The Ranger with the Big Iron on his Hip
rating: +4+x


Part 1

Twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip

Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip

Big Iron, Marty Robbins

In a deserted, small-town street, the sun set on two hardened men facing each other silently. A brown European coat covered one figure, while a large hat loomed low over the other’s face, young but coarsened with experience. Two pairs of dirty hands held dirty pistols. Onlookers watched from the windows of houses. Neither man moved.

“You gonna kill me, lawman? Because I’d sure appreciate not being shot.”

The motionless lawman kept his ground.

“No can do, sir. Mercy ain’t my type of thing.”

“Aw, come on. I’m assuming you’re a perfectly reasonable gentleman!”

The force of justice pulled off his wide-brimmed hat, showing a face that was no longer normal. On its right side was mangled skin, with scarred flesh creeping across his face in an almost circular shape. Pink and raw, the evidence of a past bullet wound was displayed all along the side of his head.

“This is what mercy does to a man like me, with this type of profession! Now put your hands up and we’ll end this!”

“Alright, alright! Look, I’m holding my hands in the air, ya see?”

The criminal may have been holding his arms high, but a grin remained on his face. Whether it was of nervousness or malicious intent was unknown. His light brown greatcoat fluttered as the wind picked up.

The setting sun set the sky ablaze in a vivid red, framing the two duelists against its scarlet backdrop. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. The deafening silence filled the air.

At that moment, someone slammed their shutters closed with a loud BAM.

The lawman snatched his colt and fired a bullet in one smooth shot. It landed, however, not in the chest of his opponent where had aimed, but in an arm. A third arm, which had emerged from the great brown coat to intercept the shot and weakly disappear back into this coat. In that second, four more arms emerged from inside, each brandishing its own pistol. While the criminal’s two arms may have still been in the sky, it was apparent he had other means to take down his foe.

“Alright, then.” The man with six arms muttered.

The justice-bringer leaped to the side and rolled to a nearby porch, hiding behind a wall of barrels as six guns chaotically opened fire all down the street. A cacophony of bangs resounded as the targeted man kept moving from porch to porch.

And then, silence.

The click and whirl of six guns being reloaded.

And one loud bang.

The many-armed shooter fell to the ground, a crater in his face bleeding onto a pool in the sand. All of the additional arms aiding him dropped their pistols and slunk back onto their coat. The lawman strolled up to the corpse, reaching down. He examined his foe’s gun. Too rusty to replace his own. He moved to grab the brown coat adorning the corpse.

He was disturbed, however, by a portly man with a sheriff’s badge looming behind him. The stink of whiskey emanated from the heavy labored breathing behind every word the man said.

“Now would you care to explain why a stranger like yourself wants to kill a man in the middle of our cozy town?”

His beady eyes were inches from the lawman’s eyes, and he saw the coldness, the uncaring hate behind those eyes.

“I’m Edward Kelly of the Gaskell Observational Consortium, sent to shoot down this scum-sucking lawbreaker right here in the boots where he stood. All official, so step back.”

He held out a warrant.

WANTED

Gaskell Observational Consortium

Guy Hughes of the Snake Boot Gang
For murder of four individuals, thievery, and destruction of property.

DEAD NOT ALIVE

The sheriff, flabbergasted, snatched the warrant and clutched it tightly, reading it over

“I’ve never heard of this- this Consortium as you say! Who are you?!”

“We take care of troublemakers like this. That’s all you need to know.” He said self-righteously, untying his horse from a nearby post.

The sound of a gun cocking came from behind him.

“I’m afraid that fabrication won’t do. I looked in your saddlebags. Ain’t no law enforcer carrying around that much dynamite. Now you’re gonna relinquish your weapons and hold your hands in the air, and maybe I won’t fill you fulla lead! I don’t trust you as far as I can throw ya, and with that much explosive material I ain’t taking any risks. Now, I don’t know you are but I do know ya killed a man in my town, and that’s a hanging offense. Looks like this here’s the end of the road, partner.”

Kelly sighed, and shot the sheriff between the eyes. A few townsfolk ran out to grab the sheriff, two charging straight at Edward. He shot them too, their bodies collapsing into the dust.

He reached down to his first victim. He picked up its coat, and flipped it over his shoulder.

And with that, he kicked his horse and rode out of town. As he rode away, a slip fell out of his pocket and into the vast desert emptiness around him.

COMPLETE WARRANT 262 IMMEDIATELY. BRING COAT BACK TO HQ.

NOTES:
The Coat of Arms: a brown European greatcoat that seems to grant the wielder additional arms. Said arms appear from within the coat and can be controlled just like any other appendage. I tried it myself, the experience was…strange, to say the least.

-Iris Thompson

Did he feel bad about what had happened? One criminal, two civilians and a sheriff were dead. Maybe he did wonder if he’d done too much, but it wasn’t important. He had a job to do, and not hell nor high water would get in the way of his justice.



Part 2

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name

If you want to save your soul from hell a-riding on our range

Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride

Trying to catch the devil's herd, across these endless skies

Ghost Riders in the Sky, Stan Jones

The solitary rider Edward Kelly rode into a large town, hitching himself outside the post office. Sauntering inside, he spoke to the sole employee.

“Telegram for Edward Kelly?”

“Got nothing, sir.”

“You must have misheard me.” Kelly leaned in towards the postman, flashing a small badge on the inside of his coat, “I asked for my telegram.”

The solemn postman turned around to retrieve a slip. He’d barely turned around when Edward Kelly plucked it from his hand and left the little building.

COMPLETE WARRANT 4975 IMMEDIATELY. PROOF OF CAPTURE OR KILL NECESSARY

NOTES:
The Ticking German. I am unsure if this is truly an anomaly or simply the result of a personal machination, perhaps a pocket watch. Regardless, this individual is followed by a noticeable ticking sound, which seems to be able to be stopped and started by choice. Of course, this is almost based on local knowledge and hearsay, as the Ticking German is both an elusive individual and a ruthless killer.

-Iris Thompson

After a quick read he shoved the note into a pocket and flipped through a saddlebag full of papers, pulling out the lucky number.

WANTED

Gaskell Observational Consortium

Werner Baumann
“The Ticking German”
For murder of nine individuals.

DEAD NOT ALIVE

Kelly whistled at the number of deaths brought about by this individual. He was in for a real fight this time.

The saloon was busy this time in the evening, packed to the brim with drunkards, hooligans and assorted ruffians. The air was thick with the smell of half-washed men, booze, and cigars, and the overwhelming noise of the patrons spilled out into the street. Edward Kelly nursed a whiskey on the bar top, waiting for the bartender to finish mingling with an especially chatty customer to his left.

“Getcha another drink, partner?” The bartender asked through two chins and a thick mustache.

Kelly passed a couple shining coins across the bar.

“The Ticking German. I’m looking for him.” He said discreetly.

“Mighty dumb question to be asking.” The bartender declared, oblivious of the intended secrecy. “Could just get yourself killed asking a question like that.”

“I didn’t ask if I could get killed. I asked where I can find this fellow.”

“Well I’m not speaking. Not my place to interfere in that sorta business.” Regardless, he dragged the coins towards him anyways.

Kelly grabbed on to the large hand, holding it in place.

“Then I’ll be keeping these.”

“Oh? You’re going to fight the bartender? I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Edward Kelly pulled his coat side to reveal a grimy gun set in its holster.

“Well, whoop-de-doo! You’re packing a pistol? Let me make something clear.” The bartender leaned in close to Edward, waving his hand to show all the bar. “Every single man in here’s packing a gun just like yours, and if you decided to lay another hand on the man who’s giving them drinks, you’ll be peppered with a hundred bullet wounds. Y’understand?”

“Hmph”

Kelly pulled his coat back and let go of the hard-earned coin.

“Face it, desperado. Here, you’re just another face in the crowd. Another dirty, reckless fool running around waving a gun trying to take what he can get. You’re nothing special.”

Edward Kelly kicked back his stool and stood to face the bartender. This bastard had lied and insulted him. He wasn’t just another face in the crowd. He was justice. He was death. He was a killer of the unrighteous and the inhuman.

But.

But he had made mistakes. Maybe. There were some folk he might have killed prematurely, if he thought hard about it. But it didn’t matter to him, because he knew that he was better than any other drunken bastard here.

He just didn’t want to fight them today.

So he turned around and left, carrying his injured pride with him.

Calling into the night, Kelly paced through empty streets and alleys. The man would be out here. He just had to keep going until he got lucky enough to be targeted. He didn’t stop until he heard an unmistakable ticking behind him.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

“Come on out and face me like a man!” Kelly shouted, twisting around.

“There is a rhyme they tell to the kinder of this burg…” A heavily accented voice whispered through the dark.

“Not my concern, fella!”

“If at night you walk around das block, be wary of the tick tock, tick tock.”

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

“You say another line, and I’m shooting!”

“If the ticking stops für any roamer, then run. Your time ist over.”

The ticking stopped. Kelly drew his pistol and turned around again, firing two shots at the figure who’d appeared behind him. Bullets ricocheted off brick walls as the dark stranger fled, looking like some strange bird in his tasseled coat and flowing sleeves. Kelly chased after him, but he had disappeared.

And the ticking had stopped. The silence suddenly felt overwhelming.

BANG

A bright pain erupted in Kelly’s left shoulder. He staggered to the side as he fired three shots to his left. None hit their mark, piercing leftover boxes and crates instead of his elusive attacker.

The ticking began again, he could hear it. It was right in front of him.

One bullet was left in his barrel. He fired one last shot.

This time there was no ricochet. Just a wet splat and a loud thump as the nimble aggressor’s body fell to the ground.

Edward Kelly crouched over his injured German assailant, stepping on his wrist and kicking away his gun. He loaded his own pistol for one final shot.

“Wait, wait!”

“Can’t, got places to be, evildoers to purge.”

Mein Gott, is there not an ounce of sympathy in your bones? I will never kill again! Please! Bitte!” The face that was once maniacally spouting rhymes was now flooded with tears.

“Not my call. Shouldn’t have broken the law! Now the reaper’s come to take what’s due.”

“No! This town will die without me!”

Edward Kelly stayed his deathly judgement. His eyes squinted, focusing on the face of his captor.

“I should kill you right now. Tell me why I’m wrong, I dare you.”

“You may know me as a Mörder, a killer, but with the money I’ve gotten I’ve saved every child in this town! Orphanages, schools, the sick and the poor! I am a modern-day Robin Hood!”

Kelly did not expect this. Before he could make any decisions, however, the German kicked Edward’s gun out of his hand, sending it flying down the alley. He pinned Edward Kelly down and held tight on his neck. Through gritted teeth the alleyway attacker mocked him as he tried to get a grip on his strangler.

Oho! It seems the mighty gunslinger has a bleeding Herz! You Dummkopf!”

At that moment everything was turning blurry for Edward Kelly. The strong grip around his neck was as hard and immovable as iron. His flailing arms reached for German’s head, clamping on the grooves of his face. He clenched his jaw as he gouged his thumbs into the enemy’s eyes.

The bleeding German screamed and let go of Kelly. Edward took the opportunity to run straight to his gun. Picking it up, he aimed it at the back of the flailing aggressor’s head.

BANG

And another outlaw was claimed that day by Edward Kelly

Kelly rummaged through the pockets of his newest corpse for proof of the kill. He pocketed a shining revolver for himself. He would need it a lot more than this man would, after all. He also found a pocket watch, undamaged in the fight. Oddly enough, it was silent.



Part 3

Just for a moment I stood there in silence

Shocked by the foul evil deed I had done

Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there

I had but one chance and that was to run

El Paso, Marty Robbins

Edward Kelly rode his horse over a dry hill, looking out onto the vast, barren expanse, sparsely littered with cacti and shrubs. In the distance was a large farmhouse and a nearby barn. He pulled a warrant from his saddlebag, and observed its contents.

WANTED

Gaskell Observational Consortium

Brotherhood of the Broken God
For squatting, murder, and disturbance of the peace.

DEAD NOT ALIVE

Attached to it was a telegram.

FULFILL WARRANT 808

NOTES:
I spent a night at a farmhouse owned by the Brotherhood of the Broken God. Despite my reservations, my curiosity got the best of me. They showed me to their barn, where I witnessed something incredible: they had been building a towering mechanical…thing. They told me it was to “serenade the coming of the Broken God upon his magnificent arrival.” If that’s its muse, I shudder to think what the actual Broken God could be.

-Iris Thompson

He rode down to the farmhouse, both pistols uncocked. He wouldn’t be fooled by kind demeanors today. He had been, as the German said, a bleeding Herz before, but he wasn’t one anymore. He was his own brand of justice: cold and unforgiving to anyone who was evil enough to earn his wrath.

Everyone knew the Brotherhood, as friendly as they seemed, was a pack of fanatic cultists, claiming land wherever they could and forcing anyone who couldn’t resist under their control. Local word was that this group had murdered the family that lived there, overpowering them and slaughtering father, mother, and two children when they wouldn’t convert and give up their land. It was said nearly a dozen of the Brotherhood lived in the farmhouse now.

Justice would reign supreme today. The killers and cultists would face their maker very soon. It would be a bloodbath.

And there would be no mercy.

The farmhouse looked normal enough. At least, Kelly thought so as he took a bag off his horse and knocked on the door. A kind looking farmer opened the door.

“Well hello! How can I-“

BANG

Edward blasted him through the chest, shoving the body aside as he rushed into the foyer. He unloaded two bullets, one from each gun, into two more men standing around the entrance.

BANG BANG

Wooden walls became painted in blood splatters.

“By the oil of Mekhane, what have you done!?” A shocked man exclaimed as he rushed into the room and saw the carnage.

BANG

Edward Kelly stood his ground, pistols hot and smoking. The whole building would have been alerted by the gunshots by now. It was just a matter of who was going to come to him and who was going to hide.

BANG

He eliminated one individual aiming a rifle from the next room.

BANG

Another man running towards him with a knife fell backwards, now sporting a new hole in his chest.

Edward Kelly waited a moment for any more challengers. When none came, he took the chance to reload his guns and began moving from room to room. He killed a man waiting in the kitchen, and two women with six-shooters in the bedrooms. Seven men. Two women. Each one ready to fight and kill their attacker. Each one failing miserably.

Edward Kelly left the dead house and moved to the barn. As he pushed open the barn door, he was shocked, this being one of only a few times in his life where this emotion had surfaced, as he witnessed a massive mechanical creation before him.

It stood almost as tall as the barn itself, a conical mass of gear and springs leading up to some vaguely humanoid figure at the top. A high-pitched whine emitted from it as rusted gears clanked together.

His sightseeing, however, was cut short by the sound of a gun uncocking in the back of the barn. Kelly had just enough time to leap back behind the door before it was peppered with two shotgun blasts. He leaned over to land a bullet but quickly fell back as two more shotgun blasts came his way. He ran inside and took refuge behind the mechanical monstrosity as his two foes reloaded their weaponry.

Looking over the side, he fired a shot that whizzed by right next to the shotgun-wielding adversary. He pointed his gun at Edward, and was about to fire his way when the second opponent interjected.

“Stop it! You’ll hit the machine!”

Edward Kelly took the moment of confusion to relieve the interrupted shotgun-wielder of his life via a blast to the side of the head. The second man dropped his gun and ran to his deceased friend, now oblivious to the danger he’d put himself in.

“Roger! Roger!”

Kelly fired one shot into the back of his head.

Now all that was left was the machine. It was certainly strange, with a four-armed figure at the very top as if on a throne of scrap and rust. Instead of a head it had a very large speakerphone sprouting from its neck, which was the source of the constant high-pitched buzzing. Now, obviously a simple gun shot or two wouldn’t be enough to destroy such a thing. Fortunately, Kelly was prepared. Thanks to the notes the Consortium had found, Edward Kelly knew he’d need some extra help in this case.

He emptied out the bag he had been carrying to reveal a heavy load of dynamite. With the extra long fuse lit, Edward Kelly turned to escape to his horse.

“You murdering bastard!”

A grieving woman interrupted his planned exit, stumbling towards him brandishing a sharp knife.

“My Gerald ain’t done nothing wrong once! Not once!” She screamed through tears of pain and rage. “You’re a monster! A monster!”

She fell to the floor, her body heaving with loud cries, before she could make it to Edward. He walked up to her, pointing his gun at her back.

But it didn’t seem right this time.

Confused, Edward Kelly lowered his gun. He couldn’t shoot her. So he left the barn, and that’s when he heard the sound.

Crying.

From the mouth of a babe.

He stood, for a moment, unsure of what to do. He took a couple steps towards the sound.

What would he do? What should he do?

Would a force of justice leave a babe to die?

He froze, panicked. Then he remembered that the fuse was lit and shortening by the second. He didn’t have the time to go back to the house. He’d die too.

He wasn’t ready to die.

So he ran back to his horse, kicking it and riding away just as the barn exploded, taking a large chunk of the house with it. Wood and metal shrapnel flew across the desertscape. When he turned back to see what was left, barely half of the house still stood. Maybe the baby had survived the blast.

Maybe it didn’t.

But that didn’t matter, because justice had been served, and Edward Kelly was the victor, right?

Right?

Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger

Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home

And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'

Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Desperado, Glenn Frey and Don Henley

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