Scenes From Five Fingers
“We need to fly,” Dom grunted.
The group looked up at the mechanik as if he were drunk, though he was actually stone sober. Dom usually reeked of uiske and hooaga, but the only things any of them reeked of lately were sweat, powder, blood, and salves.
“Fly?!” cried Anna. She was on her knees, cradling a whimpering Margaret and holding a stained and wadded handkerchief up to the broken initiate’s face. Margaret’s eyes were still weeping blood. They had started bleeding halfway through her augury, about when they also started to glow and smoke and her voice became an otherwordly cacophony courtesy of the archon or Ascendant she’d managed to contact. The glowing and smoking, thankfully, had stopped. That archon or Ascendent had bellowed at them that they needed to be at the Orgoth ritual site called Baculine Gate, on the island presently and impossibly floating over the city, and they’d best make it before dawn, or else even more calamity than was already rocking Five Fingers would befall the rest of Western Immoren.
“Aye,” grunted Dom around the stem of his pipe. He’d fetched out right as soon as he’d sensed that first, they were stopping for a brief palaver, and second, Margaret’s state left her with bigger things to worry about than berating Dom for smoking inside the shrine. “Fly. There won’t be time to reach Captain’s Isle before Thengir and Megan start the Old Colossal moving.” He paused to strike a Stacia against the brass-lined arcane conduit running from his goggles to the accumulator on his toolbelt, hold the flame over his pipe’s bowl, and suck the hooaga leaf within to light. Dom must have had that maneuver ready to go for quite some time; the practiced motion took all of three seconds.
Smoke warped his first few words as he continued, “I don’t fancy clambering up one of that old soldier’s ankles while he’s on the march. We’ll need to witch our way up there.”
“How?” asked Gregor. By the shrine’s entrance, the mercenary shifted his weight against the pillar he leaned on and adjusted his rifle’s strap. He had hesitated at the threshold to the ancient Morrowan holy site. Though it made them all wonder, not even Margaret questioned his avoidance of things religious, particularly Morrowan. If anything, Gregor had earned their respect, and as long as it didn’t put them in peril, they honored his own unspoken need for privacy. “You have some bit of mechstuff in the Lass’s hold could put us in the sky? I don't fancy another swim.”
The river steamer called the Black River Lass had been their base of operations until vengeful cultists of Cyriss had sent the boat to the bottom of the Broken Finger Channel, killing their pilot and sinking much of their equipment and all of Dom’s workshop. It was in retaliation for the destruction of the riverbed temple and ley line tapping site called the Dome of the Channels. Gregor and the others had infiltrated the place and opened its roof to the Dragon’s Tongue River in order to try and prevent the events that were currently unfolding in the streets of and the sky over Five Fingers.
It had been a busy month.
Dom pulled his pipe out of his mouth and shook his head. “There’s a few tricks in my Liber to make metal lighter,” he said, referring to the ironbound tome of spells and schematics occupying the largest pocket of his armored apron, “But none to make solid stuff lighter than air. No, only way iron is putting someone on that rock is the way Thengir and the others are taking. Us, we’ll need raw spell.” He glanced at Anna.
The gun mage scowled, still holding onto Margaret, who was calming some. “What, you expect me to stuff you into my magelock and fire you up there? No. This is stupid. I haven’t heard of a wizard flying since I was a girl, and even then I knew it was just grandmother telling stories. And who would we ask? The Greylords have burned out the last of the Fraternal Order in the city.”
Margaret brought her hands up to her face and took over holding the red-tinged cloth to her eyes. Anna wrapped the newly free hand around her friend’s shoulder and held her close. A small comfort, but in the face of something as harrowing and unfamiliar as the possession had appeared to be, the only comfort she had at hand. It seemed to help some. Margaret stopped whimpering, but her breath still came in the short, rapid gasps of someone astride the adrenaline tail of trauma.
“The alchemists, then. Crucible Alley on Dicer’s Isle,” said Gregor.
“Three bridges away,” said Dom. “And across the Old Colossal’s path. And dead through High Captain Hurley’s territory. We’re in good enough with Hurley, but Riordan has him under siege. Like as not, it’s Riordan’s knives we’ll be passing on the street.”
“The canals,” said Gregor. “We’ll hire a raft.”
“After what happened to the Lass? No. Too easy for the coglovers to sink,” said Anna. She glanced apologetically at Dom. “No offense.”
Dom merely grunted and drew on his pipe. Time enough to count offenses when this was all over, it seemed to say. One way or another.
The smoke reached Gregor, who reflexively patted the pocket of his greatcoat where he kept his cigars, and cursed silently. He’d given the last of his stogies away to one of the gobber youths who ran messages for them. Gifts like that and the occasional favor kept them in the gobbers’ good graces. A network of the youths friendly with each other and wise to the ways of the Rigs that stretched above and between the city’s buildings looked on Gregor and his cohorts as allies and patrons. Cigars were a small price to pay for that kind of support, but those were Voxsauny Darks liberated from the effects of a Khadoran Greylord agent provocateur, looted from Khador-occupied Llael. Voxsauny Darks! Even with a gobber’s advanced palate, the kid wouldn’t appreciate the rare treasure he had in his mouth. Although speaking of the gobbers...
“The Rigs,” Gregor said. “We’ll get Werk and the others to show us up and along. They’ll keep us clear of the fighting down below. We’ll only have to descend for the bridges.”
“I’ll slow you down,” choked Margaret, her first words since the possession. Her voice was hoarse, as if she’d spent all afternoon cheering at the channel races.
“We’ll still be quicker than fighting through the streets,” said Gregor.
“Don’t know how well I can climb if my sight doesn’t come back,” said Margaret.
“We’ll manage,” Gregor barked. His tone said, No one gets left behind. It wasn’t the first time they’d heard it. They didn’t argue before, either.
“Can’t bring the Maths with me if we monkey-crawl it,” Dom said. He was referring to Mathematica Mysterium, the suit of steam armor he had stashed in a nearby safehouse.
“Less weight for the alchemists to loft, then,” Gregor said, “If they can loft us at all.” He spoke the words, but didn’t feel them. Whatever they faced at the Baculine Gate, it would be easier if they had the Maths’ steam-powered strength behind the business end of Dom’s ‘jackwrench.
“Not the alchemists,” Margaret said. She rolled her head fully away from Anna and pointed her face at Gregor, as if staring straight at him through her bloody bandage.
“Who?” Gregor asked, dreading the answer.
“Sybeth Roane,” said Margaret.
Dom and Anna groaned in unison at the mention of the Thamarite scholar. Margaret helped herself to her feet, waving Anna’s assistance aside, and took a step toward Gregor. She peeled the bandage from her eyes, and it came away with a sickening, wet sound. Her eyes were nearly red from burst blood vessels, and she took a full look at Gregor before closing them with a painful hiss. She plucked her stole from around her shoulders and began winding it around her eyes as a makeshift blindfold, her bloody hands leaving red fingerprints on the stole’s cream-colored silk and cloth-of-gold.
“Can you see?” Gregor asked.
“Some,” said Margaret. “Shapes. Light and dark. The light hurts for now. It’s getting better.”
“Assuming we want anything to do with her,” said Anna, “How can we even hope to find her on a night like this?”
Margaret cleared her throat for attention, then jerked her chin at Gregor.
Gregor swallowed uncomfortably, then said, “She’s been sending me notes every couple of days. Ways to contact her. Making sure I know how to find her.”
“For how long?” asked Dom, his lips pressed thin around his pipestem.
“Since the Olgunholt,” said Gregor, prompting another set of groans from Dom and Anna.
“Gregor, she tried to kill us,” said Anna, who was on her feet again. She had the chamber of her magelock pistol swung open and was scouring chunks of powder residue out of it with stiff bristles of the short-handled brush that rode in a special loop on her holster.
“She tried to test us,” said Gregor.
“The Olgunholt was nearly a month ago,” Dom said. “This witch has been sending you notes every couple of days for a month? Have you responded? Kept up a correspondence with our erstwhile murderer?”
“No,” said Gregor, “Not once, I swear. I--”
“Tonight’s the night, then,” Margaret said. Her voice had an echo of the finality that Gregor’s held earlier. She took another step towards Gregor and reached her hand out for his. He took it, and led her away from the shrine. They stepped carefully over the bodies they’d made on their way in, toward the streets running with blood and toward the promise of death to all that they ever loved or held dear hanging in the sky over Captain’s Isle.
Anna glared at Dom. “You just had to say, ‘We’ll need to witch our way up there,’” she said. She swung her pistol closed with a flick of her wrist, slid it home into its holster, and picked her way out after Margaret and Gregor.
“Oh, do not make this my fault, you...” Dom trailed off. He took one last, long draw from his pipe, then knocked the embers out onto the floor of the shrine before following the others back to the surface.
Last edited by Infested Paladin; 10-20-2011 at 12:32 AM.
"Think light thoughts,” Sybeth Roan whispered playfully into Gregor’s ear, and then they were aloft.
Gregor’s stomach lurched, and he clutched tighter against Sybeth, who gave a throaty chuckle and pulled Gregor a touch closer. They were holding each other in a dancer’s pose, his left hand on her hip and her right over his shoulder, his right and her left folded together off to the side. With her spectacles still perched on her nose and her raven hair drawn into a bun, she still appeared the part of a cloistered academic, more at home tending dusty library shelves than gently soaring over a burning city with a heavily-armed mercenary in her arms. The tight and provocative cut of her black dress may have raised a few eyebrows among the bookish sort, but only the predatory curiosity in her eyes hinted at her true purposes. Sybeth was one of the Iron Kingdoms’ foremost experts on occult lore and an unabashed devotee of Thamar, the Dark Twin.
Gregor spared a glance downward. The Radiz camps were shrinking below them. He could still make out the shape of old Mizah Marona and her ring of burly Radiz and Sinari bodyguards. Around them spread the Radiz tent city along Hospice Isle’s north bank. Beyond the tent city, Hospice was in turmoil. Gangs clashed in the streets while Infernal creatures hounded civilians, and behind them all buildings burned with no bucket brigades able to safely reach them. Gregor looked up over Sybeth’s shoulders and saw the same across the other islands. Pandemonium and senseless slaughter all feeding into the ritual that had begun on the temple site within the chunk of rock that had torn itself free from the earth to hover over Captain’s Isle. The Orgoth conspirators had blasted the Bold Bridge leading north into Ord, and Cyrissist clockwork fish-monsters lurked in the channels to shred the hulls of any boats trying to cross to safety. The populace were penned in and turned upon each other, their psychic anguish and spent souls drifiting up toward Baculine Gate.
“Have a better look,” Sybeth said, puller her right hand from over his shoulder onto his chest, and pushed. Gregor, terrified, whirled away to arm’s length, and then her other hand holding tight to his pulled him back against her, and in a heartbeat they were in another dancer’s pose, his back to her and her arms around his middle. Her chin rested over his right shoulder. Height differences didn’t seem to matter quite so much when flying.
Gregor’s heart hammered in his chest. He’d thought for sure that he would plummet when Sybeth shoved him--twirled him--but whatever spell it was she had laid over them had kept him floating with nary a dip. So he settled back against her and got a better look.
Around them, the coven of dark-clad sorceresses towed his comrades skyward. To Gregor’s left, one each held Anna and Margaret in poses similar to his own. The one with the purple hair was holding Margaret gingerly, as if the blindfolded Morrowan initiate was liable to levy some kind of judgement on her. To his right, a pair of them each took one arm of the Mathematica Mysterium. Dom rode inside his steam armor with the boiler still cold to protect his flying partners. When they landed on the floating island, they would need to protect him until the Maths powered up.
And ahead of them loomed the Baculine Gate, rent from the terra of Drowned Isle, riddled through with tunnel mouths and jutting walls of black Orgoth masonry. The ritual site where the final stage of the Scourge, begun four centuries before, would finally be completed, and the defeated conquerers would unleash their ultimate vengeance on their former subjects: an Infernal summoning of truly apocalyptic proportions. Gregor and the others had seen the ley line schematics detailing the breadth of the devastation, and the drawings and carvings depicting whole horizons afire and packs of twisted abberations running down the survivors to feast on their bodies and their souls.
Four centuries before, the attack was aborted by the arrival of the rebels and their Colossals. On the other side of the Baculine Gate, the reawakened Old Colossal trundled closer. Dormant for centuries, an unlikely alliance of bogrin and refugee human arcanists, spurred by a prophetic vision granted a gobber shaman of Dhunia, had begun a secret project to rebuild it from the inside out as it stood silent and still, mid-climb, against a cliff on Captain’s Isle’s northern shore. The purpose of the Colossal’s return was made clear when the Baculine Gate rose into the sky. Even as Gregor and his friends floated towards the Gate from the south, the Old Colossal thundered toward the floating island from the north, its arms extended to grasp hold of the skyborne island and allow the team of City Watch officers and mercenaries currently astride its shoulders to land and attempt to disrupt whatever fell deeds the place harbored.
“Do something for me,” Sybeth murmured into his right ear.
“I already agreed. You’ll have my account of what...” Gregor gulped, relieved for something to distract him from the sight of the island and the battle it promised looming large before them, or of the ground so very far below. “Of what lies beyond. In Urcaen. But I already said, when I try to think about it, it’s hard. I can’t remember.”
Sybeth chuckled again, airy this time, almost a cackle. “There are ways of mak--er, ah, helping you remember,” she said. “But that’s not what I was going to ask. We both know you’re going into battle tonight. There will be blood and magic and hard, hard choices. Just promise me when it comes time for a choice this evening, you’ll do something just for you. Not for your friends, not for the crown, not for the world. Just for Gregor Dunnegan.”
Gregor thought about it for the space of two seconds before he moved. He’d grappled larger creatures than a willowy human female occult scholar--not scarier, but larger--and it was a simple maneuver for him to twist in her grasp, trusting her and her spell to not let him fall, until he faced her and had his arms around her waist again. And then he kissed her.
He kissed her like a man who didn’t know if he was going to live another hour or meet his end on some cultist’s blade. He kissed her like he didn’t have to worry about her coming too close and solving his mystery, guessing the darkness that rode in his soul since his journey beyond the gates of death and back. He kissed her like even though she was possibly the most dangerous woman he’d ever met, and had arranged for him to face deadly peril not once but twice in the name of testing his mettle, it felt too good to not care.
After a moment, he felt her kissing him back. She kissed him like she hadn’t been kissed in a long time by someone not just looking for a means to dark power. She kissed him like the world might end that night. She kissed him like she’d been suddenly and blindingly reminded that there was more treasure in life than black lore and secret strengths.
He felt his boots touch wood, followed by hers, and they separated. They were standing on a dock. When the floating island was still part of Drowned Isle, the hidden dock jutted out from within a cove where a smuggler’s tunnel wound into the island’s interior. Now, the planks and pilings hung tenuously in the air. A dinghy dangled below, suspended by its prow lashed by rope to the dock. The planks under Dom creaked where he stood in the Maths, the furnace in his backpack unit already glowing red hot as he willed the accumulator rigged into his armor to dump charges into the firebox and jump-start its systems. The sorceresses were gathering at the end of the dock and already taking off, one by one, heading back to the Radiz camp to aid in its defense against the night’s horrors.
Sybeth Roan walked backwards away from Gregor, eyeing him. When she reached the end of the dock, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, “Well played, Dunnegan. Stay alive.” And then she stepped off the dock and was gone.
Gregor looked around at his companions. To his relief, Anna looked too relieved to be on something resembling dry ground to give him attitude, and Dom too occupied with powering up the Maths for the same. Margaret’s expression under her blindfold was unreadable, but her mouth was already moving in an incantation, invoking Morrow and his Ascendants to bless them, guide them, and protect them.
The sounds of fighting drifted toward them from the tunnel. Megan and Thengir’s team had already joined battle with the cultists within. Gregor stepped up to Dom, who was finally gaining mobility, and the two silently cast a single round of stone-sheet-dirk. Dom threw dirk and Gregor threw stone, beating dirk, so Gregor unlimbered the enruned ‘jackwrench from over his armor’s shoulder and lumbered toward the entrance.
Gregor unsheathed Juror, his mechanikal saber. As his hand tightened around the grip, the vents on the backside of the blade began to shed a blue light. He moved to follow Dom inside. Anna’s pointed throat-clearing caused him to stop and turn around. Anna had recovered from her vertigo and while she said nothing, mocking laughter was evident in her grin.
“What?” asked Gregor.
Margaret finished her incantation and the air around silhouette shivered slightly for just a moment as a protective aura settled around her. She reached up and shifted her blindfold up onto her forehead, glanced at Gregor through bloodshot eyes, and declared, “There’s something on your lips.” At that, she grinned, Anna tittered, and even Dom let out a chuckle.
“It’ll keep,” said Gregor, who couldn’t help but feel his own mouth pick up at the corners. He pointed Juror at the tunnel mouth. “Let’s get to work.”