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September 26, 2022

Fire Scar

By Mel Trent

The Immortal Guns of Talon Konstantine: Fire Scar

I.

The blue pall of darkness is breaking into pale dawn, and Jynx and Kaine are still standing in front of the fire upon which they have helped heap the dead. Their heads are down, and their eyes are closed. They stand shoulder to shoulder, grasping each other's hands as if that's all that keeps them in the real world. They don't move; they don't speak. The fire has been burning for almost twenty-four hours. The survivors are used to the smell of burning flesh by then. There are a total of eight survivors. Christian, Memphis, Nathan and two other guards as well as Winston, Pollie and Iai, although Winston, Iai and the two guards sustained considerable injuries. There were twenty-one casualties. Twenty-one souls drift to heaven on the smoke of the fire that leaves their bodies to become part of the desert dust. Shaman and Firefly guard those twenty-one souls on that journey. One by one, those souls hear their guardian angels swear to avenge them.

When the sun is fully over the horizon and the sky is white, jeeps carrying doctors arrive from Kestrel. There's not much to be done in the desert. They call for a larger transport vehicle to take the patients back to Kestrel. There's nothing to do then but wait.

The fire is empty. Each soul has passed on, but for a long time, the twins can't make themselves turn away. They blame themselves for the star demon's attack, but they know there was nothing they could have done. No one else blames them. Still, it's a burden they choose to bear. It reminds them of what they came to Phoenix for in the first place.

They spend the rest of the day sleeping in one of the tents the doctors put up. They lie facing each other, still holding hands like small children forced to venture out on their own. They cry in their sleep. Outside, the howling cold wind brings the sound of laughter to their ears.

II.

The twins wake up an hour before dawn the next day.

We need to head back towards our campsite, Jynx thinks.

Iai should come with us, Kaine thinks.

I hope our stuff hasn't been looted.

It hasn't. McBride was there.

What the hell is his deal?

I don't know. I don't care. If he thinks he needs to help us, we should let him. If he gets killed doing it, that's fine with me.

Maybe he's not as bad as we think he is.

Are you kidding? He reeks of evil. You know what kind of things he's done.

But he's never hurt an innocent person.

No one's innocent.

I still think there's something to his wanting to help us.

Kaine shrugs and sits up, pulling his hand out of Jynx's. I'll get Kumiko. See if Iai's awake.

Jynx hops off the narrow cot and stretches his arms up over his head. Remember, she's cranky when you wake her up too early.

III.

Jynx pulls aside the heavy flap of the tent and steps inside. A doctor is sitting on a small foldout stool, his chin on his chest and a thin line of drool sliding over the corner of his mouth. Another doctor is checking the vitals of one of the two caravan guards. Jynx doesn't like the look on the doctor's face. The guard may not live another day.

On the other side of the tent, Iai is sitting on the ground next to Winston, listening to Winston mumble incoherently under the influence of the pain medication. Pollie is curled up on a cot, asleep with her thumb in her mouth. Jynx crouches beside Iai and whispers, "How is he?"

"Still in pain, but he's doing better," Iai says. "Once they get him to Kestrel, they'll have him healed in no time."

"We're leaving now."

Iai frowns.

"We want you to come with us, but you don't have to."

"I don't want to abandon them."

"I know."

"He'll keep following you, and Yuusei will kill them if they get between you and her. And they will."

"It's your choice."

Winston stops mumbling. He opens his eyes and squints at Jynx. "Look!" he says. "It's an angel. Am I dying? Iai? Where's my daughter?" He struggles to sit up.

Iai takes Winston's wavering hand. "Hush, you're not dying," he says. "It's just the medicine making you see things. It's all right."

Winston relaxes and puts his hand against Iai's cheek. "I was wrong about you. You're not an idiot. But why remain so silent?"

"Because I'm used to being silent. That's all."

"You're going to leave."

"I don't know."

"You are. Go on. Go with him. You can find the beast that did this to us."

"But I can't --"

"We'll be fine. And I'll be following you soon enough anyway. I told you." He points at Jynx. "Just one of 'em."

Jynx grins. "One of me, sure," he says. "My brother's not me."

"One Seraphim. I'll prove it."

IV.

Blankets hang on ropes on three sides of the cot where Kumiko sleeps. Since she had to share a tent with men, Nathan had helped her put up the blankets for a little privacy, even though it wasn't likely that any of them would have taken notice had she decided to walk around the tent naked. She didn't bother to tell them that what she didn't want them to see were her tears.

Kaine stands outside of the blankets, listening to her breathing. He doesn't want to wake her up. She needs to rest. Part of him thinks leaving her there would be better for her. She won't have to worry about what happens next. Another part of him can't stand the thought of going on without her. He wonders when it happened. She had walked into Rollie's bar, and he hadn't thought much of her at that point. He thought she was cute and was amused by the way she handled Lily, but he didn't recall feeling that she was anything special. Maybe it was later when she helped put out the fire without getting flustered or how she gave up the money she got for taking in the Trinity Gang. She had made a show of not wanting to part with her stars, but he could tell that she did want to help Rollie. He doesn't think seeing her naked has anything to do with it. It happened before that, although he has to admit, he's glad she dropped that towel. He's not sure if she feels the same about him or if she's willing to admit to it if she does. He is sure that he doesn't want to take the risk that he'll never find out one way or another. Leaving her is the best thing to do. She can go to Kestrel with the others. She'll be safe there.

He turns away from the blankets then hears movement behind him. "Kaine," Kumiko whispers. He turns back to her reluctantly. "What are you doing?" she asks.

He says nothing. Speaking for some reason has become unnatural. It would be easier to run away.

She takes his hand and pulls him inside the blankets. He sits down on the cot next to her, unable to look at her. "Kaine? Is something wrong?" she asks.

"I ... we're leaving. I want you to stay here," he says.

She squeezes his hand. "Kaine ..."

"I don't want you to get hurt. I don't want you to have to see the things that might happen."

"I'm not leaving you alone."

Kaine lifts his head and looks her. Tears shiver on the rims of her eyes. Her face is full of determination. It's that look, he thinks. The first time he saw that look on her face, the moment she stepped into Rollie's. That's when it happened.

"Do you hear me? I'm not leaving you alone." A single tear rolls over the apple of her cheek.

Kaine brushes the tear away and smiles. "Good," he says. "I didn't really want to leave without you."

Their eyes lock. Kaine feels his heart beat harder, and something flutters in his gut. A tiny sound escapes from Kumiko's throat as her lips part just slightly. She reaches up to him and runs her fingers through his hair, caressing the top of his ear. He lets his eyes fall shut. He feels her lips inching closer to his.

"Oops, sorry to interrupt," Jynx says sticking his head through a gap in the blankets.

Kumiko jerks back on the cot, reaches behind her and throws the flat, hard pillow at Jynx's head. Jynx pulls his head back just before impact.

"Remember, she's cranky when you wake her up too early," Kaine says.

Jynx snickers. "We're ready," he says. "Or do you two need a few more minutes?"

Kaine steps out from behind the blankets, gets Jynx in a headlock and drags him out of the tent.

Kumiko steps out a few seconds later. She's shocked to see Iai standing there. The last time she saw him, he was still covered in blisters. He looks as if he were never even burned.

"Do they do this kind of thing often?" Iai asks.

"They have since I've met them," Kumiko says. "Are you okay?"

"My injuries have healed, if that's what you mean."

"We should probably go separate them before they hurt themselves."

They can hear the jingle of the bell on Kaine's collar as the twins wrestle. They step outside of the tent and watch for a while.

"Who usually wins?" Iai asks.

"Kaine does if I don't make them stop," Kumiko says. "Hey, cut it out, guys. Let's go."

They ignore her and keep wrestling. They aren't really trying to hurt each other, but it doesn't look like their normal play fighting. They aren't laughing. There's pain on their faces. Kumiko can't tell what's wrong, but they haven't been acting normal since they reached the Mirage as it burned.

"I think I hear more wind scorpions," Iai says.

The twins stop and scramble to their feet. They look around.

"Uh-uh," Jynx says. "Liar."

"There could be, though," Kaine says.

"Oh. Right."

They turn around and head for the campsite.

"What the hell is wrong with them?" Kumiko asks.

"What happened here has wounded them deeply," Iai says. "Until they can confront Fire Scar, they won't begin to heal."

"It's not their fault."

"I think they'd find any number of ways to disagree with you on that."

Kumiko looks at Iai and notices that he's wearing only pants and carrying his sword. "Um, don't you think you need to put some clothes on?"

"If I had any, I would. Everything was in Ben's trailer. It's all gone now. Ben's gone."

"You blame yourself, too, don't you?"

"I should have been waiting for her, not ... not with him."

"We'll find her."

V.

A wall of fire rushes up from the sand and separates Jynx and Kaine. They flinch back from the searing heat. The coolness of night had been slowly giving way to the stifling daylight, and now it's gone completely. They draw their guns and look behind them. She's staggering towards them with her hat in one hand. Her face is a mess of dark blood and writhing white maggots that cling to her skin and her hair. She's laughing at them.

Kumiko and Iai have moved out of the way, but Fire Scar ignores them. It might be nice to hurt the ones the angels care for, but she doesn't want the angels to suffer. She just wants to kill them.

The flames between the twins flare and die. "Beautiful angels!" she says. "Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Phoebe Dare, better known as the one who kills the star angels."

"Oh great," Kaine says.

"She likes to talk," Jynx says. "Why does there always have to be one who likes to talk?"

"I can solve that problem."

"Oh yeah? Please."

Shadows wash over Phoebe. Chills race across her skin. She feels a hand reach into her mouth and take hold of her tongue. She hears a single shot. It sounds like the music of heaven. Her ears throb. Blood gushes out of her mouth, and she realizes that her tongue has been shot off. She screams, but she makes no sound. She shoves her hand in her mouth and grabs what's left of her tongue. Cauterizing the wound doesn't hurt nearly as much as the ringing in her ears from the sound of the gunshot.

"You're always coming up with new shit," Jynx says.

"I do my best," Kaine says.

Phoebe tries to scream at them, but all that comes out of her mouth is incoherent mumbling. She drops her hat and waves her hands. A whirlwind of fire surrounds Jynx and Kaine. It spins and tightens.

"This is bad," Jynx says.

Kaine looks up at the shrinking circle of sky above them.

"Don't."'

"There's nothing else I can do."

"But --"

"I'll be fine. It won't take long."

Jynx clenches his teeth. He knows that even if it only takes a second for Kaine to draw on all three stars to break the gyrating column of fire, this fight will force Kaine to use that ability to shield them from Phoebe's flames. There's no other way they'll get close enough to her. Jynx presses his hand to his chest where the tube of needles is. There aren't many needles left.

The fire presses them together until they're standing back to back. Kaine takes a breath. His heart is already beating too hard. He closes his eyes and begins to bring up the shield. Shadows wrap around him. Feathers tumble over his lips. His heart lurches, then skips, then stops. He pushes the shield towards the closing wall of flame. His heart starts beating again, a painful hammering that doesn't feel like what he's used to. The fire begins to break. As it does, he notices that he can draw on Fire Scar's energy. He does and pushes it towards Phoebe in a ball of fire. He drops to his knees, breathing hard. His heart keeps pounding. It wants to stop, but something isn't letting it.

Phoebe dives to the sand, and the fireball passes over her. It leaves a long black mark across her back and on the sand. She stands up and applauds.

Jynx fires Hizashi. Three bullets slam into the same spot on Phoebe's shoulder. She waves her hand, and fire streaks across Jynx's face. He shrieks and falls, smothering the flames in the sand. His face throbs. He can feel blisters rising already.

Kaine gets to his feet.

"Kaine, don't," Kumiko says.

"It's okay," Kaine says.

Phoebe staggers in place and stares at Kaine. She can't believe he got back up.

Kaine strides towards Phoebe and trains his gun on her. His left side is numb and cold from his jaw to his waist. His heart is skipping and trembling. He tastes blood in the back of his mouth.

Phoebe makes a frustrated sound and lifts her good arm.

"What's the matter, bitch? Cat got your tongue?" Kaine asks.

Fire blossoms around Kaine. A swirl of shadows and feathers keeps the flames off him, and the barrel of his gun is left exposed. He empties his gun into Phoebe's chest. She falls to the sand with her eyes wide open. Her chest heaves a few times then stops. The maggots disappear.

Kaine lets the shield and his gun drop. His heart bangs against his ribs. Blood trickles over the corners of his mouth. His heart skips once then something tears. He hears the muscle pulling apart, and it feels like a dagger of dry ice has been driven down through his chest and his stomach. As his eyes roll towards the sky, he sees a pair of gentle hands reaching down to him, and then shadows eclipse his sight.

"Kaine!" Kumiko screams. She scrambles towards him, tripping in the sand. It takes her forever to get to him, and when she does, there's nothing she can do. She leans over him and puts her ear against his chest. His heart is still beating, but it's slow and weak.

Iai helps Jynx to his feet. "Is she dead?" Jynx asks.

"She seems to be," Iai says.

"There's a but there. But what?"

"I don't know. I know less about them than I know about myself. Maybe it's just the demon I'm still feeling. Are you okay?"

"Other than the giant pus filled blister on my face, yeah."

Iai touches his fingers to Jynx's face, and the burn begins to heal.

"Ow! That hurts."

"Sorry."

"I didn't know you could do that. Neither did you, right?"

"No."

"Hey, can you do that to him?"

"I can't get rid of the stigma."

"No, but heal the damage."

"I'll try."

Kaine's eyes roll open when he feels Iai near him. He doesn't see Iai. He sees a slender white feather against a black background. Pale blue sparks dance along the edges of the feather. When Iai touches him, the feather explodes into a blinding silver light, and Kaine descends into darkness again.

VI.

They reach the campsite at dusk. McBride is stirring the embers of the campfire into a flame. Near him is a dented coffee pot. Steam rises from its spout. There are five cups stacked next to the pot. Jynx wants to tell McBride to put the fire out and get the hell away from them, but he says nothing. Kaine is still unconscious.

"Everything all right?" McBride asks.

"No," Jynx says.

"Twenty-one people died at the Mirage," Iai says. "They were attacked by a star demon called Fire Scar. Fortunately, she's dead now, too."

McBride nods.

"Why are you telling him anything?" Jynx asks.

"Is he not here to help?" Iai asks.

"I don't know why the hell he's here."

"I thought he was your godfather."

"What? Are you crazy? What the hell makes you think our parents would know someone like him let alone be friends with him? He's just a sicko. He hunts people for fun. He's probably planning on killing us in our sleep or something."

"Jynx, if he were a threat, I would have killed him the moment I laid eyes on him."

McBride lifts the eyebrow of his good eye.

"Then what the fuck is he doing here?" Jynx asks.

Iai has no answer for that, and McBride doesn't want to say anything just yet.

"It's his fault they're gone," Jynx mumbles. He huddles next to Kaine with his back to the fire.

McBride stands up and brushes sand off his duster. He taps his foot against a canvas sack and nods to Iai. "That's for you," he says. "Figured you'd need something."

"Thank you," Iai says.

"Be seein' ya, kids." McBride turns towards Grave and vanishes into the desert night.

As soon as he's out of sight, Kumiko goes for the coffee. "I don't know what your problem is, Jynx," she says. "He's trying to help us. Maybe he is a monster. Maybe he's got some kind of game he's playing, but he was nice enough to watch our stuff. He left us coffee."

Iai opens the sack and finds several shirts, a worn blue duster, a pair of scuffed brown leather boots and a few other articles of clothing. He puts on a shirt, the duster and the boots, grateful for the protection against the chill of night. "McBride is not what he appears to be," Iai says. "His reputation is a mask, just like his scars. I honestly thought you knew."

"He's a cold blooded killer," Jynx says.

"As all killers must be." Iai could say more, but he doesn't. It's not the right time. He puts his hands in the deep pockets of the duster and stands just outside the light of the campfire, watching a small grey light recede in the distance. His fingers close around something in the right pocket. The object is less than an inch in diameter and is very thin. There's a hinge on one side and a small loop of metal on another. He runs his finger over the edge of it until he finds a clasp then pops it open. He looks over his shoulder to see if anyone is looking at him. Jynx still has his back to the fire, and Kumiko is frowning into a steaming cup of coffee.

With the object in his palm, Iai pulls his hand out of his pocket just enough to see exactly what it is he holds. He stares at the faces embedded in the two halves of the platinum locket for a long time before he closes the locket and slips it back into his pocket.

VII.

The sound of children laughing wakes Kaine up from a dark, dreamless sleep. He doesn't open his eyes. He thinks for a second that he's back in Uncle Avery's orphanage on Absolution. A train whistle moans in the distance. He sits up. The campfire is down to embers and bathes the sand with a warm orange glow. Jynx is curled into a fetal position next to him and snoring. Kumiko is tossing and turning in her sleeping bag. Iai is sitting cross-legged just outside the range of the light from the fire. His sword rests against his shoulder. Kaine can't tell if Iai is asleep or meditating.

The light in the sky is different somehow. It's nowhere near dawn, but in the east is an orange and purple glow. Kaine hears the train whistle again. He doesn't feel the ground shake. The train must be further away. He hears the children laughing. Then he sees them.

There are thousands of them. They're small, white shapes. They have round heads, large black eyes and no hands or feet, just rounded off limbs. Some of them have small black lines for mouths. Others have large black Os for mouths. They walk across the sand, climbing over Jynx and Kumiko. They walk through the fire as if it isn't there, but they carefully walk around Iai and stare up at him with wonder. Some of them are slightly misshapen. Some are tall and thin. Others are short and fat. One trips over Kaine's foot. He picks it up and sets it on its feet. It cocks its head. The thin line of its mouth bends into a smile. It lifts an arm and waves at him before it continues its journey.

They are all heading east, towards the strange light. Kaine gets to his feet and takes a few steps that way. Just under the surface of the desert, he sees the shimmering red lines of Phoenix's energy. He watches the leylines shift. They're moving east.

One of the taller things reaches up and wraps the tip of its arm around Kaine's finger. He lets it lead him for a while. Soon, another comes up and takes a finger on his other hand. "Where are we going?" he asks them.

They point east. The train whistle screams. The strange light rises. Kaine sees the woman for just a second. Her skin is the glowing yellow of the sun. Her hair is the color of flames. Her eyes are a smoky purple. She's naked. Her breasts are full and heavy, and her belly is large. She looks at him and smiles. Purple fire races along the lines around her eyes. "Shaman," she says. "Save them, please." Then she's gone.

The strange children fade, except the one who grabbed his hand first. It looks at him, putting its other limb to its mouth. It lets go of his finger and hugs his leg. He kneels down next to it. "You can't stay with me," he says. "Go on."

It shakes its head.

"Go with your brothers and sisters. I'll see you again. I promise."

It looks at him uncertainly. It points east.

"Rune," Kaine says.

It nods.

"Okay, then. I'll be there when I'm done. I promise."

It jumps up and down, waving its arms in the air, and then it fades.

An hour later, the sun begins to creep towards the horizon, and Kaine is still standing there staring at Rune. He remembers what Arizona Winthrop told them in Dust. Phoenix is alive. He thinks of the momentary vision of the ghost faces reflected in the windows of passing train cars. Things start to make some kind of twisted sense, but he's just not sure.

The air and the light around him begin to move. He turns back towards the camp and sees that he hasn't gotten up. His body is still lying where he found it, and the others are beginning to wake up. He goes back to his body, and suddenly, it's midmorning. He's waking up to the smell of coffee and something that's probably supposed to be food. He doesn't taste the coffee he drinks or the food he eats. He stares off into the east and wonders how he can save anyone with his heart torn almost in half.

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-02-18
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