When two lovers are reunited after being forced apart, you might expect them to run into each other’s arms. Maybe not in slow motion like they do in old movies, but with some degree of eagerness.
“Explain?” said Jenny. “Explain what?” She looked at me with her head slightly tilted to one side and absolutely no sense of recognition.
It was definitely her. The face, the scar, the cool contempt in the eyes, it was all the same. But the endless warmth I felt whenever I was near her was gone. She didn’t know who I was.
“If this is your man,” she said to Keezy, “you have a lot of explaining to do. He is an escaped prisoner from Requbar. Wanted for crimes against the crown.”
That was a new one. “What crimes did I commit?” I asked.
“Necromancy,” said Telma with a sneer like she couldn’t even stand to say the word.
“Wow, I never knew I had it in me.” The way my rep was getting upgraded, pretty soon I’d be the most powerful person in the world, on paper at least. That paper being my death certificate.
“Take them back to the camp,” Jenny said in such an offhand manner, she made it sound like she’d been running armies all her life.
There were five women beside her, and they were all very tall and muscular, like somewhere there was a volleyball game with half the court empty. They stepped forward, looking confident they could handle us.
“Wait,” I said, and they did. Not because of my commanding voice and demeanour—I think we all know how much respect they would get me—but because I had created a ball of light and raised it over my head.
They stepped back, which made it easier to get a proper look at them. Kitted out and tooled up. Jenny’s armour covered less of her, probably because it was heavy and she wasn’t as butch as the others. Hanging from her side was a wooden sword.
“Necromancy!” hissed Telma, her hands raised to protect herself from the possibility of a mild tan.
“Do you even know what the word mean? This is a ball of light. What’s that got to do with raising the dead, you muppet.”
She grimaced and drew her sword. The only reason she didn’t stab me was probably because she didn’t know what a muppet was, but then does anyone? I mean, sure, Kermit’s a frog and Miss Piggy’s a pig, but what the hell is Grover?
“Jenny, do you really not know me? The sad eyes, the depressed face, the sorrowful hair… not ringing any bells?”
Jenny’s expression didn’t change. She was a lot calmer and together than I was used to seeing her. “I know who you are, Dragonslayer. You are the criminal I was warned about. I was told to execute you on the spot, but you don’t look all that dangerous to me. Perhaps you have useful information we can pry out of you.” She smiled, finding the idea of tormenting me amusing. So at least that was consistent.
My first thought was that she was under some kind of mind control. Possibly a geas put on her by the Queen. If she was being used like a puppet it would explain why she was casually leading an army into battle and why she had no idea who I was. But if she had orders to kill me and had convinced herself not to follow them, perhaps something of the real Jenny was still under there, fighting for control.
“Why do they keep calling yo’ Dragonslayer?” said Flossie with her hands on her hips. All I needed.
“Floss, please,” I said. “I’m trying to get the love of my life to stop acting like a stupid bitch, so if you could give me a moment. And I didn’t kill any dragons.”
“Ah know yo’ wouldn’t do it on purpose, Ah just think it’s odd they keep—”
“Flossie,” said Jenny, “one minute, let me—”
“What the fuck?” I said, really annoyed now. “Why does everyone remember her? How can you know Flossie and not have a clue who I am?”
Jenny was a bit taken aback my heartfelt outburst. “I… I don’t know.”
“General,” said Telma, “give the order and I will dispatch this knave.”
“Oh fuck off, Telma,” I said with true passion. “I’m trying to have a conversation, can you wait until I’ve at least made my point? I know it’s hard when the attention isn’t on you and people aren’t telling you how wonderful you are, but for once in your life could you let it be about someone else?”
Telma looked offended. Maybe even a little hurt. “I don’t always make it about me.” She looked at the other women. “Do I?”
They all shook their heads very unconvincingly.
As far as I could tell, if I didn’t snap Jenny out of it and get her to remember me, they’d end up hanging me from the nearest tree, so winding them up made very little difference. Plus, it was fun.
“Jenny,” I said while I had the chance. “What happened? After we left Nekromel, where did you end up? How did you get to Requbar?”
She was confused now, which was better than homicidal. “I… I am in the Queen’s Guard. I always have been… I think.” Recognising Flossie and not knowing how had at least put some doubt in her mind. And when someone’s off balance, time to give them a good push.
“Jenny, those gaps in your memory, they mean someone’s been messing with your head. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know me or Flossie, forget that. You should be able to tell something isn’t right. People remember the last few months of their lives, not see it as some foggy mist they’ll find their way through later. That isn’t normal, is it?”
“General…” said Telma, ready again to take centre stage. You can’t slow down a professional attention whore for very long.
“Stay where you are, all of you. He isn’t a danger at the moment and if he does become one, I’ll be the one to deal with him. Put your weapons away.”
She spoke with a great deal of authority and the women stood down. Whoever had put her in charge of this army had fucked up. She might have been the ideal person to lead a kamikaze mission she’d been convinced was necessary, but she still had the brains to be aware of obvious signs something was wrong. A suicide mission still had an objective to achieve, it wasn’t just dying spectacularly for no reason. Well, Telma might have seen it that way (Finally! The spotlight!) but Jenny was very goal oriented. No one knew that better than me, I’d been one of her goals.
I pressed on. “If we’ve never met, how do I know you hate the taste of strawberries, or that the nail on the small toe of one foot is all fucked up? Or that you have a mole on the inside your left thigh. And you always—”
“It isn’t a mole, it’s—”
“—insist it’s a beauty spot.”
Jenny shut her mouth. I had at least given her food for thought.
“I know your body intimately, and, okay, your mind hardly at all, but that’s because you’re a massive weirdo. What more proof do you need?”
Jenny slowly shook her head. “But you? Why would I…”
“Ah know,” said Flossie. “It’s a mystery to everyone, but it’s true.”
“Thank you, Flossie, for that resounding endorsement.”
“General,” said Telma,” “it will be daybreak soon. Better to continue the interrogation back at camp. We are exposed out here.”
“Yes, you’re right,” said Jenny. “We will go back to camp and then decide—”
“What’s that noise?” said Flossie, looking around. There was a slight hum in the air, but it was too dark to see anything beyond the glow of my light.
“We must leave,” said Keezy. “Intui patrol this area. They don’t like dragons.”
“Well, then it’s a good thing we don’t have one, isn’t it,” I said pointedly.
“Oh, yes, I mean they don’t like humans like what we all are on each side of this fire. Brrr, nippy tonight, isn’t it?” Nice improv skills.
There was a loud roar. No, not really a roar, more like a trumpeting rasp.
“What was that?” said Telma. The soldiers had their weapons out and looked around nervously, ready for an attack.
And we were attacked, by a very unpleasant odour.
“Ah think that was Vikchutni doing his morning business,” said Flossie waving her hand in front of her nose.
“Who is—” was as far as Jenny got before the Intui attacked.
They flew in silently—apparently, wasps have stealth mode—and it was only when they were on us that we saw them, small, pale lizards on the backs of St Bernard-sized wasps. Even when I could see them, I only just managed to avoid the spears flying at me.
I turned off my light. Partly because it made me too much of a target, but mainly because I know a good opportunity when I see one. The first fingers of sunlight were creeping up the western sky but it was still all shapes and silhouettes in our little clearing. The intui poked and thrust at us from the air, the soldiers swiped blindly with their swords. It was impossible to tell how many Intui there were, but more than us for sure.
The ground shook as Vikchutni returned from his morning constitutional. He was a giant shadow roaring at the sky, wings spread out.
He had a history with the Intui and he didn’t want to miss out on a dust up, but if he started puking acid around, we were all going to get covered.
“Oh ah,” replied Flossie, which meant she understood, I think.
Just before it went dark, I’d seen the soldiers form a ring around Jenny. Her voice carried over the mayhem, barking out orders. It sounded like nonsense words.
“Left graze. Up feint. Block focus.”
Seemed to be working, they weren’t all dead yet. Didn’t help me, though. She was impossible to get to like this.
I recast a ball of light, this time over Vikchutni. His head suddenly appeared backlit and pissed. The Intui backed off, guessing what was coming. The dragon roared, but Flossie was sat behind his head, bent low and whispering in his ear, trying to keep him in check.
“Run!” I screamed. “Acid spray!”
The soldiers turned and fled. They didn’t want to get their faces melted off, understandably. All apart from Jenny. She remained where she was, her hand touching the side of her face, a memory trying to reach her.
A horn sounded, sharp and clear. I didn’t know if it was the soldiers or the Intui, but someone was calling for reinforcements and they weren’t coming to save me.
I turned off the light and ran at Jenny, knocking her off her feet and jumping on top of her. She struggled but even though I’m not the strongest of guys, I had the measure of her. Her training with the Mezzik had taught her some moves but in close quarters my advantage in weight and strength told. We had wrestled many times and I always won, although admittedly most of the time she let me and it ended in a different kind of full contact sport. She got onto her front and tried to scramble away but I landed on her, drove my knee into her back and shoved her face in the dirt. Because I loved her.
With my mouth right next to her ear, I said, “Whatever the truth, we’ll figure it out together, but not here. You’re going to come with me and do what I tell you for now, or I’m going to break your fucking arm.” I viciously twisted her arm behind her while pushing her face into the ground to muffle her scream. Not twist a little to let her know I could, I mean so hard it felt like I already had. Right now, it was more important to just get her out of here, I didn’t have time to convince her through debate. Even if that literally meant breaking her arms. I could always heal her later.
I pulled her to her feet, still with her arm behind her back, and shoved her towards the dragon. It was starting to get lighter and I could make out the dragon’s tail. I forced Jenny onto the dragon without giving her the slightest room to try something. If she had, I would have hurt her very badly to make sure she got the message.
Keezy, still in female form, and Nyx were already on there.
“Flossie, let’s go,” I called out.
“Ah can’t. There’s too many of them.”
The Intui had formed a ring around us. There seemed to be a dozen or so of them. They buzzed in and out, keeping Vikchutni pinned. He snapped at them and they’d back off, but as soon as he opened his wings, they came diving in, stabbing at him and forcing them closed.
“Sit on her,” I said to Keezy. “If she tries anything, break her legs.” I meant it.
He took hold of Jenny as I slid off the dragon and ran around to the front.
“Flossie, dragon down.”
The head came down to my shoulder with Flossie crouched just behind and I grabbed his ear. “Up.”
The head rose, taking me up with it. “Now!” I shouted.
Vikchutni let go a burst of acidic phlegm and I set fire to it. His head swayed from side to side as the spray swept across the Intui. Wasps turned to crispy shells and the lizardmen fell off covered in flames.
Vikchutni took the opportunity to launch himself into the air, with me dangling from his ear. Not the most elegant ascent. Hard to look cool when you’re being worn as an earring.