Once Upon A Time In The West




The following is the fourth part in an ongoing series. It is strongly recommended you read the previous parts before continuing.

It was two days before they reached the city. Sean, despite his burgeoning ego, discovered that riding a horse without any prior knowledge and two missing fingers wasn't exactly the easiest ordeal in the world. Three hours in and he had fallen off twice, be it due to his failure to properly command the horse, or simple lack of knowledge as to how horses even work. Serathiel wasn't much help either, only chuckling at Sean's failures. But he couldn't bring himself to dislike the man- there was a simple stoutness to his actions, the kind of man who'd fight the good fight long after his comrades were dead at the base of a hill. He didn't know why this analogy came to him, but it was strangely fitting nonetheless. It was like riding alongside a Western protagonist, and the man's obvious experience in the matter made Sean willing to continue on mounting that stupid galloping meat-sack of a horse, even if he never much cared for Westerns.

As it turned out, the Nevada heat wasn't very good for a city man who had just survived a plane crash. He had a progressively worsening headache, only amplified by the bobbing movements of the horse as they galloped across the desert. They didn't have much conversation, much to Sean's contempt, but the gunslinger was nothing if not persistent in his avoidance of explanation. Anything about his face, his gun, he'd slyly turn the conversation elsewhere if it was brought up. After the first six hours, Sean's headache was becoming nigh-unbearable. He couldn't make conversation at this point, and could barely stay on his horse for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. When it came time to make camp for the night, he was unable to help do anything more than lay out blankets from the gunslinger's bag. He slept longer than any reasonable police curfew would allow, awakening to a harmonica beneath the stars.

When he came out of the tent, the man took no notice, continuing to play despite his lack of a mouth. He held the harmonica at an odd angle, presumably because of his mask. Sean was fascinated, sitting outside his tent to watch this scene out of an old Western. Yes, he could see it; the old cowboy sitting beneath the stars at the mid-way point of the film, playing the blues by the firelight. It was surreal, like something natural and holy, a thing no modern man like him was ever really meant to watch. A vision into the man before him's past, a glimpse into a time long since past into memory. And Sean was humbled by it, the sight of something so archaic. If the gunslinger ever saw him there, he never let on. It was an hour before Sean went back to sleep, the exhaustion and heat overtaking him.

He overslept, and he knew it. When he woke the sun was already two thirds of the way through the sky, and he was laid against the back of a horse. But there wasn't sand beneath them, no, this time it was the familiar crags and light grey face of concrete staring up at him. He rolled over against the horse's back, sitting up to fully take in his surroundings. He was in a city, no doubt, but not one like he was familiar with. There were no large holographic billboards of shimmering neon iridescence, nor were there any towering black skyscrapers. There was, as he discovered, casinos. Everywhere. It seemed every building held some tacky neon sign, all of them yelling with the same indigenous liar's voice: "Come, get rich! Spend your money away within me!" He knew it for what it was, for he had seen it before in the eyes of the street scammers of his own city. But this wasn't his own city, the sun shone down brightly, and the sky was a pale shade of blue.

It was Las Vegas, it had to be. Their horses were tied to a street bollard, outside what had to have been the most egregiously pink building Sean had ever seen. The walls were bathed in a sickly pink light, cast from spotlights that dotted its exterior. And above the entrance a neon blue sign read; La Danseuse Mimétique. The sign was accompanied by a neon outline of a woman, almost springing out at him. Serathiel was nowhere to be found, but Sean guessed he was inside.

There was no bouncer, but a raggedy-looking dwarf sat leaning against the wall nearest to the entryway, asleep. Sean dug in the saddlebags of his horse, retrieving the visor of his helmet. Better safe than sorry. As he put it on, the visor tucked itself nicely against his face, like a sleek pair of angled sunglasses. The heads-up display clicked to life, highlighting a previously unnoticed detail: an ebony ring on the dwarf's finger. The outline was yellow, which Sean had learned to interpret as the anomaly's threat designation. He paid it barely any attention, shuffling into the building with calculated faux-awkwardness. He'd pretend not to know what he was doing, if he could help it, until he found the cowboy again. The inside of the building looked nothing like the outside- it was almost coated in dark blue velvet, with a scratchy carpeted floor. There was no reception area, only an open room with a bar at one end, tables at the other. In the center of the room stood a pedestal, jutting from the far wall. The room was packed with people, though they paid him no mind. Most of them were looking up at the stand in the center, upon which stood two things: a pole, stretching down from the ceiling, and a woman with blue skin. She was scantily clad in what Sean thought was some kind of ribbon, barely covering the essentials. Two things should be noted here: one, she was a rather abmormal person. Two, Sean didn't particularly think she was.

He surveyed the room, until he spied the wide-brimmed hat of the faceless gunslinger, jutting out above the crowd of bodies. He was sitting at the bar, the grey-blue neon lights casting grim shadows on his hat. Sean pushed through the room to him, sliding onto the seat beside him. A woman behind the bar was laughing at something the cowboy had said, and hadn't noticed Sean's arrival yet. Serathiel, however, had.

"Major," He said, tipping his hat forward slightly in greeting.

"Cowboy," Sean said, trying to hide his confusion. "Why exactly are we here? You just like the girls?"

The gunslinger laughed his sandpaper laugh, watching as the woman behind the bar tended to the register.

"We're 'ere to do the job you started, in New York. Since you, ah, took an untimely leave, the job went t'me, and luckily enough that same group is doin' a sale just a block from 'ere."

That was fair enough, he supposed. "Alright, and why else?"

"Blue girl, must'a seen her when ya walked in. I know'er, she'll be helpin' us."

"…And how is a stripper gonna help bust a trafficking gig?"

The woman at the bar returned, pouring the gunslinger a shot of whiskey. She looked at his face- or lack thereof- uneasily, but seemed content when he handed over a wad of bills. He took hold of the shot, and seemed to splash it on his face. His mask wasn't stained, however, he seemed to absorb it through somehow.

He coughed, "Y'll see, Major."

At the moment he very much so didn't, but the atmosphere of the room distracted him. Clapping came from behind him, and he swiveled in his seat to look. The blue woman on the pole had seemingly finished her dance, deeply bowing to the crowd of what Sean guessed were a bunch of no-life horny thugs. She sashayed away from the pole, lifting a curtain and disappearing into what was probably a backstage dressing room. He heard Serathiel chuckling next to him, but didn't bother to look. By the time the woman emerged again, the gunslinger had gotten two more shots, and Sean was beginning to get bored of waiting. Just as he had pulled up a more in-depth briefing on the gunslinger on his visor, the blue girl was walking towards them. She no longer wore that ribbon thing, instead wearing a black leather coat and jeans which seemed rather too tight to be comfortable. Sean noticed her appearance had changed slightly, just enough that the untrained eye probably wouldn't recognize her. Before he could wonder at this, Serathiel had clasped her hand in greeting.

"So what is it now, you faceless gun-slinging bastard?" She said, her voice strangely similar to the librarian Sean had known before the crash.

Serathiel pulled what was probably his own visor from his purse, offering it to her. She put it on, appearing to read the splash text which had appeared on the screen. The woman paid no attention to Sean- probably for the best, he had horrendous luck with anomalous women, as his past experiences with the librarian no doubt showed.

She stood there for a moment, before announcing: "Alright, fuck you, fine."

The gunslinger laughed again, snatching the visor back from her. Now she turned to Sean, as if noticing he was there for the first time.

"And who's Judge Dredd over here? Your new parlor boy?" She said this looking at Sean, but the question was obviously directed to Serathiel.

"No, no, just a new friend o' mine." He said, sliding the visor into his purse. "Found 'im in the desert, dyin', same as I found ya-self."

She looked at Sean quizzically, as an alpha wolf looks at a newly born male cub who might challenge its authority.

After a moment, she held out her hand. "Hironaka Ringo, though most just say the last part."

He shook it, and didn't bother tensing when he felt the grip strengthen. Her hand heated to an uncomfortable degree, and continued to heat up despite his gloved hand. Sean knew this was a kind of test, to see if he was just another fat do-nothing cop. He simply drew his pistol and, before she could react, flicked a switch and shot a blast of smoky nitrogen air at her wrist.

"Sean." He slid his pistol back into its holster. "Thanks for that, by the way."

She withdrew, uttering a "Hmph," of contempt. The gunslinger wheezed his sandpaper laugh, splashing another shot of whiskey against his would-be mouth.

"One of these days you're gonna explain why you're such a cowboy stereotype."

He paused, lowering his glass. "How 'bout today? We got time. It'll be 'bout two hours before we gotta go."

Sean sat up on his stool, the blue woman sitting on the opposite side of the cowboy. It seemed they both had the same amount of interest in the faceless sputtering man's backstory.

And when the gunslinger began talking, it was hard for everyone else at the bar not to listen.

Serathiel had been in wars before, sure. Wars of great cosmic cyclopian things that shuffled around and trampled infantrymen beneath their feet, wars of angels with a thousand eyes and guns that could control the weather, with flaming swords and infinitesimally huge space engines. Wars of faceless nihilist gods and primordial engineers, who forged great revolvers of holy might. Yet he was always a man. And men's bodies don't take very kindly to being thrust into another universe. When Serathiel awoke from his million-year sleep at the dawn of the industrial era, he wasn't surprised to find that he was laying in a pool of his own vomit. God hadn't been kind to the man with a big iron on his hip, that was for sure.

He awoke in a church- a building made of oak logs and planks, barely keeping the elements at bay. There was a hole in the roof, about the size of a man. He saw that it was smoking, and so too was he, upon closer inspection. There were words printed above the doorway he couldn't read. There was an altar on the other end of the room with symbols he didn't recognize. But it was a church, that he knew. And when he stood up, the doors burst open, pushed by a woman in a black robe. There was some large white symbol on her robe which was still foreign to him, but looked like a cross. The priest spoke gibberish, something he'd expected. This was obviously not his world, but it would have to be for the time being.

The priest- a nun, rather, as he later discovered- pointed at his gun, angrily gesturing at a sign that he still didn't understand. A voice came to him in his head, a virtuous voice which he had never actually heard before. He guessed it was a product of his falling, although the nun appeared to hear it as well. It spoke that language he didn't know, in an accent he thought he recognized. The nun's face paled with a mixture of excitement and shock, turning and pacing away from him. A moment later, a man in a white robe was practically pushed through the doorway, his eyes widening when he saw Serathiel. Serathiel himself was getting rather tired of this routine, but figured the priest would probably have some sort of schoolhouse he could raid and figure out their gibberish language. He was a very different man then, in the confines of the church hall, than he would be when he eventually rode away and into another timeline.

It was four weeks before he had fully mastered English. In that time, the formerly unknown man now identified as Father McCan taught the gunslinger the lay of the town, and the folk who dwelled in it. It was a boom town, on the cusp of a new age of industrialization called the "Eighteen-Seventy-Five". Men rode things called horses, which helped them pull weight and move quicker, and most all of them had guns of their own (But not as fancy as his, McCan later explained). The Father seemed to think he was some kind of fallen angel, choosing to help him because his religion supposedly demanded that he be 'kind to those God sends our way', as he put it. The name Serathiel was chosen after some religious figure, who Serathiel himself thought bore little to no actual resemblance to himself, but accepted the name anyways. It was better to join with the customs of the natives, than to be shot for being too alien. Besides, Father was a nice enough man- better than those he had met on his primordial warpath. Serathiel was slowly coming to the conclusion that this was thousands of years after the war had truly been won, laying forth the laws of reality. But McCan tossed away this idea, supposing that Serathiel was thinking of the war between Heaven and Hell, as told in that book he loved so much. Serathiel thought they were one in the same, which only further supported the Father's idea that he was some angel from his religion. By the end of the four weeks he had become something of a cowboy himself, working as a guard for the church. A few people commented on his facial appearance, but he assured them it was a mask.

Then that woman appeared. She came while he was asleep against the doorframe of the church; briskly tapping his shoulder.

He sat up, adjusting his newfound hat. "Mm- Mhm?"

"You the one who fell through tha' roof, month ago?"

"Err, yes ma'am," He didn't know what a month was yet, but guessed it was a unit of time.

She fidgeted with her blouse. "Fatha' tell me ya're an angel."

Serathiel noticed then that she was different from most people he saw around the church: her skin was much darker, and she spoke with a stranger accent.

He decided he'd ask later, responding: "More of a soldier, ma'am, not as nice as an angel."

"Don' look like no soldier to me," She giggled, sizing him up. "Lookin' like one o' them cow-herdin' farmboys."

The woman looked at his gun, pausing. Despite having been with him all this time, the gun had never suffered so much as a scratch; its silvery exterior untouchable by the elements.

She never took her eyes off it. "Ya gonna hav' ta tell me how ya got tha' thang."

Serathiel chuckled, pulling it from its new holster and examining it. He paused to summon the right words from his head, translating them from his native language to the new one.

"I was, banished, long time ago. An evil man called the 'Orrery' of ages threatened my family. I went to a great engineer, asked for a weapon to fight the evil man. He gave me this. But when I used it in the fight, the thing I shot was not the Orrery. It was the Void, and the Void was angry." He paused, clenching the polished wooden grip of the gun. "As penance, it took my family from me."

He looked up, and saw that she had backed away from him. "It took them to the place Father would call, hell. And I was sent here as punishment."

The woman laughed at that, Serathiel tilting his head slightly.

"Well yeah, I s'pose bein' sent down from Heaven into this shithole'uva town would be punishmen'," She said, between bursts of snorting laughter. "So what's yo' name, space man?"

He considered it for a moment before responding. "Father called me, Serathiel. You can do the same."

"Sarah-what? Y'aint look like a Sarah t'me!" She said, resuming her incredibly contagious laughter. "M'names Susannah Olsen, but ya can jus' call m'Suze."

As they talked, a young man, perhaps in his 30s, dressed in workman's clothes approached from behind her. He clasped her on the shoulder, although the friendly look in his eyes kept Serathiel from firing his gun.

"I see you've met my sister."

Serathiel nodded, noting that his skin was much lighter than hers. "A fine woman she is, I'm glad to have."

He decided he liked this younger man, holstering the silvery revolver. "And maybe I could meet her brother as well?"

"Indeed you can. Jack, Jack Olsen, at your service. Since you've met my adopted sister, I'll bet you know her name already."

"I do." Adopted, that explained it. He noticed Susannah was oddly silent now that her brother was here. He'd ask later, perhaps.

"You seem nice enough, for a man in a mask." Jack said, letting go of his sister's shoulder. "Now mind Overholser doesn't see you with her, or you might end up using that fancy big iron of yours."

Serathiel paused. "Overholser?"

This time Susannah responded. "Mean ol' coot, owns tha' railway. Racist as a white man could be."

"She means he hates negros," Jack explained, seeing Serathiel's lack of response.

In truth this wasn't a foreign concept to the gunslinger; he had met racists in his own time. It hadn't occurred to him that skin color might be a part of it.

Something still seemed off, though. "But, what's a railway?"

"You and me both, pal," Jack said, shifting his belt. "Nobody really knows for sure, but Overholser's gone and bought about a hundred miles, from here to Reno."

Susannah dragged her feet against the dirt, kicking up a swirl of dust against their boots. "Some kinda weird railroad, no negros allowed, o'course."

Jack wrapped his arm around her, pulling her against his side. "Oh cheer up Suze, maybe we can take your friend down for drinks later."

"Why not now?" Serathiel retorted, eying Susannah's newfound excitement at the idea. "I've got time."

"Oh, fine, but you best hope you know how to use that iron of yours. Not too many men are keen on the idea of a black woman drinking with a white man, even if the saloon here allows it."

Susannah nodded and with that, they set off. The dirt road leading towards the rest of the town wasn't opportune, but Serathiel had been given a pair of boots by the church. He had only seen glimpses of the town in the four months prior- he had to admit it didn't look very inviting. A few buildings huddled around a road, surrounded by harsh mesa and scattered farmhouses. The church had been built on the end of the road, about a mile away from the rest of the town. He supposed that was so they could build onto it as they grew, as already there were rectangular outlines built in the dirt for where buildings would eventually go. By the time they got to the building Jack called the saloon, they were hot and sticky enough to need drinks in the first place. Serathiel had never known what this building was; he couldn't read the sign.

Being fair to the townsfolk, the saloon wasn't all that bad. The floor had been covered with a scratchy grey carpet, and the layout was your standard bar setup. Bar counter at the back, tables in the corners. Aside from them, the room was practically empty other than two men in the corner and the bartender. Hanging from the ceiling were scrap-chandeliers, their orange glow giving the saloon an undeniably cozy aesthetic. As they sat down at the bar, Jack slyly took the stool between Susannah and the gunslinger, nodding to the bartender and he did so.

He was an older (Father McCan would have said "hispanic") gentleman, in a stained turncoat that seemed a little too large for him. He had a rather friendly air about him, as Serathiel supposed most bartenders should.

"So what'll it be this time mister Olsen, more sweet water for your sister?" He said, his accent surprisingly uncharacteristic for his ethnicity. Not that Serathiel knew or cared.

"Naw," Susannah said, flushed. "None'o that today, Ennio. We got a friend."

Serathiel was confused. "Sweet water?"

Both Jack and the bartender Ennio laughed, but it was Jack who explained. "While I was a naval captain for the Union, Suze came and ordered sweet water every Sunday. Didn't even drink it, just put it on my tab and held it for an hour."

Eyeing Susannah's look of outrage, he added: "Even got her the nickname 'Sweetwater', she did it so often."

"Seems she missed you," Serathiel said, "I'm a little too familiar with the feeling."

"I'll drink to that one. Whiskey for all of us, Ennio."

Ennio eyed him, briskly coughing, "And you're gonna pay for that, how, Olsen?"

After almost two minutes of pat-downs and laughing, it was eventually Susannah who paid for it. As it turned out, Jack had not actually prepared to go out drinking, and Serathiel still didn't understand coins. The bartender, as well-meaning as a man could be, helped them search for money. Susannah eventually produced a shimmering gold coin from her blouse, which Ennio apparently called a 'dollar'. So while they awaited their drinks, Susannah tried to explain American coinage to the gunslinger. It wasn't going very well.

"…And you say the dollar one is split into four quarters," He muttered, Jack having left to use the restroom.


"But," He turned to look at her, somehow appearing puzzled. "Split with what? How?"

His confusion only increased when she started laughing. Though it was all in good spirit, the men in the corner eyed them with seething contempt as three bottles of cheap whiskey were set on the bar. Serathiel began to pour himself a shot, but she halted him and shook her head.

"Should wait. Fo' Jack."

He nodded, although it barely mattered; Jack was entering the saloon already. He poured the three of them shots, then held his glass up in toast.

"Mud in your eye, masked man."

Of all our language's strange quirks and oddities, it just happened to be this toast which was universal between English and the those of Serathiel's past. And so he simply raised his own glass, responding in kind: "Mud in yours, both of you."

And when they drank, it was long over an hour before they stopped drinking. Even if they noticed the oddity of Serathiels' drinking through his mask, they were blinded by the hazy stupor that overtakes one when drinking with friends. As it turned out, Susannah could best the both of them; she drank half the bottle in one go. As such, it was only required that the men attempt to best her. They drank long into the night, Serathiel occasionally demonstrating his inhuman traits. But none cared, of course, they were too drunk, for even that cheap saloon whiskey may cloud your judgement after enough of it. In this time Serathiel learned more of the intricacies of human interaction than any lesson Father McCan would teach him, as the Father himself had never truly been in the company of friends on a hazy orange night.

"…And then?"

Serathiel turned, looking at the two listeners. The club had since cleared, only them and the bartender remaining. The woman behind the bar was pretending to clean, obviously intent on listening.

The blue woman looked between them, like an uppity teenager. "What happened next? Come on, you can't just leave it there."

Sean nodded in agreement, the gunslinger coughing and tapping his glass.

"Well, I s'pose it all fell apart after that."

Patience is not a trait many would consider to be virtuous in nature, but Serathiel certainly beheld it as such. When the man in black entered the saloon, he was particularly glad that this trait was so intimately engrained in his persona. Jack was engaged in an argument with another man over something called a "pocker chep" (Serathiel didn't particularly care for what this meant), and had spilled his most recent shot of whiskey on some kind of padded table. The two were obviously arguing in good spirit, however the bartender kept a watchful eye on them, probably for the best. Susannah had, at some point unknown, fallen asleep against the gunslinger's shoulder. They were sat a few feet away from the padded table, chairs huddled together to better watch the argument. By the time the man in black walked in, club in hand, Jack and the gambler had somehow devolved into a harmonica-playing contest by means which nobody in the room truly knew.

Serathiel, having an inhuman metabolism, had devolved into hangover an hour ago. The hangover was quickly overtaken by adrenaline as the man walked closer, the gunslinger shoving Susannah beneath the table, standing. The gambler hadn't even noticed, Jack's reaction time slowed by booze. Wordlessly, the black-clad man swung his club at Serathiel, the metal head striking him on the temple. He stumbled to the side, reaching for his gun with lightning speed. He managed to draw just as the man struck him in the shin, falling against the carpeted floor. Disoriented, he rolled beneath the table, spinning the barrel and firing at the underside of the table. The table collapsed into thin sheets of ash, coating the room in thick ashen smoke. Jack fell on top of him, regaining his wits and jumping for the door.

The gunslinger, noting his priorities, grabbed Susannah and hurried her out the door, using her body as a crutch to support his crooked leg. The sunlight outside was blinding, Serathiel flipping a nearby porch table and shoving her behind it. She had enough sense to hide there, watching as the gunslinger limped away. He figured if he could lead whoever it was away from where she was hidden, Jack and him could probably take him together. He found Jack standing in the road, gun in hand, pointing it at the saloon entrance.

"Wait. Mine's a lot more powerful than yours."

Jack didn't seem entirely convinced, but lowered it nonetheless. Serathiel wiped a trickle of blood from the side of his head, watching as the man in black walked straight past the overturned table. His face was obscured by a domino mask, making him look oddly like Zorro. He stepped onto the dirt, coughing as he looked at the gunslinger.

"They told me you'd be quick, but damn!"

Serathiel laughed, leveling his gun at the man's chest. "You were lucky. I could have shot you when you walked in."

The man readied his club, shouting, "So why didn't you, negro-loving stranger?"

"Waiting for that."

Just as the man in black opened his mouth, his shoulder burst open in a fiery blast of light. The club fell from his hand, as his arm clung to his torso by nothing but a single charred crimson tendon. Serathiel limped forward, watching the man's mouth open in silent scream. He gripped the intact shoulder, forcing the man to his knees.

"Ya did good," He said, that Southern accent finally starting to shine through. "Almost got me. I'll tell yer bosses that."

Serathiel patted the man on the intact shoulder, placing the revolver to his head. The gunslinger lowered his hat as the man's head collapsed to ash, a quick death. Honorable enough, after all, he had almost done the job. He picked the club from the ground, examining it. It was crude, constructed of scrap and rocks, with stones glued to all ends of the head with some sort of sap. The top of the club was flattened, with a symbol carved into it that resembled some kind of crying circle. To Jack, it meant nothing; but to the gunslinger, it meant pain. Pain of all sorts, for it was the symbol of the ancient black gods who had wronged him all those years ago. The ancient savage gods of an era before eras, a time when time was a path only truly walked by the Orrery alone.

"Serathiel! Focus, come on."

He turned, prepared to draw, only to see it was Jack standing beside him. He planted the club in the ground, leaning against it for support.

"Is Susannah alrigh'?" He asked, the accent slowly creeping into his voice again.

Jack looked over, sighing in relief. "Yes, she's alright. Odd, saloon's usually a pretty safe place. Glad you had that thing after all."

"I told you," the gunslinger coughed, limping closer while holstering the gun. "Mine's a lot more powerful."

They both chuckled, joined by Susannah's wheezing laugh a meter away.

"Well… Can't say you're wrong, did just save our lives."

Susannah joined them in the street, casting an awkward glance at the corpse of the man in black. She seemed visibly upset- as one should be, after a gunfight- and that look only grew in severity when she saw Serathiel's injuries. A crowd had grown in the street unbeknownst to the gunslinger, and had seemingly watched the bout. There were murmurs of disscontempt within the townsfolk, the bartender saying something about lowering the price of booze. Serathiel barely heard any of it. His head was clouded with both thought and trauma from the club. He turned to look at Susannah, realizing what he should do.

"I'd have another drink with you tonight, if I could," He said, watching her expression.

She looked to Jack before responding. "Well, ya certainly may, after that."

"Without your brother."

Both of them paused, before looking at the slowly dispersing crowd. He could tell the both of them were embarrassed, but didn't care. Didn't have time for, really.

Susannah looked back, her face flushed. "…Sure, but y'keep that gun where I can see it."

Serathiel simply tipped his hat, turning and limping along the dirt path towards the church. It barely occurred to him that he may have guilted her into going by saving her life. No, it didn't occur to him at all. His mind was in other far more distant places, asking questions he thought only Father McCan could answer. So the cowboy had won the girl and shot the bad guy, great, but what of that symbol? What of the men it undoubtably represented? The beings it represented? And that strange so-called 'magic' railroad Overholser somehow built across miles of land, the same Overholser who hated negros, what of him? Which god would he be serving? There were nine he knew by name, and a tenth unspeakable one. It was obviously not the former, no being of that caliber would assist in building a railroad- but neither would the primally nihilistic gods he remembered. This enigma continued to occupy his mind until he walked head-first into the doors of the church.

He stumbled back, realizing what happened, then pulling open the doors and stepping inside. His boots made fulfilling, almost reverberating tolls against the hardwood floor of the hall, the doors creaking angrily as he closed them. The building didn't seem to like him after what he had just done, though he had no idea why. He leaned against the club, limping through the hall towards another doorway. Serathiel rapped the club against the door, before finding it was unlocked anyway.

"Ah, I was wondering when you would return,"

The gunslinger stepped into the room, greeted by the warm candle-lit glow of an early night cabin. Father McCan sat behind his desk, books stacked high against the walls. He had seemingly been reading something, but had put it down when Serathiel walked in. The gunslinger still couldn't read fully, but recognized the cross on most of the books' covers.

"Father," He started, closing the door behind him. "Do ya remember when I told you about my past?"

He sat up, looking at Serathiel quizzically. "Well yes, I do."

"Did I ever describe the, sigil, of my enemies?"

McCan looked confused for a moment, realization washing over his face. "You saw it, didn't you."

Serathiel nodded, laying the club against the side of the desk. He gestured at the symbol atop the head, refusing to look at it any longer than he had to.

"God almighty- where did you take this from?"

The gunslinger began to explain, Father McCan performing a silent prayer while listening. It took only a few minutes to explain what had occurred at the bar, the Father looking at him disapprovingly when he mentioned drinking. All the while the club laid there against the desk, its primordial sigil appearing as something of a black void to the otherwise cozy aesthetic of the room. It seemed to almost absorb light, such an antithesis to the nature of this building that even Serathiel, unbelieving in both religions, felt the need to comment on it.

"Do ya know this sigil, Father?"

McCan quickly drew a cross against his torso, saying, "No. But it's not from the light of the Lord, that's for sure."

"And, Father," Serathiel began, eyeing McCan's face, like a child wondering whether or not they'll be punished for telling the truth. "Why did ya call me Serathiel?"

Father McCan sighed, reaching into his desk. He produced yet another leather-bound book baring a cross, flipping through the pages with almost fatherly care. He stopped after a moment, exhaling through his nose.

"It's the name of an Orthodox archangel, as I've said before."

Serathiel stepped closer, looking him in the eyes. "But I'm obviously not an angel, Father. Please, tell me who 'Serathiel' actually is."

"Well, it's a rather special case. Serathiel, as depicted in almost every book I can find, is said to be just that: an archangel. Nothing else is really ever said," He eyed the club once again, coughing into his fist. "A biblical blank slate, as you were when you appeared."

The gunslinger picked up the club, staring into the abysmal black symbol. He remained like that for a moment, simply staring, contemplating if he was truly worthy of the gun on his belt, and the name on his head. The symbol seemed to stare back, answering its obvious answer: no, of course he wasn't worthy, he's just some man with a quick jerk of the wrist, if anything he should become a male prostitute, it said. He continued to stare into its black nihilistic ocean, its answers flooding his mind with cyclopean resentment. It was only when he noticed Father McCan was tremblingly holding up a cross that he truly realized what was occurring; that the symbol held much more than ink within its engraving. The room had turned dark, and cold with resentment.

He ripped his gun from its holster, pulling a bullet from its silvery barrel. Serathiel pressed the flat end of the bullet against the symbol, a deafening screech emitting from the club. He held the bullet there until the scream faded away, trembling with anticipation. Part of him figured whatever one of the nine was truly lurking behind the symbol would simply burst from its cage and kill the two of them, paying no respect to the hallowed ground upon which they stood. But respect it paid, not to the grounds of the church, but to the bullet crafted by their greatest adversary all those eons ago. Not, obviously, to the man who held it, but out of fear that its maker would return and banish it once more unto the abyssal floodplains it was birthed from.

"Father, I need you to realize; these things will not abide by your books."

He nodded solemnly, knuckles white from gripping the cross. "They will abide by your gun, apparently."

Serathiel didn't respond, shuffling towards the door. He placed the bullet back into his revolver, firing a single roaring shot at the iron club. It clattered to the floor, fading into a thin sheet of ash as the shot burned it away.

"For now."

With that, his momentary strength left him. He fell, gripping against the doorframe as to not fully topple. After all, he still had a date.

"Well, Father," he said, the first inklings of that sandpaper growl creeping into his laugh. "You could lend me a cane."

An hour passed between then and his eventual leaving for the bar, filled with countless medical semantics and otherwise uninteresting smalltalk. In reality the war gunslinger, the soldier from before time who fought gods and demons, was for the most part afraid of going on a date. In some ways it was for the mundane reasons most men fear women; in some ways it was the danger of more men with clubs. At the end it was the notion of simply not going that spurred him into leaving the church, with an ironwood walking cane the Father had lent him. What he did not expect, of course, was that Susannah would be standing directly outside.

"Oh, you're already-" he stammered, a Southern accent creeping into his voice evermore.

She took one look at him, and snorted with laugher.

"Yes, cowboy, I came and got ya for takin' too long."

It was comforting, to Serathiel, to finally be able to put down the mental guards that had kept him alive through all the wars and bouts. For a time, at least, he could enjoy being in the company of a (rather good-looking) woman, and not shoot them. So when they finally went along that dirt path, they went not as strangers, as they had before, but with that strange bond that accompanies two who have met over bloodshed. This may have put a damper on their relations, perhaps, had it not been for the gunslinger's somewhat alien stoutness about the situation, and subsequent saving of her life. Indeed nothing really could have spoiled their moonlit walk, had anything dared to.

Of course, things like that don't particularly last, as much as those involved truly wish it will. But it lasted long enough. It was, in fact, almost another full month before Serathiel's fears came into fruition, a single bliss-filled month. No longer were there virtuous voices in his head, or primordial black sigils that itched their way into your subconscious. There was only the hot bliss of love, that love that can only exist between two people thrust together by bloodshed. Although, granted, it was more or less just sexual love, but that didn't particularly stop them from enjoying every second of each other's company. Even Jack, who would, under normal circumstances, take any man who stayed with Susannah longer than a week behind the saloon and point a gun at him, had to allow them the time. So they drank, and fucked, and talked, and were merry.

Eventually, Serathiel learned that the so-called "magic road" was quite similar to the tracks used in a nearby abandoned mineshaft, of which he and Susannah would occasionally visit in the evenings. Though how Overholser planned on pushing minecarts across several miles, none of them could decipher. Serathiel became somewhat well-liked by the townsfolk, although they would comment on his "peculiar mask" every now and then. He heard some whispers of boys trying to take his gun, but paid them no mind. Boys would be boys, he supposed. The month came and went without major incident.

Until, of course, the men came. Serathiel had sat himself at the end of the saloon, sipping a dirty cup of lukewarm coffee in the early morn. When the men entered, he set the cup down with a sigh, turning to look at them. One more prominent man stood out; he had some sort of makeup caked on his face. A maroon line had been lazily drawn to form a smile, and his eyes were bloodshot red. Though what most shocked the gunslinger was his strange resemblance to the priests of his ancient foes, in ages long past.

As it turned out, he was exactly correct.

"Hile," the man said, in a language so archaic none but Serathiel understood. "Ye know why we come."

"..I do, but I had thought you had died in the war."

The man smiled, coughing out a word: "Yet."

He began to draw something from his waistcoat, only pausing when Serathiel pulled his silvery revolver halfway from its holster. The other men frowned, reaching for their own coats.

"Perhaps we should go outside first." Serathiel spat, adding simply; "Unless ye want a single bullet to kill the three of ye."

The black priest growled at him, holding up a hand to his men. They turned, shuffling out the door in contempt. The gunslinger followed suite, his hand firmly placed against the butt of his revolver. The sun had just barely risen when they stepped out in the street, the mid-day crowds not yet come to buy. In the sun, it was obvious there was only four men, three of which had nothing but knives hidden in their coats. In truth it was only the clown-priest he was worried about, and what hellish contraption the man might have stored within his waistcoat. He took ten paces back, the man likewise standing in the middle of the street. His goons had apparently moved off to the side- smart, on their part.

"Ye should know, ye won't survive whatever this gun shoots," the clown-priest said, laughter almost brimming into his voice.


In an instant Serathiel began to draw, only for the gun to be stricken from his hand by an unseen roaring force. He whipped his head around, to see a surplus of ten men on horses, all armed. One had seemingly shot the gun straight from his hand. They approached at a gallop, the pattering of hooves accompanied by howling laughter. Serathiel dove for his gun, only to be struck by a man with a club passing by.

He fell against the dirt, rolling away from the oncoming horses. A bullet tore into his wrist, the gunslinger howling in pain. He was about to lunge at a horse when-

"Leave 'im be, you bastards!"

Serathiel turned, only to see Jack pointing the silvery revolver at the oncoming crowd. He tried to yell, tried to warn him the gun wasn't that powerful, but a voice called out in his head. The voice uttered a single powerful word: wait. He could do nothing but wait, as the horses rode past towards his friend. A club slammed into him from behind, knocking his face into the dirt. He heard a thunderous roar, a yell, and the clattering of metal. Horses whinnied, and he stumbled to his feet, vision red from pain. A blast of heat nearly knocked him down again, several of the horses ignited in flames from the unexpected burst. The clown-priest howled with laughter somewhere, as Serathiel stumbled forward in search of his friend.

Instead, Jack found him, pushing him away from the burning and screaming masses. His face was seared with heat, but he seemed otherwise fine.

"Suze- where-" the gunslinger stammered, reaching for his gun within Jack's grip.

"Left her at the church," Jack said, handing him the gun. "Though she's not safe there."

"We have to-" He said, cut off by a bullet howling past. Serathiel shoved Jack to the side, pointing the revolver at the sender of the bullet. It was the clown-priest, of course.

"O gunslinger," the clown-priest laughed, holding a blackened crippled thing in his hand. "Ye got too attached."

Serathiel exhaled, muttering, "Shut up."

He spun the barrel of his revolver, the cylinder screeching as he pulled the trigger six times in quick succession. A blinding white light shone from the barrel, six separate screeching blasts flying towards the priest. The priest made some sort of quick gesture, vanishing the moment the blasts hit his body. All was light for a moment, Serathiel stumbling back from the force of the blast. He regained composure, grabbing Jack by the shoulder.

Jack coughed, wiping his brow. "We need to get to Suze, she could be-"

A single man on horseback collided with the two, sending them falling to the ground. The horse came down upon Serathiel's sprawled legs, caring not as he howled in pain. A rope descended from the man atop the horse, securing itself around Serathiel's torso. Jack lay there helpless as the gunslinger was dragged across the dirt, away from the huddled buildings. Of course, he then blacked out.

Blacking out after such trauma to the head and chest isn't exactly good for a man, even one of Serathiel's particular caliber. As such, when he was thrown onto the bricked floor of his newfound prison, Serathiel was jolted awake by the trauma. His arm was quickly secured to the wall by a shackle, his gun nowhere to be found. There was an ugly granite altar placed in the center of the room, appearing somewhat like a broken anvil.

A man with a stetson walked in, his boots clanking against the floor. He wore rancher's clothes, Serathiel taking him for what he was in a moment.

"I'll say, you're a difficult man to catch," the rancher said, putting a cigar to his mouth.

Serathiel laughed, his throat like sandpaper. "You'll be Overholser?"


"What's th' altar for?" he asked, a Southern accent finally establishing itself in his voice.

Overholser puffed smoke in his face, saying, "Ya know full well."

"Mayhap I do," he said, coughing. "But who'll be put on it?"

In his heart, he already knew the answer.

"Your negro wench, o'course. I can think of no better thing to place at the will of the gods."

Serathiel strained against the shackle, Overholser turning and leaving him there. The gunslinger sat there in the darkness, attempting to think of any way he could stop the inevitable fate that was to befall them in the coming hours. If Jack came with his gun, perhaps, they could blow out the supports of the building. If they didn't do the ritual right, they might summon the wrong god, and it would just eat them alive. Perhaps maybe they wouldn't do anything to her, offer her a quick death. His thinking got more and more nihilistic as the minutes stretched to hours, until finally Overholser descended the stairs once more.

He brought with him two men, holding Susannah in a tight fireman's carry. She was gagged, however tried to scream when she saw Serathiel. The gunslinger could do nothing but strain against the shackle, as they placed her on the altar. He had seen this ritual before- interrupted it countless times- but never had he let it come to fruition. He couldn't see a way to stop it, now. When they moved he could see truly what was about to occur; they had stripped her of her clothes. And as the realization dawned upon him, the gunslinger shook with centuries' worth of silent agony. They looked at him, laughing their buzzard's laughs, the laughs of men who knew exactly what they were doing.

"What, you thought you weren't going to watch?" Overholser said, the men laughing alongside him. "Your recklessness has cost her life. Not ours."

One of the men howled, yelling, "Bit more than her life, aye!"

Serathiel slid back against the wall, trying not to think as the men descended upon his lover. They were like vultures, swooping onto a dying animal. Overholser grabbed her face, turning her to look at Serathiel.

"Got anything to say to 'er, nigg'-lover?"

Serathiel braced against the wall, slamming the back of his head onto the bricks. The men howled with laughter, grabbing her naked body. He hit his head against the wall again, his vision beginning to blur. Again, his ears rang. And again, finally, to drown out the accursed deed that was unfolding before him. Serathiel collapsed against the bricks, bleeding, as his vision faded to black. He wouldn't have to witness it, to see what his enemies had done. His eyes closed to the sound of Susannah's muffled screaming, the sound that would haunt his dreams long after all in this town were dead.

Certain things may be quantifiably referred to as 'sins', even by those who don't particularly believe in any Christian (or other Abrahamic) religions. Taking advantage of a woman, for instance, may be frowned upon by the vast majority of religious figures, regardless of faith. When you involve two religions in the matter, things begin to get strange. For instance, the same time Serathiel willingly slammed his head against the wall, Father McCan received a message of significantly biblical nature. This message was the same voice that appeared to him two months ago when Serathiel first arrived in the town, and had also been giving subconscious persuasions to the gunslinger himself. Though it could not compete with the black nihil practices that were going on within Overholser's basement that morning, it could attempt to rectify them with a member of its own faith. As was its duty, for the sins committed within that room were so undeniably atrocious that the spirit had been physically forced out of Serathiel's body, solely by the magnitude of their horrific actions.

So when Father McCan burned down the southmost wall of the Overholser manor, with a silvery revolver in his hand, and the voice of a biblical virtue in his head, the cultists below barely even heard a thing. It was around that time they finished their 'ritual', and were now intent on disposing of the gunslinger who lay bleeding on the side of the room.

"Should remove his mask," one said, pulling up his workman's pants.

Overholser looked, nodding. "Not an awful idea, do it."

When the goon moved to remove the tarnished black cloth on Serathiel's face, a deafening crash came from the stairwell. The four turned, to find the priest in his white robes standing there.

"They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads," he announced, aiming the revolver. "Revelation, twenty-two four."

The room erupted in a blast of white light, Serathiel being awoken by the sheer brightness of it. He found himself standing, not in the dank basement, but instead in an empty white void. Before him stood Susannah, garbed in a white nun's robe.

"Suze- Is this-" he stammered, stepping forward. "Did I die?"

The voice that came from her mouth wasn't hers. "Afraid not."

"Then… What, are you?"

Faux Susannah stepped forward, placing its hand against his face. "I have been in your head for some time. Curious, that you see me as your lover."

"Are ya of th' angels, that Father McCan speaks of?"

It laughed, an almost alien laugh. "In some ways, close enough."

Serathiel stepped back, pushing her hand away. "Tell me then, what did they summon.. With her?"

"There are two things that could happen now," it said, moving its hand down. "You could remain, and be consumed by whatever descends from your lover's corpse. Or, I shall give you your weapon, and you will move on to the next world, where you are needed."

"Needed, fer what?" he asked, on the verge of sobbing.

"The cycle continues, Serathiel. I have been patient with you up to now."

He dropped to his knees, pulling off his mask. She barely flinched. "Fine, damn ya. Send me along your fuckin' cycle."

"Fret not, your friend and the Father will surely give her a proper burial. And burn the building to the ground, assumedly."

He felt her take the mask from his hands, securing it back on. He didn't care. Serathiel stood there, choking back tears, as the white void consumed him into another reality. Another time entirely.

"So with that, y'all, I better use th' restroom," the gunslinger said, sounding suspiciously choked up.

The two watched as he left, the bartender wiping a glass at the far end of the bar.

It was Hironaka who spoke first, her skin shifting to a darker shade of blue. "Ho-ly shit."

"Whatever I had expected, it wasn't…" Sean trailed off. "In honesty, I thought he was gonna say he killed her."

The blue woman stared at him, lightly smacking him on the arm. "Don't you see, Major dipshit?"


"He thinks he did."

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