In order to provide context, I am posting the entirety of Chapter 3 now. I apologize to everyone who is now grumbling about "having to re-read stuff". These things happen when one is essentially liveblogging the novel-writing process. Still there is new stuff here, so I encourage you all to read it again.
Chapter 3: LULZ is the law, LULZ under LOL
It wasn't until much later that Teresa learned the exploding cat had actually been a plush toy with a stun grenade stuffed inside. Surprised and off-balance, the force of the flash-bang beneath her knocked her up and over, the right side of her torso striking the edge of the table with enough force to make her wince.
As she fell, the serrated pain of a cracked rib tearing inward from bone to lung to tumor, she knew -- with an animal certainty which bypassed all thought -- that everyone in the dining room had seen the flash and heard the bang. They had shared the experience. They were all interconnected with her.
They had all been breathing her air, just like the inmates at Frontera.
The magic flared within her at the speed of instinct, burning from her tumor outward through the searing pain in her side, spreading her blindness and deafness and disorientation across a network of arcane second-hand smoke and into the two dozen customers and waitstaff.
As one, the entire population of the restaurant coughed wetly. Their lifetime chances of contracting cancer increased by a statistically significant percentage.
And then Teresa could act again, shoulder-rolling as she hit the floor, coming up into a kind of half-crouch. She could see the girl crouched beneath the table, wiping her mouth with the left sleeve of a bright pink cardigan, right hand buried inside a matching vinyl purse-slash-tote bag. Their eyes met.
The girl looked to be about 12 years old, but the eyes that looked back at Teresa weren't those of a child. They were hard and deep and dark, as black as her glossy Asian hair, a gaze made of obsidian knives. They were the sockets that remained after her innocence had been scooped out with a melon baller.
They were the same eyes Teresa had seen in the mirror every day for the past twenty years.
"OH HAI THAR," the girl exclaimed, and pulled a pistol from her bag. It was the exact same shade of obnoxious pink as her purse, except in anodized aluminum, and the kitty face painted along its extended barrel matched the picture on the girl's dress. She cocked her head to the side and smiled brightly, waving cheerfully with her left hand as the laser spot under the gun barrel traced a hot pink line to Teresa's heart.
"U DIEZ NAO KTHXBAI."
The gun made a soft mewing sound as it fired. Pain blossomed inside Teresa's chest, twice, and then she was falling face-first onto the carpet, oblivion thundering upon her like an oncoming train.
"LOL," announced the girl. "ENDCAT HAZ ENDED JOO." She pivoted smoothly to her left, humming tunelessly as she took careful aim at the still-stunned Esther's head.
Yarrow gasped. "You… !" He was on the floor next to Esther, his hands clawing at the clutter of the broken dishes around him in a feeble attempt to end his disorientation. The girl brightened visibly at this, squatting by his head to regard him curiously, pervious target forgotten. Her grin was feral, her slender body quivering with predatory glee.
"YA ME RLY." She wasn't shouting, but every word that came from her mouth seemed to be at full volume. She poked him in the cheek with the muzzle of her pink kitty pistol. The action was careless, whimsical, like a child poking a strange object with a stick. "WAT U WANT? U CAN HAZ LAST WISH."
Yarrow blinked, trying to resolve the rosy haze above him into some kind of recognizable form. Teresa had taken the brunt of the blast, stretched over the table to throttle him, but even so his proximity to an exploding stun grenade had sent him reeling. And yet despite the roaring in his ears, he was still able to hear the pink catgirl assassin with perfect clarity.
"I… can haz?" he stammered. The young fool seeks me, he remembered. Youthful Folly has success. He thought for a moment, then swallowed hard. "Can I wish that you don't kill me?"
The girl smiled fiercely, and with a casual swipe of her hand broke Yarrow's nose with the butt of her gun. His scream of pain only seemed to excite her, her butt wriggling back and forth as if she possessed an invisible tail and was twitching it from side to side. "SILLEH BUNNEH," she cooed. "IF I NO KILL U THEN IZ NOT LAST WISH. AMIRITE?"
"Just stop hitting me!" he screamed. Her smile widened and she aimed the gun at his head. "Oh crap," he squeaked, mouth suddenly very dry as the blurred form of the barrel slid into his field of view.
(On the other side of the restaurant, a short-order cook who had been smoking all his adult life coughed twice, clutched his chest, and died as the burgeoning tumor within his lungs increased a thousandfold in volume before metastasizing and devouring his heart. He was thirty-two.)
Youthful Folly has success. At the first oracle I inform. "Cheeseburger!" shouted Yarrow.
The girl's body went rigid. "WAT U SAY?" she demanded through clenched teeth. The muzzle of her gun visibly wavered in front of Yarrow's face, her muscles nearly vibrating with barely-controlled tension. The feral Cheshire grin was gone, replaced by a far more human expression of indecision.
"Cheeseburger," he said with increasing confidence. "This is a restaurant. They make cheeseburgers. They're over there." He pointed in the general direction of the kitchen. "You Can Haz," he directed, with as much conviction as he could muster.
At the first oracle I inform.
Behind them, Teresa's body spasmed, as if CPR were being administered through repeated vicious kicks to her chest. Nicotine roared through her bloodstream, jump-starting her body with the fierceness of a habit that would not, could not, be denied. Roaring darkness receded from the edge of her vision, the cancer magic sparing her in exchange for claiming the life of the cook.
"Fine," spat the child. The hollow boom in her voice was gone, replaced by the normal soprano pitch of a preteen girl. She squared her shoulders and drew another pistol from her bag. Even with the second gun, she seemed diminished in some way. "I don't need the LOLcat to finish this." Next to them, Esther moaned.
Teresa felt like she had just walked up thirty flights of stairs. There was a concrete block inside her chest, and each breath was agony. Her arms were wooden, her fingers lifeless cigarettes. Her mouth tasted of ash and the stink of burnt filters filled her nostrils. Her eyes ached with the yellow-brown stain of nicotine. She thought she might vomit.
The girl's back was to Teresa, rising from beside Yarrow's head to a firing position. Her twin pistols were tracing dual pink lines towards the center of Esther's chest. "The Godcaller dies first," the child said to Yarrow. "Then you. And then I Can Haz Cheezburger."
Tommy would be about Yarrow's age, Teresa realized. Another dumb kid, another mother's precious son, another stupid, senseless death…
The rage returned. In that moment the tired, half-dead Teresa was gone, consumed by all the anger and the guilt and the rage of the past two decades. Her nausea was forgotten, burnt away by the rush of emotion. What remained was something pure, primal in its direction and purpose. "Bitch," spat the Camel, pulling the lighter from her pocket to hold before her face. A flame the color of hemorrhagic blood licked into life.
"I will fucking smoke your ass."
She exhaled sharply, and the air before the cancer mage wrinkled as serpentine tendrils of heat writhed towards the catgirl. The child shimmered slightly, the haze wreathing her in an infernal halo, and then she was shrieking as every hair smoldered, every piece of plastic melted and every scrap of clothing on her body threatened to combust.
The girl crumpled into a fetal, screeching ball, the smell of scorched flesh crawling up Camel's nose. For an instant it all seemed intensely familiar, sickening and yet somehow terribly delicious.
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