tagNonHumanArcanum - Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 09

Arcanum - Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 09


Sand gritted against my face and for a time, I did not know who I was, nor where I was, nor why I was. Water washed against my feet and I simply lay there in a daze, blinking slowly as light filtered into my vision and I saw the broad expanse of a pale white beach. The waves that lapped at my feet were frothing and white, and the distant horizon curved into oblivion. I closed my eyes and a name came to mind.

Resh. Resh Craig.

In the darkness, I sorted through memories. I could remember the train job I'd pulled with Don last week. And a few scattered flashes of memory interspersed. A monk -- or maybe a priestess? There was flames and fire. A derailment? We hadn't planned on derailing anything. Then there were stranger images I could not place. An eye set within a pentagram. Knives in the dark. Shambling, rotting corpses, looming from the surrounding earth.

My name in print.

But it wasn't my name.

Lightning cut through the sky in my memory, and sleeting rain. I recalled, clearly, a burly human with an immense beard -- the color lost in the haze of my pounding headache. I heard him, bellowing for all hands and idlers to lash too, it was going to be quite a blow. Then the blow. The physical impact of something. Hard enough to pitch me forward. A single voice, screaming my name -- but not my name.

I was so lost in these recollections that I was barely aware of two gruff voices.

"Well, well, well," one said. "Anuver halfie."

A boot kicked into my shoulder, rolling me onto my back.

"He's got a blooming monkey suit on, he does," the other voice said. I opened my eyes and saw two men. One was a human, but the other was a halfling. The halfing leaned forward, eying me.

"Looks soft," he said. His teeth flashed. "Didn't Gorrin say he wanted someone soft?"

The man grunted. He was quite a disreputable looking sort -- bushy bearded, with an unkempt, yellowing shirt and a pair of pants made from canvas and thick stitching, held in place by a belt of rope. The only thing on his person that looked well tended was the short sword that he drew and angled at me, aiming it down at my chest.

"Can you walk, new fish?" he asked.

I groaned, then rolled onto my hands and knees. My head swam and ached and I gritted my teeth, then pushed myself to my feet.

The human grinned, showing me his yellowing teeth. One was so black that it looked like a gap in his smile, and added a fetid reek to his breath, which blew directly into my face as he leaned in very close.

"Good," he said, then slapped me in the back with the flat of his blade. "Lets see ya walk."

The two men walked me off the beach and into the underbrush. As they walked, I marveled at what we were walking through. The island that I had arrived on must have been to the southern reaches of the continent -- maybe Thanatos? But no, wait, no one lived on Thanatos. But the tropical jungle that we were marching through seemed to point to few other options. It was definitely not the well tended greenery of Catan. My brow furrowed and I stopped dead in my tracks.

Now how on Arcanum did I know that?

The halfling looked back at me, scowling. He had his hand on the brutal looking cleaver that he used for a weapon. "You a simpleton? We can't stop here, the fort's right over there."

I shook my head. I was beginning to notice very strange changes in my appearance. Not only was I dressed in some kind of fancy, human style suit, but I also had considerably longer hair, which had slipped its ties and was now plastered around my face like a curtain. But what was more, I had a pair of rings on my right hand, which appeared to be technological in nature. Looking at them, I immediately knew that they were using an electrical current to improve reflexes and reaction times. Which led to a worrying question: What was the effect of salt water immersion on the body when one had such a reflexive improvement?

Now that I considered it, the blow had been to my spine, which ached. Not to my head. Had I lost my memory thanks to a dunking into the sea?

But then all such thoughts were scattered by our arrival at the fort that the halfling had mentioned. Made of roughly hewn wood and surrounded by an artificial clearing of pruned back jungle growth, it was the sorriest looking settlement I had ever seen in my life, and I had visited...where? My brow furrowed as I recalled great hovels, clustering to the banks of a broad river. But then the image faded as the two men approached the front gate, which swung open to reveal that two men were standing guard in the center. One of them had a crude musket in his hands, while the other was cleaning a sword. Both were dressed similarly to the ruffians who had found me.

"Anuther's been nabbed by the clock beast," the man with the musket said. "Two Stones has upped the re-ward: Five days n' nights with the wench."

"Holy hells," the human who had escorted me said.

The halfling snorted. "She cries too much. Fiorie's just as fun, if you get the oils."

The guard with the musket shrugged -- and as their words penetrated my mind, I started to feel a slow lurch. There had been some who had spoken such in my gang. I had shot them dead -- we weren't about rapine or wanton cruelty. Don had backed me up on the motion, even if several of the gang had always grumbled. Never loud enough to get me to shoot them. Still, my hand fell of its own accord to my holster, where I was relieved to find my pistol was securely strapped. But I was taken aback by the fancifulness of the hilt, and the strange bulk of the center. What the hell had happened to my revolver?

"So, he fresh?" one of the guards asked.

"Yeah." The halfling grinned. Quite suddenly, the men who I had thought would be taking me to safety might have ulterior motives. I kicked myself for only realizing this now, when I was right next to two burly men, who both clapped their hands on me and began to drag me forward, past huts and hovels, where men who looked to be primarily focused on idleness, dice, and drunkenness all looked up at me. I gritted my teeth, but my head simply pounded and ached, rather than allowing me to focus on struggling. I saw that I was being dragged to a large pit that had been dug in the center of the camp. A reek of blood came from the pit.

Men were starting to grin and I saw a wicked gleam in their eyes as they moved from where they lounged about in shade and hovels. The guard to my right -- the one who had brought up the clock beast, whatever that was -- leaned in and growled in my ear.

"Welcome to the Isle of Despair, new fish. Lets see how you do."

And he pitched me forward, into the pit.


For some definition of the word fortunate, the pit was mucky like a thick soup. I splatted into it face first and had to struggle for a time to just get my head up. I wiped mud from my eyes, blinking, and saw that men had gathered around the pit. One of them, dressed like the others save for a tall, slightly bent top hat, was holding up his hands. "The new fish here looks like he's raring to go!" he called out. "Who wants to see him take on the current champion...BORAG!?"

"Bor-AG! Bor-AG!" The men chanted.

I had gotten my feet beneath me and was wiping more muck off my face. My suit was decidedly ruined. But I was feeling more clear headed by the moment, shaking off the fugue that had clouded my mind from the moment I awoke. I didn't know who this Borag was, nor how I had gotten to the Isle of Despair. Maybe my gang had finally been caught and the judge had decided to be lenient. Well. I suppose that I had to make the best of it, no?

Borag himself thumped into the pit with a grunt. He was an immense half-ogre, clad in crude scrap iron and a horned helmet that looked like it had been crafted from the skull of some slain predator. The jaw protected his jaw, and the horns added an impressive two feet to his height. He held a massive battle-ax in one hand and spread his arms wide, soaking in the cheers. I watched as he showboated, standing in the muck, trying to work through the last cobwebs in my mind.

Borag swung his ax in a twirling, twisting motion, and then slapped his chest. He pointed his finger at me, sneering. "Me break you," he said, in the guttural tones of most bruisers of his type.

I reached down, drew my revolver, and shot him in the head.

The report was shockingly loud, and the bullet tore through his skull as if it was tissue paper -- and I had been firing a ten pound cannon. Quite simply, Borag's head vanished in a spray of black blood, turned into such a fine particulate that a haze of it misted along the faces of the people leaning over his half of the pit. I looked at my pistol, my eyes wide -- what had been done to it? On closer inspection, I could see wires wrapped about the barrel, and a thick addition widened the center, concealing the revolving chamber.

Borag's body stepped forward once, then collapsed into the muck. Putting the pistol out of my mind for the moment, I turned and began to scramble up and out, taking advantage of the soft sizes and the slope to emerge. Men stepped hurriedly back as I stood, holstering the pistol that I had kept clutched in my hand while scrambling.

I turned to face the top hatted man, rummaged around in my pockets, and found a single gold coin. I tossed it to him. "For the damages," I said, nodding to the rather large hole blown in the muddy wall of the pit, a hole that was already starting to cause the edge to erode and tumble into the pit itself.

Most of the men were scrambling backwards. However, the two guards who had dragged me in were made of sterner stuff. They were glaring at me, and behind the two was the human and the halfling. I frowned, my hand going to my pistol. I had no idea what had been done to it to make it so powerful, but I was not about ask questions about it at the moment. The man with the musket stepped forward, hard and fast, and jabbed the but of the musket at me. I drew my pistol and pulled the trigger in the same moment -- but a fizzling spark crackled through it.

I had a moment to feel faintly betrayed before the musket slammed into my guts. I folded up and the guard stepped forward. He began to kick me and I curled up, protecting my head as best as I could.

"Cost me everything! Lousy cheating halfie green skin son of a bitch!"

Soon, other feet had joined in.

Soon after, I was no longer able to remain conscious.


I woke to the feeling of a damp cloth wiping at my face and to two deep, brown eyes. For a moment, a deep familiarity surged through me. I reacted without thinking and took hold of the hand holding the cloth, leaning forward to gently kiss her wrist. The movement was unthinking and immediate -- and left me feeling queerly dislocated. But then the aches and pains of my beating surged back to life, and the woman I had touched jerked back as if I was red hot. A pan clattered to the ground and her shoulder bumped an oil lamp, sending shadows and light dancing crazily across the room.

When she had grabbed the lamp and settled it, all senses of familiarity vanished and I could see that I had never met this woman before in my life. She was youthful, clearly on the edge between being in her childhood and her adulthood. Her hair was a wild mane of brown, never cut and let to grow wild, though she had clearly done her best to keep it from complete chaos. Her eyebrows were thick and clustered above two eyes that were so brown that they were nearly black, but her face itself was extremely comely. But as the shadows stilled and stopped sliding along her face, I could see something of more pressing concern.

Her left eye was deeply bruised -- purpling and swelling up.

I sat up and realized that I had been stripped -- my body was naked beneath the rough homespun blanket that was set across my chest. AS it slid down, I saw she had bound my chest and applied more crude bandages to several cuts and bruises along my arms. I was already beginning to heal, thanks to my orcish fortitude, but I still felt my aches and my pains.

Fortunately, anger was quite an anesthetic.

"Who hit you?" I asked.

Her eyes widened and her fingers went, for a moment, to her cheek. She smiled one of those smiles that people used when they felt too great a pain to cry. Her voice was soft. "The daft thing? I cannot even remember," she said, shaking her head. "The hands don't change much, between prisoners."

I shook my head. "I will need to get more ammunition," I said, grinning at her.

That surprised a laugh from her. I laughed in return, then hissed, feeling something inside of me twinge. This caused the woman to crowd close. Her palm pressed to my chest and she caressed me gently, her finger tracing the lines of my abdominal muscles. I could see in her eyes a shocked light, as if she could not believe that she was touching a man. Which struck me as odd -- until it clicked. She was...shocked to touch a man without revulsion. I remained perfectly still, all too aware that touching her might trigger a flight or fight reaction. In my condition, I was quite positive I would lose a fight to a doddering gnomess, let alone this woman.

"What's your name?" she asked, quietly. "And how did you kill Borag? Boom, just one shot." She shook her head. "I've seen people shoot him in the head before, and he just walked it off."

I smiled, slightly. "I'd call it a trade secret, but I'm afraid I don't know. I...seem to have misplaced some of my memories." I cricked my neck. "As for my name, it's Resh Craig."

"Resh," she said, quietly. "I like it."

I smiled. "And yours?" I asked, my hands still placed firmly on the bed, where they would not alarm her.

The woman seemed to realize her fingers were tracing a slow circle around my belly button -- and this realization shattered the illusion that this was merely a medical examination. She stood, her hands vanishing behind her back. She was dressed in something approximating a dress, with bare feet. Her feet were quite toughened looking, and she did not seem to notice or care that they were utterly filthy. Quietly, she curtsied, the motion incongruous against her desperately impoverished dress and the fact this discussion was being held in a shack that appeared to be made entirely out of shipwrecked parts. Even the lantern was missing its glass, making it considerably more dangerous in this entirely wooden structure than, say...an...

Electric light.

The thought nearly sparked a memory -- but it was scattered by the woman introducing herself: "My name is Cynthia Boggs."

"And what crime saw you exiled here?" I asked.

"Oh, ah..." her face fell. "I was born here, Mr. Craig."

"Resh," I said.

Her face flushed. "R-Resh," she said, then inclined her head. "My mother was sent here for some crime, and she had me. IT wasn't so bad, but...she died a few months ago." She sighed, quietly. "Since then, Thorovald Two Stones has been my...ward."

I recalled what the guard had mentioned. About five days and nights with 'the wench' being the reward he offered. I growled, low in my throat, my fingers clenching and the sound caused Cynthia to nearly leap out of her skin. Her eyes widened and I blushed.

"My apologies, my lady," I said. "But a gentleman-"

"A gentleman?" she asked, eyeing me.

I wished I could eye myself too. Resh Craig? A gentleman? Where had that come from? But I found myself smiling. I reached up to stroke one of my mustaches -- which had been cleaned while I was asleep -- into a finer curl. "I dare say I'm more of a gentleman than every pure blood human on this island."

Cynthia giggled, quietly. She inched closer to me, her teeth sinking into her lower lip.

"You...were dressed in a very nice suit," she said, quietly.

"A mystery to myself included, I assure you," I said, smiling.

"You looked...good in it," she said.

I smiled at her. "My thanks, my lady."

Cynthia's face turned quite red. She stepped closer. "I'm not exactly a lady," she said, quietly. "And...Borag..." she paused. "He often won me." She paused, then licked her lips. "I believe I should reward you for that. No?"

I blinked. "Miss Boggs, you don't need to do any-"

Her finger touched my lips. Her face was still heated. Her voice was quite soft. "Shh, Mr. Craig. Shh."

And then her lips replaced her finger -- and it was as soft as her fingertip. Her tongue gently probed my mouth and I let myself lay back as she crawled onto the cot, which squealed and groaned under both of our weight. Despite her youth, Cynthia proved to be quite an excellent kisser. Her hands cupped the sides of his head, caressing down to his shoulders, keeping herself upright with her knees alone as she kissed and kissed and kissed. When she broke the kiss, I found myself to be the one who was panting. Then her hips shifted and she settled down and I found that she wore exactly nothing beneath her homespun. The thick fuzz of her pubic hair caressed my belly and the hot, slick moistness of her pussy lips ground against my belly muscles. She shivered.

"I haven't wanted this...before..." she whispered her hands going to her homespun. She tugged up in a single smooth, practiced motion -- a combination of her excitement and her...professionalism. I could see the kindled excitement in her eyes and knew that I was in no position to stop her, physically or emotionally. I wondered if it was my gentleness and compassion...or the simple fact that, for the first time in ages, she was in physical charge that led to her excitement. Then I was entirely distracted by her perky, deliciously firm breasts. Beneath her homespun dress, though, I saw that more had been worked upon her than mere brutality. Her shoulders and her arms, now that they were exposed, proved to be covered in intricate, winding tattoos. Tigers and great apes mixed with vines and geometric shapes. Colors came in every vibrant pattern, and gleamed on her skin in the firelight. Her breasts were circled with a pattern of diamonds and hearts, while green diamonds surrounded her nipples. Her belly button had a ring of dwarven runes inked around it, and her hips had words stenciled upon them, done in an illuminated style, like a mockery of a holy book: SLATTERN was on the left and WHORE was on the right. I was quite sure that her back had even more tattoos, but I was too busy marveling at the artwork of her body.

She blushed and smiled, slightly. "Old Odgen did them for me," she whispered. "He fucks books more than girls, so, um, for the time he was doing em, no one else...got me." She shrugged slightly, which set a cascading shiver through her many artwork.

"Remarkable," I whispered. "Did it hurt?"

She shrugged. "Everything hurts here, Mr. Craig." She paused. "Except for you." She leaned forward and once more, she was kissing me, and this time, I was able to lift my arms and caress her back, stroking her slowly. This sent a shiver of excitement through Cynthia's body, and she mashed her breasts against my chest, hard enough that I could feel the excited hardness of her nipples through my bindings.

Cynthia was, sadly, rather wrong. I hurt a great deal.

But for her, I was more than willing to ignore it.

She broke the kiss, panting heavily. Then she shifted herself backwards and her eyes widened. "G-Good gods, Resh!" She squeaked.

"You stripped me naked, and you're only noticing now?" I asked, the familiar smugness about my endowment coming to life. Cynthia's jaw was hanging open and her eyes were quite wide. She was rolling her hips in slow movements, which caused delicious tiny jiggles on her firm breasts.

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