Chapter Fifteen: Mundane Mornings
Standard Disclaimer: I do not own the copyrights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-COM: Enemy Unknown, or Stargate SG-1. All of the above belong to their respective copyright holders.
Dear readers: Sorry for the delay - been traveling a lot for the last couple of months and didn't get much time to write. Will try to update more frequently.
Buffy's sixtieth morning in Elfhome found her on the training ground.
The Slayer ducked under Sedhya's swing. She stabbed the elf with her wooden sword in a flawless execution of the Striking Stick maneuver.
The force of the blow knocked Sedhya backwards into the fence. Again. Fortunately, the elf was wearing her padded practice armor, so the impact was less bone-crushing and more pride-crushing.
"Time!" snapped the referee. "One! Two!"
Sedhya tapped the ground three times, in the elf gesture of 'I'm out'. Buffy relaxed. Sedhya had, on one occasion, merely feigned being winded - well enough to let Buffy a little too close, and then respond with a perfectly-executed Scorpion, leaving the Slayer actually
winded and disarmed.
It had been a reminder of why it was important to stay alert even after
you downed your opponent. However, tapping out signalled a formal end to the bout - and an acknowledgement that, if they'd been using live blades, the loser would have been dead for real at this point.
The Slayer strolled over to the chairs and grabbed a towel. A while later, Sedhya joined her. The elf-girl was still groaning. "We need more padding when sparring with you, Buffy. My entire body feels like one big bruise."
"Hey, any more padding and you'll be moving slower than a drunk ox."
"As if my current speed is anything to write home about."
Buffy shrugged. "Slayer here. You're not going to be going up against something as fast as me anyway. And besides, you are
getting faster." She grinned. "You're way
faster than the others now."
"Eh. Two months of training with you has been good, though. It's hard to get better if you're only fighting those who are worse than you."
"True enough. They say that in chess, you get better by playing those who are better than you. Same applies to fighting."
"Is that why you're so bad at chess?"
"Ha ha. Okay, I suck at chess, nothing new about that." Buffy started putting away her armor.
Sedhya turned to stare at the castle gate.
"Don't know. There appears to be a returning patrol...." Her face lit up. "Father!"
Frost had left two days ago, leading a company of guardsmen to investigate a far-off village. "He's back?"
"And with his company, too! Oh .... it looks like they were in a fight..." She frowned.
The two girls glanced at each other. Then, as one, they started marching towards the gate.
Frost was dragging something behind his horse. Greyish, humanoid, white-haired, and very very dead.
The thing was wearing some sort of mask, Buffy noted as she walked alongside Frost's horse. "What is that?"
"Weird demonic creature," explained Frost. "Never seen its like before."
"Some variant of succubus, I suspect."
"Um," Buffy could see certain details quite clearly, "I think it's male."
"Well, it's definitely not an incubus. All we can tell is that it feeds on the youth of humans. And has a very low demonic signature - almost as if it were a non-magical creature. Except for causing its victims to age rapidly in what appears to be an inbuilt feeding ritual." Frost dusted off his pants, raising a small cloud of dust, and causing Buffy to sneeze. "I need to get this to Master Amn and Master Hethem, find out what we're dealing with."
"Oh-kay," gasped Buffy. "Ah-choo."
"Gesundheit," replied Frost reflexively. "You should really get that cold looked at."
By the time the Slayer's sneezing fit was over, the horsemen had galloped off. Buffy shot a dagger-filled glance at Sedhya, who was still giggling. "You could be more sympathetic."
"Sorry, Buffy, even elven kids know not to get too close to a rider after a journey. I sometimes forget you're not used to dealing with horses."
"Yeah..... just for that, I'm going to try making a car. Can't wait to see your response to it. Anyway... who's Hethem?"
"You've not met him, right. He's Lord Thorne's torturer."
"Thorne has a torturer
"Oh, that's just his job title. He's too infirm to actually torture anyone, but he's an expert on demon anatomy. If anyone can identify the demon, he can."
"Where on earth does one learn demon anatomy?"
"Well, he was enslaved to a mad sorceror as a child, and spent a lot of time helping out in reforging golems and creating halfbreeds. After the Elves defeated the mad sorceror, he came with us and found work. The old torturer, Hevest, used to look after him, so he got the job when Hevest croaked."
"Half-human. Hevest was a pure human. Hethem is about eight hundred and ninety now."
"Oh. Okay. So... do half-elves get infirm at around nine hundred?"
"No, Hethem was wounded in battle a long time ago."
"Ah... But he can still torture people? He has a torture chamber, iron maidens, a rack, and all that stuff?"
"Yes, but nowadays he simply uses his voice."
"Any prisoner will beg for mercy after hearing him talk about the 'good old days' for the three hundredth time."