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Beyond the Tales

Metal Serpent

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I had to create one or two lines of fluff for my force for the Southampton Sluggaz WWEx tournament. OK, so it's not one or two lines.

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Ravenseye felt the down draft from Alcon's wings as he lowered himself to the mesa top alongside her. Dust stirred and danced around her moccasins and, then, he alighted.  She finally took her eyes off the railroad, the train was not due to be visible for several hours yet. In the foothills around them, the track meandered lazily like a river across the valley floor. But out there across the plains, it ran arrow straight with no pretence that it was anything except man-made. And white-man-made at that. For white-man could not see the beauty of the open rolling plains without wanting to stamp their mark: despoiling it in the name of white-man's progress. They had bound the plains with their iron rails and then slaughtered thousands of buffalo to keep their hateful trains moving. The track was proof that their enemies needed to be stopped. Ravenseye didn't doubt that. She turned to face Walks Looking, who sat meditating. Her tranquil face a sharp contrast to Ravenseye's obvious agitation.

Ravenseye glanced at Alcon. He was a hunter and bowman, whose totem spirit had blossomed forth and transformed him in its likeness. His limbs and chested were tufted with feathers and his beaked head was clearly that of a hunting bird. From his back burst sleek wings, which Alcon furled and unfurled as he recovered from his exertions. He had flown scores of miles to bring his news to Walks Looking, yet he would not disturb her.

While he waited, he scratched at the dry earth with this clawed feet. Ravenseye shook her head to dismiss the image of Alcon as some giant chicken scratching for grains. As the dust settled, she realised he was sketching out a map of the region. Crosses dotted the area. Ravenseye knew she shouldn't, but she counted them twice and swallowed. Ten. Alcon finished and straightened. Only then, did Walks Looking stir: she slid upright in one fluid motion. She stepped over to the map and stooped her head as if, despite her lifeless eyes and blindfold she was reading Alcon's dirt map.

As she appeared to scan the map, she spoke solemny and carefully. "The Great Spirit in his wisdom and generosity has granted our shaman Ravenspirit a prophecy. 'A metal serpent slithers across the plains, its belly full of cursed poison. Either, it will reach its journey's end and disgorge its poison there or the vultures will descend and kill it, daubing their claws with its hex-born venom.'" Ravenseye nodded, it was a clear reference to the train full of juice she had been watching for.

Walks Looking continued, "Neither future pleases the Great Spirit and so our duty is clear. The poison must be destroyed. None shall use it to despoil our bountiful Earth. Not while we, his faithful servants, draw breath. She turned to the winged hunter. "So Alcon,  where shall we find our vultures?"

His beak was impassive, but his eyes looked pained. "Vultures are noble creatures, who have their place in the Spirit's grand scheme. These are no vultures. There are ten groups of despoilers out there." He gestured across the map with one broad sweep. "Of note, we have Laveau and the Third Man either side of the tracks here. There are two forces of the grey rebels: both under Stonewall Jackson. Russel with support weapons on this hill and ahead of him, Franklin with scouts and snipers. The James brothers are holed up by the western pass. There are two groups of so-called lawmen: one here and Infernal Investigations here."

Walks interupted, her voice a strong whisper, "We can't count on them. Their paper laws would see the poison reach its destination. There is no justice from that quarter today."

Alcon nodded and continued, "The slaughterers in blue hold each end of this valley. And the false religion under Makara are there: further back, but with their portals they can get almost anywhere." He straightened up, his report given.

After a pause, Walks asked, "What about, the ones who bend metals and twist nature? The so-called Enlightened." She scoffed this last phrase. Those who followed the Great Spirit knew that there was no enlightenment to be found in science.

Alcon smoothed a few feathers. "I could see none and they do not hide well; not with their lights and their smoke and their steam."

Ravenseye spoke for the first time, "It is their poison. They will be on the train, escorting it."

Eleven enemies, she thought. All scattered across the area, but eleven nonetheless. She looked up and over Walks' shoulder at the rest of their meagre force. Two of the three Brothers Kaga were sat roasting the hares they had caught. The other one was stripping his gatling gun ready to clean it. Their artillery man, Floating Feather was feeding oats to Stonefist: a pony swollen beyond horse-size by the Great Spirit and able to carry a pair of cannons. In total, they were seven warriors and a mystical horse. Ravenseye set her jaw firmly and glanced back down at the map. She realised Walks Looking's face was pointing towards her. On a sighted person, it would have been called 'staring'.

Finally, Walks Looking's glare softened and she spoke, "Do not lose heart, Ravenseye. Keep your faith. We may be few, but we do the Great Spirit's work. He will provide."

Ravenseye nodded. She straightened, forcing her head high, but before long her shoulders drooped.

A shadow of a bird swept across the mesa and seemed to pause across the dirt map, briefly darkening it. Ravenseye glanced up at the bird as it continued to fly northward. She noted that it was a a black and red turkey vulture and her mind harked back to Alcon's comment, 'Vultures are noble creatures, who have their place in the Spirit's grand scheme.' She found herself smiling, despite herself. Something sparkled above as it fell from the vulture's claws. The falling object shone silver as it tumbled, as if it was metal. The shining thing, whatever it was, landed on the map scattering dirt and obliterating a few of the crosses. It was half a snake; half a faded-snake to be precise. Its shiny scales had seemed metallic in the sun, as it tumbled to the earth. But now it lay lifeless and broken on Alcon's map. A dead 'metal serpent'.

Walks Looking bowed low at the vulture as it flitted away. "Thank you, noble creature for your sign." She turned back to Ravenseye. "The Great Spirit provides."

Satisfied, Ravenseye turned and strode back to her vantage point with her shoulders back and her head high.

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