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Chapter Twenty-Three - Come Away With Me

The waves in anger 'pon the shore did crash

Venting their fury and frustration on

Those sands across which just before fair Nimue's

Feet had passed and would ne'er touch again.

A bird, in black on white plumage arrayed,

Cried out in anguish. For the heart that beat

The rhythmic drum beneath its noble breast

Ached with the knowledge, foul as such was true,

That Nimue on the birds had gazed her last.

And flowers bowed their fragrant heads in shame

Since, ignorant of the treachery in store,

They had in great affection brushed against

The feet of he who now held Nimue.

Within the cave, a light parted the gloom,

The radiance of that traitor Bres himself.

Enraptured by this luminescence, she,

The lady Nimue, carried in her heart

Such singing, blind was she to dangers that

Were masked behind her comrade's perfect face.

Bres the beauteous, of golden countenance,

Stretched out his hand. Without a single doubt,

Her fragile hand in his did Nimue trust.

He pulled her close, as if to grant a kiss,

The lady Numue unresisting still,

And then he slit her throat.

* * *

'Buffy!' Giles shouted as he pulled back the string on his bow. The longbow was not his weapon of choice, but he was grateful for whatever the Tuatha could provide. He just hoped he could remember the training he had received during his time at the Council.

He let fly the arrow and it sped straight and true, impaling itself threw Bres' upper arm. The enemy general cried out in pain and his attention was torn away from his quarry. Buffy stumbled away, disorientated.

Giles had been briefed on Bres' abilities by Nuada before the assault, so he kept his eyes averted as he fitted another arrow to his string.

'Jenny, help Buffy,' he commanded.

'But…' Jenny began.

'Just go,' Giles snapped, glancing up just long enough to loose his shot. Then he turned to Jenny, his voice softening. 'Please. I wouldn't trust anyone else.'

Jenny sighed, then turned and scrambled down the slope, kicking up scree as she did so. She held a sword uncomfortably in her right hand. Jenny, despite her love for contact sports was not a natural combatant herself, but, under the circumstances, it was much better to be armed than not.

Giles watched her go. He nearly cried out, called her back. It felt like someone had thrown a bucket of ice water in his face, that sudden cold terror that he might lose her again. He had forgotten just how important she was to him. He had never felt any less than whole before he had met her, but every day since she had been taken from him, he had felt like he was missing a piece of his soul. The fact that he noticed it less and less - or got better at ignoring it - as the months turned into years did not make it any less true. But he kept silent and he hated himself for doing so.

His gaze moved on and settled on Nuada. Nuada of the Silver Hand, King of the Tuatha de Danaan. He was in the thick of the fighting, broadsword clasped in the metal hand that moved like flesh. Nuada was not a leader who would ask his people to do something he was not prepared to do himself. In the short time he had known him, Nuada had impressed Giles as both an inspired tactician and as a man of honour. Giles had to keep reminding himself that, however well-spoken the king might be, his honour only extended to his own. Nuada was not human and he considered humans to be little more than insects compared to his people and he would treat them as such.

Still, for the moment at least, they needed each other.

Giles spun round when he heard an angry clacking sound burst from behind him. One of the Fomorri had scrambled up the slope behind him. It held a rusted mace in its left hand. Its right arm, partly hidden beneath its tattered cloak, was twisted like a gnarled branch. It swung the mace. Hard.

Giles twisted to avoid the worst of the blow, but still caught a glancing strike on his temple. He staggered back, the world spinning around him. Not trusting his sight, Giles shut his eyes and lashed out with his bow at where his brain told him the Fomor must be. The end of the bow connected with something soft and he heard the creature cry out in pain. Giles risked opening one eye. He still felt as if he were riding a ship in a storm, but things were beginning to settle. The Fomor was tumbling down the slope, having lost its footing when Giles hit it. However, Giles could already see three of its fellows hurrying to replace it.

Nuada had not wanted to fight this battle. The Fomor greatly outnumbered the Tuatha and this was their territory. Strategically, this skirmish was a disaster. But Giles had insisted that they rescue Buffy and the others. It was part of the devil's bargain he had struck.

* * *

Buffy staggered away woozily. The wound in her calf throbbed and her leg refused to support her weight, causing her to fall to one knee amid the dirt. Faces raced across her vision. She wanted to say something, to speak to them, but she could not form words. She reached out a hand, but the apparitions were like smoke in the wind.

This was not real. Buffy tried to focus on that, to rebuild her perception around that one known fact. He had done something to her, something that was playing with her senses. It reminded her a little of the effect Dracula had had on her. Well she had dusted him easily enough and she was sure she would do the same to Bres. Just as soon as she figured out which way was up.

Something was approaching her, a hazy silhouette amid the swirling colours and the pretty lights. It was a woman, she deduced, squinting, a woman she recognised. A woman she knew could not be real.

Buffy lashed out with both fists, the impact knocking Jenny off of her feet and throwing her against the cavern wall.

'Buffy,' Jenny gasped, a hand clasped against her ribs, 'it's me. Jenny.'

'Can't be,' Buffy replied simply, struggling to get to her feet. 'You're not real. You died.'

'So did you,' Jenny responded, herself making no effort to get up.

'That was different,' Buffy insisted. She certainly looked like Jenny, Buffy admitted to herself, but that was the point, surely. This was just some more of that guy's head games. But what if it wasn't?

'I'm sorry,' Jenny said. 'I'm sorry about what happened with Angel…with Angelus.'

Buffy tried not to react, but her gaze wavered, if only for an instant. Angel had died to, at Buffy's own hand, but he had come back. Was that what had happened to Jenny? She did not look like she had spent years trapped in a hell dimension. In fact, she looked just as Buffy remembered from the last time she had seen her, the day Angelus had…

'You're sorry,' Buffy repeated, blocking out her own train of thought.

'I wish there had been another way,' Jenny insisted.

'You really think there wasn't another way?' Buffy demanded. 'You really couldn't come up with anything better than taking away his soul?'

'Do you want to hit me again?' Jenny asked, raising her own voice to match Buffy's, refusing to be stared down by the Slayer. 'Would that make you feel better? Well save it, because right now, we don't have the time.'

'The lady doth speak true,' a golden-skinned man insisted. Buffy had not even heard him approach. 'We dare not tarry any longer.'

'He's with me,' Jenny explained. Buffy frowned sceptically, so she added, 'And Giles.'

'What about Willow and Tara?' Buffy asked, shaking off the man's attentions.

'Others are seeing to their aid,' the man continued, a note of urgency in his musical voice. 'It is most dangerous for us to remain here. The Fomorii far outstrip our numbers. We must withdraw and seek fresh council.'

'I don't like running away,' Buffy muttered. Now that her head had cleared, Buffy found that part of her still wanted Bres, but now she wanted to hurt him for what he had done to her.

'There is no shame in retreating before a superior force, my lady,' the golden man persisted. 'My blade longs to taste Fomorii flesh, but it should be at a time and place of our choosing, not theirs.'

'Fine,' Buffy finally conceded, 'but that rematch better be soon.'

The golden man eased forward, offering his arm to Jenny, but Buffy interceded, scooping the former teacher up into her own arms.

'I didn't know you cared,' Jenny remarked.

'I just want you where I can see you,' Buffy replied.

* * *

Bres roared, but it was not because of the pain in his arm. The arrow still protruded from his flesh, but Bres made no move to remove it. His blood boiled in anger as he watched the people who had cast him out invading his sanctuary. And that most hated figure of all, Nuada the King, the usurper, was in the thick of it. They would pay, he swore. They would suffer a thousand deaths for the indignities they had heaped upon him.

He turned to those of his followers that were still grouped around the pit.

'Raise Balor,' he commanded.


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