Chapter 23:

Chapter 23 - Wake-Up Call


“If you wish to reach the southern tip of Truvelo,” Marka was saying, “There are a few options…”

Roulette was only half paying attention. With Morgan’s betrayal still fresh in her mind, she found it difficult to do much more than shuffle along behind her new companion while he led her through the empty streets of the Grenado district. Why’d he go and choose the drink over me? she lamented. Am I that hard to get along with? Or is it a guy thing…? Does losing their weapon turn them all into big, blubbering babies the way it did Morgan?

“...Hello?” Marka prompted, glancing back at her over his shoulder. “Miss?”

“Call me Roulette,” she replied absently. “I’m listenin’.” She made an effort to stay in the moment–what he was saying was important, after all. Now that she’d told him the plan, his experience as a local would be invaluable.

“Okay… As I was saying, we have a few choices. Traveling by sea would be the quickest, but the waters around Port Pistola are plagued by pirates. A small vessel with a small crew would be easy prey, so I would say moving overland is better.” he said. “Following the coastline is not out of the question. There are many villages along the way… But many lonely stretches, too. Here the pirates find caves and grottos to hoard their wealth in, or to use for weathering storms. Very dangerous.”

Roulette perked up at that. “The chance of comin’ across some pirate treasure sounds like a nice perk to me! I blew all my slugs at the casino yesterday, and we’ll need all the money we can get for securin’ passage back to Wesson after we take down our first Czar.”

“You are nothing if not ambitious.” he said with a good-natured chuckle. “I like that. But you speak of threats like pirate bands and the most dangerous man in Truvelo as if they are easily overcome.”

“Well, sure! I’ve got the Blunderboss on my side, don’t I?”

“Just Marka, now.” he corrected. “I am flattered you think so highly of me, but Voidthrower–my weapon–has many weaknesses. It has a very short range, and… A high chance of damaging things other than my target.”

Roulette noticed the catch in his voice. She rested a comforting hand on his arm and stepped forward to walk at his side, trying her best to avoid letting Beretta’s fate dominate her own thoughts.

“Any other routes we could take besides sailin’ the sea or walkin’ the coast?” she asked, eager to return to the topic at hand.

“There is one,” he replied, “But it is not without its own dangers. Across the Diflagrati desert lies Sebastopol–the capital of Truvelo. The desert itself is hot and barren; a wasteland. But with good preparation we could make the crossing, and would be unlikely to meet any enemies along the way.”

“A desert? Really?” Roulette didn’t like the sound of that one bit. “To hear you tell it, a stroll through a big ol’ dustbowl is our best option. Can that really be true?”

Marka shrugged. “Truvelo can be a harsh place, and Port Pistola is fairly remote. Any road we travel will come with its problems.” he explained. “The advantage of this one is that Sebastopol will be on the other end. There we can learn more about our target, get new equipment and–if we can find a way to afford it–an airship, as well. That is the quickest and safest method of travel I know of in any of the four continents; with it, reaching the southern cape, and even Wesson, will be child’s play.”

Roulette buttoned her lip and quietly considered Marka’s recommendation. She found that it made sense to her; a bit of struggle now could mean a whole heap of convenience later, and the low possibility of a confrontation in the desert meant she wouldn’t have to rely on Lady Luck. Loathe as she was to admit it, her trusty sidearm hadn’t been all that useful lately. If Marka was going to be the lynchpin of their fighting force going forward, she reasoned, it would be wise not to put any more burden on him than necessary… And that meant avoiding combat wherever possible.

They continued on to the limits of the Grenado district and beyond. When Marka stopped to ask which route she’d decided on, Roulette elected for the trek across the desert. She watched the ocean gradually slip out of sight as they proceeded to the southeast, and it filled her with a sense of trepidation. They were making their way inland, now, drifting further and further away from the place she called home… And she had no idea what awaited them there.

Their surroundings grew less lush and civilized with every step they took. The buildings around them now bore a closer resemblance to the hovels near the waterfront than the grand pseudo-mansions they’d just left behind, and piles of sand clogged almost every alleyway in sight. A handful of people–many of them dressed in drab, colorless robes–roamed the area. They looked worn and furtive. Roulette frowned at the sight, disturbed by the fact that such poverty and unhappiness could exist so close to a vibrant seaside town like Port Pistola. It reminded her a little too much of life on the range for her comfort.

“We have reached the outskirts, now,” Marka explained. He looked on sadly as those milling about took notice of him; they scuttled indoors or off down the road at the sight of the mighty Blunderboss, no doubt fearing the possibility that he might have business in the area. “I am not well-liked here, as you can see. Still, I am hopeful we can find someone to sell us a pair of dustsnuffles for the journey–walking the desert would be miserable without one.”

“Dustsnuffles?” Roulette inquired, stifling a giggle. “What are those?”

“Ah! You will like them,” the big man assured her. “They are thick-bodied beasts covered head to toe in fur. This fur is so dense that it shades their bodies from the sun’s heat, which makes them very good desert mounts. They have big floppy ears and long snouts–the longest you have ever seen. They can move these snouts at will, like an arm, and they use it often to drink and dine on fruits… Beretta loved them dearly. We would sometimes walk out this way just to watch them play and wander about in the pens.”

Roulette squealed with delight. “Land sakes, they sound like amazin’! You’re tellin’ me I get to ride one of those things?”

“Of course!” Marka laughed. “All we need to do is find a rancher willing to speak with us, and…”

Marka petered out, his attention captured by the sight of a strange shadow on the horizon. Roulette squinted at it, trying to make out the shape of the approaching entity, but it was like nothing she’d ever seen before. Whatever it was, it was big, fast, airborne and increasingly loud…

…And it was getting closer.


Morgan sat at his usual table, fingers closed around his drink in a loose embrace. It was still morning–so, naturally, he was the bar’s only customer. He could feel the bartender, the only other soul in the room, staring at the back of his neck. Maybe he was wondering why he’d come back… Or trying to predict whether the no-account Wessoner would deign to pay his tab this time.

Morgan was at a loss on both counts. All he wanted was to slide back into that sweet, smothering oblivion that had kept him sedated these past few weeks.

It didn’t come. Three drinks in and it still didn’t come. Something had changed, and he didn’t much care for it; try as he might, the events of the last twenty-four hours refused to be expunged from his mind. He’d been getting so good at forgetting… Now he was stuck with a whole crop of new memories. They’d embedded themselves in his brain like broken glass.

Roulette’s swagger. Her spunk. Her maddening capacity for bullying him into things. The casino. The villa. His botched execution… That little girl who got herself erased trying to help him–trying to return the one thing he wanted back more than anything…

His gun. His strength. His pride.

He gritted his teeth and pounded the table.


The bartender–a scruffy-looking man with a drooping mustache–didn’t say a word. Not even as Morgan rose from his chair. Not even as he made for the door without leaving behind a single slug to cover his early-morning libations. Perhaps he knew the truth of it: that he’d never see those slugs. That the man with snow-white hair was never coming back.

Perhaps he knew, as surely as Morgan did, that everything had changed.

Morgan thrust the door open and stepped out into the light. And, as he did, he became aware of a curious feeling rising in his chest.

Something he hadn’t felt in a long time; something he’d been doing his best to ignore:


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