The blond tormentor...
Quietly, his gaze flicked over to her again, and he found himself biting back a fresh chuckle. He knew that Ethan’s hurriedly thought up title shouldn’t be quite so amusing, but then again he was probably almost past the point of rational thought at this moment, anyway. Concern over Ethan, and worry about the world in general didn’t help matters in the slightest.
And this time she caught his glance, and returned it with a raised eyebrow. He hadn’t seen any sign of the danger that he’d been quite so concerned about yet, and they were only a couple of minutes out from the factory but he certainly didn’t doubt that it would be out there. After all, Ethan wasn’t the type who was given to worrying needlessly.
“You may want to reach around and grab that axe you’ve adopted from the backseat,” he broke the silence as he pulled up to a halt in front of the old dilapidated building, and was stretching out with his sense of magic even before he’d opened the door of the car. He couldn’t feel anything, beyond the old magic that was woven around and through the building. Simply staring at it brought back memories, of Ethan looking younger then he had in years, hair long and tied back, as they stepped up to one of their first hits in this town.
Fear, he could feel it in the air, and could see the tension in the way that Ethan was holding himself. No one else had stepped up to this, as conventional weapons had proved useless, and no-one had been able to get away both alive and with a conclusive description.
He shot a new sideways glance at Ethan, and almost automatically reached over to brush a single strand of unruly hair away from his face. Then, side by side, Ethan nudged inwards with his power, and Giles winced at the sound that the door made as the metal screeched, twisted and crumpled inwards.
If there wasn’t a single thing in a three mile radius that hadn’t heard that, then he’d eat his books. Truly, he would.
“Sorry. Maybe a little over-enthusiastic there, perhaps.”
Only the years spent working Sunnydale, and helping keep the world spinning would help Ethan’s subtlety as far as his power was concerned. The less noise you made, the less warning anything got, and the more time you had to plan your own response, and he’d seen time and again how that could prove the difference between life and death on the battlefront.
Without another word they drew closet to the factory, and Giles froze out of shock as much as out of anything else.
“It’s a fucking dinosaur.”
Ethan looked at the still slumbering shape, eyes wide.
“That’s not a dinosaur, it’s a fucking dragon.”
“And how can you tell? Met one before have you?”
At that moment, the thing snorted in its sleep, and a small jet of flame shot out of its nostril. Rupert looked over at Ethan, just in time to catch the smirk which said ‘I told you so.’
“Oh, don’t you look so bloody satisfied. You realize how much harder this job just got?”
Since then the doors had been boarded over, and the only access now was where the front door had once been. Buffy held the axe easily in one hand, and took a couple of warning swipes through the air, and she bounded her weight from side to side and they approached the factory together, much like he and Ethan had done all those years ago.
He paused just inside the door and blinked, letting his power go before him, and his eyes adjust to the gloom. It wouldn’t do, to have Ethan take the sound as something hostile, and attack him.
Although it seemed he needn’t have worried. Ethan was sitting with his head tilted back, and he raised it and opened his eyes at the first sound of movement.
“Rupert,” he pushed the corners of his mouth up into a smile that looked as though it were exhausted, and pushed himself to his feet.
Still, though, he kept his approach slow, and Ethan allowed it giving him time to feel him out and make sure that it really was him. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time that an enemy had tried to mimic someone that he loved.
He was exhausted, his power was just about drained for the moment, and all that it took was one good eye to notice the signs of a rather recent nosebleed. Ethan had stretched himself to breaking point.
Finally, satisfied, he closed the distance and came to a halt in front of him. As much as he wanted to throw his arms around him, out of relief, he wasn’t going to do that in front of the Slayer. He didn’t want to upset here any more than he could help, and as well as she was dealing with the differences from what she normally knew, he didn’t want to push things too far.
“What’s going on?”
And glancing back over his shoulder and catching Buffy’s ‘go-ahead’ look, he drew Ethan into a tight embrace. The other man relaxed into it for a few minutes before drawing back, and looking uneasy.
“What did you want to start with? The bad news or what’s worse?”
“The bad?” he phrased the statement as a question.
“That’s good, since it would be better if I broke the worse when we didn’t have any witnesses,” his gaze danced over to Buffy, and then he turned his full attention back to Rupert.
“The good news is that we picked up a Slayer. The bad news if that I think it’s possible we may have picked up more than one.”
Giles understood instantly, “Bringers?”
“Yes, Bringers, I’m afraid; drawn to my firescry. I ran, and then teleported without a base, set destination, or a focus.”
He drew a deep, slow breath.
“You idiot, Ethan; you’re bloody lucky is all and nothing else.”
“Trust me, love. I know it. It half killed me, and only the luck of Janus and you stopped me from reappearing some six feel underground or the like.”
“And it wouldn’t have done you much good if you’d flashed back in the middle of some demon nest, either.”
“Again, believe me when I say that I know.”
This was the bad news? He wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear the worst, but if it something that he or they were going to have to take a stand against, then it was better that…
“…for once, I don’t know what to do,” he registered that Ethan was still talking, and forced himself to pay attention, “whenever we try to make a move it always seems like we just screw something else up. Like I screw it up…”
Maybe something to do with what else he’s got to tell me? But that didn’t matter at the moment. All that mattered was holding it together, for Ethan’s and Buffy’s sake if nothing else.
“We do what we always do, love,” he took Ethan’s hand and helped him back to his feet, before digging into his pocket to pull out the handkerchief that he always carried, and handed it over so the he could clean up the dried blood under his nose as best he could, “we regroup, we plan, and then we keep fighting. You said yourself when we first signed up for this that it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’ve never conceded ground before. Just because we’ve got one more thing to add to the snowball, doesn’t mean that we won’t still get through this.”
“You might, but I doubt I will. Not once…” he crossed his arms over his chest and turned his back, looking pointedly at the ground.
“Look, let’s just get you home first.”
He tried to crush down his fear at the way Ethan was talking as best as he could. Focus on one thing; one thing at a time. Whatever other shocks Ethan had for him would have to wait in line until they were safely back, behind the wards of the house. Because the longer they stayed out here, with a Slayer at that, the more likely they were to attract them, even with the old magic woven through the building.
“I can live with that,” Ethan tucked the cloth into his pocket and gave him the grin of an exhausted man, and turned to the door. Buffy had watched the exchange in silence and now she still didn’t say a word, simply pulled the door open. He watched her, and tried to focus on what Rupert had said, and brush his feeling aside, as she took two steps out of the door, and then froze.
“What the hell…”
Their walk became a run, and a few seconds later he could see for himself why she’d stopped. A line of five Bringers, knives in hand were between them and their escape route.
“Those would be the things that I was trying to avoid,” he supplied for her dryly, and didn’t miss the look that Rupert shot him, which said very clearly that this was not the time.
“Those are Bringers? But the things that I knew were eyeless.”
They were advancing slowly and looked sure of themselves, and sure of an easy kill.
They had eyes, and razor-sharp teeth, and the X-Y patters that she’d known them to have were instead heavy black and red markings down their cheeks. They weren’t overly muscular or large, but they felt powerful, in a way which she’d never known them to.
“Yes, that’s how these started out, too. These are Bringers in a world in which they’ve come into power. They may not be much to look at, but they’re fast, and strong, easily the strength of ten men in one. Their senses are heightened to the extreme, and they’re damn near impossible to take down. And they’re impervious to any form of magic aside from the old arts.”
Buffy took her own step towards the one that was slightly at the head of the others, and while it didn’t stop moving it did eye her warily. She gathered herself, and swung the axe at it in a two-handed strike that was no-where near as fast or powerful as it could have been, to test it reflexes. And a moment later it was over her other side.
“Okay, that’s interesting,” she spoke softly to herself. And then three of them lunged at her, and the other two spread out to either side and closed in from the back. She spun the axe in a wide, sweeping ark and was surprised to see it pass cleanly through one of their stomachs, splitting it open. She had only a second to watch it, before she found herself grappling with the next one. The next time she got to glance at it, the deep slash was knitting itself back together before her very eyes.
“That is so not fair.”
She glanced back towards the two men as soon as she got another few seconds break.
“You might want to try decapitating them, that usually holds up,” Ethan gave her what she was looking for, but not before the one that had been the first one she’d cut down managed to get through her defenses and she winced as she felt its knife tag her shoulder.
Warm blood flowed down her arm, and she sunk an elbow into its chest and lashed out with a foot that connected with its knee and bent the cap in backwards.
It went down again, and this time before it could get back up again, she sunk the blade of the axe into its neck and its head rolled a few feet before it melted into a puddle of black, tar like stuff. She wrinkled her nose at the sight, but didn’t let it distract from the next two that came forward to play. This was a fight that she wanted to end quickly, because Rupert hadn’t been kidding when he’d spoken of their strength and speed. For every blow that she intercepted, she could feel their strength behind it, making her limbs tingle. And they were never where she needed them to be.
But luck was on her side, as she took another swing at one of them, and another actually stepped into it. The blow did nothing mote than sink into it’s shoulder, but it was still enough to distract it. She tugged the axe free, spun it and slammed the end of the handle into the underside of the jaw, wincing as it actually sunk through the skin and into the flesh. Throwing her body weight into it she tossed it to the ground and made short work of that one, too.
The two that had swung around to behind her still didn’t move, and the remaining third of the original three that had engaged her circled her with a little less confidence then it’d had to being with. But she was already worn. The fighting was fast and furious, and she didn’t want to let start again on their terms. Not only that but she couldn’t afford to, not if she wanted to walk away from this.
She feinted with her left and attacked from the right, and it didn’t even flinch towards the feint, only responded to the attack with a swing of its knife that looked aw though it would have cut her stomach open back to her spine if it had connected. She flicked upwards with the head of the axe, hoping to catch its hand but with a back up if it didn’t. Just like she’d thought it would be, the hand was drawn back too fast, but she stepped forward following it back as she continued to bring the axe up, and then it was against the wall, unable to go any further. She flipped the axe, brought it out to one side and then swung back across with all the force that she could out behind it. The axe buried into its side and she stepped backwards as she tugged it out, so that it fell onto its front. One well placed blow in its back severed the spine and she watched with satisfaction as it joined its friends as a puddle of tar-like substance.
The two that were left simply stood there.
“Come on then, just you try me,” she yelled at them, advancing. And they turned tails and fled, which was just what she’d hoped for. She didn’t think that she had enough left in her to take on the other two as well.
She couldn’t stop shaking, as Giles took her by the shoulder, Ethan gently grasped the handle of the axe and took it off her, and Giles lead her to the car.
“You took out three of them. Three, in hand to hand combat.”
Ethan sounded as though he almost couldn’t believe it. And Giles was looking at her with a strange look in his eyes. As Ethan opened the back door of the car for her she finally realized the other think that had been bothering her.
“Why didn’t they go for either of you?”
Giles sat back into the driver’s seat and waited as Ethan circled around to the other side of the car and settled himself into it, beside her throwing Rupert a glance as he did.
“They may have come into power, but they’re still limited in what they can affect; to a point, anyway. They have eyes, but through them they can only see certain things. Potentials and Slayers, and areas of power, or magic, and that building that we were in, is a place that had old magic woven into it. Staying inside the limits of the building meant that we were masked to their sight by the power that lingers in its walls.”
As he talked, Ethan had grasped her injured arm and placed a hand lightly over the wound that was still weeping, and she could feel him prodding with his power. All of a sudden a shot of pain went through it, and he looked at her apologetically as she gasped.
“Sorry, that wasn’t overly subtly, was it? In my defense though I am completely wiped, and I thought you may prefer not to be bleeding out.”
She shrugged with one arm, as he removed the hand.
“I can live with a little pain. Not the first, and if this place is anything to go by then it won’t be the last either. And how do you know all of that? I mean, it seems like quite a bit of fine detail to actually know.”
“Mm-hmm,” Ethan close his eyes, and twisted until he was in a reasonably comfortable position in the seat. As his breathing even out seconds later, Giles started the car and put it into gear.
“We’ve our friends at the military to thank for the information. Soon as they came into power they captured three… or was it four? Can’t quite remember, now, but they rounded up a few, and ran some tests and such; comparing and contrasting energy signatures, and points and types of power, seeing what they could, would and did respond and react to.”
Giles spoke as Ethan dozed, gaze darting from one side of the road to the other. The twisted wrecks which were almost at regular intervals along the street here were the only other sign of human habilitation.