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.

Creeping Through the Shadows

Buffy didn't want to wake up. She had thought that life on the Hellmouth never slowed down, but it was nothing compared to putting together and running an army of Slayers. Combine that with a new evil rising, more of the train wreck she called a love life, and her own slaying spree after a visit to the future in which she had killed an evil version of Willow, and she had badly needed rest. Laying on grass so soft it may as well have been a feather mattress, soothed by a the gentle babble of a nearby stream and the sweet songs of birds, and warmed by the sun, she was more comfortable than she had been in years.

In the end it was only her hunger which forced her to wake up, and when she did her worry for Xander quickly pulled her to full awareness. Jumping up, the first thing that she noticed was that Rua was missing. Not only missing, but there was no sign he had ever existed. Not a disturbed blade of grass, or wrapper from her rations, or even bit of ash from the fire he had had burning mere feet from where she had slept. If she hadn't already been aware that he was supernatural, she would have known for sure after that display.

Buffy spent the rest of the morning walking, stopping only for brief necessities, including more of the foul ration bars, but finally she reached the shoreline, which was a tall cliff overlooking the sea. Following the coast, she eventually saw her destination: Dun Bhaloir.

She carefully crept from crevice to boulder as she approached the structure, using every bit of her Slayer stealth and years of experience to reach its ruined walls without any risk of being observed. While it was a large, imposing structure, it was also a nearly collapsed ruin, with its outer walls having fallen down long ago, and holes in the side which would allow her entrance without having to risk the oversized front gate.

Buffy considered her options while huddling in the rubble of what had once been a guard tower, the screaming of her Slayer senses making her wary of the direct approach, especially as she didn't want to risk another hostage situation with Xander. Reaching into her utility belt, she pulled out her collapsing grapple and line, before moving from shadow to shadow to the side of the building. Throwing the grapple up high, she shot up the side of the structure like a spider, until she reached her entrance, which was some distance off of the ground.

Crouching in the hole in the wall, Buffy paused for a time to let her eyes adjust fully to the building's dim interior. The first thing that she noticed was that the inside of the building was vastly oversized, with huge arches for doors, and ceilings that towered more than five stories. Carefully repelling down the inner wall, she moved on silent feet as she began to explore.

Everywhere were signs of rot and decay, with little decoration save dust and mold, and no visible inhabitants save rats and spiders. Eventually, Buffy found her way to a large throne room, where she saw an iron cage with a boulder on top of it sitting near the oversized throne. Sitting in the cage was her missing friend. "Xander!" she called, rushing over to him. "Are you all right?"

"Hey Buffster!" he said giving her a grin. "I'm fine. My only wounds are to my dignity."

She examined him carefully for a moment, before her eyes widened. "Is that... a collar?"

Xander fingered the iron band around his neck and chuckled sheepishly. "Yup. Like I said, wound to the dignity."

"What happened? What did she do to you?" Looking at the boulder, she hopped on top of the cage and prepared to push it off. "I'll just get you out of here and..."

"Wait!" Xander shouted. "There's no point."

"Of course there's a point! I'm going to get you out of there and then I'm going to show that soon to be deadest of all banshees who've ever been dead what happens to people who hurt my friends. Spoiler: they get dead."

"Yeah, just one problem with that. When I woke up, I found out I'm now the prisoner of this giant named Balor. And by giant, I mean smaller than Dawnie, but still really really big."

"You know what they say: the bigger they are..." Buffy said leadingly.

"The harder they fall," Xander finished.

"Nope. The more places I can beat 'em."

He smirked. "That too. Seriously Buff, this collar has some major mojo going for it. It doesn't come off, and I don't get away until it comes off, or I'm gonna be a head shorter."

"Well," Buffy said consideringly as she hopped back down to the ground. "You are a bit too tall..."

"Buff, to you, everyone's a bit too tall."

Buffy pouted for a moment. "Meanie. Just for that, after I go deal with the giant, you can be my training dumm... I mean, my sparring partner when we get back."

"Wow, I'd love to, but I have this whole thing with the not dying." He turned serious, giving her a level look. "The thing is though, Buff, you can't just go kill this guy."

"Sure I can. I'm good at killing stuff. On my resume it says my skills are waitressing, deep frying, and killing stuff. Which probably explains why I had so much trouble finding a job back in Sunnydale."

"The giant said he couldn't be killed with a normal weapon. Plus, he has super vision."

"Super vison? I'm supposed to be afraid of someone that doesn't need eye glasses?"

"No. Super vision, as in, he looks at you and you die."

"You've got plan face."

"I've got plan mind too. The giant had a bigger ego than Glory, and I tricked him into telling me his secret weakness."

Buffy stared. "Seriously? How in the world did you pull that off? I mean, Big Bads like to brag, but usually they're smarter than that."

"I'll have you know, I turned on the old Xander charm and had him eating out of my hand. I coulda given James Bond lessons."

She gave him a disbelieving look.

"Fine," he huffed. "He liked the Snoopy dance so much he made me court jester."

Buffy burst out laughing. "Wow, I see what you meant about the dignity."

"Yeah, yeah. Once again I'm the butt monkey."

When she calmed down, she gave him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. I'll deal with him, and then we can head back to where you're all Sergeant Fury."

"Hence the plan. Apparently, he can be killed by this magic sword called the Claiomh Solais."

"Cleave slowish?" she interrupted incredulously. "Isn't that the kind of thing you wouldn't want in a magic sword?"

He rolled his eyes. "The Sword of Light. Apparently, it'll kill him and stop his eye beams, so two for one deal."

"Okay. So where is it."

He opened his mouth, then closed it sheepishly. "Umm... I dunno. Is there a magic sword shop around here?"

She huffed. "Alright, I'll find it. Just be careful, jester."

"Ha ha. Speed is kinda important, too. Apparently, he's got Dead Boy's soul, and he's expecting Angelus to show up soonish."

"I know," she said grimly. "The banshee told me."

"Which means we're on a bit of a time table. I'll get by here, but you should still make with the speediness."

Buffy nodded, and started to turn, before stopping and giving him searching look. "Are you really okay?"

He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm fine. Just make sure I'm there when you go all Slayer on him."

"Will do," Buffy said, smiling at her friend, before she left as silently as she came.

Xander sighed to himself. "I wonder if he likes limericks?"

Buffy made it outside of Dun Bhaloir with little trouble, not meeting anyone on her way despite the steady buzz of her spidey-sense. She crept stealthily until she was out of sight of the walls, and then she looked around, concerned. She had no idea where to find the Claiohm Solais, and if Angelus was running loose, then the longer she took, the more people would die. With a sigh, she picked a direction and started walking.

After a few minutes she passed a copse of trees and was surprised to find Rua sitting on a rock with a large brown horse standing next to him. Buffy looked around carefully to make sure that she wasn't walking into a trap, before approaching him warily. "Hey."

"Hello again, Buffy," Rua said smiling.

"Right. Um, what's the what?"

"I came to see if you had found your friend, though I don't see him with you."

"I found him, but he had this collar on. He said that if I don't kill the giant, then he's stuck with an exploding fashion accessory."

"Ah, yes, that is trouble indeed. Have you had any thoughts toward the matter?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, nodding firmly. "I need to find the Sword of Light, and then I can get my slice and dice on."

"I see," Rua said nodding thoughtfully. "That is a good plan. The Claiomh Solais should be able to cleave e'en the flesh of the Fomori King, and its effulgence should prevent Balor from killing you at a glance. O' course, retrieving the sword will prove quite a challenge."

"Do you have any idea where to look? I don't even know where here is."

"I do indeed know, though you won't find the journey easy. I may be able to help you on your way, if you follow."

"Why are you helping me?" Buffy asked cautiously. "Not that I'm not grateful! 'Cause I am. Completely grateful. But..."

"You were kind to me, and gave me your food when I asked for it, and answered me when I asked questions. I like to help those in need, especially when they are polite. Why, you even took time to play cards with me instead of growing angry at the delay in my directions!"

"Wow," Buffy said, smiling slightly. "I don't think I've ever been so glad mom tried to pound all those mannery things into me."

"And a good thing she did! Manners and hospitality will get you further in life than you can ever expect. Now then, I'm willing to lend you this horse, Brown Allree, and he can take you to my three brothers, who all dwell in their own castles 'round this land. When he reaches them, he will shake himself and his bells will ring and you will have a foot in the door to speak with each brother, though you will have to convince them yourself to grant you their favor! If you can gain a token from each, then Brown Allree will take you to the path o' the sword."

"Thanks. Um... any advice on the whole convincing thingie? 'Cause I'm not great at diplomacy. Unless there's hitting. I'm good at that kinda diplomacy."

He smiled. "My brothers are not overly diplomatic themselves, truth be told. Simply be polite and mind your manners, and be prepared for strange sights or odd requests."

"Sounds like home."

"Now then, if you want my aid you will have to abide by three conditions. Condition the first, is that when you finish using the Claiomh Solais, you must give it and my brother's tokens to me for safekeeping."

Buffy hesitated for a moment. While she was wary about agreeing to hand over the apparently powerful magic weapon to an unknown like this, she really didn't have much choice. Without his aid, she would have no idea where to even begin looking for the sword. "Alright."

"Condition the second, you will speak not a word nor attempt to dismount Brown Allree no matter how strangely she may act until she rings her bells."

Buffy had no idea what that condition would mean, although she was pretty certain that it was going to be really annoying. "Fine."

"Condition the third, you will shed no blood at the castle of the Fir Bolg, nor of any who dwell therein e'en if they give stringent chase, e'en though they will surely never willingly yield the Claiomh Solais."

While she knew that that was going to be a troublesome condition, she doubted that the Fir Bolg security could be as tough as the banks she had robbed to fund her Slayer organization, and she had done that without any bloodshed. "Alright."

"Good. Then I will give you one more bit of advice before you go. When you depart the castle of the Fir Bolg, follow the path downhill to the waterfall and look for the Bridge of Two Hairs, which no giant may cross. It will not look to be able to support any weight at all, but it will serve you well if you are in a hurry."

"Thanks," Buffy said. "I'll have the sword before you know it."

"Good luck then, Buffy. You'll need it."

Buffy climbed onto the horse's back, grabbing the reigns and giving Rua a nod. Before she could blink the horse began to move.

She would have called what the horse was doing running, except saying that gave no justice to what was occurring. The horse didn't simply run; it flew over the meadows and hills with such great speed that she was concerned that if she didn't have Slayer strength she wouldn't have been able to hang on. On and on the animal sped, never slowing down from its blistering pace, until suddenly it began to behave strangely.

The horse raised its right foreleg, and grabbed its hoof with its teeth, running awkwardly on three legs as it did so. The awkward gait caused Buffy to rock back and forth, which given their speed of travel, nearly threw her from her saddle. Clinging to the horse tightly, she suppressed her instinctive desire to either dive to safety or shout, remembering the second condition which she had agreed to before taking the horse.

When it eventually became obvious that she wasn't going to react, the horse released its leg and looked back at her. If Buffy hadn't known better, she would have sworn that it was pouting at her, disappointed that it hadn't caused her to break her word with Rua. Given that she was pretty certain Rua was a powerful fairy, she was glad that Brown Allree hadn't tripped her up. She was also grateful that the strange behavior hadn't tripped the horse up, either.

Just as she began to relax she tensed again as she saw a large patch of the metal flowers ahead of her. They stretched as far as the eye could see, and she had already determined that they were a serious health hazard. Especially hazardous when her mount was speeding directly towards them faster than a car could drive. Holding on tightly, she set her mouth in a grim line and prepared for the worst.

At the last moment Brown Allree jumped, leaping impossibly high and far, sailing over acres of the deadly plants before finally landing lightly on the grass just past them, all without breaking stride. It wasn't long after that that Buffy saw a small castle standing on a hill. She appraised it professionally, her experience living in castles since Sunnydale allowing her to determine that it was a well built, medieval style construction, and one that was currently inhabited.

Nearing the gates, the horse abruptly stopped and stood completely still for nearly a minute. Finally, saddened that she hadn't reacted, it tossed its head, causing small bells in its tack to jingle quietly.

Buffy climbed off awkwardly, before walking slowly around to the front of the animal. Pointing her finger at it, she glared. "Cute. But keep that up, and you and me are gonna have problems, horsy."

The horse gave her an innocent look.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Right. My little sister, who is half horse right now for reasons that are beyond strange, invented that look. I'm keeping an eye on you. Anymore stunts like that and its off to the glue factory, capiche?"

The horse snorted.

Buffy strode off with a huff, ignoring the animal as she approached the entrance to the castle. Walking up to the gates, she saw that they were made from stout wood, and the stone around them was decorated with carvings of rams. Shrugging, she knocked loudly.

After a few moments a matronly woman with long curly hair wearing a simple dress opened it. "Yes, m'lady? How can I help you this day?"

"Um," Buffy said. "I'm looking for Rua's brother. He's supposed to be able to help me."

"Follow me then," the woman said. "He is out for the moment, but I expect him to return soon."

Buffy shrugged and followed, walking across the courtyard and into the keep. It was constructed of stone and quite grand, although everything looked medieval. As she was led down the hallways she noticed that all of the tapestries on the walls, as well as any other embellishments or decorations, depicted rams.

She was led to a small sitting room, and was soon given tea and cookies and left to wait. Having eaten nothing but the nearly inedible ration bars all day, she quickly tore into them, happy to get something tasty to eat.

Buffy heard the sound just as she was polishing off the last of her tea. It sounded like thunder in the distance, rolling on and on and never ending. Slowly the pounding came closer and closer, until at last she could pick out the sound for what it was: hoofbeats. Closer and closer they sounded, until at last the door was thrown open and an enormous ram burst into the room.

The ram had stormy gray fur, and was taller than she was at its chin. It had huge horns curled around each side of its head, and a look of human intelligence in its kind eyes. Coming to a stop, it examined Buffy for a long moment, before finally nodding.

The ram began to blur, slowly collapsing in on itself until standing in front of her was a stocky, gray haired man with a short goatee, kind eyes, and a confident grin. "Hello, miss!" he said in a bold voice. "Welcome to my castle!"

Author's Notes

I spent about 20 minutes studying Irish phonetic guides and the IPA on wikipedia trying to figure out the proper way to pronounce Claohm Solais. Why? Because just like every other weird proper name, Buffy prefers to mangle it, which means I have to figure out how to pronounce it so that I can figure out how to do it wrong. Cleave slowish is the best error I could come up with, knowing nothing about gaelic.

Brown Allree is the name of the magical horse from the story Morraha, although it is far from the only story with a magical horse like this. The thing with biting its own leg to get its rider to talk is from Morraha, although it goes into even more details about the weird things that had to be done to appease the magic horse in that tale.

The three brothers of the red haired man came from the story The Weaver's Son and the Giant of the White Hill. It was actually that story that convinced me to write this. I am, of course, taking certain liberties with all of the elements to tell the best tale that I can from the myths.