“Look out!” said Micron. He was looking behind us, so I looked too and saw another warrior approaching; it must have been the one who had avoided crashing earlier. His steed was taking off, and glancing up I saw others circling… evidently either Nemvex or his troops didn’t want to risk us damaging their rides.

Troll swung his maul in big, lazy circles, as the warrior nearest him approached, sword at the ready.  I just had time to see Troll draw back for a smash before the other one squared off against me.  I had my sword in hand, though I didn’t remember drawing it, so I took a step forward and engaged him.

We traded blows.  He was very strong, and I found it easier to dodge than to parry.  He took advantage of that, trying to circle, but I knew what he was up to… there was no way I’d let him make me turn my back on Nemvex.  I could almost feel that long thin sword stabbing into my back, just thinking about it.

When he failed to make me turn around, my opponent stepped up his attack, swinging his sword in great arcs, driving me backward.  He was overextending, I knew that much, and I began to see a pattern in his attacks; I waited for my opportunity, dodged a huge backhand swing, then stepped in and stabbed at the right shoulder joint of his armor.

I scored.  My sword jammed deep into the gap between the plates, and he let out a single grunt of pain.  I was very close to him then… I could see his face through the T-shaped slit in his helmet.  His skin was black, not black like someone of African heritage, but black as night.  Black as Nemvex.  Even his teeth, bared in a grimace of hate and pain, were black, and his eyes were entirely black.  I could smell his breath, and it was bad, like ammonia and rotten onions.

I was aware of all of that in a single moment as my sword struck home.  I gave my sword a pull to free it… and failed.  It was stuck.  More than that, ignoring the pain, my opponent had actually curled his right arm toward me, pinning the sword with his armor.  His grimace turned somehow to wicked, predatory glee, and I admit, I panicked.  I held on to the sword with both hands, swung my feet up and planted them on his breastplate, and I pulled hard, but it still wouldn’t come out.  I heard a clatter behind me; startled, I relaxed my pulling, and at that moment the warrior smashed me in the face with his iron-gloved left hand.

I fell to the hard pavement of the plaza, honestly dazed by the power of his strike.  I was trying to get my bearings, but I was dizzy… and I saw him lifting one heavy iron boot, ready to stomp down on me.

As I tried to scramble out of the way, my hand fell on a sword.  His sword… he had dropped it when I stabbed his shoulder.  I realized that must have been the clatter I heard.  Quickly I grabbed the sword and made a wild swing with it, trying to deflect his boot, but the sword just bounced off his iron-covered leg.

The whole fight had felt like it was happening in slow motion, and his boot was coming down on me the same way… it was going to hurt, that much I was sure.  He was just so strong.

His helmet went flying off of his head, which snapped backward in the same instant.  The huge iron boot landed with a clang right beside my face.

I jumped to my feet even as he toppled to the ground.  “You okay?” said Micron, seemingly appearing from thin air… but of course, he had thrown his body into my opponent’s face, through the slit in the helmet, and knocked him clear out.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I said, looking around quickly.  Micron’s opponent, the one who had come up behind us, was lying flat on his back; it was obvious Micron hadn’t had much trouble with him.  Troll was still trading blows with his opponent, and it looked like he might be getting the upper hand… the last of the black knights seemed to be falling back, barely able to parry Troll’s mighty swings.

But then I realized, Troll had fallen for the trick I had not… his back was turned to Nemvex.  He was stepping forward, his slim black sword appearing in his hand, and as he advanced he drew back his long arm, making ready to stab Troll in the back.

“Troll, look out!” I yelled, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to react in time.  At that same moment Micron began to run toward Nemvex, but he wouldn’t get there in time either.

I still had the warrior’s sword in my hand; without a thought, I threw it with a slashing motion, and it spun end-over-end as it flew toward Nemvex.

The scene seemed to be in slow motion again… Nemvex’s arm beginning its forward thrust, Micron running, the sword I threw spinning through the air, and Troll still fighting the last black knight.

My aim was true.

The sword hit Nemvex a glancing blow, the hilt striking his shoulder, but that was enough to throw off his aim.  His sword stabbed past Troll, missing him; at that same moment, Troll finally got past the knight’s guard, smashing him in the head with his maul.  Micron leapt, and as he flew toward Nemvex he shrank; his whole weight, a couple of hundred pounds at least, hit Nemvex like a bullet.  Micron literally went right through his chest.

Troll swung around, his maul held level, smashing it into Nemvex’s outstretched right arm.  Nemvex lost his grip, and his slim black sword went flying, clattering to the pavement with a strangely distant sound.

Nemvex began to fall backward, but before he hit the brick pavement he evaporated into smoke.

For a long moment, the three of us just stood there, looking all around.  The three knights were unmoving, dead as far as I could see.  I was careful as I approached the one whose armor held my sword prisoner.  I braced myself for a hard pull, but it came out easily.  There was no blood on the blade… I bent down for a closer look, but just then Troll said, “Uh, guys… we have company.”

I looked up and saw that the blue men were beginning to trickle into the plaza.  “What do you suppose they’re going to do?” asked Micron.

“I dunno, but I don’t think we really need to wait to find out,” I said.  “Come on.”  As I trotted toward the archway, I saw Nemvex’s sword lying on the pavement where he had dropped it.  Curious, I shifted my sword to my left hand, then picked it up.  It felt good in my hand, its weight and balance somehow perfect.

“Trophy?” said Micron.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’d look good on my wall, don’t you think?”

“Guys,” said Troll, and I saw there were more blue men… and for the first time, they were looking at us.

Without any further delay, I stepped forward and stuck my sword through the archway.  Sunlight streamed through it, bright in the shadowy plaza, and a hot breeze blew in that smelled of asphalt and car exhaust.

Nemvex’s sword just kind of evaporated in the sunshine.  “Guess I won’t be hanging it on my wall,” I said, stepping through the arch into a hot San Francisco afternoon.

Troll and Micron followed me, and we stood guard for about a minute I think, until the gateway closed.  I didn’t want any of the blue men following us… somehow it didn’t seem like a good idea, though I couldn’t have told you why.

Micron said, “Mystery Woman, don’t forget your mask.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks,” I said.

As I slipped off my backpack to look for it, he continued, “Would you mind helping me out?  I don’t want to risk anyone seeing me.”

“Sure, I guess,” I said.  “You can ride in my backpack.”

“Thanks,” he said.  I got my mask on, and he held up my backpack for me to put it back on.  Then he was sitting on top of it, maybe three inches tall and weighing basically nothing.  “Can we go somewhere private?” he asked, his voice sounding like he’d been breathing helium.  “If it’s been as long as you say… I don’t want my wife to know I’m back until I get my bearings.”

“I understand,” I said.  “I know it’s going to be hard.  If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.”

“I just wish I had pants right now,” said Troll.  The bright silk “kilt” he was wearing was torn to shreds… it was almost gone, in fact.  “I left a couple of pairs at GHQ in case I needed them, but we’re a long way from there right now.”

“Well, maybe we need a pickup,” I said.  “I’ll call Gina.”  I pulled out my earpiece and worked it under my mask, then pressed the button.  Nothing.  “Huh, not working,” I said.  I pulled my G-comm out of my boot and pressed the button, but it didn’t work either.  “How about yours?” I said, looking at Troll.

“It’s in your backpack,” he replied.

“I’ll get it,” said Micron.  I heard the zipper, then I felt my backpack shake as he crawled inside.  “Got it,” he said after a moment, and I reached over my shoulder, took it from him and handed it to Troll.

He pushed the button.  “Nope, doesn’t work.”

“Well, heck,” I said.  I reached into my other boot, pulled out my cell phone, and turned it on.  “I’ve got signal.  Hang on, I’ll phone a friend.”

I called Zoe.  “Hey, we’re back!”

“Polly!” she replied.  “Did you do it?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’ll tell you all about it later.  My, um, friend… the big guy… he has a little problem.  He needs some pants.”

“I’ve seen his pants.  I’d call that a big problem.  I mean, it’s not like my stretchiest yoga pants are going to fit him.”

“Ha,” I replied.  “I know there’s nothing that big in either of our closets.  No, just grab that army blanket we used when we moved and bring it to us.”

“You’re in that park, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.

It took her a while to get to us in the middle of the afternoon; it was a good thing the trees were so thick around the outside of the park (or yard, or whatever, to this day I still don’t know who owns it).  We sat down in a circle near the arch to wait; Micron resumed normal size, which was a good thing since I had to hold back a laugh every time he spoke in that gerbil voice.

“It’s been twenty years, right?”

I nodded.  “More or less.”

“So did I miss much?” he asked.

“Hoo boy,” said Troll, leaning back against a tree.

Zoe showed up almost an hour later.  “Hello?  Mystery Woman?”

“Back here in the trees,” I replied.

Zoe walked into the small clearing and said, “Oh, you’ve got company.”

As Troll took the blanket from her and wrapped it around himself, I said, “Micron, this is Zoe.  Zoe, meet Micron.”

They shook hands.  “How’d you end up playing sidekick?” he asked.

She laughed.  “It’s a long story.”

“So what are we doing?” I said.  “Going to HQ, or what?”

“That’s where I’m going,” replied Troll.  “Need to get some pants, and a fresh G-comm I guess.”

“I need someplace to stay,” said Micron.  “I don’t have any money, and I’m a long way from St. Louis.”

“GHQ has rooms,” I said.  “You can stay there while you figure out what to do next.”

“I’m ready,” said Troll.  I turned and saw him wadding up the remaining silk.

“Very manly,” I said, and Zoe laughed.