The Heretic – Snippet 20

He cocked the hammer on the pistol all the way back and strode quickly past the other animals.  When he got to the lead, he took careful aim and pulled the trigger.  A flash in the pan, and a crack as the pistol went off.

The dak screamed and fell.  The pistol had worked.

He walked back toward the wagon.

There on the ground before him lay the Redlander girl.  The arrow was still through her throat.  Blood covered her robes and she was gasping for breath.  She had located her dropped musket and held it up, its muzzle pointed toward the sky.

Their eyes met.

Such blue eyes she had.

He reached for the musket and, instead of yanking it away or pointing it at Abel, the woman handed it to him.

She tried to say something, but only a moist gurgle escaped her throat.  It didn’t matter.  Abel looked into her pleading eyes and understood what she wanted.

He pointed the musket at her head, turned his face way, and fired.

The world blurred.  Abel blinked.  He had not thought he would cry.

“Thas weakness wastes time,” Kruso said, as he stepped up beside Abel and took the musket from his hands.  “Wagons to burn have weh.”

“Yes,” said Abel, rubbing a forearm across this face to clear his tears. “You’re right.”

They climbed into the bed of the last wagon, and Kruso used his bayonet knife to cut a line that held down a tarp.  By this time, Himmel had arrived, and the three of them pulled back the tarp together.

Barrels.  Hooped barrels with Landish markings.  There was no mistaking what they were.  Abel and the other Scouts had seen enough of them before from the Land’s principle powder plant in Cascade.

Gunpowder.  Kegs and kegs of it.

Excellent, said Center. The variable necessary for further calculation.

“Neh good,” said Kruso, shaking his head.  “At all, neh good.”

“Let’s check the others,” Abel said.

He and Kruso ran to the other wagon and found that it too was laden with similar cargo.  The lead cart had no barrels, however.  In its bed were earthen urns that, when struck open with a rifle butt, were revealed to be full of barley grain.  There was also a row of jugs the size of butter churns.  Himmel was about to break one open when Abel motioned for him to hold up.

“Lamp oil and wine,” he said.  “Let’s soak the tarps in the oil.”

A gunshot nearby  Then another.

“I thought you took all the wagon riders out with arrows,” Abel said.

“Might somebody tham missed.”

The skirted around the middle wagon and found Himmel near a Redlander male.  The Blaskoye was gut shot and attempting to crawl away.  He trailed a steadily increasing length of gut behind him that was winding out from his body.  Himmel stood on the trailing end of the man’s intestine, holding it in place.  As he watched the other crawl, a horrible smile played over Himmel’s face.

“Bastard took a shot at me,” he muttered.

Kruso did not waste time speaking to Himmel, but jogged up to the Redlander.  He quickly took the man’s head in his gnome-like hands, then, with a jerk, twisted and broke the Redlander’s neck.  The man collapsed, kicked twice, and was dead.

Kruso strode back to Himmel, looked him straight in the eyes for a moment.  The smile left Himmel’s face. “Nonsense is such,” Kruso said with a shake of his head, and turned away.

“Can we burn the wagons now?” Abel said.

They quickly went and did just that, dividing the wagons among them with Abel taking the middle.

Himmel reloaded and fired a gun point blank into the rear tarp, expecting the muzzle flash to catch fire to the lamp vapors that filled the air.


They tried again with Abel’s dragon.  No fire.

Abel reached into his tunic pocket and retrieved his wooden box of matches.  He thumbed it open and pulled out a lucifer.

Himmel backed away.  He, like Abel, was not an initiate of Irisobrian.  Unlike Abel, he was a Stasis literalist.  “Nishterlaub,” Himmel said.  “Neh good.”

Kruso shook his head.  “Not nishterlaub.  This lucifers myself made of cap and splinter.  Nishterlaub it neh is.”

“Still,” said Himmel, “against edict.  I don’t like it.”

We haven’t got time for argument. Do what you must, lad.

Abel struck the match upon the glued grain on the box lid.  It sprang to life instantly, its acrid sulfurous fumes filling the air all about them.  Kruso made very trustworthy matches.

“It ta thet corner set,” Kruso said, and Abel followed instructions.  Within seconds, the tarp was ablaze.

They did the same for the other two wagons, with Himmel muttering of doom the whole time.  When they were done, Kruso bent down, grabbed something, then stood up and handed what was in his hand to Abel.

He’d found Abel’s dropped rifle.

“Best quickly we go,” Kruso said.

Abel ran back for his dont, careful not to trip in the mess that was the Redlander girl’s splayed body, her blasted face now turned to rapidly drying slop upon the thirsty desert sand.

Abel mounted up and three rode away as quickly as they could.  After they’d gone what Kruso estimated was a safe distance, the Scout signaled them to turn around for a final look.

The wagons were ablaze.  They watched the flames crackle for a moment.

And then, in an enormous explosion, the rear wagon blew itself to splinters.  The remaining daks collapsed in a twisted mass of dakflesh.

Some were killed outright.  Some blew notes of agony through their horns.  All were yoked together and could not flee into the Redlands to die.

They would die right here.

I wish I’d set them loose.  I should have, maybe.

But the thought hadn’t occurred to him when he’d been back at the wagons.  There hadn’t been time.  Besides, he told himself, domesticated daks wouldn’t last long in the Redland wilds.  Probably.

For a moment, he remembered the woman’s pleading face just before the ball struck her.

She’d have done the same to you, lad.

Then the other two wagons exploded one after the other in great black plumes of smoke and, looking upon the scene in excitement and amazement, Abel felt every bit of regret fade away.

He’d done that.  Him.  Abel Dashian.

No regrets.

All he was left with was the firm resolution that next time he would hold onto his rifle no matter what.