The Twelve #2(36)


    She awoke to the cold and a vision of stars. Stars by the hundreds, the thousands, the millions. Stars in their slow turning, pinwheeling over her face, and some of them were falling. Alicia watched them fall, counting off the seconds. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. She tallied the durations of their descents as they plunged across the heavens, and in so doing she came upon the understanding that the world was where she’d left it and she was still alive.
    How could she be alive?
    She sat upright. Who knew what time it was. The moon had set, dipping the sky in blackness. Nothing had changed; she was just the same.
    And yet:
    Alicia, come to me.
    The sound of her name, whispered on the wind.
    Come to me, Alicia. The others are gone, you will be my one. Come to me come to me come to me …
    She knew whose voice this was.
    Alicia climbed from the culvert. Fifty feet away, Soldier was grazing on a frosted stand of weeds. At the sound of her emergence, he lifted his head: Ah, there you are; I was beginning to wonder. His great hooves tossed clumps of white as he ambled toward her with his powerful gait.
    —You good boy, she said. She caressed his muzzle, his breath filling her palms with a scent of earth. You splendid, noble boy. How well you know me. I guess we’re not done, after all.
    Her pack was lying in the culvert. She had no gun, but the bandoliers were there, blades tucked into their sheaths. She pulled the leather straps over her chest and cinched them tight to her frame. She climbed on Soldier’s naked back and clicked her tongue, turning him east.
    Come to me, Alicia. Come to me come to me come to me …
    You’re damn right I will, she thought. Leaning forward, his great mane filling her hands, she heeled Soldier to a trot, then a canter, and finally a gallop, wild through the snow.
    You bastard. Here I come.

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