Map of Olsecheny

I’ve decided that it’s about time I shared the map of where my current WIP takes place; the island of Olsecheny.

Rocky, cold, and barren, the island was claimed in the early days of Danic colonialism, but with an apparent lack of natural resources it was mostly ignored by surveyors who would at most land to hunt game for the ship’s cook. It was only when Prince Breton, the youngest son of the Danic King, was made governor of Rahl that the island began to take on any importance.

Breton, who was known for his melancholic moods, found a sense of peace in the island and soon he was spending his summers there, governing Rahl by proxy. He first established the town of Breton’s Landing and engaged in trade with the natives for furs as a way of justifying its existence, but most of his time was spent exploring the island with a small retinue. It was during these journeys that the Prince created some of his most famous poetic works. It was also during this time that he built up a favorable relationship with the native Ouro and married the daughter of one of their chieftains.

Things took a turn for the worse when his father died and his older brother Atias II was crowned King of Danica. Atias II had a long-standing grudge against Breton and began demanding a more ruthless exploitation of the island’s resources. He justified this by claiming that Breton’s was spending far extravagantly on what was essentially a royal hunting lodge, but in truth the cost of maintain Breton’s Landing was little more than a footnote in the royal budget. Atias II just hated his brother.

Breton resisted the inflow of colonists to the island. Atias began using the island as a penal colony, and danic hunters increasingly clashed with the Ouro. When gold was discovered in the island’s central highlands, Atias II decided it was time to push the Ouro out completely. This action was viewed negatively not only by Breton’s supporters but by a significant portion of the Danic nobility. The Ouro were technically one of the Ten Tribes of Danica and pushing them off of their land was seen as a flagrant violation of the National Compact. But in the end Attias II got his way. Breton resigned in protest and went into exile in Olsecheny’s highlands where he eventually died.

Today, the island is one of the few remnants of Danica’s former empire. While the gold mines continue to turn out a modest profit, national pride is the main reason for keeping it. It’s defense is overseen by a mixed assortment of local militia fighters and soldiers who have fallen out of favor back home in Danica as well as a squadron of olish ships who patrol the region in exchange for use of the coaling facilities at Olsecheny.

New Map Day!

Look up at the header and you will see the latest iteration of my map of Ancorda. I’ve whittled away parts of the continents and rearranged the rivers, as well as added a few lakes in the north. You wont see any cities on this version though. Some of them are being removed and a few others rearranged. So stay tuned for updated versions in the future!

Snake Oil

The sudden jolt brought Maynard out of his reverie and into the present. All at once he was aware of the muggy evening air, the hard bench beneath him, and the incessant squeal of a wagon axel in need of grease. He had hit a small hole in the road, he realized. His horses May and Bay had avoided stepping on it. Maynard on the other hand was nowhere near as attentive as his horses. Silently he praised the horses and cursed himself. The wagon’s rear axle was bad enough without him breaking it further. That last thing he needed was to become stranded on some mountain trail. But that would be a problem for later, he still had a long way to go until the next town.

In the west, the setting sun was of far greater immediate concern. Wolves, he knew, prowled the mountains, and might see a lone traveler and his tired horses as a rare opportunity. But his worried were dominated by a far greater threat. He feared that the shotgun he carried across his lap would deal with them as effectively as it did wolves.

There had been four of them, each with a mean look in his eyes and a six shooter on his belt. Maynard had come upon them while they were resting on the side of the road sipping whiskey. All four had given him cold looks as he had passed by. For his part, Maynard had tried find a balance between looking non-threatening and looking like he’d put up too much of a fight to be worth robbing. The shotgun in his lap had been held is as confident and non-threatening way that he could manage.

Soon after he had seen them following him. Always just beyond the last bend, just barely in sight. He had thought they might be planning to rob him. So far they had not. Still, he was worried what they might do after dark. And so he was in a hurry to get to the next town. If he could at least camp at its edge it might discourage them from attacking. He ran through a few quick scenarios in his mind, and none of them looked good. He was a soothsayer, a man with a magical gift for persuasion. But it was always hard to persuade someone who had already settle on aggression. Violence turns off the reason in men’s brains, and Maynard knew better than to test it. At best, if the men decided to rob him, he might be able to pay them to leave him alone. But with the valuables stowed in his wagon he thought that unlikely. They’d shoot him and take what they wanted.

As the sun finally set over the mountains, a number of distant farms came into view. Their locations were given away only by the dim light of their hearths that shined through the windows. He glanced nervously behind the wagon. If the men were going to attack, this would be their chance. Lights from the town ahead were beginning to come into view. Soon he would be surrounded by more witnesses than most bandits would care for.

“You there. Hold!” yelled a voice from the darkness.

Maynard jumped in his seat and brought the horses to an abrupt stop. The four men? Come to stage an ambush? He considered running. But he had already stopped, and four riders would easily out pace his wagon. No, his best option was just to stay calm, wait, and hope.

An armed man came out of the shadows on horseback. He was only just barely visible in the moonlight. Maynard could barely make out the outline of the carbine held in the man’s hands.

“Your business?” asked the figure.

“Just a travelling merchant looking for a place to set up his store,” answered Maynard. The figure shifted, and Maynard saw moonlight reflect off of a silver star on the man’s vest. He let out a sigh of relief. Not an ambush then.

The deputy was silent for a moment. “Alright,” he said finally. “But don’t camp outside of town. There have been some unfriendly folks on the roads lately. Go to the village green, next to our office. You can make your camp there.”

Maynard thought of the men he had seen earlier. “Thank you kindly, sir,” he then added a bit of magical weight to his words. “Might I set up shop there in the morning too? I have many wares and little coin.”

The Deputy’s eyes narrowed. “What’re you looking to sell?

“Oh, a bit of everything,” said Maynard. “Medicines, tonics, tools, books.”

“Candy? Toys for the children?” asked the deputy.

Maynard put on a smile and nodded. “I have some, yes.”

“You can set your shop up for the day. But no hassling anyone. These folks have had enough trouble.”

Maynard thanked the deputy and urged the horses forward. As he did he saw other figures standing behind the deputy. Militia? He thought again to the riders he had passed. Fugitives? No. Why would they have been following him towards town. Perhaps the deputy was looking for someone else.

It was quiet when he finally reached the town. A few patrons were still visible through the windows of the saloon, but no music was playing and there was none of the usual raucous that Maynard had learned to associate with such places.

He soon found the sheriff’s office, which occupied one corner of a building that appeared to also function as town hall. The village green in front of it hardly lived up to its name. It was instead a patchy quilt of mud, gravel, and dead grass, tamped down by cart wheels and foot prints. He hitched his horses to a post in front of town hall and fed them from a bag of oats he kept in the wagon. Then he turned to making his own bed. He decided that a campfire and tent would be uncouth, as he was in the village green and not out in the mountains. So he elected to instead create a small sleeping space for himself inside the wagon. There, squeezed in between stacked rolls of cloth, sacks of flour and boxes of trinkets, he did his best to get a decent night’s sleep.

The sun woke him as it did most mornings. His breakfast consisted of a piece of bread and some dried fruit that he had stashed in the wagon, which he ate while he set up his stall. He first unfolded two light tables that he places in front of his wagon before placing his selections of trinkets, pocket knives, cloth, and tonics out on the tables. He only paused when he put his hands on a box of odd artifacts. Most of them were worthless trinkets, although judging from his admittedly week second sight he had surmised that some of those trinkets might hold some magical potential. Even then, to most people they would be worth little. They were things he acquired in the course of his travels and kept because they took up little space and might be of interest to a collector or two. Nothing in the box was of any real interest to a bunch of farmers, but he set them out anyway as curiosities; something to attract the public’s interest while he sold them other things.

When he was done he stepped back to admire his work. His wagon was hardly impressive, with its peeling red paid and worn gold lettering, but it certainly drew the eye, and he felt that the wares he had laid out would be of suitable interest. Just then he remembered that he ought to know the town’s name before he tried to make any money off them. He cast his eyes about the green, before finding it. Its letters, which were peeling like those on his wagon, read WELCOME TO ACRE.

With his stall set up and no customers yet in sight he decided to brush the horses while he waited. The morning was off to a slow start for a farming town. He would have expected to see more people in the streets, but so far his only company seemed to be the saloon owner whittling on his porch down the street. Maynard thought back to the deputy and the riders. Something had the people of Acre spooked.

By the time he saw the posse return it was nearly mid-day. The unlikely assembly walked past him without a word, although he attracted a few glances. Most of them went on down the street to the saloon where they were greeted solemnly by the owner. The deputy did not go with them. Instead he hitched his horse beside May and Bay and went inside the sheriff’s office.

An idea came to Maynard’s mind after seeing the exhausted looks of the men. He quickly brought out his camp stove and started a pot of coffee to serve as bait. Eventually the deputy emerged from his office and leaned on the porch railing to watch Maynard. His eyelids sagged, and he leaned on the railing in such a way that Maynard suspected he might collapse from exhaustion at any moment.

“Want some coffee friend?” asked Maynard while he filled a tin mug and held it out to the deputy. The deputy eyed him suspiciously for a moment before accepting the cup. On his face he wore an expression of both simple tiredness and defeat. “Rough night?” he asked after the deputy had taken his first sip.

“Been a few of them.”

Maynard nodded sympathetically. “I saw some riders on my way here. They had mean eyes. Those the folks you’ve been looking for?”

The deputy was suddenly alert. “Where?”

“Just before I ran into you,” answered Maynard. “They followed me for a ways. I thought they might try to rob me until I found you.”

The deputy stared into his coffee. “I reckon they were Pauling’s men.”

“Pauling?”

“Small time cattle farmer. Lives up on the north end of the valley,” answered the deputy. “A few months back he found gold on his neighbor’s land. Now he’s trying to muscle his way into owning half the valley. He’s brought in a few brawlers and third-rate gunfighters from Dorster too. Lot of people have been robbed or otherwise roughed up lately.”

“Is that you reason for your patrols?”

The deputy nodded. “Enough of that. You’ve got customers.”

Maynard looked away from the deputy and his coffee. Coming down the street were the men from the night patrol. Each looked like he was on the verge of collapse. When they reached Maynard’s table they picked through his merchandise in silence. Normally he would have launched into a sales pitch, but he could tell the men would have no patience for it, and he suspected the deputy would notice if he attempted to enchant them into buying something.

A few of them picked simple things; boxes of matches, rolls of cloth. A few were looking for children’s toys, and Maynard made a point of giving those men free candies to take home. An action that he though might have brought a brief smile out of the deputy.

One member of the militia hung back until the others had found what they were looking for. The man was dressed like any frontier farmer. Rough spun clothes that showed years of wear, and calloused hands that were well acquainted with hard work. He had stood to the back of the posse, holding an old pepperbox in his hands that were well acquainted with hard work but unfamiliar with violence. While the others had looked through Maynard’s wares he had stood staring at a single point. Maynard followed the man’s gaze and saw that it led to a box of old trinkets.

Only when the rest of the group began to disperse did he approach the table. As he did, Maynard could see signs of a recent beating on the man’s face. The bruising around his eye had faded and was now a sickly yellow, and his nose looked like it was still in the early stages of healing.

From a box on the table he drew a small necklace and held it up. “How much?”

Maynard took the necklace from the settler, who seems to cringe as it left his grasp. He did not remember where he had picked up the trinket. It was a worn, carved piece of gray stone tied to a leather strap. Hardly larger than a button. Etched lines circled the stone starting on the outside edge until they reached the center. Looking at it he felt as if he could trace the lines for hours. Impulsively, he opened his second sight as far as he could and it instantly overwhelmed him. He felt as if he was standing on the edge of a precipice and about to fall into the amulet’s swirling lines. He panicked and shut his third eye before he could be drawn in any further.

“You know friend,” he said with his charmed voice. “I have many more splendid trinkets available if you would like. Ones that are much finer than that old thing.”

“No. This one will do.”

Maynard was not quite sure how to respond. Every rational thought he had screamed at him not to sell the amulet. Whatever was drawing the man to it couldn’t be good, and it was enough to allow him to resist Maynard’s magic. A man in as weakened a state should have been easy to charm. He looked again with his second sight. This time he was careful to avoid looking at the amulet and instead directed his gaze at the man.

An aura of black storm clouds writhing with lighting enveloped the man. From the hand holding the amulet radiated a sickly yellow light that was slowly intertwining itself with the storm clouds. To his horror, Maynard realized that there was nothing that he could do for the man. It would require a far greater Talent than his to dispel whatever curse had been laid on him, and his charms were clearly too weak.

In a last attempt at dissuading him. Maynard resorted to the only thing he knew to have absolute control over men’s hearts. “Two crowns,” he said finally.

“Done.”

Although not entirely surprised, Maynard was saddened by the man’s response. Two crowns was no small sum. He had a strong sense that whatever the amulet was it might very well ruin the man. Still, he knew better than to deny the sale. Whatever had its hold on the man wouldn’t let a shopkeeper like Maynard get in the way of obtaining the amulet. Reluctantly, he wrapped the amulet in a bit of tissue paper and sent the man on his way.

As soon as the farmer had gone out of earshot Maynard turned to deputy and asked who that had been.  The deputy told him that the man was a farmer named Ernest and was one of Pauling’s neighbors who had been pushed off his land. “He’s lost,” said the deputy in reference to the trinket. “People get desperate sometimes. They fixate on things. Maybe he wanted it for his wife. These times have been tough on her too.”

Maynard nodded noncommittally. He had a bad feeling in his gut. But there was nothing he could do.

By then it was well past the time that the town should have woken up. People should have been out on errands or working. He saw business owners like the saloon manager and gunsmith out, but by all accounts, it seemed that business was slow and the owners didn’t stray far from their front doors. Meanwhile the deputy went about brushing his horse, still sipping the coffee that Maynard had given him.

Maynard could not help but admire the man. It was well past noon and the deputy was still up after having spent the night patrolling the valley. As he sat there Maynard began to feel a strange sympathy for this man that he hardly knew.

“I think I know something that will help with the exhaustion,” he said carefully.

“Pardon?”

“The exhaustion,” said Maynard. “You’re obviously tired, I think I’ve got something that will help.”

The deputy narrowed his eyes. “I ain’t looking to buy anything.”

“Cost to you is nothing,” Maynard replied and started digging through a box full of tonics. “It’s a gift.” He held up an unbranded glass bottle with ALERT written in uneven block letters on the label. It was one of the tonics he mixed himself as he travelled, and he was quite proud of it. “Nothing quite beats sleep. But if you’re not going to be getting any, then this will keep you much more alert than just coffee.”

After a moment of hesitation, the deputy accepted the bottle. “How am I supposed to take it?”

“Just add some to this,” he said and handed the deputy a second cup of coffee.

The deputy nodded his thanks but stopped short of adding the tonic. His eyes narrowed as he focused on something down the street. “Looks like our friends have found you,” his hand went to the revolver on his hip.

Approaching them on horseback were three of the men that Maynard had seen the night before. Those who we in the street hurried to go back into their houses and shops as the trio rode down the road. Maynard noticed that members of the deputy’s posse had returned to town and were watching the riders carefully from the alley ways. Most of them held rifles or shot guns at the ready and were looking to the deputy for guidance. Maynard felt the urge to grab his scatter gun from the wagon, but he realized he didn’t have time for that.

The lead rider dismounted and walked up to Maynard’s stall. “We don’t want any trouble deputy. Just need to buy something from this gentleman,” he turned to Maynard. “You got anything for snake bites?”

Maynard stared at him blankly. “Oh, yes!” he said as he regained his composure. “I’ve got something right here,” he produced a small jar of salve from the same box he had stored the deputy’s tonic in. “Simply apply to the wound and then cover with a bandage.”

“How much?”

“One crown,” Maynard said. As he spoke another idea came to him. Adding magical weight to his words he went on to suggest that the men purchase a tin of coffee, then new bedrolls, additional tonics, and so on until he had sold them his entire stock of wilderness supplies. By the time they rode off he had convinced them to spend the equivalent of a laborer’s monthly wages. As they finally left town Maynard caught the deputy smiling openly for the first time that day.

The next morning Maynard packed up his stall and rode out of town. He was escorted by the town’s militia past the point where they expected there to be any danger from Pauling’s men. After all that he had seen of Acre; the gunfighters, the patrols, and the amulet, he was happy to get out. He couldn’t help but feel that the Dorster region was like a powder keg, and he wanted to be as far away as he could when it finally blew.

 

 

 

 

WIP Map of Ancorda

The picture now occupying the banner space of this website is a new map of my Sprawling Iron setting that I made using wonderdraft. If you think it looks a little like North America you’d be right. The setting is inspired by 19th century USA and incorporates a heavy dose of fantasy elements.

Ancorda is the main country of this setting and is analogous to the United States. The current year of this map is 835. It is a time when the country is expanding westward and facing a number of the challenges associated with governing these vast new expanses of territory. There are gold rush towns, seedy ports, train heists, and more than a few mystical threats to be found by travelers heading west.

Politically the country is dominated by old aristocratic families who own vast estates on the east coast. These families are descended from the original noble patrons (mostly the younger children and outcasts of established old world families) that came over when the continent was first being colonized. Technically, the power that they wield in the modern day is not due to any noble privileges. Instead, during the founding of the country they were able to tie voting rights to land ownership, and these people own a lot of land which gives them a disproportionate level of representation. As the process of industrialization increases many of these families have turned their estates into manufacturing centers. Besides making them rich, this has allowed them to increase their influence over the population by becoming some of the largest employers of the urban populations.

A number of ancient ruins can be found throughout the country. Most settlers assume the natives to be primitive and simple people. In reality the continent has seen the rise and fall of several empires that at their height would have rivaled the nations of the Old World, and there are still holdouts from these civilizations throughout the country.

Many dangers can be found in this world, from menacing wildlife and bandits, to ancient relics, angry spirits, foreign invaders, and the beginnings of a civil war in the making.

Hired Guns

“Boss. He ain’t going down. That’s thirteen bullets we’ve put in ‘em and Wyatt put in six before that.”

“You really think a man who just ripped a steer and Wyatt in half is going to go down easy?”

“We-”

“Listen here. I’m not looking for excuses. If you can’t take down one man then what the hell am I paying you for? Keep him away from the herd or else you’ll all be looking for a new job.”

“Boss…”

“Get it done.”

 

Train Heist

Billy raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. If he strained his eyes he could just barely make out a thin line of black smoke rising up from the opposite end of the valley. “Best be getting ready!” he yelled as he ducked back into the signal house.

Inside Sawyer and Clay jumped to their feet. Sitting in the corner was the bound signalman, who was resisting Jack’s attempts to force another vial of Oil down his throat. The first dose had worked wonders and had bought them hours of silence from their captive, but the poor bastard had woken up since then, and this time he knew what was coming.

“I still don’t know why we can’t just blow the track,” Clay complained. Even when agitated the man spoke in a laid-back drawl.

Billy was growing irritated with his friend’s unwanted suggestions. “Clay, did I ask you to speak?”

“No, but you need me to,” he answered. “What the hell are you going to do when they realize they’ve been set up and get the train moving again?”

“They won’t get moving because we’ll tie up the engineers first. Besides, what happens if we blow the tracks and someone dies? Do you really want to hang for murder?”

“We’re going to be wanted men after this anyway,” Clay replied, raising his voice.

Billy said nothing, and turned to check on Jack’s progress. By that point the signalman had finally been subdued for the second time. Jack assured him that the man would definitely remain incapacitated for the duration of the job, and was now checking the sealed jars of formaldehyde that he had prepared for their heist.

“I still think we need a name,” Sawyer said quietly.

“Shut it Sawyer!” Billy yelled. “The train is almost here.” He balled up his fist, but held it at his side. His brother’s incessant ideas were starting to annoying him. “I’ve spent weeks planning this heist, and all you-”

“He has a point,” said Jack. “Most gangs give themselves names nowadays. If they don’t some reporter will. It’s the only way keep control of your branding. ”

Billy glared at the disgraced chemist. He didn’t know what the man meant by ‘branding’ but he knew that he had no time for it. “I,” he began slowly. “Am beginning to regret bringing you on for this job.”

Jack shrugged. “Just trying to help.”

“All of you are going to get me killed.” Billy declared, and went out to check on the train’s progress. It was now close enough that he could make out the individual cars behind the engine. In his mind he pictured the mail car at its end, loaded with gold. He had paid good money for the information, and he was expecting a big payoff.

This would be it. No more working for another man’s profit, no more worrying about where his next meal would come from. Soon all four of them would be rich men. He checked and saw that the stop sign was still in place before taking a swig from the flask of whiskey he kept in his back pocket.

Once he had allowed the whiskey time to calm his nerves, he turned and went back into the house. “Everyone on your feet!” he hollered. “Train’s almost here.” Sawyer and Clay jumped to their feet, while Jack’s response was much more subdued. “Guns loaded?” The three nodded an affirmative, while he made sure to check his own pistol as well. “Alright Jack, put on one of the signalman uniforms. I want you to be ready out there with the formaldehyde. The rest of you, keep yourselves hidden in here, or else they might see you and suspect something.”

The three of them nodded, and Jack, having donned the uniform, went to stand wait by the stop sign. Billy swore when he realized that the uniform was much too small for the chemist. Jack’s twin revolvers produced a pair of bulges in the uniform that he hoped would not be noticed. “They’re too far away to see anyway,” he muttered to himself.

“What’s that?” whispered Sawyer.

“Nothing!” Billy snapped. “No more talking!”

The train eased to a stop. Billy had imagined the engineers panicking at the sight of their stop sign, but by all appearances the engineers seemed perfectly in control of the metal beast. They must have seen it from a distance, he thought, and then realized that meant they might very well have seen him too. “They’ll just think I was here to help,” he assured himself.

“What?” asked Sawyer.

“Shut up!” He was getting worried. Not about the plan, everything had worked so far. He was worried about Jack. As the train approached the man had suddenly lost the snarky attitude that they had all gotten used to hearing from him. Jack, Billy decided, was a professional.

Jack had approached the train and was speaking to the engineers. “Now,” he whispered, silently urging Jack to throw his jar. He began to wonder if Jack actually intended to throw the jar, and it he was planning on selling them all out instead, until suddenly Jack sprang into action and lobbed his jar of formaldehyde through the engine’s window.

Billy drew his pistol and ran from the signal house, “Go!”

Clay and Sawyer pulled scarves over their faces and ran out of the signal house after him. They quickly closed the distance between them and the mail car before throwing their own jars of formaldehyde through the windows. Billy watched long enough to make sure that the two had made it inside before taking up position beside the engine with Jack.

Jack nodded to him and drew his pistols. Together, he and Billy jumped aboard the engine and found the engineers coughing and sputtering from the formaldehyde’s noxious fumes. Jack gave them a few kicks for good measure, while Billy tied their hands with a length of rope from his satchel.

Billy kicked them again and told them to stay quiet, before jumping out of the engine with Jack. “Let’s get the passengers subdued.” Jack, still without any sign of his previous attitude, simply nodded again. As they walked along the coal hopper Billy saw Clay stick his head out of the mail coach and give the all clear sign. Billy allowed himself to breath a sigh of relief, so far everything had gone as planned. He expected that by then Sawyer and Clay would be working over the mail guards, trying to convince them that opening the safe was in their best interests.

The two passenger cars presented a different problem. Billy and Jack were only two people, and if there wasn’t a single gun-carrying passenger on-board Billy would eat his hat. He reasoned that a single gunman might be able to keep control over the car so long as he displayed enough bluster. Even that was assuming that no one on board felt a sudden urge to become a hero.

He took the first passenger car while Jack went on to subdue the second. Billy cocked his pistol and held it before him as he went to face the passengers. To his relief most of the seats were empty, and to Billy’s eyes the few passengers that were on board all looked to be clerks and bankers. Not the kind of people who would feel inclined to fight. Billy allowed himself to relax a little, although he was well aware of the fact that less passengers would mean less loot.

“Alright!” he yelled, trying his best to add an edge of menace to his voice. “Unless you want to get shot, you’ll keep any valuables you have held in in front of you, and your mouths shut.” He struggled to open his satchel and keep his gun ready at the same time.

Billy was so nervous that he nearly pulled the trigger when the door at the opposite end of the carriage swung open. Just in time he realized that it was only Jack, who was pushing two women who looked like sisters in front of him.

“Only ones in there,” Jack explained, as he pushed them onto the nearest empty bench.

With Jack’s twin pistols now trained on the assembled passengers, Billy felt comfortable walking among them to collect their booty. “Everything you have goes in this bag!” he yelled repeatedly as walked along the aisle. Most of them complied, dropping handfuls of bank notes, jewelry, and spare change.

He had almost reached Jack when something hard struck the back of his head, and he soon found himself lying on the floor.

“Put the guns down or I put a bullet in your friend’s head,” said someone behind him. From where he was Billy could see Jack standing with both of his pistols trained on a single target. He was standing firm for the moment, but Billy could sense that the man was wavering.

Slowly, Billy tried turning his head to see who was behind him and was instead greeted with a boot that slammed his face into the floor. Teeth broke free from their roots and blood filled his mouth. “Bastard,” he said spitting out the teeth.

“Hardly,” said the voice. “Now, you,” he addressed Jack again. “Put down your guns as I instructed, or I will kill your friend.”

Billy looked towards Jack and their eyes met. Resignation flashed across Jack’s face. He nodded, and slowly he placed his pistols on the floor. The voice spoke again. “Right. Now, pick up the bag, and give all of these good people their money back.”

Jack stepped forward cautiously and grabbed the satchel from Billy’s hand. As he did that the strap caught and twisted Billy’s wrist. Billy swore through the blood, but he refrained from saying anything else lest he invite another kick.

As Jack rose up again, the sound of gunshots and shattered glass filled the carriage. Fresh blood spattered on the floor. Billy shut his eyes, in anticipation of a bullet soon entering his skull. To his surprise that bullet never came. Instead he heard a heavy thud behind him accompanied by a woman’s screams. His assailant had been shot, he realized.

Jack helped Billy to his feet and retrieved both their pistols. Meanwhile Sawyer, followed by Clay rushed into the car. Clay had abandoned his usual lazy drawl and was now screaming at the passengers while brandishing his rifle.

“We should hurry,” Sawyer insisted.

Billy was in no mood to argue. He looked around the car one last time and saw the body of the man who had been holding a gun to his head. A woman, he guessed her to be the man’s wife, was sobbing over the body. He spit a mouthful of blood at them and turned to lead the gang away from the train.

They untied their horses from the posts behind the signal house and rode off towards the mountains. Half a day passed before Billy was satisfied that no one was following them. Jack scouted the forest around them and soon came back to lead them to a small stream. Next to this stream they erected what Billy decided was the saddest looking lean-to he had ever seen.

Sawyer and Clay, eager to take stock of their prize, dumped both the haul from the mail car and the passengers’ effects on the ground beside the campfire. Meanwhile, Billy found a comfortable tree besides the fire where he could nurse his sprained wrist.

Their prize turned out to be considerably smaller than Billy had been led to believe by his informant. Silently he cursed the ‘western gentlemen,’ who bought their wives jewelry made of fake gold and hardly carried more than five crowns on them. His more pressing concern, now that they were a safe distance from the train, was what to do about Jack.

All he had known about Jack when they first met was that he was a disgraced chemist, whose customer had died after an unfortunate mix up of tonics. Billy had welcomed the chance to recruit an educated man for their job, especially when Jack had shared his formaldehyde trick with them, but there was something wrong about the man. Something about Jack made Billy think that he was a bit too comfortable with the pistols hanging from his hips.

Sawyer soon distracted him from his paranoid thinking. “How are we gonna divide this up?” he asked holding up a gold bar.

“We wont,” Billy answered, “not yet.” He looked at Jack, then back to the two of them. “We us the loot to buy provisions first. Then we divide up what’s left.”

Clay was visibly crestfallen upon hearing that his share would be smaller than hoped.

“You mean we’re gonna keep this gang together?” Sawyer asked carefully.

Billy nodded.

“Okay. Well, in that case. We have a name for us.”

Billy raised an eyebrow.

Sawyer turned to Clay. “You tell him.”

A grin split Clay’s face. “The Broken Heads.”

Billy could see Jack smirking behind them. He thought about their suggestion for a moment. “The way I see it,” he said slowly. “Is that there’s got to be something broken in your head if you’re going to go rob a train like we just did. Alright. We’ll be the Broken Heads Gang.”