Nom manages a good throw, fair dues.
I’m no expert on spear-lobbing but her form seems solid, she puts her body behind it and really gives it some oompf. She’s like a little, I dunno… wormy Crowl battle-princess. The spear goes high and there’s a collective intake of breath as everyone watches its progress.
Alas, she’s also got tiny little arms, so it reaches the zenith of its arc quickly and its wide, leaf-shaped head starts pointing downwards too soon. It’s on a trajectory that’s clearly going to end a few feet short of the obnoxious ponytail bloke.
There is a collective sigh of relief and Ponytail sneers, a facial expression that in my humble opinion would be greatly improved by having a spear land in the middle of it.
But that’s not to be.
And we need to be running.
I grab Nom’s hand and I’m about to start legging it, because people can be a bit funny about having spears thrown at them, especially when they were a bit of a tit to begin with, when there’s a gust of wind.
Recently, there’s not been a lot of wind around that I’ve noticed. I’ve seen some puffs here and there carrying a powdery load of snowflakes from one place to another, plus a couple of decorative eddies but these were gentle wafts. This is a proper gust, with gusto. I can feel it push me forwards and ripple my Tik furs. Next to me, Nom staggers forward two steps.
So, the wind is unusual in that respect. It’s also the first wind I’ve encountered that comes with a faint, malicious giggle in it. It’s a tinkling, crystalline kind of a laugh, the sort of sound a mean-spirited icicle might make just before detaching from a tree to imbed itself in the head of someone passing below.
The laugh seems almost blown by the wind; it’s just on the edge of hearing but it’s on this side of the edge of hearing. I can definitely hear it. It gives me a chill that’s nothing to do with the temperature.
Anyway, the gust blows the spear forward and straight into Pontytail’s shin.
Everybody’s surprised into silence. Even Pontytail and it was his shin into which the spear entered with a sound like someone chopping a potato.
He stares at it dumfounded for a full three seconds before he starts wailing.
Normally, I don’t enjoy other people’s suffering, but I take a moment to relish this. I’m not the only one either. Pontytail’s more reasonable colleague, Gant, is also trying to supress a smile and there are a few faces in the crowd that don’t look too bothered by the sight.
A couple of others do though.
It’s not fair. We were nearly away until poor Nom was needlessly provoked into action. Then the spear wasn’t going to hit, and everyone could have had a laugh about it, if it wasn’t for that cruel wind. Not fair at all.
“Um… do you think we can count that as an accident?” I ask Gant. “Like an act of gods or something?”
A dozen eyes in the assembled crowd snap in my direction.
Oops. Maybe I should have stayed quiet.
“I’m afraid not,” Gant says, not without regret.
Yeah, we like him.
The rest of the mob however, ooo, if vibes were knives, me and Nom would be already sliced, diced and ready for cooking. I can see the maths of hate being calculated behind their eyes:
1 (bad thing happened) + 1 (blame whoever’s not us) = 3 murder Shoo and Nom.
Need to derail that train of thought before it gets to Lynching Station.
“Fair enough,” I say. “Um… Though I think we can all agree that the, er, most urgent thing now is to get that man medical attention? Right? You don’t want him going into shock.”
They all just stare at me. Dead-eyed. Hostile.
“Come on, guys,” I say earnestly. “The next few seconds are crucial. Won’t you think of his poor family?”
Gant smiles slightly and joins in, “she’s absolutely right. You,” he points at one of the mob who jumps. “Get Doctor Vorle.” He points at another. “You! Fetch some clean cloth and antiseptic. The rest of you, does anyone have medical training?”
There’s a moment where they wonder whether to obey him.
“Now people!” he says in a tone of voice obviously used to command.
One of them runs off to get the doctor, the rest of the assembled mob awkwardly look at each other. No-one seems to be volunteering their medical skills and, most-importantly, no-one is trying to chase me and Nom down.
Gant glances quickly but pointedly at us.
May the gods triple-bless all his favourite bits. He’s distracting them like a pro.
I grab Nom’s hand and start walking. I don’t run, scared that running could kickstart the predator instinct in a bunch of people already halfway goaded into mob-action. I walk. I walk as fast as I possibly can without actually running.
It’s pretty fast actually. I think I might have just invented stealth jogging.
Behind us, the pained cries of ponytail bloke get further away as we march up the hill. I squint ahead. I think I can see a gate, up past where the long buildings end. Yes! Hopefully our way out of town and to safety.
Well, as safe as a snowy wilderness can be.
A breeze stirs my hair and, very faintly, I hear that tinkling laugh again.