A/N: Eighty-three-year-old Chosen One Edna Fisher has finally faced her first dragon, and in the aftermath she's not doing so well.
The washing machine had lost the battle with dragon’s blood. Edna’s dress was splotched a faded mauve, but at least it wasn’t so stiff now as she barreled through the western United States in Dan’s Chevy Peryton. Her glasses were spotless and she’d showered in the fire station locker room. Beatrice, on the other hand, was a lost cause. She’d spent the better part of two hours by the mop sink in the back of the fire station, soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing the carpet, to no avail. At last Beatrice slipped out of her grasp and darted up the ceiling, out of reach.
Clem had yanked the washcloth out of Edna’s hand. “What’s your deal? Amir knew what we needed a carpet for when he made one for us.”
Edna pushed her glasses further up her nose, slick with sweat. “Amir wrecked his health making a carpet for us, and I’ve ruined it in less time than it took him to enchant it.”
Up by the ceiling, Beatrice circled a light fixture angrily, as if to say that their carpet wasn’t entirely ruined, thank you very much.
Clem threw the washcloth in the mop sink, where it landed with a wet plop. “Amir’s fine, okay? Benny would call if something happened to him.”
Edna gazed out the window of the Perytonand wished Benjamin would call. She wanted to hear his voice—she wanted to know Amir was all right. No news was not, after all, good news. No news was no news and didn’t mean anything.
Dan’s eyes found hers in the rearview mirror. “You doing okay back there?”
“Mmm?” Edna blinked and smiled at him with an effort. “Oh, yes, dear. I’m fine.”
Beatrice sulked under the back seat. Dan had sequestered himself in the fire station office for nearly an hour, arguing with someone on the phone, and emerged with a deeply furrowed brow.
“Are you okay?” Clem asked.
“I,” he’d said through gritted teeth, “have to go to Barstow. Immediately. Some bigwig Knights want to interrogate me about the attack.”
He ran his hands through his disheveled hair. “Look, I get their concern, but I have a town to rebuild, people to take care of—why the fu—”
He glanced at Clem and amended, “I just don’t get why they need me to go there.”
Clem looked at him primly and let loose an impressive string of expletives, just to prove he didn’t need to censor himself around her.
She ought to teach me some of those, Edna thought vaguely.
Why-ever the Knights wanted to question Dan in person, he’d insisted on driving them the rest of the way to Barstow. It was safer, he said, more comfortable, and it would give the carpet a break.
Not that Beatrice appreciated the break.
Fields of corn and soy gave way to hills and then mountains. Edna had never been this far west before, but she barely noticed that scenery flashing by. She half-listened as Dan and Clem talked: about their families and what they’d been doing since they’d last seen each other, about the musical she and Clem were supposedly on their way to see, about the boldness of dragons these days. She paid attention just enough to know Clem danced around the dragon issue and said nothing that might give their real mission away.
She wondered if she’d made a mistake telling Kiernan. Not that she’d told him anything terribly important: just that Clem was the Chosen One. If they’d ended up using him…but instead she’d told him and then turned him away. It didn’t matter. He wouldn’t tell anyone, surely, and if he did he had the wrong person anyhow and knew nothing of their plans.
Except that they were going to Barstow. Not even Edna really knew what they were going to do there—knock on doors until they found Monica Evans?
Still. One more person out there knew the Chosen One was one of them.
A fine job she was doing, she thought bitterly. She had no plans and no idea what she was doing. Even her plan to steal the sword from the auction wouldn’t have gone anywhere if Clem hadn’t beaten her to it and accidentally set the church on fire.
It should have been Clem.
A crack of thunder overhead made her jump. Dan and Clem didn’t notice, or else they didn’t care. Clem had plugged her phone into the car’s stereo and they were both singing along, loudly and very badly, to the musical’s soundtrack. Rain poured down outside, so thick Edna could no longer see out the window. Everything was a silver-gray blur.
Edna looked down. One of Beatrice’s corners poked out from under the back seat.
“See?” Edna said, nudging the carpet with her foot. “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to fly in this weather?”
Beatrice retreated further under the seat. Edna sighed.
It was still raining when they pulled into a shabby hotel after dark. Dan went out into the hall to take a call from his wife. Beatrice had hidden under one of the beds, to avoid being stepped on. Clem watched television from the doorway to the bathroom, smearing some sort of red goop onto her face until she looked like an extra in a zombie film. Edna sat on the edge of one of the beds, looking at her shoes. She kept telling herself she ought to remove them but made no move to do so.
Clem washed the red goop off her hands, though not her face, and glanced at Edna. “So I was thinking we could do takeout for dinner.”
Edna couldn’t stop staring at her shoes, the sort of black rubber-soled loafers that the nursing home staff preferred residents wear so as to avoid falls. “All right.”
“Do you need the shower?”
The dragon’s blood had come off the shoes more easily than out of her dress, but there were scuff marks all over the toes and the sole of the right shoe was starting to peel away from the rest of it.
Clem stepped closer, hesitated, and then put a tentative hand on her shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Tears welled up in Edna’s eyes. She tried to blink them back, but they sloshed down her face and fell into her lap. Clem patted her shoulder, once, twice, and then let her hand fall back at her side. A sob slipped out before Edna could stop it.
“Oh, dear,” she choked. “Oh—what good did it do?”
“What?” Clem said helplessly, but the tears were in earnest. Edna sat on the bed, shuddering and crying and trying to stop crying, thinking about Amir and Beatrice and the burnt town and townspeople searching for each other in the cave, about Benjamin and her son and—
“I haven’t even called Marguerite!” she burst out at last and started sobbing so hard she couldn’t speak.
Clem sank onto the bed beside her and held her fiercely. If tears were a person, they would have taken one look at the girl and run the other way.
Edna sobbed until she tired herself out and then quieted, hiccupping in Clem’s arms. She still hadn’t taken off her shoes.
“I should have stayed at the nursing home,” she said at last, wearily. She felt about a hundred years old and briefly hoped she wouldn’t actually have to live quite that long. “It didn’t do anything. It didn’t do any good.”
Clem let go of her, stood up, and retrieved tissues from the bedside table. Edna dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose with a honk. The lenses of her glasses were spotted with salt.
“You’re too young,” she said, holding the used tissue in her lap. “You think killing Redway will bring your sister back—don’t you?”
Clem didn’t say anything. The red goop on her face had started to dry, making it look like she was wearing a mask.
“I know you do,” Edna said. “You’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how to get at him, but it won’t do any good. She’s dead.”
The moment the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to take them back, but it was too late. Clem’s jaw tightened, cracking the red mask. Edna dabbed at her nose and waited, prepared for whatever tongue-lashing was about to come.
Instead, Clem said calmly, “I can still stop him from hurting other people.”
“I’m sorry,” Edna said.
Clem sat back down beside her and hugged her knees, resting her chin gingerly on them so as not to smudge her mask on her pajama bottoms.
“What was your son like?” she asked.