Like thunder, deep laughter rumbled.
Spinning around, Draco Torre raised her guns and thumbed hammers back. Three pyres burned illuminating the dusty road, and two others smoldered. A body lay face-up in the road before the saloon. Uncertain where the laughter came from, Torre continued turning around, her left arm trailing behind until both guns aimed nearly in opposite directions. Two bodies lay at the base of the steps to the church.
Completing the circle, she faced the line of pyres splashing light on the pale faces of the buildings. The putrifying stench of charred former residents mixed with the smell of released bowels and blood from their fallen murderers. Shops and homes gazed on in mourning.
A deep voice cracked into Torre’s skull beating against the back of her head. Foreign thoughts pierced deep inside.
My angel, said the thought, translated within Draco Torre’s mind. The deep laugh pounded from within.
Shouting, Torre said, “Show yourself!”
From the saloon, a shadow flowed against the firelight, a snaking tendril creeping on the road. Black smoke rising, the shadow-snake coiled together at the center of the road and swirled, rising higher into a pillar. A burst of fluttering appendages unfolded, bony fingers with black fingernails like talons extended from the growing sleeves. A smoking boot took a silent step becoming solid. The next step crunched on gravel, and a dark duster gathered around the form.
Hat pulled low left most of creature’s face in shadow except for the end of his snarling grin over his pale, pointed chin, and the plume of white hair falling over his shoulders. He laughed, a normal audible laugh, almost as deep as before. That rumble grated on Torre’s nerves.
Searching the depths of her memories, among the bodies, the valleys of the dead, the rusty, sweet taste of blood, Torre found the name of this dark visitor.
“Farmers and ranchers,” said Ramiel. He scanned the fallen bodies. “And my angel slaughtered them.”
“Savage murderers, they were,” said Torre. If only she had arrived sooner, the farmers of Hope Hill might have survived the night.
Ramiel pointed a talon at Draco Torre. “Dressed like a man—like a rancher, my angel forgets her path.”
“I’m not your angel,” said Torre. Barely realizing her fingers squeezed triggers, she fired both guns.
Looking down the barrels, beyond the swirl of smoke, she saw the row of pyres.
Ramiel was gone.
A crunch of gravel sounded from behind, and she spun around.
Beyond the end of her barrels, wild hazel eyes flooded by tears gazed back.
Standing twelve steps away, a young woman raised her hands holding a revolver. Torre recognized her gun discarded earlier in the fight, and she knew, one bullet remained inside.
Gazing into the frightened eyes of the sole survivor of Hope Hill, she lowered her gun.
Draco Torre didn’t even hear the sound. The kick knocked the small frame of the girl back, barrel flying up. The shot was high, but not high enough hitting Torre in the shoulder, knocking her sideways and stumbling back.
The report fell away leaving a droning ring in her ears.
Legs giving out, she sat on the road.
Torre gazed up at the sky finding the half-face of the moon, Nulan. She found the face wishing her mother had never shown her that devious grin. Nulan gazed down at Torre and laughed. And laugh she should. After all the battles, even a war nobody deserved to win, Torre felt embarrassed, shot by a girl with her own gun, and after the fight was already done.
Nulan laughed, and then she cried.
Torre gazed at the survivor sitting on the ground.
“I apologize for shooting you, sir,” said the young woman. “I thought you were one of them.”
“Sorry for your loss,” said Torre. She lowered her head in prayer for the girl, the last hope for Hope Hill.