Red breathed deep as he poured a fresh cup of tea. He loved the way the aroma filled him, but this blend didn’t smell right.
“Hello, Tsai,” Red said, without turning to his unannounced visitor. “Shall I pour you a cup, too?”
“They should call you Red Cat’s-Ears,” quipped Tsai.
Red gave a short laugh. “Ears nothing. It’s those cigars you smoke. You couldn’t throw a worse scent if you wore a skunk around your neck. I knew you were here before you reached the top step, even as strong as I make the tea.”
“I’ve wasted enough time in getting here. No more small talk.” Tsai pulled back the hammer on his revolver. “Give me your pendant and any others you’ve collected. Do it nice and slow and I won’t leave too much of a mess for your widow.”
Red sighed as he turned. Hands wide, showing he was armed only with a teacup, he settled into his chair.
“I really thought I’d be having this conversation with Onyx Jake, but I guess you got to him first. You can have my pendant, Tsai. The others, too. They’re in that porcelain box by the washbasin. They’ll never do you any good, though.”
Tsai stepped to the side, never taking his eyes from Red’s cool gaze. Five copper pendants lay in the box, along with a straight razor and a shaving brush. He had to give Red credit. It was the last place he’d have looked.
“Five, counting yours,” Tsai said as he weighed the pendants in his free hand. “I’m a little surprised, Red. I didn’t think you had this much ambition.”
“I never went looking for them. They all came to me.” Red paused to sip his tea. “When Old Tumbleweed died and left us this final test, I knew what was coming. We’d all be at each other’s throats until only one stood. Back then, I couldn’t figure out why he’d do it. Why a wise man, who’s only mistake was taking the nine of us as students, would play to the one weakness we all shared — Greed. I left the next night. I came back here to run my uncle’s shop. Back to trade my guns for an abacus and the blood on my hands for ink on my fingers.”
“I understood what Old Tumbleweed did,” Tsai spat. “The final test was to reward the strongest and remove the weak. One clue to the treasure for each of us. Only the one strong enough to take them all would take the prize. Yes, I killed Onyx Jake. I put a knife in his back before he could wipe Sue Snakebite’s blood off his hands. Kalen tried to poison me with one of his stupid, clockwork scorpions, but the fool pricked his own hand. I pulled his pendant from his neck while the foam boiled out of his mouth. I searched the Thousand Mesas for the rest, but I see I should have come here first.”
“I never made any attempt to hide.” Red lowered his eyes and set his cup on the small table. “Star Eye was the first to find me. He was the only one to give me an honorable duel, too. Even as she lay dying, Sarita was gloating about how she garroted Long-shadowed Jim. Abwo came the closest. He took my Christina hostage and threatened me. I had to make him suffer for that.”
Red pushed himself back into the soft chair and continued, “I found the treasure with just the five clues I had. Take them, with my blessing. You’ll find the cave. You’ll find what treasure I couldn’t carry out. And you’ll never spend a bit of it.”
“Now,” Red said, reaching again for his cup, “you can take them and go or you can shoot me. But I’m not going to sit here and let my tea get cold.”
After days of searching, Tsai had puzzled out the remaining clues on the pendants he took from Red’s shaving kit. He paused from climbing the last rise to drink from his canteen. He smiled as his hand brushed Red’s pocket-watch and he thought of the flecks of blood still trapped behind the crystal on the face.
Finishing his climb, Tsai saw a mound of rocks. Old Tumbleweed’s mark was scratched into the timber surrounding the mouth of the old mine. He was surprised how little work it took to clear the rock away. From the entrance, he could see a smooth stone block in the center of the tunnel. Tsai felt drawn to it and the message carved on the surface.
“What are the Greatest of Life’s Treasures?
The Honor of a kept Oath.
The Loyalty of Family.
The Peace of Harmony.
Enjoy this Wealth as Friends
or Weep for its Loss as Enemies.”
A decade’s dust, settled on the stone, was cut by a single tear.
About The Author
Chad Stevens is a husband of one, father of two, and game-master of many.
This vignette was crafted by a FAR WEST fan — one of our Kickstarter backers, and serves as a preview of the fan participation in the FAR WEST setting that will be coming soon.