NaNoWriMo Update Nineteen

Keeping pace with a 3389 word update from the weekend. Running total is still a bit behind at 35177.

“I don’t get it,” Morgan admitted. “We robbed a train and tromped all the way through the Badlands to bring you that? A bunch of sun bleached, rotten old bones?”

“Precisely that,” Dorean told him sternly. “Do you have any idea what these are? What they mean? Haversham & Black were willing to send men to their deaths to get these bones. Do you think the expedition which brought them back was the first? No! It was merely the first to succeed. Had these bones found their way to Haversham & Black’s headquarters they would have been studied by that company’s finest minds! Scientists and Spirit Talkers alike would have stopped at nothing to unlock the secrets of these remains – secrets which I cannot allow them to have.”

“What secrets?” Brodie scoffed. “They’re just bones. Dead men tell no tales, they say.”

Dorean’s gaze lifted up from the box to spear Brodie with a wild eyed look. His nostrils flared, and for a moment Clayton thought he would begin raving like a madman. But after a moment Dorean calmed himself, and in that calm and resonant tone he said, “The proverbial they would be wrong, Broderick. Look more closely at these bones. Their very existence tells a tale.”

“They’re not human, are they?” Clayton guessed. “But they’re not goyle, either, are they?”

“Indeed, they are not,” Dorean acknowledged. “They are the bones of the people who built this city. The people responsible for the existence of the Badlands itself, in its current form. A people who did not merely speak with the spirits, but who commanded them. They created untold wonders and accomplishments to make this hall pale in comparison. Then they vanished, leaving their triumphs in ruin!”

“Well that’s nice and all,” Brodie shrugged a little, “but pardon me if I don’t really care about all that. You’ve got your bones. Just give me my money and I’ll leave you to ‘em.”

“Hmm,” Dorean gave Brodie a measured look. “Very well. I suppose you have earned your payment. Wait here.” He strode back past the throne and disappeared through a door in the wall behind it.

“You and I need to have a chat,” Clem said, grabbing Clayton by the arm and directing him away from the others.

Unnerved he tried pulling away, but her grip was firm. “What’s got into you?” he demanded.

“Shut up and listen,” Clem told him. “I need to do this quick.” She fished something from one of her pockets, a loop of cord with a small oval disk hanging from it. Speaking softly in First Words she put it around Clayton’s neck, making sure to tuck the disk inside his shirt so it was hidden from sight. “There,” she said after a moment. “You keep that with you, you hear?”

“Why?” Clayton asked, confused. He felt the stone disk through the fabric of his shirt with one hand. It was cold against his chest, so cold it almost hurt, like it had been fished from a frozen creek in the middle of winter. “What is this thing, Clem?”

“Look, I’ve got a bad feeling,” she told him levelly. “Call it woman’s intuition, call it a Spirit Talker’s sense, but something ain’t right here. I’m telling you and not them ‘cause I like you. Don’t go running your mouth about this, either. Last thing I need is Brodie losing his head over nothing. Understand?”

“Alright, sure,” Clayton agreed, though he still wasn’t sure what the pendant was all about. He didn’t have a chance to ask as Dorean returned with a number of small bags.

“Here is your reward,” he proclaimed, and dropped the bags at Brodie’s feet. One opened when it hit, and small chunks of gold spilled out onto the floor.

“Merciful Mother,” Morgan proclaimed, “Is that… where did you get so much gold?”

“I have my ways,” Dorean assured them stolidly.

Each of the group retrieved a back and opened it. Ever suspicious, Brodie took one of the smaller pieces and started scraping at it, perhaps suspecting that it was merely painted. The others did their own checks, and though there was often dirt or other minerals mixed in, the gold was real.

“How about that, Clay?” Morgan asked. “You could buy your own ranch for this!”

“Yeah,” Clayton agreed. “This is… way more than you said we’d get, Brodie.”

“It’s way more than I was promised,” he admitted, looking up at Dorean. “Not that I’m one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what’s this about?”

“An additional fee, to cover the extra time and effort you put into traversing the Badlands.” Dorean returned to his throne and sank into it, adopting the same slouched and brooding posture he’d had when they entered. “And an assurance,” he added. “To keep me in your good graces and ensure that Haversham & Black don’t hear of the bones final destination.”

“Yeah,” Brodie nodded slowly. “I wager this is enough to make sure they never hear a peep about it.”

“Excellent. Now take your reward and go.”

They didn’t need to be told twice. The group hustled out of the Great Hall and out into the blazing Badlands sun. It hadn’t occurred to Clayton until just now, but the inside of the hall was a lot cooler than outside. He kind of missed it, but going back in with what was almost certainly a madman just didn’t seem worth a few degrees of comfort. After carefully packing his gold in a saddlebag he mounted up alongside the others.

The group rode out the same way they’d come in, laughing and in a good mood. They talked about what they’d do with their newfound wealth, all thoughts of scouring the city for loot forgotten. Nobody thought twice about the dangers of the Badlands. They’d made it here just fine under Clem’s guidance. The return trip, they assumed, would be just as easy.

Despite the group’s joviality, Clayton didn’t so much as breathe a sigh of relief until they’d passed through the city’s massive gatehouse. Even then he was a little nervous, put on edge by Clementine’s warning. Clem herself rode where she always had, at the front of the group, with her back to everyone. They were halfway between the city and the cliff in a field of rocks that seemed like the jagged ends of broken bones pushing up through the earth. It was there that Clem slowed her horse to a stop. Everyone took notice and followed suit, their jokes and light hearted conversation suddenly silent.

“What’s up, Clem?” Brodie asked. “Something wrong?”

The Spirit Talker turned her horse in a tight circle so she was facing the group. “Brodie,” she addressed him in the manner of someone about to reveal a clever joke. “You remember when I said I liked you too much to let you die out here? Well, that might’ve been a lie.”

The group’s immediate reaction was shocked silence, split only but the whisper of metal on leather as Brodie pulled his revolver clear of its holster. He kept it pointing off to the side, barrel down, but ready enough. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Clem,” he warned, “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “It does.”

Clayton caught sight of something moving nearby. As he turned to look, Slim cried out “Goyles! Son of a bitch, it’s an ambush!”

Everyone went for their weapons as Gargoyles swarmed out of the rock formations, surrounding the group on all sides. Without pause the Badlands natives charged in to attack with a series of ferocious war cries. The first crack of gunfire came from Brodie’s revolver, fired not at a goyle but at Clem. She flinched back as the bullet snapped abruptly off course, diverted by a spirit she’d had more than enough time to call up beforehand. Seeing that his efforts to kill his betrayer would come to nothing, Brodie turned to firing at goyles with the others.

Clayton had time to fire a few wild rounds before his horse reared and threw him. He hit the ground hard with one shoulder, and a whole new world of pain blossomed into existence. Through it he gritted his teeth and thought of just one thing – the gold in his saddlebag. He had to get it, or this would all have been for nothing. With his good arm he pushed unsteadily to his feet and looked for his horse. Just as he found it the poor animal was taken down by a goyle, high pitched cries abruptly silenced as the goyle ripped the mount’s throat out. Then, blood covering it’s face and claws,  it turned to Clayton.

If there was anything Clayton knew it was that going head to head with a Gargoyle was going to end only one way. Amid the gunshots and shouts from the rest of the gang the resolve to go down fighting took hold. If he ran it would just catch him and kill him from behind, and that was no way to go. His revolved lost in the dirt he went for the only weapon he had left – his boot knife.

The goyle charged forward, easily knocked aside his feeble attempt at stabbing it, and threw him to the ground with one solid hit to his chest. He landed hard on his back, his head hit a rock, and everything went black.

He was surprised to wake up again. For a moment he thought he might be dead. Maybe this is what it was like before the spirits took you? Laying on your back, staring up at the sun? But if he was dead he figured he probably wouldn’t hurt so much, and boy did he hurt. His shoulder was still dislocated and he had a hell of a headache. With a groan he sat up and looked around. The site of the ambush was a mess. All the horses were dead. Several of them looked like they’d had meat taken from them in a less than precise manner.

No goyles lay dead in the sun, though wet patches of dirt spoke to places where some had died. They must have collected their dead when they left. What they’d left behind were the bodies of their enemies. Clayton forced himself to count, just in case someone else had survived. There was Brodie, facedown in the dirt and missing an arm. Over there was Morgan, laying face up on the ground with a lot of his chest missing. And there was Thomas. Clayton knew it was him because of his clothes. It would have been hard to tell otherwise, what with his head caved in like it was. Slim was missing, though. Or was he? Now that Clayton considered the battlefield, he saw a shallow crater with chunks of flesh strewn around it. The man had a fondness for his dynamite. Right up until the end, it seemed.

There was no sign of Clem, but then, Clayton hadn’t really expected to find her here. In a pained daze he found an intact saddlebag and pulled the bag of gold from it. Another he emptied, leaving the yellow nuggets in the dirt. Then he filled it with what supplies he could find. When he found some rope he rigged together a rough harness to hang the bags from. Weighted down with as much as he dared try to carry he found his pistol and book knife. Then, with one last look back towards the city, he pulled his hat firmly onto his head and made for the cliff.




“How’re we doing, Lonesome?” Katherine walked up next to the Spirit Talker. The group had dismounted for a moment, giving the horses time to rest after their latest push.

“We’re catching up pretty quickly. And so far the spirits have done a good job of erasing our physical tracks. I’ve tried to convince them to lie to the goyles about where we’ve gone, but there’s no way to know if they will or not. Honestly,” he took his hat off and wiped a hand across his forehead, “I’m surprised they haven’t caught up already.”

“We’re pushing hard,” Katherine sat gingerly on a nearby rock. “I wager we’ve put a lot of distance between us and them. Even more if they’ve got to stop and take the time to find our trail. The only problem now is getting spotted by goyles who aren’t out here just to chase us down.”

“You think we oughta start moving more slowly?”

“Couldn’t hurt to be careful. Besides,” she looked out over the posse. “We’re going to have to get some real rest soon.

“The ones chasing us are going to go night and day,” Lonesome thought aloud. “If you want to avoid running into any just wandering around, you’ll want to avoid sunup and sundown. And maybe night, took. I dunno… maybe it’s best to find someplace isolated and hole up at night. That way we avoid the most active goyles, and we ride during the day when there’s fewer about. This far into the Badlands they’re less likely to have sentries awake during the day. Unless, of course, they got the word to watch for us.”

“On the other hand,” Katherine suggested, “We might want to have everyone awake and ready to fight if we do run into trouble. Sleep a bit during the day when there’s less of a chance of them coming across us, ride during the night so we can fight if we have to?”

“Honestly, Kat, there’s no good way to do this.”

“I guess we’ll see how it falls out,” Katherine told him, rubbing at her eyes. “We’ll just keep going until we need to stop. If that happens in the day, we’ll stop and sleep a bit in the sun. If it’s night we’ll hole up then. I just want to get as close to Clem and her people as possible.”

Once they’d rested a bit Lonesome had the spirits soak up the pool of water they’d brought to the surface some minutes before. If nothing else the tired horses weren’t going to die of thirst. Then the group pressed on. After a while, it all started looking the same to some of them. Hawkins, for one, could swear they’d passed the same rock at least a couple of time, though he would never bring that up with Lonesome. One thing that stood out was the ruined tower they came across a few hours before sundown.

“That’s new,” Hawkins commented as they approached it.

“Looks like some kind of fort,” Katherine suggested. “Those rocks make a kind of wall. Lonesome, is this goyle work?”

“Goyles don’t build with stone like this,” he said, brow furrowed. “And the cavalry never got this far out during the war. This is… something else.”

“Question is, is it a good place to hole up for a bit?” Sheriff Wade asked. “I don’t know about you, but me and some of the others are on the ragged edge. We need to stop before we fall off our horses.”

“I’m one of ‘em,” Walsh agreed tiredly. “Sorry Arbiter,” he added.

“Don’t you worry about it, Freckles,” Lonesome told him. “We can’t all be as tough as she is,” he tilted his head towards Katherine. “That said, I don’t think there’s room enough for all of us in there.”

Katherine pointed at the wall like ring of rocks around the hill. “Not in the tower, maybe, but there’s plenty of room around the hill. Everybody stay with your horse and find a spot behind one of those big rocks and we should be fine. Spread out, cover all the approaches. No fires. Hawkins, Frec- Deputy Walsh, Lonesome and I can take turns watching from inside the tower there. Anything comes along trying to sneak up on us, we should spot it. And if a fight breaks out we’ve at least got plenty of cover.”

The hired guns spread out on the hill while Katherine and her deputies entered the tower. “Looks like they were here,” Hawkins pointed out the remains of a fire in the center of the structure.

“Was there ever any doubt?” Lonesome smiled wearily. “I’ll talk up a spirit or two,” he turned to Katherine. “See if I can convince them to give us a warning if any goyles come around.”

“That sounds like a good plan, Lonesome. You and I can take first watch. Hawkins, you and Walsh will get second, so get some shuteye for now.”

The posse settled into the hill as the sun sank below the horizon. They ate cold food and huddled under blankets, every one of them within quick reach of a weapon. There was little conversation, and those few that spoke did so in hushed voices. To all outward appearances, it would have looked like any other night on that particular hill.

Lonesome had been asleep for a little while when a spirit started whispering insistently in his ear. He stirred, frowning in a state somewhere between sleeping and waking. Then he realized what that whisper was telling him, and he sat bolt upright. “Freckles,” he hissed into the night, “Hawkins.”

“Easy, Lonesome,” Walsh whispered from nearby. “I think I see something moving out there.”

“Damn right you do.” He got to his feet and joined Walsh at the arrow slit he was peering through, rifle at the ready. “There are goyles out there,” he told the deputy. “Lots of them. Where’s Hawkins?”

“Walter went to get a closer look,” Walsh looked concerned. “If you’re sure there’s goyles out there, maybe we should wake the Arbiter?”

“I’m already awake,” Katherine joined them at the window. “You two whisper louder than two half deaf old ladies gossiping. What’ve we got?”

“Can’t get a count,” Walsh told her.

“At least a dozen, probably more,” Lonesome added grimly.

“We need to get people awake,” Katherine told them urgently. “Lonesome, let’s you and I get to it. But quietly. If the goyles know we’ve seen ‘em they might come at us early. Freckles, stay here and cover us with those sharp eyes of yours. You see any goyles make a move, take ‘em out.”

Katherine and Lonesome scampered out of the tower together, keeping low and moving quickly. Katherine went right, Lonesome went left. Moving in different directions they went about waking up the posse as quietly as possible. “Goyles,” Katherine told them softly. “Get your gun and get ready, but stay quiet.”

She went one after another until she ran into Hawkins doing the same. “Arbiter,” he greeted her. “Good you see you’re up and about.”

“Walsh said you went to get a closer look,” she recalled. “What did you see?”

“Couldn’t get a good count,” he shook his head, “But there’s a good handful. Looks like they’ve got us surrounded. They’re moving slow, though. Maybe waiting for more to show up?”

“Could be,” she allowed.

“So what do we do?” he asked, glancing out into the night. “Make a break for it before the rest show up? Or wait for them to come at us?”

The hired gun whose rock they’d met at spoke up, “I’d like to vote for running.”

“Noted,” Katherine told him. “I’m going to find Lonesome,” she told Hawkins. “If he can get those spirits of his to lend us a hand we just might be able to pull the same trick we did before.”

“Worked the first time,” Hawkins agreed.

Katherine had only gotten one rock further down the line when the sharp report of Walsh’s rifle rang out. A cacophony of howls, roars, and other assorted war cries rose from all around the hill. Lonesome had said at least a dozen, but to Katherine’s hears it sounded as if there were hundreds of goyles out there. The sound got her adrenaline flowing, and her heart pounded in her chest.

“Here they come!” someone shouted in the dark, and gunfire erupted like popcorn on a hot skillet. Katherine looked out into the night and saw a mass of goyles headed up the hill, their numbers both hidden and exaggerated by the dark of night. She fixed her eyes on one, brought her revolver to bear, and squeezed off a shot.



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