This is part 7 of the tale. Don’t forget to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 Going through a ring ain’t ever pleasant, but it gets less bad
Going through a ring ain’t ever pleasant, but it gets less bad every time. Your body goes through the whole rippling effect as the ground. One world uncoils you and the other stitches you back together. It feels about the same as doing six shots of Jack, then seeing how fast you can spin around in a circle. I know from experience.
What? I wasn’t born a constable.
The vertigo spins in my head, then spreads through the rest of my body as it reforms itself. Queasy from head to toe, it takes a minute before the world rights itself around me. My stomach gurgles, but I manage to hold down my lunch, mainly because its mostly coffee and…nothing else, I realize.
Then the cold hits me.
My papaw might not have gotten the fancy night vision that I did, but extreme temperatures never seemed to bother him. He could walk around in the dead of winter in his bare feet or in the height of summer with a sweater if it fancied him. That particular splash was left out of my genetic cocktail though, and the cold bites into me like a hungry dog.
Its winter on this side of the ring. My eyes take another moment to adjust. Just like back home in Holtz Hollow, its nighttime here, but the moon’s full and bright in the sky. Its light reflects off the frozen forest around me, ancient towering trees hunch over, weighted down by the ice that entombs them. Snow rises up to my ankles, sinking into my shoes already. Only the mushrooms encircling the ring, a mirror-image to the ones back home, remain undisturbed by the snow.
I allow myself another moment of shivering in pity before I remember why I came through the ring. Freeze later, find the kid now. Checking my gun again I step out into the snow and do my best to ignore the cold. I make a mental note to ask Iymira to make some alterations to my uniforms. Her people are damned talented at weaving enchanted clothes, as good as Emmett’s people are at making weapons. My uniform is sewn with a special blend of elven silk and spells that will stop a bullet or a knife, although so far it had proven less effective against troll fists, and completely useless against cold weather. Hindsight, I think with a swear.
I stop and realize that I’ve been walking a similar path to the one that I would walk back home in the mountains. More surprisingly it’s mostly the same. Bigger trees, different season, and the ground is frozen enough that I need to watch my step. But the hills bend and curve in the same paths that I’ve walked before. Most worlds have a bit in common with ours, but I’ve never seen one overlap this closely. Our worlds must be pretty close to the same plane of existence to have so much in common. Probably why the ring had been so damned easy to open.
Gunfire erupts in the night air, and I freeze in place and pull back the hammer on my revolver. I start to make my way to where I think the sound is coming from, but it’s hard to tell. The sounds are picked up by the hills and tossed around so it seems like it’s coming from a dozen different directions. Luckily the points of my ear ain’t just for show, and I’ve been policing a small mountain town enough to get a general idea of where someone is shooting up the hills.
I approach cautiously and wonder about the oddity of this place. Most of the worlds are similar to ours, but gunfire is something I’ve never heard on another world. Guns are a creation unique to our world. Most of the other realms don’t have the resources to make gunpowder, and the others never needed it, with magic being so much stronger on the other sides of the rings. Not much sense in working out a way to throw lead at the speed of sound when a spell can do all that and then some.
A scream rips through the night air, pointing me in the right direction. It’s primal and afraid. And young. The terrified look on the troll’s face flashes through my vision and makes me speed up from cautions to reckless. I slip and skid a few times, but by some miracle, I manage not to fall and break my neck.
I come through a break in the woods and find the source of the scream and the gunfire. The young troll is on the ground, dark blood gushing out a hole in his leg. He tries to stand but falls into the snow. He starts to crawl on his hands and his one good knee.
Three men laugh as they stalk toward him. The two at the side look like some extras from Vikings. Or they would if it weren’t for the flintlock rifles strapped on their backs. Heavy furs from something wolf-like drape their bodies, protecting them from the cold. Around their belts are bloody pieces of skin and hair. From my own brief interactions back at Robin’s Roost, I recognize them as troll scalps.
“Now that there, boys, looks like it’ll be a good head to mount on my wall. What do you think?”
The man at the front doesn’t belong to this world at all. Heavy overalls clash with the camo jacket he wears. A bright-green John Deere hat reflects off the moonlight, and his Timberland boots crunch through the snow as he stalks to the downed troll. Around his back is an AK-47 and on his hip a heavy revolver. In his hands is an overcompensation of a Bowie knife that he twirls with unprofessional and maniacal glee.
Travis Hurley. I’ve run him into the local jail more times than I can count. One of Holtz’s self-styled militiamen. I don’t have time to wonder what the hell he’s doing here. Not when he’s about to kill a kid.
“That’s enough!” I stomp toward the three men, my mind already made up. With this heavy ice and snow, there’s no point in trying to conceal myself, and I ain’t going to let them have their fucked-up version of fun with a scared kid. Three against one is stupid, but I have to trust in my spells and my gun.
The men in fur, natives I suppose, spin around, taking the rifles off their back. Travis is slow and cocky as he turns toward me, taking his time to holster his knife.
“Well, well, lookie, here boys,” Travis’s grin spreads as he rests his hand on the grip of his pistol. “Walk away, ringer. You ain’t got no juris—”
The shot from my gun drowns out Travis’s words as the bullet rips through his throat. His face contorts into surprised agony as blood squirts from the hole in his neck. He raises his hands to the wound, then topples over, his body landing with a crunch against the ice as steam begins to rise around his head.
Travis was right, I have no jurisdiction on this side of the ring. But that sword cuts both ways. And when its three against one you don’t waste time with banter. You get to firing or get to dying.
I take advantage of the shock of the other two would-be child murders. I fire two more times, center-mass, and one of the fur-clad gunmen goes down next to Travis. The third one is quicker and raises his gun as I turn mine toward him. A flash of light and powder explode from his barrel. Pain like I’ve never felt before rips through my lower abdomen, and I sink down to one knee.
Something’s wrong. I’ve taken a bullet in the line of duty before. It’s like being kicked by a mule. My enchanted uniform absorbs the blow and my body pays for it. The gunshot should have knocked me on my ass. Instead, I’m kneeling and in pain, and what’s worse, I’m not cold anymore. I look down at the hole in my uniform, the hole in my body, as blood pours out, hot and steaming in the cold winter air.
That shouldn’t have happened.
I shake my head of the shock and look up at the gunman. Looks like I was right about the rifle he carried. He’s struggling to empty powder from a horn down into the barrel. I don’t give him the chance. I fire off my last three bullets. One shot goes wide, but luckily my target isn’t small. The other two manage to hit him in the chest and stomach, dropping him.
My knee gives out as the adrenaline fades with my blood. I topple over onto my side, the cold snow stabbing into me like a thousand needles. I realize that Travis and his two goons must have felt the same thing just a moment ago. If circumstances were different I might have felt bad for them, because this hurts like hell. Since they had just been trying to murder a kid though, it was too good for them.
Travis…I wonder as my body goes light. What the hell was he doing on the other side of the ring? A ring that someone had opened? What was he doing with bullets that ripped through magic? Too many questions. This whole damned night has too many questions. Questions that I’ll never get answered.
The frustration fades from me as a shadow falls over me. A hand pushes me over, and I fall on my back with a long groan. I look up at the face of the young troll, his face still alit with fear. Afraid but okay. I smile at him as the light begins to fade away at the edges of my vision. I might not have saved the day, but I saved the kid.
Good enough for me.
To Be Continued…?