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original fiction: Tin Man [4/16] - Diary of a Necromancer
Excuse me, I'm making perfect sense, you're just not keeping up
robling_t
robling_t
original fiction: Tin Man [4/16]


Chapter Four



Near the outskirts of a speck on the map labeled Sarmeng Ford we stopped for a rest by a secluded bend of the river. The water here was deep but surprisingly clear, and Liane seemed to be looking at it speculatively as we sat and ate our lunch.

"Does that water look as good to you as it does to me?" she asked after she had popped the last bite of the cheese into her mouth.

"Meaning?"

"I hate turning up in towns looking like this," she said sheepishly, and I guessed that the gesture she made was meant to indicate the general disreputability of her travel-grimed self.

"I gather," I said slowly, "that you're asking if I'd make myself scarce while you freshen up?" She grinned at me in relief.

"Much as I may hate to admit it, there are times when I can't stand having crud in my hair another minute. Maybe that's being soft, but... You know. There's more to life than the job, damn it."

"I suppose I could keep watch from up there," I said, nodding at an outcropping of rock a discreet distance ahead. "On the trail," I added quickly, with the sudden feeling that I was blithering, and she laughed. "Golem," and it turned and cocked its head rather insolently at the blush that I felt creeping into my cheeks, "go up that way and make sure nobody comes up behind us."

I must have had a particularly foolish look on my face, for Liane was still chuckling as she crouched by her pack and began rooting around for something that had apparently migrated down towards the bottom of the contents. "And if no one comes along to interrupt us, I can keep watch while you get a wash," she said. "On the trail, of course."

"Gurp," I said, and hurried away upstream until I was out of easy sight of the riverbend, and earshot of her laughter.

The outcropping turned out to be a milestone, so weathered and settled that I rather doubted the sun-notch at the top was indicating much of anything these days; wishing I had something distracting to read, I hunkered down at the base of the stone and glared fiercely at the upriver trail, as if watching would scare off anything that might be thinking of intruding. And if that golem doesn't stop fidgeting, I'll turn it into saucepans.

I had thoroughly mangled the fletching on the arrow I'd been keeping at the ready by the time Liane reappeared, looking marginally more respectable, and took over my post. I noticed as we changed places that a faint scent of violets clung to her, and wondered if that had been what she had been searching for in her bag, and wondered why I had noticed at all.

Being separated from the golem by even this small distance was already beginning to make my head hurt, but it seemed better to leave it to watch the trail, so I did my best to ignore the dull ache, contributing though it was to the pinched expression glaring back at me from the water while I tried unsuccessfully to talk myself out of going to the trouble of shaving. Unfortunately, shaving was the only thing I could think to do with myself that might at all lessen the chances of people running to hide their children when they saw me coming. Reluctantly I pulled off my sweater and tucked it into my pack so it wouldn't get any muddier than it already was, wishing I had a clean shirt to change into as well.

Shaving with your dagger and only a stream for the mirror, oh, Robling, what the Elders would say if they could see us reduced to this... But thoughts of self-pity quickly lost out to the intricacies of keeping the sharp edge well away from my nose. Until suddenly the steady droning ache in the back of my head was drowned out by a sharp whack --

I froze, hearing approaching footfalls unfamiliarly heavy over the gravel; "Is that --" and even as I started to turn I was shoved forward into the water, dagger flying from my hand into the depths. But -- where's the golem --? Fingers closed around my neck, holding my head under. I'm going to fire it and her both -- dereliction of duty --

I clawed frantically at swordsman's wrists and enormous hands, already burning for breath, and abruptly I was hauled out of the water and tossed carelessly aside in a sodden heap of hair. Gasping and choking, sucking at the precious air, I heard the one voice that I had hoped never to hear again in this lifetime say, petulantly, "Damn it, you were supposed to pass out."

Of all the brigands to meet on the road -- I couldn't help but laugh despite the searing pain this brought me. Ezric cocked his head and looked at me quizzically.

"Leave it to you to think this is funny," he said. "I always knew Mama must have dropped you on your soft spot."

"Mama would --" His eyes flashed; Ezric jerked me partially upright by my shirtfront and kneed me in the stomach, hard enough that I felt something give way. Whatever partial balance I'd had deserted me, my sudden nerveless deadweight nearly dragging Ezric off his feet as well.

And spoiling Liane's one chance at surprise -- an arrow sailed uselessly through unexpectedly vacated space to splash into the water, and Ezric spun round, carrying me into a fine position to shield him from Liane's bow.

"You had better put him down, you know." In the corner of my mind that was still getting enough air I noticed with a sort of detached approval that my mercenary's voice was steady as a rock.

The spark-blue eyes narrowed as if he were considering her with some seriousness, looking to the arrow shining just as blue on her bowstring. "This really isn't any of your business, M'lady," he said, dragging me a step forward. "And you rather have me at a disadvantage." Another step. I could feel threads popping around my shoulders as I tried to get my feet under myself even enough to support some of my weight. Two years of putting up with the golem and when I really need it -- My heel caught on a stone as Ezric pushed forward again and I nearly went down, held up only by the doubled fists under my chin. "But if he's paying you that well for it--"

And a shove, just as I had found my footing at last, and I went stumbling backwards, a sudden rush of winter chill flooding through me as I fetched up against something hard and soft and sharp all at once --

!

Even Ezric looked surprised, hesitating halfway to reaching for the spear slung across his back. I could hear keening somewhere, under me or over me or off in the middle distance. Or maybe it was in my head --

!

Everything went sideways, quite slowly,

!!!!!

curling dreamlike around the lump of ice freezing inside my ribs

and the golem blazing brighter than morning

surged

forward

and

###


brilliant blue eyes between tremare braids, and a voice saying "hold on, boy, your father's coming --"

storm-gray eyes between tremare braids, and a voice saying "Ro? come on, Ro, we can't stay here, it'll be coming back --"

leaf-bronze eyes between no braids at all, and a voice saying, "Robling? Are you -- is this a spell, Robling?"

Reason came washing back, as the eyes resolved into Liane's wondering face; " 'Provisions will have been made'," I croaked, trying and probably failing to crack a smile at her surprise. Arms shaking, I clutched at the kneeling golem, helping it to gather me up. Blood on the gauntlets to the elbows --

One arm under my knees and the other around my shoulders, the golem straightened and turned towards the nearby town. Every step jolted nearly as badly as if I had tried to walk it myself, and I faded in and out of true consciousness for most of the distance. Only when I heard the sudden clamor of voices objecting to the golem's presence and behavior and very existence could I force myself to rouse enough to make eye contact with the nearest, a healer; "It stays."

The people clustering around us stepped back, and the golem laid me out on the nearest surface. In the background I could hear Liane's voice, trying to give someone an overview of our circumstances. Gentle hands were already investigating as to the extent of the damages. "I don't think you're going to want to be here for most of what we'll have to do with you," a voice near my head said kindly, and several drops of a liquid that tasted of pears and sunshine trickled between my lips. Gratefully this time I surrendered consciousness to the pinkish haze.

When next I was aware of anything much at all, it was of being coccooned to the chin in flannel and wool where I lay on my side curling to fit myself onto some sort of narrow cot, and two rough cool hands clasping one of mine. "Liane?" I murmured, fuzzily trying to work out who the hands could belong to.

A weight sat down on the side of my cot, and a hand patted my shoulder. I counted this up, slowly, several times, and it still kept coming out to three hands. The curiosity got to me eventually, and I opened the eye I wasn't lying on.

The golem had been given a chair at the head of the cot (and looked entirely foolish sitting in it, although it didn't seem to care), and it was clutching my limp hand in a comical attitude of concern. "He wouldn't be separated from you," Liane said, benevolently amused twinkle to her eyes. "And it seemed wrong to make him sit on the floor. How are you feeling?"

"Dead," I rasped. "Go away and let me decompose in peace."

"That's the potions wearing off, they said you wouldn't be too happy when you woke up. You sure were cheerful while they were working on you, though. Even the golem was humming. He sounded like he had a bee in his helmet."

"Why does he only demonstrate these fascinating behaviors when I'm not in a state to appreciate them?" I muttered. "I think sometimes you're making it up."

"Ask the nurses," she said, unperturbed. "We may have to pay them to get you out of here with your reputation intact. I wouldn't have thought you were the sort of man who knew words like that -- well, you are feeling a little better, if you're awake enough to turn that color. They said I should see if I could get you to wake up enough to eat something..."

"Ah, so that's why you're tormenting the dead?" But my stomach sent up a tentative signal that it, for one, approved of her idea of priorities and it was about time someone thought of it, and I suffered myself to be steadied up by the four helping hands into a sitting position in the cot, finding that actually I felt stronger than I would have thought. Stronger enough, in fact, that once I had gulped down most of the inoffensive porridge that a healer brought over for me, and slowed down enough to take notice of just how boring it was despite a well-meant sprinkling of dried apples, I felt sufficiently revived to venture, "I imagine I haven't been terribly good company for, what, a couple of days?"

"Four," she said. "But at least it was a chance to take care of the wash. And this place is what passes for excitement in this town, so it's not as if sitting here with you was keeping me from anything. Lots of drownings down at the ford, I'm surprised you've slept through all the running around and shouting and healers banging on people. Probably just as well though, you wouldn't have approved of some of the things I've seen the Poppybalms get up to with people who look dead. Innovation's one thing, but some of it looked like necromancy to me. If we can't have you out of here before the next one happens I foresee an argument."

"I try not to argue with Poppybalms," I said. "It doesn't seem... prudent." She laughed.

"I think tasting your potions would be a little outside even my idea of the proper conduct of a bodyguard," she said. "Speaking of which... That encounter."

The healers had bound back my hair into a loose queue for safekeeping, side-plaits and all; now I went dredging around for the fastened end, drawing it into my lap to worry at the ribbon. "What of it?"

"The golem..." She looked at it, and the helmet bowed, almost in an attitude of -- shame? "He... How did he know? That was my spell -- how did he know who to --"

I blinked. "I knew," I finally said.

She considered this, broodingly, and then a single abrupt nod; "Just the same, I'll try not to give him any more tests if you won't," she said. "Although it would help if I knew what I ought to really be expecting?"

"Huh?"

"That man had been following us. The redhead with the hands I saw at that inn. So at least that long, maybe longer..."

"I wouldn't have called that 'red'," I said.

"Maybe not so much in daylight -- never mind the details, all right? My point is that that's way too much determination for just a bandit, so after I knew you were settled here I went back and, um, I... I searched him. To see if, I don't know, if I've been right that there's something more going on here... and I found this."

She reached inside her jerkin and drew out a bloodspotted slip of stiff paper, an image, someone's family gathered together to record a moment of prosperous contentment -- I felt myself grow still as I took in the papa with the mismatched pair of toddlers in his lap: the long narrow nose in a long narrow face, eyes maybe not quite as widely set as mine, hair maybe not quite as rainstorm straight where excess lengths straggled out of the pastry-twists of a Loyalheart healer and certainly, certainly not nearly as pure white -- I looked up from the image into living eyes of troubled amber, and had the insane urge to say, no, that's not at all the color that they were...

"Well, even besides the obvious resemblances I can see that it means something to you," Liane said. "Just please don't tell me something as melodramatic as that you two were those twins?"

"What? No, not me and him," I said automatically, shuddering. "Goddess. He... he's the littlest one. On our mother's lap. Ezric."

I saw her going over the figures in the image, doublechecking the count and still coming out with all nine children, and to my great annoyance she let out an explosive snicker. "I'm sorry, that's horrible of me, but... you're telling me your little brother just tried to kill you?"

"He's only a year younger," I said, knowing even as I said it how defensive I sounded. "And he's been trying to kill me since he was six."

Liane lifted a hand and then let it fall again, as if she'd thought to pat my hand and decided better of it; instead she said gently, "Um, well, you needn't worry over that anymore. I... I'm sorry."

"He had it coming," I said bleakly. "I'm only... I'm only surprised he hadn't already come to a bad end. Of all the people to have escaped what happened around Tremare..."

"You should rest," Liane said, rising. "The Poppybalms want to keep you another day or two anyway -- if it were up to the Pennyroyal, we'd already have been thrown out, but the Poppybalms had a fit. So if you feel like getting too friendly to anyone else, at least try not to antagonize the Poppybalms too, huh?"

"What have I been doing?" I asked, mystified.

"You're probably better off not knowing," she replied, and held out the image to me again. "Do you... want --?"

"Burn it."

She looked taken aback at the idea, but she nodded. "I'll come round later to see how you're doing," she said. "You'll probably be asleep again." This in a tone that suggested I had better be when she found me, at any rate. And then: "Um... we, um, your brother, we... we buried him. I didn't know what else to tell them to do."

The thought of Ezric rooted forever in one same patch of earth gave me a savage, shameful cheer. "It's more than he deserved," I said, hearing the edge of brutality in my voice and hating myself for it.

"So bad as all that, between you?" She looked sad, sad and concerned and very, very young.

"I told you the other kids used to beat me up; he orchestrated most of it. If he'd ever bothered to spend as much time on his schoolwork..." I sighed. "Just as well he didn't, really. He was bad enough with an ordinary education."

"Get some rest," Liane said, and added, "if you can," as a commotion of Poppybalms broke out on the intake side of the workshop. "There they go with that again. Well, you may not get any sleep, but you won't be bored. I'll go see if I can get them to keep it down a little. Keep, um, keep out of trouble, huh?"

And, hesitating, she darted in and gave me a sisterly peck on the cheek before turning on her heel and scurrying off into the other end of the room. Bemused, I watched her go, barely noticing that the cluster of Poppybalms appeared to be attempting to raise a dead man by main force and actually seemed by dint of much pounding and blowing to be succeeding at the task. "I suppose I ought to be scandalized," I said absently to the golem.

###


The golem had a new dent in its helmet, and I gathered from this and sundry other fresh abuse that it had been slow in coming to my aid because Ezric had clobbered it on the head hard enough to knock it down. Whether this had been a calculated maneuver on Ezric's part or merely an act of random spitefulness was anyone's guess. The golem was acting uncannily contrite, as if it had some sense of having let me down at a critical juncture. Or maybe I was imagining it. I still felt like my brain had been taken out and boiled.

We crossed the river at Sarmeng Ford and took a road to the northeast, angling back into the mountains towards Roadmeet. Liane was quiet for most of the day's walk, lost somewhere in thoughts that made her brows draw down in apparent displeasure with herself, but as night began to close in she finally roused herself from her funk to say, "I don't know, maybe I'm being jumpy because of what's happened, but that barn up there is saying to me that it would be more than only a roof to keep the rain off. If it even rained."

"I doubt anyone else is following me, but then I wouldn't have expected to see Ezric either," I said, and started out across the field. "I've been going along thinking everyone I ever knew is dead; I don't know what to expect now. Maybe a Seventrails herd will come along in the night and trample us flat. Those cows always had it in for me too."

She laughed, for the first time that day, and I realized that I had been missing the sound. For Heaven's sake, Robling, you've been on the road too long. If that stupid herd did trample you right now you'd probably cry your fool eyes out to see them.

A cow did appear just then, a dairy cow, out of the rising mist; I bleated in abject terror and took off running for the barn. After a few steps I realized my mistake, but the damage was done; I slowed down and stopped, and turned around, and Liane was lying full length in the cropped grass, laughing so hard I wondered how she was managing to breathe. "Damn, that was worth the whole trip," she said as I came back to help her up. "A necromancer who's afraid of cows."

"Seventrails cows have horns wider than my armspan," I said, tugging self-consciously on my dishevelled sweater. "Even Things run." I sometimes wondered if I hadn't chosen Tremare because apprentices got to practice re-animation on the not infrequent casualties amongst the fractious Seventrails herds. My instructors had always been puzzled that such an otherwise exemplary student couldn't seem to get the knack for not blowing them up.

"If that cow is still wandering around at this hour, I would guess that means there's nobody looking after this allotment," she said. "I hope that doesn't mean that there are Things in the area. Everyone in Sarmeng said it's been quiet lately, though."

I looked to the golem, but it appeared as serenely unconcerned with its surroundings as it normally did. "He can smell a Thing from much farther than I can," I said, "and he seems happy enough with it. Here's fine."

The barn was mostly intact, except for the odd dry-rotted plank along the foundation. "I've stayed in inns that weren't this nice, come to think of it," Liane said, and found a pitchfork to check the scattered straw for inhabitants with. All she found was a manky cat, who fled into the driest-looking corner and hid under some fallen boards, hissing.

"Blast, that's where I wanted to sleep. Kitty, kitty." She squatted in the straw and held her fingers out enticingly, but the cat hunched warily under the boards. "I don't suppose that herding trick of yours works on cats, too?"

I blanched. "Ezric and his crowd used it to torture the barn cats," I said in a whisper. "I --" I shook my head, remembering, and she stood up.

"All right, then, the cat can stay there. The other corner looks better anyway." She set to clearing away some of the worst debris in the far corner of the barn, and after a short while she said, "Your brother sounds like a real joy to have to grow up with."

I lowered myself down onto the straw not far from Liane. "One night he started a stampede that killed my twin Toring. He said it was an accident --" I drew a shuddering breath. "You don't want to hear any of this, never mind."

"If you need to talk, go ahead and talk," she said, sitting back on her heels to look at me. "I only object to old mercs rambling on when it gets into the 'uphill-both-ways' stories, not... One would, in fact, be rather interested to hear how any of it came out, in the end."

"In the end, it was pretty much the end of the family," I said. "Papa never forgave himself for not getting there in time, he just faded away and... He wasn't even forty." I heard a squeaking note creeping into my voice and forced myself to take in a deep breath. "That was when I went up to Tremare," I said after a moment when I was surer of my control. "There didn't seem to be anything else keeping me with Seventrails, after that."

I could see from the crease of her brow that she was thinking, strange alternative, but she didn't say it. "Your mother must have been sorry to lose you," she said. "But proud, I bet. My parents always brag about all their sons going for Arts." She couldn't quite hide the trace of bitterness to her tone, the unsaid addendum that Sharpshafts of course didn't follow an Art; without thinking, I reached out and took up her hand, giving it a brief, reassuring squeeze as she looked at me curiously. I mumbled something incoherently apologetic and moved to pull away, but with a slightly wicked smile she folded both of her hands around mine and wouldn't let go for quite a long moment. "I suppose this isn't proper, but under the circumstances," she finally said, releasing my hand. "All that you've been through, and then every time you do find someone you knew... it's someone you'd rather you hadn't."

"Actually if anything that was a fairly civil exchange by Ezric's usual standards," I said dryly.

"Still," she said. "Did he --" She caught herself and made a face; "There I go again, I was going to ask you if... if he had a family, somebody we ought to tell besides his Guild. He was wearing a bracelet --"

I blinked, trying to fit this information into past experience and failing completely. "That's not anything I'd have been expecting, he was never really the braceleting sort. He even came to our mother's funeral alone." And looking, for once, genuinely shaken, so much so that our oldest brother Rennahan had tried to reach out to him afterwards, a gesture that Ezric had shrugged away violently. Perhaps sensing the way that the whole of the family down to the cousins were instinctively keeping between him and the children, a herd circling round to protect its weakest members from the predator -- "I don't know -- Goddess, what if he thought I did what happened at Tremare? He hated me to begin with, if he thought I was responsible for... But I think I would have heard, if anyone had decided to be a family with him. That has to have been... since."

"Most likely," Liane said, nodding sagely and looking only a little as if she were humoring me to spare my feelings. "I suppose his Guild can take care of it, then. And I hardly think it would be up to you to worry about what he thought --"

"Hm?"

"Never mind." She shook her head once, sharp and dismissive, and picked up her half-undone bedroll again; "I guess I had better get this sorted before it gets too dark in here, I don't think we should have a fire with all this straw about..."

The cat came out to watch, once Liane had gone too far in her preparations to start over in the other corner, and she glared over her shoulder at it. "I understand your not being fit to help, but this animal is just perverse," she said. The cat gave her an offended look and came over to rub hair on the golem's greaves. I reached out to scratch its head but it ducked away from my hand and scampered out through a gap in the wall.

We made a cold supper in the last of the failing light and settled in the straw for what was already promising to be a chilly night. "I think that cow's still out there," I said gloomily to Liane as we wriggled to a back-to-back compromise between propriety and warmth. Out in the night I could hear the cow still shuffling around outside the barn door; apparently she hadn't yet gone so feral as to have lost altogether the notion that she belonged in a barn at night and humans had something to do with that.

"I don't think even a really smart cow could get that door back open," Liane said blurrily. "Go to sleep."

And as much as I had to admit that she was right, still I found myself unable to close my eyes until the cow had stopped snuffling plaintively at the narrow crack where the door had refused to shut all the way. The golem seemed to share my reservations, staring back through the crack long after the setting moon had left us in darkness. I could still feel the cow outside the door as I dropped off into sleep.

###


?

I opened my eyes with a sudden feeling of wrongness washing over me, driving away a half-formed dream that had been suffused with a faint scent of violets. I had switched sides in my sleep and Liane had wormed her way under my outflung arm, her face butted into my chest and one hand lying lightly on my hip, innocently, bonelessly asleep. A warm weight curled behind my knees seemed to be the feral cat, come searching for warmth.

?

I looked around for the golem and found it pressed against the crack in the door, uncertain flickers of redness playing along its limbs under the glimmering predawn light. It looked as if it wasn't quite sure whether or not to rip its way out of the barn. I shook Liane's shoulder. She murmured something about heddles and tried to turn over; I shook her again, harder, until she sat up and started to complain before she caught sight of the golem. "What's making him do that?"

"I don't know." I rose into a crouch, feeling for one of the knives laid aside with Liane's jerkin. The irrational sense that the cow had come for me made me choke back a laugh as I sidled over to the golem. "Golem, let me have a look."

Unwillingly, the golem stepped to the side so that I could have a view out through the crack. Outside, the light had begun to rise, but true dawn was still some ways off. I couldn't see anything that could have so agitated the golem --

A horrible cry, almost unrecognizable as coming from lungs and throat, tore across the chill air as a huge dark shape slammed into the barn door inches from my face. I dropped the knife into the straw and fell backwards. The golem's aura illuminated the barn now, an eerie sickly red that made the shadows larger. Liane said a broad word and went fumbling for her bow.

The Thing outside slammed into the barn door again, this time succeeding in wedging its head through the crack. Teeth, of course, they always seemed to have teeth, and this time the teeth were distorting the head of an ordinary-sized dairy cow, brown bovine eyes glinting with sudden otherworldly madness. The ex-cow surged forward against the door again, trying to force its way through to the golem.

Where was this Thing last night? It doesn't look as if it could have traveled so far, so fast --

The golem locked its arms around the portion of the Thing's neck that had penetrated the door and began to squeeze, but I could tell that this was at best a temporary measure. I scrabbled through the straw and found the knife. Such a little knife -- In desperation I forced myself to approach the snapping jaws.

"Golem, hold it still." I ran the first two fingers of my left hand across the sharpened tip of the knife, drawing blood, then touched them lightly to the Thing's broad forehead, and spoke a profane Word.

The insane eyes glazed as the Word scoured the animation from them. With one last reflexive snap of its teeth, the Thing slid lifeless down the outside of the door.

I turned, in the growing half-light, and saw Liane, frozen with her bow half-strung. "Mother above and below us," she said in a low and awe-struck tone. "You never said that you could do that."

"I don't like to remember that I can," I replied tautly. Even to a Thing it sickened me to say that Word. I came over to the bedrolls and picked my coat out of the snarl, knowing that I could sleep no more tonight. Liane was still watching me warily.

"Why didn't the golem smell it before?" she finally asked, when I had wrapped myself tightly in the coat and sat down once more in the straw, shivering with a cold that wasn't physical.

"I don't know," I admitted. The golem was peering out the hole at the dawn, calm once more. "When it's lighter we'll have to have a look at the body."

"It looked like a cow," she said. I said nothing. "Do you suppose... Do you suppose that that was the cow from last night?"

My head hurt too badly to want to consider the question. I sat, hugging my knees and saying nothing, and soon Liane picked up one of the blankets and came and wrapped it around my shoulders.

"So far I'm not doing the best job of keeping you out of trouble," she said apologetically. "But I can at least get breakfast. We may as well be on our way as soon as we can see better."

She busied herself, rummaging through our baggage for food that wouldn't require lighting a fire, and presently I had recovered enough of my composure to say, "Sometimes making breakfast is keeping me out of trouble, I think."

"You're too kind," she said, grimacing. "I'm just glad no Sharpshaft Elders have been around to see me making such a hash of things. We could have been killed six times over for all the good I've been doing you -- and you actually were. I could be suspended for that."

"I won't report you, if you won't report me for using that Word on a cow," I said. She handed me half of a small round of cheese and sat down in the straw to nibble moodily at the other half.

Soon enough the brighter sun of true dawn appeared beyond the hole in the barn door. I ordered the golem aside and Liane and I put our shoulders to the now somewhat warped door, struggling for a moment before the splintered planking finally slid past the barn wall with a squeal of protest. Outside, the Thing lay silent on the turfed ramp, and we stared at it as silently. "It looks a lot like the same cow," Liane finally said.

I couldn't argue; too many years of having each smallest detail of bovine conformation pointed out to me at every turn by well-meaning adults until the recognizing had become an unwanted reflex told me that this was indeed last night's cow, gone horribly wrong in the interval. "I would say that that's a good working hypothesis," I said with a shiver. "Pity we didn't get to see it happening, it could have answered quite a few questions."

Liane nudged the Thing's toothy head with the very tip of her boot, frowning in distaste. "I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary last night, did you?"

"Until the golem started getting upset, no," I said. "Beyond that I was already suspicious of the cow for my own reasons."

And I had a horrible thought, and apparently it struck Liane at the same moment, for she turned to me with an open-mouthed look of dawning horror. "It couldn't be...?" she whispered.

"I don't know," I said, feeling sick. "It doesn't seem reasonable that what I thought of the cow could have done this. But I honestly don't know. I would almost rather think that our not letting her into the barn tipped her over some sort of edge."

Liane let out a breath and relaxed visibly. "I could believe that," she said. "If it's the sort of thing that happens all at once instead of gradually, that's just the way I'd expect it to be triggered. If people can snap, why not cows?"

"Except you don't see people growing huge teeth," I said. She shrugged.

"Angry people usually have other outlets than biting," she said, and went back into the barn to break camp. Leaving me standing by the carcass of the Thing with the disquieting thought --

So exactly how much crazy does it take?

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Comments
owensheart From: owensheart Date: April 5th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Wow. ithought Robling was a gonner ther fore a while. great chapter and I have to say riveting.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: April 13th, 2010 10:36 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
That's the thing about first-person narration, it's... problematic to have them die in the second reel... or is it... ;)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 5th, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Yay!

This is turning into quite a good story. Thank you for sharing.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: April 13th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Re: Yay!

*bows* Next bit's up now, too...
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