- Age: 30
- Species: Human
- Weapons: Sword, cudgel, horse, honor
- Special Attack: Hand-to-hand combat
- Driven and strong-willed
- Physically enormous and powerful
- Skilled with sword and hammer
- Overly concerned with honor
- Quick to anger
- Age: Early 20s
- Species: Human
- Weapons: Pistol, sharp tongue, honestly, growing migraine, airborne zombie virus
- Special Attack: Truth-telling
- Has outsmarted countless zombies & political enemies
- Has a huge digital audience
- Knows her way around a firearm
- A chronic case of retinal Kellis-Amberlee
- No real powers to speak of
By Seanan McGuire
My story begins where so many—
No. Scratch that, fuck that, rip that up and set it on fire so it can think about what it’s done. My story, which has been ongoing for quite some time, and usually involves running from the living dead while waiting for my asshole brother to find something to jab at with a stick, entered a bizarre new chapter when I either walked through a rift in the space-time continuum—unlikely—or gave myself the mother of all concussions.
I looked around the infinite, featureless plain that had replaced the slightly less infinite, somewhat more filled-with-trees Canadian tundra, glaring in an effort to make it change back. It did not change back. Instead, it acquired a figure that made me give serious thought to that whole “concussion” idea.
People are not supposed to be eight feet tall and built like something out of a pre-Rising Schwarzenegger film. Nor are they meant, really, to think that “hey, I’ll carry a sword in one hand and a mace in the other, to give that real friendly vibe to anyone I happen to meet.” I took a step backward, being slightly smarter than someone who would hold their ground in the face of such an apparition.
The man had a horse with him. The horse looked like it was smarter than most of the Newsies I’ve known. The horse was terrifying.
Now, declared a voice out of the ether, you fight.
“What?” I looked up, scanning the sky for a speaker. “Excuse me, but what did you say? I am a normally-sized woman with two guns and a debilitating eye condition. That—” I pointed at Gigantor the Destroyor, “—is a villain from a children’s cartoon. I’m not fighting him. I’m not fighting anyone. You are the worst hallucination ever.”
The man was moving toward me, the horse close behind. From the way his weapons were raised, he at least was cool with the idea that fighting me was on the table. I took another step backward. My stride was enough shorter than his that my retreat changed functionally nothing.
He had two pupils in each eye. Because that’s normal.
“Stand and fight me,” he boomed. His lips didn’t quite match the words, because why not have instantaneous translation when sky voices were commanding you to battle strangers.
“How about no thank you?” I called back. “This is stupid. This is… this is inane. This is not a good plan. This is like putting a hamster and a wasp in a box and shaking it to see what they’ll do.”
The giant man frowned at me. “What is your name?”
“Georgia Mason. I’m a journalist.”
“My name is Mata Zyndu. I am a warrior.” He held up his sword. “This is Na-aroénna.” He held up his cudgel. “This is Goremaw.”
I decided against pointing out that most people don’t name their weapons, and opted, instead, for my most powerful weapon: the truth. “Okay. That’s all cool. Look: we shouldn’t be here, and if we’re going to be here, we shouldn’t be fighting. There’s no honor in fighting because a voice out of nowhere tells us to. We’re being manipulated.”
Mata Zyndu—I didn’t know whether that was his first and last name, or whether it was two parts of one name, and I didn’t want to piss him off by asking—frowned. “No honor?”
“None. There’s just me shooting you a few times before you crush me into paste, and nothing being gained by either one of us. You’re bigger than me, you’re stronger than me, your weapons are terrifying, fighting is a bad plan. Let’s not do that. Let’s not be used.”
His frown deepened. “To fight without honor is an affront.”
“See? Let’s not do that. How about we do anything other than that. No hitting. No smashing.” I smiled thinly. “Maybe some smashing, if we can find the sky people. But I will not fight you, and you won’t fight me. No one risks their honor.”
“Yes,” he said, and scowled, looking around the plain. “We are not toys.”
Battle ended, declared the voice from nowhere.
The giant man and the horse disappeared, taking the featureless plain with them, I dropped into the dark, yelling all the way down. The biggest question I had seemed fated to go unanswered:
Who the hell had won?