Author Jim Johnson recently launched his new ongoing weird western series, Pistols & Pyramids. Part one is going down a storm and he’s about to launch part two. Jim very kindly let Genre Reader have a small peek at what’s coming…
An EXCLUSIVE extract from Pistols and Pyramids #2: Flight to the Fort below:
Pistols and Pyramids #2: Flight to the Fort
A harsh shaking roused Tjety out of his stupor. His fitful vision of a massive sand dragon tearing deep into his body and ba abruptly came to a halt. For a moment, he thought he was back in that rocky den chasing down Meret, getting buried in an earthquake, but then his weary senses filtered out his name being repeated, over and over.
“Tjety! Come on, you water-skimmer! Wake up!”
He cracked open crusty eyes and focused on the girl who’d helped save his life and those of her fellow villagers. “Ruia?” He saw the consternation in her expression and pushed himself upright, feeling a twinge of pain from his shot-up arm. “What’s wrong?”
Ruia knelt next to him and snorted. “What’s wrong, he says. Other than everything we’re dealing with? Things are just fine, sand-dancer.”
Tjety pushed himself up into a sitting position, the blanket he’d appropriated from a dead bandit sloughing to the ground. He adjusted the sling around his wounded arm and winced as the motion generated a fresh spear of pain. “What time is it?”
She shrugged. “Morning, yet. Maybe an hour past sunrise.”
He stared at her, blinking grit out of his eyes. “Ruia, that other night, the one where you escaped the bandits and went running, the night before you found me…did you feel an earthquake?”
Ruia stared at him with confusion plain in her eyes. “Earthquake? No. I don’t remember anything like that.” She stared away. “Of course, so much was happening, but…I’m sure I would have remembered.” She focused on him again. “Why?”
He met her glance and then looked away. “By the gods, I have no idea. I just…I was chasing after Meret and got caught in an earthquake, or a landslide or something, but there was something that felt very wrong about it…” He tried to puzzle out his thoughts, but no clear picture came into focus. Fuck.
“Anyways.” Tjety glanced at their makeshift camp. Most of the villagers who were mobile were focused on one task or another. “How are you and the others holding up?”
Ruia shrugged and then sat down in front of him. “Well enough, I guess. Most of them didn’t get much sleep.” She rubbed her red-rimmed eyes. “I didn’t either, for that matter.”
“I don’t think any of us did. It was a damned hard night.” The fight against Meret and his bandits and those strange unliving creatures had been brutal. They’d managed to win the night but at the cost of another four dead villagers and more wounded survivors.
Tjety gestured toward the Iteru, Kekhmet’s largest river, flowing nearby. “Did we get the last of the bodies into the river? I think I passed out at some point.”
“You did, but we managed well enough. We did like you suggested—stripped the bandits and tossed them into the river. We took more time with our people, and…” Ruia drifted off, but then shook her head and refocused on him with a flinty look in her eyes that both surprised and impressed him.
“And we gave our people their last rites and sent them all into Hapi’s embrace. They’re on the way to the Duat now. May they find peace and joy at the Lord Osiris’s gentle judgment.”
He echoed the prayer, then asked, “Your da was among them?”
Ruia dropped her gaze to the ground but then lifted it up again. Without tears, she nodded. “He was. And my brother Paneb. He was in that wagon as well. I’d missed seeing him earlier. Hopefully they’re with my ma now.” She shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to my sisters. They weren’t in any of the wagons.”
He frowned. “I didn’t find any youngsters in my search of the village after the attack. Maybe they found a place to hide.”
She stared toward the river again, then turned back to him with another shrug. “I hope so. I don’t know.” She gave him what looked like a half-hearted smile. “Can we find them by using this hekau power you think I have?”
Tjety nodded. “If we were rested and closer to the village? Possibly.” He sighed. “But do you think it’s the right choice to go back to the village to look for your sisters?”
She stared at him but didn’t seem to be looking at him. After a long moment of silence, she refocused on his face and shook her head. In a flat voice, she said, “No. We get everyone to Fort Sekhmet and then figure out where to go from there. I guess it’s the responsible thing to do.”
He got his feet underneath him and stood on shaky legs, pleased that he didn’t have to throw his good arm out to her for support. He was tired, hungry, and weak. He needed rest and food to recharge his battered hekau reserves, but it was what it was. He’d have to make do.
“I know it’s a hard choice to make, Ruia. Sometimes we have to do what’s responsible even when it’s not what we want.”
She stood as well. “I know that. One of the things you pick up as you become an adult, I guess.”
He glanced at her and grunted an assent. She still wore the sidelock of youth, but she was rapidly turning into and sounding like any other adult he’d known. The shit she’d gone through the last few days must have aged her prematurely. He shook his head. So much for a gentle coming of age.
Tjety stared toward the west. Somewhere out there was the person responsible for sending the bandits and those creatures after her village. He was going to find that fucker and balance the scales. It could have been his village, his people.
He pulled his thoughts back to the present. He and the villagers had managed to kill ten bandits and about a dozen of those unliving creatures. He glanced at Ruia. “Did any of your people turn up the body of that scarred man, Qebsenuf?”
She led him toward one of the fires, around which most of the villagers were eating a modest breakfast that stank like warmed-over slop. Tjety’s nose wrinkled in distaste even as his empty stomach lurched with longing.
Ruia said, “No, a few of us spiraled out from the camp and checked the trees, the old trader’s road, and walked up and down the river coast a couple hundred steps in both directions. No other bodies. There are at least a couple horses missing from the picket line, aside from the ones that are dead.”
Tjety nodded to some of the villagers as he found a seat among them. One of the men handed him a dented plate of food and a dirty spoon. Without thinking too hard about what exactly was on the plate, he sniffed the food then shoveled it into his mouth. It tasted awful, but it was hot and felt damn good going down.
Tjety glanced at Ruia, who was also working her way through a plate of food. “So I guess Qebsenuf got away.” He glanced at the other villagers, who looked at him with a mix of curiosity and weariness. “Which means he’ll be riding hard back to this quarry of theirs and reporting in to his master.” He pointed toward the trader’s road. “And then I suspect he and his allies are going to be coming back here with a vengeance.”
Ruia stared at him, the worry evident in her eyes. “Can we get out of here before they return?”
He met her eyes, and held her look for a long moment as he considered the variables. “Damned if I know, Ruia. If your people do as I ask and keep moving, I think we can make it to Fort Sekhmet. If not, then we may well get ambushed during the day or sometime tonight.”
He glanced around the fire at the various villagers. “If that happens, I don’t think we’ll all make it to the fort alive.” He paused, took a deep breath. “We may lose more folks before we get there.”
Ruia met his eyes. He saw something hard slide down over her face, some degree of toughness that he saw every time he looked into the river.
The eyes of a gods-damned survivor.
Ruia said, “The old and the weak will die. The rest of us will make it.”
About the Author: Jim Johnson is the author of the Pistols and Pyramids series as well as other prose fiction series currently under development. He has written sundry other pieces of fiction, including several stories published in the Star Trek universe, and has freelanced for pen and paper roleplaying game companies, including Decipher and White Wolf. Please visit www.SCRIBEINETI.com for more information on Jim and his interests and writing.
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