Devil Guns: Blood & Bullets

A note from Lakuren: This is adapted from a very long-in-the-making story that I want to turn into a comic book/graphic novel. Its first instance of popping up on the nets is under a different name and is very different from what it is right now. If any of you find it, just laugh and move on to what it is right now.

I intend this to be a very different experience from other fantasies and I hope you all enjoy this as much as I enjoy what this story means to me.

Chapter 1

Summer was hitting the country of Althera harder than ever. It had been years since her people had felt such a heat—the kind of heat to make things, even an ever-awake city like South Ivia, slow to a halt. Horses and cattle deigned to haul their cargo and passengers to find respite in the cooler shade. It was the kind of heat to dry the mouths of music-men and whores alike, forcing each to take up seat in a nearby bar and raise their glasses of peppermint water to silly things. It was the kind of heat to stop a even the most youthful of girls from doing their job.

Reagan Graves was not one of those girls.

All of the laundresses were allowed inside the hotel for an extended break from the high-noon sun, at the expense of an hour of wages. Reagan Graves, the youngest of them all at 20, was the only one to stay outside. She simply pinned her shoulder-length red hair back to keep from sticking to her sweaty face and continued moving sheets from tub to tub. Her coworkers were looking at her, giggling away and drinking ice-cold water. The head laundress, a middle-aged woman with a weathered face and ratty black hair, stood at the door, holding her own glass of water.

"You're not right in the head if you're going to work in the sun for another lick of the clock," the head laundress called out.

Reagan's face was wet from sweat and red from the heat. Not stopping, she looked up and shook her head. "Sure not gonna give up an hour of pay, Odessa."

"Girls been talkin' back and forth—" Odessa started. Reagan cut her off.

"Girls always been talkin'. It's nothin' different from any other time."

Odessa smiled as she always appreciated Reagan's quick tongue. "If you need the wages, why not go work for a madam? If I looked half as pretty as you, I'd leave in a split."

Reagan made her way to the other side of the laundry yard, grabbing a bag of detergent. She wiped away some of the sweat off her brow. "I didn't get a chance to go to school—'cause of the war—and I can't get a proper job to pay well 'nough to get back to school and take care of the family and sent my little brother to the Academy. Things aren't gonna be so bad for me to start whorin'. Besides, whorin' don't let me do my personal laundry."

"The Academy's an expensive matter," Odessa said. "Must eat two days wages for the costs."

Letting out a little laugh, Reagan poured the detergent in the hot water. "And then some. It don't matter how much it costs. Leon wants to be in the grand army, support us true and all. Learn the magics to make Mother right again. He's back for summer holiday, so he's tryin' to find work too for schooling books."

"If I remember correctly, you had two brothers right? What's he do for you all?"

"When I was 'round 10 or 11 and Leon was too young to understand, Ashley left us all before the war. Joined up with that Reverence group. Ain't heard from him since. Might be dead. Might not be. Don't care, he left us for dead in Rohm."

Odessa just watched Reagan as she continued to work, who hadn't said another word. Putting sheets and clothes through the press and into a rinse bin, the young girl worked diligently and quickly.

"You go on home to your mama and brother," Odessa said, finishing her cup of water. "You worked enough for all of us, I'm embarrassed to say."

"I told you, not gonna give up any honest pay I can get."

"You won't be. Just get on, you're makin' the rest of us look terrible."

"Honest?" Reagan looked very surprised. Her green eyes were wide and her mouth was almost on the verge of another smile.

"Truth to the sky and earth, honest."

Reagan nodded respectfully and made her way into the Pistol Inn where she washed her face and legs. She tried her best to clean the dried mud on her skirt, but decided to just do that at home. She had worked there for half a year already, but few recalled that she did. The law-hands who took their whores to bed them away from their wives always gave her a dirty eye, which she detested. It was no different that day, especially with the lot of them trying to stray from the summer sun. She grabbed her hat and coat from the lobby, and quietly slipped out.

In the distance, there was a wheeled-cage that she saw every once in a while when criminals would be brought to South Ivia to be imprisoned. She felt a little sorry for the men who had to be in the cage, who probably had to sit without shade for hours on the way here while the law-hand at least had his little roof in his leading cart. She knew no city in Althera that would spend money putting money toward a more humane cage, much less a train. The cage stopped, to the praise of its prisoners, in shade and next to a trough of water and food. The law-hand stepped out and quickly reinforced the nearly-invisible magical barrier around the cage with a few words before heading into the bar.

It seemed like the sloshing sound of Regan's almost-full canteen of water only instilled more sympathy in her as she got closer to the cage. Grabbing it, she quickened her steps toward it, hoping that it would be enough for the three men on their way to the South Ivian jail. Two of the passengers had their eyes glued on her, eyes filled with pleading while one was laying on the floor of the cage, breathing steadily.

"I couldn't help but feel sorry," she said just slightly louder than a whisper as she eyes the door to the bar. "It's blazin' out here, no one should be out here dryin' like leather."

She held the canteen up, through the barrier, careful that she not let her hand slip through. One of the men grabbed the tin container and quickly unscrewed it. After taking a nice swig, he passed it to the other, who took an equal amount.

"There enough for him?" Reagan asked.

One of the men shook the canteen and nodded. He gently shook the man who was prone, telling him there was water. Slowly he got up on his hands, and the other prisoner put the water in his mouth.

"This one's had it bad. Beaten by that law-hand for spewin' nonsense about the war."

"It ain't nonsense, Vick," the man told him, brushing his hay-colored hair from his eyes. He turned and wiped his mouth, as if he was trying to be as presentable as possible when one was shirtless and covered in bruises and dried blood. "Now who's shown us a kindness so I can thank 'em?"

Reagan was frozen in place. The prisoner with hay-colored hair had his eyes wide open.