Of Gog and Magog

Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

In the back of Kiah’s bible, in small, tight, handwritten script, on the blank pages, is a journal of events from Kiah’s point of view.

Sept 1 YOL 1879
Met a chinawoman, walked her to town. Went by parsonage. No one there. Our bedroom was as my love left it.

Sept 2 YOL 1879
Town giving sacrifice to false Crow god, turned against itself like the Israelites after Solomon. Lord sent the Chinawoman, two Rebs, and a Jew barber. They will be sufficient.

Sept 3 YOL 1879
They were sufficient. But now little Sarah Leifson is sick, as if starved. The Lord has yet not seen fit to save her.

Sept 4 YOL 1879
Up all night to hallow this church ground and to learn the cause of the Leifson girl’s illness. But it eludes me.

Sept 5 YOL 1879
The Rebs, the Chinawoman, and the Jew are dispatched Westward to find some answer to the starving. I heard the crying again today.

Sept 8 YOL 1879
The Leifson girl is dead. Others are coming. I have opened the church to them, and feed them with such as I can find, but it does no good. The church smells like death. Lord, see to it your servants return with assistance, and right soon.

Sept 11 YOL 1879
The ones sent West have not returned. Did they give up and depart for Perdition? I will know. The sufferers here have died and are buried. Borrowed a mule. Going West to Scully.

Sept 13, YOL 1879
Had a dream. The crying. A snake eating itself. Going East at the bidding of my Lord to battle a great evil. I can only hope the Lord sends help to his humble servant.

Sept 16, YOL 1879
Arrived in Boonesville. Populace strangely well-provisioned. Strange trading, but no great evil. Festival coming.

Sept 17, YOL 1879
Slept behind church. Visited Garrett Farm. Dimwitted husband. Kindly, private wife. Something not right.

Sept 18, YOL 1879
The crying. All night. Slept at the Garretts. Snooped. Keep hearing about a J.A. Only the lord fed the multitude and that from multiplying food. Food is coming from nowhere.

Sept 19, YOL 1879
I took of what was offered at the Garrett’s. Ate the bread, locked myself up. Nothing yet.

Sept 20, YOL 1879
One of the Rebs showed up, wanting me to help the Jew.

Sept 21, YOL 1879
The Chinawoman is dead. Trampled by a horse. The Lord bless and keep her, and the Angels give her peace.

Sept 23, YOL 1879
Helped the Jew. Back to Boonesville, with a China Man now among us. They don’t know I hear the crying all the time now.

Sept 26, YOL 1879
Blur of blood and smoke. Broke up festival’s devil feast and found its cause. Stole the basket. Hid out in church. Talked to much and got ambushed. Abominations with hungry bellies. That basket steals the food from other people’s stomachs! When they starve, they rise as devils! Little Sarah Leifson was a monster. J.A. came. Burned the basket. He’s my son.

Sept 27, YOL 1879
The skinny Reb banished Jeremiah Adams, by telling the boy his own name. Li got hurt. Went back to Alder Creek and fixed him up. New fella around. I forget his name.

Sept 29, YOL 1879
The crying is back. Told the skinny Reb everything. Moved a consumption patient into the parsonage.

Sept 30, YOL 1879
An Indian healer, a banker, and a walking murder victim come to town today. The Indian killed the walking murder victim. Not sure what to do about the banker.

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September 29, 1879
Garret's Cadre

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
September 29, 1879
In the Vicinity of Alder Creek, California. Weather hazy, but not oppressive.

I haven’t been accustomed to writing in some while, but it seems prudent to set these things down where they can trouble no man, but prove a record one day should the need arise.

There is too much to tell in the main, but the upshot is I have reunited with Sgt. Marcus Hewett, late of the 18th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Last I saw the man was in Jefferson, Missouri, back some seven years, and had not thought of him since but to down a shot in his honor when I was drinking to my absent comrades in arms. I don’t like to admit it, but I had assumed he had, like many of the men I last saw in that environs, perished at Union hands. But not a month ago he turned up in Alder Creek, very soon after I did, and I was glad of it, for the doings in the town were evil and Marcus is a damn fine shot and as brave a man as the South ever bred.

Alder Creek being without Law, Marcus and I have stepped into the void, him as Sheriff and I as Deputy. That might seem on its face a backwards standing, as I outrank him considerable as a soldier, but in truth he’s the kind of sergeant lesser men want to follow, whereas I’m an officer in name alone, without regiment under me as an Irregular Scout.

He’s a broad, big-chested man, built to earn respect, and I’m made more on a slender and unremarkable style, so it stands to reason him taking the name of Sheriff, being the kind of man to inspire confidence and fear in equal measure.

We’ve run into so many unnatural and fetid doings out here I can’t recount them all, but in the month Marcus and I have been here, there are some that have become, for want of a better word, friends.

There’s Reverend Hezekiah Adams, whom we all call Kiah. He’s been Alder Creek’s preacher and judge for as long as any hereabouts seem to remember. I think he’s Baptist, though he has more in common with John of that name than any pastor I ever heard teaching the Word of the Lord in a pulpit. If I found him eating locusts and honey, I’d not be surprised. He’s bearded and half-toothless, with a gunny sack for a garment and vermin nesting in his long hair, and the locals mostly treat him like a harmless old coot, but the man can call down the Almighty like a true prophet. More than once he’s laid hands on and healed me of an injury I was sure would cripple me, and he saved Marcus from an ugly death by festering gunshot, as well as some others I’ve witnessed. There’s more to Kiah’s story, which I may tell when I have discerned it more clearly and have time and space to set it down.

Also in our cadre is an Easterner who goes by the name of Doc Knuckles. He’s a bit of a dandy, and Kiah thinks he’s a Jew, though I’m not sure how you can tell that of a man by looking. Doc is his stage name, not for any actual medical degree, which is a use to him as he pedals a tonic the vapors of which alone can blister the hair from a man’s nostrils. Whatever the curative powers of his nostrum, it will undoubtedly ease a man’s DTs, if that’s what ails him, and it burns a trick in a pinch. The Doc’s a solid man, and generous with his wares, though he keeps to himself as much as he lets on, so I don’t feel I’ve had a fair measure of his character yet. But he’s stood up for me and mine, so I’ll call him comrade until he proves himself otherwise.

Most recently, a kid with a fast gun and a burning need for notoriety has joined us: Carter Burwell, out of Wichita, Kansas. He looks to be eighteen or nineteen, not yet in his full beard, and reminds me of more than a few of the boys I mustered in with back at War’s commencing. He’s brave, though, and for all he boasts of it, he is indeed keen with his pistols. If he settles down and doesn’t get himself killed trying to make his name, he’s got the makings of a man to be reckoned with some day.

My friend Ben Tsosie, the half-Navajo I’ve been acquainted with since I came this far West, has followed me to Alder Creek, if that’s a fair statement of things as they stand. That is to say, he comes to see me at the claim I staked just outside town near the abandoned mineworks, just as he used to find me when I was riding trail in this country. He’s a mystic and a shamen, and I don’t doubt that the spirits he talks to are Angels of the Lord, but with their names obscured into the Navajo tongue. Ben’s the only man who I can say that truly knows my heart, for he knows every inch of me, the good and the bad, and I count myself blessed.

These are the men I call friend these days.

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October 2, 1879
Night Foxes

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 2, 1879
In the Vicinity of Alder Creek, California. Weather fair and dry, high clouds.

Marcus has made two more deputies. Old Seth, an Alder Creek man, was made deputy principally for the fact that his hindquarters never leave the chair in the Jailhouse. It’s either the most brilliant or the stupidest move the Law has ever made, but my heart says Seth’s loyal to the right principles and will uphold the peace in Alder Creek if it needs upholding.

We’ve also deputized Mrs. Stevie Portridge, a Negro woman, married to a white man by the name of Jeb Portridge, who was living in a shanty town up-creek. She’s a shootist of much repute, to hear young Carter Burwell tell it. He came into town to apprentice himself to her, and she’s clearly a force to be reckoned with.

Mr. Portridge is dying of the Consumption, and Carter convinced Mrs. Portridge to bring the poor fellow in to see if Kiah could lay hands on and cure him, but Kiah says the Lord’s will has put Mr. Portridge’s redemption beyond the reach of prayer. He is in the mean while installed in the Parsonage, with his wife nearby and a girl from the encampment to serve as nursemaid, whereby he can be well looked after as he contemplates his final days.

Leonard Bolton, our putative Mayor of Alder Creek, voiced his concern that the Coloreds not be allowed into town, owing, he said, to their contagion. His and some other commentary we heard put Marcus and myself both in mind of some of the old breed of folk who still consider the Negro and the Indian to be more animal than human, but this is a Modern Age, and Jefferson Davis himself freed the slaves almost fifteen years ago, so if that is what this town is about, then Alder Creek is in dire need of a change of heart.

Marcus and I took a delegation up to see what the shanty town was about, and whether there was indeed rampant Consumption amongst them. We found a population of Coloreds living in poverty, some few sick indeed with Consumption and other ails, but many well. While we were there, the camp was attacked in the night by what we first took for common hooligans. In fact the perpetrators were the ‘Night Foxes’ of the story we heard at the Henharp Ranch, and though it looked like a common lynching at first, what we saw that night was pure Devilry.

They shot at us even after we identified ourselves as the Law, and they set the entire encampment ablaze. Several of the Negroes were killed, and others gravely wounded. We returned fire and felled some of the attackers, but one rose in the air on his mount, and when we had nearly brought him down with gunfire, the rider opened a pit into the sulfurous deeps and descended where we could not give chase.

The horse fell to earth, and it was indeed a corrupted creature, with wings like a bat’s sprouting from its withers. It died of a broken neck from its fall, though would have likely died of the gunshots in it if it had survived the plummet. When we burned its corpse, it gave a stench fouler than the most putrid of rotting dead.

Marcus and I, as Agents of the Law, moved the refugees in haste into the abandoned hotel in Alder Creek, taking it by Right of Eminent Domain to secure the public welfare. The dead were buried in the church yard to prevent their corpses from walking again. Only the Coloreds free from illness shall engage in commerce in town, and the sick among them shall remain confined to the hotel, with Deputy Portridge to safeguard the agreement, this to satisfy the townsfolk and keep the peace.

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October 3, 1879
Stage robbed!

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 3, 1879
In the Vicinity of Scully, California. Weather cooler.

In the midst of settling the matter of the displaced Coloreds from the encampment, Marcus received a telegram from Scully saying the stagecoach, with gold bound for Alder Creek’s bank, had been robbed.

A Mr. LeFeau, private security man for the bank, had arrived that very morning to confer with Mr. Jonathan Barker, the Boston banker from Fiduciary Holdings and Trust, and so we found ourselves pressed to find the missing stage and stolen gold. We tried to wire back to Scully for further details, but Leonard Bolton, who runs the telegraph in addition to being unelected Mayor, said the lines had just gone down, probably cut by Indians.

Having no decent alternatives, Marcus, myself, Ben, Carter, and Mr. LeFeau set out for Scully ourselves to see if we could find more insight into this matter.

Mr. LeFeau gives me an uncomfortable feeling. He has a hybrid accent—half Cajun, half English—and dresses like a big city undertaker. He sits a horse like one, too, and I am sure his backside was red by the time we arrived in Scully. There is something shifty about his eyes, and he carries himself like a man accustomed to getting his own way. I can’t see a weapon on him, which strikes me as odd for a security man. I have to presume if the bank hired him to protect their gold, they knew what they were doing, but I can’t say the man puts me at my ease.

We are bedding for the night here, with the intention of picking up the trail of the man who sent the telegram on first light, for there are inconsistencies in the story we have unearthed so far, not least of which being that the man who gave the report was treated for gunshot but claims the stage was robbed by Indians, a patent falsehood unless they were apostate Indians. Even Ben, who is only half blood, will use no firearms.

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October 4, 1879
Creepy Crawly

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 4, 1879
In the Vicinity of Scully, California. Weather continued fair but turning to chill.

[The following entry is written in a CSA military code Garret once used to pass scouting messages. Translatable by anyone with the knowledge of that particular cipher, but not readable at a glance.]

If I never in my natural life see another tarantula it will be too soon. We bedded down for the night at the inn above Scully’s main saloon, myself and Marcus taking one room, and leaving the other to Mr. LeFeau and Carter. Ben betook himself to sleep in the scrub outside town as he usually does. Marcus being a snorer, and myself not being ready to retire, I went to ease my boredom with Ben under the stars for a bit.

We passed the time in our usual manner, and then made to sleep, as it was a nice night and I saw no need to disturb Marcus by returning to the saloon. We had shut our eyes when Ben suddenly lit up, alarmed, for something was creeping on his leg. Before he had reckoned what it was, a spider nearly a hand-span big sank its poisonous fangs into Ben’s flesh, which pained him greatly and made him writhe and twitch. My first effort to knock it loose were useless, but after a scuffle I managed to dash it away into the recesses of Ben’s tent.

I pulled him free of the tent so the vermin could not reattach, but in the cold air a dreadful sensation took us both, as hundreds of the spider’s deadly offspring swarmed over our skins. Before I could protest, Ben took hold of me like I was no more than a sack of wheat and slung me over his shoulder. He then raced into town with a speed to rival a steam engine. It took my breath clean away, but it also freed us of the pestilence , as the spiderlets were flung off us by the rushing of the wind from his running.

He didn’t stop until we were through the saloon doors, this being a bit of a consternation, for in plain fact neither Ben nor myself had on one stitch of clothing between us. My boots, my gun, my knives, and all my garments, and Ben’s as well, were still within his tent, and likely spider-riddled.

There seemed to be some dust up in progress at the saloon, which our untimely arrival interrupted, possibly to the benefit of the peace of the town of Scully. Carter and Mr. LeFeau were standing either side of the saloon doors, and there was a man inside bleeding from a shot arm, and another several showing fresh blood and bruises where fists and smellers had collided.

The saloon’s denizens took a long look at Ben and myself, and turned back to happier pursuits. Carter, too, seemed to take no more than casual notice of our state. He asked what was the reason for our haste and undress, but seemed satisfied when I said we’d shed our things in an effort to rid ourselves of the spiders.

LeFeau, however, is another matter. He gave me a shrewd look, remarked we seemed unusually sweaty from such little exercise, and made some comment about a mark he could see where Ben’s hand had been upon my hip. I returned his interest with as cold and threatening a stare as I could muster under the circumstances, and he let it drop, but my unease with the man, which was already considerable, has jumped a hundred fold.

We beat haste up to Marcus’s room, and Marcus, bless him, seemed to take it as nothing out of the ordinary that Ben and I were naked as the day we were born. He was far more interested in returning to sleep than in probing the reasons for our undress. We both slept the rest of the night in his room, and went out at dawn to retrieve our things.

The spiders were gone, leaving no trace.

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October 5th, 1879
Dream Bud 1

The floor tilted beneath Marcus’ feet as he made his way towards his bed, miniature dust clouds kicked up from the unswept floorboards as he passed. Putting his hand out to steady himself from falling over, he unceremoniously collapsed into the comforting softness of his mattress. Drunkenly, eye-sight roaming about the room like a storm-tossed ship, Marcus kicked off his boots before closing his eyes and letting his sodden brain drift off to sleep.

Sounds within the small house faded away, the perpetual rocking of the bed easing to stillness. Marcus slowly opened his eyes, his mind sharpening as the moments passed. Around him the moonlight shrouded buildings of Alder Creek stood, eclipsing the abyssal darkness of the surrounding desert plains. Silence roamed the still streets. Easing himself off of the porch bench, Marcus walked down the faded pathway towards the town proper. Sitting lonely in the distance, the white church smoldered with a feeling of rightness. Crowning the steeple, the iron cross glowed with a smoldering yellow-white light, wreathing the crest in a darkness penetrating yellow haze.

A flapping from overhead drew his attention away from the warm enticement of the church grounds. Following the sound brought his gaze resting upon road leading to the center of town in the distance. Marcus shuffled along, the eerie otherness of this place fully wrapping itself about him, holding him tight in invisible bonds. The buildings shifted in height as he moved amongst them, growing taller as he passed by them until the road behind was obfuscated in shadows. Ahead the creek running thru town could be heard playing its babbling melody. Just past the bridge, the four corner posts of the town square stood rigidly guarding their corners. In the center of the square existed a barren tree, small in stature, branches empty of life. The tree floated above the ground on an orb of earth, the roots hanging exposed from the nourishing soil. A silver sheen outlined the tangled branches.

Standing before the tree in wonderment, eyes taking in the etherealness before him, a sense of familiarity trembled in the core of his being, stomach fluttering with nervousness. The tree…here? Impossible! Mind reeling from the strangeness of it all, Marcus looked around at the still buildings that towered monolithically around him, before turning back to take in the image of the tree from back in Decatur, Georgia. As he adjusted to the truth that stood before him, the moon shifted its’ gaze fully upon the square and a figure that had sat beside the tree in darkness stood and moved forward into the shimmering light.

“Fear not, dear brother,” came the soft voice of Marietta. The slender form of Marcus’ sister moved closer, her long black hair perfectly framing her face. She was wearing the same dress he had last seen her in, as nicely kempt as always. Her presence assuaged his fears and quieted his discomfort, whilst bringing on a much different, stronger, rush of feelings. Marcus moved quickly to her, wrapping her up in a great hug.

“But how is this? How can you be here with me?” The emotion in his voice contrasted starkly with the bearish figure whispering before her.

“I’ve always been here silly. I never left. One would expect, though, that you’d think on me more than dote on a silly gun.” She pointed to the east, her finger tracing an invisible path across the unseen distance towards a far away spot where a shining beam of silver light streaked into the heavens.

“I left you behind. I lost you. I’m sorry.”

Gently she placed her hands on his upper arms, staring up into his downcast eyes. The weight of his decisions could be seen crushing down the fiery spirit that burned within. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

He looked at her, “But Chester…Ma…”

She shook her head. “That’s none of your doing. We’re here to talk about what is.”

Guiltily Marcus looked into the serene visage of his sister. “You mean the man up north. The one I killed.”

“Marcus Hewitt! You best not be talking to me like that. You know better.”

“Well, I done killed him! I sure as hell wanted to and I didn’t move to stop that man from the bank. That Derrick fella. We could have saved him. We could have brought him back to town. All I saw was the evil lurking inside, though. The Manitou lurking, watching and waiting…”

Moving away, Marcus turned, looking out from the tree. As his vision roamed it came to rest on the wooden eyes of Garrett staring at him from a lifelike wooden carving embossed mystically on the corner post standing firmly at one corner of the town square. Marcus looked quickly around the town finding a familiar face on each of the other three surrounding him, judging him. Doc Knuckles, Carter Burwell, Hezekiah. All staring, eyes following his every movement.

“You see! They know the truth!” he shouted. “They know I could have saved him…should have saved him.”

A hand once again reached out comfortingly, pressing against the back of his shoulder. “You’re only human. We all make mistakes. It’s how we face those mistakes. You’ve the aura of a protector about you, brother. You stupidly charge into situations that no sane man would warrant to even think on. It’s the guilt of going against your nature that’s tearing you up inside.”

The hand left him and the voice moved away. “You can’t keep running, you know.” Marcus quickly turned around, watching as his sister walked back towards the tree. “I can’t rightly forgive yet either,” he shouted at her.

Stopping before the tree, she stood quietly peering at the lifelessness of it. “I know.”

Marcus watched as she stood there unmoving, a million thoughts screamed across his brain at that one moment in time, a single wish trying to will itself into being. “I can follow my nature, though.”

Glancing over her shoulder, Marietta smiled at Marcus lovingly. “That’s enough for now.” Reaching out, she placed her hand on the base of the tree and disappeared. The silver sheen brightened along the edge of a barren branch, pulsing outward towards the empty tip before slowly fading away, leaving only behind a newly formed, unopened bud.

Marcus felt the weight on his shoulders slowly slip away, and as the darkness crept inward towards the square enveloping all that remained, the image of that one simple bud retreated with him back to the comfort of his bed and the slumber of the peaceful.

“Marcus! Get on out here ya lazy bum!” roared the noisome voice of Garrett. “We ain’t got all day!”

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October 6th 1879
Why not to hassle Indians, and other such desert lessons.

“You should try less negativity.” – Ben Tsosie, October 6th 1879

As trail-companions went, Navajo Ben was mildly annoying and mostly useful, which ranked him head and shoulders above his twitchy trail-scout deputy and the drunken, snarl-brained sheriff, and put a severe crimp in Derek’s day when the man got himself shot in the face.

Five Indians—six, with the sniper—weren’t a lot, but they beat out two ex-army couyons, one Louisiana card sharp, and one stunned Navajo by a wide margin, and Derek was having some real annoyance that Carter Burwell had taken to his heels, because they could’ve used a sharp-shooter right about now.

Bastard, soft-bellied kid.

Garret unloosed his gun and Marcus took the brunt of the Indian leader’s attention, making themselves good targets to focus on, while Derek goaded Baron right up to the milling Indians and flung himself down off the horse. Ben was bleeding out into the desert dust, half his face slick with red, eyes wide and shocked. Derek didn’t have a whole lot of healing magic, but he had enough to grant a little vigour—a shot of adrenaline charged in a jack of hearts and whacked down onto Ben’s heaving chest.

Ben arched, gasping a deeper breath, and—

Mercifully didn’t die. He steadied. Stood. Glared clear-eyed at the Sioux who’d almost blasted his brains across the landscape, and wiped a hand across his forehead. Wounds melted closed behind the touch, like his skin was made of soft candle wax. Derek saw at least one of the Sioux braves swallow hard.

Then the leader flung himself onto Marcus’s horse, knocking the sheriff to the dirt, and tried to ride him down, and things got a mite confusing for a while. Garret dropped at least one brave with his .44; Derek took the head off a second with two thrown cards and another burst of magic; Ben cut an arrow through the third’s throat.

Pain seared, bright and stunning, as Derek caught an unlucky bullet just beside his naval; it knocked the wind out of him, and ruined both his shirt and his mood. Ben took a second hit, dropping to one knee as blood sprayed dark over the sand.

Garret was on the ground, having smartly unhorsed himself to present a smaller target. He dodged the pounding hooves of a brave’s horse, rolled to his feet, grabbed Ben by the arm and yanked them both down into the crevice, yelling at the Navajo to stay put and keep his head low. Marcus dropped the leader off his stolen horse with a neat shotgun blast. The final brave went down in a welter of magic and bullets.

Which left one sniper hidden somewhere among the rocks, popping rifle shots at them.

And Marcus got stupid.

Well, stupider.

“I’ve got this,” he said, with a fleeting, bruised grin, and swung his shotgun over his shoulder. Remounted and pointed his horse right at the sniper’s nest, kicking the bay into a gallop.

Garret swore and flung himself back out of the hole, leaping astride his own mount, and charged after the sheriff. Derek raised his eyes briefly to heaven and took a hitching breath, pressing a hand over the gut-wound spilling warmth down his right side.

“Get out of the hole,” he told Ben, teeth gritted. “They’re gonna need our help.”

He didn’t stick around to see whether the injured Navajo listened or not. He flung two more cards, jack and ten of spades, at the sniper—but it was a long shot, and neither connected. Baron danced under him as he swung back up into saddle and whipped the unsettled warmblood into a gallop behind Garret. Marcus unloaded both barrels of his shotgun and took return fire in the chest, losing his hat but staying horsed.

Then he jumped down.

Derek didn’t see the full picture of what happened next; the sniper’s sheltering rock blocked his view, and a galloping horse didn’t make the most stable platform to observe from. But he saw Marcus heft his shotgun, flipping it in his hands like he intended to use the stock as a club—

And then Marcus was staggering back, reeling away from the rock, pouring bright new blood all down the front of his dusty blue shirt. His legs folded beneath him, dropping him down bonelessly in the dirt, and Garret screamed. Cursed with frothing, murderous rage and reined his horse in, cracking off a shot that clipped the brave in his shoulder, but didn’t drop him. Derek flung another two cards, wasting his last breath of magic on a hit that went wide.

Coolly ignoring them, the Indian stepped forward and shot Marcus in the head.

In the frozen, breathless moment, Derek saw Marcus’s hand flex once, then still. Blood splattered the dirt in an uneven halo.

The Indian flung his arms back, crucified wide, and screamed a savage war cry. Challenged them both while Marcus lay unmoving at his feet, like a felled deer.

Garret’s next sound was inhuman, like something dragged up from the hot place far below, but his gun was empty. Derek was out of magic, energy, and patience—but he was closer, and he still had his gun. He unpocketed the derringer and unloaded a shot into the Indian’s chest, dropping the bastard in the dirt. Which left Marcus bleeding dry, Garret cursing a blue streak, and Derek’s fondness for California deserts reduced by a severe fucking lot.

He pretty much fell off his horse, catching his breath as pain snarled through his gut, and dropped down by the fallen sheriff. The damage was far beyond his skills, and he had no magic left; he clamped his hands over the worst-bleeding wounds, pressing down onto cloth that squished underneath his fingers. Ben rode up a half-minute later and knelt down with him, weaving fast-handed magic. In minutes, the bleeding slowed to a trickle, then stopped. Some of the wounds knitted closed. Marcus didn’t wake.

Behind him, Garret hissed a startled breath between his teeth.

Derek staggered to his feet, blood-slick to the wrists, bracing himself for whatever was about to bite them where it hurt.

And saw the riders in the distance. They were closing fast, horses kicking up dust. There was no time to do anything but bolt.

Garret loaded Marcus up onto horseback, sweeping Marcus’s dropped shotgun up in the next movement, and vaulted onto his own appaloosa stallion, dragging up Marcus’s hanging reins. Ben leapt astride his own painted mare. Derek staggered back up onto Baron, thankful the dappled grey had calmed a little. They fled back to the crevice the Indians had first slithered out of, not ten minutes previous, dismounting and dragging the horses down out of the view.

For the first time, luck was on their side. The second group passed by without stopping.

Derek took four rattling, cold-thumping heartbeats to press his forehead against Baron’s sweat-slick shoulder, inhaling the steadying scent of hard-working horse, then turned to look at the gasping party. Ben was healing himself, breath coming hard, still red-slick from temple to jaw. Garret was reloading his gun, attention split twitchily between the fading sound of hoofbeats and Marcus.

Derek looked down.

The sheriff was a tall man, built broad and heavy-boned, but laid flat on his back and blanched pale, drenched in blood, he looked just like any man who was too damn stupid to know the difference between brave and reckless.

Dying, in a nutshell.

Which cut their party down by another one, out in the middle of a desert with voodoo in the sand, strange visions at night, and Indians that carried guns. Surrounded by dead men who’d likely get back up and want to start chewing on them soon.

Derek started violently when Ben laid hands on him, almost reaching for his knife, then stilled when he realized what the Indian was about. Stinging warmth flooded through his belly as the bullet slid free, dropping to the black volcanic rock with a dull clink, and his flesh sealed back together. The feeling was wholly unsettling; Derek swallowed queasiness.

Ben pulled back, giving him a look that was no more friendly than the glare he’d given Derek when he’d explained that he needed to go out into the desert to make it right. But at least Derek could stand without pain knotting him in half.

The adrenaline was likely going to take a little longer to wear off.

He gave Ben a dry look. “Still think I’m being too negative?”

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October 5, 1879
Dishonorable Deeds

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 5, 1879
In the Vicinity of Scully, California. Weather bright, with wind.

If I needed any further fuel for my suspicion of Mr. LeFeau, I got ample of it today. We rode out early on the trail of the man who sent the telegram, heading for the area known as Three Mesas. With a little effort, Ben and I were able to discern signs that a wounded man had passed this way on horseback. There were blood drops here and there, and bruised plants where plants existed.

Coming up on the Three Mesas themselves — aptly named, they stand like pillars in a tight cluster with nothing much around them — we found a spot perfect for an ambush, and indeed it looked to have been used as such. Based on what Doc Knuckles said about his travels to Scully, it was clear this was the place he had his near-fatal encounter with the outlaws who stole his horse and gear.

The main part of the trail continued past that point, but the blood-trail we were following split off to the right, going around the side of the mesas. Ben uttered some words in Navajo and did something with his hands, and suddenly where he had stood a red-tailed hawk fluttered. He soared up, then came back, assuming his natural form and reported that there was nobody in sight, but there was a cave, the entrance of which was on the right-hand mesa towards the center of the circle made by the three.

Since the mesas together comprised a small enough area, we split up, leaving our horses ground-tethered and out of sight. Marcus and Ben took the path to the left, going behind the farthest mesa, and Carter and LeFeau went right, while I pressed my back against the nearest of the three.

I was for a cautious approach, but LeFeau went straight for the cave, with Carter close behind. Carter gave out a shout, drawing Marcus, Ben and myself in. There we found our quarry, a pale-faced and unkempt man, and a prodigious smell of blood and putrefaction. The man was gut-shot, sweating and groaning, and begged for our help.

It took much persuading to get the story of what had happened to the stage out of him, for he spun several tales before he finally relented and gave up the truth. LeFeau leant upon the man’s injuries, a cruelty, but I supposed a necessary one, since the outlaw was otherwise not inclined to veracity. What we learned was that those hired to guard the stage had conspired instead to rob it, and he had been one of them.

Since there was a threat his allies might come back, I went to stand guard at the cave mouth. The rest I heard, but did not see.

Once the deed was done, he said, they had planned to take the gold to Boonesville, which they believed to be a ghost town. When they learned it was inhabited, the leader of the outlaws decided instead to take the treasure to a place known as the Valley of the Bones. Ben seemed to know this place, for he made a sound of horror at its name.

The injured man said he tried then to back out of the pact, fearing his lawless comrades less than the Valley of the Bones, a cursed place where none who enter may take anything but their naked selves out again. His fellows turned on him and shot him, but he managed to flee before they could finish him off.

He could give no clear accounting for why he had sent the telegram, nor why he had fled to the Three Mesas cave, and he allowed, when questioned, that though he had not participated in the killing of the stage drivers, he had intended to before the plan to enter the Valley of the Bones was concocted. He begged Ben again to heal him, and I believe Ben was going to do so, when the report of a small pistol rang out.

I spun around to find LeFeau holding a smoking derringer, the prisoner’s brains splattered behind him. Marcus stood mute, but he had his shooter in hand as well, and wasn’t aiming it at the man who’d just committed cold murder. It took me more time than I would like to admit to even adjust my mind to what I was seeing, but when I had, I pressed Marcus hard for an explanation. The first words out of his mouth chilled me to the core: if LeFeau hadn’t put the prisoner out of his misery, Marcus had been prepared to do it himself.

If you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have never in a thousand years told you that I would find myself explaining to my friend, the Sheriff of Alder Creek, that we were the Law, and it was our job to bring the criminal to Justice and see him hanged if the judging fell that way, or lock him up, or, if the will of the judiciary be so, set him free. To take the power of judging into our own hands was the worst kind of vigilantism, and to shoot an incapacitated prisoner in cold blood…

I’d seen the Yankees do it, and I’m sure a Reb or two went down that dishonorable path in the exigencies of war, but it is not our place or our way.

Marcus, to his credit, rode up to me later, as we headed back to town, and confessed to the burden of guilt he carried as a result of his act. He’d lost his head when his blood was up, thinking about the stage-robber’s treachery. Ben told us the land out this way was cursed, with spiritual emanations rising up to turn a man’s heart cold, so maybe that explains Marcus’s actions. But it doesn’t excuse them.

It’s a hard day when the Deputy has to contemplate arresting the Sheriff, but in the end, I decided against it. LeFeau is another matter, but as I wasn’t eyewitness to the shooting, and Marcus seemed more than disinclined to press the matter, I suppose the Foreign-born Easterner will get away with murder this day, carried out right under the Sheriff’s nose.

In truth, I found myself in the peculiar position of lying to the undertaker when I went to find decent burial for the criminal. The man demanded seventy-five dollars, which I have not even a half of to my name, and wanted to know how the man had died. Some strange trick of unearned loyalty had me holding back my opinion of LeFeau’s culpability and telling him the criminal had died while fleeing the law—a half-truth the undertaker saw straight through, though he could not guess the reality.

In the end, it took Marcus’ persuasion to get the dead man a Christian burial, and I slept that night with a feeling I was as guilty as my fellows. I wasn’t the only one who took the turn of events amiss, for in the morning, we woke to find a note from Carter: He couldn’t hold with such contemptible men as would summarily execute an untried prisoner, and had left before dawn to return to Alder Creek.

I can’t say that I blame him.

Addendum to October 5, 1879

I forgot to mention the other queer finding we made at the Three Mesas. While I was standing watch, I spied at the peak of one of the mesas, a glint of something metal. Ben, in his hawk form, flew up to investigate, and returned with a compass needle. When I balanced it on my knife, it spun, but pointed more to the North East than true North. It seemed to have been placed on that Mesa for some purpose, but none that I could divine. I wrapped it in a bit of doeskin and tucked it into my kit, and intend to get a good compass at the store tomorrow, to affix this unusual needle into. It’s a curiosity.

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October 7, 1879
Reaping What Was Sown

From the Diary of Garret John McEwan
October 7, 1879
Wildlands North of Scully, California. Weather grey.

Marcus is as near to dead as I’ve ever seen a man, and I honestly don’t know if there’s any way to save him. We were ambushed yesterday by Indians with guns as we followed the stage-robbers’ trail. The Indians spotted Ben was a healer and wanted to take him, I guess, but they damn near killed him first. They had a sniper picking us off like we were ducks on a frozen pond.

They shot Ben full in the face, knocking him to the ground. Marcus and myself were quick to return fire, while Lefeau rode up to aid Ben and was shot himself for his troubles, despite Marcus’ and my efforts. We were outflanked and outgunned, and could sorely have used Carter’s help.

One of the Indians unhorsed Marcus, then made a valiant attempt to ride him down. As they were shooting from a distance and up close, I took to the ground to present a smaller target, and was nearly trampled myself. I thank the Lord for quick reflexes that spared me an ugly death.

Ben used his Navajo arts to heal himself, though he seemed concussed even so.

Lefeau used conjured magic in our defense, tossing playing cards like they were knives or sticks of dynamite which burst into flames as they landed on the enemy. If not for the fact that Lefeau was aiding us, I might have had more qualms about the source of his power, for it was certainly not in the seeming a God-given thing. But it is said the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and judge not lest ye be judged.

Between Marcus’ and my guns, Ben’s arrows, and Lefeau’s conjuration, we were able to eliminate the threat near to hand, leaving only the sniper. Ben had taken additional injury, so I pulled him into the shallow gulch from which our tormentors had emerged, together with Marcus and Lefeau. We had cover there, but before we could formulate a plan, Marcus came out of the hole and remounted, taking off after the sniper like he was was still fighting with a full army and heavy artillery at his back.

I had no choice but to light out after him, admonishing Ben and Lefeau to remain low, but Marcus was well ahead of me and I lost sight of him when he went behind some rocks where the sniper was taking cover. Next I knew, Lefeau had ridden up with me, and the sniper was engaged in hand-to-hand with Marcus. Marcus took a knife deep to the gut and crumpled, groaning. I managed to get my last shot off into the Indian’s shoulder, but the bastard didn’t drop. He turned, screamed some challenge in Sioux, and loosed his shotgun direct into Marcus’ face.

It was like seeing the coming to fruition of the evil Marcus sewed the day before, allowing his prisoner to be executed while defenseless. Lefeau seemed to have no more of his conjuring cards, for he resorted to his derringer, which finally dropped the brave. But too late.

When all was done, the Indians lay dead, their ponies captured, and Marcus was barely recognizable, breathing his last. Ben rode up then and applied miraculous healing, sealing up the terrible wounds in Marcus’s face and body, but though my friend looked whole again, his eyes did not open.

Ben said the reason was the evil in the land, and our only recourse was to continue to the Valley of the Bones, to try to free the imprisoned Indian god and right the wrong that made it impossible for him to heal Marcus. I cannot countenance a god who is not God Jehovah of the Holy Bible, but I have seen enough in these latter days to convince me that there could well be an Angel of the Lord known to the Navajo as a god, imprisoned and suffering, bringing blight to the land.

We secured all and made to head on, when I caught the sound of horses approaching, so we hid ourselves once more in the crevice, fearing the Sioux who had attacked us may be from a larger party. Instead we saw a party of white men riding fast, who carried on without noticing our presence.

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Rashomon
After Dealing with JA in the Mines

The Rashomon Effect is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.

According to Doc Knuckles, after closing the gate from JA’s encroaching army, proving his trustworthiness and his command over the Interloper that Harrows him, Doc Knuckles was struck down without provocation and murdered in cold blood by Derek Lefeaux.

Though Doc Knuckles wasn’t conscious to witness it, Carter Burwell exacted retribution by shooting Lefeaux in both arms, after which he took both Doc Knuckle’s body and the injured Lefeaux in to town. Lefeaux claimed that the Doc had previously attempted cold murder upon him in the mines, and that since Doc Knuckles was Harrowed and not headshot, he would soon spring back to life. Since there was no proof of the truth or falsehood of that accusation, the Law decided to ensconce both Lefeaux and Doc Knuckles behind bars.

Doc Knuckles, dead in all seeming, lay locked in a jail cell. His companions somehow trusting in the words of Lefeaux, a known murderer and acknowledged servant of the devil, over the Doc’s own actions, words and noble deeds.

But according to Derek Lefeaux, who managed to cheat death yet again, things were a little different. He was pushed off the rope in the mines by Doc Knuckles, who was under the influence of the Interloper, then swallowed by a giant snake, where he lay until Doc Knuckles came upon him again, walking in ghostly form, and slit his thoat. My some miracle, even this did not end his life, and he was lately rescued from the belly of the serpent and the mines by Ben Tsosie. While riding back to town he encountered and successfully dealt a fair-deal revenge to Doc Knuckles. (He reckoned since Doc’s not actually dead, they’re square-ish). In return he got shot once in each arm for his troubles by Doc Knuckle’s best buddy, Carter Burwell.

Back in Alder Creek, Kiah refused to heal him, but helpfully called the law down on his head, leaving him to cool his heels and bleed all over a jail cell while Old Seth napped and Marcus went toe to toe with his employer Jonathan Barker.

And Barker just fired him for unknown reasons.

From Ben Tsosie’s perspective, he went into the mines at the behest of Barker, who insisted that Derek Lefeaux was still alive, and indeed found the man comatose but breathing in the bowels of the dead snake god, where Doc Knuckles had sworn he wasn’t. Lefeaux told him of Doc Knuckles’ treachery in pushing him off that rope and slitting his throat in the belly of the snake.

Ben healed up Lefeaux and brought him back into town, where they encountered Carter and Doc Knuckles, and the above-mentioned shootings took place. He then parted ways with the company and rode out into the hills to do a little restorative communing with nature, where he encountered Garret on his own way back into town with Miss Rosie and a Mrs. Adams. He gave Garret just enough of an account of what had gone on to send Garret in a hurry to the jail.

Meanwhile, Deputy Garret McEwan had been taking care of other business. The day previous he’d had a talk with town madam Miss Rosie about Sharlene, one of her girls. Miss Rosie cautioned Garret that Sharlene was no longer a working girl, but didn’t seem too terribly surprised when Garret said that wasn’t what he was after. He told her Hezekiah had informed him that Sharlene was in contact with Hezekiah’s estranged wife (JA’s mother), and Garret hoped to track down the whereabouts of Mrs. Adams, since that had been the one bit of leverage they’d seemed to have over JA in the mines.

Sharlene was amenable, and said Mrs. Adams was actually already on her way to Alder Creek. In the course of their conversation, Garret learned that Sharlene had once had a remarkable violin which had come from JA, tbut she’d sold it for a handsome sum to Derek Lefeaux. Since Sharlene was planning on leaving the whoring business and heading east with the nest egg she’d earned selling her JA fiddle, and Mrs. Adams was trapped one town east in Dead End with the stages not running, Garret volunteered to escort Sharlene and go fetch Mrs. Adams.

Miss Rosie decided to accompany them, ordering her own very fancy coach as their transport. Garret rode shotgun but managed some conversation with Miss Rosie when they rested the horses. It became painfully clear to Garret that Miss Rosie had his number as far as what was going on with Ben Tsosie, but she didn’t seem apt to use it against him (and after all he was a regular customer, even if he usually preferred a French to a tumble.)

They saw Sharlene off, retrieved Mrs. Adams and filled her in on the particulars, and then turned around and rode straight back. Mrs. Adams in return filled Garret in on why she’d left Alder Creek in the first place, saying Hezekiah had been prone to anger, and had flown into a temper and struck her, leaving her no choice. That didn’t sit too well with Garret, who promised her he’d see to it no man, not her husband nor any other, ever raised a hand to her as long as he was around.

On the way back into town they ran into Ben, who was heading outbound to do some meditating. He gave a slightly confusing account of what had happened with Lefeaux. After seeing to the Adams’s touching reunion, in which Hezekiah, who was cleaned up and shaved and in a suit to meet his beloved, begged her forgiveness for his past wrongdoings, Garret headed over to the jail, where he found Doc Knuckles corpse rotting in one jail cell, and Derek Lefeaux badly injured and untended in another. There he found Carter Burwell, Sheriff Marcus Hewitt, and fellow Deputies ‘Old Seth’ Harkness and Stevie Portridge, who caught Garret up on what had led to this particular situation, although it didn’t make a whole pile of sense.

Jonathan Barker, the man from the bank, came in and pretty much spat on his former employee, Lefeaux, whom he fired on the spot. After Barker left, Carter and the others told Garret that Barker was the agent of the Devil himself, and their ally in the fight against JA, even if he was a minion of Satan. There was some lengthy debate about what to do next, and Garret decided he needed to give the orders since no one else seemed to be doing it. He sent Marcus off to see about the blacksmith who was supposed to be destroying the JA items, including Sharlene’s fiddle, which Barker claimed to have rounded up and “dealt with.” He sent Carter to give a message to Marcus, and to fetch Hezekiah to tend to Derek’s wounds.

He was not happy to see a prisoner mistreated, and was generally unsure what’s going on, but knowing that JA is on his way back as the fourth horseman, figured they’ll need all the help they can get.

Sheriff Marcus Hewitt, meanwhile, left off outside having just completed a conversation with Barker. All his beliefs that Barker would unhesitatingly screw over the people of Alder Creek appeared to be valid, but of course there wasn’t really any option but to let Barker “attempt” to gather all the items. With only three days before JA’s return, there was just too much ground to cover without his help. His intention was to go check out the blacksmith, then go back into the jail and tend to whatever the hell was going on in there.

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