NaNoWriMo Update Ten

Today’s update is 1435 words, for a running total of 16693. I’m about two days behind at this point. Not horrible, but still not good.

By the time they stopped to make camp the weather had cleared. They found a rock formation they could sit on instead of wallowing in the mud and made a fire. “So, Clementine,” Clayton said around a mouth full of beans. “You’ve been to the Badlands before?”

Clem had sat down a little distance from the fire, separating herself from the others. He could tell she’d heard him by the way she turned her head just a little in his direction. “Yeah,” she said. “Been in and out a few times.”

“Was that with the cavalry?”

She turned her head a little more and raised it so she could look at him from under the brim of her hat. “Don’t let the headgear fool you,” she muttered.

“Not just the hat,” he told her. “Your saddle is cavalry issue. So is the saber and revolver you’ve got with the rest of your stuff. So either you managed to steal all that out from under the army, or you came by it like most others and just never gave it back.”

“My, aren’t we observant.” Clem raised the brim of her hat another few inches, exposing her entire face to the firelight. “Alright, yeah. I was with the cav. How do you know so much about it? You don’t strike me as the type.”

“I’m not. Or I wasn’t at the time. I had a brother that rode with the seventh.”

“Oof,” even in the dim light Clayton could see her wince. “Was he…?”

“Yeah. He wasn’t one of the ones that made it out. Not that many did.”

“Damn,” Clem shook her head. “We heard about that right after it happened. Hell of a thing. Taught us we couldn’t just go prancing into goyle territory like we were on parade. Shoulda known better to start with.”

“Who did you ride with?”

“Third cav,” she told him. “But since I’m a Spirit Talker I rode as a scout. They loaned me and a few others out to the infantry. I don’t know how many men I helped lead into places they’d never come back from.”

“Did you see any fighting yourself?” Clayton asked. Clem gave him a measuring look, trying to decide if he was one of those people that loved to hear war stories or if he was actually curious. She decided he was the latter.

“Yeah,” she turned her gaze from him to the crackling fire. A cool, moist breeze blew at it, and glowing embers raced away into the night. “Near the end one of our expeditions got caught in an ambush and locked up. Couldn’t fight their way out, but as long as they had ammunition they could hold position. Somehow they managed to get a rider through the goyles. He made it to Fort Cullen and got the whole place riled up for a heroic rescue mission. Against all odds they were still alive when we got there. We could hear the gunshots in the distance as we got closer. I don’t know if I dropped the ball on that one or if it was one of the other scouts, but we really should have seen what came next.”

The wind was picking up a little more, but Clayton noticed it hardly seemed to touch Clem. Everyone around the fire had stopped what they were doing to listen to her story, even Brodie. “They say goyles are as stupid as they are ugly,” she continued. “That they’re just big, barely intelligent animals. But that ain’t true. They were using that trapped company to lure more of us in. They let ‘em live that long so we’d rush headlong into a rescue when we got there. We did just what they wanted, and once we were in just the right spot… did you know goyles make spears?” she asked. “Big, nasty things with stone blades on the end. They’ll pincushion a man like a needle through a fly. And when they run out of those they can tear you limb from limb with their bare hands, if they don’t decide to shred you with those claws of theirs.”

“So how’d you get out of that?” Morgan asked, voice pitched low as if she’d been telling a ghost story.

“I got lucky. I convinced some spirits to call up a vicious little whirlwind of a sandstorm around me. Goyles couldn’t see me to throw a spear and any that got close enough to try something more personal got blinded. Then they got shot. I knew which way the fight was going, though, so I turned my horse around and I left. Wasn’t anything I could do to save those men. They were like any other group of soldiers I’d led out into the Badlands to die. Only difference was I almost died with them that time.”

“Where did you go?” Thomas asked after she’d been quiet for a moment. “Back to the fort?”

“Naw. I just… wandered around for a bit. Funny thing about the goyles, they’ll leave you mostly alone if you’re a Spirit Talker and you’re not trying to kill ‘em. Anyway, I finally came out and found a town to settle into. They didn’t look too closely at the worn out uniform, or my saddle, or any of it. Guess they knew enough to be thankful for having a Spirit Talker around. I heard the war went on for a few more months before they gave up for good. Could’ve been over a lot sooner if they would’ve learned from what happened to the seventh.”

“And now you’re taking us out into their home territory and telling us not to worry about it?” Brodie asked. “That’s not smelling overly good to me. What happens if we step in it out there? You gonna leave us to die too?”

“I told you, I don’t get paid until you deliver that box. If you die you can’t deliver it. And just remember, I liked it over in Red River. Just think on how much money would have to be involved for me to burn a lovely bridge like that one.”

“And what’s to keep you from delivering it yourself and collecting our money right alongside yours?”

It was a valid question, and it got everybody’s attention. If Clem knew the Badlands like she said she did it might just be an easy thing for her to arrange a little accident for them along the way. She laughed a little at the idea. “If I liked you half as much as I do, Brodie, I just might think about it. But there’s three things working in your favor, here. One, for some damn reason I do like you enough to not leave you for dead out here. Two, the boss said specifically that you lot were supposed to bring in the box. Not me, or anyone else. You. And three?” she turned a baleful gaze on the lockbox. They’d taken it off of the pack horse to give the beast a rest and set it up against some rocks, still covered in a damp blanket. Clayton half expected it to burst into flames anyway. “I’m not touching that damn thing with a ten foot pole.”

“Yeah?” Brodie asked, giving the box a curious look. “And why’s that?”

“Whatever’s in there, the spirits don’t like it. That’s reason enough for me.” With that she pulled her hat back down and turned away from them.




Arbiter Bishop and her posse rode into Red River a few days later. The mud had all dried out by then, leaving behind hardened dirt that was slowly being ground back down into dust. The town was still talking about the showdown in the street. Most people agreed that there had been a robbery, though nobody was quite sure what had gotten robbed. What everybody knew was that their sheriff had let the perpetrators walk off, and Clementine Baxter had gone with them. Mostly of her own free will, but there was probably something that had made her go. Or maybe she’d gone after them at the sheriff’s behest? Well she was gone, at any rate, leaving the town without a Spirit Talker, the convenience of which they’d gotten used to.

The arrival of the posse drew everyone’s attention. At first, rumor spread that the gang had come back to steal something else. That was soon replaced with news that it was an Arbiter and her men, but it didn’t stop the talk. Things this exciting hardly ever happened in Red River, and Sheriff Wade was always wary of excitement.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *