Sunday, February 18, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign Prologue original scenario â€œIll Met in the Westâ€ today from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbott.)
In the first month of 1875, the newspapers of the United States were filled with the news of the capture of the notorious John Valentine, a criminal and outlaw who had terrorized the west ever since the Civil War. Word had it he had been part of Quantrillâ€™s Raiders during the war and, after it was over, had merely continued with the terrible things he had done, seemingly reveling in the terror he caused for law-abiding citizens of the states and territories. It had all come to a head at the beginning of the year when a large group of Federal marshals, county sheriffs, bounty hunters, and other lawmen had finally tracked down him and his gang and captured most of them in eastern Nevada.
On Tuesday, February 16, 1875, they were being extradited to California and taken via prison train on the Union Pacific Railroad on the Old Number 4 to San Francisco where they would be tried. The small train of cars consisted of a locomotive and tender, an express car filled with U.S. Army soldiers and lawmen, a passenger car wherein the prisoners were held in shackles and chained to their seats along with two armed guards, a second passenger car holding more U.S. Army soldiers, lawmen, and bounty hunters, two baggage cars for horses and equipment, and a caboose.
The passenger car holding the prisoners was reinforced and secured. All of the windows had been sealed with iron bars and closed shut with wooden boards. The two men on guard were constantly armed and vigilant with new men relieving them every hour.
Two people who were not lawmen, bounty hunters, or soldiers were also on the second passenger car.
Wilder was a mountain man from Colorado. Slightly portly but heavily bearded, Wilder looked much larger than he really was because he wore furs and pelts, including a bear head for a hat. He had dark hair that was graying and was in his mid-40s. Some people thought he was pretty odd as he mumbled to himself quite often and sometimes made joke that were not very funny. Heâ€™d seen things in his life. Some of them he was not comfortable talking about or sharing. That was also the reason he always carried a flask and often drank from it. He also carried a Winchester â€™73 rifle.
Wilder had been a scout and tracker for people for most of his life. Recently, he had actually scouted and tracked for the lawmen and bounty hunters in search of John Valentine. As such, he was part of the group who were heading back to San Francisco with the rest.
Dr. Eva Weisswald was called â€œWhitewindâ€ by those who knew her well. She had long, white hair always tied in a braid with beads and feathers even though she was only 44 years old. She wore rugged clothing and pants, something that sometimes put men off. A Stetson hat was on her head. She was from near Cheyenne in Wyoming Territory, having a small house in the territory. She usually traveled, sometimes in a wide pattern, helping the sick and injured as she had been trained as a doctor though held no actual degree. She had a bow and a quiver of arrows with her.
She had been present when the train had initially left Wells, a town where the prisoners had boarded. When the lawmen learned she was a doctor, she was asked to come along to ensure the prisoners all survived the trip. She was a little surprised to find the prisoners manacled and chained to the seats. Two men with rifles watched her very closely while she examined them before the train set out before dawn. She met John Valentine when she examined the prisoners. From the way he talked to her and the way he looked around, filled with confidence and arrogance, she thought he was a sociopath.
Another of the prisoners, Charles Allen, insisted on talking to her while she examined him, telling her how pretty she was and flirting with her, also asking if there were any other women in the train. He was good-looking but came across as insincere and smarmy. She noticed he looked her up and down, almost like a man sizing up a horse he planned to purchase.
It was late afternoon before they passed through the town of Golconda, not even stopping. The train had been passing through a flat desert with hills rising up in the distance to the left. It had been very cold that day and the cast iron stove standing in a box of sand did little to warm anyone in the car except those nearest to it.
Not long after they passed through that tiny town, there was a short whistle blast and then a long one before everyone in the car was flung forward as the locomotive braked. Moments after, there was a crash and the shriek of escaping steam. Screams and an explosion came from ahead before the entire car stopped almost at once, the impact flinging everyone forward. Many men were flung to the front of the car, crashing in a pile that helped to break the fall of both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald. Glass shattered in the windows and the car came to a stop at a strange angle. The screams of horses came from the baggage cars behind.
There was a steam whistle blast that was abruptly ended.
Both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald were barely conscious. Through the haze of pain, each of them could see men moving through the car. One of them wore all black and looked around in satisfaction. A few of the other lawmen or bounty hunters who were not so injured as to be incapacitated tried to stop the men but they ruthlessly gunned them down. One man went to one of the unconscious lawmen and pointed his gun at the manâ€™s head.
â€œDonâ€™t waste yer bullets on the injured,â€ the man in black snapped. â€œJust leave â€˜em be. Theyâ€™re no threat to us.â€
The men left the car and moved forward into the passenger car that held the prisoners.
The man in black soon returned, escorting John Valentine, Charles Allen, and the other prisoners. John Valentine smiled, rubbing his wrists.
â€œThose who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves,â€ he said with a satisfied drawl, quoting Abraham Lincoln. â€œIt is fine to sup the sweet air of freedom once again.â€
He took a long breath as the other prisoners picked pistols or rifles off the injured and the dead.
â€œWeâ€™re only a few miles from town,â€ the man in black snapped. â€œHe-Who-Waits will have his due. He wonâ€™t wait forever to collect.â€
â€œYou are correct, Pete,â€ Valentine said. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€
Charles Allen approached Dr. Weisswald and started to pull on her dress.
â€œCharles, thereâ€™s no time for that,â€ Valentine said. â€œYou can rape somebody later.â€
Allen looked down at the barely conscious Weisswald, smiled, and winked at the woman. Then he turned and followed the other men out.
* * *
Professor Brandon Stalloid was 27 years old, tall and lanky, and had features like an Adonis. He was downright beautiful to behold. He had a square jaw and parted black hair, only wearing his spectacles when he had to read or examine things up close. He wore a black coat and pants and a slim â€œKentuckyâ€ style bow tie. He wore a short top hat that matched his suit. Originally from San Francisco, he traveled the west in his medicine wagon, providing much-needed medicine to anyone willing to pay. Unlike most of the traveling snake-oil salesmen, however, his medicines and tonics actually worked.
He had been heading across the desert in his medicine wagon, pulled by his horses Tulip and Buttercup. The right side of the medicine wagon was painted â€œStalloidâ€™s Stupendous Supplementsâ€ and the left side read â€œBrandonâ€™s Bountiful Brandies.â€ The end of the name â€œBrandonâ€™sâ€ was always peeling, despite how much he repainted it. He had not thought much of the train as it passed him and disappeared into the haze of the distance until he heard the noise of the terrible crash some miles ahead. He slapped the reins on the horses and tried to encourage them to put on more speed.
* * *
Jacali was an Apache scout, a 32-year-old woman from Apache Territory in Texas and New Mexico. She was rugged and experienced with a wise gaze that occasionally betrayed lonesomeness and remorse. She had long, dark hair that she pinned up or braided when she was out in the wilderness. She wore rugged doeskin clothing and furs to keep her warm in the winter. A bow was across her shoulder and a quiver of arrows on her hip. Normally, she lived in the area where Colorado met the Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico Territories.
She was riding on horseback through the desert along the railroad tracks when she spotted a couple of men up ahead. One of them had climbed one of the telegraph line and cut the wire. He climbed down and they mounted their horses and made speed away from her, heading down the tracks.
She followed at a distance of about a half mile. En route, she heard a crash ahead and soon saw black smoke rising from the spot. She dismounted, leaving her horse in a gully, and moved to about a half mile of the train wreck and realized there were rocks and boulders around the wrecked locomotive. Men swarmed around the train, all of them heavily armed, none of them wearing any kind of uniform or badges. She heard gunshots from the back of the train.
She was surprised to see an American Indian man standing on a small rise not far from the wreck, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed.
Several men in long underwear and boots left the train and were given clothing by the other men. Then they all mounted up on the numerous horses. They took one last look around and headed to northwest. She guessed there were at least 30 men on horseback, some of them leading other horses.
The native man took out something and put it to his mouth. Jacali heard a high-pitched and strangely ululating whistle. Moments later, some hawks flew down from the sky. As they got closer, she realized they were not hawks. She didnâ€™t know what they were. Not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzard, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, they were some strange mixture of all of them and none of them.
The things landed on the roof of one of the passenger cars.
* * *
In the passenger car, men groaned and died. Something landed on the roof of the car and the sound of footsteps with a scratching noise with each step sounded from the roof. Something dropped down off the end of the car and entered.
Both Wilder and Dr. Weisswald played dead, their eyes closed.
The things went by and the footsteps sounded like they walked like a man, though there was a strange thumping with every step as if they had crutches. Each footsteps was accompanied by a scratching noise. There was movement nearby and the rustling of clothing before the two strange things left. There was a loud noise of flapping, leathery wings from outside the car.
When Wilder and Dr. Weisswald sat up, the doctor noticed a couple of men missing from the pile of bodies. She got up and started doing triage on the men, trying to help them as best she could.
* * *
Jacali watched as the two things came out of the passenger car once again. Each of them carried the figure of a man in their feet. They took to the air and headed to the southeast, towards the hill. The man on the rise watched the whole thing and started to walk in the same direction, crossing the desert towards the mountains.
She approached the train on the opposite from the man.
The locomotive was surrounded by broken rocks, some of them flat on one side with paint on them. The machine was destroyed, the front end crushed and the boiler wrecked. She stopped long enough to look at the rocks and saw there was some kind of pattern in the paint. She was unsure what the pattern was so continued down the track.
The locomotive crew were both dead, coal filling the cab and scattered around nearby. The express car, though locked up, was smashed and torn asunder. Several dead men were inside but the crash had obviously killed everyone. The next passenger car had a pair of dead men in it as well. The crash had been so bad that the iron bars on the windows had bent and the boards had split and broken. Chains and manacles lay on the floor.
She heard moaning and saw movement in the second passenger car.
* * *
Wilder and Dr. Weisswald saw the native woman walking up to the car on the desert side of the wreck. The woman quickly climbed up into the wrecked passenger car and Dr. Weisswald recognized Jacali. The two had met some time before and Jacali occasionally visited Dr. Weisswald in Wyoming as the physician was sympathetic to the American Indian cause and willing to treat any in need regardless of race, creed, or color. Jacali knew her by a nickname given to her years before. Wilder sat in his seat, dazed. Jacali knew the mountain man as well.
â€œWhitewind!â€ Jacali said. â€œYou were on this train?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Dr. Weisswald said. â€œThere were prisoners in the other car and I was supposed to take care of them. They all escaped though.â€
â€œSomething strange and horrible happened out in the front,â€ Jacali said. â€œLooks like a bunch of boulders and rocks were poured in front of the train. Is that you, Wilder?â€
â€œMmm â€¦ Jacali,â€ the man muttered. â€œMmm.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Jacali said. â€œWell â€¦â€
â€œYouâ€™ll â€¦ uh â€¦ have to forgive me,â€ Wilder said. â€œMy â€¦ uh â€¦ brain is â€¦ somewhat addled â€¦ at the moment. Uh â€¦â€
â€œI can understand that,â€ Jacali said.
â€œAw, just drink your whiskey,â€ Dr. Weisswald, still busy with the injured, said. â€œYouâ€™ll be fine.â€
â€œOh â€¦ thanks, Wilder said.
â€œDoctorâ€™s orders,â€ Jacali said. â€œIs there any way I can help?â€
They heard the clip-clop of a horse.
* * *
As he approached, Professor Stalloid saw the caboose of the train had flipped over and there was blood on the windows though no sign of movement within. It looked like everyone was dead. He rode past the broken luggage cars and saw movement in the second passenger car. He dismounted from the medicine wagon with his prepared medicines.
â€œAnybody injured?â€ he called out. â€œAnybody need any help?â€
* * *
Dr. Weisswald recognized the voice.
â€œOh good,â€ she muttered. â€œI donâ€™t have to deplete my stores of laudanum.â€
â€œIs this someone you know?â€ Jacali said.
â€œYeah, heâ€™s a â€¦ supplier of medicines and other â€¦ assorted â€¦â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
As Professor Stalloid boarded the car, he recognized Dr. Weisswald as he had traveled as far east as Cheyenne and even gotten several of the herbs and plants for making his tonics from the doctor. He often exchanged medicine with her for them.
The two treated, as best they could, the injured and the dying. One man was terribly confused.
â€œWhere am I?â€ he muttered. â€œThis isnâ€™t New York. Where am I?â€
She gave him a double dose of laudanum.
A few men were already dead and others had a variety of injuries, from bumped heads to shattered bones. Some of those who regained consciousness and could walk left the car to head for the locomotive or the back of the train. There was some talk of getting the telegraph out of the express car and calling for aid. It was noted Golconda was only a few miles back and someone limped back for town to get help. Others questioned what had happened.
Jacali mentioned to Dr. Weisswald and Wilder how she saw where both the people who were in the train had run off went and where a native man and his weird bird things went. She wanted them to look at the strange painted rocks near the locomotive. She didnâ€™t talk to the lawmen and bounty hunters, figuring they were as bad as the rest of the white people, who had run her tribe out of Texas and placed them on a reservation far from their homes. Dr. Weisswald included Professor Stalloid in their investigation.
The four went to the locomotive and saw the rocks scattered on either side of the engine. Some of them had paint on a flat side of the rock. It took them only a little while to piece together what happened.
â€œI always did like putting jigsaw puzzles back together in my college years,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
They pieced together a few that actually fit together as if the entire thing was one large boulder. A little figuring and they realized the boulder that must have stood on the tracks was probably the size of a small house. It also looked like someone had painted tracks and scenery on the flat side of the boulder, probably so the train would get close to it before the trainâ€™s engineer realized it was on the tracks.
â€œThey must have had some kind of complex pulley system,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œThose birds â€¦â€ Jacali said.
Then she remembered hearing stories of a Paiute medicine man or sorcerer who lived in northern Nevada. She knew the Paiute had been moved to a reservation in Oregon but that the shaman was still there. She heard he had lived there since the Snake War of 1866-67 when the rest of the northern Paiute were defeated by the white man. He was reputed to be a shaman of some power and dark influence, something she didnâ€™t believe in. He was supposedly looking for something called â€œThe Horn.â€
â€œWell, I know of one person around the area who might have knowledge about this,â€ Jacali said. â€œEspecially if there was a native man watching and some weird creatures. Otherwise, we can try to track down where he went or where the other group went. But I donâ€™t really want to follow a bunch of armed criminals.â€
â€œNor do I!â€ Professor Stalloid said.
They discussed transport and Jacali offered to let someone ride with her when she got her horse. Professor Stalloid offered rides in his medicine wagon as well.
â€œI guess Iâ€™m not getting that train ride back home, so â€¦â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
Jacali retrieved her horse from the gully a half mile away. Professor Stalloid mounted the medicine wagon seat, Wilder taking a seat beside him. Dr. Weisswald climbed into the back, wanting a look inside the vehicle. There were numerous potions and bottles of various substances as well as a small laboratory for distilling. A bunk was situated near the ceiling. She also found a large, leather-bound book locked closed that said â€œResearchâ€ plainly the front. A small trapdoor opened to the seats in the front.
Jacali scouted ahead but soon lost the track. Then she noticed the medicine wagon bearing off to her right as Professor Stalloid, staring at the ground, actually followed the manâ€™s tracks. Jacali rode over and then saw the tracks the professor was followed. She was embarrassed but pulled her horse around to the correct direction.
â€œI was just looking around,â€ she muttered. â€œI was scouting ahead.â€
The tracks led into the hills and, a few miles from the wreck, they reached a narrow valley with steep sides. Jacali, scouting ahead, reached the valley first and saw a native hut in the bottom at one end. At the other end was a black, basalt stone with two men lying next to it, tied up. In the shadow of an overhanging rock near the stone were the two creatures. She got a better look at the horrors this time and it was quite disturbing. Her horse nickered and turned about, obviously displeased. She rode back down from the edge and signaled the medicine wagon to stop.
She dismounted and tied her horse to the wagon, telling the others what she had seen. She guessed the two men were the ones who had been carried away from the train. She guessed the hut must be the manâ€™s she had seen. She also told them of the terrible things down there which she didnâ€™t like.
â€œIâ€™ve seen a lot of things,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve seen atrocities made by all kinds of men but these creatures donâ€™t look like anything Iâ€™ve seen in the world and they are unsettling. I think whatever we do, we should be careful and, whatever those things are, we should be careful, because theyâ€™re big. Itâ€™s open if yâ€™all wanna take a look, but it looks like weâ€™ve reached the end of the trail.â€
â€œWere they flying around or on the ground?â€ Professor Stalloid asked.
â€œThey were on the ground.â€
â€œAround the hut?â€
â€œThey were on the other end of it.â€
â€œI donâ€™t want to get taken like those men did,â€ Dr. Weisswald said.
â€œI agree with that,â€ Jacali said. â€œHow do you want to handle those things and this person? I can go down and try to make contact. Maybe Iâ€™m a fellow native, heâ€™ll treat me better. But, if Iâ€™m going in alone, I want people watching me.â€
â€œI can watch from afar,â€ Professor Stalloid said.
â€œYou have any way of support if I get in trouble or are you just watching?â€
â€œI can watch from afar.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought.â€
â€œI can help you though I donâ€™t wish to look at what these things are,â€ Wilder said.
â€œI donâ€™t disagree with you,â€ Jacali said.
â€œBut I shall support,â€ Wilder said.
Professor Stalloid retrieved a double-barrel shotgun from his medicine wagon and Jacali led them to the top of the ridge overlooking the valley. She asked Wilder to have her back as she was going to go in and talk to the medicine man. As she headed down the incline, Wilder realized the things were probably about a hundred yards away. He wanted to get closer to get a better bead on the horrible creatures, all without looking at them. He crept down the incline towards the things.
Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald had lain down atop the ridge near some scrub brush. Professor Stalloid took out a pair of binoculars and kept an eye on Jacali. Dr. Weisswald had her bow out.
As she approached the bottom of the valley, Jacali noted Wilder creeping down the valley towards the basalt altar and then saw movement out of the corner of her eye. One of the terrible things lifted into the air, flapping its wings, and landed right next to the mountain man who cowered and put his head down, not wanting to see it.
She called out in the Apache tongue and in English, making a greeting for whomever was in the hut.
Across the small valley, Wilder felt something prod him. He was terrified to look at the awful thing. Then the thing jumped atop him. Neither of the two watching from the top of the ridge noticed Wilder was in trouble. Professor Stalloid was focused on the black entrance of the hut with his binoculars. Dr. Weisswald, also watching the hut, thought she saw movement inside. She was convinced several people were just inside the darkness of the hut. She stood up.
â€œWho is it?â€ a voice came from the hut in English. â€œWhat do you want?â€
Jacali heard flapping wings behind her again as the thing on Wilder finally got a good grip and lifted into the air, taking him to the altar.
â€œMy name is Jacali,â€ she said as calmly as she could. â€œI saw a train crash and I saw strange things in the sky. I was wondering â€¦ I saw you moving away. Whatâ€™s going on?â€
An ominous chuckle came from the hut. Nervous, she put her hand on the bow over her shoulder. She could just make out a man in the shadows of the hut.
* * *
Across the valley, the creature had lifted into the air and swooped down towards the basalt altar, depositing Wilder unceremoniously on the ground in front of it with a crash. Jacali heard someone running down the hill towards her as Dr. Weisswald left her spot. At the top of the hill, Professor Stalloid put away his binoculars and looked around, seeing Wilder being deposited on the ground. He leapt up and ran towards the basalt altar. He was unnerved by the terrible things there.
* * *
â€œThe white man paid me to move a boulder,â€ the voice from the hut told Jacali. â€œI took my payment in those men by the altar. You should go away.â€
Jacali looked back at the altar, the men, and the horrible things. She realized Wilder was lying in front of the altar.
â€œThey are mine now,â€ the voice said. â€œWho is that â€¦ with you?â€
â€œHe is a friend,â€ Jacali said. â€œSomeone I met through my work. Iâ€™ve known for many years.â€
â€œAh,â€ the voice said. â€œYou should leave. You do not want to see what will happen tonight.â€
â€œWhat are these things?â€
â€œThey come from the stars.â€
â€œThey come from the stars, you stupid woman!â€
Jacali didnâ€™t think the man in the hut had seen Dr. Weisswald yet.
â€œWhy do you just have creatures like these living with you?â€ Jacali said. â€œHow can something come from the stars.â€
The man chuckled again.
â€œYig,â€ he said. â€œYig has given. He will lead me to the horn. I will seek the horn. This will help. Leave those men. Leave my place. Who is that?â€
Jacali looked again and saw Professor Stalloid running towards the altar.
* * *
The horrible thing had dropped Wilder and then walked over to the shade of the overhang. Though he didnâ€™t look at the terrible things, he saw the two bounty hunters were tied up tightly with rope and gagged.
* * *
â€œIf you want me to leave, you need to get those things off of my friend, Wilder,â€ Jacali said. â€œAnd also, I heard you practice in black magic. Are these things your creation?â€
â€œMerely summoned by me,â€ the voice said.
â€œWill you let my friend go?â€
â€œA white man is your friend?â€
The chuckle came again.
â€œI donâ€™t get to choose my friends anymore,â€ Jacali said, removing the bow from her shoulder. â€œBut I know good people. Now, you will let him go or I will have to take him back from you.â€
â€œOh, very well,â€ the voice came.
The wild, high-pitched, ululation of a strange whistle blew.
Jacali turned towards the others.
Professor Stalloid was nearly at the altar as the two things moved towards the basalt block as well. Stalloid ran to one of the bound man, dropping by him and trying to untie him.
â€œWild Man, help me!â€ he shouted, getting Wilderâ€™s name wrong.
I have been called worse, Wilder thought.
One of the things rushed Professor Stalloid, tearing into the man and biting him. He fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. Wilder pulled himself up to a crouch, finally looked at the things, and fired at the one on Stalloid with his Winchester rifle. The bullet struck the thing in the gut and it shrieked as black ichor spewed from the wound. Wilder worked the action on the rifle, sending a smoking shell into the air.
Weisswald, running down the hill, looked towards the altar and saw what was happening to the men there. She changed directions, heading towards the two men.
â€œLeave and you can still live,â€ the voice from the hut said to Jacali. â€œYour white men belong to me now.â€
The Apache pulled back her bow and let fly an arrow at one of the horrible creatures but it flew between Wilder and the horrible thing, clattering against the rock wall. The thing Wilder shot turned and tried to bite him but the man ducked to one side while the other horror took to the air, flying towards Dr. Weisswald. Wilder shoved his rifle in the thingâ€™s face and blew its head off. The thing stumbled backwards over the tied men and crashed to the ground.
Weisswald stopped and drew back her bow, sending an arrow at the thing flying directly towards her. It struck the horror in the right leg. The thing shrieked, unnerving the woman.
The loud blast of a gunshot came from behind Jacali, the bullet going through her left leg. Blood spewed out and she stumbled but did not fall. She painfully turned but the man was not visible. He was somewhere in the shadows of the hut. She drew her bow and let fly into the doorway but was unsure if she hit anything in the darkness though she did hear a noise like someone, surprised, squeaking â€œOh!â€ She stumbled to the left, hoping to be out of the manâ€™s point of view and hoping it was a one-shot rifle.
The second flying creature crashed into Dr. Weisswald, hurting her badly. She drew her Arkansas toothpick and stabbed the thing in the chest beneath its wings, twisting the knife. It screeched as black ichor came out of the terrible wound.
Wilder, seeing her predicament, was wracked with indecision but then ran to Professor Stalloid and rubbed dirt in his wound and tried to tie the manâ€™s coat around it. The man looked around, addled and a little confused.
Chanting came from the hut and Jacali saw the shaman come into the light from the doorway where he could see her. He pointed at her and she suddenly felt the weight leave her legs as she floated up five feet off the ground and hung there. She saw he had a big .52 Sharps rifle in his off hand. He went back to work on putting another bullet into the rifle, which was open.
Jacali drew another arrow and pulled back her bow, firing at the man. The arrow struck the wooden doorway right next to his head and he was obviously startled. Jacali felt herself float back a couple inches from the recoil.
Professor Stalloid stood up, picked up his shotgun, and looked around. He ran at the thing fighting Dr. Weisswald as it attacked the woman, biting her. She crashed to the ground, bleeding profusely. Wilder realized Jacali was floating in the air. He walked forward and shot the medicine man in the chest. The man stumbled back but was still visible in the doorway.
The shaman took out the white whistle and blew it, the strange ululating tone ringing across the valley. He shrieked something in his own language. Jacali drew another arrow, fitted it in her bow, and fired it at the man. The arrow struck right next to the first one, startling the man again.
Professor Stalloid was still heading for the thing and blasted away with his shotgun, the shot going high. The horrible thing looked down at Dr. Weisswald and then lifted up off the ground and flew to the hut with amazing speed, leaving a line of black ichor on the ground as it bled. Wilder flung his rifle aside and sprinted to Dr. Weisswald, pushing himself so hard he hurt himself. He dropped by the woman and put some dirt in her wound and tried to keep her from bleeding out.
The shaman dropped the rifle, ran out of the hut, and leapt on the horrorâ€™s back. Jacali stretched herself towards the man and drew back her bow, firing an arrow that struck him in the back. He let out a shout of pain.
Across the valley, Professor Stalloid dropped his shotgun and picked up the Winchester Wilder had dropped. He worked the action on the gun and put it to his shoulder, shooting at the horrible creature but missing.
The thing flapped its wings and flew up into the air.
Wilder ran back to Stalloid.
â€œI need my gun!â€ he said to the man.
The shaman yelled something that didnâ€™t sound like it should come out of a human mouth and held his left hand out behind him.
Jacali reached down for another arrow and hesitated for a moment. Her hand stopped over the lone, black-feathered arrow in the quiver. A year before, shortly before the Apache were driven from their homelands and her family killed by the white man, her village shaman, Kutli, had taken her aside and told her he had a vision. He told her something important was coming and she should have something. The arrow had black fletching that looked like it was made of crow feathers, and a greenish soapstone arrowhead. He told her the arrow was magical and she should save it for the most dire of situations. She did not believe in magic but she took the arrow anyway to appease the old men.
What she was seeing was shattering her beliefs, or lack of beliefs, in magic and things that were not concrete and real.
She pulled out the enchanted arrow and nocked it in her bow. She pulled back the string and aimed at the horror flying away. The arrow flew straight and true but struck the creature and bounced right off, not hurting it at all. She cursed.
Professor Stalloid worked the action on the Winchester once again and fired, hitting the horrible bird thing. It let out a shriek, itâ€™s wings folded up against its body, and it fell out of the sky. The shaman atop it screamed as he and it fell. The thing splattered as it hit and the medicine man stopped screaming and lay very still.
â€œThat was a good shot, Doc,â€ Wilder said, taking his rifle.
He turned, worked the action, and shot the shamanâ€™s body. He realized he was murdering the man, if he was still alive, and it made him terribly uneasy. In frustration, he gave a loud war cry for a few seconds.
Professor Stalloid picked up his shotgun, looking at Wilder, and headed over to Dr. Weisswald. He found she was not bleeding as her wound had been covered with dirt.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Jacali said. â€œDo you all see this!?!â€
Professor Stalloid put a little opium on Dr. Weisswaldâ€™s tongue, taking a little himself, while Wilder went to the two men who were tied up and freed them. Both men were very nervous and Wilder noticed the creature was melting away or evaporating.
â€œThatâ€™s a good gun,â€ Wilder said. â€œThatâ€™s a damn good gun.â€
Then Professor Stalloid stared at Jacali, who was still floating in the air.
â€œYou want to help?â€ she called to him.
â€œHow?â€ he said, coming over to her.
â€œYou could pull me?â€ she said.
He reached for her with his left hand, but the wound in his shoulder kept him from reaching very high.
â€œNo â€¦â€ he said.,
He used some bandages to bind the bullet hole in her leg.
â€œIâ€™m not sure I trust you but thereâ€™s nothing I can do right now,â€ she said.
Professor Stalloid found it amazing the girl was just floating in the air. It made treatment of the wound quite simple. He pulled out a small notebook and a stub of pencil, jotting down some notes as he observed Jacali and sketched her. She finally, a few minutes later, fell to the ground, landing safely.
Wilder managed to wake Dr. Weisswald though she was in a good deal of pain. Thanks to the opium administered to her by Professor Stalloid, she was not in nearly the pain should would have been in.
Jacali headed for the hut, followed closely by Professor Stalloid, who questioned her about how the floating felt. The hut had only a few basics for survival and a little smoked meat. A barrel of water was there as well. What was most interesting was a drawing on buffalo hide hanging on one wall. It crudely depicted a strange curved shape with small points or thorns sticking out of it. It might have been a necklace or perhaps even the Horn she had heard the man was searching for.
Jacali took the hide and they searched the hut but found nothing else of interest.
Professor Stalloid picked up the Sharps Rifle that lay in front of the hut. The two of them examined the corpse too and noticed the horror he had tried to fly away upon was melting as well. They found a dozen bullets for the rifle on the shaman as well as a soapstone amulet depicting a turtle that was the size of a fist and the small bone whistle of strange shape. It didnâ€™t look like any kind of bone Jacali had ever seen before. She was certain it was not a bone from any animal she had ever seen in her life.
â€œThatâ€™s a damn good gun!â€ Wilder said when he wandered over and saw the other thing melting.
They left the terrible valley and returned to the train wreck. Several wagons were there by then, to take the dead and injured back to Golconda. There was talk of getting a posse together but there were delays as everyone was afraid to go after John Valentine and his gang.
* * *
Jacali consulted shamans and wise men and learned the whistle was an evil item to aid in the summoning of horrible things from beyond. She learned the amulet was enchanted but another spell would have to be cast upon it for someone other than the owner to use it. When enchanted, it would protect the owner from harm like a turtle shell. The shaman who enchanted it would have to pay a great cost, however.