November 24th, 1878
Kincaid was certainly making himself at home, and decided he didn’t need to hear from any of the local law enforcement on the subject. We were making plans to leave town in the night, when the damned injuns decided to hurry us along..
A few more hours into the chase, Onesimus catches up to the party, almost completely unarmed, but bearing tales of how he disabled Kincaid’s ability to fight form the air.
Shortly thereafter, the party arrives at the stockyards to find a large encampment of Kiowa entrenched – hundreds of warriors, and dozens of families. The war band had taken Holden to the center of the camp. The party enlists Chigger’s help to escort them into the camp, and they find Holden being presented to the war chief Howling Wind. After associating themselves to Holden, they’re all brought into the main hut and presented to an elderly shaman, Tim Green Cloud.
Green Cloud greets Templeton warmly before acknowledging the rest of the party. Eventually, he turns to Holden, and to everyone’s surprise, apologizes. He states that he asked the spirits to show him their enemy several months ago, and Holden’s face was presented to him. But in recent days, his visions have been clouded, and he’s received portents of an older man bringing fire from the sky, presumably Kincaid. He’s still unsure about Holden, and asks him to stay near while he consults the spirits. He takes some spit and blood and dismisses the party to rest at The Drover’s Cottage.
The party eats their fill and sleeps through the morning and afternoon.
A horse races up to the Cottage and Brady Sims storms into the taproom and stops short in shock to find Onesimus alive and well. He greets him warmly, then warns the party that Kincaid has ordered the entire town razed. The word came down through his officers, who had been instructed to find a way to execute every person in the town without causing a riot, then burn every structure to the earth. He didn’t want the city pillaged, he wanted the city “gone”.
The party considers how to stop the Colonel, and decide to enlist the aid of the Kiowa once Green Cloud emerges from his meditations. As the night wears on, the party eventually retires to their rooms.
You can’t sleep.
Neither can Al or Chigger.
It’s after midnight. You’re sitting around a table. Sloppily-rolled cigarillos. Bourbon. Poker. Hand after red-eyed, slightly drunk hand. Very little said. Comfortable.
You barely notice the sound of a door from the rooms above, or the soft footsteps down the stairs. *tap* *tap* *tap*
But you recognize the voice.
“Deal me in,” says Mr. Perkins in his distinctive, somewhat nasally voice.
You look up in alarm, but it’s almost like a dream. There he is, in the flesh, or seemingly so. His suit is impeccably clean and pressed. He smells of a cologne that’s trying to smell like patchouli and tobacco. He pulls out a chair and sits down smoothly.
Al deals, almost in slow motion, he’s even blinking slowly. Must be a dream. Is it a dream? Perkins puts a small box on the table, a simple cedar thing, about the size of a cigar box, and slides it to the center.
“My ante,” he says.
Chigger is looking at you. Completely ignoring the newcomer. His look is intense, focused, but his face is almost completely blank. Maybe…maybe just a touch sad. Expectant.
Cards. Two pair. Aces and eights.
Chigger doesn’t even look at his, he just folds, pushing them away.
Al sighs and leans back in his chair, taking a long, unnaturally slow pull from his drink. He didn’t deal himself in.
You’ve never lost to Perkins. Ever. In the days since you woke in that field, and through all the death and destruction, you’ve never lost. You’ve swindled enough power out of him to raze a city. You’ve never lost.
“Call,” you say, quietly.
Perkins turns his cards over. Nothing. Slop. Ten high.
You reach out and pull the cedar box and handful of tarnished coins towards you while Perkins rises from his seat.
You open the box.
“You know,” says Perkins, distracting you from the contents of the box, “you wear the wool well…but your fangs are starting to show.”
Chigger hisses and waves his hand dismissively, his eyes never leaving you.
Perkins straightens his waistcoat and begins walking to the stairs. *tap* *tap* *tap*
“In the end though,” he continues, turning slightly, “we can only be that which we are.”
He walks up the steps slowly, and through the door of one of the guest rooms.
“Welp,” says Al, at regular speed, “I think I may mozy upstairs and see if Lady Wednesday is feeling charitable.” He smiles weakly, heaves himself out of his chair, and up the stairs.
The cedar box is gone, just the few ante coins remain. On your hand, though. The ring with the black onyx gem. Won in a card game in Atlanta. Five years ago.
Chigger finishes his drink with a swig. Then reaches across and finishes yours.
You feel it before you hear it. Some wrongness. Then the sound. Steam gatlings. Two of them…piercing the night from the direction of the Kiowa camp.
You and Chigger race out the door into the cold. You hear gunfire and commotion near one of the larger campfires and race that direction. You feel the cards in your hand. You can hear the dice.
More steam gatlings. Screams. Small arms fire. Bolts of green energy from Jacob’s rifle streak down into the commotion from his window at the Drovers Cottage. A small explosion.
You burst through the press of bodies into a scene of carnage. An automaton, like the one at the train. Wrecked now, but its twin cannons still steaming in the cold. Dozens dead. Bodies broken. Burst. Spilled. Ahiga is here, attempting to bandage the wounded, screaming for Olivia.
You recognize the tent the machine was focused on and you realize the shredded pile of gore in front of it is what remains of Tim Green Cloud. Howling Wind is on his knees beside the body. A wail escapes his lips. It’s joined by others. And more. And yet more. The sadness and rage of an entire people rips through the still cold.
Chigger is next to you. He sighs. “Well then…It’s to be a war…”
As morning came, following the tracks became easier. Also, they did not seem to have made any attempts at all to hide their tracks. They were travelling fast, though. We were perhaps an hour behind them when we heard someone behind us.
It was the black man. He had no weapons that we could see, no gear, and looked fairly exhausted. He said something about the Colonel, the leader of the soldiers not being interested in talking. There was probably a story there, but right now, we were trying to catch up with the men who had taken Exploding Man, and so I turned around and kept following the tracks.
It led us eventually to the stockyards, where the one who might have been of the Anaasází lived. The one who might be a trickster god.
When we got closer, we saw smoke from cookfires. Many of them. And when we got close enough to see the stockyards, we could see the tents as well. This was not a war-camp, this was a winter-camp. They had their children here, and other non-fighters. This was where they had taken Exploding Man.
We spotted the man who might be a trickster god, the Anaasází; he was talking to some of the γát dìndé. I did not much like the looks we got. Noone had started shooting yet, but I was afraid it might just be a matter of time. I did not know my companions that well, and some of them, at least, had seemed rather reckless and quick to pull weapons in situations they didn’t feel they controlled. So before it could turn ugly, I headed over to the Anaasází, greeting him in a way that showed that we knew him.
He asked if we were here for Exploding Man, and I confirmed that, and asked him to take us to the man who had taken him. He hesitated, but agreed after a few moments, then took us to a large tent. It was fairly obvious that they did not trust us. Not that I could blame them; most of our little group were white men, and the γát dìndé, like so many others of the people of this world, had little reason to trust them, and plenty of reasons not to trust them.
Still, they allowed us inside, where we found both Exploding Man, their warchief, and an old man who was most certainly a Singer. Though he was not of the Dinè, I decided to treat him with the respect I would have granted a Singer of the People.
He asked if we had come for Exploding Man, which I confirmed. Then he asked if I considered Exploding Man a friend. That was harder. I had known him for, what, seven or eight days? Even had he been of the People, it would have been too short a time to decide whether someone is a friend or not.
Had it been the Chinaman, my answer would have been different, but as it were, I explained that we were, for the time being, travelling together. Perhaps he understood, or perhaps he simply did not feel like pressing the matter. Instead he turned to Exploding Man and apologised.
The Singer said he had asked for a vision of his enemy, and had seen Exploding Man’s face. But in the past few days, he had seen an older man bringing fire raining from the sky. Of course, we had a pretty good idea of who that might be.
The Singer wanted Exploding Man to remain close for a while longer, while he did some more, I assume vision quests or something. By now, most of us, if not all, were rather exhausted, so we retired to the houses to get some rest.
At the main house, we were given food, and then slept the entire day. It had been a long night.
We were all up and eating again, when we heard a horse approaching. In came the Ranger who had been with us at the mission and the fort. He had been looking for us, and told us that the Colonel had plans to slaughter the entire town of Abilene.
A part of me wanted to shrug it off. They were not important. In many ways, they could be considered enemies. The nicest thing I could say about them was that they had not driven us of at gunpoint.
But allowing it to happen might cause other problems. First, why would he do such a thing? Remove witnesses? He knew by now that we had gotten away, or at least gotten away temporarily. Killing a lot of innocents who probably did not know much anyway seemed pointless. Power? Some sort of magic that required the death of all the people of that town? Considering what they had done before, I did not find that unlikely.
And there was another point, or two. Was he aware that the γát dìndé were camped here? If so, had he planned to let them get blamed for wiping out the town? Also, was he aware that there were, or so we had been told, reinforcements on the way? The thought of the γát dìndé being caught between two armies did not sit well with me.
So I went down to the camp again, to warn them, and ask for their help in protecting Abilene. The Singer was busy, but eventually, the warchief showed up, and I ended up talking to him instead. I tried to explain, and he did understand some of it. Enough that he agreed to come talk to the others.
He did eventually agree to help, after their Singer finished his vision quest. It might take some hours, though, so we all headed off to get some sleep again.
I woke to chaos. To the sound of guns, the white man’s kind, those that fire faster than you’d think possible. To the screams of wounded and dying people, mostly γát dìndé. Mostly women and children.
The scene was a nightmare. Wounded, dying and dead seemed to be everywhere. What I wanted to do, was to grab my bow and kill any white man I could see. They mostly brought sickness, death and destruction with them. But there were people screaming in pain, and I could not ignore them. So in the end, I found myself trying to help the wounded, screaming for the female Singer I had travelled with in the past few days. She had shown that she could heal wounds before.
And then, then I saw what the great guns had been aiming at. The tent where we had spoken with their Singer just that morning was pretty much gone. On the ground in front of the ruins of that tent was what remained of the Singer. The guns had torn him apart.
Next to the body knelt the warchief. As I watched, he opened his mouth and wailed; rage and pain and sorrow filled his cry. It was picked up by others around him, then others, and even more people, as they realised what had happened.
And I? I let my voice join theirs. Not so much for their Singer and all the other dead and dying people around me; though that was part of it, I did not know them. For my part, it was my she’aszdáán and her sisters; _my_ sisters, they had become my sisters when I married her. Our family, the one that I had buried months and months ago, and far away.
I had thought I would be able to walk away, afterwards. To put that part of my life behind me, to let the dead rest. Now, seeing the dead Singer, hearing the screams of the wounded, the terrified cries of children, I realised I could not, no more than they could, ignore those deaths.
I had a feeling that this would not be forgiven. These murders, for murders is exactly what they were, would be avenged. And if the Colonel was the man who had ordered this attack, I wanted to be part of that revenge.