Twig drew the feather of his arrow to his ear. He aimed at the Scarpy on the right. The Scarpy cackled and hopped through the snow, overjoyed to have something to do it seemed. Embers and sparks dribbled from his mouth and his eyes glowed yellow in the shadows of Cankerous Gorge.
“Just hold real still,” the one on the left said, his voice low. He raised his sword and pointed it at Twig. “This can never take long.”
Twig glanced at the one on the left. He had a more commanding presence, like he led the Scarpy. He was a little bigger as well. Looking back at the one on the right, Twig took a good aim. He released his arrow. It sung through the cold air. Scarpy have thick skin and they’re fast bastards. With a cry, the Scarpy sidestepped. The arrow, aimed for his belly, glanced off his side just above his thigh bone. No lasting harm, but it made him stop laughing. It distracted him so that Twig could make a run for the artificer’s building.
That building had been where the sparking bears had been cross-bred with the fire impelled from Scarpy powder. One of the three triggers to cause the cave-in of the whole complex had been built into one of the inside walls of the building when it had been built. The doors were chained shut, like the barracks. Twig ran for the nearest ground floor window. He took up a gnawed chunk of bar from one of the lids on the bear pits. Throwing the bar, he broke one of the windows before reaching it. The snow scattered from his feet as he leapt through the shattering glass into the building.
His boots kicked up a puff of dust when he landed on the floorboards inside. He broke into a run at once, weaving between the worktables arranged in the room. The room nearly took up the same footprint as the building itself. Aisles of worktables covered in few remains of broken chemists’ gear stood in tiers. The middle of the room had a cage of crisscrossed iron bars, where the bears had been observed and manipulated. Twig hopped onto the nearest worktable Leaping from worktable to worktable, he ran toward the bear cage’s open doors.
Accompanied by a shout from a Scarpy, one of the windows thirty feet away on Twig’s left shattered. The Scarpy had leapt through it. He landed on one of the worktables on that end of the room. Heavier than Twig, the Scarpy’s momentum knocked the fifteen foot long worktable off its legs. Without bothering to get on any other workbenches he forced his way through the aisles toward Twig. He heaved worktables out of his way. He no longer smiled. The situation no longer amused him. He was the one Twig had got with his arrow. The other Scarpy plunged through a window further along the wall. Something sparked in his hand, like a match in the moment of its ignition. Going across the tops of the tables Twig went faster than the Scarpy. He slashed at pipes in the ceiling as he went. Many were dry. Some began leaking oil for the lamps and aritificers’ machines.
Leaping from the last worktable, Twig reached the open doors of the cage. The Scarpy threw the sparking thing--a sound a little like sand falling through an hourglass accompanied it. When it hit the floor an eruption of force and fire came from it, like in the barracks but smaller. It missed Twig. Several worktables blew into the air from the explosion. Twig took a wrong step when he landed and stumbled into the stone floor of the cage. He turned and fell back-first against the bars on the far side.
He stayed still there for a moment. The breath had been knocked out of him. He chose not to inhale again just then. The Scarpy approached. The one on the left took something from under his coat. A flash of flame lit against it. It began to spark. Twig drew an arrow. He wanted some wadding. And matches. He’d light the oil dripping from the pipes in the ceiling then. He had neither. Taking his aim on the Scarpy he waited. The Scarpy threw the sparking thing in his hand. It was a fast throw, straight at Twig. It would hardly have gone straighter or faster if shot from a wrist rocket. Watching it come spinning and sparking toward him, Twig considered what it would do when it hit him. Wondering about the result, Twig aimed at the sparking ball and shot. The arrow whistled and hit the thing just high of its center. Deflected off its course, it ricocheted straight at the growing puddle of oil. It exploded on impact. The flames belched forth caught the oil alight. It burned hot and spread across the tables and wooden floor.
Twig hesitated no longer than that. He began climbing up the inside of the cage. It had no ceiling. The bars continued in a column up the three floors of the building culminating in a leaded glass skylight. Sticking the black bow into the quiver on his back, he climbed quickly. There was no opening till the very top where windows had been made just below the ceiling on the third floor. The artificers stuck tubes and pipes through the narrow windows to pour chemicals on the bears. A glance up earlier had revealed that the tubes had been removed, leaving the space empty.
The Scarpy stomped into the bottom of the cage. They screeched up at him, cussing but in the Scarpy dialect. Twig only knew terms to describe fighting in Scarpy. Twig predicted that both of them would have one of their sparking balls in hand--he could hear the falling of hourglass sand sound. Coiling and releasing the strength in his arms and legs, he leapt sideways and up. He caught hold of the farthest crisscross in the bars he could reach. One of the sparking balls flew through the bars and hit the floor, exploding on the shadowy second floor. Desks blew away from it. The second hit the bars and exploded just behind Twig’s back. The force of it and his own weight swung him forward. Releasing the bars where he had a hold he went the couple feet to the next wall to his right and caught a hold there. He climbed again. With a few grumbled words the Scarpy left the cage. Twig thought he heard “stairs.”
He reached the peaked, leaded window ceiling of the cage. Taking a peak out before proceeding, Twig caught a glance of something falling from one of the gantries sticking from the cliff. It fell toward the roof of the building. Twig only saw it for a moment. Then snow drifted on the window obscured it. Curling through the empty space at the top of the cage, Twig climbed into the top floor. There were no windows here. The only light came from the leaded skylight at the top of the cage and the light rising from the floors below through it. As Twig got out of the cage a huge thump smote on the roof. The thing from the gantry landed. It began smashing on the roof as if with a pickaxe. Landing on the floor, Twig ran between the cots on this side of the room. The artificers had slept up here. The opening of a duct stuck from each of the walls. One of the ducts had a switch in it. He only hoped he remembered the right one.
On the far side of the cage, the pickaxing Scarpy broke through the roof. In a hale of plaster and splintered wood, he fell into the room, bringing more light. Twig glanced back. The Scarpy’s yellow glowing eyes stared through the falling dust. He shouted instructions. Twig just heard the footsteps on the floor below him before they got just ahead of him. From the sound, the Scarpy reached the same place. Twig strafed to the left. Just in time as the floor ahead of him broke from below. The head and arms of one of the Scarpy erupted in an explosion of broken rubble and light from below.
Twig leapt in the middle of strafing, wanting to get further away. With a shout, the Scarpy lashed out toward Twig. He caught a hold of Twig’s leg. It brought Twig down, breaking one of the undressed cots. Twig twisted, drawing Silk’s knife. The knife was narrow-bladed. He thrust it between the bones on the Scarpy’s forearm. The Scarpy howled, an orange glow in his throat. His hand let go of Twig. Leaving the knife, Twig scrambled away and back to his feet. He didn’t look back again until he reached the wall under the grate to the duct. A whooshing in the air behind him caught his attention. Turning swiftly, he saw just in time that the Scarpy had thrown his pickaxe. With his eyes suddenly wide, Twig raised his hands. The pickaxe whirled. The sharp end came where his fingers could touch it. Brushing his right hand against the side of the point, he redirected it. With his left he followed the wooden handle. The brush of his fingers slowed it a little. His left hand matched the speed of the handle. Even though he slowed it, the force the Scarpy had given to the pickaxe would outweigh Twig. He braced his shoulder.
His grip firm on the pickaxe, it yanked him off his feet. He flew the last five feet into the wall under the duct. The wall cracked under his shoulder. Distant pain fizzled from his heel to his temple on his right side, like an old bruise came all at once. The electric buzz of the pickaxe having an ill impact on the wall almost broke his grip. He kept his hold on it. His body could no recover immediately and he fell to his knees.
Continued on February 13...