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The Woodsman wasn't far. Lahr grew increasingly agitated as the sounds of the giant machine got closer. Dee watched the man literally squirm with every snap and thud of the Woodsman's approach.
"Are you sure about this?" he chattered. He'd taken position behind Dee. He tugged gently on her arm. "Maybe we should go."
"I told you; he's with us."
"How do you know he's STILL with you? Anything could have happened! And how do you know he's YOUR Woodsman, eh? There were lots of them. If one is still around... maybe there are others! Maybe we could watch from a distance?"
"Calm down." Dee glanced at the Scarecrow, who was regarding them both with increasing impatience. He wanted to be away. Dee did too, but considering the Woodsman's arrival was probably the only reason they were still alive, she didn't want to get too far away from him. They would be sticking together from now on. If he slowed them down or spooked their new friend, so be it.
Another pair of trees toppled. Dee saw a flash of green light, and heard the roar of the saw.
Lahr yelped and pulled her arm again.
"Let's go!" he hissed.
"What's your problem?"
Lahr gave her an incredulous look, mouth open, eyes wide, looking as if she'd just slapped him.
"What?" she repeated. "Tell me."
Three thundering footsteps later, the Woodsman emerged into the clearing. There was a slight gap in the trees. The machine's arm-mounted saw widened it with a slash, and the Woodsman strode through the resulting space, shoving one of the large trees aside as it toppled.
The whirling blades spun down and retracted into their housings with a loud clang.
The sound elicited a squeal from Lahr, who must have thought it was some kind of attack. He gave her arm a hard pull, yanking her off balance. She stumbled, and Lahr continued pulling her away from the dangerous machine.
"Stop it" Dee yanked her arm free. It would have been comical under any other circumstance.
The Woodsman saw the brief struggle, and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion.
"DANGER!" The Woodsman's voice boomed. Though it was the grinding voice of a machine, the menace was unmistakable. "HOSTILE ACTIVITY DE.TEC.TED IN THIS A.REA"
CLANG! The blades popped free and began to spin. Somewhere within the armored chassis, gears that had ceased moving only seconds ago growled back to life.
"STAND CLEAR! INDIGONOUIS SAVAGES WILL CEASE HOSTILITIES IMMEDIATELY OR BE TERMINATED!!"
Lahr screamed. He released Dee, and she expected him to bolt. She was already drawing breath to shout after him. Instead of darting away from her, Lahr ran forward... past her. He skidded to a halt between her and the Woodsman. Turning quickly, he planted his hand on Dee's chest and pushed her back. Lahr was stronger than he looked, and his shove hit like a punch. A hard punch. Dee grunted and fell, landing on her back.
To everyone but Dee and Lahr, it looked as if Lahr had just attacked her.
The Woodsman reacted.
He took a thundering step forward, bringing his metal foot down so hard it shook the trees.
He'd positioned himself between Dee and the Woodsman, but now he was gone. In his place stood the largest African lion Dee had ever seen. Like the other animals she'd seen, this beast was too large to be real... if Dee were standing its eyes would have been over her head. Lahr's clothes lay at its feet like a doll's discarded garments.
Before the echo of the Woodsman's footstep faded, the golden lion opened its mouth and let out a roar that swallowed the echo, the grind of the Woodman's gears, and everything else. Dee clapped her hands to her ears, and she saw the Scarecrow turn away, flinching before the sound. If the Woodsman's step was thunder, the lion's roar was an earthquake.
For a second it was too loud to even hear.
But Dee heard that.
She was on her feet the next instant, dashing along side the lion and zipping in front of him just as the Woodsman drew back his arm.
"STOP!" She screamed.
The blur of the Woodsman's blade shot forward. Toward the lion. Who was BEHIND her.
The Woodsman's fist came to a halt about five inches from Dee's face, the large metal fist ringing like a bell. He'd retracted the saw. The blades still spun, but were now several feet back. The breeze they kicked up was hot and uncomfortable, stinging Dee's eyes.
The Woodsman didn't have a face, but the ring of glowing green ports on his domed head pulsed twice. She imagined that if he did have a face, he'd be glaring at her, waiting for an explanation.
"He's with us," she said.
The metal arm lowered. The blades spun down once more, and vanished into their housing on the Woodsman's arm.
The giant took a step back. Its internal mechanisms wound down, not falling silent, but certainly less noisy than before.
Dee turned to the lion.
Which was, of course, not there.
Lahr stood behind her, naked and scowling. Not at her, but at the Woodsman.
"You're naked," said Dee.
Lahr didn't hear her.
She picked up his clothes and handed them to him. He put on his pants without taking his eyes off the machine.
"So, uhhh.... Nicolas. This is Lahr. Lahr, Nicolas."
"It... has a name?"
"I DO." The Woodsman boomed.
"I take it there's some history here?"
"I DO NOT KNOW THIS SAVAGE."
"You look..." Lahr began. "...you sound like... What are you doing here?" He turned to Dee. "Why did you bring him here? Why did you bring him BACK!"
"We found him in the woods," said Dee. "He saved our lives when the soldiers attacked."
"How many did he slaughter in the process, eh?"
"QUITE A FEW." There was neither pride nor shame in the Woodsman's voice... just a statement of gruesome fact.
"You need to leave," Lahr said to Dee. "We ALL need to leave. SEPARATELY!"
Lahr gathered up his pack and walking stick, briefly inspecting them before walking off.
"Wait!" Dee called. She trotted after him and grabbed his arm. "I need your help!"
He took a few more steps, then stopped.
"What could you possibly need from me?"
"Where do I start!? Where am I!? Who's this 'Mazoz' character!? Why is he so bad? What's the Covenant and why are they feeding people to giant bugs? Why is this whole place so CRAZY!? Is this HELL!? Am I DEAD!? Start with ANY of those! PLEASE!"
"I..." Lahr turned away and lowered his head briefly. "I can't stay with that... metal thing."
"Why not? "
"Because he killed them."
"Who? Those soldiers? You don't even know them! They were just as bad as-"
"My family," said Lahr. "He killed my family."