~Arriving at the Outpost~
Tumbleweeds danced across a scorched landscape as the tiny, unnamed outpost came into view from the top of the stagecoach. Dozens of such outposts lay scattered across the desert, little smatterings of crude houses clinging to the dust, and they all looked more or less the same. The people all looked the same and the buildings were all made of the same dried mud mixed with just a few handfuls of real wood. They were all inhabited by folks who felt abandoned or scorned by society, or who were simply running away. Maybe they committed some crime, maybe they left behind a debt. Either way, they were looking over their shoulders when they arrived.
The coach slowed at it approached the outpost, stopping about a hundred feet from the outermost ring of buildings. Marshal Elias Watkins, a man weathered and worn by too many decades in a harsh land, hopped down from the driver’s seat. Bone-dry dirt and pebbles crunched under his boots as he approached one of the local officers already on the scene. He carefully wiped away some of the dust from his badge and adjusted his belt, where an M9 occasionally bounced against his thigh.
Grace Hiam, his deputy of more than a dozen years, followed closely behind. She had pale, smooth skin, an aberration in a land with so much sun, and an agelessness that tended to spook people the first time they met her. Her wide brimmed hat sat lightly on her head and her light-brown duster billowed behind her as they walked. A Jameson Model 70 rifle was slung across her shoulder.
The local officer touched the tip of his hat and then shook Elias’s hand. “I’m glad you could make it here so quick, Marshal. Everybody’s as tense as a coiled spring right now, ready to fly apart.”
“Yeah,” Elias said, tipping back his hat. His voice was low and rough, like his throat was full of gravel. The gray in his hair and the wrinkles in his skin betrayed a man leaving his prime, but his hands were still as solid as a couple of old rocks and his eyes as sharp as an eagle’s. He could do his job just as well as any of the young guns the department seemed to be bringing in more and more of these days, and he had the experience to avoid the mistakes they’d inevitably make.
“So, what’ve we got here? The messenger was a bit stingy on the details when he came pounding on my door in the dead of night.”
“We got ten dead, Marshal,” the young officer said, “about twice that wounded. Some probably won’t survive another day or two, unless we can get some of the doctors they have down in Autumn up here real quick.” The officer sighed, then, and shook his head. He wasn’t too old, barely more than a kid. Probably hadn’t seen more than a drunken bar fight or two until today. “Worst attack I’ve ever seen. They say the raids down south get pretty bad, but we never had anything like that up here, Marshal. You think a raiding party came up this far north?
The marshal’s expression didn’t change.
“Well,” said the young officer, poining to a group of white tents that had been set up about a thousand feet from the edge of town, “we’re keeping all the wounded up there for now, doing what we can for them.”
“Grace,” the marshal said, glancing towards his deputy, “make sure the town’s sealed up. I don’t want anybody coming through and trampling on what little evidence is left.”