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Susan was still trapped by the sinews, but she had a sharpened stick and enough ointment to blind a whole litter of cats. If the litter of cats they’d seen earlier had the second sight, she might need it. She waited, and waited, and waited. Was Sphinx going to come out? Darius had already left for school, she’d heard his bike chain clink against the wall. Zoë hadn’t left yet, but she had odd hours since so many of her tattoos were done by appointment, and because she was part owner and she could adjust her schedule as needed. Did she notice that Susan wasn’t in bed? Did she wonder what had happened to her? Susan thought about shouting, but the chances that the litter of kittens would hear her was much greater than the chance that Zoë would hear her within the house with all the windows closed.
She was very sleepy. She hadn’t slept at all that night, and she was starting to nod off.
She jerked awake. Sphinx wasn’t here yet. She couldn’t hear the asshole hiding in the branches either. Were the other ones still there? God, she was so tired.
She jerked awake. She looked at the sky. How long had she slept? What had awoken her? The garbage truck rumbled by in the alley.
She yawned and stretched, rotating back and forth to get the kinks out of her back. She wasn’t shivering anymore now that the sun was on her, but she still felt stiff an achy from being out all night without any clothes on. She yawned again, then choked it off as adrenaline pumped through her.
Sphinx had just jumped to the top of the side wall.
Susan pursed her lips and made a cat calling sound. “Here kitty!”
Sphinx meowed and leapt down, trotting closer. She paused halfway across the yard and crouched, tail swishing in the air. She crept closer.
“Oh, come on, you dumb cat, it’s not like I can’t see you,” Susan muttered. Stupid suburban cats that thought they were hunters.
Sphinx crept closer.
Susan took a wide stance, holding her sharpened twig in the right hand. “I’m ready, cat. Come and get it.”
She wasn’t really ready, she was terrified. She’d gone past shaking, past the cold pit in her stomach, and now she just felt an empty roaring where her thoughts had been.
The cat leapt.
Susan had meant to stand still and let Sphinx get her, but she flinched away at the last minute, her body deciding that self-preservation and holding still while a predator leapt were incompatible.
Sphinx lifted her paws as though expecting to see a tiny woman under them.
Susan leapt on her back, tucking her ankle under the new nylon collar.
Sphinx shook her head, and Susan found herself flung off. She didn’t hit the ground though, because the sinew tied to her leg had become caught on the jump ring that held the brass nametag to the collar.
Sphinx backed up, shaking her head back and forth, and when she got to the end of the rope, she jumped in the air, twisting. It wasn’t enough to free her; the translators had pounded the stake quite far into the ground.
Susan tried to ball herself up to keep from getting whiplash, but she hadn’t been fast enough. Her neck was hot and achy, and she knew it would hurt soon. She remembered the feeling from being in a car accident.
Susan was still hanging upside down, her back and head dragging on the ground. By some miracle she’d kept her hold on the stick. She swung her arm to jam the stick into Sphinx’s fur, but the cat had her winter coat in and her pelt was too thick. Sphinx yowled and shook her head harder.
Susan felt herself flung into the air again, the scenery spinning past faster than her eyes could focus. The back of her head hit the ground again, and a headache blossomed. Then she lay still, with the sky wheeling rapidly above her. The sinew must have worked itself loose from the cat’s collar.
Susan felt warm paws on her chest, then needle-sharp claws. Sphinx started purring, sounding as loud as the engine of a car bearing down on her. She bit Susan’s head. Susan felt the teeth slice her scalp, but she was beyond pain now. She jammed the sharpened stake into the cat’s gums.
Sphinx yowled, but she didn’t let go. Susan wiped more ointment on the stick and stabbed the cat again, this time in the roof of her mouth. She wedged it in as far as she could get it. Sphinx let go this time, gagging. She pawed at her face, shaking her head back and forth.
Susan held completely still. How long would it take for the ointment to work? Quickly, she prayed.
Sphinx shook her head some more, still gaping like a fish. Eventually she spat out the twig. It glistened with ointment and blood. Sphinx worked her mouth, yawning and gagging as though to get the taste out.
She sat down and wiped her face with a paw. She gingerly licked her paw, but stopped and set it down again, yawning and licking her teeth again, like a dog who had been given peanut butter.
Susan was trying not to breathe too loudly. Had it worked?
Sphinx looked right at her.
Susan grasped quietly for a weapon, but found only dead grass. She waited.
Sphinx sniffed the ground. She looked at Susan again, then at the spot next to Susan, then at a spot just behind her.
Sphinx meowed once, then walked away. She trotted to the side wall, leapt to the top of it, then disappeared into the neighbor’s yard.
Susan almost fainted with relief.
“You did it,” Yoonu said, from the safety of the branches.
“I said I would,” Susan told him. “You’re safe from her now.”
“Garaant is still dead.”
She lay on the ground, exhausted and aching. She opened a conduit to the earth, drawing in energy. Some people could use earth magic to heal themselves, but for her it felt like rubbing a sunburn with sandpaper.
She heard him approach, felt the slight warmth as he came to stand by her. He held a spear, a fire-hardened piece of wood about the length of a barbecue skewer.
He placed the point of the skewer on her chest. “Garaant is still dead.”
“You know what? Fuck you.” She grabbed his ankle and released the pain spell she’d seen last night while doing research on the computer.
Yoonu jumped back, cursing.
She snatched his spear and leapt to her feet. He tried to grab it from her, but she stabbed at him with it, just narrowly missing.
“Give me my spear, woman,” he said.
“Come and take it.” She bared her teeth.
He lunged forward. Bastard was fast. He was almost fast enough to grab it from her, but she stabbed at him and managed to ward him off. He lunged again, and she stabbed, but he’d been feinting, and he reached around and clasped the butt end of the spear. She pulled back, but he was twice as strong as her and jerked it from her grasp.
She jumped forward, trying to hit him with another pain spell, but the asshole sidled past the diameter of her tether. He grinned.
“You want this?” He raised it over his head.
She didn’t say anything, just panted, glaring at him.
“Here, you should have a weapon.” He threw it at her, hard, point first.
If he hadn’t warned her with his trash talk, it would have gone straight through her chest. As it was, she had just enough reaction time to dodge, causing the spear to skim her shoulder. It hit the dead grass behind her, bouncing to land point down in the earth. She ran to it, hoping to reach it before he did. It was just barely within reach, if she stretched as far as she could with her tethered ankle behind her. She closed her hand around the point and pulled it free.
“Ha!” she crowed, but her gloating was short lived as something struck her in the head.
He’d flung a pebble at her. It was about the size of an almond. She touched her head and felt blood. The headache started by Sphinx smacking her into the ground now doubled. He flung another stone, striking her in the nose.
She held up the spear to protect her. The asshole was searching for another stone. Not finding one, he threw a twig. She batted it aside.
A shadow passed over her. She looked up to see what it was, and another stone struck her in the leg. This one was sharp, and cut as much as it bruised.
He threw two more, in quick succession.
She swung, but couldn’t decide which one to block and missed both. One hit her in the neck, the other on the shin. It had been too many years since softball, and pitches in softball don’t aim at your head or knees. A trickle of liquid fell into her mouth, and when she licked her lip, she tasted blood. Her nose. Had he broken it? She couldn’t feel the pain of her nose over the other, louder pains.
Yoonu circled around her, looking for more stones. He was smiling as though stoning a woman were a lot of fun. That, more than the pain, more than the injustice of the whole trial, made her want to cry. That someone would want to hurt her, that someone would find hurting her fun.
A man shouted something in the translator language. He sounded angry.
“Tuusit?” she called out.
Another stone struck her in the back of the head, hard. She pitched forward, barely catching herself on her arms.
But another stone didn’t come. Yoonu was fighting with someone. She looked back to see.
It was Tuusit. She heard him curse and grunt, struggling with Yoonu. He’d come to save her. She looked up. They grappled, then broke free. Tuusit had a short spear, and it looked like he’d gotten Yoonu with it. Yoonu reached down like he was going for a stone, but when he came up he instead flung dust into Tuusit’s eyes. Tuusit backed up, but he didn’t falter, he held the spear in front of him thrusting to ward the asshole off while he recovered.
Susan was watching, enrapt, so she didn’t see the shadow pass over her again, nor hear as the owl settled behind her.
“Hooo,” it said, quietly. It leaned over, snapping. It was huge, and its beak was so sharp it had snipped through the sinews easily. It leaned over her, its shadow large enough to block out the sun.
It must have been a Sunward, if it was out during the day. And was it going to eat her when it realized she couldn’t speak owl? She cringed.
The owl grasped her in its talons and leapt into the air. She hadn’t thought she could be any more afraid. She was wrong. The ground plunged away from her, impossibly far. She screamed, her bowels loosened and she clung to the owls claw as tightly as she could.
She kept her eyes shut, even when she felt the owl bank and descend. It wasn’t until the owl hooted again and released its claws that she looked around to see where she was.
“Paul?” she asked, looking up at the owl.
The owl nodded, and hooted louder.
“Where’s Susan?” Maggie said. The trailer door banged. Maggie came closer, slapping her sandals against the ground. “You said you’d bring her, so where is she?”
“I’m here!” Susan shouted up to her mom.
“Susie? What happened to you?” Maggie scooped her up, cradling her close to her chest like a precious doll. “Oh, my baby, you’re hurt. I’ll get you fixed up.”
Susan tried to look at Paul but her mom’s back blocked the view. By the time Maggie carried her into the trailer, Paul had vanished.