Chapter 37:

Chapter 37 - Serious Moonlight


They had scarcely begun the crossing before Morgan decided that he wasn’t cut out for such an undertaking.

It had all seemed just peachy at the start: plenty of water to go around; saddled beasts of burden to sling his loot from; more sunlight than he could shake a stick at after hours of scurrying around in a pitch-dark tomb. Things had taken a turn, though, when it became clear that he’d be walking the whole way…

…But it was the realization that he’d be slogging through the sand next to Mimi, of all people, that truly broke his spirit.

I’m an idiot, he concluded. There’s no other way to square it. Of course Marka and Anua would be the ones who got a mount; they were injured! The pair of shoes he’d liberated from Diallo’s room in Moukahla manor were too small, and pinched his feet horribly, but that hardly held a candle to the likes of oxygen deprivation and a dislocated knee when it came to physical grievances.

Plus, if he complained, he’d just be singled out as a whiner. To his mind, it was natural to gripe about difficult folks and inconveniences… But pain? That was where he drew the line. It struck him as unmasculine.

…On the other hand, his masculinity wasn’t exactly doing him any favors at the moment.

“Oh, Morgan! I can’t believe nobody has snatched you up yet!” Mimi crowed, giggling like an airhead. She hung off his arm in an obvious attempt to get under Roulette’s skin, and–much as he relished the idea of putting his teenaged tormenter on-edge–the act was beginning to wear a little thin. “Tell me again about how you escaped those mobsters by the docks! Even after two recountings, I just can’t seem to get enough!”

“Well, y’see,” he began, cupping his chin with a smirk, “Basically, I took my pants off…”

“Ah-hah-hah~! Oh, how droll! How delightfully shrewd!

“...Then, I swam up next to their ship and climbed the anchor-chain,” he continued. “The boat was rockin’ violently, and Moukahla stooges were everywhere, but I didn’t pay them any mind–I knew my partner was out there, somewhere, in need of rescue…”

Much as she annoyed him, it did feel good to have his talents acknowledged with the recognition they deserved. He dared to hope that some of that adoration would rub off on Roulette; maybe then she wouldn’t feel so secure in treating him like a witless lackey.

“Will you two shut up?” the girl snapped from behind, promptly shattering Morgan’s hopes of attaining his pint-sized partner’s respect. “If I have to hear any more of this, I might just have to lie down and let the buzzards take me.”

Morgan snorted. “Don’t go threatenin’ me with a good time…”

This earned him a fresh eruption of titters from Mimi, who clung to his arm all the more doggedly upon learning of her rival’s displeasure. “My dear Morgan, you are an absolute card!

The rest of the day proceeded in much the same way: giggling, anecdotes, and the occasional outburst from Roulette. Marka and Anua rode at the back of the line, out of earshot, having a conversation of their own, and Morgan found himself envying them on more than one occasion. He wondered what they were talking about; wondered if Marka was getting the forgiveness he craved from the master Gunsmith.

He reckoned so. Absolution came easier to some men than others. Morgan couldn’t help but ask himself when it was going to be his turn–when would he finally be free to open up his moth-eaten heart and let the sins fly out?

Maybe when I stop feeling sorry for myself, he thought wryly. If that blessed day ever comes.


It was several hours later when Morgan awoke, bleary-eyed, on a woven blanket pulled from the back of Mimi’s dustsnuffle. There had only been two to go around, so, naturally, Mimi had offered to share hers with the older man so long as he “kept his hands to himself.” To his credit, Morgan had done exactly that. It had been easy, considering his passionate dislike for the girl sleeping soundly at his side.

He rose quietly into a sitting position, noting with some concern that the space next to Anua lay empty. Last he’d checked, she and Roulette had been sharing a blanket of their own; Marka had done the gentlemanly thing and agreed to sleep in the sand. The big man lay there still, snoring away, even as Morgan got to his feet. Everyone was sleeping soundly despite the nighttime chill.

…Everyone except him and Roulette, of course.

He spotted her a moment later sitting atop a nearby dune. The moon loomed large in the starry sky, outlining the girl in a luminous glow that she seemed ill-equipped to appreciate. Her head was slumped to her knees, shoulders quivering in time with her sobs. Seeing her in such a vulnerable state was so alien to Morgan that he was tempted to write it all off as a dream… But the biting cold told him otherwise. This was no dream, and his partner was no paragon of emotional control.

Then again, who among them could claim to be?

Morgan climbed the side of the dune with slow, purposeful strides until he arrived at the girl’s side. Once there, he lowered himself to its sandy summit and idled awhile, just taking in the sights and sounds of a desert at rest. The wind blew softly around them, tousling his hair. It was calm. Meditative. He felt that he could see why Roulette had chosen this particular time and place to let herself go.

After some time had passed, he spoke:

“Want to talk about what’s eatin’ you?”

She didn’t respond for a dozen heartbeats or so. Then:

“...Alright.” She took a shuddering breath and lifted her head, one arm lifting to brush away the tears. “A little of everythin’, I guess. I’m homesick. Unsure of myself. Burns hurt like nothin’ else–I think one’s infected.”

“Let me see,” he offered, speaking softly. She extended her left leg, displaying a mean streak of reddened flesh that showed through a tattered window in her tights. Sure enough, the portion near her ankle was a good deal more inflamed than the rest.

Against his better judgment, Morgan winced. “Hard to argue with that.”

Roulette withdrew her leg, sniffling quietly. “I know.”

“Don’t think we have anythin’ to treat it with,” he observed. “That may need to wait ‘til we reach the city. You should ask Anua if you can ride along with her. Walkin’ too much will make it worse.”

She nodded. “I’ll do that.”

He eased back onto his hands, then, feeling somewhat reassured. “Good. Anythin’ else you want to talk about while I’m up here? I’m thinkin’ of turnin’ back in–not all of us will be lucky enough to get a free ride tomorrow, y’know? Unlike some people…”

He nudged her with his elbow, and she forced a laugh.

“It’s stupid,” she eventually said. “I miss my daddy. I miss the person I used to be… Back when I had it all figured out. Everything is so confusin’ now. I don’t know if what I’m doin’ is right.”

Morgan sighed, looking straight up at the sky. “Who can say?”

“Me. I should,” she answered. “Daddy raised me to be tough; to be someone who can make the hard decisions. Out on the range, you can’t be any other way. You know how it is.”

The man shook his head at that. “Nope. Didn’t grow up on the range.”

“What? But, your accent…” she replied, plainly shocked. “I could’ve sworn you were a backcountry Wessoner, same as me.”

“Don’t get me wrong–part of me is,” he explained. “But I was born out East. Parents brought me over on a steamship when I was thirteen. All I’m sayin’ is I wasn’t brought up in it like you were. I learned how to get by eventually, but it took time… And a whole heap of mistakes.”

She fell silent for a moment, regarding him thoughtfully. “Interestin’ that you remember all that. Here I was, thinkin’ you were a full-blown amnesiac.”

Morgan smirked. His eyes slid shut as the memories filtered through his mind’s eye. “Close enough. Some things–little things–have stuck with me. But in between those little things I’m missin’ years and years. Couldn’t say why… Maybe it was all so awful that I buried it myself, way down deep.”

“Huh,” she murmured, her gaze returning to the moon. “I guess some things are worse than missin’ what you had. Maybe I should be happy I have somethin’ to cry over at all.”

The man tilted his head, considering. He supposed there was something to that.

Finally she smiled, meeting his eyes. “...Thanks for comin’ up here, Morgan. I feel a little better. You can head on down to get some sleep now, if you want.”

He looked back over his shoulder toward the rest of the group. Taking her up on that offer would certainly be the sensible thing to do.

“Nah,” he decided, facing back toward the sea of stars. “I think I’ll stay awhile longer.”

And stay he did, until the subtle hues of a new dawn touched the eastern horizon.

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