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First Impressions

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The fishing village was small but had been built near the remains of an old Orgoth shipyard with stories of ghosts and curses mixed in with their fishing tales. Most of the shipyard had been burnt down and destroyed but Ray was hopeful something interesting could be gleaned from the remains. Their ghost stories alluded to fantastic secrets his employer would want but so far his search had uncovered nothing. Like so many Fishing Tales, the prize is never as big as the boast.

Rising as he usually did with the sun, Ray was one of the first to realize something was off in the village. Yesterday he got up and most of the village was already at work, getting their boats ready and opening shops. This morning the village was silent except for the very confused Innkeeper standing on his front porch. 

“Sir, I’d stay inside…” Concern etched the older man’s face, the sea-blasted features darkening as the first screams cut through the air. “They told the wives… We’ll be mourning today. No need for looker’s on making it harder.”

Ray ignored the warning and ran toward the woman who dropped to her knees in front of the warehouse, retching and sobbing. Looking past her into the nightmarish setting told him plenty about what had happened the night before. Runes painted in blood covered the walls and floors, broken and empty crates used to prop victims up while even more were strung from the rafters. Behind him, the word said like a curse, someone muttered ‘Satyxis’ as the doors were slowly closed again. Shouts from the beach got the men moving to investigate, Ray coming along out of curiosity. 

He never expected the small village to be the target of a Satyxis raid. The raiders had been careful it seems, going house to house silently collecting victims they deemed worthy of sacrifice. What confused him was the bodies decorating the beach about a mile from the village.

Clearly the aftermath of a fight, Satyxis bodies were strewn across the sand half submerged in the retreating tide. Crabs had already picked at some of the bodies with birds joining in. The men coming to investigate gathered the corpses to dump them in a pile for burning, too distracted to payattention to Ray. He instead focused on following a single drag trail that the overnight high tide had washed away partially. Men rushing around to clear up the bodies before Satyxis corpses could blight the wildlife didn’t help in Ray’s tracking.

Beyond a rock, the blood smeared on the top of it crawling with ants, he found uneven prints that led to the forest. Uneven steps that wove left and right made him think the person he was following could be wounded badly. A few spots of darkened sand confirmed his suspicions. They’re bleeding pretty bad. The footprints are small though. Looks like heeled boots? Could one of the raiders have survived? Or were the prints from who-ever had killed the Satyxis ? Seeing as they led into the woods, Ray went back to the inn for his armored coat and weapons. No telling if they’re still alive but if it -is- a Satyxis I don’t want to be caught unarmed. 

Rather than attract the attention of people grieving and raging against the raid he went into the woods from farther inland, far enough way from the scene of violence thatno one would really care. Working his way closer to the beach was harder than anticipated with the thick undergrowth but he eventually found the trail again. Curiously, it led him to a long-forgotten shack that had probably been left behind when people moved more toward the ocean. The bloody handprint on the door frame was small, smaller than his at least, and smeared down as if the person had almost fallen through the entrance. 

As he stood there trying to decide if he wanted to pull the vines aside and look he heard the unmistakable sound of a woman in pain. Rapier in hand, heart in his throat, he slid the natural curtain aside and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Somewhere in the back of the shack the groan was softer as whoever it was moved. Wood creaked as the person must have rolled to one side to retch, a splattering sound and sharp smell overpowering the musty rot of the shack. Their breathing was heavy and Ray was pretty sure that meant they were less of a threat. 

Moving as quietly as he could Ray slid past a table and overturned chair to pause at a half wall and look into what was once a sleeping area. There on the remains of a cot lay a Satyxis woman covered in blood and sand from head to toe. Doing a double-take Ray realized that her head was missing the iconic horns of her race and that the deep red color of her hair was likely from blood. Her skin was a mottled mix of gray and purple with jagged stumps where the horns had been broken off peeked through the matted mess of hair. When she retched again, the bile red with blood, he realized this one wasn’t long for the world.

“You’re dying…” He didn’t mean to speak out loud, but it seemed such a waste… here was someone that likely knew more about the dark occult then he did. Someone that would be an invaluable resource to him, not to mention a useful combatant beside him. Someone that was part of a barely known race his employer would love to learn more about.

In a thick accent, her voice sharp but weak, she turned to look at him and his heart stopped. Even as near death as she was those dark red eyes spoke of murder and violence. “No shit. You gonna finish me off or watch?” Easing back onto the bed, her breathing much harder now, the woman grimaced.

“What if I could save you?” Ray wasn’t sure where the offer came from and she didn’t either as she chuckled darkly. “What if you lived?”

Breathing was getting harder and his voice was fading in and out as she tried to focus on his words. The accent was harder to understand with how tired she was but the prospect of surviving was tempting. “You think you can save me, huh… Well, then…” Her words were cut off as another spasm of pain cut through her. “I’d owe you.” Sarith spoke through gritted teeth, her clawed hands clutching at the bullet wound in her side.  

Rapier sheathed as he came to a decision. Digging in his pack for the surgeon kit he kept handy Ray knelt next to her cot. Hesitating for a moment, long enough to steady his hands, he undid the large belt holding her coat closed and moved the fabric out of the way. 

Sure enough, her skin was feverish with infection setting in. He marveled for a brief moment at the way her skin darkened from a normal tanned color to the unnatural purple close to the wound and the way her fingernails were more like beastial claws. He still had to get those claws out of the way but she seemed reluctant to help. That or she was barely conscious enough to realize what he needed. “You have to move…” Looking up at her face he saw that she was breathing shallow, pain twisting her features. She would have been beautiful if not for the blood and agony. Where humans went pale with fever and pain this woman went grayish purple, heavy lidded eyes concealed a promise of feverish violence while she watched him.

Pulling at her hands again she finally registered what he wanted and moved her arms to expose the bullet wound in her side. A rag had been stuffed into the gaping hole but had soaked up so much blood as to have become useless, rivulets of crimson trickling down her side. Removing the cloth got a growl of pain and one of her hands clenched onto his shoulder. Those claws he had just been admiring now dug into his coat but he ignored the first prickles of pain to focus instead on cleaning the wound.

Working as quick as he could to clean out sand and a bullet, the woman nearly kneed him in the head as the alcohol was poured over the hole. Those claws were clinging weakly to his arm as he got new bandages in place. His patient had faded in and out of consciousness but he could tell she was exhausted. Somewhere in the hours he had spent fishing out a bullet she had passed out and stayed out leaving him to work the rest of his task in relative peace.

Fresh bandages wrapped around her middle with a healing salve applied to fight off infection Ray sat back to admire his work. That should at least give her a chance. I heard Satyxis were able to heal faster so maybe she’ll actually recover from this. Please that she was at least stable for now he went out to collect water and a meal at the inn, letting the innkeep know that he was going to be leaving the next morning. The man didn’t care and the atmosphere in the village was one of angry mourning. It gave Ray a little perspective and he wondered if just maybe his attempt at saving the Satyxis was a wise choice… 

He mulled over the pros and cons of his rash decision distracting himself on the way back to the shack so he almost missed the entrance. What he didn’t miss was the silence, though, and rushing inside he saw why it was so quiet. Instead of the corpse he was expecting to find instead the bed lay empty, her coat left behind where he had taken it off and the filthy floor showed where she had fallen a few times on her way out. 

Tracking her was easier this time as her trail was clumsier then before and fresh. Ray found his Satyxis patient laying beneath a tree with claw marks in the bark showing where she had struggled to remain upright. Rather then try to wake her he instead knelt down to pick her up. Marveling at how light she was he stood with the woman draped unconsciously in his arms. In the fading sunlight light he was able to see the purple tint better and how it blended with the more natural tan of someone who lived on the sea. With the dark hair and full lips she was indeed beautiful. And deadly. Don’t forget what they did in that warehouse…  

Shaking the thoughts out of his head he carried her back to the shack and managed to get her awake enough to drink some water. It was going to be a long night for him but her fever already lessened. “I guess the stories are true and you do heal faster than normal humans.” It was weird to think that he was trying to save someone that the rest of the world viewed as the enemy. There were no stories of magnanimous Satyxis ships saving stranded sailors. No, only stories of them raiding and killing, ravaging the shore line for supplies and sacrifices to their blood rites. 

But what if, just maybe, she could be more than that. I’d rather have someone used to dark magic traveling with me instead of some morrowan who was superstitious about everything. Their minds are closed and incapable of accepting of anything outside of what they viewed as Right or Wrong. She could be even more useful if she knows more about the Orgoth. Isn’t that where most of their rituals came from?

Thinking to himself as he cleaned off her face he lightly touched one of the jagged horn stubs and even in her unconscious state she growled at him. Startled at the sound he snapped his hand back to wait for her to settle down again before trying to get a better look. Like ram’s horns, I think … They’ll probably grow back. I bet she has a killer headache though. Might be why she’s been so dizzy and unfocused. Rummaging in his med kit he produced a headache powder that got mixed in with her next few sips of water. The effect was almost instant as she seemed to slip deeper into sleep, surprising him again at how quickly things worked on her. “Fever’s mostly gone, that stuff will probably clear out the rest of it. Infection is gone, and I can see where you’re healing… I guess it’s true. Satyxis aren’t human. I mean… besides the horns and skin color you don’t look that different.” 

The rest of the night passed easily enough, the woman sleeping deeply and Ray catching a few hours of sleep here and there. She woke once, not too far from dawn, and muttered in her sleep. The words were in a language he didn’t recognize but if he had to describe it, it would be ‘violent and sharp’. I wonder if that’s their language. Satyxi? Something like that. Whatever she said, whatever her dream was, passed and she returned to the deeper sleep of healing. On checking her wound again to make sure the thrashing didn’t tear anything open Ray marveled at how fast it was recovered. Wish I had that… She probably won’t even scar.

Dawn came and he had trail rations for breakfast while making sure she drank more water. Those dark eyes watched him suspiciously but she cooperated enough to hold the cup herself as he helped her sit up. Food was denied but he suspected that was more of a concern for poison then not being hungry. When her stomach growled, he grinned and just held out a hardtack cracker. “Still in pain?”

Shaking her head very slowly, her eyes not fully focused on him afterward, he knew she was lying and just held up a packet of headache powder. “I can give you something for the pain, if you want.”

“No, it makes me sleep too deep.” She sat herself up, carefully leaning her head back against the wall. “A little pain never killed anyone.” Her eyes watched as he unrolled a chunk of bread and cheese, then inspected the hardtack in her hand. She chewed it thoughtfully, wincing now and then. “How long was I out?”

“Just the night.” A piece of bread was held out to her, slice of cheese sitting on top and she stared at it before leaning forward enough to take it. “Any chance you’ll tell me what happened?” He hoped answers would be payment for the food, a simple enough barter though Ray suspected she wouldn’t be that helpful.

Several emotions crossed her face at his question and seemed to settle on tired anger. Exhaling before using those long nails to tear into the bread it seemed to Ray that was she trying to think of how to answer. Mouth full of food, she looked down at the cheese with a wide-eyed expression of shock or surprise, all thoughts of her impending answer forgotten. 

“Ah… I guess you don’t get cheese too often on a ship. The stuff expires pretty quick in the heat.” Ray grinned and held out another piece that was greedily snatched up. “I saw what was done in the warehouse… and the bodies on the beach.” It was important to him to know which she was a part of. Was the whole crew responsible for the murders? Was only part of it? Surely the novelty of cheese would warm her up enough to answer. He Needed answers. He needed to know that saving her wasn’t going to be a massive mistake.

Swallowing the food she held a hand out for the cup of water and downed that as well before answering. “All you need to know is there was a mutiny and I picked the wrong side apparently.” A smaller bite of bread, she chewed while looking over the shack. “Warehouse… we emptied it. Tossed some of the dead in there. Anything else was probably done by the Witches. They were looking for answers. They always have questions and are very good at finding answers.” A shrug and she couldn’t help but grin at his expression. “Guess they got bored waiting for the mutiny to pass.”

Her answer was not what he had expected and the callous way she tossed aside the deaths made him question yet again if this was a good idea. “You said if I saved you, you’d owe me. What do you mean by that?”

Shrugging then wincing as the movement pulled at her side the woman held the empty cup out for him to refill. “Life debt. Seems appropriate and all. You save my life so I stick with you until I feel the debt is paid.” Downing the water again, she handed him back the empty cup. “Not a normal practice and since you’re not a Sister your life isn’t worth much. Gives me something to do until I figure out what’s next.” Her eyes closed and she sighed. 

A shakey hand reached up to brush hair from her face came in contact with the horn stubs. Hissing in pain and cursing in that unknown language she turned to him with her face going from tired to an expression of pure rage. Standing quickly, too quickly as she almost lost her balance in the process, she reached those clawed hands out for him. “What did you do?!”

It took him a second to realize she had only just found out about the broken horns and immediately suspecting him of the mutilation. “I found you like that. They’ll grow back though.” Dodging her outstretched hands was easy enough but he had to move back in to catch her as she pitched forward. Those hands clutched at her head as she groaned in pain and rage, curses growing weaker. “Lay back down before you puke on me.” 

The activity must have worn her out as she was fast asleep again muttering in her sleep but Ray was grateful. If she was asleep then he could make his way back into town and pick up whatever supplies may be for sale. Considering how empty their warehouse had been, he was assuming probably not much but his trail rations wouldn’t be enough for two to travel on. 

He was right about available supplies as the shops were closed. Even the inn innkeper was offering nothing but salted fish and hard bread to his patrons. Along with the meager meal, Ray was encouraged to leave since the village would have to rebuild their supplies and didn’t want an extra mouth to argue with about rationing. He agreed, closed his tab, and made it look like he was heading off for the next town.

Out of sight of the village he went back into the woods toward the shack with the intent on getting her on her feet so they could work inland. The last thing he needed was any of the villagers finding out one of their attackers survived while foraging in the woods. And I have to figure out how to hide her. Not a lot of purple horned people walking around after all. Struggling with the underbrush and his conflicting thoughts, Ray arrived at the shack to find it was empty. Again.

That’s it. This is bullshit. I’m not dragging her sorry ass back here if she’s so intent on dying… Standing inside the shack, his hands on his hips as he glared at the empty bed, Ray nearly shouted as a hand pulled on his tied-back hair. The cruel laugh next to his ear was the only warning as her fist collided with his temple.