NaNoWriMo Update Fourteen

Extra long weekend update here. Managed to keep pace, if not gain a little ground. Count for this update is 3656 and the running total is 25186.


Once they came across signs of a campsite there was little doubt they were on the right path. Hawkins pulled his horse up next to Katherine’s as they rode. “They’re well ahead of us,” he commented, concern creasing his brow. “Think we’ll catch up to them before they make it to wherever it is they’re going?”

“Hard to say, Mr. Hawkins. In my experience, folks move slower if they don’t know they’re being chased.”

“Given how they left Red River they just might expect it,” he noted.

“Could be,” she allowed. “But even so, we’re on their trail a lot sooner than we would have been otherwise thanks to you. Might be they think they’ve got more of a lead than they do. Either way, they’re headed into the Badlands. That means they’re gonna have to slow down. It’s easy to get lost out there, like the ground itself moves stuff around to confuse you. And that’s not even taking into account the goyles.”

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about the Badlands,” Hawkins recalled. Out on the coast the Frontier Wars had sold a lot of newspapers and dime novels. The Gargoyles had taken on a ferocious mythology, most of it made up on the spot. They were the living demons people loved to hate, and the place where they lived developed an equally dangerous reputation. “Is it true they turn to stone?” he asked. “The goyles, that is.”

“Nah,” Katherine looked amused. “That’s just talk. I suppose I could see how they got to that idea, though. Goyles have skin that’s really rough and pebbly, kinda seems like rock if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Some lizards have got the same, though, so not like it’s something otherworldly. A goyle gets caught out away from their homes during the day they dig little pits in the ground, curl up inside and go to sleep. Their backs sticking out like that, they look like a big rock. I imagine somebody got a hell of a fright first time they sat on one.”

“Plenty of people back on the coast think goyles don’t sleep,” Hawkins mentioned. “Plenty of stories about how they favor night raids, but any army walking into the Badlands during the day finds them just as awake.”

“Oh, it’s a little of both. Left on their own they like sunup and sundown the best. Lonesome tells me they like night better than day, but they’ll be awake for either if they have to be.”

“I hope you don’t mind all the questions,” Hawkins apologized. “It’s just that I’d like to be prepared for what’s ahead.”

“I don’t mind any,” she said simply. Truth be told she’d rather the people she was with knew what they were in for. Getting taken by surprise out in the Badlands was usually one of the last things to happen to a person. “Ask away.”

“Well, I hear they’re half again as tall as a man,” Hawkins started. “That they can tear a horse in half with their bare hands, that their skin is made of rock so you have to shoot them in just the right spot… there’s a lot of stuff like that.”

Katherine laughed a bit and shook her head. “My, they do have a reputation, don’t they? Well, let’s see. They’re taller than most men by a head or so, but that’s only when they’re on their back legs. They can run on all fours for a bit, real fast too. And while they could tear your arms off without a second thought I doubt they could do the same to a horse. They’d kill it and eat it, though. As for shooting them… well, it’s like shooting any other big animal. Either you’ve got to have yourself some damn big bullets or it’ll take a lot of them. Doesn’t particularly matter where they get shot, unless you manage to get one in the head.”

“What about Spirit Talkers? I hear the goyles treat them differently.”

“Hmm.” Katherine looked ahead, to where Lonesome rode in front of the rest. “Far as I can tell that one’s true, but the why of it isn’t something I’ve ever been able to figure out. Lonesome won’t talk about it any.”

“The men we’re after have a Spirit Talker,” Hawkins pointed out. “Do you think she can get them through without any trouble from the goyles?”

“Might be,” Katherine recalled her last foray into the Badlands and Lonesome’s “understanding” with the local goyles. “If she knows the area she might be on good terms with the goyles, which is really something I should’ve thought to ask.”

Wade was riding a little ways behind her, so Katherine slowed her horse until he caught up. “Arbiter,” he said as she matched pace on one side and Hawkins the other. “What’s the word?”

“I need to know how often Clementine Baxter left town for long periods of time, and if she came out to the Badlands much.”

“Yeah,” Wade recalled. “She’d leave for some pretty long spells from time to time. Never knew where she went, but she always came back. Why?”

“Just had a thought,” she said by way of explanation. Without another word she spurred her horse forward, aiming to catch up with Lonesome.

“What’s that all about?” Wade asked Hawkins. “Something up? I’d rather know if there was.”

“Clementine might’ve been coming out here to make nice with the Gargoyles,” Hawkins revealed. “If she did, it sounds like things could be more trouble than we thought.”

Lonesome turned around in his saddle. Most of the group had given him a respectable lead, which was fine with him. But now Katherine was closing the distance. It wasn’t a full out gallop, though, so he didn’t slow down any. “Kat,” he nodded to her as soon as she was within earshot. “What’s the hustle about?”

“I’ve gotta ask you a question I’m kicking myself for not asking you sooner,” she told him. “That understanding you had with the goyles back near Kormac’s Bluff, would that extend out here?”

“It’s a bit far from my usual,” Lonesome told her. “So probably not. But goyles talk to each other, so there’s a chance. I wasn’t going to count on it any. Why do you ask?”

“Clementine has been coming out here to the Badlands from time to time. I figure she’s been doing the same thing as you, talking to the goyles and getting on their good side. That could mean trouble for us, couldn’t it?” She looked Lonesome in the eye, wanting a straightforward answer.

They were almost out of the plains now, into the rocky landscape that marked the leading edge of the Badlands. He looked away from her, out over the rocks and scrub and gnarled trees. “If she can talk her way in, so can I,” he said at last. “You sound like you expect her to set the goyles on us.”

“Can’t she?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Kat.They’ll come after us because they want to, not because she said so. You try to tell a goyle to do anything and things are gonna go a bad way. Most you can do is convince them that it’s best for everyone to leave you be.”




The steady click-click-click of a revolver’s cylinder slowly being turned echoed off of the rocky hills. Brodie winced at each turn. He’d been trying to ignore the sound, but it was unnaturally loud and had been going on for what seemed like forever. “Curse it, Slim,” he finally snapped, “Knock it off before I take that thing away and beat you with it.”

“I can’t help it,” the outlaw complained, voice a little higher than usual. “I’m nervous. This place makes me itch. Like there’s somebody watchin’ all the time.”

“Just be glad he’s not fiddlin’ with the dynamite,” Morgan added.

“You know he’s right,” Thomas muttered. “We’re being watched. I can feel it. Hell, any one of those boulders could be a goyle.”

“Yeah? And what do you expect you can do about it?” Brodie asked. “You just gonna go shootin’ random rocks, just in case?”

“Would you lot be a little quieter?” Clem, who’d been riding in front, turned around and gave them an exasperated look. “You’re like a passel of school girls back there. Yeah, we’re being watched. Yeah, it’s the goyles. You don’t get this far into the Badlands without them noticing. Just shut up and don’t do anything rash or stupid. I’ll handle it.”

“You’ll handle it, will you?” Brodie asked. “How’re you gonna do that?”

“It’s a little thing called diplomacy, Brodie. Once they decide to make something out of this I’ll have a word with ‘em.”

Clayton, riding at the back with the pack horse, tried to tune them out as they continued their back and forth. He watched the boulders and hills around them, and every now and again he thought he saw something move. The goyles continued to keep pace with them until near sundown. It was then, backlit by the setting sun, that one of them broke cover and started down a nearby hill. Another followed it, and Clayton felt his heart jump into his throat.

“Clem,” he said as calmly as possible, “Clem, I think they’re making something of it now.”

About a half dozen goyles had come down behind them and were keeping pace on four limbs. Clementine turned her horse around and the others stopped, nervously handling their weapons as Clem held up a hand for them to hold steady. More goyles came out of hiding to finish surrounding them. Clem turned her horse in a tight circle, looking for the one in charge. Clayton didn’t know how she picked it out, but she settled on one goyle in particular and trotted over to it. When she was close enough she dismounted and approached on foot. The goyle straightened up onto two legs to greet her, snarling and grunting something in its own language.

Clayton couldn’t hear much of the conversation that ensued, but he was certain that’s what it was. Somehow Clem was talking to the goyles. Not in their own language, but with words that sounded an awful lot like the ones she’d used back in Red River to try and call up the spirits during their standoff with Wade.

Whatever she said it seemed to work. The goyles backed off and disappeared back into the scenery, leaving the group free to go. Clem hopped back on her horse and smirked at Brodie. “There,” she said with a little sass, “You feel better now?” Brodie just scowled in reply.

Clem had another surprise up her sleeve when the light of day had finished fading away. She’d been quiet ever since their encounter with the goyles, and they were talking about where to make camp when she spoke up once more. “There’s a place a little ways from here,” she told them. “We’re moving a little slower than I thought. Figured we’d make it before sundown, but it’s still close enough.”

They followed her to where the land rose into a small hill. Shards of rock pushed up through the ground around it, harsher and more angular than most of the boulders they’d seen. If Clayton hadn’t known better he’d have said they formed something like an irregular wall around the hill. As they wound their way through the rocks he could start to make out something atop the rise, something that looked too regular for a rock formation. His suspicion was borne out when they got close enough to see it in detail.

It was clearly a wall made of interlocking stones, so precisely put together that the outside seemed smooth. All in all it was about two stories tall, though from the ragged outline of the top it used to be higher. Morgan whistled softly into the night as Clayton ran a hand over it’s cold surface. “Well ain’t this something,” Thomas said thoughtfully.

“Damn strange is what it is,” Brodie told him. “I didn’t think we made any forts this far in.”

“We didn’t,” Clem told him. “This ain’t a fort.”

“Nah,” Morgan agreed, “Too small for that. It’s like a lookout tower. Or it used to be until half of it got torn down.”

The inside of the old tower was empty, but had more than enough room for them to make a camp. The floor was a little uncomfortable, covered as it was by worn stones that interlocked in the same manner as the walls. But at least they could see the stars. Whatever second floor had once been must’ve been made of wood, and had long since rotted or burned away. They made spaces for themselves along the walls and built up a small fire in the middle, leaving their horses tethered to scrub trees outside.

Clayton wasn’t sure what woke him during the night. The fire had died down to a pile of glowing coals, and everyone else was still asleep. No, not everyone. On a second look he saw one person was missing – Clementine. Normally he wouldn’t have thought anything of it. Everybody had to answer the call of nature from time to time, after all. But this far into goyle territory, and with everything Brodie had said about Clem leading them out here only to let them die? He wondered if he should wake the others, hemming and hawing about it for nearly a minute before deciding not to. It could just be something innocent. No need to get everybody riled up if it was nothing. But he needed to know one way or another, so he got up and headed outside with one hand on his sidearm.

Nothing seemed amiss outside. There were no hordes of Gargoyles waiting to attack their camp, and the only sounds were the breeze rustling the trees and the insects making their strange music. A quick check of the horses told him Clem hadn’t taken off somewhere without them. She was nearby, somewhere. The breeze brought a snatch of sound different from the rest. It caught Clayton’s ear, and he followed the direction it had come from until he heard more of the same. It was Clem’s voice, speaking the strange language he’d heard twice before.

The Spirit Talker was sitting cross legged, her back against one of the jagged rock outcroppings a little way down the hill. For a moment he thought she might be talking to a goyle, but he could see no sign of one. He stood there silently, gripped by uncertainty. She didn’t look to be doing anything sinister. There was no need to disturb her, was there?

Clementine made the decision for him. Abruptly breaking out of her strange speech she called out to him. “You just gonna stand there and watch me all night, Clay?”

Clayton felt a blush spread up his neck at having been caught. “I didn’t mean to intrude,” he said. “Or stare,” he added. “I was just… well, I woke up and I…”

“Don’t try too hard,” Clem told him. “You saw I was missing and you got suspicious. I don’t blame you.”

“Don’t you?” Clayton asked, walking down the hill towards her. “It doesn’t bother you any that Brodie doesn’t trust you?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not just Brodie,” Clem said, her tone knowing. She was still wearing her cavalry hat, but as Clayton got closer she took it off and set it down in her lap. “Hell,” she said, one thumb running over the brim, “I wouldn’t trust me much either.”

Clayton sat down across from her and asked, “Who, or maybe what, were you talking to just now?”

“There’s no goyles around, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she assured him. “I was just talking to the spirits.”

Clayton looked around curiously, as if he could see them if he knew what to look for. “What about?” he asked.

“Remember when I told you they didn’t like whatever was in that box you lot are draggin’ along with you?”

He nodded and looked back at the wreck of a watchtower. They’d brought the box in with them so they could keep an eye on it. “Yeah?” he said uncertainly.

“I was trying to figure out why that is. I had to come all the way down here just to find a spirit that would talk to me about it.”

“You mean you don’t know already?” Clayton was honestly surprised. He’d figured that Clem knew and was just playing coy with them.

“I wasn’t lying when I told you I had one job to do. The boss says to get your boys and that box to the meeting spot, that’s what I do. I know better than to ask questions about it.”

“You know,” Clay said thoughtfully, “Brodie never did tell me who hired him for this job. Said I didn’t need to know. But you do.” The suggestion that she tell him was not so subtly applied.

Clem gave him that measuring look again, like she had before she’d told him about her time in the cavalry. “His name is Dorean. You don’t need to know more than that.”

“You know him,” Clayton guessed. Clem looked surprised for a moment, but covered it quickly.

“Yeah,” she admitted. “He and I… we were friends, way back. That’s why I’m doing this. That much money just to drag a handful of outlaws and a box through goyle territory? Anybody else I’d think the deal was sour. He’ll keep his word though, don’t you worry.”

Clayton nodded. “Sorry to bother you, Clem. I’ll let you get back to talking.” He got up and walked back to the camp. Clem pressed her lips together a little tighter as she watched him go, and rubbed a little harder at the brim of her hat.




“Hold up,” Lonesome raised a hand. The posse behind him ambled to a stop, with the exception of Katherine, who rode up to speak with him.

“What’ve you got, Lonesome?”

“See that up there?” the Spirit Talker asked, pointing out ahead of the group.

It took her a moment, but Katherine followed his direction and caught sight of a small mound of stones. Once she realized it was something that had been deliberately put together it was easy to figure out why it had caught Lonesome’s attention. “Are those what I think they are?” she asked, keeping her voice pitched low so the others wouldn’t hear.

“Yup,” Lonesome sighed. “That’s a friendly reminder that we aren’t welcome here.”

“You’re telling me the goyles are using a pile of skulls to warn us off?”

Lonesome gave her a frank look. “Can you think of any other message something like that’s meant to send?”

“Hmm,” she chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Could that be what’s left of men we’re chasing? Maybe this is like Lee Caswell?”

“Sorry to shoot holes in that fine idea, but there’re more than five skulls in that pile, Kat. I’d say more like a dozen. Probably left over from the war. And if this was something like Lee they’d give us the whole body. No, this is them telling us to mind our own. They’re giving us a chance to turn around, probably because there are so many of us.”

“What about Clem and her group?” Katherine asked. “They would have gotten the same warning, wouldn’t they?”

“I imagine so.”

“Then we need to know if they made it through or not. We know they didn’t turn around, otherwise we would’ve found ‘em by now. So either they got a pass, or the goyles took care of them. If it’s the first then you said it yourself, Lonesome. If she can talk her way past the goyles so can you.”

“And if it’s the second?” he asked, not looking pleased with that outcome.

“Then we need the bodies, if possible. The box at the very least. We get that and we can go home and leave them be.”

Lonesome heaved sigh and looked at the pile of skulls again. “I guess that means you want me to go have a word with them.” He sounded resigned to doing it, even though Katherine hadn’t answered.

“There’s bound to be at least a couple watching to see what we decide,” she guessed. She took a moment to look around. She didn’t see any, but then she knew from experience that if a goyle didn’t want to be seen in the Badlands it would take a lot more than a cursory glance to spot it.

“Fine, fine. You all just hold tight here. Make sure they don’t get jumpy if any goyles show,” he indicated Wade and the rest of the Red River group with a tilt of his head.

As Lonesome headed for the stack of skulls Katherine went back to the group. She picked out Wash and Hawkins and gestured for them to come have a word. “Freckles,” she addressed the deputy, adopting Lonesome’s nickname for him. “You said you were good with a rifle?”

“That’s right,” he said, straightening a little with pride.

“Good. Cover Lonesome. Spirits know if he were a fox he could talk his way into a henhouse with not much more than a smile, but I don’t like the idea that Clementine might’ve been doing some talking of her own. Any goyles to show make a move on him, I want a bullet through its eye. Don’t stop to think twice.”

Walsh’s smiling demeanor turned serious, and he pulled his rifle from it’s saddle holster. “Yes ma’am,” he nodded dutifully and set his horse trotting away.

“Mister Hawkins,” she turned to the Haversham & Black man. “Let’s you and I spread the word. There might be goyles showing up here soon, and we don’t want anyone to start shooting unless it’s necessary.”


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