The Longest Shard: 17

Shard

Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers. 

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Day  865


Cracked rib notwithstanding, Gideon was back in the veins only a few days after the Horatio incident. 

Since Pavel had actually held back some—after all, the rib was cracked, not broken—Gideon knew he should count himself lucky. 

But even as he dug his spade deeper into the earth around the hunk of crystal-rich shard he’d chosen, he didn’t feel lucky. 

More than anything, he felt wary. 

Admittedly, that wariness could be due to his current worksite—a deep crevice that split the desert floor. The rift measured a crooked fifteen meters long, and was no more than three meters at its widest point.

Gideon tried to view the claustrophobic location as a blessing.

If nothing else, it spared him the caustic glares Renny had been throwing his way since the day Gideon stepped between Pavel’s fist and Horatio’s face. 

Unfortunately, a lack of vindictive Renny did little to ease his nerves, which continued to stretch until he felt certain he could count the fingers of tension dancing up his spine. 

He was so wired, in fact, that on hearing a spatter of gravel from behind, he sprung to his feet and hauled the spade up to defend himself against all comers. 

A quick scan of the rock face revealed the source of the disturbance to be a common scarab, climbing up the side of the gorge, its horns shifting in a steady rhythm as it went. 

Gideon grimaced at his own skittishness, then sneered at the bug, which ignored him. 

“Be that way,” Gideon huffed at the indifferent scarab, and turned back to his excavation, but before he could slide the spade into the dirt, three long whistles, followed by three short, sounded the warning of an unstable vein.

Following protocols drilled in from his first days in the Barrens, he grabbed his spade and his crystal canister, and headed for the path that led out of the defile. 

His first priority was to get away from the vein. 

His second was to render any assistance, should it be needed.

He hoped assistance would be needed, as the alternative meant there wasn’t enough left of whomever had triggered the event to assist.

Preoccupied by the mental review of triage procedures, Gideon didn’t see the shadow that fell across his upward path. 

At least, he didn’t see it until said shadow’s foot was shooting into his chest, sending him tumbling back to the rocky floor of the gorge, canister falling one way, spade another. 

The fall knocked whatever air the kick had left in him, so for a moment all Gideon knew was the shriek of his ribs and the wheeze of his lungs as he tried to inhale.

His brain said ouch. 

His body shuddered. 

His mind tumbled, much like the barrage of pebbles dancing down the slope. 

But as a fresh round of whistles filtered through the pain, Gideon sucked in a dusty lungful of air and rolled to one side… only to be kicked back. 

“Not this time,” he heard someone say.

Gideon squinted into the red to see the shadow resolve itself into Renny, who said, in a voice dripping with disdain, “This time Gideon Quinn will not be rushing to the rescue like the hero from one of your quarterstar dreadfuls.” As he spoke, crystal-light bounced off the shard in his right hand, while Gideon’s spade, in his left, pressed down on Gideon’s chest. 

“Smog it,” Gideon spat, but he didn’t try to move, not with the sharp edge of the spade digging through his shirt. “What did you do?”

“Nothing fatal,” Renny said. “Yet.” Then he lifted the spade, probably, Gideon thought, with the intention of driving it straight through Gideon’s chest. 

Not wanting to confirm the theory, Gideon rolled quickly to his left. So quickly, in fact, the blade hadn’t even cleared all the way, leaving him with a slice across his chest to add its own queasy harmony to the chorus of injuries.

Renny cursed and adjusted his aim, targeting Gideon’s head. 

Gideon responded by rolling forward, rib protesting the entire way.

He only made it to his knees when he heard the reverberant clang of the spade head striking the wall of the gorge.

The noise of that impact had both Gideon and Renny freezing and casting a wary eye at the nearby vein which, thankfully, continued to not explode.

That half a breath of wariness allowed Gideon time to scramble to his feet and throw a kick, just as Renny was turning back to the fray. 

It wasn’t much of a kick, but it did catch Renny in the side, forcing him to drop the spade, which Gideon reclaimed as Renny staggered back.

“Damn you,” Renny hissed, recovering. “Damn you to Earth and back.” 

“Right back at you,” Gideon hissed before leaping back from a sudden feint. “Do you really want to die here?” he asked, swiping at Renny. 

“Not particularly,” Renny replied. “But if that’s what it takes to end you, I’ll happily go to my forest.” 

“That’s how you want it? Great,” Gideon said. “But before they plant our trees, will you—please—tell me what on smogging Earth I ever did to you?” 

“What you did?” Renny echoed as, to Gideon’s shock, his expression suddenly shattered. “What you did,” he said again, “was to not once be able to remember what it was you did.”


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