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Chapter 5 : Arrakis
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Author's Note My longest chapter yet! Whoot! Forgive me for the slowness of the updates - my sister was recently in the hospital and I got married about a week ago. My honeymoon's not started yet, which is why I had the time to finish this. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it, and as ever, please tell me what you think!
Visual Aid A slight change has been brought to the Visual Aid section: only the characters featured in the chapter will be listed. Might make it more manageable.
Daniel Craig as Maxwell Blackthorn
Hugh Dancy as Hugo Weasley
Rachel Weisz as Rahima Said
Clive Owen as Rasheed al Hariq
Jack Davenport as Kurt van Haufsen
Summer Glau as Fay Eudemon
Paul Bettany as Emile van Claut
The hot wind was brutal on Hugo's soft Granger skin. Glasses slipping from his nose, he tried in vain to remember how on earth one managed a magic carpet with as snarky a personality as this one had. It seemed to him that the carpet simply refused to let itself be controlled.
Very well, Hugo thought, gripping the tassels, see if we ever take you out for a spin again.
The effect was instantaneous. The seemingly sentient carpet, which had been flying at a steady altitude of about 40 yards above the ground, plummeted. Hugo pulled backwards as far as he could to steadily rise again. Right. Modes of transportation like this one were not to be used often. Merlin, he wished he had a Jeep. But no. Grace had wanted camels. And camels had she gotten. What a way to live.
Hugo glanced at his watch. It was almost one in the afternoon, and the sun was reaching its peak. Anxiously he glanced at the dunes below for any sign of Grace and Max, eyes casting to and fro for a glimpse of the sandy-haired man. If Grace was unconscious, Hugo was certain Max would walk through fire and flame to make sure she was safe. The tomb robber might have a mind in the gutter and an insincere spirit, but when a crisis called for safety, safety was assured.
For all his antics, Hugo knew Max was a decent man.
Ruminating, the thirty-some-year-old swept over the landscape, taking no notice of the attention he generated from the few people - Muggle or otherwise - whom he flew above. The carcass of a camel caught his eye and Hugo felt his throat constrict as the clear sounds of gunshots hit his ears. It was his two tomb raiders, he'd no doubt of that, and they had fallen into worse trouble than he'd imagined. Spiraling down, sand hitting his face, his eyes widened and his skin paled at the sight. He always known that Grace toed the line of danger on all of her excursions, but he had never experienced the violence she faced first-hand. Hugo's heart stopped. There she was, still as the dead, lying on the sand.
Max was grappling for his life with a swarthy, dark-haired man. At Hugo's shouts, they both looked up - and in that split second Max buried his knife hilt-deep in the other man's abdomen and punched him in the head. The man went down, and Max ran towards Grace.
"Lower!" he shouted to Hugo. "GET LOWER!"
A woman Hugo hadn't noticed had started crawling towards Black, smearing the dust with her blood. Hugo swerved around and let the carpet drop lower towards the ground as Black picked up Grace, slung her over his shoulder, and sprinted as well as he could for the flying contraption. Grace's pack, hooked over her free shoulder, slipped down her arm and fell to the ground, the vase rolling out. Hugo's eyes snapped to it as he slowed the carpet down, meeting the harsh stare of the man Max had fought earlier halfway. He wanted it too. With a sense of dread, Hugo recognized the burly man.
"BEHIND YOU!" he bellowed, surprised at the capacity of his weakened lungs. Max twisted his body, bent, and slung himself forwards, Grace still unconscious on his back. His strong arm curled around the urn and he leapt up to his feet, running as fast as he could towards Hugo's carpet. The bibliophile bent lower and sped towards his two companions. Max lifted Grace, slumped her onto the carpet with effort, and tried to clamber up himself, his feet beating a steady rhythm on the sand as he raced to keep up with the rug.
"You couldn't have taken the copter?" Max, jumping onto the carpet, shouted over the howling of the hot wind. An engine roared to life behind them and with a growing sense of dread, he saw Rasheed set behind the driver's wheel and Fay in the seat next to him. "Hurry the sodding fuck up! It's not the time to play blooming Aladdin!"
"And here I was thinking you'd actually be grateful I came and saved your sorry skins!" Hugo yelled back, miffed. But he sank his fists into the tassels and shoved forwards, shooting away from the Jeep.
"It's called deus ex machina! You make us look like a bad cliché!"
But there was a grin on Max's face as he finally breathed, his heart still racing from their recent encounter and adrenaline still surging through his veins. His arm tightened around Grace's waist as he felt her slip from his grasp and he looked towards the sky. The sound of the Jeep was faint now, and he relaxed.
Quietly they sped on, high in the cloudless azure sky, dunes ahead and Sphinx behind. Sweat poured down Max's bare back and he glanced at Grace's injuries, making sure they hadn't gotten infected. With a free hand, he brushed the sand from her wounds.
Pow! The sound of a gun being fired rang hard in his ears and a bullet ripped past them. A second and third one followed quickly. The fourth punctured the rug and the carpet swerved dangerously, rolling into the air and fluctuating perilously. Max gripped the edges as it gave a shudder. Hugo pulled desperately at the tassels to straighten it out. He cut his eyes to the ground and saw the Jeep racing after them, Fay standing up, machine gun in hand, firing bullet after bullet into the air, desperate to bring them down.
Hugo swerved and dodged the bullets as best he could, urging the carpet to go faster. They rose high in the sky, speeding away and away from the Jeep as best they could until - finally! Max breathed - they were out of range and well onto Cairo. Hugo threw a look over his shoulder to make sure the three of them were safe. Rasheed had stopped, now a dark speck against the eternal sandy dunes, and the pawnshop owner sighed with relief.
"Thank fucking God."
Max sounded hoarse with fatigue, and Hugo chuckled.
"You're welcome." He stared straight ahead, edging the carpet in the direction of the capital. An agonized groan sounded from behind him and he met Max's stoic gaze. It was Grace, convulsing with shudders, foam lining her dry, chapped lips. Her body shook and Max wrapped his arms tighter about her waist, ensuring that she didn't fall.
"Are these symptoms of the poison, Weasley?" Black asked. His voice was edged with steel. He stared hard at his ally, looking for any signs of weakness. Hugo gripped the tassels, his knuckles bleached white.
"I don't know."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T KNOW?!" Max roared. The tendons in his neck stood out and he wrenched Hugo's shoulder backwards, forcing the other man to face him. "She could die, Weasley!"
"I know, I know!" Hugo shouted back. He grit his teeth. "I'm doing the best that I can. You live your lives on the edge, I stay away from it all. Just look at where it gets you. Smoke and mirrors, Blackthorn. You've always known that." Max's dark eyes snapped with fury.
"Shut up, Weasley. Get us back to Cairo and quick, or you can kiss your genie's three wishes goodbye."
- - - - - -
Rasheed angrily spat on the sand, and Fay crumpled down into her seat. She had wrapped a strip of gauze from their supplies about her wound, but the bullet still ate away at her flesh. Rasheed stared hard ahead, dark eyes gleaming in the sunlight.
"In makta ilhajizwanoon!" he snarled. Fay, panting next to him, caught his expression.
"Enough with the Arabic, Rasheed," she growled harshly. "Get back."
Rasheed whirled on her. "Perhaps you'd like to contact the boss and tell him how pitifully we failed, then? Perhaps you'd like to be shouted at, yelled at, fired."
She dead-eyed him. "I work with you, Rasheed. I must have some kind of a masochistic streak."
His lips twisted into a smirking grin and he gunned the Jeep and sped around towards wherever they had left the twitching body of their companion. With any luck, he would have yet burned to a crisp. Arriving on the scene, Rasheed hauled him into the back of the truck, Fay's consciousness slipping between shades of gray and reality. Rasheed jumped back into the front of the Jeep and offered Fay a bottle of water. She gave him a wan smile.
"None for the Dutchboy, then?" she asked, and Rasheed chuckled mirthlessly.
"Between awakening a waste of space and not incurring the Dutchman's wrath over your demise, it's the latter I prefer."
"Do the report."
"Inshallah." He wrenched the radio's microphone from its hanger and turned the machine on. Fay played with the frequencies.
"Tutankhamen," she said, and heard the familiar crackle of static. "Must be the next destination."
Rasheed clicked himself into the radiowave. "Al Hariq reporting, with Eudemon and van Haufsen beside. Return from Operation Juno."
"Got you right and clear, al Hariq," came the nasally voice of Emile van Claut. "Mission success?"
"Failure," Rasheed replied. Lines of discontent were etched into his dark skin and he gunned the car forwards to Cairo, sending billows of dust behind him. The sun beat down hard on his head. "Both escaped with aid from an unidentified third party. Headed towards Cairo."
"Boss wants to talk to you." Fay swore next to Rasheed, her hand going immediately to her bloodied stomach. She gazed feverishly at the hazy horizon, the golden dunes flickering and twisting with the heat.
"Rasheed?" The Dutchman spoke at last. Fay straightened her shoulders out of instinct and Rasheed did the same, the two of them so used to being at attention that their muscles would have snapped had they taken any other position.
"I am disappointed."
Rasheed's eyes blazed with fury. "With all due respect, sir, blame it on the girl."
- - - - - -
Knock-knock-knock. It only took three tries before Rahima wrenched open the door and ushered the three of them in. Her large house was dimly lit, hidden by magic behind two hotels. Black, carrying Grace, shouldered his way inside and made directly for the operating room. Rahima, bewildered, turned to Hugo.
"Oh, not again," she whispered, and Hugo nodded grimly.
"I'm sorry that we keep intruding, Rahima," he said, but Rahima waved away his apologies. "She got hit by a Pest again. Nothing's sure about it - it's another one of those riddling, regenerating Pests." He shrugged, but his face betrayed his worry. "It's Infection, Rahima."
As expected, his words incurred the desired reaction. Rahima's large brown eyes widened and her already unnaturally creamy skin paled yet more. She hurried quickly to her operating room, grabbing a sprig of lavender for luck on the way. Hugo trailed after her.
Black had laid Grace on the table face-down, capris torn, shirt dirty, the wounds open and gaping. After injecting Grace with anesthesia to ensure she remained unconscious, Rahima snatched her wand from her back pocket and rolled up her sleeves. Precisely, she worked, snipping away the remnants of Grace's shirt.
"Basin with a little bit of water, now," she demanded, snapping her fingers, and Hugo was off like a shot. He brought a bowl brimming with the liquid back to Rahima and she dipped a cloth in it, working around the wounds, trying to clear as much sand and grime from the other woman's flesh as she could.
"Disinfectant." Within the minute, Rahima's command was executed. She dipped her wand into the bottle and pressed the tip of it to Grace's wounds. Slight smoke rose from the woman's body and Rahima cleaned the wounds again. Looking closer, she frowned.
"Are you sure this is Infection, Hugo?" she asked, and Hugo nodded.
"Essence of dittany, Erbetz's Fumigancer, and Frendel's book on poisons, now!" Both Black and Hugo dashed off to bring Rahima what she needed to save Grace. Looking up, Rahima signaled to Hugo and Black to keep clear. She pulled the fumigancer's stopper, dipped her wand into the bottle, and aimed it at Grace's body. Muttering a spell under her breath, vapor shot out and covered Grace's body, the table, and the ground. Rahima felt a searing pain and grit her teeth, sweat dripping down the sides of her face. Blood flowed out of Grace's wounds and Black, who had hopped onto a desk, was glaring at Rahima with death in his eyes.
"What's this, Rahima?" he barked.
"Have patience, Maxwell!" she shouted back. Grace's blood covered the table and dripped into the smoke on the ground. Hugo, upon viewing the sight, quickly went to retch in a corner. Rahima looked back at Maxwell as she slowed the stream of vapor.
"You'd best leave, Max," she told him quietly, and he acquiesced, slipping out the door. Rahima drew closer to Grace and inspected the free-flowing wounds. Picking up a pair of tweezers, she looked grimly on.
"There you are, you nasty little beast," she muttered, and with a tug pulled the thin, writhing body of a Godworm out of the first wound. Hugo gagged violently and Rahima threw it into an empty steel basin.
"Here's your culprit, Hugo," she told him tersely. She waved her wand over Grace's back, clearing the blood from Grace's skin, and reached for the essence of dittany. A few drops was enough to seal Grace's wounds, and Rahima fell back into a chair, exhausted. Hugo handed her the basin in which the worm still lay. Using the tweezers, she tore off its head and plucked the decapitated body from the bowl, inspecting it closely.
"Hugo, look," she murmured. "See that translucent gel covering the body? That's your ever-changing poison. That and the worm's bile." Her brow furrowed. "The minds behind such a Pestilence - to use Godworms, of all things. That way, they would be damn sure their victim never survived." She frowned, placed the gleaming worm back into the bowl, and handed it to Hugo.
"Into the fire," she commanded. Hugo dashed off, and Rahima pulled her chair closer to Grace. She reached for her wand again and a simple 'Scourgify' cleaned the remnants of blood and fumigancer.
"Accio shirt!" she called. As commanded, a simple green shirt floated to her from her room. Catching it, Rahima pointed her wand at Grace's head.
"Enervate," she muttered. She watched as slowly Grace raised her head and opened her eyes. Her muscles immediately tensed as she cast her eyes around the room, looking for anything of a hostile and suspicious nature.
"Calm yourself, Grace," Rahima said soothingly. "You're safe."
Grace breathed. "Rahima?" she asked, and the other woman nodded. A wry smile twisted Grace's face. "Got myself into a nasty bit of trouble yet again, didn't I?" Rahima's eyes darkened, angry that Grace took such a matter lightly.
"A Godworm," she replied matter-of-factly.. Grace's face twisted with displeasure.
"Thank you, Rahima," she whispered gratefully. Grace twisted her body so that her legs dangled over the edge and a sudden rush of lightheadedness overcame her. Rahima steadied Grace's shoulders and handed her the shirt. Grace accepted it slowly, gripped the ledge of the table, and slid herself down.
"Slowly, now," Rahima told her sternly. "I won't have you faint again. Not on my watch."
Grace offered her a crooked grin and combed her fingers through her filthy hair. Waiting for her adrenaline count to be restored, she went to the nearest sink and filled a glass half-full of water. Drinking it, she turned to Rahima.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked. Rahima studied the table.
"Three fluid ounces of dittany, a liter of compressed fumigancer, and an hour of wand use. Typical patients? About twenty-six galleons, seven sickles. For you, I'll drop the sickles."
"Send me a bill in EGPs, you know I haven't got any wizard cash." Rahima's lips thinned as she recalled Grace's financial situation.
"Right you are." Grace placed the glass back in the cupboard and leaned against the sink.
"Will you come around tomorow?"
Grace grinned wryly and slipped on the shirt. As she left the room, she called over her shoulder the words she always used when leaving the mediwitch's home.
"Thanks for not letting me die, Rahima."
She met Black outside Rahima's house, smoking in the falling evening air. Wrapping her arms about her, she came to his side, looking at the sky.
"You almost died." His voice was rough, callous.
Slowly, he pivoted to face her, his face half-lit by the sunset. She studied his harsh features: the lines in his face, the sandy blond hair. His brutal blue eyes still burned with anger. Towards her, perhaps. She figured it was mostly towards himself.
And he looked at her: the woman who could make him do anything with her ferocious and unrelenting little nature. She drove him crazy, never allowing him a word in edgewise, never trusting, never forgiving. He hated her for that.
"I don't think you do."
His eyes remained fixed on her proud face, smeared with dust and grime and dried blood. Brown eyes strangely calm for the experience she had just gone through. He knew she expected him to shout at her. Shoulders sagging, he found himself too tired to do so.
"I don't think you understand," he said, reiterating his words. He lifted his eyes from her face for half a second before being called to it again as she breathed in, trying to control her surging answer. He scanned her skin, her brows, her cheeks ... her lips. Calloused, dry, chapped and dirty. They called to him. They had always called to him. But he had never allowed himself to show such ... weakness.
Cruelty, thy name is woman. His thoughts in turmoil, he breathed slowly as she twisted her face away from him to look at the darkening sky one more time. The slope of her shoulders, the shape of her nose, the bows of her perfect lips. No wonder she defied the goddesses of old. She was one.
Facing the road as well, he instead wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a hug, breathing in the ever-lasting scent of futility and grace.
Y'allah! Oh, God! (exclamation of anger)
In makta ilhajizwanoon! I'm surrounded by incompetents!
Inshallah God willing.
Thanks so much to Arzu (Bella) at TDA for help with the translations!
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