Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 11 –

– 11 –

Lightning thrashes the grounds of the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. A wise child would not stay out in it, but would retreat to bed — or better, to a cave — to wait it out instead.

Bethany isn’t a wise child. Nor yet are the enemies who come.

She tosses Tom’s hat back to him. He snatches it. He retreats.

“Red,” Bethany whispers. “I must wear red.”

Lucy and Edmund circle around her. The other two have fallen a bit behind.

Bethany is distracted by a flash of lightning. In that moment, when her eyes are drinking in the nithrid’s radiance, Lucy seethes at her as an evil mist of aerated prophet. There is no time to dodge, at least not properly; nor could she dodge, not with such dazzled eyes as these.

Bethany vanishes, instead, in a swirl of red; it is like a fountain of rose petals and carmine smoke bursting upwards from the ground where she had been.

Lucy condenses; Lucy, who has wickedly counted out three counts while dissipated into prophet foam with neither visible hands nor arms to count with, throws paper.

Bethany is not there.

Bethany has gone to ninja-space, and beyond ninja-space, to Hans’ wardrobe deep under the surfaces of things.

She falls back into the mortal world clutching a hat that has no equal in all the world.

It is that hat which reminds us: if we do our best, if we are good and strong and determined, then everything will end OK. No matter what. We are enough. It’ll end OK.

It is a miracle hat. It is a hope hat.

But more importantly, it is red.

She puts it on.

“Now then,” she says.

Edmund moves at her, but she is gentle with him. She pushes him lightly to the side; he goes past her, stumbling. Lucy has stopped moving; Bethany is confusing her prophesying, and hence her very sense of reality, with careful thoughts.

She grins at them.

“I am one thing,” she says. “Now, where I was many things before. Do you really think you can kill me?”

She turns. She disdains them. She disrespects them. She walks, with her back to them, towards her dorm — only, an evil feeling strikes!

She dodges. She tries to dodge. She fails. Edmund hammers her into the ground.

“I am not,” he says, “that easy, you filthy splot.”

He’s right. He isn’t.

He was that easy, but he isn’t now.

He doesn’t let her get away just with transcending mortality. He doesn’t let that be enough. He draws full upon the strength of Fenris Wolf and he is mighty.

It surges in him.

It burns through him.

He is strong as beasts are strong and fierce as a world-devouring wolf.

In the face of her sainthood and her red, red hat, his stomach growls and he steps up his game; his pupils are devoured by an awful white.

He slams her back. She is having trouble dodging him now; there is a fatal element to his punches, each has the weight of destiny to them, she finds herself in a world where the previously vast probability that she would dodge each one dwindles directly to almost nil.

He eats the chance-lines where she escapes him.

He hammers her back, back, back, he shoves her up against the wall and his teeth are bared and he says, “Shall I free you from your chains?”

She kicks. She fails.

“You’re not going to say it, are you?” he asks. “You’re not going to tell me what Peter told me. You’re not going to tell me I’m not to eat you. Because I am, aren’t I? I can eat you, can’t I? Hahahaha, I can!”

She dissolves into flower petals and mist but he shoves his hand through her dissolving form and grasps her shoulder muscle and she hisses and screams and she falls back to flesh.

She sags.

“If you can beat me, you get to kill me,” she admits. “That’s my samurai code! But I’m not done yet.”

“Be done,” pleads Edmund. “Let me free you.”

“No way,” she says.

She knees the air in front of his groin. (His actual groin is out of reach.) If you were a man, and also made out of air, you would probably wince in sympathy. But Edmund doesn’t even move!

She isn’t actually a samurai at all.

“Let me free you,” he says. “You are trapped into a hideous existence. I will cut you loose. Then I will eat you. That will be my payment. It is a small reward. I only ask the flesh.”

She doesn’t understand for a moment what has happened.

She doesn’t understand why he won’t just get on with it, where his confidence and power went, until —

“Oh, dear,” she realizes. “The slavering wolf-boy doesn’t want to murder me.”

He pulls his hand out of her shoulder. The sound is awful. She goes absolutely white. He licks it off.

He looks away, sulkily.

“It’s important for someone to agree with your reasons for killing and eating them,” he says. “That’s democracy.

It bursts out of her as laughter: “What?”

A flash of fury from him. He rips off her hat.

It staggers her. It makes her mind all chaos and disorder because it is the nature of a Bethany to wear a hat of red.

“You’re in such an awful trap,” he says. “You see.”

She is completely distracted. “Give it back,” she says.

He squints at her.

She sinks down to the ground. She is begging. “Please. Give it to me. Give me back my hat. There is only one. That is the only one in all of unbeing beyond time and space.”

“I will trade it,” he says.

She shakes her head. A dead girl cannot wear a hat.

She reaches for it.

He holds it back.

“Don’t you want —” Her brain is in confusion. She scrubs her hands raw and red on the pebbles. She holds them over her hair. She can’t think. “You don’t want to do this. You want to give me your hat. Don’t you?”

Bloody hands are not a red hat. She tries but it’s not good enough. Maybe a little rock —

“You want to give me the hat,” she says, “because it’s right. It’s right and proper and important. Please.”

He’s turned away from her. He’s walking away. He has her hat.

He doesn’t understand. He can’t possibly understand. How can he understand what he is doing? He must just be mistaken.

“It’s the one in your hands,” she explains.

He’s gnawing on the edge of it.


Eating her hat is a bad thing to do. Probably. That is what Edmund suspects. It is probably a thing that only a bad dog would do. It is like killing people, only maybe it is better or worse. He isn’t sure. He probably should not. Didn’t she say there was only one of them?

He is so very hungry.

Maybe Sally will eat the girl, and then he can eat Sally to remind her that one should always get permission from people before killing and eating them. That would be a good and moral action. That would be the right thing to do.

“Why do you make me think about things like this?” he says, angrily.

He is staring at her.

She is staring at him. Her face has gone completely bleak and lost. He realizes after a moment that he has accidentally eaten the whole hat.

He licks a bit of felt from his lip.

“Sorry,” he mutters. He looks at her arms.

“My hat,” she says.

“Your arms,” he says. She looks at him blankly. She won’t miss an arm, will she? Hats, he thinks, are not very filling at all.

It’ll help him break Fenris’ chain.

She shouldn’t be so obstinate! It is just one arm. And maybe another arm.

She is crawling away. He should stop her. He should eat her. He shouldn’t eat her —

“God damn it, Lucy,” he says, because the evil prophet of space is about to kill and eat Bethany by murder; and he cuffs her and they fight and snarl for a bit, and then somehow they get into a rock-paper-scissors match and she creams him five times in a row even though he is head boy of the House of Hunger and she is just a space princess assassin who always throws paper, and he bites great chunks out of stone cherubim only to discover them practically indigestible and he staggers grumpily away.

He is so very hungry. He is so very bad at cannibalism. This night has gone so very wrongly.

Bethany so very badly needs a hat.



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