Marcus’s legs ached, sprinting full tilt through the scorched landscape, the small chest of gold he cradled to his chest was starting to cause tension in his lower back. The lava flows on either side not giving him a lot of room to maneuver. Behind him the a dragon bobbed through the air, its heavy wing beats spurred him further. “Stripes, that portal is going to be there right?”
“No doubt. We should have eight minutes. Me and the witch have been casing this place for like a week.’ Came a gruff reply from his left. She better have been. Marcus hadn’t been eager to go fucking about with dragons.
“Portal is too small?”
“I’m fairly certain.” Came a soft, almost musical reply from just to his right. A long legged girl, her floral robe hiked up, held with her hands along with a flute as she sprinted along side him.
“Not the kind of answer I wan-shit” just then a spray of steam erupted, the earth cracking, growing treacherous. Marcus leaped over the crack, landing poorly causing pain to shoot up his leg. He could feel himself slowing down as the pain grew. He could hear the beast, practically feel it, as it took a deep breath. The sound of a trilling flute broke the air just above the roar. Flames passed round them, diverted by a shimmering bubble. The girl at his side slowing too. Her breath heaved unlike a moment ago.
They came to a bowl in the earth, a crater from ages past and in its center a shimmering gateway, a doorway of translucent light. He could smell the stink of the doomed kingdom, and he felt almost pleased. Close to home he thought. Standing near the portal, an armored maiden, shield and spear in hand. “My lord, full glad-” coming over the edge and trying their best to run down the oddly sloped hillside.
“Not to cut you off but dragon!” he shouted. Still fifty meters from the portal the armed lady sprinted to them. There was a crunch behind them of massive feet landing at the edge of the pit, the tell tale inhale came again. The clad in steel, their defender interceded, shield raised high. As before the fire split around them. Marcus turned, as he got within a couple meters of the portal. The their protector was still there, but she was kneeling, some distance away.
“I am sorry Lord, I was not…” and she trailed off collapsing.
“Fucking fuck!” Came the gruff voice again, the sound of two heavy chests landing in the earth, clinking coin and fashioned gold spilled to the earth. The hulking form that had ran far to his left barreled by scooping up the girl, and hurtling through the portal.
“Come, we have but a moment” The robed girl pulled him the last few feet through the portal. Putting some distance between them and the doorway, a large claw pushed through the doorway but it couldn’t get far. A bellow of frustration, rendered quiet by the distance between worlds.
The four collapsed, resting against a wall or sitting on an old stone bench. The room they had entered was familiar, a large dome at the top of a small spire. The scent of putrefaction and plant life mixed in the air, the last rays of daylight flowed through the small windows, casting garish beams across the mosaic flooring. The tower had been abandoned ages ago, as had the whole village in which they camped. The four rested for awhile, till long after the sun had set and the portal had closed.
The tall woman was the first to rise. The whir of mechanical limbs hefting her, and the collapsed maiden off the bench. “Marcus you good?”
“Could ask you the same.” he groaned, as he struggled to get to his feet, the robed girl sliding one of his arms round her shoulder to help support him.
‘Disappointed, we dropped almost half the loot.’
“T’would be unwise to try again” came a bitter reply from the one supporting Marcus. “The beast will have our scent.”
“Yeah.” The cyborg murmured.
Limping over to her. “Stripes” he reached up, running a hand through her short hair before pulling her face to his. He kissed her softly, pulling away to look into her eyes. “I really appreciate what you did.”
Her face began to shade crimson, she stammered out “It-It was just. You know” rubbing a hand through her hair “What you’d have wanted me to do yeah?”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t thank you” He smiled, glad that the three of them all made it back safe.
“Do you two need the room for tonight?” the other girl teased. “Though I think that would be most unfair to your devoted doyen no?” Stripe’s turned away, and ran her hands through her hair nervously but she said nothing. Marcus himself hadn’t fully adjusted to the situation, he thought about pulling at some strings to make sure he was getting a good read on her and confirm it wasn’t something else.
“Look, lets just get back and make sure the fort is cleared out and secured.” Marcus grumbled. “I want to sit down where I can stay a while.” The three made their way down the disjointed steps of that ancient spire. The town below, still intact despite its age and abandonment, was full of fine houses. Tiled roofs, brickwork laid in complex patterns, most of the houses were large probably hosting nine or ten rooms. They had taken the one of the smaller ones as their base for the weeks they were scouting out the dragons lair.
It was just beginning to rain, as they reached the ground, and plodded down the street, to the farthest out house, one that stood alone from the others. A garden long since overgrown sprawled across most of the grounds. Stepping into the old house, they found their little camp. Setup in what must have been a dining hall once, Some furniture lay broken in the corner, forming their pile of firewood, the stone floors covered in piled rugs and blankets forming a kind of pallet. It was almost comfortable.
Stripes set her charge gently upon their makeshift bed, Marcus kneeling beside her turning to the robed girl. “Singer, can you get dinner going? Stripes, get a cloth and some water, I’m going to clean her up as best I can.” He set about the work of taking off her armor. His mind drifted back to the first time he’d had to check her for injuries, her fluster and bluster growing as each plate was shed.
His Doyen, Tamwyn, her state of undress complete, he then examined her, inspecting any part of her that had been covered in scorched armor. Satisfied that she had no injuries, he then reaching up to cover his left eye with his left hand. He focused on her form. Blinking a few times as his eyes adjusted, he could see the thin lines of her desires, like twine or perhaps yarn, emanating from a ball where her heart was. They flashed in his eyes like the after images of bright light, as he reached out, gently taking one between his fingers, twirling it gently. She finally stirred.
“My, beloved?” she spoke, almost a sigh “Say not that we both perished”
“No.” he slid his left hand, covered in a red glove, up her cheek. She gasped, slightly. “You still count among the living.”
She smiled, clearly tired, but she was coming more and more to her senses when the heavy tread of armored feet signaled Strips’ approach. Her smile faded somewhat, taking on a hint of disappointment. “I had hoped we might have a moment to ourselves”
“We will later, I promise.” Marcus responded, his thumb caressing her cheek. “You earned it after today.”
A hint of blush “I was only doing as my duty demanded. It is a pleasure to serve my lord.” She always locked up like this, and while he might have once thought it annoying, from her it seemed endearing. He wondered if it was a lingering affect from the gloves magic? He pushed it from his mind, as it didn’t really matter anyway.
“I’m just glad you’re safe, my beloved doyen.” and he leaned forward, drawing back her hair, to brush his lips on her forehead
“You really can’t help yourself can you.” Stripes spoke. Setting a tub of water, a cloth soaking in it next to him.
“Would you rather I did? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you’re craving some attention yourself.” He smirked, turning toward her. He could still see the fading images of her own threads, he reached out, giving one a pinch pulling it taught.
“Oh. Ooooh.” she stuttered out, her body growing hot. “That’s just not fair.”
“Maybe not.” he intoned, his tone teasing “Do you want me to stop.” he didn’t his answer as she moved to light the fireplace. He’d poked at her enough he thought. Things were still tense between them but she was clearly trying, in her own way. “Take that as a yes.”
“I mean, its your pelvis at risk.” she chuckled. “Pretty sure you haven’t got the juice after that run.” A joke, her usual response to this kind of pressure. Turning his attention back to his protector, he pulled back the blankets she had drawn over herself in his lapsed attention.
“Lord, I should not be seen-”
“you were hurt, and I’m going to take care of you.”
“I am, quite fine I-”
“No. Did you not swear fealty?” with that she relented her protests. Allowing him to reveal her form once more. He took the rag out of the water, it was warm, He’d have to let Stripes know he took notice. Taking his patients arm in hand, he gently scrubbed away the dirt of the day. “What kind of Lord, would not see to the care of his charges?” Marcus had found, leaning into this assumed role helped Tamwyn. He could cajole her, as long as he filtered it through that lens.
“But this is.” she hesitated to talk, but she did not grow tense with his touch. “It is improper.”
“Am I not your beloved?”
“No, that’s not.” she caught herself “You are and that’s why.” she trailed of. “that’s why I.” he could tell she clearly had much to say, but she would not. “I am here to serve my lord, in whatever capacity he requires.” there it was again. The wall, she retreated to like a fort. He’d had an inkling of what she’d wanted, but he was still looking for the proper way to go about it. From the way her gaze washed over him, he could tell one thing she wanted without the magic of his artifact. Not that she’d ever say so.
The three sat in silence for a time. More than once he caught Stripes giving him a look he almost thought was jealous. He bathed Tamwyn, then fetched her some loose bedclothes they’d washed, pillaged from the houses nearby. She seemed to appreciate it. Singer returned soon thereafter, bowls of some stew she’d started earlier in the day. “To our victory” she said, handing them out
“To our survival, more like.” Marcus intoned, ensuring his charge could feed herself. “So, how do you think it stacks up?”
“Well, I was hoping we’d have the rest of it. By weight, in the city we can probably get enough to square my debts. I was hoping for a little more to get upgrades though.
“Mayhaps we try elsewhere?” Singer added. “Could work. If they’ve waited this long”
“Think this is going to end badly?” Marcus asked
“I’m hoping not.” She stirred her food absently “Trying to be optimistic.”
“We will make it work, friend Stripes” Singer said, draping an arm down the woman’s torso
“Right” he added, mumbled around steaming food in his mouth.
“We shall look to the gate map tomorrow, and find our way. I still wish to see that long forgotten shore”
“Yes, I know. But we haven’t been able to get a decent map of this plane, or that misty one” He grumbled “Thankfully Tamwyn takes good notes.”
“I for one shall be might glad to quit this place.” Tamwyn said. Shortly there after they all passed into dream, piled in the same bed. Singer slept, her head resting in the pit of his chest, Tamwyn clutched his left arm, nestled on his shoulder, and Stripes, slept on the edges, grasping his hand tight.