One hundred seventy-eight

One hundred seventy-eight

This was it. She had lost everybody now. She was completely alone and the monster had found her.

She had been running from this moment, and had never once thought that it wasn’t going to happen. She was terrified but not shocked or surprised.

What did give her a jolt was that she didn’t have her backpack. While she was staggering down this foggy street in a venom-induced haze she must have let go of it. That brought panic.

There was a very big gun in her hands. She let fly a volley of projectiles, turned and ran.

She had made a turn, that she remembered, but was it left or right? Please let there not be other intervening streets! She couldn’t answer the question, and if she made the wrong choice , she would die here within minutes.

But where her brain couldn’t formulate it, her feeling of rightness and wrongness told her where.It was sitting in the middle of the street. It had spilled a couple of things, mainly a book--but one of the things was on it.

This was her first look at one of them: it was a flat black triangle with a hump in the center. It flapped and hunched disgustingly. There was nothing she would have liked better than to shoot the thing, but she couldn’t risk hitting the pack, and neither her gaming adventures nor her real ones had made her a good shot. So she ran to the pack and pulled the thing off. It had an incredibly ugly mouth, and she threw it away as hard as she could. That wasn’t very far, but she bent over the pack and turned on her force shield.

She stuffed the book, jewels, and her phone back in the pack. She pulled out the case of chalks, which was the one thing she absolutely needed. Right away, she drew the elements necessary for the portal--everything but the destination done with the purple chalk, because she had no idea where to run to from here--but there wasn’t time to waste even thinking about that. She closed it and put it in her pocket.

The only thing she had in her pocket was the black stone--the one that Lord Elphinstone had told her would send her home. What did that say about her?

She looked for the red world-jewel of the Queen of Hearts, but couldn’t find it. Did that mean she had died? Or maybe withdrawn her power? No, it was far more likely she couldn’t find it in her frantic state. Could she use any of the other world-jewels--she had a whole bagful!--As a power source? Maybe, but she had no idea how to do it--and couldn’t figure out in the next five minutes.

There was even a gun of some sort--and right now she couldn’t remember where it had come from. No, none of the weapons she could call up--even boosted by a warp drive or a jellyfish thunderstorm--could do anything but slow it down. The Queen of Hearts--who was the sole spirit of an entire world--could maybe, but even that wasn’t necessarily complete. The one thing  she had was Nemesis Gloves. They would have to do.

The force shield wouldn’t even stand long against it she had seen that to be true, so it was best to bring it down before the thing started hammering at it. She put on her backpack and took a breath.

The monster was no more than twenty feet away. It was a little less than two stories tall. The surface of its skin was now burbling more fiercely than it had done before. Jeanette pulled out the kind of displacement gun her friend the capybara had used. She fired, and blew a basketball-sized hole in the creature’s head. She fired again and blew off two fingers, Again, and a hole in the opposite leg. She started to walk forward.

She switched guns, and liquefied the cobblestones underneath the thing’s feet. None of that stopped the monster, but it struggled, particularly from the leg. She was getting close enoughto grab part of it with the Nemesis Gloves.

The monster bend down and dealt Jeanette a brutal backhand blow. It would have sent her flying, but, hurt as she was, bleeding as she was, she grabbed onto the arm as it brought her off her feet, and she dug her hands into the horrible shifting substance of the monster, and rasped in a choked shout, “Die!”

Energy shot through the thing, bright white ragged energy, and the substance of the monster began to boil. Strange thorned pseudopods leapt out of the monster and back in, and eruptions like distorted ribcages started to poke though the mass, as the white energy started to acquire a form of its own. The monster started to steam away, bubble bursting at its skin, losing all semblance of a humanoid form. It surged up, bent, twisted, and failed against the bright something--maybe a Nemesis in bodily form.

Jeanette had only fallen about seven feet, and landed well, but one of her legs still hurt where she landed at an angle. She moved backward now, towards her chalked portal.

There was a wet stinky explosion, and a cloud of opaque gas roared out. She coughed as it reached her, and the face of her skin and hands burned. She walked backwards blindly.

The gas cleared. The Energy Nemesis was gone, and what was left of the monster was no more than eight feet tall--which was still twice her size. It also didn’t look humanoid at all now, but like a jumble of bones with giant bunches of grapes all covered in slime. But it still moved forward, and as it moved, it began to grow.

Jeanette was bleeding, the front of her beautiful embroidered dress was torn open, and her foot shot pain when she put pressure on it. There was at least one other pair of Nemesis Gloves--Lord Elphinstone hadn’t taken a pair--but the case was buried deep inside the dimensional hole inside her pack. She pulled out a gun and fired, but it was clear: she had to run or she had to die.

She made it back to the portal and hit her force shield. She was inside the opaque shell. Gad wasn’t near her, but that was good: she had to go and live a life longer than the one with her was going to be.

But where could she go? Was she just plain doomed to fail? Was she just a little kid who managed to be the last one killed of her party? Was she just plain stupid for fighting a cosmic principle?

Two flashes came to her: the young woman who looked kind of like her, Jennifer Random Transcendent, telling her that she, Jeanette, was her favorite book, and that everything turned out all right--shortly before the Paradox Swan was smashed with her friends on board--and the invisible being in the Last Horizon saying ‘you must fight and you must win.’ That was pretty much all she had.

But where was she to go? Where was there a cosmic principle that could stand at all against even a portion of Deep Chaos--that of course, she could get to? Although she was still skeptical--again, though, it was all she had--she pressed the 8th and 9th  stones on her necklace--the stones for wisdom and understanding.

Something smashed on the outside of the force shield. Three guesses as to what it was.

She realized that she had just about answered her own question, even though she felt it was wrong for very good reasons.

She drew in purple what she had already drawn in white: the Decision Tree.

She put her foot into the portal and met only cobblestones. The monster hit the shield again. Well, it was too much to hope that she could go through the portal with the shield still up. Which made it tough with the thing hammering at it.

But she waited until the next impact, and as it raised whatever part of itself it was hammering with for the next blow, she let it go and stepped through.


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