Dark West

Discussion in 'Role Play' started by Fan7asticMrFox, Jun 5, 2017.

  1. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    "By The Ways of the Earth, I'm starved," he replied. "Aye drunkard, show me the wonders of this town's kitchen." He paused as another idea reached his head. "Ye know where I can find the sheriff of this place. Need to find someplace to stay, and a job that suits me... Skills."

    Gareth smiled slightly as he studied the newcomer.

    "Wonders? I don't know about any of those, but there ought to be something I can rustle up." He sipped at his snifter, a delicate motion that belied his claims of being a drunkard. "As far as places to stay go, Samuel has rooms available. Hells, I've been shacking up here for months. He'll put you up. Worse comes to it, he can always turn me out and let you take my room." He chuckled dryly. "As for jobs that might suit your skills... well, Samuel said that the Sheriff was here earlier, so I reckon we won't be seeing him for a few hours. Not unless the locals get a little restless. But I'd bet that he'll have something for you. Crossroads... The Crossroads, that is, it's a small town, but people here can get a bit ornery at times. Ryan has himself an adorable little deputy, but Cass ends up in as much trouble as she puts a stop to, if you catch my meaning."

    The faint scent of burning pine began to trickle into the bar. Gareth frowned. "You smell that?" he asked, his finger nervously drumming against his hip.

    "Smells like something is burning. That food may have to wait a bit."

    Gareth set his drink down on the bar and strode to the tavern door, concern worrying at his features like a dog's bone.

    "Smoke coming from the Sheriff's place. Looks like you might get that job sooner, rather than later." Gareth turned back to face Jessie, a grin plastered across his face. "Sure explains why Bernard isn't in here. Looks like he's in the lockup again. And unless I miss my guess, he's gone and set fire to the jail again. Relax," he said, holding out a placating hand. "I'm sure that Cassie has everything under control."

    He stood at the door for a long moment, studying the jail down the way. There was a faint haze of smoke, but not enough to worry any of the townsfolk. Most everyone was familiar with Bernard's fits, and if he had a bad one, the whole town would know. Eventually, Cassie strolled out of the jail, talking over her shoulder as she crossed the street. Gareth caught her eye as she walked up The Crossroads's main street. He cocked a questioning eyebrow, and she gave a sheepish shrug as she glanced back at the jail.

    "Good morning, Deputy," he called as she approached.

    "Afternoon."

    "Is it already?"

    "Gareth, m'dear, you know as well as--"

    "Beauty sleep--"

    "Is important," Cassie finished the sentence as she had so many times before. "Fair enough."

    "I know I am."

    "Not today, Gareth. Please."

    Gareth winced. "Bernard misbehaving again?"

    "It isn't just Bernard. Ryan had to head out to Torro's place, and while he was out Leena came by. She's all up in arms about some kind of storm coming." The deputy pointed up at the strip of blue sky that hung above the canyon. "Not sure what she was on about, but she seemed about convinced that we were about to have one mother of a blow come down on us. So I'm stuck with dealing with all of Ryan's work, and also with this storm that isn't coming."

    Gareth held the door for the deputy as she strode into the Waystation. "I dunno, Cass. There was that weird blow earlier."

    "There was?"

    "You were asleep," Gareth said flatly. He glanced back over at the jail to see Leena making her way out onto the street.

    Cassie tossed Gareth a fleeting smile.

    "You're extraordinarily lucky that The Crossroads is such a small town. Can't think of another place a deputy can get so much in the way of sleep." Gareth tossed a wave over his shoulder to Leena as he followed Cassie back into the bar.

    "Who is that?" she asked, staring pointedly at Jessie.
     
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  2. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse Contributor Contributor

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    Roy Mathis sat quietly in his favorite rocking chair, savoring each laborious creak of its old wooden frame as he gazed into the distance. The rolling fields of the Mathis Ranch reached far into the hills, disappearing where the canyon tops met the purplish pre-dawn sky. In these early hours, the sun was a mere red speck, barely peeking over the fences.

    From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, Roy’s well-trained eyes tracked a shadowy figure moving slowly along the fence line. It brought a slight smile to his lips as, behind him, the door opened and his wife, Bonnie, joined him on the porch.

    “Coffee’s ready. Bacon and eggs in ten,” she said, handing him a steaming mug of black gold. “You want grits or…” her voice trailed off as she followed her husband’s gaze. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Roy, what’s she doin’ this time?”

    “Fixin’ the fence, I think. Shhh, listen…” he put a finger to her lips and they could just barely make out the light tapping of a hammer.

    “Stupid girl,” Bonnie said. “Don’t she know them nails are just gonna pull out again? The wood’s too old.”

    “Awfully kind of her to try, though,” Roy said as he accepted the coffee. He took an experimental sip and nodded his approval… before drawing a small flask of whiskey from his boot and adding two drops. Bonnie turned to head back inside, but what he said next stopped her in her tracks: “I’m gonna ask her to stay.”

    “Roy Mathis, you will do no such thing!” his wife said, practically spinning on her heels to face him. “What’s gotten into you?”

    “Just last week, you said we needed more help around here. Well, there you go.” He made a sweeping gesture toward the woman mending his fence, a quarter mile away. As if on queue, the topic of their discussion tripped and fell flat on her face. Roy frowned as he watched Rose grope along the dimly-lit ground, searching for her glasses or the hammer. At this range, he couldn’t tell which. A few seconds later, she was on her feet and back at it again, hammering nails into the fence.

    “She’s an idiot. And a clumsy one at that,” Bonnie commented.

    “She’s…got a lot on her mind, I think,” Roy reasoned. “Ain’t dumb though. Can see it in her eyes, she ain’t no fool. Just distracted, is all.”

    “I think you’re the one that’s distracted, Roy,” Bonnie said, stabbing a finger at him. “Bad enough you bring a strange woman home. Now you’s spending time we don’t have studyin’ her like she’s an art piece in one o’ them fancy mooseums the rich folks yam about so much. Careful, Roy. A lesser woman might think you got eyes for that gal.”

    “Now, Bon, we been married sixteen years. You know me better than that,” Roy said. “What was I s’posed to do when I find a lady camped on the side o’ the road, alone? There’s coyotes and wildcats in them hills, Bon, and talk of bandits.”

    “Point her to Sam’s joint. He ain’t got no compunction about takin’ in pretty ladies. Practically hoards ‘em, some might say. Or whores ‘em. Same difference.”

    Roy couldn’t help but smirk, but hid it in his coffee as he took another sip. “Now you’re just bein’ mean for meanness’s sake, Bon. That ain’t like you.”

    “I don’t like her. She’s too quiet,” Bonnie said in a calmer tone. “Just the other day, I was doing the laundry. I turn around to start hangin’ ‘em up to dry and there she is, dun already got half my underthings strung up! Scared the bajeezus outta me, she did. It’s creepy, Roy. A normal person would say ‘hi,’ or something, not just sneak up and jump right into helping.”

    “She’s distracted. Tryin’ to keep her hands busy, ‘cuz she’s got somethin’ on her mind,” Roy said. “We all been there before. Have a heart, Bon.”

    Bonnie sighed. “You knew nothin’ about this woman before you brought her into our home and we know even less about her now.”

    “Her name is Rose. She’s a courier from somewhere out West. The recipient refused to pay what was owed, so she’s kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place right now,” Roy said. “I think she’s ponderin’ a career change. Crossroads might be nice for her. She can stay here ‘til she gets properly acclimated.”

    “Didn’t she say she was waitin’ on a letter in the post? It’s been nearly a week, Roy. The post don’t take that long! Where’s this letter comin’ from, the moon?

    “Out west,” Roy said dryly. “Desert country.”

    “She don’t look like no desert woman. And yesterday, she didn’t even go to town to check at the post office. Just hung around here, slinking around behind my back. I think she already got her reply and is just cashing in on our good natured hospitality. Roy Mathis, I want that woman out of this house today or I’m gonna-”

    “Her old man’s dead,” Roy said and the words hit like a granite slab dropped in an empty quarry. Bonnie’s jaw snapped shut. “Caught her cryin’ in the barn yesterday,” he added, “quietly of course. I asked the right questions and that’s the most she ever spoke. She even used whole sentences. None of that one-word nonsense.” He slowly shook his head. “I guess when you’re down, everything comes spillin’ out.”

    “Winds have mercy,” Bonnie said, seeing the figure by the fence in a new light. Or maybe that was just the sunrise. “So, you two had a tender moment, aye? I’ll lend ya my kerchief to dry yer eyes, Roy. But ya know what I think? I think she’s got a funeral to attend.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Git her gone, Roy. Now.”

    “Cold as ice, Bon. You’s cold as ice.”

    “Yeah, and breakfast is burnin.’ I aint got time for this foolishness,” Bonnie said as she headed back inside. “I hope you like your bacon as black as that coffee,” she added as the door shut behind her.

    Later that day

    Rose shielded her face in her sleeve as another strong wind tore through, kicking up dust and dirt all around her. She put her back to the downwind wall of the stables and waited for it pass, before removing her glasses and wiping them on the hem of her dress.

    “Storm’s comin’ in faster than I thought,” Roy said as he rode up alongside her atop Darkness, an enormous black stallion as dark as oblivion itself. “Was hopin’ we’d have ‘til nightfall, but might not get such luck,” he commented as he dismounted.

    Rose, as usual, said nothing. She tucked in her black curls where the wind had tussled her hair, then tightened her bonnet strings, and began unfurling her sleeves. She had rolled them up while tending to the horses.

    “Thanks for helpin’ me get ‘em re-shoed. It ain’t for the faint of heart, especially with this big fella,” he said, stroking Darkness’s muzzle as he led the beast inside. “Saved him for last, ‘cuz I was worried ya might not be able to keep him still, but I gotta say I was wrong. Ya done good, miss. Ol’ Darkie likes his new stompers. Was practically dancin’ out there.”

    As if offended by such an accusation, Darkness shook his mane and snorted indignantly.

    Rose shrugged. The damn horse was a better conversationalist. Roy, on the other hand, seemed to be growing accustomed to these one-sided chats.

    “It’s kinda funny, actually,” he said with a sly grin as he led Darkness into his berth. “Ya did more than keep him calm. I think he’s… well, I think he’s scared of ya.” He briefly glanced at Rose before beginning to remove the bridle and saddle.

    Rose decided now would be a good time to check that all of the other horses had enough feed.

    “I only seen this horse scared once before and that was the day the Bakers’ cornfield got struck by lightning and went up like a harvest bonfire,” Roy continued. “The flames came right up to the edge of our property line and he lost his damn mind. Stampin and jumpin’ and frothin’ at the mouth like a demon ‘dun got ahold of him. And he had this look in his eyes…”

    He glanced at Rose again, who was now doing her best impersonation of a statue.

    “…Same look he had when you was keepin’ him settled while I knocked them new shoes on his feet,” Roy said. He finished getting Darkness settled in for what would probably be a nasty storm, then turned to face Rose. His eyes studied her for a moment, as if sizing her up. Roy Mathis was a tall man. Tall and thin. While he wasn’t menacing by any means, Rose found herself staring up at his angular features, shadowed under the brim of his cowboy hat. He made her feel two feet tall, though she was certain that wasn’t his intention.

    “Hmm… I can’t imagine what it is about little ol’ you that’s put the fear of god in that horse,” he said curiously. “Ya don’t look so scary to me.”

    Rose shrugged.

    “You any good with them guns?”

    Rose shrugged.

    “I suppose so,” he said after a long silence. “A courier’s gotta protect herself from all manner of dangers on the road.” He strode past her and gestured for her to follow him. “That’s what I’d like to talk to you about. The winds are pickin’ up and canyon storms ain’t nothin’ to mess with. Bonnie and I still got a lot to do around the farm, but we need some things from town. I figured we got a courier right here under our roof, so…”

    Rose nodded. She could see where this was going.

    “I’ll pay you, of course-”

    Rose quickly shook her head. She couldn’t possibly accept money from this man. If anything, she owed him.

    “Well, ain’t you a lil’ sweetheart,” Roy said with a relieved smile. Did he expect her to refuse? “Saddle up. You can take Harmony. She’s the fastest in these stables. I’ll go get a list together and see if Bon needs anything from town. Meet ya outside in ten minutes.”

    Twenty minutes later, Rose was galloping down the road to town, with the Crossroads growing larger in front of her. The Mathis Ranch wasn’t far by any means. She probably could’ve walked to town, but Roy’s list was a little more than any mere courier could carry on foot. Her black leather case was strapped to the horse’s side, hidden by empty saddlebags soon to be filled with supplies.

    She had considered leaving the case behind, but Roy’s words about Darkness fearing her still lingered in her mind. He was getting curious. Maybe too curious. What if she left it behind and he decided to pick the lock? Questions would follow. How would he react when he found out she worked for Treadstone, a man who sold weapons to lawmen and murderers alike? She knew how Bonnie would react and that was reason enough not to risk it. Furthermore, that gun was worth a fortune. Money makes people do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

    Rose tied Harmony to the hitching post outside the saloon and took a moment to study Roy’s list. As long as she had something to do and clear goals, she’d be fine. Without this, she felt utterly lost. She committed most of it to memory and tucked it into the breast pocket of her vest before turning to head inside, but paused.

    The thin stream of smoke rising from the Sherriff’s office was probably nothing. It was small, insignificant, not a problem at all. Not her problem. The small crowd gathering outside was probably nothing, either. Rose felt like her feet were glued to the floor but, after a moment of deliberating, she unstuck them and took a step toward the saloon… just as a gust of wind snatched the shopping list out of her pocket --how is that even possible-- and sent it sailing skyward, right over the roof and off into airship territory.

    No big deal. She had all twenty items memorized. Wood. Nails. Salt. Ummm… Eggs? No. Butter? No, Bonnie had plenty of that, Rose had helped churn it this morning. Ummm… ummm…. Whiskey. Roy needed whiskey.

    She looked toward the smoke again, as if that might jog her memory. With a small sigh of resignation, she joined the gawkers.
     
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  3. obi-sem kenobi

    obi-sem kenobi Senior Member

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    Cassie sniffed once or twice before making a quick turn on her heels with a scowl on her face. "Seriously Bernard? You're really starting to piss in my granny's gravy you know that? Now you'd better cut out with that 'human cigarette lighter' thing hella fast or else I'll..."

    Leena let Cassie do her cursing while she calmly walked around the last cell to pick up the bucket of sand the sheriff had ready for cases like this. She then came back up next to Cassie and waited until her fit was over.

    "..., mix it all together and serve it to your mother for dinner!" Bernard was completely unaffected, laying passed out on the floor and up against the bed while burning with a slow, controlled fire. Leena used the small moment it took Cassie to catch her breath to hold up the bucket to her face and interrupt her most creative monologue.

    "Cassie, would you mind opening the cell-door for me please?" Cassie turned to face Leena with a confused look on her face, probably only just realising she was standing next to her. It took her another couple of seconds to notice the bucket in her hands.

    "Oooo, right! Good thinking! That should wake him up alright!" Without further warning she snatched the bucket out of Leena's hands and threw its contents right at the bars. Of course, now there were strips of Bernard still uncovered where the sand hit the bars, not to mention Cassie twisting her back because she thought it was water instead of sand.

    Bernard was still simmering, but for a moment it looked like at least the worst was over. Then, suddenly and without a warning, the bed caught on fire. Smoke filled the sheriff's office as the dirty fabric burned like it was glad to be relieved of its suffering. Determined that this was a fire she could master, Cassie grabbed the nearest piece of cloth she could find, flung the prison door open and started to beat on the fire.

    Sadly the piece of cloth, one of the sheriff's shirts that hung to dry over his chair, had soaked up its fair share of the whiskey spill before, causing it to immediately burst into flames itself. With a cry of pain and frustration Cassie dropped it on the floor and started kicking it out with her boot. Her eyes flashed angrily toward Bernard who was still only half conscience of what was going on... or at all for that matter. For a moment it looked like she was going to pin him to the wall and bombard him with another barrage of colourful expressions, but then she felt a hand gently touch her shoulder.

    "Cassie, you just burned your hand. You need to cool it down before it starts to swell. Go, I'll try to keep this place from burning down." Her voice expressed concern, but her eyes showed something closer to impatience. Cassie, oblivious to this discrepancy, suddenly completely forgot she was angry. "No, no, I can handle this, really! I just need to find-"
    "Cassie, you need to listen to me. You just burned your hand, your right hand, on burning alcohol. If you ever want to shoot your gun again you need to cool it, right now."
    She seemed to consider that for a moment, then finally decided to listen to Leena's advice. "Alright, but don't you go put yourself in any danger you hear? Somethin' happen to you while I was off licking my wounds and Ryan would never let me hear the end of it!"

    She jolted out towards the water tank and peace returned at last. Well.. apart from the flaming mattress spreading heat and dirty smoke in every direction. She knelt down next to Bernard and leveled her face with his.
    "Hey Bernard, Bernard, look at me. Bernard, I need you to look at me. You need to put out the fire. Do you see the fire? Bernard, do you see the burning mattress? Bernard..."

    She might as well have been talking to a wall. After trying for a few more minutes she gave up. She got up and looked around for anything she could use to at least stop the fire from spreading, when suddenly a battle cry came from the general direction of the front door. It was already too late when Leena realised that the bucket was gone and Cassie came charging in.

    "Incoming!"
    "No Cassie, wait!"

    Cassie charged for the cell without really seeing anything through the smoke and instantly emptied the bucket of water on the mattress... and straight in Leena's face. The fire flickered and with a final puff of smoke it passed out, along with Bernard.

    For a couple of heartbeats they just stood there. Cassie with the bucket still in her hand, frozen by the sudden realisation and with her mouth wide open, Leena, her entire face dripping and twisted in an unreadable expression. Bernard, unconscious on the floor.

    Cassie was the first to break the spell.
    "A towel! I'll go get a towel. Stay right there I won't be a minute!"
    "That's alright Cassie," Leena said, her face back to being as seemingly gentle as always "why don't you go outside for a bit, get some of that smoke out of your lungs. I believe you still had business at the saloon? I'll go fresh up and join you there in a minute."
    "Right... ok, well, I'll see you there then."
    "And don't forget to tell them about the storm."
    "I won't, I won't." She said, suddenly grumpy again. She probably realised she was going to be the one that had to clean up this mess later.

    So she locked up Bernard again and left for the saloon. Meanwhile, Leena grabbed a towel and did what she could to make herself decent again. The rest would just have to dry in the sun. When she stepped outside she noticed a bit of a crowd had formed to behold the spectacle. How nice of them to offer their help and check if anyone was hurt. Blasted whistlers.

    Putting all of today's frustrations in a deep dark place, she walked up towards the saloon. She could use a drink right now.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
  4. Fan7asticMrFox

    Fan7asticMrFox Contributor Contributor

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    Chapter One: Dry Lightning

    Miguel had not enjoyed the ride back to The Crossroads. The Sheriff sat next to him on the wagon, stone faced, while he took the reins and pulled them into town. Neither had said a word the whole way and this had been a two hour journey back from the McKensies Farm... Winds take their spirits. He'd have laughed to himself - a Surfer favouring Whistler pray - were it not still so raw. The pair had fixed a thick piece of leather over the back of the wagon well, but a gnawing rose and fell within Miguel. He needed to check the wagon was still covered, but couldn't bear to turn around.

    The rumbling of thunder hummed above. No rain. Just heavy gusts, constant, filled with cutting sand. Lightning tore holes in the endless black, oozing its ghostly white light into this world. But no rain. Storms without rain were an omen back in the Teardrop Archipelagos. Regretfully, Miguel reminded himself that ill will had no borders. He tightened his grip around the reins, hoping the leather bound control in his hands would bring him some comfort.

    Through the blizzard of darkness, faint torch light came into view. The Crossroads. A hint of a smile crept on Miguel's face and he gestured gently to the Sheriff.

    "Look, see." Miguel said. The Sheriff's head tilted up and he acknowledged with a nod.

    It couldn't be much later than seven o'clock, but the storm had come on so fast it gobbled up the sun and sent the sky running for ruin. What light came from The Crossroads was limited and Miguel noted even from this distance that barricades were in place, a fact that warmed his heart. With the sky as blue as it had been, he would not have begrudged the townsfolks for not preparing - but Whistlers were practical people, and The Crossroads had transformed into a fortress.

    "You reckon Kiriargos has locked up?" The Sheriff finally said.

    "Si." Miguel replied. "I swear that boy will be running the ranch soon enough." He laughed half heartedly, before being hit by an unexpected swell of pride. He then frowned, "Why do you ask?"

    "I want you to stay in town tonight." The Sheriff said.

    "Ah ha, forget our miseries? A night of drinking, cards and... women?" Miguel nudged his passenger jovially.

    The Sheriff hadn't heard him, his eyes stuck firmly ahead. Miguel felt the cold of the storm brace through his skin.

    "We are in for a long night. I could use your help." Ryan finally turned, his eyes made of earnest.

    Miguel could see through; there was fear. Lightning ripped across the sky once more. Each flash seemed to last twice as long as the last. The hardships Miguel had witnessed and lived throughout his eventful life left his mind almost impervious, yet he forgot too often that Ryan had not experienced such horrors. The Sheriff stood tall in this town, ferociously brave and faithfully relied on. But this was a small time town and he still young. Miguel could tell, for Ryan death still struck the heart like the storm's lightning.

    "Let's get the McKensies to the morgue for now." The Sheriff said, returning to his statued position. "Doc can give 'em a once over and then we can bury them in the Whistler Church tomorrow."
    The cart struggled into town, the wind cutting across knocking the wheels and spooking the horses. Miguel did enough to keep everything steady and they pulled up outside the entrance to Doc Rupert's Marvellous Medicines shop, lights on still inside. Luckily the streets were barren, Miguel glad not to be dealing with prying eyes. The Doc immediately unlocked his door, giving solemn looks to the pair through his moon shaped spectacles and helping offload the bodies from the wagon.

    Miguel took a fleeting glance back at the road since travelled, when his vision caught the eye of a figure deep in the darkness. Scarcily he could believe it, closing his eyes and rubbing the deep grooves between the bridge of his nose, and when he surveyed the black horizon once more, it was empty. Coffee might be a more appropriate drink, he thought to himself.
     
  5. Fan7asticMrFox

    Fan7asticMrFox Contributor Contributor

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    The night battered The Crossroads. The endless cloud only broke to reveal forks of lightning, ripping apart and sewing together all in the same instant. Ryan hadn't slept a wink (not had he wanted to), sat in his chair by the office window with only a comatose Bernard for company. The windows had been barriered up well, Cassie had seen to that, but Ryan was pleased to have a small slit through to the outside world to witness first hand to what seemingly had evolved into Aegon's final return.

    You see Aegon had been one of Tierus the Breezecaller's angels, chosen for his loyalty and passion to the Winds. However Aegon became impatient with humanity, believing them the true destructive force on Andros rather than any wind, fire, water or earth. In a move condemned by the Gods of the Winds, Aegon threw stormy fury at the world to wipe out humanity. Legend has it that a thirty-year storm consumed Andros and starved it of all food and flora and fauna. Eventually Tierus caught the slippery Aegon in a stand-off and struck him down, imprisoning him within an airless cavern deep in Andros' core. However scripture denotes a premonition of Aegon's final return, creating a storm to last eternity and sweep away all life.

    Ryan had no time for Gods, not after all he had seen. The sad tale of the McKensies just enforced his position - Gods don't allow such dark things to happen... especially to innocent little girls, so full of life. Days like this put the fear in a man, he was not afraid to admit it, and in each of those moments he'd been right to be. The Crossroads held a soft peace to it throughout the years, but it had those days - those Godless days where evil reared its ugly head. The Gypsy travellers that had sought refuge when Ryan had first taken the badge. That was one of them. Nasty fellas had followed, and he'd been thankful for Miguel's unflinching trigger finger. Today had been another.

    The storm howled over the Sheriff's Office, shaking the walls and the floors like a steam train had thundered past. Ryan made sure not to take any risks tonight: Miguel was stationed in The Waystation Saloon with that glorious lever action Rutherford rifle; Cassie over at the church keeping the needy protected in this harsh storm. Yet still, it didn't feel enough. Something irked Ryan, something he couldn't put his finger on. The McKensies perhaps. Or the fact that this storm screamed angrily through every nook and alleyway in The Crossroads, the worst storm in a generation, but with no rain. Dry lightning.

    That's when he saw the figure. Stood outside the Sheriff's Office, braving the storm as his coat tails flickered loose in the blue light. Ryan slipped to the wall, gazing cautiously through the gap. There were more of them out there. Each bolt revealed two, three, five individuals stood semi-circle around his porch, pistols ready and rifles cocked. With a final lightning strike emblazoning across the sky, Ryan took note of the ringleader. Pistols held in wrapped bandages. Darian.

    Already armed, the door swung wide and fast. The boys shuffled back in surprise to watch the Sheriff step out with assertion, each boot slamming hard on the decking, enough to break the noise of the storm but for a moment.

    "Damn it Darian, tonight ain't no time for the Charger Gang to kick up shit." He shouted at them, arms stiff with loaded revolvers at the end of each. He eyed the boys, a strange fear inside each of them that put the Sheriff on edge. Out of all of them, only Darian's face had grit. "This time you've gone to-"

    "Shut it, y-you, you... Sheriff!" Darian interrupted hesitantly. "You gone - you're the one who's gone to far this time. You did this to my hands."

    The boys at each end edged closer to the porch, stopped instantly by the Sheriff's pistols tracking left and right. His eyes never left Darian. "Mercy me, don't you ever get tired of blaming everyone but yourself?" His heart beat in his throat, the Sheriff's authoritative voice belying the yellow stirring in his stomach. Only now he realised how calm the storm had become.

    They were all moving in. Closer. "Boys, I swear by the seasoned six shooters grasped in my hands, if you shuffle one step closer I will make all your mamas cry." The Sheriff shook his head. "By the Winds, what fool gave you pieces?"

    "T-The Wanderer." One of the boys whimpered.

    "Rodney, quiet!" Darian hissed. "We got these ourselves. We...err... we stole 'em, took right from the miners."

    "Is that where this Wanderer is?" The Sheriff said. "They're at the Double Bluff Mines?"

    "Nuh-uh." Darian said shaking his head. The rest of the boys nodded. "Fu- Chargers, we gotta get this done, quit being yellow!"

    "But I don't wanna, Darian." Another boy piped up.

    "You'll do as he says..." Darian shot a worried look back at the Sheriff, "as I say. I say."

    "Boys, you don't have to do anything." The Sheriff said calmly. "I'll deal with this Wanderer."

    "Shut it Sheriff! He don't exist!" Darian yelled.

    The Sheriff eyed Darian close, a feral glaze over the whites of his eyes as they darted from Sheriff, to Charger gang member, back to Sheriff. Some part of the Sheriff hoped Miguel or Cassie, or anyone for that matter had heard the yells, but the cold on his neck told him otherwise. The winds seemingly circled around the group with eerie control, the eye of the storm firmly upon them as they faced off. The Sheriff's revolvers had only one target.

    "Darian, let's just talk this out." He said. "We can all go sit in the Saloon. I'll even let you have a drop of 'adult milk' and we can just talk this out, like men."

    "No!" Darian shouted with a high-pitched break. "No..."

    "Come on now." The Sheriff edged closer, holstering one revolver and showing his free hand. "I don't know what's got you so worked up, but trust I'll put it to rest."

    "No..." Darian said quietly into himself.

    The Sheriff stepped forward another step. The last few feet felt like a canyon. "Darian." The other revolver now holstered; the Sheriff held his hands out, partly to show peace, partly to prepare to grab the guns off the boy.

    "No."

    Ryan dashed forward. By the time he made to Darian, he didn't grasp his guns, he grasped his shoulders. Ryan's breathing shivered from his lungs, his head shakily dipping down to see two dark patches on his shirt, spreading fast over the checkered pattern. He felt cold. So very cold. He pressed a hand to his gut, the palm slathered in crimson. Ryan faltered, slapping the bloodied hand on Darian's chest as his knees buckled, his breathing shallower. Gazing up in shock, he saw a pale Darian with tears welling in the corner of each eye, the boy's stare slowly moving between Ryan and the two smoking barrels shaking in his bandaged hands.

    Darian wiped away the tears and stepped away, not able to watch Ryan slump to the ground. The others around him stood dumbfounded, unable to process the events of what had happened. Darian stamped his foot, so hard it hurt his heel. "That's right, I-I did it." His voice trembled, but took strength from the frightened faces of the other Charger Gang members. "And I'll do you all too! I-I'll do it if you don't do - don't listen to me."

    More Chargers revealed themselves from a nearby alleyway, slowly edging out of the narrow passage between the General Store and Beckett's house. Darian nodded fiercely, roughly counting fifteen, no eighteen gang members, ready to do what had to be done. "Chargers - get the torches set, light this piece a shit town up!" He disappeared around the alleyway before returning on a pony. "Go on now, get it done! If I don't shoot you, he sure as shit will. Now get! And come back to the mines when the whole town is ash." And with that, Darian rode of into the night, not once turning to see the Charger Gang lighting torch after torch, ready to burn it all.
     
  6. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    The wind howled and clawed at the saloon walls like an enraged sandshark, and even the sturdily-built old Waystation groaned under the onslaught. Gareth shuddered. It was a bad night. One of the worst he'd seen. No rain, just the odd flash of lightning followed by the distant peal of thunder, and the nonstop hissing roar of the sand being thrown against thick wooden walls. It was like being trapped in a nightmare. He raised a glass to his lips and took a gentle sip.

    In the far corner of the saloon, Miguel Torro sat, hat lowered and rifle resting atop his table. Word on the street was that years ago the man had been quite a gunhand. Gareth found it hard to believe that a sleepy place like The Crossroads had any need of gunhands of any sort, let alone deadly gunfighters like Torro and the Sheriff were rumored to be.

    Of course, towns didn't just stay sleepy, so maybe there was some weight to the rumors, after all.

    Torro had come in some hours back, posted himself in the back of the saloon with a jug of water and his boots on the table, and the man had sat there like a stone since. No one had tried to drag anything out of him; Miguel was generally a genial sort of fellow, so the grim silence was enough to keep the curious at bay. Something was afoot, though. The Rutherford was answer enough to that question. The Rutherford, and the storm. Gareth had half a mind to go upstairs and try to sleep the rest of the night away.

    The glass tumbled out of his hand with the first of the hard, flat cracks. It shattered on the second.

    It had been almost a year since he'd heard gunfire.

    Handgun. Large caliber. Probably two, the shots were too close together to be one revolver. He stared down at the spreading pool of whiskey as Torro leapt to his feet and hurried to the door to peer into the darkness. Even across the saloon, Gareth could see the rancher grow pale.

    "Everybody get to..." he shook his head, mouthed something that looked suspiciously like Ryan, and started again. "Everybody get upstairs. Things are about to get ugly out there. And if anybody has a gun, now is the time to use it."

    Upstairs, Gareth thought. Upstairs, I have a gun. He looked down at his right hand as his index finger insistently tapped his hip.

    "I'm going upstairs," he blurted. No one noticed; everyone was either heading upstairs or to the front of the saloon. The darkness outside was growing brighter.

    Sunrise is way off, Gareth thought numbly as he slowly walked up the stairs. Miguel had raised the butt of his rifle to his shoulder and began to fire into the darkness, and even as he started to fire one of the miners that had taken position at a window pitched over in a welter of blood as a bullet from outside cut into him. The smell of blood and voiding bowels filled the saloon. Gareth was sure people were screaming. He was sure one of them was him.

    As he walked into his room, the roaring outside took on a new, deeper, insistent quality. The force of Wind was feeding the rage of Fire. Something was burning. He pried the loose board up, pulled out the gunbelt. The pistol settled into his hand like a hunting dog setting at his leash, ready to be loosed on a fox or hare. But the pistol sought bigger game. The chambers drank in shells like a drowning man sucking in air.

    As he walked back down the steps, Gareth saw another miner slump as bullets tore through him. The town was alive with violence now, gunshots and screams echoing through the storm, fighting the roaring blaze of whatever was burning for attention. War had come to The Crossroads. Miguel Torro yelled something at Gareth as he pushed his way out into the street. The gun was out in front, now, straining at it's leash, begging to be set on someone.

    The zipping buzz of a bullet slicing air was oddly muted. It slapped into the side of the saloon, blasting splinters and wood dust into the gale. Gareth paused for a second as he scanned the street. The night was alive with the crazed flickering of red-orange light as tongues of flame shot heavenward, reaching for the gap in the canyon.

    The Sheriff's office was a blaze. A body lay facedown in the street in front of the office, guns in their holsters and boots smoking from the heat.

    A second bullet creased the storm, and Gareth felt his arm moving to point at a scowling fellow holding a torch. He felt like he should recognize the man, but then the trigger pulled and the gun barked and a bullet smashed into his head, and no one would recognize him ever again. The gun fired again and again, gleefully, putting two more rounds into the brigand as his body pitched to the canyon floor. The bronze-colored metal glowed in the firelight as the sagging roof of the Sheriff's office collapsed.

    Two more bandits hunkered down near the collapsing building. The gun drifted between the two of them, waiting for one to show enough flesh to maul. They opened fire, bullets slapping into the saloon as Torro's Rutherford boomed in response.

    All the shooting stopped when Bernard stepped out into the street, wreathed in fire and laughter.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
  7. obi-sem kenobi

    obi-sem kenobi Senior Member

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    She swung the saloon doors open and stepped in with as much confidence as she could muster. There were a lot of people that at least looked like they had some experience under their belt, but there was no reason to believe any of them would actually help her. She caught a few uninterested glances in her general direction, but most people just went about their business. She fingered the coins in her pocket, even though she knew exactly how many there were. One glance at the “soup of the day” board convinced her it was not going to be enough. Not even close.

    Her stride faltered just before reaching the bar and for a moment she just stood there. No more than two days ago she'd left her old town, excited at this new path her life would take and with a feeling like she could take on the world. And now, here she was. Broke. Alone. Hunted. A strong feeling of dread pushing so hard on her she was sure she'd crash through the floor and disappear into nothingness. Though perhaps even that was too much to hope for.

    A single tear ran down her cheek.

    Nobody really paid attention to her. Even the bartender continued running a dirty cloth along the inside of a glass, seemingly absorbed in his work. But then, for the briefest moment, his eyes seemed to flick to a table just behind her. Too tired to fight the reflex, Leena's eyes followed along.

    There was a man sitting at the table there, that was looking straight at her. His boots were a dull grey from long travel through sandy winds, his pants worn but sturdy and his shirt dirty, but neat. A brown longcoat hang over his chair and his hat lay on the table. She could hardly see the gun on his belt, because it was holstered on the other side of his hip, but there was a second holster on her side that was empty.

    “That's a mighty impressive piece you have there miss, might I inquire as to how you got hold of it?” As the man spoke he never turned his gaze away from her, but there was something in his eyes and the tone of his voice that made her want to answer him.

    “It belonged to my father. He said he found it on a dead gunslinger in Death's Whistle.”

    “You from there?”

    “Jacob's Creek, in the Whisper Plains. My father used to go out to Death's Whistle sometimes to see if there were any dead that needed burying.”

    “And make a tidy profit from the items they left behind no doubt.” Leena wanted to get mad, but she found that talking to this man had finally brought back some of her nerve. She could handle men, as long as they didn't want to kill her.

    “He buried it with them. The gun's all he ever kept. There aren't a lot of guns goin' around in Jacob's Creek so he figured it might help keep me save. Scare people off knowing that he had it.”

    “That's a dangerous bluff to play. You should never point a gun at someone unless you plan to fire it within the same second that you draw.”

    “And why's that?”

    “Because a gun kills you real dead's why. You point it at someone and you force them to make a choice: get shooting or get shot. Your life or theirs. I've met a lot of nice folk around, but I never found no one who'd choose my life over their own. Which makes me wonder... why do you carry that thing around? Do you know how to use it well enough to shoot people before they shoot you, or do you hope it'll scare folks seein' a town girl with a gun on her hip?”

    “What if you already had people that wanted to shoot you anyway?” For the first time since this conversation started, the man smiled.

    “You hire a gunslinger.” He got out of his chair and flung his coat on. Abruptly about a dozen other guys scattered around the saloon did the same. He put his hat on like it was a ritual and then turned to face her again. The gun on the other side of his hip was now visible.

    “That gun your father found was mine and the man he buried my brother. If you agree to give it back to me I can bring you as far as Crossroads. It's a little out of our way but it's decent town with a stubborn old man that owes me a favour. I drop you off and go back on my way with the debt to your father repaid. Do we have a deal?”

    Leena looked at the man again and felt the weight of the world sliding off her shoulders. With little attempt to hide her relief, but some to try and appear collected, she pulled the revolver out of it's holster. She flipped it around and handed it to him. “Thank you.” She said and never meant it more in her life. The man threw her another grin and took the weapon out of her hands. He spun it around a few times, like the very touch of this weapon in his hands was nostalgic, and then slid it back into his empty holster. It fit perfectly.

    “Let's get this show on the road then!” He said as he spun around to his comrads and they all walked out of the door. He tipped his hat to the bartender, threw a couple of coins on the table and headed for the double doors. Leena followed closely behind. Later she would ponder on the incredible odds of walking into that one bar with the one man that she actually had something to offer, but for now she just wallowed in the warm comfortable feeling of safety that was wrapped around her like a warm blanket. In fact...



    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------



    It was a warm blanket. She blinked a couple of times, trying to remember as much as possible from that dream she'd just had. Dreams didn't have the habit of making a whole lot of sense, but this one seemed like a perfect copy of her clearest memories. It had been a while since she'd dreamed about the man that brought her here, but it was nice to see his face again.

    The room she woke up in was pitch black, but she could sense by the way the air moved that it was not her own. She looked up to get a sense of where she was, when in that exact moment a bright flash of light lit up the room and revealed the haughty image of a person standing by the window. She wanted to scream but couldn't, though the sound of thunder crashed through just as loud when the person turned around. It moved in closer until it was standing right next to her, the shape of it's body still veiled by the darkness.

    “I'm sorry, did I wake you up?” Daisy's gentle voice instantly broke the spell, though it still took a handful of heartbeats for Leena to catch her breath again. A few more to remember why she was here. After she'd finally convinced Cassie of the coming storm she'd spent the entire afternoon the day before riding across town, warning people and bringing hoarding them to the saloon, church and library if their house looked to shabby to hold out against it. When she was finally done and the storm had started to hit Daisy had offered to use her bed to take a nap. Appearently that nap had taken a bit longer than she had planned.

    “No, no I don't think so. It was probably just the storm. Do you have trouble getting to sleep as well? ”

    “I'll admit I'm a little frightned by the storm, but there's something else too. I just have this feeling like something really bad is about to happen. I don't like it Leena, with Ry...the sheriff I mean, being all alone out there and all. It's all just so perfectly dreadful.” With her eyes a little more used to the dark she could see some genuine concern on Daisy's face. Poor thing.

    “Then let's pay him a visit.” Leena said as she got up out of the bed. “I mean, the sheriff's office is right across the street and I'm sure he'd appreciate the company.” Or Daisy's company at least. Leena would just have to think of an excuse to leave them again after they got there.

    “A-are you sure? I mean what about the storm?”

    “To be honest I've been wanting to go outside anyway, see what this storm can do. Might as well take you with me.” She said with an adventurous smile on her face. After that strange wind curving around her yesterday, she'd been wanting to try if she could do it again all day, but never got to it. What better place to try it out than in the middle of a storm though?

    Daisy seemed to hesistate for a moment, not nearly as confident she could face the storm even for the few meters they'd have to walk, but in the end her adventurous side won the argument and she showed a smile not unlike Leena's before. “All right, let's do this!”

    Both of them quickly got dressed and tried to walk down the creaky stairs as silently as possible. When they got down they realised they shouldn't have bothered since practically half the town was still down there anyway. Someone probably called them crazy when they walked up to the double saloon doors, but that sound was soon drowned out by the rushing of the wind all around them.

    It took Leena a moment to take it all in. The storm was so violent that the air was almost tangible. The two girls looked at each other and gave a small nod. They began to walk towards the sheriff's office and with every step they became less afraid of the wind. In fact, at a certain point it almost seemed like the wind had given up trying to scare them and became a whole lot less calmer. Just around them though.

    Daisy whispered something, but the sound was drowned out by the storm
    “What?” Leena shouted, her voice sounding louder in her own ears than she intended, but still barely reaching Daisy.
    “I said, we could sneak around back and give the good old sheriff the scare of a lifetime!”
    “You don't think that'll give him an actual heart attack?” Daisy almost looked offended by that.
    “He's not that old!”
    “Allright, but if he dies you're going to have to find us a new sheriff!”

    The two girls giggled and moved around in a big circle around the building so the sheriff would not see them coming. When they were almost out back they heard the sound of thunder again, but it seemed different this time. There was no flash preceding it. They quickly rushed inside, completely abandoning their plans. Through the open double doors they were just in time to see the sheriff slump to the floor with a young man standing over him. A young man with bandages wrapped around his hand.

    Leena had expected Daisy to scream, or faint, or stand petrified, but she did none of those things. Instead, she had an eerily calm look on her face. “There's too many of them. We have to move back out. Leena,” she turned towards her and put a hand on her shoulder. “I need you to listen very carefully. We have a chance to get out of this alive, but I need you to do exactly as I say. Can you do that?”

    Leena was dumbfounded, but somehow found enough control to give a shaky nod.

    “Good, alright then.” Daisy moved away from the window and toward the cells. Darian was shouting something outside and some of the boys were already beginning to move in this direction. “Clint, you awake? The game is up. Time to get rolling again.”

    Leena stood nailed to the ground as Bernard suddenly got up, the dull look of drunken stupour instantly gone from his face. She gathered every bit of strength she could muster to break through the utter confusion she was feeling right now. Slowly but surely she was starting to get back to her senses. Bernard pulled a brick away from his prison cell and pulled out a cheap bottle of very strong whiskey. “Alright. I've got this. You two should go and warn Cassie at the church. Jade, there's a spare pistol in the sheriff's desk. You should let Leena ride, she's faster than you.”

    “Alright” Daisy said as she pulled the revolver and some extra ammo out of the drawer and started to move to the back of the door again. “Leena, did you get all that? The sheriff's horse is out back, we just passed it. Can you ride it with a passenger?”

    Riding a horse. Finally something that made sense.

    “Yes.” She said, some of the confidence coming back in her voice. She didn't know what the hell was going on here, but this was not the time to think about that. “Yes, no problem.”

    “Hey Jade,” Bernard called as they were about to step out. Daisy turned. “Yes?”

    “It was good while it lasted, wasn't it?”

    Daisy just gave him a smile, and stepped out.
     
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  8. Domino355

    Domino355 Senior Member

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    "Wonders? I don't know about any of those, but there ought to be something I can rustle up." He sipped at his snifter, a delicate motion that belied his claims of being a drunkard. "As far as places to stay go, Samuel has rooms available. Hells, I've been shacking up here for months. He'll put you up. Worse comes to it, he can always turn me out and let you take my room." He chuckled dryly. "As for jobs that might suit your skills... well, Samuel said that the Sheriff was here earlier, so I reckon we won't be seeing him for a few hours. Not unless the locals get a little restless. But I'd bet that he'll have something for you. Crossroads... The Crossroads, that is, it's a small town, but people here can get a bit ornery at times. Ryan has himself an adorable little deputy, but Cass ends up in as much trouble as she puts a stop to, if you catch my meaning."
    "Smoke coming from the Sheriff's place. Looks like you might get that job sooner, rather than later." Gareth turned back to face Jessie, a grin plastered across his face. "Sure explains why Bernard isn't in here. Looks like he's in the lockup again. And unless I miss my guess, he's gone and set fire to the jail again. Relax," he said, holding out a placating hand. "I'm sure that Cassie has everything under control."


    Jessie raised his glass. "Ye go ahead," he said. He wasn't actually in any hurry to meet the Sherrif, just yet. First he wanted to make sure that there were no unseen wanted posters of him, lying around. "I'll help meself to something. Don't tell Simon eh?"

    He found his way into the kitchen, where a large pot was sitting idly, half full. He crooked his nose from the strong smell. It was what they'd call in the army days a 'surprise stew'. They'd have a guessing game what meat the cook'd put in this time, based on the taste. Occasoinally it was chicken, rarely steak.

    He made himself a bowl and stepped back out, having just enough time to sit by the table when the door opened. Jessie entered, followed by a woman. Judging by her posture, this was most likely the deputy.

    "Who is that?" she asked, staring pointedly at Jessie.

    Jessie smiled, using the most charming he had in his arsenal. It was always a good idea to get into the Sherrif's good books. Especially one as appealing.
    "I'ma traveller ma'am," he said. "Former soldier, now going from place to place, looking for a decent job, nice town and good looking ladies." He gave the deuty a small wink. "And looks like I already got two of these."

    "Swallow your bull's piss," she said. "If you're a crook no amount of pretty words will save ya." The woman was not in the mood for games, it seemed. Well. seeing her hand, he couldn't blame her.

    "No, no," he said. "A bucko, I am, straight as they come. Waters, by the way," he added holding out his arm.

    Cassie took it warily. She didn't know who this person was, and had no idea what 'bucko' meant. But she decided to give this stragnger the benefit of the doubt.

    "Deputy Cassie," she said, taking his hand. "I can talk to the Sherrif about finding you work. You know anything other than... soldering?"

    Jessie thought for a moment. "Aye, I do well with sewing, could work with a taylor. See, I don't shy from work. Anything I can find is good enough from me. Better than stealing anyways."

    One second later he found himself on the floor. Samuel stood above him, a glass bottle in his hand.
    "Last time," the old man weezed. "You steal my food."


    After several minutes of appologizing, paying slightly more than he should have on both the drink, and the room, and finally allowing Samuel to finish off his pipe, Jessie was finally shown to his room. It was small but had all he needed, a bed and a window with view of the town's plaza. Good enough. He sat down and began cleaning his gun, looking outside. His head throbbed, slightly. That bump was not going to disappear any time soon.

    Nighttime:

    He woke up with a start. Something was wrong. It took him a few seconds of sleepiness to finally figure out what the problem was. The storm. It was quiet. He went up to the window, trying to see what was wrong. The night was pitch black, apart from small pools of light cast by the windows of some of the houses. And a few other dots, moving here and there. That wasn't right.

    Then chaos came. Jessie saw one building suddenly burst aflame. Shouts were beggining to be heard above the wind, and something else, something that sounded too similar to gunshots. Jessie cursed to himself. Gangs. He saw it before, how a group would enter a small town by night, set it alight, shoot and loot as much as they could before the next. He was one of those gangs, more than once. Not this time.

    He quickly assembled his rifle together, and leaned it against the window. His position could not have been more perfect; standing in a dark room, with the saloon's entrance as a distraction, and all his targets holding torches for his convenience.

    Five figures moved in the direction of the saloon, holding their torches high. Two were down in under a minute, one with a bullet through his gunhand, another through his kneecap. He smiled in deep satisfaction.
    "Thou shall not kill," he whispered one of the only phrases all the Ways had in common. The Ways, however, did not say anything about maiming, or crippling for life.
     
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  9. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse Contributor Contributor

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    Sleep didn’t come easy. For Rose, it never had. She found darkness all too comfortable. Nobody could see you in the dark. Nobody bothered you in the dark. In a room full of people, you turn off the lights and suddenly you’re alone. The only things you see in the dark are the things your mind fabricates. And she preferred it that way. Her mind was the only safe haven she ever truly had. Well, that and fire… but she didn’t like fire half as much as it seemed to like her.

    She felt a lingering pang of guilt for not returning to the Mathis Ranch. She still had Roy’s horse in the saloon’s stables and about half of the things she thought he’d sent her here to buy. But the storm rolled in sooner than expected and Rose had a difficult choice to make: risk the ride back and possibly lose everything or hunker down here for the night and hope he understands in the morning.

    And hope he doesn’t think you’re a horse thief.

    For some reason, she couldn’t shake the idea that she would doze off and wake with Roy standing over her and a shotgun in her face, as horribly out of character as that seemed. Bonnie might, but not Roy. Great, now she was picturing both of them, Roy with the boomstick and Bonnie beside him with a hatchet. “Shoot her, Roy!” the woman screeched, her voice like a banshee’s howl. “Blow the tits off that heifer!”

    Rose awoke with a gasp. Sleep may not have come easy, but it still came, even in the crowded saloon. She straightened her glasses and fished a kerchief from her vest pocket to wipe the drool off of her leather case. It made a fine pillow, even if that hadn’t been her intention.

    Felt like half the town was in this room, sitting at tables, at the bar, or curled up in bedrolls on the floor. The rooms upstairs were probably close to full capacity. Sam’s girls would earn their keep tonight. As if on queue, two of them came tiptoeing down the steps, Daisy and --oh heavens no-- not Leena, too! She seemed like such a nice girl. Oh, dear…

    As the two ladies slipped out the door to what Rose presumed would be their certain demise, she found herself wondering if the bar was still open. She didn’t usually drink, but felt compelled to down a quick shot of something strong, in memory of Leena’s lost innocence. With a sigh, Rose laid her head down once more and tried to find a rhythm in the storm’s erratic battering. But, just as her eyes began to drift closed, two gunshots rang out and she was instantly awake. And so was the entire room.

    A man’s voice commanded them upstairs, but Rose would have none of that. She had two valuable things under her care: Roy’s fastest horse, and Clint Treadstone’s final creation. She would not die huddled in a damn brothel until both were returned to their proper masters. She was going home RIGHT NOW and neither hell nor high water would stop her.

    Rose was on her feet, out the door, and into the stables before she realized what she was doing, and found Harmony thrashing in her berth. “Stop that. Come, now, girl we’re gettin’ out of here,” Rose said in a soothing tone. More words than she’d spoken all week. She felt fire all around her. The flames hadn’t reached the stable or saloon yet, but the town was burnin,’ burnin’ something fierce.

    No saddle, no time. Rose rode out bareback. She’d worry about her sore bum another time. She made a hard right out of the stables and picked up speed, galloping onto the main street. Fire, fire everywhere and not a drop to drink. Damn this storm and its no rain. Three men. Two with torches, one with a rifle leveled at her. The shot cracked just as she hooked to the left and traveled down an alley. Rose felt the bullet whiz past her head.

    Harmony balked. The alley was aflame, but Rose urged the horse onward. She felt a chill as she pushed through the tunnel of fire. A cold embrace, like the haunting touch of a ghost. No burns, just that eerie chill.

    Rose veered to the right as she exited. Two more men on this street. Beyond them, open road and, a few miles out, the Mathis Ranch. With nowhere else to turn, Rose unholstered her pistol and fired three shots in their direction as she poured on speed. Blanks, but they didn’t know that. One dropped his torch and ran for cover. The other took a knee and put his eye to the sights of his lever-action. She knew by the smoothness of this movements that he wouldn’t miss. Rose galloped by, nearly trampling him. He didn’t flinch, just turned 180, lined up the shot, and she knew what was about to happen.

    Harmony is Roy Mathis’s fastest horse. Blessed by the winds, he’d say. But no wind outruns a bullet. This night, that bullet parted Harmony from flank to face, just as easily as it parted the wind. The sensation of falling was almost magical. Rose bailed off the side as the horse went down, but something snatched her wrist and pulled her back toward the toppling steed. The beast nearly landed atop her as they both tumbled through the dirt, eventually coming to a stop with the horse’s corpse between herself and the gunman.

    The case. That damned leather case chained to her wrist was still tied to the saddlebags and had nearly gotten her killed. Now a quarter ton of horse meat was lying atop said chain. A second shot struck the horse’s leg as Rose fumbled for her key. So, his aim ain’t as good as I thought. No wonder he went for the horse instead of the rider. Maybe I can run for that house over there, duck into the flames. It seemed as good a plan as any.

    With shaking hands, Rose unlocked the bracelet tying herself to the case, grabbed the handle, and ran. She got about two steps before the chain went taut and snatched her off of her feet. Right, the damn horse was lying on it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Abandoning the package was out of the question, so Rose scrambled back behind the corpse as Johnny No-Aim whiffed another shot.

    She quickly input the combination and opened the case. Inside was Clint Treadstone’s last creation, custom made for Brock Bronson, leader of the Boomer Boys Gang, the most ruthless band of coach, train, and bank robbers this side of the Makazi. Bronson was fond of two things: shotguns and dynamite… and Clint don’t do dynamite. Inside the case were three 12 gauge shells and a brass gauntlet with rotating barrels affixed to its wrist and a pressure plate on the knuckles. A wearable shotgun. A Treadstone first.

    Bronson would probably be shotgun-punching the doors off a stagecoach somewhere if he hadn’t tried to shoot his way out of paying for this beauty, which had taken Clint six months to craft from a plaster cast of Bronson’s hand. The firing mechanism was completely bespoke. Love and care had gone into every rivet of its construction, right down to the Treadstone “T” neatly chiseled into its backhand. And that jackass had tried to take it without paying. Robbers will be robbers. Well, now Bronson was pushing up daisies and Rose had a weapon that even she couldn't miss with.

    Then again, with my bad luck... hmmm... nevermind.

    With another sigh, she slipped the too-large gauntlet onto her right hand, not even bothering to fasten the buckles. It had a comfortable weight. Even without the buckshot, a good jab from this thing could probably end someone's day, but she stuffed the shells into her pocket anyway and made a beeline for the nearest building, a two-story house already half engulfed in flames. Rose snatched up her pistol along the way and took two wild shots at her attacker before stuffing it into its holster and hiking up her dress so she could run full speed.

    His rifle echoed in the night, but all she could hear was the roar of the flames as she neared the house. The door was shut but the heat had blown out the windows and Rose prayed the family had abandoned it before the storm. With a final burst of adrenaline, she bounded up the porch steps in two long strides and dove through the shattered window. Rose landed on a burning couch inside and rolled onto the floor where she collapsed in a heap and began crawling on hands and knees deeper into the cool safety of the inferno, covering her face against the stinging smoke. She might be fireproof, but smoke was another animal entirely.
     

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