IPTSF Text 63
Chief Jillian advanced on her, locked into that amazing slow-time reality of combat. She glanced from side to side, checking off the critical objects. There were those curtains, for one thing. The ruler/caster would probably run behind them in a moment. Jillian didn’t know what was back there. Maybe traps, maybe a bolt-hole of some kind, barrable doors...she couldn’t assume that the prey was cornered.
She took another step, sparing a few thoughts to consider the target as a caster. Hippiemancy was one of the harder kinds of magic to fight. Dame Branch could almost certainly hit her with a spell to keep her from engaging. So if it looked like she was going to cast, then a quick leap over the altar stone or a throw of her sword would be the only options.
Two more steps. On the left, Banhammer moved toward her. “Stop,” he ordered.
For the barest moment, she met her father’s eyes. “Disregard,” she told him bluntly, and took another step.
He stopped in his tracks, staring dumbly at her.
“The side’s at stake,” she added.
Yeah. He’d have to disband her to keep her from sticking Olive. And if she had to stand and explain that to the Titans, then she had no problem with it. She served Faq, and would do no less than her Duty to the side. Right now, Faq could conquer Haffaton with one sword strike. Nothing else trumped that.
Dame Branch showed no signs of casting or fleeing, so there was about to be an option here. Going left or right around the altar stone would matter. She should maybe try a feint, to direct the quarry’s run.
Another step, with Three-Edged feeling wonderful, eager in her grip. Orwell waddling up from the right earned himself a quick glance. But although he was technically a Haffaton unit now, he was also a fat, scared Lookamancer who’d never been in a single engagement. His mouth was open, struggling for words. She’d go for an incapacitating strike to the spine if he tried anything, but he wouldn’t.
“Please!” shouted Olive, gripping the stone and crouching.
Jillian said nothing. No need for banter, nothing to negotiate. Croak the Overlady and take her empire, and anything she could offer now would belong to Faq anyway. Even the heroine buds..
She decided her move: she’d feint right, then juke left past her father when the target took the bait. With a practiced, convincing fake, she looked and stepped that direction.
And Orwell stepped directly into her path.
“Lemon Jefferson,” intoned the Lookamancer. He reached out to touch her arm, initiating an engagement. His attack ran so counter to her expectations that he managed to catch her exposed fingertips beneath the cuff of her demi-gaunt as she moved to hilt-strike him out of the way.
That contact was all it took. The lights went out. Jillian was left completely blind.
The strike she’d started was still sprung up in her muscles, though. It connected with the caster’s arm, slamming him aside. She added a quick, improvised cut just above where his hip ought to be. It connected with a sack of soft belly, cutting so deep that her sword was nearly yanked out of her grip as Orwell jerked backwards.
The Lookamancer cried out, then she heard him hit the marble dais with two flops and a crack. He made no more sound.
“No. Great Titans...” whispered her father, somewhere to the left and behind.
Jillian froze, bringing her sword up in an elementary defensive stance. She had never been blinded in combat before (although there were several units out there that could do it to you). She really wasn’t sure what to do now. She listened, trying to picture the space she was in.
She heard—and ignored—Banhammer crying out Orwell’s name, as he ran past her to the enemy unit’s aid. But it was the footsteps behind his that were the real problem. Metal clacks on marble, and a scurrying whoosh of straw. She turned to face the golem and scarecrow. She’d have to handle them, somehow, in absolute blackness. And fast, or the Overlady would bolt.
The footsteps were loud, at least. She had a sense of where they were. She wound up to receive them with a sweeping parry, but her timing was late. The metal fist struck her in the left breast just as she clanged her sword against the golem’s midsection. A flat blow, useless.
The punch was a real clobber, and it hurt. A rib or two was surely cracked. But she kept her weapon, and only stumbled back into a defensive crouch.
She gripped Three-Edged with both hands, extending it like a feeler. When something soft brushed against the blade, she violently C-hooked the tip, cutting into straw and cloth. The straw and cloth kept closing on her anyway. So she tore into it...hard, with a complete disregard for the other unit. If she could take out this one, she might stand a chance against the tougher one alone.
Something smacked her face, leaving deep scratches—the scarecrow’ flailing hand. But the sword was doing excellent work in the thing’s torso now, so she turned her head away and sawed at it with both arms. There were clanking footsteps, very near. She tried to pivot around to get the opponents in each other’s way. If the metal one gave her just one more moment to finish the job...
The bright light startled her. Jillian was on her keister several feet away before she understood that she had taken a slamming blow to the temple from that disbanded thing’s fist again. She climbed to her feet, still holding on to the sword, but now with some balance issues on top of everything else. She’d lost her mental picture of the room. She heard the clanks again, but couldn’t place them in space. They were closing, but how soon? She wobbled.
What could she do at this point? She’d never been anything like this vulnerable in a fight before. It started to dawn on her that a chief warlord could actually lose a fight to a couple of unled units under circumstances like these. Especially if one was an armored heavy.
Jillian struck an unsteady stance and struggled to picture her opponents. Or the room. Anything. She wanted a fresh flower. She wanted to go home, like Judy had. She braced herself for the next attack as best she could, planning to dodge at first contact. If she could survive first contact.
She could see herself doing it. That was something, at least. She could picture her own stance. She could envision her feet planted. She could see her...own rear end?
She could also see—
She ducked, and struck the tin golem in the armpit from underneath its heavy swing. A white spark flew. Somehow, she’d known exactly where it was, and that its powerful left hook was coming in at her.
Three-Edged was made of a tougher metal than the golem, and it cut in, unhinging the thing’s arm almost completely. The half-disassembled straw doll blundered toward her as well, spilling bits of itself everywhere, and she somehow could picture that as well.
Whatever “vision” she had was limited and weird. The disorientation was still profound, but now she knew where she was in space, relative to her enemies. That was enough for the Chief’s fighting instinct to take over.
She thrust the point of her blade right through the approaching scarecrow’s face, and yanked upward. The burlap sack of its head ripped fully away from its shoulders and spilled out, empty.
The tin golem raised a huge boot to stomp her leg, but she swiveled and slipped her hip to the side. Its clublike foot slammed down on bare marble. She flung the doll head aside, and in one motion she planted the sword through the center of the metal monster’s chest.
It swung at her with its good arm, as if unaffected. She withdrew the sword reluctantly, and fell back a few steps. Right, it had no heart. She’d have to go for a head shot.
It ripped away its wounded arm with its good one, and wielded the severed limb like a club. This gave the monster more reach than she had with her sword, but she still was quicker. She ducked in fast and low, not even looking at it, but still seeing that it had committed to a strike. Then she twisted out of the way and let the fist slam into the floor just behind her heel.
She was seeing herself in the picture as well, and her head finally clicked with the new orientation. This was someone else’s view of her, from outside the fight.
Yeah. Of course it was. This was Jack Snipe’s view.
Tracking completely with the Foolamancy-vision now, she counterstruck. With the big hulk stooped low from its missed strike, she took a huge, almost lazy overhead swing and put her blade cleanly through its entire neck, an executioner-style critical hit. The head dropped and bit the marble, rolling away. It let its other arm fall. Then the rest of it slumped to its knees and collapsed in a heap.
She stood, seeing a vision of herself with sweat on her bangs, panting. She lined her eyes up, like looking in the mirror, so that she’d be facing him.
“Jack, you...magnificent fool, don’t look at me!” she shouted. “I need to see her!”
“Oh! Right!” came Jack’s voice from in front of her.