Strays

by Tamari Erin (玉里えりん)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/57945.html)

This follows the events in ‘A Night in Blue’ from the December ’06 issue of Bang*Bang.)

Simenon held the field-glasses to his eyes. A trail of sweat oozed past his right eye and he alternated squinting and blinking furiously in an attempt to divert its path. The desert air shimmered in the heat, blurring and reshaping the horizon like the reflections in a rippling pond.

Major Tarquil’s voice rang out. “Anything?”

He lowered the glasses and wiped at his damp brow. “Nothing, sir. I can’t see a thing.”

The major climbed up the wadi to Simenon’s side. His heavy boots barely disturbed the sand. He took the field-glasses from Simenon. “What are you looking at?”

Simenon worked his jaw. His mouth was dry. “The horizon, sir. For the Miysisan. As you ordered.”

A low, rumbling laugh preceded the major’s reply. He lifted the field-glasses to his eyes and stared at Simenon through them. It made Simenon feel oddly naked. “Do you hunt, Second Lieutenant?”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

Tarquil dropped the field-glasses around his neck. “Do you hunt, lad? Is there any game for you to hunt where you’re from?”

“Um, no, sir. I’ve never hunted. There’s not much to hunt back home. There’s a reason we call it the Rock, sir. What we do there mainly is fish.”

“Fish. Hnh.”

“I– sir, I don’t– what does this have to do with the Miysisan?”

Tarquil’s face split into a wide grin, his teeth impossibly white against his skin. He laughed. “Everything.”

Their small patrol had set out from the base camp at dawn. The sun had crossed its highest point several hours ago and they had little to show for it save the beginnings of sunburns and Major Tarquil’s increasingly frustrating, increasingly cryptic remarks. It grated on Simenon because he knew he was being singled out; the major had made nothing more than a few perfunctory remarks to the others with them, preferring to lecture Simenon in depth on anything and everything that crossed his mind. The attention bothered him, but the major was not the first to try to become a sort of mentor-figure to him since the incident with Darael several weeks ago. Tarquil was not, as of yet, quite as much of a brow-beater as the others had been.

Simenon had found himself seduced and betrayed by Darael, the not-so-young mage attached to the 6th Company. Darael had tricked Simenon into believing that he was being sexually abused by the Company, when in fact Darael was really using the Company’s desires — and their desires for him in particular — to fuel his sorceries. Simenon’s own thick-headedness had led him to jump to the wrong ideas, and he’d made some terrible conclusions about the Company before being set straight. He’d felt like an ass for weeks afterwards.

Simenon adjusted his ill-fitting head-scarf and held out a hand to the major for his field-glasses. “If I’m not to scan the horizon to look for the Miysisan, then how am I to find them? Where else could they be?”

Tarquil ignored his outstretched hand. He touched the field-glasses here and there, adjusting their controls. “What did you see, when you looked at the horizon?”

“Nothing.” Simenon shook his head. “Sand. Mirages. The heat, it makes it impossible for me to see anything clearly.”

“Now do you understand why I told you not to watch the horizon?”

Simenon made an exasperated noise at the back of his throat but did not otherwise reply.

But Tarquil continued on as if he had. “You do not look there, because you will not see anything. This is why I asked you if you were a hunter.” He lifted the field-glasses to his eyes once more and scanned the horizon. “The heat acts as a sort of natural camouflage. We can’t see them directly because of this. A hunter — or a fisherman, even,” he added, darting a look back at Simenon, “knows that when you cannot see your target directly, you do not waste valuable time and energy trying on the oft chance you might see it. What you do in such a situation is not look for the creature itself, but for the marks of its passing…”

It was like switch has been flipped in Simenon’s brain. “Like swaying grasses for the striped cats down south, or… or disturbed shoals of small fish when you’re hunting larger ones.”

Tarquil nodded, his pride obvious. “And in the case of the Miysisan–”

Someone called out behind them. “Sir!”

Simenon and Tarquil turned as one. Another lieutenant — Simenon hadn’t caught his name — was pointing at the horizon, expression grim. In the far distance, he could see a dust cloud rising up, as if a dozen men on horseback were charging towards them.

“They’re on foot,” Tarquil said, as if divining Simenon’s thought. “If they were riding mounts, the clouds would be a different shape, not to mention approaching faster.” He smiled at Simenon. “Do you see?”

Simenon passed his tongue over his lips. He felt as dry as the desert floor. “Yes, sir.”

The major’s expression grew pensive. “Sometimes, one must ignore what one sees directly and observe instead its surroundings to see the truth.”

“I–” Simenon pressed his lips together in a hard line and bit back what he was going to say. Just like all the others, he thought angrily.

It frustrated him that they didn’t understand that it had been nothing, really. There’d been a misunderstanding and he’d made a stupid mistake, but that was it. It was nothing. Nothing had changed.

“Sir!” The rest of the patrol had scaled the side of the wadi to join Simenon and Tarquil. “Do we stay and fight, or do we return to base?”

Tarquil handed Simenon his field-glasses and he pocketed them gladly. “I am afraid we run.” He gestured at the floor of the wadi. “You can see by the regularity of the imprints, of the way they’ve compacted the sand so, that the Miysisan must come here regularly, using it obviously as a kind of natural road. And not only that, but they come in large numbers; the primary hunters for their tribe, I suspect. There are simply too few of us to face them.”

A florid-faced young man with lieutenant stripes stood next to Tarquil. He was rocking gently back and forth on his feet and alternating glances between the major and the horizon. “Sir, they’re getting closer.”

Tarquil nodded. He pointed in a westerly direction, at an outcropping of low, rocky peaks. “Our camp is beyond that. If we hurry we’ll reach it before nightfall — and before they see us.”

The lieutenant who’d first spotted the approaching Miysisan eyed Simenon oddly, something ugly and unreadable in his eyes. “Ah, if only you’d brought your little boyf–”

The major glared at him darkly. “Be quiet.”

A shadow fell over them. Simenon looked up, shielding his eyes with his hand. Great, dark clouds were streaking across the sky, obscuring the sun. Simenon’s jaw went slack. He raised his arm. “Sir…”

Tarquil’s expression was grim. “I see. Thank you, Second Lieutenant.” He shook his head, a wry grin splitting his face. “Well, this is certainly going to make things interesting. How long have you been with us, my boy?”

Simenon blinked. “Ah, about a month, sir.”

The major smiled wickedly. “That’s right, you joined us right in the middle of the dry season. Well, you’re about to see your first flash flood. If we’re lucky enough, we’ll even be able to use this to escape the Miysisan. They rely primarily on their sense of smell to help them track their prey; the rain should erase all tracks of our passage.” Tarquil jumped back down to the floor of the wadi. He waved up at the rest of the patrol. “Follow me!”

Simenon took up the rear. They pounded down the wadi, its low walls echoing their footfalls back at them so that it sounded as if they numbered in the hundreds rather than barely a dozen. The noise was nearly a reassurance to him. Perhaps it would be enough to fool the Miysisan, to deter then from attacking, and give the party enough time to escape. He repeated the thought to himself a few times and it was almost enough to snuff out the brief spark of panic he felt.

The sky rumbled loudly, and as the sound faded away, a horrible, animalistic shriek pierced the air and drowned it out. Another voice picked up the cry, and then another. Simenon recognised the sound almost immediately, as more voices joined in; it was a Miysisan war cry and it sounded close. Something like ice shot down his spine. The recordings they’d played during the briefing had not sounded as frightening, as real, as this did.

Simenon risked a glance over his shoulder, breath burning in his chest. He saw them, a dark mass of shapes in the distance. They were a far ways away, but closer than he’d thought, drawing nearer with every passing moment and closing the distance between them faster than the patrol could outpace them. Simenon brought his eyes back to the front, and though he ran faster, he couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that had settled deep in his gut.

Tarquil’s voice was a roar over the sounds of the gathering storm. “Faster!”

Simenon obeyed, as did the others, but he didn’t think it would do any good. While he’d been watching the Miysisan, they’d had gotten close enough that Simenon had been able to make out how many of them were following the patrol. It made him sick with fear, and he kept a watchful eye on the ground, afraid that he would lose his footing. The Miysisan — or those he was able to see, and he did not like to think that there were more — outnumbered the patrol nearly two to one.

Simenon pressed his fist to his mouth to fight the dizziness and picked up his pace.

Something whistled in the air past his ear, and the Miysisan short-spear that had narrowly missed him gouged a line through another man’s shoulder. He dropped to his knees, blood spurting from the wound. Simenon and a middle-aged captain — who he thought was named Aido — hauled him to his feet and kept him moving until he could run under his own power.

Simenon wiped his hands together, his sweat and the wounded man’s blood smearing on his palms. He wasn’t used to running this fast; his lungs felt as though someone had filled them with hot ash, and he didn’t think he could keep up this pace for much longer.

A roar echoed through the wadi, catlike and dangerously close. Simenon didn’t dare look behind. Ahead, Tarquil cursed loudly. His shoulders stiffened and one hand brushed against the butt of his revolver.

Tarquil slowed to a halt and held up his arms. The patrol stopped and clustered around him. Simenon let the wounded man lean on his shoulder; he was still bleeding and it leaked on Simenon’s uniform, leaving dark spots on the navy fabric.

Tarquil gave them a quick once-over, his eyes dark and dangerous. “It’s useless to try to outrun them.” He pointed down the wadi. “We stand and fight.”

Simenon followed the direction of Tarquil’s finger, trying to balance the awkward weight of the injured man on his shoulder. He stared, both fascinated and horrified.

He had never seen an atavist this close before. Even during the attack on the camp a few weeks before, the atavists — the last of the Furure tribe — had been swaddled in cloaks and scarves. He hadn’t been able to see more than a vague outline of their shape before their — horrific — deaths.

What he could see of the Miysisan made him glad the Furure had hidden themselves. The rumours had not done them justice. Simenon took an involuntary step back, a moan of panic in his throat.

They were beasts, beasts that walked like men.

The Miysisan had abandoned their humanity to live in the wild like animals, so like animals they’d become. There was a vague feline cast to their features, and more than a few of them were covered in short, bristly fur. They were barefoot, and wore only stained loincloths, if they were clothed at all. They all — to a man — carried weapons, from knife to spear, to half-rusted rifle.

The largest Miysisan, the obvious leader, roared again. He was filthy and heavily scarred, and the others were no better. Simenon could smell them from where he was standing.

Tarquil unholstered his revolver, and the rest of the patrol did the same. Simenon stepped out of the way; with a wounded comrade to look after, he had no place in a fire-fight.

A raindrop hit the ground only inches away from his foot, balling up in the fine sand. Simenon started, and the wounded man wheezed sharply in his ear. A few more raindrops fell here and there and then with a sound like thunder, the deluge hit, the water coming down in great torrential waves. Simenon was blinded, he could barely see more than a few feet in front of him. He could make out dark forms in the rain, but he couldn’t tell if they were Miysisan or his patrolmates.

He slid an arm around the wounded man’s waist — he wished he knew what his name was — and together they staggered away from the dark shapes, in the direction he assumed was towards the camp. They were drenched and already the wadi floor was filling with water. Simenon could barely breathe without snorting water up his nose.

Something soft grazed his left cheek. “Wha–?”

A great weight slammed into him from behind, knocking him off his feet. He dropped his wounded companion, but before he had a chance to help the man to his feet, he was hit again. Simenon stumbled, ears ringing, and spat out a mouthful of rainwater. He squinted into the rain, and swung wildly at the dark shapes he could see in it. After three fruitless blows, he finally struck something. A yowl of pain was just audible over the rain and Simenon cheered silently.

He struck again, but he’d waited too long. The Miysisan caught his fist easily and tugged him sharply forwards. Simenon slammed against the wadi wall. The shock reverberated all the way down to his bones. His head was spinning, he could barely focus.

A split-second later, the Miysisan’s hands were around his throat, his sharp little claws digging into Simenon’s neck. Simenon gagged at the pressure. But the Miysisan’s grip was weak, and Simenon was able to bat his arms away easily. Simenon darted to the left, keeping one hand on the wadi wall for guidance and support.

After a few moments of running, Simenon stumbled. There was air beneath his hand where he’d expected stone. He fell to the ground in the space where the rock should have been — and found himself in a small, natural cave and out of the rain. He pushed his soaking hair out of his eyes, knocking his sodden head-scarf to the ground, and drew in a shuddering breath. He shivered; the rain had been warm, but the temperature inside the cave was cool. Simenon crossed his arms in front of his chest and squeezed his sides. His wet uniform made it seem colder. The sounds of the storm were muffled and far away. For the first time since the rain began, he could hear himself think.

He pulled a pocket-torch from his uniform jacket and held it high above his head to get a better look around. He’d just turned it on and had barely a chance to look around the cave when it was knocked from his hand. The torch skidded across the cave and shone off a far wall, lighting up the small space oddly. Simenon spun around, to face the Miysisan. He was drenched, water dripping from his long mane and beading on his fur. His teeth were bared — which made him look even less human than the fur did. The Miysisan’s skin was relatively unmarked — a sign, Simenon knew, of youth and inexperience. He was glad for this; he wouldn’t have been able to handle an adult Miysisan warrior.

Before the Miysisan could react, Simenon grabbed him by his wrists and threw him bodily towards the back of the cave. The boy landed with a thud on the ground and rolled back onto all fours unsteadily, one hand on the ground for support and another pressed against his brow. Simenon rubbed his sweaty palms dry and stalked towards the Miysisan. He tore his field-glasses case from his belt and brought it down hard against the Miysisan boy’s face.

The force of the blow resonated up Simenon’s arm.

Simenon was breathing heavily. He wiped at his mouth and spat on the cave floor. The Miysisan boy had collapsed into a heap before him, arms wrapped around his head. All Simenon could see was his mane, made black by the water and the low lights in the cave, and the tufted tips of his high, pointed ears.

Simenon blinked and for a moment there was someone else kneeling before him. The dark hair was the same but everything else was different.

Lightning flashed outside the cave, illuminating everything in soft blue light. Simenon’s lips drew back in a rictus. A furious cry spilt from his mouth and he raised the field-glasses case high above his head.

When the sounds of thunder finally died down, there were two things Simenon could hear in the small cave — his own laboured breathing, and the Miysisan boy’s sobs.

The illusion broke and Simenon took a stumbling step backwards. His arm dropped to his side like a dead weight and the field-glasses slipped from his numb fingers to clatter hollowly on the cave floor. Simenon stared down at his hands. They trembled slightly and he balled them into fists.

Simenon sank down to his knees and inched towards the Miysisan. The boy had stopped crying, gone still and silent, his prone shape half-hidden by his hair. Though the boy’s face was obscured in shadows, Simenon had the distinct impression he was being watched.

He passed a hand over the boy’s oily, musky hair, careful to keep his touch gentle so as to not startle the boy. “Here,” he said, keeping his voice light and casual. “Let’s see how bad it is.” He made to slide his hand under the Miysisan’s chin, so he could get a better look at the damage he’d done.

But the Miysisan moved faster than he did, and caught his forearms with a grip that was as strong as chokegrass.

Simenon froze, but didn’t — couldn’t — make another move. The Miysisan’s hands were warm, his palms hairless and callused like rough leather. Simenon worked his jaw and swallowed loudly. Breathing had suddenly become very difficult, as though he had something thick and heavy wedged down his throat.

The Miysisan raised his head slowly, like a snake charmed from its nest. The Miysisan looked at him, his eyes still rheumy from his tears. His yellow gaze remained fixed on Simenon. His pupils were wide and as black as death. The boy’s flat, pink tongue darted out of his mouth and made a brief pass over his strange, almost-cleft upper lip.

There was a bright pink mark on the Miysisan’s cheek, visible though the fur, where Simenon had struck him.

Simenon slid his hand free and pressed his thumb to the bruise. The Miysisan yowled at first, but then leaned into the touch, pressing his face against Simenon’s hand.

When Simenon withdrew his hand, the Miysisan let out a satisfied hiss. The corners of the Miysisan’s lips quirked up, but there was nothing pleasant in the expression.

The Miysisan slid his hands up Simenon’s arms, stroking the fabric of his uniform here and there as if he’d never touched anything like it before. He pulled Simenon closer with a rough jerk, and Simenon grabbed for the Miysisan’s waist for support.

Their lips met, and Simenon inhaled the taste of the boy’s mouth, the sickly-sweet warmth of it. It felt as though all the air had drained from the cave and he would not be able to breathe without the boy’s mouth pressed against his. All other sensations faded away, save for the kiss and the growing throb of pleasure in Simenon’s cock.

The boy was rough and fierce, and his enthusiasm nearly made up for his lack of skill.

Simenon jerked away suddenly, a sharp pain at the corner of his lip. His mouth filled with the coppery taste of blood and when he rubbed his fingers over his lips, they came back red.

The Miysisan grinned at his displeasure; one of his fangs was spotted with more of Simenon’s blood.

Simenon took a breath and wiped at his mouth again. He pushed the Miysisan to the ground; the boy resisted, but only just.

When Simenon straddled him, the Miysisan reached up a hand to brush his face. There was no tenderness in the touch that traced up his cheekbone and down the line of his jaw. It reminded Simenon of how his uncle would inspect horses before he bought them.

“Pretty skin-boy,” the Miysisan said, his voice barely a murmur. There was a slight lisp to his words.

“‘Skin’?” Simenon repeated.

“Mm. You have names for us, why should we not have names for your kind?”

“It’s not skin-boy. My name is Simenon.”

The Miysisan repeated his name, low and sibilant. A chill went down Simenon’s spine. He felt as though he’d spilt his darkest secret to his worst enemy. The Miysisan gave him a narrow, secret smile. “Call me Kesset.”

There was still a sharp, salty taste in his mouth, and when Simenon kissed his way down the velvety length of Kesset’s neck, he left a trail of bloody lip-prints in his wake. He placed the last kiss in the middle of Kesset’s breast-bone, where the Miysisan could see it, and spat out the rest of the blood.

Simenon raised his head as he began to rock himself against Kesset, finding a loping, easy rhythm that brushed his own cock against Kesset’s tantalising hardness. He kept his eyes fixed on the Myisisan, ensnared by the want he saw in Kesset’s gaze, that so mirrored his own. Simenon let out a little gasp of pleasure when Kesset moved himself just so, and they were suddenly grinding their cocks together through the fabric of their clothing, sliding up and down each other’s length like duelling swordsmen.

He doubled his pace, panting like a dog left out too long in the sun, his breath coming in sharp little bursts that sounded to his ears like sobs. He was lost in the sensation, caught by the onrushing tide of his lust, a delicious madness that he welcomed like an errant child rejoined with its mother.

And then Kesset bucked his hips and they toppled into a heap, limbs a-tangle. Simenon grasped at Kesset, his lips forming silent words of protest, trying to clamber back atop him and resume his frottage. When the Miysisan blocked him, none too gently, Simenon slapped him, hard, on the same cheek he’d bruised with the field-glasses.

Kesset looked at him for a long moment, unaffected by the blow, his strange cat-like eyes hooded and filled with want. Simenon went still, drew in a whooping breath of air, and watched as Kesset bent over his groin.

Simenon felt aflame, his body quivering with every touch. His cock throbbed as the Miysisan unfastened his trousers with aching slowness, freeing it from its prison of Simenon’s clothes. It jutted between them, as stiff and smooth and red as a demon mask. It swayed slowly in the cool air of the cave, though there was no breeze to move it.

Kesset bent his head and drew a line of cool saliva up Simenon’s thigh, deliberately ignoring Simenon’s cock, as he lapped up trails of sweat that had oozed down Simenon’s skin. Simenon thrust his hips to press his cock against the Miysisan’s face, but Kesset evaded him easily every time.

His desire was too great. He needed– he needed release. Simenon buried his fingers into Kesset’s hair, digging his nails into his scalp, and wrenched his head to press Kesset’s mouth to his cock. Kesset struggled against his grip and reared up, his darkened eyes filled with something distant and cold.

The Miysisan’s claws flashed in the torchlight and with a few swift strokes, he carved a symbol into Simenon’s leg. Blood beaded on the wound, and Simenon made a noise of shock, more in surprise from the action than any pain. “In my language, it is the first syllable of my name.” Kesset licked at his fingers and touched the lip-print on his neck. “We have both marked each other, have we not?”

Simenon hit him again, knocking him to the cave floor. Then he set upon him, scratching welts into Kesset’s belly and tearing off his loincloth with a savage jerk. He crouched over Kesset, pinning him to the floor with the force of his glare but careful not to touch him. The Miysisan watched him, and then turned and knelt on the ground, hands flat on the cave floor, his back to Simenon and his knees apart.

Simenon’s cock was still hard and erect between them. He began by rubbing its head against the soft skin of Kesset’s buttocks, leaving lacy lines of pre-come on his fur. Then he slid it between Kesset’s legs, where his skin was soft and hairless, and pressed its length against Kesset’s inner thigh, relishing in the heat of the friction.

Kesset was silent all the way though this, and it was only when he began to whimper softly from the pleasure that Simenon drew away.

Simenon stroked the length of his cock, letting his thumb swirl around the swollen head. It was as hot as the midday sun and slightly damp from his sweat. He slicked it down with a liberal gob of saliva.

Kesset still quivered and Simenon slid a hand over his high, round buttocks. He fingered a nub that in a few generations might become a tail. Both hands now explored Kesset’s ass, his taut back, the smoothness of his thighs. Then they returned to his buttocks, and slid between then, separating them slightly.

Simenon drove himself into the Miysisan, moaning at the tightness. Kesset made a noise beneath him, and Simenon slid his hands to Kesset’s waist to get a better grip. Kesset shook, his body as alit with pleasure as Simenon’s.

Simenon fucked him slowly at first, drawing himself in and out at a languid pace, and Kesset softened beneath him, his tight rings of muscle relaxing. Simenon bent his head, shaking like a man possessed from the power of the orgasm building from deep within him. He thrust faster, throwing his head back and forth as his body rocked from the force of his thrusting, savouring the delicious feel of Kesset’s warmth, of Kesset enveloping, taking in his cock.

Simenon came first, with a word on his lips that could have been a name — but not Kesset’s. Shaking his drew out and dropped to the cave floor with a thud. He watched as the Miysisan slid a hand between his legs and brought himself to an easy climax.

Kesset almost collapsed, spent by the exertion. Simenon watched the pale trembling shape. It was now or never.

He shuffled forward and slid his arms around Kesset’s neck. Simenon set one hand on the Miysisan’s chin and another at the back of his head, at the base of his skull.

He twisted sharply and a crack echoed through the cave.

Simenon collapsed to the floor and wiped at his face. He waited until his breath returned to normal before standing up and refastening his trousers. After a quick glance out the mouth of the cave, where the storm was still raging at full force, Simenon grabbed the Miysisan’s arms and dragged the still-limp corpse down the narrow incline that led to the wadi.

He shoved Kesset’s body out into the water, took a step back and watched as the flood swept it away like so much detritus.

* * * *

The storm died hours later, and his patrol found him not long after. He’d cleaned himself up as much as he could, and had tossed the rest of the Miysisan’s leavings into the rain. Simenon had sat by the cave mouth and watched the rain fall, his head clear and his heart light.

Tarquil strode into his cave less than a half-hour after the rain had stopped, and his face lit up when he saw Simenon. “Second Lieutenant! Isn’t this a lucky turn? You disappeared during the confrontation, and we were afraid you’d suffered the same fate as Lieutenant Holne.”

“Sir?” Simenon scrambled to his feet, and followed Tarquil back out of the cave.

“We found him,” the major called out over his shoulder, “not far from your cave.” They walked for a few minutes before they came upon it. Tarquil gestured at the body.

Lieutenant Holne, the wounded man he’d lost when the Miysisan had first attacked him, was wedged, bloated and pasty, against a ragged outcrop of stone. Beside — atop — him was Kesset. His gold fur hid the pallor of his dead flesh, and he looked like a discarded rag doll, his head lolling at an unnatural angle. The wound on Simenon’s thigh, the symbol the Miysisan had marked there, throbbed, and Simenon looked away.

“Sir– I– ” He had to say something. “He’s naked, sir.”

The major nodded. “The Miysisan are savages. There is nothing they aren’t capable of.”

Simenon kept his face as impassive and as unmoving as the ocean’s depth. He followed the rest of the patrol out of the wadi and they started back to camp.

He forced the Miysisan boy’s face out of his mind. He’d done what he had to, and that was that. He remembered what had happened the last time he’d taken in a stray.

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