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 (6 page)

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
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"You ain't listening," the one man said. He had a thick beard that obscured his mouth and huge feet that stomped with each word. His unwashed odor permeated the camp and its surroundings. "This kid's no farmer."

The other man, bony and unkempt, said, "Then why was he partying with a bunch of farmers? That make any sense? Of course not. Now calm down, have a drink, and let's stay with what we said."

The bearded man squatted and passed gas loudly. "He's gonna be worth a lot, right?"

"Those people love their kids. You'll see. They'll pay to get him back."

"What if they don't? What if they don't like him and that's the reason he was out all alone last night? What if—"

"Then we'll sell him. Always somebody looking for slaves. Relax. It'll be fine."

The bearded man rubbed his backside and glanced at Tommy behind them. "I hope we can sell him. That bastard hurt me."

Malja could see they had tied Tommy's hands behind his back and blindfolded him. Being shot by a bolt of conjured electricity does tend to make one cautious.

Fawbry pursed his lips as he thought. "The way I see things, we've got two good options," he whispered. Malja kept a serious face. Fawbry was smart and worth listening to, even if he tended toward the less confrontational methods. "First, you can stay here, keep watch, while I hurry back to the town and get some people to come pay a ransom. Or we could wait until their asleep and—"

"I've got a better idea," she said and stepped away from the tree. Sometimes confrontational was the most efficient choice.

As she walked by Fawbry, he brushed his forefinger across his brow, glanced up to the brother god Kryssta, and said, "Please don't let her get me killed." He followed her, keeping several steps behind. That was another thing she liked about him — even though he whined about it and wanted his share of recognition, he stayed with her.

Since Malja made no attempt to be quiet, the two kidnappers jumped to their feet at her approach.

The bony man held a long piece of metal with the business end cut into jagged teeth. The bearded one picked up a large wooden club. They took a few steps toward her, leering as if they had not seen a woman in years.

"Well, well," the bony man said. "What a fine present to send us. I think I'll enjoy—"

"You have stolen that boy and that is against the law," Malja said.

The bearded man scratched his belly. "What law?"

"Law one — Do nothing to another that you would not want done to you. I think you boys wouldn't want people stealing you, tying you up, and threatening to sell you."

Raising the metal weapon above his head, the bony one said, "I don't know no laws, but I know a sweet ass when I see one. You got a name? I like to call out a woman's name when I take her."

Malja raised an eyebrow. "My name's Malja. I am the law."

Both men froze. The bony one looked from Malja to Fawbry to Tommy, matching up the members of the crew and their descriptions with the stories he no doubt had heard. Then he took a hard appraisal of Viper. His head tilted back in recognition and he dropped his weapon.

"What you doin'?" the bearded man said.

"Shut up. This is her. The real Malja."

The bearded man leaned forward and squinted. As his brain finally caught up with the situation, his mean countenance melted away. "Oh, lady, we're sorry. This your boy? We thought he was a dumb farmer. You can have him back. We didn't mean nothing."

Malja kept watch on the man with the club. "Fawbry," she said, and Fawbry scurried by everyone to attend to Tommy. Malja side-stepped a few times to reposition the men away from Tommy. Just in case. "You two don't need to live like this anymore. I'm bringing laws to Corlin so that we can all be free to live like we want to without troubling each other."

The bony one shrugged. "What if I want to rape women and steal kids? Am I free to do that?"

Malja opened her mouth, ready to deliver all three laws, when a man with a sword and a gun dropped from the trees. He shouted loud as he sliced straight through the bony one. The bearded man stared dumbfounded at the bloody mess that had been his friend.

Startled, Malja snapped Viper out in front. The man moved with grace and purpose like a well-trained dancer. In a swift, spinning motion, he cut open the bearded man's belly.

And it was over.

He sheathed his sword, holstered his gun, turned to Malja and bowed. "My name is Owl," he said. "I've traveled very far just to meet you."

 

 

 

Owl

 

 

Malja swung Viper overhead and came down in a clean ax cut. Owl dodged to the side, his face a soup of confusion.

"No, no, I'm on your side," he said.

Again, Malja attacked, but Owl had grown up evading great swordsmen — Brother X, for one. A grin rolled across his lips. He was being attacked by the great Malja and her famous weapon, Viper. But the fun of it passed just as quickly as the thought. She had massive power — he could feel Viper slice the air as it passed him by — and he wouldn't last too long just dodging.

"You don't understand," he said.

"Those men were no threat," Malja said, her body bristling with rage. Owl stepped back, amazed at the sheer power behind her eyes. She went on, "You murdered them, and I don't need a murderer on my side. Get out of here before I get really angry."

"I'm from Penmarvia. Queen Salia is after you. You're in danger."

"I fear no queen. I'll send her your head as a warning."

Malja launched at Owl with a ferocious yell. In a blur, Viper streamed out from her side, heading right for Owl's neck. He stood his ground, watching every movement, keeping his breathing calm, letting his years of training gauge the timing.

At the final moment, he snapped his sword out and up, clanging with the inner-crescent of Viper and stopping Malja from cutting off his head. She pressed hard and he pushed back. He had to use both hands on the sword — one at the hilt, one pressing against the back of the blade — to keep Viper from completing the cut. Metal against metal screeched. He locked eyes with her.

Grunting out the words, he said, "I came here for your help."

"I don't care." She barely had trouble speaking, and Owl wondered just how much strength she hadn't used yet.

He saw her shoulder move just an inch, but it was enough to signal her release. A second later she broke off, attempting to knock him off balance by using his own force against him. But he had been ready — instead of stumbling forward, Owl broke off as well, moving in time with Malja as if dancing.

"I thought you were a great warrior," he said, keeping his eyes on his opponent. "Aren't you trying to take over Corlin?"

Malja scoffed. "I'm letting people be free enough to make their own choices. Nobody gets to rule over anybody."

She lunged forward, but Owl anticipated the attack. He moved to the side and slapped Malja's shoulder with the flat of his blade. Since he couldn't match her strength, he'd have to settle for grace. He prayed Kryssta would let him outlast her and not slip up.

"Queen Salia has taken over most of Penmarvia," he said. "She wants Corlin, too."

"Tell her she can't have it."

Twisting her body, Malja used Viper's outer-crescent as she pivoted around, sweeping low for the knees. Owl jumped over the attack, and tapped Malja's head with the flat of his blade. He said, "I don't work for her. And she tried to kill me." He could see the fury lighting her eyes. "I want you to help me free Penmarvia just as you are doing here."

"Not interested," she said, stepping off and slicing at the waist. Owl moved aside, but Malja changed motions in the middle of her swing. She jabbed Viper forward, an astonishing shift in momentum, and cut through Owl's shirt, taking off a small bit of his skin.

Owl had hoped to show her he was no threat, but Malja's face displayed such animalistic fervor, he had to admit he was wrong. This had been a bad idea. Too late now, though.

Without hesitation, Owl launched into a flurry of attacks. Left side, right side, straight ahead — stepping forward with each strike. Malja parried the attacks with ease, but he was not interested in making contact. The sword was being used to open a path for him to get close.

And there it was. He twirled away from Viper, curving in fast, forcing her to swing Viper in an awkward manner in order to deflect the attack. The moment the weapons clashed, he spun around the other direction. Before Malja could adjust for the expected strike, Owl ripped his handgun from the holster and pointed it at Malja's head.

"I'm sorry about those two men," Owl said, breathing hard. "I thought you were fighting them, and I only wanted to help."

Like a Kryssta statue, Malja maintained her pose of action but didn't move further. He saw her eyes checking out the weapon, trying to determine if the gun would actually fire.

"I clean it every day," he said. "Make sure every part works. I assure you, it's quite deadly."

From behind, a wild-haired man with one hand and wearing a colorful robe let out a gasp. Owl had spied the man from the beginning. He had to be Fawbry. No other would fit the description so well.

"Oh my Kryssta," Fawbry said, rushing up next to them. "Y-You're from the Order of Kryssta. You really are from Penmarvia. You know the Way of the Sword and Gun."

"Yes," Owl said. "And you all will listen to me or I'll have to shoot Malja in the head."

"You might want to reconsider that plan," Malja said.

Owl felt a sharp pressure on his inner-thigh. He didn't need to look to know — Malja had Viper set between his legs, pointed upward. If he shot her, she would most likely castrate him as her body flew backward. A sly grin rose on her lips.

Fawbry waved his hands between them. "Will you two stop with this nonsense? Malja, he's not a thug. He's one of the great legends I heard about growing up. Well, not him specifically but the Order and the Guardians and the Way of the Sword and Gun and I just can't believe it."

Looking into Malja's eyes, Owl knew she would never break the standoff first. So, he holstered his gun and waited for Viper to be removed. She waited a moment, and Owl's heart quickened.

"Malja," Fawbry said both pleading and accusing.

"Fine," she said, removing Viper in a smooth motion as she backed up. Her wary gaze never left Owl though, even as she attended to the boy.

Fawbry shook Owl's hand. "It's a great honor to meet you."

Owl had heard about this type of reaction but he had never experienced it before. He'd never been far enough away from the Order before for such an encounter to occur. He tried not to smile, but his mouth refused to listen.

"Don't worry about Queen Salia," Fawbry went on. "We can handle a dozen Queens. Right, Malja? She's incredibly tough. And Tommy, too. He's more than you think. Not that you can't handle the Queen yourself. I'm sure the order has lots of men like you."

The joy swept away from Owl and he lowered his head. If the Order had been filled with men like him — cowards who played dead upon the body of their Masters — Salia would have taken over long ago. He glanced at Malja and Tommy. They fussed with each other like a mother and child. He thought of all the parents and children in Penmarvia.

"Listen to me," he said, and the force of his voice sparked the others' attentions. He intended to tell them of Fawbry's parents, to use that connection as motivation for their help, but watching them together, he paused. Instead, he told them of the Queen's trickery, the betrayal of Brother X, the death of Chief Master. The rest he left unsaid. "She has destroyed the Order, killed off the magicians, and is coming here. But it won't be a simple fight against an army. She's got control of the Library."

Fawbry gasped.

"What library?" Malja asked.

Fawbry rushed toward Malja, tripping in his excitement. "The Library. It's a legend even greater than the Order. After the Devastation, some members of the Order of Kryssta discovered a powerful location in Penmarvia, far to the North. It pulsed with magical energy. They built a temple around it and studied it. Over the years, they wrote the Twelve Books about what they learned; forming a Library that holds secrets to great power."

"And Salia has these books?" Malja asked, rising with a stern look on her face.

"She does," Owl said. "But the books are useless to her now — they are in code. Chief Master told me of a thirteenth book that should offer the key. I've got to find it before Salia. If she gets the key, she'll use the Library."

"And?"

Owl shrugged. "Nobody's ever used it before."

Fawbry paced from Owl to Malja and back. "You don't get it. This Library is massive magic. It can be used for just about anything. It's like a direct conduit to the brother gods."

"You're talking legends," Malja said.

"Your man might be right," Owl said.

Malja, Tommy, and Fawbry broke into laughter. "My man?" she said. "Fawbry is not and never will be my man."

Trying not blush, Owl said, "The reality is that the Library is barely contained power. If Queen Salia gets control of it, she'll have an incredible weapon to use against Corlin. She could cause a miniature Devastation throughout your lands. She might even open holes into other worlds and drop all of your people in."

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
10.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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