Chapter Twenty-Eight

War Journal

Entry # 10

I was up to my rectum in dead mimes, Rotarians and ill-fated members of the Lollipop Guild when the humvees blew past, charting a course right through the enemy ranks. I saw Ralph swig on a bottle of grog, then lob the bottle at some mutant's head. Kee-rack! I laughed and cheered.

Then Lion began to scream.

I don't know how else to describe the sound. It tore at my ears, raked its nails on my marrow. It was horror engorged with unspeakable pain, beyond feline or human. It was a scream of the soul.

I fought my way to the left, toward the sound. Other adversaries came. I deflected them, scared them off, cut them down if they stayed. All around us, the fog was thickening, making it harder to get a clear bead. I made out a trio of very large shapes. Two of them were down.

The other one was Skeerak.

I had to go around Tiger's prone body to see what Skeerak was actually doing. The sight of it froze my bones. Skeerak had Lion pinned to the ground, and blood was everywhere. But the worst was that one of his arms was inside Lion, buried up to the elbow in the spurting belly wound.

And spreading out concentrically from the wound, the fur was turning black...

In that moment, I lost it entirely. Lost all perspective, all sense of mortality. It didn't even matter that I didn't stand a chance. When Lion screamed again, I came at Skeerak with everything I had. The world turned red.

And then, suddenly, green.

I felt the glow as much as saw it, enveloping me from behind. It had the same warm glow as the Skyrlla, only more diffuse, its frequency shifted. When it hit, I was in mid-swing, axe headed straight for Skeerak's chest. The monster rose, in counter-swing.

Our blades went through each other.

As if that wasn't weird enough, the blades then passed through each of us, as if we were slicing the mist. I went off-balance. So did he. We stared at each other, then swung again.

His blow, had it actually met my flesh, would have split me apart at the ribs. My blow, had it landed as intended, would have certainly made him flinch. But again, our weapons passed right through each other, then straight through us, without causing a speck of harm.

My exact thought was Glinda, be praised.

Then the green light went out again.

In that moment, I came back to my senses. It took the wind right out of my sails. Like waking up naked in a stranger's bed, with no idea how you got there. Only worse, because the next time Skeerak took a swing, it would probably go right through me again. But this time, it would probably hurt.

And then I would be dead. And I didn't want to die. The terror welled up in me, shameful and true. My arms felt heavy. My back felt weak. I felt as exhausted as I actually was.

Skeerak took a lumbering step toward me, then wavered as if confused. For the first time, I realized how much of the blood that covered him was his. Quite a few of his eyes were gone. So were half ofthe plates in his armor. Worst of all, the arm he'd had buried in Lion was snapped off maybe half a foot from the wrist. He'd been goring Lion with his stump. Black shit drooled from the jagged bone.

So Lion and Tiger had fucked him up. Good. I tried to let this appeal to my optimistic nature. But my adrenalin level had dwindled to zip, leaving me shaking in the subsequent crash. When he took another step toward me, I could barely lift my blade.

Skeerak towered above me, preparing to strike.

Then Lion tore his legs off at the knees.

The scream that came was muffled, metallic, emanating from the trap door in his armored pantaloons. That made it no less satisfying. I barely managed to get out of his way as he fell; but something primal pumped back into my veins. I found the strength to raise the axe one final time, above my head.

Then bring it down on his.

The crunch as his skull caved in was a sound that I felt far more than heard. It raced up my arms, then went thud in my ears. I leaned all of my weight on the handle, not content until I saw brains squeezing out like curds. What little light there was winked out from the eyes that remained on the back of his head.

Dimly, I was aware of the battle now ending around me: the Hollow Man's forces in grudging retreat, our own boys and girls letting out their victory cries. It was all I could do to drop to my knees and crawl the rest of the way to Lion.

"It's gonna be okay," I whispered, nestling into his blood-matted fur. His heart was still beating. This was a good thing. I was too tired to cry, so I just snuggled in. Listened to him breathing. Praying to God that the worst was over.

It wasn't, of course. But, at least for the moment, it felt that way to me.


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