Trials of The Gunfighter
The small campfire was dwindling, but he'd been aware of their closing presence for a short while. The only thing more noticeable than the soft scurrying in the dust and irritable panting, was the absence of their baying in the distance on this clear, moonlit night. These coyotes were moving in and he couldn't be sure of their intentions. The air was still, the wood in the dying fire softly crackled, and as Jack contemplated the situation, he could only come to the same conclusion: "Damn, I wish I had a pistol."
They finally stepped into his direct view, careful to keep wide of the fire. Seven animals that appeared to be as wretched and vile as any he had encountered before. He had seen a couple of them recently, but they kept their distance, and he had been thankful of that. While he had never regarded them as a direct threat to him, he had no desire to compete with them for the scarce amount of food he had managed to find for himself. They slowly sat, one by one, making a semicircle that faced him. Of the seven, only one kept constant eye contact with him, making him uneasy. This one was unremarkable in size, but so red in color that he would have mistaken it as a very large fox, if he'd only managed to catch but a glimpse of it.
The animals had stopped panting; even their breathing was imperceptible. He slowly sat up a bit, noticing that the air itself seemed to grow cold. He felt it retreat, then wash over him again as though it was lapping upon him like the waves of the ocean upon the shore. Suddenly he was completely disinterested in the small wolves surrounding him as the very sand beneath his hands seemed to offer new sensation. As he grasped at it and felt it slip from his grip, he became aware that he seemed to 'sense' their thoughts. He looked up and into the eyes of the red coyote and realized that somehow, they were now connected. He understood that they both knew the intentions of the other and this animal meant to reveal its purpose.
"I am Ho Guia, loyal servant of Ortandu and we are the spirits who walk the sand, the wretched wolves of the dawn and dusk. When a man expires and passes on to the dark path between worlds, we are the ones who guide him to the waters that wash away time itself, the river of unity. You managed to find the in-between, but your soul was never meant to walk those hills. Time is an illusion that man dreamt up, and how long you may have tread those plains, we will never know. But the dark god saw your wandering soul and bid us to find and return you."
"When I found you standing at the dry gulch, you were staring across at a shore you were never meant to reach. By nature, your soul led you to that point and fed you the desire to join with the life-force that joins us all to the sun and stars. My presence is a force meant simply to guide, and by his desire, I led you back to this world. Your previous life is now a path you may no longer follow. The man who killed you sought to rebalance the scales that are, by design, assigned to the author of destiny. He had previously made forfeit on his own fate and offered your soul to close on that ledger."
"But Ortandu has granted you his blessing and this gift of the alter-life. You are bestowed the task of distributing penance and to adjudicate obligation. Now you are the vessel of equal measure, the cold balance of the dark god. Your charge is to fate and fate alone. Some men manage to change their destiny and evade its unbiased designed. Your burden is to realign that path and send them to cross the river of unity."
"But what of my life, of which I so faintly recollect? What of my past, of which steps I cannot recall? Who am and was I? What does this 'dark god' intend for me when this mission is done? Who is he and when do I return to that life?" Jack stammered out in half whispers and thick thought.
"The man you were is but a shadow. Alas, that destiny is closed to you, as you walk the earth as a spirit of vengeance. Death is a gateway you will never know again, and for you, time stands still. You are not alone, and others work to maintain this balance that only the gods may imagine up. Now, you are of us. A part of this fantastic machine that has only been guessed at since man walked this world. You are the third part of this pact of blood and soul. Soon, you will speak to the cuervos de amenecer."
As quickly as the cold had swept upon him, it subsided. He no longer felt the connection and he watched as the coyotes retreated from view. He sat there for a long time, wondering, listening to the smoldering fire protest its own impending death.