He reached into his coat and dug out the silver frame. The coat was made for wasteland travel, but it never stopped the sand. Desert sand found ways; it seeped into any crack, any opening.
Rigor wiped off the dirt crusted upon the glass, blowing away the dust that remained. He stared down at the picture in the silver frame, then up at the mud archway in front of him: “Welcome to Cathedral: A City of God”.
An old man bumped hard into Rigor, knocking him off balance. The old man turned long enough to glare at Rigor, mumbling something about, “morons blocking the entrance”. Scars and wrinkles carved into the man’s face; the wasteland had not been kind. As the old man walked through the arched entrance to Cathedral, the sun glinted off a chrome weapon he had tucked into his pants.
Welcome to Cathedral. Rigor laughed.
Cathedral was one of the first Holy Cities established after the Descension, and thus one of the richest. It, along with less than a dozen towns in the entire Third World, could afford to wall itself in. Cathedral had food, water and power; it was a self-sufficient civilization.
Of course the white mud walls, the marvel of Cathedral, worked less to keep the outside out and more to keep the inside in. The Descension created chaos and confusion. Desperation erected the cities, and nourished the wicked. Gambling, drugs, weapons trading, robbery, prostitution, murder; the dark and devious found new life in the people’s suffering. They waited and watched as the final brick was laid, and then the residents of Cathedral and many of those first settlements realized what they had walled themselves in with.
Built as a beacon of hope, a testament to the endurance of mankind and the Lord who delivered them, Cathedral became a city of sin.
And in that city of sin nestled within the steep canyon walls of what might once have been a magnificent ocean, Rigor Mortis hoped he’d find his first move. The picture brought him here. That much he knew.
The wanderer sighed and tilted forward the brow of his well worn fedora hat. His eyes squinted through the high-noon sun. He tucked the picture back into his coat and hoisted his duffel bag over his shoulder. He reached in his coat’s front pocket and put on a pair of rectangular sunglasses, Frankensteined together from salvaged frames and lenses. Finally, he pressed his hands against his hips, checking for the two holstered revolvers he expected would soon come in handy. Rigor hated looking for trouble, still, he crossed under the arched entryway into Cathedral.
Cathedral’s central square bustled with activity. Merchant and resident alike lined the grey stone streets. Children played as their parents shopped the merchant tents. It was an excellent day to shop the square–a caravan of traveling merchants arrived shortly before Rigor. Desert resources were sparse, and various nations grew around those resources. The merchants were the glue that kept everyone from killing each other. They always had what you didn’t, and were willing to trade for what you did. In this fucked up desert wasteland, money and resources were equal.
Besides the traveling tents, central square also housed several permanent local businesses. The entire town was formed from the same white clay that encased it. From the sheriff to the blacksmith, every resident had two white mud shitshacks to call home: one they slept in, the other they worked.
Of course, the racketeers and gangsters who ran Cathedral didn’t live in mud shitshacks. They lived in lavish estates carved high and deep into the canyon wall. There they were protected, or at least oblivious to their own damnation. No, they didn’t live in the shitshacks, but that’s where they kept their various enterprises. Rigor was looking for one very specific shitshack.
To get to the Oak-Hay Saloon meant navigating a gauntlet of crooks in alleyways. Rigor knew the path well. He followed an alleyway past the whorehouse, a landmark signaling he was close. A carriage pulled by mules traipsed over two steel panels on the road. Double checking for wandering eyes, Rigor lifted one of the panels and descended into the Oak-Hay.
Rigor’s boots echoed on the wooden stairs into the Oak-Hay. The musk of tobacco smoke hung thick in the air, choking Rigor as he approached the bar. Behind the bar, the barkeep kept a watchful eye on Rigor as he pretended to clean (or did he actually think he was cleaning?) a glass with a filthy rag.
“How you doin’ today?” Rigor said. The barkeep nodded. He was a stocky man, bald and wearing a chef’s apron. Rigor noticed a tattoo on the barkeeps forearm; it was the top part of a human skull with two deadbolts crossing through it.
“So what are you drinking?” the barkeep muttered, slurring the question into a single low, gut-rumbling utterance.
“I’m actually not in the mood for spirits at the moment, friend. Call this a business visit. I’m hoping you might help me find an old fr–”
“Information is as good as money around here” the barkeep interrupted. Right, money, resources and information. Rigor forgot about the desert’s third currency.
“Feeling thirsty yet, ‘friend’? For a drink and some on top, maybe I’ll help you find your friend” the barkeep placed both hands on the bar and looked at Rigor.
Rigor frowned. Nothing ever came cheap or easy. “A pint of sage beer then.” Rigor dumped a few nuggets of silver on the table. Two more than covered the beer, and the rest for the next piece of the puzzle.
“Now, about my friend?” The barkeep picked up one of the nuggets, examining it closely as he grumbled at getting less than what he wanted. But it seemed he would help. Rigor reached into his coat and pulled out the silver framed picture. The barkeep stopped cleaning his glass and placed it on the bar. He wiped his sweat covered brow and gave Rigor a blank stare.
“So you know what this is?” Rigor said as he placed the picture on the bar next to his untouched sage beer. “And… you know what it means?” They both stared at the picture of the human skull with two deadbolts crossing through it.
The barkeep swiped the glass off the table towards Rigor. As Rigor darted sideways avoiding it, he heard the metallic click-clack of a round entering a chamber. The glass shattered in the background, and Rigor found himself face to face with the barkeeps dual sawed off shotguns. The only thing that kept him from pulling the triggers was the fact that Rigor had one of his magnums aimed dead center of the barkeeps forehead since he had walked into the Oak-Hay. The barkeep knew this.
“You’ve got balls, showing your death warrant to a member.” the barkeep said.
“You weren’t taking me seriously, baldy.” Rigor shrugged.
“Well it ain’t nothing personal stranger, but now I got to kill you.” The barkeep wiped his brow again, keeping one hand on the shotgun and one finger on the trigger. “First, keep your silver.” He tossed the nuggets at Rigor’s feet. “I don’t want cursed silver.” He shook his head as he laughed. “A Death Warrant!? Everyone and everything around you will die until your heart stops. Dead Bolt doesn’t ever let a marked man escape.” His eyes grew wide.
“Now, I’ll tell you where to find your friend. If you can kill me before I kill you, you’ll have your friend, your silver and that pint of beer to celebrate what little life you’ll have stolen back from Dead Bolt.”
And then Rigor blinked.