Chapter 41:

Chapter 41 - Absolution


Marka drew closer to the weapons after Anua had stepped aside, lured in by the larger gun’s clear similarity to Voidthrower.

Like its twin, both sides of the barrel were lined with sinuous engravings right up to its flared tip. However, this particular blunderbuss had been hewn from a lighter-hued steel composite than Voidthrower, and its design eschewed dark woods in favor of lumber that bore a closer resemblance to ivory.

“I had thought as much,” Anua said with a grin, looking on proudly as Marka took the gun into his hands. “The moment I first laid eyes on it, that young mischief-maker I met in Port Pistola came to mind. But, without the Call to guide me, I was never able to confirm my suspicions…”

The grip fit the curvature of his hand to a tee. Curious, he reached over his shoulder and slid Voidthrower from the loop of the gun belt he wore across his chest. In any other man’s hands, the weapons would have been overwhelmingly large and threatened a bone-shattering degree of recoil… But Marka was able to heft them both at once without issue. They felt as if they belonged there, and he could feel in his soul that this was how he was meant to wield them.

Anua nodded approvingly. “It is yours–there is no question. All that remains is to name it.”

He tilted the weapon back and forth, examining it from every angle before making his judgment:


“Lifebringer it is,” she intoned. “In choosing that name, you have shown yourself to feel its essence as keenly as I do. Unlike Voidthrower, this armament manifests life and creation. What it does when fired I cannot say, but it seems a fitting match for the man you have become; a man I consider myself fortunate to know.”

He bowed his head, overwhelmed with solemn pride. “Thank you, Anua. I will wield it with wisdom.”

“My own words,” she noted, smiling wryly. “I trust that you will live by them this time?”

Marka nodded.

“Then you have my blessing,” she said. “To aid you in this, I will share my knowledge of life-giving weapons. As one would expect, they dispense living things when fired–a stark contrast to most weapons, which discharge only lifeless projectiles. For this reason, they typically feature what is known as a ‘progressive trigger’. Are you familiar?”

Marka shook his head. He looked to Morgan and Roulette, but they seemed similarly nonplussed.

“A progressive trigger,” she began, “Is a trigger mechanism that is responsive to the level of pressure exerted upon it. In the case of a weapon like yours, this will usually determine how violently a creature is expelled from the gun’s muzzle.

“A full pull of the trigger will send a creature flying toward your target at bullet-like velocity, while softer pulls will result in diminished momentum. As a general rule, the very slightest of trigger-pulls will apply no velocity at all: the entity will simply appear a foot or two in front of your muzzle, completely stationary.”

What a strange capability! Marka studied the weapon again, now itching to pull the trigger.

Anua clucked her tongue. “Ah-ah! We do not fire weapons inside the forge. There is no telling what will come of it–we do that outside, in a particular part of the waterfront reserved for our use.”

Marka nodded sheepishly, then, lowering the gun to his side. He could sense his companions relaxing, too. For all any of them knew, the gun could produce a creature large enough to wear Anua’s roof like a jaunty hat!

Anua rolled her eyes. “Boys and their toys,” she sighed, taking up the remaining weapon herself. “Come along with me, then. I highly doubt you will allow me to leave the test-fire for tomorrow.”

Mimi leaned out from the kitchen doorway. “Are we doing a test-fire?!”

“Yes, child,” she confirmed, striding wearily toward the front door. “Bring along a pistol, will you? We may need to defend ourselves if Lifebringer’s output proves aggressive.”

Their walk to the waterfront was mercifully short; just a stroll across the sand and halfway down the boardwalk. Anua’s testing ground came up on their left: little more than a narrow stretch of beach marred by small craters and piles of ash, the area had been marked off with painted signs that warned of danger and loud noises. Few of them were legible this far beneath the rim of Sebastopol’s wall, however–especially at night.

Still, the starlight that shone beneath the arch of the eastern wall was more than enough to see by. It illuminated the calm waters of the Difucian sea beyond, providing the group with an enchanting view as they readied themselves to put Anua’s unclaimed weapons to the test.

Anua herself stooped low, dipping the smaller weapon into the sea. It was only then that Marka truly saw it for the first time. It might have been the interplay between darkness and starlight playing tricks on him, but the weapon looked to be fully transparent–a masterwork of arcan and tempered glass that defied all logic.

“Anua?!” he exclaimed, eyes widening at the unthinkable sight of the master Gunsmith sullying her own work with seawater, “Have you gone mad?”

She glanced back at him with one brow cocked. “What?” she replied, lifting the gun from the sea for his perusal, “It is a water gun. Do you suppose I would dip it in the sea otherwise? Do you think so little of me?”

Marka flushed deeply. He could hear Morgan snickering from behind.

Anua rose to her feet and prepared to rejoin the group, but halted mid-step: despite having filled the weapon up to the brim only a second or two ago, it was draining… And not just draining–the water within was disappearing. The gun’s frame didn’t leak a single drop as it emptied, provoking gasps of confusion from all assembled.

“How in the hell…?” Morgan breathed. “What good is a water gun that can’t be filled?”

“Good question,” Anua replied. She made her way over to them, then, holding out the gun grip-first. “Everyone try holding it. Perhaps, in the hands of its destined owner, it will show its true nature.”

Morgan, Mimi, Marka and Roulette all tried holding the fragile-looking firearm in turn. They tried shaking it, squeezing the grip, pulling the trigger, holding it upside-down… But nothing worked. Not for a single one of them. Anua looked upon the gun with newfound interest, plainly as puzzled as the rest of them.

“Intriguing. I had thought its wielder would be among you for certain. It looks as though I will have to wait a little longer to solve this particular mystery,” she murmured, taking the weapon back from them and stowing it gingerly within the folds of her dress. “Pay it no mind–we will focus on Lifebringer’s powers for now. Marka, if you please?”

Marka nodded, stepping out into the center of the testing ground while his friends looked on from the sidelines. He held up Lifebringer and pointed it toward the sand at his feet, his heartbeat quickening in anticipation.

“Remember: the slightest of trigger-pulls!” Anua called. “Whatever happens, we want it to happen as slowly as possible!”

Then he heard her whisper something to Mimi:

Get the gun ready.

He took a deep breath and planted his feet firmly in the sand. He had been far less anxious all those years ago, back when he’d first fired Voidthrower. But the more he aged, the more he understood the value of patience. The necessity of caution…

…And the dreadfully high price of recklessness.

He pulled the trigger ever-so-slightly, just as he had been instructed, and found the experience altogether different from the wild bucking of his old weapon. Rather than witnessing the ground before him getting absorbed by a blot of elemental nothingness, the flash produced by his gun’s muzzle actually created something. It had added something brilliant, something awe-inspiring to the world. He could feel it.

The truth of it made his heart glad, wiping clean the slate that bore his past mistakes. This gun was the future–his path to salvation. And, as the blinding light of its muzzle flash faded from the air, Marka’s eyes fell upon the shape that salvation had taken:

His daughter. Beretta. Restored to him at last.

Marka’s mouth fell agape. Impossibly, she stood before him, her arms outstretched. She had been frozen in place, paused mid-run, and everything from her dress to her face to the kinks in her hair were exactly as he remembered them–exactly as he’d seen them in the very instant before he’d fired Voidthrower, ending his life as a father forever.

Or so he’d thought.

In the half-second that followed, inertia took over. Beretta stumbled and almost fell, the wheeling of her tiny arms sending the item she’d held spinning toward the sand. Marka recognized it immediately for what it was:

Morgan’s treasured revolver, Ricochet.

And behind it all, at the very back of the scene, stood an unwelcome presence; a malevolent ghost from his recent past that Marka had hoped he’d never have to reckon with again.

His cousin.

His enemy.


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