"Look, I'm not saying guns are worthless," Tristain slurred drunkenly to his companion. "I'm just sayin', is, just...stuff ain't the same on Solace as it is, uh, here. Wherever here is. This...bar, thingy. Place. What's your name again?"
He cast his gaze around the smoky room. Shapes loomed out of the dim light, people making their way to and from tables, or waitresses carrying blades and trays of drinks. Everyone seemed very intent on their own business, and paid the gunfighter no attention whatsoever. He sniffed to himself and took another pull of what passed for their top-shelf beer. The stuff was foul, but little by little, it was doing the trick. Soon he wouldn't be able to remember his own name, and it would be all downhill from there.
"I mean, you know, right?" he continued, staring gloomily into his nearly-empty glass. His own battered reflection moped back at him, bleary-eyed and sunburnt. It had nothing to say, so Tristain kept talking. "I can fill the air with bullets for, say, three seconds. And, sometimes, you know, that's enough. But rounds are so fuckin' scarce on the Colony, brother...gods, sometimes...I wish they'd fund, you know, a fuckin' box of shells and a palisade wall around the place. Gods, but we could use that." A considerable pause, and then he added, "And a brace of cannon, too, I suppose. And a massage parlor." Pause. "And, thing, what is it...cleaner's. Clothes are filthy."
Tristain took another swig, and sighed. The glass was totally empty, drained of the amber fluid that kept him loquacious and calm. It had tasted terrible, but by the gods it had been strong medecine. He banged on the table with his slender fist for the bartender. When that failed to summon the public servant, he bawled to the distant figure, "Hey! I'm fuckin' thirsty, son!"
Slowly, wiping a mug clean with a rag, the bartender approached. He frowned disapprovingly at the sullen nobleman. "I think you've had more than enough, partner," the big man drawled. "You look pickled as it is."
"Fuckin'...fuck that," Tristain replied, getting to his feet. His coat billowed out behind him, and his eye blazed. Swaying somewhat, he grabbed the bartender by his shirt and yanked him close. "Do you know who the fuck I am?" the nobleman snarled, narrowing his gaze. The pistol at his hip clicked against his belt. "I'm fuckin' Tristain gods-damned Follingsworth, the Black Luck, the gunwitch of the Seraphim Downed. I'm hell on the air and on the earth. I've slept with (some quick mental math, fumbling lips, furrowed brow) at least four of the Carrington sisters. I'm...fuckin' King Shit of Fort Kickass. Don't you tell me when I can't have more to drink, you filthy lowborn fuck."
The bartender seemed unimpressed. "A gunwitch, eh?" he asked, firmly removing Tristain's weakening fingers from his shirt. "There ain't no such thing. You're a jump-ship nob with a gun is all you are. Piss off outta my bar, son, 'fore you get beat."
Tristain stood back, rocking at his heels for a moment or two. He glanced down at his drinking buddy of the last hour or so. The potted plant did not rise to his defense, nor offer to buy him another drink. The nobleman paused, weighing his options.
Whisper-quick, he drew the pistol with blazing speed, hand a blur of fingers and steel. The brand-new holdout sailed out of his hand, over the bar and into the huge silver mirror that hung nearby. Glass shards and busted liquor covered the tables, the drinks, the empty glasses. They also covered the bartender.
The mess was considerable, but not as bad as the one left by a screaming gunslinger as he went through the front window of the tavern.
"No such thing as a gunwitch," he grumbled to himself, limping along the street. "I'll show...show them there's no such thing as a...whatever it is. Witch. Gunman." Pause, stumble. "Thing."
His head ached from bruises and the booze and the explosive exit from the bar. More than that, it burned with the truth. There was no such thing as a gunwitch. There never was, and there never would be. There was no magic to what he did, which, if he was being honest with himself, wasn't all that much. He sassed the colonists and stumbled along and fired his guns into mobs of screaming things he hardly ever recognized, and usually somewhere along the line he fell down. Some hero he was turning out to be.
Tristain took a hit from the bottle of rum he was carrying along, pilfered from some inattentive drunk in the street. It was sweet, and burned. His thoughts ran like quickfire, wild and free. Somewhere in the depths of city's steel canyons, a dog howled, and his blood ran cold.
Going through the machine had been terrifying, and now things that normally wouldn't register were scaring him. He didn't like to be alone, or unarmed, or in the dark. Only the bright light of the city's gaslamps kept him from wetting himself and sprinting to the nearest building. That, and the inebriation, he supposed. The man suppressed a shudder and stumbled drunkenly on, a captainless ship on a sea of blind currents.
The prior week's events swam into his mind, unbidden. Gods, had all he done was bitch the entire time? Bitch to friends, enemies, people he didn't even know about how inadequate he felt? He ran a finger over his eye and moaned to himself. What a fucking loser. Whatever happened to Meridian stoicism, to keeping quiet before the crowd, to bearing it with grace?
All pulled out of him by the Exodus. Her, and the fire that came after.
A few more steps' consideration pulled him back from those memories. But he had felt like a loser, had looked like a total failure before his peers. The trickshots failing, and then later when he hadn't been able to shoot the can off the railing...and their laughter afterwards, good-natured as it was, had stung him to the core. He was a one-eyed failed gunfighter, still alive through a trick of luck. Now all he was good for was soaking up bullets and aiming hopefully into the mob. Oh, and giving thirteen year old girls whiskey. Don't forget that, fucker.
"Feel a bit worse for yourself, you git," he said to himself as he walked along. "Nobody else does, that's for damn sure."
His feet carried him a while longer. The rum tasted worse now, perhaps due to the level of scum on the surface. A quick glance revealed the sheer level of backwash and dirt in the bottle. Shrugging, he took another drink, and staggered on.
Those people with magic, now. Those were something. They could hurl fire from their palms, and heal people's wounds, and hell, apparently raise the dead. That had been something. Rocked him to his core, for sure. Of course, there hadn't been a resurrection for him under the lamplight, but hell, that was just his luck, wasn't it? Why should they care if a useless cyclopean gunman died, anyhow?
If he'd had magic, though. A melancholy grin came to his face. Oh, yes. Some power to sweep aside the Black Sails, to send fear through their ranks. To cause them to step away from him, as that one wounded captain had. That was power, sure as anything. He'd kill to have that power.
A sigh blew through his lips, tasting of rum and pity. "Yeah, Follingsworth," he muttered to himself. "You can learn magic. Who'd teach you? Sarah? Sure, and by the time you knew anything useful, the captain of the Exodus would be wearing your face as a hat. Or pick up a sword again? Yes, have Duncan teach you, and then...then, a hundred years from now, you'd be any good..."
He sighed again, and stopped, leaning on a wet alley wall. He couldn't take care of his brothers, or his friends, is what it came down to. Mark had the Black Mark now, Reginald was still a mess, Duncan...was screwing crazy, it seemed, and Tess was a doctor. A doctor with a blade, sure, but still a doctor. And Sarah...it could have been her, somewhere in the dark that night, pressed on all sides by pirates. What could he have done? He had no power, no huge sword or shield or axe. He couldn't keep her safe, either.
(Tabitha and Wolfgang, he mused, didn't count. They were on vacation, and their idea of vacation was probably firing cannons at one another until one decided it had started to tickle. He shuddered and dodged away from the thought.)
"Damn the Black Sails," he muttered. "Damn them all down to hell. I'll kill every last one, until they run from my very name, fall like leaves before my guns. Then no one'd laugh at me, or...or point at my dead eye, or let me die under the porchlight. Fuckers." A pause. "Fuckers."
Idly, he looked up at the building he was leaning on. The sign over the front door read, 'Tattoos by Red". Red. He missed Red. A fine man, lost that day along with so many others. Maybe this was good luck, stopping here. Another thought occurred to him, and he put the bottlemouth to his lips. Maybe he didn't need more power to kill the Sails. Maybe they just needed to think he was more dangerous than he really was.
Tossing the empty bottle to the cobbles, he spat, and walked inside.
Tristain dropped into the chair. It was scratchy and wet against his naked back, but solid.
The tattoo artist frowned behind a mass of beard and facial scarring. "What'll it be?" he growled, hefting the massive needle in one paw.
The gunslinger shrugged. "Go nuts. I don't care."
Taken aback, the big man blinked. "Well, you gotta give me something. I can't just, you know, draw something. You might hate it."
Smiling, Tristain looked up. "You know the Black Sails?"
The needleman's eyes darkened. "Yeah. I know 'em." He hawked a wad of phlegm onto the ironwork floor. "Bastards all."
The nobleman nodded. "I kill them for a living. Kill as many as I can. I want them to know me, to know I'm still alive, that I enjoy ending their lives. I want to tell them, here I come, you fuckers. I won't stop until I can stand on a pile of their corpses, and see home from the Colony." A cruel smile graced his lips, thin and black. "Tell them they will learn to fear me."
"You got it, boss," the big man growled, and bent to his task.
There was no such thing as a gunwitch, Tristain thought as the needle plowed into his skin, burning and silken-smooth. There never would be. It was a word that sounded good, and nothing more. He was just a one-eyed man with a gun.
But they didn't need to know that.