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Leap of Faith; Short Story Challenge: Yearning
Topic Started: Sun Feb 4, 2018 5:00 pm (94 Views)
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“You so much as blink while my back is turned, and I’ll put one of these bolts through your brain. Through. Your. Brain. Got it?”

The alchemist twitched away like her words had been a slap, but nodded. His face was slick with sweat, and sallow, eyes icteric, and every movement tarnished by a tremor that must have been hellishly inconvenient in the laboratory.

And above them, the sky rained steel. It didn’t seem to notice when she replied with a pair of her own bolts. Was it too much to ask for things to go smoothly for once?

Sully crouched back to cover, then flicked out the chamber of her piece and spun it slowly. Only three splitters left, and the broadhead, plus whatever was left in the case at her hip. She shook it once. Empty. Nothing behind her but open sky, and ahead, a bunch of pricks who’d apparently agreed to just cut their losses and kill the both of them. She flicked the chamber shut and cocked her piece.

Bolts peppered the planks of the dock and the crates and ballastbags shielding them, cartwheeling off the edge to fall past scaffolding into open sky. One exploded into a short-lived flame, but whoever’d built the place hadn’t spared any expense and the Backswamps coldwood didn’t light. A heavy sucker punched through and nipped the alchemist’s cheek before its momentum was spent. He let out a yelp and the blood came quick, but it was only a graze.

She stole a glance to her right, over the lip of a shattered crate. A few of the bastards picked their way out along the thin spit of the adjacent dock to flank her, keeping to cover and never giving her a shot. And to the left, the same. Boxed in on three sides and the fourth was a very long fall.

She grabbed the alchemist and tore a patch of his yellowed lab coat, ignoring his jabbering protests, then speared it with the remaining broadhead. It was a pitiful flag, but she jammed it in his hand anyway.

“Hold it up. They like you, remember?” Sully grinned, but it came out a maniacal thing that only made the alchemist’s eyes widen. “This whole send-off’s for you!”

He held the bolt like it burned his fingers, but after she prodded the stock of her piece into his temple, he lifted his arm.

After a long moment, the firing stopped. Sully stole a glance at her erstwhile hosts. They’d positioned themselves into every nook and cranny along the two docks on either side and dug right in. But it was a glint of the setting sun on glass that tipped their hand.

“Miss Sullivan,” her voice cut across the whole skydock like thunder, like she was right beside Sully’s ear. Magecraft. “If that’s even your real name. Why the change of heart? You must know you can’t get out of this alive.”

Sully kept that crazed smile plastered on her face. “Your alchemist isn’t in good shape, Perry,” she called out through a cupped hand. It sounded pitiful in comparison to Peregrine’s resonant alto, and jab even moreso. But there was no harm in using such an intimate nickname now.

“...You’re going to die, Miss Sullivan.” Peregrine allowed for a dramatic pause that Sully used to wipe some of the grit off her forehead. Her dress was ruined. And Clay was going to kill her. “But you can still save Master Hansho. He’s innocent in all this, regardless of your feelings about Gold Dragon.”

That glint of sunfire caught her eye again. It would be an impossible shot.

“Hansho decided he didn’t want to come with me after all.”

The alchemist quivered. Her bolt-flag sagged limply in his upraised arm, but he looked at her hopefully. Apparently he’d come ‘round to preferring death by alchemical cirrhosis to the quick release of a belly full of bolts. So long as his memory was intact, it didn’t matter. She shrugged at him, buying time.

“Let him stand then. Slowly.”

Sully nodded. Hansho gathered his wits and looked up at his arm and her flag, as if debating whether or not to lower it. Blood was already brown and drying on cheek, the thinner areas peeling like old paint. She shook her head and his sagged, but he pulled himself up, slowly, and raised the other hand to match.

“I am... unarmed. Please...” His voice came out raw, like it’d been scraped across a file, or like he’d swallowed a fistful of razors. But the truth was he hadn’t spoken a word since she pulled him out of the lab. “Please, I don’t want...”

Quiet,” Peregrine commanded. “Now, Miss Sullivan. Let him walk up the dock. No funny business, or we’ll shoot the both of you.”

Sully strained her ears over the wind, listening against hope. The skydock shielded them from the worst of it, the wards, moreso. But beyond, it roared and buffeted, and she might as well have spared the effort.

“Now you want him alive? Good thing your guards ain’t such crack shots, or his head would’ve been smeared across the skydock by now.”

“That’s none of your concern any more, Miss Sullivan. Send him forward.”

“And weren’t you going to shoot me anyways? If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer if you don’t.”

That’s when she saw it. Salvation. She spun around in a crouch and fired off two shots at the glinting glass a dock over. The bolts split in mid-air, half embedding themselves into crates and ballast, but a lucky few struck and fractured a heavy glass urn. It erupted instantly. The dock exploded, sending burning, screaming men and bodyparts into the air along with the shrapnel of coldwood and ballast. Peregrine was yelling but Sully couldn’t understand the words. Couldn’t hear much of anything. Embers fell from above, smoldering, and beside her, Hansho stood statue-still. She grabbed the alchemist by the front of his lab coat.

“We have to run. Now.”

She felt like she was miming the words. Couldn’t even hear them in her own head. He looked at her stupidly, similarly deafened by the explosion as well as frozen in terror.


She shoved him ahead of her and then they were sprinting for the end of the dock. Hansho stumbled, fell, but she pulled him to his feet roughly. By then the men had recovered and surged after them. A few bolts shot past into the naked air, tugged off target by the wind that bled through the wards over the exposed docks. Hansho slowed as he reached the end, searching for a ship that wasn’t moored. He turned back, lips unable to form words. Sully swept past him and grabbed his collar, pulling him over the edge.

And then they fell.

Sully twisted around and let off her last splitter – her last shot – and whooped as it caught the lead lackey in the jaw. He wavered and fell after them, and for a long moment the three had the sky to themselves – Sully, Hansho, and a corpse.

It was taut canvas that broke their fall, turned flaccid in a heartbeat to prevent an uncontrolled bounce in recoil. The dead man landed on the alchemist with a sick thump. Hansho screamed and tried to claw his way away ineffectively, but his spastic motions were wasted. The airship was already turning hard to starboard, away from the skydock, by the time Sully planted her feet on the deck.

“You’re late,” she smiled, giving the pilot a wink as she shoved her piece into her belt.

“You’re bleeding, and your dress is in tatters. And I’m not late, I’m early. What the hell happened up there Sully?”

His voice sounded muffled, like her ears were stuffed with cotton.

“Trust me Finn, you don’t want to know. But I got our man,” she gestured back at Hansho, still screaming and struggling to free himself from the corpse’s weight and the tangle of canvas. Finn raised a single eyebrow. “He... hasn’t gotten to the acceptance phase yet.”

“He gonna be able to remember the formulae? Clay is gonna be furious if all of this was for nothing.”

“Oh Finn, my dear,” Sully’s grin turned wicked for a moment. “He’ll remember. He’ll definitely remember.”
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