Part 22 - Running

The Oxboxtra Dictionary of Inglish and Other Words Inglish has Been so Good as to Take (similar volumes exist under slightly differing titles on many Earths) defines ‘running’ as:


‘The act of moving on legs at a pace faster than what is polite, often employed by Adventurers (see Volume I, pg. 427) as a means of escaping death, taxes, and other responsibilities.’


On one parallel earth Edna visited, the adventurers referred to running reverently as ‘the first and biggest hole’ - the idea being, roughly, that any adventure without running was sure to result in death, like falling in a big hole. Edna even knew some (of both adventurers and laypeople) who would ‘go for a run’, which was a sort of recreational fitness activity that meant running without any external danger - not a single hungry yeti, racing boulder, or slowly lowering wall in the middle distance.


It was insanity. Running - she was sure now as she hopped a low boulder, her breath sticking to her face from the way she pushed quickly through it - was bad. Running was her least favorite part of adventuring. It may seem like almost every part of adventuring was Edna’s least favorite.


Highmond tripped on the rock Edna had just leapt. He had tried to hop the thing, but had cleared absolutely none of it. He fell then, which is one of the scariest things old people can do. Edna turned, swooping in to catch him. If he were injured at all, it would be a death sentence.


She knew she wouldn’t be able to keep him from hitting the ground. Still she hoped she’d be enough to break the fall so it didn’t break Highmond. But as she grabbed him - awkwardly slamming her hands, one each, into his lapel and cheek bone - she found he was lighter than expected.


“I couldn’t let you have all the old man sweat,” Iona said. Her hands were similarly placed so that, together with Edna, Highmond’s cheeks and lips were squeezed in and out like a fish.


“Thank you kindly,” Highmond tried to say, but it came out fishily and garbled. It was of no consequence though, for even as he spoke, the hissing and the heat - mostly the heat - of the encroaching lava became too much to bear.


Oh, yes, there was lava.


Edna had known this would happen. Not the lava specifically, one never expects lava. But, after they had explained to Iona about other worlds and timelines and the Beast at their center pulling the strings to random, devastating effect. And after they had told her of Edna’s kidnapping, and Pythagoras, and the zeppelin crash. And after she had, in turn, told them the (mostly true) tale of how she came to power, and how she had, in fact, seen the flaming skyship and pointed to it as an heavenly auspice to her inauguration, and how the people had been so taken by this idea that they had watched it all the while until it landed, so that she knew, generally, where it was.


After all this, Edna had sighed, because she knew what came next. Death was an adventurer’s constant shadow, but in the road of trials and temptations that awaited them, Death would come out of the shadows, to harry them directly. Still, despite herself and because she knew what must and would be done, she had suggested that Iona join their duo of misfits to make it a proper band, and that together they set out to search for their missing turtoid friend. All had agreed.


Unless you count Highmond.


The old man had been convinced that Iona seemed very capable, sorry, but that, well, it just wasn’t a good idea to bring her along. So sorry. Surely Pythagoras would send them a signal of some kind as to its direction, so they wouldn’t need her for that, and, well, you know. Of course Edna did not ‘know’, and so, after some stammering and involuntary mustache twisting, Highmond had offered as an argument that, “...a smaller invasion force will be more agile.” Then he had hurt his knee, by continuing to sit.


Iona, for her part, displayed remarkable restraint, even managing to keep a relatively straight face. Edna, who was never so restrained, had sighed some more and said some more and at the end Highmond was grumbling and Iona was coming and that was that.


Shortly afterward, Highmond had fallen asleep scrunched up in his chair, his sleeping noises indistinguishable from his waking noises. It had taken Edna and Iona about half an hour to even notice the change, lost as they were in that special sort of exhilaration that comes when a friendship is discovered and it feels as if it’s been there all your life. They giggled, as any of us would, when they finally noticed Highmond’s lilted head and open mouth, spit bubbling in the corners.


Then Iona had begged leave to make preparations for their adventure. Edna had stayed awake for a while, delighting in her tea, and in her new yet old friend, and even in Highmond, the great coot. Then Grief had come knocking. Edna felt all her power drain away, and so she let Grief in, just for the night, and cried herself to sleep.


***

Meanwhile, Iona packed a bag, and thought about all she had learned and believed without question from these two strangest of strangers. She had a sister. That seemed right, but wrong too. And she thought about a watch, so familiar and fleeting and distant. Oh, she would get a closer look at that watch.


When she was done, she found Larry. She placed her hand on his cheek and smiled sadly, saying to him, “There is a gathering of witches to the north. I will leave in the morning, and you will be in charge until my triumphant return.”


Larry’s face was sad but dutiful - so no different than ever - as he said, “Yes, mum. Thank you, mum. When will you return, mum?”


“When I am queen of every universe.”

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