Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 13 –

– 13 –

Edmund knocks on Andrea’s door. He opens it. He leans in.

For a moment the room is empty.

Then a heart beats and chains pull taut; the nithrid condenses, draws down from static cling in the socks and the dust bunnies and lightning in the machines, and becomes a girl.

She stares at him. Her eyes are blank.

“Wow,” says Edmund.

“Sometimes,” she says, and her voice has a catch in it, “sometimes I think I can almost get free of it. If I hold my breath. If I stop my heart. I can almost pull apart and stay — anyway, who the hell are you?”

“Sorry,” says Edmund. He sketches a bow. “Edmund Gulley, at your service.”

She is a blur of motion. She has a knife. She is holding it to his throat. He snarls. She is still stretching forward to attack, she has not secured her position yet, and that is why he is able to lean and skip back away, his leg coming up to smash its knee into her elbow; his leg is turning even as it rises and he snaps a followup kick out at her head.

She moves even faster now; she fogs out into a mist of storm and plunges at him, swinging a dozen knives held by a dozen strands of hair. He turns through them, snapping two of the knives out of the air and swallowing them down with his wolf-bite; his back is to her for a moment, and then he is coming in, his hand extended and his white teeth bared —

Her hair is wrapped around him; its ends still hold ten knives.

He is tense, frozen, but when they do not cut him he relaxes.

“You are not Edmund Gulley,” she says.

Junior,” he says.

She hesitates. “What, really?”


“Oh.” She pulls away from him. “— Why you people have such redundant names, I will never know.”

He frowns at her. “Anyway,” he says. “Dad said there was a nithrid.”

“Yes,” says the nithrid. “I generate power and eat storms. And take classes. I am ‘a highly convenient monstrosity.’”

“Wicked,” says Edmund. “The wolf mostly generates dander.”

The comment falls flat.

The nithrid stares sadly at Edmund.

“Dear God,” says Edmund, realizing. “Did Dad say that too?”

“It is not a bad thing,” she says, without formally admitting it, “for a son to be like his father. You — you are his son, yes? Not the junior to some other Edmund Gulley?”

“Yes,” he says.

“I thought so,” she says. “It is an in-family arrangement. I can see the wolf in you, I think, too.”

He shrugs.

“It was the way you almost bit my head off and drooled acidic spittle,” she says. “But instead just kind of drooled a little.”

Edmund embarrassedly wipes the corner of his mouth. “I was ravening,” he says.

“Yes,” she says. “No doubt.”

“It’s true!” he says. “Sometimes I go ulfserk! It’s like berserking, only, less ber, more ulf.”

“Licking my face like a puppy and the like?”

“Yes! No!”

He frowns at her.

“That is ridiculous. Wolves do not do that. They are noble and vicious predators.”

“I suppose,” she says. “It’s all the same from the vantage of the storm.”

“I don’t like you,” concludes Edmund.

“Nobody does,” she says. She turns away.

“I just thought —”


“My Dad,” says Edmund. “I thought, he wanted us to — I don’t even know. So I thought I would introduce myself.”

“You are tangled,” she says. “In my chains.”


“You will break them,” she says. “I think. That is interesting.”

She turns back to him. She studies him. She places her hand flat upon his chest. She tilts her head.

“If you have a heart attack,” she says, “I cannot help you.”

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he says.

“I —”

She frowns.

“It is a waste of my learning to jump-start someone’s heart,” she says, “if you are going to go around keeping it someplace else. Next you shall tell me that there is no point in my studying emergency medicine at all because I cannot treat somebody without shocking and distressing them.”

“Yes,” Edmund says.


“That was not previously what I was going to say next,” he says. “But now, you may take it as stated.”

She considers this.

“I will teach you to kill,” she says. “I will teach you to dance. I will teach you to call the lightning. Then you will shatter the chains that are binding on us and I will boil back out to the sky. It will be a glorious transformation and the Heavens shall be made glad.”

“I didn’t ask —” he says.

“I didn’t either,” she says. “You will learn these things. I have decided it. If you refuse me, then I shall kill you here and now.”

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I’m Edmund Gulley.”

She grits her teeth.

“Fine,” she says, after a while staring at him. “If you refuse, I will get very angry, and write a stern letter, and never talk to you again, but I suppose that I won’t kill you. It would be against your human manners. But you will do it anyway.”


“Because you are like your father,” she says. “You do not want to bind things. You want to shatter chains and let your bound wolf free.”

“That isn’t what father wants,” says Edmund.

It’s almost reflex.

Then after a while he says, with a catch in his voice, “Is it?”

“I will teach you,” she says. “You will fly, Edmund. You will be free of the gravity of the world. You will dance, and you will call up lightning, and you will kill. You will become strong and you will break your chains.”

She breathes. Her heart beats painfully. She closes her eyes. She turns to him.

“Come,” she says. “Preemptive repayment: I will set you free.”

Edmund hesitates a long moment. Then he nods.

“OK,” he says.

She walks out into the hall. All the other doors close. She waves upwards at the ceiling and the light turns on. Edmund shivers as if —

This is what he thinks. It’s completely silly but he thinks it anyway —

As if the ghost of a duck were glaring at him from her back.

“Where are we going?”

“You can’t dance indoors,” she says. “That’s human insanity. So we will take our lessons —”

“Wait,” says Edmund. “You want us to dance in the quad?”

She looks over her shoulder at him.

He looks down.

He masters his embarrassment.

“Thank God,” he finally says, “for my wooden box.”



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