O, Town of Little Bethlehem

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O, Town of Little Bethlehem

Post  Claude Delacroix on Wed Mar 17, 2010 12:45 pm

The sticky blood stained deeply into the white shirt he wore as he came before his father's congregation. They all were scared; timid creatures huddled together in what was left of their hideaway. By now, the moon shone down coldly, contrasting with the hot summer air and smoldering fires that filled the once streets of Little Bethlehem.

As he stood before them in his father's place behind the cracked pine podium, he smiled. He knew them all. He'd known them before his father had his vision. He could remember that one of the newest converts, Bo Johnson, had been the owner of a general store in town. He could remember how haughty he had been before. And now look at him.

He was at his feet, fit only for such.

Just as his drunkard father was fit only to feed worms.

"Hello, brothers and sisters!" he cried loudly, startling them. Each of them gave a small involuntary jump at the blood-stained youth's salutation. "Our time is finally at hand!"

Nothing. No cheers, no cries of joy. Not even wailing or gnashing of teeth. Just the deadly black void of silence from a crowd of some twenty-odd empty faces. He stood in mirrored silence, the thin smile still on his face as he watched and waited.

After a length of time, someone finally plucked up the courage to speak.

"Sir....? Where is the Prophet?"

At that, the smile left. In the vacuum it left rushed a cold stare from two chips of ice set in the young man's eye sockets. In an instant, those two eyes snapped to the speaker.

It had been the town's former sheriff, Jack Levi. He was a rough-hewn man with a face like a granite statue, rough-handed and dark eyed. He had been his father's first convert, and possibly his greatest believer. He moved to the front of the group, now standing before the platform and podium.

"Jeremiah," Jack began. "Where is your daddy?"

Jeremiah's face shifted again, this time letting a cool smile appear. Icy hate seethed beneath his skin as he spoke. "The prophet," he said, careful to play down the title, "Is dead."

Whispers and glances spread through the congregation like fire. Since his conversion, Jack had went from a no-nonsense lawman to a humble servant of higher powers. Something had changed about his stance now, though. He'd instantly went from timid to silently defiant. "How did he die, son?" he asked after the quiet commotion died down. All eyes were now on blood-stained Jeremiah.

And he was ready.

"A demon took him..." he said as he stared directly at Jack. "And I had to kill him to save his soul."

***
Outside, Claude still tried to wake his fellow survivor fom her slumber. Frustratingly, he was having a hard time in doing so.

"Madam, wake UP." he said sternly, prying open her left eye with his fingers. "Your baby needs your attention!"

C'est la vie...
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Incontro nella neve cinereo

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:06 am

Night falls on the badlands. Seth’s journey back to Little Bethlehem, or rather what now remains of the town, will soon come to an end. As he rides ever closer to the town, the faint, iridescent glow continues to shine like a beacon. What had transpired in his brief absence still feels surreal as if it were all a dream. A cloud of radiant, divine-like light encompassed the entirety of the Little Bethlehem, swathing it in pall of endless white. Nothing short of an act of providence from some higher power could have wrought such a calamity.

The remnants of the Little Bethlehem slowly begin to come into view. Even the outskirts of the town have been reduced to smoldering wreckage. As Seth enters what was once the entrance to the lively settlement, a strange image begins to flicker in his left eye. The incongruous shape swirls about, pulsating with a tattoo like that of a heartbeat. The closer Seth gets to the center of town, the more violent the image becomes, shifting to an increasingly crimson hue with each advancing step. He stops and closes his eyes for a moment. The image remains, its horrendous motions ever vigilant.

“What is this? Am I going mad?”

Seth opens his eyes and surveys his surroundings. Ash and cinders blanket the ground and debris of buildings. Amongst the hellish mantle, Seth notices several oddly shaped scorch marks. He walks closer to one such mark in hopes of identifying the pattern. Much to his dismay, the charred outline soon becomes all too familiar. Faint impressions of human digits clutching desperately at the soil along with traces of what were once arms and legs paint a nightmarishly vivid picture.

“What in God’s name is capable of doing such a thing?”

His mind quickly returns to Flora and Moira. Was this their fate as well? Not wanting to dwell on such an unpleasant thought, Seth presses forward, scouring the streets in search of any sign of life. He approaches the remains of the inn, decimated like all the rest. As he closes in on the building, Seth hears a voice.

"Madam, wake UP. Your baby needs your attention!"

There was still a chance.

Seth quickens his stride and heads in the direction of the voice. The image in his left eye begins to thrash about violently once more, the vivid shade burrowing its way further and further into his eye with each passing second. Fighting through the pain, Seth continues to tread forward, focusing on the voice.

Next to a dilapidated water pump, Seth makes out the figure of man, hunched over the listless figure of a young woman. In the arms of the girl, Seth makes out another figure, tiny yet still wriggling about in the woman’s embrace.

“I’ve found them at last.”

Seth moves closer to the group. There was still hope. Now a new task presents itself to the wanderer; ensure the safety of his family and decide if the man watching over them is a friend or foe. He calls out to the man watching over the girls.

“Signore, I mean you no harm. My name is Seth Ruggeri, and the girls there with you are my daughter and her caretaker. I only want to ensure their safety, so I hope that you will be willing to help me. So, what do you say Signore?”

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Re: O, Town of Little Bethlehem

Post  Claude Delacroix on Mon May 10, 2010 2:40 pm

The lines of intersecting light that had been dancing around in Claude's vision focused in on the voice. Clarity came at last as he saw the image of a dust-worn man. His voice was... It was Italian, wasn't it? An Italian in this place? Imagine the odds.

"I say that you're very far from home, sir." Claude's voice was not so much of a croak after a mouthful of the pump's cold water, and he stood to his feet. His clothes were tattered and frayed, caked with dirt and God knows what else after walking, limping, and crawling through the burnt-out streets of the town. He'd fought the urge to address the man in Italian. He didn't know him. Keeping him at an arm's length would be the best course of action. "But I'm willing to help, so long as you give some help in return. As you can see..." Claude swept a hand down main street and held an impassive look upon his face as he continued. "Something rather destructive has just taken place, and I've an intention to find out what happened, why, and who is responsible." Two stern eyes stared out at Ruggeri in the chalk-pale moonlight and through a dirt-smeared face. A glance was cast back at the (rightfully) fussy baby and her caretaker.

Pearse.

A cannon.

The familiar sixth sense pricked up when Claude looked at this man.

"Just tell me what you might know of a Mr. Pearse. Ca-peash, sig-nor-ay?" Claude said in a forced phony pronunciation.
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Riunione

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Sun May 16, 2010 1:23 am

Seth gives a pensive glare at the man standing opposite him amongst the wreckage of the town. Something about the man doesn’t settle very well with the Italian. Seth shifts his glance over to the limp, unconscious figure of Moira on the ground, still holding Flora tightly in her arms. For the time being, Seth puts his qualms about his newest acquaintance aside, the safety and well being of his family taking priority above all else.

“I’d be more than happy to share with you what I know Signore. I must admit, I’m rather curious about what caused this kind of destruction in such a short time.”

Seth walks over to Flora and Moira. The young child turns her attention to the familiar face and ceases crying. With a newfound smile on her face, Flora reaches out towards her father. Returning the same warm expression, Seth picks up the child and holds her close.

“Sorry for leaving you little one.

The child settles down and begins to nod off in her father’s arms. Crouching down near Moira, Seth inspects the unconscious youth. Her right arm is completely burnt, seemingly nothing more than an inert, blanked appendage. Similar burns cover the right side of Moira’s face and given the severity of the burns, she has likely lost the ability to see out of her right eye as well. Her breathing is faint but still present. Seth turns to the man once more.

“I’m sorry to impose on you once more Signore but I have one more request to ask of you. For now, we should try to find some form of shelter amongst what remains of the town. I’d also like to find whatever medical supplies we can so I can tend to my young companion here. I promise I’ll tell you everything I know about Pearse once we’ve done so.”


Last edited by Seth Ruggeri on Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:44 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Shelter in the Storm

Post  Claude Delacroix on Wed May 26, 2010 3:36 pm

"Shelter."

Claude's bones ached just at the thought of all that his body had been subjected to lately. Drugs, alcohol, heat, and wrath of God armageddon. He looked up at the Italian and nodded. "As a matter of fact, I may know a good place..." Instantly, images of Patrick's small house came to mind. It was isolated on the outskirts of town, could it have survived? "At least, I do if it is still standing. Just follow me" He forced his ash-painted and scratched face into a smile as he knelt down and scooped Moria up.

Oh, God... he moaned to himself as his show of chivalry and good will murdered his sore muscles. "As for information about what happened...Everything I know, I'll tell you." His voice was sincere and full of truth.

That is, if you ask in a correct fashion, signore.

The thought brought a split second glint of mischief to Claude's eyes. He could pump this fellow for info and aid, then he would be on his way once more.
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Riparo fra le rovine

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Tue Jun 15, 2010 10:24 am

Seth continues to follow his latest acquaintance through the ravaged streets of Little Bethlehem. With each step forward, the man continues to display signs of duress and stress on his injured frame, and yet makes no mention of his pain. Some unease about the man still remains in the back of Seth’s mind, however in his current state he could hardly be considered much of a threat. Thus far, the man has at least been willing to help the Italian and his family, despite being in need of aid himself.

“We’re here”

The two arrive at there destination, the ramshackle remains of what was once a house. While much of the exterior and ground floor of the building were now nothing more than splintered hunks of ashen hued wood, the foundation seems to be intact. The man, now beginning to lumber slightly under the weight of Seth’s young companion, heads towards the back of the building.

“There’s a cellar door over here. Think you can pry it open?”

At this request, the man leans up against one of the few remaining supports of the house, letting out a heavy sigh as his back rests against the scorched wood. Seth walks over to the cellar door. Much of the portal is covered by various bits of debris and caked in think layer of ash. Seth sets Flora next to the now slumping figure of the man and Moira.

“It’ll take me a minute to clear it off, but I shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the door open.”

Seth begins clearing the rubbish on top of the cellar entrance. At the bottom of the pile, he comes across what was likely once a lock, now nothing more than a misshapen hunk of slag. With a swift kick, the metal fragment breaks off and hits the ground. Seth pulls open the doors and looks inside. Much to his surprise, the better portion of the room has managed to remain intact. The occasional fragment or two of a broken knick-knack or hunk of wood lay strewn about on the floor but there appeared to be no serious damage to the room’s structural integrity. Relieved by this discovery, Seth returns outside to inform his companion.

“It looks like we should be able to use the room. I’ll carry the girls inside first.”

The Italian picks up Moira’s unconscious frame and carries her down into the cellar. As he walks through the room, Seth sweeps aside the various bits of debris on the floor with the side of his boot. In the back of the room, he finds a bed, somewhat aged in appearance but surprisingly still in one piece. Carefully, he lays Moira on the dusty mattress. The young girl’s breathing seems to have stabilized to a regular and steady pattern. The road to recovery would be long but this was a good start. Returning outside, Seth picks up the now sleeping infant and carries her into the cellar. Gently, he lays the child next to her caretaker.

“Rest up girls. I feel the journey ahead of us is going to be longer and more complicated than I originally thought.”

With his family now resting safely, Seth returns once more to the man outside. He crouches down next to the man, slowly lifts him up off the ground and on to his feet. Without a word, Seth helps the man make his way down into the cellar. The Italian helps the man into a chair near the front of the room. A pained expression manifests itself across the man’s face as he slowly slinks into the chair.

“You should probably rest up for now Signore. I’ll see if I can find any supplies down here we can use. Let me know if you need anything.”

Seth rummages through various cabinets and desk drawers in search of medical supplies and vittles. After a few minutes, he comes across a small medical chest with a variety of tonics, medicine, gauze and bandages. Taking the chest over to the bed, Seth prepares to clean Moira’s wounds. While his medical knowledge is inferior to that of a trained physician, Seth’s time spent in the war provided him with the opportunity to learn about different medicinal techniques and method for treating wounds. The burns on the girl’s body still contained a considerable amount of heat. Seth gingerly applies different salves from the chest on the wounds and binds them in gauze in hopes of preventing further infection.

“I’m sorry Moira but I’m afraid this is all I can do for now. I’ll need to find a doctor for you soon. It’s a shame that I never had the chance to meet with Ramey. I could use his help now more than ever.”

Having done what he can for Moira, Seth turns his attention to his daughter. Strangely enough, besides the occasional scratch and small bruise, the child is for the most part in perfect health. Seth is relieved to find that Flora is okay but at the same time, he can’t help but wonder how she was able to come out of the disaster in such a condition. He turns his attention once more to Moira.

“I suppose I shouldn’t think to hard about it for now. I’m sure Moira did everything in her power to ensure Flora’s safety. I don’t know if you can hear me right now Moira, but I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me up to this point. I promise I’ll do whatever it takes to help you.”

Seth returns to the front of the room and leans against the wall across from his most recent acquaintance.

“Now that I’ve tended to my family, is there anything I can do for you Signore?”

With a wry grin, the man gives his response.

“I think I’ll be fine for now. I’m made of sterner stuff.”

Seth chuckles at the man’s response. There was something to respect about a man who could maintain such composure after sustaining injuries that would put most men into a fit of rage and agony.

“Is that so? Even so, you should take it easy for a while.”

Seth takes a seat on the floor, still facing the man.

“Now, I believe you had some questions for me Mr… pardon me Signore, but I don’t believe I ever caught your name?”


Last edited by Seth Ruggeri on Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:49 pm; edited 3 times in total

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To shut Mr. Pearse up.

Post  Claude Delacroix on Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:38 am

"Claude Delacroix, Signore Ruggeri. But just Claude will do." was the spoken reply to Seth's question.

Can't hurt. A name is powerful, but he doesn't look like he'd be into arcane arts. Claude mused as he wiped blood from his split lower lip. His dirty face looked over to Seth with his typically bemused expression, hanging halfway between boredom and interest. He can probably shoot, but then again... So can I. Even though Claude's mind was filled with such a cold thought, he couldn't help liking the Italian in spite of himself. The man seemed to be exactly what he appeared: a concerned father. Still, he had to find out everything he could. Church-appointed investigation or not, he was in the thick of things and determined to see these events to their end.

"An Italian gentleman, a infant child, and a nursemaid." he said with a raised eyebrow, flicking his right hand to his side, sending the blood on his fingers sailing toward the cellar wall. "As I said... very far from home." And I would know, wouldn't I? he thought to himself as he struggled to keep his easy-going composure. He felt that one blood-curdling and glass-smashing scream would do him all the good in the world, but he stayed strong.

"So, I believe we have a little deal involving the exchange of information." Summoning the remaining strength in his arms, Claude managed to push himself closer to the cellar wall so he could at least appear to sit upright. "And I believe I've gone first with the devulgence of my name." All the twisted cracks and nooks in Claude's brain were now firing on full trickster mode. Welcome to my little game, Signore. How much information can I grab, and how very little can I give in return?

"What exactly are you doing here?"
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Congresso fra le rovine

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:43 pm

Without hesitation or uncertainty, Seth gives Claude his response.

“I’m searching for a man by the name of Ethan Ramey. I was told he’s a skilled doctor and that I could find him around these parts. As it stands, I could use his help now even more.”

So far, Claude has shown no signs of enmity. Despite this, Seth decides it is in his best interest not to reveal too much. He had been friendly towards Mr. Pearse, but still withheld much of his reason for being here in the New Mexico Territory from him as well. Given how his run in with the famous “Gentleman of the West” had turned out, it’s probably for the best that he not become too congenial with the locals quite yet.

“Unfortunately, my attempts to meet with Signore Ramey were cut short by a raiding party. It seems like some of the townsfolk here weren’t very fond of him. Before I had the chance to find him, I caught sight of the light that swallowed up the town and decided to head back here to search for my family.”

Seth looks over at the bed where Moira and Flora currently rest. Neither of them have stirred since entering the cellar. Seth returns his gaze once more to Claude.

“My thanks to you again Claude for watching over them in my absence. I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

Seth gives the response with a sincere smile on his face. Hopefully, the Italian’s answer will be enough to satisfy Claude’s curiosity. Now it’s time to see what information Claude is willing to divulge in exchange.

“So Signore, what can you tell me about the light that engulfed the town?”

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Re: O, Town of Little Bethlehem

Post  Claude Delacroix on Wed Jul 21, 2010 2:07 am

The light? Ah, yes.. That light.

Until now, Claude had not devoted much thought to what exactly had happened to the poor town above their heads. There had been the great flooding light before the hot black of unconciousness beneath the rubble. He counted himself lucky that he'd ducked for cover at the precise and critical instant that he had. Between the light and the painful and paniced process of digging his way out of the saloon, the town had become a rather biblical image.

Granted, the image was of Hell. Cracked and smouldering skeletons of timber where buildings and houses one stood, now only sheltering fire and corpses twisted and contorted into bizarre and horrific angles. He had seen many of the town's former residents on what was left of the streets, and he could still smell the rotting flesh. The images and scents were forever burned into his memory.

Fire? He'd been familiar with both the mystic and garden-variety types of flame for years.

The smell? He'd smelled the sulfurous scent before, but the punctuation of sizzling fat added a distinctly heavier punch to the bouquet.

The bodies? He'd seen dead people before, the most prominent being his very first assignment as a heretical investigator. The investigations and assignments didn't get any easier from there.

The light? Believe it or not, he'd actually seen instances of something very similar in the past, but he'd seen a lot of things most people hadn't in the last few years.

"I've seen this light before...." Claude began, his face carefully inexpressive. "Or at least, something similar. " Nothing on this scale, though... He closed his eyes for a moment and thought.

***

It had been nearly five years ago, and he'd just returned to the Vatican after a relatively easy assignment in France concerning a claims of a man moving things and people by his willpower alone. After asking people to their faces (and snooping through astral realms and scrying), Claude had managed to pinpoint that the whole trouble stemmed from a strange locket that a villager had found several months prior.

When approached by Claude to hand over the offendingly strange jewelery, the man was less than receptive.

Three broken ribs and a sprained ankle later, Claude found himself in the Vatican with the locket, hunched over a workbench in some underground storehouse that his “employers” used for holding mystic and arcane artifacts. The rooms were always dimly lit by sputtering candles, the wax dribbling down their sides until they became indistingishable masses of wax at their base. He’d spent many hours here before, painstakingly copying runes or charms into heavy leather-bound books or pouring over mouldering texts to discover just what part of Sumatra a certain amulet originated from. For him, this was as close as he ever came to a vacation.

And as they say, misery loves company.

An old man whom everyone addressed simply as Marlowe seemed to live in those caverous halls, his thin frame straight as a steel rod and his iron grey hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. He seemed to have more experience in the theoretic field of magic than Claude, and the two often worked seperately and in silence. On the odd occasion Claude would try to strike up a conversation, he would find that Marlowe would only smile, nod his head, and then return to work.

After several such instances, Claude eventually gave up.

However, the day that he limped into the room carrying the small and nearly unremarkable locket, things changed.

The two of them spent a full three days going through every resource available to them, and they still could not identify anything about the locket’s peculiarity. After exhausting every possible avenue of logic and knowledge, Claude announced that he was giving up and placed the thing in a small metal box. As he rummaged around for a padlock among the detritus of papers, books and pens, an unfamiliar voice spoke to him.

“That thing is not magical.”

As he turned around, Claude realized that the voice belonged to Marlowe. The shock of hearing the until recently silent man speak caused him to forget his manners completely.

"Like Hell it isn't." he simply scoffed. "You didn't have a cafe's worth of tables and chairs thrown at you by someone wearing it."

The old man’s eyes glittered at that remark. "I did not say it was oridinary, boy. Just that it was non-magical."

***

“All I can tell you, Mr. Ruggeri, is that the light you saw is not something that any mortal man can make, nor is it a natural phenomenon.” he said as he scratched his head absentmindedly. The bemused expression had vanished from his face, leaving a ponderous look behind. Sure, the similarities in the light were unmistakable, and the same vibrations went through my body in both cases, but… Could this be related to something halfway around the world…? “What I can tell you, Mr. Ruggeri, is that I believe all the people who have survived this little incident are not normal in the purest sense, nor will they ever be afterwards.” Question answered. My turn.
“Now, sir… I’d like you to tell me what you know of a gentleman named Pearse…”
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Arrivederci per ora

Post  Seth Ruggeri on Sun Aug 08, 2010 9:42 pm

Seth takes a moment to ponder what Claude has said. As he looks at the man sitting across from him, nothing strikes him as terribly odd. Up to this point Claude has displayed some interesting mannerisms, but nothing about him made him seem any different from the average passerby on the street. Turning his attention to the girls, one phrase uttered by Claude makes its way to the forefront of in Seth’s mind.

“What I can tell you, Mr. Ruggeri, is that I believe all the people who have survived this little incident are not normal in the purest sense, nor will they ever be afterwards.”

The Italian rises to his feet and presses his back against the wall. Returning his attention to Claude, he gives a reply.

“I’m afraid that my knowledge of Mr. Pearse is somewhat limited, Signore Delacroix. When I first came to this town, he was one of the first people I met. He seemed like quite the gentleman. I remember he was attempting to settle some dispute that had broken out about Ethan Ramey.”

There was still the matter of Ramey. Seth had been unable to meet with him during the trek to the doctor’s homestead outside of town earlier. The Italian still has questions for the good doctor. If there is any truth in the information he received from Lee Kean, then Ramey might be the one doctor in the New Mexico Territory that can help him.

“Shortly after quelling the issue about Signore Ramey, Pearse set out with a contingent of men, women, and children in the direction of the doctor’s home. I followed along in hopes of speaking with the good doctor myself. Unfortunately, before I had the chance to meet him, all Hell broke loose, both on the Ramey homestead as well as here in Little Bethlehem.”

Even from Ramey’s home, the light that swallowed Little Bethlehem whole was as intense and blinding as the sun itself. Seth’s thoughts once again return to what Claude had said earlier.

“What I can tell you, Mr. Ruggeri, is that I believe all the people who have survived this little incident are not normal in the purest sense, nor will they ever be afterwards.”

Seth presses the flat of his right knuckle into his forehead. Things weren’t exactly normal for him before the light appeared. How much stranger were they going to become now? More importantly, how would all of this affect Flora and Moira?

“I must apologize Claude. I’m afraid my thoughts are little scattered at the moment. As far as Pearse is concerned, I did have the opportunity to speak with him on a few occasions during the trip to Ramey’s home. The two of us traded old war stories, discussed our homelands, and shared drinks. Like I said before, he seemed like such an amiable and likeable man. Even the townsfolk that were with us spoke highly of him. For some of them, he was nothing short of saint. Stories of his generosity and good deeds spread like wildfire throughout the caravan.”

He wasn’t simply a saint to them; he was nothing short of a god…

Seth thought back to his conversations with Pearse. He remembers the Latin phrase that the Irishman quoted. ‘cineri gloria sera est.’ ‘Glory to ashes comes too late.’ It’s strange really. The moment he said that phrase, Seth was suddenly reminded of a similar one that adorned the mantle in his father’s shop back home. ‘mors certa, hora incerta.’

‘Death is certain, it’s hour uncertain.’


Seth never mentioned the phrase to Pearse, and strangely enough regretted not doing so.

“I’m sorry to say Claude that this is all I know of the man. Just an assortment of praises spoken by the former residents of this town and my initial judgment of his character. Admittedly I’d like to find out more about the so called, “Gentlemen of the West” myself. Forgive me if I’m prying too much Claude, but why exactly are you interested in Mr. Pear…”

Before Seth can finish his question, a loud cry pierces the stagnant air. The two men turn to the source of the sound. In the bed behind them, Moira’s body lurches forward, panting heavily as her frame rises and begins to double over. From her right eye, still covered in bandages, a stream of blood slowly begins to trickle down the side of her face.

---

As her body springs upright, a sudden wave of warmth surges through Moira’s body. The light in her eye burns brighter than ever before, so much in fact, that her entire right eye can only see a radiant burst of white. She turns her head slightly, to see Seth Ruggeri rushing towards the bed, the stranger from before getting to his feet to follow suit. The young girl hears nothing for a few seconds. As Seth stands in front of the bed, hand on her shoulder, she can make out the movement of his lips, saying her name. As the Italian continues to call her name, Moira slowly begins to regain her ability to her.

“MOIRA! Can you hear me? What’s wrong?”

As the words finally reach the girl, she snaps to attention instantly.

“Mr. Ruggeri, I’m okay. I think… I think I just had a nightmare.”

She holds her hand up to her eye. The light continues to burn brightly behind the bandage that covers it. Beneath her fingers, she feels a familiar sticky substance on the side of her face. Holding her hand up to her face, she realizes that the fluid is her own blood.

“Moira, your eye is bleeding; let me take a look at it please.”

As Seth brings his hand towards the girl’s face, she grabs him by the wrist.

“Please, leave it alone. It’ll be fine. I… I... think I just got up too fast. Please Mr. Ruggeri; it’ll be fine for now.”

Reluctantly, The Italian withdraws his hand, and with a concerned glance, rises from his crouched position. Moira regrets stopping him. If the light that she sees is visible to anyone else but her, someone might think she’s unnatural. She doesn’t want to worry Seth anymore than she already has and if he were to see her eye then…

“It looks like your condition hasn’t improved much. You should rest a while longer Moira. Once you’re healed up a bit more, we can go look for a doctor for the two of you.”

As Seth finishes his statement, Moira is reminded of Flora. She looks down on the bed next to her to see the child sleeping soundly at her side. The child doesn’t appear to have any major injuries or bruises, at least none to the naked eye. Moira turns her attention towards the stranger she met back in town. The man was now on his feet and resting against a nearby wall.

“Thank you sir. I appreciate you looking after Flora and I while I was passed out.”

The man looks at the girl and gives a somewhat pained smile.

“Think nothing of it miss. I’m just glad that you’re okay. Well, mostly okay I suppose.”

The stranger walks over to a nearby table and pulls out a chair. With a thud, he takes a seat and begins looking over some papers scattered across the table. Seth joins the man, sitting opposite him at the worn piece of furniture. Moira turns slightly and rests her back against the wall. She listens on intently as the two men begin to speak.

---

“Well Signor Delacroix, do you have any idea where you plan to go next?”

Claude ponders the question for a moment.

“I’m not entirely sure at the moment. I think I might stick around here a bit longer. Maybe see if I can find out anything else about what caused all this. What about you?

Seth leans back in his chair. Being unfamiliar with the area, Seth was unsure where he should go next. At the moment, Ramey was his only lead but as it stands, his chances of meeting him were slim at the moment. For that matter, there was no guarantee that he was even still alive. No. He was still alive. Surely, Pearse would have had a use for him outside of seeing him dead. Why would he be so willing to lead a contingent of men, women, and children out to Ramey’s stead otherwise? Soon enough, he’d find the man and likely Pearse as well. At the thought of the Irishman, Seth was once more reminded of the phrase ‘mors certa, hora incerta.’

“I’m afraid I don’t know either. I still want to find a doctor for the girls, but I’m worried that they might not be in the best shape to travel at the moment.”

At this, Moira piped in a response.

“I’ll be okay Mr. Ruggeri. I want to make sure that Flora’s alright.”

The girl tries to stand to her feet. A painful expression plasters itself across her face as she gets up from the bed. She looks at the two men and forces a smile.

“See? I’ll be fine.”

Seth was still worried about the girl’s condition. There was not telling how difficult it would be for her to travel like this or for how long she could manage a trip. Returning his attention to Claude, the Italian queries,

“Signore Delacroix, would you happen to know what the nearest town would be?”

Claude begins to fumble through his pockets. After a few moments, he pulls out a worn piece of paper. As he places the document on the table, Seth quickly realizes that the article in question is a partial map of the territory. Claude looks over the map and gives his response.

“Lets see. Looks like the nearest town from here is Santa Anna. Can’t say I know much about it though. As far as other options, you could also try Los Afortunados. It’s bigger than Santa Anna and there’s a railway that runs right through the town. And for the last time, Claude will suffice.”

Seth weighs his options for a moment. Santa Anna was closer, so the chances of getting there sooner would be better. However, during the scuffle at Ramey’s Seth recalls overhearing about a group of men coming from the direction of the town, armed and ready to fight. If that was the case, then many of them were probably engaged or possibly still engaged in a fight there. There was no guarantee that the Italian would be able to find the help he needs. Looking at the map, Seth gauged the distance of the two towns that Claude spoke of and compared the distance to each. By the look of it, Los Afortunados is slightly further away than Santa Anna, and will take at least a day longer to get to. What to do…

“Moira, do you think you’ll be able to travel for a day or two? I’m not sure if Santa Anna is a safe bet at the moment so I’d like to head towards Los Afortunados. Do you think you’d be up for the trip?”

The girl nods in affirmation.

“Yes sir. I’m sure I can manage it.”

While he was still uneasy about the prospect of traveling such a distance, the Italian’s options were limited.

“Alright then. We’ll head out in the morning. For now try to rest some more. We’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of us.”

Nodding once more, the girl returns to the bed and lies down on the mattress. Seth looks at Claude.

“I don’t suppose you’d care to join us Claude? I’d hate to leave you all by yourself, especially since you’re still injured.”

“Thanks, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline. I’ve still got some things I’d like to figure out while I’m still here. Don’t worry about me though. If that strange light wasn’t enough to kill me, I’m pretty sure I can hold my own all by my lonesome.”

Seth gives a chuckle at the man’s response.

“As you wish. Just be careful alright? I think I’m going to head out for a little while. You should probably get some sleep yourself.”

The Italian rises to his feet and heads for the cellar door. As the wooden door portal gives way, Seth feels a rush of warm air enter the room. Outside, night has fallen on the remains of Little Bethlehem. High in the sky above, the crescent moon shines down on the once peaceful town. Seth walks down the empty streets and begins to think to himself. He thinks of Flora and Moira down below in the cellar, sleeping quietly while the night still lingers. He thinks of Claude as well. Maybe he’s someone who can be trusted after all. Seth looks down the long empty path that lay before him, the same road that he road in on and even out on not so long ago. His thoughts turn to the journey to Ramey’s homestead and all of those he met along the way. Would he cross paths with any of them again someday? Looking up at the waning crescent in the sky, he speaks out-loud.

“‘mors certa, hora incerta.’ I should keep on searching while I still have the chance. I’ll just have to put one foot in front of the other and face whatever comes my way one step at a time. That’s what you always used to say isn’t it Rosa?”

Seth turns and looks down the other end of the path. Soon, the next part of his journey would begin and with it, the renewed hope that he would find the answers he seeks. The Italian gives one last look at the moonlight town before returning to the cellar. When the sun begins to break across the horizon at the dawn of a new day, Seth and his family will bid farewell to the remains of the town of Little Bethlehem and begin their journey towards Los Afortunados.

_________________
"Four Gods wait on the windowsill
Where once eight Gods did war and will
And if the Gods themselves may die
What does that say for you and I?"
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Seth Ruggeri
Phantom of the Badlands

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