Another world building exercise, I do these a lot. This time it was for "Frontier" a world that's a mishmash of non-medieval fantasy, light steampunk, and wild west. This is a projected 8 story/vignette cycle, but only the first two are written at the moment.
The Explorer listened to the rain fall softly against the prefab stone house she was sitting in. As the thousands of fingers of whatever particular imaginary sky god happened to hold domain over this new land tapped across the roof, The Explorer wrote in her journal. The Explorer wrote of what she’d seen (not much) and what she still had yet to see (too much). She wrote of rain and sun, wind and snow. She wrote of primordials and ascendants and skaksi and cordo and all manner of creatures large and small. She wrote of the trouble she had gaining passage to Toya (the superstitious sailors refused to let her on board until she showed she could help with their work) and of the rough days at sea. But most of all, what The Explorer wrote were stories. Stories she had experienced, stories she had heard from one of the other Explorers, stories she made up. Each one rooted in her findings, but developing and expanding on it, forming its own little version of the Frontier.
`And when the rain stopped The Explorer put down her journal for the day and stepped outside to see what the Frontier had to show her today.
The Gunslinger didn’t tell people his name. The few people who knew him knew him as Rook. Rook... Rook reflected on this name as he climbed the rocky slope. An old army nickname that stuck long after he left. He couldn’t now remember how it came about, how he ended up borrowing the name of some bird he’d never heard of, but nowadays it was all he went by. There were some days when he almost forgot it wasn’t his real name.
Rook’s reverie ended when he reached the top of the slope. The basin opened below him, extending out into the distance and merging with the wastelands ahead. Rook took little note of the scenery however, he had his eye on the small speck traveling across it. He had found his target.
As Rook began to descend the cliff, he considered the job. The client, the scientist Weyland Thorovess, hadn’t told him much of the target. Female. Demonkin. That was about it. He hadn’t questioned it either, the pay was good, Weyland was a well-known figure, and Demonkin weren’t exactly known for their purity anyway. As Rook reached the bottom of the hill he heard a scrabbling behind him and turned, drawing his revolver.
“Woah,” the man behind Rook said as he swiftly descended the rest of the cliff. “Easy there, not gonna backstab you, don’t worry.” The man was quite thin but tall and his elongated limbs and extruding, snout-like face marked him as a cordo. He was dressed in fine royal blue clothing, a merchant-explorer shipped over from Cord to make his “fortune”, most likely.
“What do you want?” Rook said without lowering his revolver.
“Oh, nothing, really,” the cordo responded, “I’m just after your mark is all.” The cordo stepped forward with a slight smirk. “Which reminds me, my name is Balthis. Don’t bother introducing yourself, I’ve heard of you before, Rook.”
“You’re after my mark? The Demonkin?” In all his career as a bounty hunter, Rook couldn’t remember this sort of thing ever happening before.
“Sorry, was that not clear? Are you hunting more than one person?” Balthis’ smirk remained fixed on his face.
“Balthis. If you think I’m going to let you take my mark you’re even more stupid than you look. You’re unarmed and I’d rather not kill an unarmed person, so how about you just leave, hm?”
“Wow,” Balthis said, looking impressed for a moment before the smirk returned to his face. “I’d heard that you were an excellent gunsman, bounty hunter, etc. but you vastly undersell your talent at humor. Have you tried comedy? Perhaps farcical playwriting or some such?”
“Are you mocking me?”
“Does a grundle like sheep? Anyway, how about we don’t stand around talking. After all, we’ve both got a job to do. May the best man win and all that. See you on the other side.” And with that Balthis clapped his hands together and vanished.
“A spellcaster,” Rook grumbled under his breath, “And apparently a talented one. Just my luck.” Rook distrusted magic in general, preferred the dependability of technology. For all he knew Balthis could’ve teleported, become invisible, or even shrunk, but in any case Rook figured it was probably bad news for him.
Rook turned back to his target. And his heart sunk as Balthis appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the Demonkin, and then disappeared. Rook knew what happened next. “You took my mark,” he said to Balthis, who had just appeared behind him with the girl.
“You are a bright one,” Balthis said, “Don’t be so stand-offish though. No hard feelings, eh?”
“No hard feelings? Sorry, but that’s not an option.”
“Oh? Are we going to fight, then? I could use a fight.”
“Oh you’ll get a fight.” Rook spun and quickly fired his revolver and then watched as it passed straight through Balthis’ forehead. Rook heard the crunch of boots on dirt behind him and turned to see a second Balthis standing there.
“Nice. Shot to the forehead, real original. Good aim, though. Still, if that’s the best you can muster, how about we just skip the whole me obliterating you and get on to the part where you surrender?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rook said and cocked his revolver for emphasis.
“Oh I’m totally serious. Not sure you are though.” The second Balthis began to circle Rook and as it did so several more clones, or illusions, began to split off of him and start circling as well.
“Who hired you?” Rook began to turn in place, trying to keep his eye on as many copies as possible.
“Sorry,” Balthis smirked again, “That’s confidential. Now, I’m not sure how much you know about cordo magic, but we like to keep it simple and efficient. Nothing too flashy like Tainted or humans do. That’s why when I teleport all I do is clap my hands.” The copies abruptly stopped circling and their hands all began to glow. “However, I thought you’d like a light show, so I’ll go a bit more flashy than I usually do.”
“Wait-” but Rook was cut off as the copies all simultaneously raised their hands and beams of light shot from them, smashing into Rook with the force of a mace. Rook was pushed to the ground and smashed over and over again by the beams of force. And then all of a sudden the clones froze in place. Rook painfully got to his feet, his body hurting all over.
“This has gone beyond bounty hunting,” Rook said through wounded lips, “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing this?” Balthis said. “To prove a point.”
“To prove that you are no match for me. To prove that your technology, your guns and ships and machines are nothing compared to the natural power of magic.”
“That’s why you’re going after me? To prove a point?”
“You are the best technological bounty hunter in this godforsaken frontier, by defeating you I will prove that magic is superior.” Balthis crossed his arms and suddenly all the clones vanished, leaving only the one holding onto the still silent Demonkin. In fact, now that Rook looked at her, the silence was a little eery. She was less deformed than many Demonkin he had seen and he wasn’t sure of her type. Pale skin with red markings, turned up nose, sharp teeth, pointed ears, slitted eyes. She looked almost like a cross between a Bloodweaver and a Maneater. And those eyes... Ever since Balthis had captured her she had simply been looking quietly and calculating at Rook, saying nothing, just... watching.
Balthis, however, hadn’t noticed. He had let go of his grip on the Demonkin and was advancing on Rook, a malevolent spark in his eye. And then, just like that, the Demonkin took her chance. In the blink of an eye, before anyone could react, she grabbed Balthis by the neck and, with uncanny strength for her size, pushed him to the ground. Any struggle on Balthis’ part was quenched when the Demonkin slid a small telescoping dagger out of her sleeve and held it to his neck.
After a moment of stunned silence, Balthis spoke up. “Well, that was unexpected. So, um, how about you let me up now, hm? There’s a rock digging into my back.” The Demonkin hissed and Rook watched as she drew the blade back to strike as Balthis simultaneously raised his hands. Balthis’ hands came together just as the knife struck and he vanished, but there was blood on the blade. No telling if the wound was fatal.
After another moment, Rook took a step forehead. The Demonkin swung her head up to look at him, her eyes narrowing further, and she hissed. Then she was gone, bounding over the basin faster than Rook thought possible.
Rook hesitated for a moment. He was somewhat badly wounded, but... He was also a professional. And there appeared to be something going on here worth looking into. The Gunslinger set off after the girl.