Foreign Devils

Foreign Devils by John Hornor Jacobs Read Free Book Online

Book: Foreign Devils by John Hornor Jacobs Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Hornor Jacobs
to see. And then they parted, hissing, like scrapping cats. The first vaettir rose, hands outstretched but empty. The other lashed forward and there was a glint of light on metal. The first stretcher’s head fell away with a gout of blood. He toppled and pumped his life into the dirt.
    This new stretcher stood tall and was dressed in mouldering garment and furs, but with a look I’d never seen on a vaettir face. A series of expressions chased on another across his features – first relief, then outrage, then sadness. He turned to me, red blade held loosely.
    Both pistols raised and centred on its chest, I said in dvergar , ‘I slew your kin, not so long ago. I will kill you.’
    The massive creature – a big bull elf – cocked his head, slowly, as if he were remembering. Raising one dirty, clawed hand, he touched his chest.
    ‘Gynth?’ it said, the sound thick and oddly pronounced through the forest of teeth in its mouth. Its voice was deep, very deep, yet clear as a massive bell tolling on the heights. ‘Gynth’ is the dvergar word for ‘kindred’ or ‘kin’ but can also mean ‘brother’ or even ‘blood.’ My native tongue has layers upon layers of meaning.
    ‘Pierced through the brain,’ I said. There is no shame in admitting fear and I can admit that I was terribly afraid. But I forced myself to take three steps toward the vaettir , both Hellfire pistols levelled on its chest. I would plug him before he took me, all the old gods and new as my witness.
    Then the elf did a strange thing. It shook its head, looking puzzled. It acted as if it had been awoken from some long, all-consuming dream. I looked at its clothing again. Maybe it was a shroud and the thing had been buried – though all the whys and hows of that question quickly swarmed and clamoured for my attention. I brushed away the distraction. Being distracted near a stretcher is a quick visit to the undertaker.
    The vaettir raised its hand and extended a long, clawed finger at me and repeated, ‘ Gynth. Yan gynth.’
    We are kin. We are blood.
    The vaettir looked at his gore-streaked hand holding the sword as if he’d found a serpent there. He dropped the blade, held his hands up to me in what seemed like supplication.
    A moment passed between us, our gazes locked, and the vaettir nodded to me almost imperceptibly.
    A clatter of loose rock was the only thing that alerted him. He leapt into the air and dashed away – as fast as only vaettir can – as Fisk came out of the gulley, his face a storm cloud and gripping his carbine tight.
    He approached where I stood, looking down at the headless body of the stretcher that trailed us.
    ‘What in Ia’s name happened here?’ he said. ‘You do this?’ He nudged the gladius with his foot.
    ‘You’re not gonna believe this, partner.’

    When I had told Fisk what happened, he remained silent for a long while. Finally, he said, ‘Bullshit,’ and huddled into himself, becoming smaller. Something in him calcified. He would rather think me a liar or a fool than countenance a vaettir not a villain.
    ‘So, I chopped off the stretchers head with a sword I pulled from the air?’ I said, nudging the gladius with my foot.
    ‘Bears fight other bears. The mountain lion will eat another lion’s cubs,’ Fisk said, as if that finished it.
    I opened my mouth to retort, to describe the vaettir’s face after the altercation. But seeing Fisk’s expression I stopped. It would be wasted breath.
    We collected the body, the sword, and rode on.

FIVE
    6 Ides, Quintilius, 2638 ex Ruma Immortalis
    The citizens of New Damnation feared fire.
    It was a city that grew around the fifth’s garrison in a mad jumble of wooden buildings; engineer college and munitions, a river harbour and port, slaver’s wharf and auctions, millers and dyers, crossroad colleges, bathhouses, barbers, artisans, boatwrights and fishermen, printmakers and engravers, whorehouses and saloons, and one great aqueduct lancing down like an arrow

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