Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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The nithrid rages across England. It flares up and it flashes down. It howls across the sky, devouring other storms. For a while, the world ignores it; but —

It has begun to kill.

Just here and there. Just a trickle. But it has begun to play in this brand new world that Edmund has given to it. It has experimented with flashing down into a city, lighting up the buildings, making them dance St. Vitus’ Dance, and chasing and slaughtering the men and women on the streets. It swirls up and down and all about in great gusts of lightning and —

It passes through the School. It’s a mix of nostalgia and vague stress; being a living storm, it has no way to turn in its last few homework assignments, or attend to its midterms, and somehow it has gotten the impression —

I really can’t imagine from where —

That its secondary school grades and record will be of some sort of account.

It doesn’t understand what a nithrid should understand, to live in a world like hers, which is: the world belongs to anybody who can power entire cities, live a long time without consuming financially costly resources, and write programs for the marvelous electronic computers so prolific in that futuristic age.

There’s really no need for her to have high marks!

Yet there it is, sweeping back through the School now. I just don’t know what it’s thinking.

Emily lugs a PlayStation 6 up onto the roof.

The nithrid ignores her. It doesn’t recognize its danger. It thinks, at most, that she’s out there to see it; that she’s appreciating the lightning; it doesn’t mind, and it doesn’t kill.

Emily goes back down. She lugs back up an uninterruptible power supply.

She plugs the PlayStation in.

A light burns gold.

The sky groans.

The nithrid writhes, and the lightning stops. The rain becomes a perfectly, precisely steady flow.

After a while a single arc of lightning comes down. It is struggling, as if pushing through molasses. It progresses slowly. It touches down on the roof facing Emily. It skitters there, still and steady, holding itself against the ground.

It is like it is staring at her.


“This is how it is,” says Emily. “This is the Konami Thunder Dance. The sun won’t move. The rain won’t start or stop. And there’s not going to be any more of that lightning, nithrid. Not until I start the dance.”

The nithrid eddies.

Emily brushes back her hair.

“I hear tell,” she says, “that a living storm’s been making havoc over the British Isles; and growing too. That that savage beauty, called a nithrid, has come back to make an end to cities and to civilizations and to all the works of humanity.”

The lightning traces across the roof. It makes a symbol. She looks at it.

“I don’t . . . read . . . Sumerian?” she says.

It scribbles the symbol out. It tries again in letters writ much larger: YES.

“I see,” she says.

There is a bit of silence.

“The world Konami Thunder Dance association tells me that I’ve got first crack at this,” she says. “Since I’m here, and I’m the best. If I fail, though, there’s others to come after me. Max. Meredith. Even Lucy. And plenty others after those. So, I’m going to dance against you, and I’m going to win, and you’re going to quit it. Not because you agree to. Not because you’ll choose to. Because this is the revolutionary PlayStation 6 dance pad game that is going to tear you apart.”

Lightning is writing on the roof.

It is writing largely, looping: TRY ME.

She presses the power button with her toe.

There’s no turning back now.

Only, there is.

She is with it and within it. She is wound through it and it through her; she is dancing amidst the lightning, and she is binding it up again; it is as if her spirit has flown up from her body in the shape of a bird, as if it weaves in and out among the branches of the storm, among its stations, and where she goes it follows her, and she is threading it into knots. Each step she traps it tighter, she twists it about itself, and whether it strikes at her or dances with her, it only pulls itself more stringently into the shape of the tightening knot.

In this dance, she will be victorious, but —

There is, in fact, a turning back.

She kicks off the game.

There is a sudden silence. The lightning tears itself out of the knots she’s woven into it. The storm howls. It flares. It strikes before her, white, incandescent, searing the air in front of her face and damaging one corner of the coating on her KTD pad.

It draws back. The nithrid scribbles over its previous messages.


She just turns, though. She walks away from it.


It stops writing. She isn’t looking. She’s walking down the fire escape.

She says, “Then start with me.”

It does.

There is lightning all through her. She stumbles. But it does not kill her. After a while she is conscious; she glares down at a fresh new scar.

She staggers away, limping.

The storm departs.

“God damn it, Emily,” says Max, later.

She looks at him.

“You taught it to stay away from the Thunder Dance. Why didn’t you finish the bloody thing?”

“I decided that I shouldn’t,” Emily explains.



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