Cut to the Quick – 11.8

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Bullets reached over and through the railing to pit the exterior wall of the building, as Jamie and I found our cover with our backs to the railing’s posts.

“Considering how far away he is, it’s kind of amazing he’s getting as close as he is,” Jamie said.

“Bastard shot me once already.  That’s enough for me,” I said.  A few seconds had passed without a bullet striking home, so I ventured a look over my shoulder and past the railing.  In that same moment, a bullet caught the railing with a crack and a puff of sawdust, dust, or something else that had collected between two pieces of wood.  I withdrew, but not before seeing that people on the street had noticed the sound and seen signs of the impacts.  Some were staring, others moving to find cover.

I looked around, searching for escape routes.  With one to five seconds of delay between each, the bullets came flying, embedding themselves into the surroundings or glancing off.

I wasn’t seeing any good options, and as people took notice of the situation, the chance that a bounty hunter might take notice steadily increased.

“He’s getting this close because he has good eyes,” I said.  I tried to imagine Sanguine’s position, the way he was steadily putting bullets into his gun, the way his eyes moved.  He would have been sitting there for a long time, having chosen a position that gave him a view of most of the city, gun at hand, while he looked for us.  The explosions had let him find our general area, and then he’d spotted us on the rooftop.  Now he was using cues to determine the direction of the wind.  The general slant of the rain, hanging cloth or flags, people, and places where raindrops pattered at one end of a puddle but intervening obstacles and wind direction didn’t let them fall in others.  He was placing most of the bullets within a matter of feet from us.

I could make educated guesses about his motivations and philosophy.  Maybe he didn’t care so much about catching us himself, but wanted to pin us down or hamper our movements so others could catch us.  Maybe he had buddies who were making their way to us.  Would he try putting bullets in Catcher, should Catcher attempt the arrest?  I didn’t want to know either way.

Him being as far away as he was frustrated me to the point that I wanted to spit and curse.  I couldn’t toy with him, if he was so out of reach.  I couldn’t communicate or force his hand, I couldn’t corner him, shake him, or manipulate him.

“If we get down to the ground, we can take cover against the southern or western faces of any buildings,” Jamie said.  “North would be best.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “But that doesn’t solve the inherent problem.”

“He’s going to be there, lurking, looking for a shot,” Jamie said.

“Applying pressure.  We can’t talk to guards and manipulate them, we can’t take our time working our way through quarantines and into different sections of the city.”

Jamie nodded.  He winced as a bullet pinged the post, an inch from his ear, then drew his head down, making himself a smaller target.

Guns jammed.  Specialized guns often jammed more.  I imagined Sanguine up there on the clifftop or cliffside.  He might have arrived with more than one gun, a gun cleaning kit, boxes of bullets, food, and water.  Maybe not the food and water, depending on how heavily he was modified.  He’d set up camp, and he was secure where he was.  What scenarios would provoke him to take a different action?

He would lose sight of us at certain points.  That was a given.  He was playing the long game from an unassailable, unreachable position.  We would disappear from his sight, taking cover like Jamie suggested.  What would he do?

My thoughts were briefly interrupted as something punched my arm.  I rocked forward and to the side, tried putting my hand out to steady myself and stay upright so I was in line with the post, and in moving my arm I woke it up to the pain, delayed and strange.  I had to reach over and forward with my other arm to catch myself.

Being in that position, left arm out and braced against the floor to my right, hunched over, I was exposed to fire.  I’d been hit.  Only a grazing shot, but enough to make me bleed and to throw me for a loop.

A bullet shattered wood as it glanced off the railing, inches above my head.  I straightened back up, a hand pressed to my upper arm, as blood welled out and oozed between my cold fingers.

He’d been more or less alternating between Jamie and I, but the moment his bullet caught the bit of flesh that had peeked out beside the post, which was narrower than my narrow torso was, he’d been ready and able to place a shot in the vicnity of my head.

He wasn’t magic.  Even with good eyes, there were variables he couldn’t control for in machinery and environment.  Slim odds that the bullet would have traveled the course he wanted and passed through my head as I was knocked slightly out of cover.  But there had been a chance.

If this continued, he would get lucky.

Earlier, I hadn’t been able to track the conversation.  Amid Jamie’s worries, I’d harbored a hint of concern that I wouldn’t be able to keep my thoughts straight in a serious situation like this, that I’d focused too much on the lockpicking, the stealth, the quiet nights of careful acquisition, and that other skills had eroded, lost to the rinses of lower quality Wyvern and the naturally slippery footing that any idea found in my brainpan.

But no.  I was focused, and with a challenge to dwell on and a mind to compete against, I was in my element.  The trains of thought remained on their rails.

We could slip away, and there were two things that he might do.  The first would be to take care of the guns.  I could imagine Sanguine very calmly dismantling the guns, scrubbing them, oiling them, and ensuring that everything was in working order, while he kept an eye out for us.  Maybe one had jammed already and he’d set it aside to pick up another.  He would want to take care of it.

The other idea was that he might pick up the guns, bullets, and other supplies, and casually walk to another vantage point, moving closer to us.  If he happened to have equipment to move down the sheer surface, he wouldn’t be the only sharpshooter I’d ever met who did.

The two put together meant we couldn’t count on him stopping anytime soon, and if we found any respite at all, we had to start wondering if the bullets would start coming from another direction, from a closer point.

“Jamie,” I said.


A bullet struck the balcony, two inches from my right knee.

“Where is he, specifically?”

“Specifically?  I don’t know specifically.”

“You had a sense, right?  Which direction he was shooting from?”


Two more bullets fired, roughly one second apart.  Did they have different sounds to them?


Still, I needed to work with Jamie.  “Close your eyes.  Recall the city as it was beneath the cliff.  He’s shooting from a point on the cliffs, and you have a general sense of where?  I’m going to throw a grenade, try to create some smoke cover.”

“Three buildings with towers.  They look identical, like a-”

Bullet, wall.

“-Fork sticking up, near the base of the cliff.  If I had to guess, he’s above that point.”

“Is there a building nearby that I can aim at?  If I throw the grenade aiming for a rooftop?”

“Given how you throw, Sy?”

“Ha ha.  I’m going to try this, catch a bullet and you’ll remember forever that the last thing you said to me was a lame joke.  My throwing arm is fine.”

“Do you know how many times the old Jamie wrote about you fucking up knife throws?”

“Okay,” I said.  “Seriously-”

“Grenade tosses?”

“Okay,” I said.  “Point made.”

“And the time you dropped the big glass canister of mystery plague, down in the bowels, so soon after you’d very ardently argued you should be the one to carry it?”


Bullets pelted our general location in the moment of silence that followed.

“I’m just making fun,” he said.  “I’m nervous and bothered.  You needled me with that ‘remembering forever’ thing.  And I know I’m giving you ammunition by letting you know that you needled me, but-”

“I won’t use it against you,” I said.  “I have some class.”

He snorted.

“Don’t tempt me to change my mind,” I said.

“Your throwing arm isn’t that bad.  You do better than most.  There’s a roof in that direction.  Aim for the gutter.  It’s a steep roof and if you hit the side of it it’ll bounce off and into the street below.  There might be bystanders.”

“Got it.”

I pulled my hand away from the oozing wound on my arm.  It still bled, but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.  I wiped some of the blood on my pants and tested each arm.  I opted to use the uninjured one, fishing for the grenade in the bag and gripping it.  I shifted my stance, bringing my feet nearer to my butt, pressing my back against the post.

The unsteady patter of bullets stopped.

He saw me move.

“Sy,” Jamie said.


“Earlier, I heard two shots hit at the same time.”

“I noticed that,” I said.  “The bullets sounded different.”

“I noticed the differences, I thought it was wind, angle, or something, but to shoot one so soon after the other and have it sound that different?”

“Yeah.  I think I know what it is.”

“Second gunman?”

“No,” I said.  I could imagine the bullets like an ongoing discourse.  I could sense the psychology behind it, the intent to keep us off balance, the coordination, the way they’d toyed with us, going for Jamie, then me, then Jamie, then Jamie again, just to drive in this overbearing sense that we weren’t safe.

“No,” I said, as I thought, convincing myself.  “There’s only one sniper.  The bullets sound like he thinks.  He’s sitting or laying there with a gun, and there’s a second gun close by.  Shoot, drop the first gun, scoop up the second, shoot again.  Just to keep us on our toes.  Letting us know that even if the bullets take a while to get to us, he can shoot at a pretty fast rate.  There isn’t a time window between shots to act.”

As if to echo my thought, he did it again.

One bullet, then another just a moment later.  One hit the railing, and a larger piece of the ornate wood lattice broke free, skidding across the balcony.  The other hit the wall in front of me.  One-two.

Three seconds passed.  Then, just to drive up the pressure, as if he knew we were plotting something and getting ready to act, he delivered another one-two.

I raised myself up, back sliding up the post as I straightened my legs.  I tore out the pin from the grenade as I spun around, dropping to a knee so that I was still protected by the post, arm going back as my eyes took in the city.

With the grenade live and bullets only a moment away, I had no time to find those three buildings that formed a fork.  To spot the gutter.  I had to decide as I started the motion of throwing and carried through, twisting my body as I saw what might have been it, adjusting the positions of my fingers as the grenade flew off the tips to tilt the course of the projectile so it veered toward the gutter.

I threw.  I didn’t wait to see the result, dropping flat.

If any bullets flew, I couldn’t hear over the explosion and the summary crackle of wood creaking and breaking under its own weight.

With the explosion had come fire.  With fire came smoke.

Our hand keeps getting forced.  The smoke rose, and I could now hear the bullets as they were fired into the midst of it, striking in our immediate vicinity, seemingly no more or less accurate than they had been.

I looked at Jamie, who nodded.

As one, we hurdled the railing, until we perched on the outside.  Bullets smacked into the railing just a foot to my right.

I dropped down, gripping the same part of the ledge that my feet had just been, the grit from the bottom of my shoes now digging into my fingers as I found purchase.

I spotted the pillar that held the balcony up above the front of the building and I swung myself over in that direction, letting go and catching it with the inside edges of my feet well before my hands were available to grip it.  The swinging movement of the heavy messenger bag nearly dislodged me from the rain-slick post.

I slid down, touching ground, then hurrying over to where Jamie was.

“You’re a damn monkey!” he called out to me, as he crawled down to where he could grab the pillar.  He barely had to check for handholds, but he wasn’t agile.  I knew the old Jamie had mentioned that his altered body got stiff in places when it was cold.  The scars could be problematic.

And even if this Jamie was faster and more adventurous than the first, he wasn’t quick, a lot of the time.

I allowed myself a moment of the deepest, blackest resentment for the fact that I had to juggle the ‘old Jamie’ with the new, that the name of my departed best friend had to be muddled so.

Opening that door allowed for other feelings to make their attempts at rising.  Mary with her leg bleeding.  A crying Lillian in her nightclothes in her dorm room, face still flushed from my attention, just before I said my goodbye.

It was like the emotions were some tentacled warbeast, lunging out of a container, their reaching limbs making it very hard to close them back in and away again.

I reached up and out to catch him and help keep him upright as he dropped down from the pillar.  By the time he’d turned around, I’d managed to put the feelings away.  I grinned.

“Monkey,” he said, again.

“I heard you the first time,” I said.

I glanced up and over at the smoke.  People were staring.

“We keep giving them cues about where we are,” Jamie said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Let’s hurry.”

This couldn’t go on forever.

The net was closing, there were no exits from this city, and the number of enemies kept increasing.  With each one that cropped up, it seemed I wasn’t able or willing to deal with them.  Sanguine out of reach, Catcher too close a friend, the Ghost too close to Catcher.

“Jamie,” I said, as we ran, “Get out your map.”


“In your head.  For this neighborhood.”


“What shape is it?  When we account for the quarantine?”

“It’s pear shaped, the stem of the pear touches the cliffs.  The left butt touches the Marina.”

“Where are we?”

“Near the middle.”

“Near the core.  Okay.  I want to make them think we went one way, when we went the other.  That means working near the neck, where we have to travel less distance.”

Jamie pointed.  We changed direction.

In doing so, we faced crossing a street.

How well had Sanguine predicted us?  If he was ready, weapon trained on us, then traveling in a straight line would give him time to lead us.

If he wasn’t ready, then zig-zagging wasted time, and would give him the chance to take a shot, with a chance that shot would hit.

I gestured.  Straight.

If there was a bullet, it traveled too far past us for me to hear.  Nothing hit the road.  Silence and staring people.

One of those staring people turned their head as we ran past them.  The timing of it was off, as if we were objects of interest, but they were paying attention to something else.

We were being pursued.

I glanced back.

The two Brunos.  Of course.  One in a jacket, carrying a gun that would normally be kept mounted on a car or specially outfitted warbeast.  The other was altered, with charred skin and a chemical tank at his back.

The one with the gun fired.  It wasn’t like the sniper’s shots had been.  This one struck the road directly to my left, one long stride away, big enough and powerful enough that I might have messed my clothes if I’d been less hardened by past experience.

A deliberate miss.  For now, they were playing by Catcher’s rules.  There weren’t any good options when it came to dealing with the man with the gun, so I didn’t try.  I told myself that he wouldn’t shoot at us.

By some small mercy, he didn’t.

As we made our way down a long, curving street, a small crowd came into view.  A cluster of people, paying almost no attention to our running approach.  The front of this particular crowd kept a good fifteen-foot gap between them and their objects of focus- two men who were covered in blisters.  People in the crowd were throwing bricks and bits of wood at the afflicted.

As the most injured and most plague-afflicted of the two men raised his hand, trying to shield his face, I thought that the rocks and bricks had torn his arm ragged, that tendons or veins were hanging loose from the wound.  But it wasn’t.

Extending from one nasty, ulcerated crop of crimson blisters to the next, something very similar to an exposed vein or a branching growth of vines hung free.  Near his hand, that growth had formed what looked to be flowers.  Those same flowers were bright red, glistening with what might have been blood, might have been the flower’s texture itself.

He caught a stone to the side of his face.  Pulled from the cobblestone road, the stone might have been the size of my fist.  He barely seemed to react.

Another projectile flew at him, and this one caught the growth at his arm, tearing it out from the back of his hand, so it hung loose.  In stark contrast to the wound to his face, this damage elicited a howl of pain, visceral and yet unearthly in how loud and alien the sound was.

I’d heard a lot of screams of pain in my life, and this one sat uneasy with me.

We ducked through the crowd, the Brunos two dozen paces behind us and very slowly closing that distance.  Big, but not slow.

The crowd noticed them and parted for them, where we’d had to duck and weave our way through.  Inconvenient.

We couldn’t keep this up for very long.

I really didn’t want to use the explosives in a capacity where I’d hurt the poor bastards.  It wasn’t their fault that Catcher hadn’t been able to convince them how… what was it?

“Jamie,” I said, panting a little for breath as I uttered the word.

“Map?” he asked.

“No,” I said, panting.  “Poster.  The word- what was-”

“Devastatingly,” Jamie said, sounding exasperated and as if he was going to laugh at the same time.  “You utter bastard.  Focus!”

“I am focusing!”

It wasn’t their fault that Catcher hadn’t been able to convince them of how devastatingly brilliant and dangerous we were.  Killing them would be unkind.

The moment the Brunos were clear of the edge of the crowd, the one with the elephant gun placed a shot directly between my running feet, making me stumble and making me worry for a moment that I had messed myself.  I hadn’t, which was good.  I’d done some running around at some point with blood in my ass crack, I could imagine how uncomfortable shit would be.

Killing them would be unkind, I told myself, with less conviction.

We neared the end of the street.  Another crowd was coming up.  This crowd was more spread out,  focused on shouting at a group of guards at one of the quarantine points at a bridge that spanned a canal.  Docks formed a row nearby.

If we could reach the crowd, we would be able to disappear in it.  But the Brunos giving chase knew that, and as the gap closed, the pressure on them increased.  How badly did they want this?

A quick glance back told me the Bruno with the elephant gun was aiming.

I hauled Jamie’s arm, pulling him away from the direction the Bruno had been aiming.

The aim wasn’t at us.  The large caliber bullet caught the wheel of a wagon loaded with stock.  Crates and barrels full of supplies tumbled, many of their contents spilling out in front of where Jamie and I had been intending to go.  Something that might have been beer mixed with what might have been vegetable oil, coating cobblestones.  Most of the other contents included fruit and vegetables, but even the round ones didn’t roll far enough forward to obstruct us.

Luck, for the gunman, that the oil had been part of this particular wagonload.

We made it about halfway across before Jamie stumbled.  I put out a hand to grab his arm, but between the momentary distraction of my bullet graze and the footing, I only ended up tipping over with him.  I stopped with only a crouch, hauled Jamie up and forward, and started to resume running, making our way into the crowd.

A swiping movement of the Bruno’s hand came within a half-foot of my neck.

“Sanguine,” Jamie said.

This particular spot was in the sniper’s line of sight, then.

I grit my teeth, focusing on making my way through the crowd.  We were an unusual element, enough to turn heads.  People looked at us, eyes moved to my gunshot wound and the blood I’d smeared on my pants.  I had splinters on the shoulders and arm of my coat.  I probably looked something frightful, in expression and general physical condition.

Looking at Jamie, he wasn’t much better.

Was Sanguine willing to put bullets into this particular crowd, in hopes of getting us, or making life more difficult for us?

What was his move?  Or was he actually moving?

With people turning their heads, I started looking for the most vocal shouters in this particular, localized group.  The people who were most focused on the people on the bridge, rather than us.

Once I’d identified them, I looked for the people who were paying the most attention to us.

One woman in a very prim coat looked at us in an offended way, as if we’d spat on her baby or something.  As we passed her, I grabbed her elbow, turning her around.

The next two people were members of a family.  Brothers, perhaps.  Or cousins.  Curious people, with slightly concerned looks on their faces.

I pointed my finger, turning my head, and changing the angle of my shoulders, as if I was going to change direction.  My eyes went wider.

A bluff.  They turned to see what had so captivated my attention.

With that, I shifted course, hauling Jamie with.  I moved into the densest thicket of shouters, who could barely be bothered to glance at Jamie and I.

For the outside observers, watching the crowd rather than trying to peer through it to see a shorter-than-a-full-grown-adult Jamie and even shorter Sylvester, it would have looked like the continued focus of the crowd was on us, going another direction.

Up until that seeming path terminated.

If I’d done it right, judging the thickness of the crowd and the attention of the people around me right, it would seem like we’d gone off in one direction through the crowd, then disappeared entirely.  If I’d done it really right, our pursuers might have convinced themselves that they even saw us go in that direction, rather than just seeing the heads turning and people turning around.

With this little manoeuvre, I stepped things up some more with a gamble.  I led Jamie off the edge of the road and over the chain railing, hopping down to the dock that sat at the edge of the canal.  There wasn’t a boat to be seen, sadly.  The setup looked badly disused, with leaves from autumn still lying on parts of the surface that weren’t in the public eye.  Touching parts of the wood that were exposed to the elements, I found it spongy on the surface layer, only the core hard.

In the water itself, I could see tentacles moving over tentacles, with more tentacles beneath, each of them thicker around than I was.  As the tentacles disappeared, withdrawing into darkness, the water briefly bubbled.

We stopped where we were, ducking our heads low, our back to the four feet of stone wall that bounded the edge of the canal.  Together, we caught our breath.

I saw Jamie’s head rise as he looked up.  I followed his gaze.

Almost direct overhead was a dark line of cloud, concentrated.  The cloud was black at its center, but as it expanded and diffused out into the air and the light, cold spring rain, it became gray.

“The direction that’s coming from… the cliffs?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Jamie said.

“Sanguine?  Some kind of rocket or something, with a smoke trail?  He’s pointing the way to us?”

“That’s what I would guess,” Jamie said.

“Which suggests he’s working with someone.  Given the willingness to use lethal force, a different group from Catcher’s.”


I could hear the noise from the crowd as they noticed.  A few hushed shrieks and gasps.

“They seem to think it’s the plague being dispersed,” I said.  “Which it might be.”

Jamie nodded.

The crowd was getting more agitated.

If my instinct was right, the crowd would soon be taking shelter indoors.  Sanguine was doing a fantastic job of keeping us on our toes.  If we waited too long before we poked our heads up, the crowd would be gone and we’d have no cover and no way to obfuscate things.

“Alright,” I said.  I looked around.

As with the trough in the little shadowy space, the ice hadn’t all thawed in the darker, more shadowy spaces.  I lowered myself down and reached into the shadowy space between the dock and the wall.  I came out with a chunk of ice and a numb hand.

I reached into my satchel.  I retrieved the guts of the second mine.

“Alright,” I said.

“When all of this is over and done with, I’m going to forbid you from using explosives,” Jamie said.

“They’re so useful!”

“Every single time you use one, I’m left convinced we or you are about to die horribly.”

“Trust me,” I said.  I glanced up to make sure nobody had poked their heads around to look down at the little docks down here.

“Do you know how many times you’ve said that and you’ve betrayed that trust by trying something and making horrific mistakes?” Jamie asked.  “I can count.”

“Ha ha,” I said.  “Stop being a pessimist.”

I drew out the cord of the mine.  It was like an expensive children’s toy.  Pull out the string.  When the internal machinery drew that string back in all the way, then if the switch was flicked, the mine would go off.  The difference was that the draw was fast.  There would be only a moment’s time to catch it or slap at the switch.

The cord drawn out, I tied it around the chunk of ice.  I set the ice down on top of the guts of the mine, explosives and all, then carefully removed my hands.

The cord didn’t slip free, the mine didn’t go off.  All seemed well.

I exhaled.

“Relieved sigh, Sylvester?” Jamie asked.  “You weren’t a hundred percent confident this was safe?”

“Stop being a worrywart,” I chided him.  “Geez.  Relax.

No more explosives,” he whispered to himself, under his breath.

I pushed the setup out into the sunlight, then swiftly backed away from it.

“They’re going to see it,” Jamie said.

I looked around, spotted a pile of rope, arranged into a coiled circle, then moved it, surrounding the mine and ice, so it looked like a coil of rope with a chunk of ice perched on top of it.

Ice melts, the string will retreat into the mechanism, and… bang.

“We need to get to the other side of this neighborhood, to another bridge,” I said, quiet.

“Okay,” Jamie said.  He looked at the mine.  “Why this?”

“So far, we’ve left a trail of explosions and explosives in our wake.  Let’s let them think we’re doing it again.  Are they really going to expect an explosion on a delayed fuse?”

“They might,” Jamie said.  “But this works.”

We climbed over the edge of the canal, into the edge of the crowd.  It was already thinning out considerably.  Our activity down below had gone unnoticed, what with it being conducted in the shadows, occurring beneath people’s feet while their eyes were on the sky.

Jamie and I hurried to catch up with the thickest part of the crowd.   As a bullet cracked against cobblestone, we kept eyes forward, everything focused on the way forward, with the crowd between us and Sanguine.

The Brunos had headed off in another direction.  Others would be coming, with Sanguine’s direction.

The net was closed, and because we were at the neck of this pear shaped parcel of land, there wasn’t a lot of room to move around.

When we finally stopped to rest, sitting beneath the stairs of an elevated porch that overlooked the canal, our positions a good ten minutes of running downriver from the dock with the mine, I found myself so tense that my jaw clicked as I unclenched my teeth.

We didn’t talk.  We didn’t move.  In our individual ways, with our individual focuses, we dwelt on the situation.

I imagined we had twenty minutes before the ice melted enough for that string to slip free.  My imagination was badly wrong.

I couldn’t say what had happened.  The ice might have slipped free of the coil of rope.  A bird might have landed on it.  But the mine went off, forcing our hands.

Without needing to communicate, we moved.  Straight for our next target, which we’d both assumed we would have the time to figure out.  Another bridge to cross, while our enemies were focused on the bomb, thinking we were using it to cover our escape or to open a door.

Another bridge to cross.

I imagined it as another blockade of guards.  It wasn’t.

Our exit was blocked off with ropes stretching from one side of the bridge to the other.  Strung along those ropes was a cloth with a sheet.  A snake wound around a staff, contained within a crow with outstretched wings.  The Academy’s symbol for quarantine, which every citizen knew.  Facing us, it meant the plague had touched the space beyond.

The bridge itself had been partially dismantled.  Not impossible to cross, as the railing remained intact, even if the floor of the bridge had been removed.  But no sane citizen would cross into a territory marked like this one had been.

“They just left it?” Jamie asked.  “They needed their forces elsewhere that badly?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“That bothers me,” Jamie said.

“It should,” I said.  “Because the only way I see them doing that, is if they want to secure a firm perimeter.”

“They’re abandoning the city center?” Jamie asked.

“Maybe,” I said.  “Maybe it’s bad enough that they’re planning on burning it all.”

The symbol on that sheet seemed to declare itself to the world anew as the cloth strained against its bindings, moving this way and that in the wind.

“If we stay, we’re going to have to deal with them,” Jamie said.  “Catcher’s people.  Sanguine and his friend or his friends, plural.”

“You want to go?” I asked him.  “Because it’s up to you.  I’m probably immune.  But you-”

I let the sentence stop there.

“Given how it’s cropping up, if I’m going to get infected, I probably got infected already,” Jamie said.

It felt like false bravado.  I tried to convey that in the serious look I gave him, without calling him out as a liar.

“Come on,” he said.

“You’re sure?” I asked.

“If the plague is spreading to the point that they’re burning it all, then this area we’re heading into can’t be much worse than what the whole city is going to become in a few hours.”

“It can’t be that much worse,” I said.  “They can put that on our tombstones.”

“I’ll take a maybe on horrible death this way over inevitable capture and death if we stay around here,” Jamie said.

I hesitated.

“I can’t go back,” Jamie said, voice soft.  “You can’t either.  Death is better than that.”

I thought of the howl of the injured, afflicted man, and I almost opened my mouth to disagree with him.

Then I thought of the black feeling that had overcome me, at the foot of the balcony.  The images of Lillian and Mary, of Jamie.

“Take my jacket,” I said.  “Cover yourself up as best you can.  I don’t want you getting sick.”

Jamie nodded.

Better this than that.  I would take the disease before I lived that black feeling again.

I led the way into the quarantine zone.

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60 thoughts on “Cut to the Quick – 11.8

  1. Scheisse. That primordial plague’s not messing around. Sufferers are apparently in so much pain that they don’t respond to a thrown projectile hitting the face, and react with screaming when that tumor thing (I reiterate: Scheisse) is detached.

    • Or else it’s doing some goddamn cordyceps thing and hijacking their nervous system so it only cares about damage to the growth. Which would have some pretty damn dire implications for the end stage of the infection.

        • Cordecyps are a type of fungus, known for infecting ant colonies. After infecting an ant it hijacks their nervous system, making them climb tall grass, so that when the fungus bursts forth from its head, it can more effectively spread its spores to continue the cycle.

    • I may expand on it: Verdammte Scheisse.

      I think rather then the Nurgle approach that there’s so much pain that they simply don’t care anymore I rather think it’s like Spiders Everywhere said and they only can feel the damage to the growth now.

    • I read it as the primordial plague taking over the person’s nervous system, so that they don’t register pain unless it’s a part of the primordial’s growths.

      The horrifying thing about this plague is that every seed/spore is a potential new primordial like the ones in Lugh.

      • A bit of necro-reply, but as the Primordial was making this plague, it realized that the spores would be far too small to evolve beyond their pre-programmed plant-like function.

  2. Wow. The legacy bouquet is… harsh. Even harsher than I was ready for. -_-

    I think none of the bounty hunters are prepared for it: I don’t think any of them would get paid if they did manage to bring Sy and Jaime in. They’d all just get flamethrowered from a safe minimum distance. <_<

      • Yes. Faerie. Va cnegvphyne, Cnqenvp’f sevraqf, Ri naq Xryyre, jnagrq gb cynl Oynxr’f areirf yvxr n zhfvpvna cynlf ivbyva, naq Oynxr pbhagrerq gung vg jbhyq bayl jbex vs gurl chg tynzbhe nyy bire gur cynpr. This counts, I guess.

    • What does this mean? I’ve seen this sort of thing a few times in regards to Wildbow’s works and I’ve given up figuring it out myself

      • It’s a spoiler to the fate of the main character of Worm. Read that very excellent serial for clarity. That’s all you’re getting.

      • The text is in ROT13 because it contains (in this case non-critical) spoilers for a different wildbow story.

        If you mean the actual message contained, it’s pretty literal and if you (re-)read Worm, you’ll know when you get to that part.

    • Actually, wait, what’s up with all the knives with strings attacked to them? Were they thrown my Mary? Is Mary the girl on the banner? She seems to have the strings attached to her digits, manipulating them. But if so, why is she dodging a knife? I had also thought that these people had the God’s plague, but I see no flowers on them.

      • Yeah, that’s definitely Mary: knives, ribbons, strings.
        And she isn’t dodging them, she holds a knife in her mouth, with strings attached to it, apparently in order to better manipulate some kind of trap.

      • So Mary’s getting her murder on. I mean who’s really surprised. Heck she’s probably upset she didn’t drop them faster knowing her.

    • Took me way too long (and quite a few too many clicks of the refresh button) to realize you weren’t talking about the graphic at the top of the page…

    • Interesting. Assuming that is Mary, I don’t recognize this scene. Perhaps something to occur in the future, after the plague has spread more…

  3. The situation in the city is collapsing extremely rapidly; they started the quarantine probably eight hours ago at most and they’re already abandoning the internal sections in preparation for burning the whole thing to the ground.

    I’m thinking Sanguine is going to stay camped out on his cliff, heartily grateful that he decided against going into the city.

  4. Well I hope Jamie and Sy like flowers. And fire. Because I think they’ll be seeing a lot of those where their going.

  5. Finally caught up with Twig! Yeah! Jamie, for all your talk of Sy being reckless, heading into the quarantine zone is pretty reckless of you.

  6. I appreciate that the Brunos aren’t willing to shoot a pair of kids even after all those explosions. I hope they continue to be reasonably decent people and also alive.

      • And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

        Anyone in the city who isn’t generically plague immune is probably not long for this world, fires or no.

        • Probably not everyone. If literally everyone but Sy (and maybe Dog?) dies for sure, it’s not a great story. We need to believe there’s a chance for Jaime to survive, whether he really does or not.

          • @Glassware
            If this Jamie dies, I’ll be so sad I’ll stop reading the serial, because tears will cover my eyes permanently making text too blurry to read.

          • There can always be fates worse than death for Jaime… Like being taken back to the academy on life support, Isolated while living in constant agony.

  7. not-really-typo but

    As with the trough in the little shadowy space, the ice hadn’t all thawed in the darker, more shadowy spaces. I lowered myself down and reached into the shadowy space between the dock and the wall.

    The amount of shadowy spaces in that paragraph is encroachingly high.

  8. “And the time you dropped the big glass canister of mystery plague, down in the bowels, so soon after you’d very ardently argued you should be the one to carry it?”

    That didn’t actually happen, Sy dropped the canister of water, not the flesh-eating plague.

    • Yeah, but Sy isn’t gonna remember that. Jamie is either just fudging the truth a little bit to mess with him more, it old Jamie’s notes weren’t clear on that.

  9. This is my first comment. Big fan of your works. Love the pacing of them. Mostly easy reads, little on the dark side. But toast is good slightly dark, so I guess I like my books like I like toast. Thoroughly toasted.

  10. Yeesh. It looks like some of our worst fears about the Primordial Plague may be coming true. Hopefully not all of them—this world sucks, but I still like it.

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