Part 25 - Noitpure

It was a stupid idea though, one that would never work, so she only smiled at him and clutched her watch in her pocket. Then she turned and smiled at Iona. Then she just looked round, trying to find any less stupid ideas that might be hiding behind a shrub or under a rock. She saw none, only a red-orange glow that underlit the world where it held her so that it looked like a terrible dream.

She sighed. She would not let Highmond be the only one who tried. “Take off your pants,” she told him.

Highmond reddened - there is no heat or exhaustion in any universe that can hide the blush of an Inglishman who has had his sensibilities rustled. Highmond made some noises that sounded almost like, “I dare say!” But when Edna held out her hand, he obliged, muttering, “Impertinence! Indignity!” as he slipped out of his ruined trousers.

When she had got the pants and Higmond had got his remarks out, Edna stuck her hands in the rip and yanked. Highmond might have died from the shock, robbing the lava of its prey, but he managed to hold it together, letting out only a very small squeal.

Edna tore the pants down the new seam and down others she made with a pointy rock. It was a hasty job, barely even taking a minute, but in the end she had sort of slightly longer trousers that she hoped would serve as a rope. She threw one end out and amazingly it caught on one of the larger branches. Highmond squealed again, this time with joy.

“We’re saved!” he shouted, and Edna wished he hadn’t. As soon as she tested her weight on their “rope” it collapsed, pulling further at the rips until it was totally shredded. A small swatch of Highmond’s pants dangled from the tree, but most of the would-be rope fell toward the lava, burning up even before it hit the pool below.

Adventuring leagues don’t advertise this - why would they? - but you don’t drown in lava. You - the part of you that knows your friends and remembers your childhood and forgets the laundry in the wash - you never even touch lava. The heat kills you long before you arrive at the soup of melted rock and metal. It reaches out from that molten earth (the second) and wraps at your chest and your ears.

Her failure cemented, the Heat pulled at Edna now, grabbing on her neck - urging her to the ground. There had been an election, it told her, and The Heat had declared itself Ultimate Viceroy of Now and All Things - So do what it said. She tried to fight, but the adrenaline ran out of her body. Her pain raced back in to the fill the gaps, diligent as ever. She fell to her knees. This was it. This was finally it.

Edna looked again at Highmond, pantsless and panting. She looked at Iona, saying something she couldn’t understand. She looked once more at the world that would wrap her in her final moments. She closed her eyes.

But Curiosity stepped around Grief - still waiting at her mind’s door - and knocked. “What was Iona saying?” it called, when Edna did not answer. She opened her eyes - looked back at her newest friend. What was she saying? Iona was speaking, but not to Edna or Highmond. Edna tried to listen through the throbbing in her ears, but it sounded all gibberish.

“Iona?” she called, and Iona Plum’s eyes darted her way, terror-filled.

“Highmond,” Edna said. He turned numbly toward her and she pointed at Iona. They watched in astonishment as she gibbered playfully at no one. Then she bent down strangely and made an awkward sort of brushing motion with her hand. A memory asserted itself in Highmond’s mind, so forcefully that it shook his head and made his (now quite limp) mustache flap about.

“My pants!” he cried.

“Highmond, seriously, not now,” Edna said, exasperated - even in the wiry fingers of death the old man could not evade his vanity.

“No! Edna, she’s talking about my pants. She’s just brushed her hand on the rip.”

“But you’re--” she began, before seeing what he meant. Iona wasn’t speaking gibberish, she was speaking backward - retracing her words and deeds since they’d arrived. Edna looked around. The lava was retreating. Already the pool beneath the larger boulder had nearly disappeared, the wrapping arms of their encircling moat grew wan. The heat released Edna’s neck.

She and Highmond watched in astonishment as not only the lava, but also the ash, the embers, the destruction all rolled away. They gazed in amazement as birds overhead soared backward through the sky. They saw, feeling a third way, a squirrel in the tree Highmond had tried to reach, putting an acorn back together - bit by bit - with its mouth.

But Edna’s astonishment and amazement and third feeling all turned to worry as Iona dipped and caught Highmond - or an invisible past Highmond - again. “We have to grab her!” she yelled, and lunged from her kneeling position, her pain screaming in protest.

She managed to grab hold of one of Iona’s forearms - the left, so you know - right as her friend leapt backward over the rock that had gotten them stuck here. Iona’s feet dropped to the small boulder, but they kept on pounding in their backward sprint - still tied to whatever invisible force compelled her and the world around them.

Iona’s backward momentum overtook Edna’s desperate pull, and she fell to the ground behind the rock. Edna doubled over the boulder, holding tightly onto one of her friend’s forearms - the left still - feeling her sweat-drenched hands start to slip down Iona’s sleeve.

Just at the moment of Peak Drama, when Edna was sure her hand would fail or else disconnect from her wrist, she felt the burden ease. She looked over to see Highmond now had hold of Iona’s other forearm - the right, if you’re keeping up.

“I couldn’t let you have all the… er, witch sweat,” Highmond said, with a gaze that asked if it had been the right thing to say.

Edna laughed a joyous, grand laugh, “It’s a little too samey, but yes! Splendid, Highmond!”

Together they were able to reel Iona in and over the rock and onto the ground. They sat on her still flailing legs until they became only still, no longer flailing. All three heard a thunderous !MOOB as the eruption un-happened, and whatever trick of time had held Iona seemed to release.

“Thank you both,” she said, “Now if it’s all the same, I should like my legs back.”

Highmond stood immediately, with a mumbled… something (who knows?) and walked off a bit to grumble at his pants. Edna stayed sat where she was. She smiled a sly, soft smile and said, “And how do I know this isn’t a trick from Backward Iona? What’s to stop you running off in reverse at that volcano if not my butt on your legs?”

Iona returned the smile and said, “Well I’m speaking forward, aren’t I? Backward Iona couldn’t do that.”

“You could have learned a new trick.” Edna gave a fauxe-thoughtful pause, then continued “Forward Iona revels in her cleverness - she’s a revel clever - it stands to reason Backward Iona would be one as well.”

“Ahh, I see your mistake. If Forward Iona is a revel clever, Backward Iona would in fact be…” she stopped, then her smile grew exponentially. “Impressive, Ms. Star - a well-laid trap.”

Edna stood and offered a hand down to Iona. “Thank you,” she said, “I thought of it about three minutes ago while sitting on you.”

Iona took the hand and stood. She was about to say something clever (no doubt) when a great BOOM! cracked across the sky and ash and lava filled the distant air. They all looked back at the volcano.

“Right,” Edna said, “Is everyone ready?” She looked back and forth to her companions.

“No,” they both said.

“No,” Edna agreed, “Neither am I. Still, it must be said. Highmond, would you like to?”

The old man was shocked, but he looked delighted. “Really? I may?”

“Yes,” Edna said.

“Yes, of course,” Iona said.

Highmond’s mustache was still limp from the heat, but his smile was unmistakable beneath. He shot a giddy glance back and forth at the two women, then over to the squirrel now re-eating its lunch, then forth and back again. Then he shouted, with no further warning, “RUN!”

And they ran.

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