The map read easy, least for my eyes it did. Sure, the codger could see the map itself, but he couldn’a see the instructions one bit. That was why I was brought out here, to simply read some Devil scripture. Thing about all of this is, I probably would have come if’n one of them just asked me to. With the reward of course. And of course never knowin bout how them kids got done it. But knowing what we was lookin for made all of this a bit more excitin for me.
We worked long into the night, me deciphering words, and reading em out for the codger to jot down so we could try and untangle the puzzle later once we was all done with the scriptures. By the time we was completed with the readin, it was morning again, and the flames from the candles were nearly dead. Codger looked pretty wiped, and I was feeling mighty hungry by now. Unfortunately to make room for the gold I didn’a bring a thing save for my canteen, and I reckoned for the man his source of meat had either run out or just gone bad.
I weren’t willin to stay up here and rest with this sick feller watchin over me, so I decided we should go back down to the town, maybe get a full night’s rest afore tryn’a decipher the riddles and puzzles of this mapping. Figured the mayor’d have a nice breakfast for me after what I’d done for him and his people. I’m sure the codger was thinking much the same, maybe even of sleeping in a real bed after so long up in this cave of his, but I had other plans for him. After all, I’d made a promise.
The codger went away for a bit, disappearin in some part of the cave to relieve himself before we’d set off, so I used that time to restock my pistol and make sure it was ready for use. He came back lookin pleased with himself, and then we set off, myself leadin the way as his fat toddlering feet shimmied up the long, narrow path behind. We started past the wastes the codger done gathered in his time out here, bones, bits of scalp and the like, then it was into the rising and falling devil weed, then the dead Slooth still lying there, holed, and lost in the trance. I stepped over the thing, the codger behind, but I halted my pace when I heard that familiar click. Looked like me and the codger had the same idea, only where I was waitin til we got out of the devil weed, he figgered on pullin his piece afore we could get out. Damn.
“That’s far enough, Jones.”
“We had a deal, codger. Ah get to use the Hand. Can’t rightly use it if’n ah’m dead now can I? ”
“That’s the point, demon. You are not worthy of using our prophet’s visions for your own desires. You will die here beside the monster you slew last night. A fellow demon, you should thank me for setting you down next to one of your own kind.”
“If you kill me, who’s gonna figger out the puzzle pieces of the map? Reckon you’re mighty good with a knife, but no offense, I don’t think you could find your way out of an outhouse if’n it didn’a have a handle on the door.”
“You are a fool, Jones. Our prophet, the man you know as the mayor, he is the greatest mind of our time. You have already played your part, as have the children. You were never meant to walk out of these hills Jones. Our prophet has seen it. So please just kneel, pray, and welcome your end.”
“No thanks, codger. Reckon you’ve got me all excited bout this Hand now. Ah don’t think ah can just let ya kill me while ah’ve got such a goal now. Besides, your prophet done paid me proper for all a this.”
“It’s not really up to you. Oh, and the gold? You won’t be needing it where you’re going.”
“You think you can kill me? Ah’m sort of soulless, codger? You got a secret ah don’t know about?”
“Guild bullets. Our prophet was told how to deal with one such as you. Your being soulless is just you being damned, not saved. Our prophet envisioned this, you die here, Jones.”
My hand goes to my own pistol as I turn my body towards the codger. I pull it from it’s grip swiftly, he fires his first shot, a miss past my left ear, he hasn’t fired a gun very much in his life. Second one clips my upper arm, grazing a small canyon in my skin. Those guild bullets burn like the dickens. I can here it sizzling, my dark blood like acid as it tries to close the new wound unsuccessfully. I finally get my pistol up, his eyes go wide, he pulls his trigger, I pull mine. Another guild hits me hard in my right thigh, I fall in agonizing pain as the bullet sears inside my leg. My bullet passes over him, a complete miss.
I take aim again, maybe only one more shot before he gets me with his next one. I can barely move, but I squeeze the trigger.
Another miss. Too far to the right now.
He smiles. That sick mangled grin of his smiles wide at me as he takes aim slowly. But the sight of his barrel blurs in my vision as my eyes focus just behind him on the risen Slooth, towering over the unknowing codger, and swiping the gun from his hand, it goes off, the bullet hitting the wall beside me, the gun itself landing near my feet.
“My God!” The codger cries as he sees the Slooth before him. “Save me! Please! I am your faithful servant!”
I grab his gun. Guess my bullets weren’t good enough for a Slooth big as that one. Odd as it was, it was standin now, and although that codger was going to get his, reckoned I didn’t have much longer til I got mine. But the Slooth didn’t kill him right away, and it’s face, that piggish ox’s face of it, it didn’t even look alive, it’s eyes vacant, slouching. And then the thing spoke.
“Ikan, the murderer. The defiler of bodies.
Yes, of flesh.
He yet lives, the Dark eyes has lied to us.
No, there he is, sunken to Earth by bullets.
Perhaps not as strong as we had thought.
It doesn’t matter.
Yes, it’s better this way.
In this body.
We’ll get our own justice.
Yes, take our revenge!”
The devil weed. All them youngins musta found a way to inhabit the body of the Slooth, usin it now to take revenge on their killer.
“What sort of Devilry is this? The monster speaks gibberish!”
“No, codger, it speaks truth. And it’s only right them kids get their revenge on you themselves. Ah was gonna do it for em once we got past the weed. You got too much blood on your hands to go on livin.”
“No! I am protected by our prophet. He has guided us. This is not the way of God!”
The Slooth fell upon him, gorging on his thick and flabby body. Ripping into him, tearing his limbs away. The whole while I watched; I watched and listened as the souls inside cheered aloud through the dead Slooth. As it finished, much of the fat man inside the dead stomach of the beast, it fell to the ground, the hold over it failing quickly as far too many voices cried in a sort of happiness. I didn’a understand any words that come out as that fadin talk kept on. I’m sure it was all just thankful mutterins and such. Figerred they got their justice finally, and they’d escaped the devil weed too. Their souls would be free now.
“No, codger, ah don’t reckon it was ever a God that got this all started. But ah guess you’ll learn that soon enough.”
I fell to the ground, keeping my head above the devil weed, but nearly failing. The pain was awful, felt like it was ripping my leg off from the inside. I had to get the thing out. I pull my knife from my hip, the thing still coated in old demon blood and such. I never really get around to cleaning it, but it’ll have to do. I jam it in my thigh after the bullet hole. I don’t even feel it inside, the pain from the bullet is all I can feel. I feel around, waiting for the hard feeling in the handle, and then I feel it. I catch the tip of the blade with the end of the bullet, a small ridge line in it’s end, and I rip it from my leg.
The pain is still there, it won’t go away for hours, but it will heal. All I can do is wait now. Seemed the town never had any intentions of letting me live after all a’this. Reckon I’d a done the same in their places. Figgered that them’s niceties was just a way to lure me in, get me to see things their way to get what they wanted. But now I had the map, and I still had a sack full a’gold on my back. Perhaps this didn’a end up so bad after all.
And that’s what I was thinking when I started to hear the coming clatter of many footsteps makin their way through the hills and down the path that would lead straight to me.