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This is it, I thought. This is the big one.

And the thing about thoughts like that is, if nothing else, you know something major is happening. No one just sits around casually thinking stuff like “this is the big one.” Mostly, when people are panicking or actually facing something big in their lives, there aren’t a lot of coherent expressions lining up like dialogue. When I’m surprised by something, particularly something bad, I usually just stick to long strings of swear words, myself.

But this was something of a special case. I’d been expecting this ever since Myr and I parted company. I’d even, shameful as it is to admit, been lining up end-of-the-trip kind of dialogue in my head for just such an occasion.

I was standing in an alley between two new brick buildings, both with excellently smooth and un-grippable mortar; backed against a chain-link fence somewhat taller than I was with barbed wire and purple curse lines on the top; and confronted with five beefy, pissed-off dwarves on what would have, for a human gang, been motorcycles. They looked more like mopeds, but they managed to be pretty menacing all the same.

I’m not very patient, especially when I’m staring impending doom in the face, so underneath the endless, quasi-deafening repetition of “This Is The Big One” happening in my brain, I tried to come up with some witty, irritating one-liners to try to move things along.

“You don’t have all night,” I started with. “Come on. Get this over with and you can go out for–whatever you like to eat best. It’ll be great.”

I wish I could blame that little gem on the stressful situation, but I can’t; I’m just not very good at repartee on the fly.

Anyway, encouraging people to kill you tends to make them think you’ve got something up your sleeve. I didn’t. I wasn’t even wearing sleeves–the one on the farthest right had very delicately bisected the back of my jacket with her ceremonial axe, and all I had on under that was an undershirt I left at my ex-girlfriend’s. I tried explaining that to them.

The one second from the left snorted. “We can wait through comedy hour,” she said.

“There’s nothing good on TV at this hour, anyway,” said the one on her right–probably her wife, judging by the matchy-matchy colors of the stones of the rings on half their fingers.

The one all the way on the right snickered something in what was either one of the Dwarf languages or, you know, something entirely different I couldn’t understand, which sent the two on the other side howling; but the two who hadn’t said anything were still.

“Do something,” the center one said. Her voice was very quiet, but it cut through the laughter like the last one’s axe had cut through my jacket. “There are curse lines behind you; use them.”

I blinked. I’m sure it was charming.

“Use them to…what?” I asked. “Turn myself into something less murderable?”

“If that would suit you best,” she said evenly.

Three of them leaned in a little; the one who had stayed silent so far leaned a little bit back, resettling herself on her–whatever it is dwarves call them. I can’t keep calling it a moped, it’ll ruin the ambience.

I looked around at each of them and glanced back over my shoulder at the fence, just in case it had become something I could actually do something with since I last looked. It hadn’t.

“What,” I said flatly.

“What do you mean, ‘what’?” asked the one on the far right in a thick some-Dwarf-stronghold accent. “Do what you have done so many times before. Make your escape.”

I blinked again, even more charmingly than the first time, probably. “I would really love to,” I said slowly. “But like. Y’all would have to back up a whole bunch and put all your weapons down even further away, you know? Because otherwise there’s no way I’m getting past you.”

“THIS IS THE BIG ONE,” blared the radio in my head–tuned as it was to Radio Doom.

But obviously it was not, because I’m writing this.

“Move,” yelled a voice from the other side of the alley, behind the fence. This voice was one that had once given me very strict instructions to always do exactly what it said, so I did: I slammed myself down to the left, ending up with my head about a foot away from where her (actual, human) motorcycle smashed through the gate.

Myr grabbed me by the hair and dumped me in her sidecar, which was disconcerting, as the spell she cast to make it was only halfway through with constituting it. But then the whole thing went the same shade of fuzzy, and then Myr and I did; after that I got a horrifyingly up-close-and-personal lesson in Dwarf anatomy, and then we were on the other side of them and rocketing away.

“What is going on,” I yelled, because that was the only thing I could think of.

“Shut up,” Myr said, which, fair enough.

The dwarves were chasing after us, the one who had never spoken in the lead. Her mouth was open wide in rage, and I knew why she’d been quiet: someone had cut out her tongue, and the stump was cauterized curse line purple.

“Yah,” I–well, yelped, if we’re being honest. A drawn-out kind of yelp: the kind that usually precedes a long line of swearing. At least my brain had started feeding me that instead of Radio Doom.

“Shut up,” Myr said again. “Throw the damn blockers.”

It’s always a little awkward to admit that you do stuff like this regularly enough to have a routine, but the blockers were in the saddlebag nearest my head like they always were. I held one up at the Dwarves chasing us and let them see the shape of it; Myr hates it when I do that, but I hate risking killing people.

I still popped the lid and threw it behind us anyway, and followed it with two more just to be safe, but I’d at least warned them.

Myr drove on, looking even less pleased than she had the last time I saw her; and given that had been just before she told me to leave and stormed out herself, that was saying something.

“Where did you even come from,” I said. “I mean. I’m glad to see you, of course, but you were, uh, pretty clear about that not happening again.”

Myr curled her upper lip and awkwardly threw sleeping flowers in my face, and I’m not quite sure what happened after that. Because I was asleep. In case that wasn’t obvious.

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