Captain Noriko Kobayashi Clark - Half-Japanese, half-American, Noriko has followed in her father's footsteps and joined the US Cavalry. She carries her grandfather's katana instead of the standard cavalry saber. She is in Desolation seeking information on a missing shipment of guns.
Marshal Shion Nys - A US Marshal, Shion Nys has come to Desolation, Arizona in an effort to capture the notorious outlaw "Black Angel."
Marta "Black Angel" Nys - A notorious bandit and outlaw, the "Black Angel" has done most everything bad. A short list of her crimes includes; murder, theft, kidnapping, bank robbery, assault, rape and cheating at cards.
Li Ling-Ling - Marta's Chinese maid, won in a poker game in San Francisco.
Desolation was dying. It wasn't apparent by the look of the town, which was as busy as it could be for such an out-of-the-way location, but it was only a matter of time. True, there was still silver to be dug from the mine, but it was less and less every year. The boom times were over, and each year saw more and more of the population slip away. The times were changing, and sooner or later, Desolation was going to have to change with them.
The town of Desolation was so named due to its location in the Arizona Territory, which was as far from any other inhabited spot as one could possibly imagine. It lay to the north of Grand Canyon, near the borders of the Utah Territory and Nevada. Silver had been found in the mountains above Desolation, and all through the 50s and 60s the town had boomed, while war brewed and armies marched far to the East. With the end of the Civil War, the town had hit its peak, with disgruntled ex-Confederates mixing with freedom-seeking blacks, displaced Indians and the occasional Chinaman fleeing the tyranny of the railroad. But all good things must come to an end and, as the silver slowly ran out so did Desolation's people.
Now, Desolation was slowly dying. The symptoms were subtle, with the slow abandonment of outlying buildings, and fewer and fewer passengers disembarking from the less and less frequent stagecoach runs. The only thing that actually seemed to grow in town was the cemetery, which got that much larger each year.
Most people expected Desolation to slowly waste away, becoming just another dry and dusty ghost town. Little did they know that the end would come with a bang, and the town would fall in a hail of smoke, flame and gunfire.
Leaning forward in his battered chair, Zebadiah stared down at the end of the street. Zeb was old, and as he had gotten old he found that nothing much surprised him anymore. He had seen a lot of life, and his time as a soldier in the Army of the Confederacy had exposed him to a lot of death, and here in Desolation he had found a little bit of peace. But there was one thing he was sure of, and that was that he had never seen anything like was riding towards him on this bright, dusty afternoon.
The figure on the horse was dressed in the familiar dark blue uniform of an officer of the United States Cavalry. The only problem, was that Zeb was sure the officer was a woman and unless his eyes were wrong, a Chinaman at that. Not that he was planning on pressing the point to the to the blue-coated rider, as the butt-end of a rifle was quite visible in front of her knee.
Bringing the horse to a halt next to the hitching post, the woman slid off her horse in a cloud of trail dust. She was short, scarcly over five feet in height, with thick black hair that fell to her shoulders and brilliant green eyes. Zeb found it interesting that she didn't seem to be carrying the standard officer's saber, but instead had some sort of long sword thrust through her belt.
Tying her horse to the post, the woman then pulled her Springfield rifle free. Nodding to Zeb, she stepped up onto the walk in front of the saloon, boots clumping on the wooden boards.
Shaking his head, Zeb took another swallow from his bottle of cheap and almost undrinkable whiskey. If there was one thing he had learned from his long stay in Desolation, it was to leave well enough alone.
The tall figure striding down the street attracted attention for a number of reasons. There was the figure's height, which looked to exceed six feet, the figure's coat, which almost brushed the ground, and the figure's hair, which reached well past the waist and was so sun-blasted as to appear white. But, the one thing that most people had to wonder about was the lack of a horse. As impossible as it seemed, apparently the figure had *walked* in out of the desert, a feat that most found inconceivable, if not insane.
Stopping in front of the saloon, the figure glanced at the old man sitting near the door. The old man, in return, gave the dusty figure a careful once over, noticing the long coat - coated in trail powder - the Henry rifle gripped tightly in one hand, the handkerchief pulled up over the nose - to keep out the dust he hoped - and the hat pulled low on the brow so that only the cold gray eyes were visible. A moment later a hand yanked the handkerchief down, exposing a beautiful - if a bit trailworn - female face. "Hey old timer," the woman asked in a husky purr, "they serve whiskey here?"
Zeb blinked. "Yeah," he croaked, "you could call it that."
"Marta, Marta!" Reaching behind her, Li Ling-Ling shook the nearest available limb, which happened to be a booted foot. In the back of the small covered wagon, Marta Nys groaned , and slowly sat up, pausing only to toss an empty bottle over her shoulder and out the back.
"Aw, Christ, my head..." Fumbling amid the scattered debris that covered the floor of the swaying cart, Marta procured a battered broad-brimmed hat. Combing long strands of hair out of her face and eyes, she jammed the hat down onto her head and looked bleary-eyed up at her maidservant. "Yeah?"
"Town is up ahead." Ling-Ling pointed, gripping the reins in her other hand.
"I see." With a creak of leather Marta pulled herself out of the back of the wagon and onto the front bench. A moment later she produced a cigarillo and match. taking a long draw, she handed the smoke to Ling-Ling. "Take us in Adorable, I'm low on bullets, smokes and whiskey."
Noriko was just served another shot of what they called whiskey around here, when she overheard somebody yell, "Ah aint apologis'n to no whore!" The entire bar went silent.
She then over heard Duke the bartender say, "Somebody's getting ready to get himself killed" He then called out, "Yall had better apologize to the lady if ya know what's good for youself!"
The scruffy looking cowboy yelled back, "Ah said, I ain't apologiz'n to no...." He was cut off by a derringer which nearly put out his eye.
The derringer was held by a girl with beauty unexpected in a place like Desolation. She wearing a red-dress with white stockings, she had with platinum-blonde hair and copper skin. It was obvious she was part asian, her complexion and features made that obvious, but even Noriko couldn't guess from where. She said, "Sir, you have called me a whore twice now, there will not be a third." And after pausing briefly, "Tell your partner to keep his hand far away from that pistol." Her accent was unusual, definately not American, but some indeterminate European origin.
The cowboy voice trembeled, "Davey, don't try anything." The cowboy may have been tough, but he was no gunfighter, the dark spot on his pants indicated that.
"Now," the young woman continued, "apologize to me." Her voice was seething and acidic.
He managed to studder "Ah, Ah apologize."
She lowered the derringer and smiled, "Why thank you." Her voice was soft and musical, "Now, why don't you get out of here, and change your pants."
With that the cowboy looked down at his pants, "Shiat!" He grabbed his hat off the bar, tried to cover himself, and ran out of the saloon amidst a great deal of whooping an hollering. His partner followed close behind.
Somebody yelled, "Hey, Silver that was great! Let me buy ya a drink fer not kill'n nobody this time."
Silver looked back at the crowd and curtsied.
The trail gang was two dozen men strong. They pushed their way to the bar. They were dirty, dusty, sweaty, and clearly itching for trouble. Their leader was a big, broken-nosed man with a handlebar moustache. He stepped up to the bar, into the hole the other cowboys had cleared in spite of the curses and black looks of other patrons.
The barkeep, Duke, glanced over the cowboys. He was as tall as their leader, arms corded with muscle, with the cauliflower ears and flattened nose of the prize-fighter he had once been. "Wuddlidbe?" Duke asked in a neutral tone.
"Whatever ya call whiskey in this penny-ante one-horse town," the trail boss growled. "Leave the bottle."
The grumblings of men displaced by the group of cowboys had barely started to die down when one of the cowboys spotted a group of men at a corner table. The group's occupation was clear from their coal-oil lamps and their dirty faces.
"Fucking miners," the cowboy grumbled loudly. "Black as niggers—got no right to be in a bar with real men." The cowboys all grumbled assent, glaring at the table of miners.
Duke wiped a glass clean, watching them with a speculative frown. The trail boss noticed the look. "Ya got a problem, barkeep?" he asked belligerently.
"No problem," Duke responded. He started taking bottles off the shelf behind him and putting them under the bar, hands moving quickly and methodically. The barmaid, Sylvie, moved quickly around behind the bar and started to help him.
The cowboys watched this inexplicable behavior for a moment when a deep voice came from behind them.
"Ah'm thinkin' ya'll ain't very friendly."
One of the cowboys turned while drinking and nearly choked on his whiskey. The speaker was the biggest man they'd ever seen, even taller than Duke or their trail boss. He was clearly a miner, covered with soot and wearing boots, overalls and suspenders. He was also a negro.
"If'n ya'll buy me a drink," the enormous black man rumbled, "it'll show me ah was mistaken." Duke and Sylvie accellerated their efforts to get the bottles into protected locations under the bar.
"What the fuck are you," one of the cowboys asked incredulously.
"Mah name be Jebediah Washington Clay," the black man smiled, showing gaps where two teeth had been broken off in his battered face. "But ya'll can call me Crusher."
"Yer insane," the trail boss snarled. "We'll beat your nigger ass within an ..."
Crusher's fist flattened his nose in a spray of blood, knocking him over the bar and into the shelf Duke had just finished clearing of bottles. Cowboys leaped onto the huge black man, miners charged the cowboys in a soot-encrusted wave, and every surly drunk, misfit, and thug in the place started fighting. In the town of Desolation, that covered an awful lot of the population. And most of them were in this bar.
The din was tremendous. Prostitutes screaming and glass and furniture breaking only punctuated the full-throated roar of battle. Duke stayed behind the bar, throwing back anyone who ended up on his side of the bar. Sylvie and two other barmaids stayed crouched down behind the bar, arms over their heads.
Crusher rose bellowing out of a squirming sea of cowboys, one foe clutched over his head in both enormous hands. He threw the screaming cowboy out the swinging doors into the street. Another cowboy broke a chair over his head, and he staggered and submerged in the pool of foemen again.
The trail boss levered himself up to his feet, one hand over his squashed nose and the other clutching for his pistol. As he tried to focus his bleary eyes on Crusher, Duke broke a bottle over his head, and he slumped limply back to the ground.
"Whaddid ya do that fer," a cowboy yelled angrily. He looked unsure whether to attack the big barkeep or not.
"Saving him from a hangin'," Duke yelled back. "That miner has no gun."
The cowboy was distracted by a local muleskinner slamming him in the ear.
An hour later the bar was quiet. Comparatively, anyway. Unconscious and groaning men were strewn about the floor; the rest were trying to drown the pain of their bruises and headaches in whiskey. Sylvie was serving beer to the tables that were still standing, and Duke was putting the bottles back up on the shelf.
Another Saturday night in Desolation.
The dessicated high-country winds rolled a tumbleweed along the prarie. It was the only thing moving in the whole world, it seemed; that and the clouds.
And the lone rider.
He was weather-beaten, tanned. His hair was long and white, tied back in a ponytail under his hat. He was dusty and slope-shouldered from long travel. He looked like his horse—once a fine mount, used hard and gaunt from long miles without shelter.
The prarie could be deceptive. One moment the whole world seemed flat and empty; the next you'd come to the top of a low rise and see a dry creek full of cottonwoods, or a small herd of antelope. Or, as now, six riders.
The single rider's eyes noted the spacing of the group. No herd; six men riding in a pack. Trouble. He slipped the thong off his pistol. He'd never been one to avoid trouble, though. When the six men turned towards him he turned also, riding slowly towards them.
The six men spread out slightly as he came toward them. The lone rider ambled his horse, slowing to a stop about twenty feet from the center of the group. He sat, hands easy on his saddle horn, looking at them from under the brim of his hat.
"You got business in these parts?" The harsh voice came from a beefy man with a black beard and a stained vest.
The loner looked at him for a long moment. "Just passin' through."
"Mebbe you oughta turn around and pass back the way you came, old-timer. We don't need any more strangers 'round here right now." The other men chuckled, as if the bearded man had made a joke.
The loner looked at black-beard again, then at the five men with him. One was a metis; a half-breed Indian. His horse was back and to the side, and he hadn't laughed. His cold eyes were watching the loner.
"Like I said," the loner repeated. "I'm passin' through." His voice was disinterested.
"W'all, Mr. Passin' Through," the bearded man said, "I'm Blaine Hardy." He paused, as if the other man should recognize the name, but the loner didn't respond. "I'm Blaine Hardy, and I'm tellin' you to turn around. We don't need any more useless white-haired old drunks around here."
The metis turned his horse and started to ride away.
"Whattin' the hell is that damn Injun doin'," Hardy wondered, then turned his head back to the loner. "An old fellow like you could get hurt around here. Better you should high-tail it back home, Granpa."
The white-haired loner pushed back his hat with his left hand, exposing his face. It wasn't the face of an old man. Privation and weather had taken its toll, but the loner was neither old nor young. His face showed no emotion at all; certainly not fear. And his eyes were odd. Lifeless, almost. Cold, hard eyes without any sign of human emotion.
"You're swinging an awful wide loop, Blaine Hardy," the loner said. "Any time you want to start the ball, you go ahead."
"Are you mad?" Hardy laughed curtly. "There're five of us. You ain't got a chance." His voice was a little uneven, though. This stranger was too ready. Something was wrong. He glanced back at the metis, who was already a hundred yards off, his horse now trotting steadily away from the confrontation.
"Five cowardly pieces of shit," the loner said, voice changing from disinterested to vicious. "Five or fifty, I don't give a damn. You can turn your horses around and ride away or you can fill your hands and die. I don't care much which, but I'm tired of hearing your yapping."
Hardy's face turned white, then red. He clutched at his pistol, but he didn't even have it half-raised when flame spurted from the loner's gun and something kicked him in the belly.
The brief sudden thunder of gunfire didn't surprise the metis. He kept riding without looking back.
The loner pulled himself up, thumbing more shells into his pistol awkwardly one-handed. His left arm was limp and bloody.
The thud of galloping hoofbeats faded. One of the five men was riding off, hunched low in the saddle, side covered in blood. The other horses had been spooked and were running with them. One horse was dragging a body. The loner couldn't remember if he had shot that man or not, but it didn't matter now. Getting a foot caught in a stirrup and being dragged meant it would be better for him if he'd been shot. The other three horses were riderless. At the rate they were going they wouldn't be stopping soon.
Three bodies lay on the ground. Plus his horse. It wasn't dead yet, but the bright red blood gleaming wetly on its side and frothing foamy at its lips told the story. The loner aimed carefully and shot once. The horse spasmed and lay still.
"Help me!" The hoarse voice was tinged with pain and fear. "Ya gotta help me!"
The loner went over to where Hardy lay. His hands were clutching at his broad belly. His wound hadn't bled much, but the loner could already smell the shit-stink of a gut wound.
"I can't feel my legs," Hardy wept. "Ya gotta help me!"
The loner picked up Hardy's pistol and put it in his waistband. "I did my bit for you already," he said dispassionately. "Now my horse is dead and so are you."
"I ain't dead yet! Ya gotta help me," Hardy cried. "I can't move my legs!"
"Why should I help you? I ain't got a horse, one of you shot my arm, and I don't like you."
"I can pay you! Just get me to town, to a doctor. I got money, I can pay."
The loner glanced at the horizon. The five horses and the metis were gone. He was alone with a dead horse, two dead cowboys, and the wounded man. "Which way is town, Hardy?"
"Ten miles west of here. A place called Desolation." Hope shimmered with the fear in his voice.
The loner nodded. He unstrapped his saddle and shouldered it, taking the canteen as well. Then he took a knife from his boot and tossed it over to Hardy.
"What's this," asked Hardy desperately. "You gotta help me! I gotta get to a doc or I'll die!"
"You're gutshot, Hardy. You're already dead." The loner looked down at him for a moment. "I've seen strong men live for three days after they get shot in the gut, Hardy. You look like a strong man." The loner started walking west.
"I can't protect myself with a knife," Hardy yelled after him frantically. "I got no water, I can't move!"
"I ain't got no water to spare for you, Hardy," the loner said over his shoulder. "You're a dead man. The knife is the only help you get. You'll know what to do with it, when you come to the narrow passage." The white-haired loner walked steadily, ignoring the fading screams and curses.
He headed west, towards Desolation.
Silver stepped outside to get some fresh air. So far it had been an interesting day.
Zeb had seen some unusual characters today, at least this one was familar and she was standin next to him. He looked up at her, she looked kinda Chinese, because of her coppery skin, but she had long silvery hair. Who cares what she was, Damn she was beautiful, and wasn't afraid to show it either. But this little lady was strictly hands off, she didn't put out for nobody and had no problems kill'n anybody who stepped over the line. She racked up a body-count fast as any gunfighter too. Fortunately people she didn't go looking for trouble.
A couple of cowbodys came up to her, Zeb figured they were the fellows she made fools of earlier. One of the boys pulled and cocked his six shooter. "Damn fool," he thought.
The man yelled, "Hey Silver, hows about pulling that shit with your little gun now!" He gave and evil chuckle.
Zeb lowered his hat, he didn't want to see what he knew was gonna happen.
Silver was very calm, this guy was no gunfighter, it was easy enough to tell. He was shaking his gun at her and looking around. There was no focus, no concentration, just anger and bravado. But she still had not intention of getting either shot or rapped by these two amateures, which was what they were obviously after. She looked at him, he was just out of arms reach. She responded, "Is this what you're wanting?" With that, using her left hand she slowly removed her silk sash, and dangeled it out to here side.
"Whoo hooo!" the man yelled. "But ya thank that gonna git yoll outa this?" He looked over at his partner, "The little whore's gonna do us both tonite!"
Hearing that Zeb absolutely had to look up.
Silver smiled, with a flick of her wrist and she wrapped the other end of the sash around the man's hand holding the gun, and the hammer. She then side-stepped and pulled him in twisting his arm and pointing the gun away from her. She then noticed his partner drawing his gun. She turned the fool around, relaxes the sash, discharged the gun. The gun struck the man squarely in the chest, killing him before he hit the ground.
The man she held in the joint-lock saw his partner get killed went loco. He started screaming, struggeling and kicking like mad. This was to no avail, Silver was a trained figher, and had grown up learning to fight much stronger, and more skilled opponents that this. She bent the man's wrist and elbow back where the gun was pointed back at his face. He screamed even louder. Silver could have taken the gun away anytime she wanted to, but this was a much more poetic solution. She struck the gun again simultaneously cocking then immediatly discharging it.
The bullet struck him dead in the eye. Silver stepped back to avoid getting blood on her dress.
Noriko walked out just in time to see Silver's bit with the sash. There was difinately a martial style of some sort, not simple Kempo, Karate, or Kung Fu, but one of the more deadly varients. And she was good enough to improvise moves on the fly. What was a girl like this doing here? She would have to learn more.
Silver looked up, a Japanese girl in a calvery uniform, and carrying a katana! Silver thought she was unusual, but seeing this girl made her feel absolutely mundane. She wanted to get to know her better.
Anyone would think that the tiny, impoverished, one-horse town of Desolation was some kind of major trade route judging by the number of people who were currently floating through it.
It probably came as no surprise that another person wandred in from the desert on a horse. Like so many others, this one was an unusual-looking woman, albiet slightly less so than the others who had drifted in of late.
Clad in tattered and generic trail wear, and moutned atop one of the shabbiest horses imagineable, the woman was pretty non-descript, save for a few things. The first was the three scars thaty ran down the right side of her face, from the forheahed to the cheek. The second was the patch that covered her right eye. The third was the stink about her. Nothing severe, just noticeable.
She dismouted and tied her horse up at one of the hitching posts. Ignoring the two women staring each other down outside the saloon, she walked on in, a nagging thought going throuh her head. What's with all the Chinamen of late? She tought. First one of the little sods tears up half of Nevada, now theres one of 'em in the cavalry.
Then she entred the saloon and blinked. The place looked like a whole horde of crazed Chinamen had been through it, smashing up everything they could get their hands on. "Shee-oot" she swore to her self as she walked over to the bar. Spotting a familiar figure by the bar,she seated herself next to him.
"Good to see you, Alan" she said to the man. Alan Davies was a tall, lanky man with limp, shoulder-lenght hair.
She ordred a glass of the cheapeset whisky she could get. "Sowhat's going at the moment?"
"Just a little." She thought of the horror of having fought, bribed, drunk and swore her escape from the Smegma gang just a month ago. That had eaten up most of her cash, most of her ammo and the third best horse she'd ever had.
"Well, there's a couple of interesting ones..." He paused. "Of course, I could use a drink"
"Naturally". Sandra ordred him a drink. Alan was a former US Marshal who had quit the job under less than ideal circumstancres. Basically a lazy coward, he sold information to free agents like Sandra.
"I've got an interesting one here..." He muttered. "You ever heard of Marta Nys?"
"Who hasn't?" Sandra replied. Marta was possibly the most wanted woman in the west, if not the whole country.
"Well, apparently she's somewhere in the reigon"
"Holy slapnuts" Sandra replied, trying to contain the excitement.
"And you're about the first to know" Alan lied.
"Thanks..." Sandra replied, a rare smile forming. "Thanks a whole lot." She got up, and left behind a collection of coins (Several of the Mexican). Alan pocketed them. Walking out side, she took a moment to take in the fresh air and smell of horse dung. For once, the life of Sandra Blackmore, bounty hunter and danger magnet, was looking up.
"Come on, little girl, put the guns down and you can go back home without any new holes in your body."
The 'little girl' sighed and turned around, looking back at the man whose six shooter was currently aimed at her head held in his right hand and a yellow, tattered, Wanted poster held in the other. Although worn with age and weather, the paper's writing could still be discerned: Wanted, Karin Nys, Alive, 2000 dollars.
"I ain't no little girl," Karin muttered as she turned back to her horse and continued to adjust the straps on the saddle, ignoring him completely in her preparations for travel.
An annoyed look passed over the man's, either a bounty hunter or someone needing the money, face and he stepped off the boardwalk that stretched along and in front of the multitude of stores and inns towards her, his gun never wavering. He studied her as he approached, taking in her five feet seven inches of height, short shoulder length blue hair, green eyes, slim athletic build, and dressed in riding clothes with a belt that held an old six shooter on each side.
"Now be a smart girl and take those guns off before I have to hurt you," the man, an older fellow in his thirties dressed in dark clothes and a long riding coat, instructed. "The reward is for you to be brought in alive, but it doesn't say anything about you being hurt."
Karin sighed and turned from her horse, a black stallion, to glare at him, her green eyes flashing with anger. "If you call me girl one more time, I am going to shoot your thumb off..."
The man laughed, never noticing that the group of people which had been gathering were quickly, but quietly, seeking shelter inside. "Don't make me laugh, little girl-"
Two shots rang out, and two thumbs fell to the dust covered ground in a splatter of blood. The man stared in shock at the smoking barrel of Karin's six shooter that was suddenly in her hand and then down at his thumbs laying on the ground. The wanted poster and his own gun soon followed and he clutched at the wounds in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of blood.
"I told you I'd shoot your thumbs off if you called me girl one more time," Karin muttered with a sigh as she slipped her gun back in its holster and got up on her horse. She looked at the bartender, who had stayed near the entrance, and called out, "Get this idiot some help..."
"Sure thing..." he replied.
"Oh yeah... which way to Desolation?"
The bartender pointed.
"Thanks..." She clucked her tongue and the horse obediently followed her command, the wind whipping her short hair about her face as they left for Desolation.
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