Fastest Hand in the West

A horse trots along a dirt road, her horseshoes kicking up dust in her wake. Her rider shudders, then reaches down and affectionately nuzzles her neck. She pulls gently on the reigns, urging her to come to a halt. They stop in the middle of the road, but there isn’t another traveler in sight. As the horse stops, the rider looks upwards and sighs. Dark clouds swirls above, darkening the area.

 

The rider blinks and looks again. The clouds are still there, lazily rotating around the town ahead of her. It’s not even midday, and she’s positive that she hadn’t fallen asleep in the saddle. The rider has her horse take a few steps backwards, and winces as the world suddenly becomes bright again. She looks back, and the clouds above the town are gone.

 

“Oh boy,” she sighs. “Guess the rumors really are true.”

 

She shakes her head. She takes a deep breath – air in, air out. She wouldn’t have come here if she thought the rumors were false. She tilts her head side to side, forcing out the soreness from her travels.

 

She urges her horse forward, and they take off towards the town once again. She shivers as they pass through the invisible magic field once again, the clouds once again appearing, casting the area around the town in their gloomy shadow. The energy maintaining the magic is nauseatingly familiar. Her teeth clench, and disgust churns in the pit of her stomach.

 

She had to put a stop to this. She was the only one who could.

 

…no, that wasn’t quite right. Any fool with a gun could put a stop to things, unlikely as it was. But she was the only one could fix things.

 

Her vision narrowed on the town in front of her – Silvercliff. It was a prosperous mining town, getting its namesake from the silver veins visible in the walls of the valley below it. Even at this distance, she could see the sorry state it was in.

 

The buildings and the roads were fine, probably even in better condition than when she had left. It was the town’s soul that was missing. There wasn’t a person in sight. If she hadn’t known better, she might have thought that there wasn’t anyone living in the town at all. 

 

Where were the people? Where was Mr. Johnson, the kindly manager of the general store with a heart as big as his appetite? He never missed a chance to stand outside his store and wave over his customers. What about Ms. Harris, the kikimora schoolteacher? Where was her flock, her swarm of hyperactive children running about and playing tag around the water tower?

 

At least there was one person that she knew she could find. The person responsible for all this mess – she would be at the center of town, the same place where the unnatural clouds were rotating around.

The corners of the rider’s lips curled upwards into a confident smirk. She loved the easy jobs.

 

********************

 

The spurs on her boots clacked as she dismounted, sending up a small puff of dust. The rider hitched her horse to the station in front of the saloon. Sadly, her horse would be devoid of the company of fellow equines, for there was not another horse to be seen along the entire main street of Silvercliff.

 

It wasn’t difficult to understand why there wasn’t a soul out in the open. As she got closer to the heart of the town, the air around her grew thick with the stench of magic most foul. It brushed against her skin and snaked its way into her nose. She licked her lips and sniffed at the air, getting a sense of it. It was sweet – too sweet, like an overripe fruit that was beginning to rot.

 

It seemed wrong to leave her beloved mount by herself in this gloomy atmosphere, but she didn’t have much choice.

 

“Here you go, Aly,” she soothed, stroking her mane and giving her a sugar cube. “That’s a good girl. I’ll be back soon, you hear?”

 

Aly blinked, licking at her hand and taking the offered treat.

 

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

 

The rider strode towards the swinging doors of the saloon. Her expression shifted as she donned her natural, confident smile. She wondered if anyone would recognize her. It wasn’t her first time striding into a saloon like this. She loved that initial tension in the air as everyone glanced at the doors, expecting to see their drinking buddy walk in. She loved how people’s eyes grew a little wider, how their eyebrows raised, how their glances turned to curious looks as they realized that a stranger had entered.

 

How those looks turned to stares as they saw the big iron on her hip.

 

She could chalk it up to her heritage, but the truth was that she just liked the attention. Some of her past associates had ribbed her for it, but she puts a lot of pride into her appearance. She reached up and brushed her gloved fingertips against the silver feathers embedded in her black cavalier hat – good, they were still sticking up the right way.

 

Clad in black, the woman made an impressive sight. She wore a dark top, accented by a red X symbol near her neck. Her collar extended behind her, and dropped down in a miniature cape that ended above her waist. The backside of the cape was black, and the interior was red, which gave her profile a nice contrast of color. Slender black gloves covered her fingers, reaching up to her wrists. She wore a pair of black shorts that ended well above her knees, exposing the skin of her thighs, nicely tanned from long hours in the sun. And below that, she wore her black riding boots, which rose halfway up her shins. Finally, she had a toolbelt looped around her waist, and a holster for her gun on her right hip. The weight pressed comfortably against her, and she took comfort from its presence.

 

Something on the wall of the saloon’s exterior caught her eye. She strode over and inspected it. It was a piece of paper, with a printed image of a woman’s face, offering a reward for her capture.

 

“A wanted poster,” the rider muttered, breaking out into a chuckle. “Mighty brazen of her, leaving it out like that.”

 

Perhaps it was a challenge? Come and find me, if you dare.

 

“Well, no point standin’ around,” she said to herself, stepping forward and pushing through the saloon doors. For how quiet the building was, there was a surprising number of people inside. She recognized the butcher, the banker, both of their wives…even Ms. Harris the schoolteacher was inside, holding a drink and a grim expression.

 

Eyes began to turn her way. This part was important – she lingered at the entrance for exactly two seconds, then continued forward, proceeding in measured steps, maintaining her confident smile with ease.

 

The wooden floorboards creaked under her feet. The saloon turned silent, her footsteps the only noise inside. Ahead of her, the bartender behind the counter finished cleaning a glass, and turned to look up at her. His eyes lit up with recognition before he sighed and muttered something to himself.

 

The rider arrived at the bar counter, feeling the weight of the intrigued looks and sharp stares slowly peel away. She took a seat on an empty stool and leaned forward, her smile growing into an amused grin.

 

“Well howdy, partner,” she greeted, holding back her mirth. The bartender’s eyes met hers and locked with them, refusing to budge as he gave her a stern look. But Jeeves could never beat her in a staring contest, and her amusement soon won him over. His serious expression cracked, and he let a soft chuckle slip out.

 

“Claire von Kessler,” he sighed, shaking his head in disbelief. “I figured you would be the one to eventually fix this mess.”

 

“I should have come sooner,” Claire apologized. “I just…didn’t want to believe it at first. I really thought that things would get better if I wasn’t around.”

 

“There’s no need to go drudging those feelings up, girl,” he counseled. “We all know it’s not your fault. Deep down, I’m sure that she does, too.”

 

“Yeah, I know she does,” Claire nodded. “Don’t suppose you’ve got much of the good stuff left in stock, seeing as how you’re not getting any traders.”

 

“Isn’t that the truth,” Jeeves sighed. “Can I interest you in a nice root beer?”

 

“Just like old times,” she sighed, nostalgia creeping into her mind and making her smile wistfully. Whenever she had snuck away from home in the past, she often ended up getting treated to a non-alcoholic root beer by Jeeves, who couldn’t resist spoiling the adventurous girl. “You know I’m old enough to drink now, right?”

 

“If the drinking age was a proportion of a lifetime, you’d have a few more centuries to wait,” Jeeves sighed. “But there’s nothing left that you’d like. Ran out of whiskey weeks ago.”

 

“Oh well,” Claire sighed, not actually minding in the slightest. She didn’t need any liquid confidence. “Root beer it is, I guess.”

 

Jeeves crouched down and back up, handing her a brown bottle. It was chilly to the touch, slick with condensation. She pried off the cap and took a gulp, sighing contently as the liquid spilled onto her tongue.

 

A little bitter, a little sweet. Just like she remembered.

 

“Take a look at the fellow over there,” Jeeves said softly, leaning in close to keep his voice down. “Brown cloak around his shoulders, sitting in the corner.”

 

“Seems like he’s nursing a grudge,” Claire nodded, taking a look at the young man. Brown hair, brown clothing, brown bottle. Angry. Kind of cute, though.

 

“You always were a good judge of character,” Jeeves said. “I’d go talk with him, if I were you. He wants the same thing you do.”

 

“And judging by that rifle slung across his back,” Claire said, raising an eyebrow. “I’m guessing he just needs a little push.”

 

Claire slid off the stool, giving the bartender a respectful nod.

 

“Thanks for the tip and the drink, Jeeves,” she smiled.

 

“Just be careful,” he replied, giving one last piece of advice. “Nobody wants to see either of you get hurt.”

 

Root beer in hand, Claire approached the young man sitting in the corner.

 

********************

 

The man glanced at her in the corner of his vision as she approached. Good, that meant he was still sharp. He wouldn’t be much help if he was drunk.

 

“Hey there, handsome!” Claire greeted, flashing her trademark smile and sitting down on the stool next to him.

 

The man’s grimace faded as he took her in properly, getting in a good look at her. His eyes drifted across her short blonde hair, hanging from her head like golden threads. His gaze fell downwards, taking in her honest smile and her sharp, red irises. His eyes darted away, his cheeks flushing lightly.

 

“Afternoon, miss,” he greeted neutrally. “You need something from me?”

 

“Mhm,” she nodded, swinging her legs around the stool and leaning her back against the counter. She tipped her head backwards and took another drink of her root beer. He couldn’t resist watching her, tilting his head ever-so-slightly so as not to be obvious. Of course, Claire’s heritage granted her powers of extraordinary perception, and she was very aware that his eyes were struggling to pull away from her chest. The warm feeling it gave her caused her to stifle a giggle. 

 

She placed the bottle of root beer on the counter and turned to face him. Once again, he looked away in embarrassment, and she smiled warmly at him, flattered. It wasn’t like he could help it – she was a monster, after all. Besides, she liked the cute and shy type of guys a hell of a lot better than the ones that gawked and guffawed at her, like she was some soiled dove to be rented for the night. Now that was not the kind of attention she was interested in.

 

“What do you want?” he asked. His instincts were telling him that there was more to this woman than it appeared, and an edge of caution soaked into his tone. His shoulders were square and stiff, his guard raised. 

 

“How about your name, for starters?” Claire suggested with a shrug.

 

The man looked at her, unblinking. Claire continued to offer him a warm smile.

 

“Nathan,” he offered neutrally. “Nathan Hawkins. And you are?”

 

“Claire,” she replied affably. “Pleasure to meet you, Nathan.”

 

“Yeah…likewise.”

 

An awkward silence wrapped around them, making Nathan wince in frustration.

 

“Look,” he sighed. “Will you just tell me what it is that you want, Claire?”

 

“I want the same thing that you do, Nathan,” she said coyly. Nathan stared at her, confusion spreading across his face.

 

“And what is it that you think I want?” he asked.

 

Claire held up a finger. She took one last drink from her bottle, finishing it and placing it aside.

 

“You’ve got a powerful look in your eyes, Nathan,” she explained. “And a bitter air about you. You’re here for a reason. Want me to take a guess at what it is?”

 

“If you want,” he said noncommittally. 

 

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not from here,” she explained. “So what should I presume when I see a stranger with a rifle and a scowl sitting alone in the Silvercliff saloon?”

 

“You have a grudge,” she concluded with a sly smile. “A grudge against the person responsible for all of this town’s sorrows. I’m guessing you got caught up in something recent, huh?”

 

“Spot on, Detective,” he grumbled. “Yeah, I’ve got a grudge. Goddamned Crimson Jane and her cronies have been holding up any caravan within a dozen miles.”

 

“My family being part of one such caravan,” he glowered, staring down at the bar counter with eyes intense enough to set it ablaze. “The air around us suddenly grew all dark and misty, and they appeared outta nowhere. Tried to reach for my gun, but I knew that it wasn’t gonna do any good. She knocked me onto my ass with a blast of blue magic or something.” 

 

“Then she and her goons ordered us out of the cart, and drove off with everything,” Nathan sighed. “Everything. They wouldn’t even give back my kid sister’s stuffed animal, for godsakes.”

 

Claire’s jaw creaked open. That…that couldn’t be right. Was…was she actually that far gone?

 

She shook her head. No, she refused to believe it. There must be more to the story, some kind of mistake or miscommunication. Crimson Jane or not, she would never have gone as far as to be deliberately cruel to children…

 

“How long have you been here, Nathan?” she asked, swallowing her fears down.

 

“Less than a day. Rode in to Silvercliff after I saw my family safely to the next town over. I…don’t rightly know what I was thinking, coming here,” he sighed. “Couldn’t stop Crimson Jane when she showed up outta nowhere. What chance did I have storming into her stronghold by myself?”

 

“So I wandered in here, under the delusion that I could drink myself a plan,” Nathan continued, shaking his head. “But that didn’t turn out, either. I guess the sarsaparilla ain’t so bad, though.”

 

“Just rode in myself,” Claire said. “Heard the rumors that the vampire that saw over the town went crazy, started acting like some kinda queen. But you’ve been in town longer than I have. What has Crimson Jane been doing to this town?”

 

“Keeps it shrouded in the damn dark, for one,” Nathan grunted. “Apparently the sun hasn’t shone here in weeks. And she started taking a generous cut of all the mining profits for herself. Anyone who protested got zapped with that blue magic of hers, so you don’t hear any complaints anymore. Not in public, anyway.”

 

“Makes everyone cater to her whims,” he continued. “Saw one such display when I came into town. Basically, she conscripts any sorry fool who crosses her path, orders them to serve her and some such. Bow in her presence, bring her food, clean her mansion, the like. But what’s strangest of all is that she forces everyone to attend these freaky parties every now and then.”

 

“Say what now?” Claire asked.

 

“Yeah. Makes everyone put on their Sunday finest and attend some kind of ball that she hosts in town hall. Anyone who doesn’t attend, doesn’t dance or doesn’t sing her praises? Well…they regret it later, one way or the other.”

 

That was worrying, as well. She had always been one to revel in attention, Claire knew. But to actually force people to attend her parties, under threat of punishment? The vampire that she used to know would never have sunk to such a level. She was an arrogant aristocrat, yeah, but she wasn’t evil. All these stories made her sound like some kind of cartoon villain. 

 

“Wait a minute,” Nathan muttered. His eyes shot wide in realization. “You said your name was Claire? As in, Claire von Kessler?”

 

Ah, the jig was up.

 

“Guilty as charged,” she sighed. “Keep your voice down, yeah?”

 

“The hell are you doing here?” he hissed. “And why is the vampire daughter of goddamned Crimson Jane talking to me? You still haven’t explained what you want from me!”

 

“You don’t want to guess?” she said, smiling sadly. “Fine, guess I just gotta tell you.”

 

She cleared her throat and sat up. Claire kept her eyes trained on the floor, hints of regret seeping into her tone.

 

“As you’ve already figured out,” she started, “Crimson Jane, or rather, Henrietta von Kessler, is my mother. And I won’t fault you for this, since it’s not obvious, but I’m not a vampire. I’m a dhampir.”

 

“Meaning?” he sighed.

 

“Meaning I’m not a sadistic bitch.”

 

He blinked at her.

 

“Sorry,” he said, running a hand across the back of his head. “Didn’t mean to imply that you were.”

 

“It’s fine,” Claire nodded. “You’ve got a reason to be angry. So do I.”

 

“Back to my point…” she continued. “Mom wasn’t always Crimson Jane. Long story short, a dhampir is a big no-no among vampire society.”

 

“Why’s that?” Nathan asked.

 

“Vampires are arrogant to the core,” Claire sighed. “They think they’re above everyone else, humans especially. Obviously, they’re as dependent on human men for mates as all other mamono are. But the catch is, they consider sex with humans to be filthy. Depraved. A proper vampire doesn’t mate with her husband until she’s turned him into an incubus, who they can consider as noble and worthy, like themselves. To do so otherwise is a huge taboo…and risks creating a dhampir.”

 

“Ah, I think I get it,” Nathan nodded. “Your father was a human, not an incubus. So, you’re half-human, half-monster, right?”

 

“Bingo,” she winked. “I get the abilities and longevity of a vampire, and the empathy and morals of a human. Thing is…dhampirs are anathema to vampires. The bane of their existence. Our very presence makes them weaker, makes them nervous, makes them…irrational.”

 

Claire sighed deeply.

 

“Like I said, mom wasn’t always Crimson Jane. Sure, she was a bitch, but she really loved my dad, you know? He became an incubus just before I was born. Pretty dang quickly, in other words. I’ve heard that it can take years, even a decade, in some cases. Anyways, her pregnancy started showing a few months after that. But once she started feeling unnaturally weak and sluggish, she knew that her baby was a dhampir.”

 

“Even before you were born?” Nathan asked incredulously. “The effect is that strong?”

 

“Yep,” she nodded. “I wasn’t exaggerating. Anyways, now that mom had committed the ultimate taboo, the rest of vampire high society shunned her.”

 

“I’m skipping over a huge amount here,” Claire frowned. “But suffice to say, the stress eventually got to mom. Her resentment at me for existing, at the other vampires for shutting her out, at herself for losing control…she started to go crazy. Started getting really obsessive with dad, snapping at the servants, ignoring me as best she could…”

 

“That sounds awful,” Nathan said sympathetically. “God, can’t believe I’m feeling sorry for Crimson Jane of all people.”

 

“You don’t know the half of it,” Claire sighed. “Eventually, I figured that I was the source of her stress, so it would be best if I just left, right? So one day I just packed my bags and did just that. I thought things would improve if I was gone.”

 

Claire turned away, gripping her wrist tightly. Nathan’s heart stirred at the sight, realizing that this was the first time her confidence had faded away. She looked…vulnerable.

 

“But it seems pretty obvious now that I was a fool,” Claire said, shaking her head. She took a deep breath, and summoned a scrap of her confidence back, shooting Nathan an uneasy smile. “She got worse. Way worse.”

 

“But you came back,” Nathan blurted. Uneasiness…did not suit her. He had known this woman for only a few minutes, but he desperately needed to see her smile honestly again. Deep down, he knew he would regret it if he didn’t try to help her.

 

“You came back, right?” he repeated. “So you aren’t a fool. Coming back to put things right again? That means you’re a good person, in my book.”

 

She held his gaze for a moment, her crimson eyes shining with curious warmth.

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she said eventually, giving him a genuine smile. “But I didn’t come in here to drown my sorrows in root beer, I came here to ask for your help.”

 

“Let’s team up,” she suggested seriously. “Let’s bring down Crimson Jane and make this right again.”

 

“I’m in,” Nathan said without hesitation. He knew it was strange, even reckless, but he felt like he could trust Claire. “But how are we going to pull it off? Far as I know, she doesn’t even come out of her mansion unless she’s going on a caravan raid or hosting one of those parties.”

 

“Simple,” Claire laughed, finally feeling like herself again. “While she may be a bandit queen right now, vampires have a deep sense of honor. She’s not going to turn down my challenge.”

 

“You’re going to duel her?” Nathan asked.

 

“Mhm,” Claire nodded. “And she knows that I’ll win, too. So while good ol’ mom has the honor to accept my challenge, she’s not going to play fair.”

 

“And this is where I come in,” Nathan concluded.

 

“Yep,” Claire grinned. “Tell me Nathan, how good of a shot are you with that rifle?”

 

“Good enough to drop an apple from its branch from a hundred meters,” he said, tapping his rifle with proud affection.

 

Claire clapped her hands together with conspiratorial glee. Then she leaned across the counter, cupping her hand to Nathan’s ear.

 

“Then here’s the plan, partner…”

 

********************

 

Her old family home felt out of place.

 

It was as if someone had picked up a Gothic manor from across the ocean and dropped it off on the other end of the world. Wrought iron fence with pointy spikes? Check. Asymmetrical roof, with lots of points and spires? You bet. Imposing architecture, sense of authority? Of course.

 

A feeling of impending doom? That was a recent addition, and Claire didn’t like it. Seeing her hometown like this felt like bile in her mouth. She hated it. She hated that her mother had become…like this.

 

It was time to put an end to the hate. Claire planted her feet in front of the mansion’s open gate, striking out one hand with authority and keeping the other next to her holster. She took a mighty gulp of air, filling her lungs to the brim.

 

“CRIMSON JANE!” she bellowed, eyes closing as she shouted with all the force that she could muster. “I’m calling you out! Come out here and face me!”

 

Silence. 

 

Claire became faintly aware of movement in her peripheral vision. Her shout had carried all across town – people were poking their heads out of the doors and windows, looking for the source of the commotion. Was this it? Was today the day this madness came to an end?

 

The door to the mansion creaked open, but Claire knew that it wasn’t her mother. It wasn’t impressive enough of an entrance.

 

A black haired woman stepped out, her skin impossibly pale for living in the area. One of mother’s ensorcelled minions, no doubt. Two more women stepped out, equally pale-skinned. These were mother’s servants – human women imbued with some of her power, currently in the process of being monsterized into full vampires. They stood in a line in front of the door as it closed, clasping their hands behind their back and standing with their backs straight. They smiled at Claire, but their faces were dishonest. This was not a committee sent out to give her a warm welcome – they were there in case she tried anything stupid.

 

Then, on the path between the mansion’s door and the front gate, darkness coalesced. The shadows formed a dark mass, which became more defined and solid. Henrietta von Kessler emerged from the shadow with a dramatic toss of her full-body cloak.

 

The family resemblance was striking. Same blonde hair, same red eyes. Claire’s mother wore elegant, imposing clothing, black and blood-red. With a smirk on her face and her cape fluttering in the wind, she resembled an empress looking at a puny rival that thought itself a match. She looked down upon her daughter, her height augmented by her high-heel shoes.

 

“Well, well,” she said, tone haughty and with a hint of an accent. “The prodigal daughter returns. Come to fulfill your destiny, have you? Have you accepted the truth that you turn all the joy around you to ash?”

 

“That was never true, mother,” Claire said firmly, her casual speech being replaced with the formal upbringing that had been instilled in her as a youth. “You let things get this way. Not me.”

 

Henrietta huffed and opened her mouth, but Claire wasn’t about to let up.

 

“And I’m sorry for that, mother,” Claire continued. “I was wrong to leave. I thought it would help, but I made things worse. I should have been there for you and father.”

 

“Why have you returned?” Henrietta demanded, tapping a finger against her wrist. “I believe that you made it quite clear that you did not wish to.”

 

The townspeople had begun to watch in earnest, dozens of them watching the spectacle from the safety of their homes and shops.

 

“I, Claire von Kessler, challenge you to a contest of magic,” Claire declared, feeling empowered by the crowd. Claire peeled off her left glove, and tossed it at her mother’s feet. “Henrietta von Kessler, as a noble of true vampiric lineage, you have no choice but to accept.”

 

A thrown gauntlet, just like the ancient traditions dictated. The challenge had been officially cast.

 

A perplexed look crossed her mother’s face as she furrowed her brow at the glove at her feet, staring at it as if it were some impossibly bizarre creature. Then, her lips curled upwards into a cruel smile.

 

“So it seems that you did pay attention to your tutor’s history lessons,” she smirked.

 

“But a challenge of magic?” she laughed, her malicious mirth dripping with arrogance. “From you? What a ridiculous thing to even suggest.”

 

“It’s not ridiculous at all,” Claire countered. Her right hand freed her gun, a silver revolver, from its holster. She twirled it around in her hand, then pointed the barrel straight up into the sky, striking a pose. “I’ll use this.”

 

“Oh, my precious daughter,” Henrietta said sweetly. “Have you gone daft during your playtime away from home? That’s a firearm, dear. Not a magic wand.”

 

“You think so?” Claire laughed. “Take a closer look.” Claire held the gun sideways in her hand, holding it out for her mother to inspect. Henrietta leaned forward a bit as she peered at the object from several feet away. Like her daughter, she had extraordinary perception.

 

“Hmph,” she muttered. “My, my. It’s a magical firearm. Will wonders never cease?”

 

Henrietta looked down at the glove at her feet.

 

“Clever toy or not, it won’t do you any good,” she harrumphed. “I’ll give you this one chance to rescind your challenge, my reckless progeny. I will not show you any mercy should you refuse.”

 

“Make whatever condition you want, mother,” Claire said confidently. Like her mother, she enjoyed attention. It was only proper that she put on a good, dramatic show for the people watching.

 

“I’ll agree to any terms,” Claire continued. “Because I’m going to win, I promise you that. I’m going to end your tyranny, mother.”

 

Henrietta crossed her arms and froze, eyes burrowing into her daughter’s. Claire calmly met her gaze, smile not fading an inch. It was imperceptible to anyone else, but Claire knew that she had shaken her mother, if only a little bit. Eventually, Henrietta broke off, looking away and clicking her tongue in annoyance.

 

“Very well, my foolish Tochter,” she sighed, slipping into her original tongue. “I accept your challenge. But I promise you that, once you inevitably fail, you will endure a lesson far harsher than any before.”

 

“No problem there,” Claire laughed. “You always were a horrible teacher.”

 

********************

 

Claire and her mother stood in the center of Silvercliff’s main street, twenty feet apart from each other. Jeeves the bartender stood between them and off to the side, having been chosen – well, commanded by Henrietta – to officiate the duel. He held a red handkerchief pinched between his thumb and index finger, and looked at the two mamono with no small amount of hesitation.

 

“On the count of three,” Jeeves announced, loud enough for the gathered townsfolk to hear clearly, “I’ll toss the handkerchief into the air. Once it hits the ground, and no sooner, you fire. Or…use magic, I guess.”

 

Claire stretched out her fingers in anticipation. She thrived in this kind of an atmosphere – duels were just too fun!

 

Claire and her trusty revolver, which she had named Cassandra, had won over a dozen duels. And with each one of her wins, she had disarmed her opponent and humbled them, instead of killing them outright. It was her trademark, her calling card. Why kill when you can fix the situation, instead?

 

The secret lied in the magic of the firearm. It did not fire regular bullets – instead, it drew energy from its wielder. It converted her energy, the strength of her soul, into its six chambers, forming a very special kind of bullet, one that only a dhampir could create – the empathy bullet. The bullet did no damage to the flesh, but pierced through the soul, shattering the walls of cruelty and apathy built around the heart. Cheating gamblers, horse thieves, roving bandits…all were helpless before its power. The darker their heart, the more powerful the bullet’s effect was. They would sink to their knees, eyes watering with tears long forgotten, begging their victims for forgiveness, pledging to turn over a new leaf.

 

Claire’s lips turned upwards. There was a bit more to the bullet, of course. Her mother would experience that part in just a moment.

 

“Well?” Henrietta huffed, glowering at Jeeves. “Begin already, you oaf.”

 

“Right-o,” Jeeves sighed. “Duelists, on your mark. One…”

 

Claire widened her stance and planted her feet. This would be over before anyone could even blink. 

 

“Two…”

 

Her eyes darted around. Nathan was absent from the crowd watching on the sidelines, just as they planned. And just as expected, her mother’s minions were nearby. One on the right side of the street, one on the left. And the third? Why, wherever could the third be? 

 

“Three!” Jeeves cried, tossing the handkerchief into the air. Her mother struck her hands out, making her cloak flap and swirl around her. Her mother’s fingertips crackled with blue power, surrounded with an aura of powerful magic. The wind picked up dramatically behind her, creating a storm of dust in her wake. 

 

So she’s just going to zap me? 

 

Claire sighed mentally. 

 

This is too easy, mom. You’ve gotten predictable.

 

The handkerchief reached the peak of its height as gravity took hold of it, ordering it back to the ground.

 

Claire’s fingers stretched out one more time. The town held a collective breath.

 

The handkerchief hit the ground, and the world changed. Claire’s eyes dilated as she forced her perception abilities into overtime. Time passed slowly, as if the entire world had been coated in molasses. 

 

Henrietta began to pull her arm back, her lightning strike already swelling up and threatening to burst. Her mom’s magic was powerful – a single hit would be enough to knock her down, and she certainly wasn’t holding anything back. Claire had challenged her pride – her mother couldn’t afford to restrain herself.

 

But her mother was slow. Too slow.

 

Something glinted in the sunlight on the roof of the bank. Someone was looking down at Claire, a rifle trained in her hands.

 

A shot rang out, and Claire grinned a devilish smile.

 

The bullet hadn’t come from mother’s minion on the roof. It had come from the roof of the saloon – it had come from Nathan. His demon silver bullet whistled through the air as it traveled toward his target – the sniper on the roof of the bank. Claire didn’t have time to wait for it to connect – her mother was still capable of winning, even without her ace in the hole.

 

Claire’s hand flashed to her holster like a bolt of lightning, drawing Cassandra with impossibly fast reflexes. She drew a bead at her mother, and fired, aiming for her right arm. She turned and fired at her mother’s minion on the left side of the street, who was preparing a weaker spell of her own. As Claire drew her weapon on the right minion, she felt her power of perception fade away. As she fired on the last servant, the world blurred, and air rushed around at the speed of light as time snapped back to normal.

 

Henrietta and her minions all cried out and crumpled at the same time. Claire struck a triumphant pose, barrel of her gun pointed upwards, a wisp of blue smoke trailing out of it. Claire gave a satisfied hum and blew the smoke away, beginning to stride towards her defeated mother.

 

The townspeople blinked as their minds struggled to process what had just happened. Crimson Jane, the infamous vampire bandit leader, was writhing on the ground. The arm that Claire’s bullet had pierced lay limp, hanging in the dirt. Henrietta’s other arm was draped across her chest, her fingertips pressed against her heart, her face contorted in a strained expression. Her three minions that had fallen were all in similar states. As they crouched down and examined them, the townspeople realized that these women were not writhing in pain.

 

Claire reached her mother and pressed her foot down against her mother’s stomach. Not forceful enough to hurt her, but enough to assert her power.

 

“W-what did you do to me?” Henrietta demanded, gasping for breath, her face flushing. “What is this?!”

 

“Simple,” Claire explained, smiling sweetly. “I woke you up, I turned your empathy back on. Perhaps you should have inspected my ‘toy’ of a firearm more carefully, mother! If you hadn’t been so arrogant, you might have realized that it doesn’t shoot bullets, but my own concentrated power.”

 

Warmth, unbearable warmth was spreading throughout Henrietta’s body. There was no physical pain, but a growing ache was building in her chest. Her throat tightened, her body grew tense, and her eyes began to moisten. 

 

“What is this,” she croaked, her arrogance gone. “You…you cheated…”

 

“Huh?” Claire made a long, drawn out sound of disbelief. “Whaaa? I cheated? But what about you, mother? Why was your maid on the roof of the bank with a sniper rifle, I wonder?”

 

“Sorry, mom,” Claire giggled. “But you’ve gotten predictable. I met this cute guy in the saloon – I’ll introduce you later – and he volunteered to help me out, right? He’s the one who shot your sniper. I’d say our plan went perfectly.”

 

“Guh,” her mother groaned, unable to vocalize something rational. Her expression was slack and vulnerable, revealing the ocean of uncertainty swirling around inside her.

 

The growing heat in her loins wasn’t helping, either.

 

“Oh, that face suits you so much better, mother!” Claire beamed. “You’re feeling it now, right? Come on, tell us all what you’re feeling.”

 

“I-I don’t…” Henrietta grit her teeth, trying to resist her daughter’s influence. But her daughter’s power was already inside her, slurping up her strength and sapping her will to resist.

 

“Is that too broad of a question?” Claire asked. “Okay, let’s start small, then. True or false – humans are inferior creatures to vampires?”

 

“T-true,” Henrietta spat. “h-humans…exist to serve…they should feel grateful…”

 

The weight of the townspeople’s stares intensified. This was surely the end of Crimson Jane.

 

“Ooh,” Claire winced, sucking in her through her teeth. “Wrong answer, mom.”

 

Claire pointed her gun down at her mother’s chest. Henrietta’s eyes shot wide with fear.

 

“N-no!” she pleaded. “Don’t! Claire, don’t you dare-“

 

“Sorry,” Claire smiled, apologizing with her eyes. “This might be a little intense.”

 

Claire fired.

 

“NGYAAAAH!” Henrietta screamed in orgasmic pleasure, her back arching as she struggled beneath her daughter’s boot. She writhed around for several seconds, then fell limp. Her head rolled to the side, her tongue hanging out as she regained her breath.

 

The town watched the insane display, utterly transfixed.

 

“Jeez, mom,” Claire giggled. “You’re gonna make people think that you’re an exhibitionist or something.”

 

Claire moved her foot a bit higher, pressing her boot down upon her mother’s chest and making circular motions, causing Henrietta’s hyper-sensitive body to react. Henrietta let out a string of breathy whimpers.

 

“Now let’s try again,” Claire said seriously. “Humans are inferior to vampires. True or false?”

 

Henrietta said nothing, so Claire frowned and pointed her gun downwards again.

 

“F-false,” Henrietta whined.

 

Claire cupped a hand to her hear. “Huh? What was that, mom? Could you say that a little louder?”

 

“F-false!” she repeated, louder than before. 

 

“Hmm,” Claire hummed, tapping a finger against her lips. “Nah, not good enough. Say it out loud. The whole thing.”

 

Her mother hesitated, so Claire glared at her.

 

“Say it,” she demanded, her tone full of icy menace. “Now.”

 

“H-humans aren’t inferior!” Henrietta shouted, face contorting in a mixture of shame, confusion, and pleasure. “I was wrong! I’m sorry!”

 

Claire grinned, stepping off of her mother. She holstered Cassandra and held out her arms, appealing to the crowd like an ancient gladiator.

 

“You hear that, everyone?” she shouted. “She finally admitted it!”

 

Faces in the crowd started to return her enthusiasm.

 

“But that’s not all you wanted to hear from her, right?” Claire continued. “What about the money she took from y’all?”

 

“Yeah!” someone cheered. “We want what’s rightfully ours!”

 

“We don’t want to go to her stupid parties anymore!” someone else cried.

 

“We want to be able to trade again!”

 

“We want booze!”

 

“Give back everything you took from the caravans!”

 

“I’m sorry!” Henrietta cried, tears streaming from her face. Her body was overwhelmed – her daughter’s energy bullet had given her a mind-numbingly powerful orgasm. Her body was still sensitive, but that wasn’t what was affecting her now. It was the first shot, the empathy bullet, that was spreading through her body and cracking apart the darkness that she had wrapped her heart in. Her body was filled with guilt – and shame. She had been awful, horrendous! How…how could she have treated her people this way? This was her home! She was supposed to make her home a happy, prosperous place, not rule over it with an iron fist!

 

“I’m sorry!” Henrietta sobbed, covering her face with her hands. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll give it back, I’ll give it all back!”

 

As her first tear fell from her cheek and onto the dusty street, Crimson Jane died. Her daughter had killed her with kindness.

 

********************

 

Claire led her bound prisoner through the hallways of her family home. A rope hung around Henrietta’s neck, and her hands were bound behind her back. Gone was her earlier arrogance, her hostility. She meekly followed her daughter without a word, continuing to offer soft apologies.

 

Claire knocked three times on the opulent double doors that concealed her parent’s bedroom. She pushed the doors open, revealing an exquisitely detailed bedroom. A luxurious, mahogany poster bed, a mirror framed in gold, a red carpet with traditional vampiric imagery emblazoned within it. An electric chandelier hung from the ceiling, bathing the room in soft light. And at the far end of the room, between the stacks of bookcases, a man dressed in a bathrobe sat at a desk, looking at the door curiously. Why would she knock? His wife never knocked when she entered her own bedroom.

 

“Claire?” he gasped. “You’re back! What are you-“

 

“Howdy, father!” Claire grinned, tugging her prisoner into view.

 

“Honey?” Harry von Kessler’s jaw dropped to the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces when he saw his wife.

 

“Nn,” Henrietta whined. “Schnucki…”

 

Claire cringed at the exchange of pet names. She could feel her mother’s strength starting to return – it was time to beat a swift retreat.

 

“Sorry, dad,” Claire apologized, tipping her hat. “I reckon we’ll have to catch up later. I’m sure you can piece together what’s happened, yeah?”

 

“I, uh…” he muttered, running a hand through his hair. 

 

“Great!” Claire beamed. “Mom’s in kind of a sorry state right now.”

 

Claire undid the rope around her mother’s neck and shoved her into the bedroom. Henrietta let out a demure giggle as her eyes burrowed into her husband’s body. She wriggled against her bindings, desperate need threatening to overflow from her.

 

“Show some spine and make sure you really give it to her, huh?” Claire winked. “She’s trying to turn over a new leaf, so you need to make some changes too, dad!”

 

“Claire, wait, I-” her father protested.

 

“Okay, bye!” Claire laughed, offering a wave. “Have fun!”

 

Claire stepped back and closed the door. Unfortunately, she was too slow, and heard her mother start begging for attention just as the door closed. Claire turned and jogged away, eager to be gone from this place. 

 

********************

 

Nathan was waiting for her by the gate of the manor.

 

“I don’t envy you for doing that,” he grimaced.

 

“It needed to happen,” Claire shrugged. “She’s in no place to immediately go about making reforms. Some time with her beloved should change that. Besides, I think dad will like the change of pace.”

 

“Already led the town to the bank while you took care of that,” Nathan nodded. “People are taking back what’s rightfully theirs. The bartender guy is making sure that no one takes more than that.”

 

“Jeeves always did have a withering stare,” Claire nodded. “What about you? Find your family’s stuff?”

 

“Some of it,” he nodded. “My sister’s stuffed animal, for one. I’ll gather the rest of it it all up and see it back safely, once the crowd has thinned a bit.”

 

“That’s great news,” Claire smiled warmly. “And you know, we made a good team back there. You’re a dependable partner!”

 

“I didn’t do much,” he chuckled. “I shot one unsuspecting chump. You, on the other hand, are apparently some kind of legendary quickdraw.”

 

“I guess the rumors are true,” he added with a wise nod. “Silver Flash, the wandering vigilante who kills with kindness. That’s you.”

 

“Woah!” Claire gasped with wonder. “I have a nickname now?”

 

“Hell yes!” she cheered, pumping her fist into the air. “Jeez, I planted those rumors ages ago! What do you think?”

 

“Silver Flash!” Claire grinned, striking a heroic pose. “It’s good, right?”

 

Nathan clicked his tongue, shaking his head and chuckling in good-natured disbelief.

 

“Hey,” Claire said seriously. “How about we team up again? More permanently.”

 

“Say what?” he blinked.

 

“I mean it,” she nodded. “We could get a lot more done if we worked together.”

 

“You really think so?”

 

“Hey, I’m half monster,” Claire huffed. “We just have this really good instinct when it comes to picking our partners, you know?”

 

Nathan’s lips curled upwards into an embarrassed smile.

 

“Well,” he laughed, eyes looking off to the side. “Alright. I’m kind of intrigued by the prospect, I gotta admit. So…yeah. Partners.”

 

Nathan extended a hand, which Claire took and shook with a firm confidence. When their hands separated, Claire offered him a wink and a seductive smile.

 

“Well then,” she purred. “Seeing as you have some time to kill…how about we go find somewhere private and celebrate our new partnership?”

 

“Good lord, you move fast,” he laughed. “I don’t know if I can keep up with you!”

 

His blush returned and he looked away nervously.

 

“But, uh…I mean, if you want to…I do too…” he muttered. 

 

She giggled and leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him and planting a soft kiss on his lips.

 

“Don’t worry,” she said, leaning back and raising her eyebrow. She gave him a wide smile, showing him a hint of her diminutive fangs. “I won’t bite unless you ask me to!”

 

******************** 

********************

 

A/N: Well this was just plain fun to write. Not really sure where this idea came from, but I had been wanting to try writing something without smut, and somehow I ended up on the Dhampir. She’s this heroic, wandering type of figure, so I thought, hey, couldn’t that work well as a western?

 

Also, I encountered the recent set of ‘transformed heroes’ KC did, and one of them was some kind of musketeer/gunslinger gal. That provoked a bunch of chat about magic guns, so why not? It was neat.

 

Claire’s horse is nicknamed ‘Aly’ as an abbreviation of Alucard. 

 

I put on the soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption to write this, but that only lasted about an hour. I encountered a lot of new music in the ‘dark country’ genre as I wrote this, which I actually quite like!

 

Think that’s all for this one. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought!

 

PS: If you’re disappointed that this has no smut, use your imagination and come up with a scene where Claire helps her father recondition her mom. This one’s on you, partner.

 

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5 thoughts on “Fastest Hand in the West”

  1. Smut. Is the icing on the cake. Sometimes, the cake is enough. Even if the cake is a lie. There are those who will give you a less than a 5* because of the lack of smut, but I’m not one of them. I enjoy a good read.

    Claire and her father? No thanks.

    I half expected to see mention of a tumbleweed somewhere along the descriptors. Empathy Gun? Novel. More penetrating than a Penance Stare, I suppose.

    And thus, the legend of the Silver Flash…..was born.

    I enjoyed the story. Thank you.

  2. Anyone who downvotes this based on the lack of, or inclusion of, something that is clearly denoted by tags, deserves a shot from Cassandra. Seriously. It’s what tags are for.

    That being said, I LOVED this. Felt like I was reading a “Western Castlevania.” Only tip I could give you on this is, make things a little tougher for Claire next time (because there better be a next time, if you know what’s good for you.) Rough her up a bit. The tougher the trial, the sweeter the victory.

  3. Even without the smut this was an enjoyable read. I though wild west was kinda under-utilized as a setting and had a few ideas for a Wild West setting, but never followed through.

    I’d like to see how Claire’s ’empathy bullet’ would work on a Dark Elf, too.

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