Deep in the heart of an ancient monastery, a small group of monks huddled together in whispered conversation.
"Are you sure this is the right course of action, brother?"
"The seers report that sending the key away now will forever place it out of the beast's reach under a power greater than we can imagine," the other monk replied. "Our duty is to do all in our power to keep the key safe."
A flicker of movement was the only warning the boy got before his crush's younger sister appeared.
"XANDER!" Joyce stepped out of the way to allow her youngest to tackle the boy.
"Looking good, Dawnie," Xander said with a smile as he took in her colorful silk robes and hair done up in twin pony tails. "Very regal."
"Mom helped me put it together," Dawn said, beaming up at her crush. "I based it off the clothes Sasami and Ayeka wore."
"You did a good job," he complimented her.
"Who are you?"
"Private Harris, reporting for duty," Xander replied with a sloppy salute.
"That's too boring," Dawn sniffed.
"What do you suggest then?" the boy asked with obvious amusement. "Kinda late to switch costumes."
"Lord Xander of the Juraian army, my bodyguard." 'And future husband,' she added silently. "That way we'll match."
"Of course, Princess," he agreed. "Just give me a moment outside to prepare things."
The boy stepped out and pulled a stake from under his fatigues. From his right pocket he pulled a folding jackknife, extended a blade, and began carving.
"What are you doing, Xan?" Buffy's voice demanded, startling him and almost causing him to cut himself.
"Making a sword handle so I match Dawn's costume," he replied.
"Oh." The girl seemed to mull it over for a moment. "Why did you have a stake with you? Giles said it was supposed to be quiet tonight."
"Supposed to be," he agreed. "You willing to take the chance that everything will go right for a change or that the universe is willing to miss an opportunity to fuck with us?"
The girl paled. "I'll be right back."
"Buff, wait." He pulled out another stake. "Brought a spare just in case."
"Thanks, Xander." Buffy concealed it in the folds of her dress.
"Also got a cross and some holy water. One advantage to having an outfit with so many pockets is that it lets you carry a lot of stuff." He handed them over. "Anyone notices, you're Lady Elizabeth the scourge of the underworld, the greatest vampire hunter who ever lived. So feared was she that the baddies threw a year long party after she died at age one hundred and twelve and still wet themselves a hundred years later whenever someone mentions her name."
"Goof," Buffy snorted.
"You know it," he agreed, putting the finishing touches on his new prop. That done, he cleaned up his shavings and tossed them into the nearest garbage can, pausing once on the way back to the house to pick something up.
"What are you doing now?" Buffy asked .
"Just picking up an acorn for Dawn's costume. What Princess of Jurai would be caught without her tree?"
A few minutes of work and the latest addition to his costume was complete.
"Where's yours?" Dawn asked as she took the acorn.
"My ship the-" he paused to think of a name. "-the Aku Soku Zan is in orbit while we visit the planet," Xander replied. "Best not to scare the locals with a giant ship hovering over their city."
"Ruroni Kenshin," she chirped.
"Right you are, Dawn-patrol."
Lady Elizabeth felt a moment of disorientation. Opening her eyes, she found herself in a strange place filled with demons and chaos. The woman took a moment to consider her surroundings as she tried to piece together what had happened. The last thing she remembered was celebrating her one hundred and twelfth birthday surrounded by a multitude of decedents and then she was here in a body that felt better than hers had in decades.
"Buffy!" a spirit arrived, apparently trying to get her attention. "Thank god you're alright."
"Do I know you, spirit?" Lady Elizabeth asked cautiously.
"Not you too," the spirit wailed. "It's me, Willow."
"Do you know what has happened, Willow?" she asked the spirit.
"Everyone's become their costumes," the spirit replied, looking distraught.
"I see. Do you know of anyone from whom we could seek aid to end this madness?"
"Giles," the spirit replied instantly. "He'll know what to do."
"In that case, I would suggest that you go inform this Giles of what has happened while I will stay here to mitigate the damage to the townsfolk."
"Okay, Buffy, I-Xander!" the spirit exclaimed.
"I'm afraid that I am unfamiliar with that term, Spi-Willow," Lady Elizabeth stated.
"He's our friend," the spirit explained. "He's with Dawn."
"I see. Why don't you show me to Xander so that we can assure ourselves of his safety before you leave to inform Giles of what has happened," she suggested.
"Okay, Buffy," the spirit agreed happily.
Lady Elizabeth followed her erstwhile companion for a short while before the spirit came to a stop. "Is there a problem, Willow?"
"That's them over there," the spirit said happily, waving at a man dressed in a green tunic and child in colorful layered silk robes on the other side of the street. "Don't worry, Buffy, I'll go tell Giles what happened and he'll figure out a way to stop this. You guys just stay together and try to stay safe," the spirit called over her shoulder as she departed.
"I . . ." she sighed. "Had hoped you would provide an introduction before you left." With another sigh, Lady Elizabeth lifted her skirts and stepped off the curb. "Excuse me, kind sir."
"Yes?" the man in green asked, shifting to reveal a strange looking musket in his hands which was not quite pointed at her.
"I am Elizabeth Summers, Lady of Sunnydale."
"Xander Tatsuki Jurai, Lord of Tsukikage."
"And my bodyguard and future consort," the girl peeking curiously from behind her protector chirped.
"The young lady behind me is Dawn Masaki Jurai, third princess of Jurai," he continued. "It is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance, my Lady."
"Princess, my lord," she cursed. "Do you, per chance know what is going on tonight?"
"I am afraid that I do not, my lady," he replied. "We came to visit with members of the royal family who reside in these lands and found ourselves under attack by strange creatures."
"Lord Xander chased them off and then we met you," the little princess supplied helpfully.
Warned by instincts honed by decades of hunting, the noblewoman spun around, weapons ready to confront the creature she sensed approaching.
"Buffy, you're safe," the creature said with a relieved smile. "Do you know what's going on?"
"I do not, kind sir," Lady Elizabeth replied, waiting for her prey to get within striking distance. "Perhaps-" in a flash her stake was out and in the thing's heart. She took no notice of the look of shocked betrayal on the creature's face as it crumbled into dust.
"What was that?" the older of her two companions demanded sharply.
"It was a vampire, my lord," she replied a bit curtly.
"What is . . . ah, please forgive my earlier tone, my Lady." The foreign aristocrat said contritely. "I'm afraid that I allowed my surprise to overcome my manners."
"Nothing to forgive, my lord," Lady Elizabeth stated. "It is a parasitic demon that infesting a corpse. They need human blood to survive and will often infect its victims to increase the numbers of its species."
"Does it gain its host's knowledge and powers?" Xander asked intently.
"It does, my lord," Buffy agreed.
"Your pardon, my lady, but I'm afraid duty compels me to remove the princess to a safer location," he said, showing real signs of regret. "You are of course welcome to accompany us back to the ship."
"I quite understand, my lord," she assured him. "Your first duty is to your charge. While I thank you for your kind offer, I must respectfully decline. As your duty is to the princess, so too is mine to the innocent people in this town."
The foreign aristocrat pursed his lips. "With your permission, my lady, I believe that there is a way that I can aid you before I go."
"Of course, my lord. Any aid you can provide will be most welcome."
"Princess, please summon your guardians."
"Okay, Xander," the girl chirped.
Lady Elizabeth took a cautious step back when two large logs appeared. "Is this the assistance you mentioned, my lord?"
"They are, my lady," he agreed. "They can generate a force field that will protect all within it from harm."
"Thank you, my lord, that will be most helpful," she said, eyes lighting up.
"Help Lady Elizabeth until Xander or I return," the princes ordered.
"Yes, princess," the logs replied.
"I shall return after I have gotten the princess to safety and arranged for her continued security," Xander continued. "Until then, be safe, my lady."
"I shall await your return with baited breath, my lord," she replied with a smile. It was time to get to work, time to remind the creatures why they hid in shadow, to remind them of what it felt like to feel fear.
Xander settled his charge and directed the ship to set a course for the planet Jurai. The sooner they left, the sooner he could return to aid their ally.
The ship went faster than light about the same time Giles entered the shop to confront his former friend. It was several dozen light years outside the solar system by the time he managed to convince the man to tell him what he wanted to know.
Two things occurred when Giles smashed the bust; the first was that the spell ended, the second was that the ship carrying Xander and Dawn vanished to another dimension.
Buffy suddenly found herself on a street surrounded by crying children. In a flash, the memories of what had happened that night rushed to fore. Her stake dropped out of suddenly slack fingers as she collapsed to sit on the curb. She had killed angel.
Her feelings for the vampire conflicted with the echo of Lady Elizabeth. An echo which could conceive of nothing more monstrous than forcing a soul into a demonically animated corpse and nothing more sickening than a relationship with the same. It was something she would have to spend many hours contemplating to resolve.
"Come along, children!" she said loudly, duty to the innocent first. She could sort things out later. "Let's get you home."
Joyce was frantic with worry for her daughters as the anchor woman continued her report on the gas leak.
"I have returned," her oldest announced as she walked through the front door.
"Buffy, thank goodness you're safe. Have you seen your sister?"
"Mother. Dawn is with Xander, therefore Dawn is safe," Buffy said calmly but insistently. "No harm will come to her while under his protection."
"Still . . ."
"Xander probably just found a safe place to wait out tonight's madness, they'll likely show up some time tomorrow."
"And if they don't?"
"We will determine how best to address the situation."
Giles sighed as his slayer finished her report. Damn it all.
"Have you noticed any side effects from your possession . . . aside from your changed speech patterns?"
"The slayer spirit is busy assimilating as much as it can of Lady Elizabeth's life. I believe my normal speech patterns will return after it has finished."
"Well . . . I dare say having the memories of another slayer will be useful."
"Not a slayer," Buffy corrected. "An ordinary human."
She wondered if Lady Elizabeth had gotten her attitude regarding the undead from Xander, if so, she wondered how he'd managed to keep himself from staking Angel. Her friend must have a will of iron.
"Do you have any idea where Xander is?" Willow asked nervously. "No one's seen him since last night."
"Xander and Dawn are either on his spaceship and on their way back to Earth or they're getting aquatinted with the Jurian royal family," Buffy said calmly. "If the latter, it may be some time before they figure out a way to return."
"Oh." Willow's shoulders sagged in relief. "I guess that's okay." The redhead looked up as the bell rang. "We'd better get to class."
"You go ahead," Buffy said. "I have a few other things I'd like to discuss with Giles."
The bleach blonde waited until she no longer detected her friend's presence before continuing.
"Giles," Buffy said seriously.
"A third possibility occurred to me, one I chose not to share with Willow."
"And that is?" he prompted.
"Their ship disappeared while they were in space and they both died in vacuum," Buffy replied. "I need you to find a way to find out."
"What will you do if . . ." he trailed off, not wanting to say it.
"Then I shall hunt down your old friend and I shall spend at least six months making making him beg before I finally permit him to die," Buffy said coldly.
The Jurain Home Fleet went on high alert when the perimeter sensors indicated the approach of an unknown second generation treeship.
"Unidentified ship, you are approaching the Jurain defensive perimeter. Please identify yourself and state your intentions."
Xander awoke to a looping message and a severe case of full body muscle pain. "All stop," he groaned. "Tell them we have a medical emergency."
"Unidentified ship," another voice broke in. "This is Mikagami Five. Do you require assistance?"
"Yes," Xander agreed painfully. "Please inform Lady Seto that there are political considerations so-"
"Unidentified ship," a woman's voice interrupted. "This is Lady Seto Kamiki Jurai, to whom am I addressing?"
"That is one of the political considerations I was talking about," Xander stated. "One I believe you would prefer me not to say over the air even with the best encryption the empire can provide."
"A medical team is being assembled," Lady Seto stated after a moment of thought. "How many people are on your ship in need of medical attention?"
"Two." Xander tried and failed to pull himself to his feet. "Myself and an adolescent female. The safety of the adolescent female is of the highest priority. She must be kept safe no matter what happens."
"Please tell your ship to transmit docking instructions," Lady Seto instructed.
"Let them in," Xander ordered, making a second attempt to pull himself up. "I-yarg." He fell to the ground with a sickening thump.
"Unidentified ship, please repeat last . . . unidentified ship, can you hear us?" Lady Seto's communications officer sounded dead calm. "Unidentified ship, if you can hear us please be advised that we are two minutes out. Help is on the way."
Lady Seto spent several tense minutes waiting while her boarding party secured the strange ship.
"Medical teams report they've found two people on the strange ship, ma'am," her first officer reported. "One male and one younger female."
"Do we have any indication of who they are?"
"Ship reports that the young female is the third princess. DNA tests confirm."
"Her bodyguard according to the ship, charged with safeguarding the third princess using any means necessary. Secondary is the safety of the empire as a whole."
"On who's orders?"
"Yours countersigned by the Emperor and the second Empress."
"In light of the fact that the third princess' mitochondrial dna is from an unknown, we believe that they are either from the future or an alternate timeline."
Joyce spent an uncomfortable day hovering by the phone waiting for any news of her youngest.
"I'm back, mother," Buffy announced upon her return.
"Any news of Xander or Dawn?" Joyce demanded.
"Mother, come with me," Buffy ordered. "I have a few things I need to show you before I tell you what I know."
Joyce marveled at the confidence in her little girl's voice as she trailed behind her, wondering when her daughter had been lucky enough to find her place in the world.
A few short minutes later, she and her eldest were outside a utility shed behind one of the vacant houses in the neighborhood.
Buffy pulled out a clear bottle, uncorked it, and took a sip. "If you would care to examine this, mother."
"It's water," Joyce said after a moment.
"It is," Buffy agreed. "Pour some on him."
"I will answer every question you have after we return home. Is that satisfactory, mother?"
"Yes, Buffy, it is."
AN: This was going to be my submission to the 'Ship of the Line' challenge on Twisting in the Hellmouth. Stopped here for two reasons: Fist is that I'm not much of a Buffy fan, only watched a few episodes and I really don't know the characters well enough to write them. Second is that the only ending I could see was Jurai, possibly backed up by one or more goddesses and/or Tenchi comes to earth to curb stomp the things that go bump in the night. Didn't really appeal to me so I ended things here."
Title was due to the fact that I was planning to ship Xander off to the GP Academy in chapter two or three.