November 25th, 1878
The party investigates the automaton that attacked the camp. A close inspection reveals that it’s of a different manufacture than the ones that Brady says are in Kincaid’s stable. In fact, the remains show that it appears to have been operated by a human brain instead of the traditional clockwork. This causes quite a bit of speculation, but it could be that it could be controlled by magic.
With no clear conclusion, and Howling Wind preparing the Kiowa for battle, the party beds down for the night.
The next morning, the battle lines form and the small force marches to Abilene.
The battle opens. The party orchestrates the assault with Howling Wind. There are several vignettes, followed by an epilogue.
Onesimus – you and Jacob are pinned down behind an overturned cart in the middle of Main Street. There are at least two steam gatlings up the road chewing away at your cover. You’ve been pinned too long. Jacob ran out of ghost rock an eternity ago, he’s been reloading your rifles and putting down anyone who musters the nerve to try to flank you. But it won’t last. It can’t.
You’re about ready to heave over the top of the cart and take another Hail Mary shot, when a bright purple butterfly lands on the tip of your rifle. It sits there for what feels like an eternity with the guns and the screams echoing all around. It flaps its wings slowly. Twice. Then flutters away over the top of the cart.
And then you hear a roar. In fact, everyone for five miles hears the roar. It’s the roar of a beast the size of a house. The roar of a myth. The roar of a dragon. There are screams, and gunshots, and more roaring, and a crash. The steam cannons go quiet.
You peek over the top of the cart. Everyone in the emplacement is dead. The guns destroyed.
On the barricade, next to a very familiar rat, is a small…white…rabbit. There’s a touch of blood on its muzzle.
Olivia – somehow in the smoke, and gunfire, and blood, you become separated from Holden. It was a stick of dynamite, tossed into the midst of the band of Kiowa you were staying near. There was smoke, and screaming…and then hands. Hands dragging you roughly into a shop with blown out windows. Punches to the gut, then kicks as you fell to the floor, rough curses. You can’t even form a thought, much less a prayer.
And then…suddenly…nothing. There’s some whooshing, and some grunts, and crunching.
You cough up some blood, and look up, and there he is…silhouetted by the sun shining through the window…you can…you can almost see the wings…
He bends down and lifts you up as if you’re weightless, and begins carrying you away from the sounds of guns and death.
“You do know,” he says, quite conversationally, “that I’m not actually ordained…. It’s just a cover story by the vatican.”
Ahiga – you and Ed are chasing through the streets and alleys with a large band of Kiowa when you encounter a fortified position armed with a number of steam guns from the Bull Run. They mow down several warriors before you’re able to scramble to what little cover’s available.
Ed grins, and you see him say “fwied wice”, though you can’t hear his voice over the guns, then he falls into the dirt as if it were water.
Seconds later, he bolts into the midst of the soldiers in the gun emplacement. He rips through the soldiers with an unearthly grace and economy of motion, dispatching a dozen men in seconds – a strike, a kick, grabs a rifle, hits the man behind him, throws the weapon into a third. It’s stunning.
And then there’s the crack of a rifle, and everything goes still. You see Ed turn and face a young man in half of a Confederate uniform, little more than a boy, holding a smoking rifle and shaking like a leaf.
Ed smiles warmly, puts his hands at prayer and bows deeply to the boy. He turns and begins to walk back to your position, takes two steps, then stumbles to a knee, a look of curiosity and surprise on his face, then falls to the dust as the Kiowa charge over the barricade and overrun the position.
The battle has arrived at a stalemate. The defenders have dug in around the center of town and are making you pay for every yard.
Then a ripple goes through KIncaid’s soldiers, and they begin disengaging and rushing towards the center of town. Staying behind cover, you, Jacob, and Seri head that way as well. You run into Olivia and Patrick O’Connor in an alley ministering to the wounded, and they join up. A block later, Ahiga and a small band of Kiowa join up. You give Ahiga a questioning look, and notice the clenched jaw and red-rimmed eyes. She shakes her head very slightly in response. The sound of battle has been replaced with questioning murmurs. Where are we going? Why is everyone else going there too? Why isn’t anyone shooting?
You carefully emerge into the town square right about when the sun becomes obscured by the darkness spreading in the skies. The perimeter of the town square is lined with soldiers and Kiowa and in the center, perhaps twenty yards apart, stand Holden and Kincaid. Coats pulled back over their sidearms, hands at their sides.
The feeling from Lebold’s mansion is back, but ten times more acute. Dark clouds are forming spontaneously above the exchange and fanning out over the city. The place is rumbling slightly as with a mild earthquake, and the whole of reality feels as if it’s been twisted and strained. Wind…that ever-present Kansas wind…is whipping through the buildings, blowing snow and dust and smoke in swirls and whorls and patterns that look like ghosts of the damned.
It feels like the moment before the end of the world.
Kincaid shouts above the wind, “I once was blind, but now I see!”
Holden responds in his normal speaking voice, yet everyone present can hear it clearly.
“Me too, Roger.”
The tense moment stretches out, the two men perfectly still, and the world feels as if it’s going to tear itself in half under the strain of it. A brave soul among Kincaid’s men raises a weapon towards Holden, but in the same motion turns it to his own head and pulls the trigger. The crack of the pistol is swallowed by the wind, and the man’s body collapses to the dirt, and still the two men don’t even twitch.
Then, without warning or preamble, they both draw and fire, seemingly at the same time.
The shaking stops. The wind dies to nothing. The dark clouds overhead disperse.
The sun is bright. The air is cold and crisp.
Kincaid stands with his strange ghost rock weapon raised while Holden holsters his Colt and draws a deck of cards from his breast pocket. It’s glowing green, and slowly disintegrating. He shakes the deck as if he were trying to fling something distasteful from it, then shrugs and casts the deck to the ground where it disintegrates to glowing green motes that blow away in the wind.
Holden walks towards Kincaid casually, while the other man coughs up a small bit of blood and falls heavily to the ground. When he arrives at Kincaid’s body, he draws his Colt and drops it unceremoniously to the dirt and then leans down and replaces it with Kincaid’s weapon.
There’s a moment…everyone can feel it…when Kincaid’s officers are on the verge of ordering their men to continue to fight…it feels like it’s just a breath away….
Then suddenly, every combatant in the city except for your party, draws a weapon and points it at themselves. Officers with sidearms to their temples, infantry with rifles at their chins, Kiowa with belt knives to their necks.
It’s dead silent in downtown Abilene. There’s a bird chirping, somewhere.
Holden speaks again, his voice quiet but heard clearly by every man, woman, and child in the city.
“This town is under my protection, now. It’s time for you all to leave.”
So that’s how it happened, more or less.
The soldiers and the Kiowa both weren’t right sure what to think, so they did the only thing that made any sense and beat a hasty but orderly retreat out of town. Among the dead from the battle were Chinese Ed, Howling Wind, War Chief of the Kiowa, and Brady Sims. Conrad Lebold was found dead in an alley, though no one could picture the man taking up arms against anyone.
There were, as you might guess, a lot of questions, but there simply weren’t many answers. Not satisfactory ones anyway. The people of Abilene didn’t care, though. They had their hero, their champion. To this day, no one can remember the election, but Holden Cain became the mayor, sheriff, and marshall of that place overnight. He was adored, pampered. Lavished upon.
But he did his part – in the subsequent years, Abilene became known as the place the manitou couldn’t touch. It was safe and idyllic, like it used to be before Gettysburg, which also made the place wildly successful. No longer was there a question of the Chisolm trail ending in Wichita, and all roads West ran through the city as a safe port of call.
Their mission accomplished, Onesimus White and Jacob Brown…heh…that still gets me…stayed together as a team and gallivanted around the continent for another year or so on The Agency’s dime, generally doing good deeds. In the spring of 1880, the pair found themselves in New Orleans at Mardi Gras, hunting a coven of witches. Jacob Brown died in an explosion in his rooms – apparently the victim of a tampered batch of ghost rock. Onesimus White was killed while attempting to rescue his friend from the fire – shot in the back by a bounty hunter who’d received an anonymous tip.
Chigger Nine-Wren took his Outhouse and went home, wherever the hell that is.
Ahiga wandered with the Kiowa for a time. They ranged from the Coyote Confederacy to the Sioux Nations – it’s said they were searching for something. In the summer of 1880 she re-appeared in Abilene and by all accounts, attempted to assassinate Mayor Holden Cain. Witnesses at the scene swear she was taken alive, but there was no trial, and no body. She was never seen again.
When Patrick O’Connor was summoned back to Rome to take an apprentice, Olivia Keller went with him. They married not long after, and she ministered to the sick while Patrick taught the next generation of holy sword-bearers to execute their duty. They shared a home on the cliffs of Amalfi, and never knew war for the rest of their days.
Released from The Agency’s thumb, Seri eventually made her way to Chicago, where her powers of the urban totem were manifested tenfold. She grew to be one of the most powerful shamans to ever live, and she ruled over the alleyways, the tenements, the dark places between the cracks. They call her Queen Rat, and she defends her kingdom from The Darkness to this day.
What? The Darkness?
Hrrm. You know…I think I’ve told the story all wrong. Let me try again…this time from the beginning…
Once upon a time there was a goddess, and she was a conqueror. Her most valued and devious servant was known as The Whisper – or J’esh’ua – as the Lakota would eventually call him. Simply Joshua to most folk.
Now, Joshua had been around a long time, collecting worshipers and sacrifices for his Lady, but had a bit of a falling out with mankind a few centuries prior and was set adrift.
That is, until the perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a card sharp one night in Atlanta. Twas the night before this feller’s wedding. and he was drunk as sin playing poker with some fairly unsavory fellows. Our guy attempted to swindle the table, and, long story short, ended up getting shot in the back.
This was just what Joshua was looking for – the right combination of latent talent, questionable ethics, and freshly dead by violence. He stepped in. Took over. There was a party at the hotel that night, let me tell you. The locals still call it the Goodwell Wedding Massacre.
Anyhow, our boy Joshua had found himself the means to get some real business done. He moved some money around and recruited some top-notch talent from around the country to help. He commissioned an expedition to dig up the ancient artifact that brought him to our world to begin with, and found exactly the right spot to align its power.
Over the course of a few years and with the help of Conrad Lebold, a local business magnate, and Johnny Wu, a regional crime boss, he carefully manipulated the city layout and populace to be more conducive, supernaturally speaking, to his plan, which was, without putting too fine a point on it, to sacrifice the whole of the world to his goddess.
Eventually, all of the supernatural badness brought about by Raven at the end of the Civil War started interfering with the plan, so he recruited a war criminal from the Confederacy to sweep in and start cleaning out the rabble. This feller, Kincaid, was a devious cuss – completely blind to everything but the spirit world – but that talent eventually let him suss out Joshua’s master plan.
Well, Kincaid, Wu, and Lebold were evil, conniving coots, but they weren’t stupid. They realized pretty fast that power and riches wouldn’t last past the end of the world, and conspired to betray their boss. They hatched a plan to allow an ancient and evil manitou to enter the world that Joshua would have no choice but to confront directly, and they let the local Kiowa in on the secret of who was really at the center of all of the badness in the region.
But our boy, he’s ancient, clever, and wise, and he had a plan of his own. Realizing that between the Kiowa and the Red Lion he might possibly be in a world of hurt, he passed the bulk of his essence off on a lesser manitou he was keeping around as a manservant. This got the supernatural sleuths off his scent long enough to gather his loyal forces and respond to the traitors.
As it turned out, it was unnecessary. In a mad twist of fate, a crew that could do the job fell into Joshua’s lap, almost literally. A murderer on the run from the Confederacy, an inventor of supernatural weapons, a rat shaman who was intent on killing more people than the plague, an injun and a chinaman with vengeance in their hearts, and a preacher’s widow so consumed by loss and loneliness, that she couldn’t see the body count that was being left in her wake.
Together they hamstrung Kincaid’s supply lines, slew the Red Lion, killed Johnny Wu, crippled Lebold’s plans, and in a final…utterly glorious…act of irony, enlisted the aid of the befuddled Kiowa in killing Kincaid and his men. And on the seventh day, they rested.
In the end, Kincaid’s ambition made him turn on his ally before the real enemy was gone, and his blindness prevented him from seeing that enemy in his midst.
With the opposition out of the way and the witnesses disposed of or contained, there was no one left to stop Joshua from completing his plans. On October 31st, 1880, a portal was opened in Abilene, Kansas, unleashing a darkness that began what will be a centuries-long process of consuming the whole of the world.
My name is Holden Cain – The Whisper – and I welcome you…to bear witness….to my… masterpiece….