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By Rob Vaux A tale of Deadlands Weird West

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Katie saw the farmhouse on the horizon as the first rays of dawn tinged the sky. She still wasn't sure why she had come out, save that the man she wanted to talk to was here. Doing his job, she noted sourly, as good as a Yankee could anyways. How he reacted to her appearance would dictate the future of Gomorra. She spurred her horse faster , pulling her great coat close to hide the silver star pinned beneath it. If the Ghost were half as competent as he appeared, he'd already know she was a Ranger. But she didn't want to parade her status openly; engendering hostility with the damnyankees was not her intent.

The house was closer now, and she could see the small figures surrounding it. There were five of them, apparently conducting a last-minute survey before setting the building to the torch. That was good. It meant the creature inside had been dispatched. The place was perfect for one of those misbegotten monstrosities - close enough to Gomorra to hunt there, far enough away to avoid detection. There wasn't another building within three miles; it could have watched someone approach from hours away. It must have put up a hell of a fight.

The Agents were an eclectic-looking bunch. The only one openly flaunting his affiliation was the hulking bald gunslinger dressed in the Agency's traditional black dusters. The others were a hodgepodge of Union fashion, from the bluecoated Army officer to the stout man in tweed snapping pictures of the entire scene. It was their leader she wanted, however. Tall and lanky, he stood on the porch and stared intently at her approach. She had never met the Ghost before, but from the look of him, all the stories were true. As she pulled the horse up, she saw in his eyes that this wasn't going to be easy.

"What do you want here, Rebel?" his gravely voice cut with scorn.

"I wanted to talk," she replied sternly.

"What could we two possibly have to talk about?"

"This town. The people in it. What your country and mine plan to do about it."

"Our country, Rebel," the scorn did not abate. "We're one nation. You blasted secessionists just haven't realized it yet."

Katie took care not to rise to the bait. "That argument's fifteen years old," she said carefully. "And we're not going to solve it tonight. What I have in mind is something more immediate."

The other Agents had taken notice of her presence, and began to saunter toward the porch. She fixed them with an iron gaze.

"I'm waiting." the Ghost rumbled.

"We're spending time and manpower watching each other, waiting for one of us to slip." She raised her voice to make sure all them heard it. "Sooner or later, it's going to come to blows. And as much as it pains me to admit it, neither of us can afford that. We were both sent here to destroy Gomorra's horrors. We can't do that if we're slaughtering each other."

The Ghost's face was unmoving. "And your solution to this impasse?"

"An agreement not to push any farther. Call it a proactive cease-fire. We promise to stay out of each other's way until we can burn this town clean. The war, the rivalry, whatever you want to call it, that all stops until our mission here is done."

One of the Agents snorted derisively, while the rest hid grins behind their hands. Their leader was as implacable as ever, but she could sense he shared their sentiments.

"You can't be serious."

"I've never been moreso," her words were steel. "This is a question of pragmatics, sir. If we want to do our duty, then we need to put the war on hold. Our groups haven't started shooting at each other yet, but you and I both know it's just a matter of time."

The tall man didn't waver an instant. "A cease-fire may be in the interest of those bedraggled chicken thieves you call 'Rangers.' I'm certain you need all the help you can get. But I can assure you that the Agency has things well under control."

Now it was Katie's turn to snort. "Oh really? Tell me something, Yankee: if your men are so unstoppable, then why is Lord Grimely's Manor still standing? Why do the stories of Nasty Doc's keep persisting? Why", this was the final blow, "Haven't you walked up to Nic Whateley and put a bullet through his grinning teeth?"

If anything, the Ghost became even more stoic. "You know as well as I do that it's not that easy. A wise man will eat the elephant one bite at a time, not cram it down his throat as fast as he can."

"Which is all the more reason why we should work together. Don't you see? We're not enemies! Not here, not now! We both want the same thing, and we're both short the resources to do it! Fighting is a luxury neither of us can afford." she shot a pointed glare at the other Agents. "I don't want to have kill any of your men."

The Ghost nodded at his black-clad follower, who struck a match and tossed it through the window. Whatever was in there caught fast.

"I'm sorry, Captain." For just a moment, she thought she could see a resigned sadness in his eyes. "But it's too late for that. Too late by far." His face hardened. "Now I suggest you leave, before I remember which side you're on."

She started to open her mouth, then noticed the other Agents fingering their guns. She brushed the handle of her's in response. For a moment, it looked like the bloodshed she had come here to prevent would claim them all. Then the Ghost gestured quietly, and his men relaxed. Katie regarded him silently.

"I'm sorry you feel that way." She turned her mount back towards town, giving him one last stare as she rode away. "I'll see you around, Billy Yank."

The Ghost silently watched her ride off, ignoring the fire that bloomed behind him.

"Not if I see you first," he whispered at last.