Disclaimer: I own nothing of Harry Potter.
A/N: I ain't dead and I ain't forgotten about the rest of you kind folks neither, so saddle up!
West of Here
Chapter Seventeen: Getting together with old friends
The fresh scent of the earth and foliage around him heightened in the cloying mists that struggled to befuddle the senses and chill the spirit. The forest seemed to be holding its breath in dread anticipation of the violence that was surely and inexorably approaching.
It was a hundred and eight years past due, but for all of that it was as fresh and real a wound today as it had been then.
Jamie hadn't always been alone in his marshalling endeavors. He had, upon a time, enjoyed the comradeship of two others who were as set as he was in bringing a harsh law to the lawless and avenging wrongs of the victims who could no longer cry out at the evil that had beset them and left their loved ones shattered and bereft.
Territorially Marshall Rance Trenton and his deputy Abner Grey Fox; a half breed Cherokee who'd been driven from his home much like Jamie had for no more than the color of his skin rather than the strength of his spirit.
Rance and Abner were both squibs, but for all that they were a force to be reckoned with in the mundane or even the magical world.
Rance was a dead shot and as fast as or even faster than Jamie was with a colt. Abner was a bull of a man whose strength was only surpassed by his tracking skills. Rance had taken it upon himself to instill in Jamie the finer points of handling a gun to perfection, whilst Abner had improved upon his meager tracking skills and honed his handling of edged weapons to a thing of deadly certainty.
Each of three had a well-earned reputation that was unsurpassed; together they were unstoppable.
At least that's what many thought and the elder gents down at the barbershop spun tales over whilst desperados whispered worriedly over a stiff drink and a quick game of stud. Enough alcohol and those worries turned to recklessness that often spelled their untimely ends.
The three's last venture together had started humbly enough. Vague reports of a spare sheep or two and the occasional cow that went missing had fools taking up arms and scouring the countryside for a rouge grizzly bear or wolf pack. Nothing ever came of that other than every squirrel and opossum, from here to the there, ended up in a stew pot over a blazing camp fire whilst spooky stories of skin walkers and the boogey man were thrown about whilst passing a jug around to sooth jangled nerves.
It weren't no skin walkers as there wasn't a shaman in the nation that would test the territories under the watchful eyes of Black and Trenton.
As for the boogey man, Abner could track him and wring his neck if he was of a mind and easily so.
A hunter or two went missing on the norther range of Montana that was chalked up easily enough to a grizz or maybe running afoul of some renegade or other malcontent with a price on his head.
It wasn't until late fall that things took a decided turn for the worse. Missing cattle turned into half eaten cattle mutilations. The majority of the cattle were killed and mutilated for seemingly no more than sport.
People got angry,… and scared. Fear turned to terror when a child went missing, thieved away in the night from a second story bedroom window as if an eagle had swooped in and snatched up a thirteen year old strapping boy without making a sound?
People were up in arms, literally so, and it was only a matter of time before things went pear shaped and hunters were killed accidentally by their fellows or some fool broke his neck falling into a pit trap or lost a leg in a bear trap.
While it wasn't really their purview, Territory Judge Parker ordered in the three Marshalls to investigate, relieving them of their current assignments in favor of more pressing need for their services elsewhere.
Phhh-tooo….Rance spit on the ground to vent his displeasure. "Can't believe Judge Parker's got us out hunting critters over bringing in the Vega brothers?"
"The job's the job. Critters or creeps; iffin it needs putting down than Parker knows what he's about putting us on it." Abner added riding alongside his longtime friend and boss, (in title only).
Abner would be a Marshall himself if the white folk weren't as biased as the natives.
"What're you thinking, Jamie?"Rance asked, wanting his friend's opinion on whether they were running a wild goose chase or no.
"I'm leanin toward critter as no man I know, sept maybe Abner here, could climb a two story and carry out a teenager without waking the house nor leaving a clue behind as to its passing.
Rance rubbed at the stubble of his chin in contemplation. He didn't like it, but he had to agree. If Abner and Jamie were both of a mind that they were after something that needed putting down, then that was that.
"If its critter, then what're we talking here? Can't be a werewolf-wrong time o the month and besides damned werewolves would bite everybody abed and piss on the floor after to show its contempt, phh-too" Rance spit again to show his displeasure over werewolves in general.
"Just cause it didn't foul the joint don't make it housebroke." Abner ventured.
"Jamie?" Abner prompted his friend for his take on what they would soon be hunting.
"I think it's smart, whatever it is; smart enough not to leave a calling card or even a trail that you could follow-Abner."
Abner shot Rance a worried look at that, but his friend was still eyeing Jamie, not likin the tense set of his jaw nor the empty look in his younger friend's eyes.
Spill it, Jamie. I know that look and you're on to sumpthin."
It was a long hitch before Jamie answered his friend's prompt and even then his voice was distant and hollow.
"The Locuta used to spin yarns about an evil spirit that made off with children. It usually started off simple like with the occasional livestock gone missin. Then the mutilations started, half eaten, most not; most just killed for sport. Then later on… children or pregnant women disappeared in the night. The women were found mutilated, their babies torn outta their bellies. "
"What sorta evil spirit does sumptin like that? Ghosts can't hurt anybody. Hell, half of em are more comical than scary." Rance protested, not liking the current topic of conversation.
Abner shivered at the idea, his own people had told tales of similar occurrences. They were tales he'd just as soon forgotten.
"I heard of such things. They say it can manifest itself in the flesh by consuming the lives of the innocent."
"What'd they call it?"
"Wendigo" both Jamie and Abner answered as one.
"A wendigo? What's a wendigo, and better yet how do you kill it?" Rance asked pointedly, trying to ignore the worried look passed between his friends.
"If there even is such a thing than no one I know of really knows what it looks like fer sure." Abner said with no little trepidation, which was telling for a man his size and prowess.
"Nobody alive anyway." Jamie added pointedly.
Rance and Abner cottoned onto his inference, knowing, as they did, about Jamie's special ability when it came to the spirit world.
"What say we camp for the night whilst you check in with some old friends?" Rance suggested, emphasizing the old in reference to those passed on to the next world..
This Is now…
Jamie was havin himself a time and that's a fact. The women folk had stepped up their efforts to rein him in by having a poly-juiced Katie appear as every women they could think of in a seemingly endless tide if sex starved, starry eyed vixen intent on destroying the man's ability to procreate by over stimulation through sheer overuse.
In other words; they intended to make a eunuch outta him by knocking the sex drive right out of him leaving him a heel hound or worse yet; one of them dandies that spent the evening drinking lemonade with a young girl's ma whilst holding her knitting and exchanging recipes.
Well sir, they pick the wrong bull. To say he rose to the occasion was an understatement in the extreme. That and it turned out that the Weasley twins, (geniuses that they are), hadn't been idle during Harry's absence. They had developed a balm for just such an occasion. One that soothed, revitalized and put a fire in the belly too boot.
The question of the hour was just what the ladies were doing to keep Katie in the thick of it.
By all accounts the woman's back shoulda given out days ago.
Hermione , indecently the genius behind this "Battle of the sexes" must have Pomfrey throwing every healing charm she could throw at Katie as fast as Hermione could discover new ones through painstaking research.
They'd been so busy healing Katie and tossing her, McGonagal, Pomfrey , Susan and a host of other images his way that they failed to see the fatal flaw in their planning; That flaw being that they only used material for the polyjuice that came from single women.
No one with a vested interest in another male lowered herself to Hermione's machinations, including the architect herself, though she was still technically a maiden as she and Ron had yet to tie the knot.
They also had over looked another such maiden in waiting: that of one Nymphadora Tonks!
It was through this oversight that Jamie Black cottoned on to a plan that would have made the Marauders, from which he harkened, green with envy, or in this case: blush shamelessly.
With not only Remus's permission, but his grateful support, Black exposed their flaw….
"You were unbelievable last night." Jamie fawned appreciatively, taking the woman's hand gently in his own. His trademark Stetson held in the other hand over his heart in a show of sincerity as he kneeled on the bench next to Tonks as the latter had just sat down to breakfast .
Remus was conspicuously absent this morning of all mornings.
"Beg pardon?" Dora stammered bewildered by his overtures.
"Don't play coy with me you minx? Sure you had me dead to rights with a busted flush whilst you were the one runnin a bluff the whole time. Here I thought that every filly was looking to brand my hide, but then it hit me- couldn't it not be so many, but maybe just one? One who could be so many, that is, ie… a metamorph? Oh, you're a one you are." He slapped his stetson across his hip in a show of elation, before continuing on with his train of thought..
"Which explains why so many apparently different girls seem to go about things the same way and the same speed; you know,…everyone rides a horse a bit different, some skittish and afraid they'll get thrown, others hard and fast like ol' 'Mione over there…"
"Excuse me?" The witch in question howled indignantly from across the table whilst Katie had her face buried in her hands, shaking her head dolefully as she muttered something about "being so s-stupid".
Jamie continued unabated. "Some gals, the right gals mind… well sir.. they know what there about and they know how to ride right proper. Makes a stud take to the saddle and bit without a second thought it does."
"Have you lost your mind?" Dora goggled at the man, blushing for perhaps the first time in years of shameless flirting, (on her own part), at the expense of others.
Jamie's face fell slightly at her rebuff, but then a gleaming leer melted over his features as he nodded his head toward the other witches nearby.
"I get it, not in front of the other, less experienced gals about. We'll just keep this side of our relation to ourselves until were all hitched up right proper and all, but tell me,… I gotta know: who you planning on bedding me as tonight, cause if you haven't decided fer sure just yet I'd like to make a suggestion? How about we take a turn as you playing Hermione over there?"
"What?!" Hermione screeched in horrified protest, rocketing out of her chair and going for her wand.
Harry swacked his Stetson off handily across her hand just as she was bringing her wand to bear, sending it spinning from her grasp.
"See what I mean and all? It's always the prim and proper ones that got the most spunk. Now, mind,.. if Ron's not just bragging and all and she is what he says she is than I best lay my hands on as much vitamin E as I can rustle up and now!" Jamie crowed and ambled off presumably to do just that.
"I'll kill him!" Hermione raged, spitting furiously as she stomped off after her wand presumable to geld Ronald with once in hand.
"OmiGod…OmiGod…OmiGod!" Katie groaned wearily as Susan Bones rubbed her back soothingly.
"He thinks it's all been you." She pronounced worriedly, nodding her chin toward Dora who looking like she'd swallowed a hippogriff for breakfast.
"No really, ya think?" she managed to scathe sarcastically before she too buried her head in her hands and shook her head wearily.
From the staff table: Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling like too bright stars on a clear winter's night as he made clutching motions with his spare hand toward his second. Minerva McGonagal grumbled under her breath as she placed the first of several galleons in his grasping palm, whilst Pomfrey reluctantly did the same to a very smug looking Professor Snape.
The next morning…
Jamie Black slunk into the breakfast Hall making his way dejectedly toward the female contingent who were lined up shoulder to should in a show of solidarity, that, and they were trying to fend off any western type solicitors from embarrassing them again, intentionally or no.
Most likely intentionally was the consensus.
Jamie tapped Nymphadora on the shoulder and the woman's back went ridged in dread, not wanting to so much as glance backward lest her nightmares reveal themselves to the light of day.
Jamie leaned down and whispered, a bit too loudly as was undoubtedly his intent.
"Where were you last night?"
"Gaaa!" Dora retched as if she were about to sick up.
"I waited fer hours with nothing but my boots, hat and holster on… just the way you like it." he mewled despairingly.
"OmiGod!" Katie shrieked burying her face in her hands in absolute mortification at that whilst the other shot her buried face pointed and questioning looks and still others winced sympathetically.
"What'st wrong with you?" Dora rallied turning in her seat and fixing him with a glare that could even cow Remus's werewolf form.
"Me, I'm a lovesick moon calf in need of a long nuzzle." Jamie waxed rhapsodically. "Say that's an idea…?" he burst out liking the notion that had just occurred to him. "What say you and I steal away and find us a milking parlor and stock up a bit for cold, lonely nights like last night when you need a bit of a respite and I'm dry as a tumbleweed in a sandstorm; if you catch my drift?" He leered down at her chest suggestively.
"Urgggg!" Dora growled in frustrated mortification as she jumped up and bolted from the Hall smacking into tables and chairs in her frenzied flight to distant safety.
He pulled down his Stetson low over his brow as he commented knowingly. "Any horse worth its salt will run off every now and again, but they always make their way back to the barn when their good and hungry."
Dumbledore's reaching hand found more gold in the offing, contemplating that at this rate his retirement looked to be a lucrative one.
The next morning…
Remus was trying unsuccessfully to try and fill his plate whilst Dora clung to him desperately, her head twisting to and fro as if expecting an attack at any moment.
She was so enmeshed in his side that she might as well of climbed into his lap as she was practically on top of his already.
"Dora, what in the world has gotten into you…Hey?!" Remus bellowed as a rope landed over his shoulders, pulling tight and clamping his hands uselessly to his sides.
Harry hitched up behind him keeping the rope taught as he looped several more strands around the man and tying off, securing him immobile to his chair.
"What're you playing at?" He growled, twisting his head around to find Jamie Black looming over him, grim and steel eyed.
Jamie pulled a handkerchief from around his neck and pushed it into Remus's protesting mouth.
"You Muvvver Fuffer!" Remus growled through the wad of cloth.
"And then some." Jamie smirked in agreement. "I don't know what she's about and I don't care." Jamie cocked a thumb in Dora direction slapping the wand from her hand as it shot into her palm from her auror's holster on her forearm.
"But I won't have nobody jumping my claim once my pan's been dipped and gold's exchanged hands." He leered suggestively at Dora's cringing form
Remus's eyes went comically wide at his inference. "Whadda Fufff?!"
At seeing Remus's shocked reaction; Jamie fixed Dora with a menacing glare. "You been hitching your horse to more than one wagon woman?" he growled.
Dora head pivoted back and forth as she tried to struggle out… "Jamie..I-It's not what you think…please, Remus it not what it looks like…? I..It was only a prank."
In retrospect she could see how that was perhaps the wrong choice of words as both men rocked back in shock.
"Why you two timing little…." Jamie began as his eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Bichhhh!" Remus shrieked through his gag.
Jamie quickly undid his bonds apologizing as he did so. "I'm sorry Remus. I had no idea she was the playing the both of us. I'd thought she did the honorable thing and had broken off with you before she saddled me.
He's no sooner pulled the gag when his friend lit into Dora's cringing form. "How could you? I loved you!…How could you do this to me? Jamie's like my own blood, a n-nephew or brother even. OmiGod, Dora?!" He screamed in outrage before turning on his heel and stomping off, arms flailing as he swore under his breath and all but ran from the Hall sending the gossip mill into overdrive.
"I hope your happy, breaking a good man like that and soiling my upstanding reputation in the process?" he snarled down at a crying Tonks.
"Upstanding reputation?" Hermione snorted disdainfully despite the seriousness of the unfolding drama.
How serious was a question as the Weasley boys were laughing fit to be tied. They along with everyone, but the witch's in question, appreciating the prank's simplistic genius as the women bought into the show hook like and stinker!.
"Jamie please, let me explain…?" Katie halting began.
He pointed a thumb meaningfully at Hermione. "See, she already thinks ill of me and for what.. a few nights of unbridled pleasure? You heartbreaking whore!" He swore, throwing down his rope and suggesting, "You're gonna need this as roping a stray is the only way a tramp like you will ever land another decent fella."
That said he pulled his hat low on his brow and scathed "I'm gettin outta here whilst the getting's good!"
The Hall erupted in cheers, jeers and uproarious laughter as he stomped away, halting for effect as he swiped a sleeve across his eyes as if mortified.
Had the appalled witches at the brunt of his prank paid closer attention they might have realized he was wiping away tears of laughter as evidenced by the way his back shook as he retreated.
Still in the present…
Not for the first time, since he'd left, he thought dolefully that he should have squared things with the ladies before he'd left. All things being equal, this could be his last round up as the first time he'd survived by sheer dumb luck and then he had first rate friends to rely on, at least initially.
This time he was alone.
He'd barely cleared the Hall, stomping away in feigned indignation when the people had chosen to call.
One minute he's whooping fit to bust and the next he's riding off hard looking to get himself killed for his trouble.
An old friend had come to call and absently he realized it had been a hundred years just as the legends warned.
He'd never considered that time travel would see him alive when the next wave hit and he was called back into action, but there it was.
Rance and Abner had died nearly a hundred years ago to the day. One minute he'd spirit walked over and was talking to Locuta shamans of days past when out of the ether steps Rance and Abner as bewildered as he by this turn of events.
He thought himself in a nightmare, willing his sleeping body to wake. When that didn't happen; he left the spirit world for a nightmare of another sort.
He found his friend's bodies torn to shreds, tossed about their campsite like rag dolls, the fire still burning hot after only scant minutes of being lit. He heard the break of sticks beneath heavy feet as something big lumbered away through the forest's dense foliage.
It was stupid and reckless and his friends would have never thought him so foolish, but he grabbed up Rance's Henry rifle and Abner's silver bowie and lit out after whatever had deprived him of his best and only friend's in all his current world.
Night and day he tracked whatever had done the horrific deed, slowly losing ground as whatever he was trailing was distancing itself more by the passing hour.
Through bramble and over brook he went, hell bent on getting even and then some.
Finally a day and a half later he stumbled into a clearing a scant dozen meters from a cliff face several hundred feet high and damn near sheer to boot.
He checked and rechecked but the tracks disappeared at the cliff face. His eyes searched the limestone wall narrowing as they caught a claw mark here and a disturbed bit of gravel there.
Apparently these damned things could climb rock as well as wooden cottage walls.
Initially he planned to apparate to the top of the cliff and continue his pursuit, hoping to pick up the trail again on arrival. He'd knew that this wasn't the wisest course of action as the damned thing could be waiting up top and could easily launch him back over the side before he could reorient himself after a hasty apparation.
He ran a hard look over the cliff face considering if he should chance the climb himself when his raptor gaze lit upon a dark spot about two thirds of the way up the cliff wall.
"No way….?" he grumbled in disbelief, having spotted a cave entrance that even a bird would be hard pressed to negotiate without slamming into the cliff face by accident.
That explains why it climes so well and nobody's ever come across the damn things before.
Judging by the depth and span of its tracks; the beast was a good seven to eight feet tall and had sharp clawed feet. He marveled at the thing's prowess. For something that big to have to climb up and down from a cliff wall like that and call it home it would have to be strong, too damned strong, even for someone of Abner's size and strength.
No wonder Abner hadn't stood a chance? It was fast too; otherwise Rance woulda emptied his colts in its hide, but he never got off a single shot.
The way Jamie figured it the Wendigo had killed Rance right off and then had its sport, short lived though it undoubtedly was, with Abner.
By the darkened blood staining Abner's blade he could tell Abner hadn't given up his ghost cheap, but still: he wouldn't have thought there was beast alive that could make short work of someone like Abner and still live after.
Going into that cave would be suicide. That was assuming it really was even in there to begin with.
Jamie sighed and decided to test a theory.
"Let's see whose home?" he grumbled to himself hefting Rance's Henry rifle. He had no illusions that he could effectively kill or even seriously wound the beast from this distance and the angle he was shooting from, but… if he ricocheted the bullets just right into the cave mouth surely he'd find out if someone nasty was home?
He moved back several paces to get a better angle and once he was up against the trunk of a tree as far back as he could get and still have a clean shot- he cut loose with the Henry.
The sound of his bullets ricocheting into the cave mouth was like music to the ear, up until a roar of primal rage shook the cliff face and actually dislodged a goodly amount of loose stone that cascaded down in a mini avalanche.
"Hmm, that's a fine idea." Jamie mused to himself thinking there was more than one way to skin a cat.
He hastily drew a few Locuta runes on the cliff face and chanted furiously in their ancient tongue. He voice rose as the rumbling began overhead.
He broke off nearly a second too late and ran for it as rock began to rain down overhead.
He'd managed enough of an avalanche to bury the former cliff face and take out a couple of hundred meters of tree line to boot.
"Starve you muther." Jamie snarled in satisfaction making a tomb of the thing's former home.
End of Flashback
A quick spirt walk later and he was back in Locuta territory for the first time in over a hundred years of banishment, self-induced or not.
He'd been laughing fit to bust down by Black Lake when he'd felt the summons of the people.
Even half way round the world he could feel the pull of a spirit counsel sending an emergency summons.
Normally, in years past, he would have ignored such but in the recent clime he felt it beholden to him to extend an olive branch in the spirit of their new found mutual cooperation.
In other words: why piss upstream from where you fill your canteen?
He'd be lying if he didn't admit to himself that he wasn't exactly against seeing Shaman Wind Song again as she was definitely worth a second look,… or a third for that matter.
He emerged from skirting the spirit world to find himself shocked, though he shouldn't have been.
When last he'd laid eyes on the Locuta's main village: a few log cabins and a host of teepee lodges was all that denoted the thriving community. Now; Brick and wooden homes with vinyl siding stretched as far as the eyes could see.
The center of town had remained the same, however. A spirit lodge, made of spell rune etched logs and clay, denoted the center hub of a wheel and spoke city pattern. The lodge and the garb of the Locuta high council was the same as the day they'd banished him, only the faces had changed.
No longer did they look upon his coming with revulsion and disdain, but relief, acceptance and even joy greeted his arrival. The center of which was Wind Song. She wore white leathers with beautiful bead work that denoted her lofty station among the tribe, her hands held out beckoning as she came forward past the rest of the council to be the first to greet his arrival.
"Mei toc"( You came), she asked almost in surprise.
Jamie pulled off his Stetson, holding it by one hand over his heart as he dropped to one knee taking her hand and kissing it reverently.
He couldn't see from his vantage point but she colored to the roots of her hair that a Spirit Walker, now Spirit Warrior, would pay such deference to even a shaman of the people.
People of Jamie Black's stature only existed in their most distant and storied legends.
"Aie essa como nei"(please you're embarrassing me) she whispered, her eyes casting about afraid of the reaction she would find from her fellows.
Jamie lifted his head, a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth as he cocked an eyebrow in feigned surprise.
"Hia, ottuw wega nei posvato, Kiato Wind Song?" (Will you not bless my return, Shaman Wind Song?) he asked dejectedly as if he was wounded by her hesitation to greet him as one would a tribe member returning from a long absence.
Wind Song got over her embarrassment quickly enough once she realized he was toying with her.
She cuffed him atop his head and reverted to English to vent her ire. "I should probably reserve my prayers for those left behind in your wake."
Several gasps of outrage from the elders behind stiffened her back in mortification.
"Mito e fasss" (be at ease). Jamie waved their concerns off as he rose smoothly to his feet, shooting the Shaman a look of displeasure as he patently ignored her and stepped around her to greet his brothers among the chosen and the rest of the tribal elders awaiting his pleasure.
Her huffs of displeasure at his rebuff were music the ears as he went about his business. Once pleasantries were exchanged he got down to the business at hand.
"I understand you folks got yerself a critter problem of the dark and nasty variety?"
Some of the tribal elders paled and others exchanged worried glances though they all appeared to appreciate his timely arrival.
Bear Claw took the lead for the hesitant others.
"It started off as no more than a missing lamb or a stray cow we'd thought run afoul of a rouge bear or a wolf pack ranging down from the northern climes in search of richer hunting grounds. We sent out a four man hunting party to take care of the issue and none returned. They we're only a day overdue and we we're considering a more proactive approach when reports came in of an entire ranch of livestock decimated, the animals killed for no more than sport and the family found torn to shreds all save they're youngest daughter; she was nowhere to be found amongst the carnage."
Several tribesmen grumbled angrily or fearfully at this but all wore the look of resolve that they would do what was need to protect their brethren and avenge their dead.
"The old ones say this has happened before and whispers have spread over tribal fires of an evil that has beset our lands, one not seen for an age and one that all had hoped to never encounter again. Have you heard of such, Little Wolf?"
Jamie spit on the ground to show his contempt over the subject at hand before tipping up his hat so that the others could see the firm set of his jaw and the conviction in his eye.
"Wendigo" he pronounced of a certainty.
The elders and the chosen shared a troubled look, but it was Wind Song who'd joined them from behind that answered for the others.
"It is as we feared. Have you ever faced such, Little Wolf?" Her eyes held both hope and trepidation of his answer.
"Not directly, no, but I did deal with one upon a time. The damned thing had killed a couple a good friends before I tracked it down and buried it under a rock slide. I felt starving was a fittin end for the ravenous turd."
"What does it look like?" Clam waters asked next, fingering the Bowie knife at his waist in anticipation of the coming hunt.
"Can't say for a certain as I never got a look, but I'm reliably informed that it's like one of those muggle "big foot" legends only think of it with razor sharp fangs, claws and a penchant for wholesale slaughter just for sport and a taste for innocent flesh for sustenance."
Wind Song and several of the elders shuddered at that, whilst the rest of the chosen shared troubled, but resolved looks with each other and Jamie who took the initiative.
"We do this; than we do this right proper, hear? Animagus' only; preferably hawks and owls for reconnaissance, bears, wolves and such for guard duty. Two in the air and two on the ground at all times. I'll not have this damned thing getting the drop on us like the last time.
"Last time?" Shadow wolf asked curiously.
Jamie nodded and explained the fate of his two friends. "I wasn't gone a half minute and there they were standing next to me in the afterlife as surprised to see me as I was them. They were top hands worth as much or more as any among the chosen."
All shared troubled looks at that as none would contemplate previously that such a creature could exist that could so readily dispatch their tribe's finest warriors.
"How many warriors do you suggest accompany us?" Wind Song asked.
"You an animagus?" he asked, already knowing the answer from their previous encounters.
"Well no, but…" she began haltingly surprised that someone would question her leadership.
"Then you aint goin." Jamie rebuffed.
"Now just a minute…?" she began to argue to which her male counterparts took a step back in hopes of remaining neutral in the coming confrontation.
"You aint getting one or all of us killed whilst you're lazing about giving yourself a manicure or washing your hair, missy." Jamie shot back with a sneer of disdain.
"Manicure?!" Wind Song shrieked in outrage, brandishing those selfsame claws in question. Jamie's hands shot out like lightning catching her wrists. He pulled her forward as he dropped down onto one knee, over balancing the shaman, who fell bodily across his knee. He clamped his arm over her back, locking her in place with her arms held out of the way, and proceeded to swat the living daylights out of the pretention women's backside.
"Hey…Owe!" Wind Song screamed
Each ringing swat was accompanied by a growled epitaph from Jamie as he set to work with dread certainty.
"If-I-say-you-aint -goin-then- you-aint-goin!-I-aint-running-a- debate-club-nor-some-women's-empowerment-group.-The-next-time-you- turn-your-claws-on-me-I'm-gonna-take-you-to-the-nearest-blacksmith-and-have-you-shod-good-and-proper!"
With a last CRACK for good measure, he dump the shaman on the ground who immediately twisted over, with a wince when her stinging backside encountered the hard ground, a spell already forming on her lips and her handing glowing with painful intent.
"UH-Uh-Ah" Jamie admonished, shaking a finger in warning down at the incensed woman.
"You take this to another level and your backside's not the only thing that'll be giving you pain for a spell." He warned, his own hands glowing a color the spell for which she couldn't readily identify and was contemplating whether or not she was eager to discover the results of.
She hesitated for a moment before bursting into tears and apparating away to more safe surroundings.
The rest of the chosen sighed in relief at her departure whilst many of the tribal elders surged forward and with claps to his shoulder proclaimed their instant like for the man with offers of undying friendship, naming future children for him and even a few offers of a daughter's hand in marriage.
Apparently Wind Song had made an indelible impression among the tribe's council and not in a favorable way.
Anyway the offered daughters sounded intriguing so he and the others laughingly made their way to a nearby tavern to discuss the possibilities over a drink or three.
Three days cautious ride later and they found the sad remains of the little girl; no more than a torn and bloodied dress to mark her passing. The thrice damned creature had devoured the child bones and all by the look of things.
What humor there was among the group was gone after that. All were grim faced and steely eyed as the hunt intensified.
Twelve of the tribe's finest rode on nightmares with Jamie making a baker's dozen.
Two birds of prey animagus' flew overhead at all times keeping vigil over the hunting part while two wolf animagus' tracked their quarry. They were making good time, but as before; the creature was making better. The fact of this was increasing the party's level of anxiety as they had rested in shifts whilst still moving forward and yet were not gaining, but losing ground.
Growing impatient and not wanting to settle for anything less than a sure kill this time around; Jamie sent the bird animagus' forward to try and get a fix on their quarry, once done they would apparate ahead of the beast and lay a trap for when it arrived.
The news he received from his aerial reconnoiters was not to his liking in that their quarry had already made the cover of the distant forests, or so its tracks indicated. Of the beast itself, there was no visual confirmation. The could be chasing their tails for all they knew as the beast could have double backed once making the cover of the distant trees; though why it would chose to do so as they were out in the open and could see it coming from across the plain nullifying its element of surprise.
The whole thing smelt fishy to the Marshall, thus he called in his hunting party to talk things over.
"I think this damned thing is either trying to draw us into the cover of forest so it can pick us off at its leisure, or has double backed to try and take us from behind under the cover of darkness."
"We could apparate ahead to the distant cliffs and maybe take it before it reaches the safety of its lair in the deep caves, Little wolf?" Calm Waters suggested.
Jamie tipped up his hat and wiped a sleeve across his sweaty brow as he paused to contemplate his wariness of doing just that.
"I think it's expecting us to do just that, knowing that I'm aware of it's home from a past run in with it's ancestor. Hell, it could be the same damn one for all I know. Who knows how long such things live. I dealt with a basilisk upon a time and conjecture was the thing was a thousand years old or better."
His friends shuddered at such a possibility, before Bear Claw asked the next obvious solution. "What then? If we lay in wait on the plain we could most probably see it coming, but we would lose the advantage of cover, even so, it must know it would be out in the open and easy prey as it's done nothing to make me consider it a dumb animal."
Many nodded at that, all with worried looks over such contemplation, Jamie among those.
"Exactly." He agreed. "This damn thing is smart, so why double back and risk open assault unless of course it thinks it can take us or..?" His eyes went out of focus for a moment as another alternative popped into his head.
"Damn me for a fool!" Jamie howled to the heavens, knowing he was probably already too late.
"Calm Waters, Bear Claw and Shadow Wolf with me. The rest of you form a circle back to back and keep your weapons to hand. Set watch fires a hundred yards out and pray to our ancestors to watch over you in case I'm wrong."
"What is it Little Wolf, what's wrong?" Bear Claw asked taking his arm worriedly as his two fellow chosen formed a chain of locked arms knowing that Little Wolf was planning to transport them via the spirit realm.
Jamie's eyes were emerald fire, his jaw set in an angry grimace that promised pain in the offing.
"The cursed mother's double backed- home."
"You mean it drew us all the way out here on purpose… too far away to apparate whilst it double backed to go after the people?" Calm Waters asked aghast at the implications, his fellows exchanging dread looks of dawning fear over the safety of their homes and family.
"Exactly" Jamie confirmed with dread certainty. "Keep your weapons sheathed as they won't be welcome amongst the spirits. Transform to your animagus the second we set foot on Locuta ground and stay together. Attack as one and only on my lead. Cover my arse whilst I do what needs be done."
"Cover your … but that would mean…?" Calm Waters blanched in understanding.
Jamie laid it out for them, putting to words what the chosen already suspected.
"I think we've been had. I think the one we've been following is just bait to draw us far enough away so that we couldn't get back to help in time."
"You don't mean it…?" Bear Claw began worriedly before Jamie interrupted.
"I don't think this thing's alone." He answered in a dread monotone.
That said he spirit walked his fellows to the boundary between worlds, cautioning them to ignore all else but the sound of his voice and the touch of their fellow's hands guiding each other along.
"Change now!" he barked as they emerged into the land of the living amongst utter chaos.
Spell fire lit up what should have been sunset skies. The dark held at bay by the light of homes set ablaze as the people tried to drive away their attackers with flame, only succeeding in trapping themselves between walls of scorching heat and blood slavering jaws of equally certain doom.
Of the creature they formally thought to be hunting, there could be no mistake in identifying the hoard of such that were bearing down on their friends and families.
The wendigo in front of their startled eyes was easily eight feet tall and heavily muscled. They looked nothing so much a cross between a Himalayan abominable and a giant werewolf. They were covered in grayish fur with blood red eyes over snouts that contained slavering fanged maws. Their arms, though heavily furred, were man like ending in cruelly sharp claws. They walked upright on two legs, with talons that looked like they could climb a sheer cliff by digging into solid rock.
"Nei-ah(no)!" Jamie shouted as Calm Waters bolted forward in his grey wolf form in a foolish attempt to try and save the woman the beast held aloft by her throat as if no more than a rag doll. The creature, though appearing ignorant of the danger bearing down from behind, waited until the opportune moment when the wolf was in range. It twisted around and swiped a viciously clawed backhand that caught Calm Waters across the maw and sent him spinning into a blazing cottage across the lane.
Jamie too, did not waste the opportunity his friend's certain death afforded as he unloaded his right colt into the creature's head. Six silver bullets blew the damned things head too so much gristle as it pitched over sideways and toppled to the ground, it's former captive stumbled a few steps before falling to her knees in wracking sobs of horror and despair.
He twisted and turned, like some ballet artist in macabre dance whose music only he could hear, unloading his guns of their precious cargo and delivering death to things that should have never been in the first place.
Silver was not hard to come by, but silver bullets were, and as his navy colts expended the last of the cache he'd painstakingly forged; he pulled his Henry rifle from its case slung across his back.
His hand was a blur upon the lever as he cocked and fired from the hip, his free hand pulling fresh cartridges from the gun belts slung across his chest as soon as the rifle ran dry. He fired and fired until he had to pick targets at greater and greater distances until the last of the beast were either dead or fled.
It was a long moment before he came to his senses and realized he was cocking and firing an empty rifle amongst a chorus of wailing misery from the dying and those begging them to linger a bit longer in false hope of a miracle, although hope had fled these parts for greener pastures.
The smell of blood and death was so strong it filled his nostrils to bursting as he emptied his stomach of food no longer in residence. When his blurry eyes finally regained their focus he saw the torn remains of friends that had put their faith foolishly in him.
Woodenly Jamie stumbled through a town that was no more than a torn ruin of burning homes and torn bodies half eaten and tossed aside like so much fodder.
An entire way of life, a civilization destroyed,.. and on his watch. Were had his meager skills and false bravado gotten the people?
Dead, that's where. What sort of a law man was he?
He hadn't just failed to protect these people; he'd failed to avenge them. Many of the foul creatures, too many, had gotten away to slink off and lick their wounds before coming back some night hence to finish the job. Not that there was much left for them to finish as what few remained looked as if they wouldn't survive the day, grievously injured as they were. He didn't bother to try and heal a single soul. To what end? They wouldn't last another day once the remnants of the wendigo horde regrouped and attacked again.
He was beyond despondent when his aimless shuffling happened upon the spirit lodge to find the glistening remains of the beauty that had once been: Wind Song. She lay amidst the remains of several of the foul creatures, stark testament to her station amongst the people as their chosen shaman.
She had not sold her life cheaply, dying with honor amongst her enemies. He was as proud of her as he was ashamed of himself.
Wearily he thought of putting one of his lead cartridges to use, though his own sense of flagging honor could not let it be so as he had an entire culture to avenge, alone or no he would see it done.
He wished he'd cottoned on sooner to the creature's devious intentions.
If only he'd had more time to…
"You stupid som-bitch!" he cursed himself aloud for his own ignorance.
He had all the time he needed at his disposal. The Thunder's cryptic warning that all he needed was a "bit more time", flashed through his mind like a thunderbolt. His shaman hadn't meant for him to use time against Voldemort, he'd meant for him to use his access to time travel to save their people.
Five minutes later, or three hours prior…(depending on your point of view).
The smell of blood and death filled the air of the once pristine Locuta village . The work of not twenty minutes saw the utter destruct of a demonic species that should never have been.
Marshal Black had arrived earlier than expected among the Locuta,.. and he'd brought friends.
Friends armed to the teeth with modern and antique fire arms of all make and model with a ready supply of silver cartridges to hand to see the job done as he put it: "right proper".
The slavering monstrosities had slunk stealthily into an ambush of their own devise. They'd found not ready victims ripe for the harvest but pockets of strategically placed warriors waiting on tether hooks to reap a harvest of their own: in blood.
Funeral pyres, fortuitously built in advance, were lit and used to full effect to rid the village of its unwanted visitors who would never visit harm upon the living again.
After many a round of celebratory drinks, battle stories and a great deal of back slapping and handshakes; Jamie Black snuck away from the celebration intent to ride off unnoticed on the granddaughter of his own beloved nightmare-Shade. This mare lovingly named: Sundown.
He liked it, as it was a named that harkened back to his own western timeline of a bygone age.
She was offered in friendship by the people for services rendered. Apparently some few among them knew he would appreciate the gesture far more than any cold honorariums that would only collect dust overtime until future generations heaved them up on some rummage sale pile for things and people long since forgotten.
"You're a rare beauty you are." Jamie fondly stroked a firm hand down his mare's neck and side whilst Sundown whinnied softly in appreciation for the compliment.
"Why thank you", a voice from behind accepted graciously.
If she'd thought she could manage to get the jump on him she was wrong as he caught her scent five minute before she arrived.
His hand rested on the horn of his saddle as he contemplated mounting the ride waiting over the one in the offing.
"It was as much for your benefit as Sundown's." he clarified with a smirk that she couldn't see from her vantage point.
"Were you actually going to leave without saying a proper good bye?" the shaman asked incredulously.
"I aint much good at goodbyes." he snorted as he turned back to face Wind Song. "Course I aint much good at hello's neither."
The chuckled on his lips died there as he took in the vision silhouetted in the darkness by the fact that she was adorned in her white leathers which were saved for auspicious occasions such as ceremonies and acts of deepest apology. He could think of nothing that would account for her current state of dress.
She removed the mystery from him, appreciating though she did the way his eyes drank in her carefully sculpted appearance.
"I ask your favor, Little Wolf. I ask you hand in mine as we walk through life. I… beg it of you." She dropped to one knee proffering a perfect white rose beckoningly.
He had but to take the rose from her hand and they would be as engaged amidst the eyes of the people.
He was sorely tempted to take her up on her offer. To grab her up and never let her go, but the vision of her torn and bloodied body of the pervious time line gave him pause.
"Why do you falter? You want me as I do you. I can see it in your eyes and feel it within mine own heart?" she entreated, her eyes beginning to tear up in false understanding. "Is it because of Beata Po?" she referenced his once love for her great aunt.
"No" he intoned hollowly. "Nor is it cause of Katie, neither." He added quickly seeing the question on her lips.
"What then?" she begged, shaking her head in frustration. "Why would you deny yours and mine's happiness for I would make you happy Little Wolf. I would spend my life shamelessly devoted to bringing a smile to your lips… and I would relish it." she added, coloring so dark that it stood out like a black hole in the darkening air around them.
He sighed regretfully at that, pulling a new black Stetson from his head and holding it over his heart in a show of sincerity that was common amongst those intimate couples amongst the people.
He calmly approached and dropped to his knees just beyond her reach lest he find himself over tempted to latch on.
"Can you see me attached to one woman, any woman?" he stalled.
"I could if it were the right woman. One devoted to your happiness." She answered of a certain, flicking back her silken tresses defiantly.
"What of your happiness?"
"Devoting myself to one man,.. the right man, would find me singing from the roof tops come morning's light. Our children would be many and each a blessing to the spirit of our union. I would grow old and fat with a smile on my lips and a lightness in my heart that would see me well satisfied in this life and the next."
Whoa… a fella didn't get an offer like that every day?
"I could die tomorrow." he warned.
"I'll try to be gentle." she returned with a smirk.
"What about Katie and me?" he brought reality crashing back and the smirk disappeared from her lips for a scant heart beat before it returned with….
"I suppose we could adopt her?" she was joking but only just. What she was really doing was offering to share as it was not uncommon among the Locuta for warriors, especially chieftains, to take more than one wife as their own.
He pulled a face at that before wearily rubbing the bridge of his nose in frustration.
Two women in one lodge was asking for trouble of a sort that even he didn't want to risk.
"If I say no, what then will you do?" he asked pointedly gauging the seriousness of her entreaty.
"I will strive to make you see reason." she returned succinctly, her chin held up proudly in assurance of her conviction.
"Until I say yes, right?" he asked in clarification.
She nodded incredulously in a fashion that clearly spoke he was a fool for asking the obvious.
"So if I accept the rose, what am I supposed to do with it then?" he asked uncertainly as this was unexplored territory for him thus far.
Her proud visage demurred as she suggested: "I'm told the soft petals are quite stimulating to the naked flesh."
He found that there's a reason they say 'be careful of the thorns'.