Part 54 - Veterinarian

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Trivia stood astride the broken yellow line bisecting the long asphaltum road. Clumps of giant reed towered overhead, twice as tall as she and no less eager for the fire. On one side of the road, mosquito pupae turned somersaults beneath the surface of a stagnant ditch; unlike the reed, they saw no advantage in being burned. On the other, a column of wooden crosses bound by black wires marched to the horizon, humming with men's magic. How cruel men were, even to each other, to require so many implements of execution.

The Knight of the Green fled the fields of death with his wounded companion on his back. The Shape of the Fire entered it, eyes blazing.

Trivia crouched behind her blue-painted shield with her spear in an underhand grip. The air above the asphaltum shimmered and danced. Heat washed over and around her, but did not burn her. Orange meant cut; blue meant preserve, leave that tree alone. Powerful as it was, the abomination could not defeat the magic of its creators.

It barreled towards her on all fours, ripping divots out of the road with each step. She thrust her spear between the creature's arms, cutting the ligaments on its inner elbows. It stumbled, gape-jawed, and she pivoted aside, shield-bashing its temple as it passed. The additional momentum sent it crashing to the ground.

Her spear pursued, sending gouts of powdered asphaltum skyward as the creature dodged each thrust. It hauled itself out of range, half jumping, half crawling on powerful arms that had already healed. Trivia raised her shield; her foe would not would not remain on the defensive for long. The creature planted its fists and swung around to face her, eyes afire. It howled in frustration when she did not burn as well.

Trivia whirled the spear's moss tassel before the creature's face. The tassel disintegrated into cinders, and the bewildered creature's jaws snapped shut on air, causing one of its misshapen teeth to tear through its upper lip. She slashed its brow, spilling sickly yellow fluid into its eyes to boil into noxious steam. The creature reared back and grabbed its face.

Linnaeus had excelled in creating openings, which he attributed to experience, but none surpassed Trivia at punishing them. Tchk-tchk-tchk-tchk went her spear, faster than a jackhammer. She pierced the creature's throat, heart, lung, and liver. Its agonizing scream became a frothy burble.

"Courage," Trivia said. "Your pain ends soon."

The Shape of the Fire seized the spear's haft. She drew a circle with the spearhead, so the crosspiece hooked over the creature's wrist, and dragged it onto its belly. It gathered its limbs beneath itself to leap away, but Trivia leapt first, driving her weapon through the shelves of armored lichen protecting the base of its neck, through bone, brain, soft palate, and half a foot of asphalt. Still the creature struggled. She vaulted over her fallen foe, bracing her weapon on her shoulder as she landed to convert her downward momentum into an upwards strike that cleaved the creature's head in two. Finally, it slumped to the ground and lay still.

Blinking away a tear, she rest her hand on the creature's shoulder. "I'll find the man who did this to you. I promise."

The creature stirred. Trivia back-stepped with her shield raised. The Shape of the Fire pushed itself onto its haunches. The two halves of its head sagged apart at a right angle, exposing the hemispheres of its brain. It clapped its hands over its ears, shoving the pieces of its skull back together. They fused unevenly, leaving a jagged fault line in the center of its face. All that remained of its other wounds were patches of translucent slime on its fur.

Her spirit faltered. Audubon would have told her were necromancy involved. The Shape of the Fire was no corpse puppet; it lived, perhaps more than any creature ever had, and overflowed with the will to survive. Tallahassee had turned power of the Green against its champion.

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