AND THEN MISTER BRICK TORE THE DOOR OFF ITS HINGES.
“And here I was hoping I’d need to invite you in,” said Kieran, and ran. Mister Brick sauntered after her, seemingly in no great hurry, grinning all the while.
“Wrong kind of beastie, my dear!” rumbled Mister Brick. Under the electric lights of the Goodtime Tavern’s dining room, more of his face became visible, and Kieran saw his eyes: blank, grey spheres spinning in his face like cue balls.
“Ah,” said Kieran. “Shit.”
She grabbed an upended chair from a nearby table and hurled it at Mister Brick with surprising force. The creature caught it effortlessly, crunching it to splinters more out of enjoyment of the sound than anything else. When he looked up from his work, Kieran was nowhere to be found. Mister Brick let out a rumbling, earthy chuckle.
“Do you see, little girl? You run from me all day, and even the savior you hoped to find here has fled when the reality of the situation set in.”
Ceramic tiles crunched and splintered musically underfoot as Mister Brick stalked throughout the dining halls, upending tables and taking deep, hearty sniffs as if smelling the scent of Betsy’s fear. Soon enough, his head swung toward the bar. He made his way toward it, slowly and agonizingly, every footfall a booming gunshot.
“You must be tired. You must be hungry. Come with me, little girl, and I will take you to the end of your suffering. Come with me, and it will all be over soon.”
The monster placed his hands flat on the bar and took in one last long inhale.
“Ah, fear. What an intoxicating bouquet it makes.”
“Gods, it must. Considering it seems to have covered up the smell of gunmetal.”
Mister Brick’s head whirled to the right. There, standing on the bar, having made not a sound as she stole behind the counter and retrieved the sawed-off scattergun he was currently staring down the barrels of, was Kieran Quick.
“Thanks for the heads-up,” she said, and unloaded both barrels directly into Mister Brick’s face. The roar of thunder and cracking stones filled the dining hall of the Goodtime Tavern. Mister Brick took buckshot like a boxer takes a haymaker, sprawling backwards, upending another table and burying himself under a pile of chairs. Kieran barely gave him a backwards glance as she leapt over the counter and grabbed Betsy’s hand.
“Come on, that won’t hold him for long.” Kieran dragged Betsy up onto her feet and deeper into the back rooms of the Goodtime Tavern. Betsy’s eyes flashed over an immaculate kitchen, a set of stairs leading up and down onto further levels of the building, and what looked like a break room with a dartboard, kicker table, and an eclectic mish-mash of antique furniture, before focusing back on Kieran.
“What do you mean, it won’t hold him? You just– you just shot him! Straight in the face, like, pchow!” Kieran didn’t look back as she pulled Betsy to a door altogether unlike the rest of the architecture of the Goodtime Tavern, made from solid ebony with strange writing spidering up and down its height in poured silver engravings. Kieran was fiddling with the doorknob, which had no lock but did seem to itself be some sort of sliding disc puzzle.
“If that was a human, you’d be right, and we’d be done. Unfortunately, what’s out there isn’t human. I thought he might be some kind of undead, but he didn’t need to be invited in and he doesn’t smell like embalming agents, so I’m sorry to say he’s something worse.”
“Worse than undead?” asked Betsy, eyes wide. “What’s worse than that?”
Kieran seemed to have figured out the doorknob’s combination, because she pulled the door open, revealing a dark, musty room within. Only then did she turn back and look at Betsy, dark eyes burning.
“He’s one of the fair folk. That means Fortun didn’t hire him. He summoned him. He bound him.” Kieran hustled Betsy into the room and slammed the door shut behind them. Back in the dining room, the pile of chairs burying Mister Brick began to tumble and shift.
For a moment, Kieran and Betsy were cast in utter darkness. Betsy felt around in the black, trying to find something solid to lean on. Her fingers found Kieran’s hand, and in the darkness Kieran swung around to face her. Betsy gasped, and Kieran tugged on the light chain above them, flooding the room in sudden brightness.
“What?” asked Kieran, turning to rummage in a nearby workbench.
“Your… your eyes,” murmured Betsy, before gaining the sense of self to look around and absorb where they were.
The room they were in felt small, but only because it was so full of an absolutely mind-boggling array of objects. Charitably, it could be called a workshop, considering the bench covered in tools and little cubbies filled with components and ingredients esoteric and mundane. Alternatively, it could be called an armory, if you went by the dozens of firearms, blades, bludgeons, and other implements of war and death hanging from the walls and, in one startling case, the ceiling. Truthfully, the best word one could use to describe the strange chamber behind the warded door in the back of Djedi Oldtime’s Goodtime Tavern was “hoard.”
“What is all of this? Who are you?” asked Betsy. Kieran kept rummaging through drawers, seemingly searching for something in particular, muttering calibers under her breath in between answers.
“What, did you think Picky Planter pointed you to me because I clean a mean mug?” She chuckled, tossing an empty shell over her shoulder. “Who I really am and what most of this stuff is isn’t important right now. What’s really important is getting you some breathing room and figuring out a move from there.”
“No buts,” barked Kieran. “We survive this, maybe I answer some questions, but right now I need to concentrate.”
Betsy opened her mouth to respond, but thought better of it and remained silent. Kieran kept rummaging. The sound of footsteps permeated the door behind them, and Betsy snapped her head to look at it. Heavy, plodding footfalls, getting louder. Kieran grit her teeth and started talking again.
“Look, he already told us everything we need to know. He’s a fae, he can sense your fear, probably feeds off of it, too. Unseelie, by the sound of it, if they’re still using that terminology over there. If they ever did. My guess, some kind of troll or bogeyman. Scary, for sure, but worse if you let yourself give in.”
The big ebony door shook as something huge and heavy slammed against it. There was a pause, and then it shook again, harder, as Mister Brick redoubled his efforts.
Kieran looked over to Betsy and gestured for her to join her. In her other hand was an enormous-looking antique revolver. Betsy’s eyes grew wide at the sight of it, and she scurried behind Kieran as she held up a single brass cartridge. The slug on the end was a flat-looking black metal that barely reflected any light.
“I’m only gonna get one shot at this, so stay put and trust me.”
Betsy nodded, and Kieran slammed the bullet into the old gun’s cylinder. She thumbed back the hammer and crept silently to the door as it began to buckle under the fists of Mister Brick.
Suddenly, the blows ceased. Betsy’s breath hitched in her chest. Kieran froze, dark eyes fixed onto the ebony door. In the place of the blows, a light scratching reverberated through the door, and the voice of Mister Brick wafted into the room, as plaintive as a beloved pet trying to get inside.
“Little girls,” he crooned. “I don’t think you understand the situation you find yourself in. Tell me, have you ever heard the phrase ‘my way or the highway?’ Well, I’m afraid to say, you’ve met the highway; it’s me. I am the road the rubber meets, the rock and the hard place. My master wants the thief, but you, little hero? Every moment of mine that you waste is an hour that I spend grinding your bones when I get my hands on you.”
The edge snuck back into Mister Brick’s voice, like it couldn’t bear to be away for long. The door buckled again.
“Don’t you get it, you fool?” he snarled. “I am not a kind thing, not a merciful thing, not a gentle thing! I am a vengeful thing, and if you don’t open this door right now–”
Kieran had heard enough. Her canvas sneaker flashed out and the door which so recently had stood resolute and unconquerable to Mister Brick’s ministrations flew wide open as she surged out. The troll-man’s face went slack with shock as Kieran moved even quicker than his primordial gaze could follow and drove the barrel of that enormous old revolver to grind into the unfinished flesh between his eyes.
“By her claws, do you go on, you two-bit hog, you blundering rock!” cried Kieran, dark eyes flashing with something darker still. “Sniff for me now, will you? Use those lungs for something useful. Do you know what’s in the chamber for you? I know you can smell it.”
Mister Brick froze, taken aback by the sudden shift. Kieran pressed the gun harder against his head.
“Smell it!” she roared. “Tell me what it is!” Mister Brick drew in a deep and sucking breath and the marbles of his eyes ceased their rolling.
“Cold iron,” he breathed. Kieran grinned wildly and nodded.
“You’re damn right, it’s cold iron, and a damn hard sight to get the hold of it it was, but I have it now. Tell me, do you think I could miss from this range? You’re strong, quick too perhaps, but are you faster than my finger? Quicker than a bullet? You’re a big tough boy, perhaps you’ll still be alive by the time it makes its way through you, burning and hot the whole way, but how long will that take? Perhaps I’ll fire it straight down the top of your head, and we can play a game guessing if it comes out your foot or manages to burn through your leg before that?”
Trolls cannot sweat, not even in the guise of men, but Mister Brick gave the impression of a man in the hot seat all the same as he forced out a chuckle as casually as he could manage.
“Very impressive words, little hero,” he said, working himself back into something approaching confidence. “But words are all they are. Cold iron that may be, but you still have to pull the trigger for it to do anything at all, and I don’t see killer in your eyes.”
Kieran barked a laugh that sounded a bit too much like a beast for comfort.
“Do you not, Mister Brick? You willing to bet your life on your eyesight? Perhaps you’d like to look again.”
Silence reigned in the doorway of Djedi Oldtime’s workshop. Mister Brick searched the face of Kieran Quick, looking desperately for the lack of conviction he expected, and found none. Her eyes burned into his, dark and hot like molten glass, and for the first time in his existence, Mister Brick broke first. He backed away, hands rising in a display of surrender.
“You win for now, little hero. I’m a bit too fond of this coil to risk it unnecessarily, it’s true, but don’t think the girl is out of this yet. My master still craves what’s his, and I’ll be watching for my opportunity to get it for him. You’ve bought yourself a reprieve with your madness, but salvation shall forever be beyond you. Sleep with that bullet close, little hero. You’ve made yourself my problem too, and my problems always break eventually.”
With his threat thus delivered, Mister Brick turned and stomped into the night. Kieran slumped against the doorframe, heaving out an enormous sigh of relief just as Betsy realized she hadn’t been breathing for the last couple of minutes and began gulping down as much air as she could handle. As their breathing patterns stabilized, Kieran threw a crooked grin Betsy’s way.
“Cat’s eyes, we’re lucky he bought that.”
“Bought it?” said Betsy. “You sounded like you were ready to–” For nobody’s benefit but herself, she hissed under her breath, “kill him!”
Kieran chuckled, heart still pounding.
“Oh, I was ready, that’s for sure. Able, not so much. Look,” she said, and shook the cold iron bullet out of the revolver’s cylinder. “See the impact mark on the back? The scorch marks around the lip? It’s a spent cartridge with a chunk of cold iron wedged in. We keep meaning to load it with actual powder, but we run into fair folk so rarely we haven’t gotten around to it.”
“So, wait,” said Betsy, furrowing her brow. “You mean you just ran that monster off with pure bravado?”
“Well, I needed the bullet to sell it.” Kieran dropped the dud cartridge into a cubby on Djedi’s workbench and slid the revolver into an oiled leather holster hanging from a hook nearby.
“Now, we need to get moving. Do you need a jacket? It’s going to be cold out, the later it gets.”
“What? Where are we going?” Betsy allowed herself to be shooed out of the workshop as Kieran inspected the damage to the door. “Shouldn’t you bring the gun? Or a different gun? Or something?”
“Nah, the same trick won’t work twice, and we don’t have anything here with anywhere near enough firepower to overcome a fae’s durability.” Kieran grabbed a thick flannel coat and threw it on over her shirt, followed by a denim vest covered in pithy badges and metal studs.
“Now, usually I’d take a problem like this to Djedi, my, ah, I guess you could call them my agent. But, Djedi’s going to be in torpor until morning, and I can’t imagine that troll will wait that long, so we’re going to be going with the next best thing.”
She made her way into the tavern’s dining room and sighed, making a mental note to apologize to Djedi when next she saw him. Betsy followed, seemingly afraid of letting too much distance grow between herself and the only chance she had at survival.
“What’s the next best thing?” she asked.
Kieran stepped out onto the street outside, sighing as the cold air washed over her like a November sea. Frowning, she picked up the door that Mister Brick had ripped off the tavern’s hinges and did her best to stand it up in a rough approximation of its previous station. Unsatisfied, she clicked her tongue, and then turned to answer Betsy.
“The next best thing is my cousin, Deacon. He’s a bit odd, I warn you, but he’s loyal and he’s got a good heart. He’s a pianist at a jazz bar in Locksley, should be getting off work pretty soon.”
Betsy tilted her head.
“How’s a jazz pianist going to help with this situation at all?”
“Oh, right,” said Kieran, snapping her fingers. “I forgot the important bit.”
She started hustling down the road, heading to the closest ferry.
“He’s also a sorcerer.”