Posts Tagged ‘Western’

Undead Reckoning Pt. 9

July 17, 2021

Talbot and Clarity followed Titus through the dusty yet bustling town of Fallshield. Apparently, a mining company was in the midst of shipping some new workers through the town out to the desert. A new mine was opening up in the southern area and therefore a lot of equipment and personnel needed to get out there before the families followed. Thankfully, the hotel that Lord Blackrance had selected seemed to be away from all of that. It was suddenly a lot quieter as they approached the hotel.

“Lord Blackrance had me acquire all of the rooms at this particular hotel to avoid any conflict or disruption with the miners,” Titus said. “Otherwise, rooms would have been difficult to come by.”

“Lucky for Lord Blackrance,” Talbot said. “It seems like he thought of everything.” He tried to make that sound sarcastic but was not sure he had pulled it off.

“Lord Blackrance has a way of being several steps ahead,” Titus said. “You’ll see.”

“I’m sure I will,” Talbot said. “I aim to have several words with Lord Blackrance when he arrives. Until then, I suppose I’ll look at whatever room he has provided. I’ll take my leave with your permission, Miss Havenwood.”

Before Clarity could answer, there was a loud thumping that shook the room slightly and some dust drifted down from the ceiling. It was obviously somebody or something big moving around in the room above the lobby. Shouting could be heard from above between two people and then some weird scratching sounds. Talbot could not make out any words but there was definitely a conflict happening.

“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” a young woman almost shouted. “A little disagreement with a guest about the rules against keeping pets in the hotel. We’ll have it sorted soon.”

“I could go help them handle it, miss” Talbot offered. “The guest sounds pretty big.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the woman said. “Welcome to the Lonely Bell. My name is Agatha but you can call me Pepper. Seeing as how you’re here with Mr. Mapleburrow, I assume that you are guests of Lord Blackrance.”

“You are correct, Miss Pepper,” Clarity said. “Clarity Havenwood. A pleasure to meet you, of course. Have my boxes arrived?” Talbot’s eyebrow rose a bit on the mention of boxes. Had she had things shipped ahead to this small town? It looked like she had packed light but maybe Talbot had misread the situation. He certainly thought it was impolite to ask her about it now.

“They certainly have, Miss Havenwood,” Pepper said. “I have taken the liberty of placing them in your room for your inspection. There are quite a few.”

“Well, one has to be prepared for anything,” Clarity said. “May I have my key, Pepper? I must freshen up before meeting Lord Blackrance.”

“Of course, Miss Havenwood,” Pepper said and pulled out an iron key with a ribbon tied to it and handed it over. “First on the left. Mr. Mapleburrow knows where it is.” She gestured vaguely toward the large staircase which she obviously had no intention of climbing while the argument was happening upstairs. Smart girl.

“I suppose you must have a key for me,” Talbot said. “Talbot Hawkwing is my name. Nice to meet you, Pepper.” He tried his best smile. Since leaving the military, he had had to work at being personable again and he knew that he could come off as formal and stern. He had also spent a train ride talking to Clarity Havenwood whose formal language was practically infectious.

“Ah yes,” Pepper rifled through her collection of keys. “Sergeant Hawkwing. You have the other room at the top, across from Mr. Seneca.” Talbot got the feeling that Pepper was fighting the urge to salute. He would have brought up once again that he was no longer in the military or a sergeant but he decided to let it slide. That was really a conversation better had with Lord Blackrance.

“Mr. Seneca?” Talbot asked instead. “Who is that?”

“One of our party,” Titus said, cutting off Pepper which was instantly a bit of a red flag in Talbot’s eyes. “You’ll meet him soon enough but don’t worry about it for now. He asked to not be disturbed and I am inclined to respect that.”

“I have never wanted to disturb anybody,” Talbot said. “So I am inclined to agree with you. I wouldn’t mind shutting my eyes for a bit to clear my head.”

“Follow me, then,” Titus said. “Lord Blackrance should arrive by dawn. However, dinner will be soon. Listen for the bell.”

“We will,” Clarity said, ending her polite silence. “Neither of us would dream of being so rude to be late to dinner. Isn’t that right, Mr. Hawkwing?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Miss Havenwood,” Talbot said. “Lead the way Mr. Mapleburrow.”

Titus nodded and started to lead the way up the stairs. As they reached the second floor, Clarity muttered some words and made a gesture at the noise coming from behind the door at the end of the hall and there was silence in the hallway. Clarity smiled proudly and then unlocked her room and slipped inside before shutting the door firmly.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 7

January 30, 2021

Talbot tried to keep his face passive but knew he was failing at it. “Fallshield?” he asked. “I’m getting off there as well. What brings you to Fallshield? It is not really a bustling academic town.”

“I received a job offer that I hope will be able to fund my research,” Clarity said with a pleased smile. “I am very pleased to take a few risks in order to pave the way for the advancement of magic.”

“Your family can’t fund your work?” Talbot asked. “I don’t mean to pry but I gather that your family is fairly wealthy.” He had a sick feeling in his stomach about where this young lady was headed and he felt he had to make an effort to head her off at the pass.

“Again, a little forward,” Clarity said with an indignant little sound punctuating her objection. “If you must know, my family is not as well off as we have been in the past but that is not the issue. I want to be self-reliant so I can make my own decisions and get out of the shadow of my family.” She seemed to let out more than she would have since she was so miffed.

“I don’t mean to offend, Miss,” Talbot said holding his hands up a bit in a placating gesture. “I just suspect that we were summoned for the same thing by the same person and I feel that it may be too dangerous for you.”

“So it is too dangerous for me but not for you?” Clarity said. “I can take care of myself, Mr. Hawkwing. Besides, Lord Blackrance has a very good track record for his expeditions.”

“I didn’t mean to comment on your readiness in the face of danger,” Talbot said. “I just wanted to offer a word of warning. For my part, I am planning to turn Blackrance down. My fighting days are behind me but he paid enough for me to tell him no to his face.”

“That’s actually rather forthright of you, Mr. Hawkwing,” Clarity said, starting to calm down. “I am sure we will be lacking for whatever specialty you might have brought to the table.”

“I was a soldier,” Talbot said. “I suppose I’m a bit of a crack shot.”

“Oh!” Clarity let out in a bit of squeak. “My guess is that you were supposed to do the deed.” She said that last bit with great solemnity and a knowing glance.

“Do the deed?” Talbot asked. “I am not sure I catch your meaning.” He was sure that he actually did understand but wanted her to say it. It was part of why he wanted to turn down the job. He could not look at her as he waited for her answer and instead looked past her and watched the scenery go by through the window. The vegetation was gradually dying out as they headed toward the desert.

“You would be the executioner,” Clarity said. “Since you can pull the trigger. I mean, I have never killed anybody.” There was deathly silence after she said that as if everybody in the train car was holding their breath.

“And I have,” Talbot said with a nod. “but I don’t want to anymore. I laid down my rifle. In fact, I sold it in a pinch. Blackrance found it and sent it back to me.” Talbot gestured up toward the luggage rack where his old rifle was wrapped in cloth. The word ‘executioner’ had brought up memories of that fateful battle where he had shot and killed eleven magic users on his own. He could still see their faces when he closed his eyes.

“Perhaps fate is trying to tell you something, Mr. Hawkwing,” Clarity said. “Perhaps you must go on this adventure because you cannot escape it.”

“I don’t believe in fate, Ms. Havenwood,” Talbot said. “I do believe that it was money that brought my rifle back and not fate and I’ll leave adventure to those who are actually seeking it.”

“Suit yourself,” Clarity said. “We’ll see if Lord Blackrance can persuade you.” She smirked as if she had possibly won something.

“I doubt it,” Talbot said. “I have a life to get back to.”

“Your life is what you make of it, Mr. Hawkwing,” Clarity said. “If you want to return to your quiet life that’s your choice but a greater calling is out there.”

“We shall see,” Talbot said.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 6

January 2, 2021

Talbot woke with a start and realized he had been leaning against the glass of the train window. He hoped he had not made much noise while he was asleep and having his dreams. It was not the strangest dream he had ever had nor was it the most frightening. He tried to grasp at the fragments of the dream as it faded away. The only thing that remained burned in his memory was the face of that young dark elf woman and even that was slipping through his fingers. He shook himself, letting the cobwebs drift away. He took out a flask of mead and took a long sip. The scenery was still moving by outside like it was supposed to be. This was when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” A woman asked.

Talbot turned and looked up and was somewhat taken aback by what he saw. She was not very tall but she was wearing an extravagant light red dress with a corset. What through him for a loop was her red skin. He looked up past her smiling face and saw the black horns sprouting through her blonde hair. His drifted back ot her face which was covered in a stylized makeup design using a soft peach color around her eyes that almost made that area look human. She was absolutely gorgeous. She was also a tiefling.

Tieflings were rare. Extremely rare. Tieflings were those born from bloodlines mixed with either demonic or devilish heritage. There were a lot of legends on how that had originally happened and none of the stories were pleasant or appropriate for polite conversation. Whatever the origin, that bloodline was viewed by many as wicked. People thought that tieflings had been born evil and that danger needed to be curbed by any means necessary. That is why the cullings had started and many tieflings fell to the churches centuries ago. It was surprising to encounter one in the wild now. Yet here she was. Talbot had never believed any of the old legends and knew that people decided their own fates. He was not afraid.

However, Talbot did look up and down the train car and saw a lot of empty seats.

“Are you sure, miss?” Talbot asked. “There are plenty of seats.”

She smiled as politely as possible, showing just a hint of pointy teeth. “I hate to bother you but a woman like me should not travel alone and yet here I am,” she said. “You don’t need to protect me, I feel your mere presence will dissuade people from messing with me.”

“I guess I can manage that,” Talbot said, standing up. “Why don’t you take the window seat?”

“Are you sure?” the woman asked. “I wouldn’t be putting you out?” She smiled brightly, the idea obviously appealing to her.

“I’m not that put out,” Talbot said. “Be my guest.”

He moved out to the aisle and put his hands out to help her with her bag. She hesitated but handed it over but did and Talbot carefully put it up in the luggage rack next to his own small bag. He glanced back to catch a nervous look on her face. He shot her a questioning look in return.

“Just careful,” the woman said. “There are spell components in there.”

Talbot quickly withdrew his fingers from the bag. “Well, it’ll be fine up there,” he said. “I don’t imagine it will be a very bumpy ride.”

“I hope not,” the woman said as she flounced into her seat by the window. Talbot sat next to her, looking up and down the aisle to see if there were any objections. Not that he really cared, he just wanted to know if anybody would get in his face about being nice to a tiefling. He was not in the mood for an idiotic confrontation.

“My name is Talbot by the way,” he said, offering his hand.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” the woman said, taking Talbot’s hand with her own lace-gloved hand and shaking it only once. “My name is Clarity Havenwood.” She said it as if Talbot should have recognized the family which probably meant that she was rich, famous, or both. There were a lot of wealthy tiefling families. Talbot must have hid his confusion poorly because she added. “of the Silkspindle Havenwoods?”

Talbot shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not familiar. You’re a wizard, though?”

Clarity shook off her disappointment and returned to smiling. “Yes,” she said. “I studied for years at Erolia University in Calliona. I’m happy to be back in country and headed west.”

“Not many people enjoy headed toward the magical wastelands,” Talbot said. “but I’m sure there are plenty of interesting phenomenon out there.”

“Oh I’m sure,” Clarity said. “I did my thesis on the gravity well of Karkown. I’m getting off before the wastelands, though.”

“Where?”

“Very forward, Mister…,” Clarity said, indicating a need for a last name.

“Hawkwing, and sorry,” Talbot said. “I’m just curious.”

“I’m getting off in Fallshield,” Clarity said with a smile and a shrug.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 5

December 12, 2020

He was five years old and Talbot was running from the neighborhood bullies. Once again they chased him down the familiar alley blocks from where his family lived. He had no idea what he had done to piss them off this time but they had probably deserved it. At least he was drawing their attention away from Clara and Felix. If he took a beating for their sake, that was perfectly alright with him. He would have preferred no beating but would take any of the abuse that he earned with a smile. His legs were getting tired and his breath burned in his chest like a bonfire. He would not be able to last much longer.

Letitia grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. He felt his nose crack. She turned him around and slapped him so hard that he actually fell forward and barely missed hitting his nose again. He felt a boot slam into his ribs and he involuntarily rolled over. He had forgotten to ball up again and he would pay for it. He was way more vulnerable on his back. He looked up into the sneering faces of Letitia, Jass, and Crendor. The two half-orcs were wrapped around the beautiful Letitia’s finger. Talbot never knew why she chose to bully Talbot and his friends but he always thought it was because her family was one of those rare Humans First group of folks.

“You keep making mistakes, Talbot,” Letitia said. “You’re going to pay once again. You’re going to hurt.”

Why did she always sound like a villain from storybooks?

Jass put his boot on Talbot’s neck and held it there. He was not pushing down but it was a reminder that Talbot’s life was in their hands at the moment. He tried not to panic or squirm. That would just make it worse. Letitia kneeled down in the dirt next to him and glared. She dragged one of her nails down his cheek and he could feel blood well up. He would have to explain that mark to his father. Why don’t you just fight back, Talbot? She actually licked the blood off of her finger with a wicked smile. Maybe she had a crush on me? That was when Crendor kicked him in the nuts and everything went black.

Talbot was in bed and he and his brother were being told the tale of Caleb, the clever thief adventurer who hid himself in a treasure chest so that a dragon would scoop it up to add to its hoard. He picked the lock of the chest from the inside and then was able to lead the town militia to the dragon’s lair. Of course, this was after secreting away as many expensive bauble as he could carry. He wondered how Caleb had managed to pick a lock from the other side. It must have taken all of his skill and wit and luck.

Talbot’s father had always made those adventurers sound so grand. It was probably why he had joined the military. It was probably why his brother had joined too.

When he came to he was inside of a box. They must have shoved him in an old trunk after he passed out from the low blow. The trunk felt so small and it was so dark but the smallest cracks in the lid let in a little light. It was suddenly hard to breathe. He tried not to panic and then realized he was not panicking. He could be like Caleb in the old story. He could be brave. He reached for the lock and only then realized that it was inaccessible from the inside. How had Caleb done it? He moved onto his back and started to kick at the lid of the box. He braced himself and pushed hard upward with his feet and the lid popped open. Smoke started to fill the box and Caleb crawled out as fast as possible, coughing as he went.

He was in the trenches during the early days of the war. Smoke and fire was everywhere as people ran around using blankets or spellcraft to put out the fires. The occasional magic missile hit somebody as they poked their head up. It was the usual controlled chaos. Talbot held his rifle tightly and threw himself against one of the dirt walls to keep out of the line of fire. He looked over and saw an unarmed woman standing in the middle of the chaos. Was she a cleric? A spellcaster? She looked lost. He ran to her and tried to pull her to safety but she shook from his grasp. As he watched, her porcelain white skin turned jet black. Was she a spy?

“You couldn’t have saved me,” the woman said directly to Talbot.

“What?” Talbot asked, looking around to see if anybody else saw her. He aimed his rifle. He didn’t want to use it.

“You could still save them,” she said, gesturing all around her. “Save them.”

Suddenly, her chest erupted as if she was stabbed from behind by multiple swords and she cried out. Talbot reached for her but everything went white.

Undead Reckoning Pt. 3

September 26, 2020

Talbot arrived at the shop the next morning and was surprised to see a light already on inside even though the sun had yet to rise. He had thought he might have at least a few moments to himself to collect himself, but it could not be helped. He would have to tear the bandage off eventually so it might as well be right away. He pushed the door open and took off his jacket and hung it up. He turned and there was Cara Moonweaver standing there with a slight smile on her face. She always looked so fragile with her thin, willowy limbs but Talbot knew that she was sturdy and strong. She was the senior partner, having started the carpentry shop while Talbot was still in the military and before Silas had arrived from Corria. She was holding two cups of tea.

“Join me for a morning cup?” Cara asked. “It’s still a little chilly out there especially before the sun comes up.” Cara really did not complain about much but she did consistently complain when it was cold. She was very thin so it made sense.

“Thank you, Cara,” Talbot said, taking one of the cups. “It is a relief on an early cold morning.”

“It is early for you,” Cara said, narrowing her eyes. “Is something the matter? Could you not sleep?” Cara had always been extremely perceptive. There were times when Talbot wondered if she might have a slight psychic gift. Her keen insight was why Talbot often came to her for counsel.

Talbot sighed. “To tell the truth, I did not sleep well,” Talbot said. “I was wrestling with something last night.”

“Bad dreams?” Cara asked. “You haven’t had those since your early days here when the war was still fresh behind your eyes.” Over many years, Talbot had probably told Cara the most about his life. His emotions had been more raw when they met and her friendship and the routine and art of carpentry had eased his pain.

“Funny you should mention the war,” Talbot said. He rarely mentioned the W-word. “I received a letter yesterday afternoon that made my thoughts turn dark. My trouble continued into the night.”

“You’ll never truly be at peace until you leave the past behind,” Cara said. “time only heals wounds if you allow them to close.” It was something she had said many times.

“I know you’re not wrong and I thought I was past it,” Talbot said. “but some things tend to reopen those wounds. Like this letter.”

“Tell me about this letter,” Cara said and sat in a chair gracefully.

“Have you ever heard of a Lord Blackrance?” Talbot asked.

“I have not,” Cara said. “his influence has not spread down here. My family would have heard about them but I could put in some inquiries if you want.”

“Thank you but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Talbot said. “I’ll explain that in a minute. He sent me a letter trying to recruit me to take up arms again against a necromancer out in the wastes.”

“You’re not actually considering going out there are you?” Cara asked. “That sounds like a really bloody affair to get involved with.”

“I don’t plan on fighting anything or anyone anymore,” Talbot said. “but I do want to give this Blackrance a piece of my mind. I would like to do it in person. It only involves going to Fallshield so it would be a relatively short trip.”

“You feel that it’s necessary to turn this man down in person?” Cara asked.

“I do,” Talbot said. “If I simply turn away, I feel like I am running from my past again. If I go and talk to him, I will confront everything. It is not something I look forward to but, through our discussions, I think I need to do it.”

“A confrontation instead of merely sending a letter back, though,” Cara started, sounding like she was trying to be careful. “It is a big step. Do you think that it might be an inordinate response?”

“I don’t think so,” Talbot said. “You know me. I consider myself to be a man of honor. This Blackrance drug up a lot of dark things from my past but he also paid me several compliments. It is only right that I refuse him face to face. I could give him a few tips as well.”

Cara took a beat and then spoke calmly and even. “What would your brother think?” she asked. The question hung in the air. If it had been anybody other than Cara who asked, Talbot would have been angry. However, it was an astute question. Cara was incredibly wise.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Talbot answered. “Barrold was always seeking adventure. He would have jumped on a chance to hunt down a necromancer.”

“You would have jumped on it as well decades ago,” Cara said. “You have an instinct to protect people and a necromancer threatens society itself.”

“Those days are gone,” Talbot said. “Besides, I made a promise to Barrold’s grave that I would give that life up and I would live for the both of us.”

“He never asked you for that promise,” Cara said. It was true, Barrold would have never tried to control Talbot’s life. He would have supported any decision that Talbot made.

“I still intend to keep it,” Talbot said. “I’m done fighting. I’ll go and close the door and then I’ll come back. It should only take a week at the most by train.”

“Do you need my blessing?” Cara asked, a small smile creeping onto her face. “You have it if you want it.”

“I don’t need it but it is appreciated,” Talbot said with a smile. “All I need is for you and Silas to watch the shop. I promise to pick up the slack when I return.”

“I do not think he will be as understanding,” Cara said. “but you will have to explain things to Silas.”

The shop door opened during that last moment and Silas walked in. “Explain what to me?” he asked. Cara and Talbot looked at each other for a beat.

SteamWorld Heist and Quest

September 21, 2020

Steamworld Heist

I have always been a fan of the Wild West or at least the mechanics and look of the film Wild West. The genre is kind of defunct now but there are some great movies that belong to it. Firefly was the first thing I watched that linked the Wild West aesthetic with space travel. This game is about a gang of steam-powered robots who have formed a pirate crew made up of “Cowbots” in a world after the Earth exploded. You primarily play as Captain Piper Faraday, an expert sniper. At the start, all but two of your crew have been scrapped (killed). You must recruit a new crew and work toward raising your reputation as you progress from rascals to heroes. You spend most of your time trying to pull off heists which are really smash-and-grab boarding missions.

As you can see in the trailer above, the game’s combat is turn-based. Each character has a class and is able to use different weapons. Each character also has their own skills which add more to the strategy of the game. For example, Piper has the ability to inspire or heal the bots around her. Sally Bolt can fire again if her first shot kills a target. There are tons of weapons and gear you can get from shops (mostly bars and bodegas). The other main mechanic is that all aiming is done manually by the player. That leads to fun ricochet shots and trick shots that are fun to try and wrap your head around.

Steamworld Quest

Fantasy is obviously a huge genre for me but this game is one of the first I have seen to combine fantasy with steampunk. You play as Armilly a young steambot knight wannabe who has applied over and over to the Hero Guild with no success. She is joined by an alchemist named Copperina and a Handyman named Galleo. The trio sets out to rescue the entire Hero Guild and fight a new evil empire. They are later joined by a knight of legend, Orik, and two shifty rogues named Tarah and Thayne. You explore maps while engaging other bots in battle.

This is a turn-based system with an interesting card mechanic. Each turn you get a “hand” of cards each of which has a character’s skill or attack on it. You can play up to three cards per turn. If you play three cards for the same character, they do an additional fourth ability or attack. Additionally, some attacks and skills require “steam power” to be used while simpler skills and attacks build that steam power. It is a constant strategy problem of proper deck-building and resource management. You need to optimize your cards in order to make sure you always have moves to make.

Both Games

Both games obviously share the same art style and writing. The art is cartoony yet detailed which gives each character a unique look. The worlds both games travel through are full of little background details and NPCs that delightful. Both games are full of dialogue which is cute and funny as the characters are allowed to be weird, flawed, and somewhat real. The heroes are allowed to make mistakes and even the villains can be likable. Both are goofy games that are not that long but are infinitely replayable.

In Fear of Sundown Pt. 2

September 28, 2019

The Mayor, Deputy Wescott, and Ben Hoscut reconvened with the stranger in the back of the Sheriff’s old office. Word of the woman’s claims was already spreading through the town like wildfire. They shut the door on the townspeople but the damage had already been done. An exotic stranger had walked into a desert town and declared herself as the sheriff. Mayor Brown was especially irritated. In contrast, the stranger was completely calm but she had covered the tattoo up again. She moved with a lazy sort of swagger. She did not seem to notice that people noticed her. She glided along with a determined yet aloof manner. She stuck out like a sore thumb in the more reserved town of Sunwood.

“Who in the Hell are you?” Mayor Brown asked. “While we’re at it, how did you get our symbol?”

“Now be nice, Mayor,” Ben Hoscut said. “I don’t think she means any harm.” His voice was reassuring. He had kept his position on their small council based on his use of the symbol and his even-keeled determination.

“How do we know that?” Deputy Kyle Wescott asked. He had remained loyal to the old sheriff until the end and was still not at ease with all of this hocus pocus. The presence of the symbol was not a good sign, especially on an outsider.

“Maybe let her talk, Deputy,” Hoscut said. “Let’s start with introductions. We can be hospitable and civil at the very least.”

“My name is Afa,” the stranger said. “I come from an island far away. I’m sure you have never heard of it here in the desert.”

“My name is Ben Hoscut,” Hoscut said. “This is Mayor Brown and Deputy Westcott. We’re the leaders of this town since the incidents started happening.”

“We can be hospitable,” Deputy Wescott said. He walked over and grabbed a bottle of beer which the Mayor looked disapprovingly at. He set it in front of Afa. “Now how about that story?”

“Well,” Afa said. “Firstly, you called it ‘your symbol’. It is not your symbol. That symbol belongs to my people as well.”

“Did your people have the same problem?” Hoscut asked. He leaned in, very interested.

Afa smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know the problem you had here,” she said. “In our island village, people started to disappear without a trace save for some blood on the dirt or sand. We sent out search parties to find them. I lead one of them. We never found any of them.”

Westcott looked remorseful, pitying. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s the same problem. More or less.”

“While I never discovered any of the missing, I did discover something else,” she said. “I found a long-forgotten cave. There we discovered the symbol. We could not understand all of the symbols in the cave but when I touched this symbol, I felt like it would protect us. I guess I was right. I guess it protected you as well.”

“It has,” Hoscut said. “But it didn’t stop what’s still out there. Did you ever catch sight of whatever was out there?”

“Once,” Afa said, her eyes growing dark. “but only a glimpse. Really, all I saw were four bright eyes in the darkness. I heard something inhuman.”

The Mayor shuddered. The mood in the room had changed now that the three men believed that Afa was a kindred spirit of sorts. They had no idea whether they could really trust her but at least she had gone through the same fire they had. If she was telling the truth, of course. But why would she have that symbol? What would she gain from lying? Her words felt like the truth.

“Maybe we were too quick to anger,” Mayor Brown said. “Maybe you can help us figure this thing out.”

Afa nodded. “Where did you get the symbol from in the first place?” she asked. Her eyes burned with curiosity. “Maybe we can learn more from your source.”

The three men all looked at each other. One by one they nodded and shrugged. “We got the symbol from the Sisters,” Hoscut said. “They got the idea from a vision.”

“Who are these Sisters?” Afa asked she reached out and grabbed the beer and drank. “I want to talk to them?”

“We haven’t heard from them in years,” Mayor Brown said. “They’re probably dead.”

Deputy Westcott got a strange look on his face. “I remember my mother saying the same thing when I was a boy,” he said. “What’s that about?”

Afa stood and swept her coat back, exposing two onyx six-shooters. “Let’s go find out, shall we?” she asked with that same confident smile.

Deputy Westcott stood up. “Just because I’m backing you up doesn’t mean you’re the Sheriff,” he said. “With your permission, Mayor.”

Mayor Brown nodded. “I suppose it’s something,” he said. “We have lived in fear for a long time. Be careful.”

Deputy Westcott led Afa over to the Sister’s house. It looked quite ordinary. The Deputy knocked on the door and they waited for a long time. Westcott shrugged and started to turn away when Afa lunged at the door, slamming her foot hard into it. The door jamb cracked and the door opened inward. Before the Deputy could complain, Afa had slipped inside. When he followed, his mind could not immediately grasp what he saw. It looked a castle inside. A great big castle, much bigger than the house on the outside. Something was indeed strange here.

In Fear of Sundown

August 31, 2019

The town of Rosewood had a problem. During the day, everything was fine and everybody’s life went along easy. Well, as easy as life in a pioneer town in the west could be. Rosewood was a cattle town and not much else so life was simple but rough. The problem was at night. It started with the cattle on one moonless night years ago. There had been no sound during the night but one of the cattle was gone the next morning and there was a lot of blood in the dust. When guards were posted at night, they started disappearing too. Nothing was safe outside at night. When nothing was outside at night, people found scratch marks on windows and doors. Everybody lived in fear of sundown.

It was The Rule that had eventually kept everyone safe. The Rule was that when reaching the age of ten, everyone in town had to receive the brand. The symbol of the brand had been foreseen by the Blind Sisters in a vision that they only vaguely spoke of. Nobody could remember the Sisters’ names. Everybody was too embarrassed to ask and they would most likely not have shared them. Nobody had asked the sisters but one day they had been screaming that they had the solution outside of the tavern. Many had not seen the two of them outside of their house in years. Some had thought they were dead already.

Of course, nobody had actually listened to the Sisters and they were eventually shooed back to their house. After that, the two of them had begun painting the symbol everywhere. The scratch marks stopped appearing. As an experiment, the ranchers left a steer outside after branding it with the symbol. The steer was untouched in the morning but a little spooked. It had nearly pulled the post down. Still, it was alive. Suddenly, the next cattle drive seemed like it might be possible. The deep dread that lived in the town’s hearts began to lift. The Reverend Sawyer was bitter that his prayers and crosses had done nothing when these arcane symbols had seemingly solved the problem.

It had been Ben Hoscut, the town blacksmith, who came up with the idea of branding the skin of humans with the symbol. People had thought the idea was barbaric at first and were content to wear makeshift amulets. Old Sheriff Williams had outlawed the practice and the wives of Rosewood had backed the decision. He and his deputy had tried to enforce the ruling but they could not watch everybody at all times. Bit by bit, people still received the brand. Hoscut had been thrown in the jail and the Sheriff had confiscated all of the branding irons that he could find. He had gotten the evil eye from some folks for it but it was his job to protect the town, even from itself.

Hoscut’s son, Angus, had solved the argument by getting the brand and branding the sheriff’s daughter, Rebecca. The two of them walked out into the desert at night. He was gone all night and nobody, not even the sheriff, was willing to go out and look for him. In the morning, he came back untouched. Even the sheriff had to admit that the brands were the right way to go. As soon as the practice was widespread, nobody mysteriously disappeared anymore. For the first time, there was a feeling of hope in Rosewood. There was still something out there but the people could now just push it from their minds and carry on with their lives.

After the second cattle drive, Williams passed in his sleep and the town started to decide who would be Sheriff next. Everybody looked to Deputy Westcott to step up but he turned the offer down, not wanting the responsibility. Besides, he might have felt some residual resentment from his backing of the Sheriff’s plan to block the Rule. Everybody argued over who it should be. When people said they should ask The Sisters, Reverend Sawyer had objected strenuously. When they knocked on The Sisters’ door anyway, there was no answer. The town became divided over the choice with various groups backing various candidates. During these days, a young woman with long fiery red hair and dark skin walked into the tavern. She ordered a drink and sat down.

It was Billy Hampton who approached her. “Ma’am,” he said. “You might want to move on from here. This town isn’t safe.”

“I don’t want to leave,” the woman said. “I heard this town was in need of a sheriff.”

“To be honest,” Billy said. “I don’t think you’d understand this town enough to have a prayer.”

The woman laughed. “Prayer is for the weak,” she said. “I think I’m exactly what this town needs.” She brushed her hair from her neck and there was the symbol, tattooed on her neck.

Redcross Pt. 12

December 9, 2017

Redcross

“What do you mean by that, Sheriff?” Reverend Roy Simmons asked. “I am just a simple small town reverend at a Methodist church.”

“Bullshit, Reverend,” Sarah said. “Twice now you’ve come to the rescue with that rifle of yours. I didn’t think they taught that at any seminary school.”

“Maybe I wasn’t always a reverend, Sheriff,” Simmons said. He folded his arms across his chest and for a moment, Sarah thought she might have gotten things wrong. But only for a moment.

“Which circles us back to me asking what you are,” Sarah said. The two of them locked eyes and Sarah started to stare him down. She had trained this particular skill by being hardheaded with her father. He was a hard man when he had to be and he had not let Sarah get away with a whole lot unless she fought for it. Nowadays, she mostly used the look on rowdy kids in town but it was also well-suited for grown adults who had something to be guilty about. After only a moment, Simmons sighed and took a step back into the church.

“Come on in,” Simmons said. “Do you want some coffee?” He started walking off toward the kitchen even before she could answer.

Sarah walked through the door and nodded. “Please and thank you, Reverend.”

Sarah walked into the church. She had had some difficulty attending the church for a while after her father died. In the aftermath, Sarah had been named the new sheriff by most of the important people in town. It was not pity that guided the town to elect her. She had been close to her father and knew what went into the job. The job had consumed her that first week and then several of the weeks that followed. Once she resurfaced, getting back into the routine of going to church was not an easy task. It was important to the town for the sheriff to be there, though, no matter what her feelings might be. Now she went every Sunday but her recent suspicions about Reverend Simmons threw all of that on its ear.

Simmons came back with the coffee and they sat down in the little sitting area just off from the sanctuary. Simmons waited for Sarah to sit first which annoyed her a little in the moment but she went ahead and sat instead of arguing over pettier things. When organized, unkillable mountain lions were doing battle with wolves in the streets of Essex, it was not the time to quibble over niceties. Sarah sipped her coffee, eyes locked on the Reverend. They were both silent for a few moments as Sarah waited for the Reverend to start talking and the Reverend seemed quite comfortable in silence.

“So Reverend,” Sara said. “Do you want to answer the question or do you want to continue evading it in favor of coffee and a pleasant chat?”

“I have never evaded a question before, Sarah,” Reverend Simmons said before sipping his coffee.

Sarah’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That’s too close to a lie, Reverend. I saw you make shots a normal man wouldn’t hit in a million years last night. You also carried yourself well with that rifle out near the mine. You can trust me, Reverend, I just want to trust you again myself.”

Simmons took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “I served in the army for a time. They trained me and apparently, I displayed natural talents with firearms. Eventually, my way of thinking did not align with that of the Army and I requested my leave. Once that was granted, I was lost and found myself with the Salvation Army at Lochiel where I discovered a penchant for preaching so I chose to do that instead of fighting. The church here in Essex was empty so I eventually came to lend my voice.”

“I hadn’t heard the Army part of that story before,” Sarah said. “I had heard the rest. What do you mean when you say you didn’t get along in the Army?”

“I’m not a violent man,” Simmons said with a shrug.

“I would be liable to believe that if I hadn’t seen you with that rifle, Reverend,” Sarah said. Something was not adding up with his story. If he had forgone violence, why keep the rifle? he knew for a fact that Simmons didn’t hunt which also put what he was doing out near the mine in question as well. Even if what he said had been a hundred percent true, something just did not feel right.

“I am not a violent man,” Simmons said again. “or at least I don’t want to be. I wasn’t into fighting Indians or Mexicans. I felt like there was a greater purpose out there.”

Sarah smiled a bit at that. “I can commend you for not going after the natives or the Mexicans.” She thought of Senora Chilton, the woman who had warmed over Death himself. “So, was your greater calling the church or something else?”

“I’m not sure how much I want to reveal, Sheriff,” Simmons said. “No offense.”

“Reverend Roy Simmons,” Sarah said in her most authoritative voice. It was stern, it was hard and it could command a room when she pulled that voice out. “After last night and what we saw at the mine, this town is in trouble. People are talking all sorts of lunacy out there. If you know anything that could help us then it is time to spill everything.”

Roy Simmons watched her for a moment and then set his cup aside and then watched her again. “I found something else in Lochiel besides my faith.  I found a greater calling, one I never thought I would have to answer again.  I am part of a secret organization that has existed for centuries. It is called the Order of the Red Cross.”

Sarah’s eyes popped open at that name.

Redcross Pt. 11

November 25, 2017

Redcross

Sarah got up early the next day even if she wished she could at least sleep in until noon. She put some breakfast on the griddle and she got a lecture from Doctor Marion about how unhealthy the breakfast was. Even with the lecture, the thick cut bacon, eggs, and black coffee felt good and she began to feel like herself again. After that, she asked Marion to stay put for her own safety and got an argument there as well but it was just for show. Sarah strapped on her gun and grabbed her coat and hat and walked out the door, locking it carefully behind her.

She moved over to Chip Hendley’s door and pounded her fist on it until the door unlocked and Chip was blinking at her through bleary eyes. The man was huge so Sarah had to look up to talk to him and Sarah was fairly tall herself.

“Good morning, Sheriff,” Chip said and the smell of beer and whiskey drifted from his sweat and breath.

“Been drinking, Chip?” Sarah asked.

“I have, Sheriff Redcross,” Chip said. “Last night was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. After those things left last night, I took one drink and just didn’t stop.”

“I don’t blame you, Chip,” Sarah said. “I don’t blame you at all. You said ‘things’, Chip. Do you not think they were wildcats of some kind?”

“Do you, Sheriff?” Chip asked. “I saw you shoot one of them take six bullets and it was still moving. No wildcat on Earth does that, to my knowledge.”

“On Earth? Where do you think these things came from?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t really know,” Chip said. “But I don’t think they’re from here. Just a feeling I have.” He shrugged. Chip was smarter than he looked and Sarah did not discount anybody’s ideas out of hand.

“I don’t either,” Sarah said. “But you may be right. I plan to get to the bottom of it either way. For right now, I need your help.”

“Me?” Chip asked. “I don’t know what I can do but I’m happy to help out where I can.”

“You’re the best carpenter in town,” Sarah said. “I need you to go and replace Doctor Schaefer’s door. One of those ‘things’ broke it down and I would like her to have a good sturdy door to protect her again.”

“For sure I can do that,” Chip said. “I’ll get some coffee and eggs down and go right over there. I’ll try to have it done well before sundown.”

“Great, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll have somebody bring by some lunch and water to you later. When you’re done there, please replace the back door of my office as well.”

“I’ll build both of them stronger than before,” Chip said. “I’ll get right on it.” Chip seemed to come to life as soon as he had a purpose for the day. His eyes looked clearer and he smoothed his hair out of his face and smiled.

“Thanks, Chip,” Sarah said. “I’ll check in with you later.”

Sarah moved on to her next destination, walking across the dusty main thoroughfare of Essex. There were spots of black here and there where bullets had spilled blood from the creatures. She wondered if they had red blood that merely dried black or if the blood was black in the first place. Too many mysteries and Sarah felt more lost than she ever had. She had a feeling that, had this happened in her father’s time as Sheriff, her father would have been just as lost. This thought was not exactly comforting but it did bring up a resolve to fix this problem from deep inside of her.

Sarah found Holly Dawson peeking through the window of her family’s house and waved at her. The sound of a heavy deadbolt being unlatched preceded Holly slowly, cautiously stepping out into the sunlight.

“Sheriff,” She said softly. “I’m glad to see you survived. I saw you standing out in the middle of it all before mom and I hid under her bed.”

“Thank you, Holly,” Sarah said. “I’m not gonna sugar coat it. That was bad. But I could use your help today if you can muster up some courage for me.”

“Anything for you, Sheriff,” Holly said and her face hardened and her chin tilted up, summoning courage from somewhere.

“I don’t need you fight a battle or anything,” Sarah said. “Although I should teach you how to shoot at some point the way things are going lately. Today I just need you and your momma to cook some lunch and dinner for Chip who will be at Doctor Marion’s place and for Doctor Marion who is at my place.”

Holly just grinned.

“Did I say something funny?” Sarah asked but could not help but smile even as she put on her best confused face.

“You’ve never asked me to cook for you before,” Holly said. “You always just give in when I bring you food.” Her face was so sunny at having this victory. It was a small victory in Sarah’s eyes but apparently not for young Holly.

“I’ve never wanted to trouble you or your family, Holly,” Sarah said.

“You’ve never been trouble, Sheriff,” Holly said. “I don’t think you could be if you tried.”

“Thanks, Molly,” Sarah said. “And thanks to your mother as well. You have good souls.”

“And where should I deliver your lunch and dinner, Sheriff?” Holly asked.

Sarah smiled, at last realizing what this would mean to the girl. “Hopefully, my office but I might be all over the place today.”

“Alright,” Holly said. “I’ll see you later.” She smiled and slipped back into her house, the deadbolt sliding back into place. Better safe than sorry. In fact, the street was mostly empty and, although it was hot, the place should have had at least a little activity. It was not the worse thing for people to hide inside of their houses and shops for the moment.

Sarah made her way further down the street and found herself at the old, ragged church. She paused at the door and then she pounded on the door with her fist. After a long moment, Reverend Simmons opened the door. He looked just as fresh and ready as he usually did. He smiled when he saw who was at the door, those blue eyes twinkled.

“Sheriff,” the Reverend said. “What can I do for you? Come for spiritual guidance?”

“I came to ask you some questions,” Sarah said.

“Questions?” The Reverend asked. Sarah was not sure but she thought he might have looked nervous for a small moment.

“Like, what are you?” Sarah asked.


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