The path to Fichgreen was one of the hardest of all Est Shadowlyn, but she didn't know that and when that man advised her to follow it, she didn't think twice.
While she was struggling to balance herself every time Wind Catcher took a step, suddenly the animal stopped and neighed. She felt his agitation and she did her best to calm him down.
"We're almost there, c'mon" she said forcing the animal to go on with a hit of her spur.
When finally the ground returned to be even, she sighed with relief and sped up, promising to herself that she would never listen to a stranger again. While Wind Catcher, her beautiful Frisian, followed the path, she stuck out from her saddlebag a pocket watch to check the time.
Wow. That fella wasn't so crazy after all. We've got here in less time for sure. If we had crossed the Heartlands, it would've taken us more.
She crossed the border and reached West Elizabeth, following the road from Tall Tree until she got to the Great Plains. Shortly after, she stopped at the crossway and walked around the signposts until she found the name she was interested in. Then she spurred Wind Catcher towards the marked direction.
Finally, after four days of travel, she arrived in Blackwater.
She hadn't been there for a while, but nothing had changed since the last time other than the fact that every six feet there was a poster with their face on it.
Slowly she led Wind Catcher along the Wapiti Avenue, enlighten by the street lamps and once she went past the post office, she turned left, finding herself in the main street where, despite the late hour, there still were some folks.
She stopped in front of the saloon where she tied up Wind Catcher and then she headed to the sheriff's office, that was just ahead.
She entered without knocking first, waking up the man that was dozing seated at his desk, with his feet on it and his hat covering his eyes.
"It's good to see that Blackwater's folks are in safe hands, isn't it sheriff Warren?" she asked with a mocking smile on her face.
"Well, look who's back" replied the man settling himself on his chair.
"I'm sorry for disturbing your nap, but I'm here to ask you about some information", she said taking a seat in front of the sheriff.
The man rubbed his eyes and then he rested his arms on the desk in front of him, nodding at her direction to let her go on.
"I need to know what happened on that boat. The one Van der Linde's gang assaulted. And I want to know where I can find them."
The man's expression changed drastically.
"I can't give you any information. I'm sorry" he said leaning against his chair.
"You can't or you don't want to, James?" she asked.
She stared at the man who started to feel uncomfortable.
"Listen. What happened on that boat is a mystery for anyone. However, there isn't one person that doesn't talk about it in town. So go nose around and see what you can find out. I can't tell you anything. As concerns their current position, no one knows where they are"
"Have you been threatened or paid for keeping your mouth shut?" she asked again.
Warren laughed nervously, neatening his jacket. But when he noticed her serious expression, he became serious in turn and cleared his throat.
"They've paid me" he whispered.
"The government's hired agents for Van der Linde?" she asked disbelieved and he nodded.
"If they catch him first, you can say goodbye to your money" he said lighting up a cigar.
She glanced at him and stood up, her hands on the desk while she leaned towards him dangerously, fixing her eyes on his once more.
"I want to make it clear Warren. I never lose. If Pinkertons should get there first, I'll come back and make sure you'll get me that money. Am I clear? You know who I am and I am no joke, especially when money is involved"
Warren gulped and nodded.
"Good" she said heading to the door and going outside.
She went to the saloon at a slow pace, scoping from under her hat the few people who were around.
She climbed the stairs at the entry and then she went straight to the counter where she seated on a stool. With a gesture of her hand, she caught the barman's attention.
"A beer, please"
The barman nodded, coming back shortly after with her demand. Sipping from her bottle, she turned to observe the saloon.
A group of ladies, seated at a table not so far from her, was talking about the new rise of prices.
To another table there were some men playing poker, the few words that they exchanged were about a railway magnate, sugar dealer, oilman, whose name was Leviticus Cornwall.
Never heard of him.
She turned her attention elsewhere but, no one seemed to discuss what she was interested in. She turned over again, leaning against the counter. At the same moment, two men entered the saloon and she noticed they were talking softly, looking around nervously.
She followed them with her eyes until they seated at a table near the window.
From where she stood she couldn't hear what they were saying, so she caught the barman's attention again ordering some stew, that arrived just after.
She paid and then she sat at a table near the men's one.
"Where they could've gone?" asked one of the two.
A thin young man with blonde hair.
"There're rumours around…East" replied the other.
"East? You sure?"
"No. In my opinion, this is horseshit to scramble up the bounty hunters that are chasing them"
She brought a spoonful of stew to her mouth.
"I've heard Calvin say that they're heading-on to the North" said the youngest man.
"Calvin says a lot of things. I don't know where those bastards are going, but it doesn't matter"
"What you mean?" asked the other confused.
The man moved closer to his partner.
"They got one of them"
"Ike Skelding. It seems that he's got paid by some bounty hunters so that they bring him to them. He's a gingery boy, with the face of a rat. They keep him at Quaker's Cove. For now at least"
"Are they going to hang him?" asked the thin man.
The other nodded.
"But first they're going to make him sweat blood for the information they want."
Another spoonful of that gruel.
"Do you think that…the Hound is looking for them?" the young man asked unsurely.
She strained her ears.
"You bet. I think he's on their trail for a while now. Maybe he almost got them."
"I hope so. I would pay gold to see them in his hands. Maybe with an arm chopped off or half-face burned. You know…I've heard that he ripped off all the toenails of a man once."
"For that matter he etched his name into a faller's back with a steaming hot blade. Phillip himself couldn't have done a better job, and he's worked with meat for ages."
"Talking about Phillip, did you know…"
From that moment the conversation was not so interesting anymore, so she got up, leaving the plate, barely touched on the table, and she went outside.
Satisfied by the information she'd got, she sat on a bench outside the saloon and lighted up a cigarette. Shortly after, she put out her map from the sack.
The name Quaker's Cove wasn't new for her, indeed she had marked it out on the map at the southwest of Blackwater.
Once she stowed away the map, she looked at her pocket watch which hands indicated seven past two a.m.
She threw the cigarette away and she went towards Wind Catcher.
"Are you feeling better?" she asked petting his long, black mane.
She poked out a carrot from the saddle giving it to him and then she continued petting him.
"Let's go" she said saddling up and leading Wind Catcher down the Main Street.
She spent half an hour to arrive at Quaker's Cove.
When she saw a campfire in the distance she slowed down her pace, still approaching it.
There were five men, but there were many more blankets and tents on the ground.
She left Wind Catcher a few steps behind her while she got closer to them.
When one of the men noticed her, he hit his partner who was sleeping next to him.
This last complained before he noticed her in turn.
They all got on their feet, looking at her and coming closer, with their hands on their gun belt.
"What do you want?" asked one of them.
She looked at them.
Then, taking a few steps, she kneeled near the fire to warm up her hands.
"I want to talk to Skelding" she said.
"I'm Skelding" answered one man taking a step towards her.
She moved her eyes from the fire up to him.
"I want to talk with your man" she said again.
The man took another step.
"They've already come for that information and he hasn't said a single word. So go away."
"He's going to talk with me" she insisted.
All the presents started to laugh.
"Listen, sweetheart. I don't know who you are, maybe only a crazy woman who wants to make fun of us. But now you gotta leave or I'll force you" said Skelding moving forward.
She got up on her feet in a blink of an eye, holding her knife to his throat and pulling his hair with the other hand in order to reveal more of his flesh.
"Maybe you haven't realized who you're talking with."
The man looked at her trying to find some clues that could reveal her identity
One thing caught his attention.
The pendant of her necklace was the head of a growling dog.
The man's eye widened while he could feel the terror gripping his guts.
He had seen that symbol thousands of times. Whoever saw it recognized it too.
It was the mark that she used every time she killed a person. She used it to mark that a person's soul was her.
"You're the Hound" the man said in a whisper.
"I don't want to kill anyone tonight. But if I'm not going to get what I want someone will lose something" she pressed the cold blade of her knife against Skelding's skin a little more.
The man surrendered.
She moved away from the blade, distancing the man who rubbed his neck. Then he told two of his men to bring her to his prisoner.
They guided her to a near tree where, because of the dark, she hadn't seen the man who was on the ground with his hands and feet tied up and a gag that didn't let him talk.
As soon as the young criminal noticed that he had got visitors, he tried to talk but, what came out of his mouth were inapprehensible words.
"You have visitors McGuire" said one of the men lighting his face and then putting down the lantern.
She went closer to him, waiting for him to notice her. When that happened, she kneeled in front of him and smirked.
"Hi Sean. Do you remember me?"
The confusion was all she could see in his eyes.
"Leave us alone gentlemen" she said to the two men who looked at each other.
She looked up at them and raised an eyebrow.
That was enough for them to leave.
With a hand, she took off the gag from the man's mouth and, as she thought, he started to talk as soon as he was free to.
"You're definitively prettier than those ugly men that came last time."
"Are you talking about Pinkertons?" she asked.
"They're the ones."
"What did you tell them?"
She remained silent, looking at him.
"How you know my name?" he asked frowning.
"You really not remember me, do you?" she asked, but she knew he didn't.
"I would remember someone like you. What is your name again?"
Quickly she banged his head against the tree behind him.
The man moaned in pain.
"What the hell!"
"Enough with this horseshit McGuire. Tell me where I can find them."
He continued to moan.
"I don't know what you're talking about" he said.
McGuire remained silent.
She shook her head and got up, leaning against the tree.
"Tell me…How's Dutch? And Hosea? Reverend Swanson's already reached his God or does he keeps drowning his failure as a human being in the alcohol? I bet Miss Grimshaw is crabbier than ever. Not to mention that old slacker and the girls."
She stopped and looked at him.
"How do you know about the gang?" he asked in disbelief.
"I know a lot of things, Sean. But what I don't know is where are your friends right now. Tell me."
"I don't know" he answered.
She sighed and looked away.
"For how long have they gone? A week? Maybe two? Do you think they're coming back for you?"
The man didn't answer.
"Of course they won't. We're talking about Dutch after all."
"You can go on forever, but you're never going to know it from me because I don't know" said McGuire in a convinced tone.
"Maybe it's true or maybe you're lying to me and for what I can remember, you're really good at it."
She kneeled again in front of him.
"Do you remember all the tricks and jokes? Of course not. You can't even remember who am I."
"You're crazy. I've never seen you in my life" he said.
She laughed again, coming closer to him enough for feeling his breath or her face.
"Does the name Julia Myles rings a bell?"
The expression on the young man's face was exactly what she had expected. His mouth open and his eyes fixed on her trying to reveal the lie just said. But he couldn't because she had said the truth.
"It's impossible, Julia's dead."
"You'd like it, wouldn't you? A weight off your conscience. Unfortunately for you, I'm still alive. But it will be bigger displeasure for Dutch and all those sons of bitches."
She stood up, ready to leave.
He did know nothing and what he knew wasn't useful to discover where they were.
"Goodbye Sean" she said.
"Julia I'm begging you…"
She grasped his throat tightly enough to take away his breath.
"Don't call me like that. That privilege is reserved for a few people. You don't even have the right to talk to me for all I care. Not more than you already had."
She moved away calling the men who got closer while their prisoner tried to catch his breath again.
"Was he useful?" asked one of the men.
"Not at all" she answered.
"We've told you. This son of a bitch doesn't talk."
"He can't talk if he doesn't know anything."
She turned and without speaking another word to the men or McGuire, she left.
She would have found them. One way or another. She didn't care how much time it would have taken, but she would've done it.
Her hunting began.
I've been trying to post this first chapter for the last hour 'cause I couldn't understand how to use this website. Hope I did it right this time.
Anywayyy hope you liked this chapter, if so please let me know about it and if there's any mistake too (Yes English's not my mother tongue)
I'll post in a couple of days hopefully.