Not a moment to lose– Emma braces herself out against the force of the wind, feeling the others slam into her, and then Drin has his hands on the splintered frame as well, holding firm, bracing her, and then there’s just the air howling past their bodies, tearing away tears or shouts or attempts to signal, or after awhile, any thought at all. Joints under strain drive spikes of pain up her spine. She holds. Pressing her hands on the wood hard enough to keep everyone in the room stops her hands from bleeding too much. They don’t even hurt much. Yet.

She knew better than to hold Dance’s tail like a rope, but of course she’d tried anyway. The keels on Dance’s tail tore free from her grip and cut her hands like saw blades, then the tip end tore away through the window frame as if the old wood was balsa, and then Dance was gone. His body out there in the storm went snapping free in a great thrashing recoil, that tail thumping the window like a spring stretched to full length and then released.

She saw a tumble of blue in his arms, a bare flicker of that color in her blurred sight– so he’s caught Estelle at least, but there’s no way to guess where the wind will carry them, how far. Not in the yard, where some kind of rescue party might be able to reach the bodies if they hung onto ropes. The only reason to even go looking for them at all, after the wind has gone down, is that Dance is not, and never has been, a human being.

sparrows flying over a swirling sea, painting by Shuki Okamoto
sparrows over sea by Shuki Okamoto at Harohien-zu

Thank God.

Over and over, she hears that mantra repeated.

You can’t tell.

He isn’t human. He is considerably tougher than human.

She has no measure of time for that screaming eternity of wind which ends when men’s big hands grasp her arms, five of them together while Drin stays firm, and they tap her knuckles to signal her to let go, and they drag her bodily away from the window, out of the room, and lay her down on the floor by the stairwell.

Drin stays behind, helping them wrestle the dangerous sheet of plywood into place. When he comes out, he lifts her onto her feet, guides her stumblingly downstairs, and pushes her into the grip of another woman. Grace. Emma blinks at the younger woman, stares blankly into the woman’s shocked dark eyes, blinks at the hands holding her up while she is shaking gently in place.

Still deafened by the howl, she can hear nothing while Grace and Ruby clean her hands and put bandaging on them. She can’t even hear herself. They clearly want to know what happened, what they need to do.

“Estelle and Dance fell out of the window,” Emma says, unable to guess how loud she is. “The wind carried them away. Drin and I will look when the wind goes down–” and whatever they’re saying, speaking into her gaze, hoping she can lipread, means only that they are trying to assure her of something. Help, perhaps. She will take that, certainly. She just nods blankly.

cracked painted surface, photo by Cecil Touchon
photo by Cecil Touchon

When she looks down, she finds bright little Lucas’s eyes staring up at her. It is purely the training of a lifetime–the old life which she doesn’t remember now, but which she knows led into Wojo’s crucible of fire–which impels her to say, as clearly as she can, “We will go look for them when it’s safe to go,” and she looks that certainty into Lucas’ eyes. The little boy nods, clutching his mother’s wrist.

Emma can’t bend, for the pain spiking fiercely up and down her spine, but she can nod at him. “We will find them,” she says. “We’ll need to move fast as soon as the wind goes down.”

Grace and Ruby say things she can’t hear.

Then Emma says, “I’m not just being silly here. We need Dance. We will need his help against bug troops.”


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