The walls of the corridor were damp with lingering moisture. Dark green moss had buried itself deep within the crevices of the gray stone and the draught that penetrated the tiny fissures of the ancient brickwork served only to enhance the musty odor of centuries. Gossamer webs, long deserted by their arachnid creators, drifted lazily back and forth from the domed ceiling. The apparently deserted castle exuded an air of danger and death, but also promised wealth and fame to any who might be blessed with the courage to conquer its foreboding presence.
From an archway shrouded in shadows, a female figure emerged, tall and thin. Every executed movement was a lesson in agility and grace. Her woolen cloak swept the grime-encrusted flagstones and the soft soles of her well worn, brown leather boots made no sound as she carefully navigated the narrow passage. Beneath the hood, her eyes were alert and searching. She carried no torch, the weak sun filtering through the arrow slits set high in the wall providing sufficient light for her to determine whether any traps lay in her path. Her step was cautious but confident, her ears and senses finely-tuned in preparation for the unexpected. Arriving at a heavy oak door, the figure checked the hall once more for possible peril. She nodded sharply to herself, assured that none threatened, and knelt to examine the ornate handle.
As she cocked her head from side to side, assessing the durability of the lock from every angle, the cowl slipped from her hair and her features could be seen plainly in the sunlight. The stealthy figure was Dawn. Eyes narrowing with concentration, she reached into the belt around her waist and retrieved a slender pick. Employing expert and exact precision, she inserted the hook into the keyhole. Nibbling at her bottom lip, she gently jiggled the instrument until she heard a muted click. Her head promptly swiveled toward the direction from which she had recently come and, with a grin of smug excitement, gave the thumbs-up signal.
Almost immediately, another female figure issued from the gloom. Decked in armor, this petite new arrival exhibited nowhere near the elegant gait of her partner as she clanged and clanked her way along the corridor – try as she might, there was no avoiding the strident clash of metal against stone. Her gleaming gold breastplate bore the image of a bleeding heart and she hefted a gigantic sword that, despite the fact it was at least a foot taller than herself, was wielded with astonishing ease. She paused upon entering a shaft of light and gazed upward for a moment. The pale rays glistened upon the blonde hair and illuminated her face, revealing the golden paladin to be Buffy.
"Good job, Sunrise," she told her kneeling companion in a hushed voice.
The lockpicker beamed and puffed out her chest. "Just like stealing candy from a grandma. Anyway, we'll wanna be careful going through there." She inclined her chin toward the door. "It's thick, but I'm pretty sure I heard something."
Instantaneously, the paladin's posture became that of a hunting dog on point. Her nose twitched as she sniffed at the air.
"Evil?" she inquired, barely able to contain the bubbling excitement.
Apparently, Sunrise wasn't precisely sure. "Well I don't—"
The blonde's assurance was delivered in a definite and much louder tone, the element of surprise being cast aside in the face of her mounting enthusiasm. "I'm certain it's evil!" She hoisted the sword into the air. "And where there is evil, so must there be Bufficus Pureblade!"
Sunrise scrabbled to her feet and laid a calming hand on the paladin's arm. Her expression betrayed anxiety. "Sure, but—"
Bufficus refused to be restrained, fervor rapidly becoming the better part of valor. "Minions of darkness, beware!" She all but shouted. "Fear the wrath of Bufficus Pureblade! With my trusty sword (which is also called Pureblade) I will strike you down in a great spurting gush of blood and ichor! I will grind your bones to make my bread! Your evil is clear and evident, and in desperate need of smiting! I will—"
A glowing necklace suddenly materialized around the throat of Bufficus, effectively cutting short her tirade. The mouth continued to move, even though no words spewed forth. Nonetheless, this had little effect on Bufficus, who continued the righteous denunciation, ostensibly unaware that her vocal chords were no longer in working order.
Over the shoulder of the still gesticulating but now struck dumb Bufficus, Sunrise noted the approach of two more female figures. Both wore long and flowing robes with fluted sleeves – the apparel of mages. The blonde was garbed in white, her expression so serene that she almost appeared to be under the influence of narcotics. She gave the illusion of floating as she glided forward, exuding a certain radiance of softness and tranquility. She favored no form of adornment, although from certain angles, a shimmering nimbus did seem to encircle her head. By contrast, the redhead wore ruby satin and was virtually crackling with underlying energy. As she moved, jagged shards of black lightning sparked from the toes of her tapping shoes and from the tips of her painted nails. Similar flashes simmered within her eyes. Unlike her companion, this female had chosen to bedeck herself with every manner of jewelry. Rings set with dazzling stones embellished her fingers, and beaded strands in every imaginable color were suspended around her neck. However, the most prominent decoration was a magnificent talisman. Cast in silver, it was the fruit of the Winesap, with a single bite missing. A lone leaf formed the loop through which the slender chain passed, and the amulet twinkled with incandescent power.
Sunrise quirked a knowing eyebrow as she addressed the redhead. "Your handiwork, Willowbane?"
Willowbane blew on her fingertips and then flexed them. "Just a little silence spell. It'll wear off in three hours or so."
Marching back and forth in front of the door, Bufficus continued her diatribe while waving the sword menacingly.
Willowbane smirked. "You like?"
"I donít hate," confessed Sunrise. "You sure it's a good idea though?"
Willowbane wrinkled her nose. "It can't be a worse idea than her running around, all but screaming to every blood-sucking fiend in this place, 'Hey, here we are! Come kill us now, please!' Besides," she paused and turned to look at her companion, "The White Lady and I were ... discussing spells."
The White Lady smiled. It was an all-knowing curve of the lips – one that hinted at much but revealed very little. "It's a delicate process," she admitted quietly.
Sunrise snorted. "I bet."
The exchange was interrupted by Bufficus. Finally realizing that her voice had been stilled and harboring a strong suspicion as to the likely origin of such demise, she stomped her way toward the trio of conversationalists. Although unable to speak, her ability to glare had not been impaired and she now called upon her glowering repertoire with an abundance of gusto.
Willowbane smiled with superior amusement at Bufficus' gestures of disgust. Accepting the inevitable – and being unable to vocalize her disapproval – Bufficus jerked her head toward the door.
The White Lady's brow furrowed as she took a step forward. "There's evil afoot," she whispered.
Bufficus looked first at Sunrise and then to Willowbane. Her expression screamed, "See?? See??" Rolling her eyes, Willowbane moved to stand alongside The White Lady.
"What'cha got, baby?"
"Lots of undead. That's good," was The White Lady's response. She concentrated deeply for a moment. "There are living creatures in there too though. Trolls, maybe?" She turned to Bufficus and smiled brightly. "They should bleed profusely."
Bufficus was very pleased.
At the entrance to the door, the mage duo began to prepare themselves. Bufficus hovered at their shoulders, openly champing at the bit to participate in a little action. Having completed her assigned task, Sunrise melted into the shadows, leaving behind no trace of her existence.
The second a confirming nod came from The White Lady, Willowbane seized the handle and threw open the door. The trio was greeted by a huge open chamber, which in its heyday had most probably been utilized as either a throne room or reception hall. As The White Lady had indicated, the area was teeming with undead – zombies, skeletons and wights. Drool dribbled from every ravenous mouth as the legion began to storm the entrance. Instantly, Willowbane's left hand joined with The White Lady's right and each threw their other arm in a wide circle. The arc they mystically fashioned erupted in a shower of holy fire – flames sheathed in the most immaculate white light. The licking tongues consumed the first few rows of monsters, which fell like stacked dominoes. However the achievement was only a drop in the bucket.
The magickal pair was forced to separate as Bufficus charged into the room, Pureheart at the ready. Mouth distended in a savage if soundless battle cry, and heedless of damage to life or limb, the golden paladin threw herself into the fray, hacking like a lunatic. At one side of the enormous chamber, The White Lady began to cast divine spells, attempting to turn the undead, while on the opposite side, Willowbane wielded the elements against her foes. From the gloom, Sunrise silently reemerged, hurling her wickedly sharp throwing daggers into the flesh-and-blood monsters with deadly accuracy.
As proficient and well-skilled in their abilities as the heroes might be, there were simply far too many opponents for victory to be assured. Wave after wave of the abominable army pressed their advantage and it soon became apparent that the end was nigh for the intrepid band of adventurers, until ...
"Stop right there, you no-good naughty things!" came the command.
It was an order that brooked no defiance. As a moth to a flame, every eye turned to the imposing figure dominating the doorway. Every exquisitely toned muscle – and there were many of them on view – rippled with barely contained power. A pair of leather straps criss-crossed his well-defined pectorals, bare, bronzed and oiled to perfection. Buttery smooth leather jerkins, so tight they left little to the imagination, clung to his rock-hard thighs and followed the curve of his calves before snaking into a pair of highly-polished boots. His hair was long and faultlessly styled a la Fabio, except that it was ebony and shone like the plumage of a raven. The eye patch he sported lent an aura of mystery to his ruggedly handsome features. Holding court from the threshold, he struck a pose that was both heroic and intimidating. The longsword he gripped in both hands was raised high above his head, pointing heavenward – a glorious extension of his masculine prowess. He flashed a smile around the room, his teeth almost glinting with a starburst of shine.
With eyes that blatantly revealed her adoration, Sunrise regarded the figure in the doorway. She paid no mind to the creature that had her in an arm lock and who, were he not frozen into immobility by the same majestic entity, would have likely wrenched the shoulder from its socket by now.
"Alexander!" she sighed, eyelids fluttering as though she might swoon at any second.
Willowbane and The White Lady were similarly smitten, despite the horrific deaths that loomed courtesy of two more equally transfixed monsters.
"Alexander!" they breathed with one voice.
In the center of the chamber, three monstrosities were holding Bufficus captive – two gripped an arm each, while the third had her throat firmly within his grasp. A fourth had taken possession of her sword and stood poised, ready to run her through. Still, as she gazed upon Alexander, her expression was one of total and utter devotion. Her lips moved to form his name, although no sound accompanied the action.
Toward the back of the room, a small collection of trolls clustered and started to discuss the arrival amongst themselves.
"It is Alexander the Great!" announced the first with great deference.
"I am simultaneously filled with mind-numbing terror and a desire to rename my firstborn after this magnificent presence," admitted another.
"I know of no way to address my newly awakened yet psychologically disturbing feelings of love and sexual attraction, save violence," added a third.
"Attack!" someone bellowed.
On cue, each and every monster in attendance, including those who were mere seconds from wreaking horrendous vengeance upon their hostages, swarmed on Alexander. He laughed a heady laugh—
"Ha ha ha!"
—and prepared himself to take on all comers. The women huddled together like a pack of enamored teenagers watching the star quarterback doing what he does best. Battle sounds reverberated around the room, accompanied by much manly grunting. Had it been possible for the eyes of the female quartet to transform into pulsating hearts, they would surely have done so.
"Wow," breathed a dreamy Sunrise.
The White Lady echoed the implied sentiment. "I'm not a fan of swords," she admitted, "but when I see Alexander?" She clasped her hands and sighed. "He makes me rethink my choice of weapons."
Willowbane was equally passionate in her approval. "It's so not the surprise that I spent my formative adolescent years pining for this fortress of studlitude."
Bufficus then offered up her praises for Alexander the Great. She continued for quite some time and was rather enthusiastic about the whole affair, judging from her expression and gestures. None of her companions turned to look at her and she was still struck mute, so it was something of a soundless tribute, but that didn't stop Bufficus from completing her testimonial. When the pronouncement was at an end, the other three nodded their head in absolute agreement.
"You can say that again," muttered Sunrise, no less dreamy than before.
As a unified look of excitement crossed the four faces, they began to applaud wildly.
Posturing in the doorway, a triumphant Alexander stood atop a pile of corpses. There was not so much as a solitary scratch marring his perfectly toned and tanned body.
"Nobody touches my girls," he declared in epic fashion.
"Wait wait wait!" came the jarring instruction.
Blinking, Xander shook his head and pushed up the sleeves of his scruffy checkered shirt. He ran his fingers through his hair, causing it to become even more unkempt, and looked across the table at Andrew, who was partially obscured by a Dungeon Master screen. Andrew's expression was one of reproach.
"Uh-uh, no way, Conan," he informed with a frown. "First of all you rolled an eight which, coupled with your longsword +1, means you only barely grazed one member of my Legion of Doom. On the other hand, they—"
There was a pause as Andrew's face disappeared behind the screen. It was followed by the rattle of rolling dice and then another pause as Andrew quickly checked his notes. Another roll of the dice clattered across the table. Checking his sheet one more time, Andrew peered over the top of the screen.
"—slaughtered you," informed the Dungeon Master with some satisfaction.
Irritation creased Xander's forehead. Pointedly, he checked the sheet at his elbow. "Well then The White Lady casts 'Raise' and—"
Immediately, Andrew's dice spilled across the tabletop.
"She's dead too," he announced.
Xander tapped an annoyed finger at yet another character sheet and in response, Andrew rolled again.
"Dead, dead and dead."
Supremely aggravated, Xander leaned his chair backward.
"Two-person D&D sucks."
"I know," commiserated Andrew, "but I couldn't get anybody else to play. Which I thought was kind of weird, because this very thing is the bread and butter for the Slayer of Vampyres ..." He shrugged off his disappointment. "Maybe when you do it all day, it loses something." He pondered the predicament, obviously trying to think up some new distraction. "Wanna play Yu-Gi-Oh?"
Xander threw his hands behind his head. "Less than I want a drill in my skull," he sighed. "What I want is—"
The delicate balancing process was very nearly ruined at Giles' angry interruption, but Xander quickly recovered and righted the chair. "...not likely to be this," he finished with a wince.
Turning, he smiled sheepishly at Giles standing in the doorway to the recreation room. The Watcher appeared to be anything but pleased.
"My office. Now," he snapped. Without waiting for a response, Giles promptly spun on his heel and was soon gone from sight.
Xander exhaled with a heavy and long-suffering breath. "I love my job," he muttered before nodding to Andrew. "Thanks for the game."
Reluctantly, Xander pushed away from the table. Tossing the pencil onto the surface, he got to his feet. With a lazy roll, the pencil traversed the scattered pages, finally settling atop a character sheet reading, "Alexander the Great – Fighter."