In post-war America, 5 clandestine strangers come together on the road
to Dodge City, only to find themselves in the midst of government conspiracies and apocalyptic prophecies.Part 1: Reconstruction
Table of Contents:
Part 1: Reconstruction
Part 2: Hangin' at Mount Hope
Part 3: Gambits & Gunslingers
Part 4: Ira's Crusade
Part 5: The Inferno
Table of Contents:
Part 1: Reconstruction
Part 2: Hangin' at Mount Hope
Part 3: Gambits & Gunslingers
Part 4: Ira's Crusade
Part 5: The Inferno
June 2nd, 1865
New York, NY
"END OF THE CIVIL WAR" the paper read, falling to the desk. "How many times do you have to read it, before you can believe it?" asked the towering man in the shadowed corner.
"Just once," answered Marshall, "Just once, pop."
His father walked out, leaving his presence behind to further infect Marshall. He sat back down and grabbed the paper, pinning it up to his eyes to read again. The ink spilled to red and blew out of Marshall's nerves. In a sudden, wild rage he crumbled the newspaper into his palms, and threw it into the wall. Blistering fireworks over the Manhattan isle illuminated the office, and Marshall's eye caught a different headline, an unread headline. He picked the paper back up, ripped out the article, stuffed it into his pocket, and pulled out stationary. He quickly wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, and addressed it to, "President & Founder of Trojan Railroads: Wyatt Kaleb Troy III"
Marshall Troy left the note on his desk, and his office never to return. He boarded the Boston Post Railway, and took the 8:00 PM Trojan Bullet Express Train to Appomattox, VA...
The tents stood pointlessly around the town. He leaned over, picked up the rest of his bags, and stopped laughing. The men were tired. His corporal, Peter Walker was lying in the cot next to his empty one. Allowed to keep laughing by his tightly made bed. Ira's time was up. Even though he was one of the only ones who wanted to stay, he was the one who was leaving. "Well good luck, Sarge" the corporal said in a bitter slight. After all that war, four years of bloodshed and death, he had to move on when the rest of them had to stay on security detail. The war was over. The sniper column was finished, but not dissolved. Ira Davis was discharged from the 1st Battalion New York Sharpshooters; mustered out of his home amongst the Charlie Company. He carried away a severance pay hefty enough to fund a deep journey into the west. He would only take with him from the camp a New York Times newspaper and his modified rifle.
"Ten dollars," said the grizzly old man.
"I'll take it." Ira handed him the money and mounted the horse. He slipped his long rifle into a slot on the side of the horse and fixed his hat. Ira looked around. The war was finally over. He left Appomattox and began the ride west to his new homestead.
Lee's Summit, KS
Winfield threw the empty bottle against the wall. He kicked his unpolished boots onto the sheriff's desk. A loud burp and a scratch of the chin, made it official, no one cared. In the early morning there was a fire that burned down the schoolhouse, but no one got the sheriff. "Wild Card" Cass had no deputy, had no friends. But he did have the town's fear and respect. A wayward gang came into town. "Mad Dog" McCreedy got off his horse and told his crew to pillage and burn. They howled and they cackled, forty men in black hats and armed holsters, firing their guns into the air and throwing windows into pieces.
The townsfolk hid, even the men. Most of the posse ended up in the saloon getting drunk. Wild Card Cass walked out of his door ready to light a cloth that was sticking out of a whiskey bottle. The townsfolk watched the crazed old man carrying the torch. He walked down the street and straight into the saloon. A loud flash and ruckus blew flames all around. Almost every member of Mad Dog's gang hit the floor. He had blown the entire bar up. Wild Card walked out of the inferno as calmly as he walked in. Mad Dog McCreedy came barreling out after him coughing with his back on fire. Without any warning he drew his gun and fired on Wild Card. The drunken sheriff dropped to one knee ducking the bullet, swung around, pulled out his pistol holstered on his left hip, and fired on crying Mad Dog McCreedy. The bullet blew back his head. What was left of his crew that got themselves out of the saloon and were able to put the flames out on their backs, ran out of town in a frantic haste. They wanted no part of a man with the force of a god. Meanwhile Wild Card was laughing and coughing as he brushed the soot off his button-less vest. There, embedded in the sandy floor, was a bottle from the dying saloon. He picked the bottle up and wiped the label clear. It was bourbon, the good stuff. Wild Card Cass looked back one more time and walked away from the burning saloon. While passing the onlooking school teacher he popped open the bottle of bourbon and said, "Eye for an eye" before he started taking down the bottle's contents in several bulk gulps. It was empty before he returned to his door.
Mt. Hope, WV
The cell door slammed closed. "What's your name, boy" the deputy asked. The room was quiet. The kid looked at the deputy but did not answer. "I said....what's your name?"
The deputy stared at the top of his hat as Colt avoided eye contact, kickin' dirt on the floor.
"You can't be older than fourteen-"
"What... the hell... does it matter?"
The deputy held his gun belt in the air to attract his attention, shaking it softly, luring his eyes.
"You're Lady MacPherson's kid."
"Don't you say my momma's name."
"What's the matter, scared I've said it before?"
"I'll kill you."
The deputy punched his palm in phony outrage. Colt didn't move, but sat in the center of the bench, calmly resting his shackled arms behind his back. The deputy opened the cell door to teach the kid a lesson. But directly after a turn of the key opened the lock, Colt kicked off the bench, rolled back, slipped his arms under his legs, and bounced off the wall toward the guard. As the deputy dropped the prisoner's belt and tried to draw his own pistol, the kid's collision brought them both to the floor. In a scramble he sprung back up, pinning the deputy face-down with his knees, and throttled his neck with his shackles.
"Bill?" a deputy in the other room called, "Everything alright in there?" Colt was busy fiddling with the keys to get his restraints off. But the door was already opening, so he abandoned the keys, slid across the floor, swooping his guns up, and forcing the swinging door to open the other way, gun's a blazin'. The first deputy stumbles back. Three rounds Colt fires off, right, left, right... all hitting the same target, the deputy who had called out. Three more bullets ...left, right, left, capped off the remaining two officers in the jailhouse. He fired them with both arms crossed, the left one under the right one.
"Bill?" a deputy in the other room called, "Everything alright in there?" Colt was busy fiddling with the keys to get his restraints off. But the door was already opening, so he abandoned the keys, slid across the floor, swooping his guns up, and forcing the swinging door to open the other way, gun's a blazin'. The first deputy stumbles back. Three rounds Colt fires off, right, left, right... all hitting the same target, the deputy who had called out. Three more bullets ...left, right, left, capped off the remaining two officers in the jailhouse. He fired them with both arms crossed, the left one under the right one.
When Colt went back into the cell room to get the key and his belt, the original deputy was coming-to on the floor. "Who...who are you?"
Jimmy MacPherson took his time with his answer. He un-cuffed his shackles, put on his belt, and reloaded his pistols as the deputy crawled back to the far wall inside the cell. He swung his guns around, following him inside, and holstered one, leaving his right gun out. It was a point blank stance. The tip of the barrel, still warm with resonated heat from the previous gunfight, blistered the feint deputy's forehead. His thumb cocked the .44 Colt Dragoon back...
"The name's Kid Colt..."
"And I'm only sixteen."
He did not fire, but knocked the deputy across the face with the handle of his gun. Kid Colt ran out of the Sheriff's Office laughing. An agent of mayhem...
Outside Wichita, KS
The horses pounded hard against the dry sand. The storm around them was caused by them. A fleeing tornado of disturbance. The posse did not stop or slow. The loads on the horse's backs were heavy. Large bags stuffed with the coins and bills from the Wichita Bank. But they ceased to quit. They could not stop for they were being followed. The hunting party had been on them since Dodge, and they had wasted all the time they could robbing the bank. There was no getting away from them now. It was time for Peyton to defect. He looked across at his partner in crime, Charlie "Slaughterhouse" Slater, and did not say a word. A betrayal brewing that would not be forgotten. This had been coming for a while. Peyton hated himself. With a jerk, he pulled his horse off course and made a run for it. He spent two days on his own before he went into a town.
When he got there he entered the Saloon, desperate for a drink. The bartender asked him, "What can I get ya?" as he polished a mug with his towel. "Some of the good stuff," said Peyton as he threw down five crisp bills. The bartender fixed him the drink, collected the tab, but upon seeing the amount, looked over at Peyton. He recognized him in an instant. He ought to have, for Peyton had just been part of a bank job across the street not a month ago. "You're....B........b..b........" The bills slipped out of his hand and parachuted to the sticky floor. "You're Blackheart Quade."
"I'm not here to make trouble. I just want a drink." The bartender calmed down and picked the money back up with his jittery hands. Peyton slugged back the glass of whiskey and let the warm quench drown down his throat. He closed his eyes and pretended, for a second, that he wasn't one of the most wanted outlaws in the west.
Clifton Forge, VA
There were four men in the quiet saloon of Clifton Forge.
"What are you doin' here?" the bartender asked the one standing before the bar.
"I came to get my money back," declared Ira Davis, "and I ain't leavin' without my hat."
The man sitting at the edge of the bar kicked back his chair and drew his gun. Ira jousted back and the crack of his gun's fire was already sounding off. The man fell to the ground before he could pull the trigger. Ira walked over to him and knelt down, "Look's better on me anyways." He took off the dead man's hat and placed it back on his head. It was a new black hat with a brown leather lace around it. As he searched his pockets for the money owed to him, the bartender took a shotgun out from underneath the bar. It seemed to be already cocked as he held it up, ready to fire, and crept up on Ira.
Marshall Troy was the only other person in the saloon. Silently sitting in the corner, watching this whole ordeal go down. Marshall had unknowingly wandered up here from Appomattox, paralleling Ira's path, trying to pave a road of his own, while staying far enough away from the railroads. He had gotten himself lost almost immediately. It felt good not being known or noticed. His prestige and fame was finally gone. He was on his way to rebuilding his life. Marshall stood up and apprehensively went for his gun. Both the bartender and Ira looked up at Marshall. Ira realized the bartender was plotting to blast him away with a shotgun and acted. He reached up, over the bar, grabbed the bartender's head, pulled it down, and slammed it against the wood of the bar. Ira heard the bartender's body hit the floor as he shook the loose hairs from his hand. He put the coins he pillaged in his pocket and stood up, brushing off his coat sleeves.
"You stealin' that money?" asked Marshall, his gun now drawn.
"You gonna shoot me for it?"
"I'm claiming what is rightfully mine." Ira walked around to the other side of the bar and Marshall approached it, holstering his sidearm. Ira poured two shots of whiskey and left the bottle open right next to them. They both drank the whiskey. Marshall choked and coughed.
"What're you doin' out here, city boy?" asked Ira.
"Is it that noticeable?"
"I smelled it when I walked in..." They both laughed and Marshall poured two more shots and took both of them, back to back, "I'm lookin' for a fresh start," he said in an empty breath. Marshall pulled out the newspaper article he took from his office and tried to flatten it on the bar counter.
"You're goin' to Dodge," Ira said before he even had a chance to read it.
"I thought it's as far west you can go without hittin' California."
"And now that the war's over, where else can you get payed to shoot a man?"
"You're headed out that way too?"
"I was thinkin' about it, before I got caught up in all this..."
"Gamblin'...You see...I never miss my mark..."
"Is that right? What's your name cowboy?"
"Sergeant Ira Davis, Union Army, Sharpshooter Division."
"That's a mouthful."
"And you are?"
Marshall looked around for inspiration to think of an alias. He could not let anyone know his true identity and risk leaving a trail for his father to find. He noticed his hunting knife, strapped to the other side of his belt. "Buck..." he said, "Buck Troy."
"Well Buck, I'll make it easy for you. You can call me Ace."
"...because you never miss."
"Ha. That's right Slick," laughed Ira. They had another shot of whiskey each. "It can be a rough ride to Dodge, even if you're an experienced rider," Ira explained, "You're gonna go a couple days at a time without a bed or fresh water."
"I know. I'm ready for it."
"What do you say we ride together? You watch my back, and I'll show you how to watch it right."
"You said you're from the Sharpshooter Division?"
"For three and a half years."
"I was goin' to leave after this drink."
"Might want to make it a couple more," suggested Ira as he poured two more shots.
"What are we waitin' for?"
Three deputies and the sheriff rode to the saloon and dismounted their horses.
"Them..." answered Ira as he took his shot, picked up the bartender's cocked shotgun, and ducked down behind the bar, slowly making his way to the front door.
Marshall pulled out his gun, kicked a table over, and got behind it. When the first deputy walked in, Ira held his breath. The other two deputies walked in behind him. Ira rolled out from behind the bar, and barked, "Hey!" The deputy closest to him turned around and caught a shotgun shell in the chest. As the deputy's body hit the ground, Marshall stood up and fired his pistol at the other two deputies turning around. The bullet blew off one of their ears, and Ira cocked back the shotgun. He tried to fire it but it was empty. Marshall fired another shot and missed, but before the last deputy could shoot him, Ira flipped the shotgun around and swung it into the unsuspecting deputy's face. The other deputy writhed on the floor in pain and cupped his missing ear. The sheriff walked in slowly. He spat on the floor as he got in Ira's face. "You killed one of my men," he said. Ira let the shotgun slip out of his hands. "We don't want any trouble," Ira tried to explain.
"It's too late for that..." the sheriff said coldly as he unbuckled his holster, "Get out of my town." Ira and Marshall went to leave but there the sheriff stayed in the doorway. "We're not going anywhere, are we?" asked Marshall.
"Don't look like it," said Ira as he drew his gun. But it was knocked out of his hand by the sheriff before he could fire it. The sheriff then lunged at Ira but was blown back. The handle of Marshall's buck knife was sticking out of his chest as he fell to his knees, exhaling his last breath.
Marshall pulled out his hunting knife and wiped it off before he put it back on his hip. Ira finished off the bottle of whiskey and took another bottle to go. "We better get out of this town before there's no one left."
Marshall stood frozen, too shocked at his own actions to move, "Back in the city, I would be hung for this."
"We might be if we stay any longer. Come on, let's go..." The two of them gathered their stuff and left the saloon. Before Ira left he caught a glimmer of the sheriff's badge. He ran back, pulled it off the lifeless body, and put it in his pocket. Something inside him made Ira feel like he would need the sheriff badge in the future. He laughed and shook his head, then he got back up to leave. When he got outside, Marshall was already on his horse. He gave Ira a look and asked, "Do I want to know?"
Ira once again laughed and shook his head. They left Clifton Forge never to return and began their ride to Fort Dodge.
Part 2: Hangin' at Mount Hope
March 22, 1837
"Push Charlotte, the baby's startin' to crown," the doctor said as the towering man stood behind him, maintaining stern eye contact with his beloved wife. It could never be said whether his look was one of endearment or intimidation for his wife would die shortly after giving birth. She continued pushing until a tremendous cry was heard, but their was no relief. All of the pain and strain her body was being put through did not quit. Charlotte lifted her head up, she could barely speak, her vocal chords tensed past ability.
The agonized mother was almost blinded by her encroaching destiny. Her heart was giving. Her oldest boy stood his back up in his chair outside. Young IV thought he heard his mother's call. So he poked his head into the room quietly. The towering man knew before the doctor did... She was dying. He threw the doctor out of the way and took his baby. After cutting the chord, Wyatt brought the baby up to Charlotte for her to see. He put the baby's powder white cheek against her red one. And she said with her dying breath, "Name him Marshall."
July 11, 1865
Marshall stands behind a tree in the middle of the West Virginia wilderness. He scans the ground around him, holding his buck knife in his hand, mouthing the words he is repeating in his head. He deems it clear to take a step out from the tree and immediately freezes. A gunshot echoes out. His knife is blown out of his hand. Marshall holds both his hands up. "Okay!" he screams. Ira gets up from the grassy ridge above him and laughs as he glides down the hill towards Marshall. His modified rifle slung over his shoulder. When he reaches Marshall, he is crouched over, retrieving his knife. It is not bent nor broken. "Lucky," Marshall says with Ira leaning over him.
"Luck had nothin' to do with it, Slick"
"Well...you were right..." admitted Marshall.
"Oh yeah? 'bout what?"
"I lost you around the bend....by the time I got here you were just waitin' for me, weren't you"
"You still got some stuff to learn, but I'd say your gettin' the hang of it-"
Just then, Ira draws his revolver at Marshall. Marshall instinctively draws too. No hesitation, unlike the bar in Clifton Forge. But when he sees Ira's finger squeeze the trigger, Marshall leaps out of the way instead of firing his own. An unknown force comes rushing past Marshall, barely missing his back. Marshall watches, helplessly as he falls to the ground. A black bear charges Ira. The bear is not phased by Ira's revolver bullet and tackles him, keeping stride. It runs through Ira but slows down as it prepares to turn around. Marshall races over to Ira and gets him up. He had dropped his rifle in the skirmish. Now dazed and confused, it lay still on the ground as their only means of defeating this monster.
Marshall carries Ira with his arm across his shoulders. There is no way they can make it back to the horses in time. He rolls Ira down in the brush, and stands before the circumventing bear. Marshall pulls out his gun along with his knife. His hands are full. He'll have six shots, when one had already done nothing. They'd have to be straight shots. None of which can afford to miss, or he'll have to pay with his life. The bear roared and charged once again. The longer Marshall waited, the better a chance he would have at hitting his rapidly approaching target. All the shots would have to be at once. He took a breath, and tried to focus on his recent training.
Steady arm. Balanced wrist. Anticipate the backfire.
He unloaded all six shots face to face with the bear and was trampled, just like Ira. But still awake, still aware. He searched around on the floor for his knife. Yards ahead, he saw Ira's sniper rifle, catching a glimmer of the sun in its scope. The bear was shook by the shots and no longer running, but licking its wounds just inches away from Ira. He could feel the presence. Ira's eyes opened, he was still in the forest. The trees above him gave it away. He turned his head over, expecting to see Marshall but found the bear instead. He did not move, but continued to lay still.
Meanwhile, Marshall had recovered the rifle and was on one knee, aiming the sights on the bear. He exhaled and pulled the trigger. The shot rang out like before, but the instances were far from the same. Marshall, for one, was on the other end this time around. The bullet from the sniper broke the bear's spine and it collapsed beside Ira. He sprung up and finished the bear off with a shot in the head. They returned to their horses and made their way back to camp.
Ira had cut the bear up into meat and a skin for Marshall. An award for his first victory. It was getting late, they built a fire and reminisced around it about their eventful day. "Where are we even?" Marshall rebuked.
"You're in Mount Hope," answered an outside voice. Ira and Marshall both drew, but when the figure came out of the shadows, it was revealed that they were both matched by a kid wielding two guns. "There's no way you can get both of us before I get you," informed Ira.
"See...now I have to shoot you first."
Marshall looked around nervously. He recalled his fight with the bear and decided to take a deep breath. His mind cleared and he saw what to do. Marshall put away his gun and pulled a chunk of meat off the fire. "You're welcome to join us" he offered, "there's plenty." The kid, now pointing both his guns at Ira was caught off guard by Marshall's offer. He stood still. Ira did not flinch. The kid looked down at his guns and then over at Marshall by the fire. He holstered them with a flip, a brief flare in Ira's face, and walked over, saying, "What'd ya got?...Bear?" He sat next to Marshall and took another piece, roasting on a stick, out of the fire. Ira slowly approached the fire with his gun still out. He put his foot on the log he was sitting on and rested his revolver on his lap. But it did not matter. The kid was eating like he hadn't any food for days. Marshall looked over to Ira. "Put the gun away, Ace." With those words, Ira lost his predisposition and holstered his weapon. "So what's your name?"
Without letting the mouthful of charred meat stop him, he answered, "Kid Colt."
"I'm Ira, and this is Buck Troy."
"Well...Kid Colt," Marshall continued, eager to move the conversation away from his name, "how do you know this is Mount Hope?"
"It's my home."
"Can't find much food in your own home?"
"The town is my home, not the wild. My mother owns the hotel."
"Why are you out here?" asked Marshall.
"Killed me some deputies. Didn't go over too well with the townsfolk."
Kid Colt looked around for judgmental eyes but found none. These man were different from the other stiffs. They had their own lives, their own problems that they were dealing with. They were not too brash to condemn him for his own misgivings. These kind of men were his people. Kid Colt decided to confide in them, "They're going to hang her if I don't hand myself in."
"You're mama?" verified Ira.
"She done nothin' wrong."
"...and you need our help?"
"That's what it comes down to, yeah. I can't do it alone..."
Marshall stared into the fire, "Why?"
"Why should the life of your mother be any different to us from the lives of wasted deputies?"
Kid Colt stood up. "You watch yourself."
"Slick has a point, kid. Ain't no man without a code. So tell us, Colt...what's yours?"
Kid Colt took some time to gather his thoughts on the question. He decided that the only way to portray his personal code of honor to them, is to tell them his story.
"My daddy died when I was four. I can barely remember him. He left us with nothin'. But god bless my momma, she got us by. It wasn't long until we got the hotel, and became well known in town. And it wasn't until I was sixteen that I found out how we got all of it. The men in that town, the deputies, the shopkeepers, the sheriffs, the mayors, the husbands....the fathers...all had their way with my momma and threw her their money and their pity..." Colt paused a while, in the prevention of tears, and gathered his brave voice back, "I intend to pay each and every one of them back."
"When's the hangin' set for?"
"I have till dawn."
"If we help you...there are a couple of things we must agree upon first," declared Ira.
"What are they?"
"We will not help you burn the town down, only save your mother."
"And you must come with us afterward," interrupted Marshall.
"We're going to Dodge, and putting our past behind us along the way. There we can start fresh, as better men, and you can forget about all this...Come with us, Colt"
Kid Colt did not answer, but just looked at Marshall over the fire, and back over to Ira next to him, still standing on the log. Ira looked over at Marshall as a reflex, after all, this kid didn't seem like trouble, he screamed trouble, but Ira quickly gave way to the notion. He turned back to the kid and said, "We get in and get her out...with as little harm done."
"Agreed," Colt nodded his head, "so we have a deal?"
"We're all yours, kid," Ira granted, "What's the plan?"
"Well judging by the looks of the two of you, we should attack on two fronts..." Kid Colt went on from their for practically the rest of the night. The plan was set. They got a few hours of sleep and slowly rode into town under the fleeting night sky.
June 3rd, 1865
Marshall left his hotel room and put his newly bought duster on. With good timing too, for it was pouring rain outside. It would rain all day, like the heavens were gutted above the earth. He took a stagecoach to the Union Army Graveyard. He walked along the rows of crosses until he made it to one specific grave. He knelt down in the puddling rain and had a look for himself for the first time. The tombstone read, Pvt. Wyatt Kaleb Troy IV. Here marked the death of Marshall's older brother. He had found out by mail some time ago in New York City, while he was still sitting hopelessly in that hollow office. He could not help but recall the fondest memories of his brother growing up.
After their mother had died, IV took a controlling interest in his brother's well-being. Whereas their father was removed from them completely. Always away on business, they were raised by nannies and servants. They grew up together in fear of their father. He was an important man, and seemingly emotionless. That much they knew. To them, as kids, his unseen presence made him more than a man. He was a master of their world, an unexplainable and distant force in their lives. As the years moved on from Marshall's birth and their mother's death, Wyatt became increasingly irate. When Wyatt was home in New York he would frequent the saloons and his own liquor cabinet. IV was old enough to register his father's rage. IV protected Marshall from their father as much as he could. Many times he got in between Marshall and Wyatt's fist. Their father blamed Marshall for his wife's death. Although he would never say so, it was clear, that he wanted Marshall to be responsible for losing his beloved. But their stood IV, constantly in the way, which infuriated Wyatt even more. IV took a great deal of his father's wrath, and never once put the guilt on his younger brother. But over time it changed IV. It turned him into a broken man. And after their childhood ended, Marshall's relationship with his father and brother was never the same.
July 12, 1865
July 12, 1865
Mt. Hope, WV
The clouds made the night last a little longer before dawn. With enough time, Ira, Marshall, and Kid Colt sneaked into place. Kid Colt ran behind the shops and through the alleyways. The noose was set at the head of town, right before the chapel, hung around a tall oak tree. Ira got into the chapel unnoticed, and made his way up the bell tower. Kid Colt came up from an alley onto Main street and got a good look at the chapel and oak tree. The doors opened and his mother was escorted out, bound and gagged, by two shotguns. It was a parade. Kid Colt took a step out from the shadows and retroactively realized it was a trap. Before he cold raise his guns, he could feel a barrel on his back and hear the cocking of rifles all around him. Kid Colt closed his eyes and dropped his guns, keeping his hands raised. The Sun broke through the clouds. It was dawn.
Colt was escorted to the drop-deck built beneath the noose, where he was reunited with his mother. They hugged and she kissed his cheek as she cried. Kid Colt was forced up the deck to be fitted for the noose. "Don't do this!" screamed Lady MacPherson for her boy. The townsfolk came out as his hands were bound and his neck wrapped. Lady MacPherson cried and hollered, "He gets a trial!" with all her might, to no avail. "Mom!" called Colt. "Mom!" she stopped yelping to heed his last words. "Save your strength," he said to her with a wink, "It'll be okay." Just out of town Marshall mounted his horse. Lady MacPherson dropped to her knees before the drop-deck with the entire community now gathered behind her. The Sheriff, the Mayor, and the Minister all stood, with shotguns, along with Kid Colt on the drop-deck as he was finally prepared for execution. The rope was tight. Deputies stood all around the deck and throughout the crowd. Marshall kicked his horse to full speed as he raced into town. Lady MacPherson cried into her handkerchief, hopeless tears. The Mayor made a sanctimonious speech about being virtuous now, after the war, more than ever. The crowd cheered for him, and his hand reached for the lever. A deputy in the crowd noticed a glimmer from the bell tower. A shot rings out and the Mayor's hand is blown off. The lever gets splattered with blood. Everyone screams and they all run for cover. The deputy lifts up his rifle. The Mayor drops to his knees. Marshall comes up to the oak tree and chapel right behind the deputy. Before the deputy can pull the trigger, Marshall runs his horse past him, grabs his rifle by the barrel, pulls his horse into a turn -around stop, and cracks the deputies head with the butt of the rifle.
The Sheriff and the deputies open fire on Marshall, his horse takes a couple hits and crashes to the ground. In the smoke cloud formed by the kicked up dirt Marshall escapes. Ira finds the noose in his cross-hairs. Lady MacPherson gets up and makes for her boy. Kid Colt looks to run but the sheriff pins his shotgun on him. "Don't make a god damn move, boy."
"If you put your gun down, Guy," Kid Colt permitted, "we'll let you walk outta here alive."
"Ha!" scoffed the sheriff. "'We'!" The sheriff blew the shotgun into the floor below Kid Colt's feet and he fell through. The rope tightened and Ira missed his shot. Marshall jumped into the fleeing crowd and blended right in. Ira reloaded under the window, as he heard "pings" and "cracks" bouncing off the windowsill. They were onto him. His location had been compromised. This is when the regiment would move out, but Ace had to take one more shot. Marshall got over to the drop-deck as Lady MacPherson climbed the four stairs. The Minister aimed his shotgun at her and mumbled, "To hell with you harlot." His finger fell down the trigger as it went limp. Marshall cut into his back with his buck knife, paralyzing him.
The Sheriff pulled his revolver on Marshall as the body dropped. Ira raised his rifle up and aimed out of the window. He swept the deck from the adjacent angle. From his scope the closest he could see was Marshall fending off the deputies, after him was the minister on the floor, barely alive, and Lady MacPherson going for the Minister's shotgun. The Sheriff sets his sights on Lady MacPherson while her son chokes to death behind him. Ira makes his decision and pulls the trigger. The bullet goes through the sheriff's thumb and breaks the gun's chamber from its handle. Marshall jumps off the deck and picks up Colt's legs, releasing his throat for the time being. Thankfully, his neck did not snap on the initial drop. "The knife! Get the knife!" Marshall yelled for Lady MacPherson. Meanwhile, Ira was already making his way downstairs and the rest of the deputies were closing in on the drop-deck. Marshall tried to reach for his revolver, but he was on his toes as it was, trying to keep Kid Colt from choking. "Hold on, kid" Marshall encouraged, "Hold on for you mother."
Lady MacPherson got the knife out of the minister's back with little hesitation. The Sheriff got back up from the impact of his wounded hand, and grabbed her neck with his unharmed hand. She discreetly threw the knife into the shotgun hole in the deck, narrowly missing Marshall's feet. Ira finishes running down the bell tower staircase and out the chapel door. He shoots one more time from his rifle, pinning a deputy in the shoulder, bringing him down, and switches to his revolver. Their backs are turned to him as they all approach the deck. Marshall lets go of Colt, re-tightening the noose around his neck, and goes for his knife. He picks it up, cleans it off, puts it in his mouth, and jumps up, grabbing the splintered deck floor, climbing back up. Ira fires his shots with a generous amount of time in between. Never fatally wounding a deputy. Marshall hustles up the deck and onto the oak tree. He wraps his legs around the branch and starts shimmying his upside-down way over to the hanging rope, but Marshall could not get to him in time. Kid Colt could no longer breathe. Ira was too busy dealing with the deputies to give any aid. His sight was failing, his world to black, and the Sheriff was about to kill his mother.
The plan had failed.
December 31, 1862
New York, NY
Marshall walked out of his office to join his father and his brother for New Years Eve. They were to meet at Trojan Towers. Their company headquarters. Marshall became a doctor out of school, where his older brother, IV took on the family business and was now second in command of Trojan Railroads. When Marshall got to the towers, he found his brother's office to be empty. Fireworks lit up the night outside, and flashed through the towers. Marshall avoided his father's office and went down to the saloon, in one last attempt to find his brother. There he was sitting at the bar with a dirt-torn suit on, holding a nearly empty bottle in one hand and a slip of paper in the other. Marshall sat down next to him. "IV, what's gotten into you?"
"Have a drink, doc. Honor your brother." He poured some of the whiskey into a glass in front of Marshall. He looked at the glass and grabbed the bottle from IV's hand. "To you," he said as he drank from it.
"I'm done, Marshall."
"If I ever see him again...I'll kill'em."
"He's a monster, and I can't...you're...."
"IV, what's goin' on?"
"I enlisted this morning."
"Into the war! Are you mad! He'll never let you get away with it."
"He doesn't know. And as for Freelander, if he comes for me, I'll kill him."
Jebediah Freelander was a government bounty hunter. A free agent of death, and Wyatt Kaleb Troy's right hand man. As the boys entered adulthood, and Marshall went off to school, IV apprenticed for Wyatt. In his tenure he had learned many terrible truths and dark secrets that his father kept. IV uncovered his father's success to be built on the blood and bones of innocent people. One last fact that sealed IV's hatred for him. He could no longer lie.
"But there had to be something? Something more than what we know...something...you're not telling me...IV. What are you not telling me?"
"Mother...our mother, Marshall. She was Pawnee. She was...an injun."
"And that's not all," exhaled IV as his stature dropped in despair. "He killed them...After she died, the women, the children, all of them, he burnt their land to the ground for the railroad....It was his plan all along."
"That can't be. What kind of man could do such a thing?"
"The only reason they met was because of that god damn railroad. It's the only reason he's rich and we're alive. Don't you see little brother? We're his evil incarnate."
"How could he get away with it?"
"Told the courts he had just cause, blaming it on some Black Pawnee named 10 Crows."
"And they bought his story about an indian outlaw?"
"It was no story. 10 Crows is real. Accounts of his robberies and duels are all over Wichita and Dodge. According to the paper, bein' a rebel an' all, he joined up with the confederates, and is fighting in the war. Well I'm gonna go find'em!"
"You're really goin' through with this?"
IV handed Marshall the slip of paper he was holding in his hand. It was an Union Army recruitment stub. He was shipping out tomorrow. The brothers sat in the bar and drank all night.
Marshall walked IV to the docks the next morning. Marshall said good-bye to his brother. "I'm going with you," he said, "you can fight and I can treat."
"Don't be a fool. You need to stay here, Doc" IV hugged his brother and walked out onto the ramp for the ship.
"Who's gonna protect me?"
"You're a grown man now, Marshall. Just remember who you are, not where you're from, and you'll be okay." Marshall shook his head, too upset and overwhelmed to respond. "And Marshall..." IV yelled out from the boat, "Never come after me." He watched his brother sail away south, into the war. In the months to come, Marshall, under pressure from his father, closed his practice, and took IV's place as Vice President of Trojan Railroads.
Marshall would never see his brother again. And by the time he got to him at Appomattox, he had uncovered every mystery and secret in his father's dark life that IV had. Marshall sat by the grave, rehashing all this in his head, and finally mustered up the will to say good-bye to his lost brother, "I might be breaking part of your last words, but I'm here to tell you that I'm devoting my life to the rest." He left the cemetery and his past behind, and began his journey to Dodge.
July 12, 1865
Marshall reached for the rope while hanging onto the tree, but could not get close enough. Kid Colt was dying. Ira finished shooting his revolver and returned to his rifle. He reloaded it and planted his feet. Ignoring the deputies, he lined up a perfect shot. Ira "Ace" Davis iced a bullet through the head of the Sheriff, snapping the noose loose from the tree. Lady MacPherson and her son were released. She immediately ran to his side, as he did not move on the floor. Ira tried to reload as a deputy came up on him, cocking back his pistol. Hanging like a monkey from the tree, Marshall swung around and shot the two remaining deputies. He then jumped down off the tree. And they both made their way over to Kid Colt. "Jimmy! Jimmy!" his mother panicked by his side, "He's not breathing!"
"Step aside, Ma'am" Marshall holstered his gun, passed Lady MacPherson of to Ira, and knelt down before Colt. He checked his breathing by putting his ear up to the kid's mouth. "We need to start compressions,"
"What?" Ira froze.
"Trust me, I'm a doctor" said Marshall. "I used to be..." he muttered as he pounded Colt's chest with his arms repeatedly. "If now was the time, I would explain..." He bent over to check his breathing again when Kid Colt stirred awake. He was okay. "Oh, thank the lord," praised Lady MacPherson as she held her son in her lap and stared at the big yellow sun rising.
Without wasting any time they got Colt up. "We gotta get goin' kid" advised Ira while Marshall got their horses and the Mayor rolled over to his feet. Marshall spoke to him bluntly, "Everyone will be okay if they seek proper medical attention. Everyone except the Sheriff, he's dead. We are taking the kid with us and never coming back here. It'll be your town's best interest to let us go" The befuddled Mayor shook his head speechlessly.
Kid Colt bid good-bye to his mother. She was done crying, and knew this is the way things had to be. She took off her necklace and put it around Colt's neck. It was his father's wedding ring. Kid Colt hugged his mother and mounted his horse. They left before noon. Three horses and plenty of rations from the hotel.
After a couple of hours riding they came across a man on the verge of death. He was too sickly to sit up and was huddled over a rotten corpse of cattle. It was a horrendous sight. Marshall dropped down from his horse and began to set up camp.
"What are you doing?" asked Ira.
"I'm making camp for the night." Kid Colt followed Marshall, getting off his horse, and beginning to unpack. "Guy looks like he could use a nice warm fire, maybe some fresh food and water."
"Another charity....We're gonna be a small army by the time we reach Dodge," Ira groaned.
Marshall woke the starving man, gave him some water, and asked, "What's your name?"
After a drink and a couple coughs, his airy voice answered, "Peyton...my... name is Peyton...Quade"
Ira and Marshall were unaffected by the name, but Kid Colt was flabbergasted. There was no way that he was sitting next to one of the greatest outlaws in the west. This man was a beggar. Just then the man got enough energy to roll over, revealing his black charcoal revolvers. Kid Colt could not believe it, "It is him."
Back in Mount Hope, the Mayor picked the Sheriff's pistol up off of the blood-stained floor and walked over to the hotel. He entered the lobby and without any warning fired three shots into the chest of Lady MacPherson. Kid Colt was too far away to hear the shots that killed his mother, and he wouldn't come to know of her death until it was too late.
Part 3: Gambits and Gunslingers
Late July, 1865
"Where are we?" asked Peyton, his first words in four days.
"Somewhere near the border of Kentucky and Missouri," answered Ira.
"Can't go back," he mumbled.
"Go back where?" Kid Colt asked, enticed by their new companion.
Kid Colt looked over at Marshall and Ira, worried.
"Rest now, friend. Gather your strength," Marshall advised.
Days later he would talk to them by a fire. "I was a rancher until my herd died off. Some sort of infection gott'em. I don't know. I tried eating the meat before I starved, and that's how you found me."
"You're not very much of a rancher"
"That's because he's an outlaw!" blurted out Kid Colt.
"I read about him and those charcoal guns in my dime novels..." Kid Colt was careful not to reveal his true youth," ...when I was a kid."
Marshall and Ira were taken aback by Peyton's admittance. "It was only a matter of time before ya'll found out....I'm wanted for twenty accounts of murder and who knows how many accounts of grand larceny both from banks and the US government. I'm known as Blackheart Quade, but I beg you... do not be so quick to condemn me, for I wish to only be called Peyton."
Marshall could not believe how open he was being. It inspired him to do the same and tell them all his real name, and reveal who he truly was, a prince of wealth and nation, but he still had some reservations which kept him from doing so.
"As long as we're being honest," Ira continued, "We're on our way to Dodge, through Wichita."
"I appreciate you taking care of me, but I cannot come with you."
"At least stay with us until we reach the Mississippi," haggled Marshall.
"What do you want with a washed up outlaw?"
"For one, your wounds still need healing. So you'd be better off under my care. The other reasons I have yet to figure out. What'd ya say?"
Peyton agreed to accompany them to the Mississippi river, but he would go no further. Now that the truth was out, all inhibitions were called off. Kid Colt rode next to Blackheart Quade and interrogated him about his life of glory and gang riding. And Peyton was forced to relish his past.
March 23, 1845
'The boy crawled out of the burning wreckage. His mom was on the other side. He dug at the fiery carnage for his family. But they were nowhere to be found. An older boy runs up to him and takes him by the arm, pulling him away from the fire.' Peyton wakes up terrified. It was eight years ago to this day, that his home was burnt down and Charlie Slater saved him from the fires. Peyton takes a deep breath. He is still safe in bed. In between Charlie and Johnny Stacks, his two closest friends in the orphanage. Peyton gets up and heads for the kitchen. He is seventeen years old and has been in an orphanage since he was nine. Before he can get to the kitchen, he is pulled from the doorway by a feminine hand. Once in the shadowed corner, he can hear the voices in the kitchen talking and see his abductor's identity. It was Sweet Maggy Dillon, a blond hair, blue eyed firecracker. She wore a cowboy hat and dirty white jeans and always hung out with the boys. Right now, Peyton and Maggy face's were no farther than a couple inches away from each other. "Maggy, I-"
"Sh!" She put her finger over his lips and made a motion for him to listen. He realized that the priest was panicking about something in the kitchen. They listened closely, "The man from the bank said we have until Friday..."
"until they foreclose upon the orphanage..."
"And what about the children?"
"They must find another place to live."
Peyton had heard enough. He pulled himself away from Maggy and ran into the backroom. He awoke Johnny and Charlie, and told them to come with him. "Peyton!" Maggy exclaimed, "What are you gonna do?"as she followed them outside. The four sneaked over to four hitched horses. "Peyton, what are we doing out here?"
"It's the middle of the night."
"We're robbing the bank," answered Peyton.
"What!" screamed out Maggy, as Charlie and Johnny both said it in unison.
"If we don't, the Orphanage is gonna close down and we starve," argued Peyton.
Charlie looked over at Peyton and then at Johnny and Maggy. Johnny shrugged his shoulders and Maggy giggled as she rolled her eyes. An innocent face for a sinister mind. This was her plan all along. They mounted their horses in agreement. "How though?" Charlie asked, "We don't have any guns."
"The bank is closed. We don't need any guns. Just a way to get through the doors." Peyton nodded at Johnny and led Charlie, Johnny, and Maggy over to the bank under the dark night sky. As they crossed the street, a deputy keeping night watch saw them. He did not sound the alarm, but followed them from a distance. They got around to the back door of the town bank. Peyton got off his horse and examined the lock. "Johnny, come here..." Johnny Stacks got off his horse, along with the rest of them, and accompanied Peyton. "This looks just like the lock on the cupboard in the kitchen. Can you break it?"
"I'll give it a try, Peyton."
Maggy and Charlie kept watch as Johnny tried to pick the lock. He pulled a wire out of his wallet and a pin out of his jacket pocket. Together he probed the inside of the lock with his ear pressed against it. The deputy, meanwhile, had caught up to them and was now just around the corner from Maggy, who was keeping guard. He jumped out and hit her with the butt of his revolver. She stumbled back, falling to the ground, and Charlie attacked him. The deputy shot at Charlie and woke up the town. Each shot amazingly missed as Charlie ran straight at the deputy. His chambers were empty, and now the charging kid was right on top of him. The deputy took the blow, and fell on his back, sticking his foot out, and lunging Charlie forward on the roll. Charlie was thrown over to the deputy's horse, as the deputy got up and reloaded his sidearm. Charlie quickly got up and onto the horse. He kicked it and convinced the beast to run down its own master. Peyton was assisting Maggy up as the deputy fell, and retrieved his fully loaded revolver.
"That should be mine," Charlie Slater said as he sat upon the horse.
Johnny broke the lock and opened the door. The group rallied at the door, Charlie got off the horse and Peyton helped Maggy back. Once inside, Peyton led them to the vault. To their luck, the door was left open. This bank looked more like a store, as the town of Dodge was still in its infant years. Johnny found some bags and handed them out to the rest of them. As Peyton received his bag he heard footsteps at the door. "Down!" he said in a soft scream. The team hid in the shadows.
Peyton put his back next to the doorway and peered out at the door they came in. A figure with a wide hat and shimmering shield pinned to his chest slowly walked in with his elbow out and gun drawn, pointing straight up. "It's the sheriff" he said to them behind him. Maggy looked back after surveying the boys' faces to see Peyton's, but he was gone around the corner. She jumped forward and turned the corner to see Peyton behind the sheriff with his hand over the Sheriff's mouth. With Peyton's other hand he held the deputy's gun, pressing the barrel into the Sheriff's back. "You kill me, you better run and never look back."
That was the man's final words as Peyton pulled the trigger and murdered him. The proximity of the shot muffled its noise and singed the clothing of the dead sheriff's into his own skin. They ran out of the bank, carrying bags full of money. They had completely cleaned out the bank's savings. The bank would have nothing to back their business up on. Everything would get wiped back to zero. The Orphanage's debt would be the least of their worries. As they rode out of town on their horses. Maggy ran by the Orphanage and dropped one of her money bags at the front door. They rode out of Dodge thinking they would never return, and headed for Wichita.
August 4th, 1865
"Everybody hands up, no quick moves, and nobody will have to die," said the man in the confederate captains suit. He waved his gun at the bank teller as his men looted all the hostages' pockets and cash boxes. "The vault fools, go for what's in the vault, " he pointed with his gun. "Sorry, sir" one said as he scurried back. "Ya'll support yankees here?"
"Surrendered to the north has Kentucky?" he screamed.
Ira, Marshall, Peyton, and Kid Colt rode into town. "I'll teach ya 'lesson in loyalty!" a shout echoed from inside the bank as they rode by. Kid Colt looked over, being the closest one to the building, and gauged everyone's reaction. Shots began to ring off one after one. Kid Colt and Marshall immediately got off their horses and sprang for the front doors. Ira moved on his horse around back, while Peyton looked around to see if any lawmen were gathering. When the coast was clear he rode over to a low roof, stood on his horse, and jumped onto it. He crawled up and onto the next story roof where there were windows.
Peyton could here Marshall negotiating through the front. Ira was trying to bust the lock from the back door. Peyton sneaked up to an open window and peered in. Inside was the captain holding a woman teller by the throat in front of him. Right next to the window was a rafter. Peyton quietly climbed into the ceiling. His men ran in and out gathering up all the money before him and the hostages in the lobby. "That's it," Peyton heard Kid Colt say, "I'm goin' in." The front door was kicked open and they opened fire. Peyton snapped his lasso around the rafter and lowered himself down without braking. Peyton grabbed the female hostage and lunged out of the way as the back door popped open and Ira fired his modified rifle. The shot tore Peyton and the Captain apart. Marshall and Kid Colt rushed in and started putting down the Captain's men. "Captain Bennett!" they screamed out, "What are your orders, sir?"
"Regroup men!" called out Captain Jack Bennett of the fallen Confederate Army. "Regroup at the rally point!" he said as he threw himself out of the bank through a tall window. The money they had put in the bags were left as they all scattered. "Who was that?" called out Kid Colt.
"Captain Jack Bennett" identified Ira, "They called him Captain Cutt-throat Bennett, him and another rebel captain would gut out towns from soldiers to women and children just to rob them. The other one's name was...Kildare...I think." Peyton's heart sank and his skin chilled. He hadn't heard that name in a while. "I guess now that the war is over," Ira went on, "they've taken to rebel terrorism."
"What do you suppose he meant by rally point?" inquired Marshall.
"There's no way their finished with their attack on this town," suggested Peyton.
"What else is there to do here for a bunch of rebels?" wondered Kid Colt.
"There's a union base around these parts," remembered Ira.
"Now Ira, you're not seriously thinkin' about goin' there..." Peyton stressed forbiddingly.
He looked at the rest of his company, none of which eager to be found, "It's out of our hands now, we should make for the Mississippi, before it gets too late," instructed Ira. They all turned their horses and continued on their way west. As the group left the town, Ira tore off. Marshall swallowed his fears of getting found and rode after him. When Kid Colt asked, "Where they goin'?"
Peyton answered, "for the base....They'll be back."
"We should go with them." Peyton had no desire to have a brush with the law, let alone the army, but Kid Colt was insistent. Peyton recalled his similar behavior when he was a young gunslinger, fresh out of the orphanage, a gunslinger that takes what he wants, and a heart of gold. Something about Kid Colt made Peyton feel like he was young again. He enjoyed the company and considered making him his protegee. But what then would he tell him? What could Colt learn from him that would earn nothing but heartache and regret. Nothing but sad stories. His legacy was a tragic legend. One almost not worth to be told, but a harsh lesson to behold.
October 30, 1850
"So here's the plan," Peyton directed from the head of a round table, "Keats Brothers, you start the morning off with a bang to misdirect the marshals. Ticonderoga and Stacks take the door and the vault. Maggy, Slaughterhouse, and I will take the lobby and the hostages. If anything happens, we drop everything and come back here. Whatever anyone can get, bring back here and we will split evenly." Everyone shook their heads in phony agreement. Peyton knew that it would never come to that.
Morning broke, and the Keats brothers, Randall and River, blew up a Wichita saloon. They fired off rounds with the Marshals before they got on their horses and led the marshals out of town. This gave the rest of the team plenty of time. Maggy was already in the bank, waiting in line, inside. Charlie and Quade ran into the bank. Charlie was still on his horse. He blew the security guard in the chest with his shotgun. Quade pointed his gun at Maggy and pretended to hold her hostage to get the tellers to do his bidding. Ticonderoga and Rotten Johnny Stacks were already in the vault. Loading their horses with treasures and bills. A whistle from outside. A platoon of soldiers were passing through the town. Charlie "Slaughterhouse" Slater got everyone to quiet down as Blackheart Quade watched them pass by from the curtained window. Maggy saw Ticonderoga and Johnny leave with the loaded horses and smiled. She yelled for the soldiers, "IN HERE! ROBBERS!" and Peyton's heart stopped. He checked out the situation. The vault was empty, Johnny and the indian were gone,the soldiers were approaching the bank. and there was Maggy, laughing hysterically as she makes a run for it. Peyton mounted the horse that Charlie had rode in on and ran out the back door of the bank, picking up Maggy, and riding after Stacks and Ticonderoga. Charlie Slaughterhouse Slater, ran himself through the front doors of the bank throwing his guns around like a madman, screaming, and alone in the streets of Wichita he confronts the army battalion.
When Peyton and Maggy returned to their hideout they were to be careful. Peyton got inside to find Johnny pinned up against the wall by a tomahawk. Peyton pulled him off. "What happened?" he asked.
"We got back," Johnny told them, "And the Keats boys were waitin' for us. After me and Ticonderoga killed'em he hung me to die on this blasted wall."
"How far away is he?"
"Not far. You can catch'em, boss" Maggy tended to Johnny's wounds and Peyton rode after the giant indian. He caught up to the thief after nearly riding his steed into the ground. Peyton shot his rifle at him, but did not try to kill him. Finally, he hit his horse in the ass and brought it down. Ticonderoga hit the ground hard, breaking his shoulder. Peyton got off his horse to help his fellow outlaw up. Ticonderoga turned around and shot Peyton in the stomach. When Peyton fell to the ground before Ticonderoga, utterly betrayed, he revealed to the brash indian Slaughterhouse Slater bearing down on him with a blood stained face. Slater trampled Ticonderoga and left him for dead, as he saved his brother in arms, Peyton. The two got back to the hide-out where Maggy was with Johnny. Peyton's gunshot was serious, and unless they went into a town to treat it, he would die. They could not go to Wichita after the job they had just pulled. Their only choice would be Dodge.
August 5th, 1865
August 5th, 1865
Cape Girardeau, MO
It was well into the night; about 3 or 4 in the morning. Peyton and Kid Colt had held up on their journey and gone back for Marshall and Ira. When they met them, the two were chasing Captain Jack Bennett along with a strange indian rider and their rebel gang, holding twelve men from a coloured union infantry battalion hostage. The big shadowy indian had taken the entire base, when Marshall and Ira got there. They were the only two able to track them west. When the pair met back up with Kid Colt and Peyton, they told them about the indian, and Peyton realized he was getting in too deep. Playing his retirement too close to the chest. He could not afford such reckless tracks. But something pulled him towards them, some important element that he has yet to learn drove Peyton to stay with them. The path of the rebels seemed to be taking them to Cape Girardeau, a small port town south of St. Louis.
When they got into Cape Girardeau the streets were quiet. It was early in the morning. They saw the last of the rebel troops gathering at a supply boat dock. "Who wants to go?"
"Ira...it isn't our place," argued Peyton.
"Hell, I'll go," rallied Kid Colt.
""I'll stay behind, you wanna try for a ferry across?"
"That's a lot of money, Buck"
"I got some money." Marshall told Ira and Kid Colt to go check out the docks, while they searched for a ferry to cross the river; all the while he prayed to God, Peyton didn't remember how this was the end of his journey with them. Even though he was clearly troubled, Marshall felt a kinship for the three men he was riding with. They fit together like the jagged pieces of an incomplete puzzle. They moved together like the hands of a god, perfectly in harmony, balancing and off-setting each others.
Kid Colt and Ira, no doubt, would be at the supply docks by now. Meanwhile, Marshall and Peyton found a casino called the Boathouse, "STEAM" they advertised, "A GAMING FERRY BOAT!" You could ride on with your horses, hitch them on the deck of the ship, and go inside while the massive ferry slowly takes you upriver. Marshall and Peyton ride onto the casino boat as Kid Colt and Ira enter the supply ship at the docks. Marshall enters the lobby and approaches a desk. "How much for four across?" he asked, as Peyton surveyed the casino below. A character at the poker table caught his memory. He could not take his eyes off of him. The hair on his skin rose. Chills roasted his spine.
Ira and Kid Colt looked around the supply boat. No one was there. When they found people tied to the deck, they realized it was a trap, and the boat was drifting out to sea... "There's no time!" yelled Kid Colt. He got back on his horse and ran off the boat, narrowly making it safely onto the docks. Ira shot a rope off with his rifle, but then saw that they were all individually tied down. It was the twelve soldier battalion they took hostage. This was no supply boat, it was an execution pyre. Ira ran for his horse. He took another shot, snapping an arm free from the ropes on one of the soldiers, but wounding his hand. Ira kicks his horse and the boat begins to explode around him. The explosions go down the deck and into the boat, heading for the engine room. This pattern was indicative of wired explosives...Ira had already figured it out while running away. They must have set dynamite all the way down the boat. Ira rides his mount as hard as it can go. The boat is too far away from the docks now. He won't make the jump. Ira and his horse run straight off the boat and into the water. He holds his reigns and the horse with his legs still churning, drudges both of them ashore next to the docks. He gets the horse out unharmed, like it had never fallen.
The rebels were still around somewhere. They had to light a fuse. Kid Colt motioned Ira to follow him. He had caught the indian's trail. They rode out of the docks and caught up with the strange man. The indian took them into the Boathouse Casino Ferry, where they unknowingly reunited with Marshall and Quade.
Their horses get tagged and they are shown their rooms. Marshall had gone all out. The hostess takes them up as Kid Colt skips out on the tour and heads right for the casino. After they got settled in, Quade walked into Marshall's room. "I've been honest with you boys so far, and...something...about this..."
"You got somethin' to say?" interrupted Marshall.
"Your name is Buck Troy?"
"You expect me to believe your named after some gay pirate?"
"I don't doubt the Troy. And I know a thing or two about the nation, be it a westerner an' all..."
"Westerner?" mocked Marshall.
"With that accent...You're from New York right?"
Ira watched the two go back and forth without intruding. Eager to see where it went.
"Right." answered Marshall.
"Like the railroad trust company?"
"Trojan Railroads," Peyton explained.
"..." Marshall was unsettled and speechless.
"As in the Troy family," persisted Peyton.
"Yeah," he struggled to recover," Wyatt, IV, and Marshall...what about'em?"
"IV? No one calls him IV...'cept maybe one of the family..."
"You're Marshall Troy?" Ira concluded.
Marshall could not avoid it anymore. It was too blatantly obvious now..."I am."
"God damn!" Quade slapped his leg.
"I don't believe it," Ira gasped incredulously.
"Your tellin' me that you're one of the richest men in America?"
"Do they know you're gone?" continued Quade.
He nodded his head, "But they don't know where!" pointed out Marshall.
They all started laughing. Ira was beginning to feel the heat of riding amongst such premieres. Quade felt like he was staring through a mirror. A mirror of polarity. Marshall being a reflection. Ira stood in between them. And Marshall stared at the floor. The jig was up. He knew...That it would only be a matter of time, now... until they found him; until Freelander found him. "You have to come with us, Quade" demanded Marshall.
"What're you talkin' 'bout?"
Quade got up and grabbed Marshall. Ira rushed up behind the outlaw and tried to pull him off. "Listen...Slick...There's no way...in hell...that I'm goin' back to that town."
Marshall chose his next seven words carefully, "Then why are you on this boat?" Peyton released Marshall and stepped back. The ferry shifted and they left the dock. They were officially on their way across the Mississippi. Peyton racked his mind for the answer, "...the indian..." he muttered, "...you said he..." Marshall looked over at Peyton, he did not envy his paralyzing demons, almost visibly rattling his mind.
Out of the moment, Ira looked around "Where's the kid?"
This was trouble. There was only one place Kid Colt would be. Ira rushed out of the rooms and down to the casino floor. Marshall followed Ira, and Quade, after snapping out of it, tailed Marshall down to the casino.
Kid Colt was already sitting at the black jack table. The dealer was also a bartender. They called him Bombay. Three men sat along with Kid Colt. Kid Colt had sufficiently eyed each of them up by now.
There was an old man, who talked too much about treasure. He was fat and wore a top hat, with a piggishly high voice. Another character was sly and greedy looking. His beady eye and forked tongue were overshadowed by his black eye-patch, and greasy thin facial hair. He twisted his long mustache and stared at Kid Colt. The final card player was the last to sit down. Before him was a Mexican man wearing all white. He busted after three hands and left the table with nothing. After him came the indian. The one they had chased from Owensboro. He burnt the soldiers at the docks and escaped with Captain Jack Bennett. Upon recognizing this, Kid Colt's plan was to take all his money. It was a one step plan. When Ira got downstairs, and found Kid Colt, Bombay was serving the kid a drink.
"It's okay," Kid Colt said waving his hand at the drink and behind him at Ira and Marshall gathering at another table, "I'll just have a whiskey."
"Take it," the bartender insisted, "It's gin...with soda."
Kid Colt tried the drink. After a big sip he was dealt his cards: the ace of diamonds, and a black jack. It was real good. The greedy looking one banged his fist on the table. "...Easy..." said Bombay. Ticonderoga was now facing Quade, Ira, and Marshall.
Kid Colt sipped on his gin and laughed to himself. The greedy one-eyed man across the table from him was livid. The fat man was on his last chip. I have no more to raise with, unless you're interested in this..." He pulled out a raggedy old piece of paper. It was a treasure map. He flattened it out on the table for all to look at. Coyote Caverns the only words on it said. Besides that, there were the markings of terrain and a dotted line weaving through the map to an X. Kid Colt wanted that map. "You're on!" he said. He wanted it badly. The indian wanted no part in it, now aware of Peyton's presence in the casino. The one-eyed man had yet to see him, facing Bombay and the bar. He went in along with the old man and they all showed their cards.
One-eye had taken two hits, showing fourteen, his other card made it nineteen. The old man, absolutely positive that Kid Colt would not have another two card twenty-one, revealed his twenty. Two black queens. Kid Colt had a king facing up. He pulled his other card out from below it and flipped it over. Another blackjack. He won the pot, and the Coyote Caverns Treasure Map.
The fat guy cried and shouted as he left the table, and Kid Colt laughed. Ticonderoga was too concerned with Quade, and the one-eyed man was getting suspicious. Kid Colt slipped the map into his pocket and finished his drink. "You know what, Bombay..." he went on, "Make one of these for everyone, on me..." Kid Colt leaned back on his chair, "Especially sourpuss over there..." he pointed at the one-eyed man. That was it. He jumped out of his seat and turned towards Kid Colt, now facing Quade.
"...Easy, Stacks..." exhaled Bombay.
Quade was certain now. The greedy one called Stacks sees Quade as he says to Kid Colt, "Get outta here, boy..." But before he can do anything else Peyton shouts, as Blackheart Quade, "Rotten Johnny Stacks!", with his hands over his guns. Johnny looks up at his old brother. "You're alive?" he remarked.
Ticonderoga did not move, but left his arm flat on the table, holding his cards.
"Get your rotten ways off this boat...now!" ordered Blackheart watching both Johnny and Ticonderoga, "This is my boat tonight."
Rotten Johnny Stacks had no mind to listen. Peyton was prepared to kill him. Ticonderoga was caught off guard with only his hatchet on him. Marshall and Ira walked up around Quade. In his current position, the giant indian would be powerless against them.
"Got a new gang now, boss? Gave up with that psycho Crow? I told you-"
Marshall's ear twitched as he thought he heard mentioned the man his brother died looking for.
"I'm warnin' you Johnny," Quade gave his demands, "I'll kill you right here... where you stand... if you don't leave... now..."
"You'd kill your own brother?" Kid Colt stood in between them quietly helpless as a witness and a bi-standard.
"No. Of course not. Neither is Charlie..."
"I have no brothers."
"Is that what he told you, Marshall?" Stacks unexpectedly asked.
"How do you know me?" reacted Marshall.
Stacks looked at the four of them after Marshall's question but ignored him. He returned to Quade, "This is bigger than you, Peyton. I'd get out...while you still can..." forewarned Johnny Stacks. His last brotherly act. But before his good nature could best, his mouth got in the way, and Rotten Johnny Stacks could not help but ask, "Did Peyton tell ya'll about Maggy yet?"
Flash. A glimpse of smoke escapes from the ignition. Peyton did not blink. Rotten Johnny Stacks fell silently to the floor. A shot thunders around them and snaps everyone back into reality. Ticonderoga had dropped his cards. Kid Colt was back... away from the collision, bewildered over its implications. Marshall and Ira stood behind Peyton, their guns drawn. Marshall aiming his revolver at Stack's limp body, and Ira wielding his sniper rifle. Peyton lowered his charcoal Schofield revolver as the smoke dissipated. Johnny's eye-patch had flipped over, revealing his other eye, unharmed, and rolled back.
October 31, 1850
The clouds opened. Charlie rode in, behind Maggy on Peyton's horse, holding him up. No stars would be found in this night sky as the rain poured. Johnny rode on Slater's horse after his tomahawk injuries. The horses splattered through the turning mud. They ran in for Dodge. Maggy's first thought was to go to the Orphanage. But when they got there, it was gone. Burnt to ruin. The rain battered the hollow ground. Something did not sit right here. The town must have figured out that the children from the orphanage robbed the bank after Maggy left the bag on the door. Some evil and unrest puts a surmountable pressure on the atmosphere. After the town could not find the orphan outlaws, a mob attacked the Orphanage and burned them alive inside. It was an act of impulse and . The town wasted their meek and needy in one burn-off. They collectively sacrificed the scum for the masses.
Peyton opened his eyes. The horse had stopped. Maggy had gotten off. So had Charlie and Johnny. They were all on their knees in the rubble. Sobbing uncontrollably, together. Peyton looked out and felt the fires on his back. He fell off the horse and stumbled his way over to them.
They cried together in each others' arms. Quade held Maggy, he lifted her head up and kissed her. The rain washed his pain away for the time being. And her kiss made him feel like a new man. They did not leave the site that night, but instead gave themselves to it. Peyton let the darkness take him, and welcomed death.
A man covered in shadow walks into Dodge, unseen. He grabs a hold of the last remaining support beam in the orphanage after its destruction, while the four outlaw children sleep and bleed on their old home carcass ruins. He charges his rival with the bet as he chooses his four souls for the game. Somewhere else in the west, far from Dodge, a brave hero with a white beard watches on as the earth surrounds the fallen orphans. And, as they were chosen, they are reborn.
Quade was the first to wake up the next morning. The effects of their enchantment was subtle at first. Peyton looked down. 'How could this be?' he thought. His wound was gone. The sacrifice lived on and blessed the four orphans forever longer. Johnny's wounds were gone too. And yet, he felt terrible. Dead as if. Maggy woke up and her lips were black. When Peyton awoke Charlie he would remember looking into his brother's eyes , how they had changed and would never be the same again. A binding was placed on their mortality so strong, that nothing would be able to destroy them but each other.
The church bells rang and the town started to move. Quade stood up and fixed his belt. He walked into town, his suit covered in soot. His guns garnished with ash. He joined the community as they assembled before the church and the minister. Blackheart Quade walked amongst them and shot his guns into the Minister at the top of the stairs. Three blows to the head. One bullet from his left revolver, the same revolver taken from the Dodge deputy, after and before two bullets from his right one, a brand new charcoal black Schofield revolver. The minister fell back with a mangled face, into the church as Quade took his place atop the stairs. "I will see that him... along with you all... will burn in hell for what you've done!" He said as he spat on them.
Charlie "Slaughterhouse" Slater shot at them from behind and forced most of them in the church. He barricaded the doors and threw bottles of oil into the windows along with a torch. Burning the church down, a repaying slaughter, there was no other way of vengeance to him. That was the last time that Dodge had a church. The four of them rode out, eternally forbidden to ever return to Dodge, a town they plagued and tarnished. Four cursed children of Dodge, out-casted and exiled.
August 5th, 1865
Boathouse Ferry, Mississippi River
Peyton had killed Johnny Stacks. He watched the body cease to move on the ground. His brother was dead. Now all there was left, besides his enemies, was the last orphan outlaw...Charlie Slater. Peyton knew, this journey would inevitably lead him back to Charlie, as would any path he took in life. No matter how much he fought against it. It seems that Peyton's fate would be to bury each of his three sibling orphans he had once led.
The giant indian reaches for his hatchet, but before he could rise up to throw it, two US Marshals are brought into the casino. They immediately apprehend Quade, Kid Colt, Marshall, and Ira. Neglecting to see the giant indian, a fugitive in his own right, and brings only them into their office atop the steamboat; on the highest level, next to the bridge.
"I am Marshal Henry Wade and this is my partner Marshal Peter Cass."
Peyton kept his head down, and slid down on his seat, putting the attention on Ira and Kid Colt, and alienating Marshall, sitting on the other side with a solemn look on his face. Kid Colt was mimicking Quade, keeping his hat tilted over his eyes, his head down, his hand constantly readjusting his hat. Ira put it plainly, "What's the problem Marshals?"
"Do you know that you're keeping company with federal fugitives?"
"We've been asked to bring you in."
"It does not matter who."
"Bring us in for what?" asked Kid Colt as he crossed his arms and looked up.
"Sargent Ira Davis, did you just discharge from the US Army?"
"Yes, sir" admitted Ira.
"And what was the last thing you logged?"
"I said my plans were to head for Dodge..."
"That is your mission."
"I don't understand," butted in Marshall, no longer scared of getting thrown in jail, "what does this have to do with all of us?"
"We need ya''ll to go to Fort Dodge, along with Sargent Davis, and an issue of regiments. Enough to supply the city."
"Supply it for what?" asked Quade.
"A possible rebel uprising,"
"War junkies?" suggested Kid Colt.
"No doubt, like what we saw in Owensboro."
"Indians." the Marshal corrected them.
Marshall looked at the papers they had spread out on the table. "...Black pawnee...?" he said devastatingly, "My family?"
Ira looked over at Marshall. To him it was just a basic order, but for Marshall, this request was entirely different. He would be forced to confront his past. There was no doubt in his mind, that he would find the rebel outlaw who made his father the cold-hearted killer that he was...10 Crows.
Meanwhile, Quade and Kid Colt wanted to know what was in it for them. "Clearly you know who each of us are..."
"Is that a question?" torqued Marshal Wade.
"If I do this, I get exonerated?" bartered Quade, cutting to the chase of it all for him.
"Nothing in this world can forgive you for what you did, Blackheart," the other Marshal said standing up, staring out of the window. He walked over to the table and continued, "but you make it out of this alive and we can talk..."
"As for you kid,"Marshal Wade continued, "we'll exonerate you and upon completion give you a monetary reward."
"Done!" Kid Colt got up and shook the hands of the Marshals. They laughed, and Marshal Cass told him to sit back down. Quade did not budge, but sat still, undecided, along with Marshall. Ira asked what their orders were. An explanation of their orders was given to them: They were to travel to Wichita and take the new Sante Fe train line out to Dodge, August 9th with an issue of soldiers. Marshall would then retrieve intel from the tribe itself and Ira will lead the army, with Quade and Kid Colt fighting for their freedom, and other mercenary recruits along with union ally Pawnee soldiers. The battle would be essential to the vitality of Dodge.
"Why us?" Ira asked finally.
"We were originally tracking Troy and Quade, when they crossed paths with you. Fact is, we only had to background the kid. But to answer you question simply... You fit the case. When we need a bridge we go to an engineer, when we go overseas we need a translator. You see what I'm gettin' at?"
"You boys fit the mold." the Marshals concluded.
"You go in with the army, blow the horn on the whole thing, and play deputy for a couple of days."
"Do we get badges?" joked Kid Colt.
"I don't need a stinkin' badge," scoffed Ira, "I tell ya that."
Kid Colt laughed. The Marshal sitting at the desk pulled out an envelop with marshal badges in them. "Marshall Troy, you have enough college tenure to be four cops, here's your badge." He flicked it with his fingers and Marshall caught it. He put the envelope on the table and two more badges slid out. Kid Colt leaned forward. "Do we have a deal?" asked the US Marshals. Quade took a deep breath. He rubbed his lip and bounced back and forth inside his head. As Kid Colt reached for his shield, at the same time Quade went for his. They grabbed their badges together. Blackheart timed it perfectly with the kid. He knew the two of them were like both sides of a coin. One would most likely come out alive after all of it. He intertwined his fate along with Kid Colt's. "We don't have a badge for you Davis. Only your reinstatement papers..."
"It's okay, Marshal," Ira said as he got up and away from the papers, beginning to walk out, "Is that all?" he stood prepared to salute. "Here are your coordinates and dates. Just make sure you're on that train!" Ira walked out first and turned back, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the badge that he took from Clifton's Forge and said to Kid Colt, "got my own, all ready!" Kid Colt could not help but laugh, as they leave he calls the two Marshals, "Stiffs" still in earshot of them.
As they came walking out from the ferry, they could see St. Louis up ahead. They returned to the casino to find that Ticonderoga was gone. The place was empty. It had seemed that the rest of the crowd were rebel soldiers. They got outside as the ferry began acting strangely. An explosion and the entire boat begins to tremble. The horses slid off their feet, and the rebels came rushing out of the cabin led by Ticonderoga.
They had taken over the ship. It was a mutiny. The Marshals came out of their office and laid down a covering fire. Marshal Cass looked over at them, Quade stood behind Marshall as he shot his revolver. The Marshal through them a rifle. Marshall caught it and passed it over to Quade. Marshal Cass stopped firing. A brief pause of worry. What would happen if the government put a gun in the hands of a known killer?
Blackheart Quade liked the feel of the rifle. It was a Winchester. He looked back up at the Marshal. "Tell my father," said Cass," I sent you." His father? he thought. There was only one man he knew by the name of Cass. He began popping off repeater shots into the swooping deck. Could it be that crazy old man?
Soon the boat would flip over entirely and all this would be pointless. The rebels lost their footing, as the boat deck rose on their side, and slid towards the other. Another explosion and the boat cracked. The impact knocked one of the Marshals back into the river. The other one jumped in after him.
Ira slung his rifle over his shoulder and yelled, "The Marshals are overboard!" He grabbed Kid Colt and jumped. Marshall followed them off the edge as Peyton shot at Ticonderoga with his rifle.
"QUADE!" Marshall screamed at him as he dove over. Peyton ran after them and leaped off of the side firing one last shot in the air. As rebel soldiers got in his way, Ticonderoga escaped the sinking boat as well. They could only assume he was still alive. Quade swam after his posse. He later washed up ashore to find them all gathering. All their supplies and horses were on the boat, and now at the bottom of the Mississippi. Besides the clothes on their back, the only belongings they still had were their guns. Kid Colt helped Peyton out of the river, while Marshall caught his breath next to Ira checking the gunpowder in his rifle bullets. They got themselves off the shore and walking until they hit a small town called Eureka.
Once their, Marshall visited the general store. Out of cash, he wrote a check "Aren't they gonna track that?"
"It doesn't matter anymore, Ira," confessed Marshall, "By now the Marshals have wired my father about our meeting. It's only a matter of time. After this is over, I'll just return to the city."
Ira looked at his friend. Marshall was different. He had changed after the meeting with the Marshals. Where Ira was eager for this opportunity. Marshall was terrified at what the future will bring. Kid Colt was eager to win his reward, and Blackheart Quade was slowly finding his way toward redemption. They bought new mounts and new camp gear. They dried off and packed rations.
"You really are rich" Ira said as they walked out of the town completely re-equipped, still flabbergasted over Marshall real identity.
"We should keep moving, we can make Kansas City by dawn if he sleep out in the wild tonight," advised Peyton halfheartedly. Peyton and Marshall were still hesitant to go into any major city. Peyton was a nationally renown villain. And Marshall could still have a government poacher after him. They rode out for a couple more hours before making camp.
"I assume by you being here, you completed that final task I asked of you."
"Never ask me about that again."
"As you wish, Peyton"
"My name is Blackheart."
"I'm sorry....Blackheart," the old man corrected himself, "This is Cut Throat Kildare, he's a captain in the confederacy." Blackheart and Slaughterhouse greeted the other two, "And this is Ticonderoga, from the North East. I believe you already know Johnny Stacks, or as we call him, Rotten Johnny Stacks," the old man went on," and lastly is this gentlemen from the south who goes by the name, LaFayette. The Mexican was leaning over a fountain wall wearing a white sombrero and white poncho. "This is our team." Quade looked around. "You two will be my gang leaders. I have Captain Kildare and another captain in the field, if we follow my plan, along with help from the federales, we can rob this war blind..." The man towered over all of them as he revealed his master plan. Blackheart Quade and Slaughterhouse Slater were excited. This would propel their fame into legend. It had been a couple of years after Dodge and their corruption. Since then they have been feared throughout Kansas and forced to go further south and west. Their name was spreading along with their horrific story.
Blackheart and Slaughterhouse ran through towns while battles were raged around them and robbed them blind. They crumbled cities above the Mason Dixon line. Driving a stake deep into the heart of the Union. At times Blackheart and Slaughterhouse would ambush military bases with the captains, acting as southern militia.
Rotten Johnny Stacks would go into the towns and work his own angle. Robbing the churches, and conning the families out of their fortunes. LaFayette did not do much, but just oversaw everything, a lot like a lawman. Makes since, he was a crooked federale. The old man, known to them all as Tanner Crow, sat back with Ticonderoga and planned his next moves. He had a foolproof strategy and a flawless team. When something had to be taken care of, he sent Ticonderoga. Blackheart Quade led in the field. But by the end of the war, he had wiped the southwest out and making haste back to Kansas. When the war ended, the team performed one last heist in Wichita. A bank Quade had robbed before. It was like clockwork. All feeling was lost. There was only one thing that remained. One memory that haunted Peyton's every step. He could not escape, no matter how far he ran. Nor could he dilute its hold over him, no matter how many terrible things he did after. There was no future left for him in this life. That's when Peyton realized that his life was spiraling loose.
August 6th, 1865
Outside Kansas City
'Welcome to Lee's Summit' the sign read as they crossed the town border. Marshall, Ira, Kid Colt, and Peyton rode into town, exhausted. They had been traveling non stop since Eureka. When they got to the town, the first place they passed was the former saloon. It was laid to ash along with the schoolhouse. The town looked like it was rotting. Not a single person was outside and it was the middle of the day. "What a place" Ira remarked.
Marshall and Kid Colt trotted over to the general store. Peyton felt this place was eerily familiar. Had he been here before? What was so familiar about it? He walked around, searching for a soul. Ira followed behind him while Kid Colt and Marshall were busy in the store. To their surprise there was a man inside. They conducted usual business for a general store, the buying and selling of food and supplies. Peyton and Ira, on the other hand, made their way to the sheriff's office. Peyton could feel that he was getting closer. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. So he pushed it open and walked inside. He searched around. The place was empty. Surprised that Ira did not follow him in, he exited the office. There waiting for him outside was Ira being held hostage by the town's sheriff. Behind Ira stood the sheriff with the tip of his gun pressed into Ira's neck.
"What you doin' here....Quade?" the sheriff barked.
"Wild Card Cass," Peyton responded, "You never cease to disappoint..."
"Come as my harbinger of death...have you...Blackheart?"
"...Just got finished with your son... over in Missouri..."
"Peter or Eli?"
"That would be Peter"
"...Gave us a mission"
"What does it have to do with me, Quade!"
"You see that fella you got by the neck," Peyton negotiated, "Union sharpshooter, decorated soldier...just like you..."
"Is that right?"
"Yes sir," Ira insisted.
"I was a colonel in the war," he explained as he released Ira, "Hunted down the likes of this outlaw and many other rebels like'em who attacked civilian towns all over during the war."
Ira finally got a good look at the gunslinger. Wild Card Cass was a big man with a power white beard. His clothes were old and all over the place. Dirt and dust seemed to fly off of him after every sudden move. His gun was holstered on his left side. And his crazed eyes looked right through you. Ira could feel the raw power and intimidation of Wild Card Cass. He addressed him as a commanding officer, "Sargent Ira Davis, sir...New York Sharpshooter Battalion."
"Colonel Winfield Cass... at your service," Wild Card bowed.
"I want you to come with us, old timer" Quade continued.
"Quade, I don't know where your loyalties lie. I've heard of the wicked things you've done. How do I trust that you won't put a bullet in my back."
"If I wanted to kill you, old man... I would have a long time ago."
"You think that's enough for me...that your....word...is enough?"
"Yea, I do."
Wild Card looked deep into Peyton's eyes. Peyton could not tell if he was bluffing or being honest. He kept his glare. Ira was too out of his league with this one. The environment had shifted. They were now standing face to face. When Marshall and Kid Colt exited the store. They found what looked to be, Quade and the sheriff about to duel over Ira. "Don't do this, Cass" permitted Peyton.
Wild Card looked down at the gun on his left hip. "You have no choice....boy-" Wild Card drew his weapon, as did Peyton. What felt like an eternity was just the short span of time in between Peyton's decision to pull the trigger. After his eye caught Wild Card's gun blasting, he squeezed the trigger. Peyton's arm was sliced and he was blown back. The bullet from Wild Card only nicked his arm. Peyton's bullet on the other hand, had hit spot on. Wild Card Cass was still standing though. The shot had hit him in the center of the chest, right over his heart. The bullet was caught and deflected off of his badge, now spinning on the floor before Ira.
Kid Colt rode in on his horse, guns blazin'. Ready to take down Wild Card.
Ira shook his head at Kid Colt to holster. Wild Card approached Quade, still on the floor. He leaned over him. "Ran outta whiskey a day ago" he said, making excuses for his shot. Peyton was once again unaware of what to think. Wild Card reached out for Quade and helped him up. "I'll go," the old man said.
The group acquired one last member as they left Lee's Summit. Wild Card Cass's sheriff badge was left crushed on the dirt floor. He never looked back and the townsfolk of Lee's Summit would never miss him. Wild Card entered yet another unknown stage of his infinite life.
Kansas City, KS
Peyton looked out from his balcony at the rising sun. Today was the first day of his new life. Maggy, his wife was lying still inside, on the bed. It had been ten years since they found the Orphanage burnt down. From that day on two things never changed. Maggy never smiled again. And the two of them never left each others' side. Peyton was getting little sleep. Every night he closed his eyes, it would either be the fires of Dodge or the faces that he's killed driving him mad. Many times he would wake up screaming. Maggy thought the worst, and she was usually right. Every year that removed them from Dodge made it worse. They rarely talked anymore. And compensating for the lasting pain by projecting onto innocent townsfolk. Peyton had trouble looking at Maggy's black lips. A constant reminder of the darkness that was inside all of them. 'Children of Death' Maggy called them as they rode into towns on jobs. They wore all black except for Charlie, who sported a blood red bandanna.
They were known throughout the west as the Dead Orphan Gang. Led by Blackheart Quade. Peyton hated his name. When it was first given to him, by Charlie, he enjoyed it. Riddling the bank tellers and officer's minds and hearts with the name. But as it spread... it corrupted him. Soon he started to believe it. Believing in his dark spirit. Believing that he was the devil.
Last night, Peyton had been in a private meeting with a man by the name of Tanner Crow. He was to be recruited for a special team. Crow also informed him that the Marshal service had the whereabouts of them in Kansas City and were going to strike the next morning. Tanner Crow told Peyton that he could save him, but there was only one task his must complete in order to be eligible for recruitment. When Peyton asked, 'eligible for what'? The old man responded, "the biggest job in the history of banks and bandits."
The task was to dispatch of Maggy. Tanner Crow told Peyton that he needed to know whether or not Peyton would do anything for him and his team. Peyton returned to his room that night. He made love to his wife and they fell asleep together in each others' arms.
Peyton struggled all night with the decision. The only time he fell asleep, he was awoken by his reoccurring nightmares. He stared at his love lying still, sleeping before him. There was no way he could do it. No job, no amount of money is worth losing Maggy. For all his life, the only thing he could count on was her love, even when he wasn't sure he had it. But fame...fame is priceless. Were the rumors true? Did he have a black heart? This would most definitely prove it. And there it was...A feeling of fate. Like his entire life would be meaningless... unless it was leading up to this point.
Would Peyton go on forever to be known in the realm of infamy, or would he go on to live a mortal life with his love? What it all boiled down to was...Love or glory? Could Peyton ever have both? Nothing in life, no choice would ever be as momentous and difficult as this one. He grabbed Maggy's head and pulled her face in. Peyton kissed her black lips. He made his choice. That was all he needed. The warmth in those dead lips. He let go of his grip on her head and neck, and she did not move. Her lips let go of their warmth. And life forever fled from her body.
Part 4: Ira's Crusade
August 7th, 1865
Coyote Caverns, KS
The corners crumbled off the edge. Ira slipped as the path turned and fell into the deep. Wild Card jumped after him and just as Wild Card grabbed Ira, Kid Colt grabbed Wild Card. Peyton and Marshall helped Kid Colt pull them both back up; and they continued down the path after Steel Coat Kildare. Now deep into the Coyote Caverns, Kid Colt, along with the map that he had won in a game of blackjack on the Boathouse Casino Ferry, had led them all into a predictable trap. After riding for a night, the map had originally brought them into a room that explained the legend of three Mayan exiles. The brothers had engineered two coats invincible to any bullet. The bigger coat was similar to a coat of armor, a steel shell. The other coat was made of deep threaded layers of tightly woven cloth, and a much more smaller fit.
Steel Coat Kildare runs out and orders his men to wait at the next level of the mine as he escapes. They arrive at the lower level of the mines where Steel Coat's band of rebels are waiting. Ira and Peyton leap back into the tunnel as Marshall jumps behind a mining car. Kid Colt and Wild Card have a different reaction. Side by side, they draw together standing still. Three ready guns point at the rebels. Peyton tosses Marshall the Winchester rifle. The rebel bullets zing and crack past Wild Card's ear, as he shoots his revolver off with his left hand and continuously cocks it back with his right hand. Marshall lines up a shot, but it is too late. A bullet hits Kid Colt in the chest.
Their posse had explored the main room of the caverns when they first arrived, and collectively read the story of the Guardian Twincloakes: After the Mayan brothers had created the two invincible vests, they killed each other for them. Before the last brother was killed, he fled to America and buried the vests deep into the mountains, a mysterious place called Coyote Caverns. It was after they finished in the legend room that they were led to the treasure room. Kid Colt opened a stone chest to find a tightly woven clothe. He was the only one that it fit. And his map was what led them here. So it was unanimous, Kid Colt got to keep the treasure. Before they could test it out, a rumble shook the room. Opening the treasure chest door and turned a switch on in the room. The floor fell out and pinned to one corner. They all slid to a lower level of the caverns. There, Captain Kildare and his men were hiding.
Kid Colt tries to catch his breath on the floor while Wild Card and Quade cover him. Marshall pops up from behind the trail car and Ira swings his rifle out from the tunnel. Marshall puts his first two bullets into the soldier closest to him. He drops dead and Marshall shoots his next bullets down the line, in the heads of three rebels each. They all drop and he finishes off his loaded rifle rounds. The last bullet bounces off Kildare's Steel Coat as he escapes out the back. The only other one to hit him was Ira and his rifle. Ira covers Marshall as he reloads behind the car. Kid Colt gets back up as Peyton helps him. Wild Card, Marshall, and Ira rush the final soldiers out of the caverns. Kid Colt tears his shirt apart and finds the pulverized bullet shells. He pulls them out of his chest like stale stitches; carefully and painfully.
Earlier, while Kid Colt was fitting himself with the vest in the treasure room, Kildare and his rebels had blown their own tunnel using dynamite and found the second treasure room. Kildare was strapping the armored twincloake on as the rooms shifted and came together, and Kid Colt, Marshall, Peyton, Ira, and Wild Card slid down from an opening in the ceiling. Steel Coat Kildare ordered his men to retreat down deeper into the caverns. Ira rushes after them and as the path radically turns, the edge drops into a deep abyss. Completely caught off guard, his balance shifts, and Ira's momentum carries him. He topples towards the abyss.
Now alone, they chase Steel Coat Kildare out the back of the caverns. He escapes to a campsite where a man by the name of DuPont was waiting for him with two horses. That night they spent under the stars. A fire between them and an unknown future ahead of them. As Marshall, Colt, and Ira gathered firewood for the rest of the night; Peyton and Wild Card Cass stayed back at camp and watched the fire. Peyton stared deep into its flames. His heartbeat was one in the same as the fire's. His color was a blending of the different shades of fiery red. There was only one legend identified through fire. Peyton looked down at his charcoal revolver; the one that killed Johnny Stacks. Was he the devil? His panic was becoming unbearable. He could not bear this burden of paranoia any longer. Born from the sins of a nation, Blackheart Quade was a harbinger of death.
"You're still lost."
Wild Card spoke up across the fire. He continued talking, "But something has changed..." Wild Card Cass looked Peyton up and down. Peyton felt transparent as Wild Card examined him...
"What's changed is I realized I am the devil." Peyton crawled away from burning tears. He wanted to collapse in on himself and die. Wild Card Cass got up out of his seat, turning the fire towards Peyton. He looked down on him, "You're not the devil, kid..."
"...I've met the devil, and you ain't him."
Peyton laughed. He looked up at Wild Card Cass, "What do you know about the devil, old man?"
Wild Card Cass sat back down and stared into the fire, lighting his own eyes with the past, he waited to give his response to Peyton's query, "...My hair wasn't always this white..."
From the other side of the fire a dog jumps out of the brush. It is a shaggy white dog. The poor animal is so starved you can see all his ribs. Peyton tries to shoo it away but it just stares at Wild Card. Peyton looks between them as Wild Card appears to be breaking. As if a tremendous amount of pressure was being weighed down upon him. Kid Colt walks over with a pile of wood in his hands. "Nice dog, Cass. What'd ya call it?" Wild Card exhales. He looks around and the dog walks over to him, licking his face. "His name is Royal." Kid Colt sits next to them and pets Royal's head. The dog sniffs all around Colt and weeps gently. "He's been following me for over twenty years, and has not aged a day in that time." Marshall and Ira return with more firewood. Marshall puts his stack down beside the fire and sits next to Colt, petting the dog. Ira does the same but crouches before Royal, meeting him face to face.
"I remember you"
Ira walked out of his house. It was still morning. The rest of the family was at the festival. Ira fixed his collar and sleeve nervously. A bright, clear summer day. The sun was out, blessing the fields with its golden rays, shining over a shaggy white dog quietly sitting in the grass. The door smacks and his younger brother (only by a year), William walks out onto the porch and almost steps on his heel. Ira looks back out onto the field. The dog is gone. "What gun are you gonna use?"
Ira turned around and slammed him against the wall, "Did you kiss her last night?" he practically yelled.
"What? No. I mean...She kissed me," defended Will. Ira let him go and cooled down.
"Father gave me his Winchester last night," answered Ira as he revealed it from under its shining cloth. They hurried up the ridge to the festival. The main event was a shooting contest sponsored by the Union Army's new Sharpshooter division. Ira and Will got to the booth where there was a crowd around it already. A man in a Union-blue hat stood amongst them, announcing the rules, "...contestants have to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards, firing any rifle from any position..."
"You can hit that, Ira," Will reinforced, "the back fence is longer than 200, and you've hit bottles off the end post in one shot." Ira looked around, Tim Rothens was competing. Kid couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn. Evan Wade was there too, his older brother's best friend. Evan prided himself on his new Evans rifle. A prize he was awarded at last year's annual gun show. The Evans rifle was much more powerful than a Winchester, and Wade was a good shot. The other two faces he saw, preparing their rifles, Ira nor Will recognized. Ira stared at them, still uncertain about joining the contest.
"One's from Buffalo, and the others' from a place called Nyack," informed a girl from behind Ira and Will. It was Emma Riley, a girl whose family owns the ranch neighboring theirs. She was also in Ira and Will's class at the schoolhouse. Emma was the smartest girl at the school, and only hung out with Ira and Will. An only child, Emma would call the two brothers her two closest friends. She hung on their shoulders, as Ira had suddenly changed his mind, and entered the contest. His rifle was registered and unloaded. They took his ammo and gave him ten bullets to shoot. Ira, accompanied by Will, and Emma, walked out to the field, along with the other competitors.
There was only one tree in the field. The other four contestants split themselves around it. Ira found his spot. He ran over to the giant oak tree, talking back to Emma and Will, "I'll post up on the tree and win this thing." When they got underneath the tree, the first contestant, Tim Rothens, was shooting his ten shots. Ira found a comfortable curve on the tree's slope and put one knee down. He nestled it in and balanced his left foot in front of him. From above he heard, "Does Dad know you have his gun?" It was Ira and Will's older brother, Daniel, sitting in the tree, eating an apple.
"How did you know we'd be here?" asked Will.
"I know how Ira's mind works." Ira kept himself from blushing and focused on his target, as Daniel jumped out of the tree. "Remember what I told you about the wind, anything after-"
"A hundred yards you gotta watch its direction, I know Dan."
"Good luck, buddy" Daniel patted Ira on the shoulder and backed away with Will and Emma. He grabbed Will's head and put him in a headlock as Emma giggled, messing up his kid brother's hair. The buffalo contestant was now shooting his ten shots.
Ira focused at his target. Buffalo's target was just beside it, taking some damage. Four, five, six, shots consecutively hitting the red target. Four more and he wins it. Ira looks back over to his target. It does not matter if the others make it or not, what matters is he has to make all ten. He starts taking deep breaths. The crowd collectively sighs, and Ira realizes the contestant from Buffalo missed his final shot. It was Ira's turn.
A shot rings off on the other side of the tree. It is Evan Wade. He has started his turn early. Suddenly, the man from Nyack starts shooting too. The crowd begins to cheer. Ira closed his left eye, holds the rifle up, and aims his sights down the barrel. Behind the targets, a flag atop the festival tent blows west. Ira smiles as he exhales, and pulls the trigger. The first bullet hits dead center, the one after that blows right through the same center hole. The third and fourth bullets hit both sides of the center, and the fifth through it again. Ira pauses to hear the crowd's reactions. They are in an uproar now, as Evan Wade and Nyack fire off their final rounds. Ira surges on his momentum and starts firing again. The sixth shot goes wide left, but just makes the ten inch target. Ira looks up. The flag has stopped. He slightly readjusts his aim and fires two more times. Seven and eight place dead center. Emma claps and chants for Ira. Will and Dan follow along. Ira fires his ninth bullet and the crowd goes wild. Nyack and Evan Wade both missed their final shots. It was now down to Ira. He closed his eyes. Ira recalled the first day he went hunting with his father. He opened his right eye and fired. Ira's tenth and final bullet blew cleanly through the bulls-eye hole his other nine bullets made. Ira had won the tournament. Everyone cheered for him, as his brothers carried him back in on their shoulders.
Ira was brought to the stage an awarded first place. The representative from the Union Army handed the trophy over to him. It was a golden man holding a rifle. "I'm Captain A. C. Gray, 108th N.Y. Volunteer Sharpshooter Division. We would like to recruit your talents..."
Ira looked back at Daniel, Emma, and Will, and answered the Captain.
August 8th, 1865
Outside Wichita, KS
She was panting like there was no tomorrow. Those disgusting men were tearing at her clothes like coyotes. Their dirty fingers were holding her down as everything went dark. Men like that only have one thing on their mind. She had to get away, she pulled herself through the trees. They were all drunk. She waited until they went to take their pants off. With their pants around their ankles, all she needed to do was give'em a quick kick to the groin and jab to the face and she had escaped their grasps and into the bushes. As the torches got closer from behind, the trees seemed to tangle the path ahead. She barely slid through. Her boot got caught in the roots. She looked back, but could not see them. She feverishly tried to get it out. The poor girl got her leg loose and kept running; too afraid to stop. She ran into a road, not just a road, but one with five riders on it coming towards her. She looked at all of them. One was a dark brooding man. Next to him was a white brimmed kid, and next to him was a man with the city's shadow on his face. After him, was an old man, and lastly was a face she had long given up on but not forgotten. She thought him to be dead, and all the more utterly thankful to see.
"Emma!" Ira yelled. He jumped off his horse and caught her tired body in his embrace. Kid Colt rode past them and looked out into the forest. "Someone is coming"
"They're after me, I-"
"There will be time to explain," Marshall advised as he got off his horse along with Peyton and Cass. Ira dropped back with Emma, covering her torn up and ravaged body with his union coat. She nervously admired the patches on the shoulders, rubbing them and pulling the jacket together. Kid Colt rode his horse up ahead. The men with torches and knives came out of the treeline. There were five of them. Peyton, Marshall, and Wild Card Cass stood before them, their hands above their holsters.
"Give us the girl," one of them demanded. He went to raise his hand and Peyton shot it off. The thief fell to the floor, clutching his wounded arm. The other four pulled their guns. Marshall shot two in the chest right away and jumped for cover. Peyton put down one that Marshall shot and emptied his revolver into another one. With three bodies on the floor, two of which were dead, Wild Card Cass had his work cut out for him. He fired his gun at the remaining two thieves, back and forth, he pumped them full with four bullets each. They dropped to the ground and Wild Card finished off his rounds into the one-handed survivor as he screamed and begged, "PLEASE HAVE MERCY!"
Kid Colt returned on his horse. "The road is clear," he looked around, "Did I miss something?"
"They took William, Ira" announced Emma.
"My brother," answered Ira, "Her husband. This is...my...sister-in-law, Emma. Emma this is Marshall, Colt, Peyton, and-"
"Winfield Cass...my dear" introduced Wild Card Cass as he lowered his hat and kissed her hand.
"Take it easy old man," scoffed Peyton.
"Who took him?" persisted Marshall.
"Bunch of injuns. Called themselves...Black Pawnee..."
Peyton's heart dropped. Marshall could not help but notice Peyton's reaction to the name. "Which way did they head?" he maintained.
"Back towards Wichita."
"Come," Ira put her on his horse, "We can make Wichita before sunset if we hurry."
The posse mounted their steeds and ran down the road, now with a new mission at hand.
April 13, 1861
Tensions were rising all over the country. America was on the brink of self-mutilation. President Lincoln was pushing abolition and the southern states were ready to secede. Meanwhile, Washington had been put on total lock-down. Ira's battalion was called from regular rotation in the army, and finally placed under special orders. Their orders were to guard the National Mall. To obtain a perimeter around the Capitol building and White House, both still under construction. Specifically, their orders were to keep all rebels and terrorists at bay; to maintain order and peace within the crux of the Union. Ira and his partner Addison Rey were posted at the South West vantage point.
Addison Rey was from the west. A small town in Kansas, he told Ira, one he had never heard of. Addison was as good a shot as Ira, but his means were unconventional. He did not like to use the scope on his military issued modified rifle. Right before he shot, Addison would close the eye in which he aims with. He did not believe in physical ability but would rant on and on about the unknown forces of nature. He would repeatedly refer to himself as just a tool of fate. Ira never worried much over this, for focus was always placed on their stances over slavery and secession. Addison Rey came from a plantation. His family owned many slaves. A truth he did not confide in anyone in the army until Ira.
"What are you going to do if the South secedes?"
"I don't know, but one thing's for sure...My loyalties do not lie with these suits in Washington."
His trigger twitched and there was a man rushing the wooden fences of the White House. "Addison...four o'clock on the fence!" Addison turns around and points his gun at the charging man, but does not see an enemy. He sees a gray coat, with confederate stitching. He cannot pull the trigger. Addison turns back towards Ira who is already aiming down his scope. "You can't."
"It's our orders."
"You don't know that."
"Trust me, Ira."
Ira took one last look at his friend. He then looked down the scope and fired. The bullet struck the man running through his pack, knocking him off his feet. Addison and Ira rushed to the mark and recovered him. The shot was heard, but they subdued the terrorist without disturbing the peace. He was alive. When they turned him over, he was still unconscious. A marvelous amulet hung from his neck. Besides that, there was nothing else on him but a revolver with one bullet in it. Addison grabbed the revolver and Ira recovered the medallion. They brought the detainee to base. Both Addison and Ira covered up for the mindless confederate drone. Something was off about him; like he was under a spell. They never reported the gun or amulet. When their superiors asked their reason for detaining, Ira and Addison answered in their report, "Public Intoxication".
Being the two best shots in the division, and the only ones to fire a live round in active duty, Upon their completion of term they were awarded with choice of post. Addison opted for the western front, and Ira followed. Just days later, the civil war would break out in full force. People were choosing sides and killing fellow Americans before the sun could set. Addison never reached their destination in Nevada. Instead he went home, and joined his local confederate ranks.
Ira spent over a fortnight at the underground base before he realized, Addison was not coming for him. This was no place for a sharpshooter. But before he could meet with his general to request a transfer the base was attacked by Addison's militia. Ira and Addison fought their enemies decisively and efficiently, until they crossed paths with each other. Ira saw him across the trail leading up to the gate. They both lift their rifles up. Addison fires, directly followed by Ira. Addison hits Ira in the chest and Ira hits Addison in the shoulder. Ira is unharmed by the shot. The bullet ricochets off the amulet and activates it. It begins to shake and wakes Ira up off the floor. Addison clenches his shoulder and tries to crawl to his rifle as Ira gets up behind him.
The medallion is ringing and pulsating on Ira's chest. Before Addison can get the rifle Ira steps on his ankle, pinning him down. Addison screams and pulls his revolver, firing the one shot. The bullet curves away from Ira as if repelled by the glowing blue amulet. Ira lifts up his rifle, ready to kill Addison. But he cannot do it. As he releases his finger from the trigger a stick of dynamite blows up behind him. Ira flinches and grips the trigger. He fires a bullet straight into the same shoulder as his other shot. Addison's left arm now hangs on his body by a thread. Ira makes a run for it, Addison gets up, wraps his shoulder and arm in a tourniquet, slings his rifle over his right shoulder, picks up two bandoleers of revolvers, and pursues Ira.
August 8th, 1865
When they first arrived at Wichita, it was still busy. People were riding and walking all around town. Wichita was no one horse-town. It was a thriving metropolis of the West. On one hand, they would not be noticed or called out, on the other hand, it would be impossible to catch Will's abductors.
"Blackheart Quade!" yelled a man, "What're you doin' back here?"
"Just lookin' for someone, Rango. Don't want any trouble"
"Well then you came to the wrong place!" screamed the man as he pulled his gun on Peyton from behind. Before Peyton could draw, Kid Colt shot the coward through the heart.
"Thanks, kid" Peyton tipped his hat.
"We better get out of here" suggested Wild Card. The crowd around them was starting to stare after the short gunfight. "I know a bar." Peyton led them into the alleyways of the city. Where they came upon an underground saloon. They all dismounted and walked in one by one. Lastly, Ira entered hand in hand with Emma. They surveyed the place. Nothing but robbers, and cut-throats. "Looks like we came to the right place," whispered Marshall.
Ira and Emma sat in a booth, Wild Card Cass brought three mugs of beer over to the table for them. Kid Colt sat down at the poker table, and Marshall and Peyton took a spot on the bar. The bartender put a bottle of bourbon next to Peyton without saying a word. He brought two glasses over and filled them without asking for any money. Marshall picked up his shot, "Is this your place?"
"Used to be. Not anymore though...isn't that right Gallows?"
Marshall took his shot along with Peyton and looked over at the dreary bartender, "Why do you call him Gallows?"
"Because for drunk outlaws in Wichita, he's usually the last thing you see before you die."
Kid Colt lifted the corners of his two cards. Pocket aces. The dealer flipped the river card. It was the ace of spades. Kid Colt raised. The man sitting across from him was the only one still in. He met his raise and the Kid's stare. Kid Colt did not flinch, but analyzed all his features. He was not put together right. His hair was all the shades of red. His beard was ravaged and braided into three points. And yet his skin was tan like an injun's, riddled with white blotches and freckles. His hair almost completely covered his devious eyes. A man walks up beside him, "Savage," the man calls him, "Red Savage."
Kid Colt glanced at the man intruding on their game. It was the indian from the Boathouse, Ticonderoga. Kid Colt held the urge to jump up and kill him for what he did to those hostages. The dimwitted indian had not yet noticed the kid. He tried to signal for Marshall or Peyton over at the bar. The corner of Ira's eye was caught by Kid Colt. From the booth behind Ticonderoga, Ira got up and told Cass to remain here with Emma, "And if anything happens, get her out." Ira left and retrieved his hat and rifle.
Ticonderoga saw Quade at the bar with Marshall, and jumped back. Red Savage turned to have a look for himself. "Get'em to the hide-out!" ordered Savage. He turned back around and flipped the table on Kid Colt. Colt sprang to his feet behind the fallen table and drew his guns. With his back against the table he threw his gun bearing arms over the top to find Red Savage and Ticonderoga dragging a man with a bagged head out of the chaotic saloon. Kid Colt shot at them and launched the bar into an uproar. Peyton and Marshall were pushed up against the bar as men were firing their guns and fleeing every which way. Ira gets to the Kid and they follow Ticonderoga and Red Savage out of the underground saloon.
They run down the alleyway. Ira stands still and fires his rifle. A shot of thunder echoes in the cloudy night sky covering the sound of Ira's shot. The indian outlaws turn the corner on Ira. Kid Colt has vanished. Ira troops on. He gets around the corner and lightning flashes the scene. They are riding away on two horses. The sounds of thunder come after. But it is not thunder. It is the oncoming of a magnificent sight. Kid Colt rides in on his horse, along with Ira's horse and its reigns in his hand. Ira quickly hops on and they continue their pursuit just paces behind them.
Peyton and Marshall get out of the bar along with Wild Card Cass and Emma Riley. The streets are running with the shadows of the degenerate. "Stay close, darling" Wild Card warns.
"I think they went this way," calls out Peyton. Marshall looks down the street at him. He swings his head the other way and the lightning catches the city in a glimpse. Marshall's foundation falls out. The time has come. The clouds open. Marshall stumbles around backing towards Peyton, as if he is facing a monster. He gets back to his feet and screams as he runs towards them waving his hands, "RUN!" he hollers over and over at them. Wild Card gets Emma on their horse and Peyton stays back with Marshall to ask, "What is it?"
Marshall yells back but can't be heard under the thunder. The rain comes down and muffles around them. Marshall yells at him once again,"FreeLander!" The next sound Peyton hears is a bolt action rifle bullet blazing past his head from the distance. Peyton grabs Marshall running towards him and they get to their horses. Together, they kick the two horses as they mount them. The three horses run down Wichita City, through the pouring rain, away from the deadly bounty hunter. They quickly get to the outer limits. "Wait here," orders Marshall.
"Wait a second, who-" Cass gets cut off by Peyton saying, "He's still following us."
"And he won't quit until you're all dead, and I'm captured," confirmed Marshall, "That is why you must go now, as far away from me as possible." He leads Wild Card away with Emma on his horse. Peyton looks back at the city. He was free, all he had to do was run away again.
"You gotta go with them!" Marshall yells, "Now!"
"Marshall...tell me you're not considering this right now" regretfully asked Peyton, for he knew Marshall and already knew his answer...
"I'm not going back."
"Then you're gonna need my help."
Marshall was relieved. Never one to ask for it, help was what he needed most of all. Peyton takes a deep breath. For some reason he could not explain, he was going to risk everything. Maybe he just had a death wish. Peyton laughed to himself, he wasn't really sure if he could even die. But this was all nonsense to him. He kicks his horse and they head back into the Wichita.
Ira gets around another corner to see the horses ahead of them coming to a stop. But before he can see which building they went in, the rain starts pouring down on them. Kid Colt rides up behind him. "Looks like their holding up here," he screamed through the wicked rain. Ira followed him over. The horses were hitched before an old boarded up abandoned church. Ira gets off his horse and rams his shoulder into the front door. It budges. Kid Colt joins him and they try again together. The door cracks in and opens. They rush in with their guns drawn. Ira and Kid Colt look around. They lay their guns down on the floor and slowly back away from them with their hands above their heads.
September 13, 1862
Death Valley, CA
Ira got away trying to mask the amulet's bluish glare. He finally broke the shine. The relief was immeasurable. Ira pulled his arm over the ledge. He was atop the giant river ruin. His modified only had one bullet left. Addison would be along on his trail shortly. Ira took off his pack and tried to flatten his body out. There was no evidence of his climb. Addison Rey looked around when the trail went cold. He knew something was suspicious. He aimed his scope at several vantage points. Ira slowed his breath and closed his eyes. He imagined hiding on the other side of the moon. He focused in on the still air with its calm lonely tide. The rival sniper moved on. Just before nightfall, Addison Rey returned only to back track their original steps. Ira fell asleep on that natural desert monument. He awoke up in the morning alone with the dry earth and sand.
After looking around he found nothing but the sun. The sun panned the sky and revealed the shadowed dunes. There stood a four-legged beast out of place in the desert. It was what looked like a shaggy dog. Ira lowered himself down from the cliff. He could not help but follow the strange dog. It looked like it should be covered in dirt, but his mangy hair glowed pure white. Ira could not help but be intrigued. It led him deep into what would later be known all across America as Death Valley. When Ira soon dehydrated and grew feverish he grabbed onto the dog's fur. It refreshed him and cooled him as the dog itself bled into the atmosphere; slowly fading into desert sand and air.
Ira woke up. He was still walking. The dog was gone and the sun was just about over his head. The clouds were low and fast. Blowing by his face in a clap. They kicked up the sand and were evaporated by the hot desert sun. The tension from the storm twisted above Ira and pulled the amulet out from around his neck. The spinning sand fused the sun with the clouds, and Ira conducted its blast. The strike hit the center of the medallion. What he thought to be crystal was unfrozen water. The light funneled and filtered through the storm and sand, breaking through the blue crystal center of the medallion, into Ira's chest.
The blue beam surrounds Ira from the inside-out and covers his vision. The sensation crawls into his eyes and up to his mind. The light stops beating and Ira stops breathing. When he wakes up he is of another place entirely. The sand crushes under his foot but he is not in California. The light glowed under his shirts. Ira pulled them up, his heart was illuminated. A blue pulse emitted from his core. It began to hurt. The glow grew. The beat extended through his chest and it covered him again, launching him. The gravity shifted and Ira landed on a red surface. He could not breathe. His gasps were of long empty takes. His lungs shriveled and his body failed. They looked on with blue eyes and clogged nostrils, masks of industrial air over their mouths and tight goggles over their faces. Ira was about to die as they looked on mercilessly. Ira did not know what to think in his panic. The blue covers his wake and tracks his spine. It covers his body again and finishes around his outstretched, begging hand. Transforming him through space and time.
Ira wakes up, his lungs refreshed...sore. He gets up, but before he can speak he is looking down the line at Dodge: Marshall Troy, Peyton Quade, and himself staring right back at him. The blue shelled over him and Ira screamed. He was thrown back into the desert. This time when he got to his feet and to the top of the hill he was looking upon the ancient Egyptian Pyramids. He fell on a ridge, laying on his back, facing the sun dropping behind the pyramids. Ira was exhausted, and the blue still infected his chest. The sun set just under the pyramid and its last ray was caught by the point. It shot horizontally at Ira and triggered his medallion. The blue crystal turned pure white, as did the energy in his core. With the color change came a relief in pressure. Ira braced his chest. He was beginning to figure this out. He stood up and centered himself. Before the night fell, he pressed the crystal amulet against his chest and the blue glow emitted and immersed him; sending Ira through time at will. As long as he remained in the daylight, he would be able to jump again.
Ira jumped into the future. Marshall grabbed him and said, "Quickly, we don't have much time. Take these," he instructed as he handed over a bunch of papers, "If you don't do exactly what they say we are all dead!" Ira was confused beyond the capacity to react. Marshall punches Ira's amulet and then the same identical one around his own neck. The light pulled over both of them and Ira was sent back through time.
August 8th, 1865
Marshall and Peyton ride their horses down the same road they had just ran away on. FreeLander was gone. As if he had vanished out of thin wet air. The rain washed away his tracks. Peyton slowed his horse down and Marshall over shot him. To correct himself Marshall turned in and came across Ira and Kid Colt's horses hitched outside an abandoned church. "Quade!" he yelled around the corner. They rode over and tried to look inside. Most of the windows were boarded up by thick wooden planks. Some of the planks were put up by giant nails. Peyton spotted one on the top right corner of the wall big enough to catch with his lasso. He took the rope off his belt and threw it up. He missed the first time, but attracted Marshall's attention. The second time he caught it and tightened it. Peyton pulled himself up to the roof. Marshall watched the retired outlaw sneak up the rainy shadows of a dead church and followed after him.
When they got to the top, the windows were not boarded up, but dirty as hell. Peyton breathed onto his bandanna and wiped the foggy glass. Some of it cleared and Marshall could see Ira and Colt. They were on their knees, before the altar, surrounded by over thirty men. Three of which stood on the altar. Peyton got a better look, "...Slaughterhouse..." he mutters to himself.
"You know those men?" infers Marshall.
"I used to ride in this gang, Marshall"
"Then who is that at the head of the altar?" Marshall was referring to a red skinned man with six horizontal white stripes going down his two cheeks, and long black hair pulled back by a thick red band. "That's Tanner Crow, but he's also called, 10 Crows"
"You've heard of him?"
"As a matter of fact..." Marshall began to tell Peyton about his past life. He told him about his father, his brother, his mother's death, and the burning of what he would later find out was his birthplace. He told Peyton about how his father was responsible for the endangerment and relocation of the native Wichita Indians. 10 Crows was one of the survivors of the Wichita Fires. Legend is, he saw ten crows the morning after the fires, and was told to take vengeance on all white man. Since then he has become the leader of the Black Pawnee. What Marshall thought to be the remainder of an endangered tribe was really a rag tag group of renegade indians. Over the years, under Crow's rule, they drifted away from their native Pawnee roots and have turned into the most infamous gang of outlaws and rebels in the west. Whatever Marshall thought he would find of his family here died with his mother and the Wichita Fires. All that was left now was 10 Crows. Marshall looked over at Peyton staring down through the window. He had known this the entire time, even at the Marshal's office on the ferry and never said a word.
"Throw them in with the other one, the rest should be here shortly," ordered 10 Crows. Ticonderoga and Red Savage carried Ira and Kid Colt away as Slaughterhouse Slater nodded his head at 10 Crows and followed behind them into another room. Marshall and Quade watched from the rooftop windows. Someone approached the altar while 10 Crows stood on it alone.
"I want it now!" he yelled.
"You will have it soon," comforted 10 Crows.
"Now, or I take my investment back."
"I'm afraid that money has already been spent."
"SPENT!" the man shouted at the top of his lungs, "I gave you five hundred thousand dollars!"
"And we spent it all," 10 Crows smiled as all his men laughed around them. The sour man stopped yelling and brooded around. "Dupont," 10 Crows advised, "if you are unhappy with our deal...well...there is nothing I can do...besides suggest that you keep your head before you lose it." His men laughed again. "Captain Kildare has informed me that they have your vest, and it is only a matter of time before we get it from them."
Marshall looked over at Peyton, "the Kid." They scurried along the rooftop and found one last window leading into the back room. Peyton cracked it open as Marshall looked in. Inside were several men including Slaughterhouse Slater, Red Savage, and Ticonderoga guarding Ira and Kid Colt who were both tied to chairs. Two more henchmen came in from around back carrying a skulking figure between them. It was Ira's brother, Will. His feet dragged the floor and he was thrown onto a seat next to Ira.
"Will!" he called, "It's me." But Will's eyes remained gilded, his process blind. Ira tried desperately to wake his brother. Kid Colt, pulled attention away from the brothers' bitter reunion, as he accosted the injuns known as Ticonderoga and Red Savage. Slaughterhouse Slater walks up to Colt and drives his right fist into his face. Kid Colt can feel a tooth in his mouth crack and blood gush into his mouth. He turned his face and spat, parts of the shattered tooth mixed with blood. This was not going to end well. This night sneaked up on the five heroes. Now they were all split up, and soon they would surely be bested.
Peyton slid into the windowsill and told Marshall to lower him down slowly. He tied the tip of the lasso around the back of his belt and knotted it tight. Peyton stretched out and evenly dispersed his weight. Marshall wrapped the rope around a chimney and wrapped two pieces of clothe around his hands to lower Peyton down.
Slaughterhouse Slater continued to lay punch after punch into Kid Colt's face until he hit him in the chest. "Wait a second," he paused as he tore open the Kid's over-vest and shirt. Underneath was the treasure they had found from Coyote Caverns. The invincible vest made out of woven layers of tight clothe. But before Slater could do anything, Peyton swings his feet around, now lowered enough to fight, and kicks Charlie Slaughterhouse Slater in the face, bringing him to the ground. Peyton lands and Marshall drops him the fully loaded Winchester rifle. Peyton puts round after round into the two henchman as Red Savage and Ticonderoga get to cover, looking to return to the main hall.
Marshall slid down the rope and unsheathed his buck knife. Holding the blade in his fingers, Marshall throws the knife into the back of Ira's seat. It caught his bounds. Ira rubbed his wrists up and down on the sharp side of the blade and broke free. He stayed low and swung around his chair. Ira pulled out Marshall's knife and went to release Kid Colt. Marshall joined Peyton as they shot at the two indians, keeping them pinned down.
A fuse was lit. Marshall joined Ira in freeing Will. Red Savage threw a smoking pouch towards them. Kid Colt and Peyton move to cover a path for the door. The bomb goes off and smoke fills the room. They rush out of the room before the enemies can attack them under the smoke. But this door led right back out to the main chamber of the church. There, 10 Crows stood before them on the altar, with his officers of the Black Pawnee sitting in the audience. From the other side of the church the doors open. It is Wild Card Cass along with Emma. Behind them walks their escort. Jebediah Freelander, a sullen and burdened looking man. He brings them up to the altar at gunpoint to join the rest. "Where's my vest!" DuPont screams. "The kid has it on," points out Red Savage as he and Ticonderoga follow up behind them. They were surrounded. There was no way out anymore.
Slaughterhouse Slater rubbed his head. He opened his eyes to find Peyton's lasso dangling above him and the room to be empty. After getting to his feet, Slater re-entered the main chamber. On the altar, seven prisoners were on their knees facing 10 Crows. Slaughterhouse walked up behind 10 Crows as he addressed everyone.
"And now the time has come," he went on to say, "to tell our enemies...from the US Government, that we will not be pushed around. Tonight, you will go back to your men and prepare them for what's to come. Tomorrow, in one unified attack, we will invade Dodge and officially begin our own war against the Union!" The crowd cheered for him. 10 Crows walked over to Quade. He got down next to Peyton and said privately, "You should never have come back." 10 Crows got back up towards the crowd and finished his speech, "Tonight...we send a message straight to the heart of Washington. To the bureaucrats who sent these mercenaries to kill us. And that message is...." 10 Crows takes a deep breath of disappointment, and draws his gun, as he walks before the prisoners, "...No mercy!" 10 Crows kills Kid Colt with his pistol. The bullet sears through Colt's head and he falls dead on the floor.
July 4th, 1863
Ira is running as fast he can. He has no idea what day it is. He at least knows where he is. Somewhere in the Arabian Desert. He pulls himself out of the temple ruin as the portal swirls around him like quicksand. It tries to swallow him but chokes. The desert is silenced. Ira is released. He looks around. The pilgrim sniper is not alone. The sand pebbles tremble around him. Something large is moving underneath him. It churns the dunes like a wave. Scaly skin catches the fleeting sun's reflection and re-submerges into the sandy sea. Ira pulls the lamp out of the sand and punches his amulet. A sand serpent, more than a mile long, leaps out of the desert floor and strikes at Ira. The blue pulse appears and starts encompassing him. The serpent's drooling venom fangs wait inside its giant mouth as its entire head is flying right at Ira. The amulet's glowing shadow covers him and the serpent bites down on him.
Ira lands somewhere in ancient Israel. He gets up and looks around. Nothing but dried up earth all around him. He remembers. This is the place. The place he had chosen to hide the artifact. He found the burnt bush and dug beside it. Ira pulled the black blood-stained spearhead from the dirt. When he wrapped his fingers around it a flash took over his sight. For a moment he saw an angel with this golden spear, banishing one of its own to hell. Frightened, Ira triggered his amulet, but when his sight returned he was still safely by the bush. Ira held on tight and was thrown thousands of years into the future. He awoke inside a small town. Ira got outside to find home. He held the artifact in his hand and had a choice before him. Go home, or continue on his mission. Ira sneaked into the blacksmith and went to work. The task took most of the day. He finished with a polish. It was an exact match. Ira went down to the Davis Ranch. He befriended a young kid who would later become his father. Ira gave him the Winchester Rifle he forged from the spearhead, and prayed, "Let's hope this works." As he leaves Ira takes out the crumpled up papers and wrote on the back of them. He threw the ones he no longer needed away and stuffed the rest in the Arabian lamp.
With a flash, he is in the Mexican deserts. He climbs through a newly built Mayan Temple and hides the lamp with the formula he put in it under a statue. He had finally completed his mission. He pushes the statue back in place and presses his amulet, activating it once again. Now all Ira had to do was wait. When the blue pulse flashes, Ira falls onto wet sand. He got up in fear of the possibilities of where he could be. In his travels through time and space it has felt to him like months and years; never spending more than a day in one single place. As he panned around, there was no water in sight. The spongy floor trembles. This doesn't look good. A riptide wall of ocean comes barreling in on him. A massive tidal will soon overtake him. He punches the amulet, but does not have enough time to jump.
The wave hits him and shorts out the blue energy process. Ira is knocked out and revives on a shore. It is nearly sun set and his amulet is still wet. He rubs it in the sand, trying to dry it, but the sand is still damp. Ira gets up and desperately runs through the treeline searching for dry land. Unfortunately, everything has been affected by the tidal wave. The sun retreats from the sky and its rays retract from over the jungle leaves. Ira is running out of time. He breaks free from the brush only to find the other side of the island and behind that endless seas. The sun sets and nothing happens. As it gets darker and darker, Ira can tell that a storm front has moved in. He lies back and stares up at the night sky. Was he destined to live out his life on this island? The clouds part and out comes the moon. Its lunar rays catch the center crystal of the medallion and the medallion lights up. The white glow shifts to a yellow glare. It leaks all over Ira erratically and transforms him.
All Ira can see is black. He cannot remember anything. He opens his eyes. He is in the middle of a battlefield. Lying down behind the scope of his modified rifle. He looks to his left. A man with a bloodstained, union-blue, army coat on fires his musket next to him.
"Where are we?" Ira screams at the top of his lungs.
The soldier looks too frantic to think twice about Ira's displacing question and answers mechanically, "Gettysburg!" Ira was back east in the states, the closest to home he had been since he could remember. All of a sudden, these familiar feelings came rushing over him. He missed his mother. He missed his family, and his brothers; most of all he missed Emma Riley. He pined for the chance to return home. Ira reached for his chest. He did not know why. All he knows is he felt the urge to travel home. The bullets crossed over his head and he remembered. He was once again a soldier in the war.
He looked up, a mad man was coming down on him with a complete charge of troops behind him. A desperate attempt at victory for the confederacy. Ira aims, breathes, and shoots. Killing the enemy officer. He gets to his knees, and up on his right foot, reloading. Another aim through the scope and he fires. Ira parts the charge right in half, scaring the cavalry away, and planting a solid ground against the infantry. Picket's Charge quickly dissolves before the union line. And Ira unknowingly saves the lives of all the wary union troops behind him. The battle was over. The North had won. Ira crawled through the broken hay and long grass to the shadow of a barn. He felt as if he was being hunted; hunted by his past. What had happened to him? How did he get here? What happened to the last two years of his life? Ira could remember nothing.
August 8th, 1865
Kid Colt lies dead on the floor. The crowd of rebel indians and psycho outlaws cheer from the bleachers. Marshall and Ira scream in shock, as the two of them writhe around trying to break free and get to the kid. 10 Crows holsters his gun and gives an order to Red Savage, "Get the vest off the body and hand it over to DuPont. No funny business." 10 Crows motioned Slaughterhouse Slater to follow him and they walked over to the backroom. Just before they entered it, 10 Crows gave one last order...
"Kill the rest of them."
Wild Card's dog came crashing through the last untouched pain-glass window in the rundown church. It was a mural of St. Michael cutting the neck of Satan with his golden spear. The dog landed on one of the officers in the benches. It tore at his neck with its bite and the rest of the rebel gang leaders shot at it. Peyton swings his feet around and knocks Ticonderoga to the floor. Wild Card Cass jumps up as he brings his bounded hands around in front of him, subduing the closest guard by the arm and gun, shooting another guard across the altar aiming at Ira. Marshall spins himself around and kicks Red Savage over as he is bent down sliding the vest off of Kid Colt's corpse. DuPont screams and draws a sword from his walking cane. The mad industrialist charges Marshall who is trying to get to the kid. After getting his beaten-up brother over with Emma, Ira tackles DuPont before he can come down on Marshall with his sword. Marshall hangs over Kid Colt, devastated. He defends the fallen boy with his embrace as if he were still alive. Peyton finds their gunbelts and tosses them out. He slings his own around his waist and buckles it, in one fluent motion he draws and fires.
Ira, Peyton, and Wild Card now stand on the altar against Ticonderoga and Red Savage trying to get to their feet, the remaining gang officers wildly shooting through their clips, and Jebediah FreeLander behind them all, lurking in the shadows. Peyton slings Kid Colt's double dragoon bandoleer over his shoulder. Marshall still saying good-bye to the kid, releases his grief and pulls it together along with his buck knife out from his belt and finishes what Red Savage started. He unbuttons the second and third buttons from the top of his shirt and slips the clothe over his heart. The safest place he knows. He buttons up and draws his sidearm. Marshall runs over to Peyton and Ira falls back with Will still barely conscious, and Emma presumably shocked mute, but responsive. Marshall yells for Ira amidst the gunfire and points at the backdoor 10 Crows and Slater went through. Peyton yells at Wild Card, "Take it!" he throws him Kid Colt's guns. After Marshall signals to Ira both him and Peyton make a run for the backdoor and bust it in.
Wild Card flips the kid's gunbelt around and spins it, slipping one out and flinging it to Ira. Ira catches the handle of the other gun holstered in the belt and draws it. They fire together, standing in front of Emma cradling her husband. Wild Card points his gun over at Red Savage taking cover behind a box and pulls the trigger. Before Red Savage can move, the shot flies into his abdomen, and out the other side. Ira fires both his and Colt's on Ticonderoga as DuPont runs out the front door with a torn up clothe from the Twincloake vest. Ira shoots the altar to shreds trying to kill Ticonderoga and gets clipped in the shoulder by a bullet from an officer. He falls to the floor and cringes as Emma cries in horror. But Ira is still awake. Wild Card covers him, and Ira sees something near the floor. The feet of Ticonderoga and Red Savage. Twelve shots. He fires six off lying down and gets back to his feet finishing the rest of his rounds. He guns are empty, and the two outlaw indians are dead. They are now fortified against one front of enemies in the benches. Wild Card concentrates his fire on the remaining officers. Jebediah FreeLander has vanished. Wild Card's dog comes out from the benches clean.
Marshall and Peyton bust into the back room to find it empty. In the cabinet are the two rifles, the Winchester, and Ira's modified. Peyton takes the Winchester, Marshall mans the modified. As Peyton steps back from the cabinet, he stumbles on a loose plank in the floor. They pull it out and investigate. Underneath the church is a tunnel leading out. Peyton goes to jump in, but Marshall stops him. "I'll go first," he says.
Peyton looks over and freezes. Marshall does not notice his partner's despair as he jumps for the hole in the floor, but he is grabbed by his collar and pulled back up viciously. Marshall is thrown to the other side of the room. Peyton goes to fire his rifle but after he flung Marshall, FreeLander grabs the barrel of Peyton's gun. He drops the rifle and draws his revolvers. As the Winchester drifts down through the air, Peyton kicks it into old FreeLander, scrambling his attack, and fires on him. The bullets coat his chest and the assassin falls to the ground. FreeLander tries to draw his gun, but Peyton puts two more bullets in his head, one right through his left eye. He twitches and falls limp. Marshall brushes the dust of himself as he gets up. Peyton stands before him, reloading his guns. Rubbing the back of his head, Marshall speaks quaintly, "I can't believe he's dead."
April 9th, 1865
Ira polished the barrel on his modified rifle. It had been two years since the Battle of Gettysburg and he has yet to recall his memory after his time at Sniper training camp. At first, Ira tried writing his loved ones to help remember. It did not seem to work, but one lasting effect was the opening of a door that for a long time had been closed. Emma and Ira wrote each other almost every week. They rediscovered their relationship. She helped him through the war and his memory loss, and he gave her something she could not find anywhere else. Right now he had just finished writing her a letter, Talking of how it had been some time since his battalion has seen any action. In the past year Ira was promoted to Sargent. His sniper column had captured over fifty spies, and counter-intelligence responsible for turning the tide of the war in the North's favor. Ira had long since gone into early retirement. They were stationed in a courthouse in Appomattox, waiting for further orders. A runner came in and informed the commanding general that General Lee was on his way to surrender. They were assigned positions around the courthouse in high anticipation. They were to guard the official end of the Civil War.
He climbed up to his post. Suddenly, he began to receive flashes of memory. He could not figure out what he was seeing. He remembered a partner. a fellow sniper who helped him guard the capital. Just then a threat emerges. Ira targets the rebel through his scopes. He gets a good look. It is Addison Rey. Ira does not hesitate. He shoots right through Addison's head. Ira reloads and shows no remorse. He has no recollection of his fallen friend, nor the amulet that goes unseen around his neck. Rebel terrorists begin to bombard the town. Ira fires all around with his battalion along the rooftops. A convoy of carriages can be seen riding into the town. Ira fires shot after shot, keeping radical nationalists from tossing fire bottles at the convoy. Ira cannot believe that he is ending his time in the war, saving Robert E. Lee from his own men.
The carriage arrives safely at the courthouse. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant meet and sign the treaty that will end fighting once and for all. The Southern States dissolve the Confederacy and rejoin the Union. The era of Reconstruction begins. Ira celebrated in the streets with the rest of the nation. It was not until the morning did he get her letter; the last letter he would ever get. Apparently, Emma had left out one crucial detail in all of her letters to Ira. Emma was still with Ira's brother Will. This last letter informed him that they were getting married. In fact, the exact words were, "'...By the time you are reading this, I'll have been married for more than two months..." Emma went on to ask him if what they had didn't have to change. Ira could not believe the audacity. Ira would never write her again. For all Emma Riley knew Ira could have died in the final days of the war. That night he spent at the camp, head in the clouds, mind filled with contemplation. The next few days Ira would spend trying to reenlist. His papers had already been pushed through and he was forced to discharge. Ira watched the remaining time of his military tenure pass slowly, wishing it would never end. He had nothing to go back to.
August 8th, 1865
Wild Card bursts in and sees them around the corpse of FreeLander. He panics and tells them that they need to go. He demands it. He herds them out, yelling, "We must get to the train!" The ground shakes and the church begins to break apart. Peyton looks back as Marshall skirts through the door in front of him. He looks for Wild Card, but what he sees is something entirely different. The red glows off of Peyton's face as Wild Card runs by him, pulling him out of the room. "DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT IT!" he forewarns them.
The two of them fire their guns at the scrambling Black Pawnee and settle with Marshall tending to Ira, Will, and Emma. "The bullet has gone through, Ira. If we patch it now you'll be okay." Peyton and Wild Card Cass lift up there guns and begin clearing out the rest of the gang members. Peyton cannot get over what he saw. He looks back as Marshall wraps Ira's shoulder. The door to the back room appears to be melting as the red glows brighter behind it. The door sweats and bulges, and Wild Card pleads with them, to get a move on.
The roof's cracks spread and collapse from the inside-out and the rest of the Black Pawnee retreat out the front doors. Marshall grabs Peyton by the shoulder and he is thrown back into reality. "Go!" barks Marshall's echo over the madness. Peyton looks at the front door of the church. The last untouched structure surrounding Royal, the dog, as he faces them. The dog escapes and Peyton runs by Marshall and helps Ira through the church, under the falling debris; as they catch up with Wild Card and Emma carrying Will out; all of which being led by Royal.
Marshall, the last one standing on the altar, kneels before Kid Colt on the ground. His lifeless body lay with the rest of the dead. He takes off the necklace Lady MacPherson gave to her son, and puts it in the kid's hand. Marshall looks up. The walls of the church were breached with open night sky. He could see the stars slowly being eaten by the storm clouds. Marshall begged for forgiveness. The death of the Kid was the personification of his guilt for all the mistakes in his life; culminating in poor Jimmy MacPherson's death. He was a brainless leader; a coward in hiding. And he got this kid killed.
The doors cracked behind him. He could feel the heat on the back of his neck. Marshall turned around as he got up. The door to the back had sweltered and stretched to capacity. It broke in an awful shatter into a hellish portal. The doors burst like a womb giving birth and fire pours out everywhere. The benches and the altar light up in flames and it quickly spreads to the walls. Marshall runs for the front doors, where Peyton and Ira are waiting for him outside with his horse. Marshall navigates through the fire and crumbling debris but cannot escape the urge to look back. And just before he is out, Marshall sees a body rise from the dead in the cursed fire. He cannot believe what he sees. His eyes burn and his pupils turn a pale red. The skin around his eyes swell up as if boiled and then settles and scars. Marshall's sight collapses under such an unbelievable sight. For there is no man he fears more, not even his father. And now he knew why.
Marshall falls and Wild Card catches him, turning around on his horse, and yelling, "GO!" Peyton leads them out and they head down the street. Emma rode on Kid Colt's horse, Wild Card took Marshall's reigns, and Ira had Will on his horse.
The posse fled Wichita in all haste for the Union RR base. Luckily, they did not run into any fleeing Black Pawnee. Wild Card fell back next to Marshall and asked him if he was okay. "I'm starting to get my vision back." Marshall responded. The swelling around Marshall's eyes was now gone, along with the red shade in his pupils. All that remained were the scars.
"...Good...good..." Wild Card gave phony relief before he continued, "Do me a favor, Slick..."
Marshall looked over at Wild Card Cass cooperatively. "...Don't tell the others what you saw..." Wild Card stared at Marshall who knew exactly what he was talking about, "...Not yet..."
Part 5: The Inferno
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, 1834
West 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, 1861
West 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
Peyton 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.
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.
Appendix I: Faces of Dodge
Appendix II: Villains of Dodge