Read The Artifact of Foex Online

Authors: James L. Wolf

Tags: #erotica, #fantasy, #magic, #science fiction, #glbt, #mm, #archeology, #shapeshifting, #gender fluid, #ffp

The Artifact of Foex (29 page)

BOOK: The Artifact of Foex
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The motor was a brand he was familiar with.
Chet primed the warm engine and ripped the starting cord. The
motorboat roared to life—not a sputterer or a reluctant starter,
Next came safety. Chet’s eyes roved around the
little boat, seeking lifejackets. Nothing. Not a single one. Chet
swore, cursing whoever had outfitted this lifeboat. What did they
think people needed most during an emergency at sea anyway?
Canapés, mixed drinks and a parasol?

After he’d successfully fished Aureate out of
the water and saved her life, he was going to have a little word
with the ship’s crew about that. But the first important step in
the customer-complaint process was
not dying.

Chet swung the boat about and renewed his
yells for help. Aureate’s screams seemed to be tiring. Or was
she... Chet gulped. How long could a Flame survive in water?

The thrashing lessened as he aimed toward
her. He hove to right by her side, let the throttle go, and reached
down to grab her crocheted sweater, glad she’d dressed after they’d
had sex. She didn’t grab hold of him, didn’t acknowledge his grip.
In a burst of desperate strength, Chet pulled her into the
motorboat without the usual flailing about. Aureate—he assumed it
was Aureate more by her clothing than her face—was twitching
violently, her screams quieter once she was aboard.

Her face was a nightmare. He couldn’t see
distinct features anymore: no eyes, nose, lips or ears. Half of the
massive boils were in the process of bursting, ugly puss running
everywhere. Her exposed skin was bubbling off, pustulating and
sinking, an active process taking place before his eyes. A chemical
reaction. Chet had expected smoke or steam, but no. There was only
a sound, a low hissing to accompany her fading screams. Chet
wondered what he should do. This wasn’t a heart attack or a stroke!
What did you do for a water-soaked Flame? Get her clothes off? Dry
her? It would do for a start. Where was a fire when you needed

“Chet!” It was Knife, fully dressed and a
little seedy looking, his collar open. He raced across the decks
and ladder-like staircases to reach them.

Come on, she needs
your help," Chet cried out. Knife would know what to do! He’d help

A flash lit the sky and there was an
explosive thud not far in the distance. What? Chet anxiously
looking up: the sky was starry and clear. It hadn’t been thunder.
But the ship was rocking just a little, as if in response.

Knife grabbed hold of the railing. People
from the other side of the ship began screaming, and a clearer
voice than the rest yelled something about a fire.
Was there an
explosion onboard?
Chet wondered. Then he looked at the
motorboat itself.
Oh. This isn’t a lifeboat, is it?
Someone had boarded them. The same someone who’d pushed Aureate
into the water? Chet assumed she’d been pushed. Aureate hadn’t been
drunk and no sane Flame would have jumped.

Chet steered the motorboat toward the nearest
emergency rung ladder. “You’ll have to climb down," he called up to
Knife, tying the boat up to the ladder with a sailor’s hitch knot.
He deliberately cut the engine. Pantheon knew how much gas the
motor had left, and they’d need it to get Aureate to a hospital on
the mainland.

Knife climbed down slowly, reluctantly. Chet
wanted to scream at him to hurry, but held his tongue. There seemed
to be a lot of commotion on the upper decks of the ship; he could
smell fire and something like gunpowder. In contrast, Aureate had
ceased making noise and moving. Well, except for a minute hissing
noise as her skin continued bubbling off. Knife gripped the side of
the motorboat stiffly and gazed at Aureate. His expressions
radiated the same horror Chet felt, only intensified. Knife didn’t

“Do something! Quick, do you have the

Knife jumped at the sound of his voice. Then
he closed his eyes, his expression grim and resolved. He said in a
low voice, “Chet, I need you to grab hold of Aureate and raise her
up. Her head needs to be clear of the hull of both the ship and
this boat. Can you do that?”

he could do that. Grateful
for direction—at last!—Chet grabbed Aureate... and cried out. Her
skin reacted to his touch: it was sinking, popping and receding at
the same time. A sensation he’d never felt before and instantly
hoped to never feel again.

Her face was worse than ever. In Elderbeth’s
light he could see... Chet closed his eyes. He thought he’d seen a
flash of skull, through a pustulating bubble.
It can’t be true,
can it?
The Flame he’d just had amazing sex with, the Flame
who’d been a Magician, who remembered thousands of years of
history... she couldn’t really be dying, could she?

. Fire would fix her. Knife would
make it all better.

After all, Aureate still breathed. She was
alive. She moved in his arms, independent of the bizarre chemical
reaction. Against all reason, she opened her eyes. Close enough to
see every detail, Chet noticed one of her eyeballs was clouded and
ruined, probably because the eyelid had melted off. In hideous
contrast, the other eye was intact, bizarrely unharmed in the mess
of her face.

The single eye focused on Knife. “Knife...”
she whispered, her voice raspy but clear. “

Knife rolled up his pant leg, reached into
his boot and pulled out the tiny pistol. Chet stared, aghast. He
didn’t understand what Knife intended until he aimed carefully,
using both hands.

Chet screamed, “Wait—” as the shot
reverberated. The gunshot had been shockingly loud in his ears.

Aureate’s body still hissed. Chet let it fall
to the bottom of the boat, his hands twitching. He looked at Knife.
Knife sat on the wooden slat, holding his gun in both hands,
staring at nothing. Not even the body.

Chet found his voice. “Why? Why, Knife? She
would have... you could... she was asking you for help!”

“It was too late," Knife whispered. “Fatal
exposure.” He looked at the gun in his hand as if he’d forgotten it
was there, then holstered it carefully.

“But she was still conscious.”

“Yes. She might have remained conscious to
the very end.” To Chet’s shock, Knife began crying. He gulped
tears, his shoulders drawn inward, his body rocking back and

Chet wiped his wet hands on his pants and
joined Knife on the central wooden slat. He put an arm around
Knife’s shoulders, though it felt awkward to do so. The Flame
smelled of cigarette smoke and gin.

Knife laid his head on Chet’s shoulder.
“Abyss. I thought we’d have time to catch up in the morning, after
she’d had her way with you. I thought... oh, Pantheon. I just shot
my best friend.”

Chet regarded the corpse at the bottom of the
boat with reverence. “She was a spectacular person," he said,
feeling tears rise in his own eyes.

“She will be again. That’s the beauty of it.”
Knife sniffed, rubbing his nose on his sleeve.

“Knife! Aureate! Chet? Where are you guys?”
It was Journey’s voice.

Chet and Knife looked up simultaneously.
Knife called out, “Journey, down here.”

“Oh, thank Pantheon. There’s the strangest
stuff happening, and the
people on the upper
decks. I couldn’t find you. Are we leaving? Is that why you have
the boat? Where’s Aureate?” Journey glanced over the railing; she
was back in female form, worse for wear. She wore only an
undershirt and panties, her feet and bald head bare.

Chet blinked. Were those burns on her
clothing? On what little clothing she had, that was.

She tossed the duffle bag onto the motorboat
and carefully climbed down the emergency-rung ladder. Chet wanted
to warn Journey, to say something, but found that he couldn’t
speak. Knife stirred beside Chet but also remained silent. Journey
turned from the rung ladder to step into the boat and caught sight
of the corpse. She screamed, her face radiating shock and

“Journey, stop," Knife said.

Journey put a hand over her mouth, eyes
immense in the dark. “S-s-sorry. Wh—wh...”

“I’m not... I don’t... Chet, what happened?”
Knife turned to Chet as if realizing he didn’t know the

Chet shut his eyes to make reality go away.
It didn’t help: his hands still felt the sensation of melting
flesh. “Aureate went outside to take a piss off the deck. I stayed
in the room. We’d been talking after we—I heard a splash. She was,
was screaming. This boat was right around the corner, and I think
maybe someone’s on board who wasn’t before. An enemy of some sort?
Though why—and how—I think someone pushed her in. Maybe someone was
listening at the window, I don’t know. I don’t think it would have
been hard to sneak up on her if they were quiet. She was so

“Abyss," Journey muttered. “Yeah, there’re
these violent people on board. About five or six of them, dressed
in black with masks on. Not affiliates of any sort, I don’t
believe. They seem to want the Raptus. Or me personally, it’s hard
to tell.”

“Why—” Knife’s question was cut off as a
figure appeared on the deck above them, holding a gun pointed in
their direction.

“Don’t move!”

Chet’s eyes widened. Though a colorful
theatrical mask covered her face, he knew that deep,
two-packs-a-day voice. “Professor Clementina?”

She jerked in place and her arm swung up—as
if automatically—to point the gun at the deck roof above her. “Chet
Baikson, you little dium. Why aren’t you back in Eicha where you

“Abyss," Knife muttered under his breath.
“This is what comes of traveling at a slow, plodding pace.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Chet saw a
shadow of movement from the walkway’s rounded corner, creeping
closer to Clementina. From what little he could see, it looked like
Fenimore’s shape and size.
Distract her so he can get
he thought wildly. What bait would she respond to?
Based on what she’d said back on campus, she’d paid hundreds of
thousands of gilt for the dig site, all for the Raptus. Did
Clementina want to rule the world?

“What’s the story, Professor? You couldn’t
get the Raptus by throwing money at it, so now you’ve resorted to

She jerked back as if shocked. “We’ve no
intention of killing anyone unless we’re forced.”

Journey snorted, glaring. “Shouldn’t have
come armed then, should you?”

murdered,” Chet put
in. “We have a dead body on our hands.”

She shook her head as if to discard their
words. “Toss up the Raptus and I won’t hurt you.”

Whoever was creeping up on her was about six
yards away, almost near enough to pounce. The mask must be cutting
off any peripheral vision Clementina might possess, and the
conversation was doing the rest. Chet
keep her
occupied. He rose to his feet, arms out for balance. The Flame
clutched each other, and Chet self consciously tried not to rock
the little motorboat.

“Professor Clementina, you’d better shoot me
because I would die before seeing you rule the world!” He pointed
at her—more of a stabbing gesture, actually—and raised his voice to
a full roar. “You are
a fit guardian for the

Chet couldn’t see her expression with the
mask on, but her body language radiated sarcastic exasperation.
“We’re not

She screamed as she was tackled. Chet watched
breathlessly from the odd angle, craning his head up. There was a
flash of Fenimore’s hunting knife. Clementina seemed to be below
him. Was she struggling with both hands to keep from being stabbed?
Muffled yelps emerged from the deck.

Thundering footsteps rang out. More masked
people dressed in black ran toward the struggling pair. On
instinct, Chet scrambled to the stern of the motorboat and grabbed
at the rope securing them to the ship. Journey yelped at the
motorboat’s rocking movement, and dove into Knife’s arms. Knife
was—rationally enough—sitting in the exact center of the boat, far
away from water as possible.

A gunshot went off above their heads, and
Fenimore bellowed.

There was no time. Even as Chet unhitched the
line and pushed them away from the larger vessel, someone dove into
the water only a few feet away. One of the black-clad attackers?
Both Flame screamed, clutching each other as the boat rocked
violently. Chet yelped as a wet hand slopped over the side.

“Knife, your gun," Journey cried out. Knife
clawed at his pant leg.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” said a familiar
voice. Fenimore’s head popped up, thoroughly soaked. “Get us out of
here now!
I tell you!”

Chet glanced up just as a black-clad
individual dove off the railing in pursuit. Another was climbing
down the emergency rungs. Chet turned to the motor, his fingers
fumbling through the ignition process. Someone on deck was yelling
about the Raptus. The motor turned over and Chet hit the

Fenimore yelped, his head disappearing as the
boat leapt forward. Only his white-knuckled hands remained wrapped
around the edge. A small wave of water splashed inside the boat
with the momentum. Both Flame screamed at the top of their lungs,
curling themselves into a splayed huddle on the bench. Shamefaced,
Chet eased off, gaining control of the momentum. Gunshots rang out
behind them, rekindling his panic. Chet ducked instinctively but
kept a hand on the throttle. They needed to get out of range, out
of range
. Not caring which direction they went, so
long as they didn’t go in circles, Chet kept at it, his head

After a minute of silence, he looked around,
careful to keep his profile low. The ship was a good distance
away—maybe a quarter mile? Chet exhaled. Both Flame were huddled
together on the middle seat, sobbing. Chet hoped their reaction
wasn’t due to burns. Fenimore’s hands still clung to the hull near
the front of the motorboat.

BOOK: The Artifact of Foex
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Last Boy by Jane Leavy
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
The Watch Below by James White
A New Resolution by Ceri Grenelle
Mi novia by Fabio Fusaro
Kitchen Delights by Matt Nicholson
Embers of a Broken Throne by Terry C. Simpson
Hidden by Derick Parsons, John Amy