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. Shape Changers
Buffy stared at the man that a few moments before had been an enormous gray ram. “Um... thanks?”
He sat down in a chair, smiling at the serving woman who brought him a large mug of drink. “Beer?”
“No thanks. Me and beer are non-mixy things.”
“More for me then!” he replied cheerfully, before taking an enormous swig of his drink. “Now then, I am Lord Reithe, the King of Rams. Who might you be, to be calling upon me with my brother's horse?”
“I'm Buffy,” she said, smiling. “Your brother told me that you could help me.”
“Oh?” he said. “What business do you have that I may be in aid of?”
“I need to find the cleave slowish.”
“Cleave slowish?” he asked confused, before brightening. “Oh! You mean the Claiomh Solais!”
“Yeah! That's what I meant. Anyway, my friend is being held by an evil giant in this castle, and I need that sword to save him. Rua said you could help.”
“I can indeed. In order to retrieve the Claiomh Solais from the Fir Bolg, you will need a token from myself and each of my brothers. But we will only give a token to those we feel are worthy of them.”
Buffy set her jaw. “What do I have to do?”
He studied her for a moment, his face stern. “To gain my token... you must tell to me the news of the death of Glorificus.”
“Say huh?” Buffy sputtered, surprised.
“I recognize your name, Vampire Slayer, however far removed from your world this one may be. The defeat of a god in battle is a tale worthy of song, yet none has been able to tell the full news of the deed. Tell me now, and tell me true, the tale of the defeat of the hell goddess, and I will give you the token and send you on your way!”
“I just have a question,” she said hesitantly. “Your, um, a ram. And there are three of you. The others aren't a wolf and a hart, are they?”
“No, not at all!” he said, chuckling.
Buffy hesitated, but eventually started. She had reported to Giles about events at times, and had told her friends things when she felt the need to talk about them, but she had never really told many stories about slaying before. It felt weird to tell what she had done like it was some great tale, when at the time it had been nothing but fear and pain.
She worked hard to explain everything, although she left her sister out of it completely. Giant, centaur, or otherwise a pain in her ass, at the end of the day, she was still a part of Buffy. No matter how much trouble they had been having relating, no one mattered as much to her as her little sister did. So even if it put Reithe's aid at risk, she wouldn't say a thing about the Key.
Not knowing what powers the shape changer had, she decided to be careful with her words, telling no lies, and simply talking around the points she refused to explain. As the story spilled out of her, she found herself growing more confident in its telling, eventually, with his encouragement, even acting out parts for him. He kept a steady stream of tea in her cup, and eventually had sandwiches brought out to eat. By the time she had finished her story, it was late afternoon, and she felt wrung out.
“That was a good tale indeed!” Reithe declaimed. “The efforts of your party to defeat a goddess shall be recorded forever in song here in this world! But I suppose I have kept you long enough. Come, I will walk you to Brown Allree, and give you my token there.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, smiling tiredly. She didn't know how she felt about the idea of a song about her battles against Glory, but she had won him over. She had been expecting at least some kind of fight when she had learned that she would need to secure their favor, but at least the first of the three was finished.
When they reached the horse Reithe nodded to her and then slowly transformed into a ram again. Reaching back, he grabbed a bit of his own wool with his teeth and tore it out, handing it to her. She was surprised at how soft it was, the material gently tickling her hand as she held it. “Good luck,” the ram said with a deep voice. “My brothers may be more difficult than I to convince. Now, away with you!”
Buffy thanked him again and then climbed back onto the horse. It shot off immediately, and in a few heartbeats she had left the ram and his castle far behind. It wasn't long before the horse was back to its strange antics, this time running on its two back legs for a bit, then on its front two. Buffy simply clung to it like a limpet, her face set as it turned and began running backwards towards their destination.
In the end, much to the horse's disappointment, she neither made a noise, nor was thrown from her saddle, and so it finally came to stop as the sun was setting at another castle, this one on a cliff overlooking the sea. After a long moment Brown Allree shook its head to ring its bells. Dismounting, Buffy glared at the horse. “What did I say about the glue factory?”
The horse snorted at her, before tossing its mane challengingly.
“One of these days horsy... one of these days.” Shaking her head, she turned and headed towards the castle. Its gates were made of wood as the other castle's had been, and it had carvings of fish jumping in and out of water all around it. Her knock was soon answered by a servant, this one fairly young, although she was dressed in a similar fashion to the one at the ram's castle.
“Hello,” Buffy said, smiling at her.
“Hello, m'lady. What can I do for you this eve?”
“I need to talk to Rua's brother.”
“Come in and sit then,” she said, leading the way through the castle. “He should be back for the night any time.”
Buffy noticed that this castle resembled the brother's strongly, although it was entirely decorated with carvings of fish rather than rams. She was soon seated at a table in a parlor, and served tea and cookies. She didn't have to wait for very long.
Buffy heard a strange thudding noise in the distance, which drew ever closer until the door burst open... revealing an enormous salmon. It flopped its way into the room, moving so vigorously that the sound of its wet body slapping the ground echoed off of the stone walls. Buffy could only stare in complete shock as the giant fish turned into a young looking red haired man with large black eyes and a huge grin. He was reasonably handsome, although his pink shirt was less than flattering.
She could accept the ram. Ram's had dangerous horns, and they... probably had some other qualities that she wasn't sure of that would make them interesting. But a salmon? The only reason why she even recognized its species was sheer luck, her insomnia one night having caused her to watch a documentary on aquaculture. But who in the world would want to be a were-salmon?
Recovering, she forced a smile on her face. “Hi. I'm Buffy.”
“I'm Bradan. A pleasure to meet you, Buffy. So, what brings you here with Brown Allree as your guide?”
“Your brother Rua sent me here for help. I need the Sword of Light to save my friend.”
“You've already been to my brother, Reithe, then? And secured his favor?”
“Yup,” Buffy answered, nodding.
“While my brother may be content to give it away, I will only give you a chance to win it.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, her brow furrowed.
Slowly he reached into his pocket, before pulling out a deck of playing cards with a dramatic flourish. “I offer my token as stakes in a card game. Tell me, lass, what do you have to gamble?”
“Um...” Buffy trailed off. “I dunno. I don't have much on me.”
“That's alright. I see you have no ring, and I myself am unwed. Perhaps we could play for your hand?”
“What!?!” she yelped. “Um... no thanks. You seem like a great fi-guy and all, but... um... sorry. Not interested. No offense.”
He chuckled. “Come now! I have a castle to call my own, and servants to run it, and gold to fill its coffers. What more could a lady want?”
“Sorry. I'm a modern, self-actualized woman. Plus, I totally have my own castle. Well, my castle got blown up, but I have backups.”
“Ah. Feminism. I miss the old days when you could buy a bride from her father for a sack of silver coins and everyone would walk away happy.”
“Yeah. Sure. Never happening.”
“Really? I have a sack of silver. If you won't marry me, how about anyone else in your family?”
“Sorry,” Buffy said, smirking at the thought of how Dawn would react if she sold her in marriage. “I don't think Dawnie would like that much. Or, you know, at all. She's independent and
whiny. Not a good combo for the whole arranged marriage dealie.”
“Ah,” he sighed with what appeared to be genuine regret. “Too bad. Hmm. Is there anyone else you could pledge in marriage? What about this friend you are trying to rescue?”
Buffy almost burst into laughter at the thought. “Sorry. Xander's a guy. 'Sides, last time someone tried to claim his hand in marriage, they decided not to after figuring out who he was.”
“Too bad. Still, we need to reach some accord. I am offering my token, which is not something given lightly. How about, if I cannot have your hand, I secure your service. Being the Slayer, if you agree to serve me for a year and a day, I would consider that a fair bet against my token.”
“I can't leave Xander trapped that long!” she objected.
“You could rescue him, and then return to me to serve out your time, as long as you pledge your word to it.”
“And this would be me as the Slayer, right? 'Cause just so you know, I'm not on the table in any marriage like capacity.” She glared at Bradan with enough force to make him squirm uncomfortably. “Got that?”
“Yup. Just Slaying, and looking scary – which you certainly have down! Maybe some light office work.”
She eyed him warily for a moment, before sighing in defeat. “Fine. I'll do it.” She just hoped Xander appreciated this.
* * *
Xander leaned back against he wall of his cage, bored. He had been working around the clock directing an army, acting as the primary watcher for an entire horde of Slayers. While Buffy was the leader, he ran operations. It was a big responsibility, and one not conducive to excess sleep. On top of that, he hadn't slept as well since Renee had died. She hadn't been Anya... but for the first time since the fall of Sunnydale, he had met a woman who hadn't needed to be for him to be happy.
He looked up to see some people entering. When they came close enough, he realized that they were the banshees that had taken him. “Hello. How are you doing? Enjoying not being caged, I hope not.”
Clionadh, the Banshee Queen, approached the bars. “You have an impertinent tongue, mortal. It will get you in trouble one day.”
“That's me,” he agreed, nodding. “You wouldn't believe the trouble that I get into.”
“So I see that you are to be his jester,” she said, appraisingly. “If I were in charge, I am certain that I could find other... duties for one such as you.”
Xander swallowed hard. Demon magnet? Still got it. Unfortunately. “Wow. Too bad... um... that you aren't. In charge that is. Why aren't you, um, in charge? 'Cause hey, good sense of humor is great when running a kingdom of evil, but what else has Balor got going for him?”
She chuckled throatily. “I hope he doesn't hear you say that. Court jester or not, King Balor would not take kindly to any critique.”
“Hey, no critiquing here. Long live King Balor. Anyone who appreciates the Snoopy dance is a good leader in my book. I mean, Buffy has never complained, so two for two.”
“You are the oddest mortal I have ever encountered,” she said, shaking her head.
“You'd probably be surprised, but I get that a lot,” Xander said, nodding sagely. “So... what's a scary lady like you doing in a place like this?”
“Balor is power. With his alliance, I can accomplish many ends that I could not otherwise.”
“Really? What can't you accomplish? I mean, taking me from right under Buffy's nose. Not many people can claim that... well, still be living to claim that anyway.”
“Since we have retreated from the mortal world, things have been more difficult for my kind. Your army of Slayers doesn't make that any easier. Twilight has promised us a new age, where we will rule!”
“Twilight!” he sputtered. “How is he involved with this?”
“As I said,” Clionadh answered with a glare. “He has promised that he will bring forth a new age, one where all things will change! The era of man's dominance will end, and the supernatural will rise to prominence once more. Those of us who have retreated from the mortal realm will be able to return in force, and the era of myths and legends will be reborn!”
“Wow,” Xander said, blandly. “So... standard apocalypse then.”
She glared. “I am no mere demon, to seek to open a Hellmouth, or some other triviality. I am Clionadh, Queen of the Banshees, goddess of Love and Beauty!”
“Huh,” he said, keeping his face blank. He did not want to hear that they were up against a goddess. “You know, you're the second goddess I've met. I have to say, I am liking you way better than the last one.”
“Oh?” she asked questioningly.
“Yup. Glorficus. Meeting her was the kind of good experience that wasn't one at all. Like a root canal... with no anesthesia.... performed by a drunk fyarl demon... with a dull rock.”
“Word of her death has spread even to this world, although the details are not known.”
“What can I say? Big fight. Buffy had a hammer. Glory got hammered, and didn't stick around for the hangover.” She stared blankly, and he huffed. “Fine. Not my best work. If you want the A material, I'd have to be your jester.”
“As I said, I wouldn't need a... jester.”
“Right,” he said, trying his most charming smile. “Too bad you aren't in charge. Hey, if you're a goddess, why do you let him boss you around?”
“While I may be a goddess, he has power beyond anything that you can imagine.”
“I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit,” he paused, before deflating at her blank look. “Right. Not a Star Wars fan, huh? Still, it's gotta be tough, someone like you following a guy like Balor.”
“What about you?” she asked. “You are not in charge of your army. Does your Slayer rule because of her power?”
Xander hesitated for a moment. “Its not just about the power. Yeah, she's the best Slayer. She's been doing this forever. But if she was gone, we wouldn't just stick Faith in charge. Buffy leads... 'cause she's Buffy. Even when we were in high school she was in charge. She might not always make the right decision, but she always tries. She's my captain... not just 'cause she can beat me to death with her little finger. I'd follow her into hell. Some of the Slayers have.
And we'd all follow her again if she asked.”
“She sounds like quite a leader.”
“Yup. If you don't have a leader like that, you aren't gonna get anywhere. I mean, how long have you been working for Balor?”
“This is actually a fairly recent alliance. He has lain dead for many millennia until Twilight revived him.”
“Huh,” Xander said, surprised. “How'd he die? I mean, something so powerful gods follow him? Not something I'd expect to be making with the dead.”
“There was a prophecy, which stated that his grandson would kill him. It eventually came to pass, although he was so powerful that even in death he did not cease to be. He simply waited until the time was correct for his return.”
“If he just came back from being all dead, I wonder if he's up to full power yet? I mean, have you seen him do the whole evil eye thing?”
She looked at him consideringly. “No... I suppose I haven't. But finding out he can still kill with a look would be... unpleasant.”
“As unpleasant as following him? I mean, if he's actually weak, then he can't really give you what you want, can he? Plus, gotta be embarrassing to be a goddess following some weakling around.”
“You give me much to consider, mortal,” Clionadh said thoughtfully. “Until we speak again.”
When they left Xander sighed and leaned back against the bars again. “Causing infighting sounds like a good hobby. Hope Buffy's having this much fun.” Authors' Notes
The ram shape changer didn't have a name in the story I borrowed him from, The Weaver's Son and the Giant of the White Hill. I decided to call him Reithe, because that means ram in Irish Gaelic, as near as I can tell as a non-speaker. A number of myths require the hero to return with the 'news' of the defeat of someone. I think the recent defeat of a goddess would be a source of curiosity, so that made for a simple task.
The fish shape changer was also unnamed in the story, so I called him Bradan which is Gaelic, and for the same basic reason. In the story I took the brothers from, the salmon gave his bride's father a sack of silver to marry her.
The line Xander quoted from Star Wars was said by Han Solo. I don't own that either, obviously.