ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN
“You’re kidding, right?” I said.
It only stood where it was with its sword half raised. Or a quarter raised. If it raised it any higher it would miss me completely. Unfortunately it didn’t look like the kind of gigantic black killer thing that would go in for ineffective slayage.
Well. This wasn’t how I’d planned to snuff it. I had had the soft bed at a hundred and twenty option in mind—part of the plan being that life expectancy was going to boom by the time I started getting toward the end of it. And here I’d been worrying about turning forty. “Dear God and any saints or angels that might be good at this sort of thing,” I said out loud, and my voice may have quavered a little. “If I’m about to die, which I think I am, please let me go out trying.”
My bare feet were freezing. I might just fall down when the numbness crept up my legs far enough that they couldn’t hold me up any more. And then the black thing wouldn’t have to bother with its sword. It could just stomp me. For that matter, why was it bothering with its sword? It could just stomp me now.
But it went on standing motionless, holding its sword. I was pretty sure it hadn’t turned to stone like that, like a troll in daylight. I was ever so slightly grateful that what light there was was so dim I couldn’t feel the sword’s shadow lying across me, which it probably would be doing since confrontations with doom tended to have little symbolic touches like that. I should know, I’ve written several.
This particular doom seemed to be waiting for me to do something. Maybe it had a code of honor that said it couldn’t smush an enemy, however pathetic, until the enemy tried or pretended to fight back. Maybe I could just stand here forever? No, I’d get hungry. And bored. Maybe it was more fun to smush an enemy (however pathetic) if it was trying to fight back. I was as sure as I was that the black thing (and its sword) hadn’t turned to stone that turning around and running away wouldn’t do me any good. Aside from having no clue where I was or which way to run. And that my feet were too cold for running and I hadn’t run barefoot on bare ground since I was about six. This didn’t look like a good landscape to start with either.
I sighed. I looked away and down (half hoping the black thing would smush me and get it over with) at my dangling arms. At Silverheart, who knew what she was doing, although right at the moment she was half-lying at a completely useless angle with her tip buried in the dust. I looked at the rose bracelet, who clearly knew what she was doing too although her sparkle was muted in this dull twilight. The nightgown sleeve hadn’t survived the twelfth or two hundredth wallop the bracelet had turned away, so she was fully visible under the ragged edge. She should have a name. Maybe as my last action before I met my early doom I could name her. Glosinda. I’d always meant to name one of Flowerhair’s colleagues Glosinda: Glosinda was going to be a good one, competent, clever and loyal, and they were going to be friends.
I didn’t even have my phone with me, to text a last message or two. Probably no signal around here anyway.
Slowly—my muscles were strangely reluctant to bring on the final catastrophe—I pushed my shoulders back from their defeated slouch, straightened my spine, and prepared to lift Silverheart and Glosinda. I needed a motto to shout, like Death or glory!, or Fortune favors the brave! —no, not a good choice in the circumstances. Or Honi Soit Qui . . . whatever. No, I’d stick to Let me go out trying.
I wanted to get a sweep going, like Watermelon Shoulders might have done, bringing my flimsy defences up to their ready position, as if I knew what their ready position was, but my efforts were more of a series of small uncertain jerks. Unh.
And the black thing gave a kind of roar which I heard through my feet and my body more than my ears, and I thought the dingy twilight flickered, and the wind tossed and pulled at my hair and my ridiculous nightgown. Flowerhair tended to go to bed with her long hair rebraided in case of midnight alarms, but it had never occurred to me that I might need to do the same. Okay, maybe it would be a good thing if my hair blinded me at the salient moment and I didn’t see the final stroke coming.
But the salient moment was not yet. I saw the thing raise its skyscraper sword and wheel it down at me, and it wasn’t only Silverheart and Glosinda: I was putting everything I had into yanking them up to answer the impossible blow. . . .
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