I don't own anything. Buffy is not owned by me. It is owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. A Peculiar Girl in a Strange Otherworld
The sky was a blue so vibrant that it nearly brought tears even to Buffy's jaded eyes. The grass under her feet was short and even, despite no signs of cutting, and so soft, if she were to nap she wouldn't need a sleeping bag. Perfect trees stood straight and proud in neat copses, and the open ground was interspersed with perfectly formed rolling hills all the way to the horizon. Everything she looked at was so perfect, that it was obviously supernatural.
The first thing Buffy did after taking everything in was pinch herself, hard, to make sure she wasn't dreaming. When she was finally sure that she wasn't, she messed with her radio for a few minutes, to no avail. No channel seemed to work at all, although she would try it again later, after Xander had time to wake up. She refused to accept any other option for his condition.
She spent several minutes examining the area for any useful clues, before finally giving up in frustration. Nothing was lying around, and the grass was so springy that she couldn't even find her own footprints moments after making them. Finally she retraced her steps to where she had been standing when the fog had first cleared. It took her several minutes, but eventually she felt confident that she was in the right place, and facing in the same direction that Xander had been taken away in. She then began to walk.
Hours passed, the too perfect scenery unchanging around her as she travelled, until eventually she saw a stream ahead. Walking over to it, she saw that it was impossibly clear, with the fish easily visible all the way to the bottom despite slowly flowing. She frowned when she saw an odd shape in the water.
It took her several moments to realize what she was seeing, and even longer for her to accept it. A full sized cow, all white except for bright green spots, was swimming under the water as if it belonged there. After a few minutes it surfaced, jumping out of the stream and back into it like a dolphin playing. Except that it was a full sized cow. A green spotted cow.
Buffy slowly turned away from the stream and began walking, ignoring what she had just witnessed. She had seen many strange things during her time as the Slayer, but that... that was just too weird.
Later in the afternoon she noticed a strange glimmer of light ahead. Approaching it warily, she saw that it was a huge field of flowers, densely packed together. Examining one, she realized that it was made of polished steel, and covered with sharp barbs and thorns. Despite being metal, the flowers had a heavenly aroma, although she could find no safe way to pick one.
The field of metal flowers extended to the horizon, and so Buffy was forced to walk around it. Eventually, the sun set, and she found herself no closer to any destination. She was beginning to get very down; Buffy had become used to constantly working to keep her army of Slayers together, and so she hadn't really been isolated or without something to do in years. Also, as hours passed without her radio working at all, she grew more and more worried for Xander's safety, as well as that of Jenna and the other Slayers.
Just as she was beginning to contemplate finding someplace to lay down and sleep for the night, she saw a light ahead. Moving silently, she crept up to the source, eventually finding a small campfire burning beside a stream. Sitting on a rock and gazing into the fire was a handsome man of around thirty, with pale, lightly freckled skin and shoulder length red hair. He was dressed in a tunic and hose, and was shuffling a deck of cards as she approached. He looked completely human, but she could tell that he wasn't; whatever the man was, he was powerful, although he didn't feel evil.
Despite her silence he seemed unsurprised when she stepped into the light, merely giving her a nod in greeting. “Welcome, be,” he said with a rich, pleasant voice. “Care to share the fire, traveller?”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, smiling stiffly as she sat across the fire from him. “Haven't seen anyone out here.”
“Aye, not too many wander these parts. Say, you wouldn't happen to have any food, would you? I have little with me save my cards, and have caught nothing worth eating.”
Buffy hesitated for a moment, and then shrugged. Opening a compartment on her belt, she pulled out a pair of ration bars, handing him one before opening one for herself. “I'm not sure they actually count as food, but they have everything a body needs – except flavor. Bright side: they taste so bad you won't even mind that I don't have many!”
The red haired man chuckled, slowly eating his bar. Buffy grimaced as she choked hers down, swallowing it only partially chewed with a swig of water from her canteen. Every time she opened a ration she somehow convinced herself that they couldn't be as nasty as she remembered. Then, with her first bite, she always realized that they weren't – they were actually even worse.
“So,” she said after finishing her food. “I'm Buffy.”
“Nice to meet you, Buffy,” the man said, giving her a charming grin. “You may call me Rua.”
“So, I was wondering,” Buffy said. “I've been trying to find my friend, but I have no clueage where he could be.”
“Tell me about this friend, and I may be of some aid.”
“Well, he has dark hair, and an eyepatch, and kind of a goofy grin. He had an earpiece in like me, and belt like this one. Oh! He was also kinda getting carried off by a banshee.”
“A banshee? They don't generally take mortals away. Did she say where she might take him?”
“Um... yeah... there was something,” Buffy said, frowning. Come on, she thought. What was that word? Why do you never pay any attention to names, brain? “I heard a name... Dune Baller?”
“Do you mean, Dun Bhaloir?”
“Yeah! That's it. Dune Baller.”
Rua smirked at that for a moment, before looking concerned. “If he is being held in Dun Bhaloir, then your friend is in grave danger.”
She nodded. “That sounds about right. Can you tell me where it is?”
“Aye, though I advise waiting on the morrow. It is some miles from here, and it is far too easy to get turned 'round under the moon.”
“If he's in trouble, I have to rescue him,” Buffy said, her face hardening. “Besides, I do my best work at night.”
“You are tired though, and he has already been missing for some time. Making excessive haste would only put you both in danger.”
“I can't just do nothing!” Buffy said, her day of frustrated fear creeping into her tone before she brought herself back under control. “He's my best friend. If something happened to him...”
“Do you trust your friend?”
“Then trust him now.”
She sighed. “I know he's capable. I'd rather have him watching my back than half my Slayers... but when he is, I can watch his back too.”
“A good sentiment,” Rua said, nodding. “But one that worrying for can do nothing good. Here, how 'bout a game of cards? It should help take your mind off your troubles for a timne. When we're more relaxed I'll tell you how to find Dun Bhaloir.”
Buffy didn't really want to play cards, but he was right about Xander being able to take care of himself. He was also her only lead, and running the worldwide battle against evil had taught her the basics of diplomacy. It would be better to keep Rua as an ally if at all possible, rather than alienating him by beating Xander's location out of him. Sighing, she moved around the fire, sitting cross legged in the soft grass and waiting for him to deal.
Buffy had never had much time for card playing, although she new the basics. The basics, as it turned out, were worth nothing. After several quick and complete losses she finally tried to get Rua to talk. “So... where is this Dune Baller place?” She never had been a fan of subtleties.
He smiled at her. “Your card skills are as blunt as your tongue. How about I show you a little trick?”
“Aye. Here, don't touch the cards when I deal. While I'm shuffling wiggle your nose three times...”
“Wait,” Buffy interrupted incredulously. “Wiggle my nose? What are you talking about?”
Rua grinned at her rakishly. “Come now! It's only the two of us here, so no need to worry 'bout looking foolish. If it does nothing, then all your out is a bit of a laugh with a traveller chance met by a stream.”
Rolling her eyes, Buffy wiggled her nose three times while he shuffled.
“Good! Now, having wiggled your nose, wait for me to deal – and remember not to touch the cards! When they're all dealt, then you can touch them, but make sure that the third finger of your left hand is the first to do so.”
Shrugging, she grabbed her cards as directed, only to have her eyes nearly fall from her sockets when she saw her hand. “Okay, so whats the deal? I look silly so you stack the deck?”
“Oh no, not at all! No, I taught you how to always win at a hand of cards!”
“By wiggling my nose,” she said flatly.
“And picking up the cards the right way! O' course, it'll only work for you since I taught you the trick, and it'll only work as long as you tell no one about it.”
Buffy frowned, eyeing the man carefully. She had never been much for hitting the books, but she had lived and breathed the supernatural for years, and the last several had been without anyone really experienced to help her and Xander do the research. She had read somewhere that a supernatural gift that would go away if she told anyone about it was common among fairies. In fact, the gift would often be replaced with an equivalent curse if she did tell anyone.
Deciding not to comment, they played more hands, sometimes using her trick to win, sometimes not and accepting her losses. She would need to verify that the trick actually worked and wasn't simply him messing with her, but it was something to remember.
When she began yawning he finally told her how to reach Dun Bhaloir. It was apparently a ruined castle on a cliff overlooking the sea, and it would take her some hours to reach it the next day. She gave him one last evaluation before curling up on the far side of the fire. She didn't trust him, as friendly as he had been, but she was tired, and leaving now would be both rude and dangerous in its own way.
Leading the war against evil with an army depending on her had taught her to catch sleep whenever she had a spare moment, and so it didn't take her long to drift off. Her last thought was to wonder what Xander was doing, wherever he was, and who she would need to kill for taking him.
* * *
Xander moaned, his head pounding. “Why'd I think sparring with the Slayers was a good idea,” he groaned, bringing his hands up to cradle his throbbing skull. Eventually he managed to drag his eye open, although he was far from pleased with what he found. Waking up in a cage has a way of doing that. “So, not sparring then.”
Sitting up, he took in his surroundings. The cage was fairly large, a cube of steel grating eight feet on a side, with a a hinged top that would allow passage, except that it was weighed down by a huge boulder. His cage was otherwise empty, save for a bucket of water and a chamber pot. Xander really hoped he wouldn't be stuck in the cage long enough to need either.
The room beyond the bars was colossal in scope. It was apparently some kind of stone amphitheater, with an enormous stone stage at one end of the room, and a huge archway at the other. The walls, floor and ceiling were made from carefully placed stone blocks, each one ten feet on a side, all constructed so precisely that not even a piece of paper could fit between them. He was mostly a wood worker, be he had a good eye for construction in general, and while the structure was obviously thousands of years old, he could tell that it had been built with consumate skill.
He spent several minutes checking his cage for any weaknesses, and when he found none, he looked over his gear, and was pleasantly surprised to find everything still present. Testing his radio, he frowned when he was unable to get any signals. Finally, he sat down, resigned to wait until his captors came to check on him.
After nearly an hour he felt the floor begin to shake, and he looked around nervously while it did. As a native Californian, he was well used to earthquakes, and so he quickly noticed that whatever was shaking the floor wasn't that. His eye nearly fell out of its socket when the source of the tremor became apparent.
Balor came into the room, his irregular arm and leg stride being responsible for the disturbance. The giant locked his single nearly closed eye with Xander's for a moment, before moving to the cage and lifting off the huge stone pinning its top and causally setting it on the floor. Opening the lid, he grabbed Xander and pulled him out, setting him in the middle of the floor before climbing up on the stage, which Xander quickly realized was in fact a giant throne.
“Um, hi,” Xander began, smiling ingratiatingly at the giant. “I think there's been some kinda misunderstanding. Happens all the time. So, if you don't mind, I'll just go on and get out of your hair...”
“No misunderstanding,” the giant rumbled. “You are my prisoner.”
“Oh, that's an option too. Although, you could just let me go. Way less hassle for both of us. Well, mostly for me.”
“You have two choices,” the giant continued, ignoring him completely. “You can be my slave. You can be my dinner.”
“Wow. Huh. Um... any chance for a none of the above?”
The one eyed giant wrinkled its brow. “No.”
“Well,” Xander said, looking around carefully, dismayed to find no obvious method of escape. “I'm going to come right out in opposition to the whole dinner option.”
The giant nodded sagely. “Good. I've always wanted a cyclops for a slave. Two eyeds always think they are better than one eyeds.”
“Yup,” Xander said, nodding. “Damn those two eyeds. Always thinking they're better than us, what with their depth perception and everything.”
The giant reached into the leather pouch hanging from its belt, and pulled out a metal ring, giving it to Xander. “This is your collar.”
“Thanks,” Xander said, examining the iron collar. “You shouldn't have. Really, really shouldn't have.”
“Put on collar. Or I eat you.”
“Right,” Xander said cheerfully, placing the collar around his neck where it sealed into place. “Lovely collar. Really brings out my eye.”
“Try and remove the collar while I live, and you will be missing more than an eye,” Balor said, pausing for a long moment. “You will be missing a head.”
“Wow,” Xander said drily. “I had no idea what I might lose. Glad you cleared that up there.”
“Try and leave my castle while I still live. You will also lose your head.”
“So, not to sound ungrateful about the whole deadly gift thing, but... why exactly am I your slave again? Last thing I remember were some banshees.”
“Yes,” Balor rumbled. “Clionadh took you while she took the soul.”
“Soul?” Xander asked. “What soul? Soul taking is the kind of news I don't love.”
The giant reached into the collar of his shirt and fished out a rope, at the end of which was bound an Orb of Thesulah. “This has the soul of Liam. He is a son of Ireland. Clionadh channeled the soul of the one the Slayer loved into it. Now Angelus is back in the world.”
“Is Buffy okay?” he asked, trying to conceal his panic.
“Yes. Clionadh had to take you hostage to escape her. Now you are my slave.”
“Right. The slave thing. Not too fond of that. So, why the big scheme to bring back Angelus? What do you get out of it?”
“I am Balor. I am King of the Fomori. I am Lord of all Irish Demons. He is the most evil demon to come from Ireland since I last walked the mortal world. I will soon call him to me, that I can see what has become of my land in my absence.”
“That sounds like a bad idea. Angelus is really nasty. What if he just, you know, kills you?”
Balor laughed, the force of it shaking the ground. “You are a funny slave. You will make a fine jester for my court.”
“Hey, always knew being class clown would be good for something.”
“Do not worry. Keep making me laugh and I won't eat you.” He paused for a long moment. “Stop being funny, and I will eat you.”
“Wow, no pressure. Seriously though, last time I met him, Angelus was really cranky.”
“Do not worry about Angelus. I can crush him like any other ant. I am far too strong to be killed by a puny vampire.”
“Well, you do look really strong. But he's got a rep for a reason. Plus, people will come looking for me. The Xan-man is in much demand.”
“My powers are beyond your imagining. Anyone I look at fully with my eye perishes. No mortal weapon may harm me. I am strong!”
“Wow!” Xander said, obsequiously. “You really are powerful. How do you get anything done though, if looking at things kills? I mean, shouldn't I be pushin' up the daisies?”
“It only works if my eye opens fully. If I did so, you would simply fall over dead.” He paused. “Would you like me to look at you?”
“No, no. I believe you. No need to raise the ol' eyelid. Still though, I've fought a lot of bad guys, and they always have some kinda weakness. And Angelus is really good at finding weaknesses. Are you sure bringing him here is a good idea?”
“I am a Fomori! What cause have I to fear a tiny vampire!”
“Well, that is a good point. I mean, it's got to be hard to hurt you from way down here. But see, I'm not giant. Or strong. Or impressive at all. I'm just a carpenter who can tell a few jokes and do the Snoopy dance.”
“Yup,” Xander said, nodding, before launching into it.
“Good! Good dance. Soon my court will be reassembled. Then you shall do the Snoopy dance twice every day!”
“Great,” Xander said, smiling painfully. “Just... great. But see, I'm not strong like you. What if Angelus decides to hurt me. I'd be defenseless. 'Specially since we get along like fire and TNT.”
“He would not dare harm my jester!” Balor bellowed, appalled at the very thought. “You are part of my court. You have my protection.”
“Right, but what if you aren't here?”
Balor reached out with a single enormous finger and poked Xander in the forehead. A tingle passed through his body, making him shiver. “You have my favor. You shall enjoy great health. Even the most terrible of wound shall heal cleanly. Unless you make my boon known.”
“Right,” Xander said, swallowing hard. That was not what he had been expecting, although he wouldn't argue if Balor's action didn't have some price, other than not telling anyone about it. Good health would be handy in his line of work. “Still, Angelus is tricky. What if he found a way to hurt you?”
“No lower being can bring me down. It would take the Claiohm Solais.”
Xander barely kept a straight face. He had been able to tell immediately that Balor was arrogant, and being a normal human always made demons underestimate him. “Claiohm Solais? What's that?”
“It is the Sword of Light. Its radiance blocks my sight. Its edge can cut even my flesh. Its light would burn any vampire who dared enter its presence. Angelus cannot wield it. He is nothing to my strength.”
With his magic collar it was obvious he wouldn't be escaping any time soon, but he had already done his job. When Buffy came to his rescue he could pass the word about the ultimate vamp buster sword, and then kick back and watch her cut Balor down to size. It would be like high school all over again, just with iron collars instead of Hawaiian shirts for questionable fashion choices.
Until Buffy came, he'd just have to polish his wit and his Snoopy dance, but he'd make it. It was moments like this, as he began telling the giant demon king knock knock jokes, that he was glad he never got a sense of dignity. Author's Notes
The green spotted underwater cow... yeah. Didn't make that up. At all. The full stories about fairy cows are even weirder. The metal plants were my interpretation of 'steel thistles', which are mentioned in the Irish story of Morraha, among others. Rua means 'red' in Gaelic, I think, and he is the Red Haired Man of several myths, a fairy who likes to help mortals. The thing with the cards was a bit of whimsy, although a minor magical ability that goes away if you tell anyone about it is common to fairy gifts.
I really like Season 8 Xander, especially his friendship with Buffy early on. I've never really written him before, so I hope I got him in character. The good health boon by Balor thing was just something I made up completely – the Fomori gave the Tuatha De Danann the gift of agriculture in some tales, but I couldn't find anything else that they gave. However, no one returns from the Otherworld unchanged, so I decided to give him a subtle, but valuable fairy style gift. He's not Wolverine now or anything, but it could really help him in the fight against evil, and the common cold.