The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)
A Heart Full Of Dust
Al Bruno III
...drive Vagabond to wakefulness.
A green-eyed cat gazed down at him.
Vagabond blinked, utterly disoriented. The black cat licked at his cheek, cleaning the wound she just made. He looked up, the night sky was still tinged with red. The dusty ground was speckled with blades of grass, to the east the Barrens slowly transformed into a stagnant marsh. They were close now, he could feel it in his bones.
But where were his travelling companions?
“Lily?” he called as he sat up straight. There was wreckage everywhere. The storm had torn the trawler to pieces and quite frankly he was surprised that it hadn't done the same to him as well. The cat bounded from his lap and quickly lost itself in the swamp. Something stumbled from beneath a pile of debris. “Lily?” Vagabond asked again.
“No, it's not fuckin' Lily,” Kurt said. There were massive wounds all over his body, a huge swatch of flesh had been torn away from his chest and though the damage was healing itself rather quickly, for a moment Vagabond was transfixed by the sight.
“Are you all right?'
“Why do you give a fuck?” He said as the wounds sealed closed one by one.
“I was just asking.”
“Yeah well thanks to you my trawler is fuckin' history.”
“And is that all that happened to you?” Kurt sneered with disgust and pointed.
Vagabond frowned, he dabbed at the blood seeping from the wound on his cheek. “Actually this happened after the crash. A cat scratched me.”
Derisive laughter filled the clearing, “That's fuckin' bullshit Fool and you know it. There are no cats anymore, they're all dead.”
“Whatever you say Kurt. Whatever you say.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“I wish you'd just...” his voice trailed off, he cupped a hand to his ear. Vagabond turned and ran back towards the wastelands, Kurt followed him.
They found them over the next dune.
A huge section of the deck had slammed into the ground here, shards of metal stuck upright out of the dust like primitive tombstones. Parts of the wreckage were still smoldering. Lily was stained with smoke and dirt but was otherwise unharmed. She cradled her mother's body, weeping tearlessly.
Vagabond drew closer, unable to speak.
“What the fuck happened to her?” Kurt asked. Rhea's body looked as though it had been ravaged by fire. Her blackened lips and nose were caked with blood as though something within her had hemorrhaged. Her eyes were glassy and open.
“She protected us,” Lily sobbed, “shielded us from the crash and made the storm go away. But it was too much for her. The Maelstrom... the Maelstrom...”
Cursing under his breath Kurt knelt at her side and began to check for a pulse. Vagabond tentatively touched Lily on the shoulder and she flowed up into his arms. “Why?” Lily asked, “Why did she do it?”
“She didn't want us to die.”
“But why did she protect me? I'm not even real!”
Vagabond cradled her monitor in his hands, “You were real to her, and you're real to me.”
Lily loosed a loud wailing sob. He held her tightly, whispering comforting words.
“Fool...” Kurt stood and aimed Rhea's Desert Eagle at them.
Vagabond froze, Lily looked up in confusion. She tensed and stood protectively in front of her lover, “No!”
“This'll shoot right through you sweetie. And If that's what it takes... I don't give a fuck.” his eyes were deadly serious.
It was quiet, as though the wind itself was tensing in anticipation. Vagabond smiled and stepped out from behind the girl, “Kill me and you’re a bigger fool than I ever suspected.”
Kurt zeroed in on his throat, “Fuck you! Every time you talk I'm just gonna aim lower.”
“Ltolox still has the Splinter, do you honestly think that you'll be able to go and get it all by yourself?”
The only reply Kurt gave was to lower his sights to heart-level.
“Why do you think Rhea spared me from the crash? Out of love? She hated me ten times more than you ever could. It's because of me that Lily is in the condition she's in.”
Kurt stepped forward and dug the muzzle of the gun into Vagabond's gut,
“How far do you think the spray will reach? One meter? Two?”
Vagabond winced but kept talking, “Does the name Adiramled mean anything to you? He served the Pendaroth once - he's the one controlling the Splinter. That’s treason.”
Kurt lowered his aim further and twisted the barrel of the gun into Vagabond's crotch, “Shoulda' gone for the fuckin' head shot, it's gonna take you hours to die now.”
“The only reason that Adiramled hasn't killed us already is because the Splinter is struggling- trying to protect me.” Vagabond stared intently into his adversaries' eyes.
Kurt pulled the trigger.
Kurt pulled the trigger again, unable to believe that instead of an explosion of blood and screams all he was hearing was a dry click.
Vagabond's arms flashed out, he grabbed Kurt by his robes and threw him to the dusty ground. The pistol tumbled into the dirt. With a snarl he leapt atop him, his hands locking around his throat, “Did you honestly think that I could be killed by the likes of you?”
Her cracked monitor registering nothing but stunned disbelief, Lily watched as Kurt struggled to escape the choke hold. He swung his fists wildly but Vagabond held fast.
“I doubt you can heal brain damage,” he hissed at the man beneath him, “Maybe I'll just keep this up until you're a little stupider, or maybe I'll just keep working on you till you have the IQ of an eggplant. Would you like that? Hmmm?”
The red tinge in the sky darkened, Kurt hissed and gnashed his teeth. Lily rummaged through the wreckage until she found a chunk of metal roughly the size of a baseball bat.
“Listen to me. We don't have time for this.” Vagabond loosened his grip, “I don't want to kill you. I will if I have to, but I don't want to.”
Drawing a long ragged breath, Kurt released his grip on Vagabond's wrists, and let his right arm fall to his side. He and slipped it into his robes.
“There,” Vagabond sat back, trying to smile reassuringly, “Now maybe we can-”
Kurt yanked the knife from beneath his robes and lunged. Vagabond tried to block the attack but only succeeded in catching the blow in the meat of his upper arm. He shouted with surprise, watching with disbelief as Kurt drove the blade in to the hilt.
For Vagabond everything seemed to shift into slow motion; the blossoming of the wound. Kurt wrenching the knife free, a streamer of blood trailing out after the tip. Vagabond grabbed for the blade but only managed to cut his fingertips to ribbons.
Lily swung the chunk of metal at Kurt's head. There was a sickening wet crack and the back of Kurt's head caved in around her makeshift club. He fell back to the powdery dirt, his limbs twitching.
With a savage cry Lily bought the club down again and again until Kurt's face was a caved-in ruin.
Vagabond staggered over to Lily and restrained her. Her monitor and camisole were spattered with gore. He held her as tightly as he could with his uninjured arm and whispered, “Shhh. It's all right now. He's dead. Let it go. He's dead.”
The length of metal slipped from her grip, she made a choking sound and sagged against him. “He... he and mother they were going to...” she said as he pulled her away from the gory spectacle.
“Don't worry about it,” he said softly.
The warm blood from his wounded arm was soaking through her dress, but of course she couldn't feel it. “How did you do that?”
“Ah,” he said, feeling as though he was going to need to sit down very soon, “I guessed it wasn't loaded. Your mother used sorcery to create bullets for her guns and when she died her bullets faded away.”
“You guessed?” she looked at him, “You took a terrible chance.”
He smiled weakly and began to search his pockets for something he could use as a bandage, “All life is risk.”
“If anything had ever happened to you...”
His pockets were empty save for a single rectangle of thick paper. Cautiously he drew it out. It was a tarot card, the Hanged Man was wearing his face, “Well bless my buttons and call me Columbus.”
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