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. Stacking the Deck
“Go fish,” Buffy said. She couldn't believe what she was doing. When the giant salmon came flopping into the castle, she knew that things were going to be strange, even before he transformed into a human. When he had bet the token she needed on a game of cards against her service for a year, she had assumed it would be in a game of poker. Instead, a year of her life had been bet against the only chance to rescue Xander... on a game of Go Fish. Only her life, she concluded with a resigned sigh.
“Got any seventeens?” she asked.
Of course, it wasn't a quick and simple game of Go Fish that she was involved in. She had noticed the deck was really thick while it had been shuffled, and she had soon realized that it was many times larger than a normal deck, with cards numbering up to thirty-three, which, with face cards included, made it a total of one hundred and forty-four cards, which had to be turned into sets of four in order to score. It made for a very lengthy game, and she almost needed her Slayer manual dexterity to hold her hand, which numbered in the dozens of cards.
Grumbling, the shapeshifting salmon handed her a card. “Got any twelves?”
Fortunately, she had one tentative advantage, although she couldn't be certain that she could actually rely upon it. Rua had told her a trick which was supposed to let her win any game of cards, and with what was at stake she felt no guilt about using it. The only question was whether it would really work. After all, Rua was Bradan's brother, which meant that his teaching her the trick, if it worked, was not likely to have been a coincidence. However, if he knew that she would need the Sword of Light so early in their meeting, it raised many questions about Rua's knowledge of events, and his likely stake in them.
“You know, when I first heard about you, I expected someone...” Bradan trailed off.
“Taller?” Buffy asked with a quelling expression.
“No! No, not at all! I mean, taller? Who would want to be taller. You are exactly the perfect height for any person, um...”
Buffy looked amused. “Alright. Not taller.”
“Right,” he said, nodding firmly. “Not taller. Just...”
“Go on,” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“I'm not sure that there is any answer that I can give that won't end badly for me.”
“Smart,” she said, smirking.
“You are the scariest woman I have ever seen. Are you sure you won't marry me?”
“A world of no... no offense.”
“And you have a sister, but she isn't available?” he asked sadly.
“Well...” Buffy started, before trailing off. Dawn had been driving her up the wall ever since she had gotten cursed in college. She had first transformed into a giant, and now she was a centaur. Regardless of her form, however, the sisters had done nothing but fight ever since Dawn had arrived in Scotland. Xander thought that she needed to spend more time with her sister, but it was hard, when she had so many other things to do, things which didn't hurt so much as the things her sister said... especially the things that Buffy knew she deserved.
Perhaps it was time she got a little payback, she pondered evilly.
“She's currently a centaur, 'cause of this curse her ex gave her. He was a thricewise.”
“Ah,” Bradan said, nodding sagely. “Thricewise have strong magic, but they are rarely malicious. She probably did something that truly angered him.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “She's good at that.”
“Usually the curses of a thricewise have some simple method of ending them,” he continued. “They are generally used to teach a lesson, not simply to inflict vengeance.”
“That's good to know,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Still, she's not really in a datable form right now. But getting cursed by you're ex generally means no backsies on the whole breaking up thingy...”
His eyes lit up. “So what about two sacks of silver...”
“Still no. She's my little sister, and I'm not selling her, no matter what
I said back in middle school. 'Sides, she's way too young to marry.”
“Hmm. Then... what about a date? How much silver would that cost?”
Buffy's lips twitched. “Yeah, thing to keep in mind: don't mention, ever, paying a woman for a date. Sends all kinds of bad messages.”
Bradan blushed pink. “Um... n-not like that! I just mean, oh, well, you are her family...”
“Then, I would like permission to court her.”
Buffy smirked. This, she decided, was going to be funny
. Was she being too mean to Dawn? Nah. “Like I said, she picks her own dates. So long as a few ground rules are set.”
“Yup. No mojoing her, or cursing her, or coercing her, or any other bad '-ing' her. Also, you treat her like a modern lady, so no funny business, or kidnapping her, or taking her away to strange lands. And if she says no to anything, she means no! And if she doesn't say yes, that also mean no! So no being all creepy stalker.”
He nodded earnestly. “I will have much to learn, but I will try my best.”
“Good. Then you have my permission to ask her on a date... just a date! And any funny business, and well... I beat a hell god into the dirt to protect her. Now I've got an army. That clear?”
He gulped. “Crystal.”
She beamed at him. “Coolness. Also, I win!”
He gaped at the table, shocked that she had won the game. “You are good at this! Also, quite distracting.”
She shrugged. “Hey, important stuff on the line. Slayers always go for the win, no matter how cheap.”
“It has gotten quite late though, but if I am to court your sister, then I shall extend my hospitality to you. One of my servants can show you to a room for the night.”
Buffy started to object, before yawning. Looking at the huge white moon outside of the window, she gave in. “Thanks. I'm beat. See ya' in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Buffy. Sleep well.”
She was led quickly through fish themed hallways until she reached a small bedroom. It had an open window, with a table with a pitcher of water and a large bowl for washing sitting upon it. Nearby was a small chamber pot, which Buffy tried her best to put out of her mind until morning. The main feature of the room, however, was the large feather bed, which she quickly collapsed in.
She had thought that the grass outside had been nearly heavenly to sleep on. Now, knowing that Xander was safe, if in need of retrieval, and with a firm plan of action, the cushy mattress she was laying on lulled her almost immediately to sleep. She didn't wake until well after the rising of the sun the next morning, completely rested and ready to save Xander.
She spent some time carefully preparing for the day. She had no clothing to change into, and nothing to bathe with save for a sponge bath using cold water from the table. Fortunately her utility belt of important items included deodorant, toothpaste, and a hairbrush, and she was able to make herself at least look acceptable for field work.
When she left her room she was quickly found by a servant, and was soon given a large bowl of honey sweetened oatmeal to eat. She ate rapidly, and by the time she was done she heard the distinctive flopping sound of Bradan's approach. “You have eaten and rested?”
“Yup,” Buffy said brightly. “Slept, fed, and readied to knock 'em dead.”
“Here,” he said, shaking a fin and tossing a large portion of it to her. “This is my token. Good luck, and I will see you again!”
“Thanks,” she said, starting to turn before pausing. “Oh yeah, if you do anything to hurt my sister... I'll put you in a blender and use the chunks to feed piranas.”
Buffy left the frightened shape changer behind and exited the castle. She was soon strolling across the grass, climbing the grassy hills until she reached Brown Allree. “So, horsy, did you enjoy hangin' out here all night?”
The horse glared at her.
“Well, what'd ya expect?” she groused. “Maybe next time you won't be so annoying!”
It gave her a challenging look.
Buffy sighed. “Remember: two words. Glue. Factory.”
She climbed onto its back, holding on tightly as the horse sped off. It took off towards a dense forest, and was soon weaving between trees faster than a sports car. She tensed as she saw a gorge ahead, the horse not slowing down even slightly. When it reached the edge it simply jumped, casually sailing over the hundred foot gap and landing on a tree limb, hopping agin and beginning to travel through the forest by jumping from one precarious perch after another at great speed, until finally they burst back out into the open.
Running across a meadow, the magical horse ran directly towards a steep incline, hopping from ledge to ledge as it climbed up to a flat cliff top dominated by a large castle. Brown Allree stopped on a dime, before shaking its head, ringing the bells. Buffy hopped down, moving past the fairy mount with a glare for its unrepentant look.
The castle resembled those of the owner's two brothers, with decorations and embellishments depicting eagles in flight everywhere. She soon found herself ensconced in the sitting room, sipping tea and waiting for the last brother to arrive. She didn't have to sit for long, however, as a great rushing sound preceded the entrance of an eagle so large that even without its wings spread it could scarcely move down the hallways.
After a long moment the giant eagle slowly transformed into tall, thin man with wild brown hair and wary eyes. He smirked at her as he sat down, pouring himself tea as he did. “Well now, having come to me on my brother's horse, I suspect you have an interesting cause that has brought you to my doorstep.”
“Yup,” she said, nodding. “I need the Sword of Light to save my friend from a giant.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “A giant is a dangerous foe, even for one so armed. Tell me, are you confident you can win such a battle?”
“Yes,” she said firmly, without any hesitation. “I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The soon to be dead giant has my friend. That's all anyone needs to know.”
“I am Iolar. I believe you are strong enough for my task. Tell me, do you think you can slay a dullahan?”
Her eyes lit up in anticipation. “Ooh, I've been wanting another crack at one! Last time I met one I stuck a knife in its heart and it just hit me back.”
Iolar nodded. “They are difficult to kill. To do the job, you must remove its heart with a golden knife. All other wounds will have little effect.”
“So,” Buffy said, giving her most charming smile. “You wouldn't happen to have a spare golden knife lying around, would you?”
A servant entered, carrying a sheathed knife, which he gave to her. Drawing it, she saw that it was indeed golden, although it was awkwardly balanced and had a very poor edge, which wasn't surprising given the softness of the metal. “That'll do,” she said smiling fiercely. “So, any hints on where to go dulla-hunting?”
“Yes,” he said. “Dullahan are very rare, and few of them attract attention to themselves. This one, however, has been traveling to Dun Bhaloir often of late, and if he follows his normal pattern, he will be travelling along the trails near that ruin at this time.”
Buffy nodded. “Why, though?”
“What do you mean?” Iolar asked.
“Why do you want to kill this full-o'-ham. I mean, not to complain or anything, 'cause if this is the one I'm thinkin' of, I have my own reasons to want to meet him in a dark alley. But why do you want me to get my slay on?”
“Dullahan serve at times as the herald of death. While mortals have good cause to fear them in this aspect, they are only acting as part of the natural order. Some, however, do not simply work in that capacity. Some take it upon themselves to spread misery, either alone or in the service of others.
“This dullahan has joined with the Banshee Queen. He is particularly cruel and sadistic, and few would mourn his passing. While he has never done me wrong himself, he is one that must be dealt with, and as dullahan are so difficult to kill, it will make a good test of your valor.”
“Well, well,” Buffy said, grinning fiercely. “In league with Miss Kidnappy the Banshee Queen? Kills people in other bad bad ways? You sure this task isn't a present? 'Cause this is my life's work, not something I'd be forced to do.”
“Good,” Iolar said, nodding. “I will look forward to watching your efforts from afar. When you finish the job, I will come and give you my token for the return of my knife.”
Buffy headed back to her horse almost with a skip in her step. She had been hoping for a rematch, and now she even had a good reason to get it. Now, she just needed to save Xander, and if she could only pick up the spare with the banshees while she was at it... well, she had been a good little Slayer lately.
* * *
Xander finished doing another rendition of the Snoopy dance for the Fomori King, who had let Xander out of his cage before sitting on his throne. The King banged his fist and roared in appreciation. “Good, jester. It is a fine dance.”
“Yup. Hey, here's a crazy thought. If I'm your court jester... doesn't that require, I dunno, a court of some kind?”
“Yes. My court is scattered. Many fell in the wars. Many others now hide.” He paused. “They will soon return.”
“Hey, that's great. But what about the Banshee Queen?”
“Clionadh. What about her.”
“Well, she's part of your court right?”
“Yes. She did not serve me before. She came to me of late. Now she serves.”
“It's just... she says she's a god. I dunno 'bout you, but most gods don't like to serve under others.”
“I am the King of the Fomori. My people ruled before the gods came. We are strong. I am strongest. Many gods have served me. Many gods will serve me.” Balor paused. “Also, cyclops jesters.”
“But didn't you have your whole, you know, court back then? 'Cause you're really awesome, don't get me wrong, I bet you could smite with the best of them. Better than the best of them. But now it's just you and me... and I'm in a cage. Couldn't she sneak up on you and, I dunno, go all godly on you and hurt you by surprise?”
Balor roared in outrage. “I am strong. I have an eye in the back of my head. None may sneak up on me!”
“Of course, of course! I mean, I'm not too bright, and I knew right off that there was no way to sneak up on you. I mean, sneak up on Balor? Crazy talk. It's so obviously a dumb plan, though, that there's no way your enemies would try it.”
“Yes! I am too strong to be surprised.”
“Exactly! And that means you're vulnerable.”
Balor's inhuman face scrunched up with confusion. “How can being strong make me vulnerable?”
“'Cause you're so strong, that anyone that tries to attack you will be completely prepared. Especially a god. I mean, if Clionadh showed up with her people, and tried to ambush you, they'd do it right out in the open where you'd least expect it. Just BAM! Ambush.”
“That makes sense...”
“Yup. It's just, the thing is...”
The giant leaned forward on his throne, looking intently at Xander with its nearly closed eye. “Yes?”
“She didn't say anything directly, but it's just... some of the things she said... they made me worry. She's only working with you for power... and she thinks you aren't as strong as you were.”
“What!” Balor roared. “I am strong!”
“Right! Really strong. I mean, its really obvious. But she... well, I don't think she's so convinced. She was definitely thinking about whether or not you were really still strong.”
Balor took a long sniff of the air for a moment. “I smell no lie on you.”
Xander nearly sighed in relief as he realized that he had been wise to stick to half truths and manipulation, rather than plain lying to the powerful being about anything important. “Now, I'm not saying she's gonna try anything, but you might wanna keep your eye out. 'Cause if she does make a move, knowing you're strong and all? She'll come right at you. If you think she's going for it... you should probably hit first, you know, just in case she's ready for you.”
The giant sat back for a long moment, considering. “You give good council, jester. I will think on this.” He paused for a long moment. “I will also get you a hat. With bells.”
Xander sputtered in shock. “W-what?”
“Jesters need funny hats. You are a good jester. You need a good funny hat.” He paused again. “With bells.”
“Thanks,” Xander said with a sickly smile. “That sounds... great. Try to find something that, you know, goes with the collar. Buffy's been trying to teach me to accessorize since high school.” Author's Notes
I decided on Go Fish because really, what else would you play with a shapeshifting salmon? However, two player Go Fish would be really fast and dull, so I decided on a weird deck to spice things up. That was all from my febrile imagination.
The final brother, eagle, also isn't named in the orignal stories. Iolar is, to my best research, the gaelic word for eagle.
I couldn't find any myth where a dullahan was defeated, and its only weakness seems to be showing it gold. I just made up a method of slaying it from that. I mean, there probably should be a good reason for it to be afraid of gold, right?