Home > Secrets of the Sword 1

Secrets of the Sword 1
Author: Lindsay Buroker

 

1

 

 

Drizzle spat from the gray sky as I grabbed my weapons, climbed out of the Jeep, and looked for the mysterious magical artifact that plucked at my half-elven senses.

A bog stretched away from the gravel parking area, white and red cranberries floating on the surface, smoke hazing the air above them. That air smelled of the Pacific Ocean, decomposing leaf litter, and a barbecue gone terribly wrong.

I wrinkled my nose and spotted a fire smoldering near a manufactured home overlooking the bog. Animal carcasses were piled beside it, hooves and antlers jutting out of the tangle.

“Cozy place,” I muttered.

A grizzled man in a yellow raincoat came out of the house—the farmer who’d called my boss and requested my presence? He carried a rifle instead of a hoe or rake or whatever one used for collecting the harvest.

The man didn’t point his rifle toward me, but he squinted suspiciously, and his knuckles were tight around it. If I hadn’t sensed magic out in the water, I would have wondered if I’d gotten the wrong bog.

I let my fingers rest on the hilt of Fezzik, the compact submachine pistol in my thigh holster, though he was a full-blooded human and likely couldn’t see it or Chopper, the sword in a harness on my back. Both weapons were magical and difficult for the mundane to see.

“Are you Gene?” I asked.

“Yup. You Val Thorvald? The assassin, great warrior, and expert in kooky magical shit?” He eyed my jeans, combat boots, leather duster, tank top, and finally my long braid of blonde hair draping down to my boobs. The latter prompted a lip curl instead of the more typical masculine interest.

I flicked the braid over my shoulder. “That’s more or less what my business card says.”

“I was expecting a guy.”

“You thought Val was a man’s name?”

“I hoped. Knew a big German guy named Valentin once.”

“Well, you got a six-foot-tall Norse gal named Valmeyjar. It means corpse maiden if that makes you feel better about my abilities.”

“Not really. Here.” Gene tossed a pair of muddy hip waders onto the damp grass in front of me. “These are for you.”

“I’m honored. I didn’t know I’d receive gifts on this gig.”

“You can borrow them. I assume you’re going in. The thing is out about there.” Gene pointed his rifle toward the center of the expansive bog—there had to be twenty acres underwater. “You can see it glowing at night.”

“A shame I didn’t come later. I assume you didn’t put it out there?”

He gave me a scathing look. “Of course not. It just appeared, somehow rooted down to the ground. It happened three nights ago, right after I flooded the bog for the harvest.”

“Can you unflood it?”

Whatever it was would be easier to remove if it wasn’t underwater.

“Not until the berries are harvested.” Gene’s expression shifted from scathing to pitying, as if I were a slow city simpleton. “I’m sure you can find the thing. Look around the property first, if you want. There are dead animals everywhere, dying faster than I can burn them.” He shifted his rifle toward deciduous and evergreen trees to the sides of the bog, fall leaves matted into the grass underneath them, creating a soggy red and orange carpet. “I trust you’re not squeamish, Corpse Maiden.”

“I’m not, and you can call me Val. You think this artifact is killing the animals?”

“Artifact?” His forehead wrinkled. “This isn’t some archaeological find. It’s a weird glowing bundle of balls that you can’t get out of the water. If you touch it, it’ll zap you. If you shoot it, the bullets bounce off. Which I guess you won’t be doing since you don’t have a gun. I thought a great warrior would have a weapon.”

I drew Chopper, plunged the longsword into the ground, and released the hilt.

He jumped back as it seemed to appear out of thin air to him. The sword’s magic only camouflaged it when I carried it. In the dim afternoon daylight, the blue glow of Chopper’s blade was noticeable, and Gene gaped at it.

“Hopefully, that’ll do.” I pulled Chopper out of the ground, silently apologized for sticking it in the dirt, and wiped it with my cleaning cloth. The magical blade never dulled, and I’d used it to pry and dig my way out of everything from wrecked cars to cave-ins without harming it, but I still felt guilty over improper use.

I grabbed the bog boots and stalked away, wanting to finish this task as soon as possible. The clouds promised more serious rain, and the scent of burning carcasses was turning my stomach.

“Where’d you get that sword?” Gene called after me, reverence replacing the sarcasm in his voice.

“Killed a zombie lord ten years back. He didn’t tell me where he got it before he died.”

A shame because it would be nice to know. I’d come across magical beings from other realms who had accused me of stealing the sword. Only recently, I’d learned that Chopper—I had no idea what its real name was—had many more powers than I’d suspected.

With luck, it would shatter an animal-slaying magical artifact if need be.

I headed around the bog toward the far side, less because I wanted to see the promised dead animals and more out of a reluctance to put on hip-high rubber boots for the first time in front of a stranger. My elven blood gave me more balance than the average human, but that was no guarantee of finesse in dressing.

My phone beeped with an incoming text message from my daughter, Amber.

I can’t practice swords this weekend. Too much homework.

I paused to stare bleakly at the words. It was her third time canceling this month.

This past summer, after a run-in with a dragon, she’d asked me to teach her how to defend herself, and I’d even finagled a magical short sword from Colonel Willard for her, but Amber had been extremely busy since school started up again. Or so she’d told me.

I believed her, but I couldn’t help but feel rejected. She lived with my ex-husband, and the weekend sword practices were the only excuse I had for coming by, so every time she canceled meant I didn’t see her that week. Maybe she’d decided she preferred it that way.

Sighing, I put the phone away. Great warriors weren’t supposed to feel sorry for themselves. Besides, I had a mission to focus on.

At first, I passed only dead crows and seagulls, but a couple of coyotes had collapsed in a thicket at the edge of the trees. They weren’t gaunt, aged, or visibly injured. Just dead. Poisoned by the proximity of the artifact’s magic? If so, why hadn’t the farmer who lived bog-adjacent been affected?

I rubbed a cat-shaped charm on a leather thong around my neck, one of many magical trinkets I’d found, purchased, or won in battle over the years. A silver mist formed at my side, and Sindari, a seven-hundred-pound silver tiger, solidified with the top of his head almost level with my shoulder.

You went into battle without me? Sindari asked telepathically, his green eyes accusing.

“Nope. These seagulls and coyotes were dead when I got here.”

He gazed around, nostrils twitching. I suppose that is acceptable. They would not have been formidable foes. I sense something magical in that water.

“That’s what I’m here for. I’m going to go check it out. Can you sniff around and let me know if you smell or sense anything else unusual in the area?”

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