I had mentioned that there was something very difficult that I would write in this version of Black Mask & Pale Rider. It has something to do with a word, a very commonly known word which has a history of oppression. I have been debating over it’s use for some time, mostly because I don’t like it’s tone. So, I went and asked someone about whether it was good to use or not. She, who used to be on tumblr as squee-to-the-gee, said as long as it’s conveyed how Shani hears the word, and her reaction, then it’s fine. It’s true, literature shouldn’t just entertain, but it should also teach. And it was, is my hope that the word is found to be as vile now as I am hoping to make it. For critique I present the scene here for everyone. Comments are most welcome, especially considering how the word in used.
To those that are unclear, it’s the N-word.
Shani strode down the street in her usual way; slow and steady steps, her eyes watching everyone. It felt different, wearing these denim slacks and the leather boots complete with the long coat that might have seemed a bit too warm for the weather during summer. She took note of the passersby who stared in her direction, knowing they weren’t just looking at her, but to the tiny dragon that perched upon her shoulder. Scales seemed happy and content, his tiny claws gripping to the leather of her long coat. He was her second eyes, as he would watch what she couldn’t see, often nuzzling his head against Shani’s cheek in a manner that would draw her attention to what Scales would see, but also in a way that showed affection. Scales liked her, to him she was like his mother. And as Shani protected him, he would protect her.
Such as he was doing now.
For the most part, Shani found the people of this world odd, different, but not necessarily threatening. Oh, to be certain, they were no more threatening, but Shani had revealed she was able to pay for certain things, and she could do work, so her reputation within this town called Carrollton was not one of a negative nature. However, she had shown she held gold, and to many, that was like a fly to honey. It would always draw the worst.
As Shani looked for supplies, going from shop to shop, buying what she needed from a list that Clayton had given her, she was aware that she was being followed. Four young men, all of whom looked surly and rough, she assumed they had been on the trail for a while, that they had lived a life of violence. But she also felt they would not do anything while she was engaged in matters of commerce. For the most part, she was right. They left her alone, looking idly over items that the different merchants and vendors had for sale.
In a way, it was no different than the markets back in Stonebridge where Shani grew up. Granted, there were a lot less elves who carried pistols. To be honest, none carried pistols. There were flintlocks, but not the weapons that Shani carried now. As she made her purchases, she thought of the differences between this world and her own, wondering if the other lands were as diverse as on her own home world.
She finished her purchases, gatheirng everything that had been on Clayton’s list, filling everything into a ruck sack, and slinging it onto her shoulder. It was time to head out of town, which meant she had to find her horse at the stable where she left him, pay the owner for his care, and ride back to Clayton’s cabin just out of town.
As she approached the stables, she realized that the men who had been following her, had doubled back. They were already at the stables, and they had Gippsum, her faithful mount, out of his stall. She stopped and watched the four men careful, gently letting her ruck sack down onto the ground at her feet. Scales dug in his claws into Shani’s long coat, his wings spreading a bit as he hissed toward the four men. He did not like them, and Shani felt the same.
“Howdy, boys,” Shani said in a congenial fashion as she tipped her hat. Best to be friendly, maybe they’d leave her be. “Mighty nice o’ ya ta get my horse fer me.”
“Well, we just wanna be neighbourly,” one of the men said with a grin, his teeth grey and blackened from years of neglect. A surprise, seeing how he appeared to be no more than twenty years old. “We are sorta like the welcomin’ committee in this here town.”
“Really,” Shani replied with a nod. “I thought thet was the sherrif, as Clayton done tol’ me.”
“I wouldn’t trust nothin’ that nigger says,” one of the other men said in response. Shani looked to him, slightly younger than the first man who spoke. But there was malice in his eyes. Even Scales could see it, and he crawled along Shani’s shoulders to hiss at the man in question. Scales felt an uneasiness about him, as did Shani. But it was a word that the man said that truly set Shani on edge. “Yer lizard is actin’ mighy queer,” the man noted as he seemed to back up a bit.
“Scales ain’t real trustin’ o’ strangers,” Shani informed him. “An’ he ain’t a lizard. He’s a pseudo dragon.”
The four men laughed hearing the word. “Dragon,” one of the others said aloud. “I thought they were bigger ‘n thet little thing.”
“I said pseudo dragon,” Shani corrected him. “But the nature o’ my friend here an’ the words ta describe him ain’t so much as what I’m really concerned with. Y’all used somethin’ which I believe ya use ta describe ‘nother friend o’ mine.” The four men just watched Shani for a moment, not really understanding what she meant. She sighed, but held a firm look in the direction of the man who first spoke. He seemed to be the leader of this small gang. “I b’lieve the word ya used was ‘nigger’. An’ ta be honest, I don’t really like the tone in yer voice when ya use thet word. I know who ya meant when ya said it, an’ I have come ta know Clayton. He is a decent man, an’ I would vouch fer his character any day. An’ I do not like the way y’all address him.”
“He’s just a darkie who…” the first man was about to say, but stopped as he was suddenly staring at the business end of one of Shani’s Colts. They had heard about these guns, who they were constructed of a steel no one had ever seen before. And how this woman was able to wield them with such grace and ferocity. “Hey now,” the man said as he held up his hands, worry starting to crease his brow. “No need ta get twitchy.”
“Ya wanna see me git twitchy, then ya jist say ‘nother disparagin’ word ‘gainst my friend,” Shani replied through gritted teeth. Even Scales grew more bold, gripping his claws into Shani’s jacket, wings pressed against his back as his tail swished back and forth as though he were ready to pounce on his prey. “I would take it as a kindness thet ya never use thet word ’round me ‘gain. Do I make myself clear?”
“You wouldn’t be able ta stop all o’ us,” one of the men said as he pointed to Shani’s pistol.
Shani said not a word as she stared the man down, watching him carefully. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t have to, because Scales was watching someone else, and he gave a low growl in the back of his throat to warn Shani. She moved fast, drawing her second Colt and aiming without even looking. She fired and hit the mark perfectly, sending the would be assassin’s pistol flying from his hand. The action caused a stir, and the other gunmen reached for their pistols. The next few seconds were a blur of bullets and fire, but no shot came from the four gunmen at all. Shani, and to a point Scales, had disarmed them without breaking a sweat. The elven gunslinger had turned with each sound of a drawn pistol or the click of a hammer, and with lightning reflexes she fired at the sound. Scales puffed himself up and shot a breath of flame toward the would be gunmen, distracting them to give Shani the chance to act before they could fire. In a matter of seconds it was all over. The most important thing, no one was dead.
Shani walked up to the first man who spoke to her that afternoon. He lay on the ground, clutching his gunhand as blood ran down his wrist. Shani had fired straight through his palm. She stood over him and said in a voice that was filled with anger. “Let this be a lesson ta you boys. Never think thet ya got a drop on someone smaller ‘n you. ‘Cause I ain’t stupid, yer actions were ta rob me. I’ve taken down varmints ten times yer ability without breakin’ a sweat, so y’all ain’t nuthin’ in my eyes.” She adjusted her hat and walked to her horse as she continued to speak, this time to all four men. A crowd had gathered in the area, and was watching and listening. “An’ I will take it as a kindness thet all o’ you boys don’t ever use thet word again. Ta anyone. I may be new ta this here world, but I ain’t stupid when it comes ta knowin’ the spite thet sits in a slur. I know words can cut jist as deep as any blade. So this here is yer warnin’ boys. I don’t take kindly ta slurs. An’ I don’t take kindly ta them bein’ used on my friends.”
Shani nudged Gippsum forward after she rose into the saddle, but she found she could only move a few feet as there were three more men impeding her path. These men, however, wore tin stars.
“Ma’am,” one of the men called out, one of the sherrif’s deputies. He wore his guns up to his waist, crossed so his opposite hand could grab from the opposite waist line, much like a swordsman would carry his blade on his left hip so his right hand could draw it. “I am gonna have ta ask that you come with us.”
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