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Chapter One

If you flip an extra nickel to Durlin McCree, two things will happen: He’s gonna tell you a story, and you’re gonna regret it. The regulars in his saloon always took bets on how many songs would go by before he’d finished. None of them bet less than five. They cracked about how Durlin would be the perfect witness on any trial; he could tell you every last detail about every last person that walked through the front doors—what they wore, how they spoke, how they smelled, what they drank, how much, and if they could hold it. He could tell you the story of the time he met “Wild” Buster Bullfoot like it happened that very morning. He’d guffaw and spray whiskey as he’d describe how six of the most famous card players in the West started an all-day brawl because they each produced a pair of pocket rockets on the flop. Yup, Durlin always had a doozy of a tale waiting in his back pocket, but when he saw Lorca the Lewd swing those saloon doors open and saunter in with a cloaked waif at her hip, he knew the doozy of all doozies followed her.

Standing just over six-foot-four, Lorca was a mixture of sand-blasted muscle and Fuck You wrapped in green-gray skin and leather. Two thick, black braids dangled out from underneath a wide-brimmed hat that was pulled low over her glowing magma eyes. A pair of short tusks protruded from her lower lip. Two large revolvers smacked into her taut thighs with each step. More like cannons than firearms, the weapons were too heavy to be wielded by anyone else. A flimsy leather vest looked like it was freshly ripped off a basilisk and covered just enough of her chest—or not enough, depending on who you asked. Some of the saloon’s newer patrons couldn’t help but keep their eyes glued to her figure as she surveyed her surroundings. Those who knew her knew better and kept to their own business.

Lorca was mentored by arguably the greatest bounty hunter who ever lived and who taught her The Two Universal Truths. The first, it’s a man’s world. The second, men are stupid and easily distracted. Lorca took these two rules to heart and used them to incredible and deadly effect. Sure, there were jokes; many snickered and called her ‘The Tits that Won the West’ (behind her back, of course), but underneath every chuckle and snide remark was a healthy fear and a grudging knowledge that she was the best. There were always a few, though, without the sense of propriety—or the smarts—to leave well enough alone.

Just as the saloon doors clapped together behind the half-orc, a kobold in a raggedy vest and bowler hat nudged his two drinking mates and stumbled towards the center aisle. “Looky here, fellas! Lorca’s got herself into the babysitting business! Fancy yerself a wetnurse, eh? Ha! Where’s the line form!” None joined in the his laughter except the distinct click of Lorca’s six-shooter, its barrel wedged firmly in the kobold’s left nostril. A few of the saloon’s newcomers gasped and talked in hushed whispers about the speed of the draw; the regulars just continued drinking and waited for the thunderous mess to come.

“C’mon now, Lorca. That’s just Jasper tawkin’ that drunk tawk,” Another kobold rushed up from his table, but didn’t dare try to get close to his friend or the revolver, “You know how he gets after knockin’ back a few. Ain’t that right, Jasper?

“Nyup. Nust dat dunk tawk.” Jasper’s bloodshot eyes never leave the gun’s hammer. A thin trickle of blood runs from his nose and across his scaly lip.

His friend shifted uneasily from one foot to the next. Slitted yellow eyes slowly drifted to the hooded figure standing beside the bounty hunter. It was a child for sure, although anything else about it was a mystery due to it being concealed head to foot in clothing. Perhaps it was an elf—their fair skin didn’t stand up too well against the tyrant sun and invasive dust. The kobold cocked his head and peered into the deep shadow of the figure’s hood, hoping to glean any information. Out here, the right information wielded by the right person could be just as deadly as a rifle. The kobold gasped as his jaw dropped open, revealing a mouth empty save for two steely, rock-crushing molars. He took a step back, eyes frantically zipping between Lorca and her small ward.

“Got something to say, Flint?” Lorca’s tone already answered the question for him. Flint shook his head and dragged Jasper back to the table. The rest of the saloon resumed their usual business, slightly disappointed at the lack of bloodshed. Lorca grabbed the cloaked figure’s shoulder and ushered her none-too-lightly towards the bar.

“I appreciate the self-restraint.” Durlin swirled a rag in a glass mug and tilted his head to the trio of kobolds whispering excitedly in the corner.

“Yeah, well, I remember last time. That was unpleasant for everyone involved.”

“Ayuh. Cost you a pretty penny as well.” The dwarf smiled humorlessly.

“That too.”

“So what can I getcha?” The rag danced its ballet in a new mug as stout hands began to set up the next round for a table of thirsty miners.

“The usual.”

“Bourbon on the rocks with a drop of Phoenix Fire. Comin’ up.” With swift, fluid motions, Durlin poured two fingers of whiskey into a frosted glass. He pulled a thick black bottle from under the counter and popped the stopper. He gently tipped the bottle until a single drop of brilliant light fell out. It hit the drink with a pop and sizzle, turning the entire liquid pink. Turning to the child, Durlin put on his friendliest smile and softest tone, “And what will the little master have?”

His grin immediately soured at Lorca’s grunt, “Shandy. Put it all on my tab.”

“Of course.” Durlin sighed and jotted numbers down in a separate ledger set aside strictly for the bounty hunter.

“And is my room ready?”

“Always. Just for one night?”

“Always.” Lorca shrugged and downed the alcohol in one gulp. Her subsequent belch filled the air with the intense scent of cinnamon.

“Yer a *hic* liar!” Jasper slurred to one of his friends, his voice carrying over the din. Lorca paid them no heed.

“So, uh…” Durlin tipped his head to the tiny mug of shandy that vanished into the dark maw of the cloaked figure’s hood. He still couldn’t see the child’s face, and that troubled him. “Mind if I ask—”

“Yes.”

“No need to bite my head off. Y’know how I like to keep abreast of the goings on ‘round here.”

“Well, in that case,” For the first time since she walked in, Lorca smiled, “I heard a good one from a cattle rustler I brought in to New Alba about two weeks ago. Take a bit off my tab, and I’ll let you hear it.”

“I’ll prove it to—ow! Shit! Who put that chair there?!” Jasper’s pained cries and the clatter of wood drew closer.

“Damn it, Lorca. You know I can’t say no.” Durlin grinned as he poured himself a mug of whiskey, ignoring the small commotion surrounding the kobold; it was story time, and he couldn’t be bothered with the stumblings of a drunk idiot. He guzzled the peaty liquor as Lorca began her tale.

“So this fellow that I caught was a gnome full of piss ‘n vinegar. Name was Braxton Bricklepath, but his friends called him Bixby (that’ll be important later). So anyways, Braxton was sitting by a stream when—”

“HaHA!” Two dusty red claws grabbed the sides of the child’s hood, and before anyone else could react, they yanked back hard. The shandy and glass scattered across the floor as Jasper stumbled backward against a card table, “Oh sweet Rockmother. You can’t be real.”

The entire saloon fell silent. Durlin hacked and coughed as he choked on his whiskey. He stared in wonder at the girl in front of him. Staring back were misty grey eyes full of anger and fear. Tight ringlets of silken black hair fell about her face, resting against olive cheeks.

“Oh, shit…oh hell…” The whiskey burned as it dribbled out of Durlin’s nostrils. It was the first time—and the last—that he ever saw a human.