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Dee stood frozen for several seconds.
She remembered Lahr rescuing her and pointing her toward the trees. She remembered him telling her to keep walking... and she'd done that! She hadn't turned; she hadn't stopped; she hadn't even opened her eyes until now. So why was she now facing back toward the center of the Blight, with Lahr shouting at her as if she'd somehow gotten his instructions wrong?
And why was the ground shaking?
And what the HELL was happening to the trees? The forest seemed to be receding all around them; the tree line rotating away with slow but increasing speed. She heard Treach's frantic barking, and it sounded miles away. Dee spotted the dog standing near the trees... motionless. Yet his muscular form was spiraling away as the Blight between her and the dog warped and expanded. She wondered what she looked like to him. Was she getting smaller and more distant, or was everything normal when looking out from the safety of the trees?
Was any of this really happening? How COULD it be?
"GO BACK!" Lahr shouted at her, pointing behind her. Along the path of Lahr's finger, Dee saw the Scarecrow. He was running toward the trees... toward Treach... , but he wasn't getting any closer to either. Despite his speed, he was not only getting further away from the edge, but his path seemed to be curving back on itself.
Dee watched him run away... then parallel... then back TOWARD her without changing direction once.
The Scarecrow stopped, turned around, and ran toward the trees again. It didn't work any better the second time. All paths out of the Bight... led back INTO the Blight.
"Any OTHER ideas!?!" Dee shouted at Lahr
"No, but we need to get away from THAT!"
Lahr pointed into the pit.
The pit at the Blight's heart was bigger than Dee remembered, and there was movement where there hadn't been before. Dee saw flailing shadows and glimpses of... something... writhing just below the crumbling lip of the crater.
And the Woodsman knelt motionless near the expanding edge. Rocks crumbled into the pit mere feet away from the giant machine.
"GET HIM!" She pointed.
"And do WHAT with him?!"
"He's going to fall in!" said Dee.
Lahr didn't get a chance to finish.
A fat, wet, curved shape uncurled from the pit, and then vanished again before Dee's mind could assemble what she'd seen. Simultaneous with the disappearance, the Blight shook as if struck from below. Rocks leapt UP from the ground, some a distance of more than a foot.
Dee lost her balance, and as she stumbled, the Blight... PULLED her.
It was as if gravity shifted thirty degrees toward the pit at the exact moment her balance was at its worst. The sharp warping of reality lasted for less than an instant, but it was enough.
Dee went down hard. Her head and upper torso didn't just hit the ground, but SLAMMED into it as if she'd been thrown. Breath left her lungs. Pain bloomed along her left side from head to kidney. Vision fled, but she felt something large land across her lower body, pinning her legs.
Screaming, Dee tried to roll to one side. She couldn't. She struck with her fists before she could see what she was hitting. Once. Twice. Three-
Lahr shouted at her to stop. She looked along the length of her body into Lahr's bloody face. He opened his mouth to speak-
Again, the Blight shook. Rocks leapt up around them, and then... briefly... the world tilted to one side.
Lahr and Dee slid across the rocks toward the pit. Dee was too dazed to do anything but slide further 'down', but Lahr pressed his body against hers. There was nothing for him to hold on to, but he tried anyway. They slid a few painful feet further.
Not far away, the Woodsman tilted and landed on his side with a sound like a car hitting a wall. The metal man's form spun around, then came to rest with his 'feet' mere inches from the edge. Another jolt would send him over. One or two after that would get Dee and Lahr unless they found something to hold.
A yelp drew Dee's attention back the other direction.
Treach was coming.
He'd leapt out of safety, but crossing the border of the Blight twisted his trajectory and sharply increased his speed, as if he were jumping down a hill. He landed, rolled, and came up running straight toward Dee.
The Scarecrow was right behind him.
He had a knife in one hand, and the other curled into a fist. His lips were folded into a thin, determined sneer. Then Dee realized that he wasn't coming for her. His path would take him past her... closer to the Woodsman, yet past him as well.
He was running for the pit.
Whatever was in there was about to get what it wanted. Blade first.
"I think he's got the right idea," Lahr muttered.
"Get off me!"
"We're going in either way," said Lahr. "But maybe... maybe we can..."
"What are you say-"
Dee was looking directly into Lahr's eyes when he changed. It had always happened instantaneously before... but this time she was closer. This time, he was literally on top of her.
The eyes changed first. Lahr's regarded her with equal parts determination and sadness. Then those eyes were no more. Humanity vanished, and a cat's eyes... a lion's eyes... glared out at her from Lahr's face.
Half a heartbeat later, that face... and the rest of him... changed to match them.
"No-" Dee began.
The lion turned, and as he did, something large rose the pit before him. Again, Dee caught only a glimpse of fleshy bulk-
Lahr reared back, parted his massive jaws and unleashed the loudest sound that Dee had ever heard. Ever. Then he leapt.
The shape in the pit... the mottled flank of some huge, turgid thing... thrust sharply downward.
The Blight thrust up beneath her, tossing her a few inches into the air. Then gravity shifted, dragging her across the rocks.
She saw the Woodsman vanish. He didn't slide in. The pit crumbled beneath him, and he was gone.
The Lion joined him, letting the Blight's altered gravity accelerate his already powerful leap... becoming tooth and claw-tipped missile that roared over the edge.
The Scarecrow was still on his feet... running... navigating the rumbling, warping ground with what Dee could only describe as superhuman dexterity. As he approached the pit, he drew his second blade.
He stopped. Or he SEEMED to stop as his eyes met hers.
Looking back at Dee, he nodded. Then he, too was gone.
Something in the pit screamed.
Lion, man, machine, or something else... Dee couldn't tell. But the ground shook again, and then Dee was moving across the rocks. She held on to her backpack with one hand as the crumbling pit loomed ahead, widening to swallow her. The other hand grabbed futilely at the rocks that were just as much at gravity's mercy as she was. She found no purchase. But she did find Treach.
The pit bull leapt across her at the last moment, much as Lahr had done earlier.
She grabbed him as they came to rest. Her legs dangled over the edge-
-and then were falling as the edge simply crumbled away beneath them.