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Dee didn't move.
Flat on her back, she looked along the length of the bladed pike into the face of the soldier. His eyes were serious; his expression was missing entirely. He didn't want to kill her, but he wasn't married to the idea of letting her live, either.
"If you're thinking about trying something," he said. "Stop."
Dee felt the ground shudder beneath her. A trio of the lizard-mounts darted behind the soldier, moving along the edge of the clearing. One of the riders glanced at Dee, but the others kept their eyes on the tree line. Seconds later, a pair of foot-soldiers slipped out of the trees with the same silent ease that the Scarecrow had used to disappear into them. Neither of them was the Scarecrow, however. He was gone.
At least, she hoped he was gone. The idea that he might still be around... that he might try to help her... filled her with dread. If he tried, people would die. And then HE would die.
But then, maybe that was for the best, considering his condition.
"SECURE THE PERIMETER!" shouted the same voice that had been barking orders before. He was somewhere behind her. The shouting grew closer as he continued. "DON'T LET HIM SLIP AWAY! I DON'T SEE ENOUGH COVERAGE TO THE WEST! YOU! AND YOU! OVER HERE!"
There was a pause, and then:
"Get her on her feet!"
A hand grabbed Dee's shoulder. Fingers slipped under her arm and pulled her up painfully. Dee got to her feet, but the bladed pike remained an inch from her neck the entire way, quashing Dee's urge to fight or pull away. She hissed in pain and clenched her arm, but that was as far as her defiance went.
She took a quick look around. The five mounted men that had originally burst into the clearing had been joined by at least fifteen more. There were now ten of the lizard-creatures circling the clearing, and another ten men on foot... perhaps more, as the footsoldiers were weaving in and out of the trees in an active but orderly search for the Scarecrow. There could have been twice as many still out of sight. Dee noticed that they made no sound. The thundering footsteps of the giant lizards weren't exactly stealthy, but the soldiers communicated with hand signals instead of shouts. Only two of them had spoken... the mounted soldier who'd ordered her not to move, and the man with the rod who seemed to be in charge.
The same man who now stepped in front of Dee, the rod... equal parts symbol and weapon... dangled from a leather loop on his belt. He gave a quick hand-signal to the mounted rider, who lifted his pike and backed away toward the trees. He didn't leave. Nor did he take his eyes off of Dee. If she broke away from the man holding her and slipped past the one in front of her, the mounted solider would run her down and impale her without hesitation. Either that, or his lizard would snap the head off of her shoulders like a grape.
"Who are you?" Dee said, calmly. Despite all the activity around her, she didn't have to shout. The silence was... eerie.
"You haven't earned the right to know my name, woman," the man snapped. Literally... he snapped his fingers at the word 'woman'.
The soldier who'd pulled her up from the ground still held her shoulder in an iron grasp. He used his other hand to grab her backpack and yank it from her shoulder. He threw it to the ground-
"Hey!" Dee shouted. Before she knew what she was doing she was trying to twist out of the man's grip. Suddenly snarling, she reached for her bag. "That's MINE!! MINE!"
The nameless man in charge moved.
That's all Dee saw. She couldn't see what KIND of motion... but suddenly there was a glint of metal.
The blade slashed across Dee's throat before she knew it was in his hand. Dee's hands clapped around her neck as she tried to move back, but the man holding her held her still and upright.
Panic and pain flooded Dee's mind as her fingers prepared for the spray of blood from her severed carotid artery.
And then she realized that the pain wasn't there. And the warm splatter of blood against her hands was also... not there.
Eyes widening, she gently released the pressure on her throat. She removed her hands. Her skin stung in a thin line across the left side of her neck. It was nothing. It felt like... paper cut.
And Dee's eyes caught the knife that the soldier still held in his right hand. There was no blood on it. Not on he knife. Not on the hand. No blood on the ground or on his clothes. If he'd cut her throat he'd be drenched by now. Dee looked at her own hands. No blood their either.
"What... the hell..." Dee exhaled.
"That," said the man. "Is the only warning you will receive."
He'd... ALMOST... slit her throat. In fact, he HAD slit her throat, but it was a cut so shallow and precise that instead of being fatal, it was just a tingling line along her neck. A warning. Next time, he would cut just a fraction of an inch deeper.
"O-okay..." said Dee.
"The man who travels with you. Do you know where he is."
It wasn't spoken like a question, but Dee answered it anyway.
"No. No idea." It was the truth. And, if she HAD known... she would be telling this man and his knife in as much detail as she could. Her neck continued to sting.
"Do you know WHO he is."
"No." Again, the truth.
"And do you know WHAT he is."
"A... he.... you..." Finally, a question that she could answer! But the words collided with one another on their way down her tongue.
"Damned," the man spat, robbing Dee of her chance to show that she was cooperating. "Do you know what that means."
"And yet, you travel with him. You help him. Has he bitten you?"
The man's eyes travelled up and down Dee's body, but not in a good way. There was disgust in his eyes.
"He... he hasn't hurt me."
"You realize what you are doing by helping him. By freeing him. You are endangering us all."
"Well..." Dee began. She'd been about to ask why they'd turn someone into a mindless killing machine and then complain when it started killing people, but it was probably too soon to press her luck. The burning line along her neck had only just started to fade.
Dee's questioner studied her face.
"Where is your commune?"
"I'm... sorry, what?"
"Your COMMUNE! Where Are You FROM!"
The man frowned.
"The Thalbama commune is miles from here!"
"Ummm..." Dee didn't know what to say to that. She didn't want to make this man angry.
Suddenly, the man leaned in close.
"The breaking of the Covenant!" He growled, his face an inch from hers. "What do you know!"
"I don't know what the Covenant is! Look, I'm not from-"
"The Covenant is broken... a Damned man walks free... and YOU... a woman with a strange beast... who has charmed one of the Damned... so very far from your appointed home. Where were you going?"
"I KNEW IT!"
The shout rang in Dee's ears.
"A SPY for MAZOZ! I KNEW IT!"
"NoNoNo! Not a spy!"
"Then why do we find you with one of his war machines! One of an army waiting for your signal, no doubt!"
The man pointed to the Woodsman. Three soldiers stood near the motionless machine, eyeing it warily.
"War machine? It's... it's a Woodsman and it's as confused as I am! Look, I just-"
Dee's words faded when she realized that the man wasn't listening to her. Or even looking at her.
Her questioner's gaze veered to the right of the men with the Woodsman, toward a patch of woods.
He snapped his fingers.
One of the men with the oddly silent Woodsman started towards him, but was diverted with a series of hand signals. He started toward the woods, approaching cautiously. Just outside the trees, he crouched down and touched something. The grass just in front of his boots was discolored.
He stood, and held up his finger. Even from a distance, Dee could see that there was something on the cautious solder's fingertip.
Then... with a quarter of the soldiers in the clearing looking in his direction... the man vanished.
There was a movement, and the man was gone...
The soldier who'd been questioning Dee inhaled sharply, in preparation for one of his high-volume orders. He never gave it. A sound cut him off.
The barest beginnings of a scream from the woods, starting an ending in the same heartbeat. And in the NEXT heartbeat, a jet of red liquid sprayed out of the darkness like something from an 80's horror movie. It was an arterial fountain like the one Dee thought was going to end her life a few minutes ago. But this wasn't her blood. It was the soldier's. Something had snatched him up and slit his throat, intentionally aiming the resulting splatter into the clearing for all to see.
Then the soldier returned... flopping to the ground a short distance away. Actually, Dee couldn't tell if it was the same man since they all dressed the same, and this one's head was conspicuously absent.
The man's neck ended abruptly in a bloody, truncated stump.
Dee raised one hand and pointed meekly in the direction of the bloody display.
"I think the man you're looking for is over there."