“I can’t!” David’s voice was emphatic and pathetic simultaneously. He pointed at his knee, where little droplets of blood welled through the cream fabric of his chinos. “My ankle and my knee have gone! I can’t walk like this.”
“You have no choice,” said Isabella, looking around her. Little blurs of motion raced by at the corners of her eye no matter where she looked, and she knew that the Teddybears were closing in in earnest now. She reckoned that she had maybe a minute to get David up and moving again. “Do you think that when I had my stroke I just sat down and waited to die?”
David’s mouth set in an obstinate line and he said nothing. She looked at his face, and was astonished: here was a man so determined to sulk that he’d risk death rather than do anything to help himself. And she was well aware that staying here and waiting for the pack to pounce was certain death. She also knew that she wasn’t willing to die trying to save someone as selfish and utterly useless as David.
She put the Da back in its sheath, and saw his eyes widen. His lips thinned further though, whitening as the pressure increased.
“Fine,” she said. She pulled the Kris free from its sheath again, and leaned forward. “You leave me no choice.”
He flung his arm up in front of his face and throat, and at the same moment a teddybear lunged from somewhere behind her and sank its teeth into his thigh. He started to scream as the triangular mouth bit down and the sharp teeth broke through his pants and skin. Then she’d sliced through the air, twisted the knife, and pushed him through the gap that opened. She closed it almost before he’d finished falling through, and as he vanished, half of the teddybear that had been chewing on him plopped to the ground, thick brown ichor oozing from the cut surface and bubbling as though it had been dropped onto a hot skillet. His scream cut off as abruptly, and for a moment the world around her was silent.
She dropped to a knee and swapped the knives over again, wishing (not for the first time since her stroke) that she could still use both hands with confidence, and waited. There was a long pause, and she felt sweat trickling in a cold trail down the back of her neck. Then something blurred, and she thrust her arm out. There was a shock like hitting the foot of the stairs you’re descending in the dark: unexpected, startling, harder than you think. The blur coalesced, and there was a teddybear impaled on the Da, the blade punched cleanly through its forehead and out the other side again. She reached out and pulled it off the blade, wiping the brown ichor off on the ground below.
With a whistling sound like the wind in tall grass the blurs suddenly faded, and she knew that the teddybears had retreated. With the weak prey gone and the strong prey having now killed three of them, they had decided to find something easier to attack.
She stayed waiting, tensed and nervous, for a further five minutes, her head turning slowly to keep the landscape in view, her ears straining for any noises, and the muscles burning slowly like a banked fire. Only when the stillness had persisted did she finally stand up, stretch, and loosen her legs and the knots in her muscles.
She considered just moving on by herself, but a sense of duty, and the knowledge that it would annoy her to have lost David if she could reclaim him, made her swap knives yet again, and reopen the way between worlds. A chill darkness lay on the other side of the door, and even shining torchlight into it didn’t show anything up. She closed the portal slowly, wondering what David had dropped into, and if it was any better than the teddybears. Ultimately, she decided, yes. He might have fallen into an uncertain death, but that was better by far than a certain death, than by being eaten by the teddybears. And it was uncertain, he might not be dead. He might be lying, bleeding to death on a rocky surface, or be entombed in an exitless cave somewhere. She shrugged. Her stepping through without knowing what was there wasn’t going to help. She still needed to get back to her own world, and the teddybears might have retreated for now, but they’d still be shadowing her, waiting for her to grow tired or show weakness.
She looked around, and decided to carry on in the direction she’d been heading. With David gone she’d make better time anyway.