailors, that were bound to stumble back to their ships or homes, would surely be a good enough prey for hungry vampires, wouldn't they? Now that she had reached this decision Buffy quickly changed into her dark patrol clothing and slipped silently out of the house.

<That feels just like going out on patrol on school night,> was the thought that ran through her mind as she crept past Dornias' room.

Out on the streets silence reined, as far as her view reached no person was to be seen and nothing was to be heard. It seemed as if Buffy was the only person up and awake in the area. Her steps guided her through the empty streets, first into the South Ward then towards the harbor and the taverns at the waterfront. For what felt like hours Buffy strolled through the empty streets when suddenly the silence was broken by a loud clatter from a side alley. Buffy whirled around and settled in a combat ready stance, her had straying to the hilt of her sword. Cautiously she peered into the dark and at once she spotted the source for the noise, a toppled stack of trash and wood. On top of the heap sat the biggest rat Buffy had ever had the dubious pleasure of seeing in her life, staring balefully at her. After a few seconds the rat broke eye contact with Buffy and vanished in one of the many hollows in the trash pile. After the rat had vanished Buffy released a breath she hadn't been aware she had been holding.

Soon she was passing into the warehouse district of the Dock Ward. In the moonlight Buffy could see the silhouette of a darkly clad person climbing along the ridge of the roof. When the cloud, that had been in front of the moon, finally passed the silvery disc Buffy could discern more details, it was a crouching, terrified-looking woman clad in leathers holding on to a rope. And it all was stone, but it was so life like that Buffy could not decide whether it was a statue of fabulous craftsmanship or an unfortunate thief that had been turned to stone while she climbed on that roof.

<Freaky! I hope that's a statue.>

With a shudder Buffy turned from the grisly sight and quickened her steps towards the harbor itself.

From a parallel street Buffy could hear the sound of softly clinking chain mail, one of the watch's patrols was on one of its routes coming from the waterfront. The small troupe quickly passed and went on towards Caravan City, as the South Ward was also known as among the locals, or so Buffy guessed.

Soon Buffy had left the area that was solely reserved for warehouses and began to pass homes, stores and bars, most of them were of limited or no interest at all for her. But one of them sparked her curiosity. Behind a wide barred window a wide collection of all sorts of knick-knacks from weapons of all possible and impossible sizes or forms to tools to jewelry and everything in between could be seen. A strangely formed sign hanging over the door proclaimed the shop's name, The Old Xoblob Shop.

After making a mental note to visit the store during opening hours Buffy continued on, past Aurora's Realms Shop Catalogue Counter and the Purple Palace festhall, whose windows were a source of laughter and music, her winding path brought her closer to the harbor.

Drome drifted unseen through the streets of Waterdeep looking for someone to avenge him and his sister. In his passing flowers drooped as if they had been exposed to sudden cold, something that the ghost never noticed. Then he saw the temple of Tymora. Lady Luck had long been their family's patron goddess. His parents had always said he and his sister were gifts from Tymora to them.

So, with renewed energy, he floated towards the temple, sure that he would find the help he was looking for here. When he reached the edge of the compound it was suddenly as if he was corporeal again and moving through molasses, but he didn't let himself be deterred and moved on. Then he wanted to cross through the wall into the temple proper and with a flash of astral light he ran into a second wall of divine energy that stopped him in his tracks. It was completely impenetrable for him. A wave of anger shot through Drome, curdling all milk for dozens of meters around the temple compound.

<How can that be, I've always been faithful to you? Tymora, send me a sign?> Drome pleaded desperately after the short burst of anger had drained from him and all that was left was a mounting sense of despair.

A bit later he felt a warm presence envelop him and with the arrival of the presence he started to 'hear' water rhythmically striking wooden planks and stone, the creaking of ships in the wind, mixed into that was music, laughter and the clinking of glasses and tankards.

With the sounds came a vision of a young woman's face. A woman with hazel eyes and hair that started out as a dark brown but quickly faded to blonde. Then the image quickly faded from his view. And with a last pulse of warmth and affection the presence left him to follow his fate.

The harbor and the ships anchored there were quiet, except for the ruckus that could be heard from one or two taverns at the waterfront that catered to the sailors, many of whom had been out at sea for weeks and weeks and now they caught up on their alcohol intake. A few seamen could be seen as they staggered towards their ships, where they were challenged by the ship's night watch before they were let on board. In one case that Buffy observed the sailor had picked the wrong ship and was sent two ships further before he finally could get to his hammock on the right ship.

And at the harbor's entrance stood the gigantic stone statue of a man Buffy had repeatedly gazed at from a distance, with one foot on each of the two embankments that ended there. In a way the figure with his steady gaze directed towards the sea, looking for the ships that were about to enter the port, formed a massive archway, just without leaves or portcullis. But if her eyes didn't deceive her, then there were several chains suspended between the two embankments, closing off the harbor for ships during the night.

Seeing and feeling no indication of any vampire in the area Buffy decided to return to Salaama's festhall and finally get her well deserved rest.

One row of buildings behind the waterline Buffy came across a surprising building, housing an inn. The Ship's Prow as it was known resided in just that, a ship or rather a strange combination of a fat ship's prow that then merged seamlessly with a wooden house in such a way that it was hard to say if the prow was added to the house or if the house was added later to a ship that somehow came to be placed there. From within the building came the noises of drunken revelry and brawling.

The necromancer sat down in his study with a weary sigh. Finally he had fulfilled all the social and business duties that needed to be met for appearances' sake. From a hidden compartment of his reading table he removed a stoppered vial and took a sip from it. At once he felt new energy coursing through his body and his thoughts clearing up. Now it was time to contemplate the results of his scrying and plan accordingly.

His spells searching for whoever had disrupted his plan in the City of the Dead and later on his attempt to secure himself fresh faerie dragon blood had been anything but successful, all he had seen was the locations in question that he already knew and a female presence without defined form. Either those responsible were very powerful, and had access to shielding magics, or some other force interfered with his attempts to locate them. And that wasn't a desirable alternative either, in deed this might be the more dangerous situation for him. Powerful adventurers he could overcome, but if there was some higher power involved it could get tricky for him to succeed with his plans.

It was clear to him; he needed more minions, more powerful minions. Part of him wanted to scream at the connected costs, but that part was far outweighed by his caution and glee when he thought of the might that these minions would represent once he had them.

Except for the occasional tavern or festhall along her way, the streets she was now on were mostly asleep. Only the patrols of the watch and a couple of noble bravos, with discrete bodyguards following them, that had been giving themselves the thrill of visiting the 'dangerous' taverns frequented by sailors and now were on their way back to the Castle Ward or the Sea Ward. Luckily, for them, they were too drunk and exhausted to bother with catcalls in Buffy's direction as she started to get cranky. She was tired and had just spent over one hour on patrol without even finding one little vampire to stake, one hour she could have used to catch up on sleep and relax a bit after all the work at the party. The only positive thing was that the festhall was only three blocks away now and soon she would be able to sink into her soft bed.

Not even two minutes later a hooded figure stepped out of a small alley, a dagger in his hand.

"Give me your money if you value your life," demanded the man in a raspy voice.

Buffy cursed herself silently, sleepiness and the proximity to her bed must have led to her being less cautious than she should have been. Without betraying her surprise or annoyance, Buffy looked the thief over.

"Come on, hand your money over or I'll carve you up like a rothe at the butcher."

"You didn't just say that, did you?" Buffy asked

"Ehm, yes?" the thief replied slightly confused by Buffy's question.

"That's it! You really had to compare me to some kind of hairy cow?" Buffy ranted, "Oh you are so gonna get it!"

"That's all that I want, just give me the money and you can go," the thief said, not realizing the danger he was in.

Then he had no more time to realize what was happening. Buffy charged him and slapped his hand away with such force that he was spun around. In the sudden move he lost his grip on dagger, letting it fly away, accelerated by the sudden turn it flew for several meters, until it struck a wooden shutter where it remained lodged in the grain, quivering slightly. By the time that the dagger had come to a rest, Buffy was finished with the thief, who was now unconscious and covered with multiple bruises. A few minutes later he left alone on the street, hogtied with his own belt and cape, ready for the city watch to collect him.

"I hope that's a lesson to him," Buffy growled, but at the same time she felt better than she had before. A dose f violence before bed made her sleep better, but before that a small snack was in order.

(1) Coin names:



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