ONE HUNDRED SIX
When something struck me from behind I screamed. “Lady!” said a strangely familiar voice. “Thy sword! Where is thy sword? Fetch thy sword, thou hast need of it!”
“I haven’t got a sword!” I howled. And I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I did.
“And thy wristlet,” went on the voice, inexorably. “I left it for thee—there, I see it, tis on the table. Put it on!”
If the owner of the voice could see the table, it—he—was doing better than I was. I put the useless lamp down since the cord wouldn’t stretch far enough and blundered in the general direction of where I thought the table might have been before the world ended, and (of course) banged up against it. Ow. More bruises. But at least it seemed to be the ordinary table I remembered. In the frenzy of the moment I decided it was better to put something presently on the table on me as instructed, whatever it was, so I patted over the nearly-invisible surface and found . . . a button. No, wait, it was Sid’s pebble. And the rose bracelet. In the absence of anything likelier I slid the bracelet on.
Sid was still barking. The universe was still roaring.
“Thy sword!” said the voice, sounding slightly desperate. “We have little time!”
“I told you,” I said, sounding a good deal more desperate, “I haven’t got a sword!”
The voice made an inarticulate noise, of fury, frustration or—possibly—command, and there was yet another colossal bang, this time sounding like a dozen or so book boxes exploding across the floor. I whirled in the direction of the noise and saw, abysmally clearly, through the open kitchen door, past the cellar door and into the front hall, the boxes by the (closed) front door scattering like rabbits from a sighthound and a gleaming silvery thing that was definitively not the frame of my Margaret Macdonald print emerge from the shadows behind where the stack of boxes had been. It seemed to glitter with its own light.
It looked remarkably like a sword. “Go!” said the voice, and something again struck me from behind, although this time it was identifiable as a shove in the direction of the glittering thing. “What am I supposed to do with a sword?” I wailed.
“Grip it,” said the voice, Sid redoubled her barking—why wasn’t she paying any attention to the owner of the bullying voice? As if she had bigger worries?—and behind me, in the direction the shove had come from, there was still another huge BANG . . . rather like, perhaps, a section of the back wall of Rose Manor disintegrating. I plunged forward like someone falling downstairs and hadn’t quite finished losing my balance when I hit the wall next to the front door—and next to the, uh, sword. Even more bruises. I turned around, gasping, facing back the way I had come, and Sid was standing immediately in front of me, now barking at . . . an enormous black figure striding toward me, raising one arm holding another long silver gleaming thing that began to arc down toward us . . . no, toward my dog.
I grabbed my sword before I thought, hurled myself forward off the wall toward my opponent and interrupted the descending arc with my own blade. Or at least that’s what I meant to be doing. And the other blade bounced satisfactorily off mine, even though it nearly knocked me down in the process. I threw the hand that wasn’t holding the sword up and back in an attempt to keep my balance—being right-handed, it was my left wrist I’d shoved the rose bracelet over, and when I saw the other sword swing round and come at me again much faster than I could move mine in response, I feebly brought my left arm down to protect my face. . . .
The other sword crashed into the bracelet, driving me to my knees. The bracelet held against steel swung with intent—and erupted in a shower of sparks which pattered harmlessly, if somewhat alarmingly, off my skin, but where they struck my enemy, he screamed. I knew he had been trying to kill me a second ago, but I still didn’t like hearing someone screaming with pain that I had (inadvertently) caused. I screamed too, out of sheer overwhelming too-muchness. My adversary reeled back, but finished the reel coming forward again—still, may I add, screaming, although it had mutated into more of a bellow—and raising his sword again, while I knelt there stupid with adrenaline and cluelessness.
But my black dog, invisible in the shadows, reared up from nowhere and sank her teeth in the sword arm reaching past her. This dragged him off balance . . . at just the moment when another sword BLOOMED in the middle of his chest. . . .
And then I was really screaming, as the blood rocketed out, and he sank to his knees and then slumped to the floor.
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