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  • Writer's pictureGrant Stoye

HOLD FAST Part 6: Blood on the Floorboards

The knife erupted out of the dirty man’s hand with a small thunderclap.

The man didn’t even have time to look down as another clap sounded and a ribbon of blood unfurled from his face.

Imran stood, his eyebrows knit together above piercing, angry eyes, a bullwhip coiled between his hands.

“Here’s more mercy than you showed that boy: Get out, ‘fore something bad happens.”

Moments ticked like hours under the angry noonday sun. Imran’s mismatched eyes peaked through slits, meeting the dust-caked glare of the dirty man. Only the dripping of blood from the boy could be heard.

“Alright…alright,” the dirty man said, his hands turned palms out and rising slowly, “I know when I’m beat.”

He began backing away slowly, the floorboards groaning.

Gem ran to the boy, tearing at her skirt. She knelt beside him and used the strips to staunch the blood flow. Quietly, he began to weep.

Bouda raised slowly from behind the barrels and made her way to her granddaughter. She knelt by Gem and put her hands on the boy, speaking soft words of calm.

But the dirty man stopped backing away. With words uncoiling like a snake strike, he shrieked, “GODDAMN DRAULS!”

His hand was blurred as it flung forward, but Imran could see what he was holding: a boomstick had shot up from a compartment hidden by his shirt cuff. Its brass tube faced the three of them, ready to unload a detonation that would fry them all.

Imran’s moved his arms gracefully in two separate arcs, and his fingers danced like they were playing an invisible keyboard. The dirty man’s weapons sprang to the ground like metal to a magnet. Imran moved again, his fingers curled like an eagle’s claw, and pushed forward, sending the dirty man hurtling backward.

He landed with a grunt and a hard thud, rocks and detritus scattering about the main road, and laid there for a few moments. The dirty man was almost invisible as he scuttled in the dust, but he picked himself up, his mouth moving wordlessly as he stared at Imran. He frantically untied his black-and-white painted horse, hopped on, and kicked it out of town.

Gem knew full well that she hadn’t seen a lot of incredible things in her time. Life in the desert didn’t provide much in the way of novelty, nor did it offer anything truly breathtaking outside of a sunrise or sunset over the mountains. But this. This! She’d never seen anything like what the stranger had just done. She could feel her heart racing, but a cough from the boy at her feet brought her out of her reverie and onto the porch.

With his hands almost casually by his side, Imran took a deep sigh and looked around. Almost the entire town was staring at him with unblinking eyes and gawping mouths. Except Bouda Heatherwing.

The elderly elven woman walked effortlessly over to Imran with one hand on the hilt of her blade. With his eye he saw her, and he knew that she saw him. It was almost like they could read the other, top to bottom, and passed unspoken words of confirmation. She placed her hand on his right arm near the shoulder and gave a short squeeze.

“Well, why don’t you settle in, stranger,” she said. “No sense headin’ on out after a show like this.”

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