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First Impressions

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It had happened so fast and had clearly been planned months in advance. Laying there in the sand, vision blurry from pain and blood-loss, Sarith wondered just how the fuck she had missed all the tell-tale signs of an impending mutiny. All she had heard was some bitching about not getting to raid the bigger fishing villages. Complaints about the crap rations. Taking on too many new Sisters. None of that seemed like a reason to mutiny, but it happened anyway. And to pay for her obliviousness, she now lay on the beach dying. 

Not far from her hand was her Witchlock pistol and her captain’s mutilated body. Satyxis were often called beautiful but terrible but looking at the splayed form of her captain the beautiful part was gone. Deep gray colored skin was paled and bruised, scarless flesh ripped open to spew entrails across the blood-drenched sand. The worst part, in Sarith’s mind, was that her captains glorious horns were broken off at the skull, the curling points shattered and thrown around the mutiny site. 

Trying to sit up elicited a growl from Sarith as the gunshot in her side spewed forth more blood. Standing was going to be near impossible with her head pounding so bad it made her dizzy but staying on the beach was a bad idea. The nearby town would be waking up soon and find the remains of the raider’s victims. Staying on the beach would mean they would find her as well. Solo Satyxis don’t live very long on the mainland and even die even faster if found after a raid. 

Clumsily holstering her pistol and a ritual dagger that she pulled from a Sister’s body, no idea who it belonged to but whatever, Sarith half crawled toward the treeline. Her earlier scouting before the raid had found the remains of a house mostly consumed by the forest and it wasn’t far from where she was. If she could just make it there…

Face down in the sandy soil, she groaned when she realized she had blacked out. The forest was only a few yards ahead of her but it felt leagues away. Everything attached to her body ached and she could barely see through the blood covering her face from one of the battle wounds. A large rock was close enough that she used it to stand, leaning heavily on the support while she waited for the world to settle down again. Blood did weird things to how the world moved and her stomach wasn’t appreciating the new direction.

A glance behind her at her dead sisters that had fought in the mutiny Sarith realized that there were fewer dead then she had expected. There must have been more on the side of the mutiny then on the side of the captain. Leave it to me to pick the losing side… I really didn’t want to go out this way. Or this soon. Never thought I’d made it to be a Hag but I was really hoping for another few years exploring. Half sitting on the rock, the thoughts drifted through her cloudy mind. The hand holding the bullet wound was sticky, the skin hot with impending infection, and she worried she would bleed out. 

Die on the beach with my Sisters? Die in the woods alone… Either way I’m probably done for. Woods could give me time to heal maybe? Can my body heal through this?  

Somehow she heard voices over the pounding in her ears, the accent and timbre of a mainlander male deciding her direction for her. Die in the woods it is. I don’t want to get caught by some mainlander.


As much as it hurt, as hard as it was, she managed to stumble her way past the first few rows of trees toward where she remembered the dilapidated house had been. There was no door anymore just a web of vines that she pushed aside like a curtain. Inside was rotted furniture and long-forgotten housewares including a table still standing on its four legs with plates on top. Beyond that was a bed likely home to more mice and bugs then healthy but she lowered herself onto it all the same. Bugs didn’t like the blighted blood of Satyxis so she wasn’t too worried about being their next meal. Struggling to silence her groans, she used the last bit of her consciousness to rip the bandana off her head and press it to her side. Fuck this… I’m not dying in some shitty shack… Prove my damn sister’s wrong. Sarith doesn’t go down easy. As determined as she was, darkness took her as she blacked out again.

Chapter Text

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. 

Chapter Text

Sitting in the remains of a chair, the man unconscious on the floor in front of her, Sari scowled at the options open to her. “The life debt hasn’t been sealed so I don’t -really- owe him. But no crew, no ship, and no way back to my island means I’m stranded on the mainland where everyone is going to want to kill me. He has shit for supplies, I’m almost out of rounds, and he doesn’t even have a fucking map to tell me what I’m near.” 

Rolling him over onto his back she straddled his legs and checked through his pockets again in case she missed anything. Sprawled out on the table behind her was the contents of his bag. Or at least what little he had with him. “Too bad my bag was left on the ship.” 

“The ship… fuck… It’s long gone by now. Fucking mutiny.” Scrubbing at her tired face she sighed heavily, lowering her hands before they hit the remnants of her horns. looking over the man with a critical eye she tried to figure out why he looked familiar.

Barely taller than her and not much stronger, he was fairly similar to other human men she had seen. Main differences she saw was he lacked the sun-exposure and roughness that came with living on the sea. Picking up his arm by the wrist she looked at his palm and shook her head. Not even callouses except for the little bit from his flimsy looking sword . “What the actual fuck am I supposed to do with you … And what do you want with me?” 

It never occurred to her that he would recover that quick but as the question left her lips, his eyes blinked open and she was faced with a new dilemma… did she kill him or stick with him like she had mentioned… 

He understood now why she had been wincing before. Hair still wet from where she had probably washed it in the nearby stream, the broken horn stubs looked much worse but her skin coloring was improved. No longer pale from fever and pain, she was the deep brown of someone who lived in the sun with sharp cheekbones and full lips, dark eyes surrounded by thick lashes that watched him right back. Violence lived behind those eyes but he saw curiosity as well. Maybe she’s just as curious about the world as I am. That would be helpful. 

The way she held his hand palm up in both of hers reminded him of the way he inspected various oddities he found while hunting through ruins. Where she was sitting was nice though as he got a good view of her figure and how well the chest plate was fitted to her. Most of the blood had been washed off and his foolish self watched as a trickle of water slid down her ample cleavage. Ray… Focus on the murder and less on the tits. “So … Good afternoon?” He grinned though it faded as she began to scowl at him.

“So …” She tilted her head and looked down at him in a way that made him question if he’d see tomorrow… “Why me.” 

The way she said it, not as a question but more of a statement, caught his attention. “Ah… Well. Why not?” He shrugged to emphasis that he really didn’t think that far ahead this time. And that he didn’t have a real answer for her. “Just … I did. And I’d like to see how well this pulls off.” Don’t look at her chest when you say that … Shit. Good time for me to be distracted.  

Her brow quirked and she leaned down so that it was extremely hard -not- to look at the way her armor held her chest in place framing the deep plunge of her cleavage. The playful curl of her lips let Ray know that she was absolutely on to him and his internal debate. Rising to be on hands and knees over him, her face mere inches away, that smirk became something much darker. 

Good work. This is how I die. Well… Shit.  

“Pulling this off is going to take a lot of work, male. I don’t plan to make it easy for you.” She dropped her voice to a husky whisper that stirred his blood while hinting at the double entendres. “But if you want to try, then you’ll need to learn my name. I have a feeling you’ll be calling it. A lot.” More grace then he had expected an injured person to have, she rose to stand over him with her legs to either side of his hips. The building storm outside broke just then as a flash of lightning flared through the rotted boards throwing her face into sharp relief. Holding her hand out to him she helped him stand but didn’t let go of the tight grip she had on his wrist. Turning so that she could see his palm again she locked eyes with him just as she slashed across his palm with one of her long nails. “Sarith.”

Wincing at the gash she opened, confused at the cut and more so at the way he couldn’t look away from her dark eyes. Something about the bloodlust hiding behind those reddish brown irises concerned him but he supplied his own introduction. “Sarith … Nice to meet you. I’m Raymond though most folks just call me Ray.” Finally able to look away from her eyes that were going to be haunting his dreams for a while after this he watched as she let go of his hand and slashed her own palm.

Holding her hand up palm out to him she gestured him to give her his own bloodied hand. “The life debt is a blood bond. I can not purposefully cause your death or serious injury unless it is to save you from something worse.” That last bit was said with far too much delight and Raymond was sure she knew plenty of “something worse” that could happen to him. 

“And me?” He pressed his bloodied palm to hers, their fingers entwining. “Any limitations on me?” 

“I am your responsibility. You spared me. You will provide food and shelter.” Her fingers dug into his as the next part she spoke was in the strange language he didn’t know. Every word was sharp and unforgiving, the meaning unknown but he could tell she spoke some sort of rite. Something began to burn where the cut on his palm touched her hand, their blood mixing and dripping onto the dirt floor.

Releasing his hand as the final word stabbed into the air Sarith licked the blood on her palm while watching him inspect the cut. “Poor mainlander. Does the cut hurt?” Chuckling she reached for his hand again but Ray had had enough of her games and stepped back. “No fun. I’m hungry and you have no supplies. I’m assuming we’re hunting for dinner?” 

“I somehow doubt you mean hunting animals. The village near here has already been cleaned out so we need to head back inland.” He looked her over again, at the tall boots that clipped to garters going under the tiny shorts. “Can you travel in that?” Her middle was still bandaged but likely not for long the way she healed. Overall the armor she wore left little to the imagination and offered less protection then he would have preferred.

“I’ve been scouting these woods for the last few days. I think I can survive a few more.” Turning on a heel which he noticed were a little more than an inch tall but with a wide heel for stability she stalked over to the cot where her coat and belts were.  

I’m an idiot… and she has a very nice ass…  Shaking his head, Ray began stuffing things back into his travel pack. She had pulled it all out, organized it in some fashion that didn’t make much sense to him, but everything looked to be intact. Even the leftover cheese and bread was untouched. That told him she wasn’t impulsive but she didn’t seem patient at all. No way of knowing really but I wonder what made her decide to accept the life debt. She could have killed me easily enough and taken my stuff. Unless maybe she’s keeping me around because she’s culturally indebted already. Maybe that little ritual was just a formality? 

His bag packed and shouldered he looked over at her to see she had the coat on with the wide belt on the outside holding her dagger and pistol. Several pouches lined the belt as well as the big pockets for her coat. It was from the pockets that she pulled an interesting pair of gloves out. The thumb and forefinger were uncovered but the other fingers were cut in such a way that her nails came through with what looked like metal claws made into the gloves. From the way she moved her hand he could see that they were designed to protect her fingers in a gunfight as well as shield her arms all the way to the elbow. From the same pocket she pulled out smaller metal rings, or so he thought, that slid on the forefinger and thumbs to just past the first knuckle and were more of the metal claws.

“Armor for… your nails?” He was curious and held a hand out to ask for a closer look. She grinned and let him turn her hand around to look closer at the workmanship. “Seems a little… fancy. Why not just cut them short?”

“They won’t stay short. All my sisters and I have them and they’re useful. Why not cut your toes off since no one sees them.” Pulling her hand back, she propped her fists on her hips and looked him over. “Not that anyone will notice you anyway. How do you get chosen for jobs.” 

Looking down at his armored coat, simple blue slacks and plain white shirt, Ray looked back up at her and chuckled. “Because they know I’m good.” 

A snort and she shook her head, the mess of her hair jingling slightly from the thin chains tied through the curls. At least he thought they were curls. The chains were interesting, though, and gave a flash of color now and then when the lightning flashed. “The storm will keep the mainlanders inside. We’ll be able to travel easily so long as you don’t get us lost.”  

“We won’t get lost. But I was thinking we need to stay out of sight for a while. At least until we do something with those.” He nodded toward her head and the horn stumps that were clearly visible. Her expression darkened for a moment before settling on the usual look of haughty superiority that she wore. 

“We can think of something.The storm won’t last much longer so let’s go.” Brushing past him, she took point on the way out of the cabin but lingered for just a moment. Ray forgot they had burned the other bodies on the beach and assumed she caught the smell on the wind. The beach itself was a good five minute walk through thick underbrush.

Joining her at the tree line to see her face become an unreadable mask, he looked at the charred remains being washed into the ocean by the rain. She lingered for only a minute, muttering something under her breath that he didn’t catch, then turned and went back into the woods.

Chapter Text

Sarith proved to be as silent as any hunter he had known. Her steps barely made any noise while the underbrush seemed to just move out of her way. Ray, however, was slowed by the dense foliage grabbing at his coat and boots. The heavy rain didn’t help matters as the leaf litter was slick and yet she seemed unimpeded. By the time they reached the road he had been aiming for Ray was muddy and exhausted and she seemed unimpressed with him. Mud splattered all over their boots and coats, rain soaking into every stitch they wore, and yet she stood there staring at him with that infuriating expression. 

“Need a rest?” The way she said that with a hand on her hip made Ray question why he thought this was a good idea for the thousandth time. Looking closer at her though he saw her hand was on her side instead of her hip. A flash of lightning lit the area up giving him enough light so that he noticed her skin was pale again.

“You’re in pain. Why didn’t you say anything?” Concerned now that she may have bled through the bandages and re-opened the wound Ray nodded toward a clearing across the road. “Over there. There’s a small lean-to built for travellers. We can camp there for tonight.”

It took them a bit to get their camp set up and a little fire going to heat up the minimal shelter before Ray was able to look at her injury. Sure enough, she had re-opened it and been bleeding profusely for a good while. “You should have told me.” Helping her sit up so that he could wrap the bandages around her, Ray shook his head a bit. “We’re in this together, you know.”

“Shut up. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t care.” Laying back down after the bandages were tied off she yawned wide. “Not the first time I’ve been shot. Not going to be the last either.” Scooting to lay on her side opposite the bullet wound, she propped her head up on her arm and watched him.

Cleaning the med kit tools he had used and checking over the number of bandages left, he glanced at her and waited. It was clear she wanted to ask something, the question on her lips but unspoken. Shrugging as if in answer to whatever she wanted to ask, he pulled out the wax coated bag with the bread and cheese to give her half. That got her to sit up at least and he tried really hard not to smile as she enjoyed the sharp cheese. Maybe this won’t be so bad. She’s just not comfortable with me but I’m willing to bet we’ll make a good team.  

Sari had been asleep for an hour, her breathing steady though Ray was a little concerned the rain and hike may have done more damage. Either way, his foolish self was still awake and watching her sleep seemed a bit … unusual. Moving so he sat with his back to her and looking out to the woods beyond the shelter he thought again on just why he chose such a traveling companion. 

She’s cruel, that’s easy to see. Her entire -race- is cruel. Clearly a pirate as well, with how they heartlessly emptied a fishing village of everything like that. Glancing over his shoulder at her sleeping form he wondered how she could look so at peace. Does she even know what that village has lost? Or care?

Rubbing a hand over his face tired but not sure how well he’d sleep. So why bring her with me. Because she’s alone, too, now? Or because I want to civilize her? That’s a laugh. She’s beautiful and deadly and going to be so much trouble…  Taking his place on the floor of the shelter, head pillowed on his crossed arms, he stared at the wood ceiling. Maybe it is because she’s alone. She managed to survive and escape on her own, so what if fate decided we should be partners? I’ve never really believed in that. But after everything I’ve seen, having someone like her will be useful. Someone cruel and capable should make my job easier even if I do have to find a way to hide what she is. 

A shrug and he closed his eyes trying to will himself to sleep. The rain outside had died down to nothing than a mere misting and the forest was quiet. Peaceful. As he drifted off he missed seeing Sari’s eyes snap open and a grin touch her lips.

Shit. He’s finally going to sleep. This asshole at least let me nap. Watching his breathing she grinned wider as his breaths slowed down into a deep sleep. She didn’t move until she was sure he was out and even then it was little motions. Could she sit up? Yes, he’s still sleeping. A little longer of a wait and she stood and made her way out of the shelter. Her coat was left behind but the noise of putting that on would likely wake him.

Alright… So, life debt. Why the fuck did I. Making her way into the woods to piss she grumbled a little to herself. Stranded on the mainland.. I’ve heard stories of Sisters that tried to live on the mainland. Tried to leave the fleet. None of it ended well. I’ll be without any Witches for the rituals, without an Eldest, no captain, no ship … no purpose.    

Her business finished, she stood outside the lean-to and scowled at the person she had just tied herself to. You better not be like all the tales. I’m stuck in this fucking land-o-shit with no options and you’re my best chance of surviving. Climbing back into her coat/blanket without waking him worked pretty well with the man still sleeping heavily. Trusting sort. If I didn’t need him I could just kill him now. But then what? Huh? Well Sarith then you’re fucked because there’s nowhere else to go and no one is going to come find you. Successful mutiny and all that. If they do decide to find you it’s going to be to kill you so that there’s no one left to avenge the last captain. This human asshole is your best chance of survival. Get used to him and this landlocked existence.

Sleep did not come easy or restful to either of them and by the time dawn arrived they were ready to finish walking toward the next village. After some arguing Ray finally convinced Sarith to wait outside the village in the woods while he went in to buy the supplies they needes. It was clear she didn’t trust him as she climbed up a tree to sit and wait for his return with her pistol near at hand. He felt her dark eyes on him the whole way into the town and swore he heard the click of a hammer being pulled back. She can’t… right? Not from this distance at least… I hope not at least.

Rather than test the patience of the angry woman Ray purchased his supplies quickly. Rations that would travel well were packed into his bag and then … there it was. The perfect thing to win her over. He made the spontaneous purchase with glee and carefully pocketed the folded wax paper bag with a grin. No one can resist these. Should placate her and keep her from aiming that pistol at my back for a bit. Maybe even make up for the extra time it took to get through the market.. 

Meanwhile about a mile outside the city Sarith napped a little nestled into the branches of a  tree with legs draped on either side of a thick branch. Not quite the same as sleeping in the rigging of the ship like she was used to but it was close enough and meant she could keep watch on travellers going into and out of the city. Assuming he actually came back she would see him leave the gates before he reached her perch. The rest would do her good as well. Healing was always exhausting and having to heal as bad a wound as hers was the worst. 

Still … I wouldn’t be here without him. Fucking mutiny. I’ve lost everything and gained -him-. Goody. A breeze ruffled through the leaves and she inhaled the smell of life and growing things. Not so bad though. I mean… I always did want to see more of the mainland. Drifting off to nap again in the sunlight Sarith missed seeing Ray leave the city gates.

Making it back to the tree he left her in Ray looked up and couldn’t help but admire her profile. The sun filtered through the leaves accenting the thin gold chains in her hair while a breeze ruffled a few of the curls against her cheek and for just that moment she was peaceful and lovely. Clearing his throat to announce his presence he had to grin when those dark eyes opened with a snap and for once he was greeted with a less-violent look. That’s dangerous. Focus Ray on the unknown factor for now. Not so much on how pretty she is. That sultry look will be your death if you let down your guard.

“I brought food. And a hat. Keep this on and maybe we can check out the town?” He held up the straw hat he had found though not necessarily one he had purchased and watched as she climbed her way down the tree. When she reached the ground and turned around the scowl on that lovely face was aimed at the head cover he held out for her.

“I’m not wearing that. It looks like a birds nest made by a drunk bird.” Wrinkling her nose at the monstrosity he held she poked it with a nail. “Ya, not putting that on my head.” 

Rolling his eyes and wanting to prove her wrong he set the hat on his own head and regretted the action immediately. Straw bits stabbed through his hair illiciting a muttered curse out of him. “Alright. It’s a bad hat. But these you’ll like!” As if to make up for his blunder he produced the bag of treats he had found in the market. Opening the container and reaching in he made a dramatic fanfare as he produced a strawberry. 

Looking between the berry and Ray she was obviously confused and definitely unimpressed. “Shit’s that?” 

It took him a moment to realize she was serious. “It’s a strawberry. Fruit. Try it! They’re really good.” He held the berry out and watched as she took it to inspect with the level of paranoia expected from someone that doesn’t trusttheir gift. With a fatalistic shrug she bit into into the soft red fruit and Ray couldn’t help but smile at the shocked expression she made. “You like it? Don’t eat the leaves now but I bought you more as a sort of a… Peace treaty, I guess.” He held the paper bag out for her and almost chuckled as she reverently took the treat.

She ate each berry with the sort of attention one paid to a fine meal, savoring every last bit of juice as they walked down the road. Ray watched her from the corner of his eyes and wondered just what sort of rations they had on ships. If the strawberry was new, what about other fruit? Vegetables? Cheese was a treat but bread was not new. I imagine lots of fish and pickled things that would survive long trips or be easily caught during the trip.

Their trek was quiet with Sari only asking about a few things now and then. She looked around them with the wary attention of someone who was hunted, her hand resting on the hilt of her pistol at any unrecognized sound. Bird calls made her jump prompting Ray to start naming off of bird. At least for the ones he recognized. That started to make her less nervous and inspired a few more questions from her. It was clear that she wanted to see more, learn more, then she had let on and Ray was starting to think that maybe this was fate after all. Why else would two people so curious about the world end up together?

It took a few days of travel, dodging others on the road and long hours of increasingly aggressive discussion on how best to hide her horn stubs. They finally settled on covering them with a large hat and headscarf until they could find a way to grind them down. Just mentioning that, though, made Sari growl and she promised Ray that he’d be in as much pain as she was. He accepted that knowing that this was going to be extremely unpleasant for the Satyxis.

Leaving her again outside the city of Five Fingers, he went through and found a hat and scarf that would look as natural as possible for her. Something to match her overcoat without looking too new. He settled on a tricorn hat with gold-colored trim and large enough that it wouldn’t dwarf her head but cover the horns. The headscarf was going to be added coverage just in case and he found one that was a nice blue color. On his way out, he grabbed her an apple from a vendor since she liked the berries so much. Keeping her happy was going to be what kept him alive for the next few days…

This time returning to her, or at least where he left her, Ray found nothing but a few footprints of where she had been standing. Panic started to set in as he worried a guard patrol had found her. The yank on his short ponytail caught him off guard and he whipped around just to see Sarith’s mischievous grin. “Don’t do that!”

“Poor mainlander. What did you bring me.” Remorseless, she reached for the slightly dented box that had the hat in it. 

Handing it over while shaking his head, he watched as she pulled out the hat with a wide grin. “Better than my last idea?” 

Nodding as she wrapped the bandana around her forehead and the horn stubs, the hat went on and fit almost perfectly. She could easily pass as a suntanned human woman, uncommonly attractive and short, without drawing too many suspicions. The odd tint to her skin was hard to see with how sun-darkened her skin was and likely people would be too distracted by her figure to notice if she had hints of purple. 

During their travel to Five Fingers Ray learned she had been to the docks here previously when she was first beginning her ‘career’. Walking through the city with her now, he was suddenly reminded of his first encounter with Satyxis. Pulling her to the side, his eyes looking over her face, he asked her about any jobs her crew took on from Five Fingers. He was beginning to suspect she was from the crew he had worked with so many years ago. Now that he truly looked at her, not just to admire how pretty she was, he saw it. “You were the one that took out the muggers…” He hadn’t meant the statement to be outloud but the recognition crossed her face and she laughed.

“You’re the skinny guy!” Laughing even harder, she leaned in closer to him and locked eyes. “You’re the same one… It’s all your fault, you know.” Smiling wide, she turned away to look over the city square. “We helped you search those islands and all those ruins and I got bit. I wanted to see more. The captain was curious, too, but not nearly as much as I was. I studied maps and star charts to try and find places we could explore that wouldn’t be too out of the way.”

The way she spoke, the body language, Ray realized she was more comfortable with him. When she looked back those dark eyes sparkled with what he would come to know as an insatiable curiosity. “So … Then why don’t we get that nasty business out of the way and explore? I can take a few jobs and see what my employer wants us to find.” 

Nodding, she started leading him toward the blacksmith they had decided on. Tuluk, the ogrun that ran the smithy, worked with Satyxis often enough on the sly that she would be a semi-welcome customer. Hearing her request though, he scowled and shook his head. “You’re serious… I’ve seen your kind in pain. Let me find my apprentice. If he dies I’m not out as much.”

The two of them agreed and the ogrun showed them into his basement workroom. Space was a premium on the island so most buildings went up or down. His went down and connected with some of the tunnels and sewers that ran beneath the city. Ray settled down on a bench and watched as Sari paced around the room, inspecting the tools. It was hard to tell she was anxious but when she inspected the wheel grinder he noticed she paled a little. Though, by pale it was more that her purple coloring became more evident. 

“Maybe a few drinks will help? I can get a bottle for you.” He stood and she turned to look at him, some unrecognized emotion crossing her face.

“Three, probably. You’d be surprised how hard it is for me to get drunk.” she smirked at that, trying to play down her nerves.

“Right. The stronger the better I take it?”

“No accounting for taste. Just so I can feel it.” Her chuckle was definitely forced but she turned away from him and went back to re-arranging the tools hanging on the wall. 

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Trying his hardest to make no noise in the dense forest, Ray was concerned with how silent everything was. The insects and night time critters should have been shuffling around, chirping sleepily but all was muted. Even the air felt heavy with danger and ahead of him he caught the scent of something … unexpected. Pausing behind a large tree, he leaned around and saw Sari kneeling in a small clearing, her naked form bathed in the moonlight. It was beautiful to see, her form lithe and swaying slowly. Something dark had been drawn onto her arms and legs, across her brow and down her chest that glittered wetly when the light touched it. A mesmerizing moment passed before Ray realized that it was blood used to draw the runes onto her skin, her wicked dagger held in her hand as if in offering to the bright moons overhead. Her voice was low and husky, a dreamy quality to it that stirred his blood even though he didn’t understand the words. 

 

At her knees lay several dead rabbits with their entrails spread out in front, the gore making an obscene circle that surrounded more blood runes she had drawn into the ground. Kneeling and bowing to the circle, her chanting continuing, Ray watched in horror as she drew the dagger across her arms and legs. Fresh blood added to the grisly scene, green light tinting the edge of the dagger blade as the final offering was made. Ray could tell it was coming to an end as the runes were smeared by her hands, the skin unmarked beneath except for pink lines of new flesh. 

 

Realizing she would notice him now, Ray hid behind the tree and focused very hard on being as invisible as possible. If she caught him here, he wasn’t sure how well that life bond would save him … Footsteps were heard from her area, coming closer through the grass to his tree. The smell of coppery blood and something else tainted the air and he sucked in a breath to hold. Cloth shuffled along with the clink of metal, groaning of leather, and then footsteps retreated away. 

 

Exhaling slowly, he listened as the footsteps turned toward the river they had been following. A long few moments passed before he made his way back to their camp and the cold dinner. Adding a few of their spices to the stew, he put it back on the heat and stirred slowly while he thought about the ritual he had watched. It was almost trancelike for her and he wondered if she was compelled to complete it. Was it a ritual to the dragon father? Or did the Satyxis have their own gods and goddesses that they worshiped. Serving himself fresh stew that had much more flavor to it, Ray leaned back against the large rock they had camped near to eat and mull over what little he knew about the Satyxis. 

The journal he’d been keeping notes in had several more pages filled out with what he had seen before she returned, hair and skin still damp from the washing and wearing just her shorts and thin cloth top that normally went under her armor. He didn’t see any obvious markings from the ritual, not even the pink of newly healed scars. She was, however, a more obvious shade of purple when she sat down on the log, her bare legs stretched out before diving into the stew. Her appetite was returned as well as her good mood. If Ray didn’t know any better, he would almost say she was relaxed and at ease. 

 

A nod of her head and she gestured to the two dead rabbits she had brought back, cleaned and gutted. “Found something for breakfast while I was bathing. Damn things startled me.”

 

A grunt as he added a few more lines to his journal, Ray looked her over again. “Your skin changes color. Do you know why?”

 

Looking down at her legs and noting she was indeed more purple than usual, Sari shrugged. “Moon phase. High emotions. Pretty normal but … You know, might be a bad idea now.” Turning her legs back and forth, she furrowed her brow in thought. “I’m going to have to work on my temper. Kind of not normal for women to turn purple on the mainland.” Pretty sure his eyebrow had melded with his hair, Ray watched a bit longer as she ate a second bowl of stew before adding more notes to his growing collection of Satyxis discoveries. This partner was going to be a wealth of information, if not the death of him…

 

Their remaining hike out to the tower was uneventful, Sari chatting a little with Ray about her life on the seas. Many of her stories involved some form of blood rite and he was starting to suspect she was exaggerating much of it. A few of her tales kept him up at night, wondering if such massive monsters actually did live in the oceans… At one point, their little camp nestled under pine trees near the tower they were sent to explore, Sari was in the midst of one story and a gentle rain started to fall. She paused, eyeing the branches over their head and then the dark clouds. “We’re gonna get wet tonight, huh.” A big smirk and she winked at him before poking their little camp fire.

 

It took him a good few seconds to realize just what she was referring too… And another several minutes to decide just how much of that would be a bad idea. She was lovely, sure, and definitely desirable … But she was -satyxis- as well. He hadn’t seen her with a partner but then again she had also been working pretty hard at being ignored. 

 

The rain picked up while he was preparing their dinner, more rabbits she had shot and thankfully hadn’t used in a ritual. Sari, however, had left the campsite to stand on the other side the tree. Now and then, Ray heard what sounded like water splashing. Curious, he snuck over to look around the thick pine tree and got an eye full of Sari using the heavy rain to rinse off her skin. Stark naked in the rain, her long hair plastered to her skull and back, she turned and grinned mischievously at him. 

 

“Going to join me? It feels great.” She held a hand out to him, the rain pouring over her tanned skin. The temptation was enough that Ray strongly considered taking that hand… Her playful grin didn’t help as he was sure what direction she was going to take it. Instead, disappointing them both, he shook his head with a chuckle and went back to keep an eye on their dinner. 

 

This woman is going to be the death of me, one way or another. Not sure if I’m ready to meet that end yet. Poking the fire back into life sadly, he made sure the rabbits didn’t burn while she danced in the rain out of sight. When he called her over for dinner she arrived with her wet hair braided back and skin mostly dry, her blanket draped over her shoulders offering the only bit of modesty. She got dressed and he did his best not to stare before holding out her rabbit kebab. 

 

They ate in silence to the patter of rain hitting the tarp he had set up over their little campsite while the trees help fend off more rain. Before going to bed, knowing full well he’d be the one waking Sari up, Ray looked over his companion and finally sighed before turning to her. “Hey… I’m going to be getting us started early tomorrow. Do me a favor? Don’t sleep with your gun in your hand.” 

 

A snort and she gave Ray a less-than-enthused look. “Well, why don’t you just… not wake me at dawn?”

Knowing this was not going to go the direction he wanted, he sighed heavily and nodded his head toward the tower. “We don’t know how deep that goes, what we’re going to face, or how long it’s going to take us to get through. Starting early in the morning will give us more time to get through it. There’s a decent chance that they used mirrors to reflect sunlight through the tower so without the sun, we have no light except for torches.”

 

Not looking even a tiny bit convinced, Sari leaned back on her hands, ankles crossed and a bemused grin on her face. “Sooo… you plan to wake me at dawn anyway.”

 

Nodding, hoping she would see reason. “Exactly. Just… don’t have your gun with you. Or don’t keep it loaded…” 

 

A shrug and she reached down to the pile of her stuff to work free her belt with all the pouches on it. Checking to make sure the latches are secure, she tossed the entire belt at Ray with a smirk. “All my rounds. Feel better now?”

 

A chuckle and he shakes his head, a hand held out. “I know you have one loaded. You always do.” 

 

Rolling her eyes, she opened the breech of her gun and tossed the single bullet at him. “This just means I’m biting you in the morning.” A wider smirk and she leaned toward him with a wink. “Who knows. You might like it.”

 

He was starting to think that yes, yes he would like it but no chance in hell was he going to admit that to her...

Chapter Text

Their sleep was uneasy though the rain was gentle, not too cold in the mid-summer season. Through the night she muttered now and then in her sleep, thrashing a few times as she battled her night terrors. Ray woke each time, concerned she would hurt him if he attempted to comfort her but also tired and wanting her to be quiet so he could sleep.

Come morning, Ray had the delight of trying to pry Sari out of her warm bedding but at least she didn’t strike in her half-sleep stage. The growling got intense and she was snuggled pretty deep under the blankets, muttering something about it being too cold for satyxis. The sun had only just begun it’s climb so the air was cool after the night’s rain but Ray didn’t think it counted as cold.

“Pretty sure you’ll be fine. Also, remember, that word is taboo now.” Jabbing her in the shoulder a few times with a finger, he tried so hard not to chuckle as she tried to bat his hand away without leaving the blanket.

“Wud’ever… An’ what’s “Taboo” … Pretty sure the word is Tattoo dumbass.” Her head surfaced from under the blankets, the braid mostly undone from her hair so that little curls escaped in a cloud of nightmare-inducing tangles around her face.

“Taboo, means forbidden from being discussed. Meaning we don’t talk about or mention Satyxis so that no one gets the bright idea you might be one.” A few more friendly pokes to the shoulder and he stood to check on the oatmeal he was making for breakfast. A pot of coffee was bubbling along happily and he poured her the first mug. The smell worked and she was up, grudgingly, and getting into her armor. From there, breakfast was eaten in silence, Sari struggling to really wake up and now and then grumbling under her breath about crazy mainlanders and their early morning rituals.

Once their morning chaos was completed, camp packed up and fire extinguished, Ray and Sari headed toward the tower that could almost be seen through the trees. Much of the above-ground building was demolished down to weather-beaten stone and moss covered arches. A large tree had fallen across the remains and taken out much of the surviving entrance so that Ray and Sari had to climb over the rotting wood. Branches and broken stone filled what was left of the tower’s main floor but it was easy for them to find the already uncovered entrance to the basement.

Whoever had come before them had cleared off the entrance leaving a little wall of loose stones and twigs as a defensive barrier. At the bottom of the stairs was a rotted wood door, unlocked and partially opened. There was little light except for what made it over the ruined walls and down the stairs, their elongated shadows stretching into darkness as the pair stood in the open door. As Ray lit a torch their shadows danced and flickered in the living flame, a shudder coursing down his spine as Sari tilted her head at him.

“Well, watch your step but let’s go.”

 

Their descent into the tower was unnerving in the silence and darkness. Worn steps were cracked and eroded by weather but free of moss so there was less chance of slipping though each footsteps creaked, sound echoing up and down the stairwell.

Eventually they reached the room at the bottom of the stairs to find that it was long and wide enough for four people to walk side by side easily. Marks along the wall and floor showed where furniture had been, once upon a time, and the hint of staining on the floor evidence there used to be a rug. Nature had already begun reclaiming the room with mushrooms growing in the corners and vines had begun to worm their way through the walls and into the floor.

Drawing her dagger, Sari walked carefully to where a large collection of vines went through the floor and stabbed at the stones. “Seems pretty stable. They probably went straight through to whatever is below us.” From where she was crouched, she pointed with her dagger. “Two doors ahead. One on the right, one at the end. Which you want to go through first?”

Ray fished in his pockets for the hastily drawn map he was given and frowned. “Well… I guess we go right? This map is pretty bad, now that I’m here.” He held it out for Sari to look at and she was just as confused, turning it side to side. “See what I mean? Oh well. Let’s go right.”

She hands the map back and heads to the designated door, jiggling the handle to test if it was locked. “Unlocked, stand back in case it’s trapped.” Moving so that her back was to the wall next to the door, she opens it and throws it open, waiting for a trap to go off.

Nothing happens so she sticks her head in to see several rows of shelves going from floor to ceiling. “Clear, probably. Looks like storage of some kind.” Leading the way inside, she and Ray began searching the room for anything useful. It was Ray that figured out the room had been a library when he found the mound of discarded books that were mildewed and weathered beyond repair.

Leaving the supposed library, Sari realized they had a hallway in front of them that they had missed before and the door at the right. Investigating the hallway, though, she noticed a section of floor that was a good inch lower than the rest with dark blood stains and chipped stones where the lip was. Looking up, a section of ceiling matching the shape of the depression was worn and had its own dark stains. “Well that’s fun…” A closer look at the floor leading up to the depression, Sari found where a tripwire used to be, though nothing remained now but holes in the wall.

“Hey Ray… watch your step here.. I don’t see any tripwire left but this may also be activated on weight.” Sari sheathed her dagger and took a few steps back. Crouched down, she tensed and then made a running leap to get over the indented section of the floor. Landing with a roll, she made the move look graceful as she stood again. “That was easy enough. Alright, Mainlander, your turn. Just like boarding a ship. Tuck and roll on that landing.” She smirked and moved so he had room to land, sure he was about to look foolish.

Taking a few more steps back then she did, Ray ran forward and managed the jump though landing heavily on his feet. Only a slight stumble, he stood and looked further down the hallway. “So a door to our left and another down the hall. Shall we go left first? See if it’s another library?”

Actually impressed he managed to land on his feet, Sari grinned and nodded, testing the door to see if it’s locked before opening it. This room had several desks along the walls, shelves in the center though any paper was disintegrated or rotted. A steady drip of water came from a few points on the ceiling and the air was scented with mildew. “Another door through here. Maybe something survived?”

“Doubt it, looks like everything has been either damaged by time or ransacked already.” Carefully opening a few drawers in a desk, Ray jumped as insects skittered from their hiding places. “Or eaten…”

Her boots echo some as she crossed the room to the next door, dagger drawn just to be safe though so far no threats had shown up. The door opened and she almost gagged on the smell of chemical and rot. Covering her face with a sleeve, she shut the door again while coughing. “Dont .. don’t go in there.” coughing harder and backing away, tears pricked in her eyes from the acrid air. “Some kind of lab, the air is acid.”

Ray looked between his coughing companion and the door, curious but not wanting to subject himself to whatever had her choking so badly. “Good to know… Well, there’s nothing here, let’s head to the next door. Supposedly there’s a lower level that no one has made it to.” He held the door open for her, a little concerned as she walked past with another cough. “You alright?”

“Ya… Just stung that’s all.” She used the sleeve of her coat to wipe the tears from her face as she passed him, heading toward the door at the end of the hall. A yelp escaped her as Ray grabbed the back of her coat, almost pulling her to the ground in the process. “THE FUCK?!”

“Spike trap.” He helped right her before pointing at the small holes in the wall and floor. “I just barely saw it before you walked into it.” The explanation helped still her growling but he was sure the glare would last. “Do you know how to disarm it?”

Crouching down to get a better look at the floor and the holes where the spikes would come out, she shrugs. “Not.. really. I think there’s a spot here somewhere that if you step on it they come out, but not sure how to stop it.”

He knelt next to her, pointing out a brick that was slightly higher than the others. “Try pushing that one down?”

Nodding, they both moved back and she used the end of her sheathed dagger to push down the stone. Sure enough, the sound of metal grating on stone pierced the quiet hallway as the spikes slowly revealed themselves. Covered in rust and ages old blood, several of them were stuck half way out, others barely reaching past the wall. “Well.. Good to know they can't reach us… Let’s pass but be careful. That rust can kill you slow.”

The door beyond the trap was unlocked as well, barely on its hinges, and when Sari opened it a wave of mildewed air flew past her. Wrinkling her nose, she stepped into a room dominated by the floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with a long forgotten collection. Ray was suitably impressed as he wandered along the thin aisles, fingers carefully touching a few of the books to see if they could be salvaged. Sari was equally curious but less inclined to touch the findings.

Bored pretty quick, the books all in a language she couldn’t read and most of them barely surviving, Sari found one of the few stable chairs to sit on while she waited for Ray. “Soooo, is this what we came here for? Soggy books?” Leaning back against the wall, she yawned wide. “You woke me up at dawn for paper…”

From several rows down, his voice muffled by the large shelves, Ray chuckled. “I didn’t, there’s supposed to be more here. But if these can be salvaged we’ll be paid more.” Walking out to where he can see her, a brow quirked as he watched her yawn again. Sitting with her legs apart, one arm draped behind the chair she sat on and her coat opened to the waist, he enjoyed the view for a bit. “See if you can find a hidden door or something.”

Another wide yawn in reply, her longer canines barely noticeable, Sari slowly stood and began absently knocking and kicking on the walls. He left her to that and used the thud sounds to keep track of where she was while he went back to cataloguing what books could be moved and which would have to be handled more delicately. They were at it for almost an hour, Sari on her 4th circuit of the room, when her kick made a hollow thud.

“Shit… oops…” A little more muttering from the gunslinger as she knelt to inspect the hole she had inadvertently created. Ray paused, his hand on the cover of a thin book as he waited for her to report in. When she didn’t say anything he called out for her and got a sheepish chuckle in response. That told him enough and he started to carefully store some of the better-preserved leather scrolls into his pack. The extra pay would be nice if these were as old as he thought they were.

“I either found the hidden door Ooooor I broke the wall…” She was already heading his way, a hand scratching the back of her head. “I think the first part. Come look.”

Together they were able to clear away enough rubble from the hole she found that they could make their way through. Beyond was pitch black until Ray pulled the torch through their hole. Neither of them are particularly tall but their heads almost brushed the extremely short ceiling of the long stairwell they faced. The torch light flickered but barely reached down five steps. Picking up a small rock, Sari tossed it and her eyes widened as it continued to clatter down into the darkness.

“That… is a long way down …” No evidence of fear in her voice but she looked over at an equally hesitant Ray. “Guess I lead the way?”

He nodded and waited for her to start down before following suit. No more then two steps were kept between them so that the torch gave her enough light to see without him crowding her. The stairs themselves were short and steep, going down into what felt like the bowels of the world. Sari had lost count how many they had climbed down when the air became heavy with the smell of mold and earth. She slowed down, a hand up to alert Ray to stay put. Dagger in hand and walking in a half-crouch, she went down far enough to leave the torch light.

A moment or two later and she returned, confused but unharmed. “There’s roots all down this hall. We’re at the bottom but … We’re so far down, how are there roots here..”

Ray came with her the last few steps down and held the torch so that he could see the extensive vines criss-crossing the thin hallway. “Ya, this… is not normal. Can you get through without touching any of them?” He moved closer to one of the vines and inspected where it was coming through the wall. Something about it seemed … unnatural, but he couldn’t tell what.

Sari was in the process of removing her heavy coat, holding that and her belt out to Ray. “Hold these. I’ll see if I can make my way down to the other end, check for any traps.” Standing in just the breastplate, shorts, and tall boots, Ray let her see him give a once-over. She tossed a wink before crouching low and half-crawled beneath the vines, stopping now and then to check for pressure plates or trip wires. Ray knelt down to watch her progress, his eyes traveling along the vines as far as he could see.

“Hey… I think there’s a pattern to these.. Sari, Can you try to see if there’s a wire or something with the thicker vines? They look like they make an X pattern.” He carefully moved so the torch light reached her where she was and watched as she snaked and arm up and felt along the vines. “Feel anything?”

“Huh… Ray, I think you’re right. It doesn’t feel like metal but it’s not rope either. Might want to keep low and crawl through. So far no trip wires.” She lowered herself back down to a crouch so he could see her beneath the vines. “Watch your head and you should be good.”

Rolling her coat into a ball around the belt he half stuffed it into his bag to free up a hand. The other hand held the torch that clunked into the ground as he crawled on all fours noticing a few skeletal remains of rats and the like along the edges of the hallway. Nothing was fresh and the dirt looked only disturbed by her passage so he felt confident that no one had beaten them down here. At least, not recently.

Chapter Text

Making it through the extremely long hallway was exhausting and Ray was grateful for the rest once he crawled past the last of the vines. Sari was already peering down the next length of the hall, frowning some at the darkness. “I really don’t like how dark it is… You never know what’s waiting farther on.” Pulling her heavy coat back on and buckling the holsters around her hips again she turned to look at Ray with one brow quirked. “Want to go see what’s in there?” Her lips formed a mischievous grin that he would eventually begin to associate with her reckless side.

“Just watch your step. I’m willing to bet there’s more traps for us.” The torch was held high enough that it’s light fell ahead. “And I agree about the dark. Considering this is supposed to be Orgoth ruins? The dark could hide anything.” He shuddered a little, thinking back on some of the stories he had heard and truly hoped that the worst they might find were old skeletons or rats.

Sarith chuckled a little when he said that, drawing her wicked looking dagger before holding a finger up to her lips. “Well then be quiet and don’t draw any attention. I’m going to check it out, you stay here.” Moving quietly down the stone hallway Ray watched as her crouched form disappeared into the darkness. He had expected to at least hear the sound of her boots on the stone flooring but she made no noise at all. That or the lightless hallway devoured her and any sound she may have made!

Left behind in the hallway, surrounded by the unbroken void and deafening silence, Ray started to wonder if that was such a good idea…She couldn’t just sneak past and leave him behind, right? Also, how was she supposed to be able to see anything? What if there were traps! Or enemies. Or much worse things hidden in the bottomless black that was the only path ahead.

“Psst… Sari … Are you still there? Did you see anything?” His voice felt too loud in the suffocating quiet. “Sarith? Are you still alive?” Beyond the tiny bubble of his torch light was empty nothingness where his voice echoed, hoping for Sari’s reply but suspecting nothing. As quiet as it was she could have been murdered by something and he’d never know until it came for him!

That thought spurred his brain into listing off all the known Orgoth creations that could see in the dark, then working down the line of Cryx enemies, Everblight’s monstrosities, and weren't there Skorn beasts that could see in the dark as well? Or see without eyes!? Minutes, hours, lifetimes past where he stood in the darkness, recreating every possible enemy while waiting for some sound from Sari.

From somewhere ahead came the obvious sound of the satyxis woman groaning. A sound he had last heard while she was unconscious in a forgotten shack dying from a bullet wound. “Yes, I’m alive. Shut up I’m trying to think.” With the echo it was hard to tell which direction she was in but Ray assumed she was just down the hall, straight ahead. 

“Shit, trap? You need a light?” He took a few steps toward her voice and paused, hoping she would say something so that he could follow her voice. Nothing else came from the woman and his paranoia couldn’t take the silence any more. 

Walking slowly down the hall, keeping to one side so his hand could use the right wall as balance, he finally found the Satyxis woman crouching just before a bend to the right. The light seemed to bounce off her eyes for a moment, reminding him very much of a cat. Explains how she was able to see better. Just another point proving she’s not really human any more. I’m starting to wonder if Satyxis were ever truly human though? Or if they were just human shaped...

“Mainlander, stay the fuck over there! Pressure plate and I stepped on it… Trying to figure out if I can wedge this down long enough to get away…” She continued grumbling under her breath while fishing through her pockets. A few different items were brought out, examined, then stuck back into her pocket before she eventually settled on an empty bullet casing.

Using the hilt of her dagger to press the casing partially flat she then hammered that into the thin opening between the pressure plate and the stone tile. Both she and Ray held their breath but the plate stayed down long enough for her to roll forward off the trap and hopefully out of danger. 

Had her coat been any longer it would have been caught beneath the trap that dropped from the ceiling to cut the cross section of the corner. Ray saw only the rusted metal landing where the woman had been before he heard her curse from the other side. A second one had dropped faster than the first, forcing Sari to dodge again around a corner where Ray heard the heavy CLUNK of yet another falling blade!

Muffled but unmistakable, the gunslinger actually whimpered where she was, out of his sight and past three massive rusty blades. “SARI!” Coming forward to stomp on the trigger again, hoping the trap would go up, he heard her mumble something and caught the unmistakable smell of blood. 

Where past traps had fallen straight down to block off the entrance these blades fell at an angle so that they were crisscrossing the hallways. Dodging through them in a straight like, as was usually done, might not be enough to escape the rusty metal and Ray worried that she had been caught in the devious trap.

A solid minute past before the blades retracted and he was able to run around the corner. A whole minute of listening to her whimper softly as if trying to hide the sound but of all things the silence made it seem louder. Finally the blades begin to retract, their gears grinding loudly as the chains winch the heavy traps back into their place. Ray wasted little time as he wove through them, ducking her in a rush to find his partner. 

Almost slipping in the blood pooling where a blade had been he turned the corner to see Sari with her back to him crouched down. “Oh shit, let me see, how bad is it? Is it deep?” 

She turned to look at him, eyes wide, and her hat that he bought her in her hands cleanly cut in two. “I tripped on a rat… And they… my haaaat!” The most forlorn expression he had ever seen on this woman’s face, as well as the first expression that didn’t drip DEATH and PAIN, took him completely by surprise. 

“The blood… is from a rat?” He looked around to see that indeed a very large, now in two pieces, rat was filling the hallway with blood. The beast rivaled many cats in size with graying fur and obvious battle scarring. But all the same, he realized, she was mourning the loss of her hat when he thought she had lost a limb… “Sari. Are you really… I mean… It’s a hat?” The fact that she could, and did, cry over something so trivial made him laugh in both relief and surprise.

Turning back to look at her he came face to fist with her response. “It was MY hat! And I liked it! And now it’s garbage! I am so tired of LOSING THINGS to TRAPS!” 

Both hands to his bloody nose, Ray let loose a string of curses as she walked away from him. This woman… will be the death of me! All of this for a hat! She could have broken my nose… Lingering in the hallway, he glanced at the rat and then back at her discarded hat. Possessive much… and that temper. I wonder if it’s possible she never actually had anything of her own? On a ship I can’t imagine there’s a lot of privacy or personal space… I wonder if having something just for her was as new as having fresh fruit.

That thought stuck with him as he tilted his head back, waiting for the bleeding to stop. It was followed by several other questions he wanted to ask her but assumed now wasn’t the best time. Maybe telling her he could buy her another hat would cheer her up… Anything to keep her from punching him again!

“When you’re done bleeding there’s something you need to see.” Something in her voice caught his attention and he followed her voice, one hand still holding a kerchief to his face. 

She sounded almost reverent, awed perhaps? “Wud izzit?” 

Not even taking her eyes away from the wall in front of them, Sari reached over for the torch he held and snuffed it out under her boot. “It’s best to see this in the dark.” 

He realized then why her voice sounded full of wonder as he turned to the wall. Glowing lichen became visible with a soft greenish glow. Lichen clung to the walls in what reminded him very much of the night sky pattern, a few of the larger clumps actually making constellation patterns. “Oh wow.”  

Coming closer to the wall, Sari pointed out a set of ‘stars’. “These make the dagger, points you south. These over here are the hag, guiding the way home. The dagger one is incomplete though, it’s missing the blood drop.” Her hand brushed a part of the wall beneath the ‘dagger’ constellation she had pointed out. The way the glow played on her features Ray swore her eyes were glowing as well, just an unnatural shade instead of the gentle green of the moss.

“Dagger? Dere izzn’t a con’telation for dat.” Wincing at the thickness in his voice, the congested nostrils still healing from her earlier punch, he came over to see what she was looking at. “Bud mebbe we hab diff’ren’ stories for de stars.” 

“You’re face still bleeding?” The way she asked had him wonder if she had actually listened to him or if she had been focused on something else. Seeing the look in her eye definitely told him she was planning something, remembering something perhaps. Her eyes never left the wall, visually tracing the patterns, and he wondered if she actually missed seeing the stars from the ocean.

“Don’ punch me again… But no, the bleeding stopped I think.” Lowering the kerchief and touching his tender nose with a finger came away with only dried blood. “Thought you weren’t supposed to hurt me.”

“Not supposed to kill you. Give me that.” She swiped the kerchief out of his hands, inspected the bloody mess for a moment, and then smeared it on the wall. “If it helps, the oath made me pull the punch.” Her wicked grin only got wider as the wall shuddered and started to retract inward like a door. “And look, we needed your blood anyway.”

Not at all impressed with her explanation, he took the kerchief and watched the door move. “Why mine though?”

“Probably because you’re not blighted. Orgoth were probably pretty particular about letting anyonefrom the Dragon Father’s army near their research.” She shrugged and led the way into a room that started to brighten as sconces along the wall kicked into life. Something about it set the hair on the back of his neck standing on end but they were walking into the room before he could say anything.

His employer had told him researchers had suspected the tower used to be a lab of some sort. That the Orgoth were advancing their considering magic using the locals as guinea pigs. Standing at the entrance of the room he had a pretty good idea why his employers wanted anything from here that the could get their hands on. The walls were lined with pedestals nearly eight feet in length with drawers and cubbies across the front of them. On top lay suits of armor in various states of construction. Each suit was the same style and made of the same inky black metal often associated with the Orgoth but these also had inlays of some red material as if they were creating veins. 

Mesmerized by the nearest station Ray walked closer to see the armor in more detail and check for any documentation or scrolls, tablets, anything he could take back to his boss. “What were they making… These, Sari, do these look familiar to you?” He traced a rune etched into the helmet though Ray was very reluctant to pick up the piece of armor. “It looks almost familiar…”

Behind him and clearly uneasy, Sarith glanced at the helmet then went back to watching the majority of the room. “Ya, so? Strength. What about it.” Her pistol was in her hand, a few bullets in her other being rolled between her fingers. “Grab whatever you need and let’s go. There's something watching us…”

“Strength… So they do match the Cryx runes!” A notebook was pulled out of his backpack so he could make quit his sketches, adding the use into the detail of the helmet. He worked quickly though as her unease was contagious, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as he also felt eyes on them.

 

“Close enough. Seen the banes myself. Now let’s go. What are you looking for? Do you have to draw now?!” She finally had turned to see what he was doing and growled when she saw the care he was putting into the drawing. “We do not have time for this….”

“What do you mean? Even if we’re being watched there’s no attack.” He understood her worry and only quickly checked the drawers for any left-over contents. Finding nothing except dust and dead bugs he moved to the next pedestal with Sari close to his heels.

“Yet. There’s something waiting for the right word, the right movement, the right trap to go off…” An audible click made Ray jump but he realized it was just Sari pulling back the hammer on her pistol. “You don’t have long. And I don’t know how many it is but it reminds me of banes. Wraiths…” Did she shudder? He couldn’t tell but the thought of her being scared of something put more fire in his step.

Overall the room held nine pedestals, eight along the walls and then a final larger one at the end of the room. There were no sconces near that station but he swore the armor actually glowed. That or it absorbed any light in the room, it was hard to tel. Something told Ray that going near that armor would both answer his questions and spring the trap…

Instead of tempting fate Ray worked his way along the work stations starting nearest the door, hoping to find something useful and not need the final impressive pedestal that sat in the darkest part of the room. His luck ran out though when the final work station was searched, his notes completed, and only a few scraps of parchment had been found to be salvageable. 

“Sari… I need the last one.” He looked up at her and watched as the satyxis narrowed her eyes at the final pedestal, lips pulled back in a feral grimace. 

“Of course you do… Everything in here smells wrong and you want to go to the center of it… How have you survived this long Mainlander?” Her complaints continued as she made her way toward the final suit of armor laying in repose. Ray swore that even her hair twitched as her boot kicked a loose stone, her pistol following the offending rubble’s trajectory down the center of the room.

Nothing happened as she got near the armor, her eyes scanning the room with her pistol at the ready. Every instinct in her body screamed to run. Screamed to get out. But he was only a few steps behind her and intent on searching the largest suit of armor.

Chapter Text

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...

Chapter Text

Escaping the ruined tower was easier said than done with her slowly recovering as they climbed. Dodging the old traps and stopping long enough for Ray to grab a few more of the surviving books slowed them down further. Eventually they reached the final hallway and started to climb their way up the last flight of stairs into the early evening sun. Ray was never so grateful to see sunlight and trees as he was right then. Sari, however, was obviously uneasy as she urged them deeper into the woods. 

Watching as she stumbled through the underbrush, her red eyes glazed over, Ray realized she was pushing on toward a goal only she could see. “Sari… Sari we need to stop so you can rest.” Gently tugging on her arm to get her to look at him, Ray watched as she teetered off balance. “You have to rest so you can heal.”

Blinking at him a few times the satyxis eventually nodded and seemed to droop like a wilted plant. He helped her sit down on a log and propped her back against the remains of a tree before starting to change her bandages.

Where the specter’s claws had slashed her he found that the worst was along the base of the ribs and not the soft belly. The wound was closing, slowly, but it looked off, darkened, as if the skin was dead or dying. Not necrotic at least, but this isn’t going to heal as quickly as the gunshot. Pressing the bandage to the wound he looked up at her heavy lidded sunken eyes. She must be pretty weak though, she looks exhausted. I wonder if her body just immediately turns energy into healing? I bet she’s going to sleep a lot. 

“You’re not healing that quick. Too much damage I think. We should camp for a few days so you can sleep.” Carefully applying more ointment to the worst edges of the wound now that the bleeding stopped, Ray tried to think of which direction the river was. “Might want to go back to our last camp spot. That was well covered and safe. Had water nearby...”

Looking back up at her he chuckled softly as she was already half asleep leaning against the tree. One hand had gripped the sleeve of his coat and a part of him hoped that meant she was comfortable with him. That or she at least wanted him nearby. Either way she didn’t seem very responsive as her breathing slowed down as Sarith slipped into a deep sleep. “Or we can camp here. This works.” 

It didn’t take him long to set up her bedding and get a fire going once he convinced her to let go of his sleeve. Carrying the unconscious woman to the sleeping bag was the hard part since he wanted to make sure not to jostle her too much. Once she was stretched out with her coat as a blanket he went to see if there was a source of water nearby. She’d need to get cleaned up and he wanted hot water to wash the rest of her cuts with.

Finding the river again wasn’t too hard and Ray filled up as many containers as he could. What really surprised him were the wild berry bushes he spotted! He cut a few of the branches off to carry easier, hoping the sweet treat would perk the satyxis up. She saved me again. Those runeshots though … I’m glad she’s been sparing with that sort of ability because others are not going to be as … accepting. That green to the runes is hard to mistake and I don’t think I know anyone willing to work with a Cryxian will weaver. If she tells me she’s also a damned War Caster I’m going to lose my damn patience with her secrets. As it is, we’re going to have to talk about using those shots where there might be witnesses.

A heavy sigh as he broke through the final barrier of underbrush to reach their camp and some of his concerns melted away. She had woken up just enough to get his bed rolled out next to hers and a fire ring made but clearly fell asleep again before she could finish getting the fire going. Smoke curled up from the kindling and she was curled up on the dirt nearby. 

“Sari…” Chastising her just a little he also felt… grateful. And less worried. She was not the easiest person to get along with and they were going to have their arguments but she also clearly wanted to be here. “You should have stayed in bed…” Again he scooped her up, cradling her head on his shoulder and smiling softly down at her. “But thank you.” 

The fire going strong and water boiled to clean it, Ray used several cloths to clean off her more superficial cuts along her arms. Working her armor off was the harder part but eventually he got the chest plate off. Thankfully the woman was sleeping deeply enough that he barely got a grumble out of her as he handled her like a rag doll.

Getting off her boots was going to be his real challenge as they reached mid-way up her thigh and clipped with straps that connected under her shorts to one of her belts. “Like garters but armored… Interesting. Probably makes it easier to move though while you climb around a ship’s rigging.” 

The struggle was made worse when he found the blood had gotten inside the boot tops and dried. She actually did wake up at that point and weakly smacked him. “Buckles… You’re useless…” Turning her hip to show the buckles that ran down the back of the leather boots got a chuckle out of her as he started undoing them. “Never… undressed a woman?”

“Shush you. I have. Just not some with this much hardware.” Ray grinned and worked the first boot off before starting on the second. “There’s blood all over. Might just dunk you in the river in the morning except for the infection that’ll cause…”

Propping herself up on her elbows to watch him squirm the second boot off, she had an odd look to her face. “Worth it. Could go swimming together.” Her eyes followed the cloth as he scrubbed the dried and drying blood off her legs. The skin was unmarked from previous combat, dark tan colored with the same undertones of lavender that Ray had become to associate with her darker moods. 

“Well the river is full of bacteria that is going to fester in your wounds. I’d rather you not catch a disease or infection from swimming in it.” Wringing the cloth out again he glanced up at her face, carefully wiping away blood from her cheek and jaw. “I’d rather you work on healing.”

Something behind her eyes caught his attention and Ray realized that she was watching him back with a less predatory expression then usual. By now she was sitting up more, her hands behind her supporting her weight instead of the half-lounge from behind. Still moving slowly and without her usual grace, she lifted a hand to the side of his face. 

As close as those claws came to his eyes he didn’t flinch, the warmth coming off her hand to miss as her palm touched his cheek. Fingers through his hair she pulled her hand back to show a leaf and a small smirk. She’s testing the waters. How close can she get before I back away… How close do I want her to get. A part of him reminded him that it had been a very very long time since the last time he had a partner. That same part of him also reminded him that she was extremely easy on the eyes, full figured, and barely covered even if there was blood all over her.

A huge effort went into him breaking eye contact and leaning away from her, a hand gently pushing her shoulder so that she laid back down again. “Thanks. Now lay down and get some sleep. We’re going to camp here for a few days so you can rest and recover. I need you healed up so we can make it back to town.” Another exhale as if he was almost sighing in regret Ray pulled her blanket over her and added her coat on top as additional coverage.

Turning his back on her Ray worked to clean his med kit and take inventory on what he would need to replace when they got back to town. And then he would need to prepare their dinner. And move his bedding away from hers. Why is she in my head like this? I've worked with other women who were just as lovely and had no issues. Why this one? Because she’s dangerous? Because she’s different? Satyxis are like black widows. Sleeping with her might be fun, sure, and probably very exciting and different, but I have a feeling it’s going to also be painful.

That thought… Those claws, the shapely legs, the strength of her hands, the warmth of her skin… He -ached- and it was distracting. Dinner nearly burned because he wasn’t thinking of anything but the way she’d probably take control, her small form over his… 

“Ray … Get me water.” She was sitting up, those red eyes vibrant and sweat clinging to her face. “It’s hot … “ 

Her voice cut through the mental vision and he whipped around to look at her with a guilty expression that she hopefully didn’t notice. “Too many blankets. Sorry. I’m used to humans. We get cold when we lose too much blood.” Pulling her coat off of her and handing her a glass of water. “Are you hungry?”

A nod and she down the water to hold the cup out for another. “I want that … bread soup. What was it? I liked that.” She used both hands to demonstrate the bowl shape. “We had it at the inn. Bread, with the soup inside.”

“Oh! I know what you’re talking about. When we get back to town I’ll see if I can find some. You have to heal up before we can make that walk though.” The second glass of water was held out to her and he waited for her to down it as well before taking the cup and handing over the bowl of stew. “For tonight it’s just trail stew. Dehydrated meat and vegetables, some seasoning. No bread.”

“Going to make you bring bread more… And the cheese.” She ate with little complaint though it was clear sitting up was difficult. He helped support her by propping his backpack and hers behind her back. 

“Well, that’s harder to travel with. But most of my jobs only have me out in the woods for a few days and then in cities for the rest.” Ray chuckled some as she ate, his own soup more flavorful for the company. Now if I can just get my head out of the gutter… At least until she’s healed. Maybe then we can see how bad of an idea it is…

She ate half the bowl before it was obvious she was falling back asleep. Getting her comfy and waiting until she was fast asleep Ray resumed settling the campfire and cleaning up dinner before laying down himself. Sleep didn’t come easily though, his brain insistently following the same track as earlier even though he stubbornly tried to remind himself of all the reasons why he shouldn’t be thinking about his satyxis partner.

Eventually he slipped from his bed and went down toward the river again where he’d be well out of earshot and too far for the weakened satyxis to follow him. Stripping off his own clothes covered in dirt, sweat, and blood he slid into the water to wash off the grime from exploring. Feeling less filthy on the outside he leaned back against a large rock and let the after flow around him, cold but soothing as well. 

Thinking back on some of his last partners he realized Sarith was indeed different from them all. And not just because she wasn’t human, but because her personality and temperament made it hard to second guess what she would do, how she would react, even what she would say sometimes. But he liked that the most really. He was good at reading people, understanding them, and he wasn’t surprised very often.

But not with her. No, she was different. Surprising. Unexpected. If they were to act on their urges, would she start? Would she let him lead? He liked to take things a little slow at first, teasing and testing his partner’s reactions. Maybe that would surprise her though, a willing partner that wanted to please her. 

Leaning back against the rock with his eyes closed and his hand caressing the hardening desire, Ray tried to imagine what Sari would like. Did she enjoy having someone lick and tease at her most sensitive of places? Fingers tracing the opening until she was slick enough to admit a partner? Pinching and rolling nipples between fingers and kisses along the neck, inner thigh, crest of her hips. There was a lot Ray wanted to try with her to see what she liked most. 

Knowing Sari though she would want control eventually, her body sitting on his tantalizingly close. The tip just outside, sliding it back and forth between the lips before allowing him in. Was she someone that likes it hard and fast? Or agonizingly slow? Savoring the length of her partner? Would she wrap her small hands around him and tease that way? Those claws tracing lines down his chest and belly, her tongue and teeth teasing his neck and shoulders. He shivered at the idea even as he knew there would be blood drawn. 

He liked that idea, too. Trickles of blood and the sharp cold of her nail at his skin. A reminder that she could do so much more but chose not to. Sucking at his neck to leave marks, nibbling along his collar bone leaving little nicks from her teeth. The sharp smell of her sun-kissed skin mixing with the heady aroma of their mingled desire.

Aching even more as he thought about the warmth of her skin as she separated to let him inside her, the slick wet feeling of her body, the tightness of muscles contracting near climax. His breath caught as he realized that no, she’d be on top of him with those hands on his chest, breasts bouncing as she slid him in and out of her. Would she hold his arms down as she teased herself on him? Moving at her own pace to find just the right angle? He shuddered as his hand worked along the shaft, slow as he expected her to start. Faster as he thought about her needs, her flexible form shifting positions until she had him where she needed. His mind’s eye saw the way Sarith would gasp, her tangled auburn hair falling across bare shoulders as her head falls back, lips slightly parted as she reached her climax. Her body contracting around him tighter and tighter as he released inside her.

Or at least into the river as he thought about her. Tension eased out of his shoulders and neck, the cold water cooling him back down from the heat of desire. She had been such a tease and he knew it was his own selfishness thinking but the hope was there that she would be willing, once she was healed. His imagination was fine but he wanted to feel her skin against his instead just the hard rock behind him and cold river water.

Toweling off and dressing into his backup clothes Ray felt more relaxed even if a little guilty. He'd be able to sleep better now which was what he needed the most right now. Tomorrow he’d have to take care of Sari’s wounds and he’d much rather have clear focus for that and not be distracted by her bare skin under his hands.

Back in his bed he did indeed sleep well and if he dreamed he didn’t remember it by morning. Breakfast was made and he roused the sleeping woman with a cup of tea instead of coffee, honey drizzled in it to cover some of the medicine taste. She didn’t seem to react much but did ask for more water. Any food he placed in front of her was devoured with no real enthusiasm but more of a mechanical process as if Sari was only half awake.

Fed and given a third cup of water he finally got her to lay back down so he could check her injuries. As he had expected she was recovering quickly. “Tomorrow morning we can head back to town. You should be alright for the trek if we take it slow.”

She merely shrugged and watched him from behind long lashes. “You were worried.” 

As usual she said that as a statement, not a question, and he looked at her face for a moment while he decided how to answer. “Of course. We’re a team. If you’re hurt it’s my responsibility to look after you.” He wanted to say more but suspected she might not understand the emotional side. What little he knew of Satyxis made him wonder if they knew how to recognize emotional attachments.

“A team.” Her eyes closed for a moment while that thought filtered through her tired mind and the paranoia that colored every interaction. “I like that idea. Team. Means we split things evenly, right?” At the question she opened her eyes to gauge his reaction, curious if he could lie to her or not. She was pretty good at spotting lies.

“Of course. We’re a team. Since we’re working together we get rewarded together.” He finished applying the antiseptic to her wounds and started taping the bandages in place, not worried really about what she thought since he was confident in his answer.

“We’ll die together.” Her eyes were closed again, sleep beginning to claim her once more now that her belly was full and the ointment he used eased the pain of her injury. The words rang with the uncomfortable sound of prophesied truth though she didn’t realize it. Ray did though and his hands stopped moving for a few heartbeats while he stared at her.

We’ll die together. Well … I can’t say I’m surprised. Probably as traitors. But I can’t argue with that. Guess we’ll have to enjoy each other’s company while we have it. Exhaling slowly, he finished the bandages and sat back to watch her sleep. “When we get to town I think I want to celebrate our first job together.” Sarith either didn’t have anything to say or was too deep asleep to react but he didn’t mind. Tucking a few stray curls behind her ear he took a few more moments to admire her peaceful face before tucking the blanket around her again. 

Tomorrow would be the start of their trek back to town where he could send word of the jobs completion. That gave him just today to puzzle through the scroll he found, clean up his notes, and also write his report. The payment from this would be plenty to keep them situated for a few months if there wasn’t a lot of splurging and Ray was hoping they could get one of the hideouts to stay in rather than an inn room. A bit of normalcy for him and time for her to acclimate to city living. At least, city living until his employer had another job for them. Who knew where they’d be heading off to next and for what. Only now he had someone to travel with. Smiling a little as he wrote the report for his employer Ray couldn’t help but be excited for their next job, the next destination, the next new thing to show Sarith.