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. Setting the Stage
As always Brown Allree made incredible time, running across all terrains faster than any car Buffy had ever ridden in. Also, as always, it did its best to frighten its rider into either falling off or making a sound, either of which would be, in her opinion, of the bad. She wasn't sure what the consequences for such an act would be, but Rua had warned her against it, and so she really didn't want to find out.
Eventually she noticed a black smudge ahead against the green grass, and as they closed she soon recognized it as the black wood and human bone wagon driven by the dullahan. The black garbed creature sat driving his six headless horse team using his human spine whip, while his head was tucked under his right arm. Studying it carefully, she felt reasonably confident that this was the same enemy who had attacked her and Xander with the Banshee Queen.
When they drew close enough Buffy dove from her horse, wrapping her arms around the dullahan and sending them both flying from the wagon to the earth. Bouncing and tumbling, Buffy twisted her body as she fell until she ended up sitting astride her headless foe. She reached to her back, preparing to draw the golden knife, when he thrust his body upwards, bucking her off for just long enough for him to roll free.
Buffy kipped up to her feet, jumping backwards as the dullahan kicked out at her as he climbed to his own feet. Before she could move in for an attack, he lashed out with his spine whip, the end speeding invisibly towards her face. Buffy raised her arms in front of her, grunting as blood began to flow from the deep cut the cruel weapon made. She tried to move in to attack, but she was forced back as he began lashing again and again, his arm a blur as the whip opened a half dozen wounds before she could retreat beyond its reach.
Buffy circled widely, looking for a better approach, when she noticed the headless horse team roaring down on her. Buffy jumped and rolled as the impossibly fast horses tried to trample her, barely getting past the bone spoked wheels before she was run over. Rolling immediately to her feet, she grunted as the dullahan's whip laid her back open before she could finish standing.
She dodged back out of his reach, as he carefully began to circle her, cracking the whip whenever she tried to make a move as his wagon circled around for another pass. Buffy knew her current strategy wasn't working, but she wasn't sure what she could do to break the current stalemate. Her normal weapons would do little more than serve as the barest inconvenience to the creature, as the iron knife she had imbedded in his heart during their last encounter could have attested. The horse team also added a significant complication to the fight, which combined with the speed of his whip kept her well outside of attack range.
Slowly she surveyed the field, before smirking as inspiration struck. “You know, I've been looking forward to round two, 'cause last time? I totally had you, except you had the whole 'I'm immune to everything you can do' thing going for you; which: totally unfair. If you weren't such a cheat, you'd be nothing.”
The head tucked under her arm snarled at her, and Buffy moved quickly back and to the side as he advanced on her. When she was in position she drew a stake from her belt and threw it at him, the wooden weapon sinking into his whip shoulder as she suddenly charged forward.
The weapon didn't slow him down for long, his whip almost immediately lashing out at her as she dove forward into a tumble, coming to her feet gripping a heavy branch she had seen earlier, having picked it up from the ground as she rolled. Bringing it up as she moved, she fended off two more whip strikes before the branch shattered from a third, but by then she was in close enough to fight.
Buffy led with a strong right to the dullahan's solar plexus, causing it to bend over slightly from the strength of the hit. She was too close for him to properly employ the whip, so he instead swung it down hard, seeking to smash her head in with the handle. Buffy stepped even closer as he did, however, robbing his move of its power as she grabbed his shoulders and sent him to the ground with a hip throw.
Even as he touched the dirt she planted a knee on his wrist and began to pummel him with her fists, over and over again striking every joint and vital spot she could find or guess at on his body. He thrashed for a moment, before releasing his head to swing his right arm at her as a prone haymaker. She had been waiting for that move, however, and was already bending herself backwards as he began to swing, the fist passing safely above her body.
Leaning back up, Buffy smoothly came to her feet, standing on his wrist with one foot as she used the other to punt his head as hard as she could. It deformed unpleasantly around her toes as she made contact, the blow creating a soggy thumping sound like smashing a rotten pumpkin as the shrilly screaming head flew into the trees. The dullahan reacted by throwing her hard, the arm now only pinned by her body weight and not her strength, which he easily overcame.
Buffy flew through the air, tossed a dozen feet by the powerful creature. Before she reached the ground she flipped and gained control of her flight, landing lightly on her feet. As she touched the dirt, however, her eyes widened as she heard the wagon coming up behind her.
Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as she tried to dodge again, her eyes wide as she looked over her shoulder at the enemy that she had forgotten during her grappling. The wagon team with its six headless horses was bearing down on her, and for just a moment she was certain that she was doomed. Then, with a flicker of barely perceptible motion, Brown Allree appeared between Buffy and her attackers.
The fairy horse reared up on its hind legs, kicking its hooves at the incoming steeds. Despite being headless they obviously were aware of their surroundings, and they apparently had no interest in tangling with Brow Allree, as they diverted their course at the last moment, nearly tipping over in the process. The horse returned its legs to the ground, snorting contemptuously at the wagon team as they ran by.
“Thanks,” Buffy said, smiling at the horse. “You're not so bad after all.”
It threw her a look full of impossibly ruffled dignity.
Buffy shook her head, before reaching behind her back to draw her golden knife. Looking at the dullahan, she carefully circled around it, her feet completely silent as she stalked her prey. Coming up from behind, she struck its wrist hard with a powerful kick, knocking the whip away before it could react. She ducked under its reply, which took the form of a spinning back fist, before she swept its feet and jumped on top of it once more.
Before it could defend itself, Buffy raised the knife and stabbed it just above the heart. The soft weapon slid into the dullahan's flesh as though it were butter, easily cutting deeply as she carved out the heart. Reaching in with her free hand, she grimaced as she gripped the bloody, still beating organ with her bare skin, squeezing it tightly as she pulled it free. It was large and black, and immediately stopped pumping when she pulled it from the creature's chest. After a long moment the monster began to deflate, until soon she was sitting on top of the empty clothing of the dullahan, while holding a lump of coal in her sooty fist.
Buffy stood for a moment, catching her breath, before grinning at her horse, which strutted over to her, its nose high in the air. “Alright, I admit it. You were awesome. I take back all the bad stuff I said about you. Even half the stuff I just thought.”
Buffy reached out and began to pet Brown Allree, its incredibly smug look turning into one of contentment as she scratched its ears. Before she could say anything else, however, she froze, reaching for a knife as a large shadow suddenly passed over them.
Iolar slowly circled downward in eagle form, its wingspan as large as an airplane as it gracefully made its descent. Landing in front of her, the fierce eagle spent a long moment examining the remains of the dullahan before turning its attention back to Buffy. “Excellent. You have exceeded all of my expectations.”
“That's me. Expectation buster.”
Slowly it reached back its beak and plucked one of its smaller feathers, although it was still nearly a foot long. Offering it to her, it then took the golden knife and placed it among its feathers. “You have done well,” Iolar said. “And now that you have gained my token, you have all three.”
“Yup!” she said grinning. “'Course, I'm still without clueage what they're for.”
The eagle nodded its head. “They each hold a fragment of our power. When you hold one in your hand and concentrate upon it, you are able to channel the power of our animal into yourself, changing your form. In order to retrieve the Claohm Solais, you will need all three forms.”
“Not permanent though, right? 'Cause I'm not too fond of flying. It makes me nauseous. And last time I shape shifted I was turned into a rat and, well, it really was all kinds of not fun.”
The eagle chuckled. “Do not worry, the magics will only last until you will the transformation to cease.”
“Indeed. Now then, Brown Allree should be able to guide you to where you need to be to reach the Sword of Light. Remember to give the tokens to my brother, along with the blade, when you are finished with them! Good luck!”
Without another word the eagle took to the air, flying away quickly into the distance.
“Well, that wasn't too bad. So, ready to get the sword?”
Brown Allree gave a regal nod, and Buffy then climbed onto its back. It immediately took off, running at great speed until they reached the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The horse didn't even slow down, simply jumping off of the ledge to the water below. Buffy held on tightly, expecting to splash down into the water, but instead the horse landed on the surface and ran on top of the ocean as though its waves were solid ground.
After over an hour of running along the surface of the sea Buffy saw land ahead. Brown Allree leapt up onto the high ground of the island in a single great bound, running over meadows and through trees until finally they stopped in a small valley.
At the center of the valley were nine tall hazel trees, all growing around a clear spring. When the horse jangled its bells Buffy dismounted. Giving the animal a nod (which it answered with a superior one of its own), she walked over to the pool. Its water was clear, and she could see several large spotted salmon swimming in its depths. Looking around, she was at a loss for what to do next.
Turning to her horse, she frowned. “What's the what? Its a pretty pond, and some nice fishies, but not much in the way of magic swords. Any hints?”
The horse considered for a moment, before nodding towards the water.
“In the lake?” Buffy asked, looking into the pool after the animal nodded. Thinking for a moment, she finally reached into a pocket and pulled out the partial fin that served as the salmon shape changer's token. “The things I do for friends,” she said, sighing.
* * *
Xander fidgeted with his hat. It jingled as he adjusted it, provoking a sigh. Normally Xander wouldn't be overly concerned with what he was wearing – he was a man who had once shamelessly gone with the hawaiian shirt look, and more recently wore an eye patch without batting a, well, eye. The iron collar was really pushing it, however, but it was the hat that was just too far. A bright purple and red striped jesters hat, with long dangling pieces of cloth with bells on the end covered his head, and he was doing all that he could not to pout about it.
He couldn't wait until Buffy showed up and slayed the giant. He only wished that he had thought to bring popcorn. Suddenly he brightened up as he noticed the banshees entering the hall. Xander smiled, knowing that a distraction, such as scheming against his very arrogant enemies, was exactly what he needed. Everyone should have a hobby, after all, he decided.
“Tell me, jester,” Clionadh ordered arrogantly. “Have you seen Balor perform any deeds of strength or power?”
“Like what?” Xander asked curiously.
“Balor's gaze can instantly kill anything he looks fully upon. Has he killed anyone that way?”
“Uh... no” Xander said. “I think I'd remember something like that.”
“Not even a little someone? Say a short person, or a child?”
“What about an animal? Even a rat? Or a fly?”
“No,” he said shaking his head. “No death gaze.”
“That is promising. Has he done anything else?”
“Not really. Put a collar on me, ordered me to dance, tell jokes, that sorta thing. You know: be jesterly.”
“I suppose if he hasn't needed his power, then he would not have displayed it.”
“Maybe. But if he was so powerful, shouldn't he, I dunno, be rebuilding that court of his? I mean, besides you he has a grand to total of no followers. Cordy had more people worshipping her than that in kindergarten.”
She looked away thoughtfully. “Even if he is weakened from his resurrection, he is still a dangerous opponent.”
“Yeah,” Xander said, smiling encouragingly. “I'm sure he is, but I mean, come on – you're a goddess. If you can't beat someone, who can? Last goddess I met, she was all about the smiting and the looking down on us mere mortals and the being all powerful. I mean, maybe my standards for being a god are a bit high, but...”
“No! I am a goddess. I may not be as strong as I once was, long ago during past ages long gone, but I am still powerful!”
“Exactly! And this Balor, he's died before even, right? So its not like he's unkillable.”
“There is truth in what you say... but if he does have his full power, then even I cannot long survive his gaze.”
“Well,” Xander said thoughtfully. “Then you just need to take him by surprise. Beat him before he can look at you.”
“He has an eye in the back of his head,” Clionadh said, shaking her head regretfully. “He may not be the most intelligent of creatures, but he is not easily ambushed.”
Xander barely refrained from rolling his eyes at that comment. “Yeah, really powerful stuff often is a bit dim. Anyway, if I were planning the attack, I would hit him when he's distracted. You know, the ol' knife to the back, just with something more effective than a knife to a giant... and not the back 'cause, you know, eye in the back of the head. So, not a knife in the back. More like a death blow to the side.”
“Yes, that would be for the best. But he is paranoid, and seems to have grown more so of late. He would never ignore me.”
“Ah! Then its a good thing you're discussing this with the Xan-man. 'Cause I have just the plan. When I do my thing for him, he gets pretty distracted. You just need to be here when I'm putting on a show, and then BAM. Take him down.”
“You would do such a thing? Why?”
“Why? Look at this,” Xander said, rubbing his collar. “Collar! Like a dog. Plus, stupid hat. I mean, wouldn't you want revenge for the hat? It has bells. I jingle when I move.”
She smiled. “Ah, vengeance. That I understand very well. If I kill him, I certainly wouldn't make you my jester. I would find... more appropriate duties.”
He gave her his best charming look. As much as he hated being a demon magnet, from time to time it did come in handy. “All the more reason to choose your side! Be here after dinner, and I'll be doing a show. When I do this,” he waved his arm slightly, “you'll know he's distracted. Then you do your thing, and I can get out of this thing.”
“We have an accord,” she said before grabbing him and pulling him to her, planting a firm kiss on his lips. He thought about resisting for a moment, especially when he realized that her lips were cold. Like a vampire's lips. Or a corpse's. Fortunately, she mistook his shudder of revulsion for something else. “See you soon.”
“Yeah,” he said weakly. The minute I get to be James Bond, and its just creepy instead of fun, he thought morosely.
How much longer would it take Buffy to arrive, he wondered. Author's Notes
As I said last chapter, I couldn't find any method in the source material to kill a dullahan, so I made one up, using the fact that it's afraid of gold as inspiration for the method.
I changed the effects of the tokens from those in the story I borrowed them from, The Weaver's Son and the Giant of the White Hill. In the original material, they allowed the main character to summon 'all the animals of the world' to help, but I thought shapeshifting was more interesting. Also, funnier, which is important for the Buffyverse.
The pool of water she visits is intentionally based upon the various celtic Wells of Wisdom, which in some accounts were springs with nine hazel trees growing around them. If you ate the salmon swimming within, you would gain knowledge and poetic inspiration. Most famously this was done by Fionn Mac Cumhail, although many stories use the 'salmon of wisdom'. Did I ever mention that mythology is weird? But hey, talk about brain food.