“Don’t do that, sirrah!” he said.
“The belt,” Gentle said, getting to his feet as the youth unbuckled and unburdened himself of his filched arsenal.
By another blaze from above he saw the boy now full of tics and jitters, pitiful and powerless. There would be no honor in shooting him down, whatever crimes he’d been responsible for.
“Go home,” he said. “If I see your face ever again—” “You won’t, sirrah!” the boy said. “I swear! I swear you
He didn’t give Gentle time to change his mind, but fled as the light that had revealed his frailty faded. Gentle turned the gun and his gaze upon the Nullianac. It had raised itself from the ground and slid up the wall into a standing position, its fingers, their tips red with its deed, pressed to the place where the pneuma had struck it. Gentle hoped it was suffering, but he had no way of knowing until it spoke. When it did, when the words came from its wretched head, they were faltering and barely comprehensible.
“Which is it to be,” it said, “you or her? I will kill one of
you before I pass. Which is it to be?”
“I’ll kill you first,” Gentle said, the gun pointed at the
“You could,” it said. “I know. You murdered a brother
of mine outside Patashoqua.”
“Your brother, huh?”
“We’re rare, and know each other’s lives,” it said.
“So don’t get any rarer,” Gentle advised, taking a step towards Huzzah as he spoke, but keeping his eyes fixed on
“She’s alive,” it said. “I wouldn’t kill a thing so young.
Not quickly. Young deserves slow.”
Gentle risked a glance away from the creature. Huzzah’s eyes were indeed wide open and fixed upon him in her terror.
“It’s all right, angel,” he said, “nothing’s going to happen to you. Can you move?”
He glanced back at the Nullianac as he spoke, wishing he had some way of interpreting the motions of its little fires. Was it more grievously wounded than he’d thought, and preserving its energies for healing? Or was it biding its time, waiting for its moment to strike?
Huzzah was pulling herself up into a sitting position, the motion bringing little whimpers of pain from her. Gentle longed to cradle and soothe her, but all he’d dared do was drop to his haunches, his eyes fixed on her violator, and reach for the clothes she’d had torn from her,
“Can you walk, angel?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed.
“Please try. I’ll help you.”
He put his hand out to do so but she avoided him, saying no through her tears and pulling herself to her feet.
“That’s good, sweetheart,” he said. There was a reawakening in the Nullianac’s head, the arcs dancing again. “I want you to start walking, angel,” Gentle said. “Don’t worry about me, I’m coming with you.”
She did as he instructed, slowly, the sobs still coming. The Nullianac started to speak again as she went.
“Ah, to see her like that. It makes me ache.” The arcs had begun their din again, like distant firecrackers. “What would you do to save her little soul?” it said.
“Just about anything,” Gentle replied.
“You deceive yourself,” it said. “When you killed my brother, we inquired after you, my kin and I. We know how foul a savior you are. What’s my crime beside yours? A small thing, done because my appetite demands it. But you—you—you’ve laid waste the hopes of generations. You’ve destroyed the fruit of great men’s trees. And still you claim you would give yourself to save her little soul?”
This eloquence startled Gentle, but its essence startled him more. Where had the creature plucked these conceits from, that it could so easily spill them now? They were inventions, of course, but they confounded him nevertheless, and his thoughts strayed from his present jeopardy for a vital moment. The creature saw him drop his guard and acted on the instant. Though it was no more than two yards from him, he heard the sliver of silence between the light and its report, a void confirming how foul a savior he was. Death was on its way towards the child before his warning cry was even in his throat.