Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 18
The Cyneweard stared down the barrel held to his face but did not answer.
"I guess not. Not exactly their style. You don't look like a tribesman either. An inside job maybe? Did we wrong you somewhere? Kept your wages too long?"
"Glad you took the bait. We had to have all of our secretaries walking alone for days. And now, I'm the lucky one who gets to take care of you."
Calor had no time to react to the punch. When the man's fist met his temple, Calor spun to the right and fired off a shot. He shot out an arm to catch himself on a small table and spun back to face his opponent.
The Cyneweard was bolting for the office door. Calor raised the slugthrower and fired. The fleeing burglar fell to the ground.
"Hard to move once one of these hits you, huh?" Calor laughed and began walking towards the fallen.
His adversary was groaning and rolling on the ground, gripping his side. A blossom of blood sprouted on the wooden floor.
"You'll be a nice prize when the Chairman gets back from the funerary. Maybe you'll still be alive by then. We can get some answers."
Hot pain shot up his leg. Calor looked down and found a small knife sticking out from just below his knee. It wiggled. He looked back to his opponent. The man had sat up, free arm extended. He wore no expression.
Calor's knee buckled and, as he fell to his wounded knee, the slughthower slid from his grip and bounced away, skittering across the floor. He grunted in pain and watched as the enemy stood, blood flowing freely from the man's side.
"I'll see Parton soon enough," said Calor's adversary.
"Not if we track you down," Calor spat through gritted teeth and began to stand, nerves scorching in his injured leg.
The interloper shuffled forward and grabbed Calor by the jaw with his free hand.
"You are not marked by me, but you are dangerously close."
Calor spat in the man's face. "You're marked by me," he yelled and swung a fist into his enemy's side, right above the slug hole.
The grip on his jaw loosened and Calor fell to the side, towards where he had seen the slugthrower come to rest. The man tried to follow him but was held up by the hole in his side. More of his lifesblood hit the floor.
Calor found purchase on the grip of his weapon but was knocked down by the weight of his enemy. The two men became a flurry of blows, a carousel of scratching and clawing, each trying to find a vulnerable grip on the other.
With a loud crunch, Calor landed a firm blow to his adversary's nose, pushing it to the side where it stayed. He planted another to the man's temple, another to his shoulder, yet another to his forehead.
The boot was heavy, heavy enough to knock Calor to the side and off of his enemy. Another boot landed squarely into his temple. His vision blurred and bright spots flickered across his eyelids as he blinked. He felt woozy.
Another blow brought darkness to him.
The clanking gangways made it obvious; the calvary was coming. The Cyneweard checked Calor's pulse, confirmed the man's heart was still working, and limped his way out of the office. He came face to face with two armed guards.
"Union member attacked me. Calor's down in the office. Please check on him!" he yelled.
They nodded and ran past him into the room. He slammed the door shut behind them and locked it, breaking the key into the slot. Their muffled yells and pounding on the door grew fainter as he moved as fast as the wound would let him.
The slug was still in him and every movement that stretched or compressed his side reminded him of that fact. It would have to come out and he'd need a healer's touch if he wanted to survive another hour. Getting out would be tricky.
With great effort, one painful stair at a time, he made his way out of the bowels of the Machine. The sky was dark and a steady, cold rain was falling. He looked about him, saw no guards, and moved forward. The journey to the gate would bring more pain and more worry to him. At least the rain would cool him down.
At the gate, his state got the immediate guard's attention right away.
"Accident. Baling line. Impaled. Need...need healer."
The guard stammered, eyes locked onto the blood flowing through the Cyneweard's fingers. "Do...do you need an escort?"
"No," the Cyneweard sighed, a fresh rolling pain hitting his side and traveling down his leg. He winced. The guard returned it with his own.
"Get going," he said and started to push the gate open.
The call and response protesters on the civilian side of the gate quieted down as he stepped through. Many held bewildered looks on their faces as a beaten, shot, and bloodied machine worker hobbled by. None offered assistance.
He knew of no healer besides those that reside in the Humbolt and Chamatri places of worship. He wouldn't be returning to the Humbolt House. He'd made a big enough impression already.
His face was seen, his body shutting down, and his goals muddied. Walking became harder and harder. He pointed himself in the general direction of the Chamatri Temple but knew that he would run out of steam before getting there.
As the Cyneweard passed the pub with the bunny for a logo, a great wave of exhaustion hit him. He fell to one knee and began coughing. His vision was alternating between shades of blue and red. Breathing was becoming a chore. His thoughts grew moss. He tried to get up but found no motion left in his lower half.
"I have not finished," he said and lunged forwards in efforts to get going again. He fell on his face and felt the cold, cruel hand of fate tickle the back of his neck.