Authors: Nathan Long
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Fiction
Other books by Nathan Long
The Broken Lance
Battle for Skull Pass
Gotrek and Felix: The Third Omnibus
Bloodborn: Ulrika the Vampire Book One
Jane Carver of Waar
Swords of Waar
© 2012 by Nathan Long
This edition of
Swords of Waar
© 2012 by Night Shade Books
Cover Illustration by Dave Dorman
Cover design by Martha Wade
Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Night Shade Books
To Edgar Rice Burroughs, for inspiration,
and for having a sense of humor about it all.
ut to a week later, and I was back standing outside that same fucking cave in the hills above Tarzana that had started it all. And standing was the right word, too. I was so petrified I couldn’t go forward or back. Couldn’t move a goddamn inch, which was stupid, considering I’d just hitch-hiked seven hundred miles to get there.
Did I mention I don’t like tight spaces? Well that cave was tighter than a walrus’s poop chute, and blacker too. I’d been up it once before, so I knew. It might be a quiet afternoon on that hillside right now, instead of a dark night with police dogs and whirly-birds chasing me like last time, and I might have brought a flashlight, but it didn’t matter. I was still froze up like a statue.
And my claustrophobia wasn’t the only thing keeping me out of that hole. It’s a little long to get into here, but the last time I went in there, I found this weird clock-looking thing way at the back, and when I touched it, well, I went to another planet. Yeah, I know, but I did. Waar, it was called, and while I was there I got mixed up with this spoiled rich kid named Sai-Far, and helped him rescue his sweetheart, Wen-Jhai, from this grinning, grab-ass son-of-a-bitch named Kedac-Zir. More important than all that, though, was that I met Sai’s best friend, Lhan-Lar, a sweet-talking sharpie with a face like a hot-rod devil and a heart of twenty-four carat gold, and I fell in love. At least it coulda been love, maybe, if it’d had half a chance. Our first night together sure went like gangbusters, but before we even had time to wake up and have our first morning sex, I got drugged by a bunch of sneaky little orange-robed priests and dragged away. No goodbyes. No nothing.
Next thing I know I’m wakin’ up in a cave in Monument Valley with Lhan’s smell still on my skin and good old Earth gravity crushin’ me to the ground like an elephant sitting on my chest.
All I wanted to do as soon as I realized where I was was to get back to him, and fast—who knew what those fucking priests mighta done to him after they 86ed me—and the only way I knew how to do that was come back to this cave and touch the little doo-hickey again, which should have made me as eager as a bridegroom to push back into the dark, right?
Other things had happened on Waar, too, and some of ’em didn’t sit well. I’d killed a guy. Lots of guys. And not by accident, either. I’d chopped ’em all up with a big-ass sword. It was that kind of place—guys with swords killing other guys with swords, giant centaur-tiger dudes tearing each other to pieces, creepy priests kidnapping people. I’ve been a biker chick since I got kicked outta the army. I’ve seen plenty of brawls, but Waar was just a whole ’nother level. Did I want to go back to that? And what about the
bad stuff? People owned slaves there.
owned slaves. How could I love a guy who owned slaves?
So I stood there, thinking about all the things Earth had that Waar didn’t. Rock and roll, Texas barbeque, Harley-Davidsons, equal rights—at least in some places—air conditioning, dive bars, Marlboros, guys bigger than me, blue jeans, leather jackets. But Earth also had cops, jails and a warrant for my arrest for killing that dumbass dude outside the Fly-By Nightclub—even though that had been an accident. And it didn’t have the one thing that really mattered. Not anymore. Big Don was a rusty smear on the highway somewhere east of Sturgis now, and without him around, all the rest of it seemed kind of bland and washed out. Waar, on the other hand, had wide open spaces, wimpy gravity that let me run twenty feet a stride, no extradition to the US, and a chance to start again—at everything.
With a grunt, I shoved into the cave and worked my way to the back. It wasn’t easy. My mouth got drier as the walls got narrower, and I’d completely sweated through my t-shirt by the time the flashlight finally found the opening to the back cave. It was a little hole halfway up a knife-cut wall, and so tight I didn’t know how I got through it before.
I put the Maglight in my teeth and climbed up, then looked through. I knew it opened out again, but forcing myself to put my head and shoulders into that sphincter was as hard as reaching into a full toilet after a diamond ring. It made me shudder just to think about it.
I thought about Lhan instead, wondering if he was okay, wondering if he’d escaped the priests who’d grabbed me, if he was even still alive. That pushed me through, and I rolled onto a layer of sand, then pulled my legs in after me. I was in the little tent-shaped chamber where the dogs had found me and where I’d fallen back on the clock-thingy—and out of the world.
I flashed my light around. I didn’t see it. Panic squeezed me like a python. Had the cops taken it? No, wait. There was a little mound of sand at the back. I crawled to it. It was surrounded by paw prints and boot marks, like it had been covered in a scuffle. I brushed it all away with the sleeve of my hoodie and saw metal underneath. I breathed a sigh of relief, then immediately tensed up again. The doo-hickey was there, but I didn’t see the glow. When I had found it before, the headlight-sized gem in the center of it had been glowing—a kinda weak, lemonade light. Now there was nothing. I turned off the Maglight, just to be sure. Still nothing. I swallowed, afraid now that something was wrong, and turned the light back on. I still had to try.
I reached for it, then stopped an inch from the gem, all my misgivings coming back. Did I really want to go? I thought I did, but… Well, what the fuck. It wasn’t going to work anyway. I slapped my palm across the gem.
Nothing happened. I was still in the cave.
And yeah, I know. I’d just said I knew it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t exactly surprised.
I cried anyway.
I hadn’t planned for after.
I walked back down the hill to Ventura Blvd. with just the clothes on my back—my hoodie, some dusty jeans, some dustier Vans and seven dollars—all I had left after the dead-run sprint I’d made from Monument Valley.
The race had started six days back when a couple of Arizona Park Rangers had caught me trying to hitch-hike buck-naked down US 163 and wanted to know what the fuck I thought I was doing. I’d been so cooked by sun stroke by then I think I told them the truth, which needless to say they did not believe.
Anyway, they took pity on me, gave me some clothes, a meal, and a lift to Flagstaff. I was desperate to get to LA as quick as I could, but I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere without a little traveling money, so I made some the old-fashioned way. No, not
old-fashioned way. That way doesn’t work with girls as big and beefy as me. Instead I went and stood with the Mexican guys outside a Home Depot until a truck came by, and I made eighty bucks humping roofing tiles up ladders for two days.
Three days and six hundred miles of hitch-hiking later I got dropped off in the parking lot of a Ralph’s supermarket on Victory Blvd; and spent my last intact twenty taking a taxi up to the top of Vanalden in Tarzana. I’d told the cabbie not to wait. I hadn’t thought I’d be coming back.
Now that I had, I needed a plan, ’cause finding another way back to Waar might take a while—like the rest of my life maybe—and I was gonna have to make a living while I looked. I was also gonna have to avoid being arrested for murder. I squinted in the sun as I reached Ventura Blvd. and looked for a bus stop. Fortunately I knew a place where I could lay low while I figured shit out. At least I hoped I did. All I had to do now was figure out which buses to take to get there.
ell I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch. I thought you were dead.”
Eli hit the kill switch on the lathe and stared at me through his safety goggles as the thing whined to a stop. He pulled off his gloves.
“Nah. I just look that way.” I ducked under the half-open roll door into Sun Valley Engineering, Eli’s machine shop, and looked around. It was the same grimy little place I remembered, with a greasy film of three-in-one and metal shavings all over everything, and posters of girls with tattoos and betty bangs bending over low-riders on the walls. Eli specializes in reboring pistons, and there’s always an assortment of bikes, hot-rods, lead sleds and trucks crowding his parking lot, but he also makes other, shadier, things on the side—lock picks, slim jims, gas tanks with hidden compartments. He could make a fortune if he was willing to pack and bore silencers, but he draws the line at accessory to murder, so he has to settle for being comfortably well off.
He tugged his goggles down to his neck, exposing his bifocals and a pair of bushy black eyebrows as he came around the lathe and spread his arms for a hug. Eli is in his fifties, with wild, greased-back gray hair, a face like a dry creek bed, and the dress sense of an Arkansas moonshiner—bib overalls, no shirt, tattoos from neck to wrists, and unlaced combat boots.
I crushed him to me and leaked tears on his tats as I sobbed like a school girl. After a while, when I’d petered out to sniffs and snorfs, he pushed me back to arms’ length and gave me a once over, then squeezed my biceps.