| Part I
Buffy looked around the room as she and Giles entered. It could be a trap, after all. Two other exits, one to the left and one to the right. Smooth wooden floors, smooth wooden walls — padding on one wall, a stack of pads in the corner, a weapons rack in the other corner, almost as good as her training set-up back home.
Luke was there, of course, and another man who looked a lot like him, only with light-brown hair instead of Luke’s black — and a couple inches taller, with a deeper scowl. To the left, with the taller man, were three girls — one blonde, one brunette, and one with black hair — dressed in loose pants and tight shirts, with tight ponytails and very sharp smiles. They were already sizing Buffy up.
Buffy turned towards Giles and grinned her most vapid smile. “Oh goody,” she chirped. “They brought some girls for me to fight with.” Giles responded with a dry smirk.
On the other side of the room were the guys. They’d been talking to Luke but had stopped when Buffy and Giles walked in and were staring.
One of them had hair like a lion’s mane and a square jaw. He looked worried. From the look of him, Buffy was pretty certain he was more concerned he might hurt her than that she might hurt him. He got a point for being considerate and lost two for underestimating her.
He was with two others, one who was so average that she almost overlooked him completely: average height, just-skinnier-than-average build, dark hair, pale skin, well-groomed. He wasn’t bad looking, Buffy supposed, but he seemed a little too bland for her tastes; the third one was red haired and tan-skinned, with a smile that seemed a bit awkward for his mouth, too big, too toothy. He’d stopped mid-sentence.
“They’re staring,” she chirped at Giles. “It’s not nice to stare at the new girl, is it?”
“Yes, you did, Finn,” interrupted the brunette girl, with a smile that looked too lazy for her all-business posture. “You wanted to see what she’s made of, didn’t you? Or maybe just what you could make of her…”
“Pay no mine to Allyse,” the dark-haired guy continued, although he was flushed a bit. “I’m Finn cy’Luca – someone said you knew the cy’s and wherefores?”
“Yep.” Buffy grinned at him. “I’m Buffy cy’Giles, and this is Giles. Say hello, Giles.”
“Ahem, ah. Hello.” Giles waved at the gathered students.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Finn, like I said. This here is Smitty,” he gestured to the red-head, “Richard, and the Thorne Girls, Allyse,” he nodded to the brunette, “Acacia,” the blonde, “and Massima,” the black-haired girl. “They’re cy’Doug, and that’s Doug, and you met Luke.”
“Hi, everyone. So, you’re supposed to spar with me? Like, all at once or three on one or…?”
“Easy there, midget. You sure think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” The tall blonde woman strode forward. “Tell you what. You start with Smitty there, and then work your way up to the big leagues.”
“Hey.” Smitty looked mildly offended. “Easy there, Cay.”
“Easy.” Acacia smirked at him. “Exactly.”
“Okay.” Buffy strode up to Smitty. “So, weapons or bare hands, what, are we fighting to tap-out or unconsciousness?”
“Are your eyes closed?”
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three or four or five times…”
“What are you talking about?” Smitty’s voice went high when he was confused, she noted.
“Starey eyes, I vannnt to suuuuck your blaaahd?”
“Oh, you ran in to Dysmas. Nah, we all have different tricks, and that’s not mine. Come on, open your eyes. Let’s make this a fair fight.”
“Big ol’ you against ol’ me?” Buffy smiled sweetly at him. “To knock-out or tap-out?’
“Oh, let’s go with tap-out. You’ve got all these other people to fight, too.”
“Okay!” She smiled brightly at him. Was he cocky or just actually good? She’d have to give him a good work out to see. “And are we going bare-handed?”
“How about escrima sticks? You ever fought with those before?”
“These.” He reached out a hand and Finn tossed him four rattan sticks. “You sure you don’t want padding?”
Oh, he was starting to get to her. “You sure you don’t?”
“If you want to be that way. All right.” He took up a ready position on the edge of the mat. “Come at me.”
“Oh, only if you ask nicely.” Buffy got herself ready, felt the weight of the weapons, and attacked.
His style was very traditional. He waited when she dropped a stick (to see what he would do, after he’d tapped her knuckles), so she did the same when she knocked the sticks out of his hands.
Finally she stepped back and held up both sticks, not surrendering but not attacking. “You’re not bad. But I’ve got all these other people to fight, too.”
He rubbed his knuckles surreptitiously with his other hand. “You’re fast. I look forward to watching you fight the Thorne Girls.”
That, Buffy figured, had to be the three sharp-looking girls over there. She glanced at Giles, to see if he’d caught the reference.
Giles looked far too unworried. He was leaning against a wall, jacket off, so relaxed she nearly expected him to have a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his t-shirt sleeve, chatting with Doug.
Now that was interesting. Buffy would worry about that later.
“Oh, go ahead, boys,” Acacia drawled. Buffy thought it was Acacia, at least. “Tire her out.”
Buffy noted that. It was a good strategy — if you were fighting a non-BUffy sort of person. It took a lot more than some sticks to tire her out.
Richard the liony-looking one stepped forward. “How about bo staff?”
“Bo? Is that like… oh, here.” She strode over to the rack, replaced her escrima sticks, and tossed Richard the first of two bo staffs.
She checked the weight on the second on, swung it around a few times, and nodded at Richard.
He held back a lot less than Smitty had, but when she let him get a hit in, he still stepped back and didn’t pursue the opening.
“Gentlemen,” she complained, mostly to Giles. “If I were a real opponent that would get you killed in a heartbeat.”
“What,” purred the black-haired one, Massima, “are you saying you’re not a real opponent?”
Buffy parried an annoyed swing from Richard and spared Massima a glance. “I’m not a — fooey, stop that,” she parried another strike, “– I mean, I’m not here to kill you and you’re not here to kill me. That’s a real opponent. This is sparring. And this is like Council sparring, all manners and—” she ducked around behind Richard to tap him on the ass with the end of her stick. “–bowing.”
“Council?” Richard just barely managed to get his stick up in time to parry her next blow. “Are they the ones that trained you? Where did you learn to hit like this?”
Buffy took a step back and jabbed her stick at his heart, stopped just before his chest and tapping very lightly. “Giles trained me. I learned to hit hitting monsters in the streets. Where did you learn to fight?”
“Here.” Luke stepped forward and took the stick from Richard. “They learned to fight here, in a controlled environment, where nobody was going to kill them. The Thornes there, that’s Massima, Acacia, and Allyse, they do monster hunting.”
“Oh, come on, Luke,” Massima complained. “Ruining the surprise.”
“I’ll pretend to be surprised if you will,” Buffy offered. She looked at Luke thoughtfully. She almost never fought someone as short as she was. “What’re we fighting with?”
He tossed her a wooden ax, balanced like a fire ax. She hefted it thoughtfully and nodded.
“I’m not going to fight like my students,” he warned her.
“I’d be disappointed if you did,” she countered. “Ready?”
This attack was like nothing Buffy had ever encountered. He was fast, he was strong, and he knew his shit. She’d fought elder vampires who were this fast, but they forgot what they were doing sometimes. Not since the Master…
She bounced back a step and stared at him. “Giles?” Her voice caught.
Giles voice was very calm. “He is not what you are thinking, Buffy. He is safe. He is here to test you. So, I’d suggest, pretend the Council sent him and show him what you’ve got.”
Buffy looked back to Luke. She raised her eyebrows at him. “A challenge. All right, let’s do this.”
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