Elaisias


by Saber ShadowKitten





Prologue



Willow looked up as the door to her home office opened following a short knock. She smiled when she saw who it was. "Hi, Angel."

"Hi," Angel greeted. "May I?"

"Sure," Willow replied. Angel entered the room, shutting the door behind him. She moved the piles of paper and disks off the desk chair beside her, then patted it. "Have a seat."

"What are you doing?" Angel asked, sitting where she indicated. He ruffled her pixie-style red hair as he studied the computer monitor with interest.

"New game," Willow replied. "I'm testing it for bugs and glitches and stuff. You know, the usual."

Willow ran a home business software for design companies. She had moved to Los Angeles after graduating from USunnydale in order to be closer to the companies she wanted to work with. She also helped Angel on the side with research and providing magickal assistance.

She had been in LA for two years, and had become close friends with the dark-haired vampire outside of helping him. They went out together to the movies, the theater, or to other nighttime events. At times, he'd sit with her at her computer and help test the games, which was always fun.

"Did you come for a reason, or just visiting?" Willow asked.

"Visiting,"Angel replied with a small smile. "Tell me about the game."

*****

"Hello, pet," Spike said, not looking up from the laptop screen.

"Hey," Buffy said, closing the door behind her before crossing the living room to flop down on the couch beside the blond vampire. "What'cha up to?"

"Willow's new game," he replied. He glanced at her, then frowned. "You're early."

"I know," Buffy said, leaning closer to look at the laptop screen. "But I had to get out of the house before mom got home. I so cannot wait to move back into my place."

"How much longer is it quarantined?"

"Another week too long," she replied with a dramatic sigh.

Spike chuckled. "You can always move in here with me, luv. I wouldn't mind."

"I bet you wouldn't." Buffy ignored his leer and tapped on the screen. "Tell me about the new game."

Buffy had been partnered with Spike for six years, and between the two of them, they had decimated any evil that traveled to the Hellmouth over that time. The best of friends since Willow moved to LA, they hung out together when Buffy wasn't working and after patrol. They bickered incessantly, which sometimes turned into loud fights that led to physical violence, but they trusted each other implicitly. Six years was a long time to work in life and death situations without that sort of trust developing.

"It's an online game," Spike told Buffy. He pointed to the Instant Messaging window in the top corner of the screen, then typed out a quick message to Willow, telling her Buffy was there. "It's one of those fantasy type role playing games."

*****

"Each character comes with specific skills and powers," Willow explained to Angel. The computer beeped and she looked at her Instant Messaging window. "You get to choose which type you want to play and name the character." She typed a rapid message back to Spike about Angel's presence.

"What are the choices?" Angel asked.

*****

"Magick users, Monk, Thief, Stable Boy, Archer, Knight, Soldier, Mercenary, Merchant..." Spike rattled off the list to Buffy.

"What are you going to be?" Buffy asked, tugging on the five-inch, peroxide-blond pony tail tied off at the nape of his neck.

"Stable boy," Spike replied, swatting her hand away. Buffy giggled and he glared at her. "Hey, it's a good choice! The character skills include horsemanship, street fighting, thieving..."

*****

"...conjuring, controlling elements, and I can cast spells in any spellbook I find as a Sorceress," Willow said. "When playing online, it's good if you join up with people playing different types of characters."

"So you would want to join a group with a fighter of some sort," Angel surmised.

"Right," Willow said. "Spike picked a character with some of those skills. I can also create a second character myself and run both. Or you could play the second character."

*****

"I want to be the Archer," Buffy said to Spike.

"One Archer, coming right up," Spike said, using the touchpad mouse to add a second character. "Any particular reason you chose that character, Slayer?"

Buffy shrugged, pulling her waist-length braid over her shoulder. "I look good in green and..."

*****

"...the Thief wears all black." Angel gave Willow a wry smile.

Willow rolled her eyes, her hand moving the computer mouse over to the Start icon. "It's going to be you, me, Spike and Buffy in the party. Our object is to rescue the Princess from the evil Duke and..."

*****

"...also find the Bands of Kimara," Spike told Buffy. He moved the arrow over the Start icon with his finger on the touchpad. The Instant Messaging window in the corner of the screen beeped and he read the single word from Willow to Buffy. "Ready?"

*****

"Yes," Angel answered, an open spiral notebook and pen in his hands.

"Then welcome to Elaisias," Willow said, clicking on the Start icon.

*****

A flash of green light lit up the laptop screen when Spike clicked on the Start icon.

*****

The notebook and pen fell to the floor unheeded, landing with a soft thud in a suddenly empty office.



Part One



Willow was the first one to break the stunned silence. "Uh, hi guys. Long time no see."

The four were sitting on a hard, dirt floor in a barren room, the walls made of crudely put together wood and mud. The ceiling was arched and open, exposing a thatched roof of straw. A few birds twittered at the intrusion, flying back and forth between the open log beams. Sunlight streamed through a window cut into one of the walls, providing light, but not where it could harm the vampires. A single closed door was centered on one of the walls.

"What the bloody hell happened?" Spike asked.

"And what the hell am I wearing?" Buffy added, looking down at her clothing. She was dressed in a v-necked, medium brown jerkin over a cream colored shirt. The jerkin went down to mid-thigh, covering dark brown hose, and was belted at the waist. Brown, deer-skin boots adorned her feet, which came up over her knees. There was a plain-hilt knife in a sheath attached to the belt and beside her on the dirt floor was a short bow and a quiver of black-feathered arrows.

She raised her head and looked at her friends, two of whom she hadn't seen in almost a year, not since she'd gone to LA to visit her father. "For that matter, what the hell are you guys wearing?"

Angel glanced down at himself and arched a dark brow at his appearance. He was dressed in all black, from his narrow breeches that went over his short hose, tied with leg bands at the knees, to the black, mid-calf, dyed deerskin boots he wore. A black doublet laced up the front as well as at the elbows, back of the arms, shoulders and at the waist, exposed a loose, low-neck black shirt under it.

He could feel several knives or daggers strapped to his wrists, in his boots and one strapped to his back under the doublet. With a quick search, he found many hidden pockets in his clothing, a pouch of coins, as well as a complete set of forged lockpick tools that were in a small, handmade leather case.

The ensouled vampire looked over to Willow as she stood and his mouth dropped slightly open. The redhead was wearing a fitted bliaut of dark emerald green, laced up the back from the neck to her hips. The skirts spread out in a semi-circular shape that gave a large amount of fullness to the hem. Her sleeves were full as well, cuffed tightly at the wrist and banded at her elbows. A black cape with hood was at her slipper encased feet, as well as a small saddle bag with thick leather strap.

"Spike, are those tights you're wearing?" Buffy asked, as the blond vampire stood and brushed the dirt off the back of his light grey shirt-tunic, which was tucked up slightly into the roughly cut brown hose he wore. Mid-calf, thin leather boots covered his feet and he had a short sword sheath attached to the loose belt around his waist.

"I'm a manly man in tights," Spike sang in an off-key voice. "I roam around the forest looking for fights. I'm a man. A man in tights. I rob from rich and give to the poor, that's right!"

"Spike, you are too strange," Buffy told him, rising to her feet as well.

Spike grabbed her and waltzed her in a quick circle, still singing. "I may look like a pansy, but look at me wrong and I'll put out lights. I'm a man, a manly man, in tights. When you're in a pinch just look for the man in tights."

Willow exchanged an amused smile with Angel, who had also stood. "He's your Childe," she pointed out.

"Don't remind me," Angel said.

Buffy laughed when Spike released her. "I can't believe that you know the words to that song."

Spike shrugged, then turned to Willow and Angel. "So, mates, care to tell us where we are?"

"One of the starting points in Elaisias," Willow answered without hesitation.

"What?" three voices chorused.

"The game," Willow said. "I think we're in the game."

"How do you know that?" Spike asked.

"How can we be in the game?" Buffy asked simultaneously.

"Because I've seen this building before," Willow said. "I played the game a little by myself to get the hang of what was going on before I sent it to Spike. As for how we're here..." She shrugged.

"Then you probably don't know how to get us out of here, either," Buffy surmised. Willow shook her head no. "Wonderful. I knew I should have paid attention to my horoscope."

"Why?" Willow asked.

"It told me that I was going to see friends I hadn't seen in awhile through unforeseen circumstances and that the world may seem like a fantasy today."

"Mine said I was going to shag," Spike commented, poking at one of the walls. He glanced over at Buffy and waggled his brows.

"Not in this lifetime, Spike," Buffy stated. "I don't sleep with the dead."

"What about Peaches?" Spike said pointedly.

"I make an exception for exceptionally gorgeous vampires," Buffy replied. She looked down her nose at Spike. "Which means you don't stand a chance."

"Who said I wanted to get a leg over on you anyway?" Spike said, turning back to his perusal of the room. "Maybe I want to find out if the poof is wearing drawers under his breeches."

"Leave me out of this," Angel spoke up, not raising his eyes from one of the spellbooks he'd found in Willow's saddle bag. "I don't have sex with men who look better in hose than some women."

"Shut up," Spike muttered.

"But you...do that thing with guys?" Willow asked Angel in a soft, surprised voice.

Angel glanced over at the young woman beside him and winked. "Not lately."

Willow blushed and turned back to Buffy. "So, uh, we're in Elaisias..."

"Yeow!" Spike exclaimed, causing all eyes to turn to him. He was standing near the window, shaking his left, somewhat smoking hand.

"Let me guess," Buffy mocked. "Sunlight bad."

"It doesn't burn immediately," Spike said in defense. Buffy snickered at him. "Sod off."

"So, what now?" Buffy asked, picking up her short bow and testing its tension.

"Well, we can stay here," Willow said. "Which is kinda necessary to do, at least until the sun sets, because of Angel and Spike. Don't want them to go poof. But after the sun goes down, we can leave and go...somewhere."

"You said you played the game a little bit?" Angel confirmed. Willow nodded. "Do you remember what's in this...town?"

"Town, yes," Willow replied. "The town of Elaisias, which is why the game is named Elaisias. The town has the usual role playing game stuff, like taverns and inns, apocatharies, weapons shops, general stores, and stables."

"I say we go to the tavern, get pissed and stay that way until we're zapped back to where we belong," Spike said, looking into a pouch he had found in his sleeve. "It looks like whatever did this gave us funds-"

"It's your character's starting money," Willow interrupted, growing excited. "Remember when we picked out characters? I picked a Sorceress, which means I should be able to do this..." She held out her hand, palm open and smiled brightly when a small lightball formed.

"I didn't know you were that advanced in witchcraft, Wills," Buffy said.

"I am," Willow said. "But it's also one of the character skills of a Sorceress, so my powers are amplified to the character skill level, which is like ten times my level as a witch."

"Does that mean we have skills we normally don't have?" Buffy asked.

"Well, Buffy, you picked an Archer, but you were already good at that," Willow replied. "Angel and Spike picked characters that have skills they already had, too, so I don't know."

"What other races are in this game?" Angel asked. "The last one I helped you with had Gnomes, Ogres, Elves, Goblins, Dwarves..."

"They're all here," Willow answered. "I'm just glad all of us picked human. I'd hate to see what would have happened if someone had chosen a Goblin."

"But we're still vampires," Spike pointed out.

"Sunlight burn," Buffy teased. Spike glared at her.

"I wonder if we'll have to play the game," Willow said more to herself than the others. The other three, however, heard her and looked her way. "Well, we're in Elaisias from what I can tell, wearing our character choices' clothing, so it would be a logical conclusion that we'll somehow be pulled into the actual events of the game."

"So, a Princess who doesn't really exist has been kidnapped by an evil Duke and we're suppose to care?" Spike said.

"She exists here," Buffy replied.

"And?" Spike said to her.

"And if someone needs help, it's our job to help," Buffy said.

"Not my job."

"Then what have you been doing for the past six years?" Buffy growled, stepping closer to him.

"Not something I've wanted to be doing," Spike growled back, also taking a step towards her.

"Then why do you bother?" Step.

"Because I have to." Step.

"So you could care less if I died?" Step.

"You'd finally shut up then." Step.

By now, Buffy and Spike were practically nose to nose, glaring at each other. Willow and Angel exchanged worried looks, wondering if they should intervene.

"Were they always like this?" Angel asked the redhead quietly. He hadn't been back to Sunnydale in over five years, not having reason to go once it was ascertained Spike was really helping Buffy.

"No," Willow replied. "Not that I remember, but I wasn't always with them."

"Have I told you how much I can't abide you lately?" Buffy hissed at Spike.

"Have I told you how much I don't care?" Spike hissed back.

"That's enough, you two," Angel said loudly when it looked like they were going to come to blows. "We don't know if we have to play the game or not. We'll decide what to do as things happen, okay?"

"Fine," Buffy and Spike spat simultaneously, then turned away from each other. The blond vampire stalked to the other side of the room and leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest.

The atmosphere in the building became thick and tense, the silence extremely uncomfortable for Willow and Angel. Buffy sat down on the dirt floor and took an arrow out of the quiver examining it. She raised her eyes after a moment and pinned Spike with a glare, then pointed at him with the arrow as she began to sing, "He looks like a pansy, but look at him wrong and you'll run away in fright. He's a man, a pathetic man, in tights..."

Spike's lips twitched as he tried to hold back his smile. He gave up after a moment and rolled his eyes before walking over to her and sitting down beside her on the floor. "Your singing is terrible, pet."

"Better than yours," Buffy said, handing him the arrow.

Spike held it up and eyed its straightness. "You're just jealous because I sing like an angel."

"An angel with his throat ripped out maybe," Buffy responded.

"What just happened here?" Willow asked Angel, staring at the two blonds with incomprehension. "A second ago they were going to do that violence thing. Now they're sitting next to each other, smiling." She frowned. "Do you thing Elaisias is on a Hellmouth?"

Angel chuckled, then bent his head to whisper in her ear. "I think they're both just nuts."

*****

When the sun set, the four left the building they had found themselves in and began to explore the town. Willow had drawn a map from memory on the dirt floor and had labeled it as best as she could, giving the ideas of the size of the town and where some of the shops and homes were located.

The dirt roads that separated the buildings were rock strewn and were littered with piles of manure. Horses were tethered outside of wood and mud structures, some single storey, some two to three storeys. The roads were unlit, but lamplights spilled from unshuttered windows, as did voices when they passed by one of several busy taverns.

The town was set up in sections. The small farms and residential area took up the majority of the east end of Elaisias. Merchants and trades, such as blacksmiths, made up the west end of town. The guilds and government buildings were located in the very center, and were more ornate and larger than the others.

The River Sargauth flowed along the south banks of the town, which ended at the Port of Gondsmen near the southwest corner of town, from what Willow remembered. Cable Island was directly south from the Port, connected to Elaisias by a narrow, two lane land bridge. The Island was where prisoners were held before being sent on the ships to points unknown. On the highest point of the Island was the Tower of Seven Woes, which Willow described as a shear-faced tower made of black obsidian. The instruction guide that had come with the game did not say what the Tower was for, however, only a description of what it looked like from the outside.

As Willow had predicted, they saw many different races on their tour of the town. From the tall, slender elves with pointed ears and silver eyes, to the short, squat dwarves with full beards and muscular bodies. Ogres, with their cro-magnum-like human faces, laughed drunkenly with long-limbed, grey-skinned Goblins. Humans of various shapes and sizes bustled between buildings, side-stepping the tiny human-like Gnomes that darted about.

"Well, guys, what do you want to do?" Willow asked, as they headed down yet another street.

"Feed," Spike said. "I'm hungry."

"I doubt they're going to have an all-night blood bank here," Buffy said.

"Yes, but I'm sure they have a butchers," Angel said.

"How about this," Buffy said. "You two go off and do your vampire thing, Willow and I will find us a place to stay for tomorrow. We'll meet at...what's that stone square called with the big telephone pole in the middle?"

"Herald's Meet," Willow answered. "And it's a ship's mast, not a telephone pole."

"We'll meet at Herald's Meet." Buffy grinned. "I sound like Willow."

"Hey!" Willow playfully hit Buffy on the shoulder.

"Are you sure we should split up?" Angel said. "We're not in Sunnydale. Or Los Angeles."

"Or the real soddin' world," Spike added.

"I'm still the Slayer," Buffy said. She gestured to Willow. "And she's still a witch. We'll be fine."

"You sure?" Angel asked, looking down at Willow with concerned, brown eyes.

"Go," Willow said with a smile. "We don't want growly vampire stomachs."

Spike gave Buffy a pointed look. "Watch your back, Slayer."

"When have I not?" Buffy replied with a grin.

"If I answered you, we'd be here all night, and I'm hungry," Spike said.

"Get gone," Buffy said, linking her arm with Willow's. "We'll meet you at the telephone ship."

Spike and Angel watched the two girls walk away until they were out of sight before the dark-haired vampire said, "Why do I get the feeling this was a bad idea?"



Part Two



Angel reached out and tugged on Spike's ponytail. "What's this?" he asked, grinning when Spike batted his hand away.

"A bet," Spike answered, glaring at his Sire. "And I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't pull on my bleedin' hair. The Slayer does it enough as it is."

Angel tugged the ponytail again with an innocent smile. "What kind of bet? How good of a woman you'd make?"

"Like you haven't had long hair," Spike said defensively, smacking Angel's hand again. "And the bet is none of your bloody business."

"You lost, eh?"

"Shut up. I gave my word to the Slayer when we first started working together that I wouldn't rip your throat out. Don't make me break it," Spike said.

"Spike, I haven't seen you in years," Angel pointed out.

"And so far, I've kept my word," Spike said logically.

Angel chuckled, then fell into a companionable silence as the two vampires searched for a butcher's shop. After roughly an hour of wandering, they found one that was luckily still open and used their funds to purchase blood. The human butcher gave them strange looks at their order, but did not comment.

The duo drank down the blood around the corner from the shop, sticking to the shadows of the alleyway on the outskirts of town. Spike licked his chops exaggeratedly when he finished, causing Angel to roll his eyes at the obnoxious action. "You never grow up, do you?"

"Why should I?" Spike replied. "I look perpetually young and beautiful-"

"Someone's full of himself."

"-so I can act anyway I want," the blond finished. "So there." He stuck out his tongue in a juvenile manner.

Angel's retort was cut off by a shoddily-clothed figure barreling into him from around the corner. He grabbed the smaller person by the shoulders to steady both of them and was greeted by the startled face of a young halfling. Before he could say anything, the boy shoved something into his hand, then broke free and took off running down the alleyway.

The dark-haired vampire looked down to find a small, onyx statuette of a cat in his hand.

Then several men who were obviously the Elaisian police came running around the corner and all hell broke loose.

*****

Willow and Buffy looked at each other, then took off running towards the sound of a fight. Under her breath, the redhead began to chant a general protection spell for herself, so that when the time came to use her magick, she'd have the time to cast her spells.

Buffy didn't even bother to pull her bow. She charged around the corner to an alleyway without thought, her protective instincts whenever she heard a cry for help flaring up. "Willow, what are they?!" she yelled as she literally dove into the fight.

"Two tall cavemen are orcs, small grey guy is a goblin!" Willow yelled back. She stopped at the mouth of the alley to pull a spellbook out of her bag.

The blond Slayer rolled under one of the orcs' legs, coming up to her feet behind him. She quickly lashed out with her foot at the back of his knee, then had to duck when a sword came swinging in her directions from the second orc.

The cloaked human who'd been cowering on the ground rose up to his feet. His arm shot out quickly, a knife in his hand. The goblin grunted in pain as the blade hit its mark.

Buffy grabbed the sword-arm of the orc and swung him into his companion. The orc she had dove under staggered backward and tripped over a pile of trash, falling to the ground. Without stopping, the Slayer went after the still-standing orc.

Willow found a spell and began chanting, tracing symbols in the air with her left hand. The once invisible symbols began to glow as the magick flowed through her. Underneath the fallen orc, the dirt ground began to liquefy.

The goblin growled something unintelligible and threw himself at the cloaked human. They went down in a tangle of limbs, punching and kicking at each other with little finesse.

Buffy kicked the standing orc across the jaw and followed up with a hard side kick to his unarmored torso. The slowly sinking orc grabbed his companion as the kicked one flew backwards, pulling him free of the mud with a loud slurp. The Slayer turned and grabbed the goblin, who was on top of the human pounding into his face. She lifted him by the tufts of hair and easily threw him across the alleyway and into the wall of the next building.

Willow squeaked in alarm as the two orcs came running towards her after they had scrambled to their feet. She threw up her hands, dropping her spellbook in the process, and twin bright flashes of light flew from her palms, blinding them. She jumped out of their now-staggering head-long run and watched as they disappeared down the street.

Buffy glared at the goblin as he rose. The goblin grunted and took off running in the opposite direction of the orcs. He vanished around the corner of the building. The blond looked over at the cloaked man and walked to him, her hand extended.

"Thank you," he said, clasping her wrist and allowing her to pull him to his feet. "It is not often that I'm in a position of thanking a woman who fights as well as you."

"Uh, you're welcome," Buffy said. Willow skirted around the mud puddle to join them. "So...fight here often?"

The tall, dark-haired, green-eyed man chuckled. "Seldom, if at all," he replied. "Oh, do forgive my rudeness. I am Lord Kelvar, at your humble service." He executed a short bow, looking slightly down his straight nose at them.

"Buffy," she said. "And this is my friend, Willow."

"Honored, Lady Sorceress," Kelvar said, taking Willow's hand and placing a kiss on her knuckles.

Willow blushed faintly. "Um, hi."

"What brings you two fine ladies out at this dreadful hour of the night?" Kelvar asked.

"We're looking for an Inn," Willow answered, trying to extract her hand and failing.

"Well, I do know of several nice ones at a fair price. Permit me to escort you, or rather, you escort me to them?" He smiled wryly and without waiting for an answer, placed Willow's hand in the crook of his arm and started out of the alley.

Willow shot Buffy a helpless look, to which the blond shrugged and trailed after them.

"So, uh, what do you do, L-Lord Kelvar?" Willow asked.

"I am Lord of Kastlekeep, a small holding just outside of Elaisias," Kelvar replied. "I only have about fifty tenants on my land, but they are hard workers."

Buffy frowned at the back of Kelvar's dark head. "Tenants?"

"Farmers," Willow explained, turning her head to look over her shoulder at her friend. "They kind of rent the land from Lord Kelvar and pay him by selling what they grow at a market."

"Got it."

"Yes, it is a difficult position I am in," Kelvar commented with a dramatic sigh. "Problems constantly arise, my tenants always seem to want something from me, the taxes to the King are extraordinary, and now with the Princess gone missing I'm losing most of my staff to the bounty."

Buffy and Willow exchanged another look. "How long has she been missing?" Willow asked.

"Two fortnights," Kelvar replied. He gave the redhead a puzzled look. "But this is common knowledge."

"We're sort of new in town," Buffy said from behind them.

"Do not tell me that ladies such as yourselves are bounty hunters," Kelvar said. He shook his head. "'Tis not worth it. The rumor is the Princess was kidnapped by the Duke of Tarsahk, Dalagar the Cold, a ruthless elf who long ago sold his soul for power. He is compared to Lucifer, the most beautiful, the most perfect of all creations...before he fell."

Kelvar stopped in front of an inn, its wooden placard swinging lightly. "This inn should be suitable for your needs. I beseech you to not take up the bounty. Many have left my service and have disappeared in searching for the Princess."

"We'll keep that in mind," Buffy said, folding her arms in front of her chest.

He sighed, lifted Willow's hand from his arm and kissed her knuckles again. "Lady Sorceress, it has been a pleasure. If you ever come out to Kastlekeep, I shall be honored to have you."

"Th-thanks," Willow stammered, blushing again at the Lord's not-so-hidden meaning to his words. Lord Kelvar released her hand, gave Buffy a quick nod, then turned and headed off into the night.

*****

"Tell me why I haven't staked you yet?" Angel growled to Spike as they ran along the rooftop to one of the ornate buildings in the center of Elaisias.

"I'm cute?" Spike replied, nonplussed and grinning from ear to ear. The cacophony of the armed police chasing after them got louder as the mixture of humans and dwarves crashed through the door to the roof.

"This is no time for joking! We wouldn't be in this mess if you wouldn't have hit that guy," Angel snapped. "I could have just given over the statuette-"

"He shouldn't have tried to bloody grab me!" Spike exclaimed.

"-and we'd have been on our way to meet up with Willow and Buffy, not running from the police. If they catch us...," Angel let the sentence dangle as they reached the edge of the roof and hopped down with ease to the connecting building. The next closest rooftop was to the right, with an approximate ten-foot gap between the one they were running on and the slightly lower building.

Spike turned and headed straight towards the edge without pausing. "Afraid you can't outrun them, old man?" he taunted.

Angel shot a glare at his Childe. "The day I can't outrun a bunch of humans is the day I submit to you."

Then they were flying through the air, having dove off the edge of the roof towards the other building. They hit the other rooftop in a roll, coming up to their feet simultaneously, perfectly in sync with one another. Loud shouting was heard behind them, as well as a scream as one of their pursuers didn't make the jump.

Spike continued speaking without breaking stride. "I'll remember that, mate. Guaranteed."

Angel grunted in response. At the far edge of the building, they both jumped down the fifteen feet to the ground and disappeared in the maze of alleyways that made up the business sector of Elaisias.



Part Three



Spike giggled uncharacteristically when he saw the sign to the inn the girls had gotten rooms at. "Sorry," he said. "Inside joke."

The Guts and Garters Inn was a two-storey, wooden building connected to The Hell Hound's Muzzle tavern. Willow and Buffy had gotten two rooms at a gold piece each per night, which the redhead assured them was a good bargain. Their rooms were small, barely half the size of a normal bedroom, and each held a double bed with a husk mattress, a tiny night-stand that held a wash basin and pitcher, and a chamber pot. Heating pans could be rented at a copper piece per night.

The four of them, after much whining from Spike, decided to put off the room arrangements until later, and they went into the tavern. A multitude of races sat at the round, wooden tables scattered about the room, drinking from heavy tankards. The conversation was loud and boisterous, and a minstrel strummed a lyre in the corner near a large, stone fireplace. Human women dressed in tight, revealing clothing wove between the tables, serving the customers.

The misplaced group found an empty table near the minstrel and sat on the worn, wooden chairs. None of them garnered any attention from the other patrons of the tavern. A serving wench came up to them and practically stuck her ample bosom in both Angel's and Spike's faces. The blond vampire flirted shamelessly with the voluptuous woman, who bent down to whisper something in his ear, causing him to laugh heartily.

When they had gotten four tankards of ale, which Willow and Buffy took one sip of and turned green, the redhead told them about meeting Lord Kelvar and the kidnapped Princess.

"How long is two fortnights, anyway?" Buffy asked.

"Four weeks," Willow answered. "Each fortnight is two weeks."

"So she's been missing a month," Angel said. "What are the chances that she's already deceased?"

"None," Willow said firmly. "We're in the game, remember? We're the main players."

"Which means that if we don't rescue her, no one will," Buffy surmised. Willow nodded. The Slayer looked pointedly at Spike. "Translation for morons: we're going to find the Princess."

"That's what you're going to do," Spike said. "I am going to stay right here, get plastered and shag Ioana into unconsciousness."

"Who's Ioana?" Willow asked, a frown forming between her brows.

"Miss Look-At-My-Tits," Buffy told her.

"Oh." Willow blushed faintly.

"I really don't think we should split up again," Angel said.

"I agree," Willow said. "We could find a way home and someone could get stuck here indefinitely."

"I was thinking more along the lines of the fact that Spike can't be trusted to stay out of trouble," Angel said with a smirk.

"So very true," Buffy added.

"Sod off," Spike stated.

"So it's settled," Angel said. "We stick together, rescue the Princess, then find a way home."

"Sounds like a plan," Buffy said.

"One problem," Spike said. "How do we go about finding this bleedin' chit?"

"The same way we always try to find something," Willow replied. "Research."

"What do we know?" Angel said.

"The Princess was kidnapped four weeks ago," Buffy said. "Possibly by the Duke of Earl."

"Duke of Tarsahk," Willow corrected with a smile. "Dalagar the Cold."

"Then we find out as much as we can about the kidnapping itself and go from there," Angel said.

"Pardon me," the minstrel said over his strumming, leaning closer to the table where the four sat. "I couldn't help but overhear. You are going after the Princess?"

"That's right," Angel said.

The old human smiled, his weather-beaten face crinkling. The short grey goatee he had matched his shaggy grey hair and grey eyes. Dressed in a simple tunic and hose, hat perched at a jaunty angle on his head, the minstrel's fingers easily played his lyre while he conversed.

"I might have some information for you...for the right price," he said.

"And I can break that shoddy harp-thing over your head for free," Spike said.

"Spike," Buffy warned.

"How do we know this information you have is worth anything?" Angel asked.

"Because I am Nester Podgin," he said. "A favorite minstrel of the King himself!"

"'King of jesters, and jester to the King,'" Spike sung under his metaphorical breath. Buffy frowned at him and he sent her a quick grin.

"And I take it you preformed for the King at the time the Princess was kidnapped?" Angel questioned. Willow hid a smile behind her hand, knowing exactly what the dark-haired vampire was doing, having seen him do his investigative work before.

"Darn right I was." Nester nodded firmly. "I was playing during dinner. That's when it happened."

"If you were playing when it happened, how could you have seen anything?" Angel said.

"Well, a minstrel's got to take a break every once in a while," Nester said. "I went to take a constitutional when I saw the Princess in the courtyard. It looked like she was waiting for someone."

"Who?"

"My guess would be Aurin, the stable boy," Nester replied. He winked. "They're having a secret affair."

"A Princess and a stable boy," Spike commented quietly, leaning closer to Buffy. "It's Cinderfella."

"And that's when you supposedly saw the kidnapping?" Angel continued his questioning.

"Supposedly my foot!" Nester exclaimed. "She was kidnapped right before my very eyes! There were two of them, one human and one ogre. I recognized them from the Duke of Tarsahk's court. She fought like a little she-wolf, but the ogre conked her over the head and she fell like a sack of potatoes."

"And no one heard this or saw this but you?" Angel said.

"If they did, they're smart enough not to go after the Duke themselves," Nester said. "He's one cruel elf. Why, he threw his own mother to the hell hounds. Now what kind of man kills his own mother?"

"Not a very nice one, mate," Spike said, exchanging a look with his Sire.

Willow put her hand on Angel's arm and squeezed gently. The dark-haired vampire gave her a small smile at her comforting touch at an uncomfortable subject, then continued. "If the Duke did have the Princess kidnapped, would there be anything in particular we'd need to worry about if we were to try and rescue her?"

"It is rumored that the Duke has a gorgon that keeps his prisoners from escaping," Nester said in a hushed voice. "She is said to have the power of invisibility, enabling her to appear right before she strikes. Only he who wears the Bands of Kimara are able to see her at all times."

The four exchanged glances at the mention of the Bands of Kimara. They knew from the instructions prior to even beginning the game that the Bands were of great importance in winning. And now they knew why.

"Where are these Bands?" Spike asked.

"If they exist, they are said to be hidden in the seventh level of the Tower of Seven Woes." Nester said the name with an ominous fervor. "But no one who has gone into the Tower has ever returned."

He struck a loud chord on his lyre, making Willow and Buffy jump at its suddenness. The old minstrel chuckled. "So, what shall it be, lads and ladies? Would you like to exchange information?"

"Do you know any more about the Tower?" Willow said.

"No, but Ellie over at The Poisoned Quill knows about it. She studies the Tower lore to depict accurate art of the creatures said to be hidden within," Nestor told her.

Angel dug a couple of gold pieces out of the small pouch in his sleeve and passed them to Nester, who paused in playing to accept them. "How late is The Poisoned Quill open?"

"Until the beginning of the third watch," Nester replied, smiling happily at the gold coins. He stuck them in his pocket, then continued strumming the lyre. "If you have any problems, just tell her old Nester sent you." With that, the minstrel stood and maneuvered through the tables, still playing his melancholy tune.

"That was easy," Buffy said with a frown. "Too easy."

"It's the game," Willow said. "Remember we're in a game. The beginning is suppose to be easier than the middle or the end."

"So we have to-" Buffy began.

"You have to," Spike corrected.

She glared at him. "We have to-"

"You." Spike glared back, leaning closer to her.

"We." Buffy leaned a smidgen closer to him.

"You." Closer.

"We." Closer.

"You." Closer.

"We." Closer.

"You." Spike's and Buffy's faces were less than an inch away from each other.

"We."

"Y-"

Angel yanked on Spike's ponytail hard.

"-eow!" Spike finished, getting pulled back in his chair away from Buffy. He reached up and grabbed Angel's wrist, squeezing it tightly. "Let me go, you stupid bloody pillock!"

"Guys, we're attracting attention," Willow hissed.

Angel released Spike's hair and the younger vampire let go of Angel's wrist. Both men folded their arms and glared at each other, Angel warningly and Spike petulantly.

"We are going to rescue the Princess," Angel said in a low, hard tone, not breaking eye contact with his Childe. "Tomorrow we'll go see Ellie and find out what we can about the Tower. Then we get the Bands, go to the Duke's castle and win this game so we can go home. Understand?"

Spike pressed his lips together defiantly.

Angel's eyes flashed gold and he growled deeply, "Understand?"

"Yes." The word was clipped and said between clenched teeth, but it was an agreement.

"Good," Angel said. "Now, it's been a long day and night. I suggest we try and get some sleep."

"I'm not going to sleep in the same soddin' bed as you," Spike stated.

"Then you can sleep on the floor," Angel told him.

"Hey guys, that's enough fighting," Willow said when it seemed like they were about to start again. She shared a look with Buffy, who nodded in silent agreement.

"Spike, you're with me," Buffy said. "But if you steal the covers this time, you'll find yourself on the floor faster than you can say 'bloody hell.'"

"But I hate sharing with you, Slayer," Spike whined. "You snore."

"Do not."

"Do too."

"Do not."

"Do too."

"Do-"

"Wait, you two have shared a bed before?" Angel interrupted, his eyebrows going up with incredulity.

Spike leered. "Oh yeah, mate. I've given the Slayer a good seeing to just the other night."

"In my nightmares," Buffy said. She met her ex's eyes without hesitation. "We've gotten stuck together before and since Mister Jerk does not even come close to being a gentleman, we shared the bed."

"Why should I sleep on the floor when the bed is big enough for two?" Spike asked her.

"Because that's what a real man would do," Buffy replied. She smiled sweetly at him. "But I keep forgetting, you're not a man."

Continued 1