Copyright 1998 by Daniel Keys Moran.
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The Sheriff of Shokes - Chapter One

The Sheriff of Shokes is the prequel to "The Collapse of the Levels."


    DEMONS ROBBED the bank in Shokes on Thursday morning just before breakfast.

    It angered Jacelyn de Allerista, the Sheriff of Shokes, beyond reason. Her deputies heard about it before she did and rode out to her mother's ranch to get her. They arrived while she was still dressing.

    Jake's mother, Alex de Allerista, met them at the front gate. Five of them, mounted on five of the best horses in Shokes, and trailing another five. Rufo, the Deputy Sheriff; Andrea and Thierry and Jarnevon; and the witch hunter.

    Alex waited a moment at the gate, looking at them. She felt the urgency in them, before they spoke -- not that that took any great leap, with them dressed and provisioned and saddled for the chase. "Rufo, Andrea, Thierry, Jarn. Morning." She nodded at the witch hunter without addressing him. She didn't like witch hunters and had refused to use them, when she was the Law.

    Rufo took his hat off. "Morning, Sheriff." She hadn't been Sheriff in over fifteen years, and Rufo had only been a trainee walkabout when she retired. He still called her by the title, along with most of Shokes. "Bank got robbed, 'bout an hour ago."

    That startled her, which didn't happen often. "They robbed Deliabraman? Walkers did it?"

    Rufo said shortly, "Demons."

    "Oh." For an instant Alex felt sorry for the witch hunter, and that was another odd experience. She shook herself. "I'll get Jake."


    JARNEVON LAID THE map out over the kitchen table. "Eleven of them. They're on foot."

    "Since when did demons ride?" asked Jake irritably. "Of course they're on foot." She stood at the counter watching the coffee brew. Her mother made good coffee -- it was about the only thing Alex ever tried to do in the kitchen. Alex and Jake had cooks in to prepare their meals, or they ate in restaurants.

    Andrea said mildly, "It's not going to brew any faster with you staring at it."

    "It won't brew any slower."

    Alex sat at the kitchen table in her night robe. She hadn't bothered to dress; she wasn't going with them, and nobody was going to ask her to. "Remember that blue? He rode a horse."

    Thierry t'Hooran was past 60 and was the only one at the table who had ridden with Alex, the only one old enough to remember the blue-skinned demon who had terrorized Shokes, two generations past. He smiled at her. "He was half Walker, though."

    Alex nodded. "That's what was said. Don't know that I believe it, though. He looked full breed to me, except for that touch of blue."

    Jarnevon looked up from the map. "This bunch is on foot." He looked back down at the map and traced along the river with a finger. "They're heading east, out toward high desert." He touched marks on the map. "Doorways to Hell are here and here -- last we saw of them they were headed a little too southerly to make it to either of them." His finger moved, covering eighty miles. "So they're headed for the Statues, most likely." He looked up. "Jake? What do you think?"

    Jake stood pouring the entire contents of the coffeepot into her thermos. "I think the damn coffee took too long to brew." She finished pouring and drank straight from the neck of the thermos. She shuddered visibly, then drank again. "And now I think I can sit a horse." She capped the thermos. "Roll that map and let's ride."