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 (7 page)

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
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A strange look crossed Malja's face, and Owl feared he had, once more, said something wrong. Fawbry's smile faltered and Tommy crossed his arms. This was a complex trio. Owl had to navigate them cautiously.

He decided to bring Fawbry's parents into the conversation as a way of regaining some control, but Malja narrowed her eyes and said, "Are you talking about portals to other worlds?"

"I-It's only what I've been taught. That the Library could possibly do that. But there's plenty of myth mixed in with the facts of the Library. Portals may just be some Master's imagination. I've never seen such a thing."

With a dark expression, Malja said, "We have."

Owl's chest knotted tight as Malja's expression and words crashed into him. If Queen Salia could open a portal, then his failure on the Great Field was more than a personal failing against Brother X. It was more than a failing against this world which would end up under Salia's control. His failure may destroy world upon world. He wanted to throw up.

"Please help me," he said so quiet he wondered if he had spoken at all.

"Think about it," Fawbry said to Malja, whining just a bit. "Help defeat Salia and I'm sure they'll help you use the Library. Maybe they can find your home world."

Owl caught the slight waver in her attitude. That Malja was from another world was something he'd have to think on later. For now, the idea that he might succeed in recruiting her, pushed him onward. "The boy could benefit, too," he said, hoping to entice her. "He's a magician, right?"

"Why?" she asked.

"I thought so. Growing up around the Order, all I ever saw were magicians. I feel like I have a sense for spotting them." Fawbry waved cautioning hands from behind Malja but Owl didn't understand what part to avoid. "The Library might be able to help him grow stronger. Maybe even unlock a new spell or two."

Though Tommy brightened at these words, Fawbry deflated. Malja looked angry enough to spring Viper at him again. Owl sighed. He knew too little of their dynamics, but he saw clearly that Fawbry was the only one among them who could talk to her even a bit. He needed Fawbry — even if he had to forget his promise to Fawbry's parents. Someday, he promised himself, he would tell Fawbry, but for now, he couldn't let this key man go running off to Mommy and Daddy. Lying to Fawbry, even a simple lie of omission, didn't sit well with Owl, but he saw no other option. Without Fawbry, Owl felt sure that Malja would take Tommy and he would have to return to Penmarvia alone.

 

 

 

Malja

 

 

Malja turned away from the group with her fists clenched. She heard Fawbry tell Tommy and Owl to stay back. When he approached her, she could hear the shake in his voice as well as his body.

"Y-You should consider this," he said.

"No."

"This might be the answer you're looking for."

She looked over her shoulder at Tommy. "There are more important things than just finding my home." Then she faced Fawbry. "Why should we even believe this man? He jumps into a fight he has no purpose in, messes that all up, and then while we're still trying to catch up with it all, he plays out this little scenario that just happens to feed in with some childhood fantasy of yours. You don't find that suspicious?"

Fawbry walked a few steps further away. Malja suspected he wanted to be just far enough out of Owl's hearing range. "Of course I'm suspicious," he whispered. "That doesn't change much. The fact is that if he's telling the truth, we'd be fools to go away. Especially if this Queen has any real intention of taking over Corlin."

"That's only if he's telling the truth."

"If he's a liar or maybe walking us into an ambush, then we'll deal with that. I've noticed you're quite good at handling that kind of thing."

Malja snickered. "So I'm just the muscle?"

Fawbry shook his head — not in denial but frustration. "You've been asking me all about Tommy lately, so listen to me now. Tommy wants this. Take a close look into his eyes. He believes Owl, and he wants to see the Order. We've spent the last year traveling all over this horrible country, and I don't think we've done much good. It seems there's a never-ending supply of bastards trying to rule over everybody, and no matter how many we take out, another comes along. Tommy and I know you don't want us around."

"That's not true," she said, Fawbry's words stabbing through her chest.

"You don't need us, that's for sure. Look, the important thing is that if this Queen is for real, then we can do something big again. Not just against petty little crap like Eldred, but something as big as we did before when we took down Jarik and Callib. And if you can admit it, that's what you're looking for every time you fight in these little towns. That's what you're after with your laws. We all want that greater sense of purpose we had before. Well, Owl's giving us that chance."

Malja raised a hand before Fawbry launched into a longer, more enthusiastic speech. "Let me be alone."

With a quick nod, Fawbry eased back to Tommy and Owl. Malja walked to her horse, grabbed her whetstone from the saddlebag, and sharpened Viper. Each stroke let her mind release from the tensions of this decision. She knew that she would have to decide soon, always it was up to her to make the big decisions, but for the moment, she could let all thoughts congeal into one simple idea — sharpen Viper.

What confounded her wasn't the responsibility of a decision, but rather her reaction when her decisions included Tommy. In battle, she had faced hard choices numerous times. Lives were gained or lost based on the paths she chose for her armies to follow. In direct combat, her mind had to evaluate an enemy, find an opening, and exploit it to the fullest — all while defending every incoming attack. She had faced these challenges more times than she'd care to recount, and she had done so with great success. But when it came to choices concerning Tommy, she felt stymied. Except it was more than that. It wasn't just Tommy — it was anything involving Tommy and magic.

She kept seeing him from that first day — dirty and chained to the fuel cells of a thief's ship; the dark, churning sea; ready to jump into an unknown future with her simply because he knew a good chance when he saw it; the pounding rain; the way he curled around her leg as she rowed a lifeboat to safety. He was small and innocent but, even then, had the fierce bravery she loved.

That was it, really. She wanted to keep him like he was back then. Malja silently laughed at herself. She suppressed her emotions and personal thoughts so often that it took a long time for her to see what others picked up on right away.

Fawbry had it figured out already, she guessed. At least, he thought he did. Except another thought gnawed just underneath. Magic. It corrupted souls and twisted minds and destroyed people. And it was powerful.

"Tommy, come here," she called over her shoulder.

The boy paused long enough to send her the message that he chose to come. When he sat, she observed him for a moment. He had shown her too many times now just how powerful he had become. And yet . . .

"Why did you let those fools capture you?" she asked. "You could've stopped them easily."

Tommy firmed up his chest, pointed at her, and then raised three fingers. Her third law — Before using magic, do for yourself.

"You got caught because you tried to not use magic?"

He motioned with his head in an unclear way. He didn't want to admit anything to her.

Malja's heart split. Happy that he had even attempted to follow her ways. Sad that he had so clearly needed his magic. And what would have happened had she not arrived in time? Would Tommy have used his magic then, more than just a jolt of electricity, or would he have let them sell him into slavery once more? She knew the answer even if she didn't want to know. If any serious danger had threatened the boy, he wouldn't have blinked at annihilating those fools.

"Okay," she said, and the other men walked over to her. She put away the whetstone and grabbed some gear lying on the ground. "I don't think this Library is going to be an issue. Nobody has the key book, so nobody gets to use the Library."

Fawbry looked as shocked as Malja felt. "We're actually going to help him?"

She glanced back at Tommy. "It doesn't seem to be working well the way we're going now." She wheeled around to Owl and pointed her finger at him, the threat of her words equally matched in that simple gesture. "I don't trust you, but I will make you a promise. If you're lying to us, if you try anything, I won't just kill you. I'll make you suffer something awful first."

Owl had the brains to stay quiet.

The next day passed by in the monotony of travel. Because Tommy's horse had been killed, he rode on one inherited from the dead kidnappers. It fought his inexperienced technique, causing him to utter numerous grunts and groans as he used the reins and braced against the horse's movements. Malja had offered to share her horse, but Tommy refused. She tried to hide the hurt she felt — she had carried him on her horse for almost a year — but seeing the sympathy in Fawbry's eyes made her press in her heels to speed up. For much of the day, she rode ahead of the group.

Fawbry had said that Tommy behaved typically for his age, but that had to be wrong. She didn't recall ever being like that. When she lived all those years with Uncle Gregor, did he have to suffer through constant defiance? And when he died, her loss was so great it clouded the rest of her life. Tommy wouldn't even care if she died.

Twice during the day, Owl rode up by her side and attempted to drag her into a conversation. She rebuffed him both times. He was a handsome man — his dark skin and strong features fit in well with Corlin — but she had no interest in him beyond getting rid of Queen Salia. And the Library. If even that.

The following night, they set camp under the ruins of an old factory — two moss-covered walls forming a corner and rows of dilapidated focus-booths were all that remained. Tommy found a dented sign that read: DUNSON METAL & MAGIC. While Malja took her turn keeping watch over the camp, Fawbry read to Tommy from the Book of Kryssta:

 

 

To understand all there is,
One must strive to know nothing.
Clear all from one's soul,
Become an empty vessel.

 

She liked the sound of his voice when he read to the boy. He sounded protective and loving, like a big brother. Perhaps he would take care of Tommy if anything should happen to her.

Malja shook off those thoughts before they managed to latch on. Bad luck to think about dying. Not that she believed in such superstitions. For her, the only truth was the reality around her. She certainly never believed in the whole "brother gods" idea, though she enjoyed the stories for what they were — good stories.

Fawbry closed the book. "Let me tell you a story," Fawbry said in a low tone as the campfire colored his face with its orange glow. Tommy snuggled against his chest and listened. "There are several versions of this story," Fawbry went on, "but this is the one I grew up hearing over and over. So, there were the two brother gods, Korstra and Kryssta, and they ruled over all of existence together. But one day there came along this woman, Elatria, that both gods fell in love with. Their jealousy of each other tore apart the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, all kinds of destruction. Made the Devastation look like a mild afternoon. When they finally settled down, they saw that they had accidentally killed Elatria in all the violence. Overwhelmed by grief, they poured their pain into hatred of each other. They split up the world, each taking a season — Korstraprime and Krysstaprime — to rule alone. The short time between — the pre- and post- prime seasons — well, that's when they hand over power to the other. And you'll notice that those times are when we have the worst storms because the brother gods are fighting. Of course, the brother gods do more than control the weather, but if you ever wonder if they are watching us, taking care of the world, you simply have to look around."

A few minutes passed without a word. Malja glanced over to find Fawbry and Tommy both asleep. Watching them, a fraction of the tension she always carried lifted away. But that moment of semi-peace was short-lived — Owl approached her. He had managed to get quite close before she heard him, but when she did, she bolted to her feet and brandished Viper.

"It's just me," he whispered.

Malja eased down on a rock, letting the dim campfire warm her back. "You're very quiet," she said. With a begrudging huff, she added, "And you're very good with a sword."

"Gun, too," Owl said, sitting beside her. "The style is called the Way of the Sword and Gun."

BOOK: The Way of the Sword and Gun
2.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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