Sedna could see the future again. It was exhilarating enough that she had to smile. But she didn’t search the branches yet. With her real eyes, she looked over what she could see with the flashlight.
The railing. The lizard was crouched by the railing, huge and black, and its head had swung to look at Sedna and the flashlight. It shifted out its tongue, hissing. But Sedna didn’t see any signs of the rage it had been in earlier, when Kay had held the torch.
Maybe this light wasn’t bright enough. Maybe it didn’t look like fire. Whatever. Sedna brushed over the lizard, looking for Kay.
He’d tuned his head to look towards the flashlight, too, with a scared look on his face. “Sedna,” he said, “go! The light isn’t going to–”
Sedna ignored him, very simply. She tuned the rest of what he had to say out. It could be a dangerous distraction.
While he buzzed, she searched over the immediate futures she could see. All the ways the fight with the lizard could play out. Essentially, she had to get the torch, get the matches, and then shove a lit torch down the thing’s throat.
But it was fast. Sedna didn’t have the speed to keep up with it, in some branches. If she moved just right, she could get the torch safely. But as she got the torch, the lizard would kill Kay.
What if he ran? It would chase him down and kill him. Or if he ran fast enough, it would kill her before she could get the matches. The problem was the torch–pressed up against the railing. Sedna could see the matches on the ground, out in the open. But if she went to the railing, the lizard could corner her back against it. When her options were down to left or right, it could react fast enough to kill her either way. If she got the matches first, it would kill Kay faster.
Was there any way for Sedna to do it?
Sedna’s mind acted the way years of training in the Delphian Order had taught it. She looked instinctively for what she wanted. The highest-percentage branch that could keep them both alive and kill the lizard.
She found it. It was complicated–not the kind of branch that usually held up. Sedna would need to work to do it. And she’d need luck.
And she’d have to hope nothing changed on her in the middle. And nothing was missing. And, she had to hope she hadn’t wasted too much time worrying.
She let the worry drift away. “Kay. Listen. Dodge left, and then make a loud noise. Get the lizard’s attention.”
Kay looked at her for a second, and nodded. He shifted off to the left and waved his arms, shouting.
Sedna watched him. Only then did it occur to her that he probably thought she was actually going to run away. The way he wanted. She let herself smile, then.
The lizard wouldn’t be the only one she’d surprise.
The way Sedna had seen it do, the lizard swung around to look at Kay as he shouted. She could see, in a closely-related branch, it pouncing forward and tearing Kay open from the throat all the way down the torso. Under three seconds.
Sedna darted out toward the matches, shouting at the top of her lungs. That alone wasn’t going to do it, and she’d already seen that. Kay had two seconds left. She moved in closer to the lizard, shoving her left hand into her belt pouch. She brought it out with her knife in hand. A couple of her bones fell, clattering to the floor. Sedna winced as they did. She’d have to collect them up, and make sure she still had a full set.
She threw the knife mid-step, letting it whirl in circles in the air. It was more likely the hilt would strike the lizard than the blade, but that really didn’t matter.
The hilt struck the lizard at the base of the tail, right where it connected to the rest of the body. And the lizard swung around in a wide circle, padding toward Sedna right away.
She danced back away from it as it came. Kay had had less than a tenth of a second. But now he had more time. And so did she. Sedna saw the matches in her third eye, and she knew exactly what to do. Without looking away from the lizard, she bent her knees, scooped the matches off the ground from just behind her, and sprung from her knees. She flew back, landing just in time to put her back hand against a library shelf.
She had the matches. Now came the hard part. “Kay!” she said. “You’re going to have to get the torch.” She couldn’t dodge the lizard for long, she saw. “You have to get its attention back, too.”
“Sedna–you have to run!”
“I’m telling you how we’re going to get out of this, idiot!” Sedna said. She stepped left, realized she was already breathing heavily. The lizard came further forward, head low. “Get its attention back.”
A pause, and then Kay said, “How?”
Sedna’s smile turned into a grin, showing most of her teeth. They could do this.
Kay thought Sedna was seeing the future again. That was a good thing–he thought it raised his chance of surviving this by at least a whole percentage point.
“Look at the ground,” Sedna said, “and walk forward. And to your left, toward the railing. You’ll find my knife. Take it and throw it at the lizard.”
Kay started moving the way she’d said, ready to sprint.
“Don’t run,” Sedna said. “Walk.”
Kay caught himself and jerked backward. It was difficult not to rush, but he forced himself to walk. He glanced over at Sedna. He could see her, dressed in black behind the flashlight. The land-dragon was closing in on her.
It made Kay nervous. But if she could see the future again, she could protect herself from it, too. He had to trust she knew what she was doing.
He walked, looking at the ground. But the light from the flashlight was too dim, and constantly shadowed by the land-dragon padding toward it. Kay didn’t see anything.
He did step on something.
He almost tripped over it. Kay pulled his foot back and looked down. He’d just stood on the blade of Sedna’s knife. He bent to pick it up, turning to look towards the land-dragon.
It was a long throw. And Kay wasn’t anyone’s first choice for pitcher on the baseball team. He advanced a step towards the land-dragon to throw it. He saw Sedna still backing away from it. She started sliding to the right, and an instant later its teeth snapped down where she’d been before. She spun out, looking at Kay.
The land-dragon’s teeth might have torn a single thread of fiber off of Sedna’s sleeve. She’d dodged with barely any room to spare. Kay was sure now–she had her magic back.
He closed one eye, sighting past his hand at the land-dragon. He held the knife up in the air.
“Throw it like a dart,” Sedna said. “Shift your aim to the right.”
Kay blinked. He didn’t have much time to think, though, so he just did it. He adjusted his grip, bringing the knife up to his ear, and he turned slightly to the right. He threw the knife.
It glanced off the land-dragon’s side, skidding past off down a row of shelves. The land-dragon spun again, this time to point at Kay.
He should have thought of this earlier. The Gili Dasami dragon was supposed to be very sensitive to touch. An obvious threat like the knife, while it couldn’t break the scales, would have to get the thing’s attention.
The dragon shot forward at Kay.
“Back straight away from it,” Sedna said, “until you hit the railing. You can run this time. Only, backwards…”
Kay gulped. He’d have to come up on the railing backwards, then. He didn’t like the idea of that. Whatever floor they were on, they were still hundreds of feet up.
He took a deep breath, smoothing out his raincoat. It felt insane, but…
It was the only way for him to live. The only way to live, he thought. That’s funny. He backed away in big, jumping steps. He sprinted backwards.
The land-dragon slithered forward at him, padding its feet faster than Kay would have thought it could. Once it was chasing him, it was easier for him to go straight back. Kay was just running. He kept moving until his back hit something, and momentum tried to move him further than that. He stopped, feeling the railing, and a spike of fear that had nothing to do with the lizard shot through him. The cold marble was the only thing standing between Kay and a hundred-foot drop.
And barreling straight towards him, there was the land-dragon.
“Shift your weight to your left foot!” Sedna shouted.
Kay did it, half-closing his eyes. Adrenaline pumped through him. But all he could feel was terrified.
“When I say duck, duck and roll to the left,” Sedna said.
Kay nodded hesitantly. Of course, he doubted Sedna could see him. He didn’t have time to pay attention to what she was doing. The land-dragon was on top of him. It stopped to taste the air, hissing, less than a foot from Kay.
Its tongue shot out into the air, flying straight over his head. Kay couldn’t see much of it except as shadows against the light. But he could smell it, and he could feel it in front of him.
The bulk of the land-dragon was outlined there, a massive lizard the size of a minivan. Its chest seemed like a wall to Kay. No way past. No way out.
“Duck!” Sedna said.
Kay ducked, and shifted to roll to his left.
He heard a crashing sound. Kay hadn’t made a good roll, and he finished it in a heap looking back at where he’d come from.
He could see the damage the land-dragon had done. An entire, wide section of the railing was torn off. The land-dragon shook it in its mouth like a dog with a toy, and then tossed it off over the pit to let it fall.
Kay’s fear spiked again. He started to scramble back to his feet.
“Wait!” Sedna said. “At your right hand, there’s the torch. Pick it up!”
Kay glanced over. There it was, balanced between two bars of the railing right on the edge. Kay snatched it off the ground with his right hand, pushing himself up with his left.
As Kay looked out, he also got a good look at the fall.
His flashlight, the one Sedna was pointing to give him a better view of the lizard, was too weak by far to reach down. The drop looked like a black abyss. Like Kay could fall forever without hitting the ground.
But he knew he would, eventually. After he’d fallen some two hundred feet. And he would turn into a bloody splotch on the Library floor.
Kay gulped. He had more immediate problems, too, though. The lizard swung around, moaning at him. Kay didn’t know if it recognized the torch in his hand, or if it was tired of its prey slipping away. Either way, the lizard advanced with a slow, padding step.
“Back away from it,” Sedna said. “Straight. Don’t come off the railing.”
Finally up on his feet, Kay transferred the torch to his left hand, holding the railing with his right. As the land-dragon swished forward at him, Kay did what she’d said. He backed away. One step. He placed his foot on the hard stone floor. The lizard was closing on Kay faster than he could back away. Dimly, in the corner of his eye, he saw Sedna sprinting across the room with the light. Did she have the knife? Was she going to distract it again?
Kay kept moving backward, trailing his hand along the railing. The lizard followed him almost lazily, as if it felt like it could kill him any time. Kay counted the steps. But once he got to five, the railing ran out.
Kay glanced over his shoulder, and saw that he was standing next to the plank that ran out over nothing. The land-dragon hissed. Kay felt something hit the pit of his stomach. A solid, iron weight. He closed his eyes for a second, afraid. He’d have to go past there. And no railing…
“Kay,” Sedna said, “you have to go out on the plank.”