The Four Horsemen
Word count: 1663
Thank you, Jo, for a read through and pronouncing it fit for consumption.
Summary: The title says it all.
Written for the annual challenge at Writer’s Toybox.
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“The way my luck has been running, I’m not surprised,” Angel said by way of agreement.
He and Buffy were crouched in a defensive stance, their weapons held at the ready, staring at the creatures that held the fate of the world in their hands. Buffy stared harder. Yes, she could see that they did, indeed, have hands. Fingers encased in leather, some in rags, fingers that held loosely the reins of their steeds. As for the bodies attached to those fingers? Definitely not human.
“What do you think?” Buffy asked Angel. “The usual slice and dice? Or shall we offer them coffee and doughnuts? The one on the end looks like he needs a bite to eat.”
The one on the end was rail thin, emaciated. A walking corpse, if corpses could walk. Buffy knew that corpses walked. She eyed Angel out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t like to think of him as an ambulatory corpse.
“His name’s Famine, right?” She added, trying to dispel the fear that was clutching at her insides.
“Death,” Angel corrected. “He’ll fill out once…”
“Once people start dying,” Buffy finished for him. “People die every day. Why isn’t he fat? Oh… you mean when billions…” Buffy shuddered. “The Grim Reaper, eh? Not so Grim Reapery to me.” She hefted her weapon and shifted her feet, resolute.
Angel appreciated Buffy’s attempt at humour. She was terrified. It was how she dealt. He was kind of rattled himself. They were up against the Big Four. The Horsemen of The Apocalypse. How did one fight something like that? He didn’t think it was possible.
Death sat on his pale horse. Both horse and its rider were motionless. All eyes were on the slayer and the vampire.
Buffy broke the silence. “Where’s his scythe then? I have a scythe.” She shook it at the Horsemen sitting atop their mounts.
“What? My scythe against whatever he carries.” Buffy made sure her voice rang out. She wanted a reaction, any reaction to her words.
There were none. The Horsemen sat motionless.
“Which one is Famine then?” she said, a little disappointed at the lack of response.
“The one on the black horse.”
Buffy furrowed her brow and squinted at the being on the black horse. “He doesn’t look so scary. What’s with the thingamajig? What’s that he’s got in his hand?”
“A set of scales.”
“To weigh up the lack of food? Come on!”
Angel inclined his head towards the red horse. “This is…”
“Let me guess. War. The sword and the redness kinda gave it away.” Buffy glanced at her weapon, its sleek and deadly form a familiar and welcome weight in her hands. “That leaves only Pestilence.” She eyed up the creature on the white horse. “So why can’t I see worms and rotting flesh?”
Angel couldn’t help but grin at her. There was nowhere he’d rather be than to be at Buffy’s side when doing battle.
“Pestilence was a name given to the First Horseman. But it’s incorrect. Conquest is its name.”
Buffy eyed up the Horseman’s bow, and the crown it wore on its head. “Already victorious, I see.” Angel knew the oddest things. “How do you know this stuff?”
“It’s in the Bible.”
“Oh. I guess I haven’t got to that bit yet.”
“It is at the end of the Book.”
“If you say so.” Buffy huffed, and straightened up. She felt her knees creak with the effort. “Did you just hear my knees creak? I’m sure they creaked.”
“You need to warm up,” he said with a grin.
“I think so too.” Buffy stretched out a leg and then the other. When she was done, she put a hand on her hip and called out to the silent Horsemen.
“Oi! You lot! What are you waiting for? Come and get us.”
The one on the white horse, Conquest, Angel had said, parted his otherworldly lips and spoke. “You cannot hope to win against us. We’re the Four Horsemen. Nothing can stand in our way. We’re here to do the Lord’s will.”
Buffy blinked. “The Lord’s will? I don’t think so. I don’t believe in a God that would condemn babies and children to suffering and death.”
“Buffy,” Angel whispered to her. “The Lord has condemned babies and children to the blade on many occasions.”
“According to the Bible. See, this is why that Book is such hard going. All those thous and begetting, it’s enough to drive a woman to sleep.”
“Step aside and we will be on our way.”
Angel moved so that he was standing a little forward of Buffy. “I’m sorry but we can’t do that. You see, it’s Buffy. When she gets a bee in her bonnet, nothing will persuade her to let it go. And where she goes, so do I.”
Buffy slid up against Angel and nudged him with her hip. “I’m not the weak blonde in a movie.”
Angel flashed Buffy a smile and stepped back. “Sorry. You take the lead.”
Buffy snagged his arm and pulled him to her. “We do this together or not at all.”
Worried that this was to be their last few moments together, he said, “Not at all sounds good?”
Turning to him, Buffy squeezed his arm. “I know you don’t mean that.” With an aching heart, Buffy leaned up and kissed him on the mouth. “We’ve beaten the odds before,” she whispered against his lips, “we can do so again.”
“Into the breach, beloved?” he whispered back, kissing her hard.
“You’re sounding like Giles,” she countered when she got her breath back, and she kissed him again.
“Are you two quite finished?” a voice said. Death had spoken, its voice an empty place, a void that threatened to overwhelm and devour. Buffy’s flesh crawled, and she resisted the urge to shudder. She refused to let the enemy see how intimidated she felt.
“In a minute,” she called with false bravado. She stared up at Angel. He was looking at her, the tiniest smile tugging at his lips. She loved him so much. It wasn’t fair. She wanted more. She wasn’t ready to die again.
“I love you,” she said with a lump in her throat.
“I love you,” he said, and winked.
She blinked. What? Buffy’s confusion lasted a mere moment. If Angel had something in mind then she would go along with it. He had obviously noticed something she hadn’t. Her slayer instincts were good, but his preternatural senses were better. Stepping back and raising her scythe again, Buffy readied herself for the fight to come.
“Here’s the thing,” Angel said quite conversationally. He had been hanging around her too long, Buffy thought. “The trumpets of heaven haven’t sounded. An angel was supposed to herald in the apocalypse: the world isn’t trembling, and portents haven’t been seen.” Angel cocked his head, lifted his eyes as if gazing into memory. “I’ve had the sky raining fire, the sun going out, and the world remains intact.” His eyes shifted back to the beings sitting on their steeds. “So what I’m thinking is that you’re not the real deal. You’re not here to do the Lord’s bidding…” Buffy looked skywards to see if a bolt of lightning was coming down to smite them because of his words… “You’re something else.”
Buffy knew Angel was preparing to launch an attack. She was keenly aware of his body language. The grip on his sword was firm. The look in his eyes was fierce. When he leapt forward she was right there beside him.
What seemed like an eternity later, Buffy let the scythe fall to the ground. She was sitting on blood-soaked dirt, caked with gore, and she didn’t care a jot about what she looked like, or that her clothes were ruined. She was beyond tired, she was exhausted. She closed her eyes. Blessed silence.
Angel stood, surveying the carnage. Some of the blood on the ground was his. A little was Buffy’s. Angel’s jaw was clenched. Buffy’s bleeding had stopped, her wounds were healing beneath make-shift bandages, but the smell of her blood was a tantalizing reason to let his demon loose. He resisted, as he always did. And as he always did, he worried that one day his resistance would crumble and the beast would out.
Under his boot, the ground squelched wet and bloody with the remains of what had tried to pass as the Four Horsemen. The demons lay scattered about, limbs severed from torsos, heads separated from necks. Also severed was the charm, the glamour that had hidden their true form. What had been horses were shown to be the lower appendages of the demons. Angel grimaced. He liked horses and hadn’t wanted to harm any. His wish had been granted. He kicked at demon flesh.
“Where did they come from? Why the elaborate ruse?” Buffy asked suddenly.
Angel stared out into the night. The lights of the city twinkled a long way off. It was a reminder that they lived in modern times and not in a fairy tale.
“Your guess is as good as mine, Buffy. Were they sent after us, specifically? If so, who is behind it?”
“And why now? Maybe we’re a threat to whoever it is? What sort of cases have you been working on lately? Perhaps you’ve stirred something up that wants to remain hidden.”
Buffy got her feet under her, and with a huge effort, managed to stand. She stepped around body parts to come up beside him. Catching hold of his arm, she wound it round her and she snuggled against his side. She felt him shrug.
“So what’s new? We’re always in danger. It’s what we do. Trouble finds us…”
“And we kick its ass,” she finished for him.
He pulled her in tight and planted a kiss on her head. “We kick its ass.”
Author note: An interesting Wikipedia article on the Four Horsemen.
Note that the pale horse is the colour of a pale green.