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The Stakes (take two remix)

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These three things remember well when evil walks the night:
The Watcher’s eye, the mage’s spell, the Slayer’s will to fight.

Tarma could always curse Need, but at least this one was interesting. Who heard of someone falling out of the sky? The girl was on her feet before Kethry could extend a helping hand, and she was trying out the flavor of the translation spell. It wasn't perfect, but it helped a lot.

Warrl nagged at her mind, [What's a vampire?]

When she got her bearings, Buffy --the girl's name was Buffy--flinched at the sight of Warrl, which was a reasonable thing to do. "That's a ... good kitty," she said, a bit like a child, and a bit unsure. Buffy spoke oddly, too, in an accent that neither Tarma or Kethry could pin down, but whether that was due to the spell or her native tongue, it was impossible to say.

Buffy backed away from him slowly. "Or wolf. Wolf-kitty."

"He won't hurt you," Kethry soothed. "He's with us."

"A pet?" Buffy's face made an expression like she sucked a sour fruit.

Tarma snorted against Warrl's protests. "Of a sorts. He's a good fighter and useful. Too smart for his own good."

[Smart and handsome, too, mindmate.]

"Okay, sure." Buffy, despite her slender frame, held herself like a woman twice her size. She looked down at herself. Then she looked up and took in Tarma, then Kethry, then Warrl again. She looked at their horses, and she nodded. "Okay, so, the inn? I can hitch a ride?"

Kethry looked at Buffy's thin, short tunic and trousers askance before offering pillion on her mare, as Warrl had his customary spot behind Tarma's saddle.

Then came the introductions; perhaps being near Need had them too complacent about encountering strange women, but on the other hand, they had her vastly outnumbered. Between Tarma's sword and Kethry's magic, their mares, and Warrl, well, even if Buffy tried anything, there was someone in reach to strike back.

Buffy nodded at Kethry being a mage, but she had an uncomprehending expression when Tarma said "Shin'a'in."

There were lands where Tarma's people weren't even in the tall-stories to tell children about listening to their elders. Buffy came from a place called Sunnyvale, which, she added, was very sunny but perhaps not a vale any longer.

Buffy kept looking at where Need was belted around Kethry, at the casual and practiced way Tarma moved with her weaponry and Warrl. She knew danger when she saw it.

She was extremely unhelpful with how she fell into their lives. "Well, one moment I was jumping to my death," and they would have to get that story later, as she added, "willingly. And then I landed here. So it's probably magic."

There was a longer story, and she threw in words like "vampire", "renaissance fair", and "pizza" like they were to understand what that meant. Although most market fairs were alike, at least, and a pizza sounded like a flatbread.

 

It didn't take more than two marks to reach their destination. The inn was a stodgy but serviceable place called the Three Prong, with the mounted antlers of a deer over the threshold. The town it was in was not a market town, but there was an inn and stables, and that was better than the worst Tarma's ever seen. A dry place, perhaps a barn, could have also done.

"Oooh boy," Buffy said, landing as light as a cat upon dismount. "I'm really far from home."

Tarma thought, So are we. One day, when she and Kethry were ready, they'd go home. Make a home; raise a banner.

Right now, though, they needed to know what this girl--and even then, Buffy could not be that many years younger than Kethry-- could help them with.

 

Suppose three things were diff’rent: the world beneath her feet,
The friends who rode beside her, and the foes she must defeat?

 

Kethry's first thought was that Buffy had some sort of artifact on her, but her mage senses could tell her nothing, and Need was of no help in this either. Need kept tugging in some far off direction, which only meant that they had to move if they wanted to act. It was subtle, but it was also insistent.

So she asked Buffy without getting into the particulars of Need, "How can you help us?"

No one needed to know that they had no clue of what they were getting into this time, either. They rarely did.

Buffy sighed. She was clearly used to this; that was the same expression Kethry's nurse used to make when Kethry asked her to do something minorly inconvenient and often. Buffy cleared her throat. "So, I'm the Slayer?"

That, evidently, meant something.

 

Buffy'd gotten so used to the fact that everyone and their dog--and she still wasn't sure about Warrl--knew what she was and what she could do. While Buffy wasn't planning to teach a swordlady and a sorceress about Slaying 101, she gave them the spiel. Savior of the light, hunts down vampires, heals fast.

"Mostly," she concluded. "I try to make sure the Hellmouth take us over."

"I don't suppose the Hellmouth is an inn? Or a person?"

There was such a thing as wistful thinking. People were so much easier to deal with than pools of chaotic magic and demons.

 

On three things I'd bet my life:
the warsteed's hooves, the wolf's snarl, and the sharp end of a knife

"So, um," Buffy said, looking at the body of the man she very handily took down. She paused, and then went over to pull out her stake. She looked at it like she'd never seen blood on it before. She turned back to her two new allies. "Not a vampire, then."

[How would she know?]

"No, just a thief." Tarma looked impressed, crossing her arms, but then she gave in to pragmaticism and looked through the thief's bags. She thought back, Let's hope we don't find out.

Kethry blinked. "You're stronger than you look."

"I get that a lot."

"And a wooden stake," Kethry said. "Where did you hide that?"

"Could you not find a knife?" Tarma asked. There were a few silvers, and his boots seemed to be good, if nothing else. "An eating dagger? We'll find you a shortsword."

"Hey, it's more effective than it looks." Buffy examined her weapon and wiped some blood off of it with the corner of the man's tunic. "Saved my life more than one. Stake someone in the heart and they go 'poof'."

"Unless they're wearing armor?"

Buffy blinked and looked down. The stake had gone through a hole in the thief's armor, but whether that hole was caused by Bufffy, well, it was possible. "I guess I usually don't have that problem."

"And if you don't have your stake?"

"I mean, you're not going to catch me dead without it. Worst case, I guess I could use a chopstick, or whatever, a chair, maybe. Plus, holy water," Buffy said. "Holy water to the face, and 'whoosh', burns."

Tarma and Kethry shared a look. That seemed a very specialized usage. Most of their enemies were mere men, and holy water was still just water. "And that works against demons?"

Buffy straightened, and Tarma knew she'd touched a nerve. Buffy had the look of a seasoned veteran recalling past campaigns. "Yeah," she answered, slowly. "Demons, vampires, devils, the works."

Kethry and Tarma had dealt with a few demons in their day. One stuck out in particular, since he managed to plague them twice.

That was a story for another day. It would be their last time in a city for a while; the path to the Rethwellan-Karsite border was not a particularly fun one.

At least it was spring.

They came across hide and hair, tooth and feather, bone and scale
With sorceress's magic, they found the hidden trail

[You owe me a pig for this] Warrl wheedled, and for once, Tarma wasn't inclined to haggle with him. His fur was caked with mud from the rains, which had gotten worse the closer they'd approached the border, and no amount of Kethry's weather-witching could keep them dry for long.

Still, he was a good tracker.

And still, the rain poured.

 

Three things to be wary: the master's lash, the fool's gold, and the quiet path

By the Winds, Buffy had a knack for getting into trouble. Kethry had thought she'd seen it all, but only a girl that fell from the sky could manage to walk into the woods and come back, scarcely an hour later with what possibly could have been a wing.

"That's not a vampire, I take it." It had become a game, of sorts, to figure out what she meant by vampire. From all Buffy's accounts, they were like the possessed, stronger, unearthly, but human-shaped. Sometimes, Kethry thought it was just another scare-story a people told about mages: they ate babies and used blood magic.

"I don't know what that is," Buffy said. She frowned, staring at the goo oozing from the wound. "I wouldn't touch it."

That's the same thing she said when she managed to find (and kill) a gelatinous, dome-shaped monster that even Warrl could not identify.

A plot most foul: maiden's blood, deadly fang, and unholy man to split the Planes
Stopped by a growl, a rain of fire, and a sword through the brains

"I can't believe we had to find an evil cave," Buffy said. "That's like, wow, very obvious."

"Not as much as you would think."

But the cave, for there was a cave, was secluded and easily reachable by the man trying to raise a Hellmouth, and Buffy had immediately declared, "That's bad news" and "You guys really don't want one." Kethry agreed. So did Need.

They had a plan, but in the end, the Karsite priest wasn't prepared for Buffy.

Really, very few people could be. She was fast, faster than anyone Kethry had ever seen, and Tarma had murmured more than once something about Windriders. That would be a story for another day, she decided.

They really hadn't learned much about Buffy (or vampires, for that matter), but they knew that she could be depended on to make the target. She had a sling and a rock, and she was deadly accurate with it.

In the aftermath, there was the tidying. They untied the terrified woman (and there always, always was one), and Kethry shoved Need at her, telling her, "Hold this, my dear."

Need hummed, a feeling Kethry had in the bond, in the spaces between her soul and it rather than physical. She wouldn't say that maybe that was a feeling Warrl and Tarma had, but she suspected so.

Kethry turned around.

Buffy was gone.

The foul priest was dead, his creatures at bay, and the Slayer went onwards---to Slay.