Discussion in 'Archives' started by Paladin_girl, Mar 19, 2011.
'Don't say that to me. Not if it's not true,' the half-elf murmured sternly.
Jack's brows furrowed in the wake of her concern for a moment, his bronze half-gaze meeting hers. A finger twitched involuntarily. Damn it did his arm hurt. "Still pretty banged up," he conceded, his mouth twisting into the shadow of a scowl. "I am sore... but my arm... I dunno." The gunslinger rolled his hand slowly from the wrist before balling his mummified fingers into a fist. "Burns."
Paladin couldn't hold his gaze, dropping to stare into the Inevitable, her eyebrows furrowing darkly.
Such a quiet thing. It knows.
Her teeth ground together, pressing her finger and thumb against her temple. Her heart felt as if it was sinking, a cold knowing biting into the fragments of her thoughts.
What do I do?
She lifted her head.
'Is there anything I can do? I could try a healing spell. It helped when you were shot. I … I know it's not the same, but … I don't want to be as bad as it can be.'
The gunslinger retracted his arm instinctively, obscuring the black scavenger that marred its flesh from view behind the back of the chair. "Reckon that'd do more harm than good, and I ain't rollin' the dice on what it'd do to you." He shook his head once, his stare stern. "I'm just gonna have to grin and bear it for a while."
The half-elf didn't respond straight away, her eyes slowly travelling to the ancient floor as Jack spoke. She didn't realise how hard her nails had dug into her palms. They didn't loosen.
What do I do?
She raised her gaze to meet his; a strange, mordant force congealing within the depths of her stare. She gently graced his opposite shoulder with a hand, squeezing it gently. She made no sign of protest – the argument had been burned out of her. She cared little for herself. She had sworn to protect him, to be a shield. Being unable to was beginning to feel like a betrayal of conscience.
I hope, she thought sadly, that while finishes soon.
She stood and made for the door.
Jack watched her as she stood, following her movements with lone, bronze eye that remained to him. He blinked, opening his mouth to speak only to close it when he realized he hadn't a clue what to say. She was too much like him in too many ways for her own good - an unfortunate fact he'd never have believed until they'd wandered off into the wastes together. The woman cared too much about covering his ass and not enough about watching her own. Ain't nothin' she could do for me this time around. He frowned, leaning back atop his chair. For a brief moment he thought he heard wings beating against the air. Ain't nothin' nobody could do.
Paladin made her way to the deck, her footfalls giving the sensation of being drawn through mud. She was unsure as to whether it was disappointment that lugged her or the mere fact that she was tired.
With very little certainty as to what perturbed her, the half-elf settled for simplicity. She was tired – and with that lie purposefully shielding the reality, she found herself walking across the deck of the foreboding ship. Instinctively, she collected Shrike's pieces, donning them carefully, as if each part was a limb of her own.
When it came to the helmet, she merely hugged it in her arms. Even with the heated moisture between her plates, the half-elf didn't complain. There had been worse times. The least that she could do, she thought, was something useful. She went to Korm to relieve him of his duty.
As the footsteps came closer, Korm lifted his tired head to stare at his new companion, the storm in his eyes once more searching for reasons why.
'Your Orasta is troubled by thick feathers.'
The hammer's blow could not have been more precise. Paladin couldn't meet his eyes, but nodded.
She came closer, looking out to the waves of sand.
'Still no sign?'
Paladin's nails found the edge of the ship, digging against the wood tensely.
'You were with them, weren't you? You … came back for us.'
The Midgardian's expression seemed to be made out of grit. It was unreadable. 'It was my choice,' he answered, 'I lied.'
Paladin froze. She didn't want to ask more. 'Why? Why do that?'
The bear's eyebrows furrowed. 'I desired … living. The Gunhand – he is a survivor. In the face of danger, he will not hesitate to abandon hopelessness.'
'You aren't making any sense, Korm. You're saying that you were … afraid?'
Korm turned, seizing her shoulders fiercely. 'I have smelt … wrongness within them. Everything smells of corruption. I do not wish to corrupt.'
Paladin didn't struggle, gritting her teeth. Her glare darkened. 'Who is “they”, Korm?'
'They wear skin like armour. Sound and touch like the living – but they are not the same.' Korm's voice was hoarse, 'Your timing – it was both good and ill.' His face neared hers. 'What's more – they wear the same … putrefaction … as you do. That armour – it's the result. You're wearing a corpse.'
'Then it should have killed me. Andra-'
'Andra was an elf. A pure elf.'
Paladin started to feel ill. 'What if a human wore it?'
For once, the Midgardian appeared anxious. He didn't respond. Instead, his eyes travelled to the skinless corpses strewn across the deck. Some had become impaled against the wood by the fallen glass.
The colour from Paladin's features drained away.
'It's the only way that they can survive, isn't it?' The half-elf's voice rang automatically, the lines between thought and restraint all but gone, 'They need someone else's skin to … but … but why? What does it accomplish?'
Korm shook his head. 'I heard very little in that pit. You will have to ask the others when they arrive.'
Paladin closed her eyes, trying to regain her resolve. She straightened, resting her palms against the edge once more, her expression stoic. A twinge began to rebel up her arm and back. She tried to ignore it.
'This desert has changed them.' Korm looked disgusted. 'They had rode ahead of me. I had barely left my homeland when the Gavorel sent word. Then when this … Hieral … started breathing, I wondered what had drawn them from the Agalatharian Keep to this wasteland. I rode hard for three weeks until I found their flag.'
'Three weeks …' Paladin narrowed her eyes. 'Korm – Jack was attacked by a tall beast. Snake-like. Why was it that it never attacked the camp before that?'
Korm stared at her. 'What are you talking about?'
Paladin looked away, shaking her head. 'You can rest now. I'll take over.'
Korm nodded slowly, but the storms in his eyes began to congeal. He turned and padded slowly below deck.
Barely enough time had passed before Paladin caught sight of their quarry. They seemed tired, bedraggled and apt to collapse at any moment.
She rose a hand, calling out to them.
'Atarakiel! Mararath!' she bellowed before forcing her body into movement, clambering down the ship as gingerly as she could.
When she reached the bottom however, Hemingway wasn't there – the remnants of the Hieral stumbled towards her. Carried between two men, Gellard grunted in pain, carrying the gunman's weapon in his hands.
Down in the depths of the Galley, in bowls clad in shadow, the gunslinger sat brooding alone in the darkness. The sound of Niscar's cry, muffled by the barrier of twisted and scarlet-stained wood that separated them, sounded as ominous and foreboding to him as the ringing of funeral bells. Stupid. His jaw shifted as his teeth closed about the inside of a cheek, biting hard. The copper-like taste that filled his mouth only served to further fuel the vehement scowl that marred his scarred face - his lonely bronze eye narrowed with contempt, glaring at nothing and everything. Shoulda killed him.
He placed a charred palm atop his thigh, pushing down against it while rising from his seat. He hadn't moved since Niscar had left him there - counting each and every moment that led up to this one. His stomach twisted. As much as he loathed to admit it, the paladin's safety had been wrenched from his hands and placed upon Korm's shoulders. A complete stranger. A man who had sworn loyalty to the bastard that had come for him and his love. Stupid. The steps leading up to the deck creaked beneath him as he climbed, groaning as if reluctant to bear him hence. Shoulda killed him.
He'd left a job half done. It was time to pay the piper.
The little elven beds didn't serve the Midgardian well. In the end, he had settled to sleeping in the belly of the empty ship, laying flat on his back to scrutinise the decoration surrounding him. He snorted. Elves.
At the sound of the Knight-Captain's voice, he didn't waste time, thankful for small miracles. Korm swiftly caught up with the outlaw at the stairs, but on reaching the top, the bear twitched his nose faintly, as if he had stood in something rancorous and caustic.
On the sands, the half-elf jogged to catch up with the others, reaching out to relieve the men of Gellard's sagging weight. He didn't look at her, squirming as if she was distasteful, quivering like a bowstring.
The paladin group settled on the ground, breathing sighs of relief. Their dull hearts and ill-attention was understandable. They had lost a leader – two in fact.
'Where's Hemingway?' Paladin asked softly, 'Did he make it out?'
Gellard didn't answer.
She rested a hand over the disgruntled man's. 'This is his gun, isn't it? Is he still lagging behind?'
'He … had a schedule to keep.' Gellard's murmur sounded like the bottom of a coffin.
'Will we be seeing him again?'
Gellard tried to smile. 'Perhaps.'
Paladin glanced upwards, hopeful that the others were coming. She heard muffled noises against the woodwork as she had clambered down.
Jack turned his head at the sound of Korm's approach, continuing up the rickety stairway. "Remember what I asked ya," he murmured before throwing open the door to the deck, sending it reeling back upon its hinges. He stepped out onto the day with a frown, peering down from the Galley to the new arrivals. The gunslinger tilted his head to the side, cracking his neck. Let's get it over with.
Korm didn't respond, but his eyes had grown cloudy once more. He bunched his fists, peering over the side to see Paladin looking upwards, raising a hand to beckon them down.
'Look! They've come back!' she called out.
Jack almost cringed when she called up to them from below, the relief in her voice serving as kindling for Chiatehello's fire. The heat raced upwards, all across the length of his arm, searing at his skin without leaving a single scar. That was what would hurt the most - having to look her in the eye when she realized, too late, that friends she'd once trusted had come with ulterior motives. Sinister motives. Shoulda killed him, the gunslinger repeated to himself yet again, his eye rolling slowly over Gellard's company. He was still tired and still wounded, but the paladins looked even worse for wear than him. Shoulda killed him... should still kill him. Jack held out a hand, forcing a wave. By the time his feet touched down upon the desert sands, his heart was pounding against his chest like a drum.
Whilst the two men were clambering from the Galley, the she-knight carried Gellard across to lean his back against the white wood.
Paladin busied herself however she could, checking for wounds – many of which were slick with blood. The majority however, waved her off quickly, as if afraid of what she could do. The woman half-smiled – dressed in a suit of black armour wasn't exactly the best approach. She was glad that at least, she wasn't hiding her visage in a helmet.
She was, at least, able to hand out a water pouch, salvaged by Korm from below the decks, steaming relief across hot heads and hard scratches.
It was a difficult situation, but it was far more manageable. The problem had passed.
But where did Hemingway go?
A grim thought passed across her features, her eyes travelling to Jack's for a moment, offering him a reassuring smile. She advanced towards him – one look wouldn't be enough, but it was worth the risk. It was worth that warm smile.
That was when the bullet tore through her chest.
By the time her eyes saw the sky, she thought that she had gone deaf.
Gellard was standing, a hand crumpling against his face, shedding his skin as if it was a shell. Underneath Gellard's face was a deep, indigo visage with sharp teeth and a bent nose, his high forehead protruding amongst a cascade of white hair.
Surrounding them, the paladins watched with grim smiles, following suit, tearing away their adorned bodies with murder in their crimson eyes.
Gellard fired at Korm and Jack, attempting to shatter their kneecaps. The paladins ignored their bleeding Captain, unceremoniously stepping across her as they charged at the men, their skins tearing into pitch and their eyes a hideous red. Their hands reached out, grasping for the gunslinger, attempting to push him into the sand, his arms either side. Korm's roars were beginning to be stifled by black hands grasping at his throat, his leg bent unaturally sideways as he thundered into the ground.
'It was never about the half-blood bitch.' The man grinned, 'Never about Lanius. Her sort – they caused this. Our … corruption. And you – you're going to help us – or rather, that arm is going to help us.'
Gellard's host leaned forward, his whispers like piercing ice, tearing at the man's eyepatch. 'You should be used to seeing violation. Seeing your mother and your lover mutilated, beaten, broken. Now it's your turn.' He looked to the others, 'Take off his arm. Slowly, if you please.'
The world was burning. Everything that was, had been, or could be had been set aflame in a single instant - in the blink of an eye. His mouth was agape, his throat on fire. Was he screaming? He couldn't hear it. He couldn't hear anything. Not over the resounding screech that thundered through his ears; the white noise that heralded the shattering of reality. His cheeks were wet. Blood? No. Tears? It scorched at his flesh, whatever it was - searing through skin and muscle and bone to the very depths of his soul. His body; the pain that wracked it... was he on fire? His chest felt as if it had been caved in, battered, shattered, mashed and crushed. This agony - he had never experienced anything like it before. And his mind? Numb. Was it numb? Yes. No.
He couldn't think.
He couldn't breathe.
Then he looked down.
Ebon tendrils spilt across golden sand. Violet gems that had once glistened in the sun now dull. Crimson. Carmine. Scarlet. Red. Red. Red. Red. RedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRedRed
As his restraints cried out in agony, Gellard's possessor watched the scene with a knowing smile, his lips bent with satisfaction as Jack suffered every second. Every vision, every torment was just a means to an end – and with the destructive force of the Inevitable finally in their grasp, the rest was simply pleasure. Nothing else mattered.
Picking up his choice prize, his eyes travelled up the Gael-markings of the fearsome Raven, bearing his teeth with lavish intrigue.
'Leave him. We have what we want. Take the half-caste and the Midgardian. We can at least use the bodies for something.'
'Ja … Jack … I'm … so … sor-'
A second gunshot. A clatter of armour. A wheeze of air.
It became dark.
The smell of blood was thick in the air, congealed with supernatural and man. Flesh and skin dotted the dusty floors, steaming and unkempt. There was no point in wearing it now.
The Shrike helm coated everything in darkness – but there was no point any more. The world was dim. The world was gone.
And so, the gunslinger was left, the murderous convoy clambering onto the Galley as if it was home.
The wreckage roared and cleaved into being, glass and bodies sliding around like a broken chess game, deafening and disturbing. The great beast dragged itself smoothly through, parting the sand like water, disappearing into the wavering heat.
Now there was sand.
Nothing but sand.
END OF PART I
Separate names with a comma.