Chapter 9 - Evil Desert Eyes

Chapter 9 - Evil Desert Eyes

A Chapter by Kuandio
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The ranger and his companions have been espied by insidious hidden eyes, and word quickly spreads to the Warkhan that there are trespassers in their country which must be dealt with

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    As soon as the last rambler had turned his back and moved on, thin trickles of sand poured out the corners of a pair of eyes that creaked back open amid the sandstone scarp. The insidious obsidian orbs watched in amusement, and with hungry leering, as the dark garbed man walked away down the chine towards the other two humans and animals. The Rock-face was permanently embedded within the hard-packed sediment near the base of the promontories. It had no body, only a head, but that was all it needed. The Red-Skull shamans had set the stone sentinel here to watch over the lonely gorge, a boring place to be forever fastened. That’s why moments such as these, though they came few and far, even with years of hibernating hiatuses in between, were what it lived for, awaited, and relished.
    That mangy mongrel! It sniffed me out, … but it didn’t know what I was, it couldn’t see me! Ha! I was too fast! Too smart! Oh, but if that man had only looked a little closer. Just a little. Indeed, if he had he might’ve descried the hideous visage trying to blend into the stony headland. That it’d espied them and evaded detection with such ease caused the Rock-face to grin within the cracked quarry from which it was formed, spilling dust from the rents of its flattened maw.
    As the sentinel watched the little company disappear, it struggled against an enormous urge to burst into laughter, it’s cheeks bulging with a rip-roaring chortling that would’ve swelled throughout the chasm, mad as a thousand giant bat-beasts rent from the blackness of the underworld to screech and flap hectically in all directions. Instead, with a smirk, it nestled back into the sandstone, making itself comfortable therein until its features melted away, laughing silently inside its dirt and rock filled belly. It knew it’d done its job. It was too late for those wayfarers. There was nowhere they were going to be able to getaway to. A short while later and the Rock-face was a frozen indistinguishable part of the sandstone again, as it had been for years and years.

*         *        *

    Near the Inner Range, where the mountains were rockier, more declivitous, and soared skyward over the rest of the Broken Horns, was one of many hidden caves. A deep niche of darkness delved deep, set high in the side of a plummeting precipice in a chasm where the winds were heard as the incessant moans of nether-wolves. It’s entrance was solely accessible by a narrow pathway so devious it was hardly suitable for the surest hoofed mountain-goats.
    The interior was roughly the size of a hay-barn, imbrued with gloom but for the half-light that filtered through the jagged cave mouth. Dimly delineated broken bones lay scattered throughout the floor. Some bones belonged to small creatures, marmots and birds, others to large beasts, pigs and deer, and many others to man-things. Cracked human skulls, trapped forever in the horror of their final conscious moments, were relegated as an ever silent audience that stared vacantly at the tendrils of noxious sooty smoke that rose from the middle of the grotto grounds, where the embers of an unattended fire-pit smoldered with dry chaparral branches and acrid leaves.
    Gathered close to a wall of the cave where the darkness was deep were thirteen black, twisted, and boney-edged silhouettes, hunched and crouched. The gangly figures were hairless, their hides rough as oak bark, tough as warthog leather, and scorched by sun and fire. On the opposite side of the cavern their weapons rested; heavy hatchets, sturdy shafted spears, and an array of long range hunting bows composed of ibex horn and antelope sinew next to quivers packed with poison tipped arrows.
    When the seeing-stone, a large crystal-like object that sat in the darkest niche of the grotto, began to glow, the Red-Skull hunting party ceased their gruesome feasting and slurp-drinking of fermented groscul cactus to quickly crowd around. The rare translucent quartz gave off a faint fulgor, as if the light of day were entrapped within, but opaqued by dust and grime. In the shadows the reflections in their eyes were accentuated. They were intense eyes that rarely blinked, those of nocturnal predators, but stricken with a psychotic and feverish glow which bore intently into the illumination of the translucent seeing-stone. Their visages were only human if from a parallel incubus where they’d been weirdly warped and hacked violently from asperous wood by the drunken and furious strokes of an overly large hatchet. With jaws laden with sets of sharp uneven ivory colored teeth, they grinned in contempt at what they beheld within the seeing-stone. Despite their twisted and harsh viciousness, there was a dangerous balance of cunning keenness they wielded in their eyes and expressions.
    Inside the witched prism-rock what one of the Rock-faces had espied was being transferred to them as a strange collective dream. The scene was in motion - overlooking a cliff path, and on this path was a white wolf, and a young tribal warrior following closely - then into view came a much more imposing figure, a man garbed in stygian umber, leading a hulking black horse. Behind these two was a squat bearded man with a hobbling but sturdy gait. The Warkhan’s concentrative silence was the same as that with which a predator first espies potential prey. The part of the seeing-stone in which the visual was contained was not very big, giving the optical illusion that the man and his horse had been shrunken and could fit into the palm of one’s hand as miniatures. When the wolf stayed behind it looked nearly right at them, growling mutedly. One of the Red-Skulls barred its upper fangs as if response to a challenge.
    “I think it’s that wolf we’ve been after!”
    “Shut up! Shut up! Look, they’ve come back!” said another as the strangers reappeared within the seeing-stone’s vision. They‘d come with their weapons ready to fire. The impression created was that both groups, though separated by many miles, might be able to see each other, and a few of the Warkhan flinched away defensively and emitted low menacing growls. 
    “Calm down you idiots,” said one, slapping a crony on the back of the neck, “They can’t see us!”
    “Who the devil are they?” asked another with baffled curiosity and indignation.
    “I’m not sure. But I think the bearded one is that mountaineer called Old-Goat we’ve been hunting for the last two years. ”
    There were a few hisses and riled murmurs.
    “You’re right! It is that mad mountain man!”
    “I was sure the craven had picked his bones clean by now”
    “Oh, he’ll wish he could of had such a happy death!”
    “But who are the others?” said one pointing a gangling finger.
    “The brown-skinned boy must be that scamp that got away a few months ago”
    “I can’t believe those fools let him scurry off!”
    “Well, as certain as s**t falls to the ground, he won’t be doing that again”
    The next voice was low and circumspect, “And the man in black? Is he another like the one that came before?”
    One of them nodded warily, “Another ranger he is,… but not the same” and the Warkhan sounded as if it were fishing its memory, “I think I have seen this man before. This one is different”
    “Well, then who the hell is he?” asked a Red-Skull with wriggling impatience similar to one who fights off a burning bad urge to piss.
    The one that had spoken before was Lizard-Eyes. He was the oldest among them. Lizard-Eyes wasn’t a shaman, but he was comparable to a shaman in many respects. His abilities of witching and vision were regarded above his prowess as a hunter, and his insight could be invaluable. That was why they brought him with them, and why they listened to him now.
    Lizard-Eyes spoke as if what he said were forbidden, “It is Dark-Rider”
    A weighty silence suffused them. Many looked at the crystal seeing-stone with renewed scrutiny. The other rovers, along with the wolf, were pulling away, but the tall one remained. All Red-Skulls had heard of Dark-Rider, but very few had ever seen him.
    Lizard-Eyes closely observed, “It has been a long time, but I do not forget. If it not Dark-Rider, it is someone trying very hard to pretend he is. This one wears the same clothes as Dark-Rider, the black veil to hide his face, and carries the same accursed guns, and the very same big black horse follows him. But more than any of these things, I perceive the secret power with which he walks”
    The ranger was all alone in the Rock-face’s field of vision. They could tell the man suspected something amiss by the way he suspiciously studied his surroundings. For a moment he seemed to look directly at the Rock-face, causing the stone sentinel to shut its eyes, which in turn caused the seeing-stone to extinguish itself. They’d felt the man’s steeled cougar gaze and scowled and seethed their long red tongues between serrated teeth.
    The Rock-face’s eyes reopened to reveal that the ranger had turned about and traipsed on and out of the vision range. A couple minutes later and the light in the seeing-tone died. One of the Warkhan conked the crystal with a rock so it’d kindle anew, but another warrior hit him over the head to stop his nonsense.
    They fumed for an interim until one cried out, “How dare he come to our lands! How dare any of them!”
    Grunts and rasps of concording outrage were spawned along with a tirade of pitch curses and gruesome threats. The Red-Skulls had many enemies - tribes, human soldiers, and other orders, but there was no single name more loathed than Dark-Rider. Their murder-lust reeled as it dawned fully on them that this time they were going to get the infamous ranger. And not only Dark-Rider, but the entire raggedy crew he’d assembled. Coming to the Broken Horns as they’d done equaled offering their heads to the axe. The notion of the impending kills stirred an exhilarated anticipation that the Red-Skulls reveled in, one so much he danced about apelike, banging on the ground with both fists.
    “How can this be? Dark-Rider has gone mad!” laughed a powerful limbed Warkhan that stood up amid them. His name was Burning-Boar, and when he spoke the others quieted for the most part. His prowess as a warrior was well revered among the tribe, for he’d slain many foes in conflicts for control of the northwestern and western passes, helping to run the humans off and keep the Rough-Raiders at bay. There was no bona fide leader among the hunting party, for they received their orders through the seeing-stones and the Ravinor carrion, but upon many an occasion, when afield and a difficult decision had to be made, it was Burning-Boar whose voice was listened to. After all he’d done, Burning-Boar thought he should be in command of this miserable force, and in due time, of much more.
    In one hand Burning-Boar held a human femur bone he was in the process of ripping the last strips of flesh off of. About a week before returning to their cave post they’d been running through the Redyenne River Valley in search of opportunities to raid. Long into the hunt and having found little to pillage they were returning disappointed, but on the way back Burning-Boar discovered a ranch near the Cimrel river frontier. In the dead of the night he lead an attack which surprised a human family of numerous members. The pickings had been easy, for the men had all gone to sleep drunk and didn’t have time to get to them. With lots to eat they returned to the grotto a few days ago. When the seeing-stone lit up they’d been eating the leftovers. The meat was putrid by now, and little was left, but Burning-Boar had claimed the best pieces for himself, like the chunk he munched on.
    His mouth half-full, Burning-Boar pointed the femur bone at the seeing-stone, his voice strong and confident, “Does he think he can come to our mountains and ever leave?” and with the chomped bone he motioned towards a bunch of skeletal remains laid out on the floor to recklessly resemble an entire human skeleton, along with a few tattered articles of clothing. “Look what happened to the last ranger!”
    Hearty mirth inundated the grotto, the laughter of demented jackals. Some found it so amusing they had to hold onto their stomachs which shook with uproarious hoopla.
    “He will not need this anymore!” cackled a scraggly Warkhan with a shrewd pointed face and devious eyes. His name was Running-Bones and he wore the deceased ranger Tall-Bill’s wide rimmed wrangler hat and held his Riftstone .50 rifle which he shook triumphantly as the rest jeered.
    “Having himself a breather! Doesn’t look like he wants to get back up again!” laughed another warrior, this one with a deep, sunken voice. This Warkhan was bigger than the rest, with a brutish face akin to that of a smashed hornless rhino‘s. He had on the defunct ranger’s coat and bullet bandoliers across his chest, and two Roan six-shooters strapped at his waist. His name was Heavy-Hammer, because his weapon of choice in close combat was a big iron-headed mallet he enjoyed using to bludgeon his foes into unrecognizable splattered messes.
    Burning-Boar had allowed Running-Bones and Heavy-Hammer to plunder the dead ranger’s gear. They’d helped him kill the gunslinger, but the main reason for granting them these keepsakes was because these two were loyal to him. If Burning-Boar were to one day become the great leader he envisioned, he needed to win over members of the tribe, ones that were even willing to kill for him, and he deemed Running-Bones and Heavy-Hammer were of this sort.
    “What do we wait for? Let’s go get them!” said one.
    “We took care of the other mountaineers and miners. Old-Goat is the last one. Time to finish the job I say”
    “We’re going to bag that wolf and stretch it’s skin out!”
    “And make that wild boy squeal like a girl!”
    Burning-Boar took another rip from the bone and hurled it out the cave, “But just remember, Dark-Rider is mine!” and he hit his chest, “I killed the other! This one will die by my hand as well!”
    An older Warkhan, but very robust, took a last guzzle from a small pot of groscul and then let the earthen bowl fall from his hands as he rose to his feet, wiping his mouth that dripped slimily down his chin. His name was Stone-Fist, and he was the only one among them as renowned a warrior as Burning-Boar, even more so, for having lived longer Stone-Fist had more kills to his name. He was also the only member of the hunting party that dared disagree or challenge Burning-Boar.
    Stone-Fist looked right at Burning-Boar, eyes bleared red from heavy groscul drinking, and his voice dangerously devoid of fear, “Don’t be a fool. It will be me that takes that scalp, not you Burning-Boar. You only killed the other after he had been wounded and could not defend himself. We were going to torture him, but you couldn’t wait and you cut his throat just so you could say you had killed him” Stone-Fist shook his head as if bored and tired, “No, you are no great warrior Burning-Boar, you are a hound that hunts in a pack. You are afraid to fight face to face. But I would kill Dark-Rider alone, without anyone’s help”   
    The silence was straining. Burning-Boar felt a hot dizziness rise through to his head where it flashed into his eyes. Burning-Boar despised Stone-Fist’s unshakable confidence, as well as his bleary red eyes. Stone-Fist‘s calm demeanor mocked and belittled Burning-Boar. His hands twitched with the howling yearning to grab an axe and smash it into his rival’s face. Stone-Fist knew this, and stared back unimpressed, waiting for Burning-Boar to try it.
    The Warkhan in the cave watched with taut suspense. The quarrels and standoffs between the two had become more frequent over recent months as Burning-Boar had begun to push himself as a leader. No one knew who’d win if it came to blows, but it was a certainty that one of them would never challenge the other again, because one would be dead.
    Burning-Boar wished to kill Stone-Fist, but he was afraid of Stone-Fist and was trying hard not to show it in front of the rest. If Stone-Fist challenged him, it would only be the two of them who would fight. That was Warkhan law. Running-Bones and Heavy-Hammer wouldn’t be allowed to help. Burning-Boar restrained himself for he knew that engaging in open combat with Stone-Fist might mean he’d get slain by Stone-Fist. Burning-Boar opted to bide his time until the opportunity came in which to settle this his own way. But at the moment Stone-Fist wasn’t standing down, and so Burning-Boar couldn’t either, less he lose face.
    Before the situation exploded, one of the Warkhan that had also drunk too much groscul had gotten riled by the bellicose display and shouted, “You two? Ha! You can’t even kill a weasel with your teeth! It will be I, Scorpion-Eater, that will take Dark-Rider’s scalp!”
    Then another scoffed at Scorpion-Eater, and more rose to their feet, while there were those that preferred to move about on all fours, knuckles hitting the ground or claws digging, as they boasted of their own prowess, waving their fists and barring their incisors and making claims of what they could do and others couldn’t.
    “You’re all a bunch of menstruating women! I fear no one!”
    “Fool! It was you that let the ranger’s horse escape! If we’d caught it we would’ve eaten it too! Now we will soon be hungry again!”
    “And how many Rough-Raider scalps have you taken? I have five!”
    At length one of them attempted to rally the boiling fury by bellowing, “Enough! We sit no more! Dark-Rider is only forty miles south. We don’t need to wait for any help. Come on, let’s do it ourselves!”
    The murderous Warkhan instincts were easily redirected towards their common foes. With a raucous roaring they moved to retrieve their weapons.
    Lizard-Eyes was the only one that remained sitting. His voice slithered, “Yes, we all want to do this, but would it not be better to speak with Angry-Bull first? He is our leader, and he will know how it must be done”
    Burning-Boar was incredulous, “Why? We know what Angry-Bull wants. We cut the other ranger into many pieces. This pleased Angry-Bull. There is nothing we need to know” and he waved the Red-Skulls on, “Come on, we will fill Dark-Rider and his friends with our arrows and then drag them back to the main camp!”
    The warriors jumped for their weapons, but Lizard-Eyes tried to reason with them, “Killing men is easy. We have taken many lives. But against Dark-Rider we are not against any man” he held up one crooked clawed finger to make his point, “Think on it. Not even Angry-Bull, who has been after Dark-Rider all these years, has been able to capture him. The Red-Skulls have the best trackers and man-killers, yet this man has evaded us every time. What does this tell you?”
    “Nothing!” barked Burning-Boar.     He hadn’t liked any of Lizard-Eye’s talk. He wanted to kill the ranger immediately, it was a massive opportunity to further his plans. Then, on the way back from that, he meant to slit Stone-Fist’s throat while he slept.
    “It is time for vengeance!” snarled another.
    “We are entrusted to watch the borderlands. The other hunting parties are too far away. If we do nothing, Dark-Rider may reach Rough-Raider territory before we can catch up. Then we might have to fight them too”
    “You do not understand” said Lizard-Eyes, “This man, if that is what he indeed is, is not like others. The shamans believe he possesses a powerful shadow spirit, a black killing bird of great wings which he calls upon to help in the destruction of his enemies, and to escape like a ghost. Some say he is not fully human, but an abomination, not from this world or the other, but something in between. No one should be able to see further that our shamans, but Dark-Rider possesses some witchcraft that always keeps him ahead and beyond reach, if only barely”
    “Eh” nodded a Red-Skull, a lot of the precipitous enthusiasm had been checked, “I’ve heard tales he has fought with many at a time. It’s said he senses the ambush before it comes. He is devilishly swift and accurate with his guns. Even all of us together might not be able to get this one”
    Burning-Boar could tolerate it no longer, “Bah! No Red-Skull should speak as you are speaking” and he lifted his lance, “No warrior in this forsaken creation can stand against us!”
    But more of them were beginning to doubt the matter. The way Lizard-Eyes had spoken sobered a good deal of their kill-lust. It was true. No one had been so difficult to hunt as this mysterious gunslinger, and no other had single-handedly slain as many Red-Skulls.
    One said, “I believe Lizard-Eyes. What manner of man walks as this one? Crossing endless wastes where other men shrivel up and die. And the companions that follow him. Now we know why they have been hard to catch. There is a strange power that moves in them.”
    Another nodded, “Eh. We should be wary. That is what I say”
    Though Burning-Boar couldn’t give orders, he could do what must be done, and others might follow, “Enough cowardly talk! Who will join me? If you are all afraid then I will go alone! I will cut them down as easily as stray dogs!”
    Lizard-Eyes saw that despite his warnings the hotter-heads were ready to side with Burning-Boar, so he reminded them of what was most important, “Very good, go if you want, but if you botch it and let Dark-Rider get away, Angry-Bull will not be happy” and he pointed a gnarled finger at them, “No, he would not be pleased one bit. If I remember, he wasn’t happy when we killed the other. He would’ve preferred we take him to Charred-Circle for questioning. Indeed, if you fail to bring in Dark-Rider, it will be your heads that the chief will be taking”
    There was a new silence. Angry-Bull’s wrath was one thing that needed no wondering about. Burning-Boar didn’t know how powerful Dark-Rider was, but he knew very well of what Angry-Bull was capable. Every Red-Skull knew Dark-Rider was the chief’s most hated adversary. Angry-Bull would be more than very upset if he learned they’d seen Dark-Rider and hadn’t informed him first. He would be even angrier if they tried to pursue the accursed man on their own and failed. Therefore Burning-Boar shut up. One day he wanted to become a leader, but to see that day he had tread lightly where pissing off Angry-bull was concerned.
    One of the Warkhan admitted, “Yes, I think we should tell Angry-Bull. We also need the Sick-Tree’s help. Let us return to the main camp at Charred-Circle. The chief will want to be in charge of what happens next. Surely he wants to capture Dark-Rider alive so that we can torture him like no prisoner has yet been tortured”
    Another raised his fist, “Let us gather the tribe! Then the hunt will be certain!”
    “Yes, like a giant net which no thing will worm through!”
    They laughed. “The chief will be most pleased! We will receive many boons!”
    The Red-Skulls licked their blistered lips and growled rabidly as they rattled their spears and gloated upon the ranger and his friends’ oncoming doom. When the torturing was done they hoped Angry-Bull would let them eat a little bit of Dark-Rider’s flesh, and thus gain some of his secret shadow power. Others were afraid that doing so could poison them. If not this, then at least they’d eat the big black horse, and thus absorb the beast’s speed and strength and become the strongest and swiftest hunters of the tribe.
    They clamored, “We shall rip them apart! Dark-Rider’s head will be burned and then buried deep! We shall be heroes! They will give us the best meats to eat, and the young women caught this year will be given to us first!”
    They were building into a frenzy, hitting each other to so as to pump themselves up, their echoes of their shouts warping off the concave interior of the grotto.
    Burning-Boar leapt atop a rock and bawled, “There is no time to waste! The rest of the tribe must be told right away. There are no shamans among us that can make the wind-talk, so we’re going to have to foot it, and fast! Aaahhh-graaaaa!”
    A myriad of war cries erupted. All of them, including Lizard-Eyes, jolted into action, swiftly latching their weapons to their backs in leather harnesses and then issuing out of the cave mouth and into the ugly daylight where they continued to unleash hellish wolven howls. Although Dark-Rider had just begun to cross their land and there’d be many days to hunt him and cut him off from wherever he went, they moved at full speed. With terrible ease the lithe and wiry Warkhan hunters clambered on all fours up the insidious canyon paths. They ran on and on, over ridge and through ravine, unrelenting as wasteland hounds on their way to deliver the tidings to their chief, the great Angry-Bull, that the time for the taking of retribution had come.




© 2013 Kuandio


Author's Note

Kuandio
A lot of writing advice out there says you shouldn't provide more than a few points of view. I really like throwing a few chapters in from the bad guys' p.o.v.s. Let me know if you think that works or not

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Hey, good chapter, though watch your spelling... The wolf was 'taut' and is 'baring' his teeth not 'barring'. Also just in my opinion, watch the length of conversation between your characters, its great knowing all the baddies and their characteristics etc but it can get a bit long. I prefer reading your descriptive pieces or when there is a lot of action. Just my opinion.. But love the plot and the imagery. :)

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Kuandio

8 Years Ago

Wow, how nice of you to read another. I thought these chapters were too far back for anyone to ever .. read more



Reviews

Hey, good chapter, though watch your spelling... The wolf was 'taut' and is 'baring' his teeth not 'barring'. Also just in my opinion, watch the length of conversation between your characters, its great knowing all the baddies and their characteristics etc but it can get a bit long. I prefer reading your descriptive pieces or when there is a lot of action. Just my opinion.. But love the plot and the imagery. :)

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Kuandio

8 Years Ago

Wow, how nice of you to read another. I thought these chapters were too far back for anyone to ever .. read more

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Added on October 15, 2013
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Tags: western, horror, science fiction, native american, mythology, fantasy, epic, adventure, love, romance, spiritual, new age


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Kuandio
Kuandio

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I started drawing comics when I was about four or five (not much better than dinosaur stick figures). Over time I found I couldn’t express enough through just drawing and was always adding more.. more..

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