One hundred seventy-two

One hundred seventy-two

Jeanette wondered if her fore shield would even work, pinned down beneath the wreckage of the ship. But before she touched the jewel on her necklace, there was a flash of silver, and the massive chunk of metal was upended, and Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone scooped her up and carried her to the center of this tiny island.

“Are you hurt, can you walk?” He said urgently.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t hurt but I may be in shock.” She knew about shock.

“Heal yourself. There’s no time.”

That was certain. The Deep Chaos monster was climbing out of the water no more than a hundred feet away. The antimatter explosion had done something: it had been a hundred feet high and now was only twenty. But it hadn’t been destroyed. And now there was nothing to fight it with, no place to run, and no time. She pressed the healing jewel and felt both better and weaker.

“Draw a gateway. It’s the only option,” Lord Elphinstone. But as soon as she had taken the case of chalk out of her pocket, the monster was towering over them.

She went to hands and knees and scrabbled to the only clump of salt-encrusted shrubbery on the island. It was no disguise and no shelter, and Jeanette couldn’t see how on earth she could draw anything on sand. She watched as the mirror-armored tiger swing his longsword in a mighty arc right through the thing’s thigh, making it fall on its side.

She was panicking, her mental wheels spinning. How could she--what could she--she looked in helpless desperation at Lord Elphinstone, and saw that he was pointing at something. She spent a stupid second or two not understanding, but then saw what he was pointing at: about thirty feet away, there was a chunk of the shattered ship, and there was enough flat surface for her to draw a portal.

She ran to it, crouched over it, and her fingers shook as she took out the black chalk. She was screwing it up! She was screwing it up! But the black chalk was filling itself in, and she willed herself furiously to stop shaking as she drew the target end of the tunnel.

The monster had already gotten up, and was seeming to change color.

She had thought this through a hundred times in her own head. There were no good choices--nobody to run to with enough power to face this creature, and that would mean she’d be killing him. She had come to a couple of least-worst decisions, and she thought she had known what decision she’d make. But not even those would work if the monster could practically just reach through and grab them before they got to the other side!

Silvertyger’s roar sounded in her ear, and it was way too close. She looked up from her useless dithering to see his armored back right on top of her, and the creature’s giant hand just behind him. He pushed off, sword raised, and forced the creature back towards the water, hacking at its turbulent flesh.

She looked as his longsword shattered into a dozen pieces.

With his claws, the tiger tore a great chunk from the monster’s neck, and the thing convulsed. As the monster’s body fell back, a swipe of its enormous arm threw Lord Elphinstone’s body, streaming blood, back onto the sand, armor torn open.

Heedless of practicality, Jeanette ran to him, shouting, “Oh not you too! Not you too!”

As she knelt over him, her face twisted in torment, he opened his eyes. “I have no doubt,” he said calmly, “that I have enough power to destroy this thing--at least the aspect of it that is my Nemesis, and give you enough time to get away. Do you have the gift I gave you?”

She nodded tearfully.

“Good. I will let you know a secret, daughter. This armor I wear serves to keep my tiger spirit under control. As it releases, I will have my last victory--but once it is fully revealed, you had best be gone, for I will not know you.” He lifted a bloody paw to her cheek, where she took the smear. “I prefer that you think of this as my last moment, Jennifer Ransom. To have spent it with you gives me joy. Now go: escape as you see fit, by the stone or by the circle, but go.”

She got up, shaking her head no, but unable to speak, the very last one of her heartstrings breaking. She staggered backwards on the sand, as Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, Earl of Maurya, rose up and tore away the mirror armor as if it were cloth, and charged the monster that was once more advancing.

She turned and ran back to the drawing on the piece of wreckage. She pulled the black stone out  of her pocket, that would sent her back home to Earth, safe and sound, and all of this evaporating like a bad dream. In the other hand she held the piece of chalk that would complete the drawing.

The tiger’s roar filled her head.


next chapter