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Friday, January 23, 2015

Fiction Friday - Clockwork Heart 6

This is part of a Wolf & Raven Serial Story. See all the parts that have been posted here, tune in Tuesday and Friday for more, and see all my free fiction here.

#6

From the look on the woman's face, it seemed she thought he would attack her, but he hardly spared her more than a quick glance; he pushed past her and went to where the stacks of heavy cases filled up the back wall of the shed.

"I have to say, I thought for sure you were going to punch me in the face just now." Her words were bold, but under them, he heard honest, shaking fear.

"That wouldn't serve any purpose."

"When has punching a girl ever served a purpose? Usually it just makes a big brute feel better."

"I'm not a brute."

"Aren't you?" He didn't have to see her to know she was sending significant glances at his sidearm, his height, his scowl. It was all in her voice. These were all things he was aware of, tools to be used to his advantage. But they weren't him.

He moved one of the boxes.

"We have other things to worry about."

"Like the giant hole in reality and the endless, ageless, undying monster crawling out of it?"

"Yes. And the fact that that man shouldn't have been here."

She was quiet long enough for him to heft three more cases; there was the start of a tunnel to the back wall now. When she spoke again, her voice sounded haunted. "Who was he?"

"He used to work here. He's been banished. I thought he was dead."

"He sounded...familiar."

This made him pause. "Familiar how?" Her face matched her voice, and she folded her arms around herself, tucking her hands out of view.

"I don't know. I'd swear I never heard it before, but something about the patterns, the cadences...It sounded like someone I once knew. Someone I lost." She turned away.

The bravado was almost entirely gone, and what was left was a raw nerve trying to protect itself. Wolfe wanted to protect her--nerves were terrible at doing it themselves--and he had no way to understand such an impulse. She was nominally the enemy. She was here to stop what he'd pledged and been raised to keep going. She was a stranger.

But there it was. An impulse to smooth away her pain.

It wasn't rational, and he had so little experience with irrationality in his own mind, for all that everything he lived to protect was hardly rational. He started to reach out a hand toward her shoulder, and stopped himself, but she saw it. He had a feeling she saw everything, and it made him feel strangely laid bare.

And strangely comforted himself.

He was nothing but a thug as far as the Brothers were concerned. It could have  easily been him fed to the beast. But this stranger looked at him and saw a person.

"Why are you tunneling through those crates?"

"The back wall of this thing is weak; it's why the stacks are there. If we can reach it, we can probably knock it down."

She smiled, and it transformed her face from stunning but severe to outright beautiful. He wondered, for a moment, if she didn't smile much so she could preserve the power of such a thing. "Insider knowledge," she said. "You can't beat it." And she moved to join him.

"The ceremony is meant to last hours, but I don't think they expected so much response so quickly," he said, more thinking out loud than speaking to her specifically. "They'll be concerned about controlling the power, and there's a device for that, but it's untested. The Interested Parties have to be protected--those were our orders--because their bosses have the funds to pay for more experiments like this, but everyone else is disposable."

"You live and work with these loons, knowing they consider you disposable?"

"It's what I was born to."

"How terrible."

He paused, his hand on the next case, and looked at her directly, which caused a ripple of what looked like startlement mixed with consternation to cross her face. "Don't you live under the same idea, Agent?"

Her expression shuttered, and her lips went thin and tight, bringing the severeness of her fine, narrow features back in full force. "I chose this." It didn't sound like it was really much of a choice. "You were born to it, you said. That's no choice at all."

He shrugged one shoulder. "It was the choice I had. Serve, or never make it out of training."

She didn't respond, but her jaw took on a stubborn set and she moved the next case less carefully than she should have.

The whole process of clearing the back wall took longer than he'd hoped, but went quickly enough with the two of them; the beast still howled, but the howl still had a deep echo, so it wasn't here yet. He could just hear the chanting over the sound of the wind and the waves, and the occasional, horrible, scream cut off in mid-voice.

They braced their feet, one on either side, and pushed in tandem. The wall creaked, but didn't move. "Again," he said, and they did it again. This time, it popped at the corner on his side, and wrenched at hers. The roof wobbled and bowed over them.

"Are you sure this won't cave in and crush us?"

"Not at all. Would you rather sit here and wait for the end of all things?"

That smile again, but this time less brilliant and more like the edge of a knife. "Not at all."


They pushed.


Tune in next Tuesday for Part 7!

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