NaNoWriMo Update Sixteen

Making progress! Here’s a 2080 word update. Running total is 28496. Clunky dialogue is clunky, but it can stay until editing.

“Well?” Katherine asked as he morosely rejoined the group. “How did it go?”

“Better than it could’ve, worse than I wanted,” he told her as he got used to the saddle again. “You were right, Kat. Clem’s been talking to the goyles. Something’s up here and I don’t like it.”

“We gonna have trouble?”

“More than likely,” he told her grimly. “That pile of skulls is their line in the sand. They’re willing to let us go peaceably if we turn around and leave right here. But if we pass those skulls we’ll be in enemy territory, and they’ll do to us what they did to the army during the war.” He didn’t look pleased at the reference.

“You know we can’t do that.”

“I know it, and I told ‘em that. I tried my best, but like I said, something’s up here. That goyle I talked to didn’t like that they’d let Clem and her boys pass on through any more than he liked the idea of us going ahead. There’s a deal been made somewhere, somehow. I just wish I knew what it was.” He sighed and looked back towards the skulls. “Anyway, we’re in for a fight if we keep on going. Question is how you want to handle it.”

“I’d like to avoid a fight as much as I can. If they figure we’re going to ride past anyway it makes sense they’d set up an ambush right near here, don’t you think?”

“Makes sense to me,” Lonesome agreed. “They won’t want to let us any further than they have to.”

“So we could make like we’re leaving, turn around, and double back somewhere else,” she suggested thoughtfully.

“Probably won’t work,” Lonesome told her. “They’ll have us watched right up until we leave the Badlands. We turn back around and they’ll know.”

“Right,” Katherine agreed. “So how about this. Goyles are fast on four legs, but only over short distances. A horse at full speed could easily outrun them. If you can cook up some spirit intervention we could just race on through here, maybe lose the goyles that are watching us.”

“It might work,” Lonesome said slowly. “But what then, Kat? We’ll be in the middle of goyle territory. They’ll find us again, and quick. Especially with there being so many of us. I can hide tracks, but a whole herd of folks like this? Even with the spirits helping it’ll only be a matter of time before we’re face to face with some angry locals.”

“Then we’ll just have to work fast once we’re through. Ride hard, stop only when we have to. We’re not that far behind. If we can overtake Clem and her people before the goyles catch up to us we might have something to bargain with on the way out.”

“That’s risky business, Kat,” he warned her. “We go in there, odds are we might not come back out even if we get Clem and the box.”

She turned a hard eye on him, face set with determination. “I’m not letting them get away, Lonesome. I don’t care what kind of deal they’ve got, if outlaws figure they can ditch the law by running into the Badlands things are going to get out of hand.”

“What about Red River?” Lonesome asked, beginning to argue more forcefully. “You were afraid of those bandits riling up the goyles. Now we’re set to do the same. However this ends it could come back on them.”

“Lonesome,” Katherine said, her voice just shy of annoyed, “I get that you don’t want to go in there-”

“Damnit Kat,” the Spirit Talker snapped, “I don’t want you to go in there.” There was a second of silence as Katherine’s expression changed from surprise to confusion to anger. “No,” he told her before she could speak again, “I know. You’re an Arbiter. You’re tough as nails and you’ve lived through things that would’ve killed someone less cursedly stubborn. And I know you don’t want to hear it from me or anyone else, but if you go in there you’re gonna get killed. I’ve seen it happen, more times than I care to count.”

When he’d finished Katherine took a slow, deep breath. She trotted her horse forward so she and Lonesome were side by side, and spoke in a lowered voice. “That’s real sweet of you,” she started, and was gratified to see a blush creep through his deep tan. “But you said it yourself, I’m stubborn. So let’s skip the arguing and get down to facts. I’m chasing down Clementine and the rest of them. That’s just the way it is. You can go or you can stay, but I’d feel a whole lot better if you came with me. I’d have a better chance of living through it if you did. You want to keep me breathing so bad, you’d better come along.”

“You don’t get it. I know how this ends, Kat. You want facts? During the war-”

“This ain’t the war, Lonesome,” Katherine interrupted him. “Though it might look an awful lot like one if things go wrong. Hey. You and I have been through a few things, remember? Some of those I didn’t get through because I was stubborn. I got through because you were there to back me up. You come with me and I know we’ll pull this off. I need you.”

It wasn’t a plea, nor a flirt. It was a statement of fact, and it hit Lonesome right in the stomach more than either of the other two things would have. “You don’t make things easy, do you?” he growled. “Fine, Kat. If you’re pig headed enough to go through with this then I guess we’re going in together.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“I was gonna go in on my own anyway, you know,” he muttered. “Whatever’s in that box… I need to know what gets that sort of reaction out of the spirits.”

“I figured that was the case,” she sat back a little and shook her head a little. “And you say I do crazy things. So are we doing this, or what?”

“Give me some time to get things ready. Spirit Talking ain’t like snapping your fingers or whistling over a dog.”

She left him to it and headed back to the rest of the posse. Hawkins, Walsh, and Sheriff Wade had come together to watch her and Lonesome converse. “What was that all about?” Hawkins asked. “Everything alright?”

“Just talking strategy,” Katherine lied. “We’re gonna have goyle problems, boys. The plan right now is to run right past ‘em. If we can get enough of a lead Lonesome might be able to cover our tracks a bit, buy us some time to track down Clem and the rest.”

“You think our volunteers are gonna be up for that?” Walsh asked, looking over his shoulder at their hired guns.

“They knew where this was headed,” Katherine dismissed the concern. “Besides, if any of them get cold feet they’re gonna have to get back to town on their own. Given the option, I’m guessing most of them will want to stick with the well armed group rather than be out alone.”

“That’s the truth,” Wade grunted. “Alright then. Let’s go give ‘em the pep talk.”

When everything was ready the posse stood tense and eager, handkerchiefs and rags covering as many faces as possible. Lonesome was out front, ready to lead the charge. He took in a few breaths and tightened his grip on the reins. “Ok friends,” he said in First Words. “Just like we talked about.”

A heavy wind kicked up around the posse. Driven by supernatural forces great mounds of earth rose up to greet it, darkening the sky and creating a near instant sandstorm. Only this wasn’t mere sand – chunks of soil and even small rocks began to whirl around, providing a screen between the humans and any lurking goyles. Lonesome kicked his horse into a full out run, and the posse followed. They tore past the pile of skulls and kept right on going. At first it seemed that either no Gargoyles had been in position to ambush them, or that their plan was working perfectly.

A huge spear flew through the dirtstorm towards the group. Whatever aiming had been done was ruined by the wind and dirt, and the weapon fell short of hitting anyone. But it was only the first of many as the goyles threw one after another blindly into the storm. Then, out of nowhere, a goyle barreled into view. It was clearly disoriented, allowing most of the posse to race by before it had a chance to react. As the last rider neared it crouched, ready to leap at the passing horse’s throat. With a burst of movement taught muscles untensed, and the goyle launched up from the ground. Or it would have, had its feet not been stuck in soil that had softened into a thick, sucking mud. The last rider thundered past unmolested.

More goyles appeared. Having thrown their spears to no effect they were now throwing themselves into the storm, howling with rage and anger. Each met a spirit that gently but sternly made sure the goyle’s aggression came to nothing but close calls. And through it all, not a shot was fired. That was a special order from Lonesome himself. Any man who fired on a goyle during the run would forfeit the protection of the spirits, and everyone had taken that threat seriously.

They were only under attack for a minute or two, but to many of them it was the most terrifying few minutes of their life. And then it was over. The dirtstorm collapsed, leaving not a goyle in sight and every rider accounted for. Katherine resisted the urge to let out a victory cry. They weren’t out of trouble yet, she knew. In fact, they’d just willingly jumped from the frying pan into the fire. But it was a good start, and they’d keep riding hard until the horses needed to stop. Up ahead Lonesome was already working on the next stage of the plan, talking First Words to spirits and trying to convince them to erase signs of the posse’s trail.




“There’s another one,” Morgan pointed out across the Badlands. The others looked, and sure enough Clayton saw what was obviously the remains of a stone structure. They’d been seeing more and more of them ever since the night at the broken watchtower. All were ruined, with no sign of habitation by anything.

“It can’t be the goyles,” Clayton picked up the argument they’d been having earlier.

“What’re you, an expert on goyles now?” Thomas asked. “How do you know?”

“Have you ever seen a goyle?” Clayton asked. He hadn’t himself, of course, but that wasn’t something he was about to admit. He’d heard enough about them to form an opinion. “They’re huge. Bigger than people. Those buildings are too small.”

“He’s not wrong,” Clem threw in. “Besides, goyles live in caves or make these tent looking things with wood and animal skins. Never seen ‘em build anything out of stone.”

Thomas was not about to admit defeat. “Well maybe they used to be smaller, huh? Could be they were more civilized a long time ago. I’ve read some books. There’s a place back in the old world where they’ve got old castles and stuff, but nobody lives in them anymore. All the people live in little huts made out of mud now.”

“Merciful Mother,” Slim chuckled. “You read one book in your life and now you’re educated.”

“At least I can read,” Thomas cut back acidly.

“Ah, you don’t need to know how to read to get by in life,” Slim shrugged. “I’ve been doing just fine. All you need to know is which end of the gun to point which way.”

Clayton rolled his eyes and caught Clem looking back at them. And at him, specifically. He gave her a questioning look, but she shook her head and turned forward again.

“Clementine,” Brodie talked over the continuing argument, “How much further is this meeting spot of yours?”

“Close,” she promised, though to Clayton’s ear she sounded distracted.

“It better be,” Brodie rumbled. “When we left Red River you said a couple of days. It’s been more than that, and I’m getting tired of riding out into the middle of nowhere on just your promises.”


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