Read The Way of the Sword and Gun Online

Authors: Stuart Jaffe

Tags: #Magic, #xena, #blues, #apocalypse, #tattoos, #katana

The Way of the Sword and Gun (2 page)

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
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The konapol lowered its head, its powerful stride thundering against the ground. Malja pushed harder, trying to close the distance fast. And in a flash, they passed each other. Malja flicked Viper upward to the strike point, giving the blade a slight twist for maximum power, and slashed open the konapol's flank.

It slid on the dirt street, confused and trying to find its enemy again. Its momentum did not take well to the sudden turn, and the konapol's inner-gore slopped out of the opening Malja had cut. With a curious gaze at its side, the konapol halted. It seemed to consider the horror of what it saw as it fell with a wet thump.

Malja knew well the stillness that followed — a quiet comes over the battlefield for a precious moment while those left standing decide if things really are finished or if the lust for blood still boiled. From the middle of the road, she surveyed her work. Three dead konapols.

She lifted her head and shined a cocky grin at Eldred. But her grin faltered. She had made a crucial mistake.

The konapols had been more than a diversion. They provided Eldred with blood. This was all just a stalling tactic to afford Eldred enough time to cast a spell. She had to move fast.

Malja snapped her attention to the konapol corpses. The gore pooling around the dead beasts trembled. Blood pulled into a tight ball and sprouted green tendrils. A plant. It shot out runners like snakes, each one reaching out for Malja.

She slashed the first with ease. Cutting through vines would not be any trouble. But looking further back, she saw the plant's main body growing thicker, tougher. The new runners it sent out were equally thick and tough. And there were more of them.

Malja rushed toward Eldred. Kill the magician, kill the magic. She moved fast, but a quarter of the way in, one tendril wrapped around her leg and pulled her off her feet.

She slashed through it, but by the time she stood, another two had replaced it. Fury flooded her as she hacked tendril after tendril. Using Viper like a scythe, she wiped a circle around her free from the plant, but it only lasted seconds. Konapols had a lot of blood, giving Eldred a lot of material to work with.

Before she could reposition for another swipe, three thick runners spun around and took her back to the ground. She held tight to Viper but couldn't move. The plant rolled her so she faced away from Eldred. She saw Fawbry sneak off to the side. He'll pay for such cowardice. She also saw Tommy bare his tattooed arm as he walked straight towards her.

Don't do this,
she thought.
I can handle this.

But as another tendril covered her mouth, she knew she needed somebody's help. Since Fawbry ran off, that left only Tommy.

Tommy raised his arm and glanced at the tattoos for only a few seconds. The ground shook. Two holes opened and swallowed two konapols. Tommy kept walking forward.

Just like that. Malja froze. She had no idea the boy could conjure such power so quickly.

Tommy turned his attention on the third dead konapol, the one that spawned the plant. But before he could raise his arm, the plant fought back. A new set of runners sprang out and twined around Tommy's arm. With his free hand, he tried to pull them off. They were too strong and too numerous.

Eldred patted the head of his fellow magician. "You see that? That is why we magicians will always rule. We aren't feral fools who try to violently slash our way through every problem. We can use our magic and our intelligence, and we can solve problems with finesse."

The other magician beamed. Eldred then raised his voice to address the townspeople who watched from the alleyways and windows. "I will not hold Affengar responsible for this foolish assault. I know of Malja and her attempts to rule Corlin. But she is learning now that she is not your savior. She is not the law. She's just a nuisance. Your real savior, your real law, is the great Queen Salia of the North. From her palace in Salia City, she reaches out like my plants and takes firm hold of those around her. In return for your loyalty, she provides peace and a world in which you have the chance to prosper."

Malja had wrenched her head around to catch Eldred gloating. Since the plant had not tried to smother her to death, she guessed Eldred planned something else for her — probably public humiliation designed to bolster his stance with the townspeople. Either that or a more "legal" execution.

He dismounted, and with his hands raised, Eldred spoke on, savoring his moment. Malja squinted. A shadow behind the magician moved, a shape she recognized — Fawbry.

"Never forget your loyalty to Queen Salia and she will never forget to protect you," Eldred went on.

Fawbry raised his hand high above his head. He held something — a rock. He slammed it down on Eldred's head. The magician's face locked into a sly grin as his body weaved from side to side.

Eldred's partner tackled Fawbry. The two rolled on the ground, clumsy in their inexperienced grappling. They traded punches to the ribs but appeared more winded from the efforts than the blows.

Though he wasn't knocked unconscious, Eldred lost the focus necessary to maintain his magic. The vines constraining Malja and Tommy loosened.

Tommy wrenched his arm free, glanced at his tattoos, and cast his spell. The plant lost its color in seconds. It changed from green to brown to a pale, sickly white. When he finished, the tendrils that surrounded Malja crumbled to the ground, leaving behind a chalky residue and a bitter odor.

With Viper in hand, Malja raced the final distance toward her enemy. Eldred watched her approach with a quizzical look as if he couldn't identify what she was. That look remained even as she removed his head from his body.

Fawbry pushed Eldred's partner back and when the man saw Eldred's head, he pointed at it, cried out once, and dashed for his horse. Malja, Tommy, and Fawbry stood in the street and watched this novice struggle to get his foot in the stirrup. His horse did not co-operate. After a lot of gasping, some cursing, and another weak cry, he managed to get into the saddle and gallop off.

"Admit it," Fawbry said, his unkempt hair dirtier now from rolling in the road. "You thought I had run away."

Malja slapped Fawbry on the shoulder. "Doesn't matter what I thought. You did well, and I thank you. Now, let's go before we have to deal with the town."

Too late. The townspeople hurried out of their hiding spots, all smiles and giddy laughter, and rushed over to thank Malja and her crew. With false modesty, Fawbry allowed two buxom ladies to walk him off while listening to him recount what had just occurred. Others surrounded Tommy, unbothered by his silence, and offered him drinks and hugs and even a few kisses.

Malja waved off those who approached her and scowled at any who tried to congratulate her. She knew none of it was genuine. They simply wanted to ingratiate themselves with who they thought now ruled them. Only after a few days alone might they understand they were now free to choose their own path.

Fawbry let out a high laugh and his girls tittered. Malja grinned. He would definitely get one of the girls before the night ended. She would have gladly scouted out a suitable man for her own amusement, such opportunities didn't come often to a traveling warrior, but this night, she had to deal with the boy. She brushed by a few open arms and grabbed Tommy by the elbow.

"Go celebrate," she said to those who followed her. "I've got to confer with my friend here. Then we'll join the party."

Deeper in the growing crowd, somebody opened a barrel of wine. That was enough to pull the stragglers away from Malja. No amount of celebrity could outshine free alcohol.

Once they were far enough from eavesdroppers, Malja whirled Tommy around. "Don't you ever do that again," she said.

Tommy glared at her.

 

 

 

Owl

 

 

The afternoon had cooled from the rains but not uncomfortably so, and Owl preferred it that way. Standing in the Great Field, an open plain that crossed the entire Penmarvian countryside, he tried hard not to bounce from foot to foot while Chief Master knelt on a mat and meditated. Soon, Queen Salia would arrive and a meeting in search of peace would begin. Owl had to make sure that meeting went smoothly.

His eyes shifted amongst the patches of overgrown grass surrounding them. While Chief Master could spend the time quieting his mind, Owl's job required vigilance. All his years of training in the Way were finally being brought to the test.

They had promoted him to Guardian that morning. They gave him a tailored tan coat that both looked sharp, with its fancy inner-lining of swirls, and allowed him the range of motion needed to fight. Their trust for Chief Master's safety had been placed upon him.

"It's perfectly fine for you to meditate now," Chief Master said, his aged voice standing out in the wide field. "We're in no danger."

"Of course, we are," Owl said, and though his voice was calm, his face betrayed his tension. For once, he felt grateful for his dark skin — Chief Master never could read Owl's face well.

When he first came to the Order as an orphan, all the Masters marveled at his dark skin. They had heard about such people living in the wild South of Corlin, but in Penmarvia, people tended to be either pale or tan. At eighty-seven, Chief Master was too set in his world view and continued to have difficulty.

He placed his bony hand on Owl's knee. "You must learn to listen to all my lessons. Not just the ones that suit you."

"Forgive me," Owl said, bowing his head.

Chief Master chuckled like a creaking door. "Being here has certainly put you on edge. A warrior is no good to anyone, least of all himself, if his mind is clouded and his body tense. Besides, this is not a day for battle. It's just politics."

"Yes, Chief Master, I understand."

"If you understand so well, then why are you still standing?"

Owl knelt next to Chief Master. The wet ground soaked through his thin pants, staining the simple gray cloth with mud. He clenched his eyes and tried to force a sense of calm. Instead, he shivered.

His hands danced over the hilt of his sword and the grip of his gun. His sword was a perfect weapon — thin, balanced, and sleek, yet sturdy and deadly. His gun had a simple design. Few remained who knew how to make guns, but simple didn't mean useless. It had a dual-chamber allowing one shot more than most, and he kept it in perfect working condition — as he had been trained.

With a huff, he got up and brushed off his pants. "I can't stop worrying about being here. When you first told me I was to be your escort, I should have been ecstatic. I know what this means. But I keep wondering — why me? Brother X is a far better fighter."

"Not as far as you think. You are probably the second best we have trained."

"But he's first. He's the best. You've trained all the Guardians in the Way of the Sword and Gun so that we could protect every magician in the Order. Why isn't he here protecting you?"

"Breathe in, Owl. Hold. Now, let it go. You worry so much. Brother X has been gone for a few weeks. So, even if I had wanted to use him, he's not around to be used. But I also know that life often presents opportunities, if we are willing to grasp them. You are more than capable of succeeding today. I have the fullest faith in you. So, why not enjoy this opportunity? All of this world has suffered in the generations since the Devastation. We must learn to find the pleasure in any moment. We've enough pain."

Owl snickered. "You never stop teaching me."

"All my pupils will always be my pupils. Since the day you came to us, I knew I wanted to teach you. That's the joy of being Chief Master. We get to focus on the most promising students."

"But the Queen—"

"The Queen is the Queen. We have no control over what she will say or do. We'll simply present our views and pray to the brother god Kryssta that she can be reasoned with. Besides, it's not like she's a follower of Korstra."

"That would be a travesty," Queen Salia said as she stepped off her transport — a huge box-shaped vehicle pulled by three magician-powered flyers tethered with long cables. The flyers, small dart-shaped crafts, made a low hum as they hovered.

She moved with grace as she approached Chief Master on his plain mat. With her shoulders held back proud like a strutting bird, she lifted a perfect eyebrow and waited to be acknowledged. Her golden hair, straight at the jawline, formed a crown that only heightened the jeweled tiara resting atop her head.

Owl snapped to attention. He should never have listened to Chief Master. How could he be excused for letting the Queen approach without noticing?

Chief Master placed his hands on the mat and brought his chin to his chest showing great respect. "May Kryssta watch over you."

Though he remained standing, Owl repeated the phrase, "May Kryssta watch over you."

"And you both," Salia said, standing a few feet before them.

With a labored groan, Chief Master rose to his feet, his knees crackling as he moved. "Oh, for a younger man's body. Enjoy your youth, both of you, for like power, it is always temporary."

Salia's eyes widened. "Are you really beginning with threats?"

"No, no, you misunderstand. I have great respect for you and for your strength. Sometimes my mind likes to make little observations, that's all. I'm sure you'll hold on to your power for a long time."

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
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