disclaimer in part 1
By Rebecca Carefoot
Part Four: Swim
Swim lady swim
lady don't refuse
though our chances are slim
and we're totally confused
there are clues to be found
and I'd ask my peers
but they're all dumbing down
until this bad weather clears
we're out on a limb
so swim lady swim
The Wind in the Wires
- The Waterboys
Buffy glared at the stake in her hand. "Stake versus sword. So not fair."
"I'll take him," Angel said. "You run. There's a bridge on the other side of that forest." The thing took a grotesque step toward them, its body twisting strangely, things bending that weren't supposed to, things poking out that should have been straight.
"Like hell," Buffy said. She shook her head hard, displacing the last clutches of her stupor. "I'm not leaving you." She turned to the thing, ducked under the swing of its sword and kicked out, shattering its knee with a brittle cracking noise. It staggered back, then continued toward them, its walk even more unbalanced, but undettered. Several more horned heads rose over the top of the hill. Buffy grabbed Angel's hand and tugged it. "We both run," she said. They faced the slope of the hill, its surface bristling with horns, red capes; the things surrounded them like a sea of bones.
"There are too many," Angel said.
"Yes," Buffy said simply. "But we're getting out of here. Both of us." She knocked aside a clutching skeletal hand, and unbalanced a spindly leg. Angel ducked out of the way of a jab from a sword, grabbed a gloved hand that cracked as he squeezed it, and stripped the sword. He adjusted his grip on the hilt and looked to Buffy.
They fought with sloppy desperation, neither of them sure how to kill the creatures that hemmed them in, not even sure if they could be killed. Angel swept at the things with his sword, trying to cut through legs, bones, knock them over, gain a few seconds. Buffy's stake was all but useless. They didn't seem to have any hearts or eyes or internal organs. She kept the stake in her hand, but concentrated on unbalancing as many of the things as she could with her fists and feet. She hip-checked one that charged her, and yanked the sword away from him, as he fell. She slipped the stake back into her boot, and swung out with the greater reach of the sword.
Angel fought beside her, offering a steady back to press her own against, a well placed sword or foot to sweep aside an enemy that threatened to overwhelm her. And she gave the same to him. A sudden crack of bone that sent one of the things tumbling away from him, a sword blocking a killing blow at the last second. An unspoken communication between them, and he ducked the slash that swooshed above his head. They fell into easy patterns, familiar patterns, becoming a team again, the way they always had been.
There was no one opponent to focus on. They were all the same. Same looking. Same acting. It was a blur of sweeping blows, swords clattering on metal, on bone. Angel stayed close to Buffy, trying not to worry about her, to focus on his own end of the battle. Dodge that hand closing on the shoulder, kick out, crack of bone, spin, jab, sword cut, dodge too late. Blood seeps through the shirt. Not too bad, still moving. Block the sword thrust, parry. Damn. Sting of blade against the arm.
There seemed to be no end to the creatures. They were tall. Even Angel couldn't see over the tops of their horned skulls. There was no thinning of the mob, no place to break free, no end in sight. And each creature they knocked aside, each one whose bones they broke, continued to follow, at whatever uneven pace they could. The bodies were not left behind, lying lifeless on the ground, instead they staggered after them. Buffy was sweating, blood trickled down the side of her face, but her grip on the stolen sword was firm.
They were in the forest now. Angel wished he could remember how far he'd walked, how long. He wondered if the things filled the forest to the very edge of the bridge. He smashed the hilt of his sword into one of the thing's faces. He kicked aside a sword that jabbed for Buffy's midsection. She smiled at him a little, not the cocky grin she'd often shot in his direction during a fight, not a smile of joy, but it seemed to stengthen his arm, deaden the pain of the cut that sizzled across his chest, and he returned a similar smile. She ducked, then jumped over a low slash, her hair flying in the blinding sunlight, her teeth bared briefly before she brought the sword down hard enough to split an empty skull.
He was dazzled for a moment, forgetting himself, where he was, everything but her, beautiful, powerful, strong...alive. Pain skwered him as one of the things caught him across the ribs. He grimaced, pressing his elbow against the flow of blood. He was weakening, but he ducked the next thrust and broke a leg in half, sending the thing sprawling.
Buffy kicked aside another of the things, blocked a cut from a third or fifth or tenth, and chopped off a sword arm. She darted past as it reached with its empty hand, and was suddenly faced with trees rather than swords. She beat aside one of the things that was harrying Angel, and grabbed his hand, pulling him past the foe.
"Run," she said. He ran with her, though the air was filled with the scent of his own blood. She swiped absently at the blood that seeped down over her eyebrow. The things gave chase, but the two of them moved faster. Buffy looked back once, shuddered at the sight of the things running, their limbs all out of order, scuttling like bony spiders. She didn't turn her head again. Angel brushed aside a branch, and they were at the edge of the cliff. He turned his head from side to side.
"Where's the bridge?" he asked.
"How should I know?" Buffy said. "You're the one who crossed it."
"It's gone," Angel said. He could hear the things gaining, they had less than seconds to spare. He looked down at the river so far below, rushing against the rocks. "Jump."
Buffy looked down doubtfully. "I don't know..."
"Trust me," he said.
"I do," she answered. She held out her hand, and his palm was pressed to hers instantly. Fingers wrapped tight, they threw themselves off the side of the cliff. Buffy watched the sheer rock wall of the ravine stream past her eyes. She didn't have time to scream. She half hoped she'd smash against the stones that cut through the water below, find oblivion again. Angel gasped as, still hundreds of feet from the river, they hit something solid. His teeth rattled in his head, his bones jarred, and his head whacked against nothing so hard his vision clouded. He felt his grip on consciousness slipping, but tried to hold on to Buffy's hand, watched with greying vision as they fell through the invisible wall, and kept falling.