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First Impressions

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Awe, reverence, fear, and an unhealthy dose of curiosity got him close enough to the ink-black armor to inspect it for runes. More of the red material was etched into the armor, reminiscent of veins, with various runes decorating the chest, limbs, and helmet. What really got his attention though was the empty cavity in the center of the chest plate. Near the helmet sat a broken crystal bigger than his fist and perfectly sized for the opening.

“Why a crystal… What were they working on?” He mumbled the question, not expecting an answer, while reaching for the first drawer.

“My bet? Souls. The armor looks like the banes I’ve seen. Empty until a soul is placed in them.” She adjusted her footing as he opened the first drawer on the front of the pedestal. “Smells similar to the necrofactoriums as well. Pain. Suffering. Fear. Agony.” She glanced at him and from the look he saw the same revulsion he felt when the undead were mentioned. “Regrets. It’s all here, just old. Faded.”

He understood a little bit of her then, just a tiny bit, but he saw the same aversion to necromancy that most mortals held. Only she had seen them up close and possibly worked with them. Ray had only heard about them or seen them from a distance. Holding her gaze now, feeling the way her crimson gaze bored into his soul, he wondered if she was more human than he had originally assumed.

Beginning to say something, a hand reaching out to touch her arm, Ray stopped when he saw the glowing amber eyes behind her. “SARI!” 

The shout was all she needed to turn and drop down to one knee, her pistol held in both hands as her gun fired at the specter that had been trying to sneak up on them. Cursing she fired again and again, both shots in her breech load pistol leaving pockmarks in the wall but the specter untouched. “Fine, be like that!” 

Ray used her shouting as a distraction, throwing drawers open and cramming anything he found into his backpack along with the broken crystal. A few scraps of paper was all he had to show for their efforts until he reached into a cubby and felt a scroll that had been pushed to the back. Victorious that he found something more than a supposed grocery list the scroll was shoved into an empty tube for safe keeping. “Sari! Let’s go!” 

Turning back to look at her dodge the unnaturally long claws of the specter, Ray watched as she pressed the muzzle of her pistol to it’s far-too-wide-grin and pulled the trigger. Instead of the usual flash of gunpowder he saw instead a ring of green necrotite runes forming around her hand. Fear and realization filled the specter’s dead eyes as her magically imbued round shattered it’s head into dry bone shards.

“HA! They never expect that, do they.” Reloading her pistol as she joined back up with Ray the triumph melted from her face as she looked behind him. “Ray…. Start running to the door. Don’t turn around.” Her ammo wheel spun into place as she slammed it into place, hammer cocked back and another round in place. Runes formed around her hand again as she fired a first and then second magical shot over his shoulder while backpedaling.

Taking her advice Ray ran toward the door out, stopping long enough to grab the helmet off the first workspace with the rune Sari had recognized. An unearthly scream behind him was evidence enough that her shots were effective though he wasn’t sure how many were coming after them. Trusting in her he made sure the door was open for Sari’s escape, finally turning to watch as she dodged again. The remains of one wraith lay scattered but there were still two dancing around her as she dodged and rolled from their attacks.

Blood spewed out from the gash across her left arm, the metal plating she wore the only reason the limb wasn’t severed below the elbow. The specter gave a wicked cackle as her blood dropped from it’s talons. Her own claws returned the favor and he was impressed to see she did damage even against the spectral horror. 

Watching her fight them, the way she dodged around their attacks until getting in position to take a hit from the ghastly things only to retaliate with her dagger or claws. Something about her face and the look of concentration made him wonder if she could only fire a few of the magical rounds at a time before needing to recharge? He had heard that before from other gunmages and assumed now it must be the same for her. 

Waiting to get hit just so the wraiths were solid and she could strike back was taking its toll on her though. Slashes lined her arms and belly with blood leaving splatters across the stone floor. His slug gun wouldn’t be effective against them but maybe he could distract them for her…

Digging through his backpack for something, anything, that could prove useful his hand closed on the crystal again. Thinking back to how she had mentioned it might be used to contain souls he wondered if the broken container could still be effective. Perhaps it could be used to hold the specters in place letting Sari and him escape safely. He doubted the cracked prism could successfully trap an entire wraith but perhaps it could slow them or at least buy her time.

Looking up from his backpack at her outcry he grimaced when specter claws raked across her exposed belly, spraying blood and her curses as she rolled away from the crimson splattered specter. Her breathing was ragged and Ray was starting to suspect she was reaching the end of her stamina. Desperate to help her he hurled the broken crystal at the specter and watched as it bounced off the monster instead of sailing straight through.

An unholy scream echoed from the skeletal mouth of the ghost as Ray watched streamers of its body being pulled toward the prism, reminding him of tent ropes or tethers. The monstrosity struggled as it moved sluggishly away from the damaged soul container, wraith-like body casting a shadow now as it remained solid. The other undead came up to make use of Sari’s frantic attempts to get distance between her and the first ghost, phasing through a pillar as it reached greedy claws out for her. Blood pooled around her where she sat, a hand on her belly and obvious purple coloring spreading across her skin from fear and pain and anger. 

“Sari, come this way!” Ray shouted toward her, taking several steps into the room while drawing out his slug gun. The heavy weapon didn’t have her range but the spray of buckshot cut through the crystal-snared specter with a satisfying crunch of bone. Loading his second round into place he aimed at the quickly approaching monster that had given up on Sari. The satyxis woman was crouched doubled over, boots and coat soaking with blood even as she raised her pistol to the back of the specter passing her up for Ray.

Their shots went off together, cutting the last monster full of holes as broken bone shards littered the floor. Any expected cheer of victory was muffled as Sari collapsed to the side, blood loss finally got to her now that the adrenaline of combat was done. 

Running to her, slug gun still out in case more of the spectral beings were waiting for an opening, he knelt next to the satyxis woman and cringed. Shallow breathing and half-closed eyes, she watched him without really seeing him, her arms crossed over the belly wound that nearly eviscerated her. As bad as the wound was, Ray watched as Sari looked up at him and gave a weak grin. “Worst part… I have a way … to steal life.” A soft chuckle and she moved so that Ray, who already had his med kit out, could start cleaning and bandaging her wound.

“Then you should! This is really deep.” Concern over-rode some of his sense as he worked to get bandages on the deepest parts of the slashes, applying pressure to try and slow the bleeding. 

“Problem there… I steal it… From someone else.” She looked at him and chuckled. “But you’re the only one here.” Wincing as he began applying a restorative, her fingers tapped the hilt of her gun. “Can’t shoot you. Won’t work.”

“So … you have a shot that steals life. I assume the life debt would prevent you.” Frowning a little as he taped the edges of the bandages smooth, her skin discolored and hot beneath his hands. “Infection already?” 

“Healing. Always a little warmer.” As soft as her voice was, Ray worried she had lost too much blood. That perhaps this time the satyxis couldn’t heal through the injury.

“Sari… Stay awake. Come on. We need to get out of here.” Nudging her shoulder he watched as those red eyes opened again to look at him before finally struggling to roll onto her side. Every movement was sluggish as she made it up onto her hands and knees, his own hands helping guide her onto her feet. 

Successfully standing, her coloring was wrong and she was clearly dizzy but still her pistol was back in her hand. A quick check confirmed her runeshots were loaded before looking back at him. “Let’s go… You’re done, right?”

He nodded and followed her to the door, glancing behind him now and then at the room and making sure he didn’t leave anything behind. A glimmer on the floor reminded him of the crystal he had thrown. “Oh shit, hold on Sari.” Leaving her at the door Ray ran back over to the crystal and found that it was discolored now, some sort of greenish-black fog swirling behind the cracked exterior of the crystal.

“Hey, Sari… I think this actually caught part of that specter.” Looking up at her, the crystal in his hand still, he watched as the satyxis narrowed her eyes at the gem. 

“Leave it. It’s not safe.” Even leaning on the door frame the way she was, Sari kept her eyes on the crystal and then glanced toward the armor pieces around them. “If you have to bring it, find something to put it in so you’re not touching it.” Gesturing toward one of the work benches with her gun, she looks back at him. “See the wire basket? Should fit. Probably designed around carrying a full one. Use that, some cloth, and keep it in your bag. Don’t touch it unless you have to.”

The more she spoke the softer she got, the more weight she put against the door frame, and the more her eyes drooped. Blood was clearly soaking through the bandages but she remained standing, watching as he followed her instructions. He knew she was a quick healer but he worried again that this might be too much or her to recover from. 

It took him several minutes to pack the crystal away where she was less paranoid about it. He tried to hurry though so that they could get out sooner but she was insistent. The air was beginning to feel chill again as he stood with his bag back on his shoulder. “There. Stored in my bag. Let’s get you out of here.” 

Her eyes were watching the wall across the room from him, a snarl twisting her features. “There’s more coming… There must be another room. Tunnels maybe...”

“Then we need to go faster…” He moved to brace her left side to help her walk but she moved around him, pistol up, and fired off two of her runeshots back to back. 

“Shit. Move, Ray. Go!” Her breathing was becoming ragged as she slapped two more bullets into the gun, firing two more of her rune shots into the dark corners of the room. Blood trickled down from her nose and her eyes were clearly losing focus but two of the specters were nothing but broken bones scattered across the room’s stone flooring.

Again he looped an arm around her waist so she could lean on him and they ran, or at least walked as fast as she could keep up. Glancing behind them as they walked he saw the trail of crimson they left and cringed again. Where his arm was around her waist under the coat was hot against her skin, sticky and slick with the injury.

Her breathing was heavy, her gait uneven, but she kept up with him by sheer spite and field by the half-muttered curses from pain that rippled through her with each step. Every stumble was saved by using him as a brace until her feet were steady again, both of them dreading the stairs they would have to climb. 

Most of the specters didn’t seem to follow them though Ray swore the very air got colder and colder as they went. Repeatedly looking over their shoulders neither of them could see if they were being pursued but neither wasn’te to slow down. When they finally reached the hallway filled with the crisscross of vines that hid the trapped tubes Sari weakly pushed Ray away from her. “Go first. Just keep low and go as fast as you can. I have an idea.”

Used too much… four is way too many … Dizzy. Shit. Just gotta make sure the wraiths aren’t behind us. Can’t sense anything… Wiping the back of her hand under her nose, she waited for him to have crawled about halfway through before following, pistol back in her holster and dagger out. As soon as she was at the halfway point  and he was free of the odd vines, she reached up and cut through any tubes she could find. A deep breath was held and she hurrieddown the last half of the hall as a noxious orange-colored gas began to fill the space she was in. The fumes stung her eyes and tingled against her skin but she kept crawling as fast as she was able to, ears ringing and lungs burning from lack of air while the acidic gas burned her open cuts.

Free of the vines and able to stand again, she gasped several breaths before gesturing toward the stairs. “Up.. Gotta .. Sunlight.” Try as she might her lungs could not draw in enough air, a hand clinging to the sleeve of his coat.

He understood but concern was across his face as he walked ahead and she kept breathing heavily, almost gasping desperately, for any air her tired lungs could get. Behind them the mist swirled as a wraith screamed in rage, claws hacking at the vines.

“Didn’t think… they’d get through. Good.” A weak chuckle as they climbed the stairs, her hand never straying from the wall next to her. “Can’t just … ghost forever. Only a little. Maybe … maybe 5 or so steps. Hall too long. Too many vines. Acid in the air damaging them…” Fucking stairs go on forever. Shit. Dizzy. Did I breathe some of that in? Maybe… 

It took everything she had to follow him up, her hearing went and came a few times as blood loss was taking it’s toll on her. The hand she kept on his coat was the only reason she could move forward a few points. 

He glanced at her again as they were climbing up the last of the steep incline then handed over a water skin. “You’re a gunmage..”

Grateful for the water, she drank several mouthfuls before replying to him as she handed the waterskin back. “Ya. I am. Told you, trained as a witch first. They found I was better at this.” Her claws danced on the hilt of her pistol before resuming the climb. “Problem?” She struggled to speak but could tell he had more questions. Questions that would have to wait until she rested.

How do I tell her that anyone who finds out she’s a cryxian gunmage is going to want her dead? They already want her dead just because she’s Satyxis. Add Gunmage? How the hell am I supposed to hide this...