Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Koreshi Chronicles: Chapter II - Blindsided

3 Autumn, 1922

They'd been herding the springers for three days, the armadillos keeping the smaller animals firmly in line as the elans maintained a loose formation around them. The three Koreshi had found themselves separate from the rest of the group, eating in a close knot at the edge of each night's campfire. They weren't yet Desert Wolves, Dronath Dawl had explained to them. That decision would be left up to Grey Cub. And since they hadn't done much to endear themselves to the rest of the group -- between the slashed tires, the flashbangs, and the broken ankle -- they hadn't pressed the issue of assimilation.

Lyta watched them from the edge of the fire, as the light glinted off metal and eyes. She saw the camaraderie, the rough affection the Desert Wolves had for each other, and she vowed she wouldn't allow herself to be drawn in. She wouldn't allow herself the luxury of another surrogate family. Besides, they were only joining to get information on Kaspar, and they would no doubt leave again once they got it. There was no point in growing close to people you were destined to leave.

She saw, too, the looks that the Wolves shot her across the fire, careless of whether she or her brothers noticed. She caught the mingled emotions of admiration, jealousy, anger, and lust, and she steeled herself to deal with it sooner or later.

The engines downshifted and she was knocked out of her reverie and back to the present. The six elans slowed to a stop and Lyta clicked her tongue to her armadillo. Beside her, Lukas and Todd slowed their mounts as well. Dronath stepped out of the lead elan and strode over, gesturing with one hand that they should dismount. Lyta shot a sideways glance at Lukas, caught his almost-imperceptible nod, and jumped down.

"Getting close," Dronath said. "Can't have you knowin' the particulars from here on in." Lyta saw that he was holding fabric in his right hand. She'd initially assumed it was some sort of shirt, but she realized now it was a blindfold, or rather three of them.

Lukas pursed his lips. "Knowledge flows like sand between the mountains," Todd offered before Lukas could stop him.

"Shut up," said Dronath. He whistled, and almost immediately was flanked by three of his men. "Now, you're gonna be in the elans the rest of the way. It's not more'n a day's drive. Each of you gets a separate ride; I can't risk you decidin' to mutiny if I've got you all together with only a driver. You're gonna go quiet, and you're gonna wear the blindfolds, or you're gonna stay here. If Grey Cub likes you, this won't be necessary in the future. We all have an understandin' here?"

Lyta could see the tension in Lukas' jaw, and she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet. "I ride with Lyta," he said.

Dronath shook his head. "Can't have it, son. Everyone rides separate. Them's the rules and I'm in no mood for negotiatin' with you."

Five seconds passed in silence. Lyta glanced between the three men. The one directly opposite her was biggest, but the one on Todd had a glint in his eyes she didn't like at all. She sized up her options, whether it would be best to leap on her armadillo and charge the group or whether she'd have to take them one by one. Lukas and Dronath stared at each other.

Finally, Lukas nodded. "Fine," he said, "let's get this over with."

Dronath cocked his head, and the three men behind him moved towards the group of Koreshi. Lukas allowed himself to be led away, then Todd. The big man stood in front of her, expectant, and she walked forward with him, towards one of the idling elans. She couldn't help but notice that Dronath was following her instead of her brothers. She resisted the temptation to look back at him.

She was ten paces away when she balked. Either bad luck or Dronath's sense of humor had put her in the same elan as Frederick, whose wolf paw pendant hung around her neck. He lounged on the back seat and stared at her. Dronath tapped her on the back of the head. "Your ride," he said. Lyta glanced back and saw he was grinning. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Lukas and Todd getting into their own elans, the blindfolds placed around their eyes. She froze. "I don't got time for stragglers," said Dronath. "You get in there and let Troy blindfold you, or you stay here. I don't much care which. Your choice."

Lyta took a deep breath and stared directly at Dronath. "He lays a hand on me, I break all his fingers."

Dronath laughed, his pendants jangling at his throat, and pushed her towards the elan. "Noted. Now get the hell in there."

She let the big Wolf -- Troy -- lead her the rest of the way to the elan and sat down, Frederick's eyes on her the whole time. She made an effort to keep her hands loose and by her sides as the blindfold slipped over her eyes and the world went black. The door closed beside her, and then the one in front as Troy got into the empty passenger seat.

The engines revved and they started moving again. She could feel the bumps beneath the wheels as they drove, hear the rocks that kicked up against the windshield. She stared straight ahead into the blackness of the blindfold and breathed evenly, forcing herself not to readjust it as it rubbed against her cheeks and hair. She had the distinct impression that Frederick had not taken his eyes off her since she sat down.

"Stop staring," she said.

"Now why," said Frederick's voice to her right, "would you say something like that? Your blindfold loose? I could fix that for you."

"You touch me, I break your fingers," Lyta replied.

"Like you broke Mig's ankle?"

Lyta shrugged. "Something like that, yeah." In truth, she felt bad about the broken ankle, and knew that Lukas was not entirely done chastising her for it. She had been too busy trying to catch up to make sure she got the perfect timing, and she'd slid just a little closer than she'd intended. She knew the second she hit that the trip had gone wrong, and that she'd potentially ruined their chances for joining the Desert Wolves -- though Lukas had done his own fair share of potentially ruining their chances as well. She still wasn't sure why he had hesitated, why he suddenly seemed to care so much about Tra Melane's potential losses, when the whole point of this escapade was to hunt down the man who had stolen a fortune worth far more than 25 springers.

"You know what you're wearing around your neck?" Frederick's voice came again.

"A wolf pendant?" Lyta offered.

"My wolf pendant. It's a badge of honor. You don't deserve to wear it. You haven't earned it."

Lyta shrugged again. "You shouldn't have fought me for it if you wanted to keep it."

"You didn't fight fair." Lyta could feel the leather of the seat move as Frederick shifted his weight.

"You had a chance to set the rules. If you wanted it to be a clean fight, you should have said so." She remembered the strike, a solid kick that had downed the bigger man while everyone watched. He was right; it hadn't been fair. But their armadillos had been on the line. Lukas had trusted her to win, and she'd needed to fulfill that trust. The road rumbled below them. "I could still have kicked your ass in a fair fight. It just would have taken longer."

"Y'know," said Frederick, his voice closer to her ear, "for someone wearing a blindfold and surrounded by three not-incapable men, you've got a hell of a lot of sass."

"I could take on three of you," Lyta said.

"Blind?" asked Frederick. "Because the second you take off that fabric over your eyes, we stop the elan and you get to walk home to the Great White Desert. Alone."

Lyta said nothing, and she could almost feel Frederick's grin.

"That's right," he said. there was a pause. "Now, all that said, we're in for a hell of a long ride, the four of us together, and I'm not one for silence." Lyta heard the creak as he leaned back against the window, felt the squish as his arm lay across the back of the seats. His voice was suddenly, surprisingly, conversational. "So... where'd you learn to fight?"

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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