Creepy and Mister C of 9 hurried over to the unconscious woman, while Winona and I hung back. This confirmed my suspicion that the Xixian and I were the only ones who had noticed her clothing and recognised what it implied. The fact that he recognised a prison uniform struck me momentarily as an odd example of parallel cultural development … but then, considering how Creepy – yes, alright, and I – had interfered in the early history of Xix, perhaps it wasn’t so odd.
“I’m not sure you should get too-” Winona started.
Less than a second later, the wild-dreadlocked figure had flowed upright and was divesting Mister C of 9 of his terrifying black sword. I had to replay the action several times in my head in slow-motion before making sense of it.
First, she’d twined her fingers through several of the loose buckles on her straightjacket-like prison fatigues, turning them into a nasty combination of brass knuckles and cat’s claws. Then she’d produced a wickedly curved and horribly bright little knife, and I only realised she’d pushed it into Mister C of 9’s belly and whipped it upwards to his sternum as she stood on my third run-through.
She’d also grabbed Creepy very firmly by the absolutely-unmentionables, with the hand she’d hooked the straightjacket-buckles into. So as Creepy made a hilarious little eep noise and half-folded over, Mister C of 9 made a surreally similar noise and grabbed his robe, colourful-but-grubby Mambo shirt, and the suddenly-spilling cascade of his own guts, leaving the woman free to drop the knife, reach down and pull the sword out of Mister C of 9’s belt in a gesture that would have been leisurely if it hadn’t taken place at approximately 90% of the speed of light. She levelled the sword at Winona and myself.
“-close,” Winona concluded. There had barely been a pause in his sentence, so ghoulishly fast had the woman moved.
I looked down the length of the black sword at the tangled blonde hair and wide, fierce blue eyes, and found myself wondering if ‘woman’ was entirely accurate. She looked like a teenager – although, in a similar way to Winona, her actual youth was difficult to ascertain due to her general overall Creepiness.
She gave Creepy’s nads a final audible squeeze-and-twist and pushed him away from her, and he staggered back against the table just as Mister C of 9 staggered back in the other direction with his intestines in his fists. She somehow managed to stomp on the handle of her knife, then, so it flicked back up into her buckle-knuckled hand. The knife, she swung in our direction – and, like a smoothly-oiled piece of clockwork, the sword swung and pointed at Mister C of 9.
That was when I realised that Mister C of 9 wasn’t out of the fight. Creepy was – he’d shakily pulled out a chair and lowered himself into it very, very slowly, and was now resting his pale, sweaty face on the veneer and attempting to breathe – but his black-robed counterpart was … grumbling.
“I just finished healing after the last stupid fight,” he complained, rummaging and pulling at skin and flesh and shirt and robe as if there was no functional difference between the materials. “And I just washed and patched this shirt, and … damn it, I lost a button,” he glared around at the floor with his dusty sunglasses. “Did anyone see it?”
“Hello?” I said. The woman was standing so still it didn’t seem like she was even breathing. Neither the sword point nor the knife blade wavered. Two of her tangled ropes of straw-blonde hair swung very slightly, otherwise I might have thought she’d frozen completely. “What’s your name?”
“This isn’t Perky Weather,” she said.
“No,” I agreed.
“I was just outside a minute ago, and on the contrary I found the weather to be quite lethargy-inducing,” Winona added.
“You just dropped out of a blob of darkness in our ceiling,” I told her helpfully. “We’re friends. Um. Actually, in a weird sort of way, you’re among family. I mean, look.”
Her eyes flicked from me to Winona, then to the still-shuddering Creepy, then to Mister C of 9 who was now crawling one-handed on the floor, holding himself together with his other hand and leaving inky black streaks of blood behind him as he muttered about how Mambo didn’t make Poo Shooter buttons anymore and it was a collector’s item actually. She looked back at me, and squinted.
“I know my family,” she said levelly. “They’re all dead,” with an abrupt blur of movement, she made the knife disappear back into her baggy prison clothes, returned the buckles and clips to their dangling places, and set the sword on the table next to Creepy’s head. Creepy let out a short and still quite breathless scream at the sudden movement, but didn’t have the strength to flinch. “But at least three of you sort of look the part, and you’re definitely not doctors, so let’s see where this is heading.”
“Alright,” I said. “Good. Um. My name’s Hatboy. This is Xathrabian,” I gestured at Winona. “And Creepy,” I pointed. “And Mister C of 9. Um, are you alright over there?”
Mister C of 9 straightened, grinning in a truly unsettling way. “I found it,” he declared, holding up a misshapen little metal button. Then he looked down at his blood-slicked hand where it was holding his abdomen closed. “Oh, right,” he said. “Got a stapler?”
“Mell,” the woman identified herself, the beginning of a smile curling the side of her mouth. “Might be family after all.”