NaNoWriMo Begins

Alrighty, it’s half an hour until midnight and I’ve got today’s chunk of words done. According to Google’s word count, that’s 2498. Not a bad start. Of course, I may not get to work on it much Saturday, so this bit of padding is good. Anyway, here it is – Untitled Fantasy Western.


Katherine Bishop, Arbiter of the Frontier Territories, got back on her horse and indicated a direction with a thrust of her chin. “Tracks head that way.”

The man accompanying her gazed across the prairie, a disgruntled look on his face. “That way? That way’s the Badlands.”


He shifted in his saddle, clearly uncomfortable with the idea. “You don’t think he’d be stupid enough to make a run for it through there, do you?”

Katherine indicated the the ground before them with a sweep of her hand. “Deputy Bales, these tracks say he’s exactly that stupid.”

Bales heaved a sigh, not bothering to hide his annoyance. “Son of a bitch.”

Katherine nodded. She wasn’t any more eager than Bales was to go running around in the Badlands. But that’s where the tracks led, so that’s where they were going to go. “Yup,” she agreed. Didn’t matter whether he was cursing the situation or the man they were hunting, she was happy to apply it to either. She took a moment to study Bales. The lawman was on loan from the town of Kormac’s Bluff, sent in place of the sheriff who just couldn’t leave his town unprotected long enough to do his job. Once they got back she was planning on having a few words with the man. In any case, the deputy was obviously new to his job. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

“Cold feet? Arbiter, my feet’ve got nothing to do with it. That’s goyle country out there. I say we let ‘em have the bastard and call it a day.”

“That’s not how justice works, deputy. If the Gargoyles kill him he got what’s coming to him, I’m not arguing that. But he’s got to answer for what he’s done before he dies, and that’s where we come in. Besides which, if he does something stupid out there it could bring trouble back on your town. So,” she started her horse on a lazy walk out towards the Badlands. “Are you coming or not?”

There was a whole lot of grumbling and cursing, but he followed.

The Badlands looked like the Gods had allowed a drunken artist to design the landscape. There were beautiful formations that looked as if they’d been pulled and formed like taffy, forests of towering rock spires, gently rolling prairie hills, wandering gulches filled with sand or streams, and deep canyons that sometimes ran straight and sometimes turned into confusing mazes of rock and shale, all smashed together in one big mix. For the uninitiated it was a dangerous place to wander. Even if you didn’t get lost, fall off a cliff, or drown in a flash flood, the Gargoyles that called the place home would probably kill you on sight just for being there.

“Keep an eye out,” Katherine warned as they wandered their way through the twisting landscape.

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Bales replied.

“No, I don’t figure I do,” she agreed. Everybody knew the Badlands was dangerous. Some years ago the powers that were in the Frontier Territories got it into their heads that they were tired of goyle raids on their towns. They put together a militia army and went looking for trouble, aiming to kick the goyles out of the Badlands or kill them. Somewhere out there were heaps of human bones that would never see a proper burial, a warning for those who thought they might try again some day. “Still,” she rested one hand lightly on the butt of the lever action rifle sitting in its saddle holster. “It makes me feel better to say it.”

The horses alerted them to danger before there was any other sign of a Gargoyle. Katherine’s mount lifted its head, eyes wide, one ear pointed forward as the other flicked to the side. A worried nicker escaped into the dusty air. She pulled to a stop and very slowly took hold of her rifle. “Deputy Bales,” she said as calmly as she could, “I think-”

A Gargoyle warcry drowned out her next words. It echoed from the rocks, seeming to come in all directions at once. For all Katherine knew they were surrounded by dozens of goyles, but only one lept from hiding to attack. It took Bales clean off his horse and threw him to the ground a dozen feet away. His horse panicked and ran. As Katherine tried to keep hers from bolting it reared. As she hit the dusty ground she reflected that things were not going terribly well, but at least one thing had gone right – the rifle had come clear of the saddle holster as she fell, her hand still on the grip.

Rising to one knee she brought the weapon to bear on the Gargoyle. It was huge, but then, most goyles were. Built like a brick shithouse was a common descriptive phrase. It rose up on two legs and advanced on the unconscious deputy, pointed teeth bared and clawed hand raised to strike. Katherine took in a short breath and pulled the trigger.

The bullet zipped past the goyle’s head. It must’ve been close, because she saw the creature flinch before it turned towards her. There was a sharp clack as she chambered another round. “Hold on there, ugly,” she cautioned. “I don’t know how much you understand me, but know I don’t feel like killing you just now. As long as you leave us be it’ll stay that way. There’s no more quarrel here than there needs to be.”

The goyle’s nostrils flared. It snorted, but seemed to consider her words. During that silence that spanned a few breaths, she got a good close look at her opponent. It was definitely ugly, with a smashed in face and pebbly grey skin. If she didn’t know better she’d have thought it was an animal. Plenty of the first settlers had made that same mistake. But they eyes gave away that false impression. There was intelligence in those eyes, in the way it watched her. Watched her rifle, in point of fact. Goyles were tough, but they’d die from a bullet or two – or three – just like anything else.

“Well,” she said slowly, “we’re not killing each other yet, so I’m going to take that as a good sign. On the other hand, you’re not leaving. This leaves us in an awkward position.”

The goyle snorted again and lowered itself onto all fours. She wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. Goyles would run on four legs over short distances, and they were damn fast. So either it was relaxing a bit, or it was about to charge. Hard to say which, really.

“Ok now,” she said, hoping that if she kept talking it would eventually just give up and go away. “Look. We’re trespassing. I get that. Trust me, I wouldn’t be here if it were up to me. But I’m an Arbiter, and I’ve got a wanted man to catch. I won’t let you get in the way of that.”

The goyles had a language of their own. Katherine had heard it spoken a few times. It sounded like growls and grunts mixed with something that might have been human speech, and it was completely incomprehensible to her. But she knew it when she heard it. The goyle in her sights had just said something. Would wonders never cease, she thought, the thing was trying to carry its half of the conversation.

“Arbiter,” it growled. Her eyes widened in surprise. She’d never heard one say something like that before.

“That’s right,” she nodded. “I’m an Arbiter.” With exaggerated care she used one hand to pull open her duster. Revealed beneath was the badge which hung on a leather strap around her neck.

The goyle grunted. With another smattering of words in its own language it drew up onto two legs again, looked sidelong at the still form of Deputy Bales, and started ambling away. She gave it a minute or so to make sure it wouldn’t come back, then hurried over to Bales. He was alive, but he probably had a couple of cracked or broken ribs. Maybe. Hell, she wasn’t a doctor. Well, he was still breathing and that was good. The bad was that now they didn’t have any horses. And the ugly, of course, was they were still in the Badlands.

Things were far uglier for the man they’d been hunting. Unaware his pursuers had been detoured Lee had pushed on through the Badlands, shotgun in hand. And that wasn’t all. When he’d decided to make a run through goyle country he’d taken three pistols, a knife, and a cavalry saber with him. Thus armed he figured he could hold his own against any Gargoyle he ran into. He might even be able to fight off the Arbiter and her posse when they found him.

What he didn’t count on was running into a human being who wasn’t hunting him down. He’d stopped to take a break and sit a spell when a voice startled him to his feet.

“Well now,” the voice said thoughtfully, “You must be in a heap of trouble to be out here with that much artillery.”

Lee brought swung his shotgun around until the sights settled on an unassuming man with a deep tan, a conspicuous lack of weapons, and a broad brimmed hat. Bits and bobs of all sorts hung from the man. They dangled from the brim of his hat, some from his belt. Some were attached to a rope bandolier that crossed his chest.

“Easy now,” the man said, though he didn’t seem terribly concerned by the shotgun pointed at his midsection. “My name’s Lonesome. What’s yours?”

“Uh,” Lee licked dry lips and scanned the area. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around. “Lee,” he said at last. “Lee Caswell.”

“Well Lee, mind if I have a seat?” Without waiting for an answer, Lonesome perched on a nearby rock. “There, now we can get neighborly.”

“Um, sure,” Lee said uncertainly. “So, do you have a camp nearby or something? What are you doing out here?”

“Nah,” Lonesome said, “No camp. I just wander about. I like it out here. You, on the other hand… well, like I said, you must be in a heap of trouble to be out here looking like you do.”

“That’s none of your business,” Lee snapped.

“Hmm,” Lonesome scratched his stubbled chin. “You know, son, they say confession is good for the soul.” He looked up at the sky, eyes squinting at the sun. “They say the spirits take your soul when you pass, that they take you off to another place. Sometimes, though, there’s things that weigh on you. Things you’ve done, things you wished you did. They stay with you when you die, and if it’s too much to bear the spirits can’t take you. Then you just… float around, you know? Watching other people live. Wishing you’d done things different. Never happy. Never at peace.”

Lee squirmed uneasily, suddenly unwilling to look directly at Lonesome.

“Well Lee,” he invited, “how about you take a load off and tell me what’s got you running through goyle country looking like you want to start a one man war?”

“I’m not looking for trouble,” Lee said defensively.

“Didn’t say you were,” Lonesome told him. “No need to look for more when you’ve already got some following. Just you, me, and the rocks, Lee. Have a tell.”

“I, uh… I killed a man.” He looked up at Lonesome then, a challenge in his eyes like he expected the revelation to scare his visitor.

“Lots of people done that,” the tanned man shrugged. “What matters is why.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Lee rejected the idea. “It’s stupid. All that matters is they’re after me. A damn Arbiter is after me, and there’s only one way that ends. At the end of a rope.”

“Ah,” Lonesome nodded sagely. “So you’ve go a biter out to get you. I suppose it says something about her that you’re more scared of her than the goyles.”

“I’m not scared of no goyle,” Lee muttered. “I ain’t see one yet. I think maybe they’re scared of me.”

“Nah,” Lonesome looked away. “You just caught ‘em napping. You’ll see plenty come sundown. That and around sunup, and more at night than during the day. They don’t much like the sun.”

“Huh. Hey…” Lee’s eyes narrowed. “How’d you know the Arbiter was a her?”

Lonesome looked back at him, head tilted to one side. “Not like it’s arithmetic. Biters got their own territories, and I know one territory from another. This one belongs to Wild Kat Bishop. Tell you what, son. You’re best off turning yourself in. Give yourself over to Bishop and you’ll get a trial, a chance to explain yourself. It doesn’t always end in a hanging. Out here you just get dead.”

Lee brought his shotgun up again, anger in his eyes. “You’re with her aren’t you. You’re just here to… to keep me busy while they sneak up on me, aren’t you? Well I won’t go quiet! Maybe I’ll just take you out first!”

“Huh. Well, you do what you like, Lee. Just let me tell you something first. I’m a Spirit Talker. You know what that means?”

For a moment, Lee’s determination seemed to waver. But a thought occurred to him, and he set his jaw. “Means you’ve got to talk to do anything. Think you can talk faster than a bullet?”

“What makes you think I didn’t to all my talking before you even knew I was here?” Lonesome asked. “Maybe, before I came down here to say hello, I convinced a spirit that the scatter in your scattergun needed to melt a bit. Could be you pull that trigger it’ll just blow up in your face. Or maybe I convinced a water spirit to rust it up so nothing happens at all. You want to find out which it is?”

Lee thought about that for a second. “I still got a sword. Maybe I’ll just stab you.”

Lonesome rolled his eyes. “You gotta catch me to do that. You really want to chase me all over the place just so you can make a point? That doesn’t get fun for either of us.”

“Oh.” Lee looked down at his shotgun. “Guess I’ll try my luck then.” With an anticipatory wince, he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

“Boy,” Lonesome, looking annoyed, stood and crossed his arms. “You just aren’t that bright, are you? Let me put it to you this way. You’ve got a couple of hours until sundown, then the goyles come out. And all you’ve got now is a sword. Which, I think you’ll find, is busy rusting into uselessness. So once again, you’ve got two choices. Go give yourself up to Bishop, or go get yourself dead. Feel like trying your luck again?”



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