The Cyneweard

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Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 27

“All people, be they Animas or Humes, should be given the same fair treatment by their employers, no matter how big or small those employers are.

“The Machine is taking advantage of its work force while placing them in the most dangerous, lethal working conditions yet seen. Miners in the Whistling Plains are safer. They have a mortality frequency of just two per year or cycle, if you go by Machine time. The Machine has two deaths per week. It needs to stop.

“But we will not stop it with our fists or weapons. We will stop it with our voices, our minds, our hearts. The Union are not the enemy, they are your workforce. Listen to them.”

The Cyneweard grunted as he tried to pull his large pack off the makeshift cot. He had found the inn on entering Little Mille weeks ago and it had been his base since before he had taken care of Dumdhall. The place's attic was warm enough and had lots of old items from when the inn had closed stuffed up there. He had no clue who owned the building nor did he care. It gave him a great hiding spot and an even better vantage over the main square of the town.

He was half standing, half leaning against the window frame as he watched the Union Leader give his speech. The crowd was answering every pause with applause and cheering. It almost appeared as if the Union Leader was a priest and the audience his congregation. He was riling them up with the fire tongue of the religious zealot, goading them into thinking as he did, doing as he suggested.

"So that's what you're doing now?" he asked the Union Leader from behind the glass. "Riling up the downtrodden. How like you."

The speech had a drone to it, a numbing meter that kept him half interested, half tired. This leader was good at his speechcraft and had charisma to boot. He hadn't changed at all, not in all of these years.

"You bastard," he whispered, placing his forehead against the cool glass. A shiver reached him from deep within his stomach. The wound had healed on the outside but was festering within. He was going to have to finish his business in the Chop on a much quicker timeline.

The idea of death did not deter him much. Death was only a means to an end, any end, of the madness that had plagued him for the past twelve years. He sighed and shivered again, putting a hand to his hot side.

"Parton will die," he said, reassuring himself. "And I will be the one holding the bloody blade."

A loud cheer rose. He looked down to the dais. A glint of sunlight on metal caught his eyes. A rough looking Hume with a large blade had appeared from between two buildings to the back of the dais. The newcomer's gaze was locked on the man giving the speech.

"No," the Cyneweard whispered. "Not your kill to have."

He squeezed at his hurt side and forced his weary body backward. With his left hand, he grabbed a knife from beside the cot. He reached out and grabbed the window, throwing it open.

Seeing no drain or fire ladder near the window after he poked his head through it, he pulled his legs through and sat on the sill.

This is going to hurt, he thought as he slipped off the window and fell one and a half stories to the ground. He rolled forward as soon as his toes hit the dirt path between the inn and the adjacent building. The Protector standing there took him by surprise. With as much speed as he could muster, he pulled the Sigil member's slugthrower from its holster as the lawman was turning about.

He swung the weapon handle first into the Protector's bewildered face. The lawman fell, his limbs stretched out and flexed. It had been a good, nonlethal blow.

The Cyneweard started in a run for the dais, pushing members of the crowd aside with as much force as the pounding pain in him would allow. A few grunted in anger, a few cried out in shock, and one yelled for a guard.

He sidestepped the guard, hurdled the dais, and landed a sharp blow to the back of the Union Leader's head. The man crumpled to his knees and fell face first off the dais. One of the guards in front of the platform caught him just as the large broadsword sunk deep into the Cyneweard's shoulder. The pain made him cry out, his cry amplified by the magic on the dais. Blood began running down his chest in pulses.

The audience gasped and screamed and drew back. The Cyneweard ducked with speed, removing the blade from his shoulder. He fired but missed his target. The weapon was shaky in his hand and was becoming wet at the handle with blood.

The sword-wielder took another swing at him, which he ducked, and then growled in frustration as the blade sunk into the wood of the dais. The Cyneweard rolled to the right and switched the slugthrower to his off hand. He fired again and missed again.

A swift kick from a nearby guard relieved him of his weapon and the attacker lunged for him. He tried to roll away but was caught in the would-be assassin's tackle. The wind left his lungs.

The attacker pressed his advantage and put all of his weight against the Cyneweard's windpipe. Another guard, dressed in work clothes, fired off a shot at the attack but missed. The report gave the attack a moment's pause and the Cyneweard took advantage, slamming the meat of his fist into the man's temple. The attack slide from him. He tried to stand but felt no power in his knees. Instead, he rummaged around for the dropped slugthrower.

"Looking for this," growled the attacker. He fired. A great metal fist punched into and through the Cyneweard's stomach. He tried to cry out but felt his mouth fill with blood. He coughed, turned over, and spat out a large glob of his lifesblood.

Someone, likely a guard, took another shot. From what the Cyneweard could tell, it missed and whizzed off into the distance. He looked to his right and saw that the crowd was fleeing. He turned over and witnessed the attacker fire a slug into the head of the nearest Sigil guard. The canine fell to the floor in a lifeless slump.

The Cyneweard's vision began to blur. He could hear his heartbeat behind his ears. It was slowing. He began to hear a woman sing, but saw no one left in the audience to be the owner of such a lovely voice. Then he realized what it was and closed his eyes, losing himself in the beautiful melody. The light was dimming, the singing growing stronger. It felt like home, only colder.

So cold.

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