Good Friday, 1865
A short note rested open on the step from his wife, informing him of his theatre plans with her, the Major, and his fiancee for the evening. The bearded man stood tall, facing the Washington Monument across the way and behind that...Capital Hill, both still under construction; watching over his war-torn land the only way he knew how, among them. He dare not look his guest, who was sitting down next to him, in the eyes. This was his last meeting of the day; an unscheduled meeting. One nobody would ever know about. He feared, albeit the orchestrator of putting an end to the war, that he would not be around to see it. The forsaken hero looked around at his citizens celebrating. He took refuge here in the North, where the war was over. He knew deep down that he had done it, but also understood he was not yet finished giving to the cause. "What will happen now?" President Lincoln asked.
"Now that you've stopped him?..." the rustic agent replied.
It was a beautiful day with a brooding twilight on the horizon. Poor Abraham Lincoln looked down on a man who has been his constant hidden shadow and consort, off and on, throughout his entire life, never aging a day. His glowing white beard showered over them in false hope. His dog, Royal, walked over to the President and for a second he was once again a common man. Abe got down with one knee on the cold stone stair to pet the mutt. Royal softly cried, and Wild Card went on, "...You suffer the consequences."
August 9th, 1865
Sante Fe RR, KS
The sounds of the train echoed. Sounds Marshall was all too familiar with. The Sante Fe line was beautiful. New age steel tracks lining the wild terrain tightly. The cars were brand new. When they first boarded the train, Marshall rubbed his fingers along the polished black and golden calligraphy on the outside which read, "Trojan Railroads." Marshall sat in his seat right next to the window with his eyes closed.
The tracks were surrounded by endless wilderness. Nothing but dry barren land as far as the eye can see. Ira looked around, sitting by the other window across from Marshall. How could there be a town out here? What importance can such a place be in the middle of nowhere? Ira sat there, looking ahead, clutching his modified rifle tightly.
The iron gate which shelled the end of the caboose was a cold metal. Peyton pressed one of his boots up against it as he leaned back on the door. He needed the fresh air. The tracks rushed by underneath him. Peyton could not forget about Wichita. He could not let go of the kid. They were one in the same, two sides of a coin. It was Peyton who should have died that night. Like so many times before... And yet he lived on, fated to always be one step ahead of death.
The train was the longest to date. Towards the head of the train was the infirmary, where Will and Emma Davis were being tended to by medics and military doctors. Wild Card Cass walked through the car to check on them. Will was awake and holding Emma's hand across beds. Wild Card continued down the train, past the cars full of troops and the artillery cars, until he reached Marshall and Ira's lone car. His dog, Royal sat under one of the booths closest to Wild Card in front. He sat down above Royal fast asleep, and faced both Marshall and Ira with their heads down, as Peyton walked in from the back door of the car. They all looked to Wild Card, begging for someone to guide them away from the Wichita darkness. When old man Cass knew, he could only lead them to one place. He knew it was not just the train tracks that were taking them to Dodge, but a combination of all their destinies, an intricate thread known as fate.
Peyton stretched out his hands on the post of both Marshall and Ira's booths, giving the room sentient symmetry. Wild Card looked at them. "Christ," he thought, "They were still so young...so naive." The train shook. Both Ira and Peyton stepped outside, followed by Marshall and Wild Card out the other door. The train was taking a stiff turn around and down a cliff. From the ridge above, three dark figures jump onto one of the open train cars. They get to the explosives and light them. Gunshots sound off from the infantry cars. Peyton straps his gun belt on. Ira locks and loads his modified rifle with one of Kid Colt's dragoons tucked in his belt behind him. Marshall loads the Winchester and re-tightens his belt. While Wild Card has already climbed up and over the first ammo car. The other three follow him and they run on the roof of the train, the tracks finally lead them off the hill, and a set of signal lights comes racing towards them. Wild Card jumps down and Ira jumps grabbing Marshall, as Peyton leaps into the air and clears the lights. He lands and slips down after them. When they get into the infantry room the soldiers are all racing to the car up ahead.
They rush ahead with the troops. The next car is being held down by three Pawnee gang members dressed in all black. The troops desperately fire their muskets, eventually putting them down just as Ira arrives as first in command. From behind the crowd around the dead bodies, Peyton can see smoke rising from the next car. It was not a fire, the smoke was too small. Peyton grabbed Marshall and they made their way for the next car. As they got out the door it was now clear the smoke was coming from fuses. "RUN!" Peyton yells at him. "IRA! RUN!"
Marshall and Ira run past Peyton as he goes back for Wild Card. He gets the old man and tells the soldiers the dynamite has been lit. Peyton and Wild Card run back to the explosives where Marshall and Ira were trying and failing to put the fuses out. "JUST GO!" they yell. Some soldiers follow them across the car to the front. Marshall and Wild Card jump with Ira right behind them and make it to the infirmary car. As other soldiers jump across, Peyton unlatches the pin holding the two cars together. He jumps across with one last soldier as the rest fall back with the dynamite. But it is too late. All of the explosives on the car go up in a massive cloud of fire. It throws the back cars off the track and splinter one of the tracks. The crack rides down, chasing the rest of the train to Dodge.
Ira runs over to Will and Emma along with Marshall as Wild Card and Peyton press on. They call the rest of the soldiers and guards together. "This train must make it to Dodge." Orders Ira. The guards brought them to the last car before the conductor's. It was a gun-cash. The walls were lined with all different kinds of rifles: Winchesters, Evans, Henry Repeaters, any you could think of. The tables that were folded down from the walls were decorated with the most expensive pistols known to man. There were double-action revolvers, and semi-automatic pistols. There were double barrel and sawed-off shotguns. Peyton looked over the shotgun rack and found something he had never seen before. It was a semi-automatic shotgun. He picked it up and strapped it around his shoulder, packing his belt his shotgun shells and taking an extra bandoleer. Marshall replaced his sidearm with a semi-auto pistol. Upon surveying the entire room he returned to the infirmary and started getting Will and Emma mobile.
The crack in the steel gets caught by a wheel on the train and snaps off of the brace, loosening all the other wheels. The trees on the hill cleared and a wide valley appeared. Out from the fading treeline comes about twenty Black Pawnee riders on both sides of the train led by Steel Coat Kildare. Ira pulls the Henry Repeater off the wall and throws it to his brother Will as both him and Marshall walk through the door. Wild Card watches the Pawnee get closer and closer. Peyton gives Will a double-action revolver and a belt. He looks around. "Stay down," Peyton continues, "Ira go up and guard the conductor. Will and Marshall shoot your rifles through the windows. We barricade the doors and keep everyone out of this car and the conductor's."
"Sounds good to me," agrees Marshall. Ira hesitates as he regrets not calling the defensive himself. But after thinking about it, he realizes his orders would have been the same. Sometimes just being the posse sharpshooter was enough. He respects Peyton's command and nods his head, making his way over to the front car. Peyton throws the loose furniture and tables in front of the door Ira just walked out as Wild Card and Emma do the same to the back door. Ira is already heard outside, firing his modified. Bullets hit the side of the car. "Stay away from the windows!" yells Will. Shattered glass gets blown in all around them. They duck in and out from the windows and fire their guns. None of the renegade riders can break through or hit them. That is until the wheels on the train come undone. The crack rushing down the tracks finally snaps and shakes the train off track. The wheels buckle and the three cars topple over on all different sides, drowning in the carved up dirt under the fields.
Peyton wakes up being dragged by Marshall out of a riverbed. They are both burnt and soaking. Peyton's shotgun rests on his chest. Marshall is breathing heavily over him. Panting and then shouting, "SHOOT!" Peyton panics and looks forward, firing the shotgun. It twitches and unloads all of the shells into a wooden tooth confederate rebel. Marshall got them out of the water and to a treeline. He posted Peyton up against the tree. Peyton felt frozen, holding the empty shotgun in his hands. Marshall cuts through Peyton's blood-stained, scraped pants with his buck knife. "Jesus, you're all torn up....I...I don't see any gunshots..." Peyton looked up at Marshall. He did not hide his emotion well. His wet and worn face was covered in worry and fear. "Peyton..." Marshall braced him, "Peyton...can you speak?"
"Can you move your legs?"
Ira woke up just outside of the conductor's car along the tracks. The train had rolled over a significant amount of Black Pawnee riders. Their squished bodies and flattened horses burnt with the carcass of the army-train all around him. It was a grave sight. Ira found his modified lying on the grass, unharmed. He picked it up and looked through the scope. He found the tracks and the break, through the carnage to the infirmary car. It was down a small ridge pinned on its side between two large dead trees, full of dead black leaves. Gunshots blare off around it.
He runs down the ridge. Wild Card sits on top of the car shooting down at horseless indians and rebel soldiers that survived the train wreck. Inside the car, Will was shooting out of the window and Emma was reloading both their guns. Ira sneaks around back. Without being noticed, he flanks the remaining gang members approaching the car. From the tree he posts up and projects a three-point-line through his modified. Ira pulls the trigger and the bullet sails through the first guy's neck, snapping his head back. It continues into the second guy's head, blowing chunks out of the back along with the bullet. And it carries on into the eye of the third and final guy, lodging itself into what's left of his brain and skull.
Marshall leans Peyton over and checks his back. "The crash might have broken your spine." He rolls him back over and says nothing. "Well..." Peyton asks, "...Doc?"
Marshall does not look at him. He takes Peyton's mud drenched boots off. He pokes his toes with the tip of his knife, "Can you feel that?"
Peyton tries to answer. He wants to say yes. There has to be some feeling. His voice cracks and he looks away. There was no sensation in his legs. He finally answers in undeniable acceptance, "No."
The reality of it sets in, Peyton looks down at his legs and tries to get up. Nothing below his waste budges. He does not scream. He does not cry. He clenches his legs and tries to rock back and forth. Nausea clenches his gut as Marshall tries to comfort him. The few trees and ridge between the river and the fields stay quiet. What's left of the enemy has retreated. Peyton pushes himself up on the tree with his hands. He balances. Marshall scrambles, "You shouldn't-"
Peyton stumbles over as he vomits. He falls over and rolls back, sliding down into the stream. Marshall rushes in after him and grabs at Peyton while he flails around and chokes. A light shines down on him. Peyton stops, and lays still in Marshall's arms. A portal opens but Marshall does not notice for Peyton is unconscious. He gets Peyton up above the current, so they are both standing in the running river water.
"He won't be any good in Dodge like that," The voice says from above.
"Who's there?" yells Marshall. The light lowers only to the figure's feet. Marshall can see his eyes and head just over the magnificent light.
"He needs your help, Marshall."
"How do you know me?" The light lessens and Marshall can see. The traveler's face looks like a mirror.
"What are y-"
"We don't have time for this, Marshall. Do you want to know how to save him?"
Marshall reconsidered his priorities and searched for the correct answer to get what he wants. He looked back up and asked, "Why should I save him?"
"He is the key to humanity's salvation."
Ira got his brother and Emma together with Wild Card and went out looking for Marshall and Peyton. They followed the river downstream after scraps from the train wreck. Ira told the rest to hold up as he came across Marshall dunking Peyton's head over into the running water. Ira races over and pushes Marshall off of him. Ira takes Peyton and pulls his face clear of water, screaming at Marshall, "Are you mad!?" Peyton is jolted awake and looks around, he unlocks his head from Ira's arm. Marshall gets out of the water and puts his hands on his knees, catching his breath. Peyton laughs, he stirs away from Ira and jumps up and down.
"YOU DID IT MARSHALL!" Ira looks on with the rest of them, utterly bemused. "YOU GOD DAMN WITCHDOCTOR! YOU DID IT!" Out of the water, He drops his empty semi-auto shotgun. Peyton stretches his body over his legs and pulls out his guns, rejuvenated; his beautiful charcoal revolvers. He twirls them around, aims, and re-holsters them. His most loyal tools, nothing meant more to him. He pretended for a second that his luck derived from his guns. Peyton walks through everyone up to Ira and calmly proclaims, "Can't be far now."***
July 1st, 1834West Plains, MI
'Winfield Cass..." the leader of the gang yelled from the center of the road, "I'm callin' you out." Winfield sat nervously inside the saloon. Everyone knew who he was, but nobody knew why he had to go out there. The sheriff was dead. He had been dead for three days now. 'This gang has no respect,' Cass thought to himself. The body of the poor defeated sheriff laid strewn about. Winfield threw down his last card on the table and got up from his cushy seat in the bar. As he walked out the front double-doors, the dealer checked his hand, "Straight flush with the river wild....winner." He had no guns on his holster, no holster at all. Winfield Cass was twenty years old and walked out of the town saloon wielding nothing but a steel shovel. The gang leader stirred on his horse, "Now what are you gonna do with that, boy?"
"Well first I'm gonna bury the sheriff like he deserves..."
"..And then I'm gonna break your neck with it."
The entire gang laughed as they rode around Cass. He maintained a straight course for the sheriff's office. The dirt was kicked up all around him. He could barely see where he was going anymore. The dust settled and Winfield was gone. Everyone looked to the gang leader. His mouth did not move, and his eyes here limp. His dead body fell off the horse and there Winfield Cass sat behind it, wielding the gang leader's guns. As the body fell to the floor, the rest of the gang could see the handle of the shovel sticking out of his back. Winfield fired while they were too distracted and put them all down. The crowd came out to cheer him, but he did not care. He had saved this poor little town. Winfield buried the dead sheriff for his daughter, the woman he loved. Winfield Cass became sheriff and got married. The townsfolk affectionately gave him the name...Wild Card Cass.
August 9th, 1865
Outside Dodge, KS
Six silhouettes walk down the brandished new train line with the big yellow sun, being fried by transparent waves, setting behind them. Ira cannot believe his entire regiment of troops was gone. He was reduced to nothing once again. Peyton was excited beyond relief. He had never felt this good. Finally, he felt glad to be alive. In this quiet last leg to Dodge, Peyton finally felt solitude in life and comfort in happiness. Marshall, on the other hand, walked beside him without the slightest clue what to think. His life was riddled with the unbelievable as of late. And Wild Card walked next to poor Marshall, making sure he did not buckle under the pressure of knowledge.
It was getting late, and the path was getting dark. They departed from the tracks when they came upon the last ridge before the town. "The lights down there are Dodge," Wild Card pointed out to Emma.
"I say we split up into three teams," suggested Ira, "I'm going to the fort, anyone wanna go with me?"
"I will" volunteers Peyton. He walks over next to Ira as he continues, "Marshall and Wild Card head for the city, and Will and Emma stay back here."
"Now wait a minute, Ira" Will demand, "I want to fight."
"You're still hurt, and you need to watch your wife," argued Ira.
"I can take care of myself," retorts Emma.
"Fine, Emma come with me and Will go with them into town."
"Okay." Ira's brother approved of this plan. They sneaked down the ridge under the cover of night. Marshall, Wild Card, and Will Davis silently entered Dodge City as Ira, Peyton, and Emma slowly made their way to the army base on the outskirts of town.
Marshall walked next to Wild Card, as Will was a few paces ahead of them, out of earshot. This was the first time Marshall had a chance to get Cass alone. A chance for him to finally get some answers. Marshall's first question was obvious, "What do you think he knows?" he said referring to Will.
"Not much, or else he would have told Ira or Miss Riley by now."
"Her last name is Davis, like her husband's..." re-informed Marshall suspiciously.
"Right," agreed Wild Card trying to shake off Marshall's glare.
"What the hell is goin' on here Cass?"
"Now is not the time, boy" Wild Card permitted.
Marshall drew on Wild Card, stopping forward motion. Will turns around and says nothing. Marshall was furious. "Tell me now, Winfield...or I'll kill you where you stand."
"Oh...We both know...that's...not...true."
Marshall's brow was shaking. His pulse was jumping and choking. He wanted to. But Wild Card was right. Marshall could not kill in cold blood. He lowered his gun and Wild Card Cass walked away from him. As Cass walked by Will, Will still faced Marshall. He let Wild Card pass and followed up behind him, leaving Marshall last. He walked behind both of them alone, frustrated more than ever, and looked back, for Ira or Peyton; but only saw the darkness.
Ira was busy talking with the guard at the front gate of the fort. Peyton could barely hear him, and was too distracted by their beautiful companion, Emma. Who was currently explaining her entire life story to Peyton.
"...Ira was my best friend. And William was always jealous of that. When the army told us that he died, we both changed. It wasn't until the end of the war that we found out he was still alive."
"How did you know?"
"He wrote a letter to me."
Ira walked back over to them, "We're clear to go in," he said unwittingly. Emma and Peyton finished their conversation abruptly and the three of them walked into the fort. Ira was brought to the commanding officer. It was a lowly Colonel in over his head. Ira informed him of the train wreck. The Colonel was flabbergasted. They were counting on those regiments. The Colonel continued to say, "All we have currently holding down the fort are three battalions of injun infantry and the hired guns from the newspaper ad." Ira had completely forgotten about the newspaper, his original reason for heading to Dodge.
"How many came?"
"About fifty men. A real rag-tag group if you ask me."
"What are we gonna do Colonel?"
"Go into Dodge tonight. First sign of trouble, send a rider."
"And our orders once we're in the town?"
The Colonel continued to speak and Ira memorized his orders. He repeatedly responded, "Yes sir."
And finally the Colonel bid him away, "Good luck."
"Thank you, Colonel"
Oh and Davis!"
"One word of advice..." The Colonel lowered his voice as the door swung after Ira walked through it, revealing Peyton just outside, "...Don't trust Quade. No matter what he says."
"Yes sir." Ira walked out of his office, rounding up his two companions waiting outside and told them what their mission was. They were to secure a quarters on a private street. "Any sign of trouble and we send a rider for back-up. That rider is you Emma" finished Ira.
"Okay," Emma announced, she hesitated as the nerves got to her and stuttered a little, "I..I can do that."
"There are four horses waiting for us downstairs. We are leaving now. Go get ready as I inform the men of their orders." Ira walked down the stairs and Emma blushed. Peyton looked over at her and laughed.
She looked back at him and felt she needed to respond, "I've just never seen him be so...commanding...before." They followed down the stairs and got to their horses. Ira joined up with them shortly and they left the army base.
Marshall, Will, and Wild Card Cass stood in the shadow of Dodge City. Will looked around the corner down the alleyway. At the end of the way was Dodge's main street. "What do we do? Where do we go?" asked Will.
"The train station." Marshall devised, "They'll be looking everywhere for us, right. And once our train blew up the train station became the last place they look."
"Good thinking, Marshall." Wild Card Cass approved. They sneaked around the back and down the street.
"Will, go ahead first, make sure the coast is clear, then give us the signal." Will ran the crossroads and through the doors of the station. Marshall stared at Wild Card furiously. His temper coiled and fused with his heart. Marshall no longer trusted Wild Card.
Will walked into the train station. It was almost empty. The office looked closed and the saloon was bare. Will went over to the barkeep. He did not recognize a single person in the bar, nor the station. Outside, Wild Card and Marshall met three familiar riders. Will gave them the go ahead, as Peyton, Ira, and Emma hitched their horses outside the train station. Everyone entered the Dodge City train station saloon. The barkeep looked down the line at them. Wild Card sat next to Emma who sat next her husband, Will. After Will sat Ira, and then Peyton and Marshall. They all had a drink and prepared for the day to come.***
July 2nd, 1861West Plains, MI
Wild Card Cass kissed his wife and walked outside of his ranch. His sons, Peter and Eli, approached him from the road. They sat down on the porch next to Wild Card on his rocking chair. "We gotta talk to you 'bout something, Pa" forewarned Eli, the older of the two.
"Its about the war, isn't it?"
Peter cleared his throat, "We just enlisted."
Wild Card was in outrage. He wanted to beat them into unconsciousness, just so they couldn't leave home. But all he said in response was, "I see."
That night the boys left their parents and took the train to Springfield, where the Union Army was gathering. Wild Card would not get any word of his boys for the months to come. After hearing rumors of a terrible battle gone bad for the Union at Wilson's Creek, Wild Card's nerves were racked. He packed his horse and holstered his left-handed bandoleer around his waste. He said good-bye to his wife who coughed inside her handkerchief and hid it in her pocket. Wild Card went out in search for his boys.
Before he could leave the town, Winfield crossed paths with an odd man. He claimed to work for the government and was sent to recruit Wild Card. Wild Card regrettably denied and told the man about his sons in the war. "Missouri will soon fall to the Confederacy. What if I told you," the man said discreetly, "That your boys' lives will be saved, if you let them work for me."
"I can put them on special ordinance, far...far...away from the front line."
Wild Card was no fool, "What's the catch?" he demanded.
"No catch. All you have to do is sign their rights over to my command."
"They're both of age, they have their own papers."
"Not the kind of papers I require."
They got off their horses and Wild Card felt like he had been riding for countless miles. He was no longer in West Plains, but an unknown town with a red saloon towering above him. The man escorted him into the saloon where they arranged the papers. Wild Card signed his two sons over to Lt. Commander Jebediah FreeLander.
August 10, 1865
Dodge, KSPeyton and Marshall informed Ira and the rest of the group that they were going out to scout ahead. They left the train station as Ira and Will sat down at a private table, Emma and Wild Card remained at the bar, and the sun tenderly peeked over the horizon, catching the dusty fog.
Together, Marshall and Peyton ran across the street to the nearest hotel. After going inside and checking it out, Marshall ran back to the train station, and Peyton made his way to the Hotel Bar. Marshall crossed the street once again unnoticed. He entered the train station and informed Ira and Will of the hotel.
"You should go get a room with Emma, and wait this whole thing out," proposed Ira.
"I'm staying," demanded Will.
"This isn't your fight."
"They tried to kill me and my wife!"
"And I'll make sure that they pay for what they've done."
"Oh, perfect, Ira to the rescue. Why don't you take her to the hotel?"
"What's that suppose to mean?"
"You know damn well what it means!" Will went on, "You've always loved her. And you've always pushed her to me."
"That's not true!"
"Even our first kiss...was only because of you, Ira. If you didn't stand her up and send me to tell her, it would have never happened."
At this point, both Wild Card Cass and Emma had heard the ruckus and came over. Emma looked back and forth at Ira and Will arguing. "What's the problem, boys?" she softly asked.
"No problem," Will answered, "I'm going to tell the sheriff, this whole town is in trouble. Ira's gonna take you to a hotel where you two will...wait this whole thing out." Without any chance for rejection or acceptance, Will put his hat on and walked out the doors. Wild Card quickly followed, silently volunteering to go with him. "We're not finished, Will!"
Marshall ran past Ira, after Wild Card and Will, and said, "Take this..." he handed Ira a pouch full of money, "I'll go with them, and then come get you at the hotel." Marshall was the last one out the door, leaving only Ira and Emma to go over to the hotel where Peyton was waiting.
Ira walked hand in hand with Emma as they entered the hotel lobby. He caught Peyton talking to the bartender across the hall, in the bar. They joined him at the bar. "Who do we ask for a room?" Ira inquired.
"That would be me," the bartender resided, "I own this hotel."
Ira bought a room with Marshall's money and another girl led them upstairs. Peyton remained and kept talking to the bartender, "Nice place...How long have you owned it?"
"Seems like a lifetime now." She kept looking over at Peyton with a familiar look on her face. Peyton could not help but ask, "Do I know you?"
"I certainly know you."
"Should I be worried?"
"You should be in penance."
And then he realized, who this woman once was. That night, in the Orphanage, long ago, when the priest was talking of foreclosure, the night Peyton's life changed forever, it was Sister Annie who he was talking to in the kitchen.
"It's not Sister Annie anymore," she scoffed, "Now...it's Madam Annie." Peyton had another look around. Maybe this was a hotel on the outside. But it was clear now, that old Madam Annie was running a bordello in her hotel. Women in loose lingerie were leading men up and down the stairs like clockwork. This hotel was a den of sin and lust. Peyton knew he was to blame. He knew that innocent Sister Annie's life was ruined as a result of the choices Peyton made.
"After the orphanage burnt down, I was the only one left...besides you four." Madam Annie continued, "Nobody wanted me in town anymore. I was ready to kill myself before a business man walked into town one day and bought the property from me. I used the money to buy this hotel, and I've been here ever since..."
Ira followed the young girl up to the room. When they got inside, Emma closed the door behind them and locked it. Ira did not notice. He was too busy looking around, scaling up the room. "This is too small for a headquarters. We must-"
"Ira, the only thing you must do is relax." Before Ira could answer back, she sat him on the bed and got behind him, rubbing his shoulders. He fell silent and closed his eyes. Ira was so tired; tired of being on this endless journey, tired of never getting what he wanted, tired of being on the run from himself. He laid back on the bed and knocked Emma over beside him. Their shoulders touched and she was laughing. They turned their heads in towards each other and became silent. All that could be heard was their muffled breaths. Ira looked deep into her eyes and only wanted one thing. Emma looked back into his eyes intently.
"And I've heard all about you...Blackheart Quade."
The entire bar stopped moving and talking and looked over at Peyton. The bartender went on, "All the jobs, all the banks you robbed, the people you've killed. So what is it...that you've come back to Dodge for?"
"I've come to kill the gang I was in."
"Then I know...where it is... that you have to go."
"What do you want in return?"
"Your legendary charcoal guns."
Marshall, Will, and Wild Card entered the rundown sheriff's office. The journey to the center of town was harrowing, but it was still early and not many people were out. They got inside the door under the fog. There was no one in the one-room sheriff's office. Their were cobwebs everywhere with no signs of life for some time.
"Great!" Will sighed.
"There's no law in this godforsaken town?" fretted Marshall.
Wild Card said nothing. Marshall looked over at him. His temper was rising past his head. He was ready to snap. It was clear to him Wild Card knew exactly what they were walking into, and yet he said not one word of warning. He just went along in a mindless conviction.
"THAT'S IT!" Marshall bursts out, sliding his buck knife from its sheath to Wild Card's throat. "TELL US WHAT'S GOIN' ON, CASS!" Will pulls his gun. They both look at him. Will points his gun at Wild Card's head, saying softly, "Who are you, old man?"
"It doesn't matter what I do. All that matters is which side I take."
"What are you talking about?"
"The end has already been decided."
"You're crazy, Cass."
"Start makin' sense," ordered Will as he cocked back his gun, "Or I start shootin'."
"Kill me, boys. Rip my throat open, Marshall, and free me with death."
Will's sight concentrated on Cass. Marshall's head was in a toss. Will's attention was caught by something in the Dodge City background and he lowered his gun. He had seen something no one else had noticed yet. Now was his chance to get ahead and beat his brother. More than anything in the world, Will had always wanted to be better than Ira.***
January 3rd, 1862
For months he chased the war. Over and over he stopped battles from being overrun and cleared out advantageous outlaws using the war as an excuse to rob entire small towns. Wild Card would often lead militia into battle with revolvers and repeaters. It was not until he truly realized what he was doing did he know who fought along with him. Daniel Davis, along with Wyatt Kaleb Troy IV, and Raleigh MacPherson who was Kid Colt's young father all fell to confederate muskets under Wild Card Cass's banner. Never once did he get what he wanted, not even in victory.
Wild Card Cass did not take FreeLander's word for it. He felt he could not return home to his wife before he knew their two boys were okay. He would follow FreeLander's telegrams and instructions to retrieve them. It was not long until Wild Card began to second-guess this government stooge. FreeLander's intentions seemed to have had ulterior motives. Wild Card gave up on the war, and running down the likes of such notable most wanted outlaws as Tanner Crow, Slaughterhouse Slater, Rotten Johnny Stacks, and Blackheart Quade. He took the trains as far as he could to Dodge and found the same red bar in which he signed the contracts. Wild Card looked all around for FreeLander, but he was not in the bar's main room. The bartender pointed out the stairs in back leading up to the office. Wild Card Cass stormed up to the office and kicked the doors down.
August 10, 1865
Marshall was still so infuriated. He wanted to punish Cass. He could not kill him. Old man Cass was not evil. He might not be good. But Marshall felt in his heart, that Wild Card was not an evil man. And he trusted his instincts. He relinquished the grip wrath held over him along with his buck knife against Cass' neck.
"I'm sorry, Marshall..." Wild Card said falling to his knees, exhausted, defeated, "But, soon you will know everything."
"Well, I'm tired of waiting," exclaimed Will as he ran out of the dark sheriff's office, down the street to a glowing red bar.
Peyton's pride had been called forth. A woman from his past, whose life was a testament to Blackheart Quade's fame, stood before him, demanding a toll to continue on his journey. He knew what the true Blackheart Quade would do, and that would be to pull his guns out and put them against her head, trading her life for the information he desired. But this was Peyton she was dealing with, and he was truly a changed man. Peyton took out his guns and put them on the counter; lifting his hands off of the twin charcoal black revolvers and stepping away.
Ira leaned forward and kissed Emma. Her eyes were closed but swung open in expected surprise. She paused for a second before she said good-bye to all inhibitions and commitments, and embraced Ira. They tossed and peeled each others' clothes off. He pressed himself against her bare chest. Ira made love to Emma Riley, their in Dodge, with no regrets. In one moment they existed together in eternal bliss, and then it vanished. Just like that, reality encroached upon them. They knew what they had done. Ira held Emma in bed, as they laid there naked, both silently thinking about betraying Will. "Do we tell him?" Ira asks, unable to come to a decision himself.
"No." Emma answers as if it should have never happened. Ira pulls away from her, over to the window. He picks up his modified rifle and peers down the scope, out the window. He sees Marshall and Wild Card running down the road, right down the center of main street. He follows the path they're on towards a bright red saloon. The sun was so bright surrounding behind it, Ira could not make out its name. He saw Will standing out in the road before its entrance. A big figure stands at the door. Ira can tell his brother and the figure are talking. Their hands hang over their guns. Ira has no desire to load his weapon and cover Will. He watches on with callous eyes, lying in bed with his brother's wife, as Will faces mortal danger alone outside. Ira relied on fate to answer for Will's life. Ira would then succeed where Will failed on their journey and claim Emma as his own. 'This,' Ira thought, stewing on the corner of their bed, 'is the destiny that was owed to me.'
The figure Will is talking to steps out of the doorway, breaking the shadow. Marshall and Wild Card both stand behind Will. Soon the entire town will be watching. Will goes to shoot and Steel Coat Kildare swings around, deflecting the bullets. When he turns back around, he is wielding two sawed-off double barrel shotguns. He drains both of their chambers into Will's chest and he falls limp to the floor. Ira screams inside the room. He drops his rifle and falls back into the bed. He is shaken by Emma and he opens his eyes. Was it all a dream?
"What happened?" he asks.
"You called out and then fell back next to me," Emma explained.
"What did I say?"
Ira jumped out of bed and got dressed. He slung his gun-belt around his waist and tightened it. He strapped his rifle over his shoulder and picked up his hat. It was an old black hat with a brown leather lace around it. "Stay here," he told her, "and wait 'til I come back." He left the room and went down the stairs. Ira exited out the bar and grabbed Peyton along the way. "Where are your guns?" Ira asked him.
"I had to trade them."
They ran down the road as the day was finally upon them. The early morning dew had faded away. It was now getting hot and dry. People were beginning to move about all over. "Where are we going?" worried Peyton.
"A bar!" Ira yelled as he hurried Peyton along.
"Not this way," reluctantly hesitated Peyton.
Ira asked him what was wrong. The bar that he was taking Peyton to was built over the land his orphanage was once on. The last thing Peyton wanted to do was go in there. But far be it for fate already decided he must. Who was he to defy fate? He continued running behind Ira as they came up to Wild Card, looking over Marshall who was holding Will's hand.
There was blood all over the sandy floor around Will. Ira was confused. But it was a dream? He dropped down beside his brother. He could not speak, for the blood was drowning his lungs. He just stared up at Ira, and gripped his hand tight. His pupil emptied and his body stopped shaking. His hand fell loose and stayed clenched at the same time. Ira let go of his hand and grabbed his torso lifting it up. Ira cried on his brother. He could not believe the despicable and repulsive actions he had partaken in the moments leading up to his brother's death. He was a monster, a pig. Ira was the worst kind of brother; a selfish betrayer. Ira opened his eyes and saw Steel Coat Kildare walking back into the bar. Ira stood up. Marshall and Peyton rallied behind him. His grief was focused. "His envy got the best of him," Wild Card said as he brought them to the doorway, "As did your greed, and her lust." Ira's anger shifted. He could not believe the words that had just come out of Wild Card's mouth. And suddenly, he felt like he had just awoken from a daze. His brother was dead on the ground. His murderer...just up ahead. For the time being, Ira cleared his mind and forgot about his dastardly acts, he looked up at the name of the bar as he led them all in. It was called, "The Inferno."***
July 3rd, 1862
"I want to see my sons, FreeLander!"
"YOU CAN'T SEE YOUR SONS!" his eyes mutated red.
Wild Card stumbled back in his office. He pulled his gun out, "I'll kill you."
FreeLander stood up from behind his long, polished redwood desk, something was wrong with him. His body was misshapen..."Do that...and your boys...are as dead...as your wife..."
Wild Card dropped his arm. He did not know. How could he? He had not returned home. But without a doubt did he believe him. Wild Card pulled the trigger and the bullet cut FreeLander's face. Blood spilled onto the desk as he grabbed his wounded cheek.
FreeLander looked back up at Wild Card and smiled. Wild Card Cass froze. This was no man before him. He reached up and into the bloody gash. He shoved his hand under his skin and pulled it clean off his face. The blood, muscle, and cartilage underneath shifted and came together. It scabbed over leather-red and settled as new skin. Wild Card Cass was frightened beyond the capacity to move. FreeLander screamed as he finished transforming into his true form. Fangs stretched out of his mouth as two horns emerged from his forehead. His eyes changed from red to yellow, his irises remaining pure black.
"What are you?" Wild Card managed to mutter.
The beast behind the desk, ripped his expensive suit, almost doubling in size as it bellowed out...
"EGO SUM DIABOLUS."
August 10, 1865
Ira walked through the door followed by Marshall and Peyton. Wild Card walked up behind them. The bar was crowded. Even though it was early morning, these wasted gamblers and gunslingers, crooks and cowboys, thieves and villains, were still out getting drunk and going wild. The Inferno seemed to keep it all in the confines of the bar. Any of these men could be Black Pawnee. In fact, most of them were Black Pawnee. Peyton and Cass above all could tell this. Marshall looked at Ira, and Ira looked over at Peyton. They were exactly where they needed to be. Peyton turned from Marshall and Ira, and had a look around the bar. They were in the heart of the enemy. Ira knew this would be okay for now. Hiding in plain sight from the Black Pawnee. But soon they will be found, they will lose the element of surprise.
10 Crows had to be here somewhere. Slaughterhouse Slater and Steel Coat Kildare wouldn't be too far either. "This way," Wild Card insisted. He led them into the back rooms of the bar. They walked through two dark rooms where men were getting private dances from whores, and passed into the kitchen. After the kitchen, they walked down a flight of stairs into an empty bar. The bar itself was a shiny transparent metal with dark redwood underneath it, with mirrors and torches all along the walls. Peyton, Ira, and Marshall got down the stairs. The door was locked above. Peyton heard it lock, along with Ira. "This doesn't feel right." Once Ira drew his pistol, Marshall raised the Winchester up. "It's a trap!"
There was only one other door in the barroom, and it popped open. Red man after red man came running into the room wearing black buffalo skin and face paint, wielding revolvers and machetes. These were pure-blood Pawnee. Marshall turned around, Wild Card was gone. He had betrayed them all and if anyone, Marshall should have seen it coming.
Two Pawnee rushed Marshall. They were too close to fire the rifle. Instead, he knocked one off his feet and slit the other one's throat as he unsheathed his buck knife. He re-sheathed the knife and pulled out his pistol, gunning down two more Pawnee flanking Ira. Meanwhile, Ira had pulled out his other revolver and shot with both hands, reminiscent of Kid Colt, shooting enemy after enemy dead with one shot. Peyton battled the Pawnee unarmed. He wrestled with their guns and threw them to the ground, grabbing a hold of their neck after neck, and snapping it with his arms. He picked up the two fully loaded guns. The remaining Black Pawnee they finished off together.
The last body hit the floor; and the door opened again, releasing more renegades outlaws running into the room. The torches blew out and the room went dark.***
July 4th, 1863
West Plains, MI
Wild Card sat in front of his wife's grave. He cried on her tombstone and begged for her forgiveness.
"I've made a terrible mistake," he squeaked out, continuing to cry. "But I saved the boys." He wiped his tears and tried to compose himself, feeling obligated to give her an explanation. "I traded my soul for theirs....Turns out the Devil loves making deals." Wild Card laughed a little and sniffled. "The only catch is I have to live...forever...playing his games..." Wild Card looked away, too ashamed to go on, "I've made quite a mess for myself, Jenny..." he looked back and forced himself to finish. "Now, I'll never get back to you...." Wild Card Cass tried his hardest not to cry again, but the pressure of his guilt was rising, "...Unless I beat him at his own game..." That was it. Wild Card had decided. His quest to defend humanity, his plight for the goodness of man started now.
He kissed the headstone and pressed down on the amulet around his neck, a device given to him by his sinister employer. A blue wake swallows him and Wild Card Cass travels through time with Devil FreeLander, accessing the shadows, meddling in the lives of innocent people just to prove a point, and eventually arriving at their final destination...Washington, D.C.***
August 10, 1865
Ira could tell he was the last man standing, but he was quickly brought to the ground on top of Marshall and Peyton, after being pummeled by unseen fists and rifle-butts. When Peyton woke up, Marshall was already awake. Screaming like an animal as Slaughterhouse Slater punched him and kicked him repeatedly on the floor. Peyton got to his feet and tried to tackle Slater. Kildare throat-checked Peyton with his metal arm, throwing him on top of Ira, and stirring him awake. Ira opened his eyes and looked up. Wild Card Cass was standing between Slaughterhouse Slater and Steel Coat Kildare.
"Cass!" Ira yelled out from the floor, "How could you!"
"I had no choice." Cass confessed, "This is bigger than all of us."
10 Crows came walking out behind the bar next to Wild Card. Ira, Peyton, and Marshall stood up with the Black Pawnee still surrounding them. They left all their guns on the floor. 10 Crows looked them over, while he ordered Steel Coat Kildare and Slater to start the take over. Kildare and Slater were given specific orders to riot the streets and bring the town to the ground. This would be the first stage of their master plan.
10 Crows slapped Ira with the back of his hand, knocking him to the floor, and walked over to Peyton and Marshall. "You two are hard to kill." He looked at Marshall. They stood face to face, and Marshall could feel his shadow. It shared an emotional weight that he had felt before from his old life, a burden that he left New York because of.
"Ah," 10 Crows scoffed, after seeing Marshall beginning to put it together, "....Marshall....I am disappointed in you." And there it was, a tone that could not be mistaken. His father's voice was in the room. Here in Dodge, on the other side of the world as he knows it, father was reunited with son. 10 Crows pulls his red headband off along with his long black hair; revealed to be a wig. He wipes his face of the red and bronzer make up. 10 Crows is really Wyatt Kaleb Troy III.
"All this time..." Marshall sobbed, "You were actually 10 Crows."
"That's right, son" 10 Crows admitted.
"Only when you are willing to do whatever it takes... do you truly know what it means to succeed."
Peyton laughed. And Wild Card echoed it, while behind the bar drinking from a top-shelf whiskey. 10 Crows walked over to Peyton. Peyton desperately tried to figure it all out, "So you knew about Marshall and I from the beginning. Which means this all had to 've been planned out beforehand..." Peyton dragged on, "...but how?"
"It is truly astounding how much you don't know," 10 Crows belittled, "and yet you think you can change things."
Ira got back to his feet.
"Stay down, you hillbilly inbred." 10 Crows kicked Ira in the chest and brought him down to the floor again. Marshall and Peyton ran over to Ira.
"Get back!" barked 10 Crows, as he drew his pistol and fired at Ira. "Get back or I kill him." Marshall stepped back, with Peyton beside him. 10 Crows goes in front of his son. "I never wanted you to die," 10 Crows walked around, "I hope you both can understand that some day."
"Ha" Peyton laughed, "some day Marshall, ya hear that!"
"Why do you keep doing that?"
"Doing what, son?"
"Someday after we survive his goons tryin' to kill us," Peyton ranted.
"Referring to Peyton and I like...we're..." Marshall trailed off.
"If it is complete disclosure in one explanation you seek..." 10 Crows interpreted. Marshall was ready to receive one ounce of satisfaction in getting the entire truth for once, out of all this suffering. 10 Crows went on, "...That I cannot give you." Marshall was utterly spent on being let down. 10 Crows walked over to the door and just before he left up the stairs, he said, "We are destroying Dodge, and there is nothing you can do about it. This is your last warning. Join us, or leave, either way, take this time to say good-bye to your soldier friend."
Marshall fell down, and Peyton cradled Ira bleeding heavily on the floor. Kid Colt's dragoon lay just inches away from Ira. Peyton could reach it if he could just swing Ira's body. Marshall looked over at Peyton and Ira, covered in blood and surrounded by bodies. He looked up at Wild Card Cass, finishing that bottle of whiskey by the bar. Wild Card looked down on the three of them. He was failing them. Somewhere along the way, Wild Card Cass had forgotten what he stood for. When he lost track of the years he lost track of his plight. With his simultaneous take on time, he was forced to see as his adversary did, in order to even the odds. He had forgotten what it felt like to know suffering in one lifetime. But when he looked down at Marshall, Peyton, and Ira he did not envy them, he pitied them. Wild Card spoke up, "I'll tell ya."
"What?" Marshall exhaled.
"I tell ya everything, kid. And I'll give it to ya straight too."
"Why are you doing this?"
"You're good kids. You deserve something decent...before you die...."
Ira sat up, "That's...comforting..." he mumbled. Peyton laughed beside him and reached for the gun. Wild Card walked around the bar and sat on a stool right in front of them. "Your father was corrupted into the menace he is today. Just like Peyton, and myself, he was once a good and innocent man forced to do terrible things, and made to live with the consequences. And everybody deals with them in different ways. Your father was just a fool like me...who got caught in the devil's snare..."***
March 23, 1825
New York, NY
Wild Card falls out of the blue portal and hits the ground hard. As he gets to his feet and brushes off his pants the man next to him, wearing spectacles and a bowling hat, jests, "Still haven't gotten the hang of that thing?"
Wild Card rigidly replies, "No...I haven't" He looks down and notices two things about himself. For one, he was unkempt. His beard was the longest he had ever grown it. And there was the other thing. Wild Card's beard was pure white from the constant use of the amulet. Wild Card looked up. He had never been in New York City before. FreeLander relished Wild Card's child-like wonder as his wide eyes spanned across the thriving metropolis. FreeLander felt proud of the fact that this city was founded and built on blood and betrayal. In the next hundred years it would fall to his temptation and inevitable sin. But for now, they were here only to place another bet.
"Who is it this time?"
"Him." FreeLander pointed at a man walking across the street.
"How did he pledge?" Wild Card studied.
"With the raping a Wichita injun woman."
"They always think so."
"And the deal?" Wild Card persisted.
"If he burns down the tribe, I push his papers for the railroad, making his company the wealthiest in the country," FreeLander laughed, "This one's a sure thing."
"What will you do to him?"
FreeLander played the fool briefly before answering him, "You've grown wise in your few years of servitude..."
'Has it been that long?' Wild Card thought as FreeLander continued, "...Soon he will fall in love with a native Pawnee named Charlotte, which will inevitably lead him to sacrificing his soul for hers...much like you..."
"What do you mean?"
"What does fate have installed for him?"
"Only because you bet...shall I tell you..." his voice grew echoed and loud, "But no man can view fate..." he tried to control his gathering darkness, "...sicut potest Principi scilicet Tenebrarum."
"I'm beginning to think I've lost my humanity."
"Nobody likes a dramatic, Winfield" FreeLander said once again in his sullen human voice, "It seems that the birth of her second child will kill her anyways."
"What of the man?...Troy..." Wild Card concluded in one final question.
"He will fall subject to my bidding until his death, worthy of no salvation..."
"Everyone is worth saving."
"Are you...Wild Card?"
"I'll take the bet."***
August 10, 1865
Dodge City, KS
Peyton swung his arm around with the gun cocked and loaded in his hand. Wild Card looked right at him, fearless. He closed his eyes, begging for relief. Peyton pulled the trigger and the bullets blasted but did not leave the gun. The backfire stung Peyton's hand and he dropped the gun, temporarily stunned. Wild Card got up and looked for another bottle behind the bar. Peyton regained feeling and picked another gun up. He tried both handguns and rifles. The only damage he inflicted was on the walls of the barroom around Wild Card. It was hopeless. Peyton threw all the guns away. Nothing was making sense anymore. All except one truth: They had failed, and were going to die.
"Take him!" Peyton passes Ira over to Marshall as he gets to his feet. Marshall braces Ira. Wild Card sees Peyton and picks up a bottle, holding it by the handle. Peyton leaps for Wild Card as he comes down on Peyton's head with the whiskey bottle . The bottle smashes and brings Peyton down. He falls to the ground and claws at Wild Card, dragging him down too. Peyton tried to remain awake. His head is heaving with pain in quick waves. Wild Card gets to his knees and Peyton donkey kicks him in the ribs. Wild Card flies back into the amber bar. Peyton shakes the sweat off his brow, still on the floor. He presses his hands on the floor to get up and catches shards of glass in his palms. As they cut his skin open, he grabs the biggest piece. "Wait!" Peyton grabs Wild Card over his shoulder, "She was-" and thrusts the sharp shard of glass into his side. It slides into his side, and Peyton pulls it out. Wild Card gasps and Peyton throws his other arm over his chest.
Wild Card blocks the strike with the blood-stained shard of glass and tosses Peyton off of him. Peyton slides down the red wet floor back into Marshall and Ira. The piece of glass tumbles away. Wild Card feels his side. He cannot believe it. The wound does not bleed. In a rage he walks over to them, "That woman he raped," throwing Marshall and Ira apart, and leaving Peyton in front of him trying to get to his feet. Marshall tosses him his buck knife. Peyton ducks Wild Card's punch and snatches Marshall's buck knife in mid air. He spins back around and Wild Card grabs his arm. They battle for control over the knife, back and forth, as Wild Card tries to continue, "She's-" Marshall lays Ira's head down softly. Peyton's grip is slipping. He throws the knife away at risk of being stabbed with it. Wild Card lets go of him and they turn around face to face. "She's-" Wild Card throws three jabs in Peyton's face, all with his left hand. Breaking open his eyebrow. He follows with a hook and Peyton ducks it. He throws his shoulder into Wild Card. As Wild Card stumbles back by Peyton's momentum, they are stopped by Marshall wrapping his arms around Wild Card's neck. "Yr..mthr.." His hold tightens and Wild Card can't breathe. Peyton holds his arms down. Wild Card squirms to speak and chokes. He gasps for relief, getting one last breath out, "He raped your mother."
They both let go of him, Wild Card falls to the ground, out cold. Marshall and Peyton looked at each other. Peyton racked his mind for a rational explanation to dispute the fact. But there was nothing. Suddenly they seemed the same. A reflection of their father. Marshall the white, and Peyton the black. They were brothers this whole time. Peyton knew something important was pulling him back to Dodge and keeping him with this group. Turns out it was Marshall all along, and the unspoken bond between them. Marshall was just glad not to feel alone anymore. After losing his brother IV to the war, a shell covered Marshall that he could never shatter...until now. Peyton only let this new truth further define his resilience for change. Marshall unknowingly proved to Peyton that their was good in his heart. Marshall now was a new man, and both Peyton's influence and existence reinforced him. Now all they needed was their ace, their shooter, their gun back. But Ira still lay bloody and shattered on the lifeless floor.
"Ira," Marshall examines, as Peyton pieces together a double holster gun-belt around them. He takes the dragoon Wild Card had from Kid Colt, and the one on the floor Ira had and slides them comfortably into his holsters. The bandoleer is full of bullets, he takes all of Wild Card's ammo belts, wrapping them on both his shoulders, leaving Cass with only one shimmering bullet too big to be a revolver round. Marshall picks Ira up and puts his modified in his hands. "Ira...Come back to us." Marshall leans down and picks up his semi-auto pistol. Marshall points his finger up and puts it in Ira's face. "Focus on my finger..." Moving it side to side, up and down, he continued, "We need your help, Ira." He followed Marshall's finger with his eyes. He had to come back from the dark. He was too hurt and tired to go on. He forced his eyes back open and gradually got over his battered daze.
"Right," Ira said, looking over at Peyton rubbing his wounded brow, "I'm with you."
Together, Marshall, Ira, and Peyton wrapped their wounds and armed themselves. Marshall and Peyton, too distracted, neglected remembering the Winchester rifle on the littered floor. They walked up the stairs. Marshall looked up at Peyton's waist, at the shiny silver and white guns of the Kid's. It inspired hope in Marshall's heart that rekindled his spirit.
Ira got to the unlocked door at the top of the stairs. The door swung open. The bar was now empty. Gunshots echoed out in the streets over screams. Ira can see the hotel they had just come from. It was smoking from the windows. "I have to go back for Emma." Peyton pulls his dragoons out and kicks the front doors open. He fires one after another and disappears outside. "Marshall" Ira repeats, "I have to get to her." Marshall puts his hand on his shoulder and shakes his head, "Let's go."
When Marshall brings Ira outside Peyton is waiting with a horse. They put Ira on it and he rides it back down the street to the hotel. Marshall and Peyton start running after him. As they get to another crossroads they see Black Pawnee pillaging the town and burning the buildings. The townsfolk run around in the streets getting mugged and murdered.
Ira gets up the stairs. He can't see any flames but the smoke is getting thicker and thicker. "Emma!" he yells out. He opens the door to the room and it is empty. He keeps calling out for her. Her clothes are gone. There is no sign of her. All that remains in the room is his army jacket. He hears screaming coming from another room. Ira looks around in the other rooms. In the last one before the stairs, he finds flames tearing the bed down, on the other side is a naked woman helplessly trapped. Ira puts the coat in front of him and charges the flames. He breaks through them and grabs her, covering her and pulling them back through the flames. They get to the other side and the staircase breaks. The girl falls onto Ira and they grab each other as they slide down the stairs. Ira peers over as they escape the burning hotel. Emma is not in the bar either.
Marshall and Peyton get to the hotel as Ira comes outside with the smoldering whore. She praises him for saving her life. He gets back on the horse. Peyton and Marshall find two more riderless horses to mount. "Wait!" the girl says as Ira goes to leave, "You forgot your coat!" She takes it off and throws it to him. She laughs and runs away, quickly getting picked up by a rebel on a horse and carried away.
"What the hell is going on?" Peyton wondered.
"I couldn't find her!" Ira worried.
"We must get to the fort." Marshall said, distracted.
"Then we head east," Peyton advised. They pulled their horses around and rode away. When they reached the city limits, scattered riders were roaming down the hills towards them. Flank after flank of Black riders, different charters of Pawnee and rebel soldiers flooded the baron suburbs of Dodge. The road to the Fort was covered already. They had to turn. When they tried to exit Dodge from the north, more enemy lines of riders came bearing down on them. They had to return to the town. "We try the southern trail!" Yelled out Marshall.
"It's no use!" refrained Ira.
"I agree, with Ira," Peyton surmised, "We should find a place to hold down."
They circled around each other in the middle of the street in Dodge. Peyton kept looking around, just like Marshall, and Ira, waiting for one of their enemies to show themselves. It was noon. The sun bore down on their backs and more rebel outlaws and renegade indians swarmed Dodge from all sides. "What are we going to do?" Marshall panicked. Peyton wanted to comfort him, but it was beyond that. "Marshall..." Peyton demanded, "What did you see back in Wichita?"
Ira was still weakened. He tried to keep himself up and awaited Marshall's response. "I thought I saw something."
"What did you see?"
"It's not possible."
"I saw FreeLander rise from the dead."
"Maybe I didn't kill him."
"You put bullets through his head and heart, Peyton"
"So what are we talking about here?" Ira reduced.
Marshall had no answer for him. Peyton tried to remember his catholic school days in the orphanage. Stories of Revelation with fallen angels known as demons battling over mankind. Peyton felt a deep tread in his heart, the same sort of feeling when someone mentioned one of the Orphan Outlaws or the Black Pawnee. He said slowly, "It could be demons..."
Ira was not at all convinced. Marshall considered the idea quietly to himself. There was no humanly way possible to come back from that many close range gunshots. FreeLander had to be...something...supernatural. Marshall also studied, he had done thorough research in the bible, Christianity, and the canon of angels at universities all over the country. But to actually think that they were real, let alone embodying their worst nightmare of an enemy was beyond frightening.
The cavalry of Pawnees infiltrated the city. Ira lifted up his rifle and began firing it. Peyton and Marshall galloped down the road blasting off their guns. The looting now covered the entire town. Women and children were running for their lives as stores and houses burned down all around them. The indians and rebels struck at them and attacked them. Peyton, Marshall, and Ira intervened. They rallied as many innocent townsfolk as they could down the street back to the train station. Marshall and Ira led them inside. Peyton cleared the station. The few men who were with the citizens stepped forward. "You must hold this station" Ira said to them. He locked and loaded his rifle and handed it to the middle citizen. Peyton reloaded his dragoons and Marshall got ready behind Ira as he talked to the townsfolk. "We will hold them off as long as we can." The looks he received were a mix between disgust and bemusement.
Marshall, Ira, and Peyton left the train station, and they barricaded the doors behind them. Ira stood on the left side of Peyton, who was standing in the middle of the road, looking down the street towards the hotel and The Inferno. Marshall stood on the other side of Peyton, cocking his semi-auto pistol. Peyton kept an eye on the gathering of the Black Pawnee who were riding in and looting the city down at the crossroads ahead of them. "Here we go" sighed Ira as the enemy lines got ever closer. Their riders threatened to run them down and their infantry fired their rifles at them, death seemed close at hand. Peyton rubbed the shiny dragoons with ivory handles.
The ground shook and Peyton realized... it took returning to the very town he condemned so many years ago and saving it from being destroyed to redeem himself as a good man. But what good could one event possibly do against a lifetime of malevolence and sin. The riders of the Black Pawnee, both renegade indians turned away from their homeland by the government and rebel soldiers of the surrendered confederacy, poured upon the beaten main road of Dodge with their ironclad hooves, gunning for the train station, with only three gunslingers standing in their way. Peyton rubbed the bottom of his palms on his revolver handles. Ira looked around for traces of Emma. Marshall mutters to himself, "...I must find my father." Peyton stands silently knowing his death is on the horizon.
They pulled their guns and the battle of Dodge began. Marshall and Ira fired their single sidearms on both sides of Peyton's dual dragoons. The renegades started crying out, hollering, and laughing. The bullets flew wildly at them as each one of their guns were finishing its rounds. The first wave of horses were practically colliding with them. A burst of heavy metal air snaps past Ira, Peyton, and Marshall's backs towards the rushing front of enemy troops. The bullets throw the riders off the horses and bring the horses to the floor. The Union soldiers cover the train station and collide with the Black Pawnee, forcing the battlefront to scramble all over town. The Colonel from Fort Dodge gallops in with the rest of the reinforcements. Before Ira can ask how they knew to come, he saw Emma riding on the back of the Colonel's horse. Emma had saved them all, all except for her husband, Will.
The evacuation from the station to the fort was put into motion. Ira helped Emma until the Colonel brought him a horse in the midst of the wild cavalry battle. Ira mounted his horse and looked ahead. Peyton had gotten his own horse and was now scrambling to cover Marshall. Marshall was still standing in the middle of the street, firing his semi-auto pistol at every Pawnee rider that went by. Ira peered over next to Marshall, there was his Modified rifle still laying on the ground. "MARSHALL!" he yelled out pointing incoherently, gathering both his and Peyton's attention. Marshall fired the last bullet in his clip. "MY RIFLE!" Ira added. Marshall looked over and picked up Ira's Modified. He fired it and reloaded as Peyton brought him over an unmanned horse. Ira kicked his horse over to them. As they rallied together, Marshall threw Ira his rifle. The Colonel rode over to them barking, "This way!"
The Colonel led Ira, Marshall, and Peyton through Dodge. They quickly passed the Inferno. There was no one outside or around the doors or windows in the enemy bar. Ira spoke next to the Colonel, "We have reason to believe that bar's their headquarters!"
"We'll circle back after we push for a front together!" The four riders made for the center of town. The town hall was up in flames along with the schoolhouse. Besides the flames, town square was practically emptied. "You've all been promoted to field commanders," said the Colonel as he looked around at Marshall and Peyton.
"We're not soldiers."
"You are today." The Colonel demanded, "We each take a side of the town and drive them to the fort where the rest of my men are waiting. Our first priority is gettin' them outta Dodge!"
Peyton and Marshall nodded and agreed. They admired the Colonel's bravery. Ira looked over at the three of them and could feel this town would be saved tonight. As long as they had the Colonel to lead them to victory, they just might make it out alive.
Fire crackles with the echoed gunshots behind them. The winds rapidly switches directions and a bullet is fired from the window of an abandoned building. The bullet cuts right through the heart of the Colonel and he falls dead off his horse.***33 ADJerusalem
The shaggy dog walks up the side of the hilltop. Both the quiet dog and his supposed master stand upon the hilltop. They look down as FreeLander leaves with Iscariot. The young pup sits up, and Wild Card sees something hanging over his shoulder. It is a bandoleer. He takes it off of Royal and straps it on, never to take it off again. He wore one holster over his left hip, and there was only one bullet on the belt. Wild Card felt the brandished metal. It was still hot, and far too large for a revolver, more like a rifle round. He knew that he would need this bullet someday. He did not know why, but he felt deep down in his gut, that there was a time and place for everything, and this bullet was very important in that realm. The noose tightened and they left for the doorway. "I have to go," Wild Card said to his dog, Royal.
The dog pouted and reminded Wild Card that man was still worth saving. A notion he was slowly losing faith in. Wild Card jumped through space and time with the medallion and landed back at Satan's lair. As they sat in the dark palace atop the city, Dis, FreeLander answered Wild Card's question, "...materialized in one of his most loved forms, he bet, like we do, once and for all...over the essence of mankind. This is it, Winfield...If I lose I fail forever."
"And if you win."
"I prove him wrong and unravel the very fabric of the universe."
He could not believe his ears, that a God was truly out there and willing to risk humanity just to win a bet. He did not focus on the universe being destroyed and the human race being obliterated in the blink of an eye. Why should he? Little did the world know that they were on their own against the strongest forces of evil, all the while being judged by the Creator. This made Wild Card bitter.***August 10, 1865
Dodge City, KS
Warm blood splatters Ira's face as his mouth drops. The Colonel is dead. Marshall will not even get off his horse to check the body. Peyton turns his horse around and mildly prompts them to follow him. Ira and Marshall quietly follow as Peyton takes them back to the Inferno.
"What are you doing?" Ira worried.
"What about the town?" he continued.
"It all stems from here," Marshall spoke up as he got off his horse. Ira pulled the reigns back. "I'm not gonna leave this town to burn while we settle our personal disputes." Ira tried to persuade them but Peyton ignored him and walked into the bar.
"Marshall..." Ira begged.
Marshall looked up. "This is where we part ways, Ira."
"I have to do this."
Then I can no longer watch your back, Marshall."
"Good luck, Ira."
Ira rode off on his horse back into the fight raging all around them, and Marshall followed Peyton through the doors of the Inferno. The street was littered with bodies of soldier and horse alike. Fires collapsed buildings all around him. Ira could not find a front anywhere. The task of bringing them together, now all alone, was impossible. He found a corner being held up by two horseless injun Union soldiers. Across the way from them were rebel soldiers shoutin' and hollerin' as they fired their pistols in the air, riding wildly on their tired horses.
Ira shot the first one right in the face. He put the scope back up to his eye and fired still riding for the corner. The riot of rebels rallied and charged at him, opening their blindside to the two indian soldiers. Ira blew another rebel's head back. The two indians did not panic, they did not falter. As Ira reloaded and watched a rebel raise his rifle up to kill him, an indian soldier saved his life and shot the rebel dead. Ira fired off one more rifle shot before switching to his sidearm. Another rebel raised his pistol at Ira as the two soldiers next to him were shot, and Ira buried two revolver shells into his chest. The gun remained in the air for a second as the rebel fell and Ira , snatched it with his left hand. He swung the horse around, using his legs, and finished the remaining chambers off in his two revolvers. The last of the rebel posse fell. Ira brought to horses over to the injun soldiers and led them further into the fight. Ira turned the next corner and the trading post store they were riding past imploded. The impact shook Ira off his horse.
When he got up the entire block was in ruin. Smoke lingered over the fallen rubble. The two injun union soldiers were gone, presumably crushed to death. He looked around for any survivors of the explosion. Ira could not tell where he was. This was not Dodge. The concrete rubble did not look like the shabby stores in town. These ruins were ancient. Their surfaces were shiny and white polished, ridged and columned. Ira walked out of the wreckage. He was upon a mountaintop, peering over seas of clouds, with a white churning sky. Ira looked all over for something he recognized. It was okay that he was lost. Even with no clue to where he was, Ira mysteriously felt at home...at rest.
The closest foundation that was still in one piece was Ira's immediate reaction. It was a long, curving, white balcony running across the mountaintop. He grabbed a hold of the stone and looked up. Above him, at the summit, a storm was raging. Effects of the storm were bringing massive chunks of the mountain down all around him. Dark bolts of lightning tried to break the temple closest to the summit. Ira wanted to help, but a high ivory gate kept him from climbing the rest of the mountain. The white gate was as thick and tall as a row of towers. Nothing could penetrate these walls. He would have to find the doors in. Ira crossed balcony after balcony, observing the abyss of white smoke below him, and the shadowed fury raining drops of fire down from above him.
When Ira reached the gate it was nearly shattered open. The golden bars were bent and tangled all over, but the hinges all still held onto the pearly white archway. Ira tried looking around. After all this chaos, it was hard to believe that there was not a soul around. A man spoke to him from inside the gate, "It is not your time, Gabriel"
"What did you call me?"
"I am Petros, gatekeeper of-"
"Is this heaven?"
"You still have work to do on earth," deflected Petros.
Ira looked around again, "What would you have me do?"
"You must tell them."
"Tell them what?"
"The man you know as FreeLander has risen from the dead, and come to Dodge. Only one can kill him..."
"Who?" Ira asked.
"And how can Peyton kill a dead man?"
"Only with your father's rifle."
The clouds of the storm lowered into the white mist and the winds kicked up. A fury of neurotic cyclones outnumbered them all around. As Ira tried to keep his stance, he yelled, "WHAT IS THIS PLACE?!""The Hyperion Summit."
The dark bolts of harnessed shadow shocked the metal fences, and the eye of the storm was upon them. The pressure peaked and crumbled the bottom out from Ira. He tried to grab a hold, but was pulled down into the darkness. His eyes were covered in black and Ira woke up.***
He was in an alleyway, being covered by somebody's arms. Ira pulled himself up and turned around. Wild Card Cass got to his feet along with Ira.
"What are you doin' here Cass?"
"You were half past dead when I found ya."
So what!" Ira cried out with his arms spread, "Didn't stop you before when those lunatics beat me senseless!"
"My boss is the-"
"How do you-"
"I can save us, Cass." Ira wasted no time.
"No one can save me, kid" Wild Card looked away from Ira, down the alleyway at the battle still littering the streets. Ira looked up at the sky. The sun had set awhile ago, but the sun set red clouds remained. They had thickened and turned to storm. A storm reminiscent of his dreams. Wild Card Cass turned back around to Ira, "We must hurry!" He ran down the alleyway and Ira followed. Wild Card brought Ira through the town's vacant seedy underground. It was the quickest route back to the Inferno. He led him to the street that ended at the train station. Across the way was the Inferno. Before the bar, in the middle of the road Peyton stood face to face with Charlie Slaughterhouse Slater.
"You've killed Johnny and Maggy, for what Peyton?"
Peyton had never thought of his sins in that order. Charlie was right. He was their harbinger of death. One day something deep inside Peyton's soul turned and it was decided that he would bring his fellow Orphan Outlaws to justice. This was a truth he did not realize until now, "...Atonement."
Slater turned away from him to cover his appall. He said as he turned back, breathless, "...And me?"
Charlie looked down and closed his eyes. He waited, but nothing happened. Charlie looked up at Peyton. "So what are you waiting for?" Peyton already had his gun out, but his finger could not pull the trigger.
10 Crows walked out of the Inferno, and Peyton cried out, "Marshall!" He shot his gun and backed up, while 10 Crows and Slater both drew on him. Ira tries to get up but Wild Card holds his shoulder down, saying, "Not yet." Ira throws the old man down and runs into the street, leaving his modified rifle behind. He caps off his revolver and joins Peyton. Ira tries to call to him but is distracted by the pinging of metal on metal. He turns back around and sees Steel Coat Kildare running at them wielding his twin sawed-off shotguns. Peyton and Ira get down and finish off their rounds, keeping the juggernaut at bay. They all reload. But before 10 Crows, Slater, and Kildare can re-engage, the doors to the Inferno open. Marshall slowly walks out, dragging himself to the line. Ira looks over at him as he pulls out his pistol, and then back over at Peyton who's trying to slow his breath. A light flashes in the corner of his sight and Ira sees himself standing just behind Peyton. His echo screams, and a blue pulse rings out swallowing him up whole. No one but Ira had seen it.
Wild Card Cass watches on as Ira faces off with Steel-Coat Kildare, Peyton faces off with Slaughterhouse Slater, and Marshall faces off with 10 Crows. From Wild Card's point of view, in between the good and the bad was the Inferno. A dark figure walks out the doors and Wild Card stands up. Jebediah FreeLander and Wild Card Cass do nothing as they all try to kill each other. The storming warfare still rages all around them in the town of Dodge. 10 Crows shoots Marshall in the chest. Slaughterhouse Slater's shots miss, as he is executed by Peyton wielding Kid Colt's dragoons. Steel Coat Kildare unloads his sawed-off shotguns to no avail, and gets shot straight through the head by Ira taunting, "Let's see your steel coat stop that."
Jebediah FreeLander claps and laughs. Wild Card gets in between 10 Crows, and Peyton and Ira, who are too busy checking on Marshall laying limp on the floor. But before they can get to him, all are summoned before FreeLander. Wild Card ushers Peyton and Ira in front of him. They unwillingly approach the strange assassin. 10 Crows does not look at his son on the floor. He was lost in his demons. Wyatt Kaleb Troy III was still in New York. 10 Crows was a ruthless killer, and his true heir was made clear. He walked behind Peyton.
FreeLander greeted them. "Welcome, Blackheart," he turned, "Welcome, Sargent Davis."
"Actually it's just Ira now."
"Yes, but that is when you did your finest work." He nodded at both Wild Card and 10 Crows. "Aside from Cass, you are three of the deadliest men in the West." FreeLander smiled at them as they all reacted differently. "Ira," he went on, "I'm surprised you made it this far."
"What exactly is this?" Ira asked.
"...tests..." Peyton figured out.
"Mr. Quade is correct," FreeLander scoffed, "Consider this your recruitment."
"Recruitment into what?"
"Sure can talk a lot for a dead man." Peyton spat.
"Dead is such a relative term."
"How can this be?" Ira wanted to know.
"Follow me and I will tell you everything." Ira thought for a second, that he actually had a choice. They walked past the main bar and down through the cellar. Upon entering the other door in the room, FreeLander led them further down into the depths of the Inferno.
"To know me is to know the war." FreeLander stopped. Ira looked around, it was a dungeon. Skeletons in chains lined the walls.
"What war?" Peyton responded.
"An ancient war," FreeLander went on, "that has been waging since the beginning of time. I was once, like you all, an angel who was cast out of heaven against his will, but instead of this nice blue planet, I was cursed with the underworld." He continued walking, forcing them further down to yet another level. "Well I have spent countless years trying to take back what was rightfully mine."
He brought them through wild caverns, "And in that time, my plight has desensitized. Now we play a game, where I have come to find out the only way to heaven is through unleashing the apocalypse on humanity." They all continued walking on a path carved out by the stalagmites and stalactites which made up the caves. "You see...I have lured the Father out of the Kingdom, but his Son remains...guarding the throne." FreeLander looked back at them. "All I can do is summon Christ before mankind as it says in the prophecy of his second coming. So many times I have tried and failed... This time I will not."
"We won't let you."
"Your juvenile heroics will not save this world. Just ask your late president of the Union.....Letting Lincoln foil my attempts at a civil war was only a precursor to what I have planned. Today, we see the labors I have carefully laid out finally come together in one masterstroke." FreeLander brought them into a man-made tunnel.
"What are you talking about?"
"Abraham Lincoln thought he was stopping me by stopping the war. Early he found out I was responsible for the hate and greed of the south. Only after digging a little deeper, did he find that I was behind all of slavery. There is no place in this universe where an idea as foul and merciless as slavery could be thought of, except for my hell. but I was after something deeper. By preventing the destruction of America, he sealed his own fate, along with yours. You all acted exactly as I had foreseen. Steps taken by your own free will, governed by the end of the war, brought you all together here tonight for one reason." They came to the end of the tunnel, where the floor was raised up as an altar.
"And what reason is that?"
"Do not fear me, Ira. I cannot kill you. I need you, all of you." Before the altar was a giant circular metal door with seven seals on it. "Trust me," FreeLander reasoned, "if I could open the door to my world, I would have a long time ago. The truth is..I can not. It requires the unlocking of seven seals to raise hell upon the Earth. Each seal, symbolized in the different choices within a human soul. The first four are always my horsemen; evil, war, famine, and death. The White horse was the first seal I unlocked, as a symbol I gave him the gift of immortality and a pure white beard."
Everyone looked over at Wild Card. He did not budge, for he already knew what he was. "The second and third seal I held open competitions for. It was Charlie Slaughterhouse Slater and Peyton Blackheart Quade who came out on top, respectfully becoming the Red and Black horsemen."
"It is no mystery who the final and most deadly horsemen is." FreeLander gave 10 Crows a look of approval. "Peyton, be proud...For evil is in the blood that runs through your very veins. Your mother-raping father standing next to you, who has come to be known and feared as the indian outlaw, 10 Crows, has been my right hand man, and most hailed assassin. He was a certain choice for my Pale horseman...Death."
"After I unlocked the first four seals, the martyr seal was next. Young Jimmy MacPherson played an integral role in my plan, albeit an irrelevant part in of your useless cause in sacrificing his life. You knew him as Kid Colt." Ira stepped back, blown away by the reality of FreeLander's admissions; at the impact he had on that kid's life, just by picking him up along the way. He would always regret getting him involved, and never forgive himself for letting him die.
"The sixth seal was the hardest to unlock. By harnessing the power cosmic and tempting man with the ability of time-travel, Ira helped me bring the world to the brink of apocalypse with only one final seal remaining." Ira was beside himself with contempt.
"And so here we are, before the seven seals. Six of which are already unlocked. The seventh seal waits for one of you...the children of Adam, to step forth and open the gate, helping me unleash all the evils of hell on mankind."Ira acted only as he knew how, remaining steadfast in his opposition. Peyton was undecided, and began to once again doubt his destiny. Wild Card was too concerned. He no longer knew what was next for him; a feeling he had forgotten. And 10 Crows most eagerly pledged, "I will do it."
He steps forward as no one tries to stop him. Even Ira's feet stick to the ground as he wonders if this was truly where he belongs. After all, what sort of righteous man has an affair with his brother's wife while he is helplessly murdered just outside? Maybe Ira was always meant for his destiny in hell. 10 Crows goes to press his palm against the only empty seal on the door. A shimmer of light caught off a blade as it flew through the air. The knife sliced through 10 Crows' hand and pinned it to the wall next to the seal. The side of the handle read, "BUCK".
Marshall tackled 10 Crows from behind and ripped his hand free from the blade. He had survived the duel. Marshall got the knife out of the wall as 10 Crows knocked his elbows, releasing it into the air. Marshall drops while 10 Crows lunges for the knife. A piece of Kid Colt's vest falls out of Marshall's shirt with a bullet lodged in it. 10 Crows just misses the knife due to a quick jab to the gut from Marshall. The knife continues to plummet. Marshall swings around and catches it low, plunging it into 10 Crows' side. He lifts the handle of the blade up with tremendous force and cracks open his body from his ribcage to his chest-plate. 10 Crows falls to the floor and his insides spill out as Marshall lets his knife go with his fallen father. Wyatt Kaleb Troy III dies in the bowels of Dodge City as 10 Crows, the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.
Marshall stood over him. Seven horns sound off seven times. The final seal turns within the door and unlocks. FreeLander walks over to it as Marshall backs away. FreeLander helps the door open, behind it... a dark city is rising from the fiery ground. There is no sun, just flame all around.
10 Crows' body dissolves into the ground, leaving the blade clean on the floor. A spark of fire and ten crows fly out from the Dark City Dis, past the river of souls, just before the doorway. The crows collide and explode, forming 10 Crows out of the ground. He opens his eyes, they are pure black. Before he can move or speak, all the souls of his victims reach out and pull him in. Only the smallest circle of hell is reserved for people like 10 Crows, betrayers and mutineers. His soul lights on fire and is dragged into the dead river. Not even Devil FreeLander can intervene with their vengeance.
Marshall picks up his buck knife and stood before the doorway of hell with Ira, Peyton, and Wild Card Cass as FreeLander walked through. The hellish portal surrounded him and sucked him off the ground. As he levitated in the air, the heat from the flames burned his human flesh off. In the agonizing transformation, his legs stretched and inverted, his teeth grew fangs, and his horns emerged from his skull. His red leathery skin returned and his eyes changed colors. But that was not all. Out from his shoulders sprung dark scaly wings, and from his back dangled a pointed tail.
"It is time," the Devil bellowed out. His first champion of the apocalypse began to cross over realms. Marshall ran back to the tunnel and retrieved the weapons he had collected. He threw Ira his modified rifle and threw Peyton the Winchester rifle. That is when Ira saw it. Marshall already knew. He ran back over to them, fastening something concealed around his neck. Ira was too distracted by the rifle in Peyton's hands to notice. It was the same exact rifle that he used all those years ago to win the sniper contest back in Rochester. The walls around the doorway crumbled and cracked as the portal slowly spread. That Winchester was once his father's rifle. The entire tunnel began to shake. Ira remembered the Hyperion Summit, and what Petros the Gatekeeper said to him.
"We gotta get outta here!"
"What is that?"
"Close the door!"
Wild Card looked at all three of them trying to re-lock the door, but it was too late. "CASS!" Peyton yelled out for help as they struggled to get it closed and the cracks surrounding them split further into the ground. "Its no use!" yelled Peyton again. A massive claw grabbed a hold of the door from the other side. Its sharp nails scratched Ira and Marshall's hands. They released the door and jumped out of the way. It swung open and behind it was a beast the Devil called his champion. It looked like a mutated goat with snake eyes, the shoulders of a bison, wild werewolf hair, hind legs with hooves, and an all too familiar human feel. Ira looked at it as they all scrambled back. He peered through his scope and got a closer look at the beast. It reminded him of someone. One they had lost along the way, that was trapped inside this demon's body. Ira gasped, "It can't be!"
"What?" Marshall wondered, "Ira...what is it?"
Peyton shot the beast in the head and the bullet bounced right off harmlessly. It reached over for him and picked Peyton up. "It's the Kid, Marshall, it's Kid Colt!" Marshall and Wild Card turned back around and looked at the giant beast. Deep inside its wide vacant eyes, the Kid was in there. His soul had been banished to hell after he was murdered. His sentence was to spend eternity as an imprisoned berserker. The forces of hell have warped and mutated him into an unstoppable monster. It squeezed Peyton. And Peyton could do nothing. He could not even scream, his lungs were being crushed.
Marshall threw his buck knife, wedging one of the beast's fingers loose. Peyton was released from its grip and dangled from its hand. The beast flicked Peyton off of and he hit the cavern wall, crushing one of the guns in his holster. The champion of hell screamed in pain. When Peyton got back to his feet and drew his revolvers the one that hit the wall was slightly damaged. Peyton held it by the barrel and bashed it against the rock wall. The dragoon crumbles. The beast falls over onto Marshall and Wild Card Cass. Peyton looks over at Ira who is still standing, "The dragoons!" he yells, "Colt's dragoons!"
The beast hollers again, now aware of their plan. It jumps at Peyton. Ira shoots at its feet with his modified, slipping it up. Peyton pulls Colt's other dragoon out of his holster and smashes it against the bedrock. The beast covers its head with its bleeding claws and falls over, shrinking. Peyton picks up the shattered pieces of Kid Colt's dragoons and tosses them through the doorway. The remnants burn up in the hellfire. The demon bulk, mutated body mass, and possessed eyes are all withdrawn from Kid Colt like venom from a wound. The Kid falls to the floor, exactly as they remembered him. His white brim hat glowed. "Thank you," he said to the four of them, "for releasing me of my sins. Kid Colt remains in hell, but I...Jimmy MacPherson...go on to Paradise....because of you..."
"Kid..." Peyton cried out.
Before his ascension, Jimmy turned around and addressed them one last time, "You must run...you cannot defeat him..."
"You can with the Winchester," blurted out Ira. Peyton lifted up the rifle but it was empty.
"Here," Wild Card handed them a brandished bullet, "use this."
"What is it?"
"Forged from the only metal on earth to have touched the blood of Christ, this bullet, like that of the Winchester were once ordinary spearheads brushed with divinity and left with an everlasting power. The power to kill a demon." Wild Card explained, "But only one of you can wield this most noble of powers."
Marshall and Ira both knew. They looked on, along with Wild Card Cass, as Peyton loaded the single bullet into the Winchester rifle and cocked the gun back. It was always Peyton, guardian of man and angel of death.
Devil FreeLander levitated out of the doorway in gruesome form. His skin had boiled and scarred in a written code all over his body, repeating the same three numbers, "666". His tongue was forked and his horns now had curved in, more than doubling in size. The black in his irises spread over to his pupils. He was getting more powerful by the second. Marshall looked back at the door, smoking and cracking, ready to collapse. He moved past Wild Card and Ira unnoticed and stepped through the doorway. Peyton held the rifle up to his eye and exhaled. He pulled the trigger and the bullet sailed through the altar room, carving a hole straight through the Devil's head. He fell back from the air into hell. His corpse turned and spoiled, oozing over and spread for a rebirth.
"Its not over," Wild Card mumbled.
"What?" Ira exclaimed.
"Where's Marshall?" Peyton looked around.
Wild Card whistles and Royal, his dog, comes running down the tunnel. Out from his own ashes, the Devil spawns in primitive form. He flies up as a long-necked dragon, the serpent of the bible, spewing out fire everywhere. Marshall pops up from the other side of the doorway. Before Ira, and Peyton can react, the dragon makes for the door. Royal, Wild Card's dog, leaps right through the portal at the dragon. The flying serpent's fangs bite down on the dog, breaking open its skin. Marshall leans over and grabs the door. Light pours out of Royal and eradicates the dragon. Royal dies and the universe shifts back on balance.
The Devil is reduced to human form as he gets up, brushing his pants off, once again stuck as Jebediah FreeLander. Marshall looks back from watching FreeLander rise up to look upon Ira, Peyton, and Wild Card one last time. Ira is the only one who runs up to the door to try and stop him. He begs for Marshall not to close it. But Marshall ignores him, slowly tilting the momentum of the heavy door his way. Right before the door finally closes and the seven seals re-lock, FreeLander's frustrated roar shakes the foundations of hell, kicking up the sandy winds, and Ira sees Marshall pull something from his chest and activate it.
Echoes of FreeLander's final words after his roar reach Ira's ears, "Perhaps I'll hit up Vegas next." The blue pulse practically blinds Ira as he cries out in relief, and the door finally seals. All the memories he had lost after traveling through time with the amulet come rushing back to him. All the tasks he performed, all of the lives he recorded, and all the reasons for his labors became apparent. He finally had an explanation for his wild life. Thanks to the Devil, and the sacrifice Kid Colt, Wild Card Cass, Peyton, and most of all...Marshall gave, Ira now knew his meaning in life... the significance of his existence.
That is what you must learn from death: how it brings all to meaning by showing you the end.
Ira was such a fool. What he had thought to be unfrozen water, the center of the amulet, was actually harnessed power cosmic, taken from the stars themselves. Beautiful light carved out of endless darkness. Ira punished himself for the mistakes he made. The people he wronged. Addison Rey's soul was awaiting release from hell since his death, and now granted by Ira's guilt and resolve. Living or dead, their redemption were always intertwined. The rival sniper is now able to escape eternal torment. Addison returns the favor to Ira by guiding Marshall out of the underworld.
Ira and Wild Card help Peyton back through the tunnel. They are all exhausted, beaten beyond belief. Once again they have to leave behind one of their own. Once again it is Marshall. Ira and Peyton were heartbroken. Peyton's one true brother sacrificed his life to save the world. They both would always feel the same two feelings until the day they die. One being that they should have sacrificed their own lives instead of Marshall. And the other being a sense that he was still out there somewhere, watching over them, destined to roam space and time, free of hell. They escaped the caves as everything crumbled in all around them, clogging the tunnel, burying the doorway and the seven seals.
Wild Card led Peyton and Ira through the dungeons and back up to the cellar bar. The floor collapsed as they climbed the staircase. Up and out, they scurried from the Inferno as the entire plot of land fell in on itself. The fancy bar was brought to the floor and the ground itself sunk. All around them Union soldiers were chasing indian renegades and rebel outlaws out of town. Wild Card let go of Peyton and he fell over onto the dirt road, dragging Ira down with him.
Wild Card Cass looked around, the only one still standing. The battle was over. All the Black Pawnee generals were killed, and FreeLander was defeated. They were victorious. A rider gallops at them guns blazing and Wild Card lets it go unchecked. Devil FreeLander laughs in his prison as his ace in the hole acts out one last twist of fate. Captain Jack Bennett, the rebel outlaw soldier from Owensboro, Kentucky shoots Wild Card Cass in the gut, piercing the same kidney Peyton stabbed him in with the shard of glass. But this time it hurt. The old man falls down to his knees. Blood spills out of his side and splashes the sand. There, embedded in the floor, was a bottle from the dying saloon. He laughs and his kidney wound stings. He pulled it loose and had a sip. It was bourbon, the good stuff. Wild Card Cass takes down half the bottle in several bulk gulps before he smashes it against the charging horse's head.
He grabs a hold of the nose-diving horse with his other hand and swings around behind Bennett on the mount. Wild Card Cass stabs him in the chest with the broken bourbon bottle as they both hit the ground. Gunshots fire in the scrambled dust. Wild Card Cass stands up, bloodied with gunshots all over his chest, and draws his gun, keeping it pointed down at Bennett's head. Wild Card Cass unloads all the bullets in his pistol with his left hand. He pummels Captain Jack Bennett's face in with hot metal ammunition, making it impossible for anyone to ever identify the corpse.
Wild Card Cass falls to the ground and Ira and Peyton crawl up beside him. He was dying. Which could only mean one thing, his deal with the devil was over. Either he had won or lost, but right now it did not matter. For the precious few moments before his death, Wild Card Cass would not worry whether he goes to heaven or hell. It was the most peaceful moment in his life.
In the days after, Peyton and Ira buried Wild Card and Will in Dodge. The Marshals arrived with reinforcements, rounding up the remaining Black Pawnee on the outskirts of town. On behalf of the federal government and the town of Dodge, the Marshals awarded Ira with a medal of honor. Peyton would be taken into custody and eventually cut a deal. It was quite simple. The only way he could avoid capital punishment was to spend the rest of his life in servitude to the government. Peyton knew where his only redemption would be. Peyton Quade put on his Marshal's badge and re-opened the Dodge City Sheriff's office.
Ira would eventually return home to New York with Emma and get married. Over time, Ira opened up his own business, a small time courier in Rochester called, "The Herald". In his premiere edition he would run the first part of a five-part installment editorial called, "Gunnin' For Dodge".
Seasons of Dodge
Dodge City, KS
5 Years Later
A blue pulse wakes Peyton from outside the window. Before he can get out of his seat, the door to the sheriff's office opens. Peyton looks up and realizes that his time for redemption is over. The gun's icy barrel gets placed on his forehead. Peyton closes his eyes, ready for what's next. The gunman pulls the trigger and shoots Peyton dead.
The assassin drops the ancient black revolver next to the carcass and presses the amulet, transporting himself out of Dodge. Leaving the world behind along with his material shell, Peyton Quade's true essence moves on, returning to his final calling. And Marshall would never once regret killing his mortally imprisoned brother; for after escaping the depths of hell, he would begin to uncover ancient revelation covenants that both rule and explain this world that we all have come to call Earth.