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28 May 2018 @ 08:07 am
_Witch and Mercenary_ part 3  

"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!" He jumped at the knock on the door. "Come!" He eyed the woman who entered.

"I'm Harriet Donne. Jackie's gone home for maternity leave, so I'm your secretary for the next six weeks or so."

"I see." Nate's trying to control me, getting rid of my loyal people and assigning his toadies.

"Is there anything you need immediately?"

Hangover cure? Not from your hands, honey! "A map. Maps. This world and this continent."

"Yes, sir!" She bustled out and he grabbed the rolled map from the rack.

He spread it out on the work table. The local area, perhaps a third of the continent, it showed his guard stations, the Oner's guard stations, and the Nomads' routes running from north to south roughly in between. He finger walked out to a blank spot on the map. It wasn't blank on the ground. Roughly equidistant from here and the Oner's largest town, south of being directly in between. Then his hand swept off further south.

"Christ, I've had an army here for fifteen years and never even explored, let alone made any of it mine. What was I thinking?" He swallowed. What am I thinking now? Is this the onset of Male Menopause, suddenly I'm going to go out and conquer the world—literally?

Harriet bustled back in with two printed maps, still warm from the fabber. Not bad looking, maybe I should try to steer her loyalties back toward me.

He flashed her a smile and "Thanks." He didn't have time for her right now. Now, he needed to study these maps. He took down a picture and pinned the world map to the wall. The continent, he unrolled on the table. Europe, with a few differences. Ice caps here were larger, the lower sea level was responsible for most of the differences. Think about exploring later. He rolled the map, and got back to the one showing all the farms, the towns, the forward guard posts of both sides.

There were really only three problems.

Boredom, finding an Empty World he could own, himself. Why? It would be even more boring than this place! And figuring out how much he was going to manage the Oners at the meeting next week.

That Oner had paid him a bundle to acquire a Fallen Witch.

Someone capable of closing a dimensional gate.

The gate to Earth or the gate to One World?

The question was, could Arrow close them?

He hoped so, because getting one of the older witches out of prison wasn't going to be possible.

Jack put another marker down on the table, beside the Earth Gate. The Gate to Embassy. Asset or liability? Can we use Disco to prevent either side from opening a new Gate? Use them to guarantee our freedom from both?

We? No, no, the Oners. I’m just supplying a few services.

***

Sergeant Gallup sent a smirk his direction. “Your native girlfriend was out all night, last night.”

Jack stepped up closer to the old battleax. “She is not my girlfriend. She is here for a special project, and she can go wherever she likes, whenever she likes. Got that?”

She stepped back, looking shocked. “Just kid . . . Yessir.”

He looked beyond her, where Arrow was stepping out the door, yawning.

“Did you get what you needed last night?” Good lord, she’s practically glowing, and sexy? Oh hell yes. Surprised it took me this long to notice . . . or is it a spell? Is she trying to control me? But even braced and resisting, his mouth went dry as she ran her finger down her neck, no chain to be seen.

“Yes. Now I need to practice.”

“Right. Come on.” He turned and got back in the gyp. “I know just the place.”

Off the grounds of the camp, he turned north. The ground rose, and the soil thinned, with rock outcrops and finally a broad rock shelf.

“No one comes out here. So you can practice in private.”

She nodded, squinted at him. “How many hair color spells did you drink? I think your hair follicles just gave up altogether.”

“What!”

“Well, you were brown haired, so I’ll just kill the black, red, and blonde spells. Don’t worry, it’ll grow back.” She waved a hand his direction.

He leaped back.

“You’re ridiculously emotional, right now. Go away so I can concentrate. Come back in, oh, five hours should be more than enough.”

A week of that and then she wanted to study a gate.

***

Jack leaned back in an attitude of relaxation, watching Arrow as she circled the gate to Earth. He was keeping his distance. She said he was still too emotional to be comfortable around.

Emotional? He ran his hand over his scalp and tried to imagine he was feeling stubble. She says my hair will grow back, but she never told me it was going to fall out in the first place. Hell, I don’t believe I was drunk enough to try all those potions. Taller? Broader shoulders? But then it got wild and I don’t know what half of them were even supposed to do.

He caught Lieutenant Higgins’ eye and shrugged. "It's my own damn fault for testing magic potions."

"I'm sure it'll grow back, sir. And the new clothes look good."

Damn ass kissing toady. "I just hope I've quit growing. I'm wearing my winter boots, and they're pinching a bit. Who'd have thought a potion to make you taller would also make your feet grow?"

The Lieutenant bit his lip. "Well, it's not really magic. I'd guess it must regress the growth plates of the bones a tad so they have a bit of a growth spurt. So everything gets bigger." He sounded a bit wistful.

Jack wasn't about to mention the potion that would cure the boy of his insecurities. He ran a hand over his head again. "Sounds logical." He huffed out an irritated breath, as Arrow stood up and walked back to them.

She tried for three days, and couldn’t open a gate up on the rocks.

Arrow looked irritated. "I see how they are made, now. I probably could make one. But I don't know where it would go."

“Can you close a gate?”

“I know how that’s supposed to work, I heard Falchion describe what she did to close a Gate. I’ve never actually done it, myself. Maybe I could practice on one of those Gates on that route you showed me.”

But how do we test that? Damn the Oners, I should never have listened to them.

Maybe a little extra inducement?

“Once you can make gates, perhaps you can go back to that Earth and rescue your mother?” Jack blinked at her stiffened back and narrowed eyes. What did I say wrong? “I suppose you’re used to being wild and free. Do this one job for us and . . .” He broke off at her bared teeth.

“Free? Around my mother? Ha! You don’t know abuse and neglect until you’ve seen a witch at work. We’re just genetic experiments and breeding stock. Stepping stones to her power. When I walked into the prison and was separated from my mother . . . then I was free.” Glare. “Everything I do to regain power, everything I do for you, is so I can stay as far away from my mother as possible!”

Jack jerked back from the roiling mix of searing hatred and icy fear in the girl’s eyes . . . pouring off her like a visible wave. He swallowed. “Sorry. Yes, I’ll be very careful to not bring you to anyone’s notice . . . not that she’ll get out for years.”

“Don’t bet on that.” She hunched her shoulders.

He scratched his chin . . . Oh god! My beard isn’t going to be red or something, is it?

“How about tonight we go through Embassy and back into the maze? We’ll find someplace remote and you can open and close as many gates as you want?”

She straightened up. “Yes. Let’s do that. If there are any problems, we can just walk away. Disco can cope with it.”

“Right. Horses or gyp?”

“Oh . . . we won’t need to go too far off the track. A gyp will be fine.” She smiled. “We might even find your ideal world.”

He knew it was risky, but . . . “Maybe we should just take this World. It’s got a nice climate and all. If you could close the Gates to One and Earth, we could probably use Disco to keep them from being reopened. Trade through there."

Higgins inhaled sharply behind him.