Hospitality and Hostility

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Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Jessamine Blake on Sun Feb 14, 2010 5:01 am

To an aging whore with a gaggle of chirruping girls to manage, there is nothing worse than a slow business day--or rather, night. Satan always has some mischief for idle hands to do.

Jessamine Blake grinned lopsidedly to herself as she wiped the bar. Only in a dried-up, shoddy place like this would 28 be considered "aging." Back in the old states, a woman could count on her looks to last a little longer, but nobody lasted long in Santa Anna.

Except me, of course, she thought with another wry grin.

Jessamine was relatively kind to the girls in her house, but they were not her friends. Silence was generally her habit, unless she was giving out orders or charming clients. If she had been a Victorian lady, she might have kept a diary, but as a madam she felt it was unwise to put personal thoughts down in writing, where they could be held against you later. She wouldn’t put it past one of the older girls to try and sneak into her private rooms and rummage around.

A soft, furtive knock on the door brought her attention back to the moment. She didn't look up, though she was curious to see who would come in this close to morning. She turned to put a bottle back on the high shelf, and heard the knock again. Frowning, she turned to see that none of the girls had moved to answer the door. Nora and Maria were lounging across the sofa in the back corner, toying with their hair and whispering. Abigale was plinking away softly on the piano and humming to herself, head in the clouds as always. Likely as not, she didn't even hear the knocking. Several of the girls had given up and gone to bed when it looked like there would be no customers for the night. Jessamine's eyes came to rest on Laney, who was sprawled across a table right next to the door.

"Are you goin' to answer that or not, Laney? If you can't drag a man in here to turn a trick, you could at least get off your ass long enough to let the ones that come of their own accord in the door!"

Laney looked up at her through sullen eyes. She was beautiful, but she was nobody's favorite, and she knew it. The men liked her even less than the other girls, and Jessamine often wondered to herself why she didn't just throw the tramp into the street to fend for herself. Must be my kind heart, she thought sardonically as Laney stretched languidly toward the door--God, but she was lazy!--and yanked it open.

It was only Enna, one of the few local respectable women. She made herself even more the exception with her kind treatment of Jessamine and her girls. Most of the time Jessamine considered her a nuisance, and privately wondered whether the girl didn't secretly wish to trade her prim lifestyle for something a little wilder. But a look at Enna's face silenced Jessamine's cattier instincts, and she quickly motioned the girl inside. She looked shaken; her face was ashy and her eyes were wild. When she spoke, her voice was in the upper registries of hysteria.

"Miss Blake. I came to you as soon as I could. I should have realized sooner...it may be too late already." Her breath came in high-pitched little gasps, and Jessamine noticed that her brow was glistening with sweat.

"Fool girl, did you run all the way here in the middle of the morning?" She pushed Enna into a nearby chair and went to fetch her something to drink. Grimly, she wished she had something more appropriate for a society lady than hard liquor or tepid water. Finally, she settled on watering down a tiny portion of spirits--the girl looked like she might lose her mind any minute, after all--and set it down in front of Enna emphatically, with a look that silenced whatever protestation the girl had been about to offer. Jessamine pulled up a chair and sat down across from her.

"Okay, now," she said as the girl sipped reluctantly from the glass. "Slow down and tell me what's so urgent that a nice girl like you needed to leave her bed at this ungodly hour and go running unaccompanied through the streets of a town like this. How in the world did you get away without your husband finding out?"

"Oh, Thomas isn't home at all. None of the men are; they've all gone off past the outskirts of town. That's--"

"Wait, Enna. Do you mean to tell me your husband, and the rest of the men as well, left all their wives and children with no protection whatsoever for the night, for no reason at all? What the hell are they all thinking?"

"Well, I'm trying to tell you, if you'd let me." Enna's indignation was almost pouty, and Jessamine could have laughed at her if she didn't seem so worried.

"Thomas never came home today. At first I didn't worry, but after it got very late...you know what kind of place this can be. I walked into town to ask, but there was really no one to ask. I finally ran into little Alan Kearney, all by himself in the street at this time of night, and he told me Thomas and almost all the other men in town left earlier today. Apparently, some crazy man rode into town today claiming that Mr. Pearse has rounded up a small army from Little Bethlehem, and they're all headed our direction. He said he saw them camped out, and he rode all the way without stopping to warn us. The other wives are worried it's some kind of raiding party. Hattie Greenfield has her children hiding in the fruit cellar."

Jessamine stared hard at Enna for a moment. She was mildly stunned. What could provoke someone--even that Pearse bastard--to drag a raiding party up to Santa Anna? It certainly looked grim...especially since she happened to know that most of the Santa Anna men were more at home with farming tools in their hands than guns. Automatically, she put a hand to her waist, reassured by the feel of the gun she concealed beneath her bodice. Standing, she turned to catch the eyes of the four girls in the room, all of whom had quieted and sat listening to Enna's story.

"Abigale, go wake up the other girls. Tell the ones with windows to close 'em, lock 'em, and pull the curtains. Get them all down here, I don't care how much they grumble. And make sure they're dressed." She turned to Laney.

"Get my extra gun." She raised an eyebrow at the innocent bewilderment on the girl's face. "Don't play stupid, I know you know where it is." Laney glowered, but she pulled out of her slouch and went for the bar. Jessamine realized that this was why she kept Laney around: the girl was the only other whore in the place who could shoot worth a damn. She turned to the other girls.

"Latch the doors, front and back. Put that sofa against the front, and a few tables against the back. Then you get down to the cellar, and you take as many of the girls as you can with you. Shut the door, and don't you open it until I tell you to myself. You hear?" The girls nodded, looking frightened, and went to do as they were told. Last of all, Jessamine turned to Enna.

"You can't go home by yourself, so you'll have to stay here with us. Go ahead and get down to the cellar with my girls, and get as far towards the back as you can." Enna scowled, but didn't argue; she hated to be grouped with the useless elements, but knew it was where she belonged.

Jessamine stood by the door, one hand at her waist, and watched as the girls milled about, scooting tables and filing into the back toward the cellar, a furrow in her brow. She was glad for the warning, but part of her wished Enna was safe at home. If a raiding party did come to Santa Anna, the whorehouse was where the women would suffer most. That was fine, she supposed. She and her girls had chosen to be whores, had chosen to allow respectable men to fuck them and see them as something less than true human women at the same time. But Enna was just a sweet girl, too kind for her own good. And too pretty. It made Jessamine sick to think of what would happen to her if she were found in the back of that cellar with the girls during some kind of raid.

As the sun began to rise, shining gray and bleak through the cracks in the house's walls, the women of Santa Anna--respectable and otherwise--waited with bated breath to see what would become of their men and their home.
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Arrival

Post  Ethan Ramey on Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:29 am

Good news became less and less probable. Geoffrey States stood in the stables of Santa Anna, at the entrance to the town entire, and smoked his father's cigars. Santa Anna was overflowing with palpable tension, but Geoffrey was immune. He was considered old enough to stand watch but not old enough to go fight, and so he stood watch. But he wasn't old enough to grasp the situation at all, and so he smoked, swore, and did what he was told.

Behind him, the town boiled like a pot. At first, it had seemed that Santa Anna's men would come into view at any moment, but that idea had soon passed. Now, it was unsure whether anything would happen, but no one was ready to move. The whorehouse stood locked tight, and the young men took turns standing in the stable and watching the horizon. Time trickled by and the town stretched like a string, but it refused to break.

Geoffrey dropped his cigar into the hay of the stable and swore. The hay lit fire and he rapidly stamped it out. He lifted the cigar and re-lit it, blew smoke out in rings like his Papa did, and checked the sun.

It was growing dark, and he was tired of waiting. He rubbed out the cigar on the boarded walls and started back towards the first of three town crossroads. His hand moved to make sure the small cigar case was concealed; his mother, huddled in the whorehouse with the rest of the town, would not approve. The cigar case was tucked into the top of his overalls and out of sight, but he noticed the absence of the matches immediately.

Fuck. He turned and raced back to the stables, the sun to his back, and found the matches in the crisped hay. As he returned them to his front pocket, his eyes caught the horizon in the last of the evening's light, and he saw movement. He moved into the road to gain an unobstructed view and squinted as hard as he could to see.

And he saw. He turned and ran frantically back to the whore house. His hands pounded on the door, and he didn't await a response.

"They're here! They're here!"

There were sounds of furniture moving from the other side, and the door cracked open.

"Who's here, child?"

"Papa and the other men, ma'am," Geoffrey responded, his voice falling from the frantic to the polite. He turned red, as he always did, when speaking to one of the whores.

"And ma'am, it looks like they brought company, too."


Last edited by Ethan Ramey on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:35 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Allie Johnson on Mon Mar 15, 2010 11:49 am

It was the middle of nowhere. No-fucking-where. Her feet hung over the edge of a mesa (which, to her mind, was just another word for 'great, hulking, immovable piece of rock'), shoe-less and bare. They were sore from her boots. The gray was snuffling along the ground somewhere behind her, looking for grass or something of the sort. It didn't much matter to her. Allie's mind rested uncomfortably on other matters. It was the sort of nagging thought that you could never get rid of. Even when you where happy for a split second, and that thought disappeared, it would be back. So it was with the cowgirl. Her mind had warped itself around pain and sorrow. Her heart had grown accustomed to hating, but still remembered the peculiar feeling of love and happiness. It was always the same memory that she despised so much. It was the same thought that she sat dwelling on, with her feet dangling over the edge of the rock.

She supposed she sat there because she liked the danger. The thought that with just one movement, she could be over the edge without hope. As it was, she teetered on the brink, not even watching the ground. Instead, she stared away from the edge as if it weren't there and focused her attention on two dots in the distance. One of them was really more like a thought of a dot, but the other one was defined and black against the monotony of the dusted rocks. Allie swept her arm across her forehead and squinted. They were definitely towns. Throughout her life, Allie had always been a bit lost with the directions that things went in. Her mind was always working and jumbled, and it was hard for her to find her own way. Before, she had been wandering from town to town. There really wasn't a set reason for this, in fact, it may have been more out of the hope that she would run into her family's murderers than anything else. Now her destination was definitely set on her old home. She was, however, hopelessly and irretrievably lost. The two pinpricks of towns in the distance meant that somebody could give her directions and maybe lodgings for a night or two, as the cold ground made her bones ache.

"Horse," Allie called back, still keeping her eyes focused on the two dots. "We'll eat like kings in a few days." The gruffness edged slightly out of her voice as she spoke to the gray, who immediately shifted his ears in her direction. She almost smiled. Now there was one of the only species in the whole desert she actually could cope with being around.

The cowgirl stood slowly on the edge of the rock. She had seen what she needed to see, and now they both needed to make it back down. Thoroughly reluctant to let the towns out of her sight, she let them linger on the edge of her vision for a split second before something else caught her attention. The ghostly second dot of a town became engulfed in a kind of light she'd never seen before in her life. It seemed a million years before it reached her. It was white. Whiter than white. It was nothing. Or everything... She slipped in its brilliance as it washed over her. The heat baked her. It would surely burst her into flame right there on the edge of the rock. She wouldn't even have time to continue falling-

As soon as it had burst upon her, it was over. Allie found herself twisting to grab the ledge, but reaching nothing. After her senses returned, she realized three things. The first was that she had kicked herself back from the edge when she slipped and was now laying on the ground. The second was that someone was screaming. A sudden need to take quite a few large breaths told her that the scream had come from her own throat. After taking her large, gasping breaths, Allie was nearly completely calm. The one thing that bothered her (and the third thing she discovered) was that she could not see. Shakily, the cowgirl extended her fingers to her face and felt, to her dismay, that her eyes were wide open. Confused and now somewhat scared, Allie squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. She recognized shadows and became relieved. Repeating the process, she found that her vision had fully returned, and that the light was gone. She had no burns, and only a few twinkling lights in her eyes to remind her that it had been a real experience.

"We're leaving." She said in a hoarse voice as she turned to see the gray. His eyes were wide and frightened and he had backed himself into a corner. Groaning, Allie reached for her boots. She needed to calm him before she could saddle him, but her mind wandered. It was noon time, and the light that struck her had been brighter than day itself. The inner mechanisms of her mind shifted, trying to make sense of things. She watched her hands. She could feel every movement of her muscles. Amazed at her own new-found grace in motion, she looked at the gray. Something was trying to click in her mind. It begged for information and for knowledge that she didn't have, and a few dark lines twisted into the horse's outline. As he moved, so did they. Allie almost thought that she could see how he was put together, but dismissed it as nonsense and drove the ideas that the light had left from her mind. The misery she lived in before was much easier to work with than this sudden and powerfully thirsty curiosity.

---

The sun hung a tad low in the sky as Allie spurred her gray into a reluctant lope. She had bought him at the last town she was in and as much as Allie understood horses, she couldn't understand why her gray was so uncomfortable. His gait wasn't uncomfortable because he had been too long without food or water, nor was it the result of a tired horse with worn hooves. Allie had taken all of the day before to rest, and that was why their rations packs were light and she was urging the gray into the town.

No, he wasn't tired, she decided as he curved his neck back in an effort to get away from the bit and then began to step sideways. He was definitely a nervous horse. Upon nearing the town (she hadn't yet learned its name), the gray fairly danced under her saddle, so she allowed him to slow to a walk and kept him from gaining his head and bolting. Gazing on the town was giving her a nervous anticipation, so she blamed the horse. Something, though, whatever it was, seemed quite off about town. There weren't any women in the streets gossiping, as far as she could see, and there were no men to be spied either. Everything was perfectly quiet. "This town's dust has settled..." She whispered to herself, partly incredulous and partly wondering if she shouldn't still follow her horse's inclinations and high-tail it outta there.

As near as she could tell, she was coming up on the back end of the town.

"Whoah, whoah. Easy." Allie dismounted and took the reins in both her hands. The gray was rolling his eyes and tossing his head, making it quite difficult for Allie to hold him still. As soon as she reached the first few buildings, though, the girl began to feel an incredible amount of tension in the air. Only her curiosity and saddle-sore body kept her pulling the horse into the town. Food wasn't a necessity as they had both unwisely eaten a large meal the day before at the comforting prospect of running into a town.

To her left was the wall of a large building, and to her right, a few houses. In the startling silence of the town, Allie crept along the wall to her left. The loudest noise she heard was the percussion of her spurs and the horse's hooves when they stepped. A sudden noise caught her off-guard from the right, and Allie jumped, swearing and pulling her gun on the source of the noise as the gray reared and nickered behind her. Allie's heart could have pounded right out of her chest until she saw the perpetrator. A small boy of ten or eleven had burst through the door to a house and immediately began to run. He hadn't even noticed her or the gun that was pointed at him. This was certainly odd, and Allie ran after him, startled horse in tow. Upon rounding the corner, Allie stopped dead in her tracks. She had found herself in the middle of the town, and immediately her curiosity was piqued once again. Occasionally a youth like the one she had seen a second before would dart across the center of the town in a frightened, kamikaze way only to dive behind or into a building. it would seem as if they were all playing a sort of game if there hadn't been so much damned electricity in the air. Allie shivered uncomfortably in the heat.

A common convergence point for these boys seemed to be a stable at the entrance to the town. The tired cowgirl looped her gray's reins around a post and sneaked onto the nearest porch and then sat down in an old rocking chair so that she could spy on the happenings and still be out of the way. She hadn't been seated long when the noise of a door slamming open once again assaulted her ears, and the door right next to her chair flung open, startling Allie. She fell over, somehow tangled in her chair, and hadn't even had time to throw it off when the door slammed back closed again. "Coward..." she called to the gray, who was dancing on the spot and pulling against the reins. He gave her an indignant look, and went back to chomping the bit and trying to pull away from his tether.

Allie scrambled to the door and set to pounding on it. "Hey! Anybody in there? He-" She cut her shouting off short when she heard another voice. It was back the way she had come. Her hand flew to the gun on her hip and rested there for a second before Allie made up her mind to follow the sound. She untangled her horse from the post and swung onto his back, allowing him to gallop behind the houses and shops until she found the source. It was a short ride, and hardly worth her mounting the gray in the first place. She slid to the ground and was running immediately. Another youth was standing at a cracked door, with a polite posture, even though he had been the yelling voice she heard only mere moments before.

"And ma'am, it looks like they brought company, too." He was speaking to the woman behind the door. Allie wasted no time or manners, but instead came up to the two quickly and with little breath.

"Hey!" She called wildly. "What the hell is going on in this town?" Perhaps this wasn't the best way to introduce oneself, but then again, Allie hadn't really done things in the 'best way' in a very long time.


Last edited by Allie Johnson on Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:06 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Samuel Kircher on Thu Mar 18, 2010 7:57 pm

The war blood was still simmering in Kircher's veins when Pearse had addressed the remaining combatants not felled by the lawman's repeater. But as Pearse conversed and issued instructions with the speed and efficiency of a commander giving after-action objectives to subordinates, Samuel's face lost the red fire it had had, and the ringing in his ears from the gunfire had died down enough to allow him to hear clearly.

While Pearse entered Ramey's cabin, Samuel and two other men corralled the prisoners and bound their hands, mounting them on the horses whose riders had passed on during the battle. While waiting for Pearse to emerge, he reloaded his Winchester, and holstered it back in the saddle, where it awaited more action.

When Mr. Pearse came out and proclaimed that Santa Anna was to receive judgement at the hands of the Gentleman of the West, Samuel inhaled deeply. The prospect of storming into the small farmer's town didn't bring pleasant thoughts to Kircher, but if Pearse decreed it, then it was the law...his law was the only one that was truly worth a damn out here, contrary to whatever lofty ideals of justice that Samuel had sworn himself to when he became a deputy...

Make that sheriff now, I guess..., Kircher suddenly mused, as his gaze fell upon the now stiff bodies of the Sheriff and deputy of Little Bethelehem, heaped among the other dead. The notion of being instantly promoted in such a fashion made Samuel frown, but it wasn't to be helped now. He wondered if Pearse was aware of the fact, and if the Irishman would soon recruit him into his service, as he had done with the old sheriff.

These thoughts and more circled and stewed in the lawman's mind as the posse now made for Santa Anna. Kircher observed as Ramey, the man of the hour and perceived harbinger of this series of events, rode close to Pearse, overseen by the hulking Native employed by Pearse. Kircher wondered also if Ramey and Pearse discussed anything pertinent in the cabin, but by the looks of it, any discussion between the men would be resumed later.

Separating from the prisoners' horses in the watch of the two men Kircher appointed, he slowly gained on the Irishman until he was even, and in low voice audible only to Pearse, addressed the leader.

"Mr. Pearse, sir...if I can be casual for a second, do we--do you intend to commandeer Santa Anna for ourselves? I understand that Bethelehem's in a bad way now, but is salvage out of the question? I'd rather not have to fight plowmen if we have a choice."

Kircher paused a moment, and continued with his driving question. "I guess what I'm asking here, sir, is...is there no chance for amelieration with Santa Anna now?"
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Heart of Gold

Post  Jessamine Blake on Sun Mar 21, 2010 6:07 pm

Time seemed to pass very slowly in the Santa Anna whorehouse, but it did not pass uneventfully. Apparently, Enna's arrival had been only the beginning. From dawn until dusk the next day, women had come to Jessamine's door seeking refuge for themselves and their children. Of course, she had observed when the first of the scared ladies came knocking, they'll do nearly anything to keep their husbands out of my house, but at the first sight of trouble I'm the belle of the ball.

Each time she allowed another family admittance, she cursed herself silently. The house was crowded now; she had packed as many children and "respectable" women as she could into the cellars and bolted the doors. Many people had taken refuge upstairs, filling every nook and cranny of the little building with their fear. The bottom floor was filled with a strange amalgam of creatures: women from the town in their prim, plain frocks, the more useful and alert of her girls in their more revealing and colorful "work clothes," children in their long johns or street urchins in their rags, and of course the more useless of the house girls in their nightgowns, or in whatever states of undress they had found themselves in when the whole situation had started.

For all its crowding, the house was eerily still and silent, the quiet broken only by the occasional knock on the front door: another scared soul begging sanctuary. The women sat or stood rigidly in place, their faces drawn into long lines of worry and fear, jumping each time a sound was made. By the end of that first day of waiting, Jessamine was sure she had every woman from the town in her house.

And not a damned one of them knows how to fire a gun, she thought sourly. The lot of them were still protected only by herself and Laney, the latter of whom seemed to merely make everyone more nervous. Where Jessamine radiated competence and calm, Laney exuded lazy sensuality and carelessness. Of course, she exuded that most of the time, but with a gun swinging casually from one hand, it was understandably nerve-wracking.

At some point during their long vigil, the normal silence was broken once by screams and calls of alarm. One moment they were all sitting silently and on-edge, and the next they were nearly pushed over that edge as the air around them lit up like Judgment Day. Walls seemed to make no difference. The boards that had been procured to close up the windows made no difference, either. Everything shimmered with heat, and for an instant everything was lost in a brilliant white. And when it was gone, the world seemed different, somehow. The cries died down, and the women looked around themselves in bewilderment, the terror showing clearly on their faces. Several children cried quietly--and one very small child cried quite loudly--in their mothers' arms. But Jessamine didn't only see her house anymore, or the people under her protection. Between them, around them, over their heads and--occasionally--running them through were...it was difficult to explain, even to herself. Tiny lines of light, constantly in motion and yet somehow stable, inevitable. There was a logic and a terrible beauty to it; it was a map, if only Jessamine could read it clearly.

She calmed and reassured, and remained the stalwart hostess, but her eyes were...not faraway, exactly. They failed to quite reach the people they saw, focusing instead on the lines of light that bound them together or drew divisions between them. She didn't realize it, but many among those she looked at noticed, and shrank away from her gaze.

*****

It was nearing the end of the second day--or was it the third? The fourth? Jessamine had lost count--when one of the street children came pounding and shouting at her door.

"They're here! They're here!" Beulah, the girl standing nearest the entrance, spent some time moving a table out of the way and then opened the door just a crack.

"Who's here, child?"

Jessamine heard the boy's mumbled reply, but couldn't make out all the words. Her right hand tightened on the handle of her gun; the left was already in a tense fist against her stomach. She tried to be patient as Beulah turned to explain, but there was suddenly a commotion outside.

"Hey!" The voice was loud, grating, but decidedly female. "What the hell is going on in this town?" Beulah said something quietly to the newcomer and then turned to Jessamine.

“Miss Blake, it’s Geoffrey States. He said he saw the men coming into town, and some others. And there’s a woman at the door I don’t recognize.”

Jessamine sighed and moved toward the door, weaving her way carefully through the tense bodies. She shooed Beulah out of the way and peeked out. Geoffrey was staring uncomprehendingly at what Jessamine supposed was the source of the braying voice. The woman she saw looked slightly wild, weather-beaten, and dangerous. She was unfamiliar to Jessamine; not one of the townswomen, not one of the regular drifters that made a circuit through the small settlements of the area about once a year. The indecipherable light-map seemed not to care for her much; it bent and distorted around her, seeming to lose some of its logic wherever she touched it. She opened the crack wider and yanked Geoffrey inside, ignoring his cussing protests.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” she said, her voice terse in spite of the polite words. She blocked the opening with her body, keeping the gun out-of-sight behind the door, but at the ready. “Normally I’d direct you to more hospitable lodgings, but under the circumstances I’d advise that you get back in whatever saddle you rode here on and get the hell outta Santa Anna.” With that, she shut the door tightly and bolted it, then motioned for Beulah to move the table back into position against it. The woman outside was saying something rather loudly, but Jessamine never knew what it was. From the stairs, a keening wail caught the attention of everyone in the room.

“What now?” Try as she might, a note of exasperation crept into Jessamine’s voice as she turned to see the source of the sound.

A small boy was standing on the bottom stair, his face red and streaked with tears. The lines of light shuddered and twisted wildly around him, and their edges seemed tinged with something dark and frightening. A tired-looking woman--the child's mother, Jessamine supposed--came down the stairs and picked him up. She held him against her chest and attempted to soothe him, meeting their eyes apologetically.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "He's been like this all day and night. He keeps crying for his father."

Jessamine wove her way through to the woman, staring at the brilliance around the child. It seemed to recoil from his mother. She tried to help his mother reassure him.

"Your father will be home soon, dearie," she said. "You don't have a thing to worry about."

The child turned his head to look at her, and she was knocked nearly breathless at the force of his glare. This was not the expression of a child. It had all the knowledge of a grown man, and the pain that can only come from a long life of hardship and loss. When he spoke, such words in his lisping child's voice sent icy fingers running up and down Jessamine's spine.

"My father won't be home, ever. All the fathers are gone."

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"[These]...settlers are churlish types who are accustomed to live apart from each other, as neither fathers nor sons associate with each other."
--Fermín de Mendinueta, Governor of the New Mexico Territory, c. 1776.
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Big Trouble...in Santa Anna

Post  Mr. Pearse on Sat Mar 27, 2010 4:15 pm

It had been a long day.

Mr. Pearse ruminated on this thought in silence, gazing down at the town of Santa Anna from his hilltop perch. Before him, the sun smoldered like a dying ember as it sunk slowly beneath the horizon. Behind him, twelve armed men shifted in dark anticipation, their spirits tempered by vengeance and bloodlust. The world teetered on a precipice.

And yet Mr. Pearse waited.

Partly, the Irishman’s delay was tactical. His well-trained eyes darted from one silhouetted building to the next, mapping the terrain and identifying potential hardpoints. The streets were empty – would ambushes have been set to meet them? Where would sentries most likely be located, and where would noncombatants be hiding? These were important concerns, and all worth answering.

But most of Pearse’s delay stemmed from other reasons entirely. As he glanced over the town, he could feel hostile eyes staring back up at him. He could feel fear, too. It was clear to both sides of the conflict as to who held the insurmountable advantage in manpower and material. Santa Anna was resigned to an executioner’s blade; Pearse would be able to determine the exact placement and timing of the blow at his leisure. Meanwhile, the citizens of Santa Anna could only wait, their anxiety mounting.

Good to let them sweat a little.

The Irishman’s gaze remained locked on the town as Samuel rode up beside him. Nodding politely as the lawman voiced his concerns, Pearse only turned to fully acknowledge him after he had finished speaking. Pearse’s green orbs burned with intensity, and his words carried an air of deep deliberation.

“You tell me, *sheriff,* what ‘amelioration’ there exists in this world or the next to right the deaths of a score’s good hands.” The Irishman’s features softened, although his eyes lost none of their fire. “I’ve long been of the opinion that we must each find our own justice. Mine is firm, but it need not always result in bloodshed. Sometimes, there’s deeper requitals to be had than burnt fields and dead men.”

Pearse’s attention shifted from the lawman to the other armed figures under his command. Some were natives of Little Bethlehem, while others were drawn from the Irishman’s personal contingent of hired guns. Individual conversations quickly subsided as they noticed their boss’s focus, replaced instead by a sheen of deadly readiness. They were steeled for a slaughter; Pearse, however, had other plans.

The Irishman happened a glance toward the four prisoners. While three had their heads hung in resignation, Pearse was impressed to find that the last one – Two Cents – was staring daggers at his captors. Noticing the Irishman’s attention, Two Cents glared back, his face ringed with hatred. Pearse only smiled in return. Willing or not, the de facto sheriff of Santa Anna would also have his own part to play in Pearse’s plans.

In fact, Mr. Pearse had a plan for just about everybody.

***

A few minutes later, the circus came to Santa Anna.

They rode in pairs, trotting down the town’s main throughway with all the subtlety of a conquering army. Pearse and Samuel led the way, with the Indian and a reluctant Ethan Ramey following immediately behind. As the party passed the first crossroads, a few riders began to peel off from the main group, taking up strategic positions along side streets and back alleys. Their orders were to watch and wait; Pearse did not expect a fight, but he didn’t want to corral all his forces in one exposed location, either.

Once during this trek, the Irishman spied a flash of movement. A pale face popped up from a window before quickly disappearing again. The face was young; too young. Mr. Pearse could not help but smile. If Santa Anna had resorted to using children as lookouts, the town was in worse straits than he’d thought.

Reaching the closest thing Santa Anna had to a town square, Pearse dismounted. His crisp leather boots swirled up dust as he paced the area, watching the sun’s final moments. Around him, other riders left the stirrup and began to fan out, their gun barrels glinting in the half-light. The prisoners were thrown to the ground and forced to kneeling positions. As the last glimmers of daylight finally faded, Pearse’s men rapidly lit and distributed kerosene lamps. Soon, the square was awash with the glow of a dozen different lanterns.

Nodding curtly, the Irishman moved to stand in front of the hostages, facing the town of Santa Anna at large. The bulk of the Indian loomed beside him, one red hand dangling a lamp so Pearse could see without being burdened with one himself.

Clearing his throat theatrically, the Gentleman of the West offered a quick wink in Ramey’s direction before addressing the gloom. His lilting voice boomed, reverberating off of darkened houses and shuttered businesses. If there was anyone in the town of Santa Anna, they would not be able to help but hear his words.

“My name is Liam Pearse, and I’ve come to take what I’m owed! This afternoon, riders from Santa Anna ambushed and killed my men. This was an act of mischief – ” The Irishman’s eyes narrowed. “ – which I have returned with interest. I’ve the four survivors with me now. Say your names.”

At this, Pearse exchanged a glance with the hired gun Jeremiah. The youth nodded solemnly, pressing the muzzle of his rifle into the backs of each hostage in turn. The first prisoner spoke through cracked lips – hours of captivity and exhaustion had taken their toll. “T-Thomas Bates.” This pattern continued through the other three. Two Cents spoke last, “George States,” spitting bitterly at the end of his name.

Pearse continued. “If any of you’ve a mind to ensure these survivors stay as such, show yourselves now and you’ll not be harmed. If you’ve a leader, send him now to discuss terms. If you haven’t, find one fast, for I’ve far more bullets than patience.”

And with that, Mr. Pearse fell silent. As the rest of the group seemed to draw their breath in anticipation, he felt strangely serene. There was no worry that events could go awry; no concern over his own safety even as he stood illuminated by lamplight and exposed to a hundred different vantage points. He did not know why he should feel so confident – he only knew that he should.

And meanwhile, the shapes in his left eye continued to crawl. They were sharper, now, but they had yet to make any more sense.

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Terms of Surrender

Post  Jessamine Blake on Sat Apr 03, 2010 4:17 am

Enna Bates had been sitting on a barrel in the back of Jessamine's cellar for so long that she felt almost attached to the thing. Her neck and back were stiff with discomfort, and she felt cold all over despite the closed-in, sweltering space. Her thoughts were with Thomas, and though she would have been loathe to admit it, she was angry with him. He had left her alone, unprotected, and gone off on some wild notion without a word.

And now, it seemed, he had returned...but by the grace of God alone.

When Enna had first heard Mr. Pearse's voice coming muffled through the cellar walls, she had finally moved from her barrel perch and begun inching her way forward through the throng of frightened women. She reached the cellar door just in time to hear her husband's timid voice, and at that moment she thought her heart would burst with gratitude. Her happiness at his survival punctured her anger, not to mention her ladylike timidity. Without further ado she began shoving the other women out of the way, fighting desperately to get to the front of the room, out the door, to see her Thomas with her own eyes...

As she came nearer the door, however, she saw that Jessamine Blake was already blocking it. Her exterior was calm and collected, but there was something in the straightness of her back, the rigid square set of her jaw, that told Enna this was a fighting stance. She hesitated, and then the cause of the blockade became clear to her.

Geoffrey States, his face nearly purple and wet with tears, was struggling against the hold of one of Jessamine's girls--the dark-haired, surly one called Laney. Her hands were clamped down on his arms so hard the knuckles were white, and the look on her face was positively terrifying. As for Geoffrey, he was twisting and growling out threats in the kind of language Enna was accustomed to being sheltered from. But she understood the sentiment behind it. Geoffrey would only get himself hurt--or killed--trying to attack Mr. Pearse. And if his son were shot dead right before his eyes, it would be unlikely that any manner of reason would remain to save the deputy from the same pointless fate.

Swallowing her excitement as best she could, Enna stepped briskly toward Geoffrey States, who continued to twist and kick and cuss at Laney. Careful to avoid his kicking feet, she reached out and grabbed his chin in a grip that was surprisingly strong for such a gentle, meek-looking woman.

"Stop that awful cussing and listen to me, before you get us all good and killed."

Her normally sweet voice was so venomous that he stilled out of sheer surprise.

"Yes, your father is out there, and yes, he's probably been humiliated and smacked around a bit. And yes, there is a very good chance that Mr. Pearse may shoot him no matter what we do. But if you go out there screaming and cussing and flailing your fists around, you'll have a bullet in your head before you can even reach Mr. Pearse. And then they can bury you next to your daddy after he tries to kill Pearse himself out of grief. Are you prepared to be the thing that kills your daddy?"

Geoffrey looked at her through wide eyes, his color slowly returning to normal and fresh tears starting at the corners of his eyes. He didn't speak anymore, just shook his head dejectedly. Enna pried Laney's hands from his arms and led him away, toward the back of the room.

"My husband's out there, too, Geoffrey. So you and me are the worst people possible to go out to speak to Mr. Pearse right now. We'll just get in the way. Why don't you stay with me until this is straightened out?"

The boy--he really wasn't much more, despite his deplorable language--looked at her defiantly and drew away from her arms a bit.

"I don't need no goddam babysitter." She flinched a little, but composed herself and nodded understandingly.

"I know you don't. But I'm no good in a fight, and I could use someone to look out for me. Do you think you could do that? I'm sure these other ladies would feel better with a man around as well." She was appealing to his ego, and he certainly knew it, but her voice was so sincere that he let himself be convinced anyway. He nodded his assent and took up a watchful stance beside her. Enna looked to Jessamine, who had been watching from the doorway, ready to intervene if need be. Jessamine nodded, and Enna looked away quickly. She counted the madam her friend in a strange way, but today there was a faraway gleam in her eyes that made Enna's stomach twist in a strange, uncomfortable way.

*****

Jessamine had listened with a sinking feeling to Pearse's impromptu speech. The bastard, she thought. He's managed to kill all but a handful of the men in this town, and now he's determined to hang the rest of us for it. Only a man like Liam Pearse could call that justice.

By the time he had begun introducing his captives, she had been about to take aim for his head through a hole in the door. But then Two Cents had announced himself, and Geoffrey States had nearly ripped his way right through her to get outside. Luckily, Laney didn't prove as lazy and useless as usual. She managed to hold him long enough for Jessamine to plant herself against the door. Jessamine had worried, though; if enough of the people inside decided to get outside, they could just trample herself and Laney to death on their way, and there would be precious fucking little they could do about it. Luckily, again (and it seemed an odd enough day for luck), none of the other women seemed inclined to move. They all sat listening to Pearse's voice, seemingly paralyzed with terror and days of claustrophobia.

Of course, Jessamine hadn't counted on Enna Bates. Of all the respectable townswomen, Enna was the last Jessamine would expect to come charging through, heading straight for the door. She suspected the reason she had accepted Enna's friendliness from the get-go was some combination of her obvious sincerity, and the vague feeling that there was more than hair under her pretty home-sewn sun bonnet. There was steel in her eyes, and the lights in Jessamine's own seemed unsure of whether to embrace her all over or cringe away from her; they did both in turn, in fact.

Jessamine just watched with something akin to pride as Enna quieted Geoffrey States and drew him away from the door. When she was sure the boy wasn't going to make a run for it after all, Jessamine turned to Laney, who had her gun at the ready. Grudgingly, Jessamine was grateful for Laney.

So what the hell do we do now? There aren't any men left in town, at least not any capable of dealing with that bastard. Two Cents would be the logical choice if he weren't bent over in the dust with a gun in his ear. She had two guns, two able shooters, no extra bullets, and no one to shepherd or protect these pitiful, sheltered creatures if the two of them ended up dead. She hesitated only a moment before she made her decision.

"I'm going out there to speak to Pearse." Laney's eyes tightened, and from behind her Jessamine felt the women stir and murmur, obviously disliking this turn of events. She turned and gave them a glare that was not far away, and anything but unfocused.

"There isn't anybody else," she hissed at them. "You came to me for protection when your foolish husbands ran off to play heroes on the battlefield. Well, now they seem to have gotten themselves killed, excepting a few. You can wear your crosses and clean white gloves and turn your noses up at me tomorrow. For tonight, I'd like to try and save the few left out there, and maybe keep you all from being forced to learn my trade."

No one spoke anymore. Most of them looked aside, or down, refusing to meet her eyes. Out of shame or anger, she couldn't tell, and found she didn't care. She turned back to Laney.

"Whatever he does, you and the girls remember your jobs. There are ladies and children present, and I don't want any of them doing your jobs for you, understand? Just keep these men occupied until the odds are a little more even, then do whatever you want to strike back."

Laney nodded, tight lipped. Jessamine tucked her gun into its hiding place again, turned her back on her house and her girls, and opened the door. With both hands held out in front of her, she stepped carefully into the darkened street. The sun's heat had not yet left the air, but she shivered all the same. She could see Pearse and his men by the firelight, but their faces were grotesque, thrown into deep shadows mixed with brilliant reds. Still, Jessamine didn't need an introduction to know which man was Liam Pearse. She had seen him before, briefly, and there was no mistaking the damned Irishman now. He drew the eye--and, she noted with some disturbance, the twisting lights in her eyes--and held it.

Slowly, cautiously, keeping her eyes on Pearse, Jessamine Blake walked forward until she was no more than five yards from the front of their group. There, she stopped, and waited for Pearse to speak.

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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Allie Johnson on Wed Apr 07, 2010 1:11 pm

"Well," Allie insisted, "I would go find somewhere else, except I got no food or water, I'm bone tired, and-" Something nagged at the back of her mind. She looked back, almost reluctantly, and found a conspicuous lack of her gray horse. "And I now I don't even have a horse! Or any of my gear." Nearly shouting curses, Allie spun on the spot. She was slightly stiff in the legs as she had been in the saddle all day, so instead of sprinting off, the cowgirl stumbled in a hurried manner. The alleys and small spaces between houses and shops were totally empty of horseflesh, and the sun was sinking against a sky that was redder than the silk curtains in a whore's window.

Everywhere she looked, there was nothing. Not a single hair from the tail of that horse. What kind of a loyal animal would go wandering off that way? Allie was furious. Dogs did anything they pleased, but a horse! They had the potential to be so much better. Coming up to an open corral, Allie slowed down. There were three animals inside. One was a rather rotund heifer (perhaps a few days away from giving birth), and the other two were horses. Hers was, of course, not in the pen. "He wouldn't have made it that simple anyway." she grumbled under her breath. However the lack of the gray's presence did not deter her from entering the pen. The sun had dropped and she could barely see the outlines of the animals. What she did see was twisting lines and circles. As the horses moved out of her way, the shapes followed them. A million knobs and levers twisted and turned in their bodies. They all worked together. One turned another and the horse pawed its hoof.

A bit of fear of these new ghostly shapes caused Allie to back up rubbing her eyes. They were all gears and machines! The heifer snorted at her, and Allie could see the animal's insides. Or, what they could have been. A million and one tiny bits of information tried to punch their way into Allie's mind at once, and she stumbled away, overwhelmed and frightened. These things had been getting worse since the flash of light. Simple machines were in everything around her, and when it got dark and there were no other colors for her eyes to focus on, Allie's eyes followed the gears and mechanisms into everything around her that had the ability to move. They were subtle lines that might not have even actually been there. In fact, they seemed to come directly from the thoughts in her head that outlined the anatomy of the horses. It felt like her mind was splitting in half. Part of her was terrified at this new development, and the other part thirsted so strongly for information and knowledge about it that she had to find anything else to think about. The thought of her dead brother now came as a solace to her from the frantic confusion that she suffered through sometimes. She thought about Julian now, as she leaned against the nearest building and listened to the night.

Somewhere in the maze of buildings, voices had arrived. This was a sufficient distraction, and Allie's first clear thought was to find the voices and barter with them for some lodging and perhaps a new horse. Luckily for her, a second thought quickly followed the first, and she remembered the tense atmosphere of the town. She also thought of the whore's warning to leave the town. Quite slowly now, the voices were getting louder. They were closer. The cowgirl made up her mind that she should sneak up rather than burst foolishly into the middle of things. If she went around the back of the store she was now leaning against and crossed two porches, then ducked across the road quickly, she thought (quite surprised at herself for remembering so well where she was), then she would have a clear shot at the back of the whorehouse. Feeling crafty, Allie pulled the spurs from her boots and stuffed them in a pocket of her jacket. It was impossible to sneak up on somebody with your spurs on.

---

At the back of the brothel, Allie crept through the dark. The windows were boarded, but she could hear cursing and shouting inside the building. Some children cried.

Outside, from what she could see, a few men were crouched on the ground with guns to their heads. Something serious had happened recently. There was a man in a suit standing smack in the middle of everything that seemed to command all that was happening. Watching him present himself with such an air of authority made Allie wonder for a split second whether she should ask his permission to breathe the air. There were men with lanterns scattered about the center of the town. The lamps cast long, evil shadows of the men holding them across the dirt, but none so evil as the shadow cast from a lantern held by an indian next to the man in the middle.

The four men kneeling had all shouted their names, and a commotion from inside the whorehouse had followed. Now the front door was opening and one of the women was coming out. It was the one that had politely told her to leave. The gut and strength of these women had always impressed her. But this one, presumably the Madam, possessed a wonderful fierceness that indicated she could take care of herself and her girls with no trouble at all. And if you were the one that brought the trouble, well... you just didn't bring trouble. Allie drew her gun slowly as the Madam boldly approached the men outside. The gun was for her own protection more than anything, she knew.

Taking a few tentative steps forward but staying well enough in the dark, the cowgirl turned an ear to the conversation. She felt exposed in her current position: if anything should go wrong, there would be nowhere for her to duck to. So, quietly, she tapped on the nearest boarded up window with her free hand. Her situation required stealth, and her curiosity wouldn't allow her to leave before hearing the circumstances. They seemed to involve her now since she had no horse and was stuck in Santa Anna.


Last edited by Allie Johnson on Mon Apr 12, 2010 12:52 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : spelling in my reason for editing. O.o)
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Opposites Attract

Post  Mr. Pearse on Tue Apr 13, 2010 5:59 am

Mr. Pearse didn’t get surprised often. After all, he was the sole protagonist in a story that bestrode the world, and obstacles – be what they may – existed only to be overcome. It took a lot to affect that kind of assuredness.

But Pearse was surprised now.

When a dress and cascading hair emerged from the gloom, the Irishman felt a flicker of uncertainty. He had expected a fat mayor or an ailing elder. No matter how desperate Santa Anna’s straits, surely they had still had a man to negotiate. A woman had many places, and Pearse had seen most all of them; town leader was never part of that equation. He removed his hat by reflex.

As Jessamine drew closer, the Irishman had other thoughts, too. His eyes traveled a path familiar to all men of all eras, identifying a set of features wholly divorced from politics or intrigue. He noted her deliberate pace, and paid special attention to the way her thighs pressed against the heavy fabric of her skirts. He lingered long on the swell of her bodice, and traveled slowly up the pale of her neck. When he reached her face, he eyed the flush of her cheeks and brilliant red of her lips. She was almost surely a whore, but damned if she wasn’t a good one.

By the time Jessamine halted, Pearse had already regained his calm. What distinguished a man was not whether he ever encountered the unexpected – it was how quickly he was able to adapt when he did so.

As the Irishman gazed into Jessamine’s expectant face, his eyes danced in the lamplight. When he spoke, his tone carried an undercurrent of incredulous humor, like he had just been made party to a prank. “It’s you who’s come to speak for Santa Anna?”

Pearse’s words betrayed prejudice that could not have gone unnoticed. They also indicated clear purpose; the Irishman was testing her, and any stumble she made would be to his gain.

Yet Jessamine’s answer came immediate and fierce. “My name is Jessamine Blake, and you’re trespassing in our town.”

If the Irishman had fashioned a test, the madam had passed with flying colors. For the duration of the conversation, at least, Jessamine’s sex would no longer be a factor. Offering a smile laced with steel, Pearse stepped closer, cane in hand. The Indian followed like a shadow.

“I’ll leave this town when wrongs have been righted and amends have been made. It’s your task to make this going easy.” At this, Jessamine’s eyes were almost unconsciously drawn to the four hostages behind Pearse, gun barrels planted at the base of their necks.

If she was affected by the sight, she didn’t show it. “Before we talk terms, how about proof of what you say? You ride into town with a handful of our men bent over your saddles and tell us you’ve left the rest dead in a field, yet you claim they attacked you without cause!”

Pearse motioned with mock helplessness. “What proof you have is my word and four degenerates returned to the den. This is healthy condemnation, and more than – ”

Jessamine interrupted. Her tone was venomous, and she nearly spat the words. Coming from a lady’s lips, it was the kind of dressing down which could compel even the meanest bandit to slink back home with his tail between his legs. Pearse’s men fidgeted uncomfortably.

“That’s no proof at all, and you know it! Goddamnit Pearse, you’ve been eyeing our town for months. I know the man who holds the gun does what he pleases, but there can still be hell to pay. I don’t know what you’ve done, but we all know better than to take you at your word.”

If the hired hands recoiled from Jessamine’s words, the Irishman himself remained conspicuously unaffected. He took several seconds to respond, staring coolly through his accuser. For her part, Jessamine glared defiantly back at him, although it was clear to both leaders where the advantage lay. When Pearse finally spoke, the madam understood that testing him again would be in no one’s best interest.

“What I’ve done – ” He gestured vigorously to the men behind him. Despite Jessamine’s admonition, there was still fury on many of their faces. “ – is saved your town from being set afire and burned to tinder. Such can still happen, if our stay ceases to be civil.”

Jessamine’s eyes narrowed, but she recognized the weight of the threat. “Your ‘terms?’”

“Santa Anna will join those towns friendly to my cause. You will shelter any I say, and pay as I determine. For your protection, I will leave men, whom you’re to treat as your closest Christian brothers on Earth. Soon I’ll have a judge along to draw these terms up good and proper, so our agreement can be endorsed by both the Lord above and Uncle Sam out East."

While Jessamine reeled from the harsh terms, Pearse dropped the bombshell. His expression was cryptic, but that only managed to make it worse.

“Finally, you will return to my ranch with me. You're to maintain your base freedom but to serve in my company. I intend to ensure there's no mischief by those left behind."


Last edited by Jessamine Blake on Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:43 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Jessamine's dialogue for grammar only, no substantive changes)
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First and Second Thoughts

Post  Ethan Ramey on Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:01 pm

The Santa Anna captives were on their knees in front of the whorehouse. Alan Grady, a younger man with wild red hair and freckles to match, leaned ever-so-slightly towards Two Cents and whispered beneath Pearse's speech, "Isn't this supposed to be the other way around?"

Two Cents' mind was elsewhere. "What the fuck are you talking about, Grady?"

Grady rolled his eyes and explained reluctantly. "We're kneeling in front of the whores, whereas they're supposed to be a-kneelin' in front of us. Follow?"

Pearse didn't give him an opportunity to respond. He demanded that the captives call their names out, and they obliged. When it was his turn to speak up, Two Cents silently swore and gave his real name. Hell if Pearse would let him get away with else.

"George States."

Grady's eyebrows shot up and he silently mouthed, "George?"

"Fuck off."

***
The whorehouse swam in silence. Geoffrey States stood inside, absentmindedly fingering the cigar box beneath his overalls and listening to the fella outside speak. One of the whores had her hands placidly on his shoulders, but all attention was on the voice behind the door. There was mention of hostages, and someone let escape a small moan. And then the men with the guns had the men without speak their names.

"George States," sounded the last.

"Who on God's Green Earth is George States?" This from one of the respectable women.

"Sounds like Two Ce--" began the reply, but it was left unfinished.

"That's my pa!" Geoffrey States screamed as loudly as he could. His face was purple with rage, and tears swarmed about his eyes. He broke away as fast as possible for the door, and almost had it opened (or unhinged, such was his anger) before the force of two women pulled him back and Jessamine planted herself firmly in his way.

"Goddamn those cocksuckers! I'm gonna tear their fucking eyes right out their heads if they lay a hand on my pa! By God, I'll show those Mexican saddle-babies what, I'll bend them over those fucking horses and I'll stick a damn log right up their asses, I will!"

Geoffrey threw every word his father hoped he hadn't heard at the door, and then some. He ripped his arms out of the grips of one of the ladies, but Laney kept her hold, despite his squirming. His skin, hot from anger, seemed to burn under her touch, and since he very well couldn't tear through the door anyway, he turned his ferocity on her instead. He directed kicks and wild swings at her and never let up his outpouring of threats.

Then Enna marched up and straightened him out fast. She spoke with such venom that he was shocked into silence, and then she methodically broke down his resolve until he resolved to be led away, tears of sadness replacing those of anger.

"By God, that boy's father needs to wash his mouth," the respectable woman spoke again.

"I don't know; I think he might be proud," came the response.

***
Ethan Ramey sat saddled in Santa Anna, as far away from the whorehouse as he thought Pearse would let him wander. He had initially regarded the man as a kind stranger, but he was starting to identify with the four captives. The Indian was always in close proximity, and he noticed that Pearse glanced over from time to time, as if taking stock. And, indeed, he felt like stock. He also noticed that there was a strange relationship between Pearse and the rest of them. It was something more akin to ownership than friendship, even amongst the man's personal contingency.

There were other troubling things about Pearse - particularly, his story. When he first spoke to the inhabitants of the whorehouse, he named the captives ambushers. But hadn't the initial shot in the day's earlier firefight come from within his own party? Ethan still wasn't sure of the day's events, but he no longer felt safe at Pearse's side. And his eyes kept trailing to the Santa Anna men and the dust running up their knees in the nightlight, and he couldn't help but feel sorry for them. So he had led his horse from Pearse, slowly, until he couldn't clearly see the captives or hear the man's speeches. The Indian had followed shortly after.

A woman had then emerged from the whorehouse, and she exchanged words with Pearse, though the latter did most of the talking. Ethan thumbed his timepiece and felt more and more like breaking away and heading back to the remains of his home. He could see the flatlands and the stumped hills stretching out east, without an obstacle in sight. But he didn't have to see the Indian to know that he was nearby, and he didn't have to see Pearse to know the danger such an escape - for that's what it was, an escape - would hold.

So he sat silently instead, just inside the torchlight in a ghostly Santa Anna. He was confused and, more and more, fearful. Earlier, bullets had flown and he had nearly caught plenty of them. He had cowered and even cried - the Indian had been nearby then, as well. But feeling like a prisoner in this wide expanse was a new kind of fear.

Snippets of the exchange between the madam and Pearse floated his way, and he wondered how many hostages Pearse would take with him this night, and whether he was of their number.
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The Head of the Snake

Post  Jessamine Blake on Sun Apr 25, 2010 1:56 pm

Jessamine heard the surprise in Pearse's voice, though it was heavily veiled by his mocking tone. She caught the ever-so-subtle emphasis on the word you. Her stomach unclenched and her head got cool. For all his volatile wisdom and the perfection of his hold on his own power, the Irishman was still a man, still thrown off balance by rustling skirts and the curves of a woman's body--and still liable to underestimate her because of these things. She did not smile outwardly, but inwardly she felt she could have cackled like a madwoman.

But as she traded words with the man, Jessamine's inner calm and good humor melted quickly and completely, replaced by anger and a sick dread. The man was going to own Santa Anna after all their resistance to his encroachment. They had refused his "protection" from the beginning. The only things their own law enforcement couldn't protect them from came from Pearse's hands or were ordered by Pearse's mouth. But as long as he had no hold on their business, as long as they weren't feeding his ravenous coffers, they could live in uneasy comfort.

They had known he would force himself on them sooner or later, but they had not known the rape would be so brutal or so complete.

She responded to his words with caution, but with steel in her voice, careful not to reveal her sinking stomach. She demanded proof, and of course got none. She listened with cold fury and horror to his ridiculous terms. She had worked hard to have something of her own. Even if it was a whorehouse, cast out before God and man, simultaneously desired and declared undesirable by everyone in town, it had been hers. And now it would be hers no longer, not truly.

And then, Pearse spoke his final term:

“Finally, you will return to my ranch with me. You're to maintain your base freedom but to serve in my company. I intend to ensure there's no mischief by those left behind."

Something clicked into place. Jessamine felt her fury harden into resolve, and she didn't care whether Pearse saw it, for he could not possibly understand it. Her face composed, her bearing erect, she agreed to Pearse's terms.

"Santa Anna submits to your protection," she said, and her voice did not betray a hint of irony. "Further more, I accept your terms, and will go with you when you leave. I ask only that I receive some assurance that the women of my house, as well as the respectable women of the town, will be treated gently and not abused by you or your men. After all, it would hardly be fair to punish them for the sins of their men. And you are a man of fairness."

She was sure he heard the indictment in the words, which sharply contrasted with the respectful, even reverent, tone with which she uttered them. She was equally sure that he would let it slide, at least for now, because the men who followed him were by and large too stupid to know that she was spitting in his face.

I will be agreeable for now, you snake, she thought. I'll go, and I'll behave myself. But when you least expect it, I swear I'll make you pay.

*****

Laney watched from a crack in the door, ignoring the indignant wheezing of the women behind her as they listened to Jessamine give their town over into Pearse's hands. As if she could do anything else under the circumstances.

When Jessamine agreed to leave with Pearse, Laney heard the danger in her voice, and suppressed a grin.

Alright, she thought at the straight, proud back. I'll stay here and give Pearse's men a run for their money. But when you get back I want to hear all about how you cut off his head in his sleep.

It was then that she noticed the pale, nervous figure hanging back in the shadows. His thin face looked haggard, the eyes troubled. She couldn't believe such a quiet, gentle person would be of use to Mr. Pearse in any way. But he was not in the dust with a gun to his temple like the hostages. Her favorite customer sat atop a horse, and that big Indian seemed to guard him nearly as carefully as he guarded Liam Pearse. She felt a flash of betrayal that made no sense, but she held onto it.

And while you're busy chopping the head off your snake, Jessamine, she thought, I'll cut the balls off mine for not giving us some warning that all this was coming down on our heads.


Last edited by Jessamine Blake on Sun Apr 25, 2010 6:41 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : spelling)

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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Samuel Kircher on Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:37 pm

Kircher, at his position a few lengths away from Pearse and the whorehouse madam, could only watch the surreal conversation take place, only half-listening. What could possibly be said that wasn't to be expected? Samuel, along with everyone else, knew that one day Pearse would walk into this town and plant his flag here, others be damned.

While the standoff continued, Kircher's ear picked up the sound of a horse trotting around the buildings nearby. Slightly alarmed by the out-of-place sound, Kircher slowly and discreetly peeled off from the group, and circled a few of the surrounding buildings. After quietly trotting Joel around for a few minutes, he found a tired-looking horse drinking from water barrel, unobstructed by others who would chase it away. Stopping his own horse next to it, Samuel dismounted and tied him up on a pole. The horse was weighted down with a pack full of supplies, the type a drifter would make use of. Wondering more and more why the hell this horse wasn't in a stable, Kircher decided to do a quick investigation. Perhaps someone had left the horse here to assume an ambush position on Pearse's location.

Kircher's slow, silent recon led him closer to the whorehouse, where he could hear commotion inside. Rounding the side of the house, Samuel froze upon seeing a young woman with a gun in her hand, her body facing the direction of the standoff about twenty yards away. Assuming only what it was logical to assume, Samuel withdrew his Peacemaker, and ever so slowly pulled the hammer back, hoping that the barely audible click drew no attention from the potential ambusher.

With weapon ready, Samuel gathered his legs under him and dashed the several steps to the girl, wrapped his arm around her face to keep her from screaming in surprise, causing the both to fall to the ground against the wall, and pressed the barrel of the Peacemaker to her temple.

"Drop the gun, and don't try nothin', got it? I don't wanna kill you..." Samuel could feel the girl's body tense with surprise, and he prayed she wouldn't do anything foolhardy.
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Allie Johnson on Tue May 04, 2010 5:11 pm

c-click.

One thousand and one metal cogs began turning in Allie's mind. Everything that could make that sound registered in the front of her mind for the smallest fraction of a second, and then was gone: whisked away by the next idea. It was a gun. No doubt.

Her muscles tensed and froze. Every one of her five senses went into alarm mode, but Allie couldn't move. The cowgirl was on edge with danger in the front, a new danger behind, and nobody answering the damned window she kept knocking on.

Without even a chance to force her legs into motion, she was nearly tackled. An obtrusive arm caught around her face, forcing her into silence (although in her present situation, screaming would most certainly have been detrimental anyway). The cold end of a gun was pressed to her temple, and Allie swore silently. She had left herself completely open to attack by not regularly checking all her points of exit. Although to be fair to herself, she had been preoccupied with what was happening in the center of the town, and hadn't thought of the man in charge sending his men around to check for silent watchers like herself.

In all of about ten confounding seconds, Allie had been captured. She allowed herself to be drawn away from the corner of the building where she had been watching from, and took a few deep, sturdy breaths. The cowgirl's blood was boiling. With each abrupt step and the subsequent jarring against the whore-house wall, she was sizing up her captor. She'd been in a lot of bar-fights, but this was the first time that someone had ever gotten the upper hand early on. After sliding down the wall, Allie began to raise her hands slowly. Ever so slowly. This wasn't so much to assure the man holding her that she wasn't going to try anything as it was to buy her time. Her mind raced. Along with cursing her own inability to staying hidden, she was filtering through every fight she'd been in. Every time she had been grabbed from behind by a drunken cowboy or some yellow piece of shit that thought he could take her, she had managed to squirm loose. She'd either gotten away or cleaned their plows. But the man behind her had a firm grip on her head. He most certainly wasn't drunk, and he was definitely in shape. This one would put up a horrific fight to keep his hold on her, she knew.

"Drop the gun, and don't try nothin', got it? I don't wanna kill you..." Came his demands. That pretentious bastard! Allie became inflamed with indignation. Her whole body grew rigid, though she tried to control it, and her motions became stiff as she allowed her gun to roll off of her fingertips and fall into the dust. The cowgirl winced when she heard the thing hit the ground. The mechanisms inside it clicked and knocked together. It seemed that if a piece of machinery could be in pain, then her gun would have cried out. It was a strange emotion, and it didn't seem to fit the current situation, but Allie ignored it. Instead of making sense of all of the confusion and anger built up inside, she gathered it all in her chest, ready to make her move.

Slowly she toed her gun away and used the trustworthy motion as a guise to shift her feet until they would give her some support if she sprang forward. She understood that the man holding her probably had undergone some sort of training, and probably knew exactly what she was doing. This was why she needed to be so precise and swift. Allie gave a second of dead time before tearing into her plan.

She opened her mouth and bit down on his forearm, ignoring the dusty leather and endeavoring to cut as far deep into his skin as she could through the jacket.

Swiftly and forcefully, she dropped her left arm and rammed her elbow into his diaphragm.

Her right arm swung over to the gun and, relying on the part of his sentence that involved not wanting to kill her, she attempted to knock it away. She knew that if she succeeded, her next move would be to leap forward and spin around, facing him on equal terms. If she failed... she would have to do some pretty fast thinking.
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Samuel Kircher on Sun May 09, 2010 9:55 pm

As Kircher kept his stronghold on the stranger girl, he could tell that she was no shrinking violet. Her profile smushed against his next to the wall let him know that this was a girl who, judging by her sturdy frame and surprisingly muscular figure (for a woman), was able to handle herself in a dust-up.

As she slid the gun away from herself with her foot, her body betrayed her intentions as Kircher sensed a buildup in her torso--she was getting ready to move. But the sudden pigdog bite on his forearm, while not doing much against the cowskin leather of his jacket, was enough to distract Samuel long enough for the girl to slam her elbow into his gut. His grip loosened enough for her to get loose, but Samuel would've been remiss if he'd let her get his gun out of his hand, keeping a firm grip on the Peacemaker as she attempted to knock it away. Nevertheless, she wrestled free from Samuel, who was as quick to get to his feet as she was. Sweeping around to cut her off from the darkness of the alleyway, his stance lower and gun at the ready, Allie's only escape now would be towards the mounting tension that was the negotiations Pearse and the madam were having...
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Allie Johnson on Thu May 20, 2010 7:57 pm

Allie ran her tongue over the backs of her teeth. When she had spun away from the assailant so fast, the front four had been jarred a bit. She hadn't exactly expected so violent a reaction. And the man had definitely managed to keep his hold on the gun, which wasn't to her advantage at all. To the left of her was the wall she had been watching the events from behind, and to the right of her was another large structure - possibly a shop or barn of some sort. There were no windows on the first level that she could see, as it was quite dark by now. The window that she had been knocking on was just behind her on the left. There didn't seem to be a way out, what with the attacker blocking any possible path back the way she'd come.

There was no hope in rushing him: his stance was too low for that. He'd catch her around the middle or knock her off her feet or worse. He might not move at all. If he was that stone-solid, then he would not allow the cowgirl to slip loose again. He would be wary of her tricks.

In the darkness, Allie could barely make out any of his features. His posture betrayed something about himself. She couldn't quite pin her finger on it, but it seemed familiar. Or at the very least, recognizable. Nearly three feet closer to his boots than hers was her gun. She didn't believe that she could make it, even if she dove after it. Feeling utterly trapped, she began to feign weariness. She allowed her arms to hang out near her sides, hands clenched into fists. Her breath came in quick, shallow bursts, and she hoped he couldn't see that there wasn't a drop of sweat across her forehead.

In an instant a half-formed, fledgling plan was in her head, and she didn't have time to think it out. Instead, she slung her body backwards, hoping to hit the window behind her. Her shoulder hit the glass on one side of the window, shattering it but not fully breaking it out of her way. A few pieces of glass fell to the ground, and the cowgirl, now really feeling desperate, could see the man jump and start forward out of the corner of her eye.

"Oh God please let this work..." Allie hissed under her breath. She leapt up, catching the top edge of the window-sill and kicking both feet through the window with one single movement that surprised even the cowgirl herself. She heard -felt- wood snapping. All around her. Crashes, pain. Glass in her hand. Splinters... Curtains.

Allie tumbled through the window. She had managed to rip a curtain from the wall in the process of breaking into the whore-house, and wrestled free of it as soon as she got her bearings. She could feel blood already. It pounded in her ears and stung in a cut on her hand. The worst part was the warm, throbbing sensation on her shin. Quickly, she stood up and glanced around. The room was full of frightened, staring women and indignant whores. Gun. One had a gun.

Noticing she was on stairs, the cowgirl flung herself forward, tripping up them. She skipped two and three at a time, and then found herself on the top floor.

Think think! In front of her was a straight hall with scant few doors to hide behind. At the end of the hall was one more window, and only one. She was already running towards it. Luckily, there was nothing in front of this window, and she lifted it easily. It was waist high, so there was no problem in her ducking out, but it only opened so far. There wasn't much space for her to maneuver her hips until she was sitting on the sill, and time was running out. She thought she heard noises downstairs, but it may have been the frantic pounding of blood in her head. She drew herself back in the window, and then slipped outside again, this time facing the stairs at the end of the hall so that not only would she be able to sit on the edge and gain her footing, but she would also be able to see when someone was coming.

Above her was the edge of the roof. Maybe she could reach it. Beneath her was a story's worth of a drop, and then a cold, empty alleyway. To her right was the highly controversial meeting, but there was no time to stop and watch the proceedings now. The smooth bottoms of her boots made it entirely too easy to slip, so Allie did the only thing she could. While standing on the sill and hugging the wall tightly, she kicked her boots off. One-by-one they dropped heavily on the floor.

Then she was off climbing. She barely reached the roof, and began to search for any footing possible, but when none could be found, she placed her toes on the edge of the window and lifted herself up. The window began to slowly close, but gave her enough leverage to pull herself halfway onto the roof. Huffing and panting, she swung a leg up and pulled the rest of the way onto the roof through great exertion. There was a slight slant, but Allie crawled up it, unheeding of the difference. Her limbs felt exhausted, but her rush of adrenaline wasn't over just yet. She got her feet underneath her and began to run. She ran straight until she was coming up fast on the opposite edge of the building. At the last second, she kicked off the edge and flew.

After an eternity, Allie slammed against the opposing building. It knocked the breath out of her and for a horrible second she thought she might lose her grip. She slipped an inch backwards, but fear compelled her to scramble up and onto the roof. Allie crawled forward again, although this time was much more deliberate and slow than the first time. She made no attempt to rise, as she didn't think that she would be able to. The alleyway that she had just jumped over was the one that she had been caught off her guard in. She hoped that this might confuse her pursuer enough that he would break off in following her.

The cowgirl lay on her back, breathing heavily and making no movements to check her bloodied lip or hands. Her mind fixed on one thought as she rested. For the first time since Julien died, she had been face-to-face to death and felt fear.
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Jessamine Blake on Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:59 pm

For the past two days--was it two? More than that? Laney's nerves had been fraying on a razor's edge, her patience growing shorter and her lips growing thinner and more tightly drawn with worry and pent-up action. So when the crazy woman--half of Laney's brain was still rational enough to suppose that it must be the same one who had attempted to gain admittance earlier, before Pearse's men had arrived--burst through the window, it was only by some miracle of self control that Laney didn't start shooting all the whores and ladies in her path to get to the intruder.

Because she hadn't realized immediately that it was the madwoman. She was so keyed and paranoid by this point, having just listened to the exchange between Pearse and Jessamine, that she expected a double-cross: Pearse's men bursting in to take the spoils of their battle, or perhaps one of those torches thrown through the glass to burn them alive before they could un-barricade the door.

The intruding woman landed on the stairs with a painful crunch of glass, tangling herself in the curtain that tore clean off its hangings. All of the women crowded backward in a rush, clutching their children and squalling loudly. Laney still had enough room in her head to be disgusted at their outbursts. Their nerves may have been pressed to the limit, their bodies exhausted, but certainly no more than she--and she still managed to keep her head, by God. Laney fought through them, shoving those that threatened to crush her against the wall roughly aside as she fought to gain a clear sight of the crazy woman.

Just as she managed to free herself from the knot of hysterical women, her target also got clear of the curtain. The wild eyes rolled in their sockets, then locked on Laney. No...on Laney's gun. All this in an instant, and then she was gone, up the stairs so fast no one would believe she was bleeding from at least a dozen surface wounds--or worse. Laney was about to pursue her up the stairs--I'll be damned if she ransacks the rooms--when something outside the window caught her eye. A man's keen face was framed by the jagged remnants of the window, and she thought she had the truth: the woman was fleeing from this man, who was likely one of Pearse's, sent round to quietly round up any locals too unwary to keep inside during the proceedings. Likely they would be taken hostage with the others, or even made an example of.

Laney's faults were many, but perhaps this was her worst: her absolute certainty that no one in the world was honest, coupled with an overestimated sense of her own intuition and a tendency toward impulsive, ill-informed action--all these things tended to boil down to her forever putting the horse before the cart when there was action to be had. So utterly forgetting her mistress's caution, and without stopping to think through it more carefully, Laney took careful aim and fired at the face outside the broken window.

*****

If the scuffling and whispering in the alley had reached Pearse's ears, they had still managed to miss Jessamine's. Her mind had been too full of the anger at the man before her and her own attempts to goad him into a misstep during their exchange. But when she heard the shattering of a glass window--and she had to be the only business in town with real glass in the windows--her attention was captured, and she glared accusingly up at Pearse.

"You lying bastard! Talk of surrender and break into my house while my back is turned?" Her face was the perfect image of fury, her eyes mirrors of fear--fear for her girls, and for the innocent townswomen.

Before Pearse could utter a word, another sound came that chilled her blood. From within the house, someone fired a shot, and the women were screaming, terrified. Jessamine reached for her concealed gun.

"You crooked Irish sonofabitch! I'll kill you before I'll let you hurt those girls."

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A Man of Fairness

Post  Mr. Pearse on Wed Jun 09, 2010 8:07 pm

“…And you are a man of fairness.”

The words had been delivered even-handedly enough, but the messenger’s expression was cold as iron. Santa Anna was to be signed, sealed, and delivered, swallowed by Pearse’s ever expanding dominion. Jessamine could do nothing but submit, even if it meant the loss of both town and freedom. In the face of such disaster, the Irishman found Jessamine’s composure remarkable.

As the whore spoke, Mr. Pearse smiled. Regardless of Jessamine’s intent, the Irishman found no irony in the use of the word “fairness.” To him, the bloodless seizure of Santa Anna represented the mildest course of action at his disposal. In an encounter that might easily have ended with broken women and a smoldering town, Pearse had successfully restrained his own men and kept the settlement intact. After all, a kingdom could be nothing without subjects.

Yet even before these thoughts had run their course, Pearse heard the start of a sudden scuffle. Seconds later came the sound of shattering glass. And then the Irishman’s plan – like all the best-laid plans of history – took an unexpected turn.

Jessamine’s mask evaporated as the commotion from the whorehouse reached her ears. Her features were tinged with sudden fury, and her words carried renewed venom. Meanwhile, the men in the square were shocked into alertness, lanterns swinging wildly as some rushed forward to investigate the commotion. Pearse’s smile was extinguished as he shifted to deal with the new situation.

Then came the gunshot. The noise inspired a ferocity that had been so far suppressed in Pearse’s men. Holstered weapons were brought to bear and faces glinted with fresh malice in the half-light. For some, such violence was old hat; they were the Irishman’s “hands,” men of mixed character whose job description often included bloodletting just as often as cattle-driving. For others, inspired by the Gentleman of the West, angered by the attack from Santa Anna, and shocked by the destruction of their Little Bethlehem home, their rage demanded a suitable outlet. Either way, Pearse’s men shared a new and dangerous fighting mood.

Pearse’s attention, however, remained focused on the woman in front of him. The instant Jessamine’s hand began to move toward the folds of her dress, the Irishman launched into action of his own. Through experience tempered by time and frequent repetition, Pearse drew and leveled his LeMat in one fluid motion. Then – as Jessamine had scarcely finished extricating her own revolver from its concealed position – he fired.

Difficult as it was to repress his duelist’s instinct, Pearse did not shoot to kill. Rather, he shot to disarm and subdue. The LeMat’s .42 caliber casing ensured that – wherever a target was struck – the effects would be immediate and overpowering. As Jessamine crumpled, her gun clattered uselessly to the ground. The Irishman checked that it was well out of reach.

Keeping his weapon reflexively trained on the Madam of Santa Anna, Pearse’s voice roared across the chaotic scene.

“I’ll KILL the next one who lets fly a bullet in this town.” The Irishman’s better eye blazed with fire, and his gaze swept his men, the majority of whom were now in front of him and descending on the whorehouse. It was clear he was addressing his own minions as much as any citizen of Santa Anna. “If you meet resistance, bring the culprit to me. If otherwise, don’t harm a goddamned hair on a goddamned head.” And shifting to address the sheltering townsfolk: “If you’ve the mind to come out now, you’ve my word you’ll stay unharmed. Otherwise…I’ll make no such guarantees.”

As if noticing for the first time that his gun was still leveled at Jessamine, Pearse lowered it. For the fire in his eyes, there seemed little heat or anger. Rather, his features were inhabited by a profound sense of disappointment. Watching thoughtfully as Jessamine struggled, Pearse’s voice softened. “Mr. Ramey, see to this woman as best you can. And see that she minds herself, too.” His use of a suffix was peculiar, especially for Pearse, but there was little time to dwell on it now.

Almost as an afterthought, Pearse glanced behind him toward the Indian. Although no words passed between them, the warrior leaped into action, dropping his lantern before loping from the town square into the gathering gloom. If some intended to stay hidden at Pearse’s beckoning, they would almost invariably be found – and hopefully remain in one piece in the process.

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A Piece of Work

Post  Ethan Ramey on Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:56 am

"Damn fine piece of work, that one."

"Hush up now, Grady, or you'll get yourself killed."

Grady stared at Jessamine hungrily and ignored Two Cents' admonishment.

"I think I might have a round with her after all's said and done. You know, just wet the old bean a little."

Two Cents rolled his eyes.

"Hell, I ain't daft, I know what you meant. But go on and keep talking, so maybe Pearse will make you shut up for me."

Grady laughed and someone put the butt of a rifle against the back of his head. He winced, but he kept smiling. And his attention stayed on Jessamine.

***
Ethan Ramey's attention was arrested by the sound of breaking glass, more breaking glass, and a gunshot. He was sure Pearse had moved against the whorehouse with force, but then Pearse instructed all gunfire to be abated. Confused, Ethan turned to see the carnage, but he had to rethink his assumption. There were no men rushing through a now-open door, no more gunshots (as per instruction), no anything. Everyone stood as they had, only they now looked antsy. Men shuffled their feet and looked more like coiled springs than men.

No, not everyone was as they had been. The madam was on her knees, nursing her hand. Pearse stood with gun drawn and the real sequence of events wasn't hard to figure out. Then Pearse spoke, and Ethan Ramey turned white as a sheet to hear himself addressed.

"Mr. Ramey, see to this woman as best you can. And see that she minds herself, too."

Then the Indian started off, moving like silk despite his size, slipping into the alley between the whorehouse and its neighbor. And eyes turned to Ethan. He shuffled forward unsteadily, looking everywhere but at Pearse, and his hands shook. But before he had a chance to speak or do anything, another shout rang out in the once-again stilled night.

"You son of a whore, you shot her!"

***
Grady's lips curled back around his teeth like a wildcat, and Two Cents knew what he was going to do before he did it. Jessamine sat bleeding in the dirt, but she wasn't a casualty. Two Cents wanted to avoid any casualties.

"Grady, she's just a whore. I know you fancy her, but he didn't fucking kill her, and he doesn't have to fucking kill anyone. Just hold it back, goddammit, hold it back -"

"He goddamn shot her!" Grady whispered viciously. Then he turned his attention to Pearse and said it for all to hear.

"You son of a whore, you shot her!"

And he sprung to his feet before Two Cents had the time to cuss. Hands behind his back, he rushed Pearse in an awkward but angry charge. But the charge was halted in an instant, and his forward momentum reversed. He fell to the dirt between Two Cents and Thomas, his fresh third eye as blank as the other two, staring at the night.

Two Cents turned and silently cursed, while Thomas doubled over and vomited violently. Pearse methodically re-holstered his revolver. He then turned around to face Ethan Ramey, who had halted in his tracks at the outbreak of the quick event.

"I believe I asked if you would see to the madam's wound, Mr. Ramey. Now would you kindly?"

And all eyes turned back to Ethan, except for Two Cents and Jessamine, who silently met eyes. They both had the same look and the same understanding, and Two Cents knew that Pearse would pay for all of this. If not at his own hands, then at the hands of a woman. He didn't know which would bring him more satisfaction.

***
"Now would you kindly?"

It was phrased as a question but no one, especially not Ethan, missed the danger behind it. He started forward again and swallowed his protests. He kept his eyes trained on the ground and he almost vomited when he stepped into the blood pooling beside the dead hostage's corpse. The vomit he swallowed too, and continued to the madam.

He knelt in front of her, never meeting her eyes, and looked at her hand. He was surprised to find that she allowed him to do this without any fight. No fingers were missing, and the bullet had cut clean through, but the palm was a mess.

And what can I do about this? He looked around nervously. All he knew to do was to tie the wound up. And sanitize it. And sanitize it.

"I'm going to need some, um, some alcohol. And cloth of some sort."

He tried to speak up, but his timid voice carried no farther than Mr. Pearse. It was far enough.

"A drink and a shirt," he demanded, and they were passed up from somewhere within the ranks of men. He took them and handed them to Ethan.

"Th-thank you," Ethan muttered, and turned back to his patient. He pretended for his own sake that there was no one around, not even Jessamine, and focused entirely on the wound. He poured the alcohol, which happened to be whiskey, on her injured hand. He forgot to warn her of the pain, but she took it stoically. Then he tore a strip from the shirt and tied it around the wound. He started to tie it off but she stopped him.

"Too loose," she whispered. He nodded and retightened the cloth, then whispered a silent thanks and stood up. He turned to face Pearse, who nodded his approval, and then retreated slowly to the back of the throng, curving widely away from the dead hostage. All attention left him and returned to Pearse. Everyone was asking the same question: what happens now?


Last edited by Ethan Ramey on Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Hospitality and Hostility

Post  Samuel Kircher on Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:08 pm

Kircher watched with some incredulity as the girl leapt through the glass window of the whorehouse, stunned by such an unexpected move. He heard the chaos created by her entrance inside, and moved towards the window to look. He was met with the sight of a woman pointing a gun in his direction. Instinctively, he hit the dirt as the shot went off, and had he moved a moment sooner, he'd have been in a bad way. As it was, the bullet only grazed his cowskin jacket, leaving a burn mark on it.

Kircher kept low, and pinned himself against the house's side, when he heard Pearse's declaration, along with another shot ring out. Scrambling towards the fracas, Kircher noticed Pearse's giant Indian companion coming his way. Once he was out of range of the windows, Kircher made eye contact with the massive warrior, and let him proceed down the alleyway, most likely at Pearse's command, he mused.

Kircher neared Pearse and company, and noticed that the woman who had come out of the whorehouse was injured and being tended to by Mr. Ramey.

"Sorry, Mr. Pearse. There was a disturbance around back I had to look into." Kircher pretended as if the scuffle with the girl was nothing, but he knew she was still around somewhere.
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the tired catch no breaks.

Post  Allie Johnson on Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:59 am

Her eyes were burning as the whole world circled around her and she just laid there. Just laid on her back and held on tight to the roof because the stars were down and she was up and the still-warm roof made her bleeding palms tingle and the blood was sticky and it wanted to engulf her and her face was wet with something that could have been blood- was she dead?

The silence roared and Allie's eyes opened fast. Her stomach churned and she hurt. Hurt like hell. Maybe she was in hell. She closed her eyes again, only to snap them open once more as the silence roared again. This time, however, the roar sounded more like what it actually was and her whole body tensed to the tune of the gunshot. Men shouted and another shot was fired.

Stiffly she began to try and move, but the wooden shingles made things complicated by catching corners and edges of her clothing. Even thought the idea of a better view of the conflict was delicious to her curiosity, the cowgirl made no efforts to crouch or even crawl. Things weren't so important as long as she wasn't the one being shot at anymore.

Allie sucked in a deep breath and shoved herself back away from the edge of the building amid scarlet and white bursts of light. A wave of nausea hit her, but she ignored it and bit her lip.("Dammit.") Sure her arms were bruised and scraped, but that wasn't where the pain had come from.("Dammit.") It was her chest, she realized as she sat up and placed her back against a chimney or something (she didn't really notice or care to notice what it was). It hurt to breathe. That coupled with the throbbing muscles in her arms had made for the nice round of flashing lights in front of her eyes.("Shit!") She sat still. The night breathed its desert air around her in subtle, shifting movements. It ignored the death in the town. It went wherever it pleased.

Breathe in, out. Breathe in, out. As Allie was tugging gingerly on a bit of her shirt that was beginning to grow tiny dark blossoms of blood, she began to feel uneasy. There had been scant few sounds of men talking. No more shots. No more anything. The lines in her eyes were back. It was like she had looked at something bright for too long and now they floated around in her vision, all focusing on a single point like moths around flame. She stared at their convergence for a while. They writhed and twisted in one thick, lumpy shape to her right. Only after a few seconds did she realize she could see past them, and when she finally did, she jumped, breathing in sharply and hitting her head on the structure behind her. There, behind all of the rhythmic cogs and pieces she saw, was a man. He was crouched like a cat on a fence. A very large cat. His face was exactly fixed on hers, and even though she knew that the dark prevented him from seeing her, she couldn't help feeling that maybe his eyes were like a cat's also and that while she had been absentmindedly staring at him, he had been watching her back.

She froze, blinked twice, and he was gone. Instinctively, Allie reached for her gun, but remembered that it was lying in the dust of the alleyway she had leaped over. She leaned forward to crawl away. After gaining a few feet, she stood, crouching, and made for the edge of the roof. She never made it.

An arm from behind caught her around the throat and she felt the cold of a knife against her jawline. "Sonofabitch..." She hissed as the hulking man's free hand checked her for hidden weapons. His search produced only her knife, which he tossed away into the dark. By his skin she could see he was an indian, and by his grip she could tell that he wouldn't hesitate to kill her. "No-good filthy injun! You yella blowhard. Let go and fight me like a man!" Allie hissed. Venom dripped from her words, however she had no intention of fighting the man. Even if she'd had her knife she couldn't have taken him, and she knew it. She wanted to run. "You bastard! You're not even-"

Her insults were cut short when the indian pushed her forward and began forcing her to the edge of the roof. The knife slid uncomfortably against her throat and she pulled at his arm. She scratched at any skin she could reach. Nothing changed his grip. All at once, her nausea returned and she became dizzy. The outlines of buildings blurred together in a dark soup with occasional streamers of stars as garnishes. She limply hung to the indian's arm that choked her, being vaguely aware that she whatever the indian was doing was jostling her a decent amount. As if by some miracle, his grip slowly loosened enough for the cowgirl to take in short, gasping breaths despite the pain it caused her. Her heavy eyelids lifted and her dim gray eyes feel on the scene before her.

They were in the center of the town, Allie could see. And the indian was walking towards the man who started it all. The madam from the whorehouse was on the ground, her dress covered in dust and drips of fresh blood, and there was a fresh corpse between the hostages and the madman the indian was taking her to. She didn't like the looks of things, but the indian's tight grip was still making it difficult to breathe and her head began to swim again. It was difficult to think. She grimaced and squinted in the lantern light. The indian let her feet hit the ground again, but didn't budge at all as she pulled on his arm, trying to get away. She became still very quickly, however, as the knife was pressed closer still against her throat and the twisting she was having to do to try and escape was causing undue pain from her chest. In a kind of twisted effort to have the last laugh, the cowgirl, stubborn as ever, mentally refused to look the man in front of her in the face.
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Redux

Post  Mr. Pearse on Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:05 am

Santa Anna was a defeated town.

Refugees streamed from the whorehouse, many of their sons, husbands, and fathers now inhabitants of a mass grave adjacent to Ethan Ramey’s shack. Few spoke, and even fewer dared lift their eyes toward their new masters. For the moment, at least, the residents of Santa Anna had lost their will to fight. Meanwhile, Pearse’s men stood silent as well, their fury dissipating at the sight of the pitiful spectacle. They had won, but their victory rang suddenly hollow.

In the square, the tension had also unwound. Jessamine sat clutching her bandaged hand, her eyes downcast, her skirts stained with dust and blood. Nearby, the body of Alan Grady lay in an expanding pool of crimson, his face frozen in a final glare of recrimination. A gasping Allie hung limp in the Indian’s grasp, staring intensely at anything besides her captors. Finally, Ethan stood at a distance, lamplight flashing off his spectacles and obscuring his expression.
Surveying the aftermath of his handiwork, the Gentleman of the West suddenly felt very old. His conquest was over and done with; it was time to salvage what he could from this new dominion.

And so the orders began. Pearse’s men approached him one by one, receiving new directives and abandoning their posts around the whorehouse. The Irishman’s tone was affable and businesslike. Although he no longer spoke with the same sternness of command, his wishes were executed well and promptly. After all, it was not through fear alone that Pearse’s influence had seeped so far across the Territory. Partway through this process, Jeremiah – the young hired gun who had been with the Irishman since the initial trek from Little Bethlehem – retrieved his boss’s ebony-plated cane. Pearse leaned on it gratefully.

Several men rekindled their lanterns and fanned out into dark alleys, checking each building for stragglers and confiscating what weapons they could find. These would be placed under lock and key in the jailhouse, to be divvied out selectively and sparingly. Meanwhile, the handful of literate hands were tasked with taking an accounting of the town’s population, businesses, and wealth. Their master was a stickler for accurate record-keeping; in the world of the 1874 Territory, Liam Pearse’s ad hoc government often proved a better tax collector than did the government of Uncle Sam back East.

Aside from a few posted guards, the rest of the Irishman’s men finally entered the whorehouse. Their purpose was not pleasure – as Pearse had informed them, if they attempted to use it, they would lose it – but instead to transform the building into what makeshift quarters they could. Barricades were disassembled and refuse removed. The bar was restocked, and Jessamine’s bedchamber (still ratty, though the best of the lot) was cleaned and fitted with fresh sheets. Where the Irishman encountered such worldly comfort, rarely did he refrain from making it his own.

As these tasks unfolded, the man of the hour made his own rounds. He spoke briefly with Samuel, ascertaining the source of the gunshot and back alley scuffle before clapping him on the back and “suggesting” that he stay behind to help administer the newly conquered town. If Samuel felt differently, he wisely kept these feelings to himself. At the very least, as the only remaining lawman of Little Bethlehem, it would make sense to look after his former home’s surviving citizens as they wound their own slow way toward Santa Anna.

Moving on, Pearse dictated measures to have Jessamine ensconced safely but securely for the remainder of the night and to begin the journey to his ranch on the morrow. Stealing a glance at the madam’s rouge-covered face, the Irishman could not help but be impressed by the fire which kept her jaw set and her eyes planted firmly in front of her. They would meet again, when circumstances were more civil and that fire had begun to ebb. For Jessamine’s part, she refused to acknowledge Pearse’s attention, even as the bandage around her hand began to stain the sickening color of rust.

The Irishman was equally intrigued by the woman who had taken such pains not to be found. With a glance from his master, the Indian finally released Allie, allowing her to stand weakly on her own two legs. She made no move to escape. With a quick word to Jeremiah – the boy was kinder spirited than most of Pearse’s hands, and less likely to try anything foolish – the Irishman ordered Allie escorted away to find a clean pair of clothes and whatever could pass for a wash. Pearse was interested in finding out more about the woman who had bested Samuel, and it had long been his experience that a kind word and a drink could prove more persuasive than any act of unpleasantness. As Allie was led away, she smirked darkly in Samuel’s direction.

The (now) three hostages also did not escape Pearse’s notice. After reading a slip of paper which had been thrust into his hand by one of the census-takers, the Irishman gestured for two of them to be released, permitting them to slink into the dispirited crowd. Two Cents, however – whose face was etched with hatred for the man before him, and whose spirit had not been cowed – remained bound. Pearse stooped beside him, speaking in a faux conspiratorial whisper which did nothing to ease this fury.

“Man of Santa Anna, yours is a face I’ve seen before, and I’ve seen to where it leads. I will permit no more violence here; you know what will happen, and you know that word will reach my ears. Besides – ” Pearse winked knowingly, “ – it’s a poor father who sets such an example of mischief for his son.”

At that moment, Enna Bates’ sudden cry of happiness split the somber scene. The Irishman paused, while Two Cents’ expression grew even stonier. He did not blink. Shortly afterward, Pearse continued.

“On the other hand, should you not desire the peace of a town undisturbed, you – and only you – may leave. No consequence will come of it, other than that which affects you alone. Should you seek to find me, I shall await being found.”

With this, Pearse stood, nodding to the guard still resting a rifle lightly against Two Cents’ back. The final hostage’s bonds were cut, and the new sheriff of Santa Anna rose swiftly to his feet, rubbing his raw forearms. He did not leave immediately; instead, he continued to stare intently at the freshly anointed “benefactor” of the town in which he had raised a son and so long earned a livelihood. When he spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper.

“I would do you in right now, if I could. Just so it’s been said.”

The Irishman only gazed back in response, his face casting a strange half-smile. After another moment, Two Cents withdrew, disappearing into the throng of citizens he had sworn his life to protect. There would be much to think about, and much to plan.

As if an afterthought, Pearse glanced down at the remains of Alan Grady. Although his words were directed most immediately to the two men in front of him, few in the subdued crowd could miss what he had to say.

“Give this man the rites of a good Christian burial. We entered this town with anger; we need not leave the same way.”

Seeing his men leap satisfactorily into action, Pearse turned and slowly ascended the stairs to the whorehouse’s modest porch. Beyond laid a refurbished barroom and a freshly made bed. Even conquering generals had to rest sometime.

And as the Irishman disappeared through the doorway, the Indian soundlessly followed. No matter the feelings of Santa Anna’s battered residents, that sight alone was enough to defer any attempt at vengeance this night.

***

Sitting amidst the glow of the whorehouse’s common room, Pearse wrote by lamplight. Several of his men sat nearby, engaged in an unusually quiet game of cards. The cards were a pilfered set, although hardly the great spoils of war which many of the hired hands had been expecting. There were no women. None of the house’s former residents had returned, and the Irishman thought it prudent to let them come of their own accord. This would happen sooner rather than later; after all, even whores had to eat.

The Irishman initialed his finished note, taking a sip of scotch. The document was a list of guidelines his men were to follow. Despite his legal training, he had communicated the niceties of legal interpretation in a style more appropriate to denizens of the Territory. Accordingly:

YOU WILL:
1. NOT STEAL.
2. NOT RAPE.
3. NOT KILL.
4. BE A GENTLEMAN.
5. DO AS YOU ARE TOLD.

WAIT FOR CABLES. IF YOU BREAK ONE OF THESE RULES, YOU WILL NOT HAVE TIME TO DO SO TWICE.
-L.P.


With the influx of refugees from Little Bethlehem and the addition of men Pearse had dispatched after the fight outside Ramey’s shack, Santa Anna had the potential to turn into something special. The Irishman would help ensure this transformation ran its proper course.

Any further business was interrupted by a nervous knock at the door. Pearse glanced up in time to watch Allie enter the main room, flanked by a visibly uncomfortable Jeremiah. It wasn’t hard to see why. By Badlands standards, the girl cleaned up well. Her skin had shed several layers of grime, and although she had squeezed into the least showy dress she could find, it was still a sight better than the jacket she had rode in with. Despite being in visible pain, her spirit had returned as well; when she found Pearse, her glare was smoldering.

At a glance from their boss, the card-players leapt to their feet, quickly filing out the door. Jeremiah also took the opportunity to excuse himself, offering an awkward half-bow before bolting from the room. Left alone with the Gentleman of the West, Allie gave the bar a once-over before stepping forward and settling bodily into the chair across from Pearse.

The Irishman rose as Allie approached, seating himself again as she did. For a moment, neither spoke. Pearse offered an easy smile; his companion, meanwhile, seemed to wear a persistent scowl. The cowgirl’s dark eyes were intensely searching, trying to ferret out her host’s every strength and weakness as if by sight alone. Pearse gazed back, one eye dancing merrily, the other strangely distant. The effect was more disarming than disconcerting, and Allie eventually shifted into a more comfortable position, some of her unease beginning to fade.

Pearse was the first to break the silence. He gestured to the two bottles on the table. “Brandy or scotch?”

Allie ignored his question, grabbing the scotch and pouring a towering glass. Taking a few deep gulps, she slammed the glass to the table with a belch. Clearly, the ladylike exterior ran even shallower than Pearse had thought.

The Irishman tried a different plan of attack. “We’ve not yet been properly introduced. The name is Liam Pearse.” No reaction. If the girl recognized the significance of his name, she hid it well. “I’m to understand that you are a stranger to Santa Anna. Can you tell me what brought you here, and with such timing?”

“Allie Johnson.” Her tone was cold, and she did not elaborate further, instead taking another swig of her drink. For Pearse’s part, he disregarded her cheek.

“A pleasure, Miss Johnson.” The Irishman’s smile cast new warmth. Somewhere, one could hear the sound of ice breaking. “I trust your wounds aren’t too split open, after your rough arrival here.”

Pearse’s question was met with a noncommittal grunt. “Your cowboy wasn’t hard to escape. Your Indian, harder.”

“Aye, you did a number, getting away from Samuel.” The Irishman leaned forward. “You can fight, then?”

She shrugged, wincing at the shooting pain which accompanied this gesture. “Some. Your Samuel wasn’t good at what he did.” Her glass empty, she quickly refilled it.

“I see. And are you, then, good at doing those things which need doing?”

Allie could see where the conversation was going. “Sometimes. Where the pay’s good, and people leave me the hell alone.”

Pearse nodded, sipping his own scotch. “Such can always be arranged. I’ve much work, and very seldom is it work that can be concluded without a spark of creativity.”

Nearly into her third drink, Allie was growing more animated. “Before we talk work, I want to talk who I work for. After all, who’s the kind of man that takes a town at gunpoint?” Never cautious to begin with, the cowgirl was becoming ever less so.

Her host paused before responding, watching the amber in his glass dance as light shimmered off it. When he finally spoke, his tone was pensive. The lilting Irish accent, never absent from his speech, suddenly became more apparent. “That’s the kind of question for which there’s no easy answer. Why did Eve take the apple, why did God smite Sodom, and why were half a million of our American brothers killing each other some ten years ago? It’s because violence begets violence, and sin begets sin.” Allie looked skeptical, and Pearse chuckled. “However, I suppose you’ll be wanting an explanation more wholesome than that.”

Allie listened raptly for the next twenty minutes as Pearse recounted the chain of events which had led him to Santa Anna’s doorstep, from Bloomer’s proposition to the battle at Ethan’s shack to the obliteration of Little Bethlehem to the expedition’s newfound thirst for vengeance. He spared little detail, and reflected on what had transpired with a surprising degree of even-handedness. At the end of the Irishman’s tale, Allie was expectedly critical. Pearse, however, had answers ready.

If it was possible that Bloomer had fired the first shot, why had Pearse fought the Santa Anna men so mercilessly? (If raiders had killed women and children and were now redoubling their attack, was there another option?)

After the attack, why had Pearse proceeded so quickly toward Santa Anna? (With Little Bethlehem’s fate unknown and Santa Anna the nearest town by seventy miles, where else could the refugees go? Could he risk letting them enter a town that was still potentially hostile?)

And if he only sought safety for the refugees, why had his conquest of Santa Anna been so complete? (The residents of Santa Anna had already proven themselves; could Pearse honestly afford to leave them in charge of their own town?)

Her questions temporarily exhausted, Allie fell into a thoughtful silence. Only time would tell how persuaded she was by her host’s story.

Pearse, meanwhile, saw an opening. “Do I pass your marks, then, as employer?”

Allie’s response was still guarded, but nothing like she’d been half an hour earlier. The alcohol had certainly helped. “Well enough, but I don’t shoot people that don’t have it coming to them first.”

Pearse laughed. “And I can ask nothing else. If we are to be in agreement, you will leave on the morrow with the madam Jessamine Blake. For safety’s sake – ” The Irishman made a gesture, the universal sign for helplessness – “you must travel in the manner that she will. You understand these terms?”

The cowgirl nodded curtly. At least for the moment, she appreciated Pearse’s potential as an ally. Even if it meant a long trip under armed guard.

“Good. We will discuss your service more at my ranch, where the surroundings are less harsh and the hour is less far gone. There you will also receive care for your wounds. Sadly, Ethan Ramey has proved a damn interesting man, but a damn terrible doctor.”

Despite their conclusion of business and Pearse’s observation of the lateness of the hour, he spent several more minutes talking to Allie. It was the stuff of pleasant conversation; the Irishman spoke wistfully of his childhood in Virginia before launching into a tall tale about the time he swore he’d met Davy Crockett. For Allie’s part, she deadpanned a description of her life as a door-to-door snake venom salesman. Before the two finally rose to go their separate ways, the cowgirl had even managed a brief smile.

Bending with a flourish to kiss Allie’s hand, Pearse saw her to the main entrance where she was met by a still flushed Jeremiah. Leaving the cowgirl to her escort, the Irishman returned to the common room, slowly climbing the stair to Jessamine’s former quarters. As Pearse shut the bedroom door behind him, the Indian shifted among the shadows, taking up the station where he would remain until daybreak.

***

It took some time for Pearse to find sleep.

Although the Irishman had taken four lives today, their faces did not touch his thoughts. Instead, his mind was dominated by the radiance over Little Bethlehem, by the resignation he had felt as Woodrow Millard leveled his rifle from two yards away, and the confusion on his opponent’s face as he had missed.

Most of all, Pearse was distracted by the threads in his left field of vision which crawled whether his eyes were open or shut. It felt like the master of some foreign language had taken up residence in his head, but instead of trying to share it with him, it was doing all it could to keep him in ignorance. When the Irishman finally dropped off, the mood was fitful, and strange…

…It was a familiar nightmare.

Pearse’s boots crunched against the brush of a dying Pennsylvania field. Above him, the sky stretched a cloudless blue. The date was July 3, 1863. It was the worst day of his life.

Freshly carved craters were filled with cast off corpses, their grey uniforms lying in tatters. The acrid stench of gunpowder assaulted the senses, and thick billows of smoke restricted visibility to a handful of yards. The din was deafening; a heavy rain of artillery shells was enough to burst eardrums.

Pearse was not afraid of death. He had walked this same field too often to any longer fear the bite of a grapeshot canister or sharpshooter’s bullet. Despite the suffering around him, he knew his body would remain in one piece.

The rest of him, however, would not.

Set in a course beyond his control, Pearse stepped forward. Tendrils of smoke writhed and parted. Straining his eyes, the Irishman could just make out a lone figure in front of him, standing serenely amidst the slaughter. The figure was turned, and its hands were clasped thoughtfully behind its back. As Pearse watched, he was overcome by a nauseating sense of dread. He shut his eyes tight, waiting for the moment when he usually woke up.

This time, he didn’t. After an eternity of waiting, Pearse opened his eyes again. And as he did, his world turned upside down.

Gone was the green field and blue sky. Instead, the Irishman stood on a dusty plain, the wind whistling eerily across the vast expanse. The sky was an angry red, stabbed through by spears of green and violet. Although bodies still dotted the scene, no longer were all of them human. Man-shaped machines lay scattered amidst their human counterparts, metallic skin glinting in the half-light. Other, larger devices lay in shambles, forming makeshift mountains upon the otherwise featureless plain.

Without its veil of smoke, the figure was clearer as well. It wore a black, wide-brimmed hat and a simple jacket. Although it still did not turn, it spoke in a voice that seemed to share a hundred tones and intonations at once. Pearse’s dread redoubled.

“WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT WILL BE. YOURS IS THE TASK TO MAKE IT SO.”

The Irishman’s mind felt suddenly invaded, poked and prodded by the omnipresent Voice. A fog descended on his senses, and his resistance was quickly drained away. Yet for all the Voice’s strength, Pearse fought just as hard. His fiery will leapt to life, dispelling the fog and clashing with the Voice’s sapping influence. In this state, Pearse spoke through gritted teeth.

“I’ll be no man but my own, and all be damned if anything other should come to pass!”

Suddenly, the Voice vanished from his head. It replied as if from a great distance, and its many facets seemed to wax amusement.

“SUCH IS THE POINT…”

Before Pearse could respond, the Voice was again upon him. This time, there was no fighting it. His mental defenses were battered to a pulp, and his will rapidly receded. The presence coursed through his being and his muscles began to spasm uncontrollably, as if jerked by strings. As his consciousness faded, he could spy movement as the figure finally began to turn…


And, of course, it was at that instant that he awoke.

Pearse was drenched in sweat. Judging by the sun just peaking through the window, he had slept only a handful of hours, rising much earlier than he’d intended. He no longer cared. He had to leave Santa Anna and reach the ruins of Little Bethlehem. For some reason, he knew this fact with absolute certainty. He was far less certain about why he had this feeling, but at the moment, such questions hardly seemed to matter. Perhaps he was already too late – for what, again, he couldn’t say.

The Irishman quickly dressed, forming a plan as he did so. He would bring two of his best fighters with him, as well as his bodyguard and Ethan. Bringing Ethan seemed very important, somehow. Meanwhile, he would send six men to escort Jessamine and Allie back to his ranch. The remaining four of his hands, as well as the sheriff Samuel, would remain in Santa Anna. They would have to hold out a day at most before the town saw the arrival of another fifteen men at least. If there was trouble to be raised, it would not happen in Santa Anna.

Taking a final glance of the bedroom in which he had spent so little time, Pearse swept out the door, the Indian following close behind. It was time to leave.

***

Five figures sat poised on horseback as the morning sun finally crested the earth, bathing the scene in a sudden stream of light. Raising his hand to shield his eyes from the glare, Pearse cast his gaze over his four companions. Two – Bill and Stefan, among the Irishman’s most skilled hands – looked almost bored as they awaited their master’s signal. Heavy repeaters were slung across their backs, and they had the look of men who had seen it all and come back for more. Meanwhile, the Indian remained stoic as ever, his gaze resting on the whorehouse where so much had transpired such a short time ago.

Finally, Ethan Ramey sat inert, blinking rapidly against the rising sun. It was impossible to accurately gauge the doctor’s mood; he was a quarter awake at best. The doctor had clearly gotten little sleep after the night’s activities. Unfortunately, he could expect little more in the days to come.

The Irishman’s attention snapped back to the gangly youth standing beside him. Despite Jeremiah’s age and inexperience, a mixture of chance and dumb luck had won Pearse’s reliance and turned him into the Irishman’s acting lieutenant. Jeremiah was reviewing his boss’s final arrangements.

“Yessir, I’ll check that the ladies have cleared out by noon. I’ll also be sure the funeral goes as planned, an’ that the food ration goes to good use once that wagon rolls in. The first Little Bethlehemers showed up ‘bout an hour ago, but there’s surely a lot more on the way.”

Pearse nodded, his eyes suddenly leaping to life as he redoubled his focus on Jeremiah. “And tell me, what of the plan of watching over a town which hates you and’s not likely to change too soon?”

At the risk of looking a fool, the youth paused a long while to mull the question over in his head. When he spoke, it was with great care. “I reckon it’s my job not to make ‘em love me, but to make ‘em know they need me. I’ll treat ‘em nice, and expect 'em to do the same. That all’s important, ‘cause I’ll be your, uh, lee-ah-zun in this whole area now, and a man’s face is always a nicer thing to take orders from than a telegraph machine.”

Pearse nodded again, impressed by the wisdom in Jeremiah’s words. He’d chosen his representative well. Gesturing dismissively and moving to don his hat, the Irishman was distracted as his newly minted lieutenant spoke again in a quavering voice. It was as if the youth appreciated the impropriety of his question, but not enough to keep himself from asking it.

“I-if you don’t mind me askin’, Mr. Pearse, what up and caused you to leave so fast in the first place?”

Now it was Pearse’s turn to be pensive. The entire group shifted in anticipation, awaiting his response. When Pearse finally answered, he seemed to be speaking as much to himself as to the youth beside him.

“Yesterday, you asked me if that second sun over Little Bethlehem was the good Lord coming to take his children home. I answered you ‘no,’ and I’d answer you the same today. Yet I believe more and more that a being did indeed visit Little Bethlehem yesterday, not for the purpose of taking something away, but for the purpose of bringing something back. And if it exists, it’s my intent to find it.”

With that thought, Pearse spurred his horse to a swift trot, the other four members of his party falling in behind him. For the first time, the shapes in his left eye had twisted into an object he could perceive. An object which he had heard described to him not three days before.

It was a cannon.

_________________
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
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