Title: Borogravian Dog Days

Summary: Polly, Mal, zombie apocalypse. Creepiest thing I've ever written.

Warnings: M for violence/gore - about what you would expect from the zombie apocalypse. Creepy kisses. Anything else would be spoilery.


Borogravian Dog Days


Only one way to find out. I'm sorry.

Polly had always known they wouldn't get a quiet moment in the end. But she had also assumed it would end quickly, with metal, not with a drawn-out, week-long fever. That it'd be out in the open, not in here behind stone walls that hardly keep the Borogravian dog days out. It's this haze of heat and pain and noise that has filtered Mal's last words to her until they are devoid of meaning. She resents it.

Sorry -

She repeats the words in her head for a while, as if that could make them clearer. But all that is over now. If only Mal were still here. She would be able to reach through the haze. It'd be the cool touch of a thought, the brush of a presence against Polly's fractured mind. And then it'd be gone. But it'd mean she is not alone.

Someone is still talking, what are the odds. How can you not know?, a question that is impossible to answer, even if Polly were having a different sort of day.

But for Polly, it is not really a great time for following conversations. How can you not know? The heat is a thick, insulating wall, and right now she knows nothing.


Later, there are more nightmares like this one. They are heavy with symbolism, as if made deliberately by someone trying to tell her something. Unfortunately, it's something incomprehensible. She rejects it. The nightmares are just debris, cognitive hairballs from trying to digest the apocalyptic mess that her waking hours have become, and in many ways she prefers them. At least they're not real.

Polly blinks awake.

A-po-ca-lyp-tic.

That's five syllables, which is roughly four more than she has been capable of thinking in a row for the last few days. So this must mean -

It might have been a week, but she wouldn't count on that. She finds herself lying face down on the small sofa where Mal has deposited her many days before, her limbs heavy with sleep. Her body is at first disinclined to answer to her commands, but eventually she rises. A bit. She feels lopsided, top-heavy, dizzy. Sits back down for a little while, her feet planted firmly on the floor. Her stomach still aches and she feels sick, but at least her head is so much clearer now the fever's gone.

The windows on the ground floor have been boarded up haphazardly. Inside the small living room, it is almost dark. Funny sorts of shadows are hiding in the corners. Things everywhere, strewn from a now dead Igor's discarded medical pack, bandages, bottles of disinfectant, a bone saw, thread and needles, a drip stand with a tube and venous catheter now swinging freely in the draft. There's a large stain on the carpet; her eyes wander on.

The door to the hallway stands wide open. Darkness beyond.

Her ears, she realises, are ringing with past noise. There has been some sort of fight in the hallway earlier, but when? Five days ago? Five minutes? It is eerily silent now. They must have wandered off.

Or not, she thinks. They could come in any time, there might be one of them under the sofa right now. Her body is unwilling to bend so she can take a look, but she listens for laboured breathing. There's no-one but herself.

We must go, we must -

Where is Mal? She remembers Mal said something through the haze, something about going out to find water. The well in the backyard has bodies decaying in it, she can smell it even from here. When was that? Has Mal come back? Polly has very faint memories of the last days and is not sure what order they go in. Does she wait? What if Mal never comes back?

She hears a creepy sort of noise in the dark.

Right now, both fighting and fleeing seem like equally unappealing options, and Polly is still deciding between them when a lone figure peels away from the shadows in the hallway and enters the room.

Polly has been expecting, even looking for, red. She has to blink twice before she recognises Mal, who has unexpectedly ditched the regimental red for a dark combination she'd last seen her wearing on a trip to the capital, two years ago. Funny, the things you remember.

"Mal, I -"

Mal is staring at her as if she doesn't believe what she's seeing. Granted, it seems improbable, but then none of them have found the time to figure out how this works.

"Mal, I'm -" she tries again, carefully. But how to phrase it? The fever is gone and she has made it through. Mal is not currently torn from limb to limb, so the vampire has probably gathered as much. Why point it out.

But the clothes are really odd. "Why on earth did you take the time to change?" Wearing that narrowly cut suit in a deep, saturated black, Mal is frankly overdressed for the occasion. In stark contrast, her feet are bare.

The vampire takes three soundless steps towards her, still fairly hidden, her face in shadows. "I've been watching them," Mal says. "They go for red cause it sticks out. I don't think they can see very much."

So this is camouflage. "Worked on me," Polly says. "How long have you been here?" She wishes Mal'd look happier to see her, or at least less shocked.

Mal finally takes this moment to cross the distance between them, drops to her knees in front of Polly, who is still sitting on the sofa. "Thank the heavens," Mal says, her voice soft and shaking, her hands cupping Polly's face on either side, thumbs stroking her temples. "I thought I'd lost you, Polly. I thought you'd be gone. After what happened in the hallway -"

She presses cool lips on Polly's forehead, breathes her in. Oh how much Polly has craved this, just a tiny bit of comfort. No, she is not alone. Not yet.

"Wait," she says, not wanting to break the moment. "What happened in the hallway?"

Mal takes away her hands, her touch, and sighs. "Oh Polly," she says. "How can you not know?"


"So sorry for not being here," says Mal.

So the fight hadn't been one of Polly's nightmares. Someone must have got in through the hallway looking for shelter.

By the looks of it, they hadn't found it. Mal is crouching at the feet of the lone discarded figure, an unreadable expression on her face.

"Anyone we know?" Polly asks. Leaning against the doorframe, she still feels sick from the week-long fever, and hasn't allowed herself more than a cursory glance yet.

"Might be, the uniform is obviously Borogravian troops," Mal says. "No pack, no tags, though, and I'm not digging around for insignia. Nothing in her pockets except cigarettes."

"Her pockets?"

Mal grimaces. "Her pockets," she says. "Trust me on this. I will keep these, don't judge me."

Polly judges her anyway. Mal's various addictions, bad to begin with, have become so much worse lately. Pocketing a mostly empty, slightly sticky pack of cigarettes from a corpse is nothing out of the ordinary anymore, but Polly wishes it were.

Polly chances another glance. It's no good. The poor girl on the floor has her narrow chest split wide open, a dark empty cavity where her heart should be, shattered ribs and gnawed insides strewn about. At least they don't have to worry about her coming back; most of her brain is gone along with her face. Not all of it, though, her hair is matted with congealed blood and grey fatty tissue. Next to her lies a blood-spattered crossbow, and even in death, her hand is still reaching for it. An arrow is buried deep in the wooden doorframe, which it must have hit with considerable force.

She must have been good, thinks Polly, if she had made it on her own so far, a full week and then some. But this one miss had turned out deadly.

She realises Mal is looking in the same direction, and is thinking along the same lines. "A miss," Mal says, "or a warning shot."

"A warning shot," Polly say, but even with repetition it doesn't make any more sense. "For zombies?"

"Just thinking aloud," Mal says. "The hallway is about two yards across. If a zombie were to shuffle in your general direction, you'd have to go out of your way not to hit them. I don't know, I guess it's possible. Nervous, hands shaking, sun in your eyes, scared out of your mind, but still, welcome to war." She smiles sadly. "The Duchess's finest. It was deliberate."

"Or maybe there was more than one," says Polly.

"No," says Mal. "Just the one. No fight over the remains."

And that is certainly odd, Polly thinks. Just one is easy. Yes, they are inhumanely strong, and yes, their movements are incredibly fast, but only in isolation. All that strength and speed, but they are too uncoordinated to advance at more than a lopsided shuffle. They need the element of surprise.

Mal unfolds a black embroidered handkerchief from her jacket, places it gently over the skinny girl's head where her face had been. Then, just as gently, she removes her boots, and tries them on. They fit.

"Nothing more we can do here," says Mal, when she gets up from the floor. "You ready to march on?"

Polly thinks, oddly, about burying the skinny girl in the garden among the roses. That is more than most would get these days, but, considering the big picture, it's a drop in the ocean. Then, she thinks about lying down on that sofa again for one more day or two of regeneration, but she recoils at the thought. She feels they urgently need to go, this is not a good place any more after death got this close.

Instead, she listens into her body, and is surprised at the strength she finds. "Yeah," she says. "I'm ready."


They don't have many incidences on the road. The zombies are not as vicious as they were a week ago, now that they have dissipated a bit, stilled that initial violent hunger. They meet a small gathering here and there. Mostly, they can sneak past.

A week ago there had been so many of them, and they had been so, so hungry. The plague had rolled over the army camp for three days and nights. The origins were unclear since so many were dead, but before he died, a corporal on guard duty had reported a dead-eyed civilian stumbling into the camp following a trail of dead birds, and Polly assumes it had snowballed from there. Ironically, it must have been the abundance of weapons that had let the problem get so out of hand - so many survived initially with just a bite or scratch, before succumbing to the fever.

But something else is different now: A week ago, they had been roaming, sniffing out survivors, forming into groups and disbanding again, seemingly without a plan. Now they move as if with a purpose. Where are they all going? Polly is not sure she wants to find out.

She has a feeling she is going to.

Right now she is walking two yards behind Mal. They are going strictly uphill, on two assumptions: A) that it is safer up in the mountains with fewer settlements around; B) that the stumbling zombies may be put off by the difficult terrain. It is almost a good idea. But whereas Mal is gracing the narrow pathway with all the elegance of a former ballet student, the terrain thoroughly kicks Polly's behind. She's been staunchly ignoring the pain in her injured foot for the past twelve miles, but it is quickly becoming impossible.

Mal is brooding.

Granted, the situation is unusually bad. There really is no other word for it. They've lived through the battle of Vijlabarg. After that, she'd never thought she'd miss a little thing like the dead staying dead. But it's just that. A little thing, a tiny switch in the workings of the universe. Someone flipped it and now everything is so much worse than it has ever been.

But Mal, while clearly thinking along similar lines, hasn't said a single word to her ever since they left the house.

After four hours of silence, Polly asks her what's wrong. It's as if she's opened a gate.

"Everything," says Mal, not even looking back. "I can't think! Everything is dead. Don't you feel it? Everything feels wrong, I can feel it in my bones. Under my nails. In my teeth."

"We saw zombies before," says Polly. "You thought they were fairly wrong, too. Remember? Back when we freed Fort Kneck. They turned out all right, though." She doesn't know where she is going with this, she certainly doesn't feel very hopeful.

"Yes," says Mal. "But those didn't go around attacking people. They hung around creeping me out, but they didn't attack and bite and eat and turn. It's different now. You were so sick for a week, Polly, you should have seen yourself! Have you wondered if you are the only one who got better? You've got to think! 'Cause I don't seem to be able to." She kicks a pebble into an abyss.

"I'm probably not," says Polly. "I mean, I can't be the only one. We just never checked back on the others. I bet there are plenty who -"

"Yeah, we left them in the camp with them," says Mal. "Happy thought. Maybe my brain is too small to comprehend all this. I hate it with every last bit of me."

Mal has stopped now, too agitated to walk, looking over the wide stretch of barren land beneath them that hosts the ever-shifting border to Zlobenia, strangely surreal in the twilight.

"Do you see this?" she not so much asks as states. "It's wrong. I haven't seen a bird in a week. The land has gone wrong. And the sky and the sun."

Polly pauses. "I thought it was just me," she admits. The twilight that shouldn't be, it is creeping her out. The sun is high in the sky, undisturbed by clouds, and she stares directly at it, but the sun shines darkly. Everything is full of shadows. She has to concentrate to make out Mal, standing next to her, in the shadows, all in black.

Mal throws her a sideway glance. "So you did notice," she says.

"Nothing is dying anymore," Polly says. "So now everything has to."

"Nicely put," says Mal. "We need to move on. It'll be safer with us up in the -"

Her next move is too quick for Polly to parse, and already the arrow has whizzed past her ear and hjt a target somewhere just behind here with a wet sound. Mal's hand sinks, together with the crossbow she has taken from the skinny dead girl back in the hallway.

Polly turns. It's one of the zombies, who shouldn't have but nonetheless has managed to creep up on her without her even noticing. He's fallen over on his back, and an arrow is sticking out of his forehead, right in the middle.

"Nice shot," she says.

"Thanks," says Mal. "As it turns out, there's a time and place for warning shots." A brief grin, it's gone in a heartbeat.

Polly has noticed something else, though. "I wonder where the fifth arrow is," she says.

Mal has started dragging the body towards the edge of the cliff. "Huh?"

"The crossbow," Polly says. "It has slots for five arrows, but there's only two arrows left. The third is stuck in the doorframe back in the hallway, the fourth is lodged in this gentleman's forehead. Where is the fifth arrow? " They're steel arrows, no-one in their right mind would waste one if they could help it. Certainly not if they're a girl riding it out alone in the middle of the apocalypse.

Unsuccessfully, granted.

"I expect it's hitched a ride sticking out of a zombie somewhere," Mal says. "Hang on. Watch this."

"Watch what?"

Mal gestures her to look over the edge of the cliff. Some fifty yards below, a group of zombies has gathered, feeding on what Polly can only hope is a dead animal. She can't make it out in the shadows.

"Okay, might be risky," says Mal. "But only one way to find out."

"Find out what?"

Polly understands when Mal manoeuvres the body over the cliff edge. It lands smack in the middle of the group.

Altogether, Polly would say the result is fifty-fifty. Three of the zombies start tearing into the unexpected treat. The other three are staring straight up at where it came from.

Straight at Polly.

"Interesting," says Mal.

"Creepy," says Polly.

"They have a concept of cause and effect. An internal model of the world that extends far beyond their immediate space," Mal says. "Certainly explains a lot about the rotten week we've had with them. And yes, creepy."

"Think those three are going to follow us?"

"I figured they couldn't see very well, but maybe they don't have to," Mal goes on. "Yes, I think they're going to follow us, but we have a headstart. As I said, let's go, it'll be safer when we're up in the mountains."

Strange, thinks Polly. They literally just talked about it a minute ago, and still Mal failed to retrieve the arrow before she threw the zombie over the cliff. Only two arrows now.

Polly isn't sure whether she wants to stick around until the end of this peculiar little countdown. She stumbles on, unevenly and still strangely lopsided. Her foot hurts even worse than ever.


If they had thought the day was dark, the night is worse. It is pitch black and the glare of the full moon is not helping. The wind has picked up, though, creating all sorts of strange creaks and rustles in the underwood. There is absolutely no way Polly is lying down to sleep. The house had been bad enough, and that had had a door with a lock. Here, all it takes is one meandering undead creeping up on them against the wind and that will be it.

"I can keep watch," she says.

Mal laughs at that. "Absolutely not," she says. "Six hours ago you didn't even notice a zombie when he breathed down your neck."

"I'm much better now," says Polly. Indeed, she feels great - better than Mal looks, at least. But that's only part of the truth - she doesn't want to fall asleep, because Nuggan only knows what kind of hell she will wake up to. "When was the last time you slept properly?" she adds.

Mal thinks. "A week ago?" she says. "And I had a bit of a liedown this morning. Though nothing much keeps a vampire down. As you know."

Polly certainly knows. Mal likes to sleep when she has the time, but she does exceptionally well with lack of sleep, provided she has enough coffee. But Polly still has that particular trump. "So when's the last time you had coffee?" she says.

"Sweetie," Mal says calmly, and that's not really a word they use between them, "with things progressing the way they do, coffee is not really in the picture anymore."

"There was half a bag in the kitchen when we left," Polly says. Shee can't even remember why she didn't tell Mal about it; must have been distracted. Naturally she must have assumed that Mal had taken it. She had taken the cigarettes, after all.

"It doesn't matter anymore," says Mal. "Because I told you. Everything is wrong. Not just every thing, everything. But look at you, it's all just little things, why are we marching so slowly, why does my foot hurt, where's the fifth arrow, why did Mal not bring the coffee. By Nuggan, you are missing an awfully big picture. Anyway, it gets cold at night. Catch."

Without forewarning, Mal throws something at Polly. The move is too fast for Polly despite her best attempts to catch it, and the bundle sails past her right ear to drop on the chalky ground, almost over the edge of the cliff. When Polly retrieves it, she realises it's a pair of buttoned black velvet gloves rolled together, the same Mal wore when they visited the opera in the capital.

She remembers the opera. Mal by her side, the night out had been incomprehensible, dramatic, a rush of impressions and sound; but that's where the similarities end, because it had also been beautiful. Is there something Mal wants to tell her?

Putting the gloves on seems like an unnecessary chore, and Polly gives up halfway through. She glares at Mal, half in response to her earlier rant (and since when does Mal rant?), and half in confusion (why would Mal bring these to a battlefield? There is only so much free space in a standard-issue army pack, and Mal is usually perfectly happy to fill it with coffee and soap).

Mal sits down cross-legged, near the edge of the cliff overseeing the valley. There is really just one pathway that approaching zombies can take unless they climb up the rocks or come down from the mountains. So far there's no evidence for that.

"So you figured it out," says Polly. "The big picture. Tell me."

"I already told you," says Mal. "This morning. Didn't work, you missed it completely. I think the human mind rejects these terrible truths." She pauses, thinking, then confesses, "Even I was pleading with the world. Though not for long."

Her words sound harsh, but from what Polly can make out in the dark, she mostly just looks worried. So Polly sits down next to Mal, pondering whether there is a way to avoid engaging with this exhausting riddle. She considers just ordering Mal to tell her, but then again it is usually beneficial to let Mal finish whatever intricate plan her brain has come up with.

"You don't expect to live long enough to need coffee again," says Polly. It's a shot in the dark, but under the circumstances, not a bad one.

Mal sighs. "Almost there."

"I don't know you like that," Polly says. "Ranting. Carrying posh gloves in an army pack for miles and miles and miles. Making up riddles. This is the worst we've ever been in. I don't expect to live long, and I'm the optimistic one. But you don't just give up. If there is anything important I should know -"

"I told you," says Mal. "Even worse, I showed you. And then I reminded you. It is up to you to pay attention, so think, Polly. Everything you need to figure it out, you already know."

There is silence between them now, and for a minute, Polly muses why Mal is doing this, why she is dangling such a supposedly huge thing in front of Polly without aim or explanation. As far as Polly is concerned, they are living the terrible truth: a land overrun by the violent undead, with just a tiny chance to warn their loved ones before it's too late - and even then, what could they possibly do about it? She can't imagine anything worse.

She realises she's shaking. Logically, she knows it's a warm summer night. But much as the day's light seemed broken, the warmth doesn't reach her now.

"Human minds," Mal says softly. "Human memories. Such a curious thing. How can you possibly not know?"

"Please don't be like this," Polly says. She has enough of this. Her hand takes Mal's next to her, her fingers slowly sliding up Mal's arm before brushing her face, and turning it towards hers. It's been a week and a bit. She tells herself this could be a tiny comfort, kissing her. It's not even that.

"Don't," says Mal.

Polly's hand sinks. "Why?"

There's a hard look in Mal's eyes. "I told you. Everything's different now, everything's wrong. I am wrong. You are wrong."

It takes considerable effort, pushing these thoughts away, but eventually the strong uneasiness Polly is feeling abates. "I am not wrong," she says, and she believes it.

Even Mal seems convinced despite the simplicity of the argument, because Polly's next attempt to kiss her is successful. Even though Polly can't see much in the dark, she is sure she isn't just imagining the tiny smirk on Mal's face a second before the vampire finally yields to her. It's so familiar kissing her: warm, sharp, a bit unsettling. Polly's body still feels a bit out of focus, but she's getting used to it and doesn't even fall over, even though there's nothing to balance her on the other side -

Wait. What?

Polly recoils as a vivid image flashes up: the skinny girl in the hallway, head turned inside out, glistening brain tissue and black congealed blood.

She pulls back and Mal is still smirking.

"You cut off my arm!" Polly shouts. Naturally, the first impulse is to attack, even though she feels the absurdity throughout - why this, why now, what took her so long -

Mal raises a lazy hand, somehow turns Polly's momentum against her, and pins her hand against the ground. "Finally noticed, didn't you?" Mal says. "I cut it off a week ago."

Unable to move much, Polly turns her head towards her right shoulder. Her arm has been sawed off above the elbow, not neatly from what her nerve endings are telling her, now that she listens to them. The stump is bandaged tightly with the knotted-up coat sleeve over it. She remembers it a bit now. The big stain on the carpet. Her screams. Mal holding her down, strong and cruel.

There are a million questions even if Polly doesn't go near the one on how she possibly didn't notice for a full week. The first one that comes to mind is why, only with more swear words.

"I was trying to stop the infection from spreading," says Mal. "I have a feeling that it's why we're having this conversation, odd as it is."

The second question is why Mal hadn't told her.

"Good question," says Mal. "I was about eighty per cent trying to be delicate, but admittedly, twenty per cent increasingly curious how long it would take you. I mean, you tried catching the gloves with a non-existent hand and putting them on. That was hilarious."

The third question is what this all meant.

"I think you know," says Mal, and she looks so sad all of a sudden. "Do I need to spell it out?"

It's an offer, and Polly is so, so tempted to take it, because then she can curl up and sleep, Mal will take watch, and tomorrow they will start going home, and Mal will be by her side until the end, as she promised years ago. Everything will be all right in Munz. She can't imagine zombies there. Or if they are there, she can imagine fighting them there. They will not touch her or her loved ones ever again.

Polly's remaining hand clenches and unclenches, playing with the surplus glove, and she realises she can't. Everything is wrong, she feels it in her bones. "I have got to know, Mal," she says. "This is unbearable."

"If I tell you," says Mal softly, sadly, "this will be goodbye."

"Everything is dying," says Polly. "Death was always going to be bigger than us, wasn't it? Maybe it's time." Polly doesn't even know where these words are coming from. Something inside her has resigned itself to a terrible fate, and there's nothing left but a sick curiosity as to what shape it is.

"You were always going to die before me, you mean," says Mal. She shrugs. "But hey. Everything else is wrong, why not this."

"Tell me," says Polly.

"I'll show you," says Mal.

She takes up the dead girl's crossbow expertly, points it at Polly. It's all so quick that Polly hasn't even time to flinch away from the arrow that cuts through the air half an inch from her ear. Only one left now.

"Remember?" says Mal.

Polly's eyes narrow. "What was that?" Despite herself, she remembers something, even if it is just a haze of fever and noise.

"I told you," says Mal. "A warning shot. One step closer and -"

"And what?"

"Apparently, another warning shot. This one didn't do anything," says Mal. "Found the fifth arrow yet?"

Polly has a nagging feeling she's going to find it in a minute. She acutely feels her injured right foot, awkwardly crossed over her left knee. It has been hurting her all day.

She's not looking down. Of all the things, she couldn't have missed this. Not an arrow sticking out of her foot. Right?

Think.

"You think I killed the girl in the hallway," she says tonelessly.

"No," says Mal, and for a moment everything is all right.

And then everything is wrong again. "I know you killed the girl in the hallway," Mal adds. "I'm sorry. I was there."

There is silence for a moment. It's a terrible truth, but at once Polly understands it for what it is: the truth. Mal wouldn't lie to her.

"We should have known," Mal continues. "The fever. I think Igor understood it, he explained it to me before he died. There can only be two outcomes: you die, or you turn. You don't just get better. I guess I was hoping a little too much, and I'm sorry. I should have ended this when I still could."

"Okay," says Polly, taking deep, rasping breaths. Her lungs hurt. "So maybe I did that. Something was wrong with me this morning, maybe I -"

It's so, so dark, she can barely see Mal anymore.

"But I got better after," Polly says. "I feel fine. The fever is gone, I'm walking around. I'm running from them. I see the world, and I see what you see: that it is going dark. I'm going to save my family. I'm talking to you. They don't talk, Mal!"

"Oh Polly," says Mal. "You couldn't have got that more wrong." She's sad again, and Polly wishes now she had taken her up on her offer earlier. To ignore and forget and carry on.

Because this is goodbye. She can't see Mal be okay with this, with her, ever again.

"The logic is sound," says Polly. "I can't be one of them. I'm alive, I think clearly, I see what you see, I'm talking to you."

Mal just looks at her, and at this moment Polly realises that none of the zombies they'd met since this morning had been interested in Mal at all. Maybe they sensed the undead, maybe they thought it wouldn't be tasty. A myriad of reasons presents themselves.

"Polly," says Mal. "My love. I am so, so sorry. Of all the lies you have been telling yourself, this has got to be the worst."

"What lie?" she asks.

Mal exhales. "That I'm still alive."

Polly stares at her, feeling choked. But she remembers. The first warning shot. The second warning shot. The skinny girl retreating into the hallway, dropping her crossbow.

"I'm sorry I didn't stop you in the hallway," says Mal. "But I couldn't just shoot you in the head. I had to know if you're still in there."

Only one way to find out. I'm sorry. Polly remembers. The ghostly touch of fingers against her temples even as she tried clawing at the skinny girl's face with one hand. The brush of a presence against Polly's fractured mind.

How can you not know? So much sorrow. For her, for the Polly that was in there, lost and hiding amidst the heat and pain and noise. So much pain she'd felt in Mal's mind then. So little resolve to end this.

An opening in the defence.

"That's how I'm still here for you." Mal smiles darkly. "It'll pass. I'm sorry, but you'll be alone soon."

Sorry.

The skinny girl in the red coat, lying dead and destroyed in the hallway. No pack, no tags, because she'd left them in the kitchen when she went out. Just a sodden pack of cigarettes. A pair of boots that fit Mal perfectly.

Polly looks at her, but it's so dark. There's nothing, nothing. Now that the truth is out in the open, it is too terrible to even think about, and so Polly doesn't. It is surprisingly easy to disengage.

Polly gets up. Mal is lost, yes, but her family is still alive, and they'll need her. The world is going dark, and by Nuggan Polly will be there for Paul and Shufti and little Jack.

She leaves Mal at the cliff, turning over the last remaining arrow in her pale hands, still and silent now that Polly can hardly bear to think about her. Think for her. Had she only been talking to herself? It doesn't even matter, because everything is wrong. This, too.

She's not looking back. Polly walks and walks, down from the mountains where Mal said it was safe, and it hurts, but she doesn't stop until she joins the army of the undead, her former comrades, her comrades anew. They're heading for the inner country, towards the only place they can remember now.

Heading home.