Tainted John is off the fence. He leaps. Melanie growls at him and swings Harold’s head like a flail. Not all the momentum of his jump slows that swing the faintest iota; he is smashed back like a weightless child and he dents the fence behind him.
“That,” Melanie says, “will be enough.”
For Vincent, it is as if she has kicked him in the heart. Tainted John flutters against the fence and howls.
Melanie glares down at Vincent.
She looks up at the ghoul.
She takes a deep breath. She exhales. She calms.
“Finish this one off,” she asks, “would you, dear?”
Then she turns and she walks away.
The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
It is, naturally, impossible that Micah should defeat them.
He is a child.
He is elusive. Melanie sees that. A great long-legged god, that is a beast, bites at him. He is rolling out of the way. It is chipping its teeth against a gravestone.
The black dog snaps at him.
Its teeth don’t score.
An employee of Central—her name is Florence, Melanie thinks—grabs at Micah. He slams his head back and up into her nose and he pulls free.
But she can see the flaw in his defense, which is to say, he is a child. He is not a hero out of legend. He is not a myth. He has no way to kill.
Micah is confronted by a failing god.
It is looming upwards from the earth. It gapes like a ghost made from sheets. It will make him fail, and be lost—
He sticks a gold star on its forehead and the failing god dissolves in light.
Micah is whispering a memory to a remembering god. The remembering god falls down.
It is ridiculous. He is a boy.
Somehow he’s slain a ragged thing. There’s a wounded contemner. “Oh,” she whispers, as she sees the body of a fiend.
She tries desperately to suppress a seething wave of pride. It is hot inside her. It is warming her. She can barely feel her weight against the ground.
“How beautiful,” she says, again.
She doesn’t fear him, though.
She snaps her fingers. She calls a scarab of explosions to scuttle by her side. A hulking crayon-beast walks behind her. She steps on the head of a researcher whose practical skills had proven weak.
She doesn’t fear him. There is nothing that can kill her, here. There is nothing that can hurt her, here. There is nothing that can touch Melanie in the slightest, here, save Kryptonite, not while she holds dead Harold’s head.
As he’d once observed, a vulnerability to Kryptonite is pretty balanced for a fictional character, but it’s not exactly a fair weakness in real life.
Not that it had saved Harold, of course. She gives Micah a thoughtful, abstracted look. Might he have a bike lock?
He has no bike locks.
She looks him up and down as she walks closer. He has no bike locks. He has no plastic miniatures that depict Lex Luthor with his green and glowing rock.
He has the Thorn That Does Not Kill.
He has the Thorn, which is an issue, but he doesn’t have an iPod; so there’s no chance he can bust out suddenly with “Kryptonite” the song. She isn’t sure how that could possibly hurt her, mind, but it’s best not to take any chances.
“You’re going to try to stab me,” she decides. “And you’re going to miss.”
No iPod. No miniatures. No bike locks. Her army has, of course, no Kryptonite that he could steal.
“Make me a god,” she is asking Liril, over twenty years before. “Make me the kind of god that can kill spiders, and break free of any web, and never go hungry or go thirsty, and be by all others loved; to tell the lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform transformations, and to become the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you make me that?”
“I can’t,” Liril is saying, twenty years ago. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.”
He has the Thorn That Does Not Kill, but no way past her aegis.
I will guard your line, Amiel is promising, as she has always been promising. I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.
Melanie chooses not to fear the Thorn.
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die
Vincent struggles to get up. He can’t. He can’t move his legs.
“Kaela,” he whispers.
“He’s hurt your spine, my darling,” Kaela says.
“I don’t have time,” Vincent whimpers.
He can hear Tainted John starting to recover. He can hear the boy pulling himself to his feet.
It’s already too late.
Finish this one off, Melanie had said. Would you, dear?
The boy is crouched beside him.
“Nice,” Vincent mutters.
Tainted John pats him on the head. He ruffles Vincent’s hair. Vincent can hear him grinning.
“Sorry,” says Tainted John.
He plunges his hand through Vincent’s skull. He frowns. He pulls his hand back. It’s covered in Vincent’s brain.
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER TWO]
May 28, 2004
The gods draw back as Melanie approaches. The army pulls away to give her room. The battle departs from Micah, and he is alone.
He falls over.
It’s like his enemies were the only thing that had held him up.
Melanie turns him over with a foot. Her eyes flick down. There’s a nametag on his chest. It’s construction paper, stuck on with paste. It says, “Micah,” and “Defiant.”
She wonders who wrote it. It’s not Liril’s handwriting, nor his own.
Maybe it’s the ghoul’s.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
She’d like to rip off the nametag, but she’d hate to accidentally become Micah the Defiant. That would be an unexpected outcome but it would still qualify as an error.
She reaches down and seizes his wrist and drags him to his feet instead.
She looks into those eyes.
He’s so tired. It hits her like a blow. She wants to set their fight aside and comfort him. He’s so very tired.
If they’d been any other eyes she wouldn’t have spotted it at all; but she sees them every morning in the mirror, more or less, and the fluttering shadow of scheming behind the mask of his exhaustion warns her.
“Threnody!” she yells.
She lets go of him. She pulls back.
He’s stabbing at her with the Thorn. She can’t help dodging, not after seeing those eyes. He knows a way—
“Tag,” he says. “You’re it.”
He is turning as he moves. He is striking her, not with the Thorn but with his elbow. He has elbowed the head of Harold from her hand. It is rolling along the ground.
She opens her mouth.
Threnody hurls the lightning.
There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me.
Tainted John tastes his hand. His frown deepens.
“Missed?” he says.
There’s a flicker of white and black. His eyes follow it.
“Arise, and be as God,” whispers the voice of the wounding of the King.
The sky stutters argent lightning. The world turns to blaze. A hot wind blows, and full of screams; and the doors of the facility, the wall, the ground below them —