Lisa is tied to me, hand in hand, and i try to think of something to say, to while away the hours.
We walk in silence for awhile, till we hear a directionless wail bouncing between the giants.
She says “What was that noise?” her voice high pitched, quivering.
I say “‘Tis a baby safe at home Lisa. Probably asking for food. Or perhaps in need of a change.”
She says “Oh. I thought it might be a monster. But it’s just a baby.”
“Yes my dear. Just a baby.”
We walk till the ghost of the fountain is far behind us, all the while chatting. She tells me about her parents, and school, and something about pocket monsters. Rather than ferocious creatures, they are more are like pets, or companions that fight to protect their master.
Animatedly she says “There are five hundred and it’s really hard to catch ’em all!” 500! I know barely a few dozen varieties of sinister apparitions, and have fought less than half of those. It is comforting to know the beneficent outnumber the evil, at least in terms of variety. I think to myself it is good that the future is in such hands as Lisa’s, tiny though they might be.
Whilst Lisa describes in some detail her favorite monster, Squirtle, i hear a noise coming from the canyon up ahead. “Quiet Lisa, stay behind me.” She obeys dutifully. We creep up to the entrance of the canyon. With my hand on my hilt I slowly move around the corner till i can make out movement in the shadow of a sleeping dracan. “A cat.” I explain to Lisa.
“Kitty!” She says, but i caution her with a finger on my lips.
I explain “Most likely yes, a harmless kitty. However one must always be wary of poisonous werecats.” I have Lisa’s full attention now. I continue to educate her, “The werecat froths at the mouth and desires the taste of human flesh. If one is bitten by a werecat there is a chance he or she may too become as a werecat and seek the tender meat of other humans.” Suddenly i come to. Oh! I am talking to a child! I wonder if i have terrified her, so i look into her eyes, already berating myself for the slip. Lisa gazes up at me with wide, wide eyes. She says “Cooooooool.”
I exhale and say “Yes, well, we should continue.” We walk past the canyon and trundle down the road. Once past Lisa asks me “So how do you fight a werecat?”
I stop and flourish my blade. “Do not worry Lisa. My blade is yours, and i shall protect you with it.”
Lisa asks “Can i try holding it?”
I do not see why not. I offer it to her. It is far taller than her, and she has difficulty wielding it. She exclaims “So heavy!” I nod and take it back. Afterwards i cannot help but demonstrate a few choice blows on a billowing paper bag. Lisa hoots in approval. “See Lisa, no harm will befall you tonight.”
The hours pass by easily, with Lisa and I speaking, describing our own worlds, the things we like and dislike. She comes across as a remarkably brave child, and one with an adventurous spirit. Excellent traits, I sincerely hope they do not fade. We pass by the unamed titan, the peasants no longer manning the bamboo membrane. Within an hour afterwards we pass under the bridge of incantations.
“What does that mean?” Lisa asks, pointing at tRuNT, splayed in red across one wall, next to images of town guards, and various obscenities. “That my dear, is a spell. A magic word.” She stops, and stares at the word. “Really? What does it do. TRUNT!” She says. The wind shuttles through the undperpass in answer. I chuckle. “Lisa, whatever city you end up in, wherever you may be, keep your eyes peeled for magic words. tRuNT is all over the city, on the walls, on the ground, next to the canals, behind fences and under bridges. You will see it in hard to reach places, a signature of the magician, who showed the way to reaching such a difficult place. I do not know the meaning behind all the incantations, but i assure you, each one is a story unto itself, and with the inner eye, one may even perceive the tale.”
Lisa seems quite confused by all this, and i do not hold this against her. I crouch down and look at her, leaning on my sword for support. I tap her on the forehead. “This is your inner eye. Behind your skin. Close your other eyes.” She does. “Now, i want you to hold in your mind the word, tRuNT. Picture the letters, no peeking, as you saw them here. Now walk up and trace your finger, in your mind, across the letters. What do you feel?”
“Scared.” She says. “I feel scared and, that there is something coming. Red and blue coming.”
“Open your eyes Lisa, do not worry, i’m here with you.” She does. “Magic is not to be taken lightly, especially urban magic. One must remember the guardians, and ward oneself against the demons.”
She says “Warding demons? What do you mean?”
“Sometimes you will catch a passing reflection in a puddle, of Ixat, he is one of the more powerful guardians. There is also the serpent that encircles the sword- he is red and blue, like what you saw. Yuuneesef protects children.” I tell her all this, and she nods diligently.
She says “Mummy told me there is no such thing as magic.”
I laugh. “Perhaps for her, and if so, that is a great pity.” Then i hear a sound approaching. It is the wailing siren of the guard.
I take Lisa’s hand. “Come, we dally too long.” We continue past the underpass, leaving behind the broken bottles and glowing letters. The call of the guard rises, coming closer. An instinct seizes me. “Lisa, i want you to go to that shadow over there, and hide.” I point towards the backside of a lit up board, screaming the name of one of the titans. “You will see clearly from there, but i promise you yourself shall be invisible, when i call out to you come out, but not till then. Now go child, go and whatever happens, stay silent.”
She looks terrified. I try to comfort her. “I’m sure it is nothing child. Here, take my cloak- within this you are undetectable.”
“B-b-but, what about you?”
I smile at her young face. “Do not worry. Now go, go now!” Wrapped in oversized sleeves, she dashes behind the board.
I wait, my sword by my side, and after a minute perceive the figures walking down the slope, from the main road, with sickly yellow light beams spouting from their hands. They are a pair armed with club and pistol. I stand my ground, and do my best to seem unoffensive. There is a cruel glint in their eyes. They reek of power and alcohol. If i run they may very well kill me.
“OY! YOU!” Says the taller one, his pallid light beam glaring in my eyes. I look away, and shield my face. Another one, his voice pitched like a weasel says “HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM YOU FILTHY BUM!” Yet I keep my hand on my hilt, and hide my face with the other. The light seems to highlight my blue veins, my bony knuckles. When did i become so old?
“OY FUCK HEAD, MY PARTNER GAVE YOU AN ORDER. HANDS ON YOUR HEAD.”
I do not let go of my sword.
The other one changes his stance, and places his on his pistol. “GET DOWN OR I’ll PUT YOU DOWN.” I do not comply. These two are disgraces, and i will not bow to such as them. They move in closer.
“Can i help you…” I start to say
“SHUT THE FUCK UP.”
They converse in front of me, as i were not even present.
“He doesn’t look like no fucking immigrant does he? Just some bum. Fuck man, we haven’t arrested anyone in a month.”
“Calm down, calm down, i know. Look, maybe this prick has some stash on him eh? Maybe we can find us an illegal bottle right? Confiscate us some narcotta”
“Good thinking sarge.”
“Take notes, i’m schooling here.”
The more experienced member of the pair approaches me. “Alright gramps, i’m going to search you, but no funny bussiness or I’ll snap your goddamn arm.” I hold onto my sword, and let them have at it. It’s humiliating but not dangerous. I glance at his time piece as he pats me down, and i notice how late it is, and getting later. Little Lisa is running out of time. The two guardsman are quite drunk. I decide to gamble, thinking it unlikely they will take me to a cell in the state they are in. Ixat grant me wisdom.
I inhale deeply. Then I start coughing, heaving, sputum and spittle all over the floor. I stumble forward, grabbing onto the guardsmen in the process.
“GET THE FUCK OFF ME YOU FILTHY BASTARD.” He says. He punches me in the face. I fall on the ground, and curl into a ball. His partner comes, and starts kicking. Do not yell out Lisa, do not yell out. I cover my head, and after a few kicks they relent. “Stupid fucking hobo.” says one of them, i know not which. I lay still as a corpse, and wait till their foot steps fade. Then i scramble around for my sword, and find the hilt pressed into my hand, by tiny fingers. “Little Lisa, thank you my d-dear.” I say. I help myself up, and i see her face. She is weeping. “There there, it’s ok.”
“YOU’RE HURT!” she says.
A sharp pain in my ankle. I will be limping for some time now. “it’s ok my dear, come here.” I embrace her with one hand, the other using my sword to keep my balance. Presently she stops crying. I look at her.
She says “WHY ARE YOU SMILING? I never smile after i get hurt. I cry when i get hurt.”
“I traded a wound for this.” I say, and reveal the contents of the hand i used to hug her with. Inside i hold a small piece of leather. The guard’s wallet. I smile through broken teeth, and hope my face is not so terrifying. “With this we can get you home much quicker. We will take the steel dragon, underneathe the city.”
“BUT YOU’RE HURT!” She says again. Lisa has a compassionate heart.
“It was worth the pain my dear. A knight uses what weapons he has available. Those two thought they had won, but in fact it is us who have succeeded.” I help dab her face clean. “The stairs that lead to the dragon are nearby. We shall have you home soon enough now.”
Thus we descended into the undercity.