From the pages of Jadetech: Red Jade.
By Benjamin Feehan
“How many rounds do we have left?” Shen flicked his wrist, dropping six hot brass casings out of his revolver and into the dust at his feet.
The sailor held up three bullets. “This is it.”
“And how many thugs are there?”
Alistair chanced a glance over the rim of rock which shielded him from the thugs below. He had an empty rifle between his knees. Shen assumed that like most Aerishmen, the boy was comforted by the mere presence of the gun. “Twelve I think? Thirteen maybe? One of them might not be as wounded as he thinks he is.”
Shen smiled bleakly. “No one said bandits were the braver sort. Give the bullets here”
The sailor shook his head. “Three bullets isn’t going to kill twelve bandits. Don’t care what kind of trick-shot traveling show you’re in. Unless you’ve got more of that green jade brew hidden somewhere, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to handle the other nine even if you take out three of them.”
“I’ll handle it.” Shen put out a hand and the sailor dutifully dropped the last three cartridges into it. In the four weeks since their escape from Daiyu Mountain Labor Camp, Alistair and the sailor were all that were left of their merry band. By twos and threes the escapees had set off home in various directions through lush, trackless valleys and over jagged Túyangan peaks. It made sense. When it came to being hunted there was weakness in numbers. After a stretch in Daiyu, Shen, Alistair, and the sailor were the only three crazy enough to risk going back to Kausao City.
So far they had avoided the monstrous beasts that had made the Túyangan interior so famous. Apparently high ground and fires at night were enough to keep them at bay. What Shen hadn’t counted on were the roaming bands of brigands. A running three day fight with the latest group now left them cornered.
Shen pulled his tool roll out of his pack and slipped off the leather bindings. It was one of the few extra items he had allowed himself to carry when they set out from the prison. With a pair of pliers in each hand, and a small patch of polishing silk beneath, Shen twisted the lead slug out of each casing, tipping the red jade powder into the silk. “It’s a good thing the prison didn’t get any new shipments of ammunition in the past decade. They don’t even make bullets with powder anymore.”
The sailor watched in puzzlement. “So now we have no cartridges?”
Shen smiled again. “We have something better. I need the grease can from last night.”
The sailor pulled the battered tin can out of his jangling cookpack and Shen fingered out a handful, pressing it into the silk on top of the red jade powder. He gathered up the four corners of the silk and twisted. In a moment, the cooking grease and red jade was a hard little mass within the soft piece of cloth. Shen unfolded the silk and took a stick, pushing it through one side and out the other, leaving a hollow through the center. “Your flask?”
“You need my gin?”
The sailor frowned. “How much?”
Shen put out his hand. “You want to die out here?”
The sailor sighed and handed over his hip flask. “Leave me enough for a last drink, okay?”
“When this is over, I expect the bandits will have a few extra bottles they won’t need.”
Shen set the jade ball to one side, and filled two of the empty casings with alcohol. Taking another finger of grease, he sealed the tops and shoved the casings back to back into the center of the mass of jade and filled in the hole. Finally, he took a twig, snapped it in half and shoved both sides into the stoppered holes. Shen held it up for inspection. “Who wants to throw it?”
Alistair spoke up. “That’d be me. They didn’t call me the Stickbat Terror of Refinery Row for nothing.”
Shen handed it over. “Don’t touch the twigs.”
Together, the three men crept to the edge of the rock. Below, the bandits were sitting comfortably around a small fire, a bottle passing from hand to hand. They seemed content to wait until their quarry came to them. Without warning, Alistair stood to his full height, pulled back and flung the greasy mass of jade in a high arc. It landed next to the fire with a splat.
A bandit stood up to investigate. Suddenly the fire snapped out of existence as if smothered. A second later the circle of stunned men seemed to freeze in place, shudder, then go limp. Shen ducked back behind the ledge just as a deafening explosion rocked the bandit camp. There was a wet thud and he glanced up to see a severed hand, blue and icy in the dust next to his face. There was a moment of tense silence. Finally the sailor cleared his throat. “What, by Great Ehal and all his prophets, was that?”
Shen stood, dusting himself. “Red jade is a catalyst. Your evaporating gin pulled heat out of the air and the red jade followed suit. It can only hold so much energy though. With nowhere to go, it exploded.”
Alistair looked like was going to be sick. “Let’s not do that ever again.”
Shen patted the boy on the shoulder. “No one said the jade made us more civilized.”