THIRTY SEVEN. A Bad Good Night

“You sure you never see anything when you’re not doing your blood magic?

I swear, sometimes your eyes lock on me and they’re wild and wide. There’s fireworks going off inside and bolts of lightning, like from a Tesla Coil.”

Spyder and Shrike had just finished making love on a Persian carpet Shrike had manifested with her magic book behind a dune near their camp.

Shrike smiled. “It’s funny to hear you say that. No one ever talks to me about my eyes. Even Ozymand didn’t. Everyone thinks I’m sensitive about it or something.”

“Maybe they’re afraid to piss off a hard girl with a really big sword.”

“You’re not. That’s why I like you, pony boy.”

Spyder took a handful of sand and slowly dribbled it between Shrike’s breasts.

“You shit,” she said, brushing herself off.

“If you ever get bored and decide to off me, my preference is being fucked to death.”

“Duly noted. And I won’t let Primo eat you. Not all of you.” Shrike’s hand slid down Spyder’s body and wrapped around his cock. “I wish I could see your face. I wish I could see you hard. You feel good inside me.” Spyder kissed her and started to become hard again.

“What was that?” he asked, pulling away from her.

“What?”

“Listen.”

They both lay quiet for a moment.

“It’s the ruins,” said Shrike. “Underground machines. Some of them have been humming on their own timetable for a thousand of years.”

“Shit. I was afraid it was one of those balloons.”

“Relax. Non’s watching for them. Do you have any cigarettes left?”

“No. I wanted to trade for some in Berenice, but I decided to get mugged instead. We going to live through this, you think?”

“That’s the plan. At least if we die in Hell, we’ll be close to where we’re going to end up.”

“You can always find a little rainbow for me,” said Spyder. “Does killing mean anything to you? I know its your job, but does it ever get to you?”

“It’s not my dream job, but it’s better than the alternatives. I’m not ready to be a beggar or a prostitute. When I was thrown out into the world all I knew had was a little magic and my skill with a sword. One day, I’ll use it to win back my kingdom,” said Shrike. She turned on her side facing Spyder. “I’m glad I don’t see the faces of the people I’ve killed. But I’d rather die a fighter than a victim.”

Spyder smoothed her dreads back from her face. “You are a fighter. A life-taker and a heartbreaker, and you don’t need anyone. Certainly not someone like me. I can barely get my pants on to get to work in the morning. But when I look at you, I have this ridiculous desire to watch out for you.”

Shrike nuzzled into Spyder’s chest. “Sweet boy,” she said.

From the other side of the dune someone cleared their throat.

“Who’s that?” called Shrike, sitting up and grabbing her cane.

“Quiet,” came Primo’s low voice. It was the first time Spyder had heard him give anything like an order. “Something is about. Count Non would like you both to come back to camp.”

“Tell him we’ll be right there.”

Spyder pulled on his pants and helped Shrike find her clothes. They left the carpet and ran back to camp.

“What’s up?” Spyder asked. The others sat around a small fire, drinking the mint tea Lulu had bought in Berenice.

“Sit down and have some tea,” said Count Non. “Don’t look around. There’s something out in the dunes.”

“We heard machines earlier. From the ruins,” said Spyder.

“This isn’t machines or horses or even wolves looking for a quick meal.”

“Men,” said Shrike. “How many?”

“Eight, at least.”

“Shit,” said Spyder.

“Can you reach the Hornet?” asked the Count.

“It’s right by my saddle, on the other side of the fire.”

“Don’t reach for it now. You’ll fight with that and not the knife. The Hornet will give you some distance from your opponent. Smile. You and the Butcher Bird are relaxed and happy and in love.”

“How can you be sure they’re going to attack?” Spyder asked.

Lulu handed them cups of hot tea. Shrike blew on hers to cool it. “You send one or two men to spy,” she said. “When you send eight or more, it’s a raiding party.”

“Is it those desert rats we saw earlier today? They didn’t look like much,” said Spyder.

“Anyone who can live in this open desert is going to be hard as stone and fierce as a demon,” said Non.

“I’m boosting morale with cheap bravado,” said Spyder. “On my planet, we refrain from telling people them how fucked they are.”

“My mistake.”

“How are you doing, Lulu?” asked Spyder.

“I could use a fix. Or a drink.”

“We need you bright-eyed and quick like a bunny right now.”

“More than you know,” Lulu said. She moved her leg to reveal the smooth butt of a sawed-off shotgun. “A four-ten. Small enough to love, big enough to kill.”

“You have any more guns in that bag?” Spyder asked Count Non.

“Sorry, no.”

“Damn. I’d feel a lot more useful with a gun.”

“You’ll do fine.”

“Shh,” said Shrike. “They’re close.”

“How can you be sure?” Spyder asked.

Out in the dark, one of the horses whinnied and a small throwing knife thunked into the sand by Shrike’s leg. She was up instantly, her cane blurring to a sword as the first attacker came charging out of the night. Spyder didn’t even look. He knew she could handle what was coming, and dove for the Hornet.

Spyder came up off-balance and couldn’t get the metal flails at the Hornet’s head to spin properly. He heard Lulu blasting away with the four-ten and turned in her direction, just in time to see the tribesman that was rushing him. The attacker had a length of sharpened pipe raised above his head and was too close and coming too fast for Spyder to get out of the way. Already off-balance, Spyder let himself fall backwards, pushing the stud on the side of the Hornet to release the spikes from the ends. The tribesman impaled himself on the shaft of the weapon and landed on top of Spyder.

He struggled from under the man’s body and finally got the Hornet spinning properly. It hummed like an angry swarm of insects. As throwing knives shot toward him from the dark, they were shredded in mid-air. Out of the corner of his eye, Spyder saw Shrike hold off three attackers simultaneously, spinning to slice the legs off one, before gutting and decapitating the others. Lulu picked off attackers and whooped out rebel yells while Primo crushed tribesmen with his fist, the Hulk in a cheap suit. Count Non fought almost as impressively as Shrike. He charged with his broad Kan Dao sword in one hand and a Morningstar in the other, alternately slashing and crushing the skulls of his opponents.

Another attacker was on Spyder, one who understood what the Hornet was. He didn’t rush into the sawtooth flails, but feinted and moved around, trying to find a way past the spinning shield. Spyder’s injured hand was a white hot ball of pain. He could feel blood running down his arm. That was the side on which the tribesman made his attack. He drove his sword to the opposite side and when Spyder turned to parry him, the attacker spun smoothly, slipping around the flails. In his haste to avoid being sliced to giblets, the man came around a touch wide and barely managed to drag the tip of his sword through the top Spyder’s right arm. Before the man could come back with a killing blow, his mid-section exploded. He fell and Spyder saw Lulu standing there with her shotgun smoking. Spyder returned the favor by slicing off the arm of another attacker who lunged at Lulu’s back.

And then it was over. No more men came over the dunes. Spyder and Lulu turned in slow circles, waiting for someone else to rush them from the dark, but no one came.

“Spyder, stop spinning that thing,” said Shrike. He dropped the flails into the sand to stop them. Shrike turned once, her head up, listening. “If there are any left, they’ve run off to lick their wounds.”

Spyder put his arms around Shrike and she held on to him. “A fighter, not a victim. Understand now?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, but thought, “I killed a man tonight. Two, at least.” Spyder pushed Shrike away and puked into the sand.

“Pussy,” said Lulu.

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