Breaking 50k Words

With this update I break 50k words on the my fantasy western, which I’m provisionally calling “Goyle Country” because reasons. Here’s another 2,234 words for a total story count of 50314. Not much longer now, eh?


“Not that I’m eager to test that, mind.”

Walsh snorted. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Walter.”

The place where Clayton’s gang had been ambushed looked a little different than the last time he’d seen it. The scavengers had done their work, leaving little but cracked bones, torn cloth, and bits of inedible equipment that had nevertheless been chewed on just to make sure. Despite the mess there was still enough left to account for Clayton’s story.

Katherine surveyed the area, grimacing a little at the leftover carnage. “Lonesome?” she asked, hands on her hips.

The Spirit Talker was perched on a nearby rock, eyes squinted despite the shade of his hat. He gave a short nod and launched into a conversation with the local Spirits. While he questioned them Hawkins, Walsh, and Carter took to keeping an eye on the horizon. Despite their supposedly friendly goyle allies none of them truly trusted the natives to warn them of an impending attack. Clayton sat dejectedly off to one side, close enough to the others that he felt safe but far enough away that the remains of his friends were comfortably distant. He looked determinedly away from them, searching for anything that could distract his attention.

Behind him Katherine walked across the sun baked dirt in a slow, deliberate fashion. Something had caught her eye, and as she dug it out with the toe of her boot she found it was a small nugget of gold. She dropped into a crouch and searched the area more closely. Scattered around there was still quite a bit of gold to be found, likely the remnants of the pay the other gang members had received.

“Why would Clementine just leave all this lying around?” she wondered aloud. If the Spirit Talker was working with Dorean to silence Clayton and the others, surely part of her task would also be repossessing their substantial payment. Katherine picked one small nugget from the dirt and held it up, lightly blowing the dust from its surface. It certainly looked real. She idly scratched at its surface with one grimy fingernail.

Clem, of course, had not entirely fulfilled her task, had she? Clayton had gotten away. Had something happened while the reluctant bandit was unconscious, something that had also prevented her from collecting the gold?

“Kat,” Lonesome summoned her.

“What’ve you got, Lonesome? Spirits feeling chatty and helpful today?”

“Yes, thankfully.” He tilted his head in Clayton’s direction. “Our new friend here has a bit of explaining to do.”


“Well, it went down something like this – Clem was smart. She had the Spirits keep the goyle’s scent hidden so they could get nice and close without spooking the horses too much. When the time came they came in hard. Clayton got thrown from his horse, and slammed hard by a goyle. From the sounds of it he was dead meat, unconscious and helpless. Until Clem intervened. She made the goyle back down, and once the others were dead she made sure Clayton was still breathing. Didn’t go so far as to heal him any, but still. Between that and her giving him that necklace…”

“She wanted to make sure he got out of the Badlands alive,” Katherine finished. “Or at least give him a fighting chance. She’s probably the reason the goyles didn’t go after him later, too. But why?”

“Maybe she got a soft spot for him,” Lonesome suggested. “Goodness knows it sounds like she could use one these days.” He sighed and ran a hand through his whiskers. “I don’t know, Kat. This whole thing seems out of sorts. Ambushing people? Purposefully setting goyles on them? That doesn’t sound like the Clem I remember. We had enough of that during the war. All of us did. To go and do it on purpose…”

“People change, Lonesome,” Katherine’s voice was gentle but firm. “She’s been out here a long time. Who knows what’s happened since then?”

“I may not know, but I’ll tell you this – I aim to find out.”




“That’s it,” Clayton confirmed, his words clipped. “That’s the place.”

Katherine regarded the city in the distance in a kind of quiet awe. She’d never imagined something like this could exist out in the Badlands. “Alright,” she said at last. “If that’s where Dorean’s at, Clem and their goyles can’t be too far away.” And yet, they’d gotten this close without trouble of any kind. It was too good to be true, and that meant it was probably a trap. “Lonesome?”

The Spirit Talker shook his head ever so slightly. “The goyles don’t want anything to do with the place. If the ones working with Clem were going to hit us they would have done it by now. And we better hope that’s true,” he added. “Because Gravik and his followers won’t go in with us. That place has a hell of a taboo on it.”

“What about the Spirits? Could Dorean and Clem have set up a trap of some sort?”

“I’ve talked to the local Spirits and sent some of my own off to have a look. Looks clear,” he decided with a taught smile. She could tell he also thought it was too good to be true. But what else was there to do other than go forward?

Katherine straightened in her saddle and narrowed her eyes at the city. “Lonesome,” she asked somberly, “If it comes down to it… what’re our odds? The two of them against the five of us?”

Lonesome blew a sight out through puffed cheeks. “Depends on how much they’ve got set up ahead of time. It’s one thing to convince the Spirits to do something on the fly. That takes time. But if you work everything out with them beforehand all it will take is the word go and it’ll happen. If we’ve got ‘em by surprise, and I don’t think for a moment that we do, we can take ‘em easy. But if they’ve got something worked up… well, that might be a little harder. I’m good, Kat, but I’m not that good.”

“Could we do it?”

“Does it matter?” he asked pointedly. “We’re gonna try anyway, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “We are. I just wanted to know what to expect.”

“We’re going up against two talented Spirit Talkers who’ve had plenty of time to hole up. You should expect things to go wrong.”

“Fair enough. Clayton?” she asked, turning to face the former bandit. “You sure you want to ride in there with us?”

Clayton set his jaw, catching the subtext of the comment easily enough. It read, you’re not planning on switching sides, are you?

“I’m sure,” he told her. “Clem might’ve helped me out – probably more than I deserved – but what she did to Morgan, Thomas, and Slim? Hell, even Brodie didn’t deserve that. She’ll pay for it.”

Katherine pressed her lips together and narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. To Clayton it felt as if she was searching his very soul, and it made him shudder. But at last she nodded. With a thoroughly unnecessary flourish she pulled a cigar from somewhere inside her duster. It was a little mashed up from all the rough and tumble she’d gone through lately, but still more or less intact. Its condition certainly didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest.  “Alright boys,” she called out as she stuck it between her teeth and lit the end with a match, “I’m out of whisky and this is my last cigar. Let’s get this done and go home.”

The city gates stood open just as Clayton remembered, and as the posse rode through the gatehouse he couldn’t stop himself from looking for hidden defenders. He’d never been one for claustrophobia, but the thought of getting stuck in here with nowhere to run made his heart race and his palms sweat. It was a relief to get out of it.

“Clayton?” Katherine prompted, having noticed his reaction. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” he lied. “I just… don’t like being in there,” he tossed his head back to indicate the gatehouse.

“Fair enough,” she allowed. “Where to now?”

He gave her the route they’d taken to Dorean’s hall as best he could remember it, and as they came into sight of the Great Hall’s flowing architecture there was one thing that immediately stood out. A horse, likely Clem’s, was tied up in front of it. The ornate doors stood open, as if inviting the group in. Everyone had a weapon out, eyes searching for signs of hidden attackers. But there was only the open door, wide and inviting.

“What do you think?” Katherine asked, leaning over to put her head near Lonesome’s.

“I think,” he mused in a thoughtful tone, “If there are any hostile Spirits here, they’re being extremely quiet. As far as I can tell there’s nothing ready to spring on us. But I don’t for a moment think it’s safe.”

“Agreed. Carter, you and I are going in first. Assume there’s two people in there waiting to shoot us. Hawkins, you cover Lonesome. The two of you come in after us. Clayton, hang back with Deputy Walsh. Freckles, make sure you and that rifle have our backs. I don’t want anything you can kill with a bullet sneaking up on us.”

“What if it’s a goyle?” Walsh asked.

“Assume it’s hostile and do your best to take it down.”

She looked to Carter, who grimaced but nodded that he was ready. Then they were in motion.

It took a frustratingly long time for Katherine’s eyes to adjust to the more dimly lit interior of the hall. Even before that process had finished she’d picked out the twisting columns and moved towards the closest one for use as cover. Carter had the same idea. Peering around the stone pillar she saw the hall was huge, but mostly empty. Mostly. At the back of the hall, lounged in his stone throne, was the man who must be Dorean. A woman Katherine guessed to be Clem stood beside him.

“Ah,” the man’s voice boomed from the far side of the room, though it sounded as if he hadn’t strained his voice above anything more than the volume of a casual conversation. “You’ve come at last.”

The words, so similar to how Dorean had greeted Brodie and the gang when they’d first arrived, sent a shiver down Clayton’s spine. He moved behind cover next to Carter. He expected Lonesome to do the same next to Katherine, but the Spirit Talker defied that expectation by striding purposefully forward, past the Arbiter and towards the makeshift throne, the myriad of trinkets about his person swaying chaotically.

“Dorean,” he raised his voice so it very nearly filled the hall as the other man’s had.

Katherine stepped out from behind her pillar to follow, face set with a hard expression of disapproval, and the others gathered to follow in Lonesome’s wake.

As he neared Dorean the more bedraggled Spirit Talker sat up straighter, recognition flickering in his blue eyes. “Cooper,” he made the word sound like a welcome and an accusation all at the same time. “Well, well.”

“Hey Coop,” Clem added, her words carrying an air of comfortable familiarity that struck an odd chord with Katherine. They’d never been anything, Lonesome had said. And yet, the way Clementine said those two simple words was enough to make Katherine wonder.

“Clementine,” he acknowledged her without losing any of his confrontational air.

“And you,” Dorean added, eyes spearing Clayton. “Welcome back, Mr. Wells.”

“That’s some nerve, ain’t it?” Lonesome snapped. “Don’t pretend you didn’t try to have him and all his friends killed, Dorean.”

“I didn’t try, no,” Dorean said evenly. “I did. And yet here he stands. It takes little effort to be polite, Cooper. And one could argue politeness is more than warranted for a man I wanted dead. Make no mistake, I applaud his tenacity, however it was he managed to survive.” This last he said with the barest of glances at Clem, who simply shrugged a little.

Lonesome quickly ascended the stairs that led to the throne’s dias, not content to have Dorean looking down at him from on high. Dorean rose from his throne to meet him, and the two men stood facing one another in a silent battle of wills.

“You’re looking well, Cooper,” Dorean said at last, voice a touch softer. “A bit more weathered than last I saw you, but well. I’d hoped another Spirit Talker would find us here, you know. I never dreamed it would be you.”

“I thought you were dead,” Lonesome spat accusingly. “Both of you,” he added with a sharp look at Clem. “But here you are, in the middle of bloody nowhere, in a city that shouldn’t exist, playing with things you shouldn’t touch, and using goyles to kill people. Goyles, damnit! Did you learn nothing from the war!”

Lonesome vibrated with rage, hands squeezed into fists at his sides as if he were holding back the urge to physically attack. Clem, with an eye towards the posse gathered at the foot of the stairs, stepped closer. Her hand raised slightly, as if she was going to reach out to Lonesome, but it dropped back to her side.

“You don’t understand, Coop,” she told him. “The war is why we’re doing this.”


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