My eyes felt puffy, as I sat on the bed. I hung my head a little, while Lusu sat on an armchair.
“So it’s the gun that could stop Val,” Lusu said.
“Not sure,” I said. “That’s what The Hero seems to think.”
“Either way, we have to get it. To be sure, if nothing else.”
“You think The Hero tried to break into the smithy last night?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe. Probably, but I don’t know.”
“We don’t know much about this gun, do we?”
“No,” I said. “We don’t know much at all.”
She nodded her head. Thinking about it, I realized she knew more than I did.
“Val’s alive,” I said.
“But how do you know? What did you see?”
She took a long, deep drag off her cigarette, sighing smoke.
“That’s not an answer,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “I can’t say I love the question.”
“I wouldn’t have to ask it if you’d just told me already.”
“At the funeral,” Lusu said, “something broke out of Val’s coffin.”
“It wasn’t Val?”
“No,” she said.
“What was it?”
“A machine,” she said. “Some abomination. I don’t know. It didn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe they switched out the corpse,” I said.
“Maybe,” she said, “but it looked just like him.”
I sat there. “I didn’t kill him.”
“I believe you,” she said.
“I never would have killed him.”
She didn’t respond. Truth be told, I didn’t want her to.
“The Angel of Death told me he wasn’t dead,” she said, “so I don’t think he is.”
“You trust her,” I said.
“Not really,” Lusu said. “I don’t think she’s a liar. I wonder if she isn’t just a pawn in a much larger game. But that doesn’t mean I trust her.”
I leaned back a little. Somehow, that comforted me. I felt the same way: I loved the Angel of Death, but hated her. I trusted her, but I didn’t. I missed her when she was gone, dreaded her when she stood right before me.
Lusu sighed, her eyes no longer focused on me. Instead, she stared blankly at the wall behind me. “What an awful picture,” she said.
I was thankful for the change of subject. Looked up and spied the painting above me. It was Demersi, clad in his trademark spacesuit. He sat in the office I remembered him sitting in so many years ago.
He sat next to Stellavia.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think it looks nice.”
“It’s just strange to see someone’s image not long after they’ve died,” Lusu said. “Seems haunted.”
“The past suffocating the present.” Looking at that picture, I thought I wanted to see Demersi again. “I’m going to go downstairs,” I said, feeling vertiginous.
“You may want to try and find The Hero.”
She rolled her eyes, seeming to view me with a mix of annoyance and boredom. “As we were just suggesting, he might’ve broken into the smithy last night. Talk to him. See if he has any idea who else might be interested in the gun.”
I rubbed my forehead. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about that.”
I moved to leave, but when my hand was on the door, Lusu said, “You seem tired. Have you been sleeping well?”
I scratched my head, leaning some of my weight against the door knob. “Not really. No.”
“You may want to try and fix that,” she said. “I have the feeling this is the beginning of a long trip.”
I nodded my head. “You know what? I think you’re right.”
“That’s the thing, George. I’m always right.”
She let out a soft sort of chuckle as I walked out the room. I walked through the cramped hallway, shoes knocking against the hardwood floor. From the top of the staircase, on the second story, I could see the bar on the ground-level.
The Hero sat there, his broad shoulders hunched over. He whipped his head back, to drink a shot of something or other. A bottle of whiskey sat on the bar, within his reach.
I made my way down the stairs.
Before I reached the bottom, he looked up and said, “Here’s to the elf of the hour.” He poured another shot and kicked it back.
I reached the bottom of the staircase and began to walk towards him. “I don’t understand.”
“Sue’s been talking about you,” The Hero said.
“The bartender,” The Hero said.
“Went to talk to Jewel, to see if she could patch things over.”
“Patch things over?”
The Hero laughed. At what, I wasn’t sure.
“Sue says Jewell’s going to be pissed,” The Hero said.
“Because she thinks I’m the one who tried to break into the smithy.”
The Hero blushed, looking back at the glass as he poured himself another shot.
“You always drink this much in the morning?” I asked.
The Hero shrugged. Drinking his guilt away. If it hadn’t been obvious who’d tried to break into the smithy before, it sure was now.
“Usually Diamond is the first at the bar,” The Hero said.
“Lead guitarist,” The Hero said. “Of Deus ex Apocalyptico. They were playing here last night.”
“Right,” I said.
“He’s an alcoholic,” The Hero whispered.
What does it say about you when you start drinking before the alcoholic? I thought. But I figured it best to keep that one to myself. No use making an enemy I didn’t need to make, even if he was a jack-ass. I had enough trouble already.
“Must be tough,” I said.
“Ah,” The Hero said, swatting his hand away. “There are worse troubles in the world than the shit our own mind comes up with.”
Roughly a full minute passed, the two of us sitting there with nothing to say or do. The Hero looked uncomfortable, a little sweaty, a little red in the face. Thinking about it, he probably hadn’t slept since last night. If he had, there was no way he’d slept for very long.
I placed my hand on the smooth white bar. Marble. Strong.
“I’m sorry,” The Hero said, “that you got blamed for trying to break into the smithy.”
“I talked to Jewel,” I said. “She knows it isn’t me.”
“That’s good,” The Hero said, furrowing his brow as if the mere act of thought confused him. “That’s good.” He sighed, moving his hand to grab the bottle of whiskey again. He decided against it, moving his hand back, to let it rest on the bartop. “I want to break in.”
“I want to break into her smithy, and get that gun.”
He furrowed his brow again. “I haven’t been a part of something important in a long, long time. I thought I was okay with that. And I was, for a while. For a good long while, I had no problem with the idea of retirement. Not like things weren’t exciting. When you’re around liquor and guns all the time, it’s hard to be bored, you know?”
“I can’t imagine,” I said.
He looked at the bottle of whiskey, not talking. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to think of something to say, or if he didn’t want to say anything.
I opened my mouth, but he spoke first: “Guess it can get boring, doing the same thing day after day. Even if it’s with some of your favorite things in the world, you get bored.”
“So you want to take the gun?”
“I want to get the gun,” he said. “I want to help you. I want to be part of a prophesy, again.”
That makes one of us.
“You have any ideas?” I asked.
“Sure,” The Hero said. “I think I know how to get inside.”
A bell rang.
Diamond, entering the bar.
“Brother!” he yelled, walking towards us.
“Brother,” The Hero said, raising his empty shot glass at Diamond.
“This is pretty early for you, isn’t it?” he asked, sitting down.
“Or late,” I said.
“What?” Diamond asked.
Diamond said, “Did you want to meet this pretty little thing at the bar?” He flashed a grin and let out a thin short of chuckle.
An ugly lump sat in my throat.
“No,” he said. “She found me down here, actually.”
“What, you wanted to meet an old, washed-up man at the bar?” Diamond asked me. That smile of his was sickening. He combed his fingers through his shock of bright blue hair. It looked like a failed mohawk, since it was just one straight line, starting just above the forehead and making its way across his head and down to his neck.
“No,” I said, hoping the statement sounded firm, final. I hoped Diamond wouldn’t keep going down this road. The look in his eyes convinced me he was done. “Nice show you had, last night.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Though the way I hear it, my show wasn’t the most interesting thing happening last night.”
“You talking about the break-in?” The Hero asked.
“Yeah,” Diamond said, his smile turned into a smirk, “Well, the attempted break-in.”
“Right,” The Hero said, looking down at the ground.
“It’s not that interesting,” Diamond said. “A failed crime isn’t really much of a crime at all.”
“I don’t know if the law agrees with you,” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know if I agree with the law.”
The day passed like that, Diamond, The Hero, and I chatting away, not saying anything of consequence, but just talking. It was nice, actually. Relaxing. Sometimes I forgot I was an elf. Sometimes I forgot about my gender.
Lusu walked through at one point, I have no idea where to. She walked by without saying a word.
Eventually it got late and I was plenty drunk. Diamond’s band wasn’t playing until tomorrow, so I shambled my way up the steps.
Right around the eighth time Diamond went to the bathroom, The Hero and I finalized our agreement to break into the smithy tomorrow. Though break-in was a strong word for what The Hero’s plan was. Turns out he knew a guy who worked at the smithy some days. The friend was working tomorrow, so the plan was to pay the guy some cash, walk on in, take the gun and walk out.
I stumbled through the door, flopping on the bed.
The robbery would be easy, if I could remember how to walk tomorrow.
I dreamed. It was a better way of living.
— — —
“Really, we’re the Gun Generation,” Val said, his hands gripping the wheel, his eyes on the road. There was a sort of passion in his movements, a madness in his body.
“Gun Generation,” I said, chewing the thought, letting it roll over my tongue. “What do you mean?”
“Things move so fast these days, like a bullet out of a gun,” Val said, pushing just a little on the ignition, making the car rev a bit, flinging us into the future. I couldn’t tell if he was making a point, or doing it unconsciously. Either idea worried me. I held tight to the seat of the car.
Val went on, “The gods try to kill an innocent human, so The Hero kills most of the gods. Then Hostem’s all alone — tries to kill himself and take the whole world with him. But now we have to take him. What then? Bang, bang, bang. It’s a bloodbath — tiny, in terms of the age of the world, but probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened. We’re killing the gods, because they tried to kill us. What happens after all that? Where can society go? It’s like the silence after a gunshot. It just doesn’t make sense. No one knows what to do. Too much impact, and not enough time to think.”
“Can’t get worse,” I said. Soon as the words slipped off my tongue, I wasn’t so sure.
“Hope you’re right,” he said. “Some days, I just feel like a match, you know? I’m going to strike and burn bright — kill a god, which is no small feat. But then, soon as my purpose is done, I’m gonna get snuffed out.”
“Then you’ll be smoke,” I said. “Smoke isn’t so bad, is it?”
“Smoke,” he said, easing his foot off the ignition pedal. “It’s something.”
“It’s enough,” I said, taking out a pack of cigarettes. “Here’s to smoking.”
I took a cigarette out of the pack, slipping it in my mouth while I slipped the pack back into my pocket. Rolled down the car window with one hand, while snapping with my other.
“Fiat lux,” I mumbled. A spark flew from my fingers and onto the cigarette. I took in a lungful of smoke, then blew it out the car window. We sped past the smoke, though. I didn’t get a good look at it.
— — —
I woke to the sound of a knock on the door. Felt like a pattern — one I didn’t like.
I almost expected my skin to slough off. My heart beat a little too quickly as I placed my hand on my cheek.
I was fine, not shedding.
The sound of a key entering the keyhole. A turn, and then the opening of the door. I sprung up, only to find Sue standing there, looking mad as hell for who knows what reason.
“I want you two out of here,” she said, jabbing her finger at me.
“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”
“What happened?” she repeated. “What happened? What happened is that you two have been nothing but trouble since you got here. I want you out, today. Now.”
“I…” I didn’t know what to say. What had we done?
Lusu seemed to have less trouble. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her get up, sliding up a little so that her back could rest on the bedpost.
“We paid for a full week,” she said, sounding unamused. “We’ll stay here for the full week.”
“You’ll get a full refund,” she said. “But you’ll also get the fuck out of here.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” Sue asked.
“We paid for a full week,” Lusu said. “We’ll stay here for the full week.”
“I’ve been talking to people,” Sue said. “You know what I’ve found? Nobody likes you. Nobody wants a goddamn elf in the bar, and we sure as hell don’t want a Hyalu.” She walked over to the bar and got in Lusu’s face. “That makes me the voice of the people, telling you to fuck off.”
Lusu sighed, taking off the covers and slid her legs off the bed, so that they were on the floor. She stood up, wearing nothing but her underwear, staring Sue directly in the eyes.
“I was married to Blake Reiner,” she said. “Am married, actually, since he never filed for divorce. Obviously you know the stories surrounding him. We all do. And I assume you’re not a complete moron, which means that you can pick up what’s at the heart of every one of those tales: violence. A wrong is perceived, so he kills the wrongdoer. Again and again, story after story. Some of the stories are false, of course: false memories created by a society that didn’t witness things firsthand. But some of those stories? They’re dangerously true.”
“Of course,” Lusu said, walking in a circle so that she was now behind Sue, forcing Sue to turn with Lusu, follow Lusu’s lead, “you’ve no reason to worry about him. I’m not threatening to sic him on you, though he does resemble a mad dog. No, what I’m trying to explain to you is that I survived. Every day I lived with a man who loved killing. At first, it wasn’t a problem. I loved him, and he loved me. How could there possibly be a problem? But the years moved on, and doubts began to creep in. Yes, I loved him for how much he changed my world. But after a while, the changed world became the norm. And I couldn’t help but wonder: was this man capable of stability? Did he want a changed world, or did he just love to change things?”
“I don’t know,” Lusu said. “I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. What I do know is that I survived. And in surviving, I learned from the best. I lived with the best killer the world has ever known. I saw the depravity in his heart, the darkness in his eyes. I learned from the best. Question is, do you want me to show you what I’ve learned?”
Sue stuttered, trying to say something but ending up with a mess of useless syllables.
Lusu took in some air, getting ready to say something. But she was interrupted by Jewell, who came in through the doorway.
“I told you I’d take care of this,” Sue said.
“I know,” Jewell replied, her voice softer than usual, her goggles resting just a little below her hairline, her eyes plagued by red lines. “But this is more important than all that. I need to know. I can’t just sit by and wait.”
I had trouble saying the words: “The gun’s gone?”
Jewell barely nodded. Her head tilted half an inch up, then half an inch down. “You took it, or you know who did.”
“I didn’t take it,” I said. “We didn’t take it.”
“I kept that gun locked up for a lot of years,” she said.
“We need it,” I said, “but we didn’t take it.”
“You don’t need that blood weapon.”
“Your friend was killed for a reason,” I said, voice shaking.
“Don’t justify murder. Don’t you dare.”
“It’s…” I searched for the word. Was there one? “Sacrifice.”
“I don’t give a shit what it is,” Sue said. “I want you out of here.”
“Haven’t you been listening?” Lusu said. “I’ll eat you alive, bitch.”
“Val’s trying to end the world,” I said. “We’re the only ones who can stop him. That gun is the only way we can do it.”
“Nothing good can come from those crazy elves. You’re one of those elves,” Jewell said. “And you expect me to trust you? You expect me to trust you?”
“That gun,” I began. “I used to be a journalist, before I was an Elf Guard. And I wrote obituaries — a lot of them. And do you know what I found? People leave bits of themselves, when they go. They impact an environment. That gun is your friend’s legacy. That gun is your friend’s direct impact on the world. By fighting us, you fight his destiny.”
“You elves have a lot to say about destiny, don’t you?” Sue asked.
“I wish I didn’t,” I said, softly. Because wasn’t that what had fucked me over, time and time again? Wasn’t the problem with this goddamn destiny — this goddamn destiny that kept me on this godawful trail, killing a god only to have to later kill a Godkiller?
“Doesn’t matter whether or not I need the gun,” I said. “Not to you, anyway. I don’t have it.”
“Who else knew about the gun?” Jewell asked.
“The Hero’s the one who told me about it,” I said. “Then there’s Diamond.”
“Diamond,” Jewell said, chewing the name. “What would he want with the gun?”
“No idea,” I said.
Jewell and Sue looked at each other.
“Do you know anything about the gun that we don’t?” Jewell asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t even know if it’s the gun we’re looking for.”
“Bullshit,” Sue said. “Cut the elf crap and tell us: what’s going to happen with that gun?”
I retreated into myself a bit. How could people get things so wrong?
“You know I can’t say.”
“What do you see?” Sue asked.
“Not good things,” I told them.
Jewell seemed to believe me, and Sue believed Jewell.
— — —
Jewell barreled down the stairs. Sue followed her, I followed Sue, and Lusu followed me.
Well, she didn’t quite follow me. She seemed to be working a lot of stuff out. I don’t know where her mind was at, what she was following.
The Hero was sitting at the bar, drinking a cup of something — beer, probably.
Jewell smacked him across the back of the head. He spat out his drink, which was actually clear.
Then he asked, “What was that for?”
“You don’t have the gun?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “Your gun?”
“The gun you couldn’t shut your mouth about,” she said.
A single heartbeat. Then he said, “No, I don’t have it.”
“If you’re lying–” Sue began.
But The Hero cut her off: “You guys have known me to be a liar, sure. I’ve said a lot of things I shouldn’ta said, but have you known me to be a good liar?”
Jewell nodded her head, gazing deep into his eyes. “No, I haven’t.”
“Alright, then,” he said. “Then you can trust me.”
“Stop drinking,” Sue said. “I don’t want my liquor clouding your mind anymore than it already has. We’ve got a problem, and we’re going to need a fighter.”
“It’s water,” The Hero said, raising up his cup. “Just water. Why? What’s going on?”
“Diamond has the gun,” Jewell said.
“Ah, shit,” The Hero said. He grabbed his water and threw it back, taking a huge gulp. Then he slammed it on the bar.
“What?” Sue asked.
“Diamond owes Demersi a lot of money,” The Hero said. “He’s supposed to be over there right now, playing a gig.”
“You think he has it in him to kill someone?” I asked.
“All that fucking band of his sings about is death,” Sue said.
I wondered if that was so bad.