*Continued from The Blood Wood, Part I
"You mean the The Blood Wood?" Jesse Hawthorne cocked an eye at Caleb Greene. This was certainly the strangest job interview he's ever had. Probably the only one, really.
"The Blood Wood?" Caleb hadn't heard it called that. Certainly Mort had said nothing. Caleb turned to question the laconic man, but it was clear Mort wasn't going to offer any new information.
"Yeah, that's what the Tlingit call it. I spent some time with them when I was in the Yukon." Jesse pulled out some tobacco and began packing it into a small pipe. "A colored fellow I'd been up there with claimed to have seen it once."
"You know where he is?"
"Nah. I know he spends some time in Texas and Mexico. Does a bit of wandering with the Rangers."
"What's his name?" Caleb asked, pulling out a pencil and a tear of paper.
"Nate... Belcher, I think. Runaway from Alabama or something."
Caleb wrote the name down and before he could fold the paper, Mort reached in and grabbed it. "I will retrieve Mr. Belcher," Mort stated. With that, Mort left the conversation and disappeared from the saloon.
"That's a strange friend you got," Jesse said between drags of his pipe.
"We've just met," Caleb replied as he stared out the door, catching a glimpse of Mort galloping away on his horse. He returned his attention to Jesse. "You know your way around up there?"
Jesse shrugged. "Where you want to go, not especially. But, yeah, I can get around."
Not quite the expert Caleb had been hoping for, he was nevertheless impressed with the man's candor. And he added a piece to the puzzle. That, combined with Jesse's clear skill with a pistol and rifle, was enough for Caleb.
"Wolf, what the Hell are you doing?" Caleb's panicked, if only because his friend is.
The Otoe is wild-eyed and muttering unintelligibly. But that's not what's got Caleb twisted up. It's the fact that Wolf-And-Hawk is holding a lit torch in each hand, setting as many trees on fire as he can.
Caleb's still not fully aware of his surroundings, cursing himself for having fallen asleep. He rushes his friend and knocks him to the ground, stepping on one of the torches to extinguish it. Wolf-And-Hawk, supine, throws the other torch into the upper branches of a tree. Caleb backhands the Otoe across the face. Wolf-And-Hawk blinks. Then again.
"She... she took her."
There's no need for questioning. Caleb scans a full circle. Allison is nowhere to be found. Caleb grabs Wolf-And-Hawk by his shirt and pulls him up. Another curse for having fallen asleep.
"Did you see her?"
"She reached for me. I could do nothing."
Caleb shuts off his emotions. "No. The Blood Wood. Did you see her?"
Wolf-And-Hawk glares at Caleb, his wild-eyes somehow widening further. "We are inside of her."
"Don't you understand?" Wolf-And-Hawk gestures to their immediate surroundings. "This is her belly."
There's blood in her eyes and she can tell she's suffered several lacerations around her scalp. But she's alive. Slowing her breath, trying to control her fear, she thinks she hears whimpering. Human whimpering.
"Hello?" Allison wishes she could open her eyes.
"Shhh! Be quiet." It is a young voice that answers.
Allison can't tell if it's a boy or girl, but heeds the warning. Her curiosity killing her as much as her wounds probably are, she instead returns her concentration to slowing her breathing down. When she's stopped shivering from fear - the cold refuses to relent, however - she risks speaking.
"How many of there are you? I'm here to help."
"No, you're not." An older voice this time, definitely female. "Shut up."
Allison blinks some of the blood out of her eyes, opening them as widely as she can. It's dark and she can't see anything other than crimson-obscured silhouettes of trees. No movement, no light. Nothing.
"What are we fighting?"
"Oh, shit. It's coming."
Turning her head side-to-side out of reflex, Allison tries to scan the environment. She blinks again and again, quickly, slowly, tightly, loosely. Anything to return any modicum of the ability to see. There's a shape. Human? Maybe. The gait seems familiar. It's approaching her.
She feels the impact and tries to fight the sleep.
Wolf-And-Hawk is gone. Not dead. Just... gone. Caleb burrows himself into the hollow of a dying tree and makes sure both his rifle and pistol are cocked and fully-loaded. He can do nothing but wait.
The woman approached the horses in a hurry. "Excuse me, are you the party going up north?" She's attractive, bold, and Caleb had no idea who she was.
"I'm sure there are many parties going up north, ma'am."
She coughed into a balled fist, obviously prepared to be patronized. "Into the forest?"
Caleb glanced at the others, the now party of five. Jesse didn't notice as he was too busy ogling the woman. Nathaniel turned away. Wolf-And-Hawk pretended not to see the woman. Mort simply nodded.
"Let me guess. You wanna come along?"
"My sister and niece were abducted that way. I think it's because I've seen her."
"Her?" Caleb tilted his head, then turned toward Mort, who nodded again.
"Yes, her. My sister saw her, too. We were children."
This time, the woman nodded. "My name's Allison. I want to come with you."
Wolf-And-Hawk sits alone at a table in the back corner of a saloon. Feelings of guilt surpassed only by the relief of survival. It is an odd choice of saloon. His and Caleb's favorite. But Caleb is certainly long dead. Another absent friend among a myriad of absent friends.
As if on cue, two farmhands familiar to Wolf-And-Hawk enter the saloon, talking about Caleb.
"I heard they found him, dead from exposure."
"Caleb? I don't believe it."
It is enough for Wolf-And-Hawk. He pushes his chair back and stands, reaching for his hat. As he turns to drop money onto the table for his drinks, he can feel the shape approach behind him. It is unmistakable.
"You dreamt of me once."
Wolf-And-Hawk does not turn to face the voice. And he knows that no one else in the saloon will lift a finger to help him.
"You are the only left who knows my name."
The Otoe sighs. "I do not know your name."
"Well..." The pause feels like an eternity. "I shall tell you before you fade."
His eyes close and Wolf-And-Hawk finally summons the courage to face his enemy. Before he can open his eyes, he feels the kiss. It is devoid of human concept. It simply is. It's the last thing Wolf-And-Hawk remembers before he begins his final dreamwalk.
Mother. Her name is Mother.