Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)(23) by Alwyn Hamilton

So that was why he’d been in the pistol pit that night.

“And all of it just to blow up some factory in the dead end to nowhere?”

“The biggest weapons factory in the country. And by extension, the world.”

“The world?” I’d never known that. It didn’t seem possible.

“It’s not hard when you can’t build something half the size of it anywhere else without it getting torn down by First Beings.”

My head was feeling light from the alcohol, and in the dark of the bar I was struggling to put his words together. “What do you mean, torn down?”

Jin paused, drink halfway to his mouth. “Come on, desert girl. How long had it been since you’d seen a First Being before the Buraqi came into town? Magic and metal don’t mix well. We’re killing it. But it’s fighting back.” The Buraqi’s screams lit up my memories. “Most other countries can make anything on a small scale, including weapons. But a few tried to build factories just like yours hundreds of years ago. The living earth itself rebelled. There’s a valley in Xicha that’s called Fool’s Grave. It used to be a town. They’d built a cannery there. Legend says they were open about a month before the First Beings who lived in the earth had enough and tore apart the ground under the town and flooded the ruins. The same thing happened everywhere. So after a while folks stopped building factories. Except in Miraji. Your First Beings are the only ones who seem to put up with it.”

“And what makes us so special?”

Jin shrugged. “Maybe it’s because the desert’s magic already comes out of fire and smoke instead of growing, living things. Or because the earth here is already dead. But the fact is, your country is at the crossroads between the East, where guns were born, and the West, where they’re waging a war of empires. And it’s the only one in the world that can build weapons on a massive scale. This desert is valuable. Why do you think the Gallan are here?”

“So we’re just one giant weapons factory to them?” The notion was unsettling.

Jin poured himself another drink. “And there are a lot of countries who aren’t very pleased by your Sultan providing the Gallan with weapons to invade them if they got it into their heads to try.”

“So which one of those countries are you blowing up factories for?” I prodded the sun on his chest. The Xichian symbol.

Jin raised his glass in a mock toast. “Maybe I’m just a pacifist.”

I clinked my glass to his. “You have an awful lot of guns for a pacifist.”

The words were met by a wry turn of his mouth. “And you’re too smart for someone who doesn’t know nearly enough about her own country.”

We drank. As my empty glass hit the table, something crashed in the corner of the room. I jumped. A chair had knocked to the ground. Its owner, a man in a dirty green sheema, was on his feet, facing another man who was lounging back, both feet propped up, a game of cards spread out on the table. A pretty girl was between them, molding herself up against the standing man, whispering in his ear until he folded back into his chair. The sitar player started up again in his corner, and someone laughed high and clear, breaking the tension.

The thought hit me all of a sudden. “Did you blow up the mines, too?”

If Xicha wanted to cut off our weapons, then it made sense to cut off the supply of metal, too. Factories could be rebuilt. Collapsed mines were harder. “Here?” He actually looked surprised. “No. I heard it was an accident.”

“Why should I believe you? Is Jin even your real name?”

“Well, around here they call me the Eastern Snake. But you know that”—he looked up at me from under the brim of his hat—“Blue-Eyed Bandit.” The shock made me pull back. Jin’s face split into a grin at my surprise.

“You knew who I was?” I asked, sounding a little breathless. “In Dustwalk?”

“Your eyes aren’t exactly inconspicuous,” Jin said.

“You knew who I was and you wouldn’t take me with you?” The frightened, humiliated feeling of returning to the empty store rushed back in. “Why?”

“Because you shouldn’t go to Izman.” He settled back in his chair. “No matter how well you can take care of yourself with a gun out here, the city’ll tear you apart.”

“I wouldn’t be alone,” I said. “My mother’s sister lives in Izman. That’s where I’m headed.”

“Do you even know how to get there?”

I shrugged. “How are you getting there?”

“I’m not,” he said simply, catching me by surprise. I reached back, trying to remember if he’d ever said he was. It just seemed like he must’ve been.

There was another crash and I reached for a gun that wasn’t there as Jin turned around, already tensing for a fight. The card table across the room was overturned, and the man in the green sheema was on the ground, clutching a bloody nose.

I had a moment of distraction to decide.

If I stayed with Jin, I wasn’t getting to Izman. He’d left me behind once already and he could just as easily do it again.

Besides, we only had one Buraqi.

I fished out the bottle Tamid had given me. The pills crushed up easily in my fingers and I put them straight into Jin’s drink. My fingers were back around my own glass by the time the fight got broken up and Jin faced me again.

I watched him drain his drink.

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