It all started here, but feel free to begin wherever you like.
Reed did not sleep well that night, which was becoming all too normal for him. Too many sounds echoing in the house disturbed him every time he drifted off on the couch. All the furniture seemed to come to life in the darkness and a few times he thought heard someone walking along the upper floors where Anna was sleeping. He missed his hut, missed the familiarity of his village. This human village was too strange.
The night passed too slowly. When he could no longer keep his eyes closed, he sat under the lamplight in the study, examining some maps of the area. Eventually he grew restless even of this and decided to go for a walk.
As soon as he opened the door, the desert winds blowing through the town made him regret his decision and duck back inside, shivering. He stared at the coat rack in the entryway. Humans were known for being able to weather cold climates by their woven fabrics. He reached out and touched a man's coat. Could he? There was no one to stop him.
He slipped on the coat as he had seen the people wearing them on the streets. He pulled up the collar and took a hat as well, although it made him itch under the brim. He turned towards the door to try his luck again and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror hanging on the wall. If he stood a certain way, he looked human, except for his bare feet, because the coat only went down to his knees. But in the darkness it was hard to tell any details. Even the leaves on his head looked like curled locks of hair in the darkness.
He walked down the streets, keeping to the shadows, surprised at how much warmth he retained through the coat. Most of the buildings were dark now, except for the saloon, the light pouring out into the street. Men stood just beyond the windows. He stood near the porch just before the rectangles of light. Reed could hear every word they said.
"Come off it already, MacDougal."
"Just let him yak so he'll shut up already."
"It don't matter what we do. The way I see it lads, they're always gonna come back unless we strike 'em at the heart. Burn 'em all down, I says. Before they get us first."
"And burn down the whole mountainside? We need that timberland."
"Forget about the timber! This is an invasion!"
"That's a load of tall tale nonsense."
"No, it's not! It's true! I've seen 'em! There was one today with that Daniels girl! Ask anybody and they'll tell you!"
"Sit down before you tear your skirt!" A chorus of laughter echoed, rattling the window panes.
"Oh sure, ye don't care cause it's just one now. But that's how it always starts, isn't it? He's a scout for war! I think that girl's working for 'em too."
"Who cares about her?"
"Mr. Reinheart does. He wants her dead, just like her Daddy."
Any other conversation died down immediately into silence.
"Now I got your attention, don't I? Ask him yourself. He knows all about the Xylem. Not so crazy now, am I?"
"I don't remember appointing you as my spokesman, MacDougal."
"I-I didn't see you there, sir."
"Of course not, you were far too drunk, weren't you? I believe I've mentioned this to you, Elroy, so correct me if I'm wrong, but we have had this conversation before, have we not? About ranting drunkenly in public? Disgraceful."
"Y-yes sir, that we have, sir. But I didn't--"
"And yet, here I find you, in public, completely intoxicated, and raving about something we discussed in confidence."
"But you said-"
"And I also heard that you attacked Miss Daniels today... in broad daylight."
"Well I," his tone switched immediately, "Lord no! Please! No, I have a family! Two wee lasses! I'm begging you!"
"Those are your nieces, Elroy. I can tolerate a liar, but I despise a beggar."
A gunshot followed. Reed flinched. He had never heard anything like that before. He sprang onto the porch, peering into the window, but could not see anything past the crowd of men, which edged towards the windows, pressing against them. The sound was still echoing in his mind.
"Gentlemen, please. Calm yourselves."
"You killed him!"
"Be honest. Who among you will actually miss that fool?"
Another gunshot rang through the air.
"Anyone else give a damn?"
Reed could hear the boards creaking under their feet. No one moved.
"You know, Elroy was right. This is a war. You are either with me, or against me. You choose to cross me at your own risk. I warned Elroy once, but as you can see I am not the most patient of men."
"What? Oh... right. The bodies. Take them out back. If anyone asks questions MacDougal drank himself into a rage and killed poor Frank. I shot MacDougal. Had to. Self-defense. He was insane, ranting about the craziest things. Plant people! Imagine that."
Some of the men moved away from the window, giving Reed a clear view of the man. He was cleaning his gun, such a strange instrument to Reed's eyes, with a handkerchief. The reflection off his glasses flashed white as he turned his head towards the window. His gaze was like a wolf's and Reed froze under it. The man grinned. He mouthed something. I see you.
Reed backed away from the window. He was long gone by the time the man stepped out through the saloon doors. The man held his gun up to the moonlight, watching it gleam against the surface.
"See you soon."
Continue to Part 4?