November 19th, 1878
I don’t think we expected to get anything out of Madame Chen, and we were right. She was a cool customer, guilty as sin, but we weren’t going to get anywhere with her by talkin’. We were definitely ruffling feathers though – you generally don’t send a ninja hit squad to be neighborly.
The grieving widow, introduced as Margaret Barnes, relayed the story that her husband Leroy often visited The Duchess on Tuesdays and recently his health has been degrading little by little every week. She found his mummified body that afternoon in front of their house.
Beth Farley takes Margaret to the rectory to calm her down while the party examines the body. Holden identifies that the body’s life-force has been extracted, and Onesimus identifies the corpse as having been drained by a succubus. He also notes that a single succubus could conceivably go unnoticed in a town the size of Abilene, but more than one would likely produce bodies.
Olivia covers and moves the body to the dais and touches holy water to it and the body immediately catches fire and burns to ash.
Holden opens the doors to the sanctuary to let the smoke out, and gets a glimpse of a man under a tree in the church yard, roughly the same silhouette of the demon who has been answering his calls for power consistently since he woke, but at second glance he’s gone.
Olivia entreats the party to help her find Father Patrick O’Connor, who has not returned from a hurried trip to Detroit, KS. The party debates the merits of searching for the priest, versus The Duchess, versus heading to Salina in their pursuit to find Johnny Wu.
Holden leaves the building and attempts to draw power to cast his Hunch, once again he is met after a disconcerting wait in a parlor that seemed more…real…than usual by Mr. Perkins, who deals the cards. Holden notices a plain ring with a black onyx stone on Perkins’ finger that looked exactly like one that Holden had won in a card game in Atlanta some five years before. He realized that he had lost the ring, but couldn’t put his finger on exactly when. He asked Mr. Perkins about the ring, to which he replied, “I won it in a card game…”.
Holden returns to the present and attempts to get a Hunch about The Duchess – he gets the distinct impression that the Duchess isn’t a human place, but more of a den, or perhaps a hive. He turns around immediately and tries to get a Hunch about Father O’Connor – he’s met with the stench of decay and rot, and a stylized image of a coyote, in the Anasazi style.
Re-entering the sanctuary, he relays his experience, and Ahiga immediately becomes agitated upon seeing the drawing of the coyote – she informs the party that it is the symbol of the Drowned Coyotes, a gang from out West, who she is hunting.
As the party discusses their next move, several of them hear the clatter of metal from the church’s cellar. There, they find an indian man, chained by the wrists in an earthen back room. The man is revealed to be a zombie, a gaping wound across his neck, eyes cloudy. The man is muttering “Je’ she’a”, a native word for “whisper”, though used as a proper name. He is whispering it very rapidly, and it sounds very much like “Joshua”.
On the floor is the symbol of the Drowned Coyotes, drawn in the dirt in dried blood.
When we got to the place where their gods live, there was a woman there, crying over a dead body. Like the other dead body, it looked as if it had been dead for a very long time.
For some reason, they seemed to be insulted when I asked if they were going to burn the building. It seems they do not burn their houses if someone dies in them, but the woman said one of her gods would protect the building. It did not seem to bother the others, and Rat Girl was staying as well, so I could not just leave.
There were several figurines and pictures on the walls in the house; one of them was of a female with a child, and one of them told me she was one of their gods, in a way. Or a chosen by one of their gods.
They had expected, I think, to find one of their Singers in this place, but he had been missing for a while. They kept talking about finding him. Maybe they thought he could help with the strange problems in the town.
After a while, they decided to move the dead body. They brought it further into the building, and the woman started praying over it or something. Then she touched it, and it started burning. For a moment, I thought they were going to burn the house down after all, but from their reactions, it was not what was supposed to happen.
They were also talking about some women we had seen earlier; it seems they were selling their bodies to any man willing to pay them. They did not say it, but I got the impression that anyone could get such favours if they paid. But how could those women choose who they slept with if anyone could pay them? How could a woman be willing to bed anyone who paid her?
But the whites have a strange attitude towards women. They behave as if they, not the women, own the houses, the land, the hooghan, the sheep, the horses. As if they, not the women, are the keepers of the clan lines. They even make the women leave their homes and take the man’s clan name as their own. I did not then, and still do not, understand their way of thinking.
After a while, a couple of the men went outside. I hoped we were finally leaving the place, though outside was no better. I half expected some monster coming out of the darkness to attack us. But all we did was watch Exploding Man wave around some cards, and then we went inside again.
Then he asked about coyote. He explained that he could sometimes see things, and that he had tried to see what had happened to this Singer that was missing, and he had seen something involving coyotes and death. Then he drew a picture of what he had seen.
I knew that mark. It was the mark of the Drowned Coyotes. The ones I was searching for. Finally, my search was going somewhere, or so I hoped. I was trying to figure out how to explain what had happened, and what I knew of them, when some of the others heard a sound from beneath us.
We all went to look in the cellar beneath the house. There was a man there. He was chained, and he was talking to himself. He was of the people who call themselves Lakota. At least he spoke their language, and he was dressed and painted like the men we had seen before, the ones who sent the strange tiny kachina dolls. He kept repeating the same words over and over. It meant Whisperer.
Also, he was dead.
And on the floor, filling the entire room, was another drawing of the symbol of the Drowned Coyotes.