Radachia Searveeth was the last person in the world you’d expect to have fuzzy yellow pajamas with pink roses on them. She was more the sort of person who’d as soon kill you as look at you, and even when she did just look at you, you weren’t completely sure you weren’t better off dead. It’s not that she was a bad person or anything, but seeing her running down the street in the middle of the night, strands of hair flying loose from a long braid, feet bare, clad in aforementioned pajamas, well, something was going on. Especially since she was holding her bow, and her quiver was slung over her pajamas.
Running outside to see what was going on probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but my curiosity tends to overrule my common sense. If I’d been woken up by the commotion, at that hour, I probably would have rolled over and went back to sleep, but since I hadn’t been able to get to sleep at all, hadn‘t even tried, I welcomed the distraction.
I was already dressed, so I grabbed my knife and ran after Radachia. “What’s going on?” I called.
“Nothing,” she snapped. “This doesn’t concern you, Kimithy.”
“So whatever’s not going on doesn’t concern me,” I said, running alongside Radachia.
She turned her full glare on me. “That’s right. Go home.”
At any other time, I would have turned tail and fled, curiosity be damned. Radachia was that intimidating. But the prospect of going home, sitting sleepless and trying to avoid thoughts that could not be avoided, was far worse than anything Radachia could do or say to me. “No.”
I’d expected her to yell or scold or glare more, but she didn’t. She stopped abruptly and scrutinized me. It was dark, and we were standing in the darkest of shadows, so I don’t know how well she could actually see me, but I felt as though she was peering into my very soul. “You’re too young to get involved in this. You’re, what, sixteen?”
I was fifteen, but I was hardly going to say so. “I’m old enough that….” I didn’t go on. My nightmares were my own. I wondered for an instant why I was volunteering for more, but didn’t rethink myself. Whatever it was couldn’t be worse than staring at the bloodstain on my floor and seeing ghosts. But I didn’t want to talk about that. “I have a knife.”
I think Radachia would have said more, but she must have heard something, for she froze, then whispered, “Run!” and we ran.
We took a crooked path, turning down side streets and between houses, and when we stopped again, it was in the darkest of alleys. “Fine,” said Radachia. “Listen, Kimi. There are… things, who will kill everyone if we don’t stop them.”
“That makes everything perfectly clear,” I said.
“This is no time for sarcasm.”
Personally, I thought it was always time for sarcasm, and never more so than then, but I swallowed my reply and asked instead, “What do you mean, things? What are they? Why will they kill everyone, what can we do, and why is it up to us to do it?”
Before Radachia could speak, at least one of my questions was answered. A group of men appeared out of the darkness and descended on us. I say men, but they weren’t, at least not completely. They had the heads of spiders. I screamed.
I could feel Radachia’s irritation, and cut off my scream abruptly. I clutched my knife in a sweaty hand. The things were advancing, making ominous noises and brandishing weapons. I raised my knife, prepared to strike. The nearest fell down dead, one of Radachia’s arrows in it’s heart. Then another was down, and then they were upon us, and all I knew was hacking and stabbing at them in fear and horror, and trying to avoid being hacked at or stabbed myself.
We were outnumbered. And they had the heads of spiders. At least maybe I’d die a hero, I thought, but it was small comfort, because I didn’t really want to die.
I’d probably killed some, though in the confusion I didn’t really know. Then a blade was coming at my face, and I was going to die. I squeezed my eyes shut and was surprised to find, several seconds later, that I was still alive. The one who’d been about to kill me was lying dead at my feet, several arrows embedded in his back.
I looked around. There were only four of the things left alive, and they were all fighting Radachia. One grabbed her bow and snapped it in half. She’d gotten one of their swords and was fighting desperately, but one against four is long odds even for Radachia. It took everything I had to run into the fray rather than away from it, but I did, knife ready. It was dripping blood, and I took a huge gasping breath and told myself to hold it together for just a few more minutes. I took them by surprise, and stabbed one of the things in the back. The others turned on me, and it was all I could do not to be killed. And then they were the ones who were dead. Radachia isn’t the best person to have behind you, if she’s your enemy.
I looked around at the bodies scattered on the ground and the puddles of blood they lay in and realized that I too was covered in blood, and not all of it was the enemy’s. I’d been stabbed in the arm, my side had been grazed, and a long but shallow cut ran along my face. I began to cry.
Radachia ignored my tears and looked at the wound on my arm. “It didn’t hit anything serious,” she said. “And it’s the worst. You’ll be fine.”
I couldn’t stop crying. I hated it, the hot tears running down my face and making my cut sting even more, the runny nose and beginnings of a headache, the embarrassment of having hysterics in front of Radachia. She bandaged my arm with a strip of cloth she’d gotten from somewhere as I sobbed on. She glanced at me side, but it had already stopped bleeding, and gave me another piece of cloth to hold to the cut on my face.
I used it to wipe my eyes first, then pressed it hard to my cheek. I took a deep, shuddering breath, and looked at the battle scene around us, and tried to decide if it was worse that what awaited me at home.
“We should go now,” said Radachia.
It was dark, and I hadn’t been paying much attention to where we’d been running earlier, but Radachia walked me home. I was glad, until I arrived. There were guards in front of my house. Were they really here already? I didn’t want anyone, especially Radachia, to see this. “I’ll be fine from here,” I said, a few doors down from my house.
“It’s on my way. You did well, Kimi. I’m sorry you had to, but you did.”
“You too.” I had to say something.
Radachia grinned. “Of course.”
With each step I took towards my home, my dread grew. I was almost to the front steps when the guards grabbed me.
“You’re under arrest, you murderous bitch,” one of them said.
“He tried to kill me,” I said feebly. I knew it was useless to protest. He’d been a guard, and if a guard tried to kill you, you were supposed to let them, or at least that’s what the guards seem to think. And in my heart I felt guilty. He’d only been one man; couldn’t I have gotten away without killing him? Or maybe I should have just let him kill me. Why should I think my life was more valuable? The guards clearly didn’t. I didn’t feel the same way about the spider-headed things. They’d had the heads of spiders, and I still couldn’t quite associate that with them being in any way human. But the man I’d killed earlier, in my own home, had been.
“What is going on?” demanded Radachia.
“This doesn’t concern you.” I echoed her words from earlier.
“Like hell it doesn’t. That didn’t even work on you, and I’m twenty times nosier than you are.” She turned to the guard. “What is going on?”
“Exactly what it looks like, ma’am. We’re arresting this girl for murder. Now, you just run along out of here before we decide to take you in as well. You’re just as covered in blood as she is.”
“You could try. We were wounded in battle against men with the head of spiders, Garry. Do you know what that means?”
“That I have my choice of sending you to jail or the madhouse?”
“Gods, doesn’t anyone know anything anymore? It means war, but I’ll deal with that later, and with more important people than you. Now, let this girl go.”
“She murdered someone.”
“Oh, well. The two of us also personally killed seventeen men this evening. They happened to have the heads of spiders, but that doesn’t make any difference in the fact that they were alive, and then we put arrows and knives through them, and then they weren’t alive anymore. They would have killed us, and the rest of the town and probably most of the rest of the country as well, and it’s quite possible that their comrades still will. They would have killed everyone. They would have killed you, Gary. You too,” she added to the other guard. “And if the man Kimithy killed was still alive, they would have killed him too. That makes it about even don’t you think?” Radachia glared at them fiercely. They seemed to wilt.
“Erm,” Gary began, “Well, that is to say, it’s not really up to us.”
Radachia raised the sword she’d taken off our foes. She smiled sweetly in a way that was somehow even more intimidating than her glares. “How about we just agree that it’s not up to you, it’s up to me. All right? Now let Kimi go. I’ll see to it that your superiors authorize the decision.”
“Can you really do that?” Garry’s partner asked.
“Yes,” Radachia said firmly
The guards looked at each other. “We’ll release her into your custody,” Gary told Radachia.
“That will be suitable.” And the guards left.
“You have to get out of here, quickly,” Radachia told me. “I lied about being able to deal with their superiors.”
“Oh.” I was surprised, and grateful, and it took a lot of effort to keep myself from crying again. “Are there really going to be more of those things?”
“I’m afraid so. And worse. I think it’s likely that once it’s widely learned that you helped fight off the first ones so that we’ll at least have a little warning, you’ll be pardoned. So all you’ll have to do is hide out for a few days. I’d offer to let you stay with me, but after that little discussion it would be obvious. Is there anywhere you can go?”
“Yes.” There was a tree I knew of, with branches that wove into a kind of basket. When I was younger, I’d slept in it just for fun, now I could sleep in it for a few nights. I’d manage. “What about you? What are you going to do now?”
“I’ll have to tell everyone what’s happening and convince them of what it means. And I’ll be sure to lobby for your pardon, as well.” Radachia smiled. “But first, I’m going to go home and change out of my pajamas.”