The Stone Heart's Lament

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A well orchestrated kidnapping

The instant Madame Chimera bolted out of the hut Rashari knew what was going on. He didn’t waste breath calling after her again. Instead he struggled into the clothes Madame Chimera had given him, his left arm awkward and stiff right up to the shoulder joint. The effort cost him dearly. He was panting by the time he was fully clothed, a light sheen of sweat covering his brow. Outside he could hear the sounds of fighting and the hiss-shriek of magical projectiles. The draft coming in through the cloth flap covering the door to the hut carried with it the acrid stench of smoke and burning. He picked up his coat, reached into the pocket and closed his right hand around the solid weight of the scion stone. The urge to crush the damn thing into powder was as overwhelming as it was impossible. Gods but he wished he’d never hit on the stupid idea to steal the thing. A twinge through his jaw let him know that he’d started grinding his teeth and he stopped, took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and walked out of the hut into the neat little trap laid out and waiting for him.

The scene outside was as bad as he’d imagined. A number of the ogdegre huts were on fire, the flames green like burning copper, moving with a surreal, liquid grace. Most of the fighting seemed to be taking place near a hole in the outer fence to his left. A number of ogdegre had gathered there, armed with spears and bows. Rashari couldn’t see who had started this attack, the ogdegre were too tall and grouped too thickly. He couldn’t see Madame Chimera either. He would just have to hope that she could handle whatever the djinn (and it had to be him, didn’t it?) could throw her way.

Edging close to the rounded wall of the hut he slipped away from the fight, keeping clear of the ogdegre forming a bucket chain from the well to the burning buildings. He’d help them if he could, but he knew that he’d do more good by giving himself up quickly and quietly. This attack was only a distraction after all. Typical raider tactics, but he wouldn’t put it past Ruthy to escalate matters if he tried to run or fight back. As he moved, shoulder-blades pressed against the smooth hut wall, he stretched out his thoughts, trying to find Smith. He just hoped wherever he’d run off to he was well hidden. It wouldn’t do if both of them were taken.

Slipping around the back of the hut into a narrow passage running behind a series of smaller huts and the wall Rashari broke into an awkward run. His left arm was still stiff as a board, dangling from his shoulder socket like a dead weight. There was a structure in front of him, a walled pit in the ground a good distance from the nearest of the huts and close to a section of wall mostly in shadow. A rancid stink rose from the pit and he guessed this must be the ogdegre’s midden – it certainly stank badly enough for sewage. This was as good a place as any. In fact, given the problems the Heart of Anoush had caused him already, the bottom of pit full of shit might be the very best place for it. Trying not to breathe in Rashari ran to the pit and managed, with some difficulty and rough brute force that he’d pay for later, to pry open the lid. The wave of noxious fumes and wet ammonia laced heat that assailed his nostrils made his eyes water. Turning his face away, he reached into his right pocket, clasped the Heart of Anoush and...

...Felt the unmistakable weight and pressure of a gun pressed into the back of his head.

“Take your hand out of pocket, slowly.” Ruthy hissed into his ear. Against the reek of the ogdegre septic pit the scent of gun smoke and leather clinging to Ruthy’s form was strangely comforting, if only for a second. The sensation of the gun pressed to the base of his skull and the quick flash of her hand into his coat pocket as she snatched away the Heart of Anoush, was not however.

“Good,” She said sounding like she meant it. “Now step away from that shithole and turn around –slowly - both hands in the air.”

He did as he was told. He was out of any other options. He came face to face with Ruthy for the first time in over a year. The woman hadn’t changed. Somewhere in the region of ten years his senior in another time and place Ruthy’s face might have been considered pretty. Heart shaped with delicate, clean features, vivid blue eyes, a sharp, pert little chin and rounded cheeks that dimpled when she smiled Ruthy looked like she should be gracing some manner of Imperial propaganda advertisement wearing a frilled apron and beaming proudly over a fresh baked pie. She was several inches shorter than him, with a narrow waist, nicely rounded hips and breasts that were neither too big nor too small and she wore sturdy, hardy travelling gear, a rifle slung across her back and holster on her right thigh for the handgun she was still pointing at his head. He softly curling black hair was tied back at the nape of her neck in a serviceable, sensible tail. She looked him over with cool, quick eyes and a slight smile that bordered on arrogant.

“Hello Rashari,” her voice, usually crisp and cool, Adran accept clear but not belaboured, now carried a hint of a satisfied purr. Oh yes, she was very pleased with herself. Rashari found that he couldn’t quite manage to be happy for her in turn. But manners were still manners.

“Hello Ruthy, I’d say it was a pleasure...but,” he couldn’t shrug with his hands in the air (and yes indeed the effort of keeping his left hand aloft was setting his teeth on edge), but he hoped his tone adequately expressed his feelings. The flash of dimples as her smile widened suggested that Ruthy did know what he was feeling and it only added to her sense of triumph. Still she was nothing if not efficient. She wouldn’t waste time gloating until she was sure she had him truly in hand.

“Come on,” She said gesturing with a tilt of her head toward the wall behind them, the gun in her hand still pointed steadily at his forehead. “Turn around and start walking, nice and steady, towards the wall. Keep your hands in the air.”

Once again he did as he was told. Ruthy was unlikely to kill him – if she’d meant to do that he’d be dead already – but he had nothing to gain from calling her bluff. He didn’t know if the gun was necromantic but ghost lead or not he didn’t want any more bullet-holes. He had a feeling he’d already exhausted even his unlikely ability to survive physical mishaps that really ought to kill him.

He was about six feet from the neatly cut hole in the fence, which Ruthy must have made when she snuck in, when an arrow zinged past his shoulder and embedded itself into one of the solid wooden fence struts. The thunk of the arrow biting into the wood was accented by a strident shout from behind in a language he did not understand. They’d been spotted. Things were about to go very badly. Rashari spun around. He made a grab for Ruthy’s gun arm as she pivoted smoothly, turned the gun on the ogdegre who had fired the arrow and pulled the trigger.

“No.”

His clumsy lunge was enough to queer her aim, just barely. The bullet went wide, missing the ogdegre’s head. Ruthy hissed, twisted, and backhanded him across the face with her hand. He tasted blood as his teeth cut his inner cheek and he deliberately dropped down onto the ground, making it clear with every move that he was not part of this hostile incursion into the ogdegre’s territory. Ruthy already had the gun up and back on the ogdegre -a woman. The odgegre woman was covered in tattoos and had a mane of long black hair, pulled sharply back from her face. She froze in the process of rushing them. Ruthy pointed the gun at her head and squeezed off another shot without blinking. The ogdegre woman dropped to the ground in a roll, moving with surprising speed considering her height and muscular build. The bullet missed her by a hairsbreadth. Rashari twisted on the ground and kicked Ruthy in the knee, grappling for the gun when she stumbled, bearing down on her arm so that the next shot punched into the ground.

“Stop it.” He hissed as she used her free hand to dig her nails into the skin of his good hand. “You can’t fight off the entire settlement. You’ve got me already. No one needs to die.” He had no clue what Ruthy’s plans were for him once they were shot of the ogdegre (and, he had to assume, Madame Chimera as well) but he was damn sure her plans hadn’t included fighting off a bunch of hostile natives. Ruthy was brilliant (she’d played him for a merry tune after all) and getting into a protracted fight while heavily out-numbered was not a brilliant plan.

By this time the ogdegre woman had been joined by four others, two more women and two men. They hadn’t attacked yet, either wary of stepping in front of a stray bullet or because they weren’t sure which of them was the real threat, but it was clear that their patience was up. The female ogdegre held her bow again, arrow notched and string pulled taut. Rashari released Ruthy and threw himself to the side as one of the men charged forward, head bowed like a bull in a rage.

On the ground in the dust Ruthy lifted her head, saw the ogedgre rushing straight at her and coolly shot him right between the horns. The man collapsed in a heap almost on top of her and rather than moving away as a spray of blood spattered her face she grabbed the man’s upper body and hauled him up as much as she could one handed, using his still twitching body as a shield so that when the ogdegre woman released her arrow it logged in the body of her fallen clan-member. Ruthy retuned fire, hitting one of the other women in the upper thigh. Rashari, momentarily dismissed as a threat by all parties, crab-walked backwards across the ground toward the hole in the fence. He’d really hoped to avoid this, but it was pretty bloody apparent that stupid plan or not Ruthy was entirely prepared (committed even) to getting into a fight to the death with the ogdegre. He wasn’t happy about the loss of ogdegre life, but if it allowed him to escape (and left Ruthy dead) he was willing to work with this scenario.

Except that he’d underestimated Ruthy yet again. The ogdegre charged her as a group, but Ruthy was waiting for them. Flinging the corpse of the warrior off her she whipped out a phantom grenade, pin already out, and flung it onto the ground between her and the ogdegre. The clay bottle smashed on the ground, spitting out trails of rust-red phantasma vapour into the air. Immediately the vapour quickened into a nearly humanoid form. The revenant stretched out to a height of six feet, opened a huge ghoulish and gaping maw and swallowed the nearest of the ogdegre whole. The woman froze, enveloped completely inside the phantom’s gaseous form. She twitched once, twice, thrice and dropped like her strings had been cut. There was a flash of bright sunshine yellow light inside the dull red body of the revenant as the woman’s soul was devoured. The revenant increased in mass sprouting three probing tentacle appendages that whipped out at the remaining ogdegre, forcing them back.

Rashari swore, something deep inside his chest clenching in response to the familiar feel of death magic. Ruthy hurled another grenade for good measure and jumped to her feet, backing up and grabbing a fistful of his hair as she came level with him. She wrenched on his head until he was moving backward with her toward the fence. She kept her gun up and pointed at the ogdegre, who, at this point, had their hands full dealing with the two revenants. Just before Ruthy shoved him ahead of her through the hole he saw the ogdegre woman with the bow fire an arrow at the first of the grenade shells, correctly identifying it as the source of the revenant’s power. Then he was through the fence and Ruthy was jamming the barrel of the gun into his shoulder blades, hissing at him to get up and run. After that it was a matter of being herded, like a particularly recalcitrant sheep by an especially vicious sheepdog, through the woods and away from the ogdegre settlement. All in all, he had to hand it to Ruthy. That had been a spectacularly well orchestrated kidnapping. He just wished he wasn’t the one cast in the role of victim.


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