By the time the War’s ending was basically only a formality, Samuel Braxton’s name had been far less remembered and far less whispered than that of the elusive Black Bat. His unusual escapades with the brightly colored and jovial adventurers was but a footnote in the tales of his rides through the South, the freeing of his people, and the terror he instilled in the Confederate army’s thinly spread ranks.
When Braxton saved Colonel Kent, however, it was no short tale like the countless others.
With the way the robust Northern colonel was bleeding from his breast pocket, a glowing green hue radiating from the bullet buried deep in his chest, Black Bat knew he couldn’t ride off into the night and disappear like all the times before. He was forced by circumstance to take the colonel with him, to protective borders of Liberty Town outside of the Confederate Army’s hands.
In his central bunker where he usually stayed until the heat had died down from the Black Bat’s raids, Braxton unmasked before his former colonel.
The bloodied man smiled. “I never forget a face,” the man too good to be from this rotten world coughed. “You’re from the Fifty-fifth.”
“Yes, I am,” Braxton replied, reaching for his personal medicine supplies. “Colonel Kent, you’ve bled something awful. Any other man would have died by now.”
“Oh, you know what they say,” he coughed. “Frontier men are hardly normal men. But I will be much obliged if you would find it in you to remove this bullet.”
“I’m no doctor, Sir,” Sam Braxton replied, looking nervously on the other man. “I could hurt you something fierce.”
“As long as you remove this bullet, soldier, I’ll be fine,” Kent explained softly. “And more than that, you’ll have a colonel who’s good to his words in your debt. That’s more credit than any Confederate money can buy you once we’ve won this war.”
Braxton hesitated before reaching for the tongs, dunking them carefully in his wash bowl. “Can you tell me about the frontiers, Colonel Kent? Are you from there?”
“I can,” Kent answered. “And, well, let’s just say I landed there myself when I was very young.”
The colonel made no fuss when Braxton went through the painful process of extracting the bullet, but he slept for nearly the entire day after it.
By morning, Sam Braxton was amazed to see the Northerner walking around even taller than him and ready to ride all the way to the Mason Dixon line if Braxton could ready their horses fast enough.
On the ride, Colonel Kent gave the masked rider more than a few ideas on what one could do in the West.
Even in a “free” America, Samuel Braxton found little need to retire the cape and hood of the Black Bat.
In fact, as he ventured into the Western territories and was met again by lawlessness, superstition, and prejudice, the adventures of the Black Bat seemed only more and more relevant.
And with as many cattle hustlers as there were to be found with a bounty, well, it was a decent way for Braxton to make a living.
Braxton was unassuming himself when he led a horse into town, which made it simple to do business -- trade furs, get information by proxy, duck back out without causing too much of a stir.
The Black Bat riding into a town commanded fear and, in some twisted views, respect from the townspeople who wouldn’t have looked twice at the alter ego they saw just weeks or months before. Usually the fear only increased as the Black Bat threw his bounty’s bruised and bloodied bodies before the sheriff or marshal.
At least, that had been the case in almost anywhere but Paradise.
Paradise was an odd town -- it greeted him as Samuel Braxton with a curious sort of comfort, and all smiled. Nothing nearly as awing to Braxton as finding the sheriff to be the tallest, strongest looking woman Braxton believed he had ever seen.
Diana had a healthy, deep laugh that shook her to the core, and she never fanned to hide it, instead throwing her head back and stringing her thumbs in her belt loops.
She could also block a stray bullet as fast as she could shoot one back.
“You’re an interesting man, Black Bat,” she told him one afternoon as he unloaded his catch for the month. “Paradise could use the likes of you.”
It was certainly a thought. Braxton even hesitated in his work to consider it.
He liked Paradise. He almost trusted Diana.
But the Black Bat’s work was never fully done.
“Someday,” he said with a sigh. “Someday I’ll be ready for Paradise. Then I’ll believe it’s truly ready for me, too.”
He made sure to ride out of the county that very night, not stopping until there was less land to travel to the next town than to turn back around to Paradise.
The West began changing fairly quickly after Sam made his home there.
There was always a need for the Black Bat -- a certain amount of lawlessness and corruption seemed written into the fabric of the West -- but as the years progressed the more he saw the changes take hold.
Unusual things seemed to follow his adventures as much as they had in the South, though time traveling adventurers gave way to space encounters, the supernatural, and inventors beyond the means of the time. Those things were fairly standard for anyone who donned a masked identity it seemed, though.
What was stranger still was the call from the East, the orders of Transcontinental railways and the march of displaced US troops into new terrain, clearing the way for the construction.
Having very little in debt left to the army after his own show saving Colonel Kent and less so to the government which had been fairly quick to turn silent after handing Sam a very basic right, the bounty hunter watched with an almost apathetic distance as the railroad construction went underway in the West.
Though even with just the periphery he very much could see who the backbreaking labor was put on the most -- freed men and immigrants from across the Pacific.
He started up conversation fairly soon among them, both as Sam Braxton and as the Black Bat, finding them to be excellent sources and fun conversation whenever supervisors were not at their backs.
Which was how he first learned of a man after his own skin.
“He’s a gun for hire, and he doesn’t mind being dirty,” he was warned. “They call him Cain, because he has no qualms about murder.”
“Why would he be after the Black Bat?” Sam asked, pouring the worker some of his quasi-famous stew.
“Because you couldn’t make that many enemies without getting Cain’s attention,” was the answer.
And it was a hard one to argue for sure.
The next assignment the Black Bat was after, he was cautiously open about his endeavor. He stayed a hair longer in every town, fully masked. He asked more informants than necessary, and when he got his man, he was certain to make the two day journey to the marshal’s office himself rather than leave him in the nearest town’s custody.
Small mistakes that added up to nonsurprise when a shot nearly hit his horse.
Sam whipped around, the pistol he loaded in wait from his breast pocket was produced, aimed, and lacked to make it’s mark because the all so dangerous Cain was standing stock still on the opposing cliff side. And Sam could see why.
A small girl, half-Chinese it would seem, had disarmed the man so quickly that Braxton had barely noticed the action himself.
From the tales of Cain that Braxton had heard, he was shocked that he had even thought twice about killing a child, but the man seemed beyond words or actions. And the cry he released when the girl dove backward from the cliff was enough to strike straight at the Black Bat’s own heart.
Racing forth, Braxton leaped with his horse, catching the small girl from her doomed fall, and then took off at double speed toward the marshal.
The girl never said a word during their journey, but Cain’s cries had told the Black Bat all he needed to know.
Her name was Cassandra. She had just turned her back on her father to save the Black Bat. And Samuel Braxton was forever in her debt.
Cassandra was a silent girl. Taking care of her had less to do with telling her when to hide and when to fight and when to use the invisibility the rest of the world gave them -- those things the bright eyed girl seemed to know by instinct. Taking care of her was more about teaching her things that made it easier to feel human.
Braxton taught her how to ride a horse, how to sign that she wanted more stew. He taught her how to shake other’s hands, to play a game of cards, and how to sign a check with a solid ‘X’ all her own.
He taught his little friend how to look over the stars at night, how to be respectful of the Natives they passed, and how to listen for good information.
She never said much, so he taught her how to say important things -- yes and no, hello and goodbye, stop and go.
More than anything, though, little Cassandra was a listener. She curled up by the fireside and more than she wanted her own horse, more than she wanted to pick their next hunt, more than anything she wanted to hear Samuel’s stories.
And he told her lots of stories.
There were stories of family and home, of how to plant and how to grow the best crops, stories about heroes in the war, stories about the listless ways of the West. He told her everything, except for the things that no child would have to hear.
He told her about the time travelers -- the flashy adventures he had with Batman and Robin, the inspiration for the Black Bat.
She seemed to soak up every word, curling into his side and preening at every climactic tale. She loved his stories.
“I’m going to tell you every story I have someday,” he would joke with her at night, tucking a blanket around her. “And when I run out, you better be able to tell me about your adventures instead.”
Her eyes sparkled at that, and the very next morning she began practicing her words with a new fervor.
As with so many things in life, by the time Braxton is ready for Paradise, he finds it’s no longer there on the map.
The cattle rustlers that he and Cassandra tracked down to an abandoned mine were more than a little grievance for them, and considering Sam and Casssandra both were adamant about turning in Live bounties over Dead ones, Sam made the educated decision to drop them off at the nearest, strongest sheriff this side of the county seat.
The costume of the Black Bat was old and worn, but so comfortable was his second skin that he never bothered to change it, even the rattiness of his his cape seemed to only assist in striking fear.
Cassandra was a nameless shadow, her own black horse, dark costume and dress, and the scarf covering all below her eyes made her the Black Bat’s grandest companion.
He had been mindful to not call her by name when around their prey, referring to her as “Girl” instead, which had translated to the rumors and fears of all outlaws as Black Bat and the Bat-Girl.
It had its own nice ring.
Braxton led their company in ropes, Cassandra covering the back and keeping a mindful eye on each of the captives, and was confident in his ride toward Paradise.
Until they reached the ridge and the Black Bat saw for himself that there was nothing of the former town than debris and the wind.
And a small cabin built on the town’s other ridge.
With some investigation, Samuel met Diana -- that mystique female sheriff with a bright but worn smile -- outside her cabin.
“They tore down my town when I was away,” she explained as they sat together, watching Cassandra keeping the captive rustlers i line. “Killed my deputy and damn near every resident. All for a private railway. I got together some riders and we stopped them, got some revenge. Still didn’t bring back Paradise. Nothing can.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “Are you alone now?”
“I have a kid in my care. Little older than yours. Remember the Marshal -- Barry Allen? His nephew.”
“No kidding,” he returned thoughtfully.
“Your girl’s something else,” Diana said firmly. “I can see it in her eyes. Smart. Strong. Kind. The territories can use more like her.”
Black Bat grinned beneath his scarf. “’Tis a shame, Miss Prince. Because they’re ain’t anyone else in the whole West like us.”
Diana’s eyes shined with aged wisdom that didn’t quite meet her physical youth. “That’s the truth. Next time I’m putting together Riders, I’ll have to remember that.”
When Diana came to them instead, Braxton was putting his saddle up for the last time.
Cassandra stood beside him, eyes flickering with readiness, her nimble fingers already moving for the locked chest that kept her uniform.
“Justice is calling,” Diana informed them, steadying her horse as the rest of her posse slowed a few yards behind. “I was hoping you’d be ready.”
“I ain’t,” Sam responded. “I’m old, not all of us stay young forever.” He nodded to the Black Bat as she put on her scarf. “But I know someone who is ready.”
Cassandra grinned beneath her hat. “It’s me.”