Mixt stood by the side of the road. There were no cars in sight. There were fields, trees and hedgerows, but no traffic. She didn't know what to do. Nakishdan was bleeding in her arms and there was no way to call for help. She didn't know how close the nearest hospital was, or even in which direction. She turned to Fourteen Trees.
'Move us somewhere else. Somewhere we can get help.'
Fourteen trees shook her head. She seemed frightened. 'I can't. 102 Woo are hunting for us. They're only a year away and they're scanning in every direction. One move and they'll be here instantly.'
'We'll have to risk it.'
Rainith the Red, in her small fairy size, lay in Geeda Lala's hands. She was still bleeding badly. Noutan's sword had gone right through her. She opened her eyes and looked up at Geeda. When she spoke, her voice was a tiny whisper.
'My bag. Open it.'
Geeda fumbled to open Rainith's canvas bag.
'The yellow pot.'
Geeda found a tiny pot. It looked like something from a children's tea party. She opened it. It was almost empty, with a faint golden residue clinging to the bottom.
'What is it?'
'The Fairy King's special nectar. Put it on our wounds.'
Rainith's eyes closed. She was deathly pale. So was Nakishdan, though the red stain on his kimono was still spreading. Geeda Lala dipped her index finger in the pot, taking up the very last of Rainith's supply of the Fairy King's special nectar, given to her a long time ago by her friend Princess Sowena. She undid Rainith's work-shirt, exposing the ugly wound in her stomach, then touched the wound with her finger, putting a little of the nectar directly onto the punctured skin. She turned the fairy over and placed a tiny spot on her back. Geeda looked at Nakishdan. There had hardly been enough nectar even for the fairy. All that was left was a faint smear of golden liquid on her finger.
'Open his kimono.'
Mixt pulled it open. Geeda Lala touched the fairy nectar to the wound in his chest. There was so little of the substance it seemed hopeless, even if it had any effect on humans.
'There's a car coming,' cried Fourteen Trees. Without hesitation, Mixt scooped up Nakishdan and walked into the middle of the road. The car, a large, elderly, saloon, came to a halt. The driver, also elderly, poked his head out the window.
'We need to get to a hospital right away,' As Mixt spoke, she tensed, ready to drag the man from his car and steal the vehicle if he declined to assist. It didn't come to that. The driver, seeing the bleeding and unconscious Nakishdan, got out and helped Mixt lay him in the back seat. Mixt sat beside him, her hand pressed on the wound, still trying to slow the bleeding. Fourteen Trees and Geeda Lala leapt in. Geeda still held Rainith, now concealed beneath her coat.
'The hospital's not far away,' sad the elderly man, and put the car into gear.
On the operating table, Nakishdan dreamed. The first time he'd met Mixt, she'd been stuck on a pavement. He'd observed her standing awkwardly, looking around, apparently unable to decide where to step next.
'Can I help?' he'd asked, quite gallantly.
Mixt, who at that time had much longer hair, looked at him in a puzzled sort of way. 'I don't think so.'
There seemed to be no obvious reason why the young woman was unable to make any progress, though she definitely gave the impression of someone who was stuck.
'What's the problem?'
'I think I stepped on a crack. But I'm not sure. Now I don't know whether to even things up and step on another crack with my opposite foot. That might work. But it would be a bad idea if I didn't step on a crack in the first place.' Mixt screwed up her face. For a moment Nakishdan thought she might be about to cry. He looked along the pavement. The paving stones didn't extend very far. The next stretch of pavement was covered in tarmac, with no cracks to worry about.
'You almost made it to safety.'
'I know. It's very frustrating.'
Nakishdan smiled. 'Would you like me to carry you?'
'Yes!' said Mixt.
'Weren't you serious?'
'Eh, not really.'
'Then you must be a horrible person.'
Nakishdan regarded this as unfair, and a slur on his gallantly. He picked up Mixt and carrier forward over the paving stones, depositing her on the tarmac.
'Do you think maybe you're taking this too far?' said Nakishdan.
'What do you mean?'
'Not stepping on cracks on paving stones. I mean, it's not the law or anything.'
'It's very important. Many people agree.'
'I don't think they do.'
'Really?' Mixt eyed Nakishdan with some annoyance. 'It's practically a scientific fact. Well-attested with literary support.
Whenever I walk in a London street
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, 'Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all of the squares!'
Nakishdan frowned. 'Who wrote that?'
'A. A. Milne.'
'The man who wrote Winnie the Pooh? I don't think you're under any obligation to follow his advice. It's not like he was a great philosopher or anything.'
'He knew what he was talking about.'
'He just wrote about a stupid bear.'
Mixt glared at Nakishdan. 'I don't like you at all. I regret letting you carry me.' With that she turned on her heel to leave. Two steps down the pavement, she halted again.
Nakishdan raised his eyebrows. 'What's the matter now?'
'I just stood on an awkwardly placed leaf.'
'Are you stuck again?'
'I may be.'
'Your life must be hell,' said Nakishdan, and looked around for another leaf for Mixt to stand on, to even things up.
Geeda Lala, who'd seen Noutan's sword go right through Rainith, feared for her life, but by the time they arrived at the hospital, the fairy was recovering. The Fairy King's special nectar was a potent substance, capable of reviving a fairy from almost any injury. Rainith's wounds had closed and the bleeding had stopped. She was healthy enough to talk, though she remained in her small fairy size while she recovered, still hidden beneath Geeda's coat. Sitting in the hospital's waiting room, Geeda peeked inside her coat and whispered.
'Can I get you anything?'
Rainith shook her head. She just needed to rest, and let the nectar do its work. Geeda noticed the scar on her face. It was a long, livid red mark. Rainith usually hid it with the spell Origath the Herbalist had given her, but after the battle with the Elf, she lacked the strength to maintain it. Seeing Rainith so small and fragile under her coat, Geeda Lala had an urge to stroke her hair, or perhaps even pat her head, but she restrained herself, knowing that Rainith would hate it. After the unfortunate events of the day, she was half-expecting Rainith to explode with anger as soon as she was well enough. Rainith however seemed depressed rather than angry.
'I heard Fourteen Trees say we're stuck in 1971.'
Geeda nodded. 'She can't risk moving us again. We'll need to hide here for a while.'
Rainith sighed. 'I'll never see the Sex Pistols.'
'We'll get there eventually. Why did that Elf attack you?'
Rainith didn't offer an explanation. She already knew that she would kill Noutan at the first opportunity, but didn't want to talk about it.
'When I was falling to the ground I heard the Doors playing on the main stage. I'm glad that wasn't the last thing I heard. What an awful epitaph that would have been.'
'When you get better you can write your special festival edition of Fairies Hate You, said Geeda Lala, encouragingly. 'And give them a really bad review.'
Rainith shut her eyes. Geeda could see she was recovering. Colour had returned to her features, and her breathing was normal.
Fourteen Trees appeared in the waiting room. 'No news of Nakishdan. He's still in the operating theatre. He lost a lot of blood.' Fourteen Trees looked glum 'I can't believe Nineteen Stars betrayed us. After all the hats we've made together. Why does she want to go to 106 Junior?'
'It's the richest school on the planet.'
'I hate them.' Fourteen Trees looked round the waiting room. It was dowdy, with battered, elderly furniture, and scuffed linoleum on the floor. 'It looks like we'll be stuck in 1971 for a while. I wonder what it's like?'
'Really terrible.' Rainith opened her eyes. 'Some of the worst music ever. Rick Wakeman joined Yes, and it was all downhill from there.'
Nakishdan was still unconscious. He dreamed he was in Star Metal City. Mixt didn't seem to be around. He was here on his own. He had a very bad feeling about this, though he wasn't sure why. He caught sight of his reflection in the window of a shop that sold anti-gravity boots. He was bleeding from several wounds, though he couldn't remember suffering any injuries.
His reflection spoke to him. 'You'll be trapped here some day.'
His reflection shrugged. 'Who knows how? But you'd better be ready.'
Nakishdan was troubled. He'd never been here without Mixt. He wondered where she was. He found himself walking up an alleyway. At the end of the alley was a small metal container, almost buried under a pile of uncollected junk. Nakishdan knew that no one ever looked in these old containers. No one even knew what they were for. Just some old, forgotten part of the city landscape. He checked his inventory, then took out two laser pistols and hid them in the metal container. If he and Mixt were ever trapped in Star Metal City, at least they might find some weapons.
Nakishdan walked back to the main street. When he looked at his reflection again he felt dissatisfied. His eyes were dull, and lacking colour.
Nakishdan opened his eyes very suddenly. Mixt was sitting by the bed, anxiously watching him.
'You're awake! I was so worried!'
'We have to try the super big eyes make-up tutorial by Haruka Kurebayashi.'
'Well yes, of course,' agreed Mixt. 'Though I wasn't expecting that to be the first thing you said.'
'She can do amazing things with false eyelashes and eye shadow.'
'She can. But we can't do it here. It hasn't happened yet. We're in 1971. We'll be here for a while.'
'OK.' Nakishdan frowned. 'What's the second part of that poem you like?'
'The really stupid one about walking on lines on the pavement.'
Mixt smiled. She looked very young, as young as she'd looked the first time Nakishdan met her.
And the little bears growl to each other,
As soon as he's silly and steps on a line.'
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It's ever so portant how you walk.
And it's ever so jolly to call out, 'Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!'
Nakishdan nodded, then closed his eyes again, and drifted off to sleep quite peacefully.