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27 May 2018 @ 11:55 am
_Witch and Mercenary_ part 2  
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"Wake up."

Jack opened bleary eyes and blinked at the witch. His head didn't hurt.

"Drink this, or it will start again."

It was water, cool fresh water. He drank it all and looked for more.

"I filled the canteens. We need to go someplace where there are more people. I need another virgin. There were protections on the chain, just Bari wasn't enough to break it."

He blanched, picturing that boy's body lying in the barn.

She didn't say anything about sacrificing virgins!

He found his clothes, averting his eyes from the snoring form in the back bedroom. He eyed the bottle of wine.

That's got to be the one everyone talks about.

He corked it and staggered out to the porch, checked the cinch on the chestnut mare, stuck the bottle in the saddle bags and mounted. The mare was prancing and excitable this morning. She neighed, and a deeper neigh answered from beyond a line of trees.

"Probably some stallion over there."

Arrow snorted. "The young one in the barn was more useful. Would have been better if I could have done it myself."

"What?"

"When a man has sex for the first time, there's a burst of energy. Very good for force breaking things like this Chain spell. If I'd realized there were protections, I'd have bred the mares first, tried to capture that colt's virgin flash. Pity neither mare was virgin. Well, I've got the power genes back, so I can work around the Chain just a tiny bit. And all I need to get totally free are some randy virgin teenage boys. So let's go find them."

It sounds like she doesn't out-and-out kill them. But you've got to wonder about the life expectancy of men in this culture.

He glanced back, but Susto's hovel was out of sight. She probably had a graveyard of worn out sex slaves in the back. "I'm working on a planet, guarding a bunch of farmers. Shall we see how many of their sons fit your criteria?"

"Yes. Lets do that." She led the way confidently off the path and through the trees to the Gate.

Jack let his horse follow while he pulled out the canteen and took a long swallow. His scalp itched.

***

The Granite Peak Contract was an albatross around his neck. Twelve years ago, as Earth slowly rediscovered its marooned colonies, it had found Granite Peak, the World where it had all started.

Why the hell, fifty-seven years ago when they first found a World already colonized by a dimension traveling civilization, they'd turned it into a war was anyone's guess. Restarting the pissing contest was clear evidence of insanity. They'd wrangled the situation down to a stalemate, and there it had sat for over eight years.

He'd been in a financial bind, and had leaped at the opportunity when Earth decided to privatize the protection of their colonists from the brutal natives and genocidal One Worlders.

The job had proven to be a problem of an entirely different sort.

It was boring.

The Oners were almost a thousand miles away. The Natives were a thin scattering of nomadic herders and hunters. The main difficulty had been the imported miners. Natives of several different Worlds, mostly men, next best thing to slave laborers.

Then the gate was lost.

The miners had taken to hunting, but at first the only women around were the (imported, Native) whores in town. So they hadn't gone away. Over time they'd developed a decent barter economy, trading with the nomads. Mainly for the Nomads' daughters. Many of them had started farming, moving to unclaimed land at the fringes of the Earth settlements.

Until the Earth found them, again.

Then the farms were taken by new farmers from Earth and the natives sent back to the mines. But now the miners were out of work again as the mines petered out and the companies resisted government pressure to throw money into a disputed world. So they were starting new farms—further out and potentially safe from another confiscation. Nomad and halfbreed wives . . .

Add a couple thousand bored soldiers, mostly male.

Hiring women for every possible position and firing the worst trouble makers, and persuading Earth to make the world a family posting, had eventually settled everything down to, well, routine boredom.

For eight years. His troops had brought their wives and children, and more had been born here, away from Earth’s strick reproductive control. They were already talking about sending the kids back to Earth for college, f'crsak.

The farmers already were.

Poor kids were going to be in for culture shock, but it was probably the perfect place to take a woman who wanted virgin boys. Unfortunately it had lately become a bit of a hot potato. The Nomads had somehow gotten to Disco and asked for help. Hopefully the situation would stay under control for long enough for Arrow to regain the abilities they needed.

It was late evening when they rode back into Embassy. He flashed his ID and took them through the gate next to the one to Earth. "This is Granite Peak. I'll put you on the roster as some sort of clerk. We patrol to the west, between our farmers and the One World Colonists. I have roughly two thousand people here, about two thirds of my total employees. Some of them are married to each other, some to outsiders. Plenty of teenagers and kids around. Three community schools out nearer the farms, and two in town here. Then a big College Prep boarding school here."

"You don't need to make it sound like I'm going to make career out of stalking children. One or two should be enough."

"Right. Well, this is Camp Granite. Built by the Earth Army when they were kicking the Oner's off the World. Or trying to, at any rate. The Oners took to the mountains and raided our settlements—well, their settlements that we'd taken over.

“Then Comet Fall sabotaged our gate rings and the Earthers here were marooned. The Oners retook their towns and chased us back to our side of the plains. Our gate was repaired, and we found our people again, and were moving west again, when they reestablished their gate. There were a few encounters, and then everyone settled down to wait each other out. Well, Disco was a part of that—mostly because they took up all of our attention and equipment." Jack shrugged. "Suddenly Granite Peak was a side issue instead of the most important battleground in the history of the Mulitverse."

Arrow snickered. "Bet that didn't sit well with some people."

"Yeah. Well, anyway, the army went away and the colonization company hired us to guard the place." He waved at the base. "We don't need this much space any more, but part of the Contract is to keep it in working order. We have a few horses, but mostly use cars and hovercraft." He steered them over to the single women's barracks. A middle-aged woman walked out and saluted while they were dismounting.

"Colonel Hemmingway?"

"Sergeant Gallup. This is Arrow Albdaut. Find her a bed, then I'll take her over to HQ and let Captain Farris throw a fit."

He stayed out with the horses while Arrow took her saddle bags inside. She was back in a moment. "I don't know how well I'll fit in. She called me a native, as if it was an insult."

"To an Earther it is an insult. Just break that Chain, then you can slowly start showing them your abilities. Act innocent. 'Oh, didn't you know I'm from Comet Fall?' They'll come around."

She looked dubious, but followed him back to HQ. He took his own saddlebags and turned the mares over to a private to take to the barns. Arrow followed him inside.

Captain Ferris was in charge of everything that didn't involve bullets and food, and he arranged the purchasing of both of those. He looked worldweary and cynical when Jack introduced Arrow.

Arrow rattled off the training she gotten in prison—not mentioning the prison part—and Ferris put her in accounting and sent her off with his secretary.

"Set's a bad example, Colonel."

"For your ears only, Nate. She's from Comet Fall. One of that criminal gang. She was only eighteen when they arrested her, so they let her out early. She has enough training that with practice she may be able to make Corridors and Gates."

"Jack. Be very nice to that girl, and try to keep her." The Captain smiled faintly. "And don't get yourself turned into a goat."

Jack scratched his head. "I'll try." Must have picked up fleas or lice or something at Susto's. Or both, or something worse. And his head hurt. Hangover returning. He headed for his office, stopping only to collect a large glass of water.

He sat down and eyed the stack of paper in front of him. Nate Ferris could sign damn near everything, but made it a practice to send him duplicates. And anything having to do with the Contract.

Because I trust him . . . I do trust him. Right?

Jack wiped sweat from his forehead and sipped water. Maybe he should track down Arrow and get her to renew the hangover spell. His stomach twitched. All right, maybe he'd had enough magic spells for now. He rather uneasily thought back to Susto's shelves. There'd been the baldness cure. Had he drunk the stuff labeled Broad Shoulders or the Enlarged . . . He scratched his head. Probably all the new hair growing . . . Red Hair. Susto'd set the Red Hair potion down on the table, but he hadn't drunk it, had he? Oh God. She couldn't read. She'd pulled some other bottles down off the shelves . . .

"That bitch has poisoned me. Arrow took me there on purpose. And handed me that ugly bottle. Susto called it a Hex. That witch poisoned me!"