The Red Bandit - Three Weeks Ago
Striking a match, John rolled the flaming stick between his fingers for a few seconds before tossing it forward onto the pile of wooden splinters and corpses. He watched as the spark of fire took hold, then blossomed. Soon the entirety of the bonfire was engulfed from within, the fire growing to a staggering height.
The acrid taste of burnt flesh filled the man's mouth, the smoke billowing under the iconic blood-red kerchief he was known for wearing around his face. The heat seared the hairs on his arms as he hefted a heavy waggon wheel and threw it atop the blaze, crushing it down to keep the fire from rising any higher and creating a beacon across the entire plain, even as he fed it to ensure everything'd burn to cinders and ash.
At his back he could hear the whispers. Quiet voices, mistrust, confusion, but from the only voice that mattered he could feel, rather than understand, he'd gained trust. That's what he'd set out to do here- gain their trust. Backing from the fire, John turned and wiped sweat from his brow as his eyes adjusted from the light of the fire to the darkness of night. Standing at the edge of the blaze was a scene that would cause most white men to soil their breeches; a Comanche Warband sorting through a cache of army supplies. The feared tribal warriors checking cases of munitions, shouldering rifles, looking revolvers over in their hands...
John Redmond wanted to spit on the ground, but the taste of burnt flesh and the drive of greater purpose sealed his lips.
His gaze silenced the murmurs, and within moments he had the attention of the full band of warriors. The silence dragged on. The outlaw stared down more than a dozen men he half expected to scalp him. It was the leader of the natives who broke the silence; a spear embedding itself at the foot of the red bandit. John didn't budge, and in the same instance the spear's tip dug into the earth at his feet his revolver was in hand and aimed at the Comanche's leader. The tribal laughed in a song-like voice, spreading his arms as if to dare the gun to fire.
"We accept. You've done enough to convince me. I don't understand your motives, but I trust your actions."
John's gun never wavered off the Comanche's chest, and his fingers found the accursed Jack of Diamonds in them. He relaxed steadily as the tribal's slow words settled on his mind. Within moments he holstered the pistol as he threw the playing card over his shoulder and into the blaze.
"Then you'll do as we discussed. Arms for warriors, warriors for a cause. That's what the--"
"Do not speak of him." The tribal's words carried such authority that even John Redmond silenced himself to hear them. "Naming calls. We will strangle this... Ulysses. Our end of the bargain will be kept. If you fail to keep yours..."
"Yeah, I know. You'll track me down and make me regret ever crossing Howling-Wolf." John finally regained his insolence and interjected, taking the spear in hand as he moved forward- roughly driving his shoulder into Howling-Wolf's and pushing past the larger native man. The tribal grinned at the exchange, and let John go past.
As John rode away and into the night, he cast one backwards glance as a ghostly howl rose into the air from more than a dozen different voices. What he saw dancing in the smoke of the bonfire made him pull his hat down over his eyes and spur the horse into a gallop. John Redmond raced west, yet another task already forming in his mind.
Howling-Wolf - Two Weeks Ago
The weight of a rifle was something Howling-Wolf had become used to in the past several days, though when danger was near his every reflex was still to draw the war axe at his hip. Even now, as he lay low against the neck of his horse, his hand migrated towards the handle of his axe and removed it from its loop, until the weight of the weapon was comfortably in his hand.
A hoot sounded from his left, and he returned the call with the twittering of a bird; a light dancing whistle slipping between barely opened lips. A subtle cascade of animal calls echoed to either side of Howling-Wolf, and soon a grin split his face like lightning splits the sky. The man urged the horse forward, risking the entire raid in his eagerness to begin-
but the feeling of the hunt gripped him like a straight jacket and he reeled his recklessness in, a by-now familiar shift coming over him. Without them needing to even call out, Howling-Wolf could sense every member of his warband. Sense their movements, sense their positions, sense their intended targets. And he knew they could feel his presence just as he felt all theirs, that they needed him to guide them and say when the hunt was on.
Howling-Wolf's grin sharpened, his grip on the axe tightened, and he reared back in the saddle and let out a monstrous howl. A howl that exploded into the air louder and more encompassing than any horn or rifle could ever compete with. His horse leapt forward with all the grace and speed that a Comanche warhorse is known for, and Howling-Wolf's axe caught its first victim across the jaw, the man's face twisting into horrible disfigurement from the blow. Howling-Wolf didn't stop, his horse's charge carrying him nimbly between wagons that had formed a perimeter around the camp his call had just ordered the assault of.
Yet another camp of supplies headed west to Ulysses, yet another attack on the behalf of the Red-Face and his Master.
Gunfire and native war-calls echoed in the air around him as Howling-Wolf raced through the camp's interior, his axe rising and falling- the revolver and rifle he carried long forgotten in his frenzy- faster than any could resist. For every man he struck, another seemed to fall as if he, too, had been struck. For every man that raised a rifle against Howling-Wolf, that same man appeared to be raked by great claws from the shadows. For every wound the warrior seemed to suffer, his frenzy grew greater and greater.
Until, at last, there were none left standing save the other warriors of his warband. howling-Wolf let out another ferocious howl into the air, his warriors echoing the call as they danced through the carnage, taking what they wanted and piling the rest. The horses were scattered, the corpses hauled, the supplies destroyed or stolen, and what was left was burned.
The Wolf stalked the outskirts of the raid as the bonfire rose into the air. The wolf was an aged creature, its fur grey, scars wracking its body, blood staining its muzzle, age making its limbs shake with every step. The aged warrior was clinging to youth through the vigor of this man- the man who's name was his own.
Howling-Wolf. Such a prideful man, but a spiritual and dedicated one. The Wolf had taken to him quickly, seeing much of himself in the native warrior. A natural leader of men, a warrior of great skill, and one who did not shy away from great dangers such as the white man. Watching Howling-Wolf made The Wolf feel young again, and Howling-Wolf's strength fed The Wolf's.
Tonight, however, The Wolf felt its fur rise. Felt danger in the air. And its senses alerted Howling-Wolf to the same. As quickly as the dancing had begun, it was ended. As swiftly as the raid had killed the wagoneers, the blaze grew. Within moments Howling-Wolf and his warriors were riding west, away from the supply train and into the night. The Wolf turned its gaze away from the pack of young warriors and towards the danger at the edge of its senses. The light of the moon fell down upon the plain with more than enough light for such a creature as The Wolf to see by, and what it saw made its fur rise fully.
Anger shook its limbs rather than age as it dug its claws into the dirt.
"Tivaci, I've no quarrel with you."
The Wolf snarled in response as its golden eyes locked upon the fiery eyes of the shadowed rider, eyes burning with so much evil it made The Wolf yearn for the strength of its youth, so it could extinguish that flame like its instincts told it to. The glowing eyed rider, astride a mustang that more closely resembled a mountain than a horse, gazed down at The Wolf- who could faintly make out the grin within the shadows.
"Your pack's goals align with that of mine-"
The Wolf's second snarl was accompanied by a step forward, and a descent into a lunging stance.
"...You're old, Tivaci. Don't start a fight you can't finish. I've got more than enough aces up my sleeve to put you down, but I figured I'd try to make amends. Keep your pack strangling that city, and your brother will turn up. I'm willing to bet on it, if you're a betting wolf."
The Wolf's fur settled. It didn't trust the glowing-eyed-one, but it knew the man didn't tell lies. Gambles, half truths- but never a lie. In silence, The Wolf turned and felt the rage's initial power drain from its limbs. Tiredness seeped back into its bones. Without another sound to the glowing-eyed-one, The Wolf conceded to the task at hand.
Strangle Ulysses. Find its brother. Purpose enough for an old wolf.
Ulysses - A Few Days Ago
A lone rider appeared in Ulysses, coming in from the East, bloodied and unconscious. The remnants of a military uniform clung to his body, sticky with blood. He reeked of death and sweat, and when people approached the man he was roused long enough to say a simple phrase;
Following those words, the man perished before the people of Ulysses even had a chance to ask him his name or get him to the 'doc. He was buried in a nameless grave outside the city.
What followed his hoarse whisper was a shadow of doubt across all of Ulysses.
Why is it always me.
Clyde sucked in a deep breath as he steadied himself. His deputy sheriff's badge was smudged from how often he wiped at it to try to make it shine, and he repeated the gesture in futility. Next he adjusts his belt, then vest, then pistol, and finally his hat.
Always always always me. 'Clyde, go put up the bounty notices. Clyde, go put up the mayor's statements. Clyde, go to the saloon and break up that fight'. It's never 'hey clyde, let's go together, as deputy and sheriff, you know, the team we're supposed to be, and do something together! Or, perhaps, you take the day off, Clyde, and I'll do it myself since I'm such a good lawman and all that.
He mused himself on his thoughts as he looked down at the stack of papers in his hands. 'Stack' was a generous noun, he supposed, seeing as he'd toss half of them to the wind, and the other ones only needed to be tacked up at the saloon and church. Two most frequented buildings in Ulysses, after all...
But still Clyde hesitated. People were running low on supplies. Food and medicine, namely. Water wasn't a problem, what, with the river so close by, but with the hostilities in the east hunting was a dangerous task, and nobody in Ulysses had the means to produce some of the things they usually received in those caravans in terms of medicine and tools. The stores surpluses had held for a while, but once prices started to jump the Mayor had seized supplies and rationed them out amongst the people.
Which meant the Mayor, and by proxy, the Sheriff was receiving the blame for the caravan raids.
Which meant that Clyde, by proxy of proxy, was receiving that blame.
Which meant that as soon as Clyde stepped outside, he was liable to be punched by the nearest drunk for 'being responsible' for their wife's fever, or their son's infection, or some other idiotic claim.
Why do I always gotta be the lamb to the slaughter? he groaned to himself one last time, before stepping out into the city, making his way to the saloon and church...
Father George grimaced as he stared at the doors to his church. More notices from the Mayor. More warnings from the Sheriff. More cautionary gestures. Words. Fluff. No action. The tall, stiff-necked, broad shouldered, man reached his hands out and pulled two of the notices down off the door. One he crumbled and discarded, the other he read with a quirked brow.
The one he discarded was yet another bounty notice for one 'Red Bandit'- the man had plagued Ulysses for years, everyone knew of him. The Sheriff's practice in redundancy was legendary.
The other was a less specific bounty;
Jefferson homestead found burned. Entire family of six hanged. Unknown perpetrators. Information that leads to the capture or killing of those responsible will be rewarded.
The Jeffersons were a family that Father George saw once a week, every Sunday sermon. He'd seen them just three days ago, and had been invited to have dinner with them later in the week. The man's shoulders tightened, and his hands trembled as he pushed open the heavy doors to his sanctuary of faith. His eyes never left the photograph of the burnt farmstead.
"...Left the livestock..." he muttered to himself, the cattle visible, unharmed, in the background of the ranch. "...Murder for the sake of murder..." he continued, slamming his heavy hands into the podium which he spoke from, planting the paper notice prominently upon its surface to be scrutinized by himself and God alike. Anger surged through the holy man and he slammed his hands into the podium once more.
"I've enough of the Sheriff's double-talk. I'm going to look into this myself."
And thus the preacher uttered his Hail Mary's, and rushed from the church. God help any man who stood in his way on this day...
...And when Father George returned in the afternoon, his robes filthy from the rushed ride to the homestead, his eyes were dark and hollow. Already a congregation had formed at the church, people who'd heard of his rush that morning and were awaiting his return. The man pushed through gently, and guided the people of Ulysses into his church. Silently he took the Podium and let his head hang for, perhaps, the first time anyone in the city had ever seen. Father George always held his head high, looking down at everyone around him, but right now he seemed...haggard, weighed down.
"People of Ulysses, good faithful flock, I'll tell you what I've told you always. The damned walk the Earth beside us, good, faithful, church-going folk have had sin visited upon them and their very lives stolen from them!. I went to the Jefferson's stead today. The Sheriff has said nothing in his notices about the motives of such a crime that was committed to such a beautiful family, but I tell you this: Not a cow was taken. Not a single one was slaughtered. The Jefferson family was murdered for the sake of murder, by men who forsake the light of God, and men who would do the same to you. That is what I learned by laying my own eyes upon the scene. I impose upon you, people of Ulysses, to do as I have done; Keep your eyes open. Do not be lulled into security by Lucas Ulysses. Do not lose your fear to the evil that walks amongst us. Do not become blind to it."
His fervor rose, the anger at what he had witnessed surging through the sorrow he felt at the loss of a family of six, and his passionate words cascaded upon those who listened like a torrential downpour of fury. As usual, Ulysses was split...
Lucas Ulysses was a...rotund man. Money and position had afforded him healthy meals, to put it lightly, and his size was a quietly joked about part of Ulysses' society. And he was aware of it, as much as he disliked it, but could do nothing about it. Some of the older members of Ulysses' society could recall a time when the Mayor was a bear of a man, strong and as thick as an ox- but now most of those descriptors fell on men like the Sheriff, and upon Father George, while snide remarks about cattle befell the mayor.
And at this moment in time, the rotund figure of Lucas Ulysses was dabbing at a wave of sweat that had descended upon the back of his neck in the process of him waiting for the sheriff to arrive. The mayor had to stop and ponder for a moment-- so many people simply referred to the sheriff as 'The Sheriff' that even Lucas Ulysses sometimes forgot the man's name. By the time he'd considered, and dismissed, the third name he could think of, The Sheriff stepped into the office and wordlessly offered Lucas a partial bow, and a respectful tip of the hat he wore. Lucas swore to himself as he composed his thoughts and sat up, rocking his weight forward in his chair to leverage himself to his feet.
"Sheriff, wonderful." he drawled on, "I've been told that-"
"Father George visited the Jefferson farm himself. He's got the people riled up already. I've done what I can to keep the quiet, but George has been filling their heads with fire and brimstone."
The interjection wasn't rude, so much as to the point. Lucas let it slide. He 'harrumphed' in his throat and sat back down before speaking;
"I'll handle George and the people. You find the bastards who did this and lock them up, or bury them. I don't care which, Sheriff. Quincy can have civility, I will have order in my town!" The large man's words became a bellow by the end of the sentence, and The Sheriff merely nodded in response.
"I'll round up a posse. I'll put the word out now, and set out once folks are ready. That should calm the people down, and satisfy George and his evangelism."
Lucas expressed his satisfaction by waving a hand at the sheriff and dismissing him...
Later that evening, however, when he read the notice that the Sheriff had put out, he'd wished he'd asked for clarification on what a 'posse' meant...
Sheriff requesting assistance. Official survey of the Jefferson homestead on behalf of the mayor's authority. Those who assist will be paid a sum of twenty-five dollars should they prove useful to the efforts.
This initial script was written in Clyde's formal writing, and it was apparent the last message was written by the Sheriff himself in barely legible scrawl;
Perpetrators wanted dead or alive
Lucas Ulysses sighed and wiped at the sweat on his neck again.
"...Damn Sheriff, what does he think I am-- made of money?"