Chapter 68:

Chapter 68 - The Unwilling Master


The Skywind cruised across the cloudless sky, rocking gently in the wind as it bore its irregular passengers toward the most violent, backward place on the planet:


Morgan called the place home, sure enough, but to say he felt excited to return would’ve been an exaggeration. His memory of the life he’d lived there was patchy; it had been that way since the start of his booze-fuelled vacation in Port Pistola. If Roulette hadn’t come along when she did, he reckoned he’d have gone on being blind to his past until the drink took him.

…Judging by what he’d been able to recall these past few days, though, an ending like that would’ve been nothing less than he deserved.

He leaned heavily on the airship’s railing and looked out to sea. The journey across Truvelo had changed him, and he wasn’t sure he liked the shape those changes were taking. He felt himself getting soft. Sentimental. Guilty. It had been easier to act strong and confident when he couldn’t remember his mistakes. But now? Knowing that he’d driven a good man–the late Czar Turu–into a life of destruction and misery?

He felt anything but confident. He didn’t even feel good; he was just an imposter, trying his best to act like someone worthy of all the friends he’d made. They were genuinely good people.

Why couldn’t he be more like them?

Morgan squirmed inside his ill-fitting bowling jacket. It was Mimi’s–a relic from her time with the Guttersnipers, her varsity bowling team–and the thing was really starting to chafe. Not the sort of thing a middle-aged man like him would wear willingly, but then again, the women he called friends had a way of forcing him into things he’d never have chosen for himself… Like his pink, star-speckled hairdo, or his (surprisingly comfortable) green-and-fuschia plaid pants.

…Or anything he’d done over the course of the last week and a half, really.

“Jacket still botherin’ you?” Roulette teased, striding over to join him at the railing. She looked the same as ever: big black boots; a card-themed getup integrating hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades; ringleted, shoulder-length hair even pinker than his. Sometimes he wondered where she’d gotten the audacity to dress herself that way, but he didn’t dare ask. As he was quickly relearning, some things were just better left alone.

Like his past with Turu, for example. How could he possibly tell Roulette, of all people, that he had set Turu on the path toward becoming a Gun Czar? Near as he could tell, taking those bastards down was her entire reason for being! How would she react if she knew he’d been instrumental in installing one?

Not well, probably. Best to just complain about the fit of the jacket for now.

“I’ve worn nooses that chafed less,” he complained, pausing to spit over the edge. “This thing wasn’t made for arms ‘n’ shoulders like mine.”

“Well, you could always just take it off. You’ve got a shirt on underneath, right?”

Morgan shook his head. “Can’t. I’m up on deck too much–need somethin’ that breaks the wind a little, and this jacket is all I got.”

Roulette went quiet. She lifted a finger to her lips, apparently considering other options, but eventually gave up with a shrug. “I s’pose you’re right. Short of wrapping you up in a blanket, we don’t have much on board that could substitute. Guess you’ll have to wait ‘til we make landfall.”

He nodded in response, but said nothing. Never one to accept being ignored, Roulette leaned out over the railing and waved a hand in front of his face.

“You alright there, Morgan?” she prompted. “You seem moodier than usual lately. Why’s that? Is it that porridge we picked up back in Trumbash? Has it got you… Blocked up?”

“I’m poopin’ fine,” he grumbled, swatting her hand away from his face.

“Is it Mimi, then? Has she been ruder about your flyin’ lately?”

“No more than usual.”

“Well, come on out with it then!” she huffed, stomping impatiently on the deck. “What’s got you out of sorts? Is it what you saw in the jungle? Did that dart make you hallucinate like I did?”

Bingo. Morgan looked away, angry at himself for allowing her to suss him out.

“Aha! I’m right, aren’t I?” she gloated. “I’ll find out what you saw sooner or later. Might as well spill the beans!”

Morgan’s mind raced, churning through a host of lies he could tell to throw her off the scent. Only one seemed at all convincing–a lie with a shred of truth to it. If that wasn’t enough to satisfy her, nothing would.

“I saw a few tussles I was in a few years back,” he explained. This was technically true; since he’d been stuck with that dart, a steady trickle of memories had been coming back to him, and more than a few of them did center on past gunfights. “Seeing ‘em play out made me remember some things. Tactics. Old instincts. It reminded me of what a gunfight is like at the highest level… And it reminded me that we’re not ready for the caliber of enemy we’re likely to come across in Wesson.”

Roulette fell silent again, and for a moment he wasn’t sure whether she’d bought it or not.

“So you’re worried that we’re headin’ into a fight we can’t win?” she eventually said, trying to meet his eyes.

He kept his gaze locked on the horizon. “Yup.”

“Hm. Then I guess you’ll just have to train me,” she replied nonchalantly.

Morgan had to hold back from smacking his forehead. Of course that would be her takeaway–that she’d need to get stronger, and that he’d be the poor sap charged with helping her get there! The last thing he wanted to do was pass on what he knew to an uncooperative student, especially when he could barely remember how to fight worth a damn himself!

“It’ll be hard,” he cautioned, desperate to disabuse her of the whole idea. “You’ll have to do everything I say, to the letter, and I won’t put up with any whinin’ or bellyachin’.”

Roulette remained frustratingly undeterred. “You got it, boss!”

“Don’t call me that.”

“You got it, boss!” echoed a voice from behind. Morgan spun about to find Beretta there–the nine-year-old daughter of Marka Moukahla, ex-crime boss of Port Pistola. She was sweet, energetic, and currently unsupervised… Which was probably how she’d managed to sneak up behind them and muscle in on their very private discussion.

“Berry, no. Beat it,” he commanded, thumbing off toward the other end of the deck. “You’re nine, for fu–f-for cryin’ out loud. Your destined weapon is a water gun. I can’t teach you how to fight.”

She straightened up and saluted, smoothing out her shirt and brown trousers in an effort to make them look as crisp as possible. “You got it, boss!” she repeated, as if that would have any bearing at all on the finality of his decision.

“Beretta, no.

“You got it, boss!”

Morgan buried his face in his palm. “...Are you just going to keep sayin’ that until I train you?”

“You got it, boss!”

He rolled his eyes skyward and prayed for death. “I’m losin’ my mind, Roulette. Can you tell her to get out of here already?”

Another pause ensued. Then:

“...You got it, boss!” Roulette exclaimed.

Beretta giggled. “You got it, boss!”

Morgan nearly pitched himself over the railing. “Fine! Fine!” he bellowed, motioning harshly for them to stop. “I’ll do it! I’ll train you both how to fight. But if either of you call me boss one more time, the deal is off, you hear me!?”

No sooner had he relented than a large, looming figure came up behind Beretta, staring at Morgan with narrowed eyes. It was Beretta’s father, Marka Moukahla–the Blunderboss himself. He stood a good head taller than Morgan, a Truvelan giant with a barrel chest and arms like tree trunks. His shaved head and sharp mustache did little to detract from his intimidating presence. Morgan didn’t have to wait long to learn what he’d done to earn the man’s ire:

“Did I just hear you agreeing to train my only daughter in the art of combat, Morgan?” he growled.

“Ahh, yup. That you did, Marka,” Morgan admitted. “I didn’t want to, but they were relentless! Did you hear them? Again and again with the ‘you got it, bo–’”

“I have heard enough, Morgan,” Marka interjected, resting a hand as large as a dinner plate on his daughter’s shoulder, “and I have just one very important question for you…”

Morgan tried in vain to swallow the lump in his throat. Had the sky gone darker just now, or was he imagining it?”

“How could you?” Marka said. Then, to his surprise, Morgan watched as a wide smile spread across the man’s face. “How could you offer to train Beretta without offering to train me as well?”

And that was how Morgan Sarada, the legendary Gunslinger–veteran of a hundred battles he couldn’t remember–got roped into training his posse how to fight.

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