NaNoWriMo Update Twenty

Missed update? What missed update? Here, have a 1969 word update. Running total is 37146.

The fight went downhill quickly, and the posse learned the same lesson that the army had during the Frontier War. It wasn’t that there were overwhelming numbers of goyles, or that they’d caught the group unaware. It was the fact that it took several bullets to bring one down unless you were lucky. The goyles knew it, and attacked with a fearless and reckless abandon. A handful of them made it through the broken rock perimeter within minutes and were quickly gunned down.

“Hawkins!” Katherine shouted above noise. The Haversham & Black man was wielding both revolvers with calm detachment. When she had his attention she pointed back at the tower, where Walsh was still sniping goyles as fast as he could work the lever on his rifle. “Go get Walsh and get him to a horse! We’re gonna need to get out of here, and quick!” Hawkins nodded tersely and sprinted back up the hill. A goyle burst between the rocks and started to chase after him. It didn’t get far before Katherine emptied her gun into, and another nearby man finished the job.

“Lonesome!” Katherine hollered, one thought on her mind as she reloaded. If they were going to get out of this alive they were going to need spiritual intervention. “Lonesome, where the hell are you?!”

She peered around the stone and sighted down her revolver. Goyles still seemed to swarm across the hillside, but something else was going on. The hill itself looked like it was moving, writhing and changing in the dark. Watching it she feared that some fresh new Badlands terror was emerging, some terrible brand of desert snake that the goyles controlled. Thankfully this was not the case. Instead, the undergrowth and scrub around the hill was coming alive, growing and expanding at a phenomenal rate. The goyles backed away from it, barking and growling. Eventually there was a thick, intertwined wall of vegetation between them and the posse.

There was a scattering of gunfire as goyles caught on the posse’s side of the wall were gunned down, then things calmed down. Katherine didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the lull. Her first act was to find Lonesome on the other side of the hill. “That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked. “Tell me that was you.”

“You see any other Spirit Talkers around?” he quipped back. “Now, I don’t mean to rush you boss, but that isn’t gonna hold for long. You still need to get us a way out of here.” He clapped a hand on her shoulder. “No pressure.”

“What do you mean I need to get us a way out? Just do what you did last time.”

Lonesome made a pained face. “Yeah, that’s… that’s not gonna work this time.”

“What do you mean it’s not gonna work? Make it work,” she snapped. Anybody else might have missed the edge of fear that was creeping into her voice, but to Lonesome it was clear as a bell. He could well understand why it was there.

As calmly as possible he tried to explain the situation. “Kat… it doesn’t work that way. I already tried talking them into it. The spirits just won’t listen. I think there’s another Spirit Talker about there, telling them not to listen. You’re lucky I got us what I did.”

“Another Spirit Talker? You mean Clem?”

“No, no, not her,” Lonesome shook his head. “This is one of theirs. A goyle, probably a shaman or chief.”

“Alright,” Katherine took a breath and chewed on her lip a little. “First thing’s first. We need to know what kind of shape we’re in before we go trying anything. Dead, wounded, how we’re doing on ammunition. Go ask around. We’ll meet up here when we’re done. Tell Hawkins and Walsh if you see them.”

When the group came together again she could tell without asking the news was grim. Lonesome started with the bad news first. “Four dead, three hurt pretty bad – bad enough I wouldn’t want to put ‘em on a horse. Everyone else is either cuts and bruises or won’t fess up to being hurt.”

Katherine drew a little air in between clenched teeth. She’d known it was likely that people would die out here. She could deal with that. But leaving wounded men to the goyles? That was something else entirely. “Can you put ‘em back together? At least enough so they can ride?”

“Given lots of time I don’t have, sure. But right now? One, maybe,” Lonesome said apologetically. “And then it’s even odds whether it’ll be done before the goyles tear their way through that wall out there.”

“Then we’ll tie them down to the saddle if we have to,” she decided.

“Kat, those men might die if you put them on a horse.”

Sheriff Wade, who’d come to stand at the fringe of the meeting, spoke up. “They’ll die if you leave them here,” he said gruffly. “If it were me I’d want to take the chance. Wrap ‘em up as good as you can and put ‘em on a horse.”

“We’ll double ‘em up with someone who isn’t hurt. That way they at least have a fighting chance. What about ammunition?” Katherine asked.

“We burned through a lot keeping the goyles back,” Hawkins told her. “But it looks like most of the boys packed for trouble. We should be fine, as long as we don’t make a habit out of this sort of thing.”

“So what’s the plan?” Wade asked. “I trust you’ve got one.”

“Just give me a minute,” she told him, and pulled Lonesome aside. “Alright,” she sighed. “We’ve got enough bullets to make a fight out of it, but I’d rather we didn’t. I know you can’t pull off what you did before. What can you give me instead?”

“Well,” he pondered the question. “The plant spirits I’ve got listening could be useful. If we made a break for it they could tangle up some goyles. Couldn’t use a wall trick again. We’d be moving too fast, and doing it ahead of time just lets the goyles know where we’re going. I’ve got an earth spirit here,” he indicated one of the many knickknacks that adorned his clothes. “Could maybe muddy things up a bit, slow ‘em down.”

“Then let’s do that, and anything else you can think of along the way. How long do you need?”

It wasn’t long, but to Katherine it felt like forever. Down to almost half their original fighting strength, the posse prepared to move. “Walsh,” she asked as they waited for Lonesome to give the word, “How’s that crack shot of yours from horseback?”

Walsh rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “At night, on a horse galloping hell bent for leather, with a bunch of things around trying to kill me? Never tried it before. Guess we’re about to find out.”

“Everybody get ready,” Lonesome called back. He faced a gap between two of the hill’s jagged rocks, staring intently at the overgrown vegetation beyond. Katherine peered past him at it as well. To her eyes there was no change, but Lonesome must have seen something different. With an enthusiastic “Hya!” he slapped his mount’s flank. It took off like a shot, and everyone spurred after him. Katherine wasn’t sure what she expected to happen. Perhaps that section of plant wall would shrivel away, pull back into the ground leaving a clear path, or perhaps it would turn to dust, or burst into flame, or… something.

None of that happened. Lonesome and his horse hit it head on and tore right on through, branches tearing away as if they were made of paper instead of wood. The goyles on the other side were clearly taken by surprise, but it wasn’t long before they started to give chase. It looked as if everything was going to go just as well as their first breakthrough. Then it all went wrong.

The first sign of trouble was Lonesome’s hastily rising voice, shouting First Words into the night as he attempted to convince the spirits to do something. Or rather, as they quickly found out, not to do something. “No, no, no!” he broke back into an understandable language. “Everyone watch out!”

The ground in front of the posse seemed to suddenly explode. Jagged shards of bedrock lifted up to block their path and sinkholes collapsed down into the earth around them. Horses unable to stop or turn suddenly enough were swallowed whole, animals and riders alike screaming in terror. Others slammed headlong into immovable stone with sickening crunching noises.

The posse scattered, each going their own way to try and ride out of the trap. Katherine found herself alone, frantically trying to guide her horse around the obstacles that were forming around her. She went around one jagged rock as it rushed up before her, urged her horse into a jump over the next sinkhole, and thought she saw safety up ahead, a place where the ground was behaving itself. If she could just get a little further she might leave it all behind.

The hole that opened up in front of her was unavoidable. Her horse’s hooves came down on ground that was already falling away into the abyss. But the other side wasn’t all that far away. In a motion so swift and fluid she surprised even herself, Katherine pulled her feet from the stirrups, planted them on the saddle, and pushed off in one of the wildest jumps she’d ever made.

Time seemed to slow to an excruciating crawl. She could feel herself weightless, her stomach lifting as she began to spin just a little from the awkwardness of her launch. She willed herself forward. Just a little more. Just a little further. All she needed was a handhold on the other side. The thought that she wasn’t going to make it was the most terrifying thing she’d ever experienced.

She hit the other side of the chasm almost sideways, and she could feel ribs bruise against the rock. But she had an arm on solid ground. Her hands scrabbled around looking for something to hold onto, and found only soft dirt that gave way beneath her fingers. She started to slip down into the dark, boots furiously digging at the side of the sinkhole and finding only unyielding rock.

Suddenly a horse was skidding to a stop next to her. “Kat!” Lonesome’s welcome voice shouted down at her, “Grab hold!”

She didn’t know what it was he wanted her to grab, but she went for it. With hands still slipping across the dirt she pushed with every ounce of desperation she had and flailed out for something to hold. Something slapped against her palm and her fingers tightened around it. Without wasting a moment Lonesome’s horse started moving, dragging her up out of the hole. Both hands gripped her lifeline. Now that she was holding it right next to her face she could see it was a belt. The thought of Lonesome’s pants falling off of him as he rescued her was almost enough to make her laugh.

“You couldn’t find a rope?” She asked, hastily getting to her feet once her boots found solid ground.

The crazy distortion of the landscape had stopped, but the pause to rescue Katherine had given the goyles time to catch up. Lonesome reached down and grasped her forearm. He hauled her up into the saddle behind her and spurred his horse into a run once more. “You’ve been wanting to get my belt of for years,” he tossed back at her.

“You’ve got to work on your timing,” she insisted, wrapping her arms around his waist and gripping the horse with her knees. The last thing she wanted to do was fall off again.


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