They’d noted one of the signs of the Ancients just a few hours outside of Queenstown, standing against the heavy leaden sky. The word it posted was DOMO. Graeme didn’t know what a domo was – some totemic thing from before the Cataclysm, he guessed. It jutted from the prairie hardpan like a single tooth in an old man’s jaw. Half of the bottom O was submerged in dust. Something swung from the pointed tip of the sign like a slow pendulum in the scouring wind, a heavy something shaped like a cross draped in dark fluttering cloth. The horses scented the breeze and snorted. The spirited dusty bay stallion who carried him, his friend and mount Lightning, pawed the hard-packed earth and twisted his head to regard Graeme with a questioning eye.
“Is it a ghost?” Piper asked nervously as she clutched his arm.
“Nope,” Graeme spat; his eagle-sharp Gunslinger-trained eyes making it out at last. “But I reckon there might be ghosts about.” Glancing quickly round to be sure they were alone along the trail, Graeme tossed his reins over the stallion’s neck. His eyes drooped shut and rolled back in his head as he accessed his Inner Eye. When he opened them, the green glow of ectoplasm was visible to his sight. He cast his gaze carefully over the area in the manner his father had taught him; not searching, not seeking, just absorbing. The horses and Piper, his own hands and the far-off aura of Henry, their father’s lead ranch-hand, all radiated an eerie incandescence. The swinging cross did not.
“Nope, no ghosts,” he said soothingly to his younger sister. She studied his face with luminous starry-blue eyes that were more like their mother’s than their father’s. Graeme’s, of course, were the opposite. She sat her horse like the graceful sidhe that she was. Her delicate fingers folded gracefully over leather reins and chestnut mane. Wisps of flaxen hair escaped her ponytail to whip her eyes in the wind.
“What is it then?” she whispered.
Graeme sighed. “Don’t worry, there ain’t no ghosts here.”
Piper scowled and opened her mouth to argue. But Graeme took up the reins and clucked his tongue. Lightning led his herd on with a whicker and a toss of his proud golden head and midnight mane.
“You might not want to look too close, Piper,” Graeme cautioned.
But Piper didn’t listen. As they drew closer, she studied the swaying cross with a squint that turned into a frown, marring her fair porcelain brow. The big prairie sky was churning with low, threatening clouds, while cicadas droned in the lazy heat. The horses’ hooves made dull thuds where they hit the hardpan. Strangely, however, they had no echo. Lonely tufts of bunchgrass strained their desperate fingers to the sky.
“That’s a body, Graeme,” she said at last.
“Mmm,” Graeme agreed. The body was swinging from its neck and its head lolled at a grotesque angle. Its face was a mummified horror, frozen in deadly rictus. Its eyes were gone. The fluttering cloth was what remained of wind-tattered robes. The crossbar that had formed the ominous shape was a board upon which someone had scrawled the word NEKROMANSER with red barn paint. It hung from the lynched man’s neck, dangling across his chest. His hands had been nailed to it and the board was stained black with blood.
Well, whether the ghost was hanging around its body or not, it must be wandering restless somewhere. Graeme dismounted and drew a cross in the dirt where the blood must have fallen. The hard-packed prairie had drunk it down like a gargantuan vampire. Graeme knelt and sprinkled salt and gunpowder on the cross. He considered the swinging body, but decided it was simply too high up and he wouldn’t be able to fetch it down. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” he intoned. “From ashes we come, and to ashes we return, and the Lord and the Lady watch over all. I reckon your life weren’t so pleasant,” he said to the corpse as he rose to his feet. “But rest in peace now, sir sorcerer. If such you were.”
He drew from his canteen and spat. It was the first time he’d given the Benediction, but he had stood with his father as he performed it. He wondered if the dead man really had been a necromancer.
Piper’s jaw worked and then set in a determined line. She glanced around quickly, then glared at him. “Don’t be doin’ no magery where people can see,” she advised.
“No,” Graeme agreed.
He took his hat off and twisted at the brim as he considered the dead man. The Santa Ana continued to slowly mummify the corpse as it swayed gently in the dry wind. Should they turn around? Henry was bringing up the rear of the train. Maybe he ought to ask him to ride to fetch their father. Let him know that folks were out witch-hunting before they killed some poor old cat lady.
No, he decided. With one sorcerer dead, they weren’t likely to go looking for more. As for himself, surely keeping his head low would be good enough! They would take the remuda to Queenstown, and keep a sharp eye out as they went. Fleeing uncertainty was not the Gunslinger’s way.