Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of short fiction based on Dark Trails RPG classes by Pete Spahn. As part of separate project Pete and his partner Brandon Goeringer stat out the story for gaming.
Luchador: A luchador is most often a person noble of heart seeking the thrill of martial combat in and out of the sacred ring. In addition to high-flying acrobatics coupled with raw strength and fortitude, luchadores gain the ability to tap into their inner spirit, channeling it through their masks for supernatural effects.1
Baker County, Oregon, 1870
The hills north of Baker City were thick with conifer and pine. Mining encampments like the Tannassey had put a dent in these forests, with the miners cutting the timber for fuel, shelter, and placer mine construction. The miners toiled each day in the streams under the watchful eye of Boss Drummond who reported straight back to the infamous Mr. Felix Daubin in Chicago.
On this particular morning, two men rode into camp and Drummond and his hands went out to meet them with guns at the ready. These days, you couldn’t be too careful. The time of unnatural darkness when the sun had disappeared and Hell had unleashed its fury on the world had passed, but things had never returned to normal. Anything out of the ordinary was suspect, and these two were certainly out of the ordinary.
The first man sat upon a donkey. He had the look and dress of a man from the Southlands, with his beadwork clothes, tassels, and wide-brimmed hat. He bore no weapons, but carried a mandolin slung across his chest—an uncommon instrument this far north.
The larger man who rode behind presented even more strangely in tight leather breeches and a wide purple sash for a belt. He was naked from the waist up except for a thick hooded cloak, with the cowl drawn to completely hide his face. His horse was an ugly, swaybacked roan with a big nose and ears that touched together at the tips.
The newcomers drew their mounts up at the edge of camp. The donkey-rider strummed a note on his mandolin, and the jarring sound made the miners shift uncomfortably.
“Greetings, friends,” the rider said. “I am the most-humble Paunch of Josous, singer of songs, player of tunes, and chronicler of great men. I stand before you here, in the shadow of such greatness, to present to you, the greatest luchador the world has ever known!”
“Aww, Boss,” said one of Drummond’s hands. “I think he’s another one o’ them foreign wrestler-types.” Drummond shook his head. “Hell, naw. We got one o’ them already. The last thing we need is another. Now git him off this mountain before the other one catches wind and comes huntin’ trouble.”
Paunch strummed his mandolin again, setting teeth on edge.
“Trouble?” Paunch asked. “Why, trouble is exactly why we have come, good sir. Far away, in the lands of the South, we heard of the troubles of the Tannassey Mining Camp. How a monster most terrible was plaguing the poor, helpless miners and keeping them from their work. My lord said ‘Paunch, we must ride forth so that I may pit my might against this Great Beast of the North Woods’.”
“No, no, no,” Drummond said. “That’s over and done with. We took care of the beast weeks ago. Got him trapped in his own cave. Lookie there.”
He pointed to the monster’s cave just north of the stream. They had dynamited the entrance and barricaded the collapse with logs. The thing was still alive inside. They could hear its howls at night and feel the vibrations as it tried to dig its way out. They had stored the dynamite near the entrance in case they needed to blow it again, but so far, the crude barricade had held.
“Who comes to the Camp of the Tannassey?” called a booming voice.
“Dad-blame it!” Drummond cursed.
The stout wrestler who had come to the camp last week stood atop a stack of logs, hands on his hips and feet spread wide in a majestic pose. He wore a strange, one-piece suit of skin-tight drawers held up by tiny shoulder straps and a mask emblazoned with a fire pattern.
The newcomer on the roan dismounted and took a similar stance. “They call me, He-of-the-Black-Eye!” he said, throwing back his cloak and preening like a rooster. His own mask was flesh-colored except for a circle of black that covered his right eye.
“And I am the great Fire Fury!”
“Ah, my friend,” Black Eye said. “Your presence here is no longer needed. He-of-the-Black-Eye has come to protect this camp.”
“Ha!” Fire Fury laughed. “The camp was well protected before you got here. And will continue to be protected long after you are gone. Fire Fury will see to that!”
“Now just hold on a minit’,” Drummond said. “The camp’s done a fine job of protectin’ itself without you lot. Now break this up before someone gets hurt.”
The men ignored him. Fire Fury leapt from his perch and the miners cleared out, giving the two room to move. The luchadores squared off, sizing each other up as they strutted around the makeshift circle.
“You are no true luchador,” Black Eye said. “Your mask looks like a woman’s flower bouquet.”
“And yours looks like that which is found in the crack of a man’s backside!” Fire Fury snarled.
Both men flexed their muscles, fingers curling, stances changing as each looked to time his opening. Drummond and his men retreated further back as the luchadores’ masks began to undergo an unnatural change. The black spot around Black Eye’s right eye turned purple, like a large bruise. Meanwhile, waves of heat started to rise off Fire Fury’s mask and flames licked up around his head.
Fire Fury was the first to strike. With a shrieking cry, he leaped in and delivered a flurry of blows to Black Eye’s body and mask. He-of-the-Black-Eye was knocked backward and forced to take a knee. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
Instead of finishing off his stunned opponent, Fire Fury took a moment to play to the crowd, spreading his arms wide and walking in a circle around the downed wrestler. He placed a hand to his ear as if listening to a far off cry.
“Do the flames burn hot?” he shouted. “Can you feel it? I said, do the flames burn hot?”
The dumbfounded miners did not know how to respond. Most could not understand how or why the fight had even started.
He-of-the-Black-Eye regained his wits and started to rise. Fire Fury turned on him and charged, intending to bowl him over, but in a surprise move, Black Eye caught Fire Fury’s wrists, put a foot in his belly and fell backward, tossing his opponent into the air. The throw brought a ragged cheer from a handful of miners. These were men who could appreciate a good brawl.
Fire Fury came down in the middle of the stream with a splash, scattering sluice boxes, pans, and shovels everywhere. The miners’ cheers turned to angry howls. Those rigs would need fixing when this was all done.
Fire Fury flailed about, spluttering as he regained his feet. Steam rose from his head where the water touched the flames rising from his mask. He-of-the-Black Eye waded out to meet him and the two circled one another in the waist-deep water, each displaying a newfound respect.
“I see you are well trained,” said Fire Fury. “Few men alive could catch me with the Wagon-Wheel Throw.” “And I see you have studied with the great teachers of the East,” Black Eye said. “The Flurry of Fury takes skill to master. I will take no pride in removing your mask.”
“Just so,” Fire Fury said, and lunged.
For the next twenty minutes, Drummond and the miners watched helplessly as the fight raged up and down the banks of the stream. Each man landed a blinding series of vicious locks, blows, and throws that barely slowed the other down, but succeeded in wrecking weeks’ worth of panning, damming, and sluicing sites. Whenever one of the luchadores seemed to gain the upper hand, the other would muster the strength to throw him off. And so the fight continued.
The angry miners milled about, but none dared to interrupt a battle between two men who had so obviously been kissed by the Other. Instead, they focused their rage on little Paunch, whose jangling mandolin added music to the chaos of the fight. It wasn’t long before they snatched the stringed instrument from his hands and smashed it to pieces, tired of its noise.
Then came a brief lull in the fighting as the weary luchadores paused to catch their breath. They circled each other warily on the far bank of the stream, edging perilously close to the collapsed cave entrance. Inside, the trapped beast began to pound away at the rocks, causing some of the logs to shift and fall, but the two fighters paid it no mind. Boss Drummond, on the other hand, felt a quiver of unease.
“It seems we are evenly matched,” He-of-the-Black-Eye said. “Perhaps we should call this a draw?”
“I agree,” Fire Fury said after a pause. He extended a hand and stepped forward as if to shake. Then, with a sudden move, he lowered his head and drove it at Black Eye’s gut.
But He-of-the-Black Eye was no longer there! Sensing the deception, the cagey luchador had leaped straight up into the sky. He hung there a brief moment some thirty feet above the earth, then came down with an elbow on the back of Fire Fury’s skull. The force of the blow drove Fire Fury face-first into the ground.
“That, my friend, was the Titanic Elbow,” Black Eye said.
As Fire Fury struggled to all fours, He-of-the-Black-Eye grabbed him by the shoulder and drew back his fist.
“Now taste the power of the Fist of the Black Eye.”
The vicious uppercut caught Fire Fury in his right eye, instantly swelling it shut. The power behind the punch sent the dazed luchador up and over in a full backward flip. Fire Fury landed hard on his back, groaning in pain and barely conscious.
“A dirty fighter,” He-of-the-Black-Eye said to no one in particular. “But a worthy opponent.”
He lifted the groggy luchador up bodily and raised him high overhead. Assuming a dramatic pose, he turned to address the miners.
“Shall I end this epic battle of mighty luchadores?”
“Yes!” Drummond shouted.
The exasperated miners echoed his cry. The mining operation was in ruins. It would take weeks to get things up to speed and running again. There was no telling how much damage these two madmen had done.
Black Eye nodded, satisfied. With a flick of his broad shoulders, he heaved Fire Fury headfirst into a wooden shed, shattering it to pieces. Too late, Drummond saw the markings on the shed door—that was where they had stored the dynamite! Dozens of fuses sputtered to life as they came into contact with Fire Fury’s flaming mask. The dazed luchador stood up in the wreckage and stumbled backward, but the damage had been done.
The explosion rocked the site, sending shards of debris in all directions. Drummond was knocked off his feet. Smoke filled the air as bits of rocks and splintered wood rained down. Dazed, Drummond sat up, blood streaming from his forehead. Men coughed and struggled for breath as they tried to pick themselves up off the ground.
Then, the rumble of a landslide shook the earth and with a great roar, the trapped Beast of the North Woods burst free of its prison cave. It was apelike in appearance and twice as tall as a man at the shoulders, with dirty black fur and red-rimmed eyes. It slammed its fists on the ground and beat its chest in fury, sending the terrified miners fleeing for their lives. The creature then loped off into the woods, trying to put as much distance between itself and the camp as possible.
He-of-the-Black Eye’s face blazed with excitement as he helped the battered and singed Fire Fury to his feet.
“Did you see the size of those thews, my friend?” Black Eye asked as he dusted off his fellow luchador. “Now that is a fight worthy of our skills. Think of the tales they would tell! Shall we team up then, and battle the monster together?”
He-of-the-Black Eye extended his hand, waiting for the tag.
Included for those not familiar with the Class ↩