I feel like this latest update is a scene from a computer game, or possibly a tabletop RPG. You’ve gotten to the big baddie, he’s monologued, now kill him and take his stuff! Clunky fight scene is clunky. Also, I really want to go back and change things. For example, Clayton needs to still have that gorram necklace for some of this to make sense. I don’t know why I did away with it. Ah well, noted for editing. This update is 2,048 words long.


“Then explain it to me,” he growled. “Because right now it doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Dorean took up the burden of explanation. “Army after army sent into the Badlands,” he said, waving a hand out for emphasis. “Army after army that failed to return, slaughtered by Gargoyles who suffered few losses. The bodies of countless soldiers left to rot in the sun. And yet we persisted. Why? Because theirs were lands we wanted for ourselves. Because we are arrogant. Because we are greedy. And because we think that with enough violence and bloodshed we can accomplish any goal. You don’t think the powers that be will simply stay content with their failure to subdue the Badlands, do you Cooper? Sooner or later there will be more armies, more war, more pointless death. You saw it first hand. Each and every one of us watched helplessly as those men went to their deaths.”

“And you can stop it from happening again, can you?” It was clear Lonesome didn’t believe it in the least.

Despite his open skepticism, Dorean nodded firmly. “Yes!”

“Bullshit,” Lonesome snorted. “All I see are more bodies in the dirt, killed by goyles. The only difference is that this time their blood is on your hands. Both of you,” he added with an accusatory glare at Clem.

“They were bandits,” Clem tried to dismiss the glare, but there was a trace of guilt on her face as she said it. “They’d killed their fare share of men for stupid, petty reasons. They just got what was coming to them.”

“Those men were my friends!” Clayton interjected from the foot of the stairs. He looked up at Clem with an expression that was part wounded, part angry. “They didn’t deserve to die like that. And if they did, then I should be out there in pieces along with them.”

“No,” Clem took a step down towards him. “You’re not like them, Clayton.”

“I killed a man!” He trembled a little, distraught but defiant.

Lonesome looked down the stairs at Clayton, noting that the others had started to spread out below. Katherine and Carter were beginning to circle around to the left, while Hawkins moved right and Walsh stayed put, rifle pointed leisurely at the floor. “You see what happens when you play at being a god, Clem?” Lonesome asked, looking back up at her and Dorean. “You can’t pass judgement like that. It’s not what we’re here for. What do you think is going to happen when you have your army of Spirits? How many people are you gonna judge wrong?”

“Army of Spirits?” Dorean intoned, brow furrowing deeply. “What are you talking about, Cooper?”

“Don’t play dumb,” Lonesome told him. “I know what was in that lockbox, Dorean. I know about the people who came before, and how they could control the Spirits.”

“You’ve got it wrong,” Clem told him, tearing her gaze away from Clayton with visible difficulty.

“Did he tell you that?” Lonesome asked, tilting his head towards Dorean.

“I did, in fact, and I wasn’t lying. No matter what you might think of me, Cooper, I have only the best of intentions. No, I don’t meant to create an army of Spirits to do my bidding. Did you hear nothing I said before? An army has but one purpose, and I have no stomach for conquest. My goal here is entirely different. It is true,” he pulled at his beard with one hand. “There was a people who lived here long ago. They were indeed able to command the Spirits, but that is an accomplishment of peripheral benefit. No, I intend to emulate their greatest success – to become, myself, one with the Spirits. Think of it, Cooper! With such power at our hands we could render the armies of the world useless! Unable to fight us, what other option would there be but for the governments of the world to accept our call for disarmament? We could end war in its entirety!”

“Then the joke’s on you,” Lonesome told him grimly. “They never succeeded. The people who came before tried their ascension and vanished. Give up this crazy scheme and let us take you in peacefully.”

“Ah,” Dorean smiled as if he was privy to a joke no one else would understand. “But once again, Cooper, you are wrong. The first people succeeded. Their ascension was a success! But they’d made the mistake so many make. They wanted power for the sake of power, so they might conquer and rule. In commanding the Spirits they made enemies of them, and when their ritual came to fruition the Spirits saw an opportunity to strike. The first people became Spirits themselves, but at the moment of their transformation they were vulnerable. The Spirits turned on them, binding and imprisoning them where they could do no harm.”

Lonesome swallowed nervously, throat suddenly dry. “How do you know that?” he asked, fearing he already knew the answer.

“Because I found one!” Dorean crowed. “And it has whispered secrets to me through the bars of its prison. Alas, communicating in this manner is tiring, and much that it says is lost along the way. But there is a better way.”

“A better way?” Lonesome echoed.

“The bones,” Clem spoke up. “If we can reverse the ritual, bind it back into a mortal vessel, it can tell us everything we need to know. Took a long time, but it taught us enough to do that much.”

“What?” Lonesome’s face twisted in disbelief. “Why in the world would it want to do that?”

“To be free,” Dorean told him. “Bound once again to the mortal world its prison would no longer contain it. And once we knew what we needed, we would let it go. We tried everything,” he revealed. “Summoning the ascended to an item was fruitless, as were constructs of wood or stone. Animals, living or dead, could not contain it. We even found a willing Gargoyle, but to no avail. Humans, likewise, would not work, be they living or dead. All that was left was that which had held it originally, the mortal remains of those who came before. We searched for so long… and then along came Haversham & Black’s expeditions.They solved that problem for us.”

The click of a revolver being cocked reached Lonesome’s ear. “Well, that’s fascinating and all,” Katherine spoke up. “But why don’t we just cut to the chase here. I’m giving you one chance to surrender and come with us.”

“Or what, Arbiter?” Dorean asked, one bushy red eyebrow lifting in curiosity.

“Or I shoot you and take your corpse back instead.”

Dorean favored her with a look of distaste, then turned back to Lonesome. “And I give you one chance go join us, Cooper. Help us usher in a new age of peace.”

Lonesome looked to Katherine, and that brief moment of eye contact was all they needed. “Yeah,” he looked back at Dorean. “I don’t think so.”

“A shame,” Dorean sighed. “Clementine, I believe it’s time our guests were leaving.”

The report of Katherine’s revolver nearly obscured Dorean’s last word, coming as it did at the same time. Her threat to shoot him had not been an idle one. Even so she had suspected it would do no good, and that suspicion was borne out as the bullet careened wildly off target and embedded itself into the stone floor some distance away.

Though it had failed to harm Dorean, the served as a signal to the others. Abruptly the calm, if tense, atmosphere of conversation was gone. Even before the sound of the bullet’s ricochet had faded a chaotic frenzy of activity had begun. Katherine was firing at Dorean again as she walked sideways up the stairs. Carter was at her side pulling the trigger as fast as his finger would allow. None of the bullets they fired found their marks, but it was only a matter of time before the Spirits lost interest in swatting aside small but fast little bits of metal.

Dorean knew this, and his voice boomed out through the hall as he spoke to them, seeking their aid against his assailants. Mounds of earth and rock heaved up from the floor at his command. But rather than being used as projectiles, as Lonesome feared, the mounds took on a hauntingly humanoid shape. Arms, legs, torsos, even squat round heads. Dorean had called up bodyguards. Likely created some time earlier, they now responded to Dorean’s call for help. And they would continue responding as long as Dorean continued to convince Spirits to animate them.

Lonesome wasn’t about to let that happen. Heedless of the randomly diverting bullets and the newly formed earthen guards he lunged forward, aiming to tackle the mad Spirit Talker and gag him.

Clementine wasn’t about to let that happen. She drew her sword and stepped between the two, but didn’t have a chance to swing. Lonesome’s momentum carried him into her, and he accepted the change of targets with enthusiasm. He’d never been a man for physical violence, but a combination of anger and the kill or be killed spike of adrenaline that came from having a sword waved at him made it a lot easier to embrace. He grabbed Clem by the shirtfront, heaved her off of her feet, and twisted to throw her down the stairs. It was an act he regretted as soon as he started it, but he’d have to deal with that later. All that mattered now was stopping Dorean.

Clem, however, was not going to let herself get tossed about so easily. She wrapped her legs around Lonesome and caught his wrist with her free hand. She’d hoped only to keep from being thrown to the ground. Instead, she took Lonesome down with her. The two of them tumbled over the hard and unforgiving stone stairs in a tangle of limbs and curses. When they hit the bottom, Clem’s cavalry saber skittered away across the floor, out of reach of both of them.

Nearby, Deputy Walsh chambered another round as a spent casing made music against the floor. It only took one shot at a creature made of living rock to realize another would be futile, but he was at a loss for what else to do. Still, he’d managed to get its attention, and how it was coming his way. “Crap,” he muttered.

Hawkins was flanking Dorean, creating a crossfire with Katherine and Carter on the other side, but the Spirits didn’t seem to mind. They kept swatting bullets aside no matter which direction they came from. He saw the rock monster closing on Walsh and switched targets, peppering the creature with bullets that did nothing more than pockmark its rough exterior. “Aaron!” he called, “Move left, Aaron, I’ll try and draw its attention!”

And in the middle of it all, as the rock guardians began to move against the attackers, Clayton Wells stood at a loss for what to do. Gunfire and his own heartbeat both pounded in his ears. He had no gun, wasn’t even sure it would do any good. Clem’s sabre had come to rest near him, but if a gun was useless a sword was doubly so. So what, then, was he to do? Run? He was tempted, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He needed to stay, to help.

The lockbox. All of this was happening because of the lockbox and what was inside it. Where was it? If he could get his hands on the bones, threaten to destroy them, maybe Dorean and Clem would surrender. There was a doorway back behind Dorean’s ersatz throne. Maybe it was in there?

His feet were moving before he’d even really thought about setting them in motion. Through the chaos he ran flat out for the door. Past a rock monster, up the stairs, past Dorean and the throne…

Dorean turned as Clayton passed him. It seemed as if he’d been expecting another attack, and was puzzled to see this was not the case. Then, as Clayton’s path became clear, his eye widened. He knew what the bandit was going for, and his reaction gave Clayton hope that the plan might work.


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