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Authors: Megan Derr

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Dire Straits

BOOK: Dire Straits
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Dire Straits
Megan Derr

Less than a century ago, the world was a dangerous place. Monsters ran wild, and the only thing more dangerous was the humans attempting to control them. The chaotic lands were eventually tamed by a group of people who came to be known as the Crown, and they formed a government that helped to maintain peace in the untamed lands.

Bannick Poore is one such maintainer of peace, an infamous Priest with guns at his hips and a blood red collar around his throat. He is equal parts mage and gunslinger, and it is his sworn duty to uphold the law and drive back the monsters that still crop up in a land that is still learning to be civilized...

Book Details

Dire Straits by Megan Derr

Published by Less Than Three Press

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.

Edited by Samantha Derr

Cover designed by Megan Derr

This book is a work of fiction and as such all characters and situations are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.

Electronic edition July 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Megan Derr

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN 978-1-936202-28-7

Table of Contents

Dire Straits

Book Details

Dire Straits

About the Author

Dire Straits

Bannick closed his book as the train came to a complete stop, and the whistle finally left off. He fastened the tarnished silver clasp and slid the black leather
Book of Prayers
into the satchel that carried all his work necessities and went everywhere with him. Waiting until the other passengers had finally filtered out of his box, he then slowly unfolded himself from his seat.

From the empty seat beside him, he picked up his gun belt and buckled and strapped it back into place until the familiar worn leather hung just so, low on his hips. Then, purely from habit, he checked each gun. They had not been touched since he had taken the belt off after getting to his seat on the train, but he checked them anyway. Silver bullets in the left revolver, rune bullets in the right.

Guns taken care of, he picked up his black frock coat and shrugged into it, not bothering to shut it. Next, he raked a hand through his thick, dark brown curls then settled his wide-brimmed, black felt hat on his head. Then he picked up his saddlebags and slung them over one shoulder and slung his satchel over the other.

Slipping out of his box, he nodded politely to the people he passed, pointedly ignoring the stares, the naked curiosity, the not-so-quiet whispering.  Out here in no man's land, he bet they rarely saw more than a Class One, maybe a few Class Twos here and there. He was sure they had never seen a Class Six, the only ones who could be given permission to carry weapons—and much, much more than these folk would ever hear about.

In bureaucratic speak, he was a PC-6 (LTC)—Priest Class Six, Licensed to Carry. In formal speak, he was an Exorcist. In casual language, he was called a gun priest. In very small, select circles, he was sometimes called a blood priest.

Hopping down from the train, he looked around for the man who was supposed to meet him.  After a moment, he saw the man standing on the far end of the platform; Bannick spotted him mostly because of the way his eyes went all buggy as they notice first the unmistakable high collar and pin that held it closed and then the guns at his hips.

Bannick stifled a sigh and strode across the platform to the man. Not bothering to set his bags down, he extended a hand. "Deputy Myre Calloway? I'm Bannick Poore, the Exorcist the Crown sent to look into your little problem."

Myre's eyes widened a bit further as he heard Bannick's unmistakable drawl, the way every word rolled out like molasses, adding at least two syllables to every word. Strange enough, Bannick knew, for them to see a blood priest.  He was made all the stranger by the fact he spoke with a drawl, rather than the more expected clipped accent of a city slick.

It had been a lot of years since he had been this close to home. He did not want to get any closer.

When Myre did not reply, Bannick fought an urge to roll his eyes, and prodded gently, "You
are
Deputy Calloway, right?"

"Oh—yes—my apologies," Calloway finally said, shaking his head and doffing his brown wide-brimmed hat. "Only, when I got the telegram couple days ago, that they was sending a priest my way—well, son, ain't gonna lie. I've never seen one like you. Heard of your sort, and I guess that telegram said I was getting you, but I half thought all I'd heard was pure exaggeration."

Bannick smiled briefly. "Exorcists get that a lot. It's the red collar, I think. So much more startling than white, blue, green—all the others. But the information you sent ... Well, the Crown thought the matter warranted serious attention, and I'm serious as sin on Sunday, Deputy."

"I can see that," Myre replied, eyeing his collar and guns again. "I seen a lot of colors come through here in my life, but I ain't never seen a priest in a red collar."

Bannick shrugged, "Exorcism tends to have a flare for the dramatic, that's all." He hoped this conversation would end soon. He lightly touched the pin that held his high collar closed—a bronze square inside a gold circle, inside a silver triangle. The triangle was the symbol of the Goddess, the Sacred Mother. The circle symbolized all of Her creations. The square represented the soul, that priceless gift granted to all Her children.  "Shall we get on then?" Bannick finally asked.

"Of course, my apologies. I'm afraid you'll get worse idgits than me gawking and jawing," Myre said, smiling sheepishly as he settled his hat back on his graying hair. "We'll get you settled then I'll take you on up to that damned cave." He looked Bannick up and down again. "I'm thinking I don't need to ask if you can ride."

Bannick grinned briefly, a rare moment of real levity. "You'd be thinking right." Resettling his saddlebags, he followed Myre off the platform, out of the sad little train station, to where two horses were hitched just outside. Putting his saddle bags in place, settling his satchel so it fell across his chest and hung out of the way of his guns, he swung up into the saddle and looked to Myre. "Lead the way, Deputy."

Myre swung his horse around and rode off, talking about the town, which was quite a bit larger than Bannick had remembered it being when he was all of ten. His attention was briefly caught by a bright blue and green sign hanging over a little shop that could afford a large, fancy picture window of real glass. That was a gamble in a place just barely this side of civilized. The sign read
All Things Alchemical
. More surprising still, right below it was the Goddess Symbol, which meant the alchemist in the shop was skilled enough to make things like his special bullets.

That was right interesting. He had not expected to see such a shop all the way out here. That would be useful if this problem proved to be even half as bad as the main office feared—and they thought it pretty bad indeed if they had recalled him early from his annual leave.

They finally stopped in front of a tidy little clapboard house with a large sign attached to the front that said
Molly's Boardinghouse
in blue painted letters. "Honey!" Myre called as they strode inside. "I’m back with the Priest!"

A moment later, a woman appeared in a doorway at the end of the long, wide front hall.  She was plump and tidy, her graying hair pulled back in a neat bun. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in Bannick, but unlike Myre, she recovered himself almost immediately. "I see the train was on time for once," she commented, wiping her hands on a cloth. "It's good to meet you, Father. We appreciate you coming so quickly."

Bannick touched the brim of his hat. "Ma'am. Name's Bannick, you don't need to be so formal. It's nice of you to put me up while I'm here. I'll do my best to fix your problem quickly and without fuss."

She smiled, and Bannick thoughtshe must have been quite the belle in her young days. "My name's Kate, you may call me that. You hungry, Bannick?

"Is the sky blue?" Bannick asked with a smile.

Laughing, Kate waved them off and vanished back through the door from which she had first come.  Myre led Bannick through to a large dining room, obviously meant to feed a large number of boarders at a time. "Kate and I met when I first rolled into town a lifetime ago. Her mother, Molly, was still in charge then. I met Kate and decided to find work in town instead of moving on to the coast like I'd meant. Only decision smarter than that was marrying Kate."

Bannick smiled and hung his hat up on a hook by the door. He combed a hand through his curls in a futile effort to neaten them, sighing as he look in a little bit of glass hung on the wall.  Then he took off his frock coat and hung it up alongside his hat. Last, he removed his gun belt, but rather than put it by the door, he set it next to him on the bench as they sat at the long table.

He thanked Kate as she brought them glasses of beer then turned his full attention to Myre. "So tell me everything, Deputy. Telegrams don't really say much."

Myre seemed to ease as he began to speak, clearly relieved to be able to hand the problem to someone else at last.  The badge pinned to his vest was the usual law enforcement silver pentacle, but it was overlaid with a bronze heart that meant he specialized in magical matters that regular law enforcement rarely encountered. But if his latest problem was what the Crown feared, it was well outside even Myre's purview.

"Was me and the Sheriff what found it," Myre said, fiddling with his beer. "We was helping hunt down some lost cattle since ol' Thomas is short some hands this season. Never noticed that cave before, and I been all over them damned hills. Anyway, the Seal didn't look healthy and them marks is too old for me to know'em. That was enough for me to want to contact someone. Two days ago, I went up there again and saw two of the runes had broken completely. Now you're here."

"Can you tell me more about the marks?"

"I can do you one better," Myre replied and pulled a folded slip of paper form his vest. He slid it across the table. "When we first saw it I got the alchemist fella to take a look-see. He's a city slick, fancy education sort, but he knows his stuff and makes Penrod happy. But even he didn't know'em, which really scared me. He drew them, though, figuring you'd need a good sketch."

Bannick nodded as he opened the folded slip of paper. He only barely kept himself from swearing out loud.  "You said an alchemist drew these?"

Myre nodded. "Yep."

Damn it. No chance an alchemist would get them wrong. So the marks were accurate, which meant the problem was
bad.
"I'm going to need to see the cave," Bannick said.

"Eat first," Myre advised, just as Kate brought them plates piled high with grub. It made Bannick's stomach growl and ever so briefly made him homesick before he remembered all the reason he couldn't go home.

Which reminded him that he was going to need a smoke soon; it could wait 'til after dinner, though. "Looks like a right fine meal, Kate," he said, meaning it. "Don't get food like this amongst city slicks."

Kate flushed, pleased. "You let me know if you want more, honey."

"What about me?" Myre demanded.

"You don't need more," Kate said tartly and turned away to hide a smile.

Myre stared after her fondly then sighed. "I sure hope you can fix the problem before it actually becomes a problem. I think that if whatever is sealed in that cave gets out, we'll be hurting bad."

Privately, Bannick thought it was going to be even worse than that, but he didn't voice the thought. Instead, he tucked into his food with relish, banishing his worries until he was done eating.

*~*~*

Bannick stared at the cave, fervently wishing he had an excuse to shoot something just because it would make him feel a little better.

Instead, he pulled out a cigar. The cigars he smoked were dark gold-brown in color. They were cured, fermented, and carefully rolled by the special priests who were the only ones allowed to grow and handle the leaves with which they were made. No one outside the priesthood had any reason to smoke them.  They were a little smaller than his little finger in diameter and about the length of his index finger.

BOOK: Dire Straits
8.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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