Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 9 –

– 9 –

She is standing on a bell for a moment.

Lightning shears through it. She is in the sky, but the wind has caught her. It drags her in towards another lashing bolt. Her t-shirt and sweatpants are burning. She rolls sideways through ninja space. She flows. She emerges in a fluttering of red silk garments, clothes stolen from a place that is not a place, to land against another falling bell.

She is sweating. She is bleeding. She has the fixed grin of someone struggling to remain coherent in the face of a fever, staying up too late, or an excessive quantity of drink.

She is tense enough that she is subtly vibrating; it spreads into the metal of the bell.

Less than a second of stillness; of falling; of trembling; and the lightning lashes out at her again.

She is ready this time. She is braced and desperate. She catches it. She pulls it around. She flows with it, tori to its uke, and hurls it past her; catches the next arc, pushes it down, grounds it in the bell; she leaps, then, because the bell is burning, and she is turning and turning and she is all but climbing the lightning as it comes.

Flutters of lightning pull free from the main body of the storm. They stream about her, tearing off of, freeing themselves from, and unfolding from the nithrid and becoming extensions of the silks of her as she moves. When she lands —

It is balanced on a telephone pole, swaying and shuddering in the storm —

Streamers of red silk and dancing lightning settle around her like a bird’s feathers and long tail. The light fades around her, save for the occasional twining, errant gleam.

This is the beginning.

This is the beginning of our story — this bit, with Bethany and the nithrid. And more than that.

This is the beginning of the world; when the last feather of her settles, and her eyes open and they are gleaming red.

It strikes at her. The lightning strikes at her.

She can hear the beating of her heart.

She catches the lightning. She turns it. She pulls it around and sends it back into the storm. And there is the next beat: it pounds in her.

As if a voice were speaking:

There’s no turning back now!

A second blast falls.

The wind kicks her off the pole she’s standing on. She doesn’t mind that. She flutters with it. She lets it happen. She lets the wind carry her; and when the lightning comes at her a third time, and she is falling, she is near the ground and —

Well, not her death, considering, but it might have been a fatal fall for some

She uses the force of that blast, tacks against it like a sailboat against the wind, lets it throw her back into the air even as she bends the bolt itself off to curl off harmlessly through the Principal’s window and set fire to the outbox on his desk.

It’s OK, half-eaten Principal! It’s not important! Your secretary was just going to dump that in the incinerator in any case!

A fourth blast strikes. A fifth.

Rain is lashing at her. Wind is cutting at her. The lightning is all around her and she can hear it, beating faster now, driving, guiding it: the pounding of her chest-bound heart.

Once upon a time, there was a storm that saw itself, and became a nithrid.

Once upon a time, surrounded by that storm, there was a girl who saw herself as well.

She witnesses herself: she coats herself in vanity and aspiration; she sees herself, and all her eaten hopes, as magic. She catches up that magic and weaves it around and around her and into her red and lightning coat. She idealizes herself, she the saint named Bethany, and then she steps across the divide between reality and its images and she embodies that ideal that she has conceived.

The wind pushes her faster.

The nithrid kites her out over the ocean. It tries to lash her down into the waves. She skips hard against the water, like a stone thrown to perfection; it should scour her, it should break and batter her, but it doesn’t; it is as if the sea is padded —

Her Housemate St. Peter’s blessing is a sovereign protection against stormy weather at sea.

She tastes salt and blood in her mouth, nevertheless.

Then she is up in the air again. Then she is turning. Then she is catching the sea in the sleeves of her top, twisting it up, and hurling up a wave into the lightning to send dissonance through the structures of the nithrid’s mind.

The nithrid’s scream shatters her.

Why does she keep doing this? Why does she keep hurting it? She didn’t plan on hurting it —

Her lungs are clotted with blood. She is crying it. She is whimpering. She is lost and helpless for a moment, and had she been any lower or any less than Bethany she would have gone down and she’d have been drowning —

But it takes the nithrid longer to recover than it takes the saint.

Its thoughts are expressed in lightning; its self-awareness is in and through the storm; unable to see itself through the diffraction, the nithrid spends a long and terrible moment dead.

Bethany has time to stagger to a halt on the ocean’s surface.

She has time to look up at the seething, twisting storm, and twist her face.

Then the nithrid wakes itself from death with a shudder. Then it is screaming. Then it is in such a rage as it has never known before; then it is as if Heaven speaks one great word in lightning to manifest its hatred for such saints:

(Such a word! I cannot write down the nithrid’s word herein.)

It stretches from horizon to horizon; it is as if the whole sea were ionized now and throwing up a single sheet of fire towards the clouds.



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