ONE HUNDRED SEVEN
Watermelon Shoulders pulled his sword out of the prone body of his victim with no more difficulty or distress than if he were buttering his toast with a table knife, stepped over what I had to assume was a corpse—and grabbed me before I had a chance to run away. He pulled me to my feet as easily as he’d yanked his sword out of the dead guy. One shovel-sized hand per activity. He was still holding his (bloody) sword with his right hand. His left wrapped around my upper arm. Several times, probably. He was a big guy. His hand seemed strangely hot through the sleeve of my nightgown. Nightgown. This was all happening to me while I was barefoot and wearing a nightgown. With little pink rosebuds on it. Let us not forget the little pink rosebuds.
“Listen,” he said. “Thy first kill is always hard.”
I wanted to say I didn’t kill him! You killed him! But he was still dead and I was certainly crucially involved.
“But he is only the first.”
The first? The first of what? No, don’t answer that. . . .
Watermelon Shoulders sounded almost as if he were talking to himself as he went on: “We had almost given up hope, and yet we knew that this way would not be forgotten; and much calamity would come of this place being long left unprotected—as it hath been left. Calamity approaches near. We remained, of course; some beguilement we can lay for the confusion of those arrayed against us. But we can do little else unless there is someone from this domain to make a stand with us.”
Stand? Domain? What? And who’s ‘we’? No, don’t tell me. Whoever they were, they probably had swords. I didn’t want any more dead guys around. I didn’t want this dead guy around.
They keep telling you that life in the city is dangerous. There had never been any dead guys in Gelasio’s penthouse. I wanted to say some of this—I wanted to yell it and I wanted to hit something—preferably myself in the head so I would wake up and all of this would go away. But my throat had closed as if it had been nailed shut and my muscles were seized solid with post-almost-dying adrenaline backlash.
Watermelon Shoulders seemed to have taken paralysis for a conscious decision to stay where I was. He let go of me. He turned back to the dead guy. He wiped his bloody sword on the dead guy’s back. He had some difficulty finding a big enough patch of unbloody back to do it on.
There was so much blood. Some faint memory from high school biology class or too many hours spent poking around on line for weird stuff and factoids that might be useful to the genre fiction writer produced the information that the human body had about five quarts of blood in it. But nobody had poured five quarts of blood on the science lab floor to demonstrate how much five quarts really was. How long did it take a freshly-killed human to bleed out? Did all of the blood come out? I couldn’t remember that high school biology had covered this, or maybe I’d been home with flu that day. CSI probably mentioned it regularly but I had never given any of the CSIs my full attention: the way no one ever got dirty used to distract me.
There was so much blood. I wanted to shift a few of my more hazardously-placed books but I couldn’t move that far. Or that accurately. Bending over and picking up a book would involve complex muscular coordination.
There was also an increasingly awful smell.
Watermelon Shoulders said, “We shall make a better stand this first night with our new defender at the back of this house.” I could hear in his voice that he was trying to be gentle. It wasn’t working. The only thing that would work was waking up and finding this was all a really bad dream.
Wait a minute. What had he said? Better stand? I doubt he meant of whooshing pine trees. And I wasn’t sure I could stand at all. I managed an inarticulate croak. My muscles were beginning to thaw into uncontrollable trembling.
What was the other thing he’d said? Defender? Some small forsoothly joke?
“Come.” He paused long enough to glance at the sword I was still holding, only because I’d forgotten to unclench my fingers and drop it. It was providing a useful prop however. Although canes have ferrules. I might not get my security deposit back if my sword gouged a hole in the floor.
A swordpoint-sized notch out of the floor was going to be the least of my problems. I wondered if there was a professional cleaning service anywhere in the area who knew how to get bloodstains out of a hardwood floor. Major bloodstains. Although if sinking into the floor would keep it away from my books it would be worth signing a 1,000,000-book contract to pay for a new floor.
“My spirit lifts to see thee again, Silverheart,” he said . . . to the sword? “Come then, Lady Kestrel,” he said to me. “We have need of thee.”
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