His ears filled with a blatting, monotonous scream. Stinging grit battered his face as well, rousing him rudely from his forced sleep. He squeezed his eyelids and raised his hand to pull up his kerchief, only to find that he could not raise his hand at all. Fibrous hemp chafed at his bare wrists, and he discovered it at his throat as well whenever he tried to look down at his predicament. He hazarded a stare ahead of him against the harsh air, and saw the massive, slablike form of his captor directly in front of him, straddling his motor-machine.
“Gah,” demanded Baptiste, as a mouthful of filthy air gagged him, preventing his words.
Despite the din, Pig turned his head toward Baptiste. His mouth and nose were concealed beneath his patterned scarf, making him much easier to look upon. “There he is! I was beginning to think I’d be makin’ this trip by my lonesome! You’re awful company!”
Baptiste twitched against his bonds, but found that he was still far too week. He sagged against the back of the seat. The moonlight covered the landscape in a muted pale glow, making the already desolate landscape far more grim and corpselike. He’d never held much trust for these machines, especially ones that had come so far from the industrial marvel that was Steamtown, but he had to admit that it moved well in this hard place.
“If yer hungry I stole what was left of your hardtack!” Pig called. “I’m a man with a mighty appetite but I could never stomach that bland stuff, so I s’pose I’ll be generous!”
“Thank you,” croaked Baptiste bitterly.
“Almost there, and I might let ya stretch yer legs a bit! That devil-spit will keep yer legs wobbly a couple days, but I got more where that came from in case ya still try me!” Pig laughed. “We know each other from way beyond, Demon! I hope yer not gonna make me hurtcha any more!”
In the distance, amidst the pale hardtack and blanched flora, stood a small flicker of dancing orange and yellow. Even from their distance it moved in the rhythmic pulse that only came from fire. Baptiste twitched against the ropes, but found his efforts more feeble than the first. He was fairly certain whatever awaited him at the fire wasn’t going to be pleasant.
The machine’s engine dwindled to a purr as it drew close to the fire. The orange light decorated the thirsty ground in swirling, malevolent shades. The lone occupant of the fire was a skeletal tree, half concealed in the shadows on the edge of the campsite. Pig shut down the engine of his ride and dismounted, stretching and popping his joints. He emitted a ringing fart and chuckled.
“Home sweet home,” he said, his voice raspy. He raised a leatherbound canteen to his lips and drank, sighing. “Ain’t none of that bitter earthy taste to this blend,” he said with a wink. “I’m not feeling generous enough to share this, beggin’ yer pardon.”
“I cannot promise you forgiveness,” Baptiste countered.
Pig laughed, slapping his forehead. “I’ve lost my manners, by God and His angels! Yer still trussed up, an’ after I promised you a little bit of leg-stretchin. I do declare, I’m a poor choice of host.” He walked behind the seat of the machine, working on the knots. “I admit, this might seem a bit risky considering how you done poor Clancy, but you and I knows each other. More important, I knows how the devil-spit works, so don’t go tryin’ to do too much, or yer poor heart might just burst.”
The rope around his neck loosened and fell slack over his chest. Ropes about his waist fell into his lap. Baptiste sat up, and frowned at the effort it took to remain upright. Whatever Pig had given him was more potent than anything he’d ever experienced. Running wouldn’t work. Pig was a capable enough brawler, so fighting wasn’t a great option either. Baptiste grunted with resignation.
“Yer hands stay as they are, I’m afraid. I won’t take chances on one such as you.” Pig tossed him a small bag with a battered flap. Baptiste missed the catch and it fell to the ground. “That’s yer hardtack, as promised. Eat what you can; it won’t do having you all pukey and trembling once we get you where you need to be.”
“Where is that?” Baptiste inquired.
Pig laid a finger across his nose, tapping conspiratorially.
He walked to the fire and sat, rummaging through a battered burlap sack. He tossed out bits of detritus, looking upon them with absent disgust. He finally pulled out something flat and round, wrapped in velvet. Baptiste staggered toward him, staring at the fine cloth with intrigued eyes. Pig put a finger to his lips, then pointed to the ground. Baptiste scowled, but found that his legs couldn’t push much further anyway. He managed to stay upright, but in his heart he knew it was a losing battle.
Pig pulled away the velvet, and the shimmering glass flashed brilliantly, reflecting the fire and moonlight in beautiful flashes, casting a beautiful glow across Pig’s face, melting away the years and scars. He looked upon Baptiste in all of his boyish glory and offered a bedazzled grin.
“Illusion,” Baptiste spat.
Pig chuckled; the glass had done nothing to mask his slobbery voice. “Mayhap, Demon, but it looks true enough, don’t it?”
“What sort of witchery have you fallen in with, Dansby?”
“The payin’ sort, I reckon,” he replied, and he twisted the glass, erasing the mirage of youth. Irritation darkened his face as he studied it, twisting it further. “Hmm. Guess they never did really say what I was s’posed to do next.”
Baptiste grunted laughter. “You mean you don’t know how to use that thing?”
Pig squinted at him, his expression sour. “Who’s bound and who ain’t? Less you want more-a the spit, I’d hush it.”
The breeze crackled around them, and the air congealed. There was a smell not unlike cordite in the air, and Baptiste peered around curiously. The glass emitted a pulsing flash. Pig held it out in front of him the way a person might handle a foul diaper. He gave an expression that matched that task as well.
An incomplete voice murmured along the stiffening breeze. “…you hear…Dans…there?” It was a rasping sound, like flint scraping steel, and it sent a shiver down Baptiste’s spine.
Pig eyed the glass skeptically. “I’m here. Can’t make out whatcher sayin’. Ain’t making a bit of no sense.”
A fine mist began to hover around them, chilling the air. Nausea roiled in Baptiste’s stomach, and he lurched to his knees, feeling the warm bile rise to his throat. Even the bounty hunter seemed to go a little green; he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Perhaps this is of help,” hissed the voice on the breeze.
“I feel sick,” Pig choked. He clutched at his stomach.
“It will pass,” murmured the voice. “You have your quarry?”
“Wouldn’t be pissin’ time away if I didn’t,” Pig replied, breathing heavily. “Devil’s balls, woman, let me go of this hex, I feel like I’m gonna heave up all I ever did eat.”
Woman? Baptiste thought, and he hacked up a wad of slobber and phlegm, pooling between his knees in a bubbling blob.
Pig glanced at him miserably. “No puking from you, Demon, else I won’t keep mine down.”
“Our patrol is a day’s trip from Clarence. I suspect that the boss will let them have their whores and their drink before moving on.” The voice seemed bitter. “Meantime, you’ve guaranteed his crown jewel. He will be most pleased.”
“Could care less about that, long as I get paid. We’ll be in Clarence soon.”
The air loosened around them, and the buzzing sensation dwindled. The nausea left, too, just as quickly as it had sprung to life. Baptiste wobbled on his knees, unable to force himself up.
Pig slid the glass back into its velvet cover and shouldered his things. He gave Baptiste a long, considering stare. “Got a little bit more road to cover, still. Hope yer up for a ride.”
“Who was that?” Baptiste managed.
Pig loaded his belongings onto the motor machine and made a clucking sound. “Yer not a stupid one, Baptiste. Ain’t a surprise to none such as you that I won’t share some things. ‘Specially not that. But you’ll meet em soon enough. Maybe they’ll be better at sharing than this old bondsman.” He offered a huge, broken smile. “Might be all they wanna share is pain, I reckon. Ain’t a friendly sort, that I know.”
Baptiste felt Pig’s meaty arm dig under his own, lifting. He knew if he was at proper strength, he could get out of this, but his arm felt like cut marionette strings. He felt the hemp tighten around his chest and waist, and back around his throat as well, scraping his skin. Rage and frustration boiled in his blood. Pig stared back at him, looking uncharacteristically sympathetic. He reached into a tiny pocket on his chest and pulled out a small piece of plastic. He tossed it aside, revealing what looked like a thorn.
“You won’t like this, I’m afraid, but I don’t take risks,” He said, and he stabbed the thorn into Baptiste’s exposed throat. He didn’t struggle against the cold poison rushing through him, nor did he fight the impending sleep. He faced his unconsciousness, defeated.