A/N: Hey guys, this happens to be the story I'm writing for the NaNoWrimo challenge; so if you like this story, you're in luck because I'll update it fairly regularly. If you do like the story, be sure to give me feedback on it either through a review or PM. Thanks, and enjoy the story! :D

Legacy of War Chapter 1: The Prairie Child

The song of the coyotes slowly and melodiously washed over the plain. Moonlight made the earth shine silver, and cast deep shadows. Millions of stars blinked in the endless black sky, tiny fires in the expanse of nothingness. The underside of a mesquite tree burned orange in the night, a beacon to the night animals passing the fire, back against the tree, rested a tall, dark man. The flames burned in his eyes. Humming a tune of old Texas, the desperado leaned toward the fire and plucked away the rabbit he was roasting. He ate with his fingers, tearing bits of the animal away at a time. His stomach growled hungrily even as he ate, rabbit grease coating his mouth. The meagre meal was all he'd had all day.

Out on the prairie, an owl hooted. The desperado froze, the hair on his neck standing on end. A firm believer in superstition, he looked desperately around for a way to reverse the curse. He passed his boots back and forth over the fire, knowing all too well this simple trick could do nothing to totally reverse the curse. The owl sounded again, and he broke out in a cold sweat, looking all around.
A rustle disturbed the night, and the desperado jumped to his feet. Would his prophesied death come so soon? With the rustle came a hoot, and he leapt back behind the fire, grabbing a burning log to defend himself. A pale monster limped into his camp, naked and filthy. He brandished the torch at the apparition, exciting a devilish scream that echoed over the plain. It continued to scream as the outlaw advanced with the fire. It's bony feet slipped from under it, and hissed in fright as he slid back against the tree. Close to the creature now, and as illuminated by fire as it was, he saw it was a starving boy. Sunburnt, covered in cactus needles, and torn from mesquite thorns, the boy was a sorry sight. His hair was caked in mud of all colors, and the dried substance was smeared all over his frail body. Tears leaked down his face, smudging away the grime, and he hooted as before, eyes wide as saucers and as owl-like as his vocalizations.

"Goddamn you!" The outlaw cried, kicking the boy hard in the leg. He hooted again, not feeling the power of the kick. "Quit that damn hoot-owl, or you'll be fuel for the fire!"

The boy whimpered and hooted again, eyes rolling like a panicked horse. On seeing the level of fear in the mindless creature's eyes, the desperado's rage dissipated and he was left staring at the wretch before him, pondering silently about its history. A cold wind blew and the boy shuddered, drawing the man's attention to his naked and wounded body. The outlaw glanced over at his horse, which was unperturbed by the scene. Striding over to the animal he unbuckled an extra blanket and threw it at the naked child.

"Cover yerself, kid," he demanded. The blanket landed in the boy's lap with a gentle thud. He didn't move.

Growling, the man snatched the blanket up, unraveled it, and draped it across the creature's body. His previous fear had left him short tempered and unwilling to deal with games.

"What's your name, boy?"

His only response was a gentle hoot from the boy as he recognized the warmth the blanket brought. The outlaw growled again softly, but didn't ask the boy again, recognizing now that the boy was too far gone for understanding. He sat and wrapped his coat tighter around his body as another cold wind blew. Sleep called from plains of dreams, beckoning him forth. The fire burned low.
Behind closed lids a milk-white maiden danced, skirts swirling, and joyous laughter rang in his mind. A gunshot, a body in his arms, growing colder. The biggest mistake of his life.
Dawn loomed on the horizon when he woke. His chest was heavy, something splayed across his body. The desperado opened his eyes to meet the haunted blue orbs of his prairie child. The boy stared at him, huddled against his chest like a babe. He hooted a greeting.

"Shit!" The man shoved the boy away, disentangling their limbs. He stood over the boy, brandishing a short knife. "The hell were you doin'?"

The boy stared up at him in fear, lip quivering in trepidation. He didn't hoot this time; didn't utter a single sound. A moment of staring into the wretched being's eyes dissolved his anger once again, and the desperado kicked him in the arm. The boy stretched forth a leg to the outlaw, the limb covered in black, dying flesh and inch long cactus thorns. The man looked at the sorry leg and spat. The boy's body was his own problem.
An hour later the outlaw was goddamning the boy as he ripped cactus needles out of the pale leg. The boy didn't flinch, even as bits of flesh were being torn away with the needles. He watched with curious wonder, spirit detached from his
body. His stomach growled hungrily, and he looked at the dead fire and the small heap of rabbit bones beside it. The outlaw wouldn't let him move until he was done with the needles. Neither ate the entire day, and finally around five o'clock the man gave a final goddamn and shoved the boy boy's stomach gurgled again and he put both hands over his belly and looked up at the outlaw pitifully. The stared each other down a long moment before the outlaw spat at him and looked at the sky. He was just as hungry as the boy, but it didn't pay to be wandering the prairies at night.

"We ain't eatin' tonight, boy. Go to that spring yonder and clean yerself up."

The boy just stared, and found himself quickly grabbed by the nape of the neck and hauled to the indicated spring and thrown in. He floundered, splashing at the surface and gurgling a sort of shriek. The outlaw rolled his eyes and let the boy suffer for a moment before grabbing him by the hair of his head.

"Can you not swim either?" He demanded.

The desperado growled and set about scrubbing the caked mud out of the boy's hair and off his body. The mud became slick, but didn't want to come off, frustrating the outlaw further. It bled into itself, coating the wretched boy in a yellow, red, black, and off white slime.

"Oughtta call you Salamander, or Sal, slick as you are," the man grumbled.

The boy looked up at him curiously and hooted.

"Who am I?" The outlaw asked, reading the boy's silent question. His expression darkened. "I ain't nobody you need to get mixed up with. So tomorrow mornin' I expect you gone, hear?"

A crooked half smile from the boy. The man blinked at the understanding in the boy's eyes.

"Maybe you can understand me..."

After a quarter of an hour, the outlaw gave up and hauled the boy out of the water.

"That mess ain't comin' offa you," he concluded. The boy shivered by the burnt out fire, as if it would offer any sort of warmth. Shifting through his saddle bags, the desperado pulled forth a shirt and pair of breeches that had seen better days and tossed them at the boy. "Clothe yerself, boy, afore you catch cold."

To his relief his prairie child understood and practically jumped into the clothes. He found the old blanket he had used the night before and smiled, holding a corner of it out. The man shook his head with a breathless laugh. The boy pulled the blanket around his shoulders and stared pointedly at the ashes of last night's fire.

"That blanket's yours."

And soon there was a warm fire blazing, the boy hunched close to it and smiling across the flames. His eyes were troubled, glazed over in a memory. The wretch's ears twitched, hearing the distant, anguished screams of his people through the barrier of time. A cold shudder snaked down the child's spine.
The fire barely pushed the darkness of the night back. The desperado watched the boy silently. He had fallen asleep within an hour of the fire being lit; his face was relaxed and breaths soft. One eyebrow twitched, and he sighed softly in his sleep. The man grinned halfheartedly, watching the boy dream. The peaceful young face contorted, and he shifted in his sleep. The boy's dreams grew fretful, nightmarish. He whimpered softly and clutched the blanket desperado's brow furrowed as he watched the child suffer through his visions, understanding the vague evil engulfing the boy's mind. But he didn't move to wake the child. He would have to suffer.
The desperado turned his gaze to the myriad of stars peeking through the branches of the mesquite. Dark thoughts came to his mind of wandering alone for eternity in the stars, nothing but blackness, fire, and stars. Another thought, of taking the knife from his boot or the rusty pistol from his saddle bag and ending it all. Just one flick of the wrist, just one twitch of the finger. But what would he leave behind? Nothing but a trail of poverty and dishonor. Or... He looked over at the boy. The child was still suffering through his nightmare. In the light of the fire, his figure seemed sicklier than before. The multicolored mud smeared across his body peeked starkly out from under the
oversized clothes he wore.
The outlaw looked away from his charge, out across the vast prairie. Maybe this was his fate. Taking care of an orphan. An orphan of what, he would never know, and he would never know if this fate he was dealt was a punishment... Or a blessing in disguise.

"I've travelled this world all over," he hummed quietly, playing the old song
over in his head," and now to another I go..."

The strains of 'Old Rosin the Beau' spanned far back in time, the winter of '60. A wedding, the sawing of fiddles, and the stomp of happy feet. He watched the people dancing merrily, singing the song loudly. Small children dodged in between the dancing couples, off on their own adventures. She wore a dress of rich lavender, it's black trimmings accentuating the complex, expensive pattern. The black lace skirt tails swished through the crowd. He pursued slowly, smiling at others. He saw the groom, standing with his pretty young bride, and turned
away- found the woman again.
The song played on, until he caught her by the wrist and asked for a dance. 'Old Rosin the Beau' was replaced by the mournful strains of 'Kathleen Mavourneen'.

"Oh hast thou forgotten... Soon we must sever... Oh, hast thou
forgotten... This day we must part..."

The memory faded like a dream, and the outlaw was left staring into the flickering campfire flames. The boy had stilled. The whole world had stilled. No soft wind brushed his face. No chirping crickets gifted the night their song. No coyotes called plaintively over the plain. He was alone, in a nightmare of his own creation.

"It may be for years, and it may be forever..."

The boy huffed a sigh.

"So why art thou silent... Thou voice of my heart..."

The outlaw closed his eyes against the imagined sound of a pistol shot. A chill travelled slowly down his spine. Too close for comfort, and owl again hooted his death call. This time, however, the outlaw welcomed the cry. Death would be a sweet release from these nightmares. He fell asleep soundly, happily.