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Anna Ward

"The wicked have no place in the vineyard we have wrought. So sayeth the King of Life."

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a character in “Dogs in Almighty God's Vineyard”, as played by Hyperewok

Description

Anna Ward

Image

(She doesn’t really have wings, I just like the picture.)


Age: 28
Gender: Female
Ethnicity/Race: White
Level of Faith: Moderately strong in faith. Anna does not expect miracles, yet still prays for them. She believes that the Faith works most often through the actions of humanity, perhaps most importantly in the form of the Dogs. She has lived through enough harrowing and dangerous experiences to firmly believe she has been chosen to walk a righteous path. In the end she is pragmatic enough to practice caution, but willing to take a calculated risk with the hope of divine protection.
Years of Service: Eight years of proud service. Anna has seen her share of terrible crimes and miraculous near misses and she still strives onward without pause.
Weapons/Equipment: Aside from the standard equipment of a revolver, Book of Life,and jar of consecrated earth, Anna additionally arms herself with numerous throwing knives and a pair of small single shot derringers, some displayed on her belt and others hidden in her coat and shirt. Also kept on her belt is a long leather bull whip. A bandana keeps her hair patted down relatively neatly under her hat. She keeps a small pack with her when traveling, filled with dried food, water, ammunition, bandages, and rope. The saddlebags on her horse hold additional supplies, as well as a lever action rifle. A finely made pendant with the sigil of the Faith hangs from her neck.

Personality

Stoic and driven, Anna has steadfastly dedicated her life to the spread of the Faith and the establishment of peace and order in the West, although that order is under the laws of God, not men. She just happens to be an agent of a high power, and naturally her judgement is above that of a simple lawman. However, she is quite analytical and acts with a careful caution even when she decides quickly on a course of action. She delivers a firm and final justice, filling more graves than prisons, but usually only those that are at least mostly wicked and violent. In the end she is pragmatic, but only to a point. When most of humanity is indeed a sinner, lesser crimes may be forgiven or at least lightly (depending on your definition of light) punished. But the murderer, the thief, and the heretic must be put down. While she understands that compassion is as much of a use as fire in the spread of Faith, her preference is to let another handle such matters while she pursues the worst of humanity across the desert. Some simple folk find her cold nature unnerving, and they often gives her the politely fearful deference that she prefers from people. The harshness of the life away from society has not greatly affected her, as she already knew from her father how terrible a person could be away from law and order. This knowledge and her experiences with it have only hardened her resolve. The truly wicked must be cut from the vineyard like the withered and decayed people that they are. Faith and discipline will protect the rest, even if they need the occasional bout of encouragement.

History

Born to a retired Dog and his wife, Anna was raised in the light of the Faith, in one of the more settled cities far away from the lawlessness and conflicts that Dogs gravitate towards. Her father, partially crippled from wounds during his duties, was her inspiration from a young age and she intended to continue his legacy after hearing many of his stories while he instructed her in the Faith. Her other source of inspiration was her father's fellow Dog and comrade, Horatio, who helped trained Anna when he visited her father, aiding in tasks that he could not due to his old wounds. Between the man who was like an uncle to her and her own father, Anna enrolled to become a Dog when she was only eighteen. And thanks to her father's personal training and recommendation to his former superiors, Anna enrolled as a Dog in training younger than most and was quickly ordained. She traveled out into the desert, moving from settlement to settlement with an alternating variety of other Dogs. Much of her ventures were in the pursuit of bandits, murderers,and the worst of mankind. For her the use of Dogs is to pursue the wicked and deliver justice, while simple preachers can handle the safe sacraments and other duties. Her swift justice has led to butting heads with secular lawmen on occasion, but she prefers to work with them rather than against them and respect their similar desire for law and order. However, in the end the work of the Faith must be done.

Goals

Anna is primarily concerned with her duty and carrying on the legacy of her father. When much of the West is a wild and lawless place, the hammer of Faith is exactly what is needed and she fully intends to swing it. She has already achieved her goal of becoming a Dog and now works as hard as she can in this duty. She takes more of a day to day approach to this rather than a specific long term goal, although she hopes that her work will help bring order and Faith to the West. That order tends to involve tracking down criminals and delivering bullet shaped justice, though the occasion petty criminal is only lashed or chastised if they’re lucky.

Likes

  • Horseback riding
  • The Faith (obviously)
  • Cooperation
  • Swift justice
  • Whittling

Dislikes

  • Inaction
  • Hesitation
  • Lawyers
  • Pomp
  • Ceremony

So begins...

Anna Ward's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Episode One: The Red Road

The scorching sun hung high above in the sky, blasting its unrelenting rays upon everyone in its sight. The four Dogs riding forward were wearing cloaks to prevent sunburn, but they could feel the heat nonetheless. As far as they all could tell, it promised to be another regular afternoon in the West.

However, this would be the Packs first mission together. All of them had just been assigned under Horatio Morale's command, and this would be the first time any of them had worked with each other. Some of the Dogs may have known their new comrades from the past, but none of them had ever been in a Pack with the Dogs present. This would be a trial of sorts for them, for they would see how the other acted and worked first hand, and if they could truly function together as a unit.

As they continued on, a town came into sight in the distance. There, they would begin their first mission. The small settlement was called Red Road, named after a nearby trail. According to the Minister of the Watchdogs, Red Road had been experiencing some grave trouble lately, and would need all the help it could get from the Dogs.

Soon the Dogs arrived in the town, where a fair amount of people were already waiting for them. A few of the townspeople dismissed them offhand, thinking them simple travelers. However, the more observant of them caught a glimpse of the Dog insignia on their coats. Word soon spread that a Pack of Dogs were in Town, and by the time the Dogs had reached the center of town, a good sized crowd had gathered around, gawking at them. Reactions amongst the townsfolk were mixed; many were happy at the sight of the Dogs, while others seemed angry, perhaps fearful.

It was to be expected, of course. Not all citizens of the West were Faithful, even though most of the religion's followers lived there. And a lot of people did not like the Dogs at all, and even some among the Faithful did not have a good view of the Dogs, since they did not like having their Faith questioned, or their buried secrets aired for the world to see.

Out of the crowd, a relatively youthful man stepped out of the crowd and approached the dogs. He had a tin star badge on the right breast of his shirt, and a holstered gun on his hip. The man was also of obvious African descent, his dark skin evident in the harsh sunlight.

"Are you fellows Dogs? Thank the Lord Almighty! I'm glad to finally have some help around here! I'm Deputy...er, Sheriff, Thompson. A pleasure to meet you folks."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Otto Zimmerich muttered quietly to himself. His face was swathed in a red scarf, to protect the fair skin of his face, and it was soaked in sweat. Beneath him, his black colt, Todesengel, likewise was soaked in sweat. The land was harsh and unforgiving here, though it suited the Faithful and their principles of hard work and a hard life. Gently resting across the neck of his horse was Otto's favorite weapon, his black Winchester lever-action. The Watchdog didn't expect any immediate trouble, but in a land like this, assuming safety often led to death. And so it was with a loaded rifle he rode into the town with his new pack.

As they entered, he glanced around at his companions. He had wondered if any of them had heard of him before, and not for the first time, he hoped they remained ignorant. The exploits of his younger days were something of a secret shame to him, and he'd been pestered on occasion when visiting New Life by Dogs-in-training. So full of fire and vigor those whelps, with the illusion of glory still holding place before their eyes, like a veil.

Before his thoughts could continue further down that unpleasant path, the pack arrived at their destination. Otto now turned his icy gaze around the sorry place, new, and yet so familiar. So many of these little places dotted the territory, and they all spoke to him of hard lives and broken dreams. Yet at the same time, it heartened him, knowing that people could live their existence here and remain in faith. Well, most of them. A practiced eye noticed the looks of resentment, of fear, and sometimes both written on the faces of some of the townsfolk. There would be work today, likely bloody work, judging by some of the glares the Dogs were receiving.

Otto almost ran the Sheriff over, so focused was he on reading the faces of the other inhabitants. Fortunately, he managed to stop short and curb his horse before the man. A brief quirk of a brow was all the man's color elicited from The Teuton. He'd seen blacks before, though they seemed a rare breed here. When the Sheriff greeted them, Otto responded with scripture.

"Faith shall be their armor, fury their sword. I shall send them out across the lands of men, to protect the flock, gather the wayward sheep, and slaughter the wolves."

As he spoke, Otto unwrapped the scarf from his head, revealing his face. His short blonde hair was plastered to his forehead, and his cold blue eyes sat above chiseled cheekbones and square jaw. Thin lips, set in a semi-permanent scowl transformed into a kindly smile.

"Chapter 4, verse 16, The Shepard and the Wolves." He followed up. "My name, Herr Thompson, is Otto Zimmerich. We are pleased, as always, to bring the light of The Faith and aid those who request it. These are my companions..."

He stopped, his brow furrowing. With an embarrassed look, he looked back at his pack. They'd only just been assembled, and Otto had yet to warm up enough to really talk to any of them. That and he was terrible with names. Many times over the years he'd tried to rectify that, but as always, his mind remained blank as he searched for the right names. Instead of embarrassing himself further, he nodded to the other Dogs, before glancing back at Sheriff Thompson.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Anna tugged down the brim of her hat, in a vain attempt to shield her eyes from the burning sun. The heat she was used to, having grown up in this land, her skin tanned and her hair bleached to show it. But bright light of the sun has never ceased to be blinding when it was at its height. She peered out into the distance as best she could see, but fortunately there was no sign of trouble.

Absently humming a hymn, Anna looked over her companions. Horatio she knew well, the old Dog and friend of her father's, practically family. She glad he was leading the pack, trusting his experience and demeanour. The other two men she didn't know, the German and the man with an old calvary saber. Together they made a curious assortment, Anna noted to herself, but she was confident that they would handle whatever plagued the town of Red Road. She had been somewhat surprised to find herself the junior among the pack, but ultimately that meant they all had extensive experience to bring together.

Finally, they rode into the small town. At first glance, it seemed like any other dreary settlement Anna had rode through over the years. But she knew it was rarely so simple. They had been called here for a reason and she could see in the wary stares of the townsfolk that some of them feared the judgement that was to come. There was always tension, at first, when the wicked were flushed out into the open. But her faith and her resolve had not failed her yet in bringing order and justice to countless towns such as Red Road.

"Anna Ward." She tipped the brim of her hat politely as she eyed the sheriff. And with the base pleasantries performed, she promptly asked, "What happened to your predecessor?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Horatio led his horse into town, tipping his hat low to protect his face from the blistering sun. Beside him, his faithful hound Knight trotted along, keeping up with the slow gait of the horses quite comfortably. As they walked toward their destination, Horatio took a moment to look over his Pack, evaluating them as best as he could.

The only person in the Pack he knew well was Anna; sweet, darling little Anna, all grown up. Horatio had been friends with her father; in fact, the two had been in a Pack together, in their youth. And thus, when his friend retired and started his own family, Horatio came to know Anna. She had been a feisty and daring little girl, and overall had been quite a joy to know. He'd taught her a great deal about being a Dog during her childhood; and seeing her now, as a full grown woman with eight years of being a Watchdog under her belt....it certainly proved to him that personally training her had been worth it. He was proud to see her as a full-fledged Dog, and considered it an honor to be in a Pack with her. It would be a pleasure to get to know her again, as an adult.

The other two, he did not know so well. Otto the German, he knew vaguely...in fact, the man had made an impression on him, some years ago. Horatio wasn't sure if William remembered him, but he certainly did. William had been apart of the Pack of Dogs that had rescued Horatio from certain death, the night after Chester Marston and his vile, depraved group of bandits had tortured and destroyed his family. Horatio himself had been left for dead, and would have died, in fact, if not for sheer luck. And for that, Horatio was quite thankful. Otto had helped to save his life, and more importantly, given him the opportunity for revenge. Horatio would never forget that. Even if he didn't quite want to make...friends, with him, he would always respect the German and consider him a good comrade, at the very least.

As for Augustus Sharpe, the man was a complete unknown quantity. Horatio had never served with him before, and had never really heard of his fellow Dog before. Which wasn't too surprising, given that there were a couple hundred Dogs out here in the West, altogether. And the Academy churned out more and more every year.

And those were the three people he was saddled with in the Pack; not-so-little anymore Anna, the unknown quantity of Augustus Sharpe, and his personal savior Otto. Quite an interesting Pack to have, to say the least. Horatio hoped he'd serve them well as their Pack Leader, and that they'd become a well-oiled and coordinated machine in the future.

There was supposed to be a fourth member of the pack, but Horatio had been told that he'd been delayed. If possible, the last member of their Pack would join them later on in Red Road.

His observations done, Horatio noticed that they were coming into town now. He looked around the quaint little town of Red Road, unimpressed with the sight that greeted him. It was like most little frontier towns in these parts; unimportant, insignificant, and liable to die off within the next few decades, as advancing railroads made little way-stations like this redundant.

Still, the folks here, Faithful or not, that tried to etch out a living in these little specks often deserved some amount of grudging respect. They either wouldn't or couldn't live a more easier life in a bigger, more important and thriving city in the West, and even with their limited supplies and options, these people tended to do moderately well. The men and women that decided to make a meager living in these types of towns truly lived a hard life. Even if Horatio didn't like towns like Red Road, these shanty quasi-villages and the folk that inhabited them earned some small amount of admiration and respect from him.

They reached the center of town soon enough, and by then, they had attracted a fairly large crowd. For the most part he ignored the people and their reactions; though he did briefly glance over them, and dismissed them when he found no familiar faces. He kept a stone-faced expression, a light scowl on his face; it was foolish to think he might find Marston in a town like Red Road, of course, but that never stopped him from trying and hoping. One day, he'd finally find that son of a bitch...

A young colored man stepped out of the crowd, and addressed the Dogs as a whole. Horatio was content to let Otto speak up first, wanting to see in person how his Pack acted. Usually the Pack Leader opened up dialogue with the town authorities, but Horatio wasn't a real hard-ass about protocol. Far as he was concerned, the first Dog that managed to speak up could start up talks.

"Name's Horatio Morale." the older Dog gruffly greeted, once everyone had introduced themselves, and said nothing else. Anna's pointed question was more than adequate, here.

"Pleased to meet you all," the newly appointed Sheriff kindly greeted, before grimacing, shaking his head slightly. "That's....a grim story to tell, Ma'am. Sheriff Cobbs was murdered three days ago; his throat was slit in the middle of the night, while he was working at his office. But...if you can believe it, ma'am, that's honestly the least of our troubles. I'd be more than happy to tell you fine folk more of our troubles in Sheriff Cobbs'....er, my office now, I guess."

Sheriff Thomspon walked through the gathered crowd, and the Dogs soon followed him. He led them over to the edge of town, where the Sheriff's office and town jail was located. The Dogs hitched their horses outside, and followed him in. Thompson walked into the small building, and led them over to a simple wooden desk that consisted of the Sheriff's office; on the walls around the room, wanted posters were hung on the wall, displaying the description and bounties of local outlaws. A door to the left of the office led further into the building; beyond that door was the town jail, where local criminals were kept.

Thompson sat down behind the desk, and motioned for the Dogs to take up some nearby chairs that littered the sparse room.

"Sorry that my accommodations aren't more...welcoming. I knew you folks were coming, after Sheriff Cobbs sent a telegraph to New Life, but I haven't exactly had the time to...clean up." Thompson sincerely apologized, grimacing again. The new Sheriff leaned back into his chair and looked up thoughtfully, fiddling a little with the badge on his chest.

"I swear, this town has gone to hell in a hand-basket in the last two months. That's when all our troubles started; two months ago. Two months back a ranch outside of Red Road was hit pretty bad. All the men and women were slaughtered, and the children were taken God knows where. The Sheriff led a band of men to investigate, and he concluded that it must have been some sort of bandit attack. He tried to track down them down, but didn't find a single trace of 'em. It was a terrible tragedy, sure, but we thought it was the end of that.

"We were wrong. Two weeks later, another ranch got hit; same situation there. Men and women killed like animals, the children dragged off to the unknown. Then another two weeks later, the same thing happened down at the Peterson Ranch. Two weeks after that, the Jones family got hit at their Ranch. Almost all of the local ranches nearest Red Road have been hit by...God knows what. Sheriff Cobbs started to think that the local tribe of Natives was causing all the trouble, so he decided to call out for some help; that's where you folks come in, I suppose.

"The latest ranch attack was over with Jacob Daniels and his family, six days ago; same thing happened with them, but we got a survivor there. Their youngest son, Jeremiah, was apparently left their by the Natives, or bandits, or whoever. Sheriff Cobbs was trying to see if he could get anything out of him about the attack, but poor little Jeremiah is pretty traumatized, and, well...he was born blind, so it's been difficult to get much out of him.

"That isn't the end of our troubles, there. About five weeks ago, people traveling through the Red Road Trail have been getting ambushed by Natives; or they say it's Natives, at least. I'm not so sure. At any rate, a lot of good people are getting killed and looted over at the Trail, which has put a mighty fear on travelers. That's the other reason the Sheriff sent out for help; to get some support with that situation. Whether or not the Natives are behind the attacks at the ranches and at the Trail, we'll need a sizable gang to help root that out.

"And then there is Red Road's final problem. Like I said, three days ago, Sheriff Cobbs was murdered here, in this office. His throat was cut and he bled out to death. It was a horrible sight. I arrested a local by the name of Nathaniel Blake for the murder; he and the Sheriff have always been at odds. Apparently their fathers hated each other, or something, and they've continued that tradition. Nate's the most likely suspect, but honestly....I don't think he did it. Nate's not a murderer. He may have hated Cobbs, but he'd never really kill the Sheriff. I just locked him up for the well-being of the Town, to calm everyone down. I honestly don't know who would want to murder Sheriff Coobs; Nate's the only one that comes to mind, and like I said, I honestly don't think he did it."

Sheriff Thompson finished his little tirade, and gave a sigh. "Well, as you fine folk can see, Red Road has got a lot of problems these days. Do you have any questions about what's going on? I'd be happy to tell you whatever I know, if it helps us end this blasted nightmare."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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An askew Stetson barely prevented the glare of the sun from glaring in Augustus Sharpe's face, but he did not care. He was riding with three fellow Dogs across the barren desert they called the frontier. Sand and dust and rock all around, barely any life apart from the warriors of God. And the occasional cactus. The sand and the sun were getting in Augustus's face; he liked the pain, the discomfort. Pain was a constant companion, so why not extend the party to the elements? It seemed fitting, poetically. And Augustus did enjoy such intricate symmetries.

The old battered pipe in his mouth was lit, as per usual. He was inhaling the tobacco, appreciating and savouring the heavy smoke as it filled his lungs. It never seemed to leave his mouth, this pipe. The smoke seemed to cascade over his head and shoulders, yet his face was still visible. The pipe hung at the corner of his mouth, and Augustus seemed to be chewing it slightly as he smoked. He knew it was unusual for those of the Faith to smoke, frowned upon. But it was merely one of the ways in which Augustus was an unorthodox man of the church.

He had one hand on the reigns of his black steed Bucephalus and another rested on the hilt of his sabre. Sometimes he liked to imagine the history around him; the briquet which had seen action under Bonaparte in Egypt, the horse named after Alexander's steed. Sometimes he imagined himself in those scenarios; a cavalryman in Egypt, or one of Alexander's soldiers conquering the known world. Such romantic fancies were what flickered through his head occasionally. No wonder he was rather silent, all these ridiculous imaginings in his mind! Nonetheless, he was never distracted. He was aware, constantly.

Right now, Augustus was aware he was with three unknowns. Two men and a woman. He had heard of Horatio Morale; old dogs appealed to the romantic in him. Morale's exploits were rather famous. Perhaps one day he'd be as famous and well worn as that. Yet hopefully there would be less tragedy to come in his life, for the old man's eyes were full of tragedy; Augustus had had enough for a lifetime.

Otto, the German, around Augustus's age. Augustus wondered what it would be like to see him in action; one rarely got to meet people from outside the country in these parts. Most people here were natives, either literally or as settlers. He just hoped the German wouldn't attract unwanted attention. Not everyone around here was broad minded. He'd witnessed horrific acts of discrimination many a time.

Anna, the youngest of the group. And a woman. Augustus always felt slightly odd when seeing female Dogs. Not that he underestimated the power of women; he'd had his fair share of femme fatales in his life. But he was slightly old fashioned, and saw women as those more in need of protection than those who should be doing the protecting. Still, these were ideas he disliked in himself, and he tried to see past them. Anna was clearly capable.

So these three were the Pack he'd been assigned to to deal with the problems of the town known as Red Road, which they were now approaching. As they entered, the people gathered round. Augustus remained aware in case of any threats, but apart from that didn't particularly bother himself about the townsfolk. They were the same everywhere; some horrified, some mystified, some in awe. He preferred individuals to crowds, and so ignored the people watching them, continued to smoke as the Sheriff spoke to them. He didn't bother introducing himself, just nodded at the man.

The young Sheriff led the Dogs to his office. Making sure Bucephalus was okay and taking one last glance at their surroundings to make sure nothing awry was going on, Augustus entered the dingy law enforcement building. Grand, it was not. But then, grand nowhere was in this part of the world, as he well knew. He listened to the man's report with great interest, none of which was betrayed on his face of course. This sounded like it would be interesting. Also horrifying. But he'd seen a lot, and humanity's depravity was almost boring to him now. Still, his anger got the better of him when he saw injustice dealt to innocents. It seemed he would have to kill the people behind these heinous acts, and that did not bother him at all. Even if they were natives, with whom he was friendly, he would not hesitate. His native friends would just have to accept this as a reality of justice and the frontier.

For the first time, Augustus spoke, looking around at his fellow Dogs. "Seems to me that we should perhaps split up to deal with these problems, assuming they're all separate issues. One of us could talk to this Nate fellow, the other go and interrogate Jeremiah. The other two? How about an ambush? Lure in the bandits on the trail, pretend to be some decent vulnerable folks with some valuables. Then kill them." He glanced at Horatio. "Or capture them, if that's the preferred course of action."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Anna gave the townsfolk a final wary look over as she hitched up her horse and entered the sheriff's office along with the other Dogs. She sat back in a seat, listening as the sheriff describe how his town had gone to hell in a matter of weeks. And what a hell it seemed to be, slaughtered ranches, a murder sheriff, raided trails. It was a dark time indeed for the little town.

Her brow furrowed as she considered these problems. Nothing made sense, at least by her own experience. Bandits and Natives she had dealt with before, petty crime and territorial disputes were common enough. But the sheriff's description was far too brutal to be anything similar. The question of missing children was even more mystifying, if not profoundly disturbing. But all Anna could do was briefly pray for their well being before focusing her attention on how to address the matters. The boy that had been found would have been a fortunate lead, if not for his age and blindness. Anna expected he would know little, between his disability and the trauma likely stemming from the attack.

Anna finally spoke, quietly enough to be clear she was addressing only the Dogs beside her. "I doubt these are separate incidents. It's too much violence in too short a time. The question is what is truly happening here. Natives and bandits do not butcher so indiscriminately, not without reason." She paused, looking over to Augustus. "It may be worth splitting up while we investigate the town, but I advise against going out to the ranches and trail alone. Whoever is behind the attacks is organized enough to wipe out the ranches so cleanly, and quite possibly clever enough to murder the sheriff in his own office. We'll need to speak with the townsfolk, in order to see what they know of these problems."

As her father had taught her long ago, in a little town such as Red Road, you could learn nearly all you needed to know from the preacher, the bartender, and the mayor. And Anna was confident none of them could hide their secrets from the Lord's hounds. She then looked back to Thompson. "Tell me more of Sheriff Coobs' murder. When did you find the body? Who was the last person to speak with him that day and when did anyone last see him?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Otto, like his fellow dog Augustus, had a sword. He brought it with him as they convened in the Sherrif's office. As Thompson spoke of the problems plaguing the town, the German would scrape a whetstone down the edge of a massive zweihander sword. It was a monstrous thing, nearly as tall as Otto himself, and devoid of any ornamentation, save a teutonic cross etched in the blade near the cross guard. Now and again, he would look up, and pause in his maintenance of the blade. Then he would return to it.

The weapon itself was a possession of his father. As child, he would ask the drunkard of its origins. It was when his old man was drunk that the young Otto could even talk to him. The sword, his slurring father would tell him, had been in the family for centuries. It had been give to his grandfather, whose father had given it to him. So on and so forth down the ages. The original owner, the story went, was an ancestor named Kurt Junker, a mercenary of the 16th century. To his father, the sword was a cleaver of pikes, and splitter of men. It had tasted real blood, and dealt death for hundreds of years. Otto believed the sword was likely a more modern recreation of the sword, and that his father's drunken ramblings were mere fairy tails. Nevertheless, the sword was of exceptional quality, and the Teuton had ensured the blade had kept its reputation as a tool of death. It was rarely used, as guns were preferable companions to a gunfight--but in a pinch, Otto could and had maimed and killed many with the relic.

As focused as he was on sharpening the sword, he kept track of the conversation going on around him. For himself, Otto was skeptical about the natives being involved in any attacks. His experience with them had largely been positive. They were prone to attack if they felt threatened or trapped, but otherwise minded their own business. Most of them had learned the harsh lesson of attacking frontier folk. Whether it was through the wrath of the Dogs, the CSA or the USA in other parts of the country, most natives seemed content to stick to their own lands. The possibility remained though, as young tribesmen turn their fiery words into bloodshed. What further turned him from that theory was the brutality and child abduction. The attacks made no sense to him, as he could think of little purpose for taking the children and leaving everything else. To that end, taking the children and not the women was a strange strategy for bandits, who usually did the opposite. There was clearly a purpose behind it, and the German shuddered as he considered the possibility of a religious cult of nefarious intent, stealing sacrifices in the dead of night.

He had hoped they would get to that first, as he cared little for the murder of the Sheriff. Of course it was a tragedy, but he often times figured such work should be left to the territorial authorities. Otto had to remind himself that it was his duty, no matter how unimportant it seemed compared to the other issues at hand. Then Augustus spoke for the first time.

Otto knew nothing of the man, other than his name. The man had the look of a soldier, more than anything else. A bearing, a poise that he imagined a French cuirassier might carry, or that might rest comfortably upon a Roman Centurion. The pipe was a bit of a throw-off though. Fascinated as he was with swords, Otto was looking forward to having the opportunity to question his fellow Dog about the beautiful sabre at his hip. Such questions would have to wait, though the German brightened visibly as Augustus suggested setting an ambush.

...a prospect likely shot down as the woman took her turn to speak. Like Augustus, he knew nothing of Anna, save that she was the youngest of the group. He worried at that, worried that her convictions were still fueled by youthful zealotry. It could affect them all, especially Otto himself. If she hadn't learned already, she would eventually, and it might be a costly lesson. The German remained silent, listening to Anna as she spoke her part. Though he'd rather ride straight into the country side to lay waste to their enemies, he weighed her suggestion and found a logic to it as well.

Once she had finished, Otto set his sword down, and pocketed the whetstone.

"Ultimately, it is up to our commander here." He said, nodding towards Horatio. "For what it's worth, however, I would gladly volunteer to be bait in the ambush."

With a shrug and a small grin, the German leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head. "Then again, that's just the barbarian in me. I am happy either way."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Horatio hitched his horse outside of the office, before he and his hound Knight walked inside with the others, Knight laying down at the elder Dog's side as he sat across from the Sheriff.

Horatio listened intently as the Sheriff laid out the town's problems, and later to his fellow Dogs, as they speculated on what to do. Horatio himself was more inclined to agree with Anna, even disregarding their past relationship. They could split up and do various things in town, but the idea of them doing that to tackle what was going on over at the trail seemed dangerous. They'd be better off going there together, or at the very least, one or two of them could go investigate over there, but bring along the Sheriff and a posse for backup.

At any rate...this was all so very, very strange. And horrifying. A murdered sheriff, raided trails, and massacred ranches, with the children all taken alive? Horatio could hardly imagine how these three things were related, but they had to be. It was too much of a coincidence, otherwise.

And what was causing this, too? It definitely wasn't the Natives, Horatio was fairly sure of that. He'd had some conflicts with Natives in the past, and this didn't seem like them at all. It felt too...organized, too concise. Native raids had a much more chaotic feel to them.

Couldn't be bandits, either. He could see bandits attacking those ranches, but he couldn't imagine them taking the children. The valuables, certainly, probably the women, too. But the children? What worth did they have to an outlaw?

This was all so very strange...definitely one of the stranger cases of Horatio's career, he had to admit.

Whatever was going on, though, they would end it. Regardless of how he...felt, about the Faith, Horatio still believed in Justice. He still believed in punishing the Wicked, and in protecting the innocents. And if he had a say in things, no more innocent people would die in Red Road. Not under his watch.

As Horatio considered things further and weighed his options, the Sheriff answered some of Anna's questions:

"I found the body around sunrise, Ma'am. I was heading into the office to get ready for the day, and I...found Sheriff Cobbs dead in here. And as far as I'm aware, Ma'am, I was the last person to talk to him and see him. When I left to go home that night, the Sheriff was still here, looking over some papers or something. I bid him goodnight, and, well, that was the last I saw of him...alive, at least."

Horatio took that in, absently reaching down to pet Knight while he came to a decision. Splitting up seemed the best option here, especially when it came to covering more ground. Now, he just had to figure out who would do what....

"Anna," Horatio looked over at the sole female Dog, turning to face her. "I want you to investigate the Sheriff Cobbs murder. I'm not sure how it relates, but I highly doubt it's a mere coincidence that, in the midst of all this turmoil, the Sheriff got killed. He's got to tie into this somehow. Look at those papers Cobbs was looking at the night he got killed, interrogate that Blake fellow, interview his wife, whatever you think will help you figure out what happened. Might not be a bad idea in general to interview some of the townsfolk; some might have some insight into what happened with Cobbs, or what's going on at the trail or with the ranches. If we're lucky, at least. Take the Sheriff with you, too. Might make the townsfolk more comfortable if you're with someone they know."

Her mission given, Horatio turned his attention to Otto and Augustus. "I agree that setting up an ambush for whoever's raiding the trail is a good idea, but let's save that for later. We'll all be needed for that, plus the Sheriff and whatever posse he can get together. For now...Otto, I want you to head out with me over to the Daniels Ranch, see what we can find over there. It's the latest one that got attacked, maybe we can find something left behind by the bandits or whoever, that can point us in their direction."

With that said, Horatio turned to look at the last of the Pack. "Augustus, I want you to try and interview the boy, Jeremiah. Heaven knows what he'll actually be able to tell us, but it wouldn't hurt to try. After that, we need someone to go over to the local Native encampment. See if they're actually responsible for all this. And if not, maybe they can help us find out who is. So try to track down the Natives if you can, and see what they're up to."

Horatio knew it might be dangerous to send in Augustus alone to confront the Natives, but Horatio highly doubted they were responsible. This didn't have their calling card at all, and stealing children wasn't really their thing. Besides, he was sure Augustus could handle himself. The Natives had long since learned that it was...unwise, to mess with a Dog, even if he was alone.

Just as he was about to ask the Sheriff where Jeremiah was, and if he had an idea where the local Natives were encamped, the man spoke up.

"Jeremiah's staying over with Archdeon Joshua, at the Church." Sheriff Thompson helpfully supplied. "And we have a...vague idea, where the local Natives are camped out. Sheriff Cobbs scouted out their locations some time back, and marked them on a map in the office, so he'd know where they were in case we ever had to go after them."

With all that settled, Horatio rose to his feet, Knight getting up as well a moment later. "Any questions? If not, then go do your damn jobs."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Anna nodded to Horatio as he gave out his instructions. When the Dogs were ready to file out, she moved to rest her hand on Horatio's arm for a brief moment. "Be careful, Uncle. I am certain this is more than simple bandits or Natives." She smiled faintly at him, as warm an expression as she was ever likely to give. She then nodded to her fellow Dogs. "Godspeed and good luck."

She remained in the office as the rest of the Dogs went out to their assigned tasks, looking over to Thompson. "Sheriff, if you could show me Sheriff Cobbs' papers. Letters, journals, anything he's written recently."

Slowly strolling around the office, Anna carefully examined every detail. She had a feeling that he was involved, if not complicit in the troubles plaguing the town. And yet, he had sent out the call for help. Perhaps that was what led to his death. "What was Sheriff Cobbs like? What sort of man was he?" She asked Thompson as she continued to search through the office.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Sheriff Thompson reached underneath the desk, pulling out a large, wooden box. He placed it atop the desk, and opened it, revealing a bundle of letters, notes, and a small drawn map of Red Road, and its surrounding ranches and other associated settlements.

"This is all of Sheriff Cobb's stuff." Thompson elaborated, gesturing to the contents of the box. "I packed it all up the other day...I wasn't sure what to do with it. Haven't read any of his letters or notes, thought it would be...wrong, somehow. Thought I might give these to his wife, but I guess that'll have to wait, until you're done with them."

The Sheriff glanced down at the box's contents, reaching over to pull out the map in particular. He unfolded it, offering it to Anna. "Cobbs drew this map himself, used it to mark down all the ranch hits. He was trying to find a pattern...not sure he did, though. Far as I could tell, there seemed to be no reason why one ranch got hit one week, and another didn't."

A good look at the map would tell Anna as much. Cobbs had marked all the ranches hit since the beginning of the attacks, and Cobbs had also marked other, unhit ranches as potential future targets, his notes beside such markings trying to discern which was the most likely next target.

"Sheriff Cobbs tried his damnedest to find out what ranch would get hit next, so he could stop the attack." Thompson added, sighing as he ran a hand through his hair. "After the first two attacks, he didn't take any chances. He put everyone on alert, put up a posse to patrol the area all night, even told some folks to shoot anyone who tried to enter their property, friend or foe. As you can tell, though...it wasn't enough. Even with all of the Sheriff's preparations, a ranch always got hit. The men and women killed, the children taken. Cobbs damn near drove himself mad, trying to figure out what was going on."

Thompson sighed again, shaking his head at such unpleasant memories. After a moment, he spoke up again, answering her other question.

"Sheriff Cobbs...he was a good, honest man. Took his duty seriously. His father had helped found Red Road back during the Great Migration, so he had a legacy to live up to. Cobbs cared about this town a great deal...cared about everyone in it. Even me and my wives...which was no small task. We were the only Negros in town, when we settled in Red Road eight years ago. I've seen the way some people look at me here...not everyone here is as...accepting as I would have liked. But Sheriff Cobbs didn't care one bit about my skin color. Even made me Deputy when his old one left town. He was a good person, Ma'am. You can trust me on that."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Augustus Sharpe Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Otto grinned, and slung his zweihander across his back as he rose to his feet. This was the job he wanted, and he silently mouthed a prayer. The business with the Sheriff's murder was a sordid business, and the German preferred to prosecute and promptly decimate without the need to prove guilt. Long years of investigating made him clever, but tired. The number of men and women he'd executed for murder were uncountable for him at this point, and he'd made mistakes. Those mistakes had grown heavy over the years, and truth be told, he would avoid towns like this all together if he could. Each one was a new Drywell.

A younger Otto would have walked into the town and judgement would have been swift following on his heels. Now, he merely regarded these places with weary resignation, and the knowledge that he couldn't pass through without leaving a mother, or father, or brother, or sister dead in his wake. So being offered the opportunity to go with Horatio and fight those who needed no judgement, and whose death would not stain his conscience was a boon he readily accepted.

Both men left the other two Dogs to their duties, and saddled up. Before mounting, Otto kissed the plate helmet strapped to the saddle. Unlike the sword, it was modern, commissioned at the start of his career. Back then, as a young man, he liked to imagine himself a Teutonic Knight of the modern day. And for all intents, he had been. That had faded, though he still kept the helm, as well as the coat of mail that accompanied it. The tales of Germanic adventure his drunk father had regaled him with still lurked in his memories, and sometimes--just sometimes--he could still see himself as the knight. Perhaps today was one of those days.

Once both men were mounted, they set out of town at a leisurely pace, Horatio in the lead. Otto vaguely recalled him. They had never known each other informally, but Otto could still see the leftovers of a man who should have been dead. What he had gone through was something even Otto's guilt-riddled mind couldn't comprehend--nor would he want to. From what he'd heard before being assigned to this pack, was that Horatio wasn't always as cold and hard-edged as he was now. The German couldn't see it. Then again, he couldn't imagine Horatio or himself as a young man. Too many years, too many corpses. Too much blood.

After a while, he spoke up. The town was receding into the distance, and the silence was becoming uncomfortable for him. These days he sought to know his fellow Dogs. It helped take his mind off of the blood his could sometimes physically see on his hands.

"How are you these days Ho--err, Herr commandant?" It was asked in almost timid fashion, ridiculous given Otto's brutish appearance and very real lack of fear. Yet he feared their commander. It was like a man on the edge looking at what might be.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Anna nodded absently as she listened to Thompson and carefully examined the map. Perhaps she had been mistaken in her initial judgement of Cobbs, given the earnestness in Thompson's description and detailed notes of the map. It seemed clear enough that Cobbs was gravely concerned by the attacks. The only question was what the pattern was. Alas, nothing seemed any clearer to her then she imagined it had been for Cobbs.

"Have there been any travelers of particular note that have come through town since the attacks began? Especially ones that have remained in the town for more than the night." She asked as she begin to look through the rest of Cobbs' letters, searching for the most recent writings, or better yet a personal journal. The attacks couldn't have been random, they were too swift and precise. Anna wouldn't have put it past a robber baron from the East to have competition or complications murders, but such a presence would have been as obvious as the spreading railroads. And such a theory still did not explain the missing children. As she flipped through the notes looking for more clues, she inquired further, "And prospectors, have any of them been seen in the area?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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"No, Ma'am. On both accounts. We've had a few travelers come by now and again, but no one who stays more than a day or two, and certainly no one of note." Sheriff Thompson replied, shrugging helplessly. "We did get a visit from someone over from New Life. Some priest or another came to visit Father Joshua for a few days. But that was maybe a month before all this started, Ma'am."

As Anna combed through the notes and letters left behind by the murdered Sheriff Cobbs, she would see evidence of a meticulous and thorough lawman. Cobbs left very little unwritten; he kept records of arrests he'd made, prisoners transferred to higher authorities, supplies purchased from vendors across the Deseret, things like that.

Cobbs had even twice as much written material pertaining to the disturbing attacks as of late, as well. Alongside the map, he had various scribbles and notes relating to his ideas. In one note, Cobbs tried to make a connection between a well-known gang of bandits and the attacks, but the connection fell through, for Cobbs later wrote down that said bandits were last reported well away from Red Road, thus taking them off from the suspects list.

But....there was no sign of a journal. Which was quite peculiar, for a man as thorough as Cobbs would have kept a journal, perhaps even making a separate one to record the various problems plaguing Red Road and its Trail, but there was no sign of it.

And then, at the bottom of the chest, a single, solitary note that had gone unnoticed by Thompson, when he had been packing his predecessor's things:

This has happened before. Red Road is not alone in this matter. Must investigate further.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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This has happened before. Red Road is not alone in this matter.

Anna could practically hear the sheriff's weary and worried voice, despite never knowing the man. And she felt a deep lurch of dread in the pit of her belly, for reasons she could not determine. How could this have happened without notice? Worse still, who could be orchestrating these atrocities on an even greater scale? She stared at the small slip of paper for a long moment, long in her thoughts until the shuffling of Thompson moving about the office dragged her attention back to the present. She quickly stuffed the note into the pocket of her coat, giving Thompson a brief, wary glance. Anna was sure now that her initial judgement of Cobbs had been wrong, he had been a good man. Thompson and the rest of the town, however, were all still equally under suspicion. Her hand briefly slid to the whip on her belt, the solid leather giving her some small comfort, but there was still much to investigate before she would need to resort to such measures.

"Sheriff Thompson," Anna said, moving to the door. "If you would be so kind as to show me to the Cobbs' home so that I might speak with his wife. While I am there, I need you to find maps of the surrounding region and the nearest settlements, and then go to the telegraph office and tell them that I would like to send messages to the sheriffs of those settlements."

She could only hope that Cobbs' home would have his journal, or at least some evidence as to why his most profound suspicion was kept hidden.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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"Of course, Ma'am." Sheriff Thompson nodded, walking over briefly to the Sheriff's desk. He closed the chest containing his personal things, and stowed them beneath the desk once more, before going over to the entrance to the Sheriff's Office. "If you'll follow me, then?"

The Sheriff led Anna out of the office, and back into the town proper. What few residents were still out on the streets shied away pretty quickly from the pair, upon seeing them.

Thompson led Anna over to a series of small houses and abodes, before pointing to one in particular. "Here, that's where...Sheriff Cobbs lived with his wife. Abigail's still there, and should be up, I think. She's been talking about moving back to her family in Baker City, since the Sheriff was buried, but so far she's stayed here in Red Road."

With Anna pointed in the right direction, Sheriff Thompson went off, to carry out her other orders. It would take him a little time to find a map showing all the nearest settlements in the region, and then go over to Red Road's dingy little telegraph office to tell the operator that Dog Anna wanted to speak with the Sheriffs of said settlements.

All in all, he'd probably be back by the time Anna wrapped up her questioning of Abigail Cobbs, Sheriff Cobbs' widow.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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The townsfolk were afraid. Anna could practically feel it in the air. They had reason to be, of course, even before the Dogs had rode into town. But it just as easily suggested their own trespasses. Only the sinful would feel it necessary to avert their eyes from the Lord's hounds. But that was a matter for later, when there was still so many questions remaining in Sheriff Cobbs' death. Much less the disturbing suggestion that the brutal attacks reached beyond Red Road.

The notion that Abigail Cobbs was possibly leaving town could be an admission of guilt, but it could just as reasonably be the reasonable actions of a grieving widow whose husband had obviously been a prominent figure in the community. It was too early to tell. And all the more reason to press her for information regarding her late husband.

"Thank you, Sheriff." Anna nodded to him as he left. She knocked on the door, then rested her hands on her belt and waited. Her arms brushed back the edges of her coat, clearly showing the revolver and whip on her belt. Sometimes it was necessary to remind people that when a Dog came knocking, they were not to be dismissed.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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After a good minute of waiting, the door opened, Abigail Cobbs peering out to see who had visited. The widow was a fairly young woman, perhaps only a few years older than Anna herself...and quite obviously pregnant, as indicated by the swell of her stomach. She blinked, puzzled by the presence of this stranger, before her eyes drifted down to Anna's waist, catching sight of her pistol and whip.

Her eyes widened in recognition, and she looked back up at the female Dog. She stared uncertainly at her for a few moments, unsure of what to say, before she finally stepped back, allowing Anna to come inside her home. "You must be one of the Dogs Jacob called in, I suppose? Please, come in, Miss. I imagine you must have some questions for me."

Once Anna entered, Abigail closed the door behind her, and walked her into the main living room of her house. It was a quaint little area, with two small chairs as the only sitting places. Abigail gestured for Anna to take a seat at one of the chairs, as she took the other.

"I was just about to fix myself some coffee, Miss. Would you care for some?" Abigail offered politely, as she looked over at the young Dog.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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It was certainly now clear to Anna why Abigail Cobbs was considering leaving town to return to her family. Her husband's death would have been trying enough, without the issue of raising a fatherless child, and the frontier life was often a harsh one.

"I am, Mrs. Cobbs, we've recently arrived to restore peace and order to Red Road. And I'm very sorry for your loss," Anna responded and tipped her hat politely as she stepped inside. "It's my understanding that your husband was a good man. I hope I can offer the comfort of my assurance that I will bring the Lord's justice to his killer."

She slowly looked around the interior of the house before sitting back into one of the chairs. "I would like to look through your husband's belongings, Mrs. Cobbs. I've read the writings he's kept at his office, but I still require a fuller picture of what the town has been suffering these past few weeks, and his investigation into the attacks. I'm looking for your husband's journal, in particular," Anna said, carefully watching Abigail as she explain her objective. She did not immediately suspect the woman of wrongdoing, but a journal could hold any manner of secrets and every person had the capacity to sin. And the foolish desire to hide it from the Lord's chosen hands.

But the only secret Anna was concerned with was the nature of the attacks. The journal would be the key, Anna was sure of it. The note she had found suggested Cobbs had found evidence of further attacks, yet he had not informed his deputy or made further note of the discovery. But he had to have recorded his thoughts somewhere besides a scrap of paper. It all suggested that he feared for his life, and rightly so. But Anna had no intention of sharing these grim details with a simple housewife, especially one grieving for her murdered husband.

Anna paused, feigning a polite smile as best that she could. She wanted to continue her search as promptly as possible, but she knew that gruffness would not endear her to the likely fragile widow. "And coffee would be lovely, thank you."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Abigail listened to Anna calmly, taking in what the young Dog said. When she agreed to have some coffee, the widow stood up from her chair. "If you'll excuse me, then. I'll be right back."

Abigail ventured off into her small kitchen, and some minutes later return with two piping hot cups of coffee. She handed one cup to Anna, and then sat back down on her chair.

"My husband did not own many things, Miss, so I'm afraid you won't have much to look through. He was very...spartan, in how he lived. He only owned three pairs of clothes, his gun, a Book of Life that used to belong to his father, and a picture he had taken of us in Baker City, a few years back." Abigail calmly informed, taking a sip of her coffee.

"Jacob did keep a journal however, yes. Been keeping one ever since he was a child. He has more than a few journals, usually goes through them on a yearly basis..." Abigail smiled faintly, recalling more pleasant times. "Heaven knows why. I never understood that about him. But...maybe it's a blessing after all. My child might not ever meet him, but at least he'll get to know him all the same, with those journals."

Abigail sighed, closing her eyes in pain. She took a deep breath for a moment, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Jacob's loss was still very fresh, but she managed to keep herself composed, in front of Anna.

After a minute of silence, the young widow went on. "You won't have to go through all of them, though. He made a special journal for these...these horrible travesties. I saw him writing in it from time to time, usually before bed. It should still be in our room...he usually put it under the bed, when he went to sleep."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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"The humble life is a pious one," Anna said in between sips from the cup. "I'm sure your husband's memory will be an inspiration for your child. Now, I don't wish to intrude any longer than need be. Feel free to return to your tasks, I'll find his journal and be on my way. Thank you for your help, Mrs. Cobbs."

Anna set down the half empty cup and promptly made her way to the bedroom. She slowly looked around the room, intent on examining every detail. First she searched under the bed for the journal on the attacks, but she looked for the most recent journal that Cobbs had kept under normal circumstances as well. The journal describing Cobbs' investigation would be everything Anna was hoping to find, but it would have been foolish to overlook any further clues by rushing.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Anna found Sheriff Cobbs' investigative journal easily enough, as well as his most recent, normal journal, which just so happened to be next to the investigative one under the bed.

When the younger Dog pulled out the investigative journal, however, its pages fluttered slightly, causing a few loose, scraps of paper to fly out of the book. When Anna reached down to pick up those loose bits of paper, she would notice that they were, in fact, newspaper clippings.

There were a total of three clippings altogether. Each was a short article taken out of a larger paper, with rather eye-catching and distinctive headlines. They were, in order from the earliest dated clipping to the latest one...

Local Native Tribe Slaughtered; Men and Women Butchered, Children Missing.

This article was dated from 1864, and was nothing more than a small footnote. The author speculated that Native-on-Native violence was the cause of this incident, saying that another local Tribe might have slaughtered them. But beyond that, nothing of much substance was in the small article.

Mexican Settlement Hit By Bandits; Dozens Killed, Surviving Children Taken

This article, dated 1871, was more lengthy than its predecessor. It detailed the near total massacre of a Mexican village in the Deseret, that saw most of its adult inhabitants killed, and the surviving children taken away by the bandits. In the end though, the article did not contain much of substance beyond that.

Faith Settlement Wiped Out By Bandits; Entire Town Slaughtered, Children Taken To Parts Unknown

This article, dated around 1880, was a bit more...elaborate. It was longer than the previous two combined, detailing the raiding and destruction of an entire Faithian settlement out in the frontier. The entire town had been ransacked and put to the torch, with the Deseret Militia called in to pursue the bandits behind this wholesale slaughter. No bodies of the town's children had been found however, leading the author and local authorities to suspect that they had been taken by the bandits, for some nefarious purpose or another.

Altogether, the three articles had one common, shared link: missing children, taken after bandits...or whoever...had raided and slaughtered the local adult population.

Just like what was happening in Red Road, and the ranches hit over the past two months.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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"Lord preserve us." Anna whispered to herself as she read the articles. She had expected the attacks on other towns to be recent. To think that they had been occurring over the course of decades was staggering. If her father's ranch had not been close to New Life, it could have been raided. Her parents could have been killed, she could have been taken. And for the moment, at least, only God knew where those children had gone.

Anna carefully placed the newspaper clippings in a pocket of her coat and then sat down in the bed with Cobbs' journals. Her stomach rolled anxiously. This dark matter, whatever it was, was far larger than anything she had ever faced. Taking a deep breath, Anna forced herself to calm her mind and focus. There was too much at stake here for anything less than her full concentration. She first looked through Cobbs' personal journal, only briefly skimming for an idea of what was on his mind during the last few weeks of his life.

The journal on his investigation was the key, though, and Anna paid carefully attention to every detail as she started to read from the beginning. She could only pray that Cobbs had found something, anything that could help her and the rest of the Pack when it had become so disturbingly clear how far this atrocity extended.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Cobbs' personal journal didn't contain much enlightening news. Most entries were about what had happened that day, Sheriff Cobbs' opinion on the various townfolk of Red Road, and, quite tragically, his growing excitement about Abigail having a child. The journal dated all the way back to a year previous, 1886, and recorded the exact date when Abigail told her husband she was with child. Cobbs had been quite ecstatic at that news, and had spent many journal entries debating names for his unborn baby, among other things.

Into the last set of journal entries, things became more morbid. Around his May entries, the journal writings became more morbid and morose, as the attacks had started the 30th of April. Entering June, the entries in Cobbs' personal journal became more spartan and sparse, as his investigation clearly took more and more of his time. His last entry, dated the day before his death, was quite bare and underdeveloped. Overall unremarkable. Clearly, Cobbs hadn't expected to die the very next day.

His investigative journal was another matter. Nearly all the entries were full, and Cobbs had written down many theories and speculations. The first two thirds of the journal documented the attacks as they happened, both on the ranches and at the Trail itself, and Cobbs' continued, futile efforts to put a stop to all the death.

Then, in an entry dated June 19th, 1887, things changed.

"I have discovered something truly disturbing.

"In my quest for answers, I sought whatever connections I could find. I went to Old Man Pickett's house, on the edge of town, and rifled through his newspapers. The old codger had been hoarding newspapers since the Fifties...no earthly idea why, but it served my purpose. I sought to try and find other, previous attacks similar to the ones at Red Road in his papers, see if I could pinpoint the gang behind this mess.

"I found something different, altogether.

"Perhaps I have driven myself mad through this investigation, and I am seeing connections where no one else sane would. But still...I feel as if the Great Prophet himself guided my search. For this cannot be mere coincidence.

"Three articles caught my attention in particular. Articles from '64, '71, and '80. Each one is different, at a glance...slaughtered Natives, raided Mexicans, butchered settlers...but they all seem to share a common thread. Missing children. I cannot help but think this isn't a coincidence. It means something...but what?

"I shall investigate further. I did not shift through all of his collected papers today, and shall read more tomorrow, God willing. For all I know, there could be more stories like these, buried unnoticed in those papers."


The entry ended there. The next day, Sheriff Cobbs continued.

"I awoke to hear news of a fire. Old Man Pickett's house had caught aflame, and the entire town was roused by the smell of smoke. The fire did not spread, thank the Lord, and by the time it died out, the entire house had crumbled to the ground. Old Man Pickett's charred body was found in the rubble. He will be buried by Father Joshua tomorrow, his death ruled an accident. Most everyone thinks the old codger finally got himself killed. He smoked constantly, a hazard in a house filled with newspapers.

"I am not so sure, however. It feels...wrong, somehow. On the cusp of my discovery, Old Man Pickett's house suddenly bursts into flames? Perhaps I am paranoid, but it feels like someone is trying to hamper my progress here. With all those newspapers ashes now, I have no way of knowing if there are more cases like this, out there. I am lucky I took clippings from the stories I did find.

"I shall try to continue and investigate, however. In any case, I have sent word to New Life that we are in need of assistance. While I am hesitant to bring the Watchdogs to Red Road, it is clear I alone cannot root out this...whatever this is, afflicting our town."


The journal went on from there, detailing Sheriff Cobbs' further investigations. He did not make much progress, and inbetween his investigating a new attack took place on the 27th of June.

"Another day, and another esteemed family in Red Road was massacred last night. This time it was the Daniels Ranch. Something different this time, though. They left someone alive. Jeremiah Daniels, the blind son of Richard Daniels. Why, though? Whoever's doing this has taken children before. Why leave him? Why not take him along? Is it because he's blind?

"I shudder to think what nefarious purpose these scoundrels are using the children for. I am thankful Jeremiah was spared this great evil, but this leaves me no closer to finding out what's going on. The townsfolk are getting restless too. People are starting to talk about leaving Red Road for safer pastures.

"A ray of hope shines upon us, however. I have received word from New Life, and they are sending a Pack of Dogs to help us out. Praise the Prophet! I can only hope they succeed where I have failed, thus far."


After that entry, there was nothing of note afterward. Cobbs continued his investigation, but made little headway. An oddity presented itself to Anna, however. There seemed to be a large gap of time between journal entries. One entry was dated the 29th of June, and the one right after that, on the next page, was dated July 3rd...the day before Cobbs died. It almost seemed as if a page, or a set of pages, was missing. And indeed, one could make out tiny tears in the spine of the journal, where pages had been torn out.

"This case is far larger than I ever anticipated, and I fear for my life. I have begun to suspect someone in town may be orchestrating these events...just today, I found evidence that someone had been in my home, while Abigail was away! Someone read my journal. They put it back where they found it, but the paper clippings had been moved around. Someone was here, and read through my notes...

"I have no idea who to trust....and of those I do trust, I hesitate to bring them in. Abigail is with child, and already upset by these attacks. I do not wish to trouble her further. And Clarence...he is a good Deputy, a great man, but I dare not risk his life as well. He has two wives to look after, and a pair of twins to raise, and I dare not put his life in jeopardy.

"I will attempt to seek help in this matter. I sent a telegraph requesting the aid of the Dogs earlier, and the operators at New Life assured me a Pack was on its way. But I fear they might not be enough. This whole forsaken mess has grown larger before my eyes. No longer is just Red Road itself at stake.

"I am sending a telegraph to a friend in New Life. I know I can trust him with my concerns, and that he can be trusted with what I've uncovered. I only pray that it be enough to save my town from the evil forces taking away our children...and Lord knows how many other children across the decades."


And there, the investigative journal ended.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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The culprits, or at least one of them, were in Red Road. It was not the clear lead Anna had hoped for, but it was enough to continue the investigation. The evidence was clear that someone had stolen the pages which would had listed precisely what she had hoped to find. And then there was the fire, clearly intentional. Anna had learned long ago to trust a lawman's instincts, and even without Cobbs' suspicious it was too sudden to be any coincidence. The culprit had been in town at least near of a month, between the fire and the murder. And the Pack had arrived only three days after that. In such a small town, it was long enough that his departure would have been noted. It was still a slim lead, but a step closer to the truth.

Anna left Cobbs' private journal on the bed, but kept his investigation records in her coat. It was too valuable to leave behind and, perhaps just as importantly, it was the last record of a good man. If nothing else, it would be a reminder, further motivation for Anna to hunt down the truth with everything she had.

"Mrs. Cobbs?" She asked as she stepped back out of the bedroom. "I've a couple questions before I will be on my way. Did your husband have any family in New Life, or a close friend, someone he may have worked with in the past? And what can you tell me about Nathaniel Blake?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anna Ward

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Abigail Cobbs closed her eyes in thought for a moment, trying to recall. "A close friend in New Life? Yes...I believe so. Yes, now I remember! Jacob's old Deputy, Howard Franklin, moved to New Life to take care of his old aunt, when she became sick. That was...eight years ago, almost. Jacob and Howard kept in touch now and again, since. Last I recall, Howard had gotten a job with the Ministry of Social Order as a clerk of some sort."

Her lips pursed at the mention of Nathaniel Blake, as a hand curled in anger. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and unclenched the hand in question. "Nate Blake...there is a great deal I can tell you about him. Natheniel Blake is an utter scoundrel. He comes from bad stock, from what Jacob told me. His father was a lying cheat and a scoundrel, and according to Jacob, their fathers killed each other in a duel when Jacob was only fourteen years old. Now, I know he didn't murder my husband...Clarence told me he was just trying to calm everyone's nerves when he did arrest that man for Jacob's death. Besides, if Nate had wanted Jacob dead, they would have killed each other in a duel years ago. Still, he's an utter scoundrel. He deserves to be in jail, even if he didn't kill Jacob.

"Nathaniel's followed in the footsteps of his no-good father, from what I've seen. He always got into fights with Jacob...questioned his authority, insinuated he wasn't a true Faithful...anything he could do to rile up my husband. I think, somehow, he blamed Jacob for what happened with their fathers.

"At any rate...when these attacks started, Nate really went after my husband. He claimed Jacob wasn't doing enough to protect the town, and that if he was Sheriff, he would have already caught the bandits attacking the homesteads and ranches outside of Red Road. He and a few other discontent men tried to get Mayor Jones to take away Jacob's badge, and make Nathaniel the Sheriff instead...but nothing ever came of it."