Old Reliable

He had dumb names for traditional weapons, like “slug slinger” to describe anything that shot bullets, and “scat gun” for shotguns. He’d pronounce the former as one word, and it would sound natural out of his mouth and idiotic from yours, and that was most of the reason you would think it was dumb. The old armorer had style, that much was certain, and it carried over to his disdain for newer energy-based weaponry. We liked to joke that it was because he couldn’t understand the technology, or that he lacked the ability to build any of the fancier armaments, but it wasn’t that at all.

I’d gone to visit him one afternoon in the summer of Glabeau, that terrible season when the eastern armies pushed through gaps in our defensive line and rampaged across the countryside, scorching the earth, and adding to the oppressive heat of the season. The smoke from burning farms and villages put a heavy, permanent haze in the air, an acrid cloud that scratched the throat and stung the eyes. The armorer’s shop was unusually cool that day, the great furnace where he forged the metals for his guns turned low, and the shop floor was dim and deserted. I could feel the man’s presence there, though. Somehow, we always knew when he was about. I wondered if perhaps he had gone to take a rest, as he’d been working constantly that month to keep up with the demands from the front. Then I heard a strange sound coming from the rear of the shop, back where the old man kept his private quarters.

I don’t know what came over me, but I crept into that quieted shop with the silent tread of an alley cat, weaving around the anvils and barrels filled with raw materials, and made my way to the open portal that led to his chambers. Again, the odd sound cracked through the silence, this time accompanied by a bright blue light that flooded the place. A strange smell permeated the air, like burning hair or the stink left from a lightning strike. Then I was over the threshold and peeking in on the old man.

He stood with his wide back to the door, and he hunched over a heavy oaken workbench. I’d never gone that far into the shop before, and it shocked me to see the vast array of strange tools that littered the place. Many of them hung neatly on a sheet of pegboard nailed to the wall, but many more piled haphazardly on top of the bench. I watched as he reached into one such pile and drew out a tiny, pearl-handled, fork-tipped implement that almost disappeared between his thick fingers. I heard him curse, and again a bright spark filled the air, blinding me. When I blinked the white phosphor from my eyes, I saw that he had what looked like a rifle tucked under his chin, and he was sighting down it, taking aim through a narrow window that opened onto the shop’s yard. I felt the hairs stand up on my arms, and not from fear of being caught. Something was charging the air there, and a moment later a great ripping sound burst from the weapon and a piercingly bright arc of blue energy lanced forth from its barrel, missing the opening of the window completely and instead smashing into one of the open shutters, bursting it to tiny splinters that briefly caught fire before extinguishing, like embers from a crackling campfire. My breath caught, and for a moment I thought he’d heard me, but then he cursed again and dropped the weapon on the workbench with an obvious air of disgust.

“Thing’s just too fucking unrealiable,” I heard him say, and in that moment, I understood the old artisan’s attitude toward his craft. From that day I insisted on carrying at least one black powder weapon, and there would be many times when that policy saved my life.

2015.03.07 – 2023.10.01

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