Chapter six

A Man and his Armor

The air was windy and full of fat rain drops that splattered as they hit. Shejin Hundual had never liked being soaked through but it was a part of life on the road. The Storm territory stretched out before him. Long swaying grass that was as tall as a man in some places moved like waves across the ocean. Big blue and grey clouds floated endlessly above him. Not far off the land was dotted here and there with farms. Large metal domes sat puffing out smoke from chimneys that the gnomes considered barns.

Shejin chewed on the end of his cigar and stared at the glowing glass eyes of a metallic construct cow. It was a circular animal with bolts and tubes running through it. The outside metal of it had been painted white with black spots. He had to raise an eyebrow when the thing made a clicking sound and a weird sort of "Moo" came out of its mouth. Gnomes had trouble with real flesh and blood animals so they did the next best thing they could think of, they built them.

A good portion of the gnomes stayed in their homes in the east. The cities that the elves allowed them to have anyway. Shejin seemed to remember one such city blowing up fifty years or so ago. Those that did come out west to seek their fortune usually ended up in Silvercity. The gnome in particular that had written to Shejin asking to guard a top secret shipment was named Lendock Lightsprocket, the owner of Lightsprocket Brothers Incorporated. The letter had arrived by way of a mechanical bird that nearly broke through a window to get to Shejin.

Not a week later Shejin was leading six wagons full of crates toward a town called Pigglewittle. The mayor was brother to Lendock and had already been sending messages ahead to Shejin and asking for reports back. It was the only gnome town in the west and had a reputation for trouble. Shejin could handle guns and thugs. Things blowing up and sputtering constructs was a little harder to swallow. Two humans had joined up as well. John Six Guns was an Indian that had grew up in Silvercity. Six different revolvers sat holstered around his waist and chest and gave him his name. The other was Henry Hasting; an old ex-marshal that Shejin wondered wasn't blind. Half the time the old man fell asleep riding his horse. Three constructs walked awkwardly in various places holding rifles and shotguns. They looked like metal scarecrows that occasionally hissed steam out the slits they called mouths. Shejin had a mistrust of mechanical things but when you worked with gnomes there was no choice but to deal with them. The glowing glass eyes made him uncomfortable.

The rain pelted down so hard it pushed them and Shejin decided to find a place to shelter for the night. They came to a few farms but whoever lived there locked and bared the door. Shejin was about to give up when they came upon a small house with about ten different windmills of different sizes. A gnome, all big nosed and big forehead, was grunting and pushing a large cart half stuck in the mud. His clothing was so covered in mud that Shejin wondered if he had more of that on him than cloth. Gnomes were a different kind of creature in Shejins opinion. They all liked showing off and doing things better than even their own kin. This one wore a wide-brimmed hat with a small windmill sitting on top.

The gnome was so busy pushing his cart that he didn't see Shejin till he was nearly beside him. When he did he jumped up in surprise and landed hard in the mud. "Gargling Gutterspouts!" He cursed and slammed his small fist into the mud. "Fraying Friggets!"

"Need some help?" Shejin asked.

The gnome tried to stand and found that the mud had a hold on him. At only three foot tall the gnome looked tiny in the big mud puddle. Finally the gnome furrowed his bushy white eyebrows. "I guess I could use a small amount of help."

John Six Guns and Shejin got him up and out of the mud puddle. Henry got the cart out as well. "Names Shejin Hundual," Shejin said and then introduced John and Henry.

The gnome looked at them with a grim but curious eye. His white beard dripping mud as he frowned. "I'm called Wellim Boltcopper. I guess after helping me out I owe you one. It would be my pleasure if you would stay the night."

"We accept," Shejin said humbly. The metal dome could fit the horses but the wagons would have to stay outside. At least they could be dry for a few hours.

John Six Guns was helping Shejin get the horse's in. "Wonder what this rich gnome fella has in them crates that's so important. We haven't been attacked or anything since we left Durrowridge. Probably just something that don't even work."

"If a gnome tells you he needs something guarded then it must be important. Most of the ones I met are suspicious of everyone," Shejin led the last horse into a stall as he spoke. "I just want to get it to this Pigglewittle and be on my way. Gnomes have a way of talking you into things."

John shrugged. "This has been the easiest gold I ever made. Boring though."

"I could use some boring. Let's get inside and see if we can actually get dry," Shejin closed the barn doors. He walked to the wagons where all three constructs seemed to be staring at him. "Keep watch around the wagons," Shejin ordered them. He gave them an awkward look but a few moments later they started clunking along the perimeter of the farm. Could a construct actually listen and reason? Shejin hoped not.

Inside the little house was cozy and warm. As always in any gnome house there are a thousand trinkets and gadgets sitting everywhere. Wellim had some kind of fascination with windmills and most of the things he made used them. Most of the ones in his home didn't seem to work but Shejin figured there wasn't any wind inside so that might have had something to do with it. The gnome did not have seats that fit human backsides so Shejin and the others sat down on the floor. A rickety, noisy construct no bigger than Shejins arm came out of the kitchen with a tray full of steaming bowls. It smelled like vegetable soup to Shejin and his mouth watered.

Once everyone had eaten they all sat around. Wellim had a pipe with a small windmill that actually lit a small fire so the gnome did not have to use a match. Shejin smoked on his cigar and enjoyed being dry. John and Henry both had hand rolled cigarettes. Soon the room was filled with smoke and the talk began.

"So Lightsprocket got a new shipment coming to his shop in Pigglewittle? Only Lendock would have so many guards. Trust me, he wants everyone to know that this wagon train is his," Wellim assured them.

"What makes you say that? You know him?" John Six Guns asked.

Wellims face broke out in a sinister smile. "Most gnomes live to about three hundred. Only some of the younger ones are being born outside Gnuggletonk and haven't met their elders. I've known Lendock since we were kids. My family never made it so high as his did. His father had seven boys and all of them have dozens of inventions between them. Didn't take Lightsprocket long to get rich in the west but here's the part most don't know about the family," Wellims smile grew even bigger," Lendock stole his very first invention and killed the original owner. They were kicked out of Gnuggletonk and all the surrounding gnome lands. Lightsprocket was forced to go west."

"So what. He's richer than sin now. Don't matter what he did in them lands so long as he's got the money now. Its how it works in the west," Henry yawned.

John Six Guns shook his head. "I think that anyone does something like murder, well, they are gonna get theirs in the end." Shejin nodded his head in agreement.

"My point is that Lightsprocket is built on lies. Sure he came up with many inventions after that. Even I have to admit that the toothpaste they make is genius. The biggest dishonor for any gnome is not being able to go back to his homeland. His reputation amongst all gnomes is tarnished," Wellim said sadly.

"What about you, Wellim? What are you doing out west?" Shejin asked.

"Windmills," Wellim said with a flourish of his hands. "I am going to turn the state of agriculture on its backside. I believe that in time we might be able use wind for all kinds of uses."

"It defiantly looks like your passionate," Shejin looked around the room.

Wellim puffed at his pipe and smiled fondly. "My family is a small one. In gnome society the more inventions your family has to its name the more honors you get. My father was obsessed with damning rivers but he never did much with them. My mother died after giving birth to me so that just leaves me to get my family and its honor on the right path. One day...," He trailed off.

The patter of rain filled the silence of the room for a bit. John turned to Henry and then laughed. The old man was asleep.

"Guess he has the right idea. Morning will be here before we know it," Wellim hopped down from his chair. "Have you had any trouble on the road? I had heard talk of a group of bandits robbing wagons up and down this territory."

Shejin shook his head. "Been nothing but easy so far."

"Good. Good. You never know what evil things can come riding over a hill," Wellim took one of the lanterns off the wall. "Well, see you all bright and early," Wellim said as he made his way up the creaking stairs to the second floor.

Shejin took a look out of the small window but only rain and darkness greeted his keen eyes. "I probably should go check on everything out there."

John Six Guns eyes were already shut as he lay on the floor. "I think they'll be fine. We got another day's ride and then it's over. I think we can relax a bit."

Shejin decided that John was right. Rarely did he let his guard down but he was tired and comfortable. For once he trusted everything would go fine and closed his eyes to sleep.

As always his dreams were a mixture of the war. Of the bad things he had done. The men he had killed. Shejin awoke to a loud thump; his elven hearing had never mistaken him. It was not yet morning but the rain was still coming down and thunder could be heard not far in the distance. At first Shejin wondered if he had been mistaken when a second thump echoed in his ears. Shejin suddenly got a bad feeling. In the pit of his stomach he could feel that something was not right.

A third thump coming from below. Shejin lay his head against the floorboards. The smell musty, wet smell of a basement filled his nose. Shejin searched around the small room and saw that where Wellims chair was sitting was an old, worn rug. Shejin moved them quickly but quietly to reveal a small doorway. Shejin unbolted the metal lock and the doorway came up. A small ladder led him down into a decent sized cellar. Taking a match out from his pocket, Shejin struck it against the wall. The light revealed a workshop. A big wooden table and shelves filled with windmills.

Shejin held his breath as his gaze landed on a small body lying on the floor. It was a gnome all tied up and gagged. Somehow the little guy had awoke and slammed his head into the worktable. Shejin ran to him and removed a dirty cloth from around his mouth.

"T-thank goodness someone came. I thought I would die down here," The gnome said weakly. He was a skinny fellow with a close cropped brown beard and curly hair atop his head. Dried blood matted one side.

"Who are you?" Shejin asked already knowing the answer.

"I'm Wellim Boltcopper. You're in my house. A gnome imposter knocked me out and threw me down here," Wellim groaned as Shejin cut the robes around his hands and feet with a boot knife.

Shejin bounded up the ladder. He was halfway up when he heard a loud crash and the house above him shook. The living room above was destroyed. Broken windmills lay everywhere. A massive, shattered hole where the door had been silhouetted a large hulking form. John Six Guns and Henry stared at the big shadow with their mouths hanging open. To many battles had Shejin coming full out of the basement door with revolvers up. The guns erupted in his hands and slammed into the shadow with a metallic sound. A bolt of lightning painted everything in white and Shejin stopped firing as he got a good look at what he was facing.

It was an armored man. Shejin remembered the old stories of times long since passed. It was said that men and elves alike wore armor to protect them from harm. The suit was all metal with big bolts connecting everything. A massive pipe stuck out of one shoulder with what looked like smoke coming out of it. The metal itself was of a kind that Shejin knew well. Admite, one of the strongest metals said to be in existence. Bullets would be worthless. A big square helmet with two small eye slits were what the suit considered a face. Shejin could smell burning coal coming off of it.

The metal man took a step inside with his gauntleted arm raised. Shejin saw that the ends of the fingers were gun barrels. Shejin cursed and looked around for some cover. "Why don't we just lower those revolvers, Mr. Hundual," a familiar gnome voice said from the stairwell. Shejin would have like nothing more than to have leveled his guns at the imposter but the metal man had him dead to rights. Shejin threw both his revolvers to the floor. The gnome that was not Wellim made his way down the stairs and stood before Shejin. "It's so much easier when to do things politely wouldn't you say?"

Shejin raised an eyebrow. "So I'm guessing you're the bandits that have been attacking wagon trains?"

"How very observant, Mr. Hundual. I have always thought that elves were of keener minds than most. Well, not gnomes of course," The imposter said with a casual smile. "Now if you be so kind as to walk outside we can finish with my well layed plan." The rain had let up some when John Six Guns, Henry, and Shejin were pushed outside. The metal man ripped Shejin's sword from his waist and tossed it aside. John and Henry were made to throw all their weapons in a pile before the imposter. "Are the others suited up?" the gnome asked the metal man.

"Should be by now," The metal man said with a deep voice. A crack of lightening revealed what was left of the wagons. The large crates Shejin had been hauling were broke open. The three constructs were in various pieces throughout the muddy ground. Behind it all stood three more metal men, each one moving unsure arms and legs. Shejin wondered if these men had ever been inside the suits before. From the way they moved it didn't seem like it.

For a few moments the four metal men got acquainted with their armor. The first one we met Shejin had taken to calling the Big One. The armor was bulky and thick and built to roll over anything in its path. The rest were each equally different but it was obvious what they were built for war. One of them was all sharp edges and moved like a snake. The armor had spikes and blades at every joint and daggers for fingers. I started calling it Blade. The third had so many rifle barrels about it that it put John Six Guns to shame. One of the guns fired a lasso, another net. I called him The Gun. The last one left even Shejin breathless. At first Shejin wondered what the short and thin metallic one did? Two metal blades spun on each side of it and after a time when the coal got hot enough at the back of its suit, The Bird took flight. It floated first a little then as the man moved his arms it sent him up or down, left or right. Shejin wondered what it was like to be soaring above them all. He had a crazy thought of what the war would have been like if one side or the other had armor that could fly.

The imposter nodded his head in approval after he felt that each man had his armor down. "They are truly amazing things. You have to marvel at them," The gnome said his eyes taking them in greedily.

"I know a story like this one," Shejin spoke up. The Big One moved to hit him and Shejin prepared to have his skull caved in. The imposter motioned with a hand and the Big One stumbled back. "The story goes that those without honor steal others inventions. Something like that," Shejin said.

The imposter turned and gave Shejin a dismissive eye. "Depends on who had what stolen. A great family as might as my own were the true inventors of these amazing suits. The damnable Lightsprockets stole it from us."

"From who? All I see is a gnome that steals from wagon trains," Shejin spat.

"Since you about to die I'll indulge your curiosity, Mr. Hundual," The imposter said as he walked toward one of the open crates. "My family was one of the greatest that Gnuggletonk had ever known. The trains that are starting to sprout up in the west, that was us. My father learned the secrets behind melding admite and we started working on ways to make gnomes a force to be reckoned with. Everyone knew that the Silverwrench was going to be the next big family. One day we hoped to rule the west and eventually beyond. Then Lightsprocket and his brothers stole all our plans and these suits. My family had nothing."

"Since you know my first name. Let's hear yours," Shejin asked.

Silverwrench chuckled as he hopped up on the wagon and started rummaging through the crate. "It doesn't matter," he said pulling out different pieces of armor and setting them down beside him. "So my family goes and tries to steal the suits back but the Lightsprockets set us up. They had just up and took everything they owned to the east. The kings guards found us trying to steal what they thought were Lightsprockets. My family was ruined, known only as thieves and liars. Had they only known that we were innocent," Silverwrench sighed as he pulled what looked like a helmet from the crate and raised it in the air.

Things about the story already seemed off to Shejin. Silverwrench sounded like a tyrant in the making. Anyone that could create these suits was not into peace. "So you spent the last few decades following the Lightsprockets? Why didn't they ever try and get rich from these suits? They could have at any time," John Six Guns said confused.

Silverwrench put his little feet into the metal boots and gave the Indian a look of irritation. "Who knows what that idiot Lendock was thinking. It was his mistake for not profiting from them." Silverwrench clicked the rest of the armor on till only his head was visible. The armor fit him perfectly. It was as black as the darkest cave with a mixture of guns and blades about it. Silverwrench placed the helmet on. The eye slits lit up with an eerie glow as he moved his head about. "Now that I have my family's legacy back none of it matters," Silverwrench said with a laugh. His voice had a deeper tone inside the helmet.

"So let me guess. You're headed to Pigglewittle for a little revenge," Shejin said clenching his jaw.

The small blades under his arms came to life and he floated down to the muddy ground. Silverwrench knew how to operate the suit and he landed with ease. The other metal men came up behind him. With the lightening and the rain they made for an intimidating sight. Good thing Shejin didn't scare easily.

"Revenge. I call it justice. Sadly, Lendock probably won't be there. He spends the majority of his time in Silvercity where Lightsprocket has his main offices. Still a couple of his brothers will do until I can make my way to Silvercity," Silverwrench stepped forward, with his suit he was nearly eye to eye with Shejin. "Now let me see. What should I do with you? I don't like leaving loose ends." Silverwrench turned to the Big One. "We are going to head out. When we leave I want you to crush each ones skull and tell me the outcome. We'll call it a first case study of these suits in action. Wait until I leave, mind you. I don't want to see it."

"No fair fight, eh?" Henry spat at Silverwrench.

"Fight all you like, human. These suits make us invincible," Silverwrench lowered his arms and began to float above them. "Goodbye, Mr. Hundual. May your death be a quick one." The Blade and Gun started running across the plains as fast as any horse could. The Bird and Silverwrench shot across the sky above them. Pretty soon Shejin could not even see the burning coal in the back part of their suits anymore.

The Big One stomped the ground and looked down at them. Its armored fist looking like two warharmmers. "Who wants to go first?" he asked them eagerly. Whoever was behind that mask was enjoying this.

Shejins eyes took in their surroundings. The Big One was a few feet away but getting closer. The house was out of the question because of how far away it was. The barn was behind Shejin. If he could get to his saddle there were a few sticks of dynamite hidden away.

"Never thought I'd go out like this," John Six Guns said sadly.

"On my move start running in different directions," Shejin said quietly. John and Henry turned to look at Shejin like he was crazy. "Just do it." They both gave weak nods.

The Big One stopped. "What are you whispering elf?"

Shejin looked up with smile, rain dripping down his face. "NOW!" Shejin bellowed and started running away from the Big One. Behind him he heard the armored moron curse. Shejin made it to the barn and threw open the doors.

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! Coming from behind made Shejins heart skip a beat. Roll damn you! He screamed in his head. He jumped and rolled toward the left. A crash sent broken wood and metal siding slamming into his back. Dust filled his nose and grit got in his eyes. Shejin willed his arms and legs to move and quickly wormed his way out from underneath the pieces of barn. The Big One stood over him. From this close Shejin could see the mans satisfied eyes.

Shejin looked around but there was nowhere he could run. His back was to a stall door, the horse kicking and screaming from fright behind him. "Looks like the end of the road for you, elf. Let's see what happens when I step on you," Big One said and shuffled his big foot up. Shejin spat at him and prepared for death.

Suddenly the Big One backup up a step. At first Shejin thought he had stumbled then he noticed John Six Guns on the back of the armor. The Indian was holding onto the hilt of Shejins admite sword which was buried to the hilt at the back of the helmet. Shejin quickly scrambled to his feet not a blink before the Big One fell face first into the stall. The stall door exploded under the weight of the armor. John Six Guns let out a deep sigh and looked around in disbelief.

"Good thing I told you to run," Shejin said with a smile. He helped John climb down. "Thanks for saving my life. I owe you one."

John shook his head. "I still can't believe that worked. I figured the armor had weak spots but I didn't know if the sword would be enough."

Shejin looked down at the dead hulk. "It worked. Everything has a weakness. Now we know these suits do to. "

John and Shejin stepped back out into the rain, the morning sky was starting to lighten but the clouds were dark and bruised looking. The storm was far from over. Henry leaned against a wagon trying to catch his breath.

"Now what?" John asked pointing at the wagons. "Our job is over. We lost."

Shejin stared at the horizon, the very direction where the four armored were headed. "It isn't over until I get my say. We gotta get those horses hitched up and ride after them."

Henry gave them both a tired look. "Sorry, but you young fellows are on your own. I can't ride hard like I used to."

Shejin gave a nod. He turned to John. "You think you can get that armor on?"

John turned and then he smiled. "Yeah. Let's see what all the fuss is about." After taking the dead bandit out it took a while to get John inside. The big hunk of metal did nothing and John couldn't move all the weight himself. Shejin was lost on how to get it to work.

"You have to put some fresh coal in the back part. That combined with some wood and water should get it going again," Wellim Boltcopper said coming up beside them. He had a bandage wrapped around his little head. The gnome moved around the barn getting the various things and then hopped up and opened the back cage of the armor. Once he put the ingredients inside and got down did the armor move.

"This is something else. Shejin, you gotta try this," John Six Guns said with wide eyes. He lumbered out of the barn and flexed his big fingers.

Shejin grabbed several of the horses and started saddling them. Henry moved along to help him. "Start running, John. We gotta try and catch up to them. That armor is not gonna be as fast as theirs but I think it will still be faster than horse back. You getting the hang of it?" Shejin asked as he worked.

John lifted his fist and pointed his fingers at a windmill. Bullets screamed out of the ends of his fingers and destroyed the mill. John had a big grin on his face until he turned to see the gnome glaring at him. "Sorry Wellim."

Once the horses were ready Shejin jumped up on one. Two others were roped together beside the one he rode. John put on the armored helmet and waited for word to move. "If you can make for a town. Might be we can get word to the army or a few marshals. If John and I are lucky we might be able to stop them," Shejin said to Henry and Wellim.

"Good luck," Henry said tipping his water soaked hat.

Shejin did the same and then started the horses running. John stomped into a run and kept not far behind the horses. Shejin couldn't help but be amazed at how powerful the suits were. In the wrong hands they would be death and destruction to anyone in their path. Shejin bore down in the saddle and pushed the horse all the more. Silverwrench had to be stopped.

Noon came and went as Shejin moved from horse to horse. The mounts were soon slick with sweat and spit coated their mouths. Still he pushed them. Shejin kept his eye on the horizon for any signs that they were gaining. Two tiny dots far away made Shejin smile. He was catching up to them. John had gotten a little bit behind but he was still smashing along.

Hill after hill he crested until he was trailing behind the two on the ground, mud flying up into his face. They had no idea that Shejin was behind them and he planned to use that to his advantage. Shejin could see his reflection glinting off the back of The Gun as he inched closer and closer. The Blade turned and shook with surprise. Shejin braced himself as the Blade turned to pounce on him. At that moment John slammed into the Blade with such force that the metal crunched and screeched. Shejin jumped up on the saddle and balanced as best he could. The Gun started to slow and spun to see what all the commotion was. Shejin pulled his sword in on fluid motion and leapt as the horse passed the armored man. Shejin slashed down hard slamming his sword across the Guns face mask sending sparks flying.

The ground came up fast and Shejin sucked in a breath and landed on his feet. Because he was going so fast Shejin rolled with the force and came to a stop with a splatter of mud. The Gun was trying to remove his dented face mask; the eye slits crushed making him blind. John and the Blade swung armored fist and feet at one another, brown slick mud covering every inch of them. Of the two flyers, The Bird was circling around. Silverwrench was continuing on, a tiny dot in the sky.

Shejin focused on The Gun who was succeeding in taking his helm off. Removing his boot knife, Shejin waited until The Gun lifted the helm off in triumph and then took aim. He threw with all his might and the blade soared through the air. It went to the hilt in the man's eye and he fell back with a look of surprise on his face. Shejin took a deep breath and turned to the remaining enemies.

John deflected a whirlwind of bladed fist backing up with each cut and twist. The Blade could move in the armor and he was not letting John get any kind of attack going. Shejin wondered if John was losing the fight and prepared to try and help. Bullet fire hit the mud around him and Shejin cursed throwing himself to the ground. The Bird flew passed them starting a curve to make another go.

Shejin wiped mud from his face and removed his revolvers. The Bird came back through and fired again sending Shejin scrambling back into the mud. Shejin fired at the flying man but he couldn't get off an accurate shot with how fast the Bird moved. He spared a glance at John who was still trying to defend himself against the Blade. John's armor was dented and full of cuts. In one or two spots Shejin could see blood trickling out of the joints. Both of their times was running out.

Shejin spat and decided to get John the chance to fight back. The Blade had his back to Shejin and that was the target he chose to loose his guns on. Shejin gritted his teeth and fired one round after the other. The bullets couldn't hurt the Blade but they were enough to distract him. The Blade slowed slightly as the force of the bullets hit his back. John saw the hesitation and threw a massive fist into the Blades face. The armor crunched in and the Blade fell to one knee. John lifted both fist and brought them down with full force. He did this over and over until the Blade was a hunk of broken metal.

Shejin had time to turn around as bullets fell like the rain around him. One hit him in the shoulder and another grazed his leg. He screamed and fell to the ground. Shejin gritted his teeth and the world spun with pain. A loud crash reached his ears but Shejins head spun and he nearly passed out. Time might have passed quickly for Shejin and the elf might have lost consciousness a few times. He awoke to massive arms holding him. It took Shejin a minute to realize that John was holding him.

"Where is the Bird?" Shejin asked weakly.

John laughed through his dented helm. "Bird? The flying ass, you mean? Well I didn't like him filling you full of lead so I picked up what was left of his battered brother and threw him. With mostly luck I connected and they crashed some distance that way."

Shejin gave him a half smile. "Set me down." John lowered him to the dirt and mud. Shejin felt weak in the knees and the bullet wound against his thigh burned with each step. He couldn't even move his shoulder but he was pretty sure the bullet went through. Around him the suits looked like a child's discarded toys.

"I don't think the town is far off. But I don't think you're in any kind of state to fight anymore," John said although his own voice sounded weary and tired.

"You planning on going up against a gnome that knows that armor better than you do? You'll be crushed in moments," Shejin grimaced as he gave John a once over.

"We can't just do nothing. He's liable to destroy the entire town," John said desperately.

Shejin reached into his pocket and pulled out a half broken cigar. It was soaking wet so he chewed on the end of it. Surprisingly it gave him a little comfort. Shejin looked around at what he had. A bunch of broken suits, a couple of half dead horses, John and himself. After a few moments an idea came into his head. Shejin gave John a quick tale of the plan he had in his head.

"Sounds like it just might work. It's gonna be a close thing," John said hopefully.

Shejin found himself inside the Guns armor. It took him about a blink to realize that there was magic infused throughout the metal. Most gnomes didn't know a stone throw about the ancient power. There was a familiar bad feel to the magic that Shejin had encountered before. Silverwrench combined magic with craft, he'd enchanted it somehow. John gave him a wave and Shejin found he could lift his arm with no weight felt around him as he waved a return. Small buttons under each of his fingers fired a different gun on his body. Inside of it he felt a sense of invincibility and it scared him. No one should ever feel this way. The unpredictable nature of life was what kept a person from turning into a monster.

They ran faster than any man should be able to. Across the plains with rain coming down in sheets they ran. A bolt of lightning slammed into the ground just feet from them. The storm was as bad as Shejin had ever seen it. The clouds were black and grey and moving like frenzied birds across the horizon. Shejin saw the smoke long before John pointed. Are we too late? Shejin thought but threw it out of his mind. Whatever awaited them Shejin could deal with it as long as he got his hands on Silverwrench.

The town was about thirty buildings, many of them made in weird, tall shapes cover in metal and wood. One or two of them was aflame and gnome men and women ran in terror. A large metal wherehouse sat on a hill at the other edge of where they were. Shejin could see where Silverwrench had left a path of destruction. Here and there lay a small body. Thankfully he didn't see any children.

"Let's kill this gnome, Shejin. I don't care if I die long as he goes with me," John Six Guns slammed his armored fists together.

Shejin merely gave a nod. Behind his mask he scowled. They thought the wet streets and continued destruction till they came to the front of the wherehouse. Lightsprocket Brothers Incorporated had several large holes around the big front doors. Silverwrench held a squirming gnome by the neck. The gnome was turning blue which contrasted with his bright green beard. Another gnome bald as an eagle's egg with a pointed green beard lay on the ground, maybe dead. Shejin was pretty sure they were Lightsprockets.

With a burst of pure strength Shejin ran at Silverwrench. The demented gnome turned his head and had time to see the elf shove his metal fist into his face. The little Lightsprocket went sailing but Shejin had no spare time to see if he was okay. Silverwrench took the blow and somehow caught Shejin pushing back. Shejin spared a look over his shoulder and was glad to see that John was grabbing the wounded gnomes up. Silverwrench made him pay for it by unloading a couple of slugs at his head. They bounced off his helm with enough force to jar Shejins teeth.

Silverwrench turned quickly and threw Shejin against the stone building. The wall took the collision with a loud crack and Shejin fell in a heap on the ground. The angle he was at made his shoulder wound scream in agony. Shejin felt blood trickling down his chest and back.

"It is you? Mr. Hundual? Only you would attempt to attack me. A futile try but I applaud you anyway," Silverwrench sprinted forward and slammed his boot down hard onto Shejins chest armor. The metal made a sickening crunch and Shejin felt it squish inward. "Your kind is not known for such impatience, it is...interesting," Silverwrench observed as he picked up Shejin and threw him across the road.

Shejin raised his arm feebly and tried to take aim. Silverwrench chuckled above him as he slapped his hand away. Shejin squinted through the bent eye holes as Silverwrench picked him up by his helm. "Get it over with," Shejin shouted at him."

"Your wish is granted, Mr. Hundual. Let us fly," Silverwrench grasped Shejin around the arms and they started floating up. Shejin was suddenly looking down at the entire town. The wind lashed around them with a cold fury. He could make out gnomes running around but they looked like ants from that high up. Silverwrench's glowing eyes stared into Shejins. "Again, Mr. Hundual. This is nothing personal."

Shejin brought his helm up against Silverwrenchs. "It's not personal...but this still feels good."

And then Shejin let his hands loose and at the same time tucked in his belly and dropped out of the top of his armor. The world was suddenly spiraling toward him. Shejin spun with his revolver in hand. Although Shejin couldn't see Silverwrenchs expression he had a feeling it was complete confusion. Shejin had never needed a bullet to connect more so than he did now. The world spun and Shejin took a deep breath and held it. As he took aim he let out his breath and fired.

Sitting across his back was a tied satchel from Shejins saddle. Inside was enough dynamite to blow a huge hole in something. That combined with all the rest of the dynamite shoved down into the armors gun barrels made for a ticking time bomb. When John got close enough and took the Lightsprocket brothers away he had thrown the satchel to Shejin. The bullet hit the satchel at the same time as lightening flashed across the sky. The explosion sent Silverwrench spinning fast in a smoking heap toward the ground. After that Shejin closed his eyes making his peace with death.

Shejin landed roughly into John's arms and the two of them went rolling into the mud. Something crashed not far off sending wet dirt flying. John took off his helmet and sat down with a loud splatter. He gave a glance at Silverwrench and then raised his face to the rain. Shejin took a deep breath and let himself sink into the mud. He didn't have long to sit there, however. The town's gnome population was soon pulling him out and cleaning up his wounds.

John Six Guns and Shejin were soon sitting in front of a roaring fire inside the huge Lightsprocket manse. Shejin wanted a cigar and a couple shots of whisky. John asked for some food. Hughbeck Lightsprocket scratched his bright green beard and gave them both a stern look. The one with the pointed green beard and bald head, Gabor, had a constant running nose but seemed friendly.

"We were incredibly lucky that you showed up when you did, Mr. Hundual. We both owe you our lives," Gabor said as he limped into the room. Silverwrench had sprained his ankle and cracked a few ribs but nothing life threatening.

"Our profits are going to suffer," Hughbeck shook his big head and looked at Shejin as if it were his fault.

Shejin hissed with pain as he moved in his chair. "Who was Silverwrench?" Shejin said putting on his own stern face. Hughbeck gulped and lowered his eyes.

Gabor looked at his brother with a worried expression. Finally he sighed. "I am about to tell you one of our families biggest secrets, Mr. Hundual. Since you saved our lives you have more than earned it." Gabor and Hughbeck went around the room closing shutters and curtains and making sure no one was listening at doorknobs before returning to their seats. "We left the great gnome city of Gnuggletonk to make a name for ourselves but that is a half-truth. When my brother, Lendock found out that Tiboras Silverwrench planned to build armor for an army, he knew that he had to stop it. Most don't know that Tiboras planned to kill the gnome king and set himself up as ruler. While it was against everything we gnomes are taught about theft and honor, Lendock stole Silverwrench's five suits of armor and all his plans," Gabor said mournfully.

"Lendock always has ideas within ideas. He set Tiboras up for a frame when Silverwrench tried to steal them back. It was genius," Hughbeck said proudly.

"Is that who we killed? Tiboras?" John asked.

"No," Gabor said shaking his head. "That was his son, Sebor. The entire family was cast out of Gnuggletonk and our informers have no idea where he is at the moment."

"When you had the armor why didn't you sell it or make more of them?" Shejin asked.

"Our family has never been war makers. In fact most gnomes strive to bring things to peaceful ends. It is why we are so good at business. My brother made a hard choice but we stood by him. We knew we had to keep the armor hidden, the plans locked away," Gabor said.

"So it ended up in the middle of nowhere inside wagons?" Shejin asked between drags of his cigar.

Gabor looked ashamed. "Lendock got word that Sebor was close to finding out where we were hiding them. He had heard that a great elven warrior was not far away. After we heard about your skills we hired you on. Lendock said if anyone could stop Sebor it was this elven bounty hunter. I regret to inform you that we used you as bait, Shejin Hundual. My brother, Lendock wishes to send you his humblest apologies. He has tripled your fee in hopes that this will smooth things over."

While Shejin wanted to be mad he found himself actually respecting what these little gnomes where doing. It took a lot of courage and honor to look after something so powerful. "What are you going to do with the armor now?" He found himself asking.

"Lendock plans to have it destroyed. The building plans locked away in our bank in Silvercity," Gabor stated.

Shejin found that he trusted these Lightsprockets. He even agreed to help them again should they ever need his help. After a few days in the odd little town Shejin started to admire the smart, fast paced little gnomes.

John Six Guns, Henry, and Shejin stood on the Lightsprockets porch. Shejin had his arm slung up to keep his shoulder from moving but he felt fine.

"Where you headed to next?" John asked him.

Shejin got up into the saddle. "I usually just head down the road. You be surprised by how often trouble seeks me out. What about you?"

John ran a hand through his straight, black hair. "The Lighsprockets want to keep me around. They say they need more security now more than ever. Figure the money is good and I don't have to do much."

Shejin smiled behind his cigar. "Sounds like they got a good man working for them." Shejin said no more as he spun the horse around and started riding out of town. He had found a few more good souls in the world and as he looked up at the sun high in the sky, Shejin thought it shown a little brighter. At least for now, the storms were over.

The End.