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09: The War Path

What is Buffalo Bill’s Mafia? Glad you asked. It’s a weekly fan-fiction series that transforms real-life events important to Bills Fans everywhere into a fun, action-packed mythology story

- A legendary tale for a Legendary Team.


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Previously: Neighboring Steel Salesmen warn the Bill’s Mafia that their dominance in this Wild West World is being challenged by the cult-like War Chiefs of Arrow Head Rock. While the Gunslinger wants nothing more than to avenge his fallen horse Filly, killed by the chiefs - General Beane forbids premature war. Instead, Josh & two loyal companions pursue a mysterious Blacksmith from another era.




09: Weak Six

The War Path

by Travis Carlson







1


“Look to the West.”

Once, in the Near Ages, the Gunslinger heard the words and opened his eyes.

Brown eyes. Dilating in the dust. Squinting in the sun.

“What do you see?” Asked the voice.

Everything, thought Josh.



The emerald Niagara Mountains with white snow peaks. The fossilized rim trail of the Grand Gorge. The long shadows of the Letchworth Buttes. Twin crescent moons, like ivory ribs, floated toward the Erie Basin.

Utah Davis and Gardener Dawkins went back-and-forth pointing out each landmark to the figure they came upon in the stream. Josh didn’t talk or turn. He breathed in as deep as he could the warm-autumn smell.

Everything.

The Great Buffalo Nation.

The Bill’s trio may be two day’s ride from New Fort York and Allentown but they were still surrounded by spoils of a world rich with water and Dignity.

“Home,” said Josh, turning to face the figure again.

“Very well,” said this elder, “Home. Ya’r home. Ma’ home. Our home!” He was a bit of a mystery, back turned, working a fish trap in the stream. You hardly notice that though, instead all eyes were fixed on his red cap. A native glengarry of red velvet sewn with intricate beadwork that seemed to grow into floral patterns and a blue bison. Nature made into culture made into story.



Without turning this hat to the trio he asked, “Tell me, do ya’ see any ditches, Hayë:twas? Or a trench?”

“No, sir,” said Dawkins. The man wound a string on the trap.

“‘Ah, a wall perhaps? Tall and endless upon the plains, Hotgáëö’?”

Utah Davis looked out to see what he could mean.

Nothing but the staggering scale of nature. Perhaps no man made interference at all, “No wall that I can see.” Josh wondered how this Sachem knew to call them gardeners and spy-guards and…

“Ha’ya:s, how about a standing army with gunslinger knights on patrol?”

“No,” said Josh, no need to look.

The hunched elder stopped winding and slowly rose to stand straight in the stream. He moved up, leaves fell down. Water splashed and gurgled as high as his knees, but he didn’t budge.

Ideas.”

The distant recluse they had randomly come upon while watering the horses with his red cap turned.

Utah Davis caught his breath. Ideas, alright.

It was the legendary Sachem Reed of the Deer Clan.



A hero of the ancient Battle of Comme Back, turning-the-tide of bloodshed with three critical strikes embedded within enemy lines. He counted coup on more enemies in his offensive than all but one agent in the entire Near Ages. And, he gestured gracefully as he spoke.

“Our world is too mighty for walls. Our minds too expansive for patrol. You a’ task to defend a frontier, a People greater than the scale of force…Ideas are our defense.”

“Like, stories? Ideas of who we are?”

“Of what we’ll do?” Asked Dawkins and Davis.

“True stories fly as far as the wind and hold heavier than rock,” said Sachem Reed. “Hear me. A true story is the gravity of the mind. Nothing quiets an enemy more than the knowledge that a great power will overtake them, not even a battle in which they are being overtaken if they don’t hold that knowledge.” He pointed high up to the pines, “It is the idea that jumping from a redwood will break our skulls that keep us off more than the sharpness of her needles. In our free hearts, in our un-defendable Wests, the storyline, is the borderline.”

“Why do you grant us this wisdom, Sachem?” Asked Josh, the Ha’ya:s of Allentown. He knew orators of this caliber do not speak on accident, nor do they trap at midday when the fish are at their deepest. Josh already knew something wasn’t right. Sachem Reed had scouted them.

“When ya’ looked to the West, you could not see everything.”

In a sudden flash Reed cut the surface of the water. A samurai twist. Exploding water flecks still rose as his trap lifted. Four fish bounced inside.

“Another story moves.”




2


The red cap of Reed

...moved quickly through the forest. A brace of fish dripped steady behind. Josh thought he heard this chief whisper about something called, “The Book of Smitten,” but his suspicions blurred into distraction by Reed’s Deer Clan pace. Now they were the fish swimming a stream of wind in the forest.

Is there a heron trap over our surface?

A hunter who survived four Super Collapses?

It wasn’t suspicion, it was flat out fear flowering from roots of insecurity. Super Collapses!? He wasn’t even sure if he billieved in them yet, (despite Four-Zero’s testimony and whirlwind of occurrences that made it seem like anything could happen). Josh was just starting to grasp this season of seventeen Weaks that connected the Near Ages like bridges across worlds. It was only 5 weeks ago this Homesteader’s boy was introduced to the concept that bedtime stories like Machine Gun Kelly and the Hero Wars might be based in fact. Now he smashed through undergrowth to keep up with Kelly’s own super spy!

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Josh thought, as another bedtime story once quipped.



What a paradox - to be running full speed for all of one’s life toward one destination, a Super Collapse, that you can’t even discern as reality, religion or both.

He’d figure it out when he got there.

Him and, only, the entire population of Mafiafolk who wanted nothing more than to consecrate their home with a Super Collapse.

But not from the usual glands of greed, gloat and glamor.

Not this time, at least not most of it.

He just wanted good.

To be good, do good, feel good and make good, for goodness sake.

If one doesn’t hail from an ancient bloodline of collective insecurity it may be difficult to fathom just how much commitment one will wager for a shot at a baseline. Just a chance out of the bad, for good.

The Storytelling Stone has recorded it through time. That cruel, crooked and hard-luck worlds both bigger and smaller become sanctified over-and-over as acceptable members of the collective. And the Great Buffalo Nation Josh loved, was not, ever.

Josh watched Utah Davis jog the slope of the trail as he contemplated the steps the Nation had been noticed for.

For disasters, step.

For universe-critical assassinations, slip.

For record-setting droughts; trip, scrape and skid.

For bankrupting a generation, for generating blank options; for losing the four, the Hero Wars. And for now, even in his era of rebirth, 10 Mafiafolk, who did nothing but show and deserve love, fall victim to a coward’s attack.

Oblivion clutters the war chest. Headstones bow naked of medals.

Josh stared at his brother’s face, a reflection of them all.

Every realm faces struggle and obstacles and many garner motivation to fight, bite and smite them. But it is not everyone, not every nation, who look up to a parent for notice and to feel they are useless.

Some bloodlines pump a true story as far as their winds and as heavy as gravity.

A story of no illusions.

A story of bastards.

Josh, of the Homestead, lifted Davis by his armpits and tapped him forward again.

“Thanks Gunslinger, wasn’t sure what to do.”

It’s a story where the stakes are simply: to be recognized as normal. Where each character is born a hero who will sacrifice years in an instinctual drive to make good people proud of their home.

Ya’r homes. Our homes.

Ma’ Homes.

What did it mean? For a universe of infinite time and ages and stories to see their precious Buffalo the way they did? To matter?

“Everything.” Josh of Allentown said out loud.

The trotting Sachem with something to hide had been closer than anyone.

He would know the path.

Just try to keep up!




3


Utah Davis was back in first pursuit,

...on purpose, with a boyish glee. Josh, still distant, noticed but didn’t mention the care that this young spy took to walk in the exact footprints of the legend before him.

He imagined it meant a lot for Davis to be here with a rare Elder-Hero, without Diggs taking first-fiddle for once.

Dawkins whispered to Davis, “Where would you rather be, than right here, right now?”

The quartet hurtled fallen tree-trunks, forded a tributary and slid down a sandstone chute. They left a conifer forest onto an expansive prairie.

Josh was close enough to shout to their leader, “With all due billief, ha’nih, if the story you speak of is the War Chiefs beyond the borderlands, we know of them. I know of them already.

“Is it so?”

“Our Mafia is well-poised to intercept them if they take a single step onto our land.”

“I know your story.”

“Yes, they send taunts with neighbors who have no choice but to be fearful, but that is the closest they will get, Sir,” added Utah Davis. Dawkins checked the tattoo markings on his chest to confirm, “They’ve only crossed the border once in eight years.”

So that’s how he knows his dates so well, thought Josh.

“Even more then - this must be added to ya’ report.” Said Sachem Reed.

“What report is that?” Asked Josh.

“You just said it, you are an advance scout…to confront these rampant War Chiefs.”

“We are not. Unfortunately. But we will bring any message you wish to General Beane and McDermott.”

The Sachem stopped and spoke as Davis, Dawkins and Josh approached in the tall grass.

“The Smitten Chief Elder and his cult of war hawks are so brutal they live in exile under the head. Banished, all of ‘em, from peaceable tribes and religions. One does not let a lit fuse load it’s cannon. The militia openly challenges your power on these lands and ya’ walk West for another reason!? What could be more?”



“A blacksmith,” said Dawkins. “One whom you —”

“Of course I know The Blacksmith! The only one worth knowing, at least. What of he — …for you then?” The Sachem pointed to Josh, who answered.

“We are tracking a band of petty thieves who are likely trying to find him, maybe even harm him, for an upgraded gun. Something unmatched to rebuild the Stealer Gang.”

“Well it’s the right idea - never in the Near Ages lived a better gunsmith then ours - but it be the wrong time.”

“Well aware,” put in Dawkins quickly, “Our mission, now, is Westward to make for a way, back. In time.”

“Impossible.” The Sachem walked away and lowered his brow. “Keep up, I need ya’ to see something.”

They turned up a grassy knoll. A flock of wild chickens with meaty wings rousted.

Dawkins jogged up to his Elder. “Sir, I think I have a way.”

“No, the rivers of time do not flow backward - even if Weakenings allow ‘a to leap rivers. Or else I’d be in 1835 again, swimming in the levee.”

“What year did you last take up arms with The Blacksmith?”

“Ya’ are serious? You have an upstreaming current?”

“I might, if we can get to the Chief Kingdom without them noticing our - “

“No, no, quiet this!” The Sachem held up a hand, then distinctly tapped his brow.

“You are wise, I need your coun — ”

“ — Silence!” Barked Reed. “If you have an advantage it is yours! Don’t give it away to the winds.”

“We trust you,” said Utah Davis, and Josh looked to the Sachem’s reaction.

“You don’t know who is listening!” Was his response.

Josh hiked up to them, “We admire your vigilance, Elder. The War Chiefs are formidable. Yet they would never risk riding five-days into our Nation. Not with our Mafia so dominate.”

Sachem Reed slapped Josh, then held his mouth shut.

He leaned into his ear.

“Silence, Gunslinger.”

Then a smell hit Josh harder. As thick as vomit in the air.

A pair of filthy flies landed on his cheek.

And the sound of vultures.

The other’s already saw it from the knoll, stunned. They removed their hats as Josh crested the hill.



Crack!

He fired his rifle in the air to terrify the scavengers as soon as he saw it.

Crack!-snap-Crack!-snap-Crack!-snap-Crack!-snap-Crack!-snap-Crack!-snap-

The Sachem buried Josh’s hot rifle into the Earth!

“Enough!”

Six lifeless vultures dropped from the sky. They weren’t expecting a gunslinger’s red-rage.

“Ho’shis! Get right! Our brother ojíehdo:gë are not our enemy.”

“Get off me!” Josh snapped back.

What did I say to him!? Josh thought. I’ve lost it.

As other birds squawked away, the last one shot fell limp onto the flesh. She rolled off the furry corpse of a bison.

Mutilated.

There were three total, mangled in a horror which will not be described.

War Chiefs. Suddenly in the narrative.




4


Utah Davis sat,

...red in the face, looking away from the mounds. His tight jaw slackened when he realized the cloud of flies in front of him were anchored to another pile. These mothers had calves.

Josh’s brown eyes considered how confused the kids felt when their mothers didn’t move with the herd, why they didn’t wake up to nudges, until they succumbed without milk. Back-to-back-to-back.

Circling the Wagons, to the end.

Josh apologized to Sachem Reed, left his gun on the field and turned to punch at the Earth and his flashbacks of last winter.

Evil memories of Filly’s body boiled out of the Earth as he tried to pack them back into the nightmare. She wanted to run, and fetch apples and gallop through rain and live! She was young, loyal, and his eternal pet companion - and she was stuck in the soils of the Earth. Her orenda trapped in the Borderlands - or, if they had expanded - Chiefs Kingdom.

Josh heard a voice but couldn’t make it out.

Dawkins must have been speaking to the Sachem. Yes, he felt his friend on a knee beside him, holding his shoulder.

“What happened in Kansas?” Asked the Sachem.

“Don’t…”

Suddenly Josh was there again, in the black flurries, on his horse, her steaming skin soaked with sweat. His gun-barrel clicked in heat from the Impossible Shots. He could do them again. She could. Josh, the Josh of the present, moved his head around to look at the battle of last winter in his mind. Blackness, mud and fire. Smoke, dust. The red-rock colossus. The frantic shadows inside the head, an armory, investigating the detonated artillery shells from within.

The Chief with the mohawk. Josh’s mind looked at his own bloody fists. He opened one, he held it: The Deadman’s Coin.



:13

She didn’t deserve to die. She had done everything right, twice. She did things he’d never even trained her for! Josh thought. Perfect behavior deserves a reward, an apple, not, — Not! —

“I know,” said Dawkins, just like he had said that midnight, to a dying gunslinger, and wrapped him in a buffalo pelt not so dissimilar from the wasted hides beside them now.

Utah Davis looked back from the calves to the other three, in his own daze, as distant as Josh.

“Arrow Head Rock, what happened?” The Sachem asked, “I need to know.”

“I’m sorry…,” said Josh.

The men and corpses let time pass. Brown eyes dilated in the dust and squinted in the sun.

“…for everything.”

Everything.



“Some stories hold heavier than gravity, Ha’ya:s.” Sachem Reed held out the stock of Josh’s old rifle and lifted him to his feet with it. “The story I see now is that the War Chiefs are here. And they a’ our equal in every way.” The Sachem talked toward the buzzing flies and smell. “Each wasted carcass had a number carved in her hide - while she lived - to indicate two things: profane disrespect ta’ our Nation, and that the messenger was formidable. The Buffalo would have put up a fight. He was catching Coups.”

“The carvings, what numbers?” Asked Davis.

“Years.” Answered Dawkins, stepping next to the bodies with a bandana held to his face.

“1870. 1871. 1872.” Said Reed.

“The killer is marking battles.” Dawkins again.

“Losses.” Said Josh.



5


With sweat and reverence,

...the four retrieved the horses and buried the physical remains of their fallen brothers and sisters. They hauled the final rocks and shifted wild Banditflower to the cairn. Orange, purple, white and stone. After speaking to The Great Spirit they made their way from the rockpile onto the Sachem’s trail.

“Come, I have much to teach you”



6


“What is all this, ha’nih!?”

The Sachem shrugged as they rode in from the blue spruce & redwoods. “This is just ma’ homes.”

“That’s the understatement of the era,” said Utah.



Following the red cap and fish trap the horses walked a series of bridges, causeways and winding footpaths through a wonderland of geysers. Bursting rock vents, hot baths, smoking rainbow-puddles and popping fountains.

Reed tossed the Bill’s a handful of glass goggles for their visit.

“Just mind the wind, and weak mineral surfaces…and also, anything colorful…Or bubbling.”

Which was all of it.

Like ships surrounded by a pod of breaching whales three Victorian bathhouses seemed to float in the woods. Water-towers, water-wheels and complex water-works of oscillating gyros and drive-shafts connected cabins like an outdoor factory campus. Water burst from a chimney.

After letting the horses out to graze, including Ron’s Pinto, which Josh still borrowed, he caught up with Reed driving long skewers through the fish for roasting.

“What a sight.”

“Of course, yes,” Reed walked, stopped and waited for the grate in front of him to sneeze white water, then he continued, “but the real beauty of this place is tha’ sound. Or it will be.”

“Is that what all the hardware is for?” Davis asked, gently moving a wheel of delicate hammers which tapped into chimes.

ding…bo…ding

“Serenity.”



The grate below his feet erupted into a geyser taller than the trees!

DINGBODINGBODINGBODINGBODINGBO! - went the chimes.

Davies somersaulted through the air and splashed in a stack of tide-pool baths.

Booooooooong.

Water displaced from his and down the steps of other green pools.

Baaah. Bumm. Bumm. Baaah. Bummmmm. Bum.

“Mag-nificent,” grinned Dawkins.

“These are all teases really,” Sachem Reed said as he dragged the skewers of fish through a yellow slop of foam and kept walking and talking, “an occasional whistle here, a random drum hit there.”

Wheeeup! Boom.

He slid the other side of the fish in a glittering red crystal. “But they are all just accents, warm-ups.”

Huuuuueeemmmmmmuuuuhhh… A large vent of glowing steam inflated a canvas sac into a balloon. It pressurized a pump and gauge before descending into blankets again.

“…these are but the painted stripes, sitting on the actual tiger: Fandemonium Geyser!” Sachem Reed dipped the fish in a disgusting pool of boiling paint - which hardened before it could drip off. “Don’t worry, this is just to protect the flesh from the pulverizing temperatures.”

Reed moved their dinner toward an obese mound of orange minerals - as if stone had been made from bubbles - and he climbed the footwells carved spiraling to the top. “Ha’ya:s, trip that cover yonder.”

Josh did so with a thud of bark blocking steam.



Reed re-tightened his goggles and tucked inside a thick bronze booth near this miniature volcano hole. He pulled a chain to divert a cool stream over his shield. Only four tiny fish - coated in toxic mineral crusts - poked out from the blast zone.

Josh looked at the plugged steam he capped, squirting water.

The trio felt the earth rumble.

They stepped back and stopped breathing.

“And!” Shouted a voice behind them. Dawkins screamed like a prairie dog. In the bushes a tube carried the sachem’s voice from his underwater heat-shield to the outside tourists like playground pipe. “When Fandemonium Geyser blows again…this land is rigged-up like a God-sized player-piano. A player-orchestra! (If I do-say-so-myself). Now, mind the smell.”

The mini volcano exploded its boiling chemistry in a massive, two-second cannon.

BOUH!



Poison rained in a mid-air waterfall.

Remaining on the skewers were four crackling, plump, seasoned and skinned fillets on a tail.

“Alright!” Cheered Reed throwing open the shield-door, “Now that’s the proper way to squish fish!”

The three young Bill’s mouths slacked.

He served them on tin plates next to a glowing steam-vent. “A lot of chefs in Allentown will cut corners on the toxins, fearing their stoves won’t eviscerate the poison. You’re too young to remember the Love Canal Saloon,” Reed ranted, “I get it, they’re busy, and it’s a wing-town, but out here when the Dignity is this rich, there’s nothing better than squish made right.” He tossed a cinnamon stick and two apples into the sculpture-shaped thermal-vent emerging from the table to ‘spice the air’ and encouraged the men to let their feet soak in the hot spring beneath the chairs.

“Hail Mary! This is delicious!”

“The best dodgasted fish I’ve ever eaten, bro!”

“Stupid question, this ain’t dolphin, right?”



“No, no, our dolphin sisters a’ mammals,” explained Reed, “We just interchange them in the Nation because in my era, at Miami Municipal, if all their fin’s was sick or floatin’ they’d just throw in a sturgeon or giant sunfish and kept all the labels the same. Too high on their horse to care, I reckon.”

“Or too high on Dignity,” grumbled Utah.

“Or Dignity,” agreed Reed, “They had plenty to go around then.”

“Well, they have dolphins now,” said Josh, “Calves. They can still see their mothers free in the river below their cage. We tried to…”

Outrun time,” said Dawkins.

“Sometimes it goes that way,” said the Sachem, cutting into another mouth-watering bite. “You can’t control time, just what you’re going do inside it. I’ve spent over an era, two-really, readying this geyser for the greatest show on Earth - I mean, a seismic event far beyond our understanding. It burst in 1838, 1000 feet in the sky! Fountains lasted at various heights for 5 years before the Great Drought. Now, here’s the kicker. Fandemonium may erupt again tonight, higher than ever before! - or - it may be dormant forever and all of these instruments and buildings were just hopeful hobby for an old hö:gweh.”

“Yeah, but how disappointing it would be if…well.”

“If I drop dead before blastoff? No. You see, Utah, the key is not to make your goal, the goal - but to make your goal, the process which leads to the goal. Both the winners and losers of every battle in the Wests had the same goal, but we must find our measure of achievement in the process.” The Sachem’s eyes glowed blue and red from the thermals, he was far away, “And believe me, I know a thing or four about coming close.”

“You mean, The Hero Wars?” Asked Josh, tentatively.

“Of course, the Post-Weaks, the Battle of Comme Back one of them. The powers of the Super Collapse in you. We changed history, but not Dignity. Enough willpower to lift a geyser, enough sweat, tears and blood to carve a canyon. We became a mythology! But that wasn’t enough.”

A rumble shook the wide plains.

Deep.

The Nation remembered.




7


“How do you do it?”

Josh looked the Sachem straight in the eye, even as the pines vibrated.

The Sachem gestured his hands from his eyes to his chest, “I am no God, he:awak. It is ya’ gardener who thinks he can ask the river of time to flow uphill.”

“Not exactly.”

“No,” Josh said, “Not how do you win you a battle that was lost, literally, how do we create the Post-Weaks? Is it a physical place? Is it a supernatural relic like the child-song goes?”

“Uh? You are serious?” The Sachem searched his eyes and the others for a hidden joke. Their innocence humbled him. “But you’ve been — did you not know? Do you not know what happened in Kansas?”

Brown eyes, dilating and squinting expressed everything. Josh’s brow furrowed to block out any distractions as his eyes were as absorbent as peat moss.

“Of course,” whispered the elder. “Dignity is everywhere. Our ancestors called it ‘The Song’ because it is invisible, intangible, yet can it can amplify any known element. Sophon chips, drugs, fuel, water…Dignity is the universal alloy of the universe. It exists in a constant state of gradual contraction and instantaneous expansion. Like magnetic amoebas two-becomes-four-becomes-sixteen; dense becomes more-dense become super-dense and explosion! A constant cycle. This is how the ancients came to measure the period of a year. Everything still sound familiar?”

“Yeah, but it’s good to hear again,” Davis chimed in.

“You tell it better,” noted Dawkins.



“Nya:wëh. During a Weakening Season, mid-cycle, Dignity has contracted enough from microscopic bonds to a critical mass.” The Sachem cleared the thermal bowl and snapped two fish spines as sharp as a knife. A hollow knife. Here he created two expanding bubbles, “Imagine invisible Dignity bubbles generating a gravity of their own on two sides of different ages that we, otherwise, can’t access - because,” Reed looked at Dawkins, “We can’t control time.” The bubbles kept growing in the dish until they touched, sharing a wall, still growing, “The Dignity pulls at the other until…approximately every seven days…”

pap!

The two bubbles became one.

“A Weak. A Weakening occurs in time. This is where we get our word for week.”

“No way.”

“Ë:h. Inside this temporary bubble, humans, have a chance to guide the natural spill of Dignity.”

“Like steal it,” said Josh.

“Yes, we tend to steal or defend it. Humans. These bridges are random, hard to predict from year-to-year, but medicine men do find patterns, and they are widely reported when possible. We may battle a horde of Vikings or trade with Steel-men when given a chance for Dignity, but the bridges themselves are beyond our sight. That is, until the Post-Weaks.”

“Yes.”

“Ë:h.” The Sachem dipped his last bite of fish in au jou sauce and the salt dish to cap his meal. He spoke with his fork, “Do any of you know the first recorded occurrence of a Post-Weak?”

Josh looked to Dawkins who looked to Davis. Meanwhile, Sachem Reed put on a leather glove and moved the brass valves under the thermal bowl on the table. It seemed a lot of pipes and hoses led here.

“Mmmmm. A tale for another day, I think.”

“No, no - who was it?” Asked Utah.

Reed gave him a wink.

“Right here. It’s painted in the Gá:šöje:ta’ Oya:de’.”

“Sea Scorpion Cavern?” Dawkins translated.



“Ë:h. Our ancestors were the first humans to venture into a Post-Weak of the universe. The Buffalo and Ra-Cha-Cha tribes met, before we were one Nation, and made it a Thanksgiving.”

“Like, the Thanksgiving? Our Thanksgiving!?”

“Ë:h, Gunslinger, still celebrated in the Near Ages to this day. Though, since prehistoric times, the Post-Weaks occur, now, later.” The Sachem stirred the steaming bowl which seemed to thicken into slush. He was freezing it. “Dignity consolidates greatly over the 17 Weaks, its heat removed from atmospheres and the ice of winter descends. Most Dignity is seeded into tangible elements by this point which can be easily quantified. The bubbling cosmos can be forecast by The Raja’s Law of Dignity: The realm with the lowest Dignity seeds collides into the realm with the most Dignity seeds.”

“Why is this?” Asked Josh.

“By winter Dignity is over half it’s final size, but held in less than half of the realms. It seeks the path of least resistance to combine.” The Sachem added air to the bowl but instead of thin bubbles fluffy snowballs inflated this time. He made one as large as his fist and the other the size of his thumb, sharing a wall. “Hardened realms with considerable spoils and proven skill from the season in an instant share an open battlefield. More like a fortified castle of Dignity facing a rebel siege.”

Reed used his gloves to combine the snowballs with a clump.

“Dignity doesn’t care which humans, strong or weak, take it - as long as it consolidates its density.”

He scooped out another handful of equal snow, “And consolidates.” -clump.

Many-became-eight, “And consolidates.” -clump.

Snowballs doubled, “And consolidates.” -clump.

Four-became-two, “And consolidates.” -clump.

“Until all of the Dignity in the universe, across any Age, is terrifically super-dense in only two realms. They buzz with saturated energy - a full-block of Allentown was built in each buzzing week, animals flocked, landmarks cracked from the plates of the Earth. All Dignity is one fragile veil away from it’s paramount consolidation — time breaks: collision — and in only three-hours, Dignity flows through every cell, fusing into colors and powers beyond billief! Two-halves of everything in the cosmos collapse around you into a spectacular new star at the center of the universe.”

Geysers popped like champaign around them. So many instruments all knowing their cue.

“A super collapse?”

“The super collapse,” said Reed, “Living mythology - tighter and tighter - until: Singularity.”

BANG!



“…It explodes again into unknown infinity.”

The big bang, this time, was a mother-load geyser that shook the earth.

“Is this Fandemonium!?” Asked Davis.

“Right here? Right now?” Asked Sachem Reed, “No, no this is just a good story.”

“And that’s it.” said Josh, the edge of his seat, but still a student.

“It? …Gunslinger, that is everything!”

The Sachem looked to the West.



8


The Sachem of the Deer Clan

...discarded the sharp fish bones.

“Two of those carvings, in the buffalo carcasses, they were markers of Post-Weaks.”

“Yeah.” Said Josh. He watched the sharp bones disintegrate in the thermal cavity. “The loses. I didn’t know what to call it. The shock-feeling of absence after, unlike a normal misadventure; the way the Earth feels especially hard after jumping on a taught canvas for hours, for a season.”

“Call it a Dignity abundance vanishing from every cell of every organism in the realm at once. To boost another: Wichita,” explained Reed. “The cosmos discarding you as irrelevant.”

“Man!” Dawkins let out a curse. It hurt them all. Instead of a moment of infinite focus, you vanish into irrelevance and watch, “An enemy - who had already felt the glory - parade away down the War Path.”

“Twice,” said Josh.

“This cycle, the War Chiefs of the West are your equals in every way.”

“As they were last year, last winter.” Josh, again. “Dead equal.”

“And yet they marched on.”

“Equal plus a Deadman’s flip,” said Dawkins, putting the guard in Gardener.

“Meet them, Bill’s of the Great Buffalo Nation. Confront their story or watch the borderlands erode up to your door.”

“We can’t,” Utah Davis put in.

“Ya’ must! Hear me, they match you in repute, and ability, now Dignity. The fault line exceeds expansion and they don’t make films to tell their story.”

The Sachem threw the teeth of the bison mothers on the table. They bounced like dice.

“My ha’nih. Elder,” continued Utah, “We know of their restlessness, and these nips at our edges, but the Generals desire restraint - fearing total war.”

Josh watched the cracked teeth bounce and spin.

Heads or Tails?

“It is too early in our growing season to risk losing the pepper-crops, tablewood and Kim-weck-wheat. To say nothing of our stores of Dignity!” Supported Dawkins.

Call it.

“Ya’ must go.”

“We can’t start a war.”

Call it!

“What if it isn’t a war?” All the heads turned to the Gunslinger. He lifted his focus from the dental dice. “Not an invasion, we go alone. It’s our path anyway to lay low and smuggle into a Weakening that isn’t our own. I say, we still keep Dawkins’s plan - but instead of hiding for a week in our greatest enemy’s caves - we step openly into the heart of the Arrow Head. We demand the war games stop because we set the terms of dominion.”

“We do? The three of us against their entire military arsenal?” Asked Dawkins.

“No,” Josh still sat, “Only me.”

Dawkins tossed his hat, “This is getting worse.”

“You know they have exiles from every Age & fighting-tactic.” Added Davis.

“Only me; and The Ma’Hawk. A duel for everything.”