In which things go from bad to worse

Hey all, since I’m not knee deep in prep for my Night’s Black Agents campaign, here’s a Goyle Country update. In which things go from bad to worse.

 

“Do tell,” Katherine invited. “Because right now it looks like your only advantage just left the building, and it’s only by the grace of my good nature that you’re still drawing breath.”

“Ah, but they left because it is here. Tell her, Cooper. I’m sure you can feel it. That powerful presence, so like a Spirit, but so much more.”

Lonesome looked over at her, brow furrowed. He spread his hands wide, struggling to find words to explain. “Something’s off, Kat. What it is? I dunno that I could tell you. But it ain’t good.”

Clayton’s footfalls announced his arrival moments before he appeared. He came into the hall at a staggering, uneven run, one arm clenched tightly to his stomach. The expression on his face was one of terror and pain, his skin was white and covered in a sheen of sweat.

“Clayton!” Katherine called out to him. “Clayton, what is it? What happened?”

Hawkins was closest, and reached him just before he collapsed. “Spirits,” the Haversham & Black man gasped as he helped Clayton stay upright. “What happened to your hand?” He pulled away slightly, and Katherine would see bloody, skeletal fingers. “It goes all the way to the elbow,” Hawkins added, examining the limb with a pained expression.

“All I did was touch it,” Clayton groaned. “It told me to touch it.”

Lonesome approached the pair, cautiously examining the arm. “What did you touch, Clayton?”

The question answered itself as the scraping, clacking sound of bone on stone issued forth from the door behind the throne. With slow, jerky movements a horrific sight came into view. The bones from the box, assembled into a humanoid form and lashed together with a thin network of sinew and muscle. But that was far from enough to explain how they were moving, and Lonesome could hear the whispers from the thing that animated it.

“Well that ain’t right,” deputy Walsh decided as the rest looked on in stunned silence. He leveled his rifle at the shambling mass of bone and pulled the trigger. It was a little off target, and hit a collar bone instead of the skull as he’d intended. Not that it would have made much difference. The bone splintered into shards as the bullet tore through, and then those shards rapidly pulled themselves back into place.

“You can’t kill it,” Dorean told them. “It’s beyond death.”

“Then send it back,” Katherine ordered. “Undo whatever you did or we’ll see if you can do the same trick.”

“Go ahead,” he retorted confidently. “It won’t let you kill me. That’s part of the deal. I brought it here, freed it from its prison, and in return it will help me ascend as it did so long ago. Clem and I both. I gave you your chance, Cooper. Now-”

Katherine pulled the trigger. The bullet caught the rogue Spirit Talker in the chest, and his eyes widened as it burst from his back in a spray of blood. Despite the wound he remained standing, and his eyes went from wide to narrow. He lowered his head to regard the wound, one eyebrow raised. “Well now,” he commented. “That’s interesting. Apparently,” he smirked at Katherine, “I am invulnerable, after a fashion.”

The skeleton had continued to shamble forward behind Dorean as the confrontation played out. It was close to him now, and one ossified hand rose out towards him. Katherine, never one to give up easily, shot Dorean again. The impact of the bullet pushed him back a step.

“Come now, Arbiter,” he addressed her smugly. “Surely you can see there’s no point in continuing that futile effort.”

The piled of walking bones grasped hold of Dorean’s arm. Surprised he turned to face it, and found his other arm grasped. He started to speak, to ask what it was doing, but his words turned into a slowly rising scream as flesh began to melt away. In globs and shreds it left his body and began attaching itself to the skeleton.

“Shit,” Lonesome grunted. He sprinted for Clementine, stooping to pick up her cavalry saber, and began hacking at the roots that held her. Her eyes looked past him in horror at what was happening to Dorean, and behind him he could hear a cacophony of gunfire. Not that it would do any good. “Damnit you idiots,” he called back over his shoulder, “Get the hell out of here!”

“Get yourself out of here,” Katherine told him as she and the others began to head for the door.

“Not without Clem,” he growled. “I don’t care what she’s done, I’m not leaving her to that.”

“Fair enough,” she decided, and began to tear at the roots with her bare hands. Working together, and with Clem struggling free from the inside, it was quick work to free her.

“Coop,” she gasped as she tore away from the last root. “I didn’t know-”

“Save it,” he snapped. “Let’s move!”

When they reached the door he spared a look back. Dorean was completely unrecognizable now, and the skeleton was looking more like someone who’d been flayed alive. It was easy to tell that, whatever it was, it wasn’t human. The proportions were all wrong, and those bits of skin that were appearing had begun turning an almost golden hue.

“Great,” Hawkins growled, still holding Clayton on his feet. “Now what do we do? How do we kill that thing if shooting it doesn’t work?”

“I really wish we had some dynamite about now,” Katherine told him. “Lonesome? Any ideas? This thing is basically a Spirit, right?”

“How the hell should I know?” He turned to face Clementine. “But you would, wouldn’t you? You and Dorean worked to make that thing possible. How do we stop it?”

“It’s more than just a Spirit,” she told them. “Dorean was right about that. It’s a person that transcended mortality. The Spirits won’t come near it because they know it can command them. The rules are different.”

“What about the goyles?” Walsh asked. He was still sighting his rifle on the door as they backed away from it, not wanting to be in the hall but not yet willing to retreat. The rifle wouldn’t do much good if it came out after them, but it would make him feel better.

“I think they wanted this to happen,” Clem told him grimly. “They were working with us to get the bones back and summon it. Going to them will make things worse, not better.”

“They weren’t all working for Dorean,” Katherine informed her. “Some of them helped us get here. If we’re lucky they might know how to deal with this thing.”

“Hey,” Carter cut in with a wave of his hand. “You hear that? That’s right – nothin. The screaming stopped. I think it’s done eating that fella. You all wanna stick around to be next, or are we gonna high tail it outta here?”

“Man’s got a point,” Hawkins agreed. So did everyone else. They left the city behind as quickly as they could and headed for the massive cliff. Katherine didn’t know if the goyles that had brought them here would have waited for them to come back or not, but she hoped they had.

Clem rode with Lonesome, and though it didn’t look she had running in mind he kept a close eye on her anyway. After riding along with silence for some time, he finally spoke. “Did you really not know this was going to happen?”

She turned to look at him over her shoulder. “You think I wanted something like that in the world?” she demanded. “You know me better than that, Coop.”

“The hell I do,” he snapped back. “The Clem I knew wouldn’t have done any of this. So out with it. Did you know?”

“Of course I didn’t know. I mean… we knew something was going to come back. We knew it would go into the bones, but we never thought it would get up and walk around. Curse me, Coop, I never thought it would… do what it did to Dorean. We thought we were bringing back a person, not a monster.”

“And what about after you’d brought it back? Did you just expect it to keep it’s part of the deal on it’s honor? You had to have thought about the possibility that it was just using you.”

“If any of that had worked we wouldn’t be running from it.”

“Tell me about it anyway,” Lonesome prompted. “Anything might help us here.”

She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Alright. We managed to learn a few things from it. Small things, mostly, but some of it was useful. Like how to bind a Spirit to something. I did that for Clayton. That bauble I gave him to keep him safe after the ambush. Dorean thought he had a way of doing that to the thing we were trying to bring back. Once it was in the bones it was supposed to stay there, bound and forbidden from doing anything that might hurt us. Obviously that didn’t pan out like we thought it would.”

“Lonesome,” Katherine prompted. “If we’re far enough away from the city why don’t you and Clem see if you can rustle up a Spirit. Clayton could probably use some help with that arm.” She nodded to the young man, who was looking pale and sickly. Hawkins had wrapped his arm with bandages, for all the good it would do. It was obvious he needed some otherworldly intervention.

To Lonesome’s surprise he found that a number of Spirits were still dwelling in the odds and ends he wore. Whether they’d stayed there throughout the confrontation with Dorean or left and come back he wasn’t sure, and now wasn’t exactly the time to ask. They stopped at a group of the stunted prairie trees that seemed to grow everywhere in the Badlands, taking refuge in the shade and resting Clayton against one rough barked trunk.

Lonesome looked around nervously. “We sure we want to do this here, Kat? Once it starts you know we can’t stop it, and won’t want to move him much either. We’ll be stuck here for however long it takes.”

Katherine nodded. She knew better than to ask how long that was going to be. If Lonesome knew he would have told her, and a wound like Clayton’s was probably far worse than anything he’d tried to heal before anyway. Frankly she wasn’t sure it was possible, but if he was willing to give it a try the odds were probably good.

“Given a choice, no,” she told him. “I’d rather not do it here. But I don’t think we can wait much longer. Clayton’s been looking worse every minute we ride, and while he might’ve shot a man he doesn’t deserve to die like this. I won’t let that thing be the death of him.”

Lonesome nodded and went to work. While he knelt beside Clayton, Katherine turned to Clem. “I won’t speak to what a stupid, irresponsible  thing it is you’ve done,” she started. “That’s for another time. Right now I just want to know something. After seeing what you helped bring here, and what it does, are you willing to help put a stop to it?”

“I am, Arbiter. I never wanted-”

“So you’ve said,” Katherine cut her off. “We don’t need to hear it again. What I need you to do now is talk to the Spirits and see if you can find us some goyles. Some that’ll be friendly to our needs, not the ones you worked with before.”

“I can do that.”

“Good. And Clem?” She rested her hand on the grip of her holstered revolver in a meaningful sort of way. “If the wrong sort show up I’ll assume the worst of you.”

Hawkins caught her eye, and she joined the Haversham & Black man at the edge of the trees. “Mr. Hawkins,” she invited him to speak. “What’s on your mind?”

He was quick to the point. “You think that’s a good idea, trusting her?”

“Right now there’s no such thing as a good idea,” she told him. “Right now we need help and we need it fast. If she can get that for us I’m willing to take the chance. The longer that thing is free the higher the chances we’ll never see it again, and I don’t want to live the rest of my life knowing I could have stopped it. Besides, we’ve cheated death so many times lately what’s once more?”

“The thing about gambling, Arbiter, is knowing when to quit while you’re ahead.”

“And the thing about being an Arbiter, Mr. Hawkins, is knowing when to keep going even if the odds aren’t in your favor.”

“Strikes me as an unhealthy line of work,” Hawkins commented dryly.

Katherine scoffed and leaned against a tree trunk. “Wouldn’t be nearly as interesting otherwise.”

Watching Clayton’s arm grow back was a disturbingly fascinating experience. Katherine hadn’t known a lot about human anatomy other than which bits you made bleed so somebody would die. Seeing a whole limb grow back one layer at a time atop the bone was educational, in a strange and queasy sort of way. But if the regrowth of Clayton’s arm was disturbing, the effects it was having on the surrounding area were more disturbing still. It had started with the grass around him.  Though it had begun as a mix of green and yellow, as prairie grass tended to be, it had begun to turn decidedly brown. Not merely dead, but dessicated and dry. The effect started where Clayton sat, and slowly spread outward.

The tree against which they’d propped him wasn’t spared, either. Though it had taken longer to show the leaves were doing the same as the grass, drying up and falling from branches that were withering from the tips towards the trunk. When Katherine brushed her hand against them, grass and leaves both, they crumbled into dust and blew away.

“Most times the body has what it needs to fix a wound,” Clem explained as Lonesome talked on and off with the Spirits doing the healing. “It just needs help doing it quickly. As bad off as Clayton is it would kill him to take from his body to fix his arm. So the Spirits are taking what they need from elsewhere.”

“Just as long as they don’t start taking it from us,” Walsh shuddered.

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