Buffy surveyed the wreckage. “I take one little trip into the future and this happens. It’s a mess, guys. We’re never gonna get the dirt out.”
“It’s probably valuable dirt,” Xander pointed out. “Owlbear blood, for instance. Any gamer would just love to own a set of dice that had been dipped in it.”
“Oh, yes,” Andrew sighed. “I’ve already dipped all mine.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I don’t even want to know. I just want it cleaned up, guys.” She strode away but came to a halt after a few steps. “Eww! What have I just stepped in?”
Dawn blushed. “Sorry, Buffy. I’m not used to being a centaur and, well, there are things I haven’t learned to control yet.”
Buffy screwed up her mouth. “Like, double eww. And it’s not as if we even have any rose bushes.”
“There is an advertisement for a cleaning firm in the local paper,” Andrew pointed out. “Castle Cleaners. It sounds just right.”
“Okay, I’ll check it out,” Buffy said. “I wonder if they can do anything with stylish yet horribly stained boots.”- - - - -
Buffy entered the offices of the cleaning firm and immediately noticed a couple of things about the proprietor. It was hard not to notice them. ‘They can’t be real,’ she thought immediately. She fought a hard, but successful, battle to stop her eyeballs from popping out and falling to the floor. She’d thought that Ilona Costa Bianca, head of the Rome branch of Wolfram & Hart, had been well endowed in that department but this woman made Ilona look like an ironing board.
She was a lot younger and prettier than Ilona too, and at least as well dressed, Buffy noticed; once she had managed to tear her gaze away from a cleavage that formed a crevasse sufficient to challenge the nerve of teams of experienced Sherpas. The cut of the proprietor’s top and tailored jacked screamed ‘designer original’. Not that any chain-store garments would have been able to cope with that incredible body.
“Welcome to Castle Cleaners. How may I help you?” the woman asked.
Buffy wasn’t an expert on British accents but she’d picked up enough to be able to tell that it wasn’t a local accent. Well, maybe local to Balmoral; it was the kind of crisp upper-class voice that she’d heard described as ‘cut glass’. “Uh, I, we, have a castle that kinda needs cleaning,” she said.
“Well, that certainly sounds very much in our line,” the proprietor said. Full red lips curved up in a smile. “I’m Lara Croft, owner of Castle Cleaners, and I think that you will find our services eminently satisfactory.”
“Uh, yeah, I’m sure I will,” Buffy said. She forced herself to look at everything but Lara Croft’s breasts and noticed that the rest of the body was in superb physical shape. Slim, lithe, with the taut muscles of a top athlete, perhaps a pro tennis player, but with a slight hint of calluses on the knuckles that pointed towards the martial arts. “I, uh, if you don’t mind me saying this, you don’t exactly look like you should be in the, uh, cleaning business.”
“Oh, I don’t scrub floors myself,” Lara Croft said. She threw back her head as she laughed and her long, lustrous, red-brown hair gleamed as it swung with the motion. “I have people to do that for me. I just give the orders. For really hard physical work I can call upon my husband.”
“Oh, right,” Buffy said. “Uh, this is a kinda unusual job. The castle got, well, kinda blown up by a missile. Then there was a battle in the forest, and all kinds of, uh, blood and sap and stuff got trodden into the, uh, what was left of the carpets.”
“Ah, yes,” said Lara Croft. “I heard about that. Dryads, elves, even an owlbear.”
“You know about owlbears?”
“I have the head of one mounted above my fireplace,” Lara said. “I shot it on the slopes of Mount Koshtan-Tau, in Kabardino-Balkaria, near the Russian-Georgian border.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Sounds pretty... exciting.”
“I lived an exciting life,” Lara Croft revealed. “I was the world’s premier archaeological investigator. A treasure hunter, you could say, retrieving ancient artefacts from remote and hazardous locations. I had to give it up, alas. I developed Repetitive Strain Injury in my trigger fingers. I decided to go in for a rather different sort of cleaning up, instead of looting tombs, and so I set up this firm and named it after my castle. ‘Croft’ means ‘a one-man farm’ in Scotland and I didn’t feel that it conveyed the right image.” Her eyes twinkled. “I learned a lot of things in my career,” she revealed, “and I know all about the Slayer.”
“Well, that will save a lot of explanation,” Buffy said. “So, right, there’s smoke damage, bloodstains from all kinds of fairytale creatures, only these ones were all mean and nasty, and, uh, there’s centaur manure.”
“Centaur manure, you say?” A carefully shaped eyebrow rose and the corners of those ruby lips turned up.
Buffy detected an acquisitive gleam in Lara’s eyes and spoke hastily to pre-empt a possible incident. “The centaur is my sister,” she revealed. “There was, uh, kind of a magical accident. I’d rather she wasn’t stuffed, uh, mounted, uh, stuck up over your fireplace.”
“Oh.” The eyebrow descended. “Very well. No centaur trophy. Just the cleaning, then. It does sound like there may be some heavy physical work involved. I’ll call my husband.” Lara turned from her desk to face a rear door. “Olaf, darling, there is work for you.”
Buffy looked at the doorway. She was interested to see what Lara’s husband was like. Olaf sounded Scandinavian; perhaps he was a Nordic skiing champion, a ski-jumper maybe, something like that. He would be tall, blond, and handsome, no doubt; probably rich too.
Her jaw dropped as she saw the man in question emerging from the back of the shop. He was tall, yes, seven feet or so. Blond, not so much; a mane of long red hair hung to his shoulders. Handsome, definitely not. And she knew him.
“Work is good,” said Lara’s husband, “especially as you always reward me with merry sport. I shall...” His eyes fell on Buffy. “Thor’s beard!” he exclaimed. “It is the Slayer.”
Buffy backed away slightly to gain room for fighting. She wished she’d worn a more practical skirt and boots with lower heels. Steel toecaps would have been good, too. “Uh, hello, Olaf,” she said.
“Hah!” Olaf grunted. “Your witch sent me to a very cold place. I would be ill pleased with you had it not turned out so well in the end.”
“I found Olaf entombed in ice, frozen in a glacier, while I was searching for Viking relics on Jan Mayen Island,” Lara said. “The legendary Land of the Trolls, colonised during the Lesser Climatic Optimum, but now permanently icebound. Global warming is just starting to make inroads into the ice sheet.”
“Uh, sorry about that, Olaf,” Buffy said.
“I forgive you,” Olaf said, “as it led to me meeting the most lovely Lara. I will not pillage your crops or dwellings this time.”
“Just clean them,” Lara said. “I think there may be rubble to shift, too.”
“I shall prepare myself,” Olaf said, “and give orders to the thralls.”
“That’s ‘employees’,” Lara corrected him. “Yes, do that.”
Olaf tucked an industrial vacuum cleaner under his arm and went back out through the door. Buffy watched him go and then leaned towards Lara Croft. “Uh, you might think this is kinda, well, impolite,” she said, “but I can’t help wondering what you see in him. You could have pretty much any man you wanted and, well, he’s a troll.”
“He’s tall, incredibly strong, and utterly brave,” Lara said, “and he was a great adventuring partner. It was very useful having a back-up who could strangle a tiger or throw a yeti off a cliff. When I decided to retire I couldn’t face not having him around. He turned out to have certain other talents, too.”
“Uh, ‘merry sport’ talents?”
“Indeed so,” Lara said, with a wicked grin, “and I wasn’t exactly put off by his penis being big enough to have its own Postcode.”
“Uh...” Buffy’s eyes glazed over. “I, uh, think I’ll go home now and get ready for the cleaning. And there’s some cleaning of my own I’m gonna do. I’ll have to scrub my brain out with soap.”- - - - -
Xander, carrying a brush and shovel, met Buffy at the castle door. “So, you hired the cleaners?”
“I did,” Buffy confirmed. “They’re an... interesting couple. Olaf the Troll God – yes, that Olaf – and his wife Lara Croft. She’s an upper-class English lady with an incredible, uh, rack, three black belts, the fastest draw East of Timbuktu, a Ph.D. in archaeology, an Olympic standard fencer, and a former world hang-gliding champion. He’s a seven-foot troll, stronger than a locomotive, and unfortunately less intelligent than one. He can’t leap tall buildings at a single bound but he can knock them down.” She grinned. “Together, they fight grime.”The End
Disclaimer: Buffy, Xander, Andrew and Dawn (in this incarnation) belong to Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics, Olaf to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Lara Croft is the property of Eidos Interactive.