|This amazing fungus might as well be one of the dark eater's hands ...|
All is ready. Am I? I move the knife point straighter down my side. I visualize a tight swing up, a thrust down.
Flick a glance toward the cliffs. Oh yeah, the slope is upward in that direction now. It’s black dark because still no overhead light. How will I see the Arley-composite …? I remember she is laying low.
I drop to the ground. Will I see her? Yes, there. A shape darker than the slope that is lit however slightly by the glow from the canyon beyond. The thing between us and the light.
She’s risen to her feet and is on the move. Swinging her head blindly to try to see in the dark. Does she have a weapon? I crawl with the knife-blade pointing rearwards in my fist. The human life-suit can’t see me or Isis in the black dark as we have no light behind us.
Isis clamps my foot to stop me.
I startle but realize it must have been a couple of small stones bouncing off a larger one.
The Arley-composite stops and stares hard to my right. I see now that she is only two paces in front. The lack of light and the slope of the disk have disrupted my perception of distances. I shudder thinking I might’ve crashed into her. So, the stones, whoever thought of them were a helpful tactic.
I rise. Left foot forward. Raising my right hand with the knife in it and my left hand to grab Arley’s old arm and swing her round … skritch.
I slit the tunic and shifting my left hand, pinch up a loose skin fold. Swing down. Puncture and slit.
Arley’s skin expels air. Something inside it sucks its innards away from the knife tip. It can’t be Kosi. She has no body, I say like it is a mantra.
The blade bumps—over ribs?—help! I sob—but I can’t, mustn’t stop!
I gag at the foul air released from the area where a human stomach might once have been. Almost I turn away.
“The creature sends you an illusion,” Isis says. “Thyal told me about the parcel. This is the life-suit.” She half-crouches by my shoulder, echoing my stance.
Isis needs reassurance too? “It is the life-suit,” I say for both of us.
There’s more resistance. I tweak the edges of Arley’s skin aside to see. I’m cutting through a bunch of … Silvery things glint at the edges of the slit.
I breathe out. It’s the amulets. I have cut through dozens.
Can’t be helped.
“There’ll be plenty for us all,” Isis says.
The skin sags bloodlessly away from the cut. I sigh I am so relieved. No blood means no life. I didn’t kill anyone.
As if echoing mine, there’s an exasperated, human-like sigh—I almost laugh because for a moment I believe that Kosi produces it to remark on my superfluous fear—but how can she when she is, or was, a pattern of electrical impulses?
At Shaman school I learned that any pattern breaks when it is cut into. What have I done? I had still so much to ask her?
I step back into Isis. Push her back with me.
The light grows stronger because in the left quarter distance Red-tail raises a torch.
Isis and I crouch quite near to a dense-black shadow divesting itself of the life-suit. We don’t move.
With one two-thumbed hand already free, the shadow pushes a human skin-sleeve down its other arm and pulls free a hand with too many fingers. Laid for a moment against the pale skin-suit, the fingers make like the suit is shredded with bone-shaped slits.
Maybe I twitch at the unnatural sight.
Arley’s head snaps round so the alien can stare at me.