Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quicksand - Part 21

Voss dragged himself toward his cane.

Craven Lorne stepped forward to help him, then recoiled when he realized what he was doing. “I'm sorry,” he told Voss. “I had to. You need help.” He looked back at Minty, who was watching the scene curiously, her Dust bleeding and pooling around her feet. “How long did you have her here? Chained up. She's half naked. Look what you've become.”

Voss's head dropped. “I'm sorry,” he whispered. “Craven, I'm so sorry.”

Craven Lorne's heart melted. He stepped forward and leaned down to help his friend—to help what had been rather than what now was.

The cane seemed to extend in length to reach Voss's hand. It cracked down hard on Craven's ankle and rapped the the back of his knees, knocking him to the warehouse floor before its pommel hit his cheek.

Voss was on his feet, and Craven, who had rolled to save Minty's arm, was on his back. Voss brought his cane down hard on Craven Lorne's head, causing his body to go limp. Voss looked down at former friend with something almost like pity. “You left me no choice,” he said. He spun on his heel and strode toward Minty, his smile not seen, but felt.

Minty backed toward the corner of the room, desperate to run but unwilling to leave Craven Lorne behind. She tried to shrink, to melt into the wall as Voss advanced. His steps were slow and deliberate, but not laboured. He held his cane at his side, but didn't touch it to the floor. Memories and shadows surrounded her. She couldn't move, couldn't shout out. She couldn't even hold her arm up to stop him. He raised his cane.
The growl started low. It rolled across the warehouse floor. It rolled through the lies and the shadows, it rolled over Voss. It broke at Minty's feet, washed over her, warmed her and turned into a scream.

Craven Lorne was in the air before Voss had turned. He landed, expertly, with his hands and feet on Voss's shoulders, knocking his former friend over, smashing his head into the concrete floor.

Voss's cane rolled to a slow stop at Minty's feet. She did not pick it up.
Craven, who was still perched on Voss's shoulders, looked up at her. “You're shaking,” he told her. “We need to go.” He didn't look down at Voss's face or at the dust leaking from the wound at the back of his head. He wanted to, but he didn't.

He stood, grabbed Minty by her arm and pulled her toward the exit, ignoring Voss's quiet, murmured threats.

Something went crunch.

“Leaving so soon?” asked a voice that seeped out of the shadows like tar. Yellow eyes reflected light that wasn't there.

If he squinted, Voss could make out the shape of Minty's arm, its fingers crushed under a heavy boot.

“It wasn't too nice, what you were saying about me,” Frisco said, making imaginary tut, tut noises. “It wasn't too nice at all. You called me a maniac.”

Craven reached out and swept Minty behind him. “I didn't,” he said slowly. “But I should have.”

“And you think you're going to protect her now? Now that I know what she is? I've never liked you, I just put up with you because Voss wanted you around and he was good about the Dust. But I don't need either one of you now that I've got her.”

“He drank my Dust, Craven Lorne,” Minty said. “I made it white. But he had it.”
Craven did not take the time to ask how Minty had done the impossible and changed the colour of her Dust or to get angry that Frisco, of all people, had been allowed to taste it. Every part of him was focused on how they could escape – because if Frisco had had even a little white Dust, fighting him was going to be impossible.

“Kill him,” Voss croaked, struggling to sit up. Only Minty wondered who he was talking to. “Kill him,” Voss repeated, “and I'll share her with you.”

Frisco lifted his foot off of Minty's hand and walked to where is boss lay, his head surrounded by a halo of its own Dust. “So yours is white, too?” Frisco said. “Guess I should have known that.” He knelt down by Voss's side.

Craven Lorne motioned to Minty and they crept, as soundlessly as possible, along the wall.

“You'd really do that, share her with me?” There was something menacing in Frisco's voice – more menacing than usual.

Craven considered trying to help, but he knew that if he stayed, he was dead – and so was Minty. The best he could do was hope that Frisco would make it quicker than Voss deserved.

Voss couldn't imagine what was coming because he couldn't imagine a universe in which he was not the centre, not looked up to and admired, not revered. He nodded his head, as much as he could. “Yes. But be quick about it, don't let them get away.”
Frisco wrapped his long, spidery fingers around Voss's neck and squeezed, occasionally moving a hand to slap away Voss's feeble attempts to stop him. “You would have kept her all for yourself,” he said, as Voss's leggs stopped kicking. “You would have drained her dry and not even saved a grain for me.” He bent down and lapped up some of the dust.

Too much, Craven thought. There was no way to escape Frisco now, not with fresh white Dust in his system. Minty would be lucky if she bled to death before he got his hands on her.

Frisco looked up, as if he'd heard Craven Lorne thinking, as if the thought had reminded him that Craven and Minty were still there.

Craven could see only one option and he didn't like it. Still, he told himself, it was his mess and this was the only way it was going to get cleaned up. As quietly as he could, so that the sound barely existed, he told Minty to run. And he ran.
Craven didn't run for the door; he ran for Frisco, as fast as he could, his teeth bared. Frisco stood his ground until the last second, looking – if he looked anything – mildly amused. As Craven pounced, Frisco melted. He appeared behind Craven and Craven faltered as he tried to bite something that was no longer there. Frisco hit him from behind, but not as hard as he might have. He was toying with him. He dug his long fingers into a nerve cluster in Craven's shoulders and laughed at the resulting whimper.
Craven couldn't see Minty and he wouldn't let himself look around to try to spot her. He wanted to keep Frisco's attention on him and that meant keeping himself alive long enough for Minty to get away – and that meant keeping his attention on Frisco. He bit him once or twice, but Frisco just melted and poured and oozed and seeped; it was like fighting with molasses.

It didn't take long for Frisco to get bored and when he did, he was merciless. He hooked too fingers behind Craven's jaw and yanked forward, sending Craven face-first into the concrete. He kicked Craven in the ribs so hard that Craven coughed up a bit of dust, the colour of ground pewter.

And then he wrapped his hands around Craven's neck.
Frisco had been watching Minty all along. He could see her still, out of the corner of his eye, frozen, too scared to run. And even if she did run, he'd caught her once, and that was before he'd had her dust, before he'd had Voss's. Hell, even this pewter shit of Craven's would give him an edge. He'd catch her again. If he needed to.

Minty saw Frisco smile as he put his hands around Craven Lorne's neck. She wanted to run, but her feet wouldn't move. Her head wouldn't even turn to look at the open door behind her. She was frozen. Frisco was delighted, not watching her, but watching Craven struggle as Voss had done. He lifted his Craven's head and pushed it back onto the floor, then stood and pressed his heel into the base of Craven's neck.
Minty felt dizzy from Dust loss, disoriented, weak – and she felt everything build, the dizziness and the weakness and her body's refusal to move, the pain, everything. It compounded, layer upon layer of sickness and hate and helplessness and fear, filling her from her feet up to her chest, crushing her. She raised what should have been her arm. She let go.

Despite everything, Minty had had the foresight to disengage her eye. Craven had been fortunate enough to be face-down and half conscious. Only Frisco, smiling his sick grin at Minty's raised stump – at what her perceived to be a plea for mercy – had seen it, the ball of white hot light that rolled down the hollow of Minty's arm and burst forward, streaking across the warehouse like a flash bomb. His eyes somehow managed to survive long enough to see what happened as he tried to melt and instead was baked to the spot. He went blind. He felt his eyes and skin turn to ash. He felt himself fall away, one piece at a time.

Minty walked to Craven Lorne and lifted him bodily to his feet. She retrieved her arm and handed it too him wordlessly, then bent to pick up her fingers. Craven took them from her and put them in her pocket, too surprised to say anything, too distracted by the smear that had been Frisco to argue.

They walked toward the doorway, the yellow rectangle that so recently had seemed the answer to all their problems. They heard Frisc— slide into a worried co as the figure of a possum in a bowler hat skidded around the corner and took in the scene.

Minty raised her empty arm—her cannon at him. She could feel it all building.
Her eye focused on Darren, too scared to move, too stupid to get out of his own way. She pitied him. She lowered her arm and jerked her head to the side, indicating that he should run, run fast and run far.

They walked out of the warehouse hand in hand, though Craven might have felt less awkward about it if Minty's hand had had all its fingers and been attached to more than a deceptively heavy arm. The sun was rising or setting – or something. The sky was in transition and it wasn't the only thing.

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