ONE HUNDRED TWENTY
Oh good. Thanks so much. That was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to hear. Especially while sitting on an elephant-sized horse in my nightgown surrounded by grim, weary, beat-up looking mercenaries well furnished with the paraphernalia of hacking and hewing. Living next door to an orc farm was beginning to sound bland and tranquil. And compared to the black thing Yog-Sothoth was a small-time gremlin. The sort of gremlin that makes a spot appear as if by magic on your only clean businesslike-ish shirt on the day you’re having lunch with your new editor, or inspires your printer to print only gibberish in sixty decorator colors and nine hundred and twelve ever-more-dazzling fonts. Which is only life-threatening when you’re a writer under deadline who needs hard copy to mark up for draft revisions: but then it’s very life-threatening. As well as hard on the eyes. I blinked.
I hadn’t realised before this moment how much I liked that kind of life-threatening. I knew what to do about spots on my only clean shirt: I had an assortment of rhinestone pins for all occasions. And in my experience editors meeting authors of supernatural-bashing heroines, the sword-wielding leather-cuirass and/or the modern urban leather-miniskirt varieties, tend to be grateful when it turns out you speak in complete sentences and use the restaurant tableware in the usual manner instead of demonstrating your throwing skills at the wall opposite, and that the most bizarre aspect of your appearance is the strange location and arrangement of rhinestone pins. I mostly enjoy lunches with my editors. I also knew what to do, at home, with my printer panting from renewed effort, on my knees on the floor surrounded by piles of fresh manuscript pages rapidly becoming studded with cryptic notes scribbled on the second sides of ripped up manuscript pages of previous attempts to tell a story. And the bleeding involved, barring stabbing yourself with the spot-disguising-pin backs or stapling your fingers together, tended to be metaphorical.
‘Out of my depth’ didn’t begin to describe it. Monster’s long thick mane brushing my hands as he nodded his head seemed at least as strange as aliens landing their flying Airstreams in your back yard. Or large black forsoothly guys waving swords in your kitchen.
I blinked again. I waited for Monster and the mercenaries to dwindle back into my imagination where they belonged. They didn’t. I was going to blink once more, positively and with intention, and when I opened my eyes, I would be kneeling on the floor in my old penthouse office . . . Flowerhair and Aldetruda and the others had variously been known to go into battle significantly underprepared and inappropriately dressed but I’d never been so unkind as to send anyone out to meet a ghastly destiny wearing a flimsy cotton nightgown covered in little pink roses. There was a lump in my throat and my bruises were doing a sort of choral fantasy of pain. The bass notes were especially impressive. It was harder to pretend I was making all of this up with all the throbbing going on.
My heroines also usually had some skills applicable to their situation. Aldetruda had excellent aim with a variety of hurling weapons, including crossbows and holy water. Doomblade hadn’t got Flowerhair killed yet partly because it bore her some grudging respect, and she’d pulled off a few jobs that should have killed her because it decided to pretend that she was its master. An enchanted sword is an excellent ally, so long as it is an ally. Although unless it had more sorcery hammered into its steel than Flowerhair or I had discovered, I was pretty sure even Doomblade wouldn’t be able to take on the black thing. Supposing, you know, I had Flowerhair’s cell number and could ask her to come along and help me out. Bring some friends, I could say.
The black thing. I hadn’t survived that encounter through any virtue of my own; Silverheart and Glosinda had done what they could, but what had saved me was one of those Mr-Spock-develops-another-mysterious-skill-just-before/after-the-commercial-break scenes. Some door between worlds had opened at just the wrong moment and shoved me into that situation; some other door between worlds had opened at just the right moment and let me escape.
It was still out there, the black thing. I had no idea what it was, or where it was, or why it had wanted to kill me. Because I was there? Because I was—however inadvertently and totally uselessly—this Defender person? And I had no idea if I might get sent or thrown or dropped back to face it again. My bruises thundered in counterpoint. I wouldn’t survive the next confrontation. If there was one.
For a moment this murky and dangerous place—wherever it was—paled and flickered, and that geographic-feature-length black sword was about to smash me into the dirt again. Involuntarily I raised the arm with the rose wristlet on it while my other hand groped for the hilt of my sword: that awful little dusty wind was in my face again, and a smothering silence fell. . . .
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.