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 (4 page)

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
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Owl cried.

 

 

 

 

Malja

 

 

With his weight on one foot and his eyes looking past her shoulder, Tommy's impertinence grated on Malja. She wanted to shake him hard, even slap him — anything to get him to listen to what she wanted to say. But just because he refused to hear it all once more didn't mean he'd get his way.

"I'm sick of dealing with your magic," she said. "I've asked you many times to hold back on it. It's dangerous and destructive to yourself. And every single time you use it, you show me such disrespect; you're saying you don't care about anything I say. You spit in my face. Do you understand that?"

Tommy rolled his eyes.

"I'm not exaggerating," she went on. "This is too important for you to pull this crap with me."

Tommy pointed to the white dust in the road — the remains of the plant that had immobilized Malja.

"Don't you try to claim that you saved me. If anything, Fawbry saved us both. You just got in the way." She knew she should stop, but her blood was hot and her mouth kept moving. "And the next time you want to cast a spell, you just remember who saves your ass over and over again. I don't ask much from you."

Tommy's eyes widened.

"I don't. But I do ask you to not use your magic. Yet you keep defying me on that one. Well, stop it or maybe I won't be there to save your foolish butt next time. What's the point if you're just going to rot your brain casting spells? Don't become something I'm going to hate."

The words hung in the air between them. Tommy tried to hold his composure, tried to look tough, but she could see the quiver in his eyes, the hurt underneath. Her shoulders dropped and she reached for him, but he brushed her aside just like she had done to the townspeople.

"Tommy, wait," she called. He ignored her, returning to the celebrating town.

She watched him go, guessing he would grab some wine and get drunk. She was wrong.

He cut through the crowd until he reached their horses. With a fierce jump, he mounted the saddle and galloped off. She rushed down the street for her own horse, but by the time she had mounted, Tommy was gone.

Let him go,
she thought.
He just needs to calm down. Then he'll be back.

But as the party raged on, Tommy did not return. Malja stuck to the less raucous parts of the street, one eye always in the direction he had left. And she waited.

Hours passed.

Though she hated to reveal any weakness, her growing unease overcame her tactical sense. She weaved through the celebrating crowd, scanning the faces for Fawbry. When she overheard a circle of girls giggling about their libidinous friend, Villy, and how she'll thank the hero seven times and then some, Malja broke in and found out where the couple had gone.

One block down. The house on the right. The red door with a half-moon carving.

Malja checked for Tommy one last time. Still nothing. She burst into the house.

Fawbry froze. He was kneeling on a thick blanket. Villy, an ample woman, had her backside pressed against him. Neither wore any clothes.

"Wait your turn, honey," Villy said in a charming shrill.

With a shake of his head, Fawbry said, "You couldn't bother to knock?"

"Get dressed," Malja said and politely turned around. As she listened to Fawbry placate Villy, promising this interruption would only take a moment, Malja felt a twinge of guilt. They had so few chances for any kind of pleasure in life. Why should she spoil Fawbry's just because she had a fight with Tommy? And Villy deserved some pleasure too, though Malja never cared for that position — too subservient. But Villy sure seemed happy.

Jerking his robe on, Fawbry stepped into the street. "What is it?" he said as Malja followed him out.

"I'm worried about Tommy."

"This is the urgent thing? Tommy? You always worry about him."

"We had a fight."

"You always have a fight."

"He took a horse and went off. That was hours ago."

Placing his hands on his hips, Fawbry said, "Oh, Kryssta. He's fourteen. Don't you understand that yet? He's moody and he's testing you. That's all. He just wants to know you'll stick by him no matter what."

"What more proof does he need? I destroyed that portal to save his life." She didn't have to explain further. Fawbry had been there when Jarik and Callib, Malja's now-dead fathers, used magic to open a portal into another world. But she did have to tell him what she saw. "A woman. There was a woman in that portal and she wore the same black assault suit that I have. I've no idea who she is, but Jarik and Callib didn't lie about this much — that was my home world. And I threw away that chance to save Tommy's life. How can he not know I'm here for him?"

"You don't stop thinking about that world, though. He sees you at night, looking off, muttering to yourself. I see it, too. You haven't given up the hope that you'll find a way back there."

Malja checked down the street to make sure nobody was listening, and maybe to see if Tommy had returned. "That part of my life is over. We've been doing well now, spreading my law around Corlin. We're making things better here." She pictured the world she had seen through that portal — civilized, structured, powerful, happy. A world that hadn't been wiped out by the Devastation, that didn't know magicians could go crazy. She could stop fighting in such a place. Even enjoy true peace.

Fawbry pointed at her. "That's the look." She glared at him with her harsh eyes and though he maintained his composure, his finger trembled. "Now, now. I'm on your side. I'm here to help."

"Then help. How do I fix this?"

"You don't. You give him time. He'll be back in the morning. And tomorrow, he'll be just as moody as he was today. You be there and you wait. And I'll even pray to Kryssta for you. Someday, he'll outgrow all this, and he'll look up to find you. So, you be there."

"What if he gets injured out in the forest? What if he needs our help now? You don't even care."

"Don't you dare," Fawbry said, jumping to a level of anger Malja had never seen in him before. "I've been by your side for over a year. I've risked my life for the two of you and watched you fawn over him and ignore any contribution I've made. I've taken your belittling jokes with a smile, and yet I stick by you. I don't run away even though you think I will, and I even saved your ass more than once. Just today, in case you forgot. And you dare question if I care?"

Malja looked away, clenching her fists. Through gritted teeth, she said, "I'm sorry."

"You should be. I want to think of us as, at least, a team. But you seem determined to make me feel worthless. Well, I care more about that boy than you'll ever understand." He stomped back to the red door. "He's growing up, and he's powerful. And he knows you don't want to be stuck here with us. So don't worry about him. He'll be fine out there. You, though, you should do some growing up yourself."

The red door slammed shut leaving Malja in the empty street. The celebration played on just a block away, and she listened to the laughter and cheering and drinking and joking as if observing a strange new species. There was a horrible, violent world surrounding them, yet these people found a way to ignore it all. They had pulled together as a true community and celebrated a simple victory.

She meandered back to the main street where a group of drunken men took the public stage and re-enacted the battle to the joy of onlookers. Many people danced to the thumping sound of a guitar and washbasin drum. Some couples walked off to darker corners, leaning on each other, holding hands, kissing.

Malja found a chair separate from the group. She positioned it to watch the direction where Tommy had galloped off. Perhaps Fawbry spoke the truth. Perhaps not. She only knew that this night would bring no answer to such a complicated question. For now, all she could do was wait. And worry.

 

* * * *

 

Later, Fawbry approached with a satisfied smile plastered on his face. One stern look snapped that smile off. He followed her gaze down the street. "He's still not back?"

Malja shook her head. To her relief, Fawbry's eye twitched and he let out a shaky breath. "Okay, then," he said. "Let's go look."

The party had broken into a few straggling groups. Two stumbling individuals cleaned up some and made more mess elsewhere. Most of the town had gone to bed or had passed out in the street. Those that remained were too drunk to notice the heroes mount their horses and ride out.

Malja guided her horse at a walk. She didn't want her horse to be injured galloping in the dark. And she needed to observe her surroundings closely. But such careful scrutiny turned out to be unnecessary.

About ten minutes out, Malja's horse balked and refused to go on. A dark mound like a wide boulder blocked the road. Malja dismounted and approached the mound.

"This feels bad," Fawbry said.

Malja hated how Fawbry talked when nervous — he gave away their position and distracted her concentration. This time, however, she worried more about the mound than scolding the man.

In the dim moonlight, she could just see the scuffle marks of two men and a boy. On a nearby tree, she saw scorch marks and the air bore the sour stench of magic. A chill covered her skin.

The mound was no boulder. Tommy's horse lay on the road. Dead. Blood formed a dark pool around its body.

Malja dashed back and vaulted up on her horse. Fawbry stared at the mound, clearly afraid to ask her.

She answered the unspoken question. "Tommy's in trouble."

 

 

 

Owl

 

 

Owl stumbled out of the little town's tavern and weaved around two men coming in. The night air braced his skin while his stomach argued against the alcoholic abuse he had self-inflicted. As his body convulsed, he caught the porch railing in time to avoid falling face first into the mud and retched.

Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, Owl patted the railing. Even drunk, his reflexes still worked.

If only they had worked as well against Brother X.

From a few windows, Owl saw people spying on him. Late-night gossips. Easy to dismiss under normal circumstances, but gossip about him would alert Brother X. He would know Owl was alive. Owl had no doubt that Brother X would search for him — might be searching right now. Not only was Owl the last living warrior trained and true to the Way of the Sword and Gun, but he was probably the only real threat to Brother X. And Brother X heard Chief Master tell Owl to protect the book.

"Except," Owl slurred to the night, "I don't know where it is. I don't even know what it looks like. If I saw it, I wouldn't know."

Wobbling toward the stables, he laughed. "Oh, Chief Master, you sure bungled this one. You picked the wrong man to protect the Order's secrets." Stopping in the middle of the road, he raised his hands to the sky and shouted, "Look at me! I failed you. I had a job to do — and now look."

He heard the familiar pattern of thumping hooves. Brushing aside the tears on his cheeks, Owl teetered toward the nearest alley. To his drunken eye, the ground kept rolling, and anyone observing would have seen a man taking wide, unsteady steps, but he managed to get into the shadows before the riders arrived.

From his vantage, he watched them tramp by. They never even stopped to look around. Either they weren't after him, or they thought he had gone farther away than this town.

I should've gone farther. I should've run all the way to the other side of the world.

Except he knew he never would. Despite all the thoughts and feelings that led him to get drunk, he knew when he sobered up, he would start looking for that book. Chief Master deserved that much and countless more.

A strained, muffled cry came from deeper in the alley. Owl peered into the dark as he walked toward the cries. Most people would have run off, but an entire life of training — training that Brother X had betrayed — pushed him further down the alley.

On the back end of the alley, Owl found a woman held down by a man and a diseased creature — boils and puss covered its leathery, green skin. The man held her legs; the creature choked her from behind and held her mouth shut. With her clothes torn and her face bruised, she reached toward Owl. Her eyes implored his aid.

"Turn around," the man said to Owl. "You don't want to mess with us."

"Yeah," the creature said, sniffling every few seconds. "Go get your own woman. We ain't sharing."

Though Owl's head lolled as he stared at them, his body reacted with little thought. He pulled out his blade. The metal rang in the alley, and he pointed it at the man — the greater of the two threats. Twice, he tried to speak but his muddled brain couldn't remember the right words.

At length, he said, "Get out or I'll kill you."

The man pulled a hand-ax from his belt as he stood. "I ain't afraid of swordsman. I killed plenty of you with this ax."

"He has," his partner said. "I seen him."

The woman tried to get up but the man backhanded her to the ground. "I'll deal with you in a minute."

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
3.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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