See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you. —Jeremiah 8:17.
Colonel Angus woke that morning with a sore throat, perhaps the result of battling the hoodoos in the dusty cave the day before. Whatever it was, his smooth southern drawl was not going to have its full charm for a while.
The posse continued on their search for Sees Far Ahead by looking for the Necessity Alliance near Lion’s Roar. Lion’s Roar was, of course, run by none other than the Warlord Kang’s deputy, Red Petals Su, who the posse had shot out of the sky during the battle of Lost Angels. She had it coming anyway since she sent a Chinese ogre and a band of martial artists after them.
They found a boat that could take them the three day trip to Lion’s Den. The captain, a swarthy sea veteran of the female persuasion, was a hard bargainer. Holcolm, employing the few charms a grizzled scientist with a limp had available attempted to bargain her price down. Getting nowhere, he turned the effort over to Angus, who was always happy to oblige. The Colonel leaned in and whispered with his raspy voice something to her and all that anyone heard was, “Oh my, Angus!” And the price was lowered.
Although the journey was only three days, and the posse carried plenty of provisions, hunger loomed over them constantly. One day, unable to feed his appetite, Holcolm collapsed on the deck from hunger. He quickly righted himself, but felt greatly weakened the rest of the day.
Lion’s Roar was a mostly closed-off city surrounded by walls, however, the busy waterfront was open to all comers. Ominously, an overgrown graveyard overlooked the waterfront.
The posse, knowing that information flowed most freely where alcohol flowed most freely, found the nearest saloon and walked right up to the bar. After buying a bottle of the cheap stuff, Holcolm and the Colonel talked up the bartender to get some information on the whereabouts of the Necessity Alliance. Their conversation was overheard by one of Red Petals Su’s men who left to report on strangers asking too many questions.
Ellis and Nashville pursued the man into an alley, where they were quicky surrounded. Nashville played drunk and attempted to talk their way out of the mess, but the martial artists were unimpressed. Nashville then cast a darkness hex over the alley and slipped away. Ellis got away also, but only after taking a couple of chops from their opposition.
That was enough to raise the possibility that Red Petals Su might know her would-be assassins were in town, so it was time to leave. By that time, Holcolm and the Colonel had enough information from the bartender to find the Necessity Alliance, so they left Lion’s Roar to continue on their quest.
The mesa of the Necessity Alliance rose from the watery maze in front of them. Unlike many of the mesas being mined for ghost rock, this one had no steam-powered lift. Instead, there was a single narrow switchback leading up to the top. Along the path were sharpened poles with heads of dead Indian braves impaled on top.
As the posse wound their way up the side of the mesa, they could see a earthen wall formed at the top, with a group of Indians looking down at them from above. One of them shouted down to them. The posse could not understand what was said, but it was plainly hostile. Thurgood commanded back up at them, “English!” One replied back at him in slow but good English, demanding to know why they were approaching. The Colonel explained, and something about invoking the name of Born In A Bowl was enough to allow them up onto the mesa.
The braves brought the posse to the apparent leader of the group, Stalks The Night. By the time they received an audience, there were at least 200 braves assembled. The posse explained their quest, and Stalks The Night spoke in measured tones: “Sees Far Ahead formed the Necessity Alliance. He left us many moons ago. To seek the Great Turtles, if you believe such things. We have not seen him since. But if you want to find him, you will need the help of Born In A
Bowl. He made her chief of the Alliance before he left. But if you want Born In A Bowl, you will have to find the lair of the Rattlesnake Clan.”
Thurgood asked about the Rattlesnake Clan, and Stalks The Night gave a wry smile and continued, “The Rattlesnake Clan is a secret order dedicated to destroying the white man. Not such a bad goal. But they consort with dark spirits—mad beings who kill our people just as quickly as they kill yours. The Rattlesnake Clan infiltrated the Alliance and took Born In A Bowl three nights ago. Such traitors in our midst caused…trouble. There was a fight here, but we have since taken care of those responsible.”
Stalks the Night pointed toward the southern rim of the hill where five bodies could be seen impaled upon sharpened
stakes. He then turned back and cocked his head, thinking for a moment.
“Our scouts think they know where the Rattlesnake Clan has taken Born In A Bowl. We will attack them, but our numbers are few and I have little interest in reducing our numbers further. Help us fight these treacherous snakes and we will see about helping you find Sees Far Ahead.”
Stalks The Night then called foward two of his number. “I give you Eyes Like Fire and Weematai as guides for your journey. Eyes Like Fire is a fierce warrior who will stand before the darkness unbowed. Weematai is a healer, and knows the secrets of tribal medicine. She will bring you protection from harm. Go now, and seek out the Rattlesnake Clan.”
Gerard Timberlake, always looking for an advantage, said, “Well, how about a boat?”
Stalks The Night, taken aback by the impolitic demand, thought for a moment, and said, “You shall have a boat.”
Indians who follow the Old Ways do not have ghost rock power craft. Instead, the posse set out in a large wooden canoe guided by two Indians they had met only moments before. Nevertheless, they successfully came to the place that their guides said they would find the Rattlesnake Clan. They waited until night to approach.
The entrance to the grotto looked like it was flooded by a shattered forest during the quake. When the water washed
back out, the jumbled splinters of the trees were left in the canyon like deadly pick-up sticks. The mass of broken trees opened up to a small passage — something of a tunnel through the wood over the murky water below.
The entrance was difficult to navigate, but the posse made it inside to a narrow tunnel that opened up into a chamber in the deadfall. Like the entrance the floor here was nothing more than fallen timbers, and the dark brackish water lapped through the interstices.
As the posse made their way forward, they started to hear “buzzing” over the lapping of the seawater below. In the
next “chamber” were dozens of tiny little stick dolls hanging from the latticework. Most had a few scraps of burlap
or leather for clothes and withered, rotting fruit as heads. They were really quite disgusting and creepy, and thousands
of small biting flies swarmed about, consuming the heads or laying eggs in them.
The rotting figures hanging from the limbs above suggested voodoo magic and, as it happened, the posse was traveling with one of the few voodoo practitioners this side of the Bayou.
Mbali carefully move to the front of the single file line and looked at the dolls, careful not to disturb them or the clouds of black flies that buzzed around them. “I tink dis be no voodoo magic, but it be bad. Maybe dis is animating magic!”
Nashville, from his perspective as a Hexslinger came to the same conclusion and cast a dispel hex on the dolls just to be safe.
Moving briskly from the fly infested dolls the posse moved into another chamber-like area among the fallen timbers that was even more grotesque. Hanging by their tied-up hands from the branches above were 13 slaughtered Indian braves. They hung like cattle in a Chicago meat larder.
As the group stood gawking at the cannibalistic handiwork, they could hear water splashing from beneath. Looking down revealed the dark form of a shark slipping and sliding in the bloody water below, waiting for scraps. Looking back up from the hungry predators, they saw that the slaughtered Indians’ eyes were open—and the corpses began to emit a deep, raspy groan!
Weematai was sickened by the scene and woozily lost her balance. For Eyes Like Fire, it was an unbearable sequel to the killing on the mesa when the Rattlesnake Clan rose up three days before. Seeing braves he had grown up with hanging dead, but not dead, in the dark of the cave sent him fleeing from the room back to where the dolls were. He stayed there for a few minutes panting and regaining his composure before rejoining the group.
The groan from the hanging corpses—caused by the inrush of air rather than the exhalation of it—began to draw the very life force from posse. They could feel it fatiguing them, and they fought it off as they moved through the fallen trees.
Ellis moved through the room first, escaping the draining effect of the corpses trapped somewhere between life and death. As he entered the next room he briefly caught a glimpse of a burly, ghost-like shaman standing in the distant shadows. His footing slipped for a moment and, when he looked up again, the figure was gone. Clearing his eyes, Ellis looked around again and saw what looked like a figure buried within a bundle of jagged twigs. More accurately, she was impaled by them like a human pincushion, and lay motionless, unconscious, and near death on the “floor.”
While Ellis was coming to grips with what he saw, Holcolm, Abram, and Eyes Like Fire were trying to cut the hanging Indians down from the branches to stop them from draining everyone of their life force. The first one dropped and slipped between the timbers below as was promptly devoured by a shark moving silently beneath them. Others that did not fall through, they simply “killed” again.
Timberlake had joined Ellis in the room with the impaled figure and moved toward it. It was an Indian woman, clearly a shaman. It was a safe bet that this was Born In A Bowl. Timberlake reached down to touch Born In A Bowl and the burly shaman reappeared and conjured three venomous snakes and directed them at Nashville who had also entered the room. He then launched three sprays of poison, one at Nashville, another at Mbali, and the third at Weematai. The burly shaman, who Weematai recognized as the leader of the Rattlesnake Clan, Papa Rattlesnake, was obviously most concerned with the intruders having supernatural powers.
Holcolm had hung back a bit and fearing trouble from behind, returned to the doll room to stand guard. Abram moved with him in that direction.
After his initial attack, Papa Rattlesnake disappeared again, this time reappearing in the room with the hanging corpses. He continued to dash back to the doll room where Holcolm and Abram were guarding the rear. When Papa Rattlesnake got there, he waved his arms and intoned words in a lost Indian language that animated the dolls and brought them on Abram. Immediatly after, he sent sprays of poison at Holcolm who attempted to fire back.
Abram fended off the dolls and, with a mighty swing of his hammer, dispersed the swarm.
While Weematai and the others attempted to heal Born In A Bowl, Nashville looked for a way to get Papa Rattlesnake off of his comrades in the doll room. Nashville shouted back that they had freed Born In A Bowl, falsely, but convincingly, and Papa Rattlesnake turned back to where he had come from.
Papa Rattlesnake was not the only one in the deadfall who wanted to harm Born In A Bowl. Eyes Like Fire sought to kill her as well. He ran ahead of Papa Rattlesnake towards Born In A Bowl and hurled his spear at Weematai who was next to her. Weematai responded with an attack of her own.
The posse quickly assessed the situation and judged Eyes Like Fire to be the enemy. They fell upon him quickly, incapacitating him. Nevertheless, Mbali and Timberlake kept an eye on Weematai, in case they judged the two Indian guides incorrectly.
The healing began to work on Born In A Bowl, and she was able to speak. She confirmed that Weematai, her protege, would do her no harm, and looked at the situation about her. Ellis did as well, and, with Papa Rattlesnake returning to the room, things were looking bleak. They asked what they could do, and believing the posse incapable of the task at hand, Born In A Bowl asked them to leave and send Light The Wind back to the Rattlesnake Den to rescue her.
Nashville, also sensing the desperation, made an existential decision to allow Hunahau to take over his body. He knew it would cost him in future struggles for dominion, but he was willing to do it knowing that Hunahau had a strong sense of self preservation, and a mean streak that he might turn on Papa Rattlesnake. Hunahau began to run for the exit.
Mbali, still with Born In A Bowl, quickly explained why they had come—they were looking for Sees Far Ahead. At that moment, Born In A Bowl acted decisively and selflessly. She looked Mbali directly in the eye and let out an ancient incantation. She then put out her pinky and laid it across one of the timbers and said, “Cut it off.”
Mbali hesitated only a moment, then sliced Born In A Bowl’s little finger cleanly. The finger dropped, spun around and plainly indicated a direction. Mbali picked up the appendage that would serve as their compass and took it with her.
The posse then made their escape. As they rushed to the exit, Papa Rattlesnake was also in desparate straits. He had not anticipated the resiliency of the posse and had spend all of his shaman magic. The relief he felt when the posse appeared to be fleeing, turned to urgent horror when he saw Born In A Bowl’s bleeding finger. He knew the magic that Born In A Bowl had just worked and realized he could not allow the posse to escape.
Up until then, he had existed in both the Hunting Grounds and the deadfall, but having no more power left, he had to leave the Hunting Grounds and bring his body fully onto the Earth. He appeared directly in front of Mbali and wrenched the pinky from her, and turned to flee.
Nashville, who was himself able to exist ethereally, recognized that Papa Rattlesnake must have been at the end of his power because he was now fully corporeal. Hunahau, still controlling Nashville, also feared that if he fled, the posse might turn on him for leaving them behind. So, Hunahau focused himself on destroying Papa Rattlesnake. With a flick of the wrist that did not betray the internal energy channelled in his deck of cards, he flung the entire deck at Papa Rattlesnake and spend Nashville’s last ounce of Huckster magic.
Papa rattlesnake, sliced to bits by cards, fell to his death among the timbers.