Read Hard Magic Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Fantasy

Hard Magic (9 page)

“Where are you going?”

“Something in the barn I need. Go hide.” He closed his grey eyes and disappeared.

Faye focused on the haystacks. A man’s voice came from behind her. “There’s somebody el—” And then her boots landed in a pile of straw and she didn’t hear the rest. Scared, she scrambled behind some broken bales, just her eyes sticking over the top, and she searched for the men. The nearest one was rounding the barn, silver gun in his hand, and he was jerking his head back and forth, wondering where she’d gone. She squeezed the pitchfork even harder, though she didn’t know what she planned on doing with it.

Then she saw something strange. Another man, a giant, seemed to fly over the edge of the barn and landed easily on the tin roof. It was like he’d jumped right out of the yard, but Faye knew there was nothing to stand on over there, so he would have had to have leapt twenty-five feet straight into the air. The man crouched, scanning slowly, perched effortlessly next to the lightning rod. He reached into his suit and pulled out a huge gun. Faye ducked lower so he couldn’t see her. This man was special too. Like her, but different.
Scary.

Grandpa Traveled and appeared right behind the first man, stabbing the shotgun barrel into him. The man never knew what happened as the Sears & Roebuck shotgun blew him near in half, but Grandpa didn’t see the big man on the roof.

“Grandpa!” Faye screamed.

The old farmer looked up, seeing her, surely focusing on the safety of the haystack and—

BOOM!

Grandpa lurched forward as the man on the roof shot him. He Traveled, and was instantly before Faye. Grandpa took two steps and fell to his knees. “Oh . . .”

Faye dropped the pitchfork, grabbed him by the straps of his coveralls, and dragged the little man behind the broken bales. “Grandpa!” she screamed. Blood was welling out from between the top buttons of his shirt, way too much blood. “Hold on, Grandpa!”

He grabbed her wrist, his fingers hard as rocks, and he shoved an old leather bag into her hand and squeezed it shut. Blood came out his mouth when he tried to talk and she had to put her ear down next to his mouth to hear him. “Don’t let them get it. Find Black—” and then she couldn’t hear the rest because it turned into a gurgle as he breathed out. He didn’t inhale. Faye pulled away, and Grandpa Vierra’s grey eyes were staring at nothing.

“Grandpa?”

A man in a suit came running around the edge of the hay. Faye saw him coming and she was filled with an emotion she’d never felt before. The wood of the pitchfork was hard in her calloused hands as she rose, straw-colored hair covering her face. Fifteen feet away the man raised his gun.

He shouted to the others. “I got th—” but then Faye Traveled, screaming, and drove the three narrow tines of the pitchfork through his ribs. Still screaming she pushed the man, driving him back, until his knees buckled and she drove the fork all the way through him and into the ground. The man grabbed onto the handle, but Faye put all her weight on the shaft and held him there while he kicked and cussed. After a few seconds he quit moving.

“Hey, girl,” a very deep voice said. She turned, and the giant man from the roof, the man that had killed the first person who’d ever loved her, the man who’d murdered
her
Grandpa, was standing there, calm as could be, with the biggest revolver she’d ever seen pointed at her head. He cocked the hammer. One of his eyes was white. “No reason for any more killing today,” he lied. “I’m looking for something. That’s all.”

Faye wrenched the pitchfork out of the fallen man and pointed it at the big man. Blood dripped from the tines. “You . . . you killed . . . killed my Grandpa,” she gasped.

He nodded. “I guess that’s how it’s got to be then.” He pulled the trigger.

The bullet passed through the space where Faye had just been as she materialized off to the man’s side. She gasped in pain. She’d gone too fast, hadn’t used her instincts, and done something
wrong
, but there was no time, and she stabbed the pitchfork deep.

The man looked down at the iron embedded in his body. The top was in his ribs, the middle had to be through his guts, and the bottom went in just under his belt. Faye drove her weight forward, trying to stick it in deeper, but the man calmly grasped the shaft and wouldn’t let her. It was like pushing on a wall. The man hauled the fork out of his body, several inches of bloody metal from each spot, and in the process knocked Faye on her butt.

Grandpa’s leather bag hit the ground, spilling something metallic into the hay.

Blood leaked out the three holes in the one-eyed man’s side, but he didn’t seem to care. His attention focused in on the bag. Faye scrambled for it, fingers hitting the drawstrings just as he pointed the big revolver at her, and desperate, she Traveled further than she ever had before.

***

The .50 Russian Long dug a divot in the dirt, but the girl was already gone.

“Gawdamned Travelers,” he spat. It was a good thing most of them died young, because he hated them especially hard. He checked his side. The little whore had got him good, but not good enough. It took more than getting stabbed to hurt him, but it sure made him mad.

Carefully scanning back and forth, waiting for the girl to reappear, he picked the small piece of machinery off the ground. He’d been briefed enough to know that this was a part of what he was after, maybe the most important piece even, but it wasn’t all of it, and his orders had said to bring it all back. He carefully stuffed the piece into one bloodied pocket.

Next he checked the old man’s body, but he didn’t have it on him. He must have given it to the girl . . . His remaining men caught up a moment later. “Have you found it?” he shouted. The men shook their heads. “Find it or I’ll kill you all!” he bellowed. “There’s a girl. She’s a Traveler too. Find her and put a bullet in her. What are you waiting for? Move!”

Terrified, the goons went back to searching.
Better be afraid, fucking pussies.

One man hesitated. “You’re bleeding, Mr. Madi.”

The big man just growled at him. “Naw? Really?”

“Uh . . . what do you want me to do with the bodies?”

Madi scowled. He’d lost two men to that damn Portagee and one to his brat. “Drag ’em inside. We’ll burn everything ’fore we go. That’s what they get for being weak. Now quit jawin’ and find that girl.”

Frustrated, he stomped over to the dead Portagee, lifted his LeMat-Schofield and pumped the rest of the hot loaded slugs into the body. Then he thumb cocked the second hammer and gave the old man the 12-gauge barrel just to be sure. He rapidly broke open his empty gun. The spent moon-clip kicked out automatically under spring pressure, and he stuffed another moon-clip of cartridges into the cylinder and a single shotgun shell into the overbarrel, then snapped it shut and shoved the Beast back into his shoulder holster. The bloody mess he’d caused made him smile.

He sat on a bale of hay and waited for the bleeding to gradually stop. Travelin’ Joe was dead, but without all the goods, the Chairman wasn’t going to be happy.

***

Faye watched the one-eyed man from under the overturned trough halfway across the pasture. He yelled at his men, shot Grandpa a bunch more times, and then took a seat. Cows had sensed her, and, always curious, were gathering around the trough. The metal was old and had rusted through in places, and she kept her eye against one of those holes, spying, until she could no longer see through all the Holsteins.

She couldn’t stop crying.

Her foot hurt. She’d Traveled without checking first. Grandpa had been gone for all of ten seconds before she had violated his first commandment. She knew that there was something stuck in her heel. Maybe a piece of straw, maybe a rock, and the pain was almost unbearable. Every pulse of her heart felt like somebody was driving a nail through her bones with a carpenter’s hammer.

But that wasn’t why she was crying.

Faye kept Grandpa’s leather bag clutched to her chest. It was splattered with his blood. The pain made her want to just close her eyes and curl up into a ball, but she didn’t know what time it was, and didn’t know how soon it would be until the rest of the family came back from town. If these men were still here, then she knew that she would have to try to stop them before they could hurt her family, but she didn’t know what to do, and she was so very afraid.

Finally, the pain had grown too much to bear. She kicked her filthy boot off, and drew her bare foot into a shaft of sunlight. Faye grimaced when she saw what it was. One of those big black crunchy beetles, the kind that was so tough that you could stomp on them and if the dirt was soft they would just pop back up alive. Its back half was fused into the flesh of her heel, its front legs and mandibles still thrashing.

There was no hesitation. She just wanted it out. Biting her lip, she unfolded her pocketknife, and started cutting. It hurt too bad, so she pulled off her bandanna, rolled it tight and stuck it in her mouth to bite down on so the one-eyed man wouldn’t hear her scream, and went back to digging. Tears poured from her eyes, but she forced herself to keep going. The beetle ruptured, squirting a thick white juice that quickly mixed with her own blood. She knew she had to be thorough. After a few seconds of carving, the beetle was gone, she had a hole that hurt so bad she could barely think, but she felt immensely better. She stuffed her bandanna into the wound and held it there.

The cows had moved enough for her to see again. The big man had stood, lit a cigar, and then used his lighter to casually set the haystacks on fire before wandering off. A minute later the barn was burning too, and she could see black smoke rising from where the house should be.

She waited until she saw the dust from the cars as they drove back up the road. Then she waited longer, just to make sure it wasn’t a trick. Finally Faye crawled out from under the trough and limped across the pasture to the burning ruins of the only
real
home she’d ever known.

The grey-eyed girl vowed never to cry again.

Chapter 4

 

 

I do not know why almighty God saw fit to give to man, within this very decade, magics of the elements and a quickening of the mind, Powers beyond reason and comprehension, and spells of energy and the spirit, when we were already so poised to destroy ourselves on our own. We enter tumultuous times. Left to our own devices I believe that I could stay this nation’s course, to hold this Union firm, but now I fear. Only five years have passed since the magicians began to appear seemingly at random from our people and I know not where this path will lead.

Oh why, Lord, did you see fit to give that accursed Stonewall Jackson the strength of ten?

—Abraham Lincoln,

Document discovered in the

Smithsonian Archives, date unknown

 

 

Merced, California

 

Faye's foot hurt with every step,
but she was a girl on a mission, and she had a train to catch.

Gilbert Vierra, Grandpa’s son, who was really more like an older brother to her than anything, had found Faye passed out in the yard. He’d gotten her foot washed out with iodine and stitched shut before she had even come to.

The law had gotten there soon after, but the sheriff had been useless. Merced County was a sleepy place, and a murder investigation was over their head. Nobody knew the three dead men and it didn’t help that they’d all been burned along with the Vierras’home. A few people at Potter Field had seen the one-eyed man arrive, but no one knew who he was, only that he had chartered a flight from back east and the others had been waiting for him to arrive. The law was on the lookout, but somehow she knew he would evade them easily.

She was bitter, angry, and alone.

The family was gone. With the farm ruined, there was nothing left for them in California. The land, cows, and equipment would be sold and they would go to work on relatives’ farms. Gilbert had asked Faye to come with them, but she knew that the one-eyed man was still out there, and she couldn’t bear to put the others in danger.

So now she found herself at the train station, limping along the platform, ticket in hand, her worldly possessions in a satchel tied behind her back, and Grandpa’s little pouch under her shirt. It was no longer that odd for a young woman to travel on her own, and even if it had been, she wouldn’t have let that stop her. She was going to take care of Grandpa’s dying wish.

Gilbert had wanted to help, but he had a young wife and four small children, now homeless, counting on him. He had not known about the pouch, nor had he ever heard his father talk about anything from his past that would suddenly cause a gang of killers to show up on their doorstep. Gilbert had given her the huge sum of $240, which was all of the family savings he dared spare. It represented a fortune to Faye, and was nearly half the cost of an automobile.

The first few dollars went to purchase the train ticket to San Francisco, and then another ten was spent at the hardware store for a used Iver Johnson revolver and a box of fifty .32 S & W cartridges. The owner had sold tools to Grandpa for twenty years, and promised her that it worked fine, but she went behind the shop and shot two cylinders’ worth of ammunition into an old stump to make sure. Grandpa had taught her how to use a shotgun, but the revolver was a lot harder to aim. It was loud and kind of scary, but she hit wood most of the time.

The stubby little gun fit snuggly in the pocket hidden in the pleats of her traveling skirt. She just knew she would see the one-eyed man again, and when she did, she was going to pretend he was that stump behind the hardware store.

Grandpa’s bag had a strange mechanical implement inside. It was a bunch of metal cylinders twisted together inside a wire frame. It looked like it was part of something bigger, like an engine. The mystery object fit in the palm of her hand, and she couldn’t understand what could possibly make it worth killing people over. There was a hole in the top where the other part she had lost had probably gone, and a slot in the bottom where it had to connect to something bigger. A few words had been stamped on the back: N. TESLA. 1908 WARDENCLYFFE GEO-TEL. MK. 1.

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