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This story is No. 2 in the series "Magical Mystery Tour". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy and Xander try to get back home from the hell dimension Acathla dropped them in.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > FantasyGreywizardFR18310,38414114,96317 Sep 094 Dec 12Yes

Chapter Two

Author's Note 1: This is entry #21 for the 2012 August Fic-A-Day Challenge.


Author's Note: Dragon Poker is a canon card game in Aspirin's M.Y.T.H universe and the rules for it can be found here: Enjoy!

And try not to lose too much while playing it! ;-)


The Barfing Dragon Inn
Northeast sector of The Bazaar

"So, why'd you two decide to jump into that little scuffle and help out my apprentice?"

Taking a moment to think about the question, Xander figured he could be forgiven for wondering if he was dreaming.

After all, he was sitting here in the company of the woman that he'd, quite literally, fallen head over heels for, just seconds after first laying eyes on her several years ago in his personal timeline, along with some rather scruffy-looking teenager (who, truthfully, sorta reminded him rather strongly of himself at that age, and who had an honest-to-god pet dragon, for god's sake!), as well as a woman with bright green hair and who was dressed (or undressed) like she was auditioning for a Vegas leather bar chorus line, and they were sitting in the middle of an inn that looked like it was straight out of some sort of Hollywood fantasy film, opposite a being who also looked like it – or rather, he – would have been cast as the stereotypical evil, scaly, green, demony, evil type guy in the same fantasy movie.

Except, of course, for the fact that the scaly, green, demony villain type guy was much more typical of the inhabitants of this super-duper, über-mall type Bazaar thing that he and Buffy had ended up in, after escaping the hell-like dimension they'd been transported to after stopping Angelus from activating Acathla and opening up a portal to Hell, than either he or Buffy were.

Add in the fact that the green, scaly, not-a-villain demony guy – who'd introduced himself as 'Ahz' – was a wizard ("And I've already heard all of the 'Wizard of Ahz' jokes you could possibly come up with, so don't waste my time, okay, kids?"), who the kid they'd rescued from the local version of Neanderthal Larry was apprenticed to...and it certainly seemed like he and Buffy might have actually stumbled into good luck, as opposed to the usual, 'Hey, look, there's an apocalypse heading out way' kind that used to show up anytime the Scooby Gang thought they might have caught a break.

"Mostly because that dimwit really reminded me of a certain mook I knew back home, who used to pick on people smaller than him, and I decided to not wait around and see if he really was just as obnoxious as Larry himself," Xander said as he reached for the mug of what was supposed to be the local equivalent of coffee and took a sip.

"If he hadn't decided to beat up your apprentice, here, I wouldn’t have done anything to him, at all," Xander shrugged as he set his mug back down.

"I could've handled the situation by myself," Ahz's apprentice, who'd introduced himself as Skeeve, after Buffy and Xander had intervened in the would-be assault, interjected somewhat indignantly.

"I'm not saying you couldn't have," Xander replied calmly enough. "On the other hand, six against one odds aren't something you usually want to have to deal with where we come from, at least not if you don't have to, so you don't have to get all riled up about us helping out."

"Y'see, the Larry we knew seemed to take a lot of pride in being a complete jerk, and he used to pick on a lot of people we knew," Buffy chimed in with an expansion of Xander's explanation.

"So, when we saw what that idiot was doing, we decided to step in and help out," she said with a shrug that seemed to indicate that her explanation was the most natural thing in the world and gave the three natives one of her best 'I'm just an extremely cute and completely harmless and non-threatening little blonde cheerleader' looks as she cuddled a bit closer to Xander's side.

"I see," Ahz nodded, as he reached out and picked up what looked like a pewter mug filled to the brim with some rather vile-looking concoction which intermittently gave off small puffs of a greenish-blue smoke. Close by, Skeeve seemed somewhat mollified by Buffy's explanation and the green-haired woman Buffy thought looked like a prospective Vegas stripper – who had been introduced by Skeeve as Tanda – merely looked at her and Xander speculatively.

"So, where are you two kids running away from?" Tanda then asked, having apparently decided to interject herself into the conversation as the scaly, green, not-really-demonic wizard gulped down more of the noxious-smelling brew with what looked to be satisfied approval, which was followed by a loud belch, followed by a not really all that sincere-sounding, "Sorry. Please excuse me."

"What makes you think that we're running away from anyone or anything?" Buffy asked as she turned to look at the other woman, another 'I'm completely innocent of anything' expression on her face. For someone who claimed to hate Japanese Anime, Buffy could put those girls to shame, Xander thought suppressing a chuckle.

"'Cause kids your age, who show up here at the Bazaar, without any adults along for the ride, are usually running away from their parents, or the local authorities, or in some cases, their parents who *are* the local authorities," Tanda said in answer to Buffy's response.

"That may be true, but *usually* isn’t the same as *always*. See, we're not running away from anything or anyone," Xander stated as he watched the not-a-demon wizard replace the mug on the table after taking yet another gulp of whatever gods-awful brew was inside. "In fact, that's the complete opposite of what we're trying to do.

"We were sorta working on this interdimensional portal back home, when there was some sort of accident – and when things finally got straightened out, Buffy and I found ourselves in some sort of hell-dimension," he explained.

"After we were there a few days, we found a cave with a whole bunch of stuff in it, and it turns out that one of the things was some sort of dimensional transporter, and when we used it, we ended up here," Xander elaborated his explanation, keeping as close to the truth of the matter as he felt was responsible, while not disclosing more information than he thought was prudent.

"Like Xand said, what we're looking for is a way to figure out the easiest way to get back home again," Buffy again chimed in with an endearing smile.

"Well, you're definitely in the right place if you want to find someone to help you do that, because there's sure to be someone here at the Bazaar who could figure those things out for you," Ahz declared with complete confidence before he gave the two people from Sunnydale what some might call a semi-pitying look.

"On the down side, though, it's probably gonna cost you a small fortune. The good stuff always does."


The Nauseous Minotaur Casino

The Dragon Poker table

Four days following their meeting with Skeeve, Ahz and Tanda

"Here you go, Buff. Is there anything else you want? A local-turkey-equivalent club sandwich or some chocolate bars, maybe?"

Xander's voice was pitched very low, so as not to distract either of the petite blonde's challengers, as he carefully placed the clear crystal goblet of Coca-Cola (with a small handful of crushed ice and a double dash of chocolate syrup and vanilla flavoring in it, just like she'd requested it) and a small bowl of caramel popcorn on the table to her left. He could not help noticing Buffy remained slumped in her chair in a seemingly boneless sprawl, her right hand protectively cupped over the three cards before her which she was carefully keeping concealed.

"No, thanks, honey. That's fine for now," Buffy nodded, giving him a quick glance and one of her million-dollar thank-you smiles before returning her otherwise imperturbable gaze to the other three cards laid out on the table in front of her and the other two remaining players seated around the table.

The diminutive blonde had been at the table for the better part of eleven hours by the Helium scholar's figuring, pausing only for a fifteen minute break every hour for the players to attend to whatever call of nature their physiologies might require, and the tournament's field of players had been winnowed down from the initial round of four tables of five players to just this one.

Studying the flop currently visible on the table – a nine of clubs, a seven of hearts, a seven of spades and an Elf of diamonds – Xander tried to figure what his beloved Slayer's adversaries might be holding as the players all eyed each other, and the pile of coins and various exotic items piled helter-skelter together in the pot in the center of the table.

The iridescent purple lizardoid currently seated to Buffy's left, who was apparently known locally as "Kor'gart'oonth the Unyielding", had been giving each card the dealer – a towering, finely-scaled, sea-blue piscine who was an obvious professional at his/her/its/vez calling – had laid down on the table's surface using one of its nine tentacles, a long careful evaluation before placing each of its bets, and it had seemed to perk up substantially to Xander's admittedly unprofessional eye immediately after the Elf of diamonds had appeared.

And since Ygdrassal the Mortifying (who, in Xander's opinion, would be a dead ringer for 'The Creature from The Black Lagoon,' if it weren't for its – that is, vez – day-glo orange and yellow coloring) had won the pot three hands previous to this one with four sevens, that meant that the two sevens showing were, effectively, blank cards and, thus, substantially cut into the chances for anyone attempting to pull off a straight.

"I raise three thousand quertins," Kor'gart'oonth's voice rumbled a lot like the sounds of a small avalanche crashing down a mountainside as it pushed three stacks of azure chips across the table and into the pot while exuding an impression of satisfaction.

"I'll see you and raise you another two thousand quertins," Ygdrassal said in a whistling-like voice as it pushed several of its own stacks across the table, before then turning its head to look at Buffy for her reaction.

The blonde Slayer's expression didn't change even the tiniest bit as she considered the various possible outcomes that could result from her next decision.

She and Xander had quickly discovered that there were any number of beings or firms who maintained small, discrete businesses here at the Bazaar who could possibly help them determine where their home dimension might lay in relation to the Bazaar, and even provide them with specific coordinates for a trip home.

Unfortunately, just as Ahz had predicted, the fees to do so cost far more than the monetary assets the Slayer and her paramour currently had available, even when considering the coins and types of plunder the pair had brought along with them when they’d used the D-hopper they'd acquired.

Like it or not, the funds Buffy and Xander currently possessed were somewhat limited, and they were going to be needed to outfit them with proper clothing and equipment if they weren't going to be heading directly home within the next day or so, as well as paying for their food and lodging.

And while it was a really interesting and fun place to visit, the Bazaar was the concept of private enterprise raised to the Nth power: as the Bazaar's official greeter had informed them when the duo had first arrived, you could get anything you wanted here, if you could pay the asking price.

The not quite so obvious corollary to that announcement was, of course, that if you can't afford the prices – you couldn't get anything.

After their meeting with Ahz, Skeeve and Tanda had concluded – with the group explaining that they had other people they needed to meet with, about some sort of ongoing business they were involved in, the two interdimensional refugees had begun searching for any sort of reasonably priced accommodations, and had finally found a small hostel/inn/tavern which they felt that they could afford and which they thought was safe enough for them to stay at without worrying about possibly being overrun by brigands looking to slaughter them in their sleep.

After estimating the minimum amount of supplies they could possibly get by with, and then comparing the cost with the funds they possessed (the amulets they'd received upon their arrival providing them with an approximation of the local currency system), the pair had realized that they were woefully short of money, and had begun checking for any possible sources of income, however temporary or transient it might be.

As they had discussed, with slowly growing concerns, the lack of any palatable possible venues of employment, Buffy had noticed the signs proclaiming the Annual Dragon Poker Tournament ("Winner Take All! – Except for The House's Cut, Of Course!"), so they'd wandered in, to check out what exactly the stakes involved might be, and what the possible competition might look like.

A quick review of the rules and an even quicker assessment of their finances had rapidly persuaded both teens that, if they didn't want to be forced to start jumping randomly across the dimensions using the D-hopper once their money ran out, their next best alternative was to attempt to win the tournament and use the money to get themselves home safely.

A second assessment of their own personal capabilities had resulted in Xander's acknowledgement that Buffy was able to assess the widely differing body languages of the Bazaar's extremely diverse clientele far better than he could (most likely because of her Slayer Spirit-based predatory instincts). Buffy was, therefore, a much better choice to have play in the tournament, since the ability to determine whether or not an opponent might be bluffing was going to be of paramount importance.

All of which had led them to this particular point in time.

Seeing that she had initially been dealt three Dragons – spades, diamonds and hearts – Buffy had managed (barely!) not to betray her extreme good fortune with any outward indication of surprise or jubilation, and had then watched with slowly growing excitement as each additional card was dealt, evaluating the ever-changing odds and either meeting each of her opponents' raises or making a small raise of her own.

As she watched their dealer lay the final flop card on the table – a ten of clubs – Buffy barely managed not to break out in a wide smile, since that now provided her with exactly the final card she needed to come out on top. { My God, we’re practically halfway home already! }

Meeting, but not increasing the raise Ygdrassal had made, Buffy coolly waited for her river card to be dealt and then pulled it back to her with a serenity that existed solely on the surface.

Taking a long, calming breath, the Slayer turned it over and thought that her heart might have actually stopped for a moment when she saw the Elf of clubs looking up at her

An instant later, as she remembered yet another of the rather – esoteric – rules of the game, Buffy again barely managed to not allow an extremely nasty smile to take control of her face as she listened to both of her adversaries raise their bet in an effort to buy the pot.

"All in," the Chosen One murmured, allowing a small grin to crease her lips as she shoved the entirety of her and Xander's winnings into the center of the table. "Call."

Seeing that the expression which passed for a smile on Kor'gart'oonth's face as it matched her bet and pushed its own stack of chips into the pot was duplicated on Ygdrassal's countenance, Buffy figured that seeing the subsequent expressions on each of their faces when they saw her hand would be almost as good as what she was planning on doing with Xander later that night.

"Straight, through the Unicorn," Ygdrassal declared as it flipped over an eight of spades, Ogre of spades and a Unicorn of hearts.

"Flush," Kor'gart'oonth grunted as it turned over its hole to reveal the three, four, six and Ogre of clubs, smiling triumphantly as Ygdrassal realized it had lost.

"Mine's better," Buffy smirked, as she turned her own cards dace up to reveal the Elf of clubs, and three Dragons – diamonds, hearts and spades.

"This is the twenty-eighth hand of the round, so both red dragons are wild, and I'm using them as the Ogre and Unicorn of clubs," she informed the table.

"That just gives you a straight through the Dragon," Kor'gart'oonth shook its head in disagreement, its whistling-like voice sounding somewhat eerie amidst the noise of the casino. "You beat Ygdrassal, but not myself."

"Sorry, but no," Buffy shook her own long blonde tresses in disagreement.

"Remember, 'once a night, a player can change the suit of one of their cards'," she quoted one of the official rules of the game.

"So, I'm changing the Dragon of spades to a club, which gives me a royal flush," Buffy stated with a wide grin, her explanation causing the area surrounding them to fall completely silent for a brief moment, before the spectators exploded into a cacophony of surprise and various other emotions.

"That is your right; and yes, that would defeat my hand of cards," Kor'gart'oonth conceded a moment later. "My congratulations on both your strategy and tactics.

"Mayhap we will encounter each other again in a similar tournament in the future," the iridescent purple lizardoid declared before then turning and striding away, towards the doors leading to the main street.

"Sands of Mars, Buff! I can hardly believe you!" Xander exclaimed with a wide smile as he walked up and threw his arms around her, squeezing the petite beauty tightly against him.

"What? You didn't think I could win playing poker?" the Slayer frowned, her feelings hurt at her crush's apparent lack of faith in her abilities.

"No, that's not it at all, Buff," Xander shook his head in denial of her question/accusation. "I knew you could do pretty much anything you wanted.

"I just didn't think that you'd be able to take us from almost destitute to upper, upper-middle class in less than a week!" he grinned at her, his clearly heartfelt expression of complete and utter faith in her making Buffy's heart flutter. "Do you have any idea how much you won here, today?"

"Approximately three hundred eleven thousand, four hundred quertins, after the Casino takes its five percent," she immediately replied with her own smile.

"And it's all tax-free," the Slayer added, her smile widening even further.

"So, I'm guessing this means you're going to be able to afford those drake-hide boots you were admiring in that shop on Durgo Avenue the other day, after all," Xander said as he pulled back slightly to beam down at her.

"Yeah, you're right!" Buffy nodded, her expression brightening as she recalled the pair of black boots she'd noticed and been lusting after since first seeing them in the window of Rovno's Bootery three days previously.

"C'mon, slow-poke, what're we waiting for?" Buffy joked as she pulled away from him and began piling the chips into one of a number of small buckets one of the patiently waiting servers offered her.

"We've got some serious shopping to do!"

"Oh, man. I *knew* there was gonna be a downside to ending up in a freaking mall dimension," Xander mumbled to himself, shaking his head as he accepted another bucket and began helping Buffy gather their hard-earned money.

Fat chance of Buffy ever forgetting this dimension’s address.
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