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W Wo or rl ld ds s SPRING 2009
C. J. Burch Ken Goldman Jack Mackenzie Michael Ehart Skadi meic Beorh Orrin Grey G. W. Thomas Interview: WILLIAM P. ROBERTSON Feature Story: THE TALE OF THE BARONâ€™S TRIBUTE by Derrick Ferguson
The following pages represent a brief preview of Dark Worlds issue #4.
Dark Worlds DARK WORLDS
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE ...........Derrick Ferguson 2 On the trail of two killers, Sebastian Red befriends a village full of peaceful people, but his past is about to put all in danger.
SOMETIMES DEATH GODS ARE MERCIFUL............C. J. Burch 72 The gods know that Azur Kish is not an inviting place, especially when the wizards are angry. SHORT STORIES
A LITTLE NEST EGG .................................................Ken Goldman 20 If you feel you are losing your mind you desperately try to hold onto it... or take someone else’s.
MA CA RONG ..........................................................Jack Mackenzie 26 Harlan DaVinci and Jimmy Dupont face an ancient evil in war-torn Vietnam
ONE LAST RUN AMONGST THE STARS ...............Michael Ehart 41 It was to be the final run for the cargo ship Arabella, but it threatens to be deadly for her lone pilot
REDNECK MEATWAGON...................................Skadi meic Beorh 50 When a commodity is scarce one pays a high price... perhaps too high.
MIDNIGHT IN THE WAX MUSEUM.............................Orrin Grey 56 A childhood dream threatens to turn into a nightmare
BLACK SUN ...............................................................G. W. Thomas 60 On a remote space station there is no place to hide from the Dark Man
Articles Review: TERROR TIME .................................................................... 90 INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM P. ROBERTSON............................. 92 THE DARK WORLDS CLUB ........................................................... 94 DARK WORLDS issued occasionally by the Dark Worlds Club, British Columbia, Canada. Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved by the Editors and Author/Artist Partners. All copyright remains with the authors and artists. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No submissions will be accepted without invitation of the Dark Worlds Club. Letters of Comment can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Each story in this anthology is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents in this anthology are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people (living or dead) places, business establishments, locales, and/or events is entirely coincidental.
G. W. Thomas & M. D. Jackson, Editors
nd it was after four days of fruitless searching in the disputed lands between the borders of The United Republic of America and Mexitli that Sebastian Red was much surprised to come upon a village of Iahnian farmers living in a small and lushly green valley. He had never heard of an Iahnian settlement this far south as The Iah had little to do with Mexitli and Mexitli wanted even less to do with The Iah. Sebastian Red paused on the trail leading down to the village and patted the thickly muscled neck of his great bronze stallion Ra. “What d’you say, boy? Spend a couple a’ days here with these good gentlefolk before headin’ back on up north?” Ra snorted and his huge head nodded up and down in agreement. Sebastian chuckled and gave the reins a flick and Ra
trotted onto the settlement. It looked as if some sort of party or celebration was going on. Bright streams of multi-colored paper decorated the two and three story adobe buildings and balloons and gaily-painted masks were plentiful. Music played from the main square where nearly a dozen musicians enthusiastically filled the air with lively Iahnian songs. The Iah were quiet folk who were excellent farmers and fishermen and they worked hard and well at both trades. Few were over five feet tall and they had nut-brown skins, pointed ears and slanting, almond-shaped eyes of gold, violet and sapphire. As Sebastian rode into the main square and swung down off of Ra, several Iahnian men walked over to him, each bearing jugs of wine, tequila and broad, friendly smiles. One stepped forward and
THE TALE OF THE
Baron’s Tribute by Derrick Ferguson his wide smile was genuine with warmth and good fellowship. “Greetings, friend! Greetings on this blessed day! Share our drink and food and embrace our joy!” Sebastian grinned and bowed. He genuinely liked The Iah. They minded their business and bothered no one. That didn’t mean they couldn’t fight if they had to but they much preferred to work the land and fish the seas, drink, dance and make love. “I’m obliged for your greetings and hospitality.” Sebastian took a jug of wine and took a long drink before handing it back. “My name’s Sebastian Red.” “And I am Hu. I am first among equals here. We call our village Naoh and hope you will stay and rest before continuing your journey.” Hu eyed Sebastian’s
weapons. The obviously well used .45 Leone Nightmaster in the low-slung holster on his right and the scabbarded sword on his left. “What brings you this far south, my friend? Our village isn’t exactly on the well-traveled roads.” “Huntin’ two despicable, no-account rascals. One of ‘em’s Madman Mike McGee an’ he’s hooked up with Christopher Ix. Between ‘em they’ve robbed nine banks, killed twenty men and what they done to the women they run across ain’t fit to be mentioned in polite company. They’re both crazier than hydrophoby dogs an’ just as dangerous. Lost their trail a few days back outside of Andersonville an’ I’ve been tryin to pick it up again. Just luck I ran across your village.” Sebastian gestured at the main Illustrations by M. D. Jackson
square where dancing had begun and children were running back and forth, kicking a large blue ball and screaming in delight. “Helluva party. Your wife’s birthday or somptin’?” Hu threw back his narrow head and let out a laugh more suited to a man three times his size. “No, no, Sebastian…we celebrate something much more important but don’t let my dear Ki hear me say that or I’ll be sleeping with the pigs! Come, let us sit and talk! You must tell us news of the world and I will tell you why we sing and dance with so much gladness.” Sebastian gladly went with Hu and his entourage, who were all in various stages of inebriation and they sat at a long table on the edge of the square where they could hear the music and watch the band play. Sebastian removed his broad-brimmed sombrero and shook loose his tight dreadlocks. Small idols of gold and silver were woven into his hair-- protective charms that brought smiles and cries of delight to several young Iahnian maids who asked if they might touch them and Sebastian nodded his assent as he reached for a jug of tequila. “Is today your Founding Day?” Sebastian asked as Hu shooed the giggling maids away. “In a way it is. We built this village twenty years ago on land deeded to us by Baron Orwell who lives west of here. We worked out a suitable arraignment and we’ve been paying him tribute on time every year and this is our last year of payment. Hence, the celebration. After today we truly own our land free and clear.” Sebastian nodded in understanding. “Good feelin’ when a man knows the land underneath his feet is his an’ he doesn’t owe anybody a red cent. This Baron Orwell? He treats you an’ your people good?” Hu nodded as he poured himself more wine. “He’s a fair man and we ask for nothing more than that. But enough of us. What of you? Are you a bounty hunter by
design or accident?” Sebastian smiled slightly. “I hunt bounty here and there so’s as to get my three squares a day but this time I’m working for the families of some the people those outlaws gunned down. They scraped together 2,000 gold sovereigns and hired me to track ‘em down and bring ‘em back.” “Alive or dead?” Sebastian shrugged. “Entirely up to them. Rather take ‘em alive. It’s a long ways back to Bass City an’ I’d rather not have to smell their carcasses on the trail and keep the coyotes from eatin’ ‘em.” Hu smiled and slapped a slim hand on the rough-hewn table. “Enough of this talk of bounties and killing! This is a celebration! Drink and dance and rest and forget your grim business for the rest of day, friend Sebastian!” “I’d best see to my horse, first.” “Sit! Sit! My sons will look after your animal. Pu! Yu! Run and see that Sebastian’s horse is cared for and fed!” “Just move slowly around Ra!” Sebastian called after the two young men as they ran to perform their father’s bidding. “He’ll be kinda skitterish until he gets to know you.” “My sons are excellent horsemen. They will make friends with your horse. But now, pay for your drink with news and stories, my friend!” Sebastian nodded and began speaking of what he knew, which was considerable, since he traveled far and wide and rarely stayed in one place for more than a few days at a time. He had seen much and done even more and it was not long before he had a crowd massed around him, listening to his every word as he spoke of his recent adventures in the mythical northern city of Yellowknife and the cursed zombie town of Pycilardo. The eyes of the children went wide as Sebastian described the wonders of Yellowknife where great black bears with wise golden eyes roamed the streets and were worshipped as oracles. And then men who worshipped naught but money
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE began slaughtering the bears until Sebastian hunted them down as ruthlessly as they had hunted the bears. And the children clapped and cheered as Sebastian told how he himself was saved by Shardeen, The Great Old Bear God and the hunters suffered a just yet terrible fate. And the women and men were enraptured by the tale of the zombie town of Pycilardo and the doomed love of Mercedes Allstetter for Brian Bramling. By the time Sebastian had finished speaking, it was full dark and bonfires had been lit as the dancing and singing and drinking had not abated one whit. Sebastian called for songs that he knew that he himself might join in the dancing and at his request the musicians played The Song Of The One Thousand Doomed Soldiers, The Cemetery of Nameless Men and Fine Friends and he leapt up on the table and danced around his sombrero with much gusto and skill while his new friends cheered and clapped to see such delight on his face for they sensed that this man did not know many days of happiness and they were well pleased that they could help him forget whatever sadness was his. And so the dancing and drinking and telling of stories both true and untrue went on far into the night until the first fingers of dawn stroked the purple hills. Sebastian Red sat on the front porch of Hu’s house; his booted feet up on the railing, rolling a cigarette, his sombrero pushed back. It had been two days since he had first ridden into Naoh and Hu had made him feel as welcome as if Sebastian was his long lost brother. He would certainly have to leave soon but it was hard to leave such friendly, good-hearted people who had shown him such kindness. Sebastian ruefully reflected that he was seriously unused to such kindness and the dry spots of his soul were sucking it up as a man lost ten days in the desert greedily sucks the juice from a succulent, ripe fruit. Hu came out onto the porch, smiling. “Good morning, Sebastian. How are you
today?” “Better’n I’ve felt for quite some time, Hu.” Sebastian passed over the cigarette and began to roll another. “But I think I’ve more than worn out m’welcome here. And I still got a job to do. Them owl hoots are prob’ly all the way over to Bowie Junction by now.” Hu nodded, blowing out bluish smoke as he sat on the rail and watched the village come to life. Dawn was an hour old and already the wide streets were filled with activity. “I too have a job to do as well. Today we must take our tribute to Baron Orwell. We must leave soon as we’re going on foot.” “Why not ride?” Hu shrugged. “Why not walk? The day is beautiful and the company pleasant.” Hu winked at Sebastian. “And we take along a few jugs so as to enjoy the day all the better. What the wives don’t know won’t hurt them.” Sebastian chuckled and the two smoked in silence as they watched the villagers go about their morning duties. The women lined up at the two wells to draw water and men made their way to the acres and acres of various vegetable crops planted on the low, sloping hills to the west of the village. Sebastian stood up and reached for his gun belt, which hung on the back of the rocking chair he had been sitting in, and he buckled it about his muscular waist. Hu eyed the double row of bullets. Many were regular shells but a significant number of cartridges made of silver and gold flashed as they reflected the morning sun. Sebastian tied down the holster holding his gun and adjusted his scabbarded sword. “You want me to ride along with you a ways?” Sebastian inquired. “Could be that there are bandits out on the trail this mornin’ just lookin’ for an easy payday.” Hu flicked the cigarette away. “We have successfully defended ourselves from bandits before, Sebastian, and we can do so again. But come along and look at our tribute. Usually we pay in coin but
DARK WORLDS since this our final payment we thought it only fitting we do something a bit special. I think you are a man who can appreciate this.” Sebastian nodded assent and fell into step next to his friend and they walked through the streets, greeting those who threw up a hand in salute or shouted a good morning. Hu led Sebastian to the town hall, the largest building in Naoh, three stories tall which served as the village’s main meeting place. Here Sebastian waited outside while Hu went on inside. Due to the smaller stature of the Iah, their buildings tended to be unable to accommodate a man of Sebastian’s height, since he was a rangy and lean six-footer. The other men who were going to make the journey with Hu were inside and they came out to keep Sebastian company until Hu returned with something under his arm. “This is our final tribute to Baron Orwell, Sebastian. Beautiful, is it not?” Hu held it up and removed the cloth that covered it. It was most beautiful, indeed. A statue maybe a foot high of a woman holding a child. The faces of the mother and child were blank but in the delicate curves and sweep of the arms, the love the mother had for her child was unmistakable. The mother was made from the purest gold and the child had been carved from a single crimson ruby and affixed to the bend of the arms. The workmanship was exquisite and Sebastian pushed back his sombrero and whistled appreciatively. “That’s really somthin’, Hu. Who made it?” “We have several skilled artists here. They all contributed. Would you like to hold it?” “Hell, no. I ain’t got no business holdin’ somethin’ that pretty.” Sebastian cocked an eye at the grinning Hu. “You could be takin’ a chance showin’ me that statue, Hu. What makes you think I won’t slaughter you, take it an’ ride outta here? I could get me a fair price for something that
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE beautiful over to Brady Falls or San Cabo.” “I think not. You are a hard man, yes. Any fool can see that. But you are an honest man as well.” “Still, you’d best not go wavin’ that thing around in front of strangers so freely. Any man can be tempted by gold. Even me.” Sebastian gave the statue a last look and extended his hand. “You sure you don’t want me to ride part way with you?” Hu reached out to shake Sebastian’s hand as he said, “We will be just fine, my friend. And you have a job of your own that you must see to.” “True that. Farewell, Hu. Thanks for everything.” “Come see us again, Sebastian, when you are not working and can stay longer.” “I’ll be sure and do that.” There was much handshaking and well wishing as Sebastian made his goodbyes to Hu’s entourage and then he walked back to Hu’s house where he had to say even more goodbyes to Hu’s plump wife and his ten children. Then he mounted Ra and rode out of the village, returning waves and salutes from villagers as he continued on his way. He felt lighter in his spirit and he sang as he went on about his business. He would have to return to this gentle village and these people one day. But for now, there was grim work ahead of him. He spurred Ra to a faster gait. Hu left the village a half hour later with ten other men. They were all men who had made the journey with him before to take their tribute to Baron Orwell. They all wore guns and the two best shots toted rifles in the crook of their arms. Not that any of them were marksmen by any stretch of the imagination, but one simply did not take any chances. There had only been a few times in the past that bandits had tried to rob them, but those attempts had failed. Mostly it had been low class trash that had made the attempt and they hadn’t been good enough. The Iah were fierce fighters when they had to be and despite their short
stature, they brooked no insult from any man. Hu’s cousin Lo was on his left and his best friend Tu was on his right and they lead the small party along the winding trail that led through the forest at the northern end of the valley. It would be the best part of the trip since they would be in the shade and under the cooling canopy of the thick leaves. Once they left the valley they would be in dry, hot country for the last couple of miles. Hu took a pull from the wine flask dangling from a cord around his neck. “I’m thinking that after we deliver this to Baron Orwell, maybe we should go into town for a day or so, buy some gifts to take back home. What say you, Lo?” Lo shrugged. “If you wish to go, I’ll go. But you know I don’t care too much for hanging around human settlements. We always get into a fight when we do.” Hu chuckled. “That’s half the fun! Wouldn’t you say so, Tu?” Getting no response, Hu looked at his friend curiously. Tu carried a Winchester rifle and he was now holding it in a position of readiness. His eyes were narrowed in concentration and he seemed to be listening to a sound only he could hear. Hu’s right hand dropped to the butt of his Colt six-shooter. “What is it? Should we stop?” Tu s h o o k h i s h e a d . “ I t ’s something….not quite sure what…but…” He never finished. The first volley of shots came from the trees above them on both sides. Bullets ripped into the small band, taking out Tu and the other rifleman first. Then two more men were cut down, never even having cleared their guns from their holsters. Hu shouted for the others to take cover as more the guns roared again. Hu dived to the side of the road, rolled and scrambled behind a tree, drawing his gun and trying to pinpoint where the shots were coming from. And that’s when the screaming started. It was accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a sword
whistling through the air with a clean, sweet sound that only the finest of blades could make. Hu peered out from behind the tree and his eyes widened in horror. A tall man with long hair was cutting down Hu’s companions with a shining silver sword. Blood gushed from the stumps of arms and legs as with every stroke, the tall man killed effortlessly. Hu looked at the sword closely as the man held it aloft. Five feet in length, the hilt was wrapped with black leather and the pommel was of gold and ivory, worked into the shape of an armored gauntlet holding a rose. Hu gasped as he recognized the sword. It looked very much like the same one that Sebastian Red had carried. As if he had heard Hu, the tall man whirled, searching for him. Hu stepped from behind the tree, his Colt in both hands and he aimed carefully and fired. Incredibly, the tall man seemed to actually dodge the bullet, so quickly did he move, sliding to the right as if he were rollerskating on ice. He zigzagged as he came closer to Hu, who fired again and again, but the tall man was never where Hu aimed and then the sword came up and down and the world disappeared in a bright slash of pure white light.
with swollen, blackened eyes, missing teeth and split lips. So Brown agreed to Sebastian’s deal: Brown would spread the word to people he trusted for them to keep their eyes open and notify him when the two bandits returned to town. They would be directed to go see Brown as the saloon keeper had urgent news for them, and once they got there…well, Sebastian would take it from there. Sebastian poured himself a shot of the amber-colored liquor and tossed it back, welcoming the fiery burn with relish. He shuffled the cards, looking up as several men entered the dim saloon. They didn’t fit the description of the men he was hunting. These were drifters who wandered from town to town, cursed with a restless, itchy foot. Sebastian bent back to his cards until his sensitive ears caught several words that brought his head up. “Iah…massacre…bodies all over the road….” Sebastian put his cards away in a leather case on his belt and swiftly walked over to where the men were telling their story to the rest of the patrons drinking at the bar. “What’s that you’re sayin’ bout Iahnians, friend?” Sebastian asked. One of the drifters, a stocky fellow missing one eye and two fingers on the hand that held a glass whiskey sized Sebastian Red up and down quickly before answering. “Me an’ my pards here saw a bunch a’ Iahnian dead on the road. Wolves and coyotes been tearin’ at ‘em pretty good. Not much left of ‘em…” Sebastian was heading for the door and was actually out on the street when Brown caught up to him. “Hey! What about McGee and his pard? I thought you wanted ‘em?” “They’ll have to wait. I’ve got other business.” Sebastian mounted Ra and left at a full gallop to return to the village of Naoh.
Sebastian Red sat at a table near the rear of Brown’s Saloon, the largest in Bowie Junction, with only a bottle of tequila for company. He had heard that the men he was looking for had indeed been through Bowie Junction and they were expected to return in another day, so Sebastian decided to make himself comfortable and wait for them. He amused himself by playing Liar’s Solitaire with a deck of oversized, hand-painted cards, a gift from his mother, and all the while keeping his eyes and ears open. Sebastian questioned several prostitutes who worked Brown’s Saloon and they informed him that the men he sought had roughed up a couple of the girls, which It was a tight fit for him to get inside hadn’t endeared them to the saloon keeper Hu’s bedroom, but he made it, sitting since no one wanted to pay for a woman cross-legged next to the bed where Hu lay,
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE a bandage covering half his head. Ki told Sebastian through her tears that Hu had lost his left ear and eye. He had tied up his own wounds and somehow made it back to the village, the only survivor of the massacre. And the statue was gone. “Hu? Hu? It’s Sebastian. I’m here.” Hu’s remaining eye opened and he gingerly turned his head so that he could see Sebastian. Hu smiled weakly. “Sebastian. I should have accepted your generous offer, my friend.” “What happened out there?” Hu weakly gestured at a table upon which a clay pitcher of water stood. Sebastian poured him a cup and handed it over. Hu took a good long drink before speaking. “One minute we were walking along, talking, enjoying the day. Then the shots came from either side of the road.” “Did you see who it was?” Hu shook his head. “They were up in the trees. Half of us were cut down before we knew what was happening. And the ones who weren’t killed by the bullets died by the sword.” “What sword?” Hu gestured again. This time at Sebastian’s sword. “The only one I saw was a man tall as you…but he was white…and he used a sword exactly like yours.” Hu watched carefully at the shifting emotions on Sebastian’s face. Surprise, horror, confusion. “Sebastian. I have not even told my wife about the man with the sword because I prayed that you would hear of what had happened and would return to tell me that you had nothing to do with this.” Sebastian placed a hand on Hu’s shoulder. “You have my most sacred word that I know nothing. But I intend to find out.” “You must admit that it is quite a coincidence for two men with identical weapons that are so unique to be in the same area. If I tell my people of this, they will demand your life.” “These swords are used by a special
cadre of warriors in my homeland of Carrincha. Sixty others and I were trained by a man named Kerenos Ford who himself is the greatest of The Warmasters of Liguria. I and the others trained by him called ourselves The Lords of Burning Iron and we carried not only these special swords which were made especially for us, but these guns as well.” “Could not this man have stolen the sword from one of your companions?” “Perhaps. It is more than likely that this man is looking for me and hearing of how you befriended me, he killed your people to strike at me.” Hu’s remaining eye opened wide. “Then you are responsible for what happened. Why would this man be looking for you?” “Prob’ly to kill me.” “And why should he wish to do that?” “Because I am a betrayer and murderer of my own kin, Hu. And that’s the sad truth of th’ matter. You still want to call me friend?” “Whatever you did in your past is your affair and you shall pay for it if not in this world, then in the next. You’ve shown nothing but respect and courtesy to me and mine and you have come to the side of my bed to swear that you did not kill my people. But their blood is indirectly on your hands if this man killed them because of the hospitality we have shown you. Our tribute has been stolen and if Baron Orwell does not have it, our lands and village are forfeit.” “That won’t happen. I’ll ride right now to Orwell an’ I’ll explain what has happened. If he’s a fair man as you’ve said, he’ll wait a few more days.” “But how will we pay him? The statue is gone and we have no more gold to give him.” “When I find the statue, I’ll give it to him.” Hu chuckled. “Sebastian, you said it yourself; whoever has that statue can get a good price for it in Brady Falls or San Cabo. That statue is probably melted down
by now.” “I don’t think so. Whoever took it and killed your people did so to flush me out. He’ll hold onto it, knowing that I’ll come lookin’ for him.” “And when you find him?” “I’ll kill him for the cowardly pig he is. And you have my word on that as well.” Sebastian Red pulled on the reins and Ra instantly obeyed, coming to a full stop. Sebastian reached for his canteen and took a long drink of cool water. Despite the fact that he had been riding hard and scarcely without rest, Ra was barely breathing hard. The stallion had been bred for strength and stamina. Sebastian had ridden to Baron Orwell’s from directions given him by Hu. The land he was riding on was a flat plain of tall grass that tickled Ra’s belly, and he had stopped because he saw several riders heading towards him at a slow gallop. He counted ten of them. Ra whuffed and Sebastian patted his neck. “Easy, boy. We ain’t come all this way lookin’ for no trouble. We’re just gonna have us a nice palaver with the gentlemen.” The riders quickly rode up to where Sebastian waited and formed a half circle in front of him. They were all dressed in uniforms of brown and black with some sort of crest over the left breast of their jackets done in gold and silver thread. The leader, a swarthy, lean man with eyes like chips of obsidian looked Sebastian up and down and said; “Good morning, sir. Might I ask your name and your destination?” “Name’s Sebastian Red. I’m lookin’ for Baron Orwell’s spread. Understood it was out this way.” “Indeed. You’ve been on the Baron’s lands for some time now. My name is Soncho. I work for the Baron. My men and I make sure that peace is kept on Baron Orwell’s land.” “I’d like to see him as soon as possible. I got urgent news for him from Hu, the headman of Naoh.” “Our Iahnian friends, who are late with
The Baron’s tribute? Oh, the Baron will indeed wish to hear this. But first I think we’ll have that fine gun and sword of yours, my friend.” With no hesitation, Sebastian unbuckled his gun and sword belts and passed them over to Soncho, who held them in his lap. Soncho motioned for Sebastian to ride at his side and they continued on their way. It was not long before an imposing five-story mansion came into view. It could easily have been transported from one of those European lands that Sebastian had heard and read so much about and wanted very much to see one day. The windows were round and large and sparkled as if freshly washed. Brightly colored flags snapped and popped in the breeze that blew in from the north. Guards stood at the doorway of the mansion, rifles held in the crook of their arms and they eyed Sebastian as he swung from Ra and Soncho and two of his men escorted him into the mansion. The entrance hall of the mansion was decorated with huge portraits of Baron Orwell’s ancestors or relatives-- stern looking men and women of humorless demeanor who looked as if they hadn’t pushed a decent bowel movements in quiet a while. Chandeliers of pure crystal glittered and tall polished mirrors reflected Sebastian’s image back at him and he had to grin. He was covered from head to foot in trail grit. He removed his sombrero and shook out his dreadlocks and a goodly amount of dust. Soncho was looking on in amusement. “Would you like to freshen up before seeing the Baron, Mr. Red?” “I suppose I could do with a bit a’ freshin’ up, but I’d best talk to your Baron right away. It’s pretty important.” Sancho nodded. “As you wish.” He motioned for Sebastian to follow and the two men passed through the entrance hall and down a long corridor where their boot heels echoed on the highly polished marble floor and the ceiling was decorated with murals of mythological heroes and
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE demons until they came to a set of great brass double doors and Soncho pushed them open. The room was a library or study of some sort. Bookcases from floor to ceiling were stuffed with books of all manner of shapes and sizes. Most of them looked very old indeed. At the far end of the room, a man sat at a desk on a raised dais three steps above the floor. He looked up, frowning slightly at the interruption. Curly steel gray hair matched the flinty gray of his eyes. He was writing and when Soncho and Sebastian approached, he put the pen down and Sebastian was quite certain the pen was gold. “What’s all this, Soncho? Why aren’t you out riding the spread?” “I thought it best to bring this man to you, sir. His name is Sebastian Red and he brings word from the village of Naoh.” Baron Orwell’s eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. He gestured at the bundle in Soncho’s hand. “That his gun and sword?” “Yes, Baron.” “Give it back to him. The only reason Sebastian Red let you have his gun and sword is because his news is important and he didn’t want to kill you and your men.” While Soncho’s face clearly showed his thought that he considered his Baron’s opinion of Sebastian’s skill highly exaggerated, Sebastian merely smiled as he buckled his sword and gun belt back on and tied his holster down. “You talk like you heard’a me, sir.” “I saw you once, maybe three years ago. You were in Adams City. You’d just killed a gang of vampires who were terrorizing the city. Damn fine work. I remembered your name in case I ever needed a man with your skills. What are you doing in these parts?” Sebastian informed the Baron of the business that had originally brought him into the region and then went on to tell about how The Iah were robbed of the precious tribute that they were bringing to him.
Baron Orwell listened with great interest and Sebastian could see the sympathy in the man’s eyes. “The Iah are an honorable people, Sebastian. And it’s said you are as well. If you say the statue’s been stolen, I’ll take you word for it. I’ll extend the—“ “You’d give those filthy, horrible little creatures the opportunity to laugh at your foolishness is what you’d extend!” The new voice was female and full of indignant wrath. Soncho sighed tiredly, as if he well knew what was coming. The woman who strode into the room was dressed in riding gear and her hat hung around her neck on a cord, letting her generous mane of red hair tumble around her shoulders. She was maybe twenty years younger than the Baron and quite beautiful; a beauty enhanced by her high cheekbones and expressive eyes. “Good thing I cut my ride short! What nonsense is this about The Iah being robbed?” Orwell gestured at Sebastian. “This is Sebastian Red, Helene….he’s known to me and he says that The Iah were robbed of the tribute and I believe him. Mr. Red, this is my wife, Helene, The Baroness Orwell.” Helene Orwell looked at Sebastian as if he were something that had dropped from the south end of a dog heading north. “You take the word of some… trail trash that walks in and tells you a tale of woe and misery? How do we know he didn’t steal the tribute?” “If I had, ma’am, you can best believe I wouldn’t be standin’ here now.” “And exactly why are you here? What do you owe The Iah?” “Not a thing, ma’am. Other than they’re my friends and they’ve been done the dirty and I intend to see they get their tribute back an’ see the men who stole from them are punished.” “And how do you intend on doing that?” Helene snapped, slapping her riding crop against her black jodhpurs. “One of the men who robbed them carried a sword like mine.” Sebastian
DARK WORLDS patted the hilt of his blade. “I’ll ask around and I’m sure that I’ll pick up his trail. I know how to track men and I’ll find this one.” “And when you catch up to him?” “I ‘spect one of us will die. I’d say it’s better than even money it’ll be him.” “I see.” Helene’s anger sudden seemed to melt away. She turned to her husband and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “I’m sorry, darling. Sometimes I let my concern for your well-being cloud my judgment.” Helene walked over to Sebastian and held out her hand. “And my apologies to you as well, Mr. Red. Obviously you and my husband know how to handle this situation. I’ll just leave you to it and go on and wash the dust out of my hair.” Sebastian was noticing Soncho’s expression, which seemed somewhat puzzled. Sebastian bent to kiss Helene’s hand and smiled at her. “I understand, ma’am. You were just lookin’ out for your husband. No harm done.” Helene returned Sebastian’s smile, somewhat stiffly and left the room as rapidly as she had entered, closing the door behind her a bit more forcefully than she really had to. Orwell said, “Sebastian, if you can find those men and bring the statue here, I’d be willing to pay you a finder’s fee, let’s say. How does a thousand gold sovereigns strike you?” “It strikes me just fine, sir. Now if’n you’ll excuse me….?” Orwell nodded and said to Soncho, “You give Sebastian any help he needs, you hear?” Soncho nodded and the two men left the study and walked back down the long corridor until they were once more standing outside, in front of the mansion. Soncho’s nine men were still there, waiting faithfully for their leader. Sebastian settled his wide-brimmed sombrero firmly on his head and said; “Lemme ask you a question, Soncho.” “Certainly.” “What’s goin’ on between your Baron
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE and his missus? She came in hurlin’ fire and you looked like you were expectin’ it. Then all of a sudden, she settled right on down and you looked kinda surprised.” Soncho pursed his lips as if he was thinking something over. Sebastian didn’t rush him. He had the feeling there was something important here that he had to know and Soncho was on the fence about telling it. After he had turned it over in his mind for a minute or so, Soncho gestured Sebastian to step closer. “Understand me, Sebastian: I’ve served the Baron for twelve years now. I am not in the habit of betraying his confidence….” “I understand, Soncho. Anythin’ you say to me stays with me. You got my word on that.” Soncho’s lips quirked in a small smile. “Very well, then. The Baroness, she has long made no secret of the fact that she would very much like to have The Iah off that land. She has told the Baron many times that he could sell that land and make much money from it.” Sebastian frowned. “Sell? Sell to who? Oh, it’s good farmin’ land, for sure. But it’s so far from anywhere…” Soncho shrugged. “It is the same thing the Baron tells her. It is so far away from anything that The Iah might as well have it, he says time and again. She gets angry and stomps away.” “Could be that your Baroness got tired of tryin’ to talk her husband into somethin’ he didn’t want to do and decided to take action herself.” “You could not suspect her of having anything to do with the attack on The Iah. I know she has no love for them but I can’t believe she would go so far as to hire murderers.” Sebastian gestured toward the mansion. “Might be a good idea to check up on her and see where she is. She did leave in an awful hurry.” Soncho motioned for Sebastian to wait and he re-entered the mansion. Sebastian waited patiently, checking Ra’s silver shod hooves until Soncho rejoined him.
“The Baroness is not inside the mansion. Indeed, she left right after she spoke to you in the Baron’s study and went riding again, this time on a fresh horse.” “Mighty interestin’, don’t you think? It could be that she’s more a mite upset that her plan didn’t work. It seems to me she was countin’ on The Baron kickin’ The Iah off that land once he didn’t get his yearly tribute but I threw a turd in the buttermilk when I showed up to plead their case. The Baron knows me and knows my reputation so he believed me. Could be that his missus don’t appreciate that one little bit.” Soncho had the expression of a man who has just been told by his doctor that he has six months to live. “I cannot even think that The Baroness would do such a thing. I simply cannot.” “Tell you what: why don’t you try an’ pick up her trail and see where she’s gone in such a hurry. At worst, you’ll confirm that she’s mixed up this and at best, you’ll prove she’s not.” Soncho’s face cleared up immediately, as if he’d just received a rich inheritance from a despised relation. “And what will you be doing?” Sebastian slipped one booted foot in the stirrups and swung up onto Ra’s strong back. “I’m gonna track down the men who ambushed The Iah. Shouldn’t be hard to find ‘em. Men like that tend to piss away their pay. Just point me in the direction of where the nearest whiskey and whores can be found, an’ I’m pretty sure they’re either there or have been there.” Soncho pointed to the east. “There’s a trader town about two hours ride that way. As good a place as any to start, I think.” Sebastian nodded. “I’ll meet you back here when I’ve got something. YAH!” Sebastian lightly touched Ra’s flanks with his spurs and the stallion took over at a breathtaking gallop that made Soncho’s eyes goggle with amazement and his men buzz with surprise at the incredible speed of the big horse. Sebastian rode into the trader town
where a rough sign had been set up at its outskirts, proclaiming this as Tiltontown. It was much like the many trader towns Sebastian had seen all over the country-towns slapped together that catered to wanderers with disposable cash to spend and not particular about whom they spent it on. There wasn’t much in the town except for a pair of raucous saloons and several two and three story whorehouses; rude dwellings that were little more than huts fashioned out of sheets of tin, logs and roughly hewn planks with dried mud shoved into the cracks and crevices to keep out the cold night air. Sebastian entered the first saloon he came to. The ceiling was so low the top of his sombrero brushed the sooty rafters. Nine men stood at the bar, which was nothing more than a plank of wood resting on a number of barrels. The bartender was busy pouring whiskey into shot glasses and drawing foaming beer from a wooden keg. More men sat at round tables in the dank, smoke-filled room, some with women, and others by themselves, lost in their lonely thoughts. Sebastian walked up to the bar and motioned for the bartender. That worthy soul ambled over, a pair of quart liquor bottles in his large hands. “What you want?” He growled around the stub of a black, unlit cigar in his thicklipped mouth. “Tequila and information.” Sebastian tossed a silver piece on the bar. “Got no tequila. Whiskey and Scotch is alls I got. My delivery wagon’s late.” Sebastian hated Scotch with a passion so he said, “whiskey, then. And the information.” “Cost you more than that there one silver coin.” The bartender poured a shot glass full of the amber liquid. Sebastian threw it back in one gulp and motioned for another. “Any men been through here recently with a lot of coin to spend?” The second shot glass was poured. Sebastian threw it back as the bartender replied, “Check out the whorehouse right
next door. Couple of hired guns came in here and have been keeping the brothels in business. You ask me, I think they’re waiting for somebody.” “What makes you say that?” “Because they paid Hinkey over there to tell them every time somebody new came to town.” Sebastian turned to see one of the men sitting at a table near the door get up and leave in a hurry. The door slammed shut behind Hinkey as he went about his task. Sebastian motioned for another drink and dropped several more silver coins on the bar. “Much obliged.” As he headed for the door, the bartender called after him, “hey mister, after you kill ‘em, can I have their gear if you don’t want ‘em?” Sebastian hardly paused in his long legged stride as he said over a shoulder, “They may not even have them by the time I’m through with ‘em, friend.” The brothel was cool and lit by huge bronze lamps. Sebastian Red pushed open the door and ignored the lewd remarks of the prostitutes as he crossed the room in three easy strides and went up the stairs to the second floor. As he gained the landing, he saw Hinkey talking to a bearded, barechested man who was leaning out of a room down the hall, listening to his report. The bearded man heard Sebastian’s spurs and his eyes went wide and he ducked back inside the room, slamming the door shut. Hinkey backed away, holding shaking hands up protectively in front of him. “I wuz jus’ tryin’ to make some honest coin, mister! I ain’t got nuttin’ agin ye!” Sebastian said coldly, “You don’t wanna get killed, you best get outta my sight.” Hinkey didn’t have to be told twice. As the echoes of Sebastian’s last word faded away, he was down the stairs and out the door. Sebastian stood well to one side as he knocked on the door and called out, “Looka here: I really don’t wanna have to
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE kill you if’n there ain’t no need. I want the man who hired you. The man with the sword. Tell me where I can find him and the statue and I’ll forget about you.” Three bullets smashed through the door, showering the floor with jagged splinters. Sebastian kicked open the door and smoothly drew his seven chambered .45 Leone Nightmaster and fanned the hammer. The huge gun roared as two bullets were fired with frightening accuracy to smash into the bearded man’s knees. His scream was slightly more piercing than that of the flaxen-haired wench on the bed who was pressing her palms against her ears as she scrambled off the bed and dived into a corner. The bearded man’s panting breaths were loud in the suddenly quiet room. He lay in a pool of blood, his shattered knees twisted, his legs twitching. He was still trying to reach his gun. Sebastian calmly walked over and brought his heel down on the bearded man’s hand. The snapping of the fingers breaking was drowned by another howl of agony. “I can make your dyin’ easy or real hard. It makes me no never mind,” Sebastian said in a voice that had nothing resembling human compassion in it. “But you are gonna tell me where to find that statue and the man with the sword.” Sebastian suddenly whirled, crouching slightly and fired twice more. The bullets slammed into the chest of the bearded man’s partner, throwing him across the hall to strike the far wall, his rifle dropping from his hands. He slid to the floor, his life’s blood pumping from the holes in his chest. Sebastian turned back around. From the bearded man’s expression, it was plain that he thought that Sebastian must have supernatural powers to have known his partner was there, ready to shoot him in the back. Actually, Sebastian had heard the boards under the man’s feet squeak as he had tried to sneak down the hall. The boards were so loose that a mouse wearing moccasins would have made enough noise
to be heard. Sebastian holstered his gun and reached around to the small of his back and withdrew a foot long hunting knife with a serrated blade. “Tell me about the man with the sword.” The bearded man began talking. Helene Orwell reined her horse to a stop and swung off the animal, tying it to a tree and walked the last few feet to the small cabin. It was one of several located on her husband’s property and the farm hands that worked his land used them. It was sometimes more convenient for the hands to stay out on the range and spend the night in one of these rough hewn cabins than to ride back to the compound where they lived and then have to ride back out again the next day. But this cabin she had lent to the man she had hired to steal The Iahnian tribute. She opened the door and paused there, watching him sharpen his sword with a small piece of sky blue stone. Totten Scriver was a tall man with long, light brown hair. He looked up at Helene Orwell with eyes that were the color of the sky just before a thunderstorm. At some time in the past he’d had a dispute with some sort of clawed animal and the scars, though old, were still visible on his leathery face. Resting on the table next to him was a .45 Leone Nightmaster. “You seem like you’re kinda agitated, Baroness.” “He’s here. The man you said would be here. Sebastian Red.” Scriver’s grin of joy was genuine. “’Course he is. For all of his sins, Sebastian is a romantic idiot. I knew that when I killed them Iah farmers. I knew he wouldn’t let their deaths go unavenged.” Helene snapped, “I don’t give a damn about this man Red or your business with him! I hired you to steal the tribute from The Iah! But now Red is looking for that statue! If he finds your men—“ Scriver shrugged. “He’s probably found them by now. Most likely killed ‘em
as well.” “And that doesn’t concern you at all?” Scriver finished sharpening his sword and smoothly slid it into its scabbard. “Not a bit. The only thing that matters is makin’ Sebastian Red pay for his sins.” Helene snarled, “I hired you to steal The Iahnian tribute and thereby give my husband a reason to kick them out of that valley. I’ve made a deal with a Mexitli rancher who’s going to pay me a fortune for that land. Enough to get me back East and to civilization. Now your stupid vendetta with Red is going to jeopardize that! Red spoke with my husband and he’s not going to make The Iah leave!” Scriver reached for his saddlebags on the floor and withdrew the beautiful Iah statue from within and sat it on the table. “Then what good is this now?” “None! You might as well take it and go! Get yourself gone!” Scriver opened his mouth to speak but paused as his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of horses coming toward the cabin at a gallop. He stood up, picking up his gun and sliding it into his holster. “Who followed you here?” Helene looked confused and scared. “Nobody! I swear!” Scriver said nothing and went to the window and looked out to see Soncho and his ten men riding up to the cabin. “Then who’s that, then?” “My husband’s retainer, Soncho and his men. He must have sent them after me.” “Too bad for them.” Scriver burst out of the cabin with his seven-shooter in hand and the huge gun whoomed as he fanned the hammer. Men flew from their horses, knocked off by the impact of the bullets smashing into their chests. Horses screeched in panic at the sound of the gun, twisting and turning, raising a cloud of dust, trampling the bodies of the slain under their hooves. Seven shots. Seven seconds. Seven dead men. Scriver drew his sword and charged the remaining men. A couple of them managed
to draw their guns and fired at what they firmly believed was a demon from Hell itself. And then Scriver was in the middle of them, the sword humming as it did its gruesome work. Blood spurted and men screamed as they felt something like silver fire pierce their flesh. Scriver’s face was serene as he slashed and cut-- and then it was over. Helene watched the butchery with horror in her lovely eyes and she suddenly bent over and vomited. Soncho and his men lay on the ground, all dead. Scriver had killed ten men in less than thirty seconds. He wiped his sword clean on the flanks of one of the horses. Scriver walked back to where Helene was leaning against the wall of the cabin, fighting to control her heaving bowels. Her stomach was still trying to empty itself and she was doubled over with cramps. “Awfully careless of you, Baroness. I guess your husband isn’t as stupid as you think he is.” Helene wiped her full lips with the back of a shaking hand. “Listen to me….come back to the house with me…you can kill my husband….then I’ll have everything! We can still make this plan work! I’ll make you a rich man!” “I am a rich man, Baroness. I have land of my own back in Carrincha. There’s nothing I want except Sebastian Red and thanks to you, I got ‘im.” “But...but what’s to become of ME?” The sword hummed through the air and Helene Orwell’s body thumped to the ground five seconds after her head. Sebastian Red reined Ra to a stop in front of Baron Orwell’s mansion. Totten Scriver was sitting on the top step, his saddlebags next to him. He was sharpening his sword and smiled as Sebastian swung down. The horse trotted away and began grazing. Spurs jingling, one gloved hand on the pommel of his sword, Sebastian walked up to the mansion and stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Totten. Good to see you again.”
THE TALE OF THE BARON’S TRIBUTE Scriver continued sharpening his sword. “Sebastian. You’re lookin’ right well.” “You kill Orwell and his people?” “Nah. I explained to him that our business was between us and it was in his best interest not to interfere.” “How’d you do that?” Scriver reached behind him and brought a burlap sack into view and threw it at Sebastian’s feet. It landed with a meaty thump. Sebastian picked up the sack and looked within. The heads of Helene Orwell and Soncho looked up at him with wide, sightless eyes. Sebastian closed the sack and put it down on the ground. “You didn’t have to kill Soncho. He was a good man. Of course, I suspect that it was Helene who hired you to steal the statue and kill them farmers.” “It was just sheer luck that caused me to come across your trail, Sebastian. I heard you was in this area but I could never catch up. Then I came here and met Baroness Orwell. Her husband was away on business and she explained to me her plan. I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to pick up some coin while I was down here in these parts. I scouted out the Iah village and found you there.” Scriver grinned wolfishly. “You got no idea how it did my heart good to finally see you at long last. And to see you had made new friends. I was originally going to just sneak into the village and steal the statue, but seeing you with such fine friends gave me a new idea.” “Why’d you have to butcher them farmers, Totten? They never did nothin’ to you.” “And my family never did anythin’ to you, you spineless bastard! Did you think just ‘cause you were exiled from Carrincha that we would forget what you did? I ain’t the only one lookin’ for you, Sebastian Red, but I’m the lucky one who’s gonna take your head back to Carrincha and stick it on a pole for the buzzards to breakfast on!” “Where’s the statue, Totten?” Scriver reached into his saddlebags
and withdrew the statue and placed on the step next to him. “Here it be. It’s served its purpose and brought you to me. Just like the Baroness served her purpose.” “Still didn’t have to kill her.” “She was an evil, stupid woman and the world has got an abundance of those awreddy.” Scriver put his sharpening stone away and his grin widened. “Suppose it’s time we got down to it, I suppose.” Sebastian nodded. “I reckon so.” He took off his sombrero and threw it away. His sword easy slid from the scabbard and it flashed in the light of the setting sun. He took several steps back as Scriver came slowly down the steps. “You do realize that there are people back in Carrincha who know that you sneak back from time to time to see Tia and your girls?” “They had nothin’ to do with what I did, Totten. You know that. And anyway, nobody would dare lay a hand on her and risk angerin’ her daddy.” “Just lettin’ you know you’re not as clever as you think you are. That’s how I got on your trail…from your last visit. I lost you a couple of times but I always managed to find your trail again.” Scriver’s face was ugly with hate as he brought his sword up. Sebastian’s own sword came up in a defensive posture. “An’ now, I avenge the deaths of so many innocent souls that should never have died. An’ wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for your cowardice.” And then Scriver rushed Sebastian. The clang of the two swords clashing was almost musical. The superbly honed weapons met each other as Sebastian effortlessly blocked Scriver’s binding attack. The swords were mere blurs as the two masters circled, their blades throwing off silver sparks as they clashed and each man sought to gain the advantage over the other. Scriver suddenly twisted, whirled like a dancer and his sword slipped under Sebastian’s guard and slashed into his side. Sebastian broke off and gained distance from Scriver. A long cut ran along the ribs
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