His feet dragged along, driven more by sheer will than anything else.
Simon watched as the torch he held melted away the cobwebs that decorated the top of the tunnel he traveled through. He could hear the skittering of rats in the darkness beyond, a furtive flash of movement just beyond his vision.
He thought about what had happened when he had awoke that final time, his throat raw from screaming Mary’s name. He remembered how the dream had stayed with him for an hour, the figures of the Valenburg villagers, Mary’s mother among them, standing just at the edge of his vision, visible only from the corner of his eye.
The Vaudaun priest had sat with him, bathing his forehead as the tremors wracked his body, speaking to him in a singsong combination of colonial French and English.
“My father’s father’s father saw de darkness come over the world,” he said, squeezing out the rag he was using. His face remained unseen behind the hood he wore. “He retreated down here, with his family, and de families of his friends. Dis place was sealed then, dry and safe from de little bit of rad dat drifted over. He understood a little of de way of de nuke, and was able to keep most of his people alive and safe, using de ways of de times, with generators and other t’ings he had brought down and de knowledge of de past, when magic ruled, and de enemies of his people were struck down, and raised again as slaves.”
“Time passed,” he continued. He handed Simon a bowl of steaming soup, and watched as Graydon raised the bowl to his lips with trembling hands. “My ancestor was by dis time an old man, and felt his time was coming. He wanted to see de sun, before he died. But, when de seal was broken, and he stepped outside, he saw what man had done to de world. It was summer, but de ground was covered by enough snow to near cover his head. De sky was gray as a zombie’s flesh and the air had de smell of an old slaughterhouse.”
“De story saws he died on De spot, ashamed of what Man had done to de gift de Gods had given.” He ladled out another helping of the soup, and Simon quickly devoured it. “De people who had watched him go, dose who had been saved by him when de skies darkened shut de door upon his dead body, afraid that some disease had struck him down.”
“It was de smart ting to do, of course. Likely, he had tol’ them to do it in case something like that happened. But, it was the ting dat near killed dem all, too.”
“De snows melted, but they had kept de body fresh, and before the starving wolves could find it, he was found by different things.”
“Crazed men traveled de land in dose days, killin’ ever’ting dey could find and eatin’ it, didn’t matter if’n it were animal, human or mutie. Dey had blasters and blades, and some even had plas-ex. Dey used what dey had to breach the door, marked by the untouched body of the old man. Den dey chilled, and chilled and chilled some more, not caring how many of dem died in de fightin’. It just meant more meat for the ones strong enough to survive.”
“Men were cut down. Women were kept. Some had managed to hide in hidden tunnels, and could hear the sounds of screamin’ for days. Sometimes, dey would sneak out, bring in a woman or a child who could still walk, hidin’ dem.
“One of dem chillers was smart, though. He noticed that more and more of the captives was missin’, but he didn’t care. ‘Cause he’d found the most precious thing dat the shelter had to offer.”
“He found the books and machines dat the old man had brought down, and he took’em all. Den he used ‘em to build up a city over their heads. And used the shelter where he’d found de source of his power as a sewer, dumping shit where he’d once stayed.”
“All dat time, children was bein’ born, most from women raped by the chillers. Now the bastards had done lots of travelin’, and a lot of that had been through rad hot-spots, and chemstorms of black, black rain. And all that was comin’ out in their offspring. Most were stillborn, born without brains or hearts. Still others were born feeble, in body or mind. Most didn’t live long. But some did. Most down here now have taint from the chillers, passed through the birthblood.”
The man held out his hand, swathed in rags and waited, until Simon reached out, clutching at the hand, and was pulled to his feet.
“But, up above, somethin’ happened. The man who’d built the town out of scrap and scavenged steel and quarried rock died, and his son took over. Der was fightin’ again, as others tried to take over, but dey didn’t do it, endin’ up feedin’ de crows.”
He gave Graydon a slight tug, and he began walking, pulling the assassin with him, unmindful of the stifled groan, or the trickling blood that began down Simons chin, where he’d bitten his lip from the pain of cramped muscles.
“So his son ruled. Den his. Den one day, a stranger come. And in a day and a night, dis stranger had took over. And he called himself Baron Ryker.”
“What happened to the son?” Simon rasped.
“He became the Sec-chief.”
“Wake up, sweet Mary,” came the Baron’s voice, cutting into her dreams. She jerked her head up from the table. She’d gotten into the habit of falling asleep here, surrounded by books.
Mary had, before, prided herself on being literate, a rare skill in the Deathlands, but had found after reading these books that her education was woefully lacking.
She had read as many of the books as she could, but most had begun to show their age, and fell apart in her hands when she handled them.
So, reading the instructions set to the side of it, Mary had booted up one of the library-comps, and had begun to explore what was recorded on an array of disks.
She watched Martin Luther King speaking of his dream, and watched old documentaries of the many wars that man had fought.
She watched the goggled scientists congratulate each other, even as winds driven by an atomic explosion destroyed hollow houses and blew apart wooden men.
Mary watched laughing children playing under blue skies and in lush, green grass.
It was all becoming a blur.
Day after day, drained by watching and reading, she’d lay her head down, and escape.
And the Baron’s voice would always awaken her.
How she hated him.
She shuddered as yet another headache spiked behind her eyes, and her stomach began to roil again. Mary had been fighting this almost since she had been brought here, sudden spiking pains that would jolt her out of sleep, her body clammy with sweat, her belly rumbling so badly that the sound seemed to echo off the walls.
And always, always when she awoke, there was the fading of a sound, a tone like the sounds of pressure against the eardrum, heard in the dead of night.
She stood, fighting the dizziness that spun just behind her eyes, then stumbled off to the cafeteria, her stomach growling like a living thing.
At least, she said to herself, I’m not eating four of those shitty dinners anymore.
The green eyes watched as the gauges spiked, the green bouncing line going over the top of the little screen.
Whenever she heard his voice, her blood pressure would shoot up, her breathing would increase and the endorphin and adrenaline levels in her blood would skyrocket.
“Soon, little bird. Soon”
Simon was moving smoother now, the tremors nearly gone. He had been walking for what seemed to be hours, though he doubted much more than one had passed. The air was becoming less stale, though this only made him notice the sewer stink all the more.
What made it bearable was that the pain was finally going away.
The priest had said, before calling Zeb over, that Simon had a journey to take, and the first few steps were to be taken down here.
“Zeb,” he said, “will show you the way.”
He thought about what the cowled man had said, how Hardiman himself had once been Baron, descended from the line of the first marauder leader. Why would Ryker have let him live? Surely, Hardiman would be a constant threat to him, and his continued reign.
But he left him alive, and allowed Hardiman the number two spot in the Barony hierarchy.
Why was Ryker so sure of his hold over Hardiman?
must give her focus….or the Baron will.
Simon shook the words from his mind.
It had only been a dream, caused by the dust.
At least, that was what he told himself.
But dream or not, why did the words sound so true?
After all, if a sociopathic mind like Hardiman’s could be twisted to serve another’s whim, when he had been trained by a life of being a leader’s son, and then a leader…what hope could Mary have, despite the remarkable will she had shown in the past?
was alone…and with him.
He looked up, saw that the tunnel he followed turned at a ninety degree angle, the walls becoming damp, and algae beginning to spot the carved stone.
Then Simon heard movement ahead.
A slight scuffling echoed through the tunnel, the sounds separating as he grew nearer, becoming the rustling of cloth, the crackling of fire and the murmuring of voices.
Graydon rounded the corner, and he could now smell smoke, as well as the strong scent of sewage.
Before him, a wall of rotting wood blocked the end of the passage, and Simon was seized by a sudden suspicion.
Easing up to the blockage, pleased that his muscles had stopped twitching and that he was again moving silently instead of scraping along, he peered through a large crack where some of the wood had completely rotted out, and then snorted in mock surprise.
He pushed on the wood, and it fell over with a wet thump! startling the skulkers that sat by their little fires. He stood there, his dark gaze scanning the group, stopping on the slumped shapes of Zeb and the cowled Vaudaun priest.
For the first time, Simon could see the area he was in, now that he wasn’t blinded by pain.
The roof was nearly thirty feet up, festooned with hanging moss that swayed, though there seemed to be no breeze. Squinting, he could see a faint light emanating from them, masked by the small, potted fires scattered about. Dampness glistened redly from nearly everything, the appearance of a multitude of crimson eyes unnerving.
The walls of this chamber, and Graydon was sure that there were more judging from the machined, concrete walls, were about ninety feet apart, vast shadowed areas between. The enclosure seemed circular, and had a line of liquid two meters across that was crossed with a number of bridges, each made with scrap rock, wood and plastic.
From the stench, Simon knew what flowed so sluggishly.
“You made good time,” the man said, pulling his hood down, completely covering his face. Simon determined, before he left, he was going to pull the blasted thing back, and see the man’s face.
“The walk seemed to do you some good,” he continued. “You stalk again. You are ready to return.”
“I don’t think so,” Simon replied. “I need some answers to questions I have. And I don’t appreciate being sent out into the asshole of the world on a wild goose chase.”
Zeb glanced at the cowled man.
“No, Zeb,” he replied to the silent question. “Der’s no geese down der. He means dat we send him through the tunnel wit no reason.”
Zeb nodded, leaning back to his former position, drawing and thumbing the spike he drew from the cloth sheath at his side.
“I think Zeb is still a little angry wit you for breaking some of his ribs, and spraining his wrist.”
“He was lucky. I was trying to break it, too.”
Zeb grunted, the first sound he had made since Simon had awoken. Then he stood up, and walked away, settling down by a fire at the farthest end of the room a minute later.
His one green eye glinted, while the white one gleamed with a dull shine.
The priest gestured to the spot Zeb had abandoned, and motioned for Simon to sit.
“You say you have questions for me,” he said, as Graydon settled down. “Now is the time to ask. I will answer what questions dat I am able.”
“Where does Ryker take the people he captures in these faked ‘outlaw’ attacks?”
“I have heard that when people leave the Ville,” came the answer, “Hardiman and some of his Sec men go out a gate far in the back of the city, late at night. He always come back a few days later, and sometimes der be animals, but most times, der be people. Don’t know if they’re de same people as gone out.”
“Where does he take them in the city?” Simon pressed. The cowl shook from side to side.
“I wish I could say,” he said. “But I don’t know for sure. But likely, dey be taken to the Baron’s Keep. You go in, it be near impossible to get out. Place be solid quarried granite, cut blocks of the stuff. Dat place’ll stand for a t’ousand years, even if de acids rain down heavy. Dat be the best place to look.”
“Do you know why he takes them?”
“I’m sorry. No.”
“Shit,” cursed Simon. “How many Sec-men are there in the Keep?” Graydon was running out of questions that the man might have the answers to, and desperation was beginning to speed his heart. He took a deep breath of the stinking air, trying to calm himself.
“Once, der was as many as all of us here have fingers and toes,” the man said.
Considering what Simon had seen since waking from cryostasis, that could be a lot more or a lot less than he’d expect.
“But der number has become less since de fire. Some burned, fightin’ de fire, some ran off in the night when Hardiman started killin’ em for letting you and the fire get away.”
“He’s had deserters?”
“How bad was the fire?”
“Bad. De wind caught it, blew explodin’ gas all around. And with no rains for a long time…well, de houses and ever’ting went up right quick. Ever’ting in Uptown went up. So de survivors got it into der heads to…”
“De place where de first people built homes, usin’ de machines dey took. Dey got jack, dey got slaves and servants. Well, dey did. But now…” the man shrugged. “now dey got nothin’. So dey’re goin’ back to the old ways. Takin’ through blood.”
“What are you talking about?”
“War. I’m talkin’ about war. Uptown ‘gainst Lowtown.”
“They’re comin’ again!”
Tanna spun as Sam shouted the warning, thumbing two shells into the double barrel twelve gauge. The double-ought buck would cut down their attackers, but she had to let them get close. Garret stood near the boarded over saloon doors, waiting for the pounding to begin again.
He knew that the nails would tear out one of these times, as they rammed the doors with a sawed down tree. He held two blasters, both loaded with the last of his ammo, five for the short barreled Smith and Wesson .38 he held in his left, a full clip of eight, one of them in the chamber of the Colt .45 he held in his right.
A seven-inch flensing blade was stuck into the beam by his head, still dripping blood from the last man he’d killed with it.
Sam raced back to the bar, stuffing rags into bottles filled with gas, honey, oil and rotgut. He had a fair number of them lined up, and looked over occasionally to make sure that the oil lamp was close by, it’s golden flame close at hand.
The other girls were scattered around the gaudy/hotel/casino. Two had taken it into their heads to surrender to the Uptowners beforehand, rushing out after Sam had gathered them together and told them what was happening.
They had been swarmed, their screams and the laughter of the Uptown men loud in the pre-attack silence as they lost all semblance of humanity.
The screams didn’t last long.
Then the attack came.
Tanna killed her first man then, through the boarded window, using the shotgun. He’d caught the charge full in the face, and flesh had peeled from the bone a micro second before the sheer kinetic shock had exploded the skull into sharp projectiles, stinking brain matter misting as pellets and bone struck others in the attacking group.
Others came through the swinging doors, the hastily hammered in nails giving before the force of the swung six-by-six inch beam they wielded.
Morgan snapped one man’s neck, plucking a blaster from the convulsing hand. He shot another in the face, knocking him into three others, making another three leap over their fallen comrades.
Morgan calmly reached down, pulled the flensing knife from his boot, and quickly sliced through one of the fallen’s carotid, blood jetting.
Sam meanwhile, met the other three with a tight grin on his face. His glasses gave him an owlish look, and his gangly limbs made him appear clumsy, and the man laughed at such an easy kill.
Their killing lust blinded them to the twin Bowies Sam held.
Saving their ammunition, they came at him with clubs and chains.
A club swung, and Sam merely weaved to the side, the club meeting only air. The club wielder stumbled forward, past Sam, and fell to the floor.
Sam sprang forward at the other two, and buried the knife in his left hand into the chest of the man nearest him, ignoring the man behind him on the floor.
With the blade stuck in his ribs the attacker fell, his heart impaled on the steel. He twitched once, sliding in his own blood, then relaxed, the growing red pool mixing with the pool streaming from the cut throat of the first man, whose throat had been sliced as he stumbled past Sam.
The attacker with the chain whirled it about, trying to keep the white haired man away. Sam merely bent, yanked his Bowie out of the other’s chest, and stood back up, turning slightly, then flicking his right arm, his fingers stretched out, pointing like a magician casting a spell.
The last man laughed, then looked down, where Sam was now pointing, and saw the hilt of the blade he’d thrown quivering in his chest. Then he felt the ice-cold waves spreading through his body, the only warmth a burning spot in his chest where his heart labored to pump, despite the cold, carbon-steel that had cleaved it in two.
The man’s eyes rolled up, and he fell face down, the impact driving the blade completely through his chest, the blade sticking up through his back.
Morgan drove the remaining attackers away, emptying his stolen blaster into the doorway, screams fading as wounded were pulled back.
Sam was there immediately, hammer and nails in his hands, and together, they quickly sealed the doors up again, this time nailing up more crosspieces.
“They’re not used to this,” Sam had said, a little out of breath. “If’n they’d kept comin’, they’d be in, and we’d be chilled.”
“Yeah,” replied Morgan. “They’re used to hirin’ chiller’s to do their chillin’ fer ‘em.”
“Won’t last long. They’ll be back. And they’ll be pissed. Once, maybe twice more. And if they can’t get us, then they’ll burn us out.”
Tanna asked; “Would they really?” She sounded a little frightened, but Sam had smiled at the brave front she was putting out. “They want in, to take all the things you have here, the drink, the girls,” she lowered her voice, “me. Why would they set fire to what they want?”
“So no-one else can have it,” Sam replied. He glanced at Morgan. “You’d better check upstairs, make sure nobody’s tryin’ to creepy-crawl in.”
Morgan nodded, and headed for the stairs.
“Bet you’re regrettin’ the half-interest you bought in my place now, aren’t you?”
Mary shook her head. “All my life, it’s been me and my father. We’ve had nothing but what we could get from my singing and his cardplaying. He’s gone, but now I’ve got something of my own.”
She broke open the scatterblaster, pulled out the spent shell, slammed a fresh one in. Her eyes glittered as she looked back up at Sam.
“Nobody takes what’s mine.”
Tanna snapped back into the present as a bolt sped from the gathering darkness and thunked into the wood beside her head. She pulled back one of her triggers, and the kick nearly took her off her feet, even though she’d braced herself. Through ringing ears, she could hear shouts and screaming, and she had to grin as exhilaration began to course through her.
Her father had said, when the time came, when she had to fight, she would feel this way.
The rush of survival would surge, sharpening her senses, awakening instincts that could help her survive. She would react without thinking, kill without a thought.
But, he had told her, the feeling was like a twin-edged blade. It could also blind her to things she would see otherwise, things that could kill her.
She would have to find the balance, if she would survive.
But he’d died before he could tell her how.
She gritted her teeth, pulled the other trigger, and chilled another attacker.
The crowd pulled back, cowed by the thundering death. Several held limbs and faces where errant pellets had struck, each spot marked with a stream of dark blood.
Tanna pulled back as she caught a glimpse of one man raising the reloaded crossbow. “Watch it!!” she screamed.
Sam turned, and Morgan jumped down the last three steps as Tanna saw a silvery flash go by, the fletchings of the bolt brushing across the tip of her nose, continuing on to smash the large mirror behind Sam’s bar.
“Shit-suckin’ sons of bitches!” Sam touched the soaked wick of one of the bottles, and handed it to Morgan. The big man took it, and stepped up to the window where Tanna stood, thumbing two more shells into the scatterblaster.
She had three left, two for them and…
She shook her head to clear it of the image.
“Get ready,” the big man said.
Tanna looked questioningly at him.
“You’ll see,” he said, drawing back, and tossing the glass bottle out the gap between the boards that Tanna had been shooting through.
The bottle landed on the soft mud in front of the crowd, which had drawn back at the sight of the arcing flame. It sank into the muck, the wick sputtering gallantly.
“Fuck this shit!” yelled one man. If Sam had been watching the crowd outside of the window, instead of the one out front, which at this moment was being cut to pieces by another mob that had come down the street, he would have recognized the former Manager of one of the Baron’s biggest gaudies.
Morgan and Tanna watched as the man shouted directions, his arms waving.
“Hendrick! Take some blasters, go around and chill those stupid bastards out front! Don’t leave any alive! The Baron’s gonna chill us all slow, if’n we don’t get control of what’s left! Go!”
He bent down, plucked the bottle out of the mud, the rag still burning.
“Get ready to chill everyone that comes out here! They can’t get to the street out front, not with the Rad-scum fightin’ there. They’ll have to come out through the window or the back door! We’ll take this place, set ourselves up good fer when the Baron shows! Get ready!” He drew back the bottle to heave it at the window, trusting the chemstorm from before to have wetted everything down enough for them to control the fire that was about to result.
Scorch marks, he could live with.
“Blast it now, girl,” Morgan said. “Shoot the bottle.”
Everything moving shock-slow, Tanna took aim at the bottle, just as the man stopped giving instructions to the crowd of twenty people around him. The flame danced just above the bead sight of the blaster.
Tanna fired, sending a full charge of double ought buck into the air, steel beads smashing through the air to shatter the fire topped bottle and the upraised hand of the man who would take what he wanted.
He was enveloped in a ball of fire, the hooch-and-honey mixture in the bottle sticking to whatever it touched, primitive napalm that melted flesh almost instantly as it settled upon the crowd. Cloth ignited quickly, changing the murderous crowd into shrieking, flame haloed figures, arms flapping and legs thrashing, voices calling out for help until lungs were seared by the heat.
Morgan sighted, and the blaster in his left hand spat flame, the .38 slug slamming into the chest of a man who stood there untouched, paralyzed as his compatriots ran to-and-fro, all aflame. He landed on his back, eyes blinking once, before he became engrossed in the mystery of the growing darkness.
“Shitfire!” Tanna spun to see Sam stagger back from the sealed doorway, his left hand covering the leaking hole in his shoulder. Morgan was over there in a flash, fast for such a big man, and fired another round from the blaster in his left hand through the small opening Sam had been using to watch the battle.
A scream testified to his accuracy.
Tanna left the window, going to where Sam sat, now pouring a sizable amount of hooch down his gullet. He saw her coming and sputtered.
“Get back to the window! There’s more bastard chillers out there, and they’re just waiting for one chance to get in! You heard that fucker outside. They know they’d better make some good out of the fire, start rebuildin’ the ville, or the Baron’ll chill’em, if they’re lucky and he doesn’t do it anyway.”
“It’s dark, Sam. They’ve been burned, shot and from the sounds of it, who ever survived the fire is fighting out front.” She knelt by him, pried his hand away from the wound, hissed at the amount of blood soaking the shirt, and at the amount still coming out.
Sam saw the expression on her face.
“Looks worse than it is, girl.” He poured some of the rotgut into the wound, washing it out, showing the deep groove where the slug had scored. “See? Just a scratch. See if you can find me something to cover it with, willya?”
The girl nodded, then moved away.
“Still hurts like a bastard, though,” he muttered.
“How bad is it up there?”
“For de first few days,” the cowled man said, “it was nothing. Little fights, chilling for blasters, food and dominance in the gangs startin’ to form. Den, dey realized dat soon, de Baron will come out to see what happened, Hardiman will rebuild his Sec-force, and if you don’t have something to show you made an effort to rebuild the ville, de Baron will take ever’ting you got left, and leave you nothing but chilled.”
“So, dey organized. Hardiman sent some of his sec men to lead’em, and they started into Lowtown, sweeping in like a plague of screamwings, killin’ ever’ting in de way.”
“Dey thought it would be easy. Bunch of twisties, oldies, near muties and poor norms.”
“Dey were wrong.”
The white haired man placed his hands on the grips of the bowies stuck through his belt.
“I wanna come up to the winda! I wanna talk!”
“I’m dry from all the yellin’ I’ve done already! You got me pretty good with that bottle of sticky fire. My left arm’s burned bad. I got it all wrapped up. I can’t do anything to you! If’n we can talk, mebbe we can come to some sorta agreement!”
Tanna snorted, and Morgan just shook his head. He was down to a couple of rounds for the revolver, and five for the slide blaster, and he intended on saving one of those for himself when the time came.
The girl had loaded her last shell into the scatterblaster. Two rounds under the pins. She’d take one of the chillers down, then she’d turn the sawed-off blaster around, and pull the other trigger with her thumb.
“What kinda agreement!” Sam yelled back, looking over the ruins of his gambling house and gaudy. The tables had been overturned, multiple barricades scattered across the room. Plastic chips had been scattered beneath the boarded windows and in front of the doors, where they, at the least, would break, giving some notice of a creepy-crawl and at the most slip someone’s feet out from under them.
The gaudies were back in the hooch store, gripping self-lights and rags, ready to send the entire place to hell. The lids of the barrels, now on end had been knocked off by Morgan, at Sam’s order, and the fumes filled the room, ready for a spark to ignite them, the blast likely chilling everyone in the room instantly, the shockwave blowing out walls and supports, bring the building down.
They all knew, though they’d wait ‘til the last moment, that when the time came, the sparks would fly. They’d seen and heard what had happened to the two who’d gone out, and didn’t plan on that happening to them.
Sometimes in the Deathlands, it was better to know when to bow out.
So, they waited.
“Open the doors, and turn the place over to us! You can walk out, take your blasters and sluts, and leave! You can even take what jack you can carry! Just leave the rotgut, gambling shit and tables! The ville’s gotta start over again, and this is one’a the places to help do it!”
“If I say no?”
“You know better than that, you white-haired old fart! Sooner or later, we’ll get in. Then we’ll take turns at your sluts, skin your sec man, and hang you over a slow fire while we get the tanner to peel the skin off your nuts!”
“Really? Then you should know, Bobby Ray, yes, I know who you are, I’ve got all my girls standin’ over open barrels of prime shine, with self-lights and rags. You come in, the whole place goes!”
There was an audible murmur from the crowd gathered in the darkness.
“Bullshit. They ain’t chillin’ themselves! They wouldn’t!”
“One of ‘em will, and that’s all it takes. Now why don’t you go and jerk off somewhere’s like the night I found you peepin’ at the girls through the shitter!”
There was some guffawing, quickly silenced.
“That’s it! That was your only chance! Sooner or later, white-hair! Sooner or later!”
“I’m gonna stick a blade in that asshole’s groin before he chills me,” Sam muttered.
“Swear to God.”
“So, you’re tellin’ me that there’s a war going on up there?”
“Good. I can move through the chaos.”
The cowled man turned his head. “You know, you don’ t sound like no Baronblaster thrill chiller I’ve ever heard before. You talk like you got a brain.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Hardiman wants your heart. Smart men don’t want him lookin’ their way.”
“Speaking of pissing in his pot, you’ve never told me why you got me out of the jail.”
“Hardiman wants to chill you, though dat ain’t surprisin’. Word is though, he’s also afraid of you. Dat’s why. We want you chill de motherfucker!” Spittle flew as the words were hissed out.
“I can do that.”
Hours had gone by.
Sam stared out the space between boards nailed up over the windows facing the main crowd. They milled about like sheep, he reflected. Rabid sheep lead by rabid wolves, led by a rabid cat’s-eyed chiller. Sam hadn’t seen Hardiman yet, but he was sure that as Lowtown was swallowed by that whore’s-son, he’d appear like a reaper among summer wheat.
Not that Sam knew what summer wheat looked like, but it had been a favorite saying of his grandpa, gone twenty years of rad-cancer.
He looked over at Tanna, who slept in the corner, shotgun cradled like a favorite doll in her arms. He hadn’t gotten her age when she came in, asking for work, but truthfully for most of his customers, that wasn’t an issue. He knew, because she had told him that she was near sixteen, a “moon and a bit to go.”
But asleep, the nearness slipped away, and she became nothing more than a child.
Sam glanced over at Morgan, who poured himself a small shot of sweet brandy. “Easy on that,” he warned. “I don’t need you stupid now.”
Morgan shrugged. “Just a little painkiller. Nothin’ I can’t handle.”
“If’n you say so,” Sam said, a little doubt creeping into his voice. “While yer up though, go check on the girls in the ‘shine room. Make sure one’s awake.”
“Sure.” Morgan tossed back the liquor, made sure that the wheel gun was easily reached, than walked down the short way to the storeroom.
Sam returned to staring out the window.
Was Walt’s Gamehouse gone? Laureen’s Gaudy and bath? Did they still run ‘em, or were they just a grinning Death’s head memory, lost in the night.
Sam felt his years pressing down on him, aches from miles trekked and times lived eating away at him. He remembered, in that fugue state that precludes sleep his father, tall and gangle-limbed like his son, spinning a blade with the fingers of his right hand so fast that it appeared to be a silver circle, glittering in the constant flashing of the ever-present chemstorms of the time.
The man had been partially mute, a scar across his throat testifying to the closeness of the thing, healed tissue constricting when he talked, making speech an agonizing thing. He had talked more with his eyes though, than most people did with their mouths.
Sam remembered his Mother, grey haired, and strongly built, a handsome woman rather than a pretty one. She too had known knives, but where Sam’s Father had the sense of how to bring a blade to singing life, his Mother could make them fly, and score ten from ten on a target.
And they had both taught their skills to their only child.
He remembered his first thrown blade to hit the target dead center, saw the path the knife would take, knew at that moment where it would hit.
He remembered, even as he slipped into sleep.
“Where’s the woman with the white hair?” Simon asked, as the two men walked towards a rusted steel cabinet.
“I was wonderin’ if you remembered her, or even cared,” the Cowled man replied.
“’Course I care,” Simon said. “She wouldn’t have been in the damn ville if I hadn’t brought her. Everything she went through was my fault. Is she here?”
“Oui, she’s here.”
Simon looked around. “But not in here?”
“No,” was the answer. Hands fumbled with the handles on the double doors, finally turning them, and pulling the cabinet open. “No, she’s in another part of de shelter. I thought it would be better if you two were kept separate.”
The hood turned slightly. “You were near mad, bleedin’ and concussed. She was burning with hate, and ready to chill you. I made her sleep with the same powder that I used on you, but she’s not as strong as you are, and sleeps yet. By the time she awakes, you will be gone from here, and Hardiman will be dead. Or you will.”
Stepping aside, he gestured to the contents of the metal box. “We don’ have much, but take what you can use. It should help until you can do better.”
Simon Graydon looked at the shelves, and inspected, with all the seriousness of the craft he had been raised for, the contents contained.
He reached in, pulled out a hatchet, the rotted rubber grip replaced by leather. The head was spotted with rust, but the edge sparked in the flickering of the fires with a deadly sheen. He hefted the weapon, getting the balance, then slid it behind the belt at the small of his back, drawing it to see if the leather binding would catch, then replacing it.
He then pulled out a sheathed weapon much like Zeb’s, a foot of half inch steel bar, sharpened at one end to a needlepoint. The grip was of tightly wrapped leather, like the axe.
He tied the sheath to his belt, the cloth slapping lightly against his left thigh.
The rest, a motley assortment of crude, primitive saps and various pieces of sharpened metal and glass he left, feeling that he had the best of the pitiful collection.
Then something else caught his eye.
Pulling it out from under a pile of ill-tanned rawhide cords, he turned it in his hands, feeling a primal thrill as the perfect balance belied the crude manufacture.
It consisted mainly of a four-foot long oaken shaft, fire hardened and varnished to a mirrored black. The ebon shaft was flawless, solid all the way to the ends, one of which was weighted with what looked to be copper or bronze, hard to tell in the dim light, and the other end was wrapped with large tined barbed wire.
Simon hefted the weapon, marveling at how good it felt in his hands. He twirled it, the barbwire mace cutting the air.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the hood of the voodoo priest nodding.
“Now,” he was told, “I will show you the way out.”
End of Part 6