Nightsea Outlawby Lazie. Chapter 1-4



Josh lay facedown in the dirt, as did the fifty other slaves around him. Between them, several coyotes, each as large as three full-grown men patrolled. Each of them was a shaggy light brown, their mouths hanging open as they panted in the fading heat of the desert day.

"If you stand before the signal, you'll be shot," one deputy said in a booming voice at the edge of the circle of slaves. "Today's a glorious day. Don't ruin the hunt."

Josh had one thought on his mind. His breath came in coughing fits as he took in dust and dirt. Two years. For two years he had survived working in the mines. He had toiled away after being captured by Goldfist. All he wanted was for his sister to be safe. That was why he had to survive. He would survive this hunt, no matter what. As he lay there, breathing hard in the orange rays of the setting sun, the ground beneath him shook.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Josh knew the noise. His entire body shook and a fresh wave of sweat covered his back. Whispers around him withered into silence. The coyotes growled and whined.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Alright, maggots. Today is the day you prove your worth to our organization. Today is the day you race to survive. Today is the day you embody what it means to be a true man."

Sherriff Goldfist's voice echoed through the ground itself, much like his footfalls had just moments before. Josh shook on the ground. Every week, it was the same trial. Every week, he had completed the run. Yet, he was afraid.

"Money and strength. These are the two things that every great man needs. None of you whelps has money, so you have to prove you're strong enough to survive. You have until dusk to reach the mines. Anyone who is caught is too weak to stay in my operation."

No slave moved from the ground. It had been a while since new captives had been added to their group. Every one of them knew what was to come. They were the survivors, after all.

"Deputy Silvertooth, gather the hounds!"

A sharp whistle preceded the patter of paws and claws on dirt. The coyotes romped through the crowd of prostrated slaves, trampling over many without a care. Claws dug into Josh's shoulder with a piercing spike of pain, but he stifled a cry. All survivors knew that showing weakness was death.

He heard the coyotes skitter to a stop far away. That was it. Another run was upon him. Josh closed his eyes. So quietly that only he would be able to hear it, he whispered a prayer to the Scions. He prayed he would be able to stand. He prayed he would not stumble. He prayed someone would come and save him from this madness. Scions above, save him. He had to survive for his sister's sake.

"On my mark." the hammer of a gun clicked, ripping Josh from his prayer.


Josh's arm muscles burned as he pushed himself up in a jump. He landed on his feet as many of the others were just getting to their knees. Without a second thought, he oriented himself to the setting sun. He ran. Barefoot and in rags, he ran.

Others were already with him. Even with his natural quickness, he wasn't the fastest. He had worked too long in the mines to be that. He was too worn out by the constant work. He was too hungry, simple as that.

"Release the hounds!"

Josh barely had time to register those words as coyotes howled behind him. Paws skittered across the ground again. Joshua risked just one glance back and instantly regretted it.

Goldfist's giant form dwarfed Silvertooth's in the shadow of the setting sun. Twenty coyotes, each as large as three men, tore after the running slaves. They kicked up a storm of dust and dirt in their wake. The quota was twenty. It was always twenty. The coyotes were kept hungry specifically so they could feast on whoever they were able to catch. Their fangs flashed in the light of the setting sun. He spun his head back around as the first person fell to a coyote's leap.

Run. Run. Run.

The only thought on his mind was to run. Faster. Faster. Faster. His legs ached with each impact. His lungs burned. Tears ran from his eyes. He wanted to live. Scions above, he wanted to live.

Another thump behind him cut through his gut as another person fell. They cried out, but Josh didn't look back. Just a little farther. He could see the barred gate to the mine sitting open in the distance. He just had to make it a little farther. He stumbled but righted himself in two extended large steps.


He felt a pressure, but not on his back, as he had feared. A heavy weight crashed into his shoulder, catching him mid-stride. Joshua threw out his arms. He tried to correct his steps. He tried to keep his balance. He fell. The ground slammed into him as the weight on his side slid down his body and onto his leg. He gasped in pain as bone cracked and his knee twisted. It was faint and far away, but his mind still blanked. He had a brief moment of darkness before he opened his eyes again.

Josh lay on the ground, rocks digging into his cheek. His arms and legs were splayed out around him and his right leg prickled with needles of pain like he had hit a cactus. He had a brief moment to recognize the form next to him as another fallen captive before he felt four paws land on his back. Joshua weakly turned his head to look, but drool fell into his eyes. Teeth came down, clacking for his face. He couldn't fight back. He couldn't run.

All Josh could do was scream.

Volume 01 Goldfist | Chapter 01

Clitter-clatter. Clitter-clatter. Clitter-clatter.

The steady rattle of steel against steel tumbled through Alex's mind as he lay face down on a hard surface. Back and forth his resting place shook, as he struggled to keep his eyes closed. A wailing whistle in the distance pulled at his body and turned him over. He opened his eyes and groaned at the dim orange light coming from his side.

"Quiet down in there!" metal raked against metal to his right and Alex closed his eyes shut tight to block out the sound.

Alex took a moment to recollect the last few days. Where was he now? Where had he been? What had he been doing? Alex reached deep into the fuzz of his memories but came back with nothing. All he had was a faint sense of falling and a hard impact.

"What did you do this time?" he whispered to himself.

He opened his eyes and held his palm in front of his face. Alex closed his hand into a fist before bringing it down on the wooden bed below him and forcing himself into a sitting position. He was in a small rectangular room, his back against the wall and bars in front of him. A barely perceptible shake tilted the room at regular intervals, and he could hear the faint clatter of metal on metal below.

He patted himself down. The smooth feel of his leather duster still covered his body, and he was still wearing his boots. He hadn't been robbed blind at least. The last time that had happened, he had to chase down the thieves completely naked.

He was on a train. He was behind bars on a train. He cracked a smile as he examined the room further. Soft light gleamed from a hanging metal lantern outside the cell, filtering through the bars as well as the other two cells to his left and right. He was the only prisoner.

Outside his cell, two men worked through stacks of papers in the light of the lantern. A few of the papers were strewn across the floor. Wanted posters, all of them. If Alex squinted, he could make out a few of them. Sword-Saint Sayed. Thorn Queen Leah. Jean Baptiste, the Reanimator. Bounty hunters or lawmen, the two men were looking to see if Alex's head was worth anything.

Unfortunately for them, Alex knew what his head was worth.

"Nothing so far, Cletus," the mustache man said to his partner. "If we don't find nothing, we'll be better off shooting him and dropping him out the back."

"I told you." Cletus tapped his finger on the table. "I recognized him from somewhere. I've seen his face on one of these posters. We'll eat well when we get to Portsmouth."

Alex didn't see a badge on either, but he could see two pistols on the table. Bounty hunters then. He kept quiet as he searched the room. He flexed his fingers and opened the gate within himself just a little. Electrifying impulses ran out from his chest, tingling through his muscles and out his fingers. He flexed his fingers and let his hand follow his eyes. He could feel the guns on the table, as well as the metal bars and train car in his senses. Each had a tiny magnetic field around them from their construction. He snaked his senses through the room, searching for what he needed.

He needed to be ready to act. After a few moments, his eyes found what he was looking for. His black ironwood staff leaned against the wall of the far side of the room. Alex reached out with his will, wrapping his mind around the staff and flexing his right index finger. Slowly, the staff rose from the ground and took an upright position. He was ready.

"Wait a second," Cletus said, pulling out a poster and holding it up to the light. "It couldn't be. Look at this Joe."

Joe got up from his chair and peered at the poster, reading the text out loud, "Tin Man Ortega. One million dolers."

"I'll be damned," Cletus said, reaching down for his gun on the table. "We got a bona fide celebrity here."

Alex didn't hesitate. He stretched out his right hand, calling his staff to him. The magnetic field around the ironwood followed his tug, and his staff whirled through the air to follow. Cletus' head was fortunately directly in its path.


A hard hit from the staff to the back of Cletus' head sent him sprawling on the table. Paper fluttered through the air and the table collapsed beneath his weight, sending the guns clattering across the ground and away from both men. Alex stood and reached his hand through the bars. The staff found his hand. He steadied himself by planting it on the ground.

"You two caught a fish too big for you," Alex said.

Joe went for his own gun, kneeling down to the floor with an alarmed shriek. Alex didn't let him get to it. He threw out his right palm, opening his gate further and releasing a cone of magnetic force in a wave. The gun went flying across the room and into the wall from the wave. The lantern above rocked outward, screeching against its hook before falling back into position.

Joe stumbled to the ground before turning on his back. He looked up at Alex in horror.

"What are you?"

"An outlaw."

Alex moved his open hand over, reaching out with his mind and grasping the keys on the man's belt. Electric pulses of power rippled through his arm as he pulled the keys toward his hand. The keys tugged at their hook on the man's belt until they pulled up and away. They floated gently into Alex's hand. Joe was on his feet and running out of the train car by the time Alex let himself out of the cell. He stepped over Cletus' unconscious body as he made his way toward the door. He held his staff in his hands, ready for a fight.


Steel ripped across steel and shook through Alex's ears. Alex was thrown forward, along with everything else in the car. He dropped his staff and extended both hands instinctively, repelling out with magnetic force in all directions. A sharp spike of pain cut into his forehead as he exerted his will on the magnetic field around him. A warm liquid ran down his nose and onto his lip.

He remained standing, even as chairs slid across the floor and tumbled to the ground. With a heaving tilt, the car came to a stop, along with what Alex presumed the rest of the train. When he was sure the train car had stopped, he let go of his repulsive field and fell to one knee. Inside his chest, his gate closed. He took a deep breath as he reached around for his staff.

"Time to find out what that was."

He kept his head down as he came to the door, pausing as he opened it a crack to listen. Outside, he could hear people yelling and loud cracks of gunfire. He closed his eyes and focused.

Bang. Crack. Thump.

"Ha ha ha." A man laughed over the din. "Gather them up, deputy! Don't miss a single one!"

Alex pushed the door open with his staff and looked outside. He was indeed on a stopped train, and he could see a cloud of dust outside with several shadowed figures in it. The dust started to settle as he watched, revealing a group of people on the ground with around twenty men around them. The men held the people at gunpoint as several gunmen tied ropes around them. Captives.

Alex had freed himself and fallen into a train robbery. He clicked his tongue as he looked over the highwaymen. They were in a uniform of sorts, each wearing matching hats, boots, grey pants, and leather vests. The only real difference between them was the color of their shirts. Each one was a different shade of color, completing the full spectrum of a rainbow. If he squinted, Alex thought that each of them even had the same face. Alex reached out in the air with his senses, opening his gate slightly. Each man had at least one gun on his hip, but they were too far away for him to influence. He also felt a tug of metal on each of the men's chests.

"Deputies!" Out of the fading dust cloud, a giant of a man appeared.

He stood as tall as half the length of one of the train cars and about as wide as one. He was dressed similarly to the deputies, large hat, grey pants, and leather vest. Even with his size, it was his fist that stood out. A golden-plated mechanical hand extended out from his forearm, attached to his arm by an iron contraption. A length of chain was wrapped around a cylinder on the contraption, coiled tightly up the length of the giant's forearm. The ground seemed to shake under the giant's feet as he approached one of the deputies.

"Sir." The deputy tipped his hat in a salute. "I have the valuables and the hostages secure."

"Good." The giant laughed, his mechanical right hand grasping into a fist in the air. "We'll have new workers in our mine, ready to prove their strength or die."

"Who do you think you are?" one of the captives demanded, pushing himself up to stand despite his arms being bound.

"Oh?" The giant smiled wide through his thick beard. "We've got a rabble-rouser."

"I am the son of the High Judge of Portsmouth," the man said, throwing spittle as he swung his torso forward. "I demand you release me at once. Your lives are already over. The moment my father..."

The giant's metal hand clasped over the man's mouth and torso, blocking out any further outburst. The giant raised him up with one tug, holding the man aloft and laughing to himself.

"A lot of lip on this one," the giant said with a knowing smile.

The men around him laughed.

"As to your first question." The giant's arm whirred and began to rotate, faster and faster until the grappled man was a blur. "I'm Goldfist. Sheriff of this town."

He brought down his fist, pointing it back toward the train. Alex had an inkling of thought that it was pointed toward himself. He couldn't bring himself to look away or take cover though.


The golden fist blasted out from Goldfist's arm, and the clink of chains filled the air. Goldfist's body shook from the attack as the man and fist careened through the air toward the train like a cannonball. Alex braced himself.


A brief moment of silence filled the air around him before being vacated by the loud clang of metal on metal. The car he was on shook around him as the one in front tipped precariously. With a groan from below, joiners ripped apart as the car rolled over and onto its side. Alex had a faint glimpse of red in a massive crater in the side of the car before it fell out of sight. His car shook as it righted itself on the tracks.

Clink. Clink. Clink.

In the ringing silence, the chain clicked again, and Alex could hear Goldfist laughing in the distance. The fist returned to the giant, throwing up a dust cloud as it dragged across the ground. Alex stood still, steadying himself with his staff. There was a lot of power in that punch. Sighing and looking over the fallen train car in front of him, he stepped forward and jumped off the tracks.

"Take them to town deputy!" Goldfist yelled as Alex approached. "More slaves for the mines!"

The deputies had the people corralled around them. Goldfist himself was wrangling a giant coyote, one fit for the giant of a man he was. He had a hand on the saddle and appeared to be climbing on so he could ride away. The deputies were gathering their coyotes and mounting them as well. Alex counted about fifteen of them in total, minus Goldfist.

Alex approached them from behind, but they didn't seem to notice. When he was about a train car's length away, he stopped and let out a cough. He stood with his staff planted in front of him as both men turned to face him. There was a moment of shock before both moved into position, the deputy standing in front on one side of the sheriff.

"You missed one, Silvertooth." Goldfist clenched his fist.

"I did, I reckon," the deputy said, his hand on the whip on his side. "Why'd you come out stranger? You'd be safe if you stayed inside. Fancy yourself a hero?"

"This whelp?" Goldfist leaned back and belched out a mighty laugh. "He ain't even fit enough to lift a pick. Look how scrawny he is."

"He can work on that in the mines." Deputy Silvertooth grinned, revealing a single silver-coated tooth among his pearly white teeth.

Alex shook his head, picking up his staff and pointing it at the two men.

"To the second question, I'm no hero. Tell me where I am or I'll beat you both into the ground."

"A fighter." Goldfist belched out another laugh. "What do you think Silvertooth?"

"If we want to keep him, we have to break him."

Alex spun his staff around his body, taking a stance with his arms out in front of him. He wouldn't be able to manipulate something the size of Goldfist's mechanized fist, but he still reached out along the natural magnetic fields around him. The other men stood around the captives, watching the fight, but unmoving. A faint wind blew across the desert. A buzzard cried in the distance. Alex charged at the two men.

Volume 01 Goldfist | Chapter 02

"Step," Alex said and disappeared.

An outside observer would see nothing but his foot touching the ground once and then a blur. He crossed half the distance between himself, blurring in a flurry of motion. It was like a full sprint compressed into a single moment. He reappeared for a brief moment, his next footstep about to hit the ground like he had just taken a single step. Silvertooth's and Goldfist's eyes widened, but they were still able to react.

Before Alex could take his second step, Silvertooth advanced, his hand on the whip at his hip. He gave a smile, showing his silver incisor as he tensed his own body. Alex instinctively tried to adjust his trajectory on his next step, but his momentum committed him. Something was off, but in the instance of movement, there was nothing Alex could do about it.


Silvertooth's body cascaded into a rainbow spectrum of colors. He seemed to split into separate flashing colored images, spreading out around Alex's vision. A loud crack split the air around Alex, and a thin heavy weight bit into his chest and around his arms. Alex had a moment to realize that the deputy's whip wasn't merely a whip and that more than one whip wrapped around him. He tilted his foot back and caught himself before falling.

Alex had a moment to look around him. His arms were held closed against his body by the strength of five men around him. Each of them was like the other deputies with a different shade to their shirt, but otherwise identical. A chill sank into Alex's stomach as he looked over to the other clones watching over the captives.

"You're cursed."

"I am," the nearest of Silvertooth's unoccupied clones said, tipping his hat. "I'm a man able to replicate himself."

Alex flexed against the restraints. He was as good as trapped. Spikes in the whips held them tight against his skin, piercing through his skin and drawing blood. Unless he came up with something fast, he was as good as dead.

He started to reach out along the magnetic fields around him, but Goldfist interrupted his thoughts, raising his fist and aiming at Alex, "Hold him still."

Alex didn't hesitate. He immediately began to manipulate the magnetic forces around him. The fist was too large, too fast for him to stop when it was already in motion. A wall of force to stop would be crushed back against him. An attempt to push it back would be impossible. Instead, he created a negative repulsive bubble of force directly in front of his body, shaping it with his mind as quickly as he could.


The ground rumbled as the fist fired for the second time. Alex jumped into the air, pulling against his restraints despite the pinpricks of pain and positioning the bubble between himself and the fist. The deputies between him and the fist scattered into shards of light as the fist barreled through the air. The whips around him vanished as they disappeared. Alex made sure his bubble was between himself and the fist. He focused on maintaining the repulsive field as the fist crashed into it.

He was thrown back, but the fist did not touch him. Instead, the bubble shook from the impact, folding and rippling with waves like the sea itself when a large object fell into it. Pinpricks of pain shot through Alex's mind and down his spine as the ripples shook across his bubble. He held on.

"Just a little more," he whispered as he was shot back toward the train.

Warm liquid ran down his lip from his nose. He sensed the metal of the fallen train car behind him. Alex threw his hand back, angling a second field ball so it would ricochet across the train. His muscles screamed as he hit, and he heard the fist hit the train car as he was tossed upward and over the train car. He had a moment to smile before he hit the ground, unconscious.


"Is he dead?" Silvertooth turned to Goldfist, the giant's chain rattling as he reeled his fist back in.

"No whelp could survive that," Goldfist said, turning away. "The weak get what they deserve. Get the new slaves to the mines. We need to break them in."

He hopped up on his coyote and kicked it into a run. The coyote yipped, but the giant of a beast rode off regardless. It kicked up a storm of dust behind it as Goldfist headed north.

Silvertooth shook his head before turning to the copies of himself. With a whistle, they all mounted their own smaller coyotes. Together, they used their whips to coordinate the new slaves and follow after Goldfist. Silvertooth himself hung back. His current boss was a little too arrogant. The kid had some skill, and Silvertooth wasn't so sure that he hadn't survived.

Silvertooth recognized the step technique. It was a skill taught on the Five Paths, which was practiced exclusively by the Military Police. Silvertooth would know, he had seen the techniques often enough before he had been assigned to Section Zero, the intelligence unit. It took a lifetime to master those techniques. Most of the rank and file, couldn't use even one of the paths. To see a whelp doing even one...

He made his way back to the train. With two hits from the Sheriff's fist, the train car had seen better days. The first punch had caved in part of the car and knocked it over on its side. The second had torn up the wheels on the bottom. He made his way around the destruction, keeping his eyes peeled for the dark-skinned kid.

He found the kid lying face up in a pile of dirt about five meters away from the train. His right arm and left leg were broken. They splayed out at odd angles. That should have been enough, but Silvertooth wanted to make sure. He felt along the kid's neck for a pulse. Nothing. No breath. No pulse.

He stood up and turned away, his eyes following the setting sun to the west. He spat in the dirt. Silvertooth might have been a slaver for his mission, but that didn't mean he liked killing a kid.

"Arrogant little brat."

He didn't need to keep up the charade for much longer. When they found what Goldfist was looking for, he could call in the Military Police to take over. Then his boss would be in for a real surprise. A few slipships descending were the perfect distraction for a shot in the back. Silvertooth cracked a smile.

He closed his body's gate and the light flowed out of him. His other bodies still had their gates open, and he could feel them in the distance. They were faint, but he could still sense them.

He focused on his clones in the distance, transferring his mind over to one of them. His senses faded out of his current body as he let his form dissipate into shards of light, leaving the boy alone and dead on the ground.


Alex lay in cold water, his eyes closed as he floated back and forth with each wave. The scent of salt water filled his nose, and soon, he felt the clinging touch of wet sand on his back.

"Again?" he whispered as he opened his eyes to the night sky above him.

He stood and looked up at the pale moon above. The night sky glittered like a sea filled with glimmering diamonds. Alex knew that sky, better now than he had when he first saw it. It was the Nightsea, the space between islands revealed with the setting of the sun. All that was missing was the sudden spotlight, shouts, and gunfire that he had heard the last time he was on that beach.

This visit was peaceful in comparison. He smiled as he bathed in the light of the moon. It didn't change his goals. It didn't change his path. However, even he could enjoy his new life and the few moments of happiness in the strange world.

Ten years since he had woken up on that beach the first time. Ten years since he had left his old world behind. He closed his eyes shut tight.

He opened them again. He was lying down again. The night sky above him was not the same. It was not wet sand that clung to him, but the dust and dirt of the desert around him. His lips were dry.

Alex instinctively flexed his fingers and toes. They burned, but they were still all there. He pulled his arms and legs together. They worked. He rose to a sitting position. Every part of his body groaned in pain. He examined himself. The skin on his right arm and left leg was a faint purple, which meant that they had stitched themselves together while he slept. He was glad that he had slept through their healing. He touched a hand to his chest and felt the whirring vibration of his gate, hidden beneath his clothes.

"Did worse than I thought," he said.

He was lucky. That wasn't the first time he had tried to stop a large object like the fist with his curse, but he hadn't done it in such an extreme situation before. If he had been off by just a little, he would have been crushed instead of thrown. He shook his head. He had been arrogant to think that he could have handled both of them without a plan.

"Can't fix the past," he said, opening his gate slightly and reaching out with his senses.

He found his staff and called it to his hand. it flew from the ground to his left and attached to his hand. With it, he pushed himself up to stand and surveyed the world around him. He still didn't know where he was, but after a second bout of unconsciousness, he had a better idea of what had happened before.

He had been traveling on a fairly fancy slipship that he had stowed away on a few days ago. Traveling from island to island was no easy feat for an outlaw on the nightsea. He had been awakened by screaming and the sound of explosions. A crash in the nightsea had sent him to this particular island. He didn't know how much of the slipship had survived the transition to the island, but he probably rode some of the wreckage down. The two bounty hunters must have discovered his unconscious body in or near a town. Alex reached up and rubbed at the growing stubble on his chin. That made his situation a little easier. He had three paths before himself.

He could follow the train to Portsmouth, which the bounty hunters had named for him. He could also backtrack toward the town they had come from, assuming it was along the tracks back the way he came.

Then there was the third option. He didn't know how far in either direction he would need to go to find a town, but he could be certain that Goldfist and his deputy had a place of operation relatively close by. That meant food, shelter, and hopefully, information, even if he had to take the fight a second time. He knew he wouldn't lose a second time, now that he knew that Silvertooth was also cursed.

He walked back toward the train and over the tracks, following the path of destruction toward where the fight had happened. He could make out tracks in the dirt that led to the northeast. He could follow them and find out what he needed to know. He didn't have any real interest in stopping the operation, though he did owe both men for the fight.

Alex's stomach rumbled as he looked over the tracks. The cold of the desert night nipped at his face. He had to make a choice, but he already knew the answer. He made his way northeast 

Volume 01 Goldfist | Chapter 03

Sam woke up alone in an empty house. Outside, the rising sun peeked over the horizon, but she couldn't see it. Her room had no windows. She stretched and sighed as she set up in bed. She was the only one she could rely on, so she had to get moving.

She got ready quickly, changing into her work overalls after taking a cold bath with some precious water she had saved from the last rain. That was one benefit of being alone, she could save on water.

She grimaced. It wasn't funny.

She ate a cold breakfast of jerky and stale bread. She would have to go into town today to see about buying some supplies. However, first she would have to do all her morning chores. She stood up from the table, leaving the empty farmhouse and going outside.

Her boots clattered on gravel as she looked over the orchard that surrounded her family's home. A decent crop of apples was growing, and she would need to harvest soon. She wished her brother was still around to help her. As near as she knew, he had just run off and disappeared two years ago. He had left her alone after their parents had died without a word. She didn't have the strength to hate him anymore.

"I'll make it," she said, stomping over toward the barn. "You'll see. I'll survive all this."

She filled up a bucket at the well and made her way into the barn. She watered the chickens first and then made sure that the water trough for Winny, her mule, was filled to the brim as well. Once she was done with that she proceeded to go to the next item in her routine.

All in all, the sun was almost at high noon by the time she was done with all her chores around the farm, and her body was exhausted. She could barely pull the cart out and get Winny when she was done. After strapping the mule to the cart, she practically collapsed in the seat. She had to force herself to sit up to slap the reins and click her tongue to send Winny down the dirt road that led up to the barn and went toward town.

She was able to rest as she rode over the bumpy road. Mentally, she kept count of how much money she had left in her pouch. She needed enough to buy grain and food for herself for the rest of the month. She had a good amount, but it was still before harvest. Until then, she could only string along her budget.

The sun was at about a mid-afternoon height when she made it to Dry Gulch. It was a dying town on the frontier on the island of Tombstone. Even Sam could recognize that. The stranglehold Sheriff Goldfist held over Dry Gulch meant that there was no more trade. There was no more prosperity. The only option any of them had was to run, and that just ended in death in the desert. So, they did what all people did in hard times. They got used to it and resigned themselves to fading away.

She stopped the cart next to the general store. It took real effort to push herself off of the cart. Her muscles groaned as she stood up and she winced as she got on her feet. The cart ride hadn't been comfortable, but being off her feet alone had been a major relief. She walked back and forth a few times to get the blood flowing back into her legs before she walked inside.

Sloan, the manager of the general store sat at his counter at the front of the general store, polishing a glass in the light of the sun from his many windows. Sam stepped through the open store and waved. She didn't like Sloan, but she had to deal with him.

"Why if it isn't my favorite customer." Sloan grinned as he said the same thing he said to every customer. "What can I do for you, Samantha? We only have a few hours until dark."

"Good to see you too, Sloan." Sam forced a smile on her face. "I'll take a sack of grain while I grab a few necessities."

Sloan heaved himself on his feet, grumbling as he went behind the counter and down the steps to his basement. That was where he kept both the grain and the alcohol he sold. One was a precious ingredient to make the other. Sam made her way through the store, grabbing some necessities. By the time Sloan made his way up the stairs with his sack of grain, Sam had the few items stacked on the counter. It would be enough to survive for a little longer.

"Ah." Sloan sluffed back down in his chair after he sat the grain sack on the counter. "That'll be ten silver dollers."

He had an eye for math, as everyone in the town knew. Sloan could look over any group of items and immediately tell you what they were worth. Whether he had it right was something few of them could tell, but he was the only store left in town.

Sam bit her lip. She had enough, but with that, she wouldn't be able to make it to the end of the season. She began to reach out for the fresh bread loaf, ready to pull it away and live without it. It wouldn't be fun, but she had lived through worse than being hungry.

"Don't do that," Sloan said, his hand catching hers with his own.

It was warm, the skin rough from years of hard work and just age. Sloan was as old as her parents would have been. Over fifty years he had lived in Dry Gulch. Sam paused, but Sloan didn't let go of her hand. His grip was strong.

"We all see that you're struggling out there," Sloan said. "An apple orchard ain't fit for one struggling girl to take care of. You should give up on that old farm and come into town. There's plenty of work here for a girl your age."

Cold pinpricks ran down Sam's spine. She knew she had grown a lot over the last two years, but coming from Sloan, the statement was sickening. The man had known her as a child.

"What kind of work?" she asked.

"You know..." Sloan's hand was sweaty as it held hers. "The kind of work that can be done on your back. A pretty girl like you only really needs to lay there..."

Sam pulled her hand back, but Sloan's grip just strengthened around her fingers. Crushing pain ran up her arm and she clenched her teeth. She didn't scream, she already knew she was on her own. That was what Dry Gulch had become.


She pivoted on her hip, bringing her left hand across Sloan's cheek with all her strength. His jaw dropped in shock, and he let go of her hand. Sam didn't take the moment for granted. She ducked down as a fist came for her head and darted toward the door.

The pain in her body was forgotten in the rush as she jumped back onto her cart and whipped Winny into motion. The donkey whined but pulled the cart down the dirt road. Sam had a moment where Sloan was coming out the door as her cart went by. She could see his face in thatfrozen moment. It was red in bluster and fury as he yelled after her. She ignored it, holding hard onto Winny's reins as they rode out of town.

There was no one in town she could turn to. The people in Dry Gulch itself were the only ones left after five years of Goldfist's rule. The lawlessness hadn't been immediate, but five years of having an outlaw as sheriff had corrupted them. All they cared was that supplies kept coming in, regardless of what they had to do.

Sam pulled on Winny's reins, and the mule slowed down as she got out of sight of the town. She hadn't realized it in the moment, but tears were streaming down her eyes. She ran her hand across her cheeks to dry them as she looked around her. The sun was setting in the west, bathing the town of Dry Gulch in orange light as shadows lengthened. Sam would need to hurry up to get home before dark. She needed to make sure there were solid walls around both her and Winny before the mist came out.

She made Winny ride hard, and they made it back to the farmhouse by the time the sun was a faint pinprick on the horizon. Around her, mist rose, clinging around the cart even as she parked it by the barn.

Sam didn't know why it had started, but soon after Goldfist had arrived in town and taken over a dark mist would take over the town every night. The deeper in the night, the thicker the mist was. If it was just mist, it would be annoying, but not a problem. However, there were things out in the mist. Creatures of warped flesh with horrible claws and pale skin. They only came out in the mist and disappeared with it when the sun was out. That was the reason they had no way to escape. No one knew how far out the mist reached, but no one who tried to leave town ever returned and help never came.

Sam wouldn't be able to sleep in the house, not if she wanted to get Winny secure in the barn. She opened the barn door after she untied Winny from the cart and slammed the door closed behind her after getting Winny in. She locked the door from the inside, placing a broom between the locks to make sure it would hold. The monsters weren't very strong, at least none that she had heard of. Solid locked doors and strong wood walls were good enough to hold them back.

She helped Winny into her stall and made sure the mule had hay to eat on. Outside she could hear scrambling of feet and heavy breathing, but she ignored it. If she didn't draw attention to herself, she would be fine. Taking a pitchfork up to the second floor, she prepared to sleep in the hay. It wouldn't be the most comfortable sleep, but she would be fine.

She looked up at the barn's ceiling as she lay in the hay. Outside, she could still hear the footsteps. Sometimes, sharp claws cut across the wood outside. It was never forceful, just probing.

In the farmhouse, Sam had taken up residence in the centermost room after her parents had died. Her brother had been with her then, and it made sense to separate themselves as much as possible from the mist so they could get a decent sleep. While it had been hard after he had left, she hadn't had to sleep near outside walls like this in a long time.

She wasn't sure how much time passed before she heard the noise. It wasn't the same noise as the monsters outside. There were shuffling footsteps and heavy breathing with scratches against the wood. That wasn't what she heard. Instead, it was more like...

Crack. Thump. Crack. Thump. Thoom.

At first, she thought it was a thunderstorm, but nothing had looked like that outside. Rain was rare enough out in Dry Gulch, hence the town's name. She sat up, reaching for the pitchfork beside her. She was on the second floor, so she felt relatively safe. She had never done it, but she felt she could fight one of the mist creatures if she had to.

"Scraw!" a long piercing scream licked up her spine.

Crack. Thump.

The scream stopped as quickly as it had started with a solid hit, and she heard a body hitting the ground outside. Surely, no one was dumb enough to be outside after dark. She made her way over to where there was a window in the barn that looked down on the yard below. It took a moment to open, the hook was almost completely rusted to the latch. She held her breath as she opened the window to look out into the yard.

Seven of the mist monsters were out in the yard, their vacant black eyes searching the yard for any living thing as they shuffled between the farmhouse and the barn. They were abominations of men, their flesh wrapped and warped around their skeletons. Large flesh sacks hung off at random places on their body, practically glowing yellow with puss through their pale skin. Their jaws were long rotted away, leaving jawless teeth along the top of their mouths and nothing more.

At the center of them, a tan-skinned man stood in the pale moonlight, shrouded in a brown leather duster. He had a strong but scrawny build like he had drawn out all the strength that his body could handle and more. Across his shoulders, he held a long black staff. His short black hair was tousled and sweaty.

"What are you doing?" Sam demanded before she could catch herself, and the man flashed a smile up at her.

"Fighting," he answered as his staff caved in the skull of one of the monsters, sending white blood flying across the yard.

Volume 01 Goldfist | Chapter 04

Another of the mistwalkers approached Alex, and he swung his staff and cracked it hard across the face. Above him, the girl who had shouted watched. Alex wasn't sure if she was horrified or intrigued, but it didn't matter. With such a low level of seepage in this area, a rift in the Veil wasn't nearly as dangerous as some places on the nightsea.

After following the trail of Goldfist and his men for a few hours, he had come upon the mist and promptly lost the trail. He knew what it was a sign of, a rift in the Veil that separated the Real, the Surreal, and the Outside. An old mystic had tried to explain to Alex the details once, but Alex never really understood it.

The Real was the real world. The Surreal was the origin of all magic and supernatural powers that existed alongside the Real. The Outside was everything else. The Veil was what separated all three. The barrier was strongest with the Outside, which is where the mistwalkers came from.

All he knew was that it meant he had business in this town.

Two of the mistwalkers came for him, interrupting his thoughts. Alex threw his staff at the first, opening his gate to direct it at the creature's head. The ironwood staff slammed into its skull at a distance, piercing through the softened skeleton and exiting in an explosion of white blood and green puss on the other side. It collapsed to the ground and Alex turned his attention to the other.

A swift kick sent one of its knees bending in the wrong direction and made it tumble to the ground. The creature began to let out a scream, but Alex slammed his boot down on its head, ending it before it could react. These were weak fodder in the Veil. Creatures that were made from people and animals who got lost inside the mist. Alex pulled on his staff and called it back to himself. Four more to go.

"Mind if I come in to talk." Alex turned his head back up to the window as the four remaining monsters shambled toward it. "I could keep this up all night, but honestly, it's been a long day for me."

There was hesitation on her face. Alex knew the look. He was just some random person out in the night. It didn't matter that he could just break the door open, or release the locks on the door with a little manipulation of the metal on the latch. That wouldn't help his case at all.


He swung his staff without looking, taking down the closest of the monsters with a hard hit to its head. He kept his eyes trained on hers until he got the answer. Three more to go.

"There ain't nothing else you want?" she asked biting her lip. "Just some shelter for the night and to talk, right?"


Alex spun his body, hitting another of the approaching monsters in its midsection with a two-handed swing of his staff. It practically flew across the yard, landing hard against a wooden fence before crashing to the ground. Two more to go.

"Yeah," Alex said. "I just don't feel like fighting all night and I need to know some things. I lost the trail I was following in this mist."

"Nothing else. Do I have your word?"

Alex opened his gate a little more, going into a spin and release his staff with a whirling throw. It flew in an arc toward one of the remaining two monsters and he directed it with the currents of magnetism. The top had a positive charge and the bottom a negative. He sped it up by pushing on the positive, making it rotate faster and faster until it crashed through the first one and sent it sprawling to the ground. He kept the staff going after the impact, catching the last remaining monster in the neck from behind. As it fell to the ground with a thump, he reached out his hand and caught the staff, planting it on the ground.

"You have my word."

She noddded and disappeared from the window. Alex stood out in the night and listened as he waited. The seemingly endless moans and scratching of shuffling monsters was far off in the distance. He could only barely see the lights of the stars and moon above him in the mist.

Metal clinked and something slid away on the door to the barn before one of the doors opened. The girl stood illuminated in the light from a lantern and Alex had a moment to actually see her for the first time.

Spotted freckles lined her face, though they were mostly hidden against her tanned skin. Her skin contrasted heavily with her short crop cut blonde hair and her light blue eyes. Her blue overalls and green shirt marked her as a person who had no time for anything beyond work. She held a pitchfork in one hand as the other held up the lantern.

"Thank you," he said as he walked in.

The door closed softly behind him and the girl busied herself with locking it again. Alex had a moment to look around, but it was just a typical two-story barn with only one animal housed inside. A donkey with a grey coat gave him a sideye as he walked to the middle of the barn.

"I'm Sam," she said, reaching out one hand. "Sam Appleton."

"Alex." Alex returned her handshake with his own. "Alex Ortega."

Her hands were rough with callouses, but she probably thought much the same for his. His had more to do with constant fighting, while hers would be from working on the farm. Alex couldn't help but crack another smile as they both released the handshake. It was good to meet people who weren't trying to kill him. At least, she wasn't trying to kill him yet.

"You said you were looking for information," she said.

She walked across the room and pulled a wooden stool out from behind a door. She handed it over to him before she leaned against the wall. She still held the pitchfork in her hand and used it to push her back against the wall.

"I am," Alex said, setting the stool beneath him and letting his staff rest on the ground before he sat down and looked back up at her. "How long have you had that mist problem out there?"

"About five years," Sam said, looking toward the door as the shuffling noise of feet resumed outside. "It's been like this since Goldfist killed the sheriff and took over at the mines."

"Big guy with a gold fist," Alex said with a nod. "Not that the name leaves much to the imagination."

"You've seen him?" Sam asked, raising her eyebrow as she looked back at him.

"He just hijacked a train south of here with his 'deputies' in tow," Alex said, raising his hand to make air quotes around deputies. "He hits like a truck."

"A truck?" Sam turned her head.

"Don't worry about it," Alex said, raising up one hand to stifle any protest. "Where am I at?"

"Dry Gulch."

"That the island or the town?"

"Tombstone is the name of our island," Sam said. "Dry Gulch is the town. The nearest towns are Portsmouth to the west and Haven to the east. Haven't seen either since I was a child though."

"I take it the mist is the major problem with that," Alex said. "Those towns are probably both far enough away that you wouldn't be able to reach them without supplies either. Either you would bring enough that you would be slowed down, or you would bring too little and never make it."

"How'd you guess?" Sam asked.

"I just walked from the tracks to town and it took most of the night," Alex said, stretching his arms out and yawning. "I might be able to make it, but I'm..."

He trailed off and stopped himself from saying more. The end of that sentence was something he didn't want to share. He wasn't entirely human anymore, after all.

"What's Dry Gulch like?" Alex asked.

"Five years ago, it would be your typical small town," Sam said. "Nothing like Portsmouth. Everyone knew everyone else, and most people got along most of the time. We had a sheriff, but he never had much to do. Until those two came we were peaceful."

"I take it things changed when they took over."

"The few who cared to fight back are gone. Don't know if they survived the mist. Even my brother left after our parents died. The people left in town may not like what's going on, but they'll take whatever they can get from Goldfist to keep their lives running. They're surviving, but they ain't living."

Alex raised his eyebrow as he looked up to the donkey. It huffed and shook its head at him, as if it was backing up everything she said. Alex smiled and gave it a nod.

"That Goldfist guy chose a great place to set up operations," he said. "Too far away for easy help. Still has access to the rails to the south. He probably only needs to knock over a train every few months. The people who are lost can be written off as dying to starvation out in the desert. Most people would blame it on monsters roaming the island."

Alex looked back up to her, and she was on the verge of tears. Put that way, the situation really sounded hopeless. He mentally kicked himself. He shouldn't have said that either.

"Sorry," he said as she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

"It's okay," she said. "I already knew. It just hurts to hear it laid out like that. What did you want out here anyways?"

"I was involved in the recent hijacking," Alex said. "Initially, I was just looking to find a place to rest before I figured out where I would go. Now that I know there's a rift in the Veil here though, that changes things."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I might need to deal with this Goldfist," Alex said. "You said he's taken over the mines, right?"

"Yeah," Sam said. "He's been digging in there for years. Nobody knows what he's looking for down there, but he does sell the gold to the general store for supplies."

"The general store has supplies?" Alex asked. "After five years?"


Her eyes widened in realization. Alex smiled. Basic supply logistics wasn't something most people in town would have to think about. There were supplies coming into town through some method, unless the people left in town could generate everything on their own.

"Where's Sloan been getting everything?" she asked, though the question wasn't directed at Alex. "If no one can get out, how does he keep getting new stock?"

"That can be on a list of things to find out," Alex said, reaching down to pick up his staff. "And it can be found out in the morning."

He pushed himself up with his staff and walked over to the door. He sat on the ground and leaned his back up against it. It wasn't supremely comfortable, but he didn't need to be comfortable to get sleep anymore.

"I'll take this spot if you don't mind," Alex said, resting his staff over his shoulder and against the wall. "I take it you were sleeping on the second floor. I don't know how much you can trust me, but if you wait until the morning, I wouldn't mind some help when I go into town. There's some information I want, and I think the answers are in Dry Gulch."

Sam watched him, her face unreadable. He knew he didn't present as a hero, because he wasn't one. He was an outlaw, a wanted man with a bounty on his head. If it hadn't been for the mist, he might have offered to help get her and any others out of town who wanted to leave. That would have been the limit. However, the mist meant that there was a core nearby. A core was an opportunity. It was a chance that he might actually be able to go home.

"We can see in the morning," Sam nodded, climbing up the wooden ladder to the second floor.

She took the ladder up with her and Alex smiled. Not a full amount of trust then. He hoped she would be able to get some sleep. He could easily jump up to the second floor of the barn, but nothing in him would ever want to. Once she was settled in, he reached his hand up onto his heart and pressed down on his chest.

In moments, he was asleep.

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