Authors: Elliott Kay
Drew looked up from the glass case full of pistols, which brought his gaze to the rows of rifles mounted on the wall and the clerk still staring at him from behind the counter. Then again, Drew couldn’t be sure if he was staring. Not with the sunglasses, bushy beard, and vape smoke concealing almost every one of his facial features—other than all his piercings, of course. Or his “Porn Star” baseball cap.
From there, Drew’s eyes took in more counters and more racks with even more guns, knives, a spread of arrows…and a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi behind the register. Onyx stood nearby, waiting patiently for one of the other clerks to pull the crazy sorcerer who owned this gun shop out from the back so they could talk about wizards and demons.
He didn’t turn the rest of the way, choosing instead to give Wade all possible side-eye. “Nah, dude,” said Drew. “What could
be weird about this?”
“Ain’t nobody yelled at me about the Second Amendment yet,” said Wade.
“That’s ‘cause we’ve been here two minutes and you ain’t trolled anyone yet.”
“Ah don’t troll people.”
Drew scowled. “Dude. Jason told me what you’re like when you two go to the range. If that fool says you’re trollin’ people, I believe him.”
Onyx turned around from the counter. “You know everyone can hear you, right?” she asked. Wade shrugged. Drew rolled his eyes. Then Onyx asked, “You troll people in gun stores?”
“Mah views on gun control are intricate an’ nuanced,” said Wade.
“And we’re tired of hearin’ them,” countered Drew.
“Onyx ain’t heard ‘em yet.”
“No, I’m good,” Onyx replied, raising her hands.
“I think we’re all good on that count,” agreed Hector. He emerged from a door behind the counter looking much the same as he had the night before aside from the lack of his trench coat. A large revolver sat at his hip. The attendant who’d summoned him wore a gun on her belt, too, though she said nothing as she slipped around to the other side of the U-shaped set of counters along the wall. “Besides, we got enough monsters runnin’ around lately as it is. Demons are bad enough. Don’t need to add trolls to the list.”
The other attendant moved off to the other end of the counter. Though he wasn’t trained for gunfights like Wade, Drew could easily see the advantages to their position. If things got violent, they could attack their visitors from three sides without threatening each other. None of them made an overt gesture of hostility, though. They didn’t need to. Their mere presence and positioning was enough.
“Are you comfortable talking out here?” asked Onyx, also glancing to the two attendants.
“I don’t know,” said Hector. “You got dangerous friends. Brought two of them along with you to see me. You tell me how safe we are.”
came to talk, not cause trouble.”
“You didn’t bring these two for talking.” He nodded at Wade, then at Drew. “This one is a soldier if I ever seen one. An’ this guy is a fighter. I can tell from the way you stand.” He stared at Drew for a long moment. “You learned not to be afraid.”
Unsure of what that meant, Drew decided to ignore it. “Bad guys tried to kill Onyx last night, same as you,” he said. “We’re only looking out for her.”
“Lookin’ out for friends wouldn’t be no problem at all, ‘cept for the company you keep, too.” Hector’s eyes turned back to Onyx. “I thought you and Molly were smarter than that.”
“It’s a long story, Hector,” she replied. “She’s not like the rest. I know how that sounds,” she said to his skeptical frown, “but it’s true. I’ve seen it put to the test over and over. If I had any doubts I wouldn’t be talking to you now. She doesn’t want anyone’s soul. She doesn’t serve some scary demon lord. Lorelei escaped all that. I was there, Hector. I saw it happen.”
“Sure. And every guy in prison is an innocent man, right?”
“How many of them really are?” spoke up Drew. “You gonna tell me nobody ever jumped to the wrong conclusion about you from how you look? Or where you’re from?”
Hector didn’t reply right away. For a moment, Drew thought he might throw everyone out of his shop. Then Hector turned his attention back to Onyx. “What did you want to talk about?”
“We wanted to know what happened after we left,” she explained. “Kate won’t return our calls. What’s going on? Did anything further happen? She kicked us out before we could catch our breath. We don’t even know how bad it was.”
“Fourteen dead,” said Hector. “Couple others who got hurt made it through the night, like the one guy your friends looked after,” he added, nodding to Drew and Wade again. “Kate said her people could cover it up from the cops and the public. We did what we could for the wounded and went our separate ways. Lotta harsh words before that happened. Nothing more than that. I think the plan for a neutral meeting spot is on hold indefinitely.”
“What about the Light? Are there plans to deal with them?”
“You think I would tell you if there were?” Hector’s face turned to a scowl. “There ain’t, though. Not as far as I know. Nobody talked about it. Maybe after everyone has a chance to lick their wounds they’ll pull something together, but I didn’t see any sign of it. I can tell you the only people up for that sort of job are Jin’s circle and Kate’s, and they took losses, too. None of the others got that kinda fight in ‘em.”
“Woah, seriously?” Wade blinked. “Them assholes get all murder-happy like that an’ everyone’s gonna let it slide?”
“What video game you think this is?” Hector snapped at him. “You think everyone who picks up a wand can shoot lightning? Turn people into bugs or some shit? Listen to what I say, mon. Most of them people last night weren’t fighters. Lots of them died. Most of the ones who walked away aren’t the kind to go up against a crew like that.
“So ask yourself, what do people do when they can’t stand up to the bully and they got no one to ask for help? It ain’t like these people can call the cops, you know?”
Wade held up his hands. “My bad. Sorry. Made your point.”
Onyx ventured another question: “What are
“I’m gonna watch out for my own people,” said Hector, gesturing to his two store attendants. “Past that, all I can do is see how this plays out. It ain’t like I can take on the Light and their new friends all on my own. I ain’t dragging my friends into it, either.”
“Hector, if we don’t act soon, they’ll only get stronger.”
“Who do you mean by ‘we,’ Onyx? Like you said, Kate isn’t takin’ your calls. I’ll bet you all the cash in my register Jin feels the same way. All I’m doing here is talkin’ to you, and I’m not even sure this much is a good idea. Nobody’s gonna want you at their backs in a fight now. Not after meeting your special friend last night.
“I don’t know if there’s a plan,” he said with a sigh. “If there is a plan, I don’t know who’s gonna carry it out. Nobody’s got the muscle now.”
“We do,” said Onyx.
“That so?” Hector’s eyebrows rose. “You gonna take ‘em on yourselves?”
“If we have to.”
“We could use all the help we can get, though,” added Wade. “It’s kinda why we came.”
Hector looked his visitors over again, but shook his head. “Sorry, Onyx. Talkin’ to you is one thing. Goin’ to war with you is way more than I’m willin’ to risk. Maybe you’re right about your friend. Maybe she’s cool. Anything’s possible, right? Only I ain’t about to gamble my life on it. That puts all my chips on a blind bet.”
Onyx wanted to say more, but reality sank in before the words came to her. She remembered her first thoughts of Lorelei. She remembered being so suspicious of the demon that she couldn’t even look at Rachel without taking her for Lorelei in disguise. Nothing she could say here would change Hector’s mind.
“Alright. Guess I can’t blame you.” Onyx shrugged. “I’m glad you’re okay, Hector. Molly is, too. Take care of yourself.”
She turned to go, finding no argument from either of her friends. Drew and Wade followed her lead at every step as promised.
“Hold up,” said Hector. The trio stopped and turned around. “You really gonna do this?”
“We can’t leave a threat like that sitting around,” said Onyx. “Not after they already tried to murder everyone. Not after they already did murder a bunch of us. Sooner or later, they’ll come for the rest.” She made one last attempt. “We’ll have a better chance if you help us.”
“I ain’t goin’ with you. Like I said, it’s too much. But…” He looked from one of her friends to the other. “You know how to use a gun?” he asked Drew.
“Yeah,” Drew answered.
“Kinda,” Wade corrected. He winced under the onslaught of Drew’s scowl. “Listen, you’ve shot a gun in a fight before, an’ you ain’t gonna blow your own foot off. All ah’m sayin’ is you’re an up-close guy. Ain’t like you’ve trained for this.”
Hector shrugged. “Don’ sweat it, mon. Everyone’s got their talents. Besides, some guns don’t take as much practice others. An’ sometimes the gunsmith can help things along.” He reached behind the countertop to produce a black shotgun that looked far more serious than the ordinary 12-gauge. He laid it down where the trio could see runes etched along the bottom of the barrel. Then Hector gave a quick nod to one of his attendants. “They’re gonna need a couple boxes of specials for this,” he instructed.
“What’s the writing on the barrel for?” asked Drew.
“It’ll keep you from shootin’ anyone you don’t mean to shoot,” said Hector. “Might give you a little help along the way, too, but safety first, you know?” His eyes flicked to Wade. “What about you? I’m guessin’ you know your way ‘round an M4. Can you handle the HK knock-off?”
Wade’s eyes went wide. “Hell, yeah.”
Hector slid open a drawer along the wall behind the counter to retrieve another weapon, this one a black assault rifle with a foregrip and similar runes. “Onyx, how big is your crew? I don’t got much for you an’ Molly, but I can at least help your friends.”
She blinked, looking from Drew to Wade in surprise. “I don’t…you mean it?” she asked. “Isn’t all this expensive?”
“I ain’t up for goin’ with you. Not with things as dodgy as they are. But still, you came to the wizard for help on your quest, right?” Hector tapped the guns laid out on the counter. “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take one of these.”
* * *
“I don’t know if this makes me feel better or worse,” Drew said. He stepped out of the store ahead of the others to hold the door for Onyx and Wade. The latter carried two long rifle bags full of Hector’s wares. Traffic remained light on Aurora Avenue. For now, the drizzle had stopped, though the clouds and gloom remained—except for Wade, who seemed brighter than ever.
“Ah feel like it’s Christmas again,” Wade declared.
“He said they’re loaners, dude. He wants them back.”
“Ah feel like it’s loaner Christmas,” Wade corrected. “Still counts!”
For all Wade’s enthusiasm, all three looked around warily on their way back to Wade’s truck parked on the corner. They saw neither cops nor any sign of their more unusual problems. Then Drew made a double-take at a figure across the street.
“I didn’t know you’d get this excited,” said Onyx.
“Neither did I. Y’all don’t know how highly illegal this stuff is.”
“You say that like the illegality of it is what makes you happy.”
“Ah’ve got a holistic approach to mah enthusiasm for certain things.”
“Hold up,” said Drew. “Onyx. Across the street. It’s Sierra.”
The young woman in dark jeans and a leather jacket made no effort to hide. She stood in the open, watching from the corner of a side-street with her arms folded across her chest.
“How did I miss her?” Onyx wondered.
“She stepped out from around the tree when I looked over. Guess she wants to talk.”
“She ain’t wavin’,” Wade observed. “Just starin’.”
“I’ll go talk to her,” said Onyx.
“Maybe it’s better if you stuck with Wade and the guns?” Drew suggested. “If a cop rolls by, you’d be the one to make sure they don’t ask questions, right? I know her, kinda. I’ll go.”
Sierra waited while Drew jogged across a break in traffic. Her face presented neither welcome nor rebuke, but her appearance at least indicated she’d be willing to talk.
As he came to the sidewalk, Drew realized he hadn’t a clue what to say. He liked Sierra well enough from their kung fu studio, but that didn’t mean he knew her well. She never struck him as the sort to work as some enforcer for a bunch of mysterious casino-wizards.
“Hey. What’s up?” he asked. She tilted her head skeptically. “Yeah, I don’t even pretend to know how to start a conversation like this,” Drew admitted. “Molly’s been trying to call your, uh…is Kate your boss? She ain’t answering. Is she okay?”
“Where’s the demon?” Her eyes didn’t stay on him. She clearly wanted to keep track of his friends, and the door to Hector’s shop, too.
“So you know what she is,” said Sierra. Her frown showed her discomfort.
“Yes, I know what she is. She’s my friend, just like the angel you saw. Lorelei ain’t one of the bad guys.”
“I saw someone who looked like an angel. I also saw a lot of crazy magic shit last night. Any of it could’ve been illusions. That’s how this works. The only reason I know your ‘friend’ is a demon is because some Practitioners I trust said so. I hadn’t caught her name until now.” She let out a frustrated breath. “To answer your question, Kate’s fine. She doesn’t want anything to do with your friend. I wouldn’t be talking to you if I saw her here.”