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26 May 2018 @ 10:55 am
_Witch and Mercenary_ part 1  

Chapter 2

Jack Hemmingway had everything he wanted out of life except lots of money. He eyed the blonde girl and knew that even that could be his, if he played it right.

A Comet Fall Witch, just released from prison, working a menial job on a foreign world.

Arrow Albdaut. The youngest of the witches jailed here, and so far, the only one released.

"You don't want to be here, you want to find your friends. Good. Because I want to find them too. Not to hurt them. To hire them. So I figured I should start with you. I'm what most people call a mercenary. I hire myself and my people out for various duties, generally involving protecting them from Bad Guys." He couldn't read her emotions, her eyes were opaque, her lips pressed thin.

"Now, you and you buddies are Bad Guys, but generally you just steal things—you aren't in the business of killing people. Some of your guys get carried away, now and then—the robbery at the Senator's manse was funnier than hell."

Her brows lowered.

He shifted. Damn it, what is she thinking? "But what I really want is a World all my own, with a Gate or three to go shopping, to pick up a job here or there. So I need a magical person. You've got two problems, from what I've read. This Chain thing." He leaned forward and touched it. She didn't flinch. "And some genetic changes. Where can you go to get these fixed?"

Still no reaction.

"I've been exploring through some of the backwards, behind times, Earths. Some of your former buddies like them, for their raids. All connected to what they call the Maze, on Embassy. Lots of people explore them, some people do science on them.

“I found a back route to Comet Fall."

She straightened at that. A spark lit in her eyes. "On Comet Fall I can fix the genes. For the Chain—I just need to meet the right person."

"I figured we'd better hurry, in case your friends decided to take down the Gate." He held out a blue uniform jacket with his company log on it, like the one he was wearing.

She stood up and reached for the jacket. "Right. Let's go."

He had a pass from Earth to Embassy, as did all of his officers. Three of them were tall blonde women. This was one of several worlds he also had passes to, had done short jobs on. Arrow didn't get a second glance as he barely slowed before being waved through.

They worry more about the people arriving, and what they might bring with them. They don’t care who leaves.

That Earth—they called it Bogata Nuke—had turned the gate around, so now he came out facing out, away from the fountain, with the ring road around the plaza dead ahead. He turned left, then right, drove two kilometers and turned into his compound. He only kept a dozen people here. No need to worry anyone. All his jobs were across on other Worlds. Generally defending scientists or farmers from predators. Occasionally from Natives, which could get a bit dicey. Had to use stunners. No matter how many of your buddies they'd killed. Not that that had ever happened to his people . . . yet.

"We'll leave at midnight, on horseback. Everyone knows that only the Fallen ride horses, they'll never give us a second look."

The witch paced around the courtyard, glanced over, up and spotted the black rock of Disco headquarters across the empty meadow. She scuttled across to where she couldn't see it. Even her rich tan complexion could pale. "Laugh all you want. When Xen Wolfson showed up all we could do was run. Not that I got very far. It didn't even count as a fight."

"Come on inside. We'll have dinner and you can tell me about where on Comet Fall we need to go."

"If one of the Gang opened the Gate, it's probably close to where we need to go. There's a bunch of . . . Farmers. Worthless bums, actually. But they trade with some people from Rip Crossing, and the God of Thieves has brought them some interesting things."

"Things?"

"Magic potions." Her voice sharpened. "I recognized them. They were my mother's. The God stole them from whoever had found them after my mother moved to the Island. Now Aunt Susto has them. And in among them will be what I need. And that family might be able to supply the other need I have."

Grigor came in and set the table quickly, returned with two plates then disappeared. He knew Jack wouldn't be drinking, nor want his guest tipsy. Arrow sat and poked at the food, finally eating perhaps half of it. Jack polished his off, and a slice of cake when Grigor brought that in. The witch ate the cake slowly. Savoring the tiny bites.

Note to self: Keep sweets on hand for the witch.

"I've got some paperwork I might as well clear up while we're waiting. There's a bedroom through there, if you'd like to get some sleep. Or a shower, and clean clothes."

"Thank you." She walked out, and he heard the lock click behind her.

Right. Paperwork.

At midnight Carl had the horses ready. Two nice, easy going mares. Not that he expected Arrow to have trouble riding, from that culture. His eyes narrowed as she scrambled awkwardly aboard. Then again, maybe she was a city girl, rode around in carriages and so forth.

They plodded out to the Plaza, and then across and up the diagonal road to the northwest. "They use this hill for astronomy. Then take their equipment to other Worlds and make comparisons. So they put a series of Gates out here for them."

He turned the chestnut and thumped her sides when she thought about balking. The bay followed without a fuss. "I came out when it was winter here, and followed the tracks. They're getting careless though. Even in the Summer the ruts are showing through."

This World was also dark. And nearly as quiet as the witch.

She looked around, but said nothing. Followed him through two more gates. The third one was out onto hard rock. Bright sunshine pouring down from overhead.

"I lucked out on this one. Spotted some horse manure, kept going this direction and found this gate. Six months later, again in the snow, I followed tracks the other direction, to more Empty Worlds. So I came back to see why there was a second gate, and found civilization. Comet Fall, Kingdom of the West. I started thinking about how to find magicians who weren't working for the established government. And that is when I thought of you." He turned the mare through the gate.

This gate was on a low ridge covered with small trees and brush. Arrow looked around and smiled for the first time. "Perfect. I know right where I am, and right where I need to go. Come this way."

On the west side of the ridge, a stone paved road led north to a small town. Arrow turned the other way. They hit another road running to the southeast. Arrow rode up the rutted track and over a low spot in a long high ridge. A huddle of houses down on the fertile ground between the rocky ridges didn't look particularly prosperous. But someone was up on a ladder in an orchard and he could smell baking bread.

Arrow stopped at the first house, and led the way in without knocking. "This is sort of like a what you'd call a pawn shop."

Junk shop. "Yeah?" Jack scanned the dusty crowded room. Makeshift shelves held everything from cut crystal vases to crude clay pottery. Cheap jewelry, rusty tools. It looked like a loud sneeze would topple everything.

"Yeah. She used to have a crate full of little bottles. I can't imagine she's moved them anywhere. Ah!" The woman pulled a crate out from under a rickety table. "Just like I remember." She pulled out an ugly clay mug. "Drink this, you'll like the results." She sat down and started reading the faded labels on the glass jars.

Jack retreated, with the ugly clay jar. It was the size of a small apple, thick walled.

"So, you want t'hex somebody, eh?"

He spun around, the woman had snuck in without him hearing a thing. She was pretty, curvaceous. Her eyes were cold and hungry. Arrow leaned out and nodded. "Aunt Susto. You look good."

"Oh, back t'take your chances with tose, are you? I've got some new ones wit good labels."

"Got any for magic?" Arrow sounded sarcastic.

"Oh, now, you don't believe in tat nonsense, do you?" Aunt Susto jiggled, and smiled to see where Jack's eyes went. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Arrow pour the contents of a bottle down her throat.

Jack spotted more movement. A kid, teenager at any rate.

Arrow looked him over and smiled. "We're going to be here for a bit. Is there someplace I could put the horses?"

Susto nodded. "Bari, you take tem on out t't'barn."

Arrow walked out with him. Jack hesitated.

"How 'bout a cure f'baldness?"

His head snapped back around to Susto.

"Ten you wouldn't have to cut yur hair so short, trying t'hide tat little bare spot."

She had a couple of goblets and a bottle of wine. Jack eyed the rows of bottles behind her. He walked around the table and took down the baldness cure. He took a swallow of the wine Susto handed him. It hit his stomach and blasted his inhibitions to bits. After he managed to get his hands and mouth off the woman, he added the baldness cure to the cup and swallowed.

"This is great stuff. Hey! Broad shoulders," he reached for another bottle.

"How about tis one for a bigger pizzle."

"It says red hair."

"I gotta learn t'read one of these days."

She dragged him into the back bedroom for a romp, then they hit the shelves again, wound up back in bed. More samples. The floor was closer than the bed.

At some point he realized it was night, and sometime later he wondered where Arrow was. And then he drained the "Hex" bottle and passed out.

 
 
 
matapampamuphoff on May 26th, 2018 04:02 pm (UTC)
This is going to be woven into External Relations in disjointed scenes to show what the Bad Guys are up to. A lot of you have already seen some of this. I'm inflicting it on you to get myself to work on it. Sorry.
mbarkermbarker on May 27th, 2018 09:58 am (UTC)
I was going to ask how part 1 could be chapter 2, but then I read your explanation that this is the B plot line, and that makes sense...