The Stone Heart's Lament

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Trouble

It took the best part of a half hour to extricate himself from the cockpit and by the time he’d managed to crawl out of the glider his muscles were seizing with pain. He collapsed onto his hands and knees and vomited profusely. Brilliant flares of light ignited in front of his tearing eyes and his head felt like it was splitting apart at the seams. It was all he could do not to fall face first into the mess. The bullet wound in his shoulder throbbed abominably. The scorpion stirred, sensing his weakness. Fingers digging into the dirt he clawed at the sharp edged blades of grass under his palms.

Rashari.

Smith’s presence cut through the static in his brain like a knife. Instantly he felt better. Blindly he groped with his good hand across the ground and felt the raised joints of Smith’s metal legs and then the smoothness of his new body far closer to the ground. He also felt the invisible connection between himself and Smith, the binding of spirit to spirit that tied the two of them together in ways that went so far beyond mere magic. So long as he had Smith Rashari would never fear losing himself to the scorpion. Slowly, bit by bit, he started to feel stronger; the cold in his bones receded. He sat up on his knees and wiped his mouth and chin with the back of his hand, grimacing at the mess he’d made all over the ground. Throwing up was so undignified. He still felt sick, but he no longer felt like his insides were trying to crawl out of his mouth and make a break for it. He looked up at the crumpled glider, the top of Madame Chimera’s head just visible through the cracked glass of the cockpit dome. She was hurt. He had to get her out. Awkwardly he stumbled to his feet, lurching violently before he was able to gain his equilibrium. He staggered toward the glider.

Madame Chimera was still strapped into her seat in the back of the tiny glider cabin, her chin resting against her chest, the collar of Remus’ heavy trench coat turned up and obscuring most of her face, so that Rashari could only see the bridge of her sharp nose and the pale smudges of her eyelashes jumping against her cheek. Madame Chimera’s skin was pale, its natural burnished hue muddied by bruises. Her fine white hair was stuck to her brow with sweat. She twitched as he watched, thin brows quirking into a grimace, as if she was caught in the grips of a nightmare. Rashari frowned as his gaze tracked down her body. Her arms were limp at her sides, but her claws were out, long deadly fingers quivering and flexing. Whatever else was wrong one thing was sure: she was definitely not sleeping peacefully.

Rashari look. Smith jumped up onto the wing. He scuttled along its length before leaping up onto the top of an intact section of the glass dome above Madame Chimera’s head. His eight lilac eyes were fixed on the fist sized jewel nestled in Madame Chimera’s lap.

“The Heart of Anoush,” Rashari sucked in a harsh breath. “What was she doing holding it in her bare hand like that?” The Heart was dangerous, it contained the remnants of a Seraph, and while Rashari was mostly certain the Seraph Anoush was as close to dead as a goddess could get, he, more than anyone, knew just how dangerous mostly-dead Seraphim could be. He shot Smith a sharp look, tinged just a little with old resentment. “Help me get her out of there.”

Stepping away from the glider he looked around him for something to use to break the glass or pry the dome up off the cabin. Several branches had fallen from the tree when they’d hit it and he hefted a few of the thicker, sturdier boughs, testing the weight and grip in his hands. He discarded one after the other and settled for a smaller branch, one that tapered to a splintered point at the end. Smith scrambled over the top of the dome toward the tree branch skewering the cockpit. Using six of his legs to cling to the branch Smith used his remaining front legs to start sawing at the branch from either side. He used slicing up and down motions of his limbs to cut into the bark. It was slow, awkward work but as Rashari hadn’t any tool more suited to the task there was little he could do but wait and let Smith work. When he was done and the branch was cut in two Rashari hurried over to check on the work. The branch was severed from the tree but he still couldn’t lift the dome. There wasn’t enough room between the severed tree branch and the glass shell, if he tried to lift the dome it would catch the branch again and get stuck.

I can try cutting more of the branch. Smith offered but Rashari was already hurrying to the back of the craft, his sharp stick in hand. The cockpit dome was designed to hinge at the back, so it opened from the front. Without any tools there was no way he could take up the hinges. He was hesitant to smash out the glass in case he hurt Madame Chimera in the process but he wasn’t sure what else to do. He looked at the stick in his hands. The pointed end was narrow enough to fit into the groove where the dome met the body of the glider. The metal rim was not especially strong – he could see kinks in it where the impact of the crash had bent the shell out of shape. He might be able to pry up one side of the dome using the stick for leverage. He just didn’t know if he’d be able to lift it enough.

“Cut the branch,” He told Smith. “Start cutting at the trunk, get rid of the whole thing. I’m going to try and get the dome up.”

The glider had held up in the crash for the most part, which was just as well because if the hull had crumpled completely both he and Madame Chimera would have been crushed into paste, but the impact had still caused a lot of damage. The nose of the glider was imbedded in the trunk of the tree, and was now looking distinctly flat. The metal body of the craft was dimpled with stress fractures that meant getting the dome up, even after the tree branch was removed, would not be easy. The glider was creased and rumpled like a stiff linen napkin balled in an angry fist. Looking at it Rashari had to take a moment to wonder at his own jaded luck; he had to be the luckiest unlucky bastard alive. If he and Madame Chimera managed to walk away from this wreck with all their vital faculties intact he might even have to reconsider his opinion on Aramantine engineering. Of course considering Madame Chimera was still unconscious that was a pretty big if.

He and Smith worked in silence. The tree branch was thicker at the base and Smith took his time cutting through it, but once the tree limb had thumped to the ground – Smith dropping nimbly down with it - Rashari was able to use the stick, and some good old fashioned elbow grease, to lever the dome up. Smith leapt up into the cabin and swiped the Heart of Anoush from her lap with the tips of his two front legs, a virtuoso display of dexterity considering that his ‘legs’ had no means of gripping objects and Smith was still very new to having so many limbs in the first place. Then again, adapting to having legs was nothing in comparison to the adjustment it had taken Smith to get used to being a robot when he’d once been a god. Rashari reached out a hand and caught the Heart just as it slipped out of Smith’s precarious grasp. The stone landed in his palm, solid and cool. It looked and felt like a shiny billiard ball, dark blue-black in colour, deceptively innocuous when one considered just how many people had already died in pursuit of it. He shoved the Heart into the pocket of his coat and reached out for Madame Chimera, hands hovering a few inches from touching her.

“How am I going to do this?”

The question was rhetorical, mostly because he received no actual good answer. Surprisingly, given his vocation as a raider, he’d precious little experience madhandling unconscious women. Hauling her out bodily would require a better position than he had presently. The ground was too low. He didn’t have the leverage to lift her up and out. Madame Chimera was also tall and lean, much more so than most human women. Her body was all willowy lines and graceful angles. Rashari generally found her Chimera proportions very fetching. She reminded him of a particularly fine piece of sculpture worked from steel he had admired once in a small industrial town on the northern coast of Dushkuland. There was something at once delicate and impossibly strong about her slenderness. Right now however those long limbs were a problem. Carrying a body was as much about leverage and grip as it was about strength or weight, and Madame Chimera would make a very awkward burden to carry.

In the end he clambered up onto one of the wings and, balanced precariously, and half lifted, half dragged her up until he could cradle her against his chest. She didn’t stir once, despite the fact that the entire process was hardly a smooth affair. With the utmost care Rashari swept her damp hair from her brow and peeled back her borrowed (or should that be inherited?) coat to check for any injuries. One sleeve of the coat was sticky with half-dried blood from the cut she’d received to her arm during their first crash landing (it was ludicrous to think that had been less than forty-eight hours ago) Her skin had darkened in places to a burnished gold-brown where bruises bloomed, but other than that he couldn’t see any sign of an injury that might account for her lack consciousness. Gently and swiftly he ran his fingers through her hair, ghosting over the contours of her skull, seeking out any lumps or bumps. He found nothing, which was at once reassuring and troubling. The last thing he wanted was to discover a potential skull fracture, but on the other hand Madame Chimera was still very much insensate and that was clearly not good.

Rashari.

Smith’s sharp warning jolted him out of his inexpert medical examination and he looked up swiftly. Smith was perched on the wing at Madame Chimera’s feet but his attention, to judge by the glow from his eyes, was fixed on the sky to the east, back toward Aramantine. At first Rashari couldn’t see what had worried Smith. The sky was still in the early flush of dawn, bathed in a rather beautiful wash of pale blue, peach and gold stripes for as far as the eye could see. The squat, ugly trees dotting the flat plain were limned in brilliant gold, casting long elegant shadows over the ground; the dawn transforming the stark landscape into something quite beautiful. Then he saw it. There were no birds in the sky but something else was in flight; a dark shape, like an ugly black fly, marred the perfection of the view. The sun’s glare made it difficult to see the object clearly but Rashari didn’t need to. There was only one thing it could be.

“Oh Pit be damned,” He snarled. “It’s another bloody glider.”

There was no good reason for a glider to be out here. People didn’t take pleasure flights right out to the edge of the Battlan Steppes. In fact most sane souls wouldn’t dream of coming out here at all. So there really was only one reason a glider would be flying straight at them. Whoever was in that glider, meant trouble.


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