Jake Chambers saunters down University Place, heading South toward the Village and beyond, moving with the gait of a man who is walking only to walk. The summer Manhattan night is humid and stinks of piss. A trickle of sweat drips from the crease of his broad hat.
New Yorkers and tourists both part before him, eyeing the revolvers at his hips. The gunslinger crosses 8th street without looking, barely noticing as a taxi screeches to a halt, sending sparks up from the grid.
The lot on the corner of University and 8th is under construction, its borders enclosed with tall plywood walls painted a sky blue. The board’s surfaces are covered in work permits and graffiti. “Big D Lives!” scrawls across one face in bold pink.
A knothole at head-level catches Jake’s eye. He is drawn to it with an inescapable urge, the twinge in his heart telling him with the surety of his dreams that his destiny can be viewed through the opening, if he only dares to look.
The old man smiles and glances upward, nodding at Fate. So, this is how it begins. Feh. Let’s see what ka has spun for me now. The once-dead soldier from a forgotten place holds his hat on with one hand, and presses his eye to the knothole which the world has provided him, and only him.
Through the knothole Jake sees first nothing but undifferentiated light, golden and bright as any he could remember seeing. Then the lights separate, forming cosmos, galaxies, universes. The stars coalesce into a single globe, which bounces slowly in Jake’s field of vision, growing dimmer, from overwhelming gold to a ruddy orange.
More images swim from the dark, and he sees that the light has become a basketball in the hands of a young boy, his back to the wooden partition, dribbling a ball in front of a wall made of ethereal grey stone. The little boy stops his dribbling and turns, as if all of a sudden noticing Jake’s presence.
“Oh, it’s you.” The boy says, throwing the ball over his shoulder. It passes through a hoop on the grey stone wall without a sound. “I have something for you.” He holds out a silver object, and Jake’s eagle eyes immediately make out a small key, it’s third notch curved like an S. “You could bring us back, you know. We could be together again. There are other worlds than this.”
The boy come closer, a sly grin on his face. “Find the Reader, Jake. He’ll know what to do. But remember, the three must choose. Choose us, Jake, choose your ka-tet. Do not forget the face of your father.”
“Aye, walker. I will not forget the face of my father. I will choose my ka-tet.” He fingers the wooden grip of his father’s revolver at his waist, the initials E.C. burned into the dusky wood. He looks for a way to jump the fence to get at the S-key.
The fence is roughly ten feet tall, made of plywood propped up by 2×4s. Its purpose seems merely to partition the construction from sidewalk traffic, not keep out any concerted efforts at entry. A hinged door cut from the cheap wood stands a few feet to the gunslinger’s left, secured by a padlock affixed to a heavy chain looped through holes drilled in the wood.
Jake walks over and puts a hand on the padlock, judging its resistance and weight in his hand. Deciding this is not the kind of place where a gunshot would go unnoticed, he opts to jump the fence. He takes a few steps back, then gets his old bones limbered up and runs and jumps for the top of the 2×4 in front of him.
The vinegar is not yet out of the old gunslinger’s bones, it would seem, as he makes the leap with ease. The rough edge of the plywood scrapes his palms as he pulls himself up and swings one leg over the divide.
Surveying the yard from his perch, he sees only an abandoned construction site, strewn about with materials and trash. Nowhere is the stuff of his visions from moments before.
Suddenly, another sight catches Jake’s attention—a couple pressed against the far barricade of the yard, appearing at first to be in the opening throes of lovemaking, a muscular black man pressing a woman against the wall, her skin the color of Suzanne’s.
She makes eye contact with him on his awkward perch and gives a cry of relief. “Oh thank you Jesus! Help me ser, this muhfucka some sorta beatin’ fetish!”
Hopping down off the fence, Jake Chambers eyes the two closely, suspecting a trick. Rarely are the agents of ka far from the more deceitful parts of the world. He concentrates on his place in the yard, centering himself, and judges their true nature, then draws the Warhawk with his left hand and points it at the man’s feet. “Step away from the woman, rustler.”
[Jake attemps to use his Magical Sense power on the pair, and the yard in general.]
The gunslinger reaches out with his senses, scrying the pair and the yard around him, but the only awakened thing on this plane of existence is Jake himself. The other two are nothing but sleepers.
The bulky man wheels about, his face the furious mask of coitus interrupted. “The fuck is this? You lose the rest of the Village People, faggot?”
The man exchanges positions with the woman in one violent motion, suddenly holding her body against his own like a shield. He grips her cheeks in one cruel hand, a switchblade suddenly appearing at her throat in the other. It is dark in the unlit lot, but Jake can make out a trickle of blood crawling across the dagger’s glint.
“Why don’t you just mosey the fuck along, and ain’t noone have to find out how good this bitch bleeds, natch?” Only the man’s head and forearms are visible around the woman’s form, and even these features blend into her own shape in the dim haze of indirect light. She whimpers quietly under the knife’s cold finger.
Well, that was expected. The gunslinger kicks himself for not acting sooner; he should have expected this sort of reaction. Now, the only question was whether this was a test put forth by the World, or just another happenstance. In his limited, foggy memory, he remembered a wise man telling him that nothing in this world happens without meaning. How he handles this situation could have unwarranted repercussions, and a death given cannot be taken back. He sees the determination in the eyes of the would-be rapist, and knows that failure to act could mean the woman’s life.
He coolly pulls his sunglasses from the neck of his shirt and slips them on; the darkness of the area is dispelled as the low-light optics pick up and magnify the ambient light of the lot. One of his dream mantras, so numerous in recent days, comes to him now in lilting verse:
I do not aim with my hand;
He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand;
He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun;
He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.
He lets out a slow breath, then raises the barrel of the Warhawk quick as lightning, and his heart sends a .45 magnum round spinning towards the face of his opponent.
[Simple action, use simple object (glasses). Free action, call shot (head/face). Simple action, fire weapon (Ruger Super Warhawk, regular ammunition)]
The Warhawk cries thunder and the heavy .45 flies true, skimming past the girl’s neck to find the man’s cheekbone and what lies beyond. His head snaps back, everything to the rear of his tongue now painted on the plywood barricade. Not the cleanest shot Jake had ever taken, but it would do. Death was death.
The man’s body takes a moment to realize it is over, finally slumping to a rubber heap at the woman’s feet. She begins a wailing sob as she stumbles toward the gunslinger, the right side of her face and neck misted with ichor and particles of head. Her own blood dribbles from one ear. The hapless woman collapses onto Jake’s chest, and he is thankful it is the clean side of her face which she presses against him. Her slurred speech is barely coherent. “Ooooh, oooh noooo Lord, oooh noooo. . . Denzel gon’ find me, Denzel gon’ kill me. Ain’t one of his girls ever kilt a John and lived, oooh Loooord.”
She looks up at him, yelling because she cannot hear her own voice. “You gots to save me, mister, you gots to. I’m in this way ‘causeah you. Get me to the subway, mister, just get me there, and I can light out the first bus from Grand Central. Please, mister, or I’ll be bambaclot by mornin’, please, Lord, please. . . .”
The killing of the man fazes Jake Chambers not in the slightest. He looks down at the gore covering the woman, and the body slumped across the yard, and feels nothing. The hysterical woman beats his chest and pleads for his help. Jake wonders what the powerful man from his dreams would have done. He thinks he would have helped her.
“Calm down, woman.” He grabs her by the shoulders and hauls her up, speaking gruffly, “Denzel isn’t here, nobody saw this and you’ll be fine. It wasn’t your fault. But we have to leave this place, it isn’t safe to stay too long.” Jake tries to get his bearings, and finds that he cannot. His memory does not extend far enough into this place to know the way-signs, yet. “Where is the Grand Central station? I will take you there.”
The gunslinger pauses a moment to reload his gun, flipping the machined black cylinder out of the modern Ruger and pocketing the spent round, with its little square indentation where the striking pin kissed it. He flips a round expertly out of the line of bullets going around his belt: 48 in all, the snub-nosed .45 magnum rounds in front and hollow points lining the back. Two small pouches for spent shells hang at his hips and a small clasped bag hangs at the back, where he keeps his silver bullets and a dozen of the explosive rounds.
He looks up and scans the yard around him, looking for ways out.
The gunslinger looks around the dark lot, trying his best to remember where he was, where he had just been. Somewhere near midtown, he believed. . . Or was he downtown now? For his entire life, all forty-odd years, he had walked these streets and put up in apartments across the city, yet now their names and vectors held a place in his mind marked only by its vacancy, like stepping through a doorway into another room and forgetting why you had come, only that there was a reason once, a reason now forgotten.
Jake looks back over his shoulder to the way he had come, where the chained door stood and the knothole through which he had seen the child still lay. That way must be University. To his right is a chain-link double gate, opening out onto a busier street, which he thought might be East 8th. It was closed by a similar chain and padlock. Ahead of him and to his left were nothing but the tall dark faces of other buildings, as permanent and indifferent as the island of Manhattan upon which they stood.
The woman of the night looks up at him in confusion, her features picked out in green through the light amplification of Jake’s old shades. “Where. . . Where is Grand Central? Nigger, even tourists know that shit. I don’ need you to take me there; ain’t noone would walk that fuckin’ far. I jus’ needsta get to the West 4th stop. It’s real close, just across the park and down a block.”
She crouches low and casts all about her, searching the shadows, the night sky, the dirt at her feet. Her hearing must be returning, because her voice is a whisper now, the shock in her tone giving way to frantic paranoia. “An’ you wrong ‘bout ol’ Denzel—he got ways to find ayeone, he got voodoo witches in his crib, I seent ‘em, keeps an eye on all his bitches, all his corners. If he don’t know ‘bout us already, he gon’ know soon enough. Those voodoo cunts, though, niggas say they don’t like it underground, can’t keep up wit’ you on the train. Get me to West 4th, an’ I just might have a chance for Jersey.”
Numbers and numbers again. Down, from the eighth street. Must be South. He has been travelling the streets all day, and his practiced survivalist’s eye had taken note of his position in relation to the sun. He orients himself mentally, then turns around and points his weapon at the lock on the wooden door behind him, pulling the trigger without a second thought.
The Warhawk cries again, a sharp crack followed by a ringing hush in its absence. The round strikes the lock squarely in the center, utterly decimating the padlock and sending shards of metal flying in all directions. The gunslinger draws the chain out of the door and pushes through, back onto the bustling city street. He heads due South at an easy gait, keeping his weapon low to avoid undue attention. The newly-smithed Ruger was a modern marvel, that was for certain—its heavy central spine added a heft which kept the gun’s vicious kick in check—yet it lacked a certain quality felt only with his father’s pistol, a feeling somewhere between romance and efficiency which could not be improved upon.
Jake travels South, his new charge following close behind, and together they reach the end of the block. At the next intersection, a large park extends out to his right, stretching off into the distance a good mile. Ahead of him, the park extends only a few blocks before ending, giving him the impression of a large green rectangle spread out before him. A lighted path leads diagonally from the street corner into the heart of the park. A railing separates the paths and benches from the green areas, pleasant lawns dotted with tall overhanging trees. Yet the treeline was bathed in a gloomy darkness, concealing shapes as they wandered about on their private affairs. A steady trickle of people came and went from the park’s entrance, mostly rich kids, students at the surrounding universities, the type which Jake had already had more than enough of for one lifetime. With the exception of the park, the tightly-packed city extended all around him.
The prostitute tugs on the sleeve of his jacket, still checking the skies for demons unseen. She points diagonally to their right, out and over the patch of darkness created by the park. “Subway is that way, South some mo’ and out West about five avenues. Which way we go, man? Around the the park or through it?”
This is an invitation from ka, Jake thinks to himself. He has some reservations about coming off the lighted streets as the darkness spreads, but perhaps not being seen can work for them, as well. “Through. We’ll go through the park. Lead the way.” He centers his mind and pays special attention to his sixth sense, the attunement he seems to have for the presence of magic. Dark places hide darker things.
The unlikely pair cross the street and proceed onto the darkening footpath, their senses on edge for signs of danger. Jake moves with purpose, his hands hovering about his pistols, appraising passersby and the people scattered across the wooden benches lining the walk. Though he cannot see truly to the other side, his keen eyes tell him what he needs to know about those who pass by: An adept couple holding hands; a rat shaman dancing slowly in the leaves, babbling an impassioned tirade to no one in particular; a street performer turning cheap spectacles for slack-jawed consumers as his partner lifts wallets and watches with invisible fingers.
But no one, Awake or otherwise, takes particular notice of the lanky man and his garish accomplice. It would take more than what they had to offer to stand out in this part of town. They cross the park in uneasy silence, then traverse West 4th until they reach the subway stop. The prostitute takes Jake down the well-worn steps into the bowels of the city, guiding him through the unfamiliar process of jumping turnstiles and ducking the cameras. They follow signs for uptown and Queens, coming out of a tunnel onto a platform flanked on either side by subway tracks.
The platform extends far into the distance, maybe a quarter mile, giving the shifting crowds full access to the length of the trains as they come and go. Graffitied support beams line either side of the platform at 6 pace intervals, wide enough to provide a man some half-measure of protection from incoming fire. The platform drops off to either side a full 6 feet down to the tracks. To Jake’s right is only space for a single train, but to his left lie 4 consecutive tracks and another platform identical to his own, servicing lines heading in the opposite direction. The two center tracks host subway trains which fly by at full speed, express trains which pass through this station without stopping. A veritable forest of support posts and dividing walls pepper this lower area.
In the center of the platform, twenty meters ahead of Jake, a staircase comes up from below, offering access to tracks lying below the ones to either side of him. Jake notices the crowd’s behavior begin to shift, as people who would be going down the stairs stop short at the head of the steps, utter small gasps or quiet expletives, and turn abruptly, moving directly away from the entrance below. Jake picks up a quiet scrape-thump, scrape-thump, coming from below, the noise of a heavy metal object being dragged up a flight of stairs. The pedestrians nearest the stairs begin to break into outright flight, creating a chain reaction as people all around run simply because everyone else is doing so. The stampeding crowd flows around Jake and the woman of the night, buffeting him about as he stands his ground.
Jake pulls the woman roughly to one side and sits her down behind one of the painted support beams. A graffiti mouse in a yellow t-shirt leers down at them. “Wait here until I come back.” He doesn’t explain himself, simply tugs his hat lower over his ‘shades, stands, and calmly draws the brace of gigantic revolvers at his waist. He thumbs the hammers back and moves 6 paces up to the next support beam, keeping the weapons low in the folds of his jacket so he doesn’t create a panic of his own.
His concentrates on the top of the staircase, and feels the magical blood in his veins quicken as his reflexes sharpen themselves and slow the flow of the crowd around him. Drawing even deeper on his ghostly powers, he centers himself even further, until his mind and body are one, and he acts with the speed of thought.
[Using the Reaction Boost adept power.]
The gunslinger takes shelter behind the beam and does his best to quiet his thoughts and stimulate his adept powers, but the panicking crowd distracts him, hampering his attempts at quickening. [Your reaction increases by 1 for 2 combat turns.]
The scrape-thump continues to rise in volume as the source reaches the top of the stairs, becoming a deafening clang as the offending object is brought to rest on the lip of the stair: It is a huge car door, salvaged from some heavily armored vehicle, by the looks of it. It stands 6 feet tall, with a one inch-wide viewing slit running horizontally across the upper portion of the makeshift siege barricade. A small metal plate has been welded to the spot where the door handle once was, shoring up the shield’s only potential weakness. Its surface is battered and pitted from a thousand gun-blasts, gunmetal pockmarks decorating a spray job of green, yellow and red stripes.
Jake can make out a huge troll standing behind the door, still a few steps down the staircase, propping it up with his muscled bulk. The beast wears a faded leather jacket covered with metal plates and studs. His great beady pupils leer at him through the vision slit, and he lets out a bellowing challenge from his ugly maw.
The gunslinger’s eagle eyes spot another figure cowering behind this one, a great deal shorter and lankier than his counterpart. He catches only glimpses of this second combatant—a wiry torso wrapped in a plain armored vest, a goblin-like face with sharp features, less taken by the disfigurement of the beastial races—an ork, by Jake’s reckoning.
This second man brandishes what could only be a flamethrower, a long series of rods and tubes, with a pistol grip and several knobs on one end, terminating in a ventilated nozzle on the other, fronted by a pilot light which gutters in the frenetic drafts of the deep. Two tubes lead from the butt of the projector into two large tanks strapped to the ork’s back. Jake has seen such a weapon before, and is familiar enough with them to know that shooting the tank with regular .45s will not be enough to ignite the fuel within.
The ork calls out from behind the mobile wall of flesh and steel, taunting the gunslinger. “Denzel tell us Destiny be runnin’ wit’ a real bad mon now, sight. ‘E say de spirits see dis one and tremble. But I an’ I ain’t scared o’ no bombaclot whitebread, ’ear?” He sprays a stream of flame at the ceiling, setting the moldy tiling to flame. “Ain’t never scared. At em’, Zaquan, let’s see ’ow de man burns.”
[The order for the first round of combat will be Jake, Flamethrower, Shield, Woman, Jake.]
The gunslinger doesn’t need the invitation to action. He knows he needs to take the troll down first, and expose his companion’s vulnerable weapon. All things have weak points…
He raises his father’s gun in his right hand and sights down the long barrel at the vision slit of the car door. He hopes he doesn’t hit any passersby, but if it is their destiny to be struck down here, there is nothing he can do to stop it. The weapon rings out mercilessly in the confined subway tunnels of New York.
[Simple action, aim weapon. Free action, Call Shot. Simple Action, fire weapon.]
The Ruger Old-Arms bucks in the gunslinger’s hand, sending its charge true. The round scrapes through the shield’s vision slit, drawing sparks as it caroms off one edge and begins to tumble.
The .45 splinters apart as it travels the last few inches between the vision slit and the troll’s face. The chunks of hot lead tear a score into the right side of the beast’s head, pulping his eyeball and ear.
He howls in agony, pitching back onto one knee as the gargantuan metal door presses down upon him.
People all across the platform cry out at the revolver’s sharp percussion, streaming away from the combat in a disorderly stampede.
The flamethrower-toting ork, suddenly without cover, curses loudly and brings the nozzle of his weapon about. A gout of burning fuel springs forth with a pressurized scream, sweeping from the center of the platform outwards in an attempt to corral the gunslinger and keep him pinned against the precipice.
Jake watches the flaming pitch arc through the air toward him, coolly weighing his options. He decides to take the safest route, knowing that even a glancing hit could spell fiery death.
The gunslinger dives to the left, ahead of the wall of flame advancing toward him, performs a textbook shoulder roll, then lets his momentum carry him the last few paces to the ledge, sliding on the seat of his faded jeans.
He slips over the edge, his boots just reaching the filthy ground below before the flame passes overhead. Jake clutches his hat to his head, ducking involuntarily at the wave of heat emanating from above.
Jake moves a few paces up the tracks to avoid the burning fuel dripping from the ledge where he had stood moments before. He takes on a half-crouch, keeping his profile beneath the lip of the platform, pistols raised. The track beneath his boot begins to vibrate ever so slightly.
Jake remembers one of these trains from a long time ago; evil things they are, with their own agendas. He should stay clear of them if he can, but right now there are more pressing matters to deal with. Staying in a crouch, Jake begins running up the tracks, away from the heat of the flames behind him. Psychotic ork, he’s going to set this whole place on fire. Many will die if I don’t stop him.
After running about 10 meters, Jake stops and half-jumps up to the edge of the tall platform, just enough to get his arms and upper torso onto the concrete, where he can take a shot. Awkwardly, he leans his weight on his stomach and points his guns downrange, with his legs dangling over the tracks. Pulling both triggers at once, he aims for the ork’s center mass, easy shots for an easy takedown.
[Free action, run. Simple action, change position. Simple action, fire weapons.]
Jake struggles for a moment to line up a decent shot, but his awkward hanging position forces his arms up above his head, making him aim with his wrists rather than his whole body. The salvo leaps forth, one round burying itself angrily into the ork’s gut, the other flying just wide, clipping the ork’s exposed arm, but drawing nothing more than a trickle of blood. Though the gunslinger’s aim was true, the ork’s armored vest has taken the brunt of the kinetic force, leaving the ork merely winded and badly bruised.
The crazed man cries out, wheezing from the pain in his gut. “You. . . you ’owboy mothafucka! Come owt now, so I can watch you burn!” He steps forward and sends another torrent of flame arcing at the gunslinger’s face.
Jake kicks off with his feet to dislodge himself before the burning fuel reaches him, but his elbows catch his weight, holding him above the lip. He watches wide-eyed as the flame grows closer, flailing in panic to avoid its path. He clears the lip at last, landing awkwardly and pitching sideways to avoid the waterfall of burning liquid which cascades down from the edge of the platform.
The gunslinger rises wearily to his feet, dirty but not yet aflame. He can hear the wounded moaning of the troll above him, and the frantic prayers of the prostitute, far away from him now at the platform’s entrance. The thrum of the subway tracks begins to increase in pitch and volume.
That was close. Too close. Amazed that no automatic fire safety measures have been triggered, Jake tucks one hand over his hat and runs away from the flames again. He pelts up the tracks, heedful of the dangerous situation he is in, from the live rails and passing trains. He has time.
He shouts out to the prostitute on the landing, “Destiny, run! Get to safety!” He hopes she’s not dumb enough to stand still and be burned alive. If she gets away from these two she stands a good chance of making it out of here. Jake pauses briefly to consider the folly of his role in all this; surely he is in the process of making very powerful enemies, but that die was cast when these two hitmen came to kill him. He wonders what else the voodoo spirits told them about his own powers.
He reaches back to the ammo bag hanging from his belt and brings out a handful of shells. He selects two of the red-tipped explosive .45’s, thick as a man’s thumb, and pops them into the Old Army’s chambers, replacing the two spent rounds there. He spins the cylinder and flicks it back into place with the two explosive bullets set to fire next, then scrambles up the retaining wall and back onto the platform.
Jake scrambles over the lip of the platform and looks out to his right, surveying the field of battle. The ork and his troll counterpart are still where they came up the steps, roughly 20 meters away from him. The ork has an insane grin on his face, spraying gouts of fire where Jake had gone over the edge. The troll is still down, lowing like a stuck pig under the weight of his makeshift shield.
The entire right side of the platform is bathed in flames. Plaster falls in large, burning flakes from the ceiling, where Jake spots a series of sprinklers jutting out at angles from a matrix of pipes. Even in this inferno they refuse to do their duty—it is unclear if the trigger mechanism is simply stuck, or if there is no water to be had in the pipes themselves. This city is moving on, the gunslinger thinks to himself.
He spots the woman of the night spring up from where he had left her and make for the platform entrance, her hands over her head. Jake sees a light appear at the mouth of the subway, getting brighter as the sound of flying steel grows louder.
Jake stands in the midst of the chaos, burning embers falling down around him and the sound of the panicked crowd loud in his ears. He cocks and raises his father’s pistol, level with his eagle’s eyes, and drops his left shoulder to balance the weight. He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. He has not forgotten.
The little spigot at the top of the flamethrower’s fuel tank bobs in and out behind the gun’s forward sight. Jake breathes out and squeezes the trigger, and the voice of the old Ruger sounds out a third time. The red-tipped round spins once down the barrel and spins toward its target.
[Simple action, aim. Free action, called shot. Simple action, fire weapon (.45 explosive)]
Jake’s world closes down around him, until there is nothing but himself and the fuel-tank’s nozzle, until hitting his target is only a matter of pulling the trigger. The explosive round strikes the spigot with a metallic spang, then a sharp crack as the bullet detonates. There is a moment of silence, then the fuel-tank bursts apart with a deafening roar, sending sheets of flame billowing out in all directions.
Burning fuel bathes the ground around the pair in a lopsided circle some 15 meters across, obscuring everything within. Through the coruscating haze the gunslinger sees the outline of the ork pushing itself to his feet.
Amazingly, the figure begins to charge toward him out of the ring of fire, screaming bloody murder, his body still burning from head to toe. The ork’s headlong assault closes the distance between them to 10 meters.
Jake is surprised for a moment, caught off guard by the wanton bloodlust and pure hate in the ork’s burning eyes. The man is on fire.. he should be on the ground screaming, but still he comes at me. His instincts kick in and he starts to jog backwards, raising his guns with arms outstretched. He hops back a few paces and the pair of Rugers sounds out, first the Warhawk, then the Old Army with its explosive round a second later. Five bullets wasted on an ork. I’ll aim for the head next time.
[Running backwards. Simple action, fire weapon (Ruger Super Warhawk). Simple action, fire weapon (Ruger Old Army)]
Jake dances the gunslinger’s dance, his every movement given over to the operation of his twin revolvers. He skips back, guns held out before in parallel, and lets the Warhawk rip—the heavy slug catches the ork square in the chest, lifting him from his feet. The gunslinger rides the first pistol’s recoil, his point-toed boots skidding to a halt on the dusty concrete platform.
A silver train comes rumbling into the stop on the gunslinger’s right, straight through the 15 meter section of track which was completely consumed in fire. The subway breathes through the wall of flame, its huge cyclopean light blinding Jake momentarily. It brings with it a huge blast of air, whipping at the gunslinger’s jacket and blowing his aim off true.
Jake compensates for the incoming wind, tracing the backwards arc of the ork in motion, then looses the explosive round, catching the ork full in the shoulder. The flaming body corkscrews through the air with this new impact for a heartbeat, then detonates into a sickly spatter.
Jake looks over the platform in front of him. A flaming subway car goes flashing by him, all silver and snapshots of surprised faces. The entire entrance area of the platform was still alight, though it was thinning now that most of the fuel had burned up. In the center of the blast lie the tattered remnants of the flamethrower, scattered around the heavy armored car door. Of the troll, nothing can be seen. And so of Destiny. On second inspection, however, the gunslinger notices a trail of liquid running from the center of the blast to the steps going below. It looked like a mixture of gasoline and blood.
Just then, Jake notices something else, a movement directly in front of him. He looks down in time to catch a piece of the cement floor raise up from the platform, revealing a simple wooden door beneath it. It slides slowly to a stop in front of him, reflecting the flickering light of the inferno behind it. The door itself is flaking white paint, its doorframe done in a quaint sky blue. The handle shines gold, and a golden nameplate across the doorframe reads simply, “DEATH”.
The door stands before him in defiance of physics, reality and being. This shouldn’t be here, he thinks, this is the wrong place for a thing like this. A drifting piece of memory comes back to him, like memories of snowy days and old playmates now forgotten. This door and I are no strangers to each other. I came through a door like this once…
The revolvers spin idly in his hands, reloading themselves before returning to their holsters across his waist. He pats himself down, checking his equipment; there might not be a chance to return to this place after stepping through the door in front of him. His coat is a little singed but okay; he takes his hat off and turns it in his hands; the sweaty creases are still all there, and he tugs it back over his head. He reaches to the small of his back and checks the placement of the Colt America L36 there in its hidden holster. It is still secured with its two spare mags at easy reach. His medkit and survival supplies hang close under his jacket in a white pleather bag bearing a red cross and a small bloodstain at one corner; he found it in a pawn shop where he was told the bag’s former owner wouldn’t be needing it any more.
Satisfied he is as ready as he can be, he taps the metal points of his cowboy boots on the ground and crosses his arms, regarding the door in front of him. He scratches the stubble at his chin and walks around the door slowly to examine the other side.
Jake skirts around the door, glancing cautiously at its other face. It appears about how one might have guessed: the opposite face of the door, like a mirror-image of the front side. The only difference is that there is no nameplate running along the headjam. The door gives off waves of magic, which the gunslinger can only barely comprehend. It is a spell, that much is certain, though one unlike any he has seen before.
The subway to his right grinds to a halt, and Jake can hear the anxious shouts of the passengers within, waiting for the exits to open so that they can disembark from the flaming train.
The door stands motionless, obelisk-like.
“Hrm.” Jake completes his slow circuit of the door. The other side offers no clues as to its purpose; he should have expected as much. There’s one thing you do with doors, he thinks to himself, as he rests one hand over his father’s initials on the butt of the old Ruger. He extends the other hand, grips the handle of the door, and turns.
No sooner has Jake grasped the knob than the door flies open, revealing a darkened park on the far side. He feels himself being pulled toward the door, as if some unseen shade were dragging him through. The gunslinger stumbles through the threshhold, then quickly casts about to get his bearings on the far side.
Jake quickly realizes that he has been to this place earlier that night, when he walked with Destiny. He is standing inside the large fountain which sits at the center of Washington Square Park. The rim of the fountain was dirty concrete, raised around the edge to provide a place to sit. A handful of steps lead down to the center of the fountain, which was dry now, with a raised circle in the center where the water might have jetted out on a hot summer day. All around him were paved paths dotted with lamp-posts and trees engulfed in shadow. To his left stood a large arch, made of white stone and droplit with lights along its base.
And there were other men in the circle, other men with doors behind them. Directly across from him he could make out a door made of a dark wood, bordered in green. The nameplate read simply, “THE SHADOW”. The man who had just come through the door was Indian, with long shaggy hair coming to his neck and a thick beard. He wore a stained white T-shirt which bulged with signs of an armored vest beneath, and equally dingy khakis held up by a woven belt. He wore a broken-in backpack which bulged with unknown contents. The young man had an easy, self assured stance, and he held a racing motorcycle beside him, which had somehow made it through the door with him. On his belt hung a strange-looking device: a bronze rod, maybe a foot long, with four small claws on either end.
To his right Jake could see another door with another man. This door was made of polished steel with an orange frame. The nameplate reads only, “THE LIGHT”. In front stood a tall man with wavy blond hair cut close, his modest features framed by a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. He wore a large white laboratory coat, scorched here and there with blackened marks, over a polo and blue slacks. His upright stature and the incline of his head suggested a man of higher education.
Just then the gunslinger notices that there is a third man standing at the exact center of the fountain, equidistant between them on the raised circle from which water might spray out. This man wears a tattered brown three-piece suit, and leans heavily on a cane. He gestures to each of them in turn and calls out, “Ah, finally, you have all arrived. Come closer, so we may talk.”