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Dee stood near the edge of the clearing... with the Woodsman between her and the trees... and waited for the Scarecrow to retrieve her dog. Treach had been snared in a net since the soldiers' arrival, and Dee was glad. There had been so much blood... so many men trying to hurt her. Treach would have found no shortage of opportunities to leap to her defense. He would have been hurt. Worse yet, he would have ended up killing more people than he'd already had.
Dee couldn't shake the feeling that there was something about this place that corrupted everything that touched it. Her dog was now some kind of vicious attack hound. Her 'friends' were a serial killing zombie and a murderous robot. She was somehow bonded to a giant ruby that wanted to turn her into a vampire. Or a giant bug. Maybe both.
It occurred to Dee that she might be dead, and this place might be Hell. This wasn't the first time the thought had come to her, but now... now she may have to give it serious consideration. Maybe that's what Hell was: not agony being inflicted on you for eternity, but YOU inflicting it on others. Becoming something other than what you were... something that fed on torture and death. Maybe, in hell, humans were the real demons.
It didn't make sense, but then being picked up by a hurricane and dropped in some alternate world with monsters and vampire rubies didn't make sense either.
Maybe she really was dead.
But what if she wasn't? What if she was in a coma somewhere, and all of this was some kind of dream stirred up by the pain and fear she'd felt in her last conscious moments?
Dee jabbed her mutant fingernail... a black claw on her little finger... into the palm of her hand. The pain felt real. But as far as she knew, what she felt could be some nurse in the real world jabbing her hand to test for a response.
She did it again.
"This proves nothing," she said, finally. She turned to the giant metal golem standing silent behind her "If you weren't real..." she began. Then she sighed and turned back around. "Never mind."
Treach, now free of the net, ran up to her. She reached down to pet him, but the dog came up short, skidding to a halt just out of reach.
He sniffed her outstretched hand cautiously.
"What's wrong, boy? It's me!"
He sniffed again, then stepped forward and allowed her to pet him. The Scarecrow caught up with them as she did. He pointed toward the opposite side of the clearing.
Dee looked past the bodies, reminding herself that they were all madmen who'd been trying to kill her. And that they would have easily done so if she hadn't had madmen of her own on her side. It was hard to do. Her stomach quivered, and that made Dee relax just a little. Queasiness meant she still had some humanity. For now.
"What's that way?" she asked.
"BARBARIAN.LANDS" The Woodsman said.
"We're not going to see Mazoz?"
The Scarecrow nodded, then made a series of gestures that Dee was too tired to follow.
"THE.GOLDEN.ROAD.WILL.BE.BLOCKED." The Woodsman translated. "MEN AND BEASTS. ARCHERS. SIEGE MACHINERY."
Dee didn't know what 'siege machinery' was, but her friends' reluctance to tangle with it was more than enough for her.
"So, this barbarian land... is a way around all that?"
The Scarecrow nodded.
"Is it dangerous?"
The Scarecrow nodded again. His eyes moved to the trees behind them, and Treach's ears twitched. Dee heard nothing.
"NOT DAN.GER.OUS FOR ME." said the Woodsman.
"Okay. Okay, lead the way."
The Scarecrow led them around the perimeter of the clearing instead of through the center. Dee was glad; she didn't want to wade through the slaughterhouse they'd made of their former campsite. On the opposite side of the clearing, the Scarecrow slipped silently into the trees. He did so slowly... so that Dee could see where he was going and follow him. She did. Treach followed.
Moments later, the crack and crash of splintering trees split the silence as the Woodsman followed. The Scarecrow stopped and turned to glare at the lumbering machine.
"I.AM. NOT DE.SIGNED FOR STEALTH." said the Woodsman. He shoved another tree aside. The trunk broke with a loud snap, and it hit the ground with a sound like thunder.
The Scarecrow made a few gestures. The Woodsman took a step back.
"What's going on?"
The Scarecrow pointed to his left, then waited.
"I WILL LEAD ANY PUR.SUERS IN ANOTHER DIR.EC.TION."
"Oh," said Dee. "While we sneak away. Good idea."
Something inside the Woodsman squeaked like a rusty hinge. Then he turned and tore through the trees, forging a path perpendicular to the one they'd been on.
"Be careful!" Dee called. She didn't expect a response, and she didn't get one. When she turned back to the Scarecrow, he was staring at her. "You okay?" she asked.
He pointed to her backpack.
"Maybe you should have asked your questions before you sent the tin man away. I don't speak whatever-" Dee made a few exaggerated gestures "-this is."
He pointed at the backpack again, and then held up his hand, palm upward as if he were holding something.
"The ruby." said Dee. "What about it. I picked it up after the... thing... in the ruins died. I... guess I forgot about it."
The Scarecrow nodded sharply. He tapped his forehead.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He tapped his head again.
He pointed at Dee.
"With me? Yeah. Yeah, I'd say a lot of things are wrong with me. Starting with me being here. I don't know where 'here' is. I don't even know for sure whether I'm alive or dead. Everything I've encountered has tried to kill me. Except you, and I'm sure that's just a matter of time, right?"
The Scarecrow's eyes narrowed.
"What, I'm just gonna forget about the bugs in your head? I saw what you did back there. I saw what you were like-"
He jabbed his finger at Dee, as if punctuating an angry sentence. Dee didn't need him to speak. She knew what he was trying to say.
"You saw what I was like, too," she sighed. "I guess I should have left that gem where I found it."
The Scarecrow shook his head... but slowly. As if he wasn't sure. He wanted to say something. A LOT of something. But he couldn't. Not one word.
Dee had an idea.
"Hey..." She started to slide her backpack off of her shoulder. "This thing can heal! Maybe it can-"
He shook his head, there was no hesitation this time.
"You sure?" she said, shifting the pack back onto her shoulder.
He pointed at her left hand. At the little finger, which sported a black claw that hadn't been there an hour ago. She'd used the gem once to defend herself. It nearly killed a man, and it used his life force to re-grow the severed digit, with one 'improvement'.
There was no telling what it would do if she used it again.
Actually, she already knew. She'd seen it.
"Okay. Fine. But the green gem that Mazoz has... it doesn't heal. At least the Woodsman doesn't think so. What makes you think he can help you any more than I can?"
The Scarecrow shrugged. Then he pointed at Dee again.
"Me? I don't understand."
Her companion stared at her, then turned and started through the darkness ahead as, in the distance, trees fell.