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Dogs in Almighty God's Vineyard

Dogs in God's Vineyard

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a part of Dogs in Almighty God's Vineyard, by Magus1108.

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Magus1108 holds sovereignty over Dogs in God's Vineyard, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/dogs_in_the_vineyard

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Dogs in God's Vineyard is a part of Dogs in Almighty God's Vineyard.

6 Characters Here

Anna Ward [236] "The wicked have no place in the vineyard we have wrought. So sayeth the King of Life."
Charles Carver [119] "Wise man once told me, 'If I save but one soul, then all my suffering has been justified.'"
Horatio Morale [116] "Sometimes all you can do is just live day by day."
Margaret Thorne [105] "I will avenge those who have fallen, no matter the cost!"
Sonia Redwood [104] "There is no time to regret the past. You can only look forward, and strive to make a better future."
Ira Murphy [15] "You will profess your love for the One True God, or die by the flame. It is your choice."

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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.

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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.

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Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich
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A family at their dinner table. Life was hard on the frontier, and every day was hard work. These people looked the part, with faces prematurely wrinkled, made more obvious by the grit trapped in those lines. But they looked happy, as they should be. Hard work brought the bounty that lay on the table before them. Cooked meat, fresh from the cattle they raised through their own hard work. Milk for the children, also of their own hard work. Bread bought with money they earned through their hard work.

The temptation to just dig in must have been great, but these humble people instead bowed their heads and held hands. All along and around the table, young and old, they prayed. They thanked their god for their meal, for their continued good luck, and their beautiful family.

The prayer ended. One of the older gentlemen brought out a bottle of whiskey he claimed he'd bought at the local general store. A special reserve it was. The rest of the adults looked delighted, and one of them went to scrounge up shot glasses while a woman hushed children asking for a taste. Glasses were set down before each adult, and a slug of whiskey poured.

They made a toast. Why wouldn't they? They lived a hard life, but it was peaceful and full of contentment. Smiles were wide and genuine around the table as they raised the glasses and downed the whiskey quickly. A woman choked and coughed on the rough vintage, and the rest laughed.

Cattle stirred outside. One of the men said it was probably a coyote. Still laughing, he grabbed a shotgun and walked outside, eager to scare the animal off and get back to the meal. The rest waited patiently for the missing man.

But minutes passed in silence. Some of them began complaining about their stomachs, and all the adults were sweating profusely. The woman collapsed. Others went to help her, but they too collapsed. Happiness turned to abject terror as the children screamed at their parents, pushing and hitting them. A boy, blind, was terrified enough to wet himself. How horrible it must have been for him, unable to even see the calamity that was befalling his family.

Shadowed figures came in through the front door, one wiping blood from a long, vicious knife. The children were grabbed by their hair and dragged out the door, as the rest knelt to draw blades against the adults on the floor. Blood saturated the wood boards, the feast--their reward--left untouched.


Otto shook the mental images from his head, and quelled a tear that had threatened to swell up and run down his cheek. The sheer evil it would have taken to commit such an atrocity was incomprehensible, and the German felt a sudden murderous fury shudder through his form. He took a moment to steady himself, then looked back at Horatio.

"It makes sense herr commandant. But they left the one boy. If they were looking for slaves or children to turn into prostitutes--" He paused as another tremor of fury ran through him. "--even a blind child is worth something. Perhaps a cult? I've heard stories of devil worshippers and natives making sacrifices to their gods..."

The stench was getting to him, so Otto took a bandana from his coat pocket and tied across the lower half of his face.

Still shaking his head, the German began to wander around the house. "Where did they find the boy? Perhaps we might find something there. I find it hard to believe there won't be something left behind. An act this audacious has to require a signature...of sorts."

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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.

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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?"

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Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich
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"Maybe," Horatio concurred, pursing his lips. He still doubted that Natives were behind this, he saw none of their calling cards here. A cult though...that seemed feasible. Like Otto said, even a blind child would serve some purpose if these kids were being kidnapped to become...prostitutes. So perhaps something along those lines was at work here...

"Sheriff Thompson says they found the boy the next morning after they didn't hear from anybody over at the ranch. He and Cobbs found Jeremiah out cold, laid down in the room he shared with his sister." the older Dog recited, furrowing his brow some.

It was highly unlikely the boy had gotten to his room before the...murderers--that seemed a good enough name until he found out just what was going on here--had knocked him out. The boy was blind, and in a panic between the sudden deaths of his parents and relatives, and the kidnapping of his little sister. Not in a good state of mind to race back to his room, without any help, before the murderers had caught up with him.

Which suggested, then...that they had placed him in there, after taking care of him? Why? It seemed to show a surprising...compassion, of a sort, for these murderers. They weren't adverse to poisoning and kidnapping, but instead of just leaving the unconscious child on the floor, they took the time to carry him back over to his room, and laid him down on his bed.

Things were just getting stranger and stranger here. None of this made a lick of sense...

"May as well search the room. The house too, in general." Horatio agreed, nodding his head. "Maybe we'll find something the Sheriff and his posse missed."

Thus, the two Dogs set to work. The ranch house was a one-story, modest abode, and quite easy to search through. They searched the dining room, or as much as they could before the stink of the rotten food got to them. They found nothing new, and moved on. The story was much the same with the rest of the house. A few personal trinkets lay here and there, untouched, but otherwise much of the house had been raided, in a sense. What wasn't nailed down, and worth a little money, had already been taken. Perhaps by the murderers, but more likely than not by looters, with no sense of decency or honor, who came in after the bodies had been taken away.

They searched the children's room last, where Jeremiah Daniels had been found. The room itself was rather modest, with two beds for Jeremiah and his sister to sleep in, as well as some dressers and cabinets to house their clothes, and whatever other personal items they had.

Horatio glanced around the room, trying to see if anything had been left behind. Far as he could tell though, it appeared clean. Still, perhaps something had been here, once. A clue of some sort...

"The house is clean now," Horatio commented, a moment later. "But maybe there was something here before. We need to ask the Sheriff if he or his predecessor found or took anything from the house...perhaps a clue was mixed in with the boy's belongings by accident, when they picked him up."

It was a faint hope, but worth checking into, all the same. It'd mean a trip back to Red Road, but it was time to leave, at any rate. They had found all they could over here, more likely than not. It was about time to interview Jeremiah Daniels anyway. Perhaps they'd catch a lucky break there, and the boy remembered something significant from that night. Something he heard, or smelled, or touched....

Besides, they did have a theory now. Horatio was taking the whiskey bottle with him to be sure...and somewhere along the way, he'd test it on an animal. Maybe an armadillo, or a rat. Something to prove that bottle had been poisoned, for sure. Once that was confirmed, they were one step closer to figuring this whole mess out.

Once he and Otto finished searching the house, they left to go outside, and saddled their horses once more. Once that was complete, they started back on the trail to Red Road.

"If the family was poisoned," Horatio spoke up again, as he and his fellow Dog rode on. "Then that means someone had to give them the whiskey. Someone they trusted. Maybe they bought it from a friendly general store owner, or it was loaned by a friend...either way, they got it from someone they knew. Someone in Red Road, more likely than not. Which means that one of these damned murderers is someone from town."

That thought sickened Horatio. That someone from the very town itself could be behind these tragedies...it was almost unthinkable. But experience had more than proven to the jaded Dog that the Hearts of Men were very, very Wicked indeed.

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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."

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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"Thank you, Missus Cobbs. Lord bless." Anna tipped her head, heading out the door. She then paused at the doorway, briefly looking back to Abigail. "I was told you're considering leaving town. I think the roads may be too dangerous for now, but I would strongly suggest you see about staying with someone here in town. I imagine Sheriff Thompson and his family would be understanding."

She nodded to the widow and left without another word. It was stretch to think that Abigail could be targeted simply by association, but it was already clear that the culprits would do whatever they felt necessary to cover their tracks. If nothing else, Anna hoped she could prevent another pointless death in the time before the Dogs managed to put down these monsters.

Anna's wary gaze swept across the town as she walked to the telegraph office. Without any further evidence, everyone in the town was under suspicion. The best hope now was that whatever information Jacob Cobbs had sent to his friend was at least part of the missing pages of his journal. Cobbs' leads suggested that she would not need to contact the nearby sheriffs after all, but it still seemed a reasonable enough plan with still so little to go on. Reaching Howard Franklin was the key, or at least Anna could only pray he was, to finding out what had happened in the four days that were missing from the journal.

Her hand rested on the grip of her revolver as she stepped into the telegraph office. The only reassurance Anna had for now was that once she did find the murderer, dealing with him would be a swift and simple matter.

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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Sheriff Thompson looked over at Anna, as she stepped into the telegraph office. The black man had been waiting near the operator himself, and had been there since the female Dog had sent him over to get in contact with the sheriffs of the nearby settlements.

"Hello, Ma'am." the Sheriff nodded politely at her, tipping the bridge of his hat. "Got in touch with some of the local sheriffs. They're ready to talk to you, soon as you want."

A second later, the telegraph operator jerked slightly, as a new message came in. After taking a moment to decipher and transcribe the message, he looked back over at Clarence. "We got a new message in, Sheriff. It's for...well, the message is for Sheriff Cobbs."

Clarence raised an eyebrow, giving the operator a surprised look. "For Jacob? Really? Who's it from?"

"His old deputy, Howard." the operator answered. He reached over, handing the new sheriff the telegram.

Thompson read it over, frowning after a moment. He looked up at Anna, and offered her the message. When Anna read it, it would read as followed:

Beware the serpent, for they will whisper sweet lies into your ears STOP The serpent is the corrupter of Men, and cannot be trusted STOP The serpent is devious and its venom reaches far STOP Nothing is safe from its grasp END

"That's a verse from the Book of Life, ain't it?" Thompson inquired, furrowing his brow in thought. "From the Seventeenth Chapter, if I recall. Not sure about the verse though...or why he sent it over the telegram. Howard must not know Jacob's dead yet, though. Poor bastard. Guess I'll have to tell 'em."

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Otto stared irritably at their desolate surroundings, as if trying to will the suspects into being before them. As usual, his Winchester was resting across the neck of Todesengel, ready to fire.

While they rode, he put a thought to words. "If someone gave them the whiskey, that would require quite a level of deviousness. Given the evidence, it doesn't seem like a raid, or a territory grab. What would give this person, or persons a reason to kill their friends, their neighbors--people they knew, and likely had known for a long time?"

He was drawing parallels between the Faith and history, and it was starting to bother him. Granted, he was merely constructing a theory at the moment, but this particular incident was hitting close to home.

"A cult, perhaps? There are stories throughout the ages of sacrifices. They say the old natives in south america prized child sacrifices above all others. The Carthaginians of antiquity are said to have thrown infants into fire to feed one of their gods. Who's to say that there isn't something like that at hand now? If we lack a tangible cause for the murders, perhaps an ideological cause warrants investigation?"

The German shook his head wearily, as the town came into view. "I hope our companion has found more than we have, and I hope it sheds a more mundane light upon these crimes."

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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Anna frowned as she read the telegraph. It was an ill omen, to be sure, even if it had clearly been the Lord's blessing that she had arrived just in time to receive the warning. But the cryptic message gave her no real information. As she considered how to respond, one looming, terrible thought came to mind.

Was Howard Franklin safe in New Life? Could the serpent strike even in the heart of the Faith? She sighed to herself, silently praying for a moment before taking several sheets of paper from the operator's desk. She began to scribble down the assorted messages.

Franklin had seen fit not to risk direct information over telegraph and Anna did the same, replying with another verse.

And so the Prophet was told to gather up the righteous STOP For together they would be a light in the darkness of man STOP Even in the deepest den of wickedness the serpent can not breach the Faith of the many STOP And the righteous shall recognize their own, not in words, but deeds END

To the sheriffs of the nearby towns, Anna wrote a brief message requesting any information of recent organized banditry. She knew now that the threat did indeed reach far beyond Red Road, but there still the slightest chance they could pass on some lead that Cobbs had not discovered.

Finally with her last message, Anna wrote to the headquarters of the Watchdogs in New Life to request a Dog be sent to protect Howard Franklin, and then await further instructions. It would have taken far too long for Anna to ride back to New Life herself to meet with Franklin, but she had to find some way of ensuring his safety in order to gain whatever knowledge he had found on the attacks.

"Sheriff Thompson, I need you to put together a posse of only the most pious and trustworthy men and women in town. Only those who respected Jacob Cobbs without reservation." Anna instructed. It was as much a calculated risk as responding to Franklin, but she was getting closer and the culprit certainly would not be foolish enough to think he could murder a pack of Dogs so easily. He would be carefully considering his next move. With luck, such an forceful response on her part would push him into the open. "You will put a watch around the town. No one leaves. Sheriff Cobbs' murderer is likely still within the town and we must ensure that he does not slip away in the night now that he knows the Watchdogs are searching for him. Inform the townsfolk that anyone who attempts to flee past the watch will be shot."

She then looked over to the telegraph operator and handed him everything she had written down. "I need to see any message that Sheriff Cobbs sent to Howard Franklin shortly before his death. And the contents of these messages does not leave this office. In fact, I want to see all of the records of recent telegraphs from the last week, any further telegrams that you receive from this point on, and you will not send any further messages out that do not come directly from myself or my fellow Dogs until this crisis is over."

Anna paused, drawing in a slow breath as she looked between the two men. "Truly, we are under a grave threat of darkness here, but I am confident that as men of Faith I can trust you both to be discrete and supportive in this matter until the time is right. But until the serpent in our midst has been rooted out, no man or message goes out from this town. No one can hide from the Lord's justice in the end, even if I have to search house by house." She briefly considered the possibility of that plan, with a faint grimace. Even in a small town, searching through every single home would be time consuming.

While her voice was as sternly calm and authoritative as always, Anna was still unsure who at all she could trust in the town. She eyed both men, carefully observing their reactions. In her experience, few had the strength of will to lie about the integrity of their Faith directly to a Dog's scrutinous gaze.

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Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich
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"Could be a cult," Horatio replied with a noncommittal shrug, grimacing at the idea. In his tenure as a Dog, he'd yet to run across anything cult related, in all honesty. Not to say such things didn't exist, of course, but...he'd be damned surprised if this turned out to be related to something as farcical as a cult. Nonsense things like that didn't exist, or at least the way the superstitious fools of the world currently envisioned them.

Still, what other explanation was there? Damnit...this job was messing with his fucking head so much....

As they approached the town, Horatio noticed a figure in the distance. He brought his horse to a slow trot, and motioned for Otto to do the same. The figure staggered toward the town, his gait odd and seemingly weak...and then, suddenly, the figure collapsed, falling to the desert floor.

"For fuck's sake," Horatio swore, and drove his horse forward, riding over to the downed man in quick order. Once he was near him, Horatio stopped his beast of burden, and rushed over to the fallen figure.

The figure...a middle-aged man, by the looks of him...had managed to flop over on his back in the meantime, giving Horatio a glimpse at a rather gruesome sight. The poor bastard was beat up to hell, by the look of it. Black eye, cuts and bruises all over his face and skin, what looked like a broken tooth...the man had lost a fight rather badly, by the look of things.

"Please..." the beaten man looked up desperately at Horatio, his breath shallow and pained. "Help...me..."

Horatio swore again, shaking his head. When he noticed Otto by his side, he gestured to the man. "Come on, help me carry him over to my horse. Gently, now."

Working in tandem with the German, the two Dogs carefully lifted the beaten man up, and draped him across Horatio's horse. With that settled, the older dog saddled up, and called out to Otto. "You go on ahead, get the town doctor ready for us. The poor bastard's gonna need all the help he can get."

And so, while Otto rode on ahead into town, Horatio carefully trotted his horse along, making sure to keep a slow pace so as to not jostle the injured man behind him, or otherwise cause him more pain.

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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Sheriff Thompson raised an eyebrow at Anna, frankly surprised by her command. He grimaced, and looked away nervously, before ultimately sighing. After a moment he stated, "I can understand the idea, Ma'am, and I'm sure it could be implemented...in theory. In practice, though...well, I just have a hard time seeing people from that posse shooting their fellow folk, if it came down to it. If someone tried to get past the watch, for whatever Prophet damned reason. No offense meant, Ma'am. It's just...these people have lived with each other for years, decades even. I'm sure no one would be stupid enough to try and sneak past the watch, but...at the same time...I don't know a lot of people who'd have the...guts, I guess, to shoot someone they've known for a lifetime, if it came down to it."

Thompson hesitated, before adding, "If you really want me to go through with it, Ma'am, I'll do it. I make no promises though. I can't speak for the rest of the townsfolk, even those I know to be loyal to Sheriff Cobbs."

Meanwhile, back with the telegraph operator, the man himself looked stonefaced. He had carried out all her telegram messages, sending them to the appropriate parties, but he appeared to become increasingly mutinous, as his face started to redden. He clearly didn't like the orders Anna was issuing, and ended up murmuring something about, "A woman should know her place...damn bitch should be pregnant with her fourth child, not playing the part of a man."

Thompson shot the operator a warning look in response, trying to keep the foolish traditionalist from voicing any more suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, the operator had more or less sealed his fate with his heated comment, given how little Anna would value such a statement...

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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Anna stared at the telegram operator for a long moment, her gaze a deadly cold calm. Part of her wanted to lash out, it would not be the first time a Dog had done so against someone who did not respect their God given authority, but to do so would only prove the fool's point that a woman was weaker for such an emotional outburst. She inhaled slowly, quietly, before she spoke.

"Tell me, sir," Anna said, her voice sharp to a razor's edge, and her hands resting on her belt to clearly display her whip and revolver, "Do you remember what the Prophet said? Blessed are those who follow the path the Lord has set before them, let them be judged only by the Lord. My mother's path was to raise a Faithful daughter. Mine is to hunt down the enemies of the Faith. Are you so free of sin as to judge those around you? Tell me, are you an ordained preacher? A member of the Holy Family?

"Do you consider yourself wiser than the Prophet?" She continued to stare hard at the operator, not waiting for a response. "I think not. If you give even the slightest concern for the lives of your Faithful brethren, you will do as I say. If you do not, then I do not see why you are not among those suspect of these crimes. Now, if you would be so kind as to fetch the records of the past week's telegrams."

Anna turned back to the Sheriff, giving him a polite smile as if she had not just stared down the other man with her look of cold fury. "I understand your concern, Sheriff, and I would certainly hope and you and your people could apprehend anyone who attempted to escape. But you must understand, and you must convey this do them, that there is a serpent lurking in this town, who murdered Jacob Cobbs, who is with those who have butchered innocents and taken children. Once the rest of the Pack has returned we can search the town more efficiently, but for the moment I need to ensure that the culprit will not escape. You will only need to do this for a few days, at most. The Lord's justice is swift."

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The telegram operator gave Anna a murderous look, but backed down all the same, muttering lightly under his breath as he grumbled. He complied with her command about the previous week's sent telegrams as well, disappearing into the back of his office as he searched for them.

Sheriff Thompson, meanwhile, gave Anna a satisfied nod. "All right. I'll make sure to tell them that, Ma'am. That should reassure most of the folks I gather up for that posse."

A minute later, the operator came back, some shuffled papers in his hands. He gruffly handed the sheets to Anna, for her to take and read at her pleasure.

Nearly all the transcribed telegrams, what little there were of them, were largely inconsequential to her investigation. Mostly it was residents of the town contacting friends or family, or business associates, in one case. Nothing particularly revealing, beyond some idle town gossip exchanged by a housewife of Red Road to a friend in Southern Hill.

Curiously enough, however, there was no telegram from Sheriff Cobbs. The telegram he presumably sent to Howard Franklin was not included among the bunch.

Anna didn't get the chance to ask the operator where that telegram was just yet, however. The receiving station chimed to life as a new telegram came in. The operator went over to his desk, taking a moment to decipher and translate the message sent. Once that was complete, he got up and handed the female Dog the transcribed message.

This is Dog Anthony Winchester STOP Went to Social Order Ministry Telegram Office to find and secure Howard Franklin as requested STOP Howard Franklin nowhere in sight, and telegram operator was found dead on scene STOP Evidence of fierce struggle found, operator was stabbed in the neck with letter opener until death STOP Pending further investigation, Howard Franklin is considered prime suspect in the murder STOP New Life Police taking over investigation now STOP Will let you know if Howard Franklin is captured alive END

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward
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Anna scowled as she searched through the pile of telegrams, checking through it a second time in a vain attempt to find anything sent by Cobbs, only to be interrupted as the operator handed her a fresh telegram. She took it, her eyes widening as she read the message.

As Anna reread the telegram again and again, her stomach lurched and she turned her back to the operator so that he would not see her hands shake. It seemed impossible to comprehend. To murder and kidnap across the frontier, even over the course of years, was possible. But to reach into the heart of New Life and strike in literally a moment's a notice, it was unthinkable. But the evidence was painfully clear. Perhaps Howard Franklin's warning of the serpent had not been a metaphor.

Closing her eyes, Anna drew in as low breath to calm herself until she felt her hands and her heart still themselves. She stuffed the telegram into her pocket and reached for a fresh piece of paper to write a response.

Do not leave investigation to police STOP Serpent reaching into New Life STOP Find personal records of Franklin before they are destroyed STOP Find Franklin alive STOP Innocent lives at stake STOP Do not investigate alone END

Anna handed the reply to the operator, forcing herself to maintain a calm expression. She did not speak until after the operator had sent out the telegram. "Tell me, sir, why is there no record of any telegrams sent by Sheriff Cobbs?"

She stared intently at the man, gauging his response. There was little that suggested the operator was anything more than a petty fool, but Anna had to consider every possibility at this point. It was possible that someone had broken into the office just as they had the Cobbs home, but the leads were drying up far faster than Anna could find them. For every step forward she made, the serpent seemed to two steps ahead, dripping with the blood of the murdered.

Lord, please, give me a sign.

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The operator raised an eyebrow, looking momentarily offended as Anna questioned him "What, they aren't there? They should be! I keep a meticulous record....and I know for certain that the Sheriff's most recent telegrams weren't old enough to go into the trash pile. If they aren't there..."

The operator was cut off, as the door to the telegram office was sudden thrown open. A young man rushed in, heading over to Sheriff Thompson.

"The other Dogs are back, Sheriff, and they got Brother Samuel with them!" the man hurriedly proclaimed, gesturing outside. "He's beat up pretty bad, but Doc Cottle is looking at him now, last I heard."

Thompson blinked, nodding after a moment as he dismissed the man. When he was gone, he turned back to face Anna.

"Brother Samuel's the other Archdeon of the town; unlike Father Joshua, though, he don't preach. He's just here to teach the children. He's a Secretariat, I think, if that's the proper term for it." the darker-skinned man proclaimed, frowning after a moment. "He went to go visit some family over in Baker City a week ago...hasn't been back here since. I just...assumed it was a long visit..."

The Sheriff shot Anna a concerned look, clearly wanting to check up on this 'Brother Samuel'. When Anna gave him permission, and even decided to come with him, the new Sheriff left the telegram office, the female Dog trailing behind him.

Thompson led Anna over to a small building with the word "DOCTOR" plastered over the top, Horatio and Otto's horses hitched outside the doctor's office. Clarence paid that little mind though, and simply strode into the office.

The office itself was rather simple and quaint, a one-room affair with a small cot in the back, no doubt where Doc Cottle slept. The Doctor himself was hovering over a bruised and injured man laid across a table, tending to his wounds best as he was able. Otto and Horatio were off to the side, watching the Doctor as he tended to Brother Samuel.

Horatio noticed Thompson and Anna, giving them both a brief nod. When Anna approached the Pack Leader, the older man spoke.

"Came across the poor bastard just outside of town, on our way back." he explained, gesturing to the patient. "Apparently he's 'Brother Samuel', according to the Doc. Some Secretariat preacher that came here a few years back to teach the children of Red Road, or so I've gathered. He was supposed to be gone over at Baker City, visiting somebody...not sure if that happened or not. The man's pretty out of it, and the doctor's still working on him."

After letting Anna take a moment to absorb that knowledge, Horatio spoke again. "Otto and I found a clue of sorts, back at the Daniels Ranch. It...certainly casts a new light in this whole matter, I'll say. You find anything important yourself?"

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Anna nodded to Thompson, then looked back to the telegraph operator before she headed out. "Search the office for it. Please, this is important. Ask the office at New Life if they have a copy, if need be." It was likely that the record had been stolen from the Red Road still. And it was just as likely that the serpent's agents in New Life had done the same. But it was all Anna could do, for now.

Unless Brother Samuel had run into the culprits. Anna followed Thompson to the office and found herself smiling faintly as she saw Horatio. If nothing else, she knew she wasn't alone in the investigation, no matter how dark it became.

"Uncle, it's been...Lord, I don't even know where to begin." Anna responded to Horatio, motioning to him to step closer as she lowered her voice. Her mouth felt dry at the thought of trying to explain everything she had found, as if it could be summarize so simply. Her voice was hoarse and quiet as she spoke, "This is not an isolated incident. Cobbs was investigating, he found records that similar attacks had happened, only they were years ago, all over the frontier. Natives and Mexicans as well. All butchered, with the children missing. I have his journal where he wrote his finding, but someone ripped out several pages. Likely his murderer. I told the Sheriff to keep a posse around the town. No one gets out. But the killer is one of their neighbors. They will hesitate."

She paused, drawing in a slow breath. "But this...it extends beyond even the frontier. He had sent a telegram to a friend, Howard Franklin, in New Life. Whatever he told him, Franklin was afraid. When I tasked the Dogs in New Life to find him, they found a murdered man at the telegram office and Franklin is the suspect. The police are searching for him. I told the Dog who contacted me that he must find Franklin first, but...whatever monsters are behind this have reached into New Life, Uncle."

Shifting about restlessly, Anna glanced back to the doctor and Samuel. "What did you find? Does the archdeon know anything? Whoever killed Cobbs may soon be..." She paused as the thought came to her. "If the killer thinks Samuel knows something, he will strike. He has to or he risks exposure, fleeing would not be enough. But...even if Samuel knows nothing, we only need the townsfolk to think that he does. And then we wait. We can catch him. We can finally get real answers."

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Character Portrait: Anna Ward Character Portrait: Horatio Morale Character Portrait: Otto Zimmerich
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Horatio listened as Anna detailed her findings, his eyebrows raising in incredulity as she laid things out for him. He opened his mouth to speak, then paused, shaking his head slightly.

It all sounded...quite frankly, it sounded like a wild, tall tale. That was his first, gut reaction to the whole thing. Some sort of conspiracy stretching out decades, all over the Deseret? Such a thing seemed impossible. Still...

Anna wasn't one to come to such a conclusion likely, Horatio knew this. His surrogate daughter was a smart, rational young woman. No way she'd be spouting all this crazy nonsense without solid, hard evidence to back it all up.

He still found it so hard to believe, though. What the hell was going on in this town?

"I haven't talked to the Archdeon just yet. We should, soon." Horatio replied, nodding slightly. "Otto and I found...well, I think we've figured out how the ranch families are being murdered. We'll have to test it, of course, but...I think they were all poisoned."

Here, Horatio held out the bottle of nearly empty whiskey to Anna's inspection. He hadn't gotten the chance to test it on a rat or some other sort of vermin yet, but he was fairly sure the alcohol was poisoned. There was little doubt in his mind that he'd be proven right, on that accord.

"They were all poisoned...and the Daniels family, at least, was poisoned by this bottle of whiskey. Then, once they were dead, the children were taken and whoever did that shot the corpses, to cover up the poisoning." the older Dog elaborated. "Which means...more likely than not, someone close to them or someone who knew these families is behind these...atrocities. You're right in suspecting someone from the town's involved in this, Anna."

Further debriefing was interrupted, when the door to the doctor's office was opened. A balding older man dressed in clergy robes, maybe only a few years older than Horatio himself, walked inside.

"How is Samuel? Is he okay?" Father Joshua hurriedly inquired, looking around the office for his colleague. He finally noticed the prone form of Brother Samuel, with Doc Cottle working over the injured man. Joshua rushed over to the two of them, but was held back by the doctor when, without even looking up from his patient, the doctor held out an arm to stop him.

"Samuel should be fine, Father." Doc Cottle gruffly informed, tossing the clergyman a brief glance before focusing back on the Secretariat. "I've patched him up best I could...all he needs to do now is rest and recuperate."

At that declaration, Brother Samuel groaned slightly, shifting around as he suddenly sat up, despite the protests of Doc Cottle. He looked over at his colleague, a wide-eyed look of terror spread across his face.

"You've...you've got to help them, Father...th-the children...I know where the children are..." Samuel proclaimed, grimacing as he fought against the aching pain within his body. "The children are...oh, Prophet have mercy...we need to rescue them, before it's too late!"

And with that dramatic declaration, Brother Samuel groaned one last time and fell back on the table, the exertion apparently too much for him as the man fainted.

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"Poison. Then the children were their first target. Yet we still do not know why." Anna muttered to herself, scowling. She took the bottle from Horatio, looking it over for a moment before passing it back. "There are only so many places they would buy whiskey from. This will narrow down the search considerably."

She then looked to the doorway as Father Joshua barged in, and scowled further. She wanted the town to find out what had happened to Brother Samuel, but on her terms, not by whoever happened to walk in. "Sheriff Thompson, if you would please mind the door. Brother Samuel does not need guests for now."

But before Anna could consider if Joshua should be removed, Samuel spoke. And it was precisely what Anna had prayed to hear, at least until he fell into unconsciousness. There would be no need for any trap, much less forcing a confession from any captured culprits, if Samuel knew where the children were. Provided that Samuel awoke again.

"Doctor," Anna said sharply, "Do you have any medicine you can give him? Something to make him lucid. We need to know what he does, before the Lord should see fit to take him." It was a miracle enough that Samuel had escaped where no one else had. Now he just needed to at least live long enough to pass on that information.

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Doc Cottle looked over irritably at Anna. He glared at her, proclaiming, "He's not going to die. The man is just exhausted, and I don't blame him. He's beat up bad, and God knows how long he walked to get to Red Road. All he needs right now is rest...and I'm going to give him that. And before you ask, no, I don't give a fuck that you're a goddamn Dog. Brother Samuel is my patient, and my top priority right now. I'm not doing anything that would harm him."

The doctor gave Anna a challenging stare, more than prepared to fight her over this matter, if need be. Sheriff Thompson quickly stepped in between the two of them, however, seeking to defuse any tension.

"If Doc Cottle says he's going to be all right, then we should let him rest." Thompson turned to Anna, giving the female Dog a sympathetic look. "I want to find those children much as you do, Ma'am, believe me. But we can't really fight Doc Cottle on this...no offense to the Doc, but he's...very stubborn, and doesn't give any ground when he's made his mind about something."

"The nigger's right about that. I'm not gonna budge on this issue." Doc Cottle proclaimed gruffly, giving Anna another glare.

Thompson, meanwhile, stiffened at the slur, tensing for a moment, before letting out a soft sigh. Clarence closed his eyes for a brief moment, not looking back at the doctor, before he spoke again. "We're gonna need time to gather a posse to get the children back, anyway. Either way we can't act on Brother Samuel's information right away. We may as well get a posse together first, and let Samuel recover enough so that he's not addled by drugs or anything, when he tells us where to go."

"The Sheriff's got a point." Horatio begrudgingly admitted, grimacing. Now that they had a good lead on finding out where the taken children were, he wanted nothing more to follow it. He'd move heaven and earth to find those poor kids. But they'd still need time to gather a posse together. He, Anna, and the Sheriff weren't enough to tackle whoever was holding those kids. They'd need seven or eight more men to go with them, at least.

Not to mention there was the risk that, if they did force Cottle to prematurely revive Samuel, he might be addled or confused by whatever drugs were used to revive him. They couldn't take the chance that this crucially needed information would be distorted.

"We can let Samuel recover for now. We can use the time to wrap some things up in town, before we go." Horatio added, looking over at Father Joshua, who was still in the office, and had watched the proceedings with keen interest. "Still some town authority figures we need to speak to...Father Joshua here, maybe the Mayor, too. Unless you've interviewed Nate Blake, it wouldn't hurt to talk to him. And there's always the chance the Daniels kid could offer something up."

And it'd be a good time to track down a rat or something, to test and see if the whiskey was actually poisoned, as well. He didn't want to say that aloud though. Someone in this town was behind this whole mess...or at least, was a complying partner in it. Maybe it was even someone in this room. For now, the investigation needed to be kept as close as possible between Anna and himself, until they knew who they could and couldn't trust.

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Anna scowled at the doctor, taking a step towards him until Thompson interceded. She had every reason to continue scowling as the doctor continued, but Thompson and Horatio made points she couldn't argue against. And there was no point in lecturing the doctor for his ignorance now, not when there were greater matters at hand. The impatience was obvious even to herself, but Anna would not admit she feared to lose any advantage they had over the culprits. After what happened to Howard Franklin, it seemed clear that they only their swift actions would prevent any further death in their attempt to obscure the truth from the Lord's light.

Stepping back with a slow breath, Anna looked between Thompson and Horatio. "Someone needs to keep watch on Brother Samuel. Sheriff Cobbs' killer will likely come for him and we need to catch him in the act."

She then stepped back to Horatio, leaning close to whisper to him. "We need only find who sold the whiskey, who had access to it. There can only be so many in town that to. The mayor, the preacher, especially Nate Blake, they're irrelevant at this point when we're so close. We just need to find the shopkeeper and press them. Who else would know which bottles of whiskey to poison? If we find the culprit, we'll ensure Samuel's safety as well."

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"Brother Samuel is safe with me." Doc Cottle proclaimed, gesturing over to the shotgun he had, propped up against the far wall. "Anyone tries to kill him, I'll shot 'em dead. And if he still ends up getting killed somehow...well, you can blame me then, and shoot me dead."

Horatio raised a brow at such a bold declaration, but found he couldn't argue against it. Whatever his...issues, Doc Cottle seemed pretty able to defend and watch over Brother Samuel. And if the Brother did die, they would indeed know who to hold responsible.

With that issue settled for now, Horatio turned his attention back to Anna. Glancing over at the other three men in the room, he leaned in to whisper back. "And what if that whiskey wasn't sold in town? What if it came from Baker City, or from a private collection, even? The Daniels didn't necessarily have to buy it themselves...it could always have been given to them by a supposed friend. If the whiskey isn't from town, it'll be harder to judge where it came from. And either way, we'd still best speak to these people. We're Dogs, and we leave no stone unturned, Anna."

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"Very well, but I pray that you take the utmost caution." Anna said to the doctor. "I imagine Sheriff Cobbs thought himself a vigilant man as well."

She then looked back to Horatio, letting out a restless sigh. It was simple impatience, Anna knew. A less kind Pack leader would scold her for her youthful impetuousness. And yet Anna only wanted to find the culprit, if only from a fear that their good fortune would not last. But with Samuel able to provide the most important information once he awoke, they had the time to search more thoroughly. Or so Anna hoped.

"The mayor and the preacher, then. They could have noticed any of the townsfolk acting oddly over the last few weeks." Anna whispered back to Horatio. "And perhaps Nate Blake, if we have the time. I did not find anything to suggest his involvement, even the Sheriff's widow thinks he is innocent."

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"And Jeremiah Daniels, of course. The kid might have a clue of some sort, even if he's blind. He could have always heard something." Horatio added, nodding slightly. He turned over to the others, focusing on Sheriff Thompson in particular.

"All right, we've decided our next course of action. Go ahead and start gathering that posse in the meanwhile, Sheriff. Anna and I will take care of some things while you're doing that. Once you've got enough men, you can join back up with us." Horatio declared.

Clarence gave an inclining nod, accepting his orders easily enough. "Sounds good to me, Sir. I imagine I'll have my hands full with that for awhile...just about everyone with a gun will clamor to join the posse. A lot of these folks would do whatever it'd take to get the children back. I'll come by and let you know when I've got all my men picked out."

And with that the Sheriff swiftly left the doctor's office, closing the door behind him as he left.

That settled, Horatio turned to face Father Joshua. "All right, Father. My partner and I would like to...talk with you, if you have the time."

Joshua raised an eyebrow, curious, but acquiesced to the request all the same. "Very well, Watchdog. We can speak more privately back at my office."

Horatio nodded his consent to the idea, and Father Joshua led the duo out of the doctor's office, back into Red Road proper. He guided them through the streets, heading over to the Church at the center of town. It was a modest little house of worship, nothing nearly as grand or magnificent as the churches of more populated Faithian cities and settlements, but it sufficed all the same for the small amount of worshipers in Red Road.

Joshua led them inside the Church, heading over to a door located behind the main pulpit of the chapel. He opened it, revealing his bare bones office to Anna and Horatio. The office itself was rather small, consisting of a single desk, a half-filled bookshelf, and a small rack of bottles, presumably alcohol of some sort, at the corner of the office.

Joshua walked over to his desk, taking a seat on his chair. He looked up at Anna and Horatio, about to offer them to take a seat, when he stopped, realizing he didn't have any extra chairs to offer. He chuckled nervously, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. "My apologizes. As you can see, I have a very...rustic church to run."

"It's no trouble, Father." Horatio waved away the concern, more than content to stand. He looked over at Anna, nodding for her to take the lead here. He wanted to see how she'd handle herself in person, and there was also the fact that she had more knowledge of the investigation than he did, currently, what with her more significant discoveries in town.