May 25, 2010
We didn’t leave Moab.
At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever make it back to Colorado, let alone my old home in Idaho.
Before I could even finish telling Hannah what had just happened to me, Ethan was bursting into the restaurant. “I was just listening to some people that sound like they need our help.”
“Who doesn’t these days?” Hannah asked, while crossing her arms.
“Sheesh, that’s not what I expect to hear coming out of an Apollo follower. I thought you folks were all, ‘oh we have to save everyone’ and make sure they are tucked in safe at night and set up food lines and-”
“And about the last the last thing I expect to hear for one of you Loki lads is that we need to go help someone. What’s that matter, did a bus full of cheerleaders get stuck in the desert.”
His eyes grew big, “I wish. No, not that fun, but I figured this would be the type of thing you two would want to know about.”
Losing my patience, I said, “so when are we going to get to know about it?”
“Yeah sure. I was buying supplies when I overheard this ‘good ol boy,’ talking about how some of his cattle are being killed.”
“And why would this be a job for us?”
“Because I heard them mentioning shapeshifters and witches.”
“Why would some old cowboy be talking about that stuff?”
Hannah broke in. “I think I’ve heard something about this before. In Arizona and Southern Utah there is a type of creature known as a Skinwalker. They tend to strike at other Tribal Americans, but have been known to attack other people that infringe on what they consider their lands.”
Ethan began to snap his fingers. “Oooo ooo. This guy had said that he had just bought some new lands and had only just recently started grazing his cattle on them. Maybe they were some sacred lands or something.”
“I’d rather no mess with someone who is defending their sacred lands,” I mumbled.
“No, it isn’t that simple,” Hannah said. “From what I’ve heard, even the tribes around here hate these guys. They are evil witches that lay curses on people, steal children, and all sorts of nasty stuff.”
“They sound like they might be Selectors to me.”
“I think you are right,” Hannah said, nodding.
“Wow, you fought some of those. I hear they’re really tough.” Ethan said.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it. So where’s this guy?”
“I overheard where he lives.”
A few hours later and even more lies, we had convinced John W. Miller to allow us to investigate some of his slaughtered cattle. They weren’t a pretty sight.
The desert winds had blown a layer of vermilion dust over the bodies, but that did little of conceal the butchery. Intestines were tossed into the palo verdes like garland on a Christmas tree. Huge hunks of flesh were bitten out of random spots and in some chases their entire bodies had been torn in half.
“In the old days,” Miller said breaking the silence, “we would blame something like this on wolves, but there haven’t been any real predators in these parts, besides lions, for years.”
“Lions?” Ethan asked.
“It would take something a lot stronger than a cougar to be able to do all this,” I said.
Looking to the west, I saw dark clouds building behind the jagged orange cliffs. The desert was silent, like a thing waiting, holding its breath.
“Mr. Miller. Would it be okay for us to spend the night?”
May 18, 2010
So we spent a quiet night for once, or at least after we were able to kick Ethan out of our room. Being alone with Hannah in a comfortable bed once again was amazing in more ways than I would care to count. She is quite the Goddess. She is only the second female Stalwart I’ve met and although Mar was a wild one, she was a little too dark for my tastes. Hannah is the light to that dark and sometimes, I find myself wondering if I’m really worthy of such grandeur.
Again, it points out, with a ten-foot razor tipped spear, how becoming a Stalwart has changed me. I may have to risk my life every few days or so, but there are also some perks to being a superhero and one of them is being with a woman such as Hannah.
After I dressed, I looked through my weapons; I still had the sledge luckily. A few knives and chains I’d grabbed from the Ripperkah bikers were also stuffed into my backpack, but I needed a little more.
One thing I had plenty of was money, which is certainly another thing that had never been the case before I became a Stalwart. Thank you Loskeep!
So I went shopping. Now, I didn’t want the local fuzz to come down on me, so I tried to keep it a little low-key. I grabbed up some new axes, one full sized and two small. A hammer and nails and well as a baseball bat to go with them.
When I saw a big-ass vise it gave me an idea and I grabbed that up too. Hannah was still getting ready…women; when I found Ethan outside of his room, chain-smoking. “Hey any chance you can rent a ride?”
“I can’t, but Brian Whitney can,” he said, while flipping out a wallet crammed with all sorts of fake IDs and credit cards.
“And you were trying to bum money from me? Dick.”
“Hey, I try not to use these.”
“Right…” I handed him eight hundred dollar bills. “Listen carefully” I said, but it was hard to focus with Ethan panting over the cash. “I want you to rent a big powerful SUV. Since you are a Loki guy, I also want you to grab a few jerry cans and fill them with fuel. You got it?”
“Oh yeah, it’ll be my pleasure.” Then he quickly took off whistling a happy tune. No doubt wondering how he could get what I asked for as cheaply as possible, so he could pocket as much of my cash as he could.
Hannah joined me a few moments later. Her hair glistened in the sun as if Apollo had designed it just for her. “Where did you send Sparky?”
“On an errand, which I guess frees us up for a few. Would you allow me to take you out to lunch?”
Smiling, she slipped her hand into mine and said, “Lead on handsome.”
By the time we hit the place, it was about beer-thirty and since this might have been my last quiet moment before things started to get rough again, I indulged. After I finished my cheese steak, a dozen chicken wings, as well as my second pint, I figured I’d head to the men’s room while Hannah fielded an unexpected call from her mom.
I completed my business and I was washing my hands like a good boy, when I heard the sound of movement behind me. Whipping around, I was just able to catch the descending dagger that had been meant for my back. The cloaked man got all sissy on me and tried to slice at my wrist, that is until I slammed him against the wall hard enough to crack the linoleum.
A couple more whacks and he had dropped his dagger. When I saw that it was smeared with poison, a string of rather colorful descriptors issued from my lips.
“Your hours are numbered, Primus. You think we can’t find you? What a joke. You will never make it to Idaho. You won’t even make it to a grave, for we will keep you animated corpse for target practice until we strip even inch of flesh from your bones.”
I was getting a better view of this fiend now and it was disturbing. His face was covered with dark spiraling tattoos. Like his hooded cloak, everything else he wore was a deep jet black.
I was deciding whether to insult him, ask him a few questions, or just pound this short stack when he flashed me a sick grin and burst into a couple hundred inky pieces.
At first I thought he had killed himself, but then I saw them flapping around like demented bats. Becoming liquidy slugs, they were dripping into the overhead air vent. I grabbed up and handful of paper towels and, after lighting one end on fire, I tried to burn as many as I could. They shrieked like angry gremlins, but mostly all I did was look like a freak when a businessman came in to use the can.
He tried to ask me some questions, but I suddenly remembered Hannah and rushed passed him. She was okay, but I wasn’t taking any chances. We left the bar and now I’m writing this down quickly, so there will be some record before we leave Moab.
Wish us luck.
May 12, 2010
Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but we made it to Moab without so much as a flat tire. I had no problem becoming a snake and wrapping myself around Hannah’s nimble form, but I didn’t enjoy Ethan driving my ride, or how Hannah was forced to put her arms around him. I liked even less how much this Loki guy appeared to enjoy the latter. I had hoped we could have used some of the Ripperkah’s bikes, but all of their tires had been burned to slag.
Once in Moab, I gained some small respect for this guy when he pulled into the local brewery, even if he did charge my bike over four lanes of traffic to do so. The place was called the Dead Horse and was filled with paintings of mangled horses with Xs instead of eyes. Right away the place seemed like the sort of spot that a Xemmoni would run, that is, until I tried the beer. No Xemmoni could brew pale ale this good.
“I wonder if maybe a Tezcatlipoca guy runs this place,” Ethan mused over an amber ale while rarely taking his eyes off Hannah’s two inches of exposed cleavage.
Finally feeling almost half relaxed, I leaned back a little and asked, “Why would you say that?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem like a Xemmoni place and those Tez guys are into death and darkness and all that?”
After taking another long pull off my ale, I asked, “why does everything have to be something to do with either Stalwarts or Xemmoni?”
“Everything interesting does,” he said, while finally shifting his eyes away from Hannah, even if it was only to take in the young waitress’s slim form.
“Are all you Loki types such letches?” She asked.
“Only the breathing ones,” he said with a smile.
“Oh brother,” I couldn’t help but groan, but then our food arrived and for a few minutes, while I at my chicken wings, I almost felt like a normal guy. Although when I was a normal guy, I had never dated anyone as pretty as Hannah.
But like most good things, our meal was eventually over and after ordering another pitcher, I knew we needed to get down to business.
“So I need to head back to Colorado. I can’t leave anything unfinished. It just isn’t right.”
“Or die trying, right.” Ethan said, while stirring his drink with a finger.
“I usually try to avoid that part.”
“Some people care about others and don’t want to see innocents get hurt,” Hannah said, crossing her arms and staring down Ethan.
“Does that mean you won’t be going with us?” I asked. “You fought pretty well back there. We could use you.”
A hint of a smile could be seen. “Well, I did leave my car there.”
I laughed, but Hannah looked like she was hoping the guy was going to say no. “What about tonight?” she asked. “No reason to be hunting Xemmoni in the dark least of all those Darcarre.”
“Well, I have plenty of bread, let’s just stay here.”
“You do?” Ethan said. “Say can I borrow some? I need-”
“Can it. I’ll pick up dinner and spring for a hotel room for you tonight, but that’s about as much as you can dare hope for.”
Looking at Hannah, he said, “My own room… but what about safety in numbers and all that? Wait are we each getting our own room?”
“Nope just you,” Hannah answered for me.
“Oh geez. Well can I at least get a little chump change. I am sorta your employee and I think I deserve something.”
“Oh thanks for reminding me. I have wanted to ask you about why it was that you suddenly showed up like you did?” I knew I might need to ask Hannah the same question sometime, but I figured I’d start with the person I cared far less about first.
“On man, me and my big mouth.”
“Okay, okay. I ah…well, I was sent here to help, I guess.”
“By who and why?”
“Let’s just say that there are um, ‘beings’ that want to make sure nothing keeps you from returned to Idaho and taking care of what you didn’t finish there.”
“Are you supposed to help me when I get there?”
“Oh thank Loki no. I um, let’s just say I made a little mistake and making sure you get back to Idaho is my way of paying off that debt.”
“You little turd, so you had to go back to Colorado no matter what?”
His cheeks flashed as red as his jacket for a moment. “Yeah, okay, yeah I guess.”
Hannah was talking slower and sounded more uncertain that her usual self assured demeanor. “Jack, I might as well come clean too. I didn’t just meet you randomly.”
“I had figured as much by now.”
“Don’t tell me you’re in trouble too.” Ethan said smiling.
“Hardly,” she said, giving him a glare. “But I was sent to help make sure you make it to Idaho, Jack.”
“Again, I ask, by who and why?”
“These are hard times. The Xemmoni, with Vile’s help, are growing more numerous and powerful than ever before. Stalwarts are becoming rarer and the few of us that are left are being stretched quite thin.”
She paused, looked at Ethan briefly, but then her blue eyes burned into his. “The agents of Weal have been watching you, Jack. They think you might be our last hope.”
May 4, 2010
“Now where were we?” I said, while burning some of my precious Ki to heal myself. It helped me feel a lot better, but it didn’t help remove any of the blood that soaked my clothes to such an extent that it was falling in large scarlet drops from my sleeves and the bottom of my jeans.
“I think we were talking about why you’re a Xemmoni magnet,” Ethan said with a lopsided grin.
“No, I think we’re talking about how we’re going to head back to Colorado and waste that damned Darcarre nest and that thrice damned Caradon lapdog of theirs, The Creeper.”
Hannah was looking through the mangled Ripperkah bodies and letting the men talk while she gathered a few stray weapons.
“What are you talking about, dude,” Ethan said with eyes gone wide. “You barely escaped from them the last time. I thought you’d be happy to have gotten out of there with your lives.”
I walked over to this younger guy. “I’m happy you got us out of there when you did, even if I still don’t know who you are and why you’re helping us. But I do know one thing. You can’t leave a Xemmoni nest. If you discover one, you have to take it out. It you don’t, it just festers and grows.”
“Then these killers aren’t only wasting everyone they can get their hands on, but when someone tries to take them out later, the job gets five times worse. I’ve learned this the hard way and I was on the way to take the first group I fought and then ran away from when I was less in the know about all this evil crap. I like to finish what I start. I didn’t know better then, but I do now. But despite all that, I won’t be heading back to my old home until I know I’m not leaving any unfinished business behind me.”
Ethan threw up his hands. “Damn Yiggos. They’re the same every flipin’ time. How about you Hannah? Can you believe this guy?”
“I’ll take the company of a follower of Yig over one of Loki, every time.”
“Oh you will huh, let me guess, you’re with, wait don’t tell me, Apollo.”
I had been listening intensely here. By that point I had figured Hannah had to be a Stalwart, but of what branch I had no clue. “Is he right?”
She brushed her long golden hair over her shoulder. “What do you think?”
“Since I have never met a follower of either Loki or Apollo, I guess it’s hard to say. But I think both of you have some explaining to do. Besides that, we still don’t even know why my bike appeared when we needed it in that battle against the Glooms. I need some answers, but I also need to eat. We’ll finish this discussion over dinner. Next stop Moab”