Episode 28: A Demonstration of Skill | Scryer's Gulch
"Oh, no! No, no, no, Annie, what have you done?" said Misi, pacing atop the bed. "Why did you tell him? Oh, Dark One help me, this is not good."
Annabelle was bending over an open trunk on the floor of her bedroom, carefully removing a panel to reveal a hidden compartment. "You worry too much, kitty." She pulled out a case containing a set of oddly delicate pearl-handled revolvers, and their gun belt. She removed the guns from their case, cleared their chambers, and methodically went through her routine.
"You just cleaned those."
"Can't be too safe," she said, finally loading the cylinders. Annabelle buckled the belt around her waist and placed the guns in their holsters; she practiced a quick cross-draw, and pulled her least-tailored traveling coat on.
"I don't understand why you're wearing your holsters," said the cat. "Just carry them in their case. Besides, why do you even want those? You have etheric guns."
"I know," she smiled, patting her handbag. "I'm taking them, too. Don't think he's ever seen one. The holsters--I suppose I can't resist a bit of dash. And I have a point to make." She looked around the room, and opened the window. "Misi, I'll need you to play lookout and maybe cause a distraction if it looks like someone might be too interested in me. Scoot." The demon cat reluctantly climbed out the window.
Annabelle hurried out of the Hopewell as discreetly as she could. She made as if to go to the schoolhouse, but L. Luther Lockson spied her and came hurrying across the street, planting himself in front of her. "Miss Duniway!" cried the newspaperman. "Whither away?"
"Whither...? Oh, just to the schoolhouse, Mr Lockson," she said. "I have some work to do there. Excuse me."
Lockson stayed in her path, oblivious to her clear intent. "My reason for inquiring is thus: you are attired as if for an Arduous Journey!"
"No, sir," she said, "merely to the schoolhouse. Now, please--"
"Why, Miss Duniway, you don't mean to leave our fair municipality, do you? We should be Desolated! were you to depart for other climes!"
"No, I'm not leaving," she said, trying hard not to glance around her. "Mr Lockson, please--"
A great commotion broke out. A team of horses in the middle of the street reared and screamed, the driver struggling to control them. Dogs barked; men yelled; other horses shuffled sideways and snorted. "What's a-do?" cried Lockson, hurrying toward the noise.
"Thank you, Misi," Annabelle muttered to herself. She slipped away down a short alleyway and off toward her rendezvous.
John waited in the canyon, wondering if this was such a good idea. A Treasury Agent? Was she joking? He'd considered many possibilities, but Treasury Agent hadn't even been in mind. Why would the government send a woman to do a man's work?
He began to scan the hills; this was a good place for an ambush. He hefted his rifle and looked for cover.
A noise at the canyon's mouth, and here came Annabelle, carrying a large handbag and swathed in a traveling coat. "You seem a little tetchy, Sheriff," she called.
"Only taking sensible precautions. I'm feeling a little foolish, actually. The war taught me better than to show up in a canyon by myself like this."
"You picked the spot," she shrugged. She set down the handbag. "You didn't think I was leading you into a trap, did you?"
John echoed her shrug. "Can't be too careful."
Annabelle stooped over the handbag and pulled out an expensive-looking leather case. "What are we shooting at?" she said.
"The bottles on those rocks down canyon." He pointed to an assortment of whiskey, wine and tonic bottles, all sizes and colors, placed here and there among the rocks. "Those your guns?"
"No," she said, opening her coat to reveal her gun belt slung low on her hips, "these are my guns. Call it."
John squinted. "Let's make it easy," he said. "Start with that green wine bottle."
"That?" she snorted. "Make it interesting. The green wine bottle and the tonic bottle about 20 feet to the left of it."
She drew her guns almost faster than John could track; both bottles exploded into shards, and he stepped back in astonishment. "Pretty sharp shooting, Miss Annabelle," he said, tilting his hat back on his head.
"You next," she said. "The brown whiskey bottle."
John grinned. "Make it interesting." He raised his lever-action rifle to his shoulder, and five bottles hit the rocks in fragments, one after another at lightning speed.
She dipped her head. "We've established bona fides, wouldn't you say?"
"And why would we need to do that?"
"I wanted you to see I can shoot with a regular gun." Annabelle knelt down and opened the leather case.
Inside were a pair of etheric pistols, the first John had ever seen apart from engravings. "Are those really...? Where did you get them? They cost a small fortune! And you can't possibly shoot with them!"
"You try first," she said, handing one over grip-first. She pointed downrange. "The wine bottle to the right, mid-height."
John nodded. "All right, then. I've never worked with one before, though." He aimed at the bottle and reached into the pistol with his mind, as he would to wind his clock or spark his firestarter. He found the hermetauxite hidden in the gun, concentrated on a clear picture of the bottle, and poured all his ability into the ore. He pulled the trigger.
The bullet in the chamber flew almost silently from the gun, heading for the bottle in a clean, straight line. It was true, it didn't matter how you aimed: the bullet would take a bead on the target if you pictured it clearly.
The problem for the Sheriff was, the bullet stopped several yards short and fell to the ground with a meek clink. What a disappointment! "Huh. Not much of a gun."
"Not much of a wielder," she snorted. "Call it."
John peered at her dubiously. Let's make it really interesting then, little braggart, he thought. "The clear tonic bottle, the little one, far end of the canyon." She lifted the beautiful gun and took casual aim.
The bullet hissed as it rocketed from the barrel. Down range, the medicine bottle burst into a shower of sparkling glass. The rock face behind it disappeared into a cloud of dust and debris as the bullet embedded itself; when the dust dissipated, a new, rather large hole had been made in the canyon wall.
Annabelle spun the gun on its trigger guard and blew non-existent smoke from its barrel.
John stood stunned. "Yep," he finally drawled, "Pretty sharp shooting, Miss Annabelle."