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Old Hands

by T.S. Luikart

The bank reeked of smoke and fear with a hint of the iron tang of spilt blood as a chaser. Less than a minute into the heist and the plan had already gone to shit. The safe had some fancy new cog-lock courtesy of the Twin-Eagle boys that had shrugged off a bundle of dynamite with ease. The security guards who were meant to be old, fat, and cautious had proved to be recently swapped for young and dumb, but fast, leaving Toabid cursing on the floor and likely a spring widow or two in town to mourn.

Wrenscab surveyed the scene in disgust. “Ashes and oils. Dane, see to Toabid, will you? Larad, make certain our guests stay put. Storsade, keep an eye out for law. Kathloch, you’re with me, let’s go have us a little chat with the manager.”

Dane made his way over to Toabid and kneeled down on the floor for a better look at his rapidly bleeding leg. Toabid smiled at him through gritted teeth. “Least I’m still pretty.”

“Now I know you’ve lost too much blood, you’re talking nonsense.” Dane tossed his gloves aside and probed the wound to Toabid’s gasps. “You’ll dance again one day, I reckon, but you’ll go nowhere far without a horse under you for a spell.”

“Thank the Maiden. I thought I was headed for the saw and bit.”

“Well we could still chop it off if you like, get the Imperials or one of them Circle fellas to set you up with a new one.”

“No thanks, smart ass… What the…”

Dane looked up at Toabid as he trailed off, spun to follow his gaze behind him. An old woman stood there, seventy if she was a day, no bigger than a dragonfly; hell she barely crested his belt buckle as he stood. She was shaking, her whole frame rocking, but not from fear. No, not fear. It was rage.

Pure, white hot, incandescent rage.

“How dare you. HOW DARE YOU!?! You should be ashamed. ASHAMED.”

“Lady, what…”

“I. Saw. The. Marks. I saw them.” She hissed the words at him.

Dane reflectively clutched his hands, looked down at the gloves he had set aside to tend to Toabid.

Tears, unchecked, ran down her face. Rage now mingling with grief. “I’ve told my grandson the stories. I’ve told him to believe. What will I tell him now?”

Dane staggered a step away from her as if she had stabbed him.

He started to open his mouth, started to say something, anything, but his words were cut off with a shotgun’s blast. The old woman’s tiny frame sailed across the room, smashed into a teller’s desk, and fell, a red ruin to the floor.

Larad barked a laugh. “Who-wee, did you see her fly?” He turned the end of his smoking shotgun towards the crowd. “You were told to stay put, anybody else hard’a hearing like that old lizard?”

Dane set about patching Toabid back together without saying a word.

* * *

Dane didn’t say much for several weeks after the failed heist, but then he’d never been much of a talker, so no one paid him any mind. Storsade watched him though as he turned the old woman’s words over in his mind. Watched him and thought about the fact that for the first time since he had met Eisric Dane, the old man stayed cold sober.

* * *

One night, at last, Dane felt he was ready. He pulled the stitch sealed bundle out of his saddlebags, a bundle that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades and walked up into the hills, far away from camp till he found a clearing he could use. The bundle’s sinew stitches were old and hard, “like me” Dane thought, “just like me”. He used a sharp knife to carve the old, worn gut away.

The tools inside gleamed in the starlight. He closed his eyes and hung his head. He whispered the closest thing he knew to a prayer.

“I can hear you over there, kid. Might as well come on out.”

A sheepish Storsade emerged from the shadows of the clearing. His eyes slid back and forth between Dane and the gleaming guns in the old man’s hands.

“I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“It’s alright, Len. I’m moving on in the morning.”

“The others may not like that.”

“I don’t believe I care.”

Storsade nodded. He looked down at the guns in Dane’s hands, at the intricate curling symbols on their carved jade handles. Symbols that perfectly matched the brands on Eisric Dane’s palms.

“So. You’re a Ranger. A justice bringer.”

Dane nodded reluctantly, slowly. “I was.”

“How long has it been? Since the massacre, I mean?”

“Thirty years.”

“What do they say? My reading’s not so good.”

“That’s alright, Len. Most folk can’t read these, they’re written in the old way. Mine say, ‘Calm heart, steady hands’.”

“What will you do?”

Dane’s eyes gleamed sharp and clear. Storsade could see them easily in the dark.

“What I was meant to.”

* * *

Storsade was right about the others not being particularly keen on Dane moving on. His willingness to leave the bulk of his share of the gang’s money behind helped settle matters with the others, but Larad was having none of it.

“How the hell do I know you haven’t gone soft? Going to turn us in to the Imperials for the reward or some such?”

“Because I told you I’m moving on and that’s the end of it.”

“That isn’t good enough, old man.”

Dane’s gun was out, cocked, and pointed square between Larad’s eyes before he could even twitch towards any of his weapons.

“It’s going to have to be.” Dane raised his voice, pitched it towards the others. “I’ve rode with you a long time, Wrenscab. I got no complaints. I’d rather part ways civil.”

“Fine by me, Eisric.” The others all nodded.

“Good.”

Dane turned away and Larad went for his shotgun. The old man shot him dead without even bothering to look at him.

Dane paused his horse at the edge of the clearing. “Nothing personal lads. But if you stay this course, next time you see me, you’d best look to your lives. I’m headed northwest, I suggest you head elsewhere.” With that, he was gone.

Storsade caught up with him less than half a league down the road. He fell in without saying a word. Dane looked at him for a long moment, and then shook his head with a laugh.

The sun rose behind them and their shadows rode before.

8 Comments

  1. Yuutousei says:

    Color me intrigued. I’m already excited for Far West and this is just wetting my appetite. Mr. Luikart, I applaude your awesomeness.

  2. wabdering blade says:

    Looks nice, but i wonder about the names, as they dont sound neither chinese, nor american, nor wuxia.

    Speaking of which i would have liked to see more Wuxia or the Asian influence, but still a good start, has a good flow to it.

  3. Alex says:

    Fourth paragraph, I believe it should be “too”?

    (“Now I know you’ve lost to much blood, you’re talking nonsense.”)

    Good opening fiction. Solid characters respectful of the established genre’s stereotypes. Some mentions of setting lore make the reader curious about it and want to read more, too.

  4. Cyrano Jones says:

    Yeah, this is very evocative. I also would love to know more about the naming scheme, but I’ve got three pages of posts to get through and it may be in there somewhere.

  5. Shane says:

    Love it! Can’t wait to read more!

  6. Steven Roman says:

    Hm. Eisric Dane seems to show up in a lot of places. Last I heard he was under New York … or *will* be.

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