The Wayward Eight: A Contract to Die For
Ex-Confederate officer Captain Marcus Wayward and his infamous “Eight” are on a deadly mission. They have been contracted to find and kill the most notorious scientist in the world… European madman Doctor Burson Carpathian, who resides somewhere in the rough interior of Arizona. Carpathian is protected by an undead horde of his own construction, and powered by the miracle fuel RJ-1027, they will defend him to the death. Yet the chance for Wayward and his mercenaries to acquire fame, fortune, and immortality on such a mission is too great to refuse. The journey is fraught with perils and pitfalls – outlaws, Union troopers, thrill-seekers, Shifters of the Warrior Nation, and even other mercenaries hell-bent on finding and killing Carpathian first. And when the shadowy force known as the Dark Council gets involved, the way becomes even deadlier. But the greatest challenge for Captain Wayward could very well be his own people, who begin to question the nature of the mission as it unravels. Can he keep it all together? Can he keep his mercenaries intact long enough to finish the job, to ride them to glory, and into the history books? Time will tell…
Note: This is a scene taken from Chapter 6. The Wayward Eight are on the move, having accepted the challenge of finding and killing Doctor Burson Carpathian. They have crossed the Mississippi River and are heading west into Contested Territory, which in the Wild West Exodus Universe, comprises many of the states in the middle of the country, including Arkansas, where this scene takes place. Flowing River, a distinguished member of the Eight and a exile of the Warrior Nation, is experiencing a waking dream…
She had a dream, and the dream became real. Or so it felt, calling to her through the hazy uncertainty of sleep. It was her spirit animal, its body undulating across the ground toward her, seemingly unmoving as its cold, smooth scales shifted back and forth to propel it through grass and soft dirt. It came to her and told her to awake, and she did. Then she followed it into the darkness, her arm outstretched and reaching for it. She tried to shift into it, as she had tried hundreds of times in her life. Her hand was just above its tail. She grabbed for it and imagined herself a snake, coiled up beneath a rock, ready to strike. It slipped away, as it always did, and she kept chasing it.
Follow me, it hissed, deep within the recesses of her mind, and she did so, across the cold, wet Arkansas field, away from her brother, away from the camp. Let me show you something.
But it had already shown her things that she did not want to see, like the tall man with a beard, the one they called Lincoln. It showed her the Tonto Forest days before they had met the ex-president of the white nation, who was now himself a ghost, dead and yet not dead. And now it wanted to show her something else, and she feared the worst: an image of a death, perhaps, one of her family, her brother maybe or Marcus at the end of this mission that they had agreed to take. Showing her such terrifying images would be punishment for not being good enough, brave or strong enough, to shift. Sun did not believe in the spirits, but she knew the truth. Those worthy were allowed to shift, and Flowing River had not shown her worthiness.
Show me, she said in her mind, and it did.
A large building with concrete walls. A fort with guards in blue, walking the ramparts. Large piles of steel track lay near a train that stood waiting to unload the terrible weapons and soldiers of the Union army. Around the fort were tiny white tents, hundreds of them, all mixed together, some bigger, some smaller. And people, scores of white people, living in those tents, taking comfort and security from the large walls nearby, but scared too, she could see it on their faces. Everything aglow with the red fluid, weapons and lanterns and batteries, vehicles and mighty iron trains. It terrified her, and she tried to turn away.
What is this place? She asked, for the image, though clear and precise, seemed distant, almost foreign. She did not recognize it, did not remember ever seeing it before.
The snake changed the image again, of terrible men waiting for them there at the fort, mindless killers, and she saw her friends, her family, fall, one after the other, in fires ablaze and red acidic bursts. Her heart raced and she stopped following her spirit.
Do not go there, the words flowed numbly through her mind. Do not go there.
The snake spirit faded away, and Flowing River stood alone in the middle of a dark field, light from the moon shining down, casting her faint shadow across the fallow rows. She turned left, right, trying to see the light from their camp, the light from the small town they had passed through. Nothing. Just darkness.
Which way should I go? Which way back to camp? She asked these questions but received no response.
She smelled them before she heard them. A deep musky scent of sweat and male stench, the sickly sweet pungent odor of wet fur and unclean, sweaty skin. Then they shuffled into view, each distinct and threatening, with war paint masking their faces, and hands holding knives and sharp hatchets. She counted them: one, two, three… eight. Seven scalpers and a half man, half wolf creature that towered over her like a giant, a seven foot mass of muscle, teeth, claws, and greasy black fur. Not an uncommon sight in the Warrior Nation: a master shifter with a pack of younger, less experienced scalpers learning the ways of the people. And here they stood, far away from home, circling her, waiting, watching to see what she might do.
She pulled her weapons.
The man-beast bared its fangs, snarled, and motioned its followers forward while it fell back to observe. The seven killers closed in, like a noose, moving cautiously, but determined.
Am I dreaming? She bent her knees and waited. If I am dreaming, let me wake…
NOTE: This is a scene from Chapter 10. Robert “The Wraith” Gunter, having narrowly escaped an exchange with the Wayward Eight, struggles to remain alive.
The Wraith had ridden half the night, through rain and hail and into a deadly windstorm that blew his ‘Horse off the road. He jumped just before it struck a pine tree and burst into flames. He rolled into a gully, gnashing his teeth against the excruciating pain in his right arm.
A lucky shot. The woman who reminded him of Lucinda Loveless had gotten off one lucky shot. Now, here he lay, bleeding in the middle of a thunderstorm. Thankfully, his shoulder armor had deflected most of the energy of the bullet, and thus it had only grazed his arm and not blown it off; if that had happened, he’d be dead right now, not only from the concussion but from the radiation that would have sickened his blood right good. He was still nauseous, for sure, but already that sensation was subsiding, as he knew it would. He was The Wraith, and by-God, there was no one that could take a bullet like him. Atomic pistol be damned!
Where was he? He wasn’t sure how far he had traveled. He had slipped past the Union soldiers at the fort and had headed south, laughing and smiling, having left Marcus and his miserable stooges behind. He tried looking around, trying to see if he could recognize anything, any buildings or trees that might give him an idea of where he was. Nothing stood out. It was too dark and he was in too much pain.
He ripped off a piece of his shirt and wrapped it around his arm as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. It did, but his arm still hurt like hell.
In the light of the burning ‘Horse, he crawled through the gully, through mud and water, until he came to rest against a tree trunk lying on the ground. He closed his eyes and felt comforted by the heat coming off the burning vehicle. He slept.
He awoke the next morning to four ugly faces.
The men that carried those faces smelled too, as if they’d been on the trail for weeks without bathing. Their clothing was tattered and disheveled, spotted with dirt, mud, and grass stains. Two of the men had beards. And from what he could tell from their arrogant smiles, none of them had very good teeth.
“Who are you, mister?”
The man who asked the question must have been in charge of the miserable group. The Wraith looked into the man’s ugly face and blinked. “I’m The Wraith.”
They laughed. “What the hell kind of name is that?” another asked.
He ignored the question and looked around some more. They had come in on Blackhoofs. Four of them stood nearby, one with eagle and hawk feathers hanging off its iron neck. That was one good sign at least, The Wraith thought. Indian killers.
“How’d you get like this, mister?” The youngest of the group asked. He was a pretty clean-cut kid, no beard, five or six years younger than the others. Too young to be running with these losers.
“Got into a little dispute at Fort Smith,” he said, pushing himself up straight to sit more erect against the log. “The Union doesn’t seem to like my politics.”
“Looks like it,” one said shaking his head in disbelief. “Where you headed?”
On that, The Wraith paused, then he said, “Nowhere special. Just traveling. And if you boys will help me up, loan me that whiskey bottle you got in your pocket there, and a Blackhoof, I’ll be much obliged and on my way.”
They laughed at him. The one in charge shook his head. “I don’t think so, mister.” He pulled a pistol and aimed it at The Wraith’s face. “You ain’t in no shape to be asking us for anything. Now, how’s about you hand over those weapons you got? I ain’t never seen any like them, and they’d fit my hand just as good as yours I figure.”
The others had pulled their pistols too, save for the boy, who held a knife forward in a wobbly hand. Not a single gun among them, however, had RJ. Standard issue pieces: a Schofield Smith & Wesson, a Colt 45, and a Webley Bull Dog. The Wraith raised an approving eyebrow on that last one; he hadn’t seen one of those in a while. Wouldn’t mind having this one, in fact.
He put up his hands in peace. “Okay, boys, no need for anyone to get hurt. I’ll give you the guns. But first, if you’ll show me one courtesy, I’d appreciate it.” He pointed at the boy. “Son, will you be so kind as to walk over yonder and scrape up a little bit of RJ on the tip of your knife? I seem to have left my blade back at Fort Smith.”
The boy hesitated, then moved on a nod from his leader. “Okay, now, hand them over,” the man said, cocking his 45.
The Wraith moved his hands slowly to the pistols at his sides. He smiled. “Have you all heard the story about the wolf and the three little pigs? ‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in. No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin. Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your –’”
He drew his pistols and put rounds in the heads of the leader and another man. Then he pulled both triggers and sent two shots into the chest of the man standing right in front of him. All three were dead before they hit the ground.
“‘—blow yours heads off.’ I always liked that fairy tale.”
The boy stood behind the three corpses, holding his knife out, hot, red RJ on its tip. He didn’t move a muscle.
The Wraith tucked his pistols away and stood up slowly. He grabbed his shotgun and carefully slung it over his back. He grimaced. The pain in his arm was blinding.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the knife from the boy and opening his coat to expose the red, swollen cut from the bullet. He grit his teeth and pushed the RJ into the wound and massaged it in slowly; slow enough to work the searing fluid into the cut thoroughly, but not so strongly as to excite the volatile properties within the red fuel and force it to ignite and blow his arm off. He howled like a wolf, fell to one knee, but kept the knife in place until the RJ had thoroughly cauterized the wound.
When the pain subsided, he stood and handed the knife back to the boy. Then he rummaged around the body of the man who had held the Webley Bull Dog, found the piece and dropped it into his coat pocket. He also pocketed the whiskey bottle he had asked for.
He went to the Blackhoof with the hanging eagle feathers and climbed aboard. He turned it on, and its eyes ignited red with RJ coursing through its frame. He let it trot forward a bit; it was a little wobbly on the left side, but it would have to do.
“Now,” said The Wraith, halting the Blackhoof next to the boy who still stood in shock among the three corpses, “I figure the Union will be by directly looking for me. If they do, you tell them that Marcus Wayward did all this, you hear?”
The boy nodded quickly.
“And you further let them know that Marcus is headed to Fort Waco. You tell them this exactly as I have told you, or I’ll track you down and kill a fourth pig. Understand?”
“Y—yes, sir. I sure will, sir.”
He nodded politely and headed out, leaving the boy and the carnage behind.
He was still in pain, but pleased with himself. If by some chance Marcus and his merry band had escaped Fort Smith, their next best move would be to head to Fort Waco. A place like that would provide support and succor to them as they tried discovering the whereabouts of Carpathian’s hideout. A place like Fort Waco was a good place for The Wraith as well, but he wasn’t headed there. His destination lay further south, along the Texas-Mexican border, in a pleasant little town called Laredo.
NOTE: This third and final excerpt is from Chapter 18. Marcus Wayward and his “Eight” are lying in ambush for Thomas Edison and his Enlightened goons to move into position. In the Wild West Exodus universe, Edison is not your smiley-faced inventor of the light bulb; he’s a servent to Doctor Carpathian, and this may be the only chance The Wayward Eight have of securing entry into the mad scientist’s complex.
It was difficult to see with clouds continuously floating past the moon, but Marcus was fine with that. It would be difficult to fire true in such intermittent light, but they had an advantage: they were lying in wait for Edison and his devilish creatures to move through the gap below their position. Once they were in place, Hell itself would unleash.
He had sent Jake, K-Free, and Zarelda to the other side of the gap with strict orders not to fire until they heard his hand cannon first. He could not see them from his hiding place, but they were there, waiting just like he and Icarus, Hicks, and River. River had been given one of the Union blasters. She hated using it, at first refusing, but under the circumstances, it was the most practical thing for her to use. She would not be able to get up close and personal until the enemy had scattered, and perhaps there would not even be such an opportunity. Marcus had never fought against Enlightened constructs before; this was new territory. He found himself more excited about it than he wanted to admit.
“They’re here,” Icarus whispered into his ear. Marcus pulled back. She was closer to him than she ought to be. He waved her off.
“Over there,” he said, directing her where to go. “Behind that dry log. And remember: don’t shoot Edison. Take out his support first.”
Icarus nodded and slithered into position. River was at the far end of their triangle, the idea being that, with the aid of the others, they would hit the scouts in the front, middle, and rear. That was the plan, anyway.
Marcus took a deep breath and pulled his hand cannon, cocked it, and waited. The line of constructs below moved into position, led by Edison and, seemingly, a personal human assistant. He and Edison made small talk, or what sounded like small talk to Marcus. More like useless babbling. They laughed. That angered Marcus the most. What was funny about any of this, he wondered. Are they that confident? That arrogant? Well, not for long. He rose up on his knees, aimed at the assistant, and fired.
The man fell dead at Edison’s feet, his face a deep, bloody cavern.
Jake and the others fired as well, followed by Icarus, Hicks, and finally River. A massive volley of atomic and blaster fire swarmed into the gap and lit up the night, smashing into Edison’s constructs, throwing their broken bodies against the rocks and pine that lined the gap. The initial shock of the ambush took them totally by surprise, but it did not take them all out. About half were still standing or alive enough to return fire, and the ridgeline on both sides of the gap began to smolder with returned RJ and blaster fire. Marcus had to dive onto his belly to keep from getting hit. Icarus jumped out from behind her log which was blasted away by one concentrated shot of RJ-fire. The log literally blew into the sky like a firecracker.
Marcus grabbed her arm and pulled her to his hiding place. “Son of a bitch,” Icarus said, reaching for reloads on a bandoleer draped over her shoulder. “He’s got grenades.”
And more than one, it seemed, for one after the other, positions along the ridgeline began to sound with up-thrown dirt and rock, one strike, then another, and another. Icarus managed to crawl back up on her knees and fire again, taking out one construct as her atomic rounds flayed and burned its chest. Marcus rose up as well, hitting another in the shoulder. The impact of the shot turned it right around, but it kept on shooting, seemingly not caring where it fired, so long as it peppered the ridgeline with bullets. Marcus could hear Edison barking orders, and the constructs responded quickly. Some took cover, while others just fired up the line, without caring if they got struck or not. Marcus watched as Zarelda ripped one construct to shreds with shots from her repeater. He smiled. Things were looking good. It was time to move.
“Down!” he shouted, loud enough so that those on the other side of the gap could hear.
Marcus crawled down the ridge about ten feet, finding another boulder to hide behind. He was followed by Icarus, Hicks, and River, who crawled as well to their designated locations. It had all been planned ahead of time. The idea was, as Edison’s scouts took casualties, the Eight would tighten the noose again and again, slowly making their way down the ridge, to deprive the enemy of retreat. It was a risk getting closer, but absolutely necessary to ensure that not a single construct got free. No one could escape alive, except Edison, and he had to be captured.
So far, the other seven had followed his orders and had not taken a shot at Edison. This, unfortunately, gave the man free reign to fire and throw grenades. It also gave him time to set up the speakers on his back.
Marcus took a shot toward Edison, trying to ricochet a bullet off the metal of a dead construct near his feet, in the hopes of distracting the inventor. But it didn’t have the effect he wanted. Edison, as calm as walking in a park, turned his speakers toward the ridgelines, one left and the other right, and let it blast.
Immediately, Marcus grabbed his head and felt his left ear give out as wave after wave of blaring sound rushed over his hiding place. This was not a weapon that could be avoided, not out here in the open. Even with the boulder and fallen trees, the powerful sound waves pumping out of Edison’s phonic blaster pinned them all. Icarus screamed at the intensity of the attack, and Marcus tried putting his head up to see what was happening to the others. The waves were so intense that even his eyes hurt.
Who it didn’t seem to effect were the few remaining constructs who were trying to retreat their way out of the gap, continuing to lay fire upon the ridgeline. Seeing them move, Marcus suddenly knew the weakness of Edison’s weapon. It was powerful, but its strongest waves emanated more forcefully in the direction the speakers were facing. In the dark, it was possible for Edison to miscalculate where to turn the speakers for best effect. Marcus saw an opportunity.