A Ghost in the Guns
It wasn’t like the normal storms.
You see, the storms that hurt and maim are easier to understand, they haven’t a single runner in the race. This storm, this storm was different. The townsfolk moved about in it, knowing the feel, and ignoring it all the same. The storm had come on quickly, and the village was settling down for the evening events. The batwing doors to all the bars in town would creak, the shuffle of drifters and businessmen alike would mar the walls.
The storm kept going. There were dark clouds over the outlying woods where the copse of graves was dug out of the solid dirt. The storm whistled to those that would listen, and those that didn’t were fools. For this storm whispered of a changing, something heralding a turning point in their lives. A thing they would never forget.
The bar was crowded this night; people everywhere, sweating bodies meshed in a terrible and tawdry tapestry of humanity. The storm had even made Dame Jensen appear from her quiet, prayerful solitude at the church. She sat outside the bar, holding her Good Book and engaging anyone that would listen. It wasn’t a peaceful engagement either. She called for wrath and fury, trying to round up ‘honorable men’ that would hunt her perceived evil back into Hell.
Most passed her by, but some – perhaps more virtuous than their fellows; perhaps looking for glory or fame – made a small group around the old woman as she spoke knowingly. Her voice breathed life into the old tales; the ones of monsters and demons and their vanquishers. She was an apt storyteller, and had studied the material incessantly since the death of her husband about two years before. He wasn’t buried in the copse though, she had insisted to bury him in her own yard, saying the copse would be the last place for a good man. So there he stayed. And rotted.
The storm had hit its stride now, blowing curtains in the bedrooms astray, and bowling over folk in the street. The sky held an odd orange tinge at this time, and the old woman screamed of Armageddon as she whipped her followers into a fervor equal to her own. She used the book as a shield against the wind, holding it high above her head with an air of authority, as if she could speak to one of the old gods. If she could, none were listening, for the storm plowed onward into the city and carried with it a fury for which the town was ill prepared.
Omens had pointed to this moment, the moment when everything changes, the time called ‘crucible’ and ‘judgment’ in the old texts. It wasn’t the storm though, but rather what the storm represented. The orange tinge in the sky had taken on a yellow and white color too. The wind had turned inevitably sour, and the lady standing in the street began her tirade once more.
“ Ride now! Don’t you see? It’s the army of the Man! He calls you to his side, so ride out now. Ride to him!.”
The men and women standing by her looked around in confusion, seeking help from others perhaps, but being ignored by the others huddled in their billiards and cards. Her eyes were cold, as in completely. She ordered them to mount, and they did. She barked at them to ride, and they took off in tandem towards the oncoming clouds.
Another man was mounting his horse as well, having watched from the corner of the stormy street, and took off in pace with her own. He wore a tattered cloak and his face was covered by a piece of black metal that wrapped around his face and below the brim of his hat. He rode harder than they did, as if practiced in the extreme, and found them with obvious ease. His horse, tanned and spotted panted slightly as he rode alongside them, using the trees as cover.
The air was thick now, and smelled of the Bad. Those of lesser stomachs left their dinner on the ground, while others simply covered their faces. The storm was white and dirty now as they rode into it’s heart. Dust kicked up in small devils around them, while the ground seemed to have become some kind of sludge below the topsoil. Their horses drug hooves through the mire, and the riders egged them on as best they could. Some left their mounts behind and moved in on foot while the wind screamed at them to leave. They moved on with their guns and knives drawn, held out at the ready.
Horrible noises drifted lazily to them on the air, but not a one – hardened by the frontier life- winced at a sound. Fire had somehow got caught in the trees. It blazed merrily away despite the wind’s best efforts, but never came towards the ground- as if afraid of what was there to greet it. The cloud was truly snow white now, and particles of some make flew with it. The horses that had championed the murk refused to go forward anymore. Solemnly, each rider dismounted and walked ever forward into the blasting debris.
The group crested a large cliff face, one that overlooked the abominations of the Bad. Gnarled towers reached into the skies, skeletal and forbidding, as they tried to touch the sun. Patterns lined the land below, old paint still evident., while ancient carcasses of machines held their secrets. These places were scary, not terrifying, not mystifying, not even horrifying, but the sublime type of scary that all with a brain have known.
Down below, visible in the midst of the cloud that buffeted the bulk of the cliff below their feet, they spied something left by the Bad.
It stuck out of the ground like a pencil, half-buried in the painted patterns, while fire emanated from behind it. It shone like polished metal, and had odd markings only found in the dusted ruins and buried caverns of the Bad. Collectively they had knowledge of such things, but this picture that confronted them was unlike anything they had ever been told. Each hand tightened on it’s weapon, rage of their ancestors came to their throats. Some hung back, but most plodded towards the stretching architecture whose purpose was left unknown.
The rider who had paralled them slowed his mount. He trodded her through the cloud and up to the peak of the cliff where some still stood. Those left stared up at him with confused eyes and saw his gaze, sharp and pure. There was a tranquility there that aided them. His black mask moved as he spoke, a voice with eloquence and an unknown accent.
“ I am Fire, “ He spoke from old memory, “ I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Those around watched his gaze as it turned to those on the descent trail. He drew a single black pistol from somewhere near his heart and cocked the hammer.
“ Fire in the sky, riders from all the Hells of the Proto Worlds,” His soothing voice spoke only poetry it would seem, or something akin to it. His black mask moved with each syllable as if part of his face and not worn by it.
“Watch now, man. Watch the destruction those hands, my gift to you, have wrought, watch now man, as I rain your blood onto fields more ancient than your own, and with your blood, those fields shall be sown.”
His voice drifted into the sky, becoming one with the sky and the cloud that had exhausted its worst.
Those descending had reached the ground level now and moved in a body towards the burrowing machine. Many remarked as they moved on of the symmetry surrounding them, the excellence in construction, and yet the ruin that had given them death was the first thought. Their weapons were clutched in much lighter grips now as the wonder tempered their purpose. Most stopped to study the buildings and pieces that lay about, wondering at their intended form. Some began to vomit again, but the cause was unknown. Many cared little for the reason, though they should have.
Ghosts seemed to whisper to them from the ground, not the ruins, but the actual ground they tread on. The cloud had thickened by this point, becoming more a fog than a blast. As the group drew closer, the clanking of old gears could be heard over the din of their worried whispers. Then the clanking stopped abruptly, leaving only their whispers. All eyes moved to the machine as the fire slowly died from its tail and it fell prey to gravity, plowing through the twisted remains towards the painted ground.
From above the rider watched with his tranquil eyes, while all around him scrambled towards the woods and their precious town. The giant hit the ground with a loud sound. He put a hand in front of his face, his cloak shielding his body.
The ground baked beneath their feet as the giant let loose a final squeal and erupted in a wave of shrapnel and sizzling fire. Each of them knew nothing more as their bodies twisted like ragdolls in the air. Many slammed into the structures they had been admiring, their bones and organs popping like corn in the fire. Many found their various appendages burned off to the bone, flesh leaving like rainwater in the morning. Others suffered eyes running from their skulls like bubbling oil across their skin. Teeth melted in those that opened their jaws, and the same could be said of their throats. The guns that they held had fused to their hands, those that still had them that is.
The rider above sighed, blue eyes turning pale unnaturally. He clicked at his horse and began to fit other pieces to his mask as the steed trotted down the same incline as the previous group. He raised his eyes to the sun, their pupils turning sideways and all but gone in the moment. He held a readied gun in either hand while voicing to the sky.
“Man has sought what they have made, what you and I buried for the sake of countless generations still to come, now we must have the fight, the very fight you tasked me to evade.”
He rode into the cloud, steaming and moaning bodies all around. His guns fired incessantly, killing them with straight shots to the brain. Those that looked in the last of their breaths saw not a rider in black, but a creature of unexplainable origin, marked and beaten by forces they believed unreal.
His bullets flew through them, and he muttered curses at the old Dame from the town. These too he rhymed.
His targets died within an instant, his hands steady and able as they delivered mercy. Something inside his coat began to beep as he moved towards the center of the destruction. He holstered a gun, and reached for it. The old machine he held showed a needle that ticked up a track of numbers. He eyed it slowly, contemplatively, before shoving it away. The steed beneath him stopped suddenly while approaching the direct center of the blast. The creature bowed its head and shuffled down to the ground. The rider dismounted in confusion, stroking his mount and wondering at her behavior. He stroked her nape a bit, then turned towards the clouds of green.
The rider fell to his knees, dropping the gun in his hand. Then removing his hat to reveal a scarred balding head. Then bowing forward in a graceful and practiced way. Then crying softly.
Out of the green haze, a man came stumbling with his hands held up in fear. His eyes were wild, his body still flamed slightly, but the man’s skin healed faster than his mind. The rider looked up from his bowing position, blue eyes like beacons in the haze. The man before him was young, but not too young with a slight growth of beard on his pale features. Eyes green like the old seas of this world, he fell into the rider’s open embrace. Tears ran from the mask.
“For you have seen me in my time, for you have cursed me through all time. I have watched and waited, the reunion as promised goading my every step. And now, as life begins to breathe its last, you bring me the life that I was cursed to take, the life I was told to take, so that the world, as seen fit, we could together make.”
The rider spoke once more, his voice dry and sad.
“ Welcome home to me, my brother, a sad world bye and bye, but all time now for you and I.
Welcome home Herman, alas, though, for once more, they ruin these lands.”