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Prince Of Darkness

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Upon earth there is not his like; One who is made without fear.
- The Book of Job, 41:33


Charlie Prince has two ironclad rules.

Never turn your back on an opponent. Ben Wade's word is law.

They're simple enough rules. Maybe a trifle too simple, if he listens to the ghost-voice of his father in his head. But Charlie doesn't mind simple these days. The life he has – the life he's chosen – is best suited to it. In this gang of small-minded cutthroats and thieves that roam and destroy at will across an unforgiving land, complex is a concept best left unspoken.

 

I only got me a couple regulations. Make sure everyone's dead when you kill 'em, and don't ever contradict me in public.

That's it?

Trust me, son, complicated ain't the way to get things done out here. You might wanna remember that.

 

When Charlie had been just a tot, his mama used to rock him to sleep at night. She'd read him bedtime stories from the books she'd hoarded like gold on the long, long trip from her native England. The lilting sound of her voice had mingled like music with the nocturnal songs of the crickets that played their tunes just outside Charlie's open window.

He would snuggle close, lose himself in the stories of old – in the exploits of Tristan, Arthur and Merlin, Achilles and Patroclus and Hector and Aeneas, Alexander the Great and his faithful Hephaestion. The heroes of his youth had traveled to far-off lands, met adventure head-on, and weren't afraid of anything. They were brave and bold, loyal to each other. Brothers unto death and beyond.

They were men who wrestled life to the ground and took what they wanted. For them, consequence was a word for other people. Lesser people.

The heroes of Charlie's stories were remembered long after their deaths. Charlie couldn't think of anything worse than to be forgotten.

 

You're not like the others, Charlie.

No, sir.

Most men I meet are all alike.

I ain't most men.

Well, we'll see about that.

 

Charlie's not looking for salvation. The void in his soul is as infinite as God's supposed grace. Not that he believes it. The God of his past, his mother's compassionate God, is about as genuine as the dragons in her storybooks.

Now, Charlie only cares about the truth. Pure, plain, simple truth. And the truth is, all that matters is the corporeal. He only believes in what he can see and taste and touch – his quick wit and a quick draw and Ben's uncompromising intellect.

Faber est quisque fortunae suae.

Every man is the artisan of his own fortune. Charlie's made damn sure that the only road before him is the one he can see with his own eyes.

 

Go back to Georgia, kid. I didn't kill him to save your sorry life or to earn your gratitude.

Begging your pardon, sir, but maybe it ain't your gratitude I'm after.

Then what are you after?

A job.

 

Growing up before the War had never been as idyllic as many of his fellow countrymen claimed later on, drunk on cheap whiskey and rose-tinted reminiscence. It isn't only the winners that rewrite history to serve their own ends. Charlie has no such sense of nostalgia tingeing his memories. He knows where he comes from. It's etched under his skin with a soul-deep scar.

War itself hadn't been the hell the poets wrote about, either. But then, what did the poets ever know about war? Charlie'd liked the fighting, the down and dirty combat, pitting his intellect against his fellow man and always coming out on top. He'd grown to love the smell of sulfur and gunpowder mixed with blood, the symphony of screams and bombs and gunfire, the sight of silver glinting in the sun when the bugles called formation. War hadn't been Hell, not even a little bit.

No, the true hell had been in the living after. Surviving in the bitter aftermath of the ashes of a civilization razed to the ground, with nothing to show for it except a tattered pride that matched his tattering clothing. There had been no training for what had come next.

The military had honed him into a razor-sharp weapon of destruction and terror, then set him loose when the fighting was done, a hungry wolf roaming at will amongst the sheep. And everyone knows, in the wild, it's every man or beast for himself.

Charlie had gone back to Georgia just the once. Had seen the burnt remains of the plantation and outbuildings, the scorched fields that had once blossomed with cotton, and the unmarked graves that now housed his family. There had been nothing left, not a token, not his mother's Bible, not his father's pocketwatch. Nothing of the Prince family had remained except the man standing over their graves with murder in his heart and wild vengeance in his eyes. The entire world could burn, and Charlie would happily strike the first match.

 

Well, lookit you. A genuine hero of the Confederacy.

Well, now, last I looked, we lost, so I wouldn't exactly call myself a hero.

Good. 'Cause there ain't no such things as heroes in this world.

 

Warriors are not made, they're forged. Forged in the heat of battle, in rising above defeat, in not admitting that a word like defeat even exists.

Velle est posse. Where there is a will, there is a way.

And there is always a way.

Ben Wade is the only person that Charlie's ever met who could come close to matching the great generals and warriors of the past. Most men – even the ones history has named as great – are too caught up in outdated concepts like honor and nobility to get the job done. But, not Ben. For Ben, no obstacle is too big, no challenge too impossible. Ben lives to pit his wits and wiles against the world, lives to spit upon Fate and make it his own. Ben is everything his mama's stories had promised – brave and strong and ruthless. The most ruthless warrior Charlie has ever known.

And, like every great warrior, Ben needs the perfect weapon. Arthur'd had Excalibur, Achilles'd had his armor, Heracles his bow. Ben has two – the right hand of God, and Charlie.

 

You know, you might be one of the finest damn shots I know, but you've got to learn to relax, Charlie. Live a little.

I can't afford to relax.

Life's about more than diligence. Take what pleasures you can, because there ain't too many in this world.

Not all of us want the same pleasures as you. I have all I need.

 

Ben is a chameleon, constantly changing depending on the environment. He seems so well-suited to the harsh life out West, to the rugged and untamed. But Charlie has no problems picturing him in the drawing rooms of the finest homes back in Atlanta or Charleston – has no problems seeing Ben sipping imported tea off of fine china and discussing the latest news from London. It's a gift, and one Charlie knows is as rare as a summer thunderstorm in the desert.

Charlie has his own gift, one that's also just as rare – he knows how to make himself invaluable, trusted, necessary. And the finest, most delicate piece to the art of being indispensable – of being the perfect second in command – is the art of being invisible. Charlie's never minded playing dumb when he had to. Ben values his brain; he knows this. Charlie knows who he is. And everything he is belongs to Ben.

Hesperus is Phosphorus. Two sides of the same coin. Bringer of light, and bringer of darkness.

 

You're a real ruthless sonofabitch, aren't you?

Yessir.

I like that in a man. As long as it benefits me.

Always, boss. Always.

 

Charlie's traveled Europe, has seen the splendors of Rome, has gazed upon the beauty of Paris. He's marveled at the Mona Lisa, stood in awe under the benevolent dome of the Sistine Chapel, touched the cool stones at Stonehenge. He's seen wonders most men only dream of. But he's only ever felt infinite in the calm reflection of Ben's steady gaze.

Charlie isn't a killer. Killers deal in nothing more than brute strength and brute force. No, Charlie's an artist, albeit one in the art of death. And, like all artists, he knows his creation is in the eye of the beholder. Historians and scholars and critics could say what they wanted, but art is like beauty, like love. It just is. He knows it because he sees it.

And like art, like beauty, love is absolute. Inviolate. It's the one true axiom that binds everything together. If one loved, then they did it without reservation, or it wasn't love. Love is loyal, without reason, the truest leap of faith.

 

You ever read the Bible?

Cover to cover. Why?

You can learn a lot about man's nature from reading the Bible.

Man's nature only exists to conquer and multiply.

Exactly. But it tends to sound a lot more palatable if it's spun into some sort of morality tale.

You ain't gotta worry about me on that.

Somehow I didn't think morals were high on your list, Charlie.

 

Charlie doesn't believe in God. Not anymore. Once upon a time, faith had been easy enough. Belief had been easy enough. He'd felt his soul resonate in time with the hymns his mother used to sing in church, and used to marvel at the strange and wondrous beauty in the world.

Well, he knows better now.

The world isn't a mysterious and miraculous place of wonder and grace. Mankind doesn't have some sort of Heavenly father figure waiting in the wings with open arms and a kind voice. There is no salvation at the end of it all, no quick cure for the evils of the world and the depravity that men inflict on each other every single minute of every single day.

The only truth in this sorry world is that everyone is doomed. And they're all marching towards it with open arms.

 

Ah, Charlie, there's so much for you to learn. Not everything comes from those books of yours.

So teach me.

Get rid of the books. Out here, a man's only as good as his draw.

Then I aim to be the best.

Not while I'm still breathing.

 

Charlie doesn't like to sleep. Sleep is for the weak, for those who can't bear the stigma of their own puny reality and must escape into dreams. In his dreams, he is chased to the River Styx by the ghosts of all the men he's killed. He evades them by killing Charon and stealing the ferry to the Underworld.

Even in his dreams, Charlie finds a way to outwit his foes. Fate leads him who follows it, and drags him who resists. It's about the only thing his father had taught him that had stuck.

He spends most of his nights watching over Ben, a warrior angel protecting his charge, a buffer holding everyone else at bay. He is Hephaestion to Ben's Alexander, Patroclus to his Achilles. The most trusted, bravest, and truest of Ben's posse. In truth, however, it's not that hard. Ben chooses his hired guns for the accuracy of their aim and their greed, not for their smarts. They're loyal because Ben makes it profitable for them to be loyal. They have no idea what true loyalty is, what true brotherhood and love means. They're savages, honed to a razor-sharp edge, kept in line by fear and gluttony. Even lawless men need boundaries, and that's what Ben provides.

 

You don't talk much about where you're from, Charlie. Why is that?

I just don't. Neither do you.

True, but leaders should have a little bit of mystery to them.

There's nothing to tell.

Somehow I doubt that.

 

When Charlie was nine years old, he'd killed his first man. He'd been a squatter, living at the edges of the property, etching out his meager living by catching fish in the stream, hiring himself out at planting and harvest. Charlie's mom used to say the man needed sympathy, Christian compassion, for all he'd suffered. Charlie hadn't seen why he should be so special that God would single him out – it had seemed to Charlie that the man was just another two-bit scrounger who'd had the misfortune not to die when the rest of his family had.

The local authorities had blamed his death on 'accidental drowning'. Charlie can still hear the man's surprised gurgles for breath, for help, when Charlie had pushed him into the murky water, his pleas washing away with the current.

Murder is easy. But Charlie still prefers to look men in the eyes when he kills them. He likes knowing that their last sight is of him – God, Devil, Fate – standing with aloof judgment until their final breath rattles out.

 

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 1:11. But it don't mean nothing. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.

James 2:26. You really don't believe in much, do you, Charlie?

I believe in my gun.

That's a cold statement from a man with as much fire in his belly as you.

From you, boss, I'll take that as a compliment.

 

Law and justice were pretty enough concepts, but they have no place in the real world. They're no match for the tyranny of evil just lying in wait to lay waste to everything a person holds dear. Let Plato and Socrates and Aristotle ramble on about the cradle of civilization and what it means. Charlie has no use for it. Neither one had saved his life from being taken from him. No deux ex machina had swept down from the heavens to stop the carnage of his world crashing all around him while he could only stand, helpless, and do nothing.

Come hell or highwater or the end of the fucking world, Charlie is never feeling helpless again. Helplessness is for the victims of this world, for the puny and decaying men who cry out for a savior when the only strength they need comes from within.

Ben Wade had taught him that.

And together, they are unstoppable. A force of nature, leaving death and destruction behind, marking the world one blazing trail at a time. They are poetry written in the screams and blood of the fallen. They need no one else.

 

If anything should happen...

I'll come for you, boss, don't you worry. Sure as God's fucking vengeance. I will come for you.

I know you will, Charlie. I know.

 

Charlie Prince doesn't believe in God.

But he believes in Ben Wade.