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First Impressions

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They had strapped her to a chair, the leather bindings digging into her skin but she ignored it. Ray had braided back her hair as tight as he could so the curls would stay out of the way and they draped a cloth over her face to make sure nothing got in her eyes. It helped minimize how intimidating the angry woman looked, not being able to see the bloodlust in her expression. The blacksmith had set up a grindstone on the table and she would be leaned back while his apprentice carefully angled the grinder to wear down the horn stubs. 

As soon as grinder met horn Sari stiffened, the color in her skin changing slowly as the pain built up. None of the men noticed that the leather had begun to tear until it was too late. The grinder was lifted so they could check the effect and she struck. Claws lashed out and severed the apprentice’s artery, spurting blood all across her and Ray. Nimble and quick, her dagger was drawn and leather straps across her chest and other arm were cut so she could stand, chest heaving as rage boiled through her blood. The blacksmith wasted no time in landing a punch to her chest, sending her flying into the wall and sliding down it. Thankfully unconscious, Ray made sure not dead, her coloring soothed back to the more normal shade. 

“Shit… I should have checked those…” The blacksmith held up the torn strap, the jagged edge proof she didn’t cut her way free. 

Looking down at himself and then the dead body, Ray sighed. “I didn’t know she could move that fast... “ He picked up the groaning woman to set her back in the chair as the blacksmith started anchoring several lengths of chain. “Are those really necessary?”

Sari groaned and started to sit up just as the chains were winched tight across her shoulders. “The fuck…” Looking down at the chains and the manacles being tightened around her wrists next. “Huh ... Didn’t think you were into this.”

Glaring down at her, the ogrun just pointed at the front of Ray and the blood splatter covering him. “You are more trouble then your gold’s worth…” Still grumbling under his breath, he worked to make sure her head was secured with surprisingly gentle motions. “But this is an interesting idea. I’m curious to see how long it takes you to get caught and killed.”

“Just a radiant little sunbeam aren’t you …” She watched as he lowered the cloth over her face again,tucking it in behind her ears. Her resigned sigh rippled the cloth and she waited with baited breath for the grinder to start. “Any chance I can get another drink or two before this starts?”

“Really? NOW you want a drink? You finished that first bottle.” Ray lifted the cloth in time to see her roll her eyes. “Fine. Sit tight.”

The ogrun snorted as Sari groaned at the terrible joke. Ray didn’t even apologize as he held a shot glass to her lips. That and several more were downed before she nodded. “Alright. Numb enough. Let’s try this again.”

The cloth was replaced and the ogrun set to work, grateful that the basement was mostly sound proof as Sari was screaming and cursing up a storm. He had never thought of himself as a gentle man but watching as she struggled against the chains, her horns being worn down several inches, he felt the pangs of sympathy. Finishing up, rounding the edges so they wouldn’t crack and she could still headbutt someone, he glanced at Ray. The man was pale, clearly unnerved by the process. This one won’t last long with her… Curious how they got roped in together but it’s probably best not to know.

Putting the grinder down, he started unchaining the satyxis and winced at the purple bruises covering her body. Her arms in particular had the worst damage where the chains had clearly pinched and tore the skin so trickles of blood ran down. Ray was there with a cloth to wipe off the blood and help the barely conscious woman sit up. Her movements showed how dizzy she was, skin paled down to a mottled purple color that should have been their warning. As soon as she was upright, her shoulders twitched and she had just enough thought to lean to the side before retching all over the floor. Groaning, her hand to her head, Sari didn’t argue with Ray as he got her back into her coat.

“I got us a room nearby when I went to get the drinks. Let’s get you back there and rest.” The hat was gently placed on her head before he started to lead her out. A nod toward the work desk let the ogrun know his payment was there. Checking the coin purse, Tuluk counted out more than they had bargained.

Sari barely slept for the rest of the day, the pain and dizzy-spells keeping her bedridden. She barely ate anything, preferring to hide her eyes from the sun struggling through the dingy windows and cursing anytime Ray moved. Getting her out of the tall boots and armored chest plate was a challenge that involved Ray getting punched for bumping an elbow into her forehead. Finally free of her armor though, he got her to drink some of the pain-reducing powder. Dressed in nothing but a thin cloth top that kept the armor off her skin and the small shorts, he could see the extent of the bruises from the chains criss-crossing her body. Producing a salve for the blood blisters and bruises from his kit, he applied the sharp scented ointment to the worst of her injuries. 

Once she was able to mostly sleep, or at least once she seemed to be in less pain, he left to send word to his employer that the Orgoth shipyard was empty and request a new job. Deliberating for a moment, he decided to pass on letting them know he had a new partner. Instead, he wandered the various shops near their inn killing time until it was late enough to collect dinner for both of them. It was in one of the shops that he saw something that gave him a brilliant idea. Picking up the goggles on display, the glass cloudy and metal a bit rusted, he couldn’t help but grin. “These will work perfectly…” Purchase made, he bought dinner and made his way back to the inn. 

“Hopefully she didn’t wander off for the third fucking time … I do not want to have to track her down in this city..” Opening the door to their room, he sighed gratefully. Sari was not only right where he had left her, but sitting up in bed with the last bottle near at hand. “I brought dinner and a present!”

Groaning at his voice, she made a hand motion to silence him before replying in a whisper. “Shut it, ass … Worse than being drunk …Food sounds good though.”

Pulling the room’s only chair over, he set the bread bowl of stew in front of her as well as the goggles he had purchased. Dropping his own voice and even talking slower, he described his plan as she cautiously poked at the stew with a spoon. “We can get these resized to cover over the horn stubs. It will protect them, hide them, and keep your hair back. Think it will work?”

“So … Ya. I guess it would.” The first bite of stew was … it was good. She stared at the bowl in her hand and realized right then that traveling the mainland had so many perks. One of which was good food. Ray had to fight back a laugh as she dug in with the fervor of a starved woman. Even the bread didn’t stand a chance, once the contents were emptied, as Sari devoured that as well. 

“Almost not mad I’m stranded here. You keep feeding me like this and I may even get to like you.” A wide yawn as she stretched, Ray got a chance to see she had elongated canines much like a cat’s. Laying back carefully, she pulled the pillow back over her face and was almost immediately asleep again. From under the pillow, muffled and barely audible, Ray -swore- he heard a thank you … 

Like hell she knows how to say thank you… Shaking his head, he tucked the blanket around her and sat back down to finish his own meal. She ate it all though. That’s good. Must be feeling better. He ate slower, watching her for a bit before leaning back in the chair to stare at the ceiling while his thoughts took their usual spin.

What made me think this was a good idea though … I mean, technically, she saved my life once before. Or at least, saved my money. Now here I am saving her life and trying to make it so she can what, explore the world with me? Who’s to say she’s not just biding her time until she can unleash some grand Satyxis raid… though considering it looked like half her crew was dead that’s pretty unlikely. 

Muttering again in her sleep, this time in Scharde, Ray was able to catch enough that he could tell Sarith was arguing with someone. Whatever the dream was, she settled down afteonly a moment and curled up with her back to him, silent and seemingly deeper asleep. 

The next morning, while Sari slept off the lingering headache, Ray made his way toward one of the nicer islands to meet with his employer. With his breakfast he had received a message that they had a new job for him and that meant he would finally get to see how well he and Sarith worked together. He hoped the job wouldn’t be too dangerous as he wasn't sure what his new partner’s skills were. Telling his employer that didn’t seem like a great idea though and he hoped that they weren’t already aware of her.

Seated in a decent diner for lunch, the place setting across from him empty, Ray attached the pin of his order onto the lapel of his vest. Made of tin, the emblem was of a mask with a gaping mouth, small and easily overlooked. It wasn’t long until another man with the same pin, this one in bronze, arrived to take the seat across from Ray.

The two spoke of casual things like the weather until they were sure no one was listening to them. Eventually they began to discuss Ray’s trip to the coastline and the that the Orgoth shipyard had long since been destroyed. From there they went on to plan his next trip that would take him deeper into the Ordic forest to locate the basement of a tower. One of the group’s researchers had found records of it and the job was to see what was left inside the tower. They were hoping for several old tablets that Ray had to return to them as whole as possible.

Finishing their meal, Ray was given a portion of his payment for the last job though significantly less than if he had returned with something useful. Still, the money was accepted and Ray spent a good bit of it preparing for their trip into the woods. He wasn’t entirely sure what Sarith would need so he focused on basic travel necessities like a bed roll, backpack, water skin, and other similarly useful things. 

The rest of the afternoon he had to himself after shopping. A brief pause at the hotel so he could drop off the purchases and check on Sari proved she was still fast asleep. An empty dish on the nightstand showed where she had gone downstairs for food and Ray chuckled to see she had fallen asleep with the goggles on her head still. 

“Guess she liked the idea.” Another chuckle as he tucked the blanket around her, Ray checked her forehead and was glad to tell her fever had passed. “Sleep well. I’ll be back before dinner.” When she didn’t respond he just shook his head and decided to check over her gear.

Along with the gear he had purchased for her, she had a dagger of interesting design and the pistol that was made from a metal he hadn’t recognized. When his fingers brushed over the metal a chill crawled down his spine and he snapped his hand back. “What the hell …” Careful to touch just the holster, he turned the gun in the light and marveled at the unusual color. “This must be the bloodiron I’ve heard about.” Poking around in the pouches, he pulled out a few of the bullets and checked their sizes. “Light rounds. Good to know.” 

Movement behind him alerted Ray to Sarith waking up. Turning around, he came face to face with her scowling at him. “Trying to steal my shit?”

“No! I was checking to see if you needed more rounds. We have a job to do in the Ordic woods.” He held up one of her rounds. “Do you need me to get you more?”

Snatching the bullet from his hand, her claws tearing at the skin, she growls. “No I do not. I can make my own bullets.”

“Oh. So a gunsmithing kit then.” He looked at the blood on his hand, scowling some. Sarith leaned down and reached for his hand, a smirk on her lips as he allowed her to lick at the cuts. “That’s a bit creepy …” Watching her lap at the blood had Ray squirm a little which only made her smirk wider.

“Didn’t mean to claw you. Balance is off a bit.” Sitting back with the bullet in her hand, she looked down at the metal casing with a thoughtful expression. “I still have my tools but I’ll need fresh powder. I gave the last to a sister and she SHOT me with it… fucking figures.” Moving to sit cross-legged, offering a view to Ray that he would be foolish to argue against, she pointed at her belt slung over the back of a chair. “Back pouch there has my tools. They’re small but work. Just need the powder and some more caps.” 

Nodding, Ray pulled his attention away from the very exposed woman to check the tools she had mentioned. They were indeed old, the various implements designed to fold in half and take up less space with the leather carrying case mended in several places. “So blasting powder, caps, and anything else? I picked up some basic supplies needed for travelling.” He nodded toward the second backpack sitting next to his. 

Curious to see what all he got, she crawled off the bed and began rooting through the backpack. As he had seen her do before, she emptied everything out of the bag, carefully organizing it in a way that didn’t make sense to him but she seemed pleased by what all she found. Items from her belt pouches were added to the collected supplies. Ray found it amusing that she inspected each item before replacing it in the bag, adjusted the straps, checked the seams, all before curling back up on the bed with a grin. 

“Meet with your approval?” Ray pulled a book from his own bag, flipping through the journal to where he had been making notes on Sari’s behavior. Adding a few new things, particularly about her meticulous observations, he looked up to see her staring at him curiously. “Yes?”

“So what’s our next job?” Lounging on the bed watching him, Ray had to struggle a little to not admire her exposed figure. The little shorts and light top barely covered her and it made it tricky to follow the question. “You said something about the ordic woods… Anything fun?”

Blinking a few times, he snapped his attention back to her face and that annoyingly smug smile she was wearing. “There’s an old tower they want us to explore. Supposedly there’s a basement area where some tablets should be.”

Still smirking wide, she stretched so the top moved enough to give him a clear view before sitting up on the edge of the bed. “Well. I’m hungry. You said something about dinner before digging through my stuff, right?”

Intently focused on the journal and not the languid way she moved, Ray sighed. “Ya. You have to get dressed first. That is definitely not appropriate for the common room.”

Dinner was achieved as well as a proper night’s rest. Come dawn Ray learned another fun fact about his new partner: She does not wake easily or nicely. The sun had only just barely poked its head above the low buildings, light filtering through the grimy windows when he stood over her bed. Reaching out to shake her shoulder he jumped back as the hammer clicked back on her gun. “Eeeaaaasy. It’s time to get up. Please put the gun down.”

Growling, she lowered the gun and buried her head back under the pillow. Ray suspected she hadn’t even woken up, just threatened him in her sleep. Tentatively, he carefully poked her shoulder and snickered as she growled louder. “It’s like waking a bear… not a good idea… Sari. come on. Breakfast.” Food had worked to motivate her before but clearly, not in the morning.

Heading downstairs, he asked for a mug of coffee to take back to her as well as a broom because that would be safer. Setting the coffee on the side table so she could smell it, her shoulders moving some as the strong aroma worked it’s magic, Ray moved to the end of the bed and poked her leg with the broom handle. Sure enough, she hurled a pillow at him but at least it wasn’t a shot from her gun.

She was finally awake, dressed and fed with three cups of coffee downed in rapid succession. Still growling though, specially as Ray mentioned anything about the broom, the two of them headed out to the train station where Ray acquired tickets to Merin. Sari was extremely excited for the train ride and spent the last hour of their wait hammering Ray with questions while walking around the station to see everything. He followed her, buying them both a snack of roasted nuts while answering questions and keeping an eye on the time. She drew some extra attention but he assumed it was because of her good looks and exuberance.  

The train ride itself was relaxed, Sari napping through much of it once the novelty wore off. With her head resting on his shoulder, Ray found the train ride much more enjoyable than anticipated. Resuming his notes, the ride to Merin was unremarkable and a blessed quiet half day ride.

Once they were in Merin he led her down the road toward their destination. She was more keen on camping then sleeping in another inn and Ray was starting to suspect she preferred being outside. It made sense, since she had lived on a ship in the ocean that being indoors was stifling. He also suspected that she was still uncomfortable in the town considering she spent a good bit of time adjusting her hat, keeping to the edges of crowds and walking around guards. 

Their hike along the road lasted a few days with Sari growing more agitated as they went. Now and then he watched her glare behind her at something and her restless sleep was filled with muttering. He wanted to ask her what was going on but just talking to her got a growled response. Camping was  … difficult, as she sulked by herself much of the evening without helping set up the space. Ray was at least able to get her to start the fire and make dinner but it was obvious something was wrong with her.

“Sari … stop growling for a minute. What’s wrong?” He stood with the fire between them, concern on his face as he watched her rub at a temple. “Is it the horn stubs?”

“No. Stop asking. It’s fine.” Slopping the hastily made stew into a bowl to hold out to him, she took the pot off of the heat and turned to leave. “Don’t follow me.” A flick of her hair over a shoulder and the agitated woman ducked into the dense forest around their camp site. 

Slurping at the barely-seasoned stew, a bit of a disappointment but she was clearly not paying attention to anything, Ray decided to do the very thing she told him not to do. Giving her several good long moments head start, he set down the bowl and left his coat behind before slinking after her through the trees.