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Skinning the Sorcerer

fantasy by Dale Ivan Smith

I found Richter sitting at a table near the back door in the Grand Saloon in Bandy, laughing and downing whisky with two painted ladies. Morning sunlight stabbed through the narrow windows at the front of the mostly empty saloon, and the air was not yet filled with cigar smoke and sweat.

Richter still wore the form of a bald, pudgy librarian, red faced from too much whisky. My fingers tightened on the shotgun I carried. Richter had ensorcelled my wife and left her guarding a mountain pass. I needed his Revoke to free her.

I took a deep breath, doffed my black hat and shuffled over to his table. A lone figure perched on a stool at the far end of the bar.

Richter looked up. He didn’t seem to recognize me. I wore an Adon’s form, bow legged, with long arms, and a big head covered with shoulder-length hair.

I stared at the oil lamp guttering on the table. Had Richter heard this trick before? “We Illuminated need your help.” My hand itched for my six-shooter, but I’d hidden the pistol in a gully west of Bandy, along with the book.

Richter belched. “Adon, look me in the eye.”

“I need to speak with you alone.”

Richter giggled, nothing like his real form’s deep chuckle. “Of course. Ladies, please give us a moment.”

Skirts rustled and silk brushed past me.

Richter’s voice was thick with amusement. “You can sit now.”

I sat across from him, leaning my shotgun against the wall, and met his gaze. I fingered the Lure hex in my left pocket. Hexing Richter was a fool’s draw, but it was the only way I could figure on getting his Revoke.

The round face he wore creased in a grin. “Now, what can I do for you?”

I glanced away, playing the nervous Adon, and glimpsed the figure sitting at the bar. I froze. Damn it. A peacekeeper had come to Bandy since I’d last been here. Bronze wards studded the front of his duster, a bead talisman glinting around his neck. His hand rested on a holstered revolver. His piercing gaze met mine and I looked back to Richter.

What the hell was Richter still doing in Bandy? If the peacekeeper saw us in our true forms he would shoot us down without blinking. Wouldn’t matter that I’d left Richter’s service. Any caster not wearing a church collar or a government brand was an outlaw.

Richter raised an eyebrow. “Well?

I stammered out my answer. “There is one among us who appears as Adon, but whose soul is not with God.”

“He steals?”

I nodded, fighting to remain seated with the peacekeeper just across the room. “We need a Revoke to cast him out of Adon’s form.”

“Those aren’t easy to find.” Richter poured himself more whisky. “But why come to me?”

“Near the last forest island I found a shooter named Thomas, dying from an infected sword wound. I gave him water and prayed for him.”

Richter leaned forward. “What happened?”

“He returned to the dust from which Adon sprang. Before he died gave me a book. He said it had belonged to a dead wizard named Richter. He said I was to take it to Adon’s council for them to decide if it should be destroyed or not. He also said there was a librarian back in Bandy who might have a Revoke.”

Richter smirked “In fact, I do.”

“The Illuminated have gold. My brethren are camped a day’s walk south of Bandy.”

Richter shook his head. “No.” He reached into his coat and pulled out a rune-etched silver disk, the one sorcerous item the peacekeeper wouldn’t confiscate, since Revokes removed hexes.

I felt the peacekeeper’s gaze. How the hell was I supposed to cast a Lure on Richter now?

Richter laid a deck of playing cards between us. “How about we let the cards decide? You win, I give you the Revoke. I win, you give me the book.”

I blinked.

“It’s the only way to cast out the heretic,” Richter said. He shuffled the deck. “We’ll keep it simple. High card draw.”

I bowed my head and clasped my hands. Damn Adon fingers were as thick as sausages. “Let me pray.” I should have seen this coming. Richter sharped  for amusement, and he wouldn’t risk a hex in front of the peacekeeper.

I had no choice. I muttered the Finagle, just like he taught me, and unclasped my hands, fingers suddenly quicker. “God will decide.”

Richter grinned again, shuffled three more times, then slapped the deck on the table. “Cut.”

I palmed the deck just like we used to practice.

Richter dealt us each a card. He flipped his over. Jack of Swords. He frowned. My card was the Ace of Shields.

He narrowed his eyes. “Impossible.”

“God provides.” I plucked the Revoke from Richter’s grasp and stood.

Richter’s eyes widened in recognition. “You little shit!”  He pointed at the bar, and the air screamed but the peacekeeper had already hit the floor, pistol out.

I grabbed my shotgun.

Richter slapped the table as the peacekeeper fired. A Barricade flew up, and the bullets richocheted off the hex.

I pointed the shotgun toward Richter. He flung the lamp at me. I ducked. He whipped out another hex.

The peacekeeper held up a Revoke. Everything flared. The Barricade vanished. Richter and I blurred back into our true forms. Richter, now tall and skeletal, motioned and the back door blew out. I loosed a barrel but he hexed backwards through the blown door.

The peacekeeper’s revolver clicked empty.

I leveled my shotgun at him. “Facedown.” I tied his hands behind his back and took his pistol.

“The Illuminated won’t look kindly on your wearing their form,” the peacekeeper said from the floor.

“One thing at a time,” I said, pocketing Richter’s Revoke as I left the saloon.

Time to get back to my wife.

Copyright October 2010 by Dale Ivan Smith

Dale Ivan Smith lives in Oregon.  Skinning the Sorcerer is a sequel to Dead Wife Waiting, which appeared in the January 2010 issue of 10Flash.

[Return to the October 2010 stories]

5 Responses

  1. […] Skinning the Sorcerer […]

  2. Good stuff, Dale, right on the edge of my seat, I was.

  3. WOW; a rich glimpse into a much larger story; a wild west where the magic is as real as the lead is hot

  4. […] third story of a trilogy.  Dead Wife Waiting, appeared in the January 2010 issue of 10Flash and Skinning the Sorcerer appeared in the October 2010 issue.  Jude-Marie examines the balance between what readers think of […]

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