In which there’s mention of a hapless porcupine

Here’s a decent sized update for the fantasy western: 1709 words! I’m… well, I’m not happy with some of it. But hey, it’s a first draft.


Luck seemed to be on their side. But luck, as Walter Hawkins knew from the occasional gambling loss, was a fickle thing not to be trusted. Their attempt at sneaking out of the Badlands was going well, with nary a goyle in sight as they moved from hiding place to hiding place. It was a slow endeavor that Hawkins was beginning to think never should have worked.

For one thing, the goyles talked to the spirits. He’d seen Lonesome at work tracking down Clem and the outlaws. If the natives could do the same it wouldn’t matter that they were using the river to mask their tracks. Maybe three desperate survivors headed out of the Badlands just wasn’t worth the effort. He hoped that was the case, but kept his eyes on the horizon nonetheless.

They were moving at night, the moon their only illumination. Walsh, whose sharp eyes eyes had made him a crack shot with a rifle, was the first to spot the goyles. “Walter,” he spoke softly and calmly, “We’ve got trouble.”

“Goyles?” Hawkins guessed, but it was only a formality. He knew that’s what it was.

“Yeah,” Walsh confirmed. “Looks like there’s at least a dozen of them. They’re pacing us on either side.”

“Shit,” Carter grumbled. His first move was to reach for his revolver, but an urgent warning noise from Hawkins stayed the hired gun’s hand.

“Don’t give away we know,” Hawkins admonished. “The moment they think we know they’ll come at us.”

Carter wasn’t happy, but he turned the motion into one that made it look like he was just stretching his back. “So what,” he demanded, “we keep riding like nothing’s wrong? What if we’re riding right into a trap?”

Hawkins strained his eyes to see what Walsh had, but all he could make out was the occasional suspicious shadow. “Keep your eyes open,” he told his companions. “We might be able to take them by surprise if we see a good opportunity. Maybe make a break for it.”

“We run they’ll just chase us down,” Walsh sighed. “Even if we get away they’ll be right behind us. We’re going to have to make a stand.”

“Won’t be much of a stand,” Hawkins muttered gloomily. “Three of us against a dozen goyles? We’ll be dead in no time.”

“Then at least we can take some of them with us,” Carter said. Despite the brave sentiment his heart didn’t sound in it. Hawkins didn’t blame him. He’d almost thought they would make it out alive. So much for luck.

Without another word Walsh pulled his horse to a stop and brought his rifle into a ready position. Carter and Hawkins followed suit, revolvers in hand.

“If we can keep the horses under control we might make this a running fight,” Hawkins suggested. “Even the odds a bit.”

The goyles started circling the group, aware that they’d been seen. But they didn’t rush in to attack as Hawkins had feared. Instead they kept their distance, constantly moving between moonlight and shadow, in and out of cover. Walsh might have been able to pick off a few, but he held his fire until the others could back him up.

“What are they waiting for?” the deputy wondered, rifle slowly tracking a goyle until it moved behind cover.

“Maybe they want us to die of boredom,” Carter quipped.

One thing was certain – there were more than a dozen goyles, and they were actively keeping the group from going anywhere. As the first rays of morning sunlight started to illuminate the night sky, something changed. A goyle emerged from the others and approached. It carried a large spear in one hand, long and straight and tipped with a wicked looking stone blade. Hawkins turned his revolved on it while the others kept an eye on the still circling goyles.

There was something unnerving in its approach, the way it slowly and calmly walked towards them as if it had nothing to fear. Well, Hawkins was going to put paid to that idea. He pulled the trigger. Again, his expectations were dashed. The weapons report echoed across the Badlands, but no others followed. The circling goyles didn’t take it as a signal to attack. Indeed, it seemed as if they didn’t notice or care.

As for the goyle with the spear, it jerked as the bullet dug into its chest. The creature stopped walking, the only sign it knew it had been shot was a glance down at the wound as it slowly oozed black ichor.

“Woah! Hold fire!”

For a moment, Hawkins thought it was the goyle that had spoken, and he was suitably surprised. He was even more surprised when Arbiter Bishop stepped out from behind it, one hand raised to forestall any further violence.

“No call for that, now” she said evenly. “We’re all friends here.”

“Arbiter!” Walsh called, grinning over and lowering his rifle ever so slightly.

Katherine smiled back at him. “Howdy, Freckles,” she used Lonesome’s nickname for the deputy without a second thought. “Miss me?”

“I knew you’d get out alive,” he said, but his grin faded as he looked past her. “Where’s Lonesome?”

Katherine’s smile faded away. “Lonesome’s laid up a bit. Don’t worry though,” she hurried to add, “He’ll be fine.”

“What about everyone else?” Hawkins asked. He’d lowered his revolver, but she noticed his free hand was still hovering near the other he carried.

“No,” she said tightly. “It’s just us, Mister Hawkins. We’re all that’s left.”

Unlike Hawkins and Walsh, Carter showed no signs of relaxing. “Is anybody else concerned with the goyles around here?” he interjected. “Seeing as how they were out to kill us a bit ago and all. And speaking of which, Arbiter, how’d you make nice with them all of a sudden? Not that I’m complaining, mind, I’d just like to know what’s going on here. For my own piece of mind and sanity, see.”

“Man’s got a point,” Hawkins admitted.

“It seems the goyles are more complicated than we give them credit for,” Katherine explained. “These ones here don’t want us dead. That said, we’d better get moving before the ones who do show up. I’m given to believe they won’t fight each other, but I don’t think I want to put that to the test.”

Hawkins narrowed his eyes, clearly skeptical. “I don’t know, Arbiter… might be some kind of trap.”

“Goyles aren’t exactly known for their skill at trickery, Mister Hawkins. They’re not the kind to lull you into trusting them before they kill you. They just kill you. Not like they have to make it any easier than it already is.”

Walsh rested his rifle on one shoulder and came alongside Hawkins. “She’s got a point, Walter.”

“Yeah, I suppose she does,” Hawkins admitted, finally holstering his revolver. “Alright, let’s go then.”

“What,” Carter objected, “Just like that?”

“Pretty much,” Hawkins told him.

“Doesn’t anybody care what I think?”

Hawkins looked back at the hired gun and raised an eyebrow. “You want to stay here on your own, Mr. Wates, you be my guest. Nobody’s forcing you to come along. But Aaron and I are going with the Arbiter.”

Carter thought that over for a moment. “Sonova bitch,” he grunted. “Fine, damnit. Let’s go.”




It was an odd thing, Lonesome reflected, to realize that you were hallucinating. And he knew he must be, because he could see the Spirits. Everybody knew that wasn’t possible. Not even the most accomplished Spirit Talkers didn’t see the Spirits. And yet, there they were, hovering over him like shadows detached from from the thing that cast them. They swarm through the air, blurry and indistinct, like when you looked at something cross eyed. Beyond them he saw what looked like the inside of a gently illuminated cave.

They whispered to one another, carrying on conversations Lonesome couldn’t quite make out. He tried to speak, tried to ask them what they were saying, only to find he couldn’t. He wondered idly if he was dead. Was this what it was like? People talked about how the Spirits came to take you away when you died… maybe you could see them then, only at the end, when you couldn’t go back and tell anybody about it.

Before he could think much more about it, they slowly faded into nothingness. Their whispers faded, replaced by a terrible ringing in his ears. His body, comfortably relaxed a moment ago, spasmed with pain. A choked, wheezing groan escaped his throat and he did his best to curl into a tight little ball until the pain subsided.

Katherine Bishop walked into his field of view as his gasping subsided. She knelt on the stone floor beside him, a sympathetic look on her face. “Morning, sunshine. About time you woke up. How do you feel?”

He gurgled a little bit in response before finding his words. “Like somebody turned me inside out, beat me with a porcupine on a stick, then turned me rightside out again. Though I’m not really sure of the last bit.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, we’d never do that to a porcupine.”

“I think I’ve missed out on something important,” he said slowly. “What happened after we jumped?”

“You did not land gracefully,” she shook her head. From the way she said it and the way he felt, he was suddenly glad he couldn’t remember. “Just tell me that wasn’t the whole plan, Lonesome. Jump off the cliff and hope we don’t kill ourselves? That wasn’t all you had, right?”

“I thought I’d talked a Spirit into giving us an easy landing. Guess I was having a bad night,” he added bitterly, remembering how he’d failed to stop the goyles from springing their trap. How many of the posse had died because of his failure? It was oh so tempting to simply lay there and wallow in pain and guilt, but unless he was mistaken they were still in trouble. With a groan he pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around. “Kat… where are we?”

“We’re in…” she frowned. “Hell, I don’t even know what to call it. A hideout, stronghold, hive… thing. Whatever it is, it has a lot of goyles in it.”


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