It was the middle of the night and darker than Mac was used too. When the clouds covered the stars in the rural islands there were no magical or electric lamps. It wasn’t the first time he’d wished he could use a magical torch or those fancy darkvision glasses but magic didn’t work on or around him. He just kept following the speck of light ahead.
“You almost at the cabin, Captain?” Anita’s voice echoed in his ear. The electric radio crackled as she spoke.
“I think so. Hard to see with these clouds but I think I see their porch light.”
“Idiots.” Was the only reply from Anita. She was right, too. These poor folks didn’t have money for electric or magical lamps. At best they’d have candles and a hearth.
Hiding behind trees, Mac could see the small shack that passed for a cabin. I looked like it was ready to fall over in the next wind. The only incongruities were the magical light on the porch and the clean shaven, military haircut wearing, man sitting in a rocking chair. He was desperately trying to look like he was asleep.
Mac felt the first drops of rain and swore softly. He took out his handgun and aimed at the man’s chest. Poor sod was probably fresh from the academy. Mac thought of those days and shuddered at memories.
Taking a deep breath, he fired the gun and it went off with a hiss and nowhere near the kickback he was used to. The sleep dart didn’t fly straight, but arced down a little and hit the man in the leg instead of the chest. The effect was the same, and the man’s impression of someone sleeping became more believable.
“Guard’s down. Tell Maddie her gun arcs downwards.”
Maddie must have been listening. “I’ll fix it. For now aim higher.” Mac couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or genuine; the girl’s accent always made her sound sarcastic. Anita snickered.
“Radio silence. I’m going in.”
He reloaded the dart gun and approached the porch. No alarms went off and no one shot at him. It was a refreshing change in luck. It hopefully meant the guard was alone or only one of two.
It’s not like many people knew about this place. They’d only discovered it existed from the files he and Anita stole when they defected. The file had said this placed housed something important and anything important to the Empire was something they shouldn’t have.
As he walked by the lamp, it flickered and went out. Magic really didn’t like him. The old wooden door creaked as he opened it slowly.
The entire cabin was one room and it was bathed in crimson light coming from a ruby the size of Mac’s head. The spindly elaborate pedestal the ruby sat on was spelled to kill anyone who touched it without the proper counter spell.
Mac walked slowly towards the ruby ignoring the rest of the room. His mind was screaming at him to check the rest of the room but he couldn’t pry his eyes off the ruby.
A hard and strong fist connecting with his jaw helped distract him from the ruby. There were two guards in the room and it looked like they’d been asleep. The one that hit him was made like a stone golem. Mac dodged the man’s second punch and shot at the second guard’s bellybutton. The dart arced down a little and the man let out a whimper as he fell to the ground.
“Ouch, sorry,” Mac said while the larger guard laughed. The big slab of guard feinted to the right and kicked the gun out of Mac’s left hand.
“I guess we’re doing this the old fashioned way,” quipped Mac.
“Killing you will get me a promotion, traitor!” The man swung at Mac again. Each hit was like being kicked by a horse; a large horse with metal shoes and a grudge.
Mac gave as good as he got, he hoped, but he was starting to feel it and get tired. The bigger man lunged and Mac punched him in a kidney, hard. Both men retreated to a corner of the tiny shack, and Mac said, “Come on, there’s got to be a way to compromise.”
“What’s wrong old man? Getting tired?”
“Yes. And I’m not that old.” Mac saw his pistol not near the big man’s foot and started circling the cabin. He hoped the man would mirror him like a boxer and give him the chance to grab the gun. “Do you know what I did when I was in the military?”
“Betray it?” asked the big man, who wasn’t as dumb as he looked. The man walked straight for Mac and swung at him, almost connecting.
“Nope. I was their specialist in magical artifacts.” He reached out and grabbed the stone pedestal and held it like a club. The ruby fell to the cabin ground and Mac rushed the man with the pedestal. The mountain of meat moved back too quickly and tripped on his feet, falling backwards.
Mac ran to the gun; switching the club to his right hand, he picked up the gun and walked over the guard.
“Tell General Lanthier that Captain MacDonnell sends his regards.” He shot the guard in the leg and walked towards the ruby mumbling, ”Forty-two isn’t old.” He passed his hand through his salt and pepper hair self-consciously.
The moment his eyes looked into the ruby he was entranced. He had no idea what it was, or what it was for, but stealing it would tweak the Empires nose and that was enough.
He reached out and gently touched the ruby, and it cut him. A drop of blood fell onto its crimson surface and he heard a sizzling noise. The ruby’s light became brighter and started to pulsate at the same rhythm as his heart. Its edges got softer and it elongated, starting to look more like a red egg than a gem.
He felt vibrations on the wooden floor of the cabin and knew he wasn’t alone. Turning to the doorway, he saw a line of soldiers walk through the door, wearing full body armour and carrying large crossbows.
“Oh boy!” he said.
There was only one other exit, the small square window in the back of the shack. He was considering if he could make it before they shot him when movement near his hand caught his attention.
The ruby had continued its transformation, elongating and separating. It had gotten paler, more of a pink and had grown arms and legs.
As he watched, in complete amazement, the ruby transformed into a baby with glowing crimson hair. The infant gave a tiny giggle and opened its eyes. He expected red eyes, but was surprised to see little clones of his own dark green eyes staring back at him.
“Oh Boy,” he repeated.