The stairs wound down in an uneven spiral. The deeper into the pit Llewellyn descended, the more the stonework around him contorted and stretched. Hundreds of years of arcane energy had seeped into the walls and warped them as surely as given time water will crack the largest stone.
The base of the stairs landed on a packed dirt floor. Flakes of some ferric ore dusted the ground and gave a dull glitter in the light.
The light, what of it there was in this great, vaulted tunnel, came from a single incongruous fireplace set in the middle of the barren floor. It was a deep, heavy thing of marble carved with an angry profusion of beasts, mundane and fantastical.
Set in front of the elaborate fireplace was a simple plank table, raw and unpolished. Two chairs sat opposite each other, one occupied.
Llewellyn walked toward the table, conscious at every step of the cavern’s silence interrupted only by his metal jangling with every footfall. He stopped by the empty seat and motioned toward it as though to say “May I?”
The slightest nod was provided in assent.
Minutes stretched on in silence. Llewellyn kept his hands clasped on the table, trying not to fidget, getting increasingly anxious for a smoke. The figure across from him made no motion. The firelight fell odd across his profile, making identification disturbingly unreliable. An elf, surely. No… far too stocky. Must be dwarf. But the frame is so great, easily that of an orc. That’s ridiculous. This creature was practically straining to see above the table.
Llewellyn broke. “I was told to come down here by the Arcane who instruct in the pit. I have need of training from The Odd.”
The voice, a man’s? A woman’s? Cut into the last of Llewellyn’s words. “Why are you here?”
“I have need of training…”
“Quiet and listen. Why are you here?”
Llewellyn sat, furrow-browed, trying to formulate the right answer. None felt forthcoming, so he opted simply to speak and see what emerged.
“I’m a Chamber Priest of St. Monika, blessed of Torag and a slinger with Hilt Mission of the Golden City.” Llewellyn offhandedly made the requisite gesticulation in distracted reverence of his order. “I parlay iron and lead into something better than myself. And I’ve always done well alchemizing these base metals into a finer alloy. Not so long ago, I was charged with the rescue of a woman bound into a marriage of servitude and hurt. I fucked it up completely, nearly killing myself in the process. In the ample time provided by my recovery, I’ve begun to suspect that iron and lead are no longer sufficient for my goals.”
The Odd shifted forward in It’s seat. “You sit in front of me, telling me that you require my time, knowledge and personal attention because the sole occasion by which you fell short of your own perceived greatness, you suffered a fever dream inflicted by your own incompetence commanding you to become a wizard?”
“Yes. Well, no. Not quite that. I was an errant and shit-stained child who knew nothing but the indifference of the streets of the Golden City. When I proved myself to my Mentor, Boss Anka, and she took me into Hilt Mission, it killed that lost child as sure as a knife. The gun gave me a purpose and a direction. All the realities may bear more cruelty and terrible froth than I can ever hope to put down by the barrel of my revolver. But still, I have done good. The more I see though… The more I see, the more I feel I am blind to a world that too often crosses over my own. And this blindness is a dangerous weakness preventing me from helping those I can while leaving me unable to protect myself against it.
Just as the boy died that day and was made something greater, I think I must again.”
The Odd spoke. “All you Elementals and Outsiders, Abyssals and Celestials are born with unearned dregs of magic in your blood and it makes you believe magic is a simple thing. Not so. I see you Llewellyn Blackhands. You will make no great adept. It is not for you. Keep with iron and lead, for in that I see you may be great, indeed.”
“I do not seek to be great. The gun is a tool in service to me. It is a tool I know well and respect greatly; but I am no Pilgrim Tam who walks the Duelist’s Road. I do not pursue the gun to find purity through my mastery of the caliber. I find no Zen in death. I seek only for that which will aid me.”
“Heh. So that is why you seek money and fame in the Menagerie? You and your other ‘Beautiful Shade Dragons of Justice’ are working for the greater good? That gun of yours served well enough in your last bout, dealing death against such strangeness as creations of air and earth and fire.” The Odd sat back, rippling like a mirage in the fire’s glow.
Llewellyn stiffened. “I told you. I’m not Pilgrim Tam. I’m no ascetic. I love a good drink, a good lay and a smoke. And sweet martyred Monika, I could do with all three right now. But allow me to assert myself here, I hardly think these forays into baser pleasures are at odds with my mission. I was told if anyone could help me it was you; that you bear the skill to bend magic to steel. But if I was a fool to seek you, then I shall go and bother you no further.”
The Odd extended one hand toward Llewellyn. “Let me see your revolver.”
“That is not a request made lightly.”
“So there is some of Tam in you. Then, I ask again proper. Gunslinger; I bend deferent and ask –give me the burden of your killing design.”
Llewellyn felt the power in the old mantra and it surprised him. Was The Odd so mighty or was his connection to the Duelist’s Road stronger than he’d care to admit? Slowly he unclasped the guard across his holster and slid the revolver out and onto the plank table.
“It was passed to me on my Welding Day down from The Devil Ajak who fell defending the Nine Parlors. Ajak had it from Sarah Bloodless who had it from Auntie Otha. It is a fine weapon and has always served true.”
The Odd hefted the gun, opened the chamber and let all six shells fall clattering on the tabletop.
“Put your firing hand here.” The Odd pressed it’s finger to the center of the table.
Llewellyn did so. The Odd turned the gun over and pantomimed with an empty hand the act of placing a shell in the chamber. A brief light flushed when it’s hand touched the metal. With a startling quickness it shut the chamber, pressed the barrel against the back of Llewellyn’s hand and fired.
The gun’s strange retort sounded like a scream, not so different than the one that leapt grating from Llewellyn’s surprised mouth.
Llewellyn held his burning fist in his other hand, both pressed into his trembling belly. He looked at the single neat hole smoking on the table top. He forced his hand up to examine the wound, but despite all the pain telling him otherwise, there was no ruined crater torn through his flesh. Nothing but a single, circular mark on both palm and backside that glowed a deep coal red.
The Odd placed the revolver on the table and slid it back over to Llewellyn. “While you will not be permanently maimed, the pain you feel is very real and will heal just as a flesh wound would. It will be a moon and some before you can fire that gun again. You have bought six weeks of my time with your pain. That mark on your hand will then either prove your power or your shame. We begin that revelation now.”
Llewellyn looked up, a rare sweat beading on his forehead. “Let’s let that revelation keep for just five minutes.” He hissed through clenched teeth. With his good hand he reached into his pack and drew out a small leather pouch. Shaking only slightly, he extracted a paper and a generous pinch of sweet tobacco.
“I’m glad I bothered to learn to roll one-handed.”