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Hung from the neck

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Wednesday 18th April, Midday, Outside WestRock Software


The year was warming up with a clear sky and a hot sun. One could imagine swimming in sunlight, the way the midday brightness infused the air. 


And outside Lick Her and Shots, a disreputable bar just across the street from Hakim, there was screaming. And a gunshot of strange resonance (And yet, somehow, once knew it was a gunshot). A half dozen people started stumbling and screaming and running out of the bar, almost crushing each other in wild panic to get out. Of course, gunshots did that, but those in the know would be aware that Lick Her and Shots was a bar frequented by the army, or more precisely, Vets. Who, once could argue (PTSD aside) would be relatively resilient to the fear induced by gunfire...

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It was a day like any other, and Hakim was sitting in the office, just working his way through some bugged code. There had to be a missing close-paren or something somewhere in these 1423 lines of code. He couldn’t see any other reason for why the entire thing wasn’t working as soon as the clock hit the PMs. He was in a nearly-trance like status, immersed fully in his code. (Not as fully as that one time though).


And then, gunfire. He knew it was, he’d heard it before. It came from nearby. Outside, people were running, which suggested that it was nearby. If it was at the bar right across, that was probably even worse. Last thing he needed was for them to turn up with military grade equipment. Inside the office, people took cover. It was the smartest thing to do, especially with a glass front leading towards the source of the sound. Usually this was the time to don the scarf and fly downwards. But right now, there was an office full of co-workers and friends looking at him.


Still, he had to do something. “Okay. Everybody stay calm. It’s outside, this building has a security guard. Jen, call 911. The others, move away from the windows and towards the wall. I’m gonna go upstairs and talk with the others so none of them panic either.”


With that, he duck-walked across the office, to the door, making sure to grab his bag along the way. It wasn’t a great excuse but how else would he get out of this situation?

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Fortune was with Hakim, at least for now. The people parted and scuttled, and the scarf and bag could be donned free from gaze. 


There was screaming inside the bar. "Call the police! Call an ambulance! Call the frikkin' ARMY!" yelled a deep voice, throat tightening with panic. This so happened to be Tommy "Gun" Gomez, the owner of the bar. Tommy Gun was a huge man with a huge belly, bald, broken nosed and hard as nails that had been subjected to a revolutionary new nail-hardening procedure. For Tommy Gun to start screaming like that...


Well, inside the bar was dim light, hot heat, and the smell of sweat and booze. And a man lying in the floor. The remains of his head were lying on the opposite side of the bar. Such observation would lead even the dimmest soul to conclude that the man was dead. 


And, there was an invisible cowboy in the bar. 


Invisible to all others, of course. But Hakim could see him quite clearly. 


The cowboy was dead. His flesh was shrivelled up like leather, and he had only gaping blackness in his mouth and eye sockets. He was quite clearly dead, but he still moved, holstering an ancient pistol. He was dressed like a cowboy, and wore a cowboy hat, and around his neck was an old rope. A hangman's rope. 

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Things had to move fast. The entire building had security cameras set up, so that presented somewhat of a challenge. Hakim knew, he’d made sure to give each of them a magic filter. Better to figure out there was magic at his workplace earlier than later.


There were the restrooms, and he sprinted towards them, ducking in and pulling up his scarf, thus assuming the identity. He stored his bag in one of the stalls, closed it, and, Mage Book in hand, stepped through the portal he’d created, leading to the front of the bar. Time for the obvious entrance.


A subtle low-power application of “Divine Winds” blew open the doors, and Sha’ir stepped into the bar, his book floating by his side, his forcefield at full power. He expected to get shot as soon as he entered, so it was a bit surprising when he didn’t.


It was … quite a grizzly scene. He’d seen some stuff while dealing with Vampires last year, but what he saw inside the bar made him quite queasy. At least, as far as he could tell, nobody else was injured.


Sha’ir didn’t pay any attention to the other people in the bar. He didn’t need to, it didn’t fit his persona anyways. The Cowboy he spotted on the side, on the other hand… It probably was a ghost or another type of unliving spectral being of some sort. It would fit with the few things he’d read. Was direct approach the best way? Nope. Was it the best one Hakim could remember? Yes.


He walked towards the cowboy, speaking with a relaxed voice, and a bit of a fake western-movie drawl. He’d always been a fan. “So, what’s your story, pardner?”

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The Cowboy looked with his eye sockets at Shai'ir. His voice was like rotten wood whistling. 


"You can see me" he said. It felt like more of a statement than a question, but it wasn't a happy phrase however you cut it. 


"No matter. Stay out of my way. I have murderin' to do. Murderin' killers" he explained. Admittedly, it was not much of an explanation, but to its credit it was blunt and efficient. His intent was clear. 


He looked down at his gun and examined it, spinning the chamber with a clickity click sound. 


"That them there" he explained, pointing at the corpse and the blood. "Is just the start. I ain't ever stoppin'..."


With that, he started to walk out. It was plain that whilst the Spellsmith could see him, nobody else could...

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So it was a spirit of the vengeful kind, then. Granted, the literal dead body that had caused all of this commotion should’ve hinted towards that, but now Hakim knew. An undead vigilante killer. There was a story in that, but for now there was an actual killer, at large. One that claimed he’d kill murderers, but nevertheless.


It was probably best for everybody if he was stopped ASAP. Without any delay, Sha’ir followed him. This entire thing would look completely mysterious to onlookers. Great. He hadn’t done anything as Sha’ir in a while, but he’d seen the term pop up on his search alerts a few times recently. Some mysterious activity would help deal with rumours.


On the side, his spellbook turned through pages, driven by Hakim’s thoughts. Perhaps it had something on vengeful ghosts with guns in it. It would probably turn out to be helpful.  

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The references were obscure and cryptic, but the jigsaw fell together on the pages. 


Charlie Creek, B. 1752, D. 1782. Convicted of murder most horrid. Shot by his own gun and Hung the neck Until he was dead for crimes most foul and beyond the pale.


Mr. Creek had been hunting Indians, it seemed, on a murderous rampage. Until he was pinned down by said Indians, who were said to put a terrible curse on him. To murder murderers, or some such thing. It was admittedly a rather obscure reference and "murderers" could easily be read as "One who takes a life", which was of course a pretty big widening of the gap. 


Charlie Creeks ghost was seen intermittently for the next hundred years ago, and then faded into legend and myth. 


And that was a much as the book could say. Whilst outside, there was more gunfire...

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Native Americans, great. If there was one think Hakim didn’t want to deal with it was Native American Curses. They lasted forever and often didn’t have a proper end clause, which just meant trouble. A quick glance at what the book told him only confirmed that. No ending to the curse, roaming the earth forever.


And apparently being quite effective at his job, because the second Hakim had lost sight of him, there was more gunfire. Were there that many murdere- Oh, taking a life. Veteran’s Bar. That … made sense. And meant that more trouble was imminent.


He stepped through the door, ready to start slinging spells. A proton beam maybe, that’d be stylish.


“Creek, you cursed bastard! Show your face and we will take care of that curse. That, or I make sure it doesn’t go on myself.”  

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Outside in the street, Creek turned around, his face still shrivelled leather, bone, and empty eye sockets. 


"Not Creek. Not for a long time. Just Noose now..."


With that, he appeared. 


For Hakim, of course, he was still visible. But Hakim could sense that his invisibility faded, and everyone on the street screamed as they saw him, and started running again. 


"I don't want no curse gone. I like being around, and it ain't a bad curse, all things considered. Punishin' the wicked...I done plenty of punishin'..."


He whipped out his gun, fast, and shot another fleeing Vet in the back. BAM! And the Vet was down, bleeding a good fourty feet away. Nothing wrong with Creek (or Noose's) aim, that was for sure. 


"And I got plenty more to do..." said Creek, voice grim. 


The sound of police car sirens came, not far now. 


"...and punishin' anyone who gets in my way..."







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Vengeful spirit, yeah. Quite vengeful, at this point Hakim was actually sick inside. Dealing with death had never been his strongsuit, and he’d just been a witness to multiple murders. Creek, or Noose, he supposed, had to be stopped. Immediately, and with whatever Sha’ir could draw upon. There were onlookers, but at this point it was about damage reduction. Perhaps he could coax Noose a bit.


And if not, he could always bust out the bigger spells. One of the old masters must’ve had to deal with these kinds of ghosts before, there had to be some American in the early 1900s who came up with something. But for now, classical. Maybe it’d be enough, even if Hakim doubted it.


Well, here I stand. And as I see it, we’re in a nice empty street here.” A spectral, translucent green cowboy hat began to manifest on Sha’ir’s head, as did a holster on his side. “It’s approximately noon, so let’s settle this the traditional way.”

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"You ain't taken a life. At least, not that I can smell" said creek through his toothless hoarse mouth. One could almost see the welts around his neck from the noose he still wore. 


"I ain't gonna shoot you. And you can't stop me, either. Nobody can stop me..." he said, calm. It did not have the flavour of a boast either, just cast-iron certainty. 


With that, he turned away from Hakim, starting to trudge down the road, invisible to all but Hakim. 


Two patrolcars screeched to a halt and from them sprung four cops, pistols out. But of course they couldn't see anyone to shoot or apprehend. 


"What's going on here?" one asked Hakim. 


"We need paramedic assist!" said another into his phone, running over to the shot Vet...

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Time was of the essence. Sha’ir couldn’t spend it dealing with the police. They couldn’t help and it didn’t really fit the image he saw himself envisioning. Maybe he was stressing that second part too much in his decision making, but it meant not being recognized as who he really was.


“A vengeful spirit, one who kills those who have killed. I am on it.”


With that, he walked away from the police, following Creek. “I can, and I will. “ A few adjustments needed to be made to the Bindings of Baluur. It was a nice and simple spell, so those were usually simple enough. Grab the part of the Sprengler Proton that affected ghosts, pluck it into the Bindings. Add in the Kid’s Lasso for that proper *spazazz*, and hope the three didn’t have some sort of unintentional interaction.


And then, he just had to throw the lasso and not miss…



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The Lasoo landed around Noose, but slipped down to just his feet thanks to his wriggling. 


"Rope...." he muttered, angry now. "You got me with rope...." he muttered again. "Now that makes me mad. You only going to slow me down, boy. But even that, I can't have..." he sounded determined. Like he had an excuse to fire now. 


And that's just what he did, firing from the hip, slow. He wasn't fast, but he knew how to shoot. And Sha'ir felt the bullet hit him. 


As he fired, he became visible again. A zombie cowboy in the middle of the street. Everyone started screaming and running, but the cops held their ground and opened fire. 


The bullets let off a little dust when they hit Noose, but nothing more. They fell to the street bent and distorted, with Noose completely unphased. 

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Rope, eh? He probably had some emotions related to that. Cause of death and all, that made sense. Chances were most people would be quite upset by whatever killed then. And while it wasn’t exactly effective, it did draw his attention.


And his wrath. And getting hit explained a lot. Whatever gun he was using, it wasn’t one of his contemporaries. That thing packed enough of a punch to seriously strain Sha’ir’s forcefield. The way Noose shot did give Hakim an idea however…


The lasso didn’t work, clearly. And at this range, Noose had the advantage. But he didn’t seem like the fastest of people. Sure, Sha’ir wasn’t either, but he wasn’t a rotting corpse.


He slowly walked towards Noose, holding his right hand out into a small portal he’d just created, and drawing a shot spear from it. Then, he launched himself forward, into melee range. The spear would find its target.


That was when he realized the police were still shooting at Noose. Ah well, more scratches…

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The spear went straight into Creek's neck. 


Well, it went straight in a few inches. A little dust came out and it came to a juddering halt. 


Creek turned his head around to look at the spear and knocked it out casually. 


"Takes quite a spear to get that far. But it don't matter if it went right through me, son" he croaked. "I can't die. I can't be hurt. You could throw me in a volcano and I'd come out untouched. You could drop a mountain on me and I wouldn't feel it" he said, quite sure of himself. "But if you want to waste your energy trying to hurt something that can't be hurt. Trying to stop something that can't be stopped. Then you go knock yourself out..."


His eyes were beyond darkness. 


"Or I'll knock you out for you..." he said, firing once again...

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Somehow that worked both better, and worse, than expected. On one hand, Sha’ir had actually managed to close the distance and get a hit in. On the other, it really didn’t seem to do much. In fact, it didn’t really do anything. And going by what Noose told him, which of course was likely to be a bluff (much like Sha’ir’s entire existence), this approach wouldn’t work too well long-term.


At least it meant he was pointing his gun at somebody who could take it. This time, he was expecting it and could knock the bullet out of the way with a quick mage-hand, thus neglecting any chance of additional strain on his forcefield.


But he had to be proactive…. As it stood, he couldn’t fight this guy forever. The second he’d take his attention off of him, Noose would go around murdering people again. Perhaps there was a way, as something crossed Hakim’s mind…


His left hand moved in a circle, creating a rift in space – a portal - behind Noose. It was the normal portal that Sha’ir used most of the time, an inky blackness with green energy dissipating at the edge.


“Speaking of knocking, catch!”


With that, he pushed forwards his right hand, and along with it, a wind blast. If everything went according to plan, that would push Noose right into the portal, and thus away from any area where he could do real damage.


Of course, only if everything went according to plan.


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Creek looked around to see the portal. It was some farm, full of ripe corn and gentle rain. 


"See you around" he croaked, and the wind swept him through the portal. He tumbled, and his duster flapped. The noose around his necked whipped, and he landed flat on his face in the cornfields, fifty yards from a large wooden farm shed. 


"Nothing stops me, son. You just make me angry..."


And to punctuate his words, the bullet he had fired turned around in a steep arc mid-air, and whizzed back, catching the Spellsmith in his back...

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Well, that had worked. Somewhat. Not really. Who knew what was out there. But lower population density probably meant less people to shoot, right? It still only delayed the problem, but for now that was probably the best Hakim could hope for.


There had to be some way of dealing with this Noose guy. These curses were annoying, but there had to be some sort of condition on them, right? He’d just have to find it. Of course, these were all concerns that assumed he survived his current encounter.


Which became a bit more doubtful as Noose’s bullet pulled some magic tricks of its own, breaking Sha’ir’s Forcefield and actually hitting him. It had been slowed down a fair bit, but it still hurt. This didn’t look good.

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Creek stood up and dusted himself off. He was unshaken, as far as Shai'iir could tell. It was hard to read that zombie face. 


He calmly put his guns in their holsters, one on either side.


"Shootin' wont stop, boy. Not till the sun burns cold and the earth stops spinnin'" he declared. It was not a boast, more a lazy statement of fact. He was resigned to it, taking neither joy nor sadness from his condition. 


With that, he started running to the portal, intent on getting through. He was not slow, either...

Edited by Supercape
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If Noose was trying to get back through the portal, that meant something. Probably that he couldn’t really do his job on the other side. Which was exactly what Hakim had hoped. Of course, leaving a murderous ghost unattended in the middle of nowhere wasn’t the best idea either. So, really, he had to get through the portal and close it behind him before Noose did.


And that meant running, because Sha’ir had to concentrate at least somewhat on keeping the portal open, no capacity to also augment his movement. So, he broke out into a sprint, directly towards the portal, all other caution thrown into the wind.


He hated this. He wasn’t a sprinter. Or a runner at all, really. Especially not when tangled up in layer upon layer of magic. But perhaps he’d be quick enough….

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It was close, neither Noose nor Sha'ir blessed with a fine pace when it came to running. But still, boots and shoes pounded dirt and tarmac, and in the end, it was the Spellsmith who dove through the portal first. With an elegant reflex, the portal slammed closed and evaporated behind his dive. 


They were outside Emerald City now. Several miles outside. In corn feilds, with wood and earth and dirt for company. A few tractors, a few horses and cattle. Some sheds. But nobody around that Sha'ir could see. 


Noose turned around, gun in hand. 


"What now, sorcerer?" he asked. "I don't go round killin' those that ain't killed. Not as a rule. But yer gettin' in my way, and I ain't so fond of warlocks and witches, I can tell ya that" he said, angry. His gun was pointed at Sha'ir but it didn't fire. 


Not yet, anyway. 

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First of all, Hakim needed to catch his breath. Now he was away from prying eyes so at least he could do that. Running really wasn’t his forte, perhaps it was time to look into that reduced gym membership cost WestRock offered.


Assuming he could survive this day. Which still wasn’t all that certain. He turned to face Noose, sounding somewhat determined.


“Now? Well, now I get to dispel a curse spoken out by a culture that was really, really good at making them annoying.   Then, he switched to something more relaxed. “You don’t happen to have the name of the guy-slash-people responsible for this, do you?”

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"I do. I remember that real good..." croaked Creek. 


"I was swinging by the Neck and pumped full of lead. Sentenced to die for all the no good nothin' I been doin'. Thing was, the Witch that cursed me wanted me for somethin' else. They wanted vengeance. They got me..."


He kept his gun levelled. 


"Now, I ain't complainin. I may not be livin' no more, and I may not be breathin'. But I ain't stopped movin'...now you go and break the curse, I'm just dust and worm meat. So I ain't telling you nuthin'. The world gonna have to live with me. Or die with me, dependin' on how I'm shootin'....I ain't stoppin, and you ain't stoppin me..."


Creek holstered his pistol. 


"But as far as I am tellin', you ain't killed nobody. That means its gonna hurt me, if I hurt you. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a whippin', and Ill take one if you get in my way too much. But I ain't going to take a whippin' without good reason" he explained. "You can't stop me. Nobody can stop me, 'sfar as I know. And I know pretty good..." he said, confidently. 


"Now, I gotta get me a horse. And you ain't stoppin me from doing that, son..." he finished, holsetering his pistol and turning away, treading his boots towards the barn...

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  • 4 weeks later...


Hakim really didn’t know what to do at this point. Sure, he had options. But judging from the looks of it, none of them really worked. This wasn’t something he could deal with directly. Indirectly maybe, although he didn’t really know how to accomplish that either.


He could attempt to stall Noose forever, but that wouldn’t do much good either. Still, he couldn’t let him roam freely either.


Sha’ir just stood there, unmoving. He’d let Creek make the next move. Perhaps he’d figure out something in the meantime. He could always follow him if it was necessary, after all.

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Creek stomped into the nearby barn. There was the sound of a neighing horse, some clopping hooves, and the rustle of movement that was quite compatable with a dessicated undead spirit of vengeance mounting a live horse. Perhaps, if one really strained, the flip-flapping of rope around neck. 


And then, Creek came out amount a saddleless horse. 


He paused, right by Sha'ir. 


"Which way to town, boy?" he said, leather-voiced. "I got some killin' to do. Send a killer to kill the killers, that's what they said. That's pretty much damn near what they got..." he grunted. "Its a sour taste in my mouth, ash and bone, but its all I got, and I ain't stoppin. Don't know if I could stop even if I wanted to. And I don't want to" he said, bluntly. 


He turned to look at the horizon. 


"Back in the day I could ride any horse, broken or not. Still can, by the looks of things. I'm betting you don't ride, boy. Bettin' you got wheels and motors and gas for that. You missin' out, ah tell you. You missin' out..." he said, almost wistfully. 


"Now, you gonna tell me which way to go? Sooner I finished, sooner I kill my fill, sooner everyone sleeps better..."

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