“Any chance of us taking a break anytime soon?” Sally was struggling to keep up. They had been walking forever. It seemed like forever in a literal sense; they had been walking for as long as Sally could remember and they would be walking for as long as she could foresee.
“No,” Daisy Chain barked.
“I need a break,” Sally retorted. “We've been walking for—” Forever sounded too whiny, even if it was true. “Hours. There's no one around. The only person we've even seen was that—” Sally stopped herself short, preventing herself from referring to Minty as that freak, although it would have been an accurate enough description. Daisy Chain obviously had a soft spot for her; he'd been in an even worse mood since they'd parted ways. “—Girl. And she ran away.”
“She doesn't know you,” Daisy Chain said, as if that was a valid explanation. “And you're strange-looking. You frightened her.”
“I'm strange-looking?” Sally sputtered.
“I wouldn't take it personally; most humans are.”
The stand of trees they had been walking toward for so long was still a ways in the distance, though the street had turned into a narrow, worn path across a garbage-strewn public lawn, surrounded on either side by dark, shadowy hedges.
“Seriously, though,” Sally said, after what she thought had been a reasonable amount of time, “I really do need to stop.”
“Seriously, though, we're really not going to.”
Sally stopped in the middle of the path, a few feet behind Daisy Chain. “You do what you want. I'm taking a break.” She realized, as she got ready to drop her bag dramatically, that she didn't have one with her. She was also wearing different clothes than she had been when she was awake, but that fact was so minimally weird compared to the rest of her day that she dismissed it almost immediately. Sally sat down just off the path and sighed. The dirt under the grass was cold and damp – and both the cold and the damp seeped immediately into her jeans, but it was wonderful to finally sit down, regardless of how numb her ass was going.
“Get up,” Daisy Chain said. There was no kindness in his voice, no hint of the patience and forgiving tone that Sally remembered from when she was a child.
“No,” she told him. “I need to rest.”
“Get up, Sally.” He sighed. He was obviously tired himself. “We don't have time for this.”
Behind Sally, somewhere in the shadows, a twig snapped. Sally froze – and for the barest second, so did Daisy Chain.
“Stay down,” Daisy Chain whispered out of the side of his mouth, as sally tried to get to her feet. “If they catch you, roll.”
They? Sally tried to stand up to get a better look. Daisy Chain put a hand on her head and pushed her back down. “Are you deaf? I said stay down.”
Sally heard the sound of chains jingling behind her.
“Well, well, well,” said a voice. It was a thick, slimy voice and Sally's urge to get a better look at them was immediately quashed by it. “Daisy Chain and a human. I always had you figured for a skin lover.”
“Nice to see you again, B.B. If you run now, I won't kill you.”
Sally heard the sound of several people laughing; one of the voices among them obviously belonged to B.B. She moved closer to Daisy Chain's legs.
“You've had thith coming for a long time, Daithy,” said a voice which Sally was sure belonged to a cartoon snake, “and there are a lot more of uth thith time.”
“Thrib,” Daisy Chain said stiffly. Sally could almost hear the smile in his voice as he added, “How's your sister?”
Thrib hissed and rattled something loudly and Sally had a horrible mental flash of Sir Hiss as a real, living creature. “Don't you talk about my thithter!”
Sally was sure it was a hiss, sure Thrib was a snake, but she couldn't bring herself to look to confirm it. She wasn't afraid of snakes, not really, but the idea of one that was a comparable size to Daisy Chain – and able to talk, too – was more than she thought she could handle.
Daisy Chain let out a short, cruel laugh, as if to say, yeah, whatever. “So, who else is here? Stefanos? Kappenstance? All present and correct? What about Figwort?—Oh wait; I killed Figwort, didn't I? Too Bad.”
“We'll get you back for that,” said the oily voice of B.B. “We'll get you back for all of them.”
From what she could hear, Sally had determined that Thrib was directly behind her, B.B. to her rear and right slightly. She couldn't see or place any of the others that Daisy Chain had mentioned, a fact which she was, at best, ambivalent about.
“Seems like the whole gang is here,” Daisy Chain said. “Except Lisbet, of course.”
Thrib rattled angrily.
“Remember,” Daisy Chain whispered to Sally, “roll.” He raised his voice. “So, what are we waiting for, here?”
Thrib rattled, B.B. howled and shook his chains and a maryid of growls, groans and shrieks emanated from the shadowy trees that surrounded the park.
They seemed to pour onto the lawn, creatures of all shapes and sizes and Sally's intention to follow Daisy Chain's instructions gave way to her overwhelming instinct to run. She got to her feet and tried to do so, but it was less than a second before she was knocked to the ground. She felt something grabbing at her arm and then she rolled. It was ridiculous, she decided, to be rolling around on the ground like she was having a seizure when she should be running away, but, still, whatever was trying to get hold of her arm wasn't having much success.
Sally could hear unpleasant noises, damp thuds and cries of pain, and she could only imagine that the majority of them were coming from Daisy Chain; there were far too many of the bad guys there for him to be winning. She kept rolling, praying that she wouldn't roll into any of them, begging her body to wake her up. She felt herself teeter on the edge of a steep incline, then gravity took over and pulled her down a short hill rapidly, before slamming her into something hard and immovable. All the air was pushed out of her lungs. It took her a moment to catch her breath and a moment more for everything around her to stop spinning. Once it had, she looked up and realized that what she had hit was a tree.
The tree itself wasn't particularly impressive; it was just a tree. The only mildly odd thing about it was that the branches all seemed to be out of Sally's reach – that, and there was a man tied to it by a leather dog leash.
Sally scrambled away from him as quickly as possible, but when she realized that he was frantically fumbling with the latch, she asked quietly, “Are you really here?”
The man looked at her but didn't answer. He kept trying to remove the leash from his collar, with no luck.
“Here, let me,” Sally whispered, risking a glance back at the lawn, where Daisy-Chain, although he wasn't winning, seemed to still be alive. She undid the clasp as quickly as she could. “I'm Sally,” She told the man, who was, ridiculously, in his pyjamas. “What's your name?”
He didn't answer.
“Come on,” she told him. “We have to try to help Daisy Chain.” She grabbed his arm and steered him toward the fray. He wrenched free and ran, full speed, into the middle of the lawn, at the exact right moment to catch the attention of a creature Sally guessed to be B.B., who looked like a nineteen thirties cartoon version of the big bad wolf, if he wasn't a cartoon at all.
B.B. lunged, his horrible mouth open and aimed at the man's throat. Time seemed to slow down as the wolf, with his crumpled top hat and too-long, hairless snout, sailed through the air.
“Daisy!” Sally was surprised to hear the desperate, high-pitched shriek leave her own mouth, but even as it did, she wanted to clarify it, to add save him to the end – but there wasn't time for that.
Nonetheless, Daisy seemed to understand. He swatted away some small, lobsteresque being, grabbed the man by his shoulders and shouted, “Wake up!”
The man, to Sally's amazement, froze for a moment, then faded, like a mirage.
B.B. landed, skidded only slightly and turned on Daisy Chain. “You'll pay for that,” he said, in his horrible, slimy voice, as he advanced. “Not that it matters. Soon we'll have all the Dust.”
“Sure you will,” the figment answered.
Sally felt sick to her stomach. There was something sinister in Daisy Chain's voice, something all too at home with the carnage she felt sure she was about to witness.
Daisy Chain pulled a long, curved knife from somewhere unseen and plunged it into B.B.'s shoulder, causing him to howl in pain and spraying a sparkling, indigo mist everywhere. Thrib, who was indeed a snake, slithered toward his fallen employer, only to catch another of Daisy's knives in the back of the neck. Daisy Chain pulled his second knife out of Thrib and used it to slash B.B.'s throat.
B.B.'s howling ended in a damp gurgling sound. Daisy Chain looked around at the other figments, who where – with the exception of Thrib, who, writhing and thrashing on the ground, was inching toward escape - standing frozen, with their eyes fixed on their fallen comrade. “Anyone else?”
The figments, Thrib, the small lobster thing and a couple of raccoons that had the same human to animal ratio to their make up as Daisy Chain, slithered, crawled and shuffled into the darkness without a word between them.
When Daisy Chain fell to his knees, Sally wasn't sure it was because he was exhausted, disgusted with himself or sad because of what he had been forced to do. She did not expect him to pull his first knife out of B.B.'s shoulder so suddenly, or to intentionally breathe in the deep blue mist that still hung in the air, or to lick the blade clean.
He looked up at Sally, from where he appeared to be doing lines of whatever it was off of B.B.'s chest. “You want some?”
Now, she decided, would be a very good time to run away. She looked at the trees behind her and wondered how far she would get before Daisy Chain caught up. And if he didn't catch up, would that make her fair game for the remaining figments?
“It'll wake you up.” Daisy Chain chuckled quietly. “Well, no. It'll give you more energy.”
“You killed him,” Sally said, trance-like. She couldn't run. If nothing else, she knew that Daisy Chain could protect her.
“Yeah,” he said. “I would have killed more of them, but there were too many for me to take on. I figured if I could get Thrib to run, the rest would follow suit.” He inhaled some more of the iridescent indigo powder that was now floating up from B.B.'s open neck and sighed. “Are you sure you don't want some? It will make you stronger.”
“What is it?” Sally asked slowly. She remembered to add, “And, no, I don't want any,” before Daisy Chain had a chance to answer her.
“Dust,” Daisy Chain said. “It's—it's life. Pure life.”
“It's like your blood?”
“And you're drinking it? Inhaling it?”
“He would do the same if it was the other way around, trust me. That's what B.B.'s gang does—did. I'm hoping they'll calm down now, for a little while at least. They can't do much without a Keeper.”
“What is what they did?”
“They killed people for Dust. Nod is overrun with raiders now. The gangs are getting bigger, harder to avoid. They trap people, scare them half to death, then kill them and get their dust while it's at its brightest. That's why they want me dead; I've been trying to stop them.”
Sally tried to ignore the fact that none of what Daisy Chain had said made any sense to her. She asked, “So, are those the guys who were after me?” The idea of them, of Thrib, especially, trying to catch her made her skin crawl. But at least with B.B. being dead, there was some chance that Daisy Chain would let her go home.
“They weren't after you specifically. They weren't even after me; I think they were on their way to drain that poor bastard and they just happened to find us.”
“Yeah, about him,” Sally said slowly. She thought she should be shaking after everything she had witnessed and been told, but she wasn't. She could look at the dilapidated remains of B.B. without even feeling ill. Ironically, she found her new sense of calm inescapably unnerving. “You made him disappear.”
“I woke him up,” Daisy Chain explained tiredly.
So I just need to find a mirror, Sally thought to herself. She smiled slightly. She could be out of this Hell sooner than she'd expected.
“Before you ask, no, it won't work for you.”
Sally thought about playing innocent, asking, before I ask what? but she see from the look on Daisy Chain's face that it would have been pointless. Instead, she asked, “Why not?”
“Because you're heavily and chemically sedated. The only thing that's going to wake you up now is me, and I can't do it from here.”
Sally started to walk away, following the path they had been on. “You're unbelievable,” she said over her shoulder. “You know what? Leave me alone. I'll find my own way out of this place.” How? Whispered her inner voice. She chose to ignore it.
Daisy Chain caught up to her within a few steps. “Yeah,” he agreed, “you will find your own way out. It's called death. They'll kill you here, you'll become a vegetable on Earth and, believe me, I won't be going back to wake you up.” He looked like he was in pain, just thinking about it. “I couldn't—I won't put myself through seeing you like that.”
It hadn't occurred to Sally until right then that Daisy Chain actually cared about her, that everything he had done had been to protect her. She suddenly remembered him from when she was a child, playing Barbies with her, helping her cut out curtains for her dollhouse from her mother's good tablecloth. She remembered him showing up at daycare and how scared she had been before he came, when she was sure that her parents weren't coming back for her.
You're a prize idiot, Sally's internal thoughts told her. She knew they were right. Daisy Chain had risked everything to help her and she had spent every minute she'd been with him either whining or cutting him down. He had just taken on a huge gang of armed figments singlehandedly because she had sat down and refused to move, even when he told her how dangerous it was to stay where they were.
Sally stopped on the path. “I'm sorry,” she said. “I didn't—Thank you for coming to get me. And for not leaving me back there.”
Daisy Chain almost kind of smiled. “Come on,” he told her. “We have to keep moving.”