The Cyneweard

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Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 79

Gasps, mumbled voices, and hesitant footsteps brought Ber from his self-imposed sleepy sojourn away from the gory remnants of conflict. The sky was still beautiful. His nose still prickled from the stench of death. He sat up.

“Live one!” he heard someone near him yell.

Blurs of motion blinded his weary eyes and all of a sudden, he was surrounded. His heart started to pound against his ribcage. He looked up.

Union Leader Koph stared down at him, eyes squinted, head titled, pity playing with his pupils.

“Are you all that’s left?”

Ber didn’t know. He shrugged.

“Are you injured?”

He had never thought to even check. Ber looked over his left and right side, ran his hands along his crossed legs, over his sides, and then chest and stomach. “I don’t think so.”

“How did you survive?” asked one of the Unionizers to his left.

He looked over. A young Hume, blood streaming down his face and into a thick black beard. Could not have been more than twenty. “I...found a place...”

“To hide?” the young man asked, hand resting on the stock of a battered looking Longbarrel.

“Away from the booming...” Ber finished.

Koph placed his hand on Ber’s shoulder. “Now, now. I’m sure our friend fought valiantly.”

Ber could do nothing but nod, the lie stinging the back of his neck. He was a coward and had hid like a coward.

“Did you lose your weapon?” asked another Unionizer, an older appearing male Canine.

“I lost it when I encountered the gate keeper.”

The Unionizers surrounding him exchanged looks and impressed mumbled tones.

“Are you the one we can thank for getting the gate open?”

Ber turned to look over his shoulder at the large metal gate. It’s left door was slightly ajar, the right bent but steadfast in place. He shrugged. He didn’t know.

Koph smiled. “A modest one.”

No, Ber thought. A coward.

The Union leader beamed at him. “Think you’re up for one last fight, friend?”

Ber nodded. He wasn’t, but how else could he respond to the Union leader?

“Excellent. Someone get this Unionizer a weapon!”

Howls of approval went up and Ber found a dusty, blood spattered Longbarrel thrust into his arms. He took it and held it cocked to the side, barrel down. It was an awkward position and gave away his reluctance to even be near the slugthrower, but no one around him paid his revulsion any mind. They continued to whoop and holler.

Koph turned his attention, and his back, away from Ber, and addressed the crowd that had gathered. Ber lost count at sixty Unionizers. It was a small force, the Unionizers that had yet to leave the inns and bars of Little Mille when the initial wave began, Ber guessed.

“The first wave met great resistance. I have no doubt a few of them are still alive and fighting within the bowels of the Machine at this very moment. What you see around us is the sacrifice that is required for ending the endless cycle of tyranny that has enveloped the Chop and all of its districts. It’s time to take back the Machine for the workers.”

The crowd exploded in cheers.

“If we remove the head, the body cannot survive. Our goal is to make it as far as we can in the Administrative building, the goal being to find and punish Chairman Parton for the misdeeds, the corruption, the mistreatment of workers. It’s time for the workers to take charge.”

More cheers. A few slugs were thrown in the air in the group’s ecstasy. Ber grew yet more nervous.

Koph turned and placed his hand once again Ber’s shoulder. “Stay by my side, friend. We’ll get Parton for everything he’s done.”

Ber smiled. He wasn’t this man’s friend. He didn’t want to punish the Chairman anymore. He just wanted to go home.

Koph waved an arm forward. The melodrama of the move sickened Ber. He was swept up in the group’s movement and fell in step.

The group met more death and destruction beyond the gate. Bodies littered the interior Machine yard. Carts, both steam and wood, lay in ruin. There were far more Unionizers on the ground than Machinists. Ber’s heart sank to his stomach. Just how successful had the first wave been?

Koph’s group met little resistance until they reached the entrance to the Administrative building. Ber hung to the back of the platoon as they engaged and successfully eliminated some barricaded guards at the entrance. He shifted to the middle of the pack as they entered the building, letting all sides be covered from any incoming fire. He was surprised by how quiet the entire place was.

And then the ornate welcoming hall erupted in a cacophony of chaos. Shouts. Yells. The cracks of slugs being thrown, slugs hitting marble, slugs sinking into flesh. Ber sank to the ground and covered his ears, surrounded by shouting, booming Humes and Animas of courage. He was a mere shadow of them, not worthy to join their crusade.

He opened his eyes after the stillness had returned. His head hurt. Lingering slug smoke stung his nose. He picked up his weapon and stood, checking himself. Unharmed, still.

Around him lay body upon body of his cohorts, twisted in their death throes.

“Good to see you still up and breathing, friend.” Koph was near the lift’s entrance, looking at him. A couple dozen Unionizers were milling about, giving Ber long, wide eyed looks.

What? Ber thought. Never seen a coward before?

“I’m going to guess the lift is not in service right now,” said Koph. “Everyone, look for an alternative. There has to be steps near by.”

“That’ll be a lot of steps,” said a Unionizer. The group laughed, though there was little feeling behind the gesture. These were now survivors of sudden, violent combat. Their senses of humor were still damaged, waiting to be pulled back together. Ber sighed and started to look along the wall nearest him for a sign or some posted directions.

A black blur caught him off guard. He fumbled for his weapon, brought it up, and trained it way behind his target. It moved so fast he couldn’t even get close to shooting its shadow. Still, he let off a shot, sending a small chunk of marble off to places unknown.

“Intruder,” he yelled, not considering that he was one himself.

The collective group gasped and tried to follow the path of the interloper. The target was fast and turned a corner before more shots could go off. Koph raised his Longbarrel and began pursuit. His group of Unionizers followed suit, Ber included.

By the time Ber caught up with the group, the mystery intruder had been cornered. It was a Sigilman.

“Watcher Greer,” Koph was saying. “I see you found a suitable way up to the floor we desire.”

“Don’t dare think about killing Parton,” the Sigilman replied, spreading his arms and legs to barre the way up a tall flight of gold-trimmed marble stairs. “There are better ways to end this.”

“Like?” Koph asked.

“Ousting him would be enough. Do you really think he’s going to want to try to fight this group?”

“Thank you for the confidence boost but I cannot guarantee Parton’s safety. My Unionizers and I aren’t very pleased with what he’s done in the past, nor what he’s done today. You do realize he turned a large, powerful weapon on not only my people, but his own guards and the town you serve as well.”

“I saw,” Greer grumbled. “We can charge him for this. Put him in lock up for good. Keep him out of the daily affairs.”

“You really think the laws, some of them he helped write and put into place, will apply to him?” argued Koph.

“It will because the Sigil will enforce them.”

A few of the Unionizers laughed.

“If that’s what you think, Watcher, I’ll let you handle Parton. But we need to get up there first. Are you going to let us go up?”

Greer nodded. “If I lead the way.”

Ber watched as Koph nodded and started to follow the Sigilman up the stairs. He fiddled with his weapon as the remainder of the group filed past him.

As the last of the Unionizer group started to ascend the stairs, Ber threw the Longbarrel to the ground and began a brisk charge back home.

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