Author: Tim Knight

Title: Wizards And Women

Copyright: December 2002
Rating: PG (Humor, Death Of A Weiner)

Spoilers: 
Buffy: Season 2 until Phases. Specific Episodes: None.
Highlander: Season 5 until Season finale. Richie Ryan lives and Season 6 does not take place.
Forgotten Realms: Any novel by Ed Greenwood, R. A. Salvatore, or Elaine Cunningham. Also, those crazy Wizards Three articles from Dragon Magazine.
Greyhawk: Heck if I know.

Keywords: Buffy/ Highlander/ Forgotten Realms/ Greyhawk.

Summary: During the biggest gaming convention of the year, a somewhat famous author gets some guests at his home; some expected and some not so expected.

Legalese:
All characters except those noted below with their respective rights, properties and copyrights are the 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 character Shaw Hunter is mine. Anyone wishing to use them may contact me at doobytim@aol.com.
The character Steve St. Wolf and the Knights of the Order of the Grail are property of Steve Pantovich, as is the universe in which this story takes place. Steve can be contacted at steve711@concentric.net.
The characters Robin Goodfellow and Liam Danahure are property of Mike Weyer. Mike can be contacted at SWERJ321@aol.com.
The character Edwin Giles is property of NorJC. He may be contacted at NorJC@aol.com.

Author's Notes: This story takes place in mid-August 2000, after Hellmouth Mode but about two weeks before Taking The Initiative by Mike Weyer and Immortal or Immoral by Anne Parnell.

Dedications:
First, to Steve, who lets us have our fun in his universe.
Second, to Jack "Super Editor" Caynon, who sometimes makes me think he’s just as responsible for you readers liking my stories as I am.
Third, to Mike, Anne, Drake, Malaskor, and Hawk, who liked this idea and agreed it would be fun and a nice change of pace from angsty type tales.

Here are the changes from your normal shows that may play a part in this story:

Buffy:
1. Due to her drowning death in Prophecy Girl, Buffy is a Highlander type Immortal.
2. The Wandererverse splits off after the episode Phases, so Jenny and Kendra are still alive. Jenny is engaged to Giles (if they aren’t married at this point <how about it, Grand High Poobah?!?>), they live together, and Jenny is continuing to teach at Sunnydale High School. Kendra is getting ready to start her junior year at UC Sunnydale and is dating a Knight of the Grail named Joe N’Gato.
3. Xander and Cordelia are still together, having moved in together in May of 1999. They are getting ready to begin their sophomore years at UC Sunnydale.
4. Willow and Oz are in the same situation as Xander and Cordy. Oz can control his werewolf changes except during the nights of the full moon. Willow is more powerful with her witchcraft than she was at the beginning of Season 5 of Buffy, but she shows little sign of becoming Dark Phoenix.
5. Amy joined the team in February of 1998 and eventually fell in love with Robin Goodfellow. She has thus far managed to keep herself from turning into a rat and keeps her blonde hair.
6. Jenny, Willow, Cordelia, and Amy are Amazons, given the blessing of the Goddess Artemis. Jenny is Artemis’ new High Priestess.
7. Despite no official confirmation in the Buffyverse, in the Wandererverse Giles’ father is alive and semi-retired from the Council.


Wizards And Women
(You Just Knew THIS Meeting Was Inevitable!)

Milwaukee Convention Center
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
11 August 2000

The crush and loudness of the Saturday crowds didn’t dim the spirits of the exhibitors, workers, volunteers, and most especially the gaming fans packing the Milwaukee Convention Center for GenCon 2000. As the crowds really started flowing in two hours after opening, the "celebrities" of the gaming industry were ready for the rigmarole that was going to be heading their way.

Salesmen and women arranged their products to entice new fans to join old ones. Guest speakers and actors who’d come to make speeches prepared for Q&A sessions from their legions of fans. And of course, there were the people who had the most to do with GenCon.

The game producers and fantasy authors.

They were the main attractions this year, with the release of the new "3rd Edition" Dungeons and Dragons game and several authors making personal appearances to sign autographs or talk about newly (or yet to be) published books.

Even though she’d been through it all before, Diana Tregarde found the gaming convention a refreshing change.

Not present were the hordes of middle-aged women wanting her to tell them how to spice up (or resurrect) their love lives. No, they’d been replaced by readers who wanted to know how she’d come to get into a collaboration with Cassandra Hastings and why she hadn’t done a fantasy novel long before now.

<Ye Gods,> she thought with a wry smile, <if you people only knew…>

She signed yet another autograph with a personal message and smiled at the fifteen-year-old girl who’d brought her copy of their co-authored book. The girl’s face lit up with a big smile and she took the book back, saying, "Thanks!"

Di did have to admit, she was stunned by just how many female gamers there were. It seemed like one out of every four to five people at the Con (as gamers preferred to call it) were females of all ages. And although she just knew she was going to have writer’s cramps by the end of Day 3 of this year’s Con, she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

She knew she and the woman next to her were only a half-hour away from a lecture/Q&A session that Cassandra had arranged a couple of months ago. Still, she didn’t mind. It would give her a break from holding the pen.

"You know, Cass," she said, signing a book belonging to a guy dressed as someone she assumed was Gandalf, "you were right. I should’ve done a fantasy years ago."

"Well, given how many of these fans turned out to be yours, I have to agree," Cassandra Hastings agreed with a smile. Di had no problems knowing that most of the fans were Cassie’s, not hers. It just opened up more people to her writing. "But I know you’re secretly happy we left this as a stand alone. You have enough on your plate without turning this into a series."

As the author of the Elven Bard series, her friend knew what she was talking about. Still, Di wondered if Morrie would be more enthusiastic to another collaboration than he’d been last year.

She smiled as Cassie wrote down her John Hancock into a copy of White Magic, Black Ops. "No kidding. And not just with the writing," she chuckled. "But still, I can’t believe this."

"What? The sales or the positive reviews across the board?" Cass teased her. She smirked and shrugged. "At least your usual critics are jumping on board with glowing comments."

"That too," the Guardian replied with twinkling eyes. She grinned at another fan and scribbled her name down. She smiled back at the forty-something man. "Here you go. Thanks for buying the book."

"Thanks for writing it." He nodded in appreciation and walked off. Di sent a quick glance at the head of the line, which one of the staff was cutting off, since they’d be doing their lecture shortly. She hoped they’d be clear to the disappointed fans that they would be back once their interviews were done, and that those fans that hadn’t gotten their books signed would be back.

She took a novel from a college girl with red hair and gave her a smile. "Good morning. How are you doing today?"

"Great, thanks!" Yes, this had to be one of her "usual" crowd. Di’s happy feelings grew stronger as she inked her name. She handed the novel back and the girl asked, "Can I get Miss Hastings’ autograph too?"

"Of course," she cheerfully agreed. She glanced at Cass who held a hand out for the book. "Thanks, Cass."

"Pleased to be of service," she joked in that cultured Scottish accent. "So did you enjoy the book?"

"Oh God yes! I still wish you’d spill how you came up with the idea for this book!" the young woman asked enthusiastically. "A witch who’s a princess gets kidnapped, and has to be rescued by the heroes, including those street kids, one of which is the half-elven girl’s half-sister? And using a fantasy version of a Green Beret was great! How did you come up with that idea?"

<You’d never believe me, kiddo,> Di groused with a mental sigh. "You might say it came to us and we decided to get even with some mutual acquaintances by putting them in the book. Consider it a joke of sorts on them."

"Can you tell us which ones?" she asked eagerly.

"Sorry, trade secret." <Besides, making the half-elven girl fall in love with the character obviously based on St. Wolf had Buffy freaked out enough as it is, according to Cass and Frank. >

The girl wasn’t too disappointed, thanking them and hurrying off in the direction of the lecture hall she and Cass would be occupying in a matter of minutes. She turned back to the last people in line and grinned at the costumed twins in front of her.

"Hi!" they chimed in together, although their costumes were totally different.

Di marveled at the detail of the outfits, knowing that the blonde haired, blue-green eyed girl on her left was a knight of some sort and the other was either a thief like the Grey Mouser, ranger like Aragon, or a musician like Will Scarlet by the faux harp strapped to her back. A quick flash of their auras also told her they were witches.

"Hey, kids. How are you," she asked congenially. She really enjoyed younger readers; they didn’t expect you to give them romantic advice. But she stiffened when she looked past their faces and saw the women standing behind them.

"Oh, no……"

"Hey, Mrs. T! How’s it hanging?" Faith Pryce said with her husky Boston voice. The brown haired New England beauty turned her attention to the Amazon next to her. "Hey, Cass. How’s tricks?"

Di just knew Cass was smiling without even looking at her. < If she set me up by bringing those two here, I’m gonna kill her…> "What are you two doing here?"

She shifted her eyes to Shaw Hunter, who unlike the twins in front of her and the Slayer, who was wearing a Grail Order breastplate with what she’d bet a hundred bucks was a genuine antique rapier at her hip, was dressed to kill in a flirtatious manner.

No, Shaw was wearing a showy, pale pink gown that gathered at the shoulders, came down and covered only her breasts while widening at the stomach, and going down as two trails, front and back. They left her pale legs exposed and Di saw a long cape made of the same silken material going down her back. Her eyes glimmered with the same amusement that Faith and the kids with them showed, and her black hair was done in an elaborate, braided coil. And ye Gods, the girl had her ears in plain sight, not even bothering to glamour them up to give them a human appearance!

<Hiding in plain sight is one thing, but doing it at a fantasy convention is ridiculous!> But Di really thought she looked good for the fighter she remembered wearing a t-shirt and spandex in a dojo. <Gods, has it really been a year and a half?> "Wow. You really did yourself up. Where did you get that outfit?"

By the way Shaw looked at Cass, she knew it had something to do with their Section Seven business. Di followed her glance and her co-author smiled. "About two weeks after that incident in Sunnydale," she said in a low voice, "Shaw found out her maternal grandmother was still alive."

"And since then, we have struck up a relationship," Shaw offered. "It seems she was a diplomat and ambassador on secret missions for many years, so she could not retain contact with my mother."

"We’ve been pretty busy," Faith grinned. "But we’re not here to mess with your minds, Author Dudettes. We’re on summer vacation before starting college next month and Shaw thought she’d come and check out the Con with her cuzzes."

"That’d be us," the apparent cousin on the right said with gleaming eyes. Yep, they had to be die-hard gamers. She’d gotten used to that look over the last two plus days.

"You must be Anna and Lizzie," Cass said with a warm voice. "Amy’s told me about you and that you’ve moved to Sunnydale with your mother?"

"Yeah, she wanted to get out of LA. It’s cheaper there," one of them said with a smile. "But now we’re closer to Amy and Shaw and… other things."

<Yep, they know,> Di decided. She saw that the foursome hadn’t just come to hassle her and Cass. Nope, all four had a copy of White Magic, Black Ops in hand; in fact, Shaw and Faith had two. <Ten to one odds they’re for those friends of theirs… David and Jessica.> "You’re all here for autographs," she said doubtfully. It couldn’t be that simple; her life never was.

"Yours, Cassandra’s, and some other authors," Shaw answered noncommittally.

Faith chuckled and Di just knew those two had to be up to something. "Let’s just say we got plans for tonight and it’s something long overdue in my book."

"What?" Cass asked. Di was surprised that she was in the dark, too.

"The name Eddie Greenwood mean anything to you?" the Boston Slayer asked with an evil smirk.

Di didn’t put it together until Cass leaned forward, a dark look on her face. "Please tell me you aren’t going to do what I think you might be planning to do."

"We are here for autographs," the pointy-eared fashion queen said. It didn’t fool Di for a minute. "I wanted to meet the man who writes the books that allow me to keep pace with happenings in the Realms."

Di knew all about Shaw’s real background, as did Sandra back in Sunnydale. It hadn’t been by choice, but Sandy had been very understanding about everything when she found out a lot of Shaw’s background had been false. <Because it had been to protect Shaw and her friends.>

Cass didn’t seem convinced. "You do know that Ed and I know each other on a personal level, don’t you? I don’t want you pulling anything insane, especially not in public."

"Cross our hearts," Faith answered first. Shaw’s vow was a simple, "I promise we will not pull anything."

"Okay." Cass relaxed, as did Di. "Now let’s see those books, you four. Di and I have a lecture to give."

Di accepted the copy from the twin in front of her and smiled again. At least it wasn’t boring.

*****

Ed Greenwood signed yet another book and "lamented" being one of the main events every year. A silent chuckle betrayed that he enjoyed his writing and giving entertainment to thousands of people each year. Of course, he could never tell them what was real and what was fiction, but he knew that his job made people happy.

He was signing The Temptation of Elminster, Elminster in Myth Drannor, and other fictions he’d penned over the last three years, as well as the new Halls of Stormweather, which he’d edited. He handed back a book and smiled through his thick, bushy black beard.

"Here you go, son," he said kindly. As the college student stepped aside to leave the line, four girls stepped up together and despite having seen a number of costumes in his career that had to tally in the quadruple digits, Ed was impressed by the detail these four had put into their outfits.

The girls in front were identical twins, blonde haired and blue eyed; they were tall but couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen. One wore what was probably meant to be plate armor while the other was in leather and had a harp strung to her back.

"Good morning," he said with a nod. "Now those are some of the best costumes I’ve seen yet this weekend."

The twin on his right, the one who was wearing leather armor, grinned back at him. "They better be, ‘cause we’re Realms characters!"

"Oh really?" he asked. He always liked when people enjoyed the Realms, because it meant he was still making people happy. "So who are your characters?"

The other twin clinked her finger on her breastplate. "I play Annila Ettinsbane, a paladin of Tyr from Waterdeep. Lizzie’s Yarina Harpspinner, a Ravens Bluff bard."

"I’m 9th level now, Anna’s 8th," Lizzie said. Ed wondered if they were trying to put a bug in his ear to publish their characters or just more enthusiastic than some. "It’s great to meet you, Elminster!"

Ed laughed even though it was an old joke, having people talk "in character." "The pleasure is mine, Mistresses Annila and Yarina." He arched an eyebrow at the older girls behind the twins and asked, "May I have the pleasure of your names, my Ladies?"

The one on his right, a black-haired teen in one of the most authentic elven-type costumes he’d seen this weekend, bowed to him and smiled, her hazel eyes shimmering with amusement. "I am a daughter of the House of Redstar of Evereska, ‘Lord’ Elminster."

She had two pendants on, one a very convincing unicorn head of Mielikki centered between her breasts, while higher up and in between her collarbones rested a four-pointed ruby pendant. < Too bad her ears are only about half as big as they should be. She looks more like a half-elf than a moon elf.>

Deciding to indulge these kids, the forty-one year old author switched to his Elminster voice. "Ah, lass, ‘tis always a pleasure to meet one of The People." He courteously nodded to her and looked at the last woman, a real beauty of about eighteen. "And who might you be, lassie?"

She smirked and chuckled, "Don’t look at me. I’m pure South Boston."

"FAITH!" the twins groaned, while the daughter of the Redstars’ shoulders started shaking as she laughed under her breath.

He joined her and said, "Ye have tomes ye wish me to autograph, lassies?"

The twins’ vexation disappeared very quickly and they shoved their books in his direction. He gladly signed them and looked to the older girls, but the Bostonian didn’t have anything for him. The "Mielikkian" handed him copies of Temptation of Elminster and Realms of Valor, the former being the original hardback edition.

"Could you please address these to Xander Harris? He is a friend of ours," she requested.

"Xander…" he mumbled, opening the cover to Temptation. "That’s very nice of ye to get autographs for him."

"Yeah, he’s gonna be real surprised," Faith said with a snicker. "He doesn’t even know we’re here."

<That’s even nicer of you,> he thought as he signed the second book. He handed them back to their owner and nodded. "There ye go, lass. Enjoy the convention, eh?"

"Oh, we will," she said with a tiny, mystifying smile. "Fare thee well… Elminster."

"And ye as well, lasses." He watched them leave and again thought that maybe they’d be contestants in the costume contest slated for tomorrow. They just might be in the running for some prizes.

<But again, the girl’s ears are just too small to be an elf… >

*****

Hilton Hotel
Across The Street From The Milwaukee Convention Center
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
11 August 2000

Shaw gritted her teeth when Faith jumped up and plopped on the big twin sized bed. "Faith!"

"What?" her sister said with a giggle. "Oh come on, we’re on vacation! Don’t tell me to play it serious and not jump on the bed."

"That rapier is over three hundred years old, Faith," she sighed, pointing at the blade belted to her hip. "And beyond the fact that it is literally worth thousands of dollars, I do not think Gabrielle would appreciate having a punctured mattress charged to the VAN corporate account by the hotel."

"Spoilsport," the Slayer said with a smile. Shaw gave her an even look and she at least unbelted the sword before lying back on the bed. She folded her arms behind her head and kicked her boots off before crossing her ankles. "It was nice of you to get the kiddies their own room. You sure that’s the smart thing to do, though?"

Shaw smiled and went through the business of manifesting Feasellityar and placing it on the blanket. She turned to her sister and said, "You know that if they had any idea what you and I have to do tonight, they would not let us get out of taking them with us."

"Too bad for them," she grinned, lazily looking at the ceiling. She tilted her head in her direction. "And nice use of the glamour there, Soul Sis."

Shaw froze and her smile vanished. "How did you…"

Faith laughed aloud and sat up, crossing her legs. "Oh come on, Hunter! You think I haven’t watched you finally get a healthy ego when it comes to looking hot? How else are you gonna wear the push-up without it showing through that party gown Grannie got you? Throw it on, pop the straps off, and do the glamour trick to match your skin or the gown. Elementary, my dear Elfie. Like I wasn’t gonna notice you stacking your rack."

"That way of putting it is truly disgusting, Faith." The ranger just shook her head and started removing her gown. She undid the electrum clasps that held the cape in place and removed it. She set it on the bed and started pulling the gown off her shoulders. "At least you are somewhat ready for tonight. You do not have to change."

"Yeah, but it’s too bad your ever lovin’ fiancée ain’t here to appreciate the strip tease," Faith teased her. She might have been surprised when Shaw laughed along with her. The Chosen One stood up and shrugged. "I’m gonna go in and get a quick shower, okay? How long we got?"

"A few hours." Shaw knew their timetable down to the quarter hour, thanks to a couple of friends. "Go ahead, Faith. I will be ready as soon as I can be."

"Gotcha."

Faith turned and headed into the large bathroom. Shaw still wondered if using the VAN corporate account wasn’t splurging a bit, but since Gabrielle had given her permission, she and Faith had seen no reason to argue. She cancelled the glamour that made the strapless top of her bra match her skin tone and stepped out of the pool of elven cloth that her Grandmother had given her over a year ago.

She was moving on automatic as she thought about the way she and Faith were registered under the VAN banner. She let a smile touch her face. <At least Gabrielle arranged things so that I did not get strange looks from the clerks for our titles. Security Consultant sounds legitimate and fits Faith. But ‘Spiritual Relations?’ Gabrielle, thank you so much for changing it to Industrial and Foreign Relations for the purposes of this trip.>

Of course, it had been some quick negotiations with Keighvin Silverhair that had landed VAN Ltd with some of Fairgrove Industries’ experimental racing motors at a premium price. This trip to Milwaukee with Faith and the twins was pretty much her reward for a job well done.

Shaw sat on the edge of the bed as her sharp elven ears picked up the sound of shower water running. She slipped off the thin-soled sandals from Evereska and once again, just like every other time she’d worn them, started rubbing her sore feet. <Goddess, I told Grandmother those things are too thin! Give me running shoes, hiking boots, or ballet slippers any day.> It was just too bad they didn’t go with the gown.

Shaw stood back up and stretched a bit, loosening up her muscles. She walked over to the dresser and picked out the clothes she wanted to wear tonight.

Yes, tonight was going to settle some things that had plagued her mind for two years.

*****

Greenwood Farm
Near Cobourg, Ontario, Canada
11 August 2000

A glimmer of silver white lights heralded the arrival of a middle-aged, bearded man. He smiled and pulled off the ring that had allowed him to come home in between days at the convention.

<Of course, knowing an archmage or two has its advantages. Like a ring of spell storing stacked with teleport spells? It saves me money on hotel fare.>

He respectfully placed the ring on his coffee table and headed into the kitchen. Greenwood opened up the freezer and noted the types of ice cream he had handy. <And knowing him, if he has his way, he’ll turn this meeting into another love fest. It’s happened before…>

He set up the proper flavors and then moved onto picking out the plates and bowls his guests would need. The writer then moved out into the living room and turned on the TV, waiting for things to liven up a bit.

He barely watched a half-hour of CNN reports before a light manifested itself in the middle of the living room. Ed stood up, grinning from ear to ear. A spinning column of light formed and then dissipated, leaving an old, bearded man dressed in robes standing in his house.

"Good to see you again, El."

"Aye, lad, good to see ye again too," replied Elminster Aumar, Chosen of Mystra, archmage, and one of Ed’s closest friends. "So ye managed to con yer way out of another of those nighttime live games, did ye?"

"I did my time last night," he chuckled. He stroked his black beard, which in reality was a near match for El’s. "I’ll give you two guesses who they had me play."

Elminster didn’t dignify that with a response. "It’s a good thing ye play the role at these Cons, lad. I’m not that good an actor."

The two men, a mighty wizard and popular author, shared a laugh and sat down. Ed sat in his chair while El took a seat on the couch. "Okay, El, so who’s meeting with you and Mordenkainen tonight? I suppose they’re female, right?"

"Nay, lad, I don’t plan on any wee lasses joining us tonight," he ruefully said. His finger lit up in a shower of sparks and he lit his meershaum pipe. Contentedly puffing a few smoke circles, the Old Mage said, "Tonight’ll be pretty straightforward; trading news, rumors, spells, and information on magic for ye to print up for yer fans. I tell ye, lad, when we first started doing this thirty years ago, I would never have believed how far this would go."

"I like to think that my writing skills had a little to do with it," Greenwood chuckled. "And don’t you go telling me that big egos lead to bigger falls. I’ve heard it before."

"Aye, that ye have," El smiled through his white beard. He tapped the pipe but the falling ashes disappeared in mid-fall, vanishing elsewhere. "We’re going to be talking in yer woods, see, but just in case, it’s the usual for ye."

"You know, just once…" Ed shook his head. "You know he knows I’m listening."

"Aye, but it’s the illusion that we’re givin’ him some privacy that counts. But I’ll tell ye what, lad; I’ll ask him if from now on, ye can sit and listen in with us."

"I am the host, so to speak," Ed said, a hopeful look on his face. "If he agrees, then tonight will be worth it. Almost."

"Now, now, laddie," El told him, pointedly nodding towards the suit of museum quality armor standing in the corner. "In ye go."

"Ah, the things I do for my fans," Ed sighed dramatically.

*****

Elminster felt the manifestation of magic a full second before it could be registered with mundane senses. He turned and called several deadly enchantments to mind, just in case this wasn’t Mordenkainen. <Even away from home and on one of any number of alternate Earths, one can’t be too careful, even… nay, especially on my favorite Earth.>

The glimmer of a teleportation spell flared into the visible spectrum for three seconds before dissipating and leaving in its place a tall, handsome man of apparent middling years. His black hair was streaked with gray at the temples and his neatly trimmed beard had light silver streaks shot through it. El took a second to verify with his magical senses what his eyes already told him.

He relaxed at the knowledge that this indeed was Mordenkainen, Lord Mage of Greyhawk, and protector or Oerth. The other archmage nodded gravely and bid him welcome. "It has been too long, Elminster."

"Aye, my friend, it has." He extended a hand and the two shook, a rare show of great trust between powerful wizards. "I apologize for it being so long since last we talked, but things have been rather… hectic lately."

"You mean with the Zhentarim finally making headway and gaining control of the Moonsea area, Manshoon dividing himself into about twenty or so clones and wreaking havoc across Faerun, Shar and this Shadow Weave of Hers, and Khelben splitting from the Harpers and forming his own plans?" El sighed as Mordenkainen nodded in understanding. "Did I miss any of the major happenings?"

"Nay, lad, ye didn’t. But I can promise ye that Khel’s purpose is still true. The Blackstaff has other priorities on his mind right now." El gave his counterpart from Oerth a careful look. "He still has the betterment of Faerun in mind. So ye don’t have to worry about him coming to Oerth for dark purposes."

"That fails to set my mind at ease, El," the younger wizard said, chewing his lower lip. "After all, he is a wizard."

El laughed a bit and Mordenkainen joined him. The last of the line of Aumar sat down on one of the thick logs he’d set around the campfire and nodded for his friend to do the same. "So are things as lively where ye come from?"

"More or less. War, peace, the cycle repeats." Mordenkainen smiled at the sight of those hot dogs that El just couldn’t stand. "Ah. Weiners. Your scholarly host remembered."

"He could hardly forget after ye teleported every single last one out of his pantry the last time we gathered," El noted with a raised eyebrow. "He even remembered the relish."

"Good." Mordenkainen helped himself to a hot dog, bun, and a number of condiment containers began levitating and opening by themselves. "Ah, this is one of the things I like about this neutral world, El. Say what you will about their technology, they have great foods."

"Aye, depending on your taste." <I prefer pralines and cream ice cream meself, lad.> El started making himself a sandwich with cold cuts. "So where do ye want to start? New spells the lads and lasses ye watch have come up with, current events, or magic new and old?"

*****

The dark clad figure watching the mighty wizards smiled an evil grin as they sat down, apparently oblivious to the fact they were being watched. It didn’t mean they were in the dark about her; in fact, she assumed they knew but didn’t think her a threat.

If that was the case, so much the better. After all, the least obvious could sometimes be the most dangerous.

*****

Ed heard everything loud and clear from inside his armor. As usual, he hated these summer meetings, even at night, because the armor was just so blasted hot. Still, he couldn’t complain. He had articles to do and this would help him flesh out one or two.

He simply relaxed as best one could in a stationary position like the one he found himself in and listened to the mages making small talk. Not for the first time, he wondered what it must be like to be a wizard with the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.

<El doesn’t mention it too often, but I know the years have worn on him.> Ed knew Elminster considered him a friend, and the Old Mage had told him more than once that this neutral ground he used to talk to equals and friends was a great gift that few of his rank could ever enjoy. <I wonder just how many of his rank there are that I don’t know about…>

Ed’s thoughts were derailed by the sound of something in the living room. He stopped concentrating on listening to the wizards’ conversation and tried to pick up any stray sounds in his immediate surroundings. He thought he heard breathing but after a few seconds, he shook it off. <Stupid visor. It would help if I had a wider field of vision.>

He started to relax but froze to the bone in fear when the slits of the visor were suddenly covered by something, leaving him in darkness. With a soft squeak of metal, the visor was lifted and Ed found himself staring into a feminine face.

With a shock, he realized he’d seen this woman just that day, hundreds of miles away!

The hazel-eyed, black-haired elfwoman arched a thin eyebrow and said, "We need to talk."

*****

It had taken a good fifteen minutes, but obviously the woman whose books he’d autographed in Milwaukee knew her way around a suit of armor. Although he was totally stumped by her knowledge of plate mail, let alone her appearance, he found himself strangely curious as to what in God’s name was happening here.

<Somehow, I don’t think she came here for more autographs. >

He also marveled at the change in her appearance. Gone was the elven gown; in its place were a nice-looking leather jacket, blue jeans that he’d seen worn by dancers who favored those extra seams in the crotch, and black ankle boots. The thing that he couldn’t let go of, however, was the fact that while her hair was now tied into a simple tail that fell halfway down her back, her ears were still those of a half-elf (by his experience, at least).

As she placed the armor back into place, he decided to see if she was willing to speak again. "I suppose I should ask how you followed me here."

She looked at him, her eyes inscrutable. "Teleport without error spell."

<Great.> That didn’t bode well. High-ranking wizards and sorcerers only used that spell. "So you say we need to talk, Miss…"

She smiled at him and it made him a little more comfortable. "I go by the last name of Hunter these days, Mister Greenwood."

He nodded, it was good enough for now. "So what brings you here, Miss Hunter?"

She paused and started removing her jacket. He stiffened as the shoulder holster she wore over the black, short sleeve shirt that tightly hugged her body came into view. Apparently sensing his discomfort, she promptly unbuckled it and set it on the coffee table. She then pulled out a longsword that gleamed with a soft white light and also laid it down.

She glanced at the chair and back at him. Knowing what she was silently asking him, he said, "Go ahead. Please."

"Thank you," the elven woman said softly, gracefully sitting down. She waited for him to do the same and folded her hands together. "I will not take up much of your time, Mister Greenwood. Suffice it to say, Storm and the Lady Mielikki told me of Elminster’s arrival tonight. So I wanted to, shall we say, have some fun at his expense while also meeting you."

"I see…" Okay, he didn’t see, but he figured she would get to the point.

She smiled at him before going on. She leaned back in the chair and took a deep breath. "Without getting into too many specifics, as I am under orders not to reveal certain things to those who do not know, I am from Faerun." Before he could say anything else, she spoke to him in the COMMON tongue of the Realms! ((I was born in Evereska, but raised in Deepingdale, Master Greenwood. I am fifty-five years old and have lived on Earth since May of 1998.))

He took a few moments to regain his composure. A half-elf from the Dales who carried a Beretta?!? Now this was something that whetted his curiosity! He leaned forward and said, "And you know Elminster?"

"Oh yes," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Although only casually." Her eyes furrowed, as if she was considering something. She turned her face back to him and said, "The next time you journey to Shadowdale, ask Storm about Shawukay Redarrow. She can tell you what she knows. Tell her I gave you my permission."

"Shawukay…" He knew that had to be her name. "So what brings you here, Shawukay? I mean, I don’t think you just came here to get books autographed."

He knew he was a little tense, but despite his long relationship with El, this was hardly a common occurrence. The woman crossed her legs at the calves and smiled.

"When I first came to Earth, I had been considered ‘missing in action’ by the Harpers for over a decade. I escaped what can only be described as a living Hell and, for the first three months I was here, I wanted to return home. But there were things about me, some of which I cannot in good conscience discuss, that showed me I was destined to stay here." She paused and waited, in case he wanted to ask her anything.

He decided to wait until he knew more about this strange visitor. "Go ahead, Miss Hunter."

"Thank you," Shawukay said, brushing some loose hair out of her eyes. "What I think I am allowed to tell you is that one of my ancestors was an American. The twins you met today are my cousins, three to four generations removed." A flash of amusement glinted in her eyes. "And if they knew I was here talking to you right now, they would kill me for not bringing them."

That got Ed to laugh. <Yes, they did seem the type to want to see something like this.> "So you’re part Earth woman. That’s understandable. I know that it’s happened before, in Mulhorand."

"Yes…" she muttered. She glanced at the wall and he thought she was imagining the meeting taking place outside. "When I first learned about the Realms as a gaming ‘thang,’ to use American vernacular, I was livid. I do not deny it. But when I started reading the books…" She paused and bowed her head. Her eyes closed and her voice dropped to almost a whisper. "I began to read the books, thanks to the insistence of some friends." Her eyes fixated on him and he saw thankfulness in them. "Beyond the fact that I greatly enjoy the stories, it allowed me to learn what had happened while I was away. I was able to know what goes on. And…"

She stood up and he did the same. She walked around the table and, reaching up on her tiptoes, placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. "You also helped me learn more about myself." She backed up and he searched her face, as she did his. "While Earth is my home now, you have allowed me to see that I can go home again, even if it is only for a visit. And you do it in a way that allows me to vastly enjoy myself. I cannot thank you enough for that."

Ed took a short amount of time to gather his thoughts. This was a kind of thanks he’d never even dreamed he might receive from someone; it was way beyond his experience. So, he just smiled and nodded to her for her gratitude. "You just did, Miss Hunter. I’m glad to do it."

"I know." She picked up her sword and put it back wherever she put it. Ed assumed it was some kind of extra dimensional space. Nothing new. "If I might make a request, though? Something of a personal nature?"

"Of course. What is it?"

*****

Shaw breathed easier and instinctively knew he would agree to what she was about to ask of him. She reached into her pants pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper. She handed it to him and watched him open it to read.

"Those are the names of relatives of mine, on both sides of my family, whether ancestors or living kin. I want to ask you that they not be put into anything dealing with the game or novels. I…" He looked at her, curiosity in his dark eyes. "I appreciate what you do and I enjoy the writing of you and the other authors, but… I simply would like my family to retain some anonymity and privacy. If it is agreeable to you."

"I have no problem with that, Shawukay," he said gravely. She saw him smile in a way that Elminster sometimes did and she saw why they had become such friends. "But how about you? Would you mind if I had some of your adventures for a novel?"

"I would ask that you not do that," she said with a laugh.

Ed’s grin was even more mischievous; obviously he wouldn’t give up that easily. "Out of respect for your privacy?"

"That," she replied, smirking ala her Soul Sister, "and the little fact that Cassandra and Diana already own the copyright to me as a literary character."

Ed’s smile vanished upon her putting it in business terms. "What?!?"

"Ask them," she said. <I wish I could see the looks on their faces when he does ask them tomorrow…>

*****

Faith heard her Sis coming up behind her and grinned. "You didn’t give him too much grief, didja?"

"Actually, the meeting went very well," Redeye told her with a smile. Faith read that as one of her "I’m glad I did this" grins. "I thanked him for what he does."

"Good for you, Hunter." She turned back to looking at the old guys and cocked an eyebrow. "So we outta here? Or do we give ol’ El some grief?"

"What do you think?" Sis asked her.

<I shoulda known better. Damn I’ve done good work with her! >

*****

Elminster felt the approach of two magical signatures and glanced at Mordenkainen. He felt it too and stood up, arcane energy starting to ripple in his hands. Faerun’s representative scanned the woods with his eyes to try and pick up them visually, so he could target them with a spell if need be. He hoped it was just some trespassers or lost hikers, so that he could wipe their minds and leave them with some pleasant, if imprinted, memories of the night.

He made out two shadows and prepared to cast a holding spell when one of them raised their hands and shouted, "Well met, Old Fart."

The spell faded from the forefront of his mind as he recognized the voice and started sputtering. "What in the Nine Hells?!?"

To his immense dread, two people he’d met a year and a half ago stepped into the clearing and grinned at him with what he considered sadism directed at himself.

Shawukay Redarrow and Faith Pryce waved to him and shouted, "Whassssup!"

<Ye Gods no…> He gritted his teeth but remembered, however reluctantly, to wave Mordenkainen that these children were no threat. "What in the name of Merciful Mystra are ye doing here?!?"

It was his old friend’s great-granddaughter who cocked her head and answered him. "I had some business with the scribe of fictional and not-so-fictional events. Nothing more."

"WHAT?!?" he bellowed. Ohhh, how he wished he could do something about that! "Are ye daft, girl?!?"

The other one, the American Vampire Slayer who Khel had told him was the reincarnation of Shawukay’s unfortunately lost twin sister, waved him down. As if that could calm him. "Hey, El, cut Sis here a break. She just wanted to thank him for the books and stuff. Remember where she was stuck for all those years?"

El blinked; oh, he knew all right. <And if I had known ye were there, I would’ve given Storm some bloody peace…> His ancient mind was still keen as the sharpest sword, so he could guess why she’d taken to reading about the Realms here on Earth. "Ye used them to get up to speed, and so ye took it upon yerselves to come here and thank him?"

"I could hardly do it in public," she said. He had to agree with her there. She smirked behind her shades and added, "Besides, there was a limit to the autographs I could get from him with people behind me in line."

That told him where they’d first gotten him in their sights and started him sputtering again. <The bloody girl went to a bloody convention?!?!?> "Lass, where in Mystra’s name are yer bloody senses!"

"Keep in mind I have to work with Merlin’s champion now," she countered. "And as much as I wish things were different, I cannot give the mighty archmage of Camelot all the grief I give to wizards, when I have other outlets for that grief."

El heard a dignified chuckle coming from his right and turned to Mordenkainen. "Enjoying yerself, laddie?"

"Immensely," he said with twinkling gray eyes. "It’s nice to see what kind of Harpers the dear Lady Silverhand is turning out these days."

"Don’t remind me," Elminster said with a roll of his eyes. He waved to the girls in turn. "Shawukay Redarrow, a Forestarm who’s living with Earth kin in California. Faith Pryce of Boston, who’s the current Vampire Slayer and responsible for some mischief in Deepingdale two years ago. All in all, good folk for children." He glared at the smiling girls who were just too much trouble for any one archmage to deal with patiently. "I take it that you at least had more reason to come all this way than to mess with me mind, Shawukay?"

"Ah, Spockette here has some cousins who’re diehard Realms players. We’re on summer vacation and thought it’d be fun to bring ‘em to meet the master himself. Simple as that."

Faith’s answer gave him little relief. What relief he did get was that they hadn’t brought those cousins with them! He puffed on his pipe, hoping that Shawukay would show a little maturity. "And although I shudder to ask ye, lass, what other mischief do ye plan on inflicting this weekend? Ye Gods, even here I can’t get away from some sort of agony."

The girls shared a look and turned back to him. In perfect unity, they asked, "Ego much?"

Shawukay gave him a short, concise briefing of her strictly unauthorized talk with his friend Edward, fielding his questions even when he raised his voice and barked at her. He wasn’t happy about it at all, but he grudgingly respected her wanting to let her family’s lives (and particularly their tragedies) not be printed for hundreds of thousands of readers to see.

"Okay, lass. I’m not pleased with yer crazy antics, but I have to respect yer wishes, because it’s yer right." He took a deep puff of his pipe and asked her, "Do ye want me to give yer regards to anyone back home?"

She paused before nodding. "Storm, of course. My grandmother, if you can make time to visit Evereska without compromising your duties."

"I’m compromising me duties now because of yer antics, child," he groaned. He just gave Faith a glare at her superior smile. <Gods, she goes from a half-elven babe who could’ve made a difference in Faerun to an Irish American Vampire Slayer. If she was needed here more, she must have a destiny worth knowing about.> "And ye, lass? I don’t think the drow have recovered from yer little trip two years ago."

"Yeah, if you meet Kith, Teddy, or Larzie, drop ‘em a ‘hi’ from me, okay? Thanks."

He was surprised by that. <Maybe Merlin’s boy is having a good effect on them after all.> "I’ll see to it. Now if ye don’t mind, could ye lasses leave us to our business?"

"Of course," Shawukay said with a flawless bow he just knew in his soul was mockery. "Enjoy the hot dogs," she chuckled, prompting more irritating laughs from Mordenkainen.

"Do shut up, lad," he moaned as they headed back into the woods.

*****

"Why didn’t you tell him you just saw bro, sis-in-law, and your niece a month ago?" Faith asked her.

Shaw smiled at her and Slayer Supreme just knew she was up to something. "Why should I tell him when Grandmother can describe the look on his face the next time she visits?"

Faith grinned. "You’re evil, Sis."

"I learned from the best. Of course, that is not even the best part."

"What is?"

Redeye took her shades off and let her get a gander at her heat vision. Her voice was pure cruelty when she said, "Who will he likely complain to about us letting them visit us in Sunnydale?"

"I’d think Mer…" She stopped, her jaw dropping open as Hunter’s plan hit her. Her open mouth curled into a wide, eager smile. "Oh Goddess, you crazy girl! What the Heck is gonna happen?!?"

"Personally, I think Merlin will say it is getting even with Elminster for letting the Simbul hijack us for the mission to Ea last Thanksgiving. What is good for the Terran is good for the Torilian…"

Shaw reached over and Faith took her hand so Shaw could trigger the teleport ring "their" bro had recharged last month. As they vanished, the gay laughter emanating from their throats seemed to linger, haunting the nighttime woods.

The End

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