This is part 3 of the tale. Don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 Holtz Hollow’s city hall isn’t all that different from any other small-town courthouse. Like someone took a look at
Holtz Hollow’s city hall isn’t all that different from any other small-town courthouse. Like someone took a look at some of the ancient structures of Greece and Rome and decided that it would be a good idea to make them smaller and unitarian. A stone staircase leads up to the building with two columns and an arching doorway.
The way my mamaw used to tell me, city hall used to be one of the more glamorous buildings back in the early days of the hollow. That changed after the mining and lumber industries moved in, only for it to be true again after they picked the mountains clean and left the town to rot. Since the Old Folk started coming over, business and homes have risen up again, leaving city hall as the oldest building in town, but not the fanciest. The mayor wanted it that way.
I step down from my jeep and nearly collapse into the parking lot. Swearing, I fall back against the driver-side when my knee buckles. My ass on metal makes an undignified noise as I slide to the blacktop, but it keeps me from dropping like a sack of potatoes.
For a minute I just sit there breathing, taking in gulps of night air to try to cool the fire in my legs and back. I try to stand again, but the motion flares a pain in my back that forces me to bite down a scream. Static from my radio squeals and squawks like it’s the one in agony. Eunice still trying to get through, even with all the static. I shake my head and hope it’s her trying to check on me and not some other emergency. The hollow can only take so much excitement in one night. Especially with their constable decked out against his car.
I take the spell-shooter from its holster, thumb the release, and bend the barrel to open the cylinder. The crystal in the center of the gun throbs an angry red. Small tendrils of smoke uncoil with every pulse of color. Knowing firsthand the folly of trying to pull the crystal out with my fingers, I remove the cylinder and tap it against the parking lot until it drops free.
From my holster, I dig out another crystal from the slots that were originally meant to hold extra bullets. It’s the exact opposite of the one I just extracted. A dark blue surface constantly shifts to different shades that make it look not quite solid. It doesn’t feel exactly solid either. The odd texture fades as cold crawls up my fingers. They’re numb by the time I sit the blue next to the other stone. The red light stops blinking, slowing down, and faint clouds of color run off it, swallowed beneath the deep tones of the crystal next to it. I pick the stones up without burning or freezing my fingers off and store the red into my holster. The blue, I load into the cylinder and put the gun back together.
The click as I pull the hammer back sounds louder than ever, but I do my best to ignore it. Keeping my breaths steady, I push my doubts to the back of my mind and push some pleasant memories forward. I think of chasing after the bends and turns of the creeks in the summertime. The deep harmonies of my mamaw singing along with the radio as she pours peroxide on my scraped knees. The memories play in my mind, and I sink into them like I would in the shallows of Crater Lake while Papaw dangled his feet on the dock, fishing pole rearing back for a cast. Then I put the barrel of the gun to my temple and pull the trigger.
The rush of energy coats my head in a fog of intense ice that seers for a brief moment before going numb. It spreads through the rest of my body until a shiver creeps up my spine. This goes on for another minute or so before my skin starts to itch. The cuts and scrapes that I hadn’t notice before knit themselves back together, scab and heal without any trace of a scar. The pain in my back dulls as it rearranges itself, and I straighten against the door without screaming. A month’s worth of healing, all in a couple of seconds.
My arm collapses to my side, the spell-shooter suddenly heavy. It always feels heavier after shooting myself in the head, but I know that’s not the only reason. I stand without using the aid of my car this time, but I’m breathing like I got done running the Boston Marathon. The spell healed my wounds, but it had left me exhausted.
Magic is a powerful but funny thing. My spell-shooter may look like a gun, but it doesn’t work like a metal one. The crystals aren’t its ammunition, but rather the focus. They come from places of power, worlds where magic works in flashier and fancier ways than it does in our own. It helps articulate your will from your brain, down to your fingers, runs through the crystals, and manifests out the barrel.
Want to start a couple of fires? Get yourself a chunk of blood-ruby. Need some rain to save your crops from drought? Nothing works better than a bit of deep-stone in my experience. But without something to charge the stones, the spell-shooter is less effective than a squirt-gun.
That’s where I come in. I’m more than just a triggerman. I’m also the gun’s ammunition. My memories and feelings help charge my will and carry it out through my energy. Or my lifeforce. Or ki or chi. Or my soul, whatever you want to call it. All of these words are somewhat right but mostly wrong. The bigger the spell, the more the spell-shooter takes from me. It took years of pushing my limits and recovering from days in bed before I was able to use the damned thing without collapsing.
If I push myself, I can get four or five shots. Six if I’m lucky and the spells ain’t too big. Either way, I’ve spent either half or more of my shots. My body can’t afford much more excitement tonight.
I holster my gun and look down at my watch. It’s been half an hour since Billy had relayed the message to me from the mayor and the ring keepers. Straightening my stance, I try not to wobble as I walk the steps to the courthouse, and brace myself for the tongue lashing I’m about to receive.
Shooting myself in the head or dealing with politicians. I’m not sure which I prefer.
To Be Continued…