llamaenterhear
Username: Password:

Author Topic: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East  (Read 3184 times)

0 Members and 1 Lonely Barbarian are spying on this topic.

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« on: February 03, 2006, 10:10:05 PM »
TO ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD STANDING AND CONSTITUTION, LET IT BE KNOWN
That FREE LAND and GOLD are now AVAILABLE for the TAKING

IN THE EAST!

Let it be known that the Lands of the East have been declared FREE AND OPEN to ALL PEOPLE!
GOLD has been discovered throughout these lands, and free land for SETTLING AND CULTIVATION is also available.

Come now to the West! Free for the taking to all comers!
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2006, 10:47:56 PM »
Far above the baking plains, wheeling in a thermal mushroom cloud rising off the blazing stove of the mesa, a vulture flicks it's keen gaze and keener smell downward. Underneath it's feathers, shimmery scales twitch. It curls it's long lizard-like tail, and swoops downward over the rocky desert.

Darkness peels away, falls back downward, sweeps open again. N'on's heavy lids slide off of his bleary eyes. There is a buzzing in his ears which he cannot attribute to the desert insects, and he tastes hot metal in his mouth. He spits, and lifts a weak hand toward the dark blue sky.

In his field of vision, a black shillouette is against the sun, centauric, a whip-thin body topped by a wide-brimmed hat, hunched over a pony. With that shining antagonist behind the rider, N'on cannot discern the man's face, or even the color or cut of his clothes, or his pony, only a black figure edged in blurred light.

He lifts himself slowly off the stony ground. He looks down across himself- his vest is torn, his human-molar cufflinks are stolen, and his bejewelled tie-pin also. Someone has taken his gun, and stripped the diamond toepiece from one of his boots (the other boot is wholly gone, it seems). The immaculate white of his clothing has been sullied with the red desert dust.

"Please," he murmurs, extending his trembling fingers toward the rider, speaking in a bastard plains-argot. "Please- water!"

The horse gangster inclines his head slightly. He makes no other move. Above him, N'on sees one of the scaly birds of the desert, a vulture, wheeling about the sun like an omen.

"Water! Please- I'm dying! Thirsty!" says N'on, crawling towards the man. Closer up, he is clearly one of the horse gangsters of the plains, a grizzled figure with scarred, stubbled face. His eyes are dark slits under the wide brim of his hat. His cloak is layered, patterned in an old Aglaian style.

The horse gangster turns his head and spits. "No," he says.

N'on lifts himself from the baking floor and stumbles toward the bandito. "How- how can you deny water to- to a man dying of thirst?! I beg of you..." N'on falls to his knees with exhaustion.

There is a click. The horse gangster has pulled a long gun out from under his cloak, and with slow ceremony pulls back the flint with his thumb. The iron click of the hammer echoes. "I ain't gonna' give you water."

N'on stares at the barrel, his face a mixture of panic and resolve. He says slowly "Why not?"

The gangster spits again. "Because, first, you're a d**n F'lorine, and I sure as hell didn't come all the way out here and lose all my money gambling to give water to a F'lorine. Second, because this is the desert, and I do what I please out here. Third, this here ain't water, this is whiskey. And last, cuz' you're about to die."

N'on understands. He sinks down and lies on his back on the griddle-hot ground. "Fine. But before you kill me you should know, they already took everything I got. Least, what they didn't win in Blackstone City at the Casino. So you can kill me if you want, I'm gonna' die anyway... But it won't get you anything."

The rider smiles a thin smile, like death. "A F'lorine who loses at gambling? You must be even less lucky than you seem."

There is a thunderous shot.

Above the plains, the vulture wheels, and sees the white figure fly ten feet in a corona of blood. A hunched black figure rides away, leaving a rising line of dust. The scaled bird turns it's pinions, and descends to eat.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2006, 08:20:00 PM »
Occidentalism: Religion of the West

Occidentalism is the monotheistic religion of the Western people. Brought from the Farthest West in the ancient times, it has long been the dominant religion of the West, with only small holdovers of more ancient religions (case in point, the dark rumours of the persistence of the cult of the frightful Lord Sarku). An important factor of the Frontier, Occidentalism is the major religion of both F'lorines and Aglaians, and some of the native tribes of the East who dwell under T'ho's Parallel and along the more southerly reaches of the Thunderhead Peaks. The East teems with old F'lorine missions, the ramshackle clapboard churches of the Aglaians, traveling fire-and-brimstone preachers, Occidentalist anchorites, the pious, the superstitious, the impious, and more than it's share of swindler faux-priests. Thus, no discussion of the Frontier can be complete without it.

The God of Occidentalism

The God of the Occidentalists is properly named Mithra, an ancient name. However, it is believed to be an insult to God to speak his name aloud; it is believed to be a sign of inhuman arrogance and presumption, for it places one on the level of God. Only the priests of Ianan may speak his name aloud, and then only after a lengthy title.

Mithra is the creator of all that exists. His first action was to wrestle with the Dragon (also called the Serpent), the source of all evil, breaking his back and chaining him into the Pit of Evil, from which all darkness proceeds. Mithra then created the world and then shed his own blood to birth the human race. Legend has it that Subanshar, the first leader of men, asked Mithra what the purpose of men were. Mithra gave to the humans a code of laws and commandments, the Ianata, which is the holy book of the Occidentalist religion. Subanshar gave the laws to the men of the world, but they rebelled against him, spurred on by the Voikar, the inhabitants of the City of Evil (demonic figures and the primary agents of evil in the Ianata), who were created by the Dragon. Mithra, angered by man's refusal of his laws, condemned all  of mankind to an eternity in Hell, but Subanshar took a few faithful and made a long and dangerous journey to the throne of heaven and asked him to take pity on mankind. Mithra made a declaration that until all men in the world accepted his Word as their law, none could be saved from the power of evil; they would forever be trapped in the coils of the Dragon.
His symbol, and the symbol of the Occidentalist religion, is a simple circle, usually with the character mag (signifying the first sound in the name "Mithra") in the center.

Mithra's commandments and laws are various, and all are contained within the Ianata. They are similar in many ways to the Christian religion. However, there is no simple reward for the faithful. Only the most devout are permitted to travel to Pleroma, the kingdom of heaven, where they dwell in a life not unlike the life of our world, but without pain or sorrow. Some are consigned to the Hushed Lands, where they await the End of the World in shiftless lethargy. Most are taken by Mithra and molded into new forms (a concept not unlike reincarnation). The very wicked are sent to Hell, where the Voikar cast them from the cliff on which the City of Evil teeters into the Pit, where the Dragon, Lord of the Voikar, writhes eternally, smashing the teeming hordes of sinners against his bulk.

Though Mithra is said to have a thousand different forms, and is worshipped various ways in various places, he is most typically depicted as a middle-aged man with long, black hair and bronze-tanned skin. He is most often shown wearing the traditional checkered robe of the Farthest West. Among the F'lorines, who emphasize his creative and nurturing properties, as well as his qualities of fickleness, he is depicted as a smirking figure, dressed in disheveled clothes and an unbuttoned vest, with lines of exhaustion around his eyes and streaks of white in his hair, like a happy yet careworn father. Among the Aglaians, who prefer him as the moralistic, lawgiving god of battles, he is stern and commanding, dressed in a uniform not unlike that of a general, with his long hair cut close and with a strong moustache.

Romantics Against Realists

The F'lorine and Aglaians have very different interpretations of Occidentalist religion, which in large part is the basis of their traditional rivalry and the mirror-like reverses of their cultures.

The Aglaians read the Holy Book in a manner befitting their society- God is a lawgiver, the creator of humankind and civilization. Man is the master of all he surveys, and it is his duty to take forth the law of God to all the world, including the pagan peoples, who must taught the laws of God; their view of God is based on worth- they seek to become "worthy" and "accomplished" in his sight, to become "worthy" of salvation. They embrace a moralistic, intensely-lawful, and aggressive view of Occidentalism. To them, God is the God of Battles, who girds the armies of righteousness against the corruption of the darkness. Aglaians take their faith seriously, sternly, and stiffly; their worldview is intensely black and white.

In contrast, the F'lorines see in the Holy Book the grinning Shepherd God. They see Occidentalism as a way of personal salvation, and in God they percieve "freedom" from the inherent sin of life, from the coils of the Dragon. They tend to see God as a forgiving being, who smiles on the follies of his children and wishes for all humankind to be free, but who cannot allow the evil of the Voikar to fester. As a rather libertine and cynical society, they tend to take religion more lightly than the Aglaians, and often regard it with some amount of sarcasm (on a side note, this has led F'lor to become a breeding ground, and even a haven for atheism).

Symbols of Occidentalism

The main symbol of Occidentalism is the Circumfix, the Circle of God, symbolizing his eternity and his ubiquity. Also common are images of God wrestling with the Dragon (who is represented as a terrible black serpent with teeth like swords or in various other horrible forms), and of the Empty Throne, symbolizing that God is not only confined to heaven, but is everywhere. Less common symbols are depictions of God giving Subanshar the Holy Book, or of torn pages (to remind the faithful that the book is important, but not more important than God himself; this is relatively common among F'lorines, but very uncommon among Aglaians, to whom it smells of heresy). On the Frontier, it is not uncommon to see the a white flintlock as a symbol of Occidentalism, especially in the eaves of the Thunderheads, where many tribes have been converted to Occidentalism (Of note is the fact that on the southwestern Frontier it is not uncommon to see God wrestling with a bull instead of the Dragon, representing the conflict between the Western nations and the powerful, defiant, and unrepentantly pagan Bull Tribe).

Magic in the Church

Magic has long been highly regulated in the West. Since the Voodoo Purges which took place west of the Thunderheads from 1321-1365 (before the Western nations began to expand east of the mountains), those individuals with natural magical aptitude have been extremely rare in the West. Since Occidentalism has long viewed magic as a tool of the Dragon, a gift with which the Voikar bait the impious, these mages are very much a hidden minority. The Occidentalist church has, however, opened it's wings to those mages who wish not to be burned, a policy begun in 1387 by A'nil the Kind (at that time, the Lord-Pontiff of the Occidental Church). These mages, known as "Exceptional Repentants" under church law, are usually taken in at the first sign of magical aptitude in childhood. They are indoctrinated into Occidentalist ways, and raised to use only certain magics which the church has in it's vast libraries; essentially, they are trained to be priest-wizards.
Those mages who do not join the forgiving church are labelled infernalists, practicers of Voodoo (non-church demon magic). Though this is to some extent a blanket term, it is not entirely untrue. Voodoo practitioners are more common than they seem in the West, but they remain hidden, for fear of being executed by a church-sponsored firing squad under charges of High Infernalism. Since the expansion into the East, the Frontier has become a place for sorcerors to escape to. Thus, many non-church mages, infernalists or otherwise, are present in the Frontier, many more than in the West (though, of course, they are still exceptionally rare among Western bloodlines).
As a side note, though secular mages and church-mages have become more common since the opening of the Frontier, Westerners are still at a vast disadvantage on the magical stage. The native tribes of the East have never feared magic as the West has; rather they have embraced it, and many tribes have sorceries and magical tools beyond Western imagining.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2006, 10:40:57 PM by CaptainPenguin »
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2006, 11:08:28 PM »
Note- additions made to Occidentalism.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2006, 05:35:18 PM »
The first time I met Amdza was in a loud and filthy saloon in Broken Creek City out on the Frontier. Like many on the Frontier, he dressed in a mixture of styles that gave a confused impression of both F'lorine elegance and Aglaian sturdiness, with a hint of barbarian strangeness; his sideburns were long, like an Aglaian's, but his hair was of that peculiar slick, straight, multi-hued style they like in F'lor (long in the front, short in the back), and his dull vest was embroidered with threads of white forming curlicues up and down his chest. His spurs were made of gold.

As I approached, he looked up with that look of distrust masked by cheerful bluster that is so common among the vagabonds of the East. Taking a shot of the local specialty (whiskey with a drop of molasses in it, a thick and unpleasant concoction), he rose from his table in the back corner of the place with a smile (his teeth were slightly crooked, but not in an unpleasant way).
"Can I help you, friend?" he said, nearly shouting over the roar of the saloon; his accent was slight, that of far-western Aglaia.

I greeted him, and introduced myself. "I am with the Sugar Flats Bank Company..." I began to say, fateful words which usually presage the death of the unsuspecting.

Amdza was wise to it. "Ah, I see. So they sent you to kill me, did they?" The saloon mask was dropped; his voice was flat, oddly atonal, and dangerous. I was surprised not to see his gunhand move; most horse gangsters went for their flintlocks or their blade-hooks at the first provocation, much less the appearance of a bounty hunter at their table.

I opened my mouth to lie, but then thought better of it. "Yes," I said, and whipped out my iron, thrusting the barrel at his chest. "So don't make any quick movements." The other patrons pretended not to notice, though some grizzled toughs who looked like mountaineers by the door made jerky movements toward their guns, as if it were they who were threatened, and the whole atmosphere became slightly dampened with longer pauses and deeper silences as the drunkards shot nervous glances in our direction. The bartender left abruptly.

He surprised me again, by laughing, full in my face, a big horse laugh, and his face returned to a smile, a genuine one this time. He slowly reached a hand up to his chin and rubbed it. "You can't kill a man before he's shaved," said Amdza. "I haven't shaved today."

Something in his manner made me pause, smirk. I was bemused by this strange and gentlemanly individual. "Do you know how big your bounty is?" I said. "I ain't gonna' let you go, no sir."

"Yes," he said, "you are." The certainty in his voice was iron.

I nodded towards the haft of the saber hanging from his belt. "Throw that off."

He grinned again. "What's to stop me from whipping it out and cuttin' you up?"

I clicked back the flint on my gun. He chuckled. "Alright, if you insist." He yanked the saber and it's sheath out of his belt and dropped it on the table. "Anything else?"

I could tell now that the saloon was deadly silent. I heard the sound of a shot-glass slamming the bar, and a click which sounded like a flint being pulled. "Your iron, your gun. Throw it out here, too."

"I'm Amdza, by the way," he said, slowly withdrawing his flintlock. He set it on the table, keeping the barrel facing away from me. His smirk was beginning to irritate me.

"Get down on your knees," I said. He did so. I grabbed his sword and gun and wrapped them up in my cloak and travelsack. Keeping my gun in one hand, I pulled out some heavy oiled ropes, and tied his hands. Then I hauled him off the floor and began to push him out of the saloon. As we left, I heard the dull roar of bar talk reestablish itself in the thick dark air.

We came blinking into the dusty air of the street. I hauled him out to the hitching post and he indicated which one was his. Putting my pistol to his back, I had him climb up on it's back. It was a pretty mare, with a saddle built for beauty and utility- a rich man's saddle.

"How do you have a saddle like that and expect it not to get stolen, Mr. Ghadolai?" I said sardonically, mounting my horse.

With a strange expression he turned away from me and then looked back. "I have the money," he said. I heard a whirring sound...

Stars exploded in my eyes and I seemed to be hurtling through a thousand miles of air, only to dash heavily against the dusty street. My horse was a collossal shadow prancing above me. The silver-plated butt of a long rifle struck the dirt next to my head.

From above, I heard Amdza's voice. "Always check for a rifle on the saddle, mister. And always make sure the hands are still tied. Us reprobates get good at this sort of thing." I heard him yank his gun and saber out of my saddlebag, and the thudding of his horse's hooves made my blinding headache throb deeper in my skull.

That was the first time I ever met Amdza Ghadolai.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2006, 07:33:49 PM »
The Aglaians

The Aglaians are the people of the Confederate States of Aglaia, better known simply as Aglaia or the CSA. In contrast with their nation's official title of confederacy, the Aglaians are a highly centralized and federalist nation, with powerful militaristic leanings. An industrialist powerhouse, Aglaia turns out huge amounts of goods every day from it's red-brick factories, lending it the nickname "Producer of the West". The largest producer of weaponry among all the Western nations, Aglaia has long used it's military power to enforce it's will. It is a strongly pious, nationalistic (even jingoistic) nation, with very pronounced moralistic ways.
Aglaia's capitol lies west of the Thunderhead Peaks, on the great Magondon River, is the brick metropolis of Confederated Angzad, where the President of the Confederacy, Iommor Maichal, as well as the representative Governors of each of the 13 provinces of the Confederacy, rule from the Palace Aglaian.

Phenotype
Aglaians tend to be tall and burly; men average 5'9"-6'5" (175-196 cm) and women are slightly smaller at 5'2"-5'11" (157-180 cm). They have muscular frames- at their lightest, they look pantherish and lithe, while at their heaviest, hulking and huge. They typically have a darkly-tanned or olive skin tone, which tends to be oily. They tend to have large noses (political cartoons in the West generally portray the nation of Aglaia as a moustachioed cowboy in a military uniform whose face is an absurdly large nose) and square chins. Their eyes are generally brown or green. They have heavy, oily hair that is curly (though not so curly that it corkscrews) and tends generally to look messy and unkempt.
A small portion of Aglaians are skinny and thin rather than muscular; these lanky folk are typically said to have "inherited from Uncle Bones" or "skipped mother's beef".

Dress and Fashion
Aglaian dress, even on the Frontier, tends to look sturdy, utilitarian and simple. Men usually dress in tight fitting trousers worn low on the hips and high-colored shirts in simple colors, usually with a three-button vest or waistcoat and a straight tie. More extravagant fashions may have belled collars and puffier sleeves. Women usually wear simple, long dresses with high-collared shirts (much like those of men). Because of the simplicity and functionality of Aglaian clothing, as well as it's hard-wearing nature, Frontier fashion tends to have more in common with Aglaian clothing than F'lorine finery.
In the field of personal grooming, Aglaians tend to look less slick and clean-cut than their southern rivals. Facial hair is the fashion, and lots of it- Aglaian men typically wear huge sideburns, walrus-like soup-strainer and curled handlebar moustaches, mighty beards or long goatees, and all other manner of facial hair. It is believed to be a foppish affectation to straighten and die hair as is done in F'lor, and even women usually have long, thick, curly manes rather than the carefully-managed styles of southern belles.

Food
A common saying goes, "A man risks neither death by savages or dinner by Aglaians". Aglaian food is renowned for being heavy, thick, indelicate, and tough. Most dishes are a representation of the peasant beginnings of Aglaian culture- hearty stews, roasted beef, lots of bacon and cheese and potatoes. Aglaians generally spurn most leafy vegetables in favor of pulpy root vegetable.
Aglaians are also heavy drinkers, and consume enormous amounts of whiskey and ale. The sleepy cowboys of the East have the Aglaians to thank for the coffee that wakes them in the morning- these people were the first in this part of the world to utilize the beverage, having been introduced to it through imports from far-away lands.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2006, 12:04:14 AM by CaptainPenguin »
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2006, 12:03:43 AM »
-additions to Aglaians
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2006, 11:45:17 PM »
The heat is like a hammer.

Out on the desert, all you can see is red rock and hardpan, basin to range, the kind of desert that seems to stretch up into the sky and fill it, until the whole universe is made of baking rock and dust, and weeds in the wind, and white sun that rolls on forever in roaring silence. The desert is the step-mother of all deserts, standing to the sky for eternity, white and red and hazy, with only the sketchy outlines of the mesas and the mountains in the distance against the pale-dust sky.
The desert is hardpan, and even the feral winds that blow from the East when darkness comes raise only an aggravating harsh dust like scouring powder.

My mule keeled over and died a salt-pan death the hour after Fort Final passed beyond the horizon. I was left only with the desert, and emptiness, and the whistling of sageweeds in the hot wind. I had seen the last abandoned earth-houses a day ago, it's tiny rows of corn long ago gone to white dust and hard white kernels, the stalks folded across the hard red earth like stiffened funeral vestments, grayed with time. The doorbeam had fallen into the stairway, and the darkness within spoke of a momentary respite from the hammer of the sun. But I knew better. Something was in there, a desert creature, a luhi like the Bull Tribes spoke of. I left it.

I had bought the mule in St. Alcha, having had my horse relieved of me in the alkali flats past Broken Creek City. I could see that Amdza was making for the Coach Road, cutting through the old abandoned lands of death, left empty and sad in the advance of the Plague Line. The sparse stands of dying forest were long gone now, replaced by monotonous flat prairie country: endless, desolate fields gone to sage and low shrubs; eerie, deserted estates guarded by brooding, shadowed mansions where dark things squatted in the ashes of long-gone finery; leering, empty shanties where people had either moved along or been moved along; an occassional settler, stubborn by newness or old family tradition from before the Plagues or stubborn by fear, betrayed in the darkness by a single flickering lamplight, and in the day by sullen, inbred, muddy-looking clansfolk toiling in the dying fields. I once saw an ancient ornate ballroom chair, still retaining flakes of gold leaf and scraps of upholstery, sitting and greying under a tree, a remnant of the frantic exodus of the original settlers. It was ugly country, pass-on-by country, and I knew it would get worse the farther I followed Amdza towards the Plague Line, and beyond it.
At Kundzaville, a gruesome ancient town where the skeletons of the plague dead lay in heaps on the collapsed boardwalk, Amdza began to follow the Coach Road, heading northeast.
Soon he had crossed T'ho's Parallel; somewhere along the way I was stopped by F'lorine soldiers in uniforms of tattered elegance, who guided me back onto the Coach Road from where I had strayed; I knew then that I was somewhere near the Nahar Hills, where the F'lorine mine at N'hhe vomited up gold for the Southland.
In the heart of the abandoned territories, somewhere near the hopeless town of Tull (which I instantly disliked and wished strongly to leave), I spoke to a surly F'lorine farmer, who sneered down from his bucka at me and my mule (whose eyes were already beginning to show the bulge of exhaustion from weeks of travel) and spoke of Amdza and his "shoot-up money", half-shaved gold dollars given in exchange for a large waterbag. I thanked him for the tip. He laughed spookily and asked the way to Fort Exhaustion, a collapsing plague ruin which I knew by ill reputation. I left him to his voodoo.
At Fort Final, they warned me, like they do everybody. "Last Chance" establishments were everywhere; I got whiskey and a hot paddy of meat at one of at least nine Last Chance Saloons. Once again, I was told of Amdza's shoot-up money; this time, it was wads of Confederate pounds, their pinkish paper stained a deeper pink by blood, and a small shaving from a bar of F'lorine-stamped gold. I saddled and headed out.

Now I climbed a crusty hill of alkali which loomed over the Coach Road, out here in the mysterious depths of the deadlands. I knew that somewhere along this parallel (known as Kikla's Parallel) to the east, there was the wild city of Warhorse, where the horse gangsters battled it out, and Dead Hand, somewhere nearer to T'ho's Parallel, where Blood F'mai, the Ribcage City Gunman, had his mansion. Bandit cities, outposts of brutal humanity where men showed the cruel wilderness how cruel they could be. No man knew whose wagon it was carved the Coach Road out here, past all reason and all human sanity into the great furnace. It stretched even beyond the Western vagabonds' towns, and not even the savages knew where it went. Somewhere into the twilit ruins of the north, we all supposed.

I shook off my reminiscence. Looking down the slope of the hill, I saw a hollow, separated from the Coach Road by a hard shelf of rock with itching bitterweeds clawing in it's shadow. A delapidated shack lay in the hollow. Once it might have been the small, proud, stubborn dwelling of a lost settler, carving his initials in the world in the most inopportune of places as if to challenge the East itself; now it seemed to lean in upon itself, it's roof sliding off, it's walls caving inward, surrendered, finished. In the shade of it's crazy lean stood the fine horse which I knew to be Amdza's.

As I stepped into the doorway of the house, a step collapsed without a sound, apologetically crushing under my bootheel. Amdza sat in the midst of the tiny shack, his boots up on the sagging table (they were far too clean to have been through that desert, I thought, almost jealous of his careless elegance). Across from him, a skeleton in a tattered overshirt sprawled against the table. In the remnants of the bed (now a pile of slivers and wooden chunks and rotten cloth) lay a second set of bones.

Amdza had a strange expression on his face, a thousand-mile stare which suggested disillusionment and sadness. As I shadowed the doorway, he looked up, abruptly grinning. "Need some water?" he said, his voice full of sardonic humour.

I licked my cracked lips. "This is too far."

"All y'had to do was follow the Coach Road. And a man of yer' talents, no doubt, had more than enough skill to track me," he offered.

"Thank ye, but I do believe I shall take you now," I snarled, leveling my pistol. "Yer' worth too much to let go, but it's too God-d**ned hot to leave you alive."

He didn't seem to react. Instead, he reached out and lifted the skull of his gruesome partner off the table. "Lookit' that. No jawbone. The one in the bed doesn't have one either." He smirked. "Jawbone's a powerful thing. Powerful voodoo, powerful mojo. Sometimes the savages take 'em, to do demon magic with. Most of the time, though, it's... desert things." He sounded disinterested, left this ambiguous.

"Godd**nit, Amdza Ghadolai, if you don't get up..." I grimaced, feeling fury rising. The still air of the hut was oppressive and sweltering, and the color of my vest seemed to reach strangling fingers around my neck.

"This yer' first time this far out? I'm not surprised. We ain't actually so far off from Fort Final, but the desert... it has a way of changing how you feel yer' miles."

"I am gonna' take that @!#$ing sword and cut you up, you bastard!" I roared and rushed toward the chuckling man. From out of nowhere he swung a spar of wood at me, dashing it off my quickly-lifted arm. I smashed through the chair, now absent, and whirled around, saw him leap out the front door of the hut.

"Yer' covered, yer' covered, git' yer' hands up, you bastard, you sonofa&^%$@!" I roared at the top of my lungs, flying down the front steps (now reduced to matchwood). I let fly with two burning shots, using up my pistols (going too fast to reload) in two wild shots at his horse. As the animal leapt onto the Coach Road, Amdza turned in his saddle and shouted out to me:

"If yer' gonna' follow me, head for Nalgafar Springs!"

Before he vanished over the hill, he hurled a leather sack, a waterbag, I realized. It thudded into the dust of the Coach Road, miraculously unharmed.

I stood, alone again. I whipped out my hatchet, and with vitriolic, helpless rage, reduced much of the blameless hut of the dead to a pile of spars and smashed wood.
I spat, and spoke a blasphemy against God, shaking my fist at the sky.

Lost him again.
I hauled up his waterbag, put it over my shoulder. Nalgafar Springs. I knew the way. Why was he headed back south, though? Where was he going?

That was the second time I ever met Amdza Ghadolai.
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2006, 10:51:08 PM »
The F'lorines

The F'lorines are the people of the Most Serene Republic of F'lor (called the F'lorine Republic or F'lor), a nation of wilderness interspersed with thickly-settled semi-urban regions. Though ostensibly a republic, F'lor is dominated by a small aristocracy of landholders who own much of the land in huge estates. A mostly peaceful nation, F'lor is renowned throughout the West for it's culture and elegance. F'lorine fashions are wildly popular in almost all lands (except for Aglaia), and F'lorine literature is taught in all schools. F'lor is less homogenous and more philosophical than it's northern neighbor- it's cultured ways and long years of contact with many cultures of the sea and the coastal East have made it quite diverse. The F'lorines are great philosophers, but also flauters of morals, and personal conscience is a strongly held value of F'lorine society. The F'lorine capitol is the ancient city of Jj'ai, on the Magondon Delta, where the President of the Republic, Qi'i S'a, sits in the Presidential Palace, once the ancient and opulent palace of the Nairu Emperor, overthrown in the Republic's founding revolution.

Phenotype

(More to come...)
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2006, 10:34:35 PM »
It was two weeks before I found Amdza's trail again in the hills south of Nalgafar Springs. A party of gold hunters were smashing the great blocks of stone, fruitlessly searching for the money dust they came out for. They pointed me farther south, towards the seething gangster town of Kill Fayar City.

Outside of Kill Fayar City (a bloodstained poker pit, charmingly named for the city's first murder victim, now buried beneath the town hall), I approached a Mannist mystic, standing with his arms outspread atop a great table-like boulder, his body an intricate bas-relief of self-induced thirst. His ribs seemed etched against the drum-tight skin of his chest, sunburned a painful crimson, but he seemed not to notice. I spat at his feet, a sign of great respect among the Mannists. He returned the favor, showing a dangerously swollen tongue. He gave me that eerily serene smile that all followers of the Man have, and told me that the man in the silver-trimmed vest had gone southeast. "The Man be with you in thirst," he said to me as I left.

A week of travel through the territory around Kill Fayar City will lead one to prefer even for the disturbing sense of abandonedness that permeates the ghost towns of the Plague Line, I think. It is one of the fingers of desert which the sun seems to extend farther and farther south, a savage interruption of nature. I saw only one living thing between Kill Fayar City and Itching Creek, a skinny aurochs with enormous horns; I had considered killing one and taking it for meat, but I had plenty of salted beef, and I had no doubt that it was some Bull Tribe savage's ancestral cow, and he would come to take bloody revenge on any cattle-rustlers.

I caught up with Amdza in the tiny village of Plerom Fields. It was a lousy little town in the downs by a river without a name, one of those miniscule church-villages where the men were all honest and the women doughty, and deep down you didn't hate your neighbor, you honestly really loved your neighbor, like the Holy Book said to. I hate towns like that.

As I strode into town, I could easily pick Amdza out in the one-horse main street, his flashy dress and F'lorine finery standing out amidst the earth tones and simple cuts of the townsfolk. I had seen his horse at the livery, where the awed handlers were giving it a real rub-down, and I knew he had all his weapons with him. I could see his saber at his side, and his rifle was tied against his back.
As I strode up behind him, he was proceeding down the boardwalk with a curious manner about him- he seemed to be walking very carefully, as if not to spook a snake, and every once in a while, he would stop, and rub his arms or his shoulders would shudder, like he was afflicted.
He was following somebody, I saw, a woman in a long white dress, with the yellow-and-red banded neckerchief of a teacher. But he was following slowly, in that strange manner, almost like he was only taking a walk to the general store, and he stopped when he was greeted. It seemed that people knew him here, and he did a good deal of handshaking and short bowing.
As we neared a shop entitled "Magondon River Yonni's General Mercantile", I saw the woman turn a corner, out of sight. Amdza began to speed up his walk.

"You!" I shouted. "Amdza Ghadolai!"

He stiffened, whirled, his eyes wide, with a blazing look which I identified as something like anger, abruptly shifting into a snarl, and then a cold emotionless mask.
"You shouldn't a' followed me here, bounty killer," he said, barely above a whisper. There was a slight tremor in his voice. This was very strange. Where was the sardonic humour that had previously accompanied our strained conversations?

"I don't think you make the terms, you rat bastard," I said, smiling inwardly.

"Not here, not now!" he said, and fired from just above the holster. I have never seen such impressive gunhand before or since; it was as if the sun had flickered as it does in the desert and stunned me while he fired.

There was a roar of blood to my head, and a huge sound. I flew to the boardwalk with a crunch, with a great ring like a bell in my ears. I was dizzy, stunned, white lights rushed through my vision like dust devils.
I saw Amdza's face above mine. With his hand, he ripped open my vest, exposing the iron breastplate I wore. "You d**n plater. Don't follow me." He vanished like a wraith.

After some time, I slowly rose to my feet. The street was deserted; a deputy of some kind came out of the batwing doors of the saloon and hollered at me, asking Was I alright?

After paying the law a Confederate pound for brawling, I swept in a high temper through town. It seemed that Amdza was well known here, as I had suspected. His habits were at least of common knowledge, and his name brought knowing stares, and a few friendly grins. I was pointed in the direction of the edge of town, in a deep ravine by the schoolhouse.

I found Amdza on the hillside above the schoolhouse, a surprisingly elaborate building, with upturned eaves and ornamental wooden rooftiles, at sundown. The purple twilight gave the brown hills around Plerom Field an otherworldly cast.
He was leaning against a white boulder, staring fixedly down upon the white-painted little structure. His body sagged with tiredness or, it seemed more likely to me, dejection, and once again, he held an uncharacteristic expression. In his hand was clutched a brown sheet of paper, an old heliotype.

There was no use in being quiet. I approached and clicked the hammer on my pistol. "C'mon. Get up," I said.

He turned his head and looked at me, his eyes forlorn and distant, and then he looked back down; his shoulders trembled. The lights in the schoolhouse went out, and the door opened. I saw a woman, the schoolmistress in her yellow and red neckerchief, come out of the place with a lantern in her hand. It was the same woman he had been following earlier, I saw, a pretty girl, around the same age as Amdza. As I and my bounty watched, a young man in a dapper bowler hat detached from the shadows of the trees in the ravine. The schoolmistress went to him, and they embraced.

I understood now. I gestured at the tableau. "That your jilly?"

"No!" Amdza snarled. "No. She ain't mine." His hand (distractingly studded with bright rings) slipped into his vest, to rest over his heart.

I looked away. We leaned frozen on the hillside as the light slowly gave way; the young lovers walked towards town.

Finally, I holstered my gun. "Go on. I'll catch you somewhere else," I said. To this day I don't truly understand my reasons. I could have taken him then and there, and been rich enough to by a mansion in Confederated Angzad.

As the moon began to rise, his shadowy form melted away from the rock and into the night.

I spat into the grass.

That was the third time I ever met Amdza Ghadolai.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2006, 12:54:51 PM by CaptainPenguin »
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist

Offline CaptainPenguin

  • Bastardo!
  • Squirrel Strolenati
  • Emperor
  • *
  • Posts: 5869
  • Awards Questor Hall of Heroes 10
    • Awards
Re: The Horse Gangsters: Tales of the Wild East
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2006, 12:58:19 PM »
-Finished the 3rd chapter of the story
Currently Reading: "Kafka On The Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Currently Listening To: "Piece Of Time" by Atheist