Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Bounty Hunter: A Cahokiantep Story (Part 2)

Sketch in My Notebook
This is the second part of three for this story.  The first part is here.  You can find backstory on Cahokiantep here.

Most of the Pony’s patrons made way.  The voltans watched me come.  They didn’t move towards their pikes, though.  That was something.  The center voltan wore a blue sash with silver trim—the mark of a warrior-caste princeling.  I’d never fought a princeling before.  I figured the others for bodyguards.
The leader’s voice was deep and liquid, but his Basic was unaccented.  “What do you want, human fool?  Have you come to die on my blade?”

“It’s War Master Fool, your Excellency,” I replied lightly, “and if you must know, I’ve come looking for a man.  A human.”  I pulled the broadsheet bounty notice for Maddox from a pocket in my tunic.  I made sure, though, to keep my other hand on my companion sword’s hilt.  “Have you seen him?”
The princeling made a point of ignoring the broadsheet.  “Get out of my sight, bounty hunter.  Your presence profanes the air.”  
He shooed me with one hand, and one of his men made a move towards the stacked war pikes.  I backed a step, and that’s what saved my life.  I caught movement from the corner of one eye, grabbed my chi, and drew my companion sword at the same moment that Maddox loosed a crossbow bolt at my head from one of tavern’s back rooms.  His bowstring snapped forward with a twang, followed instantly by the snap of my companion sword catching the bolt and deflected it.  
The room exploded into motion.
This is the difference between a veteran War Master and a novice.  A novice spends his chi in buckets, using his very life force to propel his attacks at superhuman speed.  He sweeps all before him in an unconstrained orgy of violence.  One’s chi is limited, though, by its very nature.  Chi is life.  Once it’s spent, it’s gone, and it may only be recovered through rest and meditation.  Novices attack to exhaustion.  You have to carry them from the field a lot of times, usually semi-conscious.  This is why novices go out with masters, men who better understand the ways of our guild and can protect the young from their own stupidity.  By contrast, old War Masters spend their chi in drips, moving at great speed only as often as is strictly necessary to stay alive.  Since there is no obvious way to tell when a War Master is channeling his chi, the entire action may look superhuman, but as a matter of course, most of what War Masters do is simply a function of training and skill-at-arms.  
Battles can last all day.  Best to be prepared and manage your resources accordingly.
I needed my chi to keep Maddox’s bolt from skewering me.  After that, I took another step back and waited, letting events unfold as they would.
The deflected bolt took one of the blue skinned space elves through the chest.  They’d been watching me talk with the voltans, so they’d not been caught unaware exactly, but they’d also not expected immediate violence.  I doubt, too, that they expected me to catch a crossbow bolt on the blade of my companion sword.  Regardless, the space elf died hacking up a puddle of his own blood, and that brought his companions to their feet with weapons drawn.  I slid away from them, but by then the voltan princeling and his mates were pulling their pikes down off the wall, and the rock dwarves were all reaching for their axes.  The bartender started shouting, but none of that mattered to me.  My bounty was Maddox, and he’d just disappeared into the bowels of The Rusty Pony.  I again grabbed my chi and used it to slip through the crowd while behind me the voltans, elves, and dwarves all crashed together in a wild, three-sided melee.  With luck, it would be a while before anyone realized I’d disappeared.
I caught a glimpse of Maddox on the back stairs and released my chi, chasing him at a quick but strictly mortal pace.  He crashed through a curtain and into the back, and I had to dodge between the bare-skinned bodies of working girls, lamenting briefly that I didn’t have time to properly consider their soft flesh and tattooed charms.
“Where you going, Maddox?” I called.  “What?  You didn’t think your buddies at the Banking Guild were just gonna let you rabbit, did you?  You tried to clean out their Primary Safe!”
Maddox didn’t reply, but I caught a glimpse of him as he disappeared into one of the Pony’s back bedrooms.  I kicked the door open, ignoring the knob and splintering the frame.  There were two working girls in there, neither wearing more than an astonished expression, along with an old guy who was probably a mate on one of the merchant cruisers.  He started to protest, but I ignored him.  I pushed past, to the room’s single window, which had its shutters still hanging wide.  I looked down, saw Maddox limping from a fall of at least fifteen feet, and tried not to scowl.
“Hey!” the old man cried.  “You can’t just—”
I flipped the old man a silver and drew my crossbow.  “Sorry for the inconvenience, buddy.  This’ll only take a moment.”  
I put the crossbow to my shoulder, took a sight picture on Maddox’s limping buttock, and shot him straight through the ass.  He howled and went down, and I couldn’t quite keep myself from smiling.  
“Carry on, ladies.  You’re doing the gods’ own good work.”
All three stared open-mouthed as I grabbed my chi and leaped lightly from the window.  I landed a dozen feet from where Maddox lay sprawling on the rocky ground of the islet’s basalt firmament.  I again released my chi, content to allow the moment drag.  Maddox’s eyes got wide when he saw me, and then he started begging.
“Please!” he cried.  “You don’t have to do this.  Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll triple it.  I’ll—”
“I doubt that, Garen.  You’re worth fifty-thousand Imperials.”  Maddox blanched, as well he might.  “That’s right, asshole.  The Patriarchy feels like they need to make an example of you.  To make sure that nobodyever tries to rip them off again.  I don’t know what they’ve got planned, exactly, but I expect it’ll be the talk of the system by the time they get through with you.”
“Oh gods!  No please!”
“Save it,” I said, grabbing him by the collar. “You’ve got it coming, and even if you didn’t, I wouldn’t care.”  I shackled Maddox’s legs and then made a point of reloading my crossbow before sliding it back into its holster.  When I finished, I slung Maddox onto my shoulder.  “I got bills to pay, man.  Ain’t nothin’ personal.”
“Oh gods…”
A deep, liquid voice interrupted me before I could make for my skiff.  I can’t say that I was exactly surprised.  “Drop the bounty, War Master.”
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I write these stories for a few reasons. Yes, I like to write, but I also want to attract interest in this blog and in my writing in general. My first book, Sneakatara Boatman & the Priest of Loki, is out for the Kindle App and on Patreon, and the follow-up, Sneakatara Boatman & the Crown of Pluto, came out just a few months ago. These are D&D-style fantasy adventures; they use the same WTF-style plotting that I use in all of my writing. If you like my RPG stuff, you'll probably like the Sneax stuff, too. As of thise writing, Sneax is rocking a solid 4.6 stars in Amazon's reviews section. Don't take my word for it. Go check it out for yourself.

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