ONE HUNDRED TWELVE
. . . . And I was on the floor of the kitchen of Rose Manor, or anyway I thought that was where I was, because there were four sturdy legs surrounding me that looked very like those belonging to the table that stood in it. I had a brief funk-ridden moment when I considered just staying there . . . but tentacles could reach under tables, and what if I found myself face to face with a short werewolf? For an even briefer moment I thought one of the legs stamped, and fortunately there was no one to confess to that I was certain I heard something snort, like a stamping horse may snort, and thus reveal that I had definitively lost my mind. I scrambled out—much hampered by my sword—and stood, waveringly, trying to see around three-hundred-and-sixty degrees at once for whatever was going to bite me, snatch me or lop my head off first.
The world was still roaring and the coils of darkness were still murking up the place. Or maybe it was just me. Where was Sid? In present circumstances I could wish my dog were some color other than black, but at the same time I already couldn’t imagine her as anything other than exactly what she was. Something on my right caught my eye and I saw Watermelon Shoulders bring his terrifying sword up in a way-too-smooth move like he did it all the time and—and—no—
—I looked away, my heart racing and my stomach turning over. This used to be—this was supposed to have been my home, where now—
Another gesture caught my eye and I jerked toward it, both hands, as if obeying some rules of behavior they sure didn’t learn from me, reaching out in front of me, the sword at a defensive angle (have I mentioned recently that a sword weighs, it wasn’t just the funk that was making my right arm tremble so badly), my other forearm held up with the bracelet medallion turned out toward potential tentacles, werewolves, swords and other riffraff. My poor house. My house. It took the opening of the hellmouth for me finally to take possession. My house. Where was the Slayer when you needed her? But then that was pretty much what I was objecting to in the way Watermelon Shoulders was operating. Slaying was so much messier when it wasn’t on prime time TV. Where was Sid?
What I found myself facing made no sense to me at first, confused as I was by self-motivated darkness and being comprehensively and stupefyingly freaked out—so freaked out that I was hearing my kitchen table stamp its feet and snort. There seemed to be a kind of kaleidoscopic explosion of black lines dangling in the air in front of me: unless it was the spiky thing and a few rose-bushes. If they were on my side I thought I could cope with walking rose-bushes. Just give me a minute. A biggish piece of jaggedy-edged darkness broke away from the tangle and became Sid.
But I didn’t have time to be relieved because something else came boiling out of the darkness—out and up. And up. And up. It seemed to drag the rest of the darkness into itself as it grew; it seemed to drag everything into itself because by the time it had stopped growing everything else had disappeared—house, Sid, Watermelon Shoulders, spiky thing and rose-bushes, snorting table and Caedmon. Everything but me in my pink nightgown. And the sword in my hand and the bracelet on my wrist.
Nothingness was silent too. There was the tiniest stir of air against my face; that was all. I looked away from the mountain of darkness long enough to glance around: a bleak grey landscape, vaguely irregular against the grey horizon. No trees. No buildings—no lights. It might have been twilight, but it didn’t look like a very healthy twilight.
I looked back at the black thing, the black thing that had sucked up all the darkness. I hoped that was all it had swallowed. Not my house. Not Sid. My arms were hanging at my sides; the hands-out-in-front-of-me ready for action dance seemed a little silly in the circumstances, when I had to tip my head back till my neck creaked to see the top of the black thing. The top was a narrower hummock in the centre of a long level line: it might have been a neckless head on shoulders as wide as your average city block.
It stirred. It became recognisable as a figure with two legs and two arms hanging from the city-block shoulders. It seemed to bow its head to look down at me. Hey, don’t mind me: I have nothing you want. Really. The breeze against my face became a little stronger as if even the local wind wanted to get out of this character’s neighborhood. I felt seriously underdressed in my nightgown. Its hem flapped against my legs in the wind. I shivered.
Slowly the thing raised its right arm. It held a black sword half as long as Manhattan.
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