The West changes men. Some change in small steps that you only notice over years. Some, however, like Nick Nashville and Gerard Timberlake, take large steps on their way to something different.
For Nashville, the change began when he was gunned down on the steps of the Cheval’s church in Coffin Rock. More recently, however, he found that the power of the manitou that harrowed him also allowed him to become incorporeal at will. How this would ultimately affect him, only time will tell.
For Timberlake, his journey West marked not only his drastic change in station and the growth of a ragged beard, but also the growth of faith. Something about the book he had been carrying peaked a new belief in something greater than himself. What it was, in particular, he could not yet say, but surely if he could gain an understanding of the book, how it came to be his, and why it came to be his, the meaning would become clearer.
Blood on the Wall
The posse was running short on cash. Fortunately, they had a lead on a capturing a bounty in the form of one Rance Hitchcock — a mean sonofabitch who made his reputation on claim jumping. MacDuff’s man in Shan Fan, Bull Scheneley asked for the posse’s help with this little matter after “Rabid” Rance took out one of one of Bull’s men and falsely registered his claim with the Rockies. The R.M.A., known colloquially as the “Rockies” was the only claim validating body in the West, and the only legal way to moving fundaments back East.
Finding Rance would normally be a problem, but since the sonofabitch had registered a claim belonging to one of Bull’s men, the posse was able to backtrack the claim to the person who registered it. Five dollars later, they had the name of one Johnson Larkin Schnitz.
The posse tracked Schnitz down at one of Shan Fan’s nicer saloons and found him playing poker with a rough crowd of sharps. Nashville, the polished gambler in the group, took up a collection from his companions and took a seat at the table. Angus joined him.
Timberlake and Ellis took a seat at the bar and enjoyed themselves a shot of middle-of-the-road Shan Fan rotgut.
Holcolm, having been around too many poker games gone bad, took up a location outside the saloon and struck a casual pose. Exceptin’ for the occasional whore soliciting his business, he was able to maintain his attention on the gambling house unmolested.
After contributing about $50 to the general welfare of the gamblers around the poker table, Angus and Nashville began talking up a claim they said they’d struck. The story was a fabrication of course, but calculated to suss out a connection between Schnitz and Rabid Rance Hitchcock.
It didn’t take long for Schnitz to offer his advice and services in the promotion of the claim. He agreed to meet the posse at the Sunrise House in the morning for a cup of black coffee to discuss business.
Rather than meeting the posse in the morning, Schnitz gathered up his men and, along with the 300-pound sonofabitch Rabid Rance Hitchcock, sneaked into the Sunrise House intending to fit up the posse for pine boxes.
Holcolm knew the game, however. Having hid himself on the street, he was unknown to Schnitz and his men, so he took up a seat at the bar at the front of the Sunrise House, ordered himself a beer and waited. Sure enough, Rance, Schnitz, and their men showed up in the dark of night, walked right passed Holcolm, and went upstairs to where the posse was supposedly asleep.
Schnitz kicked in the door to the posse’s room and the fighting started right away. They were surprised to find armed men wide awake and waiting for them. The posse attacked. While they did, Nashville willed himself to become incorporeal, protecting himself from the enemy shots. He forgot, however, his state as the threw himself at one of the invaders in an attack, but instead found himself tumbling past his target, through the wall, and into the next room.
As the shooting got underway, Holcolm worked his way upstairs as fast as he could on one lame leg, Hellburst gun in tow. From behind, he leveled what was left of the goons after the initial onslaught from the posse in the room. That ended Rance and his men.
As the shooting ended, Roderick Pennington-Smythe came down the hallway, ascertained the nature of the situation, and prepared to head off the authorities as they arrove. By early morning, the posse was asleep in bed with affidavits from the local deputy for the bounty on Rance and his men (collectable at the Rockies office in Lost Angels).
The next morning, over breakfast, the posse got a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph and, just as Lacey O’Malley had advised them, there was a column under the heading “Good Intentions” directed at them.
GOOD INTENTIONS! Young Palmer
Watson, a boy belonging to a family
of miners at Quarrytown, has gone
missing! Folks are searching high
and low in hopes the lad still
With a sense of duty and, in the back of Nashville’s mind at least, the hope of some sort of remuneration, the posse chartered a boat to Quarrytown.
During the first full day of the travels, the boat was attacked by a giant octopus who promptly began to try to grapple the posse, and in fact, wrapped one of its tentacles firmly around Ellis Island. Now, under normal circumstances, a group of cowboys raised on terra firma would panic upon the sight of such a beast. This was not the first giant octopus these hombres had dealt with. Nashville kept his cool and unleashed a torrent of cards at the octopus — an attack that worked well against the last octopus. This time the hexed cards almost cut through the tough hide of the beast but could not quite meet the task. Although that was unsuccessful, Timberlake calmly lit three sticks of dynamite and tossed them into the water. The concussive blast stunned the beast and it slithered away into the inky darkness below.
The next day, the posse began to feel the effects of hunger, even though they were stocked with rations. Something about the maze blanketed them with hints of hunger and famine around each turn.
On the third day, they pulled into Quarrytown. The ship’s pilot, with the money he had just earned, set off for a waterfront tavern. The posse went to look for young Palmer Watson.
After a few inquiries in the mining camp, the posse learned that the missing boy had been playing near the ruins of an old Spanish mission on the hillside above. The mission had long since been reduced to rubble by an earthquake—perhaps the same one that created the Maze. On their way up the slope to the ruins on the hill, they heard a wailing sound reminiscent of the wailing from the cave where they and Pennington-Smythe had recovered the amulet of Rahashamir. The sound was coming from a hole in the ground at the base of the ruins. When they approached the hole, they could also hear the cries of a young man.
Nashville lowered himself down into the hole. The hole did not open into a cave like before, but was more like the bottom of a well. At the bottom, was young Palmer Watson. After the rescue, they returned the boy to his family at the mining camp. There, they were treated to a meal with the Watson family.
At dinner, the boy produced from his pocket a gold coin that Nashville recognized as being quite valuable, worth about $25. The boy told the posse that he found the coin in the ruins above the mining camp, and that he believed there might be more there.
Naturally, the posse, hurting for cash, went up the hill toward the ruins. On the climb up, Nashville slipped on the rocks sending a shower of boulders down injuring Holcolm. With his weird science Holcolm was able to quickly recover.
In the ruins, the posse came upon a room with a bed and a table. On the table was an old bible and a letter. Under the collapsed bed, lay the crushed skeleton of a man how appeared to be a brother or a priest of the order once inhabiting the mission. The posse took both the bible and the letter an headed up further into the ruins.
Nashville dug around in the runes and came upon a couple of the coins like the ones young Palmer Watson showed them at dinner.
At the higher level of the ruins, the posse found an opening into a cave in the hillside. They went inside and discovered on the wall of the cave, a sigil similar to the one they found in the hole where they recovered the amulet. Like the other, it was in the shape of a lightning bolt. Across the face of this one, however, was a smear of blood, long ago applied, and long ago desiccated.
Something in Timberlake’s mind told him that something important was going on here. Perhaps it was the product of his developing faith, perhaps it was just simple curiosity. He thought that if they repeated the act of smearing blood upon the sigil, something important would happen. Angus, convinced by Timberlake’s suggestion, drew his sabre and slashed open the palm of his hand. He allowed the blood to bead up for a moment, then he carefully approached the lightning bolt rune and smeared the blood from his hand upon the wall.
As Angus put his blood up on the symbol, it began to glow faintly. Then, they heard a distant rumble which continued for a few moments, then stopped. Whatever insight Timberlake had, it was on the mark.
When the posse returned to the camp, they were able to get the letter they found translated from Spanish into English. It read:
To Cardinal Diaz,
This 8th day of August, the year of Our Lord, 1868.
It is with heavy heart that I must report a foul and
ritualistic murder very near our mission. On July 24th,
one of the flock informed us that a young Indian man
we had taken in was missing. We thought little of it at
first—the youths here often wander about—but after a
few days began to worry.
A search party was formed, and I am sad to say our
young Indian friend was found. He lay at the bottom of
a rounded cave accessible only by a narrow tunnel at the
top. The Devil himself must have lived in that hole, for
it reeked of evil and brimstone.
On the floor of this chamber lay our friend, his heart
cut from his young chest and smashed against the western
wall. On this same wall was painted a symbol, much
like that of a lightning bolt.
The symbol glowed as if the paint were the blood of
Lucifer himself, and was bright enough to illuminate the
We buried our young ward that same day and sealed
off the cave as best we could. Our investigation reveals
another Indian man, from some tribe unfamiliar to our
locals, had been spotted around the cave in the days past.
We are searching for him now, and believe him to be a
heathen shaman of some sort.
A few days later, the earth began to shake. It is so violent
now I fear we must close the mission. While strong,
it seems to rest directly above Hell itself, for the walls are
already starting to
The letter ends there.