Part I Prologue

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If you were to saddle up your horse, pack everything you owned and set out west in search of something more than the hustle and bustle of the east coast. You still wouldn't end up here, not unless you couldn't appreciate any of the hundreds of towns you'd pass on the way, and maybe, maybe if that were true you'd end up here. And once you did your first instinct would be to keep pressing on west, but partner, when I arrived there weren't nothing west of here. This was the edge of the frontier; the plough carving it's way through the fertile and dangerous wilderness. Like I said, I was one o' the first here. I helped build this town. This is where I found my wife, and where we raised our children, and where I expected they'd raise theirs. But they're all spread across the land now, like seeds in the wind. The wife's gone too; went in her sleep like we all pray we will. So it's just me now, waiting until the day Death comes for my soul. But it's been a long time, and I expected to see him a long time ago. Been so long that folks 'round here started callin' me Grandfather Time. And for whatever reason, they got to thinking I might have a story or two up my sleeve. So I've come to expect that every now and again, some young whip'll make they's way out to this old house, climb up my rickety porch and ask to hear about this or that. That's why I weren't surprised when I see You comin', and even before you got here I knew what story you come to hear. So pardon me if I ain't gonna ask your name before I begin, but I wouldn't remember it anyway, and like I said; I know which story you come to hear.

This story comes from back in the day, back before the rails were laid down and the only road out here was a dusty cart track. I was just a young whip but this story ain't about me, it's about a man named Randolph Tegrey. Even back in those days, Randolph was old enough to be my pa, but I can't tell you how lucky I am that that ain't true. You see, Mr. Tegrey was a Russian gypsy, but that ain't what made him bad, it's just what made it good at it. Before he was old enough to walk, he was used to winds so cold they could freeze the quicksilver in a thermometer. But the Motherland, though it'd been good enough for his parents, and their parents before, didn't speak to him, and something about America did. She called to him while he slept, and he got the heck outta there quick as he could. He hopped a boat to Alaska, where he stole what he needed and lived off the land. When the Tsar sold that forsaken place to the Americans, a lot of the Russian families started heading elsewhere, until someone stuck gold. If ever there was anything that Randolph loved, it was gold, but he wasn't the mining or panning type. He found it much easier and more profitable to dig for gold with his knife. Only he wasn't diggin' in the ground, no not at all, he was stickin' his knife in prospectors and taken what they'd uncovered. Even though nobody ever discovered a single body, the Sourdoughs were on to what he was doin', and they rounded up a posse to hunt him down, even hired a Tlinkit tracker to follow 'im, but the tracks led right into a trap. Mr. Tegrey wasn't working alone anymore, he'd rustled himself his first gang, a pack of man-eatin' Russians, who thought that when they ate the heart, they also consumed the soul, and it made them stronger; not just in the strength of their arms, but they believed they could steal a man's talent that way too. Just thinking about them is more dangerous than stepping in a rat'ler nest.

Now of those man-eatin' Russians, the tallest and strongest was called Boris. One day, Boris gets to thinking that he'd make a better leader, cause a good leader takes initiative, and all Randolph ever wanted to do was wait for the right time. Quick as you like, he slashed his knife 'cross Randolph's throat. But 'fore he got the chance to call hisself leader, the other men were on top of him.

Now don't be asking who I heard this from, you'll get me off talking 'bout some other story and it'll be past diner 'fore I make my way back to this one. But from what I heard, just as the light of life was leaving Randolph's eyes and the world was fading to black, Mr. Tegrey noticed Death standing 'bout tweny feet away, like he'd been watching and waiting for the right time. Looking down, he saw his own body lying there, only, there was this wispy black chord that ran from his body's heart to his spirit's heart. Then the chord turned into a chain, connecting his spirit body to a line of five other spirits. Though from what I hear, spirits belong to God, so that'd make these five something else since they belonged to Tegrey; ghosts I suppose.

Death was mighty surprised to see this line o' ghosts tied like a chain gang to Tegrey's heart, but he aimed to do his job just the same. Just about that time, all those man-eatin' Russians had overpowered and killed Boris, and now his spirit body with about twenty-five ghosts chained to it, was standing there too. Death, realizing he was out manned and outnumbered, took off running. But Randolph and Boris had figured it out too. With all their chained ghosts stretched out in front of them like a team of horses, they ran him down and beat Death to... himself. I swear, them two spirits and thirty ghosts hit him so hard and so many times, he just kinda folded up on himself and disappeared.

As the story goes, Lucifer was so pissed when Death told him what had happened, (some say it was the maddest they ever seen him since he got hisself thrown out of Heaven) that even before the story was over, Lucifer erupted in a rage and punched Death in the balls with his beefy flaming fist. Time slowed down and Death could feel his testicles squish up through his intestines, shoot up through his stomach, skid to a halt in his throat, and Death choked and died. Then the Devil ate his heart.

But there I go, lettin' some hellish gossip distract me from the main story. After Death kind of imploded, Boris hurried back to his body and tried to put it on like a big coat. But Randolph, he never really liked that body much anyway and wasn't in no rush to get it back. That's when he noticed the scythe. Death must have left it behind when he died.

First thing Randolph did with that there scythe was cut that little chord attaching Boris to his heart, and now it clung to the scythe like a cobweb to a broom. Boris instantly went from struggling with his body to nothing at all. He just stood there like he was drunk. Like scraping horseshit off your boots, Randolph wiped Boris' bit of cobweb onto the ghost at the end of his chain, and instantly Boris' chord and all of his ghosts became part of Randolph's chain.

While all this was happening, the other man-eaters had been fighting over who got to eat Boris' heart. Though not free-for-all like how they'd jumped Boris. About that time, a man named Vlad had finished whipping the last of the Russians, even though he'd grown more tired with each fight, he still managed to beat every last one. Carefully, he carved out Boris' heart, making a real scene of it. Slowly he brought it to his mouth and took an enormous bite. Blood squirted out everywhere, covering his face and clothes, and then he collapsed. In the spirit world, Randolph's ghost crew had overpowered Vlad's spirit, added him to the chain. Then Randolph used the scythe to cut his own chord and attach it to Vlad's heart.

Opening Vlad's body's eyes, Randolph sat back up and looked down at the gray half-eaten heart in his hands. 'Gray?' He thought. 'I'm will not settle for this flawed colorblind corpse.' After throwing away Boris' heart, he drew Vlad's gun, and blew his brains out. What the man-eaters had seen didn't make any sense, and they got mighty afraid. Then a man named Alexi, collapsed, just like Vlad had done before he re-awoke and shot his own head off. That was their limit, and the five remaining man-eaters scattered into the wilderness, where they were picked off one at a time by cold and hunger.

When Radolph Tegrey awoke in Alexi's body, he was alone. He could feel Death's scythe, though he couldn't see it or use it; he knew it was there, following him, weighing him down ever so slightly. He could also feel the long line of ghosts chained to him, and the strength that each one offered. It was a rebirth for Randolph Tegrey alright, not just because he'd entered a new body, but with these new powers and his new knowledge about the way life and death worked, a new road of possibilities opened up for him. And there wasn't even a moment of consideration for how he would choose to live this time. No, old Randolph was just about as evil as they come; there wasn't a doubt in his mind that no one alive would be willing to stop him, and he aimed to exploit that.

From what I've heard, watching Death choke on his own naughty nuggets, while slightly calming, didn't solve Lucifer problem. Randolph Tegrey belonged in Hell, and yet managed to find a way to get back alive. Now this wasn't like before when Satan was happy to use Randolph toward his own means. No sir, things had changed; Lucifer felt cheated, and no one cheats the devil. But you see, there are certain rules that even Satan can't break, and killing folks is one of 'em. Not even Death can kill. Only thing he can do is wait around to collect folks whose time has come, and even though Randolph's time had come, it has also gone, and he was using Alexi's fate now.

No rules ever stopped Satan before, sure he couldn't break 'em, but it didn't mean he couldn't hire someone who could. So he began searching purgatory for one of the souls that hadn't been good enough to get into Heaven, or bad enough to get sent to Hell.

And I'm afraid all I know is that somewheres, a man walks among us. A man sent by Lucifer himself to grew strong on our souls, and hunt down Randolph Tegrey. So keep your eyes open, and don't go out after dark.

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