As always, Yazir’s tent was off by itself. No one with half a brain would pitch theirs within fifty paces of his. Daros paused and called out when he was a dozen or so paces away. It was best not to surprise Yazir. There was no telling what the man would do.
“Yazir, it’s Daros! I’m coming in!” He waited.
Mutterings from inside the tent. What sounded like a child’s giggle, quickly cut off. That was from Yazir. When he was excited, his voice rose a few notches.
More mutterings. It sounded like he was arguing with himself. There was a sudden screech, followed by a flash of brilliant orange light.
Then whump! and the sides of the tent blew outward.
Remarkably, the tent remained standing, though it did have a noticeable tilt. The fabric was left smoldering in several places.
Cautiously, Daros approached, tin plate gripped firmly in his hand. “I’m coming in, Yazir! Don’t blow me up, damn your eyes.”
He pulled aside the tent flap, stooped, and entered. Yazir was just coming to his feet, coughing and swatting at the flames on his coat. His eyes looked oddly white against the scorched backdrop of his face. The hair on the front of his scalp was burned away to a stubble, along with his eyebrows and chin beard.
“You okay?” Daros asked.
“Never better,” he replied breezily. He spit out something that might have been a tooth. “Looks like my luck still holds.”
It was debatable whether luck was the right word, but the simple fact that he was still alive argued powerfully for it.
“Do I want to know what you’re working on?”
“I’m glad you asked.” Yazir turned to the room’s lone table, a battle-scarred veteran of many experiments, and began pawing through the charred debris scattered across it. “I discovered that one of the local species of scorpion—you know the red ones that make your face turn purple if they sting you?—its venom when distilled down has some interesting properties.”
He found what he was looking for, a clay jar with a wooden stopper, and turned toward Daros. “Look.”
Daros quickly took a step back. “I can see fine from here.”
“Probably for the best. I’m not sure what it would do to human skin, but I’m thinking it wouldn’t be pretty.” He picked up a stick off the ground and set it on the table. “Watch this.”
Uncorking the clay jar, he carefully poured a drop of a viscous, yellow liquid onto the stick, which began to sizzle. A wisp of smoke rose from the stick. When he picked it up, it broke in half.
“That will come in handy if we’re ever attacked by sticks.”
Yazir’s smile disappeared abruptly. “Was that a joke?”
Daros held up his free hand. “Just trying to lighten the mood.” Yazir was mercurial. There was no telling how he’d respond to anything.
“Don’t you see what this means?”
“This stuff will eat through flesh. I’m sure of it.”
“I got that.”
“If I put it into a cracker, think of the possibilities.”
“I am. That’s what worries me.” Daros was envisioning getting sprayed by the stuff, his skin peeling off, his flesh sizzling.
“You have to learn to see the big picture.”
“Imagine setting this off in the middle of a battle.”
Daros definitely could. “Maybe you ought to run this one by the Captain first. See what he thinks of it.”
“It’s too soon. Every time I mix it with boom powder, it blows up. I’m going to have to fix that.”
Daros secretly hoped he never did. It was hard enough not getting killed by the enemy. He didn’t want to have to worry about having their sapper kill him. He knew better than to try and order Yazir to stop his experiments. Once he got his teeth into something, he was like the lockjaw lizard. You’d have to kill him to get him to let it go.
Daros held out the tin plate. “Captain’s worried you’re not eating.”
Yazir waved him off. “No time for it. Too much to do.”
Daros sighed. He’d known it would go this way. Why didn’t the Captain pick someone else to do this?
“It’s an order. Straight from the big man himself.”
Yazir spun on him. “An order?” There was an unhealthy glint in his eye.
“A friendly order. He just doesn’t want you wasting away to nothing.” Which wasn’t that far off. Yazir weighed about as much as a mangy street dog. Smelled about the same too. Eating wasn’t the only thing he forgot to do when he was experimenting.
The tension that had gripped the man released and he smiled again. “Well, then I refuse. In a friendly fashion. Genius does not wait for food nor drink, you know.”
“Why not try at least a bite? You never know…”
Yazir came over and peered at the plate. On it was a grayish scrap of meat that was mostly gristle, soaking in some kind of turgid sauce that was already clumping badly. He sniffed, then turned up his nose. “Not in the mood. Sorry.”
“You’re putting me in a bad spot.”
“Why don’t you eat it? The Captain won’t know.”
“I already ate,” Daros lied. He rubbed his stomach. “It was surprisingly good. You can taste the exotic spices Gorev gathered today.”
Yazir didn’t look convinced. He prodded the scrap of meat with a yellowed fingernail. “Might be able to use it in an experiment, though.” He scratched the back of his head vigorously. “These fleas are really getting to me. I might be able to make a repellent.”
You’re sure enough going to repel something, Daros thought, but didn’t say. Well, he’d tried. He walked over and set the plate on the table. “Maybe you’ll get hungry later.”
Yazir didn’t reply. He appeared to have already forgotten Daros and was arguing with himself, something about using another dram of the boom powder next time but heating it first. Daros beat a hasty retreat.
(Author’s note: these excerpts are rough drafts, VERY rough drafts. Hot off the press. So you will see things like sudden character name changes, 180 degree turns, etc. If you don’t like the swerving, it’s best to get out now, because there’s more to come!)