Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Jack Shade, May 18, 2012.

  1. Chapter 1

    Stranger than Westerns

    3:33 A.M, John Yearly’s Farmstead

    A cool mist washed over the faded white-washed fence separating Yearly’s farmstead from the wildlands beyond. It rolled in without sound, covered the sun scorched pastures and rolled past the stables where the horses bucked and brayed, eyes rolling madly in their sockets. The strangest thing was the still; it brought a powerful silence in its wake, left even the earnest cricket in hushed anticipation. It moved deliberately, fell upon the silent house beyond the faded barn and settled there, abided. From that silence, shapes moved within the fog, horses that fell still without even the sound of their hooves and shapes that stopped outside the door, looked to each other, and then kicked it in.

    All without sound.

    Moments later the mists fell away from the edges, moonlight falling on the shape of a man leaning up against the fencepost between property and badland. He wore all black and dangled a spinning gold watch from his right hand, the chain wrapped lovingly around his fingers. He was humming when the fog parted, when two grim faced Indians approached him, a boy clasped between them. The child wasn’t more than ten, struggled with the desperation of a rabbit in a trap.

    “He struggles,” Captain Jack said, his deep voice thrumming life into the air around them, “Strong will to live.”

    “Bring him.” The black clad man said quietly, extending the golden lassoed fingers and beckoning. Captain Jack frowned, seemed to wrestle with himself. The only sign of his resistance was the vein pumping at his temple, thick like a caterpillar it wriggled and then fell still. He and the other Brave stepped forward and forced the child to his knees, inclining his head up at their commander.

    ‘Blackheart’ looked down into the child’s eyes, the way they thrashed with fear and pushed off the fence post. He knelt, tugging off the glove around his left hand and caught the boy’s chin, bringing his face uncomfortably close. The boy was stricken mute by the terror, shaking as the strange man brought his face down against the boys, as he took in a deep breath through his nose…smelling the child, tasting his fear, before letting the chin drop and standing.

    “Dissapointing,” Johnny murmured, barely disguising his disdain, “Return him to his kin…and burn them to the ground.”

    “No!” The cry was not from Captain Jack this time, but his companion, a scarred man they once called Scarface Charlie. “We will not.” Muscles flexed beneath the clothes he’d been buried in, anger burning in his eyes. Captain Jack struggled, spitting his words in broken syllables, his native language, frozen in place.

    “Beg pardon?” Williams asked, all hint of scowl and growl gone from him now, vanished like a summer rain. “I heard you cut down near a hundred men, Charlie, having trouble with a few more?”

    “Soldiers,” the Indian spit, “Not…children."

    “All children are soldiers,” Johnny drawled, tipping his hat down, “They just don't know what war they're fighting, yet.”

    “I will not”

    “You will,” Johnny assured with a disarming chuckle, "And you’ll do it with a grin.” Somewhere in the mists, beads clacked against bone and both the Modoc tribesman straightened, eerie smiles plastered across both their faces.

    “Burn it down,” Johnny whispered to them as the dragged the boy away, “Leave us a fire our lawdog friends can warm themselves by.”

    He turned away from the farm, the mist washing over him as the ghostly shadow of flames began to crawl up the sides of the home. “All stories start with a beginning. Let’s make sure this one is memorable.”

    7 hours later-Sunset Saloon Mariposa, California

    No one spoke today, and the bar was drenched in solemnity and liquor. Bottles sat out on the counter, a collection hat in the corner…in case the outlaws felt in the giving mood. No one manned the bar, the tables, and no girls danced on the stage. Most of the regulars had stayed home, only the two or three washouts hugging the table closest to the door, supping their free spirits. The governor had yet to arrive, but the morning the Sunset Saloon opened, no one crossed its threshold save the desperate and the wretched.

    And the killers

    A stranger tied his horse up outside the saloon, slipping inside. His hat was skewed on his head, but what drew the eyes were the knives criss-crossed along his chest and the sword at his waist. They all glimmered with a tired kind of polish, bright despite the dust clinging to their handles and blades. He took the hat from his head as he entered, casting his eyes around the room and tossing it onto a table.

    It landed in the center with a dry shuffle, but no one said a word. The drunks near the door just watched, biting their own inebriated tongue lest it offend. Even for the burned out shells huddling round their glasses and bottles, they had enough of a care to their beating heart to leave well enough alone. Bad folks were coming round these parts, the devil's own ill-reputed soldiers. Not a one wanted to test which one had a tempter, and which one killed for less.

    Grabbing a bottle of alcohol and several cups he sat and poured them out, four glasses of whisky round the table. He placed one before him and three other before different seats, turning his gaze to the door. He did not smile, did not expect, simply leaned back and brought up two bootheels onto the table, thumping onto the stained wood with all the ardor of a judge’s gavel.
    There would be company soon, and it was a fool man who didn’t prepare for guests….even if he didn’t know who they were.

  2. Her grandmother always said that her people, the Native Americans, made poor slaves. She said they weren't meant to do the White Man's bidding and were created as free spirits. A'way had wanted to believe such things, that their Creator was truly the reason why her people weren't made into slaves and instead the role fell onto the Africans.Everyone was born a free spirit, but a free spirit also meant that you could be a captive one as well... But she knew, and the White Men knew, that they had to fight their way early on to avoid slavery. They didn't make proper slaves because they had the advantage of being on their homeland and drew from that energy and motivation to keep fighting.

    But the loss of the South in the Civil War made A'way uneasy, as it made many of her people uneasy. If the Africans weren't slaves any longer, who was going to do the White Man's bidding?

    Her people of course.

    It wasn't just a belief in the South that drove the woman into fighting for them, it was deep rooted fear. It was true, the Africans took refuge with her tribe but when the time came for the politicians to sit down down and shift through the aftermath of this war, they would have to choose the Native Americans as the next generation of slaves. She didn't buy into freedom because that wasn't how human nature worked. There was a hierarchy, and someone had to be on the bottom. If her people couldn't be at the top, then goddamnit she would settle for the middle.

    In one hand were the reins of her paint horse I'saw, the other held the government letter. Her hair was braided into one long ponytail down her back, accenting her high cheek bones. The woman's Levi's were dusty from the heavy riding, I'saw panting steadily behind her. She decided it was best to avoid the war paint and beads common to her people. A'way wanted to blend in more than stand out today, but it seemed like that was nigh impossible. She could feel the eyes of the townsfolk upon her. It was downright scary.

    The woman didn't tie off her horse, knowing that I'saw would behave. Inside the saloon, A'way wished there was more people. She felt comfortable in a crowd, meant that it was easier to get away. Gently she tapped her fingers against her gun, reassured that her weapon would be there if she needed it.

    A white man, young and silent, sat at an empty table alone. There were glasses in front of him, filled with spirits. A'way took that as her cue and walked over, head tilted down. She slid the letter towards the man then ran a finger along the rim of her glass, waiting. ​
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  3. Off in the outskirts of town the sun had already started to scorch the sands with rays that could kill a man, if he had no water, in less than a day. Temperatures rose with every minute that passed while the first few hours of daylight passed, cooking the earth until the air started to waver as if it too would faint. Heat shimmers started to rise up in ever direction around Mariposa as such that reality itself wavered for all those who witnessed it. Mirages of water in the distance were one thing, but the heat shimmers could hide an entire battalion of men until it was too late. They could even keep people from noticing unspeakable crimes that went on just outside of town given the right conditions.

    From those dancing illusions that could hide countless untold dangers came a lone rider.

    Dirt softened and muffled the sound of hooves as though to keep the ears of the town unaware of this new arrival. Black as the night dawn had shattered was a long black shadow that proceeded his arrival. Sunlight rendered the rider himself little more than a glorified silhouette that their eyes would strain and squint to see right up until he entered Mariposa. Yet the sun also tried to create a warning as well. One that only the blind could not see. Stretched out so far that it proceeded his own arrival was a long black shadow dark as the inky black of night itself. Cast upon those that dared to cross through it, each one looked up from the unnatural shade to see a steed pale as death itself with a mysterious rider at the reigns.

    Soon enough the rider dismounted after stopping right outside the saloon all in one swift and seamless movement that ended with the jingle of spurs. Moments later a rolled up letter was snatched up by his completely covered hand from the saddlebags. Once again the jingle of spurs started at a steady beat one almost might swear was from a song. Each step came with that sound all too familiar to those who lived out west. Yet these spurs somehow rang in the ears of all who heard them unlike any other before. . . distinct as a funeral dirge was from a wedding march.

    Throughout the entire saloon it could be heard long before any laid eyes on him. An eerie feeling came from hearing it that gave distinction from every other noise including other spurs. Perhaps it came from the way their wearer walked? Heavy as the thud of his boots was the stride with which the mysterious rider moved came off as unnaturally light for a man of his height and the weight one would estimate he possessed.

    Almost like a strong enough wind could blow him away.

    Just one hand pushed both saloon doors open while a pair of eyes unseen to other patrons scanned the situation. Right then the spurs stopped to fill the air with an otherworldly silence as the mysterious rider stood stock still from the neck down without uttering a single word. Even the filthy poncho which swayed ib the wind ceased to move. One could tell a couple of the men inside recognized this Stranger just from the way their hands started hovering near their gun belts. If the two who had already arrived with letters of their own were not looking at him yet, they would feel his stare upon them soon enough. Yet again the jingling of those spurs filled the air, only to stop as a chair was pulled away from the table and sat in without any introduction.

    Only then did a letter resembling theirs get dropped onto the table.
  4. [size=+1]I am not motivated by greed.

    The coin of the invader holds no sway over me, their barbarism dressed up as true society fills me with disdain. The reward this governor offers it not something I want a part of.

    I am not motivated by vengeance.

    This ‘Black Heart’ possesses a spirit so cruel it almost defies comprehension, it is true, but he and his band have never directly caused me harm; their raids focus upon the white men for the most part, and if circumstances were different I would be perfectly happy to let them take their horror show to my enemies some more.

    Something far more noble motivates me.

    Mounted atop a horse I took from an ambushed military convoy, I ride into the town of Mariposa with iron on my hip, a rifle on my back and my axe by my side. Yet I do not come to make war upon this people; my war ended many months ago, and my side lost. I come to this cesspool at the call of this Californian governor, who wishes to bring together a band of murderers, villains and outlaws to bring down this Black Heart and stop the acts he is perpetrating.

    Murderers, villains and outlaws? I suppose my enemies consider me all of these things.

    Yet what else can you expect from the invader other than hypocrisy?

    The meeting place is one of their drinking holes, a hovel where the white man drinks himself into further stupidity and pays good money for the ‘privilege’. Bizarre creatures. I tie my horse up outside the place, a large wooden building with the words ‘SUNSET SALOON’ emblazoned on a sign above it. My nose can already take offence to the acrid smell coming from this place. Most of the invaders’ settlements tend to offend my senses, but their drinking holes are the worst; the smell of unwashed bodies, desperation and rot all combining into a miasma that is so strong it almost makes my eyes water.

    Such is the life of an outlaw, though, I suppose. Steeling myself I stride through the doors.

    Inside the smell is even worse, yet scarcely populated. I suppose the locals caught wind of the sort of patron who would be attending today. Apparently the owner did too; no-one mans the bar either. A few degenerates lurk in the corners, sipping their drinks and doing their outmost not to make any eye contact with me. Locals, no doubt; it is the other three patrons of the bar who I am interested in.

    The first is a white man with some truly interesting weaponry on display; I had always though the invaders put far too much stock in their firearms, yet this one displays knives held all across his body and a bow. Truly unusual. I shall watch this one with interest.

    The second is a true daughter of this land by the looks of her, the markings adorning her identifying her as Chumash. Not for the first time I am somewhat relieved that I am not the only true children of this land present; it can get rather worrying when one is trapped amidst a sea of white faces.

    The third is an enigma, a figure bound up in bandages and adorned with a hat and poncho. The iron on his hip implies gunslinger; his posture further suggests this. Something about him strikes me as truly unusual, yet I decide it best not to stare overlong; the population of this bar are here for one reason today, and that means that they are dangerous people.

    I find an unoccupied table and seat myself, leaving the alcohol untouched. We seem to be amongst the first to arrive; the governor seems to have yet to show his face. Patience is probably my best bet, though I am fully aware of the fact that this could well be a trap of some kind. The invaders are known for their back-handedness as well as their trickery; their theories of Manifest Destiny mean that they will lose no sleep on reneging on their word and trying to kill me here and now.

    Yet this is a risk I am willing to take.

    For I am not motivated by greed.

    And I am not motivated by vengeance.

    I am motivated by love.[/size]
  5. "You aren't an outlaw. What are you doing, riding off to danger? You should stay here, where it's safe?"

    "Grandmother, no. No. I have to do this. Just. Give Mother and Father my love."

    "Even you can't hope to survive against that murderer, child! Use your sense, Jia!"

    "Sense? Sense can't feed this family, can't get our people seen for more than cheap labor. Sense is skewed and unfair and doesn't let those who need to actually step forward. If you want to forever stand in line for opportunity, for a chance to better this family, you do so. I make my own opportunities."

    "Jia! You leave and don't bother coming back. I forbid it! You'll be dead in a week if you go! Li Jia! Jia!"

    Julie Lee kept her hat brim pulled low as she rode into town, peering from the shadow it shrouded her face in at the townsfolk, what few there were about. Short cropped hair and a loose fitting jacket could have easily hidden her gender, and that was for the best. Better she be thought of as a child when she'd been riding. Now, here in town, it was a bit safer, and as she tied her white mare up outside the saloon, she shucked the jacket, shoving it into a saddlebag. Snug denim hugged her hips and was tucked into her boots, a leather pair she wore for her shows. The boots were one of the few nice things she'd ever bought for herself, aside from her guns. The costumes she'd left behind weren't rightfully hers, and so she'd donned a blue cotton shirt and a brown vest for this trip. The dust had turned the light azure dirty, a tan patina over the color. At five foot one, she wasn't an imposing figure, but what she lacked, the guns on her hips made up for. Combined with the easy way she moved, those guns told the story of someone who knew them, loved them, and was a part of them as much as they were a part of her.

    Her thoughts went to her parents, who hadn't known she was leaving. She'd told her grandmother, and the resultant argument and slamming of doors might be her last memory of her family. She was set to never return. She'd send them the money and use whatever reputation she could garner, for good or bad, to keep her from having to go back to a hell of a manager grabbing her inappropriately and taking all of her money.Perhaps when people realized there was real skill in her shots, not just fancy tricks, she could do more with herself than simply go back to putting on shows.

    The place was not where she would have chosen to meet, the Sunset Saloon obviously a place for drunkards of the sort she made a point of avoiding. But here she was, and not only was she associating with drunkards but with outlaws of the worst sort. Her resolve, however, was stronger than it had ever been. She'd no way to go back, now, and it was time to earn what she could. Slowly, she sauntered over to the others, pulling her own letter out of her beltpouch after sighting theirs. It was held between her fore and middle fingers and she looked at each of them before slowly nodding and dropping the letter on the table.
  6. I've been riding since before dawn. I don't sleep much any more. Nightmares.

    Every night, it's the same thing. The soldiers charging in, stabbing, cutting, killing everyone. Me and my personal guard fighting our way out. That was the part that was the most vivid. I remember all their names; Li, Huang, Shen, Kang .. Many more. Every time I close my eyes and try to sleep I see their dying eyes, their very last moments. I avenged them, but vengeance could only do this much; they were still dead.

    I kill their killers in my head a thousand times every night but .. It still isn't enough, god dammit. They were people I had been with since I was young. We dined together, we fought together. They were of a lower caste but I don't care. They were men who were willing to lay down their lives for me once the need for it came. And that was enough for me to respect them more than any king, any god.

    I am in a new land now. In a land where the dragon of the Emperor does not roar, a land where people lived and died every day for the silliest of reasons.

    A land that was my new home.

    My men died for me in China, so that I could survive and come here. A new hope, a new life. And that was what I had to do.

    I can see the place where we were supposed to meet; this sort of establishments were really common around here. Filled with the scum of society - Could you really call them that, if they made up all of a society? No matter. I was one of them now. I am no longer a prince. I am someone of the Wild West, living life day by day and forging my own path, brick by boring brick.

    After tying my horse to the fence outside the saloon, I drew the strap that held the sheath of my sabre from the side of the horse and brought it over my back. Never knew when I would need it - It's a weapon I trust most, unlike those .. Guns, that the people around here seem to favour. My knives are inside my sleeves and around my waist. Always ready, in situations where my larger blades does not apply.

    I stalked in warily, into the silent room with my hat pulled low over my face, while my eyes darted sharply through the room to catch a brief look of those within. The first one that grabs my attention was the one wrapped in bandages. I could feel goosebumps erupting all over my arms and a shiver run down my spine. There was something about him .. The eyes. That must be it. The eyes, and the face. I had always been taught one thing, and that was to not trust anybody whose face, or eyes you could not see. These men are usually of the dangerous sort. The rest of them looked rather plain, except for that wild man and ..


    A Chinese woman. My eyes narrowed when I saw her, but they quickly widened again. The expression had been cast so fast it was imperceptible except to those with eyes of the hawk. They promised me that the influence of the Dynasty would not reach out here .. But you never knew.

    Better be careful.

    I strode past the crowd and took a seat at the very end of the bar, one of the corners of the place and I turned around so I could view them all. My hand went within my jacket and I drew out my letter. The letter they all had.

    I held the letter in between my middle and index finger, and I tapped the corner of it on the bar, my sabre laid across my lap.
  7. "I'll teach you every thing there is, boy," my pop said. "All the wisdom o' the world. But you do me this one favour. Ya find a thing, a nugget - one li'l piece of what I tell ya, and you dispute it with every inch o' your soul. And that'll be your quality. You refute it till it breaks my heart and stops it dead. Cos there ain't no boy becomes a man till he's killed his father. And that's a truth as old as Enoch."

    But I don't know, Pop. Ev'rythin' you say makes a kinda sense to me.

    That ain't the point of it, Nate. It don't matter how foolish your refusal is, nor what logic you fly 'gainst. You keep somethin' in yer heart that yer mind calls lunacy... and then you'll be a man.

    That why you preach the Bible, Pop?

    Ain't no lunacy in the Good Book, son. You got your allegory o' the highest order right here. Ain't none so great as Christians for buildin' on old bones. Yer angels are yer spirit guides, and Jesus is yer Shaman.

    So that's the piece you found, Pop? The thing that killed my grand-daddy? Believin' in the In'jun ways as well as the Christian?

    No, Nate... what killed my pop... was me seein' no difference 'tween the two.

    * * * * *​

    Half an hour passed. The first few men stumbled from the shack, while others stayed with heads hung over buckets. Half-cut Hal, laying on his side, watched tears break from an old man's eyes. "What is it?" His voice seemed to come from the other side of the room.

    "Nothin'," the old timer gasped, and Hal's stomach turned. He hunched over the bowl to vomit liquid darkness. With the passing of another hour the room became an orgy of gagging and coughing. "Who you cryin' for?" Hal whispered.

    Where the old man slumped the wood grain shifted, and though his eyes were closed the tears pushed through the lids. It was like his eyeballs had liquefied. Hal heard the slightest answer on the old man’s breath. "Ah tricked her… it shouldn’t be like this." He pushed his head into his knees to muffle his own sobbing. "Ah’m sorry."

    Hal felt another wave come and vomited violently, his stomach scraped clean. He had no choice but to yield, to relax every muscle and let the bile pour through. When it was over he struggled for air and fell once more onto his side. For the next hour he watched smoke trail from another man's pipe. At times it would turn against the breeze and the faintest outlines form before falling away again.

    "Don’t cry…"

    The old man was in foetal curl and Hal leant over him, a hand on his side. "Wha' d'ya know, old timer?" Then his eyes shot upwards. The green paint of the door was lifting, leaching towards the ceiling. The retching of the others became louder and tiny figures writhed in the fireplace. Hal sprung and landed against the wall, slamming his hand against an old painting. The tips of his fingers melted into serpents, following the others as they slipped out of the frame and into the smoke. Their bodies were ethereal and mutilated.

    "NATE!" he yelled and pressed his back to the wall. An outline of the furniture collapsed, like a line drawing imposed over the real thing then ripped away. And for a moment he saw the insects that crawled across the other men: beetles and centipedes that picked their way through the vomiting bodies. He shook a serpent from his hand and the creature tumbled across the floor as it tilted. He went with it, tripping on the old man's body. The colours of the opposite wall were separating and parts of the texture fell back while others merged into gnarled vines. They dangled obscenely and a shape moved amongst them.


    The Preacher broke into a run, ducking beneath the screaming serpents, reaching for the shape behind the vines, which moved, teasing him, fusing with the serpents and growing thicker. A voice slowed to an inaudible moan. A skeleton fell back. He heard the vines laugh. Something slammed into the wall beside him. It was the opium merchant who had bought him here – his old face wrought with ecstasy. Mandibles and claws flayed around him as a half-seen insect worked at his body, devouring and copulating.

    Then something gripped Hal's wrist. He turned his head and screamed. A woman was smiling down at him from a painting, her skull extended backward, glistening flesh concealing eyes and ears. The row of teeth split her skull and he recoiled. He fell amidst the vines, which curled beneath him to form the trunk of a giant tree. Then they crumpled to the outline of a face: Nate’s, Captain Jack’s, Scarface Charley's.

    Black Heart's.

    Another outline of the room collapsed as Hal turned. The shack door was open. He made directly for it, groans beneath him as he trod on prostrate guests and writhing insects.

    Then sunlight, and an undignified collapse against the outer wall of the Sunset Saloon.

    Ayahuasca was a bitch. Even for half-Indians.